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Palm Sunday

April 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Jesus Christ is Lord!  Can you say it with me?  Jesus Christ is Lord!  These four words formed the first Christian Creed.  In the first few centuries of Christianity there was no need to create lengthy statements of faith such as the ones we have today.  We have the Creeds of the Apostles, Nicaea and St. Athanasius and we have more loosely subjective statement-like creeds from Councils such as those of Chalcedon. The Apostle’s Creed is used in the prayer book in short liturgies and services such as Morning Prayer.  We are all more than familiar with the Nicene Creed we will recite immediately after waking up from this homily.  And maybe a few of the brave souls who venture deep into the back pages of the prayer book will know the extremely long creed of St. Athanasius.  People fought fiercely in trying to convince others what was to be included in the Creeds.  The words used were deliberate in one thing; trying to define the Trinity and the natures of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

In the nursery years of this new born religion called Christianity, as I said when I began, the creed was as simple as you could get – four words – Jesus Christ is Lord.  It was in hymns, it was in letters written between Christians, it was a central theme of Paul’s epistles like the one we read today, and how much better off might we be with avoiding splits and factions between our sisters and brothers in Christ in other denominations if we used nothing more than those four words?  Some of the best mission statements of organizations in the world aren’t ten sentence paragraphs that make you pull out the dictionary after every five words.  They are simple and direct.  I overheard a conversation one day last week that I’ve forgotten where or who said it, but they were commenting on a very successful business that recited their mission statement every day.  It was short and sweet and something like “The people come first.”  The people come first; no wonder they are successful.  Forget about focusing on profits, or on shareholders, or on who sits in the corner office, they focus on the people and how they treat and handle them and the rest falls into place.  This is exactly what the first Christians did.  They knew that by focusing on Christ as Lord, all things will fall into place.

Now don’t get me wrong on one thing.  I’m not saying that no work is involved in either case.  Simply making the statement “Jesus Christ is Lord” over and over won’t guarantee you a seat next to St. Peter in heaven.  That’s reserved for me.  By claiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, we then understand that it’s our duty and responsibility to put his teachings and directions into action.  We must be what He has asked us to become; faithful followers of the Word.  With this congregation we shouldn’t have to ask “what is there to do?”  There are plenty of opportunities to feed the hungry, clothe the homeless, cure the sick and visit those in prison.  What Paul is telling us here in this short, beautiful hymn, is that there is no need to come up with complex theologies for a world that hurts as much as it does.  All we have to do is turn on our TVs – or these days look at our cell phones – to see how much that’s true.  But when you know that what matters is our reaction to them, and we move to help bring about comfort, caring and hope for them, then we are living into what we were made to be.

In a commentary of this epistle by the renowned theologian William Barclay, he states the same thing about this creedal statement by saying, “… Christianity consists less in the mind’s understanding than it does in the heart’s love.”  When you consider this and Paul’s continuing accounts of how love is the greatest gift, and our love is for God and our love for others comes through Christ, we should have to go no further in developing another creed that says all we need to know.  And when we say “Jesus Christ is Lord” we place ourselves among the very souls who surrounded Jesus on the road to Jerusalem shouting “Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!” We wave our palm branches in the air and lay them and our coats on the road to keep the dust and dirt from raising up and dirtying the one riding on the donkey.  At least for now we’re claiming he is our king.  He will ride into the Holy City and be the one who prophets spoke of.  We at least have a chance to look back and see what was to happen next.  His teachings and directions weren’t followed except by a handful of the faithful.

I’ll leave the rest of this week’s readings for the sermons on their respective days.  The reading of the passion on Palm Sunday was added because in short:  not many people were attending the entire Holy Week Services, especially on Good Friday so it wasn’t being heard.  What is Easter without Maundy Thursday and Good Friday?  If we’re going to celebrate something we should understand the reasons.  And so the reading of the passion was added to today’s service.  For those who immerse themselves into the transformative power of lent, today is a day to feast and a day to look with hope and high expectations on the future.  Our king is nearing His journey’s end and we will all be saved, just not in the way we would expect.  So now as we near the time where we proclaim the Nicene Creed let us remind ourselves that this started out with the simplest of statements.  Four words were all that were needed in the time when Paul was trying to fix parts of churches that were broken.  Jesus Christ is Lord.  Yet those four words said today are still as strong as any four paragraph letter of understanding.  In a short while we’ll be reciting a part of the Eucharistic Prayer with the response, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest” As you can see these words were used by both the prophets of the Old Testament and the Gospel writers of the New Testament.  As we say these words, I ask you to take your palms and hold them lovingly.  Let them be your testament and creed to what this day, Palm Sunday, is all about.  The confirmation that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Amen.    

Peace and Blessings

Deacon Pete

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Have Yourself A Cosmic Christmas

December 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Merry Christmas everyone!  Tonight I bring you greetings from a host of sisters and brothers in Christ who could not be here but wish to extend their best wishes, prayers and love as well.  We are truly blessed by them and on this wonderful night we can respond in kind through our own thoughts and prayers.

You know, so much happens in the space of a year that when we pause to collect our thoughts and look back at where we were 12 months ago – (and I’m not just talking about our church but our personal lives as well) how we arrived at where we currently are on this Christmas might have been hard to imagine back then.  It might have been nice to have a prophet convey a message to us about it as did Isaiah.  But then I think about that and I’m not sure how that would work out.  Think of how we would react if a modern day prophet had foretold us of the events that would soon shake and shape our world into the condition it’s in now.  What an amazing story we would have listened to as the future was presented to us.  Depending on our individual views, some might have called the prophet odd, some might have ignored him, some might have suggested a good therapist, and as an afterthought some might have even waited to tell the rest of us “They told you so.”  Yet here we are, a year later celebrating the birth of our LORD at the Christmas Vigil – announcing with the psalmist “The LORD is King; let the earth rejoice; let the multitude of the isles be glad.” We have spent the previous four weeks during Advent preparing for this day singing together “Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel”   We are here, seated on this glorious night listening to how the angels met the shepherds and rejoiced singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  And we continue to read Luke’s narration telling us, how after hearing the story of the shepherds, Mary; “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

As I read over and over the words “Rejoice” I was reminded of another time not long ago where we shouted a different tone of “Rejoice”!  That was nine months ago as we walked through Holy Week together with mixed emotions.  After singing the Exultet at the lighting of the Easter Candle I repeatedly made known in my brief homily at the Easter Vigil how it was essential that we were to rejoice in the goodness that was already ours, regardless of what the world looked like to us.  We were caught in a time when we were forced to look at ourselves and realize that if we were to celebrate a birth at the end of a year, a resurrection was needed in our own community.  It’s a paradox as old as time that in order for something to die; something must be born, yet for something to be born, something has to die.  It’s about returning to life over and over.

And returning to life is what you did!  As we gather together on this Christmas Eve, it is quite evident that there is more than one birth to be celebrated tonight.  We come to celebrate the birth of Jesus and honor Him with hymns of praise and prayers of thanksgiving while coming together in Holy Communion as a parish – a bit more confident than we were nine months ago.  It’s a celebration of a rebirth into a new era in the history of our church.  A rebirth where, back in the spring, we collectively gathered our questions, our fears, our hopes and our hearts; and realized that if we want to move forward we must evolve.  And evolve we did!  But there’s one thing about evolving – and we must not become complacent with this – it’s an action that never ends.  For Christ never stops evolving and neither must we.

The Christ of evolution is different than the Christ that most of us think of.  It is not the baby Jesus and not the man Jesus but the Christ that Jesus became and the Christ that lives in each of us.  It is the source of our being, which we need to cultivate, grow and actually live.  During the season of Advent we looked for times of solitude, resting in peace and silence to help nurture us from within.  We looked for quiet times to prepare for the coming of Christ, but if we look for that coming of Christ under our tree or on the mantel in the crèche we put out for Christmas, we’ll miss the point of this every time.  To quote Canon Babcock during one of his off-the-cuff homilies at our Wednesday Holy Eucharist; “We aren’t using Advent for the preparation of the coming of Jesus, that’s history, it’s already happened.  We’re using Advent for the preparation of the rebirth of Christ within ourselves.”  So that is why we work so hard for this day.  It’s the promise of the second coming and the promise we make to God in our baptismal covenant to make Christ alive in every action in our daily lives.   If we look at tonight as just another birth celebration – even with all the energy and love we put into it – we lose the purpose of the event the rest of the year and next year we’re still in the same place, just one year older.  Far too often we get in ruts or become comfortable where we are and so we sit back and think that we’re rolling right along when in fact what we’re really doing is falling behind.   We become static and Christ appears static to us.  Everything passes us by and the rest of the universe goes on evolving without us.

I find it interesting that the Jewish Tanak begins the first chapter of Genesis “In the beginning when God began to create…”  Creation is not a one-time event and to stay evolving means we are also responsible for creating the world we live in.  The entire universe; all the stars, planets, galaxies and nebulas and all the other things we stand in awe of while looking at the night sky are moving and expanding, even stars are born and they create planets and then eventually die off.  All this from having been shot out in the explosion of the big bang we call God’s beginning of creation by making order out of chaos and creating something from nothing.  Just as we are moving through our galaxy, Christ is moving within and around us and we must move in life with Christ, ever changing, ever adapting, working peacefully with every person on earth; always looking for new ways to better ourselves and our community.   Our relationship with Christ is our relationship with the world.  The Franciscan Nun Ilia Delio puts it this way; “Because we humans are in evolution we must see Christ in evolution as well- Christ’s humanity is our humanity, Christ’s life is our life … To live in Christ is to live in community; to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of community.”

In order for us to continue to evolve in the same fashion as the last nine months that gave us this rebirth, we must never stop moving forward.  We must keep moving with the same Christ that St. Paul talks about when he calls it the Christ in which we “live and move and have OUR being.”  There is nothing static about our lives in Christ.  To paraphrase the reading from Titus; the grace of Christ is not something we have gained through any special act or deed, but a gift from God we receive and are given at every moment of every day. Father John and Father Tom and I can tell you that we hear and see good things happening here among us.  We are entering this new era here and it is not merely a coincidence that we’ve arrived at this place on Christmas Day, in the same amount of time it takes to give birth.  It took a great deal of honest reflection and committed people to achieve what we’ve done but keep in mind the work is never done.  God doesn’t stop creating, Christ doesn’t stop moving, the Holy Spirit doesn’t stop guiding; it’s up to us to look at this newborn Christ within us and ask where we are to go next.  Whether the answer is from within our own self or from the entire family of sisters and brothers in Christ, when the actions are finished for this leg of our journey there will be another path to take from there.  Today the world sings praises and celebrates the birth of Jesus.  Let us pray with thanksgiving that as we join them in song and praise, we again REJOICE … because Christ is also alive and reborn within us … and with Mary we can reflect on all the joyful things that have been said and done in our lives, and treasure them in our own hearts as well, never forgetting to love and live in Christ not just on this Christmas Day, but every day of every year.  Merry Christmas and God bless us everyone!  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL year A; Christmas Day II

Old Thanksgiving, New Era Advent

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

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As a young child, Thanksgiving meant one of several things to me.  First and foremost it meant gathering around the television to watch the parade and wait anxiously to see Santa riding in the final float with his reindeer, and later we feasted on a huge turkey dinner with pumpkin pie.  My plate was usually full of turkey and just enough of the other things to ensure I’d be getting that pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.  It also meant my Dad and my uncles would be gathering to plan out the strategy for their hunting trips on Monday.  And of course it meant we would soon be taking a ride into the city to see the Christmas lights strung across the roads from street lamp to street lamp, and strolling down the sidewalks to see the magic of mechanical displays in the windows of stores such as Glosser Brothers and Penn Traffic.  Some of the toy elves would hammer and saw while others tied bows on boxes and of course Santa would be patting Rudolph on the head or wave to us as we stretched our little legs as high and tall as we could get without being picked up by Mom or Dad.

Those family gatherings, the preparations and trips were all part of a time and season where hope was attached to each snow flake that fell on the lawn wishing for a white Christmas.  The stillness of the cold nights held a certain peace that kept us youngsters from getting too rambunctious from having to play inside so much.  The TV programs of Frosty, Rudolph, and the short animations of Suzie Snowflake and Hardrock, Coco, and Joe brought joy to our little hearts as they signaled the coming of Santa – and yes, Jesus, too.  But the thing that held us together most through whatever else came along was the love of a family knit closely together by their faith in the Holy child, Jesus.  Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love; the four themes we celebrate in the coming season of Advent may have been impressed upon a child through the events of the season in his or her surroundings, but these words are made manifest in that final celebration of the birth of Christ, the first and final Word: The Word found in today’s scripture readings that hold even more reasons to be thankful.

Scripture says “let’s not stop at the reasons to be thankful.”  The stories show us how to celebrate and in each reading we find a different aspect of what Thanksgiving can mean to us.  On the surface Deuteronomy may seem like it’s giving us another law but what it’s really doing is helping us prioritize our actions.  Many people in this situation – getting a new job or new income – would take what they have made or what they have been paid and make an offering after what is left from all of their needs, wants, and desires.  What we’re told is the opposite; that a true and mature faith requires us to make our gifts to God and God’s people first and what is left is for us to live on.  The wise souls know that putting God first in all of their actions is an act of thanksgiving done not with expectations of getting something in return, but actions done with love.  In the psalm we rejoice – for God’s mercy is endless.  When we walk with God or meet with Him, wherever that may be, we need to be constantly aware that we are on Holy ground and the only action required is to openly show our gratitude.  So we come before his presence with a song.

The epistle for Thanksgiving Day almost shouts aloud by itself!  Rejoice!  Again I say, Rejoice!  There is no coincidence that the exultet which is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, the chant that echoes the phrase “rejoice now all you saints and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets sound salvation” that it is the same joyful noise we make today.  We rejoice in the resurrection that leads us into Easter and Pentecost and now as we close the calendar of the church year we once again repeat the sounding joy with thanksgiving.  Surely there were times that were troubled and times where our thoughts veered off course, but they were for their own time; at this moment in time the focus of our prayers are to be filled with thanksgiving.  Whatever is placed in front of us right now should be held in the light of goodness, purity, and worthy of honorable praise.  We should be thankful for everything and rejoice for all that is good.

And finally our Gospel puts the exclamation point on Happy Thanksgiving, with the knowledge through the Word that we are always fed with bread from heaven.  Why it’s even written into the Great Thanksgiving at the Offertory:  “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”  We truly have been blessed this past year.  We’ve found strength in ourselves and support for each other.  We’ve made some errors along the way but nothing has damaged us.  For me to say that I’m grateful for all of you would be an understatement.  We’ve helped each other grow and with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the kinship of the Holy Spirit we’ll continue to move forward.  A new era awaits us.  It could not be more fitting for it to greet us as we give thanks and celebrate the things we have, and also as we head into the Advent season of waiting and preparing for the good things to come.  So as we give thanks for the past and present, let us also rejoice with Hope in our future, Peace in our community, Joy in our souls, and Love in our hearts.  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL Thanksgiving Day, Year C

Distractions and the Better Part

July 21, 2013 Leave a comment

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Luke’s gospel story of Martha and Mary contains a variety of issues to choose from when trying to get the heart of what Jesus is saying.  There are a number of interpretations for this passage of scripture, so for beginners let’s look at several items of interest that can be argued.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with what Martha is doing.  Going about her assigned duties in the preparation or cleaning up after a meal is something we all do, and I’ll get back to that in a bit.  Secondly, there is not a polarization between Mary and Martha.  By this I mean the sisters have a very good relationship between themselves; the only other reference to them comes from John’s gospel where they mourn for Lazarus who has died.  Some believe there is a notion that this is strictly a gender issue dealing with allowing women to study and learn with the men.  But let’s now look at some other points and see where they will take us.

Most of us have been in the situation of hosting a dinner or party.  Being a good host or hostess requires us to do many tasks at once.  It is probably the best (and original) honest to goodness definition of what we today call multi-tasking.  Greet people at the door, prepare the meal, offer drinks and a seat, chase the dogs off the couch so there IS a place to sit, clean up spills, set the table, serve the guests, and chase the dogs out from under the table; this is only a partial list of things that sometimes involves just one person during the course of an evening with company.  Even with two people there is always the possibility of forgetting something.  We can easily relate to Martha who, by the way is probably the home owner.  The opening line says she welcomed Jesus into HER home.  When we invite people into our homes we can so often become wrapped up in what the chores are that we lose sight of the hospitality side of things.  We can even go as far as seeming to ignore the friends we welcome.  So we are not to assume or misinterpret that Jesus is telling Martha to stop what she’s doing, the chores can wait, or that Mary is doing the only thing necessary.  He says she is doing the “better part”; the word “part” being essential here.  Listening to the words of Jesus is essential and foremost, but He reminds us that He is the most important part of the hole, not the sole attention of our acts.  If that were the case nobody would ever get anything done because we’d all be sitting around listening to each other talk about Jesus.  We can identify with this situation in our church life.  We would lose focus of where all of our energy is to be spent if we are looking at who we are serving or leading and what the end result is for them, the actions take over and we begin to make the program our idol.  Each of our programs then becomes the center of attention and the person or persons we start out to help become a by-product of the system.  There should always be a focus no matter how many things are on our agenda.  At our most recent diocesan convention, there was a resolution to begin each meeting – regardless of what it is – with the question “What actions will we be taking during our meeting here that effects the poor?”  When we sit back and think about that it puts things in a different perspective than jumping right into reports and figures and assignments.

Jesus puts it this way.  He says “Martha, you are distracted by many things.”  The only thing to do is keep his teaching and words in front of our actions.  When we take our eyes and ears off of the sacred, necessary chores become dull and bothersome.  It’s as if our way of doing things have been reversed, or turned upside down where we’ve somehow placed the better part at the bottom of our “to-do” list.   A perfect example of this would be the story of Brother Lawrence.  Brother Lawrence lived in France during the seventeenth century.  He grew up poor and so at the proper age he joined the military where he knew he’d always have food and shelter.  One day he was resting under what appeared to be the lifeless limbs of a tree in winter.  It was one of those instances that place an indelible mark on your soul.  In a vision he recognized his own seemingly dead life could be awakened if he only sought to bring God into his own life.  Shortly after he was injured, eventually had to quit the army, and so joined a monastery in Paris.  Having no great skills outside of being a foot soldier, Brother Lawrence was placed in the kitchen to wash the pots and pans and clean the floors.  He immediately set himself to work praising God for giving him this job, and soon even the filthiest of chores became a delight for him as he was able to find God in the presence of it.  He knew that every act, regardless of how mundane, could be a medium for God’s love, and he dedicated every act of his with these words; “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”  This, I believe, is what Jesus is telling Martha to do.  Do things for the love of God.  Embrace all that we do as an act of prayer.  If we could do this in just a portion of our lives imagine how much peace we would find and how much aggravation we would avoid.  For years I personally viewed St. Paul’s conviction to “pray without ceasing” as something unattainable for the ordinary people we are.  That was while I was being like Martha, and allowing the multi-tasking to distract me.  But the less I allowed things to distract me, the more I could then focus on keeping God and the body of Christ as the head of my household, and the easier some things became.  The challenges don’t vanish into thin air, the same things come along in life as they always did, but by keeping Christ first and reacting in faith that God is with you, somehow makes things easier to get through.

Finally, you know I’ve mentioned a few other times how I’m learning so much from Luke’s gospels on how his words were intentionally written for the “least of these.”  Not only does he have Jesus intentionally praising women for wanting to learn, he places Mary in a position to listen attentively, something that mostly men would be doing in that era.  And of course he also has brought his teaching out of the synagogue into public squares and now brings it into a humble home showing that there is no place that God’s word does not belong.  So as we go about our normal business for the day, as we head out of our houses this week to go to work or play or whatever our plans are, let us not forget that our first action should be keeping God as the better part of the day.   Let us not get distracted by the clutter, or the clanging of pots and pans, or the blare of the neighbors TV, or the barking of dogs chasing the cat back upstairs where they think he belongs.  Let us pray first for the guidance and presence of our Lord in all of our actions and reactions and ask for help in remembering to do whatever is the “better part.”  Amen

Luke 10:38-42

Focus and Choose (Elisha and the Boanerges)

June 30, 2013 Leave a comment

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Knowing that I grew up in a coal mining town in the hills of western Pennsylvania, might give away who some of my childhood heroes were.  My first was a second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates by the name of Bill Mazeroski.  I still remember my Grandpap calling our house on that late summer day of 1960 when “Maz” hit the game winning home run in the final inning of the final game of the World Series!  He became a household name for many years to come, as would the likes of Clemente and Stargell.  Now my talents weren’t close to theirs and there wasn’t much of a chance for me to become like them, but in my mind when I practiced on the ball field I would imagine my body was going through every motion exactly as they appeared on the games I saw on television.  But the biggest thrill of all for me that left the biggest impression on my mind was actually going to baseball games at Forbes Field and seeing these idols perform before my eyes.  Oh, how I wanted so much to play at the level they did!  A competitive spirit was growing in me and would soon show in everything I did.  As much as I’d like to think I’ve settled down with the competing aspect of sports, my wife still brings to my attention from time to time that some things in life aren’t and shouldn’t be a contest.

Now I mention these sports figures not to brag about a particular team, city, place or time, but because as I look at the characters of Elisha, James and John, I see the image of some young people going about life with the same zeal for God that many youngsters have for sports.  There is an enthusiasm here that can get one in trouble depending on what you’re doing – and that is true to the point so much that James and John are told to settle down and start paying attention.  It’s also true in showing where our own passions and desires lie in our lives.

For Elisha it lies in wanting to be able to do more than Elijah does.  He sees the good that Elijah has demonstrated throughout his life, knows that it’s God who does the work, and so wants to do the same his desire to please God is evident everywhere.  Several times he’s told to stay at a certain spot, yet each time he insists on going the distance.  Some might classify this as a test of will and strength.  When we know we are heading toward an unpleasant situation there is always the choice of sitting back and saying no.  As we get closer to the end and we are given an option of not having to witness the final moments of it what will we choose?  Elisha is prepared to stay with his friend to the end.  His request for a higher blessing is met with a condition.  “If you see me as I am being taken from you… then it will be granted.”  Paraphrasing it might sound like this; “If you keep your focus on the ways of how I showed you to live your life up to the final moment, and never take your eyes off of the ways of God and look back to the past, your blessings will be increased.”  So Elisha, formerly a rich man who left his wealth and luxurious life to follow a prophet of God, gained a new life in the rich blessings of the Holy Spirit.

For James and John, their passion for God was so intense they were given the name “Sons of Thunder.”  Jesus seems to have a liking for giving out new names to his followers, especially the twelve, the ones closest to him.  Have you ever stopped to think about what he might name you if he were around now?  This is one passage many consider to be the main reason Jesus dubbed them “Boanerges.”  As they pass through the Samaritan village they are treated badly.  Take into consideration that during the first century CE the relationship of a Samaritan to a Jew then is what the relationship between an Arab and a Jew is today.  They barely tolerated each other; to the point where I read New Testament historian C. Bernard Ruffin tell us to imagine signs on the hotels reading “no Jews allowed.”  That is what is meant by the more polite statement here made by Luke, saying that Jesus’s face was set toward Jerusalem.  Another spiritual lesson is taking place, this time in humility.  James and John are so riled and offended at the apparent hatred being thrown at them they’ve allowed their thoughts to be brought down to that same level.  They want to throw hate back at hate and so ask Jesus to send down lightning bolts from heaven.  They have seen him numerous times control nature by calming the storms and walking on water.  If he can stop the wind and waves from turning over a boat full of fishermen, surely he could shock a few bodies or at least rattle them with some rolling thunder.  Combine that attitude with their presumably powerful voices echoing the good news of Jesus through the huge crowds –the Sons of Zebedee become the Sons of Thunder.

But Jesus tells them to let it be.  They are not traveling through this place or any other place to retaliate and get into arguments and fights.  The mission is clear, at least to their leader.  He is travelling to the place and time where soon He will be taken up.  Just as Elijah has related to Elisha, the focus has to be on God and the Holy Spirit to make it through the entire journey.  Now to drive this point further home, Luke presents some issues that cut through centuries of time and generations of culture.  What about my family?  What about those I love?  What about the things I put above all else every moment of the day?  The people say; “Lord, I would follow you anywhere but you see, I have a wife and 3 children, another family member has passed away and the winds and rain are coming so I must harvest the wheat and there are all these things I must attend to in my daily life, but after I take care of those things, then, yes, Lord, I’ll start following you.”  And then the final request of them is to “let me go and say goodbye to family.”  First of all, it’s my hopefully humble opinion that in none of these cases is Jesus literally telling us to leave everything we have or we will never be able to serve God the way God is to be served.  I do not believe He would tell us to forget about family values or socially acceptable customs or business ventures that keep us clothed and fed.  If that is the case, then we certainly wouldn’t have been given the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Luke’s presentation of the gospel and Jesus’s words are directed to a society where family life was considered central and was more tightly knit than we are today in the western world.  So we must keep this in mind when reflecting on these very shocking words of how to realize the Kingdom in this world.  Jesus knew that all these things were important to people or I doubt these situations would have been put in the gospels.  He understood that family was a prime subject but he wanted to remind everyone that God should be at the top of the list.  He tells us that before everything we do, we must consider what is most important.  Everything is in its place.  We go to our jobs and perform our work but we keep our moral and ethical values no matter what kind of deals are offered.  We tend to the sick and dying with the respect and honor they need and deserve but we don’t forget about our commitment to the living while we mourn.  We value time with the family on weekends but we make certain that some of that time is spent together in church or prayer.  And we look toward the future with each other but we do it prayerfully and thoughtfully keeping God front and center in the decisions and plans we make.  Instead of following that idol from childhood we must now start following the Christ that Jesus has become.  We are Its body.  Through Him it is realized.  By us the work is done.  Will we be like “Boanerges”, daughters and sons of thunder?  Like Elisha, desperately wanting more?  The answer lies in where we choose to place God in our lives.  Amen.

(Scripture used from RCL for Year C, Proper 8.  2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14  Luke 9:51-62)

Forgiving Grace

June 16, 2013 1 comment

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I’m pretty much on the fence when it comes to using the saying “What Would Jesus Do?”  We may also add “What Would Jesus Say” to the mix of these slogans.  They are designed to make us stop and think about the actions we take in life’s challenges.  Some argue we don’t know what Jesus would do because he never encountered some of the situations that occur in our modern world.   Still others hold the question relevant and adaptable to any and all situations.  Take for instance the story of a family who had two young children in the house.  One evening after supper Mom heard the two boys arguing in the kitchen.  She went in to find out what the commotion was all about and as she got closer she heard the younger one say, “but you had the last piece of chocolate cake last week!  It’s my turn and I should get the last piece of this one!”  And the older brother was saying “I’m the oldest, so I get what I want!”  Mom entered the room and says, “Boys, what do we do when we start arguing about things?  Don’t we ask ourselves ‘what would Jesus do?”  Well, the older brother stops and drops his head in apparent guilt, and the younger one says, “Jesus would say “here, you have the last piece of cake.”  Mom said, “Very good, now work it out between the two of you without fighting.”  She turned and walked out of the room with a smile thinking she had finally gotten through to her sons when she hears the older brother say “Okay, I’ll let you feel important, you be Jesus!”

That scenario may not be exactly like the story in today’s Gospel, but what it does is start the conversation of how we decide who in society is relevant and who isn’t.  Obviously, in the joke, the older brother maintains that his age gives him a status that places him above anything the younger one might think, even the option of taking turns.  What we have with Luke’s story is someone who is recognized as an authoritative figure in society; a Pharisee who expects his position in the community to give him an excuse for neglecting certain customs and courtesies.  He was a poor host and a prejudiced one at that.  The Pharisee has lost sight of the big picture.  He is so drawn into keeping the laws he has lost his compassion for humanity.  He fails to see God’s unending Grace and forgiveness being poured out to all regardless of wealth or status.  The focus is on Jesus allowing a sinner to fuss over him.  He doesn’t care that she is tending to the needs of his guest that he had neglected to provide for him.  Instead of noticing the good that is being done, all the attention is drawn to what could be wrong with the woman’s actions.

How often do we recognize this situation in the world around us?  We can become so concerned about who others are, what they have, what they don’t have, or what they are doing, that we lose sight of the bigger picture; or more importantly, lose sight of the real nature of how we are supposed to live with each other.  God’s grace was flowing abundantly and freely with the forgiveness that Jesus was giving to this caring soul yet few knew it.  The host was so full of himself he failed to offer the common courtesies of the times; a welcoming kiss, a bowl to wash up in, and a towel to dry off.  Simple things, of course, but it took a common person from the streets to notice this and willingly and compassionately do for the host what he himself failed to do.  We know the love that Jesus gives, so maybe you can imagine beginning there in person, being able to provide for his personal needs and having that love given directly back to you?  Love so deep the tears of joy could not be held back.  So many tears you wouldn’t need water.  Perhaps it would be in this moment that we see God’s grace in both the simple and complex issues in our lives.  Apparently this is nothing new.  We see examples of it throughout 4,000 years of recorded history.  We see it in our first reading with David’s want of another man’s wife.  Again it appears as a Pharisee’s jealousy over Jesus’s attention to a sinner.  And we find it in today’s world in a modern day greed that disregards all the beatitudes and the tenth commandment (you shall not covet … anything).  It may be difficult at times to grasp what it takes to see the big picture, to be fully human and see God’s grace given without distinction of class or culture.  That’s what the Gospels do.  That’s what the Good News is.  That’s what Jesus is teaching us:  How to be fully human.  The laws and commandments are there to guide us and provide everyone the foundation and framework to care for each other, but He says “Don’t stop there.  Don’t stay in the box.”  Boxes are restrictive and confining.  The host of this dinner, Simon, who knows the laws, has put all his energy into living by the law, putting everything into a tiny, neat box.  How unfortunate for the many people around him who could use his help?  And how unfortunate for him that he doesn’t recognize this gift that he can’t see?

He has taken the law to the point of making it his idol and has forgotten how to be human.  He segregates, judges and divides people based on their obedience to a code instead of their spirit and ability to be transformed.   Jesus sees beyond the structure, removes the barrier and sees the person in their true human nature.  He knows that we make mistakes.  For the text to mention that this woman was a sinner means whatever she had done, it was done with the public’s knowledge.  Everyone knew about it.  But it doesn’t keep her from recognizing who was in her midst.  We are also shown that Jesus recognizes when someone is genuinely sorry and he knows we are capable of making those mistakes more than once.  He knows this because he knows the world and knows temptation because he, too, is human as well as divine.   I recently had a discussion where we were talking about how hard it is not to confine God to our expectations where we say “this is what God is and this is how we are supposed to worship.”  That method is perfectly fine for starting out in life because we need structure and discipline to form us, and it takes practice to make sure we don’t keep falling back into bad habits.  But growth doesn’t happen when we resign ourselves to placing people in categories by our own errant judgments.  We ignore the human and put people in their places based on what side of the street – or river – they live on, where they got their degree or whether or not they have one, and even how they pronounce words or use words that don’t really exist like some of yinz do.

Personally, the more I read and reflect on the Gospel of Luke, the more it becomes central to the decisions I make in my life and the more I refer to it as a model of how to take the Good News out into the world.  Mainly, I’m drawn to Luke’s Gospel because of its inclusiveness and ability to bring the most neglected people into the picture.  He allows those on the fringes of society that are generally left out of so many important texts; the poor, the sick, the children, and the women to assume the actual roles they play in society.  I also believe there is a connection between those who are a part of our parish and the naming of our church as St. Luke’s.  I always tell the other deacons I know in and outside of our diocese how you make my job easy.  A big part of the work of a deacon is to take the gospel into the world and identify the needs of the people, taking those needs back to the church and moving the people towards those needs.   I’m overwhelmed at times by the number of you who have come to me, letting me know who needs help and attention.  The church and the community are much better because of it.  Perhaps that’s why I like this particular reading and how it adds the beginning of chapter eight to the end of it.  Luke doesn’t present a Jesus that does one kind thing for someone and goes back to being on top with the “in crowd.”  He starts at the bottom, with those who have been declared the least, and spreads his good news upward.  He prepares the way by showing the world that the way to salvation is not through laws and good deeds but through forgiveness, love, and grace.  His followers don’t stop with twelve men.  He gets support from women he has healed like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others who have been called sinners.  What was once denied to many by a few is now free to all from one.  Still today, as we follow Him we are also blessed by the grace received through it.  The love continues on.  The forgiveness never ends.  The grace never stops.  Amen.

RCL Proper 6 (Luke 7:36-8:3)

The Great Fifty Days of Easter

April 7, 2013 6 comments

Throughout the history of the church the Great Fifty Days of Easter has been a time for the newly baptized to find their place in the church as they begin their ministries and start putting their spiritual gifts to use. This can be a time of great reward or a time of great struggle. After the anticipation of being named as Christ’s own forever has been actualized, one might be so overwhelmed with desire and ambition that they fail to notice a call or nudge in the direction they are being led. When one hears stories of how the Holy Spirit descends as a dove or in tongues of flames, followed by people speaking in foreign languages, we might just be disappointed when there is no big lightning bolt to clear the path for us. This is where those of us who have witnessed and promised to do what we can to help the new members mature do it “with God’s help.” Our task is to make sure they don’t fade into the crowd and get lost.
But it’s not just the newly baptized we’ve promised to stand behind and support. We renew the commitment time and time again, not just for the newcomers, but for every member of the Body of Christ. Whether they are Christened as a child, confirmed as a teen, or were baptized as an adult; we need to show them we care and make sure they have the tools to grow. Let’s ask them if we are meeting their spiritual needs and welcome their input. Give them responsibility in the community. Show them they are needed and that they have much to contribute. No, we won’t solve everyone’s problems or heal everyone’s ills. What we can do is take a pulse of the spiritual health of our people and keep checking it to ensure our body is strong and able to carry out our mission. We are fresh from the joy of the resurrection and now in the perfect time to review our status. Should we revive old programs or start new ones? What has the Holy Spirit been telling us? Are we being nudged in a particular direction? Before we move on in the usual fashion let’s step back, take a breath, know that the rest of the Body of Christ is with us, and above all pray that we may see clearly where we are to go. We can do this “with God’s help.”
Deacon Pete