Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Year C Proper 10 WED Let the New Be New

Year C Proper 10 WEDNESDAY, 17 July 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Let the New Be New”

Collect: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Mark 2:13-22
Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.
And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Putting the new onto the old rarely works. Jesus talks about it with new patches on old cloaks. Once the new patch shrinks it will pull away from the already shrunk cloth. He speaks of it with new wine, fermenting. You put the juice in with the yeast into a leather bladder or bag sealing it, and the yeast eats the sugars converting it into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide. The gases cause the wineskin to expand, stretching the leather. If you pour new wine into already stretched out leather it will burst and you will lose everything. When starting fresh, start fresh.

Levi was like that. He had had to work to get his position as a tax collector, bribing all the right people, and swindling others to make enough to pay off the bribes. It was a lucrative, but expensive trade. Jesus did not say, “Add some of my teachings, and stir.” What he did say is “Follow me.” It requires one to get up, leave what was behind to follow him.

But the call to leave things behind was not just for Levi’s ease. Jesus knew people. It is almost impossible to not follow old scripts. People were not willing to give Levi, or most people, the benefit of the doubt. Even at the dinner they held that night (remember Levi was well off), Levi had invited his friends, “tax collectors and sinners,” to come and hear the teachings of this remarkable rabbi and his disciples. The “judginess” came out quickly. They judge Jesus for the company he keeps. It is human nature, as old as time. As I said on Sunday, we choose those with whom we are close, and those with whom we are not. Look who Jesus chose.

My collar gets in the way of a lot of people getting to know me. When someone is acting normal around me, and they find out I am a minister it is funny and sad sometimes how they shift and begin to act differently. This slip of a curse word now requires an apology once they know. It is awkward for both of us. I am a sinner who found a way out of my cycle, am still finding a way out of of some of my cycles, and like Levi I want EVERYONE to try what I have found. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” declares Psalm 34:8. We were at a restaurant the other day and I was surprised and delighted by something I ordered. I handed around forks with a sample around the table. “You gotta try this!” The girls did. God is like that, too. I have found a sense of peace and grace and love that I cannot put into words. And that excitement and exuberance bubbles up, like new wine in new skins.

In the last few days, as we have been unpacking and settling in the rectory, I have been very intentional about doing some practices and disciplines I have started and stopped or long wanted to adopt. They always came with stops and starts, but not that we have a radical reorientation in our lives, I trust and hope that this will now be more and more possible and sustaining. It has so far, thanks be to God.

“No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” We need to let the new be new, and leave behind what holds us back. Amen



Sunday, July 14, 2019

Year C Proper 10 2019 Proximity Does Not Make You Close

Year C Proper 10 14 July 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Proximity Does Not Make You Close”

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Luke 10:25-37
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, `Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."

We all know the types. The ones who sit on the first row, their hands almost perpetually raised. Hermione Granger was like that in the Harry Potter series. As a teacher I loved those kids, and they drove me crazy. They wanted so much to please, or to show how smart they are or how hard they had worked, but often did not take into account the learning or the feelings of the others in the class. I see the lawyer this way. Wanting to test the Rabbi maybe, and wanting to justify himself the story tells us, the lawyer asks these questions of Jesus.

And Jesus, like Socrates, answers the student’s question with a question.
“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
We see the young lawyer asking for a clarification. He knew the rules. And he had some ideas, nothing new, but well laid out plans many teachers had quoted. To be “justified” with God, what must one do? He quotes here two Scripture verses: Deuteronomy 6:5 Love God with everything, and Leviticus 19:18 Love neighbor like self. The vertical relationship of faith, loving God, the horizontal, loving neighbor. Both are requisite and needed. Jesus praises him. He is correct. But it is hard for a lawyer to stop being a lawyer.

What exactly is a neighbor?

I grew up on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. To this day, Rev. Fred Rogers is one of my heroes. His ministry, cutting edge and so needed today in our world, was to children and their families through media. How progressive in the mid-60s in the middle of the cultural and social upheaval of those times. This specialized calling and ordaining was down through the Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh. On his show, I saw that Mr. Rogers was a neighbor to everyone, and all he met were nice and “neighborly” to him. Now as I child I did not understand that this was not a real house, and a real neighborhood. It was a script they were using, not real life, but to me it did not make it any less real.

During the horrors of some of the civil rights actions, a hotel owner decided to pour acid into a pool some African-American guests had decided to swim in against “the rules.” Outraged, Fred Rogers decided to handle his furor in a neighborly way. On his next episode, Officer Clemmons (portrayed by Fran├žois Clemmons), an African-American, and Mr. Rogers soaked their feet together in a kiddie pool to relax from the heat. They even shared a towel. Unbelievable in 1969 when it happened. But Fred Rogers showed mercy, just as Jesus commanded, that we should go and do likewise.

We are now your neighbors. My family slept in Ashland for the first time last night. It is a new day for us, and for my ministry here at the Church. I am no longer “ministering to,” I am “residing” or “dwelling with.” It makes a difference with me, and hopefully with us.

So, like the young lawyer, it begs a question for me as we begin this relationship anew. Who is my neighbor? I did a little digging and learned some fascinating stuff this week.

The word we translate as the noun “neighbor” is not a noun in the Greek. It is an adverb. We use neighbor because it is easier to say. Now to remind you of your grammar, an adjective describes a noun, a person place or thing. Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, or word groups, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc. So the word plesion in the Greek we use for neighbor is really “nearby.”

“Okay, we get it, Rock, get to your point. What is the big deal?”

Even in Jesus’ day, “Who is my neighbor?” is better said, “Who exactly is NEARBY?” And even in Jesus’ day the answer is proved in the doing. Proximity does not make one a neighbor. Being close to someone is not a matter of place, it is a matter of heart.

When I got off my plane last week, I had landed in Richmond, I was technically home, but it was when I saw Stephanie and the girls with my own two eyes that I was finally home. Home is where the heart is. Being close, “a NEARBY One,” is also a matter of the heart.

So what does Jesus say about being a NEARBY One in our story? Those who passed by, the Priest and the Levite were following all the religious rules and missing the entire point. Had they touched the wounded man, they would have been ritually unclean. Now for a priest at this point, especially one on the way to Jerusalem could very well have been on his way to the Temple. It may very well be that this was his one shot to serve in the Temple. His one shot to lead in the Big City Church, and he was “not allowed” to help according to all the rules. And notice what Jesus said, “he passed by on the other side.” Though they were close in faith and lineage, but the priest did not come close. The same for the Levite. He also “passed by on the other side.”

But then we have our Samaritan. Racial mudbloods, traitors going back hundreds of years. They were not taken off into the Babylonian Captivity. They intermarried and were no longer pure. They rejected the Temple practices, preferring more the High Holy Places alluded to Psalm 121, “I look unto to the hills, from where will my help come from?” This song was sung by pilgrims going up to Jerusalem to the Temple, rejecting the High Hill worship spots along their routes. The Samaritans still worshiped there. They were so FAR from the Israelites. But not this one. Jesus says,
“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”

The one so far from the victim was the only one who came CLOSE. He was NEARBY to the victim. He touched him, cleansed him, cared for him. He paid his bill. His heart went out to him. (Literally “moved with compassion”) He chose to be close.

We all do. We choose those with whom we are close, and those with whom we are not. There are friends I have not seen in decades with whom I am still close. The virtual world we live in makes that more and more possible. There are those who have passed who I think of fondly, or feel them close, though they have long since passed. Closeness is a choice.

We live in a jaded and cynical time. We have neighbors whose names we may not know, whose lives we do not touch. When we packed up our house we no longer had neighbors who will miss us. Those we would have missed have all died or moved away. But already just this week, three people as we were unloading have stopped in to give welcome and say hello. It will be a different world for us; it already is.

Sometime this week, you will see someone. A stranger, perhaps, who you will feel a prompting for your heart to go to them. Do it. Just do it. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways.

Mr. Rogers chose to be close to Officer Clemmons, taking off his shoes and socks, sharing a common pool, a common towel. He chose to be close in a world pouring acid on difference. Closeness is a choice. Distance is, too.

Jesus asked the lawyer, and us: “Which of these..., do you think, was NEARBY to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, and us, "Go and do likewise.”

So my new neighbors, let us draw closer to God and to one another. And may we, “Go and do likewise.” Amen

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Year C Proper 9 WED 2019 Another Way

Year C Proper 9 WEDNESDAY 10 July 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Another Way”

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I Samuel 16:1-13 The Anointing of David story
Acts 10:1-16 Cornelius calling on Peter, and receiving the Holy Spirit story
Luke 24:13-35 The Road to Emmaus story

I remember when I was working on a big project down in Richmond in my Baptist days. We were in the bar and restaurant district of downtown, Shockoe Bottom. One of the ministers I was working with was doing a presentation on the very same project and he described the area as “vile.” And as “the butthole of Richmond.” I was aghast. He was coming into a situation, so biased and against the area and the people. He saw himself as a savior or at the right hand of the savior. Later I learned he was so shocked that people “rejected” his ministry.

When we deal with people in whatever ministry we have, we need to look with the eyes of Grace. Think of the interactions Jesus had. Very rarely does Jesus get judgy, and never with those we might label as the “Sinners.” Who does Jesus get judgy with? The Churchy People. The Pharisees. The Money Changers. The Ones who have already decided they are righteous and know “the way things are.”

I love today’s readings taken together. They all tell the story of religious types, coming in with their preconceived notions and dictums. They come in naming what is to be done, instead of asking “Where is God at work, and how can I join in?”

When Samuel comes to anoint the successor to Saul, he goes through all the sons of Jesse. Never hearing from God that any of them were “the One,” Samuel asked, “Got anymore sons?” Jesse, “Yeah, but it is only the runt, David.” His own family could not see that the Chosen One was amongst them, a boy who would be described as a Man after God’s Own Heart. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

Cornelius, a Roman, hears the word of God to go and send for Peter who was down in Joppa. And God is speaking the word to Peter that what he considered unclean, God did not care. “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” Once again, the religious had set notions of propriety, what was right and good, and then God showed up in unexpected places and ways.

Lastly, those disciples on the road to Emmaus on that Easter Sunday did the exact same thing. Dead was dead, and Jesus was gone. They had heard the crazy rumors, and were talking loudly and excitedly. So much so, Jesus was in their midst and they could only see a stranger.

How often do we do that? I probably do it all the time unaware. Oblivious to the hand of God at work. God forgive me.

In our ministries, in the living out our faith, Jesus gave us some ways to approach it, so that we are more like him than Samuel, or Peter, or the Emmaus disciples.

  1. “Come unto Jesus like a child.” Do not have set expectations or demands, like a kid. Be open to what is or what may be.
  2. “When you have done it for the Least of These, you have done it to or for me.” Think of those we interact with as Jesus. Not like Jesus, or for Jesus. If we treat them as Jesus think of how special they would feel. And if they feel that loved, think of how they would respond.


My friend was not effective in Shockoe Bottom as he had his agenda and judgment, and looked with condemning eyes instead of compassionate eyes. God help us all when we do it that way. Jesus way is better. Amen 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Year C Independence Day Observed 2019 Our Architect and Builder

Year C Independence Day (Observed) 7 July 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Our Architect and Builder”

Collect: Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 11:8-16
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old-- and Sarah herself was barren-- because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

Matthew 5:43-48
Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

It is good to be home. I love to travel, explore, make new friends, but there is a comfort in the familiar. We had a wonderful adventure, and we will be scheduling a covered dish to talk about it soon. Dick and Sandi made me promise before I left. Close to 12,000 miles later I have experienced things that are far bigger and grander than a boy from Newport News is used to having had happened.

In the usual seat of our Senior Warden and his wife, last week I had the King of the Ashanti Nation smile and affirm my words at the Anglican Cathedral in Kumasi, Ghana. When I found out for sure that the King was to be there, one of the members of our group quoted this verse for me: “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11-12 After that I remembered that even the King puts on his pants one leg at a time.

Ghana is a beautiful country and a gracious people. Looking at how things are there, and how things are here, the differences are striking. The similarities more so. But if we look at what is different or wrong, instead of finding our common ground, we can be frozen to inaction. In that line of thought, and hearing the words of our founding fathers in Facebook posts and comments it struck me what a venture of faith our American Experiment was.

The Puritans we call the Pilgrims (note the religious name there) were coming to create for themselves and for their kids a better life, after abuse and threats in England. They fled here for the betterment of their lives, in hopes and dreams for their children. This was an act of deep faith. So many died. So many faced unbelievable hardships, but in this new land they found welcoming faces and gracious hospitality. Was it always this way? No. No human interaction and especially institution is without its flaws, for we are a flawed and sinful people.

But as more came, they came in faith as well. Jamestown in 1607 sought wealth, but also to bring the faith they held so close and so dear to the New World. One of the first things they did was to build a church in the fort, and a priest came in the second year. This was an act of faith, to go into a barren wilderness (or so the Londoners thought) and start fresh, both for themselves and their Company.

And if you follow the trail of pilgrims and outcasts, miserable and hopeful souls who fled to our “teeming shores” you will see faith, stepping into the unknown over and over again.

We see from the winning side of history the founding fathers and uphold their bravery. But rarely do we speak fear of a band of farmers, lawyers, and tradesmen coming together to declare Independence from the world’s superpower at the time. They were committing Treason, if you were a Tory Loyalist. They were Revolutionaries, if you agreed with them. Benjamin Franklin in his wit and honesty said to his fellow rebels, “We must all, indeed, hang together, or we will, most assuredly, hang separately.” There is faith even in their fear, faith in the Providence of God to bring them to this place and side with them in a likely conflict.

And think about it, 243 years ago, in Philadelphia, 56 bold souls had the audacity to say that what brings us together is not necessarily blood, or lineage, or land. They stepped out on faith, and following the words of one of their youngest, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, (Edward Rutledge of South Carolina was the youngest, by the way) and they had the  audacity to exert a statement of faith. Yes, faith.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

They were saying that God gave us all certain things, and that this is apparent to any person with eyes. And that people set up Governments to make sure we were allowed to follow these God-given rights. And when the government does not enable and encourage this, and even hinders it, then that government should change.

This was an idea. They had the audacity, and the faith, to follow this idea. They tried to found a country on an idea. And this was a first. Others had imposed laws, or ideas, on a formed people, but here they were forming a people around a unifying principle, a statement of faith at that.

In our Hebrews reading today, the call of God to Abram was on a similar unique status. I loved the verse, “For [Abram] looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” And I think, and I admit it is a statement of faith, that the founding fathers thought the same of what they were doing. They dreamt of a city built on their ability to embody the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Abram stepped out on faith to follow the call of God to an unknown land amongst an unknown people.

Faith is exactly that. Stepping into the unknown and putting all our weight down.

Abram did it. The Founding Fathers did it. We all do it, when we live by faith.

Now living by faith is never perfect, nor is it easy. The hypocrisy of those same founding fathers which is “self-evident” to us can be what we focus on, but I would invite you not to stay there. They stepped out on faith, and they invite us to do the same. The American Experiment is not done. Far from it.

Yesterday at Hanover Courthouse there was a gathering of people holding a rally for the KKK. Seven and a half miles from here. Seven and a half miles. I traveled close to 12,000 miles to work on racial reconciliation and yet in our own backyard there is still so much work left undone.

We hold these truths, to be self-evident, that all people are created equal. Male and female, rich or poor, black or white or any of the fascinating hues God made us. We have come so far, thanks be to God. And we have so far to go, God help us.

Three nights ago I sat on the other side of the Atlantic, looking south from the coast of Mother Africa. As I heard the crashing waves, I thought of the souls that we thought were ours to use as we please, even while we claimed “that we hold these truths to be self-evident.” We can see it as a failure, or we can see it as first steps bringing the path to us today.

We use a phrase in our liturgy taken from St. Paul in Galatians: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son…” You see, we follow a God who plays the long game. God paints God’s dream for the world across eons. God’s hand can move at a glacial pace. The call of God that Abram followed comes to us today as well. The longing for freedom and justice that the founding fathers felt, that I believe came from God, comes to us still today.

If the Architect and Builder of our faith and of our national vision is God, then we can rest assured of two things. “The One who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1:6 and “Unless the Lord builds the House, those that labor labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1

God bless us as we answer the call of faith. The one of Abram, and the one of this Nation built on a Notion. “For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Each and everything we do, each step of faith, each step toward justice and freedom for all, brings us closer to the design of our architect, a more brick that we have placed for our Master Builder. We are not done, and God is not done with us. God bless us, and may God bless America! Happy Independence Day! Amen

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Year C Proper 8 2019 Halfway Won't Do

Year C Proper 8, 30 June 2019
St. Cyprian’s Cathedral, Kumasi, Ghana
“Halfway Won’t Work”

Collect: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Galatians 5:1,13-25
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 9:51-62
When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Your Royal Majesty, Archbishop, Dean, and fellow clergy, thank you for the opportunity to bring you words this day. I greet you in the name of Christ, and have been received as an honored guest on your shore. I thank you for my team of pilgrims from Virginia in the USA, and for our fellow pilgrims from Liverpool.

On behalf of my Bishop, the Right Reverend Susan Goff, I bring greetings from your brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Virginia. I thank the Archbishop for inviting and hosting us this week, and for his generosity and graciousness. Father Nana Kessie and Archdeacon Joseph Osei are taking wonderful care of us. Last November my parish was honored to receive the Archbishop where he preached and blessed my people. It was a day we will never forget. Many thanks again.

I am a pilgrim. The humorous American writer Ambrose Bierce defined a pilgrim as “a traveller who is taken seriously.” We are not tourists here. My fellow pilgrims from Liverpool and Virginia, are here with intent and purpose. We come in the name of Christ to humbly learn from you our sisters and brothers what you have to teach us about following Christ in your context, and to see first hand the lasting effects and historic legacy of humanity’s inhumanity to our fellow brothers and sisters.

For all the pilgrims who are with us, what we are learning and discussing is life-changing for us. We are travelling in this beautiful state, looking at the legacy and heritage of people thinking that other children of God are less than themselves. At the heart of slavery is a fundamental dismissing of the basic truths we find in the opening chapter of Genesis. God’s Word makes it clear that we all are made in God’s Image. (Gen. 1:27) We all have God’s very breath breathed into our nostrils making us living beings. (Gen. 2:7) And we are our brother’s keeper. We are here to care for our sisters and brothers, not to be master over them. (Gen. 4:9-10) The idea of slavery breaks these foundational concepts from our very beginning of life and our relationship with God.

Currently in my country, there are debates happening about giving Reparations, either money or tangible benefits, to the descendants of those who were enslaved in our country. This discussion began under Abraham Lincoln when he freed the slaves over 150 years ago. Some people believe that nothing needs to be rectified because so much time has passed. Some people are arguing that the longer things go on without something being done makes it far worse as the sins of the past continue on into the future. God’s Word says “The sins of the father become the sins of the son.” (Numbers 14:18, et al) When we do not do something the guilt cannot be washed away. Because we did not do what should have been done a century and a half ago or in the days since, we are still having to deal with the sin of leaving things undone. And this brings me to today’s readings.

The problem with most people is that they want to do things slowly; they want to take baby steps, or half-way measures. This is no good, especially when it comes to following God. There are no step-children of God. We are Children of God and behave thus, or we are not and do not. Someone cannot cross a canyon in two or three jumps! We must be all in, and go the whole distance. Halfway will destroy us.

Today, in our Gospel, we see Jesus rebuking half-way measures three times.

First, he was on his way to Jerusalem to redeem us all. He had “set his face” to Jerusalem. When I am at the market, and accidentally bump into someone it is often  because I have my head turned, looking at something else. I must say, “Excuse me! I am sorry!” Jesus had turned his head to Jerusalem. He was focused. He was determined that his Goal must be done, thanks be to God! The Samaritan Village asked him to linger, so that they might learn and grow. This is a good thing, but Jesus had something more important on his agenda. Discernment is knowing the difference between the Good and the Best. God’s Call is for the Best. The Samaritans did not receive him at all because they wanted more than he could give. They could have had a cookie, but they demanded a whole cake, and so they received nothing.

We see again Jesus rebuking his own disciples. They wanted to smite the Samaritans for not receiving their Lord. Just like the Samaritans took it personally and insulting, so did Jesus’ disciples. But Jesus had instructed them, “If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer him the other.” Revenge has no place amongst the Children of God. We cannot be halfway on this either. If we seek to get back at those who wrong us, are we any different from those apart from God? We cannot call ourselves Christ’s followers and act like the world at the same time. Albert Einstein, the genius physicist, put it this way, “We cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.” Halfway transformation will not work for butterflies, and it will not work for us.

Lastly in today’s Gospel, we see people going halfway when Jesus instructs them to “Follow Me.” One gives the excuse that he must go home and bury his father. One says he must go and say goodbye. As a child I heard this as very mean. I thought it meant that Jesus did not care about family obligations. I see now that is nowhere near the truth. On the cross, our Lord looked at the disciple he loved and instructed him to take care of his blessed Mother, Mary. What then is Jesus saying?

In the patriarchal society of Jesus, the man who needed to bury his father might have a father who was not even sick. He was talking about his first allegiance being to his father, and when his father is finally gone, then he will be free to follow Jesus. Jesus knew that it was Now or Never. He had “set his face” to Jerusalem. If he waited, the man would miss it. For the one who wanted to go and say Goodbye, it was much the same.

One of my favorite hymns, one sung by slaves in the United States, goes this way in its second verse:

Come, ye weary, heavy-ladenLost and ruined by the fallIf you tarry 'til you're betterYou will never come at all 
Chorus: I will arise and go to JesusHe will embrace me in His armsIn the arms of my dear SaviorOh, there are ten thousand charms

Like the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts, what is stopping us from following Christ RIGHT NOW? Whatever excuse, whatever reason, whatever thing we think is bigger is NOTHING compare to the love of Christ.

Jesus said to the man who wanted to say his Goodbyes, and to us as well, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Once again, this sounds mean or harsh. But Jesus is telling us a Truth. Halfway, turning our heads away to ANYTHING else, will not do what is needed to be done.

Now none of us are fit for the Kingdom. If it were up to us, that is living by Law and not by Grace. But as we follow Christ NOW, as we drop our nets and follow him like Peter and Andrew, he begins the long and slow work of transforming us into his likeness. God knows it is a long process, and that is why WE must not approach it with halfway measures and actions. If we decide to take it slowly, by not being in 100%, we are like the man wanting to go home and bury his father. We need to “Choose this day whom we will serve.” (Joshua 24:15) If we commit 100%, if we do not try to go halfway, then God is faithful to complete the task of bringing us to where we ought to be. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness” and everything else will fall into place.

St. Paul in today’s readings from Galatians says this very thing:
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 
If we are free in Christ, we cannot still act like we are slaves to Sin. We cannot be half-free and half-slave. We are Free. Or we are not. Halfway measures will not work.

In the USA, there is a story told about a man passing a circus. He was impressed watching the elephants working to set up the giant tents. They were so strong and could do such amazing feats of strength. But after they were down, the elephant handlers took them back to where they were staying, and they took a small rope and tied one of their front legs to a stake in the ground.

The man was confused. Surely the elephants could break free of a single rope tied to a small stake in the ground. What was keeping them there? So the man asked the elephant handler. He said that when they were very small they would tie the baby elephant to the stake, and it could not break free. It would continue daily through the rest of their lives. The only thing keeping them from being free was themselves. They had become convinced that they were bound forever.

Are their things in your life that are halfway? Are their things in your life that you need to give over to Christ all the way? Remember, crossing a chasm cannot be done in multiple leaps. Do not be like the elephant, let God in to deliver you from the mindset of slavery. Do not be tempted by ANYONE to think that you are bound, like the poor elephant. You have been set FREE! “For Freedom Christ has set us free!” Thanks be to God! Amen.


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)