Welcome to our second Sunday streaming broadcast of Morning Prayer in this time of the COVID Crisis.
Is it so hard to believe that Lent is almost over? The 5th Sunday in Lent is already upon us and the dramatic events of Holy week beginning with Palm Sunday are but one week away.
Our sojourn into the desert of this barren Lenten existence was first greeted with a memory. We were reminded of that which is certain- since the very dawn of creation where God, formed us out of the dust of the earth and then BREATHED life into us.
Back on Ash Wednesday we greeted the Lenten path with a memory, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
“ “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, O Lord God, you know.”…“Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
The reading of the valley of the Dry bones from Ezekiel is one of my favorite Old Testament readings. The best line of all is “Mortal, can these bones live?” Can these bones live?
Ezekiel was the prophet among those deported when the Babylonians first took Jerusalem in 598 BC. That the bones are dry symbolizes the lifelessness of the exiles- they are now strangers in a strange land, they have been stripped of all that they have and many are slaves. They lack the hope that one day the Kingdom of Israel will be restored to its former glory as it was under the rule of King David.
Event the Psalmist sends forth a prayer from personal trouble, “Out of the depths, I cry to you O lord, ; Lord hear my voice.” Is this not our prayer too at times?
Especially now when we are told to stay home. In my phone calls to some of you this past week you tell me about the present circumstances and protocols that say you cannot visit family and friends in care homes, or hospitals, when some of you are now shut-in or working from home
or are even out of work
because the industry and the economy are in crisis- THIS is a time where we find ourselves in the dry valley. It is the place were we pray to the Almighty: “our soul waits for the Lord, more than watchman for the morning.”
Mary and Martha waited for Christ, to come to the aid of their brother Lazarus, who is ill; and when Jesus shows up two days later, Martha said to Jesus, “Where were you?” Why didn’t you come when we called you, Lazarus was ill and you could have healed him, now he’s dead and it’s too late. In fact, he’s been dead four days now.
In the wisdom of the Church, the lectionary once again lends itself to some of the most beautiful and poignant verses in scripture.
That in the midst of Lent, a time where we corporately and with great intent go to great lengths to point out to ourselves and to others the miserable sinners that we are and that we are more and more in need of God’s salvation. Yes, dear friends even in the Episcopal church we can say that we need to be Saved. We are but dust and to dust we shall return. We need salvation from loneliness, salvation from self-centeredness, salvation from stark individuality that cares for nothing but itself, salvation from the hunger of power and control. We like the Samaritan woman desire the salvation of the life giving water, we long to go wash the mud off of our eyes that we may begin to see the world in a new way.
That those readings of the Samaritan woman, the blind beggar, and rising of Lazarus appear in this Lenten season is no accident. They all are about renewal, about community coming truly alive.
These stories are about restoration, not of individuals, both about communities being redeemed. The bones and Lazarus both stand to represent not just individuals, but those individuals participating in community. We should look beyond the obvious, that Lazarus’ resurrection is strikingly similar to the account we soon will hear of Jesus’ resurrection.
When Ezekiel, asks, “How can these bones live?” The prophet is speaking to us as a community.
There is no doubt that many times our lives are like those bones set before Ezekiel. We feel without hope, that there is no life within us. Out of the depths we cry to God, “Can these bones live?!” There are times when we as individuals are metaphorically, dead and living in darkness what seems to separate us from Christ is a large rock that seems so immovable. And yet, Christ is there weeping with the power to roll away the stone and cry out , “Lazarus, come out!” All of a sudden our darkness turns to light and we can emerge from the darkness and let loose the ties that bind us. That the obstacles that block our path will be cast away, that we will be raised anew
And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.
All this is great heady stuff of poets and preachers. But what of all of us and members of this community? How will we continue to be people of the resurrection?
I think we are in an exciting time. Yes. Exciting. We are NOT becoming like the bones of Ezekiel that have form and muscle, but no life. God continues to breathe life into our bones, the Holy Sprit is very much in and among all of us. When Ezekiel is told to speak to the breath- the Hebrew word there is ru-ach. Unlike the “wind” that blows the dust, ru-ach is breath that animates us. In our Hawaiian context this is the “Ha”. The ru-ach is the same breath that was breathed into us at the dawn of creation. There is a spiritual quality to the ru-ach as there is a spiritual quality to our whole self.
It seems odd I know to speak of this now, because it seems that this is might be more of an Easter Sermon than a 5th Sunday of Lent one, but don’t you see? That’s the point. We are all people of resurrection. We are Easter people. We are the people whom bones have been brought back to life, where breath of life has been resorted. We are the people who time and say, like the Samaritan woman, “Give me this life giving water.” And through the water of baptism we have been reborn, raised anew in the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are the people who in ways are blind. Our Lord comes along makes some mud and asks us to go wash and we can see the world in a new way. Jesus weeps and rolls away the stone, and calls us by name. We are Easter people.
That Easter joy cannot be fully understood nor appreciated without the darkness that is the “depths out of which we cry.” The valley of the dry bones. And of course I know it’s hard to talk about being Easter people when I know we will not be physically together on Easter Day.
Even though we cannot be together on Easter morning, the stone is still rolled away, and the risen Christ lives among us. In Christ, death does not win even when there is evidence to the contrary.
Lazarus was in the tomb for days, and Mary and Martha were in their grief, And we might think that this would be the end of it. Martha thought so- she says to him, but he’s been in the tomb for four days. Christ speaks to darkness of the tomb and told Lazarus to come out.
God in Christ is speaking to us even now in this moment and time of our darkness, he is standing with us as we look out in the valley of the dry bones. We ask him, “can these bones live? Our hope is lost and we are cut off completely.” And God, says to us, “ I will bring you up from your graves, O my people, I will put my spirit with you, and YOU SHALL LIVE,”
How will these bones live? (Self) How will these bones live ? (others) The breath of God already dwells among us. Paul in Romans says “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
In Christ we have been brought up from our graves. At the font of baptism we have been reborn; in our prayers we lay bare our bones, and sinews, and flesh that Christ may once again speak to the breath call us as he did Lazarus, and say “Come out!” and bring life to our mortal bodies.
To say that we find ourselves in unusual times is an understatement. In many, many ways, the norms of our world have been turned upside down. When we have spent time and energy figuring out how to welcome friends and new comers to St. Timothy’s and our sanctuary every Sunday, we are now observing social distancing and tell folks to not gather in groups of more than 10 and to join us online. This morning, I am here in an empty church and instead of preaching to all your smiling and eager faces, I stare into the little black dot that is a camera on the back of an iPad. Thank you to all of you joining us on Facebook this morning, if you missed the live broadcast, you might be watching as a recording.
If Facebook and livestreaming aren’t enough, we have the gospel story of the healing of a man blind from birth and in our Old Testament the anointing of David as King by Samuel. Together these readings along with the Epistles are about vision and light.
There is a trap set for us people of faith in this time of the Coronavirus. Its unavoidable, cause all we have to do is go to the grocery store to find naked shelves. We only need to look at the news, or around town, or in our own lives, to ask the disciples’ question: “Who sinned” and thus caused this to happen? It’s a powerful and poignant question. John’s gospel is full of wonderful theology and there is a powerful metaphor of spiritual blindness, in this story. For now, however I want to focus on this question: How can an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God allow totally undeserved suffering to exist in the world? A world that God has created and loves?
Jesus saw a man blind from birth and his disciples asked him, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? The old and ancient belief was that a malady of such as this blindness was from and of God. Things that happen have to have a reason or an explanation- they have to make sense if we are going to wrap our minds around such a thing.
But I have to tell you, I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around this virus. I understand the science of it all- the way it is transmitted and that we should thoroughly wash our hands; I understand the need for social distancing, for modifying store hours, switching over to takeout and even moving our worship to a new platform. But for all these measures to place such burdens: financial, social, and even on our own relationship with the Church and the sacraments, possibly even God, it feels at times that we have been struck with a darkness and we cannot see the way ahead.
There are all kinds of things that can be said about this story of The Man Who Was Born Blind: things about sin, about blindness both literal and metaphorical, about miracles, about how societies divide themselves, the barriers we erect for those not just like us and so on. He is an outcast. He is forced by societal norms to live on the margins of society and to beg for his living..
Yet, the most fundamental purpose of the story as it works in John’s gospel is to illuminate. It is to shed light on the essence of who Jesus is.
Jesus says of the man born blind that through this man, the works of God can be made real or manifest. Does that mean that God MADE the man blind in order to demonstrate or illustrate a point? I certainly don’t believe that. What I do believe is that the place to look for God in this tragedy, or in any tragedy, is not at the front-end. Not at the point of causing it to happen.
Other Christian brothers and sisters will disagree with me by but I cannot conceive of a God sitting in heaven, passing out cancer cells, birth defects, earthquakes, strokes, car wrecks, Coronaviruses and blindness like some hideous dealer at a high-stakes cosmic game of poker.
Instead, the place to find God is the same place where we find Jesus, who is after all God in human form- the Incarnation, as John also put it, the Word made flesh who dwells among us. Where is God- Where is Jesus? In the middle of the mess, in the very worst parts of it, working there to bring forth something new—not something that fixes the mess, but something that redeems and transforms it.
That is where God is found- the God who is active and real among us– the God who has wounds on his hands and feet and side- the God who knows suffering. The God who knows social distancing and isolation in his passion and death and therefore is the God who SHARES our suffering and pain and who takes it into himself in the vastness of his compassion and love.
God didn’t poke out the man’s eyes before he was born, so he would be written down in a book of other stories or become a handy sermon illustration for Jesus. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says: “If it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God.”
My point is this: that even in the midst of undeserved, inexplicable pain and suffering, God can be found. Found in real and in transforming ways.
This real and transforming God’s workings are mysterious, and often chooses the most unlikely persons to be messengers, prophets, and servants of God’s will. Samuel anoints the next king at God’s behest for reasons known only to God and does so defying all norms and expectations. The cultural norm would have been to choose from among the older sons, instead the youngest son David is chosen.
Jesus says: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day.” Notice that Jesus says “We.” We must work the works of God. Paul says in Ephesians that “in the Lord,[we] are light. Live as children of light for the fruit of the light is all that is good and right and true.” Tragedy, pain, and suffering are calls and opportunities to ministry and to service. This may or may not be a call to fix whatever the problem is – often, as in the case of this Coronavirus we simply cannot do that – but it is always a call to reach out and to care. It is always a call to discover, to bring, and to share the presence of God in the heart of the tragedy. We are still the Church after all. And the Church is no stranger to tragedy as the Body of Christ in this world it finds itself in the middle of this present time.
But terrible things don’t happen so that we can have an opportunity to minister and serve. God doesn’t work that way, either. But we are called to ministry and service. This was Jesus’ response to the reality of tragedy and suffering—and ministry and service is our call as well.
What is our response? What can we do as a congregation that now must stay in our homes and away from the Church and tune in to worship on our tablets and phones and computer screens? Well for one, we will do what we do best. We will pray for one another and for the world. We will still worship together and offer to God our praise and the longings of our heart. We will listen and feast on God’s holy Word and allow God to continue to nourish our souls on the sacrament of God’s very story of his dream for us and his kingdom.
But we will also live as children of the light. We are a people of hope and of resurrection; whose Christian story knows of hardship and knows that this pandemic will come to an end and that we will be together again worshiping in this space.
We are children of light who knows in our heart of hearts that the Church, the Body of Christ, is not a building or but the people of God joined in prayer and service.
We are children of light who will check in our neighbors, pool and share our resources, feed the hungry in body and spirit; and together we will find this as an opportunity to see NEW light and NEW ways that God is at work in our church and in the world.
We are Children of the Light, healed of the darkness that blinds us to the glory of God. We will wash the mud from our eyes and behold the love that God has for us; a love so deep, so broad, so high that in the midst of this pandemic, amidst the sick and the grief stricken, the businessman and the worker; God is present in it. And through this difficult time, God will ultimately transform it, helping us to say, “Lord, I believe” and answer God’s call to love and serve. AMEN.
“If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” These are the words of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.
In that phrase he was talking about Adam- and his trespass or sin of eating the fruit in the Garden. We learn that in the beginning because of that sin, death exercises dominion. So what comes to mind when we think of dominion? Is it a famous athlete at the top of her game crushing it against her opponents? Is it a warrior or super hero standing over their defeated enemies, triumphant. Or maybe it’s the alpha predator, like a great white shark in the deep ocean or a lion on the savanna.
Scripture obviously paints a different picture of dominion as we enter the first Sunday on Lent. Last week we met Jesus on the top of the mountain in a moment of transfiguration, he is the Beloved, the Son of God, his whole appearance dazzling white. But in this gospel reading, we jump back, way back, to right after Jesus’ baptism where Christ is driven into the wilderness. Genesis is also a less than happy story- about how humans gave into the temptation- allowing death and sin to enter into the world. The Psalm, traditionally attributed to King David does not have the image of the perfect king, victorious over a beheaded giant or defeated enemies, but rather is heartbroken over wrongdoing.
Lent is that season that is very much about the times and places of wilderness. There are times in our lives when we find ourselves in the desert. There is financial stress, grief and loss in the death of a loved one, uncertainty about a job, retirement, a diagnosis or illness can all be named wilderness. The wilderness is the Wild place- filled with uncertainly a place of wandering and hunger themes universal to the human experience. Even without personal suffering, it is easy to read the headlines and look out across the globe and feel like nothing is improving- the earth is getting warmer, the oceans are rising, we are facing what could be a pandemic in terms of the Novel-Coronavirus, just last week the sacristy was broken into and someone tried to start a fire in the garden courtyard. The election rhetoric is heating up such that society seems to be crumbling around us. Facebook and twitter don’t help either.
When we think of Lent, built into our language of worship are themes of self-sacrifice, and penitence. Yes, Lent is a penitential season, and we began our service with the Penitential Order. We are using Rite 1 and its beautiful, yet archaic language, has the power to make us feel small in the face of God. In the Eucharistic prayer we read and pray:
And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses, through Jesus Christ our Lord; etc, etc.
Here is the acknowledgment of “our manifold sins” and our need for a Redeemer. In the presentation of “our selves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice” to God, we experience the transcendence spoken of by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:18. It is in this transcendent experience that we are brought to the Good News, realizing, as John Wesley once wrote, the change that God works in the heart through faith in Christ, our hearts “strangely warmed.” It strengthens our trust in Christ alone for salvation, assuring us that he has taken away our sins and saved us from the law of sin and death.
But these 40 days are not so much about beating ourselves up as they are about following in Jesus’ foot steps through the wilderness. Matthew tells us that Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There are times when the world and our hearts feel like a desert or wasteland. And there are other times when we follow Jesus and the calling of the Spirit and willingly go out into the wilds in order to be with those who are already there. Think of sitting with a grieving friend, or walking a path alongside those in the midst of struggle or hardship.
In the passage from Romans, Paul describes that without Christ, the world is bound up in the sin of Adam and the curse of death. No matter how obedient we might be to the law, death will still have the final say. But in Christ, death does NOT have the final say. We are given a new path and a new way of life as the kingdom of God breaks into our broken world and sets things right.
Yes, “God is with us even in hard times,” but there is more to it. Christ replaces Adam as the mold for all of humanity. Through Christ, humanity once again has access to living fully into the Image of God and living in the victory that Death is not the end. Thus, redemption means that we are free to exercise dominion in this life—even in the midst of the wilderness, even in the midst of suffering. Death, then, does not have dominion. Christ does.
What does Christian dominion look like? We turn to the gospel for our example. Christian dominion is not about physical prowess or power. This is the not about power over nature: Christ rejects the temptation to change the stones into bread. Likewise, he refuses to jump from the temple or bow down to Satan. Dominance is not transforming our surroundings to suit our wants or satisfy our immediate needs. Dominance is not popularity, fame, or glory atop the mountain heights.
Rather dominance comes from feasting on the word of God and from worshiping God alone- a rejection of money and power for its own sake.
Dominion does not require one to leave the wilderness. In fact, such dominion is possible even while entering it or being in it. The picture of dominion given to us in Jesus and in scripture is the power of life even in the wilderness.
In Christ we are given the possibility to dream a life that is not just about getting by or trying ot make it through the desert. As individuals and more importantly as the Church, the body of Christ, together we lift one another up. Together we dream and imagine Christ exercising dominion in our lives. We draw on the grace and love that God has poured into us and share that with the world. We are filled with God’s abundant grace and love and it is with the power of love that reach out to resist systems that try to exert dominion in other ways: racism, economic inequality, loneliness, despair. We name the temptations and brokenness around us including the temptation to think that nothing will ever change and we should look out for ourselves. That it is about me, and my individual wants.
As we begin this journey into Lent, we enter into a period of self-examination and penance. The language of Rite 1 points us in the direction of the wilderness and into it we go. We enter into the wilderness. And while in the dry and wild places of the desert, we look to Scripture and to the saints for those models and images of those who shine with the light and love of God even in the darkest of times. The goal of Lent is not to inflict punishment on ourselves but rather to allow the grace of God to transform us more and more into God’s image. This Lent, let us exercise dominion in life together. We will dare to resist the temptation to give in to the broken systems around us, and instead work to transform the world.
Exodus 24:12-18, Ps 99 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
Moses has gone up to the Mountain. In our Old Testament lesson Moses along with Joshua head up to the holy mountain. The top of it is covered in clouds and there is drama- thunder and lighting. We do not yet know at this point in the story to know what is happening up there, but what we do know is that Moses has an encounter with God. Heʻs there for 40 days and 40 nights and while in Godʻs presence receives the law. A few chapters down the road in Exodus Chapter 34 we read of Moses coming back down the mountain and the Bible describes his skin as glowing. Clearly, an encounter with God is life-changing.
The first followers of Jesus saw him as the new Moses. Jesus was the new lawgiver. Thus in a similar mystical event, Jesus also goes up to the mountain with James and John and there has his encounter with God.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah represents Godʻs anointing finger upon Jesus. And then just as Moses went down into the valley from the mountaintop so does Jesus. He will go to deliver the people into a NEW promised land.
But what are we to make of this story of transfiguration? As I mentioned Jesus as a new Moses and a New Elijah- he is the lawgiver and the greatest among the prophets for a new age of understanding, a new era in Godʻs story of Salvation. But Jesus is not Moses or Elijah- That time is over. Jesusʻ mission is not in a temple or a mountaintop, or a specific location. Jesusʻ ministry is not a ministry where people come to him, but a ministry where the primary act of worship is going WITH him INTO the world.
Let me unpack that a bit. When Jesus was on the mountaintop and with Peter, James and John, and they witnessed the transfiguration, what did Peter want to do? He says. “Letʻs build some tents here.” He doesnʻt strictly say this, but what he is saying is that letʻs mark this place, where people can come and see the tents one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah so they can pay their respects.
We do this all the time, and we call these sites Churches. There are hilltops, valleys, and holy sites across the world. All of them- places where people go to pray and perchance have their own encounter with God. Who would have thought? This is our tent of meeting, this here is our tent that serves as itʻs memorial to the life and teaching of Jesus.
But the challenge for all of us to see beyond this tent- see beyond these church walls. Because as much as we would like to live here all the time and be our own community, we canʻt. We have other obligations- jobs, commitments, mortgages, and so forth. For many, years I would go to the Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara. It was run by the Benedictine Angiclan brothers of the Order of the Holy Cross. The monastery was on the top of a beautiful hill that overlooked the pacific ocean and the Channel Islands. It was a place so beautiful it was always hard to leave. But the brothers did it all the time. Part of their work was hosts of the retreat house for pilgrims like me, but their mission work was really off the mountain, down in the “valley”- out in the world.
Peter is wanting to build the tents wanted to find a way to preserve the moment.
I really love Peter for that very reason. He is so human. He is symbolic of all that is real about us as human beings. We believe and yet have doubt, we confess Jesus as Lord and yet can also deny him. Despite his shortcomings Jesus chooses him to continue his work on earth.
Peter wants to preserve the moment. And how many of us do this every single time. Now that we have these things (phones) we try to preserve the moment as IF by NOT taking a picture … the event never happened. Hike to an overlook- phones out – selfie! I baked a loaf of bread and yes I took a picture of it and posted it on Instagram and Facebook. I am not dismissing the need to hold and preserve memories for posterity like we did once upon a time in photo albums- that too is important. But I fear that with these things, we are so desperate to capture and hold on these and other moments and sometimes I think in doing so we do ourselves a disservice because we lose what these things mean to us and the impact they have. This was Peter’s dilemma? How was it possible to capture this moments and preserve it for posterity. Peter wasn’t wrong to want to do this he was trying to honor the moment in the best way he knew. But for Jesus there was more to be done- he could not and was not going to stay on the mountain. Following this transfiguration.
The story of the transfiguration and Moses’ ascent into the clouds invite us to ask: How do we capture our encounters with God? Anyone who has been on a pilgrimage of any kind whether that is a spiritual pilgrimage or the once in a lifetime trip to Disneyworld or to view one of the natural wonders of the world, we come away from such experiences different than from when we began. When Christ gathers us around this altar in the Eucharist we are not living or reliving a digital moment.
Rather, metaphorically, we are on that mountain. We hear God’s voice telling us to listen to the one we bear witness to who is the Beloved Messiah. And as a result, we are changed by it. We are touched by God’s grace and we can never be the same.
There is however this great temptation to think then that this is where we find Jesus and having found Jesus, it’s our task to take Jesus out into the world.
In his address to all the bishops in the Anglican communion at Lambeth, Bishop Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury) told them that it was typical of our Christian life to believe that WE needed to take the baby Jesus by the hand and lead him out into the world. There is fallacy and sin in such a belief in that God must be protected by us.
Instead, he offered an image that we are to leave the safety of our booth like churches and follow Jesus into the world.
This is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, and this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday we will mark our foreheads with a sign of our mortal nature. Epiphany has always been about the revelation of Jesus, the Light of the World and the incarnation of God, Epiphany has been about the calling and the gathering of the disciples, and now Epiphany draws to a close with the Transfiguration- a moment of light, and revelation, and calling.
When we come way from communion, whether or not we feel it, or know it, or even want or care, we leave this place different in some way than when we came in. We may not fully understand the transformation that takes place, but take place it does. That is Grace: we may not fully understand the transformation that takes place, but take place it does.
The ineffable mystery that is before us leaves us in awe and serves as food for the journey that calls us not to remain on this mountain, but sends “us now into the world in peace.” And into the world, we go- descending from the mountain; our faces shining because we too have been transfigured; having been in the presence of God. Amen.
Last week it was easy. It was about Jesus telling us that we are the salt of the earth and that we are the light of the world. Last week the message that came from Jesus hinted at bringing flavor to the world; as creatures of light we Illuminate the darkness with the radiance of glory and love of God.
But today we are confronted with the moral life. With the commandments. There are the commandments of old given by Moses, who in the Book of Deuteronomy stands at the gateway to the Promised Land and gives the people: If you obey the commandments of God by loving the Lord your God and walking in his ways and observing his commandments, God will bless you. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear and are led astray to bow down to other gods, you shall perish. “Choose life, so that your descendants may live” he says, “loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding on to his teachings. The book of wisdom called Sirach which is in the apocrypha also says if you choose, you can keep the commandments; before each person is life and death.
And that would be enough for us to go on about our business to think that commandments are simply rules we have to follow and we can evaluate our righness or wrongness of a choice or action. The Big Ten is a good example- Thou shall not bear false witness is a general rule against telling deliberate untruths.
But another way of looking at commandments is to see it as a guide to the formation of our moral character. In otherwords its not just about following a rule for the sake of following it, but rather, through repeated attempts to follow the rule in the face of changing circumstances, we become people who are disposed to do the right thing.
Our gospel lesson for today comes from a section of the Sermon on that Mount that traditionally has been called “Anti-theses,” because Jesus’ teaching is presented in the following pattern: First, Jesus says, “you have heard that it was said ”; then Jesus follows with his own magisterial statement, “but I say to you”. The problem with calling these teachings “Antitheses” is that it suggests that Jesus is contradicting the earlier statement. But this is not so. Rather, what Jesus does with each one of these is take it to the next level. What he says goes beyond commandment itself and the typical understanding of it. When Jesus offers us these commandments, they are not just rules to be followed but that in following them, we are formed and shaped as disciples fit for the Kingdom.
“You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”
Jesus isn’t contradicting the commandment against murder, he is intensifying it. He knows that even if we keep the commandment not to kill, we can still hate and despise others. We can still kill relationships, still treat people as if they were dead to us. To fulfill this commandment is to form our hearts and minds so that we look at others not with anger, but rather with love. The greater gift is to love others as we would have them love us, even when they are our enemies. The commandment is given not just so that we won’t kill each other, but so that we will be the type of people who will seek out someone who has wronged us and work to be reconciled with them.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
Again, Jesus isn’t contradicting the commandment against committing adultery, he is intensifying it. He knows that even if we keep the commandment not to commit adultery, we can still demean and belittle others. Treating others as objects takes what doesn’t belong to us, even if it keeps its distance. Jesus shows us that the fulfillment of the commandment not to commit adultery is a faithful heart that cherishes our spouses and respects our neighbors.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’”
Jesus isn’t contradicting the commandment against swearing falsely, he is intensifying it. Jesus knows that even if we can keep from swearing falsely, we can still manipulate others with our words and lead them astray with our tongues. We can make frivolous oaths in the name of heaven and belittle God’s holy name. Jesus shows us that the fulfillment of the law is not just to refrain from swearing falsely, but that our words ought to be so reliable and honest that no oaths need to be taken. The greater righteousness is to let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.” The commandment is given so that we can be people of integrity.
Becoming grace filled people does not happen in a moment. When we are baptized, it doesn’t mean that at the moment the water hits our head we are “zapped” and all is well with us on our walk with Christ. We hear the words of Jesus who said, “Come follow me and I will make you fish for people…” that was the invitation. These commandments from Jesus is him teaching us how we ought to go about fishing. Jesus came not to abolish he law but to fulfill it. Jesus came to call and form disciples in a community that is devoted to a higher purpose.
We follow the commandments not simply because they are rules; we follow the commandments so that we might become the type of people Christ wants us to be, people formed and fashioned for life in the kingdom of God.
God gave the commandments not so that we would become moral rule keepers; rather, God gave us the commandments as guides and exhortations for the formation of our character so that we might become people who are pure in heart, so that we might love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind, and that we might love our neighbor as ourselves.
Malachi 3:1-4, Psalm 24:7-10, Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40
Well here we are, us Episcopalians, digging into our more liturgically catholic roots to enact and participate in a ritual that goes back to at least the 11th Century and some historians have suggested it dates back to the 4th or 5th Century. I am, of course, talking about Candlemas. Or the blessing of candles.
Why, one might ask, do we go to the fuss?
The blessing of Candles is secondary to the centrality of the occasion which is formally called the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple or simply the Presentation.
It is a feast rich in meaning with several different interwoven themes- presentation, purification, meeting, light. In a way it is a moment for us that glances back to the Christmas and the Incarnation on the one hand, and looks ahead to Lent and the cross on the other.
This feast commemorates the purification of Mary after giving birth of Jesus. According to the law in the Book of Leviticus, in the Old Testament, 40 days after the birth of a boy, the mother was to go to the temple to be declared ritually pure once again. But this is also the presentation of Christ in the Temple as well. It also says that the first born male would also be presented to God. Historically, the feast was kept locally in Jerusalem as early as the year 350. In Eastern Christianity, this feast was also known as “the Meeting,” referring to that of Christ with Simeon. It would continue to be kept widely in the West.
The blessing and lighting of candles is a key part of this liturgy. Before we made a switch to oil filled candles, beeswax candles were blessed, distributed, and lit and carried in procession while the Nunc Dimittis- Lord you now have set your servant free. This symbolizes the entrance of Christ, the True Light into Temple.
“See I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come into my temple.
These are the words of the prophet Malachi who says that the messenger is described as a refiners fire or a fuller’s soap. A fuller is one who washes wools or fabrics. The book of Malachi was written in the late 4th century BC to a society that was filled with sorcerers, perjurers, corrupt employers and landowners. No surprise there. God is responding to the objection that God is unable to deal with the evil doers and make things right. Instead God declaers there will be a messenger who will come to the temple with the purpose of cleansing it and warning the people. The reading of Malachi is deceptive. IN actuality, this is strong stuff. Eventually, Jesus will fulfill this prophecy when we cleanses the temple and over turns the money changers tables- chasing them out with a whip of cords.
But today’s Gospel is Jesus’ first entry into the temple. He is but 40 days old, and as a tiny infant, he is carried in to the temple in Mary’s arms. There are three rituals that take place, The purification of Mary, the redemption of the first born, and the presentation of the child in service to God. And then there is Simeon. When the holy family arrives, Simeon comes out. This is the moment he has waited for all his life. He is an old man now and was told that he would not die until he met the Messiah. He bursts into joyous song, in the words known to the us as the Nunc Dimittis. The Song is sung in the evening at Vespers and Compline- the traditional words are hauntingly beautiful:
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace: according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen: thy salvation;
Which thou hast prepared: before the face of all people;
To be a Light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”
As a Light to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel, Simeon boldly declares that Jesus is the light of the world as well as the glory of his own people of faith.
Also in this scene is Anna- the prophet- She ALSO praises God. It is a wonderful picture of wisdom of old age paying homage to youth in infancy. Together they represent a transition of the time of the Old Testament to new era.
Ok, So where are we?
On this great feast of Candlemas we recall how Jesus was presented to God in the Temple, the most holy of all the sacred places of his religious faith. Today and every time we gather we are called to present ourselves anew to God in worship – Our Lord’s presentation in the Temple sets us up for our own kind of presentation. If you look carefully in the language and the parts of the Eucharist, we ask God not only to transform the bread and wine into a Sacrament of Grace, but we also ask God to transform US as well. We ask for God’s blessing, we ask for God to purify our hearts and make us a new creation. In worship we put the past and its failings behind us, and turn our focus toward the living God who loves us and who calls us to a holy life a life of grace and transformation. It is a life that follows the path Jesus called us to when he plucked us from our fishing nets and mundane existence to discover the adventure that now awaits us.
Candlemas is a service that is also about the blessing of light- Jesus who is the Light of the World
is, in our hearts, the light of hope.
God calls us to share in the light of Christ – to bring help and comfort to others by that message of hope and light, and to re-awaken our dedication to God in the renewal of our daily lives. So as we bless our candles as it were one last look back at Christmas, giving thanks for the great gift of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, let us also look ahead – the way ahead may be uncertain and even filled with difficulties and challenges for many, but it is the adventure to which we are called. With Christ as our guide, we can be assured of his presence with us and his strength to sustain us, as we follow in his way even to the cross and beyond to newness of life. Amen
The Bible is full of beginnings. In Genesis it begins with the familiar words, In the Beginning... God created the heavens and the earth. There, he merely speaks the word and the cosmos comes into being. God forms humankind in his own image out of dust of the earth and breathes life into them. He chooses Abraham to be the grandfather of nations and begin the history of God’s people and Israel.
We are presented with the beginnings of a new story, with An Angel and a girl named Mary; with her sister and her son, John who will grow up to become the greatest of prophets. His cousin, preaches and teaches far and wide, heals the sick, raises the dead and points us to yet another beginning- one in which there is a life in eternal glory around the throne in the presence of his heavenly Father.
These are but some of the beginnings. Other beginnings in the Bible are called call stories. These are stories where one is invited by God to begin something new and unexpected. In the Old stories of the Hebrew Bible, we hear of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and others. God calls this person to beings, and only to begin, but -and here is the hard part- to persist and to persevere. The one who is called is to persist so that another beginning can take place.
Our Call story in Matthew’s gospel begins with Andrew and Simon, James and John. They are all fisherman it is likely the know each other in the village on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I imagine it’s still dark, off the go to hurl their nets into the water to haul in the days catch and take it to market. A day like any other day- nothing special.
Except it isn’t. today is a day for a new beginning.
Jesus shows up at the water’s edge. There is something to suggest that Jesus has a reputation. Have they heard about him before? Maybe heard him speaking and teaching in the synagogue? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter. But Jesus calls them. And in calling Simon, Andrew, James and John, a new beginning takes place. He says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Nice play on Words Jesus! Was this a challenge to them? An argument that if they can fish for fish, could they fish for something larger?
In call stories, there is not a call to mundanity, but a call to adventure. No fisherman wants to be called and say, “Follow me and I will make you fish for…fish.” The call is to something not just new, but to the unknown. Moana- you remember her- How Far I’ll Go is her ballad of leaving the mundanity behind and answer the call of the Sea to adventure. G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.”
In the ancient time Rabbis would typically wait for disciples to come to them. Rabbi Jesus, the Lamb of God, goes out and finds his own. And this Jesus is also quite different in another way- he doesn’t go out among the elite- the best or the brightest. He goes down the docks, to the blue collar of his time.
Adventure is something that comes to us and choses us. And though in our Christian vocation we chose Christ, one might say that God chose us first. God chose us from the very beginning – God who, as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “formed me in the womb to be his servant,” chooses us to be his instruments. God chooses us for a great adventure.
Discipleship is the great adventure for us all and we are taken away from our predictable lives by the one who is great beyond all measure.
Woe to anyone who dilutes this adventure with dullness, who makes discipleship into something safe. Don’t get me wrong, we like things safe, secure, predictable. But where we are called to be is right on the edge, walking the narrow path between safe, predictable, and secure- hear comfortable- on the one hand, and the adventure of the unknown- the intellectual and emotional risk taking that helps us stretch and to grow.
Today, in addition to our annual meeting, we celebrate our patronal feast day, St. Timothy. Timothy was called to an adventure by the Apostle Paul. When Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra, Paul healed a crippled person leading many there to become Christians. When Paul returned, this time with Silas, Timothy was already a member of the Christian congregation along with is mother and grandmother. Timothy became Paul’s disciple and later his constant companion and co-worker in preaching. This is around the year 56 or 57. Timothy would go from Macedonia to Ephesus to Corinth arriving just after Paul’s 1st letter reaches them. He would eventually govern as bishop of the Church in Ephesus. Historically, we lose track of him in the New Testament after the book of Acts. In a book, not in the Bible, called, the Acts of Timothy, the story is told that in the year 97, at the age of 80, Bishop Timothy tried to stop a procession in honor of the goddess Diana by preaching the gospel. The angry pagans beat him with clubs, dragged him through the streets and stoned him to death. Hence the symbols on our banner.
By all accounts he and Paul were quite close and without a doubt his life and ministry as a follower of Christ was an adventure. He was chosen and called in to the service of Christ.
Are these four men- Andrew, Simon, James, and John- ready and equipped for the adventure that comes to them? That choses them? They are certainly in good company. Did Moses feel equipped? He responded by saying “I am slow of speech; how will Pharaoh understand me?” Isaiah said, Woe is me I am a man of unclean lips…Jeremiah said, I’m too young, I’m just a kid and there are others. All of them called by God at a time when they felt least prepared. They are fishermen- skilled in mending nets- what do they know about fishing for people? Christ’s call means a new beginning.
And these men are far from perfect- even in faith. Simon who will become known as Peter- when the moment comes, he denies Jesus, not once but THREE times. James and John nicknamed the Son’s of Thunder, are not the most agreeable pair around, they will jostle each other to sit at Jesus’ right hand and miss the point completely when Jesus says that to become the greatest you must become the least of all. Andrew rarely appears on the radar. AND YET- Jesus never withdraws his invitation to any of them. They are called to be partners with Jesus and partners is what they finally become.
The Bible tells us of this beginning of the four fishermen. They are called out from their occupation about which they know a great deal, in order to fish for people, about which they know nothing.
In the same way our discipleship means a new beginning. This year and every year is an opportunity for us as a follower of Jesus to embark on a new adventure. As a congregation we can play it safe and continue to do all the things we have done- daring nothing- and in the process grow old and whither on the vine. Or we can dare greatly and heed the call of Christ. Jesus is calling St. Timothy’s in 2020 just as he called St. Timothy in the year 57. We are called to be faithful and to follow where Christ leads us. We now find ourselves engaged in a new adventure- and however strange as it may seem. Christ comes to us and CHOOSES us and sends out to be the next new beginning in the world.
Let us pray:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the good news of salvation, that we can the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works, Amen.
Epiphany 2A January 19, 2020
Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
The first Sunday in Epiphany is always about the Baptism of Jesus. The Second Sunday is devoted to the calling of disciples.
Last week Jesus was baptized and the the Holy Spriit Descended upon him like a dove. We renewed our baptismal vows and reminded ourselves that we are anointed as God’s own for ever.
Today we move from being anointed to being called.
We should not forget the marvelous, prophetic voice of Isaiah that says: 6I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people,* a light to the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.
God calls us, and takes us by the hand and holds us close that we may be a light to the nations to open the eyes of the blind- to be a light to those who sit in darkness. And now, in today’s reading from Isaiah, we have similar imagery. Once again the prophet proclaims to us that God, has called us forth even before we were born. And once again, makes us a light to the nations.
God says, “I have called you.…” That fits right in with this section of John’s Gospel, where we hear that evangelist’s account of the call of the first few disciples.
John the Baptist points to Jesus and says of him, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Two of the Baptist’s disciples hear this, stop following John, and are called by Jesus to follow him. They hear that Jesus is the promised one, and they are called by him to follow. So off they go. Matthew and Luke share similar stories of the calling of the first disciples and in fact we will hear this story next Sunday. Jesus is walking along the Sea of Galilee and says to Peter and James, as well as to Simon and Andrew- “Come and follow me.” And we are told that they leave their father and their nets and go- following Jesus.
What is it you think of when I say the word, “Calling”?
Now this business of “being called” is a tricky and important thing. It is easy to get confused about it, especially the way we use it these days. The word “called” as we know it is part of that “churchy” language we have and we tend to equate being called with doing some specific thing—usually a pretty major thing. We talk of being called to be ordained, or being called to a special—perhaps a full-time and professional—form of service.
And that is about all we do with being called. So, on the one hand, most of us can listen to the call of these disciples and neatly separate what happened to them from what is going on with us. “After all, they were called—we’re just ordinary people.”
These two to whom Jesus said, “come and see,” were called exactly as we are called. They were called to be disciples—as we are called to be disciples. Whether we are supposed to be ordained or not, when we are called by God, as we are each called in our Baptism, we are, like those first two, called to be disciples. In them and in their call, we can see, the call of Christ to each of us, and to all of us. From the very beginning, Jesus called, not individuals alone, but he called individuals with the purpose of forming a community, and the idea of a call makes no sense, from a Christian perspective, apart from a community.
And Jesus does not first, or primarily, call us to do a particular job, or to fill a particular role. Our call as Christians is not a call to “work” It wasn’t for Andrew and the other disciple.
Jesus’ call, instead, is a call to relationship. In calling us, Jesus does not say, “do this,” he says, “come and see,” or “follow me.” And when we do follow, when we engage our relationship with God, when we embrace our anointing in baptism, what God would have us DO comes into focus.
The Protestant Work Ethic that invades our society, insists that for something to be valuable, it has to produce, we start looking for what we are called to do. But that’s the thing, we do, and we do, and we do, and if we do it too much or we are the ONLY ones doing it, the words of Isaiah ring true:, “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity…”
Those first disciples were not called to go somewhere in particular—they were called to go anywhere Jesus might lead. They were not called to renounce this thing or that thing, but to be able to walk away from anything and everything, for only then would they be free—only then would their lives fully belong to Jesus.
As they followed Jesus, they stayed close to him for a while. They learned what they could and got to know him a little. Then, long before they thought they were ready, Jesus gave them jobs to do. For some, these jobs were dramatic, for others they were quiet and invisible.
But the call to Jesus will always, in one form or another, find expression in ministry. But before the ministry, comes the call. The call comes first. There can be no real, abiding, and sustaining ministry without relationship with Christ, without obedience to him as he calls us to himself.
2020 approaches 50 years of being on this property. Who are we called to be? In the end, this is the question we must ask ourselves. But rather than jump to the place of what it is we are called to do, it’s more of a question of what kind of community does Jesus want us to be?
So what kind of community does Jesus want us to be? When those who come to our doors to for worship arrive, who or what will they find? Think for a moment why it is YOU come to church? I can assure you, it’s not for the coffee. I am willing to bet that one of those reasons has to do with relationships. And when I say that we might think about the relationships and friendships we have among our prayer groups, ministry groups, work groups, and fellowship.
Jesus comes to us and says, “follow me.” He calls us first to himself—to a relationship with him and shared life. The early disciples of Jesus followed him and established their relationship with our Lord. They would be empowered with forgiveness and grace. They would be filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and take the message of God’s Dream and the good news of God’s love with others.
We are called to be disciples. The Lamb of God calls us to follow him. We are empowered with forgiveness and grace. We are filled with the Holy Spirit in baptism taking the message of God’s Dream and the Good News of God’s love- extending our relationships beyond these walls and beyond our campus. And when we do that, we do not labor in vain.
At certain times and places, we use holy oils in worship. They are three principal oils set aside for use at different times. There is oil used to anoint Catechumens- those who are preparing for confirmation or baptism. There is the oil used in the anointing of the sick- Oleum Infirmorum. And the last one is Holy Chrism- Sancta Chrisma or Oil of Gladness- it is used at baptism where the sign of the cross is traced on the head of the newest Christian with the words, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”
When Jesus joined the crowd at the river Jordan, there wasn’t any oil we are told of. His cousin John has been baptizing people with the “water of repentance” he tells them. Remember John? The seemingly crazy madman in the desert tells those who gathered at the river that the one who is “coming is mightier than he- that he was not even worth to hold his sandals- he was baptizing with water ofr repentance, but the one who was coming would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. John challenged the religious leaders of the day calling them a brood of vipers!
Baptize with fire?
Someone so great, John won’t even hold his sandals?
Someone who will wield an ax to cut down what? The curse of the Roman occupation?
Listening to John’s prophetic voice, I wonder whom they thought would show up.
Jesus joins the crowd at the river Jordan. He is there to be baptized like everyone else. Only John recognizes the greatness of the Messiah. I need to be baptized by you, he says, and now you come to me? Here in this moment of baptism there is no grand show, no parade of horses, no axe, no fire- nothing different. Yet.
In Sunday school and even now as adults we have asked- “Why did Jesus need to be baptized? He doesn’t sin- he never sinned- why would he need it? Well forgiveness of sins is only one part of the grace of baptism. Even more, baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as children and makes us members of Christ’s body, the Church.
So Jesus, in being baptized, was showing his solidarity with his community- he was showing is willingness to be counted among the people of God. The Incarnation- the eternal Word that became flesh and dwelt among us was content to come among the people and live like them. This was all just he beginning 0 marking the start of Jesus’ time of ministry- the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descends like a a dove along with the voice that declares- this is my beloved, my Son, which whom I am well pleased. More will come- temptation in the desert, healing, raising the dead, his passion and resurrection.
Various Scritpure passages bring into our mind baptism. The reading from Acts today, Peter explains to new followers that the spreading of the message of peace preached by Jesus began in Galilee after Chrsit’s baptism. We know there are other stories of baptism- such as the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch by Phillip (Acts 8) and the baptism of the prison guard and his whole household by Paul (Acts 16) and of course the baptism more than 3000 after Pentecost (Acts 2).
For too long we taught and understood baptism as only being the sign that original sin was washed from our souls. We would baptize infants in fear for their immortal soul and for centuries people put off baptism until moments before their death, believing that with baptism their sins were washed away and they were guaranteed heaven regardless of what kind of life they led. Fortunately, the liturgical renewal of the 1950s onward restored our understanding of baptism as an initiation - a recognition of our status as children of God.
When we consider our baptism we might think more consciously about that beautiful verse in Genesis 1: “So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.” Yes, we believe baptism cleanses us from sin, but even more, it gives us power and grace to realign ourselves with our creator and accept our own ministry and mission as offered to us by God.
It’s tempting to compare our baptism with Jesus’ baptism and for us to come up short- wanting more.
He was anointed with power and the Holy Spirit.
He went on to preach, teach, heal, and collect a vast number of followers. He suffered, died, and rose again.
He was, after all, both human and divine. But what about us? Our baptism surely must be less. We aren’t divine. There’s no audible voice declaring OUR blessedness. Some of us don’t have a memory of when we were baptized- others baptized when they were older. Shouldn’t we accept baptism and then go on to live ordinary lives, moving forward and allowing the moment of our rebirth to be a distant memory. forgetting perhaps even the day of our baptism?
Absolutely not. The church reminds us every year at this time about Jesus’ baptism. That should be a clue that our own baptism is vitally important. We should remember the day. That is why we put water into the font and have it available for us to dip our fingers into the bowl and touch the waters of our rebirth. We make the sign of the cross to celebrate the fact that we too were baptized with power and the Holy Spirit - the same Spirit that descended on Jesus like a dove. We might never have gotten the visual of the dove and the sky broken open, but we are equally graced, filled with the Spirit, adopted as God’s own, and given a ministry and mission for our lives. It is just that important.
Baptism should be life changing. And it is.
Imagine what the church might look like if every baptized member took hold of and used the power that is freely given us by God in our baptism.
In Isaiah today we heard these words,. God Says, “I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Powerful words of hope and promise. Though they were used in Isaiah’s time for his community, we now use them to talk about the Messiah, but we must understand that they are meant for us too. Baptism doesn’t insulate us from the hardships of life. Jesus constantly tell his followers, and us, that we as disciples must take up his ministry and continue spreading the good news? We are called to care for the poor, build up the weak, and spread peace? In the examination, each baptized person makes five promises. Each of us promises to God five things that, if we take them seriously, could change the world. Can we recite those promises by memory? We should be able to. It’s just that important.
Can we change the world or do we give up in despair? The tradition in its wisdom gives us this celebration of Jesus’ baptism every year, maybe in the hope that it will make us think again about our own baptism. Maybe that memory will ignite the fire that smolders in our souls. That fire is there. Baptism gives it to us, and it never goes out. We often call the people who let that fire burn brightly “saints” But again, imagine what our church would look like if we all let our fire burn. Remember the words to the hymn: I sing a song of the saints of God ... and I mean to be one, too.
We are created in the image of God. All of God’s people are loved beyond measure -We are loved beyond measure -. Imagine our congregation. The power of the Spirit moves in and through us spreading a peace and joy that is both ours and our gift to the world. God says, “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth, I tell you of them.
This is our anointing. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.
Advent 3, Yr A Dec 15 2019
It happens often enough. At this time of year. You are in a store, walking though the displays of various goods- perhaps you are looking for that gift or other times you are waiting for the Spirit to speak to you. It happened to me the other night at Ala Moana, I was in a store- just wandering, and an employee asks me, can I help you find anything?
Now flash over to another store at another time. This time, you have your items to check out, you queue up and wait your turn in line. You put your wares on the counter and the cashier says to you, “Did you find everything you are looking for?”
Are you the one who is to come? Are you the one we are waiting for or is there another? John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus this very question. For us here and now, this question seems to come out of the blue, but quite a bit has happened in Matthew’s Gospel since last weeks description of John the Baptist out in the dessert. In last week’s reading Jesus has yet to appear before his cousin John who is described as the “voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare, ye the way of the Lord.”
And since that time Jesus was baptized by John, tempted in the wilderness, rejected at Nazareth, preached the Sermon on the Mount, calmed the sea, healed numerous people, and raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Jesus has been doing just what he said he would do- proclaim the good news of God to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind and hearing to those should who could not hear.
Even so, the disciples ask, “Are you the guy?” Jessu replies- tell the John what you hear and see. And it might end there, but Jesus asks an even more poignant question to the disciple of John- Did you find what you were looking for- there- out in the wilderness? Did you go out there to be entertained? Did you go out there to see someone gentile and restrained?
John of course is none of those- the message of the prophet is not merely entertainment, and his message of the coming Messiah was hardly restrained.
We are a long, long way from the days of John. And even though this may be a time of preparation for the arrival of the messiah, traditionally, this third Sunday of Advent is known as Gaudete Sunday, gaudete being Latin for rejoice. It marks the turning point of the season, when we focus less on preparing ourselves to be worthy of the incarnate Christ, and rejoice more in the promise that he will come again. Isaiah reinforces this for us with the promise of a blooming desert, the opening of the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Even the letter of James presents a positive hopeful tone of patience in the life of the faith.
But our time of Advent waiting is not the same as a waiting for a bus or at the Dr.’s office where we whip out or phone to play Candy Crush or check our social media feed. Here we call upon God to stir himself up. “Stir up your power O Lord, and by your might coma among us.” Think about that imagery for a moment. We do not ask God to stir us up, though we may need it. In our prayer we challenge God: rouse yourself. Get into action- there is work to do. And what is that work? Let the bountiful grace and mercy help and save us.
In it’s own ancient formula, the prayer is essentially saying, hurry up God- we NEED YOU! Get here quick.
God needs little encouragement from us to stir things up. And Jesus describes the mighty works that are taking place all around him: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Remember that John and his disciples have been waiting for the Messaih. They and many of the Jews in their day were looking for the signs- the the fulfillment of prophecies like Isaiahs. To to hear Jesus, there is nothing inert or stagnant in this Gospel picture of the Lord at work. God IS stirred up and engaged. This is what happens, Jesus seems to say, when God’s power and might come among us.
The Lord is not yet through with us and our world. Are we still looking for signs? The truth is that there is evidence of God’s presence and action all around us. But, as in Jesus’ day, God’s power manifests itself not among the high and mighty, but among the lowly and vulnerable. God’s might is felt in lives rescued from despair and hopelessness, in people transformed by grace, in the Word and the Sacraments, and in all the little miracles of everyday life. The Lord’s power and might still have the capacity to change everything.
But, if the Lord does stir things up today, so what? What will we do? How will we respond? In God stirring things up, we might have to stir ourselves in the process.. We might have to allow ourselves to be moved by God’s grace and power. We might have to change, to do things differently.
And that is a challenge we may not be prepared for. It is always more comfortable to remain as we are, hindered by our sins and basking in our excuses. They are familiar friends, more than happy to detain us, hold us back, and urge caution. The last thing most of us want is to get all stirred up, to get carried away.
How ironic then it is that we find ourselves here today, waiting patiently for Emmanuel- God with us and asking that the Lord stir up his power and come among us. Are we not asking for trouble? Should we not pray instead for something safer and more tangible like good weather on Christmas Eve or lovely presents under the tree?
In the end, we can’t help it. This is what we do. We call upon God to bear witness to what God is doing in the world.
“Are you the one?” The disciples of John asked, and Jesus tells them to go and tell John of what they have seen and heard.
On this Gaurdete Sunday, a Sunday that says Rejoice in Advent. We cannot help but to tell the stories of what God has done and what God IS doing in our lives and in this world. We worship here every Sunday rejoicing that the Lord does not fail to stir up his power and do amazing things in our lives. fact we cannot help ourselves in what we pray, for it is God’s power itself that stirs us to prayer.
So when we are asked “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I certainly hope that in addition to whatever items we have on our shopping list, we will rejoice in the holy moments we discover in which God at work. So share this season, the story of God’s unending grace and mercy at work in our world. What Jesus commanded John’s disciples, he also commands us: Go and tell others what you hear and see.