Sermon: Proper 10 RCL A – “Make Your Bed”

The podcast is available here.

The YouTube service is available here.

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin is getting dressed for school. The first frame of the comic is him pulling on his tighty-whiteys. Next, in nothing but said tighty-whiteys, he standing in front of the mirror flexing his muscles and has a look of total confidence on his face. Charging out the door, he’s ready for the day. It is not the best day: he sits in gum, gets into trouble, gets beat up, doesn’t know the answer, misses the bus and gets caught in the rain. The last frame is him sitting on the bed with his trusty tiger, Hobbes. Remember those tighty-whiteys? Calvin says to Hobbes, “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.”

That can sum up a good many days for all of us. We’re all ready for the day, but then it is one thing after another. One fail or fall after another.

In the parable today, the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us about the four seeds and then later, he actually explains this parable. The seeds are scattered: some fall on the path, others the rocky ground, more amongst the vines, and the rest in good soil. For me, I understand this parable not only to be talking about an overview of a persons life in general, but I also understand it to speak about daily life, because, like Calvin, I can roll out of the bed with every intention of having a holy and righteous day only to have that plan blown apart almost immediately by any number of things.

You know those games that are mazes? And on the sides are two knobs that you turn, attempting to guide a marble through maze, the only catch being that there are holes all along the path. The makers of the game are very generous in that they even draw the path that you have to follow. I hope Jesus doesn’t smack me for this, but that is pretty much how I understand the parable today. We can start off the day ready to take on the world, but almost immediately there are pitfalls. The devil trying to rob us, the pressures of life dragging us down, and the world trying to entangle us. Occasionally we make it through the day mostly unscathed, but there were more than a few close calls along the way.

The days we make it to the end are tremendous, but is there a remedy to the not so tremendous days? As a matter of fact there is: death. Other than that, we’re going to experience them. So, what’s a person to do?

Admiral William H. McRaven: the things that he has accomplished are quite remarkable, but I doubt most of us would know of him if it weren’t for a commencement speech he gave at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.  Many of you have probably watched it on Facebook or Youtube or something, but…

He’s at the podium in his white United States Navy officer’s uniform with so many medals down the front that it is surprising the weight of them doesn’t rip a hole in his jacket. He is a very confident man and speaker, but also quite humble, so when it came to giving advice to a graduating class, he didn’t start off with any high flying ideas, instead, he started with the very basics.

“Every morning in basic SEAL training, my instructors, who at the time were all Vietnam veterans, would show up in my barracks room and the first thing they would inspect was your bed. If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack — that’s Navy talk for bed.

“It was a simple task — mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that we were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle-hardened SEALs, but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.

“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.”

For the record, I am not a bed maker. Gave it up one year for Lent and never looked back, but I get his point: we are to begin each day rightly. Doing those things that are required of us and those things that will make us stronger. When it comes to our life with God, this includes things such as prayer, study of scripture, attention to our duties of state (family, job, self, etc.). These are the “making your bed” items of our Christian life; and they are required in order for us to accomplish God’s will during the day; always keeping in mind that fulfilling these requirements is no guarantee that you won’t fall down one of the holes in the maze, but their fulfillment does build a foundation for our lives, so that when we do fall, we don’t just keep going.

As Admiral McRaven said, “If by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.” You may have fallen down a hole along the way, but because you started your day off with the basics, you have something to fall back on. You may have to begin again, but you have the basics in place. When Calvin was sitting on the edge of his bed after that bad day, he said, “You know, Hobbes, some days even my lucky rocket ship underpants don’t help.” Well, thankfully there are talking tigers, because Hobbes replied, “Well, you’ve done all you can do.” It may have been a train wreck of a day, but if you start off by making your bed, by tending and nurturing the foundation of your faith, then tomorrow you’re given the opportunity to begin again. In addition—and this is not easy to accept at the time—but even though we may have had a train wreck of a day, if we began that day in faith, then we will have fulfilled God’s will. As the prophet Isaiah said:

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

But why do we do this? Why are we willing, in faith, to try again? Answer: because although some of the seed fell on the road, the rocks, and in the thicket… much of it fell in the good soil. We don’t lose everyday. There are days, despite the holes in the maze, that we produce good fruit. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” We press on that we might win the prize for ourselves and we press on that we might be witnesses to those around us, that through our perseverance and hope they, might further understand God’s calling in their own lives.

Admiral McRaven said, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” (Source) If you want to survive the maze with its pitfall, if you want to attain the prize of heaven—regardless of the number of setbacks along the way, if you want to change the world… make your bed. Each and every day, as Paul also teaches us, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God…” that is—make your bed—put on your faith, secured in righteousness and the promise of salvation, and informed and nourished by the very Word of God. “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Be strong in the Lord and begin each day by putting on those things that will see you through the good and evil alike.

From St. Augustine’s Prayer Book… Let us pray:
Lord, for tomorrow and its needs,
I do not pray;
Keep me, my God, from stain of sin
Just for today.

Let me both diligently work,
And duly pray.
Let me be kind in word and deed,
Just for today.

Let me be slow to do my will,
Prompt to obey;
Help me to sacrifice myself
Just for today.

And if today my tide of life
Should ebb away,
Give me thy Sacraments divine,
Sweet Lord today.

So for tomorrow and its needs
I do not pray,
But keep me, guide me, love me, Lord,
Just for today.


Sermon: Proper 9 RCL A – “Heavy”

The sermon podcast is available here.

The YouTube service is available here.

Did you know that whaling is illegal in Oklahoma? Or that people who make ugly faces at dogs may be fined / jailed. And if you’re ever at a funeral in Oklahoma City, don’t tip over the casket, because that’s illegal. Every state has some crazy laws.

In Louisiana, “Biting someone with your natural teeth is ‘simple assault,’ while biting someone with your false teeth is ‘aggravated assault.’”

And in Alabama: “It is illegal to impersonate a person of the clergy.”

Most of us are familiar with the laws that govern us, at least the more obvious ones: speeding, stealing, etc. Even the people that break them are aware of the fact that they are doing something illegal. When we consider The Law of the Old Testament we are referring to 613 laws that were established by God to govern the people. In our Gospel reading, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,” it was these laws that he was referring to as a “burden.” Who could keep them? No sooner had you made atonement for the ones you had committed when you discover that you had already broken another.

There is a story about a student at Cambridge University in England who entered the classroom on exam day and asked the proctor to bring him cakes and ale. The proctor refused, expressing astonishment at the young student’s audacity. At this point the student read from the four-hundred-year-old Laws of Cambridge, which were written in Latin and still somewhat in effect. The passage read by the student said, “Gentlemen sitting for examinations may request and require Cakes and Ale.” The proctor was forced to comply. Pepsi and hamburgers were judged the modern equivalent, so the necessary accommodations were made for the student. After all, the law was on his side. Three weeks later the student was summoned to the office of Academic Affairs to face disciplinary action and was assessed a fine of five pounds (about $7.50, the cost of the meal). He was not fined for demanding cakes and ale, but for blatantly disregarding another obscure Cambridge law: he had failed to wear a sword to the examination.

The Mosaic Law was the same way. No one could keep up with the burden of all the obscurities. Addressing this burden, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

There is a legend concerning Jesus which tells of his carpenter years. The legend claims that Jesus was one of the master yoke-makers and folks came from miles around for a yoke, hand carved and crafted by him.

When customers ordered the yokes they brought the oxen with them and Jesus would take precise measurements. After a week or so the owner would return with the oxen and Jesus would carefully place the newly made yoke over the shoulders of the oxen, then he would “fine tune” the yokes, removing rough spots, smoothing out edges that would eventually rub sores, making the yokes a perfect match for that pair of oxen.

When Jesus says, “my yoke is easy”, a more accurate translation of the Greek would be “well-fitting”. My yoke is well-fitting. Jesus is not saying that there will be nothing for us to carry, because we also know that Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” The burden – that is the cross – must be carried, but through Jesus it is one that can be borne by us.

So, we are no longer burdened by the Law as given by Moses. We have exchanged that for the yoke of Christ which is well fitting and light. If this is true – which it is – then why do so many of us still carry around such heavy burdens? Such heavy loads? If you dare look in the mirror, you’ll see the answer. So often, the yoke over our shoulders is not the one that has been tailored made by Christ, instead it is the one you’ve made for ourselves. And so often, we carry these self imposed burdens because of our inability to receive the unconditional love of God.

You all know the story of the Prodigal Son. He received his inheritance before his father’s death and went off and squandered it. Ended up broke and starving. So he says, I will return to my father and be a servant, because at least his servants are treated well. Scripture says he returned, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him.” When his father saw him, what did his father do? He yelled at him and said, “Step one foot on this property and you’re a dead man!” No. Scripture says that the father “was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Yet we hear that passage and we can’t imagine that it is speaking about us. Sure, it is true for everyone else, but not me. We can’t sort it out in our minds and our hearts that Jesus would allow me to exchange the burden of my self-made yoke for the love of God.

We are no longer under the continuous demands of the Law, but we place these huge burdens on our on shoulders before allowing ourselves to receive God’s love. “I can accept God’s love if I do this,” but once we have done “that”, then we say, “God would love me if only I could be forgiven of this”. But it doesn’t stop there, because once we finally forgive ourselves we say, “I will be accepted by God when… if… after… etc… etc… etc.

Think back on the story of Lazarus, the one that Jesus raised from the dead and the brother of Mary and Martha. Jesus arrives at the tomb of Lazarus and tells those gathered there to roll away the stone, but Martha objects, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been there four days.” Jesus says to us, “Live! Throw down your burdens and accept my love” and we say, “Lord, I can’t. I’ve been dead in sin for so long that I stink.” We don’t believe that we are ones who are worthy to receive the life, the love that he is offering.

Thomas Merton asked the question of himself, “Who am I?” Then he wrote the answer, “I am one loved by Christ.” We must divorce ourselves from our self imposed burdens. We must throw them off and learn to say with Merton, “I am one loved by Christ.” Say that with me, “I am one loved by Christ.” Now, believe it. Yes, we were dead, there was a stench, but we have been raised with Christ because of God’s great love for us. We are given new life and “the old order of things has passed away.”

There is the burden of your own cross that you must bear, but it is well-fitted for you. Unlike the Law, it is not a burden that is carried out of command or compunction, but is one that is given and carried out of love, and there is the difference. Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” St. John Chrysostom, preaching on this passage, says: “Not this or that person, but all that are in anxiety, in sorrows, in sins. Come, not that I may call you to account, but that I may do away with your sins; come, not because I want your honor, but because I want your salvation. “And I,” says he, “will give you rest.” Set down your self imposed burdens and allow yourself to receive the love of God and find rest in him.

Let us pray: Almighty God, our Eternal Father, from the fullness of our souls we adore You. We are deeply grateful that You made us in Your image and likeness, and that You ever hold us in Your loving embrace. Direct us to love You with our hearts, with our souls, and with our minds. Direct us to love all Your children as we love ourselves. O, loving Father, our souls long to be united to You, and to rest in You forever. Have the Holy Spirit touch us so that we may love You as He does, and as Your Beloved Son Jesus does. Amen.

Sermon: Proper 8 RCL A – “More Water”

The Sunday service is available here.

Photo by Yasuo Takeuchi on Unsplash

Some of you know that I had an issue with kidney stones a few years back.  This is not something I recommend to anyone.  They say the pain is equivalent to a woman giving birth.  Ladies: I am sorry.  We are not worth it.  When everything was back in order, I had several follow up visits with the doctor.  I asked the Doc a number of questions: it still hurts a bit, what should I do?  Answer: drink more water.  How can I prevent them from reoccurring?  Answer: drink more water.  Is there anything else I should be doing?  Answer: drink more water.  I asked: do things like coffee count?  He looked at me blankly, sort of cocked his head to the side and said: drink more water.  At this point, I was beginning to catch on.  Drink more water.  So I do, but what kind?  Do I go with regular old tap water or something a bit more… expensive?  

Apparently when it comes to drinking more water, it’s not just those of us who’ve had kidney stones that think about that one.  The bottle water industry, of course, wants us to think they’ve got a superior product to what comes out of the tap.  Why?  Money!  By 2022 it is estimated that worldwide sales of bottled water will exceed $320 billion.  Not surprising, because a bottle of water is about 300 times more expensive than a glass front the tap.  And how does that industry dupe us into spending that kind of money on something we can more or less get for free?  Answer: fear.  And that fear has two major thrusts.  The first is the obvious: fear that the water coming out of the faucet is dangerous.  There are some instances when those fears are founded, but in most cases, the water in the bottle is no better than the water out of the tap, but the second of those fears is the one that is more interesting and far more subtle, but it is apparently a major driving factor.  

Stephanie Cole, performed a research project on the topic.  Addressing this second fear, she writes, “There is also a deeper subconscious force at work here, one that caters to our desire for immortality.” (Source) Put another way, we spend umpteen billion dollars on bottled water, because we’re afraid of death.  One of the other researchers in the study, Sarah Wolfe, states: “Our results demonstrate that corporate [ad] campaigns appeal to people who measure their personal value by their physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status.”

Do you remember the story of Lazarus and the rich man?  It is in Luke’s Gospel.  Lazarus was a poor beggar who laid at the gates fo the city.  Each day, the rich man passed him by, ignoring Lazarus’ needs.  Eventually, they both die and the tables are turned.  Lazarus is in eternal glory and the rich man is in hell.  Seeing this, the rich man calls out to Father Abraham: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.”  Father Abraham replied: “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.”

(Now, before you think I’m slapping you around this morning, if you look in my refrigerator, you will find sparkling water in glass bottles, so I’m not judging here!)

Essentially, Father Abraham said to the rich man, you drank bottled water your entire life.  You were concerned more about… what did our researcher say… You were concerned with “physical appearance, fitness levels, material and financial wealth, class, and status.”  You were concerned with these things and you never gave Lazarus a second glance.  In our Gospel reading today, Jesus said, “Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  To the rich man, Father Abraham said, “You want a drop of cool water… a drop… to bring you even a moments relief to your current agony.  Yet all Lazarus was ever really looking for from you was a glass of cool water.  Had you given him one, you would be with us now.”

Our Gospel reading today is the end of the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples before sending them out into the world to do the work of teaching and healing, the work he had been doing.  So, where I do believe that Jesus, when talking about this cup of cool water, is speaking about caring for the physical needs of others, I think the larger context is providing a cup of cool water for the soul, for Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  Yes, the disciples when going out were to care for the needs of others, but more importantly, they were to give cups of this eternal life giving water that flowed from them to any of the little ones who asked.  As we too are the disciples of Jesus, that is also our duty.  We must also be the vessels who carry this eternal life giving water into the world, so that we are able to give cups of cool water… so that we are able to share Jesus.  We may not think we are qualified for such work, but the Lord knows differently.

There was once a water carrier in India whose job it was to bring water from the river to his master’s house. Day after day, he would take two pots on a long pole down to the river, fill them up, and bring them back to his master’s house.  One day, he fell, and one of the pots was cracked.

The water carrier continued to use both pots, but by the time he arrived at the house from the river, the cracked pot had leaked out half the water.

As this is just a story, pots can talk and have emotions, and the cracked pot eventually became so ashamed of its inability to properly carry water, that it said to the water bearer, “I ask that you simply break me on a rock and throw me on the rubbish pile.”

The water carrier understood the distress of the pot, so he said, “Today, I’m going to make the trip like I always do, but I won’t fill you up.  I just want you to look around and tell me what you see.  Will you do that?

“Yes,” said the pot, “but when this day is done you are to do as I ask.”

The water carrier only smiled and they made the journey to the river and back.  When they returned, the water carrier asked the pot what it had seen.

“I saw the trees, birds, grass and flowers along the path, but I saw nothing to warrant my continued use.  None of those things had anything to do with me.”

“Ahhh,” said the water carrier, “but it does.  You see, two weeks after I had fallen I noticed that I was leaving a trail of water behind me. That day I took some wildflower seeds and I spread them along that side of the path. You have watered those seeds, which have become flowers, which I pick every day now when I am coming back. Now I do not only grace my master’s table with water, but with beautiful flowers as well.”

None of us may think we are qualified to be the vessels of living water, the ones who are called upon to give cups of cool water to those are thirsty, but the Lord is able to use even a bunch of cracked pots like us.  

We are the disciples of Jesus, the ones who are today called upon bring life giving water to the world, a world that is in just as much agony as the rich man in hell.  The only difference between the story of the rich man and Lazarus and us today, is that it was too late for the rich man.  There was a barrier that could no longer be crossed, but for us today… nothing.  Many need to drink more water… life giving water and we choose, we can freely give it to everyone we encounter. 

At the beginning of this conversation with the disciples, the Lord said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  We are those laborers and we cannot ignore the thirsty.  When he calls, when he asks who will go—who will bear the eternal life giving water into a thirsty world—as his disciples, we respond, “Here am I. Send me!”

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, Lord of the harvest, call many members of our community to be generous workers for Your people and to gather in Your harvest.  Send them to share the Good News of Jesus with all the people on earth, that we may be one body and one people. Father, we ask this prayer through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sermon: Proper 7 RCL A – “Alligators in the Tub”

Photo by Jackson Jost on Unsplash

The comedienne Gracie Allen once received a small, live alligator as a gag. Not knowing what to do with it, she placed it in the bathtub and then left for an appointment. When she returned home, she found this note from her housekeeper: “Dear Miss Allen: Sorry, but I have quit. I don’t work in houses where there is an alligator. I’d a told you this when I took on, but I never thought it would come up.”

I can actually appreciate that one, not that I’ve ever found an alligator in a bathtub, but these days have presented a great many things that I had never anticipated showing up in my job description. For example: did you know that when it comes to cables that run to microphones and headsets that there is the TS, the TRS, and the TRRS? Well, neither did I, which is why I invested an additional $30 on cables in trying to get the sound better. I had originally purchased the TRS when in fact I needed the TRRS—and for the record, they are not compatible. And don’t get me started on live streaming software. They keep saying “insert stream key” and I keep thinking, unless you decide to tell me where to insert the stream key, I’ma find you and use my imagination. Know what I mean. My goodness. Does that make we want to resign like Gracie Allen’s housekeeper? Not at all, because no matter the job, whether at home or in the world, there will always be those odd, unexpected, and sometimes irritable aspects of our job description and life in general. You roll with it. And these days, if you don’t roll with it, you’ll find yourself pulling out more hair than you’re losing, because the unexpected is the only thing we can expect (thankfully the murder hornet issue seems to have died off.)

We do, however, attempt to plan for the unexpected. If you try to map out every scenario and everything that could go wrong, then the only thing you’ll ever do is plan and not accomplish anything, but if you lay down some broad strokes and are charitable in defining them, you’ll at least have a starting place. That’s not only true for life in general, but also for our life with Christ and one another. St. Paul brought up baptism this morning, so let’s consider it in this context.

In the Rite of Baptism, the candidates (or their Godparents) are asked, “Do you desire to be baptized?” The response, “I do.” What does that “I do,” mean? Six questions are asked which define it: Will you renounce Satan, the evil powers of this world, your sinful nature… do you accept Jesus as your Savior, put your trust in Him and promise to follow and obey him as Lord. And the candidates respond to each of those questions, “I do.” Each one of those questions is a reaffirmation of the desire to be baptized. In saying, “I do,” you are taking on the responsibility, the “job,” of being a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. How you will accomplish the work of a disciple is given next in the Baptismal Covenant, a part of which is the Apostle’s Creed, stating what you believe, followed by the job description: continuing in the apostles’ teachings, the Eucharist, and the prayers; persevering in righteousness; proclaiming the Gospel with your life; serving others; and striving to raise up all people. This job description is laid down in very broad strokes, because it is meant to gather the entire life work of the disciple of Jesus. If we define them narrowly, we can show up to church on Sunday morning and call it good. If we define them charitably… “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that is what Jesus was saying in our Gospel reading this morning.

Our reading today was from Chapter ten in Matthew’s Gospel. In Chapter four we have the Temptation in the Wilderness, then Jesus calls his disciples, followed by much teaching: salt and light, lust, love of enemies, giving to the needy, The Lord’s Prayer, and more. There have also been healings and miracles: the leper, the centurion’s servant, calming the storm, the woman with demons; and then that great line: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jesus then gives the twelve disciples the authority to do the things that he has been doing. They too are to teach, heal, perform miracles, just as he has.

He has given them the job title: disciple. He has given them the job description: heal, teach. They have all they need to accomplish the work, so—in chapter ten, verse five—Jesus sends them out, with a few last minute instructions: go only to the lost sheep of Israel, accept no pay, take nothing extra, only one cloak, one pair of sandals, proclaim and heal in whatever village you arrive at. If they listen good, if not… thumb your nose at them and move on. They have the job title, job description and the knowledge on how to go about doing it. But remember he tells them, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” In other words, expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised if they think you’re the devil, they thought the same of me. Don’t be surprised if some die along the way, that also is expected (and by the way, don’t worry about it if you do, your Father in Heaven knows and loves you.) Don’t be caught off guard if your mother, father, brother, sister, friends and neighbors think you’ve slid off the cracker and want to do you harm. You should expect all these things to happen. You should expect to find alligators in the bathtub. These things are just a part of the job, but if you are faithful, “I will acknowledge you before my Father in heaven.”

All this Jesus summed up in that final statement we read this morning: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Those who find a life apart from God—apart from the life of a disciple—will have the life they choose, but in the end they will lose it all. Those who are joined with God, becoming a true disciple, will lose—that is—freely and sacrificially give up the life they choose, so that they might have the life they were created for and fulfill the will of God.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, writes, “Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good… Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’”

Those twelve took the job of disciples, knowing full well that it wasn’t going to be an easy road, but they gave themselves entirely in order to fulfill the will of God, because “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” You and I, we were baptized for the exact same reason as they were called, with the exact same job description. We are also called to give ourselves entirely to the fulfillment of God’s will, living testimonies to the “greater love,” remembering to expect the unexpected (like alligators in the tub!) and remembering that there will be difficulties along the way, but also knowing that Our Father in Heaven knows every hair on our heads and he loves and cares for us, therefore, as Jesus said in three different ways in this reading, “have no fear… do not fear… do not be afraid.” With boldness and without fear, fulfill the work of one who has been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Perform the work of the disciple. As the Lord declared to the Psalmist (50:14-15):

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
    fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call on me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Let us pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Who, before ascending into heaven, promised to send the Holy Spirit to finish Your work in the souls of Your Apostles and Disciples, graciously grant the same Holy Spirit to us, that Your Spirit may perfect in our souls the work of Your grace and love. Mark us, dear Lord, with the sign of Your true disciples and breathe in us all things necessary for the fulfillment of your will and our our salvation. Amen.

Sermon: Trinity Sunday RCL A

The podcast is available here.

“If love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question?” — Lily Tomlin

“I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.” — Groucho Marx

“Marriage has no guarantees. If that’s what you’re looking for, go live with a car battery.” — Erma Bombeck

“Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow Internet service to see who they really are.” — Will Ferrell

Finally, my friend, Henry Miller, writes, “The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough of is love.”

And everyone replies, “Lord, he’s talking about love again.” Yes. Yes, I am, but you have to admit, Jesus was pretty big on it. So were the Apostles and it was Paul that gave us the big speech on it (You all know it): “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.” But why the topic of ‘love’ on Trinity Sunday. Well, have you ever wondered why the Godhead is a Trinity? Why there are three instead of one, two, four or more? The answer, at least as I have come to understand it, is because of love. What brought about this understanding? When I was in seminary, I wrote a paper on De Trinitate by Richard of St. Victor (he died in 1173) in which Richard puts forth his ‘theory’ — and theory is the best we can say when it comes to the Trinity — and it begins with that statement in St. John’s first epistle, “God is love.”

God is love and the love of God is perfect and unchanging. However, in order for love to be perfect, it must be expressed, otherwise it becomes self-absorbed. Yet, in order for God’s perfect love to be expressed, there must be one who can not only receive that perfect love, but also return it. So, God the Father gives and receives perfect love from God the Son. Richard then goes onto explain that the perfect love of the Father and the Son, must also be shared with another, but that since it is perfect love, that other must be of the same divine nature as the Father and the Son, thus the Holy Spirit. This is where I probably fall into heresy, but it is a way to think about it: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall mutually in love with one another. Boy marries girl and they have a child, who is an expression of their love and also one with whom they may share their love, and who loves them in return.

In a similar, but perfect way, the Father and the Son have perfect love and find joy in sharing it with the Holy Spirit, and it is this perfect love that necessitates the Trinity of Persons and binds them together. Clear as mud? Good. Don’t worry if it makes no sense how the Trinity operates. Salvation is not dependent upon that knowledge, besides, the main question for us is: how do we fit in? If the three of them are having this perfect love, how can we, who are imperfect, participate in their existence? This we celebrated last Sunday on the Day of Pentecost.

Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. …Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them…. Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Did you hear that? “… and we will come to them…” and make our home. The Father will send the Holy Spirit and in doing “we” — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — will make their home in us. And what must we do to receive them? Jesus provides a very concise explanation: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Everything that God has ever commanded — from don’t eat the fruit to the most obscure of the 613 Mosaic Laws — and everything that the prophets ever spoke about God, is summarized in those two commandments: love God. Love neighbor. We participate in the Holy Trinity by loving God and loving neighbor.

It began with love in the existence of the Holy Trinity and it ends with that same perfect love working in us. Yes, that same perfect love is within us, but…

Perhaps the science is outdated, I’m not sure, but the idea is good. George Stephenson, he died in 1848, was a British civil engineer and is considered to be the “Father of Railways.” One day, he and several others were watching a train billowing smoke and steam as it came down the tracks. Stephenson asked one of his companions if he knew what powered the train. There were a few good answers, but then Stephenson said, “What do you say to the light of the sun?” Implying that sunlight powered the train. His companions said that it couldn’t be. Stephenson explained: “It is light bottled up in the earth for tens of thousand so years, light absorbed by plants and vegetables being necessary for condensation of carbon during the process of their growth, if it be not carbon in another form; and now, after being buried in the earth for long ages in fields of coal, that latent light is again brought forth, and liberated,—made to work, as in that locomotive, for great human purposes.”

We have latent, that is, hidden light, concealed love within us. It is the perfect love of the Holy Trinity, bottle up as it were, and ready to be consumed and fulfilled in the great purposes of God, but… but… unlike the coal that is thrown into the fire, we — through our free will — choose not to be set aflame or to be used for the purposes we were created. We prefer to lie peacefully in the earth rather than being ‘set aflame’ and releasing this perfect love on those around us. By doing so, we allow the hate of the world to gain a foothold, which dampens the flame of hope, the burning love of the Holy Trinity.

I suppose this all comes back to what we said last week. We are here to shine. To set aflame the world around us with love of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some might say, “That sort of thing is not for me” or “now is not a good time,” but to quote the often used paraphrase statement of Rabbi Hillel: “If not us, who? If not now, when?” What is stopping us? I’ll answer it for myself. What is stopping me from being set aflame with the perfect love of God? What is stopping me… me. I am. How would you answer?

There is the Holy Trinity, which at its very core is love and through the giving of the Holy Spirit, we have received and been incorporated into that Trinity, into that love. And just as God could not be self-absorbed by holding that love within himself, neither can we. Don’t let the hate win. Burn. Shine. Love.

Let us pray: Glory be to the Father, Who by His almighty power and love created us, making us in the image and likeness of God. Glory be to the Son, Who by His Precious Blood delivered us from hell, and opened for us the gates of heaven. Glory be to the Holy Spirit, Who has sanctified us in the sacrament of Baptism, and continues to sanctify us by the graces we receive daily from His bounty. Glory be to the Three adorable Persons of the Holy Trinity, now and forever. Amen.

Sermon: Easter 4 RCL A – The Shepherd

The podcast is available here.

The service via YouTube is available here.

As we are in the great outdoors today, I thought I would share with you a recent environmental event and study that comes out of California.

It seems that the California Department of Transportation recently found over 200 dead crows on the highways and given that we already dealing with one pandemic there was real concern that the crows may have died from Avian Flu. A Pathologist examined the remains of all the crows, and, to everyone’s relief, confirmed the problem was not Avian Flu. The cause of death appeared to be from vehicular impacts. However, during analysis it was noted that varying colors of paints appeared on the bird’s beaks and claws. By analyzing these paint residues it was found that 98% of the crows had been killed by impact with motorcycles, while only 2% were killed by cars.

The Agency then hired an Ornithological Behaviorist to determine if there was a cause for the disproportionate percentages of motorbike kills versus car kills. The Ornithological Behaviorist quickly concluded that when crows eat road kill, they always have a look-out crow to warn of danger. They discovered that while all the lookout crows could shout “Cah!”, not a single one could shout “Motorcycle!”

At this point, I am beginning to wonder if all this isolation is effecting my mental stability.

So we are getting back to nature today. We don’t have any crows around and I’m fairly certain that if a sheep showed up in Mary’s backyard we would be having a bit of mutton alongside that big ol’ fish I caught last weekend.

Ok… enough silliness for one day. Sheep and shepherds.

Today, the closest time most of us come into contact with sheep is when we put on a wool sweater. As for the shepherd, it is imagery that we know from pastoral paintings, but it is a role that we know very little about. Yet, in the time of Jesus and even today in the Middle East, the shepherd still plays a very vital role, which accounts for the high number of times sheep and shepherd are mentioned in Holy Scripture. We are most familiar with the appearance of the shepherds in at the nativity, but they appear 246 more times.

I’ve always thought of the sheep as being a relatively stupid animal, but it turns out they are extremely intelligent. After being separated for years they can remember individual sheep and humans. They display emotion, primarily with their ears (although they will wag their tails like a dog when happy). They form very close bonds with one another and even have best friends/sheep. If they get to feeling ill, they know which plant to eat to make themselves feel better. They are highly independent, but love to socialize. And they do in fact know the sound of their masters voice. You can go online and watch videos of a flock of sheep with person after another calling to them and the sheep could care less, but when the master calls, they stop and come running. It is quite impressive. (I would show it to you, but the copyright police would come after me.)

When the weather is good, the sheep are allowed to graze the countryside and the shepherd watches over them with his rod (“Your rod and your staff they comfort me”), a long stick with a knot on the end, which is good for bonking wolves on the head and protection from would be thieves. However, when the weather turns bad, the sheep are taken to the sheepfold. This is an enclosure that is surrounded by a rock wall (about three feet wide at the base and narrowing at the top) that is about six feet tall. At the top of the wall are placed very thorny vines to keep out thieves and predatory animals. There is a low building on the inside for when the weather gets worse. Finally, there is one entrance, one gate into the fold. At night, the gate is where the shepherd sleeps in order to keep the sheep in and the riff-raff out.

Now, hear the lesson again: Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way (who climbs over the wall and through the thorny vines) is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate (the only gate) is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. (They are very intelligent animals, remembering a human for years after they have been absent) He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. (In the video – that I can’t show you – the sheep do not listen to anyone else.)

Jesus said, “I am the gate. (I am the one place where you may enter into the safety of the sheepfold.) Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. (He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.) The thief comes (climbing the wall and breaking in) only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (“…and my cup is running over.”)

The Lord accomplishes all this. He is the gate. Through his life, he gives us water to drink, nourishment, one another, green pastures, security, and more. As he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” He came so that we could declare with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” But here’s the funny bit (but not, Haha funny). The atheist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, stated it best, “If Christians want me to believe in their redeemer, they need to look more redeemed.” The author, Marcellino D’Ambrosio, reflected on this statement: “To Nietzsche most Christians looked just as burdened, clueless and lost as everybody else. When he looked into their eyes, he did not see hope, excitement, joy, and a sense of purpose. They seemed to be still wandering around the Sinai desert, emaciated and anemic; their faces full more of impossibilities than possibilities.” (Source)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. Jesus came that we may have life and have it abundantly. Nietzsche would ask, if that is true, why do so many Christians appear to be in great want? Why do their lives not reflect abundance, fullness? Maybe Jesus gave us a clue: “All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them… The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Why do we, though we are in fact very rich, appear to be paupers? Answer: I think, on occasion, we listen to the thieves and the bandits. Jesus says that he gives us all we need in order to live in abundance and joy, but then a thief comes along and says, “You would have a better life, if….” “You could experience joy, if….” “You could live in abundance of life, if….” That “if” works itself out in flagrant and subtle ways. Whichever the case, that “if” drives you to grab for more, instead of finding joy in what you have. That “if” pushes your eye to the future and what could be, instead of now and the blessings of today. That “if” does so many things: drives wedges in happy relationships, brings addiction, robs time, destroys families, conquers the joy of the present moment, and ultimately, that “if” bankrupts any possibility of an abundant life.

I shared this with you several years ago, but it is worth hearing again: Brennan Manning, in the Ragamuffin Gospel, writes about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The Rabbi had a heart attack and was near death. A good friend came to see him who reports that the Rabbi, with great effort, said to him, “Sam, I feel only gratitude for my life, for every moment I have lived. I am ready to go. I have seen so many miracles in my lifetime.” After a pause while he caught his breath, the Rabbi continued, “Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked God for wonder, and He gave it to me.”

The Rabbi never had much time for the “ifs” in his life and at the end of life, he had nothing but gratitude.

The “if”… the thief is no shepherd. That bandit comes into our lives only to steal and kill and destroy. Therefore, turn to the Shepherd of your life and follow him. In him and in the life he gives is true happiness, abundance, wonder; for when we no longer want, we’ll discover that we have all we need.

And on that, I hope that I can practice what I preach.

Let us pray: Father of Heaven and earth, hear our prayer and show us the way to peace. Guide each effort of our lives so that our faults and sins may not keep us from the peace You promise. May the new life of grace You give through the Eucharist make our love for You grow and keep us in the joy of Your Kingdom. Amen.

Sermon: Easter 3 RCL A – Road to Emmaus

The podcast is available here.

The YouTube service is available here.

We are in an argument with North Dakota. They say they have it and we say that we have it. They’re wrong. What is the argument about? Who has the longest and straightest stretch of road. Well, I’m here to report to North Dakota that facts are facts. Their highway 46 can only offer up 31 miles, where as our highway 412 between Slapout and Hardesty boasts over 65 miles of razor edge straight, which, by the way, pales in comparison to a road in Saudi Arabia that has 162 miles of… I’m guessing, nothing.

One of my favorite films is The Way with Martin Sheen. It is about the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage across Spain. Sheen and two others meet “Jack from Ireland” for the first time. Jack writes for travel magazine and at this meeting he’s having a bit of crisis and goes into a bit rant about the Way and roads in general. He says, “The idea of a pilgrim’s journey on this road, is a metaphor bonanza! Friends, the road itself is amongst our oldest tropes. The high road and the low. The long and winding, the lonesome, the royal, the open road and the private, the road to hell, the tobacco road, the crooked, the straight and the narrow. There’s the road stretching into infinity, bordered with lacy mists favored by sentimental poets. There’s the more dignified road of Mr. Frost. And for Yanks, every four years, there’s the road to the White House. Then you have the road which most concerns me today, the wrong road, which I fear I must surely have taken.”

The Bible also has many metaphors of the road. Isaiah 40:3, which will later be picked up by John the Baptist: “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” John 14:6: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’” And, of course, Psalm 23: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

And then there are the stories of those on journeys: the Israelites through the wilderness, the roads into exile, Jesus road to Jerusalem, and—in the words of Jack from Ireland—you have the road which most concerns us today: the road to Emmaus, which is a biblical event, but also a metaphor.

As for the event: it takes place on the same day that the holy women discovered the empty tomb, so Easter Sunday. We are told that two of Jesus’ disciples, one of them is named Cleopas, are walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It would seem that they had been in Jerusalem on Friday when Jesus was crucified, so they most likely were present at his triumphal entry. As it was late in the day on Friday when Jesus died, the would have stayed in Jerusalem through Saturday night, because Saturday was the Sabbath and the Law would not have allowed for such a long walk on the Sabbath. As they could have walked the seven miles to Emmaus in less than three hours and it was almost dark when they arrived, then they probably didn’t leave Jerusalem until late afternoon on Sunday. They knew that some of their companions who had been with Jesus were reporting that they had seen the Lord, that he had risen, but that wasn’t enough to keep them in Jerusalem. Maybe they weren’t convinced or maybe they just couldn’t believe. Maybe they were just going home. Whatever the case, they met Jesus along the way.

Jesus asked them what they had been discussing along the way and their initial response was the equivalent of asking him what rock he had just crawled out from under. (You saw what I did there… right? What rock… stone rolled away… never mind.) They go into detail of all the events and then Jesus goes into detail: “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” And this was no short list.

Once they arrived at Emmaus, Jesus, although the two disciples had not yet recognized him, appears as though he is going to continue on, but the two invite him in to supper and to stay the evening with them. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.” Whether it was the prayer or the way he broke the bread or just flashback to a few evenings before at the Last Supper, they recognized him. To say that they recognized him is just another way of saying that they finally got it. Remember, all the time they spent with Jesus before the crucifixion, they never really understood the things he was telling them. In recognizing him in Emmaus, they finally put it all together and returned to Jerusalem to tell the others.

There are many Sundays worth of sermons in these events, so instead of preaching them all today, I want to go back to the idea of the road, because the road to Emmaus is a metaphor, it is symbolic in many ways of the road we travel, and today I would like for us to see it as means of hope.

Rev. Martyn Lloyd-Jones is considered one of the most influential reformed / protestant preachers of the 20th century. In one of his more famous sermons, he teaches about these two disciples and tells the story of the time he was asked to assist with a man who was very devout and involved in the church, but over the years, lost his faith and left the church, due to an increasing depression. Martyn agreed and met with the man. As the conversation progressed, Martyn asked the fella if he knew the source of the depression and together, they eventually found it. The man reports that in 1914 he was serving on submarine in the Mediterranean. A naval battle ensues: “We were submerged in the sea, and we were all engaged in our duties when suddenly there was a most terrible thud and our submarine shook. We’d been hit by a mine, and down we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean. You know, since then I’ve never been the same man.” (Source) What Martyn went on to discover was that it wasn’t the sinking that was the source of the man’s depression, it was that he had remained at the bottom of the Mediterranean all his life. You see, Martyn kept asking him, “What happened next? What happened after the submarine sank? What was the rest of the story?” But the man kept saying, that was it. They sank. He never talked about how they were rescued. How he survived. It was all about the sinking to the bottom.

The two individuals on the road to Emmaus could only talk about what happened and what had gone wrong. “This Jesus was a great prophet. We loved him. We thought he was going to redeem Israel, set us free from the Romans. But the people turned against him. The religious leaders had him put to death. We… we sank to the bottom of the Mediterranean.” Martyn says this is a problem for many. He said, “We are so aware of the problems, so immersed in them, that we have forgotten all of the glory that is around us and have seen nothing but the problems that lead to this increasing dejection. That is my analysis of these men on the road to Emmaus.”

We can be like that and these days, it is easy to do. All the things we can’t do, can’t buy, people we can’t be with, events we can’t attend… can’t, can’t, can’t… my goodness, we’ve sunk to the bottom of the Mediterranean! But then…. then there’s Jesus, who says, “Walk with me for awhile. Let me help you to understand. What you are experiencing does not have the final say, for I have overcome it all.”

For those two disciples, N.T. Wright explains the problem: “It had been, a matter of telling, and living, the wrong story-or, at least the right story in the wrong way. But now, suddenly, with the right story in their head and hearts, a new possibility-huge, astonishing, and breathtaking-started to emerge before them.”

The same is true with us. We keep telling ourselves the wrong story. “We can’t. We’re sunk to the bottom of the sea. All is lost.” Yet, along that road, at the bottom of the sea, however you want to see it—there is Jesus, and in the midst of our can’t and fears, he speaks a message of hope that is huge, astonishing, and breathtaking. He speaks of new life. Resurrection from death and despair and can’ts.

When it seems that the road you are traveling is fraught with problems and impossibilities, stop and look around. In doing so, you’ll find that the One who is resurrection and life, is traveling with you.

Let us pray:
Father of love, hear our prayer.
Help us to know Your Will
and to do it with courage and faith.
Accept the offering of ourselves,
all our thoughts, words, deeds, and sufferings.
May our lives be spent giving You glory.
Give us the strength to follow Your call,
so that Your Truth may live in our hearts
and bring peace to us and to those we meet,
for we believe in Your Love.

Sermon: Easter 2 RCL A / Sunday, April 29, 2020

The podcast is available here.

The Youtube service is here.

Paddy O’Sulluivan was in New York .  He was patiently waiting and watching the traffic cop on a busy street crossing. The cop stopped the flow of traffic and shouted, ‘Okay, pedestrians.’ Then he’d allow the traffic to pass.  He’d done this several times, and Paddy still stood on the sidewalk.  After the cop had shouted, ‘Pedestrians!’ for the tenth time, Paddy went over to him and said, ‘Is it not about time ye let the Catholics across?’

I tell you that one, not because it has anything to do with the sermon, but because of our current circumstances.  Many of our Protestant friends have been doing video and streaming their services for quite some time, but for most of us in the more catholic / liturgical traditions, this is all new ground.  I’m delighted that you are watching and that you’ve enjoyed the services, but I do want to let you know that we are working at getting better.  As parts of this service were recorded at different times, you’ll already notice that some parts – including the music – have a better sound quality and we’re looking at ways to get even better.  If you have an idea, let us know.

Ok… Sermon…

On the first Sunday after Christmas (yes, Christmas), we always read the Prologue from John’s Gospel.  On the first Sunday after Easter (today), we always read the passage from John about Jesus appearing to the disciples and the incident with the Apostle Thomas.  It is these two passages that bookend the Gospel of John (some scholars believe that chapter 21 of John’s Gospel was added later, although this doesn’t not effect the the reliability of the message.)  John, when writing his prologue, had this ending of his Gospel that we read in mind.  The Prologue reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  The Word was God, and what did Thomas say to Jesus in today’s Gospel?   “My Lord and my God!”  In John’s Gospel, Thomas’ declaration, “My Lord and my God” is the first time anyone refers to Jesus as God.  John takes us from God and the Word, Jesus, who were in the beginning before time began, and he takes us all the way through to this Jesus who was prophesied about by the prophets, born in a manger, lived, proclaimed, died, and rose from the dead, and in doing so he is proving to us that this Jesus is in fact God… the God who was in the beginning.  And it is this God who is standing before Thomas and the others.  But he is also showing the Apostles, and thus us, that this Jesus they knew prior to his crucifixion is different, for he is no longer constrained to the same physical limitations that we are and that he was. 

We see this in two passages in today’s Gospel: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.”  And then, “A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them.”  The resurrected Jesus is making these appearances as though “out of thin air.”  That may sound a bit strange to us, but let me ask you this, is it any more strange than turning water into wine, feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, or walking on the water?  No.  These appearances of Jesus are more signs of his divinity, and the signs point to the fact that through Jesus, the Kingdom of God – Heaven – has come very near to us.

Now, bear with me a minute and don’t go thinking I’ve gone and slid off the cracker.  Throughout the Old and New Testament, there are many references to when God is very near to His people.  Consider Jacob who had a dream about the angels ascending and descending on a ladder.  Scripture says, “Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’”  He believed that the place where he slept was much more near to the Kingdom of God than other places.  Then there was Moses.  He sees the burning bush and goes up the mountain and the Lord says to him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  The ground is holy, because of its nearness to God.   And remember Elijah.  He was afraid and ran to the wilderness where he hid in a cave.  God said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.”  And then there was a great wind that tore the mountains, but God was not in the wind, then an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in them either, but “after the fire the sound of a low whisper.  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”  God was very near and spoke to him in the whisper.

Way back in the 5th century, Celtic Christianity/spirituality began to arise in Ireland and Scotland, and within their practices and understanding, the places where Jacob, Moses, Elijah and others had these experiences of God would be called “thin places.”  Locales where Heaven, God is much more near to this world and his people than he is in other places.  These are places where heaven and earth seem to mingle and share the same space.  I tell you this because I think it is one of the best ways of understanding how Jesus could have appeared to his apostles as though “out of thin air.”  For a brief time, Heaven and Earth came together, mingled in that place where Thomas and the other Apostles were gathered and Jesus appeared.  It is dramatically different from the appearances in the Old Testament, because God did not simply appear in a dream, or a burning bush, or even a whisper.  Instead, with Jesus, God appeared in the flesh, but it is still a time when Heaven and Earth came together.  Now, within Celtic spirituality, these types of places, these thin places don’t only exist in Biblical times.  They believe that these places, where Heaven and Earth meet, can exist anywhere or at anytime.  

That was something that the Desert Fathers and Mothers, those who went out in the deserts of northern Egypt in the third century, understood.  Although they didn’t call it a thin place, they did understand the desert to be such place.  Italian author Alessandro Pronzato said, “The desert is the threshold to the meeting ground of God and man.”  Elizabeth Hamilton, who wrote a biography on Charles de Foucauld, one of the great desert fathers, said it in a similar way: “The desert is a place where the soul encounters God.”  The desert then, for them, can be understood as a thin place, but Hamilton went onto add, “The desert… can be anywhere.”  And that is what is most important for you and I to understand, especially while we are separated like this.  The desert can be anywhere.  The thin place can be anywhere.  The place where Heaven and Earth come together can be anywhere.   It is the mountain where Moses encountered God.  Behind locked doors where Thomas and the Apostles encountered Jesus.  In this building (Oh, I do certainly believe this is one of those places), where we so often come to worship.  But it doesn’t end there, because these places can also be in your home, where you are sitting at this very moment.

It is very difficult not to be with one another and worship together in this thin place, but I tell you: if you seek him, wherever you are, you will encounter him.  And just as Thomas reached out his hand and touched God, you too can reach out the hands of your soul and do the same.  Whether here or wherever you are.  Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come back here when we all can, but it does mean that He is with you and that you, where you are at this very moment are near to the Kingdom of God, to Heaven, and God himself.  

Let us pray: Jesus, our Lord, save us from our sins.  Come, protect us from all dangers and lead us to salvation.  Come, Lord Jesus, do not delay; give new courage to Your people who trust in Your love.  By Your coming, raise us to the joy of Your Kingdom, where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever.  Amen.