Sermon: Living into the Promise

Luke 12:32-40

Music is an essential part of worship and the worship experience. I am not talking about the modern version of Church worship music that often involves lights, smoke, and the pastor standing behind a Plexiglas pulpit wearing skinny jeans. I am sure that has its place. I am not what that place is but to each his own.

In many ways, music is central to worship and aids the worshipers to fully enter the worship experience. Music conveys a message in both the words used and the notes on the page. How many times have we heard just a few bars of a familiar song, and it takes us back to childhood or brings back memories of a loved one? Music is important.

One of my favorite songs is “Be not afraid.” The song was composed by John Michal Talbot. He is a Roman Catholic monastic that writes worshipful, prayerful music that can be used in public worship and to aid in our private devotions.

Like most of Talbot’s music, it is a straightforward tune with simple words. I often find the tune less complex, and more often, the Chorus or central idea is repeated the best. The song begins with a few lines about why we should not fear God:

You shall cross the barren desert
But you shall not die of thirst

You shall wander far in safety
Though you do not know the way

You shall speak your words in foreign lands
And all will understand

You shall see the face of God and live

And then the Chorus

Be not afraid
I go before you always
Come follow me
And I will give you rest

Today’s Gospel passage from Luke reminds us not to be afraid. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

There is undoubtedly much to be concerned about in our world today. We do not know where the economy is going. Our planet is getting warmer each day. I read an article last night that says the earth is spinning faster than expected, and we might have to have a leap second to catch up. We still have the threat of a global pandemic, and now we have the monkey pox to deal with. It seems like there is something to fear around every corner, but God is not one of those things to fear.

I have spent the better part of my adult life studying religion and religious institutions, and one thing I have found common in all of them is control. For generations, the Church and I am using that term in its universal sense, governed by the idea that the Church needed to control individuals and their destiny.

We do not have to travel too far back in time to see how the Church often manipulated people’s lives for financial gain. Turn on most TV preachers, and you will soon get the idea that if you don’t send them money, God will strike you down. It is laughable for sure, but this is what I mean by control.

But control only works if the Church can make you afraid, and the Church is great at making you afraid.

Theologians and preachers will search scripture and find arcane passages taken way out of context that uses the word fear and say things like, “see, you need to be afraid of God.” The usual follow-up is, however, if you give such and such, it will calm God’s anger, and all will be well.

Ancient Hebrew worship involved animal sacrifice because it was believed that the smell was pleasing to God’s nostrils and would make God happy, and therefore God would not smite us. And there is always the fear of being sent to hell to keep you in check.

Look at religious art from the medieval and late medieval periods. Most of it depicts people burning in flames and running away from something called the Devil. But, of course, the Church designed all this nonsense to keep people in check and control their lives.

But the enlightenment and the reformation began to change all of that. People started to become more educated and realized this was not the way it was supposed to be. If God was some fearful being, why would this God send Jesus, God’s only Son, to show humanity a different way? The same God who healed the sick cured the blind, and fed the 5,000 does not sound like the same God that the ancient Church wanted you to fear.

Luke continues in the passage we heard this morning to say that we need to be ready, not out of fear but out of love. We sell what we have and give to the poor not because of some obligation or out of fear but because we love and desire to help.

Listen, God could have come down with fire and whatnot and destroyed everything, but God did not. Instead, God sent love in the form of Jesus to put us back on the right path and welcome us home.

One of my all-time favorite movies is the 10 Commandments. I mean, let’s face it, it is fabulous. But an often-overlooked part of the movie comes long after the Nile turns red and the fogs come out of the water.

Moses climbs to the top of Mount Sinai and encounters God. God writes the Commandments on stone tablets, not as rules to be feared but as a rule of life, a way of ordering society. As Moses comes down the mountain, he hears a tremendous commotion. The people have grown afraid and believe that the only way to appease God is to create a calf made from Gold. An idol that is taken care of is Commandment #1.

When Moses sees this, he gets angry and tosses the tablets down upon the people. In the movie, there is a large explosion, and the ground opens and swallows many of the people, including the calf of Gold.

Later we see God giving Moses another set of tablets, and God is also unhappy with Moses. But God does not smite Moses. Instead, God tells Moses that because of what he did, he lost his cool, and he will not be able to enter the land that God will give to the Israelites. Moses can bring them there; he cannot go in. You see, even from the beginning, God did not want his people to be afraid of God; God gave them and us the law not for punitive means but out of love to show us the way.

Paul writes to the Hebrews that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” “By faith,” Paul says, “we understand the worlds were prepared for the word of God.” That Word of God is not the written word; it’s not even the tablets that Moses carried. The Word of God is Jesus, and the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Friends, in a few moments, we will gather around this table. It’s a simple table fashioned for one purpose, to share a meal, a holy meal with the world. The table and the elements that will be placed upon it have been fashioned by hand. Our collective prayers and the blessing of the Holy Spirit will turn those elements from something ordinary into something extraordinary.

We will not see the change. We will not hear or feel the change. We will not taste or smell the change, but there will be a change. This meal, this communion, is a union between the creator and the creation. This meal of love is Jesus, the word of God made flesh, giving himself to us. This is not some mere symbol or reenactment of an event that took place millennia ago; this is a sacred time when God and humanity come together not out of fear but out of love.

Scripture tells me, and my faith tells me, that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to show us a different way. God could surely have sent fire, and brimstone wiped the earth’s face clean and started again. But that is not what God chose to do. Instead, God acted out of love and not out of wrath.

I have used this quote before, but it seems a fitting way to end. The quote comes from Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church here in the USA. Bishop Curry says, “the way of Jesus is the way of love, and way of love will change the world.”


Word and Work

Editor: Sermon preached on Sunday, July 18, 2022 at St. Nicholas United Methodist Church in Hull, Massachusetts. The Sermon is based on Colossians 1:15-28

I have to admit; I have a hard time with Paul. Sometimes he writes in beautiful prose, and sometimes he is a blowhard. Paul’s background is interesting. Paul is a Pharisee, a teacher of the law. Paul was the “great persecutor” of the people of the way. Tradition tells us that Paul was present when Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr, was stoned to death. That same tradition says that Paul held the coats of the others while they did the deed. Paul’s hands were clean.

Most Christian Scriptures are accredited to Paul and most of what we know as Christian Doctrine comes from those very same writing. Many people can quote Paul backward and forwards, yet he remains one of the most controversial people in all Christian History.

Paul writes in the form of letters. Paul is writing to Churches that he has founded and is in some sort of trouble. The problem with Paul is that we often do not know the issues he is writing about. He does not leave many clues, yet we grasp a hold of his writings and apply them to whatever we think the situation might warrant.

Many Christians practice the art of the proof text. First, we find a situation, usually something to do with taking away the rights of others or excluding others from our congregation. Then, we back into it with Scripture and lift a passage to prove our point.

Let me give you an example. One of the favorite Christian lines is “judge not lest ye be judged” I am using the King James version here. We hear this often, especially when what we are saying is against what they happen to believe.

First, they usually cannot tell you where that particular verse is from in the Bible. It is from Matthew 7:1; I had to look it up. Next, it is usually not applied correctly. We all make judgments. We judge people. We judge their words. We judge their actions. You are lying if you say you do not. This verse is not admonishing us from judging; this verse is about the motive of that judgment. How do I know this? Because I do not just isolate that one verse, I take that verse in the context of the verses around it. I know what was going on at the time it was written. And I understand the mind of the people who not only wrote it but to who it was written. In other words, I have spent most of my adult life studying these words.

Now we come to the passage we heard this morning that Paul wrote to the Church in Colossae. Paul is writing this around AD 61 ish, and he is writing because the people there felt the need to enhance apostolic Christianity. Keep in mind, there were not a lot of books floating about this time, and folx did not have access to Wikipedia, so they were left to their own devices to help others explain things.

It came down to the nature of Jesus and his relation to God; that is why Paul writes the way he does concerning Jesus and describes him the way he does. The Colossians were teaching that Jesus was not God but rather one of several mediators. This is what we now call the gnostic heresy.

So, this leads us to the larger question of who is God/Jesus?

One of my other favorite tropes is “we need God back in America.” I was unaware that God had left. When I hear this, I usually ask a follow-up question: whose God do we want back?

One of my favorite authors is Brian McLaren. Brian is a theologian that has written dozens of books about the nature of the Church and the 21st century. In 2004 he wrote “Generous Orthodoxy,” which was a book mainly about this misunderstanding of Jesus.

McLaren uses his own experience and writes about the seven different Jesus’ he experienced in his life. He begins with the Jesus he met as a child; he calls this Jesus “Conservative Protestant Jesus.” I have met this Jesus, and perhaps some of you have. This is the “born to die” Jesus. This Jesus is individualistic, legalistic, and with no global import for McLaren and me.

As a young adult, he met the “Pentecostal/Charismatic Jesus.” I have also encountered this Jesus. This is the Jesus that is involved in everyday life through the Holy Spirit, but again, this is a very individualistic Jesus without any genuine concern globally. McLaren then experienced what he called “Roman Catholic Jesus.” Now I know many of you know this Jesus, as do I. This is the Jesus focused on Eucharist and the connection to the ancient tradition that goes beyond our present experience. But for McLaren and me, this Jesus was too exclusive.

Next up is the “Eastern Orthodox” Jesus. The emphasis here is on the Trinity and mystery but still engaged in the world. This led him to encounter “Liberal Protestant Jesus,” which emphasized social justice that grew from personal experience of faith. From there was the “Anabaptist Jesus,” focusing on the historical work of peace and nonviolence. From there came the experience of the “Liberation Theology Jesus.” This Jesus confronts injustice in the whole of society and stands in solidarity with the poor and oppressed.

I use this to illustrate the complexity of Jesus and God, whom we believe Jesus is, in a Trinitarian formula. So, when we say we need God back in America, are we speaking of the white nationalistic god that wants walls on borders and more rights for whites? Do we want a god that requires nothing of us but to come to church on Sunday, sing a few hymns, and listen to a sermon that will require us to do nothing? Or do we want a god that challenges us to move forward and to live in peace and harmony with everyone? You need to decide who god is.

This week I was told, once again, that I am too progressive. That my radical idea that we should love everyone, treat everyone equally, include everyone, fight for justice, mercy, and all the rest has placed me outside of traditional Christianity. My response was good. Because if traditional Christian stands in opposition to all that, then it is not any form of Christianity I was any part of.

I was also schooled in the notion that the role of the Church was to be the preserver of the past and that we are to cling to things like the historic creeds of the Church and ancient councils and doctrine. Now, as you may know, I am a big believer in the ancient creeds of the Church. We have to believe in something, and these creeds give us that basis for our belief. I also believe that we must understand and appreciate all that has come before us. But I also believe that we are not to remain there. On the contrary, the nature of the Church is to reimagine itself constantly and reinterpret these ancient teachings in light of the present day.

Our Wesleyan/Methodist heritage has something called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Wesley used the Anglican theological tradition from which he came as a basis for his understanding of the core beliefs of Christianity. Wesley taught that we need to look at things from Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. (Wesley added reason to the Anglican 3). Scripture is the base of all we do and believe. Tradition is the experience and witness of that belief, what the Church taught and practiced. Experience is our understanding and appropriation of the faith in light of our lives. And reason is our discernment of all of it and how we make it apply to our lives. We need all four, not just a few of the ones we like.

So, this leads to the next question, what is the central purpose of the Church?

For some ideas, I turn to Professor David Ng and his book “Youth in the Community of Disciples.” Ng wrote this book in 1984 because he was concerned that the Church was distracted from its essential identity, the Body of Christ, and its central task to proclaim Christ.

Ng wrote that the task of the Church is not to be a place of entertainment where people come to be entertained while bible teachers put on a show using whatever gimmicks happen to be the latest craze. The Church is not to be some theological theme park where frantic leaders, ever fearful of boring people, employ some of the same tricks as the entertainment Church.

The purpose of the Church is not maintenance; it is not to be a safe place for its members to hide from the world until Jesus comes back. A place where they do not stir anything up or challenge anyone to do anything. Although this may sound strange, the purpose of the Church is not fellowship; focusing on the social relationships of its members. Fellowship is important and is one dimension of Church life, but it is not the central purpose of the Church.

The last point Ng makes is that the purpose of the Church is not protection, where we find refuge from the big bad world outside and invests all of its time and resources on building safe places where members can worship, study, and enact their sacred rituals. This type of Church forbids interaction with outsiders for fear they might upset the applecart.

For Brian McLaren, Professor Ng, Paul, and I, the purposes of the Church are clear – to be the community of disciples of Jesus Christ and, as such, to proclaim Christ. The Church exists for one reason, to proclaim Christ, the firstborn of all creation.

So here is my challenge for you for the week ahead. Through the words of Brian McLaren and my own experience, I presented seven views of Jesus and am sure there are more. Neither McLaren nor I will say that one view of Jesus is better than the next; you have decided that for yourself. I have a view of Jesus, which you should all know by now, and that is the Jesus of radical inclusion and love which I believe is the vision of Jesus that this Church and, to some extent, the denomination holds.

I believe in the Christ of tradition. I believe in the Christ of the Eucharist. And I believe in the Christ that died on the cross, not to save me or to make the final payment for some debit, but died on that cross, arms wide open as an indication of the kind of welcome we are to have for all people.

Jesus left us with a way to follow and Paul, in his unique way, tries to explain that way. That way is radical, and that way is difficult.

So, this week, think about who Jesus is for you and then decide that you are going to follow.


Pick up the Mantle

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

I want to begin this morning with a question. How is your soul? More often than not, when greeting someone, we ask, “how are you?” Maybe we are interested in the answer, and maybe not. More often than not, the answer is usually I am good or grammatically correct; I am well. Even if we are not good or well, we will respond this way.

When John Wesley was in the early stages of his spiritual awakening, he held “class meetings.” These gatherings would bring people together for a time of spiritual renewal and accountability. Wesley felt that these times were so important that they were required of folx if they wanted to receive communion in his Church. You would attend the class and get your ticket which you will present on Sunday.

These meetings would begin with the question that I asked, how is your soul? Wesley desired to push past the usual pains of life and get to the spiritual pains that, from time to time, we have all suffered from. So, I ask again, how is your soul?

We have been through a lot this week, and, by all accounts, it is not going to get better. For some, our country has taken a radical hard right turn and has taken us on a journey back in time to a place that the majority does not want to go. And to further aggravate the situation, it appears that we may be in store for even more hard right turns and a journey even further back in time.

So, what do we do next?

I don’t have all the answers. In fact, I have none other than to say whatever is next needs to be done from a position of peace. We saw on live TV on January 6th what happens when a mob turns ugly, and we know how we reacted. For me, the righteousness of any protest is over when violence or the destruction of property begins. Resorting to violence is never the answer.

But for today, for this moment, I want to focus on the question how is your soul?

I have spoken of my sermon preparation before, but, to just touch on something quickly, I use the Revised Common Lectionary when choosing what biblical passages I am focusing on each week. This Lectionary was designed by the Universal Church and gave the preacher an Old Testament lesson, a Psalm, and two New Testament passages for each Sunday of the Church year. The readings often follow a theme each week and for several weeks. It constantly amazes me how these passages, set forth decades ago, will often give you just what you need on a particular Sunday.

Today, in the Letter from Galatians, Paul writes about freedom. It seems fitting at a time when freedom is becoming a thing of the past.

Paul writes a church in Galatia that is fracturing. After a period of zeal for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, some in the Church have begun to follow a more rigid and legalistic road. There were those in the Galatia that were teaching that even the Christians had to follow the laws of the Old Covenant. Paul is writing to them to call them back to the grace of Jesus.

Freedom is an interesting concept that we often associate with the 4th of July. Freedom is essential to Americans. Freedom is what drove the Pilgrims to leave the relative safety of their homeland to take a treacherous journey across the Atlantic to the New World. Freedom is what drove the ancestors of those same pilgrims to take up arms against their King and Country and declare that they were free of English rule and had a desire to rule themselves, something that had never been done before. Freedom is what is driving Ukrainian civilians and the military to fight to preserve their freedom and way of life. We can walk all through history and find acts that have been driven by freedom, and many of those acts changed the course of history.

But freedom is not free, and by that, I do not mean the trope that we usually hear around the 4th of July about freedom costing lives, although that is true. Freedom is not free because we have to sacrifice a little for each freedom we have. Political freedom requires compromise, and that is not always easy. But freedom also comes with responsibility.

The Pilgrims I mentioned earlier came to these shores to establish a new life that was grounded upon the idea that worship was something that should be left to the dictates of the worshipper. They felt that the government should not force conformity of religious thought and practice, although that is precisely what they did when they got here, but we will leave that for another day.

As that thought matured, it became this idea that although you are free to worship and believe as you see fit, you do not have the right to force me to believe and worship the same way. The Pilgrims came from a place where the Church was wedded to the state, and as such, the state influenced the Church, and the Church influenced the state. A relationship that is not always the best.

Freedom involves choice; although we may not always agree with that choice, that is none of our business.

At some point, Christians decided that they had a responsibility to save others and keep them from sinning. Sure, there is Scripture that says that if your brother or sister is sinning, call them out. Well, we have seen how that goes. But unfortunately, we are so focused on other sins that we become blind to our own.

The only person the Christian is obligated to save is themselves. We do not have to help someone “find Jesus” because Jesus is not lost! Yes, we are to baptize and make disciples, but we do not do it by passing laws and writing legislation that forces people into a particular thought or belief. We make disciples through relationships, and by how we live our lives, not by telling someone they are wrong and especially not by telling someone they are sinners.

Paul writes to those in the Galatian Church that true freedom, as found in Jesus, is founded on, wait for it, love. It’s funny how we always come back to love. Love is why God did what God did. Love is why Jesus did what he did. And love should be why we do what we do. Love, my friends, is a choice. Following Jesus is a choice. Freedom is a choice.

But Paul says we do not use our freedom for our own selfish purposes; we use our freedom for others. Therefore, when we, through the grace of Jesus Christ, become free, we must become slaves to others. We can no longer think about what is good for me, but we must consider what is good for all. True freedom is the exact opposite of individual freedom and individual rights, but it becomes about community and what is best for everyone.

When we take on the title of Christian, we must broaden our focus and not limit it. We have to turn from our selfish ways towards the ways that bring freedom to all and not just some, and we may not always like what that freedom brings, but it is not about us.

I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We need to spend less time thinking about what it’s going to be like on the other side and worry more about making God’s kingdom right here where we are; that is what we are called to do. We are not being called by grace to just sit on the sidelines and pray, not that prayer is not essential, but we are called to be the voice for the voiceless. We are called to ensure justice and mercy. And we are called to love everyone, including those who despise us and want our destruction.

Friends, I would like us to focus on the question that Wesley asks, how is it with your soul? I want our little Church to be a place of refuge and retreat where the weary can come and find that refreshment. I want us to be a field hospital for those on the front lines, where we bandage up the wounds physically, mentally, and spiritually. I want us to be open for prayer on more than just Sundays. I want us to provide more times to gather around the table for communion. I want us to offer healing services with the ancient practice of anointing with oil and the laying on of hands. I want us to form prayer circles and Class meetings and become a spiritual powerhouse in this community that works to build bridges and longer tables and breaks down barriers. I want us to open the doors of our hall for more support groups that help people with addiction and grief and where we minister to the community by providing meals and fellowship at no cost.

In his address to the Annual Conference, our bishop called us to live a deeper and more meaningful spiritual life. He called us to reflect on our spiritual life so that we pay as much attention to spiritual matters as we do those physical and political. Wesley started a method, a method of spirituality that transformed those who practiced it and, by extension, transformed the world around them. Our spiritual journey must take us off the bench and get us in the game. We need more spirituality, not less.

I know it will be a sacrifice. We will have to give up more than just an hour a week to come here and be present. We will have to become vulnerable and share our hearts with others. It will cost us in light and heat, but what is the purpose of having space if we do not use it. We will change the world we live in by our example and not by our legislation. We will support those called to the front lines of protest with prayer and comfort when needed. Think of it this way, Jesus started with 12 and changed the world! Jesus had no money and no building, but he had love and he had compassion. Do we have less?

Will it be hard? Yes, it will. Will it cost us? Yes, it will. But what we seek is, in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, costly grace and not cheap grace. So, I want us to commit, as individuals and as a congregation, to be this place of rest of retreat. We can do it; I know we can do it. So, rest up because we have work to do.


I am a Pro-Choice Pastor

I have remained silent far too long. Sure, I have posted the odd MEME and article that supports choice, but I have never written or preached on the subject. Perhaps it was out of fear or the desire to avoid conflict in the various churches I have been in; I am not sure. But after yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down 50 years of settled law, I feel I have a duty and an obligation to add my voice. I am a lover of Jesus Christ, a minister in God’s Church, and I am pro-choice.

I have, however, not always felt this way.

A couple of years after I was ordained, I attended the “March for Life” in Washington, DC. I had not spent much time on either side of the issue, so I thought pro-life meant that life was to be respected from whenever one thinks it begins to the natural end of that life. I quickly learned that many in the pro-life movement are hypocritical – there is no respect for life past birth, only before. Although the march was peaceful, the undertone of fear and anger was present. Seeing and feeling this set me on a journey of discernment about this issue and many more.

Choice is a very personal matter. Personally, I do not like the idea of abortion, but that is my choice. Thankfully, I have never been in that position, but if I was, I hope I would make an informed decision that involved my spouse and that we would do what is best for our family. But that is my choice, and not another’s choice. Although I may be personally against the idea of abortion, I cannot and should not be allowed to make that decision for another person.

Additionally, this is not and should not be a religious issue. Religion and faith should inform an individual, and then that individual makes choices based on that faith and belief. Religion should not be the basis for the laws of democracy, and I say this because not all religions look at issues the same way.

Just because I have been asked, I will answer. I believe that human life begins at birth. I have a child, and through the miracle of medical science, I watched her develop in the womb. My belief in life comes from Genesis and the creation of humanity. God created humanity with God’s hands from the dust of the earth, but it was not until God breathed God’s breath into humanity that humanity was alive. The ancients believed that the soul entered the body with that first breath. This is my belief, and it is not up for debate, nor do I think you might be wrong for believing the way you do.

Living in a free society means there will be laws with which I disagree. But these are rights and laws nonetheless. Freedom means just that, freedom – not just for me but for all. Everyone, regardless of race, gender, color, creed, and all the rest, should have the same rights. It does not matter what state you are from or how much money you have. Rights should equally apply to all; if not, then we are not a free society.

If you do not like abortions, don’t get one. That is your choice. But do not take that choice away from someone else.

I know many of you are hurting and angry right now, and that is okay. Sit with that and let those emotions flow; then, we get to work! If you protest, stay peaceful and calm, do not give in to the anger and hate. Be ready for the long game. Battles are not won or lost in a single day, so pace yourself and, please, take care of yourself. And to those like me who are in the shadows, now is the time to come out and be a support for those on the front lines.

I started this essay by saying that I have been silent for too long, and for that, I apologize; my fear and discomfort have kept me in the shadows far too long on many issues, and that ends today.

Sermon: In God’s Presence

Luke 8:26-39

It was a day not unlike the day before it, with one exception, this would be the first day of freedom. The day was June 19, 1865, and the place was Galveston, Texas. The war had been raging for five years. Hundreds of thousands were dead. The American landscape had changed forever. Most historians place the ending of the US Civil War to the day when Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. But for those left in bondage in Texas, the war did not officially end until June 19, 1865.

Texas was the last of the former Confederate States to free their slaves. On that day in June, by General Order Number 3, the Emancipation Proclamation was finally enforced, and those in bondage were set free. Last year, after 156 years, President Biden signed a law designating June 19th as a Federal Holiday in recognition of that day in Galveston.

When our country was founded, 89 years before those events in Texas, owning another human being was legal. The Capitol Building and White House in Washington, DC, were built by slave labor, and much of the agricultural production was provided by slave labor in sometimes unbearable conditions. Slavery and the fact that this country was built on the idea of freedom is part of our history, although some would like us to forget it. You can mask it in whatever language you wish, but slavery was the main reason brothers took up arms against brothers and fought the Civil War that still rages in some parts of this country.

Although many knew that the institution of slavery was sinful, I cannot hold those who founded that country to the same standard as our 21st Century sense of morality. I am not saying it is correct, but times were different, and morality was different, but that does not mean we should sweep it under the rug. History, just like theology, needs to be studied and taught with a critical lens and the unvarnished truth. Unfortunately, America has a pretty poor track record when it comes to the historical as well as the modern treatment of minorities. We can and must do better.

But today, we hear a story of another kind of emancipation, spiritual emancipation.

The story from Luke’s Gospel is a story of the awesome power of God. The demons feared it, the possessed man was saved by it, and the local people did not know what to make. Finally, Jesus reveals that God has power over evil and compassion for those who are lost.

Jesus and those with him arrive in the country of the Gerasenes, which is on the eastern bank of the Sea of Galilee. As Jesus stepped out of the boat, he was met by a man who had lived most of his life among the tombs. Scripture tells us he was naked and would often throw himself into the fire and do other things to harm himself. He was sent there in chains because the people of the nearby town were afraid of this man.

Scripture does not provide us with a lot of detail. We do not know the man’s name or the names of his parents. However, we know that the man is so worn out from his ordeal that he survives, shackled and under guard and in the caves near the water. He is an outcast from his community.

It is usually at this point that preachers will attempt to explain his condition using modern psychological terms because we do not like things we cannot explain, like demon possession. Now, I do not think it is at all like the movies, such as the exorcist, but I am a believer in such things as spiritual warfare. However, regardless of the terms, we want to use, this man’s life is out of his control, and he has been reduced to being chained for his protection and that of the society around him.

Jesus confronts the demon and asks what their name is, and the reply is Legion as an indication that the influences on this man were many. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many, even those of us who call Jesus Lord. Sometimes there are so many forces around us that pull us in one direction or another that it can seem like we have lost all control. Concerns about employment, health, finances, broken relationships and the day-to-day details of our lives can all conspire to make us feel like we have no control.

It is important to note that the unclean spirit is the first to recognize the divine in Jesus. The question asked is not “who are you?” but “what are you going to do with us?” Recognizing the presence of God is not the same as committing oneself to that presence. The unclean spirits’ only concern was for self-preservation, so much so that the only way they could see a way out was to ask to be sent into the beats that would be their final destruction.

Often in life, we see no way out; we are so lost that asking for help seems beyond our control. We might accept God’s healing and forgiving power and love in our lives, but our human instincts drive us in different directions.

Just as the man in the story seems to have no will, we often resist change and flee to what is familiar, living a life that makes little or no sense from a faith perspective. Only when the man fell before Jesus did he find any kind of hope. So likewise, we find peace and transformation at the feet of our savior, not in the shelter of a life directed by other influences.

But those living in the town, those who knew this man and his struggle, were not so quick to accept this transformation. How many times have we witnessed someone who has changed and repented, yet we approach them with skepticism? I am not saying that we should welcome everyone, we need to be cautious, but the point here is that the demon was quicker to accept the authority of God than the townsfolk were.

They feared the Son of God more than the unclean spirits and demonstrated the emotions that sometimes accompany an encounter with the holy. There is some truth that we sometimes prefer the troubles we know to changes we do not.

Right there in front of them was the awesome power of God. The man was not only healed but the demons had been destroyed. The man’s life was visibly changed; he was no longer the victim but the victor. His life has been transformed, and he has been given a new chance at life. Yet the people asked Jesus to leave, and in so doing, they forfeited any opportunity to further benefit from this awesome power of God’s love that he brought with them.

Jesus tells the man, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” Then, Jesus sends the man back to be among his own as a witness. The man is a recipient of life-changing grace and has a story to tell.

In a few moments, we, like the man in the story, have an opportunity to share in that lifesaving and life-transforming grace. We will gather around the table and consecrate the elements that have been provided for us. This is not something you or I do on our own, but together with the Holy Spirit, we transform these simple elements into something holy in the same way that the same Holy Spirit will transform our lives into something Holy. This is the Lord’s table and not ours. We do not come to it as some reward for obeying all the rules; instead, we humbly approach this table as imperfect people. We come and ask the question, “What will you do with us?” And the answer is, forgive, love, and transform.

Take this gift freely given but do not hold on to it. Instead, we must “Return to our homes and tell of the awesome power of God and all that God has done in our lives.”

What is it that possesses us? What is it that we have to fall on our knees in front of Jesus and leave there, at his feet? Trust that God will forgive and trust that God will help you make the change that you need to become his disciples in the world.


Sermon: Wisdom Calls

John 16:12-15

These days we hear a lot about truth and what truth is. Sure, facts help when it comes to truth but facts, like everything else, are subject to interpretation. Understanding things and seeking the truth all depend on our perspective. We all have certain biases towards this and that, and we cannot escape them. We try, but the color through which we see things is often challenging to break free from.

Now, I am not saying one cannot change their perspective; that is what growth is all about. What I am saying is it is not easy. But I also like to remind folx that yesterday’s truth may not be today’s truth, so our image and definition of truth can and should change over time. I am sorry to say, but the truth is not concrete, nor should it be. But for now, let’s stick a pin in this discussion of truth.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the day that preachers all through Christendom fret because it is the day, we come closest to heresy if we get it wrong. For centuries preachers and teachers have been trying to explain something that is, in my mind anyway, beyond human understanding. How can three be one yet distinct from each other? What is this about energies and proceeding from? I will sail close to the wind on this one and try to avoid the fires of eternal damnation.

What we call the ” doctrine of the Trinity” was formalized with the adoption of the Creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325. This is not to say that teachings did not exist before this, but this is the point in history when the Christian Church proclaimed this is what we believe. This “doctrine” is what makes us trinitarian Christians. We baptize in the name of the Trinity and consecrate in the name of the Trinity.

To boil it down, there is only one God: in three parts. I can try to explain it like this. I am one person, but I am also a husband, father, and minister. I am one person with one essence, yet I have three distinct roles to play in the world. Okay, before we get too far along, I am not equating myself with the Trinity. Put the torches away. St. Patrick described the Trinity using the shamrock with its three leaves emanating from a single stem.

Last week, the focus was on the third part of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, as we saw in the readings, is the one who brings the strength, the one who emboldened Peter to stand and preach the Gospel for the first time. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings understanding, as we saw when each person present heard the words of Peter in their language, or rather they were able to understand what Peter was saying. And the Holy Spirit is the guide who leads us on the path.

Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his followers, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Is this an early Trinitarian formula? Perhaps, but the middle part of what Jesus is saying needs to be the focus.

Jesus begins by saying he is the way. We have talked about this before. Jesus did not come to start a new Church; in fact, Jesus was not a Christian nor, might I add, were his early followers. Jesus came to reform the practices that already existed. Much of the structure of the worship of the Church even today comes from early Temple and Synagogue worship.

Jesus came to show us a different way, a different path, and that way is the way of love. When we separate it all when we get rid of the buildings and mission and ministry, what are we left with? We are left with love. All that Jesus commanded we do, he did from a place of love. Not conformity, but love. Jesus did not leave us with a book of rules; in fact, he reformed the rules and summarized them; love God, love everyone. He took ten and simplified them to 2; that is the way.

Jesus also says that he is life, for our spiritual life is founded and grounded in his teachings and example. We find our greatest spirituality in following the way that Jesus left us. How can we hope to advance in our spiritual life if we are not helping those around us? It is through the life of Jesus that we live, and it is through our lives that others might live.

And now we come to truth.

Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Something could happen right here amid all of us, and we would all have a different version of that event. Does that make some of us liars? No, we all see things differently. In Jesus’ day, people witnessed all that the Gospels say that he did, yet they did not believe. We have stories of Jesus walking on water, healing the sick, restoring sight to the blind, feeding the 5,000, and rising from the dead, yet people refused to believe. In one place, Scripture says, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” We believe what we choose to believe.

So, what is truth? Jesus asked this very question of Pilate but did not provide an answer. The question is not “what” is truth but “who” is truth, and the answer is Jesus. Jesus says,” I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus does not say this book is the truth, or this Church is the truth; I am the truth. The Word of God is not written in some book, the Word of God is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us; that word is Jesus, and by looking at what Jesus did and what Jesus said will reveal the truth.

But truth is different for everyone; how do we determine the truth?

Start with a simple question, does my belief further God’s kingdom of love here on earth, or does it hinder it? Does this law or politician I support further God’s kingdom here on earth or hinder it? Does my church and what we stand for further God’s kingdom here on earth or hinder it? Unfortunately, some Christians spend way too much time worrying about what comes next rather than taking care of the here and now.

In the Lord’s prayer, we pray that God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. The kingdom of God is not some far-off place. It is the here and now, and our job as followers of the way is to see that it happens.

We need to be working towards bigger tables with more seats rather than smaller tables with walls built around them. God needs warriors not to defend God’s word but to work and fight for those with no voice and those who cannot fight. God does not need defense; God’s people do!

One last point about the Trinity. The Trinity is about union; the Trinity is about communion. The Trinity is about inclusion and not exclusion. Religion comes off the rails when we start talking about things like a “personal relationship with Christ,” and we need to have Christ as “our personal savior.” Christianity is NOT personal; it’s communal, and the Trinity is a prime example.

The Church is at its best when the Church works together, and the Church is at its worst when the Church is in opposition to itself.

At the start, I mentioned that the doctrine of the Trinity was formulated with the acceptance of the Creed that came from the Council of Nicaea. That Creed also contains the phrase “we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Now I know some have a hang-up with the word catholic, but we will let that go for now. The Church needs to be and should be one. Do we need to be one in doctrine or practice? No.

There is a saying often attributed to Augustine of Hippo, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” What is essential to the faith? Well, for me, it is love; everything else takes a back seat. Can I love my Baptist friend who does not share the same belief in the Eucharist that I do? Yes. Can I love my Congregational friend with a different view of church governance? Yes. Can I love my Jewish friend that does not believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Yes.

Our oneness, our Holiness, and our Catholicity come not in some form of worship of doctrine but in our love and desire to be one with each other in the essentials. Therefore, let us work to find common ground and work together for God’s kingdom here on earth in faith and in love.


A Look at Ordination and Consecration

By David Oliver KlingGuest Blogger

[An Essay From 2004]

There are many different forms of ordination. The type of ordination that I wish to address in this entry is the type of ordination that is transmitted through apostolic succession by a bishop – in my case within the Sacramental Christian Movement (also known as the Independent Sacramental Movement), in my case of the Gnostic variety.

This is a specific type of ordination and involves a laying on of hands by a bishop and an energy transfer by passing on a lineage of apostolic succession. This succession (allegedly) originated with Jesus Christ and was passed onto his disciples and – via a succession of bishops through the centuries – to eventually reside within the bishop conducting an ordination or consecration in our modern times. This sort of ordination/consecration is special because it contains this energy transfer and that energy transfer does have an effect upon the person being ordained/consecrated.

In a theological sense this energy transfer places an “indelible” characteristic upon the soul or spirit of the individual being ordained, that is a characteristic that cannot be removed. This alteration, conducted sacramentally, is similar to the sacraments of baptism and confirmation because it changes who you become after the ordination takes place. For those individuals who subscribe to the idea of reincarnation I would even hypothesize that the indelible characteristic of ordination is passed onto subsequent incarnations, and because of this a level of responsibility needs to be acknowledged by the potential ordinand. Things to consider:

  • Do I accept this ordination/consecration forever in this lifetime?
  • Do I accept this ordination/consecration forever for all subsequent lifetimes?

You might find yourself, in the future, in a position where you might no longer subscribe to a desire for priestly or apostolic ministry but the status of your spirit or soul is not changed by your willingness to “leave” a sacramentally ordained or consecrated life. It will still be there no matter what your future disposition becomes. This is something very important to consider, and to evaluate in your life.

Something else to consider is the person who is ordaining or consecrating you. The originator of the priesthood/episcopacy is Jesus Christ, however, when an ordination or consecration is conducted those individuals within the succession are also passing something of themselves on to the new ordinand, and this is an important consideration.

Things to consider:

  • Is the person who is about to ordain/consecrate me a person with whom I would normally be “in communion” with?
  • How do I view the person ordaining/consecrating me? Do I respect him or her?
  • Would I ordain/consecrate the person who is ordaining/consecrating me if the situation where reversed?

These are important questions to ask yourself because an ordination/consecration is a very powerful energy exchange and the energy passed onto the new deacon, priest or bishop will affect each of us in different ways.

Again, something else to consider is how you plan on coping with the changes that will take place after an ordination or consecration. Instead of looking at this energy exchange as, “I’m a new priest” or “I’m a new bishop”, think of it as you now being a priestly initiate or episcopal initiate into the sacred mysteries of the priesthood and episcopate. The essence of the priesthood and episcopate is mystical in nature and NOT administrative or jurisdictional — these are constructs resulting from the priesthood and episcopacy and not directly linked to the mystery of the sacrament. The mystery of the sacrament is about the sacraments themselves and not about anything else. All too often I have seen bishops within the Sacramental Movement focus their attention on the jurisdictional or administrative side of episcopacy. This is not what the sacramental initiation of consecration is about — it is about the fullness of priestly initiation and the fullness of the sacraments.

Things to consider before ordination and consecration:

  • What was my life like before ordination/consecration?
  • Am I equipped to deal with a major change in my life?
  • Am I ready to deal with the added responsibility that this change will bring upon me?

Things to consider after ordination and consecration:

  • How has my life changed since ordination/consecration?
  • Do I find myself depressed? What will I do about this depression?
  • What is my support network, do they understand ordination/consecration? Do they support my decision? What sort of support do I have from other priests and/or bishops?

Having a support network is important for a new priestly or episcopal initiate. It is important because the effect that it has on an individual is specific and peculiar to each individual. Having had experience with energy transfer and initiations I was somewhat prepared for my episcopal consecration and was able to channel the effect in a positive manner: I left full time employment and went back to school full time, radically changed my lifestyle (had to slim things down) and had to deal with the changes that result from becoming a full time student again. I had a supportive network for my life changes, but not necessarily a supportive network for my decision to get consecrated (although it has gotten much better). The effect of my consecration could have been horrific since I was dealing with the recent death of my father a month prior to my consecration and dealing with the depression resulting from that loss. However, being aware of the effects of consecration helped me ride the storm of emotions I was feeling at the time — both from dealing with death and also from dealing with the death of myself as the old me was replaced by a new “me.”

As a final note I want to also point out that consecration is not about wearing purple, wearing a mitre, or other episcopal regalia. All these items are externals and not absolutely necessary for administering the sacraments. Please ask yourself, “Do I fantasize more about wearing a mitre than imagining myself as a apostolic representative of Christ?” The deep responsibility of ordination and consecration far outweighs any sort of external or “episcopal privilege.”

One more point to consider. In the Sacramental Christian Movement (also known as the Independent Sacramental Movement) the idea of jurisdiction is a construction of our modern sensibilities. It is simply absurd to think “if I create it they will come.”  Jurisdictions (i.e., new “denominations”) are created almost every day, and they also die every day. What exists is the episcopacy, the priesthood, and the deaconate. Until there is a renaissance within the sacramental movement and circumstances radically change the situation will be as it is now, which is very fluid. If a priest doesn’t like his bishop he or she will simply go someplace else. If a bishop is unhappy with his or her fellow bishops he or she will create his or her own jurisdiction. This is the nature of this movement. It is unfortunate that this is this way, but it is simply the nature of the movement. This is why I view consecration and ordination as an initiatory experience and not simply as admission into a jurisdiction clergy roles. The apostolic succession sees through any jurisdictional lines and does not recognize “clergy roles” or “jurisdictional canon law”. It acknowledges only correct “matter and form.”

Sermon: Breaking Chains

Breaking Chains
John 17:20-26

For days, I have been thinking of what I would say this morning, and I have been staring at a blank page for days. So many times before this, I have stood in similar places, wondering what to say to make sense of what has happened. How can one make sense of the brutal murder of innocent children and their teachers? How can you make sense of politicians who offer prayers and wring their hands but will do nothing to change the situation?

Oh, sure, people will claim that our country is a mess, and sure it is; it has always been, for we are an imperfect people. We live in a country built on diversity, and we should not be afraid of that diversity. In our founding documents, we claim liberty and just for all, but do we practice liberty and just for all? There is a claim that we are a Christian nation. Well, I have not seen that take place anywhere. Jesus commands us to love all equally. He called us to welcome the stranger. He commanded us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and all the rest.

Rather than doing all that Jesus has commanded, we worship individual rights and guns. I am all for people responsibly owning guns for hunting and other sports but, and let me make this point clear; there is no reason why a person needs to own a semi-automatic rifle, a high-capacity magazine, and 10,000 rounds of ammunition! And no one that is not in law enforcement needs to own body armor, no one.

Change does not come overnight. Change comes very slowly. But change needs to come before more innocents are slaughtered.

Jesus prayed that we would all be one, not in the sense of conformity to some belief or ritual but one in spirit. Today’s passage from the Gospel of John is called the High Priestly Prayer and is like High Priestly Prayers from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jesus’ time with his disciples has come to an end. This past Thursday, we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord. The day we believe Jesus rose from earth to be with his Father. We now enter a time of wandering as we wait for the promised Spirit that will come at Pentecost. But before he goes, Jesus has this last prayer for his followers.

This prayer of Jesus is not some ritual or liturgical celebration, but it is personal and from his heart. This prayer comes from the depths of his soul and is a prayer in anticipation of loss and suffering but also of joy and gladness.

Jesus prays for his friends. Not just those there with him but all of humanity for all time. Jesus prays not to himself but to the father, the creator of all that is seen and unseen. The Greek word used here is pater, which is not in a patriarchal sense, but it is used to mean the source and giver of life. Jesus does not use this in the male sense of the word, but as Abba, the life-giving source, and that source is love.

And Jesus prays for the world. The created world and all that has been and will be created. But Jesus does not pray that the world turns from sin but rather that it turns from selfishness and towards oneness as it was in creation.

But as I said before, this oneness is not sameness, and it is not even a prayer that all denominations or expressions of faith somehow come together as one. Through this prayer, Jesus is expressing his desire for his friends; remember that although we are different, we come from the same Source. Humanity shares the likeness of Abba, the one who has given life to all. The one who, at the moment of creation, breathed his breath, his spirit into humanity. The very breath of God is what animates us and is what makes us human. There is the belief that this is when the soul enters the body, when we breathe and become fully human.

Jesus is desperate for us to believe this. Our oneness, our solidarity, brings us closer to God. When we forget that we belong to each other, we live in fear of the other and sometimes resort to violence. To believe means trusting, holding dear, and giving our hearts. This is what Jesus believes and prays for, that we trust one another. This is what Jesus came to preach and teach that we love one another. But before we can love, we have to trust.

To do this, we need to heal the hurts of humanity. We need to be able to look past race, gender, and social class to build God’s kingdom here on earth. When we look at another human being, we need to see the image and likeness of God in them. We need to be able to see the breath of God, the spirit of God that is in every human being. This is the glory of God and makes us fully human.

But the problem is prayer is not magic. I think sometimes we believe that if we pray, God will somehow snap his fingers and make things better. That, my friends, is not how it works. We pray, and then we do.

I refer to things I see on Facebook a lot. I mean, it is the center of truth in the universe. However, sometimes there are nuggets of wisdom there. For example, there is a photo floating around of Jesus and another person sitting on a park bench; perhaps you have seen it. The person asks Jesus why he allows wars, gun violence, starvation, illness, and a whole host of other problems. And Jesus responds, “I was going to ask you the same thing.”

Humanity has the capacity to fix every problem that exists today, what we lack is the desire and the trust to do so.

In Judaism, if you say a prayer over something and then fail to do the requisite action that follows, like blessing bread and not eating it, it’s a Bracha levatla – a sinful act. So, likewise, it is sinful if we pray and then do not act.

My favorite book in the Bible of the Letter of St. James. It is a short work and often goes unnoticed, but it is the bedrock of faith for me. In the second chapter of this letter, we read:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus, faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

Faith alone is not enough; we must do something with that faith. If our faith does not force us into action, it is dead; it is lukewarm and not faith at all.

We have a responsibility to care for each other as human beings. Out of our abundance, we must share with those who have little or nothing. We cannot sit by and watch another person starve to death without doing something, anything. Write a check, cook a meal, and yes, pray for that person and others.

You have heard me say this before, being a Christian is not easy it requires a lot from us. We can no longer think only of ourselves and our families. Still, we have to think of and have concern for all of humanity regardless of race, social status, legal status, education level, political leanings, or who they choose to love. Loving all means just that, all.

What can we do? How do we change the world? We start by changing ourselves. Want more love, be more loving. Want less anger, be less angry. Want more generosity, be more generous. Focus on changing what is inside, not what is wrong with others, another’s sins but on our own sinfulness. Change comes from within, not from without.

My prayer is that same prayer of Jesus that we all may be one. So let us strive to be one, one with each other and one with God.


Do you wish to be made well?

John 5:1-9

This past week we passed a rather grim reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is still with us. Johns Hopkins University reported that 1 million Americans have died from the virus that has plagued us and changed our lives for more than two years. I am confident that everyone here, those online or those that will read these words, has been touched in one way or another. Personally, I have lost several friends to COVID, and I know of countless others who have had the virus and recovered.

Along with the physical and mental effects of COVID, there have been spiritual effects. Church buildings were closed, and we pivoted to online worship and other gatherings. The things that were once familiar were no longer available, and many of us became isolated from others. However, we are slowly emerging from our long night to see what is left.

Apart from missing out on fellowship and all the other Church associated events, not being able to receive and provide sacramental ministry was challenging. I am ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament. And not being able to offer the Sacramental part of ministry has been difficult.

I have shared my views on the nature of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper before this, so I will not go into all the details here and now, but suffice it to say, I believe that when we gather as a community around the table, we are receiving spiritual food that is designed to make us whole and make us well.

Although we may disagree on the precise theological understanding of the Sacrament, most all denominations believe that something happens, be it spiritual or memorial. We all agree that what happens around the table is a Sacrament that provides grace and healing. It was the last action and meal that Jesus shared with his friends before being taken away.

Recently, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Francisco announced that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is not welcome to receive communion in his Archdiocese. In effect, he has excommunicated a child of God for a difference of opinion on an issue. I stand before you today as one who has faced the sentence of excommunication from a Church, and I have to say, it is not a fun place to be. Being cast out, shunned, and having people turn their backs on you is one of the vilest things that can happen, and to have it happen at the hands of your Church is just horrible and really beyond words to describe.

In today’s Gospel message from the Gospel of John, we are presented with the third miracle of Jesus in John’s Gospel. The first was the miracle at the wedding, and the second was the healing of the daughter of one of the officials.

I often shy away from these stories as we focus on the miracle, the tale’s magic, and forget that there is a meaning behind what is happening.

Jesus and his Disciples are at the place of healing. This is a pool, a spring-fed pool that has provided healing waters. People come from miles around to wade in this pool to be healed of what ails them. But the healing only takes place when the spirit moves over the water. I am unsure how often in the day this happens, but the one who is first in the water when it stirs is the one healed.

Sitting near this pool is a man who is lying on a mat. Scripture says he has been there “for a long time.” He is paralyzed and cannot get himself into the pool, and he has no one to put him in when the waters stir.

Let’s think about this for a moment. The man is sitting by the pool and has been for quite some time. He is well known to those who come; they see him every day, yet no one will help this man be made well. Some may step over this man so they can get in the pool first and claim the healing for themselves, yet this man sits and waits.

Jesus does not pick the man up and walk him into the pool; Jesus asks the man a question, “Do you wish to be made well?”

Interestingly enough, the man never answers the question. He tells Jesus why he has not been healed and that others get in before him, but he never says if he wants to be healed or not. Jesus never touches the man, perhaps he was practicing good social distancing, but he tells the man to get up, take his mat and go.

The story ends with the man getting up, taking his mat, and leaving. Then comes the line, “Now that day was a sabbath.” It seems a strange place to end the story, for what comes next is VERY important.

The man leaves the pool and encounters the authorities. They ask the man why he is carrying his mat, which is against the rules of the Sabbath. There is no work to be done on the Sabbath, and the very fact that this man is carrying his mat means he is working.

He tells them that the man who made him well told him to carry the mat. The authorities and the religious people do not fall to their knees and worship God because this man has been made well. They do not ask the man about the healing and congratulate him that he is now whole. No, the focus is on the rules. They have their noses buried so deep in the rule book that they cannot see the miracle that has just taken place before them. This man who has been suffering for years is now made well.

What the Archbishop of San Francisco has done is a modern version of this story. The focus is on the rules while laying aside the pastoral implications of his actions. Although he may feel that he is right, and I have no doubt he is basking in the sense of pious and righteous indignation, the long-term effects of what he has done are incalculable.

How many people have heard this story and have turned away from the faith? How many of the decisions do we make as church turn people away when our job is to be drawing people together? The center of the word Communion is Union, a bringing together the faithful to share a common spiritual meal to bring healing.

I have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, At the Last Supper when we believe Jesus instituted the Sacrament of Communion, sitting around that table was the one who would betray him and the one who would deny him. Jesus provided the elements of bread and wine that he blessed with his own hands to the very person that was responsible for his death, and Jesus knew it.

The very idea that Jesus had an open table, knowing full well what those sitting there were going to do, and yet provided the Sacrament to them is a clear indication to me that the Sacrament and the grace that comes with it should be made available to EVERYONE without exception.

Are we worthy? No, none of us are. But by taking that little piece of bread and a drop of juice helps make us worthy. If I or anyone else denies another of that possibility, then I deny the grace of God to another.

John Wesley was such a believer in the potential grace provided by communion that he urged his followers to receive it every chance they could. The idea that communion is now relegated to once a month or less would be a very foreign idea to him. So concerned was he for the people in the new world not having access to clergy for communion, he went against the bishops of the Anglican Church and ordained people himself to provide the Sacrament. He risked it all so people would have access to the Sacrament’s grace.

Through the actions of this Archbishop, we have witnessed the stepping over of others to get into the pool. Rather than building walls with rules to keep people out, we should be building larger tables to accommodate all who wish to come.

The miracle of today’s story is not the man’s healing; the miracle of the story is how Jesus changed everything. No longer is healing reserved for those who have means or those who are first, but healing is available to all who wish to be healed.

Let us strive to be individuals and a community that is genuinely open to all and makes available God’s grace to all.


Life-Giving Access

Life-Giving Access
Acts 9:36-43
John 10:22-30

I feel that I need to begin this morning with a few words about recent developments in our Country.

As you are all aware, the Supreme Court of the United States is poised to make a radical change to women’s health care. I say radical because it has been considered, and the last three Supreme Court nominees agreed in their hearing that the rights under attack should be regarded as settled law.

Let me state as clearly as I can; I support anyone’s right to choose. However, my opinion on the matter does not come into account when it comes to another’s decision. The position of this Church, or any Church, should not come into account when it comes to another’s decision. I hope that any decision is made after much consultation with medical professionals and others and after much prayer. Still, in the end, it is a decision that the individual must make.

I do not stand in judgment of anyone. As your pastor, I am here to support you and help you in any way. I never have and will never force my personal beliefs on anyone; in fact, this is the first time in my 17 years of ordained ministry that I have ever spoken in a sermon on this topic.

My desire is for everyone to have access to whatever they feel they need and make whatever decision they think they need to make that is best for them and their families. If you don’t like abortion, that is your choice but do not try and take that choice away from someone else.

We enjoy a tremendous amount of freedom in this Country, more freedom than many others. But, part of that freedom is to allow others to have freedom. We may not always agree with the choices that others make, but quite frankly, it is none of our business; personal freedom is just that, personal.

Just a quick word on the so-called pro-life movement. If you genuinely wish to be pro-life, your concern for the unborn needs to extend to the entire spectrum of life. If you are truly pro-life, you should be concerned with affordable health care for all, affordable housing for all, jobs that pay living wages for all, education for all, ending state-sponsored murder, child poverty, war, and getting vaccinated! All of these are life issues, and we should be concerned about all of them. Stop using religion to push your political agenda.

Today’s story from the Acts of the Apostle begins at a funeral. Tabitha has died, and the others have come to pay their respects. Tabitha was an amazing woman. She made clothing for those who could not afford them. She was described as a disciple of the way, and she obviously took Jesus’ command to love others and clothe the naked seriously. In addition, she specifically helped the widows in her community, another command of Jesus. Many of these widows had no one to care for them, so Tabitha stepped in and became their family.

Tabitha’s friends had laid her out and had sent word to Peter. It is unclear if her friends felt that any miracle would occur, and I am not sure what their expectations might have been, but another had just been healed, and we do all we can for those we love. So, they sent for Peter.

Just as Jesus had done when he healed the daughter of Jairus, he sent the mourners out of the room. He prayed, and then he said, “Tabitha, get up.” And she opened her eyes and sat up. I can only imagine the joy and fear that her friends must have had. Many became believers after this took place. One life was continuing to change the lives of many. God’s raising of Tabitha was a deed of compassion that turned the existing world order on its head. The message of Jesus continues to change the way we think about everything.

Perhaps while Tabitha’s friends were gathered, they prayed the 23rd Psalm. This is one of my favorites of the Psalms, and I use it a lot at funerals and other gatherings. It uses the motif of the Shepherd tending to their sheep. Sheep rely on the Shepherd for everything, and if the Shepherd cares for the sheep, they will lack for nothing.

This Psalm raises an interesting distinction between a want and a need. We do not always see this clear distinction, especially when it involves us. We may feel we need something, but it turns out to be a want.

I believe in the idea that God knows us better than we know ourselves. We might pray to win the lottery, but God knows what we will do with it, so it does not happen. One of the hardest lessons to learn is that God answers every prayer; sometimes, the answer is no. This is a simplistic illustration, but I think you get the point. God, the Good Shepherd, provides those things we need; the want is a different story.

But are the things we need going to fall from the sky? Well, maybe, but not usually. God has given us skills to earn a living, put a roof over our heads, and put food on the table. God has given the farmer skills to grow that food and others to make clothing as Tabitha did that keep us warm and protected. If we lack these things, or the ability to produce these things, there are other means to find support. The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

But this Psalm is not just about God providing material things; it is about the spiritual provision that comes from our relationship with God.

With God, we can experience love. The Shepherd is always one step ahead of the sheep making sure the path is safe. Sometimes, we neglect our health in our quest to accumulate more, and stress begins to mount. If we find those times and places that help us “restore our soul,” we will be better off in the long run.

With God, we have someone to place our faith in. God will never leave us and is with us in the good times and in the bad. I think of that poem called “footprints in the sand” you all know it. Sometimes we walk with God, and sometimes, God carries us. The assurance that God, the Good Shepherd, is walking beside us should bring us comfort in those times of trial.

In God, we have reason to hope. I know it can be challenging to have hope, and it has become even more difficult these last years for some. But our hope should be in God and in God alone. The friends of Tabitha had hope, they placed their hope in God, and God was faithful.

Many people have lost their faith in God for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it was the institutional Church that let them down. Other times it was individuals’ association with the institutional Church that let them down. I have been there, and I have experienced the hurt that comes when these things happen. My faith wavered, and for a time, I lost my faith. But I was drawn back because someone cared enough to reach out.

Perhaps you have been hurt or have lost your faith. Maybe you know someone who has been hurt or lost their faith. The invitation is there for all to come and find rest for your soul. We need to let others know that God cares and loves everyone, even in times when it appears that those who claim to follow God do not.

The Psalmist says the “Lord is my Shepherd” the Psalmist makes no claim for the Church or others, only for God.

Today I invite you to come and find that rest. Come all who weary and are heavy laden. And I hope that each of you will extend that invitation to others. So maybe we can be that Shepherd for someone and lead them to the place of their refreshment.


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