Monday, January 25, 2021

Year B 3rd Epiphany 2021 Dropping My Nets

 Year B 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, 24 January 2021

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

“Dropping My Nets”

Collect: Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 1:14-20

After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Our collect for this week, which you have not heard yet because we are doing Morning Prayers rather than a Eucharist service, begins this way: 

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation…

Give us Grace to answer readily

Give us Grace to answer readily.

Even in our response we are dependent on God. Letting go is hard. We are tied to what we let go of, so often. It is not tangible objects, necessarily. It is so often Identity. We are called to let go our veneer of who we are so that we can truly find who we are.

Yes, we are called to let go of our false self to find our true self in Christ. We are invited to find who we really are.

These boys, these supposed fisherman, ensnared by societal and familial expectations had planned to be at these nets all their lives. It is the family business. I bet Zebedee was quite the character, and standing up to him, or rather walking away from him could not have been an easy thing. 

I have spoke about this before, but change can and does happen. But it usually only happens when certain things take place.

Your Dissatisfaction (D) with what is


Your Vision (V) for what could be 


Those First Steps (F) to that Change


Than any Resistance to Change

D x V x F > R

Once we reach that tipping point change can happen. And that is what Jesus offered.

I wonder what was going through Andrew and Simon and James and John’s minds that morning? Were they grumbling? They were not doing the fun thing of fishing out on the water. They were on the shore, doing the necessary grudge work to enable the fun to come.

I trust they knew Jesus, and had heard him. Maybe they were at his baptism? But something gave them the Vision to IMMEDIATELY follow him. And Jesus gave them the first steps. Drop your nets, and follow me. 

Drop your nets, and follow me.

They left their nets. 

When he called them, they left their nets.

What are our nets?

What are the things that we busy ourselves with, fill our days with, focus our energy, attention, and resources to? Even more, what are our nets when Jesus is calling?

I saw a bumper sticker one time, meant in jest. “Look BUSY. Jesus is coming.” Now, that is what we are talking about today. But the opposite of that bumper sticker.

What is the BUSY work that we provide our hands and our minds to make ourselves feel better? What are our nets?

It might be entertainment. It might be our work. It might be our hobbies. It might be our club or organization. It might be a relationship, or relationships.

Whatever it might be, it is our net. And Jesus calls us away.

This week most of us watched the Inauguration. The tone that was set from the beginning was one of healing, and unity. It did not ignore the trauma of the pandemic, far from it. President Biden actually paused and prayed in silence for the 2 million lost souls.

I was deeply moved many times, but when I cried it was at a singular point. It was when Garth Brooks sang Amazing Grace. And after the cynicism and ugliness of recents years, nay days, on the steps where an insurgency was attempted mere weeks ago, I saw leaders of this nation, red and blue, singing of the Grace of God calling each and every one of us to our better selves, the better angels of our characters. For a brief moment they let go of their Red or Blue identities and remembered who they were in the Grace of God, united.

Friends, in the days to come, may we hear that call as well. We are wretches saved by Grace, each and every one. We are called to that identity, sinners saved by Grace. And Jesus calls us still.

“Come and follow me.” 

But Jesus, we don’t know where you are going!

“Come and follow me.” 

But Jesus, this net is so important.

“Come and follow me.” 

But Jesus, I am not worthy.

“Come and follow me.” 

But Jesus, I do not have all the details from you yet.

“Come and follow me.” 

But Jesus, I don’t want to.

“Come and follow me.” 

But Jesus, can’t somebody else do it?

“Come and follow me.” 

Friends, God has heard all the excuses that have been given, could have been given. And yet, still Jesus calls, “Come and follow me.”

And immediately we…

And immediately I… 

The end of that sentence is up to you. It is up to me. 

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ… Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Year B 2nd Epiphany WED 2021 Shine

 Year B 2nd Sunday After Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 20 January 2021

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


Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Ephesians 5:1-14 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints. Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

I was speaking with the Vestry on Monday, and I talked about how I would be doubling down on emphasizing our commitment and devotion to Jesus. Our allegiance to the Kingdom of God must be greater than any worldly commitments. On this day of all days, I have to emphasize this.

When Paul was writing the Ephesians, we are looking at a time of petty and corrupt officials, folks who focused on the minors or the abhorrent. He urged the Church in Ephasus to be radically different from those in the culture surrounding them. We do not stoop to their level. We do not acknowledge these if they are in our midst. 

This is hard. We have to be beyond good. Blameless. Pure. Set Apart. 

He speaks of being set out in the light so that we can be pure.

Think of bones, sitting in the desert sun. The light, so strong, so blinding, strips all that is not pure away. 

Children of the Light, that is our calling. 

A phrase I used with the Vestry is that we need to share light, not heat. That is one of the rules of thumb I attempt to use personally when I share things, either in a sermon or online. Now we cannot control how people hear what we say, or receive what we write, but we still need to be as “enlightening” as we possibly can.

Paul calls us to rid ourselves of “obscene, silly, and vulgar talk.” Now I do not hear him speaking to playful banter or joking with friends, but taking it to the vulgar is never appropriate. We all know of examples where this was done, and how we should dismiss these folks and walk away. What should we do?

“Let there be thanksgiving,” Paul tells us. Our speech should be appreciative. We can find the good. We can share the positive. This is not being Pollyanna, but rather a life approach. We need not dwell in the sewer. We need to stoop to being hostile or vane. We do not have to match tit-for-tat. Christ Jesus came for us to have another way. That is our Good News. 

On this day of all days, I thank God that I can be a Child of the Light, not to enlighten myself, but to share what I have found and make the world a better place. If we all did that, what a world it could be. Amen

Monday, January 18, 2021

Year B 2nd Epiphany 2021 Eternal Truths in a Self-Absorbed Times

 Year B 2nd Sunday of Epiphany, 17 January 2021

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

“Eternal Truths in a Self-Absorbed Time”

Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Good morning, friends. I so appreciate you, and I treasure that I get to serve as the Rector of St. James the Less. Even in these days, especially in these days, we need each other all the more.

Since last March, our world has turned upside down. And yet, we are still here. We are entering into a week that will test the mettle of our character, both as a nation as each of us individually. Never would I, could I, have imagined what took place on January 6th at the Capitol. 

Harrison had recorded his sermon before the events on the 6th, which is why we did not hear him allude to it in his message. I was able to add two prayers for our nation, though. Because of that I wanted to peel back the cover on how things happen now. In my 30 years of ministry, there have been many a night when I had to rewrite a sermon on a Saturday night because of what transpired that day. Now, we are preaching to empty rooms days before the sermon is delivered to you. So it takes days to prepare the sermon, 10 minutes to give it, 20 if you are Harrison... 

(Love you, Harrison.)

...10 minutes to preach it, a day to edit, a half day to upload. The added steps take significant time and effort to make it happen. Think back to March when I was holding up shaky hymn sheets compared to where we are now. And this will be where we are for the coming months. 

For most of us, that is so hard to hear. We are tired of this. We want to get back in the church. We want to get back together. We want to shake hands and hug necks. When I think of Sundays past, my favorite parts were the Greeting Line after service, and even more, serving each of you in the Eucharist. Taken, blessed, broken, and given. That is how we looked at the bread, the host. But it could also be a description of us. I would even say that it should be a description of us. 

We are a privileged lot. Many of us have comfortable lives, and have been relatively protected over the last few months. We have been Taken from the hardships, the true hardships, that so many of our brothers and sisters have faced. We have been Blessed. We have the freedom and opportunity to still worship, even though apart, jointly. We interact in the chat or the comments. We connect in classes and online coffee hours. We call, send cards, share memes and jokes, to make the days go by easier. 

But looking ahead, these are the hard days. These are the days when we are done, or feel like we are. A vaccine has miraculously emerged in mere months. Wow! But even so, we need to decide to continue on doing the hard work and remaining apart for the safety of the most vulnerable. We are being Broken, broken of the need to get our own way, broken of the privilege of demands, broken from the desire to ignore the hard truths that this virus a little over a year old has killed 2 million people worldwide, just shy of 400,000 in the USA alone. They say, “Ignorance is Bliss.” We are being broken of the privilege of remaining Ignorant.

But like the bread, we are finally Given. I believe that if nothing else, these last months have taught us how much we need Church. Stephanie, my wife, was talking to me about this. She was so right, and I hope she will write this up as an article. She gets all the credit. But we miss Church, and will not take it for granted ever again. We miss each other. We miss what we are about. I believe that coming out of this time of being Taken, Blessed, and Broken, we will see a season of being Given. I predict that we will see a resurgence and renaissance of sharing and incarnating the Good News of Jesus Christ! The world needs Good News now as much as any time in human history.

In today’s Gospel reading, I eventually needed to get back to the Gospel reading, we see Nathaniel in his cynicism. When his brother says he has found the promised Messiah, Nathaniel expresses his doubts. When Nathaniel hears Jesus is from Nazareth, we hear his true thoughts. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

I love his brother’s response. I think that we can shift and use this very often in the emerging world post-pandemic. “Come and see.” Nathaniel was taken from where he was, blessed by his brother, broken of his old way of seeing, and given out as a disciple and apostle of his Lord Jesus Christ. 

Friends, do not see these days as a punishment, but rather a crucible. The Church will be here to proclaim Truth and Love, and to stand in stark opposition to any who say otherwise. Pilate asked, “What is Truth?” Jesus was silent in his trial, but had previously taught his followers that he was the Truth. (“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” John 14:6)And more so, “The fool says in their heart, ‘There is no God.’” (Psalm 10:4) But we know that “God is love” (I John 4:8) Truth and Love. That is the business we need to be about.

Friends, I do not know what today will bring. And I do not know what will transpire between when I record this and when it airs on Sunday. Or between now for me, and when you hear it. But these eternal truths are the same today, tomorrow, and always.

We are called to bring light, not heat to the world. The world has enough heat with all that is transpiring. We are called to bring out the God-flavors, not to leave a sour taste in peoples’ mouths. We are called to share and live in Truth, for Truth will set us free. We are called to Love, for they will know we are Christians BY OUR LOVE. Nothing else. 

Love, Peace, and Grace be yours! And get ready to be Given, to the Glory of God! Amen


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Year B 1st Epiphany WED 2021 Called to Faith

Year B 1st Epiphany WEDNESDAY, 13 January 2021
Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Called to Faith”

Collect: Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Luke 10:1-17
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me." The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!"

I love this story, this sending out. That is what an apostle is, one who is sent. We are apostles, just like these original 70.

In the world that is, we need to remember that our faith is found in going out. Our faith is found in having to rely on faith, not work or preparation or trust funds or whatever. We have to trust in God, that is faith.

Think of how radical these instructions are from Jesus:

Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!'

Go, and I will be with you. Some will be with you, and will be blessed. Some will be against you, and it is not you. It is them. Your blessing will remain, just not with them. And that is not on you.

Somewhere along the way, especially here in America, we have equated blessing with success. Here it is very clear, God calls us to FAITH, never to SUCCESS. I cannot tell you how many a deflated fellow minister or faith leader I have had to remind of this over the years. Sometimes even myself. The Prosperity Gospel is so ubiquitous, and so heretical.

I saw a funny joke the other day, it had a picture of Jeff Bezos who owns most of Amazon. And it said, “The richest man in the world does not have hair. Let no one tell you there is a cure for baldness.” Our responsibility is faith. There is no cure for that. We do not want one. Success is a temptation, like hair for a bald man.

There are a lot of things we think we can control. But it all comes back to faith. We have to lean on those promises from God and know that God is with us in and through it all. It is especially important in these days.

Harrison, in his sermon on Sunday, talked about how strange it is to preach to an empty room. We cast our bread on the water, and trust it will return. That is faith. We toss our sermons on the internet. That is faith. You do a kindness for a neighbor or a complete stranger. That is faith. Friends, when we take tentative, risky first steps, that is faith. And Jesus is with us. We take these steps in faith, but if it is not received, THAT IS OKAY! God sees our faith, not our results. Any results are God’s anyways.

Monday night, we were working on our budget, and talk about a step of faith. We are stepping into the unknown, looking back to see how God has been with us in the past, and will be in the future. That is our calling. That is our hope.

Step out on faith, friends. God is with you! Amen.