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