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”

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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

Journal: August 20, 2021

My question for today: exactly when did they start using super glue to seal up the single serve string cheese? I can only imagine these things going in some small child’s lunchbox. I finally broke out a knife and slit it along the side and there may have been a few choice words along the way. Now that I’ve got that off my mind…

Movies: started several, finished none. Oy. Next.

I continue the Camino prep / exercise. After going at it strong for a week I gained two pounds. Rrr. Ok. Fine. I’ll just keep at it knowing that the process works. Exercise and burn more calories than you take in. That’s how it is supposed to work, although it can be as frustrating as opening a single serve string cheese! Each day I have to tell myself the Nike slogan and then put on my Brooks and do it. I will definitely get there.

When Christians fight one another: a disgrace. As Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Satan greatly approves of our railing at each other, but God does not.” There are more than enough studies out there showing that the Church is in decline and there are also several studies that show one of the greatest contributing factors is the way Christians treat other Christians. Yep. That’s right. The greatest harm to the Church is not from the outside, but from within. Think about it: you see fighting in your home, at work, on the TV, in social media and you think to yourself, “I’ll go to church, because there I will find peace and unity.” But instead of finding peace and unity, you find more upheaval, more of the same, more of the world. Who needs that?! Not me. “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” — Brennan Manning.

The Christian is to remain humble. The Christian is to see themselves as the greatest of all sinners and their brothers and sisters as souls to be loved. The Christian is to build up and not tear down. The Christian does not wave a flag, the Christian carries a Cross (a Cross that is for you to be crucified upon so that you might die with Christ and Rise with Christ.) The Christian is a candle in a dark cave, seeking out the lost and showing the way to freedom, fresh air, and The True Light.

“Finally, brothers (that includes you sisters, too!), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me (I was going to delete that bit, because it is not always what you see in me) practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

My goodness! He went and got all preachy on us.

What I learned today (and have known, but wanted to say): I also believe in miracles.

Thought for the day:

StTeresa of Calcutta

“These are the few ways we can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one’s self.
To mind one’s own business.
Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.
To avoid curiosity.
To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
To pass over the mistakes of others.
To accept insults and injuries.
To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.
To be kind and gentle even under provocation.
Never to stand on one’s dignity.
To choose always the hardest.”

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.

Article: 365 Days of Easter

treeBorn a Jew, Billy Crystal may not have the best insights into the Christian faith, then again, he may have it pretty well worked out. With regards to Easter, in his book Still Foolin’ ‘Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys, he writes, “Two thousand years ago Jesus is crucified, three days later he walks out of a cave and they celebrate with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow Peeps and beautifully decorated eggs. I guess these were things Jesus loved as a child.” Leading up to Easter, a quick glance around the stores will only confirm his conclusion, but perhaps there is a bit more to it.

When we think of Easter, we often consider it to be that one glorious Sunday of celebrating the Lord’s resurrection. Yet for many, Easter is a season – Eastertide – lasting 50 days. If they had been around, Jesus very well may have enjoyed a chocolate bunny and Peeps, but what he “loved” as a child and as an adult, were the people of God. What did he hope to accomplish through this love? Redemption and adoption. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children” (Galatians 4:4-5). No. Easter is not simply about sugary confections. Easter is the time we celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord, the conquering of death, and the receiving of our full inheritance as sons and daughters of God. So is this great gift something we should only celebrate for day? For only the fifty days of Easter? What would our lives look like, what would the church be like, how would our world change if we lived into the resurrection not just for one day or 50 days, but 51 days? 150 days? 250? What would happen if we lived into the resurrection of Our Lord 365 days a year?

Jesus declares, “I am resurrection” (John 11:25). This is not an event held in suspension to be celebrated for a few hours on a specified day. Instead, it is an event that should permeate everyday and every aspect of our lives. Yet, like so many opportunities in our lives, daily living the resurrected life requires choice and intentionality. Daily living the resurrected life requires us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus without hesitating or questioning where He might be leading. It requires us to boldly say with Mary, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Finally, daily living the resurrected life requires us to love. In Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, Brennan Manning states, “For me the most radical demand of Christian faith lies in summoning the courage to say yes to the present risenness of Jesus Christ.” What is the “radical demand of the Christian faith”: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). That command is not for the faint of heart! It takes great courage to truly love, because to truly love means to risk everything.

Make the decision. Be bold. Say, “Yes,” to the risenness of Jesus. Not just for a few hours or a day, a week or even a year, but every day. Every day, live the resurrected life God has blessed you with.

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