Resurrection Joy

John 20:1-18

A small group of friends was gathered, trying to come to grips with what they had just witnessed. Three days ago, their world came crashing in around them, and they were unsure what they would do next. Their friend, their leader, was gone. The authorities had taken him in the middle of the night. One of their own had turned him in. He was put on trial on trumped-up charges and given a death sentence. They watched as the government carried out that death sentence. Then, finally, they watched him take his last breath. He was removed from the instrument of his death and placed in a tomb, and a large stone was rolled in front of it. They thought this was the end.

Then came the morning.

Everything was going to be different.

When we strip it all away, this day is about two things, forgiveness and love.

There is a great icon painting called the “harrowing of hell.” The icon depicts Jesus descending among the dead and rescuing those who are there. So you see, Jesus did not come just to redeem the living, but he came to redeem everyone, even creation itself.

We see this played out during the crucifixion itself. Jesus, hanging on the cross, looks down at those who had just put him there, and he asks God to forgive them. So, likewise, Jesus is pleading with God to forgive those who have just killed him.

Jesus also forgives the thief that was crucified with him. As you well know, Jesus was crucified with two thieves, and one of them asked Jesus for forgiveness. Jesus asks no questions and requires nothing of this man and grants his request. The man asked, and it was granted. It’s that simple.

But today is also about love. Of course, the entire Gospel is about love, but it comes to a point today. Everything that was done to this point was about love, the love that God has for each of us. I don’t think this can be said enough; God loves each of us, just the way we are.

I have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Jesus came to turn everything in its head. He came to change the way we worship, how we interact with each other, and how we love. This change continued after his death with his appearance to Mary.

Each of the Gospels tells the same story. The men were all cowering in the upper room. They were afraid, and they did not know what to do next. But the women knew there was work that had to be done no matter what. Jesus was hastily buried, and his body needed to be prepared according to the custom. In the other accounts, Mary is not alone when she goes to the tomb, but in John’s Gospel, she is alone.

She arrives and believes that the body of Jesus has been taken, so she runs back to tell the others. Mary has already heard that Jesus has risen in the other accounts, and she tells the others this, but the men do not believe her. So, they set off to the tomb to see for themselves.

Once they saw the empty tomb, they returned home, but Mary stayed, weeping for Jesus. Then he appears to her. He tells her to go and tell the others, go, and share the good news that I have risen! Go and preach. Yes, Jesus is telling a woman to go and preach. So while the men were cowering, the women did what had to be done. And this was just the start.

Jesus took this complex system of rules and regulations and boiled it all down to two things, Love God and Love everyone, including those who do not love you back.

I have done this exercise before. Get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. I want you to think about the most despicable person you think of. It can be someone you know or someone you have only heard about. The person that makes your blood boil when you hear their voice or see their face. That is the person we are called to love. Yes, it’s hard. It’s supposed to be.

As I was preparing for our Good Friday service, I came across something online that really hit home. It said, “when you learn how to sit at the table with your Judas, you’ll understand the love of Christ.” So Jesus, knowing that Judas would betray him, sat at the table with him and worshiped.

In a few moments, we will spiritually gather around this table, not a table of sacrifice but a table of love. This is the table where we will share a meal that will spiritually nourish us and help us carry out those commands of Jesus. This is an open table available to all who desire to come. The meal we serve is a healing meal, not a prize only reserved for those who live up to a certain standard. The food we offer is available even if you are not ready to love and forgive.

So, I invite you to come as redeemed and forgiven people to the empty tomb and the table. Come just as you are but leave changed.

Amen.

Sermon: Palm Sunday

Luke 23:1-49

Today we turn a page as we begin the commemoration of the holiest week on the Church calendar. We also turn our face toward Jerusalem, as Jesus does, and we begin the journey towards the celebration of the Resurrection.

Palm Sunday is a day of contrast. First, we began our service outside, waving palm branches and shouting Hosanna. Then, in the Gospel of Luke, we heard the glorious story of Jesus coming into Jerusalem riding on the colt of a donkey. This is another contrast.

When a king enters a city after a victorious battle, the king comes riding on a horse. The horse is a symbol of power and strength. The king has come to take possession of the city from the king that lost the battle. The people of that city are now under the control of the new king.

When a king enters a city as a friend or visitor, that king comes riding on a donkey. The donkey is a symbol of humility and peace. The donkey is a beast of burden and not one of war. The king comes as a friend to being greetings to those in the city and the other king.

Jesus comes not on a symbol of power but on a symbol of humility. Jesus has not come to conquer the City of Jerusalem but to bring a message of peace and a message of hope. Sure, Jesus is going to turn things on their head, but he will do it peacefully. No longer is he here to turn over the tables in the Temple; Jesus has come to turn over the tables in your heart.

But as we know, soon those shouts of Hosanna will turn to screams of “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”

In reading Passion Gospel from Luke, we see this play out. A few days before, the people were hailing Jesus as king and laying their coats on the ground and waving palm branches; by Thursday, they were out for blood.

We witness what can happen when the rulers of the day spread lies and make false accusations. It stirs up the people into such a frenzy that they storm the home of the Roman Governor and demand he does something. They want blood and are willing to spill the blood of an innocent man to get what they want.

There is also a contrast between the leaders. The religious leaders want Jesus put to death. We see them conspiring against him, and they enlist the help of one of his inner circle, Judas. In their belief, and rightly so, Jesus has come to change everything. He has given the people another way, and they do not like it. Whenever power gets threatened, power acts with its power, be it the state or be it religion.

Jesus came to transform and reform how the people thought and worshiped. God was no longer held captive in the Temple, where a sacrifice was demanded. God was not present in all of creation, and the sacrifice demanded was one of love and acceptance of everyone. Jesus is the completion of the law and all the prophecies. Jesus came not to change the law but to simplify it, love God, and love neighbor. This made the power brokers uneasy as they were going to lose control.

But the state was not convinced. We see the Roman Governor Pilate as a conflicted character. On the one hand, he has pledged absolute loyalty to the emperor in Rome, and he has promised to keep the peace in Jerusalem or lose his job. Empires are at their best when there is peace. During peace times, everyone works, and trade can happen. When war or strife breaks out, all of that comes to an end. Wars cost money; peace makes money.

Pilate has a dream, and, in that dream, he is to have nothing to do with this man. Pilate’s wife comes to him and tells him the same thing. But the religious leaders, so afraid of losing power, convince Pilate to put Jesus to death. They would rather have the blood of one innocent man spilled than risk losing their control. In the end, Pilate gives them what they want.

But there is another contrast, and we will hear more about this later in the week. The modern contrast of Jesus needing to die to satisfy some debit and to satisfy an angry God contrasted against the idea that the suffering and death of Jesus were voluntary and necessary to show us the way. I do not buy into this idea that Jesus’ death, although necessary, was to fulfill any debit.

We reduce God to a vengeful, blood-thirsty being if we believe that. And for me, that does not square with the God of love we read about in John’s Gospel. The God that loves the world so much that he sent his Son, knowing he was going to die to show us the way of love. There is much more to unpack, so you will have to come to the services this week.

So today, it begins. Jesus now knows that his end is in sight. Everything he does from this point forward is to ensure his death. This action today, riding into Jerusalem and being hailed as king, is the final straw, and he knows it.

But the point of today is a personal one. Today, and in the days that follow, are times for us to examine our lives and look for those times we went from waving palms to outright denial. Times when our words and actions betray our commitment to follow the way of love.

Take some time this week to walk with Jesus. Meditate on his words and witness his actions. Walk in the way of love, for the way of love will change the world.

Amen

Leave her Alone

John 12:1-8

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Louisiana and Mississippi coast, I was deployed to the area with a church disaster relief organization. I had only been ordained for about a year, and this was my first deployment. I packed all of the things I thought I would need for a couple of weeks in a disaster zone and boarded a plane south.

The details were sketchy at best. I was not sure where I would stay, and I think I got the last rental car available in the region. If worst came to worse, I could sleep in the car. I mean, there were folks worse off than me. I was to meet the rest of my team when I arrived, and we would figure it out from there.

Sure enough, we found places to stay, and all was well. I was there four days when we received a call about some folks stranded at the airport. The airport was on high ground, so folks started to head that way when the water began to rise. There was no food or other provisions at the airport, and we were not sure what we would find when we arrived. So we commandeered a bus and a security detail, and off we went.

When we arrived, it was absolute chaos. People were everywhere. The place had an odor of fear and other emotions mixed with some things that it is not polite to talk about. People were huddled in corners and standing together in groups talking, and they all had this look of despair on their faces.

Just before we left, I decided to put on my dog collar and grab my bag with my priest stuff in it. As a chaplain, I always have this bag with me. As a matter of fact, it is out in the car right now. In this bag are various little books with prayers, items needed for Communion, and a little gold vessel that contains oil for anointing people. I grabbed the bag as a last thought and left my room to board the bus. I am glad I made that last-minute decision.

As we walked through the airport, a man came up to me and grabbed me by the shoulders. He was wearing camouflage, and I noticed that he had the medical symbol of an Army doctor on the collar points of his jacket. He looked me in the eyes and asked me if he had done the right thing. He kept asking repeatedly, “did I do the right thing.”

After he calmed down a bit, he told me he was the chief medical doctor for a group of Army reservists sent to the airport to set up a medical clinic, much like a MASH unit. They had limited supplies and all of these people, but the worst was the area where the nursing home patients were being cared for. When the water started to rise, those charged with the care of nursing home patients took off and left their patients behind. Many of them were rescued and brought to the airport. But, the medically worst of them were all being cared for in one spot.

Due to the lack of medical supplies, this doctor’s job was to decide who lived and who died, and it was eating him up inside. So we spoke for a bit, and then he asked if I would come and pray with the folx he was caring for.

The area was separate from all the others. It had begun its life as a gate area of the airport once filled with happy people setting off on journeys. Now, it had been transformed into a nursing unit filled with people waiting to go on another journey.

All the chairs had been removed, and there were Army stretchers on the floor in their place. The medical staff looked tired and worn, not unlike the medical folks we see these days dealing with COVID. Yet, they were doing the best they could with minimal supplies and no actual knowledge of the conditions of any of those in their care.

I prayed with the staff and allowed them some time to tell me their stories and where they were from; then, I went, knelt beside each person’s cot, prayed, and anointed them. They were someone’s parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and friends. Each was a precious life abandoned by those charged with their care and nowhere, lying on an Army cot in an airport.

Today’s Gospel story is another story about anointing. The story takes place in Bethany at the home of Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. We are told it is six days before the Passover, the last Passover that Jesus will celebrate. The earthly ministry of Jesus is coming to an end, and he knows it.

As they sat around talking, Mary opened a jar of anointing oil that filled the room with fragrance. I recall as if it were yesterday, the smells in the room where I was anointing people and the scent coming from that little oil vessel that I had. It is a scent of healing, of comfort of joy. It is a scent of hope and is a scent that reminds me of each person I have ever anointed with it.

Mary takes the ointment and begins to anoint Jesus with it. This is not the first time we have heard this story. In the other Gospels, it is another Mary; it is unclear who, that anoints the feet of Jesus. Bu this Mary, the sister of the man Jesus raised from the dead, anoints his feet and dries them with her hair. This is a very intimate moment shared between friends, friends that are almost relations.

By Jewish custom, the body is washed and anointed when a person dies. There is a theological reason and a very practical reason. Theologically it prepares the body for what comes next; practically, it is used to cover any smell that might develop. The body is then dressed and wrapped in a linen shroud from head to toe and placed in a tomb. What Mary is doing, whether she knows it or not, is unclear, is preparing Jesus for the next phase of his journey towards his eventual death.

Right away, Judas objects. This could have been sold and the money given to the poor. He says this could have fetched 300 Denarii, which equals about $950 in today’s currency or more than a year’s wages for the average person in 1st century Palestine. But Judas wants to give the money to the poor, or so he says.

But John tells a different story. John calls Judas a thief and that he will steal the money. On the surface, his motives might have looked as pure and caring as the motives of Mary, but just under the surface, there is a different story being told. Jesus tells Judas to leave her alone and let her do what she must do, just as Jesus will tell Judas to do what he must do in a weeks’ time.

Mary does not realize that she has just turned the page and began a new chapter in the story. I am not sure Jesus even knew when his end was coming, but in this scene, it is starting to become real for Jesus. He knows his death is not far off.

Here we see Jesus in a very human moment. He is having a good time with friends, sharing stories, food, and laughs. In these human moments, we are the closest to Jesus, and Jesus is the closest to us. It is in these moments that I get assurance that Jesus understands what I am going through. And it is in these moments of assurance I can give to someone who is facing their death.

Jesus makes a very confusing statement here; he says that the poor will always be with you. Over the years, this phrase of Jesus has been used to justify the lack of care and concern some have shown to the poor. But what Jesus is saying is that tomorrow the poor will still be here, but I won’t, so for just this moment, it is okay to focus on the task at hand. What Mary is doing by anointing Jesus is a task of love. Love for her friend and love for her teacher. She is preparing Jesus for the next phase of his journey.

Anointing with oil is an ancient custom and a sacramental act. Kings and Prophets are anointed before they begin their work or the next phase of their life. Priests and bishops are anointed with oil before starting the next step of their life. And oil is used for the sick and those dying as they prepare for their journey. It may not seem like much, but to that doctor in New Orleans, it meant that he had done his job as best he could.

In a few moments, we will gather for another sacramental act where we acknowledge God’s love for us through the mystery of Communion. Just like Mary anointed Jesus for his journey, this feeding with these simple gifts prepares us for our journey, which includes caring for others.

We are close to the feast of feasts, and there is still time for preparation. So take some time to spiritually prepare yourself for what is coming over these next days. Anoint yourself with the oil of God’s words and in prayer as we prepare to walk the road with Jesus.

Amen.

Consecration of Russia and Ukraine

This may sound strange coming from a minister in a reformed tradition, but I have always held Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in a particular place in my heart. I grew up and had my initial formation in the Roman Catholic Tradition, and Mary played a significant role in that.

I was initially ordained in the Romanian Orthodox Tradition, and presently I have the honor to serve as a priest in the Independent Old Catholic Church. All of this is to say I plan to participate, along with Pope Francis, in the prayer of the Consecration of Russia and Ukraine to Mary on Friday, Marcy 25, 2022, the feast of the Annunciation.

Regardless of your theology or spirituality of Mary and her role in the Church, I think we can all agree that any prayers for Russia and Ukraine are necessary during these days of the war.

If you have the time, please consider joining others worldwide in praying this prayer. Although the time is unnecessary, Pope Francis will lead the prayer at 5:00 pm Rome Time, noon EDT.

I have printed the prayer below for your use.

Act of Consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Basilica of Saint Peter 25 March 2022

O Mary, Mother of God and our Mother, in this time of trial we turn to you.  As our Mother, you love us and know us: no concern of our hearts is hidden from you.  Mother of mercy, how often we have experienced your watchful care and your peaceful presence!  You never cease to guide us to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Yet we have strayed from that path of peace.  We have forgotten the lesson learned from the tragedies of the last century, the sacrifice of the millions who fell in two world wars.  We have disregarded the commitments we made as a community of nations.  We have betrayed peoples’ dreams of peace and the hopes of the young.  We grew sick with greed, we thought only of our own nations and their interests, we grew indifferent and caught up in our selfish needs and concerns.  We chose to ignore God, to be satisfied with our illusions, to grow arrogant and aggressive, to suppress innocent lives and to stockpile weapons.  We stopped being our neighbor’s keepers and stewards of our common home.  We have ravaged the garden of the earth with war and by our sins we have broken the heart of our heavenly Father, who desires us to be brothers and sisters.  We grew indifferent to everyone and everything except ourselves.  Now with shame we cry out: Forgive us, Lord!

Holy Mother, amid the misery of our sinfulness, amid our struggles and weaknesses, amid the mystery of iniquity that is evil and war, you remind us that God never abandons us, but continues to look upon us with love, ever ready to forgive us and raise us up to new life.  He has given you to us and made your Immaculate Heart a refuge for the Church and for all humanity.  By God’s gracious will, you are ever with us; even in the most troubled moments of our history, you are there to guide us with tender love.

We now turn to you and knock at the door of your heart.  We are your beloved children.  In every age you make yourself known to us, calling us to conversion.  At this dark hour, help us and grant us your comfort.  Say to us once more: “Am I not here, I who am your Mother?”  You are able to untie the knots of our hearts and of our times.  In you we place our trust.  We are confident that, especially in moments of trial, you will not be deaf to our supplication and will come to our aid.

That is what you did at Cana in Galilee, when you interceded with Jesus and he worked the first of his signs.  To preserve the joy of the wedding feast, you said to him: “They have no wine” (Jn 2:3).  Now, O Mother, repeat those words and that prayer, for in our own day we have run out of the wine of hope, joy has fled, fraternity has faded.  We have forgotten our humanity and squandered the gift of peace.  We opened our hearts to violence and destructiveness.  How greatly we need your maternal help!

Therefore, O Mother, hear our prayer.

Star of the Sea, do not let us be shipwrecked in the tempest of war.

Ark of the New Covenant, inspire projects and paths of reconciliation.

Queen of Heaven, restore God’s peace to the world.

Eliminate hatred and the thirst for revenge, and teach us forgiveness.

Free us from war, protect our world from the menace of nuclear weapons.

Queen of the Rosary, make us realize our need to pray and to love.

Queen of the Human Family, show people the path of fraternity.

Queen of Peace, obtain peace for our world.

O Mother, may your sorrowful plea stir our hardened hearts.  May the tears you shed for us make this valley parched by our hatred blossom anew.  Amid the thunder of weapons, may your prayer turn our thoughts to peace.  May your maternal touch soothe those who suffer and flee from the rain of bombs.  May your motherly embrace comfort those forced to leave their homes and their native land.  May your Sorrowful Heart move us to compassion and inspire us to open our doors and to care for our brothers and sisters who are injured and cast aside.

 Holy Mother of God, as you stood beneath the cross, Jesus, seeing the disciple at your side, said: “Behold your son” (Jn 19:26).  In this way he entrusted each of us to you.  To the disciple, and to each of us, he said: “Behold, your Mother” (v. 27).  Mother Mary, we now desire to welcome you into our lives and our history.  At this hour, a weary and distraught humanity stands with you beneath the cross, needing to entrust itself to you and, through you, to consecrate itself to Christ.  The people of Ukraine and Russia, who venerate you with great love, now turn to you, even as your heart beats with compassion for them and for all those peoples decimated by war, hunger, injustice and poverty.

Therefore, Mother of God and our Mother, to your Immaculate Heart we solemnly entrust and consecrate ourselves, the Church and all humanity, especially Russia and Ukraine.  Accept this act that we carry out with confidence and love.  Grant that war may end and peace spread throughout the world.  The “Fiat” that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace.  We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more.  To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.

Through your intercession, may God’s mercy be poured out on the earth and the gentle rhythm of peace return to mark our days.  Our Lady of the “Fiat”, on whom the Holy Spirit descended, restore among us the harmony that comes from God.  May you, our “living fountain of hope”, water the dryness of our hearts.  In your womb Jesus took flesh; help us to foster the growth of communion.  You once trod the streets of our world; lead us now on the paths of peace.  Amen

Open Invitation

Open Invitation
Luke 13:1-9

Since moving into our home, Nicky and I have been working on our yard. The previous owner of the house did a fantastic job marking out planting areas and putting in stone walks, but it had gotten overgrown the last few years. So we spent the last couple of years pruning, digging, moving, replanting, replanting again, and just getting things to a point where we can now say what’s next.

Late last summer, we planted some rather large rhododendron plants in the back garden. At first, they were doing great. They had magnificent flowers, and all was well. Then, one of them started to look well, less than perfect. We tried feeding it, watering it more, praying for it, and it seemed that no matter what we did, it just was not getting any better. Finally, we decided it was not getting enough sun and needed to be moved.

Moving any plant is a radical step and can kill the plant. But it was dying anyway, so we decided it was time. Finding a new place can be a challenge; it not only needs the right light, but it has to look right in the landscape. So we found it and prepared the new hole. Dug the plant from its old spot and moved it. Feed it, watered it, prayed for it, and hoped for the best.

The little plant overwintered well and seems to be doing okay, but we will not know until later on in the spring when it begins to flower.

The Gospel passage from Luke can sound harsh at first. The first half ends with a stern warning, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” But the second half of the story seems to bring some hope, the hope that we the Church needs to bring into this world.

The second half of the Gospel is a garden story, not unlike my story about our dying plant.

There is a fig tree that produces no fruit. For three years, the farmer has been tending to this tree, spending time and resources on it, and it has not borne any fruit. Space is valuable on a farm, and each inch has to be profitable, so the farmer asks to have the tree cut down.

The man that has been tending this tree asks for one more year. Give me one more year, and it will bear fruit. I will tend it, water it, fertilize it, and see that all will be well. After all of this, I will cut it down if it does not bear fruit.

This is where the story ends. I even read ahead to find out what happens, and there is nothing; we do not know what happens to this poor little tree. But let’s come back to that.

The story begins with some rather nasty things. Some folx come to Jesus to ask him a question. They tell Jesus about some from Galilee who Pilate struck down. The attempt here is to pin Jesus into a corner, as it usually is. They are trying to raise in Jesus a sense of Nationalism. Keep in mind that the people thought the Messiah spoken about by the prophets would be a military hero that would free them from the Romans.

Jesus turns to a spiritual question about sin and repentance. He asks who the greater sinners were; of course, they cannot answer to do so will invalidate their entire argument. He ends this little section by saying we are all in need of forgiveness.

The other day I posted what I thought was this funny little thing about a kid stealing a bike. It started by saying,” I asked God for a bike, but I know God does not work that way… So, I stole a bike and asked God for forgiveness.” Again, I posted this as a joke; I do that sometimes. We do not always have to be serious; we can let loose now and again. The world is so crazy right now we can laugh.

It caused quite the theological debate about the nature of forgiveness in any event. One person wrote, “asking for forgiveness and getting forgiveness are two different things.” I chimed in that I did not think so. I believe we are forgiven, even before we ask, but if we ask for forgiveness, we are forgiven.

The theological argument is that we have to be genuine, promise not to do it again, and amend our lives, but I think that just complicates things. Where does this belief come from? Jesus forgave the thief on the cross.

Just before he died, Jesus forgave one of the two men crucified with him. Scripture says they were both thieves, but only one asked for forgiveness. Now, this could have been a death bed confession; after all the man knew, he would die. There was no recorded repentance, no chance for the man to amend his life, just forgiveness. The man asked, and Jesus forgave. It’s that simple.

With that said, let me add that I believe that confession is good for the soul. Acknowledging that we have done wrong, gone astray, missed the mark, whatever term you want to use is healthy. Asking for forgiveness is healthy. Striving to change our lives is also healthy. The funny thing about all of this is that God knows us better than we do and knows that we all need help.

I mentioned before; there are no promises in Scripture other than the promise that God will never abandon us. Sure, we can leave God, but God will never abandon us.

So back to the fig tree.

The fig tree is us, you, and me. At times we do not bear fruit. The fig tree is also the Church. At times, the Church does not bear fruit, and in fact, it can cause more harm than good. Jesus is the one who asks for more time to tend to the tree. Jesus provides the spiritual food necessary, the way, the example of his life, and the Scriptures. We are fed and nourished by the Church, the Word, and the Sacraments.

In a few moments, we will come to the table to receive the nourishment of Jesus, but before we can do that, we need time to confess. We make this confession each time in preparation, not in some legalistic way, but as an acknowledgment that we have gone astray and need help, God’s help to get back on track.

The nourishment will help us grow, grow in faith so that we might bear fruit for others and be the gardener for another who is about to be cut down.

Repentance, confession, and acknowledgment of our wrongs are not meant to make us feel bad for what we have done or left undone. No, all of it is spiritual nourishment designed to make us bear fruit so we can feed others just as Jesus feeds us with his life and his words.

Amen.

Strong and Tender

Luke 13:31-35

We live in a world obsessed with power. Just look around. One man, Vladimir Putin, decides he wants the land occupied by another sovereign country. What does he do? He attacks that country. Vladimir Putin is a bully obsessed with his own worth and his own power. One might go so far as to call him a mad man.

Ukraine, Putin says, was going to attack Russia. Putin claims that Russian culture was being wiped out in Ukraine and that the minority ethnic Russians living there needed his help. Putin calls this a peace-keeping mission, yet he is destroying cities, homes, shops, and most recently targeted a maternity hospital filled with expectant mothers, new mothers, and their babies. Peace-keeping missing my…

In the eyes of the world I am a rather insignificant minister but today I join my voice with Pope Francis and say “Vladimir Putin, in the name of God end this massacre.”

But we also must look right here at home. For the entire history of our nation, there has been a peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. Historically, national politics has been nasty, yet when the campaign is over, and the votes are cast, power transfers from one person to the next until 2021.

For the first time in the history of the United States, one president refused, despite all evidence to the contrary that he had lost the election. There is mounting evidence that an attack was planned at the highest levels of the government to try and change with force what they could not change at the ballot box. On January 6, 2021, we witnessed not people exercising their right to free speech and protest but an attempted coup d’état that we only barely survived.

John Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, an English Catholic, historian, and writer writing in a letter address to an Anglican bishop had this to say about power and its effect on humanity.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”

In today’s Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus confronts power directly and, in so doing, places the responsibility to confront power to the Church.

To put this passage in context, we need to back up a little and look at the entirety of the 13th Chapter of Luke. Jesus had been out and about preaching and healing. They had preached about repentance. He had the audacity to heal a woman on the Sabbath. He spoke of faith and the mustard seed and that the entrance to heaven was a narrow way. Jesus was becoming a burr under the saddle of his day’s religious and political leadership, and they were getting anxious.

There was a balance that existed between Rome and the Jewish authorities. If everything was quiet, they were left to their own devices and could do whatever they wanted. However, if an uprising started or things started to get out of hand, Rome would step in and put an end to it all.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day have people under their thumbs, and they liked it. Later in Lent, we will hear the story of the money changers and all the other ways the leadership had corrupted religion. Jesus comes to stand it all on its heads, they know it, and they do not like it.

Some Pharisees come and warn Jesus that Herod is unhappy. The Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him and that he should leave town. Then comes this great line from Jesus, “Go and tell that fox for me, ”Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.” (v32)

What was Herod upset about? Jesus was doing what the Church should have been doing all this time. Jesus called out the religious and political leaders for not serving the people.

One of the greatest freedoms we have in America is the freedom of religion. Not originally in the Constitution but granted, along with some other essential freedoms in the Bill of Rights. However, the freedom to worship as people see fit is the first of those rights.

Those who first came to these shores came for many reasons, but chief among them was they wanted to worship their God in the way they felt called by that God to do. They did not like that the King was calling them to conform to worship in a certain way, so they left rather than keep bucking the system.

Of course, the first thing they did when they arrived in the new world was to persecute anyone who did not believe the same way they did, hence the formation of Providence, Rhode Island, and many other places. How much blood was spilled in places not far from here in the name of religion? How many people lost their lives just because they would not conform to religious practices they believed went against what God was calling them to? TheThe very thing those early settlers were running from in England they brought to the new world.

I am often accused of preaching liberal politics when I preach of such horrible things, equality, love for all, feeding people, clothing people, taking care of the sick and the elderly. I am told that I should stick to the Gospel and leave the politics to the politicians. It’s funny that politicians have no problem using my religion when it suits them. I am addressing this to politicians on all sides, but let me speak one word that smacks of politics, and suddenly the age-old “separation of church and state” gets dragged out.

And where do I get these wild, liberal ideas about how we should treat one another from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You see, people often accuse me and others of preaching politics when it turns out that what they want to do runs counter to the Gospel they claim to cling to. They sit in Church on Sunday morning, shouting Amen and Hallelujah. They take communion and confess their sins, yet almost immediately after leaving the Church, their persecutions of others begin. So there is a significant religious word for those folx, hypocrites.

The Church of Jesus Christ is political because Jesus Christ was political. What Jesus was not was partisan, and there is a difference.

Politics comes from the Greek word meaning “affairs of the cities.” In other words, what is good for the people. Politics is about caring for all the people, not just some of the people. Politics is about caring for the least of them, while partisan politics is about caring for some of them. Politics is very much part of the Gospel.

But in the last few years, we have seen the very dark side of what happens when religion and partisan politics get into bed together. When you combine religion and partisan politics, you end up with partisan politics, and religion all but disappeared. Oh sure, it looks like religion; there are holy writings and messiah-type figures. Religion is put on parade, the bible is used, even if it is held upside down. But, it is not religion because what partisan politics does is exclude and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about inclusion, not exclusion. It is about building tables, not walls. It is about breaking down barriers, not building them. It is about love and not persecuting people for who they love. The Gospel of Jesus Christ stands in the face of power and speaks the truth, and power never likes the truth.

Jesus Christ was killed for our sins. But Jesus Christ was murdered by the state and by religion after being tried in a kangaroo court because he called them out for how they were treating the people, and the power players of the day did not like it. So I would venture to say that if Jesus Christ were to walk this earth today, those in power would do the same thing.

Friends, as Christians, we are not called to power; we are called to hold power accountable for how they treat everyone and not just some. We are called to care for the least of these and those with no voice. We are called to stand up for those living in the subway when the bombs are falling. We are called to sacrifice for those who have nothing. We are called to be Jesus Christ in a world that so desperately needs to hear the message that God loves everyone and cares deeply for everyone.

Today we see the first warning given to Jesus that his life was in danger. The message was getting through, and the authorities were getting anxious. Our job is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Our job is to speak the truth in love to power at all times and in all seasons. We cannot back down; the price is too high.

What we see in Ukraine, what we saw and continue to see as a result of the events of January 6th, is evil, and it needs to be confronted. So let us pray, and then lets us act. Amen.

Wilderness Companions

Luke 4:1-13

We have begun our journey of Lent.  We slowly turn toward the Cross of Jesus during these days ahead, which eventually turns into the empty tomb.  So many Christians want to skip this time of year and get right to the chocolate bunnies and cream-filled eggs, but you cannot have all of that without some preparation.

As you heard me say on Ash Wednesday, Lent is that time of preparation.  We prepare ourselves Spiritually for the events that will come in a few short weeks.  We had a similar time of preparation before the birth of Christ, but Lent is stricter if you will than Advent.

But what is Lent all about?  It is not just about giving stuff up or wearing purple; Lent is about facing temptation and trying to overcome it with the help of God.  And that is what we hear about in the Gospel from Luke today.

This passage takes us back to the start of the public ministry of Jesus.  He has just had his encounter with John in the Jordan, and now, before he gets started, he heads off into the desert alone to prepare.  He will spend the next 40 days alone, with nothing to eat, facing temptations and being tested.  But notice one thing: the Spirit leads Jesus into the desert.  The Spirit leads Jesus there but does not drop him off like he is at summer camp.  No, the Spirit stays with Jesus and helps him face temptation.

The first temptation is on of the body, hunger.  Luke writes that Jesus ate nothing, so I can only imagine how hungry he is.  Jesus is tempted.  Turn this stone into bread.  Jesus answers, “a person does not live by bread alone.”

Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence not as a punishment but to assist in life’s other temptations.  In the early days of the Church, Lent was a strict time of abstaining from rich foods.  Many still celebrate Shrove Tuesday, but I fear it is more out of the idea that we have a party rather than what it was intended to achieve.

Originally, Shrove Tuesday was meant to use up all the things that we would not eat during the time of Lent.  Rather than throw them away or just let them rot, the faithful used these items up so when the feast began, the slate was clean.

There is the spiritual understanding that if we can control what goes in our mouths, we will have the ability to control what comes out.  So it is not supposed to just be about giving up this or that; it is about changing behavior.

By tradition, Orthodox Christians strictly fast during Lent.  The strict fast means no meat, no dairy, and no oil.  So they become vegans for 40 days.  I know many people who follow this rule very close, which in the end, are the same people as when they began the fast.  In other words, it’s not just about giving up; it’s about taking that deep dive within to make a substantive change.

Many folx associated with this Church, and many folx listening struggles with addiction.  We pray each week for those facing that daily struggle.  Overcoming addiction is not just about giving up what one is addicted to it is about changing the behavior and taking that deep dive inside for correction.  There is also an appeal to a higher power for help in all of this.

Jesus is next faced with the temptations of worldly riches and power.  These temptations come at us in small and subtle ways.  As Christians, we are called to live a life that runs counter to what the culture wants us to live.

The world around us wants us to be successful, drive a luxury car, live in a big house, wear expensive suits.  And there is nothing wrong with any of that.  There is nothing wrong with success or being rich, but what does it take to get there?  Who do we have to step on or step over to reach that goal?  And how far are we willing to compromise to make all of it happen?  The temptation is always about what is next.

I have said this before, and I am sure I will repeat it Jesus was not against the rich; Jesus spoke harshly against the stingy.  Jesus spoke against those who had two coats whilst their neighbor had none.  It’s okay to have two coats, but it is not okay to have those two coats if your neighbor does not have one.

As we sit here warm and safe, Ukrainians are hunkering down in subway tunnels and watching their homes being destroyed.  Right now, Ukrainian men are leaving their families to go off and defend those same families, making the painful choice to leave them behind in those same subway tunnels.  The United Nations Committee of Refugees has estimated that over 1 million people have fled Ukraine to escape the horror of war.

Last week, President Biden said that sanctions would not only be difficult on Russians, but the sanctions would be difficult on all of us.  For several days, people were waving Ukrainian flags and posting pictures of sunflowers.  But now that sanctions are starting to make a difference here, it is all about higher gas prices and not getting avocados from Mexico.  Really?  Sometimes the selfishness of Americans astounds me.

Yes, the last couple of years have been difficult on all of us, but we are not hiding in subway tunnels and watching our homes being destroyed by a mad man bent on world domination.  I am okay with paying more at the pump and not having avocados if it means a family in Ukraine can sleep at night without the fear of being killed by some rogue Russian maniac.

As Christians, we are being called to think about someone other than ourselves, not to impoverish ourselves to help others but to be concerned about them and help them with more than just our thoughts and prayers.

Do we really need all those coats, shoes, hats, cars, houses, etc.?  Can we give to help another who has nothing?  Scripture tells us that your heat is where your treasure is.  In other words, we care most about what is important to us, and if we care more about our stuff than we do about people, we should be taking a good, long look at that and why we believe that.

In the translation, we use the prayer that Jesus taught us we say, lead us not into temptation.  As we can see from this passage today, it is not God who leads us.  God does not lead us into temptation; God is with us during those times of temptation.

I have spoken before about my work after a disaster has struck.  While sitting with someone who has just lost everything they have, I am asked, where was God?  God is right there in the midst of it all.  Regardless of what the TV preachers say, God does cause bad weather, earthquakes, or even wars.  God does send bad politicians or even good ones, don’t blame God for all the bad stuff going on in the world that falls squarely on us.  There are no promises in the bible other than the promise that God will never abandon us no matter what.

Jesus went into the desert for 40 days; God did not abandon him there but was with him every step of the way.  Sure, it may feel like we are alone, and the world may be crumbling down around them, but God is there.

Last week I came across an internet post from one of the bishops in Ukraine.  The bishop said, and this is a summary, that the clergy were taking the Church to where the people were.  There were images of people gathered in tunnels with clergy praying and providing sacramental ministry to the faithful.  Just this morning, I came across a picture of a Ukrainian Army Chaplain officiating a wedding in the field.  Even amid war, there is love.  When the world is crumbling, God is there in the midst of that crumble.  Jesus suffered just as we suffer and will NEVER abandon us.

What are your temptations, and how can help you overcome them?  God will not wave some magic wand and make them disappear; you have to do that hard work.  But God will be there with you as you go through it.

I am going to leave you with the words of Paul.  Paul sums up how much God loves us, and it is vital that we understand this. So many voices in the world say that God does not love this or that or because of this or that you are a sinner and God does not love you.  Do not listen to those people, do not listen to me, listen to Paul.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Amen

The Transforming Power of Prayer

Luke 9:28-36

It is at times like these that standing here becomes very difficult. As I am sure many preachers will do today, I could ignore what is going on in the world and focus on the Gospel. But I feel that not addressing current events, especially events such as war, is, in a way, cowardice. As a preacher, as a leader of a faith community, I have an obligation to help you make sense of what is going on in the world, especially when it seems that it makes no sense.

On Thursday morning, we woke to the news of Russian troops rolling across the border into Ukraine. While we were preparing for another snowstorm, the people of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities were preparing for tanks, missiles, and troops fighting in their streets. One newscaster said about the invasion that it is the largest land battle on the European Continent since World War II.

Make no mistake about it; these actions of the Russian President go against all the treaties he signed and are an unprovoked and despicable act of evil perpetrated by a dictator. Vladimir Putin is nothing more than a bully seeking to flex his muscles against a weaker country. Or so he thought.

And to those of you siding with evil and cheering on the Russians, you participate in this evil and the killing that has taken place by your words and your actions. America is deploying soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to Europe; this is not a time to be siding with those we may be at war with. You cannot claim to support the military while cheering on those with whom we may be at war.

War is failure. As Christians, we should look upon war as repugnant as it stands in direct opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But, at the same time we are called to pray for those prosecuting this war that they follow the rules of war and protect civilians.

As I wrote in my weekly email, the world’s religious leaders have asked us to make this day a special day of prayer, and Pope Francis has asked all of us to make Ash Wednesday a special day of prayer and fasting. So, I am asking all of you, here and online, to gather your prayers together today and every day until this war comes to an end.

But what can prayer do? Can prayer stop bombs and tanks? Again, we have today’s Gospel as our guide.

On the top of the Mountain of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John see Jesus as he really is.

This is what happens when we pray. If you are at a loss for words, we have the words that Jesus gave us. In that prayer, we say, “Your kingdom come; your will be done.”

We are not praying for the kingdoms of tyrants and despots. We are not even praying for our own will, but rather that we will see the will of God in Jesus Christ.

To pray is to see things how they really are and how they can be if we align our will to God’s will for us and the world. If, as Paul says to the church in Corinth, “We do not lose heart”… (2 Cor. 4.1), and “with our unveiled faces see the glory of the Lord as if reflected in a mirror, and are ourselves transformed.” (2 Cor. 3.18)

Prayer matters. Prayer is important. Prayer is all of these things because prayer changes things beginning with ourselves and gives us the strength we need.

One of the more encouraging things I have seen these past days is the number of people gathered to pray. In Ukraine, people gather in churches and synagogues, subway tunnels, and apartments to pray for change and strength.

It may seem that this war is being waged half a world away, but it will affect us. The United States has deployed and will continue to deploy the military to Europe to defend our NATO allies. In his speech to the nation on Thursday afternoon, President Biden warned us that sanctions would not only harm Russia and make it difficult for them to continue this war, but sanctions also have the potential of making things difficult for us here at home. I am sure we will see a difference, perhaps gas prices will rise, and some things will be harder to find, but I am willing to pay a little more at the pump if it means the people of Ukraine will be free and safe. My minor inconvenience at the pump or other places is nothing compared to people who must live in subway tunnels to avoid bombs dropping on their homes.

And this is where prayer will help us because prayer will help us see what is right and give us the resolve to do it. It is time to stop thinking of ourselves and think of others. It is time we stop turning a blind eye to what is going on in the world and start to have concern for our brothers and sisters around the globe. Yes, we live in a global community, and we need to help each other.

Prayer transforms, beginning with ourselves. We are about to enter the season of Lent. This is the time of year set apart by the church that calls us to deepen our prayer lives and focus on repentance. There is the ancient tradition of giving something up as a token of sacrifice during this time of the year. Perhaps you grew up not eating meat on Fridays or giving up ice cream. We did this because fasting is an integral part of our spiritual life.

But what we give up should make a difference in ourselves. So why not fast from harmful and hurting words and replace them with kind words. Fast from anger and fill our lives with patience. Fast from worries and place our hope in God. Fast from complaints and focus on simplicity. Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “be the change you want to see in the world” Want more peace, be peaceful. Want more love, be love. Want more kindness, be kind. Want more generosity, be generous. We may not influence events on the other side of the world, but we do influence what takes place in our own lives. If each of us adopted a spirit of peace, that spirit would emanate from us to others; change begins right here, in our hearts.

I have lit this single candle as a reminder of our obligation to pray for peace. This single candle will be lit at each service we have until this time of war is ended. Let us hope it ends soon.

In a speech in the House of Lord’s this past week, Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York said, “Peace is a choice. It is a decision that we need to make each day about the way we live and about our responsibilities to and with our neighbor, be that in our family, in our local community, or between the nations of the world.”

As I close with this prayer, I also wish to remind you that we need to pray for the Russian people, the ones who will feel the harshness of the decisions their leaders have made.

Let us pray:
O God, the refuge and strength of all,
You hold the people of Ukraine in the palm of your hand.
The name of each person there,
Is written on your heart.

In the darkness of invasion
And in the mire of political machinations,
Spread we pray, the light of hope and of justice
And of peace.

Encourage those who are frightened,
To find strength in you
And in those around them -Near and far.

Help the worldwide family of nations
To respond in love
With outstretched hearts,
Open minds,
And with too, the wisdom needed
to effect a peace that lasts.

Save us we pray,
From not caring enough.
For your Son’s sake. Amen.

Statement by the Right Reverend Thomas Bryant, Bishop of the Diocese of the Eastern United States of the Independent Old Catholic Church

In the early morning hours, the military forces of Russia unleashed an unprovoked and unjustified attack on the people of Ukraine. This act of aggression is an act of evil and I join my voice with those of other religious leaders in calls for peace and for the people of Ukraine and Russia.

I am inviting Christians to join in prayer this Sunday for the people of Ukraine and for peace in our world.

As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, I support the call of Pope Francis to a Global Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace on Ash Wednesday, March 2nd.

St. George, protector and patron of the Ukrainian people, pray for us.

Sermon: Love your Enemies

Love Your Enemies

October 2, 2006, started as just another day for Nickle Mines, Pennsylvania residents. The Amish Community was going about the day’s business on their farms, and the children were headed off to school. After recess, the children returned to their one-room schoolhouse and settled in for their next lesson. A man entered the school and asked the children and their teacher if they had found a lost part he was looking for. They had not. The man left the building but quickly returned. What happened next would stun this community.

The man came into the building carrying a handgun and ordered the boys to go and get some items from his truck. The gunman began to barricade the doors and windows and line the girls up and the front of the classroom. The gunman ordered the boys and a few others to leave the school. The children’s teacher was able to escape and call the police from a nearby farm.

When police arrived, the man ordered that they leave or he would begin to shoot the children. Two of the girls, ages 13 and 11, realized their danger and asked that they be shot first so that the other might be spared.

Less than an hour after it began, it was over. Five of the girls were dead, including one of the girls that had asked to be shot first and the shooter. Many of the other girls were wounded and taken to area hospitals.

This tragic story shattered the innocence of this small, enclosed Amish community of Nickle Mines. However, the next part of the story is most extraordinary.

While the community was still coming to grips with the shooting and the deaths, one grandfather was overheard saying, “We must not think evil of this man.” Another Amish father noted, “He had a mother and a wife and a soul, and now he’s standing before a just God.” A member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County explained: “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”

Hours after the shooting, members of the Amish community had gone to the shooter’s home to offer forgiveness to his family and comfort the family in their grief. About 30 members of the Amish community attended the shooter’s funeral to show that forgiveness had been granted.

I cannot imagine the grief and pain the community was experiencing, but one of their first thoughts was to offer forgiveness.

In today’s Gospel from Luke, we heard these words from Jesus, “But to you who are listening, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

The story of the community of Nickle Mines certainly bears witness to this passage to love our enemies but also about forgiveness.

On June 17, 2015, the Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church members were just finishing up their Bible Study when a young man rose and began shooting. The shooter had come to the Church for just that reason but participated in the hour-long Bible Study before he began shooting.

Six minutes later, it was over. Eight were dead, a ninth would die later in hospital, and the shooter had escaped.

In statements after the shooting, families of the victims and other church members offered forgiveness. When asked why they were forgiving the shooter, they replied, “we are Christians, we have to forgive.”

Forgiveness is powerful, it’s powerful for the person offering forgiveness, and it is powerful for the one being forgiven. Forgiveness is not optional.

We turn again to the Gospel from Luke, where Jesus says, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” We recite the prayer that Jesus taught us in every service we have. In the prayer, we say forgive us for what we have done as we forgive those who have done things to us. We forgive because we have been forgiven.

Forgiveness is not easy. How can one forgive the taking of a life? How can one forgive harm? It is only by the grace of God that we can forgive. Forgiveness is not for the other person, although it can help them on their road to recovery. No, forgives if for the one offering the forgiveness.

If we withhold forgiveness, we give the other person power over us. The moment we can offer forgiveness is when we take that power back and begin to heal. It does not matter if the other person is worthy of forgiveness; we are worthy of that forgiveness.

However, forgiveness does not mean we forget. The harm done to us leaves a lasting mark on us, and there is no way to remove that mark. What forgiveness does is give us the ability not to be revictimized over and over by the event or events. I know this sounds easy, but it is not. Forgiveness releases the anger we may have towards another person and allows us to begin to heal. We may never see the person again, which is fine, but we slowly take our lives back.

In the examples of the Community of Nickle Mines and Mother Emmanuel Church, forgiveness was the only gift they could offer the shooters and to their families. But the more significant gift was to themselves. Lack of forgives leads to bitterness and all sorts of health and spiritual problems. The power of God’s grace gives us the strength that is needed to offer that forgiveness.

These two communities offered forgives in a very public way; it does not always have to be like that. We can offer forgiveness, and the other person may not even know it. Remember, forgiveness is for you, not them. Perhaps the person we need to forgive is dead; we can still forgive them if they never know we have offered forgiveness.

I have never experienced anything like what these two communities experienced. I have been betrayed and hurt by others, as I am sure many of you have. It was easy to forgive some, and for others, I am a work in progress. When I was able to offer forgiveness, I became free to allow myself to heal from the incident, and today I am a much better person for it.

At each Communion Service, we say a prayer of confession. Confession, sin, and the rest are not things we like to think of these days. Many people don’t feel they even need to say this prayer because they are not sinners; well, you deceive yourself if you think that way. We have all sinned and fallen short, and we all need forgiveness from God which is given.

In a few weeks, we will be entering the season of Lent. This time of year has been set apart by the Church as a season of repentance and is a perfect time to examine our lives and offer forgiveness where it is needed.

Let us pray for God’s grace that we will be able to forgive.

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