Monday, August 10, 2020

Year A Proper 14 2020 When We Have Too Little Faith (In Ourselves)

Year A Proper 14, 9 August 2020

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

“When We Have Too Little Faith (In Ourselves)”


Collect: Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 


Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


There are few sermons I can remember decades later. The best sermon I ever remember hearing live was while I was in seminary. They had hired one of the greatest sermonizers in the world. His name was Fred Craddock. He had written a textbook called Preaching. It was as simple as that. He was so very well known and well respected, that he could write a book called Preaching, and no one would question the hubris of that title. 


Fred Craddock came and preached and gave a great sermon. I still remember bits and pieces of it. Later that same evening a local preacher, Dr. Kinney, the Dean of the seminary from Virginia Union University, gave a sermon on this passage. I will never forget it.Most people stop at the pithy phrase, “If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat.” I thought that is where the sermon would end, like most sermons on this topic. Dr. Kinney went further. 


He likened us to Peter. He talked about how Peter had the faith, that he wanted to get out of the boat. That was one thing, a great thing, that he was actually able to get out of the boat and walk on the water. And then some people say that Peter lost his faith. But I’d like to take a look at the passage again. “Then Peter got out of the boat. He started walking on the water and came towards Jesus.” He actually had the faith to get out of the boat and walk on the water. “But then he noticed the strong wind and he became frightened.” In other translations of this it says that he “saw” the wind. Now, you can’t “see” wind. You can see the effects of the wind. I think that’s why he became afraid. I think of the times we are going through now and all that is going on in our society and it causes a lot of fear, if you let it.


Fear is something that can get a hold of us if we see things and don’t have the faith to know that God is bigger. He “saw’ the wind but really it was the effects of the wind, the dark clouds moving so quickly. He saw the waves. Look at the waves on a still lake, like this one. It is a lake. We can call the Sea of Galilee a sea, but it was really just a big lake. He saw the effect of the wind on those waters and it caused him to be afraid. It caused him to let go of the faith that had him step out of the boat in the first place, that had him walking on water. It caused him to think, “I can’t do this.” That is where fear comes in. That is the devil whispering in our ear, “You can’t do this.” And what does Jesus say? Come, come out and walk on the water. 


We know that Jesus was where Peter had his faith, because as soon as he starts to sink he says, “Jesus, save me!” He doesn’t have a lack of faith in Jesus. Where is his lack of faith? His lack of faith is in himself and who God made him to be. God made us to follow wherever He calls, even if it is to walk on water. He calls us to have faith, even faith the size of a mustard seed. We can move mountains with faith that size. Peter’s lack of faith was not in Christ or in God. Peter’s lack of faith was in Peter. God help Peter. And for me and for you, maybe that is where our lack of faith is as well. Maybe we lack faith in who we are in Christ. May God forgive us and help us when we have that lack of faith. We have been provided all we need. We have abundance. God is God of everything. Why are we afraid? If we are afraid of death, death will come. Death will come for all of us, but Christ is with us. Christ is Lord of life and Christ is lord of the world to come. He sits at the right hand of the Father. Of what should we be afraid? Nothing! Nothing can separate us from the love of God.


I still remember that sermon. I still remember Dr. Kinney imploring us to have faith in who we are in Christ. Brothers and sisters, that’s the only word I can give you today. When we have faith to move mountains, when we have faith to step out of the boat, when we have faith to walk on water, we need to have faith in who we are because of WHOSE we are. We need not fear these days. We need not fear. For Christ is always with us! 


And when the disciples who did not have the courage to get out of the boat saw Jesus and Peter get back in the boat, it says the winds ceased. Those things they were so afraid of just stopped. And then those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” And if we believe that to be true, what do we have to fear? Remember that this day, because God is with us, even in the midst of the storms of life. We have nothing to fear. Thanks be to God.


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Year A Proper 12 WED 2020 Truly Seeing

Year A Proper 12 WEDNESDAY, 29 July 2020 St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA “Truly Seeing” Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. Mark 6:47-56 When evening came, the boat was out on the lake, and he was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the lake. He intended to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

Jesus cannot win for losing. After feeding thousands, and taking a well-deserved time alone, he sends the disciples in the boat on ahead. He takes some personal care time, and after catching his breath, he catches up with the disciples, like only he can. He walks on the water to catch up to them. They thought it had to be a ghost. The Greek for ghost here is phantasma, by the way. A word we still use. Why is it that we see what we want to see instead of what is? Really. If one of his close followers had looked, they would have seen Jesus. We do it the same way. We see what we want to see, no matter the evidence against it. Human nature is what it is. We all have seen one of those optical tricks, where you cannot see something, but once you do, you cannot unsee it. You have trained your brain to “see” the trick. Maybe we need to do that with God. Even though the disciples saw Jesus with their eyes, they could not fathom the thought that someone, especially someone they knew, could do the impossible so their minds convinced them that the image they had was a ghost not Jesus. (And this is after seeing him feed thousands after practically nothing.) Then we have this juxtaposed with the other side of the lake, the land of heathens. Keepers of pigs, and the like. And what do they see? They recognize Jesus, and they expect the miraculous, and it happens. They bring the sick and incurable, and just by touching his hem they are healed. They see what they want to see, a miracle, and they get what they see. I challenge all of us today, look with your eyes, and see the truth. Look with your heart, and expect God to do great things. Those who have eyes, let them see! Amen

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Why do we pray? Some Thoughts...

prayer
Why do we pray? A better question is, why do you pray? Maybe you never thought about it. Maybe you don't because it does not "work" for you. Maybe you do all the time, an ongoing monologue connecting you with God.
 
Prayer is an act of faith in two ways. It is an act of faith that you are being heard. It is also an act of faith that it matters at all. I cannot tell you how many times I have had people come and ask me about how or why it works, not recently admittedly, but over the years. It depends on the person and what brought them in as to how I answer.
 
I still pray because I need to do so. I need God to hear my heart. God wants to hear my heart. My heart cannot change if it is not open. (Remember when Moses took on Pharaoh who had hardened his heart?) Sometimes when I pray, it is for a shiny red bike (metaphor there), and by praying I am able to see with God's help that my blue one is just fine. Sometimes when I pray, it is because I or someone I love needs healing. And here is where the crisis of faith usually comes in. Is my prayer working, or not? And why do miracles sometime happen, or not? 
 
Great questions. If I had an easy answer to tell you, they would be wrong. But these are things I do know/believe/understand. 
  • Prayer is not a vending machine. We do not get to insert our prayer coin in and select whatever we want. God is not Santa Claus.
  • Prayer is not a waste of time. People far wiser than I have said, the busier they are the more they need to pray. Is it a way to reconnect to a solid center, or is it a way to focus on what I value most? I think the answer to that either/or is Yes. 
  • Prayer is not something I can put words to. It is a habit that has grown in me as the years have gone by. 
Okay, that is a lot of Nots. What is prayer? I can only answer that for me.
  • Prayer is the uncovering of my hurts, my shame, my sins, my most tender spots to someone I can trust beyond measure. And if anything can be done about them, only God can.
  • Prayer changes me for things much more than it changes things for me. Read that again.
  • Prayer, I have found, works like the ratio of my ears to my mouth, 2:1. (Tip of the hat to Dale Carnegie.) I need to make sure I spend as much if not more time to being still and listening than I do running off at the spiritual-mouth. God cannot get a word in edge wise if I do all the talking. 
  • Prayer is more and more who I am rather than something I do. I am a human being, not a human doing. I pray to "be" with God. 
We don't need to hold hands to feel close to someone, but we hold hands to feel close to someone. Does holding hands "mean" or "do" anything? Like most of life, it is all in how I choose to see it. It means nothing, or everything. And that is prayer to me, all or nothing.
 
Let us pray.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Year A Proper 12 2020 A Sermon from the Rev. Becky McDaniel

Sermon for July 26th, Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12
The Rev. Becky McDaniel
St. Catherine’s School
Video service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

In today’s gospel Jesus gives us some of the most powerful images of the
kingdom of heaven, well-known and loved images like the mustard seed
and the yeast and the pearl of great price, images that the children I have
accompanied in Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
recognize immediately from their work with and exploration of parables.
Being at home for so long now, I find myself yearning to touch the tiny
mustard seed, to prepare the yeast and the flour, to watch the children
gently and reverently handle the small pearl during their time in the atrium.
Those precious moments of wonder seem so far; indeed the kingdom of
heaven is feeling very far off lately. Of course I know that the kingdom of
heaven is not distant, as Bishop Porter Taylor reminded us in his diocesan
sermon last week, “the gate of heaven is wherever you are.” He is right,
and as Jesus shows, the kingdom manifests as we tend it, as we care for
it, as we give it our attention and our trust. It is hidden and tiny when we
do not tend it or when we fail to draw our awareness to its presence.

For the last six months I have been thinking a lot about the kingdom of
heaven as the way of love. In all that we face, I find myself struggling to
move forward in hope if I do not pay close attention to the way of love.
Anger and frustration arise so easily these days. I have to stop myself,
and remember to begin from a place of love. It is a practice, and one that
is often three steps forward, two steps back. Just turn on the television or
the computer and you face the risk of getting swept out of love very 
quickly. Betrayal and cynicism are on the rise in our culture, and this is
particularly affecting the young. As a school chaplain, I have listened to
many young people express a deep despair and a growing doubt in the
power of love. In her enlightening book, all about love, bell hooks says
that:

When [she] travels around the nation giving lectures about ending racism and sexism, audiences, especially young listeners, become agitated when[she] speaks about the place of love in any movement for social justice.Indeed, all the great movements for social justice in our society have strongly emphasized a love ethic. Yet young listeners remain reluctant to embrace the idea of love as a transformative force.”

Bell hooks cites cynicism and fear as the great barriers to love. It is
cynicism and fear that pull us away from the kingdom of heaven, away
from the way of love. She goes on to say that “being part of a loving
community does not mean we will not face conflicts, betrayals, negative
outcomes from positive actions, or bad things happening to good people.
Love allows us to confront these negative realities in a manner that is lifeaffirming and life-enhancing.”

So the question we all must ask ourselves as we walk this journey of love,
as we venture towards the kingdom of heaven, is how do we overcome
the cynicism and the fear that continue to creep onto our paths, especially
as they affect our children so profoundly? How do we not, in the words of
John Lewis, “get lost in a sea of despair?” How do we guide our youth to
reclaim the way of love?

In answering this question I would like to offer a story.

About this time last year I was serving at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
in Richmond, and our family ministry team led a youth mission trip in the
city. Rather than travel outside of our community, we put together a
program based on the principles of “becoming beloved community” to
study the history of Richmond and the need for continued work in healing
reconciliation. We stayed overnight at Richmond Hill and gathered for
daily worship before and after learning and working primarily in the East
End. One of the highlights of our time together was under the leadership
of Rev. Tee Turner, retired Baptist pastor and former director of the Peter
Paul Development Center. Rev. Turner led us along the slave trail, and we
began our journey at the foot of the Confederate monument of soldiers
and sailors in Libby Hill Park. In a profound opening talk about the history
of enslaved people in our city, Rev. Turner shared his experience with the
statue overlooking the James River. He told us about a transformational
moment in his life when he found himself looking at that statue and feeling
the intense pain that he as an African-American had suffered. And then he
said that he was suddenly overcome with a grief that arose from a very
different perspective. He realized that this statue represented not just
Confederate soldiers who had fought and died, but loved ones lost:
brothers, fathers, sons, and husbands. Rev. Turner said that the
Confederates "built that monument out of grief, and they need to be
healed as well.” Walking the way of love, Rev. Turner was able to hold
pain and anger in one hand and grief and forgiveness in the other. His
story prepared our hearts for the work to be done, and on our way back to 
Richmond Hill at the end of that day, one of the high school boys said to
me, “I think that I have learned more in this one day than I did all year in
school.” Because what we had learned was more than facts and historical
accounts; we had learned how to hold space for hurt, pain, betrayal, as
well as grief for those who would hurt you, forgiveness for those who
caused extensive damage and wounds that still need healing. We learned
what bell hooks wrote in her book: “Love allows us to confront these
negative realities in a manner that is life-affirming and life-enhancing.”
We, and the generations that follow, must embrace this way of love, this
doorway into the kingdom of heaven, what Jesus describes when he
speaks of the mustard seed and the pearl of great price: that which opens
us to another way of seeing the person standing across from us, the
person turning away in disagreement, and yes, even the person who has
betrayed us. Because love, if it is true and if it is tended, will indeed grow
like the mustard seed and make a kingdom of heaven for us all. There is
much work to be done; may we have the courage and the awareness to
do this kingdom work from a place of love. Amen

Friday, July 17, 2020

Year A Proper 11 2020 Let God Sort Them Out

Year A Proper 11, 19 July 2020

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

“Let God Sort Them Out”


Collect

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Matthew 13:24-30,36-43

Jesus put before the crowd another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”


Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”


This week we have another sower parable, just with some major differences. Last week we looked at the recipients (how people received), this week we look to the outcomes. So try and let go of the Path, the Rocky Soil, the Thorns, and the Good Soil if you can. And hear what Jesus is saying. “Let anyone with ears listen!”


A landowner did everything right. He planted good seed, and expected a good harvest. An enemy showed up, and we are not told why except that he was an enemy. There are always people who think it is their job to tear down and destroy. Always. They will rationalize and justify in all kinds of ways, and sometimes, though rarely, are they honest enough to claim that they are just stinkin’ bad. They often think they are upholding standards, or giving someone their due.


Jesus does not tell us the Why of it all. But all we have is the outcome. Now I am guessing that the enemy expected the landowner to burn the crop and lose it all, but here we see a beautiful picture of Grace, a stunning portrait of the ways of God.


The landowner does not want any that can be saved to be lost. He goes through the long and hard journey of having to work around the evil that was done to him.


The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather [the weeds]?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”


The landowner knows that it is best to suffer through this calamity, so that every grain possible can be saved. There are those that will be lost, but not at the wish of the landowner. We all make choices. We all have the Free Will to select, “Choose this day whom you will serve!” But the landowner waits as long as he can.


So it is with God. As Jesus said, 

The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels.”

God does not want to lose anyone. God does not want anyone to burn.


This is very different from “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” that famous sermon from Jonathan Edwards. While good rhetoric, it is bad theology. God does not want to dangle us like a spider over a flame. God wants us brought home, or as Jesus put it: “Gather the wheat into my barn.” 


God wants us all to come Home.


I remember as a child growing up in the South making road trips. When we would stop at a gas station or a Stuckey’s, there would often be bumper stickers and other tchotchkes. One I saw a lot was a bumper sticker with a confederate soldier holding the battle flag with the words, “Kill Them All, Let God Sort Them Out!” Horrible. Even as a child it made me sick. And in light of today’s parable, it could not be further than what God wants.


In fact, what would be better, and more like God in this parable would be a slogan: “Love Everybody, Let God Sort Them Out.” 


And the sorting, any sorting that there is to be, has nothing to do with us. Ever.


I remember about twenty years ago I was working on a church plant, trying to start a church from the ground up. Gathering leader types, raising funds, and all that is involved in birthing an organization like that. It is hard, hard work. And anything can derail a project. It is in a tender place, like all newborns.


One of our leaders let it be known one service that she was a lesbian. She shared it, matter of fact-ly, and there was no response during or after the service. But as soon as I got home I started receiving a string of calls. People were wondering how I was going to “handle” this. Now remember, the world was in a very different place almost 20 years ago, and this was not an everyday occurrence. So on the phone calls, the synopsis came down to this. “Rock, what is our policy on this?” I was taken aback the first time. Thankfully, God gave me these words. “Our policy is that we love Adele.” Immediately, the person on the other end of the phone said, “Well, yeah, of course, but what is our policy?” And again I said it, “Our policy is that we love Adele. If there is anything that we say other than that we love Adele, then we are not being like Christ.” I had that conversation at least four times that night. 


Our wanting to pre-sort and save God some work comes out in so many ways. I am sure we can make a list as long as our arms as to why churches split, or people leave angry. God does not want that. God wants us loving, not sorting. If our policy is anything other than loving every stalk of wheat and every weed, and helping them to grow we have tried to put ourselves in God’s place. God forgive us. We do it so often.


Never forget: EVERY SAINT has a past, and EVERY SINNER has a future. THANKS BE TO GOD!


As we continue in these days, there is the Devil sowing his weed seeds hoping to bring the whole thing down. Division is the work of the Devil. Since Day One.


Loving and Growing is the Work of God, and it is to be our Work in the Kingdom. May we Love Them All and Let God Sort Them Out. Amen


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Year A Proper 10 WED 2020 Jesus' Line

Year A Proper 10 WEDNESDAY, 15 July 2020

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

“Jesus’ Line”


Collect: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Matthew 25:31-46

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’ 


I enjoyed my time teaching. Every year I would start with the same lesson. We looked at maps. Lots of maps. Political, Globes, Topographic, Projection, Cartesian, all sorts. As the kids looked at the maps, I asked them which one of the maps is real. Now if you think about it, most of the maps were real, in that they shared real information. And all of them were false, in that they were representations of what was real. And no map can share what it is like to stand atop a mountain, or beside the Grand Canyon. There is a difference between information and knowledge. And there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. (Wisdom is knowing what to do with the other two.)


After we figured out that most of what we see on a map, however accurate, is not (entirely) real, we then focused on political maps. And as we looked at the lines that were drawn onto the other representations, it started to dawn on the kids that what we fight about and what we care so much about is an arbitrary concept. We fight and bicker over something that is not real. Now it is “real” in the sense that we fight and bicker over what we have declared, but apart from someone telling you, when you step into another country you would never know it. It is a mental construct.


Many of the kids' minds were blown.


Jesus drew a line in today’s Gospel. He created a construct for his followers. Jesus is saying “Yeah God!” is not enough. He clearly makes a construct for those of us who follow him, that lip service will not cut it. 


Faith in the Roman Empire was mostly that. Declare Caesar is Lord, pay your tax, and that was enough. Most religion was societal formalities, or polite constructs if you would rather. For the Jews, including Jesus and his followers, this was anathema. And Jesus takes it a step further. Saying you believe and doing nothing about it is as bad as not even acknowledging God.


When we did not care for the Least of These, we rejected God who we say we believe in. And that is a very clear line.


There are certain verses that I have found are pillars of my theology, I have found in this pandemic. I am “my Brother’s Keeper.” I need to “Love my Enemy.” And I have the responsibility to care for “the Least of These.” These are the signs of True Faith.


And think on how this will play out. With the protests after the death of George Floyd, our societal inequities are even more stark. The lines of difference have become more clear. We have set up systems that do not care for the Least of These. We are on the wrong side of the line Jesus has drawn. It is clear. It is obvious. We as the people of God who say we believe and follow what Jesus has said need to be out front leading and guiding to form that more perfect union we say that we are about. 


God, guide our steps. God, forgive our missteps. God, help us as we do what you demand of us, to your honor and glory. Amen


Monday, July 13, 2020

Year A Proper 10 2020 The Return on God's Word

Year A Proper 10, 12 July 2020

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

“The Return on God’s Word”


Collect: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Isaiah 55:10-13

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.


Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”


“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”


Hope. We all need it. And I do not need to tell you about how hopeless it seems today.


We keep getting told that things are getting better and looking up, until you look at the numbers and see that things are getting worse at a terrifying rate. 


When I was a kid I always resented group projects. I seemed to always get stuck with the kid who did not pull his fair share. It was frustrating and infuriating, and no matter how hard I worked I paid the price for the laziness or nonchalance of the assigned team member I was stuck with. Yeah, we are in a the biggest Group Project ever. And those who are caring for neighbor and the least of these are having to pay the price for those who are not doing the least for all our benefit. 


I saw a line from a teacher asking how on earth they were going to maintain social distancing during active shooter drills this fall. And then they said that that sentence says so much about how sick our society has become. 


But Hope. I need it. You probably need it. Where do we go for it? I trust that is why you are here today. We have faith, and one of the dividends of faith is Hope.


And that is the language I want to use today, a metaphor to look at all the other metaphors we have here. I want us to look at our return on investment. Jesus tells a story of investing, investing our time, talent, and treasure. It is a story you probably know well.


A sower goes out to sow, and the seed goes out on 4 types of soil. A hardened path, rocky soil, a thorny patch, and then good soil. Some uncertain starts and stops along the way, but eventually the return comes from the Good Soil, 30, 60, a hundred-fold return on investment. That is where the profit lies. That is the hope of the one who casts the seed. 


So often, too often, I mistake myself that I am the one sowing, the seed sower. But upon reflection, I am not. I am flawed and all too human. If anything, my hope in prayer is that the Sower sees me as a seed planted in Good Soil. Maybe I will bear fruit. My prayer is that you will be, too. 


God is the Sower. God is the one casting the seed. But we think we are the ones in charge. We think we are the ones who are doing the heavy lifting. 


This is the first growing season we have been in our house. And we got to plant some things that we hoped would grow. There are things we can do. Good seed. Good soil. Sunlight. Clean water. And the rest is up to magic or God. I prefer to see it as God. Nature, like us, is fearfully and wonderfully made. And we are able to reap the rewards of our meager efforts with peppers and other things that grow pretty much with little to do from us.


And that is when I am reminded of what God tells us in Isaiah. And this is why I have hope in what seems like a hopeless day and age. The opening of today’s readings:


As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.


God’s word does not return to God empty. God’s word returns to God with success and fruition.


Often I will speak with my teenagers, and I will wait. I said it. I know they heard it. There is a void of silence in response. My word returns to me empty. 


I am a preacher who was trained to teach people and inspire them with God’s word during worship in a church. Now I am talking at a camera by myself. I have no clue where this will go, or what type of response will come, if any. My word returns to me empty. God’s word is not like that.


Think on that. I have heard it asked, “What would you do if you were not afraid?” Or, “What would you do if you knew that you could not lose?” Friends, we can rely on our work and effort, and take the gamble on that return on our investment. But think on this, if we hook our carts to a deal that cannot lose, on an offer that will show amazing profit, wouldn’t we want in on that deal? 


And friends, that is how and why I can have hope. I put my chips all on something that is greater than me, and a guaranteed return on my investment. God promises us: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty.” I want in on that. I want in on what will not, what CANNOT FAIL. 


When you are feeling hopeless, and we all do at some point, think on this. We follow a savior who lived and died. And then he rose again. We are a people of Resurrection. We are a people who are ALWAYS to have HOPE. Always. 


So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty.


That is how we get a 30, 60, a hundred-fold return on investment. I have hope, because I know how the story ends. I know that God’s word is efficacious and wins the day. Thanks be to God! Amen.


Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Year A Proper 8 WED 2020 You Have (NOT) Arrived

Year A Proper 8 WEDNESDAY, 1 July 2020

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

“You Have (Not) Arrived” 


Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Matthew 21:33-46

‘Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.’

Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

“The stone that the builders rejected

   has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

   and it is amazing in our eyes”?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.’

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.


This is a harsh parable, one hard to hear. It is full of assumptions. Those who assume to know who is in. Those who assume to know who is out. This is where I want to spend my time this morning.


The story is a simple one, tenant farmers choose to ignore the fact that they are not the ones in charge. They work the land, they do not own the land. Their obesience belongs to the the owner. And yet, they refuse all the representatives sent, even and up to the son of the Owner. They kill him and assume that they can claim his inheritance and keep the land as their own. Little do they realize that they have crossed the Rubicon, there is no turning back. And, little do they realize that their fate is sealed, and their death is imminent. A sad, hard story. It is a parable of judgment. It drips of it.


Those in power, the chief priests and the Pharisees, were well aware that Jesus was claiming that they were usurpers who would be replaced.


They despised him. And he despised their hypocrisy.


Jesus quotes back to them Psalm 118:22-23, with:

“The stone that the builders rejected

   has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

   and it is amazing in our eyes”?

It was written long before he was born, that those who think of themselves having arrived, have missed it entirely. The greatest stumbling block in the life of faith is assuming that we have no further to go. 


Jesus came to confront the powers that be to claim that God wants us righteous and holy, not comfortable and content. And it rears its ugly head here.

When I was serving a church in Northern Virginia, I once saw a church who had hung in its narthex/foyer a banner that read, “You have arrived.” I thought to myself, how sad. It is either delusional, wrong in its understanding of sin, or just vane. 


As wonderful as our facility is, and as many a good thing as we use it for during normal times, we are not a center where one comes to arrive. We are a filling station enabling you to get on your way with God. Via con Dios! Go with God!


These times remind me all the more the truth of that statement. We miss each other, and we miss this place. It may be a filling station, but many of us are running on empty. Hear and know this, you are loved, you are missed, and we are here for each other, just not as readily accessible as face-to-face. Our muscle memory has not gotten used to how these times are going to be different.


I want to take one more venture into today’s story. At the beginning, it mentions how much time, effort, and expense the owner put into this property. He “planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watch-tower. Then he leased it to tenants…” God invested in us. God wants us to succeed. God wants us to flourish. As we are promised, “He who began a good work in you, is faithful to complete it.” Hold to that. Especially in days of doubt and fear. Our journey is not over as long as there is breath in our lungs. Faith is not about Arrival, but about the Journey we find ourselves on. We never know what vista the next curve may bring. Amen.