Category Archives: Sermons

Sermon for Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A

February 26, 2017

 

Exodus 24:12-18                 Psalm 99                     2 Peter 1:16-21                          Matthew 17:1-9

The last Sunday in the Season of Epiphany is referred to as Transfiguration Sunday because we read about Jesus going up onto a mountain with Peter, James, and John and being transfigured.  Matthew writes, “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”

This miracle is reported in Matthew, Mark, and Luke with no significant differences.  The basic components of the story are that Jesus goes up the mountain, his appearance changes, a bright cloud overshadows them,  Peter offers to build three tabernacles, or dwellings – one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses – and then the Lord speaks.

This account roughly parallels today’s story from Exodus.  Both stories involve these holy men (Jesus and Moses) going up a mountain, being surrounded by the cloud, and hearing God’s voice.  If we had kept reading in Exodus, we would have seen that the face of Moses was transfigured as well.  When he returns from his time on the mountain, it is reported that his face shines brightly as well.  So, after leaving the mountain, Jesus heads toward the holy city of Jerusalem and Moses heads toward the Promised Land.

The fact that Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah makes the connection between Jesus and God’s covenant  to the people of Israel clear to them.  Jesus is the new Moses.  Moses frees the people from their slavery to the Egyptians; Jesus frees us from our slavery to sin.  On Mount Sinai, God speaks to Moses – and he is given the Ten Commandments which, if we follow, enable us to live faithful to our covenant with God.  On the mountain, God speaks to the disciples, rather than Jesus, telling them – telling us – to listen to Jesus.  The Ten Commandments represent the law and the covenant; Jesus represents the new covenant.  Which is to say, Jesus provides us with new teachings on how to live a life that is faithful.

It is easy to read these stories as telling us that both Moses and Jesus are holy, righteous, or any other word we do not apply to ourselves.  But I want us to consider these stories a bit differently this morning.  One definition for the word transfiguration found in the Encarta Dictionary is, “a dramatic change in appearance, especially one that reveals great beauty, spirituality, or magnificence.”  When I read this, it occurred to me that it is possible for us to be transfigured as well.

To be transfigured is to be transformed by the love of Christ into a more loving person.  I have had the privilege here of being like Peter, James, and John and witnessing the transformation of members of our church – and I imagine you have too.  I have seen members reaching out to help others and going to great lengths to do so.  Sometimes they have helping other members, others times they are helping someone in the community but I see the love of Christ in them shining.  I see how the love of Christ has filled them and it shows in their compassion and generosity.

Love is capable of making dramatic changes is how we respond to others.  We are transformed by love and others can see it in our faces – and more importantly in our actions.  We are told in Matthew that Elijah and Moses are talking with Jesus, but not what they are saying.  In Luke’s account, we read, “they appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  I do believe that in those moments in our lives when we are filled with the love of Christ and we are transformed, we know clearly what we need to do – what we need to accomplish.

As Christians, it is easy to distance ourselves from doing what we know needs to be done, by saying we are not perfect like Jesus.   Passages such as today’s scripture make it easy for us to view ourselves as witnesses, like Peter, James, and John, who never once thought that they might be transformed as well.

To say that we have been transformed by Christ’s love does not suggest that we have a messiah complex.  Rather, to say that we have been transformed by Christ’s love is to acknowledge the power of God’s love in our lives.  After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter, James, and John, were transformed – they were changed people and I believe that anyone who knew them before would be able to clearly see they, too, had been transfigured.

That is what I ask you to consider today – how has God’s love changed you?  How might others see you differently because you have chosen to follow Christ?  That is, after all, what it means to be a Christian – it means that we have chosen to follow Jesus in love and service to others.  Also, where do you see Christ at work around you?  Who has shown you Christ’s love?

I say, it is good that we are here, not to build tabernacles, but it is good that we are here as witnesses to the transforming power of God’s love which permeates our world.  We need witness Christ at work around us, and we are needed to bear witness to Christ’s love by how we live our lives.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, help us to see your love that surrounds us, and help us to listen to what your Son has to teach us.  Guide us to live our lives in such a way that others might experience your love through us.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon for Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 7, Year A

February 19, 2017

Leviticus 10:1-2, 9-18        Psalm 119:33-40       1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23         Matthew 5:38-48

As Christians, we are quick to dismiss large portions of the book of Leviticus.  It is referred to by some as the “Priests’ Manual”  because it provides detailed instructions on making sacrifices to atone for our sins and maintaining the sanctity of the sanctuary where sacrifices are offered.  It also includes all the purity laws.  Leviticus actually provides us with two codes, or sets of laws, for governing the lives of the people of Israel:  the Priestly Code and the Holiness Code.

The Priestly Code is concerned with the sanctity of the sanctuary and the roles and responsibilities of the priests.  The  Holiness Code provides the teachings on what makes a person unclean, and on what he or she must do to become clean again.  People are not permitted in the tent of worship unless they are clean.  Thus, the Holiness Codes includes instructions on the foods we can eat, how they are to be prepared, sexual relationships that are permitted, and the rituals to be observed.

Even the most fundamental Christians do not advocate much of what is taught in the Holiness Code.  Take the Jubilee Year, for instance, it is one of the more interesting rituals we are taught to observe.  Every fifty years, property is to revert to its original owners, debts are to be forgiven, and Jewish slaves are to be set free – mind you, this does not apply to all slaves – only Jewish slaves.  I cannot remember hearing a single sermon preached on the importance of observing the Jubilee Year.

We ignore most of both these codes.  Granted, we do have a Biblical basis for disregarding much of what is found in Leviticus.  The prophets, which came later, said that the Lord was not interested in our sacrifices, what the Lord wants instead is for us to be faithfulness to the covenant.  As for the foods we eat, in the book of the Acts of the Apostles, Peter shared his vision in which God tells him to kill and eat animals that were forbidden.  Peter refuses to eat foods that he was taught would make him unclean.  God then says to him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  This is what makes it possible for us to enjoy bacon with our breakfast. Then of course, we have the Apostle Paul who writes of the saving grace of Jesus being more important than following the law.  So why is Leviticus even included in the Christian Bible and our Sunday Lectionary?

I’d say we include it in both for a couple of reasons.  The first is that it provides the basis for some of what Jesus teaches us.  An article on a Jewish website* I read noted that the Holiness Code is about ethics.  Thus, it is not to be taken literally.  Rabbi Plaut writes of these “laws”:

They call for just, humane, and sensitive treatment of others. The aged, the handicapped, and the poor are to receive consideration and courtesy. The laborer is to be promptly paid. The stranger is to be accorded the same love we give our fellow citizens. The law is concerned not only with overt behavior but also with motive; vengefulness and the bearing of grudges are condemned.

He suggests that the “Golden Rule” begins here, in Leviticus.  This is the second reason we include Leviticus.  As long as we do not take it literally, we find it contains some important lessons – which brings us back to the first reason.  These lessons form the foundation for what Jesus teaches us.

I think that what Rabbi Plaut says applies to both the Priestly and Holiness Codes.  What we read this morning  talks about sharing what we have with others:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

Here the people are taught to leave enough of their harvest in the fields so that the poor and immigrants may gather enough to feed themselves.  This is the sensitive and humane treatment of others that Rabbi Praut is writing about.

Some of us can remember a time when we were in need and someone shared what they had with us.   We may not be farmers, so we cannot leave a portion of our harvest for others to gather.  But most of us are blessed with more than we do need; we can share what we have with others.  One way to do this is to take some of what we put in our shopping carts at the grocery store and bring it here next Sunday our food ingathering.   Another way is to share what we are blessed to have by making financial contribution to worthy causes that provide aid to people in need.

The other verses we read today in Leviticus elaborate on some of the Ten Commandments, concluding with what Jesus refers to as the Second Great Commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself – and this is, Rabbi Praut says, the origin of the Golden Rule.

In our gospel reading, Jesus continues to teach us as he did in last Sunday’s reading from Matthew, to do more than what we have been commanded.  Yes, we are to love our neighbor as ourself,  AND we are to love our enemies.  Jesus says, “for [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

We are all created by God and in God’s image.  We are all loved by God and Jesus is reminding us of this here.  We are being called to seek justice and look out for the weak – but justice is not the same as revenge and it can be administered with love and compassion.  Thus, Jesus says we are to pray for those who persecute us.

Being a Christian – a follower of Jesus, is not an easy way of life.  Loving our neighbors as ourselves is tough enough – but loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us requires us to let go of our judgmental nature and see them as children of God.  I know I cannot do this alone.  I can only do this with God’s help.  Think of what makes you angry, WHO makes you angry and pray for them this week – all week.  I think you will find, as I have, that praying for our “enemies” or for people we don’t like, helps us experience God’s peace in our lives.

 

Let us pray.

Lord Christ, on the cross you prayed for those who persecuted you, that they, too might experience salvation.  Help us to follow your example and pray for the souls of all who seek to harm us.  Incline our hearts to love our neighbors as ourselves, sharing with them from the abundance of gifts we have received, AND to love and pray for our enemies that we might learn to live in peace.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

*(http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/leviticus-19/#)

Sermon for Sunday, February 12, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 6, Year A

February 12, 2017

Deuteronomy 30:15-20              Psalm 119:1-8             1 Corinthians 3:1-9         Matthew 5:21-37

Deuteronomy is one of the books of the Old Testament that can be particularly tedious to read.  It has a long section that tells us what we should and should not eat, holy days to be observed, how to worship as well as how not to worship, how to manage our possessions, how the courts are to be run, how the priests are to be paid, prohibitions on child sacrifices and magic, rules of warfare, sexual relations, marriage and divorce – it even talks of the forbidden topic tithing.  But it also contains the Ten Commandments, the great commandment,  and Moses’ final words to the tribe that he has lead out of slavery, through the desert, and to the Promised Land.

Moses, in a series of teachings, prepares the people for what is to come next.  All of this takes place on the shore of the Jordan River with the Promised Land in sight.  All they have to do is cross the river and they will be there.  Entering into the Promised Land is not without danger and Moses reminds them who they are (the chosen people of God), where they came from (slavery in Egypt), and how they are to live (faithful to their covenant with God).

Jesus speaks of some of the Ten Commandments in today’s gospel and challenges us to go one step further.  We are not to think of the commandments as laws concerning what we can and cannot do – no, we are to take them to heart.  It is not enough, for example to abstain from murder, we must not harbor hate in our hearts.

Some say that Jesus was the new Moses, bringing us new commandments – a new covenant with God.  But, after the Ten Commandments, Moses shares the Great Commandment that Jesus also quotes elsewhere:

Hear O Israel:  The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.

Keep these words, these commandments, “in your heart.”  What Jesus is saying in Matthew, Moses said in Deuteronomy.

The Great Commandment, or the Shema, is perhaps the most sacred of all Jewish Scriptures.  The people are instructed to recite it to their children, to talk about it throughout the day, and to “Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  When you see an Orthodox Jew with a small box on his forehead – it contains the Shema.  When you see Orthodox Jews with binding on their hands – this is the reason.

Reciting the Shema is part of an observant Jew’s daily ritual when they get up, and when they lie down.  Reciting it is a reminder of who they are and where their priorities need to be.  Both the Ten Commandments and the Shema appear more than once in the Old Testament, but it only is Deuteronomy that they appear together.

In our Rite I service, after the opening prayer – the prayer of purity in which we pray that God will cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, the priest may recite the Ten Commandments or say the following verses from Mark:, quoting Jesus:

Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it:  Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

Jesus recites the Shema, and then like his teaching today from Matthew, he takes it one step further by telling us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Now, I have talked about Deuteronomy, but not the verses we read today.  I believe it is important to make these connections in order to grasp what Moses is saying.  Moses is telling the people of Israel that they have a choice to make – and that there are consequences for the choices they will make after they enter the Promised Land.  If they chose to live faithfully, they are choosing life.  If they do not offer their hearts to God, they are choosing death.  Moses says, “If your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.”

We can read this and take it literally, knowing that after entering the Promised Land, the people were lead astray and worshiped other gods and were eventually banished from Jerusalem.  Or, we can read this in the context of our prayers.  The collect of purity that we use to begin our Sunday worship says:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid:  Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.

In this prayer, we acknowledge that our desires are open to God and we pray that the Holy Spirit will inspire us to remain faithful.  It is not a prayer we offer out of fear that we will be banished.  Rather, we recognize that we need God’s help if we are to truly love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.

I was inspired this week to chose life when a member of our church talked about believing that Jesus is all around him.  When someone shows him kindness, he sees Jesus.  It may be something as simple as holding a door open for him, but when that happens he recognizes Jesus as the source of that loving act.  He reminded me that it is far too easy to see acts of selfishness and hear words of hatred, and forget that we tend to find what we are looking  for and hear what we expect to hear.  Both goodness and evil exist – the question is which do we choose to look for in our daily lives?

“Moses said, “See I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.”  We have a choice to make.  Do we choose to look for Christ in others?  Or do we choose to look for ignorance and hatred that is lurking all around us?   Both exist, I’m not suggesting we pretend evil does not exist in the hearts of many – but as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  The people of Israel had a chose to make and we do too.  Will we choose to seek light and love or darkness and hate?  What we seek, we will find.  Christ is all around us.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you are the source of light and of love.  Help us, we pray to look for Christ in all people, that putting aside our differences we may live together in peace.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Sermon for Sunday February 5, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 5, Year A

February 5, 2017

Isaiah 58:109                  Psalm 112: 1-10                1 Corinthians 2:1-16                 Matthew 5:13-20

Paul writes, “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom.”  Clearly he wasn’t a seminary professor or a theologian.  As those of you who have taken Education for Ministry, or EfM, know, theologians love lofty words.  And believe me, seminary professors do as well.  Of course, so do Episcopalians and Episcopal Priests.  We have strange words for everything.

If you were to invite a Baptist friend to church and tell them you would meet them in our Narthex, how many of them would have a clue you were referring to the entry way to the nave.  And, if you were to tell them you would meet them in the entry way to the nave, how many would have a clue that you meant the entry way to what most people refer to in a church as the sanctuary.  Of course, the Episcopal Church refers to the sanctuary as the area around the altar and the nave as where the congregation sits, because these are terms used to describe different sections of traditional church architecture.  The term nave is Latin for ship, an early Christian symbol, and an apt description of what the inside roof of a Roman Basilica looks like.   We Episcopalians love our tradition and the use of Latin and Greek  names.

We use the Greek word Eucharist rather than the more common names for what we celebrate on Sunday’s:  communion or the Lord’s Supper.  How many people from other faith traditions know what the Eucharist is?   In a day and age when fewer and fewer people are attending churches, the words we use to communicate with one another here become less and less comprehensible to outsiders.  If you like our language, don’t worry, I’m not suggesting we change the names we use.

Even before seminary, I enjoyed learning to call the cup a chalice and the plate a paten.  I loved learning the different names for the different parts of our worship space.  I loved learning about our traditions – and I love our traditions.

However, we do need to follow Paul’s example and avoid using lofty words around others, as if that makes us appear wise.  We need to be aware of whether or not visitors will understand what we are saying.

In our reading from 1st Corinthians, Paul seems to make a distinction between wisdom and knowledge.  He says he did not come proclaiming the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom.  Instead, he tells them he is speaking from his knowledge of Jesus.  This was a conscious decision on his part.  He says, “My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

Paul’s message comes from the Spirit.  Many would say he was moved by the Holy Spirit to say the words he spoke.  I would agree that Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to speak, but the Spirit did not put the words in his mouth.  The words came from his heart and from his own experience.  Paul is often confusing, but he is clearly devoted to spreading the good news of God’s love for us.   His words, he says, come not from “human wisdom” but are “taught [not dictated] by the Spirit.”

Likewise, what we know about God, we know because we have opened ourselves, our hearts and minds, to God and have experienced God in our lives.  Many speak of their relationship with God as deeply personal – and it is.  But it is also communal.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth for that reason.  And, we are here for that reason.  We need each other to explore and consider how God is calling us to serve.  Elsewhere Paul writes of the church as being the Body of Christ suggesting we now carry his message of love and forgiveness and share it with others.

Here Paul says we have the mind of Christ.  And, in so much as we use our eyes to see the needs of others and are moved to help, we do have the mind of Christ.  Then, when we reach out in love and offer our help, we are serving as Christ to others.  In the gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples:

You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hid.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

I have seen your light shining before others as I have watched our food pantry volunteers sit and listen to people’s story – not simply give out food.  I have seen it as I have watched members get involved in various non-profits because they want to make a difference.  Paul speaks of demonstrating the power of God and this is what he means.  Actions do speak louder than words, and our actions are a light to those who are surrounded by darkness.

I know what Christ looks like, because I have seen him – just this past week.  This past week, I saw members of our church reaching out to help other members.  I saw members reaching out to help people in our community.

Contrary to what Paul said, I do believe he was prone to using lofty words – but he was effective at spreading the gospel because he spoke from his heart and acted with love.  I have seen that same love as I have witnessed people here reaching out to help others, and I also see that what seems impossible is possible when we work together.  I not only know what the Body of Christ looks like, I know Christ is here.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, we give you thanks for the gift of each other and this community of faith.  Help us to seek first to do your will.  Help St. Andrew’s shine forth your love, that we might be a light directing others into the joy of your fellowship – those present today, those who are unable to be here, and those who are surrounded by darkness. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon for Healing Service February 1, 2017

Sermon for Healing Service

February 1, 2017

2 Corinthians 1:3-5                              Psalm 121                                       Mark 6:7, 12-13

God consoles us in our afflictions, Paul writes, “so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”  Much like love, consolation is not something that we receive and hold onto – it is a gift that is meant to be shared.

The message here is as much about the abundance with which God gives us love and consolation as it is about the gifts themselves.  Too often, we fail to fully accept what God has to offer, and so we merely get by.  But if we fully accept God’s gifts, we cannot help but give some of it to others.  Monday, the word from the Society of St. John the Evangelist was Healing.  Br. Curtis Almquist wrote:

We need not change to be loved by Jesus; but by being loved by Jesus we will change.  What we see and hear in Jesus is God’s love – for you; love without qualification.  Love, only love, heals.

The way in which Paul writes about consolation, as being given to us so that we may console others, is to say it is possible because by accepting Christ’s love we are changed.  Br. Curtis does not define for us what it means to be healed, only that love, that Christ who is an expression of God’s love, changes us.

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus sends the twelve out to preach and care for others in his name.  They carry his love with them and share it with others – casting out demons, anointing the sick and curing them.  Our healing comes about through the love we receive from God, the love that enables us to console others that they, too, might be healed.

The apostles are able to do what they do because of Jesus.  Yet, in order to cast out demons and cure the sick, they had to accept what Jesus offers.  Likewise, we must accept Christ’s love if we are to be changed and help others.  For God is the source of the love we have to share and the source of the consolation we have to offer.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you pour out your love to us that we might be filled with your grace and share your love with others.  Help us, we pray to joyfully receive what you have so freely offer to us that you might work through us to console those who are afflicted.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sermon for Sunday January 29, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 4, Year A

January 29, 2017

Micah 6:1-8                 Psalm 15              1 Corinthians 1:18-31                  Matthew 5:1-12

I was excited when I read today’s gospel, because I had the privilege of reading it when I was in Israel on the steps of the Church of the Beatitudes located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum.  It was one of the highlights of my trip, to stand and lead this passage in the location of where tradition says Jesus preached this sermon.  Being at or near the places where he taught, and being able to speak his words was a deeply spiritual experience.  I knew I was standing on holy ground.

Reading today’s scriptures this past week, I found myself not only reliving that day in Israel, I discovered something.  St. Andrew’s has been my home for over seven years now.  During this time, I have been with those of you here when you were poor in spirit, when you have mourned, and when you have hungered for righteousness.  I have also been with you as you have been merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers.

What I realized is that I am standing on holy ground, here and now.  Our church may face challenges, but there is no doubt in my mind that we have a purpose here.  When I first arrived at St. Andrew’s, we experienced a great deal of death in a very short period of time- and we came together and supported one another.  Death is a fact of life, and these past few months we have lost three more of our own.  In response, I’ve heard people say “We’re an aging  congregation,” and that is true.

We currently have around twelve members who are homebound or in fragile health.  We also have members recovering from surgeries.  And Friday, we lost John Conine.  These are people who once attended faithfully.  A few of these members are still able to attend occasionally, but they miss more often than they can come.

Members here warmly refer to each other as our church family – and we are.  We deeply care for each other, but a congregation this size is a large family and it is difficult to keep up with one another.  Sadly, I do not always find out when members are in the hospital until after they are home.  We need each other, and I need you.  Look around.  Who is not here that is usually here?  Please call them, please check on them.  Let them know they are missed.  It is not being pushy to tell someone you missed them – it is simply an expression of concern.  Yes, this is aging congregation, and we need to look out for each other.

We are aging, but that does not make this a dying congregation.  People continue to visit, people continue to  join us.  I looked in the Parish Register where we record the names of people who join the church and I found that in 2012 we had 20 people join, the next year we had three.  Last year, we had one person join, the year before, 18.  In the first week of January this year, three people joined.  So as you can see a number, such as how many people have joined in one year, does not measure the overall health of our congregation.

More important is both the relationships members have with one another and the focus of the  church.  In our annual report, you will note that we are not singular in our focus.  We have opportunities for worship, for study, for fellowship, and for mission.  We care for one another and reach out in the community to care for others.  The activities that bring us together may be changing, but we do continue to come together.  Today’s Food Ingathering is a sign of our desire to feed those who are not only hungry in spirit, but physically hungry as well.

Because of your gifts to my discretionary fund, when the temperature plummeted a few weeks ago, I was able to help the Salvation Army provide rooms for stranded travelers.  My discretionary fund also helps our members, who from time to time need assistance.  In addition, homeless women find shelter, in part, because of the money we raise at our bluegrass concert.  Kindness helps people get to medical appointments, in part, because of money raised at the Taste of St. Andrew’s – the list goes on and on as to how our activities support our community.  In our annual report, I want you to also notice the opportunities for us to support one another, the opportunities for fellowship, and the work of St. Martha’s Guild.

All of this is to say, we support one another, and we support our community. That is what a healthy church does, and that is what makes this sacred ground.  We come together to worship God and to support one another and we go forth into our community sharing God’s love with others.

Another sign of a healthy church is how it welcomes visitors.  I dare say most of us have visited churches that we found to be cold and uninviting.  Here, the coffee offered after services is not about the food, it is about the fellowship.  It provides us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to visitors, and the chance to catch up with members of our church family that we may only see on Sunday’s.  The refreshments are simply a bonus.

St. Andrew’s has so much to offer.  In addition to looking around you and noticing who is and is not here, I ask that you consider who needs to be here.  Who do you know and who have you met recently that might be in need of a church family.  In general, we as Episcopalians don’t tend to like the word evangelism,  we want to avoid coming across as pushy.  So we don’t often invite others to come to church with us.  We love hosting events and we love outreach – but the thought of asking someone to join us invokes fear in us.  I get that.

When I was in seminary I pulled into the parking lot in front of a Christian Book store and was surprised to find that I didn’t want to get out of my car and walk in.  It only took a second to realize why.  I did not want others to see me and assume I believed a certain way.  I had had more than my fair share of Christians judging me, and I didn’t want anyone to think I was judging them – I just wanted flash cards to help me with my Greek!

I encourage you to think of inviting someone to church as outreach.  There are a number of people who need to be a part of loving community, a community of people who believe in helping others weather the storms we all face in this life.  This is a wonderful place to seek companionship on our spiritual journeys.

We have a lot to be thankful for here, and with each other’s help we have a lot to look forward to.

 

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you have brought us together here at St. Andrew’s that we might grow is love and service to you, to each other, and to our community.  Help us, we pray, to draw others to you in this fellowship that they, too, might come to experience this ground as holy.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sermon for Sunday January 22, 1017

Sermon for Epiphany 3, Year A

January 22, 2017

Isaiah 9:1-4                    Psalm 27:1,5-13              1 Corinthians 1:10-18                 Matthew 4:12-23

The first Sunday in Epiphany we read from Matthew, last week we read from John, and now we’re back to Matthew.  These three gospel lessons make it easy to see how different these two writers tell us the story of Jesus Christ.  In Matthew, John the Baptist knows who Jesus is when he comes to be baptized.  In John, John the Baptist says he did not know who Jesus was until he saw the Holy Spirit descend and remain on him.

Today’s reading from Matthew follows the temptation of Christ which occurs immediately after his baptism – Jesus, Matthew says, “is led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (4:1).”   But last week in John, John the Baptist testifies to what had happened at the baptism, then we immediately move into the call of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew – which says nothing about them fishing or being fishermen.

Today, Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee – after John the Baptism has been arrested, and sees Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea.  He calls to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Then we are told, “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.”  Jesus continues on and sees two more men, James and his brother John, and calls them to follow him as well.  “Immediately,” we are told, “they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

Personally, I enjoy noting the differences because it makes the story of Jesus all the more believable for me.  If every account was the same, it would cause me to question the sources.  After all, we know it is nearly impossible to have two witnesses tell what they saw the same way.  Our perception is colored by our experiences and our emotions.  Our minds tend to fill in the gaps in order for us to make sense of what we see.

I remember driving through town one day and seeing the cars in front of me veer to the right or left to avoid something in the road.  It was near a traffic light, and traffic was moving slowly.  As I got closer I saw what appeared to be a dead dog in the road.  But, as I got even closer I realized it was not a dog, it was a blanket.  My mind was playing tricks on me.  In my lifetime I have seen plenty of dead animals in the road – so my mind compared the shape in the road to what I had seen in the past and concluded it was a dog.

We all do this.  Someone tells us something and we connect what they are saying with past experiences.  Innocent comments are often heard as insults, sympathy misinterpreted as pity, the list goes on and on.  We get things wrong.  Reading the gospels, we see that Jesus is often frustrated because the people, disciples included, do not understand what he is teaching them.

So, the differences in these two accounts of the baptism and the call of the disciples is interesting, but not disturbing.  In every story we hear, we need to listen for the truth in what happened.  Here, we can either explain away the differences or accept them as reflecting the same basic truth.  Jesus was anointed by God to change the world and he is still doing so by calling us to follow him.

We do know from the various biblical accounts that the disciples answered the call of Jesus and not only followed him, but were changed by him.  Yes, they got things wrong on a number of occasions, but they formed the early church and we are here at St. Andrew’s because the church continues to spread the good news that Christ loves us.  Like the disciples, the church has misinterpreted a great deal over the centuries and made many mistakes.  But Christ continues to call us back, and we do our best to follow him.

In today’s gospel Jesus calls the fishermen to follow him and promises to teach them how to fish for people.  This is nothing less than a promise to change their perspective, their experience of the world, so that they will see the world as it really is – God’s creation.  Too often our experiences make it impossible for us to see the world as God’s creation, to see others as God’s children.  We do not see what is in front of us clearly and make something relatively insignificant and into something much bigger.

As I approached the blanket in the road, I flashed back to watching my dog dying on the side of the road after having escaped the safety of our house when one of the children opened the door to come outside.  Our dog ran straight into the path of an oncoming truck and there was nothing the driver could do about it, there was nothing any of us could do.  So, when I realized it was just an old blanket in the road, I felt relief.  This was one of my  epiphanies that I talked about last Sunday.

In the space of no more than a few minutes I learned a valuable lesson about how our minds work.  It is not only easy to jump to the wrong conclusion, we can do it without knowing we’ve done it.  If I had turned onto another road before seeing that it was blanket I would not have realized I was wrong.  Jesus changes our perspective.

Many people viewed Friday as a wonderful day, many viewed it as a tragic day.  How you viewed the swearing in of Donald Trump as our 45th President was a matter of perspective.  For the most part it has been easy to discern a person’s perspectives in the weeks leading up to Friday.

One of the most disturbing viewpoints I heard expressed came from some fellow Episcopalians who suggested it inappropriate for the Episcopal Churches in our nation’s capital to participate in the inaugural events.  Traditionally, St. John’s, across from the White House hosts a morning prayer service, the National Cathedral Choir sings at the inauguration, and the National Cathedral hosts a Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service the day after.

Bishop Curry has the right perspective, in my opinion.  He issued a statement in which he said, “We recognize that this election has been contentious, and the Episcopal Church, like our nation, has expressed a diversity of views, some of which have been born in deep pain.”  He then addresses why we should pray for our President and leaders – even if we disagree with them.  He writes:

We participate as followers of Jesus in the life of our government and society, caring for each other and others, and working for policies and laws that reflect the values and teachings of Jesus, to ‘love your neighbor,’ to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ to fashion a civic order that reflects the goodness, the justice, the compassion that we see in the face of Jesus, that we know to reflect the very heart and dream of God for all of God’s children and God’s creation.

I find the fact that the Presiding Bishop had to issue a statement disturbing.  We do not have to agree with one another to worship together – that is, I believe a central tenet of our faith in the Episcopal Church.

The doors of the church should be open to all – and this is one of the reasons many of us are Episcopalian.  If we truly see the world as God’s creation, we are able to look for the Christ in everyone.  Thus, when we open our doors, we do not restrict access to those who agree with us.  Nor do we only pray for people we like.  It was appropriate to pray for Obama and it is appropriate to pray for Trump.  Mind you, this is not because Jesus teaches us to pray for our enemy, rather, it is because we need to pray for our common good – which includes praying for our leaders, that they may make right decisions.  Such a prayer can be found in the back of our Prayer Book and I would like to offer it today.

Let us pray.

Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world:  We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace.  Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will.  Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people with reverence to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world with end. Amen.

 

 

Sermon for Sunday January 15, 2017

Sermon for Epiphany 2, Year A

January 15, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-7                     Psalm 40: 1-12                      1 Corinthians 1:1-9                       John 1:29-42

Last Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord, reading Matthew’s account of his baptism.  This Sunday, we read about his baptism from the Gospel of John.  You will note that John the Baptism, in this account, speaks of baptizing Jesus in the past tense – and indirectly at that.  This gospel account begins after the fact.  John speaks of Jesus as the Lamb of God, then says, “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

We are in the season of Epiphany, and today’s gospel is about John’s epiphany – his sudden awareness that Jesus is the messiah.  Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has three definitions for the word epiphany.  One referencing the day we celebrate the arrival of the Magi, another to an experience of the divine, and the third is “a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.”   A cartoonist would draw this as a light bulb coming on above the head of a character.

A light turning on is certainly an excellent way of portraying a sudden realization.  Images of light are common in this season of Epiphany.  In our opening collect this morning, I  began by saying, “Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world.”  The prayer goes on to ask that we might be illumined by God’s Word and Sacrament that WE might then “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.”

The image John the Baptist shares with us, of a dove descending, carries much of the same meaning.  John says, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.”  Again, John sees Jesus approaching and says to his disciples, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  One of his disciples is Andrew, whose brother is Simon Peter.  Andrew, too has an epiphany; he is instantly convinced and goes and tells his brother, “We have found the Messiah.”

We know that both Andrew and Peter become disciples of Jesus and we know that Jesus later tells Peter he is rock on which Christ’s church will be built.  But here, in the gospel of John, we get the sense that the epiphany Andrew and Peter experience comes from simply being in the presence of Jesus.

John presents Jesus is this way.  You need only be in his presence and you know you are in the presence of someone great.  I dare say we have all known people in our lives who seem larger than life – but none that can simply say upon meeting someone, “follow me,” and people will leave their lives behind and follow him.  Yet that is the power of an epiphany – isn’t it.  In an instant, what is important becomes clear to us.  We just know what we need to do.

All epiphanies are not, however, easy to deal with.  Perhaps the truth that is revealed to us is not one we like or want to know.  Some epiphanies are painful realizations of our need to make changes in our lives.  I imagine the disciples did not want to leave everything they had and everyone they enjoyed spending time with to follow Jesus.  But they did.

The Apostle Paul’s epiphany came on the road to Damascus when he is blinded, and then hears the resurrected Christ ask him, “Saul, why do you persecute me?”  This turned his life upside down.  He had believed the followers of Jesus were going against God and he was fighting to keep people faithful to God – until this happened and he learned he was working against God.   Saul changes his name to Paul and spreads the good news of Jesus throughout the world.  He starts a church in Corinth, then later writes to them saying, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.”  He goes on to say, “God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Paul, one a persecutor of Christians, gives thanks to God who calls others into the “fellowship of Christ.”  Epiphanies can change who we are.  I have had several in my life and few of them have been pleasant.  Two come to mind immediately.  The first occurred when I realized that although I prided myself on my honesty, I was not.  I realized that, first and foremost, I was lying to myself – pretending to be someone I was not.  This began a long and difficult process of self-examination that helped me to become more genuine in my interactions with others.

The second epiphany that came to mind was one that occurred while driving.   Many of you have heard this story before.  I was driving a beer truck to Mountain Home, feeling dissatisfied with my life when I surprised myself by saying out loud, “There has to be more to life than this.”  I spent the rest of the day, between deliveries, thinking about times in my life when I felt fulfilled.  That is when I decided to return to church.  After that, I had a series of epiphanies that eventually lead me here.  It was a long road, full of ups and downs, and at times I just wanted to sit still and let the world go on by. But we can’t undo an epiphany.

The Gospel of John presents a dramatic example, saying that the apostles dropped everything they were doing and followed Jesus.  I have no doubt that they followed Jesus, but I suspect they did more than walk away from their families without so much as a goodbye.  Just as I suspect we have all experienced epiphanies that lead us to make changes in our lives – some changes more dramatic than others.

The season of Epiphany will last until February 28th.  It is a good time to reflect on the epiphanies we have experienced that may have altered the course of our lives.  Some of these are painful, others filled with hope, still others simply make what we need to do clear to us.  Regardless, look for the hand of God in these and give thanks that they have brought you into this fellowship of Christ, here, today.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, reveal your truth to us and fill us with your light that we might shine forth your love to others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

 

Sermon for Sunday January 8, 2017

Sermon for the Baptism of our Lord

Epiphany 1, Year A

January 8, 2017

Isaiah 42:1-9                    Psalm 29                        Acts 10:34-43                    Matthew 3:13-17

Last Sunday we celebrated the naming of Jesus at the temple on the eighth day after his birth, today we skip ahead all the way to his baptism by John in the Jordan River.  One of my class trips when I attended St. Georges’ College in Jerusalem was to the spot on the Jordan River where tradition says the baptism of Jesus took place.  It was early in the course so I was still intently focused on the landscape and just how different it is from here.  Part of that difference was the visible military present throughout Israel.

On the bus ride we passed military lookouts and bunkers at key intersections, and we had to cross through a military check point to reach the river.  As we approached the Jordan, there were signs on the barbed wire fence that lined the road warning of the presence of land mines.  We arrived at a park on the bank of the river and there were guards with combat helmets and assault rifles creating, a stark contrast to the people wearing baptismal gowns, reading scriptures, and singing as people were being baptized.

When I was there, I was overwhelmed by these contrasting images.  Reflecting on it now, however, I realize that the pictures I took of the guards in the foreground and the baptisms taking place in the background were among the most important pictures I took.  Jesus is called the Prince of Peace, and there we were surrounded by symbols of hostility, fear, and unrest celebrating the one who brings us the strength to endure the chaos and find peace in the midst of conflict.

It is important to recognize how Jesus changed the world.  He did not do it, as the people of Israel had expected, by picking up a sword and going to battle.  No, Jesus changed the world by preaching peace and compassion, by restoring sight to the blind, and by calming the fears of his disciples in stormy waters.  Jesus changed the world with a love that brought peace to the souls of his disciples and enabled them to continue preaching the good news of Jesus Christ while enduring persecution.

This past week, one of the readings for our Education for Ministry class was about Paul.  In it, the author said that religious professors like asking their students, “Who was the founder of Christianity?”  Students, of course, answer, “Jesus.”  But, he says, the professors respond, “No.  It was Paul.”  The author explains this by saying, “It was Paul who took the message of Jesus – and about Jesus – to the world.  By the end of Paul’s career, the people who believed in Jesus were organized into churches, communities of faith that had confessions and liturgies and bishops and deacons.”

Jesus changed the world by changing people.  Jesus brings peace to our hearts enabling us to love our neighbors.  Earthly kingdoms come and go, earthly leaders come and go, but what Christ offers us will not die.

At the site celebrating the baptism of our Lord were groups of people who, like us, had traveled from all parts of the world to do so.  Like all good tourism parks, there was a shelter to protect us from the sun, a large deck with multiple areas for groups to gather and even steps with handrails to make getting into the water easy.  And, of course, there was a souvenir shop selling baptismal gowns and bottles for us to take water from the Jordon home with us.  I did bring some water back with me, and added some of it to our baptismal font for our celebration of the Jesus’ baptism today.  The river itself was narrow, swift, and dirty.  Don’t worry, though, the dirt settled to the bottom of the bottle, so the water I added to our font was clear.

The gospel account of Jesus being baptized I just read comes from Matthew.  Matthew reports:

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Today we not only celebrate the Spirit of God descending onto Jesus, we celebrate our own baptisms in which we were “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and marked as Christ’s own forever.”  On the gable of the shelter at the Jordan River is a dove.  A dove is not just the symbol of the Holy Spirit, it is a symbol for Peace.

So much of what I saw that day reminded me just how divided humanity is.  (At the river, there were several groups speaking different languages.)   The river itself serves as a border separating Israel from Jordan.  The military was there to keep people from crossing this border.  Yet, in the midst of such obvious division, people were being baptized and celebrating the Prince of Peace.  And, across the river in Jordan was a church with its own covered deck and stairs leading into  the river.  I was troubled by what I saw, but now I realized that I was surrounded by hope.  Conflict was as much a part of life when Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit, as it is today in our nation and in the world.

As I was preparing this sermon, I learned of the shooting at the airport in Ft. Lauderdale making it all too clear that Jesus did not bring peace to the world – at least not a peace that ends violence.  Yet, Christ does bring us peace.  A peace that lives in our hearts and changes our lives.  It is a peace that makes it possible for us to love our neighbors regardless of the campaign signs that adorned their yards a couple of months ago or their position on gun control.  It is this peace that comes from learning we are all children of God.  It is a peace that enables us to experience and even embrace hope.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, you sent your Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit that we might live in peace.  Through his love you have taught us how to love.  Help us, in the midst of all the violence and conflict that surrounds us to find the inward peace that Christ has to offer.  Help us, then, to go forth seeing in others that which is worthy of you.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Homily for Healing Service – January 4, 2017

Homily for Healing Service

January 4, 2017

James 5:13-16                                            Psalm 146                                               Matthew 9:2-8

“Are any among you suffering?  They should pray.  Are any cheerful?  They should sing songs of praise.”  This passage from James is used for public healing services because it goes on to say, “Are any of you sick?  They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”  That is, after all, what we do in healing services.  You come forward, I lay my hand upon you, anoint you with oil and pray that you will be filled with the grace of Christ, that, “you may know the healing power of his love.”  My own experience of this has been a powerful reminder of God’s love for me.

Touch is important to us as human beings.  Without it a newborn child will develop what is called failure to thrive.  We need touch to thrive.  I do not, however, want to focus solely on the laying on of hands and anointing.  James tells us to pray when we suffer and sing songs of praise when we are cheerful, because he is writing about relationships – maintaining our relationship to God in times of sorrow and times of joy.  And, he is writing about the importance of us helping one another do so.  He tells us to confess our sins to one another, to pray for one another – so that we may be healed.

Touch, anointing, prayer, and confession are all mentioned.  This suggests we need the strength of others, we need to feel connected to others, in order to experience God’s grace and healing.  Thus, James is speaking of the importance of living in a community of faith where we are both supported and support others.  Living in community means sharing our joys with one another as well and seeking and offering support during the difficult times in our lives.

Ironically, relationships within a church are often responsible for people leaving a faith community.  In our gospel reading today, some of the scribes take offense at Jesus because he, in their opinion, went beyond his authority and told the paralyzed man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”  The scribes were definitely law and order people.   We, as Episcopalians, assign specific roles and responsibilities to clergy and those trained to serve at the altar.  In our church, the bishop has certain responsibilities, the priest has certain responsibilities, the deacon has certain responsibilities, and the laity have certain responsibilities – according to their training.  Consequently, I don’t want to be too quick to judge the scribes.  Jesus challenged their authority.  In some churches, people like Jesus would be encouraged to go elsewhere.

After hearing the scribes, Jesus challenges them even further by healing the man.  The crowds saw it, and we are told, “they were filled with awe, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to human beings.”  This healing story demonstrates Jesus has power beyond what we can imagine, healing a man who is paralyzed with just his words.  So it is easy to overlook the closing words of this passage which tell us that the people were amazed that God had given this ability to human beings.  It does not say, “to Jesus.”  It says, “to human beings,” or in other translates it says “men.” This tells us that God has given us the authority to heal others.  We help others to heal when we sing praises when we are cheerful, and when we forgive each other when we sin.

I have not seen the type of healing at church talked about in the gospel, but I have certainly seen it happen with the help of skilled health care personnel.  And, I have seen dramatic healing take place when people are accepted into our community of faith and they experience forgiveness.  We are here today for ourselves and for each other.  Our healing can begin today.  As James said, “The prayer of faith will save the sick, the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.”

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, we give thanks for this faith community that we might come together to love and support one another in difficult times, and that we might celebrate with each other in times of plenty.  Fill us with your Spirit, that we might carry forth your love in service to others.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.