Sunday, October 30, 2022

Year C Proper 26 2022 Picked First

 Year C Proper 26,  October 30, 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Picked First”

Collect: Almighty and merciful God, it is only by your gift that your faithful people offer you true and laudable service: Grant that we may run without stumbling to obtain your heavenly promises; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Gospel: Luke 19:1-10

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

There is a way of reading Scripture where we picture ourselves in the text. We use our imaginations to read, and when it really works, to be read by, Scripture. Often called Lectio Divina, “divine reading” or “sacred reading,” God speaks to us by our innermost thoughts and feelings. By envisioning ourselves in the story, it can stop being our imaginations, and it can become our very life.

This story of Zaccheus came into reality for me in some of my earliest days. Never say childrens’ ministry is not important. In those days of carpet squares and felt story boards, I heard the Word of God, felt the Call of God, and experienced the Grace of God. And it started with this story, along with several others.

It became so real for me because of how I could picture it inside my mind. I do not remember how old I was when I first heard it, and the song I learned around it, but it was early enough that this story has been a part of my conscious life as far back as I can remember.

We practice Lectio Divina at the beginning of our Vestry meetings, and in speaking with our spiritual leadership I was surprised that they had never heard the song about Zaccheus! It was a favorite of my childhood, and as big a part as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Little Bunny Fufu

I was surprised that it was only something from my childhood. If you learned it, by chance, please sing along. 

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.

And as the Savior passed that way, he looked up in the tree, and said…

Zacchaeus, you come down! 

For I’m going to your house today! For I’m going to your house today!

I call this my earliest Lectio Divina because even as a preschooler I could envision being small. I was small! I could envision climbing trees. I climbed trees! I could feel the bark on my fingers, my arms wrapped around the limb. I could envision looking down on Jesus, and seeing him there below me. I could see him looking me in the eye, and telling me to get down. My mom did that to me when I climbed too high all the time. The only stretch in this was the idea of Jesus saying he was coming to my house today. And that was not much of a leap. I was a child with an active imagination.

I remember one day we were heading home from Vacation Bible School and we stopped at McDonald’s for lunch. And there, right in front of us in line, was Jesus. I remember looking up at my mom, and saying, “Mom! It’s Jesus!” And she shushed me. We had stopped for a Happy Meal and we bump into the Almighty! The Bible verse that day must have been “Suffer the little children come unto me!” because I was not letting it go! I knew Jesus would want to meet me. Little did I realize in my tiny body and mind that this was the early 70s and this was a hippie not Jesus. But it was so real! Having a precocious and curious child can be a gift and a curse.

Zacchaeus was curious, too. Jesus’ reputation had spread. And here he was about as low as he could get. A tax collector, he was despised. He did not only gather taxes for the Romans, he had to bribe them to get the job. So a traitor, and most likely a crook to boot to pay for the bribe, Zacchaeus was about as low as one could get. And even more, this was Jericho and geography must be taken into account. Jericho sits at the junction of the Jordan River and its entrance to the Dead Sea, the lowest point on planet earth. The low man in town at the lowest spot on earth. And even more, he was short. We are talking snake belly low.

So traitor, crook, short, Zacchaeus may not have even tried to see this wandering rabbi first hand. He knew not to push his way into the mass crowding in to see Jesus. Why bother? He was curious, though. What could this guy be like, if all the stories were true? Could he really heal? Were his stories and teachings as transformative as people said? Maybe, just maybe, if I could get a glance, Zacchaeus may be able to get a feel of this Kingdom of God that Jesus yammered on about.

And so the stage is set. All the actors are in place. A crowd, the good, bad, and ugly shoving their way in to see this one about which so much was said. Our meager Zacchaeus, his wee self, perched up in the tree only hoping for a glimpse. And Jesus and the followers passing that way.

When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. 

No one, NO ONE, saw this coming. No one envisioned this at all. Especially Zacchaeus. He climbed down lickety-split, a happy man. A wee happy man.

Being chosen is always a joy. We want to be wanted. We want people to see us. We want people to acknowledge us. We want people to appreciate us. We all want to be chosen. Our social selves are wired to belong and to have a part. We are made for one another. Each and every one of us, Zacchaeus included. 

But we all know that as joyful as this could have been, there has to be some conflict or people would not have remembered it, much less included it in Scripture 2,000 years ago.

All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." 

They all were aghast. Does he know who he was talking to? If this guy is so holy, he would not be mixed in with filth like him! You can hear it. Grumble grumble grumble grumble. Human nature has not changed that much in 2,000 years. And here human nature stays true. We approach life like some zero sum game. For me to win, there has to be a loser. And I am happy to have a loser, as long as it's not me. 

But contempt is easy. Rich. Hate him! Tax Collector. Hate him! Short! 

🎵Short people got no reason, short people got no reason, short people got no reason to live…🎵 (Thank you, Randy Newman) It is hard as the priest of St. James the Less to talk about being short, as “the Less” could very well have meant “the Short.”

Contempt is us looking down on someone else thinking it will make us feel better. As Samuel Johnson reminded us, “Contempt is a kind of gangrene which, if it seizes one part of a character, corrupts all the rest by degrees.” And if the Grumblers had contempt for Zacchaeus, it was then carried over to Jesus as well.

But then we see the movement of Grace, the immense shifting of glaciers before our eyes. Zacchaeus was as transformed as the Grinch, whose heart grew three sizes that day.

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." 

No one asked this of him. Most of us, even the most despicable, know what it is that we should be doing. The good we could do is out there. The question is will we?

For Zacchaeus, he did not need to do what he did for Jesus to come over. But in being seen, acknowledged, and chosen the dam broke. The Grace of the moment became the Grace of a life. A flood gate opened up and Grace poured in, and in doing so, it poured out.

We cannot pay back Grace. Grace is a gift freely given. It can only be accepted. Zacchaeus accepted it. And in its reception, his response to Grace was to mend his ways. Grace was his response to Grace. Grace came first. It always does. It always will.

Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

And here we see Jesus saying, this is what I came to do. It is not about the righteous feeling better about themselves. It was to show the world that we are all seen, acknowledged, and chosen.

And what is chosen, truly chosen, cannot be let go of. In Roman culture, adoption was forever. You could disown a child if they brought dishonor. You could divorce a spouse if unfaithful or tiresome, even. But once one was adopted, it was forever. Jesus chose Zacchaeus. He would not let him go.

Even with the Grumbling. 

Even with the Contempt.

Even with the Scorn.

And he was happy to do it. He came to seek and save the Lost. That was his mission and purpose. He came here to invite the Beloved of God home. And we are all Beloved.

This Tuesday night during our All Saints’ service we have the joy of baptizing two adults, Tim and Hannah, who have chosen to be identified as Christ’s own forever. I love baptizing babies and standing with the families saying that they will raise the children in the faith. But when people choose to be baptized into the faith, especially as adults, we rejoice. They walk into it with eyes open, maybe tear stained, but eyes open. Like Zacchaeus, today, salvation has come to this house. How beautiful! How wonderful! How fresh and new as it was for Zacchaeus. We are often surprised by Grace. We are always Amazed by it. And there will always be Self-Righteous Grumblers. Always. That’s okay. It just shows they just do not get it.

Love people anyway, especially those hiding away thinking the parade going by is not for them, or people like them. But friends, if this story teaches us nothing else, the parade is just for them. Thanks be to God!

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.

He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.

And as the Savior came that way, he looked up in the tree, and said…

Zacchaeus, you come down! 

For I’m going to your house today! For I’m going to your house today!


Sunday, October 9, 2022

Year C Proper 23 2022 Has Our Faith Saved Us?

 Year C Proper 23, 9 October 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Has Our Faith Saved Us?”

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.

2 Timothy 2:8-15

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David-- that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful--

for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.

Luke 17:11-19 

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

Good morning! This morning, the natural tendency might be to do a sermon on gratitude. Studies have repeatedly shown the benefits of gratefulness playing a huge part in our mental and physical, and I would add, spiritual health. “Thank you!” could be some of the most important words we learn to say. Being appreciative instead of deprecating makes a huge difference in relationships, in our own perspective, and even how we start our day. Just writing down one thing every morning for which you are grateful can make a huge difference in your day.

Meister Eckhart, German theologian, philosopher, and mystic, said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is Thank You, it will be enough.” Pretty powerful statement. Pretty powerful truth.

When we see the Samaritan leper come back and thank Jesus, we see a model of appreciation. The 1 in 10 percentage has not changed much either in 2,000 years.

But today I want to look at Jesus’ summation of the encounter, more than the actions. And let that be the mirror that we use for growth and reflection.

To the grateful and healed leper, Jesus said, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Faith as the key to healing is a repeated theme in Luke, the lynchpin in several of the stories told in this Gospel. We want to be passive recipients of healing. Not good! Or worst case scenario, we want to blame people when healing does not happen on their lack of faith. Not good either! 

But how do you see your faith as a prime part of how you face the world? To be blunt, how has your faith made you well? Is it what keeps you sane in an insane world? Is it what you take before you reach for the aspirin? Is it a buffer when we receive the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?”  What does your faith mean to you? How has your faith made you “well?” Has your faith saved you? Would it if you needed it to?

The New Testament has several images and definitions of faith.

In Ephesians 6, St. Paul likens our protection as a Shield of Faith, part of the many things that are the Full Armor of God. If our faith is to save us, a shield can at times stop things out to stop us.

In the sermon of Hebrews, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Sometimes when things are bad, the only thing we have going for us is our hope. Faith is that assurance that we need to take the next step, to do the right thing when it's the last thing we want to do. Faith is what lets us hear that still small voice of God whispering, “Don’t give up!”

In Galatians 5, St. Paul says that Faith is one of the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives. As we live and breathe and move in God, the Spirit bears fruit in us. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. They all spring forward, and because it is a fruit, fruit bears fruit. That is what a fruit is, a seed-bearing product that creates more life and more fruit. Our Faith brings about more Faith! Deeper, Truer, Enriching, and Empowering. Our Faith is the outcome of trusting God, and our Faith drives us more fully into lives of Faith!

There are times and places where we are unwell. It might be a physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual ailment, but unwell is unwell. Our faith affects all of these. But I think of the man whose friends lowered him through the roof for Jesus to heal him of his paralysis. Jesus forgives his sin. The judgmental Pharisees were at it again, thinking, “Who is this Jesus to forgive sin?” But then he went further so they would “Know [his] authority…” And he then heals the man’s paralysis to boot. Sin gone and walking restored. It was a pretty good day.

The hemorrhaging woman who grabbed the hem of Jesus’ garment, her faith saved her. 

The Centurion’s servant, the soldier’s faith saved his devoted servant.

The Blind Man near Jericho, his faith saved him.

This repeated theme in Luke screams at us. Our faith makes a difference. It may include a miracle as we call it, or it may not. Maybe the miracle is that we have our eyes opened that God loves us and cares about us. Instead of damning us, God gives a care. That may be the real miracle that we truly need.

Friends, this is not a new salvation by works, as in “If I just have enough faith then I get what I want/ what I need/ what I desperately hope for!” Prayer is not a vending machine, and faith is not the coins we put in.

Faith is as was mentioned, a shield, an assurance in the dark, a fruit that bears more fruit. Faith is about staying true, even when we lose. Especially when we lose.

One of the hardest lessons we have in life is that Faith does not guarantee, or even grant, success. That is part of the particularly American heresy. God calls us to be faithful. God NEVER calls us to be successful. We are called to be true, even when the world is collapsing around us. 

There was a darkly satirical movie that came out near the end of quarantine about the end of the world. I was shocked, not by the stark commentary at our particular moment in history, but that the people who told everyone that the end was near and that we needed to do something RIGHT NOW stayed true. They stayed true to their message. They stayed true to one another. And just before the final calamity, the simply sat at a table as friends and family, and broke bread together and prayed. Never expected that out of Hollywood! But friends, none of us have ever faced anything near that. Faith, staying true even in the worst of times, is the only thing that we bring to the table. And remaining faithful is when we are even godly.

In our New Testament reading from II Timothy today, St. Paul quotes a hymn to Christ about God’s faithfulness. 

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful–

for he cannot deny himself.

Even when we are faithless, God is faithful. He maintains his Covenant Fidelity. Thanks be to God! And when we are faithful, despite the world going to hell in a handbasket at times, God is pleased.

There are times and places when we will fall flat on our faces, when we are laughed at and scorned, those we love the most may deride us like Job’s wife did taunting us with “Curse God and die!” But if we have that smallest of specks of Faith, even the size of a mustard seed like Dawn+ preached on last week, that is enough. Some days that is all we have. And then, even then, God can work miracles.

If you look at the story of faith recorded in the Scriptures, it is a litany of failures and rejects, the bungled and the botched. Murderers, prostitutes, scallywags of every sort, but they had one thing in common. They had faith. And God started with that. And lives were transformed.

That is what God wants. God does not call the equipped, God equips the Called. And who goes to the front of the line? Those who have those kernels of faith, who plant them deep in their soul so they bear fruit; those who come back to say thank you before the miracle even takes place because they can see that whatever is happening is on God’s radar screen and the outcome is in his hands.

Some of you are facing some hard days right now. Some hard diagnoses. I see so much faith. I see tears, tears of very human fears, and tears of supernatural agape love. I see a community surrounding people, bathing them in prayer, hoping for miraculous intervention.

I met with a parishioner here a few years ago, facing a hard, HARD situation. I let them know that I did not have any magic words, and that I had no special powers. I could not snap my fingers and make it go away. But I did let them know that I was with them and this community is with them, and they are not alone. And the God who calls us and saves us, the God who calls us to Faith and who has been with us every step of the way, is with them, too. With just a little faith we can make it.

And when even that kernel, that mustard seed, is gone, we come together in our collective faith to pull each other through. No matter how bad things are, no matter how dark it seems, if thirty years of ministry has taught me anything it is this. 

Nothing is ever wasted in God’s Economy. The storm you are going through today prepares you to minister in a way that only you can tomorrow.

That may be a statement of faith, but friends, it has proven itself true so many times I take it for fact, or to be more scientific, a theorem of faith, anyway.

We are a community of faith, walking the path responding to God’s call. Take that next step so that we can all hear Jesus say of us, “Get up! Go on your way, your faith has saved you!” Amen

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Year C Proper 22 WED 2022 Be You

 Year C Proper 22,  WEDNESDAY, 5 October 2022

St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA

“Be You”

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.

Luke 7:18-35

The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” ’ Jesus* had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers* are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus* began to speak to the crowds about John:* ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone* dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

   who will prepare your way before you.” 

I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax-collectors, acknowledged the justice of God,* because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)

‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

   we wailed, and you did not weep.” 

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’

I find it interesting, this passage was mentioned in our Book Club reading this last week, so it has been stuck in my craw.

Once again, Jesus answers, but not directly. We have John the Baptizer sending his disciples to inquire if his cousin, Jesus, is truly “The One.” He responds to their inquiry by quoting Isaiah, and basically saying, “I am fulfilling the prophecies surrounding ‘The One,’ so you decide for yourself.” Jesus does not judge John, he actually praises him saying no one greater has ever been born. Hard to get higher praise than that.

But then we get into how people perceive. John fasted and lived the life of strict obedience, and they said he was demon possessed. Jesus came and spent time with those less than acceptable, and he is a drunkard and a glutton. You cannot win.

But today I want to focus on that last phrase in today’s reading, Wisdom is vindicated in her children. We have modern equivalents, “The proof is in the pudding.” Or, another quote of Jesus, “You will know a tree by its fruits.” Or even simpler, “We’ll see.” Yes, we will.

Between my recent anniversary here and my birthday, I have been a bit introspective and reflective lately. I have been here long enough to think of legacy, and what has been accomplished and what work we still have to do in my time serving here. Fear not, we have a long way to go! But Jesus’ phrase, Wisdom is vindicated by her children, it makes me think of my kids.

I want them happy. I want them faithful. I want them to be who they were born to be. No more, but no less. Jesus wants the same for us. Jesus’ desire for us is to be who we are called to be. Yesterday was St. Francis’ Feast Day, remembering his death just shy of 800 years ago (1226 AD). On his deathbed he reminded his followers to not be like him, but to be themselves, who God made them to be. As he put it, “I have done my part. May Christ teach you to do yours.

We follow Jesus, but we take up our cross, no one else’s. Maybe the greatest gift we can give the world, maybe the highest calling of this life, maybe what God wants for us, like I want for my kids, is for us to be happy, to be faithful, to be ourselves, loving God and all we encounter. Wisdom, true wisdom, is vindicated in her children. Our fruits, offspring, whatever we call it or see it as, declares who we really are.

We may never have someone come and ask us who we really are, like John’s disciples did of Jesus, but that is our task for ourselves. Who am I? And may our answer be, I am who God made me to be. Thanks be to God. Amen.