Salvation is found in the small things


Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King 2017


Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

If we take Jesus’s words seriously, and we certainly must, then it would seem from today’s gospel that there are going to be a lot of surprised people come the Judgement Day. In this morning’s gospel, when our Lord separates the sheep from the goats, there are people on both sides of the throne that don’t understand how they got there.


The people on the right hand certainly didn’t expect to find themselves to be inheritors of the kingdom. They probably didn’t think that their lives were anything special. These are humble people. They probably didn’t think of themselves as all that brilliant; they probably didn’t think of themselves as all that religious. Heaven wasn’t something they felt entitled to. These people were not listed among the famous saints of the church: they hadn’t left everything behind to worship God in poverty like Saint Francis or minister to the sick like Saint Damien or Saint Teresa. These were average, everyday folks living lives that were not all that remarkable.


And when the Lord proclaims that they are blessed, and invites them into his eternal kingdom, in their surprise and wonder they ask: “why Lord?” What have I done that was so great that I deserve this honor? Why should I be rewarded in this way? When was it that I served you? You are so glorious and beyond my grasp that I can’t even contemplate you, much less imagine how in my little life I could serve you. When Lord, when did I serve you?


And the Lord responds to his sheep: it was in the little things. It was in the small acts of charity and kindness that you did without thinking of what was in it for you. It was in the food that you offered to the hungry, the water you gave to the thirsty, the clothing you gave to the naked. It isn’t the big, grand and heroic gestures that you might have done once or twice, it is in the small, simple acts of love, kindness and compassion that you did all the time. That is how I know your character, that is how I know that you are one of my sheep: not what you did when you thought I was watching, but in how you acted when you didn’t realize that I was there.


And then the Lord looks to his left, to people that are equally surprised at where they have found themselves. They always thought of themselves as sheep, as part of the flock, but alas now they are being weeded out with the goats. What do you mean accursed? How can you lump me together with these people? They always just assumed that heaven was their destiny. After all, they had studied religion enough to have the right answers, they thought of themselves as clever and well informed, they could even point to some grand accomplishments of theirs, why should they be gathered with the goats? And they learn, like the sheep before them, that salvation is to be found in the small things in life.


In their case it was the little things that they didn’t do that led to their downfall. It was in the lives that they overlooked, the hands they didn’t hold, the mouths they didn’t feed, the stranger they didn’t help, the kindness they didn’t show, the time they didn’t take and the love they didn’t share. Maybe the goats had done some lovely things when they thought the Lord, or at least someone else, was watching, but their true character was revealed in how they treated others that had nothing to offer them in return. They were focused on the big things, but in the end they discover that it is the little things that really matter.


Last night we celebrated two baptisms here. Through an ancient ritual of water and prayer, we invited two souls into Christ’s eternal kingdom. Next Sunday at our Children’s prayer breakfast, I am going to talk to the kids about the font, and how it stands at the door as a reminder that it is through baptism that we are able to enter the church. At baptism, the Lord Jesus becomes our ultimate king and sovereign and we voluntarily pledge our allegiance to him and become subjects of his kingdom. This is a kingdom, the Church, but a kingdom unlike any other. It has no geographical boundaries, no official language, it isn’t represented by any one state or political party. It exists in the world, but isn’t of it. Our values will at times be necessarily at odds with the values of the world. There are times when our allegiance will call us to do things differently than our neighbors. Like any kingdom, we have our heroes: individuals that have done amazing things for God. But kingdoms are not populated by knights alone; there is always need of the loyal subject.


That is our primary call as Christians, as individuals who have proclaimed Christ as our King. We are called, first and foremost to be obedient in the small, mundane things in life. We are called to be Christians when no one is looking. We are called to show compassion and kindness to people who can never repay us. We are called to give of ourselves without expecting anything in return.


Yes, baptism is a big decision and a big moment in our life of faith. If you were baptized as a child, then your confirmation will be your moment of personal decision to follow Christ. Affirming that you believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, recognizing that we are sinners in need of redemption, and committing yourself to be a loyal subject of his is a big decision. It is an important decision, and yes, I believe it is the right decision.


But, your character as a Christian, that I think is determined more by the small decisions you make than the big ones. It is the small habits of your daily life that will demonstrate your loyalty to Christ, more than the great moments of public witness. Many of you are here because you recognize that we have a strong Christian Formation program. The religious lives of our children is a priority for this church, which is why we are starting next week with a children’s prayer breakfast. But parents you need to know that your child’s faith is going to be shaped more by what they see you doing at home, than by what they see you doing here.


Do you pray regularly, even when you don’t seem to have the right words? Do you seek to consistently show love and kindness to people that don’t deserve it and cannot repay you? Are you able to acknowledge your own sins and repent of them? Do you seek to have a closer walk with God and a deeper knowledge of him even in the midst of doubt and uncertainty?


Nothing you do for God is insignificant. In fact, what we learn in the Gospel today, is that it is the small things, done with consistency, that have the greatest power to determine what kind of subject we are and what side of the throne we end up on when Christ returns to sort us out.

We need to remember


Sermon for Remembrance Sunday

November 12th, 2017


1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13


This past March, Dame Vera Lynn celebrated her 100th birthday. If you don’ know who Vera Lynn is, you should. She was known as “the forces’ sweetheart” and her songs were largely the soundtrack of the Second World War.


For her birthday, they projected her picture and a birthday greeting onto the white cliffs of Dover in England, a nod to one of her most popular songs: “there’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.” Her first hit though, and my favorite by far, is “we’ll meet again.”


We’ll meet again

Don’t know where

Don’t know when

But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day

Keep smiling through

Just like you always do

‘Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away

In one song, I think she perfectly voiced both the hope of those going off to fight in the war…and the uncertainty. Hope that someday they would be victorious. Hope that someday they would be reunited with those loved ones they were leaving behind, but uncertainty as to what that would look like, and how it would happen.


I challenge you to listen to that song and not feel both the sadness of goodbye and the optimism and hope of a better tomorrow. Listen to any number of Vera Lynn’s songs and you will find the same thing: a recognition of the pain of living in dark times, but an undying hope for a brighter future. I find that I have to stop myself when I am listening to her and remind myself that when she was singing these songs, she didn’t know how the war would end. It’s easy to get cozy and sentimental about “when the lights go on again all over the world” when you know they did, when you know we won, but that was not a certainty when Vera was singing. It was a hope.


I love listening to the music of that era. Just like I love to watch old movies from the 40s or watch old newsreels. When I was little I spent countless hours listening to my grandfather tell stories about his service in Germany. Occasionally my grandmother would chime in about her experience building ships for the war, reminding me that wars aren’t just fought by those on the front lines alone. She used to keep a shoebox under her bed full of the letters that she and my grandfather had sent to each other when he was in the army. I remember reading them with her, and at the time I don’t think I fully appreciated how difficult living in that period must have been. Not knowing when, or if, you would see someone again. Not knowing when or how the war would end. And yet, instead of pessimism and despair and hatred and division, more often than not what I find when I look at the attitude of that period and those that lived through it, what I find is determination and hope. People were eagerly looking to the bright day that was to come and they were going to do everything in their power to make sure that they didn’t miss it, they were going to do their part to bring about and welcome the victory.


I find that attitude to be incredibly inspiring.


Today is our Remembrance Sunday, a day when we remember and give thanks for our veterans and honor their sacrifice and a day when we pay particular attention to those who sacrificed all. In World War I and World War II and in every combat since then, brave and noble individuals have given their all for a greater good, and have dedicated their lives to something other than their own self interests. That is something that is worthy of honoring and remembering; it is something that Dame Vera has dedicated much of her life to remembering as well.


But I am convinced that there is more to Remembrance Day than just saying ‘thank you’. Yes, we absolutely need to honor and say thank you to those who fought and died for what we currently have, but we also need to learn from their example of how to struggle and fight with evil in the world, because the fight isn’t over as we are all well aware. That’s not to say that our ancestors didn’t make mistakes, of course they did, and we can learn from those too, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that there is something special or unique about the times we are living in or that past generations have nothing to teach us, because they do. They have much to teach us, if we will only take the time to remember what they lived through.


We need to remember.


We need to remember, whenever we are worried about random acts of terrorism,

We need to remember that during the blitz, civilians huddled and slept in subway stations to protect themselves from the random bombs that could at any moment bring death and destruction.


Whenever we are worried about getting shot at a public event, we need to remember the men and women in the trenches and on the front lines that had bullets flying by their heads daily or that suffered through grenade attacks or mustard gas.


Whenever we are worried about someone vandalizing or damaging our church building, we need to remember those individuals that spent night after night on church grounds and on cathedral ceilings trying to protect their faith and their heritage from Hitler’s incendiary bombs.


Whenever we get frustrated when we can’t find exactly what we want in the store, we need to remember those that fought the war on the home front, living with rations, saving every scrap of food, and making do with shortages we could never imagine.


Whenever we are hungry, which lets be honest, is pretty rare, we need to remember those soldiers content to eat cold rations from tin cans.


Whenever we are upset that the internet or wifi is patchy or that someone hasn’t replied to our text within 30 minutes, we need to remember all those people that had to go months without hearing from their loved ones, and then only a letter.


Whenever we feel inclined to complain about our taxes, we need to remember the people that willingly bought war bonds, actually freely gave the government their money, so that our troops could have what they needed to fight a war for us.


Whenever we start to feel sorry for ourselves or our circumstances, we need to remember what those that came before us had to endure.


We need to remember that there once was a time when people weren’t just looking out for number one, but when entire communities came together to help each other


We need to remember that there was a time when duty, and honor and respect and dignity meant something


Whenever we feel overwhelmed by the evil in this world which we have to fight on a continual basis, we need to remember the evil that our fathers, and grandfathers and mothers and grandmothers and great-grandparents had to confront.


The power of remembering their struggles and their sacrifices, is not just that it moves us to show the gratitude that it is only right that we show, the real power of remembering their struggle is in how it can change how we live now.


We need to remember for our sake.


Remembering their lives, has the power to change our lives.


This is a Christian church and part of the Christian hope is being reunited with those we love. You know, one of the very first things that was written in the New Testament is the Letter to the Thessalonians that we heard this morning where Paul talks about that hope we have of joining with those that have gone before us on the day the Lord comes. For me, “we’ll meet again” although it is a secular song, does express an important conviction of my faith. I live in the hope that we will meet again. I live in the hope of a future sunny day when we will meet the Lord in glory. That will be a glorious day when we see them again and greet the Lord face to face.


The bigger question for us though, and I think the question that the gospel asks of us…is how are we going to live in the meantime? How are we to live with uncertainty? What will be our response to living through dark times? Their battle may have ended, but we know that our fight goes on.


Are we to be like the foolish bridesmaids, impatient and unprepared, or are we to be like the wise: facing uncertainty with determination and hope?


How are we to keep our lamps burning bright in a dark world?

Well, until we meet them again, maybe we should remember those that have already done it.

Something worth investing in


Sermon for All Saints’ Sunday, November 5th 2017


Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Many of you know that I had an unexpected death in the family this week. A dear cousin of mine in Georgia died quietly in her sleep last Sunday night. She had just spent the previous weekend hosting a family reunion at her house and nobody saw this coming, which of course made her death that much more of a surprise and that much more difficult. It was a hard reminder that the life we live in this world is such a fragile and temporary thing. “For we have not here a lasting city..” the Book of Hebrews says and indeed we don’t.


Ever since death entered into the world it has been our constant foe. It lurks around the corner as an ever present threat. We may try to ignore it and act like it doesn’t exist, but we only fool ourselves. We may try to fight it, and we should, health and vitality and life should be important to us, but in the end death still claims us. No amount of eating kale will save us, no gun or weapon, and no machine will keep us alive forever.


In all of human history only one man has ever proven that he has power over death. Only one. In the vision that Saint John had of the redeemed gathered in heaven the multitude are singing this song: “salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb.” And the angels replied: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”


Salvation belongs to our God and to the Lamb. Nothing on this earth has the power to save us. Nothing on this earth is eternal. We have not here a lasting city. That does not mean that we are to live only for the moment with no thought to the future. We are not told to be foolish, but rather we are encouraged to always keep an eye on our ultimate future. We are told to recognize that our true salvation belongs to God and to his son, the Lamb, not to the stuff of this world which so preoccupies us.


The whole passage from Hebrews says:


 “For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”


We must always keep an eye on the city that is to come. Salvation belongs to God, and through the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb, he has offered it to us. We have been given the promise of living in that everlasting city of God. Death, which we could never defeat on our own has been beaten for us. We don’t know exactly what the next life will be like, but we have witnessed the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, (the first fruit) and our faith is that by living in him and sharing in his life, we too will share in that resurrection. We too will be like him.


That faith should affect how we live our lives in this world. It was that faith that led the saints throughout the ages to sacrifice the things of this world so that they could invest their time, energy and treasure in the city that is to come. The saints sacrificed worldly goods, worldly pleasures, they sacrificed lives of fame and fortune, they changed their priorities, they recognized by listening to the words of Christ that the things this world values are very often not the things that God values. The promise of heaven changed how the saints lived in this world. It should change how we live in this world too.


We are called to be saints of God. That doesn’t mean that we all achieve in this life what the church labels as sainthood, but it should be our aspiration. We are called to take our place next to the redeemed in heaven who sing before God’s throne. Our lips should proclaim the salvation that belongs to our God. Because we have been promised entrance into that lasting city, we should have a better appreciation of what has lasting value and we should invest our time and money accordingly.


I will be honest with you, I have lots of regrets in my life: I regret money that I have spent on stuff that never brought me the joy or the satisfaction that was promised; I regret time that I wasted chasing after meaningless things with no lasting value; I will tell you what I don’t regret though: I don’t regret one cent of what I have given to God in thanksgiving for all that he has given me. I don’t regret one second of time that I have ever spent in worship or in prayer. I don’t regret going to one family reunion and I don’t regret holding the hand of one person who was dying. I regret much that I have wasted in this life, but the time and treasure that I have given to God has never been wasted. When I make a sacrifice to God, whether it is money or time, I know that I am investing in something that has true and lasting value.


When my day comes, which it someday surely will, I want to be able to look at my life and see that at some point I decided to start investing my time and my money wisely. At some point I decided to stop chasing after more stuff and chose to put God first. At some point I decided to stop letting television and other people tell me what to value, and instead decided to put my faith and my time doing the things and investing in the things that Christ invested in. That’s what I want to be able to say when my day comes: at some point I recognized that salvation belongs to God and it changed the way I live in this world.


I want to challenge you today to make a decision. I want to encourage you to look at all the stuff in your life. Look at all the people in your life. Think about how you spend your time. Think about how you spend your money. Now ask yourself this question: what has lasting value? What is truly worthy of your time and your money? Invest accordingly.


Yes, we are asking you today to pray about what financial sacrifice God is calling you to make for his kingdom through the work of this church, but I also want to encourage you to pray about how you are spending your time: could you give God ten or fifteen extra minutes a day? Could you take the first ten or fifteen minutes of your day and spend them saying morning prayer? Or maybe take a few minutes before you go to sleep at night to read scripture or say evening prayer or compline? Instead of reading the news on your train ride to work, could you listen to morning prayer or an inspirational message instead? Let me help you with that. That’s why I’m here. It is an investment that you won’t regret.


Who are the saints in heaven? John was told that:

” these are those who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and  God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


You could say that that is just a vision written down by a man long ago, but I don’t know, to me, especially this week, that sounds like something worth investing in.