Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Year B Easter 6 WED 2021 Worry Not

 Year B Easter 6 WEDNESDAY, 12 May 2021

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

"Worry Not"

A Reading (Lesson) from Luke 12:22-31

He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you-- you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.



Who here worries?


If you are not raising your hand, you're telling a fib, and you shouldn’t fib even in virtual church.


Whenever we have an angel or God show up in the Bible, most of the time they start with the phrase, “Fear Not.” In fact, I have read that it is used in the Bible 365 times, one for every day of the year. Now, I have not done the homework to check that out, but it is a good quote. We’ll go with it.


Some say, to err is human. But I think it is even more honest to think, that to worry is human. We worry because we have these wonderful brains. And our brains think in stories. We are the storytelling creature. And when we worry it is our brains telling us a story about what could go wrong, a negative story.


But here are some statements about Worry, and let’s explore them.


“Worry is the Misuse of Imagination.”


Now think about it. If worry is the negative story we tell ourselves, what if we did the opposite? And every time we started to tell ourselves what could go wrong, instead we told ourselves what could go right. We imagine the positive. We visualize things going well. And then we can ask ourselves, what can I do to make things go well? And then we can do those things, and that positive visualization can come true!


So when we do not do the things that we need to do to make the good things happen, worry comes back…


“Worry is the emotional response to not being prepared.” 


So how do we not have that feeling? We need to… BE PREPARED! That’s right. We need to do what needs to be done.


A story is told about a college professor who was trying to teach the lesson of getting the big things done, then minor things, then filling in the other stuff that life throws us. So he got a big glass jar, a pail of rocks, a pail of sand, and a pail of water. And he asked, “Do you think this will all fit in the glass jar?” Not one student did. And he said, “Not if we just pour it all in.” So he carefully placed in all the rocks. Then he carefully poured in some of the sand, shook the jar to fill in the cracks, poured some more, shook, until all the sand was in. And then he asked, “Is it full?” Now the students were catching on. And he poured the water in filling the tiny spaces between the sand, which was between the rocks, all in the glass jar.


When I plan out my days, I have to do it like the professor. What are the things that I HAVE TO DO? Or the things that CANNOT BE MOVED? I have to put those in first. Then I can fill in the rest of my day with things I would like to do, or could get done, or I will find fun and energizing. And then I pour in the things that life throws at me, phone calls, emails, Facebook, whatever. But the rocks have to be first. When I do that I do not have to worry. I have taken care of my responsibilities.


And, “Worry is not your Responsibility.” 


Responsibility means that you have the ability to Respond. There are things that you can do, and probably should. But there are things that you cannot do, should not do, or are beyond your control. THEY ARE NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY! You can only do the things you can.


When I played tuba at the University of Richmond, my music professor had me playing some really hard parts. I got overwhelmed! I looked at the whole song, and thought, “I cannot play this!” But he said, look at one measure. “Can you play that?” Most I could, but some were really hard with hard rhythms. He said, then do not look at the measure, look at one beat. “Can you play that?” Yes, I could. He said, “When you are feeling overwhelmed and you have too much to handle, break it down into the smallest part you can until you can do it. Conquer that, then do the next thing, and so on, and so on, and so on.” I have taken that lessen with me the rest of my life.


Whenever I have a challenge, and it is my responsibility, I break it down into small manageable parts. And I do it one part at a time. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!


“Worry is letting my emotion, my fear, into the Driver’s Seat.” 


In one of my favorite books, there is a phrase that is repeated. “Fear is the Mind Killer.” What makes us worry is our mind. But when we let worry drive the car, our brain shuts down. Fear kills the mind. When I choose to recognize that there is fear, but I do not let it take charge, I can still think, act, and respond. I get to stay in charge, and the fear just hangs out until I can deal with that. Fear is a warning system, a good one that came from years of evolutionary grooming. Bravery is, recognizing the fear, not letting it rule the day, and doing what has to be done.


In closing, Crises do happen. Bad things do happen. Remember Jesus said, “Today has enough troubles for today.” Troubles do come along, but when they do I can do these things:

I can be in the present, not worrying about the future and what MIGHT happen, but I can do what I can right NOW. And that is what I focus on.

I do what I can. That is my responsibility, nothing more, and nothing less.

I respond as I can.

And then I let the rest go. It is not my responsibility.


Don’t let Worry win. Or as all those angels put it, “Fear not!” Or as Jesus put it, “Do not worry about your life.” Amen


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Year B Easter 6 2021 Abide

 Year B Easter 6, 9 May 2021

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

“Abide”


Collect: O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John 15:9-17

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”


Abiding is a lost art. I must admit. I do not abide well. I have a hard time sitting still, much less abiding. But Jesus is clear. Abide.


“Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”


If we need to abide, then we may as well abide someplace nice. And in the love of Jesus things are pretty swell, and I cannot imagine anywhere better.


We all have abided. It is very apt that today is Mother’s Day. And each and every one of us has been born, and therefore must have a mother. Thank God for Mothers. I am always reticent to mention Mother’s Day because for some it causes such pain. But this year I am making an exception because the analogy is so apt, I mention Mother’s Day because we all have one or we could not be here. 


Berke Breathed, the cartoonist who drew and wrote Bloom County for years, wrote a children’s book named “Mars Needs Moms.” Disney actually made a movie from it. Things were crazy on Mars, and the martians were wanting structure out of their chaos. So they kidnapped the mothers of earth. In it a child, who had just wished he did not have a mother. She was a “bellowing broccoli bully and a carrot-cuddling cuckoo” who made him do the things he needed to do. Well, Milo, the main character finds a way to the red planet to rescue his mom and all the moms.  In the rescue, he almost dies and it is his mother who jumps in to sacrifice herself for the love of her child. No question. No hesitation. No regret. He had abided in her for nine months, and there was no other consideration. Abiding is like that. It goes beyond the rational. It goes beyond the word we call love. Abiding is finding a home where all that is needed is given, freely, no strings attached. And the feeling is more than cozy, more than home-y, it is indescribable. It abides.


Abide in me, as I abide in the Father, Jesus urges. It reminded me of an interesting fact I heard. Women, all women alive, were once in their grandmother, in a way. Stay with me here. Women are born with all the eggs they will ever have in their ovaries. Okay, so that means they were in their mother. Yes, but when your mother was born, the egg that would become half of you was in your grandmother. So the chain of women goes deep. Grandmother births the mother who is born with the egg that becomes the daughter, and the son, too. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, the Psalmist says and biology confirms here.


When the egg is fertilized, it must snuggle into the womb to live. It must abide. It snuggles in and the magic happens. The placenta is grown and draws nourishment and oxygen from the mother. The embryo grows into the fetus in the 8th week since fertilization, and the abiding is truly established.


The mutuality and interplay is amazing, and fascinating, and so very fragile.


Things can go wrong, and the Abiding can be disrupted or prevented. It is true in the Parable of the Sower and how the seeds grow, it is true in how embryos snuggle in, and it is true in our Abiding in Jesus.  


Jesus tells us how to abide in him and the result.


“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”


If we keep his commandments, we will abide in his love. And if we abide in his love, our joy will be complete. That is what Jesus wants. That is what I hope and pray we all want.


Think about it. Why do our parents tell us what to do? Most of the time it is for our own good. Most of the time, it is to keep us healthy, happy, and content. Most parents are not out to hurt or harm us. Most parents want what is best, but all parents have to say, “No!”


These commandments come down, not to enslave, ensnarl, or belittle us, but to save us, enrich us, and bemuse us. They say “No!” and pronounce commandments because they love us and care for our well-being. But so often it takes us becoming a parent to truly grasp the immensity of that.


Jesus commands us because he wants us to have the fullness of his joy as we abide in him.


And as we abide in him, we do not try and get our sustenance from somewhere else. When an embryo is gaining everything from its umbilical, how silly would it be for it to be trying to get fed from somewhere else. If we are truly abiding we do not think of anywhere else. 


God wants us to be joyfilled. God wants our complete joy. Not halfway. Not three quarters. God wants us to be filled to the brim and overflowing, so our cup can “runneth over.”


And as I say this, I always have to add the caveat, do not confuse joy with happiness. Things make us happy or unhappy. Situations, pleasures, and entertainments.


Joy comes from within, no matter our situation. Joy is our appreciation of who we are, and whose we are. Joy is the attitude of gratitude for all that we have been given, and all that we have been enabled to do. Happiness is a feeling, while Joy is a choice and the byproduct of Abiding.


And God wants us to choose to abide, and in so doing, God wants our Joy to be complete.


Coen Brother movies are a favorite, always so rich and profound, even their comedies. And one of their most notorious, speaks of the Dude. And in it the Dude rises above the problems of this world, because like he says, “The Dude abides.”


My prayer for all of us, is that we will be more than guests. We will make ourselves at home, snuggled in, safe and warm, for now and always. Amen. 

 


Friday, April 23, 2021

Year B Easter 4 2021 List of the Beloved

 Year B Easter 4, 25 April 2021

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

“List of the Beloved”


Collect: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”


In preparing for today’s sermon, like I do every week, I pasted the Gospel message into a document. I do the Collect, too, as between the two I usually find my inspiration for the message. Well, the grammar check immediately underlined Jesus’ statement “I am the good shepherd.” Grammar Check did not like that at all. It asked me if I wanted to change the definite article, THE, to the indefinite article, A. I declined. And that is what this passage is about. Am I part of the flock of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, or not? Is he “a good shepherd” to me, or is he “THE good shepherd” to me. That is the question. Each day we all, myself included, answer that with how I live my life.


These verses immediately come after my favorite verse in Scripture where Jesus says that he came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Scarcity says, “Look how little there is!” Abundance declares, “Look how much we have!” During Coronatide, I think that is one of the big differences in people’s attitudes. Scarcity versus Abundance. Much more than optimism versus pessimism. Abundance lets us be thankful, even when what we have may seem meager to those outside.


There have been a lot of things that have kept me going in the days of isolation and separation. For many months I collected and shared silly memes and jokes. That was fun. We started cooking some wonderful meals at home, and Stephanie’s pizza crusts have reached unimaginable levels of perfection. We also started watching a movie a night. I have a pretty extensive movie collection, but we decided to have it come to an end on Wednesday. We thought pretty hard because it had been such an intentional act, and we had to be pretty disciplined to keep it going and not repeat ourselves. We decided to close it down with Oscar winners for Best Picture. So we ended with the best of the best of the best. After 400 movies you have to do something for the movie to stand out. We have seen some good ones, but I decided that for our final movie we would watch what I believe to be one of the most powerful movies ever made, Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List


I have been to a few of the monstrous concentration camps in Germany in my travels in younger days. I have never made my pilgrimage to Auschwitz, yet. One day I must. But at the camps I felt numb. I could not respond. I was overwhelmed to the point of shutting down emotionally. But this movie was always a catharsis for me, allowing me to give in to those feelings and vent them, mostly through tears. Streams of tears, in fact.


It was the same way this week. At the point in the movie where Schindler and Izak Stern his accountant make the list where each name is the life of someone that Schindler is saving, buying them with bribes to the Nazi SS, redeeming them from the death camps with his own personal fortune. Schindler calls out his employees’ names, one... 

by one…

by one.


Each name a life. Each name one of his own. He is a Good Shepherd. They are walking through a literal Valley of the Shadow of Death as the Psalm invokes, and he is with them each and every step of the way. And as I watched the movie, the words of Christ came to mind: 

I know my own and my own know me.

I lay down my life for the sheep.

Oskar Schindler knew his flock and did what had to be done to save their very lives from the nightmare of the Nazi Holocaust.


Izak Stern when the list is finishes holds it up. “The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.” I know my own… Schindler knew his own, and called them each by name.


The Nazis, a very organized evil, made lists of those whom they killed. Schindler and Stern made a list of life. The gulf between that monstrosity and this small hope is and always will be there. But the movie also quotes the Talmud, the Jewish commentaries on Scripture, “If you save one life, it is as if you save the world entire.” 


I hear an echo of that when Jesus says, “When you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me.”


Or when Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”


Friends, we are all given choices in this life. But as Joshua called on the people of God, “Choose you this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15


And as the Grammar Check demanded, is it “a good shepherd” or “the good shepherd.” Little did I realize that when asked this it was truly a philosophical and theological conundrum.


Oskar Schindler was a scoundrel, a skunk, and a cheat most of his life. But once, when it mattered the most, he made a decision that saved the world, or at least his small corner of it. May we do the same.  We can do no great things, only small things with great love. If you save one life, it is as if you save the world entire.


“I know my own and my own know me,” Jesus said. Oskar Schindler put all his peoples’ names on a list, and gave it to the Nazis. What also struck me at the end of the movie, knowing that he would be on the run after the war was over, his people made a list, a letter that each of them signed declaring that he was a righteous man and not a criminal and war profiteer. His sheep knew him, too. And there was another Schindler’s List, one declaring him a righteous man.



It is a comforting thought that Jesus knows each of our names, and he calls us his own. He knows us, and as we grow in Christ we know him. We know his voice when we hear it in Scripture, in a word from a stranger or friend, on the wind, maybe. But when we hear his voice, we know it is him. As we prayed in the Collect this morning: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.


He knows our name, but because he loves us he thinks of us each and every one as his Beloved. Agapetos, beloved in the Greek. Like we call our loved ones, dear, or honey, or sweetie, Jesus calls us Beloved. He loved us to death, even death on cross. It cannot be more clear. It cannot be more plain. Jesus is THE GOOD SHEPHERD. And Jesus has a list, too. And his list…


His list is in the Book of Life and our names are there written clearly for all to see throughout eternity. And I can think of no greater place for my name to be. Thanks be to God! Amen


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Year B Easter 3 WED 2021 You Gotta Try This

 Year B Easter 3 WEDNESDAY, 21 April 2021

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

“You Gotta Try This”

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 John 5:1-12

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth. There are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood, and these three agree. If we receive human testimony, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has testified to his Son. Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts. Those who do not believe in God have made him a liar by not believing in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Luke 4:38-44

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon's house. Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, "You are the Son of God!" But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose." So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.



My family has a funny habit. Yours probably does, too. When we go out and try something new, if it is good, we make all the yummy sounds. If it is really good, we share bites with each other. And usually with the words, “You have got to try this!” Often while a spoon or fork is approaching their mouths. When something is that good, I know for me, I have to share it. I have to let someone else know. The savor is twice as fine when it is shared.

Some things are just too good not to share. And sometimes things are so good, they have to move on. And that is what we see here today. 

Peter took Jesus home. He was so beloved by Peter, he took Jesus home to his mother-in-law, little did he realize that Jesus would end up healing her. 

The demons knew a good thing when they saw it. They declared that Jesus was “the Son of God.” He had to silence them. 

Then when he tried to be alone, to get away and recharge his batteries, those who became enamored with him tried to bring him back to heal and teach, he had to decline. He could not set down roots. He had so little time to pull things together, so little time to make the idea of the Kingdom of God reality. He was too good to stay.

I wish Jesus were here today. We could use some healing. Yesterday’s news out of Minneapolis was huge. After the largest protest movement in history, yes history, we see a verdict many hoped for and many did not expect. Some call it justice. Others do not. 

With the law enforcement folks I have spoken with, they have shared how no training could have taught the officer to do that, especially for that length of time. I know that many of my African-American brothers and sisters feel a sense of relief and hope, and I thank God for that. I know I thanked God for the decision given. But I also know that we need Jesus’ healing all the more, and the divisions are deep.

Taste and see that the Lord is good, the Psalmist tells us. I pray for that for all God’s children. I want us all to drink deep and be able to say, “You have got to try this!” with all the benefits and opportunities this land yields. May it be so. Amen

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Year B Easter 3 2021 Touch

Year B Easter 3, 18 April 2021

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

“Touch”

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1 John 3:1-7

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.

 

Luke 24:36b-48

Jesus himself stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”


So Jesus stood in their midst, and declared that he was flesh and blood. No ghost, no spirit, no phantasm. He showed his hands and feet. He even ate a piece of broiled fish so that it was clear. Jesus was resurrected, in the flesh. There was no doubt.


We touch things to make them more real. Toes on a blessed statue worn down by touching. Steps in a cathedral worn down by a millennia of pilgrims’ feet. A friend while we are talking reaches out to let us know how much they mean what they are saying, and how much they care. Touch makes things real. 


Jesus came I truly believe to touch humanity. To make the laws and the prophecies come alive in flesh and blood, his flesh and blood. Jesus came to touch us so that we might know that God’s love is real.  


One of the great needs in our society which was already so heavily isolated is touch, something as simple as contact. For so many, during this last year, people have gone without any human contact, not virtual, but real flesh and blood contact. Even those of us blessed with family in our house are severely cut back in our touches.


I am not speaking of anything intimate or sexual here. A pat on the back. A handshake. A hug. A simple hug. Think on it: will we ever go back to having handshakes and hugs again, or anytime soon, anyway?


When Stephanie [my wife] and I were in graduate school way back in 2001 we were warned, the more hi-tech we become, the more hi-touch we need to be. This last year we have been required to be hi-tech, to many people’s dismay and displeasure. Some have just opted to check out, to pause and step back from everything waiting for this to be over. Some others have decided to race into the storm and do as much as we can as best we can. That has been my option, but it comes back to personal comfort, ability, and choice. But whichever response we have, the more personal contact we require.


Virtual is not yet an equal replacement for the simple human need of interaction, the little things. The calming response to someone reminding us that we wear a flesh suit that encapsulates this brain where our thoughts reside. We are spiritual creatures having a physical experience, or so I think. We are spirits incarnated. We are souls con carne. 


I have the habit of being too interior, too much caught in my head. One of the great grounders for me every week was the reception line after church. That handshake, or a double handshake, even. An occasional hug. Or a kiss on my cheek from my mother-in-law or wife. But in all of these, I know that for me this moment was one of the times when I felt (notice the verb there) I was your pastor and priest. The other, happened just before, when I touched each of you sharing the bread, the body of Christ, pressing it firmly in your hand reminding you of how the love of God became flesh and dwelt among us, as John 1 speaks about.


I have so desperately missed these moments. I did not realize how much these simple interactions meant until they were gone. In our virtual services, done days before it is even more detached and isolating, though it was the best that we could do. In our outdoor services, the cups of wafers and having to police masks and distancing makes it even more lonely instead of comforting. We see each other, but from afar. Better than nothing, but it is not the same. Yes, I too, miss being touched.


When Jesus spoke to Thomas, his first invitation was to touch his hands, his side. When Jesus healed, how often was touch involved? From putting spittle and mud on the blind man’s eyes, to the hemorrhaging woman who touched the hem of his garment. Touch, touch, touch. Repeatedly, in the Gospels, the ministry of Christ was the touch of Christ. This is the miracles, but also so many other things. The Last Supper, just got on his knees and bathed the apostles’ feet. He touched them. He got the dirt from between their toes. They felt his hands, the care, the concern, the love. It came through the hands of Jesus.


Touch is so important. We need to make a habit of touch, safely, encouragingly, and by permission only. I loved how they described it to the counselors in training for the camps at Shrine Mont. It is usually okay to touch the bony parts, shoulders, elbows, knees. Not stroking or caressing, a pat, a squeeze, a friendly pinch. But let people know that you are there, you are connected to them, you are in touch. Literally and figuratively. Once it is safe after Coronatide, of course. 


But also remember, that not all are open to this. Some have been traumatized in ways you do not know about, or just not as comfortable with touch except with or from certain people. Listen, ask, and never assume. This is especially true with children. We need to instruct our kids to speak up and say this is not comfortable to them. Even small children, ESPECIALLY small children, need the right to say NO, and that they are uncomfortable when they are. This is not diminishing our need for contact, but actually emphasizes all the more how important and needed touch is for all of us. We all need it. We are social creatures in need of interaction and contact. Especially after the last year. Elbow bumps are a good first step until we can get back to some of what was.


And friends, that is what the world needs of us. They need us to incarnate the message, to give it flesh and bones, to give it hands and feet. We do this because Jesus did it first. The Message is the Mission, and the Mission is the Message. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is touching a hurting world with the hands of Christ. We are his hands. James phrased it this way, “Faith without works is dead.” [James 2:17] Our faith needs to be alive and breathing. Our faith needs to be flesh and blood. Our faith needs to be touched and touchable. St. Teresa of Avila told us long ago...


Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which He looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are His body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.  — St. Teresa of Ávila (attributed)


Friends, as we are in this emerging world that is our charge. Picture your hands, look at them now, picture your hands as the hands of Christ. Picture how he would touch. Picture how he would heal. Picture you being like Jesus for those who you meet each and every day. We need to keep being his flesh and blood for a touch-starved world. Amen


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Year B 1st Easter WED 2021 Kingdom Come

Year B 1st Easter WEDNESDAY, 7 April 2021

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

"Kingdom Come"


Collect: O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Acts 3:1-10 

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o'clock in the afternoon. And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, "Look at us." And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk." And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. All the people saw him walking and praising God, and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day, the first day of the week, two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?" They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him." Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.


Our readings this morning is about the Kingdom Come. On the road to Emmaus, the Resurrected Lord makes it clear that he had fulfilled all that needed to be fulfilled, and all was done in accordance with Scripture. He could then be clearly see for who he was, not through some miracle, but through the simple act of Re-Membering. And I have spoken to this before, but there is a double meaning of that word. Remember means to recollect, to bring to mind. It also means to become a part of something again. So much of what we do on Sundays is re-membering, with God, with each other, and with our best selves.


The Kingdom Come in the first reading is even more striking with Peter and John doing what Jesus did, just as Jesus said his followers would do. The fulfillment came from them being empowered by the Holy Spirit which had come upon them on Pentecost in Chapter 2 of Acts.


How do we make the Kingdom Come in Ashland. We pray for it almost daily, “On earth as it is in heaven…” It starts where they started in both of our readings. 

  • Jesus quoted and did intensive study on Scripture. He shared his Bible Study with the followers on the road to Emmaus. We need to do the same. We need to steep ourselves in Scripture. I remember when I was in college, my brass professor (I was a Tuba player) mentioned how he had to play scales and simple exercises an hour a day. He still, as superb as he was, could not forego the simple basics. We need to keep God’s Word and the story of God’s interaction with people in our lives each and every day. Our lectionary does a great job with that, keeping us working our way through the Bible each and every day, not just Sundays. The daily lectionary is simple, and less than ten minutes, but such a great way to catch the scope and scale of God’s word.

  • We need to meet together to pray and share the Lord’s Supper. As it says, we must “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” We have to stay connected. Communion is not just with God, it is with each other.

  • Peter and John were doing these things, as well, as they were heading to the Temple to pray around 3 in the afternoon. But they were also ready to respond to need. They saw a man who had need. They asked God to step in, and at the same time were willing and available to share in God’s Kingdom work. Did they work the miracle? No. Would the miracle have happened without their faith and openness? Also, no. God wants to change the world, that was what Jesus kicked off. And what Bishop Curry urges us to do and be is the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement right where we are. We must see the need, and respond to it. We must attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God. 


These are just three simple ways to make Ashland a bit more like heaven each and every day. Like a chef, there is a list of instructions, but doing what we need to do when we need to do it to have the whole meal come out at once is a learned skill set. And it is not an easy one at that. We have to work at it until it becomes not something we do, but rather who we are. That is what will make the Kingdom Come in our lives, in our Church, in our Town, and in this hurting world. Amen

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Year B Easter Sunday 2021 Winning and the Last Word

 Year B Easter Sunday 2021

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

“Winning and the Last Word”


Collect: Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


John 20:1-18

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.


But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.


God.


God loved.


God loved you.


God loved you so much that he gave his only Son.


God loved you so much that he gave his only Son so that all who claim him may have everlasting life.


Jesus came preaching and teaching a message that God loves everyone. It seems so simple. So humble. So pure. But really, it was terribly dangerous to the way things were. The way things are.


And because it was terribly threatening to the way things were, it was terribly dangerous to the powers that be. And are.


And if it was terribly dangerous to the powers that be, it had to be silenced. 


And if people cannot stop your message, they have to stop you. It is still that way. If you cannot attack the message, destroy the messenger.


And that is the message of Holy Week. From the Triumphal Entry of Palm Sunday to the turning of the tables in the Temple, 

from the teachings in that same Temple that astounded the throngs packed into Jerusalem for Passover to the Gotcha questions that never quite Got Him, 

from the Last Supper with his closest followers to the betrayer’s kiss of Judas, 

from the illegal trial in the Sanhedrin to the cowardly Pilate washing his hands of the whole affair, 

from the pilgrimage down the way of the Cross to Golgotha to the Son of God breathing his last, 

the message of this week is that threats to the status quo are dangerous. And threats to power will not be tolerated.


I do not find it accidental that the crowds were there for Royal Parade, and that the crowd was there for cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” 


But in the Garden of his agony, Jesus was alone. Even the friends he urged to stay and pray with him slept. And Jesus was alone facing the Sanhedrin. And Jesus was alone being tortured. And Jesus was alone in his death. High and lifted up. But even here he could not help but love. 


“Friend, today you will be with me in paradise,” to his fellow condemned on the cross.


To his mother Mary, “Woman, here is your son.” To his disciple that he loved, “Here is your mother.”


“Father, forgive him for they know not what they do.”


No wonder the battle-hardened and world-weary Roman Centurion was led to say, “Surely this was the Son of God.”


And death came after he declared, “It is finished.” And he breathed his last.


If that were the end of the story, we would not be here.


But on this day, almost two thousand years ago, what was foretold and NOBODY expected, God made it clear. Love Wins. Grace has the Last Word. You CANNOT silence Love because you CANNOT silence God.


St. Paul put it this way:

35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;

    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:35-39]


And because of that day two-thousand years ago, the world has slowly been changing and evolving, moving daily toward the dream that God had for the world, toward the ideal Jesus preached and called the Kingdom of God.


And friends, because of that we are here. We are here and continuing the Resurrection story. God is bringing people who have given up back to life in hope. God is bringing those imprisoned the dream and reality of freedom. God is taking our hardened hearts and breathing in new life. The message of Holy Week may be that Power wins. But then Easter shouts, "NOT SO FAST." 


Easter declares in all of its Authority: Love wins, Grace has the Last Word. That my friends is the message of Easter.


But we cannot let it end there. Tomorrow, you will be faced with choices, repeatedly all day long. Will you choose the path of Holy Week, where the status quo remains and crushes? Or will you step boldly into the Kingdom embodied? Will you choose to live in Easter?


Will you choose to love those neglected, forgotten, scorned? Will you reach out to those who are not like you, “Them” however that is defined?


Notice that when Mary went to the tomb she blamed “them” for taking the body away. But the empty tomb means there is no Them any more. Christ came so that all peoples and nations can be one people. And if we are like Christ we identify with those that are the weak, the powerless, the forgotten, the lonely, and we invite them in and ensure them a place in the fold.


We love each one, as they are, not as we wish they would be. And that love can transform them and us. That love is dangerous and scary. That love is expensive, and calls for us to sacrifice. That love is the way God loves us in Jesus Christ, and that love us the way God calls us to love all God’s children:

  • God’s black children

  • God’s gay children

  • God’s trans children

  • God’s jailed children

  • God’s hungry children

  • God’s COVID-denier children

  • God’s children in power

  • God’s children who are despised

  • God’s comfortable and oblivious children

  • God’s forgotten children who would not even make anyone’s list for anything


God always resides with those suffering. And maybe in loving them, God can change us, too. Friends, today we remember and celebrate that Love wins. Grace has the Last Word. Even over death. 


We have no more excuses. We have no reason to fear. Love wins. Grace has the Last Word. 


The Empire did its best to squash a backwater people who inhabited Palestine in the first Century. The powers that be in the backwater people, appeased the Empire by maintaining the status quo. When offered true life and real freedom they settled for the scraps thrown to them by the Empire. And in a few centuries, this message of Love and Grace conquered Rome itself. And throughout history, God has played the long game and it continues to this day.


Choose you this day whom you will serve. That has been God’s options for us our whole lives. Every morning when we wake that is the choice presented to us. What way will we go? Whom will we serve? And friends, that choice declares more than our Alleluias what we believe.


The question we all must ask is this: will I live in Easter or will I reside in Holy Week. And every day, if I call myself a follower of Christ I must say, I choose to live in Easter. I choose to live where Love Abides. I choose to act with Grace. May I continue on that path. May we all.


Say it with me, Alleluia! The Lord is Risen!


The Lord is Risen, indeed!  Alleluia! Amen