Proper 25 2019
This week we mailed to each of you your stewardship cards. I hope you will consider them prayerfully and fill them in. You can mail them or bring them to the church and place them in the offering plate. Over the last few weeks the lessons have been about stewardship. Maybe every Sunday is about stewardship because stewardship is how you offer to God your life. This Sunday is no different. The parable offered by Jesus this morning sets two extremes together; the pharisee and the tax collector. They were about far apart as two people could be. We have been hard on pharisees just as Jesus was. I don’t know what your image is when you hear the word pharisee. Mine is a very bad person, but the people that Jesus was talking to would not have seen it that way. Pharisees were people of great character. They loved the Lord God. They worked and gave for the kingdom of God. The minimum in Jesus’ day was ten percent; they started with that and then they gave more. They prayed all during the day. The worked and hung around the temple. They had good manners. They wore good clothes and followed the rules. If you met one you would have been impressed. You would want them to teach Sunday school. You would want them to lead whatever group you were in. They loved God. They worked hard. They would have been very impressive.
On the other side was the tax collector. He was about as low as a human could go. He was a Jew stealing from Jews, stealing God’s resources and giving them to the Romans; taking what was Holy and giving to the unholy and unclean. He was taking from his own people not just what they owed, but more for himself and then turning that clean Godly gift over to the unclean Romans. He was a carpetbagger. Everyone knew that his sin was so bad that he was condemned, and that God did not and could not love him. He was lost. His sin was unforgivable, even by God. Even he knew that. And Jesus stands them side by side and points to the tax collector and says that he is justified; God is listening to him and God will answer his prayer. Everyone who heard this would have been shocked. Jesus was saying that the unacceptable to the people was acceptable to God and that the acceptable to the people, was unacceptable to God.
What is it that separates these two men? Because, whatever it is, I want what the tax collector had. I want what the sinner had. I want what Jesus lifts as faith; that spiritual insight that changes one into God’s beloved.
The gift clearly held by the tax collector and absent from the pharisee was humility. The gift was in knowing his own sin and then asking to be forgiven. The difference between the pharisee and the tax collector is their ability to recognize their sin. The pharisee came to God proud and confident. He knew how good he was, and he came to prayer to remind God how good he was and that he deserved everything he got and would get. He really didn’t need God. Not really! He came to God to thank God that he was so much better than the sinner over there.
The tax collector needed God. The tax collector knew his sin and sought God out because he knew that he could never know God’s kingdom without God’s mercy.
For almost three years you have allowed me to be priest here, to be pastor and teacher. I have shared with you the joys and pain of life. I care about you and I care about this place; this wonderful Church. I care about the grace of God proclaimed here; this Eucharist shared; this communion offered. I care about you and all God does through you. I hope and pray that the love of Jesus that has been given for and to you means something. I hope it means so much that not only do you want to know it but share it through the ministry of this place. I care that you support God’s ministry through your pledge to All Saints’ and I pray that pledge represents you. I pray that you will give sacrificially.
The question I wonder is; does your pledge have any meaning in your life? Does your pledge represent at all your willingness to trust God? Or is it a second thought? Don’t come to God as a pharisee. Don’t come haughtily. Do not come if all you have to offer is look how good I am, but instead come as the tax collector. Come here knowing the transforming grace of Jesus Christ that has touched your life and that you are being changed day by day. I pray you are transformed by God’s love and that whatever you give, whatever you pledge, it is a response to what you have been given; whatever you give comes because you have a relationship with God through Christ which is transforming.
Don't come to this altar without the humility of the sinner but do come filled with joy. You see, stewardship is not about what's in your head and it's not about what's in your wallet. Stewardship is about a response to something you don’t deserve - God’s complete love for you.
Year C 2019
October 20, 2019
The parable begins with a description of a judge. He did not fear God. He had no respect for people. He was powerful and he thought about himself first. He was the center of the world and so this widow could offer him nothing and he was in the business of being a judge for himself; what could he get out of this deal? There was no decision made that was not to his advantage as a judge or as a power broker in the community. He was not a judge to provide justice; to do what is right; to act as a fiduciary for those who came to his court. He was self-serving.
Now the widow brought her case before this unscrupulous judge. She had a great case. She was in the right. She was owed something. She deserved justice but could not offer the judge anything; no special backroom deal which would give him money or power. She had no political clout. She had no ability to pay him off. All she had was truth.
But she did have one tool. She was irritating. She was unrelenting. Her persistence was an irritation and to such a degree that the judge takes her case so that he can get rid of her. And so, Jesus’ point is clear. If the judge who cares for no one except himself will respond to the widow, then how is GOD, who loves you, going to respond?
What an incendiary concept for Jesus to put forward. We must persist and not lose hope even when hope seems far away. God’s justice will be established.
I think this Gospel is about persistence and the need for us to be disciplined. How do we pray and what is the purpose of prayer? There was once a member of my parish named Barbara who was mentally handicapped. Every time I hear this story, I think about her. One of her gifts was persistence. Once she decided something that was the way it would be. For her birthday one year she decided to have a big party. She told no one at the home she lived so they were not prepared for what Barbara had planned. She took the church directory and called everyone in the parish and invited them to come and to bring a cake for her birthday. One hundred people and 20 cakes ended up at the party.
Barbara also gave to us her desire to pray and to pray unceasingly. Whenever she came to church on a weekday, she wanted to go into the church and pray with me. Most of the time I thought I was too busy. There were things more important I had to attend to. I found out that no matter what was going on or what other, seemingly, important things I thought I had to do, I would soon be in the church praying beside Barbara. Vestry meeting? No, I was going to be with Barbara. Sermon time, staff meeting, bible study, people waiting to see me - it did not matter. She was persistent and she was much like the widow in the parable today. No was not an option. I think she was God’s gift to remind me of the worldliness that at times is so attractive and seems to take over my life and she was a reminder of Jesus’ words in this parable.
I have decided that Barbara probably lived out Paul’s understanding that life is to be prayer. It was and is what we are called to as God’s people; to be in intimate communication with our Creator.
The widow comes with a desire to have justice and it is not a whim. This is her life. She comes to a judge and asks the judge to consider her case. She is not asking for a new car or a better job. She is asking the judge to make a wrong right again. She is asking for what hers is rightfully. She is not asking for more than what she should get. She is asking for justice. But the judge doesn’t care about justice. The judge cares about himself and what he can get out of the deal.
But her persistence is key, and persistence is key to prayer. Be unrelenting. Be like the widow. Be like Barbara. I have been asked ‘can I pray for this or that’? Yes. Pray about anything and everything on your mind. Pray for things which affect you. Pray for things which you ask God to do for others. Pray for your enemies. Pray and give thanks for the bounty God has given to you. Pray for the little things and the big things. You will see prayer is the beginning.
I have known many people in my life whose prayers seemed to do more than my prayers ever did. Maybe they were just more in tune with God’s will. Maybe they understood that prayer is not us trying to change God’s mind, but us seeking to know God’s will and then finding ways to live out that will so that God’s Kingdom, not ours, reigns. We pray as hard as we can and then add, thy will be done at the end. If your prayer is for those who do not have enough food, then pray fervently to God that they will be fed and then go and feed. The work of prayer is our work and we ask, in and through prayer, to be changed into vessels of grace which change the world.
Year C 2019
October 13, 2019
“There but for the grace of God go I”. I have heard those words for most of my life. They are part of southern culture. These words mean ‘thank God we do not have to go through this aliment or this problem in life’. I know it is not meant this way but implicit in those words, if you listen carefully to them, is the belief that we can judge the love of God through the outward and visible gifts we receive. I know that is not what is often meant, but the words are clear. We can know the truth of God’s love for us if we do not have to face adversity. When we face adversity God’s grace is not there. God’s grace, God’s love has kept me from having those problems. It was a relationship with a man in Conyers, GA which changed how I understand these words.
Doug was one of the saints I have had the pleasure to get to know as priest. He graduated from high school and was accepted into college on an athletic scholarship. On his way to share that news, on a rain slick highway, Doug’s car spun off the road and he went backwards into a telephone pole. He was thrown through the back window of his car. His neck was broken, and he became a quadriplegic. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair and lived in a nursing home. Doug died when he was 45.
I think I was always amazed at the man. Every Friday I would take communion to share with him. He would be ready for the visit. He had the nurses come and clean him, comb his hair and he had his Prayer Book and Bible in the desk attached to his chair. He shared with me and I shared with him and I was always amazed at the depth of grace he knew.
Doug was the president of the patient’s organization. He visited every patient in the nursing home to make sure that his or her rights were being advocated for. He was a vocal presence for the patients he served. He took the worst life could deal and from it he found a way to serve. I am stilled amazed at his spirit and God’s Spirit in him. I learned so much from Doug.
One week a parishioner went with me to visit. On the way out he said, “there but for the grace of God go I’. I knew what he meant but suddenly, I was overwhelmed. Doug was an outward and visible sign of God’s grace. It abounded in him. I don’t think the man who went with me understood his words. I know he did not mean to imply what the words said.
The wonderful story of the healing of the ten lepers by Jesus has many parts which could be talked about. I want to talk about two; wholeness and gratitude; which are bound together for us if we want to understand what Doug did about God.
Jesus encounters ten lepers. The ten kept their distance as Jewish law required. They must have heard about Jesus and knew who he was. They probably heard about his power to heal and so they chanted to him, again required by law, “Unclean, Unclean” so that everyone would know not to come near them. They cried out to Jesus to have mercy. Jesus’ response to them is to go and show themselves to the priest at the temple which they did, and they were made clean. They were healed; again, acceptable to God. But one turns back and began to praise God and threw himself at Jesus’ feet.
Now comes the interesting part. Jesus says to this man ‘your faith has made you well’. There is a clear distinction between the physical healing which all received and being made well. Healing means more than getting fixed physically. Healing is more than physical perfection. It means more than getting the problems of sickness, disease, broken bodies … taken care of. The healing we seek is wellness and wholeness. We are a nation in need of wellness. We are a church in need of wellness. We are a people in need of wellness. Being healed of every disease and physical problem is not the same as being well in God’s Spirit.
Helen Keller wrote these words in response to walking through the woods with a friend, who at the end of the walk said she had seen nothing note-worthy.
“I wonder how it is possible to walk for an hour through the woods and see nothing of note. I who cannot see find hundreds of things; the delicate symmetry of a leaf, the smooth skin of the silver birch, the rough, shaggy bark of a pine. I who am blind can give one hint to those who can see: use your eyes as if tomorrow you will be stricken blind. Hear the music of voices, the songs of the birds, the mighty strains of an orchestra as if you would be stricken deaf tomorrow. Touch each object as if your tactile sense would fail. Smell the perfume of flowers, taste with relish each morsel, as if tomorrow you could never taste or smell again. Make the most of every sense. Glory in all the facets and pleasures and beauty which the world reveals to you”.
There is a common theme between Helen Keller, Doug and the Samaritan who returned to praise Jesus. Each found a way to give thanks. In the midst of what could have been darkness, they found light and they were made well. If we spend our time clamoring for money, or healing or power or whatever… if your life is always about what you don’t have, then we will never know the truth and joy intended by God for us. It was in this thanksgiving that each found that they were made well.
The sense of security derived from material wealth is without peer in its capacity to claim the focus of our lives. Wealth demands from us. It demands a commitment to manage it, to see it grow. It demands our attention and our passion. It demands our time and energy.
The opposite is also true. If you don't have wealth, if you are poor or have overwhelming debt, it can be debilitating. We will crave wealth and things, or be jealous of those who have them. So, whether you have wealth or you are without it, it can consume who you are and it can take over your life.
It is no wonder that Jesus taught so much about a person’s relationship with money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables in scripture are concerned with how we handle money and earthly possessions. One of every ten verses in the gospels deals directly with the subject of earthly treasure. Considering the bible offers five hundred verses on prayer, less than five hundred on faith and more than 2000 on money and possessions, it should be clear that the power of money and its capacity to usurp God in life is huge and a stumbling block to spiritual growth. Jesus said more about money than heaven or hell. Why? Because money, unlike any other thing, has the ability to take us away from what truly matters - our relationship with God and our relationship with each other.
This breakdown in relationship comes from greed. Greed is an amazing sin. Probably, greed has had more to do with the downfall of most cultures. Greed can destroy capitalism. With greed, there is never enough. The more you have, the more you worry about not having enough. I told you last year as a people, we in the United States of America have no idea what enough means, and it changes us into a people who cannot trust each other and cannot trust God. Our greed distorts relationships. With greed, the relationship with God becomes not trust but questions. Why God? I want more. I need more and you are not giving it to me.
Humans have a unique ability to sin with anything. We can take what God gives and distort it and when we do, there is never enough. When we distort and abuse God’s creation then there is not an abundance, but instead, too little and we need more. It's never enough!
In the parable that we have today we hear of the rich fool. Jesus, in this morning’s Gospel, confronts the conventional wisdom of his time and ours. We are told, in many ways by our culture, that personal peace issues directly from prosperity and the accumulation of things. The more we have the more we are blessed, and the more God must love us. This accumulation for many is the goal of life.
As Christians, we are the most materialistic religion on earth. Not because things are what we are after, but because we take seriously the physical world, knowing it was created by God and we are called to be stewards of these gifts. As people of faith we live cautiously on the edge that separates the things, the mammon that God has created and given, and putting God first in our lives.
The parable we have from this morning’s gospel ends with these words, "So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." Rich is a wonderful word. I have the feeling that when I say rich most people think of financial wealth. But when I thought about the word rich, I realize that rich is a word I use to describe things that brings fullness to my life. Rich describes many things; rich relationships, rich colors, rich smells, rich flavors, rich experiences, rich textures. Where do I find richness in my life? I find richness in my relationship with Alicia. I find richness in my relationships with my children. I find richness in being your priest. I find richness in this worship; in this holy time with God. The richness I seek is in relationship; a relationship with God that is transforming; a richness that changes me and changes those around me.
In this moment, we have a great opportunity as we gather around God's altar. An opportunity that the rich fool could not know. We have the opportunity to offer ourselves and experience the truth of God's love poured out. We have the opportunity to be transformed into a rich people - rich in love - rich in forgiveness - and rich in the joy, the joy that comes in and through God's love for us. I pray we don't miss this moment to know and give thanks for our richness.
Year C 2019
Alleluia, Christ is Risen;
The Lord is Risen indeed, Alleluia.
I didn’t get “goose bumps” this morning. At least not like I did on Easter when we proclaimed that truth and heard the Alleluia’s for the first time after Lent. What has changed? I have. We have. The world has! So, the lessons for this morning are written for me and for us. They are a reminder that our faith is more than a moment by moment feeling. They are given to remind us of how we are to live out the truth of Easter, not just out of our own desires, but instead out of the love of God that we are called to know, proclaim and live out.
We hear in Acts about the continuing work of God as Peter raises Tabitha. It is a story of hope in the midst of death in this new fledgling church. I love the details about the clothes Dorcus, which was her Greek name, had made. It is a story of God’s action and redeeming love.
The passage from Revelation is about the power of God in heaven. It addresses the truth of God working. “They will hunger no more, and thirst no more… for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd”.
John’s gospel reminds us that Jesus is the shepherd. We will know his voice and follow, and no one will be able to separate us.
These lessons all reflect the truth of this moment in the season of Easter. They reflect the collect we used to begin this service. They reflect the truth of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
Over the past week, we have experienced in all the chaos that a messy world brings, it is sometimes is hard to see and know and proclaim this Easter acclamation. In a world filled with pain and death. Attacks on people as they worship have stood out over the last year, but we also continue to see shootings at schools. There is hate for those who are different either in color, gender, age or faith or, you can fill in the blank. Where is the Good Shepherd; where are the Alleluia’s? I have also been overwhelmed realizing so much of this hate is done in the name of Christ; so much of the terrorism we face is done by those acting out what they believe is a Christian agenda.
John, throughout his Gospel, never allows the love proclaimed on Easter morning, the Grace given, the power of resurrection, indeed the truth of Jesus Christ, to dissolve into sentiment or emotion. Its expression is always revealed in commitment. In other words, love; the love we proclaim on Easter and throughout this season, is not sitting still and enjoying some good feeling, nor is it just words. No, that love is action, movement and growth. True love requires something of you; it is not just something that you receive. True love means we must stand up to hate. True love is about relationship and about God’s call to live in that relationship. True love is about obedience and about the freedom that we find when we choose God. True love is the response to God's call; to hearing his voice. This resurrection thing that requires from us that we recognize and follow it - it also calls us to be willing to stand up to the hate proclaimed even from Christians.
Freedom is an amazing thing. It is a gift in our relationship with God. Freedom, true freedom is a choice, not just to be able to do whatever we desire. Freedom, true freedom is the willing choice to join in God’s communion. True freedom is found when we choose to live, not by our own desires but instead God’s. In Baptism, you give away freedom and take on responsibility. The paradox is that the only way you can be truly free is to commit yourselves to Jesus Christ and to make his kingdom real no matter what hate we may face; what hate those around us face because of who they are. When we face hate, in the name of Christ, we know God’s kingdom and we know the freedom found in the power of resurrection.
So how do we sustain this faith, especially in this world filled with chaos? Well, God has given us each other and His Spirit. It is hard, after four weeks, to hear Alleluia in the same way we heard it on Easter Day. But through this time together gathered around this table and knowing His presence, we can come from disobedience to obedience; we can know the perfect freedom found in relationship with God. We can listen for a voice; a still small voice; the voice of a shepherd; a voice that we know and follow.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen. The Lord has risen indeed. Alleluia.
Year C 2019
As we enter into Lent, I want you to look around. Things have changed. This liturgy is different. There is a great attempt to make this time different. The color is purple. The Paschal candle is gone. Behind the altar, we will not use flowers but instead a Lenten array of drift wood and thorns. The silver is put up. We have moved to Rite I. The hymns and anthems will reflect the season. I am amazed at how well Cindy thinks about the scripture as she chooses hymns to reflect those words. Listen to the words of the hymns you sing. It is all an attempt to help you; help us to know this Holy season and the reason we have it as part of our liturgical year.
I asked my brother-in-law once what his definition of vocation was? His answer, after much thought was, “It’s a school you go to instead of college”. I think that vocation is what we are called to be about during this wonderful and terrible season of Lent. Lent is the season in which we are called to refocus on vocation. Every Christian is called to vocation and that means that we are all, through our Baptismal covenant, able to hear God’s call to us and respond; knowing our sinfulness and our mortality. God is calling you to return to him. How are you going to respond?
There are a few people in my life that have done much to let me know the truth about what it means to be Christian; what it means to live out a life of faith. They are the saints that have touched me and led and reminded me of God’s call and the need to answer that call. They include my parents, Aunt Willie; my priest in college who is now the retired Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia and many others. They all have one thing in common; they took the time to let me know the truth about God’s saving grace and told me that God loved me, just as I am. They also challenged me. They pressed me beyond the places which were comfortable. They called me to step out and risk and it was in risking that I found my vocation. Lent, at its heart, is about vocation. It is about how you respond to God’s call and how that call is lived out or not lived out. Lent is about realizing how short you have come in fulfilling God’s hope in you. Lent is the season where we are called to know the truth; we have not listened to God’s call. We have fallen short of God’s hope for us. We have not living out the vocation which God calls each of us to.
I think sometimes Lent becomes more about the motions and less about motives. It is easy to ask the question, how little do we have to do, to make Lent, Lent? How little do I have to give up; how little do I have to let this season and more specifically God intrude on and in my life? Lent is not about the stuff that you give up. Lent is not about how good you do your prayers, or how much time you spend saying your prayers or how much you study the Bible. Lent is not about giving up chocolate, or beer or whatever you think will do you some good. Lent is about a relationship with God and about how we share that relationship with the world around us. Whatever you take on or give up, it is about knowing that God is and must be first. It is about getting rid of the clutter of things and beginning to know Vocare. It is about taking the clutter of the world and finding again your relationship with God. It is about knowing your humanity and the reality of your own death and beginning to again put your trust in the only thing that will last.
Those words on Ash Wednesday are startling. They are intrusive. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Those words are intended to intrude upon you and challenge you to wake up; they are a call to stop walking through life and instead engage life; engage God; engage this community of faith. They are the words which call us to go deeper and wonder, question. They are the words which remind each of us of our mortality.
The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany
Year C AS
Loving the Unlovable
We come to the end of our season after the Epiphany. Next week will be the last The Sunday after the Epiphany and then we enter Lent. Some years ago, bracelets were popular which had WWJD on them. I think they were to help people wonder about Jesus as they made decisions. What would Jesus do? How are we to live out our faith in the world? Well! We are given clearly our role, our task in response to the world in the lessons given on this day.
Last Sunday’s lessons and this Sunday’s lessons are challenging; they are counter cultural. They are a challenge to everything we know. They invite us to a different place and a different way to not just think, but to act. They challenge us to know the truth of God’s love in us; a love that is not only meant to change and shape us, but meant to change and shape everything we do, everything we touch. They also sound crazy.
I don’t know much about the stand your ground law. I do know it was a law intended to allow us to confront those who would want to injure or kill us. It comes from a visceral place, a place I understand. Do not mess with the people I love; don’t mess with the innocents around me. I understand the passion that comes when we protect that which we love but in this Gospel, we hear that if someone strikes us, then we are not only to not strike them back, but we are to let them hit us again.
This Gospels tells us that we are to give someone, not just when they sue us, but to give them more than they demand. We are challenged in this Gospel to go farther than we are demanded, and we are called to give more. We are being called to love in a very different way.
Surely Jesus does not really mean this. Surely we are not called to be as crazy as this sounds.
I love children’s books. Some of the stories bring great truth. During Lent each year I read “The Velveteen Rabbit”. The transforming nature of the story seems to tug at me as I examine my own sin and God’s redemption. There is something powerful in being reminded that being real is not about the stuff I own and have that makes me who I am. No, who I am is found in relationship. Each year during Advent I read “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”. The simple story reminds me of the truth of God’s startling entry into the world; the truth of incarnation. This Gospel reminds of the children’s stories about loving that which is unlovable. The beauty and the beast or the princess and the frog. We are called to love. We are called to see God’s creation in the least and the most unlovable.
Beauty is often defined for us. Our world tells us what is beautiful and worthwhile. Our world also tells us what we should reject and dislike. But Jesus in this Gospel changes everything. He reminds us that as people who intend to love as God loves means that we do not and cannot set up our own boundaries for that love.
Yes, we are to love. Yes, we are to love as God loves. We are to see in our world that which the world rejects and love where the rest of the world cannot and will not. We cannot make up our own mind about what is worthy of love but instead must love as God loves. The love that we are called to is a verb. It is found in how act.
This God love, this father love doesn’t seem right nor fair. When someone strikes out at us, we love. When we are attacked, we love. So where is God’s light for us; where is God’s Epiphany for us in these words? The epiphany for me takes place when I stop thinking that I am worthy of the love God has bestowed on me. The Epiphany for me begins when I realize that God’s love for me takes place when I do good and holy things and it happens in the midst of my sin. In the big scheme I am the unlovable one who God loves so much that he sent his son for me. I am the beast that beauty has changed. I am the frog that has been kissed. This Gospel is not just about what you are called to be and know and do; it is also about the truth of God’s love for you a truth he asks you to live out.
Henri Nowen wrote, “For Jesus, there are no countries to be conquered, no ideologies to be imposed, no people to be dominated. There are only children, women and men to be loved”.
Oscar Wilde used these words, “Nobody’s worthy to be loved. The fact that God loves people shows that in the divine order of thing … eternal love is to be given to what is eternally unworthy.”
God has loved us with an unimaginable love, an extravagant love even though we didn’t earn it and we can’t claim to deserve it. The same God who loves us with such fantastic love asks us also to love those who we and the world don’t find worthy. He asks of us that we also love extravagantly.
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.