Season of Creation 3, Year B

In Bible Study on Wednesday, we had a spirited discussion about the return of the Lord, a subject that shows up in the letter of James—“Wait patiently, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.”

And today’s collect reminds us to be always thankful for God’s loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of God’s good gifts.

The idea of giving an account is nerve wracking, conjuring up visions of a grumpy old God with a scoresheet somewhere far away in heaven keeping track of our every move and checking the Good/Bad columns under our names throughout our lives. 

It’s easier to say, “God has saved us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and therefore, our judgement has already taken place and so we have nothing to worry about.”  That is true, but still……

To give an account we will have to do, because the final judgment is yet to come.  

Jesus himself, in the 25th chapter of Matthew, describes the day when he will come in his glory, and all the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people from one another, as the shepherd divides the sheep from the goats.

And this division will be made according to what we have done in our lives for our neighbors—the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and those in prison, and this caring extends to creation itself, because creation is also our “neighbor.” 

Loud and clear.  We are to care for our neighbors.  What we do for one another and for creation matters now– and will continue to matter– right through eternity.

Today’s passages also give us valuable information about God, our ultimate judge.

God loves goodness and abundance.  God want us to benefit from the goodness and abundance of creation.  In today’s passage from Deuteronomy, God is the one who is bringing God’s people into a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, where God’s people will lack nothing. 

And in the praise psalm, Psalm 113, God is transcendent, far above the heavens and the earth, and yet, this transcendent God is the one who raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.  God, who created this universe, cares intimately for the least of these.

The New Testament starts with the four gospels, the story of Jesus and how Jesus cared for the least of these, including us, throughout his life.  Today’s gospel is a great example of Jesus caring for the least of these—people who had come from long distances to be with him, had gotten hungry, and couldn’t really make it back home without something to eat.  So Jesus fed them, right there in the wilderness, just as God had fed the Isrealites in the wilderness when they were hungry and had no idea where they’d get anything to eat. 

The gospels also describe Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection, and how these events make possible eternal life in God’s presence for us, starting here and now. 

The book of Acts tells about how knowing Jesus and being filled with the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the power to go out and spread the gospel far and wide.

And then we get the letters, all about how we are to try to live as followers of Jesus.

Just as the early Christians did, we continue to wrestle with these instructions, because for the most part they are a challenge to follow.

In the reading from James we heard today, James urges us to be patient, to have strong hearts, and to endure. 

In this era of impatience, we Christians are to be patient.  Especially in this culture, we have been led to believe that results should be instant and that having to wait for anything is an assault on our humanity and a reason to take deep offense at whoever or whatever is causing us to have to wait. 

In addition, we are to have strong hearts.  How many of the things that happen to us in our lives bring us to our knees, weaken us, make us want to stay in bed all day, because why bother?  And yet, part of waiting on the Lord is to wait with a strong heart and to keep on keeping on, as that old cliché puts it. 

And we are to have endurance.  James mentions Job as an example of endurance.  Job, remember, is the one who went through all those trials and hardships.

And Job did not just hunker down and never question God.  Job had plenty of questions.  In fact, he railed against the injustice of all that had happened to him.  He even wanted to bring God to trial. 

But in the end, Job never lost his faith in God.  And that’s endurance.  Sometimes the things in our lives just seem so overwhelming that the temptation is to think of God as disinterested and uninvolved in our lives, and because what is happening in our lives has got us discouraged, we just give up on God. 

But faith in God, even when God seems to be nowhere around, gives us endurance and strong hearts so that God can lead us  through the hard times in our lives, even when we can’t see God. 

When things are going well in our lives, we are also tempted to forget God.  Look how successful I’ve been—look at all I’ve accomplished.  Look at all I’ve done for the least of these because I’m such a good strong person. 

But giving ourselves all the credit is a pitfall to avoid. 

God warns the Israelites back in our Old Testament reading, “Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”

But instead, “Remember the Lord your God, for it is God who gives you power to get wealth.”

So here are some helpful adjectives to describe who we are to be as we wait for the coming of the Lord.

Thankful.  Patient.  Strong of heart.  Persistent.  Faithful.

What are some other adjectives you would add to this list?

These adjectives also apply to us as a church.  For the next few weeks we are giving some attention to stewardship—as we ask ourselves how we want to use our time, our talents and our money for the work of the church in the world, specifically through this church, St Peter’s. 

The church as we know it is in decline.  Those of you who went to St George’s for the stained-glass tour got a rare glimpse into the workings of another church—yes, pledge payments are down, attendance is off in some services even in that big church, although the effects in a big church aren’t as noticeable at first as they are in a church our size. 

In fact, conventional wisdom these days is that “regular” church attendance is considered attendance at a church service twice a month rather than every week. 

I worry about the long-term future of our church.  We are fine now.  We all support God’s work through this church.  What a generous congregation!  But our attendance is down, no doubt about it.  And who is coming after us?  When we are dead and gone, who is going to come here to worship?  Who is going to give generously to keep this church going so that it can continue to do the work of God’s hands and heart out in the world?   I don’t see any obvious answers to that question.

So today, I’m looking to these scriptures for inspiration.  What we can do as the church is to be thankful, to plant our seeds, and to be patient while we wait for God to give the growth.  We can have strong hearts.  Important—we can resist the temptation to grumble against one another, but to endure together, helping each other along. 

In seminary, one of the things we learned about preaching was never to use the word “Must.”  Well, I’m getting ready to use the word “Must,” repeatedly.

Most of all, we must remember. 

We must remember that God is always in the process of making all things new.  

We must remember that God is not some grumpy judging being far away, watching our every move, but the God who created all and is so far beyond our comprehension is also God–right here with us. 

We must remember that God, who will judge us in the end, is unfailingly compassionate and merciful. 

We must remember that God cares deeply about the very people and parts of creation that we tend to misuse, overlook, or forget, and God expects us to change that behavior.     

We must remember that God will feed us when we get hungry in the wilderness, and will give us strength and endurance when we find that we can’t go one step further on our own.    

We must remember who God is, because remembering who God is helps us remember who God wants us to be, with God’s help. 

We must remember that we are the seeds that God has planted on this earth.  We are God’s precious crop. 

And when the harvest comes, as that beautiful thanksgiving hymn puts it, we can rejoice and give thanks, because God our judge will free us from any sin and sorrow that still lingers around us, and will gather us in and bring us home, God’s own glorious harvest. 

Amen. 

Season of Creation 2, Year B

“Wedding at Cana” – Giotto (1303-1305). Jesus Christ, on the left, and Mary, further to the right; a burly man tastes the wine that is poured into jars, appreciating the quality; a third figure, a mature man with a beard sitting at the edge of the table, has the halo and witness the miracle of the transmutation of water into wine from the Lord.


One of the best things about miracles is that God gives us the privilege of participating in making miracles happen! 

And our participation in God’s miracle working is all part of God’s plan for the ultimate renewal and redemption of all creation. 

When God created the earth, God gave us everything we need to live, even things we didn’t know we’d need. 

Throughout nature, God has planted miracles, some of which we will never discover because we have already destroyed that part of creation, considering it useless, or we’ve lost it through our carelessness or greed. 

But even the seemingly death dealing elements of God’s creation contain life giving elements.

 God gives us the privilege of discovering that life and putting it to work in seemingly miraculous ways. 

Take penicillin, for instance.  You can read the whole story of the miracle of penicillin in various places—the history of this miraculous substance has been well documented.   On the internet, a good source is an article from the PBS News Hour.  https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/the-real-story-behind-the-worlds-first-antibiotic

Something as seemingly destructive and downright creepy as mold turned out to have miraculous healing properties.   Through the work of many, many people acting on one person’s discovery that mold had healing powers, penicillin has become a worldwide cure for infections that would otherwise be fatal. 

One of my favorite examples of God giving us more than we ever thought we’d need straight out of creation comes to us from the story of the lowly and seemingly useless cocklebur, an annoying weed whose seeds stick tenaciously to our clothes and in animal fur.  What use does a weed like that have? 

Good thing that cockleburs have stuck around as part of God’s creation, because back in the 1940’s, a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral got curious about why cockleburs stuck to his clothes.  When he examined one under the microscope, he could see the hooks of the cocklebur engaging the loops in the fabric of his pants.  As a result of this knowledge, de Mestral “invented” Velcro, that useful product that has made life easier for people around the world. 

If you think mold and cockleburs are bad, what about running out of wine at a party?  That’s a terrible situation, especially if you’re the host of the party. 

In today’s familiar reading from John’s gospel, Jesus, his mother, and his disciples are all at a wedding, and the wine runs out. 

Without the wine, the celebration will fizzle, and the grumbling guests will make their way home, forgetting the joy, and remembering only the fact that at this wedding, there wasn’t enough wine to go around. 

So Jesus changes water into wine and saves the day. 

But this miracle is not a one man show! 

Jesus does not act alone. 

His mother Mary knows that Jesus can bring the life back into the party that is about to die for lack of wine. 

So she says to Jesus,  “Son, they have no wine.”

Do you ever get tempted to look the other way because that’s just the easier thing to do?  Mary could have simply gone home early from the wedding, knowing that when the wine ran out, the celebration would end.  But it wouldn’t matter to her.  She wouldn’t be there. 

But instead, she spoke to her Son, the one she knew could make a difference, the one who could guarantee that that bridegroom would not run out of wine for the guests. 

Rachel Carson is a good example of a modern-day Mary.  Back in the 1960’s, Carson wrote a book, Silent Spring, in which she documented how destructive the indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides was on the environment.  Until her book came out, the American public had been largely unaware of the wide scale destruction taking place around them, in which many people unwittingly participated. 

But thanks to Carson’s speaking out, and many people working based on the knowledge that she made available through her research, eventually a reversal in the national pesticide policy took place, DDT was banned, and our US Environmental Protection Agency was created. 

Thanks to Rachel Carson, we still have bald eagles and bluebirds, and a host of other good things, based on one woman’s work and then her willingness to speak out.      

Be like Mary.  Notice and speak out—first, to God in prayer, and then,

Speak to those who can make a difference in stopping the destructive things going on around us.  Give yourselves and others a chance to participate in the life giving miracles that God is always trying to work in this world.  God wants us to pitch in and to help! 

The servants act on Jesus’ command for them to fill the stone jars with water, which was no easy task, because that meant that 120-180 gallons of water have to be drawn.  Participating in God’s miracle making can be hard and seemingly thankless work. 

And also, be like the wine steward in today’s gospel story. 

When the wine steward tastes the water that has become wine, he is blown away!  He says to the bridegroom, “You have kept the good wine until now.” 

Like the steward, look around, be blown away and swept off your feet as you taste and see the goodness of the Lord.  That goodness is all around us. 

Thank God for giving us Jesus, and new life. 

The best wine, that love God shows us through Jesus, is here and now. 

That new life is in the communion cup, Jesus’ blood, shed for us so that we can have new life.   

New life is in the blood that runs through our veins when we have taken Jesus into ourselves. 

New life is in the love we share with one another.

New life is in the miraculous work God gives us to do. 

Be joyful and grateful.  Drink all you want of the good wine of God’s mercy and steadfast love for us and for all of creation, because that wine will never run out. 

Miracles aren’t just stories that are tucked into the pages of scripture—they are happening all around us, all the time. 

And the more we are aware of this fact, the more God can pull us in as willing and joyful participants in God’s ongoing miracle working on this earth.

Sometimes we only learn of how we were part of a miracle years later when more of the ongoing miracle has unfolded.

And sometimes the whole miraculous story unfolds only when we’ve been long gone, and  time has passed and  people look back and can see what part we played, and celebrate that fact as they benefit from the miraculous work that has made a difference in their lives.     

Jesus did miracles, and Jesus himself WAS a miracle.

But no one who went through the awful time leading up to the crucifixion and death of Jesus was saying, “Isn’t all this miraculous?”    

Instead, they were probably asking what we do in the trying and awful times in our lives.  “God, where are you in all of this?  Why is this happening to me, or to this person I love?” 

In their time with Jesus, the disciples had come to the conclusion that Jesus was the son of God, but they could not immediately see that Jesus’ death on the cross was part of the miracle of God’s grace, a miracle happening right in front of their eyes. 

For them to recognize this miracle, they had to see Jesus again and breathe in the breath he breathed on them when he came to them, when they were locked away in a room because they were so full of fear.  They had to breathe in his peace, and his spirit, and lay down their fears and receive their new lives, empowered by the Spirit.      

And when they did that, they could go out and join in God’s miraculous work out in the world.  The Acts of the Apostles, the book in the Bible that contains a history of the early church, documents the miraculous acts of the apostles once they had received the Holy Spirit, let go of their fear, and then were free to  spread the news about Jesus, the greatest miracle of all miracles! 

How would it be to wake up every morning with this prayer in your heart and on your lips? 

“God, I would love to be part of a miracle that you will be working today!  Put me to work!”

If you are brave enough to pray that prayer, get ready to be surprised and very busy! 

Amen.   

Resources:   

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/the-real-story-behind-the-worlds-first-antibiotic

https://hookandloop.com/invention-velcro-brand/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Spring

Season of Creation 1, Year B

“Sower with the Setting Sun” – Van Gogh (1888)

For the next several weeks, our attention turns to God as maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen,

And to God’s beautiful world around us, and our relationship with the earth. 

God declared all things good at their creation, and humankind began life in paradise.

God gave us dominion over creation. 

But we have misunderstood the intent of this gift on God’s part, having systematically used the earth and its plants and creatures as things rather knowing them as a part of paradise, in which all of life works together for mutual sustenance and thriving. 

In the new creation, so beautifully depicted in Revelation, the last book in the Bible, a river runs through the center of the city and the tree with its leaves for the healing of the nations grows alongside this cleansing, living water. 

Today’s scriptures illustrate the premise that God is always working toward a new creation right here, on this earth. 

Back in the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah speaks to a people in exile, reminding them that God is in control of history.  Isaiah offers hope and consolation to the people, and to the earth itself. 

God’s goal—a new creation. 

Isaiah says of God that God’s ways are not our ways.

God’s word, which brought creation into being at the beginning, will go forth again, and will accomplish what God has in mind, this new creation in which all dwell together in harmony. 

This new creation is marked by peace and by joy. 

God’s word goes out and does its work-

And we get to go out in joy and be led back in peace, and not just us, but the mountains and the hills shall burst into song, the trees will clap their hands; the thorns and briers that grew out of the earth when it was cursed because of our actions are replaced by cypress and myrtle. 

In Psalm 104 the Psalmist presents this same vision of the earth, its creatures, and humankind living together in harmony, all as God has ordered.

Our baptisms in living water help us claim our place in God’s harmonious creation. 

When that baptismal water pours over our heads, we are given the opportunity to open our eyes to God’s creating powers throughout our lives.   We have the desire to seek that new creation even when all around us has grown old and hope seems to have vanished.    

When we choose to live in God’s new creation, we grow, and contribute to the good of the world around us.  

When I was in Guatemala, I lived in an apartment surrounded by a beautiful garden, and I soon found out why the garden was so lovely.    A gardener showed up and worked hard every day, giving careful attention to all the plants, and tending the soil. 

That garden didn’t just happen—just as here at St Peter’s, Cookie spends hours gardening, so that when the rest of us show up, we’re surrounded by beauty. 

In our lives, God is that hard working gardener, hoping to bring out the beauty and goodness just waiting to grow in our lives.

Today’s collect is based on the metaphor of God as gardener.

Listen to the collect again—

We ask God to graft in our hearts the love of God’s name,

To give us growth in true religion, which is to love God and then to love one another as God has loved us,

To nourish us with all goodness,

When we let God work in our lives, we get to be like fruit trees, and produce fruit, the fruit of good works.   

In today’s reading from James, the writer reminds us that we are the first fruits of God, that the word that God implants in us has saving power.  We  are to be doers of the word, and not hearers only. 

Those who do God’s work and bear God’s fruit are blessed in their doing.

And in the gospel, Jesus, who loved to tell stories, today tells the crowd a story about a farmer sowing seeds. 

In this story, God is the farmer, sowing the Word, hoping the seeds being sown will take root and grow. 

But the destiny of each  seed depends on the soil in which it lands.   

The seeds that fall into good soil grow and bring forth grain, lots and lots of grain! 

We, the listeners, are the soil.  And so depending on the sort of soil we have chosen to become, that seed, God’s Word, may well die before it ever germinates in us, or it may struggle along, and then die from neglect.  Or some stronger plant may choke out the new growth. 

Or the Word may land in the good soil that we have tended, and then grow up and bear much fruit that will benefit the world. 

One of the ecological problems of our time is the fact that people all over the world are hungry, in spite of God’s abundant and plentiful creation which produces more than enough to go around. 

Part of the problem is food waste. Food waste is such a big problem that it is one of the areas that was addressed this past week at the World Food Summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

These statistics on food waste from the World Food Summit website are sobering.  

“Almost one third of all food produced worldwide gets lost or is wasted each year in food production and consumption systems1. Every year, food that is ultimately lost or wasted consumes about one-quarter of all water used by agriculture, requires cropland area the size of China to be grown, and generates about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

The past Friday, people at the World Food Summit spent all day thinking through and talking about how to reduce food waste around the world. 

We help with this problem right here at St Peter’s through our food distribution by working with the Healthy Harvest Food Bank to get produce that might otherwise be wasted to those who need it—a win for everyone. 

Here’s some exciting news as well—people all over Caroline County are getting together to work on trying to eliminate hunger in this county and the surrounding areas.    

We are going to have a Food Summit right here in Caroline County this month, sponsored by CERVE (Caroline Emergency Relief through Volunteer Efforts). 

At the Summit, which several of us will attend, the discussions will center around food quality–getting healthier food to people, finding ways to work together in the county, identifying areas in the county that don’t have access to a food pantry, and growing the food pantries that already exist.

I’m excited about all of this—the seed God planted here, at St Peter’s, to feed the hungry, fell on fertile ground.  

We’ve been able to sustain and grow our food ministry for almost four years now.  By working together with others, we may even be able to expand our food ministry and figure out ways to make it even more effective. 

So good work is going on here at St Peter’s, and  in Caroline County, as the world turns its attention to the issue of food and making quality food assessible to all. 

At home, we can also do a few commonsense things to cut down on food waste—buy only what you need at the grocery store, store the food properly, use the older food first, check out those dates and pay attention to whether or not the date is one of those “best by” dates or an actual expiration date before you toss it out, cook creatively, eat your left overs, plan your menus, and put your freezer to work.   Give some attention to what happens to food in your house this week. 

But in addition to doing the good work we are doing here at church and in our homes,  I challenge each one of us this week to set aside some time for our own personal summits, not food summits, but Soil Summits.

At your Soil Summit, spend some time with the story Jesus told today.

Consider what sort of soil you have become.  Can the seed of God’s Word grow in your soil and yield fruit? 

If you find that your soil is too rocky, or too dry, or too thin, don’t despair.  That’s the point of a summit, to come up with ideas and to take action—action to make your soil so rich that the Word of God can accomplish in you what God has got planned for your life. 

We don’t have to tend our soil alone.  We have one another. 

And—

God is waiting for permission to be our full time gardener, to help us tend our gardens, so that we can be doers of the word and not hearers only, and so that our gardens can become welcoming places of abundance and plenty, joy and peace. 

Our gardens are waiting to become new creations, so get busy—and

Invite God the gardener in! 

Amen.   

Resource:  http://bfmp.dk/world-food-summit/archive/world-food-summit-2018/themes/prevention-of-food-waste/

Pentecost 16, Holy Eucharist II, Year B

“Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist.”

Truth is a matter of life or death. 

Truth is essential if we want to relate to ourselves, to God, and to one another in life giving ways, rather than death dealing ways.

Sisella Bok, in in her book Lying:  Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, states that “truthfulness has always been seen as essential to human society…a society, then, whose members were unable to distinguish truthful messages from deceptive ones, would collapse.  But even before such a general collapse, individual choice and survival would be imperiled.” 

She goes on to say that “Trust is a social good to be protected just as much as the air we breathe or the water we drink.  When it is damaged, the community as a whole suffers; and when trust is destroyed, societies falter and collapse.”  

An example of the collapse brought on by a lack of truth, leading to a lack of trust, is the continuing decline of the Catholic Church as more and more truth comes to light over the scandal of priests abusing children and the careful coverup by the superiors of the priests.  Many lifelong, faithful Catholics are having trouble trusting the Church now because of the damage that has been done.   So many they had respected betrayed their trust, and thousands suffered.

We would probably all agree that the current disregard for truth floating around today is causing our whole society to falter in multiple ways—we can see feel the earth shaking under our feet as the truth is blurred in government as our government leaders blatantly lie over and over.  The truth is blurred or ignored in social media, advertising, and the list goes on. 

I will say though, that government struggling with truth is nothing new. Pilate asks Jesus, a man about to be condemned to death, this question. 

“What is truth?” 

Pilate, having heard a multitude of accusations against Jesus by the Jewish authorities, and yet himself finding no case against Jesus, still ended up handing Jesus over to be crucified. 

We have difficulty being honest with God, with one another and even with ourselves because our understanding of what is truth has become such a muddled mess. 

But here’s hope!

Jesus said of himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” in that long conversation he had with his disciples before he was arrested and sent to his death. 

The word “truth” is at the center of this statement.  Jesus, the truth in our lives, will never fail to point us in a life giving direction in the way that we should follow if we listen to his voice.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is blunt about this need for Jesus in our lives if we are to be his disciples.  Not only are we to strap him on as the way, the truth and the life, be we also are to abide in him, to take him in to ourselves.

Jesus, never one to gloss over the difficulty of discipleship, told his disciples that “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them…whoever eats me will live because of me.” 

In other words, Jesus is our true nourishment.

We all have heard that cliché—“You are what you eat.” 

Jesus was serious that in just such an earthy, intimate way as eating food, we must take him in to ourselves, digest him, and be nourished and shaped by him if we expect to follow his way and live the lives that he intends for us. 

And that idea is hard to swallow.  It’s so intimately biological! 

But we do take Jesus in here at church every Sunday during the Eucharist as we share the broken bread, his body given for us, his blood spilled for us.

And then we leave here determined to live the life that Jesus would have us live until we can get back here again for more heavenly food. 

But the bread broken for us and the wine spilled for us is not the only way to take Jesus in. 

We are also nourished by Jesus when we walk in love with one another, when we treat others with dignity and respect, and when we share in Jesus’ name. 

We are also nourished when we study scripture, and when we take the time to spend with Jesus in prayer. 

Discipleship requires commitment, devotion, time, energy and discipline.

No wonder many of his disciples said, “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?”

That’s why I like the image of fastening the belt of truth around my waist, because it’s a simple way to start this life of discipleship—a simple, life giving and life saving act.    

“Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist.”

Being intentional—standing still, picking up the belt, putting it on.  Making a proactive choice.    

Roman soldiers put on their belts and then hung their swords from their belts.  The belt provided a means of protection and also gave them freedom of movement, as William Barclay points out in his commentary on Ephesians. 

In Guatemala, I wore a belt under my blouse every time I went out—it was my protection because in it I carried the essential things I needed—my ID, my passport, the cards that gave me access to the money that I needed for food and other essentials. I could move quickly and easily over the cobblestone streets. 

I never went out without my ID, because if I had gotten hurt or needed help and for some reason could not identify myself, what I carried in my belt would provide the needed identification.  I had my passport—which I guarded with my life during the trip, because I needed it to get back home at the end of the trip. 

I also carried a map of Antigua with me, so that if I got lost, I could refer to that map and figure out the way I ought to be going to get home. 

And because the belt was strapped around my waist, I was reminded, every time I wore it, about what I had eaten that day—what had I taken into myself?  Healthy life giving food, or something else that wasn’t so good for me?  The belt was an instant reminder of how many times I stopped at that great bakery that I walked past going to and from town. 

So this belt I used in Guatemala is in many ways like the belt of truth that we Christians choose to put on—

Because the belt of truth gives us our identification in Jesus, our means of life, our direction, a reminder of what we have eaten—hopefully healthy, life giving food for our bodies and spirits, and the way home to new life in God at the end of the journey.      

Last Sunday, August 19th, The Washington Post published on the front page an article with this headline “The Uncelebrity President.”  The article was about President Jimmy Carter, the one term president who served as our president from 1977 to 1981. 

Jimmy Carter is a man who wears the belt of truth strapped around his waist.  His Christian identification is obvious.  And Jimmy Carter has tried his best to let Jesus live in and through him and to follow the way of his Lord throughout his life. 

Many photos accompanied the article, but check this one stood out! 

It’s a photo of the belt Jimmy Carter wears—not hidden under his shirt but fully visible. 

And on it are Jimmy Carter’s initials—JC.

How beautiful—also the initials of the way, the truth and the life, Jesus Christ, openly worn by a man whose identification and direction have been determined by Jesus himself.

Today, take the bread of life and eat it!

And then choose, every day, to strap on the belt of truth around your waist– your way, your truth, and your very life, your protection and your strength.     

That’s God’s promise to each one of us. 

Amen. 

 

Resources:

Bok, Sissela.  Lying:  Moral Choice in Public and Private Life. New York:   Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.. 1999.

Barclay, William.  The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians.  Revised Edition.  Philadelphia:  The Westminster Press, 1976. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2018/08/17/feature/the-un-celebrity-president-jimmy-carter-shuns-riches-lives-modestly-in-his-georgia-hometown/?utm_term=.e7f6314eb421

Pentecost 7, Holy Eucharist II, Year B

"Appearance on the Mountain in Galilee"- Duccio di Buoninsegna (1308-11)

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“Where did this man get all this?  …Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?…..and they took offense at him….And Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Jesus had come home to Nazareth.

On this day he was teaching in the synagogue, only to be met with derision by the very people who had known him from childhood. 

After this day, according to Mark’s account, Jesus never set foot in a synagogue again.

Ouch!

Here we are, gathered in our equivalent of the synagogue, and we gather here each week to learn from Jesus. 

We know who Jesus is—the Son of God as well as the son of Mary.

We know the teachings of Jesus—we study scripture and revere God’s holy word.

We know that God’s power working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. 

So — if Jesus showed up in our midst—we would be in good shape!  Jesus would be amazed and pleased by our belief.

He would want to come back and teach here again.  He would do great deeds of power in our midst.  Maybe he would want to make St Peter’s his headquarters! 

But I wonder—if Jesus really did drop in for a visit, would he want to come back?  And would he really be able to do deeds of power in our midst? 

We are familiar with Jesus.  We are comfortable with Jesus.  We know Jesus. 

But we, as the gathered, because we know Jesus so well, can become indifferent to his wisdom.

Sort of like hearing that story that your grandmother told for the millionth time—and you know it by heart.  And you just kind of tune her out when she tells it again. 

That’s the first pitfall of knowing Jesus so well—we’re may longer be really listening to what Jesus is trying to tell us. 

And here’s the second pitfall. 

We, the privileged, run the risk of having been so subtly corrupted by the belief in our own power and so reliant on ourselves, that we no longer see the need for the intervention of God’s power in our lives. 

With all sincerity, we might be tempted to say to Jesus,

“Lord, we’ve got this!  Thanks for dropping by, but we’ve got this thing covered.  We’ve got wisdom and we have got power.   Some other place needs you more than we do, so you can go on and not worry with us.” 

And Jesus would be amazed.

And would keep on going, leaving us to follow the devices and desires of our own hearts, as the prayer book puts it so poetically. 

Hopefully, since we’re the Church, we want Jesus to stick around.

And we’ve got some help from what comes next in the gospel. 

Thankfully, when Jesus instructs his disciples on what to look for when he sends them out two by two, he tells them how to decide whether or not they should stay in a place.  So if we pay attention to those instructions, we’ll know what Jesus is looking for when he shows up to be with us! 

Jesus said, “Look guys, when you get to the place you’re going, pick a place and stay put.  Be consistent, so that people who come looking for you will know where to find you.”

Now as a place that Jesus might decide to park his staff for a while, we would want to be consistently the kind of place that when people come by, they know how we steadily show God’s presence out in the community, especially to the least of these. 

Jesus has got, as does God, a special place in his heart for those scripture refers to as the lease of these. 

Do we consciously treat those who come for food, or any other kind of help, with the same respect and dignity with which we treat each other? 

Remember, Jesus said that when you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.  So the way we treat the least of these who may come to our building for whatever reason is the way we would want to treat Jesus if he showed up. 

Main point—do people come here knowing that they will consistently find Jesus in our midst, here with us? 

Second, we want to be a place of welcome.    

Welcome is essential!  Jesus says to find the place that has open doors, open hearts, open minds, and the desire for something new, and the courage to welcome the stranger.   When a stranger shows up for worship, is that person welcomed into our midst as if he or she were Jesus dropping in for a visit? 

Third, are we people who are ready to listen? 

A sure sign that Jesus would know that we are listening is if he finds that we are willing to change, to grow, and to expand beyond the boundaries that the world and others have set for us, and that we end up setting for ourselves.   

Would we tear down those boundaries for him? 

I hope that if Jesus came here, his welcome would never run out.  I hope we’d never put our hands over our ears and wish we didn’t have to hear “Love your neighbor as yourselves” one more time when we heard Jesus teaching us. 

Because unfortunately, the price for staying stuck in what’s comfortable might be that Jesus would decide to shake the dust off his feet as he headed out the door, and we’d be left to survive on our own power, which will always come to an end, and never, ever, be enough.  

As you know, I will be gone for the next several weeks.

For the next two Sundays, The Rev. Luis Garcia, from the Dominican Republic, will be here. And on the first Sunday of August, the Rev Tom Hayes will be here.   Welcome them as you would welcome Jesus himself.  Listen to every preacher as you would listen to Jesus if he were here teaching in this synagogue.

In August, I’ll be spending two weeks in Guatemala working on Spanish with the teacher that Bishop Goff recommended.  For ten years, I’ve been saying I’m going to learn Spanish.  But I’ve never done it.  And last year, I started feeling that pressure that only God can provide, pushing me to act on what has only been a “someday” sort of idea until now.

So how am I going to use what I learn?

I don’t know yet.

I just know that I’m being sent out to travel light and to learn. 

When I get back, we’ll discern how we as the church can broaden our ministry and welcome by speaking and worshiping and serving in more than just “our” comfortable language. 

And now, the Lord is speaking to us, just as God spoke to Ezekiel way back in the Old Testament.

Are you listening? 

The Lord said to Ezekiel,

“O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you.”

O St Peter’s, may we stand on our feet, ready to listen to what God has to say, ready to welcome the stranger, and ready to go where God will send us. 

And may we always, at home or on the move, be people who speak one universal language, God’s language—the language of love. 

Amen. 

Pentecost 6, Holy Eucharist II, Year B

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We are ordinary people, living ordinary lives, and yet, as insignificant as we are in the big picture of the universe, God is faithful to us! 

God is faithful to us!

So we ordinary people have an extraordinary calling! 

Go and tell about God’s faithfulness to us! 

Because this news is so wonderful and hopeful that we just can’t keep it to ourselves! 

The Old Testament reading from Lamentations we’ve just heard says that

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.  They are new every morning: 

Great is your faithfulness, Lord. 

The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.” 

The writer of these words, 586 years before Jesus lived, had survived the destruction of Jerusalem.  The Babylonians had burned the city, destroyed the temple, left everything in ruins, and had hauled off the most important citizens into captivity.  The writer must have been an ordinary person, because he was one of those left behind, like just another piece of rubble.   

This left behind, ordinary person wrote about this tragedy in the laments that we know today as the Old Testament book of Lamentations.  Not until Chapter 3 does any note of hope ring out. 

Perhaps the writer has gotten up before sunrise, and made his way through the rubble filled streets to the remains of the temple. 

Standing there in the midst of great stones heaped in piles, the strong cypress wood timbers fallen, fragile and charred, the writer faces East, looking out on the Mount of Olives. 

He watches as the dark blue of the last bit of night turns into a shining on the horizon, and then the sun comes blazing up, and the new day has begun. 

And light falls on the shadowy ruins, and hope springs up and starts to grow again in this man’s heart—because he can feel God’s faithfulness and God’s steadfast love to him! 

And he just has to write down how the faithfulness of God has encouraged him and given him hope, even in the midst of all that destruction.   

We still read these words today, even at funerals, finding in God’s steadfast love the hope that brings with it new life, and new awareness of God’s mercies. 

The person who wrote Lamentations in turn inspired Thomas Chisholm, who described himself as an old shoe, just a regular person who never suffered anything as traumatic as the destruction of Jerusalem, to write the words of today’s opening hymn, “Great is thy faithfulness.” 

Chisholm was born in a log cabin in Kentucky.  He became a Christian at age twenty-seven and became a preacher at age thirty-six.  Only one year into his ministry, Chisolm had to retire because of his poor health.  He spent the rest of his life in New Jersey working as a life insurance agent. 

He said of his life, “My income has not been large at any time in my life due to impaired health in earlier years which has followed me on until now.  Although I must not fail here to record the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant keeping God and that he has given me many wonderful displays of his providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.” 

This ordinary and rather sickly man, sitting behind a desk day in and day out, wrote over 1200 poems, most of them forgettable.  But he sent off his poem, “Great is thy faithfulness,” based on the words from the poet who wrote Lamentations,  to Hope Publishing Company.  William Runyan, inspired by the words, set them to music.  George Beverly Shea, inspired by the hymn,  made the hymn famous around the world by singing it during the Billy Graham crusades. 

And in turn, we find ourselves inspired and comforted by this beloved hymn because it reminds us that we too can trust in God, who is unfailingly faithful to us. 

As Bob Kauflin points out in his article about this hymn, verse one talks about God’s faithfulness revealed in the words of scripture.

In today’s gospel reading, God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, personified in Jesus, heal a desperate woman and save a little girl from an early death.   

The second verse of the hymn describes God’s faithfulness to us as we see that faithfulness play out in creation—the steady cycle of the seasons, the orbits of the planets, the sun’s life giving light, orderly, dependable, “guided by God’s faithful hand.”

As the first reading puts it, “God created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and the dominion of Hades is not in them.”

The third verse reminds us of God’s faithfulness to each one of us—pardon, peace, God’s presence with us to cheer us and to guide us, strength to get through the day, hope for tomorrow, and blessings too numerous to even count!

God’s faithfulness to us, visible in scripture, visible in creation, and most clearly visible in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,  is something wonderful to proclaim! 

https://worshipmatters.com/2009/08/03/a-hymn-for-ordinary-christians-great-is-thy-faithfulness/

The writer of Lamentations, an ordinary man, wrote about God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, even in the ruins,

And nearly three thousand years later, inspired William Chisholm, just an ordinary man, to proclaim God’s faithfulness in a way that millions could hear.

Someone in the crowd around Jesus went and proclaimed God’s faithfulness, visible in all that Jesus was doing. 

Remember –the desperate woman who was determined to touch Jesus, sure that she would be healed, decided to take this rather daring action because she had heard about Jesus. 

What some ordinary person had told her about Jesus convinced her that God’s faithfulness to her through Jesus would indeed heal her, and she was not disappointed.

Now it’s our turn. 

We know God’s faithfulness to us, through scripture, through what we see around us in creation, in what we’ve experienced in our own lives—pardon, peace, God’s strength, hope, and blessings!  We know God’s faithfulness to us through Jesus’ love and care and healing for each one of us! 

This is news so good that we ordinary people just have to go out and share this extraordinary news!    

Because this news can make a difference for those who hear us tell about Jesus and God’s faithfulness to us.   

Someone who hears us talking or even singing about God’s faithfulness may go read scripture, or become aware of God’s presence and guiding hand in creation, or even just start counting their blessings.  They may go to Jesus for healing.  They may go to Jesus and find new life.  They may come to trust in God’s faithfulness. 

So be faithful to the one who is eternally faithful to us.

So what, if in the words of that old spiritual, you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul, you call still tell the love of Jesus! 

Go and tell about God’s faithfulness to you.   

Someone is waiting to hear!   

Amen. 

 

Resource:  https://worshipmatters.com/2009/08/03/a-hymn-for-ordinary-christians-great-is-thy-faithfulness/

Pentecost 5, Holy Eucharist II, Year B

"Peace Be Still” – He Qui (2001)

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God, who laid the foundation of the earth, who gave birth to the sea and set its bounds, God, the creator of heaven and earth, –God is powerful and mighty.   Every Sunday when we celebrate the Eucharist, we proclaim God’s power,

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might!  Heaven and earth are full of thy glory!  Hosanna in the highest!

God’s power is unfathomable, mysterious, and endless.

But the most electrifying thing about God’s power is that God does not hoard power.    

God shares all that  power!  With us! 

The Bible is the story of how God shares power with people who just don’t seem to have too much going for them. 

That is, until God gets hold of them!  Moses, a man on the run for having committed murder and who ends up leading the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery through the wilderness to the Promised Land;  Jacob, a scoundrel who lied to his father to get the blessing intended for Esau his brother, who wrestles with God, and ends up becoming the father of the twelve tribes of Israel;  David, a shepherd boy called out of the field to become the King of Israel—God gives all these people a share of his power.

And God’s power is not just any power.  It’s creative, life giving power, and those who use it as God intends are part of God’s ongoing action of taking all things old and making them new!

Accepting God’s power is scary!

That’s why, when God sends a messenger to tell a person that he or she will be given God’s power, that person is so awestruck that the messenger has to say, before anything else—

Fear Not! 

Fear Not Mary! You are going to give birth to God’s Son if you agree to do so. 

Fear Not, Shepherds!  You are going to be so full of joy that you will be the first people to tell the good news of Jesus to the world.

Fear Not, Disciples in a tossing boat who have just felt fear like they’ve never known before.   Jesus speaks and  the wind halts and the sea falls out of a death dealing rage into calm and silent rest.  You disciples have witnessed my power, which is my Father’s power, the very power that I intend to share with you, even though you still have no faith.

A few chapters farther along in Mark’s gospel, Jesus will give these fearful and awestruck disciples a share of God’s power—and  authority over unclean spirits, so they, too, will be able to open the door to God’s kingdom by restoring people to their right minds.

And what about the Apostle Paul! 

Paul has faced plenty of storms as he has spread the Good News and brought new churches to birth—in today’s reading he gives a list of these storms:  afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger. 

But because of Paul’s faith, he has been able to take powerful and bold action through it all.  God has given Paul some awe inspiring gifts to use in his ministry—“purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and, listen to this, THE POWER OF GOD.” 

And it’s the POWER OF GOD that allows Paul to say of his stormy ministry, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

But wait, you may be saying to yourself—this all happened long, long ago to the REAL disciples.  Why would Jesus ever share any power at all with me? After all, the world is still a mess, the kingdom of God is no closer, and so I have to wonder, is this just some sort of mythical story to say that Jesus is the Son of God, end of story, and anyway,  I already knew that. 

But we are the only disciples Jesus has got right now.  And so you better believe that God is going to share God’s power with us, because God has not given up on God’s kingdom coming on earth!

And God has not given up on you!  Or me! 

We say that we believe that God will help us carry out the things we are called to do as Christians—as Bishop Shannon reminded us at the Church Vitality Day yesterday, our baptismal vows spell out our callings,

To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers;

To persevere in resisting evil, and when we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord;

To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ;

To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself;

To strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.” 

We promise to do all of these things with God’s help.  We can’t do them unless we do have God’s help and the power God will give us to carry out these vows.   

Every day, if we are paying attention and listening, Jesus will tell  us miraculous life giving things about the kingdom of heaven, about God’s love, and mercy and compassion for all of creation, and for all people.

And, if we are listening, we will hear Jesus call us to go with him to the other side—as Pastor Steve puts it in his poem entitled The Other Side—Jesus will call us to go with him to “The other side of the tracks. The other side of the border. The other side of life. Beyond the familiar, the safe, the manageable. The other side of the argument. Another viewpoint. The other side of the conflict. The other side of yourself. The other side of the veil. The unseen.”

Don’t be afraid.  Take the power God is trying to give you. 

And then go boldly to the other side, wherever that is,  to bring new life and the beginnings of the kingdom of God. 

Don’t be afraid.  Jesus will go with you.  After all, going to the other side was his idea all along.   

So, with the Psalmist, let us  “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.  When we cry to the Lord in our trouble, he will deliver us from our distress, by stilling the storm to a whisper and quieting the ways of the sea. 

And then we will be glad because of the calm, and the Lord will bring us to the harbor that we are bound for,

 “ the other side of this journey through life

where  at last we will “see and know that things that were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and all things are brought at last to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Amen. 

Resources

“The Other Side” by Pastor Steve

The Book of Common Prayer, Good Friday Prayer

Pentecost 4, Holy Eucharist II, Year B

"Mustard Seed ” – Katy Jones

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Who are you living for? 

Your very life depends on your answer!

Our lives can end in a flash! And let’s face it, even if we live a long time– in God’s time, our physical lives are fleeting.

And so this question of who you’re living for matters, because the answer to that question can save your fleeting life, and make you new, brand new, no matter how old, or hurt or tired or discouraged you are, or no matter how young you are.    

Starting right now!  And continuing on throughout eternity!

Consider the life of Jesus. 

Jesus lived every day of his life for God.

His total belief in God and God’s universal goodness and compassion shaped everything Jesus did and said in his life. 

Jesus lost his physical life because his belief in God and God’s kingdom conflicted with the kingdoms of the day, both religious and political. 

Jesus was put to death for having the audacity to live for God, and God alone– and not in collusion with the temple authorities or the Roman empire.

But by losing his life, Jesus saved his life, and ours too. 

God resurrected Jesus, and through Jesus, we all have the opportunity for a true life, something so wonderful and full of truth that it never ends.

Now if the Apostle Paul were alive today, he’d have a Twitter account.

The way St Paul would talk about Jesus on Twitter is the same way he wrote it out way back in his time when people spread news through letters written on scrolls.

Paul wrote, and today would tweet, that through Jesus, we have eternal life.

Paul would tweet, “Jesus died for everyone!”

Why?

“So that we might live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and was raised FOR US!” 

Jesus, on the other hand,  wouldn’t have had a twitter account.  He didn’t even bother to write things down.

But actually Jesus’ mission would have fitted into a tweet.  He spoke his mission out loud, right up front at the beginning of Mark’s gospel– Mark 1:15—

“The kingdom of GOD has come near; repent and believe in the GOOD news.”  

Jesus’ mission was to make this mysterious, life-giving and wonderful thing he called the kingdom of GOD, the GOOD NEWS, come ALIVE in the world!

So Jesus didn’t even try to tell people the GOOD NEWS and to define the Kingdom of God in sound bites, or in little wordy tapas that would never fill them up. 

Instead, Jesus told stories and spoke in metaphors, just as the great prophets had done before him.

He feeds those of us who choose to listen to him with banquets of words. 

He wants us to understand and live into his message—

Because we, and the world around us, will either live or die, based on whether or not we get what he is saying. 

The verse in Mark that comes right before today’s gospel reading doesn’t make it into the lectionary, but I started with it, because it is a stark reminder that Jesus demands that we imagine the kingdom of God here and now and start living into what God is telling us, believing that the kingdom of God is not some far off dream, but a reality on this earth. 

Mark 4:25–“For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

Life or death. 

Jesus wants us to understand his words about the Kingdom of God, because if we don’t, we’ll miss out on the Kingdom. 

We’ll miss out on life itself!

The first of the two life giving parables about the kingdom that Jesus tells in today’s gospel is about seeds being scattered and sprouting and growing.  A stalk sprouts, a head of grain forms, and then the grain ripens. 

And then it is harvested.

“Listen,” Jesus says.

“In my kingdom, I’m going to plant my word in you.  And this GOOD NEWS will grow in you, mysteriously, over time.  The GOOD NEWS will mature in you.  And you will be like a full grain of wheat.  And then, you’ll be harvested.”

If we are living in God’s kingdom, we are longing  for God to plant a seed of GOOD NEWS in us! 

And then we must wait on God, as God gives growth to that seed of GOOD NEWS that God has planted in us.

And then, when we’re ripe, because we’re like heads of grain, we get harvested.  The death and resurrection of Jesus is an example of this very harvest.  He had planted the seeds about the Kingdom of God, he died, and then through his resurrection, God gives all of us a way into eternal life!

If we ripen into heads of grain in God’s kingdom, we too will die to ourselves and get ground up into the rich deliciousness of the GOOD NEWS that God makes into a hearty banquet that nourishes life itself!  And just one head of grain won’t make enough flour to feed the world—this is a communal effort—all of us get to be ground up into GOOD NEWS!

The people around us are starving!  WE are starving!  We are trying to live our lives and make meaning from the words we greedily ingest from Tweets, emails, Facebook, CNN, NPR and Fox News. 

NO Wonder we are Starving!   We’re trying to live off junk food, and what we’re eating is leaving us still hungry and starving to death,    

because only words that can truly nourish us and feed us so that we can grow up into eternal life are the words of the GOOD NEWS!

In Bible times, bread was the staff of life.  People had bread to eat when they had nothing else, and when they had no bread, they literally had nothing!  No wonder Jesus called himself the bread of life. 

So yes, I want to be harvested, and ground up into flour, and added into the mix that makes enough flour to make the bread of the GOOD NEWS that can truly nourish this hungry world.  

When I become part of something bigger, of new life and bread for the world, when I can be part of the bread of the GOOD NEWS, then I’m glad to live no longer to myself, but for Jesus, who died and was resurrected, not just for us, but for the whole world.

The second parable in today’s reading answers the question of WHOSE we are; that is, who we are living for. 

The mustard seed, a tiny seed, grows into the greatest of all shrubs that puts forth large branches so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.

Jesus knew the teachings of the prophets inside and out, so I guarantee you that he knew that Ezekiel had written about this same sort of life giving tree—we heard this passage today.

Ezekiel describes God taking a sprig from a lofty top of a cedar and planting it on a high and lofty mountain so that the sprig can produce boughs and bear fruit and become a noble cedar—and under it, every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.

Jesus knew that Ezekiel was talking about God planting a new king in Israel with the hopes that the king would lead the people in the life giving, merciful, compassionate and welcoming ways of God, a king who would be subject to God and to God’s will and work in the world.  And his listeners would have caught right on.   

I was fascinated to learn in my reading this week that kings in the Ancient Near East had huge gardens where they planted trees and other plants from the kingdoms they had conquered.   This action symbolized that the king’s reign extended over the regions in which these plants were native.  One of these gardens is described as one in which all these imported plants created a habitat in which all birds and creatures, even those who were not native to the area, came to live and found welcome.    

So this Kingdom of God that Jesus talks about, that grows from something as small as a mustard seed, is a kingdom in which the king and the people in it make shelter in it for all people and all creatures.  In God’s kingdom, there are no borders.   No bird is turned away.  All are welcome to nest in its shade. 

Our imaginations are as small as a mustard seed. 

Don’t be satisfied with your tiny imagination, hemmed in by the tweets and the propaganda of this world.    

In this parable Jesus reminds us to hand over to him our imaginations that we have allowed to become tiny, limited by the world around us. 

Jesus says, “Let me take that tiny mustard seed of your imagination and grow in you a vision of the Kingdom of God, where my Father himself is king, a kingdom which is so extensive and whose branches extend so far that all are welcome, and there’s space and safety and shelter for everyone.” 

Jesus wanted his listeners to imagine God’s kingdom by imagining first what God is like.  God is the king who plants an extensive garden where all creatures are welcome.   God is the noble cedar. God is the huge welcoming shrub. 

If you decide that you are living for God and God’s kingdom, you can imagine this garden. 

You can imagine this mighty king. 

You can imagine yourself as a branch of that king’s tree that can and will offer shelter to all the people that God sends to you for sustenance and shelter.  This sort of imagination is life giving both for us and for those around us because now we can imagine what it would be like to welcome all in God’s name. 

I want to have the kind of imagination that makes me long to be in Christ. 

I want the kind of imagination that lets me LIVE as one of God’s Kingdom People, living not for just for myself, but for all of God’s people!    

I want to be a large branch on God’s tree, so that the birds of the air can come and nest. 

I want to imagine myself as God’s new creation!

Because for me, that’s where life is, the new creation that God is growing in me now and in the life to come!

For to those who have more will be given! 

And the more we have, the more we have to give!

Amen. 

Resource: 

Osborne, William R.  Trees and Kings:  A Comprehensive Analysis of Tree Imagery in Israel’s Prophetic Tradition and the Ancient Near East.  Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplements.  Eisenbrauns, University Park, PA , 2018.  

Pentecost 3, Holy Eucharist II, Year B

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When we come to worship, we come together to meet God in worship and to give God thanks and praise.    But how do we do that? 

Today is the day to find out.

First of all, when two or three are gathered together, Jesus said that he would be there with us.  And so here we are.  And because Jesus dwells in each one of us, when we gather and worship, Jesus is right here with us through our being with one another.  In our church, I, the priest, am here on behalf of Jesus, doing the things that I do in worship in his name, in addition to the things that we are all doing together in worship.  So as we recognize and respond to God’s presence in our midst through one another, as broken as we are, we do so with reverence, for God and for one another, because Jesus is here-with us and in us.    

As Jesus says in today’s gospel as he looks around at those seated around  him, he says to them,
“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother—you all are my family.   

We are God’s family, gathered here around Jesus to worship on the Sabbath.  

In worship, we want to do the will of God by keeping the first and greatest commandment–to love God with our hearts, with our souls, and with our minds, by praising and thanking God, taking the time, as God’s family, to turn our hearts and souls and minds to God.

Singing unites us and draw us closer to God.  So right away, we sing an opening hymn.  Today, we’ll sing about walking with God in the garden, which echoes today’s first reading from Genesis.  This hymn speaks to the idea of being with God in reverent worship.  This hymn is about contemplative one on one time with God, which is its own kind of worship, important to prepare us for the worship we do together as the body of Christ on Sundays.   So turn to LEVAS 69.

(Opening “I come to the garden alone, LEVAS 69). 

The first words of the service are called “The Opening Acclamation,” and you can find these words on page 355 in the BCP. 

With these opening words we say that we’re here to worship God, to bless God’s holy name. 

(Opening acclamation)

Then we pray.  In our church, the service begins with two prayers known as “collects.”  These prayers collect us together in prayer.  Prayers known as collects are put together in a certain way.    First, we address God—Almighty God, and then say something about who God is—in this prayer God is the one to whom our hearts are open, all our desires are known and who knows everything about us.  And then we ask for something—in this case, we ask that God would clean us up and dust us off with the help of the Holy Spirit, and here’s why, so that we can love God perfectly and worship well.  And then we pray through Jesus.  And say Amen. 

So let’s all pray the “Collect for Purity” together—the prayer at the bottom of page 355 in the BCP. 

Then we sing a hymn of praise, or a Gloria. 

I like this one in LEVAS, page 245, because the hymn says why we’re here, “to worship God.”

And how to prepare.  “Forget about yourself and concentrate on him;” include our whole bodies “lift up holy hands and magnify his name and then we’re ready to worship.”

Sing LEVAS 245

And then we have another collect that generally addresses the scriptural focus of the day.  So find the collect on your lectionary insert for today and we’ll pray it together. 

“O God, from whom all good proceeds:  Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.”

And then we hear and listen to the scriptures for the day.  In our church we have four readings—generally one from the Old Testament, then a Psalm.  The Psalm reflects on the OT reading.  And then we have a reading from the New Testament, generally from the letters, or sometimes from Revelation, and then a reading from the gospel.  We sing a hymn before the gospel to set off the words of Jesus.  And then we stand for the gospel out of respect for Jesus and his teachings and in thanksgiving for his death and resurrection. 

The readings are another way that Jesus is right here with us in worship—because Jesus is present to us in the words of scripture.   When we listen to the lector, Jesus is speaking through that person, so we listen with reverence to these words, with open hearts and minds.    We listen for the words or the ideas that God is speaking, through God’s word, to each of us personally. 

(Readings)

Sequence hymn, “Santo, santo, santo.”

After the gospel, we have a sermon in which I try to address some of the issues raised by the scripture.

My reflection today would center around Paul’s statement that we Christians do not lose heart.  We have hope, even when times are bad, or when we’ve messed up, because we know that God has raised the Lord Jesus, and will also raise us up to be in God’s presence (just as we are in God’s presence every time we gather to worship!)  We believe that God is present with us through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection,  and that’s such good news that we want to share it!  And as we share that Good News,  here’s the best part—God’s grace, as it extends to more and more people, will increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” 

But for the rest of the sermon time,  I’m going to talk about what comes next in our worship and then give you some time for questions. 

After the sermon, we spell out what we believe in the words of the Nicene Creed, pointing again to God—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

And then we pray.  Praying is one of the important things we do together in worship, praying to God through Jesus, who is right here with us. 

Look on page 359 in the BCP in the middle of the page—and you’ll see the section called the Prayers of the People.  Every Sunday we pray about these specific areas.  I write the prayers of the people each week.  My resources include the BCP, and two other worship resources that are helpful (show Feasting on the Word and Intercessions for the Christian People).

Then we have a prayer of confession—this prayer of confession is part of the cleansing of the thoughts of our hearts—maybe you have heard something in the scripture or sermon that reminds you about something you did or didn’t do this past week that interfered with your relationship with God or with the people around you.  So this prayer gives us the opportunity to say that we’re sorry, and then we ask God to have mercy on us and forgive us, so that we can delight once more in God’s will and walk in God’s ways to the Glory of God’s name. 

Then I offer the absolution.  These words are an official acknowledgement that we have been released from the sins that we’ve just confessed.  We know this—that God is merciful and has already released us from our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but we need reminding, so that’s why I say these words every Sunday.

Then we exchange the peace—this is a tradition from the early church, and it’s a great time to act on what we’ve just confessed.  We have laid down our grievances against one another so that we can offer one another the peace of the Lord. We greet one another in the Lord’s name.  Passing the peace is a way to acknowledge Jesus in our midst. The peace gives the opportunity for the presence of Jesus in me to greet the presence of Jesus in you. 

Then we come to the heart of our service, the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving.   And that word, Eucharist, comes from the Greek word that means “thanksgiving”, more specifically, “to offer graciously.” 

Today’s Old Testament reading begins with these words.  “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.”  Today, as we prepare for Eucharist, we’ll have quiet, so that we can imagine ourselves in a beautiful garden when the cool breeze of the evening comes, listening for God to come and to be with us, not with dread, but in great joy and expectation. 

Think of the eucharistic time of our worship as a beautiful flower that opens into four petals, like a dogwood blossom. 

And Jesus is in our midst in this part of the service through the offering, thanking, blessing, breaking, and sharing together that we do in this part of our worship. 

One petal is offering, one petal is thanking, one petal is blessing, and one petal is breaking.  And at the very center of the flower is sharing.  When Jesus shares himself with us, and we take that bread and wine into ourselves, we are then ready to share ourselves with one another. 

So we bring our offerings to God.  We offer bread and wine.  Bread is made from wheat, or in our case, beans, grown by farmers and then ground into flour and then BJ makes our bread—from many grains, one bread, which Jesus calls his body.  Remember, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”   And our wine comes from many grapes crushed and turned into one wine, wine that Jesus called his blood of the new covenant.  And we bring the offerings of our labors in the form of the money we give each week for God’s work in the world through this church.

Then we enter into the words of The Great Thanksgiving, when we thank God for God’s faithfulness to us through time and for our salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And in the blessing of the bread and the wine, Jesus draws near to us, we draw near to Jesus, and we all draw nearer to one another.

The bread is broken.  When I break the bread, this is a visual reminder that Jesus is broken open so that his spirit can go out into all of us, so that we can share his love for us with one another. In the broken bread, Jesus invites us into communion with one another in him. When we gather around the altar and share the bread, this union with Jesus in the bread and wine is when we draw very close to him, and at the same time, we draw close to one another, in communion with all the members of his body.

After sharing the bread, we offer a prayer of thanksgiving, there’s a blessing, and then I send you out into the world in peace to love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

(Time for questions) 

Pentecost 2, Holy Eucharist II, Year B

June 5, 1968 – Juan Romero cradles Robert Kennedy’s head (Bill Eppridge, Life Magazine)

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Please take the lectionary insert and join me in praying aloud today’s collect.

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and on earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

“Put away from us all hurtful things.” 

This coming Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination in Los Angeles, California.  Right after making a victory speech at the Democratic convention, Kennedy came down the service elevator and was shot only seconds after he had started down the hallway behind the kitchen. 

Many of you will recognize this iconic photograph, which appeared the next day on the front page of The Los Angeles Times. 

In this photo, cradling Robert Kennedy’s head, is Juan Romero.  He recently shared his memories of that night with StoryCorps. 

Juan had come to the United States from Mexico as a child.  By the time he was a teenager, he had gotten a job at the Ambassador Hotel. 

The day before the assassination, Juan got to meet Kennedy while helping out with room service for the senator.  He remembers that when he they got to the room, Kennedy was on the phone.  He put the phone down and said, “Come in boys.”   And Juan says that “the senator was looking at us, not through us, that he took us into account.”  And Juan said he left the room feeling ten feet tall.

So the next night, when Kennedy stepped off the service elevator, Juan was excited to see him again, and he extended his hand out as far as he could, and Kennedy shook his hand.  And just as he let go, Kennedy was shot.

Juan says that “I kneeled down to him and put my hand between the cold concrete and his head, just to make him comfortable.  I could see his lips moving, so I put my ear next to his lips and I heard him say, ‘Is everybody okay?’ I said, ‘Yes, everybody’s ok.’

Juan says that he could feel a steady stream of blood coming through his fingers, and he took his rosary out of his shirt pocket, thinking that Kennedy needed it a lot more than he did right then.  He wrapped it around Kennedy’s right hand, and then they wheeled Kennedy away.

Soon, streams of letters poured into the hotel, addressed to “The Busboy.” And there were some angry letters that said things like, ‘If he hadn’t stopped to shake your hand, the Senator would have been alive, so you should be ashamed of yourself for being so selfish.’

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees are like some of the people who wrote to Juan and said things that made Juan feel for almost fifty years that somehow, Kennedy’s death had been his fault. 

The Pharisees criticize Jesus and his disciples for plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath, which would have been considered work.

And then in the synagogue that same day, the Pharisees watched to see whether or not Jesus would do anything for the man who was there with a withered hand. 

So Jesus asked them a diagnostic question to see if their hearts were diseased.  He asked them,

 “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save a life or to kill?”

And the Pharisees were silent.

Sure enough, they were afflicted with that often fatal disease, hardness of heart–hardness of heart, that on the way to death,  causes spiritual dementia and cataracts. 

And hardness of heart is dangerous because its onset is gradual and insidious. 

After all, the Pharisees had the right intentions.  “Incline our hearts to keep thy law,” they would have prayed. In fact, in the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus said that he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it.

But by trying to keep the letter of the law, the Pharisees had forgotten the two great laws to which all other laws must point — to love God with our whole hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

Spiritual dementia had set in for these Pharisees, and they loved the letter of the law more than they loved the intent of the law. 

So there they stood in the synagogue, glaring at Jesus, their arms clasped tight against their bodies in disapproval, their hands clenched, their hearts hard as stone. 

They, the proper keepers of the Sabbath day, had not kept the Sabbath well at all. 

Because if they had, spiritual dementia never would have set in, and they would have remembered who is in charge.  They would have remembered that God is the one, who with a mighty arm, brought the enslaved Israelites out of slavery into freedom.  God is the one who, when they were hungry in the wilderness, filled them with food. 

They would have remembered their own vulnerabilities and their dependence on God, their dependence on one another and their dependence on the earth itself for their  mutual well being. 

The Pharisees, almost blind because of their spiritual cataracts, could not see that Jesus was doing God’s work, that Jesus himself was Lord of the sabbath, bringing freedom to those enslaved by injustice, and that Jesus was filling the hungry with good things. 

True sabbath time would have kept those spiritual cataracts from ever developing,  so that the Pharisees could still look for and find the light of God, and to absorb this light, so that God’s light could shine out of their hearts out into the darkness of the world.  

They would have been able to see that the man with the withered hand there in the synagogue was not an object that would serve to help them prove that Jesus was a law breaker, but that he was a vulnerable person just like they were. 

Jesus looks around at the Pharisees with anger, because he is grieved at their hardness of heart.  

When Jesus looks around at us, what does he see? 

Does he see us huddled in judgmental disapproval, seeing others as only objects, our hands clenched?

Or when he asks, do we come forward with our hands outstretched, holding out our weaknesses so that Jesus can make us strong again?   

Now look at this photograph. 

When you look at this photograph with Juan Romero kneeling next to the dying man, what do you see?

All around is darkness and impending death.  Someone’s hardness of heart has murdered a fellow human being. 

And yet, light is shining out of the darkness. 

Here, at the top, is a shining light. 

Right beneath this shining light, a disembodied hand of light reaches down. 

Light rests on Juan’s head.  And he, dressed in his white uniform jacket, shines in the darkness, as does the face of the dying man.  And Kennedy’s right hand over here, is also light against the dark background of the floor. 

These two people have been thrust into the darkness created by someone’s hardness of heart.  But the light shines through them both as one kneels down and places his hand protectively under the man’s head, and the dying man asks if everyone else is ok.  

And that rosary that Juan wrapped around Kennedy’s outstretched right hand was the visual symbol of God’s own vulnerable and sacrificial love that wrapped the two of them together in God’s light before Kennedy was wheeled away. 

An inevitable part of living in this world is that hurtful things will be thrust upon us. 

But if we have obeyed God’s commandment to observe sabbath time and to keep it holy on a regular basis, then when these hurtful times come, we will more easily be able to see  God’s light shining out through the darkness and to stretch out our hands to God.  And Sabbath time well spent, allows us, in the awful moments that come in our lives, to reflect God’s light—so that as Paul says, “The life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”

“God, your never failing providence sets in order all things in heaven and on earth.” 

Juan carried the burden of this hurtful thing of Kennedy’s death around for almost fifty years.  He felt that he somehow should have been able to stop the bullets that killed Kennedy. 

But God’s unfailing providence led Juan at last to go visit Kennedy’s grave, standing there in the only suit he had ever owned, bought just for this occasion as a sign of respect, to ask Kennedy’s forgiveness for not stopping the bullets. 

And as he stood there in front of that grave, his heart and hands outstretched, he  described how he felt his life coming back and once more being set in order.  

“I felt good again”, Juan said, “– a little bit like that first day that I met him. I felt important.  I felt American. And I felt good.” 

God, your never failing providence sets in order all things in heaven and on earth.

So put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things.  Put away, we pray, the hardness that lurks in our hearts.  Amen. 

 

Resource:  https://storycorps.org/listen/juan-romero-180601/