Sermon: Advent 2 RCL C – “Being Wrong”

The podcast is available here.


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I was watching a TED Talk the other day by Kathryn Schulz: On Being Wrong.  Shulz is also the author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, which also reminded me of the time Snoopy was writing a book and Charlie Brown says that he hopes he has a good title, to which Snoopy replies, “I have the perfect title: ‘Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?’” — rabbit trail — back to the TED Talk.

At the beginning of the talk, Shulz asked the audience, “How does it feel to be wrong?”  As she pointed out, and as we are all very much aware, it doesn’t ever really feel good at all, but she notes, in our own minds, feeling/being wrong, can sometimes also feel right, because we don’t realize we are erring.  The example she uses is that classic cartoon, Roadrunner.  There is the scene where Wile E. Coyote is chasing the roadrunner, the roadrunner ducks off the path, and coyote just keeps running, eventually running off the edge of a cliff.  He was wrong, but in that moment, he still believed he was right.  

The next question Shulz asked the audience was, “How does it feel to realize you are wrong?”  You might be wrong, but unaware?  How does it feel when you become aware?  The answer for coyote arrives when he looks down.  He is running across the thin air, then he looks down, and realizes he is wrong.  He was wrong, he realizes is wrong, and he falls.  What happens in the next episode?  The exact same thing.

Today in our Gospel reading, John the Baptist comes on the scene, “Proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”  Why?  Because the Israelites have once again run off the cliff.  They believed they were right, even though they were wrong.  It was only when John called out to them to repent, that some of them realized they were wrong.

One interesting point about John’s message, is that many, if not most, of the Old Testament prophets called all the people, the entire nation of Israel to repentance, but John had a tendency to speak to the individual, it’s how he got himself into trouble when he called out Herod for his marriage to his brother’s ex-wife.  When the crowds came to be baptized by him, they asked, “What should we do?”  The same with the tax collectors and the soldiers, each group, realizing they were wrong, wanted to know how they were to live rightly.  The fact that John would baptize them after they repented points to the seriousness of their transgressions.  

We often believe that baptism is strictly a Christian practice, but the Jewish people used this practice of spiritual washing as well.  One reason for them to be baptized was for touching something that was dead.  There were several steps to becoming clean from such an act, but full immersion baptism was part of it.  In addition, the new convert to Judaism had to be baptized, in a sense, making them like a new born child.  Perhaps John, through the baptism of repentance, was saying to the people: you are like someone who has touched death, or you are like someone who is outside the Covenant that God made with His people; therefore, repent of your sin and be baptized, for the Lord your God is coming.

The Israelites had forgotten how God had called them out of Egypt to be for him a holy people, so now John was calling them to repentance, one more time, because now God was coming, and He was coming to make a personal invitation to that life of holiness.

So… How does it feel for you to be wrong?  How does it feel for you to realize you’re wrong?  What is it like to suddenly realize you’ve run off the side of the cliff?  Why did you run off in the first place?  

Nine-year-old Braun lived in a little village not far from London. Braun’s parents were agnostics, but they felt that at least once in his life, he ought to go to church. So they dressed him up in his little black suit and black bow tie and asked the governess to take him.

That Sunday, the parson preached about the crucifixion of a Man. He described the nails driven through the Man’s hands, the crown of thorns jammed upon His head, the blood that ran down His face, and the spear that ripped into His side. He described the agony in His eyes and the sorrow in His voice when He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Halfway through the sermon, little Braun was crying. Wouldn’t somebody do something? Wouldn’t the congregation rise up together and take the Man down from the cross? But as he looked around in astonished surprise, he saw that the people were complacent. “What’s the matter with these people, Nanny?” he asked. “Why doesn’t somebody do something about that Man on the cross?”

Patting Braun on the shoulder, his nanny nervously whispered in reply, “Braun, Braun, be quiet. It’s just a story. Don’t let it trouble you. Just listen quietly. You’ll soon forget about this old story when we go home.”

What is it like to realize that your wrong, that you’ve just run off the side of the cliff?  Why did we do it in the first place?  We do it because we have forgotten about that old story.  We forgot about how God saved us, so we became like someone who has touched death, or like someone who is outside the New Covenant that God made with His people.  We forgot that God called us to a life of righteousness.

It is tough being wrong and like the Israelites, we sometimes need someone to point out the error or our ways, so imagine standing out in the wilderness with the Israelites.  John has been calling out everyone, but so far, you’ve managed to dodge his wrath.  You begin to think that maybe you are one of the few that hasn’t been wrong.  You look around at the crowd and say to yourself, “I sure am glad I’m not like the rest of these poor schmucks!”  But then you look back up and John is staring directly at you.  He points at you and he begins to speak.  What does he say?  What does he call you out on?

The Apostle John writes, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  The Psalmist writes, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, and as we said last week, “advent” means coming, and “coming” implies waiting.  During this time of waiting, repent of your sins and be forgiven, cleansed, washed, be made whiter than snow in the sight of our God, so that on the day he returns, you will be made to stand with him and all the other sons and daughters of our God.

Let us pray: Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sermon: Francis Xavier

The podcast is available here.


Saint_Francis_XavierWhen we begin to ask, who was the greatest missionary ever, the answer for all is St. Paul.  When asked who is second, for most, the answer is the Patron Saint of our neighbors across the street: St. Francis Xavier (d.1552).  He is known as the “Apostle of the Indies” and the “Apostle of Japan.”  As he is the Patron of neighbors across the street, I thought it important we know a little about him.

Francis grew up in the Basque region of Spain, the son of a wealthy aristocrat.  He intended to go off to school and make a name for himself as an academic, but while at school, he had Peter Faber as a roommate and Peter had a friend, Íñigo López, that was introduced to Francis.  Francis cared little for López, but eventually was convinced by Peter to take part in a set of Spiritual Exercises that had been developed by López.  Once completed, Francis’ life would never be the same.  From there, St. Francis Xavier, Peter Faber (now St. Peter Faber), and Íñigo López (now St. Ignatius of Loyola) would go on to form the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

Following a thirteen month sea voyage from Portugal to western India, Francis began the great work. He did so by first learning the language and gaining the people’s trust by serving as a nurse in a local hospital.  Then, dressed as one of the poor of the community, he would walk the streets of the city, ringing a small bell.  The children and people would be interested in what he was doing, so they would follow him around until he had a large enough crowd and would stop.  Then, in their own language, he would proclaim the Gospel message to them.  He and his little bell took Christianity all across southern India and then to Japan.  He died on a beach in China, while attempting to take the Gospel there.

We often think we need great education, schemes and plans to proclaim the Gospel message, but Francis Xavier proves to us that all that is really needed is relationship and the willingness to bear witness to the hope that is within us.  Go.  Go find a few friends, ring a little bell, and see what a great Apostle you can be.

St. Francis Xavier wrote a beautiful hymn, My God, I Love You. A translation of his words prove to be just as beautiful prayer as they are a hymn. Let us pray:

My God, I love You; not because I hope for heaven,
Nor because those who do not love You are lost eternally.

You, my Jesus, You embraced me upon the cross;
For me You bore the nails, and spear, and manifold disgrace,
And griefs and torments numberless, and sweat of agony;
Yes, death itself; and all for me who was Your enemy.

Then why, Blessed Jesus Christ, should I not love You well?

Not for the sake of winning heaven, nor of escaping hell;
Not from the hope of gaining anything, not seeking a reward;
But as You have loved me, O ever-loving Lord.

So would I love You, dearest Lord, and in Your praise will sing;
Solely because You are my God, and my most loving King. Amen.

Sermon: Advent 1 RCL C – “Re-Created”

The podcast is available here.


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A man dialed a wrong number and got the following recording: “I am not available right now, but I thank you for caring enough to call. I am making some changes in my life. Please leave a message after the beep. If I do not return your call, you are one of the changes.”

As I have shared with you, we are studying St. John’s Revelation during hour Sunday school time.  Early on, we noted some of the differences between John’s Revelation, his apocalypse, and the apocalyptic writings of others of the time.  One of the more interesting differences is that in other writings, the decision on a person’s final destination, heaven or hell, has already been determined and there is no more opportunity for change.  However, John’s Revelation is a strong cry for conversion.  Yes, these great and terrible things — stars crashing down, the moon turning to blood, the coming of the beast — these things are going to happen, but John is not revealing these events to us to tell us that we are doomed, he is revealing them to us so that we may have the opportunity to change.  Revelation is the final apocalypse, but the primary goal isn’t to scare the daylights out of us, but to call us to conversion, to change.  As Jesus was the one who revealed the Revelation to John, then we can also apply that message of conversion to Jesus’ own words regarding the last days, such as we read today.  Yes, he says, there will be signs, great and terrible events taking place in the heavens and on earth, therefore, “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Be alert at all times, praying that you may be changed, transformed into his likeness, so that on the day of judgment you may stand with him.  It is this idea of change that has caught my attention for a few weeks now, and it started with an article I read.

The author began with Michelangelo and how Michelangelo viewed a piece of marble that he was about to sculpt.  “Michelangelo understood his role as sculptor as that of a discoverer and liberator.  The statue, he believed, is hidden in the rock from the beginning, and his role is merely to discover it—and to chisel away every piece of rock that is not part of the discovered statue; thereby liberating it.  Hence, he didn’t perceive himself to be making something, but rather bringing forth what was there.”

Michelangelo viewed this as the roll of the sculptor and this concept is quite prevalent in how we view ourselves and the basis for most self-help guidance.  If we can chisel away the bad habits and rough edges, then we will reveal the beauty contained within.  So, we grab hold of those motivational quotes and charge forward.  Zig Ziglar: “Success is a personal standard, reaching for the highest that is in us, becoming all that we can be.”  “Reaching for the highest that is in us”… it presumes that all we need is already within.  Gandhi: “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”  “Our greatness lies… in being able to remake ourselves.”  In what I can do.  It is very self-centered view of our growth as human beings.  When one self-help guru doesn’t work, then we go on to the next fad.  I remember when Franklin Planners came out.  They were all the rage and if you followed their plan to success, then you would be on top.  Now there’s a ten step guide to making a million, becoming a thinner you, or inner peace coming out every week, each one rising and falling of the best sellers list as they fail to produce the promised results.

The pendulum swing of searching for the perfection within is revealed very well into a popular song from a few years ago, “I was born this way.”  In other words, what you see is my perfection.  I don’t have to search within to find myself in order to change myself, I am who I am.  Yet, when asked what was wrong with the world today, G.K. Chesterton responded, “I am.”  I am who I am, and therein lies the problem.

So, we can go looking for ourselves within, chiseling away all that is wrong, or we can thumb our noses at the world and say, “Here I am, if you don’t like it (in the words of my Uncle Terry), rain on ya.”  However, as a Christian people, we do not see our change, our transformation coming from within or from without, but from above.  We do not seek to remake ourselves or simply ignore the faults, we choose to surrender to God and allow Him to enter our lives and remake us.  The author of the article stated, “this surrender [to God] requires walking to the precipice at the end of ‘I am in control’ [I can change myself] and taking a step of faith.”  In taking this step, “We are becoming what have not yet been.  We are being made.”  As St. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”  We are set free by letting go of what we think we have and surrendering our lives to God.

Billy Graham tells the story about a little child who was playing with a very valuable vase. He put his hand into it and could not withdraw it.

His father too, tried his best to get it out, to no avail.

They were thinking of breaking the vase when the father said, “Now my son, make one more try. Open your hand and hold your fingers out straight as you see me doing, and then pull.”

To his astonishment his son said, “O no, dad, I couldn’t put my fingers out like that because if I did I would drop my dime.”

There is a place for self-improvement and bettering ourselves, and there is a place for being at peace with who you are—running around being depressed over the fact that I’m not exactly a babe magnet (I would at least need a bit of hair for that) isn’t going to change anything, but we can get to a place where we believe our final state is accomplished by our own actions, when in fact, it is only through God that we can be changed, transformed into the glory he first conceived us.  Let go of the dimes worth of life and experience this freedom that comes through Christ alone.

Today we begin the Season of Advent.  Advent means coming, but “coming” implies waiting.  During this time of waiting, take that step of faith out of “I am in control” and surrender yourself into the loving hands of the Creator of us all, and allow the One True God, to change you… to remake you into what He intended from first day.

Let us pray: Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming and looks forward with longing to his return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which his presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon: Proper 28 RCL B – “Occupied Time”

The podcast is available here.


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Thibodeaux was riding past Boudreaux’s place and saw him out in his cow pasture.  Thibodeaux pulled in and found him still standing in the same spot not moving.  Thibodeaux asks: Boudreaux, what you doing there?  Boudreaux says: I’m tryin’ to win the Nobel Peace Prize my fren!  Thibodeaux: How you gon’ do dat?  Boudreaux: They say all you gotta do is be out standing in your field!

It may work for good ol’ Bou, but for you and I, it turns out we don’t really like standing around doing nothing.  Case in point: the Houston airport.

The New York Times reported that the Houston airport had an overwhelming number of complaints about the long wait at baggage claim.  They did many corrections, including hiring more employees.  Eventually they got the wait time for bags down to an industry low of eight minutes, but the complaints did not cease.  In all their studies, they learned that the airport was very well designed so, on average, it only took travelers one minute to walk from their gate to the baggage claim, leaving seven minutes of standing and staring at a motionless baggage claim carousel.  Those seven minutes were the source of all the complaints (the fact that we get testy after waiting for seven minutes is a sermon for another day).  What did the Houston airport do?  They moved the arrival gates further out so that the walk to baggage claim was longer and the complaints dropped considerably.

The Times reporter found Richard Larson at MIT.  Larson is an expert on the psychology of waiting in lines.  He said, “‘Often the psychology of queuing is more important than the statistics of the wait itself,’ says Larson.  Essentially, we tolerate ‘occupied time’ (for example, walking to baggage claim) far better than ‘unoccupied time’ (such as standing at the baggage carousel). Give us something to do while we wait, and the wait becomes endurable.” (source)  

“Jesus, tell us when you will return.”  “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.”

Wars, earthquakes, famines.  We have had all these things, time and time again, but still we’re like ol’ Boudreaux, standing out in a field waiting for the harvest to come.  We’ve been studying the Book of Revelation and from the looks of things, those four horsemen have been running amuck for centuries, but still nothing.  For some, this wait is like staring at a baggage claim carousel that does not move, leading to impatience and frustration.  But, perhaps for us, this time of waiting is not to be “unoccupied time,” but “occupied time.”  Perhaps this impatience and frustration we experience is not a result of the Lord’s delay, but our own inactivity when we should be performing the work of the Kingdom.

I think of that first Passover, on the night before the tenth plague came upon the Egyptians, and how the Lord explained to Moses how the Passover lamb was to be eaten: “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord.”  You are not to lounge around and eat this meal slowly.  You are prepared, standing, eating hurriedly, because you are a people of action.  You are embarking on this great journey of salvation and redemption, and we are to do the same.

And notice, I said that in this “occupied time,” we are to be “performing the work of the Kingdom.”  We can find all sorts of occupations and entertainments that fill our time, but if that is all they are – if there is no Kingdom work – then we have simply traded the pearl of great worth for cheap costume jewelry.  We bounce from one entertainment to the next, never revealing Christ to the world or allowing him to transform us into his perfect image.  Therefore, as St. Paul taught us in our second lesson: “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

We live in the time of the silence, between the flash of lightning and the sound of thunder.  So, in the words of Paul to the Galatians, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.  So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”

My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá said, “‘I read a proverb which is very popular in some countries: “God owns the world, but he rents it out to the brave’, and it made me think. —What are you waiting for?” (The Furrow, #99)

Let us pray:
Gracious and Holy Father,
Please give us:
intellect to understand you,
reason to discern you,
diligence to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
a spirit to know you,
a heart to meditate upon you,
ears to hear you,
eyes to to see you,
a tongue to proclaim you,
a way of life pleasing to you,
patience to wait for you
and perseverance to look for you.

Grant us a perfect end,
your holy presence,
a blessed resurrection
and life everlasting.
Amen.

Sermon: Proper 27 RCL B – “All In”

The podcast is available here.


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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.


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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.


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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!


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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.”

“How?”

“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…

Why?

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.
Amen.

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.”