Sunday, January 29, 2023

Year A 4th Epiphany 2023 Just The Way You Are

 Year A Fourth Sunday after Epiphany,  January 29, 2023

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Just The Way You Are”


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


1 Corinthians 1:18-31

The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,

and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


Matthew 5:1-12

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."


The Beatitudes are one of the most familiar, most comforting, and one of the most misunderstood sections in all the Bible. They are one of the few sections where people know a name for the passage which is not included in the text, just like Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat.


I remember from my childhood, my grandmother had a plaque of them on the wall. Instead of the Beatitudes, the title was the “Be-Attitudes.” As in, Be this Attitude. I start there today because that is how these verses are often seen. And that is how they are so easily misconstrued.


If these verses were the “Be-Attitudes” then we would have had Jesus explain why being poor in spirit, meek, or mourning was a good thing. But if you continue in his sermon on the mount, which follows these verses in the rest of chapters 5, 6, and 7 of Matthew, you see that “being” these things is not Jesus’ point. But he comes to declare a new way of approaching and being with God. It is open to any and all to be in relationship with God, not just for a chosen few. Jesus starts this way as a wake-up call to his listeners who had gathered in excitement for this teacher with authority.


If this was a checklist for righteousness, then Jesus would have been another Moses on another mountaintop delivering another list of commandments. But here, Jesus is turning the religious establishment on its head. He is another Moses, in that he is delivering a way to be with God. But not with a new list of rules, but rather a new way of being.


Too many people in Jesus day, and sadly too many in ours, consider righteousness with blessedness, but they define blessedness with stuff. Money, Power, Possessions. So Jesus starts his renewing of the faith with a declaration that the old assumptions were all wrong.


If being rich meant you were in favor with God then we all have another “think” coming. Jesus wanted people to know that you did not have to get your act together to come to God. God wants you in a relationship more than your being self-justified through your righteous acts.


And that is why he starts the way he does. 


In Matthew 5:1 we are given the context, and the context helps make it clear that things were going to be different.


When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying…


Like I mentioned, this is a new Moses on a different mountain, and his lessons were a huge departure as well.


Picture it in your mind, thousands gathered, soaking in everything that Jesus was teaching. They had traveled miles to hear him, to just be with him. Some may have witnessed a miracle, some may have heard some repeated words from a teaching he had done. Some people were thinking, I need to hear this for myself.


Whenever I have a chance, I go to hear Bishop Curry preach. Whenever, wherever. I have heard him preach probably about 10 times in person, and every time it was worth the time, effort, and cost to be there. He speaks with authority and power, and he is a mere reflection of Jesus. A moon to a bright and shining sun reflecting the true light.


Jesus spoke with authority. And he chose to begin with these words. I have read this translation before, but I do so again because it is always so refreshing…


3 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.


4 “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.


5 “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.


6 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.


7 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.


8 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.


9 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.


10 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.


11-12 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

(These are the Beatitudes from Eugene Peterson’s The Message Translation, Mt 5:3-12)


Jesus throws out the Works Righteousness that the Pharisees and Scribes were teaching. “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and get your act together so that you might find favor with God!” None of that theology. Jesus begins with the folks who would never have been picked first for a team. He picks the folks who have nowhere else to go; they have hit bottom and the only way to look is up. That is why he could come proclaiming the Message, “You can change your ways because the Kingdom of God is within your grasp if you but take hold!” Or, what you might be more familiar with, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”


Picture it, Jesus walking in the midst of so many, so many so desperate for any Good News. This was a breath of fresh air. It was actually Good News! And the people ate it up.


He sees someone looking at him with desperate, longing, puppy-dog eyes.


“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.”


He sees someone wearing all black, and trying to hold back the tears.


“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.”


He sees someone who would never stand up for themselves, cowering at the edge of the crowd.


“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less.”


He sees someone nodding, and grinning, and maybe even throwing in some AMENs at what he has just said.


“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.”


You get the picture. Jesus is meeting the crowd where they were. I can see him seeing examples there in the throng. He may have even taken them by the hand, and stood them up so that everyone could see who he was speaking about.


But the way things had always been done and understood, he turned it on its head. Grace makes no sense. Grace is not fair. Grace meets you where you are and says that it is okay, that YOU are okay. Jesus came preaching that the way people understood God and how to be in right relationship with God is not about you, it is about God! And if it is about God, it has GOT TO BE ABOUT LOVE! That is the Good News of Jesus Christ.


This is why we include this passage in the season of Epiphany. This is enlightenment to those who get it, and foolishness to those who don’t. That is why the lectionary includes the passage from I Corinthians. This message from Jesus is all-encompassing or drivel. As St. Paul said:


Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”


If I could transport myself back in time to Anthony Street in Burlington, to my grandmother’s house, and take a sharpie to her King James Bible plaque, I would scratch through the idea that this is a list of what we should be and how we should be. This is no checklist for righteousness, but rather a snapshot of a moment in time when Jesus took away all of our excuses and the deficits which we thought kept us from God. And he still does that today.


If there is any attitude we should be it is this. Please just close your eyes and listen to these words…


Be.


Be Here. 


Be Here Now.


Be You Here & Now.


Be YOU Here & Now with God.


Be YOU Here & Now with God because.


Be YOU Here & Now with God because God.


Be YOU Here & Now with God because God loves.


Be YOU Here & Now with God because God loves you.


Be YOU Here & Now with God because God loves you just the way you are.


Keeping your eyes closed, picture yourself in a crowd on a sunlit grassy hillside beside an idyllic sea. And then,  picture Jesus walking up to you in a crowd. He looks you in the eye, and says this to you.

Blessed are you, the you right here and now, for God loves you just the way you are. Amen.





Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Year A 3rd Sunday after Epiphany 2023 Caught In Our Nets

 Year A 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, 22 January 2023

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Caught In Our Nets”


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


1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. 

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 


Matthew 4:12-23

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,

on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 

the people who sat in darkness 

have seen a great light, 

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death 

light has dawned.” 

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.



And so it begins. I always love when they use that in a story. And so it begins. It lets me know that something big is coming down the pike, and we are there to witness the first flick of the dominoes, the spark that lights the fuse, the moment where the ontology shifts. What was not, now is. And so it begins…


We see John’s arrest, thus ending his public ministry. We see Jesus uprooting from Nazareth, his hometown, and moving to Capernaum, Peter and Andrew’s hometown and now Jesus’ new homebase. It is a smidge over 26 miles away. A marathon’s distance if you are a runner. We see Jesus calling two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, then James and John. We see the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus as shared in Matthew and the light of his existence dawning on the world he was a part of.


This is usually in a movie when they jump to a musical  montage where a few become a few more, then a few more, then a few more, till we have a crowd, then a multitude.


But today I want us to zoom in. Instead of panning back, I want us to go in the opposite direction. I want to zoom into the tiny so that we can see the truth of this passage, for Peter and Andrew, for James and John, for you and me.


I have always been fascinated by this passage, the dropping of the nets and the immediate following of these first disciples. They let go of their worries. They let go of their allegiances. They let go of the obligations. And they let their faith lead the way.


Nets are things we use to gather, to bring in, to hold onto something, to control something. We use nets to dominate. When we hold onto our nets, we presume that we are in the driver’s seat. And we often are.


But in the calling of his disciples, he invited them to drop their nets. Friends, you and I both know, in our spiritual lives the “dropping of our nets” is a lifelong exercise at best, a lifelong struggle if you are anything like me.


What are your “nets?” What are the things that you use to control, to dominate, and yet end up dominating you?


It could be a habit. Some way of doing things that you are stuck in. Your go-to. Your automatic pilot. Your addiction? It may have started as a source of comfort or release, but like the tar-baby of fable, you are caught in it. It is a net for you. 


It could be a relationship. Toxic or codependent, you have to spend exorbitant energy to maintain something  so unhealthy. 


It could be allegiances. Some grouping or understanding or affinity, that keeps you bound with a group, even when, especially when the group no longer exists for the reason it started. These days we are seeing more and more that group identity is about affiliation giving individual identity instead of purpose. God help us!


It could be a facade that you use to hide the hurt, or pain, or trauma of your past. The smiling face that presents while inside we are crying, or cringing, or dying drip by drip.


But whatever “net” you are holding onto, Jesus is there calling you to follow him. And friends, when we each answer that call, we have to drop our nets, whatever form they may take.


But Jesus does not ask us to stop doing what we are good at, or being who we are. Peter and Andrew were fishermen. They were and always will be. Period. That is their identity. Jesus knew that. Many of you have heard me say this before. When Jesus comes in, he steps in, reframes, and invites people to a higher level. We see that here, again. Peter and Andrew were fishing, he reframes their self-understanding with his invitation, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” They stay fishermen, just transformed. Their Identities remain, but now to the glory of God.


The other set of brothers give us another image. They do not drop their nets, but they are spending their time mending their nets. If you were a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee that was a necessary task. Gaping holes in your net let the fish out. And whatever task we are about, there is a bit of net mending that is required.


Today, we will have a conversation after the 10 am service in the parish hall about just that, keeping our nets mended. But even then, while it is necessary, it is not what we are about. We do not exist just to exist. We do not mend our nets so we have nice nets. We exist to further the Kingdom of God, and to praise God’s holy name in our worship. We mend our nets so we can fish. Keep the main thing the main thing. We do what we do so that we are healthy, happy, and growing in Christ, and bringing our friends, and neighbors, and yes, even our enemies along with us. We mend our nets so that we, too, can fish for people.


We are about following Jesus, and mending our nets is just a small piece of that pie.


And so, from his homebase of Capernaum, and with the beginning of his band of followers, we see Jesus calling Peter and Andrew, James and John, to his ministry. Our Gospel reading ends with this summation of these two call stories:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.


I would have loved to have seen that. I would love to hear his preaching and teaching. I would have loved to have seen his healing and some of the miracles recorded.


If Jesus were to come here now, what would he be healing among us? What is our “every sickness?” 


We still are battling this pandemic, with outbreaks continuing. It is a weekly occurrence, and the flu and RSV. Those are obvious. But in our society, you all have heard how troubled I am by the animosity and divisiveness in our society. We can no longer agree on whether the sky is blue or not, it seems. If I could pray for immediate deliverance from it I would. Actually I do, but this sin of our society is deeply entrenched and it would take a miracle. It will take one. God help us.


But divisiveness is not new. That is how Paul begins in our New Testament reading.

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.


But already the factions of the church in Corinth had become as petty as schoolyard boys arguing over whose dad is best. “You were baptized by Apollo? Well I was baptized by Cephas, a.k.a. Peter!” I love how Paul actually says that he is glad he only baptized a few, and then names them.


This stream of consciousness shows you he was dictating the letter as he names Crispus and Gaius as the only ones he had baptized himself, and then remembers that he baptized Stephanas’s household, too. Most things written in this day and age would have been dictated to an amanuensis, or scribe, and here is another textual example of that.


Paul goes on to echo about being about the main thing. When those outside the church see us bickering and squabbling, they call us hypocrites and liars. And it is hard to argue. When we are about what Jesus came to do, and calls us to do, then we see God glorified and the Kingdom growing. As Paul closes,

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

The message of the Cross is the Power of God if we just get out of the way. 


And how do we let Jesus do what he came to do?


We let go of our nets that really bind us.


We only put the necessary energy into mending our nets that we need to so that we can get to fishing for people which is our first and primary call.


And above all else, we must hear and respond to Christ’s call, “Come, follow me.”


Will we?


Friends, the world needs this message and Christ’s fisherpeople all the more. And daily, we must answer his beckon, “Follow me!” Amen

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Year A 2nd Sunday after Epiphany WED 2023 Confession of St. Peter

 Year A 2nd Sunday after Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 18 January 2023 St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA CONFESSION OF PETER THE APOSTLE (18 JAN) Collect: Almighty Father, who inspired Simon Peter, first among the apostles, to confess Jesus as Messiah and Son of the living God: Keep your Church steadfast upon the rock of this faith, so that in unity and peace we may proclaim the one truth and follow the one Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. Matthew 16:13-19 When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."

On 18 January we remember how the Apostle Peter was led by God's grace to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 16:13-20), and we join with Peter, and with all Christians everywhere, in hailing Jesus as our Lord, God, and Savior. This is the turning point in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), where there is a dividing line. After the confession of Peter, we see Jesus “turning his face to Jerusalem, and the events of Holy Week. In our liturgical year it fits well here. It is in Epiphany, and we are heading for Lent. Peter’s Confession has to come about here if our year follows Jesus’ story. And Peter did not do this alone, for as Scripture says in I Corinthians 12:3, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.” This was no mere act of devotion, nor was it a statement of mental acquiescence by Peter. He is saying the thing they were all thinking, and he was the first to commit. He always was a bit impetuous. But it also was a very controversial statement in the context of Palestine in the first century. Yearly, those under the Roman Empire had to pay their taxes and make a simple declaration, “Caesar is Lord.” That’s it. Very simple. That is, if you were a Roman, the occupiers of most of the known world. The vanquished had very different feelings. And if Caesar is Lord, could anyone else be? In the early Church, the confession that Jesus is Lord is not only a statement of faith. It is a revolutionary declaration. The Roman Empire is not my kingdom. The Kingdom of God is my kingdom, and Jesus is my Lord. There was a reason this man who came teaching love and kindness was so dangerous to the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman officials as well. So dangerous they had to kill him. Remember what the religious leaders argued with Pilate in John? “From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” (John 19:12) Today, as we join with Peter in declaring that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, our Savior and Lord, then no one else can be. It is a dangerous, good thing. Amen

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Year A Baptism of our Lord WED 2023 Staying on Task

 Year A Baptism of our Lord WEDNESDAY, 11 January 2023

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Staying on Task”


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


Mark 1:29-45

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

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

A leper* came to him begging him, and kneeling* he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity,* Jesus* stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy* left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus* could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.


Good morning.


I love this passage from Mark. It has so many Mark hallmarks. Jesus immediately doing things. Jesus running away to pray all the time. Jesus healing and teaching. 


When we are doing big and important things, it is imperative that we stay on task and be about the work given to us to do. If we do not do that, everything else falls apart.


When I was a teacher, that was so often the case. “Rock, can you add this…” Or, “Rock, when you have homeroom, can you make sure…” Because it came from our head of school, it was hard to say no. And often I found a way to say yes when I could. That is the kind of team player I am. But if we do not keep the main thing the main thing then everything else falls apart. Mission creep derails us from our primary, even our necessary objectives.


My main task as a priest is to lead this sacramental worship of this parish, and to structure and ensure the worship of this community. There is SO MUCH MORE that I have to do, that I am privileged to do, but if it prevents me from doing the main thing then something is wrong.


As the priest of St. James the Less, there are some things only I can do. That is why I am here to perform these sacramental functions for you. Period.


Jesus came to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News, and if he let things distract or interrupt him from that, his purpose for coming down from heaven would have been corrupted. 

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


Jesus was attracting all kinds of attention. Sounds good, right? But his task was not to establish an outpost to which people thronged. He was to be about going out and spreading the message throughout Galilee, and then on up to Jerusalem itself.


And then we carry it throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then the “uttermost parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)


Had Jesus not done what he did, and to the extent and breadth of his work, would we even be here today? I hope so. I pray so. But that is why staying on task, doing the main task before the side adventures is imperative.


This comes to mind only because we are beginning this conversation. We are having to find new and alternative revenue streams. This is taking up bandwidth with our leadership and with me. But even while these conversations are so important, they are a side task at best. There are sermons to write every week. There are people to visit. There are prayers to be said. There are meetings to attend. There are articles to write. But first and foremost, I and all of us, need to be about the Gospel of ministry that makes us a church. Anything else and we are a social service agency at best. A club at worst. We are the Church of Christ. Let that never be in question. Amen


Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Year A Christmas 1 WED 2023 Have A Little Faith

 Year A Christmas 1 Wednesday, 4 January 2023

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Have a Little Faith”


Collect

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen


New Testament Hebrews 11:23-31

23 By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.* 24By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26He considered abuse suffered for the Christ* to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though* he saw him who is invisible. 28By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.*

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. 30By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. 31By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient,* because she had received the spies in peace.


Gospel John 14:6-14

6Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know* my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’

8 Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’ 9Jesus 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”? 10Do 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. 11Believe 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. 12Very 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. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me* for anything, I will do it.


Good morning! This last Sunday we did something we rarely do on a Sunday morning. We took the time for individuals to come forward to have prayers with Dawn+ or me. It could be for a situation, a time of reconciliation, a request for healing, or perhaps a blessing. These times are always so meaningful and humbling. People came with some of their burdens and gave them up to God.


I trust that people prayed for and with them. I am pretty focused, so know very little about what else is going on. As I said in my article in this morning’s email, we heard the history of our faith in the Lessons and Carols, and then we are reminded that that story continues on with and in us. Even more humbling!


In our Hebrews reading it comes back to faith, faith in the invisible. “[Moses] persevered as though he saw him who is invisible.” The assurance of things hoped for, the essence of things unseen.


And then we come to Jesus’ words on prayer. He says he is the way, the truth, and the life. And adds when it comes to our prayers…

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.


This phrase is a call to faith, but for many, it is a stumbling block. They asked for something “in Jesus’ name” and it did not come to pass.


I know I have. And then it comes back to faith, doesn’t it. But not as a blame because you do not have enough. I am so heartbroken when I hear that.


Prayers are not vending machines, say the right phrase, like a magic incantation or witch’s spell, and something appears. Prayers are conversations, expressing our wants, desires, hopes, and dreams to the Almighty. And prayers are God’s responses, too.


If you are doing all the talking in your prayers, then that might be why they are ineffective. If I do not let my conversation partner get a word in edgewise, then why should I wonder if the conversation ceases?


Jesus calls us to ask in his name, and his name means “The Lord is Salvation.” If we pray in this statement of faith, then what we really want, what is best for us, what is best for all God’s created cosmos, can come to pass. It is not a gumball machine. It is about aligning our will with God’s will. It is about letting God in on our motivation and perspective. It is about standing in faith and hope when all around us may seem faithless and hopeless.


Praying in Jesus’ name is like Moses “persever[ing] as though he saw him who is invisible.” Praying in Jesus’ name is praying like Jesus in the Garden, not getting what he asked for, that the cup of suffering might pass over him, but getting what he truly wanted, the salvation of creation, what he was born to fulfill.


We know so little now. It can be hard to envision the light when we are standing in the darkness, but it is about faith. That is what faith is, what prayer is, seeing the light though we stand in the dark, and believing that it is and will come again. Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief. Help us to have faith to truly pray “In Jesus’ Name.” Amen


Sunday, December 25, 2022

Year A Christmas Day 2022 Traditions 2022

 Year A Christmas Day,  December 25, 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Traditions 2022”



Collect: Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


Old Testament Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, 

who brings good news,

who announces salvation, 

who says to Zion, "Your God reigns." 

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,

together they sing for joy; 

for in plain sight they see

the return of the Lord to Zion.

Break forth together into singing,

you ruins of Jerusalem; 

for the Lord has comforted his people,

he has redeemed Jerusalem.

The Lord has bared his holy arm

before the eyes of all the nations;

and all the ends of the earth shall see

the salvation of our God.

The New Testament Hebrews 1:1-4,(5-12)

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say,

"You are my Son;

today I have begotten you"? 

Or again,

"I will be his Father,

and he will be my Son"?

And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,

"Let all God's angels worship him."

Of the angels he says,

"He makes his angels winds,

and his servants flames of fire." 

But of the Son he says,

"Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,

and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 

You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;

therefore God, your God, has anointed you

with the oil of gladness beyond your companions." 

And,

"In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands; 

they will perish, but you remain;

they will all wear out like clothing; 

like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. 

But you are the same,

and your years will never end."

The Gospel John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.



We all have them. We might not see them as Traditions, but we do things in the same way for comfort, for ease, for our brains to go on automatic pilot at times, so our souls can find those still, happy places we need. We also carve out space in our days or seasons to do things with intention. Christmas is filled with Traditions, and that means Christmas is filled with Intention.  


This is our third pandemic Christmas. We are gathering, with a triple threat of COVID, and flu, and RSV. We are singing joyful carols and few are still are wisely wearing masks. The pandemic is not over, but so many of us were over it a long time ago. I know the role that this place plays in so many lives, and I am thankful that we can gather and invite people in after being closed for what was unimaginably long. We did it all out of love. Too much for some, too little for others. But we all grieve because things are not the way we want them to be. And all of us respond to that disappointment and grief in our own ways.


That makes the traditions that we can have all the more special.


Stephanie and I were married on the 19th, so on our honeymoon we began to read the three Gospel accounts of Christmas from Luke, then Matthew, then John. And then we read the Gospel according to Dr. Seuss. The Grinch is Gospel, as there is a conversion when his heart “grew three sizes that day.” 


We got to read those together last night in the Rectory. Another Traditional Ritual is the eating of Chinese Food which comes from my birth family who always went to the Chinese restaurant after the Christmas Eve service. Wonton Soup might not scream “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” to you. But it does to me.


Traditions bring us comfort. Traditions warm our hearts. Traditions make us cozy inside. 


Another one of my traditions is to usually cry, whether I want to or not, when I hear, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day.” The song comes from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A simple song, a throwaway song almost until you hear the words with Longfellow’s thoughts in your mind. Two years after his wife died in a tragic accident, which also left him permanently scarred, Longfellow’s son enlisted in the Union Army in the Civil War. Receiving a grave wound, Charley, Longfellow’s son, was in hospital in Washington, D.C. Longfellow joined him there to help in his recovery. On Christmas Day, in the midst of personal tragedy and in his beloved country ripping itself apart, he penned these words.   


I heard the bells on Christmas Day 

Their old, familiar carols play, 

And wild and sweet,  the words repeat 

Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 


And thought how, as the day had come, 

The belfries of all Christendom 

Had rolled along the unbroken song 

Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 


Till ringing, singing on its way, 

The world revolved from night to day, 

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime 

Of peace on earth, good-will to men! 


And in despair I bowed my head; 

"There is no peace on earth," I said; 

“For hate is strong, and mocks the song 

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!" 


Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 

"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; 

The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, 

With peace on earth, good-will to men." 


And that poem became a song when we are tired and beaten by a world that ignores the message of Hope and Love we share at Christmas. One cannot be cynical and call oneself a disciple of Christ. It is as hypocritical as the bigot, the sexist, the blatant sinner. Cynicism is a sin of the heart. And this song reminds us of that. 


This year, I look to the Christ Child in hope, and in trust. I have to. This year we have had to remain hopeful when we hear names we may not have known before, but now these places are scars on our souls. Uvalde, Vestavia Hills, Tree of Life Synagogue, Club Q in Colorado Springs, Ukraine. 

And in despair I hung my head. 

There is no peace on earth, I said, 

for hate is strong and mocks the song 

of peace on earth good will towards men.


Longfellow's words haunt me as surely as Scrooge’s ghosts haunted him.


If you have not seen it, the hauntingly beautiful image of the Christmas tree covered in doves, a symbol of Christ's peace in the Kyiv, Ukraine could not be more poignant. I happened to see that this morning. Lit only in car lights, it could not be more poignant.




But it is Christmas, and at Christmas you tell the truth. I have to have Hope.

Speaking of Hope, one of my favorite Christmas traditions is Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special. From 1965, it was controversial even then. The climax of the special is a boy quoting a Bible story. That’s it. But it is everything! We shared it with Father Nana Kessie when he was visiting with us. He had never seen it. He asked if the dog’s name was Scooby. I had to (calmly) say, Snoopy. It’s funny how some of our cultural things become so dear to us. But back to Charlie Brown.


I heard an interesting piece of trivia, and I have shared it the last few years. I am shocked I had never noticed it before. You see, Linus stops the production of the Christmas show rehearsal to tell Charlie Brown the real meaning of Christmas, and he quotes Luke 2 from the King James Version. 


8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field , keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo , the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid . 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold , I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes , lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying , 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 


“That’s the meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown.” Linus, being a cartoon character, is defined in simple ways. He is a believer, trusting or naive, depending on your point of view. He also is comforted by his security blanket and sucking his thumb. NOT your normal hero. He holds tight to his protection from his insecurities, and most of us cannot think of Linus without it. 


But if you go back to watch the video, and I did a couple of times to make sure, while he is quoting Luke, a most amazing thing happens. As soon as he says “Fear not!” his hand disappears from the screen and it returns without the blanket. The boy who is so timid, so fearful, goes center stage and let’s go of his fears, or at least his comfort from his fears. His “security” dropped at his feet. You see, the one who can stand with Linus, the one who can stand beside Longfellow in his pain and grief, the one who can stand beside me in my weakness and insecurities and you in yours has come into the world. “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  


Maybe that is the greatest Christmas Tradition of them all, and it started with Mary, then Joseph, then the Shepherds all the way down to us. And we gather still under threat of pandemic, and so many other big, bad,things, we hold onto hope and offer it to a suffering world. Immaneul, God-with-us, encourages us and is with us through all of it. That is Christmas, and always will be. The words of the angels come to us today, “Fear Not.” And that my friends, is a Tradition to keep, especially in 2023! “Fear Not!” Amen