Fr. Dave's Sermons
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Matt 28: 16-20; 07022017; 4 Pentecost
I want to thank y’all for your prayers for Cookie and I, while I was away. It was a very difficult thing, to be in a hospital 1600 miles away from Cookie and home. Thankfully, my brothers were there to help me and to do all the driving, and I was blessed to have things turn out the way they did. It appears that I have a stomach scope and colonoscopy in my future, but I can deal with that.
It’s been a tumultuous last couple months for Cookie and I, and I’m sure for all of you. Even my Physician Asst. Maurice, himself a grizzled medical veteran, has been amazed at all that’s happened. But even in the midst of the turmoil and pain, there have been a great number of blessings. As Christ, himself said, in our reading from Matthew, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I must confess I sometimes think about this, as I deal with the challenges of Dementia. Will there come a time when I can’t remember those words of Christ, and what will happen then? But then I think of all the times Christ spoke those very words to his disciples, and I am greatly comforted.
Early in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear an angel quoting the prophet Isaiah; “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emanuel,” which means “God is with us.” And later in his Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
It’s been said that church is a hospital for sick people. Through my years as both a church-goer and priest, I’ve come to understand what that means. There is no good health unless we’re under the care of the Great Physician, our Lord Jesus Christ.
It reminded me of a man who had gone to see his doctor. When his doctor came into the exam room, the man said, “Doc, I’m just not able to do all the things around the house that I used to do. The doctor replied, “We’ll let’s get you up on the table and let me check you out.”
When his examination was completed, the man sat there anxiously awaiting the results. He said, “Well Doc, I can take it. Tell me in plain English what’s wrong with me.” “Well”, replied the doctor, “In plain English, you’re just too lazy.” “Okay,” said the man. “Now give me the medical term so I can tell my wife.”[i]
All humor aside, our health depends a great deal upon our relationship with Christ. One can see the trauma and the pain that’s all around us, when folks close their hearts and minds to the healing words of Jesus. As I’ve preached before, the message that he proclaimed was one of ancient origin. There is a big difference between the Creator and his creation. For some reason, people have been taught to ignore God, and to worship the creation.
Jesus gave his disciples four words to remember, as he said good-bye to them. These four words have been passed on down to us. They are, respectively, Go, Baptize, Teach, and Remember. I suppose the eleven disciples present would have liked to just hang out on the mountain. The view was great, the crowds were few, and the demands on them were pretty much non-existent. They could have just sat there and contemplated their navels, or some such thing, hoping that Christ might return someday. Kind of like some churches these days, holed up and pining for the glory of their yester years.
I believe our ancestors in our country understood this. Virtually all of them had been immigrants to the early colonies. Many of them came to America, escaping religious persecution. Different sects planted different churches, depending on where they landed. The varied colonies became known as places of religious tolerance, for their respective faith traditions.
Our ancestors could have stayed within the confines of known Europe. They could have hung out there, hoping things would eventually get better. At least they had some stability living there, though for many life was awful. But for some, it was better than a risky voyage across the sea, to a land they didn’t know.
But for most folks, it was their only option. If they wanted to worship and serve the Lord in the manner they felt called to, they had to make the journey. It was long and arduous and many of them lost their lives. But their courage was foundational to the building of this country, and to the proliferation of Christ’s church. Their courage was powerful enough to help lead our great nation to its Day of Independence. And though we Episcopalians are still kin with the Church of England, we too felt the need to go, and to do the work that Jesus called us to.
We can’t know for sure if Jesus foresaw all this when he told his disciples “Go!” I suspect he did, in some form or fashion. But how were the disciples to know what it was they were to do? Jesus laid it out for them, as they prepared to leave the safety of the mountain. Those same words apply to us, if we choose to follow them.
Go and Baptize. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, welcome new members into the church. The growth here at St. Nicholas should convince us that those folks are out there. Some of them are afraid of church because of the way that they’ve been treated. All churches seem the same to them, because of this very reason. We are called to go and find them and to model the great physician.
Go and Teach. Teach them to obey everything Christ has commanded you. It is the love of Christ that they must find in you. In some cases, you may be the only the Bible they’ve ever opened. Think about that, the enormity of what I’m saying. You have the grace and power in you, to become the face of Jesus!
And lastly, Go and Remember. Jesus is with each one of us to the end of ages. Not just for your life on earth, but for all eternity. Don’t forget those things you learned, when you became a Christian. Don’t let the darkness of this world overwhelm you. You are Christ’s beloved ones; hold fast to what he’s taught you. For you are his, and always will be, a beloved member of his great communion.
[i] Internet: https://soundfaith.com/sermons/59188-the-great-physician-luke-512-15-060907, accessed 07012017.
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Gen. 1: 1-2: 4; 06112017; Trinity Sunday
I was reading the Wisconsin State Journal online this past week and learned that one of Wisconsin’s legislators believes that the earth is only 6,000 years old. While that might not be big news in some parts of the country, it certainly is in Wisconsin. They’ve got beer and cheese aging up there that’s older than that. They’ve even got Green Bay Packer legends older than that.
Seriously though, it makes our reading from Genesis especially appealing. It means that our Neanderthal descendants were more like our cousins. And it also might mean that we’re all still covered by warranty! We can return those amongst us who appear to be defective, and can ask for more suitable replacements.
It boggles the mind to hear of such statements. The area I am traveling to in Michigan has some of the oldest exposed rocks on the planet. Six thousand years are just a blink of the eye, in the time they’ve existed. On some of the rocks, you can actually see the tracks of the glaciers. It is hard to understand how people can so easily deny their reality.
Our cabin is on Caribou Lake. Down the way from us, there is an ancient log cabin. It was built in the early 1900’s, the owners of which are long passed. Their descendants were friends of my parents. Like my parents, they too have passed on, but the latest generation of their family still owns the cabin. The article I read reminded me of a time when I went with my father to visit Mary, the then matriarch of the family.
Mary was a geologist and taught at one of the Colorado universities. In the summer, she would travel to the lake and live in the cabin. It was quite small, I’m sure all your garages would easily dwarf it. It was rustic, and I do mean rustic. The cabin was about ten feet from the lake, and had no furnace; the fireplace was the only option for heat. Having been at the lake in July and seen below freezing temperatures on occasion, I was amazed the cabin had never been upgraded.
It was Mary who taught me about the geology of that area of Michigan. She started with, “Do you know your geological eras?” I hemmed and hawed a bit, as I answered her question, and she proceeded to lecture me on the history of the earth. It wasn’t exactly a text book recital, because her knowledge had been gained by wading and collecting rock samples in the ice-cold waters of the northern great lakes.
The things that she taught me didn’t lessen my faith. In fact, they actually worked to strengthen my faith. The intricate details of the geology she taught me made me more appreciative of the things God had done. And though I love the first chapter of Genesis, I understand that 6,000 years was barely a blip on the radar. It always reminded me of the words I had once heard from a Jesuit scholar, “I believe that God made everything; I was just want to understand how he did it.”
God rested. However God did it, we know one thing for sure. When God was finished, he rested. Think about that for a moment; God rested. Scripture tells us that, “And on the seventh day (there’s that number seven again) God finished the work he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work he had done in creation.” In other words, God took a break from his labors. Creation was hard work.
And even as God worked, the wind, the spirit swept over the face of the waters. The ancient waters were made holy, right from the beginning, the precursor to what we know as the waters of baptism. The land and the water were not separated from God, but created out of his substance. Each of us carry the gift of his holiness, the same holiness given in creation.
And so, it begs the question; how did we mess it all up? What possessed us to rebel and to turn against God and to think that the Sabbath was no longer needed? What made us decide that we no longer needed to rest? God rested, however long we believe it took him to make his creation; are each of us greater than God?
It’s no wonder that we are mystified by the Trinity. We hardly have time to give it a thought. It is relegated to one Sunday a year, in one of the busiest seasons. Even in seminaries, Trinity Sunday has become the ugly duckling of sermons, best assigned to Deacons and seminarians. Who wants to talk about something that no one really wants to consider?
In my life, every job I’ve had involved working on Sundays, starting with delivering Sunday newspapers. There was never much consideration of rest. It wasn’t until I was much older, that I began to understand the meaning of Genesis. I realized that God had understood the demands of creating, of making things, and being productive. Things that worked better when we had rest.
Jesus would address the very same issue, in his time upon on the earth. “Come to me”, he said. “Come to me, all you that travail and are heavily laden, and I will give you rest.” These were integral words in the Eucharistic Prayer of the 1928 Prayer Book, but were pretty much left on the shelf in the 1979 Prayer Book version.
The world desperately needs rest. Unfortunately, this goes against all that we have come to know in this country as “wisdom”. We work harder, play harder, multitask, and even in our churches, pray harder. Pedal to the metal, as those prophetic words say, “I’ll rest when I’m dead.”
As a former police officer, I offer you this. Speed kills. Not just life, but spirit. We just weren’t created to move this fast. We can see the fallout in the daily headlines. Addictions, suicides, kids growing up too fast, violence and a disregard for neighbors. It’s gotten to be countercultural for folks to rest.
Think about this in the coming week. God rested. Jesus rested. The Holy Spirit rested. If they rested, so should you. Teach this to your families and your friends. Be countercultural, and say no to all that speed. Take your rest and enjoy the day and be blessed because of it. Despite what you hear in the media, the world wasn’t created in six thousand years, and neither were you. If God rested from his labors, then why shouldn’t we?
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06042017; 1 Cor. 12:3b-13; Pentecost Sun.
Much of my life was spent waiting on the Spirit. I confess I was not the brightest light in the closet, when it came to such churchy things. I eventually learned the Spirit had been there for me all along, but I was too distracted to embrace it. I guess you could say I was diverted by other worldly spirits. When I got to seminary, I was amazed that there were twenty-somethings who had already found the spirit. They were conversing about things that I had never heard of.
But the spirit has a way of seeping through the cracks. And the world I was living in had a lot of cracks. It wasn’t long before the cracks got wide enough to let the spirit in. It was a hard time in my life that enabled me to say “enough”. I don’t know why it took so long for me to say “enough.” I guess I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t all that self-reliant.
I must confess, I get a little melancholy when I think about such things. I think about all the things that might have been. There are so many good things I might have done. But I’m not a saint, and of that, I am quite certain. The real miracle in my life has been that I was captured by the spirit, and it wasn’t my own doing. The spirit came at the perfect time for me, when I finally made the time for it.
That is the beauty of Pentecost. The spirit came into the world, with God knowing that we’d reject it. But then again, the spirit isn’t changed by how we might perceive it. The spirit is an ancient thing, as we’re told in Genesis. The spirit hovered, over the very waters of creation. And it was eventually released into the world by the resurrected Jesus.
If we were Pentecostals, we’d probably be dancing in the aisles. But we’re not, and so we act Episcopalian. We like to keep things tidy and there’s nothing wrong with that. The thing is, the spirit is far from being tidy. It seems to thrive on change, or perhaps in making changes happen. The spirit goes where it wills; it’s not confined by what we know of the things that we call science.
Now I admit, the spirit is hard to wrap one’s mind around. How does one define a thing that can’t be seen? St. Paul chose to focus on an organic model, utilizing parts of the human body. It was a stroke of genius on his part, because it was a model that everyone could relate to. The actual gifting of the spirit became secondary to the fruits the gift produced. The gift of the spirt produced an organic model of the church. As each part of the body contributes to its health, all the parts are needed, no matter how seemingly insignificant they are.
As I’ve gone to various churches, I try and see how this works. According to Paul, the best model of the church is when all parts work together. When parts are missing, the body becomes less healthy. And as a body becomes unhealthy, it becomes vulnerable to disease. And like our human bodies, diseases if untreated can sometimes lead to death.
For me, Paul’s model makes a lot of sense. Think of the different churches you’ve all been in. In some, there might have been many folks sharing their gifts with others. In other churches, there might have been just a few folks doing all the work. Some churches delegated too much power to the clergy. In other churches, they might have not given them enough. Dominate personalities may have ruled the roost.
As I’m sure you heard me say before, I have few skills in fixing things. I am what is charitably called a klutz. I can wreck things pretty well, but I can’t fix things that I’ve broken. On the other hand, there are things that I do well, as I’m sure you all do. Sometimes the hardest thing in churches is to unplug someone from a skill they don’t really have, and connect them to a job they have the skills to do.
Paul refers to the harmony found in organic churches in this way: “For just as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Each member using their spiritual gifts builds up the Body of Christ.
I believe that this analogy was Paul’s greatest gift to the church. It means that every member of the church has a skill to contribute. Some may have more than one, and some have skills that will develop as they mature, and have time to serve the church.
In another diocese, I served on a committee that worked with troubled churches. As we traveled through the diocese, one thing we often noted. Someone was doing something in the church that they had few skills in. Sometimes it was because no one else had stepped up to do it, and in some cases it was because they refused to give it up. Some of those churches, sadly, are no longer with us.
St Nicholas is a healthy church. Many of you are involved in different ministries. Some of you have stepped down from things that didn’t feed you. It’s a sign of the spirit working when you know you’re doing something you’re not really called to do.
As we enter this time of transition, I would like to ask each of you to pray over Paul’s model. Cantankerous as Paul might have been, he knew the ins and outs of churches. Perhaps we might have a discussion group to discuss his model in more detail. It seems to be a timely thing to do, as we plan for our autumn rally day and the time of my transition.
Cookie and I love y’all and we dearly love this church. May the spirit grow in all of us as we walk this path together.
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John 14: 15-21; 05212017; 6 Easter
Early on in my career as a police officer, I was on my way to a call when I heard what no cop ever wants to hear. Two officers were being dispatched to my own address at one o’clock in the morning! The dispatcher informed the officers that some guy was banging on our front door, and yelling at the top of his voice! I reached over to grab the radio, intending to tell the dispatcher I was heading for my home. But after a few deep breaths, I let go of the radio and sat back in my seat.
Our house was several miles away, on the far side of the city. Even with lights and siren, the call would likely be resolved by the time I got there. My wife at the time was home with our daughter Jenni, who at that time was just an infant. I knew she wouldn’t open the door until the officers got there.
As the adrenaline began to recede, I began to think a little more calmly. I knew the two officers who’d gotten the call and I knew they were competent officers. They’d been classmates of mine, at the police academy. I’d been on calls with them, and I knew they were both of good character. I also knew they would treat my family in the same way that they’d treat their own. I knew they would even risk their lives, if need be, to protect my family. And so, I slowly relaxed and focused on the call that I’d been given. I knew the folks that I’d be assisting deserved the same care as my own family.
As things worked out, the guy who’d been banging on our door had done way too much partying. He actually lived just a few houses down from us, and he thought his wife had locked him out! All his hollering and banging on the door was to get his wife’s attention, so that she’d unlock the door. The two officers later told me the guy’s wife was none too pleased to see him. He’d had way too many beverages and she said she’d just as soon that he’d sleep outside!
Character these days is leaving much to be desired. And so, in those times when we find folks of good character, we find that we’re attracted to it. I believe it’s always been that way, even back in Jesus’ day. People with good character tend to be good leaders. You get a sense that they’re not just in it for the money or just in it for themselves. They are in it for the long run, because they want to make things better.
In our story from John’s Gospel, there are great changes coming. Jesus will soon be crucified, and the community of early Christians will be without their leader. Some of those folks will gradually wander off. The Apostles’ time as leaders will be coming to an end. How will the young church adapt to the loss of Jesus and find a way to pass on his teachings and traditions?
Jesus knows, of course, that he’ll soon be leaving. He’s made no secret of how his life will end. He’s taught the disciples many things, but he knows they’re still unstable. And so he promises to send someone to help in their transition. He tells them that he’ll send them an Advocate, a Comforter to be with them.
The Greek word those two words are translated from is “Paracletos”, or more simply, the Paraclete. The word “Paraclete” is translated to be a counselor or comforter, in terms of wisdom. But it also can be translated to mean an Advocate, that is, one with a legal interest. In that sense, the Advocate is a witness, and testifies for those who find themselves on trial.[i]
Up to this point in the story, Jesus has been the disciples’ Advocate. But soon he will be leaving them, and going to the Father. Jesus knows that he must leave, but he will not leave them helpless. He promises to send another Advocate, a witness for them.
The Advocate that Jesus sends them will guide the Christian community into the future. And so, Jesus models an important quality of a leader with good character; an effective leader prepares his or her people to successfully make it through times of transition.
Think of all the great characters that were a part of Jesus’ community. Mary Magdalene, the Beloved Disciple, Peter, whose Letter we heard a portion of today; Mary and Martha, Matthew, and of course old doubting Thomas. But none of them would be around to teach the next generation. And so Jesus had a strategy to address the dearth of leaders. He sent the Comforter, the Advocate, to help the young church hold together. Or as Jesus said, “teaching them all these words that I have given you.”
It’s really amazing when you think about it. Jesus sent the Advocate over two thousand years ago. And yet the Advocate still walks with us, assisting us in discerning the teachings of the church. The Advocate is speaking truth to the churches of all nations. As the United Church of Christ continues to proclaim, “God is still speaking”.
Of course, it isn’t any secret why we’re hearing this lesson now. We’re just a few short weeks from the Day of Pentecost. Through the years we have come to call the Advocate “the Holy Spirit.” The Advocate is an integral part of the Holy Trinity. Whatever we decide to call it, the Comforter still brings Jesus’ teachings into the hearts and minds of Christians.
With this gift, Jesus was preparing his disciples for the tough times that lay ahead. He was about to ascend to the Father and he would not leave his people on their own. Nor will he leave each of us to wander through this world by ourselves. He is always with us, through the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
It’s been said that in the year of our Lord, 1520, the great Spanish Sea Captain, Ferdinand Magellan, battled for an entire year to find a passage around South America. At the very southern tip of the continent, in its icy waters, he encountered some of the worst weather found anywhere on earth. He battled raging seas, towering ice floes, not to mention a mutinous crew. When he finally made his way through those treacherous waters which still bear his name, the Straits of Magellan), he entered into a great body of water that lay to the west. As he and his men lifted their faces up towards heaven and prayed their thanks to God, Magellan named the new ocean “The Peaceful One”, that we know as the Pacific Ocean.[ii]
As we consider John’s Gospel words this morning, we know that Jesus wants to bring us comfort, and to know God’s peace. It’s his plan to guide us on the stormy voyage, and to steer us to a place where we can find his peace. May his Spirit and his teaching fill us with his grace. May we learn to hear his words, and the peace that dwells beneath them. As Jesus said to his disciples, Did Jesus not say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, and believe also in me.”
[i] Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, Conversations with Scriptur: The Gospel of John, (New York City, NY: Morehouse Publishing. 2007), pg75.
[ii] Lee Griess, “A Place of Peace”, Illustration, https://www.sermons.com/sermon/a-place-of-peace/1339023, accessed 05202017.
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1 Peter 2: 2-10; 05142017; 5 Easter
I was looking at my backyard flower garden this past week, and noticed that someone had been knawing on some flowers. I also saw that new holes had appeared in my garden. Since we have a reasonably secure wooden fence, the suspect list quickly dwindled down to our three sorry looking Chihuahuas. I was able to rule Paco out, because he’s too old and lazy to be interested in digging. And so the spotlight quickly fell on BB and Shelley.
My eyes, of course, went immediately to Shelley. She is, what we used to call, a juvenile delinquent. If there’s a dog problem, she’s usually in the midst of it. And she’s known to be into thievery, since she often steals Cookie’s ice cream-laced morning coffee. You might say Shelley has got an allergy to boundaries. And though I didn’t appreciate her thinning out my flowers, she’s just too darn cute to stay angry with for long.
And, I have to admit that Shelley has learned from me the fine art of gardening. Every Spring, she watches with great interest as I prepare the garden. She carefully studies how I turn the dirt over with my shovel, and she looks on with interest as I gather up each springtime’s crop of rocks. I can almost hear her dog brain processing as she watches, thinking, “Hey, I can help my Dad with that.” What can I say, other than my loss is Home Depot’s gain. I wonder just how many extra flowers and bushes they sell, as replacements for dog shenanigans!
In some respects, dogs are much like humans, aren’t they? Don’t we all want to cross those boundaries and jump the fences, just because we’re not supposed to? Isn’t that what our moms were so good at, making sure we didn’t overstep our boundaries and get ourselves in hot water? Those signs that read “stay out” and “off limits” and “no trespassing” are surely meant for others, aren’t they? I wish I had a dollar for every person I arrested back in the day, who said, “But officer, I didn’t see the sign.”
I didn’t see the sign. For us as Christians, Jesus is the sign. He kind of lets us know where we shouldn’t go. And when we decide, for whatever reason, to ignore what Christ is saying, what is it that he always does? Why, he forgives us our trespasses! Of course, there’s an addendum to his forgiving us; we are also called to forgive those who trespass against us. We sometimes ignore that second part, for whatever reason.
It takes some work to be a Christian. We can say we are a Christian, but as the old saying goes, talk is cheap. It’s in the doing, that we find ourselves most challenged. It was just as true in the First Century, as it is today. We hear that in our lesson from the words of Peter’s Letter.
Most scholars agree that this letter was actually written by the St. Peter. Yes, the same crusty old St Peter, for whom the cock crowed those three times. His letter was written well after the death of Jesus and it addressed the situation that Peter then was facing. Basically, he was dealing with a lot of baby Christians. What could he tell them so that they might grow deeper in their faith?
Within the first two chapters of Peter’s Letter are what scholars refer to as the “Five Imperatives.”[i] Or more simply put, the five things that Peter felt a Christian must learn to grow strong into their faith. It was not an easy time to be a Christian. They weren’t the Romans favorite people, nor were they favorites of the Jews.
Peter began his Imperatives with a call to action: “Prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.” Or to paraphrase, in faith, look forward to Christ’s coming again in glory.[ii]
But how should they live, as Christians amongst the many pagans that surrounded them? That was Peter’s second message. “As he who has called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” In other words, learn to live your life as God’s servant.[iii]
The third message was even harder. Peter told them, “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” Or perhaps, serve God with your soul, heart and mind, rather than fearing the dominant culture around you.[iv]
The fourth Imperative was directed at the Christians’ relationship with one another. “Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.” Another tough one; Love one another unselfishly, as you care for your brothers and sisters in Christ.[v]
And the fifth imperative, leading to spiritual growth: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, so that by it you grow into salvation.” Or perhaps, find nourishment in Christ’s spirit, so that may grow as Christians.[vi]
As you think about these words, they are just as relevant today as they were in Peter’s Day. They are, in a sense, a catechism of the faith. Peter was building to a higher plane, as he would explain in detail in his letter, and as he did he was speaking to all Christians, in all times and places: “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Magnificent words from brash old Peter, once a man of many doubts. What was it that turned this extroverted fisherman into such a well-spoken prophet? Perhaps it was to walk within the boundaries, and to drink the spiritual milk, and to gives one’s life, as best one can, to the service of Jesus Christ and to his church.
[i] M. Eugene Boring, “The First Letter of Peter”, The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, College Edition, Michael D Coogan, Editor, (New York City, NY: Oxford University Press, 210), pgs. 2127-2128.
[ii] Ibid, pgs. 2127-2128.
[iii] Ibid, pg. 2128.
[iv] Ibid, pg. 2128.
[v] Ibid, pg. 2138.
[vi] Ibid, pg. 2138.
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John 10: 1-10; 05072017; 4 Easter
Over the years, I’ve read a number of Bible commentaries and such concerning the behavior of sheep. I have to tell you, I’ve been surprised at how much these writings can vary. Some writers have portrayed the sheep as relatively intelligent animals, each contributing to the strength of the flock. On the other hand, other writers have considered them to be rather mangy, and dumber than the proverbial rock.
That second option was the opinion of one of my seminary professors, who’d been raised on a large farm in Nebraska. In his scholarly opinion, Jesus had sort of dissed us as humans, when he metaphorically diagnosed us as sheep. I can’t remember the exact words that the good professor used anymore, but I do remember the gist of it. The good teacher’s view was that Jesus was implying we were pretty much incapable of looking after ourselves.
As I’ve read other opinions about this topic over the years, I’ve sometimes wondered if there are actually two kinds of sheep. Perhaps those praiseworthy sheep that some writers have cited are a more refined and intelligent breed. I haven’t found any evidence that such might be true, but then again, I’ve never raised sheep.
In our Gospel story this morning, Jesus says to his disciples, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In this rather short sentence, there are a couple of obvious lessons. The first is that if Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd, then there must a Bad Shepherd or two out there. And the second is that Jesus’s sheep know the sound of his voice. When he calls them, the sheep follow him, because they know the sound of his voice. They know the sound of his voice.
I’ve read some accounts of sheep in their folds, mixed in with the flocks of other shepherds. And I’ve heard that it’s true that the sheep can actually discern the voice of their own shepherds. When each shepherd calls out to his or her sheep, they will follow them out of the fold. But I’ve also read that sheep will at times follow the wrong shepherd if the animal is sick or confused. Since I’ve never raised sheep, I can’t witness to that, but it sure seems to have been apparent to Jesus.
Like most of you, I suppose, I’ve been following the healthcare debate that’s been dominating the news. I’ve also have been waiting for a press release from those pastors who attended the National Prayer Breakfast, along with President Trump. I haven’t seen or heard much, I’m sorry to say, given what’s proposed in the bill. Perhaps there’ll be resurgence in the faith healing business, for who have the means to afford it.
It’s had me thinking about benevolence this past week, as I’ve been following all the discussions. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been trying to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice coming out of D.C., as the House health care bill is debated.
As I’ve listened, I’ve been remembering a number of folks who have come to St. Nick’s for benevolence. Many of them are dealing with medical issues, and are ill in some way. Without insurance, the little money they have to give to a clinic is usually spent on their kids.
Most of the adults have what we now call “preexisting conditions.” And, since their options are limited, many go to the ER when they need to be treated. It appears that many of our elected officials no longer want to cover those costs.
This was not a partisan issue in the early days of the church. Jesus was always healing somebody as he traveled around, and he taught his disciples to do healings too. If we want to understand pre-existing conditions in Jesus day, we just need to read a few of those stories, and see what the poor were enduring.
Somewhere in the midst of it all, we must discern the Good Shepherd’s voice. As Christians, we’ve been called to be healers and to help to strengthen Christ’s flock. Jesus made it a point to address the healing of others, whoever they happened to be. If he thought it important enough to teach to his disciples, than shouldn’t we?
How hard it is at times, to hear our Shepherd’s voice. We have to take the time to do so, for we all need his healing grace. It’s getting hard for me to hear Christ’s voice right now, as our elected leaders speak. Even in the midst of what’s been called a prayerful Christian breakfast.
Sometimes it’s tempting to want to turn away. After all, we don’t really know the folks, who are getting pushed away. But we must learn from David, a man who knew deep down in his heart, that he could easily be there too. And so he prayed to the only one who could light his way: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in life, it’s that things go a whole lot better when I’m hearing Jesus. And I do I admit that there’s been times when I really didn’t listen. I have some scars and bruises that I’ve collected, following bad shepherds. Some of them could talk real good, and they made a lot of promises. Like, “It won’t hurt you to have some fun, and do some wild living.” Perhaps some of you are in that place right now, and are doing some repentant thinking.
For me, it all came down to learning the shepherd’s voice. I heard it loud and clear one day, and I really began to listen. There are days that I can hear his voice, and some days when I can’t find it. But there’s nothing on earth like his voice, and you will know it when you hear it.
So don’t despair, his voice is always there, filled with loving patience. He calls his sheep by name and then he leads them out. And when he has brought them out, he walks ahead of them. The sheep come out and follow him because they know his voice. May we each hear Jesus’ voice today, and receive abundant life.
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Luke 24; 13-35; 3 Easter; 04302017
While thinking about our Sunday lessons this week, I was remembering my very first day at Nashotah House seminary. As I unpacked my stuff that day, it came to me that everything I’d done for the past two years had been focused on getting to the room I now was standing in. It occurred to me that I had been dealing with getting there. As I thought about that, I realized that now I had to deal with three years of just being there. It was a bit overwhelming, and I decided to let the unpacking go for a while, and to take a long walk. Back in those days, Nashotah House was still surrounded by forests and farms, so walking was a pleasant thing to do.
But as I walked along the deserted road, I was filled with much anxiety. I considered all those things I’d given up, so that I could go to seminary. What if I had presumed too much and I really wasn’t ready? Three years was a very long time to be without a job, and to be away from my family.
So went my walk, as I wrestled with my anxiety. And then, I felt God’s calming presence, deep within me. I heard this voice, which said in no uncertain terms, “Stop the whining!” As I processed that remark, there came another; a gentler voice that said, “You’re where you’re supposed to be. Do you really think that I don’t know what I’m doing?” Well, after that, I meekly walked back to my room and continued with my unpacking.
I suppose that we all have some kind of road stories. There a number of them in the scriptures. Perhaps that’s why this morning’s Gospel story is loved by so many of God’s people. We can all identify with the two disciples wanting to get out of Dodge. But even more so, we can identify with being found by Jesus.
After two thousand years, we still don’t know where “Emmaus” was. Its location has been passionately debated for over twenty centuries. The great Jewish historian Josephus wrote this, just a few years after the death of Jesus: “Now Emmaus, if it be interpreted, may be rendered `a warm bath’ for therein is a spring of warm water useful for healing.” [i] We know that Josephus was referring to the hot spring near Tiberius, on the Sea of Galilee, seventy-five miles north of Jerusalem. It is doubtful that the two disciples would be seeking shelter in a Roman city, after the hoopla in Jerusalem. But no one knows where Emmaus was, and it really doesn’t matter. The story would be just as powerful, if the disciples had been walking on their way to Midland.
The story takes place three days after Easter, and is connected to what will occur on the Day of Pentecost, the Sunday of June 4th this year. If you were here last week, you may remember how Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into his disciples. That was impressive, but as the saying goes, there was a lot more where that came from. Jesus was not the kind of man who abandoned his disciples, and he wasn’t above going after the lambs who’d wandered off. The shepherd wanted his flock all together in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost.
Now it appeared that the two disciples in Luke’s story had had enough anxiety. We have the name of one disciple, Cleopas, but the other was unnamed. Given the number of female disciples who followed Jesus, the mysterious disciple could easily have been a woman. They were walking to Emmaus, wherever it might have been. Perhaps they were thinking of those relaxing hot springs, and washing off the dust. As they walked, along came Jesus, incognito, and he walked along with them. They told Jesus what they’d seen and heard, back in Jerusalem. Jesus let them talk, sand to process their anxiety. They were Jewish Christians, but they hadn’t yet connected that the Scriptures prophesized both the arrival, and the acts of Jesus. And so they’d understand all that, Jesus interpreted the Scriptures.
Now some of you might be thinking, hmmm, first Jesus interprets the scriptures about himself, and then at dinner, he breaks the bread. That sounds a whole lot like our Sunday Eucharist, doesn’t it? Isn’t it amazing that we’re doing both those things this Sunday morning after two thousand years?
The disciples are intrigued by him, and they ask him to stay for dinner. Jesus does so, but only for a while. He breaks the bread, and we’re told their eyes were opened and they knew who Jesus was. Jesus immediately disappears, perhaps on his way to round up some more of his stray disciples. And the two disciples speak to those wondrous words: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” They left that very moment and skedaddled back to Jerusalem. And, we’re told they exchanged Jesus stories with the disciples that they met there.
Perhaps we might consider anew what it was that Jesus did, when he died upon the cross. How did Paul phrase it in his Second Letter to the Corinthians? “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! There is a new creation, made possible through the death of Jesus Christ. God set things right forever, even if we as his disciples, sometimes mess things up. Through the actions of our Sunday liturgy, we are each made participants in God’s most holy plan. Through the blood of Jesus, we each help make all things new.
This week, I would ask you to pray about your own faith stories. The disciples, when they came to know their faith, couldn’t wait to tell their stories. Even our Sunday liturgy itself is a spoken sacred story. Our story mingles with the stories of those gone on to glory. Do not think that death has the power to end our stories. For Christ has triumphed over death, and we are now eternal members of his wondrous story. Even if he has to track us down on some road that we’ve escaped on.
[i] http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/emmaus/words from Josephus (trans), accessed 04292017.
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John 20: 19-31; 2 Easter; 04232017
I was thinking that I should have asked Darryl to have the choir sing “Darling, you send me” this morning. It’s been sixty years since Sam Cooke wrote that tune, but some songs are timeless, aren’t they? And if our Gospel story has a theme today, it is, Darling, you send me.[i]
I know there are times when we really don’t want Christ to send us. We wish that Jesus would just take care of things himself. If he’d just take care of all the problems in the world, than we wouldn’t have to bother. We could happily croon, Lord, you don’t need to send me, rather than the other way around.
The problem with that approach is that we would never become mature. We would never learn our own potential, because we never would have been challenged. Jesus really wants all of us to be the very best that we can be. You might say that Jesus loves to watch us grow.
Last Sunday, we heard about Mary Magdalene clinging with all her might to Jesus. Sometimes we all need to do that, but there’s a big old world out there. And so Jesus gently broke free from her grasp, and gave her a message to deliver to the disciples. Don’t miss how radical it was, when Mary said to them, “I’ve have seen the Lord!” A woman full of courage was sent to speak the Word to a frightened group of menfolk.
We know that Mary did an awesome job, with the message she was sent with. Jesus had told Mary Magdalene to tell the disciples where to gather, and they all did, except, of course, for Thomas. Granted, they were locked down and hiding out, in a room all by themselves; sometimes fear makes us do such things when we’re running low on courage.
Mary might have tried to hang a bit tighter on to Jesus, and who here would have blamed her? But like young birds in a nest, we all need to test our wings and fly where Jesus sends us. And so it was for the frightened menfolk, as they huddled in that room. Soon, they would have to test their wings, wherever the Lord might send them.
For some of these ancient souls, we are left with only legends of where they had been sent to. But go they did, to wherever it might have been that Jesus chose to send them. Perhaps Jesus was familiar with that venerable old saying: “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” And when you think about it, he had just rolled a very large stone from the cave he was interred in.
No doubt the disciples were stunned when Jesus suddenly appeared in their locked-down room. When folks are stunned, they often forget to breathe. The brain slows down, as one tries to make sense of what it is that’s happening. We lose our so-called our comfort zone while our brain is rebooting. The disciples might have thought, “Now that was a neat trick, how in the heck did he just do that?” Evidently, Jesus didn’t feel the need to explain himself; he just showed them all his wounds and said, “Peace be with you.”
One thing we can say about Jesus; he has great sense of timing. Knowing that Thomas is truant, Jesus holds off on his sending. He lets the disciples track down Thomas, so he can send them all together. When he revisits the disciple’s room, this time they’re all there to greet him. And, it’s clear that Jesus has their undivided attention.
Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” The disciples now have their traveling orders, but they’re still a bit short of the Spirit.
Jesus has an app for that. He breathes on them all and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” We tend to gloss over these words as the focus is on Thomas. But the sending of the twelve has already taken place. And, it’s just a hint of what’s to come, on the Day of Pentecost.
It’s in this sense that Christ intends to send us. He wants to send us with his words to speak, as he fills us with his Spirit. He wants us all to trust in him, as he readies us for our sending. He knows that we grow in strength of Spirit, when we focus on his sending. And he knows that more folks are brought to know him as a product of our sending.
As I speak these words to you today, the sharpened sabers of the world are rattling once again. Armies and such are ramping up, as is the call for soldiers. Once again, we hear the talk of war in the midst of the Easter season. We pray for peace, but we wonder, where is Jesus? Like Thomas, we want to know that Jesus is really with us. As the drums of war increase, it is important becomes more important to recall exactly why he sends us. We are called to do his work of peace, here where we’ve been planted.
If we take the time to look around, we can discern his presence. We can find him in the painted West Texas sunsets, in the colors of his sky. We can him find him in the springtime flowers, and feel his breath upon the wind. We can meet him in the hungry faces that we see out on the sidewalks and the streets. We can know him in the eyes of children, who know not the sin of greed. We can find him in one another, as we lift our hearts and pray. We can find him in the hymns we sing, and in the bread and wine.
Christ’s spirit fills this church, just as his spirit fills our souls. It is he who wants to send us to those who need him most. And if by chance this morning, you sense his breathe upon your face, you might feel the need to croon Sam Cooke’s words of praise. “Darlin, you send me.” Lord, we thank you for your grace.
[i] http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/samcooke/yousendme.html, accessed 04/22/2017.
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John 20: 1-18; Easter Sunday; 04162017
I want to welcome all of you who are visiting with us this morning. We are blessed to have you here with us, on this glorious Easter Sunday!
Easter is, amongst other things, a celebration of many families. As we heard in our Gospel story this morning, Jesus was really into family. Even as he hung upon the Cross, Jesus arranged for the disciple whom he loved to take care of his mother Mary, after his impending death upon the Cross.
Perhaps you remember the story. Jesus had been crucified, and was nearing his death upon the Cross. His mother Mary, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and two other women were standing at the foot of the Cross, no doubt praying for God’s mercy. Jesus looked at his mother, and the disciple whom he loved, and said to Mary, “Woman, here is your son.” Jesus then looked at the disciple, and said, “Here is your mother.” John tells us from that moment on, the disciple whom Jesus loved, took care of Mary in his home, just like she was his own mother. Jesus made sure to take care of his family before he died on the Cross. But how extensive, we might ask ourselves, is Jesus’ family? Whom might we consider to be members of Jesus extended family?
Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, in her book, Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of John, addresses these questions. She writes: “With these words Jesus establishes a new kindred relationship between his own mother and the disciple. Jesus births a new symbolic family to continue after his return to the Father. All disciples of Jesus can call God their Father, as Mary Magdalene can call Jesus’ mother their own mother, and call each other brothers and sisters.”[i] Or in other words, each of us here today are members of Jesus’ family.
In our Gospel story, we heard of Mary Magdalene visiting Jesus’ tomb, early on Easter morning. She is startled to find the tomb open, with the great stone rolled back. She fears that Jesus’ body has been taken, perhaps by grave robbers, or even worse. Grave robbing was a serious issue back in the days of Jesus; archeologists have recovered a document signed by the Roman Emperor Claudius, prohibiting tampering with tombs.
Mary runs and tells Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, what it is she’s discovered. The two disciples race to the tomb, fulfilling the ancient Jewish requirement of two male witnesses who can testify to what’s happened. They each enter the tomb, though not together, and each sees that Christ’s body isn’t there. All that remains are the funeral cloths of Jesus.
Mary Magdalene returns to the tomb crying, and in mourning. A man appears, whom she assumes to be the gardener. The man says to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She replies, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” She then hears the voice that she knows to be her Savior’s. “Mary!” Jesus says, calling her by name. Mary then grabs him, and clings desperately to Jesus.
Very few of the disciples are known to have touched Jesus. Perhaps the disciple that Jesus loved, while reclining next to Jesus a few days earlier, as they all dined at the Last Supper. And, of course, beloved Thomas, the patron saint of all of us who’ve doubted. But Mary Magdalene was allowed to lay her hands on Jesus, and for that she’s been long-honored. But it was to be short-lived, because Jesus hadn’t yet ascended to his Father.
Notice that Jesus didn’t ascend to heaven, until he took care of his family. He passed on a message for Mary Magdalene to carry. Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene faithfully passed on those words to Jesus’ disciples, greeting them and saying, “I have seen the Lord”.
The words received by Mary, we might think of as the DNA of the early Christian Church. We carry that very same DNA, that’s been passed on down to us.
But of course, you know the ins and outs of families. We don’t always get along, and that too, is a part of the Christian family story. We don’t always love our neighbors as ourselves, and so I’d thought I’d share this story.
There was a little boy with a nasty temper. One day, his father had had enough, and gave him a bag of nails and a hammer. He told the boy that every time he lost his temper, he would have to hammer a nail into the backside of their fence.
That first day, the boy drove thirty-seven nails into the fence. But over the next few weeks, he slowly learned to control his temper. The number of nails he had to pound gradually dwindled away. He learned that it was a whole lot easier to hold his temper, than it was to hammer all those nails into the fence.
The day finally came, when the boy controlled his temper. He told his father, and his father suggested the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed by, and soon the boy could tell his father that all the nails were gone.
The father led his son over to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at all the holes you’ve made in the fence. The fence will never be the same, for when you speak in anger, you leave a scar much like this one. You can wound another person, put a sword into a person, and then you can draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say you’re sorry, for the wound remains, even though it’s scarred over.
The boy realized the power of what his father’s words had shown him. With wet eyes, he slowly looked up at his father. The boy said, “Father, I hope you can forgive me for the holes I put in you.” “Of course, I can”, the father said. “We are family and I could not love you more.”[ii]
May you each be blessed on this Day of Easter Sunday. And may you that you are all part of Jesus’ family.
For, whatever wounds you may have caused, the Lord Jesus still loves y
[i] Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, “Conversations With Scripture: The Gospel of John, Frederick W. Smith, Series Editor, (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2007), pg.73. Much of this sermon was inspired by Chapter 5, “The Beloved Community: Leadership among the Disciples whom Jesus Loved.”, pgs. 65-78.
[ii]https://sermons.com/sermon/what-anger-leaves-behind/1477257, ChristianGlobe Networks, Inc., ChristianGlobe Illustrations, by Brett Blair, accessed 04/13/ 2017.