God keeps his promises


Sermon for Sunday, November 28th, 2021

Advent I


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


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


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


Sermon for Sunday, November 14th, 2021

Remembrance Sunday


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


Sermon for November 7th, 2021


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.