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. 

Sermon: Proper X RCL C – "Neighbors – No Exceptions"

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Two cars were waiting at a stoplight. The light turned green, but the man didn’t notice it. A woman in the car behind him is watching traffic pass around them. The woman begins pounding on her steering wheel and yelling at the man to move. The man doesn’t move. The woman is going ballistic inside her car, ranting and raving at the man, pounding on her steering wheel and dash.

The light turns yellow and the woman begins to blow the car horn, flips him off, and screams profanity and curses at the man. The man, looks up, sees the yellow light and accelerates through the intersection just as the light turns red.

The woman is beside herself, screaming as she misses her chance to get through the intersection. As she is still in mid-rant she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the barrel of a gun held by a very serious-looking policeman. The policeman tells her to shut off her car while keeping both hands in sight. She complies, speechless at what is happening.

After she shuts off the engine, the policeman orders her to exit her car with her hands up. She gets out of the car and he orders her to turn and place her hands on her car, then handcuffs her and takes her to the police station where she is fingerprinted, photographed, searched, booked, and placed in a cell.

After a couple of hours, she is let out of the cell and escorted back to the booking desk where the original officer is waiting with her personal effects. He says, “I’m really sorry for this mistake. But, you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I noticed the ‘Choose Life’ license plate holder, the ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ bumper sticker, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk. Naturally I assumed you had stolen the car.”

It would seem that many have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to the topic of Christianity and Christians.  I recently read a bumper sticker that said, “I’ve got nothing against God.  It’s his fan club that I can’t stand.”  Not necessarily original, you have all probably heard the Gandhi quote from several years ago, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  However, the Christian “image” seems to be deteriorating even more these days, there was a picture going around on Facebook: Jesus was walking down an old dusty road with Hitler seeming to have a very intent conversation with him.  Worse, Jesus had a backpack and a rifle slung over his shoulder.  I wrote a caption in my head for that one, Jesus said to Hitler, “So, how did you decide which ones could be members and which ones couldn’t? Oh… and what did you do with the ones that didn’t agree with you?”  Christians are getting a bad name, but its really no wonder, so called Christians run around with placards declaring such things as “God Hates Fags” and others are quite comfortable with judging and categorically condemning to Dante’s ninth level of hell anyone who disagrees with their theology.

Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am in no way lumping you all in with these Christians.  I am not suggesting that you are guilty of this type of behavior.  In fact, what I have seen of you is quite the opposite, you all actually seem to be quite compassionate and loving.  You are not guilty of this behavior, but in the eyes of many in the world today, you ARE guilty.  In a sense, guilty by association, because we all live under the banner of Christianity.

For some, the appropriate response is to separate, attempt to isolate themselves, and shout with their loudest voices, “We are different!  We are better!  We have the answer!”  Does this resolve anything?  No.  In all likelihood, it only compounds the original problem because Christians begin fighting with other Christians and the rest of the world sits back and laughs at the hypocrisy.  At the other end of responses, we have some who will simply walk away, disillusioned and frustrated with their experience with Christianity, because they had believed it was something different.  They believed it held meaning for their lives and answers to life’s questions, and discovered it was no different – if not worse – than the secular world.  In between those to extremes is really just a great deal of apathy.

Is there a way out?  Absolutely.  The answer lies in answering one simple question: “Who is my neighbor?”

Our Gospel reading today is probably one of the most familiar: The parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus tells the story after one of the rabbis asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life… Jesus answer is simple, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, strength and soul.. and love your neighbor as yourself.”  However, the rabbi was more interested in one upping Jesus than actually seeking knowledge, so he added a followup question, “Who is my neighbor.”  In response, Jesus tells the parable…

A man – presumably Jewish – was attacked on a road and left for dead.  A priest comes by, but does not stop to help.  Another of the religious leaders comes by, but he does not stop to help either.  It is the Samaritan that comes across the dying man and it is he that helps.  To fully understand the parable, we must understand two important details of the story, 1) the relationship between Jews and Samaritans and 2) the perspective that the parable is being told from.  

First Jews and Samaritans… the best way to understand that relationship is to look at the state of Jewish / Arab relations today.  There may not have been open warfare between Jew and Samaritan, but the animosity between the two groups is similar to Jews and Arabs today – they don’t get along!

Second, generally we place the perspective of the parable on the Samaritan. He is the one deciding who his neighbor is.  However, the  perspective is actually the injured Jewish man and whether he can decide who HIS neighbor is.  Bishop N. T. Wright – the Bishop of Durham, puts it this way, “Can you – that is, the injured Jewish man – Can you recognize the hated Samaritan as your neighbor?  If you can’t, you might be left for dead.”  Imagine, lying on the side of the road, beaten and bloody, half dead.  Several people, maybe even your priest, see you, but can’t be bothered with stopping – too busy or whatever – and then, the one person you detest, despise, loathe more than anyone else comes by and instead of pointing at you and laughing and declaring, “I see you’ve finally gotten what you deserve!”  Instead of doing any of that, they stop and begin to offer you help.  What do you do?  Because you detest, despise and loathe them.. are you going to tell them to stop?  To get away from you?  Or, are you going to think to yourself, “Perhaps this isn’t such a bad fella after all?  Perhaps this person is my real neighbor?”

The world around us has a very poor view of Christianity.  We are not going to change the world’s view, but.. but.. we – St. Luke’s Episcopal Church may be able to change our communities view of Christianity.  We can show them that we are willing to set aside race, creed, politics, financial status, all of it… we can show them we are willing to set it all aside for one very simple reason… We want to serve.. we want to love.. In the process, they might decide that we are not such bad neighbors after all.

Will our community – the wounded and the injured – will our community know we are their neighbor if we shout out what we like or don’t like?  Who we agree with or who we disagree with?  By our staunch view on this topic or that?  No.  They’ll know what we think and maybe, rightly or wrongly what we believe, but they will not know us as their neighbors.  Jesus said, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.  For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

We can change our communities view of Christianity by choosing to serve sacrificially as Jesus served.. by choosing to be true and faithful neighbors.  We can change our communities view of Christianity by choosing.. to love.. with no exceptions.

Sermon: Benedict of Nursia

Saint Benedict Detail from a fresco by Fra Angelico
Benedict of Nursia, who we celebrate today, was the Benedict who is essentially responsible for monasticism as we know.  It was around the year 540 that he wrote his “Rule”.. what we now know as the Rule of St. Benedict.  The fact that this rule is still used today by the Benedictine monks speaks clearly to its significance.  In the opening three verses of the Rule, Benedict writes…
Listen carefully, my child,
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
In those opening verses, Benedict establishes the purpose of the Rule, “Receive your loving Father’s advice.”  The Rule is based in love and it’s purpose is to assist its adherents in having a loving relationship with God and one another.  He accomplishes this by prescribing a daily rhythm of life, based in prayer, study and work.
Today, we may consider this Rule to be a bit antiquated and not applicable to our own lives.  We are not cloistered away in a monastery, but instead live in the world, in the middle of all the hubbub that Benedict was attempting to escape.  Yet, a closer look at the Rule demonstrates to us that even a minor and seemingly irrelevant point made to the life of a monk can be viewed from a spiritual perspective and speak to us the things of God.  Take for example “Chapter 22: How the Monks should Sleep”.  It speaks of cots.. how many to a room.. that a candle should burn all night.. and so on.  There is also a fun little sentence in the middle of the Chapter – keep in mind that most of these chapters are less than a page long – but the line states, “They should sleep clothed, girt with girdles or cords, but not with their knives at their sides as they sleep, for fear that a brother should be wounded while asleep.”
Personally, I’m not in the habit of sleeping with a knife in the bed with me… yet, what if we consider this passage from a spiritual perspective: What if the knife is not a physical item, but something that can bring us harm spiritually.. and what if going to sleep with that “sin” in our heart can do us damage?  Anything come to mind?  How about this: 
Ephesians 4:25-27 – “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
In this case, Benedict’s knife is our anger and just as a knife can bring us physical harm, our anger can bring us spiritual harm, allowing the devil a foothold in our souls.  The Rule can be read from a practical perspective for a monk, but also from a spiritual perspective for those of us in the world.
Today we celebrate Benedict of Nursia and I commend his Rule to you as a means of spiritual growth and understanding of how not only the monks, but all of us can live a life based in love for God and our neighbor.

Sermon: Proper IX RCL C – "Forgiveness"

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’

“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Simon Wiesenthal, was Jewish and the number one Nazi hunter… after World War II he assisted in the capture of over 1,100 Nazi’s … Prior to the war and the Nazi invasion.. he lived in Poland and worked in architectural office… From 1941 until the end of the war in 1945 he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp… he survived, but 89 of his relatives did not.
After the war he wrote a book called The Sunflower. The Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness.  In that book he relates an odd but haunting experience. At one stage Wiesenthal and some fellow prisoners were given the job of removing garbage from a hospital for wounded German soldiers. As they did so they would pass a cemetery housing German soldiers who had died. The graves were covered with sunflowers, something Wiesenthal envied knowing he would probably be buried in a mass grave under a pile of other Jewish corpses.
One day a nurse approached him as he was on garbage detail at the hospital. She asked him to follow her, and led him into a hospital room containing a wounded soldier.  He came across a man whose face was covered in bandages, with openings cut for mouth, nose, and ears… he was dying. 
The man spoke to Simon… “My name is Karl…I joined the SS as a volunteer. I must tell you something dreadful…. Something inhuman. It happened a year ago… Yes it is a year since the crime I committed. I have to talk to someone about it, perhaps that will help.”
He grabbed Wiesenthal by the hand, holding him tightly so he could not get away. “I must tell you of this horrible deed – tell you because…you are a Jew.” Karl told of atrocities too savage to repeat. Of hatred and rage directed against Jews. Then he turned to Simon Wiesenthal and said “In the last hours of my life you are with me. I do not know who you are. I know only that you are a Jew and that is enough. I know what I have told you is terrible. In the long nights while I have been waiting for death, time and again I have longed to talk to a Jew and beg forgiveness from him. I know what I am asking is almost too much for you, but without your answer I cannot die in peace…finally Karl announced the purpose of this unusual meeting… I beg for forgiveness…”
Simon thought on the man’s request.. he writes, “At last I made up my mind… And without a word… I left the room.”  …I must confess that there are many days that I want to stand up and cheer for how he acted.. and there are other days when I wonder if he was wrong.
Forgiveness is a very difficult business, because what it says is that you have been hurt in someway and now.. now the onus.. the pressure.. is on you to make it right, by saying to the person who hurt you, “I forgive you.”  To borrow the phrase from many school children, “That’s not fair.”  I’m the one that was hurt, so why should I have to do all the work?
Part of the difficulty in this forgiveness business has nothing to do with what real forgiveness is all about, instead.. it has to do with certain myths.. misunderstandings that have crept in over the ages… and it seems to me that most of these misunderstandings stem from the adage, “Forgive and forget.”
We get this notion from Holy Scripture and what it speaks of God… In Jeremiah the Lord says, “I will forgive their wrongdoings, and I will never again remember their sins.”.. and in Psalm 103, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He.. has God.. removed our sins from us.”  We believe that we must forgive in the same manner as God forgives.. as St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 4:32… “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
There is the story of a young peasant woman living back in the middle-ages who began to have visions.  The report of her visions spread far and wide, eventually reaching the ears of the Archbishop.  Not believing that a young peasant woman could possibly be having visions, he went to see her and asked her what she saw.. and she told him.  Still in disbelief he told her, “The next time you have visions of Jesus you ask him what I confessed at my last confession.  If you can answer that, then I will believe.”  Some months later the report reached the archbishop that the woman was again having visions, so he went to her again and asked if she had spoken to Jesus and asked the Lord about the archbishop’s last confession.  Her response, “yes.”  “Well then,” said the Archbishop, “What did he say?”… Her response, “Jesus said, ‘I don’t remember.'”… God forgives and God forgets.
However, there is also the story of the woman who went to visit her priest in great distress.  Through many tears she told him about how they had discovered that her father had been sexually molesting her daughter for several years.  When questioned even more, the woman told the priest that her father had also sexually molested her as a little girl.  She said that in her later years, “Not only did I forgive my father, I worked very hard at forgetting what he had done to me.  I didn’t want to remember; it was too painful.”… she had tried to do what we see as the “godly thing”… however in forgetting, she did not remember that her father never confessed to a wrong, never repented.. so in her forgetting she placed her daughter in great danger.
When we forgive.. we cannot forget.. not only is it not spiritually possible, but in many cases.. to forget will only increase the harm done to us or to others… Perhaps a better saying would be to say, “Forgive and be prudent.”… forgive and use sound judgment.  
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus made what some would consider an uncharitable statement, but it is speaking of prudence in all our actions, including forgiveness… He said, “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” … Matthew’s Gospel expands on the same statement, Jesus says, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”… In other words, Jesus says.. “I know that the world is not a safe place.. therefore, be peaceful in your actions, but stay alert.. be prudent in your dealings with this unsafe world.”
The Psalmist writes, “The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways”.. and again.. “Whoever strays from the path of prudence comes to rest in the company of the dead.” 
We forgive the wrongs that are done against us – end of discussion – we must forgive… we forgive even if the person who committed the wrong never repents or even refuses to repent – to say that they’re sorry… When we forgive we are not saying that what happened didn’t matter… and we have to keep in mind that forgiveness is very much a process.. it is probably not going to happen over night unless you are a saint.. so there will be days long after you believe that you have forgiven when the anger rises up in you all over again.. it doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven.. just that you are human.
With that said.. there are bits that we should forget… specifically, we should forget the anger that leads to that desire for retaliation.. to forget the anger means you won’t fantasize about slitting their throat in a dark alley.
By forgiving we may – and that is key – we MAY allow the other person to feel better about themselves for bringing harm to us or someone else.. but our forgiveness is NOT for their sake or their benefit .. instead it is for the sake of our own souls… so that it will not torment us and draw us into our own sin.
.. and that is the bottom line… forgiveness is really about healing.  If it can heal relationships – Good.  If it can heal other situations and bring comfort to others – that’s fine too… but ultimately, forgiveness is about healing you… it is about freeing your soul so that you may experience the joy of the Lord.