Category Archives: Sermons

Sunday, May 05. 2019

Third Sunday of Easter, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

This week our Gospel lesson continues in the Gospel of John while we hear complimentary readings that also deal with an underlying theme of great importance.  What I see is a thread that highlights ‘worthiness’ in different ways, especially as it pertains to the work of the Kingdom of God.   Worthiness is a tricky thing, and it’s a concept that we all at one time in our lives have pondered.  For God’s call and our work as Christians in the world, we are given perfect examples of how worthy one must be in order to be a disciple.  By perfect of course, I mean they exemplify exactly how broken and opposite of worthy one can seem while still being fully loved and entirely able to follow God’s call.  In some cases those people are exactly the right person for the job.

Let’s start with our favorite disciple that always has the wrong answer.  Peter and some others have gone back to the Sea of Galilee, presumably where Jesus’ ministry began and where they first met him.  It’s not clear from this telling if it’s been days, weeks, or even months after Jesus has first appeared to the disciples, but we know this definitely comes after.  I have to wonder what’s going on for these disciples.  Jesus has resurrected, and shown himself to them, has intimated that they are to be doing the ministry work he has taught to them…and they’re going fishing.  Now, maybe they need the money to keep up their ministry, maybe their getting food for the followers, maybe they are just getting a little relief from stress and uncertainty.  It certainly isn’t a surprise that with all the turmoil they return to something incredibly familiar, probably even comforting.

Off they go, but with no luck at catching anything.  Jesus is standing on the shore and calls out to them, tells them where to cast their nets which sounds almost exactly like Luke chapter 5, a time much earlier in Jesus’ ministry when Jesus calls these very same disciples.  Once their nets are so full that they can barely haul them up, John recognizes Jesus and tells Peter.  Peter…who is fishing in a style that I don’t believe is approved of at bass master tournaments…can’t wait to get to Jesus, so he dives into the water.  John and Peter could be seen to exemplify two very different ways of following Jesus.  John is patient, contemplative, and able to recognize Jesus from farther away.  Peter is impulsive, excitable, and once he finally recognizes Jesus dives into the water because the boat won’t get him there fast enough.

Then follows Peter’s affirmations to Jesus’ questions.  Classical interpretation sees Jesus’ asking Peter the question of love three times to mirror the three denials that Peter made of Jesus.  Other scholars focus on very specific use of words in the Greek text for love and knowing, but I think the biggest revelation to come out of this moment is Jesus’ command to Peter to tend the flock.  This is the call of Peter’s primacy, to lead in Jesus’ absence.  God is calling Peter to lead these followers in The Way once Jesus has left.  Peter, a man so afraid he denies he even knows Jesus after learning from him, breaking bread with him, following him.  If God can call such a person as this, for such an important task, imagine what God can call us to.

Which brings us to Saul, who will become Paul, credited with writing 9 of the 27 books comprising the New Testament, shaping the early church; someone who becomes an apostle of Christ without even meeting Jesus before his Ascension.  But first he is Saul.  The guy who holds people’s coats while they stone Stephen to death for being a follower of Jesus Christ.  Saul.  The guy who goes out of his way to get special permissions to hunt down and kill followers of Jesus Christ.  That’s the same guy that God calls to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Saul is on the road to Damascus, as the reading from Acts states, is brought down low by a blinding light.  He was made blind and had to rely on God’s direction and the faithful hospitality and care of the followers of Jesus to make him whole again.  This is Paul’s call to follow, proclaim, and eventually to lead a new generation of Christians.  Again God calls the most unlikely of people.  Almost laughably unlikely.  I wonder if the Christians he persecuted ever joked that maybe God should just take care of Saul.  Well, God did really, but in a way that reflected the overly abundant love that is a part of the Kingdom of God.  Now, as a complete aside, if you want a fun little distraction for later, try and figure out where in Western art history we first see images of Saul falling off a horse.  It’s the way most of us imagine this encounter, but there isn’t a single mention of it in the scripture.

What I am taking from these passages is this:  God calls people to do amazing, important things, even if they have some rough edges.  Peter and Paul had done some things that show us no matter how low you sink, God can work through you.  Maybe God won’t show up and share some bbq’d fish with you, or blind you until you seek out the home of the same people you are hunting to kill for their help and care.  But certainly God shows up in our lives in ways that are sometimes subtle and sometimes more obvious.  What is God calling you to?  What work, what ministry, what path following Christ are you being asked to take?  To discern this is an incredibly important part of our ongoing work in this faith that we proclaim.  

Worthiness is something that we can doubt in ourselves.  I think that’s a fairly common human experience.  We can think that maybe we aren’t holy enough or Jesus-y enough or maybe we don’t think we know theology well enough to share the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to a world that needs it so badly.  But it turns out that God calls a whole lot of people that you otherwise might not think of to serve and lead and proclaim.  You don’t need an official title and rather restrictive fastened collar to do those things either.  You are no less worthy to follow in The Way of Jesus Christ than Paul or Peter were.  Remember that as you discern your gifts, your call, and as you boldly and loudly proclaim, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!”

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Second Sunday of Easter, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Have you ever had a nickname?  Maybe something from childhood that you couldn’t ever get rid of, or something from school based on that silly thing you did just that once?  I am the only son in my family, with three sisters, and the only blond besides my mother. So, I can tell you that one nickname I got a lot growing up was, “the golden child” because, according to my sisters, I was very spoiled and of course my golden locks didn’t do me any favors to dissuade the name.  Now I don’t necessarily agree with this, but that’s the thing about nicknames, right?  They aren’t always what we would choose.

I feel bad sometimes that Saint Thomas the Apostle is remembered mostly for this single passage of the Gospel of John.  What about the time in John chapter 11 where Thomas says to the other disciples, and I’m paraphrasing here, that they should follow Jesus back to Judea even if it means dying with Jesus.  Or the time in John chapter 14 where Thomas asks Jesus to clarify, telling Jesus plainly that they just don’t understand what he is saying.  What about the other apostles?  We don’t call him Denying Peter, or how about Faithless Peter when he fails to walk on water because he does not have faith?

I think sometimes nicknames stick because they mean a whole lot more to the people who give them than the people receiving them.  Imagine everyone saying, “oh yeah.  That Thomas.  He totally didn’t believe as well as I do.”  And deep down knowing that doubt is still present.  In fact, to be quite honest, it’s not like Thomas does anything extraordinary in doubting what the disciples have said.  We all have doubts about things in life.  It’s not as if it’s a foreign concept to us.  So let’s take another look at today’s Gospel.

We start off the story in a moment of great fear.  This is the evening of that same day that Mary Magdalene has found the tomb empty, and has been sent by Jesus to be the first evangelist, proclaiming the resurrection to the other disciples.  Now presumably she has already told these disciples that Jesus has risen, and here they are behind locked doors.  They are afraid.  They fear those that murdered their leader, even though they have heard he is risen.  There has to be a lot of confusion.  A lot of, “what do we do now?” either about the ministry of Jesus or that he is risen.  Then, though the doors are locked, Jesus shows up in the midst of the group, and we have, in John’s narrative, the beginning of the Church as Jesus breathes out the Holy Spirit on his disciples.

Now, Thomas is not with them.  We don’t know why, and I’m not entirely sure it’s helpful to speculate, but he’s just not there.  So when he shows up, they tell him about what they have seen.  Thomas, in that moment, doubts the disciples.  He doubts that what these other people are telling him are true.  He doesn’t see Jesus at the same time they did and doubt, he doubts the disciples.  This starts more than two thousand years of getting a bad nickname.  But as far as I can tell, once Jesus appears to Thomas, just as he did to the other disciples, Thomas has no doubts.  Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.”  The other disciples in the room are not among those who have not seen and yet have come to believe, just in case we’re still keeping score.

It occurs to me that doubt is one of those funny things that is important to our development, to our life, to our safety at times.  It’s like fear.  It has its helpful place in making sure that we can survive at a very basic, animalistic level.  But doubt is equally unhelpful.  At times, it is crippling.  Doubt can keep our hands shaking, our voice silenced, our faith dampened.  And yet, every great beginning, every new idea, every first undertaking has an element of doubt in it.  Every blossom of faith has doubt, and has opportunity to grow into something beautiful.  Without doubt, faith can twist itself into zealotry.

So before you start trying to remove doubt from your life, remember that it is part of our human nature.  Our mortality calls us to question every action, to ponder every past, to dream every future, and yet at the same time to live in the moment, make a decision, and stay the course.  It is the fear fed by too much doubt that can keep us from living out our call as Christians.  I believe we should always temper ourselves by doubt, allow questions to be asked of us, to ask questions ourselves because it so often will lead us to greater depths of our own faith.

Doubt, in the right dose, leads to greater faith.  For Thomas it certainly did.  In our pursuit to follow Christ there will be doubt.  There will be times when you feel like Thomas, late to the meeting and skeptical of the outrageous claims of others, but there will also be times when you feel like Mary, having already met Jesus on the road, proclaiming the good news, and waiting for the other disciples to get it.  Do not let doubt become fear, do not let doubt overwhelm, but do allow for questions.  Be ready to exclaim again and again like Thomas, “My lord and my God” when God shows you the answers to your doubt.

Now, let me say something else about doubt.  Your own doubt is yours to grow around.  The other side of this story about Saint Thomas is that I always wonder if he doubted because the disciples weren’t acting as if their teacher has resurrected and bestowed the Holy Spirit on them.  As followers of Christ I believe we have to hold these two things in tension:  The first is there are things that you will doubt.  Seek the truth when you do.  When someone tells you what they think Jesus means dig deeper to know your faith.  Ask questions, pray, discern.  Let doubt drive you to build your faith greater and greater.  The second is that we should not live our lives in a manner that causes others to doubt.  We should not provide a reason for someone to look at us and wonder whether we truly know that Jesus Christ has risen, that Hell and death and sin are defeated, and that God’s love is eternal and for all of creation. 

If we are here to proclaim the salvation of all creation, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then we must live our life in ways that do exactly that.  If we believe that God’s love has overcome the darkness, how do we reflect that out into the world?  Thomas only doubted for a time, but then he set himself to work as an evangelist when it had passed.  Jesus Christ has ascended, and has left the Holy Spirit to guide us, to inspire us, to empower us to continue the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.  Harness the energy of your doubt to strengthen your faith, to shine brighter for those who have lost their way in more doubt than they could handle. 

When your friends and family see you, do they see the Love of God, the values of the Kingdom that Jesus preached?  Or do they doubt if any of this Christianity stuff is real?  In this Easter season and beyond, remember to grow faith out of doubts that arise for you, and to remind others of the message of Jesus Christ.  God’s love has triumphed over death and Hell.  We are a resurrection people, of that, I have no doubt.

Easter, Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter Day 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Alleluia!  Christ is Risen!

Today we continue celebrating our Paschal Feast.  We began last night when we kindled the new fire in the darkness, heard the story of God’s plan of salvation, and finally proclaimed the resurrection with a joyful voice.

There’s an old joke, that is not theologically accurate, but goes like this:

Three people die and meet St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.
He says, “I have one question, and if you get it right, I will let you into Heaven.”

He asks the first person, “What is Easter about?”

They answer, “That’s the time of the year when our whole family gets together and we eat turkey.”

St. Peter asks the person, “What is Easter about?”

They answer, “That’s the time of year when the jolly guy in the red suit comes down the chimney and our family gets together to open presents.”

St. Peter asks the third person, “What is the meaning of Easter?”

The third person says, “That’s when Christ died and they put him in a tomb behind a rock.”

“That’s right!” exclaims St. Peter.

“Then, once a year,” continues the third person, “we roll the stone away and he comes out, and if he sees his shadow, we have six more weeks of winter.”

We have been on a difficult journey.  We have walked with Jesus through his last days, we have sorrowed at his death and burial, and now we rejoice at his rising.  That joy comes with both admiration at the risen Christ but also a little levity.

In today’s reading we hear the account of disciples finding the tomb empty from the author of the Gospel of John.  First Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty, then rushes off to tell other disciples of this.  When she tells Peter and John, they almost, like children, race to the tomb.  They were running together it says, but John gets there first.  But then!  From behind comes Peter who doesn’t stop at the entrance and goes in!  It may be there is some room for levity in how early audiences would have heard this story told.

But then there is Mary.  There is no levity for her.  She is bereft that someone has taken her Lord.  She is weeping, she just wants to attend to Jesus’ body.  The most violent end has happened, now she just wants to take care of her teacher.   But when she turns, there Jesus is, standing there, asking her why she’s weeping.  She does not recognize him at first.  She cannot see Jesus, standing right in front of her, alive.  Not until he calls her by name. 

Jesus calls Mary by name and in that instance, as the gospel says, she ‘turns’ and recognizes him.  This is not just a motion, but a revelation for her.  In this way she is ‘turned’ in her understanding and belief in the resurrected Christ. Then Jesus sends her out, the first evangelist, to proclaim his resurrection to the other disciples.

How many times in our lives do we fail to recognize that movement of God with us?  How many times are we standing there staring Jesus in the face and cannot recognize him?  I think there are times where we God even calls us by name, and yet we fail to turn. 

This is a task we are set to as followers of Jesus Christ.  Our salvation is taken care of.  That was sorted out two thousand years ago on a hill outside the walls of Jerusalem.  God’s act of love conquered sin and death and we know that resurrection awaits us all.  But our work until that day is our continual conversion towards God and the Kingdom.  We must hear our name called, we must see Christ standing before us, and how then can we not be filled with such joy and desire to be, like Mary Magdalene, an evangelist of the Risen Christ?

Today is a day of celebration; a day of feasting, perhaps gathering with others, of celebrating our salvation as the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection is called out around the world.  Today is our day to rejoice.  There is always work to do in the fields of the Lord.  For now, we can celebrate and shout from the rooftops.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

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.