Sermon: Sign of Things to Come

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Today we turn the page to a new Church year. Today we begin a journey of discovery and a journey of Hope. Today begins the Season of Advent, the season of preparation. The time of the year when we prepare our homes and our hearts for the coming birth of the Christ child.

This journey begins with and in Hope. Hope is difficult to have these days because it is hard to know what to have Hope in. Growing up, we had Hope in the Church and the leaders of the Church. But for some of us, we were let down by that Church and those leaders. Perhaps it was because of the person we chose to love. Maybe it was because of a situation that caused our marriage to dissolve. Maybe it was a clergy person that caused us to lose Hope.

Growing up, we also had Hope in the institutions of government. Government is not and should not be the answer to every problem that arises, but lately, the government has been more concerned with itself and the perpetuation of jobs of the leaders rather than of jobs for others. It seems we have lost our focus, and rather than one nation with liberty and justice for all, we have become many nations with liberty and justice for a few.

But there is one sure foundation for us to have Hope in, and that is the story we are here to share. A story that began in a backwater portion of the Roman Empire in 1st century Palestine. It started when a very young girl answered the call to do something extraordinary. So our story of Hope begins with a young girl who says yes.

All that this young girl knew was that God had asked. She did not need any assurance; although she had questions, she would find those answers on the journey. The story continues with a man, a simple man, a carpenter by trade. Tradition tells us he had been married before and that his spouse died and left him with children. This man is a provider and, at first, was not too keen on the idea that the woman he had pledged to marry was now in the family way.

He wanted to put her away quietly, but that same angel came and told him to have Hope that everything would be okay, and it was. He had Hope when they set out to be counted, and he still had Hope when they could not find a place to sleep. He had Hope when he looked into the eye of God, the eyes of love that had just become flesh and entered the world.

He was about to lose Hope when the angel came again and told him to get up and take the child and flee. To leave everything he had behind and take the child and his mother to a far-off land that was not his own. They would have to face unimaginable hardships on that journey and arrive in a place that was hostile to them just because they were from another place. But he had to protect his family, so he did what he had to regardless of the risk for life, and life was better than certain death.

You see, this journey of Hope began long before the baby was born. This story of Hope started “in the beginning” when God, the source of all life and love, created humanity in God’s own image and likeness and breathed God’s very breath into God’s creation. The journey began in that garden when humanity disobeyed God and set humanity on this journey we are now witnessing.

Advent is a season that has all but been forgotten. Advent gets skipped over for its more important cousin Christmas but, we cannot have the birth without the preparation. Advent comes from the Latin adventus and is translated as coming or arrival. Advent is the time, as John the Baptist put it, to prepare for the coming of the Savior of the World and the Prince of Peace. Advent is the time to prepare ourselves spiritually for what is about to happen.

 Advent is also a journey. Each week of this season has a theme, and we will light one candle each week as we count down. We begin in Hope, expectant Hope; the following weeks are faith, joy, and peace. All four weeks teach us to have these themes in our hearts and our lives.

Just as the story of Mary and Joseph began with Hope, our Advent story begins with Hope. I spoke earlier of what we used to have Hope in, but we quickly found that this Hope was short-lived. But we still need to have Hope. Hope is vital to the life of the Christian, and it is that Hope that we are called to bring into this world that we live in.

Our ancestors in faith had Hope; their Hope was in the Messiah that would come and free them from their bondage. They thought this Messiah was coming to free them from their physical bondage, but rather the Messiah came to free them from their spiritual bondage. The Messiah came to show them a new way, the way of love. The Messiah came to indicate that all were equal in the eyes of God and that no matter their circumstances, we, his followers, were to love and care for them.

But we are also people of action. We live in hope, but we must be the ones who make that Hope a reality for others. Jesus came to give us a new way, but that way requires something of us.

It first requires the love of God. We express that love by the following requirement, loving everyone. This is not just passive love but love in action. We have shown that love here with our food collection and for the collection of items for Fr. Bills. We put that love into action by our openness to others regardless of where they come from, who they are, how much money they have, or who they love.

Friends, the season of Advent needs to be a season that we welcome and a season that we celebrate. I know it is difficult as there are all sorts of distractions this time of year that pulls us in many different directions. But take time, real-time, to prepare our hearts and minds for the journey that is ahead of all of us. Take time to journey with Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem for the birth of their child. Prepare the room in your heart for Jesus to come and dwell.

But then, take that move that preparation into action. There are people in the world living in Hope, hoping that someone will come along and help them. So be that Hope for someone this season and give the gift of Hope, the Hope that can change lives.

Amen

A Proclamation on: Thanksgiving Day, 2021

Thanksgiving provides us with a time to reflect on our many blessings — from God, this Nation, and each other.  We are grateful for these blessings, even — and especially — during times of challenge.

That is why George Washington declared a day of Thanksgiving for his troops as they marched into that dark winter at Valley Forge.  It is why in the midst of the Civil War — in proclaiming the Thanksgiving holiday we now celebrate today — Abraham Lincoln urged us to remember our “fruitful fields and healthful skies.”  Just as 400 years ago when the Pilgrims were able to celebrate a successful first harvest thanks to the generosity and support of the Wampanoag, today we too express our gratitude for those who have helped us get through this difficult past year. 

We are grateful for the farm workers and frontline workers, many of whom are immigrants, who make sure our food is harvested and shipped, keep our grocery stores stocked, and keep our cities and towns clean and safe.

We are grateful for the educators who are welcoming children back into their classrooms, helping them make up for lost learning and lost time, both academically and socially.

We are grateful for the parents who have carried their families through this challenging time, helping their children navigate this difficult chapter in our Nation’s history.

We are grateful for the health care professionals working to vaccinate our Nation, the nurses who comfort and help people, and the doctors who provide care and compassion.

We are grateful for the researchers and scientists who have developed safe and effective vaccines and treatments, allowing us to safely enjoy a Thanksgiving this year with more family around the table.

As always, we are grateful for our troops serving far from home, keeping us safe and defending our values.

For the First Lady and me, Thanksgiving has always been a cherished time to enjoy annual traditions that have evolved into sacred rituals with our children and grandchildren:  throwing the football, preparing family recipes, lighting candles, and setting the table.  For many Americans, this Thanksgiving will be the first time gathering with loved ones in person since the start of the pandemic — a time of full tables and full hearts.  

As we celebrate, we will also be thinking of the many families feeling the pain of an empty chair at the Thanksgiving table.  You are not alone, and our Nation stands with you. 

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 25, 2021, as a National Day of Thanksgiving.  I encourage the people of the United States of America to join together and give thanks for the friends, neighbors, family members, and strangers who have supported each other over the past year in a reflection of goodwill and unity.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-fourth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.

JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.

Attitude of Gratitude

Traditionally, the month of November is the month we remember, and the month we are thankful. We begin the month with the commemoration of all Saints Day when we recall the men and women who have done extraordinary things. This is followed the next day with All Souls Day, the day we remember all of those who have gone before us.

November is also the month we remember our Veterans, those men and women who have served, and those who continue to serve our country and ensure that our freedoms extend to all. I was proud to have participated in the Veterans Day ceremonies in Hull and equally pleased to see the number of Hullonians who turned out on that beautiful day. Hull is a military town, and it is nice to see the residents supporting our Veterans.

The end of the month brings the time when family and friends will gather and share a meal and give thanks for all that we have. Thanksgiving is just that, a time to be thankful. It has been a difficult couple of years, and we have had to sacrifice much, but we can also be thankful for all the gifts that we have received. Even on the darkest of days, there is still something to be thankful for.

But we should not limit being grateful to just one day of the year; we should be grateful all year long. This is because adopting an attitude of gratitude is not only good for our soul, but it is also suitable for our physical and mental wellbeing. In other words, being grateful all year long is a good thing.

One of my favorite spiritual writers is Diana Butler Bass. She has written several books on gratitude and how to adopt this attitude of thankfulness and gratitude. Bass has this to say about why adopting gratitude is so important. “Gratitude undoes evil by tunneling under its foundations of anger, resentment, and greed.” Gratitude changes the way we think and act and, there is some evidence, that extended gratitude rewires our brains.

Another way to look at this idea is that it takes more energy to be negative than it does to be positive. Negative energy weighs more than positive energy. Another way of putting it is that it is harder to be negative than it is to be positive.

I know that it is not always easy to be positive or grateful these days, and that is all the more reason to try and adopt this attitude. If we ever hope to make a difference in this world or make this world a better place, we need to take the chance by giving gratitude a try.

So let us make an effort to pick one or maybe two things each day that we are grateful for. Write them down, or perhaps post them on Facebook to let the world know you are grateful. If we can, each of us changes our little part of the world, then all of us, together, make a difference.

This essay originally appeared in the Hull Times November 18, 2021

Sermon: A Wise Reign

Revelation 1:4-8
John 18:33-37
Feast of Christ the King

Have you ever been so frustrated with a situation that all you want to do is walk away? Sometimes walking away is the best thing we can do for our spiritual and mental health. Sometimes one needs to walk away to make a point. But sometimes, we walk away too fast.

In the last decade, there have been all sorts of studies related to the decline in attendance in the Sunday morning worship service. However, I am sure many here today can remember a time when this church was filled. It may have been some time ago, but the reality of the situation is that time is gone, and it is never coming back.

People walk away from church for various reasons, and some walk away because they could not have things their way. People are people, and we all have our wants and desires, and the desire to get our way can be frustrating if it does not happen.

Although people have been walking away from the institutional church since the 1960s, the good news is people are not walking away from the faith. On the contrary, studies show that people are more faithful today than when churches burst at the seams. And the even better news is, people are being church whether there is a building or not.

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Although this idea of Christ being King of the Universe has been around since the very early days of the church, it was not until 1926 that it appeared on the church’s calendar. Then it was for political rather than theological reasons.

Secularism, Nationalism, and Nazism were on the rise, and Pope Pius XI declared this feast a Universal Feast of the Church. He stated this feast was a response to the evil and destructive forces making their way across Europe and would eventually lead the world into another war.

I call these forces evil and destructive because they break down the very nature of what it means to live in a community. These dark forces call us to individuality and to care only about what is good for me, even if it is at your expense. With his declaration, Pius was saying there is another way, the way of the Kingdom of God where we care for each other, sometimes at the expense of self.

In the Gospel passage we heard this morning from John, Pilate was trying to discover if Jesus was the King of Jewish people. Jesus had been brought before Pilate by the Jewish Temple Authorities claiming that Jesus had said he was King. This would be treason, and treason used to be a severe crime. At one point in history, attempting to overthrow a legitimate government with deceit and lies was a severe crime, and this is what Jesus faced.

Jesus responds to Pilate’s questions with questions and explains that the Kingdom that Jesus belongs to is not of this world. Ultimately Jesus and his followers belong to a Kingdom that is not earthbound. Ultimately, Jesus and his followers belong to the truth. Thus, Jesus is redefining the terms “king” and “kingdom” in terms of the belief in the one who came into the world to testify to the truth.

Truth is something that is supposed to be valued by those who claim to follow Jesus; truth is absolute and not some version of the truth that is bent to fit a particular ideology, regardless of what that ideology is. Proclaiming the truth is what makes Jesus King.

The past several years have seen the truth bent and twisted in some cases beyond recognition. The truth is not always pleasant, but the truth, none the less is the truth.

Several times in Scripture, after Jesus presents a teaching, people cannot understand to believe what he has just said, and they walk away. So ingrained is their belief that nothing, even the words of Jesus, will change their minds.

But we also see this in a contemporary way. Those same teachings of Jesus have been so manipulated from a position of love and care for all to we have the right to exclude people for whatever reason we decide is necessary. We humans have this mistaken belief that we have to defend God and be the keepers of who gets in and who does not get into God’s Kingdom. Truther be told, that is the very thing Jesus came to show that we were doing wrong.

When we decide that we will be followers of Jesus, we give up some of our individualism and focus more on the community. At the time Jesus was walking the earth, there was a communal understanding of everything. The idea that what is good for me regardless of what it does or does not do for the community was not something they thought of. There was this awareness of the group and what was good for the entire group and not just some of the group.

When Jesus speaks to Pilate about those who listen to Jesus’ voice belonging to the truth and are a part of the Kingdom, he says that belonging is less about individual decision making and more about collective participation in a community, and this participation transcends the individual.

The Kingdom of God is present wherever Jesus is, and Jesus is present wherever his followers are. It is present whenever we feel God’s presence through invitation, healing, and restoration, but this is not an induvial thing. Nowhere in Scripture does it say we have to have a personal relationship with Christ. Our relationship with Jesus comes in and through the community.

Our belonging is up to God. That is the new reality that Jesus comes to proclaim. That is the new truth to which all of us – the community of those invited, healed, and restored – belong.

Amen.

Full Moon Rituals

Not a Great Photo of the Soon to be Full Moon

I sent this email to my Hospice Team This Morning

Driving home last night, the moon was amazing. Several of us shared pictures on the Tiger Text and some comments about just how amazing it was. Not only was the moon almost full, the actual full moon is tonight, but we are also in a period of a lunar eclipse.

In preparation for our Memorial Service next month, I have been thinking about rituals and how vital ritual is in our lives. Ritual helps with grief and bereavement and set us on the path towards the new normal. I know we don’t like to think about it, but the work we do does cause each of us some grief with each loss. We feel some of those losses more than others.

Many rituals surround the time of the full moon. For example, if you have and use crystals, the light from the full moon will recharge the crystals. Another ritual is the making of Moon Water. Fill a jar with water and place it in the light of the moon. The energy from the moon is caught in water particles, and when you drink the water, the energy is released. Finally, the full moon is a great time to meditate and just listen to the world around you.

But for me, the most beneficial full moon ritual is cleansing or getting rid of those things that do not serve us any longer. This can be a physical activity around the house, but more importantly, it is spiritual. Give some thought to the memories and other things like self-doubt, anger, and all the rest. Write them on a piece of paper and when you are ready, burn it and let them go. Of course, you can do this at any time, but tapping into the full moon’s energy helps in the process.

The last point is about self-care. Practicing good self-care is what allows us to do the sacred work we do, so here are a few principles to get us started:

1. Trust what comes or goes (we don’t always see the big picture)
2. Be patient
3. Embrace change (and there has been a lot of change)
4. Stay hydrated
5. Recognize soul growth
6. Follow the signs

Friends, it is as honor to be doing this work with you. Take care of yourselves this day and every day.

Blessings and Peace,

Sermon: Praise the Holy One

Mark 13:1-8

It started as a beautiful summer day. It was June 1, 2011, and I was on my way home from speaking to a group about my work as a trauma chaplain. I told stories of my time in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and my time at Virginia Tech following the mass shooting there. I was serving a Parish in the Central part of Massachusetts and serving as Interim Chief Fire Officer. Driving back to the station, an announcement was made over the radio that a storm cell was approaching the area. This was not an uncommon announcement this time of year. However, something about the tone of voice being used by the dispatcher made me think this was serious.

I returned to the Fire House, and the TV was on. A tornado had touched down in Worcester and was headed east. As we watched the path of destruction on TV, the fire radio began to tell the story of destruction in real-time as each affected town came on the radio. Buildings were down, people were trapped, and fire and police crews were out on the rescue.

As the tornado came closer, we sounded the general alarm to bring firefighters and EMTs to the station. We watched in eager anticipation as the storm came closer and closer. It missed the town where the fire station was but hit the town where I was living. The fire company was dispatched to that town, and I raced home, lights and siren wailing to check on things.

Not far from my home was a scene of destruction that I had only ever witnessed on TV. One house was completely gone; the only tell-tale sign that something had been there was the foundation. Another place was shifted entirely off its foundation and close to collapse. It was hard to take in. The very ground beneath my feet and all those things around me that I thought would last forever were gone in the blink of an eye.

In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus is coming out of Temple with his disciples. As they walk out, Jesus turns and causally makes the comment that all of this will be thrown down and destroyed. In their dismay, they cannot fathom how this would even be possible. Later in the day, several of the Apostles corner Jesus and ask for an explanation which, as Jesus usually does, is not forthcoming.

Jesus then speaks of watching out for those that will come after him but will deceive the followers. How many times have we heard of the end of the world? Not a year goes by that one so-called religious group or another begins to predict the end of the world. It usually involves sending them large sums of money, which I have never been able to figure out since the world is coming to an end but send them all your money.

There are often tales told after major weather incidents that God had sent the, insert storm here to wreck, insert name of place here, because of, insert sin here. It usually involves liberals, gays, or other such groups that the fine well washed Christians find distasteful this week. But, of course, there is never an explanation of why, when their godsends this destruction good people get killed as well, but it happens, and they fluff it off. But here is Jesus, 2,000 years before these events warning about people just like this.

In my way of thinking, there is also a very unhealthy obsession by some with the end of times. They try and read the signs, not just storms but other things, and usually try and find the answer in the Book of Revelation. I recall a time; I believe it was in the 1970s when red tide hit the clam flats pretty bad; all manner of religious folk were talking about the end of the world and the sure and certain signs that Jesus was coming back.  Well, we are still here.

Jesus speaks of this to those gathered with him, and he tells them not to worry about what is or is not coming but to be conscious of the present and the work that needs to be done now.

When John the Baptist makes his appearance, he is telling people to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Not on some far-off cloud, but right here in the present age. Being a Christian is less about how to get into heaven than it is about creating God’s Kingdom right here on earth.

Now, let me clarify a point here: I am not speaking in a governmental way when I mention Kingdom. This idea that we have to create some sort of Christian nation is poppycock. Nowhere in Scripture that I can find anyway says that we have to make a Christian nation except in your own heart. Scripture is clear that we have to love and care for each other, but we do that from our hearts, not the seat of power in some national capitol.

Jesus tells us to be wary of those who come in his name and make claims, “Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many.” (v 6). We have seen it time and time again. How many of you remember Jim Jones, David Koresh, and all the rest of them? Sure, they might start with good intentions, but it always goes horribly wrong. So be very wary of people who claim to be sent from God or who others claim have been sent by God if their message does not square with the Gospel.

We have to keep a close eye out for these folks. They come as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They come saying all of the right things but do not have a love of Jesus in their hearts, and that is how we can discern their message.

I am often criticized as being judgmental when I point out that so-called religious leaders such as Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Joel Olsteen, Paula White, and Franklin Graham preach their Gospel of exclusion. Yet, at the same time, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is clearly a Gospel of Inclusion. Very often, these well-meaning folks will quote me the passage about not judging to avoid being judged. Well, I say, go ahead and judge me, and I believe you will find I have more in common with the dark-skinned carpenter from Nazareth than any of these so-called prophets of our time.

There is one guiding principle for me, and that is love. Jesus said we must, not should but must love each other. He gave us a new commandment, not a new suggestion, and it came without qualification. Nowhere does Jesus say to love everyone and help everyone if they can pass a drug test if they are here legally, if they have the same skin color as you, if they believe the same as you if they love the same as you. No, Jesus simply says, love everyone, feed everyone, clothe everyone and dare I say he says get the dam vaccine to protect everyone!

So, I measure these bible quoting folks against the message of love. Does their message include or exclude? Does this legislation aim to include the most or exclude the most? Does this policy help the most or exclude the most? Does this program feed, clothe, and house those that need it without exception, or is it geared toward a certain few? Jesus tells us that they will know if we are his followers by how we love each other.

Friends, if there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us, we do not need fancy buildings to be Church; in fact, sometimes they can hinder us from being Church. We are Church whether we meet here in our beautiful building, on a beach, or online. We are Church when we are doing God’s work of loving and caring for people. The love of God is for all, not just for a select few, and that all include you, and it includes me.

By the way, that Temple was destroyed in the year 70.

Let us resolve this day to love more, care more, and work to bring about God’s Kingdom here on earth not by fear of judgment but by love.

Amen.

Sermon: Risk and Restoration

Mark 12:38-44
All Saints Sunday

Traditionally, the month of November is the month set aside for remembrance. We begin with the remembrance of those who have gone before us, so November is often called the month of the dead. This tradition stretches back to the pre-Christian era. November is the month when the days begin to get shorter, and the darkness stays around longer. Well, it did until the arrogance of humanity decided it could control time by setting the clocks forward and back.

I am a student of Reformation theology, and there is much to be appreciated in the theological understanding of the Reformers of our faith. But there is much I disagree with, and chief among them is removing the celebration of the seasons from the Liturgical calendar. Now I don’t mean spring and summer and whatnot; no, I mean the Liturgical Seasons that coincide with the actual calendar.

November is the time that the earth begins the cycle of transformation. In our area of the world, the leaves have started to change their color, signifying their death. The harvest is complete or will soon be finished, and the earth will begin its long winter slumber. We can take our cues from what the earth does, and so November becomes the month to celebrate death, much like April becomes the month to celebrate life.

We have just finished what is known as All Hallows Tide. This coincides with the feast of Samhain, the pagan/Christian festival of remembering the dead. The season begins with All Hallows Eve on October 31st. We call this Halloween, which is a very American thing, by the way, but it was the beginning of the season of remembrance.

Following All Hallows Eve comes All Saints Day. On this day, all the saints, those declared by the Church and those not so declared, are remembered. The last of the three days is All Souls Day, when all the faithful departed are commemorated. In our reformed calendar, we combine All Saints and All Souls into one day of commemoration and then move it away from the traditional time of celebration. Keeping with the rhythm of the seasons is essential.

The reason All Hallows Tide falls when it does is that the veil that separates this world from the next becomes very thin this time of year, and by remembering those gone before us, they hear us and know we have not forgotten them. Speak their name into the wind, so they know they are remembered.

I do not believe that heaven is some far-off place where everyone sits around on clouds playing the harp. For me, heaven is another dimension of this world where our energy or our soul goes after our physical body dies. That other dimension is right here with us, and that is what sometimes, we have the feeling that our loved ones are with us.

There is a story that I might have already told about cleaning out my parents’ house after my father died. We had a shop in the basement of their house. It began as my father’s shop, where he would tinker with this and that and where he would create. Then, as he got older and could not easily go up and down stairs, I inherited his shop.

After he died, my task was to pack up the shop and move it to my house. There were a lot of memories in that shop, lots of hours spent learning from my father, and part of him was in every tool. There was this one day; I was at the house by myself in the shop. I was packing things up, and I was growing concerned that I would not have space for everything. I suddenly felt this presence there with me as if a hand was on my shoulder. It was not frightening, just the opposite; in fact, it brought me some peace. I know it was my father, and I know he was there to show me the way and tell me that it would be okay. And you know what, it is okay.

Just as an aside, I had a similar experience not long ago in my shop. I was cleaning up and was about to throw away an old nail. I felt that same presence as if to say, that nail is still good!  So now I have a jar on a shelf in my shop with a label that says “dad’s jar,” and that is where I put all those nails.

Those who have gone before us can move from one dimension to the next because they are pure energy, while we mortals can only stay here bogged down by our physical bodies and our misunderstanding of what it is all about. But this time of year, the veil that separates the two-dimension becomes thin, almost transparent, and we exist together.

Now, lest you think I am a heretic. I believe that when we die and convert to energy, we do come into the presence of our creator and that our energy and the energy of all those who have gone before us are together. I also believe that we recognize each other and can hang out with each other.

I have no struggle with that image; the image I struggle with is that of the other place we are said to go after we die. I struggle with this because of my image of God as pure love, and if God loves all of God’s creation, how would God allow creation to suffer? Death frees us from the suffering of this world and of this body. It is not God who causes suffering; it is us, humanity, that causes suffering.

Humanity causes suffering in the way we interact with each other and with the environment. At the time of creation, humanity was given stewardship of creation by God, and I think we have done a lousy job of it. But, unfortunately, this is the only place we have to live, and we need to start caring for it.

But of equal importance is how we care for each other. I have said it before, and I will repeat it, we are all created in God’s image and likeness. At the moment of creation, God created humanity with God’s own hands out of the dust of creation. Of all of the things that were made, it was only humanity that God used Gods own hands to create.

God spoke and said, let us create them in our image. This was the only time in the creation story that God did this. After God created humanity from the dust, God breathed his very breath into the nostrils of humanity. Thus, humanity is the living and breathing image of the creator of all that we see.

Humanity got it wrong, so God sent Jesus, who was with God at the moment of creation, to show humanity the new way, a new way of interacting with each other, and love and care for each other. We are responsible for ensuring that no one goes hungry and that no one goes unloved in this world. The Kingdom of God is not some far-off place that we hope to achieve someday; the Kingdom of God is right here in the present time.

Yes, we must remember those gone before us and continue to tell their stories so they remain alive in our hearts. But we also must care for those still here all of humanity and not just the ones that look like us, talk like us, believe like us, love like us, and all the rest.

Let us resolve on this day to care for each other just a little more than we do now, and in so doing, we can make this world a better place.

Amen.

Shepherd of Souls: When the Darkness Came

This essay originally appeared in the Hull Times on Thursday, November 4, 2021

The weather forecast told of a storm coming, and I thought I should get ready. Some things in the backyard needed to be put away and a few odds and ends to care for before the storm arrived. Well, I did none of them. I was usually over-prepared for storms, and this time I did nothing to get ready. 

When I woke from my slumber, the lights were out, and it was cold in the house. My first thought was that I was glad this was not February, or it would have been much colder. Then I set about finding the flashlight and the candles, all the things I should have done the night before when the lights were still on. Thankfully, the stove is gas so that we would have coffee, albeit instant.

The cloud of darkness began to lift as the rays of the sun began to come through the window. The light brings an understanding of what is around, and those sun rays bring some warmth with them. But not far away, darkness was there lurking, in places where the sun had not yet reached.

It is a strange feeling when what is familiar is gone. We take electricity and many other conveniences for granted. I mean, why not? We flip the switch, and the lights come on. We turn on the faucet, and the water comes out.  We do not have to think about it or take care of it other than paying the bill, and it is always there. But without its light and warmth that electricity produces, the familiar quickly becomes unfamiliar. Life becomes a little more complicated as we stumble around in the darkness looking for this and that.

At times like these, I am incredibly grateful for the men and women who take care to ensure that the power comes back on. I know it can be frustrating, and we do not always understand why, but eventually, the lights do come back on. As much as we would like our lights to come back on when the wind is howling, it is not safe to be up on a pole.

Most of these folks come from out of town and have had to leave their families behind to come here and help us out. They work under the worst conditions of wind and rain, two things that don’t always mix well with electricity. But regardless of the danger and the working conditions, they come. They come because people need help.

It is at times like these when we can witness the best in people. Neighbors are helping neighbors and strangers helping a stranger. Although people are on edge and tempers can flare, we do rise to the challenge when needed. 

It is at times like these that I am filled with hope. I am hopeful that, as a country we can come together again and help each other out.  And not only when the power goes out.

Sermon: Take Heart

Mark 10:46-52

The other night I woke from a deep sleep. I lay there for a few moments as my eyes adjusted to the darkness that was all around me. Then, finally, I arose from my slumber and started across the room. While in motion, one of my toes found an immovable object to bang into. Like Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel reading from Mark, I cried out to the Lord in my agony. Although I am not quite sure it was for the same reason.

The main difference between Bartimaeus and myself is that I had my sight obscured by the lack of light in the room where Bartimaeus had no sight.

For the last few weeks, we have been slowly working through the Gospel of Mark and following Jesus along his road toward his eventual death in Jerusalem. Along the way, Jesus has been teaching his disciples life lessons and interacting with crowds. Last week there was the discussion of who would be first, and the week before was a discussion about what keeps us from following Jesus. Today, we come to a full-on view of spirituality.

Jesus encounters many people in the Gospels; some are named, and many are not. Some are healed of various things, and some he speaks too. Some of those that Jesus encounters are told not to tell anyone what has happened, while others, like our chap today, say nothing other than the assurance that his faith has healed him.

Stories of Jesus healing people are not uncommon in Scripture. For some, they are healed by touch, by a mixture of clay, by another action of Jesus, by the words of Jesus, or as in today’s story, the individual’s faith. But, most of the time, the healing is not the actual center of the story, and if we spend too much time focusing on the miracle, we can miss the message.

Another interesting fact is, very often, the subject of the story is not named. We do not know the young man’s name who came to Jesus a few weeks ago with all the stuff. In our Bible study last week, we read the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well and, although we know her name from tradition, Scripture does not tell us her name. There are many other such encounters with unnamed people, but this week, we learn the man’s name, Bartimaeus, literally the Son of Timaeus.

Jesus and his disciples were leaving the city of Jericho. On their way out, they come across a blind man begging on by the city gate. This is not an unusual occurrence as those who needed to beg would often stand or sit by the city entrance. But as they passed by, a blind man called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Bartimaeus had heard it was Jesus coming, and he had heard about what Jesus had been doing, so he saw his chance and cried out. Those around him tried to silence him because he was causing a disturbance. There is a delicate balance that takes place between the authorities and beggars. As long as they do not get in the way or cause a disruption, they can stay. Bartimaeus was putting that balance at risk, so they tried to silence him. But this just made him shout louder.

Let’s pause here for a little look at the language being used. The Gospels were written in Greek, so there is a loss of the subtly of language in a translation. The Greek word tupholos relates primarily to idolatry, oppression, and willfulness. The term used for “seeing” is anablepo, which generally is associated with a return to covenant fidelity. So, there is more going on here than just the wish of a beggar to see.

The other crucial linguistic use is the name of the man himself, Bartimaeus. As I have already mentioned, Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus, but it is a strange Semitic-Greek hybrid. Some scholars believe that he is an actual person. In contrast, other scholars see a special significance of the story in the symbolic reference to Plato’s Timaeus, who delivers Plato’s most important cosmological and theological treatise, involving sight as the foundation of knowledge.

The healing of Bartimaeus is the last of the healing stories in Mark, and it is significant in that it points to the continued blindness of the disciples as to who Jesus is.

Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus not only by name but by title, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Thus, Bartimaeus does what Jesus’ disciples have failed to do, recognize Jesus for who he is. The Son of God. According to the usage in Mark, this is the first public proclamation of who Jesus is.

But wait, there is more.

When Jesus calls Bartimaeus to him, the man stands, throws “his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.” As we have seen in previous Scripture passages, the man divests himself of his worldly possessions to follow Jesus. Bartimaeus literally throws off his old self for the new one that he will obtain in the Kingdom.

In his book, What the Story of Blind Bartimaeus Teaches Us About Fear, Surrender and Walking the Path to Joy, Roc O’Connor notes, “Seeing means following Jesus’ way; it signifies salvation, which involves losing one’s life, surrendering one’s possessiveness, letting go one’s demand to rule, and walking with Jesus to the cross…and receiving the healing of his resurrection.” O’Connor continues, “[b]lindness serves here as a metaphor for the all-too-human unwillingness to recognize whatever wounds, hurts, and dis-eases keep us from recognizing God, ourselves, and others.”

In one way or another, we are all blind. We have blind spots toward other people in the hope that one day, they will change. Sometimes they do, and sometimes they do not. We are blind to the suffering of others. Sometimes that blindness is caused by fear, and sometimes it is caused by our biases and prejudices. Sometimes we are blind to others when their rights are slowly being taken away, or they never had those rights in the first place. We are blind to them because their situation does not directly affect us, and therefore, we do not get involved. We all need healing from our blindness.

On the surface of today’s story, Bartimaeus was healed of a physical ailment. But when we drill down just past the surface, we find the remedy to curing our spiritual blindness. A recognition that we are blind and a recognition that Jesus is the Son of God. Bartimaeus cast off his cloak and followed the call of Jesus; what cloak do we have to cast off to be authentic followers of Jesus Christ? What is keeping us blind to the fact that we all need healing, the healing that can come only from God?

We are all Bartimaeus. Cast off your cloak and follow Jesus.

Amen

Sermon: Great Service

Mark 10:35-45

There is an old story of a man who is driving home from work when suddenly, his car is struck by lightning. As one would imagine, the man was quite shaken by this. The fire department and paramedics came and checked him out, and he was fine. Remarkably, the car was also fine, and he was able to drive home. Upon arriving at his home, he told his teenaged son all about what had happened. His son replied, “dad, we should go buy a lottery ticket. They say the chances of being struck by lightening are the same as winning the lottery.”

In today’s Gospel from Mark, we find a similarly self-absorbed James and John, the sons of Zebedee, when they come to Jesus and say: “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

This request of the brothers comes right after Jesus teaches them, for the third time, about his coming passion and death. It is almost as if they were not listening at all. But this encounter is yet another in a line of Jesus teaching about the closeness of the kingdom of God and his Apostles not understanding what he is trying to say.

Jesus has given them a new understanding of marriage and divorce, yet they do not understand. He taught them about the priorities in the Kingdom of God with the story of a man with many possessions, yet they did not grasp that meaning. And now we have the brothers coming and asking for this “favor.”

Scripture tells of Jesus going off on his own to pray, especially after a particularly trying period of his ministry. I think he went away, shaking his head to ask God if this is the crew he is supposed to be hanging with.

The gospel does not give us any insight into why the brothers come and ask Jesus for this favor, and it does not matter. It is all rather comical and somewhat insensitive. But what of the others? Scripture tells us they heard the request, and they became indignant at the brothers for asking. Jesus has just predicted his won death, and they are like yeah, that’s bad and all, but can you get us good seats?

This encounter between the brothers and Jesus appears in Matthew and Luke. Matthew seems a little uncomfortable with the brazenness of the brother, so Matthew has the mother of James and John ask Jesus for the good seats, and Luke does not name the brothers but writes that a dispute has arisen amongst the twelve over who would be the greatest.

We will truly never know of the discomfort of the Gospel writers with this story. We can either feel a sense of the comic and laugh or feel a sense of embarrassment for the brothers at their request. Part of our feelings about this story might come from the fact that, in some ways, we are all sons of Zebedee.

Of course, none of us would ever make outlandish, insensitive requests like the brothers have, but we do want the best seats in the house. We may not be as upfront about our desire, but many spend their entire lives looking for those privileged positions that put them ahead of others. We want the job with the fancy title, the flashy car, the big house. We want a lot of things that we may never admit out loud.

So, are we really any different than the brothers? We might not make the brazen request, but we covet the best seats and the top position in our hearts. This is all part of the human condition, and as such, we try and explain it away. Theologically we might look at Genesis 3 and blame it all on the fall of humanity. An attempt can be made psychologically to justify our behavior with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Erickson’s stages of development. If we really want to mess things up, we can site anything by Freud.

However, only when we face our own tendencies to be a son or daughter of Zebedee can we come to terms with our humanity and live the new life of discipleship.

Part of our Communion service is a confession and an absolution or a reminder of how we are all forgiven through Jesus. No one likes to recall the times when they have missed the mark, but confession is vital in our spiritual life and our psychological life. None of us are perfect, and we are all in need of God’s grace. But we fool ourselves when we think we have nothing to confess. If the act of confession makes us uncomfortable, great, that is precisely what it is supposed to do.

The great German Theologian and martyr Detrick Bonhoeffer spoke about what he called Cheap Grace. For Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

In contrast to cheap grace, Bonhoeffer spoke of costly grace, “costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: ‘My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.'”

Part of being a disciple is being a servant to others. Transformation happens through being a servant. When the man with all of the stuff that we heard about last week asks about eternal life, Jesus says, “follow me.” Being a follower of Jesus is a life of servanthood that transforms us unto eternal life.

When John appeals to Jesus to ask him to stop the man from casting out demons in the name of Jesus, he responds by telling him not to stop the man. Following Jesus, even in ways that might seem odd to us, can lead to wholeness. Servanthood is a means to grace.

St. Frances was commemorated a few weeks ago, and today his words seem a fitting way to bring this to a close.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

error: Content is protected !!