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

The podcast is available here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Philip the Deacon

The podcast is available here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The podcast is available here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Lancelot Andrewes

The podcast is available here.


 

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

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

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

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

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

The Psalmist wrote:

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

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

Sermon: St. Matthew

The podcast is available here.


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The Calling of Saint Matthew / Caravaggo (1599-1600)

Bassanio is in love, but he does not have the money to woo Portia, so he goes to his good buddy Antonio and asks for a loan.  Antonio is a shipping merchant, but all his money is currently tied up, so he asks for a loan from Shylock, who only demands that the money be paid back in three months.  If is Antonio is late, it won’t cost him much… only a pound of his flesh.  Antonio is confident in his ability to repay, so he agrees.  Then comes a storm at sea and two of his three ship are lost.  Three months are up and Shylock is demanding payment.  Antonio doesn’t have the money, so Shylock demands his pound of flesh.  Portia arrives on the scene and pleads for mercy for Antonio.  She says to Shylock: 

“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings,
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings.
It is an attribute to God himself.
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.” 

That is from Act IV, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice, and I’m always reminded of it when I read those words of Jesus: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Our patron Saint, Matthew, who we celebrate today, was likely despised by everyone.  He was a tax collector.  The Jews hated him because he worked for the Romans and collected from them.  The Romans hated him because he was a Jew and collected from them.  When he was growing up, I can’t imagine that he said to himself, “Ya know, when I grow up, I want a job where everyone hates me,” but circumstances led him to it.  Yet, those same circumstances placed him in the exact place he needed to be in order to have an encounter with Jesus and Jesus said to him, “Follow me.”

That evening, Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners sat at the table for a meal with Jesus.  When the religious leaders saw this, they wanted to know why Jesus spent time with them instead of condemning them.  Why he didn’t force them into the religious system that would bind them to the law and the sacrifices, and Jesus responded, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  Jesus said, “I have this radical idea: why don’t we just forgive them?  Why don’t we just love them, because they are in the image of the Father?”  Ultimately, the religious leaders gave their answer to this radical idea: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”  

As we consider ourselves, we can come to believe that the religious leaders are correct.  Our circumstances can be similar to Matthew’s, where we intentionally or unintentionally find ourselves in a life apart from God, and when we consider God, we can believe that there really is no chance for us, so we condemn ourselves.  Instead of, “Crucify Him!” It is “Crucify me!”  I deserve to give up my pound of flesh.  I am deserving of my punishment.  But like Matthew, it is there that Jesus finds us and calls to us, “Follow me.”  When you hear his call, don’t hang your head thinking you are forever lost.  Instead, go.  Sit at the table with Matthew, the other tax collectors, and the sinners—sit at the table with them and with Jesus and “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Understand that the Lord desires to show you mercy.

Sermon: 125th Anniversary of St. Matthew’s

The podcast is available here.


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I feel certain that most of you know this history better than I: on September 16, 1893, 125 years ago today, a strip of land 225 miles long and 97 miles wide, 8,144,683 acres, broken up into 42,000 parcels came up for grabs, and it all began with a land run.  First one to plant his flag could claim the land, that is, if someone wasn’t already there before you.  Hence, the big argument over boomers (those who waited for the sound of the canon indicating the beginning of the run) and the sooners (who got there just little bit early), although, it didn’t always work out for the sooners: one sooner bribed a soldier to hide him in a hole until it was legal to be there.  Paid the soldier $25.  At noon on the day of the run, when it was legal to be there, that particular sooner popped out of his hole to make his claim, only to find four other men had already claimed the land for themselves.  Seeing as how I’ve no way of knowing which of you alls families were boomers or sooners… I’m going to avoid dwelling on that topic!

On the day of the run, it is estimated that over 100,000 individuals were primed and ready to cross into the territory and make their claim—there was definitely not enough land to go around.  Most made the run on horseback and wagon, but others came on foot, the train, and—I was surprised to learn— on bicycle (I figured these had to be the Episcopalians of the bunch, always the progressives!).

I came across the account of Seth Humphrey who, with his brother, made that mad dash on bicycle, not for the land, but for the show of it all.

“At last the eventful morning broke, a day exactly like all the rest, hot and dry, a south wind rising with the sun dead ahead, and a hard proposition for bicyclists… A quarter to twelve. The line stiffened and became more quiet with the tension of waiting. Out in front a hundred yards and twice as far apart were soldiers, resting easily on their rifles, contemplating the line… Five minutes. Three minutes. The soldiers now stood with rifles pointing upward, waiting for the first sound of firing to come along their line from the east. A cannon at its eastern end was to give the first signal; this the rifles were to take up41944132_10217601392571488_6943320770110029824_n and carryon as fast as sound could travel the length of the Cherokee Strip…. the rifles snapped and the line broke with a huge, crackling roar. That one thundering moment of horseflesh by the mile quivering in its first leap forward was a gift of the gods, and its like will never come again. The next instant we were in a crash of vehicles whizzing past us like a calamity…

That night, after some of the dust had settled, Seth and his brother heard gunshots and men shouting.  The following morning, they had a hearty breakfast and it was then that they encountered another fella who had made the run, made a claim, but was apparently unsuccessful in keeping it.  Seth wrote, for the unsuccessful fella “the delicate question [of his claim] had been settled by the gay horsemen in the pitch darkness of the night before. By the time they were through with him he felt assured that he must have arrived about a week late.”  With “considerable heat,” the fella said to Seth and his brother, “I wouldn’t live here next to such neighbors, anyway.” (Source)

Question: if it was that bad and that rough—on the exact same day that this fella was getting the heck out of Dodge—why would a bishop in the Episcopal Church stand in the back of a wagon and hold a religious service on a tract of land that had previously been considered a worthless desert amongst a group of individuals who may or may not be suitable neighbors?  Part of the answer lies with our Gospel reading this morning.

“Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’”

As St. Peter teaches us, God desires that none should perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9), but in order for them to have life eternal they must be able to confess with Peter what he declared to Jesus, “You are the Messiah.”  You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  St. Paul taught in his letter to the Hebrews: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Whoever declares Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ has eternal life.  But then Paul asked a series of question: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”  Bishop Brooke and the clergy from all the other denominations came in as a part of that great land rush to this dusty land with questionable neighbors so that the Gospel could be proclaimed and the Great Commission could be fulfilled: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  And the work of those men and women continues through us, 125 years later.  We are a part of their legacy and a testament to the good seed they planted.

So, the question comes to us: in 125 years (that will be the year 2,143), if the Good Lord has not returned, will the church in this place say the same about us?  Will they look back and say that we also planted good seed?  Did we take what has been given to us and care for it?  Were we good stewards of our founders legacy?  For me, if I were there in the year 2,143, I would look back on you and say, “Well done good and faithful servants.  Well done.”  Why would I say that?

Remember that fella that was headed back north after the land run?  He said, “I wouldn’t live here next to such neighbors, anyway.”  From my perspective, he couldn’t have been more wrong.  You are in fact, some of the finest people I have ever been among, and in big ways and small, you show forth the light of Christ.  You are all Bishop Brookes proclaiming the Gospel through your words and deeds and you are planting good seed, just as he did.  

We are here today because of what took place on this very spot 125 years ago.  I pray that, in another 125 years, they will also be gathered on this very spot remembering the good work that you have done and the good work that you will accomplish in the years to come.

Let us pray: We praise You heavenly Father for the great privilege which is ours this day to humbly come before You, and lovingly praise and thank You as we reflect on the history of our parish which was established 125 years ago.

By Your grace, Lord, this parish has been established and been a place of community, fellowship, worship and preaching. Many people have come and gone from us over the years, and we are thankful for what each one has contributed to our church. We are thankful to the support we have received from our Diocese as well as our community that have allowed us to do the work of furthering God’s Kingdom here in Enid and beyond. We continue to pray for Your gracious Spirit to work through us as we support ministries in our local area as well as those beyond our boundaries.  

May we be faithful in heeding the Holy Spirit in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus and being Your light in Enid and the world. Amen

Sermon: Proper 19 RCL B – “Ephphatha!”

The podcast is available here.


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An elderly gentleman had serious hearing problems for a number of years. Finally, he relented, and went to see a hearing specialist.

After examining the old man, the doctor was able to have him fitted for a set of hearing aids. The tests showed that the hearing aids allowed the elderly man to hear perfectly. The doctor told the man to return in a month for a quick check up.

One month later, the elderly gentleman was back at the doctor’s office. The doctor said, “Your hearing is perfect! Your family must be really pleased you can hear so well.”

The old man replied, “Ha! I haven’t even told my family yet.”

The doctor was confused.

The old man continued. “I just sit and listen to their conversations. I’ve changed my will three times!”

Our Gospel reading begins with a clue for our understanding: “Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre.”  Jesus set out and went away into the region of the dogs… of the Gentiles.  This is a passage we’ve discussed before, so briefly: the relationship between Jews and Gentiles was horrible at best.  The Jews looked down upon the Gentiles and considered them unclean, so for the Syrophoenician woman to come and speak to Jesus, a Jew, was simply unheard of.  Jesus’ seeming referral to the woman as a dog is so far out of his nature, that we understand something else is taking place, and theologian N.T. Wright describes it as “banter.”  Jesus played the roll of a “clean” Jew who comes into contact with an “unclean” Gentile, but this does not stop him from responding to the woman’s needs by healing her daughter of the demon.

The later Church will use this event as an indicator of Jesus’ mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God to all.  As He said in the Great Commission, “go and make disciples of all nations.”  Even so, this event reminds us of the primacy of the Jews at that time, for it is from them and the Covenant that God made with them, that the Messiah would come.  Perhaps the greatest point we can gain from this event is that it is not the outward appearance of the person—“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)—but the willingness to accept Jesus as the Son of God, so that he may then enter into our lives and bring healing.

From Tyre, Jesus then goes to Sidon, “in the region of the Decapolis,” also a Gentile area.  While there, like in Tyre, he is trying to lay low and not draw too much attention to himself, but he is known and the people soon begin coming to him for healing.

A group brings a man who is a deaf mute and ask Jesus to heal him.  He takes the man away from the crowd and does what they ask.  “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  Not only is the man able to hear, but he is also able to speak clearly.

I read an article written by a young woman, Cristina, who was born deaf and who was six years old when she received a cochlear implant.  After a month, she was able to turn them on for the first time.  She says, “I ran down the hall, screaming. I expected that I would be able to hear instantaneously. That proved not to be the case.  You see, if you never heard before, any unfamiliar sensation feels like pain. I stood at the end of the hallway, half-aghast, half-sobbing since all I felt was pain, and I didn’t hear anything.”  Later that day she heard her first sound, she thought it was a motorcycle revving.  

It took her two years of daily speech therapy to be able to hear and understand a full sentence.  It took another few years before she was confident enough to speak in public.  She said that the first thing she was able to order at a restaurant with her voice alone was a soft-serve ice-cream from Wendy’s.  She says, “I was around 9 and that, to this day, was the best ice cream cone that I’ve ever had.”  In the end, it took ten years of speech therapy for her to be able to hear and speak as you and I would understand it. (Source)

That is the technological way that we say, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  What Jesus accomplished in an instant, in Cristina’s case, took ten years.  Both miracles: a miracle of faith and a miracle of science.  Yet, the event in Sidon is not only about a miracle of hearing and speaking.

Just a short time prior to the events in our Gospel, Jesus had told a parable while still among the Jews.  It was the parable of the farmer who goes out and scatters seed, some falling on the path, other in rocky places, still other among the thorns, and lastly, some on good soil.  Later, he explains the parable to his disciples: “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.  Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy.  But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.  Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.  Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Soon after saying this, Jesus had a confrontation with the religious leaders, turning to the people he said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand!”  And when the disciples failed to comprehend, he asked them, “Then do you also fail to understand?”  Do you also fail to hear me?

Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God.  He tells them what it is like and how they may enter.  He performs miracles, not just for the miracles sake, but so that when they hear his words they will know and believe that he is speaking the truth to them, and how do they respond?  “Huh?”  “This guy is crazy!”  “What’s he talking about?”  I’m surprised he didn’t shake them so hard that they chipped a tooth, but because he is Jesus and not me, he performed a miracle instead: “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  Jesus opened the ears and loosed the tongue of the deaf mute.  In the same way, he seeks to open the ears of our hearts, which is a miracle that not even a cochlear implant can accomplish.   The ears of our hearts must be opened so that when he speaks, we might hear him clearly and understand what he is saying, and that we might be able to speak clearly and give him praise, recognizing him as the Son of God, so that we might sing with the Psalmist those words we read this morning:

Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

But it doesn’t end there, because what flows from the opening of the ears of our hearts to God, is the opening of the ears of our hearts to one another. 

Most have fallen in love at least once.  Do you remember it?  That person who you could stay up all night talking with and how you hated to be separated from them for even a minute?  But then, if you remained with them for a period of time that sort of wore away, and if it was a relationship that led to marriage, you may just find yourself sort of grunting at each other instead of actually speaking.  Or what about a relationship with a friend or someone else that had been strong for many years, but soured due to various hurts, disappointments, bitterness, or miscommunications?  In these circumstances, we can become deaf mutes in our relationships.  We no longer hear one another, we no longer speak to one another.  In such situations, we need a miracle that is equal, if not greater, than the one that occurred with the deaf mute in Sidon.  We need Jesus to enter into our lives and speak those words, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened,” to our hearts that we might hear and speak clearly to one another again.  

Perhaps this story is really no different than the story of the Syrophoenician woman who accepted Jesus as the Son of God and allowed Him to enter in and bring healing.

“Ephphatha.”  Be opened to God.  Be opened to one another.  Allow the Lord to enter in and bring healing, not only to your lives, but to your soul and your relationships as well.

Let us pray: Lord, You invite all who are burdened to come to you. Allow Your healing Hand to heal us. Touch our souls with Your compassion for others; touch our hearts with Your courage and infinite Love for all; touch our minds with Your Wisdom, and may our mouths always proclaim Your praise. Teach us to reach out to You in all our needs, and help us to lead others to You by our example.  Most loving Heart of Jesus, touch gently our lives which you have created, now and forever.  Amen.

Sermon: Paul Jones

The podcast is available here.


pauljones-290On January 20, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as the 34th President of the United States.  He was a military man.  A five-star General during World War II, Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, and Military Governor of Germany following the fall of the Nazis.  Even with such a military background, just three months into his presidency, he gave a speech against increased military spending.  The speech became known as the Chance for Peace speech or Cross of Iron speech.

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.  This world in arms is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”  After providing several examples of what could be purchased with all the funds for the American people in the form of schools, hospitals, homes, he continues, “This is, I repeat, the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

By the end of his presidency, we were deeply mired in the Cold War and even Eisenhower had to give into the necessity of funding wars and rumors of wars.  As we all know, that type of spending continues today.  We have a warplane that cost $150 million… each.  

I believe there are times that we are required to engage an enemy (Just War Theory is a bit too complicated for such a short period of time) and I am not begrudging our soldiers anything, but with $700 billion dollars being spent on the military just in 2018, you do have to wonder what else we might be able to accomplish if we could spend these dollars elsewhere.

Why this talk of military?  Today we celebrate Paul Jones who was the Bishop of Utah from 1914 to 1918, and who in 1917, at the height of World War I, had the nerve to to stand against it as a pacifist.  In a pamphlet he wrote, “As a Christian Bishop, charged with the responsibility of leadership, I would be deserving only of contempt did I remain silent in the present crisis, when the Christian standards of judgment are apparently being entirely ignored. The day will come when, like slavery, which was once held in good repute, war will be looked upon as thoroughly un-Christian.”  I think if you posted that on Facebook today, you would get the same response that Paul Jones received then.  His pacifist stance on war eventually led the House of Bishops to call for his resignation: “The underlying contention of the Bishop of Utah seems to be that war is unchristian.  With this general statement the Commission cannot agree.”  Bishop Jones complied and resigned, but did not give up, going onto assist in the formation of what is now known as the Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

I do not believe President Eisenhower would have agreed with Bishop Jones’ pacifist stance, but their distaste for war would have probably been equal, and I don’t believe that there are many who would disagree with that.

What can our part be in a world with so many wars, both big and small, on battlefields with soldiers and on battlefields of politics and social concerns?  Calvin and Hobbes, probably the most brilliant comic strip ever written outside of Peanuts.  Hobbes is the stuffed tiger who comes to life when no one is looking and Calvin is a young boy and the tiger’s keeper – if tigers can be kept, that is.  One day, Hobbes asks Calvin, “How come we play war and not peace.”  Calvin’s answer, “Too few role models.”  Our part in this world is to be a role model, a disciple of Jesus.  As St. Peter taught us in our reading: we are to be those to desire good days, who control their tongues—not speaking evil, who seek good and peace and pursue it, and who desire to do righteousness.  Those actions may not be pleasing to many, just as Paul Jones’ actions were not pleasing to many, but they will be pleasing to God who will reward you.  As Paul teaches in Ephesians, “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do.” (Ephesians 6:7-8)

Sermon: The Ordination of Janie Koch

The podcast can be found here.


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A Bishop visited a parish to administer the sacrament of Confirmation. The Pastor, a young progressive, approved a liturgical dance during the Mass and the Bishop was not advised. During the dance a young lady in flowing robes floated across the sanctuary and in the middle of the dance she presented the Bishop with a rose. As she continued her dance the Bishop leaned over to the Pastor and whispered: “You know of course that if she asks for your head – she will get it.”

Bishop Donald Parsons was my Ascetical Theology professor at Nashotah House.  Over the course of the two semesters that I studied under him, I learned a great deal, but there were two very important points that I have never forgotten.  The first I always share with congregations and St. Matthew’s knows it well: if you want to get along with God, don’t sit in his chair.  The second point is one that is useful to the newly ordained, fail to take heed to it and you’ll find the bishop offering up your head (just ask any of the ordained present).  The second is: bishop’s don’t like surprises.  If you can manage those two things: not sitting in God’s chair and not surprising the Bishop, you’ll probably have a long career as a priest, but there is quite a difference between having a long career as a priest and a ‘fruitful’ calling as a priest.  The career gives you all the perks of any job you might have and plenty of coffee.  The other, the fruitful calling, makes disciples of Jesus, it heals the broken, shines the Light of the Gospel into the darkest corners, it does battle with the devil, it brings the Good News.  But contrary to popular teaching, it is not accomplished by preaching to stadiums of people or by gimmicks or by following the latest “how to” scheme.  So, how does the fruitful calling accomplish this good work of God?  It may not be true for everyone, but for me, I go to another Bishop for the answer: Archbishop of Canterbury, Micheal Ramsey.  In a series of lectures that he presented to a group of young ordinands, he said:

Amidst the vast scene of the world’s problems and tragedies, you may feel that your ministry seems so small, so insignificant, so concerned with the trivial… But consider: the glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter, and the small company, the very few, the one man, the one woman, the one child are of infinite worth to God.  Let that be your inspiration… for the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.

You accomplish the work of God, by recognizing the infinite worth of the one.  Yet, our business and our desire to grow, improve the statistics, the ever nagging ASA—Average Sunday Attendance—we can lose site of the one.  Fortunately, the priest has a reminder… it occurs during the celebration of the Mass.

In the fifth chapter of book four of The Imitation of Christ, my friend Thomas à Kempis writes about the priest and the Mass.  He speaks specifically about holding and administering the elements of the bread and wine: “Had you the purity of an angel and the sanctity of St. John the Baptist, you would not be worthy to receive or administer this Sacrament. It is not because of any human meriting that a [priest] consecrates and administers the Sacrament of Christ, and receives the Bread of Angels for their food. Great is the Mystery and great the dignity of priests to whom is given that which has not been granted the angels.”  In the Mass, Jesus becomes present to us and the priests are the ones who hold Him and administer Him.  When we administer the bread and the wine, we do so with the greatest reverence, recognizing the very Body and Blood of our Savior, and it is in this act, that we have our reminder of the one.  For as a priest, we are called upon to handle each individual soul, all of God’s people, in the exact same manner that we handle Christ, for they too are His most precious Body and they are each of infinite worth.  They have his blood running through their veins.  Janie, when you are made a priest, it is not just for Sunday morning, but for every minute of your life, recognizing the Lord’s real presence in everyone you encounter.  Are you ready?

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to that young Timothy who was just beginning his ministry.  In greeting him, Paul said, “I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, and without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.  Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

Are you, Janie, ready?  I believe you are, for I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Janie and your mother Vereda and your father Terry, and I am persuaded this same faith is in you also.  Therefore, remind yourself always of the gifts of God which will be given to you through the laying on of Bishop Ed’s hands, and live into that spirit of power and love and sound mind, which comes from God alone.

One of my favorite stories from the Desert Fathers (you’ve probably heard it before): Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”  Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

Janie, become all flame.  Touch one soul at a time and in the process, you will “set aflame all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you bear in your heart.”  (St. Josemariá Escrivá, The Way, #1)

On the night before he was ordained a priest, Michael Ramsey wrestled with what was coming for him, then he wrote down a few words that reveal a great self-giving to God.  I’ll close with them as a prayer and ask Janie to consider these words as her own, but not only her, because as a Christian people, as the Royal Priesthood of Christ, they apply to us all.

Let us pray: 
‘My grace is sufficient for thee.’ How I do need to look away from self to God; I can only find satisfaction in him.
My heart to love Him, my will to do his will;
My mind to glorify Him, my tongue to speak to Him and of Him;
My eyes to see him in all things;
My hands to bring whatever they touch to Him;
My all only to be a real ‘all’, because it is joined to Him.
And this will be utter joy – no man can take it away.
Self, self-consciousness, self-will, the self-center cut away,
So that the center which holds all my parts is God.
Amen.