Travel: Lisbon (Day Five & Six)

I believe I played until about 1 a.m. this morning and did not take the time to write, although there are some jottings in my notebook that I may share here.

On this fine New Year’s Day, it is pouring rain, washing the air and the streets, so it has been officially decided by the powers that be that today will be a true Sabbath rest day. Still, yesterday… 18,000 steps took me many places, the first of which was across town to the Cais do Sodré train station, where I boarded the train to Cascais, but got off on the third stop, Belém. (FYI: it is really cheap to take the trains, ferry, buses, etc. I think yesterday’s ride was 1,35€.)

From the station, I walked to my first destination, The Padrão dos Descobrimentos, The Monument to the Discoveries. As with all such sites, it was crowded, but I can only imagine what it would be like during the high tourist season.

The monument (170 feet tall) was originally only a temporary structure with a minimum of material for the 1940 World’s Fair, but twenty years later was reconstructed for permanence. It is Henry the Navigator (Dom Henrique of Portugal, his statue is 26 feet tall) at the front who was responsible for choreographing much of the early Portuguese maritime expansion. Other figures represent princesses, cartographers, clerics, etc., who participated in the expansion work. I took a moment to be in Oklahoma on the map in front of the monument.

A half mile further up the street is the Belém Castle, the Tower of Saint Vincent, built in the 16th century. Its location was originally an island, guarding the entrance of the Tagus River, but the river did what rivers do—changed course—and the castle is now quite near the shore.

I then made my way across the main road/train tracks to see the Imperial Gardens (closed for remodeling) and St. Jeronimos (Jerome) Monastery (closed for the holiday), which was built in 1502. It is epic in size. To be able to walk through those doors would make it all worthwhile.

Then for lunch at Queijadas de Belém where I had a pretty good steak cooked in olive oil and garlic. And, yes, that was an exceptionally generous pour of wine. The espresso following the meal helped me to recover.

From lunch, I found a nearby park and just sat and enjoyed while looking up at this handsome fella. Researching it back at the apartment, I discovered that he is Afonso de Albuquerque, 1st Duke of Goa and Viceroy of Portuguese India. To demonstrate the power he commanded, one hand rests on the hilt of his sword while, with the other hand, he points at the guns under his feet (under his command).

This is where I chose to sit and write for a bit. Choose for yourself…

I’m sitting here thinking about how much/far Christianity has reached and helped the world to discover itself, and now that we have, we turn our backs on this faith. You cannot escape the symbols of Christianity, but like so much of the past—the world has thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It is sinful, but sin is no longer relevant in a world that chooses its own relevancy. It is out of fashion and has been discarded like last season’s dernier cri. We are dying, and we believe we are living.

Who is this man atop this pedestal—a pedestal supported by angels and the waves of the sea? Does his sword save him now, or has he become like us? Dead in shoes, going from place to place with no home or friend beside us. Ah! Now a seagull sits on his head and shits upon it! HA!

Children running in circles in play—aren’t we all.

I don’t know if those are good thoughts, odd thoughts, or no thoughts at all, but having spent my time out and about in this city without access to the internet, voicemail, email, text messages, Facebook, you name it, I have found myself once again thinking on my own and chasing ideas that have no bearing on the grand schemes of the world, but are enjoyable to let bounce inside my head. Enough of that…

The train took me back to my apartment and to the grocery store, which was jammed with holdiday shoppers and included a fight between a customer and store manager (when I say fight, it was more than words!) It was then that I decided to stay home for the rest of the evening. I’ve never been much on participating in these kind of holidays, but then I got hungry. I went in search of sushi (closed) so walked into the nearest restaurant, Taberna Da Baixa… my goodness! Delicious.

For starters, I ordered Bacalao (I didn’t know what it was) and it was… amazing. Bacalao is actually dried and salted codfish which is then rehydrated and combined in other dishes. For the maincourse, I had the Sea Bass. Also amazing, especially when paired with a good wine, which the waitress was kind enough to do for me, because the only thing I really know about wine is whether or not I like it (oh, and how to make it.)

The restaurant would only hold about about 30 people and I was the only single person there (New Year’s Eve and all). I must have been an oddity (or made one particular couple nervous) because she took a picture of me and then held it over for her husband(?) to see. He then kept taking these hard glances over his shoulder and staring at me. I have decided to immortalize their odd behavior in a short story. They will not like it if they read it.

I returned home after my meal and then at about ten minutes to midnight said to myself, “Self, you are in Lisbon, Portugal and it is New Year’s Eve. They’re about to shoot off fireworks and celebrate. What are you doing sitting here? Get yo bee-hind moving!” I listened and I cheered with the crowds.

Feliz Ano Novo, meus queridos amigos.

FYI: I had checked schedules for when sites would be open, but they did not account for the holiday. My plan is to return later this week in hopes of getting in.

Sermon: Proper 8 RCL C – “Influence”

Shot of Jesus standing with his hand outstretched on a bare landscape

Peppermint Patty is talking to Charlie Brown and says, “Guess what, Chuck? The first day of school, and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault, Chuck.”

Surprised, Charlie Brown responds, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?”

To which she declares, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? Then you should have been a better influence on me.”

Influence.  Merriam-Webster has multiple definitions for influence with the first summing up the rest: “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.”  That can apply to everything from how gravity affects an object in motion to how—like in the case of Peppermint Patty—a person can have influence over another, for good or bad.  So, who influences us and the lives we live?

I told you that while I was in Italy I saw some absolutely remarkable places and works of art and everywhere there were people trying to take the perfect picture of what they were seeing.  In addition to the tourist, such as myself, there were also the “social media influencers” who were not trying to take the perfect picture of what they were seeing, instead, they were trying to take the perfect picture of themselves.  

What are social media influencers?  These are individuals who build up large numbers of followers on social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and all the rest.  Once you get a large enough following, then you can start making large money by throwing your support behind products and travel locations and so on, and by having advertisers.  For example, Khaby Lame is now number one on TikTok and he has almost 150 million people following his antics.  If you’re trying to sell “Boudreaux’s Beauty and Hunting” products, then you can quickly advertise your latest product to 150 million people simply by placing an ad on Lame’s internet feed.  Last year he earned about $6 million for his efforts.  That’s not bad work for someone who less than two years ago was a machinist just learning to speak English.  Now, I did not see him while in Italy, but I did see many wannabes.

Generally, it would be two girls but occasionally it would be a combination.  One of the girls, all dolled up would stand in the middle of a piazza with a gorgeous fountain or building (even the Vatican) in the background, then she would go about striking ridiculous poses while the other clicked away.  They would then run together, review the photos, and, if satisfied, switch places, repeat, and then dash off to the next exotic locale.  What’s interesting is that if you were to see those photos online, you would not be seeing the real world.  Why?  Because with the proper angle, cropping, and photoshopping, you can edit out the masses of people that were around you, you can cover up the blemish on your nose, the smell that can at times almost be seen is lost, and in the end, it appears that you had all of Rome to your beautiful sexy self.  We, on the receiving end of all their efforts, think to ourselves, “I’ve got to go there and see that!  And by the way, where did he get that fantastic hat?  I’ve got to have it!”  Social media influencers and we are influenced.

Back to Merriam-Webster, influence is “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.”  Some would like to argue that there is a difference between power and influence: power is the ability to command or force, whereas influence involves a more democratic approach, but the truth is, if someone can influence you, then they have power over you.  Why?  Because you are no longer thinking for yourself.  You are allowing them to do all the heavy lifting while you just go along for the ride.

In our lesson from First Kings, Elijah has been up on the mountain of the Lord.  He’s just discovered the voice of the Lord, not in the wind or an earthquake or a fire, but in a whisper and now the Lord is giving him instructions, the last of which is, “anoint Elisha… as prophet in your place.”

Elijah sets out and does as the Lord commanded and he finds Elisha.  We are told, “There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of [Elisha], and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?’”  There is no indication that Elijah and Elisha knew each other prior to these events, but Elijah’s mantle, his cloak would have been an indicator to Elisha as to who this person was.  How so?

There are several instances throughout the Old Testament that the mantle of the prophet would have been distinctive and made of animal skin, and we see it again in the New Testament with John the Baptist: “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.”  Elisha would have known that Elijah was the prophet of God and by having the mantle placed upon him, would have known that he had been chosen as an apprentice.  In recognizing this, Elisha ran to Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”  To which Elijah responds, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?”  Elijah is saying, “Go think for yourself.  I have no power over you.  I am not trying to influence you to do one thing or another.  I am only a messenger.  You must decide how you will respond.  How it is you will live.”

Elisha did just that and when he reached his conclusion, which does not seem to have taken long, he took his livelihood (his oxen) and slaughtered them, then used the plow and yoke as fuel for the fire to cook them.  He then gave away the food and “set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.”

Elisha’s response—“Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”—sounds similar to the responses that so many were giving Jesus when he was calling them—“Let me say goodbye.”  “Let me bury my father.”—but the difference was sincerity.  Those who were speaking to Jesus never really intended to follow him.  They were being influenced by all that was going on around them and answering without really thinking.  They were like a grain of wheat sown on rocky ground.  They sprang up quickly but had no roots, so when the heat came, they withered.  On the other hand, Elisha heard the call of God and when he understood what it meant, without hesitation and without holding anything back, he followed.

If I tell you that you must do ABC and you must not do XYZ otherwise you’ll go to hell, then I am simply trying to influence you by fear.  If I tell you that if you get it all right and live a certain kind of life, you will be allowed entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, then I am only trying to influence you by offering you a reward.  Either way, by observing your life from the outside, it may appear that my work was successful, but really all we’ve done is cropped and photoshopped your life, because if we pull back from the closely arranged photo, all the mess, garbage, smells, etc are all still there.

Elijah, placing his mantle upon Elisha, was not Elijah saying to Elisha, “Follow me.”  It was Elijah saying to Elisha, “Follow God.”  In order to accomplish this calling, Elisha had to do more than where the prophet’s mantle, he had to think for himself, to decide for himself how he would live.  That decision was whether or not to be transformed, by following God, into a new creation.

When Jesus says to us, “Follow me,” he is asking nothing less, therefore, like Elisha, we must count the cost, willing to sacrifice our life for the life he will lead us into.  God is not interested in influencing us.  God’s desire is our transformation.

Today, Jesus places his mantle upon you.

Let us pray: Father of love, hear our prayer. Help us to know Your Will and to do it with courage and faith. Accept the offering of ourselves, all our thoughts, words, deeds, and sufferings. May our lives be spent giving You glory. Give us the strength to follow Your call, so that Your Truth may live in our hearts and bring peace to us and to those we meet, for we believe in Your Love. Amen.

Travel: Italy (Day Nine)

Today was the Vatican and there was so much that it is difficult to know where to begin. The morning was a tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and the afternoon was a tour of the Scavi (below the main altar of St. Peter’s). You are not allowed to take pictures of the Sistine or the Scavi, so the ones I have were pulled from the internet. I just want to show you what I saw and will comment a few times along the way.

The room dedicated to the pronouncement of the Immaculate Conception of Mary along with the supporting documents in multiple languages.
Look closely and you will see the conquest of Christianity over paganism.
The Transfiguration by Raphael. You see Jesus being transfigured in the upper half and the boy who was demon possessed in the lower right that Jesus would come and heal following the Transfiguration. The Disciples are on the bottom left and were unable to heal the boy.
The Sistine Chapel… “Can we talk?” There is so much more going on here than I was aware of. Our tour guide was brilliant in helping me to understand parts of it, but it is definitely worth more time in study. Jesus, Moses, Heaven, hell, Saints, Prophets… I was not here long enough to pray my Rosary but I prayed as much of it as I could before we were ushered out. Yes… I prayed a Rosary in the Sistine Chapel and I felt it. Amazing.

I exited the Vatican at this point and hooked up with Heidi and Scott for lunch. Lunch was nothing to take a picture of but it did fill the hungry zone. We wandered for an hour and then returned to the Vatican for our tour of the Vatican Necropolis (aka – Scavi). These are the catacombs below St. Peter’s that go back to the time before Christ and come forward to the time of Constantine.

It is a fascinating piece of history where you can begin to see the transition from Paganism to Christianity, but after walking through the narrow hallways and low arches…

…you arrive at a darker area where you peer through glass to a small niche about ten feet away and there in an unadorned brass/bronze box are twenty-two bones belonging to The Rock, St. Peter. The inscription above reads, Petros Eni (Greek) translated, “Peter Lies Within”. I teared up then and I’m tearing up now just thinking about it. Catholic/Protestant, the roots of our Faith are rooted deeply in this place.

We returned through to the surface by walking through the grotto where the remains of so many Popes are in interned and came into the Basilica of St. Peter. It is just… I got nothin’. I’m so glad that I get to go back on Friday because I just wasn’t ready to take more in. I was spiritually fried after being so close to one who had been so near to Jesus.

Tomorrow will likely prove to be as moving. I will be visiting the tomb of St. Josemaria Escriva in the morning and St. Paul in the afternoon. I’ll think about that then. For now, I will leave you with a picture of the Queen who is apparently doing quite well.

St. Peter may have his throne but this Queen is the one that currently rules. She is eating well and doing well.

May the Lord bless you all.

Sermon: Epiphany 7 RCL C – “Forgive”

I’ve been working on my mind reading skills.  Let’s see how I’m doing (you may want to grab a pen if you need help with some light math.  I know I do!): 

1. Pick a number from 1-10. Any number.

2. Multiply it by 2.

3. Add 8 to that number.

4. Divide it by 2.

5. Subtract. Current number – Original Number. Take your time to do it right.

6. Match that number to an alphabet letter. For example 1-A, 2-B, 3-C and so on… Got the letter?

7. Think of an European country that starts from that letter

8. Take second letter from that country and what is the first animal you think of that starts with that animal?

9. Now think of the color of that animal

Ready?  Ok… let me read your mind… If you are thinking of a grey elephant, please raise your hand.

Why are we concerned with mind readers this morning?  Because, after reading that first sentence of our Old Testament lesson, I figured many would need to be a mind reader in order to know what the heck was going on: “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”  What in the world is this all about?  Some will know (and a bit later on I look forward to covering the story in more detail during our Sunday school lessons on the Patriarchs) but maybe we could all use bit of a refresher.

In our study, we know that Abraham was the father of Issac and Issac was the father of Jacob (who will later be named Israel).  Jacob will have four wives and twelve sons.  His favorite wife was Rachel and his favorite son was Rachel’s first child (and Jacob’s eleventh son), Joseph.  Joseph’s younger brother, by Rachel, was Benjamin.

Because Jacob showed favoritism toward Joseph, the ten older brothers did not like him.  When Jacob made Joseph a coat of many colors, the ten liked him even less.  When Joseph had two dreams demonstrating that his brothers and father would eventually bow down before him… things just got nasty.

One particular day, the older brothers were out tending the flocks and Jacob sent Joseph out to find them.  When the older boys saw him coming, one said, “Here comes this dreamer.  Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”  They did not end up killing him, but sold him as a slave and Joseph ended up in Egypt.  They took Joseph’s colorful coat, covered it in blood, and holding it out to Jacob, their father, told him that Joseph had been killed by wild animals.  

Now, fast forward through twenty-two years and many adventures: then a great famine settles in the land.  Jacob and his family need food, so Jacob sends those same ten brothers who sold Joseph to Egypt to trade for their needs.  In order to receive the food, the ten must go and ask it of the man who in Egypt was second only to Pharaoh.  They did not know it, but that man was their brother, Joseph.  We are told, “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.”  Eventually, there is the great reveal and Joseph makes himself known.  The brothers, seeing Joseph who they had treated so badly, are greatly disturbed by their actions, yet Joseph says to them… insert our lesson from today: “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.”  He said to them, “Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”  In other words, Joseph forgave his brothers and said, all that has happened is a part of God’s plan, so that we might be in a position to save God’s people.

Joseph had every reason to hate his brothers; and he was one of the most powerful people in the world, so he could have done whatever he liked to them, from sending them away empty handed, to placing them into slavery, to putting them to death, but he chose another path.  A path that led to reconciliation. 

With that understanding, hear again the words of Jesus from our Gospel lesson: Jesus said, “I say to you that listen, Love your enemies even if they sell you into slavery, do good to those who hate you even if they think of killing you, bless those who curse you because they do not understand how God is working, pray for those who abuse you, because you may win them back as a brother or sister. If anyone strikes you on the cheek or throws you into a pit, offer the other also and allow God to work his purposes; and from anyone who takes away your coat, even if it is a technicolor coat, do not withhold even your shirt or your life. Give to everyone who begs from you even if that person has done you very wrong; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again, for they were God’s goods to begin with. Do to others as you would have them do to you, regardless of how they’ve treated you in the past…. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.’”

I’ll tell you a story that I know I’ve told you before, but like any good story, it doesn’t hurt to hear it again: it takes place in Spain.  A father and son got into a tremendous heated argument, which led to the son running away.  Almost immediately the father felt remorse over what he had said and so he went in search his son.  He searched for months, but he could not find him. Finally, in a last frantic endeavor to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.” On that Saturday, 800 boys named Paco showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their father.

You don’t need to be a mind reader to know that if there is one thing this world needs, it is forgiveness.  We need to be forgiven by God. We need to be forgiven by others and we need to forgive those who have hurt us.  So we need to stop judging over who may or may not be right.  We need to stop condemning and being so stubborn because we simply don’t want to let something go.  We need to start forgiving and being forgiven.  In that last phrase, Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you.”  I suppose we could think of that in terms of some sort of material gift: goods, money, etc., but in this context, I don’t think that is what Jesus is asking us to give.  I think Jesus is asking us to give love.  Love.  For in not judging or condemning and by forgiving, we are truly loving; and by loving in such a manner, we are becoming more like Jesus, because that is exactly how he loved us.  

“Good nature and good sense must ever join;
To err is human; to forgive, divine.”
(An Essay on Criticism: Part 2 by Alexander Pope)

In your relations with others, strive for the divine.

Let us pray: 

God, our Father,
You redeemed us
and made us Your children in Christ.
Through Him You have saved us from death
and given us Your Divine life of grace.
By becoming more like Jesus on earth,
may we come to share His glory in Heaven.
Give us the peace of Your kingdom,
which this world does not give.
By Your loving care protect the good You have given us.
Open our eyes to the wonders of Your Love
that we may serve You with a willing heart.


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.

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