The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
In our American culture, we often take on and proclaim myths. Some myths are based in truth and others are based on our desires and hopes but not necessarily true. I want to talk about a myth. It is deep within our culture. The myth is that willpower brings about abundance.
Willpower is not the way to abundant living! Let me say it again, willpower is not the way to abundant living! In our culture, that statement, is heresy. The dominant thinking is the more you can successfully manage yourself and others - get them to do what you want them to do - the more success you will have and the happier you will be.
The problem with this ideal, beside the fact that it can make you a miserable person, is that often, whatever you set out to control, can and will ultimately control you. And it doesn’t matter what it is; your colleagues at work, the business you run, the food you eat, the teacher you want to please, the congregation you want to satisfy, the spouse you want to keep happy, the teenager that you must develop into maturity, or in case of the gospel for today, the fish you must catch.
Of all the things that I just mentioned, something is missing; because mastery is not enough. It seems that when you are worn down or beaten down sufficiently with self-determination, it is then and only then you are ready to meet Christ.
This is a great gospel. In it Jesus’ popularity is growing. He was teaching and healing. His ministry was growing as people began to share what he was doing, and the crowds began to follow and listen; most hoping to get something from him. He came to the lake and as he taught, people began to press in and he had no place, no way to retreat, until he spotted Simon’s boat. I have often wondered what Simon must have thought. He was washing his nets from a hard night on the water. It had been unsuccessful and Simon was tending to what needed to be tended to. Fishing was not for fun. Fishing was how he provided for his family. Fishing was his business and a night without a catch was difficult. Then comes this preacher. OK, you can get into the boat. OK, you can teach and preach from it. OK….. but what must have been his thought when Jesus said, “Let’s go fishing.” I’m tired? We have already tried this? I know a lot more about fishing than you will ever know. The fish are just not here - because if they were, I would have caught them. But he does it anyway, out of respect for this holy teacher or maybe because he is worn down. They are worn out from a night of fishing. They have done everything that they know how to do - all that their experience and knowledge had given them. They had tolled and struggled, but it was not enough. It was not that they didn’t know how, or they had not learned enough that they came back empty handed. And, on top of that, a nearby carpenter turned preacher was wanting to instruct them on how to fish. Jesus, who doesn’t even know how to make a real living, gets into the boat and preaches, probably not a ten-minute sermon, and then suggested they go fishing. I am sure that Peter was a little put out.
But for whatever reason, Peter says yes. And it is the yes that changed everything and him. He let go. The yes gave him the opportunity to know God’s Epiphany. He let go of the idea that he knew it all. He let go of a need to control and he listened and followed and when he did, the catch was bigger than anything they had seen before. When he let go of thinking that he could control his own fate, then and only then did the miraculous power of Jesus Christ become manifest in his life. When he let go, a miracle happened, and his world changed, and he knew Christ. When he let go, he was transformed from a great fisherman to a great fisher of people.
It is the truth for us as well. Only when we can realize that we can’t control the world around us, then and only then, does the truth of Jesus become real. It doesn’t happen only in the day to day of life, but in faith as well. I have met so many people who, by will or grit or you fill in the blank, think they can control their relationship with God; that they can earn God’s love. If I just do this bible study; or if I can say enough prayers; if we can just do it the “right” way; or if I can do enough good works, if I give enough then I will be a good Christian.
We are in the season after the Epiphany. It is a time when we are called again to know the truth of Jesus Christ. We are called to see the light of Christ and know God’s truth in his son Jesus Christ. It is that truth that Simon Peter knew on the shore of Lake Ganessert. It is what you and I are to know this day. Jesus and the power of his resurrection do not come from our actions. Our actions are a response to the epiphany of Christ’s redemption in our lives.Simon was transformed in this gospel. It happened in a boat, but it happened because the truth of who Jesus was became clear to him. It happened when he was willing to trust in God, not just his own wits. With the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” Simon became a disciple. God has also called you. He has chosen you to be his church, he has chosen you to be All Saints’, but more importantly, he has chosen you and transformed you into His. So….get out of the boat.
State of the Church
Annual Parish Meeting
January 27th, 2019
Our mission, which is on the front of your bulletin, states, “We welcome, serve and love all unconditionally.” That is our call. That is our mission. We have not done it perfectly; we have much more work to do to live this out, but I hope and pray that it will continue to be who we are and what we are to do. Those words separate us. They define a unique mission and a unique way to hear God’s word and proclaim it.
One of the things which defines us as a denomination is that we have no dogma. Dogma is a principle or set of principles laid down by a denomination as incontrovertibly true which the denomination demands you adhere to, to be part of that church. There is no litmus test to joining this church. We are instead bound together by Jesus Christ. We are bound together as Christ’s body in this worship and at this altar. More than anything else the bread and wine, the body and blood bind us to God and each other.
Did you listen to the collect this morning? “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works;” This is All Saints’ mission.
This is my annual report. I want to begin with Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.”
Have you looked around? Our parish is filled greater gifts. It is filled with life and people who offer their gifts to the glory of God. The body of Christ which is All Saints’ is a wonderful Spirit filled place. I don’t thank as well as I should, so I want to thank today.
Without Cindy Perry, Neal Prater and Alicia Davis, so much of what we do as a parish would not get done. Each brings, not just their gifts, but God’s Spirit. This is your staff. Give thanks for them.
Give thanks for the choir and Cindy’s abilities to lead them. Our music is special. We are blessed with people committed to serving God and you with their gifts of music. Without them our worship would be less.
Give thanks for the Altar Guild. They are a group of people who get little fanfare and yet their careful work to care for the altar, linens, the vessels and vestments are a gift to you. You and I come in each week and our worship has been carefully prepared.
Give thanks for those who offer their talents as lector or intercessor; for those who acolyte or carry the Gospel Book; for chalice bearers; all who give of themselves to make this time of worship holy.
Give thanks for your leadership. The vestry you elect, and our treasurer, Morris are wonderful. They are committed to this place and to lead. They give of their time and talent and because they do, we continue to seek to become a more vibrant place where we not only worship, but we gather to build the body and reach out. They are the fiduciaries of the temporal gifts All Saints’ has. They take what you give, and they seek to use it to fulfill our mission.
Give thanks for those who care for this church building and its grounds. Harry, Henry and Howard do so much to keep this church running. Without their continuing care for these buildings and grounds, I’m not sure what we would be.
Give thanks for those who offer themselves in pastoral care. We have teams of people, when there is an emergency, reach out with food and visits.
Give thanks for those who prepare our receptions and plan for meals and coffee hour. For those who help to make things like Episcopal Tailgating and Film & Theology successful venues to share God’s love and let people know that they are welcome.
Give thanks for those who come and offer themselves by their presence. I’m not sure you understand how important that is. Showing up is an act of stewardship; it is an opportunity to witness your faith. One of the greatest witness’s to God’s glory is presence; whether it be at worship or at shag lessons. Thank you for being a witness to each other by being here.
Give thanks for all who pledge and all who give, for without you we could not do what we are called to do and be.
We have much to give thanks for. This is what our central work is about, giving thanks. Each week we come together to give Holy Thanksgiving to God. I give thanks for each of you because without you we would be less. So, offer your voice, your presence and your gifts to God’s glory. Look around to see what needs to be done and to see where you fit in and then boldly step out to do it.
The state of our parish is good, but we do face struggles and challenges. We had a deficit last year. It was something the vestry and I planned for. We knew it would happen and the deficit was less than we expected. Our budget is meant to reflect us trying to grow. If we don’t grow, over the next 5 or 10 years, we will begin to face the realities that we cannot sustain a fulltime priest or even a half time priest. If we do not grow, we will face the truth of less things being done, not only in our common life but in this community. If we do not grow, we will not be able to live out the call of God found in the collect, that “the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works;”
You have a role in the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ in this place. First, be present. Be a witness by committing to be here. Be a witness by pledging. What you give defines what we can do. Be a witness by finding a way to share your talents. Talk about All Saints’ with your friends. Find a way to welcome new people into our parish. We are one body with many members and many gifts. You, your very distinctive gifts, your voice have a place here. Without them we cannot begin to live out the mission God has placed before us.
All Saints Sunday
We are given this Sunday the Gospel of John as he tells us the story of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus had known Martha and Mary and Lazarus as friends. It is in their home we hear the story of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet while Martha bangs pots and pans angrily in the kitchen. It is here in their home town this story of resurrection occurs.
I am caught off guard each time I read this story by its emotion and grittiness. Jesus deals first with Mary and her pain. He is overwhelmed at the loss he sees in her and feels himself. You can hear it in the words; “see how he loved him”. As he moves to the grave, he encounters Martha and her no-nonsense proclamation that Lazarus is dead and removing the stone will only bring the smell of death with it; he has been dead for four days. But Jesus cried out to Lazarus and out from this tomb comes life, not death. Out of this tomb comes the man bound in a shroud of death. He is literally bound with perfumed pieces of cloth. The words Jesus proclaims at the end of this gospel are the words that always catch me. “Unbind him, and let him go”, free him from this shroud of death.
Jesus’ words at the tomb are the words of our faith. Unbind him, and let him go. I think that is our call as Christians. I think that is the call we have each day, for and to each other. It is the truth of baptism, this going down into the waters of chaos and death and being reborn as creatures of life. That is the action of baptism. We die to the old and are reborn, coming out of the water as new creatures of God. It is the truth of our call to the world, a world bound by the trappings so perfumed, made to be so lovely, that you don’t even realize they are about death, not life. We are bound by wealth. We are bound by expectation. We are bound by social norms. We will not and cannot be saved by how much we own, or by how young and pretty we are. We cannot and will not be saved by property, or money or indeed anything else and the sad part is that it is made to look so appealing and to smell so sweet that we cannot and do not see the truth of death that tempts. Life cannot come from the worldliness of things. As saints of God, as claimers of the good news, we are called to go out and unbind with God's love. And the bindings that this world puts on us are meant to hide the reality of death. But the reality of death cannot be hidden just as it couldn’t with Martha.
Someone once asked me what the devil looked like. I think they thought I would say he was red and scaly; he had horns and was ugly. The devil is not ugly. The devil is the tempter. He is beautiful and beguiling. That is what the world offers. It tempts us. But as Christians, Jesus offers something different.
As we walk through our church year we have wonderful days of proclamation. We celebrate Christmas and the Incarnation. We celebrate Easter and resurrection. We celebrate transfiguration. We celebrate wonderful saints who have shaped our faith. Of all the days we celebrate, All Saints is the one meant for us. The sainthood we celebrate today does not center on the saints we proclaim throughout the year. Today we celebrate our baptisms. We celebrate that we too are a part of this great loud chorus of witnesses. Today we remember the saints who have shaped and changed us, those people who have touched our lives; the saints who taught you in Sunday School, who lifted you up, who forgave you, who loved you. We remember the saints who, because of their presence in our lives, have unbound us to know the truth of God’s resurrection and life. All Saints is the day to remember the saints who have touched and shaped our faith. We remember the people whose names are real. I don’t know who you remember this day, but the saints that sit in this room and the saints that have touched our lives are what we are called to proclaim today.
I hope you will look around this room and remember the saints that have shaped you; the saints that join with us as we gather at God’s altar to proclaim “Holy, Holy, Holy” in the proclamation of God’s redeeming love; a love which destroys Death and brings life. You have been unbound by God's love given in the waters of baptism. You have been shaped. Your call is to go forth and do likewise. You are to go forth as a saint and unbind in the name of our Lord.
There’s no telling how many Passover Pilgrimages he had worked; no way of knowing how many times he had set himself up for maximum exposure. All Bartimaeus knew was that he wanted to be visible. He wanted to make sure that his begging was successful and that meant putting himself in just the right place so that the most people would have to encounter him on the Jericho / Jerusalem road. This may have been the best part of the year for him, more revenue that any other because thousands would come by as they made their way to the festival of Passover in Jerusalem.
I guess that I imagined, having told a Parable about this road, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus would probably stop and help. But for Jesus this was not just any trip. He was going to his death and the pilgrimage was one that many people took, so the road was crowded, not just with pilgrims but those like Bartimaeus who sought to prey on the hearts of those who were on their way to the temple. This small, all most inconspicuous story about a beggar, has many ways in which to understand and many lessons to be learned.
When I went to seminary, I knew that at some level I was wonderful. God called me and many people had affirmed that call; my parish, the Standing Committee of the Diocese, the Commission on Ministry and the Bishop had all agreed that God called me. I had grown up in the south but in a family who welcomed all and who taught me to value all people. One of the things that I found in seminary was how blind I was and still am. In seminary we began our first year with huge amounts of reading for every class, papers, test and social and spiritual obligations like chapel. We also had something called “tutorial”. This was sort of a one-on-one class. It required several hundred pages about one subject and then to write a paper, and present that paper to a tutor. The subject matter varied from session to session.
One of the tutorials was on liberation theology. The main author was James Cone. Liberation theology is about the oppressed and how God sees them. Coming from the south I wanted to make sure that my tutor understood how good and open I was. I wrote my paper and defended my self. Somewhere in the middle of reading this paper on how good and open I was, it occurred to me that maybe I was protesting too much, even for myself.
It all of a sudden occurred to me how blind I was. What came to me was the realization that I was prejudiced, not so much around issues of black or white, or male or female; my prejudice concerned beggars. On the street outside the seminary and throughout New York there were beggars. These people survived each day by getting money from those who had more. I realized that I had something they wanted; something they needed. I could give them some money, a dollar or two and they would be happy and I would feel pretty good about myself. But one thing had never occurred to me. It never crossed my mind that maybe they had something to offer to me. Their humanity, that which God created and loves never crossed my mind. How Blind?
Bartimaeus and the experience of the miracle that took place in his life can teach a great deal about how God works. There are several things that are truth about how God works in our lives. One truth is that Bartimaeus knew he was blind. Maybe that is as important as anything; to realize my blindness. No one can get well if they do not believe there is a problem. I want to suggest that each of you are blind, each of you, in your own way are blind to something. If healing, the healing that Jesus calls us to, is to take place, then the first thing you need to do is recognize your blindness. Where is it that you are not living out what God wants for you? Where in your relationship with God or with work or with family do you need God's healing touch? Each week we gather and each week we come to this thing called the confession. How many of you are ready when we come to that confession? Have you prepared in any way to go before God with what you have failed in?
Bartimaeus also placed himself in the right place. He was prepared not just by putting himself in the right place but also by crying out to the Lord. Jesus proclaims that Bartimaeus was healed because of his faith. Not some pie in the sky faith but a tangible faith; a faith of action. Bartimaeus was healed because he knew his need and he placed himself in Jesus' presence and he asked and in that moment he was healed.
Every person in this room needs healing. Maybe it is in your relationship with your spouse. Maybe it is in attitude, the way that the world affects you. Maybe it is in addiction or maybe physically. God's healing touch and God reconciling love is for you. “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Proper 22 2018
Sometimes I worry about those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ. Too often, we seem not to follow. Too often, in our zeal to be right we miss the point.
One of the joys since becoming the rector here has been to see and be part of a church whose goal is to welcome. It is our mission. We are uniquely placed within this diocese. Geographically, we are the center of the diocese. It allows us to make room for people to have a place to meet throughout the diocese. We do not charge fees. We do open our doors to any group who wants a place to meet. We could be no better suited for this than to be part of our mission; to welcome and make room.
I hope we are also seeking to welcome those within this community. I must tell you that I had hoped we could grow in numbers more quickly, but it does not change the reality that we, All Saints’ in Clinton, are also uniquely placed to welcome. There is no litmus test to come here; to be part. I pray that we will live that out. We may be the only church which does not require a litmus test of some kind to come and worship here, and I pray that we will find ways to make room for anyone who wants and finds themselves at our door. Not just black or white but a place where anyone can find sanctuary. Where anyone is welcome to come and worship God. There should be no obstacle to that truth; rich or poor; liberal or conservative, to live out our vocation that truth must be who we seek to be.
I was the assistant at a parish once who said they were welcoming but the truth was they were only welcoming to those who agreed with them theologically and liturgically and most importantly, they welcomed those with means. There was a Sunday in the summer like almost every other Sunday. There were new people, people traveling who would stop by. This particular Sunday, about 10 minutes before the service, a Rolls Royce convertible pulled up. The narthex was a buzz. People whispered, and it seemed like people were tripping over themselves to greet and welcome and seat this couple. I don’t even think they realized what they were doing.
I know that there were other people who came to visit who were never even welcomed; who never saw a smiling face.
Power or assumed power too often is where we look to find our hope. Too often we seek out power and miss the powerless.
The last part of the Gospel focuses on Jesus’ response to the least. People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Jesus, with that action, made a powerful statement about the disciples’ call and ours. It is often easy to tell who is powerful, or at least who believes they are powerful. He took the least and said to them and us unless you understand God’s truth as this child then you will never understand it. God’s kingdom belongs to those who receive God, as they do.
I once was the rector of a parish which had an altar with space underneath it. I was preaching a children’s sermon when one of the children decided to sit in that space. After the service, a person came to me and was upset about the child walking around the altar and sitting under it. I couldn’t understand.
I think this space is for those who represent the least. I think this space is for the children. I think this church is for the unexceptionable and the weak. It is for those who need to know the love of God. It is the space where God welcomes and where we should welcome with all that we are. I know we will not get it right, but I hope we will seem to do it well. I hope we will strive to make this place a sanctuary for those who need God.
Proper 15 2018
OK. I get it. I get their complaint against Jesus. This does not make sense. Jesus tells us that he is bread and that if we consume him, literally, then we will live forever. “and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.” I get why they question what Jesus is saying.
I spoke a little about this last week. Each week we come together for the Eucharist - central to what we do in the Holy Thanksgiving. We come together to offer to God, not just what is in the plate. We come to offer ourselves. If I could change any image it would be for you to think of that which comes forward, the plates and the bread and wine as yourselves. Money represents your life and labor. Bread and wine represent God’s creation which he has given to sustain us. I wish you could imagine that what is placed on that table is yourself. You are the gift which God desires and, in this moment, we are seeking for God to transform us, to change us.
I, as your priest have a role. The main liturgical role I have is to take what you offer - the money, the bread and the wine, you. I stand at the altar and lift and offer those gifts to God. And God transforms them. He changes them. They become holy gifts and then I give them back. I give the money to your vestry, who represent you, to sustain and do God’s work in this place and beyond. Being on vestry is a holy calling to become a steward representing you in caring for those gifts. And I give the changed bread and wine to you.
And what does God give back? He gives himself.
I have been asked over the years “what do we believe about communion?” What is it that we understand when we come forward. First, I say listen to the words. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi means ‘what we pray is what we believe’. Our corporate theology is found in the Book of Common Prayer. We do not believe what some Christians do that this meal is some fond remembrance of Jesus. We do not take communion just to remember the person and the moment. The words I say when you receive the bread are “The body of Christ”. That is what we believe. But we also do not believe in transubstantiation. Transubstantiation means the conversion of the substance of the Eucharistic elements into the body and blood of Christ at consecration, only the appearances of bread and wine still remaining. Literally the bread becomes human flesh. That is not what we believe. No, we believe that the bread and wine is changed, but the elements are not. It remains bread and wine. For us this is a mystery. Yes, you take Christ into you. Jesus is really present in this thanksgiving, this Eucharist.
We often get hung up on what we do here and miss what is important out there. I do not want you to think that this holy meal doesn’t have anything to do with the world you live in. I have known too many Christians who so separate this moment that it has no meaning; because what we do here should move with you into the world. Debates on children at the border who have been separated from their parents have everything to do with this moment we share. Keeping accountable those whom we elect has everything to do with this Eucharist. If you are not willing to bring your life - the joys and struggles and offer them to God then there is nothing for God to transform. If you are not transformed in this moment to live out God’s love when you leave this place, then it has no purpose. If you are not an agent for changing what is wrong, then what is wrong will never be changed. “Always take a side. Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented.” Elie Wiesel. This meal means you cannot be neutral.
As Christians, this meal is our center but what we have been and what we will be and can only have meaning if we offer it to God.
Proper 14 2018
Have you ever had the experience of someone presuming to know you? I have. I have had people presume to know me because I am a white Southern male. I have had people presume to know my theology because I am an Episcopal priest; and married; and 62 years old; and… So often people who think they know you really don’t know you at all. It could be that we have not let them, or they have not tried, but for whatever reason people place their expectations on others. I think that presumption is at the root of gossip. Presuming to know someone well enough is what it takes to hear gossip and that same presumption is what it takes to pass it on.
Maybe, one of the greatest gifts my father ever gave to me was that he never presumed to know me; or anybody I ever knew. Truly knowing someone takes work. It can’t be done over Twitter. It can’t be done on social media. Facebook friends are not really friends because being a friend and knowing someone requires time and attention. That was what my father gave me. We got to know each other on Saturday mornings fishing in a small v-hull boat in the Okefenokee swamp. He took time and made our friendship important. He worked on it. He asked me questions about what I believed; how I understood things.
I think as a husband I get into the most trouble when I presume to know what Alicia wants; when I answer the question for her … “Sure, she would enjoy that”, “Yes, she is free for dinner”.
This is the scene we have at the beginning of this Gospel. If it weren’t so sad it would be laughable. The people who heard Jesus speak presumed to know him. We know his parents. We know where he is from. We know his family. We know who he is. How can he say he came down from heaven? What more do they need? We saw him playing in the street and working in his dad’s shop.
They have judged Jesus and their hearts are closed to anything new and anything different. They presume to know Jesus and, in that act, they lose any opportunity to truly know him. They deny themselves the chance to know the God incarnate.
It is not something that was just “back then”. We must be very careful. In our zeal to be right, to be correct, we too can miss God and God moving in our lives. Evangelism is a term I don’t think we or most Christians understand. For too many, evangelism is trying to get someone to believe in a doctrine or an understanding that you believe in. And often it is done as a threat. If you don’t believe this way you will die. If you don’t get it right God will not love you.
True evangelism is much different. I think true evangelism; effective evangelism is living out your faith. It is living out God’s love by loving others in an outward and visible way. But at the heart of living out our faith is getting to know the other. At the heart of our faith is not presuming to know the other but instead listening to understand. God’s redeeming love was never a threat that someone must believe. God’s love proclaimed through Jesus Christ is love that acts in the midst of pain, or disease. It is acting to feed and restore the poor and hungry; it is always about going to where someone is with the truth of God’s love for them. It is always about listening to their pain and responding to that pain. It is about seeking to know someone else and not presuming to know who they are and what they need.
That is the heart of our mission. It is at the heart of welcoming without a litmus test.
Do you know Jesus as your friend and savior? That is not wording we use often. But maybe they are important for us. For us to be able to share God’s love through Jesus Christ we must engage with Christ. We must know him and not presume to know him. It is the question we should ask each day. It is the reason we come to this place each week. In this Eucharist we come forward and ask Jesus to come again into our life. We ask to encounter the risen Lord again. But this is not what it means to be Christian. This is where we begin. In this moment we seek to know Christ and we seek then to go forth, bearing Christ to the world. We seek to reach out with the love of God. We are seeking to do what Christ did day by day.
I can’t tell you how to do that. I cannot give you a few rules to make this happen. I will tell you do not presume. Do not think that somehow if you are here you have done what you need to do. Instead, step out of these doors seeking to live as God moves. Make this day a day where you are willing to wonder about how God loves.
There once was a little boy who wanted a bike for Christmas. He wanted it as badly as he had ever wanted anything. The bike filled his every waking moment. It was his first thought when he woke up; it was his last thought as he went to sleep. His dreams were about this bike. He made his decision to write Santa Claus and ask him, but his mother who was new to her Christian faith wanted this young boy to know that Christmas was more than Santa, so she told him this year to write his note to the baby Jesus. Whatever his mom thought would work was fine with him, so he went up to his room and sat at his desk and began to write. “Dear baby Jesus, I would like a bike for Christmas and if you bring me a bike I will mind my mother and be good for a month.” He stopped and realized that he would never be able to do that, so he tore up the paper and started his note again. “Dear baby Jesus, I want a bike for Christmas and if you bring me a bike I will not hit my sister for a week.” Again, he realized that he could not do that and in frustration he tore up his second letter.
Not quite knowing how to continue he looked around his room. On the bookshelf was a small statue of the Virgin Mary that his mother had given him. He went over and picked it up and brought it back to his desk. He then opened the door in his desk and placed the statue inside and gently closed the drawer.
He started his letter again, “Dear baby Jesus, if you ever want to see your mother again….”
I don’t think I am much different than that little boy. Too often my spiritual life dissolves into what's in it for me; too often my stewardship is about what I can get, not what I have been given nor what I have to give. Too often I want to make deals with God and too often I don’t trust. Too often I believe what the world tells me, that I am a self-made man and forget that it is God who made me and makes me. But I am not alone.
The rumblings from the desert were clear. They weren’t just frustrated with the leadership of Moses and Aaron, but they were frustrated with God. The Israelites were hungry, and they could not help but remember only what they wanted during their captivity in Egypt. They remembered there was food, but they did not remember their persecution and slavery. God intervened in their lives, led them out of slavery and into the desert and provided everything. God stepped in and offered them salvation, but they could not trust God, not with this. So, God again intervenes. He provides manna. Literally, Manna means “what is this”, so literally this is “wonder bread” from heaven. And God does an amazing thing with it. God says to them - do not collect more than you need for today. Do not take enough for tomorrow. You are going to have to trust me with your “daily bread” and trust that I will care for you and provide for you.
In last week’s Gospel we heard the miracle of abundance. A child brought 2 fish and 5 loaves to Jesus and within that gift of trust of everything he had, the crowd knew the abundance of God. In this week’s Gospel, the next day, after their free meal they looked for Jesus. “When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Not much has changed in the time between Moses and the Incarnation. The Israelites still miss the point. God will provide. Don’t seek the temporal but seek God. Your salvation and your hope lie in him. They clamor for some bread, the same bread, the same free meal their ancestors ate in the wilderness and Jesus’ response is clear. Do not set your hearts on the gifts, but on the giver. He reminds them that they are to seek with their hearts not with their stomachs.
Greed is a sin. Greed is the reason we have a need for government and taxes, because without them a few will control all and greed changes the people with the wealth into people who are poor, not monetarily but spiritually. With greed, there is never enough, and it changes us from a people who seek God, who know that it is God who provides into a people who believe that they live in poverty, that there is never enough for us to be thankful for. You can be the wealthiest person in the world and still believe you are poor and need more. Greed changes us into a people who cannot trust. That is the sin of the little boy who hoped for a bike.
I know that sin. I know the sin of not seeing and knowing the abundance that God provides. I find myself looking too often for the problem; reveling in the places of fear. It is almost as if I enjoy being the victim. I find it often easier to think of what I don't have or the places where the problems are; and I know that I am not alone. Maybe it is a part of our humanity, our fallen nature - this searching that the Israelites did - this want from the crowds that followed Jesus. Neither knew the abundance of God's salvation in front of them. They both reveled in what they did not have. We are lost/ we are alone / we are without / Lord when are you going to intervene / when are you going to send us relief / when are you going to sustain us? You have led me here where I cannot survive.
And yet in Christ and his Good News we hear the answer. In this Eucharist, we are to know and be filled with the bread of life. As long as we clamor for something more, something different, we will miss the truth. We come to this Eucharist, this thanksgiving, and we are to know the abundance of our salvation from slavery; the slavery which comes when things own us, and the abundance of God's hope. Sometimes that is the hardest thing for us to do - give thanks. I find it so easy to remind God of my problems and find it is just as easy to forget to give thanks for that which truly sustains me; to trust in God’s promise to continue to provide and sustain me.
Of course, you know the truth - that when we come to God in thanksgiving, everything changes.
Year B 2018
Last week my sermon was a little longer. In all my time preaching I have never had the lights go out during my sermon. Today’s sermon is shorter. Hopefully that will help.
“And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 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.”
On Palm Sunday we announce the Gospel differently than any other Sunday of the year. The Gospel is the story of the death of Jesus. There is no response, just these powerful words, “The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to ….” It is not something we often talk about - Jesus’ passion.
I grew up understanding God’s love but know that I never understood it to its fullest. Incarnation is something we will never understand. We can’t. We can proclaim it. We can use words to tell others what it is but it’s truth will always elude us. We can never hold the fullness of fully God and fully man. One will win. Either we will see Jesus as fully God or we will understand Jesus as fully man.
Growing up I got the God part. Or at least when I thought about Jesus I could understand that part. Jesus as God was easy. Understanding Jesus as God allowed me to place Jesus up there. It was the fully man part I struggled with. Maybe like most people, it was easier to keep God at a distance, up there and yet at the heart of the Gospels, Jesus is fully man. It is this fully man which allows Jesus to have compassion. Jesus had compassion for them. To put it another way, Jesus was with passion for them. Passion filled him for these people.
His call to teach and feed came from that passion. That is how Jesus responded to those in front of him, to those in need.
I think that is our call as well. More important than anything we do is our call as the body of Christ to teach and feed and not for ourselves. I want you to think of yourselves as viceroys; as ambassadors of God and God’s redemption. As viceroys of God we are called to see the needs around us. We are given the mission of proclamation. The people whom we are called to respond to are those who need it. Jesus teaches, and he feeds. That is our call.
I think to be able to teach and feed we begin with God. Our call is to know that we are loved. The world proclaims that you have worth because of your position, your work, what you earn, who your parents were or are, to whom you are married. But as Christians and as people of faith we begin knowing our worth because of our relationship with God. It is God’s love which gives us worth. You are his creation, his handiwork, his joy and his hope.
Paul uses these words, “Consider your own call… not many of you were wise by human standards, not many powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak to shame the strong.”
But for us to grow in God we also must be agents of truth. Communities of faith are strong because they trust each other enough to speak truth to each other. We must, if we are to be agents of God’s love, be able to speak to each other in honesty and in love. Without that we lose any ability of growing in God and of proclaiming to the world.
I think if we begin knowing God’s love and we can share with each other truth we can begin to do that which we are created to do. We can serve. If your relationship with God is about what happens in this place then it has no value. If you are saved by God’s grace so you can get into to heaven then you have missed the point.
In Clinton we face issues of poverty and race; we face hate. We face issues the world faces. We have in front of us opportunities to proclaim, by our action, God and God’s truth. In four weeks, our students arrive. We have the opportunity to proclaim God’s love as we welcome them, and we are in the unique place to welcome, not just because of where we are but who we are and how we understand God’s grace.
All of this is about what is out there. We are called to know God’s love and to be a community of faith so that we can do what God calls us to do. Our mission is out there; our mission to teach and feed.
Who is Jesus Christ and how do we proclaim him?
The Gospel for this week is new to Sunday mornings. We have not read nor preached on this Gospel on Sundays before. It is a very interesting Gospel in the way that it is formed. King Herod heard about Jesus and what Jesus was doing. He also heard that some believed Jesus must be John the Baptist. He assumed that John, the person that he beheaded must have been raised from the dead. And then the Gospel tells us about what he remembered; the story of John and how Herod came to kill him. When I first read this Gospel my first thoughts were “what can I possibly preach about”? Most of the Gospel is a flashback. It is a story of what happened.
In the lesson from Ephesians we hear Paul’s words to one of his favorite churches, the church in Ephesus. He really likes them and you can hear his love for them throughout this letter. It is a very different kind of letter than he wrote to Corinth or Rome. In this letter you can hear his love and passion for the people. What sets them apart? I believe that it is the power of Jesus Christ to transform God’s people. It is about the power of Christ and what that power does to those who confess him. The people in Ephesus got it. They understood that Jesus could not be summed up by one person’s experience. Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord could not be contained in the mind and experience of one. It was and is found in the body of Christ, you and me.
As I read these two lessons together, one question continued to come to mind. Who is Jesus and how do we proclaim him? Obviously the question is not new. Herod has the same question when he wonders if Jesus could be the raised John. It is the question of the ages and the question that continues to challenge us. It is the question that is at the center of denominations and at the center of even the work of our own General Convention this week in Anaheim. What does it mean to be his follower and what does it mean to proclaim him? Who is this Jesus? In Matthew’s gospel we hear clearly the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to us as disciples, “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). I believe the problem that we face in this age and probably the problem faced by Jesus’ followers throughout the ages is that each person sees, understands and knows Jesus in a little different way. The same Lord, the same Savior, but we see different facets of Jesus. The problem of course is that too often we believe that our understanding - our facet - how we see Jesus - is the only one or at least the correct one. We are right and therefore they are wrong. I know that is the truth because I have those feelings. I know that being a part of All Saints is better than anything else. We do it right. I know that being an Episcopalian is the best because if Jesus was around he would be one. I don’t think that kind of pride is a bad thing.
But we carry that understanding to a different place when our pride turns into a Gospel of rejection. It is wonderful to be proud of who you are and whose you are and how you understand God; but when that pride becomes the tool for rejection of others and their faith then it becomes sin. When Christians reject other Christians and condemn them then everything changes. When Christians reject other faiths, or races, or social classes; when Christians reject other humans, it is a sin.
I read a book once called “A Generous Orthodoxy” by Brian McLaren. In it he discusses the various ways that Christians express Jesus Christ. What I found as I read was that there are many different ways that I know the power of Jesus. I think I have a little evangelical in me. On some things I am a conservative Christian and others a liberal Christian. I am a Biblical Christian and an incarnational Christian and an unfinished Christian. I like the joy of our worship and Holy Eucharist celebrated on the beach with guitars. I believe that the divisions we face are divisions of our own making; Evangelicals vs. Mystic / Liberal vs. Conservative / Charismatic vs. Contemplative; are you a biblical or contemplative or green or incarnational or evangelical Christian? When there is great truth is in the very different gifts that we each bring to our common faith. One of the great joys of being here is the very different gifts that I witness in those seeking to proclaim the risen Lord in this place. Look at the strength of Christ’s body in this place. What we do when we engage in condemning those who are different is to stop the great commission; we stop the proclamation of the Risen Lord when we forget to see in each other the gifts of God’s power and redemption. We stop God’s Holy Spirit and the epiphanies that God can bring into our lives.
I was the rector of a church who had that division, Christian against Christian. We do it right and therefore you do it wrong. And even more because you do it wrong you must be destined for hell. Herod did not get it right. He did not know the power of God’s grace and love through God’s Son Jesus. Paul, in many of his letters to churches, fusses at those who divide the body of Christ into those who know Jesus and those who know Jesus differently. I believe the joy that Paul finds in the people of Ephesus is the joy he finds when those who know Jesus and proclaim Jesus begin to listen to each other; when they begin to know the fullness of Jesus Christ because they are willing to listen to someone who understands Jesus a little differently. In Paul’s letter to Ephesus, Paul changes the way he speaks in mid sentence. He begins with “you”. He ends with “our”. “ 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14this* is the pledge of our inheritance towards redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”
Our responsibility is to know Jesus; to know the Risen Lord in our lives and then proclaim him to a world who does not know him. But we are to do it together; each of us sharing the truth that we know and celebrating that truth in each other as we gather here today. May God continue to bless us and may we continue to know God’s revelation and presence in the bounty of his love present in our lives.