Sermon: Lent 2 – “Name”

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

When there is a popular TV show or movie, the names of characters can end up as children’s names. 2020 it turns out was no exception (well, 2020 was no exception to many things). So we have children now running around with names like Sansa from Game of Thrones and Katniss from The Hunger Games. Those are OK. They reflect our heroes, but other parents… other parents bring out my less than charitable side, because they’ve hung an albatross of a moniker around their children’s necks. For example, can you imagine the life of the children whose names are Facebook, Moxie Crimefighter, Hashtag, or Yoga? Or, if there were twins, you could do like a couple in New Zealand and name them Fish and Chips (the government actually stepped in on that one and said, “No.”) All I can figure is that these names must have been conceived while under the influence of Vodka (also a child’s name) and can best be described as Smellie (yes, another child’s name and one who will require massive amounts of therapy to overcome poor self-esteem.) These parents should have heard the command of English poet and priest, George Herbert, “Admit no vain or idle names.”

Why would parents do such a thing? I think it comes down to not placing any significance on a name: “a rose by any other name is still a rose” and a child by any other name—even if that name is Nutella—is still a child. However, Eugene Peterson, wonderful theologian and author of Run with Horses, understands the name with far greater significance. He writes, a “name addresses the uniquely human creature…. The meaning of a name is not in the dictionary, not in the unconscious, not in the size of the lettering. It is in relationship—with God.” He says that when he is baptizing a child and asks the Godparents, “‘What is the Christian name of this child?’ I am not only asking, ‘Who is this child I am holding?’ but also, ‘What do you want this child to become? What are your visions for this life?’” “Anything other than our name—title, job description, number, role—is less than a name.” (p.27-32) In other words, a person’s name defines a relationship with God and purpose in life. That relationship and that purpose then, can be understood as the will of God, which perhaps helps us understand why God changed peoples name. Take for example our first lesson from today: Abram and Sarai.

God came to Abram and made the Covenant with him—“your descendants shall be more than the stars in the skies”—and so God changed Abram’s name to Abraham. Abram means, “high father” and Abraham means, “father of a multitude.” God gave him a new name and changed the purpose of his life. In doing so, God defined his will for Abraham: one who is to fulfill the covenant. As Abraham could not do this alone, God changed the name / purpose of his wife. Sarai, which means, “my princess” to Sarah, meaning “mother of nations.” She too had her name and purposed redefined. We know of others. Jacob, meaning “supplanter” because he stole his brother’s birthright, became Israel, “having power with God.” Simon, “God has heard,” became Peter, “the rock.” Name and purpose, which defined God’s will for each of their lives. Only trouble, on the surface, it doesn’t seem that God changes people’s names anymore, so how can we know our purpose, but that is the surface. Going deeper, we realize that God has changed everything about us for the fulfillment of his will.

St. Paul: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

St. Peter: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:10)

St. John: “Beloved, now we are children of God.” (1 John 3:2)

Jesus: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)

God has not changed our names, he has transformed who we are into a completely new creation: his people, his beloved, his children, and maybe more important than all that… his friend; and in doing so, he has given us the purpose of our lives and shown to us his will—and don’t hate the messenger—but you know what that will is. Yes, you do: love—to love God and to love neighbor, the rest…

Do you know what a spaghetti junction is? You really only have them in cities, but they are where many interstates and roads come together and are intertwined with bridges and tunnels, on-ramps and off-ramps, big arching loops and tight circles. They look like a plate of spaghetti. I think they are a pretty good example of life—not just a single junction, but one after the other. A constant discernment of the various decisions of our lives. It often times is a mess that not even Siri can get you through, but what is impossible with man is possible for God, for if you will look at the road before you, you will know the one that God has designed for you—even with all its loops and weavings. How? There are many roads we can take, but there is only one that is ordered by love. If you will follow the road that allows you to love God and to love neighbor—as crazy as that road may look—then you are fulfilling the will of God and the purposes for which you were created.

Imagine your life when the decisions are before you and instead of asking, “What can I get out of this? What will benefit me? How will this make me look?”; instead of asking those questions, imagine your life when the decisions are placed before you and you ask, “How can I fulfill the purpose of God… the will of God?”, which is just another way of asking, “How can I love?” With the decision before me, “How can I love God and a my neighbor?” It will not always be an easy choice and you may be the one who “loses” according to the world’s standards, but you will hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful… friend.”

Eugene Peterson said, that when he asks for the name of the child to be baptized that he’s not only asking, what is this child to be called, but is also asking, “What do you want this child to become? What are your visions for this life?” Those are also questions that we ask God for ourselves. What do you want me to become? What is your visions for my life? The answer: follow the road of love.

God has given his son a name which is above every name and you have been called according to that name. You have been called to the fulfillment of love.

Let us pray: Most holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Our first beginning and our last end: You have made us In accord with your own image and likeness. Grant that all the thoughts of our minds, All the words of our tongues, All the affections of our hearts, And all the actions of our being may always be conformed to your holy will, so that on the last day, we may enter your eternal kingdom and live in your glory. Amen.

Sermon: St. Matthias

Today we celebrate St. Matthias and our reading from the Acts of the Apostles that we heard is all we really know about him. He is believed to have been one of the seventy-two that Jesus sent out, but when it came time to replace Judas Iscariot as an Apostle, he won the position by the casting of lots. Tradition holds that he ministered in and around Judea and would eventually be martyred for the faith. However, as I was thinking and praying on the message for today, it wasn’t Matthias that I kept thinking on. The passage said, “they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.” The casting of lots made Matthias an Apostle, but what about Joseph Barsabbas?

Can you imagine: soon after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the eleven remaining Apostles come together, have a conversation, and decide that Judas needs to be replaced. So, they sort through all the resumés and you and this other fella, Matthias, are up for the job. Then Peter grabs the dice, points at you and says, “Even number the job is your’s, odd it goes to Matthias.” And it is over that quick: Peter rolls a five, claps you on the back, and turning to Matthias, ushers him into the inner circle. You know, Jesus called Peter the Rock, but if I had been in Joseph’s sandals, I would have to liked to hit him with one! So close!

Back in 1858, Abraham Lincoln was running against Stephen Douglas for a seat in the Illinois legislature. Lincoln actually won the popular vote, but due to an obscure state statue, the seat was awarded to Douglas (which only goes to prove that we’ve never been able to hold a proper election!… anyhow…) A friend came to Lincoln and asked him how he felt. He is reported to have responded, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.”

I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if that is how Joseph felt, but apparently he demonstrated no ill feelings. St. John Chrysostom writes, “The other candidate (Joseph) was not annoyed, for the apostolic writers would not have concealed failings of their own, seeing they have told of the very chief apostles, that on other occasions had indignation, and not only once, but again and again.” If Joseph had been upset at losing, Luke would have recorded it. He did not, and Joseph went on to become a bishop, martyr and Saint.

We can look to the Apostle Matthias—also a martyr and saint—and understand that if God chooses a specific roll for our lives, his will will be accomplished, but we can also look at Joseph and see that although there are disappointments, God’s will is still accomplished.

When the disappointments come our way, which they most certainly will, then we must say with the Psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Why are you disappointed and cast down? God’s purposes will be fulfilled in us all.

Sermon: Lent 1 – “The Rain, the Ark, and the Rainbow”

Portland, Oregon: they have 222 days with what is considered heavy cloud cover and only 68 days that are considered clear, the other days being moderately cloudy; and it rains, on average, 164 days a year. Oklahoma gets 84 on average. With that in mind…

A fella dies and finds himself in line for judgment. As he watches, he sees some being ushered into Heaven and others directed to the Devil who is off to the side waiting for the wicked. As the guy watched, he saw Satan immediately throw some folks into hell, while a few he pitched over unto a pile. After watching Satan do this several times, the fellow’s curiosity got the better of him. He strolled over and tapped Old Nick on the shoulder.

“Excuse me, there, Your Darkness,” he said. “I’m waiting in line for judgment, and I couldn’t help wondering why you are tossing some people aside instead of flinging them into the fires of hell with the others?”

“Ah,” Satan said with a grin. “Those are Portlanders. I’m letting them dry out so they’ll burn.”

On Ash Wednesday, we talked about how the last twelve months have really seemed a bit like Lent with all the isolation, “fasting” from life, and denial of the lives we had. Continuing with that thought, we can use what lead up to our Old Testament lesson, the great flood, as an analogy for what has been happening. How? Well it’s been raining. As my Granma would say, It’s been raining cats and dogs. More than even in Portland. In fact, it’s almost comical at this point: pandemic, elections, masks, isolation, elections, Arctic blast, and that earthquake Friday morning was a real kicker! When it was over, I just kinda busted out laughing. With everything that has been thrown at us, the only thing I’m missing on my “This is Your World” Bingo card is Velociraptors, and based on what I read about some ridiculous cloning experiments… it wouldn’t surprise me! Yes. It is raining and I for one—and I know I’m not alone in saying this—am ready to dry out, I’m ready to see the rainbow. That sign of a storm passing and of peace. I know that God’s not going to wipe us out again like with what happened in the flood, but we could all use a reprieve; however, this is where we are and for now, it is still raining, and as Dolly Parton says, “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” If this is the case, the where are we to find safety between the two, between the rain and the rainbow?

I think most are aware of this: the area in the church where you all sit is called the nave. These two side areas are called transepts and this area in the center is called the crossing. The entire area up here is called the chancel, which is broken down into the choir and the sanctuary, the area of the high altar.

Between the sanctuary and the chancel with the transepts, we have the cruciform shape, with the altar, Christ as the head. Now, the word “nave” is quite similar to the word “navy” and they both have as their Latin root word navis, which means ship, which comes from the Greek word naus, also meaning ship. Not only that, but looking up—and the architecture St. Matthew’s does this marvelously—you see the form of a ship, as though you were looking at it from above.

Where are we to find safety between the rain and the rainbow? This ship… Noah’s Ark… the Church. Yet we know that the church is not just this building, but is the Body of Christ and Christ is the head; and it is only through that Body, that community of the faithful—both lay and ordained—that we find our salvation from the rain and storms while we wait on the glorious appearing of the rainbow, which is the coming of our Lord.

My friend, St. Josemaría Escrivá says, “No later than the second century, Origen wrote: If anyone wants to be saved, let him come to this house so that he can obtain salvation… Let no one deceive himself: outside of this house, that is outside of the Church, no one will be saved. Of the deluge – the great flood – Saint Cyprian says: If someone had escaped outside of Noah’s ark then we would admit that someone who abandoned the Church might escape condemnation.” (In Love with the Church, 2.24) But the truth is, no one, other than the eight on the Ark, survived, and they only by the grace of God.

While it is raining out, know in your heart and mind—and I’m not going to speak for other churches—but know in your heart that the community of St. Matthew’s is an ark where you can find fellow passengers who are here to give comfort and support and who need you for the same reason. Know that we are a church where you can find sanctuary from the storm so that your soul might know and feel the peace of God. In this ship, you can receive food for your soul, the Body and Blood of Christ. This church is a place where you can know that even when it is raining, the rainbow is present and reflected through God’s people as they continue to witness to the protective covenant that God made to his people.

Let us pray: O Lord, our God, You called Your people to be Your Church. As we gather together in Your Name, may we love, honour, and follow Your Son to eternal life in the Kingdom He promised. Let our worship always be sincere, and help us to find Your saving Love in the Church and its Sacraments. Fill us with the Spirit of Christ as we live in the midst of the world and its concern. Help us by our work on earth to build up Your eternal Kingdom. May we be effective witnesses to the Truth of the Gospel and make Your Church a living presence in the midst of the world. Increase the gifts You have given Your Church that we, Your faithful people, may continue to grow in holiness and in imitation of Your Beloved Son. Amen.

Sermon: Ash Wednesday

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash

Wisdom according to Bill Murray, “Whatever you do, always give 100%. Unless you’re donating blood.”

Here in a few minutes, I’m going to speak the following words to you: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination, and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” After the past twelve months, I kinda feel like we’ve done a fair amount of “fasting” and “self-denial.” In fact, it seems that we’ve come close to giving 100% of all we’ve got to give and so I’ve been asking myself, “When will it be enough?” But I also wonder if maybe we’ve been so focused on what we’ve lost, that we haven’t been able to focus on anything else.

One of the best books I know on loss and grief is A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis. The book is a series of reflections on grief and loss that Lewis wrote following the death of his wife after only three years of marriage. Towards the beginning of the book he speaks about how everything revolves around what was lost: “I once read the sentence ‘I lay awake all night with a toothache, thinking about the toothache an about lying awake.’ That’s true to life. Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” (p.9)

We experience loss, then we think about the loss, and then we think about thinking about our loss. A horrible cycle that as it draws us into ourselves, it pushes everything else out. Lewis then speaks about grief and loss in terms of fear and suspense, which I think aptly describes where so many have been: “grief still feels like fear. Perhaps more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn, I fidget, I smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.” (p.33)

Sound familiar? In the past twelve months, we have lost everything from the opportunity to go on a cruise in the Bahamas to those we have loved the most. What do we do in our grief and our loss? We pace the house. We get bored. We eat too much. Drink to much. We binge watch TV too much. We’ve got more time on our hands than we’ve ever had before, and we’ve know idea what to do with it, even when we have things to do! So again, how can I stand up here and encourage you to self-reflect—when that’s all you’ve been able to do, to fast—when we’ve been fasting from life, to practice self-denial—because there’s not much left to deny? I can ask you to do these things—and perhaps it’s just me and this is a public confession—but in the midst of our loss and grief, we’ve, on occasion, lost the most important thing: we’ve lost our sense of God.

He just doesn’t seem as close as he use to be. We don’t talk to him as much as we did. We don’t sit with him in silence, enjoying the beauty of creation. We’ve drifted. You would think with all the isolation, fasting, and self-denial that we’ve done, we would have drawn closer, but, in many cases, the opposite is true. Why? Because we’ve been doing all the self-denial, etc., because we’ve been forced to do it, but when we do them for God, we do them out of love—that we might draw nearer to God, by placing our faith and needs in his hands. Therefore, I am going to ask you and myself to observe this holy Lent, with all of its practices, but to adhere to them—not because you are forced—but because of your love for the One True God. And if you don’t feel that love, then pray that he will show you, for he has not forgotten his people.

As a father cares for his children,
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.
For he himself knows whereof we are made;
he remembers that we are but dust.

And in remembering, he will never leave or forsake us.

Sermon: Epiphany 4 RCL B – “The Liar”

Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

The Crucible by Arthur Miller: a story of the Salem witch trials and the false accusations that flew. John Proctor, although not an innocent man, is silent until his wife, Elizabeth, is accused and arrested of being a witch. The preacher questions John about his wife and “if” she is innocent. John becomes angry, especially at the girls, Parris and Abigail, who are doing the accusing:

“If she is innocent! Why do you never wonder if Parris be innocent, or Abigail? Is the accuser always holy now? Were they born this morning as clean as God’s fingers? I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem—vengeance is walking Salem. We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”

I came across a story about a middle school class of teens that were learning about the Salem Witch Trials, and their teacher told them they were going to play a game.

“I’m going to come around and whisper to each of you whether you’re a witch or a regular person. Your goal is to build the largest group possible that does not have a witch in it. At the end, any group found to include a witch gets a failing grade.”

The teens dove into grilling each other. One fairly large group formed, but most of the students broke into small, exclusive groups, turning away anyone they thought gave off even a hint of guilt.

“Okay,” the teacher said. “You’ve got your groups. Time to find out which ones fail. All witches, please raise your hands.”
No one raised a hand.

The kids were confused and told him he’d messed up the game.
“Did I? Was anyone in Salem an actual witch? Or did everyone just believe the lie?”

No proof… Vengeance. It was not what they knew of one another, but what they had come to believe, because if enough people believe it, then it must be true. Right?

A man with an unclean spirit entered the synagogue in Capernaum. Seeing Jesus, the unclean spirit cried out: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus wasn’t having any of that nonsense and rebuked the spirit, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

When I read that passage, I can hear the fearful squeaking of the unclean spirit’s voice when it speaks to Jesus and I hear the complete authority of Jesus’ voice when he rebukes that unclean spirit: “Be silent, and come out of him!” However, there are days when I hear the words of the unclean spirit spoken, but it is not that fearful squeaking voice. It is a voice that is full of confidence and sarcasm and vengeance. At times it speaks to me about others. Essentially it is just a variation of the message spoken in Salem. “I know that one, he’s a liar. And that one over there, look how different they are, definitely the wrong sort. Heck. Why care? They aren’t even Christian.” For my part, if I don’t rebuke that voice as Jesus did, then I’ll come to believe it and like those teens did with their classmates, I’ll turn them away.

At other times, that same voice speaks to me, but this time it is filled with condemnation: “I know who you are, ____.” Depending on the day, I can fill in that blank with any number of accusations: “I know who you are, a fraud… hypocrite… bigot… loser… racist, and on and on, and in the end, it all comes down to the cardinal accusation: “I know who you are, a sinner.” And in those words and with that tone, I start to believe it.

There is a political / propaganda tool known as the “big lie” and it has several primary components:
– The more outrageous the lie, the more weight it will carry.
– Strongly assert the lie.
– Repeat, repeat, repeat.
– Massage available data to “prove” the lie as being true.
– Reframe any vigorous denial as proof of guilt.

Does it work? “The rabid, impudent bias and persistence with which this lie was expressed took into account the emotional, always extreme, attitude of the great masses and for this reason was believed ” (Adolf Hitler) “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. (Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda) Does the big lie work? Absolutely. It worked during the Salem witch trials, the rise of the Third Reich, and so many other times in history; and the evil spirit is so very good at using it on humanity, both as a whole and individuals.

That evil spirit takes our faults and expands on them or it pulls one piece of our history and reminds us of some sinful behavior, then it elaborates on it to prove what horrible people we are and constantly places it before us; as the Psalmist says, “My sin is ever before me.” We try to convince ourselves that we are forgiven through the very blood of Christ, but our defense is twisted and restated as a sign of our continued guilt. “I know you… you are a sinner. You always have been and you always will be.” We hear those words time and time again and we begin to believe them.

Hitler and so many others knew this technique because they learned it from the greatest liar of all. Jesus said, “[The devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

I know that we aren’t supposed to talk about the devil. We are supposed to be too enlightened for such “boogey men”, but in my opinion, to say there is no devil is another of the big lies that we’ve all been conditioned to believe, and it is he that speaks those words in our ears: “I know who they are… I know you, you are….” To that, I say, “Don’t you believe it! For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Don’t you believe the big lies that seek to push others away who are different or rob you of your joy by convincing you that you are unworthy. Both these actions damage our souls and draw us away from God. Don’t you believe it. With Jesus beside you and within you, rebuke that evil spirit as Jesus did: “Be silent!” Be silent, for we were all created in the image of God. Be silent, for I am a child of God. Then… then say to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening” and allow God to speak the truth.

Let us pray:
Father in Heaven,
You made us Your children
and called us to walk in the Light of Christ.
Free us from darkness
and keep us in the Light of Your Truth.
The Light of Jesus has scattered
the darkness of hatred and sin.
Called to that Light,
we ask for Your guidance.
Form our lives in Your Truth,
our hearts in Your Love.
Through the Holy Eucharist,
give us the power of Your Grace
that we may walk in the Light of Jesus
and serve Him faithfully.

Sermon: Epiphany 3 RCL B – “The Planted Seed”

The preacher said, “There’s no such thing as a perfect woman. Anybody present who has ever known a perfect woman, stand up.”

Nobody stood up.

“Those who have ever known a perfect man, stand up.”

Well, Ol’ Man Boudreaux stood up.

“Are you honestly saying you knew an absolutely perfect man?” he asked, somewhat amazed.

“Well now, I didn’t know him personally,” Boudreaux replied, “but I have heard a great deal about him.  He was Clotile’s first husband.”

Charles Halloway is the father in Ray Bradbury’s, Something Wicked This Way Comes.  At one point, he comments, “Too late, I found you can’t wait to become perfect, you got to go out and fall down and get up with everybody else.”

That is a very true statement and although we may try to fall as little as possible, we are still going to fall.  However, when it comes to our Christian faith and following Jesus, we’ve come to believe that we must first attain perfection with no falls.  Our pants must be freshly dry cleaned and properly creased, our halos on straight, our eyebrows not too bushy, and our sins far behind us.  Trouble is, we’ll be dead and we still won’t be there.

Imagine, our Gospel reading: “As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’”  Peter responds, I’m sorry.  I can’t do that right now.  I stink of fish, Andrew is still sporting the black eye from when I popped him one last week for tell me I was getting fat, and I haven’t been to synagogue but twice in the last two months.  Jesus then, turning to look at Peter says with disdain on his face, “You’re right.  Never mind.  You are in fact a complete loser.”

Well, of course Jesus did not say that to Peter, even though most of it could have been true, but Jesus did not come looking for the perfect: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

A fable tells of a man who was casually shopping in a store but then discovered that God was behind the sales counter.  So the man walked over and asked, “What are You selling?”

God replied, “What does your heart desire?”

The man said, “I want happiness, peace of mind, holiness, to be without sin, freedom from fear… for me and the whole world.”

God smiled and said, “I don’t sell fruit here. Only seeds.”

Jesus saying, “Follow me”, is Jesus desiring to plant a seed within us so that he might begin a great work in our souls.  If there were finished products on the earth, he never would have come in the first place, but there weren’t.  There were people like Peter and Andrew who were no different than the rest, except that they allowed that seed to be planted within them and they allowed it to grow.  They also took their spills along the way.  Everything from denying Jesus, to doubting, disappointed, frustration, and all that we feel.  What made them great, was that they never gave up.  They never uprooted what was planted within them and cast it aside as though it were a weed.

Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, wrote, “What makes authentic disciples is not visions, ecstasies, biblical mastery of chapter and verse, or spectacular success in the ministry, but a capacity for faithfulness. Buffeted by the fickle winds of failure, battered by their own unruly emotions, and bruised by rejection and ridicule, authentic disciples may have stumbled and frequently fallen, endured lapses and relapses, gotten handcuffed to the fleshpots and wandered into a far country. Yet, they kept coming back to Jesus.”

Peter, James, John, Andrew and all the rest, we may not read about it in the Acts of the Apostles—seems no one likes to document their own failings—but they, like us, stumbled, fell, wandered and so forth, but they always stood back up again and returned.  Always.  We are going to do the same thing.  Some of those fallings are going to be more spectacular than others, but as long as we don’t intentionally uproot the seed that has been planted within us, then it will continue to grow and we do this to attain two main goals.  The first is perhaps the more selfish one: so that we might attain Heaven.  The second goal is not about us, but about the other… 

There is a legend that recounts the return of Jesus to glory after His time on earth. Even in heaven He bore the marks of His earthly pilgrimage with its cruel cross and shameful death. The angel Gabriel approached Him and said, “Master, you must have suffered terribly for men down there.” He replied that he did. Gabriel continued: “And do they know and appreciate how much you loved them and what you did for them?” Jesus replied, “Oh, no! Not yet. Right now only a handful of people in Palestine know.” But Gabriel was perplexed. He asked, “Then what have you done to let everyone know about your love for them?” Jesus said, “I’ve asked Peter, James, John, and a few more friends to tell others about me. Those who are told will tell others, in turn, about me. And my story will be spread to the farthest reaches of the globe. Ultimately, all of humankind will have heard about my life and what I have done.”

Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He well knew something about human beings. He said, “Yes, but what if Peter and James and John grow weary? What if the people who come after them forget? What if way down in the twentieth-century people just don’t tell others about you? Haven’t you made any other plans?” And Jesus answered, “I haven’t made any other plans. I’m counting on them.”  (Source)

Jesus says, “Follow me” and if we accept, he plants a seed in our souls.  As it grows, we will experience times of sanctification and we will also stumble and fall, but when we fall, through faith, we rise again that others might know they can do the same, so that in the end, we might all have the seed of Christ planted in us and rise in glory, and together achieve the first goal: Heaven.

Let us pray: Most Holy Spirit of God, make us faithful followers of Jesus, obedient children of the Church and a help to our neighbors. Give us the grace to keep the commandments and to receive the sacraments worthily.  Raise us to holiness in the state of life to which You have called us and lead us to everlasting life. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Sermon: Epiphany 2 RCL B – “Under the Fig Tree”

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash

Ol’ Boudreaux was visiting Washington, DC, for the first time. Unable to locate the Capitol, he asked a police officer for directions, “Excuse me, officer, how do I get to the Capitol building?”

The officer replied, “Wait here at this bus stop for the number 54 bus. It’ll take you right there.”

Three hours later, the police officer returned to the same area and, sure enough, Boudreaux was still waiting at the same bus stop.

The officer got out of his car and said, “Excuse me, but to get to the Capitol building, I said to wait here for the number 54 bus, and that was three hours ago! Why are you still waiting?”
Boudreaux replied, “Don’t worry, officer, it won’t be long now. The 45th bus just went by!”

Waiting around for something is always difficult, but we do it a lot. And there are some who spend their entire lives waiting for the perfect moment or perfect place or perfect person, which is probably what led Voltaire to declare, “We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.” There’s a good bit of truth in that.

Here recently, I’ve been thinking about how we’ve all been waiting for the pandemic to be over so that we can “get back to normal,” but in the meantime, we’re missing the now, but that’s a rabbit trail for another day. However, we do spend a good deal of time waiting, and there are certain things that are worth waiting for. In these cases, waiting is best understood as patience. Of patience, the Venerable Fulton Sheen said:

“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is ‘timing’
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.”

The parent never waits on the child to learn to walk or to speak. The parent is patient, allowing the child to grow and develop. The vintner doesn’t impatiently wait for the fermentation of the wine to be complete, but is patient in allowing the yeast to do its work.

Today in our Gospel, we are told “When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’” In other words, Jesus says to Nathanael, “I know you,” and in response to him Nathanael says, “I’ve never met you before, so how can you know me?” To which Jesus replies, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

“I saw you under the fig tree” has a few different meanings, but one that is more supported by scripture than the others defines it as waiting on the Messianic Age. Waiting on the Savior. Nathanael asked, “How can you know me?” And Jesus responded by saying, “I know you as one who has been waiting on me.” That was all Nathanael needed. Someone to speak to him about his heart’s desire: the coming of the Kingdom of God. Realizing that his waiting was over, Nathanael shouted, “You are the son of God!” But then Jesus gave one more semi-cryptic message: he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” This is a reference back to the story of Jacob’s Ladder.

Jacob had been traveling and when it got late, he set up camp for the night. When he fell asleep, he had a dream about the place he was camping and in the dream he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder. The angels are those who go about the business of God, so that was a place where the work of God was taking place. God then spoke to Jacob in the dream, reaffirming the covenant that he had made with Abraham. When he awoke, Jacob said, “‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, “‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’” And Jacob named that place, Bethel, which means, the house of God.

Nathanael, was one who was waiting on the Messianic Age and a savior, which like everyone else meant that he was looking for a Savior like King David, one who would establish his kingdom—his house—for all people, but Jesus says, The new kingdom will not be established in a place, but in himself. Jesus is saying that he is a new Bethel, a place where the angels are ascending and descending, that is, in him, the work of God is being accomplished and the covenant is being fulfilled.

Through our baptism and our faith, we are joined with Christ—one, as he and the Father are one—therefore, we too are a part of Bethel—the house of God—that Jesus established. The angels of heaven ascend and descend upon us. The work of God is set in motion within us, but it is here that the patient waiting continues, because this work of God is made perfect in us through Jesus, but it is also not yet complete, which means, I can say with confidence that God’s work has been accomplished in me, but I also know that there is much left to be done (just ask anybody who knows me!) Think of it in terms of a sculptor. The sculptor has before him a large block of marble and a picture in his mind of how he will transform this piece of raw stone into a work of art. The stone in the one hand and the image in the other, but before he makes the first chip, the stone and the image come together in his mind, that is, the sculptor sees the masterpiece inside the raw stone and he goes about the work of revealing it. We are the same. The perfect work of God is accomplished in you, there’s just more patient work to be done.

You are a temple—a house of God. The angels of God ascend and descend upon you and the work of God is accomplished in you, allowing us all to say with Jacob and about ourselves, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it. How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God.” Rejoice and be thankful, for you are God’s masterpiece.

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.


Sermon: Hilary of Poitiers

In Spain there is a statue honoring Christopher Columbus who died in 1506. One of the features of the memorial is a statue of a lion destroying one of the Latin words that had been part of Spain’s motto for centuries. Before Columbus made his voyages, the Spanish thought they had reached the outer limits of the earth. Thus their motto had been “Ne Plus Ultra,” which means “No More Beyond.” The word being torn away by the lion is “Ne” or “no,” making it read “Plus Ultra.” Columbus had proven that there was indeed “more beyond.”

It seems that there was also such a spirit of discovery in our saint for today, Hilary of Poitiers, yet instead of searching for new worlds, Hilary was searching for God and every time someone tried to tell him that there was no more, he kept searching.

He grew up worshiping the pagan gods, but one day, as he tells us, he “chanced upon” the Hebrew Scriptures. It was here that he discovered God’s Name that God had spoken to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM.” Hilary says, “I was frankly amazed at such a clear definition of God, which expressed the incomprehensible knowledge of the divine nature in words most suited to human intelligence.” He had begun his search, but also believed that the God of creation would not leave that creation to simply return to the dust, so he continued the search and in doing so, discovered the readings of the New Testament, and it was in reading the prologue to John’s Gospel that he found the truth he had been searching for: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God….” His soul found peace in Jesus. “No longer did [my soul] look upon the life of this body as troublesome or wearisome, but believed it to be what the alphabet is to children… namely, as the patient endurance of the present trials of life in order to gain a blissful eternity.”

With that knowledge, he would go on to become a bishop of the Church and a defender of the Nicene Creed against the Arians. This led to a three year exile, but he seems to have been relatively unconcerned, but definitely not silent. He wrote letters to the Emperor, argued with the Arian Bishops and produced a great deal of poetry and some of the earliest hymns of the church, one of which is contained in our hymnal.

Hail this joyful day’s return,
Hail the Pentecostal morn,
Morn when our ascended Head
On His Church His Spirit shed.
Like to cloven tongues of flame
On the twelve the Spirit came;
Tongues, that earth may hear the call;
Fire, that love may burn in all.

Hilary died on this day in the year 368, but it is clear that the Spirit and love of God burned brightly in him. Augustine called him “the illustrious doctor of the Churches.” Jerome considered him “the trumpet of the Latins against the Arians.” Today, we remember him as such, but also as one who was willing to put in the work to discover the truth. I encourage you to join with Hilary in seeking the truth and deeper knowledge of God through the reading and study of Holy Scripture.