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: 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: 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.