Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Year C Proper 18 2019 9/11 and the Nature of God

Year C Proper 18 WEDNESDAY, 11 September 2019
 St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“9/11 and the Nature of God”

Collect: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Philippians 2:1-11
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
Matthew 2: 1-12 (Read but not used)

Please forgive the adult language and please read to the very end. This was some of the best theology that I saw right after the attacks of that day...
[Read an edited version of The Onion from 9/26/200]
https://www.theonion.com/god-angrily-clarifies-dont-kill-rule-1819566178

That was satire, and like good satire it hits really close to home. I think it was one of the best commentaries on those horrific events. In the hymn we read from Philippians we have an early example of how Jesus was seen by the early church, his humanity, his humility, his divinity. We see an example of what loving God is all about.

It is such a stark contrast to the picture that is painted by the anniversary we remember today. That day 18 years ago when people decided to praise God by taking lives. That day when innocents were slaughtered in the name of God. For 2,000 years we have had an alternative set out there for us to imagine, enabling us to picture what God looks like, what the nature of God is like through Jesus. This is not hyperbole. This is not metaphor. This is not analogy. This is the very nature of God, and that sets out for us the underlying nature of the Universe.

When I see fellow Christians, or people who say they are Christians, arguing and fighting and seeking power and being afraid, I look to this hymn of praise to juxtapose Not The Way Things Ought To Be, but rather, THE WAY THINGS ARE. We just have not woken up to that yet.

This week Donald Trump tweeted the name of a pastor instead of a journalist he had decided to belittle. The pastor responded in sympathy and love, extending grace despite the threats and nasty messages he had inadvertently received through the error. That is what I am talking about.

When I hear take Jesus name and tie it to all kinds of things, I have to remember that  that is not what Jesus is about. In fact he warned us that all kinds of things would be done in his name, and that we were not to worry. We just need to take on the idea, the image portrayed here. Even on this day when we remember the almost 3,000 killed on 9/11, when we take on the form of the one whose name we cherish, what the world sees as weakness is our strength. Please stand:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Amen

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Chapel at St. Catherine's School September 2019

Chapel Service, 9 (High School) and 10 (Middle School) September, 2019
8 am services
St. Catherine’s School, Richmond VA

Matthew 6:25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Who here worries? [Wait] If you are not raising your hand, your a telling a fib, and you shouldn’t fib in Chapel. [Smile]

Whenever we have an angel or God show up in the Bible, most of the time they start with the phrase, “Fear Not.” In fact, I have read that it is used in the Bible 365 times, one for every day of the year. Now, I have not done the homework to check that out, but it is a good quote. We’ll go with it.

Some say, to err is human. But I think it is even more honest to think, that to worry is human. We worry because we have these wonderful brains. And our brains think in stories. We are the story telling creature. And when we worry it is our brains telling us a story about what could go wrong, a negative story.

“Worry is the Misuse of Imagination.”

Now think about it. If worry is the negative story we tell ourselves, what if we did the opposite? And every time we started to tell ourselves what could go wrong, instead we told ourselves what could go right. We imagine the positive. We visualize things going well. And then we can ask ourselves, what can I do to make things go well? And then we can do those things, and that positive visualization can come true!

So when we do not do the things that we need to do to make the good things happen, worry comes back…

“Worry is the emotional response to not being prepared.” 

So how do we not have that feeling? [Wait] We need to…
BE PREPARED! That’s right. We need to do what needs to be done.

A story is told about a college professor who was trying to teach the lesson of getting the big things done, then minor things, then filling in the other stuff that life throws us. So he got a big glass jar, a pail of rocks, a pail of sand, and a pail of water. And he asked, “Do you think this will all fit in the glass jar?” Not one student did. And he said, “Not if we just pour it all in.” So he carefully placed in all the rocks. Then he carefully poured in some of the sand, shook the jar to fill in the cracks, poured some more, shook, until all the sand was in. And then he asked, “Is it full?” Now the students were catching on. And he poured the water in filling the tiny spaces between the sand, which was between the rocks, all in the glass jar.

When I plan out my days, I have to do it like the professor. What are the things that I HAVE TO DO? Or the things that CANNOT BE MOVED? I have to put those in first. Then I can fill in the rest of my day with things I would like to do, or could get done, or I will find fun and energizing. And then I pour in the things that life throws at me, phone calls, emails, Facebook, whatever. But the rocks have to be first. When I do that I do not have to worry. I have taken care of my responsibilities.

And, “Worry is not your Responsibility.” 

Responsibility means that you have the ability to Respond. There are things that you can do, and probably should. But there are things that you cannot do, should not do, or are beyond your control. THEY ARE NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY! You can only do the things you can.

When I played tuba at the University of Richmond, my music professor had me playing some really hard parts. I got overwhelmed! I looked at the whole song, and thought, “I cannot play this!” But he said, look at one measure. “Can you play that?” Most I could, but some were really hard with hard rhythms. He said, then do not look at the measure, look at one beat. “Can you play that?” Yes, I could. He said, “When you are feeling overwhelmed and you have too much to handle, break it down into the smallest part you can until you can do it. Conquer that, then do the next thing, and so on, and so on, and so on.” I have taken that lessen with me the rest of my life.

Whenever I have a challenge, and it is my responsibility, I break it down into small manageable parts. And I do it one part at a time. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

“Worry is letting my emotion, my fear, into the Driver’s Seat.” 

In one of my favorite books, there is a phrase that is repeated. “Fear is the Mind Killer.” What makes us worry is our mind. But when we let worry drive the car, our brain shuts down. Fear kills the mind. When I choose to recognize that there is fear, but I do not let it take charge, I can still think, act, and respond. I get to stay in charge, and the fear just hangs out until I can deal with that. That is what bravery is, recognizing the fear, not letting it rule the day, and doing what has to be done.

In closing, Crises do happen. Bad things do happen. Remember Jesus said, “Today has enough troubles for today.” Troubles do come along, but when they do I can do these things:
I can be in the present, not worrying about the future and what MIGHT happen, but I can do what I can right NOW. And that is what I focus on.
I do what I can. That is my responsibility, nothing more, and nothing less.
I respond as I can.
And then I let the rest go. It is not my responsibility.

So as school gets started, you do not have to worry. Do what you can. Be present in the moment. Let the rest go.

And one more thing, you do not have to worry, I am done. Thank you!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Year C Proper 18 2019 First Place

Year C Proper 18, 8 September 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“First Place”

Collect: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Jeremiah 18:1-11
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, `This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

Having two children in the Youth Group, I can attest: Growing Pains are real. They are fascinating to watch, just not up close. And the emphasis is on Pains if you have to go through them, and even more if you have to grow through them. God bless’em both.

Growing pains are never easy, nor are they desired. But Growing Pains are part of life. Life is Growth, so Life is Change, and Change is Hard. So, I guess I am saying Life is Hard.

Now many of us avoid Change with all that is in us, but some of us embrace Change and run to that which is different. Temperaments are what they are. But even for those of us who run to embrace Change, we do have to change our ways. Unlearning, relearning is a struggle, even if it is something we want. Wanted Change beats unwanted, but it is never easy.

God bless little league coaches, the ones who have to show kids how to hold a bat, how to catch a ball, how to the basic tasks, because if not done right on the front end of things, the back end corrections are longer, harder, and more painful. Getting it right the first time is SO important.

In the Jeremiah reading for the day, we have this beautiful metaphor of the Potter and the Clay. The Potter is turning a pot and sees that something is wrong. He stops, undoes the work that has been done, and reshapes and reforms the pot before the clay hardens and is harder to work, or at worst must be thrown out and destroyed. The Potter does not want that for the Pot, and God most certainly does not want that for us. Let’s do it right the first time, let’s do it right now. Quoting: “Can I not do with you, O [people of God], just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand…”

God wants us shaped for the work we are to be about, and as we put God first in our lives, so do we. One of the beauties of the Episcopal approach to the faith is that we commit our Children to God in baptism, and trust that we “turn them right” just like clay on the Potter’s Wheel. But we also have a time of Confirmation, where we harden and affirm with them the work that begin in their younger days. We confirm the work of God in them, and we help solidify it in them before we send them out to face the world. The world will put them through the fire soon enough. They will be hardened soon enough. That is why there is hardly any more important work of the Church as we do in our Formation work in Sunday School, Youth Groups, and VBS. We are not teaching a class, we are forming and possibly reshaping lives! And in doing that what we do echoes in eternity!

So we come to the hard teaching of Jesus. We have to remember context, LARGE CROWDS were following him, many of them wanting to overthrow the powers that be, political and religious. And before they went any further, he wanted to be VERY clear. He set out that following him meant Change, wholesale, complete, and as we have discussed. Change is Hard.
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Now we hear the harsh words. Hate family. Hate life. Take up your instrument of death. They are harsh words. Now in the semantics of the day, you love and hate. There is black and white. Subtlety and nuance where not what he was going for. In my youth I took this too literally. I took this in how we hear it today. Now Jesus obviously loved his family. His brother was a disciple. In his last moments, he asked the disciple that he loved (probably St. John) to look after his mom. So Jesus loved his family, and he would not demand something from us he did not practice. So what gives.

He is saying in STARK language what he says in different places in other ways. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.” That is exactly what he is saying with the ‘hate everything other than being my disciple.’ It has to come first. With that everything else flourishes and blooms.

Think of it this way. When you have to care for someone in a medical crisis, there is an order of things. Is there an immediate danger? Is this place hazardous? Is there circulation? Is the Airway open? Can they breathe? Then you worry about bleeding, broken bones, and anything else. If you have a bear chomping on their arm, checking their breathing is going to be no good. That is what Jesus is saying to us.

What is First Place in your life? What gets the blue ribbon in your life? What goes on the calendar first? What gets the first check of the week? What comes to mind when you first get out of bed? Are you thanking God, or taking God’s name in vain for having to get up?

So that he is clear to the large crowds crying out his name, he makes economic and military metaphors. A man building a tower. A king going out to war. To both, he is clear. Count the costs. Know up front the price you will have to pay. And that is what he is telling his followers.
“So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
As we just moved, and we are still sorting through boxes and removing the extraneous, the unneeded, and the unwanted. Author Chuck Palahniuk in his dark novel Fight Club put it this way: “The things you own end up owning you. It's only after you lose everything that you're free to do anything.” Jesus did not want his followers encumbered by things, distractions, unhealthy ties. Everything else is supposed to come second place. Everything else needs to be second place.

I have to shake my head when I see the bumper sticker, “God is my Co-Pilot.” If God is your Co-Pilot, you are in the wrong seat.

The radical nature of the extent of what God expects of us is shown in our epistle reading. We read a whole book of the Bible this morning. And it seems so straight forward, but it is easy to miss how RADICAL, how POLITICAL the epistle reading is. Our commitment to Christ, as our Savior, our Master, our Lord comes clear when Paul demands of Philemon to FORGIVE and FREE his slave Onesimus. He could order him to do so, for what he has given to him, but Paul chooses a different route, in love he requests obedience. If it is not done in love, it is not of Christ. It is out of obligation and that invites resentment to slip in. Oh how the Devil loves resentment!

And what is the ask? A runaway slave, Onesimus, is being sent home to be free and to be welcomed as a brother. Now, in the church which was probably the one in Colossae, it met in Philemon’s house. [Onesimus and Archippus are both mentioned in Colossians.] If as a fellow Christian, Onesimus was welcome in the Church, it would have been one thing. But for Philemon, the scandal of this action would have had repercussions.

Paul is asking of him to put aside what was legally and culturally his right to do. He was being asked to entirely forget and let go what is the expectation, the norm, and the law. He is asked not only to forgive him personally, but to forego the money that he paid to buy Onesimus now that Onesimus is a brother in Christ. And think of the response from other slaveholders. He is setting a dangerous precedent for the status quo.

We do not know what Philemon chose. I assume, and it is an assumption, that it is included in Scripture and remembered fondly because Philemon did as was asked. We do not know. We never will. But that begs the question of us? When you are asked to do the hard thing, the impossible thing, what do you do?

St. Francis said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” May it be so.

Putting Christ first has implications:

  • In our personal relationships (hate your father, mother, sister, brother), 
  • In our life and livelihood (forgive your runaway slave)
  • In our social life (facing the scorn of not doing the expected to Onesimus)
  • Taking up our Cross and following him, dying to self so that we can be fully alive.

As we look to the year ahead, we have so much where we are being asked to give it up to God, and trust that in our letting go, God will more than provide. May we do so with Faith and Joy. Amen


Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Year C Proper 17 WED 2019 When I Shout Barabbas

Year C Proper 17 WEDNESDAY, 4 September 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“When I Shout Barabbas...”

Collect: Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 15:1-11
As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

When I shout Barabbas, and I have to admit sometimes I do, when I shout Barabbas I have made a choice beyond what I know to be right to choose what I think might be better, at least for me. When I shout Barabbas, I overlook the obvious sins and failures of one choice for political expediency or power. When I shout Barabbas, I sell my soul willingly, knowingly, and heartbreakingly. Heartbreaking to myself and to God.

On Sunday I spoke of my favorite novel, and I have pretty much decided that that one will be the next in the stack. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo tells the story of a man, Jean Valjean who was convicted and imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread for his starving family. Strong beyond belief already because of his massive size, and strengthened by hard labor, he is a force to be reckoned with. He attempts to escape, and gets years added to his sentence. When finally set free after 19 long years he has no hope, no prospects, an eternal convict his future appears to be a prison as much as the one he just left. Until, that is, he stays with one of my favorite characters in literature, Monseigneur Charles-Francois-Bienvenu, Bishop of Digne.  Minor though he may be in the epic novel, he stepped in and granted Grace when it was needed, and in doing so set off the chain of events that became the rest of the story.

Bishop Bienvenu invited him into his home, and seated him at his table, and served him with silver that the bishop had inherited from his aunt.  Bishop Bienvenu was known for living simply, and giving most of what he had to the poor.  One inherited gift was his only thing of value in his home.

Late in the night, in the wee hours, Jean Valjean who had learned in prison to take care only for himself steals the silver service and runs away.  Police see him running out of the city, and stop and search him finding the silver in his bag.  Valjean lies, saying the silver service was a gift. Not believing him, they drag him back the Bishop Bienvenu and confront him there, repeating Jean Valjean’s story that the silver was a “gift” from an old priest.  The bishop says that Jean Valjean was right.  They were a gift, but that there was an error, Jean Valjean had forgotten the most expensive part of the service, the large silver candlesticks on the mantle, and the Bishop hands them to Valjean.  The gendarmes, the police, are surprised and the Bishop thanks them and sends them on their way.

I now quote from the book, starting with the Bishop speaking:
‘Do not forget, do not ever forget, that you have promised me to use the money to make yourself an honest man.’Valjean, who did not recall having made any promise, was silent.  The bishop had spoken the words slowly and deliberately.  He concluded with a solemn emphasis:‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to what is evil but to what is good.  I have bought your soul to save it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.’ 
Each and every one of us has had our souls bought by the ultimate price, the most costly gift in all eternity. And those purchased souls have been given over into the hands of a loving God. But so often, when we cry out Barabbas, we snatch our souls back forgetting and foregoing what a wonderful gift we have been given.

In the story, Jean Valjean did much the same thing. A few miles outside of town a boy has a big shiny coin he had earned, and is walking along and flipping it up in the air. Valjean is sitting under a tree in the heat of the day, contemplating what it was that has just been done for him. The boy misses the coin coming down, and it rolls across the road to where Valjean is sitting. He sees the boy. He sees the coin. He takes his massive foot, strengthened by the decades of hard labor, and places it squarely on top of the coin. The boy laughs, thinking it is a joke, then pleads, cries, and begs. Finally, he pushes and shoves and screams. Jean Valjean’s heart, conditioned only to look out for himself, is not moved. And broken, the boy moves on in tears. After a time, Valjean comes to his senses, and figures out that he has already broken his promise to the Bishop. He runs, trying to find the boy and return the coin, but the boy is gone.

And then, at that point in the story, Jean Valjean’s heart of stone cracks, and he is reborn. Echoing in the foothills that day, he may have heard the echoes of “Barabbas, Barabbas, Give Us Barabbas!” But even here, when the words are still dangling in the air having come off our lips, Grace is still a possibility. Jean Valjean took the silver set and candlesticks of the Bishop, and the coin of the boy, and made good. He became a factory owner employing many in a small town, and even became mayor out of the respect people gave him. As the Bishop said, he had bought his soul for God.

When we are the redeemed, our souls bought and paid for with so dear a price, and when we are the mob shouting Barabbas (as we too often are), Grace abounds and calls us home. Even with the word Barabbas hanging from our lips, let the words that echo not be “Barabbas!” but let them be Christ’s: “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Thanks be to God! Amen

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Year C Proper 17 2019 Banquet Attitudes

Year C Proper 17, 1 September 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Banquet Attitudes”

Collect: Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." So we can say with confidence,
          "The Lord is my helper;
               I will not be afraid.
          What can anyone do to me?"
Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Luke 14:1, 7-14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.
When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. "When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."
He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

If you ever watched the sitcom Seinfeld, one episode had George Costanza do the exact opposite of what he would normally do. If he normally would look out for himself, he put himself last. If he normally turned right, he would turn left. At the end of the episode, he learned that to be successful in life he needed to be the Anti-George. When he did things against his nature, he found that he actually got what he wanted and the success he craved. Do not hear me saying that Jesus is like George, and God forbid, that George is like Jesus. What I am saying is that for us to be who we desire to be in Christ, maybe we can rethink what we do and how we do it, and listen to our Master and Lord. Jesus wants us to go against what may come naturally, and approach life how he did, humbling himself and loving all.

Jesus comes along in today’s lectionary reading and tells us to do things exactly opposite from how we seem to be about them. The world teaches us “Do unto others before they can do unto you.” And, “Look out for Number One.” Jesus calls us to a different place and a different standard of interaction.  Jesus calls us to do the exact opposite of what we are taught, or what might be our natural inclination.

To set the stage, Jesus is at a banquet and sees people jockeying for positions of honor at the head table and nearby. Then he breaks into a story, that is a mirror for the very situation he is in. People scrambling, looking out for numero uno. Because, hey, if you do not toot your own horn, who will? (That’s what the world teaches us anyway.) And Jesus gives a suggestion. Be happy that you are at the banquet. Head over to the corner at the back, and find that last seat in the room. Be content. And, if the host wants you to be honored, they will come and find you and you will be moved up to the head of the hall and placed in the seat of honor. But if you do it the other way around, put yourself amongst the elites, and someone more elite than you comes in you will find yourself humiliated and moved to the back of the class.

When Stephanie and I were moving away from the faith tradition we had both grown up in, we went to a conference in Seattle. When I walked into the room I was blown away. The words, “I have found my tribe!” actually came out of my mouth. There were people there trying to wrestle with their faith and with their culture. They wanted to engage and impact the time we find ourselves in with the eternal Gospel.

Throughout the conference there was an older man wandering around, who was friendly and engaged, but obviously not the intended audience, being about 25 years older. He was smiling and open, I noticed him because he was so enthusiastic in his observing. On the final day of the conference I found out who this little man in the brown sweatshirt hoodie was, Father Richard Rohr. I mentioned him in last week’s sermon because he is the author of our book, Falling Upward, that we are reading for Shrine Mont. I had no idea who he was other than the funny older man in the hoodie. I knew who Richard Rohr was, I just did not know who this man was. I will say more on the retreat, but it was fascinating to see and get to know him as a person as opposed to his minor celebrity status as an author of religious books.

But what his anonymity afforded me at the conference was EXACTLY what Jeus is asking us to do. Treat everyone the same. Ignore differences. This seems simple, but it is oh so hard to do. We live in a society where people are famous for BEING FAMOUS. They have done nothing, they have accomplished nothing, they are celebrated for being celebrated. It is the embodiment of titillation. God help us. Our media is filled with the distracting and mollifying. I saw an article the other day purporting to inform the reader “How to Become a Cultural Influencer.” And I have heard it discussed as the Cultural Influencer Industry. An INDUSTRY supposedly on how to make money by being not doing, creating, making, or leading. I can only picture Jesus shaking his head. We need to hear these stories today more than ever.

If you ever wondered what Hollywood was worried about, look at their biggest night of their year. The Academy Awards, the Oscars, is all about the glamour and the glitz, forget about the awards. There is a pre-award show show just about people showing up for the big show. Grown adults are commenting on who is wearing who, and who is showing up with whom. If you ever thought about what the show is really about, know this: there are people whose job it is to fill seats. When a star gets up to give or receive an award, go to the restroom, whatever, a professional seat filler comes in and looks the part. They wear a tux or a fancy ball gown and take up space. It is all about appearances. Jesus says to fill the seats, but not with wanna-be celebrities. Jesus’ message is very different.

The message of the Gospel is a simple one, so simple that it takes most of our lives to try and live out. When I was asked during the ordination process by the Committee on Priesthood to sum up my understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, instead of my normal, long-winded responses, I said a word, a single word.

Grace.

Then I waited. They looked surprised at the brevity of my answer for a moment, and then I was asked if I would like to unpack that at all. My response was, “If I say anything more than Grace or I take anything away from that I have cheapened and lessened the Gospel.” That gift of God’s unfailing, unquestioning, all-accepting love of us how we are and where we are is the good news that the world is hungry to hear. And in today’s reading, Jesus is showing us how to live lives of Grace, living out his radical, world-changing Gospel in how we treat others and how we treat ourselves. Put others before us, and allow others to put us before themselves. Grace is a two-way street. We both give and receive. However, it is not transactional, like this world teaches, do this for me and I’ll do that for you. Quid pro quo. Tit for tat. Jesus teaches us to break the cycle of transactional relationships, just like he did for us. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The teaching on going to and holding a banquet begins with the inner work, the intentions. That is where the real struggle is. Inside each and every one of us.

He ends his first story here in Luke’s Gospel with a line that is echoed in another parable in Matthew. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew uses this when he has Jesus tell story of the flashy Pharisee praying in the Temple, and the wretched sinner who cannot even look up to heaven. Here we are given the same lesson, but it is not theoretical in the third person. It is directed to us. He is telling us, his disciples to behave this way. And the Great Reversal continues, the humble will be exalted, the last will be first.

My favorite novel’s central theme is learning to live by and with Grace. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo tells the story of Jean Valjean, a man imprisoned for stealing bread for his starving family. He receives judgment and scorn, but then in a moment of Grace he is transformed, and the novel follows him the rest of his days as he learns to give and eventually receive Grace. So often those of us to preach and share Grace are far too often the least willing to receive it. That is that two-way street. We all need Grace. We all need to learn to give it. 

Jesus did not want us to EXPECT it, or DEMAND it. It is no longer Grace then. Sit at the bottom, and if you get moved up, good for you! But he did not stop at those that merely attended the party, but he included those of us who throw the parties, too. He taught us to invite those who would not have been on anyone’s guest list. He invited us to be, well, like him. He reached out to us when we were yet sinners, and died for us, Paul reminds us in Romans. He wants us at his party, he wants us to celebrate with him forever.

When we come to his table today, that is one of the things I personally celebrate and applaud. Every time I come to his table I rejoice that even one such as I am invited, welcomed and loved by the host. I chose to become Episcopalian for that very reason, Christ says WHOSOEVER WILL come. Now we puts disclaimers, caveats and exceptions on that sometimes. God forgive us. But Christ does not put any ifs, ands, or buts on his invitation, and encourages us to go, and do likewise. “When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

In our choice of seating, and in our choice of guests, we have a decision, will we be like this world arguing and fighting over who is the best and who is a little better in the pecking order, or will we be like the one who took on himself the humble form of a servant so that we might see what Grace looks like in action.

In closing today, please know that I wrestle with what I have asked of all of us. I get petty at times. I look out for number one at times. And daily Jesus calls and I try to answer. And hopefully, prayerfully, this ol’ heart of mine will become more and more like Christ’s one choice, one decision, one day at a time. Even the early church, many of whom saw Jesus in the flesh wrestled with this. In our Hebrews reading, the Preacher there discusses our common call and how hard it is.

“Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’ Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

As true today as it was then. God help us in our following of you. Amen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Year C Proper 16 WED 2019 Augustine of Hippo

Year C Proper 16 WEDNESDAY, 28 August 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Augustine of Hippo”

Collect: Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant, Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

From A Great Cloud of Witnesses:

Augustine, perhaps the greatest theologian in the history of Western Christianity, was born in 354 at Tagaste in North Africa. In his restless search for truth, he was attracted by Manichaeism and Neoplatonism, and was constantly engaged in an inner struggle with his personal morals. Finally, under the influence of his mother Monnica, Augustine surrendered to the Christian faith in the late summer of 386. He was baptized by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, on Easter Eve in 387. After returning to North Africa in 391, Augustine found himself unexpectedly chosen by the people of Hippo to be a presbyter. Four years later he was chosen bishop of that city. His spiritual autobiography, The Confessions of St. Augustine, written shortly before 400 in the form of an extended prayer, is a classic of Western spirituality.

Augustine wrote countless treatises, letters, and sermons. They have provided a rich source of new and fresh insights into Christian truth.

The Manichaeans had attempted to solve the problem of evil by positing the existence of an independent agency eternally opposed to God. In refutation, Augustine affirmed that all creation is essentially good, having been created by God, and that evil is, properly speaking, the privation of good. A rigorist sect, the Donatists, had split from the Great Church after the persecution of Diocletian in the early fourth century. Against them, Augustine asserted that the Church was “holy,” not because its members could be proved holy, but because holiness was the purpose of the Church, to which all its members are called.

Stirred by Alaric the Visigoth’s sack of Rome in 410, Augustine wrote his greatest work, The City of God. In it he writes: “Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by love of self, even to the contempt of God, the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The earthly city glories in itself, the heavenly city glories in the Lord . . . In the one, the princes, and the nations it subdues, are ruled by the love of ruling; in the other, the princes and the subjects serve one another in love.”

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Year C Proper 16 2019 Battles Seen and Unseen

Year C Proper 16, 25 August 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Battles, Seen and Unseen” 

Collect: Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 13:10-17
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.

I have found that to be so true. Some who seem to have everything “just so” are on the inside struggling to cover a facade that is tragically collapsing. We cannot see and we cannot know what is the internal struggle someone is dealing with. You have heard me say it before, and in today’s story it is especially true. “Hurting people hurt people.” That is usually the foundation of controlling religion, at least I have found.

The woman in this story had nothing to hide. She couldn’t if she wanted to do so. Her affliction was known to all. She was suffering with a crippling ailment for 18 years. It was plain and clear what she was suffering from. Growing up in Newport News, just off Fort Eustis Army Base, many of our neighbors were military. When I was about 10, a man moved in with his family, including his Vietnamese mother-in-law. After decades in the rice paddies, she was hobbled, unable to stand up straight. Today’s story reminds me of her and watching her shuffle along as a boy. She suffered, just as the woman in today’s reading.

And it begs the question, what is it we do with suffering when it is us, or someone we love? What do we do when there is nothing to be done? When there is nothing but to bully through and make a show of it. Most of us have been there. We put on our brave face, put on our big boy or girl britches, and steel ourselves because we have to forego what is foremost on our minds and do what has to be done.

Some of you may be dealing with something even today. You may have come here for a distraction or a respite. You may have come here today for a cup of hope. Good. This is where we do find our hope. And sometimes, we even see deliverance. Thanks be to God.

But sometimes in our suffering we cry out, or lash out, the opposite of steeling ourselves. Last week a friend was suffering from a situation, and it played out with almost an hour by hour commentary on Facebook, expressing rage, fear, self-depravity, hate, worry, angst, pity, and sometimes all of that mixed together. It was painful to see, but she was grieving her situation in a way that worked for her. And she posed a question, “Will this grief ever get better? What makes it go away?”

I responded: “Time. It is like a pulled muscle. It hurts to move or even touch it. It is the focus of your thoughts now because it is screaming. But slowly, you will begin to regain the ability to move and work with it. And one morning you will wake up and go about your business and then it will strike you that sometime the pain ceased and you missed that it was gone, or at least greatly diminished.”

Suffering is like that grief. We learn to get along with it, because often we have no choice. And the woman in today’s story had no choice, until Jesus came along. He saw her. His heart went out to her, and proclaims her healed. And she is. After 18 long years, it says. And that is the nature of suffering. The days do not get shorter in our suffering. Times flies when you are having fun. Suffering makes the sand seem to pause in the hourglass. Long hours, long days, long years.

And here is the fascinating part. The leader of the woman’s community, who has seen her suffering for 18 long years, is more worried about the timing of the healing than in the fact that her suffering has ended.

We need to avoid being like the leader of the synagogue, with his eyes so fixed on heaven that he was no earthly good. In other places (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5) Jesus is very clear that he is the Lord of the Sabbath. That the strictures in place where there to help people remember to keep it holy, but there is a time and place where common sense is more important than legalism. Usually every time and every place is common sense more important than legalism. And even more, what could be more holy than healing someone’s suffering? When I walk into an Intensive Care Unit or an Emergency Room in a Pastoral Call I know I am on Holy Ground. The doctors and nurses treat me as part of their team. The welcome my partnership, for in the THOSE settings we all know that we are about the same business, the same HOLY business. Wholeness and Healing.

When the leader confronted Jesus with how he had scoffed the Law, one of the 10 Commandments, no less, Jesus fired back:
“You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” 
I can hear the comeback forming on the leader’s lips, “Yes, but…” but then came the response from the people. An eruption of praise.
When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

Just like the woman, there was suffering going on here as well. Just hidden. Not as obvious. Not as clear. The worry about being “good enough.” The worry about having it “perfect.” We will not ever be perfect. We cannot ever be perfect.

The legalism being espoused here is a form of control. And it goes hand in glove with its current incarnation fundamentalism. Rigid faith is about control, and control is about Power. Plain and simple. There is nothing you could do or not do that will change God’s opinion of you. You are the Beloved. But God does want us acting like Jesus, especially when we know we are Beloved.

In the book we are reading for Shrine Mont this year, Falling Upward by Father Richard Rohr, he speaks about the two halves of life. It is not about age, per se, but about approach. The younger years, we are concerned with Doing. The second half of life, we are more concerned with Being. Doing/Being. It could be seen as Quantity/Quality. It is about an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet versus a fine gourmet meal. There is a striking difference. A religion that is focused on maintaining Power will zero in on the splinter and ignore the logs. In the second half of life we move the logs so we can deal with the splinters.

Focusing more on Being rather than Doing is also a sign of maturity and experience. When I am new at something I have to focus in on the Do’s and Don’ts. I have to think about every motion and instruction. I have to think about everything in order to do it. So often though, after practice, practice, practice the callouses get formed, the muscle memories are developed, the focus can be on the subtleties instead of the rudimentary mechanics. So often we get to a place of competence and decide that is enough. And God forbid anyone who wishes to go any further.

There is a reason why we start with the 10 Commandments, and end with Love God with Everything and your neighbor as much as yourself. It is much easier to limit my faith to a checklist, it is black and white. It is cut and dry. Loving God, Neighbor, and Self is much more ambiguous, and therefore much harder. There is a reason the lawyer asked Jesus, “Who exactly is my neighbor?” Jesus’s rule is far harder to keep, for it never ends. We could ALWAYS love God more. We could ALWAYS revere our neighbor more. It never stops. There is no end.

The rudimentary faith ends with, “Bad Jesus, you broke Commandment 4. Shame, shame, shame.” Jesus says, in his actions, “Have you not seen this woman in need in your very midst?” Eyes so fixed on heaven they are no earthly good.

God is calling us to explore the depths, to get out of the shallow end of the pool. God wants us to not just visit the Kingdom of God on Sundays, but to build the Kingdom in our Selves and in our World every day of the week. As our Hebrews passage ended:
...we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
What is the “Acceptable Worship with Reverence and Awe” that God is asking of you? What is the next step into the depths for you? How can you broaden your service; how can you deepen your commitment?

It is different for each and every one of us. That is why we cannot have a controlling or limiting faith. Each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made, and fearfully and wonderfully called. That is why the Holy Spirit is wild and free. Jesus likened the Holy Spirit to the wind, going wherever it wants. That is why we have to get beyond this [pointing at the 10 Commandments] and get to the Reverence and Awe.

When we see God, at work, at school, at home, and yes, maybe even at church, what is your response? “Hey, that’s not proper, you shouldn’t do that!” Or Reverence and Awe? When we celebrate this Resurrection Life, this healing life, this “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver) we join with the crowd rejoicing with all the good Jesus was doing, is doing, and will be doing. Thanks be to God! Amen

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Year C Proper 15 WED 2019 Reminiscences

Year C Proper 15 WEDNESDAY, 21 August 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Reminiscences”

Collect: Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Acts 23:23-35
Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, “Get ready to leave by nine o’clock tonight for Caesarea with two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor.” He wrote a letter to this effect:
“Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, but when I had learned that he was a Roman citizen, I came with the guard and rescued him. Since I wanted to know the charge for which they accused him, I had him brought to their council. I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.”
So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him during the night to Antipatris. The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. On reading the letter, he asked what province he belonged to, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, “I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.” Then he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s headquarters.

Mark 12:13-27
Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?” But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it.” And they brought one. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man] shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; and the second married the widow and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.”

I have had some time to get reflective recently. The move has been good for us. We have whittled down our piles of “stuff” and reduced to a point of joy and greater simplicity. I have so appreciated the time and space to do so.

This morning’s Gospel is so often read from the negative. It is written that way, but this morning I want to focus on the positive, “Giving to God what is God’s.” and “God is God of the Living.” It may be my mind is going there because of Sunday’s readings from Hebrews about the “great cloud of witnesses.” It may be how I read it today. Whatever the reason, it got me thinking about “What Is God’s?”

After Harrison’s sermon on the 11th at the 8 o’clock, I ran to my office, grabbed my copy of the Message Bible, and took it to him. I showed him this passage with these words, “This is your entire sermon in one paragraph!” (Not a bad thing, mind you, it just summed it up so well.” From Romans 12 (vv. 1-2ish) from The Message translation:
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
That, my friend, is giving to God what is God’s, and giving ourselves as a Living Sacrifice to the Living God.

The other reason I am reminiscing this morning is from our reading in Acts. Now in Tuesday’s lectionary reading, Paul was about to be murdered, again. This time his nephew warns the tribune of the planned lynching and they leave a day early to avoid it. They bring Paul to Antipatris, a fort for a Roman garrison. In January of 1994 I was there. I was staying in a dorm at Petah Tiqva a far suburb of Tel Aviv, and someone on staff mentioned that a ruin of a Roman fort was behind the facility beyond the orange orchard. I could not believe it. But I think of the young man, the 24 year old looking for adventure and wanting to walk in biblical footsteps, and how much he thought he knew. And I think of who I am today, and how I long to learn so much more. I see a path, from there to here, getting further and further down the path of giving to God what is God’s.

Paul was being held for his faith, and his safety. I think back on the times when I have been held back, foiled, dismissed, and yet, so often protected in my faith. I was not surrounded by a garrison of Roman soldiers, so I guess my guardian angels have had to work overtime. God is God of the Living, not the Dead. Even in my young man’s follies. Even in my middle-aged routines. Even here I am being surrounded and protected, and called into deeper and deeper discipleship.

I loved that the governor is named Felix, which means “Lucky,” may we all be so lucky as to have someone named Lucky to hear our case. I invite you to take some time today. To think of some of the twists and turns that have brought you to where you are now, to who you are now. Even then, even there, even now, God is with you, and welcomes you home, even at home in yourself. Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Year C Proper 15 2019 The Eyes of Faith

Year C Proper 15, 18 August 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Eyes of Faith”

Collect: Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life: Give us grace to receive thankfully the fruits of his redeeming work, and to follow daily in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-- who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented-- of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

Luke 12:49-56
Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
     father against son
          and son against father,
     mother against daughter
          and daughter against mother,
     mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
          and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain'; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

“It is always darkest before the dawn.” Or so it is said. THEY say it, whoever THEY are. And I have spent enough nights in the woods to know it to be the truth. I know when the darkness is at its peak that a warm glow is about to break the horizon. I know it so well that I do not have to question it. Experience has taught me. Reason has taught me. It is simple and easy for me to have Faith in the dawn. I know it in my bones.

Jesus so wanted the Kingdom to Come. He desperately desired it. He says as much: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” But no one can teach someone to see what they cannot imagine. A story is told of the inhabitants on San Salvador island when Columbus landed. The Spiritual Leader for the tribe saw the ships coming in, and he pointed and shouted, but none of the people could see the ships because they had never seen a ship. They had never seen anything come in from across the water, especially out of the East. What was right in front of them was impossible for them to see. Jesus says the same of those who cannot see that the Kingdom of God is at hand, right before their eyes. Let those who have eyes, let them see!
He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
We must look with the eyes of faith to see. It is like the Emperor’s New Clothes to those that do not understand, some mass delusion. What one can see is impossible for others. They do not have the eyes of faith to see what is so plain for those that do.

Therein lies the division. I would argue that much of the division in our lives right now comes from this, seeing from such vastly different perspectives that we cannot shift and view from our opponents’ vantage points. That is why Jesus promised:
Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
      father against son
          and son against father,
     mother against daughter
          and daughter against mother,
     mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
          and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
For those who have received the Gift of Faith, we cannot “un-see.” Like some of those eye-trick games, once you see it, you have trained your brain to go there. Once seen, it is nigh impossible to shift back and look from the vantage point of ignorance.

(This is Jesus, if you can see it. Read between the lines.)

The Gospel is divisive. It argues that God loves us, and does not want us squished like bugs. The Gospel is divisive. The Gospel argues that there is a God of Grace at the center of things who is working out our salvation since before we were even born. The Gospel is divisive. The Gospel argues that God is a God of Abundance and has all that is needed, all that ever could be needed for today, for tomorrow, for always. The Gospel is divisive. For many these promises are poppycock, drivel, or lies. And that is where Faith comes in.

As Hebrews shares, apart from today’s reading: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (11:1) And there is the rub. The Conviction. Those who can see with the eyes of faith are convicted that the things unseen are real and true. Those who do not, cannot see the things not there.

When Jesus healed the man lowered through the roof while he was teaching, we often just remember the healing of him so that he could “take up his mat and walk.” But so easily we forget how the story starts. Jesus first forgives the man of his sins. Those religious leaders who are standing there whisper amongst themselves, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus fires back, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ or ‘Take up your mat and walk?’ So that you will know that I have the authority to forgive sins, I say to the man ‘Take up your mat and walk!’” (Luke 5:17-25) But I love that next verse that comes: “Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, ‘We have seen strange things today.’”

And that is where faith comes from, seeing the strange and making the leap. It is not much for me to take the leap when I am waiting for the dawn and it comes. There is nothing strange about something that has happened every single day of my life.

But there is something strange to know DEEP DOWN that everything will be okay when all evidence points that it will not. That is the where the wonderful passage from Hebrews comes in. The person of faith who spoke or penned Hebrews recites a list of people who saw the strange, and made the leap of faith.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-- who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented-- of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith...
Wow! Now some of these are biblical, and some of these have been lost to the centuries. Sometimes that leap of faith enabled them to do or receive miracles. Sometimes their faith came to naught FOR THEM. But their faith has not been lost! We are here because of them. Our faith, yours, mine, OURS is here because they could see the strange occurrences of their day, and believe in something that was not yet to be.

You see, we are in a lineage of faith, a line of belief that stretches back to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, and on and on and on, throughout the centuries, the upheavals, the tosses and turns that life takes.

Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
You see, we are the dream they had of what faith could be. Do not let that word perfect throw you. We have spoke on it before. The word there is ‘to be done, to be complete, to have gone the distance.' Perfection is beyond most of our comprehensions. But almost all of us know the satisfaction of finishing a puzzle, getting a diploma, accomplishing a task and saying, “Ahh. It is finished.” We are the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams they may have had. And the generations to come will be the fulfillment and completion of the dreams we share with God of what this earth could be like as we get closer and closer to that Omega Point where the final fulfillment, the final completion, the final consummation is done. On earth as it is in heaven we continue to pray. And we continue to help realize in our lives and work.

So Hebrews continues:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses... let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith...
And that is what guides our steps. We put aside those things which take us off the path set out for us. The sin. The bickering. The distractions. We move forward in the knowledge that something greater is on the horizon. It is the wisdom of growing trees under which we will never sit, digging holes for pools in which we will never swim. We do it for the greater good, not for our pleasure or reward. We do it for the Kingdom of God.

I got a t-shirt at the beginning of the summer. I like it. It was on sale. But I have received compliments on it most every time I have worn it. Strangers, friends, even family members have all taken the time to stop and compliment my T-shirt. It has a circular design on the front and shows a storm-tossed ship surrounded by these words. “Life is not perfect. Life is not easy. Life is good.” And that is my touchstone these days, as I live this life, because I can see through the eyes of faith.
Life is not perfect. Life is not easy. Life is good.

With the eyes of faith I can see beyond the divisive and troubled days we find ourselves in. I can see the strangeness of “this present darkness,”(Ephesians 6:12) and know that this is not normal and that it is always darkest before the dawn. I know that there is a God of Abundance and Grace at the heart of all things and is drawing all things to God’s perfection. God’s wholeness. God’s Vision for each of us, the world, the Universe. I can say that because I can see it here [point to heart], whether I will be here to see it with my eyes or not.

The people who compliment me on my t-shirt, I believe deep down, they are seeing with faith the truth of something so simple. They are witnesses with me that though our boats be tossed today, there is a calm, there is a peace, there is a dawn. When the storm is raging, I can still see the calm come mornng.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 
Amen.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Year C Proper 14 WED 2019 Jonathan Daniels Remembered

Year C Proper 14 WED, 14 August 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Jonathan Daniels Remembered”

Collect:  O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

From Holy Women, Holy Men:

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was born in Keene, New Hampshire, in
1939. He was shot and killed by an unemployed highway worker in
Hayneville, Alabama, August 14, 1965.


From high school in Keene to graduate school at Harvard, Jonathan
wrestled with the meaning of life and death and vocation. Attracted
to medicine, the ordained ministry, law and writing, he found himself
close to a loss of faith when his search was resolved by a profound
conversion on Easter Day 1962 at the Church of the Advent in Boston.
Jonathan then entered the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. In March 1965, the televised appeal of Martin Luther
King, Jr. to come to Selma to secure for all citizens the right to vote
drew Jonathan to a time and place where the nation’s racism and the
Episcopal Church’s share in that inheritance were exposed.

He returned to seminary and asked leave to work in Selma where he
would be sponsored by the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial
Unity. Conviction of his calling was deepened at Evening Prayer during
the singing of the Magnificat: “ ‘He hath put down the mighty from
their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the
hungry with good things.’ I knew that I must go to Selma. The Virgin’s
song was to grow more and more dear to me in the weeks ahead.”
Jailed on August 14 for joining a picket line, Jonathan and his
companions were unexpectedly released after 6 days. Aware that they were in
danger, four of them walked to a small store. As sixteen-year-old Ruby
Sales reached the top step of the entrance, a man with a gun appeared,
cursing her. Jonathan pulled her to one side to shield her from the
unexpected threats. As a result, he was killed by a blast from the
12-gauge gun.

The letters and papers Jonathan left bear eloquent witness to the
profound effect Selma had upon him. He writes, “The doctrine of
the creeds, the enacted faith of the sacraments, were the essential
preconditions of the experience itself. The faith with which I went to
Selma has not changed: it has grown ... I began to know in my bones
and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and
resurrection ... with them, the black men and white men, with all life,
in him whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations
shout ... We are indelibly and unspeakably one.”

A New Hampshire TV station did a great ½ hour special on him. Here is the link (watch all three parts):
Part One: https://www.wmur.com/article/the-granite-saint-the-story-of-jonathan-daniels/8596142 
Part Two: http://www.wmur.com/article/the-granite-saint-the-story-of-jonathan-daniels-part-ii/8606028
Part Three: http://www.wmur.com/article/the-granite-saint-the-story-of-jonathan-daniels-part-iii/8606066


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Year C Proper 13 WED 2019 The Tender Spot

Year C Proper 13 WEDNESDAY, 7 August 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“The Tender Spot”

Collect: Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2 Samuel 9:1-13 David extends grace to the House of Saul
Mark 8:34-9:1 
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”

What does taking up our cross look like? What does it look like in my life?

The answers to those questions are as personal as our fingerprints.

Where we are most tender is where are pain is. Think about it, I stub my toe, and that is where it hurts. For a while, a few minutes, hours, or days, I hobble along looking for relief, and maybe a little sympathy for my hurting toe. My toe is tender.

The hurt could be physical, but as I got older the pains I felt were far more often mental, emotional, psychological, or spiritual. When I have seen people “lose it” the most is when people stepped on their tender spot unawares. When I taught 6th grade boys, there was always a season of “Yo Mama” jokes. It was all fun and games until somebody told a “Yo Mama” joke on a kid who had just lost his mother. The recipient of the pounding said after I pulled the upset kid off, that he was just joking. And when I told him the reason why the other child reacted so violently, the first kid saw why the recipient was so “tender.”

But I also think, our tender spots are where we are often called to our ministry. You may have heard me quote this before. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ― Frederick Buechner

I have seen it too many times for it not to be true. I lost a lot of my childhood when my dad died, and it is also why so many decades of my ministry has been to, with, and for children. I am ferociously protective of that tender spot in my own life.

Our tender spots often develop blisters which become raw, but through continued working of those spots they become calloused or scarred. Often seen as a bad thing, but think on it, God made our bodies with amazing strengths, to harden our tender spots so that they can work and become even stronger than when we were first wounded. Our hearts and souls are the same. Where are your spiritual callouses? Where are your mental scars? “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

That is taking up our cross, that is repeatedly doing the thing that used to hurt. We feel the pain, and the pain is real. But working that same spot, over and over we are strengthened. We are healed. We grow.

Our reading from Samuel affirms this. David, King David mind you, did not seek revenge. He sought out to honor the memory of King Saul who had tried to have him killed REPEATEDLY! David picked up his cross, and forgave, and honored, and was blessed in the act.

In our weakness, he is strong, (2 Corinthians 12:10) as St. Paul put it. Scorn not the tender spot, for even that, especially that, can be a gift from God.

What is your cross? What is your tender spot? There, especially there, you can hear the still small voice of God calling you. Amen

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Year C Proper 13 2019 Place Your Bets

Year C Proper 13, 4 August 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Place Your Bets”

Collect: Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Luke 12:13-21
Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

I have always been a sucker for musicals. They are so fantastical, so outrageous. Wouldn’t life be easier, and far more entertaining, if whenever we faced a problem or deep emotion we broke into song, and everyone would join in with a rousing chorus or a lively dance number? Alas, life is never that choreographed.

One of my favorite musicals is based on the short stories of Damon Runyon, writing about a mythical New York from the 20s and 30s that never existed. The caricatures he wrote about were ridiculous, but fun. Guys and Dolls encapsulated a few of those stories into a single narrative. One of my favorite characters, Sky Masterson, was nicknamed Sky because his bets were Sky High. He would wager staggering amounts on the most insane things. And he rarely lost. In the show, he wanted to date a woman who was in the show’s equivalent of the Salvation Army, the Save-A-Soul Mission just off of Times Square. She refused him, first because he was a gambler, and because she had to try and fill the mission for a midnight prayer meeting or it would be shut down according to her superior. He gave her his marker, a promissory note, for one dozen certified sinners for her prayer meeting if she would go on a date with him. He refused to give details. So she took his marker, and he made the bet of a lifetime. He walked into Nathan Detroit’s Crap game, and made a bet that was beyond belief. For the thirty-odd people there, he bet them $1000 EACH for them to attend this prayer meeting. “$1000 against their souls,” as he put it. Like I said he rarely lost. And in the moment he sang one of the stand-out songs of the show. “Luck Be A Lady” A great song. Marlon Brando sang it in the movie version. I heard a much better rendition by Frank Sinatra (who played Nathan Detroit in the movie, by the way) later on. But the sentiment he sings about is the same. What are you willing to stake it all on? In whom do you put your trust?

Life is risky. And we all can fail when it comes to being successful in this world. We could take our meager holdings and invest them, like Jesus talked about in the Parable of the Talents. But even then, we’ve all seen or heard the ads. Investing is always a risk, so legally one must have Risk Disclaimer. It usually goes something like this...
DISCLAIMER: Futures, stocks and options trading involves substantial risk of loss and is not suitable for every investor. The valuation of futures, stocks and options may fluctuate, and, as a result, clients may lose more than their original investment.
One looks at the things that could happen, and then at the potential rewards and they decide whether to invest or not. Jesus is going at that in today’s Gospel. Investment advisors say the average person who invests spends more time planning their vacation than they do planning their retirement. Jesus takes it one step further, you work and sweat in this life for gain, but spend no time on your eternity. Where do you put your trust? Where do you invest your greatest asset, your very soul? We are all given only one, one ride on this merry-go-round. Broadway had a show called, You Can’t Take It With You, (later turned into a movie) and folk singer Tracy Chapman sang that “All that you have is your soul.” We are constantly receiving the invite to Go Deep, but are we willing to take the chance? Or rather, are you willing to take the chance to not Go Deep?

I do not gamble, not with money anyway. It has never been something that attracted my attention. Just after college I visited a Casino when I was in the Bahamas, and walked out with a little more money than I walked in with. I figured it was beginner’s luck, but also, as I saw it, walk out while you are ahead. I am not wired for the adrenaline rush that gambling gives. Some people become addicted to it, and find it near impossible to stop once they start. They gamble with their very lives and livelihoods by the choices that they make. But Jesus is talking about the biggest gamble there is.

When the whiny little brother comes to Jesus, he is asking for a judgment. Now the oldest child would receive the lion’s share of the inheritance, and maybe this one is coming to Jesus to ask to make it “fair.” It goes against the customs of the times that would enable the oldest child to hold onto the family farm or holdings so that it could stay together and in the family. Whatever the reason was for the one to come to Jesus, Jesus’ response is to not worry about the trappings of this world, and to focus instead on what could make an eternal difference. He tells the story of a man, well-off, not worried one crumb over his soul.

As Jesus ended his story, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

So you and I have a choice. In this life we are forced to gamble. We all have to choose where we are going to invest our time and energies. We have a phrase for people who invest in the small and in so doing miss the large. “Penny smart, and pound foolish.” Very British. As Yanks we would probably say something more like “Majoring in the minors.”

The man in today’s parable, building up storehouses and saying to his Soul, “Eat, drink, and be merry.” And then the next day he did die. If he had known that this was his last day, how would he have spent his time? How would you?

If you knew that you had 24 hours left, what choices would you make? What difference would it make in how you spent your time? Who would you call? Who would you reach out to? Who would you forgive? Who would you apologize to? What would you make sure was said?

Now none of us knows the day or hour when we will be called home. So what does that leave us?

Now.

Live life in the Now. Invest these precious moments in making a difference. A poll was taken of nurses who work with people who were near the end of their lives, and what were the common concerns or regrets. Number one on the list was worries for their loved ones they were leaving behind (50%), followed closely by the worry that they should have worked LESS, and spent time with family MORE (42%). (Source)

One thing I love about the Episcopal Church is that we teach and preach that all are beloved children of God. All are welcome, accepted, and loved. There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less. (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel) We welcome the smallest newborn and those with a foot in the grave, for all are welcome in the family of God. Because of this, many of our folks do not have that “born again” experience, because they always accepted the Grace and love of God and resided there. Some come running to Grace, having experienced things in life that had them make a decision to place all their chips on God. Both are right. Both are okay. It is not either/or; it is both/and. No matter where you are coming from or what you have done, or haven’t done, God loves you and wants you to come home. “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” (Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance)

I was shocked this week when it struck me on August 1 that it had been exactly three years to the day since I was laid off by my parish in Richmond. It gave me pause. It caused me to reflect. It had me send a few thank you emails. I posted a comment on it on Facebook, and was overwhelmed by the response. Many had prayed for me and my family along the way, and were witnesses to the idea that God is with us through thick and then. The lean times are better with God, and the gravy days are there because of God. In three years God has proven to be with us day in and day out. God landed us here, and I could not be more thankful. God is bigger than us. God can see over the horizon, and guide our steps in the now so that the vector we are on intersects with an outcome beyond our hopes, wishes, or dreams. THANKS BE TO GOD.

This morning I got up very early, even for me on most Sundays, so that I could bring up the horrific acts in El Paso yesterday. A disturbed young white man decided to bet his life on Hate, even writing a manifesto celebrating hate according to the reports. He took this one chance and went all in on killing others. 20 dead, and 26 wounded when I last checked this morning. And when I went to check, I learned that in the short night of sleep I had, something else happened that you may have missed. Another shooter attacked the club and restaurant district in Dayton, Ohio, killing 9, wounding 16 before he himself was killed. I pray those numbers did not go up more before the service this morning. With the blare of these headlines, you may have missed the one about the person who decided to drive his car into a group of people who were marching in an Anti-Violence rally. When going to Wal-Mart is a risk, when going out for a night on the town is a risk, when marching in an Anti-Violence rally is a risk, God help us all. But we cannot allow Hate or Fear to win.

In my preparation I glossed over the Collect for the day. You may have as well in your hearing of it. Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord… We need to pray this for our nation, as well. People are betting it all on Hate and Fear. Jesus tells us clearly, DO NOT. Do not bet on Fear, or Greed, or Hate. Bet on Love. Bet on God. In the face of such evil, it is easy to be bitter. It is easy to be jaded. Even worse, it is easy to become numb. The scariest part of the Headline “In Today’s Mass Shooting…” is the word Today’s. In the face of such evil, we would do well to remember, “Love is the strongest force in the World, and yet it is the humblest imaginable.”-Gandhi. Millions of people loving, millions of people rejecting hate and fear, millions turning their backs on greed are going to overwhelm the handful that think their one wasted gamble can win. Where are you going to place your bets? On God and Love? On Greed or Fear?

When it all comes down, I am going to bet on Love. I am going to bet on God. “All that you have is your Soul.” Amen