Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Year B Ash Wednesday 2021 Boiling Off the Excess

 Year B Ash Wednesday, 17 February 2021

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

“Boiling Off the Excess”


Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

"At an acceptable time I have listened to you,

and on a day of salvation I have helped you."

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.


Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."


The other day in this bleak midwinter I made a crockpot of chili. It had been cooking for a few hours. After a good stirring, I left the lid off. One of the kids came through and thought they were helping me out, and that dad had “just forgot” and left the lid off. They put it back on. I said, “Whoa, I was letting was letting it boil down, letting it cook some of the water off.”

As we come to Lent, maybe we can think on that. We enter into a time of life where we boil off some of the excess off. We simmer down to what is essential. We concentrate till we are consecrated.


It feels like we have been in Lent a year. It has been a year of doing without, a year of fasting from. We were in week 2 of Lent when we stopped gathering due to the pandemic. That seems like a decade ago. And the thought of deprivation is hard, even for your priest. Instead of letting go, or giving up for Lent, maybe we can focus, simmer down, concentrate.


In his book, Eager to Love, Father Richard Rohr describes the heavenward call this way:

What you seek is what you are. The search for God and the search for the True Self (capital T capital S) is the same search. [p.8]

Our searching for the divine always ends in the interior. Father Rohr said, “What you seek is what you are.” Jesus said the same thing, just phrased it this way: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”


St. Francis, in what was called his “all night” prayer, prayed thus:

Who are you, O God, and who am I? [p. 8]


Friends, I will keep it simple, as I believe we are called to be in this season. If you give alms, just give them. No fanfare. If you pray, do it so only God knows. If you fast, same thing. Store up your treasures in heaven not in gaining attention down here. 


I always found it a bit of a paradox that before we mark ourselves outwardly for all the world to see our piety on this day, that we read a passage on keeping our piety to ourselves.


But I mark myself with ashes this day, for me. For me to mark this season. For me to be intentional. For me to remember that when all is said and done, “I am put on earth but a little space to learn to bear the beams of love.” We are all terminal cases. Not a one of us make it out of here alive. We know this, and this knowledge can be a curse or an inspiration.


As the poet Mary Oliver penned in her poem The Summer Day, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”


Forty days, plus Sundays, is an eighth of a year. An eighth of our year to boil off some of the excess off. An eighth of our year to simmer down to what is essential. An eighth of our year to dedicate and concentrate so that we can be consecrated.


Blessings this year, this year of all years, and may we truly receive God’s attention as we devote ourselves to becoming and being our Truest Selves. To God’s honor and glory, and it the name of Christ. Amen


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Year B 5th Epiphany WED 2021 Coronary Softening

 Year B 5th Sunday after Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 10 February 2021

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

“Coronary Softening”


Collect: Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Mark 10:1-16

He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.


This morning I am going to keep it simple. No need to do otherwise. 


I will not be speaking about divorce, not directly anyway. It comes up because that is the question that is brought to Jesus, not for an answer but to be a “Gotcha!” which we have talked about before. 


Jesus answers if divorce is legal, and he says yes. But then he says this, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.”


And that is where I want to spend my time today. If hearts were hardened in Moses’ day, if hearts were hardened in Jesus’ day, what would be said of the hearts of our day?


Hardened does not even begin to describe it.


In all of our conflict, in all of our disagreements, in all of our divisions, the issues are not the issue. The hardness of our hearts is the issue. And Jesus’ followers need to NOT have hardened, jaded, embittered, calcified, obstinate hearts.


Jesus’ followers need to have supple, pliable, humble, approachable, teachable, inquisitive hearts. They need hearts like children. And that is included in our passage, too. As Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

We are called to be like children so that we might not have hardened hearts. We have divorce, and divisions of all kinds because we do not have the open hearts God calls us to have.


We are called to seek reconciliation, so our hearts can be like Jesus’.


We are called to seek unity, so our hearts can be like Jesus’.


We are called to live blamelessly, so our hearts can be like Jesus’.


We are called to forgive, so that our hearts can be like Jesus’.


When we harden our hearts we move away from Christ. As we begin a week from today to move toward Jerusalem and identify with Jesus and his death and his Easter, we need to focus on softening our heart, decalcifying our coronaries. We need to come like children, simple, honest, and pure. Amen

Monday, February 8, 2021

How to SEE these sermons preached...

Greetings! This is the blog for all of my sermons going back years. Currently I am the Rector of St. James the Less Episcopal, in Ashland, Virginia. I put all my sermons here for an archive for anyone who might be interested. I use it myself, to check that I am not repeating stories or main ideas at times. I hope these can and will be a blessing!

For all of our Sunday and special services, this is the best place to find those, the YouTube channel for St. James the Less:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvkC8WOOd8Xle7xTniUbGBg

For all of our Wednesday services (plus Weekday Noonday and all others services), if you want to see me, preach these mini-sermons, they can be found in the Videos section of the church's Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/SaintJamestheLess/videos/


Year B 5th Sunday after Epiphany 2021 Playing Catch

 Year B 5th Sunday after Epiphany, 7 February 2021

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

“Playing Catch”


Collect: Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Mark 1:29-39

After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


There is going to be a lot of people more focused on football today than any of the sermons preached, at least in the this country. Can Tom Brady do it? Or rather, can Tom Brady do it again? His record is beyond compare. An odd combination to be that good and that despised all in one. But I digress.


Gearing up, there will be a lot of kids and parents tossing around a pigskin before the abundance of snacks roll out. It is a fun, national diversion, number Fifty-five. All this fun has a price, though. Gambling goes up. Spousal abuse goes up. Calling in to work sick goes up. That is the price we pay for the fun. But I digress again.


Growing up, playing catch with my dad was a favorite way to spend the time. Now we were more apt to throw a baseball than a football, but play catch we did. And we would just be together, tossing the ball back and forth, back and forth. I can smell the grass, feel the leather of the glove and the ball. Smile remembering my dad.


Playing catch was a joy. Later in life I played first base, and all those times playing catch paid off. I never knew where the ball was going to come in from when someone wildly threw it to get the runner out. I was training myself, when a ball is thrown, my job was to catch it.


That was one of the big things I had to later unlearn in life. Saying no is a spiritual discipline. Let me put it to you bluntly: 


Just because someone throws a ball, it doesn’t mean you have to catch it.


In today’s Gospel reading, I see such an important action by Jesus that so many of us miss in the reading. We read of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law getting healed, and then the whole town streaming to be cured of their infirmities, and Jesus sneaking out early to get his devotional time in before the day. But people will not let up. It says:


And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 


His disciples were HUNTING for him. Do not let that slip by. Beyond looking, searching, or seeking, they were determined and intentional to bag Jesus and get him back to where they wanted him. They had their minds set, and wanted Jesus to be about their agenda of getting Capernaum healed! But Jesus says this:


He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”


Did he do what they wanted him to do? NO! He knew how easy it would be to get sidetracked and bogged down staying in Capernaum. He did not come to establish his Kingdom in that region of Galilee, his sights were set higher. He came to set the Kingdom of God that continues to this day. And to do that, he had to say NO to this. I remind you of today’s premise:


Just because someone throws a ball, it doesn’t mean you have to catch it.


Jesus did not play catch. We do not have to either.


I remember when this analogy first came to me. I had a church member upset. I have made a promise that someone else could do a task. The 1st member was perfectly capable of doing it, and I acknowledged that. But I said also that I had to keep my word. The 1st member got upset. And I said, “You can get as upset as you want, and you can toss all kinds of balls at me, but I will not catch them, and I will just let them go by. This is not about you. It is about my keeping my word. I am not giving this any more energy.” 


Now to their credit, they heard this. Pondered it for a bit, and even said they were sorry that they just had not seen it that way. It made sense after I explained it.


Sometimes NOT playing catch draws us even closer than getting pulled in and catching all those balls being thrown at us. Spiritual maturity dictates that we stay on the task at hand. Spiritual maturity requires discernment on our part. Spiritual maturity necessitates our saying NO even to some very fine things that might distract us and pull us off our intended course.


Saying NO is a big part of growing up. There are many things we say no to as we mature. And saying NO, is why God gave us so many “Thou Shalt Nots.” When we are first starting out we say NO out of fear. I don’t play with snakes because I might get bit. I do not play with fire because I might get burnt. I do not play ball with you, because you do not play in a game I want to be involved with.


But as we mature, saying NO to things, even relatively good things, is so that we can EMBRACE the YES. I say no to playing catch with this person over here, so I can play catch with God. 


I say no to my Snooze Button, so I can say YES to my devotional time with God.


I say no to a temptation, so I can say YES to a discipline.


I say no to people pulling at me asking for more, so that I can refill my cup. That is what Jesus did. He snuck off alone in the morning to pray. And his disciples hunted him down. When they threw him the ball of people needing him, he said NO so he could say YES to the thousands more who needed to hear from him, to be healed by him.


Know who you choose to play ball with. That YES, or that NO, will determine so much in how we shape our days. Father Richard Rohr puts it like this: “Make room for the new by letting go of that which is tired and empty.” We can only play catch one ball at a time.


Tonight, as you see some amazing football, think on that. What are you receiving, and from whom? Is this game worth your while. If the game is no good, it could be the best commercial you have ever seen, but who is pitching to you? And what is the cost? They paid millions for your eyeballs for those thirty seconds. Can you be bought for so little?


I say it again because I know I need to hear it daily.


Just because someone throws a ball, it doesn’t mean you have to catch it. Amen.





Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Year B 4th Epiphany WED 2021 Unclear

 Year B 4th Sunday after Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 3 February 2021

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

“Unclear”


Collect:  Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Mark 8:11-26

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.


Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.’ They said to one another, ‘It is because we have no bread.’ And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ Then he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’


They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man looked up and said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, ‘Do not even go into the village.’


We have three stories, pericopes is the fancy word for little Bible stories, that show what is all too often the case. In all three pericopes, those who are encountering Jesus are experiencing raving cases of Missing-the-Point-itis. They could not, for the life of them, see what was right in front of them. 


In the first story, people are demanding a sign. They want the magic-on-demand. Jesus, when he does perform miracles, responds to the faith of those in his midst. His is not an act, but a response to faith. They missed the point, looking for something more. They missed the point with the Mind. And because they could not conceive it, they could not see it.


The disciples, they saw such mighty things. And Jesus makes a metaphor about the “yeast of the Pharisees.” They take it literally, or apply it to something altogether other. Though there, right in Jesus’ presence, they cannot see what is plainly before them. And Jesus let’s them know it. They missed the point with their hearts.


And then there are sometimes external factors. In the blind man healed, the first time around he says people look like trees. 


(This one has always bothered me. If he was born blind, how would he know what trees look like? So probably, he was not born blind. My 2 cents.)


And when Jesus continues to work with him, the man “looks intently” and then he sees clearly. Of all the pericopes in today’s lesson, we finally get to someone who keeps at it and does not stop where they are stuck. He missed the point, but did not stay there. He would not settle for his delusions. Neither should we.


These days, when we live in a country where half of us believe the other half live in delusions, I pray for clarity. I pray for deliverance from delusions. I pray for all of us. 


I had a preacher friend go on a rant about socialism and racism and insanity. I was ashast. He is my friend. He has helped me greatly in the past. I know he knows better than what he spouted.


But we get like those that want more, more, more, when right before us is exactly what we have already received. And that is right before us.


We may start majoring in the minors, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or what blasphemes the Holy Spirit, or which Collect or Lectionary reading is most appropriate. So many ways can miss the point by zooming in, or having our hearts in someplace other than asking, “Lord, show me what you would have me see.”


And when we miss the point, and this is so hard, hear that from me, THIS IS SO HARD, we need to approach things with an air of humility that we could be wrong. When we are blind to what is real, when we ride our assumptions, when we barge ahead despite the evidence all around us, then we need to stop and go back to Jesus, and ask for deliverance. This is humiliating for many. Especially wise and learned folks. Especially for people who sees themselves as having arrived. Especially for people who believe themselves to be exceptional. Especially for people like me, and maybe you.


We all can be blind. We all need healing. In closing today, I am reminded of an old hymn that was a favorite of my childhood. Just the first verse this morning...


Open my eyes that I may see

Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;

Place in my hands the wonderful key

That shall unclasp and set me free.

  Silently now I wait for Thee,

Ready, my God, Thy will to see;

Open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit Divine!


Amen!


Monday, January 25, 2021

Year B 3rd Epiphany 2021 Dropping My Nets

 Year B 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, 24 January 2021

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

“Dropping My Nets”


Collect: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Mark 1:14-20

After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 


As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.


Our collect for this week, which you have not heard yet because we are doing Morning Prayers rather than a Eucharist service, begins this way: 

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation…


Give us Grace to answer readily


Give us Grace to answer readily.


Even in our response we are dependent on God. Letting go is hard. We are tied to what we let go of, so often. It is not tangible objects, necessarily. It is so often Identity. We are called to let go our veneer of who we are so that we can truly find who we are.


Yes, we are called to let go of our false self to find our true self in Christ. We are invited to find who we really are.


These boys, these supposed fisherman, ensnared by societal and familial expectations had planned to be at these nets all their lives. It is the family business. I bet Zebedee was quite the character, and standing up to him, or rather walking away from him could not have been an easy thing. 


I have spoke about this before, but change can and does happen. But it usually only happens when certain things take place.


Your Dissatisfaction (D) with what is

And

Your Vision (V) for what could be 

And 

Those First Steps (F) to that Change

MUST BE GREATER

Than any Resistance to Change


D x V x F > R


Once we reach that tipping point change can happen. And that is what Jesus offered.


I wonder what was going through Andrew and Simon and James and John’s minds that morning? Were they grumbling? They were not doing the fun thing of fishing out on the water. They were on the shore, doing the necessary grudge work to enable the fun to come.


I trust they knew Jesus, and had heard him. Maybe they were at his baptism? But something gave them the Vision to IMMEDIATELY follow him. And Jesus gave them the first steps. Drop your nets, and follow me. 


Drop your nets, and follow me.


They left their nets. 


When he called them, they left their nets.


What are our nets?


What are the things that we busy ourselves with, fill our days with, focus our energy, attention, and resources to? Even more, what are our nets when Jesus is calling?


I saw a bumper sticker one time, meant in jest. “Look BUSY. Jesus is coming.” Now, that is what we are talking about today. But the opposite of that bumper sticker.


What is the BUSY work that we provide our hands and our minds to make ourselves feel better? What are our nets?


It might be entertainment. It might be our work. It might be our hobbies. It might be our club or organization. It might be a relationship, or relationships.


Whatever it might be, it is our net. And Jesus calls us away.


This week most of us watched the Inauguration. The tone that was set from the beginning was one of healing, and unity. It did not ignore the trauma of the pandemic, far from it. President Biden actually paused and prayed in silence for the 2 million lost souls.


I was deeply moved many times, but when I cried it was at a singular point. It was when Garth Brooks sang Amazing Grace. And after the cynicism and ugliness of recents years, nay days, on the steps where an insurgency was attempted mere weeks ago, I saw leaders of this nation, red and blue, singing of the Grace of God calling each and every one of us to our better selves, the better angels of our characters. For a brief moment they let go of their Red or Blue identities and remembered who they were in the Grace of God, united.


Friends, in the days to come, may we hear that call as well. We are wretches saved by Grace, each and every one. We are called to that identity, sinners saved by Grace. And Jesus calls us still.


“Come and follow me.” 


But Jesus, we don’t know where you are going!


“Come and follow me.” 


But Jesus, this net is so important.


“Come and follow me.” 


But Jesus, I am not worthy.


“Come and follow me.” 


But Jesus, I do not have all the details from you yet.


“Come and follow me.” 


But Jesus, I don’t want to.


“Come and follow me.” 


But Jesus, can’t somebody else do it?


“Come and follow me.” 


Friends, God has heard all the excuses that have been given, could have been given. And yet, still Jesus calls, “Come and follow me.”


And immediately we…


And immediately I… 


The end of that sentence is up to you. It is up to me. 


Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ… Amen.


Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Year B 2nd Epiphany WED 2021 Shine

 Year B 2nd Sunday After Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 20 January 2021

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

“Shine”

Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ephesians 5:1-14 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

I was speaking with the Vestry on Monday, and I talked about how I would be doubling down on emphasizing our commitment and devotion to Jesus. Our allegiance to the Kingdom of God must be greater than any worldly commitments. On this day of all days, I have to emphasize this.

When Paul was writing the Ephesians, we are looking at a time of petty and corrupt officials, folks who focused on the minors or the abhorrent. He urged the Church in Ephasus to be radically different from those in the culture surrounding them. We do not stoop to their level. We do not acknowledge these if they are in our midst. 

This is hard. We have to be beyond good. Blameless. Pure. Set Apart. 

He speaks of being set out in the light so that we can be pure.

Think of bones, sitting in the desert sun. The light, so strong, so blinding, strips all that is not pure away. 

Children of the Light, that is our calling. 

A phrase I used with the Vestry is that we need to share light, not heat. That is one of the rules of thumb I attempt to use personally when I share things, either in a sermon or online. Now we cannot control how people hear what we say, or receive what we write, but we still need to be as “enlightening” as we possibly can.

Paul calls us to rid ourselves of “obscene, silly, and vulgar talk.” Now I do not hear him speaking to playful banter or joking with friends, but taking it to the vulgar is never appropriate. We all know of examples where this was done, and how we should dismiss these folks and walk away. What should we do?

“Let there be thanksgiving,” Paul tells us. Our speech should be appreciative. We can find the good. We can share the positive. This is not being Pollyanna, but rather a life approach. We need not dwell in the sewer. We need to stoop to being hostile or vane. We do not have to match tit-for-tat. Christ Jesus came for us to have another way. That is our Good News. 

On this day of all days, I thank God that I can be a Child of the Light, not to enlighten myself, but to share what I have found and make the world a better place. If we all did that, what a world it could be. Amen



Monday, January 18, 2021

Year B 2nd Epiphany 2021 Eternal Truths in a Self-Absorbed Times

 Year B 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, 17 January 2021

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

“Eternal Truths in a Self-Absorbed Time”


Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”


Good morning, friends. I so appreciate you, and I treasure that I get to serve as the Rector of St. James the Less. Even in these days, especially in these days, we need each other all the more.

Since last March, our world has turned upside down. And yet, we are still here. We are entering into a week that will test the mettle of our character, both as a nation as each of us individually. Never would I, could I, have imagined what took place on January 6th at the Capitol. 

Harrison had recorded his sermon before the events on the 6th, which is why we did not hear him allude to it in his message. I was able to add two prayers for our nation, though. Because of that I wanted to peel back the cover on how things happen now. In my 30 years of ministry, there have been many a night when I had to rewrite a sermon on a Saturday night because of what transpired that day. Now, we are preaching to empty rooms days before the sermon is delivered to you. So it takes days to prepare the sermon, 10 minutes to give it, 20 if you are Harrison... 

(Love you, Harrison.)

...10 minutes to preach it, a day to edit, a half day to upload. The added steps take significant time and effort to make it happen. Think back to March when I was holding up shaky hymn sheets compared to where we are now. And this will be where we are for the coming months. 

For most of us, that is so hard to hear. We are tired of this. We want to get back in the church. We want to get back together. We want to shake hands and hug necks. When I think of Sundays past, my favorite parts were the Greeting Line after service, and even more, serving each of you in the Eucharist. Taken, blessed, broken, and given. That is how we looked at the bread, the host. But it could also be a description of us. I would even say that it should be a description of us. 

We are a privileged lot. Many of us have comfortable lives, and have been relatively protected over the last few months. We have been Taken from the hardships, the true hardships, that so many of our brothers and sisters have faced. We have been Blessed. We have the freedom and opportunity to still worship, even though apart, jointly. We interact in the chat or the comments. We connect in classes and online coffee hours. We call, send cards, share memes and jokes, to make the days go by easier. 

But looking ahead, these are the hard days. These are the days when we are done, or feel like we are. A vaccine has miraculously emerged in mere months. Wow! But even so, we need to decide to continue on doing the hard work and remaining apart for the safety of the most vulnerable. We are being Broken, broken of the need to get our own way, broken of the privilege of demands, broken from the desire to ignore the hard truths that this virus a little over a year old has killed 2 million people worldwide, just shy of 400,000 in the USA alone. They say, “Ignorance is Bliss.” We are being broken of the privilege of remaining Ignorant.

But like the bread, we are finally Given. I believe that if nothing else, these last months have taught us how much we need Church. Stephanie, my wife, was talking to me about this. She was so right, and I hope she will write this up as an article. She gets all the credit. But we miss Church, and will not take it for granted ever again. We miss each other. We miss what we are about. I believe that coming out of this time of being Taken, Blessed, and Broken, we will see a season of being Given. I predict that we will see a resurgence and renaissance of sharing and incarnating the Good News of Jesus Christ! The world needs Good News now as much as any time in human history.

In today’s Gospel reading, I eventually needed to get back to the Gospel reading, we see Nathaniel in his cynicism. When his brother says he has found the promised Messiah, Nathaniel expresses his doubts. When Nathaniel hears Jesus is from Nazareth, we hear his true thoughts. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

I love his brother’s response. I think that we can shift and use this very often in the emerging world post-pandemic. “Come and see.” Nathaniel was taken from where he was, blessed by his brother, broken of his old way of seeing, and given out as a disciple and apostle of his Lord Jesus Christ. 

Friends, do not see these days as a punishment, but rather a crucible. The Church will be here to proclaim Truth and Love, and to stand in stark opposition to any who say otherwise. Pilate asked, “What is Truth?” Jesus was silent in his trial, but had previously taught his followers that he was the Truth. (“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” John 14:6)And more so, “The fool says in their heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 10:4) But we know that “God is love” (I John 4:8) Truth and Love. That is the business we need to be about.

Friends, I do not know what today will bring. And I do not know what will transpire between when I record this and when it airs on Sunday. Or between now for me, and when you hear it. But these eternal truths are the same today, tomorrow, and always.

We are called to bring light, not heat to the world. The world has enough heat with all that is transpiring. We are called to bring out the God-flavors, not to leave a sour taste in peoples’ mouths. We are called to share and live in Truth, for Truth will set us free. We are called to Love, for they will know we are Christians BY OUR LOVE. Nothing else. 

Love, Peace, and Grace be yours! And get ready to be Given, to the Glory of God! Amen


 



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Year B 1st Epiphany WED 2021 Called to Faith



Year B 1st Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 13 January 2021
Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Called to Faith”

Collect: Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 10:1-17
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!"


I love this story, this sending out. That is what an apostle is, one who is sent. We are apostles, just like these original 70.

In the world that is, we need to remember that our faith is found in going out. Our faith is found in having to rely on faith, not work or preparation or trust funds or whatever. We have to trust in God, that is faith.

Think of how radical these instructions are from Jesus:

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!'

Go, and I will be with you. Some will be with you, and will be blessed. Some will be against you, and it is not you. It is them. Your blessing will remain, just not with them. And that is not on you.

Somewhere along the way, especially here in America, we have equated blessing with success. Here it is very clear, God calls us to FAITH, never to SUCCESS. I cannot tell you how many a deflated fellow minister or faith leader I have had to remind of this over the years. Sometimes even myself. The Prosperity Gospel is so ubiquitous, and so heretical.

I saw a funny joke the other day, it had a picture of Jeff Bezos who owns most of Amazon. And it said, “The richest man in the world does not have hair. Let no one tell you there is a cure for baldness.” Our responsibility is faith. There is no cure for that. We do not want one. Success is a temptation, like hair for a bald man.

There are a lot of things we think we can control. But it all comes back to faith. We have to lean on those promises from God and know that God is with us in and through it all. It is especially important in these days.

Harrison, in his sermon on Sunday, talked about how strange it is to preach to an empty room. We cast our bread on the water, and trust it will return. That is faith. We toss our sermons on the internet. That is faith. You do a kindness for a neighbor or a complete stranger. That is faith. Friends, when we take tentative, risky first steps, that is faith. And Jesus is with us. We take these steps in faith, but if it is not received, THAT IS OKAY! God sees our faith, not our results. Any results are God’s anyways.

Monday night, we were working on our budget, and talk about a step of faith. We are stepping into the unknown, looking back to see how God has been with us in the past, and will be in the future. That is our calling. That is our hope.

Step out on faith, friends. God is with you! Amen.