Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Year B Advent 1 WED 2020 You Got This

 Year B Advent 1 WEDNESDAY, 2 December 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“You Got This”


Collect: Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God's word, which is also at work in you believers. For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God's wrath has overtaken them at last. As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you-- in person, not in heart-- we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. For we wanted to come to you-- certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again-- but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy! 


I remember one time when someone asked why I had left the ministry. I responded, “I would have remained a pastor, but I had ethics.” Now, all joking aside, I had not left the ministry, but had left my denomination of my birth because I had been invited, I believe by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to see God is bigger, grander, and more loving than I had ever heard before. 


We are in a struggle. We are in a struggle with the powers that be. Now do not hear me getting into making an argument for spiritual entities, or things similar, for there is enough evil in the world in the hearts and minds of people before we begin speaking of demons and Satan. If we dealt with the evil in our own hearts, that would take a great many years in and of itself. And when that is multiplied in the systemic issues that bind the poor, the weak, the helpless it seems almost insurmountable.


I normally preach on the Gospel reading, but this morning the New Testament reading caught my attention, drawing in particular on this line:


As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you-- in person, not in heart-- we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.


It sounds so much like our situation currently. We are apart, and we need to remain so, outside our facilities and apart from one another. No one wants this. No one would pick this. But, like it should be in all we do, we do it out of love. This hardship is what it is. We hear there is now a possible end in sight. Thanks be to God! But the same voices that are telling us this are saying that it will get significantly worse before it gets better. The virus is out of control because we did not heed the warnings when we could flatten the curve. 


The death rate is one American per minute now. Which means that it will get worse and worse and worse. We may soon not be able to meet outside because of the potential threats. We will see how things go. We have had almost 275,000 Americans die, and almost 1.5 million worldwide.


Like with this season of Advent we find ourselves in, we look back to what has been, and we look forward to what we believe will be. This both/and time, this liminal period, a threshold between. We are not there yet, and we can see what can happen. 


Four years ago I flew to Liverpool with my work with the Triangle of Hope. I flew to New York then Dublin. Then I had a quick jump across the Irish Sea to Liverpool, a short 35 minute flight. Now after a long night on the transatlantic flight, I had a good seat on the bulkhead that I was able to fit in. But when it came to this short hop, I was in the last right on the window. I was not even able to sit up straight because my head would hit. I am a big guy, and claustrophobia is something that gets me. I need my space. So cramming in, I said to myself, I can do this for half an hour. I got this, I got this. But once I saw that we had made it across the Irish Sea I noticed that our plane started circling. We circled for over 2 hours waiting for the fog to lift. I was beside myself. I kept making bargains, I can do it for 10 more minutes, I can do it for 15 more minutes, one increment increase at a time. And then it hit that there was no real clear end. I would just have to put up until it was over. And I did. 


It was hard. It was scary. But I did it. We are in a similar situation now. It was like what Paul dealt with when he wrote the Church in Thessaloniki. He closed with hope, after expressing his sadness over the trials that they were in at the time.

For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? Yes, you are our glory and joy!

May this be our hope as well. May we be each others’ joy. May we remind ourselves, we are going through NOW so we can all be together TOMORROW. We can do it, we got this, one day at a time, one hour if you need it, one second. Breathe. Have hope. Breathe. Have hope. We have this, together. Amen.


Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Year A Proper 28 WED 2020 Pause Run Back Give Thanks

 Year A Proper 28 WEDNESDAY, 18 November 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

Pause, Run Back, Give Thanks


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.


Luke 17:11-19

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan.Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”


If I could run back to Jesus, for what would I run back and say thank you?


There is a lot in that question. It says a lot about Jesus. It says a lot about me. It says a lot about the role Jesus has played and plays in my life.


So let it not be a rhetorical question. What do I need to say thank you for?


With Thanksgiving next week, this is so important. We set aside a Feast Day, one in which most of us actually feast, to stop everything and say Thank You for what we have, before many of us go out and get more the next day. I almost wish it were Gratefulness instead of Thanksgiving, we might be more content.


But Thanksgiving it is, and as I ponder what it is that has meant the most to me I am overwhelmed. In the hard times I was loved and cared for, even when I did not see it or feel it at the time. I have a job I love, and work I feel to be important and rewarding. I have a family that means more to me than anything in the world. I am learning to lean more and more into my relationship with God, and love encouraging others to do the same. I have been blessed. I am thankful.


What is your list? What are the highlights of your life, the milestones of your faith?


I know for me looking back, I can see that the times I was hurting and feeling most alone, God’s love and guiding hand was working in ways beyond my comprehension at the time, and beyond my belief now. God’s great draw towards his best and his hope for us is how I say that prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”


As we move into this week, when busy-ness can distract us from truly being Thankful, ponder your list. Pause. Run back. Give thanks! Amen


Friday, November 13, 2020

Year A Proper 28 2020 Stewardship Sunday

 Year A Proper 28, 15 November 2020

Eucharist and Video Services from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

Stewardship Ingathering Sunday


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 25:14-30

Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”


I am your priest. I pray that you trust me, and believe me when I speak. Today’s lectionary reading was the one assigned. I did not jimmy or switch out anything. We could not have a better reading for our Ingathering Stewardship Sunday that I could think of. So as well delve into one of the most popular parables, one that most think they know, we can easily explore Stewardship, too.


The average for a measure of a talent was around 33 kg of gold when it was considered money. It fluctuated by culture, but let’s go with that. One kilo of gold this week was $60,500. Therefore a talent, in today’s monetization was just shy of $2 million dollars. ($1,996,500) How does that change the story?


We are not talking small potatoes here. We are speaking of significant wealth, and these slaves, let us not mince words by calling them servants. These owned souls were given great responsibilities, and were entrusted with great wealth when their Master departed. By reducing down the meaning of Talent, we belittle the wealth in our hands!


Somewhere along the way something happened, and in English, the word shifted definition. We had a virtual “Talentless Talent Show” this summer. With the word Talent meaning a skill or gift, it is a very different reading. But with it being wrapped up in massive value, $2 Million to $10 Million, we see a different story altogether.


These folks left at home in the story had choices to make to steward their Master’s money. So with that in mind, I want us to look at the full meaning of Stewardship. In Church-ese it cues the feelings that we are begging to make it through the next year, but it is so much more than that. 


Stewardship is more than giving funds. Stewardship is a spiritual task. I say that because one of the biggest parts of Stewardship is discernment, choosing which good things to focus on and which to reduce or cease. None of us pick the bad, I hope, but choosing between the good and the good to have the best is the role of discernment. As parents, people want what is best for their kids. As Jesus said, (Matthew 7:9-11)

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

We want what is best, and choose the safest and best route to get there. With that goal in mind, when detours and detrimental things happen, we can deal with them and get back on track.


If I could snap my fingers and go back in time, there are places in my life where I would make different choices. Thankfully, very rarely, but here and there in my past. Every year when we enter a season of Stewardship we look at the giving side of things, but Stewarding takes all of us.


Stewarding is the planning side of things, the good use of what we have. Every year we know that we will get a bit over 90% of what is pledged, so we do not plan on 100%. We know that we will have to replace an air handler every other year or so. We know that we will need a tree surgeon to care for our beautiful and wonderful trees on our property. We have to see as far down the road as we can with the best information from what has happened along the way. Stewardship is caring for the future based on what has been.


Stewarding is doing the work that needs to be done. Sunday mornings do not magically appear. Reggie and the choir worked for hours. The Altar Guild worked and pressed, and set out, and got ready. The bulletin was drafted, edited, and printed. The Acolytes were contacted, recruited, reminded. Now all of that was in normal times. Now we are recording, editing, and uploading, but it is getting the work in before it needs to be finished. The team of folks who care for the grounds and the Memorial Garden give the equivalent of TENS OF THOUSANDS of dollars by doing what they do. We could not afford them! Thanks to that whole crew!


Stewarding is about caring for others, the surprise guest that appears on a certain day. We have teams to welcome, teams to usher, teams to care. When people stop by my office they often start with, “I am so sorry to bother you.” My response is often, “I am in the people business, and you are a people!” We, collectively, are in the people business, because God is in the people business. We deal with the higher levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Need as we can, and the lower levels, too, so people can get to the higher level questions. We care with spiritual and emotional needs, with meaning and purpose, as well as, physical and social needs. If you do not have enough food, it is hard to think on a loving God. If you need medical help, it is hard to think on a loving God. If you feel unlikable or unlovable, it is hard to think on a loving God. Stewardship is about providing a safe, clean, pleasant place where people can ponder the bigger things and feel connected to that loving God that cares about the details.


Stewarding is about setting aside money for the needs that will and the surprises that might appear. This year we were knocked for a loop. We spent a good amount of money that we did not plan to spend. We bought speakers that enabled outdoor worship and an iPad to enable filming and editing the online services. That was in no one’s budget this year. But at the same time, we budgeted for things that could not happen. We had savings from lines not used in our budget which enabled us to be generous with other ministries that had hit hard times. We were able to do this quietly and prayerfully because we had folks who had cared for matters in the short run year, after year, after year.

Stewarding is about answering for the decisions that have been made and being accountable for them. In February we will have our Annual Meeting, probably virtually, where we will go over the budget that the Vestry approved for 2021. We will answer questions. Last year a great one came up about money spent on Outreach Ministries. We were able to show how much of what we do is hidden in other lines. Not to be clandestine, but we do much that is tucked into other lines. Very rarely do we go into closed session on the Vestry, and often that is to protect something confidential for a person. Those minutes are open to any member. Stewardship is about being above board, open, and honest in our dealings.


Stewarding the resources of our lives, and stewarding our communal resources are both so important. We want St. James the Less to be a gathered worshiping community in Ashland of 2120 as much as 2021. We want you to be healthy, happy, and safe. There is a reason we are not meeting inside the church building, and we will not for a while. We want you well. We want you financially well, too.  The biblical standard is a tithe, 10% of what we produce. When we were agrarian in our economies, this often came in produce or livestock. Now, with a monetary based economy, we look at 10% pre-tax. Very few of us are disciplined to the point of being able to be there. That is a reality. But planning out our giving, and taking whatever share I decide to give first enables me to give. If I wait to give from what is left, there would never be much. THAT is stewardship, taking care of God’s first before I take out mine. That empowers and enables me to give more. It shows where I place the importance of what I give. Giving to God is my way of saying you have provided me with so much, I have faith that this portion will do and I joyfully and welcomingly give.


Stewardship is a lifestyle. Our budget represents that faith that we have that we will have all we need, and faith in the leadership to do well with what is given. Your pledge represents faith that you will be able to share that amount to enable the work that we do collectively, to provide for the care and upkeep of the things we have so that they can be enjoyed and used for generations to come.


Today we gather in the promises you are making to God to do the work of this community for the coming year. If we have your pledge cards, they will be blessed today. If we receive them later, they will be blessed as well. May it be said of us, what the Master said to the one who was given much: “‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Amen

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Year A Proper 27 WED Veterans' Day 2020 Two Other Kinds of Lost

 Year A Proper 27 WEDNESDAY, 11 November 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Two Other Kinds of Lost”


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.


Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. "Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."


I was struck when I read the Gospel this morning. I have always read this story as to being about eternal salvation. I think that that is what it is primarily about. But one of the wonders of Scripture is the applicability to the times we are in.


First, today is Veterans’ Day. I was not in the military, but the military was a huge part of my growing up for two reasons. We lived just a few miles from Fort Eustis Army Base in Newport News, which led to a lot of my friends being military brats. I would go over to play on the base, and see life from over there. 


Also, my father was an electrical designer at the Shipyard. We thrived or hurt according to military contracts. He worked on attack subs and aircraft carriers. And so the military was on the forefront of our consciousness. Overhead, Air Force jets flew daily from Langley Air Force base, and before I was born my mom worked there at the NASA installation.


When it comes to the military, few parts of our society has more respect than these men and women who would lay aside their choices, income, and even safety to protect us all. Growing up in the 70s, though, I saw how people belittled our VietNam vets particularly. I never understood that. I still do not. The men and women who served and were traumatized from that time deserve our respect and love. I feel like they were lost, and I wish we had taken the effort to find rather than condemn them.


That was then, but now we are looking at something similar.


In our nation, we are deeply divided. Much of this has come from the rhetoric being spewed. If you can get someone’s ire up, you can influence and manipulate them. No matter how rational and logical we believe ourselves to be, we are emotional beings. Studies have repeatedly shown how little logic comes into our decision making.


In our divisions, two major things have come into play. These two things are uglier parts of our nature, and few of us would admit to the big parts they play. The two things that come to my mind first are Spite and Moral Superiority.


I found myself saying last week, “Never be surprised by someone else’s spite.” I do not necessarily believe that, but it comes out so often when I witness others interacting. For me, if I am about to take a stance, especially a strong one or an oppositional one, I ask myself, “Am I acting out of spite?” If I think I am or even might be, I step back, rethink things, and hopefully approach it in an air of humility. I pray I can keep that up and get even better at it.


Moral Superiority is another one of those things that FEELS so RIGHT. We may even be so. But when we act in an air of being morally superior it is often responded to with Spite. Which undermines our initial intent. Now that is not saying to name wrong “wrong,” evil “evil,” and bad “bad.” We have a duty to do that. But we must do it in such a way as to build up and not shame. 


Jesus taught us in Matthew 18 what to do when someone is behaving badly, and even in his instruction he does his best to protect people from shaming. 

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

And as I have said before, treating them like a Gentile or tax collector may seem like exclusion, but rather it is surrounding them with love and grace, NEVER SHAME.


Look at how people are interacting these days. There is a lot of shaming being attempted. Which brings us back to Spite.


Jesus goes out, alone, and seeks and saves the lost. Maybe a part of that is helping the lost to see that they are lost. Our 12-Step friends have taught us that admitting you have a problem is the first step. We must help friends see that, by holding up a mirror, using “I” language, and approaching it from a place of love and respect, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY ARE NOT RESPONDING WITH THE SAME. 


So easily said, so hard to do. Friends, may we seek out the lost, and help get them home, no matter how or why they are lost. We have no worry in the how or the why, we are only tasked in sharing the burden of getting everyone home. Amen


Friday, November 6, 2020

Year A Proper 27 2020 Feedback on Death

 Year A Proper 27, 8 November 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Feedback on Death” 


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.


Amos 5:18-19 and following:

Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, not light;

as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear;

or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,

and was bitten by a snake.


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.


Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”


People find what they are looking for. If you look for good, it is there. If you look for bad, it is there. I am always fascinated when people justify their argument with “That’s what the Bible says!” I have studied the Bible a lot. It says a lot of things. You can justify and rationalize most anything if you look hard enough. And some people do.


In my work in graduate school looking at social interactions, our professors used a phrase, “Feedback says more about the giver than the receiver.” It took me a while to really see what that axiom was saying. Feedback to me, I always thought, was about me. Not so. Someone is revealing their hand, what is going on inside them. When someone says something to me giving me feedback they probably think they are talking about me, like I am some objective thing apart from them instead of a part of an interactive system. Actually feedback says what they are perceiving and receiving much more than what it says about me. Now it might be about me, and it is my responsibility to look for and utilize that, but as a consultant or processor of their feedback I have to look for what they are thinking and feeling, and see how they are expressing that in what they are saying supposedly about me.


Now you are probably asking, Father Rock, why on earth are you bringing this up? That is a great question! If we look at the readings from our Lectionary that password that unites all of today’s readings is “Judgment Day.” Amos is terrified by it, and encourages his readers to do the same. Paul in I Thessalonians is encouraged and hopeful, getting meet Jesus in the clouds! It is hopeful and beautiful. How they see this event tells us much of the mindset of these two leaders. 


Amos the Prophet sees a harsh and scary day, and offers little hope.

Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!

Why do you want the day of the Lord?

It is darkness, not light;

as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear;

or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,

and was bitten by a snake.

It is a hard day, because Amos sees no hope in it. Now his job was to forewarn God’s children that the path they are on will lead to destruction. He is doing his job, and he is doing it rather well. Dark. Hopeless. And the emphasis is definitely on Judgment.


Paul, in I Thessalonians, oozes hope. He is talking to God’s Children who had only heard the images of the end of time from people like Amos. Paul has hope. Paul shares hope. Paul gives hope.

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. ...we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.

There are no worries here. Dead or alive, we are alive in Christ.


At Sarah’s memorial service yesterday, that was the tone. At the beginning of the bulletin, we shared some words from the instructions, the rubrics, in our Prayer Book. 

The liturgy for the dead is an Easter liturgy. It finds all meaning in the

resurrection. Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we too, shall be

raised. The liturgy, therefore, is characterized by joy, in the certainty that

"neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,

nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else

in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ

Jesus our Lord."

We wore white because it was an Easter liturgy. Our funeral rite is about Resurrection not Death.


The difference between Amos and Paul was simple. The difference between Amos and Paul was Jesus. Paul had hope because of Jesus.


In the parable Jesus told, he described the Kingdom of Heaven with 10 bridesmaids. 5 thought they were fine, and did not prepare and cover their bases. 5 hoped for the best, but were ready for the worst. Five were foolish, and five were wise. Five were prepared, and 5 were not. Five took the time, and five did not.


With all the traumas we have all felt this year, (see Wednesday, November 4th’s sermon) it has really come out. Some are not responding well because they have not been prepared for what may come. It is not easy to do the daily personal work of faith to trust in God even when there is no light. But daily I pray, read God’s word, and focus on my interior life so that I can be ready come what may. I can speak for me, have the recent times been hard? Yes. For all of us. But I know I am in a better place praying, reading my Bible, and doing my interior work than if I did not.


My hope is in Jesus. And Jesus is bigger than anything and everything that I could face. And it follows, as Paul said in Romans, “If God is for us, who can be against us!” (Romans 8:31)

Sarah’s passing is fresh on my mind. A few weeks back I was able to visit with her for the first time. With the extraordinary nature of her diagnosis I was allowed to do a home visit. And while I was there, she asked me to do Last Rites, or the official title “Ministration at the Time of Death.” Now, I am always ready to do this. As a priest, one never knows. Sarah did not seem to the point where she needed it, but like one of the Bridesmaids in today’s story, she wanted to be ready. She did not want to be caught unprepared. In my 30+ years of ministry she was the only person well enough to ask for Last Rites. It brought her a comfort because she had the hope of Christ. As I hope we all do.


When the time came for us to do the Ministration at the Time of Death again, it was a different feel. Her energy was gone. Her family had gathered to celebrate who she was in Christ, and acknowledged that Christ himself would soon be welcoming her home. As sad as it was for us, it was a victory for her. It was the victory of Easter right here on Virginia Street in Ashland.


Feedback says more about the giver than the receiver. How we face death says a lot about who we are, not about Death, really, and definitely not about God. Amos had no hope. Paul gushed hope. We open our Burial Rite with these words, because we are a people of Hope! 


I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord.

Whoever has faith in me shall have life,

even though he die.

And everyone who has life,

and has committed himself to me in faith,

shall not die for ever.


As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives

and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.

After my awaking, he will raise me up;

and in my body I shall see God.

I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him

who is my friend and not a stranger.


For none of us has life in himself,

and none becomes his own master when he dies.

For if we have life, we are alive in the Lord,

and if we die, we die in the Lord.

So, then, whether we live or die,

we are the Lord's possession.


Happy from now on

are those who die in the Lord!

So it is, says the Spirit,

for they rest from their labors.


Friends, we are a people of the Resurrection. Judgment Day can be seen a lot of ways, but how I see it is a mirror of my interior life. Are you an Amos? Are you a Paul? We are all the Bridesmaids, are we doing the work daily to be ready? It is up to you. Everyone is invited to the party, and may we all be ready when the time comes. 


And because we never know the day or the hour, the time to get ready is now. 


[Singing] People get ready, there's a train comin'

You don't need no baggage, you just get on board

All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'

You don't need no ticket you just thank the lord...




Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Year A Proper 26 WED 2020 Any Grace Is Two Things

 Year A Proper 26 WEDNESDAY, 4 November 2020

Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Any Grace is Two Things”


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 13:10-17

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


Today I want to look at what lies ahead. This has been a year of multiple traumas. And traumas take time to heal. Even if they were for the good, any time there is a trauma it will take a time to heal.


Last Friday I intentionally allowed myself to experience trauma for my benefit, and for all our benefit. I got vaccines. Because of my age, my doctor told me it was time for me to get Shingles and Pneumonia shots, and like I do every year, I got the Flu shot. Silly me got them all at once, because I hate shots. And I was told I need to take a day or two to just chillax and let my body respond to this intentional dose of hostile agents. The pharmacist told me I had to take them in separate arms. Thank God she did. I am still feeling them 6 days later. It was a very minor trauma, but it takes time to heal.


In today’s story, we are dealing with two traumas. The woman in today’s story had been crippled for 18 years. Think of all the aches and pains, the troubles, the stares from children and the social derision or need for assistance. Her deliverance would take her through a range of emotions. Exuberant joy for the gift from Jesus, horror at what she had been through, rage that it had ever happened in the first place. She would have to redo all the systems that she had set up over almost two decades. Her healing took a moment, AND it would take her the rest of her life. Any Grace is like that, lightning strike and slow burn both. God plays the long game. Miracle and a lifetime of discipline go hand in glove.


The other trauma is the systematic social trauma that people tried to inflict on her. Systems, any system, seeks balance, equilibrium. Whether biologic, atmospheric, social, systems knock down any nails that stick out. With her healing, this woman had become a problem. The Sabbath was a form of control, not an act of faith. And by being healed on the Sabbath, she was blamed and rebuked as was Jesus, the cause of this upset.


This interaction always reminds me of the scene with Frodo and Gandalf when Frodo informs the wizard that he had been declared a “Troublemaker!” May we all be so blessed by raising up Good Trouble as John Lewis called it.


But Jesus raised the attention of all those there, by countering their attempt to maintain order in the system by hammering down the sticking out nail. Jesus would not let more trauma be added to her, and neither would he accept.


Traumas take time to heal. Any trauma. We have been through a number of traumas this year. I could not even begin to name them all. Some of us are celebrating this morning, but it will take a long time to heal. Some of us are feeling traumatized this morning, and that will, too. The closing of the schools, the deaths of 230,000+ Americans and over a million worldwide, the unveiling of our systemic and systematic racism that came out over the summer months, and that is before we get to politics, it will take years for us to heal. But heal we will. Like the woman, think on the truth of any Grace.


Any Grace is two things, lightning strike and slow burn both. God plays the long game. Miracle and lifetime discipline learning to live with it go hand in glove. Today I pray for God’s Grace for our Nation, and together let us do the work to enable real, true, lifelong change for all God’s children. On earth as it is in heaven is our prayer. May it be so. Amen


Monday, November 2, 2020

Year A All Saints' Day 2020 Let Go Dear Saints

 Year A All Saints Day, 1 November 2020

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (video & in-person)

“Let Go, Dear Saints”


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.


1 John 3:1-3

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.


Matthew 5:1-12

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


You may have heard this old joke, but I man pulls over to get directions after getting hopelessly lost in the middle of nowhere. Late, desperate, the man asks the gentleman sitting in his rocker on the porch if he had ever heard of his destination. 


“Yessir, I have! Mighty nice place, that is.” responded the man on the porch. “Wonderful!” said the lost man, “Can you tell me how to get there?”


The man on the porch looked up and out of the corner of his eye, obviously thinking hard on it. And then he shook his head, “Well the way I reckon it, you can’t get there from here.” 


I feel that way a lot these days. I know where I want to be. I feel at times lost and hopeless, and I wonder how we are ever going to get to that better place. And what I fear is that we cannot get there from here.


In life, that is so much of what it is. 

  • Where do you want to be? 

  • Where are you now? 

  • What will it take to get from where you are to where you want to be?


Today’s Gospel reading is not a to-do list, as I have too often heard, and I have preached on that before. Today’s Gospel is a set of conditions, some great, others not, but notice wherever people start from, they can still get to Blessed. Jesus says it. I believe it. Unlike the man on the porch, no matter where you find yourself, you can get to the Kingdom of God from there. Poor in spirit, mourning, or meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful, or pure in heart, peacemaker, persecuted, or reviled, no matter our starting point, in the Kingdom we can, we will, be blessed.


But that is in no way saying that the way will be easy.


We get hung up by what the Scriptures call “the sin that clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). That image of the sin clinging to us reminds me of a story.


A little boy was over at his grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving, back in the old days when we could get together. And he saw, perched up on the shelf, Grandma’s candy jar. Everything for Thanksgiving Dinner was in the oven, so the table was being set, or football was being watched. The little boy found himself all alone, with the step-stool and the candy jar. He carefully stepped up. Took off the lid, and stuck his hand in to get the precious candy. 


At that moment, in walked Mom and Grandma both, and out came, “WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING UP THERE!?!?” The little boy jumped straight down, but stuck on his hand was the candy jar. His mom came over and tried to pull it off his hand. It would not come. Grandma and Mom both pulled. It would not come. And they used oil, butter, and everything they could think of, forgetting dinner in the oven this became such an issue. Dad got involved, and WD-40 or a doctor, or both, came up. Then the little boy finally said, “Mom?” He had remained quiet amongst all these very worked up adults. “Mom?” 


“Yes, dear.”


“My hand is stuck.”


“We know, dear. That is why we have been working so hard to get it off.”


“But Mom, maybe I should open up my hand?” And he did, letting go of the candy that had cost him quite the worry and the stern glares. And out of the jar his hand slid.

That sin that clings so closely, is bad, but for me it is not as much a worry as the sin that clings so closely that we will not let go of. We are stuck, like the boy, but we want the prize when letting it go will set us free. We want that thing that will keep us in its snare, so we will not let go. And letting go is the only path to freedom.


Picture a toddler not wanting to be left in the nursery, wrapping herself around your leg. It helps if you do not hold onto her while she holds onto you.


Today is All Saints’ Day. And why do I bring up sin? I mentioned this verse in my article last Tuesday, the verse that always comes to mind on All Saints’...


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. Hebrews 12:1


Friends, as we remember those who have come before us, who we believe are in the loving hand of a loving God, for their sake we live the faith NOW. “The race that is set before us…” and it sure is hard to run if we are dragging a lot of baggage around with us. It might cling to us, but we need not cling back.


Like the Disney song from Frozen, “Let it go, let it go…” These days when we have frustration fatigue, or fatigue frustration, it could go either way. Some days it is just frustration frustration or fatigue fatigue. Whatever, in the midst of these hard days, what would enable you to live your best life, your most godly life, by simply letting it go?


The Saints surround us. The Saints applaud us. The Saints uphold us. Like Jesus, they lived, they know how it is. So many distractions. So many disruptions. We know what we should do. Will we?


I have had the great joy of being with our dear sister, Sarah Sanders a few times in the last few weeks. She is so brave. She is coming to the end. Every time I visit she shares her love of you, this Church. After my last visit I asked if there was anything she might want to share. She on this All Saints’ Day gives us a message that is eternal and timeless. 


From Sarah: 

To all my friends at St. James’ and all those in Ashland, it’s been an honor to be a part of this community for so many years! God has helped me and I know he will honor all of you for many years. I love all of you! God bless you!


Any of the biblical saints could have said something similar. St. Peter. St. Paul. St. James the Less. St. Sarah. If we are in Christ, we are amongst the saints of God.


The joy of this day is that we are a part of something huge. Something that precedes us. Something that enables, engages, and transforms us. Something that will survive us. Something that is eternal. 


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.


What we do here today echoes through eternity, for Love Never Ends. Amen