Monday, October 26, 2020

Year A Proper 25 2020 Committed to Love

 Year A Proper 25, 25 October 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Committed to Love”


Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Matthew 22:34-46

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,


‘The Lord said to my Lord,

“Sit at my right hand,

until I put your enemies under your feet”’?


If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.


In Year A we have this whole succession of “Gotcha Jesus” encounters, all in a row. And Jesus wins the debates every time. It is clear and obvious. Not like the recent debates where the pundits claim their guy did no matter what.


Jesus wants to be had, but he will not be “got.” Gotcha makes for winners and losers. Jesus comes to bring all into the fold. It is not a win/lose arrangement. The way Jesus plays the game (and asks us to do the same by the way) is for us to keep loving till everyone is in. Everyone is loved and loving.


When I worked at Shrine Mont as a Camp Director, one of the great games they taught us to play was blob tag. The Blob started as one person, and it was a defined area like a pavilion, and then the Blob would tag someone. The first person usually took a while because the Blob was slow. But once tagged, the person became part of the Blob, and every person thereafter became part of the Blob. Once the Blob stretched across the whole width of the space, the game was pretty much over. All were in. I thank God that Jesus is not like that. We are not like that. We have a choice in all of this.


The lawyer inquiring of Jesus here in our Matthew passage truly wants to know, I believe. Of all the 635 commands in the Hebrew Scriptures, which is the number one priority? Which one should we make sure we cover first?


“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” [Jesus] said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. 


Jesus is not saying anything new here. He is stating one of those 635 commandments. It even echoes this first of the ten commandments:

Exodus 20: 2-3 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;  you shall have no other gods before me.



God deserves our first and greatest allegiance. Jesus is quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. The greatest commandment had been wrestled over by the rabbis for centuries and this was a common response to this question. And Jesus goes on, with another common continuation.


And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


In the second, Jesus is quoting Leviticus 19:18. 

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.


We more often hear this conversation as the opening of the Good Samaritan parable in Luke 10, where the lawyer goes on to clarify who exactly is my neighbor. As humans, we so often tend to look for the loopholes and the exceptions we can exploit. God help us.


We had a good discussion this week as the Vestry met, on this idea of loving our neighbor. The Vestry starts each meeting with some Bible Study. I know it helps me to focus on what is most important before we get down to business. This week especially.


In our divided and troubled times, our love of neighbor has taken some serious blows. How do I love my blue neighbor, my red neighbor, my whatever neighbor? Jesus left off the first part of Leviticus 19:18 but it is implied, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge…” We will see how that turns out.


But I think like most hard things, we need to make a commitment to working through the hard things before they happen. We have wedding ceremonies for a reason, so that both families, all the friends, and the couple themselves gather to bear witness to the promises made. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…”


I remember all the hopeful anticipation when I made my vows. I remember being overwhelmed with love and hope. I also remember a few  times in the 28 years since that I am glad I had those vows as a reminder of the promises made, of the friends who stood with us, of our families gathered to support us and pray for those vows.


Commitments are easier kept if done in advance, thoughtfully, prayerfully, solemnly, and yet also joyfully. Friends, we cannot say we love God and then hate ANYONE. John spells it out better than I can in I John 4 (19-21):


19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.


In a world driving us hellbent towards the destruction of hate or vengeance, let us commit, YES, COMMIT, to love our neighbors, our brothers and sisters.


If they are not loving, love them through it. If they are not nice, love them through it. If they reject you and anything you do, LOVE THEM ANYWAY. 


For several years I worked and taught at an inner-city school which was faith-based. We openly talked about Love. We openly talked about God. Even so, the kids had a hard time trusting anybody, especially a big white guy called Reverend Rock. At first it was hard. The more and more I gave, the more cautious the kids were. I did not know what I was doing wrong. And often, some real ugliness would come out. Nasty, vile stuff. Thankfully it dawned on several of us that for the first time the kids felt safe enough to let some of that stuff go. They felt safe enough to put it down. When you burst a zit pus comes out. It is gross. It is nasty. It was painful and will be sore for a while, but it is the only way for it to get better. 


We had to love the kids through their stuff, their holding onto it in self-defense, their exploring if it was safe to let it go, their letting it go and the release could be nasty and ugly, and then continuing to love them through the future that could come. Some of the kids have gone on to graduate from great colleges, or are serving in the military in advanced fields, or are great parents now years later. 


Our commitment to love our neighbors is not, cannot be conditional, because the other word for the love we are trying to give is Grace. Grace is transformational, unconditional, and never-ending. It is the way God loves us. 


It is the way we commit to love. Will you commit today to love God with all you’ve got and all of who you are? Will you commit today to love your neighbor as they are and who they are, and give that same love to yourself? It is a big ask, but I truly believe that this is the only thing that can truly change the world. Amen

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Year A Proper 24 WED 2020 Every Miracle Brings...

 Year A Proper 24 WEDNESDAY, 21 October 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Every Miracle Brings...”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Luke 10:17-24


The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’


At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’


Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’


I read a line in a commentary the other day that has been stuck in my spiritual cud. I chew and chew and chew, trying to decide if I agree. I think I do. But I need to wrestle with things, that is how my faith works most days.


The line in the commentary was on Jesus doing a healing, and the line was, “With every miracle comes a message.” When God steps out of the laws of universe God wrote and plays by most of the time, God does so to not just do the miracle, but to teach us something that we would not have learned otherwise. Like I said, I think I believe this. I just had never heard it phrased that way and I want to be sure, so I unpack in spaces like this so I can wrestle with it externally instead of just internally. That is another way I know how serious I am, when something moves out of my brain and comes out my mouth.


Here we see Jesus talking about the exorcisms, these miracles that the 70 followers performed through the power of God. What does he say about these miracles? 

“See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

The miracle, what they did. The message, “You see these things that are so great? They are nothing compared to what you cannot see! Your names are written in the Book of Life!”

This was what happened when Jesus forgave the sins of the man lowered down, and then made him walk so that people knew he had authority over both the seen and the unseen. And in Jesus’ teaching, he repeatedly shows that the unseen is what has his attention. The Kingdom of Heaven! Store up for yourselves treasure in Heaven. These miracles? More important is that your names are written in Heaven.


Friends, I think that we are on the cusp of great things, momentous things, unbelievable things. I pray that they are wondrous and miraculous, even. I think the seasons we are still in the midst of will be let go of for what is to come. I pray my faith rings true. But even if I am soooooo wrong, I know that God is with us. Each and every one of us.


We need not ever fear. God is with us. Christ is sending us out, and will welcome us home. And the things we will see are but an amuse-bouche of what is to come. 


Every miracle brings a message. I cannot wait for both! Amen


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Year A Proper 23 WED 2020 Keep Courage Have Faith

 Year A Proper 23 WEDNESDAY, 14 October 2020

Video service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Keep Courage, Have Faith”

Collect: Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Acts 27:9-26

Since much time had been lost and sailing was now dangerous, because even the Fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, saying, ‘Sirs, I can see that the voyage will be with danger and much heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.’ But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. Since the harbour was not suitable for spending the winter, the majority was in favour of putting to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, where they could spend the winter. It was a harbour of Crete, facing south-west and north-west.


When a moderate south wind began to blow, they thought they could achieve their purpose; so they weighed anchor and began to sail past Crete, close to the shore. But soon a violent wind, called the northeaster, rushed down from Crete. Since the ship was caught and could not be turned with its head to the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. By running under the lee of a small island called Cauda we were scarcely able to get the ship’s boat under control. After hoisting it up they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they would run on the Syrtis, they lowered the sea-anchor and so were driven. We were being pounded by the storm so violently that on the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard, and on the third day with their own hands they threw the ship’s tackle overboard. When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.


Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we will have to run aground on some island.’


In my three years here I have preached on the feeding of the 5,000 a lot. And I have preached on the sending out of the disciples more than once as well. So today, I will speak on the New Testament reading.


We have two boat stories between Jonah and Acts, but in both, God’s will will be done.


What I want to focus on is the line that sparkled for me when I was praying about what to say today.  This is Paul to his shipmates: “So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God…” This is Paul, knowing he is on his way to the Emperor for a trial for his life. No light topic. A quick death to many would be preferable to potential prison time and execution, perhaps painful execution. But no, an angel told him to “Fear Not!” (Please notice how often that is the first words out of an angel’s mouth!) And Paul chooses to believe.


Now this is not a blind faith like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch and missing out on all the candy. Linus had faith, but no experience to back up the faith. Paul, on the other hand, had been beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, etc. repeatedly. He had a quiet confidence that this was not the end of the story. He had been promised. And his quiet assurance was something he was willing to share. Would things be bad? Yes. The ship would be lost. Would they be okay? Yes. All the people would be okay.


“So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God…” If there was ever a time for those words. I have friends who are claiming all kinds of evil will be crashing in on our heads soon. That may be. But I have a quiet assurance that I can only call Faith, that the one who started this journey will be faithful to complete it. And when I am done, my work is done. As naive as that may sound, God has seen me through a lot, and I have no reason to think that anything that could happen any time soon would cease the faith I have in God.


One time I almost drowned. I was trapped underwater after doing something stupid, and was gulping water. The more water I struggled, the more water I gulped. It was bad. And then I saw a clear choice. I could drown, or I could calm myself and do what needed to be done. The only other choice was death. I chose to use my brain, to do what I needed to do, and to have faith. And because of that, I am here to tell you that story. I was a mere seconds away from not being able to do so. Fear. Worry. They are not from God. Awe. Humiliation. There is a reason why the angels start with “Fear not.” When nothing is hidden we cannot hide from the fact that God is God and we are not. But God is for us, and if God is, what can be against us? Ever?


My guess, if anything, is that worry gets us nothing. Fear kills our minds, and our wits are required these days. If you worry, pray. If you fear, talk about it. List where God has been with you in the past, and know that that same God is with you now, and always. “So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God…” 


We cannot say it enough. In fact, say it with me:


“So keep up your courage, for I have faith in God…” Amen


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Year A Proper 23 2020 Singing In The Dawn

 Year A Proper 23, 11 October 2020

Video and Live Service of St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, Virginia

“Singing In The Dawn”


Collect: Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Matthew 22:1-14

Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.


“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”


Many are called, but few are chosen. We see a two-fold judgment happening in the story today. First, those that downplayed and did not come to the Feast. Those who deemed it beneath themselves to even care were the first rejected. Then, when the doors were open to any and all, the ones who did not put in any effort were not welcome either.


We either shout hurrah, or wince at this. And being a person attempting to be a good Anglican I want to find a middle way. 


Showing up is a start. We all are invited, and all are allowed in. But we need to put in something. Comb our hair at least. Put on the best that we have, no matter how meager. The most humble offering of a beggar is worth more than the nonchalant cast-off of the rich.


One of the great problems of the modern church is that people have not been given the understanding and expectation that we are trying daily to be more and more like Christ. Will any of us get there on this side of heaven. No! Of course not. Do we try? Yes! Of course we do. So often people think that coming to church is like getting your card swiped when you go to the Y or a gym. They scan your barcode and let you in. Now that that is done, does that count as going to the gym? No. That is getting in the door. Going to the gym is working out. The barcode is the beginning but not the intent. 


Being a Christian, by calling oneself one or being baptized into the faith is like getting that barcode scanned. So many in the pews have never tried to learn and grow and be like Christ. They never “made it to the gym” even though their barcode may get scanned every week. Showing up is good. Showing up is the start. But just showing up is not the intent or the reason that Jesus gave his life.


Jesus came to show us the Way. That is what the early Church was even called, The Way. Jesus came to show us how to love God in our everyday, walk-around, work-around lives. And he paid the price to show us how much we are loved so it would be clear that we could do everything that he promised. 


While showing up may be a start, that is not all. Being ready is requisite. We have to put some skin in the game. And where we start and who we are might determine what we bring to the show. In today’s reading we see one of the late invitees castigated. I want to read it again to be clear:

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”


This sounds so exclusionary, at first glance. Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained things that look like this as Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace. Cheap Grace would say, do not bother. It is free so I do not have to respect it. Costly Grace understands that it is free but that is so costly as to be priceless.


The one who showed up, not appreciating the gift that was set before them, did not go home and grab their best, whatever that was. They came, uncombed, unkempt, unappreciative. A taker, not one who was grateful. And the King, while gracious, calls his guests to be likewise. What does it say to the host to show up to their child’s wedding feast while wearing the clothes that you just cut the grass in on an August afternoon? What does it say about you? Not much either way.


We wouldn’t do it to a human, especially a King, why would anyone think it is acceptable to God?


I see this parable being about Grace, the nature of it, the cost of it, the price of it. When we live by Grace (that only comes from God through Christ), we live graciously. We say thank you. We give our best, not to pay for anything but rather to show how much we appreciate it.


This week I finished a book I have been working on for a while. Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas on William Wilbeforce, the member of Parliament who made it his life’s work to remove the stain of slavery from the British Empire. It is a great book, and Wilbeforce is a profound force for good in human history. He was a devout Christian who claimed nothing but his relationship with Christ to be worthy of honor. Though of no rank other than a being a Member of Parliament, he was buried in Westminster Abbey out of acclimation, devotion, and respect from royalty and the people alike. 


In the epilogue, the story was told of the emancipation of the island of Jamaica. They were free as of midnight July 31, 1834. But rather than celebrate, the formerly enslaved people climbed the mountains so they could look to the east early on that first day of August 1834. They stayed up all night praying and singing. As the glow stretched over the horizon, they waited in anticipation. The day they had all awaited had finally come. As they sang in the dawn, they showed that they understood the gift that they had been given. They had no fine robe to put on, but they had themselves. They had their song. They gave the best of what they had. They sang in the dawn and praised the God that made them. The same God that William Wilbeforce praised as he worked for the freedom of all God’s children. The same God that we worship today. 


Friends, all are welcome. Few understand the price that was paid for you to be free. As it sees on the Korean Conflict Memorial, “Freedom is not free.” Show up. Make an effort. And let us in each of our lives, sing in the dawn praising God. Amen

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Year A Proper 22 WED 2020 You Know The Answer

 Year A Proper 22 WEDNESDAY, 7 October 2020

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“You Know The Answer”


Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Luke 7:18-35

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’ Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

   who will prepare your way before you.” 

I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)

‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

   we wailed, and you did not weep.” 

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’


When John’s followers came to ask Jesus if he was “the One” we see someone who just needs to make sure. John was so devoted to his mission, he needed to erase all doubts and know.


And Jesus, being Jesus, does not give him a Yes or a No. He says this: 

‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

Jesus responds with three different prophecies from Isaiah (29:18-19, 35:5-6, 61:1). Jesus gives him a very direct answer, but in an indirect way.

In fact, Jesus does what I do quite often. When someone comes to me asking for advice I often go through all the options with them. And most of the time, they already know the answer to the question they are asking. They already know the path they should take.


John was in an unbelievably stressful situation. He had denounced wrong as wrong, and it could very well cost him his life. And soon it did, so graphically so we still have a phrase for it: “Bring me his head on a platter.” But in this in between time, between his arrest and his death, we see him wanting to know if he bet on the right horse.


Jesus goes through several characteristics of the “right horse” and implies that yes, he, Jesus, is the right horse. John knows the answer. John knows he was the One. Depending on the Gospel account, those at the baptism did or did not hear the voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism. In this Gospel, Luke, it is heard and a dove is seen and lands on Jesus. So in Luke’s version, John did hear and knew. He just needed a reminder.


Most of us are like that. We need a reminder. We know what we should do, but that is often the harder path, the one that takes more work, time, or money, or all three.


We just need to be reminded.


We are all in stressful times. We might be hurting. We might be angry. We might be wanting to strike back. We know that is not the right answer. We need to appeal to our better angels of our nature, as Abraham Lincoln called them.


Jesus did not belittle John in his seeking of affirmation. We see Jesus actually going on to praise him. He sees him as great a person as any that have lived.


Last night I had a touchingly deep conversation with one of my daughters. She and I were talking about faith, and she was cautious to share her thoughts because she had some doubts. I told her that at her age, she is okay to have doubts. (It is okay at any age, by the way.) That is what being a teenager is all about, trying things on for size and asking does this fit me or not. Not everything that your family hands down is something that you want to wear. I told her she can be honest. And she can make decisions for herself. I trust her because I know her soul. She will make the right call. Jesus knew his cousin John the same way. Jesus said to John, “You know the answer,” because in his soul Jesus knew that he did.


Friends, my prayer for all of us in these stressful days is that we embody the word “Remember.” Re- meaning again, -member meaning to be a part of. When we “remember” we re-connect and go back to the space and role that we are comfortable occupying. You know the answer, and it is okay to seek affirmation as you need it. Amen.


Monday, September 28, 2020

Year A Proper 21 2020 Overcoming the Quagmire

 Year A Proper 21, 27 September 2020

Video and Live Services from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Overcoming the Quagmire”


Collect: O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 2:1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death--

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.


Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Matthew 21:23-32

When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.


“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.


Good morning. Today we are worshiping outside, having our first Eucharist in over 6 months. I know that many of you, like me, have been eagerly wanting this day, waiting for this day. Thank you for your faithful patience.


We had to wait for a lot of reasons. People with medical authority with years of training and expertise advised us to give space and distance. They have authority from their knowledge and from their positions to name things advisable or not. Even today, we are taking multiple precautions to be as safe as we can possibly be. We would never want gathering in God’s name to be life threatening.


The Governor used his authority to limit the numbers of people who could gather inside or out, and he came by his authority through our form of government. An election by the people for him to serve us as Governor for the years of his term. We pray for Governor Northam and his wife as they both have tested positive for COVID-19, and we wish them well. 


Our Bishop, along with bishops all over the country, are using the best knowledge and information available to allow gatherings (or not) depending on the risks involved in different areas. I know that I am very thankful that we have a bishop who has access to much more information and is privy to authorities that I can tap. I know she has been on conference calls with Dr. Fauci and other experts making the wisest decisions for us as she can. We pray for Bishop Goff as well, who is not only dealing with all the stresses she (and all of us) have these days, but she is also finishing treatment for her breast cancer. God be with her and her continued recovery!


We live in an age where authority is in question. Forces are at work undermining authority around our globe. It makes it easier to not question anything as acceptable if we trust nothing. Or as the old adage goes: “If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.”


Friends, we are having to go to these extraordinary measures these days for the simple fact that a novel, never-before-seen virus emerged in late 2019. Around the world close to 1 million people have died. In our country we mourn over 200,000 of those. Those numbers are authoritative. They dictate the actions we take because of Jesus’ mandate to care for the least of these. 


And questioning authority, and trying to strip it from others is nothing new. That is what our Gospel reading is all about today. The religious leaders were trying to make him look bad. Trying, notice that. He saw what they were up to, and turned the tables on them. They were seeking opportunity, Jesus was seeking Truth. 


In context, this is just after Jesus cleansed the Temple courtyard in the final week of his life, upturning the money changers’ tables and wreaking havoc to the way things had [wrongly] been done for years and years. This went against the authority of the religious leaders, a semi-autonomy within the walls of the Temple compound, a space away from the dreaded Romans. 


So when they are asking Jesus about his authority, it is more than just here at this moment with his teaching. They have a laundry list of him upsetting their apple cart. 


And even in their confrontation, they cannot see how Jesus shows they are powerless and self-oriented. They cannot even give a straight answer to a simple question. They bring politics into it. If I say this, then these people are upset. If I say the opposite, then others are upset. So the religious leaders took the non-committal middle. So Jesus used his authority to not respond. But then he does, in his own way.


We get into his story that really is his response. Some will not say what they should, but then do the right thing. Some will say the right thing, and then not do it. Which is better? Then one who actually does the right instead of just lip service. Of course!


Now the religious leaders knew what he was speaking about, and so did everyone else. They could see the Emperor had on no clothes. (From the fairy tale, not the Roman Emperor.) They could see that he was saying the worst of the worst, the tax collectors and the prostitutes were more righteous than the religious leaders were.


Friends, especially in the coming weeks, we will be confronted on every side as to who and what to believe. I would urge all of us, myself included, to slow, reframe, and step above the quagmire that we seem to be careening toward.


I have a lot of authority, especially here at St. James the Less, and when I am out and about representing this parish. My authority comes from the Bishop. It does not come from the vestments I wear, or the collar I wrap around my neck. The Bishop’s authority, and mine from her, come from Christ Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.


That is what Paul was urging the Church in Philippi to do. To look to Jesus, and conform to him. That is where I, that is where you, will gain authority. Paul even quoted one of the earliest hymns recorded in the church, I hear him singing it to them as the scribe wrote it out. I hear them singing it out loud as his letter is read to them. Friends, when the days get dark and you do not know where to turn, sing. This hymn or another, whatever draws your mind to Christ. I know it would sound better in the Greek, but think on this, and have faith…

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Je-sus

who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploi-ted,

but emptied him-self,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human like-ness.

And being found in human fo-rm,

he humbled himself

and became obedient to the point of death--

even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him

and gave him the name

that is above every name,

so that at the name of Je-sus

every knee should bend,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should con-fess

that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father. A-men

Let your light shine in the Darkness, and it will not be overcome! Amen.