Sermon: Proper 17 RCL C – "Love Bade Me Welcome"

Luke 14:1, 7-14

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Little Johnny was having a tough day in his fourth grade math class which ended with him standing toe-to-toe with his teacher who did not look at all pleased.  Behind them was the blackboard covered with math problems that Johnny hadn’t been able to finish. With rare perception Johnny said, “I’m not an underachiever, you’re an overexpecter!” 

Little Johnny is almost always a wisenheimer.  He is an expert at turning any situation to his own advantage; however, he may have been onto something here, because there are overexpecters in the world and often they turn their own expectations on others.  Take for example the parent who vicariously lives through their child and tirelessly pushes them to succeed even when there is no enjoyment in the exercise for the child.  Or the employer who demands everything, but instead of assisting an employee to succeed they set them up to fail—these are overexpecters.

We can also be overexpecters of ourselves.  Take for example some of those poor folks on America’s Got Talent – have you seen this one?  My goodness, my silly dog can sing and dance better than some of those folks.  I will give then credit for courage though.

Our Gospel reading today also speaks of overexpecters, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.”  It’s a bit like when James and John requested to sit at the right and left hand side of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom.  They were overexpecters of themselves, which falls into our discussion a few weeks ago about how humility is truth – the truth about who we are and who God is.

Today, Jesus teaches us how to avoid such situations, “when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.”  It is a good lesson that can be applied to many aspects of our lives.  However, when it comes to our relationship with God, I don’t know that many are actually overexpecters of themselves.  When I was considering our text, I wasn’t really struck by the seating order.  What resinated with me was the wedding banquet and more specifically the invitation to the wedding banquet.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not so concerned about where I’ll be seated.  More often, my concern is whether or not I’ll even get invited!

What if you received an invitation?  Let’s say that it was miraculously delivered to you by an angel and the invitation was to join Jesus at a banquet.  Not only that, but you were going to receive the seat of honor at his right hand, just like James and John had requested.  Do you take it?  Do you feel worthy to sit at the right hand of God?  Are you someone deserving of such an honor?

In our relationship with God most of us are not overexpecters.  If that invitation arrived, we wouldn’t go prancing around the post office declaring that Jesus has finally recognized what we had known all along.  Instead, only an arrogant few would think they deserved that seat of honor, a few more might think they could at least get in and sit at the kids’ table, but most… most would believe that they were unworthy to have even been invited.  Everyone always talks about that mansion in the sky, pearly gates and the golden streets, but there are days that I think that if I can just get a cot in some dark room in the basement, I’ll be happy.  But that is not how it works, because we are all invited.  Yes, we must have humility so that we can recognize our need for God’s grace, but there must also be a willingness to accept that grace. 

George Herbert, the Caroline divine and great Anglican poet, felt this same unworthiness and wrote a poem with the simple title “Love” where he expressed it.  In the poem, “Love” is the name Herbert gives to Jesus. 

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
     Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
     From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
     If I lack’d any thing.
“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
     Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? ah my dear,
     I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
     “Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
     Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
     “My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
     So I did sit and eat.

Jesus invites him into the banquet, yet in his perceived unworthiness he believes that he cannot accept, “I am so unworthy that I cannot even look at you.”  Jesus asked, “Who made your eyes?”  “You Lord, but I have tainted them with my sin.  Send me where I deserve.”  “I could,” says Jesus, “but I have redeemed you.  I have made you worthy to enter into the joy of the Lord.  Come and eat.”  And so he did.  He accepted the Lord’s invitation.  He accepted the Lord’s grace.

Think of the parable of the prodigal son: The young man decides he wants to live on his own, so he asked and received from his father his inheritance.  He goes off to a distant land and squanders it all.  With nothing left he was starving, so he goes to work for a landowner feeding pigs and wishes that he could at least eat some of the food that he was feeding the pigs.  So he says to himself, “I will go home to my father, because there even the hired hands eat well.”  As he draws closer to his father’s house, his father sees him.  He rushes out to greet his son, but the son declares, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  How does the father respond?  “You’re right!  Get out of my sight you miserable ingrate.”  No.  He ordered that the finest robe be put on his son.. and a ring.. and shoes.  He ordered a feast with music and dancing.  Why?  “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again.  He was lost and is found.”

The son had to humble himself and return to his father, but not only that, he also had to receive the grace his father was extending to him in order to return – not as a slave – but as a son.  If he had persisted in his insistence of unworthiness he could not have returned as a son, but not only that, can you imagine the sadness the father would have experienced had he not been able to love his son as he so desired?

We are like the son.  We are not worthy to sit at the table with Jesus, yet he invites us all, because through his redeeming work on the Cross, we are made worthy.  Worthy to be called the sons and daughters of the Living God.

In his poem “Love,” George Herbert says, “Love took my hand.”  Jesus took his hand desiring to lead him into the feast, into the joy of the Lord, and Herbert allowed him.  Today, love has taken your hand and his greatest desire is to lead you also into the feast and the joy of the Lord.  You have been made worthy.  Accept it.  Accept the invitation.

Our gospel reading today ended at Luke 14:14.  I was a bit disappointed when I saw verse 15, because I thought it should have been included.  It says, “When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.’” — You are the ones being spoken of.  You are the ones that are blessed.  God’s grace is extended to you.  All you must do is accept it and enter into the joy prepared for you by your Father in Heaven.

Sermon: Proper 16 RCL C – "Blinded by the Little Things"

Luke 13:10-17

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Before I start I do have a few announcements: “The sermon this morning is titled: ‘Jesus Walks on the Water.’ The sermon for next Sunday is: ‘Searching for Jesus.’”  “Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir.  They need all the help they can get.”  “Don’t let worry kill you. Let the Church help.”  “Thursday night will be a potluck supper. Prayer and medication to follow.”  “A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall. Music will follow.”  “Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the Presbyterian Church. Please use large double door at the side entrance.”
I’m sure you figured out that those aren’t really our announcements, but they are announcements that have appeared in church bulletins.  It’s amazing how one misplaced word here and there can cause such a big deal.  In fact, we are all aware that it is often the little things that will either make or break a situation.
Elmer Bendiner in his book the “Fall of the Fortress” tells the story of a B-17 bombing run over Germany during WWII.  The mission ran into a barrage of flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns.  That was not unusual, but on this particular occasion their gas tanks were hit.  The shells should have exploded on impact and knocked aircraft out of the sky, but didn’t.  When the plane landed, the crew discovered that the plane had been hit – not once, but eleven times.  The miracle: none of the shells had exploded.
After some investigation, the Captain of the flight learned that the shells had been extracted from the wings and fuel tanks and sent to the armorers to be defused.  Curiously the armorers told him that Intelligence had picked them up.  They could not say why at the time, but the Captain eventually sought out the answer, because when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge. They were clean as a whistle and just as harmless… all but one.
The one contained a carefully rolled piece of paper. On it was some handwriting in Czech. The Intelligence people scoured the base for a man who could read Czech. Eventually, they found one to decipher the note.  Translated, the note read: “This is all we can do for you now.”
That was all the Czech, who were forced labor at a Nazi armory, could do to help the war effort – not pack the shell with explosives, but that “one little thing” saved the crew of that mission. I have to wonder how many more that never even knew.
One little thing.  All it took was one small stone from young David’s sling to bring down Goliath.  One simple touch from Jesus to give sight to the blind.  One voice crying in the wilderness to make known the coming of the Lord.  One little bite of an apple to damn all of humanity.  It often only takes one little thing to make or break a situation.  Those little things are important, but while keeping our eye on them, we can’t lose site of the big picture either. 
It is this – so focused on the details that you miss the big picture – that Jesus encounters quite often.  On one occasion, the Jewish leaders were complaining that the disciples were not keeping the purity laws by not washing their hands the proper way before they ate.  Another time the the disciples picked some grain on the Sabbath and the scribes and Pharisees were right there to point out that they had once again broken the law.  At that time, Jesus said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me,  teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”
In today’s Gospel, we run into the same problem, which reminded me of the time I went to see a tele-evangelist, Jesse Duplantis.  Yes, I’ve seen some of these programs.  It seems that at the end of each service there is a time to come forward and be healed or blessed.  However, Rev. Duplantis had the healing service up front.  He said, “There’s no point in you sitting all the way through the sermon feeling sick and tired if I can heal you now.”
In our Gospel, the woman who had been sick for eighteen years comes to Jesus.  It’s the Sabbath.  The Law of Moses says, “You shall do no work on the Sabbath.”  Yet, Jesus heals the woman.  The leader of the synagogue was “indignant.”  He says, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”  Jesus responds, “You hypocrites!” – There’s no point in this woman sitting all the way through the Sabbath feeling sick and tired if I can heal her now.
From the disciples washing their hands to the healing of this woman, Jesus is saying the Jewish leaders, “You are so wrapped up in the little things that you’ve missed the big picture.  You remember to wash your hands, but you fail to honor your Father and your Mother.  You don’t lift a finger on the Sabbath, but you have forgotten to love the Lord your God with all your heart, body and soul.”
Did this way of applying the Law hurt them in any way?  Yes.  Jesus, God Himself, walked among them and they were so hung up on the little things that they didn’t notice.  They were so concerned with proper hand washing or whatever, that they failed to understand his teachings or to even recognize the miracles for what they were.  All these little things  blinded them and ended up souring their relationship with the Lord. 
A young child went on a long road trip vacation with his family.  In order to pass the time he decides to look for the license plates of all fifty states.  At the end of the trip you can ask him if he saw Old Faithful.  “No,” he says, “but I did find Delaware in the parking lot.”  Did you see the Statue of Liberty, “No, but can you believe someone was there from Oregon.”  It might have been fun, but look at all the wonders and glories he missed.  Look at the time he missed with his family.  He became so obsessed with one little thing that nothing else mattered.
The Pharisees and the scribes did the same thing in the time of Jesus.  They were focusing so intently on minor details that they missed all the glory and wonder that was taking place around them.
Do we fall into the same trap?  Consider this: Granma, in her will, leaves Jenny her heirloom brooch.  Sister Betty also wanted that brooch, but because Aunt Jenny got it, Betty and Aunt Jenny become angry with one another and don’t speak for ten years.  What was more important, the brooch or the relationship.  The brooch.  Right? 
Little Sally picks up a toy that little Johnny had been playing with half an hour ago but hasn’t looked at since; however, when little Sally picks it up Johnny pitches a major fit and the two are fighting.  Good thing adults don’t act like that. 
You all know of situations like these and you may have even experienced it yourself.  One little – and I might add, often stupid – little thing comes between two people and the relationship sours almost instantly, taking years to repair if ever. In the mean time, look at all the damage and all that has been done.
We can act the same way in our relationship with the Lord.  Like the Pharisees and scribes,  we can get hung up on small things.  We then place a value on it that supersedes the value of our relationship with God.  Or, like little children, we scream, “Mine!”  I want this and I don’t care whether God says I can or even should have it.   By doing so, we set God in a backseat position to our own will and desires.  The result: Our obedience toward God falters, we distance ourselves from the relationship with Him, so that we don’t have to respond to Him, and ultimately the relationship sours – not because of His attitude toward us, but because of our attitude toward Him.
Sometimes little things are truly important and significant, life changing even, but sometimes the little things are just that – little things.  When in doubt, ask God to help you discern which is which.  He will.  If we do this, we will realize the difference between what is important and what is not.  We will discover the difference between our own self seeking desires and the desires of our Heavenly Father.

Sermon: Blessed Virgin Mary

Virgin Mary, John the Baptist and Child Jesus II
William Adolph Bouguereau (1825-1905)

For the most part, except for the high churchmen of the Episcopal / Anglican church, the Blessed Virgin Mary is politely forgotten.  The more Protestant churches during the Reformation basically demonized her and during the 16th century statues of her were burned or hacked to pieces after they had been paraded through brothels.  Question is, “Why?”  As Martin Luther stated, “Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep and prepared broth for God to eat,” but for the most part she has been pushed aside.  As one theologian put it, “we drag Mary out at Christmas and then pack her safely back in the crèche box for the rest of the year.”  However, Holy Scripture is a testament as to why that shouldn’t be so:
  • Annunciation
  • The nativity and the visitation of the Magi
  • At the dedication with Simeon and Anna
  • Found Jesus in the temple
  • Present at the first miracle
  • At the foot of the Cross with John
The list is impressive.
From these events and the related scriptures, it is very clear that Mary’s role and position is being elevated, not only by Scripture, but by God.  I don’t press anyone into believing this,  but I have to ask the question, “If Mary appeared in the Gospels so much and was so significant to the life of Jesus, then shouldn’t she also be important and significant to me as well?”
Consider this, at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified scripture says, “When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  Many scholars agree that in saying to John, “Here is your mother,” that Jesus was speaking to us all and declaring his mother to be the Mother for all believers.
Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that we are all of the same opinion on the significance of the role of Mary, but I do believe that we should be able to recognize in her something worth aspiring to and should also see her as one, who like all the other saints, can assist us in our daily lives.
She is known as the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Bride of Christ, Mother of Mercy and by so many other heavenly titles.  She can assist us by interceding for us in our daily prayers and by standing beside us in our times of trial.  She understands the sorrows of the world better than any, especially after having stood by the cross and experienced her own deep sorrow in witnessing the death of her son Jesus.
Today, on this feast of the Mother of our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, I encourage you to consider her not only as an example to follow, but as the mother of us all.  She is full of compassion and mercy.  It is good to speak to her and to call out to her as one of her children, for in the time of your deepest need, she will embrace you in the same manner that she embraced the very Son of God.

Sermon: Proper 14 RCL C – "Why’s He mad now?"

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear the word of the LORD,
you rulers of Sodom!
Listen to the teaching of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who asked this from your hand?
Trample my courts no more;
bringing offerings is futile;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation–
I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
Your new moons and your appointed festivals
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
I am weary of bearing them.
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out,
says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel,
you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

A soldier fighting over in Iraq received a letter from his girl friend that said she was breaking up with him. She also asked him to send the picture she had given him when he left because she needed it for her bridal announcement. The soldier was heart broken and told his friends of his terrible situation. After discussing it with them, he eventually just got angry about it.  So his whole platoon got together and brought all their pictures of their girlfriends and sisters, and put them in a box and gave them to him. So he put her picture in the box with the rest along with a note that said, “I’m sending back your picture to you.  Please remove it and send back the rest. For the life of me I can’t remember which one you are.”

It is always rather easy to find something to get angry about.  Turn on the news – get angry.  Drive to work – get angry.  Look in the mirror – get angry.  No, we aren’t angry all the time, but sometimes it rears its head and there it is.  We get angry.  At events, people, even things we can’t control like the weather.
We can even get angry with God.  “Why did this happen?”  “How come he won’t answer my prayers?”  “Can’t he do something about the condition of the world?  Stop the wars?  End hunger?  Create justice?”  There is always someone who will say, “When I get to heaven (provided I make it) I’m going to ask him about ____!  He’s got some explaining to do!”
So we get angry at others, events and even God, but did you ever stop to think that maybe God gets angry, too?  We like to think of him as that great and loving grandfather in the sky who is patient with our every action, but… that’s not always the case.  There was one of those funny cartoons that came across the computer the other day.  It said, “When someone asks you, ‘What would Jesus do?’, remind them that freaking out and flipping tables is a viable option.”  Yes, God gets angry.  I was reminded of this from our last few weeks’ Old Testament readings.
For example, a few weeks ago I dodged those verses from Hosea, It began with, “take for yourself a wife of whoredom,” and went on to say, “in a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel… I will no longer have pity on the house of Israel or forgive them.”  This week, it’s not much better.  The Lord compares his people to those of Sodom and Gomorrah and states,
When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
When God speaks such words, we need to listen.  He is not happy.  What is he angry about?  He is very clear in Isaiah,
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.
He is angry, because the people have not been following his commandments.  They are doing what THEY want to do and not what HE wants them to do.  That is called sin.
It’s like this, the Lord says a bit further in Isaiah,
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
The Lord says, “my ways are not your ways,” and when we sin we add, “but they should be!,” or worse, “I don’t care what you say!”    We sin when we snub God’s ways and sing with Frank Sinatra, “I did it my way.”  Then when everything falls apart, we wonder, “What’s he so mad about?”
And there’s the question: Why does God become angry?  Is he angry so that he has an excuse to smite us?  So that he can give us cancer or have us fired from our jobs?  Is he angry so that he can take away all of our toys and gleefully send us to our rooms?  Is he angry so that he can shoot lightning bolts at us?  The answer to all those questions is “No.”  Again, “my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Unlike ours’, God’s anger is not petty or arbitrary.  God’s anger has a purpose, which is to turn us away from ourselves and the world, and turn us toward Him.  He desires to turn us toward himself – and he will use whatever means, including his anger – so that he might do so.  So that he may save us.  Bless us.  Love us.  And make us holy.
Is that true?  Does God become angry so that we might look up from ourselves and our ways and turn to Him?  Consider again his words through prophets Hosea and Isaiah: Through Hosea he says that he will hide his eyes from us and that he will not listen to our prayers, but he also promised,
Yet the number of the people of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which can be neither measured nor numbered; and in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.”
Through Isaiah he said, “I have had enough of you and your prayers.. You shall be devoured by the sword,” but he also said,
Come now, let us argue it out…
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you shall eat the good of the land
And in our Gospel reading today, Jesus confirms it, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom… It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
As children, on occasion, we probably all got sent to our rooms for misbehaving.  As we trudged down the hall to endure our exile, there were likely those all too familiar words, “And while your in there, you think about what you did!”  As children, we may not fully understand that punishment, but as adults we should be able to fully grasp their intent.  Our parents are loving.  They sent us to our rooms, not because they hated us, but to get our attention.  To make us stop and consider our actions.  Their anger was an expression of their love.  A love that says, “I want you to grow up knowing right from wrong.  I want you to take a good path in life, so that you can be happy.”  
As a child, I don’t know that I ever “thought about it” while I was banished to my room, but I’ve now come to realize, that if I did, I had two choices – I could respond in my heart, “I don’t care what you say or do to me, I’m just going to keep doing what I want!” and I would have found myself continuously in trouble.  Or I could stop, consider my ways and respond, “I will do my best to return to the proper path.”
The same is true with God.  His anger is not because he hates us.  His anger is because he loves us – God IS love.  His actions towards us do not exist outside of that one fact.  He cannot act contrary to his own nature of love.  Therefore, when your spirit senses that he is angry with you, don’t blurt out, “What’s he mad about this time?”  Instead, sincerely ask yourself, “Why is he angry?  What must I do to return to the path of righteousness that leads me into a deeper relationship with HIm?”  What will the result be in returning?  Jesus said in our Gospel, “Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them.”  The result of our returning to the path of righteousness, to being prepared as sons and daughters of God Most High, is an invitation to the feast.  A feast prepared by God for those who love him.

Sermon: Transfiguration

Peter, James and John were the only three people to witness one of the greatest events of human history – the Transfiguration.  For a few brief moments, they witnessed God in all his glory.

Moses saw something similar, but with one major difference.  You’ll remember that Moses was up on the Mountain and it was there that he received the Law.  Afterwards, as a way of knowing that God would truly be with him and the Israelites, Moses asked God to reveal himself.  He said, “Show me your glory.”  The Lord responded, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”  Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

And there is the that major difference in the story of Moses and the story of the Transfiguration, “… my face must not be seen.”  To look upon the face of God was to die.

Yet, in our Gospel reading we read, as Peter, James and John were watching, Jesus “was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory…”  Peter, James and John saw the face of God.  They saw what not even Moses was allowed to look upon.  Our Gospel said that following the Transfiguration that Peter and the boys were “terrified.”  They were terrified because they knew they had seen the face of God and they feared they were about to drop dead.

Why didn’t they?  Answer: Jesus.  The prologue to John’s Gospel begins to explain this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” … but it is Jesus himself who provides the answer a bit later in John’s Gospel, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  God revealed himself and his full nature – his glory, his grace, his truth, his love – in the person of Jesus.  And through that revealing, that revelation, we became his sons and daughters.  Peter, James and John did not drop dead when they witnessed the glory of God… WE do not drop dead when we witness the glory of God, because we are His.  He is in us and we are in Him.  As Jesus stated in his prayer on the night before he was crucified, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.”

The Transfiguration is a picture of who God truly is, but not only that, it is also a glimpse of who WE truly are, for the glory that is in Jesus… is also in us.

Sermon: Proper 13 RCL C – "Treasures"

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

A wise Israelite, dwelling some distance from Jerusalem, sent his son to the Holy City to complete his education. During his son’s absence the father was taken ill, and feeling that death was upon him he made a will, leaving all his property to one of his slaves, on condition that he should allow the son to select any one article which pleased him for an inheritance.

As soon as his master died, the slave, elated with his good fortune, hastened to Jerusalem, informed his late master’s son of what had taken place, and showed him the will.

The young man was surprised and grieved at the intelligence, and after the allotted time of mourning had expired, he began to seriously consider his situation. He went to his teacher, explained the circumstances to him, read him his father’s will, and expressed himself bitterly on account of the disappointment of his reasonable hopes and expectations. He could think of nothing that he had done to offend his father, and was loud in his complaints of in-justice.

“Stop,” said his teacher; “thy father was a man of wisdom and a loving relative. This will is a living monument to his good sense and far-sightedness. May his son prove as wise in his day.”

“What!” exclaimed the young man. “I see no wisdom in his bestowal of his property upon a slave; no affection in this slight upon his only son.”

“Listen,” returned the teacher. “By his action thy father hath but secured thy inheritance to thee, if thou art wise enough to avail thyself of his understanding. Thus thought he when he felt the hand of death approaching, ‘My son is away; when I am dead he will not be here to take charge of my affairs; my slaves will plunder my estate, and to gain time will even conceal my death from my son, and deprive me of the sweet savor of mourning.’ To prevent these things he bequeathed his property to his slave, well knowing that the slave, believing in his apparent right, would give thee speedy information and take care of the effects, even as he has done.”

“Well, well, and how does this benefit me?” impatiently interrupted the pupil.

“Ah!” replied the teacher, “wisdom I see rests not with the young. Dost thou not know that what a slave possesses belongs but to his master? Has not thy father left thee the right to select one article of all his property for thy on? Choose the slave as thy portion, and by possessing him thou wilt recover all that was thy father’s. Such was his wise and loving intention.”

The young man did as he was advised, and gave the slave his freedom afterwards. But ever after he was wont to exclaim:

“Wisdom resides with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”

(This illustration is from Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East: Ancient Hebrew, Vol. 3)

There are many morals to this story, but the one that struck me was that the young man was so focused on what he thought he had not received, that he completely missed the point that he had inherited everything.  I think that we often are also so focused on the things that we don’t have that we miss out on the things that we do.

When we don’t have much and we want what others have it is often considered coveting.  When we do have in abundance and we want more, it is greed.  This doesn’t mean that we don’t have very specific needs and rights such as food, clothing, freedom, and so on; but there really is a limit to how much is enough.  However, the mistake we make in all of this is the assumption that all we see have, here and now, whether it is considered by the world to be great or insignificant, is all that is important and all that there is.

Bede’s History of the English Church and People, tells the story of how St. Paulinus – a Roman missionary to the Anglo-Saxons and how he tried to convert the English to Christianity. Paulinus visits King Edwin in the year 627. Edwin and his followers worshipped pagan gods, and had no concept of a better afterlife to look forward to. Edwin was impressed with the ideas of Paulinus, but decided to hear the views of his advisors before deciding whether to convert to Christianity. One of them spoke in favour of Christianity, and put the case like this:

“Your Majesty, when we compare the present life of man on earth with that time of which we have no knowledge, it seems to me like the swift flight of a single sparrow through the banqueting-hall where you are sitting at dinner on a winter’s day with your thanes and counsellors. Inside, there is a comforting fire to warm the hall; outside, the storms of winter rain or snow are raging. This sparrow flies swiftly in through one door of the hall, and out through another. While he is inside, he is safe from the winter storms; but after a few moments of comfort, he vanishes from sight into the wintry world from which he came. So man appears on earth for a little while, but of what went before this life or of what follows, we know nothing. Therefore, if this new teaching has brought any more certain knowledge, it seems only right that we should follow it.”

What Edwin’s advisor has come to understand is that this life, although it is all that we can truly know, is not all that there is; therefore, it should not be of the greatest significance to us, nor should giving all that we have in order to make this world more comfortable for ourselves be our greatest goal.

I say this because this is part of what Jesus is talking to us about in our gospel reading today.  Remember, the rich man wants Jesus to mediate between him and his brother over the family inheritance.  Jesus’ response, “this is not my concern.”  Then Jesus tells the parable of the man who one year had a bumper crop, then built for himself storage to keep it all, and finally said to himself, “I’ve got it all.”  Jesus’ response, “Fool!”  Jesus calls him a fool not because he was wealthy – there is no condemnation there and not because he was successful either – this isn’t the issue…

Jesus calls the man a fool, because he planned as though the life he was living was all that there was.  To use the analogy of the sparrow that flew through the banquet hall, the man did not plan for what would happen after he flew out the other window.  He had this life all worked out, but he didn’t plan for what would happen to him after he died.  As Jesus says in Matthew’s gospel, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Again, understand, this is not a matter of treasures, success, fame, or any of that.  Instead, it is a matter of the heart – “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  So I’m not asking you to go off and live the life of a desert monk.. because even a desert monk can be so filled with spiritual pride – “Oh, I’m so much better than the rest of the world” – that even though the world may perceive them to be all  holy – the fact remains that their heart has not been transformed.  So, like the young man who thought he had inherited nothing, but had in fact inherited it all, you and I must also recognize that our inheritance – that which makes us rich beyond compare – is not what we can see, feel, or count, but our inheritance, as St. Peter states, gives “us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”  That is where our hearts should be and no amount of earthly treasure should distract us from it.

Let us pray: Virgin Mary, most loving Mother, please give us hearts like yours, firm in their attachments and of unshakable loyalty. Affectionate hearts which radiate a discreet tenderness and which are open.  Pure hearts which live in the flesh without being burdened by it.  Generous hearts, quick in forgetting their hurts and always ready to forgive.  Considerate hearts which hide a great deal of love in the smallest details, in the most humble service.  Magnanimous hearts which rejoice in other’s triumphs and share in their sorrows.  Hearts which condemn no one, and do not tire of being confided to.  Hearts taken up by Christ, totally given to His infinite love.  Amen.

Sermon: Proper 12 RCL C – "Baptizing them…"

Colossians 2:6-19

As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

This Sunday we Baptize Gabrielle.

Our reading from Hosea began, When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”  I read that for our first reading and thought, “I could preach from that,” but then decided that maybe I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t know where to start.  So…

The young son of a Baptist minister was in church one morning when he saw for the first time baptism by immersion. He was greatly interested in it, and the next morning proceeded to baptize his three cats in the bathtub.

The youngest kitten bore it very well, and so did the younger cat, but the old family tomcat rebelled.

The old feline struggled with the boy, clawed and tore his skin, and finally got away. With considerable effort the boy caught the old tom again and proceeded with the “ceremony.”

But the cat acted worse than ever, clawing and spitting, and scratching the boy’s face.

Finally, after barely getting the cat splattered with water, he dropped him on the floor in disgust and said: “Fine, be an Episcopalian if you want to!”

Folks have been arguing about baptism since day one.  At first they argued about who baptized who. Later, came all the arguments about “how” a person was to be baptized: full immersion, in a tub, in a river or just a sprinkling.  And then they argued over whether a person should be baptized as an adult or baby.  On and on the arguments have gone.

Several years ago a church member wrote, “the church I belong to is torn in a fierce dispute.  One section says that baptism is IN the name of the Father and the other that it is INTO the name of the Father.”  He says, “I belong to one of these parties.  I feel most strongly about it.  I would die for it in fact, but I forget which it is!”

We all have a tendency to make things a lot more complicated than they need to be, but the truth is, it’s not about what we think.  It’s about God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and it is about what He is doing.

So, what is God doing in Baptism?  There are three things that St. Paul in his writings makes very clear.  First, God through our Baptism is cleansing us from the defilement of sin.  Second, He is creating a mystical union between the baptized and Christ.  And third, He is incorporating the baptized into the Church, the body of Christ.  I can assure you that not even the raging waters of the Mississippi river could accomplish any of this unless God Himself is involved.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey wrote, “Baptism is the first significant fact about a Christian.  It declares that the beginning of a man’s Christianity is not what he feels and experiences, but what God in Christ had done for him.”  Which, as we said, includes forgiveness of sins, mystical union with Christ and incorporation into the Church.  Paul summarized those points in his letter to the Colossians which we read, “When you were buried with Christ in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God who raised Him from the dead.”  When we are baptized, when we go under the water, it is symbolizing our death – death to the old self.  When we rise back out of the water, it is symbolizing our rising again to new life – the new life in Christ Jesus.  The water is a symbol and it is pointing to the reality which God is accomplishing in us – new birth – a resurrected life  in Jesus Christ.

Paul confirms this all in his letter to the Romans, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

The only specific instruction we have with regard to baptism comes from Jesus himself.  He says, “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.”  As long as we follow the instructions of Jesus, I honestly don’t think God cares about “How” we go about it, immersion or sprinkling, child or adult.  I believe God’s primary concern is that we are obedient and to fail to be baptized, in whichever form, is to fail to be obedient to God.

God does not care about the “How” of our baptism as long as it is in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but he does care that we as his children, through our Baptism or the renewal of our Baptismal Covenant, publicly acknowledge Him as our Lord.  He cares about the fact that we as adults solemnly vow, that with his help, we will assist in the raising up all children in our charge into the knowledge and love of Him.  And, finally, he cares that we keep all other aspects of the covenant that are there to draw us and others closer to Him.

With regards to all the arguments, in the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.”  Which means that we are to focus on what it is we are saying or have said in the Baptismal Covenant.  They are not empty words; therefore, we should not be making empty promises as we say them.  We must focus on what God is doing in our life and in the life of the one baptized.  At that point, maybe.. MAYBE.. when we get all this right we can then turn our attention to the foolish and stupid arguments, but for now, we have a long ways to go, so let us keep our focus where it belongs.

Sermon: William White

The first Holy Communion of the Church of England was held in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia.  It was a slow start, but the church began to take hold and was quite successful; however, because of its ties to England, that changed following America’s independence.  According to Powell Mills Dawley in Our Christian Heritage, “the American Revolution left the Anglican parishes shattered, stripped of most of their financial support, weakened by the flight of many clergy and thousands of members, with a number of buildings destroyed and property lost.”
Not only did the citizens of the new United States abandon the church, but in a very real sense, the Church of England did as well.  The primary issue being that we had no American Bishops.  As you know, a Bishop is required in order to Confirm, ordain clergy, and it takes three Bishops to consecrate a new Bishop.  Therefore, if a person wanted to be ordained a priest, they had to make the long and very dangerous trip to England.
To remedy the situation there were a few devoted men who took up the cause.  Among them: Samuel Seabury, Samuel Provoost, the person we celebrate today, William White, and James Madison – all four of which made the journey to England to be consecrated.  It was then, having enough American Bishops, that Thomas Clagget was consecrated Bishop in New York and the Church in America was able to function separately from the Church of England.  In 1789 – the first General Convention – under the leadership of these men, and specifically William White, the American Episcopal Church was fully organized. 
William White served as our first and fourth presiding Bishop, serving in 1789 and from 1795 to 1836.  In addition he served for 57 years as the rector of St. Peter and of Christ Church in Philadelphia.  He died in 1836.
A lengthy obituary devoted to Bishop White appeared in the National Gazette and Literary Register.  In part, it described his character, “…[T]he duties of the several important relations in which he stood to society were performed with undeviating correctness and suavity; he possessed the rare merit of winning the respect and love of an entire community to which he was an ornament and a blessing. His piety was deep and unfeigned; his walking humble yet dignified; his acquirements profound; in his mind the welfare of the Christian church was always the prominent consideration…He was one of those examples of steady virtue sent upon earth by Divine Province , as if to prove how near the great pattern of perfection it is permitted to approach.”
In our Gospel reading today Jesus asked St. Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”  This was the restoration of St. Peter after he denied Jesus three times on the night before Jesus was crucified.  It is also a command given to all who would be followers of Jesus – “Feed my sheep.”  In those three words we are all, lay and ordained, called by God to care for those we encounter.  To care for them in both their physical and spiritual needs.  For us in the Episcopal Church, William White is an exemplary role model for us to emulate.  When you consider what it means to be true and faithful to the Church, you need only consider him to find for yourself the “great pattern of perfection” that leads to becoming a true servant to God and to His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.