Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Year B Holy Week WED 2021 Omission and Commission

Year B Holy Week WEDNESDAY, 31 March 2021

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

"Omission and Commission" 

Collect: Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Reading (Lesson) from the Gospel of John 13:21-32

At supper with his friends, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, "Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me." The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples-- the one whom Jesus loved-- was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, "Lord, who is it?" Jesus answered, "It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish." So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, "Do quickly what you are going to do." Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, "Buy what we need for the festival"; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once."

We see sins in different ways. Some see sins as mortal sins, and some venial. A venial sin weakens the sinner's union with God, it is not a deliberate turning away from him and so does not wholly block the inflow of sanctifying grace. While a mortal sin is defined as a grave action that is committed in full knowledge of its gravity and with the full consent of the sinner's will.

In the Anglican tradition we do not see it this way, but it is similar to how we see it. We speak of things done, and things left undone. Sins of Commission and Omission. There are many things I do not do that I could and maybe should. They are undone, but the things that tend to keep me up at night are the things which I choose to do. Those sins which I commit. I do it. I know I am doing it, and I do it anyway. God help me. God forgive me.

We all tend to “rank” sins. But sin is sin. It is “missing the mark.” An archery term, a sin is the distance between where your arrow hit, and where the bullseye is.

When Peter wanted to know who was going to betray Jesus, Jesus was very clear. And he did not try to stop it. In fact, he says to Judas, his betrayer, “Do quickly what you are going to do.” It is so heartbreaking for me. The Gospel of John says Satan entered him at that moment. But to think of Jesus looking me in the eye, Jesus who loves me and chose me as a disciple, and yet I choose to commit this sin. In John’s Gospel, this is literally moments after Judas had his feet washed by Jesus.

Judas is said to have been upset over the perfume Mary anointed Jesus’ feet which he thought should have been sold so he could steal some of the proceeds.

And sin he committed. He sold Jesus away for thirty pieces of silver, and then regretted his actions. Returning the blood money and then committing suicide by hanging himself.  [Matthew 27]

But I am too often like Judas. I am too often like Peter, denying him. But even when I am Jesus still looks me in the eye. Still cleanses me, not literally my feet, but where I truly need cleansing.

I wonder what Jesus would have said to Judas? In the book Three Gospels by Reynolds Price, the author actually speculates what a conversation between Jesus and Judas could have been like. He takes from the verse saying Jesus appeared to all the disciples. And he wonders is even Judas beyond Jesus’ Grace? Are any of us?

I believe we are all loved and wanted, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. When we sin, mortal or venial, intentional or accidental, through things done or left undone. In all of our lostness we all are found. Thanks be to God! Amen

Monday, March 29, 2021

Year B Palm Sunday 2021 Contradictions

 Year B Palm Sunday, 28 March 2021

Video and In-Person at St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA


Collect: Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 14:1-15:47

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he came with the twelve. And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, “Surely, not I?” He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.”

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered.’

But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said vehemently, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all of them said the same.

They went to a place called Gethsemane…

Friends, good morning. We have not been together in months for an outside service. We have not been together in OVER A YEAR for anything indoor. And yet we are still together, we are still a church, we are still a family. Thanks be to God!

Our God is bigger than COVID. Our God is bigger than the legitimate fears that kept us apart. Our love for each other and our love of our community made us make the hard choices, the decisions to remain apart for the safety of all. Thank you for your faithfulness and resilience. Your faith has kept me going during these hard, dark days. I can say that I love you all more now than when this started, and that is saying a lot.

Seeing this church empty has been hard. But this building, no matter how beautiful, is not the Church of Jesus Christ. We are the Church. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and the Body of Christ. “Now you are the Body of Christ, and individually members of it!” [I Cor. 12:27] Hold onto that as we must remain apart for just a little bit longer. We cannot stop playing halfway through the 4th Quarter. God will reward our faithfulness. 

I got permission from the bishop to do what we are doing today. It is Passion Sunday, when we remember the events of the week in their remarkable detail. And what always strikes me is the love behind these hard choices, especially the self-denying choices that Jesus’ makes. But behind that, this is a week of stark dichotomies, a week of glaring contradictions.

This morning we stopped the Gospel reading as they went out to Gethsemane. Gethsemane was, and still is, an olive orchard in the Kidron Valley separating Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. (Get it, mount of olives with an oil press at the bottom. These are not dumb people.) We will resume the Gospel at that point as we depart and go out into our Holy Week, hearing the story up to when they bury the crucified Jesus.

But as I mentioned, this is a week of huge contradictions. 

Here are just a few.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was foretold, even the nature of his entry. Had he come in on a mighty stallion, the Romans would have seen him as a direct threat and quashed it immediately. But on a little donkey, he is no threat, he is a joke. But who is the joke on? Jesus on the donkey, or the Empire and its standard bearers that he mocks? He knows his power does not come from might and strength. His power comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. This is a contradiction the Romans and many others cannot comprehend.

Jesus lives in poverty. He only has the robe wears and the cloak he sleeps and wraps up in as his possessions when he is crucified. And yet, during this whole week he smells of expensive perfume. The alabaster jar of perfume so lavishly poured out would cover him for days, his final days, the only days he has left. The act of love that she did is still remembered and cherished, just as Jesus said it would be. But those whom he encountered that week would have smelled it and would have been confused how one so humble could reek of riches. As the Roman soldiers beat and mocked him did he have the air of a king? This on top of having the presence and majesty of one who was above what was happening to him? In his silence he showed his authority and majesty. More contradictions in so confusing a week.

Many of us have a cross, a piece of jewelry we cherish. But it is an instrument of torture and death which we now see as love divine all loves excelling. We see it as the symbol of Jesus the Christ, and wear it proudly. But executing people is a symbol of Empire, of Government using its power over the individual. Jesus was a threat to Empire. The religious authorities said as much when they demanded his execution openly and without any hesitation. He was so much of a threat they thought he had to die. Empire silenced this Silent One, thinking it could end something God had begun. But the Cross is a contradiction. We embrace a symbol of death. Do we hug a skull and crossbones? Think on it if Jesus were hung, or electrocuted. Think of how ridiculous it would seem to have a dangling noose from a necklace or an electric chair we see as ultimate love. Executions have always disturbed me deeply, Jesus’ and our government’s. I thank God for the actions Virginia has chosen to make this week. Contradictions abound from our reading today, and in our recent past.

I must keep it short today because of the length of the readings, but the last contradiction I will mention is the one that still stabs our hearts in its callousness. Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him, he even told him so as he departed the Passover Meal. Very likely, the dipping in the bowl was the bitter herb that is included in the meal. Think on that as Judas goes out, with that vile, bitter taste in his mouth. Such is the nature of what Jesus did. And when Judas returns, what does he do to point out Jesus to the officials? He kisses him. He kisses him. This story is so ubiquitous that the name Judas now means traitor or betrayer. A Judas’ Kiss is betrayal in motion. But of all the things he could have done to point Jesus out, that he chose a kiss is the most horrible, the most condemning, the most damning thing of all. A kiss should never be a Contradiction, but there it is.

In this week of Contradictions, may we remain true. Recognize and wrestle with the dichotomies. That is good for you. But be like Jesus, and keep your eyes on the prize. Keep the end in sight. Remember who has been with you the entire time. God is faithful to be with you in the end. And after the end as we enter into the beginning of Eternity. 

Blessings on your Holy Week, and thank you for the faithfulness you have shown since we were together last. Amen

The rest of the Gospel, as we go out into Holy Week:

Mark 14:32-15:47

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” All of them deserted him and fled.

A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and

‘you will see the Son of Man

seated at the right hand of the Power,’

and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

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

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Year B Lent 5 2021High and Lifted Up

Year B Lent 5, 21 March 2021

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

“High and Lifted Up”

Collect: Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

John 12:20-33

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

For something to be born, something else has to move on. To become a spouse, one’s single ways need to be released, for the marriage to last anyway. To become a parent, less responsible ways to need go by the wayside. The old must pass away. The new must come.

Jesus warns us today: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Now some of that change is slow, and some abrupt. I remember when I had a come to Jesus moment that changed forever the direction of my life.

Now in telling this, I have to let you know a few things. I grew up in the church, and never had a dramatic calling or radical conversion. Like the kids here, I grew up in the knowledge of God’s love and tried to live a godly life from my early days. But we all have moments when things become more real than the way they were just moments before.

I was in seminary, and Stephanie and I were poor as dirt.  We used to take on extra work sometimes where we could get a meal for free and get paid, too.  Babysitting Wednesday night prayer meetings and Bible studies were a big one for a few years.

Another one of my many part time jobs I strung together to make ends meet was at the Warner Bros. Store at Regency Mall.  Remember when Regency was the nice mall? It was like the Disney Store, but more snarky like Bugs Bunny.  With all the Warner Bros. properties, they had more than cartoons to hawk.  At the back of our store’s wall, we had a big video screen.  It was about 10 feet tall and about 15 wide.  This was when really big TVs were still a novelty. It ran videos all day long.  It was about an hour and half long, so it was not too bad during the shifts, enough change to not be annoying.  And a new video would come out every two months or so. 

During the normal routine of the store, one of the jobs was to be a greeter at the front of the store.  It was friendly and helped with loss prevention.  I was often assigned up front because, as one of my managers put it, “You sound like you actually like people.”  This was true, and I was glad she thought so. 

Seminary’s struggles were no fun, and I knew the toll it was taking on Stephanie and our finances.  One day, the manager asked would I consider applying for one of the manager jobs that was coming open.  It had insurance, a full-time salary, and it was now. No delays. No piecemealing a living together. It was safe, and much easier than the life we were living. It was such an answer to so many of our worries that I seriously considered dropping out of seminary for a while to get our heads above water.

Soon after the offer I had a dream. Now remember, this was my dream, and in our dreams it is our mind’s way of working out in visuals and symbols what we are pondering. And sometimes, I believe, God can use those somnific imaginings to shape our days.  I was working the front of the store greeting, and it was during the holiday rush.  People were crowding in the store.  There were several oohs and aahs as people came into the festive store.  Several, pointing at the video wall said very clearly, “Look at that!  Wow!”  I remember thinking in the dream, “They’ve never seen a TV before?  Sheesh!”  But people kept pouring in, many exclaiming and pointing to the wall.

Finally in the dream, I turned around.  And there, in the store, there was no video wall.  People were streaming in and pointing, not at a TV, but to Jesus on the cross.  People were standing around in awe, with Jesus bruised and bloodied.  Some were astounded.  Some were amazed.  Some were horrified. But none of them could look away.  In my dream I remember saying, “What have I done?  I’ve sold out.”  And in a full body jerk, I jumped up, wide awake, calling out.  The power of the cross reached across time and into my dream reminding me of the who, and the why, and the how of my being in seminary.

The thought of jumping ship and leaving seminary behind was no longer a temptation.  The power of the cross had reached across time and space and jolted me back to what I was to be about and who I was to be.  My struggles were minor in comparison to this Son of Man, high and lifted up.  I looked on this vision of death, believed, and was saved. Just as Jesus promised.

I was hesitant to share this, and it is not something I share quickly.  That dream changed my life.  It was so personal and so real, I have been a different person since then.  But in my weakness and frailty, I point to the power and wisdom that saved me.

That Cross dream became a moment of choice, a moment of choice that all Christ followers had. Jesus had that choice, too. In this moment in today’s readings when the Voice of God affirms him. This was a precursor to Gethsemane, when he asked a last time if this was the only way. As Jesus so clearly said: 

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Jesus chose us. Jesus chose the True Path, which never is the Easy Path. We are called to Christ like the little children he welcomed. We are also called to follow Christ in the way of the Cross. We are among those drawn to Jesus, high and lifted up. And in that symbol and in that name, we are given our purpose and our existence. Thanks be to God!

In all of our followings, may God be glorified. Jesus was lifted up to God’s honor and glory. In our choice to love all in every way, we are called to do the same, and God will be glorified in that as well. 

And in eternity, the sufferings of these moments will be so quickly forgotten. And we will be eternally thankful for the choices for Christ we make each day on this side of heaven. What we do here today, in the here and now, echoes through eternity. Amen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Year B Lent 3 WED 2021 The How of Faith

Year B Lent 3 WEDNESDAY, 11 March 2021

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

"The How of Faith"

Collect: Give ear to our prayers, O Lord, and direct the way of your servants in safety under your protection, that, amid all the changes of our earthly pilgrimage, we may be guarded by your mighty aid; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

John 8:12-20

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’ Then the Pharisees said to him, ‘You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.’ Jesus answered, ‘Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgement is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.’ Then they said to him, ‘Where is your Father?’ Jesus answered, ‘You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.’ He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

In my last few sermons I have looked at Why we do what we do, but this morning I want to look at the How.

Jesus is the Light, and because of that, we have been illuminated. In our Romans reading, Paul spells it out quite plainly.

  1. through [Jesus Christ] we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; 

  2. we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God

  3. we also boast in our sufferings, 

  4. knowing that suffering produces endurance, and 

  5. endurance produces character, and 

  6. character produces hope, and 

  7. hope does not disappoint us, because 

  8. God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

There is so much truth in that sequence. We are even here because of what Christ did for us, through the Grace of God in Christ we are even here.

We are proud of that, boast in it even. We are loved and that love makes us proud.

That pride by association enables us to be with God through thick and thin, the glory and the suffering.

But that suffering, while hard, is not all bad. It produces in us the ability keep on keeping on, endurance, the long haul.

And when that long game takes its effect on us it produces Christlikeness in us, character for another word for it. 

And when we see what Christ can do in us, we see with the eyes of faith what God can do in the world. That gives us hope. Hope comes from this journey with God that God and God’s way will eventually win the day.

And that hope is sure, because the God who was true in the past, will be today, tomorrow, and always.

And even more, with the Holy Spirit on our side, we are unstoppable. 

Before this even started, before we even began, Christ loved us and did whatever he could to clear the way for us to be with him forever, and even more, for us to be active agents of grace for him in the world.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” May we make that so in our lives, and how we follow Jesus, in how we live in the light. Amen

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Year B Lent 2 WEDNESDAY 2021 God is Working

Year B Lent 2, 3 March 2021 Video Service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA “God is Working” Collect: O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. A Reading from John 5:1-18 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, ‘It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.’ But he answered them, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Take up your mat and walk.” ’ They asked him, ‘Who is the man who said to you, “Take it up and walk”?’ Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had disappeared in the crowd that was there. Later Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.’ The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. Therefore the Jews started persecuting Jesus, because he was doing such things on the sabbath. But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working.’ For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God. There is no day off for doing good. We know from Mark that the “Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” But yes, there are some who have their priorities out of whack. A few weeks ago, Harrison and I were talking and pondering what is wrong with how we are able to communicate in our society now. I do not think we are enemies, and I think we share much that it is in common. However, we are in a place where our priorities are in competition, and because we are often blind to our assumptions we are not able to speak to our differences, much less communicate our differences and come to a common place. I was had an amazing experience. I was at a Camp Convention, which gathered camp leadership from all over the East Coast at the same place at the same time. It was amazing. Camp people are fun people, and the diversity was such a thrill to be a part of. I went to one workshop where the leader led us through a popular group dynamics exercise called Alligator River. You can google and read about it in detail, but the gist of it is that there is a woman trying to save her fiancĂ© at the point of death, and to do so she has to get across Alligator River. She tries several ways, and finally the only way to get a ride is to sleep with a scumbag. Because it was life and death she agreed. She arrived to save her fiancĂ© but when he learned how she got there he dumped her. Of the six characters in the story, we were then tasked with rating the best character to the worst. Now none were “pure.” But what the ranking that we each did separately showed was our underlying assumptions as to what was righteous and what was not. We then got into preset groups to come up with a common answer to this conundrum. I was in a group with many ethnic groups, and few different religions. There were Hasidic camp directors, Muslim camp directors, Catholic, Protestant, and secular camp directors. It was great. A few people almost came to blows arguing over who was worst. Looking at the interactions, some valued honesty most. Some purity. Some hospitality or caring for others. What their priorities were came out in their responses. And when people question what we hold most dear we are VERY THREATENED. Fish do not think about water unless something is wrong. We do not think about our values unless they are challenged. The healed man in today’s story was challenged about carrying his mat after he was healed. This very well may have been his ONLY possession. But for the religious authorities were challenged in their understanding of the Sabbath. And they took issue with the man, and then with Jesus. When we cannot have calm and rational discussions, maybe we can reach deep and ask what value of mine is being challenged or threatened. What is conflicting with something I treasure? Could it be we could find a middle place? Could we disagree on what we value most without dismissing the other person? Jesus chose to err on the side of God. He put it this way, “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” May we always choose where God is going. It may go against some things we have always assumed and taken for granted. And when in doubt, we have each other where we can confront, wrestle with, and love one another to the right place. Thanks be to God! Amen.