Author Archives: standrews

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Proper 15, Year C, 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Have you ever heard the phrase, “The work of the clergy (or the work of a deacon, or the work of a priest, or the work of the church, or the work of God) is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”?  It’s heard it many times, in many contexts, and in some ways I completely agree with it.  The statement reflects the importance of the message of Jesus Christ in the world, and usually that message will stand in opposition to the comfort of the status quo.  So as I contemplated this week’s sermon, and thought about Jesus’ words, that phrase came to mind.  But when I went to trace the origin of that phrase, because frankly, I don’t like quotes or phrases unless I can correctly attribute them, I was surprised to find this one’s origin.  The original phrase was proclaiming that it is the work of the newspaper to, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  It was first coined in 1902 by a journalist named Finley Peter Dunne.  Isn’t it interesting where we place our hopes when it comes to balancing out the scales of justice in society?  Even more interesting to me is that in 1987 this phrase is then used by a Christian author to discuss God’s mercy and wrath.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is well aware of God’s wrath.  Not too long after Jesus has rebuked the disciples for wanting to call down fire on some folks, Jesus himself says he came to bring fire and wishes it was already kindled!  The interesting thing about this is that there are a lot of different kinds of fire in the bible.  There is the fire that consumes and destroys Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins of arrogance and being inhospitable.  There is the fire of the burning bush, which does not consume, and shows Moses that God is present.  The pillar of fire that is the presence of God throughout the Old Testament.  Then the fire that John the Baptist speaks of when he says that he will baptize with water but another (Jesus) will come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  With the advent of the Holy Spirit we get the flames alighting on the heads of the disciples at Pentecost.  So there are many ways to think about fire, and what Jesus may mean when he says he came to bring fire.  We know that God’s judgement is hanging over creation, but while Jesus may be here to herald that judgement in the fulfillment of the Law, he is also taking all of that Judgement on himself in his death and resurrection.  He is taking all of the fire and shielding us for all eternity from it.  Jesus knows what is to come, the baptism he is to undergo, and in this part of Luke which we currently find ourselves, he is drawing nearer and nearer to the cross.  

Last week I said that I believe when Jesus is discussing how we live in God’s Kingdom, when he is describing the values of that Kingdom, that these are things we should want to do and not necessarily commands that have been carved in stone.  Living in the kingdom means that we have a spirit that compels us to live out the values.  A similar approach is needed to what Jesus says next in our Gospel today about bringing division.  When Jesus says that, it is more than likely he means it as a description of the natural result of discipleship, and not as the command to cause division in relationships to follow him.  It is not the work of Jesus to set parents against their children, but rather when one lives out the call to discipleship, quite often you find yourself in conflict with those who refuse discipleship.  As an example, think of the parable of the prodigal son.  When the father welcomes the prodigal son home with joy and feasting, though the relationship between those two has been mended, the relationship between the father and the elder son, who is focused only on himself, is fractured.  When you proclaim reconciliation and justice as values of life, then you will upset the status quo.  You have to be willing to suffer at the hands of a vile world that does not like the light of the Gospel to shine upon it.  Christian discipleship means valuing nothing over God’s kingdom.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century German pastor, theologian, and martyr wrote regarding the church and the times he lived in, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” 

We cannot afford to simply pay lip service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Either it means everything or it means nothing.  God has made it clear what the cost of discipleship is.  God expects everything from us, and, of course, forgives us when we fail to live up to it.  But the real sin exists in between those two extremes, if we completely refuse to try. 

Bonheoffer goes on to say, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “you were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

It is always time to embrace costly grace.  There is always a darkness growing in the hearts of humanity.  There will always be a price to pay for proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  Sometimes that cost isn’t as high as other times.  We are not called to proclaim when it is convenient.  We are not called to sugar coat the parts of the Gospel that are uncomfortable or might be disliked.  Christ asks of us the very same price he paid for ushering in the Kingdom of God, but at the very least, to suffer not having everyone be our friend.  You cannot make God’s truth comfortable when it doesn’t sit well with others. 

We do not go about this task alone.  St. Paul writes, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”  That is our task.  It is the simplest and most difficult thing God asks of us.  We stand in a line of disciples, martyrs, and prophets who followed as God called and did not bind themselves to the whims of the world.  We gather here to hear God’s word, to hear Jesus Christ proclaim the Kingdom of God at hand.  We join with that great cloud of witnesses as we partake in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Then, we step back out into a world in dire need of costly grace, knowing as Christ says, how to interpret the present time.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Proper 14, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

We are in the long days of late summer now.  Our lectionary continues in the season after Pentecost for another 113 days.  School starts this next week for many children in this area.  We are a long time from any major holidays.  But today’s Gospel reading reminds me of one of the most iconic holiday commercials.  First aired in 1986, it was replayed for seventeen years until it was eventually remade.  A car pulls up outside a snow covered home, a young man quietly lets himself in.  He’s greeted by a small child, and together they make coffee.  The smell of coffee wakes up the rest of the house who come downstairs, presumably at Christmas morning, to find the beloved son who’s been away for awhile.  Certainly when you Jesus talking about the master who is coming home to surprise the servants, such a strong image from mainstream culture comes easily.

It’s funny how a passage can be taken in very different ways.  Growing up in a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian church, this passage was a dire warning.  Beware for God is returning soon so your soul better be ready for judgment.  If Jesus returns before you’ve prepared, you will suffer the consequences.  God is coming like a thief in the night so you know you better be afraid.

But reading that passage again, I’m almost perplexed at how it can come across as such a warning and not an expectation of joy.  The master is returning from a feast.  The master has, let’s be frank, been at the party and has been their quite some time if they aren’t returning until the early hours.  This isn’t the image of a stern, joyless master carrying a whip.  This is a master who takes joy in celebrating with others.  This is a master who, when they return, is serving those who normally serve.  This is a master who wants to make sure the joy and peace that they know is shared with those who are willing to serve.  This is not a return to fear, but one to have hope for. 

Hope, maybe more aptly faith, underpins so much of what Jesus teaches us to do.  When Jesus tells us to live a certain way, when Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself, when Jesus teaches that we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry; when Jesus says sell your possessions and give alms, all of this is about faith.  Living out the values of the Kingdom of God is certainly work we are tasked with.  Jesus makes it really clear what God expects us to strive towards.  But maybe the part we could miss is that Jesus is not dangling us over the pits of Hell to make sure we abide.  All of these commands on how to live, all these ways of living into the Kingdom of God should come to us because of our faith. 

When I say something like pacifism is the most Christian response to violence, it’s not that I hold that to be a rule that must be obeyed, but rather it is my hope that our faith would lead us to that response.  When Jesus reveals to us the glory of the Kingdom, and shows us what those values are, it’s not rules written down on a stone tablet anymore.  It is instead how we live when we have faith in God’s providence.  When we put our faith in God’s ability to provide, when we put our faith in the Kingdom of God, when we put our faith in the promise of a glorious resurrection, then nothing this earth can offer us should be more persuasive.

This passage from Luke starts out with the call to not be afraid.  That happens a lot throughout Luke’s gospel.  There was a lot that one could be afraid of when this was written.  The early Christians were persecuted, disliked by Rome and the Jewish authorities.  But then again, when it comes to survival, there always seems like a good reason to be afraid.  Whether it is saber-tooth tigers or oppressive empires, if we have no faith in our victory over death, than fear will win the day.  This is why Jesus preaches so much on this subject.  It’s why so many ways of living into the Kingdom of God have to do with letting go of the control over our own existence.  If we cannot have faith in God taking care of us in our moments of greatest need, how do we ultimately have faith that God will resurrect us into the Kingdom?

It’s hard to talk about faith in this way.  It seems antithetical to our nature to trust that God is unfolding the path before us when we don’t like where we are at.  We also of course want to tread carefully lest we be heard saying that God intends for someone to suffer.  In fact, we for the most part get to live fairly comfortable lives away from the fears and terrors many people in this world face.  Perhaps that makes our necessity for faith even greater.

Audrey West writes, “The less we want to have, the less we need to have.  This fact is itself one of the blessings God offers, with compound interest.  The less we need to have, the less we need to fear.  The less we need to fear, the more we know that a life of giving allows us always to live, not on the brink of destruction, but on the brink of blessing, where we can more readily hear the promise that the “Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour,” desiring not to punish but to bless.”  I’m sure we’ve all many times seen the ever popular bumper sticker, “Look busy, Jesus is coming.”  Maybe instead it could read “Have faith, because Jesus is most certainly coming.”

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Proper 13, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

When I was a child, one of my favorite authors was Shel Silverstein.  He wrote, amongst many works, children’s books that included short stories, poems, and anecdotes.  After reading this week’s Gospel, one of Mr. Silverstein’s writings came to mind.  The Prayer of the Selfish Child:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my toys to break.
So none of the other kids can use ‘em.  Amen.”

Today we hear of humanity’s common lean towards greed, and the way in which we are supposed to respond, as followers of Jesus.  The big surprise is that you’re not, in fact, supposed to make sure all the other kids can’t play with your toys.

Last week we talked about prayer, the power of prayer, and how God wants us praying for the things we need.  The second piece of that is that God is not a prayer vending machine.  This encounter with Jesus further underpins that, when the brothers demand that Jesus settle their dispute over inheritance.  Echoing stories of King Solomon’s wisdom, someone demands that Jesus command that person’s brother to divide the inheritance with him.  Jesus makes it clear.  He’s not here for petty matters of inheritance.  He’s not here to arbitrate matters of this world.  Jesus marks the advent of the Kingdom of God, and in that Kingdom, wealth means nothing.  Inheritance means nothing.  In order to really bring home the point, Jesus tells them a story.

What is nowadays called, “The Parable of the Rich Fool” is a lesson Jesus uses to exemplify the sin of greed.  In telling this story, and even in thinking about how we apply it to our daily lives, it is important to note that money, possessions, wealth are not inherently evil things.  Now, Jesus will always say give your money away and live amongst the poor, but the great sin the rich fool commits is that of greed.  The rich fool is living a life where enough never feels like enough, and where the only person to be concerned about is oneself.  The rich fool doesn’t make sure that the hungry are fed from the surplus grain, doesn’t offer any to his neighbors.  He builds even bigger barns to hoard the grain for the future so that he can leave even more luxuriously than he already does.

Now wait, you may say, isn’t it good to be frugal, to save up, to plan ahead?  Well, yes.  Good stewardship of what God blesses us with is important.  But so is the command to love one’s neighbor.  The rich fool doesn’t even give thanks to God for the divine providence that brings him this bumper crop.  He just hoards it away for himself.  If you want to know how to live in a way that is opposite from a Christian, this is a good example.

The reading from Ecclesiastes underpins Jesus’ teaching.  It cuts to the heart of the idolatry that humanity so often falls easily to.  We worship money, we worship things, we worship tribes and nations.  We ignore the cry that all is vanity.  The toil that we, as humans set ourselves to building up these false idols is nothing but vanity.  Faith in God, following the commands of Christ, ceasing our worship of the idols of this world: these are ways which we break out of that cycle of vanity. 

The reason it is vanity is the same reason we look at ancient burials full of gold and precious gems and think, “what good is it to the dead?”  We know that we can’t take those things with us when we die.  Jesus ends the parable of the rich fool with God saying to the rich man, “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you.”  The rich fool will die and all his hoarding will be for nothing to him.  Saint Paul pushes it further though, and shows us how much it is vanity even to the living.  We are no longer Greek and Jew, slave and free, but one in Christ.  Our unity comes through the Kingdom of God bursting into this world.  Nothing matters more than that.  We are all children of the Kingdom of God and any other designation is a human construct and vanity when we use it to separate ourselves from others to our benefit.

I wonder how the parable of the rich fool needs to be changed to make him come out alright in the end.  Jesus doesn’t give us that answer, so we are left to wonder.  Maybe the rich fool should have shared his surplus with those around him.  Maybe he should still save it up, but with the intent that no one will go hungry in hard times.  Maybe just a little humility and seeing that he isn’t the center of the world would go a long way in this parable. 

Albert Pike, the founder of the Scottish Rite, a concordant body of Freemasonry, wrote, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”  The Rich Fool fails, in Jesus’ words, to be, “rich towards God.”  He leads a self-centered existence absorbed and concerned only with his own achievement and comfort.  God grants us blessing and abundance and it is our responsibility to be stewards of that.  It is not our place to hoard, to greedily feast while we watch our neighbor starve, to pat ourselves on the back for our cleverness.  We are baptized into the Kingdom of God and we follow Christ.  We are tasked with caring for all we have, caring for all we meet, living into the Kingdom of God that is showing forth right now and right here.  This is our call to examine our lives and our values.  God continually invites us into the Grace and eternal abundance of that Kingdom.  All we must do is accept.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Proper 12, Year C, 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The old joke goes: A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes you did” replied God. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”

Why do you pray?  And when you do, what do you say?  Do you pull out your Book of Common Prayer?  Do you sit in a dark room in private?  Do you fall to your knees in the presence of the Most High God?  When Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray, Jesus offers a prayer that, upon closer inspection, might really seem rude by many standards of etiquette.  

It starts off well enough, acknowledging the transcendence of God (who art in Heaven), the otherness of God (hallowed be thy name), and the sovereignty of God (thy kingdom come).  But also in the opening is a clue to the relational aspect of the Divine.  We start with, “Our Father”.  God is not some superbeing hurling lightning bolts from the top of a mountain.  God is our origin, our Father, is in relation with us in both a cosmic and personal way.   It is key to our biblical theology that God does not leave us alone, that we are inseparable from the presence of God.  God incarnate wants us to understand this important connection through this prayer and through all the many teachings that Jesus offers to emphasize our connectedness.  

Douglas John Hall, on his review of this passage best explains what happens next: “After the briefest of salutations, the prayer moves to the human condition with what must seem, to the properly theocentric, unseemly haste.  How direct, how ungenteel, how almost rude it seems!  “Give us… forgive us… lead us… deliver us.”  Not only does the prayer rush from glorification to petition in a manner very different from the usual patterns of human behavior where favors are being sought; it shuns all in direct rhetoric to the point of pushiness!  […]  There is no ‘Please,’ none of the softening, pious (and often wheedling) interjections that often mark what is called “spontaneous” prayer — “Oh dear Father,” “Blessed Lord Jesus” and so on.  Just ‘Give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us’!

While this could come across as rather brash and aggressive, I think it instead offers an underscore to the human condition.  It emphasizes our relationship with God and God’s encouragement for us to rely on prayer for our needs.  We are dependent on God, that’s why we say ‘give us’.  We are sinful and guilty of failing to uphold the values of the Kingdom of God.  So we ask, ‘forgive us’.  We are human, we are lost, we need God’s guidance and support.  “Lead us and deliver us.”  God has invited us into this relationship of prayer.  God wants us to be in communication, to ask fervently for those things we need.  And I think in the same token, as we assure ourselves and thank God for in this prayer, we have faith that God provides us what we need.  No, God is not giving us that Bentley we are praying for, but many people find that living by faith provides them avenues to what they need.

I learned an something interesting this week.  If you look through most of the services in the Book of Common Prayer, the Daily Office, the Eucharistic services, and the pastoral offices with the exception of Reconciliation of a Penitent you will find the Lord’s prayer in every single service.  Our tradition finds that particular prayer to be so important that we really don’t do anything without it.  If you look at many of the structures of other prayers like the Eucharistic prayers or the collect of the day, you can also see a similar structure to the movements of the Lord’s prayer reflected in the words of these other prayers.

In many ways Jesus’ lesson on how to pray is an invitation for us to establish and maintain a deep and meaningful prayer life with God.  I can tell you that spending two or three weeks observing the daily office, at least morning and evening prayer, every day, you will feel different.  You will feel refreshed.  You will feel more connected.  This is about keeping that communication with God.  Yes, God knows what we ask before we even ask it.  In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he gives us that wonderful image that when we just don’t even no how to pray, the Spirit, “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  It’s almost as if God, the cosmic parent is standing there with the thing we are praying for and telling us lovingly, “Use your words”.

The examples Jesus then offers after teaching them to pray have at least two big meanings.  The first is that we are the neighbor knocking on the door and God is the sleepy housekeeper.  It’s our job to keep knocking.  Keep asking.  Keep praying.  God wants us to be persistent.  God wants us to shamelessly ask for that loaf of bread for our guests.  I say shameless because in Jesus’ time, this is how the story would sound.  The culture Jesus lived in was way more concerned with proper actions and shame and honor than even the most genteel of Southern manners.  Pray to God shamelessly.  Pray to God fervently.  Pray to God ceaselessly.

Another way to see this is that we are not just the person that is banging on the door, trying to get some bread for our friend, but we also can be the person who’s asleep, who’s already locked the door, but who needs to get out of bed for the sake of Love. And maybe we’re the friend that the bread is being gotten for, or maybe our fellow human is that friend, or maybe we will find God in that friend. Jesus isn’t setting God up to be the dispensing machine of our every prayer and desire here. It is just as much our responsibility to be the hands of Christ in this world, doing the giving as it is for us to do the praying. Give us each this day our daily bread.

Prayer is not the end of our work to spread the Love of Christ in this world, to help create new visions of the Kingdom every day where we are at, but it is the beginning. This is the hard task we are called to, in relationship with God and with Creation. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, is quoted saying, “You pray for the hungry, then you feed them. This is how prayer works.” And I would add, this is how Christ’s Love works. This is how the peace of God which surpasses all understanding works.

I really like Teresa of Avila’s writing, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.” I will add to that Christ has no heart to Love, but yours. As you go out from here today, remember to pray, remember to Love, and remember that when you are hurt, when you are offended, when someone is knocking on your door after you’ve gone to bed, because they’re trying to get some bread from their friend, that you are called to that most divine practice of Love, as Christ’s heart in the world.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Proper 11 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

Have you ever had ‘one of those weeks?’  You know the kind I’m talking about, where everything goes a little south, where everything that can break does, and everyone seems to need something all at the same time?  That’s the sort of week it’s been for me. This week we had the new printer delivered to the office, but of course it doesn’t quite work the same way as the old one. A few of our St. Andrew’s family are unwell or in the hospital so I want to get around and see them, and then people in need start calling the church looking for all sorts of things, even a ride to Yellville.

On Friday as Franny, Jeff, Annie and I stood in the kitchen here, prepping a stack of thirty onions, thirty bell peppers, about 7 bunches of celery, eighteen pounds of andouille sausage, and twenty five pounds of red beans for the Diversity Ball Fundraiser on Saturday night, I realized that I hadn’t really had any time to focus on preparing a sermon, or reflecting on the Gospel lesson for this week.  Followed quickly by the realization that Saturday night, usually when I put my finishing touches on my sermon, I’d be at the event helping to serve the red beans and rice and supporting the Ozark Diversity Coalition’s annual fundraiser. I was so exasperated that all of these tasks had gotten in the way of my sermon preparation. Cooking, printer wrangling, juggling people in need. So when I finally sat down and reread and thought about our Gospel reading today, you can imagine I had to laugh a little bit.

Jesus arrives at this house of Mary and Martha, and is welcomed as a guest.  Even today there are often cultural expectations with welcoming someone. Perhaps offering someone a glass of water or tea, or if they are staying with you, a meal.  Jesus settles in, perhaps in something like a living room, and I suspect he has others with him. One of the house’s owners, Mary, stays near Jesus, sitting at his feet and listening to him teach.  After awhile, Mary’s sister Martha, who has been toiling away probably in the kitchen working to prepare refreshments or a meal for these guests comes out and is just beside herself with all the work she’s been doing, and there is Mary hanging out with Jesus.  Martha tells Jesus to send Mary back to work. Jesus replies, ‘Martha, you are worried by many things’.

One can certainly read this passage in a few ways.  One such understanding would be that, as Mary (according to Jesus) has chosen the better path, then we are supposed to sit around listening to Jesus and not do any work.  But that’s just not an interpretation that I can accept. I don’t think the Mary versus Martha debate has much to do with works in that way. What I see in this is that Martha’s exasperation and statement is truly where the problem resides.  Martha says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Everything Martha has to say is about herself. She refers to herself three times in that statement to Jesus. So the question becomes whether her reason for hospitality is more about being loving to the guest or about making herself look good.

Perhaps instead Mary and Martha exemplify equally important sides of the same coin.  Hospitality is important. Tending to those in need, welcoming the stranger, treating everyone as your neighbor are things Jesus teaches.  These are important values of the Kingdom of God. Likewise is proclaiming the Good News of that Kingdom as it draws near. It is when we separate out the two activities, or lack one from the other where we find ourselves running down the wrong path.  Cynthia Jarvis writes in her exposition of this passage that, “A church that has been led to be “worried and distracted by many things” inevitably will be a community that dwells in the shallows of frantic potlucks, anxious stewardship campaigns, and events designed simply to perpetuate the institution.  Decisions will be made in meetings without a hint of God’s reign. Food and drink will appear at table without Christ being recognized in the breaking of bread. Social issues may be addressed, but the gospel is missed in acts that partake of politics as usual.”

Churches have to be especially careful that they do not turn into social clubs.  We are here for a far greater, deeper purpose. We are here, as followers of Christ, to hear the word of God and to partake of the blessed sacrament.  We are here to renew and refresh ourselves and to revitalize that call to go into the world and make disciples of all people. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t do good.  Everything we do should be a reflection of the Kingdom of God. We don’t raise money for Kindness or Gamma House to make ourselves look better. We didn’t prepare the dinner for the Diversity Ball so we could get more people walking through these doors.  We do these things because it is our duty as followers of Christ to help those in need. It doesn’t come with any strings attached, it doesn’t make us more saved. We should be a little bit Mary and a little bit Martha.  

Sometimes people’s gifts lean them one way or another.  Some people are better at cooking red beans and rice for 150 people, some are better at managing the facility and keeping an eye on those roofing nails, some are better at praying with those in their darkest hours.  Some, like the Roman Catholic nuns arrested this last week for protesting the concentration camps are better at standing up to the Empire and calling out evil. Some are better at helping the vestry interpret the financial statements for the month.  Every gift has its place. Every one of us is called to work for the Kingdom of God in word and deed. These two cannot be separated out without detriment to the other.

Above all that, first and foremost is our commitment and call to follow Christ.  We are given clear instructions about what should matter and how we should live out that call.  We cannot be anxious or overly focused on how our work plays out. What matters is that we put ourselves to the task.  If our only focus is how well we play the host, then we forget why we are called and in whose name we serve to begin with.  So find in yourself a bit of Mary and a bit of Martha. Remember to learn from Jesus, to listen to what he teaches, to let it really sink in.  Remember also to do the work Christ calls us to, without expectation of reward. Otherwise, we run the risk of forgetting the One whom we have gathered to serve.

July 07, 2019

Proper 9 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

I’ve been here just over a year now, and there are still a lot of cultural things that I’m still…let’s say ‘acclimating’ too.  I think one that still continues to catch me off guard is the ever present question when meeting someone for the first time, “and do you have a church home?”  Now of course I only get asked that if I’m not in collar, and most often it’s been by the kindly Baptists knocking on my apartment door while they canvas the complex.  I used to wonder why it was only the Baptists came to my door until I found out my neighbor told the Jehovah’s Witnesses that I was a priest with a theological degree.  Needless to say they don’t ever come upstairs to knock on my door.  But that question about church home…  Well, where I’m from that’s about as rude as asking who you voted for in the last election.  It’s just not something you talk about in polite company.  I mean, that’s assuming I go to church at all.  While that question, asked so boldly, yet innocently, still makes me pause, maybe there’s something we polite Anglicans can learn from an interaction like that.

Sometimes I wonder how we reconcile the things Jesus tells us to do with the way we end up living our lives anyway.  I realize that there are nearly two thousand years between then and now, and that Christianity itself has gone through many cultural changes.  The most impactful in the West, of course, is the shift into Imperial religion once Rome decided to co-opt the faith.  In the Gospel reading today, it seems clear, once again, that Jesus is instructing his followers in their work.  Go out in pairs, don’t take a sack to accumulate any wealth, don’t take any extra clothing or food.  Rely on the hospitality of others to survive.  Violate the purity laws around food if you have to because you might be served something to eat you would think is unclean.  Don’t try to improve your situation by moving from house to house.  And do all of this because you are going out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here.  Cure the sick.  Cast out demons, and don’t think better of yourself for doing this.  It’s God working through you.

Jesus doesn’t really make it clear whether or not I can take my cell phone.  I might need it…you know for emails or something.  And…maybe this doesn’t all really apply in the same way anymore because look how dangerous the world is out there.  Talking religion isn’t really appropriate either if you’re being country club polite.  “I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.”  Or maybe it’s not supposed to be easy or comfortable to follow Jesus, but he does provide instruction on how to do it.  Saint Francis of Assisi took these words very deeply to heart, and founded a religious order based in what became known as a mendicant lifestyle.  Not owning any property, wandering from village to village, relying on the hospitality of others, and above all else proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  Even by the time St. Francis was an old man, the community he founded had setup houses, established themselves, and looked very different than what he had planned.

At least as far as living in this country very few people choose to live in the way Jesus sends out these seventy.  I certainly don’t.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an Episcopal clergyperson living this way.  So I won’t stand up here and tell you that if you don’t abide by this to the letter, you have failed.  It would be wrong of pretty much anyone to proclaim that.  Our task with scripture is to find ways this can affect our lives in the here and now, because whether we like it or not, context still matters a great deal. 

Jesus is calling his followers to go out and evangelize.  I realize that there are fewer words in the Episcopal lexicon that incite more fear and loathing, but I’m not saying that we all need to evangelize in the same ways.  There is a saying, “A Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.”  Now usually this quote is attributed to Martin Luther, though there is no evidence he actually said it.  It is often used to dictate a Protestant work ethic that God delights in hard work.  But what if we hear that phrase again in the context of evangelism?  Is it a great act of evangelism to put little crosses on those shoes or to care about the quality of the work you do for others?  Evangelism can be as aggressive as showing up on people’s doorsteps, but it can be as simple as offering a smile and a ‘good morning’ to those whom other people will pass by without even a glance.

Evangelism is all about carrying the message of the Risen Christ to a world that needs to know there is something better.  There is so much darkness, suffering, blatant evil chipping away at the hope of good people.  And Christ answers, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”  Jesus sent out the seventy to the places he intended to go.  This comes while Jesus has already turned toward Jerusalem.  He knows that the end is near in his ministry, and it is just the beginning for his followers.  He is sending them out to the places that he doesn’t have the time to get to before he has to go up to the cross and fulfill the Law once and for all. 

So how do you evangelize in your life?  I’m not going to tell you to hit the road, leave everything behind, and start knocking on doors.  In this part of the state, showing up uninvited in some places will get you shot.  But there are ways each of us can step outside of our comfort zone and begin to proclaim the good news a little more than we did yesterday.  So what if everyone around here already knows who Jesus is?  Do they know that they are saved by God’s love?  Do they know that the Kingdom of God is breaking into this world?  Like the ripples that continue out from a small pebble thrown into the lake, the effects we can have on someone’s life just by sharing our faith with them can grow quite large.  Jesus calls us into the world to proclaim the Good News.  We are the laborers in that great harvest he speaks of, and every day presents new opportunities to step out onto the field.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Proper 8 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The apostle Paul writes, to the Church in Galatia, “For freedom Christ has set us free.”  These words were written a little less than two thousand years ago, and have had many different translations and interpretations over those two millennia.  By themselves, those words can be used in a host of ways that Paul never anticipated or meant.  In fact, as we come into the shadow of the civic observance of the United States’ Independence from Great Britain, we see the word ‘Freedom’ plastered ad nauseam.  Freedom celebrations.  Freedom branded fireworks.  Freedom sales happening everywhere from car lots to butcher shops.  But what in the world does the word ‘freedom’ actually mean, and perhaps more precisely what does it mean to have ‘freedom’?

I remember a time I was having a conversation with one of my mentors throughout the years, and we were discussing a recent meeting were a couple of the participants had exchanged words that almost led to a fight.  I can’t remember exactly what I said to my mentor, but I will never forget the sage advice I was given.  I think I might have said something like, “Finding the exact right comeback to an insult feels really good.”  What I was told was that, “In those circumstances, if it feels good, you probably shouldn’t say it.”  Now this mentor wasn’t restricting me or telling me that I would be in trouble if I did indulge my desire to have the last word.  But he was teaching me what it means to have freedom.  Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

The Apostle Paul explain further in that letter to the Galatians.  “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.”  Freedom is having the door of possibilities opened to you, and the path of the follower of Christ is making the right decisions with it.  There is that age old adage that has applied to science, politics, and maybe even religious practice that while we are so concerned with how to do something, no one stops to ask if we should.  Paul tells us that what we are supposed to do with our freedom that Christ has won for us is to turn it over to another.  We are to be slaves to one another.  We are to live as Christ lived, putting his life into the hands of others, while those same others put their freedom in our hands.  This is an intertwined knot of mutual support and love as Christ commanded us to be.  We are free, and we put that freedom to love and good, not to the darkness of self-indulgence.

Jesus knew this all too well as he turned his path towards Jerusalem.  Our reading from Luke is placed near the end of Jesus’ ministry.  He is headed to Jerusalem for the last time and he knows what waits for him and what must be done.  Dr Justo Gonzalez, in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke writes about this passage, “It is also important to realize that in setting his face to go to Jerusalem Jesus is making a decision that many Christians through the centuries would have to parallel. It is a decision to confront the powers of oppression. This is never an easy decision.”  This quote is hard, because the rub comes in understanding that while Jesus did confront the powers of oppression, his victory for us isn’t the way we want it to look.  We want Jesus in his glory, ruling the world, throwing down the oppressors immediately.  Just like the Devil offers to Jesus in the desert.  The Devil says he will give Jesus all authority on earth if he but worships him.  But what good is authority without freedom?

Jesus was neither powerless nor clueless.  When he’s on the road to Jerusalem and the Samarians refuse him a place to stay, his disciples ask, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” but Jesus declines the offer.  The disciples know the kind of power that Jesus himself is capable of; Jesus has the freedom to use that power however he chooses.  But he doesn’t choose to rain fire down on those that do not offer him hospitality.  He instead moves on.  Jesus is teaching his disciples and those that want to follow him that the path that leads to the Kingdom of God is one that requires detachment and dedication. 

Jesus knows that the greatest reward comes at the end of it all.  He has the freedom to turn away from Jerusalem, he has the freedom to claim authority over all creation before the crucifixion, he has the freedom to decide he needs just a little more time to teach the disciples before he leaves.  After all, they still think raining fire down on people is a good idea.  Just because it feels good, doesn’t mean you should do it.  If you want to follow Jesus, and I have to imagine that’s why you get out of bed on a Sunday morning to come here.  It’s not just to see my smiling face.  If you are here because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ then the path before you is clear.  Jesus asks of those that follow him to let go of needing to have it all.  Asks them to let go of indulging in the comforts of this world and instead to go out and proclaim the Good News.  Jesus expects his followers to make tough decisions, to let go of the past and embrace the beauty of the Kingdom to come.  And all of this has to be done without hesitation.  Once you put your hand to the plow, you have to move forward. 

This last week I found myself in a conversation with someone while I was out at the town square.  We talked about my job and where I was from.  Eventually the question I always get came up: how in the world did you end up here?  I told them that quite often when I explain to people where Mountain Home is, I add that you don’t get to Mountain Home unless you mean to.  You don’t really end up here by accident.  And that’s true of coming here to St. Andrew’s as well.  When you are in the work of ministry, you listen for God’s call and you go where you believe you are called.  You don’t go where it is most convenient, you don’t go where you already know a bunch of people, or where you already own a home.  You go where God calls you to labor for the Kingdom.

This applies to all of us.  We have the freedom to refuse.  God is not a tyrant.  I could have turned down the offer and kept my appointments the next week with a whole new round of interviews.  But that wasn’t what God was calling me to.  We have the freedom to do anything we please, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.  Freedom comes with responsibility, and the freedom that we are given through Christ comes with the greatest responsibility.  We are called to live in ways that glorify the Kingdom of God.  We are tasked, as followers of Christ to let go of the things of this world and rejoice in the beauty of the Kingdom at hand.  We are called to teach a way that doesn’t fit with what most of society agrees is great.  Every day we are offered a new opportunity to follow Christ or to embrace the evils of this world.  Thank God we have the freedom to choose.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Proper 7, Year C, 2019 (Annual Church Picnic)
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Several months ago the vestry and I started looking forward to events for the summer time.  One of those was the Annual Picnic.  I asked our Junior Warden, Jeff, to book the park area where we normally have the picnic.  He came back with news that the dates were very limited due to other bookings, and we selected the one that worked best.  A few weeks ago Jeff and I were discussing what meat the church would provide for the picnic and we decided that Arkansas smoked pork was just the right thing.  It was all set.  We are going to be up at pavilion number two, on the cliff overlooking the lake.  We’re going to have smoked pork.  It wasn’t until this week I read our lessons for today and after reading the Gospel really saw God’s sense of humor at play.

While the coincidences are quite amusing, the story itself would have been rather terrifying.  Imagine if someone came running up to us all here today, naked, dirty, wild, screaming.  The possessed man isn’t just screaming nonsense though; he sees and knows Jesus to be the Son of God.  This passage is immediately after Jesus has calmed the storm and walked on water.  The disciples ask, “Who is this that the storms obey him?” and then it leads right into the demoniac knowing exactly who Jesus is.  While the disciples are struggling to understand who this is, the demons that possess this poor Gerasene recognize the Messiah immediately.

That recognition is one of the reasons why this story about Jesus isn’t just another healing story.  A lot of times in our Post-Enlightenment world, where everything must be rational and nothing is outside the realm of science to grasp, this story is dismissed as Jesus healing a mental illness.  Let’s be clear: Jesus heals the blind, heals the hemorrhaging woman, brings people back from death.  These events are called what they are.  It does us no favor if we say that the people of Jesus’ time just didn’t understand mental illness and had to talk about it in terms of demons.  That’s not what’s going on here.  This story is about real, evil, demonic forces possessing this man, and Jesus exerting his command over them. 

Yes, there is probably some poetic license being taken by the author of Luke.  The demonic entities name themselves as, “Legion”.  That word would have been instantly recognizable to the original audience of Luke’s gospel.  The first understanding is the size.  A legion is a very specific number of soldiers gathered together in a group.  A legion was nearly six thousand soldiers.  This poor man is practically bursting at the seams, full of demons.  The underlying word play is also that, by calling itself Legion, and by Christ exerting will over it, it’s a statement that Jesus is triumphant against the occupying Romans in a metaphysical sense. Every good story contains layers of meaning and inside humor, this is no different.  There are different scholars who offer many thoughts about the symbolism of the swine herd, from the animal standard of Roman divisions to simply connotating that it isn’t a place of observant Jews.  One could even spend time wondering why the demons choose to still dive to their demise in the lake instead of Jesus sending them back to the abyss.

While I may be pushing the limits of polite, modern, Episcopal sensibility by telling you that dark forces do indeed prowl the world and you do indeed need to remember that, I’m not trying to scare you or concern you.  The second piece of this is to know that Jesus Christ conquers these forces.  They are powerless and at God’s mercy to be dealt with.  We know that Christ is conqueror of all Sin and Hell.  But it’s not just that Jesus casts out these demons.  This story has a second half to it that’s just as important.  After the swine dive into the lake and drown….and let’s be clear that no one better go chucking any of our smoked pork into the lake today…people from the area start showing up to see what has happened. 

The people showing up presumably know the previously possessed man.  They probably know have seen him ranting, maybe helped restrain him with the chains, told their children never to go to close to the cemetery lest they encounter this creature.  The possessed man has been turned out of society, has been regulated to the edges of existence, has had his humanity, what little was left, completely denied by others.  So when these people show up and see this man sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and seemingly in his right mind, they don’t know what to do with this.  They have removed this man from their lives, and now they confronted with his full humanity, his restoration to society by Jesus. 

This is the sort of thing that shows the values and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God.  People are restored to their place among society.  The same thing happens with all the people that Jesus heals.  He turns the values of the society on its head by simply readmitting these people as whole and worthy members.  I know I’ve mentioned before I have a very visual imagination.  This story always plays out for me with the possessed man first running around naked, covered in dirt, hair knotted, ratty, probably have a few leaves or twigs tangled in, and then when he’s at the feet of Jesus he’s clean, nicely dressed,  his hair has been oiled and combed.  Imagine what a stark difference something like that would be to the average villager who had known of and seen the wild demoniac that prowled the cemetery.

This is all too much for the people.  They ask Jesus to leave.  The power they have seen is too much.  The values they hold have been turned upside down.  I think that’s a moment worth reflecting on.  Where do we find ourselves?  I pray that none of us ever have to experience being in the place of demoniac.  But what about the people that have seen something that’s too much.  What do we do with the power of Christ in the world, when the values of the Kingdom of God flip what is known and comfortable to us on its head?  Do we rejoice in the power of God’s triumph?  Do we want Jesus to just leave well enough alone because that’s not the way we’ve done things, or worse we have to see the full humanity in someone we have relegated to edges? 

This story is about acknowledging the darkest forces that prowl around us, and our victory in God whom we worship and adore.  Where do we find ourselves in the midst of the healing, the saving, and the blessing?  Can we rejoice when we encounter it?  Or will we ask Jesus to maybe take it somewhere else?

Sunday, June 16. 2019

Trinity Sunday, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Last Sunday I talked about the Holy Spirit descending, at Pentecost, to continue inspiring the work that Jesus left for his disciples to do.  I mentioned briefly that the coming of the Holy Spirit is the movement of God amongst us now, in contrast to the ways God has been in different ages, either with the Jews in the desert, or as Jesus walking amongst humanity.  Today we celebrate the fullness of the Trinity, and as is tradition, try to avoid reciting any number of heresies that fail to explain the Trinity and also incorrectly describe Christian doctrine.

Trinity Sunday is notoriously a day where priests try to wrangle someone else into preaching.  That’s probably why Annie is conveniently unable to be here yet.  Usually this is done because a wise and discerning person knows that no matter how many metaphors one attempts to use, they will never fully convey a complete explanation of the Trinity.  Worse, they may unintentionally limit it.  This is the reason why language matters so much in our liturgy.  We proclaim our faith and doctrine through the words that we use.  We say, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” because that is the language we have from the Bible, and other perhaps saying Mother instead of Father as it suits some, there aren’t better ways to describe the Trinity.

For example, you may have heard before someone say ‘Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer’.  That is, unfortunately, what we call Modalism, a heresy condemned in the Third Century.  By using such language, we deny that God is three and one by saying instead that each person of the Trinity has a particular function.  God the Father is sole creator, God the Son is sole redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit is sole sustainer.  The problem is that’s not what we are told of the Trinity in Scripture.  The Son and the Holy Spirit were there at creation.  All three are co-equal in redemption, and all three are co-equal in continuing to guide the church.  Now, there are many types of heresies that have to do with trying to explain the Holy Trinity, or using other language to name the Trinity, and I will not bore you with an exposition of each type and how they are wrong.  The point of this is to say that as we contemplate the Trinity today, we must also remember to be mindful of the language we use to name it.

At times I know I have heard sermons trying to explain the Trinity by metaphor.  I have heard that the Trinity is like an egg, yolk, white, and shell.  Except a yolk is not fully an egg, nor does the shell contain all of what it means to be an egg.  Or perhaps the old adages of saying the Trinity is like water, frozen solid, liquid, and steam, or the Trinity is like a person being a child, spouse, and parent.  Again, these fail to fully encompass that God’s being as Trinity is more relational between its persons, yet also one.  So what are we left to do in the face of this inexplicable God?

God is worthy of praise in part because God is inexplicable.  Who would want to worship a God that is full of the limitations of mortal beings?  Understanding God’s full nature is beyond our ability and that is a good thing.  How could we honestly believe that God has conquered sin and death or the promise of what is to come at the end of all things if God was as understandable as you or me?  When heresies occur, it’s really not because some evil villain is trying to lead astray.  People are just trying to wrap their heads around this God we worship.  It feels good to be able to know a thing, because then you can control it.  Otherwise, we have to admit that God has ultimate control.

If you look in the Book of Common Prayer, on page 864, you will find an entry under the section known as ‘Historical Documents’ entitled ‘The Creed of Saint Athanasius’.  There are many churches which recite this creed in place of the Nicene Creed on the Feast of the Trinity because it spends a lot of time trying to explain the basics of the Trinity.  You can exhale a sigh of relief, as we won’t be doing that; but this creed is worth reading.  The author, which historians now believe to be someone other than Saint Athanasius, uses a repetitive style to underscore the simultaneous oneness and threeness of the Trinity.  The author writes, “The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.  And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.  As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.  So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty.  And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.  So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.”

So, lest we get lost deeply in the weeds of Trinitarian Theology, the point is this:  unique to Christianity is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.  We believe that God is three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that all three have been three from the beginning, and will be through all eternity.  It is a mystery greater than any metaphor and certainly greater than any of us can fully comprehend.  I am grateful that God is greater, bigger, more complicated than my mortal brain can grasp.  That is a God worthy of honor and praise, and one in whom we can find solace.