Sunday, June 23, 2019

Year C Proper 7 2019 Go Home Now

Year C Proper 7, 23 June 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Go Home Now”

Collect: O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Kings 19:1-15a
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."

He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus."

Luke 8:26-39
Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me" -- for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

One never knows what the day will bring. One never knows where the winds of life will toss us, to or fro, back or forth, up or down. We see Jesus thrown into a situation where his character comes out.
Today’s Gospel is the story tucked into an interesting series. Jesus’ family comes to take him home because he seems to have gotten a little big for his britches and he has to denounce them. Then to take a break they go sailing, and a horrible storm comes up, and he calms that. The disciples even ask “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?” Then we have today’s text with the demoniac. Right after this, he returns to the Jewish side of the lake and he brings Jairus’ daughter back from the dead, and heals the hemorrhaging woman. “Who is this Jesus?” was the question of that day, and as we come to the baptismal waters it is the question of today. How we answer that question says much about who we are.

In Chapter 8, he has authority over nature with the storm, he as power over supernatural forces with the demons here, and then power concerning health and even death itself with the healings that follow. But let’s focus on today’s reading.

The demon-filled man comes at him. The spirits in him know who Jesus is, and this is before any of the disciples have had the audacity to say it out loud. “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me!” It is said the Truth will out. And it does here.

The disciples and Jesus had sailed across the big lake we call the Sea of Galilee. Now this bunch of good Jewish boys had come across to this Gentile area. Demon-filled naked men and herds of swine, they may have crossed the lake, but to them they were on the “other side of the tracks.” But Jesus remained the same he always was, and stayed true to his mission. Just before this [in chapter 8] he had instructed his followers these words:
“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.”
The demons showed their hand, they were open and obvious as to who and what they were. In ancient understanding, if you knew a spirit’s name you could have power over that spirit. If you remember Jacob wrestling with God at Bethel, it was much the same. Jesus asks the name(s) of the demons. “Legion” (for they were many) was the response.

Hell is so bad, that they beg Jesus not to send them back to the Abyss. He does not, but sends them into a herd of swine that was there. Remember, they were on the Gentile (non-Jewish) side of the lake. Swine are not kosher. But even the unclean swine were so horrified at the new state of affairs, they threw themselves off a cliff. Lemming swine, it seems.

Now, power can cause awe, and power can cause fear. Change, while maybe wanted, is never easy. In our packing, I am learning that lesson daily. I so look forward to moving up here, but there is a lot to make happen before it is reality. The demoniac wanted to be well, he longed for Sanity. In a word, Jesus answered his prayers. The man wanted to stay with him after that.

The man’s community did not have the same feelings.
Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 
Jesus, like God, knows when he is not welcome. Power can be scary, like with the disciple, “Who then is this?” But the man was different...
The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Jesus gave him the harder task. “Go back,” Jesus seems to be saying, “Go back to what you know, where you were humiliated and scary, and live that different life. Show people while you tell them how good God is!” And notice now, like the demons, this man knows who Jesus is. Jesus told him to declare what God has done, and he proceeds to say what JESUS had done for him.

How could Jesus do something like this? How could he be prepared to take on his family, a storm at sea, and a legion of demons all in the same day? He could not prepare for this like an event. A one time thing, like training for a marathon. The life of faith is an ongoing, everyday discipleship. Through prayer, and Scripture, and service, and forgiveness, and love we see that “by turning, turning, we come round right” as they sing in the Shaker hymn.

It is not easy. It is not attractive. It is the daily life of taking up our cross and following him.

In our Old Testament reading for the day, we see an exhausted prophet who has done EVERYTHING that was asked of him, and he is worn out. Hungry, angry, lonely, and tired, he is just not feeling it anymore. He did all that was asked of him, and we see him hiding out in a cave. He had just called fire from heaven in the Showdown at Mt. Carmel. And because of that, Queen Jezebel has promised him death.

Tuckered out and tucked away, Elijah finally gets quiet and still. We all need that, every day. I require time to get still and quiet, and get tucked away with God. We all do. When Elijah finally does, we come to one of my favorite passages of Scripture.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."

He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus."

We see Elijah in his pity party, when God steps in. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

“Lord, I did everything you told me to do, and that bunch of ingrates that you call your people have quit. And worse they are out for my blood! I am the only one doing anything, and I am through!” [Self-righteous pity-party paraphrase, there.]

And then God reminds Elijah, that God is God, and Elijah is not. Elijah cannot see as God sees, and God’s call is to be faithful, not successful. God’s call is to keep on keeping on. We think we want fire and fury, but God is not found there. God’s power erupted in whirlwinds, earthquakes, and raging fires, but God was not there. Too often my life resembles the whirlwind, the earthquake, the fire. And then and there is where I think I can find God. God is here with us all the time, but to sense it, to feel it, we have to get to a place where the business and the busy-ness of our lives is calmed like the storm on the lake. Elijah found, and so must we, that God is there in the “quite stillness,” in “the still, small voice.” That is where we find God.

After Lent, we have been working to take the old slate that was on our front steps and repurpose them into a beautiful place to get still and quiet with God. Behind the church in what is called the cutting garden you will find a wonderful space to quiet yourself and listen to that voice, that still, small voice. I hope you will check it out. A meditation labyrinth is set up. A statue of St. Francis, and a beautiful Celtic cross are tucked away in nature. I hope you will begin using it. Soon we will have a bench to sit and contemplate, to think and pray. And after that stillness, we are called to go “back home.”

Like the Demoniac and Elijah, we are called to live our lives of faith back here in the day in and day out world we have been given. That is how we live the life of faith, that is where we find the true success. We are part of the Kingdom, but we are not the King. God is glorified in the small contributions of love and devotion we add to the world. Thanks be to God.

As God instructed Elijah, and Jesus instructed the Demoniac, after our encounters we need to go home and declare what God has done for us. May it be so for us as well. Amen.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Year C Trinity Sunday WED 2019 Eternal Now

Year C Trinity Sunday, WEDNESDAY, 19 June 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Eternal Now”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 20:27-40
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

What is this passage about? What tack do we see Jesus taking? Now it starts with a “gotcha” situation where the Sadducees wanted to put egg all over Jesus’ face. They pose a ridiculous hypothetical situation that they could not care one iota about the response. They do not believe in an afterlife, so asking about marriage in the afterlife is not the intent. It was to divide, and therefore conquer, Jesus’ following. If they could get people arguing over something insignificant to them, they have won. That is the problem with binary thinking. Win Lose. Pass Fail. Right Wrong. As you have heard me say before and I repeat, Jesus reframed the question and stepped it up to a higher level.

He answers the question. The hypothetical wife is nobody’s spouse in heaven. Children of the Resurrection are “like the angels,” neither given nor received in marriage. There is no marriage in heaven. I had a secretary that talked about becoming an angel when she died. In my youthful naivete I corrected her and said that Jesus said we would be like them, not become them. She wanted hope. I gave her semantics.

But then Jesus goes on and talks of Moses and the Burning Bush. There is no death with God. We are all alive to God. God is the God of the Living, not the dead. That is why we can look at God being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And Sarah, and Rebekah, and Rachel. They are present tense with God, not past tense.

I am. Not I was.

If I ever write a theoretical theology book, it will be on this very topic. I have spent too many hours pondering the implications of this and a few other passages. We do not have a good theology of Time.

Time, like matter, is a creation. Our understanding of it, and experience of it, is like a stream from beginning to an ending. I like to think of it just like flowing water. We step into it. We step out of it. We go along with the flow while we are in it. God is not in it. God is above it, beyond it, can operate outside of it and inside of it. But to God, not caught in the flowing pipeline of time, the perspective is drastically different. God is at the Alpha, and at the Omega. God sees the ending and the beginning simultaneously.  There is nothing other  than the NOW to God. God resides in the Eternal Now.

It makes prayer very different. God already sees where things need to be and stacks the dominos accordingly. It is like watching a movie with my kids that I have already seen. I know the outcome. I know where it is going. I have to be careful what I share with them, already knowing where things are going. And, I can delight in their experience of it.

Jesus was God stepping into Time, stepping into Matter. Learning the limitations of not being Omniscient. Think of what a struggle that would be. When the woman grabbed the hem of his garment to be healed. “Who touched me?” he asked. I think that is why God is so patient and forgiving of us. He knows how little we can see of the ripple effects of our choices on our lives and those around us. Ignorance is bliss. When Jesus prayed in the Garden, “If this cup can pass from me…” He knew God knew the permutations and the outcomes, and knew that if there was any other way to do it God would want that.

But no. What is is what is meant to be. That is not fatalism. Because we do know the outcomes, nor the implications, it is all a surprise to us. So we pray. We hope. We live our lives as best we can, trapped in the flow and sequence. We can only look back, and in so doing we see a narrative. What would we do if we could see the whole picture at once? Charles Joseph Minard made one of the greatest visualizations of time, information and geography in his famous map/story of Napoleon’s March to Russia in 1812. It is the God’s eye view, of the story in time and space.

NAPOLEAN’S MARCH by Charles Joseph Minard (1869) (See below)

What if we could see our story like this? What would you do? What would you dare do? This is how God sees all of time and all of creation. He was there at the Alpha, and will be there at the Omega welcoming us home.

Image result for napoleon's march

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Year C Trinity Sunday 2019 The Mystery Abides

Year C Trinity Sunday, 16 June 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Mystery Abides”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 16:12-15
Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

I saw a picture on the internet this week for all preachers who follow the Lectionary. “If you want to avoid heresy this Sunday when speaking of the Trinity, say nothing and show pictures of cats.”

Alas, if it were only that simple. Trinity Sunday. I preached it last year. And I am preaching it this year. Harrison, (our deacon) you have next year, no matter what. The only Sunday in our year which is set aside to a doctrine. Now, if I can play teacher, turn in your prayer book to page 864 and 865. Go ahead, I will wait. The Creed of St. Athanasius. Now if you want to get into the nitty gritty, there you go. (For readers: It is given in full at the bottom of this blog entry.) It is an ancient text, written after the Apostles and Nicean, and you will hear echoes of both in it. We add doctrine to fight heresy. And heresies spring up in mystery, as we struggle to put handles on the ephemeral.

In college, I had a Catholic roommate. He was devout, and good guy. I learned a lot from him, and I loved talking about our differences. One of the things that stuck with me was when he said one time, “You protestants feel the need to explain away everything.” Now back then, I did not get what he meant. Looking back, he was inviting me to embrace the mystery. That is what I needed. It is what I still need.

St. Athanasius set out to elucidate the mystery, without explaining it away. I, in my eager attempts to be right, did the same. I have come away in the following decades, running to mysteries, in hopes of finding the awe that we seem to have lost in the modern age.

I remember speaking with a fertility doctor one time, and he was sharing how he loves that he works in mysteries every day. He knows what works, but how? Why? He is as clueless as the rest of us. Now, spending time with the mysteries enables him to ponder, guess, and get cozy with them. When he does this, the outcomes seems to be that. He is abiding in the mysteries as he does his best to get the fertilized egg to abide in the womb.

Today, as we try to snuggle into this idea, think on the unthinkable.

It is easy to picture God as Other. The word Holy means “set apart,” and God is that. Unknowable. Unsearchable. Far removed from the sin and squalid nature of this world. It is easy to picture a god “away up there.” The opening words of Jesus’ prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven” reflect that idea.

There is a wonderful scene in a show about ancient Rome, and two soldiers are discussing the stars, calling them the campfires of the gods. They are on their backs looking up at the stars, staying warm by their fire, and assuming that the gods are doing the same, peering down at them.

Like most, we have a sense that the world is so big, so huge, that there had to be some hand working out the details. It is so AWE-inspiring that it is hard not to envision, but so set apart from us that it is beyond our comprehension.

In high school I was on a ski trip with my youth group, and we were staying at Massanetta Springs, a Presbyterian retreat and conference center just outside of Harrisonburg. Behind our dorms was a snow covered hill, and being from the flat land of Tidewater, I climbed up the crusty ridge, and got above the street lamps. I got up high enough that I could see the Milky Way stretched out so far, so wide. I felt so small and tiny. “Who was I that God should be mindful of me?” was the feeling I had. Little did I realize at the time that I was echoing the psalmist in Psalm 8 (vv. 3-4)
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,    the moon and the stars that you have established;what are human beings that you are mindful of them,    mortals that you care for them?Thinking of God as the Other comes naturally.

And we all, I trust, have felt the presence of the Holy in our lives. Those times when we felt a warmth, a presence, a love which was beyond words. The intimate nature of the Divine cannot be planned for, nor can it be created. Religion is the “reconnecting with God,” [literally re-ligamenting] but this first-hand experiences with the Divine is what drives our re-connecting.

Nature. Thin spaces. Tragic moments. God seems to be in the very air we are breathing, surrounding us, coming into us, becoming one with us. We catch glimpses of this, but we do not reside there. I am not sure that we could. It would be too much. It would be overwhelming. But those moments of the Inner God, as powerful and overwhelming as the Outer Other, can be easy to see as well.

There have been times and places where the palpable nature of the Divine was so immediate, faith stopped and knowledge began. Like in the movie Contact, the main character has an encounter with an alien life form. She KNOWS it happened. She does not doubt for a second. In her attempts to give words to what she experienced, she fails. She was a scientist, and could write the equation, but she knew she could not give words to what took place. All she could say was, “They should have sent a poet. They should have sent a poet.”

God the Outer Other, God the Inner Known, two persons of the Trinity. So many faiths speak both of these. But one of our distinctions in our faith is saying that both are true. And more.

The Incarnation, the idea that the eternal stepped into time and space is much like the line from the movie Contact. They should have sent a poet.

The opening hymn to this concept is what John was attempting in his opening of his Gospel. You have to start with the poetic to begin to grasp the conversation. Some of you have been going to church, maybe even this church, longer than I have been alive. Because of that I want you to hear John’s hymn with fresh ears. And for those of you who have never heard it, I want you to hear it and catch a clear vision of what he is getting at the first time. Here is John’s hymn from Eugene Peterson (in his Message translation):
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
    God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
    in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
    nothing—not one thing!—
    came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
    and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
    the darkness couldn’t put it out.
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
The Life-Light was the real thing:
    Every person entering Life
    he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
    the world was there through him,
    and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
    but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
    who believed he was who he claimed
    and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
    their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
    not blood-begotten,
    not flesh-begotten,
    not sex-begotten.
The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.
John pointed him out and called, “This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.”
We all live off his generous bounty,
        gift after gift after gift.
    We got the basics from Moses,
        and then this exuberant giving and receiving,
    This endless knowing and understanding—
        all this came through Jesus, the Messiah.
    No one has ever seen God,
        not so much as a glimpse.
    This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
        who exists at the very heart of the Father,
        has made him plain as day.

For me, the miracle of the Incarnation is not God would or could be human. God can do whatever God wants. But Jesus was so clearly of a different nature, from the first to the last, he was so markedly different that those who knew him testified to their very last breath that Jesus showed us what God was like by being who he was. The Incarnation shows us the very nature nature of God by someone being the Quintessential Human, or the Son of Man as Jesus put it. Peterson again:
    This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
        who exists at the very heart of the Father,
        has made God plain as day.

We believe in the Three-in-One and One-in-Three for the very idea that the Outer Other, the Inner Known, and the One-of-a-Kind resemble one another. They are the “spittin’ image” of one another. Their natures, character, persons are so intimately entangled it seems to be a Divine Dance, as Father Richard Rohr has called it.

How? Why? I do not know. I do not need to know. I abide in the Mystery, and I am okay with that. God is God, and I am not. Like that question I had on that hill in Harrisonburg 30 odd years ago. “Who am I that God is mindful of me?” Psalm 8 answers that in verses 5 and 6.
Yet you have made them a little lower than God,    and crowned them with glory and honor.You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;    you have put all things under their feet.
And wait, there is more. “For God so loved [you and me] enough that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him, might not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

Today as we ponder the Mystery of the Trinity, know this, God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, Three-in-One loves you now and always. Do you really need the How? The Why? The Mystery Abides. Abide in the Mystery. Amen

The Creed of Saint Athanasius
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity. 

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood;
Who, although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Year C Pentecost 2019 Dear Holy Spirit

Year C Pentecost 9 June 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Dear Holy Spirit”

Collect: Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17, 25-27
Philip said to Jesus, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid."

There were many reasons why I became an Episcopalian, and a lot of these were the same for becoming an Episcopal priest. Letting go of what came before is never easy.  Some of those characteristics of my previous denomination and vocation I wanted desperately to drop. Some things took years of transition. Old habits die as quickly as an actor in a melodrama.

But there are some things I ran towards. I love having Eucharist every service. Feeling and celebrating the Real Presence of Christ in my life is one of my greatest treasures. I love that we welcome and include as many under our tent as are comfortable being in an Open and Affirming place, a place where all God’s children can grow and are loved and protected. And one of the key things I love is that we take the Holy Spirit seriously. There was an old joke in my prior denomination that the Trinity was actually Father, Son, and Holy Bible. And I get why the Spirit was not emphasized in my previous way of doing church. It is hard to control the Spirit. Like the wind, she goes where she will.

Even that imagery we are given, in both the Greek and the Hebrew languages, Spirit, Wind, and Breath all share the same word. Ruach in the Hebrew and Pneuma in the Greek. So when the Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep in Genesis 1, or God breathed life into humanity in Genesis 2, all these words are interchangable.

The beautiful Tanakh translation of the Hebrew Scriptures translates those familiar phrases this way:

Genesis 1:1-2 “When God began to create heaven and earth-- the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and the wind from God sweeping over the water--”
Genesis 2: 7b “God blew into [the man’s]nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.”

So even from this image, we see that God is and was already with us. God’s Spirit/Breath/Wind swept in and made us who we are. (Might we say whose we are?)

And yet today, we also have a second approach. We see the Holy Spirit coming on Christ’s Church on this 50th day since Easter. Ascension was 10 days ago. But here, on this day, while in prayer, the 11 apostles (Judas had committed suicide) and remaining followers, we see the beginning of the Age of the Church. In fact, if the Gospel of Luke is a testament to the Christ, then the Book of Acts is a testament to the Holy Spirit. Throughout the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit leads, pushes, cajoles, drags the early Church into new understandings and into ever expanding realms of the known world.

We see in Acts chapter 2 the fulfillment of Christ’s promise in our Gospel reading.

Jesus promised those with him then, and us with him now this: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”

The Advocate will not be stopped. Like the wind, it will always win. Nothing can stop the wind from blowing, and nothing can deter the Spirit. On that first day, when the Spirit hovered over the deep prayer of the believers we see:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
And Peter preached to the throng. Devout people from all over the known world had come to Jerusalem, and the Spirit took advantage of those gathered. Empowered and emboldened, the apostles preached and were heard and believed. And that day 3,000 were added to the fold.

Now the thing about stories is that we can choose to go along with them or not. Were they speaking in those foreign tongues, or were the ears of the listeners opened so that they could hear and believe. I do not know. But Acts tells us the what, not the how. I believe it, for the sheer fact that you and I are here, still gathering in Jesus name. Still baptizing in his name. Marking those baptized as Christ’s own forever. We are remembering him at his table, doing these things as he commanded, “in remembrance of me.” There has to be something in it, or we would not be here.

The Spirit still moves. The Spirit still speaks. There have been times and places when I said things that were what needed to be said, but I had no way of knowing that at the time.

I was in a small rural church in Texas having led a youth retreat, and at the closing service I was doing a skit where we interspersed expanding and clarifying words into John 3:16. “For God so GREATLY loved the world, that he gave his only UNIQUE begotten Son…” After we finished the verse it goes on listing some of those who God loves. “Wife abuser, child molester, midnight cruiser, stock investor, Associate Dean, Honored Marine, chainsmoker, junkie, hash toker, flunkie, redneck man in Ku Klux Klan…” And at the second I said that word, I felt something. A wince. A jab. I do not know how to describe it, but I had the real sense that someone, right there in that room was being deeply convicted. Looking around everyone kept a poker face. After the service, the pastor shared with the team I was on that one of his leaders was in the KKK and was there. He asked for prayers because he left quickly once the service was over. I had no rational way of knowing that. As Obi Wan put it, I felt a disturbance in the Force. As we would put it, I felt a prompting of the Spirit to pray, and to pray hard.

There are times and places when I arrived at the right place at the right time, for beyond my ability to coordinate things down to the second. I am nowhere near that good, even on my best days. The Holy Spirit is alive and well. I know it down deep in a place beyond my ability to communicate.

Being open to Spirit will take us into some uncharted waters. According to tradition, blessed St. Thomas went all the way to India to share the Gospel, and there are believers there to this day claiming descent from the apostle’s work.

I celebrate and thank God for the gift of this person of the Trinity. And let us lift our prayers to this person of the Godhead.

Dear Holy Spirit,
Thank you. 
Thank you for being there for me, whether I feel it or not. 
Thank you for guiding my steps when I am about to veer of God’s High-way. 
Thank you for giving me words to say that are beyond my ability or knowledge. And thank you for helping the people who hear what they need from you even no matter what I said.
Thank you for continuing to use this flawed vessel as an instrument of God.
Thank you for inviting and guiding me deeper into faith, hope, and love.
Thank you for continuing to work miracles in the World.
Thank you for driving the ever-growing, ever-flowing Kingdom of God farther and further into the world so that this hurting globe can be more like Heaven each and every day.
Thank you for getting me up this morning.
Thank you for protecting while I rest.
Thank you for calming me when the worries of this world get the better of me. 
Thank you for being. For being You. For being there. For being here, in this place. For being in here, in my heart.
Guide me to faith beyond my fears.
Mold me into the image of Christ each and every day. Exorcise the demons that hinder and haunt me. Train me up in the right paths for Christ’s namesake.
Watch over and protect my loved ones. Watch over and protect my enemies. Transform them, from my seeing them as enemies into beloved children of God.
To God the Father, to God the Incarnate One, to You Eternal Spirit Divine, be all honor and glory and praise forever and ever. Amen.

Blessings on this Pentecost, and happy birthday to the Church! Amen


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Year C Easter 7 WED 2019 I Have Given You Authority

Year C Easter 7 WEDNESDAY 5 June 2019 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“I Have Given You Authority”

Collect: O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 10:17-24
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

I take my role very seriously. I talk about this very clearly with those in discernment looking at the priesthood, my faith is what had my teachers, mentors, pastors, and priests encouraged me to follow my calling into the pastorate and then into the priesthood. Jesus commissioned his closest followers, the Seventy, to go out and “practice” their faith. I use that word, “practice,” more in the professional sense, like doctors and lawyers, professions “practice.” It is so much more than “to try,” like in T-Ball, or any sport.

So they went out, and returning with joy, they report in to Jesus, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” I have that feeling sometimes, when this faith things actually works and people’s lives are changed and corrupt systems are changed. Faith is one thing, seeing it is no longer faith. It is Fact. So an underlying assumption for me is that what we are doing here and what we preach and teach, what we commission you to go out and do, is to “love and serve the Lord.” We all have something we can do to make the world a different place, a better place. The problem is we rarely take the time to do After-Action-Reviews, or Debriefs on how things went or are going. Jesus expects us to go out and do. Jesus expects us to make a difference. Jesus expects us to make a big difference in the world. That is the Gospel. To make, with God’s help,“On earth, as it is in heaven.”

On Sunday I wore this orange stole. I got lots of compliments on it. That was not my intent My plan was to share what it was for during our announcements, and I have to trust my gut when I hear the Spirit telling me clearly NO. Sunday, for whatever reason, was not the time. I cannot say more than that because that is all I know. This Blaze Orange stole is for Gun Violence Awareness. You may have heard about the Wear Orange campaign. If not, please speak with me, or Google it. “Wear Orange Day.”

My friends from overseas ask me about what appears to be our national obsession with guns. They are very brazen about it. I have been asked,“It appears that you love your guns more than your children. Why?” And, “Why don’t you do something about it?”

Those are hard questions when it comes into context. Rarely can one have a rational conversation about any of this. For some, their fear of any firearm is terrifying and drives them to wish all of them taken and destroyed. On the other extreme, we have those who have made an idol of the Second Amendment. “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” These words are treated as Holy Writ. While our founding documents were and are transformative in the world (as we are the oldest continuous democracy in the world), they are to be esteemed. They were never meant to be deified.

If Jesus’ Seventy could cast out demons, why do we hold back on addressing the demons of our society? No child should ever be shot. Especially at school. Period. No worker at the Municipal Center in Virginia Beach expected to not come home on Friday. They all should have been able to go home. Period. We gloss over the horror. It is too much. As Harrison said Sunday, this has become the new normal. In the name of Christ, I rebuke that. Not the fact of it, but existentially. I rebuke this in the name of Christ that our children, our brothers and sisters, our wives and husbands, our mothers and fathers must die on this altar.

Tomorrow we mark the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, the greatest single movement of coordinated military might in the history of the world going up against an evil system. That is what guns were made for. They are an evil, and in this world sometimes a necessary one. Tomorrow’s anniversary shows that well.

One time a Christian friend from college was bragging online about his new assault-style weapon online, just a few days after the Las Vegas mass shooting, glad about his right that he was exercising. All I could ask him was, “Who would Jesus shoot?” He even had an answer and named some people he thought Jesus would shoot. The only thing that came to my mind was the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

Now whenever I go out on a limb that creaks under the weight of a topic, inevitably someone winds up in my office saying that Politics does not belong in the pulpit. I would agree. Politicking should never be in the Church at all. But let us not confuse things. If our faith cannot address our culture, and culture is everything we swim in, TV and movies, music and art, education and poverty, social networking and social ills, we are a toothless tiger. We have become so worldly that we do not recognize the scope of God’s Kingdom in our lives or in our collective lives, our culture. You see, when the Church is being the Church the world confuses it for politics. We were sent to make the lame walk, the blind to see, the dead to rise again. And for the 12 in Virginia Beach I wish that I could do just that. This is within our scope and our power, in Jesus’ name and for his Glory. That is my second underlying assumption, we are here to be about God’s work in our world in God’s Name, and in God’s Authority, and in God’s Power.

I do not know what we can do to stop the insanity. I do not know where this may lead.

Instead of Prayers of the People I would ask you to stand, as you are able, as I read the names of those shot and killed in Virginia Beach. Pray in silence or aloud as you are Spirit-led, and I will close in a collect.

Laquita C. Brown
Ryan Keith Cox
Tara Welch Gallagher
Mary Louise Gayle
Alexander Mikhail Gusev
Joshua O. Hardy
Michelle Langer
Katherine A. Nixon
Richard H. Nettleton
Christopher Kelly Rapp
Herbert Snelling
Robert Williams
And the unnamed shooter, another Child of God

O God of mercy, you sustain us with your grace as we live in a world which seems to abound in violence and hatred. Today our hearts are particularly heavy as we mourn the loss of life in Virginia Beach. We remember before you those whose lives were taken from them, those who have been injured and all who grieve. Thank you for the valiant and heroic intervention of all who acted to save the lives of the vulnerable. We pray, even plead, with you to deliver us from the temptation for vengeance, and be reminded that our Lord calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Give us the courageous and faithful resolve to bring about justice for all. Guide our hearts and minds with the ultimate vision of your peaceful kingdom, that we never lose sight of the day when we all may stand before you as true brothers and sisters. AMEN. (Bishop Jay Magness, Diocese of Southern Virginia)

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Year C Easter 6 WED 2019 Faith More Worry Less

Year C Easter 6 29 May 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Faith More, Worry Less”

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

Luke 12:22-31
He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

The lectionary readings lately have been taking my mind to worry. They do not make me worry, but so much of what we deal with in living a life of faith is on the idea of fear and worry.

Today’s passage may be familiar to you. It is almost identical to Matthew’s version of the same teachings. Matthew has Jesus saying it at the Sermon on the Mount. Luke places it amongst other teachings on greed.

How much is enough? This is weighing a lot on my mind lately as we are looking to pack up all that we have and move it up here to Ashland. In fact, we are thinking of moving less than half of what we own and getting rid of the rest. I think on all the money we have spent over the years on stuff. So much stuff. They may have seemed to have been bought with the best of intentions, with the hope of being useful, but really were dust gatherers or why bothers. Oh well. We are learning. Leo Buscaglia said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow; it only saps today of its joy.”

But on the other side of the pangs of guilt, there is a real hope. A hope of whittling down to what we truly need, what we truly want in our lives. What do we really need? How little can we get by having? The thought of so much empty space is the real luxury, and I am hungry to get there. We might call what we have “possessions,” but too often they become “possessors.”

Now, I do not hear Jesus saying one cannot have nice things. This is not his words, and the alabaster jar of perfume attests to the fact that Jesus appreciated quality. He was a carpenter, and knew the difference between a quality job and one done in an inferior way. Something of worth instead of mountains of cheap.

What Jesus speaks to here is how we FEEL about our stuff. Stuff is just that. Stuff. George Carlin had a brilliant bit on our obsession with our stuff, and how our houses are our places for our stuff, and when we go on vacation, we rent a space for our stuff, and we have special bags for our stuff. And if we go on a day trip while away, we have even another bag for our stuff. We fret and worry about our stuff.

Jesus said not to do that.

Flowers. Birds. His disciples. Don’t fret about it. Even wise Solomon was nowhere near as nice a a lilly. So which was truly wise?

Our God is a God of Abundance. We are to be wise stewards. Taking care of and using well what we have been given. If you think on our things this way, that is what Sabbaths and Tithes are all about. We have such a generous God that 1 day out of 7 we need not work. Sabbaths are a statement of faith. Yahweh Jireh, God will provide. Tithing is saying that God has given us so much that we will be better than alrright with 90% of what we have been given.

Pray for us as we cull. We do not need so much. So much can find a better home. And God help us when we model it for our kids. If we put God’s Kingdom first, everything else, we are told, will take care of itself. We need to start using Faith as a verb. We do it with worry. Think about it. We should FAITH more, and WORRY less. Imagine rolling over in the middle of the night, and Faithing about your problems instead of worrying. Think of how much better our lives would be. Amen

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Year C Easter 6 2019 You'll Get By

Year C Easter 6, 26 May 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“You’ll Get By”

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

John 14:23-29
Jesus said to Judas (not Iscariot), "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
"I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, `I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."

As a father, some of the hardest things I have ever had to do is share what will be bad news with my kids, these little ones that I love and who love me so much. Those times are the worst when I had to say that:
          A) something bad was coming or had just happened.
          And B) no, we cannot change it.
          And C)  yes, everything will be okay.
I assured them that they are loved and that they will be cared for. I assured them that it might be scary, but in the end it will probably be for the best. I had to let them know, as much as I could, that the future was secure. If I had to do this, and it was so hard for me over something minor, relatively speaking, I cannot imagine what it was like for Jesus to tell them that he was going away. And even more, Jesus had to entrust the Kingdom of God to this room of confused and worried disciples.

This Gospel reading is a flashback here on the 6th Sunday of Easter. We flash back to Jesus’ final words to his followers after Judas slinked out to set up his betrayal which I spoke on last week. To those that were still in his fold, Jesus gave these instructions.

“If you love me, do what I said.” So simple, and yet my office is filled with books on on how to do that, supposedly.

And I see us every week, wrestling with these words that Jesus said. His approach to loving and serving others, his approach to putting God above all else. And how do we do that? By loving and serving others first. Circular in its logic, yes. But so real and practical. Those were, and are, his instructions.

When a guest comes into our house, often times we use the phrase, “Make yourself at home.” Sometimes they do. We had a friend come over once, who proceeded to take off his shoes and ask for macaroni and cheese. And he wasn’t kidding. But when we have someone come over, especially a dear friend, we want them to feel at ease and comfortable, like they would at their own home.  When Jesus is saying, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” This phrasing is not conditional. Jesus is not saying, “If you do what I say, God will love you and we will make our home with you.” We so readily hear it and read it as conditional. But look, Jesus is making a declarative statement. "Those who love me will keep my word…” It is not an if. Those who love the Lord are not those who say it. Those who love the Lord are those who show it, in their words and deeds. And God will just love them, just love’em up. “...and we will come to them and make our home with them.”  In our lives and loves, we have to ask ourselves, would God feel at home?

If we do what Jesus said, God would feel at home. God does feel at home. When you walk around St. James the Less, where do you see God getting comfy? Where do you God snuggling in? Think of it. When and where in what we do does God feel “at home?”

When we care for the Least of These, we are doing it not just for God. Jesus told us, we are doing it to him. “Whenever you have done it unto the Least of These, you have done it unto me.” This is the closing line in Jesus’ parable about the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. Who are the Least of These here? Every day of the week that answer is different, and every day we care for the Least of These differently. I am fortunate. I get to see it here daily.

What about where you work? Where is God made comfy and at home? Who are the Least of These where you spend your days? For many, the focus of our faith actions is here, but think of how big our sphere of influence is if we expand it to every home and workplace and gym and school and playground and store and grocery that we frequent. God’s home can be there, too. I know that because God’s Least of These are in every one of those spots.

But the question is how? How do we keep Jesus in mind when we don’t see Jesus here? The disciples may have wondered that question, too. And that is when Jesus promises a gift so great that we still receive it today, and it is still wonderful. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit, the Advocate, also called the Counselor, and the Comforter, is the one at our side who does for us what needs to be done. Now I do not wish to dwell on this too much, because this reading is the included in the lectionary reading in a couple of weeks on Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit allows us to make our ways and our lives comfy and homey for God, and in doing so, we are transforming the world into the Kingdom of God. We pray it all the time, and somewhere around the world someone every second of every day is reciting, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, On Earth as it is in Heaven.”  The Spirit is with us to help us make it so.

This may seem very Pollyana-ish, or wishful thinking. But Jesus said there is an outcome to this. A point in the following his teachings, in the Advocate working with us. The outcome is his peace. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  The sense of completeness, wholeness, living fulfilled and purposed lives is the point of all this. Jesus came to show us the way, and sent us the Spirit to enable our way so that we might “have life and have it more abundantly” as he promised in John 10:10.

Peace is the point. Our peace. The world’s peace. Peace, not in the sense of absence of war. Peace in the sense that we have no locks on the doors, no walls around the city, all manner of things are well, and all manner of things will be well. We are describing here the peace of the Kingdom of God. That is what Jesus wants for us, and calls us to share.

There are times and places that stick in our memories, not because they are necessarily important, but because they speak to a truth. When I was ten, my father was working out in his workshop on some cabinetry or something he was making for his woodworking business, a side job to his being an electrical engineer at the Shipyard down in Newport News. One Saturday I wheeled in my bike, with an underinflated tire hoping for a little help.

Like a good dad, he stopped what he was doing, got out the air compressor, turned it on and pumped up my tire. I was appreciative, and in an offhand comment after I said thanks, I said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you.” I remember the moment not because of what I said, but the look on my father’s face across the workshop.  A quiet man, not one for words, I was surprised when he looked me straight in the eye, and said, “Oh, you’ll get by. You’ll get by.” He was so serious. It stuck with me. His tone. His expression. His sense of my abilities and my temperament.  I still wonder if he knew that day that he was not doing well. You see, a few weeks later he was gone. 

He died quickly and unexpectedly. Later in the grieving process I remembered about the tire and the help he gave me. I remembered the trite phrase I used and his singular response. Did he know his days were numbered? Was he not feeling well but did not tell us? We will never know.  But I do remember at times when I miss him, when I would give anything in the world for one more hug, for one more minute with him, I remember how he looked at me more like a man than a ten year old kid deserved,  and with love said to me, “Oh, you’ll get by. You’ll get by.” Those parting words are the ones we cling to when days are dark and our fears get the better of us. Which is why Jesus was so clear with his disciples and with us that awful night. He clearly spelled out that things would be bad, but that it was all for the best.

On this weekend when we remember those who gave their all for our freedoms and our peace, many stepped into situations where the outcome was known. They did it for duty. They did it for their home. They did it for us.

Jesus did know his days, nay, his hours were numbered also. And said almost the same thing my dad said to those he loved. His words were not, “You’ll get by.” But his intent did. Jesus said to them and says to us: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.  Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Year C Easter 5 2019 Walking Out

Year C Easter 5, 19 May 2019 (8 am only because of High School Sunday)
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Walking Out”

Collect: Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 13:31-35
At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, "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 was four years old, I got my feelings hurt. I was mad. I was sad. I did not want to face my mom because of whatever bad thing I did. Now, four and a half decades later, I have no recollection as to what I did. I do remember how I made my mom feel, and how I felt after her correcting me. So I ran away. Now being 4, I only took the necessities. I grabbed my favorite doll, Mr. Shaggyhead that my aunt had made me, and my blanket, and I went out the front door planning to never come back.

Now, I knew that I was not allowed to cross the street. I was bad, but I was not that bad. Only VERY bad boys crossed the street by themselves. So that kept things very limited. And about the time I figured out how limited my options were, I heard my mom calling for me. So whatever I needed to do, I needed to do it fast.

In my brilliance, I crawled under my dad’s Ford pick-up truck. My dad was out in his workshop so it was only my mom I had to worry about. I got under the truck about the time she got out the front door. “Jeff! Jeff! Where are you?” [Don’t forget my real name is Jeffrey.] Now that I am a parent myself, what I heard as anger was really fear, but at 4 I did not know that.

She ran around the front yard, calling my name, and I knew that I was going to be in big trouble really soon. All I could see was her feet and her ankles running around looking around bushes and getting faster and faster. About the time I figured that I was in bigger trouble than what started this whole thing and was going to come out, my mom ran to the back yard. I figured that I better get back into the house fast.

But then, my mom AND my dad were running around, looking for me, and both were calling my name. Two sets of feet, two sets of ankles. Frantic. Desperate. At this point I knew that I was now getting really close to being VERY bad.

I was cemented to the ground underneath my dad’s truck, and there was NOTHING that was gonna get me out now. Or so I thought.

That is when I heard my dad say, “He cannot have gotten far. You stay here, and I will see if I can find him.” And he moved toward me to get into the truck to drive away.

Now I was scared. I was in trouble. But even at 4, I was not THAT stupid. I HAD get out from under the truck FAST. I jumped out with my hands up saying, “I’m here! I’m here!”

I learned a big lesson that day, we cannot walk out on our problems. It is always better to stay and work them out, or to face the music. And if our problems are with God, truly, where can we go? Our options are more limited than a four year old who is not allowed to cross the street.

In the Gospel today, we see one of the most well known things that Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” And tucked away, just before this, we have Jesus talking about how he has been glorified, and how God has been glorified in him. But just before that, we see a few little words.

At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said...

We may be like Judas, and think we can walk out on God. Or as Judas’ betrayal is sometimes told, set up actions to force God’s hand.  Judas, in the verses just before this, is the one where Jesus gives the bread which has been dipped in the bowl. If you have ever been invited to a Seder meal, what Jesus and his disciples were having at the Last Supper, a part of the meal is dipping your Matzah (unleavened bread) into the Maror, the bitter herbs. It is to give the bitterness of slavery back into the mouth of the celebrants. The taste that Judas and Jesus shared, that bitterness, is often shaved and minced raw horseradish. That is what I have had as Maror when I have been at a Seder. Pungent. Strong. Unforgettable. “Do quickly what you are going to do.” With those words and with that taste on his tongue, Judas heads out. Slavery in his mouth and in his mind, Judas heads to Betrayal, and Jesus heads to Love teaching his disciples to do the same.

Judas was walking away from all that he had seen and all that he had learned over three years following Jesus. Judas thought that he could get away from all this Jesus stuff, for whatever reason, but like the Maror, the bitter herb, the taste lingers. We only think that we can walk out on God.

We may think we can get on a ship and head West when God said to go East. Jonah tried that. And look where it got him. A Great Fish. Three days of darkness. And then he ended up where God sent him in the first place.

We may think we can come up with excuses, and get away from God. Moses tried that with the burning bush. He has half a chapter of excuses on why he cannot do what God is asking. (Exodus 4:1-17) And do not forget that already Moses had run away from murder, which took him to the desert in the first place. He spent decades thinking he could outrun his past.

As our Revelation reading reminded us, God said of Godself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” God is here long before us, and will be here after we are dust and a distant memory. Why would we ever think we can get one over on God.

Back to when I ran away, even then, after the adrenaline rush I had given my parents, when I crawled out, I expected a spanking. And what did I receive? Welcome arms, relief and joy. When we think we can walk out on God, what we really find is that we are loved, and always have a way home. Amen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Year C Easter 4 WED 2019 The Point of the Game

Year C Easter 4 WEDNESDAY, 15 May 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Point of the Game”

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

Luke 6:1-11
One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

I enjoy games. Playing them is fun. Working at summer camps as long as I did I have played some crazy games, and invented some doozies along the way. The big thing about playing games which is so fun is because we have to step out of our lives, and play by the rules of that game. Games can be similar, but for a game to be unique, it has to have its own set of rules.

When you start to learn the rules of a board game, it most often comes with a set of instructions on how to play. And have you ever noticed where most rules of the game start? The Point of the Game, the Outcome, or the Goal.

The Point in Football? To score the most points in the given time by moving the ball across the goal line.
The Point in Basketball? To put the ball through the hoop scoring more points than your opposing team.
The Point in Checkers? To eliminate all your opponent’s pieces.
The Point of Chess? To take your opponent’s King.
Now surrounding the Point of the Game is the board, field, or court on which one plays, and it is set up in such a way to enable the game to be played within those rules. And then, lastly, come the rules of the game, these self-imposed restrictions that enable the game to be that game. Like I said, the rules of each and every game is unique.

The last thing you need, and I stole this from McClendon’s wonderful systematic theology Book One: Ethics. He says that we need to have a lusory attitude, from the Greek word lusos for game. Like a toddler says when we get out of character playing on the floor with them, “Play for REAL!!!” We have to be “in” the Game.

Now after that huge preamble, I think that is where Jesus is coming from. The Pharisees were very good at making sure that everyone else PLAYED BY THE RULES. And that is where Jesus comes back to them. They were so fixated on the Rules of the Sabbath that they forgot the Point of the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath was to give Life, not to strip it or take it away.

Still to this day, observant Jews take the Sabbath rules VERY seriously. On Monday there was a fascinating article on NPR specifically about this, and the eruv that encircles much of Manhattan, giving observers a barrier to maintain household Sabbath rules instead of public Sabbath rules. Here is the article.

In every group of people, there will be people who see themselves as the maintainer of the rules, or the standards, or the legacy. Sometimes they are so needed. Sometimes they get so caught up in the rules that they miss the first item in the instructions for this “game” we are playing. The game first and foremost is to fulfill the Point of the “Game.”

Now, depending who you ask that “Point of the Game” is going to be different, but I defer to the one in whose name we gather today, Jesus. He said to the one who asked about the rules, what he should do and which was most important. He responded with “Love God with everything you’ve got, and your neighbor as much as yourself. And everything else will fall into place.” Rough paraphrase, but it gets the point across.

You can see that the Pharisees saw the Point of the Game to be different from their response.  “But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

My hope and prayer is that we all are playing Jesus’ game, and keeping his Point of it all. May our heads be in the “Game.” Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Year C Easter 4 2019 Safe and Secure

 Year C Easter 4, 12 May 2019 (Mother’s Day)
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Safe and Secure”

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

Psalm 23 “The Lord is my shepherd…”

John 10:22-30
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."


In years to come, the Age we live in could very well be called The Age of Fear. We live in the most affluent and prosperous nation in the history of world, and yet we speak of scarcity and lack. We speak of not trusting our neighbor or the stranger, and yet crime is down across the board. Anything that happens anywhere, it is sensationalized for our entertainment, not for our information. Infotainment has become more prevalent than news. Like a potato chip or a salty peanut, if we try it once it is hard to stop. Fear begets fear begets fear, and our emotions drive the car not the brain God gave us. That is the problem with fear. In its grip, our mind turns off. There is a mantra used in one of my favorite novels. It goes, “Fear is the mindkiller.” [Dune by Frank Herbert] Though from a novel, it could not be more true.

There was an interesting article that received a lot of press last fall looking specifically at fears. Bloomberg had an article on September 5 (link) that talked about the mega-rich hidden safe houses in case calamity strikes the world. Plague or killer virus, nuclear war, natural disaster, or even zombie apocalypse, these so called Bolt-Hole Homes are put in secluded areas, and put in in such a way that not even locals in these far flung locales should even know that these Hidey Holes even exist.

The homes are often pre-made security bunkers, and then they are buried 11 feet underground so that they can even survive nuclear fall-out. According to the article, much of the Silicon Valley 1% Elite have plans to fly directly to their property in New Zealand where they have things squirreled away for their intentional and self-imposed isolation. Why New Zealand? “‘If you’re the sort of person that says ‘I’m going to have an alternative plan when Armageddon strikes,’ then you would pick the farthest location and the safest environment — and that equals New Zealand if you Google it,’” says former Kiwi Prime Minister John Key.

The New Zealand Parliament actually had to ban any further billionaire Apocalypse Refugees from encroaching on their shores. Sounds like the safe place getaway wants to keep their safe place for themselves.

We live in anxious times, where fear seems to be the parlance of the day. I watch the news and it seems my blood-pressure just rises. The way the news is shared, too often, is to drive us to outrage. If they can tap into our fears than we no longer rationally consider whatever the topic is and can be easily influenced. These fears are becoming universal as people are driven to strong-man politicians to alleviate them of their fears. The mega-rich express it with their bunkers, but even in recent times it has moved into the middle class.

You may have heard about the so-called Panic Rooms that people have installed in case someone invades their home. They even made a movie about one.

So where do we look for safety and security? Where do we feel safe? Wealth? Health? Education? Possessions? How much is enough to let you feel safe?

Once I had a dream, for real. (I was in seminary, and had lots to worry about.) I was wandering in a desert, lost, alone, desperate. I pushed, I shoved, I inched along. As I came over a rise, looking for view from which I could find hope or some source of rescue, I saw instead an oncoming sandstorm heading directly for me. I went back down the dune hoping for some protection. Curled into a fetal position, the wind and sand bit at all that was me. Darkness and pain reigned through the whole night. Sometime in the storm I passed out. Still dreaming, I came to. There was light! There was silence! There was hope that came with the dawn. I sat up and opened my eyes. As I shook off the sand, I looked around. The hollow that I was sitting was no hollow. As I looked around I found, that I was resting in the very hand of God.

Where do you find your hope? Where do you find your security?

The religious leaders were looking for a little security when they confronted Jesus in John 10 in today’s readings. The rumors were flying and so many were asking of Jesus, “Could he be the one?” They went to him while he was in the Temple.
“How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep...”
If Jesus would just answer them they could know what to do. They obviously wanted to be in on the side of the Messiah, but they wanted the Messiah on their terms and in their image.

Jesus wanted to show them another way. A way apart from the legalism and judgmentalism is what Jesus was offering. He wanted them to know him, but they had to let go of the security of the expectations and wrong assumptions about who he was to be. Jesus talked about how his followers know him for who he is, and who he claims to be through his actions, through his teachings…
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one.”
We are his sheep. Echoes of Psalm 23 cannot be missed. But for me the most powerful image here is not the one we know so well, but tucked in here is a promise. NO ONE WILL SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND. There is nowhere that I would rather be.

If we are Christ’s, we are Christ’s own FOREVER. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God [Romans 8:38]. There is nothing that can snatch us out of the palm of God’s Hand.

And even more comforting is that the Hand of God is not just in this world, but we rest there safe and secure in whatever world there is to come.

In our Psalm reading, we hear King David’s comforting words, the words of a shepherd who says that the Lord is the True Shepherd. And as a shepherd himself, David would know.

Psalm 23 remains a favorite, and most funerals I do use it as a consolation and touchstone for the grieving. Even those who have never been to a church, or have not been in decades have heard and can recite the words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

We say those words for comfort. But how might we act if we lived in that promise? How might we live if we truly believed and acted on this as guiding philosophy? WHAT WOULD WE DO IF WE WEREN’T AFRAID?

I have seen this question rise up in our culture. I have seen this asked in so many ways. It is a response to our times, which does its best to pump our fear the best it can. But I would encourage you to read or watch on TED or Netflix the groundbreaking work of Brene Brown. So much of her work is about this question surrounding fears.

So if we are to live in the promise of God as our Shepherd, let’s look at that closely...

Psalm 23 (this translation is from the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 612-613)
1 The Lord is my shepherd; *I shall not be in want.2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *and leads me beside still waters.

We all have needs, we all have to have our basics covered. Food. Water. Shelter. When we have these cared for then can move on to higher matters. Maslow and his hierarchy of needs identifies this. The Lord is our Shepherd, he will provide our needs. When we have the foundational stuff covered, we care for higher concerns, meaning, purpose, self-actualization. David identified that with what came next.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
We have time and space to care for our souls when the worries of this world are taken care of. Our shepherd is not out to hoodwink us, or to drive us to fear. In his resurrected form his first words were often, “Peace” or “Fear Not.” He wants to take care of our whole selves, our bodies, minds, and souls. Our Shepherd restores our souls.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Even in our greatest fear, the only promise to everyone born, death, we need not fear it. The valley of the shadow of it, or as he said it in John’s Gospel. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one and nothing will snatch them out of my hand.”
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Think on this. Nothing burns the biscuits of someone who has it out for us than when we succeed. A full and bountiful table spread before us, and they see it. They hate THAT. We are chosen, and the sign of that is anointing, an anointing from the very hand of God. We live in abundance and bounty, and our cup cannot even contain it.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
We have no worries. Goodness and mercy are with us all our days. And the verb used there for goodness and mercy is more than follow. The Hebrew there is far more active. Radaph, the verb here, is not a puppy chasing after us. The very Hounds of Heaven are on our path. “Chase after or pursue” is a far better translation of Radaph. God’s blessings pursue us. Thanks be to God. And in the world to come, we will be with our Shepherd forever. And nothing and no one can snatch us out of his hand.

So, Monday morning, you wake up, do your routine, and as you start your day, ponder this. If God is my Shepherd, how will this shape my day? How will I act? What will I say (or not say)?How will I respond to people? How will I let people respond to me? It makes a difference when the Lord is my Shepherd. Amen.