Sermon: Bede the Venerable

The podcast can be found here.


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San Beda, by Bartolomé Román

Today we celebrate the Venerable Bede.  The title, “Venerable” is used in the Episcopal Church for an Archdeacon, but in the Catholic Church, and in describing Bede, it refers “to a deceased person who has attained a certain degree of sanctity but has not been fully beatified or canonized.”  At the time it was given Bede, it was a title not widely, and although he has been canonized since, he is most often referred to as the Venerable Bede and not Saint Bede.  Perhaps that is because of the way he received “Venerable” as a title.

Legend has it that a monk was working on the inscription for Bede’s tomb and could not quite determine what he wanted it to say.  As he wrapped up the day, all he had was, Hac sunt in fossa, Bedae ____ ossa. “This grave contains, the ____ Bede’s remains.”  That night, an angel filled in the blank: Venerabilis.  Venerable.  How did he acquire such praise from the angel?

We’ve said in the past, that most of the Saints we venerate were not always the saintliest of people, apparently Bede is the exception that proves the rule.

In 686, the plague swept through England and infecting a particular monastery, wiped out all of the choir monks, which left them unable to properly sing the Divine offices (the seven times a day that the monks came together for prayer).  The abbot and a young boy were the only ones remaining who could do it, but to make the work easier for just the two of them, the abbot decided that the Psalms would only be chanted during two of the offices; however, after a week, with the assistance of only the boy, the abbot returned to chanting at every office.  We might think that’s not so difficult, we only did four verses of a Psalm today, but at that time, in the monasteries, all 150 Psalms were chanted through each week.  Want to guess as to how many verses that equals?  2,526.  The young boy that helped the abbot was the Venerable Bede, who entered the monastery and began studying at the age of seven.  After such an ordeal, you may think that someone so young would grow tired, but he was very dedicated to the daily offices.  He wrote, “I know that the angels are present at the canonical Hours, and what if they do not find me among the brethren when they assemble? Will they not say, Where is Bede? Why does he not attend the appointed devotions with his brethren?”

Tomb of the Venerable Bede
Tomb of the Venerable Bede, Durham Cathedral

He was ordained a deacon at age 19 (he needed special permission because the minimum age was 25) and was priested eleven years later.  In his work, he proved to be an imminent scholar and theologian and also considered to be one of the greatest Historians of the time, his most significant contribution being his History of the English Church (completed in 731), the primary source for almost all English history up to that time.  All this and he never lived more that sixty miles from where he was born.  When he died, upon hearing the news, St. Boniface wrote, “The candle of the Church, lit by the Holy Spirit, has been extinguished.”

Today, our Psalmist declared:
“We will recount to generations to come
the praiseworthy deeds and the power of the Lord,
and the wonderful works he has done.”

This was the work of Bede.  Passing on to the next generation the knowledge and wisdom of the past.  For this and his humble life, the angel gave him the title “Venerable.”  I wonder, if there were a blank before your name, what title would the angel give to you?

Sermon: Pentecost RCL B – “Fire”

The podcast can be found here.


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Gaston, a Cajun highlander from Rapides Parish in central Louisiana, was an older, single gentleman, who was born and raised a Baptist, living in South Louisiana. Each Friday night after work, he would fire up his outdoor grill and cook a venison steak. Now, all of Gaston’s neighbors were Catholic.  All was well with the neighbors until Lent came around.  The Catholics were forbidden to eat meat and the delicious aroma from the grilled venison steaks was causing such a problem for the Catholic faithful that they finally talked to their priest. The priest came to visit Gaston, and suggested that Gaston convert to Catholicism.

After several classes and much study, Gaston attended Mass and as the priest sprinkled holy water over him, he said, “You were born a Baptist and raised a Baptist, but now you are Catholic.”

Gaston’s neighbors were greatly relieved, until Lent and Friday night rolled around again, and the wonderful aroma of grilled venison filled the neighborhood.

The priest was called immediately by the neighbors and as he rushed into Gaston’s yard, clutching a rosary and prepared to scold him, he stopped in amazement and watched.

There stood Gaston, clutching a small bottle of water which he carefully sprinkled over the grilling meat, and chanted: “You wuz born a deer and you wuz raised a deer, but now you a catfish.”

Last week we talked about being transformed by God into temples of the Holy Spirit and the analogy that scripture sometimes uses for transformation is that of someone making a pot.  The potter cast the clay on the wheel and as it spins, the pot is formed.  In the process of turning the pot, the pot can be spoiled, so the potter takes the clay off and begins again.  However, once the pot is formed, it is still not finished.  It is still just clay and must be fired in a kiln—an oven—before it is suitable for use.  While in the oven, several chemical reactions take place.

When the clay reaches a temperature of almost 1000º, all of the water is finally pushed out of the clay and the pot becomes very fragile.  When the pot reaches a temperature just over 1800º it becomes what is known as ‘biscuit ware.’  It is very porous and absorbs water, but is relatively strong, because the clay has actually begun to melt and fuse together.  To get that glossy look and seal the clay, the pot must be allowed to cool, a compound is applied and the pot is fired again.  All this sounds easy enough, but it is a process that has been refined over the past 18,000 years.

As for us: “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  God formed us from the earth and formed us in his image, as a potter forms the clay: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  But in order for us to be completely formed as pots, temples of the Holy Spirit, then there must also be heat—fire.  “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”

Archbishop Michael Ramsey pointed out that the fire of the Holy Spirit serves two very specific purposes: light and warmth.  He writes, “The Holy Spirit enables you to see, and to see like a Christian—perceiving things as they really are in the eyes or mind of Jesus, and perceiving people as they really are with the light of Jesus upon them.”  The Potter forms you, then the fire of the Spirit comes upon you and its light allows you to see and understand your need for God and your relation to others.  The fire also provides warmth—love.  Not some sentimental or superficial love, but a love that lays down ones life for one friends.  A love directed toward God and neighbor.  You can see and you can feel, but you are not there yet, because the fire must do one thing before this work is completed: the fire must burn.  Ramsey writes, “The Spirit will burn his way through to the core of our being in the ever painful process of disclosure, penitence, and divine forgiveness.  Only by such burning can our heart be exposed fully to the warmth, and our mind be exposed fully to the light.”  Just as the potter places the pot into the kiln to transform it from clay to a usable vessel, we are placed into the fire of the Holy Spirit, which burns away the impurities of our lives, forming us into those vessels, those temples for the Spirit of God and sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Bishop Ramsey summarizes: “There is no seeing and no warming without burning.”  Anybody got a match?!

In addition, as the pot is glazed, sealed, we too are sealed in the Holy Spirit.  The priest pronounces while making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptized with chrism (holy oil), “You are sealed with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”  You have been transformed—not into a catfish—but a temple, a sanctified, holy temple for our God.  In the words of Pastor Garland Ray Hall of St. Stephen’s AME Church, “Somebody say, ‘Amen!’”  Now we’re getting somewhere.

At the time, it probably wasn’t easy for the disciples to hear: Jesus was telling them that he was leaving, that he would be put to death, but as he spoke to them he said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.”  In order for us to receive our salvation, Jesus had to be put to death.  Had he gone and not sent the Holy Spirit, then our interaction with God would have been similar to what it had been before his coming.  The Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV of the Greek Orthodox Church speaking to the World Council of Churches in 1968 put it this way, “Without the Holy Spirit God is far away. Christ stays in the past. The Gospel is simply an organization. Authority is a matter of propaganda. The Liturgy is no more than an evocation. Christian loving is a slave mentality. But in the Holy Spirit, the cosmos is resurrected and grows with the birth pangs of the Kingdom. The Risen Christ is there. The Gospel is the power of life. The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity. Authority is a liberating service. Mission is a Pentecost. The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation. Human action is deified.”

Jesus died and in so doing, God transformed us into temples, so that when Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit—the third person of the Holy Trinity—could be sent, and we could receive Him.  St. Paul writes, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”  Therefore, as Jesus said to those first disciples, I say to you, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and be transformed into the temple, the glory, and the image of the Lord.

Let us pray: Come, O Spirit of GOD, with God the Father’s love, by Christ’s Body and Blood; in the new birth of Thine own breath. Come to cure our littlenesses and consume our sins, to direct all our desires and doings; come with counsel on our perplexities, with light from Thy everlasting scriptures; come to reveal the deep things of GOD, and what He prepareth for them that love Him; come with Thy prayer into ours.  Jesus we pray.  Amen. 

Sermon: St. Dunstan

The podcast can be found here.


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In the year 909, an expectant mother attended Candlemas in a crowded church.  As part of the service, everyone held a lit candle.  Suddenly, all the candles went out except for the one held by the expectant mother.  All those in attendance then came to her and relit their candle from hers.  When all were burning again, a holy many prophesied, “This child that is in her womb shall light all England with his holy life in time to come.”  That child was Dunstan and he did just that.

It seems that with each new king in England, Dunstan would rise or fall from favor, but in the times of favor, he did much to increase the sanctity of the church and would go on to become Archbishop of Canterbury.  As Archbishop, he continued that reform and did so by correcting those in error, even the king, who Dunstan once gave penance stating that for seven years the king would not be allowed to wear his crown—which he didn’t!  Following his penance, it was Dunstan who placed the crown back on the king’s head.  Much of the reforms he put into place were handled in a similar manner, which perhaps gave rise to one of the greatest legends about his life.

Legend says that Dunstan, who was also a great artist and craftsman, was working in a blacksmith shop.  While going about his business, a man appeared at the window and asked if Dunstan would make for him a chalice.  He agreed and let the man in; however, soon afterwards, the man began changing.  At times he was the old man, then a young boy, then a beautiful woman.  Dunstan realized that this was the devil trying to trick him, but instead of jumping in fear, he went about his work and casually placed the tongs on the fire.  When the tongs were red hot, he snatched them up and grabbed the devil by the nose.

The devil raged, but could not get free of Dunstan’s grasp.  When Dunstan felt as though he had won the battle, he pulled the devil outside by his nose and released him.  The devil fled down the road crying out, “Woe is me! What has that bald devil done to me? Look at me, a poor wretch, look how he has tortured me!”  Ever notice how the bully cries the loudest when they finally get their due?  Anyhow… one of the English folk rhymes tells the story:

British Library, Add MS 42130, f. 54v.

 

St Dunstan, as the story goes,

Once pull’d the devil by the nose

With red-hot tongs, which made him roar,

That he was heard three miles or more

 

Dunstan was one who did not hesitate to grab by the nose the devil, kings, priests, religious, or laity and bring them to a place penance.  

Jesus said, “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.”  Dunstan was faithful and therefore was one who was placed in charge of many.  In small ways and great, we are also placed over others, whether it be in our jobs, families, or other organizations.  I don’t recommend grabbing anyone by the nose, but we should all be prepared in our service to God, to watch over and correct those placed in our responsibility as Dunstan cared for those placed in his.

Sermon: Easter 7 RCL B – “Vessels”

The podcast can be found here.


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Church signs:

  • Honk if you love Jesus.  Text while driving if you want to meet him.
  • Without the bread of life, you’re toast.
  • Trust in God… but lock your car.
  • Can’t take the heat outside?  This church is prayer-conditioned.
  • The fact that there’s a highway to hell and a stairway to heaven, says a lot about anticipated traffic flow.
  • Prayer: wireless access to God with no roaming fees.

It is this last one which pretty much sums up every church: Our church is like fudge, sweet with a few nuts (and you know who you are).

Billy Joel’s song, Only the Good Die Young: he’s trying to persuade a good Catholic girl not to be so good and declares: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.  The sinners are much more fun.”  Well there is one unique place where you can laugh and cry with both the saints and the sinners: the church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.

So often, when we are reading the Scriptures, it pertains to how we are to love—God, one another, and the stranger.  However, today’s Gospel reading is not about those out there, instead, it is Jesus prayer for us.  His prayer for the Church, that same church that is made up of some sweet ones and, in truth, quite a few nuts.  

The passage begins, “Jesus prayed for his disciples,”  Then a little further, He says, “I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.”  He is praying for his disciples, those who were present and those who were to come.  You.  Jesus was lifting you up in prayer and he is asking the Father to protect and guard you from the evil one.  He also asked that you know joy because you have received the truth through the words that the Father has given him, which he has spoken.  Then Jesus says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

The word “sanctified” can also be translated as set apart or to make holy.  “Make them holy in the truth… for their sakes I make myself holy, so that they also may be made holy in truth.”  This takes us back to the command in Leviticus 19:2—“You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.”  Jesus is asking the Father to confer his holiness upon us, and this is accomplished through Jesus’ work upon the cross, his resurrection, and ascension.  However, this idea of being holy, which we regularly talk about, is difficult to nail down and when we try, we often become legalistic, in that we say, “If you do this and don’t do that, then you will be holy.”  It is true for us and it was true for the disciples.  Defining holy can be challenging, but, in the time of Jesus, holiness was not just an idea, holiness had a home.  Holiness had a place where you could draw very near to it.

From the sixth chapter of the first book of Kings: “The inner sanctuary [Solomon] prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord.  The interior of the inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; he overlaid it with pure gold.”  In the innermost part of the house… in the innermost part of the Temple, Solomon constructed a room that was thirty feet long, thirty feet wide, and thirty feet tall—a perfect square.  That room is known as the Holiest of Holies and in it was the Ark of the Covenant.  The very presence of God on Earth.

As with us, the disciples would have had a difficult time fully understanding the idea of being holy, but as Jesus was speaking, they would have immediately thought of the Temple and the Holiest of Holies, the place where God resided.  They would have understood that Jesus was praying that they be sanctified, set apart, holy.  Jesus was praying that the disciples would themselves become temples for the presence of God, for the Holy Spirit of God.

In the time of Jesus, holiness had a home—the temple.  Following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, holiness had a new home—you!  St. Paul says to us: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”

Holiness is not a state of acting or behaving.  Holiness is a state of being.  It is not about what you do.  Holiness is about who you are through the Spirit of God, and it is God that transforms us.

Scripture says, “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’  So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel.  The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.  Then the word of the Lord came to me:  Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”  As the potter re-throws a vessel that was spoiled while being made, so the Father remakes us, transforming us into perfect vessels, temples, awaiting the giving of His Holy Spirit.

In this process, not only do we become individual temples of the Holy Spirit, but we also become a temple corporately, as the church.

Lewis Meyers may be a name that some of you know.  He had the Lewis Meyers Bookstore in Tulsa, which the New York Times tagged “the best bookstore in the South.”  He also had a half-hour TV show, The Lewis Meyers Bookshelf, where he reviewed books.  Apparently he was quite the character.  At one point, he met a group of people who completely changed his life.  He described their gathering: “It is the only place I know where status means nothing. Nobody fools anybody else. Everyone is here because he or she made a slobbering mess of his or her life and is trying to put the pieces back together again. First things are first here…. For one small hour the high and the mighty descend and the lowly rise. The leveling that results is what people mean when they use the word brotherhood.”  Was he describing the church?  No.  He was talking about the AA meetings he attended, but he could have been describing the church if we were all to recognize that through our sins, we too have made slobbering messes of our lives and need the love of a Savior to transform us into Temples for our God.   

We are the church—nuts and all—and Jesus has lifted us up in prayer.  Through his work, we have been sanctified, set apart, made holy.  The Potter has formed us into vessels, temples for His Holy Spirit.  Therefore, let us rejoice.  We have been sent into the world, but we have not been sent alone.  The Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah words that you can make your own:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  The Spirit of the Lord is in you.

Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Sermon: Dame Julian of Norwich

The podcast can be found here.


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Today, I have several readings from the fifth chapter of Julian of Norwich’s showings/visions, in The Revelations of Divine Love, the chapter that writes of “something small, no bigger than a hazelnut.”  In this showing, the Lord gave her insight into his divine love. 

“And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understand­ing and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understand­ing: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.

“In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the Creator and the protector and the lover.”

In the palm of her hand, she held something, no bigger than a hazelnut and she understood that this small thing represented all of creation: earth, moon, stars, galaxies, universe, and every living thing in it.  Everything.  And she understood that God created it, protected it, and loved it.  That is great comfort to us, to know that God loves it, but what Julian points out next is that our love and desire for part of this small thing, for parts of what have been created, is the source of our unease.  Our desire for something that is created leaves us wanting, always looking for more.  She says:

“This little thing which is created seemed to me as if it could have fallen into nothing because of its littleness. We need to have knowledge of this, so that we may delight in despising as nothing everything created, so as to love and have uncreated God. For this is the reason why our hearts and souls are not in perfect ease, because here we seek rest in this thing which is so little, in which there is no rest, and we do not know our God who is almighty, all wise and all good, for he is true rest… And this is the reason why no soul is at rest until it has despised as nothing all things which are created.”

We find no rest in this little thing, in the created.  Our only true rest comes from God, comes from turning away from the created to the One who created.

Five hundred years later, in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said something quite similar: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Do you find yourself looking from one thing to the next, seeking happiness and peace?  Could the problem be that you are looking to the created instead of the Creator for that happiness and peace?  Are you happy and at peace, but still have this “itch” in your soul that things are a bit off?  Like a movie when a person’s lips are just slightly off timing from the sound.  Everything is right, but….?  Could it be that your soul is desiring something, that is not of this life?  It will not solve this dis-ease, but today, the Psalmist provided us with some advice on how to find a certain peace and easing of that longing: 

One thing have I asked of the Lord;

one thing I seek; *

that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life;

To behold the fair beauty of the Lord *

and to seek him in his temple.

Do not seek after the created, but seek the Creator.  In Him you will find peace and the rest for your soul.

I’ll close with Julian’s prayer contained in this chapter—Let us pray: God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me, and I can ask for nothing which is less which can pay you full worship. And if I ask anything which is less, always I am in want; but only in you do I have everything.  Amen.

Sermon: Easter 6 RCL B – “Friends”

The podcast can be found here.


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What is the friendliest animal in the world?  A wet dog.

There are plenty of touching quotes out there about friends.  “A friend is one who can see the truth and pain in you even if you’re fooling everyone else.” “A friend is someone who reaches for your hand, but touches your heart.”  “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still gently allows you to grow.”  Me?  I guess I’ve read too much Stephen King, because I like my friendship quotes to be a bit more edgy: “We are best friends.  Always remember that.  If you fall, I will pick you up… after I finish laughing.”  “A friend will calm you down when you are angry, but a best friend will skip beside you with a baseball bat singing, ‘Someone’s going to get it.’”  And my favorite: “Best friends are those who, when you show up at their door with a dead body, say nothing, grab a shovel, and follow you.”  Everyone needs at least one friend like that, even so, I’m guessing that’s not what Jesus had in mind when he called his disciples “friends.”

They have been with him all this time: following him, learning from him, trying to do what he asks of them.  Succeeding some of the time and failing at others.  Yet, in the end, when he knew he would be leaving them soon, he said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends.”

We often read the term “servant” or “slave” as being a negative; however, the word in Greek that Jesus uses is doulos and it was not a title of shame at the time Jesus spoke it.  In fact, from a Biblical perspective, it was a title of the highest honor.  Moses was the doulos of God (Deuteronomy 34: 5); so was Joshua (Joshua 24:29); as was David (Psalm 89:20).  Doulos was a title which Paul counted it an honor to use (Titus 1: 1); and so did James (James 1:1).  The greatest men and women of the past were proud to be called the douli, the slave of God. 

And yet Jesus says: “I have something greater for you than this, you are no longer to be called my slaves; rather I call you my friends,” but what does it mean to be called a “Friend of Jesus”?

In the times of the Caesars, certain individuals held the title “Friends of Caesar.” These were generally soldiers who had proven themselves undeniably loyal by remaining steadfast throughout assaults, hardship, suffering.  They hadn’t deserted or revolted or sought another leader or even complained when battle campaigns with Caesar had found them afflicted or in such pain that only the danger they were in could distract them.  The “friends” of Caesar counted it such an honor to soldier with Caesar that no campaign was too arduous and no adversity too wearing.

At the time of the Emperors, in the courts, there was a very select group called the friends of the king, or the friends of the Emperor.  At all times they had access to the king: they even had the right to come to his bed chamber at the beginning of the day.  He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers, and his statesmen.  The friends of the king were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him. 

Jesus called his disciples “friend,” but the friendship he is offering far exceeds that of Caesar, the Emperors and the kings.  Jesus is offering an intimacy with God which not even the greatest and most worthy people knew before he came into the world. 

This idea of being the friend of God has a background.  Abraham was the friend of God and in The Book of Wisdom, Wisdom is said to make us the friends of God.  Moses was also called a Friend of God and Jesus, by calling us “friends” has listed our names with theirs.  He has chosen us for that role, that position, that intimacy.  Not with some earthly king or Emperor, but with God. 

That is a tremendous gift.  It means that we do not need to gaze longingly at God from a distance.  We are not like those outside of the king’s court who never have access to the one who rules over their lives and we are not like those in a crowd who only glimpse the king as he is passing by on some state occasion. 

Rather, as the friends of Jesus, we—like the disciples—are gifted the privilege to enter into the very bed chamber of our God and to speak with him on the most intimate level.  As St. Augustine writes, God becomes “more intimate with us than we are to ourselves.”

A writer tells the story of a slave woman living in the south prior to the civil rights: A lady in Charleston met this lady, who was a servant of a neighbour who had died.  “I”m sorry to hear of your Aunt Lucy’s death,” she said.  “you must miss her greatly.  You were such friends.” “Yes’m,” said the servant, “I is sorry she died.  But we wasn’t friends.” “Why,” said the lady, “I thought you were.  I’ve seen you laughing and talking together lots of times.” “Yes’m. That’s so,” came the reply. “We’ve laughed together, and we’ve talked together, but we is just “quaintances.  You see, Miss Ruth, we ain’t never shed no tears.  Folks got to cry together before dey is friends.” 

 Our Lord, our friend is with us in the most joyful of times, but he has also cried with us and for us, just as he wept over Jerusalem and those who would not come to him for his healing touch and forgiving word.  He cried at the tomb of Lazarus for Mary and for Martha and for all who were gathered there with him.   And He weeps most surely for us and with us today, when we are hurt, lost, or afraid.  He knows us so intimately and his every action and word speak of his love for us.

That is part of what makes the gospel such good news.  Jesus has walked our walk—and he did it as a friend does it—not simply to show us how things should be done, but to accompany us on our way.  To be our companion as well as our guide, our support as well as our teacher.

And he did all this without a word of judgment, except that judgment which a friend makes: the judgment of mercy, and of encouragement, and of gentle correction.  Aristotle was onto something when he said, “Friendship seems to lie in the loving rather than in the being loved,” and that is how Jesus expresses his friendship to us, by loving us.  As John writes and as we hear in the Eucharistic prayer, “Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end”… even after they denied him, betrayed him, left him alone to die.  He loved them to the end and his love for you is the same as it was for them.

And everyone says, “Yes, Fr. John.  We know.  God loves us.  If you’ve told us once, you’ve told us a hundred times.”  But hear what Brennan Manning says in The Furious Longing of God: “The wild, unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea. When it imposes itself on mind and heart with the stark reality of ontological truth [that is – truth that has the ability to change who we are], it determines why and at what time you get up in the morning, how you pass your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, and who you hang with; it affects what breaks your heart, what amazes you, and what makes your heart happy.”

I say, “God loves you,” and some respond, “Yes. Yes.  I know.”  But when you experience God’s love, you are changed—body, soul, and spirit.  As St. Augustine said to God, “In loving me, you made me lovable.”  In loving me, you changed me.  Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Friends love us for who we are.  Friends accept the rough edges and quite often look over our faults, but Jesus, when he calls us friend, when he loves us… Scripture says:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

The scripture is not saying that the Rocky Mountains are going to be leveled.  Instead, it is saying that our crooked ways will be corrected, the valleys and low places in our lives will be filled with the Spirit of God, the mountains and barriers that impede our relationship with God, will be torn down, and the roughness of our existence will be made holy.  And all of this is made possible through the love of God if we will allow that life changing truth to enter into our souls.

You are the intimate friends of God.  Allow him to fill you with love and his Spirit.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ you called us friends just as your Father called Abraham and Moses friends.  Be with us we pray and lead us on the path of righteousness so that we might be made worthy of so great an honor.  Help us to not only receive the love you give, but to also return it to you and to share it with others, which is our Christian duty.  Blessed Mother, pray for us, so that we may abide in that most blessed Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon: Monica

The podcast can be found here.


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We have discussed in the past that not all the saints burst into the world as the holiest of holy people, and many started out as rather sinful individuals.  One such Saint is Augustine of Hippo.  He is the patron saint of beer brewers because of the habits of his life prior to his conversion.  Yet, he is is now considered one of the preeminent Doctors of the Church and it would be difficult to find anyone who has influenced Christianity more than him outside of the Holy Scriptures.  So, how did he go from bad boy to Saint?  There were many contributing factors, but if you were to ask Augustine, he would likely say, “Momma.”  We know her as Monica.  However, Monica was not always a saint either.

She grew up in a Christian home, but not all the virtues seem to have been present in her life, and it was one area of concern which finally brought her to a more complete faith.  It seems that she had the chore of going down into the cellar for the wine for family meals.  As a child, she did not partake, but one day out of curiosity, she took a sip.  Later, the sip became a cup and then the cup became as much as she could drink.  She was eventually found out by one of the servants who referred to her as a “wine-bibber,” a drunk.  The remark made Monica so ashamed, that she never touched liquor again, but she must have passed that taste onto her son Augustine.

At first she would raise a fuss with him and chastise him, but he only ignored her pleas.  However, with the help of a priest, she realized that this wasn’t going to do anything but frustrate her and drive a wedge between her and Augustine, so the priest had her try a different tack, which involved intercessory prayer, fasting, and vigils on behalf of her son.  She later had a dream where she was weeping over her son’s downfall, when suddenly an angel appeared and said to her, “But your son is with you.”  When she told Augustine the dream, he laughed and told his mother that they could be together if she would give up her Christianity, to which she replied, “The angel did not say that I was with you, but that you were with me.”  That gave her the hope she needed and she continued to pray.  It took several years, but eventually Augustine converted and went on to become one of the greats.

There is an incident in Mark’s Gospel where a young boy is said to have a demon that casts him down and harms him.  The boy’s father brought the boy to Jesus’ disciples and asked them to heal his son.  They tried, but were unsuccessful, so the man brought his son to Jesus who was able to heal the boy.  Later, in private, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why could we not cast it out?”  He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer and fasting.”

This being the first Wednesday of the month, we will take part in the sacrament of unction, healing.  It would be wonderful if every time we offered up intercessory prayers of healing that the person was healed immediately—and that can happen!—but more often, the healing (which comes in many different forms: physical, spiritual, emotional) takes time.  That was a lesson that the disciples and Monica both had to learn and it is one that we also must be taught.  And then, in faith, believe that—no matter the perceived result or lack of—God is working, hearing the prayers of his people and fulfilling those prayers according to his purposes.  

Monica did not become a saint because she performed great deeds or died violently as a martyr.  Monica became a Saint because she prayed and she believed in God’s promises.  That is a practice that we can all emulate. 

Sermon: Easter 5 RCL B – “Rwandans”

The podcast can be found here.


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Networking.  It is something that is talked about in computers, organizations, people—in any type of system where information is passed along—including plants.  For example, what is the world’s heaviest living organism?  It is a grove of Aspen trees named Pando, which is located in Utah’s Fishlake National Forest.  It appears to be a multiple trees (about 47,000), but it is in fact a single organism, networked together through its root system and is estimated to weigh approximately 6,600 tons.  Estimates also have it at 80,000 years old, making it the oldest living organism known.  That is the world heaviest organism, but what is the largest, as in area?   Armillaria solidipes.  Also known as the honey fungus (mushroom) located in Malheur National Forest in east Oregon.  Through its network of “roots” it covers an area of 3.7 square miles.  That’s a lot of cream-of-mushroom soup!

We humans like our networking as well.  There are over 4 billion users on the internet.  Facebook alone has almost 2 billion active users (which, by the way, is a lot of wasted time at work… and home for that matter.)  But, when we look at our connections, it is often by the visible attributes of others that binds us together: family, work, race, creed, and so on, but these types of connections like the Aspen groves and the mushrooms are above the ground, but is there a “network” below the surface that binds us together with an even greater strength?  A true story for you and it’s hard one.  

———- This part of the sermon contains violence ———-

It has been twenty-four years since Rwanda was ripped apart by a bloody civil war.  Within Rwanda, there are two primary groups: Hutu and Tutsi.  They look alike, share the same language, live side-by-side, but in 1994 “drunken soldiers and self-appointed militiamen from the Hutu tribe rampaged through the country and systematically murdered almost one million Tutsi men, women, and children.”  Just in the last few weeks, mass graves—that some were trying to keep hidden—have been discovered, which is bringing to the surface wounds that have not even begun to heal.  A Hutu woman told the Associated Press, “Those who participated in the killing of our relatives don’t want to tell us where they buried them. How can you reconcile with such people?”  But some have tried.

As early as 1997, three years after the war, Hutu and Tutsi children were once again sharing classrooms, but there were still some who held onto the hate.  Catherine Claire Larson in her book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation From Rwanda tells of one event that took place in a school for teenage boys.  She begins:

There was a noise of chairs scuffing against concrete as students ducked under their desks, covering their heads. Just then shots burst through the closed door and three men entered the classroom, two carrying guns and one a machete. No one had remembered to shut off the generator, so the students did not even have darkness to cover them, and the desks were a feeble shield.

“Do you know me?” asked one man in uniform, speaking French, the language spoken most commonly in the Congo.

“No,” whispered several of the students.

“Well, you are going to see me,” he continued, moving to the front of the classroom. “I am going to ask you one simple thing.” Phanuel tried to get a better glimpse of the man. He looked young, perhaps 22 or 23. “I want you to separate yourselves between Hutu and Tutsi.”

Phanuel froze, returning his eyes to the ground. He listened; no one seemed to make a sound except he could hear one of the girls whimpering.

“Do you want me to repeat?” came the rebel’s voice, louder, angrier. “I want those of you who are Hutu to go there and those of you who are Tutsi to go to the other side.”

Phanuel felt like his heart would beat out of his chest. As a Hutu, he knew that he could say something and perhaps spare his life, but he couldn’t imagine betraying his own friends. He knew also that as a Christian he didn’t have that option. He prayed, “Lord, help us.” It couldn’t have been more than a few moments that the rebel waited for an answer, but to Phanuel it seemed like time had slowed. And then there was a voice. Phanuel winced.

“All of us are Rwandans here,” said Chantal from the front of the classroom. A shot rang out in reply. The students gasped – the bullet hit Chantal squarely in the forehead.

“Hutu here! Tutsi there!” yelled the man.

“I don’t want to die. Please help my classmates not to separate,” Phanuel prayed again.

Then the rebels walked out of the room. Phanuel wondered what was happening – were they leaving? A moment later, an explosion shattered the soft sounds of crying and rapid breathing. Glass exploded and one of the walls crumbled. Excruciating pain shot through Phanuel as debris rained down on him. He could hear his other classmates wailing and groaning. When the smoke dissipated a bit, he heard the rebels move back in.

“This is your last chance,” came the voice. “You will separate or you will all die.”

Just then Emmanuel said in a steady low voice, “We are all Rwandans.”  

The response from the rebels was the same.  He was shot and killed.  Then, regardless of Hutu or Tutsi, the rebels fired on them all, killing most.

———- End ———-

Like the Aspen grove and the mushroom field, there are many things that connect us that are visible, above the ground.  Race, creed, religion, Hutu, Tutsi, but… “All of us are Rwandans here.”  All of us are of God.

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  Jesus said, “We are all Rwandans.”  Yes, we are individual branches, but there is but one vine from which we all grow and that is Jesus.

And understand, I’m not talking about salvation or Christian or who’s right and who’s wrong.  Right, wrong, or indifferent, we are all Rwandans here.  We are all of God.  The vine from where you grow is the same vine for every individual on the planet which, as of 2:21 p.m. this past Thursday was estimated to be 7,618,062,630 souls.  Which means regardless of who you see or encounter, that person (the good, the bad, and the ugly) is a part of you.

I suppose I shouldn’t read the news so much because when I do, these are types of sermons you’ll get.  And I could go into some wide ranging political rant, but even the politics we speak are nothing more than these visible attributes that we believe bind us together, but instead do nothing but tear us apart, and while we are so focused on the outward visible, we completely forget and disregard the one and only thing that does bind us all together and the one thing of greatest significance: God.  He is the vine, we are the branches.  We are all Rwandans here.  

No, I’m not naive.  I know there is suffering in the world and I know there is evil in the world, but just a few weeks ago we celebrated the resurrection of Our Lord and in just a few more weeks, we will be celebrating the gift of his Holy Spirit, being poured out on all flesh.  Yet, sometimes we look at those events, and say, “Eh,” as though they didn’t change a thing.  As though they didn’t give us eternal life.  As though they did not bring us into union with our God.  As though they did not bind us all together as God’s children.

John said, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”  Now, I suppose we could limit our definition of “brothers and sisters” and say that it only pertains to Christian believers, but John also says, “We love because he first loved us.”  God loved us while we were still his enemies.  So if God extended that grace to us, then perhaps we should extend that same grace to those around us and see them all as our brothers and sisters.  Perhaps they are not all “in Christ,” but they are his creation and they are a part of us.

Your reward may be no better than the one received by those boys in Rwanda who stood up against the rebels, but in face of hatred, evil, pettiness, be brave, be courageous, say to it, “We are all Rwandans here.  We are the children of God, bound together in His Spirit and His love.”

Let us pray: Lord, we pray for the power to be gentle; the strength to be forgiving; the patience to be understanding; and the endurance to accept the consequences of holding to what we believe to be right. 

May we put our trust in the power of good to overcome evil and the power of love to overcome hatred. 

We pray for the vision to see and the faith to believe in a world emancipated from violence, a new world where fear shall no longer lead men to commit injustice, nor selfishness make them bring suffering to others. 

Help us to devote our whole life and thought and energy to the task of making peace, praying always for the inspiration and the power to fulfill the destiny for which we and all others were created.  Amen.

Sermon: St. George

The podcast can be found here.


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In the late 4th century there was a spring outside of Silene, Lybia where the people would go on a daily basis for their water.  All was well until one day a dragon decided to make its nest at the spring, making water collecting a dangerous business.  The locals tried several schemes to remove the dragon, one of which was offering it a sheep each day.  That worked until they ran out of sheep, so they resorted to offering the dragon a maiden who was chosen by the drawing of straws.  This also worked until the princess’ was selected.  The king begged for his daughter to be spared, but what is good for the peasant is apparently good for the princess and she was offered up.  However, before she was killed, who should show up but George, who protected himself with the sign of the cross and slew the dragon.  Everyone needs a friend like George.

In some tellings of the story, the dragon is a crocodile, and in others, the dragon is symbolic for the devil, and George is slaying the enemies of God.  Whatever the case, George’s reputation grew extensively.

He was born in Libya and served many years as a Roman soldier and officer.  Diocletian became Emperor, which was good for George because they became friends, but when the persecution of Christians under Diocletian began, George – despite the Emperor’s pleading – refused to renounce his faith and was eventually put to death.

He is the Patron Saint of many things and places, but important to us is that he is the Parton Saint of England.  Legend has it that he killed a dragon in Berkshire, England, but most likely he became known to the English through the crusaders who brought back with them the honoring of so noble a man.  His fame grew following the battle of Agincourt (1415) when many claimed to have seen George fighting alongside the English and his renown was solidified when Shakespeare had Henry V (in the play of the same name) cry out, “The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’”

shieldAs George is the Patron Saint of England, then we as Episcopalians also have ties to him, which are most evident in the shield of the Episcopal Church.  The red cross on the white background is the Cross of St. George, indicating our association with the Church of England.

G.K. Chesterton said, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”  Whether fighting dragons or crocodiles, George’s life and his rebuke of a hateful Emperor demonstrate to us what it means to be courageous in the face of the enemy and also that the dragon who comes against us all can be defeated.

Let us pray: Heroic Catholic soldier and defender of your Faith, you dared to criticize a tyrannical Emperor and were subjected to horrible torture. You could have occupied a high military position but you preferred to die for your Lord.  Obtain for us the great grace of heroic Christian courage that should mark soldiers of Christ. Amen