Sunday, September 17, 2017

Sermon; 15 Pentecost/Proper 19A; Matthew 18:21-35

Today's passage from both the Hebrew scripture and the gospel have to do with forgiveness. In the first lesson we hear of the final reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers. You may recall that, years earlier, the older brothers had tossed their spoiled, uppity younger brother into a dry well, debated about killing him, then sold him into slavery and passed him off as dead to their father.

“What if he still bears a grudge against us?” they ask. Um . . . ya' think??

So the brothers concoct another lie, telling Joseph that their father begged for forgiveness on their behalf. It's hard to tell from this passage if the brothers were reconciled because of the false edict from Jacob, or if Joseph really would have forgiven them no matter what. But the result of this story is that forgiveness wins the day.

Today's gospel also addresses forgiveness. Peter asks, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how many times should I forgive? As many as seven?”

Many translations have Peter asking how many times he needs to forgive his brother, not another member of the church, leading some people to postulate that Peter and Andrew had been arguing, or that this was intended to focus more on family issues. But the point is the same, how many times are we supposed to forgive a person who has hurt us? According to Jesus, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

One of the things we need to know about Matthew is that he is making the case for Jesus as the fulfillment of God in the Hebrew scriptures. He is arguing that this Jesus-movement thing is not a new religion, but a fulfillment of the Hebrew faith. We see this in the beginning of his gospel where he opens with the genealogy, or genesis, of Jesus. His first two chapters of the life of Jesus are, essentially, the story of Israel. Generations and dreams and the killing of infants and escapes into and out of Egypt all tie Jesus to the history of Israel. He also does this subtly in other places, like today's passage.

Do I forgive seven times? No, seventy-seven times. This also goes back to Genesis. There was a seven-fold vengeance placed on anyone who killed Cain for his killing of Abel. And Lamech proclaimed a seventy-seven-fold vengeance on anyone who attempted retribution against him for his murder of a young man. Matthew has Jesus going back to the Hebrew scripture and saying the level of forgiveness will be equal to or greater than the vengeance that was proclaimed.

Okay – enough Bible study and back to this issue of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is often misunderstood and it can never be forced. The line, “You're a Christian so you have to forgive me,” comes to mind. There seems to be a belief that forgiveness is simply granted because Jesus said so. But this does nothing to rectify the problem and places the onus all on the victim.

If I leave here and slam into Bill's car, and then say, “Sorry, please forgive me,” without doing anything about it, I'm not so sure bill has to forgive me. In the Rite of Reconciliation, the sinner can be asked to perform acts of penance or to make restitution as part of the act of forgiveness.

The disciplinary rubrics state that if a priest knows of a person who is living a notoriously evil life, they are to withhold Communion until repentance and amendment of life has been made.

Repentance, amendment of life, and forgiveness all go hand in hand. But does forgiveness REQUIRE someone to repent and change? That is a tricky question. Do I, as a priest, offer absolution on the condition of repentance, or do I offer it on the promise of repentance? That's a deep discussion.

But when talking about forgiveness, here's why I think Jesus throws out seventy-seven and why he tells the parable of the unforgiving servant.

Forgiveness, at its core, is about ourselves. Forgiveness doesn't mean we have to become best friends with those who have hurt us. Forgiveness doesn't mean we have to remain in a business partnership with someone who cheated us. It doesn't mean a woman needs to marry her abuser or rapist.

What it does mean is that we have to get to a point where we are not controlled by the hateful or hurtful actions of the person who caused us pain. Forgiveness means that we have reached the point where we can move on with our lives.

The best thing I've ever seen on forgiveness was a movie called, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” In short, a woman learns her lawyer-husband has been having an affair. She learns he had children with the other woman, then he throws her out of the house, all the while planning to marry his mistress. The next day he gets shot, leaving him crippled. The mistress leaves this now broken man, and the scorned wife becomes his legal caretaker. By the end of the movie it looks like they have patched things up and are ready to move forward together. Instead, she takes off her wedding ring, basically says, “I forgive you,” and walks out.

Forgiveness is about being able to live your life in such a way that you don't allow those who harmed you to continually harm you. It also means that we don't focus all our energy looking for revenge or payback. And if that takes seventy-seven times, so be it.

Otherwise, if we don't forgive others, we will end up living in a prison of our own making – just like the unforgiving servant in Jesus' parable.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. The question we need to be constantly asking is this: Are we seeking forgiveness, or are we seeking revenge? How we answer that question will determine how we live our lives.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Sermon; Feast of St. John the Evangelist (tr.); 1 John 1:1-9

Feast of St. John the Evangelist (tr.)
1 John 1:1-9

Welcome to the annual St. John's Day Celebration and Ministry Fair. For those who pay attention to such things, the Feast of St. John is celebrated on December 27, but we received special permission from the bishop to transfer the St. John Propers to today. And, yes, I have to ask. But technicalities aside, “Welcome.” Welcome back the music at 8 a.m. Welcome back to our choir. Welcome back to our Sunday school teachers. Welcome back everyone who has been on vacation. And welcome to any and all visitors. Welcome to St. John's and today's festivities.

This congregation takes its name from St. John the Evangelist. I don't know why that name was chosen or assigned, because it's not like there is a shortage of parishes named St. John's in these parts. But let me venture a guess.

I would guess that the reason for taking on this name is because of the beauty of both the fourth gospel and the three letters attributed to author whom tradition calls John. The fourth gospel and those three letters are beautiful pieces of literature.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
This is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

Add to this their high christology and theme of love that runs not only through these writings, but as the overall theme of the New Testament, and it's no wonder why St. John is a popular patron.

And I believe with my whole heart that this particular parish of St. John's reflects the best of our patron Saint. The beauty of the gospel and letters are reflected in the beauty of this space. From the steeple to the altar, we gather in a beautiful space. The beauty we see here can seem other-worldly. The beauty of this space breathes holiness. The beauty of this space is the first thing that reminds us we are in the presence of God and that we are standing on holy ground.

But there's an old saying that goes, “Beauty is only skin deep.” And that can certainly be true of any parish that relies solely on its building.

Joelene and I attended another church last Sunday. The building was certainly beautiful and easy to find (if you were walking and didn't have to maneuver around closed streets). When we walked in it felt like church, if you know what I mean. But that was the extent of it. Nobody greeted us. The Peace was obligatorily and enthusiastically shared, but the singing and congregational responses were lackluster. Nobody spoke to us as we filed out the door. And the priest did nothing more than say, “Good morning.” It was, in my opinion, a beautiful church on the outside, but one that lacked any depth of beauty.

We also have a beautiful space, as you've noticed. But we also have an inner beauty that goes much deeper than the steeple and/or altar.

We value the people who worship here. We strive to include people in a variety of ministries. We will greet you as you enter and, if we don't recognize you, do our best to not abandon you either as you try to figure out the Episcopal book shuffle or as we invite you downstairs for coffee hour. We try to treat outsiders and visitors as we ourselves want to be treated, with dignity, respect, and a smile.

This beauty will also be reflected in the ministry fair as people serve, and are encouraged to serve, for the mission of the Church. Everything we do is geared toward fulfilling that mission of restoring all people to unity with God through Jesus Christ. In-reach, outreach, and ministries of all kinds look to reflect the kingdom of God in the here and now, and it is a beautiful thing.

In the words of St. John, we declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen, what we have touched – that our fellowship is with God the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. The fellowship found here among the people and within our ministries reflects the fellowship of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And this is the message we have heard and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. In this building the beautiful light from God shines. In our people and in our ministries, the light of God through Christ can be seen. This is a place of inner joy, beauty, and light. This is a place where the presence of God dwells in all things – yes, even in Vestry meetings.

And in case you think I am painting an overly-rosy picture of the goodness of this parish, let me say that we are not perfect. We have disagreements and arguments. We don't always get it right. I've made my share of mistakes over the past year. But what I've noticed about this congregation is that we do acknowledge our sins and shortcomings, and we do work towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

This parish embodies all that St. John represents – love, light, honesty, and a high christology that acknowledges the fully human aspect of Christ that is joined with the fully divine glory of the godhead. This parish represents the beauty reflected in the writings of St. John – both in its physical beauty and deeper down, in the beauty of our soul.

Today is our St. John's Day Celebration and Ministry Fair. I encourage you to take in the beauty of it all and consider how you might reflect the beauty of this parish in thought, word, and deed.

We are St. John's. We are named for a Saint who wrote of light, life, and love. And I will testify to all these things because I know they are true.

Will you?


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sermon; 12 Pentecost/Proper 16A; Romans 12:1-8

I don't preach on Romans very often. In fact, I believe this might be the first time I've done so. One of the basic reasons for this is that Romans is a long, carefully worded document from Paul focusing on basic Christian tenets, a Jewish/Gentile divide, as well as an attempt to garner support for his mission. Good or bad, this long letter has probably done more to shape Christianity than any other piece of scriptural writings.

Because of both its content and its length, it is difficult to use as the basis of a sermon series. Add to that the way the lectionary chops it up, and you would do a grave injustice to it. Romans is much better suited to an in-depth study than a series of sermons.

That said, today's passage was just too good to pass up – especially given where we are as a parish right now.

In two weeks we will celebrate St. John's Day and hold a ministry fair. During that time you will get to see all of the different ministries we offer. You will also have the opportunity to sign up to participate in as many of those ministries as you choose. Along with that, though, please remember that it's not quantity, but quality. If you only sign up for one thing and do it well, that's preferable to signing up for many things and doing none.

The Ministry Fair is also the lead-in to our annual pledge drive, as this event focuses on the time and talent portion of what we pledge to the life of St. John's. It is through our time and talent where the work of ministry is done. Our time and talent are the visible incarnations of our pledge to the church and to the mission of God.

As we move forward as Christians, Episcopalians, and members of St. John's, we need to continually ask ourselves, “Who is God calling us to be?” and, “What is God calling us to do?” Maybe we are called to increase the Community Cafe one Saturday a month so that we serve people on both the 2nd and 4th Saturdays. But that particular decision will only happen when we spend time discerning God's call for us, when we look at the time and talent offered, and when we evaluate the increased financial base something like that will require. But that's just one example. Maybe we are called to expand our relationship with Bester, or increase our involvement with Micah's Backpack, or maybe we offer an Evensong service one or more times a week.

All of this gets back to what Paul has to say in this passage from Romans, and it is all tied to the question of priorities. There are, of course, exceptions – I will never ask anyone to choose between paying their pledge and buying food or necessary medicine. But in general, where is your faith and your parish on your personal priority scale? Are we presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, to God?

The Church, and by extension our parish, can only be identified by its people. The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity in God through Christ. How that happens, though, is as wide and varied as the people who make up the body of this holy institution.

We are one body with many members, and not all members have the same function. Each of us have different gifts, and those different gifts allow us to do many different things.

This is, I think, both the blessing and curse of St. John's. It's a blessing because we do a lot of stuff. I've said this before, but that was one of the things that originally attracted me to the parish profile. There is a lot going on here. And, as I said in the newspaper article that ran shortly after I arrived, this is a place that gets it. You understand that “church” isn't just what happens between 8 and Noon on Sunday.

But it's also a curse in that because we are a fairly large congregation there may be a tendency to think, “Oh, someone will take care of that.” It's a curse in that it's easy to hide in a large congregation. It's easy to think that we can simply write a check to pay for a particular ministry.

The reality is, though, that a few people do most of the work, and they could use help. The reality is that we are not as financially sound as people might think, and the amount of money we have is strictly based on how much you pledge and donate.

How might we combat this curse? I'll give you a sneak peak of my upcoming Ramblings – I think we might need to think small. Here's what I mean by that.

When I was in Montana I served two small congregations. One of them was in the big town of the valley with a population of 700, and when I arrived they had about a dozen members – all women, all but one over 70 years old. By the time I left, their membership had increased to about 45. But this isn't about that increase, it's about what they do.

That parish maintains their old building. A new roof went on while I was there, and they just did the 10-year re-oiling. They've made other improvements like new carpet, repairing stained glass windows, painting, and installing a new furnace. They've opened up their parish hall for community events and after-school programs. They coordinate a community worship service once a year. They involve the community in Holy Week events. They run a wood bank where they harvest, cut, stack, and deliver wood to those who can't afford to heat their homes. They participate in the meals-on-wheels program. They can do all this and more because EVERYONE participates. Everyone utilizes their gifts and talents as different members for the benefit of the one body.

As we prepare to move into the pledge drive season, it is a good thing to acknowledge all that we do. But I also stand with Paul when I say, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God.” Yes, we are a large parish. Yes, we do a lot. But everything we do is the result of the work and gifts of individuals. It just may be that in thinking small we will accomplish much greater things.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sermon; 11 Pentecost/Proper 15A; Matthew 15:10-28

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and Redeemer.

I don't know about you, but this past week has been overly long. It started with the white supremacist/Nazi march on the campus of UVA and went downhill from there. A counter protester was killed as a neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of people. Promises of more Nazi/KKK rallies were made. The president downplayed the event, then sort of condemned the racists in reading from a forced script, then backtracked, both validating bigotry and laying equal blame for the situation on both the white supremacists and anti-Nazi demonstrators, while also managing to turn “antifa” (which means “anti-fascist”) into a slur. In Boston, the Holocaust Remembrance Museum was vandalized, and a so-far-unknown vandal defaced the Lincoln Memorial.

But in a slice of good news, Texas A&M canceled an upcoming white supremacist rally.

I never thought we would get here. I never thought that in a country founded on the ideal that all men are created equal and with a national icon that pleads for the influx of other nationalities and refugees . . . in a country that helped stem the tide of Nazism and fascism . . . in a country that fought a civil war to end the bondage of slavery . . . I never thought we would be in a place where the evils we fought to end in the name of all that is moral, right, and good would not only be allowed to rise again, but encouraged to rise again. I never thought that pro-Nazi chants, derogatory remarks, and white supremacist and segregationist propaganda would be considered a normative political opinion. And to make matters worse, these views are often wrapped up in a warped version of Christianity that looks to validate oppression and elevate hatred to a spiritual gift.

One of the issues some clergy have with the lectionary is they say it limits their freedom. Being tied to the lectionary is too constricting and doesn't allow for the preacher to experience the movement of the Holy Spirit. But my experience is just the opposite. Over the years there have been more times than not when the appointed lectionary text has been exactly what was needed. Today is such a day.

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles . . . What comes out of the mouth procedes from the heart . . . for out of the heart comes evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.”

A Canaanite woman came to him and began shouting and begging for mercy, but Jesus ignored her. The disciples insisted that he send her away. Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She begged more urgently and he said, “It's not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.” “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs get the scraps.” To which Jesus praised her faith and healed her daughter.

As I said, today is a day when the lectionary text fits perfectly with what is happening in the world around us. The first part is easy, and anyone with ears should be able to hear and understand. “It is what comes from the heart and out of the mouth that defiles.”

What is really in our hearts? Rage over some perceived loss of rights based on a false assumption that a person of color or different gender or different orientation is now getting more rights than me? The reality is that equal rights are exactly that – equal. Or maybe it's rage over the loss of power and control over those who should stay in their place. Or maybe it's rage over the the loss of tradition and so-called heritage.

If that's what's in our hearts, it's no wonder that what comes out of our mouths are racial slurs, incitements to violence, and a call to protect values that really aren't valuable.

The second part may be a little less obvious, but is just as relevant. A Canaanite woman comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter. Jesus ignores her. The disciples want her removed. She persists.

As Christians we proclaim Jesus to be fully human and fully divine. In this story we catch a glimpse of the human side of Jesus. As a man of his day he probably did hold a prejudicial view of women. As a Jew, he probably also held a prejudicial view of Gentiles, especially Canaanites. This very human, and very limited view is what the human Jesus had to overcome in his divine mission of bringing all people within reach of the kingdom.

A Gentile woman begs for her daughter to be healed. The disciples want her gone. Jesus at first ignores her and then compares her to a dog. And it doesn't matter if that dog is a mongrel or a house pet – she is still seen as subhuman. Rather than accept this attitude and go away quietly, she points out that even the dogs are fed. The human Jesus learns that God's compassion is not only given to those for whom he was originally sent, but also to those outside that group.

This past week we have come face to face with the sins of racism and white supremacy, and with the hatred that is both the root cause of those acts as well as being the visible result of those acts. The people who profess those beliefs and attitudes also have a very limited perspective of the world around them. They see themselves as the special chosen ones and everyone else as dogs, subhuman, and not worthy to be fed.

The difference here is that Jesus doesn't continue to hold to this misguided and sinful point of view. The difference here is that Jesus realizes even this woman, even if mistakenly referred to as a dog, is part of God's creation, and therefore worthy to receive God's grace, love, and healing power. Whereas the local Nazis want to keep and control a form of power for themselves, Jesus is willing to give it away. And it is in the giving and the sharing of that power that all people are able to receive God's love.

We are called to follow the example of Jesus by speaking in ways that honor others.

We are called to follow the example of Jesus by not only welcoming the outsider, but by hearing the pleadings of minorities, offering aid and assistance with grace and compassionate love.

This gospel speaks to us today in that what we say, how we say it, and how we treat others is more important to God than our holding up the dubious traditions of our elders.

Today's gospel mandates that we speak in good and holy ways, while also treating those outside our closed circle as having the same rights and access to the kingdom that we do.

Today's gospel is speaking directly to us. Are we listening?


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sermon; 10 Pentecost/Proper 14A; Matthew 14:22-33

Last week we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. And while that was a good and proper thing to do (or, as the people in the BCP study learned, it was “very meet and right so to do”), it took us out of our normal cycle of gospel readings. So I'll take a minute here and get us back up to speed.

Two weeks ago we heard the last set of kingdom parables. The kingdom of heaven is like a lot of different stuff – the discovery of buried treasure, finding one thing you do well, a tree full of beautiful, messy birds. That is followed by two stories not told in the lectionary, one being Jesus' difficulty in his home town, and the other being the beheading of John the Baptist.

Today's gospel follows immediately after the feeding of the 5000 men plus women and children, which we would have heard last week had it not been for the Feast of the Transfiguration. After hearing the news of John's execution, Jesus goes off alone only to be tracked down by the crowds. Once gathered, he spends the rest of the day healing those who were sick. As the day is coming to a close we are given the story of the mass feeding. And this is where we pick up the story today.

Immediately after the leftover food is collected, Jesus makes the disciples get into a boat to cross over to the other side while he dismissed the crowd and goes up the mountain to pray. There he spends the night alone. The disciples, meanwhile, have spent all night on the water battling a storm.

In the morning Jesus comes to them walking on the water, terrifying the disciples. Peter demands Jesus bid him to come out of the boat. He does, Peter walks on water, begins to sink, is saved, gets put back in the boat, and the storm ceases.

As usual I could talk about all kinds of things in this story – Was it a theophany? Is it a misplaced post-resurrection story? Is it a testing of God? And on and on. But wrapped up in all of these interpretations or understandings or explanations is the ultimate question for us today and for all Christians in all times: What does this story have to say to me today? So I'm going to skip talking about the miraculous aspect of this story and focus on three things that have value for us today.

First should be the obvious fact that following Christ is not always easy. As disciples, we may be asked to do any number of things for which we feel we aren't prepared, qualified, or even remotely ready. We also may be asked to do something for which we believe we are well-qualified, but once we undertake the mission we discover we weren't as ready as we thought we were.

Jesus sent the disciples out on ahead of him. Some were experienced sailors. Most were probably not. As the boat heads out onto the water a storm erupts; and the disciples, fighting a losing battle, are taken further away from shore. Doing what Jesus asks us to do can be hard, and it can feel like we're fighting a losing battle. Have you been asked to participate in the life of the church only to feel like you're being battered by a storm, not able to do what you were asked to do? Or maybe you've been asked to participate in the life of the parish only to decline because you are afraid of the unknown? Discipleship is hard, but Jesus is commanding us to get into the boat.

The next point comes from Peter. “Lord,” he said, “if it is you command me to come to you on the water.” This touches on the idea of discernment.

As disciples we are all called to use our time, talent, and treasure for the good of the kingdom. Sometimes that's relatively easy – it doesn't take much effort, for instance, to contribute from our surplus to the life of the church. Sometimes it's self-evident, such as a gifted musician sharing their talents with the music ministry. Other times it can be difficult – creating an intentional line item on your personal budget as a pledge or taking a risk and participating in something in which you've never participated before. And other times we need to be called by Jesus.

That calling can be as terrifying as asking Peter to get out of the boat in the middle of a storm. We need to pay attention to these calls, though. We need to make sure that it is indeed Jesus who is calling us to step out of our comfort zone. If we don't, we may simply be confirming our own desires, such as the Mormon missionary in “Book of Mormon” who was absolutely convinced that he was called to serve the people of Orlando, or anyone else, for that matter, who makes God to be a perfect replica of their own desires and hatreds. But there's another reason there, and that is that if we don't discern a calling from Jesus, we're likely to sink without ever walking on water or being rescued. In other words, we need to spend time determining if this is really what Jesus is asking us to do, or are we trying to make our wishes come true? “Lord, if it is you . . .”

The final point is to notice the chaos of the storm and when it ceased. Please note that this does not mean that as soon as you welcome Jesus to be in your midst that life gets easy. That is not the point and that is certainly not true. Here are a two biblical examples and two real world examples for you.

Jonah boarded a ship to escape God. The problem with that is that God is everywhere. A storm arose nearly sinking it. When the crew finally agreed to heed God by tossing Jonah overboard, the storm ceased. Today's story is a reverse Jonah where the storm ceases after the man in the water and God, in the person of Jesus Christ, board the boat. There's something about the calm of God's presence.

The first real world example is from my own life. Once upon a time a priest took me to lunch and said, “You need to go to seminary.” I won't give all the details here, but immediately my life got very chaotic, like I was in the middle of a storm. That storm quieted down after I agreed to heed this call.

The second real world example comes from just down the road, right here, right now.

The gospel story features the disciples in a boat. Traditional church buildings are built as upside down boats. This building is a boat full of disciples. The disciples in the gospel faced a fierce storm, the storm of chaos, that threatened to overtake them and drown them. In our world right now, a storm of chaos rages around us. In our world, that storm is threatening to destroy the goodness that overcame the raging waters of chaos in the first place.

Not far from here on the campus of the University of Virginia a group of right wing, anti-Semitic, white supremacists gathered to spew their chaotic storm of hatred. That storm has been brewing for hundreds of years and it has once again been whipped to life by the winds of hate and exclusion.

Jesus may have walked n the stormy waters of Galilee and calmed that storm; but Jesus is also God incarnate, the great I AM who is and was and will ever be. And right here, right now, Jesus is walking through the chaotic storm raging around us and this boat.

Jesus has boarded this boat. This boat will not be capsized by the storm of hate. This boat will not be sunk by the sin of white supremacy and exclusion or any other sin that tries to destroy the goodness of all God's creation. Jesus has boarded this boat and it will sail in peace.

But we still have far to go. Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish and still had to fulfill his mission. The disciples still had to cross over to the other side of the water. I still had to go through the process leading to ordination. And we, as followers of Christ, as people who follow the God of love, as people who vow to respect the dignity of every human being still have much work to do in making that vision and mission a reality.

We are being called by Christ in the midst of a storm to offer our selves, our souls, and bodies for the good of the kingdom. Some of that will be done through our time, talent, and treasure. Some of that will be done by being called to new ministries. And some of that will be done by standing up to and naming chaotic storms that threaten to overcome and sink the people of God by saying, “Not in this boat.”

Because in this boat the peace of God through Christ is more powerful than the forces of any hate-driven storm. In this boat, Christ reigns. In this boat, love wins.

As with Peter, Jesus is calling to us over the noise of the storm and the raging waters of chaos. How will we respond?


Sunday, August 06, 2017

Sermon; Feast of the Transfiguration; Luke 9:28-36

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. We don't get to celebrate this feast very often because it has a fixed, non-transferable day of August 6. That being said, the BCP rubrics do state that when this feast falls on a Sunday it takes precedence over the regularly scheduled Propers. So on this day we celebrate a theophany, a glimpse of the eternal God in the here and now, a revelation into the true nature of Jesus, and a recognition of the transfiguration event as a bright, sometimes blinding, light shining in dark places.

This idea of Christ's light shining in the darkness may be why the feast is celebrated on this day. Pope Callixtus III ordered its celebration on August 6 to commemorate the successful defense of Belgrade from the Ottomans in 1456 – because nothing says, “the light of Christ” quite like a military victory over the forces of evil . . . But I digress.

As I said, today is the actual date of the Feast of the Transfiguration. As we celebrate this event, there are several things to consider.

First, we need to look at some background material. At the end of Chapter 8, Jesus raises Jairus' daughter from the dead. In the room with him were Peter, John, and James.

As we move into Chapter 9, Jesus sends out the twelve to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. Luke says that they were successful in that mission. Upon their return he takes them away to a private place to debrief. During this time of solitude, however, crowds gather to hear Jesus preach and to be healed. And at the close of the day we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand.

Later, when they are alone, Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses him to be the Messiah, and Jesus talks about his Passion and what it takes to be a disciple – take up your cross daily. All of this brings us to today's gospel.

About eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain. While there Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, when a cloud overshadows them, terrifying the disciples in the process. There are some major points in this story we can't overlook.

Eight days later. There are seven days in a week. The eighth day, then, is the first day of the week. On the first day, God created. It was also on the first day of the week that the women went to the empty tomb. The eighth day is symbolic of the first day of the new creation.

Peter, John, and James were with him on the mountain. These were the same three who were with him a short time earlier when he raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. These three witnessed his power to restore life. And now these three are witnesses to Christ in his eternal glory, Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets (as indicated by the presence of Moses and Elijah), and the voice of God confirming Jesus as his holy son.

This event took place on a mountain, a traditional place of holy events. It was on a mountain that God spared Isaac. It was on a mountain that Moses received the law. It is on a mountain that the Lord's house will be established. And it is here, on a mountain, that Jesus is transfigured and revealed.

A cloud overshadowed them and they were terrified. That word “overshadow” occurs only four times in the gospels, and once as a synonym in Acts. Three of those times are in reference to the Transfiguration when the cloud overshadows the disciples and they were terrified. Once occurs in Luke 1 when an angel tells Mary not to be afraid and that the power of the Most High will overshadow her, causing her child to be holy. And the synonymous time occurs in Acts 1 when the disciples are told that they will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon, or overshadows, them. This overshadowing act is symbolic both of God's presence and the terror of being within that presence.

The story of the Transfiguration is deeply symbolic and deeply meaningful. It refers to a new day of creation. It points out the true nature of Christ in the revealing of his holy light. It references the fulfillment of all God is working toward in the law and the prophets. And, maybe more than anything else, it points us to a significant change in how we can see the world through the light and power of God in Christ.

But all that I have just said is not the only focus on this day. Yes, there are theological implications of the Transfiguration event – the dazzling light of Christ, the glimpse into his true nature, and the cloud that overshadowed and terrified the people all have a theological construct. They also all have a practical construct as we can use this event to help inform and change our lives.

August 6 is also the date of another transfiguration event of sorts. On this day there was a blinding light that gave us a glimpse of the nature of humanity. On this day a cloud overshadowed and terrified a multitude of people. On this day there was a momentous event that informs and shapes our lives in any number of ways.

It was on this day when a plane named Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb over the city of Hiroshima. On this day, August 6, 1945, there was a flash of blinding light and a cloud overshadowed and terrified the people. On this day, the world was transfigured.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. On this day we remember two world-changing events – the dazzling light of Christ and the overshadowing power of God is paired with the blinding light of nuclear warfare and the overshadowing power of people to inflict untold harm on each other.

As we recall both these events, my question to you is this: Which event do you want to make the defining moment of your life?


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sermon; 8 Pentecost/Proper 12A; Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52

Today is the last in the series of kingdom parables we've been hearing. As promised from last week, these are all of the parables we missed then. Also, as promised, these parables come in quick succession.

The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a great shrub where the birds of the air make their nests. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixes with 50 pounds of flour. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure found in a field that gets reburied, after-which the person sells all they have only to purchases the field with the hidden treasure. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who finds a single pearl of great price and he, too, sells all he has to purchase the pearl. The kingdom of heaven is like a fisherman who catches fish of all kinds, keeps the good and throws out the bad. The kingdom of heaven is like a lot of things all at the same time, and our senses and sensibilities are assaulted with so many visions it can seem impossible to make sense.

The obvious question we ask is, “So what exactly is the kingdom of heaven like?” The answer is, “D – all of the above.” I think we ask that question because we want to know exactly what we are in for, or exactly how we are to behave to ensure we make it in. It's sort of like the difference between football and baseball fields.

If the kingdom of heaven were like a standard football field, we would have it all figured out. The kingdom of heaven is like a football field – 120 yards long, with a playing area of 100 yards, two end zones 10 yard deep, and 53-1/3 yards wide, regardless of whether you have NFL players, college players, or high school players. But it's not.

Instead, the kingdom of heaven is like a baseball field – it might be 280 feet to the fence, or it might be 320 feet, or it might be 440 feet. It may be a perfect arc between left and right fields, or it may have random cut outs. Outfield fences may be 10 feet high, 15 feet high, or maybe even 37'-2” high. The kingdom of heaven may be like an outfield that is smooth all the way across, or it may have a hill in dead center.

So what is the kingdom of heaven like? It is like a small seed that grows into a great shrub so big it becomes home to many different kinds of birds. The kingdom of heaven starts small, maybe as small as one church, but grows into something so big that it becomes home to many different kinds of people.

Have you ever noticed that when a variety of birds get together we find beauty in their different songs? Can we find beauty in the different voices of all the different people of the kingdom? Have you also ever noticed that when there is a large group of birds living in one place there is also usually a very large mess? Are we able to live with the idea of a messy kingdom?

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed into three measures (or 50 lbs) of flour. We hear this today as a good and necessary thing. But remember that yeast is more often used negatively in the gospels. “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In the gospels, yeast is often used as a warning against corruption and hypocrisy. Today we might use rust or a spoiled piece of fruit in a bunch that ruins and taints everything around it.

But here we have Jesus telling us that the kingdom of heaven is a small, imperceptible force that will corrupt the world. The kingdom of heaven is a force that ruins the world for good.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field that someone finds, reburies, sells all his possessions, and buys the field for himself. The kingdom of heaven is like a dishonest man who withholds the fact of buried treasure to the rightful landowner and then buys it for a price well under its real value? Or maybe the kingdom of heaven is like a buried treasure someone stumbles upon, realizes its value, and does everything in their power to make it part of their life. The kingdom of heaven is like a visitor to this church who has no idea of the value of this place; but once coming through our doors, learns of its value and does everything they can to make St. John's part of their life.

Or the kingdom of heaven is like someone intentionally searching for fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great price, he sells all he has to purchase it. In other words, are you actively looking for the kingdom of heaven?

When we were in Montana, Joelene and I served on the CDC – Congregational Development Committee. We traveled around the diocese to (usually) small churches who were looking for help in finding a mission. During our time together we often heard people give us a litany of “if onlies” . . . If only we had more people, if only we had more money, if only we had more programs, if only we had more kids.

After doing some work together that told about their parish, I read this parable to them and asked, “What is your pearl of great price? What is the one thing you can do well?” And then they developed a plan to work on that. Because you don't need to do everything, you just need to do one thing well in order to make a change or a difference.

The kingdom of heaven is like a person who discovers the one thing they can do for the spread of the gospel.

The kingdom of heaven is like someone who brings out their treasure, both old and new.

The kingdom of heaven is not one thing. The kingdom of heaven is so big, so vast, so utterly incomprehensible that it takes many things to describe it.

The kingdom of heaven is like a tree full of messy birds, or the pursuit of a treasure, or things both old and new. The kingdom of heaven is small and disruptive, like yeast or rust, that will change the world.

How will the kingdom of heaven affect and change you?
How will you pursue the kingdom of heaven in your daily life?