Category Archives: Sermons

July 07, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 16. 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 2, 2019

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

The old joke goes, “A person dies and goes to heaven, and St Peter takes them on the tour to get acquainted. They go past one room, and the person asks: “Who are all those people in there?” “They are the Methodists,” says St Peter. They pass another room, and the person asks the same question. “Those are the Anglicans,” says St Peter. As they’re approaching the next room, St Peter says: “Take your shoes off and tiptoe by as quietly as you can.”  The person does so and very carefully and silently they pass the closed door of that room.  Once passed, the person asks “Why did we have to be quiet and sneak past that door?  Who’s in that room?” “The Baptists,” says St Peter, “and they think that they’re the only ones here.”

Now that joke is one that can be told as a fill-in-the-blank jab at any denomination, and I’ve heard many different versions of it.  But the root, why we find it funny, is that there are many groups, I’m sure many Anglicans included, that do preach a message of exclusivity.  Growing up as a Baptist, it was always taught to us that the Roman Catholics weren’t actually Christian, and they were going to Hell.  Of course in Roman Catholic dogma, if you are outside of the Roman Church, then your salvation is questionable, and you are probably going to Hell.  Generally speaking, it seems like far too often, we Christians want to assure ourselves of our salvation by assuring ourselves of another’s damnation. 

I think that also plays out socially too.  We all have an idea of who is right and who is wrong, and those that are wrong are simply monsters out to destroy society.  Regardless of where you stand on social issues, I think we find ourselves in an uphill trek if we seek to reconcile with those we disagree, without expecting to change their mind at all.  Now, there are some things that are definitely, unquestionably wrong.  Racism, any sort of bigotry, harming another person, and certainly we must draw lines when it comes to putting a stop to those things.  But, our greater challenge will be how to reconcile with the perpetrators of such wrongs.  Just because we can’t imagine them being forgiven by God doesn’t mean they aren’t.

In our Gospel lesson today we get a portion of what is known as the ‘High Priestly prayer’ of Jesus.  It is the end of John’s farewell discourse, and Jesus’ last words before leaving for the garden at Gethsemane.  This prayer is believed to be not just about the disciples gathered, but, as Jesus says, “‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”  Jesus is praying for these disciples, the people these disciples will bring to the body of Christ, and down throughout history to us here today.  Jesus is praying that those who follow him might all be one.  Jesus is praying for his disciples because he soon will be taken away.  Of course for our lectionary narrative, we think both of last Thursday when we celebrated the feast of the Ascension, but also next Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming to dwell with us and guide us in the absence of Jesus.

Last Thursday, when we gathered to celebrate the feast of the Ascension, with our brothers and sisters in Christ from Holy Cross Lutheran Church and a few folks from Christ by the Lake Lutheran Church, we worshipped in the Episcopal style, singing our hymns, using our prayers, and with an agreement between Pastor Lynne and I that next year we’ll celebrate at her church with their style and their hymns.  As we were preparing for the service and looking over the bulletin, Pastor Lynne noticed something and an ‘uh oh’ escaped her lips.  Of all the differences, she found the one that was going to be the most jarring.  Episcopalians and Lutherans chant the sursum corda…the back and forth conversation that begins the Eucharistic prayer.  Sure enough, when it came time for that in the service, it got a little jumbled. 

You see, we may not always worship together every Sunday, we may not worship using the same style, or even chant the same tune, but we are still one in Christ.  This is our work as a part of the body of Christ: to reach out to the other parts of that body, to form connections, and much like the muscles, tendons, nerves, and bones are all required to make an arm move, it allows us, as one, to work for the Kingdom of God.  I don’t think that being one, the way Jesus talks about, necessarily means we all have to worship the same way.  We all have different ways of experiencing our faith practice.  What it means is that we must acknowledge that through baptism we are all heirs of the Kingdom of God, and our work is always better when we do it together.

I’m not going to sugar coat this either.  This whole concept is entirely difficult.  Do I want to work with another church that would not accept everyone we accept here?  Nope.  I sure don’t want to.  I don’t want to expose my flock to possible hurt, nor do I want to encourage those others to continue with their ideology.  But that’s not what Jesus is asking of us.  Jesus never asks his disciples to be safe.  He never tells them to be cautious and self-preserving.  Our work as followers of Jesus is never intended to be the comfortable, safe existence our society has led us to think it is.  Jesus is fairly clear about the jobs that he has for his followers.  One of those is to be one in him.  It is indeed difficult, but important work. 

The question is always how.  How do we find ways to set aside our ideological differences to embrace together the way of the Kingdom of God?  How do we meet on level ground?  Surely together we are better able to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, proclaim the Good News?  I continue to look for new opportunities to do just that.  I continue to meet other clergy and discuss ways our communities can find common ground.  Pastor Lynne and I find times and reasons for our two communities to get together. 

A couple of weeks ago I in my preaching I quoted from a hymn written in the 1960s, to talk about love as an identifying characteristic of Christians.  But the first verse in that hymn is also important to us and fits with today’s Gospel.  It goes, “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord, and we pray that our unity will one day be restored.”  We are coming to the close of these fifty days of Easter.  Jesus has not ascended, and next Sunday the Holy Spirit will arrive to continue guiding the church.  Our work absolutely resides in understanding what it means to be one in that Spirit, and until we all stand around the Tree of Life in that Heavenly city, we have work to do.

Sunday, May 26th, 2019

Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C, 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

We are nearing the end of the 50 days of Easter, and that is reflected in our readings.  Later this week, on the 40th day of Easter we will celebrate the Ascension of Our Lord.  That is an event without which the resurrection wouldn’t have much value.  It also prepares us for the 50th day of Easter, Pentecost.  It’s important to know where we are at in this cycle because it helps us better understand the narrative provided in our lectionary.

From the Gospel lesson today, we have a continuation of what is known as the ‘farewell discourse’ in John.  This is focused around the last supper, not a post-resurrection conversation, and it’s Jesus ongoing work of preparing his disciples for a time when he is no longer there.  This is, you could say, a bit of good news/bad news reading.  The bad news is that Jesus leaves soon.  In the original context of the reading, he is going to die, but placed where it is in the lectionary, it also points to his Ascension, when Jesus is bodily ascended into heaven.  The good news is that the disciples aren’t going to be left alone.  God will send the Holy Spirit to continue to guide and inspire the followers of this way.  Jesus is telling his disciples, and this message is meant for us too, not to be anxious at his absence.  He says, “[The Holy Spirit] will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.”  The work continues, the message continues, and it is the task of the disciples, and now handed on to us to seek the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit in that work.

The work that continues is part of our stories from the Acts of the Apostles.  Last week, if you recall, Peter had the dream about eating unclean foods and spent time eating and evangelizing with gentiles in Joppa.  Today we hear of Paul, another apostle, having a very similar experience.  Paul has a dream, which shows him that his work is in Macedonia.  Contextually this is significant because to the ancient listener, especially Greeks and Romans, they would know that Macedonia is the mythological resting place of Olympus, where the gods live, and where both Alexander the Great and his father Philip were born.  It is significant that Paul, this very observant Jew, has had this vision and goes on this quest to spread the Gospel in this place. 

When Paul gets to Philippi, it is important to note that while he will be evangelizing Gentiles too, he starts with the Jews that reside there.  Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, and so it is to God’s chosen people that Paul first proclaims the good news.  He encounters a woman there who is very interesting in how she is recorded in the Bible.  Lydia, of Thyatira, who is called, “a worshipper of God”.  She’s gathered with some of the local Jewish community as the narrative indicates, but her name and place of origin would point to her being a Macedonian Greek by birth.  She and her entire household are baptized after she hears what Paul has to say. 

Again this is an example of someone who might not be on the top of the list of ‘the right people’, but not only is the exemplar of the story but then Paul and his people go to stay at Lydia’s house.  It cannot be over-emphasized that Jesus’ ministry and message are for everyone.  It is our work as his followers to proclaim this message, to bring this good news to all of the world.  No one is left out here. 

We are all invited to that holy city, the one that John writes about in his book of Revelation.  That final book of the bible can be a little tricky, and I think often in Episcopal circles we shy away from talking about it.  John’s Revelation has been so twisted by modern Evangelical teaching, has been used to inspire fictional book series which people mistake for a retelling of scripture, that we often don’t want to touch it for fear of igniting that particular conversation.  This is vision and beautiful poetry; John sees the holy city of Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God’s creation in the eschaton.  It’s interesting that the first thing the author notes is there is no temple.  Now, currently, the temple mount of Jerusalem is where the Al Aqsa mosque is, with its golden dome.  It’s where the previous temples of the Jewish nation also were built and then destroyed throughout history.  Here it is clear:  there is no temple in this perfect Jerusalem.  There is no need for a temple because God is there amongst the people.  

This passage in Revelation is also the first time we hear about the Tree of Life since the book of Genesis.  What better exemplifies full reconciliation with all of creation than that the tree which humanity was taken away from, was barred from accessing again, is there in the middle of that holy city for the healing of all nations.

The gates are never closed, and the nations of the earth will be there.  This is full reconciliation in Heaven at the end of time and is the final realization of what Jesus is teaching, and what Paul is up to in Macedonia.  We are all welcomed at the table.  God’s message is for everyone and our work as Christians is to proclaim it.  If we are going to claim this faith, then we must also claim the work that comes with it.  Over the next couple of weeks, we will hear of Jesus’ Ascension, of the descending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the continued work of the disciples.  We are the legacy of those same disciples, and just like Peter and Paul, we need to listen for the Spirit and go to the places it calls us, especially when those places are full of the wrong sorts of people. 

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

In our Gospel lesson this morning we flash back to the last supper.  We are in Maundy Thursday again.  Jesus has just instituted the eucharist and is giving his last command.  His mandate.  Jesus says this to his disciples: That they love one another just as he has loved them.  So today I’m sure in many churches that follow the revised common lectionary, there are going to be a lot of sermons about how amazing love is, about how that’s all God wants of us, and about how hard it is to follow. 

So how does one even write a sermon about love without sounding trite or like they are rehearsing the same old song?  Love is something we know everything and nothing about.  According the Beatles, “all you need is love”.  According to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Love is the only thing that can drive out hate.  Saint Paul gives us an explanation of how love acts in his first letter to the church in Corinth. 

When you know that someone is going to preach on love you might think, “Oh great where are they going with this?  Is it going to be political?  Is it going to be relevant at all to the bible?  Maybe it’s going to be all about the Presiding Bishop’s Way of Love campaign.  Maybe it’s just going to be some seemingly odd pointless rant about how we fail at love and end with the admonition to do better.”

But the thing about love is that we aren’t that good at it.  I don’t think humanity has ever been great at it.  Not as a whole.  It’s not just now that we’re like this, even the Jewish tradition around creation has stories of failed love with Cain and Able.  Humanity doesn’t, in general, seem to trend naturally towards care of the other first.  That is one of the reasons why living out the Good News of Jesus Christ and the values of the Kingdom of God is so important.

This last Wednesday, May 15th, was one of the days on the calendar of Saints when someone slightly obscure to the Western Christian was celebrated.  Saint Pachomius.  He is one of the founders of ascetic monasticism and established communities alongside St. Anthony of Egypt.  Pachomius is known especially for authoring many of the first monastic rules that are still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church today.  The reason I bring this up is because of how Pachomius came to his Christian faith.  He was born in Egypt around 292CE and raised in a non-Christian  family.  He was swept up in a recruitment by the Roman Army at the age of 21 and immediately taken to Thebes for training.  Upon arriving, he encountered the local Christian community as they were on their normal daily routine of bringing food and comfort to the soldiers.  This so impressed Pachomius that he vowed to learn more of Christianity once his time in the army was over.  He was converted and baptized a year later.

Christian witness is what caught Pachomius’ attention, and what made him decide to learn more.  The actions of Christians living into the command to love one another was the catalyst to bring someone to a faith they would later lead.  Tertullian, a Theologian of North African birth in the Second Century CE, wrote about fellow Christians that surely the pagans would look at them and say, “See how they love one another, and how they are ready to die for each other.”  I mean, it’s a little bit of writing your own review, but it does seem to be rooted in the best of the early Christian community.  It wasn’t necessarily more perfect then, or else Paul wouldn’t have needed to write all those letters to the churches. 

That quote of Tertullian inspired a Roman Catholic priest in the 1960s to write a hymn for an ecumenical event, entitled ‘We are one in the Spirit.”  The well-known refrain asserts, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”  I wonder though, what people know about us by our actions.  Do they know we are Christians by our love?  Or do they associate something else with our faith?  Do they think we have something to offer them?  Do they see the Good News of the Kingdom of God in how we live in this world?

Our lessons today offer different views of that love.  For Peter, the followers of Jesus that he returns to in Jerusalem are aghast that he would socialize and eat with the wrong crowd.  These are not Jews, they are not Godly people, and yet Peter shared the message with them, ate with them, and they committed themselves to the Kingdom of God.  So, not to sound too flippant about it but, “where’s the love?” in these early followers to think Peter has done wrong.  He explains to them why he has done this.  It’s about sharing Christ’s message with more than just a select group.  It’s about reaching out to all humanity so that they may know the same Good News.

The beautiful poetry we get from the Book of Revelation tells us that heaven isn’t some place far off, up in the sky.  The Kingdom of God isn’t somewhere we have to journey to.  In this vision God brings the Kingdom here!  “The home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them and they will be his people.”  God’s love for creation is evident in bringing the Kingdom to that creation and making all things new. 

The irony in our Gospel lesson is that Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”; knowing that hours later some of these same disciples will run away or even deny being associated to escape arrest or death.  Even the disciples, with Jesus, are going to miss the mark.  So the lesson isn’t just do better. 

The lesson is that we aren’t always going to do our best when it comes to this mandate.  God’s love is the constant, and it’s what we should always be returning to when we can’t quite remember how to live it ourselves.  God’s love for all of creation is our example, our target, and as long as we can acknowledge that this is always going to be a work in progress, that’s ok, as long as it stays in progress.  It’s not that the Beatles are wrong, when they say, “all you need is love”, it’s just that it’s hard for us to stay in that space.  Do be mindful that what others see in you is what they might decide all Christians are like.  But the best we can do is to be that work in progress, and if we are willing to at least try, we may find it to be easier than we ever imagined.

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!