Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Year A Advent 2 WED 2019 First Love

Year A Advent 2 WEDNESDAY, 11 December 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“First Love”

Revelation 1:17-2:7
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

Matthew 23:1-12 (mentioned, but the main text is Revelation)

This morning we look at those who have fallen away, either in their love or in their actions. The love of God led the Pharisees into a strict life governed by rigid laws. And soon they began to love the legalism more than the one who led them to such a strict lifestyle.

The other reading, from Revelation looks at those who have fallen away for other reasons. The people in the Church in Ephesus did what they were supposed to do, but in the busy-ness of the days they had let go of that passion, that thing that made them fall in love with Jesus in the first place. And the John the Revelator brings up the Nicolaitans, followers of the deacon of Jerusalem Nicholas, one of the first 7 deacons. He lived a life of hedonism and debauchery and taught others to do the same. He was thought and taught his freedom in Christ was there to do “whatever.”

I have often thought of this phrase, “you have abandoned the love you had at first.” It is so hard to keep that first love alive. We grow complacent. We take things for granted. We let go of the little things first, and then we find over days how much we have let slide.
In my younger days, I thought I understood this. I thought I knew what it meant. But with the water that has gone under the bridge and the grey hairs on my temples, I see how easy it is to let things slip. To forego the drive that was our all in all in younger, more vibrant, more loving days.

Now do not project, or assume. My wife and I are fine. But like in all relationships there are cycles and seasons. There are times when stuff got in the way of “us.” The kids. Work. Travel. Life. And when that happens I have to look at this one I have chosen and who chose me and remind myself of the girl this boy could not live without three decades ago. I have to go back to that first love.

My relationship with Christ is all the more so. When life is going crazy, that is when I need to slow down and get away with Christ. When I am hurting, I need to turn to him first, not as a last resort. When I am afraid, I bind myself in his love and Grace and know that he is bigger than anything I face, and even in the face of death itself he is waiting on the other side of that door.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive for ever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades.
If I put Christ first, everything else falls into place. Or as Jesus himself put it, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

When we think of this place, our church, it is easy to think of it as the building, and all the upkeep it requires. Our church is not the building. I stand in the pulpit and I see the faces, some happy, some hurting, some attentive, some not. None of those faces are this church; all of them are. But the church is more than the faces. The image we are given today, when we are doing what Christ would have us do, we are a star shining in the hand of Christ, we are a lampstand shining in the darkness. We are Christ’s light, shining in this town. We are a lampstand, set high for all to see. That is what it looks like when we live fully into that first love, when we adore the Beloved, when we are adored by the Beloved. Amen.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Year A Advent 2 2019 Forsake Our Sin

Year A Advent 2, 8 December 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Forsake Our Sins”

Collect: Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 3:1-12
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Today I am going to talk about a rare topic, like politics and religion at a dinner table, too often in the Episcopal Church we avoid the subject of Sin. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”

This week I went to the Ashland Clergy Lunch, a monthly gathering of fellow ministers here in town. It is for support, encouragement, warnings or updates of things happening in our community (both big and small), and camaraderie. I was surprised by the turn of the conversation, and actually deeply moved. We spoke about sin, and its ripple effect through the town and its outskirts. Personal sins, and the ripple effect through those connected directly or indirectly, or collective sins and the mismanagement and avoidance of them.

Some of you may be Star Wars geeks like me. And I have to admit, I am eating up the new series The Mandalorian more than I can say. A few weeks ago the episode, to my huge surprise, was called “The Sin.” Disney, Inc. and Star Wars seems to be more ready to talk about Sin than we are.

We avoid the topic of Sin because we do not want to discourage people, or to turn them off. We do not want to be confrontative. Or worst of all, we do not want to deal with it. But in my role as your priest, part of my job is to confront people in this parish who are “notoriously evil,” “scandalous,” or “hateful”  sinners and that if they continue in them, then I am to refuse them Communion. After church, please after church, look it up on page 409, like the Formula, of your Book of Common Prayer.

[Disciplinary Rubrics:
If the priest knows that a person who is living a notoriously evil life intends to come to Communion, the priest shall speak to that person privately, and tell him that he may not come to the Holy Table until he has given clear proof of repentance and amendment of life.
The priest shall follow the same procedure with those who have done wrong to their neighbors and are a scandal to the other members of the congregation, not allowing such persons to receive Communion until they have made restitution for the wrong they have done, or have at least promised to do so.
When the priest sees that there is hatred between members of the congregation, he shall speak privately to each of them, telling them that they may not receive Communion until they have forgiven each other.
And if the person or persons on one side truly forgive the others and desire and promise to make up for their faults, but those on the other side refuse to forgive, the priest shall allow those who are penitent to come to Communion, but not those who are stubborn.
In all such cases, the priest is required to notify the bishop, within fourteen days at the most, giving the reasons for refusing Communion.] (Book of Common Prayer, p. 409)

Sin can be seen a lot of ways. From my earliest days, sin was approached as a personal thing. Something to be ashamed of, something to be avoided. But that should be the actual Sin, but things do not get better if we do not talk about them. 

If it was discussed, it was generic. Sin was described as the term from archery, which is actually “sin,” which is the distance from where my arrow hits to the bullseye, what I was aiming for in the first place. So “missing the mark” was another way to look at it. 

My pastor growing up had another way he liked to describe it, and he said sin is spelt “little ess-big EYE-little enn.” 
When we put ourselves bigger than we should, when we put ourselves first, that is what he liked to call sIn. Sin, he said, is with a Capital I.

The Sunday before Thanksgiving in our Adult Confirmation class someone paid me a compliment of how open and accepting I am, and immediately, before I could think about it it rolled off my tongue, “Because I am a sinner saved by Grace.” Now I do attempt to be open and accepting. I try very hard not to judge, and particularly not to condemn, especially people we might collectively consider sinners. People who break their promises to God, or break what we see as promises to God. In fact, when we read the Gospels and Jesus is presented with sinners he welcomes, encourages, and loves them. Who is it he is frustrated with? Whose tables does he overturn? The people who had forgotten their sins, and God’s forgiveness of them. Who did Jesus get frustrated with? The people who had forgotten what it was like to be in need of Grace. John confronts them today, calling them “Brood of Vipers!”

Monday’s daily lectionary reading hit me so hard. It reminded me of who I used to be in my younger days: judgmental, holier-than-thou, ungracious, and smug. I knew the right words to say, but I had never felt the need of Grace having worked my whole life to not do anything wrong. I was pretty self-righteous. I heard a lot of that in these verses from St. Peter in II Peter: 
“...you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.” (vv. 5b-9)
Why are supposed Christians so ungracious at times? They have forgotten their cleansing. Or sadly, they never had one. I shared those verses with one of my fellow pastors who was dealing with some who were so secure in their righteousness that confronting them with their sin was a threat, a threat to their self-perception, a threat to their fragile (and false) facade that they had built of who they were and their faith. They were forgetful of the cleansing of the past sins. When I am judgmental, holier-than-thou, ungracious, and/or smug I have my cleansing, too.

I find amusing that we avoid the Sin conversation. It is like going to a hospital and avoiding the word Sick. When we do not discuss the Sin in our lives, and how to grow in Christ and be saved from the cycle of sin upon sin upon sin, then we are at best a social club or feel-good society. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all sinners who are saved by Grace. My righteousness comes from Christ, not anything I have done, could do, or conceive of on my own. As we turn to Christ, as we make Christ our own and not something we have received from our parents, or teachers, or pastors, this is often the first step. I messed up. I have sinned. And then we are invited to a second, and a third, and so on...

I can be gracious because of that. I cannot judge, because anything you could do I could do as well or worse. John cries out, “Get ready! The day is coming!” And while doing just that, it came. The Day had arrived.

John was baptizing people in recognition of that they were sinners and they were claiming a turn-around, a repentance of their sins. A preparation of heart and soul. As John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

John’s Baptism was a cleansing in preparation, Jesus’ is a New Birth. John gave a bath and a hope, Jesus gives rewriting of our DNA. John was getting us ready for a date, Jesus’ was the marriage.

Friends, Jesus came not for us to be good. Jesus did not come for us to get our bar code so when it is scanned we can get into heaven. Jesus came to transform the world, one life, one nation or people, one world at a time. 

If you ever wondered how DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT the coming of Jesus was, let us go back to the prophecies from Isaiah:
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
     and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
     the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
     and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
     their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
     and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den.
They will not hurt or destroy
     on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
     as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples;
     the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
The world is supposed to turn upside down. Radical change. Wholesale change. The Sin is to be cleansed, transformed, and eradicated. The Wolf and the Lamb together, safe, secure, transformed.

One of my favorite books talks about the weakness of the Church, and too much of our work is looking at Gospels of Sin Management. Not eradication. Not forgiveness. But Sin Management. How do we live with it.

A friend of mine has cancer. He has had cancer for over a decade. He cannot get rid of it. He would love to get rid of it. He would love for it to disappear and never come back. But it is chronic. He takes medicine to hold it at bay. He goes in for semi-annual check-ups to see if things are being held at bay. Before Jesus came, that was humanity’s state. 

Lady Macbeth when she speaks shrieks, ‘Out, damned spot!” she seems worried about her hands, but she knows, as do all of us that the stain is not on her hands. The stain of her Sin is on her soul.

This Second Sunday of Advent, let us pause. Let us wait. There is little more important than this. Lift up to God those things done, and those things left undone that separates you from who God would have you be. In a few moments when we have the Prayer of Confession, we will give some extra time today for us to ponder, and pray.

Prepare the Way of the Lord. Make straight God’s paths. And the most important path to straighten is the one to your heart and soul. Amen

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Year A Advent 1 WED 2019 John of Damacus

Year A Advent 1 WEDNESDAY 4 December 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
John of Damascus, Priest, c. 760

Collect: Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by your servant John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(From: A Great Cloud of Witnesses) John of Damascus was the son of a Christian tax collector for the Muslim Caliph of Damascus. At an early age, he succeeded his father in this office. In about 715, he entered the monastery of St. Sabas near Jerusalem. There he devoted himself to an ascetic life and to the study of the Fathers.

In the same year that John was ordained priest, 726, the Byzantine Emperor Leo the Isaurian published his first edict against the Holy Images, which signaled the formal outbreak of the iconoclastic controversy. The edict forbade the veneration of sacred images, or icons, and ordered their destruction. In 729-730, John wrote three
“Apologies (or Treatises) against the Iconoclasts and in Defense of the Holy Images.” He argued that such pictures were not idols, for they represented neither false gods nor even the true God in his divine nature; but only saints, or our Lord as man. He further distinguished between the respect, or veneration (proskynesis), that is properly paid to created beings, and the worship (latreia), that is properly given only to God.

The iconoclast case rested, in part, upon the Monophysite heresy, which held that Christ had only one nature, and since that nature was divine, it would be improper to represent him by material substances such as wood and paint. The Monophysite heresy was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

At issue also was the heresy of Manichaeism, which held that matter itself was essentially evil. In both of these heresies, John maintained, the Lord’s incarnation was rejected. The Seventh Ecumenical Council, in 787, decreed that crosses, icons, the book of the gospels, and other sacred objects were to receive reverence or veneration, expressed by salutations, incense, and lights, because the honor paid to them passed on to that which they represented. True worship (latreia), however, was due to God alone.

Here are some general characteristics of Icons (http://www.orthodoxinsight.com/icons/iconrules2.html)

Icons are often called 'windows to heaven' and because time and space are suspended in eternity, icons are two-dimensional (i.e. flat). There is no depth and event  s which occurred at different times in history are shown together.

The more spiritually important persons are usually larger in size to emphasize their status. There are no shadows since there is no darkness in heaven. The only variation in light appears in the halos that radiate from the holy persons represented (this illustrates that the spiritual light of grace which flows from the heart filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit rather than the floating halos of Western art). A lamp or candle is typically placed before the face to emphasize this glow.

Eyes are written large to show that the holy persons have seen God through faith. Ears are larger and mouths are smaller to emphasize the need to listen to God in silence. Saints face the viewer while others are in profile. Clothing and buildings sometimes reflect Byzantine style rather than first century Jerusalem. Bishop saints are distinguished by their vestments.

The traditional colors for icons are either color pigment in beeswax or egg tempera (the yolk of an egg mixed with an equal amount of water added to the pigment). Mounting on wood is standard. Modern methods often use acrylic (never oil) as well as mass-produced prints. This site contains extensive information on the process involved. Icons also vary slightly by style from country to country (Greek, Cretan, Russian, etc.) but basic rules remain the same.

The colors used in icons also have meaning:
Black: death and in other cases, evil
Blue: infinity and the spiritual world beyond the sky (dark blue is often used for Mary)
Brown: the material, mortal world
Gold: the divine nature of God (brightly radiating outward and dispelling all darkness)
Gray: never used because is a mixture of black and white (vague, unclear, 'lukewarm')
Purple: royalty
Red: Christ's resurrection, sacrifice and Christian martyrdom (the color of blood)
White: God's divine light, holiness and purity

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Year C Christ the King 2019 Remember Me...

Year C Christ the King Sunday, 24 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Remember Me...”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Colossians 1:11-20
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

This last Wednesday, I made it to Ashland Coffee and Tea late for our usual post-communion hang-out over breakfast. And because I was delayed, I stayed later than normal and had a wonderful conversation. The Holy Spirit can take you to amazing places, and in the conversation we pondered the two hanging next to Jesus and how they saw the world through how they spoke with him.

One, expecting little, mocked him. He did not have any hope left. He showed no respect. He showed no love. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” I do NOT hear this as being a request, as Luke clearly says that he “kept deriding” Jesus. He chose to tear down, even with his dying breath.

And then we have the other criminal, who defended Jesus, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” I hear the resignation in his voice. I hear the honesty. I hear someone who is stretched naked, both literally and figuratively, in plain view of the whole world, knowing that he is where he should be, and that Jesus is not.

And in the final act of his life, he still holds on to hope. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That simple prayer says so much. The criminal is saying that Jesus is who he claimed to be, and despite this outcome, he held onto the idea that God gets the last word. As a priest friend of mine always says, “God bats last.” The criminal also realizes the reality that so many of Jesus’ followers seem to have missed. This Kingdom of God that is so prevalent in Jesus’ teachings, ripples into this world but also moves steadily into the world to come. The Kingdom of God is both Now and Later. Jesus, the crucified man is claiming, is going into his true Kingdom where corrupt officials and occupying armies do not exist. He is saying, in his own small way, I believe in you. Will you, if even for a second, think on me?

I can think of no greater prayer of Hope in who Jesus is and in the God who sent him than this man’s, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

When we behold Jesus on the cross, when we see him high and lifted up, what appears on the outside to be the most abysmal of failures is the greatest triumph. It is the epitome of the nature of God. Deep abiding, sacrificial love, the love that knits and holds the Universe together, the love that dreamt of you before you were born, and the love that will welcome you with open arms when you die. When we see Jesus on the cross we see, as C.S. Lewis called it in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when we see Jesus on the cross we see the Deep Magic from “the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned…” Often in classic portraits of it, we hear the Latin Ecce Homo “Behold, the man!” The Quintessential Human. The one who is so like the way we were born to be they called him the New Adam. In him, especially so vulnerable, and still so loving, we see the Immortal Law behind the very nature of the Universe, Grace Unleashed. 

When we look to Jesus on the cross, and his interaction with the confessing thief, we see the miracle of the Incarnation. Now, the miracle of the Incarnation is not that Jesus looks like God, in fact that is what he calls all of us to do and be, but rather, the miracle of the Incarnation is that we see what God is really like when we look at Jesus. There are so many competing views and ideas out there, even amongst us who claim to be following this poor man from Nazareth, and yet in his final moments he is still pouring out Grace, not crying for vengeance. “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing!” “John, look at your mother, now; Mother, look to your son.” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” This is what God looks like, and we look on in awe. He who could command the legions of angels, he who can calm the storm, he who can call forth the lifeless corpse back to life, he pronounces pardon, he declares Grace.

When we see Jesus in his final moments we see him so true, so loving, that even a hardened man like the Roman Centurion supervising his death even declares, “Surely this Man is the Son of God!”

I think of Jesus on the cross and I cringe. He is there for me. I say he is my King of Kings, and my Lord of Lords. When I am at my best he truly is. And his sacrifice is what I pray I live up to.

I go to the New Testament reading last, because it is chronologically after the Gospel. St. Paul is writing to the Church in Colossae, and giving them an image called the Cosmic Christ by many scholars. It is the pre-incarnate Word at work in the universe, and the litany of attributes are beautiful and daunting to comprehend.

Hear again this love letter to the highest and best St. Paul knows: 
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
There is an old joke about the right answer to any question in Sunday School being Jesus. But here Paul is saying almost that. Before, during, and after Jesus was, is, and will be. He was there to shape the Cosmos. He is the cruxpoint of history, and will be there at the end. Like the Centurion he affirms, “Surely this is the Son of God.” And this from a man who organized the murder of those who followed Jesus. Jesus can transform anyone. Even you. Even me.

Today is the last Sunday in the Christian year, and we finish the year looking at the fullness, the culmination, the lordship of Jesus. Next Sunday, we begin again. We walk through the awaiting of the Christ to his birth, from the Epiphany (the realization of who he is) to Lent (the preparation for his crucifixion), to Easter and the glories of his resurrection to his Ascension, to the Pentecost when we take his role on us through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the culmination of the Pentecost, our acknowledging the Lordship of Christ, today. We wait for Christ, and we wait for Christ to come again.

One more image to ponder, seeing this is the end of the year, the Christian year anyway. If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do? Most of us would feast and soak in the best within our reach. Jesus knew he was going to die, and with one day left what did he do? Wash his students’ feet, reminded them to love one another and not to fight amongst themselves, and then he prayed that God would forgive us because we did not know what we were doing. If that is not holy, if that is not godly, if that is not beautiful, I do not know what is.

As we come to his table of Thanksgiving (for that is what Eucharist means), let this day be one of feasting. May our prayer today and always be, “Jesus, remember me…” And on Thursday, when we feast again, pause, and say thank you for the Great Thanksgiving at this table, at your Table, and one day, at Christ’s Table where we, too, will be welcomed home in Paradise. Amen

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Year C Proper 28 WED 2019 Expectations

Year C Proper 28 WED, 20 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 17:22-27
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”

What an odd story. Who owes what to whom? A great question we all still struggle to answer. 

All good Israelites and Levites would have had to pay the Temple Tax of half a shekel. It was for the upkeep of the beautiful facility. But it got me thinking, how much of what we do is because of someone else’s expectations. Expectations, not needs.

I had a friend who went to orientation to begin a seminary degree. Her dad was a minister, and she applied, was accepted, and began the yearly rite of first year orientation. Sitting there, on day one, she noticed she was not listening to a word that was being said. She was zoned out, with the thought running through her head, “What are you doing here?” She stopped and asked herself about that question. Is that what she is really feeling? And after she did some real soul searching, she saw finally that she had applied, and was accepted all to make her father happy. She felt the call, but not the call from God. At the next break, she got up and left.

So much of our behavior, especially early in life, comes from those external expectations. Don’t do this, don’t do that, I don’t want to make _________ [fill-in-the-blank] unhappy. Living up to expectations can be good or can be bad.

One of the big lessons in maturing is letting go of those expectations so we can live our own life, but Jesus lived up to expectations. Here he pays the Temple Tax, despite openly declaring he did not owe it…

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” Obviously, “From others.” 

The kids do not pay the king tribute. The subjects and vassals owe the tribute. The kids are free. But notice, after boldly declaring that he owed nothing to nobody, just instructs Peter how to pay the tax. (I am not getting into the whole coin in the fish’s mouth thing because I cannot explain it. Let’s just take it at face value. Okay?)

Jesus lives up to people’s expectations. He does it in other places, too. When Mary urges him to “do something” at the wedding in Cana, and he turns water to wine, he was living up to mom’s expectations. When he tells the disciples to have some swords at Gethsemane so when they are accused of being “transgressors” they can be found guilty. He got two by the way. Jesus is shown again and again to consider others’ expectations, for good or bad. Often doing so takes a price of us. And we have to determine if it is worth it or not.

I think one reason, or at least I read it this way, that Jesus is so ridiculous in where he gets his tax (out of the mouth of a fish). His owing for the upkeep of the Temple when the priests do not owe is as ridiculous, for those in the know anyway. But he understands that in his role as a human and a member of a people, part of being in those roles is fulfilling expectations. I had an old boss talk about “having to pay the bills.” It was not the tasks we wanted to do, but it was what we had to do to do the fun/enjoyable/rewarding stuff.

Living up to other people’s expectations can be a chore. It can also be a way of saying “I love you.” You do it not because you need to, but because the other person/group feels the need for it. We do the thing out of love, out of relationship, out of the desire to maintain and help us both to grow in love together. Not out of obligation, not out of duty, but out of love. Amen

Monday, November 18, 2019

Year C Proper 28 2019 "Don't You See It?"

Year C Proper 28, 17 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Don’t You See It?”

Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Isaiah 65:17-25
Luke 21:5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."

Way back at the end of the last millennium, really, that far ago, I was working at the Seminary I had graduated from. I served as their recruiter. It was my job to help arrange campus visits to the Seminary, and to go out and speak to college groups and conventions mostly about feeling a call into the ministry. Half of my job was on the road, and half of my job was working with folks over the phone and through the mail. I was good at it, and recruitment was going well. The President of the school asked to meet with me near the end of my first year. I was hoping that my part-time job might be becoming full-time. Whatever day it was, I remember it was in the mid-morning. I was greeted and immediately was told that the funding for my job had been cut, and that at the end of my first year contract I would not be kept on. Normally I would call Steph once or twice during the day to check in, but I was in shock. I just could not tell her over the phone. It was hard news, bad news, and it would cost us dearly.

Unlike her, Steph came home late and sat down. Before I could tell her the bad news, she said, “I have something to tell you.” You see, her boss had called her into their office, mid-morning, and let her know that at the end of the yearly academic contract hers would not be renewed. The same day, at approximately the same time, we were both let go as of July 1. After I told her my news, I said, “Well, it will be interesting to see what God has in store for us.” 

Friends, I am here to tell you, Bad Things Happen. Even when you are doing things right. Even with no fault, Bad Things Happen. They do. If anyone tells you something other, they are out to con you. We both were in good jobs, where we were doing well and being encouraged, when, through no fault of our own, we were both fired. Well, laid off, but it amounted to the same.

We had built big plans in our heads. We had hopes we had constructed into some Castles, but they were in the sky. Nothing was real, and we had a price to pay for stacking these dreams on top of each other. These dreams did not last that fateful day, and I have to tell you, there is very little that really will last.

Last weekend I had the gracious honor to speak at the 160th Anniversary of our sister parish St. David’s over in Aylett. I reminded them how rare it is for any human institution to survive the lifetime of its founders. Most of our endeavors fall apart. Glad God seems to be in on ours!

In today’s reading Jesus is making a comment on how even something so grand as Solomon’s Temple, something so seemingly permanent will one day be thrown down. I hear Jesus making a generality about the stones being pulled down from one another, and it was heard as an imminent prediction. The disciples were wanting the 411, the Where, the When. But I hear Jesus just saying “Count on it… sometime, maybe even soon, or far away. But you can count on it.”

As Robert Frost penned: Nothing gold can stay. Now this was talking about the color of the leaves, but even then it is fleeting.

If Nature cannot hold on to its gold, why do we think that we can? As grand a space and place as this is, as beautiful and magnificent the monuments are in Washington, DC, as utterly perfect the Basilica of St. Peter is in Rome, one day they will no longer be. Entropy is. Things fall apart. Such is existence.

But notice, even with these dire predictions of Jesus, for the Temple and then even worse ones for his followers, he says to keep plugging along. Bad things WILL HAPPEN. Do the things anyway, for that is the gist of Life.

If nothing lasts, if there is nothing of permanence, then what do we do? Where do we put our energies?

Thankfully, as discouraging as the Gospel may be, we are also given Isaiah’s prophecy and promise. Where do we put our energies? From today’s Isaiah reading:
For I am about to create new heavensand a new earth;the former things shall not be rememberedor come to mind.But be glad and rejoice foreverin what I am creating;for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.I will rejoice in Jerusalem,and delight in my people;no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,or the cry of distress.
If God’s new thing is God’s people, if God’s new creation is us, what might that show us? How might that encourage us? Where do we put our energies? 

Each other! And in so doing, we are building up the Kingdom of God.

SO, if Bad Things Happen, if Entropy Is, WHAT DO WE DO???

Keith M. Kent made a few Paradoxical Commandments saying as much. (This has also been attributed to Mother Teresa, but Dr. Kent owns the copyright.)

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;Do good anyway. 
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;Give the world the best you've got anyway. 
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;It was never between you and them anyway.

It is easy to be discouraged when we swim in discouraging waters. But Jesus teaches us that the things that may seem so permanent and stolid and fixed, are not. Nothing on this side of heaven is permanent. But that does not stop us. What you see yourself building makes a difference.

You may have heard this story before. But it resonates so well.  Once a person was walking along and spied a mason hard at work. The person asked, “What are you doing?” Nonchalantly, the mason responded, “Building a wall.” And then kept on with the work.

The person kept going and asked another mason he happened onto quite soon, “What are you doing?” Again, with little enthusiasm, the 2nd Mason said, “Making some church.” And kept on slapping the mud and stacking the bricks.

The person kept walking, and happened upon a third mason. “What are you doing?” he inquired again. The Third Mason stood up, spreading his arms, and with a sense of wonder, “Don’t you see it? We are building a Cathedral! It will be grand.”

Friends, we always have to keep in mind what it is we are building, and who we are building it for. If you are just making a wall, it will only last so long. If you are building some church, it could come or go. But friends, grander than any Cathedral, we are building the Kingdom of God! Don’t you see it?

That is why we can suffer, and strive, be hated, and even killed. And why would we do it? Because we are part of a work that is bigger, grander, longer-lived than ourselves. We are more than a piece to a puzzle. But without our specks on our piece of the puzzle. “Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.” [I Corinthians 12:27]

There will be times when we be spellbound by the splendor, good! Stop and be in awe. The mason who could step back in wonder and say, “I am building a Cathedral! Don’t you see it.” may not do more work, but it will be better because it was done in love and to the glory of God.Whatever we will build up, someone someday will tear down. Could be soon, could be well beyond our lifetimes.

Think now on how we can make Ashland and Hanover County a little bit more like heaven. If all of us, in our own ways did what we could, when we could think on what it could be like. “Don’t you see it?”

When we set about the long hard work that we do, strive, sweat, struggle, but do it all in love. Or as St. Paul put it: “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” [I Corinthians 14:13-14]

This week we will be trying something new. Something hard. Something audacious. Whatever it is we do, do it in love. The Stew Fest is now only days away. Many of us will be spending most of our week preparing, and saying some prayers while we do so. If you are stirring the pots, do it in love and do it for God. If you are picking the chicken, selling tickets, or directing traffic, do it in love, do it for for God. Whatever you do, do it in love, and do it for God. Some people may get frustrated and get on your nerves. Love them through it. Some people may be welcomed at a church for the very first time. How you sell them their stew may be the first time they connect loving faithful service as part of the Kingdom of God. And we will pay the price. We will be stiff and sore. We will be too cold and at times too hot. “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” And why do we do this? For the Glory of God, and to further the Kingdom. As God promised in Isaiah:
For I am about to create new heavensand a new earth;the former things shall not be rememberedor come to mind.But be glad and rejoice foreverin what I am creating! 
Don’t you  see it?!?!?! AMEN!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Year C Proper 27 WED 2019 Eating Elephants and Other Impossibilities

Year C Proper 27 WEDNESDAY, 13 November 2019
St. James the Less Ashland, VA
“Eating Elephants and Other Impossibilities”

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 15:29-39
After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?’ Jesus asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ They said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’ Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

"Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel." Jesus did the impossible. 

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It is an old joke, and could not be more true.

Anything worth doing takes commitment, time, effort, and love. Mostly love. When Jesus looked out at the crowd he had compassion. Jesus loved them. It is the only way we can accomplish anything as the body of Christ. In fact, most often when people are burnt out and tired I find that they have lost the love that drew them to whatever it is in the first place. When you set about to eating an elephant, you really have to like elephant.

Tonight we formalize our relationship, permanently, blessed by the Bishop. It is a good thing that I love you all. It is a good thing that you love me. As our Presiding Bishop says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Churchill can have all his blood, sweat, and tears, but underneath it all I trust he loved the UK to make all the other worth it.
As you may have heard me say before, I am pretty enamored with St. Francis. His radical devotion to Christ has always struck me, and if there is a way forward in the times we find ourselves in, I think it has to be just that. Radical, all-consuming, all-engaging, heart-swooning, never-ceasing love. With that as the undercurrent, let us listen to the words of Francis for when we are faced with insurmountable tasks.

Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” -St. Francis of Assisi

When Jesus fed the thousands, I have to remember that. He loved them. He saw the necessities of those he loved. He took inventory, doing what he could, even if it was only 7 loaves and three fish. With love, with God, that was enough and all were filled.

He fed 4,000 that day. We are lucky, only three and a half thousand people are supposedly heading this way in a week and a half. And even then, ESPECIALLY THEN, We Do It In Love. Love for God, Love for this Church, Love for all those who will Bless US with Their Presence. We do what is necessary, then do what is possible, and St. James the Less is then doing the Impossible. Amen 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Year C Proper 27 2019 Distractions

Year C Proper 27, 10 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

This week on Wednesday we gather here in this room the celebrate A Renewal of Ministry and the Welcome the New Rector. Quite the mouthful. As we venture into this new “official” status of our relationship. And it has gotten me to reminiscing.

Last night I was telling my daughter about my first Sunday as a priest. I was ordained on a Saturday, and the next day our interim Rector texted me to let me know she had lost her voice and that I was flying solo on my first day out of the gate. No pressure. I made a few mistakes, but in one instance that day, I know God was with me.

Now as Episcopalians, we know when we come to receive Communion, we usually do one of two things. If we want a blessing, we cross our arms in front of our chest. If we wish to partake in Communion, we place our hands together in an X making a cross and I place the wafer or pinch of bread there. Now our brothers and sisters coming from the Catholic Church often do not realize they can touch the host, and will often stick out their tongue to receive. This is much easier with a wafer than with bread, let me tell you. Well this particular Sunday, when I was trying to so hard to not get distracted and not to mess up, I know God was with me. 

One of our parishioners was a former Catholic and still liked receiving on his tongue. He was also from a group home around the corner from the church, and often it was easier to give him the bread on his tongue than try to explain to him how we do it in the Episcopal Church.

So here he was at the altar rail, and as I came to him, I looked down at him to see his outstretched tongue. I was used to this from my time as a deacon there. I go to place the bread on his tongue, and out pop his dentures looking like the Alien’s tongue from the movie (Alien). 

I know God was with me because I did not scream. What a distraction! Luckily, my composure was kept, and I was able to continue on serving. 

Speaking of distractions, our texts are exactly that, examples of distractions from what should have the majority of our focus and attention. Three years ago, when I preached on these texts, it was the week of the presidential election, and I was preaching in Liverpool at St. Gabriel’s. I remember how distracted we were as a nation. I shared that for the previous several months the USA had been focused and fixated on what should be minor attractions instead of the center stage of our lives. I shared how the election had divided our communities, our churches, and our families. I even when on to say with some relief that the week would see an end to the distractions, and by Wednesday, the election of the United States president will be over. Little did I realize how the division and distractions would only escalate. God help us. That is one of the main reasons that our prayer service last week gave me hope. It kept the main thing the main thing.

When we major in the minors, when we let our focus be on the things that do not matter in long run, and probably should not matter at all, we get away from the lives God would have us live. So many things can derail us spiritually. Our health. Our economic situation. Our politics. Bad clergy-people. Whatever is a distraction to myself or any of you is a hindrance to our spiritual lives.

In Haggai, the prophet declares that God wants them to “Take courage.” Fear can be a huge distraction. In fact, I think one of the major ills in our nation since the 9/11 attacks. We have become a fearful nation. We have learned and had reinforced to not trust our neighbor, and to trust the stranger in our midst even less. One of our great presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, when the country was still reeling from the Great Depression, these famous words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Haggai says to his people the same thing. Do not be distracted by your fear! Or from the Scripture: “I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear!” 

There have been times in my life when I have been afraid. Terrified in fact. And I think of the times when I chose to cower and give into my fear. Those are the times when I remember being most defeated. This situation did not defeat me, but my choosing to cower was a defeat of who God made me to be. There were other times when I was afraid and I stood up, and took a stand. Sometimes I triumphed, and sometimes I failed. But when I took courage and made a stand, I may have failed, but I was not a failure. I could say I had done my best, with what I had, and I did not hang my head. Fear is an enemy of who God is calling us to be. “Fear not!” says the Lord.

But Paul in Second Thessalonians looks at another distraction, deception. One of the problems of religious people in general is that we are believers. Believing in God is good, but believing anyone who comes along is not. Some of us err on the skeptical side of belief, and some of us err on the side of TB, and we have a raging case of True Believer-ism. But both of the extremes still fall on the side of believing, and that can set us up for being tricked, conned, cajoled, and hoodwinked. We tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, and that is a hindrance of who God would have us be as well. It is, I believe, the shadow side of belief.

And here we are, almost 2,000 years later, still awaiting Christ’s return. Paul had to quell the excitement of this anticipation in the early days of the Church. 
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way...
Tricksters are out there. Jesus commanded us to be “as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:3 It is an issue which we have been warned that we will have to deal with. Even in the election three years ago, BOTH SIDES had Christians claiming that God is for their candidate and only their side is righteous. Tricksters and charlatans. Still with us, and, sadly, I think they always will be. We need to not be distracted by those that would derail our walk with Christ, and in Christ, and for Christ.

But fear and deception are not our only distraction, we also have the hurdle of nit-pickiness to overcome. Yes, nit-pickiness. Sometimes we zoom in on such small things that make no sense when we see things from the outside. I would call them pharisaical, but they were Sadducees. The Sadducees were attempting to play Gotcha! with Jesus. Could they catch him being, in their minds, stupid? They are seeing if this young Rabbi is worth his reputation. They are playing theoretical theology. “What if…?” But Jesus calls them on it, he reproaches them for their hypocrisy and their attempt to distract him. Others there wanted to learn and grow in their faith, and the Sadducees are playing games. The problem with their question is on whether the legalism on this side of heaven continues on into the next. They even could have been mocking Jesus, in that he, like the Pharisees believed in an afterlife. The Sadducees did not believe in anything coming after this life. With their ridiculous question, they are making fun of this belief and those who hold it. But even there, Jesus does not reject them, but raises the level of conversation, showing their foundational denial of the afterlife is a problem. Jesus goes back to Moses, who speaks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Living, not of the dead. We might phrase in the New Testament language of the God who was and is and is to come, or Jesus being the same yesterday, today and forever.  This distraction of diverting Jesus from what is most important is something that can happen to us in our spiritual lives, as well. 

Paul McCartney in his love song “Distractions,” from his wonderful Flowers in the Dirt solo album, questions why he gets sidetracked and drawn away from the one who holds his heart:
Why are there always so many other things to do?
Distractions, like butterflies are buzzing 'round my head,
When I'm alone I think of you
And the life we'd lead if we could only be free
From these distractions.
Is it not the same with God? What draws us away from seeking first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness? I think all of us would have a different answer. 

Every New Year I will probably talk about taking inventory. I said it before and I will probably say it again. Look at your calendar and your bank and credit card statements. Those will show you what you hold most important. Where is God’s church on your priorities? How about your daily agenda? Do you make space for God? That is often the easiest and first thing to go when we get busy and have our days taken away from us. I have found though, when the day gets at its worst, I need more to pray and listen, and to find God in Scripture. Like all things that are good for us, we mostly know what we should do, but these temptations and distractions that get in our way.

My daughter Sojo is a very bright and capable young lady. She is quick to make connections, but early in her life she had to overcome some hurdles that most of us do not need to overcome. Her learning style is as unique as she is, and often she is wondering about time travel or quantum physics when I am asking her what she wants for lunch. She is just so curious that she cannot help but follow a mental rabbit if it goes running by her consciousness. So, if I am making her lunch, or whatever it is, my wife and I have found a phrase that draws her back. Instead of correcting her, we simply ask, “Are you with me, Sojo?” In preparing for today, I could see the smile on God’s face and how often he has had to ask of me, “Rock, are you with me?” “Rock, hello Rock, are you with me?” And God asks the same of all of us. In the midst of all the things that distract us, often good, important things, we hear God ask, “Are you with me?” Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness and all these things shall be added unto to you. I believe God means it. If we put God first, everything else will fall into place. Amen

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Year C Proper 26 SAT 2019 St David's Aylett 160th Anniversary A New Thing

Year C Proper 26 SATURDAY
160th Anniversary Celebration for St. David’s, Aylett, VA
“A New Thing”

Isaiah 43:14-21
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
For your sake I will send to Babylon
   and break down all the bars,
   and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
   the Creator of Israel, your King.
Thus says the Lord,
   who makes a way in the sea,
   a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
   army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
   they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honour me,
   the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
   rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
   the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Matthew 21:12-16
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
   but you are making it a den of robbers.’
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
   you have prepared praise for yourself”?’

To quote the Apostle Paul, I share with you from Philippians 1 (vv. 3-5):
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 
I can honestly say, that St. David’s was a lifesaver for me and my family when we had little hope, and the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be more of an oncoming train. Having been laid off from my parish, and then laid off again during my times with you, it was hard for me to consider what God might hold for us in the days to come.

Since then, all our lives have changed. Father Gustavo is with you. I am now the Rector at St. James the Less, and our Celebration of New Ministry is this Wednesday night at 7 p.m. if you you are up to coming all the way to Ashland. God had plans for us we knew nothing about. Thanks be to God.

God will not be mocked. And Jesus will be lifted up. Our Gospel reminds us of that. God wants his temples to be Houses of Prayer, a place to connect with the Eternal in our limited capacity. And even more, it is a place where we praise the name of Jesus like the infants that came to him. In fact, as we lift up the name of Jesus, and more and more open ourselves to prayer, God can do mighty things. If there are any words I can leave with you today, or with any parish any day, it would be to be a House of Prayer and Lift High the Name of Jesus.

Think of how audacious a thing prayer is. We presume first off that there is a God. For many that is a point of contention, and even more a point of ridicule. As St. Paul said, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Then we have the audacity to think that God not only hears us, but that God wants to hear from us. And then we stretch the audacity to the point of the absurd (to many) that God wants what is best for us. As the Prophet Jeremiah reminded God’s People: 
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Friends, that is our faith. That is our only hope. And how do we have this Audacity? Because the God who was with us in the beginning, has been with us all along the way; God is the one who will be with us in the end. God, the same Yesterday, Today, and Forever. And when we look at our past, God is there. When we look at our Now, no matter how dark the day, God is here. But God is not the God of Yesterday, nor the God of the Now. God is the God of  Yesterday, Now and Forever. No matter where or WHEN we go, God is already there. How can we not have Hope?

We come today in celebration of the work of God here at St. David’s Aylett for one-hundred-sixty years. And yet what is so long to us is a blink of the Almighty Eye of God. Hold on to that. God is the God of your Future as much as God has been with you in this one-hundred-sixty year long Blink of an Eye.

Friends, know that we have a limited capacity, and that can be a help. Often if we knew where the Hand of God was leading we might be scared or run away like Jonah who thought he could escape God. But God lets us know one step at a time. And what seems like a failure or tragedy God can use to transform us to who God would have us to be and enable us to do what God would have us do. In the Economy of the Kingdom NOTHING IS EVER WASTED.  

Picture this: In Spotsylvania County, near Penney’s Crossroads, Area Code 22534, the Ma River springs up out of the earth. Passing near Thornburg, then Bowling Green and Milford, it flows. Joining with its sisters, the Ta, Po, and Ni Rivers the Mattaponi is formed, winding and running its course until it flows to behind us right here in Aylett. The Mattaponi joins the Pamunkey in West Point birthing the mighty York where the monumental battle at Yorktown was won by blockading the reinforcements of Lord Cornwallis, birthing this mighty nation we love. The York flows into the Hampton Roads. Joining with so many waters creating one of the great bodies of water giving life and beauty, the Chesapeake Bay. And the Chesapeake connects Baltimore, Washington, D.C. with us here today. And the Chesapeake flows into the Atlantic, and the Atlantic connects us with the rest of the world. Never forget that. And that my friends is why what you do here is so important.

What happens in Aylett at St. David’s connects you to the rest of the world. St. David’s connects with its Region, which connects it to the Diocese, which connects it to the Episcopal Church, which connects it to the catholic [universal] church which connects us with the rest of the world. You are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement in Aylett and King William County. Through you, lives are touched and changed. People are loved with the love of God through your work and your words. Your mission here creates ripples which flow through those connections and touch all of the world.

As the prophet Isaiah spoke, I repeat today: 

Do not remember the former things,   or consider the things of old.I am about to do a new thing;   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?I will make a way in the wilderness   and rivers in the desert.

The death of any organization, especially the local parish of the Church, happens when someone convinces it that its best days are behind it. When we sit in the dark, our eyes get used to the dark. We only perceive darkness. But slowly, as the dawn is coming, we begin to see more, colors begin to emerge from the black and grey we have seen for so long. We may forget the dawn. But it is coming. If God can make a way in the desert, if God can sprout a river in the desert (or Penney’s Crossroads for that matter), if God can save your church from the outrages of the Civil War, what is God dreaming up for St. David’s Aylett tomorrow? Most organizations do not last past the generation that founded it. You have already done that 8 times over, so it begs the question. What is God dreaming up for you all to do? Where is God leading you? What glory to God can be made by your faith, by your hard work, by your love of God and neighbor?

I am about to do a new thing;   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Brothers and Sisters, as you live into that question, you will show your faith and trust in the Living God. God’s blessings be with you all, now and always! Amen

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Year C Proper 26 WED 2019 William Temple

Year C Proper 26, 6 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“William Temple” from Great Cloud of Witnesses

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1944
William Temple was a renowned teacher and preacher, regarded as one of the most exemplary Archbishops of Canterbury of the 20th century. His writings reflect a robust social theology that engages the challenges of modern industrialized society.

Temple was born October 15, 1881, and baptized three weeks later, on November 6, in Exeter Cathedral. His father, Dr. Frederick Temple, Bishop of Exeter and then of London, became Archbishop of Canterbury when William was fifteen. Growing up at the heart of the Church of England, William’s love for it was deep and lifelong.

Endowed with a brilliant mind, Temple took a first-class honors degree in classics and philosophy at Oxford, where he was then elected Fellow of Queen’s College. At the age of twenty-nine he became headmaster of Repton School, and then, in quick succession, rector of St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, Bishop of Manchester, and Archbishop of York. Though he was never subject to poverty himself, he developed a
passion for social justice which shaped his words and his actions. He owed this passion to a profound belief in the Incarnation. He wrote that in Jesus Christ God took flesh and dwelt among us, and, as a consequence, “the personality of every man and woman is sacred.” In 1917, Temple resigned from St. James’s, Piccadilly, to devote his energies to the “Life and Liberty” movement for reform within the Church of England. Two years later, an Act of Parliament led to the setting up of the Church Assembly, which for the first time gave the laity a voice in Church matters.

As bishop, and later as archbishop, Temple committed himself to seeking “the things which pertain to the Kingdom of God.” He understood the Incarnation as giving worth and meaning not only to individuals but to all of life. He therefore took the lead in establishing the Conference on Christian Politics, Economics, and Citizenship (COPEC), held 1924. In 1940, he convened the great Malvern Conference to reflect on the social reconstruction that would be needed in Britain once the Second World War was over.

At the same time, he was a prolific writer on theological, ecumenical, and social topics, and his two-volume Readings in St. John’s Gospel, written in the early days of the war, rapidly became a spiritual classic. In 1942, Temple was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and reached an even wider audience through his wartime radio addresses and newspaper articles. However, the scope of his responsibilities and the
pace he set himself took their toll. On October 26, 1944, he died at Westgate-on-Sea, Kent, after only two and a half years at Canterbury.

Some quotes to ponder:

  • My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a marvelous great deal, for Christ died for me. Thus, incidentally, what gives to each of us His highest worth gives the same worth to everyone; in all that matters most are we equal
  • When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don't, they don't.
  • The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary.
  • To evangelize is so to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church.
  • Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, the nourishment of the mind with His truth, the purifying of the imagination of His beauty, the opening of the heart to His love, the surrender of the will to His purpose.
  • The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.