Category Archives: Sermons

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Proper 12, Year C, 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The old joke goes: A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure God will save me”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes you did” replied God. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”

Why do you pray?  And when you do, what do you say?  Do you pull out your Book of Common Prayer?  Do you sit in a dark room in private?  Do you fall to your knees in the presence of the Most High God?  When Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray, Jesus offers a prayer that, upon closer inspection, might really seem rude by many standards of etiquette.  

It starts off well enough, acknowledging the transcendence of God (who art in Heaven), the otherness of God (hallowed be thy name), and the sovereignty of God (thy kingdom come).  But also in the opening is a clue to the relational aspect of the Divine.  We start with, “Our Father”.  God is not some superbeing hurling lightning bolts from the top of a mountain.  God is our origin, our Father, is in relation with us in both a cosmic and personal way.   It is key to our biblical theology that God does not leave us alone, that we are inseparable from the presence of God.  God incarnate wants us to understand this important connection through this prayer and through all the many teachings that Jesus offers to emphasize our connectedness.  

Douglas John Hall, on his review of this passage best explains what happens next: “After the briefest of salutations, the prayer moves to the human condition with what must seem, to the properly theocentric, unseemly haste.  How direct, how ungenteel, how almost rude it seems!  “Give us… forgive us… lead us… deliver us.”  Not only does the prayer rush from glorification to petition in a manner very different from the usual patterns of human behavior where favors are being sought; it shuns all in direct rhetoric to the point of pushiness!  […]  There is no ‘Please,’ none of the softening, pious (and often wheedling) interjections that often mark what is called “spontaneous” prayer — “Oh dear Father,” “Blessed Lord Jesus” and so on.  Just ‘Give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us’!

While this could come across as rather brash and aggressive, I think it instead offers an underscore to the human condition.  It emphasizes our relationship with God and God’s encouragement for us to rely on prayer for our needs.  We are dependent on God, that’s why we say ‘give us’.  We are sinful and guilty of failing to uphold the values of the Kingdom of God.  So we ask, ‘forgive us’.  We are human, we are lost, we need God’s guidance and support.  “Lead us and deliver us.”  God has invited us into this relationship of prayer.  God wants us to be in communication, to ask fervently for those things we need.  And I think in the same token, as we assure ourselves and thank God for in this prayer, we have faith that God provides us what we need.  No, God is not giving us that Bentley we are praying for, but many people find that living by faith provides them avenues to what they need.

I learned an something interesting this week.  If you look through most of the services in the Book of Common Prayer, the Daily Office, the Eucharistic services, and the pastoral offices with the exception of Reconciliation of a Penitent you will find the Lord’s prayer in every single service.  Our tradition finds that particular prayer to be so important that we really don’t do anything without it.  If you look at many of the structures of other prayers like the Eucharistic prayers or the collect of the day, you can also see a similar structure to the movements of the Lord’s prayer reflected in the words of these other prayers.

In many ways Jesus’ lesson on how to pray is an invitation for us to establish and maintain a deep and meaningful prayer life with God.  I can tell you that spending two or three weeks observing the daily office, at least morning and evening prayer, every day, you will feel different.  You will feel refreshed.  You will feel more connected.  This is about keeping that communication with God.  Yes, God knows what we ask before we even ask it.  In Paul’s Letter to the Romans, he gives us that wonderful image that when we just don’t even no how to pray, the Spirit, “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”  It’s almost as if God, the cosmic parent is standing there with the thing we are praying for and telling us lovingly, “Use your words”.

The examples Jesus then offers after teaching them to pray have at least two big meanings.  The first is that we are the neighbor knocking on the door and God is the sleepy housekeeper.  It’s our job to keep knocking.  Keep asking.  Keep praying.  God wants us to be persistent.  God wants us to shamelessly ask for that loaf of bread for our guests.  I say shameless because in Jesus’ time, this is how the story would sound.  The culture Jesus lived in was way more concerned with proper actions and shame and honor than even the most genteel of Southern manners.  Pray to God shamelessly.  Pray to God fervently.  Pray to God ceaselessly.

Another way to see this is that we are not just the person that is banging on the door, trying to get some bread for our friend, but we also can be the person who’s asleep, who’s already locked the door, but who needs to get out of bed for the sake of Love. And maybe we’re the friend that the bread is being gotten for, or maybe our fellow human is that friend, or maybe we will find God in that friend. Jesus isn’t setting God up to be the dispensing machine of our every prayer and desire here. It is just as much our responsibility to be the hands of Christ in this world, doing the giving as it is for us to do the praying. Give us each this day our daily bread.

Prayer is not the end of our work to spread the Love of Christ in this world, to help create new visions of the Kingdom every day where we are at, but it is the beginning. This is the hard task we are called to, in relationship with God and with Creation. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, is quoted saying, “You pray for the hungry, then you feed them. This is how prayer works.” And I would add, this is how Christ’s Love works. This is how the peace of God which surpasses all understanding works.

I really like Teresa of Avila’s writing, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.” I will add to that Christ has no heart to Love, but yours. As you go out from here today, remember to pray, remember to Love, and remember that when you are hurt, when you are offended, when someone is knocking on your door after you’ve gone to bed, because they’re trying to get some bread from their friend, that you are called to that most divine practice of Love, as Christ’s heart in the world.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Proper 11 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

Have you ever had ‘one of those weeks?’  You know the kind I’m talking about, where everything goes a little south, where everything that can break does, and everyone seems to need something all at the same time?  That’s the sort of week it’s been for me. This week we had the new printer delivered to the office, but of course it doesn’t quite work the same way as the old one. A few of our St. Andrew’s family are unwell or in the hospital so I want to get around and see them, and then people in need start calling the church looking for all sorts of things, even a ride to Yellville.

On Friday as Franny, Jeff, Annie and I stood in the kitchen here, prepping a stack of thirty onions, thirty bell peppers, about 7 bunches of celery, eighteen pounds of andouille sausage, and twenty five pounds of red beans for the Diversity Ball Fundraiser on Saturday night, I realized that I hadn’t really had any time to focus on preparing a sermon, or reflecting on the Gospel lesson for this week.  Followed quickly by the realization that Saturday night, usually when I put my finishing touches on my sermon, I’d be at the event helping to serve the red beans and rice and supporting the Ozark Diversity Coalition’s annual fundraiser. I was so exasperated that all of these tasks had gotten in the way of my sermon preparation. Cooking, printer wrangling, juggling people in need. So when I finally sat down and reread and thought about our Gospel reading today, you can imagine I had to laugh a little bit.

Jesus arrives at this house of Mary and Martha, and is welcomed as a guest.  Even today there are often cultural expectations with welcoming someone. Perhaps offering someone a glass of water or tea, or if they are staying with you, a meal.  Jesus settles in, perhaps in something like a living room, and I suspect he has others with him. One of the house’s owners, Mary, stays near Jesus, sitting at his feet and listening to him teach.  After awhile, Mary’s sister Martha, who has been toiling away probably in the kitchen working to prepare refreshments or a meal for these guests comes out and is just beside herself with all the work she’s been doing, and there is Mary hanging out with Jesus.  Martha tells Jesus to send Mary back to work. Jesus replies, ‘Martha, you are worried by many things’.

One can certainly read this passage in a few ways.  One such understanding would be that, as Mary (according to Jesus) has chosen the better path, then we are supposed to sit around listening to Jesus and not do any work.  But that’s just not an interpretation that I can accept. I don’t think the Mary versus Martha debate has much to do with works in that way. What I see in this is that Martha’s exasperation and statement is truly where the problem resides.  Martha says, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” Everything Martha has to say is about herself. She refers to herself three times in that statement to Jesus. So the question becomes whether her reason for hospitality is more about being loving to the guest or about making herself look good.

Perhaps instead Mary and Martha exemplify equally important sides of the same coin.  Hospitality is important. Tending to those in need, welcoming the stranger, treating everyone as your neighbor are things Jesus teaches.  These are important values of the Kingdom of God. Likewise is proclaiming the Good News of that Kingdom as it draws near. It is when we separate out the two activities, or lack one from the other where we find ourselves running down the wrong path.  Cynthia Jarvis writes in her exposition of this passage that, “A church that has been led to be “worried and distracted by many things” inevitably will be a community that dwells in the shallows of frantic potlucks, anxious stewardship campaigns, and events designed simply to perpetuate the institution.  Decisions will be made in meetings without a hint of God’s reign. Food and drink will appear at table without Christ being recognized in the breaking of bread. Social issues may be addressed, but the gospel is missed in acts that partake of politics as usual.”

Churches have to be especially careful that they do not turn into social clubs.  We are here for a far greater, deeper purpose. We are here, as followers of Christ, to hear the word of God and to partake of the blessed sacrament.  We are here to renew and refresh ourselves and to revitalize that call to go into the world and make disciples of all people. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t do good.  Everything we do should be a reflection of the Kingdom of God. We don’t raise money for Kindness or Gamma House to make ourselves look better. We didn’t prepare the dinner for the Diversity Ball so we could get more people walking through these doors.  We do these things because it is our duty as followers of Christ to help those in need. It doesn’t come with any strings attached, it doesn’t make us more saved. We should be a little bit Mary and a little bit Martha.  

Sometimes people’s gifts lean them one way or another.  Some people are better at cooking red beans and rice for 150 people, some are better at managing the facility and keeping an eye on those roofing nails, some are better at praying with those in their darkest hours.  Some, like the Roman Catholic nuns arrested this last week for protesting the concentration camps are better at standing up to the Empire and calling out evil. Some are better at helping the vestry interpret the financial statements for the month.  Every gift has its place. Every one of us is called to work for the Kingdom of God in word and deed. These two cannot be separated out without detriment to the other.

Above all that, first and foremost is our commitment and call to follow Christ.  We are given clear instructions about what should matter and how we should live out that call.  We cannot be anxious or overly focused on how our work plays out. What matters is that we put ourselves to the task.  If our only focus is how well we play the host, then we forget why we are called and in whose name we serve to begin with.  So find in yourself a bit of Mary and a bit of Martha. Remember to learn from Jesus, to listen to what he teaches, to let it really sink in.  Remember also to do the work Christ calls us to, without expectation of reward. Otherwise, we run the risk of forgetting the One whom we have gathered to serve.

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.