Sermon: Celebrate Camp Marshall – “Encountering Jesus”

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Sunrise at Camp Marshall

A telemarketer called a home one day and Little Johnny answered. In a small voice Johnny whispered, “Hello?” The telemarketer said, “Hello! What’s your name?” Still whispering, the voice said, “Johnny.” “How old are you, Johnny?” “I’m four.” “Good. Is your mother home?” “Yes, but she’s busy.” “Okay, is your daddy home?” “He’s busy too.” “I see, who else is there?” “The police.” “The police? May I speak with one of them?” “They’re busy.” “Any other grown-ups there?” “The firemen.” “May I speak with a fireman, please?” “They’re all busy.” “Johnny, all those people in your house, and I can’t talk with any of them? What are they doing?” With a little snicker and a bit too gleefully Johnny whispered, “Looking for me.”

I have shared with you in the past that I have been the chaplain for Grace Camp at Camp Marshall since it began. All the camps are special, but in my opinion this one is the best. It is a camp for third through eighth graders who have a parent incarcerated. The kids are generally between the ages of nine and thirteen and come in all shapes and sizes. As I think about them I recall some of the things we say about kids: there is always, “the children are our future,” but other thoughts include, “a child is someone who can wash their hands without getting the soap wet;” “the trouble with children is that when they are not being a lump in your throat they are being a pain in your neck;” “a child is someone who can’t understand why anyone would give away a perfectly good kitten;” and “every child would learn to write sooner if allowed to do their homework in wet cement.”

While at Grace Camp, I’ve learned a few other things about children. I’ve learned that a big white fuzzy dog can start a lot of conversations. I’ve learned twice as much gravy as you have potatoes on your plate makes playing with your food a lot more interesting. Heaven just might be a pocket full of perfect skipping stones that you have searched out all day, the only problem being that the weight of them makes it difficult to keep your pants up. Afternoon naps are only intermissions between opportunities to go swimming in the lake, which reminds me, 54 degree water is not cold to young children, but can possibly give an adult a heart attack. These are some things I’ve learned in my days of camp.

These kids have also learned a great deal in their short lives. One of the thirteen year old girls learned that you can be repeatedly raped between the ages of ten and thirteen by your stepfather and still like boys. One of the boys was able to learn firsthand the results of having your one year old baby brother thrown against a wall by one of mom’s many boyfriends. There was one girl who was ten, but at age four learned that if you can hold your breath long enough and have some really good luck, then you can survive while your father is trying to drown you in the bath tub. She also learned that you can still enjoy swimming in that cold water. There was another girl – nine years old – she never would tell her story, but while at camp she learned that she loved the song Amazing Grace, and every time she requested it, we would sing it with her.

Many of these children have also learned that if you need something, maybe just a bit of love, screaming and crying does not work, that would be for amateurs. Violence to others is often the most preferred method, but there is also running away and threats and not all of those threats are idle. One nine year-old child became so angry with one of his counselors that he swore he was going to cut his throat with a pair of scissors, but do it only hard enough so that he would be barely alive when the police arrived, so that he could tell the police that the counselor did it to him. I’m not going to go into the list of medicines that these children take: some to wake you up, some to keep you calm, anti-depressants might as well be M&M’s, and another pill at night to make you sleep. Some of the time those were obviously necessary, but at other times it seems they should be called “your getting on mommy’s nerves pills so take this and shut up.” On and on it goes.

All that, yet, we had one little boy – I think he was around ten showed up to camp. Very depressed. Failing in school. Spent a week at Grace Camp and his grandmother informed us that after he got home he couldn’t stop talking about it and how he was planning on going again the next summer. He spent that school year working hard and participating in track. Before the year was out, the walls in his room were filled with all the ribbons and trophies he had won. One boy started Grace Camp when he was in the third grade. That year he picked up a guitar for the first time. Each year he came and learned how to play a bit more. Got his own guitar. When he reached ninth grade he was ineligible to come back to Grace Camp as a camper, so we made it possible for him to come as an associate counselor. What did he do? He taught the younger children how to play guitar. Not every story is a success, but as I tell the staff each year, if we can make a difference for just one child, then we have done our jobs.

There is a piece lakefront property on Flathead Lake consisting of twenty-nine acres. On the property is a lodge, an arts and crafts building, some staff accommodations, and many small cabins with bunk beds. The sign as you enter the camp grounds reads, “Camp Marshall,” but this twenty-nine acres is not Camp Marshall. Camp Marshall is not a place, buildings, or even the amazing staff. Camp Marshall is an experience. An experience where young children and older youth encounter God.

In our Gospel reading today we heard of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. From the reading we understand that they are disappointed. They had been with Jesus, but now they believe he is dead. They encounter a stranger on the road and they begin to tell him of all the troubles that have taken place in Jerusalem. The death of the Messiah. The death of Jesus. The death of hope, and now… now it is all gone. Yet, as evening drew near, they and the stranger stopped for the night. Before turning in they had their evening meal. “When he – the stranger – was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him – they recognized Jesus – and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Today we celebrate the ministry of Camp Marshall. When we support it financially, we give so that salaries to staff can be paid. We give for the upkeep of the grounds. We give so that old mattresses can be replaced. We give so that many children – from all walks of life – can experience God in community and have the joy of being at camp. We give for many reasons, but ultimately, we give so that all of these children on their on road to Emmaus might encounter the Risen Lord and know Him. We give so that for just a few days each one of them might experience another way. The Way and the Love of God.

St. Luke’s, our church, needs your pledges and your gifts, so I’m not asking you to take from one in order to give to another; however, during the offertory, Janie is going to pass-the-hat for Camp Marshall and I’m asking that you consider giving a little more today. I’m not asking you to give to a place or the support of that place. I’m asking that you give to the one. The one child who, at Camp Marshall, will be given the opportunity – perhaps for the first time – to encounter God. To encounter Jesus.

Sermon: Easter Sunday RCL A – “See and Understand”

photo-14Old Blind Broussard and his Seeing Eye dog were sitting on the dock behind Pierre’s Oyster Bar and Bait Shop when Thibideaux pulled up.

“Hey Broussard, I ain’t seen ya in a while. Where ya been?” Thibideaux asked as he tied off his boat.

“Thibideaux my friend, I ain’t seen you in a while either. I’ve been on an adventure!” Broussard replied.

“What kind of adventure can a blind man go on?” Thibideaux asked.

“Well, I went bungee jumping,” Broussard replied.

“Bungee jumping? For true? How was dat?” Thibideaux asked.

“It was lotsa fun, but I can’t go no more,” Broussard said as he patted his dog on the head.

“Why’s dat? Did ya hurt yer self?”

“No nothin like dat,” Broussard said, “It just scared the hell outta my dog!”

Scripture tells us that Jesus and his disciples “came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man – I don’t think it was Broussard – and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’ Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

So often in Holy Scripture, blindness is used as a physical infirmity that is pointing to a spiritual infirmity. In the passage, Jesus was demonstrating that the people understood a bit about who he was, but not fully. I don’t know that it is necessarily a compliment to be compared to trees walking around, but it shows that we can on occasion be a bit thick.

In the resurrection account from John’s Gospel that we read this morning, we also have an apparent case of spiritual blindness. Peter and John have their foot race to the empty tomb. Not finding Jesus, but only his grave clothes, they leave. Following close behind is Mary Magdalene. She is standing there alone, staring into the empty tomb and crying. She sees two angels sitting at the head and foot of where Jesus had been lying, when suddenly she hears a voice behind her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She turned, but did not recognize Jesus, she thought he was the gardener. So turning and peering once again into the empty tomb she says, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” At which point Jesus speaks her name – “Mary!” – and then, in the speaking of her name, she knows her Teacher. She knows Jesus.

What was it though that prevented her from recognizing him right away, after all, she had been with him for quite some time? Two reasons are obvious and both point to her seemingly physical blindness and her certain spiritual blindness.

The first reason was that she was crying. Through her tears she could not see. Like the blind man that saw only trees, demonstrating those who only partially understand, Mary had only partially understood the things that Jesus had been saying before his crucifixion: “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” “I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.” “After three days I will rise again.” She had heard these words of Jesus, but she did not understand.

The second reason for not recognizing Jesus was the simple fact that she was not looking at him. Where was she looking? Except for a quick glance over her shoulder, she was looking into the grave. She was looking into death.

It was only when Jesus called her by name – “Mary!” – that she was able to come out of the darkness of her blindness and the scales were shed from her eyes that she was able to see clearly. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” In that instant the full Light of Christ came pouring into Mary’s soul and she truly saw – understood – all that Jesus had spoken of Himself.

Mary Magdalene is not the only one who experiences spiritual blindness. We too often suffer from this unfortunate malady and for the same reasons as Mary. First, we cannot see clearly, we fail to understand, because we try and look at the world through our own tears. We see the pain and suffering of others and of ourselves and we think, “This is it. This is as good as it gets.” But like Mary, we also forget the teachings of Jesus, “I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” “Behold, I make all things new.”

Second, our spiritual blindness is also caused by the fact that we aren’t looking at Jesus. We are also staring into the grave. We are looking into our past and what has been. We consider our lives and we believe that all is lost. We will never be “good enough” to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We see our own death and fail to recognize that the empty tomb that we are staring into has nothing to do with death! That tomb, the tomb of Jesus, is all about life – eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!

The Lord our God knew you before the world was even created. From that day forward – like Mary – He has been calling out to you. Calling you by name. Calling you out of the darkness, out of your own blindness, and into the light. Why are you still crying? Why are you still staring into the tomb? The prophet Isaiah declares:

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the LORD rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.”

Allow that glory, that light, to shine upon and in you. Hear your name being called and be free of your blindness so that you too can walk in the full light of Christ. Once you are filled with His presence, once you see and understand, then allow that glory to shine through you to others. St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, writes, “light up all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you carry in your heart.” Let the light of Christ free you from your blindness, then allow that same light to shine through you so that others may see and give glory to your Father in Heaven.

Sermon: Great Vigil of Easter RCL A – “Ghost!”

Jesus blurI like for my television programming to be intellectually stimulating. I like to constantly be stretching and growing my mind, so I stay away from things on the History Channel or the Learning Channel and go straight for the meat and potatoes: America’s Funniest Home Videos with an occasional episode or two of Friends. I do watch other things as well that are equally as stimulating. For a while I was on Mythbusters then I moved over to Miami Ink – especially when Kat Von D was on for a while, followed by Deadliest Catch. However, I’ve found one show that I’ve been absolutely hooked on for a while: Ghost Adventures, with my buddies Zak, Nick, and Aaron. Zak is the front man with the weird hair, Nick is the serious one, and Aaron is the one who acts a bit like Shaggy in Scooby Doo.

They’ve got all this really great equipment too for detecting ghosts: digital recorders to capture EVPs – that’s Electronic Voice Phenomenon for you non-ghost believers – night vision cameras, infrared imaging, the works. What is so tragic is that so often the ghosts drain the energy of their cameras, so just when they are about to capture something good like a full body apparition on tape – the camera dies! So they just have to tell you about it instead of showing it to you – I’m so disappointed for them.

The reason I mention this is because of our Gospel reading tonight. Jesus has been dead and in his tomb for three days, yet now he is appearing to the living. Is he a ghost? Is this the full body apparition that Zak, Nick, and Aaron are always talking about, or is it something all together different? The gospel writers are very careful about helping us to understand that what these women are seeing in tonight’s gospel – and for that matter at all the appearances of Jesus following his resurrection – is not a ghost.

For example our Gospel from today said, “Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.” “They took hold of his feet.” All ghost adventuring aside, even the folks in the time of Jesus knew that you could not touch a ghost. In later appearances we are told that others touched him, some walked down the road with him and broke bread with him, and there is the time when he will meet with the disciples on the shore of the sea and have breakfast with them. All of these things occurred after his death and resurrection; and the Gospel writers use these examples to help the reader understand that the Risen Jesus is not a ghost. He is alive.

Following his resurrection we know that he ascended into heaven so that we can no longer see him as he was and for many their response to that event is, “Well isn’t that convenient.” A bit like the Ghost Adventurers’ cameras going dead just as the ghost shows up, leaving only someone’s word that something actually took place. I think the lawyers would say that its all circumstantial evidence.

Perhaps more folks would believe that Jesus is in fact the risen Lord if they could take hold of his feet or have breakfast with him on the shore of the sea. We read in our Gospel tonight, Jesus told Mary, “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Many today would ask, “Where is my Galilee that I might see Him?” You know how I respond to that? Open your eyes. He is all around you. As St. Patrick wrote:

Christ beside me, Christ before me;
Christ behind me, Christ within me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to right of me, Christ to left of me;
Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising;
Christ in heart of all who know me,
Christ on tongue of all who meet me,
Christ in eye of all who see me,
Christ in ear of all who hear me.

Open your eyes. You won’t see a ghost. You’ll see the Risen Lord. You’ll see Jesus.

Sermon: Palm Sunday RCL A – “Be Strong. Be Courageous.”

catIt was George Burns who said, “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending, then having the two as close together as possible.” I think you would agree that today the space between the beginning and ending should be even shorter. Truthfully, not much more needs to be said, the liturgy and the readings have spoken for themselves, yet that still won’t stop me from saying a few words.

Following the Exodus from Egypt and their wanderings in the desert for forty years the Israelites came to the Jordan River and it is near that place on Mount Nebo that Moses dies. Following his death, Joshua became the leader of the Israelites and would be the one who would finally lead them across the Jordan River and into the land that God had promised. Several days prior to the crossing the Lord spoke to Joshua telling him that if he and the Israelites followed the Law that had been given to Moses, then they would be prosperous. During this particular discourse – three times – the Lord said to Joshua that during the days ahead he should be “Strong and courageous.” At the third time the Lord said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Days later the people would cross the Jordan and conquer the first city they came to – Jericho. From there Joshua and the vast numbers of Israelites went out into the Holy Land as God had commanded.

There is an interesting similarity to that event and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem that we read about today. We often get a vision of Jesus traveling up to the gates of Jerusalem and there being met by the people waving palm branches, but as it turns out the crowd has been with him for quite a while. In fact they had been with him for about seventeen miles. Scripture says, “As Jesus and his disciples were leaving [a certain city], a large crowd followed them.” What was that certain city? Jericho.

I found it kind of interesting that Joshua and the Israelites set out from Jericho to conquer the Promised Land and that Jesus also set out from Jericho to conquer the eternal promised land. It made me wonder if in leaving that place and heading to Jerusalem and the cross if Jesus was also comforted by those words that the Lord had spoken to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

The Israelites, then Jesus, but they are not the only ones who must travel that road, for it is one that we too must travel spiritually. Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” To be Jesus’ disciples we too must head out from Jericho and take that road to Jerusalem, knowing all along where it leads. Knowing that in the end we will be crucified with Christ, but also knowing that this road leads through some very barren, desolate, and rugged areas. Places where there is no water or nourishment. Places where you can be robbed, beaten, killed. Places where you can very easily lose your way and become lost. Therefore as we travel along that road we must stay near to Jesus. We must keep our eyes firmly fixed on him and where he leads, for He is the Way. If along the way you should become fearful, then listen closely and you too will hear the comforting words of Our Father, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Even on the darkest of nights, you are not alone. Be strong. Be courageous. God is with you.

 

 

Sermon: Producing Good Fruit

22401563_BG1The young management consultant had an interview with the president of a major advertising firm. The young man was nervous. At that stage in his career, it wasn’t very often that he got to talk to the president of a company. The appointment was at 10:00 a.m., for one hour. He arrived early. Promptly at 10, he was ushered into a large and airy room, with furniture upholstered in bright yellow. The president had his shirtsleeves rolled up and a mean look on his face. “You’ve only got 20 minutes,” he barked. The young man sat there, not saying a word. “I said, you’ve only got 20 minutes.” “Your time’s ticking away. Why aren’t you saying anything?” “They’re my 20 minutes,” replied the young man, “I can do whatever I want with them.”

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” Not only is Jesus referring to himself, who died and rose again, but he is also referring to us. We must die to self, grow in Christ, and produce that good fruit. We are called to be the mustard seed in our Gospel today – small, but with purpose and results. Not only is this something Jesus instructs us to do, but is also something we have vowed to do – from the baptismal covenant, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” Our response, “I will, with God’s help.”

I have been told that there are some folks who can grow corn in Montana. I don’t believe it. I tried in Butte and I tried in Anaconda. The ears I grew were something less than pathetic. Now, when I lived down south with my granddaddy, we could grow just about anything: corn, squash, beans, all the good stuff. One year my Grandaddy got a hankering for some strawberries, so he planted two long rows in the front garden. They came in good and those first strawberries were wonderful; however, by the end of the summer we were swimming in strawberries. We had eaten all the strawberry pies we could eat, canned enough strawberry preserves to last a lifetime, and if we should show up at the neighbors with one more bag of strawberries I feel certain they would have sicced the dog on us.

Now consider this from a spiritual perspective: we are to grow in Christ and we are to produce good fruit. So, if you were called on by the Lord to display the fruit you had produced, what would it look like? My Montana corn or my grandaddy’s strawberries?

One of my favorite sayings of the desert fathers, “If a man settles in a certain place and does not bring forth the fruit of that place, the place itself casts him out, as one who has not borne its fruit.” We are to produce good fruit; therefore, we must wisely use the time we have been given.

That young management consultant had his twenty minutes. We can look at the span of your life as he looked at those 20 minutes. They are ours. We can do anything we like with them. We can squander them. We can spend them building up for yourselves treasures on earth. Or, we can use them – or at least a portion of them, say 10% – to produce an abundance of good fruit. Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Produce good fruit so that your Father in Heaven is glorified.

 

 

Sermon: Lent III RCL A – “Forgiveness, Pt. 3 – Obedience, Guilt, Imitate”

images-19The new priest is nervous about hearing confessions, so he asks an older priest to sit in on his sessions. The new priest hears several confessions, then the old priest asks him to step out of the confessional for a few suggestions… The old priest suggests, “Cross your arms over your chest and rub your chin with one hand.”… The new priest tries this. The old priest suggests, “Try saying things like, ‘I see, yes, go on, and I understand, how did you feel about that?”  The new priest says those things, trying them out. The old priest says, “Now, don’t you think that’s a little better than slapping your knee and saying, ‘No way! What happened next?'” – I’m not sure if this would be a good time to encourage you all to go to confession during Lent or not.

It is in the fifth chapter of James that we hear specific instructions on healing: “Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil.”   A few verses later, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”  James is showing us that there is often a link between sin and sickness, therefore he encourages us to confess our sins to each other.  Often, when we hear these instructions we think of the confession between a penitent and a priest, but James is also talking about Christian speaking to Christian as a means of accountability.  For example – if you have a problem with ___, then you can confess this to a trusted friend or even a group of trusted friends who will in turn hold you accountable.  They do this not so they can beat you over the head when you slip and fail, but so that they can support you in your time of weakness and give you encouragement when you hold strong.

So we confess our sins to God and to a priest for absolution.  We confess to one another for accountability and encouragement, and finally we confess so that we might receive forgiveness from the person who we injured.

Back in the day before I was the saint that you see standing before you today, I had a favorite expression for someone who had injured me in someway when asked if I would forgive them.  I heartily responded, “I wouldn’t spit on them if they were on fire.”  That left very little room for reconciliation and Jesus was not amused.  Yet finally I heard that call from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  I understood that I must learn to forgive as I have been forgiven.  For me, I also discovered that there were three main reasons that compelled me to forgive: obedience, guilt and imitation.

Take obedience.  Some folks choose to go to work out of obedience, which can sometimes be closely linked to fear.  Obedience in that they know what is expected of them and fear that they will be fired if they don’t.  The same line of thought applies to forgiveness.  Consider Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant: a servant owed a great debt to his master and yet was unable to pay when his master called in the debt.  He therefore begged his master for forgiveness and the master forgave the debt and let him go; however, when that servant went out he encountered someone who owed him a debt and demanded that it be paid.  When the man said he couldn’t pay the servant had him thrown into prison until he could.  When the other servants saw what had happened they went to the master and reported it.  The master recalled the servant and said to him, “‘You wicked servant; I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to.  Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.”   Jesus concludes by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”  There are times when we may also forgive someone out of obedience to the command to forgive and out of fear of the repercussions of not forgiving.  Is that forgiveness?  Yes, as long as it is from the heart.  As long as we truly forgive.

Second, we may choose to forgive out of guilt.  Take for example the parable of the father who had two sons.  The father went to the first and said, “‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.  Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.”  Jesus asked those who were listening to him, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”  “The first,” they answered, but the question for us is: what turned the first son’s heart?  Probably a number of things, but I suspect it started with guilt.  “Dad asked me to do this [grumble.  grumble.]”, yet off he went.  In a similar manner – because of guilt – we may choose to forgive.  If I am being hard hearted and not wanting to forgive, but then look at an image of our crucified Lord and recognize the price he paid for my sins that I might be forgiven… guilt.  Plain and simple.  The guilt of my own sin and understanding the price paid by Jesus for those sins, will compel me toward forgiveness.  Is that forgiveness.  Again, yes, as long as it is from the heart.

So we can forgive out of obedience and guilt, but I would suggest to you there is an even better way: imitation.  Why do you do something in a particular way?  Oh, that’s how my dad always did it.  Why are you a dentist?  Oh, my mother was a dentist.  We imitate the behavior we see from others.  In the first paragraph of the first chapter of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, “‘He who follows Me, walks not in darkness,’ says the Lord.  By these words of Christ we are advised to imitate His life and habits, if we wish to be truly enlightened and free from all blindness of heart. Let our chief effort, therefore, be to study the life of Jesus Christ.”

Ephesians 5:12 (NIV), “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  “Follow God’s example” is also translated in other versions as “Be ye therefore imitators of God.”  That word “followers” / “imitators” is translated from the Greek word “mimEtai” (μιμηταὶ)  It is where we get the word “mimic.”  What is it we are to imitate / mimic as dearly loved children of God?  “When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”  That is what we are to imitate.  We forgive, because Jesus forgives.

If you forgive from your heart out of obedience or guilt, then you have done as Christ commanded.  You have forgiven because you have been told to forgive and know that you must, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; however, in being a follower / imitator / mimic of Jesus you will forgive – not because you have been told to do it – but because you want to be like Jesus.

Is that asking too much?  Is it to hard to want to be like Jesus?  If so, then to paraphrase George Herbert, set it up there as a mark, something to aim for “since he shoots higher that threatens the moon, than he that aims at a tree.”  Forgive by any means you can summon, but seek the higher way of imitating Christ.

Sermon: Lent I RCL A – “Forgiveness, Pt. 1 – Where to Begin?”

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The Beatitudes.  Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, peacemakers, and the persecuted.  Have you ever read those and thought to yourself, “I am so going to hell!”  There are days when I think that my ticket is already stamped.  This notion  of going to hell is only confirmed when I consider the seven deadly sins.

Pride.  How could I possibly be prideful when I’m the humblest person I know?  Greed?  Yeah.  Here’s a good one, lust.  You know what I think of when I think of being lustful?  Roy Orbison.  No.  Not Roy himself, but that song of his, “There she was just walking down the street, singing do wah diddy diddy dum diddy do.  She looked good, she looked fine, and I nearly lost my mind”  What is wrong with me?  Sloth?  Wrath?  Gluttony?  Please!  Just look at me.  I couldn’t come close to measuring up to a single one of the Beatitudes, but give me the seven deadly sins and I’m batting 1,000.  I am most certainly going to hell and my only consolation is that I can look around the congregation and know that I’ll at least have several friends with me!

In our Gospel today Jesus was able to overcome all the temptations that the Devil threw at him – worldly pleasures, fame, power, everything – but if you were to set a double beef cheeseburger, large fries and an ice cold Coca-Cola down in front of me, I’m fairly certain that I would commit at least half of the seven deadly sins.  If you set that same double beef cheeseburger, large fries, and ice cold Coca-Cola down in front of somebody else, I would probably break the other half.

I know it is Lent and we aren’t suppose to be having any fun in Church, but I’m sure you see the point as it would apply to a wide range of sinful activity that’s a bit more serious than a double cheeseburger.

St. Peter implores us, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”  As a Christian people, that is the goal, but so often we end up in the same boat as St. Paul, “I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”

Pride is at the top of the list of the seven deadly sins, because it takes a great deal of humility to admit that we have sinned.  Think how difficult it is to go to confession, how much humility it takes to confess your sins to another –  many can’t even make themselves practice this sacrament, but if we do humble ourselves, we can recognize that we have sinned, that we have damaged our relationship with God.

But the committing of the sin is not the saddest part?  We can discuss the fact that we have sinned.  We can identify times in our lives that we committed horrible acts.  We can identify times in our lives when someone committed horrible acts against us.  We will gladly beat ourselves up time and time again for something we did wrong even if it was years ago.  I can stand up here, point you out, and say, “You are a sinner.”  With the exception of the very proud, most, in humility will hang their head in agreement and defeat.

During the Ash Wednesday service we recited the 51st Psalm and we can agree with the words David wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.  Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.  Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb.”

But you know what?  That’s not the sad part.  The sad part is that in the next sentence after I have said you are a sinner – in the very next sentence – I can tell you that you are forgiven – you are forgiven – and the sad part is… you won’t believe me.

Jesus said, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  Again “Jesus said, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’” And again, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”  Peter declares, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”  St. Paul writes, “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”  St. John confirms, “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of Jesus’ name.”  All that and many still won’t believe those words, “You are forgiven.”

Not only that, but believing that we are forgiven is almost as difficult as it is for us to forgive others.  That whole bit about “forgive, that you may be forgiven.”  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others.”  Yeah, there are days when I definitely don’t want to pray that!  Do you really always forgive others?

Forgiveness, in every form, is key to the teachings of Holy Scripture.  We know that it is a large part of our Christian identity, but what does it really mean?  I should probably spend Lent beating you over the head with your sins, but most of us don’t need any help with that.  So I’ve decided that during this Holy Lent we are going to look at the various aspects of this rather illusive topic.

To begin with, you have an assignment for this week: think about forgiveness.  No.  Not about who you should forgive or anything like that, but consider your ideas about forgiveness.  What do you think Jesus means when he says we should forgive?  How can we forgive ourselves?  Next week we will begin with many of the myths out there about what true Christian forgiveness is all about and see if what we believe is right or wrong.

In the meantime, consider these words Mahatma Gandhi: “The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

 

Sermon: Ash Wednesday

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The Bureau of Labor came out with some statistics on how we spend our time.  It breaks down like this:

Working and related activities:  8.7 hours

Sleep:  7.7 hours

Leisure and sports:  2.6 hours

Household activities:  1.1 hours

Eating and drinking:  1.1 hours

Caring for Others: 1.3 hours

Other: 1.5 hours

This means that over half the day is gone, with over 12 hours a day devoted to working, eating, household and caring activities.  Then there is the time for sleeping, 7.7 hours, which leaves only a few hours remaining for anything else.  The majority of that extra time would seem to be assigned to the La-z-boy and the TV.  However, of that “other” category, 16 minutes are given to “organizational, civic, and religious” activities.  If we were being generous with the religious aspect and gave it 50% of that time, we would have 8 minutes per day or 56 minutes per week that we give to God.

Now, the unaware and self-righteous side of me would like to rail against those statistics, start telling folks that they need to get their priorities straight and all that.  Truth is, if I weren’t a priest – receiving a stipend so that I could spend time with God on behalf of the people – if I had a job in the secular world, children to care for, school and family functions, if I had all these things and more, then I’m fairly certain that my minutes per day that I spend with God would be less than eight.  Heck, even as a priest there are days when 8 minutes with God seems like a lot!   But that doesn’t make it right.

Much of our life with Christ is about sacrifice, the giving up of who we are and replacing it with who God is.  It is about a relationship and with any relationship it requires time, nurturing, giving, and sacrifice.

In the time leading up to Lent there are always discussion about what we will be “giving up,” that which we abstain from.  However, this giving up is not about an act of will power: “I’m giving up coffee for Lent or smoking or whatever.”  Heck, I gave up beer one Lent and really learned to enjoy red wine.  The point of abstaining from something is so that you will be able to give that time, those resources, etc. to God.  I’ll give up half an hour of TV a day so that I can spend that time with God.  See how it works?

I read our Gospel today and it speaks of doing certain things for God: giving alms, serving Him, praying, and fasting.  It talks about how we rightly do these things, not in public and not for show, but with a world that is constantly demanding more and more of our time, before we can do these things properly we must first learn to simply DO them.  We discover how to give God more than 8 minutes per day, to sacrifice something of ourselves so that we can enter more deeply into that relationship with Him.  This time with God is not just one more thing that we have to accomplish, as a Christian people, time with God, serving Him is our joy!  Thomas a Kempis understood these things.  In his Imitation of Christ, he writes, “I WILL hear what the Lord God will speak in me… Blessed is the soul who hears the Lord speaking within her, who receives the word of consolation from His lips.  Blessed are the ears that catch the accents of divine whispering, and pay no heed to the murmurings of this world.  Blessed indeed are the ears that listen, not to the voice which sounds without, but to the truth which teaches within.  Blessed are the eyes which are closed to exterior things and are fixed upon those which are interior.  Blessed are they who penetrate inwardly, who try daily to prepare themselves more and more to understand mysteries.  Blessed are they who long to give their time to God, and who cut themselves off from the hindrances of the world…. Consider these things, my soul, and close the door of your senses, so that you can hear what the Lord your God speaks within you, ‘I am your salvation,’ says your Beloved. ‘I am your peace and your life.’”

The Lord is your joy.  Your salvation.  Your peace.  Your life.  During this Holy Lent make the sacrifice, take the time, and hear what the Lord your God will speak in you.

Sermon: Last Epiphany RCL A – “Transfigured Laundry”

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It was in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that Draco Malfoy attempted to jinx Harry when his back was turned, but in the knick of time Madeye Moody stepped in and hit Draco with a transfiguration curse and turned him into a white ferret.  I mention this because today, when some folks hear of the Transfiguration of Jesus – as we did today in our Gospel reading – they now think it was Jesus performing a bit of magic, just like they assume he did when he changed water into wine or walked on the water.

Yet the Transfiguration was not a magic trick – it was a revealing of Jesus in all his glory.  The light that the apostles witnessed was not a light from above, but was instead the glory of God radiating outward from within Jesus.  It showed him as he truly is and it showed him as we will one day not only see him, but see ourselves when we are restored to our Father.  As Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new” and this is what we will be when we are made new in Christ.

The only problem, that is then and this is now.  Then we radiate the glory of God, but now we have six loads of dirty laundry in the basement that have got to be washed.  There is the Transfigured Lord and there we will one day be and there lays piles and piles of dirty laundry!  How can the two possibly be reconciled in this life?!  We ask that question as though we are the first to encounter such a predicament, but as we all know, that’s the way of history.

Take for example those two men who were seen with Jesus on the mountaintop,   Moses and Elijah.  Moses was the great savior of the people from Egypt and the one who presented God’s law to the people.  Moses went up on the mountain and witnessed the glory of the Lord.  He saw Him in the burning bush.  He saw God in the cloud.  The glory of the Lord passed before Moses as he stood protected in a crevice in the mountain.  Moses comes off the mountain, he is glowing with glory of the Lord.  God has given him the ten commandments, written on two stone tablets by God’s own hand and what does Moses encounter when he gets down off the mountain?  The people have made a golden calf and they are all dancing the hoochy coochy around it.  He is literally radiating with the Glory of God and yet he’s surrounded by piles and piles of dirty laundry.

The prophet Elijah, he was in fear for his life.  The people were trying to kill him.  The Lord said to him, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.”  Scripture details the encounter, “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’”  Elijah climbed the mountain and encountered God in the still small voice.  He came down off the mountain and found himself back in the laundry room.

The same occurred with Jesus.  He was transfigured and as soon as he came down off the mountain there were people calling to him for help.  The apostles who had witnessed the Transfiguration, when they came off the mountain they would not be floating through life on angel wings.  No.  In just a few short weeks they would witness the Transfigured Christ being arrested, beaten, and crucified.  There is the mountain, the transfiguration of the Lord, the glory of the Lord all around, and no sooner than you think you have found the answer – finally gotten it right – then you crash back down again to what we so simply refer to as the “real world.”

However, even in the midst of that “real world,” you will never be the same, because in the Transfiguration you have seen what will be.  This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. was referring to in his famous speech.  He declared, “I don’t know what will happen now.  We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t matter with me now.  Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over.  And I’ve seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.  And I’m happy.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

We have a tendency to say, “When I get all this laundry done, then I will be with God.  I’ll stop and pray when the “real world” just isn’t so dang real.”  Yet the Lord would have us understand that what we witness on the mountain is not something that we leave up there.  Instead, we bring it with us.  We cherish it.  We allow the light of that one transfigured moment to penetrate every aspect of our lives.  Not just as a dream of things to come, but as a promise for today.

The theologian John Brodie wrote, “Oneness with ultimate reality [with God] is not an abstract idea; it is a spiritual experience of knowing that the timeless God is at the door inviting you to full union.  It is an attentiveness to the present, a readiness, at every moment, to receive reality, to enjoy deeply even the simplest things.  In the words of the poet Paul Murray: ‘This moment, the grace of this one raptureless moment… the grace of this one joyfully ecstatic moment.’”  It applies to every aspect of our life.  Consider how much time you spend worrying.  Can you change yesterday?  Can you change tomorrow?  You are here.  This – right now – is the time of your life.  This is where you will encounter the immediate presence of God.  You are going to have to do laundry – everything from having to turn the nasty socks right side out to dealing with all the other things, good and bad, that life has to throw at you, but there is this confidence in knowing that God is with us.    Blessed Bonaventure instructs us wonderfully, “In the midst of our employments – in the midst of our daily lives – we ought to have God present to our minds, in imitation of the holy Angels who when they are sent to attend on us.. quiet themselves of the function of this exterior ministry as never to be drawn from their interior attention to God.”  The angels don’t allow things outside of themselves to draw them from the glory of God that is within.  Here is a challenge for you: The next time you have some menial boring task to attend to, perform it well, but do so with the glory of the Transfigured Lord in your heart and see what a difference it makes.

The Transfiguration is a glimpse.  It is a sacred snapshot of what is to come and it reminds us that whether we are on the mountain with God or in the laundry room with piles of dirty laundry – God is with us.  The service of Evening Prayer contains one of the most ancient Christian hymns, the Phos hilaron, “O Gracious Light”.   In it we declare of God, “You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds.”  At all times!  Not just when we are in church for an hour on Sunday or when it is convenient or when we are in the right mood, but at all times.  At all times we can know the glory of the Transfigured Lord.  We can radiate his glory, not from above, but from within and be transfigured as he is.