Sermon: Proper 10 RCL C – “Neighbors”

Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

This is probably something you’ve seen, but I don’t believe I’ve shared it with you.  It is the comedian Robin William’s list of the top 10 reasons to be an Episcopalian:

10. No snake handling.

9. You can believe in dinosaurs.

8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.

7. You don’t have to check your brains at the door.

6. Pew aerobics.

5. Church year is color-coded.

4. Free wine on Sunday.

3. All of the pageantry – none of the guilt.

2. You don’t have to know how to swim to get baptized.

And the Number One reason to be an Episcopalian:

1. No matter what you believe, there’s bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

That is a list that most Episcopalians could agree on.  It is a humorous way of looking at how we see ourselves. Not only is it essential to have fun with such things, but it is also important to take a more serious look, and we, in the Episcopal Church, received the results of one of these more serious looks in Jesus in America, a study, commissioned by the church, that came out in March.  Its goal: to learn how people understood Jesus and the church. What did we learn?

When we as a Christian people look at ourselves, we believe we’re doing a pretty good job representing the faith: in the 50%+ percentiles, we see ourselves as giving, compassionate, loving, and respectful.  Those are good qualities. However, those who are not religious have a different view of Christians.  In the 50%+ percentiles in this group, Christians are seen as hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous.  Not such good qualities.  We look just fine to ourselves, but not to others.

It would seem that many have a bad taste in their mouths regarding Christianity and Christians, and that bad taste is getting worse.  I 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, but it’s no wonder when we spend so much time condemning what we dislike instead of proclaiming Who it is we love.

Please don’t misunderstand; I am in no way lumping you all in this category. You are not guilty of this type of behavior. Still, in the eyes of many today, you are guilty: guilt by association because we all live under the banner of Christianity regardless of denominational lines, ideologies, theologies, etc.

For some, to overcome, the appropriate response is to separate and attempt to isolate themselves and shout in their loudest voices, “We are different!  We are better!  We have the answer!”  But this does not resolve anything.  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 are those who simply walk away, disillusioned and frustrated with their experience with Christianity, because they had believed it was something different.  They thought it held meaning for their lives and answers to life’s questions, but they discovered it was no different—if not worse—than the secular world.  In between those two extremes is just a great deal of apathy.

Is there a way out?  Absolutely.  And we begin to see that way when we answer the question that was put to Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?”

Our Gospel reading today is probably one of the more familiar: the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Jesus tells the story after a rabbi asks 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 wisdom, so he added a follow-up question, “And who is my neighbor?”  In response, Jesus tells the parable.

A man, presumably Jewish, was attacked on the 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 critical 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: we’ve covered this before, but 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 Samaritans, but the animosity between the two groups is similar to Jews and Arabs. They don’t get along.

Second, generally, we understand this parable from the perspective of the Samaritan.  Would we be like the one that helps the injured man, a person who is often regarded as an enemy? Would we see this enemy as our neighbor? However, Bishop N. T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham, tells us that we’ve got it the wrong way around. (For the record, we are to look at parables from all perspectives.  That’s how we learn from them.) Wright says the proper perspective is viewing the parable from that of the injured Jewish man.  Will he decide who his neighbor is? Wright 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.”  See how the story turns? It is no longer about you being this big-hearted person saying, “Look at me. See me helping this poor slob.  Aren’t I a good neighbor?” No. It is about that “poor slob” deciding whether or not you’re a good neighbor.  

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, this person stops and begins to offer you help.  What do you do?  Because you detest, despise and loathe them, will you tell them to go away and leave you to die? 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 opinion. Still, we, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, may be able to change our community’s view of Christianity by showing them that we are willing to set aside race, creed, politics, and financial status, all of it for one straightforward reason: we want to serve, which is to love. In the process, the community might decide that we are not such bad neighbors after all.

Will our community—the wounded and the injured—will they know we are their neighbor if we shout out what we like or don’t like?  Whom we agree with, or whom 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.   

Thomas Merton writes, “Corrupt forms of love wait for the neighbor to ‘become a worthy object of love’ before actually loving him.  This is not the way of Christ.  Since Christ Himself loved us when we were by no means worthy to love and still loves us with all our unworthiness, 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 neighbor worthy if anything can.” (Disputed Questions, p.125)  If we shout out at the world who they must be and what they must believe before we will love them as neighbors, then we’ve honestly forgotten how it is that Jesus loves us.

We can change our community’s view of Christianity not by just seeing them as our neighbors but also by loving them in such a way that they see us—see us!—as their neighbor.  That is the church we are called to become.

Let us pray:
Heavenly Father,
look upon our community of faith
which is the Church of your Son, Jesus Christ.
Help us to witness to his love
by loving all our fellow creatures without exception.
Under the leadership of our Bishop
keep us faithful to Christ’s mission
of calling all men and women
to your service so that there may be
“one fold and one shepherd.”
We ask this through Christ, our Lord.
Amen.

Sermon: Trinity Sunday RCL C


The first copy of a particular comic strip arrived in my email inbox on Saturday, May 28th while I was still in Italy.  I’m guessing it was in the paper that morning.  It was from Jean Mc. and it was a copy of the Hagar the Horrible comic strip.  As you probably know, Hagar is the Viking that finds himself in various circumstances.  In this instance, Hagar is visiting his doctor and says, “Guess where I’ve been for the last month!”  The doctor replies, “Italy!”  Hagar responds, “Great guess! Did I pick up an accent?” To which the doctor replies, “No, you picked up fifteen pounds!”  

As I said, Jean was the first to send this to me but they just kept coming for the rest of the day.  It got to the point that I was wondering if you all were trying to tell me something!

I spent a week in Florence and a week in Rome.  There is truly something very special about Florence, but from many respects, Rome truly does feel like the center of the world.

Charles Dickens in Pictures from Italy writes, “It is a place that ‘grows upon you’ every day. There seems to be always something to find out in it. There are the most extraordinary alleys and by-ways to walk about in. You can lose your way (what a comfort that is, when you are idle!) twenty times a day, if you like; and turn up again, under the most unexpected and surprising difficulties. It abounds in the strangest contrasts; things that are picturesque, ugly, mean, magnificent, delightful, and offensive, break upon the view at every turn.” And that is so very true. 

You can be walking down a very narrow street that the sun might find its way to shine down on for an hour a day and then walk out into a sun-filled piazza with a bubbling fountain at one end and a cathedral towering above you at the other.  Across the street from a gelato shop, you will find the ruins, many feet below the current street level, of the courtyard where Caesar was assassinated.  And then you can walk into some obscure church and find some of the greatest works of art ever created.  In the end, you are so overwhelmed by it all that you’re more exhausted than you are awed.

My advice to anyone who walks through these magnificent places: don’t forget to look up!  The ceilings are as impressive (if not more so) as the surrounding walls and it was on one of the ceilings that I saw the one work of art that stopped me cold.

It was on the second floor of the Papal Palace in the Hall of Constantine, Constantine being the first Roman Emperor to legalize and convert to Christianity.  The walls depict scenes in the life of Constantine and the Church, but the ceiling depicts another hall.  In it stands a pedestal and on the pedestal is a crucifix.  On the ground below and broken into many pieces is a statue of one of the old Roman gods.  The fresco, by Tommaso Laureti, is called, The Triumph of Christianity.  Not today, but you’re going to have to hear a sermon on that, but the point is that all of your senses are bombarded from every angle with light, color, sounds, smells… everything and it is amazing.  Yet for me, all of that I was seeing was not what truly moved me.  Let’s go back to Charles Dickens and his travels through Italy.

Dickens and his companions travel outside the old city walls to the Church of St. Sebastian.  There they are met by a “gaunt Franciscan friar, with a wild bright eye” who was their guide through the catacombs that lie below the church.  These catacombs have almost seven miles of tunnels where, in the early years, some 65,000 people were buried and of them, Dickens writes, “Graves, graves, graves; Graves of men, of women, of their little children, who ran crying to the persecutors, ‘We are Christians! We are Christians!’ that they might be murdered with their parents; Graves with the palm of martyrdom roughly cut into their stone boundaries, and little niches, made to hold a vessel of the martyrs’ blood.”  It is at this point that Dicken’s Franciscan guide stops and says to them, “The Triumphs of the Faith are not above ground in our splendid Churches.  They are here! Among the Martyrs’ Graves!”  The faith of so many is not found in the vast buildings and treasures of art.  Instead, the faith is found in the souls of God’s people, both the living and the dead, and I tell you about Dicken’s experience in this place because I also had the opportunity to walk through those very same catacombs.  (I just finished reading Misery by Stephen King.  The crazy lady in the book is Annie Wilkes and when Annie wants to say something is disgusting or creepy, she says it is “Oogy.”)  Well, some may think this “oogy”, but as I was walking through those catacombs, I couldn’t help but trace my fingers through the niches where the bodies of the Saints once lay.  I couldn’t stop from running my fingers along the walls touching what had been touched by so many faithful Christians who had come before me. 

All the painted ceilings, great vaulted ceilings, domes, and masterpieces of art were truly overwhelming, but what truly moved my spirit was being so very near to these holy people and understanding that all that was above is built upon the foundation of those who were below.

I had the blessed opportunity to pray the Rosary at the tomb of one of my greatest heroes of the faith: St. Josemaría Escrivá.  I touched this little medal of mine against his tomb, but as inspiring as it was to be in that place, it was so much more about being near to him and to greater holiness.

I had the opportunity to spend about thirty minutes in the Sistine Chapel.  Before arriving, our guide helped us to understand what we were seeing and all that went into creating it.  Amazing, but as I sat along the side staring up at the ceiling and the surrounding walls, I couldn’t help but think of all the great Saints that throughout the centuries had passed through this one place.

I saw the burial place of St. Paul and I saw a small niche in the catacombs below the Vatican above which, in Greek, was written, ΠΕΤΡΟΣ ΕΝΙ: “Peter is within” and in the niche was a small ossuary containing twenty-two bones of St. Peter.  I confess, I cried, but it wasn’t just that place and those bones, it was more about being so near to one who had spoken to and learned from Jesus.  One who had touched Jesus.  So very close to the holy.

As Dicken’s Franciscan monk said, “The Triumphs of the Faith are not above ground…” they are here below, and it’s what is below that forms the foundation.

There was Escriva, but he was built upon the foundation of the martyrs at St. Sebastian and those like them, who were built upon the foundation of those greats who had passed through the Sistine Chapel, who were built upon the foundations of St. Peter and St. Paul.  And what does Paul teach us about ourselves in his letter to the Ephesians?  “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”  And St. Paul goes on to say, speaking to that church then and this church today, “In him… In Christ Jesus… you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Today is the celebration of the Holy Trinity and for me, all that I saw and experienced defined that last sentence and the workings of the Holy Trinity: the living and the dead who are in Christ Jesus are being built together into a church, the dwelling place of God—physically represented by the beautiful structures we build of marble and wood and bricks and spiritually represented by the communion of all the saints—and knit together by the very Spirit of God.  Who we are is not only about what happened 2,000 years ago, but it is also about this building and the knitting together of all the saints including us today, and our role as a Christian people is to continue to build and form the foundation upon which others will build in the future, so that they might look upon our works and say, “The Triumphs of the Faith are here, found in those who built upon the solid foundation upon which we stand.”

Of all the greatest masterpieces and cathedrals, it is this foundation, this building, this cornerstone—Christ Jesus—which is the crowning jewel and you are one of the myriads of facets reflecting the light and glory of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Let us pray:
We pray You,
almighty and eternal God!
Who through Jesus Christ
has revealed Your glory to all nations,
to preserve the works of Your mercy,
that Your Church,
being spread throughout the whole world,
may continue with unchanging faith
in the confession of your name.
Amen.

Sermon: Easter 4 RCL C – “Light”


There was a very poor Christian man living in the countryside of China.  When it came time for his prayers, he always wanted to make a sacrificial offering to God so, because food was scarce, he would place a dish of butter on the window sill.  One day his cat came along and ate the butter and then went on to develop the habit of eating the butter, the offering to God.  To remedy this, before his time of prayer, the man leashed the cat to the bedpost.  This man was so revered for his piety that others joined him as disciples and worshipped as he did. Generations later, long after the holy man was dead, his followers continued to place an offering of butter on the window sill during their time of prayer and meditation.  And, in addition, with no idea why, each one bought a cat and leashed it to the bedpost.

Traditions.  Sometimes our traditions make sense and sometimes it seems we’re all just tying the cat to the bedpost.  (For the record: The Queen would not appreciate this tradition.)  When it comes to the traditions of the Church there are some who see our traditions as an integral part of our worship and others who see them as baggage from a superstitious past.  I for one am a firm believer in traditions because worship of our God should involve the entire person and all the senses.   G.K. Chesterton writes, “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors.  It is the democracy of the dead.  Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”  Tradition is not just about what we think ought to be done, but what we as a Christian people collectively throughout the history of the Church believed should be done.  Not simply for the sake of doing them—tying the cat to the bedpost—but doing them because they give greater depth and meaning to our faith.  Many of our traditions are not only Christian but Jewish as well.  From the practice of the Last Supper that evolved out of the Passover Meal, to the celebration of Pentecost, which was originally the feast of Shavuot in Judaism.

Our Gospel reading today provides another example: “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem.  It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.”  For us, we read that as just one of the many Jewish Feast days, but for the Jewish people it is tradition, and if we look a bit more closely, we discover that it is about our tradition as well.

We know that the Israelites had been taken into captivity on a few occasions and we also know that the land of the Israelites was occupied by various foreign armies.  A couple of hundred years before the birth of Christ, the occupying armies were the Greeks.  At first, things were at least peaceful.  The Jews were allowed to continue their worship of the One True God, but then along came Antiochus Epiphanes who changed everything, which included the profaning of the Temple and trying to force the Israelites to worship the Greek gods.  This didn’t go over so well and eventually led to rebellion against the Greeks with the family of Maccabees/Israelites leading the fight.  The Maccabees prevailed and afterward, they worked tirelessly to restore and rededicate the Temple and the worship that took place there.  

As part of that first Dedication, all the ornaments that God originally prescribed had to be in place, one of which was the Golden Lampstand that we learn about in Exodus, chapter twenty-five: “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold… six branches going out its sides… you shall make seven lamps for it.”  And this light was to signify the very presence of God.  A bit further on in chapter twenty-seven we are told about the oil for the lamp, “pure beaten olive oil”, which took eight days to prepare.  However, this left the Maccabees in a quandary.  They wanted to dedicate the Temple as quickly as possible, but they only had enough oil for one day.  They could use what they had, but the lamp would go out before the end of the festival or they could use regular oil, which would have worked but would have been against God’s law or they could just wait until the proper oil was ready.  We find their decision in the Talmud (the Rabbinic oral tradition) Shabbat 21b: “And there was sufficient oil there to light the candelabrum for only one day.  A miracle occurred and they lit the candelabrum from it eight days.  The next year the Sages instituted those days and made them holidays.”  Tradition.  The tradition is known as the Festival of Lights or… Hanukkah.  Hanukkah means, dedication.  As you know, the eight-day festival is celebrated every year in the winter, generally near Christmas and all this places our Gospel reading into context: “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.”

With that in mind (some may mark this up as a happy coincidence but I’m more in favor of calling it a God-incidence): what did John tell us in the prologue to his Gospel?  John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….  In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.”  In the chapters leading up to our Gospel, Jesus has saved the woman whom the Pharisees were going to stone to death for adultery, He has told them that He speaks for the Father and that He speaks the truth, He has told them that before Abraham, “I am” (he was), He gave sight to the man born blind, and declared Himself the Good Shepherd but before all this, what did Jesus say about Himself?  Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Now, put that all together…

“At that time the festival of the Dedication—the Festival of Lights—the miracle of light—took place in Jerusalem—the very City of God. It was winter—it was the coldest and darkest time of the year, and Jesus—the Light of the World, the light that the darkness will not overcome has—is walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon—he is walking in the very place where God commanded the Israelites to continuously burn a light to signify His presence.”  On the day we are reading about in our Gospel, the True Light of God, Jesus, has entered the Temple, God’s “home” on earth and it is this light, the light of Jesus, that still burns today, but what does that have to do with us and our traditions?

The Golden Lampstand was in the Temple in Jerusalem, but as we know the Temple was eventually destroyed in 70 a.d., so in order to demonstrate the light of God’s presence an eternal lamp/light is hung over the tabernacle (the niche for the Torah scrolls) in every synagogue.  This eternal light is known as the Ner Tamid.  Its use is based on the exact same texts as those used for the Golden Lampstand.  And we continue this tradition with the Sanctuary Lamp that burns above our Tabernacle/Aumbry but our Sanctuary Lamp is not just a cat tied to the bedpost.  It signifies to us the very Real Presence of God, of Jesus in this place… but wait, there’s more!  That Sanctuary Lamp also reminds us of who we are: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

God gave the Israelites a commandment to have an eternal flame signifying his presence in the world and so they built a lampstand and filled it with oil just as he prescribed.  Yet the light that this lampstand emitted was only a sign of God’s presence.  At the feast of the Dedication when Jesus arrived at the Temple, the Light of God, the very presence of God was truly there.  And now, just as the Israelites were given a commandment, so are you, “Let your light shine” for it is indeed the light of Christ and it is a light that the darkness still seeks to overcome but through your faithfulness and perseverance it will burn ever brighter.

Let us pray:
The light of God surrounds us,
The love of God enfolds us,
The power of God protects us,
The presence of God watches over us,
Wherever we are, God is,
And where God is, all is well.
Amen.

Sermon: Advent 1 RCL C – “The Raging Seas”

Photo by James Peacock on Unsplash

I’ve never quite figure out how the various newspapers come up with headlines, because some of them are so confusing that you don’t know if should read the article or not. The really confusing ones are known as “Crash Blossoms”, a phrase coined in 1985 from a news headline that read, “Violinist Linked to JAL Crash Blossoms.” It sounds like the violinist was somewhat responsible for the crash, but as it turns out, the violinist’s father was killed in the crash. Others include: “Police Can’t Stop Gambling.” “Blind Bishop Appointed To See.” “Kids Make Nutritious Snacks.” Then there are some headlines that are just stupid: “Homicide Victims Rarely Talk to Police.” “Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons.” “One Armed Man Applauds the Kindness of Strangers.” “Woman Missing Since She Got Lost.” “Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says.” What’s this all got to do with anything?

I have a fairly set routine most mornings: roll out, make the coffee, poach the eggs, maybe have a banana with peanut butter, sit down at the computer and read some devotionals, then to the news. I have a couple of sources for my news (not any of the networks), but what I have discovered is that I have unintentionally added another element to my routine. It follows reading the headlines and some of the stories. The new element: speaking the words, “The world has lost its dang mind!” (Depending on how bad those headlines are, the word “dang” may be replaced with other language.) You understand what I’m talking about.

What’s even more fun than that is to have just enough biblical education to know that some of these headlines fit in real nice with warnings of the end of days, like what we had in our Gospel reading this morning: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Read the headlines and check items off the list: signs in the sun, the moon, the stars, the raging of the oceans—check to all that. Further on, Jesus also talks about dissipation / debauchery, drunkenness, worries—we’ve got plenty of those as well. Yes. The world has lost its dang mind and all the calamities and chaos only go to prove the point. Just to add to the fun, not only can what Jesus said be taking literally, but it can also be seen as imagery. Take that the bit about “the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

In the past, we’ve talked about how the waters represent the chaos of the world. To go into the waters is to go down to the abyss, the home of that great leviathan and the place of death, but the roaring seas also have other meanings. In particular, they can be referring to the nations of the earth. Since we’re having fun with end times, Revelation 17:1, the angel of the Lord says to John, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters,” and a bit further in v.15 the angels says, “The waters that you saw, where the prostitute is seated, are peoples and multitudes and nations and languages.” So the waters and the raging of the seas that Jesus spoke about in our Gospel are not only disturbances in the natural world, but also disturbances in society and the raging of the nations. We hope that as a Christian people, we will be able to avoid these things, but Jesus says that these things “will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.” If we dwell on them, these things can terrify us. We’ll be the ones that are fainting with fear. Will the earth be hit by a giant meteor? Will Covid Omicron or Unicorn or Caption Tripps take us all out? Will the Doomsday Clock finally strike midnight? And yet, Jesus also said, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Luke 12:25) And, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) And again, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

On one side we’ve got the raging of the abyss, the leviathan, and the nations of the world in an uproar and on the other side we’ve got, be at peace and don’t be anxious or worry about tomorrow. What are we to do? How are we to respond? Jesus did not leave us to guess or to try and figure these things out for ourselves. He told us the answer in our lesson today, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When these things truly begin to take place—and they will not be hidden from anyone on the planet! It is not going to be a secret and only a select few see his coming, but when you see these things taking place… rejoice! for the salvation of God is here, with the inauguration of his Kingdom being played out before you. In the meantime, Jesus also tells us what to do: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down… Be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength.”

That truly is what this Season of Advent is all about. It is a reminder that no matter how obscure or threatening the headlines are, our God is the one who is writing the story and therefore, we as a Christian people are to live, not just for these four weeks of the Church year, but every day of our life in joyful anticipation of His return. Not afraid or coward by the raging seas, but by going about the work that God has placed before us: helping into the boat, the ark, into the Church and God’s family, those who are being tossed about in the waters. As the Lord said to Isaiah,

Fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

(Isaiah 41:10)

Yes. It can be scary at times and the world is losing its dang mind, but as long as you are alert and on your guard, praying and doing the work of a disciple, you can have peace in your heart and joy for the final things that are to come.

Let us pray: Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming and looks forward with longing to his return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which his presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon: Christ the King Sunday RCL B – “What have you done?”

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Boudreaux’s entire family was gathered and looking over his momma’s shoulder as she flipped through an old photo album. She eventually came across a picture of her holding baby Boudreaux in one hand and a coconut cream pie with a mile high meringue in the other.

“My pride and joy,” momma said, smiling.

Boudreaux almost got weepy until his momma said, “Won the blue ribbon at the state fair pie cook-off.”

I suppose when some folks remember us, we’ll always be in second place in their life—if not further back—to a blue ribbon pie or something less, but hopefully there will be a few that remember us a bit more fondly. But have you ever wondered what your younger self would remember and think of you today? One person who did was Elie Wiesel.

Elie died in 2016 at age eighty-seven, having as a boy survived the Nazi concentration camps. His parents and one of his sisters did not survive. He would emigrate to the United States and become a writer and professor, promoting human rights and was a great advocate for the Jewish people. In 2003, the Los Angeles Times declared him, “the most important Jew in America”. Earlier, in 1986 he won the Nobel Peace Prize. During his acceptance speech, he made the following remarks about those early days in Germany.

I remember: it happened yesterday or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the kingdom of night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.

I remember: he asked his father: “Can this be true?” This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?

And then he wondered what his younger self would ask. He said, And now the boy is turning to me: “Tell me,” he asks. “What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?”

Although our own lives may not have been as hard and difficult as Elie’s, we can speak of the events of our lives in a similar way. I remember when difficult things happened in my life, but I also remember the good: from the day I was ordained a priest to the day I gave last rites to a four year old little girl. So many different events in between, good and bad. And I know that you all can tell of similar events. I also know, as with Elie, the young boy or girl within us turns to us and says, “Tell me. What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?”

As for Jesus, think of the things he could remember. I remember calling the first of the disciples and the beheading of John the Baptist. I remember the temptations in the wilderness and I remember the look on the people’s faces as they were fed with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. I remember how I was arrested in the garden and I remember the blind man seeing for the first time in his life. But for Jesus, it was not the little boy within him who asked, What have you done with your life. Instead, it was Pilate.

As we read in our Gospel: Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me.” And then Pilate asks, “What have you done?” What have you done with your life that has brought you to this point?

How any of us answer those types of questions communicates our legacy. How we will be remembered by our friends and family.

Elie Wiesel, says that he answers the little boy in himself by telling him, “I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.”

As for myself, it depends on the day. On some days I tell my younger self that I have tried to make a difference. That I tried to follow God to the best of my abilities. That I tried to be true to my calling. Other days, the devil shouts me down.

As for Jesus, Pilate went onto say to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus, what have you done with your life that has brought you to this point? And Jesus answers, “I came into this world and I have testified to the truth. For I am the way and the truth and the life. I came into this world that God’s people might have life and have it abundantly.”

Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the Church year. Next Sunday, The First Sunday of Advent, we begin the story again. Over the last twelve months, we have added another year to how we can answer the young child in us: what have you done with my future? What have you done with your life? For each of us, there will be moments that we are proud of and moments we regret, successes and failures, but each of us, through our faith in our One True King, can report to our younger selves that if nothing else, we have secured our eternal future in the Kingdom of our God. A Kingdom where our remembered lives are redeemed and our past sins are forgiven. A Kingdom where we are allowed entry, not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done.

Today, I invite you to take a deep breath and to let it out slowly and begin again. As we learned a few weeks ago in our Wednesday night study: for the Christian person, each new day is the Genesis story being written anew. The first words of that history are, “In the beginning God created…” and today God is creating, re-creating you better than you were yesterday. This day is a new Genesis, so—now that I think about it—those questions our younger selves ask should’t be asked in the past tense: “What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?” Those questions from our younger selves should be asked in the future tense: “What will you do with my future? What will you do with your life?”

Would you please turn to page 93 in your Book of Common Prayer. To close today, I would like for us to say together canticle 19, The Song of the Redeemed, would you please stand:

O ruler of the universe, Lord God,
great deeds are they that you have done, *
surpassing human understanding.
Your ways are ways of righteousness and truth, *

O King of all the ages.
Who can fail to do you homage, Lord
and sing the praises of your Name
for you only are the Holy One.
All nations will draw near and fall down before you
because your just and holy works have been revealed.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

Sermon: All Saints Day

Photo by Gianni Scognamiglio on Unsplash

A doctor was lecturing on the subject of nutrition. He said, “What we put into our stomachs is enough to have killed most of us sitting here, years ago. Red meat is terrible. Soft drinks eat away at your stomach lining. Chinese cooking is loaded with MSG. High-fat diets can be very risky. But there’s one thing that’s more dangerous than all of these, and we’ve all eaten it, or will eat it. Would anyone like to guess what food causes the most grief and suffering for years after eating it?” After a few seconds of silence, a small, hunched 80-year-old man in the front row raised his hand timidly and said: “Wedding cake.”

Today’s service is a combination of Halloween—which was originally known as All Saints Eve—All Saints Day and All Souls Day. Just to make it interesting, we’ve also decided to throw in a wedding. Remember that song from Sesame Street: “One of these things is not like the other….” Well, it may seem like it, but as it turns out, these events are all closely related. Let’s start with the wedding.

Since we are combining the wedding with our Sunday service, we’re doing things just a bit differently, but during the normal wedding liturgy, the bride and groom would stand down here. While here the bride and groom give and receive consent from one another, agreeing to be husband and wife. They also receive the consent and assurances of the congregation that they will be supported in their life together. It is also the time when they hear the reading of the word and a teaching or sermon, expanding on their life together. This first part then, which takes place down here, is about their common life and ours and instruction. Once this portion of the liturgy is completed, the bride and groom take a step up.

It is here that they make their vows to one another. Vows that bind them together as one. Here we also have the giving and the receiving of rings: a symbol of those vows they have taken. A symbol, not only to one another, but to the world. A symbol that states, I have given myself to another and no other. Next, it is here that the couple also receives the blessing of the Church and the pronouncement that they are now husband and wife (but Nick, you don’t get to kiss her yet!), because these vows are followed by a time of prayer for the life together, and then we make the final progression forward to the altar.
At the altar, the bride and groom, now truly husband and wife, through the office of the priest, receive the blessing of God.

There is the work of the people, there is the blessing of the church, and here is the blessing of God. And the entire ceremony is not only a progression of two lives being joined together as one, but of two lives being joined together as one and bound together by Christ Jesus. As husband and wife, they are joined together in a pilgrimage that is designed to draw them ever nearer to God.

How are All Souls Day and All Saints Day so closely related to a wedding: because following the wedding, we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, which is truly the wedding banquet and representative of the wedding banquet to come. Today in our lesson from Revelation, we heard St. John say, “And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” And a few chapters earlier John also used the imagery of the wedding:

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come,    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

Today, we the Church and all the souls and all the saints are the bride and Christ Jesus is the groom. All the souls and all the saints are the ones who have already washed their robes in the blood of the lamb and have entered into the banquet hall and it is they that we celebrate today for their great works and examples of righteousness that they provide for us. As they await our arrival to the feast, they do not simply mingle about, but are actively engage in prayer and intercession on our behalf. Through this wedding today, we are provided a vision of our future glory in that New Jerusalem, where we, with all the other souls and all the other saints enter the Kingdom that has been prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

As we celebrate all these great events today, it may at first seem that one is not like the other, but as it turns out, the wedding is at the heart of them all.

Let us pray: O God, you have so consecrated the covenant of marriage that in it is represented the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church: send forth therefore your word and your Spirit into our souls, that we might all be conformed into your image and be made holy and righteous in your sight, that we may be found worthy to enter the banquet you have prepared for all those who love you. Amen.

Sermon: Proper 25 RCL B – “Faith and Faith”

Photo by Matt Sclarandis on Unsplash

A well known Israeli rabbi had a call in radio program on Israeli radio. One day a lady called it and, crying, said, “Rabbi, I was born blind, and I’ve been blind all my life. I don’t mind being blind but I have some well meaning friends who tell me that if I had more faith I could be healed.”

The Rabbi asked her, “Tell me, do you carry one of those white canes?”

“Yes I do,” she replied.

“Then the next time someone says that, hit them over the head with the cane,” the Rabbi said. “Then tell them, ‘If you had more faith that wouldn’t hurt!’”

I wonder how you would respond if we went around the room and each of answered the question: “What is faith?” I know I’ve thought about faith, but I don’t know that I’ve really ever sat down and tried to think through what it is. If you asked me, my answers would along the same lines of many other folks, they just say it much better.

G.K. Chesterton: “Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”

Voltaire: “Faith consists in believing what reason cannot.”

Dan Brown (he’s an authority, DaVinci Code and all that): “Faith ― acceptance of which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove.”

C.S. Lewis: “You can’t know, you can only believe – or not.”

And then there is St. Paul: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

This morning during Sunday school, we also talked about an incident of faith. Abraham and Sarah are childless, so one night , Abraham is asking God how he will be the father of many nations if he has no children. So the Lord directed Abraham to go outside and then said, “‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’  And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Abraham believed the Lord. He had faith that what the Lord had spoken was true.

And then in our Gospel we have Jesus’ encounter with blind Bartimaeus (we also just finished hearing this passage in our Wednesday night study on discipleship). Jesus said to Bartimaeus, “‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” Through faith, he regained his sight.

Again, I hear these definitions and examples of faith and they fit my understanding, but with that understanding, my faith has a certain dependency on me. Consider this one: Jesus said, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” In my way of understanding faith, I have to believe to such a degree—although small—that I can move a mountain, but my ability to do this seems to rely on me and what is inside.

I suppose that a part of this is true, but it turns out, this is only one “type” of faith. In the Greek, it would called pistis. As with any type of faith, it is a gift from God and can best be defined as Gods’ divine persuasion. God has gifted me with a belief that this or that is true. Apparently, this is a very Christian understanding of faith. However, it is through the writings of Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian, that we learn of another kind of faith: emunah, the type of faith we read about in the Hebrew Bible—the Old Testament. This is a faith, based not in my actions of belief, but in a person, specifically, God. So let’s see how it works itself out in the examples from above.

Abraham: he believed God in that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. pistis says that Abraham believed because God said it, then he—Abraham—would be able to accomplish it. Emunah says that Abraham believed God would accomplish it. Bartimaeus: pistis says that if Bartimaeus had enough faith in God, then he would receive his sight. Emunah says that Barimaeus believed that Jesus could give him his sight. It sounds a bit like I’m splitting hairs this morning, but for me, faith has always placed a part of the burden on me, but from a Jewish perspective—and don’t forget that Jesus was Jewish!—faith is not only about my abilities or state of mind or actions. Faith is about my relationship with God. And so, faith from this point of view is not, do I have enough belief to move the mountain, but is instead, if the mountain needs to be moved, God can and will move it. See the difference?

And that’s all well and good and probably too academic. In the end, we all probably have a faith that is a combination of these two types, but what does it mean for us in our daily walk with God?

I won’t speak for you—even though I know that it is true for all of us—but for me, there are days when, through faith, I feel like I could move a mountain. I mean, it is like I’m this giant of faith and can make anything come to pass if it is according to God’s will. And then, there are days that my faith feels like I couldn’t move a grain of sand even if I flicked it with my finger. Most days are somewhere in between those two extremes, but what I forget, is that my faith is not dependent upon how I feel. My faith is not dependent upon me. Instead, my faith is dependent upon the one who “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” My faith is in God, based on my relationship with Him. And what is my relationship with God? I am his son. We are his daughters and sons, grafted in… adopted into God’s own family through the death and resurrection of His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.

We have been given the grace to have faith and to believe, but even when our faith wains or fades, we have a God that is always and forever and who dearly loves his children with an unwavering love. As the Psalmist writes (Ps 136):

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Let us pray: 

God our Father,
you conquer the darkness of ignorance
by the light of your Word.
Strengthen within our hearts
the faith you have given us;
let not temptation ever quench the fire
that your love has kindled within us.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. AMEN

Sermon: Proper 21 RCL B – “Cup of Water”

Photo by Joseph Greve on Unsplash

There was once a king who was very sick and whose wise men told him that if he covered himself with the shirt of a contented man, he would be healed. He sent his emissaries throughout the length and breadth of the country looking for a contented man. At last, several months later, they returned empty-handed. “Was there no-one in my realm who is contented?” asked the king. “Yes, Your Majesty,” they replied. “Then where is the shirt?” asked the king. “Your Majesty, he had no shirt.”

The human body is about 60% water, which is why we often hear the importance of drinking enough water.  We must stay hydrated, because dehydration can cause all sorts of problems within our physical systems.  But our bodies are smart and most of the time, when our bodies need more water, we will become thirsty; however, by the time this sensation kicks in, we are already entering the stages of dehydration.  You see, there are sensors within our body that tell our brains when the salt level in our blood is too high, which is an indicator of dehydration, so it sends a signal to the brain that the water levels have dropped and the brain initiates the sensation of thirst that we experience.  What’s even more amazing is that the brain can detect and determine how much fluid we’ve consumed so that the thirst sensation can be turned off almost immediately.  The brain is literally regulating the level of water in our system to keep the body physically satisfied or contented.  Not too much and not too little.  Amazing.  If only the brain could work that way in other areas of our lives.

Last week I read South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami.  It is an interesting little story, but toward the end, one of the characters describes the west of the sun part of the title and it has to do with farmers in the Siberian tundra.  She tells about how the farmer gets up everyday and goes out into the fields and plows the gardens.  As the farmer plows, he can see nothing in either direction as far as the horizon.  Just the fields.  His day consists of getting up each morning, having his breakfast, plows until noon, has lunch, then back to plowing until the sun sets in the west.  It happens day after day except in the winter when he works on indoor jobs.  However, one day as he is plowing, something breaks and dies inside the farmer’s spirit.  At that point, the farmer tosses the plow to the side and starts walking toward the west.  Headed to the land west of the sun, thinking there must be something more out thee.  Like someone possessed, the farmer walks day after day, not eating or drinking until he collapses on the ground and dies.

We can lead such lives as this.  Lives that are never contented, causing us to always be searching for something west of the sun.  Never satisfied.  Always thirsty.  It can occur in so many areas of our life.  Relationships: having a solid and loving relationship, but always looking for something that might be better.  Being invited to the prom by someone known to be good and kind, but waiting to give them an answer to see if someone better might ask. Having a job that provides for every need, but thinking there are others that provide more prestige.  This is a terrible state to be in, but it is not limited to our worldly pursuits.  It occurs in our faith as well.  We experience a dryness in our faith.  We don’t believe that God hears our prayers.  We become discontent in our relationship with Him.  Like the Psalmist, we call out:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

But instead of realizing that he is the source of all our souls desires, we stop what we’ve been doing and we start searching for what is west of the sun.  Something we believe will be more fulfilling or entertaining or less challenging.  We go in search of something that does not involve the cross that we are called to carry or the sacrifices that must be made.  In that search for more, our souls become dehydrated and we become disoriented and confused, we lose our strength and our vision becomes cloudy, we can no longer walk or even stand.  Left in such a state, we will die, but in such a state, we can no longer care for ourselves.  We are in desperate need of someone giving us a cup of water for our souls.

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

What does that cup of water look like?  Is it an attempt to solve the issue for them, by telling them what to do?  “You need to drink more water.  You need to do this or that.”  No.  That’s not what they need.  Do they need a piece of your mind?  “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times… etc.”  That’s not what they need either.  If their soul is thirsty, do they need you to quote scripture to them?  “You know, Jesus says, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’  So, what you need is Jesus.  That’ll solve your issue.”  Truth is, that’s not it either.  What they need, in most cases, is for someone to simply bring them a glass of cool water; and what we are saying is… they need—more than anything else—is to be loved and to know they are loved and to be shown they are loved.

I believe that people go searching west of the sun in search of fulfillment because they are dying of a spiritual thirst.  They are dying because they do not feel loved and we can be the ones who give that love to them.  

Let us pray: Dear Jesus, help us to spread the fragrance of your love everywhere we go. Flood our souls with Your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that all our life may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel Your presence in our souls. Let them look up and see no longer us but only You!  Amen.

Sermon: Proper 19 RCL B – “Build or Burn?”

Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash

Jane Austen is the author of Pride and Prejudice.  Mark Twain was not a fan of Jane Austen and is reported to have said, “Everytime I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig Jane Austen up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

The American academic and Shakespearean scholar, Duncan Spaeth, stated, “I know why the sun never sets on the British Empire: God wouldn’t trust an Englishman in the dark.”

Someone once asked Ghandi: “What do you think of Western civilization?”  Ghandi replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”

A young Hollywood wannabe was once bragging to the the great actress Miriam Hopkins.  The wannabe said, “You know, my dear, I insured my voice for fifty thousand dollars.” Hopkins responded, “That’s wonderful. And what did you do with the money?”

Bessie Braddock served in the English Parliament for twenty-five years.  Encountering a somewhat intoxicated Winston Churchill, she said to him, “Winston, you’re drunk.”  Not thinking much of Bessie Braddock, Winston replied, “Bessie, you’re ugly, and tomorrow morning I’ll be sober.”

It seems that insulting someone has been around for a as long as there has been language and I’m guessing even the caveman new a thing or two about putting one another down.   Growing up, I would have to say that my ability to insult someone was limited to that witty comeback, “Yo mama!”  I may have improved since then.  Many have and some even make a living at insulting others.  For example, if it weren’t for the insults, the twenty-four hour news stations would run out of something to say within the first five minutes.

At times, the insult is just folks who give each other a hard time, and if they ever cross the line, an apology will follow, but it seems the insult has grown into a way of life.  Not the sign of some quick witted response, but an assault to tear down and destroy.  And when the words are no longer sufficient, threats and violence will ensue.

I remember years ago reading Ray Bradbury’s great dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451.  Seems it was one of those required readings, so I just muscled my way through it without much thought, but I reread it again just a few weeks ago and was amazed.  A bit too close to reality.  Neil Gaiman (sci-fi and horror author) wrote the introduction to the edition I ordered and although I don’t normally read the introductions to books—don’t necessarily want someone telling me what I’m supposed to think about a book I’m about to read—I did read this one, because of who wrote it.  In it, Gaiman wrote, “When I reread it as a teenager, Fahrenheit 451 had become about treasuring books and the dissent inside the covers of books.  It was about how we has humans begin by burning books and end by burning people.”  I had to underline that, because it is so true.  As the story goes, those who would read were first insulted, then persecuted, then… burned.  As I read the story, I came to a line that made me stop reading.  I had to get up and walk around for a bit before continuing: “Those who don’t build must burn.”  We see a lot of burning these days.  The events of twenty years ago that we remembered yesterday provide the perfect example, but in truth, we do the same thing everyday when we decide to burn instead of build. 

We burn others by cruelly insulting them from our hearts.  By speaking or even thinking of how to bring them lower.  By raising our voices in angry confrontation.  By dismantling the works of others for our own perceived benefit, in order to exert and promote our own opinion, or simply for the heck of it; but our ability to do so is not a sign of our strength.  It simply shows our capacity to burn.  Why?  “Those who don’t build must burn.”  Those who don’t want to take the time and find the courage to build and create, those who become jealous and feel threatened by others’ successes, those who are simply too lazy to create, and so on… those are the ones who will burn, because it is much much easier to burn than it is to build.  

Jesus has been going from town to town.  He has been teaching, healing, feeding, and loving.  Jesus has been building up the Kingdom of God.  He asked the disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  In doing so, Jesus is not fishing for compliments.  He is secure in the knowledge of who he is, but he is evaluating the work.  Are the people… are you beginning to understand who I am and what we are building?   It sounds positive.  The disciples answer, some say you are “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”  That is good, but Jesus wants to know what those who have been closest to him think.  Are they grasping even more of the truth than the crowds, so he asked them specifically, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”  Yes!  The work is being accomplished and we are building something here, but don’t tell anyone about what you know of me.  Why?  Because there are those who aren’t building anything and if they discover too soon, they will try and burn it all down before the time has come; and Jesus knew who those were that would burn: the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.  He also knew that they would eventually succeed, so he tells his disciples, you are not to be like them.  You are not to follow their example of burning.  Instead, you are to follow my example, by building: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  You as my disciples are to follow me in building up the kingdom of God, because we’re not building something that moths and rust can destroy or something that thieves can break in and steal.  No.  We are building something eternal.  What did Jesus say, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Destroy this temple, burn it to the ground, and I will build a temple that not even death can destroy.  He did and we are to follow, taking our cross, being crucified with him and being raised to a new and eternal life that not even death can touch.  And we not only build up ourselves, but we are to build up one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:11—“Encourage one another and build one another up.”

Ephesians 4:29—“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up.”

Romans 14:19—“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

1 Corinthians 14:26—“Let all things be done for building up.”

Not only does this apply to those we know and love, but Jesus also makes it clear that this applies to those that hate us: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)

Am I preaching on this today because I know of a problem within this body of Christ?  Absolutely not.  I see nothing but love and compassion among you, but what I do see is an increased desire within society to insult and to burn.  It is like an infection that is going unchecked and unless we are aware of it and the symptoms, then we become susceptible, and then we become those who burn, no longer building up as Christ has called us to.  As St. Paul teaches, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  

From the poem, Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Come my friends, tis not too late to seek a newer world.”  Let us be the ones that build and in the process, join with Jesus in the great work of making all things new.

Let us pray: Lord, make us instruments of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O, Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.F

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