Sunday, November 24, 2019

Year C Christ the King 2019 Remember Me...

Year C Christ the King Sunday, 24 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Remember Me...”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Colossians 1:11-20
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" There was also an inscription over him, "This is the King of the Jews."

One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

This last Wednesday, I made it to Ashland Coffee and Tea late for our usual post-communion hang-out over breakfast. And because I was delayed, I stayed later than normal and had a wonderful conversation. The Holy Spirit can take you to amazing places, and in the conversation we pondered the two hanging next to Jesus and how they saw the world through how they spoke with him.

One, expecting little, mocked him. He did not have any hope left. He showed no respect. He showed no love. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” I do NOT hear this as being a request, as Luke clearly says that he “kept deriding” Jesus. He chose to tear down, even with his dying breath.

And then we have the other criminal, who defended Jesus, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” I hear the resignation in his voice. I hear the honesty. I hear someone who is stretched naked, both literally and figuratively, in plain view of the whole world, knowing that he is where he should be, and that Jesus is not.

And in the final act of his life, he still holds on to hope. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” That simple prayer says so much. The criminal is saying that Jesus is who he claimed to be, and despite this outcome, he held onto the idea that God gets the last word. As a priest friend of mine always says, “God bats last.” The criminal also realizes the reality that so many of Jesus’ followers seem to have missed. This Kingdom of God that is so prevalent in Jesus’ teachings, ripples into this world but also moves steadily into the world to come. The Kingdom of God is both Now and Later. Jesus, the crucified man is claiming, is going into his true Kingdom where corrupt officials and occupying armies do not exist. He is saying, in his own small way, I believe in you. Will you, if even for a second, think on me?

I can think of no greater prayer of Hope in who Jesus is and in the God who sent him than this man’s, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

When we behold Jesus on the cross, when we see him high and lifted up, what appears on the outside to be the most abysmal of failures is the greatest triumph. It is the epitome of the nature of God. Deep abiding, sacrificial love, the love that knits and holds the Universe together, the love that dreamt of you before you were born, and the love that will welcome you with open arms when you die. When we see Jesus on the cross we see, as C.S. Lewis called it in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when we see Jesus on the cross we see the Deep Magic from “the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned…” Often in classic portraits of it, we hear the Latin Ecce Homo “Behold, the man!” The Quintessential Human. The one who is so like the way we were born to be they called him the New Adam. In him, especially so vulnerable, and still so loving, we see the Immortal Law behind the very nature of the Universe, Grace Unleashed. 

When we look to Jesus on the cross, and his interaction with the confessing thief, we see the miracle of the Incarnation. Now, the miracle of the Incarnation is not that Jesus looks like God, in fact that is what he calls all of us to do and be, but rather, the miracle of the Incarnation is that we see what God is really like when we look at Jesus. There are so many competing views and ideas out there, even amongst us who claim to be following this poor man from Nazareth, and yet in his final moments he is still pouring out Grace, not crying for vengeance. “Today you will be with me in Paradise!” “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they are doing!” “John, look at your mother, now; Mother, look to your son.” “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” This is what God looks like, and we look on in awe. He who could command the legions of angels, he who can calm the storm, he who can call forth the lifeless corpse back to life, he pronounces pardon, he declares Grace.

When we see Jesus in his final moments we see him so true, so loving, that even a hardened man like the Roman Centurion supervising his death even declares, “Surely this Man is the Son of God!”

I think of Jesus on the cross and I cringe. He is there for me. I say he is my King of Kings, and my Lord of Lords. When I am at my best he truly is. And his sacrifice is what I pray I live up to.

I go to the New Testament reading last, because it is chronologically after the Gospel. St. Paul is writing to the Church in Colossae, and giving them an image called the Cosmic Christ by many scholars. It is the pre-incarnate Word at work in the universe, and the litany of attributes are beautiful and daunting to comprehend.

Hear again this love letter to the highest and best St. Paul knows: 
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
There is an old joke about the right answer to any question in Sunday School being Jesus. But here Paul is saying almost that. Before, during, and after Jesus was, is, and will be. He was there to shape the Cosmos. He is the cruxpoint of history, and will be there at the end. Like the Centurion he affirms, “Surely this is the Son of God.” And this from a man who organized the murder of those who followed Jesus. Jesus can transform anyone. Even you. Even me.

Today is the last Sunday in the Christian year, and we finish the year looking at the fullness, the culmination, the lordship of Jesus. Next Sunday, we begin again. We walk through the awaiting of the Christ to his birth, from the Epiphany (the realization of who he is) to Lent (the preparation for his crucifixion), to Easter and the glories of his resurrection to his Ascension, to the Pentecost when we take his role on us through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the culmination of the Pentecost, our acknowledging the Lordship of Christ, today. We wait for Christ, and we wait for Christ to come again.

One more image to ponder, seeing this is the end of the year, the Christian year anyway. If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do? Most of us would feast and soak in the best within our reach. Jesus knew he was going to die, and with one day left what did he do? Wash his students’ feet, reminded them to love one another and not to fight amongst themselves, and then he prayed that God would forgive us because we did not know what we were doing. If that is not holy, if that is not godly, if that is not beautiful, I do not know what is.

As we come to his table of Thanksgiving (for that is what Eucharist means), let this day be one of feasting. May our prayer today and always be, “Jesus, remember me…” And on Thursday, when we feast again, pause, and say thank you for the Great Thanksgiving at this table, at your Table, and one day, at Christ’s Table where we, too, will be welcomed home in Paradise. Amen

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Year C Proper 28 WED 2019 Expectations

Year C Proper 28 WED, 20 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 17:22-27
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” And they were greatly distressed.

When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?” He said, “Yes, he does.” And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” When Peter said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”

What an odd story. Who owes what to whom? A great question we all still struggle to answer. 

All good Israelites and Levites would have had to pay the Temple Tax of half a shekel. It was for the upkeep of the beautiful facility. But it got me thinking, how much of what we do is because of someone else’s expectations. Expectations, not needs.

I had a friend who went to orientation to begin a seminary degree. Her dad was a minister, and she applied, was accepted, and began the yearly rite of first year orientation. Sitting there, on day one, she noticed she was not listening to a word that was being said. She was zoned out, with the thought running through her head, “What are you doing here?” She stopped and asked herself about that question. Is that what she is really feeling? And after she did some real soul searching, she saw finally that she had applied, and was accepted all to make her father happy. She felt the call, but not the call from God. At the next break, she got up and left.

So much of our behavior, especially early in life, comes from those external expectations. Don’t do this, don’t do that, I don’t want to make _________ [fill-in-the-blank] unhappy. Living up to expectations can be good or can be bad.

One of the big lessons in maturing is letting go of those expectations so we can live our own life, but Jesus lived up to expectations. Here he pays the Temple Tax, despite openly declaring he did not owe it…

“What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?” Obviously, “From others.” 

The kids do not pay the king tribute. The subjects and vassals owe the tribute. The kids are free. But notice, after boldly declaring that he owed nothing to nobody, just instructs Peter how to pay the tax. (I am not getting into the whole coin in the fish’s mouth thing because I cannot explain it. Let’s just take it at face value. Okay?)

Jesus lives up to people’s expectations. He does it in other places, too. When Mary urges him to “do something” at the wedding in Cana, and he turns water to wine, he was living up to mom’s expectations. When he tells the disciples to have some swords at Gethsemane so when they are accused of being “transgressors” they can be found guilty. He got two by the way. Jesus is shown again and again to consider others’ expectations, for good or bad. Often doing so takes a price of us. And we have to determine if it is worth it or not.

I think one reason, or at least I read it this way, that Jesus is so ridiculous in where he gets his tax (out of the mouth of a fish). His owing for the upkeep of the Temple when the priests do not owe is as ridiculous, for those in the know anyway. But he understands that in his role as a human and a member of a people, part of being in those roles is fulfilling expectations. I had an old boss talk about “having to pay the bills.” It was not the tasks we wanted to do, but it was what we had to do to do the fun/enjoyable/rewarding stuff.

Living up to other people’s expectations can be a chore. It can also be a way of saying “I love you.” You do it not because you need to, but because the other person/group feels the need for it. We do the thing out of love, out of relationship, out of the desire to maintain and help us both to grow in love together. Not out of obligation, not out of duty, but out of love. Amen

Monday, November 18, 2019

Year C Proper 28 2019 "Don't You See It?"

Year C Proper 28, 17 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Don’t You See It?”

Collect: Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Isaiah 65:17-25
Luke 21:5-19
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down."
They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, `I am he!' and, `The time is near!' Do not go after them.
"When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."

Way back at the end of the last millennium, really, that far ago, I was working at the Seminary I had graduated from. I served as their recruiter. It was my job to help arrange campus visits to the Seminary, and to go out and speak to college groups and conventions mostly about feeling a call into the ministry. Half of my job was on the road, and half of my job was working with folks over the phone and through the mail. I was good at it, and recruitment was going well. The President of the school asked to meet with me near the end of my first year. I was hoping that my part-time job might be becoming full-time. Whatever day it was, I remember it was in the mid-morning. I was greeted and immediately was told that the funding for my job had been cut, and that at the end of my first year contract I would not be kept on. Normally I would call Steph once or twice during the day to check in, but I was in shock. I just could not tell her over the phone. It was hard news, bad news, and it would cost us dearly.

Unlike her, Steph came home late and sat down. Before I could tell her the bad news, she said, “I have something to tell you.” You see, her boss had called her into their office, mid-morning, and let her know that at the end of the yearly academic contract hers would not be renewed. The same day, at approximately the same time, we were both let go as of July 1. After I told her my news, I said, “Well, it will be interesting to see what God has in store for us.” 

Friends, I am here to tell you, Bad Things Happen. Even when you are doing things right. Even with no fault, Bad Things Happen. They do. If anyone tells you something other, they are out to con you. We both were in good jobs, where we were doing well and being encouraged, when, through no fault of our own, we were both fired. Well, laid off, but it amounted to the same.

We had built big plans in our heads. We had hopes we had constructed into some Castles, but they were in the sky. Nothing was real, and we had a price to pay for stacking these dreams on top of each other. These dreams did not last that fateful day, and I have to tell you, there is very little that really will last.

Last weekend I had the gracious honor to speak at the 160th Anniversary of our sister parish St. David’s over in Aylett. I reminded them how rare it is for any human institution to survive the lifetime of its founders. Most of our endeavors fall apart. Glad God seems to be in on ours!

In today’s reading Jesus is making a comment on how even something so grand as Solomon’s Temple, something so seemingly permanent will one day be thrown down. I hear Jesus making a generality about the stones being pulled down from one another, and it was heard as an imminent prediction. The disciples were wanting the 411, the Where, the When. But I hear Jesus just saying “Count on it… sometime, maybe even soon, or far away. But you can count on it.”

As Robert Frost penned: Nothing gold can stay. Now this was talking about the color of the leaves, but even then it is fleeting.

If Nature cannot hold on to its gold, why do we think that we can? As grand a space and place as this is, as beautiful and magnificent the monuments are in Washington, DC, as utterly perfect the Basilica of St. Peter is in Rome, one day they will no longer be. Entropy is. Things fall apart. Such is existence.

But notice, even with these dire predictions of Jesus, for the Temple and then even worse ones for his followers, he says to keep plugging along. Bad things WILL HAPPEN. Do the things anyway, for that is the gist of Life.

If nothing lasts, if there is nothing of permanence, then what do we do? Where do we put our energies?

Thankfully, as discouraging as the Gospel may be, we are also given Isaiah’s prophecy and promise. Where do we put our energies? From today’s Isaiah reading:
For I am about to create new heavensand a new earth;the former things shall not be rememberedor come to mind.But be glad and rejoice foreverin what I am creating;for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.I will rejoice in Jerusalem,and delight in my people;no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,or the cry of distress.
If God’s new thing is God’s people, if God’s new creation is us, what might that show us? How might that encourage us? Where do we put our energies? 

Each other! And in so doing, we are building up the Kingdom of God.

SO, if Bad Things Happen, if Entropy Is, WHAT DO WE DO???

Keith M. Kent made a few Paradoxical Commandments saying as much. (This has also been attributed to Mother Teresa, but Dr. Kent owns the copyright.)

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;Do good anyway. 
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;Give the world the best you've got anyway. 
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;It was never between you and them anyway.

It is easy to be discouraged when we swim in discouraging waters. But Jesus teaches us that the things that may seem so permanent and stolid and fixed, are not. Nothing on this side of heaven is permanent. But that does not stop us. What you see yourself building makes a difference.

You may have heard this story before. But it resonates so well.  Once a person was walking along and spied a mason hard at work. The person asked, “What are you doing?” Nonchalantly, the mason responded, “Building a wall.” And then kept on with the work.

The person kept going and asked another mason he happened onto quite soon, “What are you doing?” Again, with little enthusiasm, the 2nd Mason said, “Making some church.” And kept on slapping the mud and stacking the bricks.

The person kept walking, and happened upon a third mason. “What are you doing?” he inquired again. The Third Mason stood up, spreading his arms, and with a sense of wonder, “Don’t you see it? We are building a Cathedral! It will be grand.”

Friends, we always have to keep in mind what it is we are building, and who we are building it for. If you are just making a wall, it will only last so long. If you are building some church, it could come or go. But friends, grander than any Cathedral, we are building the Kingdom of God! Don’t you see it?

That is why we can suffer, and strive, be hated, and even killed. And why would we do it? Because we are part of a work that is bigger, grander, longer-lived than ourselves. We are more than a piece to a puzzle. But without our specks on our piece of the puzzle. “Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.” [I Corinthians 12:27]

There will be times when we be spellbound by the splendor, good! Stop and be in awe. The mason who could step back in wonder and say, “I am building a Cathedral! Don’t you see it.” may not do more work, but it will be better because it was done in love and to the glory of God.Whatever we will build up, someone someday will tear down. Could be soon, could be well beyond our lifetimes.

Think now on how we can make Ashland and Hanover County a little bit more like heaven. If all of us, in our own ways did what we could, when we could think on what it could be like. “Don’t you see it?”

When we set about the long hard work that we do, strive, sweat, struggle, but do it all in love. Or as St. Paul put it: “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” [I Corinthians 14:13-14]

This week we will be trying something new. Something hard. Something audacious. Whatever it is we do, do it in love. The Stew Fest is now only days away. Many of us will be spending most of our week preparing, and saying some prayers while we do so. If you are stirring the pots, do it in love and do it for God. If you are picking the chicken, selling tickets, or directing traffic, do it in love, do it for for God. Whatever you do, do it in love, and do it for God. Some people may get frustrated and get on your nerves. Love them through it. Some people may be welcomed at a church for the very first time. How you sell them their stew may be the first time they connect loving faithful service as part of the Kingdom of God. And we will pay the price. We will be stiff and sore. We will be too cold and at times too hot. “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” And why do we do this? For the Glory of God, and to further the Kingdom. As God promised in Isaiah:
For I am about to create new heavensand a new earth;the former things shall not be rememberedor come to mind.But be glad and rejoice foreverin what I am creating! 
Don’t you  see it?!?!?! AMEN!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Year C Proper 27 WED 2019 Eating Elephants and Other Impossibilities

Year C Proper 27 WEDNESDAY, 13 November 2019
St. James the Less Ashland, VA
“Eating Elephants and Other Impossibilities”

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 15:29-39
After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.
Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?’ Jesus asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ They said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’ Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.

"Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel." Jesus did the impossible. 

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. It is an old joke, and could not be more true.

Anything worth doing takes commitment, time, effort, and love. Mostly love. When Jesus looked out at the crowd he had compassion. Jesus loved them. It is the only way we can accomplish anything as the body of Christ. In fact, most often when people are burnt out and tired I find that they have lost the love that drew them to whatever it is in the first place. When you set about to eating an elephant, you really have to like elephant.

Tonight we formalize our relationship, permanently, blessed by the Bishop. It is a good thing that I love you all. It is a good thing that you love me. As our Presiding Bishop says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” Churchill can have all his blood, sweat, and tears, but underneath it all I trust he loved the UK to make all the other worth it.
As you may have heard me say before, I am pretty enamored with St. Francis. His radical devotion to Christ has always struck me, and if there is a way forward in the times we find ourselves in, I think it has to be just that. Radical, all-consuming, all-engaging, heart-swooning, never-ceasing love. With that as the undercurrent, let us listen to the words of Francis for when we are faced with insurmountable tasks.

Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” -St. Francis of Assisi

When Jesus fed the thousands, I have to remember that. He loved them. He saw the necessities of those he loved. He took inventory, doing what he could, even if it was only 7 loaves and three fish. With love, with God, that was enough and all were filled.

He fed 4,000 that day. We are lucky, only three and a half thousand people are supposedly heading this way in a week and a half. And even then, ESPECIALLY THEN, We Do It In Love. Love for God, Love for this Church, Love for all those who will Bless US with Their Presence. We do what is necessary, then do what is possible, and St. James the Less is then doing the Impossible. Amen 

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Year C Proper 27 2019 Distractions

Year C Proper 27, 10 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

Collect: O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Haggai 1:15b-2:9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

This week on Wednesday we gather here in this room the celebrate A Renewal of Ministry and the Welcome the New Rector. Quite the mouthful. As we venture into this new “official” status of our relationship. And it has gotten me to reminiscing.

Last night I was telling my daughter about my first Sunday as a priest. I was ordained on a Saturday, and the next day our interim Rector texted me to let me know she had lost her voice and that I was flying solo on my first day out of the gate. No pressure. I made a few mistakes, but in one instance that day, I know God was with me.

Now as Episcopalians, we know when we come to receive Communion, we usually do one of two things. If we want a blessing, we cross our arms in front of our chest. If we wish to partake in Communion, we place our hands together in an X making a cross and I place the wafer or pinch of bread there. Now our brothers and sisters coming from the Catholic Church often do not realize they can touch the host, and will often stick out their tongue to receive. This is much easier with a wafer than with bread, let me tell you. Well this particular Sunday, when I was trying to so hard to not get distracted and not to mess up, I know God was with me. 

One of our parishioners was a former Catholic and still liked receiving on his tongue. He was also from a group home around the corner from the church, and often it was easier to give him the bread on his tongue than try to explain to him how we do it in the Episcopal Church.

So here he was at the altar rail, and as I came to him, I looked down at him to see his outstretched tongue. I was used to this from my time as a deacon there. I go to place the bread on his tongue, and out pop his dentures looking like the Alien’s tongue from the movie (Alien). 

I know God was with me because I did not scream. What a distraction! Luckily, my composure was kept, and I was able to continue on serving. 

Speaking of distractions, our texts are exactly that, examples of distractions from what should have the majority of our focus and attention. Three years ago, when I preached on these texts, it was the week of the presidential election, and I was preaching in Liverpool at St. Gabriel’s. I remember how distracted we were as a nation. I shared that for the previous several months the USA had been focused and fixated on what should be minor attractions instead of the center stage of our lives. I shared how the election had divided our communities, our churches, and our families. I even when on to say with some relief that the week would see an end to the distractions, and by Wednesday, the election of the United States president will be over. Little did I realize how the division and distractions would only escalate. God help us. That is one of the main reasons that our prayer service last week gave me hope. It kept the main thing the main thing.

When we major in the minors, when we let our focus be on the things that do not matter in long run, and probably should not matter at all, we get away from the lives God would have us live. So many things can derail us spiritually. Our health. Our economic situation. Our politics. Bad clergy-people. Whatever is a distraction to myself or any of you is a hindrance to our spiritual lives.

In Haggai, the prophet declares that God wants them to “Take courage.” Fear can be a huge distraction. In fact, I think one of the major ills in our nation since the 9/11 attacks. We have become a fearful nation. We have learned and had reinforced to not trust our neighbor, and to trust the stranger in our midst even less. One of our great presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, when the country was still reeling from the Great Depression, these famous words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Haggai says to his people the same thing. Do not be distracted by your fear! Or from the Scripture: “I am with you, says the LORD of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear!” 

There have been times in my life when I have been afraid. Terrified in fact. And I think of the times when I chose to cower and give into my fear. Those are the times when I remember being most defeated. This situation did not defeat me, but my choosing to cower was a defeat of who God made me to be. There were other times when I was afraid and I stood up, and took a stand. Sometimes I triumphed, and sometimes I failed. But when I took courage and made a stand, I may have failed, but I was not a failure. I could say I had done my best, with what I had, and I did not hang my head. Fear is an enemy of who God is calling us to be. “Fear not!” says the Lord.

But Paul in Second Thessalonians looks at another distraction, deception. One of the problems of religious people in general is that we are believers. Believing in God is good, but believing anyone who comes along is not. Some of us err on the skeptical side of belief, and some of us err on the side of TB, and we have a raging case of True Believer-ism. But both of the extremes still fall on the side of believing, and that can set us up for being tricked, conned, cajoled, and hoodwinked. We tend to give people the benefit of the doubt, and that is a hindrance of who God would have us be as well. It is, I believe, the shadow side of belief.

And here we are, almost 2,000 years later, still awaiting Christ’s return. Paul had to quell the excitement of this anticipation in the early days of the Church. 
As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way...
Tricksters are out there. Jesus commanded us to be “as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:3 It is an issue which we have been warned that we will have to deal with. Even in the election three years ago, BOTH SIDES had Christians claiming that God is for their candidate and only their side is righteous. Tricksters and charlatans. Still with us, and, sadly, I think they always will be. We need to not be distracted by those that would derail our walk with Christ, and in Christ, and for Christ.

But fear and deception are not our only distraction, we also have the hurdle of nit-pickiness to overcome. Yes, nit-pickiness. Sometimes we zoom in on such small things that make no sense when we see things from the outside. I would call them pharisaical, but they were Sadducees. The Sadducees were attempting to play Gotcha! with Jesus. Could they catch him being, in their minds, stupid? They are seeing if this young Rabbi is worth his reputation. They are playing theoretical theology. “What if…?” But Jesus calls them on it, he reproaches them for their hypocrisy and their attempt to distract him. Others there wanted to learn and grow in their faith, and the Sadducees are playing games. The problem with their question is on whether the legalism on this side of heaven continues on into the next. They even could have been mocking Jesus, in that he, like the Pharisees believed in an afterlife. The Sadducees did not believe in anything coming after this life. With their ridiculous question, they are making fun of this belief and those who hold it. But even there, Jesus does not reject them, but raises the level of conversation, showing their foundational denial of the afterlife is a problem. Jesus goes back to Moses, who speaks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Living, not of the dead. We might phrase in the New Testament language of the God who was and is and is to come, or Jesus being the same yesterday, today and forever.  This distraction of diverting Jesus from what is most important is something that can happen to us in our spiritual lives, as well. 

Paul McCartney in his love song “Distractions,” from his wonderful Flowers in the Dirt solo album, questions why he gets sidetracked and drawn away from the one who holds his heart:
Why are there always so many other things to do?
Distractions, like butterflies are buzzing 'round my head,
When I'm alone I think of you
And the life we'd lead if we could only be free
From these distractions.
Is it not the same with God? What draws us away from seeking first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness? I think all of us would have a different answer. 

Every New Year I will probably talk about taking inventory. I said it before and I will probably say it again. Look at your calendar and your bank and credit card statements. Those will show you what you hold most important. Where is God’s church on your priorities? How about your daily agenda? Do you make space for God? That is often the easiest and first thing to go when we get busy and have our days taken away from us. I have found though, when the day gets at its worst, I need more to pray and listen, and to find God in Scripture. Like all things that are good for us, we mostly know what we should do, but these temptations and distractions that get in our way.

My daughter Sojo is a very bright and capable young lady. She is quick to make connections, but early in her life she had to overcome some hurdles that most of us do not need to overcome. Her learning style is as unique as she is, and often she is wondering about time travel or quantum physics when I am asking her what she wants for lunch. She is just so curious that she cannot help but follow a mental rabbit if it goes running by her consciousness. So, if I am making her lunch, or whatever it is, my wife and I have found a phrase that draws her back. Instead of correcting her, we simply ask, “Are you with me, Sojo?” In preparing for today, I could see the smile on God’s face and how often he has had to ask of me, “Rock, are you with me?” “Rock, hello Rock, are you with me?” And God asks the same of all of us. In the midst of all the things that distract us, often good, important things, we hear God ask, “Are you with me?” Seek first the Kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness and all these things shall be added unto to you. I believe God means it. If we put God first, everything else will fall into place. Amen

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Year C Proper 26 SAT 2019 St David's Aylett 160th Anniversary A New Thing

Year C Proper 26 SATURDAY
160th Anniversary Celebration for St. David’s, Aylett, VA
“A New Thing”

Isaiah 43:14-21
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
For your sake I will send to Babylon
   and break down all the bars,
   and the shouting of the Chaldeans will be turned to lamentation.
I am the Lord, your Holy One,
   the Creator of Israel, your King.
Thus says the Lord,
   who makes a way in the sea,
   a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
   army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
   they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
   or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honour me,
   the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
   rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
   the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

Matthew 21:12-16
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
   but you are making it a den of robbers.’
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
   you have prepared praise for yourself”?’

To quote the Apostle Paul, I share with you from Philippians 1 (vv. 3-5):
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 
I can honestly say, that St. David’s was a lifesaver for me and my family when we had little hope, and the light at the end of the tunnel seemed to be more of an oncoming train. Having been laid off from my parish, and then laid off again during my times with you, it was hard for me to consider what God might hold for us in the days to come.

Since then, all our lives have changed. Father Gustavo is with you. I am now the Rector at St. James the Less, and our Celebration of New Ministry is this Wednesday night at 7 p.m. if you you are up to coming all the way to Ashland. God had plans for us we knew nothing about. Thanks be to God.

God will not be mocked. And Jesus will be lifted up. Our Gospel reminds us of that. God wants his temples to be Houses of Prayer, a place to connect with the Eternal in our limited capacity. And even more, it is a place where we praise the name of Jesus like the infants that came to him. In fact, as we lift up the name of Jesus, and more and more open ourselves to prayer, God can do mighty things. If there are any words I can leave with you today, or with any parish any day, it would be to be a House of Prayer and Lift High the Name of Jesus.

Think of how audacious a thing prayer is. We presume first off that there is a God. For many that is a point of contention, and even more a point of ridicule. As St. Paul said, “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Then we have the audacity to think that God not only hears us, but that God wants to hear from us. And then we stretch the audacity to the point of the absurd (to many) that God wants what is best for us. As the Prophet Jeremiah reminded God’s People: 
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Friends, that is our faith. That is our only hope. And how do we have this Audacity? Because the God who was with us in the beginning, has been with us all along the way; God is the one who will be with us in the end. God, the same Yesterday, Today, and Forever. And when we look at our past, God is there. When we look at our Now, no matter how dark the day, God is here. But God is not the God of Yesterday, nor the God of the Now. God is the God of  Yesterday, Now and Forever. No matter where or WHEN we go, God is already there. How can we not have Hope?

We come today in celebration of the work of God here at St. David’s Aylett for one-hundred-sixty years. And yet what is so long to us is a blink of the Almighty Eye of God. Hold on to that. God is the God of your Future as much as God has been with you in this one-hundred-sixty year long Blink of an Eye.

Friends, know that we have a limited capacity, and that can be a help. Often if we knew where the Hand of God was leading we might be scared or run away like Jonah who thought he could escape God. But God lets us know one step at a time. And what seems like a failure or tragedy God can use to transform us to who God would have us to be and enable us to do what God would have us do. In the Economy of the Kingdom NOTHING IS EVER WASTED.  

Picture this: In Spotsylvania County, near Penney’s Crossroads, Area Code 22534, the Ma River springs up out of the earth. Passing near Thornburg, then Bowling Green and Milford, it flows. Joining with its sisters, the Ta, Po, and Ni Rivers the Mattaponi is formed, winding and running its course until it flows to behind us right here in Aylett. The Mattaponi joins the Pamunkey in West Point birthing the mighty York where the monumental battle at Yorktown was won by blockading the reinforcements of Lord Cornwallis, birthing this mighty nation we love. The York flows into the Hampton Roads. Joining with so many waters creating one of the great bodies of water giving life and beauty, the Chesapeake Bay. And the Chesapeake connects Baltimore, Washington, D.C. with us here today. And the Chesapeake flows into the Atlantic, and the Atlantic connects us with the rest of the world. Never forget that. And that my friends is why what you do here is so important.

What happens in Aylett at St. David’s connects you to the rest of the world. St. David’s connects with its Region, which connects it to the Diocese, which connects it to the Episcopal Church, which connects it to the catholic [universal] church which connects us with the rest of the world. You are the Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement in Aylett and King William County. Through you, lives are touched and changed. People are loved with the love of God through your work and your words. Your mission here creates ripples which flow through those connections and touch all of the world.

As the prophet Isaiah spoke, I repeat today: 

Do not remember the former things,   or consider the things of old.I am about to do a new thing;   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?I will make a way in the wilderness   and rivers in the desert.

The death of any organization, especially the local parish of the Church, happens when someone convinces it that its best days are behind it. When we sit in the dark, our eyes get used to the dark. We only perceive darkness. But slowly, as the dawn is coming, we begin to see more, colors begin to emerge from the black and grey we have seen for so long. We may forget the dawn. But it is coming. If God can make a way in the desert, if God can sprout a river in the desert (or Penney’s Crossroads for that matter), if God can save your church from the outrages of the Civil War, what is God dreaming up for St. David’s Aylett tomorrow? Most organizations do not last past the generation that founded it. You have already done that 8 times over, so it begs the question. What is God dreaming up for you all to do? Where is God leading you? What glory to God can be made by your faith, by your hard work, by your love of God and neighbor?

I am about to do a new thing;   now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Brothers and Sisters, as you live into that question, you will show your faith and trust in the Living God. God’s blessings be with you all, now and always! Amen

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Year C Proper 26 WED 2019 William Temple

Year C Proper 26, 6 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“William Temple” from Great Cloud of Witnesses

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1944
William Temple was a renowned teacher and preacher, regarded as one of the most exemplary Archbishops of Canterbury of the 20th century. His writings reflect a robust social theology that engages the challenges of modern industrialized society.

Temple was born October 15, 1881, and baptized three weeks later, on November 6, in Exeter Cathedral. His father, Dr. Frederick Temple, Bishop of Exeter and then of London, became Archbishop of Canterbury when William was fifteen. Growing up at the heart of the Church of England, William’s love for it was deep and lifelong.

Endowed with a brilliant mind, Temple took a first-class honors degree in classics and philosophy at Oxford, where he was then elected Fellow of Queen’s College. At the age of twenty-nine he became headmaster of Repton School, and then, in quick succession, rector of St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, Bishop of Manchester, and Archbishop of York. Though he was never subject to poverty himself, he developed a
passion for social justice which shaped his words and his actions. He owed this passion to a profound belief in the Incarnation. He wrote that in Jesus Christ God took flesh and dwelt among us, and, as a consequence, “the personality of every man and woman is sacred.” In 1917, Temple resigned from St. James’s, Piccadilly, to devote his energies to the “Life and Liberty” movement for reform within the Church of England. Two years later, an Act of Parliament led to the setting up of the Church Assembly, which for the first time gave the laity a voice in Church matters.

As bishop, and later as archbishop, Temple committed himself to seeking “the things which pertain to the Kingdom of God.” He understood the Incarnation as giving worth and meaning not only to individuals but to all of life. He therefore took the lead in establishing the Conference on Christian Politics, Economics, and Citizenship (COPEC), held 1924. In 1940, he convened the great Malvern Conference to reflect on the social reconstruction that would be needed in Britain once the Second World War was over.

At the same time, he was a prolific writer on theological, ecumenical, and social topics, and his two-volume Readings in St. John’s Gospel, written in the early days of the war, rapidly became a spiritual classic. In 1942, Temple was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and reached an even wider audience through his wartime radio addresses and newspaper articles. However, the scope of his responsibilities and the
pace he set himself took their toll. On October 26, 1944, he died at Westgate-on-Sea, Kent, after only two and a half years at Canterbury.

Some quotes to ponder:

  • My worth is what I am worth to God; and that is a marvelous great deal, for Christ died for me. Thus, incidentally, what gives to each of us His highest worth gives the same worth to everyone; in all that matters most are we equal
  • When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don't, they don't.
  • The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary.
  • To evangelize is so to present Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, that men shall come to put their trust in God through Him, to accept Him as their Savior, and serve Him as their King in the fellowship of His church.
  • Worship is the submission of all our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, the nourishment of the mind with His truth, the purifying of the imagination of His beauty, the opening of the heart to His love, the surrender of the will to His purpose.
  • The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Year C All Saints 2019 Drops in the Bucket

Year C All Saints’ Day (Observed) 3 November 2019
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Drops in the Bucket”

Collect: Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 6:20-31
Jesus looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets."
"But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
"Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
"Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
"Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
"But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“Good morning, Saints. [wait]
“Good morning, Sinners.” [wait]

Professor Leonard Sweet, a Christian writer and speaker, opens speaking engagements that way. At least he used to when he was making the rounds more. Usually when I heard him it was in a roomful of other ministers. The response to the first good morning to the Saints was loud and echoing. The response to the second, the Sinners, was less, much less.

We are often so ready to hear the Blessings, and shrink away when it comes round to the woes. It does not make us bad, but often we skip over the cautions, like we do with user agreements on the internet. We just do not want to go there.

Jesus does that in his sermon today, calling out the contradictions; he is speaking blessings to those in need, and woes to those in need of nothing. Jesus inaugurates his public ministry in Luke with what is dubbed the Sermon on the Plain. Matthew’s setting is on a mountain, much like another Moses handing down a new law. In both Gospels, the sermon comes after the calling of the 12 Disciples. Matthew’s Beatitudes is more spiritual, aspirational even. But here in Luke, Luke levels things out. Luke is willing to get his hands dirty. Luke has some blessings, but he also has some woes. Luke includes everybody. The Down-&-Outs and the Up-&-Ins. No one is excluded from this Gospel that Jesus is bringing. No one is without the need of what he is saying: the Poor, the Hungry, the Weeping, the Hated, the Rich, the Full, the Weeping, the Respected. All are in need, and change is coming for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

And the Kingdom is radically different and as controversial today as it was then. Every so often we need spiritual Q-Tips to clean out the wax from hearing things our whole lives. Listen to the words of Jesus he wants all to hear from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. This comes right after the Blessings and Woes:
To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them!

And this is what it gets at. Transformation. Wholesale Change. As Albert Einstein intoned: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We need to rise above; we need to step up to another way of being.

The simple three words Love your enemies could not be more radical. In its simplicity it is clear. To make it even more clear, the noun enemy in the Greek is literal “those you hate.” It is not the ones over there across an ocean we wage war with, it is the ones who are near to us that we find contemptible, that we despise, that we hate. The call of God is for us to start where we are and grow the Kingdom where it hurts the most, where it is most real. And how do we love our Hated Ones? Think about what you really want from them, and give them that. It is so hard. It is painful. It is real.

We remember the Saints of God, the holy ones. And we are the Saints, and the Sinners. We all have fallen short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23), but we are also the Redeemed in Christ. We are walking contradictions, so how apt that Jesus teach us to contradict our very nature. Love those you Hate. He not only instructs it, he enables it. He paints an image so clear in his life and actions, and then sends the Holy Spirit to indwell and strengthen us to do this simple, impossible, remarkable thing. And he also gave us each other so that we are not trying to do it all on our own.

On this day, All Saints’ Day (Observed), we remember those who led us down this path, who modeled for us the Way of Grace and Peace. I think of those who led me, guided me, corrected me, and loved me through all of it, who are no longer with us. Most of us can think on the saints in our lives who stay with us and with whom we are still close despite the chasm of death between us. Could be a parent, a minister, a mentor, a beloved Sunday School  teacher, coach, or Scout Master. There are those whose very being made us better people. They probably were not flashy, nor remembered widely. They so intensely poured themselves in the lives of those around them that they probably were not remembered by the world at large. And that’s okay. That is the way they would want it.

I am who I am because of the Saints who loved me into the Kingdom. Many of you were shaped by this community, this fellowship, and you continue in your faith walk here and you will as long as you can. I and many others are here as part of our sojourn and are here for a few seasons coming from other fields, and perhaps on to others when God calls. I thank God that we are all here together to be the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement and work in Ashland and Hanover County.

Today it is so appropriate that we uphold the Saints of God and we gather in our harvest of blessings for the coming year. Our greatest resource is not money, though we have been blessed with so much. Our greatest resource is not our facility, as wonderful as it is and as much of a blessing as it is to so many. Some of our dear Saints’ mortal remains are even in the soil just feet from us, and will be a part of our community as long as we are here. Our greatest resource is not our heritage, though is stretches back a century and a half and it is beautiful to behold.

Over 150 years ago, faith sprang up here in Ashland. Many of our churches shared a building with the Masons till we were able to branch out on our own. Like the creek directly behind me. It has been dry a lot lately, but it flows down to become the Stony Run, which meets up with Lickinghole Creek, which soon becomes the begin of the Chickahominy River. That meanders down making swamps and eventually the reservoir at Walker’s Dam before it flows into the mighty James River, which birthed this nation. The James comes into the Hampton Roads, connecting it to the gift of God’s Nature, the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay is a wonder of life and beauty. And the bay opens to the Atlantic Ocean which connects us to the rest of the world. 

It may not seem that we make a big difference, just a drop in the bucket at times. But the stream across the way is where it begins. And no one doubts the outcome. But what we do here connects around the globe with our brothers and sisters who strive to live the faith where they are. Last night I made a video with my phone to connect with our brothers and sisters in Liverpool at St. Gabriel's Church, Church of England. The Rev. Canon Malcolm Rogers is their Vicar, and today is there 125 Anniversary. They are our younger cousins. But their stream flows into the Mersey, which meets us in the Atlantic. And together St. Gabriel’s and St. James the Less reach the world.

All Saints’ Day and our giving both work the same way. We are just a drop in the Ocean, but never forget, NEVER FORGET, an Ocean is nothing but a gathering of drops. Together we can and will do mighty things. And if God is in it, it cannot be stopped.

Now before the stream analogy I named a lot of things which are not our greatest resource. But waht is? Brothers and Sisters in Christ, our greatest resource is one another, and whose we are in Christ Jesus. As we model faith, hope, and love, especially for one another, there is nothing and no one who can stand against us. Look to your left. Thank God for them. Look to your right, bless them. We are our greatest Treasure. We are our greatest Hope. How we love one another is our Future. And our future is bright, thanks be to God.

Good morning, Sinners. [wait]
Good morning, Saints. [wait] Amen