Sunday, April 21, 2019

Year C Easter 2019 Remember

Year C Easter Sunday, 21 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal Church, Ashland, VA

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

Luke 24:1-12
On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Alleluia! The Lord is Risen! [Response: The Lord is Risen, indeed! Alleluia!]
Now hold on. How did you know to do that, assuming that you did? You have done it so much over the years that you just knew. You knew it so much you did not even have to remember; it was a part of you. (Or maybe you picked it up this morning, too.)

When we do something so often it becomes a muscle memory. Recently in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, when the UVA player #5 Kyle Guy won the semi-final game against Auburn with three free throws it was not because he was lucky. He did it out of repetition. Over and over and over and over. 10, 20, 30 thousand times in his life?

This may be your first Easter with us, or your 80th. But I doubt that ANY of you, any one of you who understands the words I am saying, are surprised by the idea that Jesus died and on Easter Sunday he rose again. Even if you do not wholly buy into it, you knew before you got here what I was going to talk about today. It is a given. But in our reading today, I need you to take a step back. Step away for the known, let go of the assumed. And think and hear if you you can what the women heard and saw and remembered. Also, let us read Luke only today. The Gospel variations are out there, but today let’s stay just with what Luke tells us.

It was Sunday, the first day of the week, and early dawn. The women set out as soon as the sky began to lighten, bringing spices for the quickly decaying corpse. Jesus’ funeral had been a rush job. Racing the sunset on Friday the could only do the briefest of preparations for the Lord’s corpse. Joseph, the righteous and sympathetic man from Arimathea, wrapped the body in linen and put it in a freshly dug, unused tomb. It would have been a chamber carved out of the very bedrock.

In the Jewish tradition, the body was buried within a day. In Jesus’ case it was immediate. Normally a body would have been wrapped with spices and herbs to lessen the odor of the decaying corpse. It was wrapped in linen to hold everything together, and then nature took her course. Over the coming months the soft tissue would decompose and rot away. And a year or so later, they would reopen the tomb and put all the gathered bones in an ossuary box that would be engraved with the name of the deceased. A bit bigger than a bread box, it had to be long enough to hold the femurs while all the other bones would fit around it.

Because of the rush to get Jesus in the tomb before the Sabbath began at sunset, when he could not be touched nor could any work be done, nor any walking to get home, the spices the women had prepared would have to wait through the day of rest and prayer.

So that is why the women were anxious to arrive the MOMENT they could to get the spices on Jesus before the smell and decay became too much to bear with the heat of another day. But then they arrived. There were several women in Luke, three named. Mary Magdalene, a devoted follower of Jesus is known for bathing his feet with perfume. Joanna, a fascinating women if church tradition holds true. Google her. [Joanna information] And then Mary the mother of James. Notice it is James, not James and John, which means that this may likely be the mother of James the Less, our namesake who went on to become the first Bishop of Jerusalem. This Mary would have been a sibling to Mary the mother of Jesus, as first cousins could be called brother. And then there were unnamed women who came to help, and probably planned to roll away the heavy stone. A large tight-fitting stone would have been covering the hand chiseled cave so that critters could not get into the tomb to disturb the corpse. Sizable, it would have been a hardship for a few people alone. It had to be movable, but not easily so.

So here we are, all ready to prepare a dead body for its final rest. But what do they see?
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Why do you look for the living among the dead? A powerful question. I cannot tell you how many people I have met, probably the same for you, who have decided to reside in the past. Holding onto resentments and grudges. Clinging to lost loved ones. To go to a certain point and not move any further. It could come from a tragedy or a loss. “Arrested Development” is a psychological phrase we apply to people who have paused moving on. Most often I deal with this spiritually, but it could apply to so many areas of life. So that there is no question, they say it plainly, using unmistakable words. “He is not here, but has risen.” He was dead, but now he is not. He got up. He arose. That is what we celebrate this day.

The Bible has many stories of resuscitation, when others were brought back from death through the grace and power of God. But only one resurrected. Only one, unaided and alone, rose again. Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call the Christ. And we gather this day and every day in that name which is above all names.

And in kindness, the men in shining clothes simply repeated for the shocked women the words Jesus had said. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Remember. Remember is a word we use a lot. We use it so often in one context we forget that it has a double meaning. And both are important, and both are applicable this day.

Remember, how we use it 99+% of the time, is to “think of again. Bring to mind. Recollect.” The women remembered Jesus words, as the ones in glowing clothes encouraged them to do. This should not be a surprise. He told you this would happen. And that was when they had their Epiphany. He had told them. He had explained it all. He said it would be like this. And it was.

But think on this, to be a member is a part of something else, something greater. I can be a member of a club. A part of me when it is cut off is dismembered. And I think that a big part of Remembering for the women that day was not just thinking again of what Jesus had said, but to Re-Member with him as well. What they thought was dead, was alive. What they thought was gone, was still with them. When they “remembered” they “Re-Membered.”

And they did not keep it to themselves. They went and told the disciples.

Now we see two responses to this story, the greatest story ever told.

The first: now “these words seemed to [the disciples] an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” You see, these who were closest, the ones who knew Jesus best, who heard him say it the most, the ones who had the MOST TO LOSE and the MOST TO GAIN, had not yet “Remembered.” Listen to the voices of the ones so often, too often, dismissed. They may know the Truth better than the “reasonable” voices.

Thankfully, not everyone stayed in what they “knew” to be true, hiding away in fear: “But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” And because of that response, we are here today.

We are a people of faith. We must live in that. We must remember, and in doing so Re-Member. We come today to do both.

This week we have seen something that his been with us for centuries burn down in a night. What seemed so real and permanent, fell too quickly. The world watched and wept. I have prayed in Notre Dame Cathedral. I have stood in awe of its grandeur and beauty. I have walked along the Seine and taken pictures of it. It was a shining testament of love of God.

On Monday when it happened, I saw something amazing. I saw people remember their trips, if they had taken them. They shared their stories. They laughed, smiled, and cried over those stories, while they gathered together virtually and literally to connect over those. And it is a good reminder this Holy Week. Notre Dame will resurrect because we are a people of Resurrection. It will rise again. And more importantly, it reminds us that the Church of Christ is not a building, nor is it an institution.

The fire at Notre Dame was not an attack on the Church, but the bombings in Sri Lanka this Easter morning were. You may not have yet heard, but in a systematic attack with multiple bombings many were killed or injured. 160+ and counting are dead. 500+ were injured. This is the Church. And together we mourn. But even in this, EVEN IN THIS, we trust in the one who lived, who died, and rose again. He will make all things were together for good, even this. Even this.

The Church, the ekklessia, the “called-out ones,” is the Body of Christ. We saw the people standing and watching with mourning Notre Dame Cathedral burn, but at the same time they praised God by singing Ave Maria. That praising God in the midst of life’s tragedies is more the Church than any building, no matter how glorious. In fact, this image of the singers grieving and praising echoes our funeral rite. The powerful words echo that contradiction:

You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we
return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying,
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return." All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia,
alleluia, alleluia.

We live in that Abundance as we claim and reside in Christ’s Resurrection. As we live into that vision, that dream of God for the world, we have two choices. Either this is an “idle tale” and we are fools, or Jesus came to show us another way. A way of peace and love and grace, where systems are just and all are a part.

Easter forces us to choose. Hear again the words of the ones in the tomb:
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
Remember. Re-Member. Amen.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Year C Good Friday 2019 Hopes & Fears of All the Years

Year C Good Friday, 19 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Hopes and Fears of All the Years”

Collect: Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 18:1-19:42
Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" They answered, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus replied, "I am he." Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, "I am he," they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, "Whom are you looking for?" And they said, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus answered, "I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go." This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, "I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me." Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave's name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?"

So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people.

Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, "You are not also one of this man's disciples, are you?" He said, "I am not." Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, "I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said." When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, "Is that how you answer the high priest?" Jesus answered, "If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?" Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, "You are not also one of his disciples, are you?" He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him?" Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.

Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate's headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" They answered, "If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law." The Jews replied, "We are not permitted to put anyone to death." (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?" Pilate replied, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?" Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is truth?"

After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" They shouted in reply, "Not this man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a bandit.

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him." So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!" When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God."

Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, "Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?" Jesus answered him, "You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor."

When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge's bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, "Here is your King!" They cried out, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate asked them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but the emperor." Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, "Do not write, 'The King of the Jews,' but, 'This man said, I am King of the Jews.'" Pilate answered, "What I have written I have written." When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it." This was to fulfill what the scripture says,

"They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots."

And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), "I am thirsty." A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken." And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

A phrase haunts me, it always has. It is tucked into a simple, innocuous poem we sing without thinking. I think that is why I fixate on it so.
O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in Thee tonight
And that is what we are talking about. The hopes and fears. At the manger in the Inn we emphasize the former, at the cross on Golgotha we must emphasize the latter.

So easily dismissed, but these are some of the things that make us unique, as special as our fingerprints. What is a burden for you, may be nothing to me. One time when I was on staff at St. Thomas’ in Richmond there was a woman about to sing a solo. She had moved up to sit next to me, and when she did one of those invasive camel crickets that plague Richmond basements hopped into view inside the modesty rail. She grabbed my arm like she had been stabbed. I looked at her, and looked at the cricket. Claiming the dominion given to us from God in Genesis 1, I stomped it flat. It was a cricket. I did not think about it again. But that afternoon she thanked me on Facebook for “saving her life” because a “spider the size of her hand” was attacking her. Now, obviously perspective is reality. And that is what she saw and how she felt. I cannot dismiss either. Our fears are our own.

Hopes are just as personal. What gives you hope is as unique to you as your fears. When I had been laid off by two churches who were cutting assistant priests, and then up in the final pool for many churches, my hopes were all I had to hold onto. I took every side job I could, but that sure and steadfast call of God was what enabled me to hold on for 13 months despite all the facts glaring in my face that maybe this priest thing was not for me. Last night when I got home, I caught the end of Cast Away with Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt. After he arrived back alive after 4 years stranded on an island she could not face him. And when she finally does, she said, “I always knew you were alive, despite all the people who kept telling me I had to let you go.” Her hopes lived on, despite the evidence that contradicted those presumptions. And eventually, she let the evidence override her hopes and all those fears came crashing down.

The hopes and fears of all the years. Three years of ministry. Thousands touched and blessed by Jesus. He was GOOD! He was RIGHTEOUS! How could this happen??? Where is God? Why, Lord, Why?

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, thou art with me…” We say it, but standing beside the grave we have to force the words.

The hopes and fears. It is what makes this day stand out. Tonight our Jewish brothers and sisters have Passover, the foundation of our Eucharist traditions. On that night, you are probably aware, the youngest in the room is always supposed to ask, “Why is this night unlike any other night?” The same could be said of us. What makes Good Friday different? Most days when we come together we celebrate the Eucharist, the good gifts of God. But on Good Friday we sit in darkness and consider the cost of our Redemption.

On Sunday I spoke about some of Jesus’ grief in weeping over Jerusalem. One of the griefs we have the hardest time processing is the grief for what might have been, our hopes shattered. It seems strange mourning for something that never was, but we do. And we often do not know what to do when our hopes are dashed and our fears are realized. This is the hidden grief of parents with miscarriages, and unrequited love of the lonely. The followers of Jesus who shouted Hosanna on Sunday were expecting, hoping for a new day, a new dawn “where Justice would roll down like water, righteousness like an everflowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

And not just the crowd, think of the one who knew him the longest and loved him the most. Did Mary think back to the Angel Gabriel's visitation at the foot of the Cross? Did she think back to her cousin Elizabeth proclaiming the greatness of God when she learned Mary was pregnant? Did she wonder how wrong she had been? Or did she think back to the prophecy of Simeon at Jesus’ presentation in the Temple, when he proclaimed: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-- and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”? [Luke 2:34-35]

Sitting here this night we think on the man who chose to die, all for Love’s Sake. The sorrow of the immediate was embraced for the eternal gain. He warned, he foretold, he prophesied. And then was silent, like a lamb to the slaughter.

The hopes and fears of all the years, are met in Thee tonight, too. On this night the tables were turned. The fears and tears outweigh the hope, which is struggling like a candle in the gusts of this night.

Tonight as we sit in the darkness, pondering the Cross of Christ, remember you are buried with him in your baptism. If you come forward to venerate pause at the font. For both symbols, cross and the water are death. The one thing we are all promised without compromise. But in that darkness, in those fears, do not let the glow of hope extinguish fully. It may be Friday, but Sunday's coming! Psalm 22 begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” We quote it so readily, as did Jesus on the Cross. But let us not forget how it ends:
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, *
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him...
To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; *
all who go down to the dust fall before him.
My soul shall live for him;
my descendants shall serve him; *
they shall be known as the Lord's for ever.
They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn *
the saving deeds that he has done.
We, YOU and ME, we are the people who were yet unborn who remember, the Lord saved his people. Amen

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Year C Maundy Thursday 2019 Real & True

Year C Maundy Thursday, 18 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Real and True”

Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

"Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

When I wrote a book, I had one idea in mind. I wanted to get down in one place what I hold most dear, what I treasure. I wrote it with my girls in mind. They were my audience. I wanted them to hear from me, what I hold most dear from living this life. Now I treasure them more which is why I wrote it for them, but also I obviously treasure my ideas, which is why I wrote a book.

Lora Robins Gallery at the University of Richmond opened when I was in school. It was the most eclectic, bizarre collection of nature items, fossils, realistic clay figures, all kinds of stuff. Taken from the Robins family home, the museum was a glimpse into her treasures. Walking through it gained an insight to a fascinating, different take on the world. Her treasures spoke to who she was and what she loved.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This is a way to see people, to ponder their hearts.

Think on this. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you get up and do? Who would you run to see? What would you treasure most in all the world so much that you would run to it and hold it close, if only a moment in your final hours?

Jesus treasured his friends, his disciples. He even says in our readings opening verse that he “loved them to the end.” He wanted them to learn from him one last time. He did not run away to save himself. He went to the planned dinner, the Passover meal. He modeled servant leadership. If you want to be my disciples, what did he want them to do? “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Later they did. They remembered how he humbled himself. How he touched them. How he took the role of the servant even though they called him Lord.

Even more, he led them in a sign and symbol they could take with them. The Bread. The Cup. Taking the ordinary on and making it sacred. Whenever they take this, he will be there. Real and true.

When I was a boy, I won the Good Citizenship Award in kindergarten. I got a badge made out of a pie tin, and I got a sheet of Goetze’s Caramels. When I got home I was so proud. I wore my pie tin Good Citizen badge all day. That night when my dad got home, after dinner he went out to work in his workshop. I took that flat of Caramel Cremes out to him. My dad said that that was his favorite candy. I already knew that which is why I took it out to share. We sat in the bench swing between two trees and ate every last one of them. When I see a bag of Goetze’s Caramel Cremes to this day, I think of my dad. When I taste one, I immediately am six again, and my dad is with me. Real and true. Those sensory memories do not go away.

Jesus did the same for us in the Last Supper. He gave us a sensory reminder, a touchstone through sight, and touch, and taste where we can pause and connect with this one we love. When Jesus told his disciples that he would be with them, and they handed it on to those they brought up in the faith, and they their pupils, and so on, and so on, and so on tonight we may feel Jesus there. Instantaneously we trigger those memories, those feelings, that presence. Real and true.

Lastly, he gave them final instructions before he went away.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

When we are loving, we are claiming who we are and whose we are.

But wait, there has to be more to it than that, right? Nope.

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him..” I John 4:7-9

That is what it takes, real and true love makes us real and true disciples. Not conditional. Not situational. Not self-serving. Real and true.

Tonight as we ponder the last supper, that intentional and deliberate time Jesus chose to take and share with his friends may we cling to that. What do you pour your life into? What do you treasure?

No one on their deathbed says they wish they had spent more time at work.

Watch the sunset. Share the joke. Sit and hold hands. Love people through their worst selves and call them to a higher place.

Now unlike Jesus, we never know when our last may come. We never know when we have our last anything. Few of us are cursed with that knowledge. So what do we do with that knowledge?

Live each day like its your last. Don’t postpone joy. Even more, don’t postpone love. Be Real. Be True. As I have blessed you before, I do so now:
Life is short and we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.
So be quick to love, and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
be among you, and remain with you forever. Amen

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Year C Palm Sunday 2019 The Time of our Visitation

Year C Palm Sunday 14 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal Church, Ashland, VA
“The Time of our Visitation”

Collect: Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today's Texts Because of the length of the Passion narrative, I am just providing a link to today’s texts.

Grief takes many forms. We linger in anticipatory grief knowing the rest of the story.

There is an irony amidst all the joy of this day. Despite the of the shouts of Hosanna, Jesus grieved, for what he saw coming, and for what has been. In fact, the opening reading outside stopped short of a very important verse in Luke. Peeling it back, hear again why we call this day Palm Sunday, the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, and why from Luke’s account I lean on a reading in grief...

Luke 19: 37-44
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
     “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!
          Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

And then immediately the text goes on to this...

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

For Jesus, what we see as Triumphant is heartbreaking. He knows the way the City of God should be, could be, and how so far from its intent it is. He weeps for Jerusalem, while the echoes of Hosanna are still ringing in the hills. It is what it is. Much like our hearts, there is so much more that could be, should be. It begs the question, “How do I cause Jesus to weep?”

Jesus knows what this week will bring, since at the Mount of Transfiguration he has turned his face to Jerusalem, the outcome was known. In the Gospels over and over he tells the disciples what is to come. Do they not listen? Do they not understand? Do they take it as metaphor, while Jesus is being open and honest?

Look at the Gospels, and see from sheer percentage how much of each one is devoted to this one week. From Palm Sunday to Easter we have so much in detail, the Whos, the Whats, the Wheres of the Story. We call it Holy, and remember Holy means “set apart.” One of the reasons it is so set apart is because we have it in such intimate detail. It is Holy even more for what those details are.

And we have only told a part of the story this morning. We stopped on the brink of Golgotha. We stopped when Jesus is grouped with two criminals. We stopped where he is at the point of no return. The Cavalry is not coming in for a dramatic rescue, for we are at Calvary. There will be no rescue. And even here we see his life shaped by the Grace he preached. Even here we see him living the message to the very end.

Like the Centurion at the Cross may we also see and believe. Do we proclaim like he did, “Surely this man is innocent. Surely this man is the Son of God.”

I said this day is tainted by grief. Grief for what was to come. Grief for what was not ever to be. Grief over life. We grieve because we Love. We grieve because we Hope. We grieve because we Live. It has been said that “Man is the only animal that knows it's going to die.” In his death we see our own. In his grief we see our mortality. If one so good, so righteous, so loving can be treated thus, what can we expect?

Would we be able to walk with such faith, such hope, such love? Would we be able to walk between the shouts of Hosanna knowing that they would so quickly shift to “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!”? Would we turn the other cheek with the mocking, the scorn, the gloating when we knew how wrong those others were? Would we restrain the very angelic host of heaven for Love’s Sake?

God loves us so much that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. [John 3:16-17] Stay with us this week. Stay with us as the greatest story ever told unfolds. The deeply moving goodbyes of Maundy Thursday, the depths of the shadow of death on Friday, and the surprising and unexpected third act of Easter. I said it last year, and I will say it again, if you can make only one service a year I would ask you to make it the Easter Vigil Saturday night at 8 p.m. If you can only make three this year, then come for all three acts of an unforgettable drama. Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., and Saturday night at 8. It is all we say we believe in three distinct acts. The choir has been gearing up for weeks, Harrison and I are getting our sermons in gear. But even in all the preparations, it is service to the life-changing story of the Passion of our Christ, our Messiah. My prayer is that you will come and be a part, and take this good news with you into your life and work. Amen

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Year C Lent 5 WED 2019 The Good Shepherd's Goal

Year C Lent 5 WEDNESDAY, 10 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Good Shepherd’s Goal”

John 10:1-18
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Once I heard the famous seminary professor Fred Craddock talk about the skill and craft of Preaching. In fact his text, Preaching, is required reading for many a seminary student. His argument is that most preachers preach from a single text, most a single verse. Because he was speaking to a room full of preachers, he encouraged us to filter down our preaching, what is it that we repeatedly come back to, what touchstone keeps coming up in our teaching and preaching.

It did not take me long to get down to my preaching Least Common Denominator. It is even in my Facebook description of myself. Not the whole verse, but the phrasing and homage is there.

It is even in today’s passage. Now the second half of this passage was one of the readings at my ordination to the priesthood, the part that begins “I am the Good Shepherd…” And I asked Bishop Shannon if we could include my key verse, my Fred Craddock One Verse, in the reading. I so appreciated that the Bishop said yes.

So I am opening up the curtain, and telling you something to look for in my teaching and preaching. I am giving you one of my tells, my main one. Look for it whenever I get up to talk, because in all of Scripture I cannot think of anything that summarizes the point of goal of faith better.

It gives us a direction, a purpose, and a way to get there. So have you figured out what I seem to have found so important?

It is the second half of almost a throwaway verse. The first half, out of context, makes us wonder what on earth Jesus was trying to get at, but it becomes clear with the second half.

Enough talking around it. My key verse is John 10:10, emphasis on the second half, please. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. And who is the “they” that Jesus came to bring life? We, YOU AND ME, we are the “they.” We are the sheep who go in and out through the gate, where the Good Shepherd resides. We are allowed to go in and out, not controlled, but cared for. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” He encourages us to go out, live life to its fullest. To be the best you you can be. Thanks be to God!

So that begs the question today. How is your life Abundant? How can you live that Abundant Life? Maybe you are. Jesus wants you to be all that you can be and more. He came for that. His teachings lead you to that. He died for that. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Not fear, Abundance. Amen

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Year C Lent 5 2019 Don't Look Back

Year C Lent 5, 7 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Don’t Look Back"

: Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Philippians 3:4b-14
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

How do you say “I love you.”? J’taime. Te amo. Ego amo te. Ich liebe dich. Medo wo. But I am not talking about language, necessarily. We all have our ways to say I love you.

For some it is saying the words, words of affirmation, “You are so wonderful.”, “You look really nice today.”.

For some it is physical contact, holding hands, a hug.

For some it is acts of service, doing the little things that make life easier.

For some it is quality time, time set aside with special effort and intention, a party, a candlelight dinner, a getaway.

We all have our ways of saying I love you. We all have our ways of needing to hear I love you. One of the greatest needs in relationships is speaking the language our loved ones need. The stereotypical Ugly American going to another country and assuming people need to speak our language is what happens in many a non-functional relationship. Speaking louder is not going to help, overseas or in a relationship. And too often that lands people in my office or marriage counselors.

For some saying I love you is the giving of gifts. That could mean bringing home a favorite ice cream. Or something special in a box from Tiffany’s. Or an alabaster jar of perfume. My guess would be that Mary’s love language was the giving of gifts. And she took her greatest possession, and gave it freely, openly, extravagantly.

Notice here that Judas, and John presumes a motive, complains about how she says I love you. He does not speak her love language, and calls it a waste. Garrison Keillor said once, “Anything done for a child is never a waste.” I thoroughly believe that. Anything done for Love is much the same. Last week I told you that the Prodigal means Lavish, and we have slapped it on the Lost Son in the parable. But Prodigal Mary is far more an apt description. She is lavish in her public statement of how much she loves Jesus. She gives her absolute best in expressing her devotion.

Let us not forget, Martha, though. What is her love language? Acts of service. Remember when she complained to Jesus about her sister, “Tell her to get in here and help me?” Her love language is service. [Thank you, Altar Guild. Thank you, Facilities Team.] Let us not forget that the place of Martha’s prodigal, lavish act was a dinner Martha made and served. We tend to forget that part because it is less flamboyant and memorable.

The other part of the story we need to acknowledge is the context. We are in Chapter 12 of John. What happens in Chapter 11? The raising of Lazarus from the dead, Mary’s brother. And Lazarus is sitting at the table with Jesus, no longer rotting in the grave. Mary’s act of love is an act of worship in response to Grace. She COULD NEVER pay Jesus back for the gift of life for her brother. NEVER, EVER. All she can do is live in that gift. Live in that Love.

When we are in Love we do all kinds of things that make no rational sense. As my grandmother used to say, 
Love is such a funny thing, it’s kind of like a lizard. 
it curls itself upon its back and crawls into your gizzard.
And when it gets down in our gizzard, we do things that are unexpected, extravagant, and beautiful.

It makes us forget what has come before. There is a reason we still read Romeo and Juliet, because we probably remember being that crazy in love. At least for a moment. We are willing to fling off everything. We are willing to forsake whatever has come before. In the famous balcony scene, Juliet expresses this:
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet…
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
And that is what it all comes back to, how do we say I love you. This is the very thing Paul is getting at in our reading to the Philippians. He is pleading with them to forsake their fathers and forsake their name. He did, and he didn’t look back!

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

In Christ he had found what he had always been looking for. When he studied the Law of Moses, the Torah, he wanted to know what God required. When he persecuted the Church in the very name of God, he was attempting to uphold what he thought to be true. Then in a moment of revelation, he saw the truth and the truth set him free. We look to that moment, but we forget the years in Arabia he spent wrestling with this newfound truth and learning to live in the path of peace, the way of Grace and Love.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection
, this is his driving force. And how does he say I love you to Christ? He says the words. He does the first century equivalent of renting billboards and proposing at a sporting event on the Jumbotron. He travels and preaches and suffers and eventually dies to let others know the wonders, the glories, the Grace he has found. He is so in love he strives to know Christ all the more.

C.S. Lewis castigates us for being half-hearted in our love.
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
We are in the season of preparation for the greatest story ever told, of how God loved us so much that God took away all hurdles and excuses. God slipped into our skin and moved into the neighborhood so we could hear it directly what he asks of us, to love God, Others, Self with all we have been given. Just like God loved us. And so we would get the picture God showed us this, that he loves us to Death. And then when we thought the story was over, he showed us that LOVE ALWAYS WINS. That story has been given a name, the Passion, because it is all about LOVE. As our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has repeatedly said in person and on the world’s stage, “If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God.”

If someone loves me that much, I want to know everything about them that I can know. I step up, and give my very best. My alabaster jar of nard, whatever that is for me. It may be shouting it from the rooftops, or the pulpit. It may be visiting the friendless and the forgotten. It may be using a special skill, like accounting, to help the Church keep its financials ship-shape. It may have been coming to sweep down the cobwebs yesterday morning. It may be polishing the silver in the Sacristy, and ironing the linen. It may be showing up on Thursday to rehearse, to sing the glories of God on Sunday. It may be fixing coffee so we can gather and share the love after services. We all have our ways loving God. Let us not be Judas and pooh-pooh anyone else’s I love you.

Embrace that love. Live that love. And don’t look back. Amen

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Year C Lent 4 WED 2019 Reshaped for a Reason

Year C Lent 4 WEDNESDAY, 3 April 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Reshaped for a Reason”

Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Here are portions of the today’s readings...

Jeremiah 18:1-11
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel...

Romans 8:1-11
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit...

John 6: 27-40

Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.

God shaping us and remolding us, in Jeremiah. No condemnation if we are in Christ, according to Paul. Believe, this is the work of God, that Jesus is the Bread of Life, according to Jesus himself. We have these competing images in today’s readings. Differing metaphors for the intangible spiritual life.

This, then, is what we are looking at today. Doing things differently. God is calling Israel to be undone and redone. A strong, clear image everyone hearing could envision. They knew when one throws a pot imbalances happen. The Potter takes the unbalanced vessel, and shapes it again making it stable, usable, better.

Paul looks at the human condition differently. The Spirit is in you, or it isn’t. There is no middle ground here, no wiggle room. If you are in Christ, you are focused on the Spirit. If you are of the Flesh, you are not. This metaphor is different, because it focuses on what is in the pot, not the pot. A big difference here is that by the time Paul has come along, Jewish thought, especially a kid raised in Tarsus, had been influenced by Greek thought, where the body and spirit were seen as separate. One good. One bad. To Jeremiah, a distinction like that would probably have been drivel.

And then we come to Jesus.
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’
Be careful not to read, This is the ONLY work of God. That is easily slipped in here. For those listeners on that day, the first step was for them to believe. As these words are still hanging in the air, they go on: So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

Jesus, if he's anything like us, would need to breathe deep and count to ten. “Do you guys think that was from Moses, that Bread from Heaven? IT CAME FROM GOD!”

Then they ask for that bread, still missing the point. Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.” And hence we get the words. The whole bailiwick. The Potter shapes the Vessel, so that it can be filled with the One Who Was To Come. Blaise Pascal: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

In my Beetle, I have to be very careful what I plan to put in the trunk. There is only so much that can go in, as the opening is small, and not easily crammable. It would be hard to fit most things in, but it is set and not easily redone. We are not like that. God takes us, reshapes us with WHO WE ALREADY ARE and MAKES US READY TO HOLD CHRIST. We are the Vessels. He is the Precious Commodity. Don’t balk at being reshaped. It might not be easy, and it may hurt at times, a nip, a tuck, a pinch. But in the Master’s hands we are being shaped for what is to come. We are being prepared for the Unimaginable. Amen.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Year C Lent 4 2019 Desperately Seeking You

Year C Lent 4, 31 March 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Desperately Seeking You”

Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 15:1-32
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

So he told them this parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.

 ‘Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands."' So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate.

"Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' Then the father said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.'"

We are the music makers,
    And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Thus begins one of my favorite poems. I use it at weddings and at funerals. But today I want to share the last two lines, because it helps us transition from last week’s sermon to today.
For each age is a dream that is dying,
    Or one that is coming to birth.
The coming of Jesus marked the end of an age. As well as the birth of a new one. The dream of a coming Messiah was dead, because the Messiah had come! But he was breaking rules, and doing things against the status quo. He was not there to justify to the righteous, like was expected. But to enable us to become the children of God, which changes EVERYTHING!

Last week we looked at one of the major hurdles of faith, when bad things happen,  theodicy for the theological term. And this week I want us to look at the flip side of that. I want us to view the seeking nature of the sought for God.

Our Gospel today is one of the best strings of stories in the Gospels. Each enlightens the next, and rich out of context, together they are a sumptuous feast of Grace.

I have a confession, the Gospel lesson today is only the introductory verses and the story of the Prodigal Son. I added to it the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. In fact the third story should be the Lost Son. The word Prodigal comes from the Latin word for “lavish.” The son may have been lavish, but like the sheep and the coin, he was just as lost.

In setting the stage, Luke tells us the very reason for Jesus’ trilogy of parables.
Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’
Jesus was being judged for the very reason he came, to seek and to save the lost. I pray that the work we do ruins our reputations with the “respectable” people, too. Too often the church has become a Chapel for the Comfortable, as opposed to a fueling station of Ambassadors of Grace. So Jesus tells us these stories.

The Lost Sheep. Sheep are not the brightest of critters, and domestication dumbs them down even more. The sheep wandered off. There is a reason we need sheepdogs and shepherds. Sheep follow their noses, and go from clump to clump to clump. Sometimes they do this and do not even notice that they are no longer with their flock. Sometimes in their wandering they fall down in pits or gullies. And that necessitates someone going to seek them out. They need a shepherd. That is where we get the word pastor, someone to shepherd God’s sheep. I trust you are a step above sheeple.

But think about it. If we are the sheep, and God is the Shepherd, then what fault does the sheep have in getting lost? Does the shepherd even ask that question? No. The shepherd only wants the sheep home safe and sound. How often do we concern ourselves in how someone “got lost?” That was Bob being Bob, or Sue being Sue. But the shepherd knows that sheep get lost, and their only concern is saving the sheep.

Then we have the Lost Coin. One of ten. The Greek word used is not coin, but rather drachma, a day’s wage. This is not a gold coin that is being sought, it is a meager, humble, working class coin. In our luxury, we sometimes walk past a penny on the ground. Why bother?

Why does the woman search and clean till the coin us found? It is of value, great value to her. Someone gave a day of their life to earn that coin, and she was not resting till it was found. Unlike the sheep, the coin did not wander off. It did not follow its nose. It has no free will or ability. It was lost. It found itself lost. It had no way to get out of its predicament. But it was of value by the nature of what it was. It was worth finding. If we are the coin, and God is the woman, what does that say? We are of worth. We are of value. We are worth finding BECAUSE OF OUR INHERENT VALUE.

Think of what Jesus is saying in this context. When we are stupid, and do things we probably should not, we are still worth the trouble. When we get into situations through no fault of our own, we are still worth the trouble. And then we get to the Prodigal, the Lavish but still lost, Son. Here we find a different situation, and Jesus really pushes the point with this one.

The Prodigal could not have been more upsetting to the cultural norms of his day. He does everything wrong he could do to upset the beloved patriarchal approach to his listeners.

To start the offense, the son asks for his half of the inheritance BEFORE the father dies. What is the son saying? We have no relationship. You are nothing to me but a means to an end. I wish you were dead so I could get the heck out of here. Think of how the Father hears these words. The Father has such love for the Son, that even though it breaks his heart and divides his estate, he gives it to the Son. He goes off to a foreign land, and squanders it. Loose living and high times takes every penny, and when all is gone he finds himself far from home in a land famished and with no one to turn to. Jesus was a masterful storyteller. And here we see him at his best.  What does the Prodigal, the lavish one, turn to to feed himself? No Jewish boy could fall any lower in his kinsmen’s eyes than to feed pigs. Pigs were not kosher. You do not touch a pig, much less feed them. And then look, he had fallen so far he was JEALOUS of a pig! He wanted their pods, their slop, he was so hungry. This is HUGE! And then he figures it out.
          ♪♪ “Don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone…”♪♪
He could go home. At least at his Father’s house, his generous, lovely, naive, loving Father’s house he could be a servant. So he sets out. He heads home. All the way there he practices the speech. "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands." And he pauses when he sees the house afar off.

And what is it he sees? A trail of dust. A running man. Is it someone come to chase him away? Is it someone to send him packing. It is what he deserved, in a fair and just world. He wished his Father dead, and he is probably dead to his Father. But then coming closer we see something else. It is not a servant with stick in hand, it is the Father with tears in his eyes thanking God. If you cannot image this, stop right now.

The image of the Return of the Lost Son being embraced by a loving, forgiving Father is The Epitome of what Jesus is about, here we see him at his height of making an approachable metaphor that anyone can understand, and yet take books by scholars to begin to unpack. But being human, we do not need to be scholars to understand. We know UNCONDITIONAL LOVE when we see it.

In that day and age, it was beneath the Father’s decorum to hurry anywhere. He was a wealthy landowner and he need not rush for anyone. And yet, he ran. This is the most poignant story of Grace in Scripture until Jesus hangs on the Cross. Jesus, who we call God the Son, is saying THIS is the very nature of God. Even while we are yet Sinners, God DESPERATELY wants us to come home. No questions asked. No caveats or exceptions. It did no good for the Father to chase after the Son like the Shepherd hunted after the Sheep, or the Woman sought for the Coin. The Son chose to leave. The Son had to turn and come home. He had Free Will. He had to see for himself that what he had rejected was truly what he wanted. Dorothy has to realize there is no place like home, and click her heels. The Prodigal had to realize better a servant in the Father’s house, than Lost and Alone far from home.

Now remember the context, the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ This is where he adds the kicker. The Other Son. The Son who always did “the right thing” and could not resent it more learns that his good for nothing brother has come home. Not only that, he has been given THE BEST ROBE, THE GOLD RING, AND HAS A FEAST WITH THE FATTED CALF! I can hear it now, “THIS IS NOT FAIR!”

We say we want Justice and Mercy. No we don’t. Not really. We want Grace. Justice is getting what one deserves. Mercy is getting off easy but still being held in account for our actions and decisions. Grace is a gift, a free gift, with no strings attached. And Grace is Amazing.

The Father invites the Good Son to see what Grace looks like. Lost and now Found, Dead and now Alive. The Good Son says clearly he did what he did out of obligation, he did what he did out of loyalty, maybe. He did not do it joyfully. He did not do it out of love. “I worked like a slave…” He was so close to love and grace and did not know it, he did not even see it. Everything his Father had was to be his. He was set to receive all, his brother had gotten his share. And he could not see that. The more he did for his Father, the greater would be his reward. Especially when he did it in love. He was so caught up in doing right, he had somehow missed the boat on being loved.

If you have never read Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of the Prodigal  I cannot recommend it enough. We are all the Father, the Prodigal, and the Good Son. When we are lost, we are encouraged to come home, like the Prodigal. When we are judgmental and hypocritical, we are invited to not just see things differently but to be transformed, as was the “Good” Son. And with all we meet, may we run with Grace to embrace and welcome people home like the Father. We have been blessed to be a blessing. We receive Grace to freely give it away.

These three stories model for us a Transforming Vision of the World. May we be so ridiculous to run like the Father, to sweep and seek like the woman, to go out with desperate intent like the Shepherd. And when we receive Grace, we weep with the tears of grateful hearts.

Jesus came to make the Blind to See, the Lame to Walk, and the Dead to Rise. If that is not Revolutionary, I do not know what is.
We, in the ages lying,
    In the buried past of the earth,
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
    And Babel itself in our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
    To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
    Or one that is coming to birth. Amen.