God is listening

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Readings:

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret. Most of you all know that I pray for a living right? The most important part of my job here is praying. Not fundraising; not managing the building, not managing events. I have to do those things from time to time, but my real job is prayer. That really is what the church pays me for. I do it all the time. In formal ways and in informal ways. Sometimes it is lighting candles or saying the rosary. Sometimes it is saying the daily office or saying mass. Sometimes it is just throwing up my hands to God and saying “Oh Lord, You know!” 

That’s not really the secret. Most of you probably know that. Here is the thing I don’t often talk about: almost each and every time I pray there is a little voice in my head that says: why are you doing this? Do you think this is really going to make a difference? Do you think anyone is listening? Do you really think this matters? 

If you are a person of prayer, maybe you have heard that little voice before. Sometimes the voice is very faint; sometimes the voice screams in your ear. Either way the message is usually the same: God isn’t listening. God doesn’t care. God isn’t there.

I pray for a living; my life is dedicated to it, and I have seen prayers answered in ways that would blow your minds. I could tell stories that no one in here would believe. I know prayer works; I have seen it work…and yet, even for me…that voice is still there. Maybe it is there for you too. 

God dwells in a realm or a kingdom that we cannot always see with our eyes. I am a firm believer that there are physical realities that we can see, feel and touch in this world, and there are spiritual realities that really belong to God’s kingdom, that are not always visible to us, but are no less real. The kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this world, they exist side by side, sometimes they even connect, but we don’t always see it or recognize it. We need to be reminded regularly that although we can’t always see it, God’s kingdom is there. God is there, even though we can’t always see him or touch him. And God is listening, even when it doesn’t seem like he is talking back to us. We need to be reminded of this all the time, I need to be reminded all the time, otherwise…that other little voice wins. And I think we all know who that other little voice belongs to.

“Do not fear, for I am with you”

The Prophet Isaiah comforts God’s people with these words. Do not fear, for I am with you. Earlier he says, “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you. And through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.” 

I am with you, God tells his people living in exile. I am with you.

I love this passage from Isaiah, because I think that it is a beautiful reminder that although we may not always see God clearly working in our lives, nonetheless he is there. God is with us in struggles, in exile, in suffering, and in joy, and in feasting and celebration. God is with us when times and good; God is with us when times are bad. God is always with us, God hears our prayers, God always sees us; the problem is that we don’t always see him. Sometimes we need a little help seeming him. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the physical world we live in and the spiritual world of God’s kingdom are not as far apart as we often imagine. In fact, sometimes those two worlds collide.

More than anything else, the celebration of Our Lord’s incarnation is a celebration of the supreme moment when the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world collided. Jesus, who was fully God and fully human, is the living point of connection between the invisible spiritual world of God and the visible, physical world of God’s creation. In Jesus those two become one, and he is the ultimate reminder that this God we are praying to isn’t some distant, disinterested spiritual force, but a living reality in our very lives, and yes, even in our physical bodies. 

So much of the time we can’t see the connection between the spiritual world and the physical world. Sometimes we think that they are just two completely separate planes of existence; and sometimes we may have to wrestle with that voice that is always trying to convince us that the spiritual world doesn’t exist at all…that no one is listening when we pray. 

But then there are moments when the two worlds collide and the connection between God’s kingdom and this world is made perfectly clear to us and we are given signs and symbols that God is here. God is with us. And God is listening. 

When Jesus stepped into those waters of the river Jordan, knelt down and was baptized by John, people saw the most extraordinary thing. It was like the heavens were opened, or the veil that always separates the visible world from the invisible world was torn in two and for a moment they could see that God’s kingdom and the earthly kingdom were colliding in Jesus Christ. The voice they heard then was not that shrill, irritating voice of the deceiver, trying to convince them that this wasn’t happening and God wasn’t real. The voice that they heard then was the bold voice of God saying: this is my son. This is my joy. Here our two worlds are united. Although Jesus was conceived as God’s son and didn’t become God’s son at his baptism, for those standing around witnessing this event, this act was a moment of epiphany when they recognized that the two worlds had collided. God’s kingdom was not as far away as they thought, and maybe, just maybe, God had been listening to their prayers all along. Maybe God was really going to send a messiah to save them. Through the Holy Spirit, and through the water and the voice, God made it clear that he is living in our world. I guess the question for us is: are we living in his?

Baptism, for Christians, is not just a rite of initiation. It’s not waterboarding or hazing, or just a sweet thing to do with babies. Baptism is a moment when God’s world and our world collide. In Jesus’s baptism people recognized that the veil between God’s kingdom and our kingdom was torn in two, that they were no longer completely separate but one in Jesus Christ. And through our baptism as Christians we become a part of that union too. The water of baptism is a symbol to us that we are not just citizens of a visible, material world, but are a full part of a universe far more profound and mysterious. Baptism reminds us that we don’t just live in this world of toil and sin and strife and death, but also have a citizenship in God’s heavenly kingdom where prayers get answered and the dead are raised to new life. 

In Baptism, in Communion, in the other sacraments of the church, and in many other ways, God’s world and this world collide and for a moment we recognize and remember that we are not alone. God really is with us. God really does listen. Hold on to those moments, because those moments are real and true. 

That other little voice…the one we all hear from time to time, telling us that God isn’t real and prayer doesn’t work, that is the voice of a liar. Literally a damned liar, so my professional advice, as someone who prays for a living, is don’t listen to it. God is with us, and if you will be attentive to the signs and symbols around you, you will see God’s presence in the post amazing ways. So keep praying. God IS listening. 

He gave power to become children of God

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Sermon for the First Sunday after Christmas

December 26th, 2021

Readings:

We have a priest friend, who several years back adopted two little boys. And a couple years ago, right before the pandemic began I believe, our friend decided to take his sons on a trip to the Holy Land. This priest has a strong attachment to and love for the Holy Land, much like Keith and I do, so he wanted to share that experience with his sons.

Well naturally one of the stops on his trip was Bethlehem, and he managed to catch this picture of his boys there which now adorns his Facebook page. Every time I see this picture all sorts of emotions well up inside me. You see, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem sits on top of a cave that is traditionally recognized as the birthplace of Jesus. And in this picture my friend’s two boys are in the little cave that sits underneath the Church, and they are both sitting underneath the altar and looking down at and touching the silver star on the rock that marks the place where Jesus was born. 

It’s a stunning photograph, because it just says so much. Now my friend has said that what you don’t hear when you look at the picture is their running commentary in the background: “Where’s the barn? Are there any Oxen here? Where’s the manger? Where’s Momma Mary?” Kids are bound to be full of questions, but their questions were really just a way of trying to connect the story that they knew to their life in that moment. I think they were making a connection between Jesus’s story and their own story. What an amazing thing to be able to take children to one of the holiest places on earth and to do so while they are still at the age where they are open to mystery and wonder. Yes, I am envious, and yes, it is something I hope to do with my own kids someday. 

Two little children touching the place where Jesus was born. His story, which they knew, was now a part of their story. This sacred place was a part of their own history. It was a part of their family story. And this family story that they were a part of, had nothing to do with any accidents of genetics or biology; it was a family created by God, not by man.

On Christmas Eve we were told the Christmas story according to the Gospel of Luke, but at the very end of the service before we all departed we heard John tell his version of Jesus’s backstory. It is part of the same gospel we just heard this morning. And John begins Jesus’s story not with his birth in the manger, but with the birth of all creation. John wants you to understand that this Jesus that he is going to tell you about, isn’t just a simple man living at a time in history. This is the God of all creation that has come to live among us. John wants you to understand that this story is much more profound than you realize, but he also wants you to see that it is much more personal. He isn’t just talking about a man named Jesus, he is talking about the Most High God; He isn’t just talking about a man named Jesus; he’s talking about you and me. This story is also about you. This is your family history too.

You see John, the writer of this gospel, knows something about how it feels to be adopted into Jesus’s family. When John, who is often referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved, or the beloved disciple, when he was standing next to Mary at the foot of Jesus’s cross when he was crucified, Jesus said to him “behold thy mother.” And he said to her “behold thy son.” Mary would be John’s momma now too, and he would be her son. John understood better than any of us how Jesus invites us to be a part of his family. Mary becomes our Mother; God becomes our Father. We are adopted as children of God. So no matter who we are, or where we are from, if we are Christians, then his story is a part of our story. 

Our secular Christmas celebrations are often very focused on the families we are born into and time spent with blood relations. But the Christian story isn’t about that at all. The Holy Family isn’t your standard Mother, Father and Child. This family wasn’t created by genetics, it was created by God. And likewise the only blood that binds the Christian family together is the blood of Jesus. This isn’t a family we are born into; it is a family we are reborn into. All of us. As Christians, we recognize that it isn’t genetics that make us a family, it is a story. A common story. And if Jesus’s story isn’t a part of your story, it can be. That is what the Church is here to proclaim.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

You know, I do my best not to project my emotions onto God, but when I look at my friend’s picture of his two little boys playing over the star of Bethlehem, I can’t help but imagine the joy that Jesus must feel whenever a child of any age discovers that his story is a part of their story. Whenever that happens, the Holy Family, Jesus’s family, gets a little bit bigger.

This Happened

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Sermon for Christmas Eve 2021

Readings:

Long ago, but really not so very long ago, a young woman living in a village in the hill country of Northern Palestine, went to gather water at the well for her family. She was a teenager really, by our modern standards we would expect her to be concerning herself with school work or to be excited about hanging out with her friends at the prom, but in the time that she lived she was marrying age. And indeed, this young woman was engaged to be married, although the ceremony had not happened yet, and she was still living at home with her family. And while she was gathering water at the well, this young woman had the most frightening encounter: this being appeared to her, as if out of nowhere, and greeted her; called her by name “Mary.” It told her not to be afraid. She wondered what on earth was happening, but the more the angel spoke, the stranger the encounter became. 

The angel told her that she was favored in God’s eyes, and that she would bear a child that would become a king. But not just any king, a king that will be called the son of the Most High and that would reign over an everlasting kingdom. A king greater than David. A ruler mightier than the Roman emperor who controlled much of the world at the time. Of course, Mary knew that this was ridiculous. She was young, but she wasn’t naïve to the ways of the world. She knew where babies come from. And she knew that at that point she had been untouched by her intended Joseph, at least in that way. But Mary also knew God. She had been brought up hearing the stories of amazing things that God had done for her ancestors: parting the sea, feeding people in the desert, saving them time and again. Mary knew that from time to time this God sends messengers to his people: angels that sometimes look a lot like human beings. Maybe that is what this was. Maybe this story was true. Maybe God was calling her to do this amazing thing. So Mary’s faith moves her to say “Yes, Lord.” Let your will be done. She could have said “no,” but she didn’t. She said yes.

This story of an encounter with an angel at the well, was probably difficult for even Mary to believe, and it had happened to her, her fiancé Joseph understandably would have had a harder time with it. He was clearly a good, honest man, who had love for this young woman even though he didn’t really know her that well yet. So he must have been terribly hurt when she told him this story, hurt because he would have assumed that she had betrayed him and was now lying to him to cover up the trespass. Still his goodness prevailed. He decided to end the engagement quietly rather than publicly shame Mary, which he easily could have done. That is, until he had a dream too. Joseph was also visited by a strange being, only for him it was in a dream and not standing beside the village well. And this being, this angel told Joseph something similar. Mary was telling the truth, as hard as it was for him to believe, this was the truth. 

So Joseph weds Mary, and most of the world just looks at them as an average new couple. Only a few people know that there is more to their story. Of course, that pesky Roman emperor gets in the way. He wants a census of this conquered territory for tax purposes. I guess that is just what you do when you take over a country, you take a census to see how much you now own; William the Conqueror did it when he invaded England in 1066, so why wouldn’t Augustus do it a thousand years earlier? So Mary and Joseph had to travel to Joseph’s ancestral home at a most inconvenient time: when she was about 9 months pregnant. Now obviously I have never been pregnant, but I have been around plenty of pregnant women, and they always need to use the restroom. I can’t imagine that riding a donkey while 9 months pregnant was a very pleasant experience for either Mary or Joseph.  But they did it. And when they finally got to their destination: the village of Bethlehem a few miles South of Jerusalem, they ended up bedding down for the night in a cave where some of the animals were being stabled. Now this probably wasn’t all that unusual of a thing. There would have been a lot of visitors in Bethlehem, it wasn’t a large village, and there wouldn’t have been much room inside the inner rooms of these houses for guests to stay. There were probably other people sleeping under similar conditions that night. At least this stable/cave was warm and dry with plenty of fresh straw to rest on. It does get cold in Bethlehem you know, especially at night. I have pictures of friends playing in the snow there. 

So there, in a little cave in the Bethlehem hillside, Mary gives birth to her child. A little boy. There was a stone trough in the corner of the cave where the animals were fed. The French used to call this type of feeding trough a mangier, but in English we simplified it to manger. A vessel that animals are fed from. That would have to serve as a bassinet. The baby was swaddled snuggly in cloth to help him feel safe and warm. Maybe Mary had some help with this. I hope she had some help. The scripture doesn’t say. We assume Joseph was there with her, but maybe some of the local midwives joined together to help Mary through it. It seems reasonable. Of course, they wouldn’t know just yet what was really happening. It would have looked like just another ordinary birth to them. 

But then a few shepherds came in from out in the field. Undoubtedly, anyone helping Mary would have thought: go away! This is just another birth. Women have babies all the time. She needs rest now. Why are you bothering this poor woman? But the shepherds have a strange tale to tell. While watching their sheep they had this mysterious vision, and in this vision this being told them that the Messiah, the long-awaited saviour had been born. They even heard angels and other heavenly beings singing a song of praise to God. That’s what led them here. Bethlehem was a little village, it wouldn’t have taken them long to find out who just had a baby and where. Everyone in town would have known, only most of them would have assumed that this was just an ordinary birth and an ordinary child. The shepherds told people what they had seen an heard, and many were amazed by it, but I wonder how many truly believed the story they were told. 

Eventually, a little later some other visitors show up: strange men from the East. Some people call them magicians, some call them prophets, some even call them Kings, but what is clear is that they aren’t from here. They aren’t even Jewish, and yet they claim to have been led to this place by a different heavenly being, a star. A sign for them that something remarkable had taken place. They present gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Odd gifts for a baby. You can’t put those on a BuyBuyBaby registry. I know, I’ve tried. But that’s what they brought. Symbolic gifts that are signs that this baby isn’t just any baby. 

When the shepherds have seen the little child they go home. They go home praising God, but they go home. When the wise men have offered their gifts they go home. But Joseph and Mary can’t go home. Another angel had warned Joseph that King Herod wanted the child dead. No big surprise. If this child turns out to be what these angels say he is, then he will turn the world upside down. Herod doesn’t want his world turned upside down. He wants to eliminate this child. So Joseph and Mary take their little baby and escape to Egypt, longing for the day when it safe for them to return home, and pondering in their hearts everything that they have witnessed and experienced. 

This is the story we tell tonight. The story of the birth of Christ. The story of Christmas. There are countless reasons why you shouldn’t believe this story we tell tonight. Undoubtedly people have pointed some of them out to you. Every year people trot out some of the same tired old arguments as to why you shouldn’t believe this story. People will say that virgins don’t have babies, as if Mary didn’t already know that. They will say that shepherds aren’t out in the fields at winter time, but I’ve got news for you: they are, I’ve seen them. People will say that Christmas is just a holiday that we stole from the pagans, even though there’s actually no real evidence to support that. People think they are being informed, educated, rational and clever, but they are really just looking for reasons NOT to believe. Because believing this story is a threat. Herod may be dead and gone, but the world is still filled with people that want to make the baby Jesus go away. He’s still a threat. The easiest way to neutralize the threat is just to kill the story. Make it a fable. Make it fiction. Make it a safe, sweet little fairy tale, that nobody actually believes. 

But we aren’t here to do that tonight. We are here to accept the threat that Jesus and the story of his birth presents to our lives. The threat is this: that we aren’t in control that God is real and God has power to do things that defy our logic and understanding that the world is more complex and mysterious than we sometimes imagine; that we don’t know everything; that we don’t have every answer. That is the threat. The threat is that truth, real truth, is sometimes completely improbable, unexpected and difficult to believe. If this child truly is the son of God, then his story, his entire story, is going to be a challenge to us. It’s going to be a threat. But as Christians, as believers, it is a threat and a challenge that we accept. 

We are here tonight to say, with all of the glory and pageantry and beauty and courage that we can muster, we are here to say something that is both extremely simple and unimaginable profound: this story, which you probably know very well and which the world still doesn’t want you to actually believe, this story is true. This happened. 

You don’t have what it takes.

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Sermon for December 5th, 2021

Readings:

It is a cook’s nightmare and sooner or later it happens to all of us: you are in the middle of a recipe; you are cooking up something fabulous; you go to your pantry for that one essential ingredient that you know you have, only it’s not there! That thing you have to have to make this recipe is gone! Failure. Now, I have to get dressed and drive to the store, and hope that they have it, so that I can finish this.

There is a French cooking technique called mis en place that is meant to help you avoid this embarrassing situation. It means “put in place,” and basically all it is, is that you assemble and measure all your ingredients BEFORE you start cooking. It is an essential part of preparation and good chefs know how to do this. I know how to do this, I do it all the time, but every now and then I get a little sure of myself, I get confident that I have what it takes, only to start something and discover halfway into it that I don’t have what it takes and am missing something essential. 

It happened to me just this summer. I was making jerk chicken, only to discover (with raw chicken sitting on my countertop) that I didn’t have any allspice. This isn’t one of those situations when you can just substitute something else. You can’t make Jerk chicken without allspice, that’s the flavor! So of course, I had to put everything away, and go off in search of allspice. 

I discovered, a little too late, that I didn’t have what it takes. Consider this your holiday warning, my fellow cooks and chefs, examine your pantries closely. You may think you have what it takes, and you might be wrong. You might be missing something essential. You might think you are prepared, but are you really?

Today is the Second Sunday of Advent, and although the entire season of Advent is about preparation, on the Second Sunday we hear the word “prepare” over and over again as the Prophet John the Baptist walks onto the scene: 

“You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High,

For you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.”

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

Prepare the way of the Lord,

Make his paths straight.”

Along with the word ‘prepare’ we hear some other words today: repentance, forgiveness, sins. Before the Lord comes the people must be prepared and that preparation, according to the story of our faith, is a repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is the message that John the Baptist must proclaim: repent! Poor John. His life’s mission is selling something that nobody wants to buy: the idea of repentance. The notion of sin. Not other people’s sin, that is easy to believe in; no, our own sin, my own sin, your own sin. That is a much harder sell. 

A couple years ago, when talking to our children in the parish, I explained to them that sin can be like carrying around this extra burden that you don’t want. I got a backpack and I loaded it with bricks and they got to put it on and feel how heavy it was. And then we took the bricks out and they could feel, literally feel, how it felt to be unburdened; to not be carrying around all that extra weight. I explained to them that we confess our sins in order to let go of all that stuff that we have been picking up along the way. We confess to make our souls lighter. I still stand by that example. I still believe that sin burdens us, and weighs us down and that confession can help us release that, but I also think now that that is only one side of the story.

Because repentance isn’t just about realizing that you are carrying around something you don’t want; it is also about the realization that you don’t have something that you really need. 

Sin isn’t just about something you have; it is about something that you are missing. An essential ingredient. That is the other side of the story. Sin is realizing that there is something in you that is missing.

Righteousness; Goodness. We all like to imagine that we have it. We all like to think that we have it in abundant supply, just sitting in our pantries waiting to be used. But what if it’s not actually there? If righteousness or goodness are the essential ingredient to a life lived with the Lord, what if the Lord comes and you discover that you don’t actually have it. You thought that you had it, but what is sitting on the shelf is just an empty bottle or a cheap imitation. Will there be time to run out and get it? What if nobody else has it either? What if you can’t buy it anywhere?

Sin isn’t just about having something you don’t want; it is about lacking something that you need. Now in our self-help, independent society, where everyone is always told that they are good enough and smart enough, and where everyone always gets a trophy, and nobody ever has to change, it is counter-cultural and maybe even downright offensive to tell people that they don’t have what it takes. Nobody wants to hear that they don’t have what it takes. We all like to imagine that we are doing just fine. But what if that’s not actually true? What if we really are missing something that is essential. What if you are not as good as you think you are?

It seems to me that “you don’t have what it takes” actually is an important and key part of the church’s proclamation and message, not just this time of year, throughout the year, but especially this time of year. Especially when we are preparing to meet Jesus. Because if you don’t understand that “you don’t have what it takes,” then you will never fully appreciate the fact that he does. If you can’t accept that something in your life is missing, then how will you ever know what Jesus has to offer you? 

If you desire to live a life with God, then righteousness or goodness is going to be an essential part of the recipe, the essential ingredient, only it can’t be bought and you can’t borrow it from your neighbors. The good news is that it is being given away for free, as a gift, only in order to receive it, you have to know that you need it. So be prepared before the great feast approaches.

You may think you have what it takes, and you might be wrong.

God keeps his promises

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Sermon for Sunday, November 28th, 2021

Advent I

Readings:

In the New Jerusalem, on that day when people see God’s promises fulfilled, and the empty promises of men swept away, people will finally fully realize then that God is their true and only righteousness. People will know then, that the promises that truly matter, are God’s promises.

The prophet Jeremiah had predicted that the kingdoms of Israel and Judah would be destroyed and that the great city of Jerusalem would be laid waste. 

You don’t get that part in our Old Testament reading this morning, you just get the sugar, you just get the promises, but before Jeremiah offers people those words of hope, first he has to inform them that there are hard times coming. Hard times doesn’t even begin to describe it. Jerusalem will fall, its walls will be torn down, its temple will be destroyed. The broken promises of men will be brought into full view.

After Jeremiah shares that harsh message, then he shares the passage that you heard this morning, telling of how God is going to fulfill his promises, raise up a new king with a new kingdom, and there will be a new Jerusalem too, only Jeremiah gives it a new name. He says the city is going to be called “The Lord is our righteousness.” 

That’s kind of a long name for a city. I mean, it’s shorter than those Welsh towns that people make fun of, but you wouldn’t want to have to write it many times on an envelope. But that is what Jeremiah says the new Jerusalem is going to be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” 

Because in the New Jerusalem, when people see God’s promises fulfilled, and the empty promises of men swept away, people will finally fully realize that God is their righteousness. Their only righteousness. Not their good works. Not their money. Not their intellect. Not their looks. Not their correct opinions. Not their promises. None of that stuff will mean anything in the presence of God. None of that has anything to do with true righteousness. God determines what is right and what is wrong, so true righteousness can only come from God alone. God is the author of it.

Think about that for a second. We say things like: this is right and that is wrong all the time. We appeal to right and wrong all the time, but where does that notion of right and wrong ultimately come from? It comes from God.  We forget that. We get this foolish notion that we can be righteous apart from God. We think that righteousness exists apart from God, but it doesn’t. In the New Jerusalem, according to Jeremiah, we will know that the Lord is our righteousness. We will know that God is our only hope and salvation.

If that is true, if the Lord is our only source of true righteousness, then wouldn’t we welcome his presence among us? Wouldn’t we eagerly look for it? We don’t have to wait until that future day comes to look to God for our salvation, in fact, we dare not. We need to look for it now. That is what Jesus wanted his disciples to understand: God’s promises are being fulfilled right in front of you, if you only had the power to recognize it and see it. God’s promises need to be on your mind at all times, because the Kingdom of God is not as far away as you might think. God’s promises shouldn’t be words that sit on a dusty bookshelf somewhere. They should be words that are a part of our daily lives. We should look to God’s promises more often than we look to the promises of men. They are more reliable.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Last week we proclaimed Christ as our King; this week we look for his coming again in power and glory. The Second Coming of Christ is often talked about or depicted as something to be feared, but if Jeremiah was right, if the Lord really is our righteousness; if God is our fountain of goodness and the well of water that leads to eternal life, if God keeps his promises, then we shouldn’t fear his coming. We should welcome it. We should long for it. 

For some of our young Christians sitting in the front today, this isn’t just the beginning of a new church season, today marks the beginning of what we hope will be a lifelong relationship with our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Whenever you come forward to receive, my young brothers and sisters, you should remember that this act too is a promise of God. Jesus has promised us that he will be present with us whenever we gather for communion. He has promised to feed us with his very own life. This is a promise that you can trust. Kids, not everyone you meet in life can be trusted, but God can be. Never forget that. God keeps his promises and communion is an important reminder of that.

This world is a mess. It has been for a very, very long time. If you think the news is depressing, go and read the first 30 chapters or so of Jeremiah. Jeremiah had no expectation that humans would ever keep their promises, but he knew that God would. That was Jeremiah’s hope: that God would keep his promises. That is our hope too. We don’t need to be weighed down by the sins of this world; we don’t need to be shocked or surprised by them. It is so easy to be so distracted by the broken promises of men, that we miss all the evidence of God keeping his promises. That is what Advent really proclaims, both in the coming of Christ in the manger and the coming of Christ in the clouds, Advent proclaims that God keeps his promises. Fear not, but watch and wait. God keeps his promises.

Humans make bad choices

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Sermon for Christ the King, Sunday November 21st, 2021

Readings:

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93 
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

When the people had a choice, they chose Barabbas.

Never forget that. In the very next few verses of this gospel, Pilate gives the people a choice, he lets them vote. The people may choose Jesus, the prophet and teacher that some people are hailing as the Messiah, or they may choose Barabbas, the murderer and bandit who was arrested for leading a riot against the Roman oppressors. Well, the choice is obvious, isn’t it? Obviously, the choice has to be Barabbas. He’s the stronger leader. Barabbas isn’t taking any prisoners or suffering any fools. Barabbas is a man of action. Barabbas is more popular.

What has Jesus done? Yeah, it is rumored that he has some magical powers, some people even say that they saw him bring a dead man back to life, but if that were really the case then why doesn’t he show his power now? But here Jesus stands all chained up and beaten, bloody, frail and weak, and mostly quiet. Does Pilate actually think that the people are going to vote for this man? I’m not so sure.

Pilate is a cynic, he’s not a fool. Despite his protestations of finding no fault with Jesus, he knows that this little vote isn’t about giving justice to this condemned man. This isn’t about right and wrong; this is a popularity contest, plain and simple. If Pilate were actually concerned about what is right, if he cared about true justice, and if he believed Jesus to be innocent, as he says, then he would set Jesus free; he has the power to do that. But what Pilate cares about is political expediency and popularity. I have a hard time believing that the man who asks that famous cynical question, “what is truth?” is actually surprised when the people choose Barabbas. No, he’s not surprised.

We should not be surprised either. 

Because truth is not always popular, in fact, truth is often deeply unpopular. The will of the majority, has very little to do with the will of God. Popularity is not justice, and popularity is not truth. 

Fulton Sheen, in his magnificent “Life of Christ” notes that:

 “Truth does not win when numbers alone become decisive. Numbers alone can decide a beauty queen, but not justice. Beauty is a matter of taste, but justice is tasteless. Right is still right if nobody is right, and wrong is still wrong if everybody is wrong. The first poll in the history of Christianity was wrong!”

The people had a choice, and the chose Barabbas. Don’t forget that. I know this may come as a shock to some people, it may even anger some of you, but it needs to be said: Democracy is NOT a biblical ideal. You will not find in the scriptures any endorsement of the idea that the will of the people is equal to the will of God, in fact, what you will find is ample evidence of the exact opposite. There are plenty of reminders in the scriptures that God does not see things the way we see things, and that the will of the majority is not in accord with God’s will: Moses wandering through the desert with the Children of Israel, who wanted to turn back at every step; Samuel who anointed David as King over Israel, the weakest of Jesse’s sons, the one nobody would have voted for; You can pick any one of the prophets, who each called out the masses for their perversion of God’s will; and of course, in the gospels people are given the choice to vote for Jesus, and the choice they make is Barabbas. Humans make bad choices. If you don’t get anything else out of reading or hearing scripture, if you don’t get anything else out of this sermon, please get that. Write it down on your palm; make yourself a note and stick it to the refrigerator. Humans make bad choices. We do it as individuals, and when you put us together in groups, we do it as groups. If human will were always in accordance with divine will, we wouldn’t need government, and we wouldn’t need laws. But alas that is not, and never has been the case. Government and human law is our extremely imperfect way of mitigating the damage of human sinfulness. It can do some good things, but a lot of time it is just mitigating damage. It is at the same time a product of and subject to human sinfulness. It is a temporary solution to living in a world with humans that make bad choices. But because we are prone to making bad choices, we have discovered that some forms of government are better, or at least less cruel, than others.

Winston Churchill once famously said: 

‘Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’

Democracy, whether it is an American-style republic or the British-style constitutional monarchy, may be the least-worst form of government we have, but that doesn’t make it perfect. As we recall from our Remembrance Sunday service last week, democracy and freedom may be something worth fighting for, and dying for. It is definitely something worth praying for; but we must never assume that the free choices we make are righteous based solely upon the number of people that are voting with us. Righteousness doesn’t work that way. As Bishop Sheen said: “Truth does not win when numbers alone become decisive.” 

Democracy may be our form of government, but it is not God’s form of government, not in his kingdom. Because democracy is about public opinion and popularity; democracy is about the numbers. What do the poll numbers say today? But God doesn’t need to know the will of the majority, because the only will that is going to matter in the kingdom of God is his will. Numbers matter in this world, but Jesus reminds us in the gospel today that his kingdom is not of this world. The numbers don’t matter to God. Popular opinion doesn’t matter to God. What matters to God is truth. That is what Jesus’s kingdom is about, truth, and guess what, truth is NOT something that you get to vote on. It just is.

This has become an increasingly hard pill to swallow nowadays, because we are all told on a daily basis how much our opinions and how much our feelings matter. Every phone call wants me to take a survey afterwards. Everytime I take my car to the shop, I am sent a survey afterwards and God forbid I don’t fill it out with all 10s or all 5s or whatever. Facebook is a giant altar to your personal feelings and opinions, wherein you may worship them night and day. The news you read, that is all shaded to conform to your already held opinions. Even Stew Leonard’s has a big sign out front that says, “the customer is always right.” As someone who has worked in retail, I can tell you with authority that that is an absolute lie. The customer is most certainly NOT always right. NO ONE IS. Humans are not always right. And humans make bad choices, even in the best democracies. 

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and I want to make something very clear here: this service has nothing to do with the politics of THIS world. I am NOT asking you to vote for Jesus today. Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should vote, should exercise their right and duty as citizens of this democracy to make it as strong and as good as it can be. I wish people would vote wisely, although I usually keep my expectations pretty low on that one. But the United States of America, no matter how good it is, is NOT the kingdom of God. It is a kingdom of this world. We aren’t here to celebrate a kingdom of this world today. We are here to recognize that there is another kingdom that is coming, we can see it on the horizon. We can see it breaking through in the most unlikely places. Jesus’s kingdom is IN this world, but it is not OF this world. Big difference. We may have a place in that kingdom, but we don’t have a vote. God might want you to vote here, in this kingdom, but he doesn’t need your vote in his. We are not here today to campaign for Jesus or to poll your opinions. We are here to proclaim a truth. The truth. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is King. Jesus will be judge and ruler over all. Your opinion about that doesn’t really matter. It does not matter how that makes you feel. There will be no referendum on the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount there; you won’t have a vote on what is true.

Jesus is not putting his kingship up to a vote. That is Pilate’s job and we know how that voted ended. We know what choice we made.

Whether or not Jesus is going to be King is not a choice you get to make, so let’s stop worrying about that. The choice that is before you is: how are you going to respond to this king? How are you going to serve him? Are you going to serve him? Now, humans are not known for doing this, but I am begging you and urging you, please, when it comes to this decision, make a good choice.

Some things are worth fighting for

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Sermon for Sunday, November 14th, 2021

Remembrance Sunday

Readings:

Daniel 12:1-3
Psalm 16 
Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

Who told you that life was going to be fair?

Please tell me where it is written in scripture that God has proclaimed that all things will continually improve. When and where did God promise you that your life would be easy? Where did he say that you wouldn’t suffer? When did he say that you wouldn’t have to fight?

When did Jesus promise you that humans would one day figure out how to not sin, or fight, or struggle, or even kill one another?

That’s right. He didn’t. 

You can call Jesus a lot of things, but don’t dare call him a liar. He told us it was going to be this way. Jesus told us that religious folks can be hypocritical; we don’t need to act surprised. Jesus told us that no one is good but God alone, so we don’t need to weep and wail every time we discover anew that humans are sinners. He told us that following him would be hard. He told us that there would be false prophets, coming in his name. He told his disciples that they would fail him and betray him, and they did. He said that the temple would be torn down, and it was. He said that there would be natural disasters, and there are. And he said…that there would be wars.

Jesus told us that there would be war. He didn’t say he ordains it. He didn’t say he desires it. We don’t ever have to call it a good thing. But please, can we stop pretending that he promised it wouldn’t happen? Can we stop pretending that Jesus predicted that someday the world will have some grand epiphany or get tired of fighting? Jesus and John Lennon are not the same! I know this is going to upset some of you terribly who just love imagining that humans are going to wake up one day and just start getting along. Pop culture might promise you that, politicians might promise you that, but Jesus does NOT promise you that. 

Quite the opposite. Jesus promises us that there WILL be war and suffering, but he adds that the suffering is NOT the end. The suffering is NOT the end. Jesus actually describes all this suffering as birth pangs. That’s the word he used: Birth pangs. Suffering that is a prelude to something else. A pain that signifies the beginning of something new. 

Of course, we are always impatient. We want that new day to happen now. We don’t want to wait on God. We think that we can fix the world with just a little more education. Well guess what, people now have a little device that fits in their hands that has access to all the knowledge in the world, and most of them are as dumb as they ever were. Maybe dumber. 

We have not fixed sin, and as long as there is sin, there will be conflict. We don’t need to be surprised about that. If we are surprised that humans are still sinful after all these years, if we are surprised that people are still fighting, then we haven’t been paying attention. Or we have been listening to the deceiver, not to God. The deceiver wants you to think that God is failing and breaking his promises, but God is doing no such thing. We are the ones who fail. We are the ones who sin. And we have proven, if there is anything that has ever been proven, we have proven that we just don’t have the power to stop. The human race does not learn its lessons, not for very long at least. Every generation seems to discover anew just how corrupt and broken humanity really is. Sin is something that every generation has to learn to deal with and to do battle with.

We honor today the countless individuals who lost their lives in battle, especially in the two great wars of the last century, but also in the many conflicts that there have been since then. We are still fighting wars. We fight wars because humans are sinful it’s, but it should be noted, that we also fight wars because humans are more than sinful. We can be noble. We can defend, we can protect, we can love, we can even sacrifice everything for someone else. We fight, in part because we recognize that some things are worth fighting for. I don’t want to live in a world where people are fighting. What could be worse than living in a world of constant fighting? How about living in a world where nothing is worth fighting for? Yeah, I think that would be worse. Should we fight over every spit of land or every economic interest or petty insult? No, we should not. We need to pick our battles carefully. But should we fight sin, tyranny, hatred, injustice, evil and lies? Yes, because some things are worth fighting for. We need to fight those things, not only when we encounter them in the world, but most especially when we encounter them in ourselves. We need to call upon Michael the Archangel, our defender in battle, to stand beside us everyday of our lives and assist us in our daily struggle against evil. And there is evil in the world, and if you aren’t careful, if you aren’t continually on your guard, that evil will march right into your heart. Some things in this world are worth fighting for. Some enemies need to be resisted. And the people we remember today knew that. Thank God they knew that.

My faith is not built on the false hope that humans are one day gonna wake up and start being nice to each other. My hope is not that we will someday put an end to suffering. My hope is that the suffering and conflict that we experience in this world, is a prelude to something else. A prelude to something that God is doing. The birth pangs of a new kingdom that is coming. My hope is not that we humans have fought the last battle; my hope is that God has fought the last battle, and won it. It turns out that God looked at this broken awful world and decided that something in it was worth fighting for: us.  

She needs this bread

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Sermon for November 7th, 2021

Readings:

1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

The widow in Zarephath, the old woman that Elijah encounters in the Old Testament passage from Kings this morning, she needed that little bit of meal and oil that she had left.

Is there anyone here that would argue with that? Is there anyone here that would say that she had more than enough?

Now granted, we don’t know this woman’s backstory; we don’t know much about her. But we do know this, all that she has is just a little flour and a little oil, that she expects will be the last meal for her and her son. This woman cannot afford to be generous. She needs that flour and oil. Even if she doesn’t know where the next meal is coming from, is there anyone here that would want to take this meal away from her?

And you know, I’d be willing to bet that most of this meal would be going to her child anyways. This is a mother, she probably only eating barely enough to keep herself going. If this is the last bit of meal that she has, then the truth is she has probably been going hungry and going without for a long time. She needs this bread that she is going to make. She can’t afford to give it away.

And the prophet Elijah has the nerve to go to this woman and to say: “give me a piece of bread.” Is there anyone here that would fault this woman for saying “buzz off” or worse?

No, of course not. Nobody would fault this woman for wanting to hold on to this little bit of meal, because nobody is going to deny that she really did need it. And when she very politely explains to Elijah her situation, does he back down and say “oh, I’m sorry, I’ll go ask someone else?” No. What he says to her is “don’t be afraid.” Who tells a hungry mother about to have her last meal, don’t be afraid? But that’s what Elijah says. He says “don’t be afraid,” and then he says “God will not let the meal and the oil run out, at least not until better times come, and this drought is over and there is abundance in the land again, God is not going to let you starve now.”

And for some reason, the woman decides to believe him. Why? Is Elijah that persuasive? Or charming? Or slick? No. The clue is in the text. When God first sends Elijah to Zarephath, he says to him, “Go there, live there, I have commanded a widow there to feed you.” You see, God had already been talking to this widow long before Elijah got there. She had a relationship with God and she had been hearing God speak to her. It was God that first told her that she should share what she had with Elijah. What exactly did God say to her? Well we don’t know, the scripture doesn’t say, but I have a theory.

You notice, when Elijah first asks the widow for bread, she’s reluctant. She explains that it’s all she has and will be the last meal for her and her son, but then Elijah responds with “Do not be afraid.” Be not afraid. That is when she becomes convinced that she needs to feed him. Do you ever notice how angels usually greet people in the Bible?

Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard.

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid.

And the angel said unto them, fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy.

When God sends his messengers to greet us, one of the first things they usually say is “do not be afraid.” Maybe that was a part of God’s encounter with this widow. Maybe God’s message to her began with “do not be afraid,” so when she hears those words come out of Elijah’s mouth it just clicks for her and she realizes, this is the man that God was speaking of. This is the man that I am supposed to feed. But even then, even if God had commanded her to feed Elijah, and she was convinced that this man had indeed been sent to her by God, even then that doesn’t change the fact that she didn’t have enough to do what God told her to do. If she fed this man, if she listened to God and followed God’s command she was going to be risking her life and the life of her son. She needed that bread, and she decided to give it away anyways. What an extraordinary act of faith. What an act of courage.

A couple weeks ago, at the fair, I saw this trivet or spoon rest (I don’t remember which) out on the table in the midst of all the yard-sale stuff, and it had a little saying on it that stuck in my mind. It said something like: True generosity is giving away what you can use yourself.

I thought of that when I was reflecting on the two widows in our readings today. One widow in the Book of Kings and the other in Mark’s gospel, and they both gave away something they needed. They both gave away something they could use. Did they do it because they were stupid or foolish? No. They trusted that God would provide. They obeyed what God commanded. They allowed God to save them, rather than feebly try to save themselves. It takes a lot of faith to be able to do that; to trust God more than we trust ourselves. Maybe that is why God’s angels are always telling us “do not be afraid,” because faith can be a scary thing. It is so hard to let go of something that you can use, or that you need. But that is where faith and generosity actually start to mean something. When they are a little risky, or a little scary. When you actually have to give something up.

But there is this funny thing that happens when you give something up for God. It comes back to you and you get back more than you gave. Watch for it in scripture, but more importantly, watch for it in your life. The widow of Zarephath gave Elijah a piece of bread that she needed. And they ate for days and days.

A wise person of faith

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Funeral Mass and Commendation of Ruth Dubas.

October 30, 2021

There are some things that ONLY Jesus can do and there are some things that WE can do WITH Jesus. There are some things that only Jesus, as the Son of God has the power to do: miraculously heal the sick, forgive sins on behalf of God, raise the dead to life, change people’s hearts, offer himself as a sacrifice for our sins, resurrect from the dead on his own mighty power, promise eternal life, and judge with righteousness; only Jesus can do those things. But then there are things that we, as Jesus’s followers, can do WITH Jesus: we can pray, we can care for the sick, we can give to the poor, we can be willing to suffer for the sake of others, we can lead by example, we can teach, we can choose to love, even when it is terribly difficult and inconvenient. We can do these things with Jesus, in fact, Jesus commands us to do them. A wise person of faith will always be mindful of the difference between the things that Jesus does for us as our great high priest, for which we may only offer our thanks and praise, and the things that we do as people who are called to share in his eternal priesthood. A wise person of faith will be mindful of the difference between these things. And Ruth Dubas was a wise person of faith.

The first time I ever had a conversation with Ruth, she was sitting in my chair in my office. That should have been my first clue as to who I was dealing with. I had been called as rector here, but hadn’t officially started yet, and I don’t remember why I was stopping by to see the office, but when I came in Ruth was on the phone at my desk, and I scared the hell out of her. A long-time Ascension parishioner, Doris Moore had just died, and Ruth was coordinating the plans around the funeral from the rector’s desk. Now Ruth offered to get up, but I told her to sit back down, I sat in the chair across from her and we just started chatting. Ruth filled me in on Doris and then she talked about some of the other parishioners that she regularly visited and took communion to. It was becoming clear to me in that first visit, that Ruth had a powerful call to serve and to minister, and if I didn’t know it before, I knew it then, that my ministry, in this place, would be a shared ministry. That woman sitting in my chair was little, but she was also a giant.

That was over 9 years ago now. It some ways, it seems like a lot longer because in that time there have been so many amazing moments of shared ministry with Ruth. Quiet times every week at morning prayer in the chapel. Driving around town taking communion to parishioners. Visiting the dying in the hospital. One Ash Wednesday, Ruth and I took ashes to Alice Mary Roggenkamp, said prayers with her, and by the time we got back to the office we got the news that she had died. That was what Alice was waiting for. It was a real moment of grace. There were a lot of those moments working with Ruth. She was a remarkable woman of faith and above all else she was a prayer warrior.

Now it isn’t my habit to canonize people from the pulpit. Ruth was a real person and she would be the first to admit that she wasn’t perfect. She was here faithfully a couple mornings every week to lead morning prayer, as I said, but she often jumbled the words because she insisted on using this prayerbook with tiny font that she couldn’t see very well. On more than one occasion while out visiting parishioners Ruth tripped and fell, long before she had the accident in Scotland, and the first time it happened I learned the hard way, like many of you, what happens when you try and help Ruth. She was feisty and she had a temper. If you wanted to experience the wrath of Ruth, just try and help her with something that she didn’t want help with. She had a lot of pride, and yes, it did get in the way sometimes. The woman who lived to help others, often had a real hard time accepting help herself. She needed to be independent; she needed to be useful. If you are here today and if Ruth ever let you help her with something, then you are special, because she did not like to be babied. She wanted to be the helper, not the helpee.

In some practical, day to day, ways Ruth had a little trouble accepting her limitations, but when it came to the big things, Ruth knew that she both needed and had a saviour. Ruth might have been reluctant to accept that she couldn’t reach the candlesticks on the altar on her own, but she definitely knew that she wasn’t going to reach heaven on her own. She knew that she needed Jesus, and her desire to serve others, well that was mostly a response to the love and grace that she found in Jesus. She knew that there were some things that she could do for Jesus, but there were some things that only Jesus could do for her. A wise person of faith knows the difference.

This service today is dripping with Ruth, because she had a heavy hand in planning it. That passage from Isaiah about being anointed to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn. Jesus quoted those words in his first sermon. Part of his ministry on earth was to do just that, to comfort and to care and to encourage, and that is a part of his ministry that he shares with us. Ruth felt called to do those things. She wanted to exercise her own priesthood as a believer in Jesus by doing those things. But Ruth also requested the reading from John’s Gospel, where Jesus, right before he raises Lazarus from the dead, says to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” There are some things that Jesus does and our response is to follow his example, and there are some things that Jesus does and our response can only be praise and thanksgiving. Ruth understood that. There are things we can do and there are things we can’t do, but even on Ruth’s death bed she was looking for things that she could do, and in this service Ruth wanted to do something. She is at work in this room this morning. How could she testify to her faith one last time? How could she both serve Jesus AND witness to what only Jesus can do?

Did any of y’all wonder why we had Ruth’s viewing here yesterday instead of at the funeral home? It’s because Ruth said she wanted to see y’all in church one last time. She didn’t just want you to see her here, which would have been fitting since she was here almost more than she was anywhere else and she loved this place with all her heart, but she said she wanted to see you here. She laughed about that. She wanted “Because he lives” sung; it was one of her favorite hymns and it’s all about the fact that Jesus can do what she can’t; her hope was in him. His resurrection is what gave her hope to live each day. That was the motivation behind everything that Ruth did here. That was the motivation behind what Ruth did wherever she went or served, whether it was in her other churches, whether it was Cursillo, or working for Hospice, or in her career as a nurse or in her life with her family. Ruth’s desire to be near the man who rose from the grave inspired her to travel to the Holy Land multiple times, that’s why she went on every pilgrimage and spiritual retreat, and conference. Everything was a response to the hope that Jesus’s resurrection gave her. Everything was an act of thanksgiving for the future glory that she was promised as a believer in Jesus Christ. 

During one of my last visits with Ruth, when she was convinced that she was dying, and I still thought that she might be a bit confused, she made it very clear to me, and it was important that I got this right, she wanted the theme of her funeral to be “glory.” She wanted a glorious funeral with glory as it’s theme. That’s why we are marching out to the battle hymn of the republic. Not only was it played at her beloved husband Andy’s funeral, but the opening line is “Mine eyes have seen the glory.” She wanted to hear “glory, glory halleluiah.” And the last verse of Because he lives is “as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know he lives.” Our entrance hymn: “O what their joy and their glory must be, those endless sabbaths the blessed ones see.” or “O Jesus thou hast promised to all who follow thee, that where thou art in glory, there shall thy servant be.” “To the old rugged cross I will ever be true, it’s shame and reproach gladly bear; then he’ll call me someday to my home far away, where his glory forever I’ll share.” “Thy saints are crowned with glory great; they see God face to face; they triumph still, they still rejoice in that most happy place.” This service is covered in glory. Ruth wanted it to be a vision, or at least a testimony to where she was headed. Because Ruth is covered in glory now too.

During my last visit with Ruth, which was on the Friday of the Friendship Fair, we knew that her situation was serious, but none of us expected things to go as quickly as they did. Ruth was pretty confused during the first part of our conversation. She was having a hard time separating dreams from reality, but the moment I opened the prayer book to pray with her, it’s like all that confusion vanished. Here was a familiar rock that she could stand on, that she knew so well from years of daily use. Every prayer I offered, she said right along with me, word for word. She didn’t jumble any words or make any mistake because she wasn’t trying to read along with me, she wasn’t trying to use her eyes, she was using the words that had found a permanent home in her heart. Of course, I anointed her and gave her communion, for which she was very thankful, but here is a curious thing Ruth kept doing: she kept interrupting me. She kept stopping me so that she could add her own prayers and her own intentions to this little service. She wasn’t confused, she knew exactly what she was doing. This little anointing and communion may have been intended for her, but she was not going to settle for that; she wasn’t going to let those prayers be over until I was prayed for, and you were prayed for. All of you. It was perfect actually. One thing I neglected to mention earlier, was that when Ruth and I went to go and visit parishioners together, most of the time, she drove. Well here she was in the driver’s seat again. She was in the rector’s chair once more, just like when we first met, doing what she loved best: ministering. Serving. Praying. She spent more time praying for me during that visit than I did praying for her, because that is the way she wanted it. Even at the gates of glory, Ruth still knew that she had work to do. 

Ruth knew that there are some things only Jesus can do, and she knew that there are things that she could do with Jesus. She was a wise person of faith. Only God could promise Ruth eternal glory, but as long as she had a breath in her body, Ruth could respond to that promise. 

All of us go down to the dust, yet even at the grave we make our song, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Lord AND Saviour

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Sermon for October 10th, 2021

Readings:

Amos 5:6-7,10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

My singular goal, as your priest and pastor, and as the rector of this church, is for each and every one of you to have a living relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord AND Savior. My only mission, my only agenda, the thing that I actually, really care about is that the people in this parish are given the space, the resources and the guidance that they need to meet Jesus and to develop a relationship with him as Lord and savior. Maybe that sounds very churchy and pious, but it’s true. Now naturally I can’t force this relationship to happen, you can only lead a horse to water, and it’s not that I don’t get distracted sometimes, like anybody, but that’s what I really care about and everything else needs to serve that goal.

Do I love this building and want to preserve it and improve it and keep it as beautiful as possible? You bet, but only because this is a sacred space where people meet Jesus. I have no interest in being the curator of a museum. We have pretty things here, and I love pretty things, but they are not idols to be worshiped in and of themselves. Their real value is in their ability to point us to God. And that is the value of this building; if this building ever stops pointing people to God and serving as a sacred space where people meet Jesus, then it will be worth no more than the land it is sitting on. 

Do I love this community of misfits and want the parish to grow and expand and gain new members? Yes! But we aren’t here to run a fancy private club, nor are we here to run a senior center, a commercial enterprise, a social service agency or a daycare. Church has to be about more than that. There needs to be a deeper connection here, more than just hanging out with some friends once a week, or just doing nice things in the neighborhood. People don’t need the church for that. They can do that on their own.

There needs to be a connection to Jesus Christ; to God. We need to be teaching people to follow him as Lord and Savior, and I say we very intentionally, because it’s not just my job; it’s our job. Helping people to meet and walk with Jesus should be our shared mission and agenda, not just something I am trying to sneak in on you. And I am also saying follow him as Lord and Savior very intentionally, because these are two distinct ways of living in relationship with Jesus and we need them both. We need a Lord and we need a savior.

If Jesus is Lord, then that means when he says to do something, you do it. You take it as a legitimate command that has authority behind it. That means understanding that you are accountable to him. The Book of Hebrews tells us that “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” The true word of God, the word made flesh, Jesus, is living and active. He is a Lord that has authority and power. He cuts right through all your garbage. Nothing is hidden from him, and before him, one day you will give an account. Jesus, as Lord, gives commands that he expects you to respond to; he cares about how you live your life. He cares about what you do with your money.

Gasp. Money

What did you think I wasn’t going to talk about the gospel reading this morning? Jesus is approached by a man who thinks he’s doing pretty good commandment-wise, thinks he is obeying God’s laws, thinks he is a good person, he’s a nice guy, but he asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus has the audacity to tell him to sell his stuff, give the money away and follow him and the man can’t do it. There are limits to his commitment and to his obedience. You know in the gospels, Jesus calls all sorts of people to follow him, and they usually do it; they leave behind family and jobs and security and they follow Jesus because they see in him something that is just so compelling, but NOT this man. Something is holding him back. He can’t commit to Jesus. Not fully. Now do I think that Jesus is some peace love and dope hippie that is trying to push a communist economic agenda? No I don’t, but Jesus is very clear that money and possessions can be a barrier between us and God. With money comes a little power and security. I like to have power and security. I like having money in my wallet, but here’s the thing if you’ve got your fist clenched around a dollar bill, then it will be closed to everyone else in this world, including Jesus. It is so easy to substitute the power that comes from money, for the power that comes from knowing and following Jesus. People settle for money power every day. Jesus doesn’t want you to settle. He wants you to have a connection with real power and real security, and that can only come from putting your hand in his hand, not putting your hand in your wallet. So yeah, Jesus cares about how you live your life, how you follow his commandments, and how you follow and serve him in this world as your Lord, with the resources that God has entrusted to you. Jesus cares about that.

But Jesus isn’t just a Lord, he’s also a savior. He knows that there are some things that you just can’t do. We need more than just a good teacher in this world; we need a God that can do what we can’t. Thing is, no matter how hard you try to live a good life, assuming that you are trying, no matter how good you are at following Jesus’s commandments, you are going to fail somewhere. You are missing something. You lack something. You are not as good as you think you are. Jesus said no one is good, BUT God. In the Book of Hebrews this morning, we are told that we will be accountable for our actions and that the secrets of our hearts will be revealed, that’s the bad news, BUT we are also told that those secrets are being revealed to a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he was tested just like we are, that’s the good news. Because of this we can approach the throne of God with boldness, because we are assured that there is mercy and grace there. Jesus is not just a Lord that gives commandments, he is also a Savior that forgives us when we break them. We need both, and Jesus is both. That is what a relationship with him is all about.

Yeah, Jesus cares about how you treat people, how you obey the commandments, what your priorities are and yeah one way of evaluating your priorities is looking at what you do with your money, that is just a fact, but no amount of money is going to buy you a ticket to eternal life, and no amount of correctness or doing the right thing or being nice is going to earn you salvation. It doesn’t work that way. We are sinners and we are mortals and for mortals, eternal life is impossible, but not for God. Everything we have as Christians: our hope, our security, our power, our righteousness and our promise of eternal life all of it comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Nothing is more important than that. So that has to influence everything we do here. I can’t fix any of you and we cannot fix the world, but Jesus can. Jesus can fix you. Jesus can change minds and hearts in ways that you can’t even imagine. So my goal, our goal, in this place, in this church with all of the resources that God has entrusted us with, with every Fair we organize or worship service we conduct, is just to help people meet Jesus and follow him as Lord and Savior. We have to try and trust him to do the real heavy lifting.