Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Year B Proper 20 WED 2021 Give Till It Hurts

 Year B Proper 20 WEDNESDAY, 22 September 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Give Till It Hurts”

Collect: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 5:38-48

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

This is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus. What makes it hard is the lack of conversion in our lives. We hold tight to things, in fear, that we will be “taken advantage of” or “being robbed,” or at least I feel that way at times.

Many of you know that we just got back from a long weekend in New York City, and repeatedly we were approached for change or a few dollars. I have always been warned to be wary of helping folks as there may be others watching to see where you have your money on you. I have been to cathedrals in Europe where they put up signs, “Be Wary of Pickpockets.” What they found was pickpocketing went up because people checked their wallets, even just patting a pocket, and tipped off what and where to target.

Kasey gets cold calls a few times a day for people looking for rent, bills paid, and the like. We could never give all the money that is requested. Some of the stories are heartbreaking. Most are fiction. Some weeks we get a few calls from different people with the same story, almost to the word. Bus fare to Petersburg. Sick mother in Roanoke. The specific details make it memorable. The repetition makes it obviously fraud.

When Jesus spoke to the first disciples, this type of shocking, even scandalous, generosity was a wake-up call to the ancient world. Christians converted the Roman Empire through selfless acts of Grace and profound gifts of devotion to God and neighbor. People moving into leper colonies to serve and eventually die of leprosy. To stand in the Colosseum and be slaughtered while praying for the forgiveness of the persecutors, just like Christ did on the Cross, made an impact on a cynical Empire. These folks obviously had something most Romans did not.

When the Church became the Institution that it is, we lost so much. I say this as I stand here in an air-conditioned, clean, beautiful space, being broadcast on the internet to be seen on computers and phones that cost hundreds of dollars. So often we get distracted by our opulence, confusing it with needs instead of luxuries.

I think we should live in tension. Intentional tension. That of bringing glory to God through beauty and magnificense, and following Christ by showing sacrificial love of the poor and needy. This is hard, and the discernment of what to do when is where the rub is. Jesus instructs us also in Matthew 10:16: “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

We were in Washington Square Park, the very photogenic Victory Arch looming over us, when we were approached by a man who did not ask for money, but asked if I was a Jesus loving Christian. I said yes. He was unmasked, and getting into my personal space made it more awkward. I quickly masked. So I cut to the chase and have him move on, I said to him that I was not giving him any money before he could ask. It was easy to see the ploy he was playing. He then started screaming at me that I was no [expletive] Christian, and that I did not love [expletive] Jesus. When I read the passage of Jesus' words hit home this morning. It made me think of that interaction. How do I give? How do I show Christ’s love, even to, especially to someone yelling at me and cursing me to my face about what I hold most dear?

Pray for me, to help me find an answer to that. Especially before my next encounter. We often do not know how to respond until we hear the words coming out of our mouth. God bless him. God help him. Hurting people hurt people, and he must be scarred and hurting. God help us all live into Jesus’ words, with sincerity and truth. Amen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Year B Proper 19 WED 2021 Follow Closely "Holy Cross Day"

 Year B Proper 19 WEDNESDAY, 15 September 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Follow Closely” remembering Holy Cross Day

Collect: O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 4:18-25

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-- for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

I always bring my questions to this passage.

Did they already know about Jesus? This differs from Mark so they may have.

Would I have dropped everything like they did? When I followed Christ it was as a child being reared in a Christian home, with Sunday School teachers, Youth Ministers, Choir Directors, and Pastors all modeling for me what I was saying yes to, as much as I could know.

But Jesus walks in on them at work, and calls them to abandon their trade, their family, their everything, and bet it all on an unknown. He must have been very persuasive, or highly attractive in his offer compared to what they knew and were beholden to maintain.

Jesus is very clear in his teaching later, you are expected to take up your cross and follow him. That is a one-way trip. Yesterday was Holy Cross Day, and it has been something followers of Jesus take on for a long time. Do we really know what it means?

(From Laurie Gudim, Holy Cross Day, 14 September 2021,

Holy Cross Day began clear back in 335 at the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built over the site in Israel upon which Saint Helena, Constantine’s mother, discovered what she believed to be the True Cross.  It is the celebration of the cross itself as the instrument of salvation.

For the first Christians, the cross was not a symbol with which one would want to be associated.  The Romans used crucifixion commonly as a means of punishing wrongdoing and insurrection, and crosses, with their gristly burdens of dead and decaying bodies, were frequently to be seen at the edges of towns.  It must have been terrifying to imagine winding up on a cross.  Why would a person want to use one as an emblem?

These days we Christians use the cross almost universally to signify who we are.  Crosses are all over the place – on the fronts of churches, on stationary, tattooed onto people’s arms or legs, worn as jewelry.  Priests make the sign of the cross when they bless people.  Our foreheads are marked with the cross when we are baptized or anointed.

We probably would not wear a hangman’s noose or an electric chair necklace, but we put on a cross easily and readily. When I put on my vestments, kissing my stole is part of the dressing. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.” The stole is my yoke. Thanks be to God. I kiss my cross. “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14

We need to always be careful of who we follow. We all can think of cautionary tales, Hitler, Spartacus, or like Jim Jones in San Francisco and down in Guayana, etc. Who we follow determines so many of the choices we will make, right or wrong.

I hope today you will choose to follow closely the one who calls us all. There is no greater choice in this world, or the world to come. Amen.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Year B Proper 19 2021 You Remind Me of Someone

 Year B Proper 19, 12 September 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“You Remind Me of Someone”

Collect: O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wisdom 7:26–8:1

For wisdom is a reflection of eternal light,

a spotless mirror of the working of God,

and an image of his goodness.

Although she is but one, she can do all things,

and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;

in every generation she passes into holy souls

and makes them friends of God, and prophets;

for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.

She is more beautiful than the sun,

and excels every constellation of the stars.

Compared with the light she is found to be superior,

for it is succeeded by the night,

but against wisdom evil does not prevail.

She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other,

and she orders all things well.

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Jesus asks about what people are saying. He was getting a gauge on the rumors floating. He was doing amazing, remarkable things. And he wanted to know where people were compartmentalizing what was taking place.

“Who do people say that I am?” 

And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 

He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” 

Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

There are times and places when we resemble someone. People can project onto us all sorts of things that are untrue or unreal. Somewhere deep down, a trigger gets pulled and then who knows what will come out? 

Jesus got John the Baptizer who had just been martyred for the Truth. Jesus got Elijah, mighty prophet of God, who had worked miracles and called down justice from the heavens. Some people were claiming him a prophet in his own right.  But then Peter has the strength of character to name the thing that they all were thinking. The thing that they had been awaiting for generation upon generation. “You are the Messiah.” God’s Anointed and Chosen One. He said it, and once it was out there it cannot be taken back.

Jesus ordered silence, Mark’s repeated Messianic Secret. The Gospel of Mark never makes clear why Jesus maintains this. Most think so that the process can be complete and he is not sidetracked by hero worship. He was not aiming for a political Israel, his eyes were set and his end goal was establishing the Kingdom of God, here on earth and continuing forever in Heaven.

Jesus was who he was. Though people were projecting onto him, soon they would see him for who he was.

The world would be a better place if people saw us for who we are. That is a rare and unique thing. 

I do not know why, but often people say to me that I look like someone. I never know who they are speaking of, but I try to be polite. I sometimes, not so much recently but ten years ago, was accused of looking like Garrison Keillor, host of A Prairie Home Companion. The storyteller in me appreciates that. If someone is not so nice, they say I look like Peter Griffin on the cartoon Family Guy. I can honestly say that I have never seen an episode, but from the advertisements I have seen it is not the most flattering.

But I love how I can see the similarities in folks who have been together a long, long time. Their mannerisms, if not their looks, begin to repeat. They cannot help it. As Bernard of Clairvaux put it, “What we love we shall grow to resemble.”

As we grow into our fullness in Christ, we reflect the Son, and the Son reflects the Father. The transitive axiom of equality fits here. A=B, and B=C, therefore A=C.

We are called to have faith like a child, but also to come to maturity in Christ. We say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom. And a healthy respect and sense of awe is a great starting point, but God does not wish for sniveling sycophants. That is what the Monty Python boys mocked whenever they portrayed people of faith. 

God wants us to come to our faith like responsible participants, co-creators in the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community of all God’s Children. And the only way we can do that is to begin the long and arduous process of becoming like God, full of Wisdom and Truth.

From our reading in Wisdom today: 

Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light,

a spotless mirror of the working of God,

and an image of his goodness.

...God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. 

[From our Wisdom reading]

Friends, knowing who we are and what we choose to be like is a lifelong task. Thomas Merton, whose wonderful prayer I recently shared, says this: “Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God.”

We move into the depths of our spirituality, yes, so we can be like Jesus. Loving, giving, Christlike. Yes! But think on this. Jesus was who he was, and maybe that is the call of God on each and every one of us.  Perhaps the greatest way we can say thank you to God is to be who God made us to be. Exactly that. No more. No less. He wants me to be who he made me to be. He wants you to be who he made you to be. As they said in the 1970s, “God don’t make no junk.”

You are not the prototype, the beta version, or the mock-up. You are the only you who ever was and ever will be. God made you for a purpose and a role. You hold the key to a lock that only you can open. It may be revelatory to your family, this town, this country, or the world. But finding who we are in Christ is the Wisdom we seek. It is the chance of a lifetime, it is the final piece of the puzzle.

When we settle the into that idea, it appears selfish and egocentric from the outside. But you are the best gift that you can give to the world. You were made to be here, now, and only you can play that role. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7) This play we find ourselves in is incomplete without you playing your part.

For us to follow wisdom, it is that long obedience in the same direction. 

in every generation [Wisdom] passes into holy souls

and makes them friends of God, and prophets;

for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.

“What we love we shall grow to resemble.” ― Bernard of Clairvaux

I agree. When need to love God so much, that people thank God and think of God when they see us. We need to love Christ so much, that people think we are a little Christ, for that is what the word Christian means. We need to love ourself enough to put away the distractions and impediments of being our best, our truest selves. May each and every one of us praise God with our lives, and when people think of us may they say, “They were One of Kind.”

With all the remembrances for the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks, I am sure you have heard the many stories, some familiar, some not. I will always remember that day. I was serving at a church just a mile and change from the Pentagon as the Associate Pastor, and I was also an interim head of our daycare for 200 children. The anxiety of that day is still palpable, and thankfully we lost no parents.

I heard a story that still resonates, that of Welles Crowther, also known as the Man in the Red Bandana in the South Tower. I listened to an interview with his mother, and she talked about how he had always told her that he was going to be a part of something big, he just knew it. And when the day arrived, he was ready.

From his Wikipedia article:

On September 11, 2001, nine minutes after United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower between floors 77 and 85 at 9:03 a.m., Crowther called his mother from his office at 9:12 a.m., leaving the message, "Mom, this is Welles. I wanted you to know that I'm OK." Crowther made his way to the 78th-floor sky lobby, where he encountered a group of survivors, including a badly burned Ling Young, who worked on the 86th floor in New York's Department of Taxation and Finance. Young had been one of about 200 people waiting at a bank of elevators to evacuate when the plane hit the tower and was one of the few survivors. Crowther, carrying a young woman on his back, directed them to the one working stairway. The survivors followed him 17 floors down, where he dropped off the woman he was carrying before heading back upstairs to assist others. By the time he returned to the 78th floor, he had a bandana around his nose and mouth to protect him from smoke and haze. He found another group of survivors, which included AON Corp. employee Judy Wein, who worked on the 103rd floor and was in pain from a broken arm, cracked ribs and a punctured lung. According to Wein, Crowther assisted in putting out fires and administering first aid. He then announced to that group, "Everyone who can stand, stand now. If you can help others, do so." He directed this group downstairs as well. As occupants of the Tower headed for the street, Crowther returned up the stairs to help others. He was last seen doing so with members of the FDNY before the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m.

Crowther's body was found in March 2002, alongside several firefighters and emergency workers bunched in a suspected command post in the South Tower lobby. The New York medical examiner's office said his body was found intact, with no signs of burns, and that authorities speculated that he was aiding the rescue effort as a civilian usher when the building collapsed. Crowther's family was unaware of the details of his activities between his last phone call to his mother and his death, until Allison Crowther read Judy Wein's firsthand account in The New York Times of being saved by a man in a red bandana, which led to Allison meeting with the people Welles had saved, including Wein and Young. They confirmed from photographs the identity of the man who aided them. A mostly completed New York City Firefighter application was discovered in his home after his death. According to survivor accounts, Crowther saved as many as 18 people following the attacks.

That red bandana had been a gift to Welles by his father on his 6th birthday. It was his hallmark all his short life. That symbol lives on to this day with a foundation named in his honor. He knew who he was. He knew what he wanted to do and who he wanted to be. He was working in high level finance, but deep down he knew who he was. He gave that gift back to the world. With the exception of more time, what parent could ask for more? What better way to bring glory to God? 

The world would be a better place if people saw us for who we are. But first, we find who we are in God and who God made us to be, and give back that gift each and every chance we get. That is true Wisdom.  

Wisdom is a reflection of eternal light,

a spotless mirror of the working of God,

and an image of his goodness.

...God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. 


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Year B Proper 18 WED 2021 Anxious

 Year B Proper 18 WEDNESDAY, 8 September 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA


Collect: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Philippians 2:1-11

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.

Matthew 2:1-12

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: 'And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage." When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

There are a lot of things that tie our faith to the Wisdom traditions and faiths from around the world. How do we live a good life? How do we interact and care for our neighbor? How do we face the certainty of death?

There are some things, however, that make our faith unique. The idea of the Incarnation is one of the key things. Now Hinduism has repeated visions of avatars, gods taking the form of creature or human, but the idea that God became human and lived a whole and full life is peculiar and singular.

Chew on this today. St. Paul writes: 

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.” 

Yesterday was the first day of school, and there were many an anxious night before the first day. Students, teachers, anyone kicking things off. I remember well. Beginnings are fragile times. But think of what it must have been like for the Almighty to become fragile and weak, dependent on another for all of his needs. Think of teething. Think of skinning his knees. Think of all the pains, and heartaches, and simple joys of existence. He was not outside looking in. He was in-carnate. In-the-flesh. He was participatory in the Human Dilemma.

In Quantum Mechanics, there is a thing called the Observer Effect. By viewing we affect the results. But stepping into the experiment, we affect it even more. Jesus changed everything, simply by being in the game. The Incarnation is the miracle of our faith.

Think on this. If Jesus is truly who we say him to be, is the Resurrection a surprise? Could God not be God? Could the Source of Life stay dead? The person who was Jesus we say was fully human and fully divine.

        Fully Human     Fully Divine           Fully Both

I talked about the feeling of vulnerability in the incarnation, the birth of Emmanuel, God-with-Us. But think on Jesus in the Garden. Think of the Almighty pondering death. Choosing it. Praying for another way, but knowing that it had to be. 

And that my friends is how he can love us so much as we are. His Grace is insurmountable. It always wins because he walked a mile in our shoes. He tried on a human suit, from beginning to its inevitable end, and lived a life like each and every one of us.

The uniqueness of our faith is that God “being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-...

When you worry and doubt, when you are up in the middle of the night toiling over anxious prayers, know this. God knows. God has been there. God understands. And God loves you just as you are.

In that I find my hope. Amen.

Year B Proper 18 2021 Choice

 Year B Proper 18, 5 September 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA


Collect: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

James 2:1-10, 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Mark 7:24-37

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

[Note: This sermon was written, recorded, and titled before the Texas decision in the Supreme Court las week. This sermon is not about abortion in any way, and it is not mentioned in the sermon at all. The title happened to be chosen at a particularly charged moment. Thanks, R+]

In the Book of Common Prayer it may seem that we are stuck saying the same things over and over again. Before I spent much time in the Episcopal Church I was trapped by that limited mindset as well. As I dug into it, I started to see its breadth and depth. There are so many options at times it can make your head spin. But that, for most, is showing how the sausage gets made.

Tucked away in the Rite I Eucharist service, there are some options right after I break the host wafer at the height of the Ministry of the Table. Turn to page 337 if you want to follow along...

I snap the host wafer, and give a dramatic pause, and then I say:

Alleluia. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;

Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.

Then comes a beautiful hymn of worship and praise:

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,

have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,

have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,

grant us thy peace.

And then I have an option to say this prayer:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful

Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold

and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather

up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord

whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore,

gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ,

and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him,

and he in us. Amen.

This is a prayer I almost always say, even though it is optional. I find it beautiful and meaningful. But once I was visiting with a family whose elderly parent was in their final days. During some small talk an adult son said to me he pretty much had stopped going to church, and singled out this prayer as why. He said it made him feel bad. He could even remember the phrase that burnt his biscuits: “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.” He went on asking why he would go to a place that tried to make him feel worse.

I never know where someone is coming from, and taken out of context it does sound pretty bad. I appreciated his honesty. I then asked, “Do you know the context that that comes from?” He didn’t. It comes from today’s Gospel reading, by the way, this troublesome reading about the Syrophoenician woman. Most do not want to touch it with a ten foot pole. It doesn't settle well with us and our modern sensibilities. The woman mentions that at least the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall off the table. And because of her faith, and probably her tenacity, Jesus immediately heals her daughter.

Because of that, we continue in the prayer:

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

We are reminded, especially at Christ’s table, that he loves and welcomes us, no matter how we see ourselves. Jesus sees us as he made us. Tov vetov, Good, Very Good, as God declared in the first chapter of Genesis.

I have a choice to use that prayer, or not, as the Celebrant at the Eucharist. The rubrics, those funny little italicized instructions show that it is optional.

We all have like to have options most of the time, like I do whether I use that prayer and its seemingly offensive language or not. While the adult son used his options to stop going to church, I use mine to include it. We both use our options for the same reason. BECAUSE IT MAKES US FEEL BETTER. Pretty ironic. Not sure if that adult son ever went back to church, but at least he thanked me for explaining and giving context to that phrase that so rankled him. 

Jesus had options. I cannot explain to everyone’s pleasure why he treated the Syrophoenician woman the way he did. I have my ideas, and I shared most of them when I preached on this passage the last time we were at this place in the Lectionary cycle three years ago. But what we do have is how it ended and what he did. That is much more important than the words that seem rude or racist to our ears. Jesus had choices. You have choices. How we choose to treat one another is one of the most important choices we can make.

Our passage in James speaks to that, how we treat the wealthy or the poor in our midst. Is one more deserving of our attention? Jesus modeled for us welcoming in the ones neglected or scorned. Zaccheus up the tree, the woman caught in adultery, the Gerasene demoniac, the woman at the well.

Look at his disciples, no one, NO ONE, would have picked them to form a team to change the world. They stank of fish and ill-gotten gains. They repeatedly made silly if not dumb choices. But Jesus saw their heart more than the externals. He saw who they could be, who they were made to be, and loved them. He chose them; he chooses us. Thanks be to God.

Having options are important. The movie Groundhog Day is an exploration of what happens when one is trapped, both good and bad. The main character is doomed to repeat the same day, over and over, 10,000 times, or 10,000 lifetimes of times, no one is truly clear on that. He has lived it so many times he knows what every person in the town is going to do every minute of the day. And within that knowledge he is finally given the option to do what he should have, could have, done in the first place. He was finally free to do who he was born to be and be his Best Self.

Now the cosmic forces may not align to give you 10,000 days to learn that lesson, but you are given today. And today you will be given choices. Choices to get right or get left. Choices that lift you up or push you down. Choices to love your neighbor as yourself. Choices that show your faith through your works.

Doing right is an act of faith, a brave one at times. Choosing to care for the least of these is not a popular option. We have class, race, and gender differences that entrap us more than help. Breaking down those barriers, seeing with God’s eyes, picking to love and serve shows the world what you believe better than any statement or sermon you will ever give. Like the apocryphal statement of St. Francis says: “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary use words.”

Tomorrow is the cultural ending of summer, a day set aside to remember and celebrate those who labor, an uplifting of the working class that makes our lives better. It began at the end of the Industrial Revolution where so many were required to work 12 hour days 7 days a week to survive. Children as young as 5 years old were working menial labor jobs. My great-grandmother worked in the mills of Burlington in her childhood. We as a society made choices to move us to a better way of living for more of us. Weekends became a thing. Imagine that, a day off! Make that two! 8 hour days. Leisure time became a thing. Then a middle class became a thing. All steps came into place that made life better for those who too often were forgotten. Remember that tomorrow when you do whatever it is you will do.

As you take the time tomorrow to do what you will choose to do, think on those who do not have the liberty of choice. They do not have the luxury of options. They are trapped living the same day over and over and over again.

As we make choices, as we exercise our volition, our voices, our votes, we make the world more like heaven or not. The choice is ours.

There are a lot of competing things for our attention and our assent. As followers of Christ, this must be the deciding factor for us. It is as simple as preference. And there is in the Scriptures a repeated and obvious preference of God for those who are the last to be picked. Theologians call this “God’s preferential option for the poor.” Widows, orphans, foreigners, strangers, least of these, many labels, all one condition that demands our support, encouragement, and alleviation of their suffering.

Friends, may we be like Christ, and strive to make earth like it is in heaven. We do this through our choices. Soon you will be hearing appeals for those who are in our charge fleeing from the crisis in Afghanistan. May we all find ways that we can live up to the biblical ideal of caring for the stranger and the orphan in our midst. When you are given the choice, what will you do? We live it out in our Labor, in our service. Faith, without works, is dead, as our James reading reminded us. May we live out what we believe in the name of Christ and to the glory of God. Amen.