Category Archives: Sermons

Upcoming Worship Leaders:

June 4 and 11-The Reverend Anne Carriere

June 18 – Robert Wetherington+ and Betsy Baumgarten+, New Camp Mitchell Directors

June 24 and July 2 – Bob Williams+, West Plains

July 9 – Bishop Benfield – Confirmation and Reaffirmation

Sermon for Sunday, May 14, 2017

Sermon for Easter 5, Year A

May 14, 2017

Acts 7:55-60                     Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16                   1 Peter 2:2-10                      John 14:1-14

In old Jerusalem, there is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  It was one of the first places we visited when I was at St. George’s College. It is a huge structure which houses what is believed by many to be the two most holy sites in Christianity – the place where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where the body of Jesus was laid.  There is a shrine built over each of these sites, and whether or not the shrines are built in the actual places where these events occurred,  millions of Christians from all over the world visit this church to remember the death of our Lord.  The church is shared by several denominations and has several chapels within it.

On one of the lower levels there is a window where archeologist found a cracked stone.  The tour guides are now quick to draw it to everyone’s attention as being the stone referred to in scriptures as “the stone that the builders rejected.” In 1st Peter, this stone is said to have “become the very head of the corner.”  Peter is quoting the same verse in Psalm 118, which Jesus quotes while teaching people after he has ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that after Jesus says this, the scribes and the chief priest know Jesus is referring to them.  They want to arrest him on the spot, but fear how the crowd listening to Jesus might respond.  They have rejected Jesus and his teachings in their hearts and minds, and later they will do so publicly with his execution.

So, the tour guides in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher point out the crack in the stone and note that it is located beneath the site, two stories above, where Jesus was crucified.  Jesus is the cornerstone of our salvation, and the cornerstone that the scribes and chief priest have rejected.  To them, Jesus is fatally flawed.  Yet, the Bible is filled with stories of how God chooses the least likely to accomplish what needs to be done.  A young sheep herder goes against Goliath with only a slingshot and some stones, and wins the battle.  A carpenter saves the world with his love, his sacrificial love, not violence.

Jesus is indeed the chief cornerstone that the builders rejected and we are building our faith on him and his love – not only his love for us, but for everyone – friend and foe, family and strangers.

In our readings from Acts today, we hear about Stephen, the first Christian to be martyred. He is stoned to death, and we are told that the coats of those who stoned him are laid at the feet of none other than Saul – who we know as Paul.  It is Paul’s first appearance in the scriptures and one in which he can be identified as an unlikely candidate to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.  After that day Saul pursues and persecutes Christians with zeal.

Then, on the road to Damascus, Jesus appears to Saul and asks why Saul is persecuting him.  Saul becomes Paul, and some have suggested there would be no Christian Church without Paul.  It is Paul who spreads the good news of God’s love for us throughout the Roman empire.

And, of course, we have today’s gospel, in which Jesus is preparing his disciples for what is to come.  Jesus tells them he is going to be with his Father and he will prepare a place for them.  Jesus then says, “And you know the place where I am going.”  Thomas replies, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?”  Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”  Here, Jesus is patient with his disciples – after all his followers are fishermen and a tax collector – an unlikely group of people on which to build Christ’s Church.

Before becoming a priest, I hired a number of people in order to carry out the mission of the home health and hospice programs that employed me.  I would seek the best possible candidates, people who had the strengths I needed.  Today, however, I am thinking about how God has accomplished such great things with the most unlikely people, people that I would have rejected.  Perhaps I am too quick to dismiss people.

The other day I needed to purchase some moving supplies.  The first place I went to was closed with nothing but a note on the door saying it would be open the next day.  I took my business elsewhere, thinking there would be no reason to return there.  Later in the week, however, after learning that neither of the two movers in town could move us on the dates we had available, I decided to go back by that u-haul rental company and ask if they had the names of people who could pack and load the truck for us.  I was thinking I could then drive the truck and arrange help to unload it once there.  I can’t say why I decided to go to that particular store, only that I did.  It was open this time and by the time I was walking out, I knew that God was taking care of us.  I had underestimated the services they had to offer.  It is a full service moving company, as well as U-haul rental agency and they will be moving us to Batesville.

Now, being Mother’s Day, I am reminded of another time in my life when I realized I had underestimated someone.  Growing up, it was my father’s presence which seemed to dominate a room.  His love for everyone regardless of social status, race, or any other characteristic, challenged us to be more loving and accepting of others.  After his death, however, I got to know my mother better and began to see how she had influenced him to become the man he was.

I came to understand my mother as an example of God’s  self-sacrificing love for us.  Some of us can identity this trait with other women who have served as mothers to us.  We cannot over appreciate these women in our lives and the gifts they have given us.  So on this day, I give thanks for our mothers and other women who gave of themselves that we might become the people we are today.

I am also personally thankful for the reminder in today’s scripture that we should not be so quick to judge and dismiss others, or even ourselves, for “the stone that the builders rejected” may indeed “become the very head of the corner.”  God’s Kingdom will come about because God’s love can overcome any flaws in us or others.

Let us pray.

God, our Father, help us to see past the flaws in others and in ourselves and see the potential you see.  Help us, then, to support others that we might truly come to know the way to truth and live.  Accept also, our thanks today for those who have mothered us, seen our potential, and taught us to love.   We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

Sermon for Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sermon for Easter 4, Year A

May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47                          Psalm 23                        1 Peter 2:19-25                       John 10:1-10

“Those who had been baptized devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”  This is the first verse from our reading from Acts today and it follows the reading we will hear on Pentecost Sunday.  What happens is this.  The apostles are in Jerusalem at the time of the Jewish Celebration of Pentecost when they receive the Holy Spirit.  Peter goes out into the streets and begins to tell the people gathered about Jesus and those that “welcomed his message,” we are told, were baptized and they then devoted themselves to study, fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and prayers.  That is also why we are here today.

We are here today to continue to in our study of the apostles’ teaching, to break bread together and to pray.  We are part of this church for the fellowship as well.  Our study, worship, prayer, and fellowship are what makes this a church.  The church is not a building , it is not an individual, it is a body of people with a shared purpose.  That purpose is more than gathering to worship; it is to become the people God intends for us to become.

In any church, people come and people leave, but as long as people are willing to gather for study, fellowship, and worship, the church represents Christ to others.  Last Sunday, I sent out an announcement to all our members that I have accepted the call to serve as the rector of St. Paul’s in Batesville.  In my announcement, I noted that you, our members, are St. Andrew’s and it was the thought of leaving you that made my decision so difficult.

During Holy Week, I preached about living in faith, not fear, because the same Spirit that came to the apostles comes to us.  I want to be clear that my decision to leave St. Andrew’s was not made out of fear for the future of this church.  In fact, I initially declined to be included in St. Paul’s search process.  I did not consent to talk with them until very late in their search and, then, only after a great deal of encouragement to do so.  To make a long story short, after multiple conversations and prayer, St. Paul’s and I felt God was calling me to make this change.

The average length of service for a priest in a parish is about five and half years – when I leave I will have been here eight years.  I have stayed because I love you and I love St. Andrew’s.  This is still true, but I do believe it is time for a change for both St. Andrew’s and me.  As a parish, St. Andrew’s will have the opportunity to select its next priest.  The search process can be good for a church.  Working with the bishop’s office you will form a search committee to find your next rector.  You will have  time to think about what you want for the future of this church, then find a priest to help you accomplish what you want for St. Andrew’s.

I fully expect good things for St. Andrew’s in the future.  As we continue in this Easter Season, it is important to remember that from the time Jesus was arrested until his resurrection, the disciples lived in fear, not faith.  It was not until they saw the resurrected Christ that they began to understand what Jesus had been teaching them.  And then, on Pentecost, they were transformed by the Holy Spirit into people who lived by faith.  They spread the good news of God’s love and others responded.  They devoted themselves to exploring their faith together in prayer, worship and fellowship.

If you continue to devote yourselves to these things, St. Andrew’s will flourish.  After today, I will be with you for another two Sunday’s.  Leaving is hard for me, and I certainly hope it is not a cause of celebration for you – I hope you saying goodbye to me will not be easy.  When I left home for college I remember grieving terribly for half the drive, then anticipating my future with excitement the second half of the drive.  Saying goodbye may be difficult, but it is also an opportunity for St. Andrew’s and for me.   When we live by faith and not by fear, we have hope for a future filled with God’s grace and blessings.

Psalm 23 reminds us that it is God who shepherds us and provides for us.  Christ, the Good Shepherd, leads us and guides us.  With him, we need not be afraid, for his goodness and mercy is with us.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that he came that we might have life, and that we might have it abundantly.

In some ways, being here has been like walking through the valley of the shadow of death, I have celebrated the burial office for too many members here – but throughout my time here I have experienced the blessings of God and will always be grateful for the abundant life which exists here at St. Andrew’s.  Faith, not fear, is what has keep St. Andrew’s alive and is what will continue to lead you forward.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we gather today for worship and prayer.  Help us to see the abundance of the life you have provided for us here and to live in faith that we might draw our strength from your presence.  Guide us along the right pathways that  we might continue to devote ourselves to being Christ’s Body, the church, supporting one another, and serving this community.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Easter Sunday Sermon, April 16, 2017

Sermon for Easter Sunday

April 16, 2017

Jeremiah 31:1-6                    Psalm 118:12,14-24                  Acts: 10:34-43                    John 20:1-18

In our presiding bishop’s Easter message, Michael Curry speaks of a realization he had that Jesus carefully timed his final entrance into Jerusalem.  Scholars, he says, suggest that as Jesus enters one gate on a donkey, Pilot enters another on a war horse.  Pilot comes with soldiers and controls the people with brute force and violence.  Curry says:

Jesus entered the city at the same time as Pilate to show them, and to show us, that God has another way. That violence is not the way. That hatred is not the way. That brute force and brutality are not the way.

Jesus came to show us there is another way. The way of unselfish, sacrificial love. That’s why he entered Jerusalem. That’s why he went to the cross. It was the power of that love poured out from the throne of God, that even after the horror of the crucifixion would raise him from death to life.

Jesus went to the cross, Curry says, to make a point, to send a message, Jesus went “to proclaim that love wins.”

That is the point of the resurrection, nothing is greater than the love of God – not even death.  In John’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene discovers the power of God’s love when she is outside the tomb weeping.  She is overcome with grief and does not even recognized Jesus when he first appears to her.   She assumes Jesus is the gardener until he calls her by name.

Grief, depression, and even fear, can do this to us.  These emotions can cause us to withdraw into ourselves to the point that we are unaware of what is happening all around us.  We see only shadows and darkness.  Mary, as she is weeping, looks into the tomb and sees two angels, they ask her why she is weeping, and she says only, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  That is when she first sees Jesus and does not recognize him.

I know there have been times in my life when I, too, have been so grieved that I have failed to see the gifts God offers to me.  Many of us tend to push away others who want to help and support us.  We find ourselves alone simply because we don’t look up.  Jesus has to call Mary by name to get her attention.  What does it take to get our attention?

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter is invited to the home of a Gentile and asked to tell them about Jesus.  Peter, a Jew, goes despite the fact that Jews are not to associate with Gentiles.  Peter says, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”  As Peter is talking with Cornelius and his household, he witnesses the Holy Spirit descending upon them just the Spirit had descended upon the apostles on Pentecost.  Peter is shown a new way that day – he is shown that God’s love extends to the Gentiles in a way he had not understood before.  Even after Peter sees the resurrected Christ, he continues to learn that God’s love is greater than he could imagine.

The presence of terrorism, violence, and hatred is still among us, executions are still carried out as punishment for crimes – but none of these have or will overcome the love of God.  Christ’s resurrecting power of love can be seen all around us – but we have to look up to see it.  His message that death cannot stop the love of God is still true.  The question is, are we ready to look into the eyes of gardener to see that it is really Christ who is with us in the midst of our grief or fear or whatever it is that holds us back from seeing him.

It is faith, not fear, that enables us to live in the hope of the resurrection.  I can picture the expression on Mary’s face when she looks up and sees that it is none other than Jesus who is standing with her.  In Matthew’s Gospel, he says she is filled with fear and great joy as she goes to tell the disciples that she has seen the resurrected Christ.

The world is every bit as dangerous as it was before the resurrection, but with the resurrection she has a new hope for a future that she could never have imagined.  The resurrected Christ offers us this hope as well.  That which was old is being made new through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Let us pray.

Fill our hearts, O Lord, with faith and hope that we might face our fears with the knowledge that nothing can overcome your love for us.  Help us, we pray, to carry your love with us and share it with the same conviction that your Son shared his love for us.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

Sermon for Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sermon for Palm Sunday, Year A

April 9, 2017

Matthew 21:1-11     Isaiah 50:4-9a       Psalm 31:9-16      Philippians 2:5-11     Matthew 27:11-54

As Jesus rides a donkey into Jerusalem, a crowd of people are not only gathered to see him, they spread their cloaks on and place palm branches on the road for him and shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  Then, we are told as he is entering the city, people are asking, “Who is this?”  And the crowd answers, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

When I was in seminary, I was marked down on a paper because of saying Jesus was a prophet.  For me it was a revelation to realize that Jesus would have been seen by the people as a prophet.  I did, of course, understand Jesus was more than a prophet, but for the people of Israel he preached and performed miracles like the prophets of old.  Elijah made the widow’s jars never run empty.  She had flour and oil to last her and her son until the drought ended.  When the widow’s son died, Elijah raised him from the dead.  Then, there was the show down between Elijah and the prophets of Baal where Elijah called upon God to set the water soaked wood a blaze in order to consume the sacrifice. The wood erupted into fire as proof that Elijah was the prophet of the true God – Yahweh.

So here, in Jerusalem, after countless stories of the miracles Jesus has performed, after word has spread of his message of hope for the poor and the oppressed, the people welcome him into the village as if the late, great King David himself were riding into town.  He was not the king, so they announced to others “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Jesus does not live up to their expectations, though.  They want Jesus to lead a revolution and throw the Romans out.  They want him to restore Jewish control over their land – the land that God promised to their ancestors, the land that was taken from them.  Jesus instead enters the temple and throws out those who are buying and selling in the temple – disrupting the temples ability to make money to support the well-to-do chief priests and Pharisees.

A few days later, a member of his own inner circle betrays him and conspires with Jewish authorities who him arrest him during the night when he is away from the crowds and praying.  When he is brought to trial, the crowd shouts, “Let him be crucified!”  How easily a crowd’s opinion can swayed.  How quickly it can be turned.

Imagine the horror his faithful disciples felt.  They had come to understand that Jesus was more than a prophet, he was the messiah, the one sent by God to save the people. How did they get it so wrong?  Jesus is dead, and with his death hope is lost.

Over the course of our next three services here, we remember the Last Supper, his betrayal and arrest at our Maundy Thursday service, his crucifixion and death at our Good Friday services, and his triumph over sin and death at the Great Easter Vigil on Saturday night.

The stark days of Lent are nearly over, but we cannot skip over the pain and suffering if we want to truly appreciate the gift of the resurrection.  Some Episcopalians are fond of saying, we are a Easter people, but we recognize that there is no resurrection without death.  In the blessing of the baptismal water we say that in the water of baptism we are “buried with Christ” and “through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.”

Lent has provided us ample time to reflect on our sins and Holy Week will provide us ample time to reflect on how our sins cause suffering and death.  Our experience of Lent and Holy Week are not, however, without hope.  Just as our lives are sometimes filled with sorrow, we need not fear the future.  Through faith, and with our knowledge of the resurrection we can face our own struggles with hope.  We can trust that our creator who has brought us here will sustain us and our church and will provide for our future.

We, like the people of Jerusalem, may be disappointed and feel that Jesus has not provided us with what we need to thrive.  Things may not turn out as we want – but what the Holy Spirit and Jesus have to offer is more than we can have imagined.  It is the peace that passes all understanding and offers us new life.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, we pray for strength that we may not lose faith and be paralyzed by fear in the face of all the struggles of this life.  Keep us mindful that you are faithful, and help us trust you to provide for us, so that we might experience the resurrecting power of your love.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

Sermon for Sunday, April 2, 2017

Sermon for Lent 5, Year A

April 2, 2017

Ezekiel 37:1-14                    Psalm 130                   Romans 8:6-11                   John 11:1-45

I don’t know how you envision the scene in today’s gospel reading, but until I went to Israel, the image that came to my mind was based largely on my imagination as a child and loosely on an artist’s painting.  In that image, Jesus and the others are standing on level ground, the stone has been rolled to the side, and Lazarus is walking out in bandages – looking somewhat like a mummy.  The expression on everyone’s face (except Jesus, of course) is one of stock and disbelief.  And, until I went to Israel, tombs brought to my mind a person’s final resting place – like a mausoleum in a cemetery.

Now, however, I know that tombs were not the final resting place of a person’s remains in the time of Jesus.  They were instead a place where a body was placed until all that remained were the bones.  The bones were then taken out of the tomb and the tomb reused.

Lazarus’ tomb – or the tomb in which tradition says his body was placed, is now a tourist stop and it is just up a narrow and steep street from a church built to remember the miracle of Jesus raising him from the dead.  We sat in that church and read today’s gospel before walking up to his tomb.  It is not on level ground, a door has replaced the stone, and lights have been added inside for us to see where his body might have been placed.  For Lazarus to get up and walk out would have required him to walk up a flight of steps in the dark – assuming that the steps carved into the stone were not added later for us tourists.  In the tomb are two or three places were bodies could be laid – so I do imagine that the stench would had been horrific after four days.  And, I think it would have been much more likely that, being wrapped as he was, he would have had to crawl most of the way out.

So, as I read this gospel lesson now, I also think about how amazing it was that the people did as Jesus commanded and removed the stone from in front of the tomb.  Jesus raising him from the dead captures our attention, but if we back up a step and look at this story I wonder why anyone would consider removing the stone.  Even Martha says they should not remove the stone because her brother has already been dead four days.  But Jesus to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”  The next verse says simply, “So they took away the stone.”  Think about this a second – who among us would have removed that stone?

I cannot imagine doing so myself.  But perhaps there are people in this crowd who have witnessed some of the miracles that Jesus performed – or perhaps they are thinking the sooner Martha sees the truth, the better.  It is time to put this behind  and accept her brother is dead.  All Jesus offers is false hope and by rolling away the stone she will realize it.

You heard the rest of the story, Lazarus is raised from the dead and Jesus tells them to unbind him, to let him go.  As a result then, we are told, that many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Jesus.  This suggests they did not roll away the stone as an act of faith, but instead just to shut Jesus up.

If I had been there, this is likely the reason I would have done it – if I would have done it at all.  Even now, I must admit I have difficulty believing this story.  I’m not saying I don’t, because I do believe what I think to be possible and what is actually possible are two different things.   Truth be told though, I identify with Lazarus in this story because I often find myself in the dark, bound up and confused by what is happening.  What I believe to be possible is based on my knowledge of science and my experience of the world – which is admittedly limited, and often has proved to be wrong.

In fact, it was not until a friend told me he read the books of the Bible as stories, that I began to read it without questioning everything I was reading.  The Bible is full of contradictions and stories that defy our understanding of nature.  By reading it as stories rather than history, I quit doubting the authenticity of the stories and began asking myself why each of these stories are included in the Bible and why people today are still reading them.

Eventually two things happened for me.  First, through Education for Ministry (or EfM), and with the help of various mentors, I began to understand that the Bible is more than mere stories.

For the people of Israel, it is their story.  It is used to teach their children who they are as people – God’s chosen people.  People who are loved by God, despite making mistake after mistake.  There are many lessons contained in the scriptures, but many of them have to be understood in context.  And, like today’s story of Jesus raising a man from the dead, the context in which this story takes place is much different from today.  In that day, raising people from the dead did not involve CPR, defibrillators, or miracle drugs.  Prophets, holy men of God, were known to have done what Jesus did through prayer alone.

Remember Elijah and the widow’s son.  Elijah calls upon God for help, and the widow’s son is raised from the dead.  There are other stories, not in the Bible, but from the time of Jesus, of people being raised from the dead.  Again, I ask, why did these stories in the Bible survive AND, why do we continue to study them today?  Jesus said, roll the stone away – and they did!

The second thing that happened to me when I started reading the Bible as a collection of stories was that I found myself believing it is possible that Jesus literally raised Lazarus from the dead.  Note, I said possible.  I don’t know and I don’t need to know.  What I do know is that the Bible contains the truth that we need to experience true life.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God?”  If we believe, we will roll away the stone and see that Christ does indeed offer us life.  And what is it we need to believe – simply this.  God’s love is sufficient and offers us life.  In Roman’s, Paul tells us that it is the Spirit of God who raised Christ from the dead, and if Christ is in us, that same Spirit dwells in us offering us life.  It is the Spirit that frees us from whatever binds us in this life and it is the Spirit that enables us to come out of the darkness and see the light of Christ’s love for us.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, free us from our doubts and concerns and help us see your love that surrounds us.  Grant us peace in our hearts and life that, having been freed from darkness, we may shine forth your love to others.  We ask our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sermon for Lent 4, Year A

March 26, 2017

1 Samuel 16:1-13                     Psalm 23                      Ephesians 5:8-14                     John 9:1-41

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”  So ends our reading from Ephesians this morning.  And perhaps I should end my sermon with this as well.  “Sleeper, awake!”  The author of Ephesians is quoting an unknown source, here.  It may have been from an early Christian hymn and it likely refers to a passage from Isaiah which speaks to God’s promise to raise the faithful from the dead.  Regardless, the message is empathic.  It is time for us to open our eyes and see Christ who is before us.  We need to step out of the darkness and into the light, and be, as we heard in Ephesians, “children of the light.”

Today’s readings use the metaphors of light and darkness, sight and blindness, to help us understand the differences between the world as God sees it – and wants us to see it, and how we see it.  In 1st Samuel, we have the great prophet Samuel caught in a dilemma.  He anointed Saul the king, only to see him fail. Now God tells him to quit grieving and move on.  Samuel is to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehemite and anoint the one God has selected to be king.  Of course, to do so will be considered treason – and no doubt the people in that village want to have no part in drawing such attention to themselves.  They ask, “do you come peacefully?”

No one in this drama is comfortable with what is happening.  Yet, Samuel does as God commands.  The sons of Jesse are brought before him, and by appearance, he assumes God has chosen Eliab.  God, says, however, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  This is what distinguishes the Lord’s vision from our own.

We cannot see into the heart of others, but God can.  This is only one of the reasons it is not our place to pass judgment on others.  Many of us like to think we are a good judge of character, but all of us can be fooled.  Some people are capable of putting on an excellent front.  And then, there are the times when our judgment is clouded by our past experiences with people.  We make wrong assumptions based on appearance, and see only that which supports our point of view.

To be children of the light, we need to learn to see as the blind man did in our gospel reading from John.  Notice, he does not come to Jesus.  Rather, as Jesus is walking by him, the disciples ask Jesus whose sin caused the man’s blindness.  Jesus answers them by saying that no one’s sin caused his blindness – not his parents and not his own.  Then, Jesus heals him.

The man is brought to the Pharisees and asked who healed him.  It is the Sabbath and healing on the Sabbath is considered work – so whoever healed him, they conclude, was a sinner.  At first the man only knows that it was a man named Jesus who healed him, but as he responds to their questions he begins to see what the Pharisees cannot see.  He is asked what he has to say about Jesus, to which he responds, “He is a prophet.”

The next day the man is called back before the Pharisees.  After being told Jesus is a sinner and asked questions about how Jesus healed him, the Pharisees tell the man they do not know where Jesus comes from.  Which is to say, they do not know what to make of this man Jesus who openly disobeys the Law.  The man says to the Pharisees, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  For this, the man is thrown out of the synagogue.  The Pharisees cannot see past the fact that Jesus healed on the Sabbath.

Jesus hears what has happened and goes to the man and reveals himself as the “Son of Man,” the messiah.  The man who had been blind since birth says, “Lord, I believe.”  His eyes were opened a second time and he now sees with eyes of faith and knows the true identity of Jesus.  In other healing stories, the people who are healed know immediately Jesus is the messiah.  But here, it takes the man a couple of days to come to this understanding.  I can relate to his need to process what happened to him.  I, too, have been helped by someone and needed time to reflect on what happened before I was able to understand that it was Christ working through that person that helped me.

One of the reflections last week from the Society of St. John the Evangelist was by Br. Mark Brown.  He challenged us to ask ourselves, how has God worked through us, used our hands to help others?  Instead of confessing all our failures, he suggests that we confess the good that we have done.  I think this is a wonderful Lenten exercise and one that helps us recognize that we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world when we practice loving our neighbors as ourselves.  It helps us to see the times when we, ourselves, allow Christ to work through us.  It may also help us to see Christ at work through others.

Being children of the light means we understand that God is the source of all love and our expressions of love to others is simply an outpouring of Christ’s love for us.  By confessing the good we have done, we can also see where we need to concentrate our energy in order to continue living as children of the light.

Let us pray.

O God, you are the source of light and love, help us, we pray, to see through the eyes of faith and act as children of light by sharing your love with others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sermon for Lent 3, Year A

March 19,2017

Exodus 17:1-7                         Psalm 95                        Romans 5:1-11                        John 4:5-42

Certain scriptures take me back to my time in the Holy Lands – and this gospel reading is one of them.  With rare exception, our course instructor would say, “This is where tradition says Jesus . . . fill in the blank. ”  More often than not, the actual location of a Bible story cannot be determined, given the sparse amount of information that is shared with us.  That has not, however, stopped Christians from identifying and marking the “exact” spot in which Jesus was born, where he performed miracles, was crucified and entombed.  In fact, his last footprint on earth is enshrined, and a church is built over it, marking the spot of his ascension into heaven.  Churches have been built throughout Israel to mark his life and provide the faithful ample places to pray and remember the wonders and deeds that Jesus performed.

We do, however, have reason to be confident that the site where tradition says Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well is indeed the site where today’s story takes place.  A water source is essential for a village, and the well in question has been in place for thousands of years.  Though, it is now in the basement of a church of an Eastern Orthodox Monastery.

Our class was able to draw water from the well and drink from it.  So, putting aside the fact that we were not outside, it was an amazing experience to drink from the same well that I do believe was written about in the Gospel of John.

Nearly two thousand years after Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, I drank from that well and I was moved.  I cannot imagine what it would have been like to be her.  I was where he was, she was with him.  Jesus ignored the social and religious norms of the day, and had an intimate conversation with her about her life – then he offered to quench her thirst.

She was so excited, that she left her jar and returned to the village to tell everyone about Jesus.  Today’s passage tells us:

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Note that some believe because of what the woman told them, and many more because they went and listened to what Jesus said – “his word.”

We all have our reasons for being here. Some of us believe in Christ because of the testimony of others, some of us because of a personal experience that convinced us of his love for us.  Most of us though, I dare say, have experienced God’s love through others whose testimonies may or may not have included words.  My own belief comes from having experienced God’s presence at worship and at various unexpected times in my life.     These experiences were like  gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, nudges, that pushed me to alter my course in life.  Sometimes a nudge comes from a stranger who surprises me with kindness.

Friday, the meditation from the Society of St. John the Evangelist was on God’s call to us to love the stranger.  In Br. Almquist’s message he says, “There are no strangers to Jesus.”  This is clear in today’s Gospel.  At the well Jesus meets a woman for the first time and knows all about her.  He is a stranger to her, but she is not a stranger to him.

That he knows her life’s story may be something we are not capable of knowing when we meet someone for the first time, but it is possible for us to know others as Jesus did.  First, we simply need to remember that we are related to every single person on the earth.  Then, when we see others and ourselves as children of God, we will know they are worthy of God’s love and of our love.  Br. Almquist talked about how, if we get to know what makes a person who they were, we will have compassion for even those who repulse us.  I believe this is true.  In Exodus today, we are told, “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages.”  Elsewhere we hear that the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness, but here we are told it was the “wilderness of sin.”  We know from their story that after being freed from slavery, they were filled with doubts and continually did what they were forbidden to do.  The whining to Moses itself was a sign that they lacked faith.  And, we don’t have to look at our own lives too closely to see that we are like the people of Israel.  We do the things we ought not to do – as the apostle Paul says of himself.

The names in this passage from Exodus may be difficult for us to pronounce, but they add meaning to the text.  The people are camped at Rephidim, which means refresh – so they are in a resting place.  Instead of resting, they “quarrel with Moses.”  Moses goes to the Lord for help, then after the Lord gives them fresh water from a stone – Moses names the place Massah and Meribah, which means “test” and “argument” because the people test the Lord and argue with Moses.  So, rather than give the place a name celebrating God providing them with water, Moses assigns a name to that place that remembers the people’s failure to have faith.

At the well, Jesus remembers the woman’s failures, but then offers her a drink of “living water.”  She leaves not only refreshed, but full of excitement.  She carries the good news of Christ to others.  Br. Almquist asks us what is the core of the gospel, which means good news, for us?  Or, put another way, what is the good that compels us to be Christian?

The good that compels us is the good news that we have to share with others.  What compels me, is an understanding that we are all children of the one God who loves each of us and wants us to drink the living water he offers us.  Paul writes in Romans, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”

We can be refreshed and find the peace Paul talks about if we accept the living water.  And, when we experience the peace Christ has to offer, we can “boast in our hope,” which is to say, we can share the good news with friends and strangers in ways that just might alter their lives.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for the friends and strangers who have helped guide us in our lives, that we might walk the path you have set for us.  Give us, we pray, an awareness of the good that compels us to follow Christ, and strengthen us to carry your love to others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sermon for March 12, 2017

Lent 2, Year A

Genesis 12:1-4a                        Psalm 121                    Romans 4:1-5, 13-17                   John 3:1-17

In today’s scriptures are the heart of what many believe it means to be a Christian.  In John, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” and, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”   Here are the three keys to being a Christian, you must come to Jesus on your own – as Nicodemus did, you must be “born again”, and you must believe in Jesus.

For many of us, this formula for “seeing the kingdom of God” seems too simplistic.  We get the faith part – we understand that we need to have faith, but we, like Nicodemus have trouble grasping this whole “born again” thing – as if we can simple say, we believe in Jesus Christ, and our lives are immediately changed.  Many who say they are born again, can tell you the exact day this happened to them.  I can’t.

I can talk of key moments in my live when my eyes were opened and I could see God at work in my life – but I would never tell anyone I was “born again” on that day.  Last Sunday I told you to expect some quotes today and throughout this Lent from the Mennonite pastor, April Yamasaki, if her study guide for Lent continues to be as good as her first’s week lectionary discussion.  Well it has been.  Regarding today’s gospel, she says there are three different meanings for being born anew.  The first is what confused Nicodemus – to literally be born a second time.  This, of course was not what Jesus meant.  The second meaning is a metaphor for a spiritual birth.  It describes, she says, “what might be called a heavenly birth, accomplished by God, not something that we can do ourselves.”  The third meaning, she describes as being “born ‘from the beginning.'”  Life, she says, is radically changed in that we no longer see the world as we once did – we see it with new eyes.

I like this way of thinking, in that the only way I think we can see the kingdom of God is to see the world through the eyes of Jesus.  Jesus did not see the sick as “unclean”, he saw them as people who needed the love of God.  It is easy for us to see all that is wrong in the world, and even easier for us to want to avoid the people we might consider to be ritually impure.  But Jesus saw into the souls of those who came to him, he loved them, he cured them, and he called upon them to be better people.

When we see others as Jesus sees them, the divides that separate us can disappear and we can see the kingdom of God.  I may not be able to tell you the day I was born again, but I can distinctly remember being changed when I started praying for the man I believed to be my enemy.  I began to see him as a person, who like me, needed to experience God’s love.  I can’t say that it changed him, but it did change me, how I felt about him and how I interacted with him.

Being born anew, according to this understanding, then, is about letting go of our old ways of looking at things and at people and seeing the world with fresh new eyes.  In the gospel, Nicodemus goes to Jesus in the night, a time when he can have a private discussion with Jesus.  Nicodemus addresses Jesus as Rabbi, or teacher, because he goes to learn from Jesus.  We don’t hear how Nicodemus responds to what Jesus says, but Yamasaki does remind us that Nicodemus reappears in the gospel two more times – once arguing with the Chief Priests and the Pharisees on behalf of Jesus before his arrest, and again when he helps prepare the body of Jesus for burial.  So it does appear Nicodemus saw Jesus as a righteous man.  His eyes were opened.

Nicodemus saw what the other leaders of their faith did not, could not, because they were blinded to God’s kingdom by his understanding of the law.  Paul’s letter to the church in Roman speaks of this problem.  Paul makes the case for faith being more important than the law.  To do so, he points to the Father of the Jewish Faith, Abraham.  Abraham, or Abram in today’s reading from Genesis, is told by God to go, and he leaves behind all that is familiar, and goes.  God, Paul points out, makes a covenant with Abraham because he is a righteous man – not because he followed the Law.  In fact, Abraham lived long before God gave the Law to the people!

Paul says, “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.”  Law, Paul tells us, brings wrath, “but where there is no law, neither is there violation.”   Obviously you cannot be punished for breaking a law that does not exist -but that is not the point he is trying to make.  The Torah, or the Law, was given to the people to help them.  The Laws are guides for living in peace, but faith is about the relationship we have with God.  Faith, Paul says, “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

Faith is the key to being righteous.  It is what draws us together and enables us, like Nicodemus, to seek a deeper understanding of Jesus and what we must do to see God’s kingdom.  Through faith, we can experience life anew and the world can be transformed.

Remember the second meaning of being born anew?  It is a gift of the Spirit – not something we can do by ourselves.  The prayer from Cursillo came to my mind when I thought about today’s scriptures.  Faith opens our eyes, and our faith comes from having received the Spirit.

Let us pray.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.  O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy his consolation, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, March 5, 2017

Sermon for Lent 1, Year A

March 5, 2017

Genesis 1:15-17; 3:1-7                 Psalm 32                     Romans 5:12-19                Matthew 4:1-11

This Sunday we start(ed) our Lenten Bible Study on the Lectionary and I must say the author of our study guide provides some wonderful insights into our readings for today.  I suspect you will hear me quoting her throughout Lent if the rest of the guide is as well written as this first chapter.  The guide’s author, the Rev. April Yamasaki, is a Mennonite pastor from British Columbia, and my new favorite theologian.

In her book, Christ is for Us:  Lent 2017, she highlights how today’s reading are about sin and grace.  Genesis speaks of what many theologians refer to as original sin.  Adam and Eve give into the temptation of the serpent and eat the forbidden fruit.  In Romans, Paul contrasts their sin to the grace Jesus offers.  First he writes of Adam, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin . . .”  Then he writes:

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

This is the broad overview today’s message, Adam brought death, through sin, into the world, Jesus brings life.

Yamasaki, though, asks a very important question: “what was the first sin?”  The answer is not so obvious as Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.  Sin is more complex than a simple act.  It needs to be understood by how it affects relationships.  Adam and Eve yield to temptation and their eyes are indeed opened as the serpent promised.  The knowledge they gain is of their own sinfulness.  So they hide in shame.

When we sin, Yamasaki suggests, we feel naked and want to cover up.  So, rather than admit our failures, we hide what we have done.  This hurts our relationships with others and can even destroy some relationships.  The original sin, as presented to us in Genesis, began with the desire to be like God – and I don’t mean that in a good way.  As Christians we seek to follow Jesus, to love and care for others like Jesus did – but that is not the same as the original sin.  No, in Genesis, the serpent tempts Adam and Eve by suggesting they will be God’s equal.

Contrast this, then, to the temptations of Jesus.  In the wilderness Jesus is tempted three times.  The first temptation is to use his gifts, his power, for himself by changing the stones into loaves of bread. Jesus has been fasting for forty days and nights, so the mere suggestion to use his gifts to create food is tempting.  Yet, Jesus knows his gifts are not to be used for himself, but for others.  Adam and Eve are selfishly living in the moment, Jesus is living for the future – for our future.

The second temptation is like the first in that Jesus is asked to prove that he is the Son of God, the devil says:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,

so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'”

Here, the devil is using, or misusing, the scriptures to test Jesus, but he does not fall for it.  Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus values his relationship with the Father above all else and does not feel a need to test God’s love, or to prove anything to the devil.

The third temptation is to take control over all the kingdoms of the world.  All he has to do is worship Satan.  Yamasaki says the real temptation here is to skip the rejection, the suffering, and the crucifixion Jesus will face, and go directly to ruling over us.  No doubt Jesus could make this a more peaceful world and eliminate pain and suffering – if he controlled us.  Yet, we know the consequence of sin is a broken relationship and we know that control does not foster a loving relationship.  Adam and Eve are seeking to be in control when they eat from the tree of knowledge.  They will know all that God knows.  So they do not need to depend upon God for answers.  Jesus, though, does not seek to control us, he wants us to choose to be in a relationship with him.  Only then, when love is freely given, can love flourish.

So, the story from Genesis speaks of disobedience, failure and judgment, and sin and death.  This is what Adam represents to Paul.  Jesus, on the other hand, is the one who is coming, and represents obedience, righteousness and life, and God’s grace and forgiveness.  In Matthew, Jesus, like Adam and Eve, is tempted, but unlike them, he does not sin.

Our temptations today are similar to the ones that Adam and Eve, and Jesus experienced.  I know that I am often tempted to use what I have for myself rather than use it to help others.  We have all been given gifts, the question is, how and for what will we use them.  Sometimes we work to find a way to justify being selfish; most of us are pretty good at that.  Some of us can even quote scriptures to justify our actions.  And, the desire to be in control comes naturally for many of us.  There are so many ways we can control others, most of which have our own self interests at heart.  All three of these temptations:  to keep what we have for ourselves, to justify doing what we want to do, and to control others – have one thing in common. If we do any of them, our relationships with others and with God are damaged.

In Lent, many of us have been taught that examining what we have done and what we have left undone is important because it helps us realize how great a gift God’s forgiveness is for us.  Our list of our wrong doings can go on and on – and it is only in remembering them that we can fully appreciate that by God’s grace we are forgiven.  The danger here is on focusing on specific actions and avoiding the deeper questions.  Yamasaki was right  to suggest that a sin should not be viewed as a single act – sin is much more complex and should be viewed in terms of how it affects our relationships.

We must also remember that relationships are not healed by hiding.  It did not work for Adam and Eve and it will not work for us.  Relationships are healed by a change of heart, a willingness to share (gifts and burdens), and by respecting the choices of others.  I like what today’s Psalm says:

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.

6 I said,” I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not     reach them.

It is absurd to think that we can conceal our guilt.  Here the palmist confesses his transgressions and experiences forgiveness.  As a result, he says to God, “You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.”

Our deliverance comes not from hiding and not from listing our sins.  Instead, I believe it comes from accepting our past, asking for forgiveness, and seeking to do God’s will – which is to love God and one another.  Forgiveness is not the same as pardon which suggests we have been freed from our debts.   Instead, forgiveness is experienced as the love which restores our broken relationships.  Forgiveness is not a transaction – it is an act of love.

Let us pray.

Incline our hearts, O Lord, that we might resist the temptation to replace your will with our own, to hide what you already know, and to control others.  Restore us to wholeness through your love, that having been forgiven we might have the strength to do what you would have us do.   We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.