Author Archives: standrews

The Great Easter Vigil, Saturday, April 20, 2019

Great Vigil of Easter
St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
Words are taken from St. John Chrysostom’s Vigil Sermon

St. John Chrysostom became the Archbishop of Constantinople in the year 397CE.  He is one of the most prolific writers of the Early Church, and the epithet “Chrysostom” means, “Golden Mouthed”, a nod to his incredibly gifted public speaking.  Of all his writing, one of the most well known is his Paschal Homily, which is read every year in the Orthodox Church at the end of the Vigil.  The reason I am telling you all this is that I’ve decided that St. John Chrysostom’s words, written around 300 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, are what I will share with you tonight.  Here are his words, translated into modern English of course:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Are there any who are grateful servants? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord! Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; if any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay. For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first.

To this one he gives, and upon another he bestows. He accepts the works as he greets the endeavor. The deed he honors and the intention he commends. Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of his goodness! Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hell when he descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of his flesh. Isaiah foretold this when he said, “You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering him below.”

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting? O Hell, where is thy victory? Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Good Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

What do you say when everything you’ve known, everything you have worked for is over in the blink of an eye.  I often wonder about the disciples on Good Friday.  Even though Jesus had tried to prepare them, even though he explained to them again and again what was going to happen, this had to have been devastating.  It had to have been absolutely terrifying to see their teacher murdered by those in power.  Mary, his mother, certainly would have heard Jesus too, and even if she understood what we was saying, nothing would ever be enough to prepare her for the loss of her child.

Good Friday is a day of contradiction.  We call it Good Friday, and yet on this day we are somber.  We are sad in a way because we are contemplating the gruesome torture and death of Jesus Christ.  Yet, this is the culmination of Jesus’ ministry.  Everything in the Gospels are prelude to this moment.  Good Friday is a day of contradiction because on this day we do not, we cannot celebrate the Eucharist.  The eternal God of all Creation is dead.  In incarnate form, he has been nailed to a cross by the principalities of humanity, and has, as the creed says, descended to the dead.  It is a day of contradiction because in it we see that God’s greatest act of love required humanities’ greatest act of depravity.  It is a day of contradiction because after all that, we still call it Good.

We have, of course, the benefit of hindsight.  We know what comes next, and it is so very tempting for us to want to move quickly through the uncomfortable implications of what today brings and get to what comes after Jesus’ death.  But we slow down instead.  We purposefully take time to meditate on Christ’s suffering.  To contemplate why Jesus died, how Jesus died, and what that means to our faith.  In a moment we will be given time to venerate the wooden cross that is brought forward.  We do this to show our respect, love, and devotion for everything this object has come to represent.  This is the means by which God conquers sin and death for all eternity.  This is the object which represents the greatest love which the Creator can show their creation. 

It is important for us to keep in mind that the disciples, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, that all those who followed this man from the Galilean countryside now think that everything is over.  All the miracles, all the teachings, all of it has come to an abrupt stop with Jesus’ death.  They don’t know what’s coming next, and for some of them it will be too hard to believe even with Jesus standing before them.  Just as the temple curtain is torn in two, so must the hearts of those that followed him, believed in the Kingdom of God he preached, be torn asunder.  Today is a contradiction because even though we call it ‘Good Friday’, it is a day for our hearts to be torn as well.  Jesus is dead.  Jesus is gone.  Now we wait to figure out what to do next, just as they did two millennia ago.

Maunday Thursday, April 18, 2019

Maundy Thursday, Year C, 2019

Kevin Gore, St Andrew’s Mountain Home

Maundy Thursday is the first day of the Paschal Triduum, a series of three days that takes us through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It begins with the observance on the evening of Maundy Thursday, recalling the last supper, where Jesus washes his disciples feet, where he institutes the eucharist with those words, “Do this in remembrance of me”, and where he gives us the new commandment to love one another as he loves us. 

If you are wondering what exactly it means to have a Maundy type of Thursday, it is a word derived from the Latin mandatum, the same place we get words like mandate.  It is defined as a law, an order, a command to do something.  The use of the word reflects the importance of Jesus’ commands to the Church.  This is no ordinary Thursday night.  In fact for Jesus and the disciples, this is no ordinary Passover meal either.  

This evening our service is full of very physical reminders of these things, just as the last supper would have been.  Imagine for a minute the experience of that evening with Jesus.  First, this leader, this teacher, someone who you have seen perform miracles, now gets down and washes the feet of his disciples.  They object of course, this task is only for the lowliest slave, but the teacher insists.  He is teaching his followers that they must humble themselves to each other, to show the most delicate of care for their fellow humans, especially any over whom they have authority.  Something to consider in this act, though it is not explicitly mentioned, is that Jesus would have washed Judas’ feet too.  Jesus knew who was going to betray him…and yet washed his feet.  It is not just the feet of those we have concord with that we should wash.

Then comes the meal.  The Gospels disagree on whether this was a Passover meal, or just a meal, but if it was for Passover, just hours before they ate, they would have slaughtered a lamb to cook for the dinner.  Blood was not an uncommon sight, and the imagery already a part of Passover would be in their minds when Jesus motions to the wine and says, “This is my blood” and to the bread, “this is my body”.  Again, one might assume that in sharing this first eucharist, Judas was given a morsel of bread and a drink of wine like everyone else.

Finally the command, the mandate to love one another as Christ loves us.  What comes next for Jesus after this night would test anyone’s resolve of love for another.  This is God’s ultimate act of love for creation.  To die in an absolutely brutal fashion, to be stripped of all dignity, and to do so as an act of love. 

Tonight feet get washed.  Tonight bread is broken and wine is poured.  Tonight after all that is done, we go with Jesus to quiet place to watch and pray.  We strip the sanctuary of all adornment.  We leave altar bare, the aumbry empty.

We have much to consider on this Maundy Thursday.  These symbols, some of which we engage in only once a year, are not just meaningless, empty rituals.  These are ways we enter into Jesus’ story.  Contemplate the ways in which God’s love is shown to you throughout life, and to others through your actions.  This is our call, our work as followers of Jesus Christ. Let us always be seeking a deeper understanding of the love that is reflected in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019

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

With Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we mark the start of the most important week in the Church year.  The reading today of Jesus’ Passion from the Gospel of Luke, foretells what is to come next.  This Sixth Sunday in Lent, Sunday of the Passion, or Palm Sunday, we begin down a road that has been walked again and again, every year for nearly two millennia, a road of celebration, of joy, of betrayal, of heartache, of death; a road that leads to resurrection and the casting down of sin once and for all.  Today we experience some of the highs and lows of that Lukan passion narrative. 

We started with our liturgy of the palms.  But…did you notice that this year, Lectionary Year C, we read Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in Luke and two things we always associate with Palm Sunday….namely the waving of palms and the shouts of Hosanna are nowhere to be found in this reading?  Luke leaves these details out, yet much like details of the nativity, or other stories of Jesus that differ across the gospels, there are certain symbols that are just part of our experience.  It’s important to understand also, that what we read out of these Gospels is most certainly done intentionally. The author of Luke may not have wanted to connect this story of Jesus to what those palms stand for.  In Jewish history and tradition there are times where the waving of palms was to celebrate victorious battles, especially the Maccabean revolt.  It is offered by some scholars that perhaps Luke doesn’t want us to think of Jesus as part of a violent revolution.  It’s hard to say, and dangerous for us to assume.

What we are given though is a crowd that shouts with joy at Jesus’ entry.  His disciples are shouting praise, so much so that the Pharisees who are present tell Jesus to quiet them down.  Jesus responds: “If they were silent, the stones would shout.”  If his followers were silenced the very foundations of the earth would herald the messiah’s entrance into Jerusalem.  But this joy and celebration will not last long.  Some of the people in this crowd may very well be the ones only five days later that will shout, “crucify him!” and demand that Pilate release Barabbas instead of Jesus.  All four Gospels name the man who is released instead of Jesus.  A man who’s name, “Barabbas” literally means ‘son of the father’.  Scholars disagree Barabbas’ existence, some even stating that the author of the Gospel of Mark, the oldest of our Gospels, created this character as a foil, and his name is word-play since Jesus is the true ‘Son of the Father’.  Regardless, it gives us pause to consider how quickly we can go from celebrating to cursing someone, even when they have the best of intentions for us.

As Jesus rides into the city people are hopeful.  They are clinging to a hope that their savior has indeed come to lead them in casting off the occupying Romans, the corrupt Herod, and the Temple elite that have made worshipping God something only the richest among them can afford to do in the Temple.  But Jesus doesn’t do these things in the way they want it done.  Jesus does lead them in a revolt just not of the kind they are used to.  Jesus offers them a new Kingdom, one not of this world, and that is not what the people had expected.  The powers and principalities use this opportunity to seize him and to kill him.  That’s where our story so abruptly ends today. 

This week, this Holy Week, we will take time to examine different parts of this story.  On Maundy Thursday we will remember Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist, of his example of serving others in the washing of feet, and his final mandate, the greatest commandment given to his disciples.  We will strip the altar and leave the sanctuary bare.  We will keep vigil with Jesus as he prays in the Garden.  Good Friday, that most solemn of days, we will gather in the quiet and reflect on the sacrifice and pain, the humiliation and suffering that Jesus endures, and his death on the cross.  It is a day on which no Eucharist can be celebrated.  Death has taken our Jesus.  But once the sun has gone down on Holy Saturday.  Once that day has passed, we will gather as our forebears have gathered in the oldest of Christian observances.  We will kindle the new fire, we will ignite the light of Christ and we will hold vigil in the darkness until we proclaim with a loud voice the resurrection of our Savior.

The is no more important time for Christians than this one week, packed with emotion, with highs, lows, and the most dramatic conclusion of God’s story of salvation.  This week is special, and though I know our lives are busy, this is the time to set aside all the distractions.  This is the time, if there is no other time in your year, where you focus on one thing.  We have already begun our journey on that path to the empty tomb, and now every day counts.  Be mindful of that this week.  Take the time to meditate on the place in this story you find yourself.  Every day the daily office readings offer us something to ponder.  When we begin the Paschal Triduum on Maundy Thursday, steep yourself in those three difficult and holy days.  Take a part in the drama and observance of our faith.  This is it.  The cornerstone of our faith is found in this week to come.  This is Jesus’ story.  This is our story.  Take your place amongst it.

Sunday April 07, 2019

Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s, Mountain Home

                Have you ever looked at a website that sells church supplies?  I have.  Obviously.  As a matter of fact I’ll confess that I quite enjoy them.  Not that it comes as a surprise to most of you I’m sure.  Ecclesiastical window shopping really.  Perusing the different vestments, clerical wear, chalices, silver and gold sanctuary appointments.  It reminds me of all those years as a child I would be so excited for the arrival of the JC Penney Christmas Catalog.  As soon as I had my hands on it I’d flip straight to the toy section and start circling everything I might want.  But back to the church supplies.  If you’ve never looked at them, you might be surprised at what you find.  Vestments often cost from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand depending on who you buy it from and what it’s made of.  You can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars on just a new chalice alone.  You will find some of the most beautiful and meticulously crafted items in church supplies stores.  But whenever I see a chalice, perhaps hand engraved silver with jewels laid into it, selling for ten or fifteen thousand dollars, while I think of what beauty it could add to the mass, I have to admit that my immediate thought after is how many people could you feed for that amount of money.  Honestly I’m torn.  I find that it is important for the mass to contain visions of transcendent beauty.  Sacred objects should be special.  I think where I find my peace with it is if something is procured because it is coveted, then it isn’t being used to the glory of God.

                So if we didn’t have the parenthetical note from the author of the Gospel of John, I could see where the disciple Judas is coming from.  This ointment is worth an entire year’s wages.  Historians tell us that nard was most likely imported from India, which was part of why it was so expensive.  In the Gospel of John however, the author tells us that Judas is skimming out of the community purse.  He’s not actually concerned with giving the money to the poor, but rather on benefitting himself.  In the words of the great William Shakespeare, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” 

                We often see that in people who find something to be extremely negative about, very vocal, very zealous.  They themselves are struggling with something internal regarding the issue themselves.  Judas’ jealousy and greed are showing through his false concern.  That might be the exactly why Jesus says to him that the poor will always be with Judas.  Judas’ shame is that with all the poor and suffering around them, and with a community purse that is supposed to in part be for those poor, he is taking from it for himself.  Judas will always be surrounded by the poor because he puts himself before anyone else.

                This ties directly to scripture, which one would assume Jesus is purposefully quoting.  In the book of Deuteronomy, chapter fifteen, verses seven through eleven we have similar words:
“Now if there are some poor persons among you, say one of your fellow Israelites in one of your cities in the land that the LORD your God is giving you, don’t be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward your poor fellow Israelites. To the contrary! Open your hand wide to them. You must generously lend them whatever they need. But watch yourself! Make sure no wicked thought crosses your mind, such as, The seventh year is coming—the year of debt cancellation—so that you resent your poor fellow Israelites and don’t give them anything. If you do that, they will cry out to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin. No, give generously to needy persons. Don’t resent giving to them because it is this very thing that will lead to the LORD your God’s blessing you in all you do and work at. Poor persons will never disappear from the earth. That’s why I’m giving you this command: you must open your hand generously to your fellow Israelites, to the needy among you, and to the poor who live with you in your land.”  This passage points out that in the Promised Land, a land of abundance, no one should suffer.  If they do, it is to the shame of those who do not aid them. 

                Then again, it’s a funny way to justify this moment, don’t you think?  Judas openly complains that Jesus is being covered in this costly ointment, a whole jar of it no less, and Jesus’ response is to say that the poor will always be there?  If you step back from this one moment, in the larger context it makes sense.  But we, reading this a couple thousand years after the fact, have the benefit of knowing how the story goes.  What Jesus is not saying…and I can’t emphasize that ‘not’ enough…is that we shouldn’t help the poor because they will always be there.  Our outreach, our food bank, our assistance that we provide to those in greatest need is important and it is an important fruit of the spiritual journey we are on.  It is not the point of our existence as a religious community.  We are here first and always to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to live out our call to follow God’s way.  But out of that work comes the fruits of helping others, among many other gifts.

                Time is slowing down in our Gospel narrative.  We have been jumping all over Sunday to Sunday hearing about Jesus’ ministry.  But now we are coming to the end.  This passage we heard today comes directly after Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  In the Gospel of John, the next day after Jesus is anointed by Mary with the nard he enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, with palm fronds waving.  We’ll get to that next week, but it should not escape our notice that we are days away from Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, and now we come near Holy Week when every day counts and every day holds special significance for us.  In Christian tradition, the Saturday before Palm Sunday is known as Lazarus Saturday, as he was raised by Jesus the day before the triumphal entry.

                Will the fruits of the spirit from our faith and discipline show forth into a world in need of help?  That is the question this passage asks us.  Judas couldn’t see Jesus for who and what he was.  Mary did, and that is why she anointed him.  Judas instead was focused on the earthly things, the things that could not let him see Jesus as the messiah, as God incarnate.  Our faith must be what comes first, and the works will follow.  This act of devotion by Mary, even though it seems extravagant, is still a sacrifice.  She is giving everything to a man who owned nothing.  He wandered from village to village proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and this woman gives everything to anoint his feet.  Perhaps we too can live with such generosity and love for God that it raises the ire and provokes complaints from those who cannot see for themselves how incredible such faith can truly be.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

First Sunday in Lent, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s, Mountain Home

                I saw something posted on Facebook last month that said, “January was a tough year, but we made it.”  That’s usually how the week leading up to the first Sunday in Lent feels to me.  We have had a flurry of events that remind us of the cycle of the church year.  We started with Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras with a great feast and celebration while raising money for a very good cause.  Then Wednesday we gathered to have our foreheads marked with ash and to be reminded of our humanity, of our inescapable mortality.  We also do this to grieve the state of our broken relationship with God, or maybe we would like to call it, ‘a work in progress’.  We were invited by the Church to the, “observance of a Holy Lent” and our forty day journey began.  On Friday we began marking that special day, which during Lent we commemorate, the day on which Jesus was crucified, with a service of the stations of cross.  We walk with Jesus on the Via Della Rosa to Golgotha and remember the sacrifice made.

                So we are now four days into Lent, and our first Sunday in Lent has come.  Today in our Gospel we move back in the narrative lectionary to right after Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.  Right before the reading today, at the end of the third chapter of Luke, the action that takes place is Jesus coming up out of the water, and God declaring that Jesus is God’s beloved son.  As we bring baptism back to mind, consider the parallels we have in our liturgy, when at baptism and confirmation we are sealed on the forehead with oil, in the shape of a cross to be marked as Christ’s own;  and on Ash Wednesday, when it is time for us to be driven into the wilderness by the Spirit of God for forty days, we are marked again on our foreheads like at baptism in the shape of a cross, this time with the grit of ash instead of the smooth gentle drop of oil.  We are called to a time of self examination, of repentance, of setting the foundation of faith in our hearts and minds.

                These days it seems like the idea of giving things up for Lent has re-entered common culture.  There was a time when it was the standard for everyone, but then again so was being a part of the One Holy Roman Church.  Over the centuries the observance of Lent, especially in this country, became lost to culture, especially American mainline Protestant Evangelicals.  Now you see it more in media, hear about it on the news, and definitely see something about it on Facebook.  Many non-liturgical churches even observe Lent in some way, giving a bit more tradition and lifestyle to their message.  It’s almost, dare I say it, become so ordinary of a conversation topic, that the focus of our Lent becomes the golden calf of the giving something up and less learning how to put our trust in God.

                Now, a quick disclaimer, I am not belittling or setting aside the practice of giving things up for Lent.  I think that in the full and rich history of our faith and tradition it has its place.  I think that when done in the right mindset can be very beneficial.  However, I also think that like many religious traditions the action often loses its meaning and theological significance, and we simply do things because that’s what we do.

                So let me ask a question.  Who stops eating chocolate for good after Lent?  Who continues to struggle with that same Lenten discipline of self-denial for the rest of their lives?  I don’t know very many people, if any, that would fall into that category.  Quite the opposite actually, I’ve talked with people who are exquisitely relishing the moment on Easter morning when they can binge on whatever it is they have given up for Lent.  I wonder then, if the penitential act of self-denial isn’t so much about punishment, but about changing your life.

The Spirit of God didn’t lead Jesus into the wilderness for forty days so he could prove he could give up meat on Fridays.  His time in the desert was one of great transformation; of life changing transformation.  In the three synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus’ ministry doesn’t begin in earnest until he has been baptized, spent his time in the desert and returned, as Luke puts it, “filled with the power of the Spirit.”  In the midst of this desert time, Jesus faced tests: to observe the frailty of his humanity; to be tempted in the essence of his divinity.  And he returned to Galilee changed.

This story shows that temptation hits us when we are weak.  Temptation waits until we are at our most vulnerable before offering us the easy way out.  For Jesus this was for food, for survival, for power.  The deceiver offers Jesus a path to kingship that doesn’t include the cross.  But Jesus knows better.  We are often tempted to these same things.  Tempted to plenty.  Tempted to power.  Certainly tempted to survival.  But Jesus teaches us that our only righteous path is to put our faith in God.  To have faith that the work we have to do is indeed worth it. 

Even after the wilderness, even after Jesus goes on to do miracles, to teach, to be transfigured and gain a following, the deceiver comes back.  Luke tells us that when the deceiver is rebuffed by Jesus in the wilderness, there is a retreat and waiting for the opportune time.  That might be Judas’ betrayal, that might be when Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The point is our work in Lent, whether we give something up or not, isn’t about proving we can suffer minor inconveniences to remember Jesus’ suffering, it is about taking actions that show we put our trust fully in God and to the work God calls us as followers.

So here’s my challenge to you.  Make this Lent one of life changing transformation.  Make it count.  Be present and intentional in whatever discipline you decide to take on.  Use this time to reset or shore up the foundation of your spiritual life; of your relationship with God, and your relationships with the people around you.  Don’t give something up for Lent because that’s what you do.  In fact, don’t give anything up at all if that isn’t going to help you grow.  Personally, I usually don’t give any one particular thing up for Lent anymore.  My practice is instead to begin reshaping my life, putting my mind back to God.  To use this time to once again refocus.  Let’s be honest, life happens.  We get busy, we get distracted, because we are human we fail at leading that perfect life.  So for me it is a reminder to clear it all away, to start intentionally rebuilding and repairing every part of my spiritual life, hopefully to make a lasting impression on myself.  I don’t expect that I will ever fully arrive at that perfect life; in fact I don’t think that is possible in our human existence.  But, we are given the opportunity to always strive a little more.  To change, to grow, and to continue throughout our life, reshaping what that looks like.

So let me leave you with this.  When you, in forty days, emerge from the desert, will you be forever changed?  Will you have made a difference in your life?  Will you have done what was needed to prepare your heart and mind for that Easter vision, for the Risen and Triumphant Christ?  Will you be ready to set to work in the ministries you are called, filled with the Holy Spirit?  That is my prayer and my hope.  That each of you will find something in this desert time to prepare the way of the Lord.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s, Mountain Home

                Last November I attended clergy conference at Camp Mitchell.  It ended on a Wednesday morning so I had enough time to drive home and prepare for pub theology.  When I arrived we talked briefly about clergy conference and when asked where it was I said, “I think it’s called Petit Jean”.  Now, I took French in high school and college, and I can speak some small bits still.  So I was relatively certain I was pronouncing this right.  The people I was talking to however had never heard of such a place and we continued trying to figure out where exactly Camp Mitchell is.  Eventually someone said, “Oh!  You mean Petty Jeen!”  It got me thinking about mountain top experiences, points in our lives where we end up somewhere amazing, whether physical or not, have experiences that are transformative, and then we struggle to communicate with others where and how those events take place. 

                Today we end the season after Epiphany the way in which it always comes to a close with a reading of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  This is separate from the actual feast of the Transfiguration which is observed on August 6th.   So why do we have it here?  It is in a way both in order of the narrative but also completely out of order for what we’re doing next.  It is in order because the Transfiguration is literally the last Epiphany of Jesus.  It is the last grand ‘ah ha’ moment for folks.  From this mountain top, Jesus will continue his ministry en route to Jerusalem, for his ultimate torture and death.  That is the narrative road we are walking too.  We are preparing for the end of his ministry and the road to Golgotha.  That is where Lent takes us, and eventually we get to the resurrection.  But for now we have one more bright shining moment before we come down to do ministry.  

                In terms of moments in life of Jesus, this is a spectacular event, something that at the end of the reading we even hear that those who witnessed it wouldn’t talk about it.  And let’s be honest here, that’s now always our experience of the disciples.  But this is so profound, so amazing that they just don’t speak of it.  I can’t blame them either.  This is the sort of story that gives us the term ‘mountain top experience”.  In fact if you consider everything that happens on a mountain top in our scripture and tradition….well….we might start staying at base camp more often.  But there they are, Jesus, John, Peter, and James.  They go up to the top of this mountain, really Jesus goes up there to pray, the disciples go with him, and while Jesus is praying he is transfigured.  His countenance is dazzling, his clothes change, his face shines, and two figures are there with him, talking to him, Moses and Elijah.  As those two figures depart, Peter says something very interesting.  “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  A lot of the time that this passage is preached, we focus on things like Peter being silly and suggesting they build huts, and how wrong he is, or how the important part of a mountain top experience is coming back down.  

Generally, that statement is very true.  A mountain top experience does not hold its importance unless it is unique.  It cannot be your day to day routine or it ceases to be so profound.  Don’t we, at a certain point in life have to realize and begin training ourselves to remember to be amazed at waking up every morning?  Routine removes the miraculous nature of life.  So while it’s true that you have to come down from the mountain top, something has really stood out to me in studying this scripture again.  Partly it’s what Peter says…and partly it’s that in all three of the gospels where this story occurs, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, no one argues with Peter.  No one says “No, Peter, wrong again.”  Peter doesn’t always have a great track record with making suggestions people agree with, especially Jesus.  But this one…this time Peter says, “it is good to be here”, and no one disagrees.

The Transfiguration is one of the five major points in Jesus’ life, along with the baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, and what makes the miracle of the Transfiguration so important is that on the top of this mountain, where Jesus has gone to pray, the temporal and the eternal meet.  It is a holy moment, and like Peter says, it is good to be there.  So what sets this apart from what we normally think of as a mountain top experience is that this isn’t really something that has an end.  Sure, Jesus stops glowing, and the other two figures disappear, but this isn’t something that changes us and then dissipates over time.  In fact I think the Transfiguration sets a different standard.  A standard where this  mountain top experience is an ongoing transfiguration of Christ, of the World, and of ourselves.  And we shouldn’t ever come back down from that.  We come together here on this day as a community, to worship, to pray, and to experience together the temporal and the eternal.  That is why we break bread together, why we remember, why we baptize, why we renew, why we bother getting up on a Sunday morning to come here.  We are seeking the presence of the Transfigured Christ here in this place, and it is good.

Of course we also know that presence doesn’t just reside here, it’s everywhere.  The mountain top is the start of the journey for us as followers of Christ, not the goal.  The presence of the transfigured Christ is our reality in the Kingdom of God and we should be carrying that with us every day, every minute.  Following Christ, the way of the Christian, is a transfigured life, a life where the eternal and the temporal are no longer separate.  Where we live in the values of the Kingdom of God while we still await that kingdom to be fully realized.  Thought it may look to others as though you are staying on the mountain top, the truth is you are simply forever transfigured.  You don’t have to stay physically on the mountain top to keep that experience as the new reality.

What does it mean to you to dwell in the presence of the transfigured Christ?  What does your reality look like when you remind yourself you always are dwelling there, and you are there with every single bit of God’s infinite creation?  Ponder that this week.  Notice the spaces in your life that are full of transfiguration, and notice the places that could use a bit more.  As we begin the final walk to the end of Jesus’ ministry we begin with Transfiguration, but every moment of every day it is our duty to be there on that mountain top, in the midst of Christ’s transfiguration.  Like Peter said, it is good to be here.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Have you ever been asked, “What does Heaven look like?” Maybe by an inquisitive child or someone having a conversation about faith?  What was your answer?  Or what would you answer right now?  Usually when we talk about Heaven, we mingle scripture and tradition.  We talk about streets paved with gold, giant gates made of pearl.  We might say St. Peter waits for us at those gates…certainly there are a few jokes that start that way.  Would you say that those one has loved and lost will be there waiting to greet the new arrival?  Perhaps one would describe the innumerable angels or even the throne of God in its magnificence, surrounded by all peoples in adoration.  When I did a search on the internet for, ‘descriptions of Heaven’ many results came up.  Most of them quoted scripture, especially the Book of Revelation, chapter twenty-one, to talk about what Heaven looks like. 

From the Common English Bible, “the city…was fifteen hundred miles. Its length and width and height were equal. The angel also measured the thickness of its wall. It was two hundred sixteen feet thick. The wall was built of jasper, and the city was pure gold, like pure glass. The city wall’s foundations were decorated with every kind of jewel. The first foundation was jasper, the second was sapphire, the third was agate, and the fourth was emerald. The fifth was onyx, the sixth was ruby, the seventh was peridot, and the eighth was beryl. The ninth was topaz, the tenth was turquoise, the eleventh was jacinth, and the twelfth was amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was made from a single pearl. And the city’s main street was pure gold, as transparent as glass.”

But what if the best descriptions of Heaven have nothing to do with what the visual experience is?  What if the best descriptions of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, what we might even call (in theological terms) ‘the eschaton’ have more to do with how it feels to exist in such a place?  The Book of Revelation touches briefly on descriptions that talk about no hunger, no thirst, always bright, no death, no mourning, God dwells amongst the people.  But how often have you been asked, “What does Heaven look like” and you’ve gone to the words of Jesus, about the Kingdom of God.  Would you think to recite one of many parables that Jesus spoke, which begin with the words, “The Kingdom of God is like…”?  It gets confusing, I realize that, when we hear Jesus say something about the Kingdom of God, and then to say that the Kingdom of God is at hand, but then also to talk about that eschaton, or the end of all things which brings us to the fullness of that Kingdom, or as we call it, Heaven. 

Through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, that Kingdom of God begins to break into our world.  Jesus teaches continually about how to live that ideal existence, about the values of the Kingdom of God, and today’s Gospel lesson is no exception.  That’s why what Jesus says today about turning the other cheek, about giving without expectation of receiving, about doing to others as you would have then do to you seems both wonderful and completely unattainable.  Jesus never says, “The Kingdom of God is easy and super simple to experience.”  We know that living in the world means if you turn the other cheek you may be inviting more violence.  Giving more to those who have stolen from you might encourage more of the same behavior.  Jesus isn’t speaking hyperbolically when we he says those that are willing to lose their life for his sake will save it. 

In the Revised Common Lectionary for Eucharistic readings, this passage from Luke only shows up once: for the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany in Year C.  What you may not be totally aware of is that the season after Epiphany does not have a fixed number of days.  Its length is determined by when the Feast of the Epiphany falls and when Lent begins.  So there can be up to eight Sundays after Epiphany possible before the last Sunday after the Epiphany.  The last time the calendar fell in such a way that this passage from Luke was used as the Gospel was Sunday, February 18th, 2001.  It’s been eighteen years since we have heard this passage at a Sunday service.  I’m pointing out the rarity of this passage because of how important Jesus’ words are.  This passage is important because it’s incredibly difficult and yet exemplifies what it means to really live as a Christian.  Jesus Christ makes clear to us that there is nothing Christian about fighting back, there is nothing Christian about defending yourself with violence.  There is nothing Christian about walking past a homeless person and pretending they don’t exist so we don’t have to feel bad about ourselves. 

Now, I know we are all going to fail at this teaching again and again.  These are values of the Kingdom of God, and that is a huge height to aspire to.  As I often tell people, I am a pacifist, and I believe without a shadow of a doubt that is what Jesus Christ teaches.  I will hold fast that pacifism is the only way to respond to violence as a Christian, even if that means losing your own life.  That is a value I hold.  But what I will also tell people is that the strong conviction I hold for that Christian ideal has never once been put to the test.  So, in all honesty, I know that while I have no doubt that is how Christ wants us to live, if someone actively threatened my life, I can’t tell you how I would actually react.  I would like to tell you how I believe I should react if I am a follower of Christ, but I also know I’m not perfect.  God knows that too.  Jesus knows that, and certainly if he ever forgot this, his disciples were there to remind him of the fallibility of humanity.

So what do we do with teachings that seem unreachable?  What do we do when Jesus tells us how to live and his way seems absolutely unrealistic and out of touch with the world we live in?  On April 16th, 1963, The Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Junior wrote the ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ where he was placed after being arrested for non-violent demonstrations against segregation.  In that letter he wrote,

“…I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” […] So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

This is the work of a Christian.  Jesus Christ gives us the clearest views of Heaven and how we live into the values that exist there.  Jesus calls us to be willing to stand against the cultures of the world and proclaim these values by word and deed.  So, when someone asks you, “what does Heaven look like?”  Tell them, “Heaven is a place where everyone lives in Love; just as Jesus himself calls us to do now.”  This life of a Christian is not an easy one, but if we believe, then we know it is one to which we are called.  Jesus’ words are clear.  Now it is our turn to take up our cross and follow.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

In today’s Gospel, we hear the beginning of the sermon on the plain, which is a well-known passage often taken to be a list of the people that Jesus is saying are favored by God and those who’s lives have damned them.  Make no mistake, this passage certainly is, as David Ostendorf calls it, “the raw, unvarnished, faith-rattling declaration of the realm of God.”  It is not however a list of who is in and who is out or a blanket statement intended to be applied in the way we often think.

The first important thing to note which is commonly overlooked is that Jesus is not pronouncing this list of blessings and woes to the people gathered to hear him preach or declaring this to be the way of universe.  In fact, before he begins to speak, scripture says he looks up at the disciples.  Jesus is address this to the disciples, to people who have chosen to follow Jesus.  This statement is one of warning and of calling to those who would follow, whether they are disciples, the church throughout history, or to us gathered here today.  It is a call to a life in the kingdom of God that is unlike anything society at the time of Jesus and still society today declares good.

This passage contains four blessings and four woes that directly correspond to each blessing.  As we can see, it starts out with, “blessed are you who are poor” and then the woe which follows is, “But woe to you who are rich.”.  Knowing that Jesus is addressing this to his followers, which we often these days simply call, ‘the church’ begins to offer a different view of how this is to be taken.  This is a guide to how the Kingdom of God, heralded by the incarnation of Jesus, a Kingdom we constantly strive to live into, and seek glimpses of through the mysteries of the Eucharist.  This Kingdom turns the values of life on its head, and asks us to suppress the most animalistic, base desires and passions for a higher existence.

Something else I want you to catch is that the words that are chosen in the Greek for, “woe to you” show clearly that this is not a damnation, but a warning and signpost for the Kingdom.  This, “woe” does not carry a meaning that infers if you are rich, you are going to Hell or that it is a grievous sin.  What it does mean is a warning.  You could read this as ‘be careful’ or ‘watch yourself’ or in more modern parlance, I like to imagine Jesus telling his disciples, “they better check themselves before they wreck themselves.” 

To hear the ‘woe’ section another way, The Message bible rewrites it as, “But it’s trouble ahead if you think have it made.  What you have is all you’ll ever get.   And it’s trouble ahead if you’re satisfied with yourself. Your self will not satisfy you for long. And it’s trouble ahead if you think life’s all fun and games. There’s suffering to be met, and you’re going to meet it. There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests – look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.“ 

Jesus is warning his followers against complacency and against putting all their care into the kingdoms of humanity.  It is easier to worry less about others when you have yours.  It is also easier to justify not giving to those in need when you are fighting to have your own.  Jesus calls those without ‘blessed’ because they are not wrapped up in the world, not focused on what the Empire teaches as blessing.  This passage is not to look at those who are suffering in homeless camps and simply reassure them that they are blessed so they should be joyful in their suffering.  This passage is clear that those who take up their cross have a different way to live turning from the values of empire and turning to the values of the Kingdom of God.

Last Friday evening, at the Eucharist which opened the Diocesan Convention, Bishop Benfield preached about greed.  Later we would hear more about the story of Adam and Eve and how we can absolutely see that their sin is in many ways greed.  They want more knowledge, more power, more ability.  I see the hallmarks of that in this Gospel lesson today too.  Greed manifests in a lot of different ways, not just for money or possessions, and letting that drive our existence is absolutely in opposition to the Kingdom of God.  Bishop Benfield referred to purveyors of the prosperity Gospel, such as Joel Osteen, and how the understanding that God will bless you more and more as you give more and more, and that financial success is a sign of God’s blessing are clearly not in line with the teachings of Jesus. 

This passage today from Luke absolutely underscores that.  God does not shower us with fat bank accounts.  God blesses us with those who need our help, when we have more than we need.  God blesses us with reminders that if all we focus on is our own success, we are in danger of walking down a path that heads away from the values of the Kingdom of God.  This passage is not about salvation.  Nowhere is it said that one is ‘damned for eternity’.  Salvation is separate from this, and as we know already offered through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

The sermon on the plain illustrates ways in which those of us who follow Jesus are to live.  It warns us against the dangers of complacency, against the sin of greed, against putting all our trust and all our care into the values of the empire.  We are called to a different world.  We are called to a Kingdom where the values reflect love for all, care for all of creation.  That is our work as followers of Christ.  Perhaps we should reread this passage as saying, “Jesus looked up at the congregation of St. Andrews and said…”  This is as much for us here and now as it was for the disciples then.  It shows us that though the Kingdom of God is eternal, seeking out its values still remain a difficult task.

Find places in your life that you think fit the blessings here, and that fit the woes.  I promise you we all have them.  When you have found them, decide what that means and what you’re going to do about it.  Lent will be with us soon, and that’s always a good time to try on a change in life.  Seek out a path that leads to blessing and not to the warnings that Christ offers us.  There is a way to live as his followers, so let us be reminded of that today as we daily continue to take up our cross.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

I remember around November or December of 2017, nearing the middle of my last year of seminary, I began having discussions with different people about finding that elusive first call.  One of those people was Father Andrew Hybl, the Dean of Students at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.  Father Andrew is also originally from Arkansas, and previously served as the priest at St. Peter’s in Conway.  Well Father Andrew and I were talking about some of the many possibilities starting to open up across the church, and he asked me, “have you consider the Diocese of Arkansas?”  I’m not sure if the sound I made was more laughing or more simply scoffing, but was certainly to communicate how ridiculous I thought that idea was.  Arkansas?  All the way over on the other side of the country?  I don’t think that sounds like the sort of place I’m going to go.  No, that would be completely out of the question to take a job in Arkansas of all places.  He pressed, “you really should consider it, it’s a great diocese and the bishop is amazing.”  I thanked him for his counsel and reassured him that was one of the last places on Earth I would end up.

You see, I seem to have a bit of a talent for daring God to make the next move.  My three successive positions I held at Symantec were like that.  I would be talking with the person doing that job and would exclaim, “I would never want your job!”  Six months to a year later I would be doing it.  Of course, this doesn’t quite work like a spell.  I’ve tried that.  For example, I would hate to be independently wealthy.  Oddly that statement has not produced any results.

The point is that God calls us to places, to work, to ministries that we don’t always expect, don’t always understand, and sometimes don’t know that we will want.  There are countless examples of this throughout scripture.  One could argue that it is one of the clearest hallmarks that God is involved.  Someone reluctant is told to go do something.  Moses.  Jonah.  Abraham.  Peter.  Paul.  So many times God speaks, and for the stories we read today God speaks clearer and louder than most people ever get the opportunity to hear, and yet still those that God has called try to refuse.  They try to bargain or find their way out.  It’s not that God has taken their free will, they ultimately choose to follow one way or another.  It is something that they will feel compelled to do. 

Some like Jonah go kicking and screaming.  So do we.  We hear God’s call and sometimes it’s too difficult.  Or maybe it’s too scary.  Or maybe it’s too unbelievable.  Sarah had that experience.  She laughed when she heard God tell Abraham she was going to have a child.  When God speaks, we might be tempted to laugh.  I think we all have stories about that in our lives.  But we also have stories of times when that call from God was as clear as Jesus telling Peter where to cast the nets. 

Peter doesn’t argue with Jesus when the command is given.  Peter says, “If you say so, I will do it.”  Jesus is not a stranger entirely to Peter and the others, though this seems to be their first meeting.  But certainly it would be hard to believe that Peter and the others involved in our Gospel lesson today haven’t already heard of Jesus.  They had to have known of some of the things Jesus had done, some of the miracles, some of the teaching; certainly this spectacle of Jesus needing to go out on a boat to address the crowd would tell them something.  Peter has faith in Jesus and in following what he is told to do.  It makes me think that we today, with the benefit of all this scripture and thousands of years of Jesus still find it hard to follow as readily as Peter did.

Let’s also be clear about something else:  Even when those that have been called follow God, they don’t automatically become perfect.  Peter is of course our best example of that.  How many times does Jesus have to correct Peter in our Gospels, leading of course to that most famous line, where Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”  The book of Jonah ends with Jonah sulking under a shrub and cursing the shrub that God has put there to give him shade.  Moses never gets to enter the Promised Land.  In the reading this morning Isaiah clearly does not see himself as worthy or clean enough to take on the call of God.  He exclaims that he is unclean even though he has gazed upon God.  Peter falls to his knees exclaiming that Jesus should go away from him because he is a sinful man.

That highlights the other element that is so incredibly important to passages such as these today.  While God calls us all through either obvious or mysterious encounters, one response we might always have on hand is not thinking we are worthy enough to take up the work.  In these stories, it isn’t that they just think poorly of themselves or are being demure.  I think it’s fair to believe Peter and Isaiah when they point out their unworthiness, and to accept they truly believe it.  But what God offers, has already offered long before any call is issued, is forgiveness.

Isaiah is ritually cleansed when the angel touches the hot coal to his lips.  It’s fair to say this act is symbolic and certainly not a practice we will begin participating in anytime soon.  But the forgiveness, the blotting out of sin, the acceptance of humanity in its broken and healing nature is as intrinsic to the nature and narrative of God and the ministry of Jesus Christ as calling people to their work.

God calls us all to something.  For some of us it is to be clergy, some to teach, some to lead in a multitude of ways.  Some to sing, some to sweep, some to pray.  That call that God offers will always be waiting.  It’s not something that ever quite goes away or seems completed.  It is lifelong work.  What is equally important for us to recall is the forgiveness that goes along with it.  If there is ever a time when you are contemplating what you know God has called you to, and telling yourself that maybe you just aren’t good enough or holy enough or worthy enough to follow, remember that forgiveness from God is eternal and unwavering.  God’s forgiveness holds us lovingly and when we can embrace it, takes away those obstacles we put in front of our call.  Listen for where and to what God calls you.  Know that you are loved, you are worthy, and you are forgiven.  Nothing stands between you and the tasks to which you are called.  Take up your nets and cast them where God has told you to.