Sunday, July 25, 2021

Year B Proper 12 2021 Let God Be God

 Year B Proper 12, 25 July 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (Live and Online)

“Let God Be God”


Collect: O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


John 6:1-21

Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.


Who do we think we are? Really! Who do we think we are? Sometimes I am aghast at the hubris of how important, or powerful, or strong we think we are. When we stare at the cosmos, the crises, or death in the face, we are too quickly reminded of our fragility and impermanence. And what hope do we have? As the Psalmist penned (100:2 BCP, p. 729):

Know this: The LORD himself is God; *

    he himself has made us, and we are his;

    We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. 


The people in the Bible are just like us. In fact, the more I read the Gospels, and the rest of Scripture, the more I feel and see that the people are real just like you and me, and that no one, unless they are telling the absolute truth, would allow themselves to be depicted in such a way as the disciples and our Bible heroes do. They are glaringly obvious that they are not who they could be, who they should be, but in their weakness they are strong, pointing to the one in who they believe.


I know we try to be strong. I know most of you are trying to be holy. I was leading a retreat a few weeks ago, and someone asked me what I thought was wrong with the Church. Not this particular church, but the Church in general and the Church in the United States in particular. I surprised them with my answer. I simply stated, “We no longer pray for rain.”


Now I was not talking about water, per se, but the idea that goes with it. That we are reliant on God for everything. I heard one theologian describe American Christianity as Functional Atheism. We talk about God a lot. But do we talk to God? Do we give space for God to speak?


This morning we see a lot of folks a lot like us. People who are doing good, but they are trying to do good without bringing God into the picture, without expecting God to show up. And when we forget to give things to God, we wonder why we don’t see miracles. When we give our gifts, no matter how meager, God shows up in ways we do not expect. Whether its 5 loaves and two fish, or our last hope when the storms of life are raging?


How might we approach worship, if we gave it up to God, we expected God to show up?


How might we serve in our clinic, or in our Sunday School or Youth Group, or Kitchen, if we expected God to show up?


How might you give to the Church if you expected God to show up and do great things?


How might you pray if you expected God to show up and actually give what you truly need and really want?


When we lived in a time when we depended on God for everything, people prayed for rain, and nourishment, and healing, and hope, expecting God to show up. This morning I started by saying we try to be strong, and some of us try to be holy. But if you go back and look at the Collect for this week, Proper 12, what did we say?


O God, the protector of all who trust in you, 

without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: 

Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; 

that, with you as our ruler and guide, 

we may so pass through things temporal, 

that we lose not the things eternal...


Friends, that prayer is a prayer of those who want God to show up.


When did we move beyond that? When did we stop leaving space for God to do what only God can do?


I am not saying that we should “put the Lord our God to the test.” Far from it. The Bible says not to. But the Bible also shows us, particularly in today’s readings, that God can show up, and when God does we should not be surprised. Don’t plan on it. Don’t dictate the details. But also, do not be surprised when it happens.


I am often taken aback when these little moments happen. I am moved to faith repeatedly, and often given a space to tell the stories. Too often to my wife, or a book group, or the Vestry some account of when God showed up. My joke line I use often is, “Makes you think there might be a God!” I have to stop using that. I say it because of my discomfort. I say it because I was AGAIN reminded that God is going to do things beyond my explanation, beyond my belief at times. And when that happens, I need to not be surprised. I should swap out, “Makes you think there might be a God!” for “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.”


Friends, when the disciples looked down and saw how little they had, they did not see with the eyes of faith. They looked down with pragmatic eyes, they looked at how little they had. They were so forlorn that they had to show Jesus how little they had. A boy’s lunch of five small pieces of bread and two dried fish.


You might look at where things are, and say, “Your faith will only get you so far.” True. But God is bigger than your problems. God is bigger than your meager gift. God is bigger than your faith, or your pragmatism, or your cynicism. God is with us, and for us, and that twinkle in the eye is God wanting to say, “Sit down and watch this!”


The disciples saw how little. Jesus saw how much.


When the prophet saw what they had in our Kings readings, the prophet saw how much they had.


As we come out of COVID, and the economy is questionable, and the variants and their outcomes are rising again, and our leaders spend more time bickering than leading, I need to remind myself that I need to give it over to God.


The theologian and Hebrew Scriptures scholar Walter Brueggemann, penned this prayer for 


"The Giver of Bread and Fish"

(Matthew 7:7-11)

"We do 'thoughts and prayers' easily and glibly;

we do 'thoughts' without thinking;

we do "prayers' with out praying.

We commit that glib act

because it is what we know how to

do with an anemic god, or

because we are embarrassed to do

more, or

because it is convenient and costs us

nothing.

Now, however, we are driven to un-

thinkable thoughts, about

all that is ending, and

all this we have lost, and 

all that leaves us with a sinking 

feeling.

Now, however, we are driven, some

of us, to unutterable prayers.

We are driven to such prayer

by awareness that our usual reliabilities are gone.

We are driven to you, the abiding

God

when other helpers fail and comforts flee.

Thus we are bold to pray:

We are bold to ask, because it will be

given!

So we pray for the end of the virus,

for the health of the neighborhood,

for recovery of the economy.

We are bold to seek, because you will be

found!

We seek your mercy and your goodness

and your generosity,

so let yourself be found by us.

We are bold to knock, because it will be 

opened.

We know many doors slammed shut,

doors of health and safety and comfort and fun.

Open to us the door of life, and 

love and peace and joy.

Here we are in your presence:

We ask for bread:

the bread of life,

the bread of abundance,

the bread of neighborly sharing.

Do not give us a stone or a crumb.

We ask for fish:

the fish of a good diet,

the fish of your abundant waters,

the fish that signs the gospel.

Do not give us a snake or the hiss of 

poison.

We dare to pray, not because we are

at our wits end,

but because you are at the center of 

our life.

Our hope is in no other save in thee

alone!

So hear, heal, save, restore!

Be the God you have promised to be.

Amen."

From "Virus as a Summons to Faith" by Walter Brueggemann

https://www.facebook.com/447671728636357/posts/the-giver-of-bread-and-fishmatthew-77-11we-do-thoughts-and-prayers-easily-and-gl/4303325449737613/


We need to do what we can. We need to give what we can. We need to believe. And let God do what only God can do. Lord, we believe, help our disbelief!



I close today with the words that St. Paul uses to close today’s reading from Ephesians:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


And Amen!


Sunday, July 18, 2021

Year B Proper 11 2021 Our Peace

 Year B Proper 11, 18 July 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA (Live & Streaming)

“Our Peace”


Collect: Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Ephesians 2:11-22

Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” —a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands— remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.


This week I heard a report looking at the relations between China and the United States. They were looking at trade, the COVID crisis, the differences between the Trump and Biden administrations, etc. They mentioned that one of the big worries of the Chinese is that we were close to beginning another Cold War. Having lived through the first one, that really caught my ears. Especially with the readings for this week. Looking at the comfort of the Lord as our Shepherd in both Psalm 23 and Jeremiah, the image of Jesus trying to recharge his batteries by retreating with his disciples but the needs of the crowds were so vast he had compassion even in his weariness, and yet if we are honest too often the peace of God escapes us.


Peace is not the absence of war, but rather much more the absence of worry. Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, connotes sleeping snug with the windows open and the door unlocked, with God in heaven and all is right with the world. We are never given peace, it is something that we must strive for. It is an active thing that we must pursue. Peace cannot be handed to us. Peace exacts a toll. 


Jesus talked about this when he taught us what to do if someone has an issue with us. We do not sit and wait for them to come and clear the air. We run to them, leaving any and everything behind to re-enter relationship, to make peace. From Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount: 


“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)


If Jesus thought good relationships were more important than worship and giving to God, how important does that make it? Might it be that people cannot believe our love of God if they cannot see our love of our sisters and brothers? God wants us to be in right relationship with all of God’s children. And there is no reason not to be. Not in Christ.


Paul spoke to this in our Epistle reading, the tearing down of the wall between us. He spoke to Jewish believers and Gentile believers, but the same is true no matter the division.


But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.


A new humanity in place of two. A whole structure joined together into a holy temple. We are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints.


What a vision we have been offered! What a gift we have been given. Jesus is our peace. In him we may step over the rubble of the dividing wall that he has torn down. Friends, Jesus did his part, and now we must as well. He tore down the wall, but we must not let our actions show that any remnant of it remains.


I am like most people, I do not wish for conflict, and avoid when I can. Sometimes it is easier to keep one’s mouth shut. Or decide on the things that are worth the struggle and pick those battles. But one thing that I will always step up to address is conflict amongst those who call themselves followers of Jesus, this one who made his approach to life very clear. 


Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (I John 4:7-11)


As we actively strive for peace, the road will not be easy nor will it be straight. It will meander and be circuitous, it will double back and we will get lost at times. We will get tried and tested, and we will get tired and testy. But we will never stop. We cannot. As Children of the living God our mission and mandate is clear. We follow the steps of our Savior, wherever they may lead. He said we must take up our cross, as he takes up his, and follow him. Not easy words or instructions.


If we can have Cold Wars, we can have Cold Relationships. We may need to find alternative ways to approach and re-establish communion. This last 18 months has made it easy to slip into quiet hostility, passive-aggressive d├ętente. God wants better for us, God wants better from us.


To ask for forgiveness, to seek peace, we have to humble ourselves and we have to be vulnerable. It is so hard. It goes against how many of us are wired and how many of us were trained. But if getting older has taught me anything, it is that the times I have chosen vulnerability and humility, especially in approaching those with whom I am in conflict, it has been rewarded with the same. People getting to the meat of the matter, people expressing their fears, frustrations, the triggers that caused their reactions. And what did I find after the fact? Peace, friends. I found peace. What had kept me up at night, was worry and fear on my part. It was not reality. What gave me peace was loving my “enemies” who were now trusted people even if not yet friends.


The world says to destroy your enemies. In one aspect, they are right. I need to destroy my “enemies,” the idea that anyone is my enemy. That idea is what must be destroyed. Anyone who I see as an enemy can actually be a friend-becoming. If we love our enemies, as Jesus instructed, then they become our friends. If we are willing. If we strive for peace. If we put relationships before our being right.


Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace.


Do you believe that this morning? If so, make it so. In all our relationships may God be glorified. Amen.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

Year B Proper 10 2021 Turning Toward the Light

Year B Proper 10, 11 July 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Turning Toward the Light”


Collect: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Amos 7:7-15

This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A plumb line.” Then the Lord said,

“See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by;

the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate,

and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste,

and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.”

Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the very centre of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said,

'Jeroboam shall die by the sword,

and Israel must go into exile

away from his land.' "

And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom."

Then Amos answered Amaziah, "I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycomore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'”


Psalm 85:8-13 Benedixisti, Domine

8 I will listen to what the Lord God is saying, *

for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.

9 Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, *

that his glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth have met together; *

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

11 Truth shall spring up from the earth, *

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

12 The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *

and our land will yield its increase.

13 Righteousness shall go before him, *

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.


Good morning. I rarely speak from the Old Testament passages for my Sunday sermon, but today that is where I am being led. Last week I talked about our country and where it is going and where it is growing. I spoke of competing revolutions, and the inner and societal problems that are and will increase before we are able to move on. I offered hope and a direction, but not some tangible steps.


That hit home this week. I need to address the How-To of it all. It is time to pull up our bootstraps, something this country is known for, and to do the hard thing. Will everyone’s motives be pure? No. They never are. But can good come from good people doing the best they can? Yes. And God will be a part of our journey and will bless it. I believe that. As our Psalm says:

Truth shall spring up from the earth, *

and righteousness shall look down from heaven. Ps 85:11

And when heaven and earth agree on anything, especially Truth and Righteousness, no power on earth can stop it. So let us turn our attention to two things that are needed for us to move forward.


Amos was a farmer, a herdsman and a fig farmer, not pig as they are not kosher, but fig. The sycamore-fig of Palestine is a bit different from the ones we are used to, and need special attention, but he was definitely not a prophet full-time. He was not and did not want to be, but for a season he had to be about the Lord’s work.


And the vision he received was one of something very simple, a weighted plumb line, something builders have been using since they started building. A true vertical, so walls are straight, and buildings sure. We want to be straight. “Let me be straight with you!” we say. We want to live in the “straight and narrow.” We want straight teeth, ortho- meaning straight, so we have orthodonture. We want straight beliefs so we have orthodoxy. God is holding up a plumbline against Israel, and saying that they are crooked when they are called to be straight. The plumbline shows all.


And it will not be easy. John the Baptizer held up a plumbline to Herod, and look what it got him!


But if a plumbline were held up to our country, what would be askew? I have been heartbroken listening to the debates over Critical Race Theory. And what is being said critically is too often judgment before knowledge, pre-judging, or there is a term for it, prejudice. I heard a radio interview where someone denounced CRT, but then said what he would prefer was a rational look at the truth of where we came from. The interviewer then said that is the definition of CRt. It is an attempt to acknowledge the truths of our founding and the prices paid by so many to put our nation where it is, and naming those truths so we can get to a more perfect union for all. “We hold these truths to be self-evident that men,” meaning people, “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That plumbline shows that this statement has not been, nor is it yet, fully true. The plumbline reveals the hypocrisy. The plumbline speaks the truth so we can straighten things out.


And the only way to get to a place of healing, reconciliation, and growth is to speak truth and seek forgiveness. I have brought this to light before, but the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after Apartheid in South Africa was a pivotal event in human history. Speaking Truth and Seeking Forgiveness as a governmental policy was a powerful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Anglican headed the Commission. In reflections for a magazine article in 2004, he wrote this.


“For our nation to heal and become a more humane place, we had to embrace our enemies as well as our friends. The same is true the world over. True enduring peace—between countries, within a country, within a community, within a family—requires real reconciliation between former enemies and even between loved ones who have struggled with one another.

“How could anyone really think that true reconciliation could avoid a proper confrontation? After a husband and wife or two friends have quarreled, if they merely seek to gloss over their differences or metaphorically paper over the cracks, they must not be surprised when they are soon at it again, perhaps more violently than before, because they have tried to heal their ailment lightly.

“True reconciliation is based on forgiveness, and forgiveness is based on true confession, and confession is based on penitence, on contrition, on sorrow for what you have done.”

-Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Truth and Reconciliation”, Greater Good Magazine, 1 Sept. 2004

(Web: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/truth_and_reconciliation)


I hear the Psalmist echoed in the Archbishop’s words:

Mercy and truth have met together; *

righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth, *

and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The Lord will indeed grant prosperity, *

and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness shall go before him, *

and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.


The Psalmist and the Archbishop, as did John the Baptizer, they all confront us with something we too easily ignore, to our detriment. Sin. We have sinned. By those things done, and by those things left undone. As a people, not living up to the ideals we declared to the world, we have sinned! We said it, and yet did not do it, not equally, not to all men, or women, or any and everyone. It is hard to hold up a mirror and let it show you the truth sometimes. Yet it speaks the truth that the worst and most pernicious of lies is Self-Deception. And when we are confronted it is hard, uncomfortable, and even painful. But it is necessary for things to get better.


We are being held accountable that our words and our actions are and have been out of plumb. The prophets of our day are like Amos and John in theirs. Speaking truth to power, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.


But if you study the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, God deconstructs through holding people accountable, but then God offers hope and a path forward. I believe we can have both. Critical Race Theory and other efforts to acknowledge the sins of our past do so in the effort to honor those that suffered, and move us all to where we can and should be.


There is a dawn, and one day it will come. We need to keep our eyes open. We need to move forward, even in the darkest of days.


If you have ever had sunflowers, I have always loved sunflowers, they are called that because of what they do. They follow the sun. Heliotropism, the movement of plants in the direction of the sun. Sunflowers are fascinating in time-lapse photography because they follow the sun across the sky, it is wondrous and beautiful. But what about night? What do sunflowers do when the sun goes down? They do what I am calling us to do. They turn themselves around, they get themselves aligned for the sun that will arise in the East. If sunflowers can do it, so can we.



Friends, we as a nation and in some ways as a community, and in some ways personally, need to get ourselves straight and await the dawn that is on its way. We are striving for these changes because God wants us in relationship with him and with one another. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  That is what all of this, all of life, is about. 


Archbishop Tutu closed his article this way.


...the wholeness of relationships. That is something we need in this world—a world that is polarized, a world that is fragmented, a world that destroys people. It is also something we need in our families and friendships. For retribution wounds and divides us from one another. Only restoration can heal us and make us whole. And only forgiveness enables us to restore trust and compassion to our relationships. If peace is our goal, there can be no future without forgiveness.” -Desmond Tutu, ibid.


Friends, when days are dark, remember where the light comes from. When people are crooked, remember there are plumblines that can show us the straight and narrow. And remember that we are being loved and enabled to take those first painful steps from the Truth of what was and is, and the Reconciliation of what can and should be in God. As I said last week, may God bless you, and may God bless America! Amen 

 

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Year B Proper 9 WED 2021 Eurekas and Epiphanies

 Year B Proper 9, 7 July 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA- Live and Live-Streamed

“Eurekas and Epiphanies”


Collect: O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


New Testament: Acts 10:1-16

In Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God. One afternoon at about three o’clock he had a vision in which he clearly saw an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa for a certain Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside.” When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his slaves and a devout soldier from the ranks of those who served him, and after telling them everything, he sent them to Joppa.


About noon the next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.


Gospel: Luke 24:12-35 (Emmaus Road Story)


The readings for today include three different stories of what appears to be God changing God’s mind. Samuel is led to anoint a new lineage, a new king because Saul had lost God’s favor and the runt of Jesse’s litter who Jesse did not even expect was the chosen one of God. (Yesterday’s readings spoke of how God regretted Saul being made King.)


Acts speaks of Peter working with a Roman centurion and being told that those who were rejected are now acceptable. Three times God had to say it. I used to think Peter was hard-headed, but when something is a deeply ingrained religious matter, one drilled in since birth, it is so hard to let go. I am amazed it only took three times for Peter to catch it. 


The Gospel reading is that of the Resurrected Jesus walking with two followers to Emmaus. If you look up how long that was, the answers will give you a headache as there are many possible sites, and different manuscripts give different distances.. It was long enough to have a really in depth conversation. When Jesus breaks the bread, he is revealed and the followers run back to tell the disciples.


In all three, it seems from the outside that God is changing the plan midstream. But I think that maybe God has been waiting for us to see what has been there all along. Have you ever walked into a room, and someone is there but you do not notice them? But then once you see them, you jump because you thought you were alone? So often I think God is waiting for us to catch up, or wake up, or clue in. And so often we can think that this is a new revelation, when really we have only figured out where God has been moving all along.


On Sunday I spoke about the Holy Spirit guiding and directing us to new and unexpected places. I believe that is still happening, and I believe that God is still speaking. Will we have eyes to see and ears to hear?


Our church has made some strong stands, stands that split the Episcopal Church and are having ripple effects throughout the Anglican Communion. We believe that some long held assumptions are wrong. We believe that issues of gender roles and sexuality are not as clear cut as biblical literalists would try and make them.


Growing up in a conservative evangelical environment, I had to let go of so many assumptions that had been handed on as Gospel truth. In fact, it was the skills I learned in college and seminary that sent me to the Scripture that convinced me that there had to be a better way. And God sent me and my family to the Episcopal Church, thanks be to God! Did God change God’s mind? No. But I grew up. I changed. I saw through Reason, Scripture, and Tradition that there were alternatives that spoke to me in a better way and resonated with my new understandings, like it did with Samuel, St. Peter, and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. I joked with Baptist folks, fellow pastors who reached out to me, that because the Baptists had taught me to truly read Scripture I could no longer stay Baptist.


Does God change? Or does God respond to our choices where we have latitude? Great questions we can explore. Some see the future fatalistically, that we have little to no say or free will. I would lean more to the side that God loves and empowers us to do the right thing, and occasionally and rarely intervenes. One favorite thinker of mine describes the end of time as the Omega Point where God is drawing all things and all will work together for good. The destination is clear, but God is open to the route.


That’s a lot to chew on before breakfast. But Eurekas and Epiphanies still happen, if we remain open to see them. Thanks be to God! Amen