Sunday, October 24, 2021

Year B Proper 25 2021 "Step Into It"

 Year B Proper 25, 24 October 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Step Into It”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Mark 10:46-52

Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

What is the role that faith plays in your life? How do you use your faith?

I often do not think of our faith that way, as an external thing, a tool I use, at least I do not. My faith is so interwoven into my identity that it is hard for me to visualize.

Recently a dear child game me a gift they made, with the words, “ help you remember Jesus.” My own child said later, “Like you need more of that.” I do have an office full of reminders of Jesus, momentos attesting to my faith. But that is not my faith. My faith is internal. My faith is key to how I view the world, the people in it, and myself. At least it is when I am at my best.

Jesus is confronted with this man so insignificant that we are not even given his name. Bartimaeus, son of Timeus. His name literally means Son of Timeus. Bar is son in Aramaic, like Bar Mitzvah is Son of the Law; Bat meaning daughter. Ben is the Hebrew. They are interchangeable.

So this pathetic, nameless blind guy hears that Jesus is passing by on the road out of Jericho. But nothing would get in his way. I am sure he was shushed, ignored, overlooked, just as he often was. It is human nature, if we do not acknowledge those things that get in the way or are troublesome they seem not to exist. He was “sternly ordered to be quiet,” but that just caused him to shout all the more.

He implored Jesus. “Bar David, have mercy on me.” He does not say Bar-Yosef. He gives Jesus a Messianic title, Son of David. Or another way of saying it could be, “Prince Jesus! ” or “Lord Messiah, have mercy on me.” 


He cries out. He has nothing to lose. He has everything to gain.

Jesus asks for him to be brought to him, and those who were “sterning ordering” his silence, now say “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Baritimeus springs up. His chance is here. Jesus asks of Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What would you say to Jesus if he asked you that?

What would your faith allow?


A few weeks ago, my family and I went to see a show we had been wanting to see in New York City. It just so happened that our first morning there the cast was on Good Morning America in Times Square, and we got up early to go and see them. It was wonderful. After they performed, everyone was packing up, and the star of the show was standing there. I told the kids to follow me, and walked up to him. There was just a metal police barricade between him and the sidewalk. So I just blurted out, “Mr. DeShields, can we get your autograph?” The worst he could say was no. But he was very kind, asking where we were from, and such. I told him we were going to the show the next day, and he said, “I better show up then.” He said it with a wry grin and twinkle in his eye. Then his handlers took him away. 

My kids were surprised by my audacity, but when opportunities come, I have tended to be one who seized them. Life is too short not to, because a tomorrow is never promised. And Jesus taught us, “You have not because you ask not.” Now Jesus was talking about prayer, but all someone can say is No, and at least you know you took the chance. And like that day, it paid off.

Bartimaeus, given this shot, this once in a lifetime moment, asked of this Son of David his heart’s desire. “My teacher, let me see again.”

Again, if you could ask Jesus for anything, what would it be? One shot. One plea. What would it be?





Our heart’s desire is as personal as our fingerprint, and as intimate as our dreams.

For Bartimaeus,  Jesus said, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.

Bartimaeus had nothing to lose and everything to gain. His faith in God and in his servant, God’s Messiah, God’s Son of David, was what made all the difference. Jesus said Yes.

This is a hard thing. It would be so easy for me to stand here and say the words, “With faith you can do anything.” But remember prayer is not to Santa Claus. God answers prayers. I can say it with some authority. I have seen it too many times. But God answers prayers in three ways, Yes, No, and Not Now.

There have been many times when I have pleaded with God, heartfelt, full of faith and hope. And there has been no heard response. But sometimes a Yes happens in moments or hours. And sometimes the response has been months or years later. I could say prayer was a vending machine, but we all know that that is not how it works.

Faith is stepping ahead when we do not see where our foot will fall. The role of faith is often getting us to take that step, even when people are sternly ordering us to be quiet, or mocking us in derision. Even when we are not feeling it, or reeling in pain. Faith is that assurance of the things we are hoping for, being able to see them with the eyes of our heart when all credible evidence goes against it.

Bartimaeus was commended. His faith made it possible for him to be healed. Our relationship with God is like that. He can only do what we allow him to do. Yes, he is the Open Door, but we must walk through it. Yes, God has left tickets for us at Will Call, but to get in we have to trust that we are invited in, and even VIPs.

Believing is the smallest part, acting on that belief is what makes it faith. As James reminds us, faith without action is, well, dead.

I want to speak to most of us. Most of us are not Bartimaeus. We are not bold, and shouting out when people are hushing us. Most of us are not audacious as my kids said I was with the Broadway star. I recognize that.

But when I asked the hypothetical, what is it you would ask of Jesus, how many of you thought to yourself, “Well, that will never happen!” 

And guess what, that is why it doesn’t.

What is stopping you from asking it of Jesus now? The worst that could happen is for him to say No. Or Not Now. Think on it. What if Jesus said Yes, like he did with Bartimaeus. How would you act? What would change?

If you ever read a self-help book on things like being successful, they say things like, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” Our friends in recovery have a slogan that means much the same thing, “Fake it till you make it.”

To filter it through Bartimaeus, “Act like it can happen, and it just may.” Like Bartimaeus, we need to Step Into It. Step into the Possibility of a Dreamt for Reality. We do not wait outside begging, when the healer is inside waiting for us.

My hypothetical, what if you prayed right now for Jesus to help you in that area. It could be a relationship. It could be a situation where you need help. It could be a medical need. Whatever it is, act like it can be better, and it just may be.

And if it does not, look and see how you are blessed in other ways. St. Paul had his thorn in his side, and we know he prayed for its removal for years, whatever it was. If St. Paul got his No or Not Now, don’t lose faith if it happens to you. Your prayers are still being answered, but not with the answer you want, but with the big picture in mind, the answer needed.

Do you live your life in faith? Do you cry out in sincerity and audacity even in your prayers? Do you have the faith to ask? Even more important, do you have the faith to receive?

I think one reason why we are so hesitant to pray this way is because what happens when God says Yes? What would that mean for us? What changes will we have to make in life? Too often we settle for living in our discomfort instead of taking the energy to ask and help make it happen.

When Jesus says that we can have faith that moves mountains I believe that he means it. We have to see that mountain gone. Truly gone. We have to pray for help. Deeply, profoundly pray. And then we have to pick up our shovel and our bucket and get to work. Hard, sweat equity Work. It takes all of it to make anything happen.

We are asking you to have a lot of faith right now. The country is divided, and some are saying the economy is questionable. We are looking to increase our budget to increase what we can do as a church, and last weekend we tossed out a bold vision to expand the impact we have on Ashland. I hope you read my article this last week where I tried to spell it all out.

But for anything that we have to have faith to do: we have to see it, we have to envision God’s fulfillment of it and request God’s aid, and we have to put in our sweat equity to make that vision real. And we need to remember that we are part of a millennia-long enterprise to change a hurting world into the Kingdom of God one heartbeat of faith at a time. 

God plays the long game, and invites us to step into it the time that has been given to us. I believe we can. Amen.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Year B Proper 24 2021 Shrine Mont Parish Retreat

Year B Proper 24, 17 October 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland Virginia

Shrine Mont Parish Retreat

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

“You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;

as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Mark 10:35-45

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

As a teacher and as a member of the clergy I have been asked to write a lot of reference letters. It comes with both jobs. As someone who has had to hire and supervise folks, I have had to read a lot, too.

But imagine if you got one like this:

To Whom It May Concern:

I would like to thank you for considering me. Since my earliest days, I have been very impressed with my accomplishments, blown away by my successes, but most of all, I have been moved by my humility. 

It is not appropriate to recommend oneself. It just is not done. Going back to our Hebrews reading, it begins:

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God...

One does not presume to take on this honor. Know for this passage to make sense, we need to understand and this obscure character Melchizadek, the King of Salem, which was later to become Jerusalem. His name means, “My King is Righteousness.” Salem later became Jeru-Salem, so we know it reappears. Abram submitted to him, giving him a tenth of what he had. And Melchizadek brought out bread and wine and shared it with Abram. This imagery is not lost on us. As Christians it cannot be. We see a form of Christ is all of this. It is no surprise that in the Book of Hebrews the imagery of Melchizadek would be applied to Jesus Christ. And Christ did not take the honor upon himself, but was given it to do what he was called to do.

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, wanted the seats of honor. They recommended themselves like in that ridiculous letter I made up. They wanted the seats of honor. But we cannot commend ourselves, nor can we declare ourselves righteous.

Honor is something that is given, something bestowed, it is not taken. Honor is received, never obtained. Just like the Rich Young Ruler, he that he could do something or things to “inherit” eternal life, like it was something he could earn. Eternal life is a gift, and that is why we call it Grace. Honor is the same way. It is given to us. Not something we can earn by “deserving it.”

Friends, it is Discipleship and Service that give us honor. It is what makes us honorable. James and John wanted the parade with the struggle. They wanted the 21-gun salute with the sacrifice. To be honored, we have to do the simple discipline, day-in, day-out. It is not “sexy” to the ways of this world, with our microwave ovens and fast-food drive-thrus. But that daily, repetitive discipline is what makes all the difference. Sure sometimes it is boring, but the attention to detail and the intentional practice enables us to be ready for when it is needed the most.

Let me remind you of a story that most of us know, but may have forgotten the details. On January 15, 2009, USAirways flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia airport and collided with a flock of geese. Both engines of the Airbus 320 failed simultaneously 90 seconds into take-off. If you have never flown out of LaGuardia, you take off over water, and this is the worst possible scenario. They were informed by air traffic controllers to go directly to Teterboro Airport 10 miles away. The pilot informed them that they were “unable” to make it to Teterboro, emphasis on Unable.

He simply and calmly said, “We’re gonna be in the Hudson.”

Captain Chesley Burnett Sullenberger, “Sully” to his friends and all who knew him, proceeded to land, if “land” is the right word, his plane safely on the Hudson River, flat on the water so that it remained afloat. He landed it deadstick, NO POWER, after missing the George Washington Bridge. Have you ever seen how big the George Washington Bridge is? While gliding a jetliner, “Sully” did all this deadstick. Things moved quickly. All 150 passengers evacuated into the cold water in January. There were mostly minor injuries, one passenger with two broken legs, but all of them lived and got off safely. All five crew members lived. The last one off the plane was Sully, after he had gone up and down the aisle two times, checking everything to make sure everyone was safe.

According to all who knew him, Sully was a “by the book” pilot, having been a fighter pilot, and then having had a long career as a commercial pilot. He was a mentor to younger co-pilots, always running scenarios so they could be there best. “If this happens, what do you do?” He was doing this internally as well.

And after a lifetime of this small, intentional, daily discipline he was fully prepared for this 90 seconds. He had lived his life for such a time as this. When later FAA investigators tried to prove pilot error, it went on to show that after 40 tries, and knowing what was to happen and when, they finally were able to land at Teterboro in the simulator once. Sully saved everyone in the moment, with no warning. Sully was born for this moment.

He won accolades, hailed by celebrities and politicians. He was honored by all of us. It was truly called a miracle. A few days later he was a guest of honor at President Obama's inauguration and a guest on David Letterman where he received a standing ovation from everyone in the audience. They applauded for all of us. But Sully did not want honor or accolades. He wanted to do his job the best he could do it. As we said in our Hebrews reading: One does not presume to take on this honor. 

Honor cannot be claimed, it is given. 

Two quotes from Sully, and while speaking of business and leadership, it is so applicable to our our daily walk in faith:

  • “Nothing can fully prepare you for a crisis. But investing in a lifelong learning and growing your skillset can equip you with the necessary tools to succeed.”

  • “We cannot fully reflect on the great deeds we do in our lives. We must appreciate the smaller daily deeds as well. Those are what add up to a life well-lived.”

 Just like in the Parable of the Talents of Jesus, if we cannot be faithful in the small, we cannot be trusted with the big.

But we all can pray. We all can read our Bible. We all can love and take care of our neighbors. It is these small, day-in, day-out tasks of loving obedience which make us who Christ would have us be. We all can do it. Will we?


Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Year B Proper 23 WED 2021 When To Be Afraid

 Year B Proper 23 WEDNESDAY, 13 October 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“When To Be Afraid”

Collect: Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Matthew 10:24-33

Jesus said: “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”

Yesterday I was meeting with someone and they brought up that so much of our society is seething with fear. I had to agree. We are being conditioned by so many things to fear our neighbor, our brothers and sisters. God help us. God forgive us.

Jesus speaks to what we should do, and of what we should REALLY be afraid. When I was a teacher, I tended to be strict. I was strict, not to be mean. Far from it. I was strict because the kids in my charge were not able to process what was appropriate, or helpful, or dangerous. We say no to toddlers so that they do not burn their hands on the stove. They do not have the experience to know that you avoid a hot stove. They cannot imagine or fathom it. They do not know what to be afraid of.

At Romeos, one person mentioned how one of our recently baptized came out after their baptism, and were set free in the library. They made a beeline for the fire alarm on the wall. It was bright. It was red. It was SO ATTRACTIVE! What made it noticeable to adults made it so attractive to a toddler. They did not know what would happen, and thankfully the adults stepped in to say, “NO!”

When we are younger and inexperienced, life has not yet prepared us for what we need to truly be concerned about. When I was a teacher, my students were the same as those toddlers. I knew what was safe and what was not, what skills they needed to succeed and what could be ignored. I had to be the frontal lobe for them, the decision making part of the brain because that is the last part of the brain, particularly in males, that develops. The male brain is not fully developed in most boys till they are 24 years old. And if we cannot be afraid of what we should be, then we need to be afraid of other things that protect us. That is why I was strict. I loved my charges enough to for that purpose; if they could not be afraid of what they should be, they could be afraid of me.

Jesus put it this way in our reading this morning: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We are so concerned about taking care of this mortal coil that we may be ignoring our immortal one.

Thankfully Christ came to enlighten and forewarn us, to teach us another way. And the Church came so that we could do the same for our current generations. And because of that, Jesus can honestly say: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” 

God loves us. God hopes the best for us. God does not want us to be afraid, and has prepared for us the way of life. Thanks be to God! Amen

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Year B Proper 23 2021 "More than 'Just Enough'"

 Year B Proper 23, 10 October 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“More Than ‘Just Enough’”

Collect: Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Mark 10:17-31

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

As a middle school teacher I got so tired of the question, “Is this going to be on the test?” It was another way of saying, “What is the least amount I can do and skirt through?” It is much the same way we set up our relationship with God, at times.

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

A strange response from Jesus. If Jesus, as I envision him, is not good, what hope do I have? Hold that thought, put a pin in it; we are going to come back to it.

And then Jesus goes through the listing of the commandments. Some of the biggies of the Thou Shalt Nots. Murder, Adultery, Bearing False Witness, Theft, Defrauding, Not Honoring Your Parents. These are still so important that we still use and teach them. We have them inscribed on the wall for all of us to see every Sunday. 

The young man said he had done all of these things since his youngest days. And then comes one of my favorite verses in Scripture.  “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” That is what Grace looks like, my friends. Whenever we do a ministry, we need to do it through love. Jesus loved this young man. He wanted him to succeed.

The young man was so fixated on doing things right that he had missed the whole point. He had done right, but he wasn’t right, and he knew it. God obviously wants us to do good. That would be silly to think otherwise. But VASTLY MORE IMPORTANT than doing good, is being right with God.

Whenever we learn a new skill, we focus on getting the details right. We obsess, or at least I do. Did I do this right? Did I get that okay? Should it be this way or that. I get so intent on the steps that I often have to take a step back and see the big picture. What is the point in the first place?

Over COVID, I learned to make sausage gravy for biscuits. An occasional treat, and it was and is comfort food. I would get it when I would go out. But during our isolation Stephanie found a recipe, and after hesitation (because I wanted to get it right, notice that AGAIN!) I tried to do it myself. After a few times, it was starting to get pretty okay. And then after a while I noticed that I did not look at the recipe any longer. I had it in my head. And then I noticed that I started picking up on the nuances. I went off the recipe because the things I was doing and the stuff I was adding made it better! At least better in my opinion. If you put a bit of red pepper flakes in the browning sausage you get the flavor without so much heat, but add the black pepper at the very end. Little things like those I learned in the doing, over and over again, but these little things I had picked up had a big impact on the final outcome.  The goal was a delicious, hearty, not-too-thick, but not-too-runny sausage gravy worthy of any Southern kitchen. The goal was the gravy. The steps were the things I needed to make it innate, a part of me, so that I could do the steps but the real focus is, and should be, on the end result. I needed to trust the process.

The Young Man was still following the recipe. The recipe had not become a part of him yet. It was in his head, but it had not made its way down into his heart.

We learn and teach our children the 10 Commandments, not as the end game, but for the end result of loving God and respecting and loving each other and ourselves. This man loved God, but he thought that was reduced to the recipe. His final outcome, as it came in the very question he asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Do, do, do. He was still stuck in the steps.

Jesus shows his answer to this question by reframing it. He models it for us. “ Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Friends, loving not doing is the end game. God does not want just Obedience, God wants Relationship. Now Obedience is obviously tucked into Relationship, but once again, not the End Game. So Jesus started with the Young Man with what he loved.

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

The young man loved his stuff. It was his reward for all he “did.” The problem was not that he had money or that he had stuff. It was his LOVE of it that was getting in the way. Since Jesus’ day, this Rat Race has only gotten worse. And the problem with the rat race is that to be in it you have to be a rat. Jesus wanted more for him than that, and he wants more than that for us.

What Jesus called upon of the young man WHOM HE LOVED was to get his heart right, and everything else would be taken care of. The other way we say that more often is “Seek first the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” The consistency of Jesus’ message is being played out right here before our eyes. And Jesus goes on to say how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. It is not about the money, it is about the heart. As we live lives of comfort and lacking any needs, it is easy to be relaxed and complacent to the lives of those around us. And he tells his disciples that the stuff is going to be more than taken care of, and by the way, it is not about the stuff.

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

I told you we would come back to that. God is not worried about us being good. One of our key problems is that we make equations in our heads. They are unconscious. They are unconsidered. They creep into our psyches in subtle and pernicious ways.

We might think, “Good is equal to Holy,” but Jesus says No one is Good, because no one is like God.

So often people think “Being Rich is equal to being Blessed,” but Jesus says Seek God’s Kingdom first, not wealth.

This young man with all the stuff thought of eternal life as something else he could add to his long list of things he had earned, or that he deserved because of his status as “good” because of his meticulous rule-keeping. But we all know folks who follow all the rules but are stinkers that no one wants to be around. They did “right” and did things which might be good, but they are so very wrong. Hateful, petty, controlling, it could be a bevvy of things, we all have encountered the type.

But when we are in relationship with God, it comes out in who we are. St. Paul listed the characteristics of what that type of God-Life looks like if we are right with God. It comes out in our interactions and it is how people think of us when we walk away. “Loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and self-controlled.” St. Paul called these the fruit of the Spirit. Notice that that list did not include, “Ambition, Winning, Wealthy, Driven, Successful, or Superior.”  Those are very different lists. The Fruit of the Spirit or the virtues of the Rat Race.

God does not want us worried about doing good. That will come. We need to look to being Holy. The world Holy means to be set apart. We need to set ourselves apart from the ways of this world and focus on God’s dream for us and the world, God’s Kingdom. Today’s Gospel reading comes from the Gospel of Mark, and we cannot forget that Mark begins his Gospel with this very clear statement of what Jesus was about. It starts with Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan, and then in verses 14 and 15 it says this: 

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.”

Jesus came to bring the Kingdom near, he put the possibility in our hands. Will we seize it? Good is not equal to Holy. Rich is not equal to Blessed. The only way to win the Rat Race the world tries to force on us is TO NOT PLAY.

This week in our Book Group, we have been reading Father James Martin’s book, My Life with the Saints. One of the chapters this week was about the Jesuit Minister General Pedro Arrupe. I knew little of him, but in it he said this about Loving God:

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute final way. WHAT YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH, WHAT SEIZES YOUR IMAGINATION, WILL AFFECT EVERYTHING. [emphasis mine] It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. FALL IN LOVE, STAY IN LOVE, AND IT WILL DECIDE EVERYTHING.

Quoted in My Life with the Saints, p. 117

WHAT YOU ARE IN LOVE WITH, WHAT SEIZES YOUR IMAGINATION, WILL AFFECT EVERYTHING. This young man loved his stuff, and thought that eternal life was something he could obtain. Jesus loved him. Jesus invited him to follow him in his way of loving God. Jesus loves us and invites us, too.

I close today with a prayer from Pedro Arrupe: 

Take, O Lord, and receive: all my liberty, my liberty, my understanding, and my entire will. All I have and possess are yours, Lord. You have given it all to me. Now I return it to you. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me only your love and grace, and I want nothing more. Amen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Year B Proper 22 WED 2021 New Wine, Bartender

 Year B Proper 22 WEDNESDAY, 6 October 2021

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“New Wine, Bartender”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 9:9-17

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Jesus wasn’t acting much like a Messiah. At least not to the people who had strong ideas of how a Messiah should act.

To Matthew he certainly acted like one, which is why he got up and followed him.

To the tax collectors and sinners, so accused by the “churchy” folks, he certainly acted like a Messiah as he broke bread and spent time with them.

To his disciples, who were living each day in celebration and anticipation, he was the Messiah. And Jesus promised that the days would come when there would be fasting, and mourning, and other signs of pious devotion or grief. But not while he was with them.

It is impossible to live up to people’s expectations. Often they are unexpressed, until we transgress these invisible boundaries. Doing the right thing as best we can each and every day, even then, we will upset and disappoint. If Jesus upset the apple cart, how on earth would we expect not to do so and even worse? Often, though this might sound harsh, one must consider the source.

In today’s readings, we have the Pharisees, the notorious bad guys so often in the Gospels. They are so similar in their beliefs to what Jesus was teaching, but instead of turning his piety inward like they did, Jesus turned his piety outward. Jesus was not about making his life perfect to gain the reward, like this life was some game that could be won or lost. He turned his piety toward connecting and inviting and healing and transforming those who had written themselves off and no longer tried.

Tax Collectors. Sinners. Adulterers. Prostitutes. Those who knew they did not stand a chance were given an open hand up and a welcome door in. They stopped hoping, but Jesus came to heal and give hope in a dark and hurting world.

You cannot put new life into old packaging. You have to start fresh. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to act on their terms, New Wine in Old Skins. But Jesus said that just would not work. The bubbling up of the Holy Spirit requires new skins for the New Wine being poured.

Jesus was serving out this new wine, like some cosmic bartender. One who will listen to your problems with a loving ear, and give you something refreshing that will fill not just your mouth with taste or your head with a happy buzz, but it fills your soul with the very thing it was created to hold. As St. Augustine said, “Lord, my heart is restless until it rests in you.” I never thought of Jesus this way, especially with my evangelical upbringing till I heard a song from the Dave Matthews Band, a national group that got its start in Charlottesville, by the way. It is entitled “Bartender.” Here are just a few of the lyrics…

If I go before I'm old
Oh, brother of mine please don't forget me

If I go

Oh and if I die

Before my time
Oh sweet sister of mine

Please don't regret me

If I die

Bartender, please
Fill my glass for me
With the wine you gave Jesus that set him free

After three days in the ground

I'm on bended knees, I pray

Bartender, please

When I was young I didn't think about it, now I can't get it out of my mind

I'm on bended knees, father please

Oh if all this gold

Should steal my soul away

Oh, dear mother of mine please redirect me

If this gold

Bartender, you see

The wine that's drinking me

Came from the vine that strung Judas

From the devil's tree

It's roots deep, deep in the ground

I'm on bended knees, oh bartender please

I'm on bended knees, father please

When I was young I didn't think about it now I just wanna run and hide

I'm on bended knees, oh bartender please

Bartender, please

This is the type of person that might never feel welcome in our doors. But this is the type of soul that Jesus would have sought out, made welcome, and invited into his Kingdom. May we go, and do likewise. Amen.