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.
Year B 2018
“He could do no mighty works there”
I grew up in a wonderful family. My parents worked hard but I never felt that they placed my sister or me second. I knew they loved each other and I knew they would take care of me. I don’t think I ever worried about their presence or that they would always be there to care for me.
I also knew my faith. We were Christians and after I was six years old we were Episcopalians. I was confirmed at age seven. I knew that meant certain things. It meant church was not a second thought. Sundays were days of obligation for us. Week by week our place was in church together.
I was an acolyte from the first time I could remember. I sang in the children’s choir. We gave, and I was expected to tithe; to give ten percent of my earnings to the church. Allowance did not come without responsibility. Allowance was something I earned by taking out the garbage and mowing the lawn.
I also knew God and from my earliest understanding who Jesus was. He died for me. But one thing I did not know was that there was a choice in my faith. I was a Christian. I did not know there were other options. I knew there were Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians. I knew there were Presbyterians and Baptist Christians. I also knew there were people who weren’t Christian. But I was raised as Christian and I really only knew Christians. It was not until I went to seminary that I realized I had choices; that even my faith was a choice. Did I want to be Jewish or some other religion?
The first time I chose Christianity was in seminary. I had always been Christian and always knew God’s love, but in seminary I realized I had a choice. I also realized how important making that choice was. Being able to choose is freedom. Being able to choose means I take on ownership. It means that my faith could move beyond my head — to my heart. Freedom is choice. Freedom is choosing to follow. Freedom means choosing to live under law. Freedom does not mean we will not be jailed or betrayed or sick or killed, but it does mean that we make a choice.
“ and he could do no mighty works there.” These few words stick out. Jesus was rejected, and it conflicts with my understanding of who Jesus is. He could not. Jesus Christ could not. Mark is very careful and clear when he tells this story. Jesus could not do any miracles. Those from Jesus’ home town had a choice that day. Their choice was to say no and when they did, God could not work in their lives.
This past week we celebrated our freedom as a nation. We gave thanks for all who have given of themselves so that we are free. But freedom is not something we can take for granted; freedom is not something that came and now all we must do is enjoy it. No, freedom is our work and our call; it is our choice. We must fight today for freedom. Like faith, our freedom as a nation is a choice everyday. We celebrate having a choice and being free to choose.
I am thankful for Jim’s presence over the last two weeks. I heard his sermon last week touched on the separation of families at the border. I started my sermon two weeks ago wondering what terror must happen to the human soul when a child is taken from a parent - for both the child and the parent. I don’t think I can even imagine what it must be like. I do believe it is part of our freedom which we must continue to fight for.
When I read this Gospel, I thought about the border. I thought about the freedoms we celebrate and how we must continue each day fighting for what we proclaim in our baptismal vows; that we will strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
Laurie Lane-Zucker wrote these words. They express so much about the power of our nation - our democracy - but they also express a truth about the power of faith when we choose it; when it becomes not just a head thing but a heart thing. "For a democracy to be truly alive, vital, and revolutionary, for it to rise beyond abstraction and mere symbolism, for it to become a throbbing head-and-heartfelt presence in our lives, we need to make it personal."
Now, listen to it again when I replace the word democracy with faith…”For faith to be truly alive, vital, and revolutionary, for it to rise beyond abstraction and mere symbolism, for it to become a throbbing head-and-heartfelt presence in our lives, we need to make it personal.”
I don’t know if I can remember the first time I felt guilt. I do remember the overwhelming feeling of guilt which comes. I remember many times when guilt and shame has overwhelmed me. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I remember the feeling of overwhelming guilt. I have told you before about my parents telling me not to throw the ball in the house; it was one of their favorite lines because I did not listen. This day they were gone from the house. I was home alone. I was watching TV and behind the TV was a brick wall. I found that I could play catch with myself if I threw a tennis ball against the wall. I was pretty good at it.
But sitting on the TV was my great grandmother’s oil lamp. This is what was used before they had electricity. My mother had inherited it after her grandmother died.
After throwing the ball hundreds of times I finally missed and knocked the globe off. Of course, it broke. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t hide it. I did it.
What I did was something like Adam and Eve. I left a note. My father remembers the note because my words were simple. “I broke grandmother’s lamp. I am sorry and am running away.” I went outside and hid in the bushes until my parents came home. I don’t remember a punishment but I do remember my guilt and being ashamed. It was overwhelming. I knew my sin.
I have been playing hide and seek with God, others and myself for 60 years. At times, because of my shame, I try to blame others or figure out how to get out of those feelings of guilt; excuse myself; rationalize, whatever it takes to fix the problem.
Guilt is a peculiar emotion. The guiltier I feel, the harder I am on others. It probably ought to work the other way but it does not. So, I keep returning to Baptism. It was the moment which changed everything for you and for me. It is the outward sign of cleansing, but it is more. It is the literal washing away of sin. The only thing I can’t be forgiven for is the refusal to accept God’s forgiveness.
The lessons we share this morning are quite wonderful. The Old Testament is a reminder that in creation, we all join in our humanity. Before the fall, before Adam and Eve’s sin there is a wonderful passage in which Adam and God walk together in the cool of the afternoon. I love that passage. God and Adam walking and sharing. But after the fall, when they knew their sin and they knew shame, when God came, they hid. We all share a need, like Adam and Eve, for forgiveness. We all need the same forgiveness because we have all eaten of the fruit.
The Gospel brings with it a simple understanding; God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. It brings the truth that we can know the healing power of God not just in the physical healing of disease, but in the healing of dis- ease, the power which sin should bring uneasiness to each of us.
So, this morning we are called to know something wonderful. We are called and reminded that we can know the healing power; the restoring power of God today. We do not have to wait. We can know it and we can share it. It requires that we know our sin and seek God’s healing. It requires that we know that healing power which comes in forgiveness and we share that with others who do not deserve it. Just as we don’t deserve it. That is the power of what this gathering, this Eucharist is about. It is about transformation; it is about restoration; it is about knowing health found only in God. It is about us being part of that truth when we are willing to forgive the unforgivable, just as God has forgiven us.
What Jesus brings to each of us is the healing and restoring power of the Good News and at the heart of the Good News is forgiveness. It was what the families of the victims of the shooting at Mother Emanuel in Charleston knew on the day after the shooting. That is at the heart of what we do together each week. That is the power of what this gathering is about. It is about being transformed by God’s grace. It is what we are called to be and do in life. You and I are called to be forgivers even if the person does not deserve it or even ask for it. It is what God did for you through Jesus Christ.
Evelyn Underhill wrote these words, “Some people are rather troubled about the space the healing of the sick takes in the Gospels … This is because we are apt to think of healing as getting rid of people’s normal pain, disease, and distress. But healing is really restoring to true normality, mending the breaches in our perfect humanity, and making us again what God intends us to be. It shows us his Life-giving Spirit; the Lord and Giver of Life is ever at work producing and restoring fullness of life.” She goes on to say, “It means bringing back to what it ought to be, giving strength to the weak, new purity to the tainted by the action of his charity.”
Jesus’ redemption of the world is complete and it rests in him. The task remains for us to share the Good News. We are called on to join with Christ through our baptism as reconcilers and healers. We are called to forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable. It is our work. It is our joy and by it the world will be changed.
Jesus faced the religious zealots of his day. In the Gospel this morning he faced those who were so focused on the law they missed the point of the law. Sitting here today it almost seems dumb and yet, as I talked last week about fundamentalism, that seems like the very definition of it. Jesus was being set up to heal on a Sabbath. He was being set up to be condemned for restoring someone’s life through healing. He and his disciples were being condemned for not following the law the way the Pharisees thought the law should be followed. But what had happened to the law was human. God’s law was not about restricting God’s work of love and healing. God’s law was about a relationship with God. It was about honoring God. And in the midst of trying to live out the law the Pharisees had made God’s law about themselves.
“Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”
Well that bothered me. You see, I want to be a good Christian. I want to follow the rules. I want to do what good Christians want to do. I want to learn about the Bible. I want to be kind to others and do Bible studies and read and say enough prayers to be a good Christian. But if those are really my hopes for my faith then I probably will get them and no more. If I do what good Christians do, I probably would be able to say “Lord, Lord”, but I would have no relationship with God - then what is the purpose?
In the church we have many rules. I have National and Diocesan constitutions and canons which I must follow. We have Parish bylaws. In liturgy there are directions and rubrics which I am required to follow. Though I have never experienced it, Bishops can give clergy Godly admonitions. It basically is a command. I can be prosecuted just like anyone else if I break the law. I can be charged criminally and civilly, but I also can be charged by the church. And yet the laws are there for me. The laws I have to follow are there to give me direction, and within those laws I have freedom. But the moment the laws become what is important then I lose my relationship with God. The moment the laws become the means to the end, then I know God is lost.
Alicia and I have been married for 32 years. There are laws in our marriage. There is a covenant with God and each other in our marriage but those rules and expectations only give us the boundaries. They do not represent the relationship that comes; the trust that comes in relationship. What I know in the relationships I share are not about laws. They are built on norms. They are built around trust. There are not enough laws to build and sustain a relationship. That is what Jesus faced in this Gospel. He faced those who would use the law to stop God moving. The law had become God for those who would condemn Jesus as he healed.
I want to be a good Christian. I want to learn and do. I want all the trappings of faith, but do I really want God to change me? Do I really want my life to be different because I know God and God knows me? Do I really want people I know to be changed because of my relationship with God? In our world, too often religion and faith are not connected. Too often it is easy to learn everything about religion and not have a relationship with God.
We have everything that we need here. You can study God’s word. You can come and hear God’s word. You can worship God in this place. Your priest is here all dressed up in fine robes and there is beautiful music and a gorgeous building. But if this is where your faith resides, then your house is built on sand. If you come here on Sundays and think you have done what you need to do to be a good Christian; if you think you have followed all the rules, then you have missed it. You see, all this, all that we are, the Eucharist we share, the music, this building, the programs offered are meant to point to one thing. All of this is meant to aim you at a relationship with God that changes who you are and propels you into the world to proclaim the risen Lord to those who do not know him. All of this is meant to enable you to act out your faith.
The Rev. Charles M. Davis, Jr. +