Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Year C Advent 2 WED 2018 Rethinking Sin No More

Year C Advent 2 WEDNESDAY 12 December 2018
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Rethinking Sin No More”


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

John 7:53 - 8:11 

Then each of them went home, while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’

The Law of Moses. Was Jesus going against the Law of Moses? It was clear. Adultery, with 2-3 witnesses, meant death. [Deuteronomy 19:15, Leviticus 20:10]

So, in a way, it was yes. He was going against the Law of Moses, if the law of Moses is about condemnation. But the rules are their for us, we are not here for the rules.
God does not want us to do the things that will hurt us. I do not want my kids to get hurt, so I make rules, I set boundaries, I make my expectations clear. I make rules in hopes of not having to use them. I make rules so that there are no surprises.

Jesus’ response is fascinating. Detached. Non-anxious. He’s doodling. When confronted, he doodles some more. I have heard a pet theory from some that Jesus was listing the sins of the woman’s accusers. I do not need Jesus to be magic here. But it is always fun to think of the looks on her accusers.

But here we have Jesus in an interaction with as clear a situation as could be in our ordinary understanding of the Law of Moses.

It was clear. It was blatant. It was undeniable. Death was due. (And the man should have been there, too, according to the Law.)

And what does Jesus do? And what do Jesus’ actions tell us about God?

He says that the one who is any different from she is may fulfill the Law. But all of them know, they are she. She is they. According to what we say we believe, the one who could condemn does not. Jesus could have thrown that stone, by the parameters he has set. Jesus straightened up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you.’”

Jesus does not condemn. I think of the ones the church condemns, or rather elements of the church condemns, and it is heartbreaking. Jesus does not condemn blatant sinners, literally caught in the act. What does that tell us? What does that say about God? The last part is where we are going from Grace, to Grace, to Grace, to Grace. But when we get to this last part, I have too often heard people jump back to Law.

“Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” You got your chance, now change your ways! I do not hear Jesus saying that. Think on it this way. Jesus modeled Grace. Jesus taught Grace. But Jesus was in his final days. Jesus loved this woman. While he wanted for her to do her best and live according to the laws set up for her benefit, she was never going to have this Grace extended again. Ever. He wants here to live, and live it abundantly.

“Go your way, friend, and for your sake and mine let this never happen again. I will not be here next time.” I do not hear the legalism switch on. I hear a hesitant and fearful one who loves her and knowing the nature of all our hearts.

I believe that God is like this. Extending Grace after Grace after Grace. Not so we can get away with stuff, but Grace from Love. For that is the nature of God. That should be the Nature of Us. Go your way, and from now on do not judge, or sin, again. Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Year C Advent 1 WED 2018 Unwinnable Situations

Year C Advent 1, 5 Dec 2018
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Unwinnable Situations”


Collect:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Luke 20:19-26
19 When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people. 20 So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. 21 So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. 22 Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 23 But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, 24 “Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.


Jesus had become a threat. Plain and simple. It was hard for the religious leaders to put up with because they knew the place he held in the view of the people. They knew where their bread was buttered, and if they made an outright threat against Jesus they know that the people would pick his side.

And so they tried the oldest trick in the political playbook. I see it weekly, if not daily, in the divisive times we find ourselves in. THE TRICK? IF YOU CANNOT SILENCE THE MESSAGE, ATTACK THE MESSENGER!

And because they were so wily and cunning, they tried to give Jesus enough rope so that he could hang himself. Notice the lie they start with (a lie from their perspective, anyway). “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.” They started with something they DID NOT believe, because it is what the people thought and what the people wanted to hear.

They asked Jesus a question that could not be answered with a Yes or No. “Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” If he said yes, then the people who hated the Roman sandal at their throats would have turned off to this teacher they liked. If he said no, then that would have been treason. It was a no win situation.

It is like the lawyer who asked, “When did you stop beating your wife?” There is no way to answer that question.

Or the First Mate who was trying to get revenge on his Captain who wrote him up for drunkenness, put in the Ship’s Log: “The Captain was sober today.” By noting the obvious, it sounded like a rarity.

By putting Jesus in this unwinnable situation was their tactic, but he was no dummy and saw them as the crafty ones they were. He asked for a coin. It had Caesar’s head. Give to him what is his, and to God what is God’s. He did not define what that meant, or what he thought. As I said a few weeks ago, when in a troublesome situation be like Jesus, “Reframe, and step up.” He did not stay at the level of the problem. He took the conversation to a higher level, or a deeper devotion. Both are the same.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in an unwinnable situation. I had to give bad news to a situation that could be explosive if acted upon openly, or backstabbing if handled in a passive-aggressive way. Either way it could be ugly, and probably would be. I dreaded it. But I kept having this nagging in my gut I perceive to have been the Holy Spirit. So instead of avoiding, or getting in the mud, I chose a path of grace and love. I said the hard thing in grace and love, and I was shocked. What was potentially awful, became filled with honest tears, sincere hope, and authentic appreciation. I actually got a thank you from someone I thought might become an enemy. God is good. Grace is great. And with God on our side we are bigger than any situation the devil throws at us. See today’s epistle reading. [1 Thessalonians 2:13-20]

As we find ourselves in unwinnable situations, may we have the patience, wisdom, and graciousness of Christ. When it seems the hardest or darkest, confront it and bring light and truth. Speak the truth in love, as Paul said, or Reframe, and Step Up. Either way it has never failed me yet. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Year C Advent 1 2018 We Will See

Year C Advent 1, 2 December 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“We Will See”  
Collect: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen  

Jeremiah 33:14-16 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."  

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.  Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.  

Luke 21:25-36 Jesus said, "There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."  Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."  

There is a Chinese folk story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.   "We will see," the farmer replied. 

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.  "We will see," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. "We will see," answered the farmer.   

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. "We will see," said the farmer.  

We will see. It could be good. It could be bad. The value of whatever IT is is yet to be determined.   

Daily we are inundated with information. The amount of information created yearly has become exponential. In Thomas Jefferson’s day, he had read most of the books that were available to be read. We could not keep up with a newspaper fully, much less all the books that our country creates, even less the world. Because of this firehose of information coming at us ALL THE TIME, one of the greatest spiritual needs of our time is Discernment. How do we read the signs that we have been given?  
Do we even recognize that we have been given signs? 

When we do not know what we are looking at, we miss the message and the meaning. We probably even miss what it is we are looking at.   

And if we do clue in and see the signs, we need to take the next step and see what it is that they mean.  

So often when we hear prophecies, whether in the Old Testament or the New, we see them with dark foreboding. They are scary, but they are scary to the status quo. Things will not be as they are or how they have been. Jesus’ words today are troublesome: 
"There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.” 

Now the irony of all of this is that we are constantly and daily undergoing change. Change is like gravity, it never lets up. And because that, we fight it, like we fight gravity with much of what we say and do. But Jesus is saying two things about the signs we are given, and the changes that are promised. 

  1. 1. We are told that the reason for the coming hardships and change are for our best. Jesus said: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." It is for our Redemption that these things are taking place. It is not a punishment. It is not destruction for destruction’s sake. We are given the warning that this will all be worth it in the end. I am reminded of this every time when I come into town, and pass the neverending (or so it seems) construction of the Wawa at Rt. 54 and Rt. 1. There had to be a desolation of what was, there had to be a preparation, there had to be a leveling out, and then what was new could spring forth. This was all done for the new to emerge. Now it is just a gas station. But think on what it would take for the Redemption of the Universe. The desolation, the preparation, the leveling, and then the emergence of the new. It is dark and scary unless we see the Sign of the New. If it is true for a Wawa, think of how true it is for our Redemption. 
  1. 2. Jesus goes on with this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” When we recognize the changes, we learn to appreciate and and not fear them. The budding of the trees is the promise of spring. (This is the Virginia re-interpretation of Jesus’ story). We know what we are seeing, and we know what we are looking at when it takes place. Jesus is telling us, when the world seems crazy and hopeless to stay true to what we know. He speaks of Heaven and Earth passing away, all the things that seem to permanent to us are not. But his words, the words of Hope and Promise, that God is in control, and that when bad things happen God’s redemptive hand is at work, this is what is Permanent. That is forever. Change will happen. Sometimes dark, hard, scary change, but God is in control and working for our best. Thanks be to God!  
Being ready when we see the signs, being ready when the day comes, it leads us to take a longer view than we normally take. It is December. Next year my oldest starts high school. Now in August we had to start looking and planning for the choices we will need to make about her high school choices for fall a year away. We had to look at dates, make plans, fill out forms, ask for references. It is a long, detailed, and concerning process. But when the day comes for the decisions, we will hopefully have the luxury of great choices. And if we take so much time, effort, and emotional energy over high school, how much more important is life?  

What are you doing today to shape your tomorrow?  
What are you doing today to shape the rest of your life?  
What are you doing today to shape your forever?  
What we do here today echoes through eternity. [Thanks Gladiator !] 

When the time comes, will you have put in the work on your soul?  
Folk singer Tracy Chapman sang it this way: 
I thought, thought that I could find a way  
To beat the system  
To make a deal and have no debts to pay  
I'd take it all take it all I'd run away  
Me for myself first class and first rate  
But all that you have is your soul 
Don't be tempted by the shiny apple  
Don't you eat of a bitter fruit  
Hunger only for a taste of justice  
Hunger only for a world of truth  
'Cause all that you have is your soul 

The day is coming, whether you are ready or not. You have been warned.  
You have been warned so that you can be ready.  
You have been warned for your best.  
You have been warned because you are loved. 

Lastly, remember the story that we started with. Like the farmer, when the world is crying like Chicken Little, may we take a moment, may we catch our breath. When the destination seems like we are riding to Heck in a handbasket, may we hold onto the Hope we have been given and reply with a collective “We Will See.” It could be good. It could be bad.  We can say, “We Will See,” for we will. And it is my Trust that the One who started with us on this path will be the one who is there at the End. 

As Jesus promises: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." Our Redemption. Our Redemption. ‘Cause all that you have is your soul.  
Amen 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Christ the King WED 2018 Purpose

Christ the King WED, 28 November 2018 
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA 
“Purpose” 

Ephesians 1:3-14 
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 

Luke 19:1-10 
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through it. 2 A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. 5 When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 7 All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” 8 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” 

Why are we here? Why are you here? That is the question, no matter what Hamlet says. We have lots of answers and responses to that question. We as a church have an answer to that. You may have an answer to that. I may, too. 

Jesus had an answer to that, and he had to fight constantly to avoid mission creep, that tugging by people often with the best of intentions to take what is and add to it. “Could we just…” and then fill in the blank. Knowing what one is here to do, and what it will take and making it happen is a hard and lifelong journey. 

From the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer: 
...the universe is good, that it is the work of a single loving God who creates, sustains, and directs it.  Q. What does this mean about our place in the universe? A. It means that the world belongs to its creator; and that we are called to enjoy it and to care for it in accordance with God's purposes. Q. What does this mean about human life? A. It means that all people are worthy of respect and honor, because all are created in the image of God, and all can respond to the love of God. 

Zaccheus knew his place. He was a swindler and a cheat. He knew he was despised, but he had heard about how this teacher offered something different, something new. Even the despised were allowed into the presence of this new teacher, teaching with a different authority. So he climbed the Sycamore tree, just to catch a glimpse. That is all he wanted, all he hoped for or could expect. 

Then the unthinkable happened. The wee little man who knew better than to risk asking people to be nice to him was singled out, was recognized, and given an opportunity to be in on this new thing. The teacher said: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” And through that event, transformation was possible. 

You see, we are Zaccheus, too. Where we fall short, when we try to put ourselves higher up, when we separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, when we go home alone, Jesus meets us wherever we are, however we are, and lifts us up. From today’s Ephesians reading: “[God] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” 

Why are you here, Jesus? “[I] came to seek out and to save the lost.” Singular in his focus, he let nothing deter or distract him. He came to find you. He came to find me… “to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us.” 

There is a reason why we call a humble carpenter king. He who wrote no book, who led no army, who was buried in a borrowed tomb, there is a reason why after 2,000 years we are still amazed by grace.