You will become the very thing you hate

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Sermon for February 20th, 2022

Readings:

So first this morning a little bible refresher course:

Joseph was the son of the patriarch Jacob. He had eleven brothers who were extremely jealous of his relationship with their father. So jealous in fact, that they decided to get rid of him. First by throwing him down into a pit, and then by selling him as a slave to some traders headed down into Egypt. They didn’t exactly kill him, but they might as well have. They turned their backs on him and basically left him for dead. That is what they told their father, that he was dead. 

But Joseph doesn’t die. Through a number of circumstances he actually manages to prosper in Egypt. His ability to interpret dreams and look to what they may mean for the future eventually puts him in a position of great influence with Pharoah. Despite the horrible thing that happened to him in the past, Joseph is a very future-oriented person. And this orientation actually leads him to help save Egypt from famine.

And now Joseph is in a very unique position. He is a powerful man in Egypt. Egypt, through his own leadership, has stores of food set by. His brothers, the very brothers that abandoned him to slavery and death, have shown up on his doorstep begging for food. They don’t recognize Joseph, but he knows who they are. It is a scene right out of a prime-time television drama or a soap-opera. It would make a great musical. 

How many people who have been really hurt would love to be in Joseph’s position? He is in the prime position to get revenge on his brothers for what they did to him. They sold him into slavery. They left him for dead. Nobody would fault Joseph if he told his brothers to go to hell. It would seem like justice served. And you know, maybe it is a human instinct, but we all like to see people get what is coming to them from time to time. If we didn’t, television programs and movies would tend to end a whole lot differently. We like to see justice served. We want the bad guys to get it in the end. But that’s not what happens here. 

Why? Why does Joseph feed his brothers, reconcile with them and forgive them? Well I think it is because Joseph recognizes a few key things: the first is God’s power to turn any bad thing into a good thing. Human beings do terrible things all the time, and while God may never approve of the bad things we do, God always has the power to take that bad thing and make it work to serve some positive good. We see this happen all the time. In the wake of an immense tragedy or disaster, people band together and help one another and care for one another. In life we make bad decisions and wrong turns, but sometimes those wrong turns lead us to places where good things happen. Joseph’s brothers did a terrible thing to him, but God managed to make something wonderful come out of it. Joseph recognizes God’s power to transform our circumstances and to turn bad things into good things. 

The second thing that Joseph recognizes is that the future matters more than the past. He hasn’t forgotten what happened to him by any means. He hasn’t forgotten the past, but he isn’t living there. He is living in the future and focusing on the relationship that he could have with his brothers and their families. 

The third thing that Joseph recognizes is that if he turns his back on his brothers now that the circumstances have changed and he is in the position of power, if Joseph takes his revenge and abandons his brothers for dead, then he becomes just like them. Joseph has a choice to make: he can choose to be like his brothers, or he can choose to be different. He chooses to be different.

Here is a divine law: you can write this down and there is plenty of scripture to back this up. I could also stand here for days and give you one historical example of this law in action after another. If you allow yourself to hate someone or something, you condemn yourself to become them. You will become the very thing you hate. Be careful about who and what you hate in this world. If you let that emotion fester and grown within you, if you let hatred control your thoughts and actions, you are destined to become just like the thing you are reacting against. Watch for it. Abused people very often turn into abusers. Political extremists from the left and the right are sometimes very hard to tell apart, because they talk and act just like each other even though they are supposed to be polar opposites. Their mutual hatred turns them into the very thing they are reacting against. British historian David Starkey has what he calls “Starkey’s law of revolutions” and it is this: Revolutions reproduce the worst aspects of the regime they replace. Revolutions reproduce the worst aspects of the regime they replace. Hatred that is nursed over past wrongs and the thirst for revenge upon the wrong-doers leads to this perpetual cycle of people becoming the very thing that they supposedly hated. Political parties and regimes do this all the time. Individuals do it too. And when you point out a wrong that is being committed, the response you often get is: “well so-and-so did it to me first.” It’s only fair! They did it first. That is a child’s argument. That is essentially saying that if somebody did a bad thing to me, then I am free to do what I like in response. I am exempt from having to consider the moral implications of my own actions. It is a child’s argument, but it is very seductive. How often do we see supposed adults making that very same argument?

A number of us are reading Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s book on morality right now. It is a superb book, and one of the chapters we discussed this week was on the idea of victimhood. Rabbi Sacks discusses how a number of people managed to survive the holocaust and rebuild their lives afterwards. One survivor comments that “there is a difference between victimization and victimhood. All of us are likely to be victimized at some stage. We will suffer abuse, injury, ill fortune or failure. We live exposed to forces beyond our control. Victimization comes from the outside. But victimhood comes from the inside. No one can make you a victim but you. We develop a particular kind of mindset, a way of thinking and being that is rigid, blaming, pessimistic, stuck in the past, unforgiving, punitive and without healthy limits or boundaries. We become our own jailors.”

Rabbi Sacks adds that “there is a fateful difference between the two. I can’t change the past. But I can change the future. Looking only back, I will see myself as an object acted on by forces largely beyond my control. Looking forward, I see myself as a subject, a choosing moral agent, deciding which path to take from here to where I eventually want to be.”

You cannot control what other people do to you. You cannot choose how other people behave. You can however, choose how to respond to them. You have control over your response. You can choose to love your enemies. You can choose to do good to those that hate you. You can bless those who curse you. You can pray for those who abuse you. These aren’t just nice things to do for others. They are key to not becoming the very thing you hate. If you want a better future, then don’t let the past and past hurts dictate your thoughts and actions. Joseph has not forgotten the past, but he isn’t letting it control him or dictate his future. He has a choice to make. Does he want to be like his brothers or not?

From people who need something into people who have something.

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Sermon for February 6th, 2022. Annual Meeting Sunday

Readings:

“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” 

This is how Simon Peter first responds to Jesus when Jesus tells him to go fishing again. He basically says: “well, what do you think I have been doing all this time?” Peter is tired, hungry, probably cold, and then the man who has been telling the crowds “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,” that same man is now telling him that he needs to row out from shore, go back to work, and drop his nets again. So much for rest.

You know, I think it is important when we are talking about Andrew and Peter and James and John to remember that when we talk about them as fishermen, we aren’t talking about a bunch of weekend anglers that just want to have some beers on the lake with their buddies in their free time. This is their livelihood. Empty nets mean empty pockets. Those fish didn’t just represent something to toss in the frying pan for supper. The fish was food, but it was also their security. It was their healthcare, it was their retirement, it was the mortgage, it was their children’s tuition. That empty net means more to Peter than you think. Peter needs fish. 

And maybe it is because Peter so desperately needs fish that he is willing to go out again when Jesus tells him to. Maybe he figures what else does he have to lose. He’s tired now, he’ll be more tired in a couple hours. Maybe it’s worth trusting Jesus, or at least giving him a chance. So Peter says, “alright, if you say so, I will do it. Let’s give it a shot.” They row out from shore, let down their nets, and well…you know what happens. They catch more fish than they know what to do with. Peter needs help getting the net full of fish into the boat. 

And Peter is so stunned. He can’t imagine why this is happening to him. He’s just an average working man. He’s not special. And he knows that he’s a sinner. He’s not some holy roller that sits in the synagogue all day reading the holy books. He doesn’t deserve this blessing. He’s not worthy of it. But Jesus blesses him anyways and it completely changes his life. Completely changes it. There is a transformation that happens in Peter in this gospel passage and I want you to watch for it because it would be easy to miss it. It’s critically important though.

In the beginning of this gospel passage Peter is a man who needs something. He needs fish, that is his pressing concern. Actually Peter probably needs many things, he needs fish, but he also needs rest, he needs food, he’s aware that he’s a sinner so he also needs forgiveness, he needs some sense of holiness or righteousness or relationship with God, he knows that that is missing in his life too. Peter is a man in need. He starts out as a man who needs something, and then he has this encounter with Jesus. He takes a chance on Jesus even though he is tired and worn out. He decides to trust him and not only is he blessed with the fish that he had spent all night looking for, watch what happens when he gets to shore: when Peter and James and John get to shore they leave everything behind and follow Jesus. Everything, the fish, the boats, the nets, they leave all that behind to become fishers of men. After Peter has this encounter with Jesus, suddenly those things that he thought he needed don’t seem so important anymore. Peter started out as a man who needs something, but he has been transformed into a man who has something. He has Jesus. He has a relationship with God. He has grace. He has forgiveness. He has a message about God’s miraculous power, and Peter hasn’t even seen the empty tomb yet. The really stunning earth-shaking miracles haven’t even happened yet, but Peter has already been transformed by meeting Jesus and trusting him. 

He has been transformed from a man who needs something to a man who has something. That is the difference between being a fisher of fish and a fisher of men. When you are a fisher of fish, you are catching something to keep. It is for your own profit or your own empty stomach. It is something you need. But when you are a fisher of men, you don’t do it for your own benefit, you do it for theirs. You aren’t getting something, you are giving something away. You have something they need. You are giving people Jesus. You are giving them a relationship with God and forgiveness and grace and everything that comes with that relationship, including the promise and hope of eternal life. To be a fisher of men is not about catching something that you need, it is about knowing that you have something that others need and being willing to share it with them. That is why Peter can walk away from his boat and all the fish at the end of this gospel: Jesus has changed him from a man who needs something into a man who has something, and what Peter has now is more precious than all the fish in the lake, because Peter will never have less of Jesus by sharing him with others. God’s grace works differently than human economies: with God’s grace the more you give it away, the more you get back in return. 

That is the transformative power of meeting Jesus. It isn’t just that Jesus can fill your nets with fish. Obviously, Jesus has the power to do that. Jesus can and will see to your needs, but the more amazing thing is his power to completely reprioritize your life to the point where the things you thought you needed now seem insignificant and you can walk away from them or not focus on them. Jesus can transform us from people who need something, to people who have something. People who know they have something of immense value that the world needs. People who have something that has the power to change, and yes even save, lives. That is what happens when you really meet Jesus.

Every week we come here to meet Jesus. We meet Jesus in baptism, we meet Jesus in the proclamation of Holy Scripture and in listening to his teachings, and we meet Jesus in the sacrament of Holy Communion where we are regularly fed and nourished by his divine life. We meet Jesus in the place in so many ways, through the sacraments most fully, but also in music, in prayer, in art, and even (as hard as it may be to believe) we meet Jesus in each other. And you know what, that meeting should change us. We come here every week as a people who need something: people who need guidance, people who need forgiveness, people who need courage or hope. And when we walk back out those doors, we should be walking out as people who have something. We should be walking out as people who have met Jesus once again. As people who know that we have something, and have something that the rest of the world needs. And the best thing of all, it is something we can give away and never have less of. That is what it means to be a fisher of men. It is having something of immeasurable value that you can give to others.

So often when we talk about Church growth and evangelism and “catching” new Christians or new parishioners, we think about it in terms of the benefit that it will be to us, or our needs as a parish community. We think about it like we think about catching fish for supper. It’s human. We all do it. Every parish does it. You’re here five minutes and we are already measuring you for a cassock and trying to convince you to serve on the vestry. It is so easy for us to become so focused on what we need, or what we think we need, that we forget or lose sight of what we have. And that is never more true than when we are talking about parish finances. You’ve probably already seen our budget for 2022, if not you will at the meeting later. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a little scary. Not so much for this year, but five or ten years down the road and the loss of five or ten tithers or faithful givers and we could eventually be faced with some very hard decisions, as many, many churches already have. Do I worry about that? Of course I do. I have a lot of sympathy with Peter at the beginning of this gospel; sometimes it feels like we fish and fish and fish and at the end of the day still have an empty net. It is so easy when you have needs that you become so focused on them that that is all that you see. And then evangelism becomes about balancing the budget, you worry about getting new people to help us pay the bills and you start to think that we need new people, more than they need what we have. And that is where we fail. Peter and James and John, they knew what a treasure they had. They knew just how transformative an encounter with Jesus can be, and if we don’t know it we will never really grow this church. Certainly not the way that they did. 

Because the truth is that we have something that other people need. We have grace; we have hope; we have an intimate relationship with God; we have Jesus. We need to know that and know it deep down. Now I’m not suggesting that you need to walk up to every person on the street and say “you need Jesus” although some days I am tempted, but I am suggesting that when you leave here every week you should do so as someone who has just been given something that the world needs and is ready to share it with them. People need Jesus and we’ve got him. We may not have a monopoly on him, other churches may have him too, but we’ve got him. He is in the boat with us. We’ve got a lot of things going for us as a church and I could stand up here and brag all morning about the choir or the kids, or any number of things that we do well, but at the end of the day what matters most is that this is a place where people meet Jesus. That is the most precious thing on earth. That is more important than anything we might need, or think that we need. Because Jesus has the power to transform us from people who need something into people who have something. So let’s let him do that. We have something that the world needs; we have a blessing to share with others. That is the real difference between fishing for fish and fishing for me: When you are fishing for fish it is the one who is fishing that has the most to gain, but when you are fishing for men, the one who stands to get the biggest blessing is the one who is caught.

Be a blessing from God

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Sermon for January 30th, 2022

Readings:

In this morning’s gospel passage Jesus is at the very beginning of his ministry. He was just baptized by John in the river Jordan, and you may recall that immediately after his baptism he spent forty days in the desert being tempted by Satan. Jesus has now returned from the desert, and he has come back to his hometown of Nazareth to begin his ministry in earnest. It is a sabbath day, and Jesus is in the synagogue and he chooses to read a passage of scripture and comment on it. But Jesus quickly encounters a problem that many of us preachers face: his words make people want to kill him. 

In order to really understand this morning’s gospel passage though, and why people get so mad at Jesus, we need to back up a few verses and hear the text that Jesus was preaching from. 

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22

Now you may wonder, what’s the big deal about that scripture? It’s a lovely scripture and we often hear it read at funerals. Why do people get so angry?

Well at first they don’t. At first when Jesus says that this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing, people smile and nod their heads and say “oh, well isn’t that nice, God is going to send us someone who is going to fix all our problems.” They are all very pleased with what Jesus has to say until he explains it a bit more. You see, despite the fact that Jesus is just beginning his ministry, apparently he has already performed some miracles, because people have heard that he has done some amazing things at Capernaum, which is the lakeside town down the road. People are no doubt hoping that he will work a few miracles there. Afterall, he is their hometown boy, why shouldn’t he favor them with some miracles? 

But Jesus crushes their expectations. He reminds them of two other prophets Elijah and Elisha, who both performed miracles, not for their own people, but for foreigners. Jesus talked about the fact that God wants to bless other people, and people were so filled with rage, that they tried to kill him. Now Jesus was able to slip away, so this isn’t the end of his story, but had it been up to the mob it would have been. 

Here is the thing: people really love it when you tell them that God wants to bless them. People eat that up. I could stand here and talk about Jesus wanting us to have life and have it in abundance; I could talk about all the blessings of heaven; I could talk about answered prayers; I could talk about the amazing grace that God gives us every day through the forgiveness of sins, and through sharing in his life through baptism and communion; I could talk about all that and you will all nod in agreement and smile. You won’t shout out “amens” because we aren’t that kind of church, but you would approve of my words nonetheless. 

But when a preacher gets up and starts talking about how God wants to bless other folks…well that’s a different story. Especially if the preacher has the audacity to say that God wants YOU to go and bless someone else. To be fair, you might not try to kill me, but you probably won’t be sending me a muffin basket to congratulate me on delivering such a fine sermon. Now part of this is human nature. Pretty much all of us have some pain and misery in our lives. It doesn’t matter if you are dirt poor or rich as Croesus; everybody suffers in some way in this life. Physical pain, emotional pain, anxiety, fear….we all have it. It may come in different forms depending on our circumstances, but we all have it. And all of us, every one of us are in need of God’s grace. We all want to be blessed by God in some way. If you didn’t want to have a relationship with God, I would venture to say that you wouldn’t be here this morning, or wouldn’t be watching. 

But this is where human nature rubs up against divine nature. Because divine nature is self-giving. God’s nature is to love and to bless; to give willingly and freely. That is the love that Paul is talking about in his letter to the Corinthians. So often we hear that passage read at weddings, but the love Paul is talking about isn’t romantic love or even lust. The word for love that Paul is using here is caritas, which is where our word charity comes from. In fact in the King James Version this word is translated as charity. And it doesn’t mean slipping a few dollars begrudgingly into the poor box, it means having a love for others that is self-giving and that is focused on their well-being and not your own. As Paul says, even if he gave away all his money and possessions, if he is doing it so that he may boast, and not actually for the love of someone else, then it really doesn’t mean the same thing. 

Now we are all sinners, and we are all going to be a bit self-centered from time to time. That is a part of our problem as a human race; that is a part of why there is so much suffering and strife in the world. But we are also called by Jesus to share in his divine life, which we know to be a life of self-giving love. So here is my advice: if you are suffering, or in pain, or have stuff going on in your life; if you are in need of a blessing from God…well first off pray for it, make your needs known to God because God can fix things that you can’t, and then go out and be a blessing to someone else. Go and bless someone else. Bless someone who can’t pay you back or do anything for you. Bless someone who you think doesn’t deserve it. Get your mind off of your own needs for a while and serve someone else. God can and will bless you, but you need to let God use you, like God used the prophets of old to be a blessing to others. If you really want to get a blessing from God, learn how to be a blessing from God.

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.