Sermon: St. Nino


Legend has it that a Jewish Rabbi named Elias was in Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified.  Following the crucifixion, he found the soldier who had won Jesus’ robe through the casting of dice and bought it from him.  He then returned to his own country in Georgia, taking the robe with him.  Later, the robe would find its home in the crypt at the Orthodox Cathedral in Mtskheta.  Every year it is brought out on October 1st and celebrated as the Robe of Christ.

Around the year 300, a young girl, Nino, was born in Cappadocia, Turkey.  When she was twelve, her family moved to Jerusalem where Nino would eventually become an orphan.  She was taken in by an older Christian woman who told her the stories of Christ, including the history of the Robe.  Hearing this, Nino desired to be found worthy to travel to Georgia to venerate the relic, so she began to pray to the Theotokos, the Mother of God. 

Her prayer was answered and the Virgin Mary spoke to her, “Go to the country that was assigned to me by lot and preach the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will send down His grace upon you and I will be your protector.”

Nino did not believe she could carry out such a task. “How can I, a fragile woman, perform such a momentous task, and how can I believe that this vision is real?”  In her vision, she was given a cross made out of grape vine and the Theotokos said to her, “Receive this cross as a shield against visible and invisible enemies!”  When she woke up, the cross was in her hands.  She relayed the words of Mary to the Patriarch of the church, her uncle, who prayed.  “O Lord, God of Eternity, I beseech Thee on behalf of my orphaned niece: Grant that, according to Thy will, she may go to preach and proclaim Thy Holy Resurrection. O Christ God, be Thou to her a guide, a refuge, and a spiritual father. And as Thou didst enlighten the Apostles and all those who feared Thy name, do Thou also enlighten her with the wisdom to proclaim Thy glad tidings.” (Source)

A series of events eventually led Nino to the people of Georgia where she was able to convert the Queen and eventually the King, solidifying the Christian faith in that country.  

The Church that was originally established by the preaching of the Apostle Andrew and later built up Nino is still in existence today and Nino is still revered by the people of the Russian Orthodox Church and others.  

Is there a connection to St. Nino and St. Matthew’s?  As a matter of fact there is.  St. Nino’s Russian Orthodox Church still meets once a month in our St. Julian’s Chapel.  As a gift for them during this Christmas season and in celebration of their Patron Saint, I ordered this icon of the Theotokos for them.  I thought that today we would bless if for them before presenting it.

O Lord our God, Who created us after Your own Image and Likeness; Who redeems us from our former corruption of the ancient curse through Your manbefriending Christ, Who took upon Himself the form of a servant and became man; Who having taken upon Himself our likeness remade Your Saints of the first dispensation, and through Whom also we are refashioned in the Image of Your pure blessedness; Your Saints we venerate as being in Your Image and Likeness, and we adore and glorify You as our Creator; Wherefore we pray You, send forth Your blessing upon this Icon, and with the sprinkling of hallowed water, Bless and make holy this Icon unto Your glory, in honor and remembrance of the Theotokos; And grant that this sanctification will be to all who venerate this Icon of the Theotokos, and send up their prayer unto You standing before it; Through the grace and bounties and love of Your Only-Begotten Son, with Whom You are blessed together with Your All-Holy, Good and Life-creating Spirit; both now and ever, and unto ages of ages.  Amen.

Sermon: Advent 3 RCL C – “Resting on Our Laurels”

Photo by okeykat on Unsplash

The Greek god Apollo is the is the supposed god of many things, including archery. So, one day, when he encountered Eros, the god of love, Apollo teased Eros about his bow and how it wasn’t really fit for anything. Eros became angry at being teased and devised a plan. He created two arrows, one of gold and the other lead. He then shot Apollo with the gold one, causing Apollo to fall desperately in love with the beautiful river nymph, Daphne, and want to marry her. Eros then shot Daphne with the lead arrow, causing her to hate everything about Apollo. Daphne had no desire to marry anyone, especially Apollo, but when it became evident that Apollo was going to catch her and force her, she called out to her father to save her. As much as it hurt her father, he consented and Daphne was turned into a tree: Laurus Nobilis—a Laurel tree. However, that did not stop Apollo from loving her, saying, “Always my hair will have you, my lyres will have you, my quivers will have you, laurel tree.” And so, after declaring the Laurel tree sacred, Apollo, cut off a branch and made a crown of Laurel leaves and wore it to show his love.

In the second century a coin was minted showing the head of Apollo wearing the crown. From there, the crown of Laurels became a symbol of great success and the winners of the Pythian Games (Olympics) was awarded a Laurel crown for their victory. In later centuries, the phrase, “repose / rest on your Laurels”, became a way of saying that a person, after achieving victory, could rest and enjoy their fame and fortune, but along about the 19th century, the world became more hard-charging and enough was never enough, so instead of being a positive, “resting on your laurels”, the phrase became a negative. It speaks of laziness or an unwillingness to achieve more, thinking you’ve reached your peak.

An example of someone modern “resting on their Laurels” would be Nolan Bushnell. Nolan was the founder of Atari, the creator of those early video games. He was also the founder of Chucky Cheese, that place of loud screaming and birthday parties. He’s done pretty well. Today he is worth about $50 million. However, two young fellas he worked with at Atari, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, had been tinkering around with a few parts from the Atari and created a personal computer, but they needed a bit of start up cash, so they came to their buddy, Nolan Bushnell, and asked him for $50,000. Nolan, who said, “I thought I could do no wrong and I got really sloppy,” turned down the offer. He didn’t think Atari should be making computers. He rested on his success. He rested on his laurels. What would his $50,000 have purchased him? One-third of Apple. Today, one-third of Apple is worth approximately $800 billion. Nolan says, “I was so smart, I said no, and It’s kind of fun to think about that, when I’m not crying about it.”

Today, in our Gospel reading, we read, “John [the Baptist] said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.’”

We’ve been studying the life of Abraham during our Sunday school lesson and we know that God made His covenant with him. The covenant was the promise to Abraham that through him a great nation would be born. A nation that would be established for all eternity. He was promised by God that his offspring would be more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sand on the sea shores. Through this covenant, the Jewish people became God’s chosen people. Knowing such a thing can change a person. It can create within them a desire to do great things and to live into that promise or it can cause a person to become proud and lazy, thinking they have nothing more to do.

“Hey. I’m God’s chosen, so phooey on you.” “Hey, I’m God’s chosen, so I’m getting into heaven no matter what.” “Hey, I’m God’s chosen, so I can do whatever I like.” “Hey, I’m God’s chosen, so I don’t have to do anything else.” John the Baptist came along and said, “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor.’” John the Baptist said, “Hey, I’m God’s Prophet, so don’t be resting on your laurels! That’s not going to save you! So get over yourself and repent.”

That’s what happened to some of the Jewish people. They were cut off. What’s interesting, is that we as a Christian people can fall into the same trap of resting on our Laurels. “Hey, I’ve got Jesus, I’m on the inside.” “Hey, I go to church, so I’m good to go.” “Hey…” and so on. That is the equivalent of saying, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”, but what did Jesus say, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

St. Paul, using the analogy of an olive tree, speaks to all of this in his letter to the Romans: “If some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches… do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.”

Jesus said, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” We have received so much from this child that was born in the manger: forgiveness of sins, unity with God, eternal life, the very Kingdom of God. These are gifts from God that we can never earn or repay, but let us try. Let us live as though we could, not resting on our laurels, but ever striving to become those who reflect God’s light and love into the world.

Let us pray: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Contemporary Koinonia

For about the last year, my friend and colleague, The Rev. Sean Ekberg and I have been working on a journal for The Episcopal Church and today it went live. It includes interviews with Bishops in the church, a seminary dean, ministry stories, and more. If you would like to know the bright side of The Episcopal Church, then you’re going to want to take some time reading through the articles. It is not a quick read, but it is well worth the time. There is much that is good happening. If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been spending my extra time… here you go. I believe, if you click the image below, it will take you to the Issuu edition.


Sermon: Easter V RCL A – “I Will Proclaim”

pointDo you remember the name Harold Camping? He died this past December, but for many years was the leader of Family Radio Worldwide. His claim to fame was that through complex mathematical formulas he predicted that on May 21, 2011 the rapture, that is God calling his people home, would occur and the world would end as we know it. Now, if it had occurred and all of you were still here after the rapture, I wouldn’t be surprised, but since I’m still here, I figure he was wrong. For the record, Camping also predicted that the world would end on Sept. 6, 1994 and that didn’t happen either. He wrote that off as errors in his computations. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” My logic says, if the angels don’t know the hour or day, then someone with a calculator and a Bible won’t be able to figure it out either.

However, leading up to May 21, 2011, atheist across the country were having all sorts of fun by having “end of the world parties. Although Mr. Camping was wrong, I still don’t know that it is a good idea to mock him and I’ll tell you why: people have been looking for Jesus return for 2,000+ years. They have been praying for his return for 2,000+ years and for good reason. The author Anne Lamott summed it up, she wrote, “We are Easter People, living in a Good Friday World.” We are an Easter people believing in the resurrection, old things passing away, new life, the promises of the Good News, but the world around is in shambles. Some see the world around us and they interpret its condition as the end, “How could we go on anymore?” So in the midst of the shambles, folks want to see the Lord’s return so badly, that they begin to look for it even more closely and want it so much that they even make the mistake of trying to predict it. In a way, it is an act of desperation.

Harold Camping and the others who have predicted Jesus return through this desperation are not alone. Consider the apostles in our Gospel reading today: Jesus has already shared the Last Supper with his disciples, he has predicted his death, he has told Peter and the others that they will deny him.. essentially he is giving final instructions and saying, “Goodbye.” For the apostles, their world is spinning out of control, their world is turning into shambles, so Thomas says to Jesus, “Give us directions on how we can follow you.” Philip wants Jesus to show them the Father. In both cases, instead of breaking out a map or showing a photo, Jesus responds, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “If you have seen me then you have seen the Father.” For the apostles that still sounds a bit cryptic, because they did not fully understand Jesus’ purpose, what his mission was all about. That understanding would not come until later, but the events surrounding Stephen that we read about today are key to this understanding.

You will recall that after Jesus’ death the apostles went about preaching and teaching; however, as more folks came to belief in Christ it became more difficult for these few followers to care for them all, so they elected seven others – the first deacons – to assist in the ministry. One of those seven was Stephen and he was very passionate about his work. Not only did he do the work of a deacon, but he also proclaimed the Gospel message. Just as the religious leadership did not want to hear it from Jesus, they didn’t want to hear it from this young upstart either. So it came to pass that on one particular day Stephen gave them a great tongue lashing. He said to them, you have always been disobedient to God, you have always limited God, and you have persecuted the prophets that God sent. The crowning jewel of this tongue lashing comes when Stephen tells them, you murdered the Son of God.

It is hear that scripture records an amazing scene, “Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” For his perceived “blasphemy” they stoned him to death.

In believing and proclaiming the Gospel Stephen, the first martyr of the church, saw the place that Thomas had asked Jesus for directions to and he saw the glory of the Father that Phillip had wanted to see. What Stephen was witness to was the Good News. Jesus’ Kingdom was not bound to an earthly realm. You don’t need directions on how to get there or a photograph to know the Father, you only need one thing. Care to take a guess? Jesus – and that is the Good News.

What kind of person do you think of when you consider a person like Stephen? He knew that because Jesus claimed to be the Son of God it got him crucified, but here Stephen is making the same claims. Don’t you think he had to know that it would incite the religious leaders once again? Was he like one of those street preachers you imagine in Time Square, standing on a milk crate, flailing a Bible around shouting at those passing by, but in the case of Stephen knowing what he said could get him killed? Was he on a suicide mission, simply begging for death? Or was he being the light of the world. That city on a hill that can’t be hidden? Was Stephen a hero? Was he someone whose character and behavior we should model and follow?

Now please don’t think I’m picking on anyone in particular this morning. I’m not. Instead, I’m being very equitable and picking on us all, because we are all guilty of something specific in our Christian walk. Folks like Thomas and Philip ask to see God, others like Harold Camping and his followers want to see God so badly that they predict dates when they actually will, but they are not the only ones? The world is in shambles all around us and folks, whether directly or indirectly, ask us those same questions: “Can you show me the way?” “Can you help me to understand and see God?” Indirectly they may pour out to you the turmoil within their souls, their anxious thoughts, and personal concerns; but when they do, what we are all guilty of is being too polite. How many of you have heard this, “Faith or someone’s relationship with God is a personal matter.” “I don’t want to force my religious views on anyone.” “I might make them angry if I talk about God.”

I asked you if you thought Stephen was some sort of madman or a hero and the correct answer is that he is a hero. We should emulate his behavior, which means we shouldn’t always be so polite and say or do what is considered socially proper when it comes to our faith – It is THE Good News and that Good News is not there just so we can have some comforting words to say at someone’s deathbed or worse, their funeral! The Good News is for today. It is for the living and is for sharing. If someone happens to get angry and throws a few rocks then so be it. I love what St. Josemaria Escriva said on this, “If they break our skulls, we shall not take it too seriously. We shall just have to put up with having them broken.” You are living testimonies to the Good News and it is worth sharing.

Scripture says that Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit and we too are filled with that same Spirit, which will allows us share the Good News of Jesus Christ as boldly and as unapologetically as Stephen did. The world did not end on May 21, 2011 or today – at least not yet! – so there are many who still want and need to know the way to Jesus. They want to see the Father. You, each and everyone of you, can provide them with directions.

The Psalmist declares, “My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long— though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LORD; I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.”

Don’ let that simply be something you read or hear. Let it be something you live. A way of life. Be aware of the many opportunities that the Lord provides you to share your faith and then grasp those opportunities and proclaim the Good News that is within you.

Sermon: Wednesday – “What’s in a Name”

roseRomeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2:
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

Moses went up on the mountain to see that wondrous sight of the burning bush. When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, and the Lord called out to him by name, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground… I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

God appeared to Jacob again and blessed him. God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.”

The Lord called out to the Prophet Samuel when he was still a young boy, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Jesus called His disciples by name. Jesus looked at one who would become his disciple and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

For four days a man lay dead in the tomb, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” and the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

On the day of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him, “Teacher!”

The Lord called Moses by name and he led the Israelites out of slavery. Jacob was called by name as the father of nations. Samuel – called by name as prophet. Peter as an apostle. Lazarus was called out of death. Mary was called into the understanding of who Christ truly is.

Jesus tells us that – in the end – he will clothe in white those who are victorious in Him and will walk with them. Jesus declares, “I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.”

The Lord knows each and every one of us by name and he has known us from the beginning. The Psalmist declares, “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” The Lord knows us in the fullest sense..

In our Gospel reading to day Jesus says, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

There are times for all of us when we wonder if God thinks on us. Remembers us. There are presently over 6 billion people on the planet, can he know me as an individual? Yes. The Lord knows each of us by name and he calls us. He calls us to serve Him. He calls us to follow Him. He calls us out of darkness. By name, he calls us out of death. The Lord Your God is a great God. Have peace in knowing that you are His, precious in His sight.

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 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.”

 

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