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.

Sinner/Son

Photo by Fabio Sangregorio on Unsplash

Had this crazy idea this morning: what if we created a Place where we didn’t add labels to one another but had true fellowship, where we could come together and break bread and support each other?  What if in that Place we didn’t seek to point out the sins of others but looked to ourselves and identified those errors in our own lives and then sought to turn from those errors?  What if this Place was where we could grow and learn and demonstrate to others that there is another Way?  What if in this Place we chose to love one another instead of hating and degrading everyone we disagree with?  And what if in this Place we worked for true justice and peace and respected the dignity of every person regardless of any and all differences?  

Can we create such a Place?

We can, with God’s help.

I will set a Table in this Place and prepare the meal. 

I identify as sinner/Son.  All sinners/Daughters and Sons are invited.  

Place = God’s House & God’s Rule.  

God’s Rule = Love one another as I have loved you.

Sermon: Epiphany 7 RCL C – “Forgive”


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

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

2. Multiply it by 2.

3. Add 8 to that number.

4. Divide it by 2.

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

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

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

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

9. Now think of the color of that animal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In your relations with others, strive for the divine.

Let us pray: 

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

Amen.

Sermon: Proper 23 RCL B – “I”

Photo by fikry anshor on Unsplash

Boudreaux and his wife Clotile would go to the state fair every year, and every year Boudreaux would tell his beloved, “Clotile, I’d like to ride in that helicopter.”

Clotile always replied, “I know Boudreaux, but that helicopter ride is fifty bucks, and fifty bucks is fifty bucks!”

One year Boudreaux and Clotile went to the fair, and Boudreaux said, “Clotile, I’m 75 years old. If I don’t ride that helicopter, I might never get another chance.”

To this, Clotile replied, “Boudreaux, that helicopter ride is fifty bucks, and fifty bucks is fifty bucks.”

The pilot overheard the couple and said, “Folks I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take both of you for a ride. If you can stay quiet for the entire ride and not say one word I won’t charge you a penny! But, if you say just one word then it will cost you the fifty dollars.”

Boudreaux and Clotile agreed and up they went. The pilot did all kinds of fancy maneuvers, but not a word was heard. He did his daredevil tricks over and over again, but still, not a word.

When they landed, the pilot turned to Boudreaux and said, “By golly, I did everything I could to get you to yell out, but you didn’t. I’m impressed!”

Boudreaux replied, “Well, to told you the truth, I almost said something when Clotile fell out, but you know, fifty bucks is fifty bucks!”

Money has a way of making people crazy. For some, if they don’t have it, they’ll do just about anything to get some. For others, if they have more than enough, they’ll do anything to get more. It makes people blind to others in their pursuit for more money.

In the time of Jesus, if a person was wealthy, it was assumed that they were blessed by God and if they were poor, it was a sign of being cursed, but Jesus—as we know—likes to turn things on their head and today he does not let us down: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Why would he say this? Because some who are rich do not feel the need for God. Why would I need God when I can go out and get it / buy it for myself? They feel as though they can put their trust in themselves and not in God. Not only that, but in their pursuit of more for themselves, they don’t see or simply ignore the needs of others. But let me ask you this? This not seeing and ignoring, is this only the problem of the rich? Is not relying on God a problem only associated with the wealthy? No. I believe that Jesus was pointing out a specific trap that those who are wealthy can fall into, but I believe he was making a larger point that is applicable to us all.

Shortly after the cousin graduated from college, the two of us got in the car and made a thirteen day driving tour of the west. Dallas to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City… all the way up to Vancouver, British Columbia, then back down and across Montana and South Dakota and home. If I remember correctly, it was about 5,000 miles. Crazy, but fun. This was pre-audio book times, so I drove and the cousin read aloud. The book that got us to Salt Lake City was Anthem, by Ayn Rand.

A dystopian novel about the elimination of the individual and the word “I” has been removed from the vocabulary. Only “we” can exist. Even the names of individuals have been stripped away, so the main character is known as Equality 7-2521. However, over the course of the novel, this character discovers the lost word “I” and then goes on to understand its meaning, but then it takes a bad turn. Equality 7-2521 gives himself a name, Prometheus (the Greek god that brought fire/light to humans), and says:

“Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: ‘I will it!’… I am a man. This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before!” He concludes, “And now I see the face of god, and I raise this god over the earth, this god whom men have sought since men came into being, this god who will grant them joy and peace and pride. This god, this one word: ‘I’.”

For him, the collective “we” must be abolished, saying, “The word ‘we’ is as lime poured over men, which sets and hardens to stone, and crushes all beneath it, and that which is white and that which is black are lost equally in the grey of it.”

I agree with him in that the taking of the “we” to its ultimate end is bad. The individual should always have rights—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”—but when “I” becomes the god we kneel before and worship, then things fall apart and the centre cannot hold.

In our Gospel, Jesus was pointing out a specific trap that the wealthy can fall into, but the teaching is applicable to us all, because the problem with wealth and for us all is seeking to serve the “I” without any concern for others and by making it a god that even the One True God must become subject to.

This teaching of Jesus came about because the rich young man came to Jesus and asked, “‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus told him, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”

The young man lacked one thing. I suspect that we all have “one thing”—if not more than one—that prevents us from following Jesus as we should and I also suspect, if we will examine ourselves, that at the source, the center of that “one thing” we will discover “I”. An “I” that is not about individual rights, but an “I” that is selfish and greedy. An “I” that we say even God must be subject to. “This is just who I am and what I want, so God’ll just have to deal with it.” Which only shows all the more that it must be dealt with. And, as with the rich young man, the healing of that dis-ease may cause you a certain amount of grieving. It might even be painful, but if we will root it out, we will find that we are able to follow Jesus much more closely. Is this possible? Can you do this on you own? Short answer: no. You can’t, but “for God all things are possible.”

Turn from the god of “I” to the One True God, and allow him to work in you, bringing about in you what is well pleasing in his sight.

Let us pray: God, our Father, may we love You in all things and above all things. May we reach the joy which You have prepared for us in Heaven. Nothing is good that is against Your Will, and all that is good comes from Your Hand. Place in our hearts a desire to please You and fill our minds with thoughts of Your Love, so that we may grow in Your Wisdom and enjoy Your Peace. Amen.

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.”

Journal: August 14, 2021

Last night: I have not watched The Matrix since I left seminary. This is a phenomenal movie and highly entertaining. Top on the list of cooldom are the phones (well, not top, because let’s face it… this is an awesome movie.) No. Not the old rotary dial gizmos. Yes. I’ve used one. Had to deal with the finger slipping and the wrong number dialed… lost my place and gotten one hole more than I should… etc… but we’re not talking about those kinds of phones. We’re talking about the Nokia 8110. This is design. This is cooldom. This is the phone we all want, but what we have are designless unimaginative coasters. Yes… they do all sorts of fun things and have more computing technology than the lunar landers, but…

Need I say more? No. That said… I would even trade the Nokia 8110 for my old Blackberry 8100 Pearl. That was a sweet phone. That was last night.

This morning: I slept in. Beautiful to sleep in. Had a few chores around the house that I knew I could get done… no worries. First chore: unloading the dishwasher. Half way done… the phone rings.

Phone message… phone message… I didn’t get to it while it was ringing, so I went about my business. My business was so important. Don’t you just hate it when the dishes in the dishwasher are supposed to be dry, but the little depression in the bottom of the glasses always holds the water. Then, if you don’t get to them in time (at least here in Enid) the hard water leaves a white ring / film on the bottom of the glass…. phone message… just let me finish with this one chore and I’ll get to it….

… it was his mom. He couldn’t call… he had died in his sleep. He was three years younger than me. God knows I hate myself sometimes. She couldn’t speak. I knew. I rushed. I put on the collar. I drove across town. Who the hell do I think I am? The prayers. The words. More words. He’s still gone and mom’s still… shit.

I came home. Took off the collar. Petted and loved on the Queen… then… then I finished unloading the dishwasher. Managed to run a knife deep into my hand in the process… it wasn’t intentional.

I should delete this, but I won’t. This is me.

What I learned today: “You do not know….” We all know that one. I don’t need to repeat it.

Thought for the day: May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Sermon: Proper 13 RCL B – “Bread of Heaven, Part I”

Photo by Nadya Spetnitskaya on Unsplash

While visiting a big city, Betsy, who suspected her husband of cheating on her snuck off to visit a fortune teller of some local repute.

In a dark and hazy room, peering into a crystal ball, the mystic delivered grave news. “There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just be blunt: Prepare yourself to be a widow. Your husband will die a violent and horrible death this year.”

Visibly shaken, Betsy stared at the woman’s lined face, then at the single flickering candle, then down at her hands. She took a few deep breaths to compose herself. She simply had to know. She met the fortune teller’s gaze, steadied her voice, and asked her question. “Will I be acquitted?

When it came time to preach this sermon, I just couldn’t tell that joke: adultery, murder, divination… no. Not good sermon material.

Jesus had been teaching and performing miracles in Jerusalem at the Temple and from there he made his way north to the lands surrounding the sea of Galilee. If he went all the way up to Capernaum on the north shore, he would have travelled about eighty miles. After some time, he crossed over the sea and it is there that we have the feeding of the 5,000. Following this, the disciples—without Jesus—take a boat back to Capernaum, but on the way they encounter a storm and it is then they see Jesus walking on the water.

The following day, the people wake up and look for Jesus, thinking that he should still be nearby, but when they can’t find him, they also cross over to Capernaum where they do find him. This is where our Gospel reading begins today with the people saying to Jesus, “Umm… you were over there with no way of getting over here. How’d you do that?” Jesus doesn’t answer that question, but only tells them why it is they were looking for him: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”

These words are the beginning of what is known as the Bread of Life Discourse, consisting of thirty-seven verses. It is such an important teaching, that we will hear from these verses for three more Sundays.

It begins with the people asking Jesus a series of questions: how did you get here? What is the work of God? What sign will you give us? What work are you performing? And then someone says, “Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” In saying this, they are throwing down the gauntlet on Jesus. If you want us to believe you, why don’t you pull this particular rabbit out of the hat. To that challenge, Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And the people are like, “Yeah, yeah…give us that bread.”

The people are still thinking about their empty stomachs and Jesus could have given them what they wanted, but Jesus did not need a crystal ball to tell them what would happen if he did. He only needed to look at their history.

The Israelites had made the exodus out of Egypt and were wandering in the desert. They grew hungry and complained against God, so the Lord said, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you.” And he did. He gave them manna to eat.

Our Psalm today speaks of all of this and concluded with:

They ate and were well filled,
for he gave them what they craved.
(Psalm 78:29)

God gave them everything they craved, but they weren’t ever happy. They weren’t ever satisfied.

“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.  But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’” (Numbers 11:4-6)

Yes, Jesus says to those listening. Moses did feed them with the bread from heaven, but after awhile, they weren’t satisfied. So he gave them quail, but guess what? They eventually weren’t satisfied with that either. Moses could have gone on and given them cucumbers, melons, Kobe beef, and Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, but in the end they would still be grumbling and would always want more.

No. Jesus did not need a crystal ball to know how it would all play out. So, he says, instead of seeking after something that you will later be dissatisfied with, why not seek after that which will satisfy you now and for all eternity. Seek after the bread which will give you life eternal. And what is this bread? Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus said, I—God—am the one thing that will satisfy you completely. Follow me and believe in me.

Like the Israelites in the wilderness, God can give and fulfill our every craving, but like the Israelites, we will grow tired of it, because what we crave is not what we need. It is not what will sustain or fulfill us. If you think about it, you know it’s true. We may occasionally find some peace, but there is a restlessness within us. An itch. A craving. However you want to refer to it, and it is really never satisfied. What is the remedy for such cravings? In the first paragraph of his Confessions, St. Augustine of Hippo, speaking to God, wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

When he says that our heart is restless, I believe he is referring to both our physical and spiritual heart, our entire being which will remain restless until it rests in God alone. And it is a restlessness, a craving, that can only be satisfied and nourished with the true Bread of Heaven. Our response in hearing this can be the same response as those who were listening to Jesus: “Sir, give us this bread always.”

And Jesus does. “I am the bread of life.” We receive this bread of life physically in the Eucharist and spiritually through our faith. If we can truly receive this bread then we are truly free. Free from the empty cravings that draw us away from God.

I would like to tell you that I have reached such a level of perfection, but I think we all know that would be a lie. It is not easy and it is always a struggle. It is God’s grace alone that fills in the gap, but that does not mean that we don’t work to lessen that gap. Strive, body and soul, to be satisfied with God alone. Seek to find peace in him. Yes, Lord, give us this bread always that we might find rest in you.

Let us pray: Father in heaven, you have made us for yourself; our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Fulfill this longing through Jesus, the bread of life, so that we may witness to him who alone satisfies the hungers of the human family. By the power of your Spirit lead us to the heavenly table where we may feast on the vision of your glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon: Proper 11 RCL B – “Signs and Wonders”

Photo by Jason Yu on Unsplash

A particular bishop brought in a consultant group to work with each individual church. They were reported to do wonders for any church who was willing to put in the effort. The only issue was that the consultants were all cannibals, so when the bishop hired them, he made them promise not to eat anyone. They all agreed.

After meeting with almost forty churches, things were going splendidly and each of those churches was growing and thriving, but then one day, the leader of the cannibal consulting group got a phone call from the bishop. Seems the secretary at the last church had gone missing and he wanted to make sure that it wasn’t the cannibals doings. Once he got off the call with the bishop, he asked his fellow workers if anyone had something to do with the missing secretary. One cannibal sheepishly raised his hand.

“You fool!” said the leader. “For weeks we’ve been eating clergy and no one noticed anything, but no, you had to go and eat someone important!”

Today, our Gospel reading was from Mark 6:30-34 and then we skipped to 53-56. What I immediately wanted to know is what went on in verses 35-52. Turns out, we skipped right over the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water. Huh? Why on earth would we skip those two events? They seem kind of important to me, but the more I thought on it, I realized that I was falling into the same mindset as so many during the time of Jesus. Jesus even pointed this out in John’s Gospel when someone came looking for a miracle. Jesus said, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48) Yes. We give thanks for the miracles that occurred then and continue to occur today, but they also serve a very specific purpose outside of those who benefit from them.

Let’s say that St. Matthew’s becomes a place of miracles. Now, I believe we see them all the time, we just don’t recognize them as such, but let’s say that they are undeniable: someone who is blind… born blind comes to our church, they receive the sacrament of healing and prayer and… they see. And then there is someone who has never walked in their life and they are prayed over and they walk. After a couple of events like this, word starts getting around: people are getting healed at St. Matthew’s. Others begin to arrive, slowly at first, to check things out and see what all the fuss is about, but I guarantee you this, if that begins to happen, after a short while, you won’t be able squeeze in here with a shoehorn and not just on Sundays. This will be wall-to-wall people. Some coming to worship, some bringing others in search of a miracle, some bringing themselves in search of the same, and even some who will come to criticize and tear down, but what is the purpose of this all? Episcopalians be like: as long as no one sits in my pew, it’s all good, but seriously, in all that is taking place, what is the purpose? Is it solely for the healings / miracles? Those are important and amazing, but they are not the purpose. Is it that more people are coming to church? Again, good, but not the purpose. How about those whom the healings are taking place through? Yes, yes, and yes. All good, but the purpose behind it all is so that the Good News can be proclaimed. The miracles, the feeding of the 5,000, walking on water, site for the blind are like beacons in a dark night, guiding people to a place where they can encounter God and hear the message. What is the message? Jesus is Lord. Forgiveness of sins. Salvation. Eternal life. The miracles occur so that this message, which is the Good News, can be proclaimed. Miracle: Lazarus was raised from the dead. It got a lot of people’s attention, but Lazarus is going to die again. Good News: Lazarus may die again, but through the forgiveness of sins and his faith in Jesus Christ, Lazarus will rise again, but this time he will rise to eternal life. The miracles demonstrate Jesus’ authority, so that we might believe his teaching and his word: salvation has come to all who believe.

The miracles then are like a beacon, calling out to those who would see and know God. Before Jesus, that beacon was to be God’s chosen people, the Israelites. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said:

“You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
(Isaiah 49:3)

And a few verses further:

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6)

The Lord is saying, it is not just the Israelites that I want to hear of my salvation, but all of humankind, so you will lead them. You will be a beacon to the world, but our reading today from Jeremiah tells us that they did not succeed: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!… It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.” The shepherds might as well have been eaten by cannibals, because no one would have even noticed if they were gone. To be honest, I don’t believe it was a task that could have ever been fulfilled through human hands, but they were still the chosen ones, so when they failed, God said, If you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself. Continuing to speak through the Prophet Jeremiah, God said, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.”

And here is where our Gospel reading comes in. Jesus and the apostles had been doing the work, but Jesus also recognized their need for rest, so they tried to get away for a short time, but the crowds found them. Jesus could have pushed on and said, “Enough! We’re on vacation,” but that was not Jesus. Instead, “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” Israel was to be the beacon and the shepherd of God’s people, but when they failed, God said, “I myself will gather the remnant of the flock…”… I myself will be the beacon and the Shepherd. And Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11). “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32)

The miracles that were performed by Jesus and the Apostles acted as a beacon, so that the world would be drawn in to hear the teachings and the message of salvation. And now we, as the Church, have been entrusted with the task of continuing that great work, but where are the miracles? Where are the beacons? Answer: sitting in the pews. You are the miracle. Your very life is a beacon, a testimony of God’s great work in this world and your life is a testimony that needs to be heard. You are a miracle that the world would in fact know was missing; therefore, through both words and deeds, live into your calling as witnesses to the Good News of God and then watch in joy and amazement as the miracle that is you, takes place in others.

Let us pray:
Loving God,
Send us out to draw others to You,
into Your peace,
into the Church,
into lives dedicated to the Gospel.
May our voices speak of hope and welcome to all.
May our hands lift high the torch of new life in You.
May our hearts yearn for justice and truth.
Renew in us the courage and strength
to reach out to the neediest in our midst.
United in faith and prayer, with Mary,
keep us ever steadfast in Your love
as we strive for Your vision of a world renewed.
We ask this through Christ, Our Lord.
Amen.

Sermon: Presentation of Our Lord RCL A – “Killing Hornets”

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In nature there are some epic battles that take place every day.  One such battle goes on between the Japanese honeybee and the Giant Japanese Hornet.  The Japanese Hornet is five times larger than the bee and is the world’s strongest predatory hornet.

When a Giant Japanese Hornet finds a honeybee nest it will kill a few honeybees and take them back to its nest to feed on it’s larvae. But then it returns, this time marking the honeybee hive with a scent. The scent attracts other hornets, and when two or three have arrived they begin to slaughter the honeybees at an extraordinary rate.  One such event records that 30,000 honeybees were killed by just 30 hornets in about three hours.

But the honeybees have developed a defense, and a defense that puzzled scientists for quite some time. You see, the honeybees can kill the hornets, but not in the way you might think – they don’t sting them to death. Instead, they do the opposite of what might be expected. They begin by doing all they can to annoy the hornet trying to mark its scent on their nest. Over 100 worker honeybees gather near the entrance to the nest, and then, when the hornet comes near, they lift and shake their abdomens in a peculiar dance. And the hornet finds this really aggravating. The bees then dive into their nest, and the steamed up hornet follows, intent to do some damage!

Unbeknown to the hornet 1000 worker bees are waiting for him just inside the entrance. When he gets close enough, around 500 of the honeybees jump on him, enclosing him in a ball of honeybees about the size of a clenched fist. They gather as close as they can to the hornet and start vibrating their muscles.  What happens? The vibrations cause the temperature to rise and rise and rise. In ten minutes or so the temperature’s up to 117 degrees.  Guess what temperature is too hot for a hornet to survive – 113 degrees; whereas the honeybees can function up to 120 degrees.  When the temperature of the ball of vibrating honeybees goes above 113 degrees the hornet dies and the honeybees survive.

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That is a rather remarkable act of God’s creation, and it is a rather profound lesson for the church.  We as individual members of a church can go it alone, doing things our own way and in all likelihood, not only will we fail as individuals, but we may also fail corporately.  St. Josemaria Escriva put it a bit more bluntly, “Convince yourself, my child, that lack of unity within the Church is death.” (The Forge, #631)  However, if we choose to work as a body – recognizing that we are in fact “in this thing together” – then, although there may be difficult times, we will manage to overcome.  Please note, I’m not eluding to a Giant Japanese Hornet buzzing around at our front door.  I’m not referring to some observed problem existing within the church, but it is good for us all to remember that we are called to stand together in the mission of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Consider the words of the Psalmist today:

For one day in your courts 

     is better than a thousand in my own room,

and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God 

     than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.

“… to stand at the threshold of the house” – that passage can take several meanings: it can mean to be the doorman, or one of the masses just hoping to get a peek inside, or even a beggar, but each implies the same message, “I would rather be a nobody in the house of God, than a somebody outside of it.”  For us: “I would rather be a small and insignificant part of the Body of Christ, than not to be a part at all.”  And not only are we all a part of the Body of Christ, we need one another.

Paul teaches us in his first letter to the Corinthians, “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.”  He goes on to say, “If all were a single member, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’”  We are the Body and we need one another.  To say, “I have no need of you,” to separate yourself from the body, from the church, is in a very real way excommunication, not as in an action that has been imposed on you, but as an action you have imposed on yourself.  In the end, not only does the individual suffer, but the body suffers as well.  We are the body of Christ, the church, and he is the head of the body.  “Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior,” says Paul to the Ephesians; and the loss of any of its members brings harm to the church.

I’ll remind you again of those wonderful words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, “The Church is not the society of those labeled virtuous.  It is the mixed community of sinners called to be saints.”  The church is anything but perfect; but it is far better within its embrace than it is outside.  Outside, the hornets can take us one by one, but together, within the spiritual walls of this place, we can defend one another and conquer our greatest enemies.

Today, following the Confession of Sin we will offer the Sacrament of Unction – of healing.  If you need healing in body, mind or soul, then I invite you to come forward to receive an anointing and the laying on of hands.  I also invite you to come forward to receive the same for the healing of any infirmity within the church, so that we might not only bring healing to our individual bodies, but to this Body of Christ as well.

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