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

Luke 10:25-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sermon: Benedict of Nursia

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

Sermon: Proper IX RCL C – "Forgiveness"

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

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

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

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

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

Meditation: Proper VI RCL C – "Do you see?"

Luke 7:36-8:3 

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him– that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Brennan Manning – a Roman Catholic priest – tells the story of the time during the 70’s that he was living in a monastery in New York.  It seems that while living there he had numerous millionaire friends who enjoyed his company and would invite him out.  He recalls on one occasion being invited to a swank restaurant and a Broadway play.  During the intermission, he and his friends went out for some fresh air and engaged in a rather highbrow conversation regarding the play.

As he was going about trying to impress his friends with his intellectual savvy he noticed someone walking toward him who was “not one of the beautiful people.”  Her clothes were a bit tattered, her shoes worn, and her nylons had holes.  As she approached he also noticed that  she was peddling the Variety magazine for $0.75.. so as he put it.. in a gesture of extreme generosity he handed her a dollar and casually waved her away.. eager to wow his friends a bit more… He continues by saying…
And then she said, “Father?”  In those days, I knew I couldn’t distinguish myself by my virtues, so I distinguished myself by my clothing; I always wore the collar… “Father, could I talk to you a minute?”… Manning writes, I snapped, “What?  Can’t you see I’m busy?  Do you make a habit of interrupting people in the middle of a conversation?  Wait over there and I’ll speak to you when I’m done.”… She whispered, “Jesus wouldn’t talk to Mary Magdalene like that”… And then she was gone.
He wondered what this young woman would have thought if she had wandered into his church the following Sunday to hear him preach on the love of God.  He asked, “How could she believe in the love a God she can’t see when she couldn’t find even a trace of love in the eyes of a brother wearing a clerical collar whom she could see?”.. He noted.. “A shriveled humanity has a shrunken capacity for receiving the rays of God’s love.”
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has gone to the house of one the Pharisees.  Soon afterward a woman.. a very undesirable woman.. entered the house and began to anoint the feet of Jesus.  The Pharisee knows what kind of woman this is… she is a sinner.  That is all he needs to know and in this knowledge he writes her off. 
When she has completed this humble task and wiped Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, Jesus asked the Pharisee a question… “Do you see this woman?”  The answer is of course, “Yes.”  He had seen her, but all he saw was a sinner.  Someone to be avoided and ignored.  Someone not worthy of his time. Someone who God would have nothing to do with… and most certainly someone who God would not and could not love.
We have all seen people like this.  People like the young woman who came up to Brennan Manning in the street and wanted to talk.  People like the woman who anointed the feet of Jesus.  When we see them, if we are not careful, then we will also respond to them as the Pharisee and Manning did.  We will shun them.. push them aside.. ignore them.  We will say in our hearts and in our minds, “I can’t be bothered with this sort.”…. In doing so, what we forget, is that while we may not want to be bothered with them, they are just as much a child of God as we are.  Which means.. through the person of Jesus Christ, they have been made worthy of God’s love.
Thomas Merton wrote, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.”
With anyone you encounter.. family, friend, stranger.. well dressed, in rags.. regardless of color or creed.. don’t judge or condemn.. don’t avoid or ignore… instead, allow the voice of Jesus to enter your heart and ask, “Do you see this woman.. this man.. this child?”  And before you answer, don’t see them through your own eyes… see them through the eyes of Jesus.. and then love them.  Love them as much as Christ loves you.

Sermon: Pentecost V RCL C – "Do not weep!"

Luke 7:11-17

Soon after healing the centurion’s slave, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Walking up to a department store’s fabric counter, an attractive young woman said, “I want to buy this material for a new dress. How much does it cost?”… “Only one kiss per yard,” replied the smirking male clerk…. Not to be taken back by the harassment, the woman said, “That’s fine! I’ll take ten yards.”… With expectation and anticipation written all over his face, the clerk hurriedly measured out and wrapped the cloth, then held it out teasingly, leaning forward to receive his “payment.”… The woman snapped up the package and pointed to a little old man standing beside her. “Grandpa will pay the bill,” she smiled.

I suppose we all experience disappointment to one degree or another everyday… it might be something as trivial as not getting what we ordered at a restaurant.. or something more serious such as a setback at work or bad news from the Doctor.. or even disappointment in another person… 

Years ago in Germany, there was a young Jewish boy who had a profound sense of admiration for his father. His family’s life centered on the acts of piety and devotion prescribed by their religion. The father was zealous in attending worship and religious instruction, and he demanded the same from his children. … While the boy was a teenager, the family was forced to move to another town in Germany. There was no synagogue in the new town, and the pillars of the community all belonged to the Lutheran church. Suddenly the father announced to the family that they were going to abandon their Jewish traditions and join the Lutheran church. When the stunned family asked why, the father explained that changing religions was necessary to help his business. … The youngster was bewildered and confused. His deep disappointment soon gave way to anger and a kind of intense bitterness that plagued him throughout his life. That disappointed son, disillusioned by his father’s lack of integrity, eventually left Germany and went to England to study. He sat daily at the British Museum, formulating various ideas and writing a book. In that work, he introduced an entirely new world-view, envisioning a movement that would change the social and political systems of the world.  Drawing from past experiences with his father, he described religion as an “opiate for the masses” that could be explained totally in terms of economics and personal gain. … Today, millions of people still live under the system invented by this disappointed man, and millions more suffered under previous regimes that incorporated its values. His name, of course, was Karl Marx, and his idea was communism. And it all began with his father’s misuse of the name of God for the sake of profit and his disappointment in that.

Marx experienced disappointment that led to a great bitterness.. and that bitterness literally led to the murder of hundreds of thousands… but where does this disappointment come from… I would suggest to you that our disappointments are the direct result of our expectations – you order something at a restaurant.. and that is what you expect to receive… you do a good job..and you expect a reward… you put your faith in someone… and you expect them to behave according to your expectations… when it doesn’t work out that way.. we are disappointed… We even do this in our relationship with God…

When you say your prayers.. do you come with some sort of expectation.. some result that you expect to be accomplished by God?… Of course you do.. we all do… We know exactly what we need and we know exactly how we want God to handle the situation… when He doesn’t we wonder why.. and we are disappointed… yet God.. is not in the business of disappointing… for when we place our expectation – our hope – in God.. it’s not like we say our prayers with our fingers crossed for good luck… When we hope in God.. we come believing.. knowing that he will work in us those things that are best… 

As St.Peter writes in his first epistle.. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given 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.”… God has given us new birth into a living hope… that phrase “living hope” can also be translated as an “ever living expectation.”… it is a hope.. that no matter the outcome of our expectations.. we don’t have to give up or be disappointed.

Jesus makes this point to us in our Gospel reading today… We are told that Jesus went to the city of Nain.. and there.. at the gates of the city he meets a funeral procession… behind the young man that was being borne out of the city.. was a great crowd… their hopes and expectations for this young man have been dashed.. they had place their hopes in what they could see.. in what they knew.. in what they thought would come of him.. but now the boy was dead… yet.. we know that our faith that comes from Christ is believing in what we cannot see.. what we cannot know – as St. Paul writes, “We walk – we follow Jesus – by faith and not by sight”… our faith is in the Risen Lord.. and so.. it is into this parade of death.. this funeral procession that Jesus – the Risen Lord – comes… 

First he goes to the mother of the boy and says.. “Do not weep.”… then he goes to the funeral bier and speaks to the dead boy… “Young man, I say to you, rise!”.. and the living boy sat up and began to speak.. and Jesus gave him to his mother.
The crowd.. the mother.. and even the boy himself.. had expectations for his life… and when those expectations were not met..there was disappointment… there was death… but it was into these dashed hopes and disappointments – into this death – that Jesus came and spoke “Life”…

The same is true with us… we have these expectations of the world around us.. of others.. and even of ourselves… and so often those expectations lead us to disappointment.. hurt feelings.. and dashed dreams… but it is at those times that Jesus walks into our lives and says to us, “Do not weep.”.. Do not weep!.. and then he proceeds to speak to us words of life… giving us a hope and a confidence that even though our worldly desires were not met.. that we are disappointed.. God’s perfect plan is still fulfilled.

That is our hope and our confidence… At the Annunciation, when the angel of the Lord told Mary that she we would give birth to the Son of God, she replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”  Our hope.. our confidence.. our faith allows us to speak those same words to Our Father.. let it be done to me according to thy will… it allows us to say to the world, “Bring it! I may not know what is coming or what will happen, but I know that no matter the outcome.. my Lord Jesus will speak life.. because not only is Jesus the way.. and not only is he the truth.. but he is also the life.”.. and he speaks his life into our greatest disappointments.. and allows us to live his most perfect plan. 

It doesn’t mean that we aren’t still going to be disappointed .. that we won’t be hurt.. that from our perspective, things won’t go horribly wrong… but God does say.. in the midst of those disappointments.. hurts and wrongs.. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you… I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”

Sermon: Pentecost IV RCL C – "Through Faith"

Luke 7:1-10

After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

The Greek God Dionysius found his old schoolmaster and foster father, the Satyr Silenus, missing.  It seems that the old satyr had been drinking wine and had wandered away drunk, later to be found by some Phrygian peasants, who carried him to their king, where he promptly proceeded to pass out in the king’s rose garden. Well.. turns out that the king recognized him and treated him hospitably, entertaining him for ten days and nights with politeness while Satyr entertained the king and his friends with stories and songs.  On the eleventh day, the king brought the Satyr back to Dionysus in Lydia and for a reward.. Dionysus offered the king his choice of whatever reward he wished for. The King.. asked that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold.

We know the king as Midas.. and Midas rejoiced in his new power, which he hastened to put to the test. He touched an oak twig and a stone; both turned to gold. Overjoyed, as soon as he got home, he ordered the servants to set a feast on the table. Ovid.. the author of this myth writes.. “So Midas, king of Lydia, swelled at first with pride when he found he could transform everything he touched to gold; but when he beheld his food grow rigid and his drink harden into golden ice then he understood that this gift was a bane and in his loathing for gold, cursed his prayer” Midas even touched his daughter and she turned into a golden statue.
Now, Midas hated the gift he had coveted. He prayed to Dionysus, begging to be delivered from starvation. Dionysus heard, and consented; he told Midas to wash in the river Pactolus… Midas did so, and when he touched the waters, the power flowed into the river, and the river sands turned into gold. Which explained why the river Pactolus was so rich in gold…
This is of course is where we get the phrase Midas Touch… In business.. it is always a considered to be a good thing to have… but after hearing the rest of the Midas story I wonder if that is so true… even so.. folks have always wanted the ability to transform what they have into something better.. the ordinary into gold.. the average into stunning beauty.. the dead into life.. It is the eternal plague of the grass always being greener… Yet, what most discover, even if they can do all these things, they are never satisfied.  Instead of becoming happy, they become miserable in their pursuit of even more.  I remember a song by the group The The.. the lyrics:
I’ve got my sight set on you
 And someday, someday, someday, you’ll come my way.
 But when you put your arms around me
 I’ll be looking over your shoulder for something new
 ’cause I ain’t ever found peace [with some girl]
 I ain’t ever found peace with the religion of the world
 I ain’t ever found peace at the bottom of a glass

We can find ourselves in the same place… I ain’t ever found peace.. I’ve never found happiness… Why?.. because we lack the humility and we fail to give the time necessary to pursue the one thing that will bring true happiness.  Not a momentary happiness that fades with the spark of a new challenge or pursuit, but a happiness… a joy.. that endures even through the most intense of storms… a joy that comes only from God.

Wilbur Rees writes of one person who says… “I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don’t want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.”
To say, “I want $3 worth of God” is to say, I want just enough of God to hopefully get into heaven.. but nothing more… I don’t want my life transformed… I’m not interested in serving others… my life is my own, satisfying my own purposes… “It’s all about me.”
That type of life is shallow and meaningless… and it will not bring joy.  Midas had the ability to get anything he ever wanted.. but to what end… he lost his daughter.. and he nearly lost his life… he had his gold.. and it was death.
But.. consider someone like St. Francis of Assisi who gave up everything for God.  The prayer he wrote is one of our most famous… Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; / where there is hatred, let me sow love; / where there is injury, pardon; / where there is doubt, faith; / where there is despair, hope; / where there is darkness, light; / and where there is sadness, joy.
Lord.. make me an instrument of thy peace.. Lord.. transform my life, so that I might help transform others… where there is hatred help me to transform it into love… transform me.. so that where there is doubt.. I might show faith….. This is not a shallow and meaningless life… This is a life filled with the Spirit of God.. this is a life filled with that true and lasting joy.
How do we get from one to the other?  How do we go from the shallow and meaningless to the true and lasting joy?
In our Gospel reading.. Jesus enters Capernaum.. there he is approached by some of the Jewish leaders who have been sent on an errand by the local centurion.  The centurion is a Roman commander, generally hated by the Jews because the Romans are occupying the land.  However, in this case it would appear that the centurion is someone who is liked and respected – he even built the local synagogue for the Israelites.  The centurion has a prized possession – a slave – who has fallen ill and having heard of the miracles Jesus has performed, asks if Jesus will come and heal the slave.  What struck me is how the centurion has himself introduced… For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, `Go,’ and he goes, and to another, `Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, `Do this,’ and the slave does it.”… In a sense, the centurion has a Midas touch.  He speaks.. and whatever he desires is done, but to what purpose?  Who does it profit?… Himself.  Yet, even with all this authority, he still lacks the ability to grasp what he most desires.. which, in this case.. is the health of his prized slave…. I can say ‘go’ and they go.. I can say, ‘come’ and they come.  I can say, ‘do this’ and it is done…. However.. I can say to my slave, ‘be well’.. but his condition only becomes worse.
Yet, there apparently was something that the centurion had that Jesus had not seen in all of Israel… “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found.. such faith.”  In his knowledge, the centurion knew that he had authority, but in his wisdom, he knew that this authority – this Midas touch – extended only so far.. therefore, in his humility, he knew that he must also rely on faith… and it was this faith that gave him that which he most desired.. “When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
The Lord – unlike Midas – can take all that we are and all that we have.. all of the pursuits and worldly desires.. the good, the bad, and the ugly.. the power and authority, the addictions and shortcomings, and even our unfaithfulness and sinfulness.. he can take it all – and if we have faith.. faith as small as a mustard seed – he can take it all and say, “Behold, I make all things new.”….  How do we go from the shallow and meaningless to the true and lasting joy?  Faith.  Faith in the one true God.  Faith in His Son Jesus.  And faith in the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Do you believe this?.. do you believe?… Through your intellect, you may answer, “No” to that question, but I don’t think you would even be here if, in your heart.. in your soul.. you couldn’t answer, “Yes.”  Therefore.. the next question is: “Will you let Him?”… Will you allow Jesus to take all that you have.. all that you are.. and all that you desire… and transform you?  Put another way, are you happy with three dollars worth of God.. or.. like St. Francis.. are you prepared to say.. “Lord make me an instrument.. Lord transform me”.. Lord – through faith – give me that true and lasting joy.”