Category Archives: Sermons

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Proper 25 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

How many of you are familiar with the phrase, “Mea culpa”?  It’s Latin in origin and has worked itself into common language.  One uses it to acknowledge their own fault in something.  Perhaps sometimes honestly and perhaps sometimes more sarcastically.  For example, “I completely forgot to get bread when I was at the store.  Mea culpa.”  Or “Oh you don’t like the streamers I used in decorating for your surprise birthday party. Mea culpa.”  Literally translated, it means, “through my fault” and it comes to us especially through the Latin Mass of the Roman Church.  In the confession, the penitent says, ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa” in referring to their own sin.  They say, “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”  There is also a physical action that often accompanies this.  The penitent strikes their breast three times while saying this.  This same action can be done during our Eucharistic prayer one in Rite I, when the priest says the words, “And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice”.  Maybe you can guess where the church draws inspiration to use this action?  Today’s Gospel reading. 

Today we have Jesus again trying to explain to the disciples the confusing, upside down Kingdom of God.  In this parable we have two people, a Pharisee and a tax collector.  Perhaps in modern day understanding we could think of them as a bishop and a mobster.  But even that lacks the subtle connotations that are put into the Pharisee and the tax collector.  The Pharisees are the religious elite, the wealthy and most holy of men who run the temple.  The tax collectors are horridly despised.  They are locals who have sold out and collect the steep, impoverishing taxes for the Romans.  They are traitors to their own people, and worse, they profit from it.  Jesus is offering two examples that starkly contrast with each other in the assumptions of society at the time.

And yet.  What Jesus says about them tears away the preconceived understandings of the listeners.  First is the Pharisee, self-assured and we would perhaps label, ‘self-righteous’.  Certainly feeling comfortable about his own justification from God because he is so much better than the people who are doing evil deeds, or who don’t pray as often as they should, or don’t give their full tithe.  He is steeped in his own pride and arrogance.  In comparison we have the tax collector, head down, praying penitently, beating his breast and asking for God’s forgiveness.  Twentieth Century theologian Karl Barth offers that both of these men are equally shamed before God.  The difference is that the Pharisee is ignorant of his standing, while the tax collector is not.

That is what truly divides the two.  The Pharisee does not, as Jesus says ‘go down to his home justified’, because he is unwilling to confess his sins and to acknowledge his place before God.  The tax collector however does what is needed.  He humbles himself and asks for God’s forgiveness.  He sets the example for how Jesus is teaching his disciples to come before God.  The Pharisee has sins, at least the obvious ones to do with pride, but instead of seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, he speaks to God about his own greatness in comparison with others. 

It is also important to note that Jesus says nothing about the lives of these two after this moment of prayer.  It should not be assumed that the tax collector changes his life.  Jesus doesn’t say, “and the tax collector went home justified and took up a more honorable profession”.  Likewise Jesus never says that being a Pharisee is itself inherently bad.  This has everything to do with the attitudes that the two men bring to their approach to God and their understanding of salvation.  What is most important here is that first, we are unable to save ourselves because sin is a real and present part of our existence, and will be until the end.  The second is that we are totally dependent on God’s grace for our salvation, and ultimately even that doesn’t keep us from sinning in the mean time. 

Now, I want to throw a second Latin phrase at you.  It’s one you may have heard, but a little less common than Mea Culpa.  Lex orandi, lex credendi.  This is a Christian motto from at least the 5th Century.  Very loosely translated it means, “What we pray is what we believe.”  It is often used in the Anglican world to point to our use of liturgy as a means of theology.  It ties in with our Gospel lesson today because it points us to the way in which these two people in the parable pray, and what it says about their beliefs.  The words and actions that are used in worship speak clearer than any theologian when it pertains to our beliefs.

That is why our common prayer is so important, and why the words that we choose matter.  Our actions in the mass teach ourselves and those that come after us what we want to say about God and our relationship with God.  We often find tension in whether we use Rite 1 or Rite 2, or some of the experimental language rites that the Diocese offers.  But the real questions in our liturgy and in our faith practice need to be about what we are reflecting in terms of our salvation and relationship with God.  I am less concerned with our use of pseudo Elizabethan pronouns and more concerned with whether or not we acknowledge our failure to be saved outside of God’s mercy and grace.

I have on many occasions heard people offer that they dislike the prayer of humble access, including my seminary liturgics professor, because of the language it uses.  Often it has to do with phrases about being unworthy and unable to approach the table with only our own self-righteousness.  But that is precisely what we need to know about our relationship with God.  That is the other piece of the puzzle when we talk about God’s grace.  There is no point in worshiping God who has remained faithful to us and offered us grace and salvation if we couldn’t get those things ourselves.

So instead, let me offer you this: remember that how you pray and what you pray can be to you a very detailed understanding of what you believe in relation to what the Christian faith teaches.  If we are willing to own that as a human we fall far short of God’s goodness, than can we not also take such joy in seeing how amazing God’s grace to us becomes?  Take the parable that Jesus offers us and ask yourself:  Am I the Pharisee or the tax collector?  Do I thank God I am not worse or do I ask God’s forgiveness for what I am.  That is how we grow into our humility before Christ.  That applies to you and it applies to me.  Just because I am standing up here with a generous portion of satin draped over me doesn’t mean I am off the hook.  If anything, a priest needs to be even more aware of the danger of becoming like the Pharisee. 

Remember that though you may have salvation guaranteed by God, that does not exempt us from doing the work of the Kingdom here and now.  But also know that as humans, I fully believe that God expects at the end of every day we will find a reason to kneel before God, to strike our breast, to recite yet again, “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”  And we, like the tax collector, will return justified.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Proper 24 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

The 1994 movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, based on a short story by Stephen King, features a banker named Andy Dufresne who is convicted of murders he didn’t commit.  While in prison, he begins to work in the library, though it is woefully empty.  So Andy asks the warden for money to purchase books.  The warden tells him that there is no funding available and there never will be.  In response to that, Andy asks the warden for permission to write the state senate for funds.  The warden agrees and even offers to mail the letters himself.  Andy writes those letters every week, and six years go by.  One day crates of books and check arrives from the state.  They thank Andy for his persistence and communicate that they believe the matter closed.  Andy says, “It only took six years.  From now on I think I’ll write two letters a week.” 

Andy’s story is one of hope and persistence, as is our Gospel lesson today.  Jesus has been teaching the disciples about what to expect after he is gone.  It will be a hard, difficult time full of confusion and persecution.  False prophets will prowl around and then when Christ returns the eschaton will be fully realized.  It makes perfect sense that Jesus would find it necessary to then talk about hope.    Our reading starts by explaining what this parable will be about, so I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus sees the disciples struggling to maintain hope in the face of what is to come.

Jesus tells them a parable of a judge.  This judge has no regard for people or for God.  This judge seems to care only for himself.  He’s probably corrupt, using his position to gain extra wealth through bribes, which wasn’t necessarily uncommon.  He’s only going to do what is in his best interest.  This guy is no Judge Judy.  Then we have a widow.  It’s important to remember that in Jesus’ time, widows have absolutely nothing.  If there is no male heir to inherit the estate or no one to take care of her she is on her own with no financial support.  She occupies one of the lowest places in society.

The widow continues to bother the judge to rule in her favor.  She has persistence and maybe even a little hope that this will work.  Or perhaps she has nothing left to lose so this is the route she takes.  Through her persistence, the judge finally decides to rule in her favor just so that she will leave him alone.   The unjust judge knows that the widow will not relent unless she wins, so he gives her the outcome she desires to save his own piece of mind.

So how do we take this parable and apply it to our lives?  This is the sort of parable where the imagery is so applicable that we can interpret this a few different ways.  The first is to see ourselves as the widow, compared to God, the judge.  Now that isn’t to say that God is unjust, but rather that we are cosmically like the widow in our standing.  We have no right to ask God for anything.  We have no standing; we are in the lowest caste compared to God.  Which is to Jesus’ point that if an unjust judge, the worst power abusing judge you can think of, would be willing to grant a request, how much more is God willing to offer us, regardless of how deserving we are?

I’d say that I also see God in the widow’s persistence.  Just as much as the widow does not relent, so God does not grow weary of pursuing us.   God continues to be faithful to us, to sometimes even chase after us even though humanity again and again turns it’s back on God.  So this persistence in seeking out justice, regardless of how little regard the other party has for it, is not unlike God’s relationship to us.

It seems important to also clarify something about persistence.  I do not want you to hear from this story that God is like a genie that can be worn down to granting any wish you request.  Jesus is not saying that.  I think we are all too aware that isn’t the reality with God, and sometimes that realization can be hard.  What we are to hear in this is that we must not lose hope in God’s promise.  We should ask for those things we need.  Prayer is an important part of our spiritual life.  But it is not to wear God down.

In fact, our persistence, our faith, instead is shown throughout our prayers.  We hope for God’s reign to be fully realized and we pray, “thy kingdom come.”  We keep hoping that there is good in a hopeless world.  We keep striving to live out the values of that Kingdom in the face of an existence that values self idolization over obedience to God.  We persist and hold faith that God’s justice will prevail.

Finally, Jesus wraps up this parable, after making it clear that God’s justice will be granted, by asking a question.  ‘When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’  Jesus is referring to his return, his second coming, and he asks this knowing how hard it is to hold that faith and persistence.  It is a question worth asking ourselves exactly how faithful we are.  Jesus is not asking us about works.  Having faith is not the same as doing good things.  We are not justified by our works.  Having faith isn’t living by a moral code.  Having faith is about belief in God. 

Don’t misunderstand.  Growing up as a Baptist, I have some strong negative reactions about saying having faith is about belief in God.  What I am not meaning by this is that there is some perfect, full belief in God.  I am not saying that the only way you hold to faith is by mindlessly forcing yourself to state a creed in order to show off your belief.  What I do mean is that having faith allows us to hold to our hope in God’s promise.  That is belief in God.  Having faith allows us to walk out of here, assured of God’s love for us and everyone else and to live a life that exemplifies that.  Having faith means that we live without fear in the face of a dark, evil world because we believe that God’s reign awaits us no matter what.

So ask yourselves.  When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?  Will we hold with persistence the hope that drives the widow to keep asking for justice?  Are we able to see that God’s justice and promise are there for us, and we must hold fast to that kingdom to come?  Our work as followers of Christ is often marked in many ways by the values and actions that Jesus teaches us and calls us to.  But at the cornerstone of all the life we live must be a persistent faith in God.  That is what is most asked of us.  God remains steadfast in grace for us, and we in turn must doggedly pursue faith in return.  Let us then be about our task.  We will hold to the hope of God’s kingdom to come, of justice flowing like a river, and most of all have faith in the grace that God pours out on us always.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Proper 22 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St Andrew’s Mountain Home

How many of you enjoy starting a movie half way through it?  I can’t say that’s something I ever do, even if I’ve seen the movie many times before.  There is usually a point to the first part of a story that adds depth and certainly explains the rest of it.  I ask this because it appears that the framers of the Revised Common Lectionary are doing just that this week with the Gospel lesson.  We start with an odd needle drop right into the midst of a conversation Jesus is having with his disciples.  The disciples don’t just walk up to Jesus randomly and command him to increase their faith.  There is a reason they exclaim it. 

We start today in the fifth verse of the seventeenth chapter of the Luke.  If you look back at verses one through five, you’ll find Jesus teaching a few hard lessons to the disciples.  The first is a dire warning not to cause others to stumble, especially those who are new to their faith.  We get that very well known statement, “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”  After that Jesus tells the disciples, “if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” 

That is what spurs the disciples to exclaim to Jesus, “Increase our faith”.  They see that as an insurmountable task.  It sounds as if they are hoping that these things Jesus says they must do will be easier if they have a stronger faith.  So Jesus then says something that I suspect we should understand as somewhat rhetorical.  We have many phrases ourselves that we often say but don’t mean literally.  Today for example, we could say, if it is raining hard that it is, “raining cats and dogs” and we don’t literally mean that we are going to be doing something dangerous with those animals at the pet blessing this afternoon.  So when Jesus says that you can do these crazy impossible things with faith just the size of a mustard seed, he is being largely rhetorical.  The point here is that these things he is commanding his disciples to do are not outside of their ability just as they are.

Passages like this are often taken wildly out of context and used for proof-texting.  You might find someone feeling like they don’t have enough faith because they can’t seem to get anything to go right.  These types of verses are also used to bolster the heresy of Prosperity Gospel, proclaiming that if things are going good for you, it’s because your faith must be strong.  Jesus is not setting up a system of faith measurement.  He is making the point that working to forgive someone isn’t a miracle that requires sainthood.  It’s work that we can and should be doing right now.

To underscore this point Jesus then moves into what could be seen as a fairly harsh retort of his disciples.  He asks them, “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”?  The answer is none of them would.  It’s sort of like going to Whispering Woods and inviting your server to have a seat and share your dinner with you.  In like manner Jesus is telling these disciples that they are not justified because they have done good deeds.  They are supposed to do good deeds, to do the things Jesus is teaching them to do. 

The point Jesus is making here to the disciples is that you are not justified by your works.  Your salvation is not earned through doing the things God asks of us.  We are already saved.  But he is also saying that doing the things that God calls us to should not lead us to expect accolades.  We are already forgiven.  We don’t need awards to follow Christ.  If we look at being faithful as a way to gain entrance to heaven or some blessing in life, than these actions no longer suffice as morals but rather become us trying to force a cosmic transaction with God. 

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”  We must be on guard against using a lack of faith or a lack of some other resource as an excuse for not following God’s call and commandments.  Whether it is forgiveness, standing for justice, or many of the other examples Christ sets for us, we are not allowed to simply cry out that we have not enough faith to even attempt these things.  If we must fail in endeavoring towards them, then we should fail, over and over again.

We must also not seek awards for simply doing the work that God has called us to.  We cannot stockpile our good deeds and lived faith for blessings in this life or the next.  No matter how many times I might chime in with a ‘stars in your crown’ remark when someone is willing to do a task that is less than desirable, it is not true that we are in an economy with God to trade our faithful tasks.  We should instead be living God’s call through the blessings we have already received in life, not betting on the futures we might achieve. 

God knows that we aren’t perfect.  We don’t have perfect faith, we don’t regularly pull off the types of miracles that Jesus did during his ministry.  But that does not give us an out for not living out what faith we do have.  It does not excuse us from working in the fields of God’s harvest, and working with as much faith as we can muster.  We must go into the world and live out the call of Christ, with faith and love, because it is our joy as God’s children.  Chesterton also wrote, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”  That is good advice.  You don’t need perfect faith to forgive.  You don’t need perfect faith to love.  You don’t need perfect faith to follow Christ.  All that you require God has already given you, and now it is up to you to do the work.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Proper 21, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St Andrew’s Mountain Home

This last week an interesting discussion ensued on a forum board for the Society of Catholic Priests, an Anglican order to which I belong whose members are of an Anglo-Catholic bend.  Now that I say that sentence out loud I can see how you would be suspicious that it truly was that interesting.  But let’s just say it was interesting to me.  The conversation was started by a priest who was seeking advice on burial customs for another priest.  What followed was an explanation of many rites and customs for burying priests, some more modern than others I’m sure.  For example, it was explained that the tradition is before burial to clothe a priest in the vestments they were ordained in.  Another is that a priest should be buried just slightly higher than members of the congregation if they are buried at the church they served.  And all this got me thinking about burial customs. 

Humans have, according to archeological evidence, been practicing burial rituals for at least one hundred thirty thousand years.  Now we also know that social animals such as ravens and elephants also seem to have common practices around death.  But humans have certainly been the most elaborate of social creatures.  We can think of Norse Vikings being buried with ships full of armor and treasures, or perhaps the pharaohs buried with riches, food, and anything else they might need in the afterlife.  There is the terra cotta army, buried with the first emperor of China to protect him in the afterlife.  Even today there are all sorts of customs around what one is buried with or how one is buried.  But today’s Gospel reading brings one of many truths to the foreground.  One of the obvious points Jesus makes is that whether you are a Viking, or a pharaoh, a priest, or an emperor, you don’t get to take it with you when you die.

Jesus of course is teaching far more than just that, but is drawing a clear line between how the rich man and Lazarus live and how they spend their afterlife.  From the beginning, the divide is broad and clear.  One man wears purple and feasts every day.  The other feeds off scraps and is clearly in poor health.  When they die, the roles are reversed.  The rich man languishes in Hades, tormented, and seeking consolation from Abraham, who is with the angels and the poor man Lazarus somewhere far better.  The rich man apparently though hasn’t really learned a lesson because he is still concerned with the immediate need rather than the big picture.  He begs Abraham for water, for reprieve, but it isn’t going to come.  So then he begs Abraham to send someone back from the dead to warn his brothers that if they don’t amend their lives they will end up like this one did.  Abraham’s response is interesting, and I’ll get to it in a minute.  But first let’s look at this first part a little more.

If we put this into a modern context, perhaps we could say once there was a rich man, or a well off man, or even just someone who has a roof over their head, clothes on their back, and a full stomach.  And that person would walk down the street from home to work every day with their earbuds in and do their best to ignore all the homeless people sitting along the sidewalk, begging for even just a moment of human compassion.  Or perhaps the person who does their best to pretend they don’t see someone standing near the exit of a store parking lot, holding a sign, asking for any small blessing.  It’s worth considering how we respond to these people.  It’s worth contemplating how Jesus would ask us to respond to these people. 

In general, the author of the Gospel of Luke is quite concerned about the social structure.  Early on, in the recitation of the Magnificat, or the song of Mary, we hear Mary proclaim,

“He has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

The entire Gospel is bent towards an understanding of the justice of God’s Kingdom and our duty as followers of Christ to uphold that. 

Jesus isn’t saying that wealth alone is bad.  There is nothing here to insinuate that the rich man ends up in Hades because he likes to wear purple.  It has everything to do with how he lived his life in relation to Lazarus.  Jesus is also speaking to something we hear less about, and that is what is called by Professor Fred Craddock as a Deuteronomic approach that the Pharisees had.  They relied on a few verses in Deuteronomy that they could help support an idea that if you were rich is was because God was blessing you and you were worthy.  If you were poor, well, the opposite.  It is not unlike the modern prosperity Gospel we hear from televangelists and those who seek only monetary gain in their golden tongued service as so called pastors.  Jesus is making clear that this is not the case.  What you do with your good luck, with your skill, with your wealth matters to how God wants us to live.

I want to be clear here too, because this is a difficult subject, that I am no paragon of perfection.  I struggle with knowing when to help someone and when maybe they aren’t offering a picture of the truth.  I struggle with just being able to spend time talking with folks who are panhandling or begging on the street.  Just having a conversation with them can, sometimes, be the greatest riches you can offer them.  Studies have shown that just acknowledging a person’s existence goes a long way in their mental well being.  Imagine how different life would be for Lazarus if the rich man stopped to speak with him, to share some of his opulence with him.   Think about ways you can challenge yourself to work better towards living the way Christ calls us.

Let’s get back to Abraham’s response.  When Jesus wraps up this parable he’s telling to the Pharisees, I want to think that he’s being quite cheeky.  The rich man begs for Abraham to send someone back from the dead to tell his brothers about how to live.  Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”  If Jesus is God incarnate, he’s got to know what comes after death for him.  He knows he has to go to the cross; he’s on his way there.  So I really want to think that Jesus adds this to the end knowing that he will in fact do just that.  He will rise from the dead, to herald the beginning of God’s reconciliation with creation and to proclaim the Kingdom at hand.  The question remains for us if we will listen, if we will be convinced. 

The question is will we live the way Christ calls us to, or will we live the way the rich man does, concerned only with earthly things?  Will we ignore those who suffer because it’s not convenient for our lives, or our allegiances, or our politics?  We will take the easy route and turn a blind eye to those that suffer even in our own community, or will we reach a hand out, will we bridge that chasm between our world and theirs to offer a momentary glimpse of the Kingdom that is ruled by the God whom we worship and adore?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Proper 19 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church Mountain Home

I wonder if we take enough time in our busy lives to stop and consider the lens with which we see the world around us.  Especially when it has to do with how we think of church, or of our faith, or of the writings of that faith.  All too often there is a danger that those things we experience on a regular basis become too ordinary.  They lose their vibrancy and fade into the background of life.  We don’t have to think about it as much, so we don’t.  But in doing that, we often miss the most beautiful details.  I think perhaps this week’s gospel lesson highlights a good example of that for us.

I don’t know that I’ve ever preached on this particular passage, but I know I’ve certainly heard many sermons on it.  Even without hearing that many sermons, we know already that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, right?  We already know what a good shepherd does.  We’ve heard this punchline a few times.  We already know the right answer.  So when Jesus asks, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”  We already know we’re supposed to eagerly raise our hand and say, ‘Yes Jesus, I would!  This is what the good shepherd does!’

While studying this week’s Gospel, I came across a commentary on the passage that really struck me.  It stripped away all of my preconceived notions and assumptions and allowed me the space to see more beauty in this than I had recently.  Now of course, the image of the good shepherd, with the lost sheep slung across his back, is beautiful.  It is a reminder to us that God cares for us.  It gives us a notion of safety and security.  But the part that is easy to miss is that it is absolutely ridiculous.

Imagine for a moment that Jesus is in a room full of shepherds.  He asks this question, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”  Then all the shepherds look around at each other as if to say, “is this guy serious?”  Then they all slowly shake their heads to say, ‘no, no one does that.’  When Jesus likens God to a shepherd that leaves ninety-nine of their one hundred sheep in the wilderness, to go off and find the one lost sheep, Jesus is making the point that God’s love for us far exceeds any common sense.  No shepherd would leave their nearly entire flock, without safety, in the wilderness, at peril of wild animals, to wander around, at their own peril as well, to find one sheep.  They would be annoyed at the financial loss and stay with the flock.

Fred Craddock writes, “If the ninety-nine are safe in a fold, then the search for one lost sheep is but an act of frugality, an exercise of common sense.  It is foolish not to act when there is a possible gain with no possibility of loss.  But how is one to assess the search by a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine in the wilderness?  Either the shepherd is foolish or the shepherd loves the lost sheep and will risk everything, including his own life, until he finds it.”

The same can be said for the second parable Jesus tells, of the woman who has lost a coin.  This coin is one tenth of her money according to Jesus.  Generally speaking there weren’t banks accessible to the general public, so she probably keeps these coins on a necklace.  It is assumed by many scholars to be roughly a month’s wages.  The woman goes to every extent to find this coin.  She loses time, burns fuel in her lamp, does not rest until she has recovered it.  There are wonderful paintings done of this parable, showing a woman, stooped, in the darkness with just a lamp to light her sightline, checking every crack in the walls.  I wonder even if it’s very important you might eventually shrug your shoulders and resolve that it will turn up.  I don’t know that most people would go to the extent she does to find it.  She does not rest until the coin is recovered.

Once these lost things have been found, there is so much joy that it cannot be celebrated alone.  The shepherd calls his friends and neighbors together, likewise the woman.  I am left to wonder if there wasn’t a celebration that cost more than the lost coin.

All of this is to illustrate the Good News.  The words that Jesus brings to a people sorely in need of salvation.  God Loves them.  God will go to any length to find them and bring them home.  And when everyone is brought back together, there is always much rejoicing.  This reading today is the opening to the parable of the prodigal son, which also illustrates the same values.  God knows that we wander off like distracted sheep.  The good news is that we don’t have to be afraid.  God will find us wherever we are.  No matter what we’ve done.  No matter how lost we’ve become. 

Unless I completely misunderstand what was used for currency in Jesus’ time, it’s also important to note that this coin does not get lost of its own volition.  The coin does not have legs or the desire to wander like the lost sheep.  It isn’t the case that everyone who ends up lost does so because they chose to be.  Sometimes we end up in places we never intended to be.  But the good news is that God will keep looking for us.

Jesus invites us in to a life that exemplifies these values.  Can we not also rejoice at the finding of lost sheep?  Can we not also live in such a way that we act as a beacon to draw people to the loving embrace of God?  We are a bit of both.  We are the lost, but we also have a responsibility to remind the lost we run into that there is something better. 

Bishop George Craig Stewart is quoted as saying, “The Church after all is not a club of saints; it is a hospital for sinners.”  When we get so used to seeing something and letting it become routine, we often miss the beautiful details.  We forget that everything we do here is not to congratulate ourselves for being good.  If God is like the shepherd Jesus tells us about, he leaves those ninety-nine good sheep to spend time and energy on that one lost sheep.  Let us remember that when that one lost sheep is found, the joy and celebration is so great that everyone is invited to take part.  This is God’s Grace.  A relentless, overflowing love that pursues us into the most dangerous of wilderness and brings us back with great rejoicing.

That my friends is the Good News.  Sometimes these stories we hear lose some of their punch because we’ve heard them over and over again.  Don’t forget how ridiculous Jesus can sound to his contemporaries.  He was proclaiming a Kingdom unlike any other, and a Grace and forgiveness that had not yet been seen.  Jesus was heralding the Kingdom of God, and a grace the will find you wherever you end up.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Proper 18 Year C 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

This week we have more from Jesus on what it means to follow him.  We have more instruction on the kind of life one should lead as his disciple.  Jesus is explaining what life is like if you are going to call yourself a Christian.  But as you well heard in the Gospel reading, if you take what we have in modern English, this reading isn’t very palatable.  Jesus says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate”.  That is a strong word, especially hard when followed with a litany of family members and life itself!  There is a lot to unpack in these nine verses, so I suggest we dive right in.

Jesus said to them, “‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”  The first point to make here is that the word ‘hate’ does not mean what we think of it to mean or how we would use it today.  Now, don’t be confused.  If you were sitting there listening to Jesus, you’d still think that he was sounding crazy.  But where we need to apply a little critical thinking is in the context and language use of Jesus’ time.  I’m not going to attempt to put you to sleep with Greek and Hebrew translation and language studies.  What we need to know is that in this culture family is everything.  This is all of the closest support you have.  These are the people you turn to if you are struggling, if you need a shoulder to cry on, if you are feeling alone in the world.  What Jesus is saying is to turn away from them.  He is saying that you have to let go of relying on them and seeking support from them.  This is a leap of faith.

Jesus is also talking about letting go of the attachments of this world.  When he talks about hating family and life, we should hear him say that one ought to be willing to lose those things to follow Jesus.  I don’t for a minute think that the same person who says love your neighbor as yourself, wants you to call up your family members to let them know you hate them.  What Jesus wants is for us to let go of holding on to our attachments which have nothing to do with the kingdom of God.  He wants us to put faith in God before putting faith in other people.  He wants us to stop putting our own earthly existence before living out the values of the kingdom.  It’s not an easy ask.  Jesus may not literally be telling us to ‘hate’ these things, but the thing he is asking of us is still as hard.  This also speaks to understanding everyone as part of your family, and not forsaking those in need to prioritize blood relatives.  The ideal Jesus is striving for is that we all find ourselves equally upholding each other through our faith and trust in God and his Kingdom.

Then Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  The impact of this statement cannot be over exaggerated.  Jesus says this before his crucifixion.  Jesus says this before the cross becomes the symbol of faith.  In fact, I wonder if everyone sort of looked around when he said that and thought, “Well that’s a weird object to suggest we all carry.”  The only ‘cross’ that the people hearing Jesus know of is the torture device that the Romans use to execute the worst criminals.  The only cross that would come into mind is the vicious, inhumane methods the Romans have to terrify the people of the countries they occupy.  This certainly foreshadows Jesus’ death which he is on the road to in this passage, but it also is a poignant image for his contemporaries.  If you aren’t willing to carry with you an instrument of death, your own death in fact, then you cannot follow me.  As Christians we must be willing to lose everything for the sake of God’s Kingdom. 

Jesus goes on to explain this in economic terms.  How can you buy something if you don’t know the cost?  How can you enter into any activity or venture without first preparing everything you need, or knowing exactly what it will require of you?  And we certainly don’t want to end up compared to the foolish people who do in fact fail to accomplish something because they failed to estimate the cost or the supplies or the sacrifice needed.  But wait a minute.  We’re human.  We do that sort of thing all the time.  We fail again and again at things.  Life is full of ups and downs and in fact I think we all fall quite short of living up to Jesus’ commands and the price he sets on discipleship.  Thankfully, what we are seeking is not as high stakes as what Christ did.  The crosses we bear can sometimes be too much for us, but the ultimate cross, the one that required the ultimate price and offered us hope and God’s grace, the one that we would never be able to bear, Jesus himself takes that one.  Yes, Jesus asks a lot of us.  He sets the bar incredibly high.  But the Good News that accompanies that is that God’s grace is abundant and salvation is already at hand.  So no matter how much we fail at living up to these expectations, we are still forgiven.  We are still saved.  We are still Christ’s own.  We are still following him, we just stumble on the path sometimes.

The decision to follow Christ should not be one that is done without serious contemplation.  It is no small thing to claim this path, to lift up your cross, and to willingly follow.  We will be asked to sacrifice, to rearrange our priorities, to go against the world for the sake of the Kingdom.  Each one of us walks a path catered to our own experience and needs too.  Though taking up your cross is ultimately about willingness to sacrifice your earthly existence, it also can symbolize the smaller sacrifices and challenges that we find on that path.  Mother Teresa is quoted saying,

“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway. “

God knows what crosses we bear; God knows how hard our struggles can be to carry them.  Rejoice in knowing that Christ has born the one we could not.  Our salvation is assured.  What we do between now and the end of this mortal coil is the work we are left to.

Sunday, September 01. 2019

Proper 17, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Any given day, Anglicans all over the world might be attending mass and many of those liturgies include a prayer that was in the very first prayer book of the Church of England in 1549.  We have preserved that prayer in our own Rite I service, and I’m surprised to find out that other denominations including Presbyterians and Methodists use a form of this prayer.  It is, in fact, one of my favorite prayers we have.  I’m referring to the prayer of humble access.  For our 8am Sunday service, we are no stranger to this prayer, but there are very possibly folks at our 10:30am service that may have never heard it.  If it is unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to grab a prayer book and turn to page 337 to have it handy.  And, I think in light of part of today’s Gospel reading, we should spend a little time reflecting on the prayer of humble access and what it means to us.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus is at a dinner and is doing some really good people watching.  He notices that the guests are choosing the best seats for themselves.  Now, it’s probably important to understand that at this time, in the culture of Jesus’ people, when you went to a dinner party, you would be reclining on pillows at a table.  This would be all men gathered around the table, and generally, you would arrange yourselves as a matter of prestige.  For the most part people knew where they fit in society and didn’t try to push too far.  But sometimes, people who felt that they should be given it, or perhaps wanted to manufacture their own move in society, might go to the places of honor at the head table.  How embarrassing then, when the host has to ask you to move because someone more important should be sitting there.  By and large, we Episcopalians tend to be fairly good at humbly taking the seats far away from the front.

But this isn’t just an etiquette lesson from Jesus.  He’s not acting as Miss Manners for first Century Jews.  This has as much to do with the Kingdom of God and our Theology of salvation as it does with how one should act.  Now sure, it is a wonderfully humble thing to do, to seat yourself in a lower station, and what joy when you are invited forward.  But how often do you think someone seats themselves in such a way without some hope that they get that invitation?  How often would we seat ourselves in low station without any desire or hope to be recognized for such humility?

‘We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.’  A very basic tenet of the Christian faith is that we can do nothing to bring about our salvation.  We, as humans, have no power as great as to attain escape from judgment.  That is the primary good news of the Gospel.  That has been taken care of for us.  This parable from Jesus is saying the same thing.  We cannot presume, of our own righteousness, to go and sit at the head table in a place of honor. 

The prayer continues, “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.”  I’ve have known people who do not like this prayer because of the language in which it describes our cosmic relation to salvation.  I get it.  There are a lot of people in this world who have spent far too much of their lives being told that they aren’t good enough to be loved, that they aren’t smart enough to be worthy, or that they simply aren’t holy enough to ever escape the fires of Hell.  It’s understandable why saying that we are not worthy to gather up crumbs from God’s proverbial table would be distasteful.  But ultimately this is the truth.  We are human.  We aren’t that great.  We ruin our planet, we pretend that it’s okay to murder people if they are carrying a different flag than we do, we fail time and time again to live up to our promise to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

The joy comes in knowing that we are invited to the head of the table by God.  We are assured of our salvation, we know that something far greater awaits us.  It is only in the midst of this joy do we acknowledge that we are human and fail to live up to what God offers us.  But we get to have it anyway.  We don’t have to earn anything or qualify for it.  Salvation is freely offered to us and only because of that does it make any sense to be reminded that we fall short and it is God’s grace that bridges the gap.  Is it not better to sit at a lower place and be invited up, than to be asked to move down?

Our Gospel lesson continues with Jesus teaching a different lesson to hosts, rather than guests; a more practical lesson about living the values of the Kingdom.  This has to do with how we treat others.  In some ways, it also again echoes salvation in the same way that God offers to us something we cannot repay.  So also, Jesus says to invite to dinner those you know cannot repay you.  Do so because we should be acting out of love and not out of hope for benefit.  We are emulating the example of God to invite others into a joy they cannot repay.  This is radical stuff that God calls us to.  Here, unlike other places, Jesus isn’t talking about us providing for the needs of the less fortunate.  He is literally saying we should invite them to dinner.  You can translate the word, ‘hospitality’ to mean ‘love of a stranger’.  This is a moment where host and guest are together, not the host sending out food to those who are hungry.

We are called to remember, not through pity or self-depreciation, but through joy that our salvation is at hand.  Of course we are not able to attain it ourselves.  Our good news is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that tells us God has taken care of that.  We are invited to that head table, because we would never get there ourselves.  Knowing that, then, shouldn’t we be sharing that joy with others?  Inviting in especially those that need to be reminded that there is something better for us all?  Our liturgy uses phrases and prayers to remind us that we are not in control, and that we should not be living lives bent on control.  Our collect today asks God to bring forth in us the fruit of good works.  Now when we leave here today, how will we live in to that?  How will we heed the call that Jesus gives us to live in the midst of God’s Kingdom? 

“He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”  Let us go then, and do likewise.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Proper 16, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

In May of 2001, the finale of the second season of West Wing aired.  For those that may not remember, West Wing was a drama about the life and work of the Oval Office, which was particularly well known for a unique style of filming and dialogue.  The show starred Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlett.  In the show, Sheen plays the President as a devout Roman Catholic.  Sheen is, in real life, also a devout Catholic.  This matters because in filming this finale of season 2, the setting is the Washington National Cathedral.  They are there for the funeral of the President’s secretary.  It is a very untimely and tragic death, and the President is struggling in his faith and furious at God.  After the funeral, the President asks his chief of staff to have the secret service agents seal the cathedral while he remains behind for a moment.  Furious, the President begins to walk towards the sanctuary of the cathedral, ranting at God in his anger over the injustices that have occurred.  He mixes his insults between English and Latin.  He stops at the bottom of the steps leading up to the high altar.  He curses God.  Then he turns, lights a cigarette, then tosses on the mosaic sanctuary floor and grinds it in with this shoe as we walks away.  Martin Sheen has later said in interviews that it was a very difficult scene to shoot.  Not only was he incredibly uncomfortable raging at God, whether in character or not, but he nearly refused to do the part with the cigarette.  The actor so held the sanctity of the place he was filming in that it was hard to even pretend.

This came to mind this week as I contemplated our Gospel lesson.  What makes something holy?  What makes a space or a day or an event holy?  Moreover, what makes the things we do or the things we wear or the things we say acceptable in such a space?  Sometimes I wear a zucchetto on my head during the mass.  It’s a traditional head covering of a priest, and it is removed during the canon of the mass.  But why then do I cringe when I see pictures of a priest from LA wearing a Dodgers baseball cap during their annual service where they celebrate the opening of the season?  What makes one hat more appropriate than another?  The answer to that question is that it boils down mostly to tradition.  Different traditions inform different levels of acceptability.  In our Gospel lesson Jesus is pushing back against the traditions of the institution.  He does so primarily to highlight that there can be a big difference between the command of God and the tradition of the institution. 

In the commandments handed to Moses, God tells the people that they are to keep the seventh day of the week, the Sabbath, as holy.  It is a day of holiness and rest.  Then, because we are so good at it, humanity extrapolates what that really means.  So when Jesus is sitting in the synagogue teaching, with the whole community gathered because that’s what you did on the Sabbath, he takes the opportunity to show where the failing is.  The woman Jesus heals does not ask to be healed.  None of her friends ask Jesus on her behalf.  Imagine her just sitting in the synagogue, checking out the readings of the day from her bulletin, and Jesus calls her over and heals her.  This of course angers the passive aggressive leader of the synagogue who begins to preach to know one in particular that if they are there for healing they ought to come on a different day than the Sabbath.  Healing is, according to them, work, and so not permitted on this day of obligation.  They should be turned to holy things, which apparently to them doesn’t include releasing this woman from her ailment.

Jesus wants to teach that there may be other ways to think about how one observes a holy day.  And when the leader of the synagogue has something to say about it, Jesus points out that in the traditions of the people, they have made accommodation so that they can ensure their animals have water.  How hypocritical then not to see the importance and holiness in healing this woman.  Sometimes the absurdity of tradition when it serves no function, or worse causes harm, has to be pointed out.  In this case it goes even deeper because this gets at the root of what it means to follow God’s commands and to live by the values of God’s kingdom!  What honors God more?  Sitting on your hands and watching people suffer, or doing something about it even if the institution has decided it’s not the right time.

We have to be on guard with ourselves and how we live out our faith.  That is, after all, why we are here.  This isn’t just some hobby to fill your bored Sunday mornings.  We have chosen to follow God, to follow the way that God teaches us through Jesus.  Sometimes, as I mentioned last week, that’s going to upset the apple cart a bit.  It’s not always welcome.  But that doesn’t change the truth of the message.

Recall when I said that the values of the Kingdom of God are not about being coerced into behaving a certain way, but rather feeling called to live that way.  So too it is when we seem to force our institutions and traditions on people instead of inviting them into a way of being.  I’m not saying tradition is bad, I’m saying that having a, “because I said so” approach is not the way to instill the love of God or the desire for the Kingdom in others.  Instead we should live by example, showing why we do something, why something matters, and always be willing to check ourselves against the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In our Gospel reading Jesus is using his authority and power to show that the Kingdom of God isn’t the sort of place where suffering should continue just because, “this isn’t the right time.” 

As our collect today says, we are called as a church to show forth God’s greatness to the world.  Let us do so with love, with compassion, with a rich tradition that keeps the fires lit, and keeps the praises of God flowing from our lips.  May our house be one that draws people to the love of God, a place we make holy by our words and our deeds, and not a golden calf that we worship in God’s stead.  May we live faithfully, as God asks us to, always looking towards the glory of the Kingdom that offers us a way of grace, peace, and joy.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Proper 15, Year C, 2019

Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

Have you ever heard the phrase, “The work of the clergy (or the work of a deacon, or the work of a priest, or the work of the church, or the work of God) is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted”?  It’s heard it many times, in many contexts, and in some ways I completely agree with it.  The statement reflects the importance of the message of Jesus Christ in the world, and usually that message will stand in opposition to the comfort of the status quo.  So as I contemplated this week’s sermon, and thought about Jesus’ words, that phrase came to mind.  But when I went to trace the origin of that phrase, because frankly, I don’t like quotes or phrases unless I can correctly attribute them, I was surprised to find this one’s origin.  The original phrase was proclaiming that it is the work of the newspaper to, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  It was first coined in 1902 by a journalist named Finley Peter Dunne.  Isn’t it interesting where we place our hopes when it comes to balancing out the scales of justice in society?  Even more interesting to me is that in 1987 this phrase is then used by a Christian author to discuss God’s mercy and wrath.

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus is well aware of God’s wrath.  Not too long after Jesus has rebuked the disciples for wanting to call down fire on some folks, Jesus himself says he came to bring fire and wishes it was already kindled!  The interesting thing about this is that there are a lot of different kinds of fire in the bible.  There is the fire that consumes and destroys Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins of arrogance and being inhospitable.  There is the fire of the burning bush, which does not consume, and shows Moses that God is present.  The pillar of fire that is the presence of God throughout the Old Testament.  Then the fire that John the Baptist speaks of when he says that he will baptize with water but another (Jesus) will come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  With the advent of the Holy Spirit we get the flames alighting on the heads of the disciples at Pentecost.  So there are many ways to think about fire, and what Jesus may mean when he says he came to bring fire.  We know that God’s judgement is hanging over creation, but while Jesus may be here to herald that judgement in the fulfillment of the Law, he is also taking all of that Judgement on himself in his death and resurrection.  He is taking all of the fire and shielding us for all eternity from it.  Jesus knows what is to come, the baptism he is to undergo, and in this part of Luke which we currently find ourselves, he is drawing nearer and nearer to the cross.  

Last week I said that I believe when Jesus is discussing how we live in God’s Kingdom, when he is describing the values of that Kingdom, that these are things we should want to do and not necessarily commands that have been carved in stone.  Living in the kingdom means that we have a spirit that compels us to live out the values.  A similar approach is needed to what Jesus says next in our Gospel today about bringing division.  When Jesus says that, it is more than likely he means it as a description of the natural result of discipleship, and not as the command to cause division in relationships to follow him.  It is not the work of Jesus to set parents against their children, but rather when one lives out the call to discipleship, quite often you find yourself in conflict with those who refuse discipleship.  As an example, think of the parable of the prodigal son.  When the father welcomes the prodigal son home with joy and feasting, though the relationship between those two has been mended, the relationship between the father and the elder son, who is focused only on himself, is fractured.  When you proclaim reconciliation and justice as values of life, then you will upset the status quo.  You have to be willing to suffer at the hands of a vile world that does not like the light of the Gospel to shine upon it.  Christian discipleship means valuing nothing over God’s kingdom.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 20th century German pastor, theologian, and martyr wrote regarding the church and the times he lived in, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” 

We cannot afford to simply pay lip service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Either it means everything or it means nothing.  God has made it clear what the cost of discipleship is.  God expects everything from us, and, of course, forgives us when we fail to live up to it.  But the real sin exists in between those two extremes, if we completely refuse to try. 

Bonheoffer goes on to say, “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “you were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

It is always time to embrace costly grace.  There is always a darkness growing in the hearts of humanity.  There will always be a price to pay for proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  Sometimes that cost isn’t as high as other times.  We are not called to proclaim when it is convenient.  We are not called to sugar coat the parts of the Gospel that are uncomfortable or might be disliked.  Christ asks of us the very same price he paid for ushering in the Kingdom of God, but at the very least, to suffer not having everyone be our friend.  You cannot make God’s truth comfortable when it doesn’t sit well with others. 

We do not go about this task alone.  St. Paul writes, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”  That is our task.  It is the simplest and most difficult thing God asks of us.  We stand in a line of disciples, martyrs, and prophets who followed as God called and did not bind themselves to the whims of the world.  We gather here to hear God’s word, to hear Jesus Christ proclaim the Kingdom of God at hand.  We join with that great cloud of witnesses as we partake in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  Then, we step back out into a world in dire need of costly grace, knowing as Christ says, how to interpret the present time.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Proper 14, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home

We are in the long days of late summer now.  Our lectionary continues in the season after Pentecost for another 113 days.  School starts this next week for many children in this area.  We are a long time from any major holidays.  But today’s Gospel reading reminds me of one of the most iconic holiday commercials.  First aired in 1986, it was replayed for seventeen years until it was eventually remade.  A car pulls up outside a snow covered home, a young man quietly lets himself in.  He’s greeted by a small child, and together they make coffee.  The smell of coffee wakes up the rest of the house who come downstairs, presumably at Christmas morning, to find the beloved son who’s been away for awhile.  Certainly when you Jesus talking about the master who is coming home to surprise the servants, such a strong image from mainstream culture comes easily.

It’s funny how a passage can be taken in very different ways.  Growing up in a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian church, this passage was a dire warning.  Beware for God is returning soon so your soul better be ready for judgment.  If Jesus returns before you’ve prepared, you will suffer the consequences.  God is coming like a thief in the night so you know you better be afraid.

But reading that passage again, I’m almost perplexed at how it can come across as such a warning and not an expectation of joy.  The master is returning from a feast.  The master has, let’s be frank, been at the party and has been their quite some time if they aren’t returning until the early hours.  This isn’t the image of a stern, joyless master carrying a whip.  This is a master who takes joy in celebrating with others.  This is a master who, when they return, is serving those who normally serve.  This is a master who wants to make sure the joy and peace that they know is shared with those who are willing to serve.  This is not a return to fear, but one to have hope for. 

Hope, maybe more aptly faith, underpins so much of what Jesus teaches us to do.  When Jesus tells us to live a certain way, when Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself, when Jesus teaches that we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry; when Jesus says sell your possessions and give alms, all of this is about faith.  Living out the values of the Kingdom of God is certainly work we are tasked with.  Jesus makes it really clear what God expects us to strive towards.  But maybe the part we could miss is that Jesus is not dangling us over the pits of Hell to make sure we abide.  All of these commands on how to live, all these ways of living into the Kingdom of God should come to us because of our faith. 

When I say something like pacifism is the most Christian response to violence, it’s not that I hold that to be a rule that must be obeyed, but rather it is my hope that our faith would lead us to that response.  When Jesus reveals to us the glory of the Kingdom, and shows us what those values are, it’s not rules written down on a stone tablet anymore.  It is instead how we live when we have faith in God’s providence.  When we put our faith in God’s ability to provide, when we put our faith in the Kingdom of God, when we put our faith in the promise of a glorious resurrection, then nothing this earth can offer us should be more persuasive.

This passage from Luke starts out with the call to not be afraid.  That happens a lot throughout Luke’s gospel.  There was a lot that one could be afraid of when this was written.  The early Christians were persecuted, disliked by Rome and the Jewish authorities.  But then again, when it comes to survival, there always seems like a good reason to be afraid.  Whether it is saber-tooth tigers or oppressive empires, if we have no faith in our victory over death, than fear will win the day.  This is why Jesus preaches so much on this subject.  It’s why so many ways of living into the Kingdom of God have to do with letting go of the control over our own existence.  If we cannot have faith in God taking care of us in our moments of greatest need, how do we ultimately have faith that God will resurrect us into the Kingdom?

It’s hard to talk about faith in this way.  It seems antithetical to our nature to trust that God is unfolding the path before us when we don’t like where we are at.  We also of course want to tread carefully lest we be heard saying that God intends for someone to suffer.  In fact, we for the most part get to live fairly comfortable lives away from the fears and terrors many people in this world face.  Perhaps that makes our necessity for faith even greater.

Audrey West writes, “The less we want to have, the less we need to have.  This fact is itself one of the blessings God offers, with compound interest.  The less we need to have, the less we need to fear.  The less we need to fear, the more we know that a life of giving allows us always to live, not on the brink of destruction, but on the brink of blessing, where we can more readily hear the promise that the “Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour,” desiring not to punish but to bless.”  I’m sure we’ve all many times seen the ever popular bumper sticker, “Look busy, Jesus is coming.”  Maybe instead it could read “Have faith, because Jesus is most certainly coming.”