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.
ADVENT 2, Yr A. Dec 8 2019
He is a man unlike any other. A man with a unique sense of fashion and a most original paleo diet. And he is out there- doing his thing.
Of all the biblical characters in the New Testament, next to Jesus, John the Baptist is my favorite. And on this second Sunday of Advent, we find ourselves on the banks of the River Jordan with non other than the man himself, John the Baptist. He is the herald and all the Gospel writers agree that there is no Gospel of Jesus, the good news of God cannot be realized without John the Baptist. Described by Jesus as the greatest of prophets. John took his mission, which was to declare the imminent arrival of the coming Messiah, very seriously.
From what we read about John the Baptist, John was fearless. He was not afraid of Herod or Herod’s wife, who in the end arranged to have head.
He was totally devoted to the One for whom he came to prepare the way, saying to his followers, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” This wild figure dressed in camel’s hair would more likely be depicted as a cartoon image holding a sign that reads, “Get ready, the end is near!”
So there is John the crazy, wild looking guy out in the wilderness – far away from the places of power. He is a prophet in the classical sense. Not a predicter of the future but the voice of God. Calling the people to repentance. John proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” I want to focus for a moment on two aspects of that phrase Repent and kingdom of heaven. Now the crowds from Jerusalem and the surrounding regions line up to hear John and to be baptized in the Jordan. Why do they flock to hear John? Perhaps they have become disheartened by the quality of their lives and welcome the call for change.
If we look deeper into a Jewish understanding of the word, “repent,” to repent or to return, is to follow the prepared way of the Lord. It is to return to a path that leads us back to reconnecting with the God who made us and loves us beyond our understanding.
To repent doesn’t mean to simply be sorry. In the New Testament, to repent means to begin seeing differently, to begin thinking differently, both of which lead to acting and living differently. To repent is to change, but not for the sake of change itself. Rather, when we change, we start to LIVE differently, because as we enter a new mindset or as we develop a new way of seeing, we become aware that our actions are out of step with God’s dream for all creation.
And what is God’s dream for all creation? The answer to that question can be found throughout Scripture. But notably from our other prophet Isaiah – God’s dream is for the world to be a place in which peace and equity – rather than fear and hatred – rule the day.
Where the wolf shall dance with the lamb, the lion will eat grass with the cow- it is the description of a world turned on its head. And it is turned on its head because of power of God and THIS is the world that God dreams for us.
God dreams for the world to be a place where we view each other with compassion and with love, where all of creation is full of the mercy and the peace of God. Dr. King dreamed of the Beloved Community. Such a dream is one that God calls us to live into not next year, not ten years from today, but right now. – for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
And that is the why of repentance. John does not just shout, “Repent!” and that is the end of it. We need a why to go with the what of repentance. For those of us who follow God in the Way of Love, it is Jesus who defines our new mindset and a new way of seeing the world and the path that leads us back to God. Deciding to try to live and love like Jesus is what Christian repentance is all about.
So many of us have been taught to believe that when we hear the word “repent” it is because we have done something wrong, that we have sinned and are in need of a change of heart, mind, and body in order that we might live a new life. Such Repentance is weighed down with the burden of guilt and shame.
Again, repentance is about shifting our way of thinking back to God. So then, what if we choose to hear John’s call of “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”- not as an ominous threat of impending condemnation, but as an invitation to live into God’s dream?
In this advent season, we sing Come O Come Emmanuel- That word Emmanuel, means “God with us”. We pray for the coming of God in our midst. This is a season of preparation it is a season and a time that is devoted to trying to see the world differently, not as WE think we should see the world, but as GOD sees the world.
As children of God, we need to hear and heed the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness – the voice that reminds us of God’s dream. We need to take the time to seek God’s vision for us – to ask, “What does God want us to be and to do?” God invites us all to dream BIG and to dream something beyond what we can presently see – the poor, the suffering, the imprisoned, the refugee, the homeless, the hungry, those who have lost loved ones through acts of violence. These are dreams by which to set a course. God does not ask us if we are there yet, but rather whether we are headed in the right direction.
Following Paul’s counsel, we who have glimpsed God’s dream must now share that hope. Like John, we must strive to renew the hopes of an exhausted world. With practice, we can be like Isaiah, who can see beyond the mess and dream of a world in which all are ready for the arrival of God.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” - “Repent, live into God’s Dream.” This is John the Baptist’s invitation for us to come home and to be the people God has created us to be. Amen.
Now that thanksgiving is behind us and we have awakened bleary eyed in the early morning of black Friday to seek out that very special bargain. I have to ask, is it worth either staying up all night to get that place in line in the HOPE of being one of a few lucky people who just might score a 55” TV for 299.99 or whatever it is.
The holiday decorations have been in Costco since August there was Christmas music on the radio before Thanksgiving. So, now what?
Now, it seems we wait. In the cycle of the Church calendar, we have entered into a new liturgical year- the season of Advent. Literally, the word Advent means, “coming”. Theologically, for Christians, Advent has to do with preparing for the coming of Christ. We change the color of the hangings in the chapel from Green to Blue. On this first Sunday of we add the penitential order. But the season of Advent is not to be confused with Lent. We also light our advent wreathe as we prepare and count the days toward the birth of the Savior. This short period is not primarily a time of penitence but rather a time to joyfully prepare for the coming of Christ.
In Advent the liturgy deals with contrasts: light and dark; joy and sorrow; beginning and end; and, especially, chronological time and God’s time. We discover in Advent that God’s time is of the kind described not by clocks and calendars but in terms like “the time is ripe,” or “in the fullness of time.” (See, for example, Galatians 4.)
We have these Candles in an Advent wreath to help us visually mark chronological time. One candle is lit for each Sunday in Advent. Remember I said the symbolism of contrasts? As the days become shorter the light from the candles grows until when it is darkest, that is, the longest night of the year on Dec 21, the wreath is the brightest- just four days before Christmas.
But it would not be honest of us to simply see Advent as a sweet sugar plumb run up to Christmas. Yes, it IS that, but if we consider the readings before us, the beginning of the liturgical year is anything but sweet. The first Sunday of Advent begins the new year celebration by focusing on the End of time – and that’s end with a capital E- with the expectation of Jesus’ final return among us. There is a fancy word for this incredible end of the cosmos- it’s not the Apocalypse- It’s the Eschaton.
The First Sunday of Advent is concerned with the Lord’s return as Judge of his people and of the whole created order. The eschaton and Jesus’ return is not simply a return which happens haphazardly, but neither can it be forecast by the clock or the calendar. There is a theme of “wake up! Be ready!”
The birth of Jesus marked the first arrival of Jesus, but for Matthew, the entire life of Jesus, his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection comprise are all part of the Great Plan in which church is already living and always will live in the turning of the ages. The End has begun. Matthew strives to answer the question: how are we to live in-between “the already” of the salvation we have experienced in Christ and the “not yet” of that salvation not being fully consummated in the world? I will admit that Matthew’s approach is rather complex and multi layered. But know this: Matthew is peaking largely metaphorically and not literally. He is not predicting what will happen at the very end when Jesus returns. He is describing a a state of being- a way of living in the faith that calls the Christian community to live in such a way AS IF Jesus’ return were immanent.
Living faithfully in this present time of Christian discipleship does not mean that we can rest on God’s grace. Together, in these four weeks there is a sense of hope, expectation, and urgency. Something is happening, something wonderful, yet uncertain.
Each and every day of our lives is filled with an Advent hope. Advent is not simply a time to await the coming of Christmas. And I would also suggest that it is not just a time for Christians. Advent is a time to renew and enlarge our hopes, to tap into the deepest hopes of the human race for the age that is to come- hopes of justice- hopes of liberation- hopes of love and forgiveness. There is a sense of urgency that wakes us up from our complacency.
Advent challenges us to prepare ourselves and our world for the full coming of the kingdom. That Jesus is coming doesn’t’ mean we live our lives and our faith in fear. We live it in hope that Advent challenges in preparing for that same kingdom to break down the barriers of race, culture, age, religion, sex, orientation, or and find new beginnings. That is the kind of world, the kind of kingdom Isaiah is speaking about in today’s readings. A world where God’s presence will be the judge where people will beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. We city folk don’t see many plough shares or pruning hooks theses days, but Isaiah is talking about talking the tools of war and melting them down to make something new, something that can be used to feed the hungry and build communities rather than destroy.
We need advent, we need this time for words of hope for a better tomorrow. We need this time to be reminded that darkness, though it may seem to be growing cannot over power the light. That God, is still very real and present in the midst of it all and will usher in a kingdom and a kingship that is like no other. That kingdom of justice and peace cannot exist without the power of God working in us to make it so.
“ ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ ” This is the message of Advent. Amen.
Thanksgiving Day, Yr C Nov 28, 2019
Today’s Thanksgiving Day traditions seem a far cry from their historic origins. Yes, In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
Now days it seems it’s the gateway holiday into the winter shopping season. Even before black Friday we have the black Friday sales. But this is also a holiday around food as well- what to cook and how to cook it , what to eat and how to eat it, and how much exercise you’ll need to work it off when it's all over.
And now that our minds are focused on food, what we might soon be cooking, or which dish we most look forward to, the gospel appointed for Thanksgiving Day is an interesting choice. John’s gospel says: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal… Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”
It should be obvious to most that our civic and religious Thanksgiving holiday is not about food. Even the non-religious among us admit that Thanksgiving is at the very least a day in which we acknowledge what we have and what is important in our lives.
For Christians, Thanksgiving Day is about giving thanks to God, the creator of all. The fact is, however, that when we give thanks to God for all we have, we are most often thankful for the “food that perishes,” as Jesus puts it. We might be thankful for our new car, for our home, for food, for clothing, for our job, and for money to pay our bills, things that are important, but they are all things that perish.
There is certainly nothing wrong with giving thanks for the perishables in our lives, but that’s not the question Jesus is prompting. Jesus is asking where we place our faith. The gospel lesson doesn’t ask us to list the things for which we are thankful, the gospel lesson asks us to reflect on our faith and to receive the true bread, which gives life to world.
We can certainly be thankful for our material wealth, for our homes, for our jobs, and for the food on our tables this Thanksgiving, we should not mistake thankfulness for faith.
It IS a common practice at Thanksgiving for congregations and other community groups to gather food for food pantries, or assist at soup kitchens, perhaps offering Thanksgiving dinner to those who are hungry or alone at this special time. For some, unfortunately, this is motivated by a sense of guilt, that we have so much and are feasting so excessively- maybe if we remember those who have less than us, it will ease our consciences.
Being thankful for turkey and stuffing won’t feed the hungry. Thankfulness for a closet full of clothing won’t clothe the naked. Thankfulness for a good home and a good job won’t house the houseless or right the economic injustice in our society.
Being thankful is important, but it is an outcome of our faith.
And we are gathered here on this Thanksgiving Day in our faith to give thanks, seeking not the bread that perishes, but the bread of life who gives life to the world.
In the gospel, after the feeding of the multitudes with the loaves and fishes and all the baskets full of leftovers, Jesus has gone away from the crowds. He says those who sought him out: you come looking for me not because of the miracle, but because of the free food. Do not seek the bread that perishes but for the bread that endures eternally.
Jesus brings up something different- He is talking about bread from heaven but not the same bread that fed the Hebrews in the wilderness. The bread he speaks of endures, it never gives out, never turns stale, it is food for a new and different life.
The Spirit moves us to participate in the generous life of Emmanuel: God-with-us, constantly practicing thanks-giving. Our faith in Jesus and our participation in God’s mission will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, and set things to right in the world.
Jesus is announcing a New Feast and were that not enough, he identifies it with himself. I am the Bread of life, he calls out and every time we gather welcomes us to his table. In this Eucharistic Feast. There is bread enough for everyone. I'm here from heaven, Jesus says, I come straight from the Father's throne, not to take, but to give. Giving life to us and life to the world.
Thanks be to God.
Feast of the Holy Sovereigns/Christ the King Yr C Nov 2019
In the calendar of the Episcopal Church, there are various days appointed that recognize events in the life of the Jesus and the Gospels such as Christmas and Easter; as well as days that recognize Christians whose life and work have modeled themselves after the life of Jesus and the values like love, care, forgiveness, and service to others that he taught and embodied. These days whether honoring events or people are called feast days.
This week in the church calendar is the feast day of our founding Kamehameha IV and Emma. The Feast of the Holy Sovereigns. That's what we call it. In the life of the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii, this is the Sunday, where we recognize our founding patrons. Today is about remembering that we have a royal heritage that is unique and special.
Last week, right before we went on Thanksgiving holiday, our school newspaper, the Imua, talked about race. And in Kamehameha IV’s own story, race and racism, played a significant role in his life.
Before he was King Kamehameha IV, he was Crown Prince, Alexander Liholiho ʻIolani. Educated by the Protestant Missionaries at the Royal School, he was very smart and articulate, speaking not just his native language of Hawaiian, but also both French and English. When he was 15 he served as an ambassador of Hawaii on a trip to Europe, where this young man, though a curiosity among the royal circles of England and France because of his place of origin, he was accorded the respect and dignity of an ambassador of a foreign country and a prince of Hawaii. It was on this trip that Prince Liholiho learned how to fence and came in contact with the Church of England. He was impressed with its order, liturgy, and relationship to the crown and promised that when he became King, he would invite the Church of England to the Hawaiian Islands. While on his way back, needing to cross the United States, he was nearly thrown off the train by a conductor who thought, because of the color of the Prince's skin he was a servant and did not belong in the compartment he was in. This added to Prince Liholiho's animosity toward the United States would remain and play itself out once he ascended the throne.
In 1855, at the age of 20, that day came. His uncle, Kamehameha III, dies leaving him to now become King. Though busy with the affairs of State, he managed to find the time to marry his childhood sweetheart Emma Naea Rooke, together they would rule the Hawaiian Kingdom took on Faith, Education, and Health Care among their principal concerns, they wrote to Queen Victoria asking her to send Missionaries to establish an outpost of the Anglican Church in Hawaii. And in 1862 the Anglican Church in Hawaii was formed. The King himself even translated the Book of Common Prayer into Hawaiian language.
They founded what is now the Queen’s Medical Center, and they would call upon the Church they supported to establish schools like St. Alban’s College, now our school ‘Iolani as well as St Andrews Priory.
That’s the brief history lesson. But that is also the Mo’olelo- the story. It is the not only the story of their lives, but the story of the beginnings of the Episcopal Church here in Hawai‘i.
Most importantly though is the mo’olelo contains in it values to be honored and uplifted.
On this Feast of the Holy Sovereigns we remember that we have a royal heritage. We owe much to the Holy Sovereigns and their values. Values like passion (mana), integrity (pono) and a deep love for God and their people (aloha).
Mana- often translated as “power,” the essence of mana comes from within. For the King and Queen, their mana, their life’s force was poured into their work as ali’i. They saw their kuleana (responsibility) to care for all their people, native and immigrant, alike. They did so with the desire to make things right, pono, for the people of Hawai’i by seeing to their health, their education, and their spiritual nurture. This was done out from the foundation of aloha- for God and the people.
The gospel story contains the mo’olelo of Jesus on the Cross. Where this King, who was given a royal welcome with Palm branches in and shouts of Hosanna as he entered the city of Jerusalem, is now publicly being humiliated. Crucifixion is not just a form of Roman execution. It is a very public one- the parade of the condemned through the streets, the crowd gathered, the crucifixion itself lifted high for the crowd to witness.
The sign above him now reads, Here is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. This is supposed to be ironic of course. A sign of mockery. After all, if THIS is YOUR King, look at what’s happened to him.
Christ the King invites us to consider this king we worship and the kingdom to whom we belong. You hear me often speak of two kingdoms: the kingdom of the this world where rules of power and prestige; the value of earthly comforts and the have and have nots reign; then there is the kingdom of God ruled by the power of love and grace; where all are valued as children; where justice and mercy regin.
Kamehameha IV and Emma understood what it meant to belong to two different kingdoms. They were among the Kings and Queens of this world, where, by virtue of their high rank as ali’i, the had political power and ownership of crown lands. They were accorded special rights and privileges. And yet they also knew what it meant to belong to that other kingdom ruled by the values of their faith in God. In doing so they proclaimed by their words and deeds the values of that very Kingdom. In their kingdom they saw the role the Christian faith had to offer; they saw the sickness around them, they saw that the children of these islands needed education; they saw the things that their people/ their kingdom needed, and brought about the changes needed.
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for many things and be reminded of God’s love, and of that kingdom where we are called to care for one another. This is not just some moral idealism, it is foundational to who we are as a faith community. It is certainly foundational to the very essence of who we are as people of God.
The presence of the Episcopal Church in Hawaii is unique in the history of Christianity in Hawaii. And yes, parts of our service today are in Hawaiian. It is not a language St. Tim’s is used to- we don’t have a Hawaiian language service like the Cathedral or St. John’s Kahalu’u. But we have it today to remind and re-connect us to our cultural roots. To remember that the Book of Common Prayer was- before Hawaiian language was forbidden in schools by law from 1896-1919, it was the language of the prayers of our predecessors. What can the language and culture teach us about how we are called to live and who we are called to be? If nothing else, We must be anything but ordinary. We all must continue to root ourselves in the values the Holy Sovereigns knew and understood so well. The same values found in the teachings of Jesus.
Let us be reminded and to also teach our children and grandchildren to look around and to see the problems of this world in order that we might use our gifts and all that we have learned - to address them. Poverty, homelessness, indigenous rights, the dignity of LGBT persons, partisan entrenchement; the fight against racism and civil rights did not end with Martin Luther King, Jr and the Civil Rights Act.
What kind of King do we see in Jesus? In reflecting on that question we are challenged by another: What kind of Church are we called to be? What do YOU see around you that could use your gifts. I’ve been watching the impeachment hearings with some interest and Friday’s testimony of Dr Fiona Hill struck not just me, but many people as poignant when she spoke against hatred and division; about the need for civility and dignity. For some time now we have witnessed things happening in the larger culture like racism, ageism, and classism that is prevalent in our society even in idillic Hawaii where such racial tension lie below the surface.
Such ‘isms’ and all the isms of our time are rooted in an understanding of the values of the world. But that is not who we truly are. Our task is to strengthen and build a community of relationships based on the understanding that we are created and loved by God.
We can only predict what the future of this congregation will be like- how you and I must embrace our kuleana as members of this church and continue to make this place of But we cannot lose sight of the Hawaiian values on which our mission of faith is founded. Values that are upheld our Episcopal heritage and its commitment to ushering in the Kingdom of God. Our kuleana is to follow in the footsteps of our King. Yes we ought to fill our minds with, knowledge and wisdom; we fill our heart and soul with word and sacrament, but how much richer is the world when we take what we have learned and embody it so that we can grow young women and men of character. That too is our kuleana. Our mana, that is, all that makes us who we are, is directed toward preparing our hearts and minds to take our place in the world. Our kuleana is to to know and understand the value of pono to do and make this world right. That is, as individuals and as a community, each of us is called to live the right way in right relationships; to live with integrity and a sense of connectedness. And yes, we must also learn and live with aloha; to be compassionate, loving.
PROPER 27, YR C, NOV 10 2019
Proper 27 Yr C, November 9, 2019
If you happen to go downtown to ‘‘Iolani Palace this weekend and on Monday you will see the palace adorned with the red white and blue bunting of Hawai‘i; miniature Hawaiian flags adorn the balcony a gigantic Hawaiian flag and another flag that represents the personal standard of Queen Lili’uokalani hang from the second story. The reason for this elaborate display is the commemoration of the death of Queen Lili’uokalani- Hawai’i’s only queen regent and last reigning monarch. She died November 11, 1917 in her home at Washington Place just adjacent to St. Andrews Cathedral, at age 79 from complications from a stroke. She was given a state funeral and her casket was processed up Nu’uanu Avenue pulled by 204 stevedores for her entombment and burial at Mauna ‘Ala or the Royal Mausoleum.
A year later to the day the Armistice would be signed bringing an end to what the Western world hoped would be the “war to end all wars”. Estimates that there were 40 million military and civilian casualties in WW1 with 15-19 million deaths of those 9-11 million were military. \Known also as Remembrance Day, in the United States, Veterans Day honors those that serve and have served in our armed forces and the sacrifices they have made in service to their nation.
In reflecting on the convergence of Veterans Day and the 102th anniversary of Lili‘uokalani’s passing and our scriptures for today all have in them an element of death.
And that could be the rather morbid end of it. But God does not do that. Instead, as much as our scriptures are about our final consummation, they are also about hope and promise. Scripture teaches us that God is a god of the living.
By way of the backstory, Job has had everything taken away from him, his family is killed off, his crops are destroyed, everything is gone as part of a bet between God and Satan over whether or not Job will abandon God altogether. Job was a righteous man and what’s happened to him seems so unfair. Ultimately, Job wants justice he wants to face the almighty and ask himself, “Why did this happen?” Has he done something wrong? His so called friends insist he must have in order to merit God’s lack of favor and turn of fortune.
In the text for this Sunday, Job imagines two a couple of ways he eventually might be vindicated. He accepts the likelihood that he will die unanswered by God. And if he dies, so too dies his case. His presumed guilt will be the final word. Therefore, he fervently wishes that his case against God be inscribed in a book. Better yet, his words could be engraved with an iron pen on a rock and the letters lined with lead to protect them from wear, an enduring, monumental testimony to his innocence. After his death, Job expects that a kinsman redeemer will arise and stand “upon the Earth” to defend him. This contrasts with his earlier hope for a witness in heaven (16:18-19). Job has suffered on earth, and his vindication must be earthly as well.
In the case of 2 Thessalonians 2, rumors have spread through the church concerning Paul’s teaching about the end times and these rumors are causing significant distress. Rather than becoming distracted by detailed maps of the end times and time frames Paul’s message is one of encouragement that they “not become easily unsettled or alarmed, either by spirit or by world or by letter” but instead “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings” he gave them in person. They are to ground themselves in Christ’s grace and hope do not let the anxiety of the end times over come them.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus encounters the Sadducees. Though they are rivals of the Pharisees, they are united in their dislike of Jesus. The Sadducees had primary authority over the Temple. They recognized only the Pentateuch or the original five "books of Moses" as fully authoritative, and for this reason did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (because it is not referenced in the Pentateuch). In his criticism of the religious leaders, Jesus would attack the sacrificial practices of the Temple, thus incurring the wrath of the Sadducees. In asking Jesus about this widow who has absolutely no luck in the husband department, they reference a law called levirate marriage from the Latin levir ("brother in law") comes from Deuteronomy 25:5-10. This law sought to insure the preservation of one's family name by stipulating that a man should marry the childless widow of his brother. The question is hypothetical, meant to take an ancient practice to the extreme in order to show that the whole idea of resurrection was foolish.
Of course, Jesus doesn’t fall for the trap. First, he demonstrates their failure to understand the resurrection. Second, he demonstrates their failure to understand Scriptures by using another passage from the Pentateuch -- the crucial Exodus 3 story of Moses' encounter with God in the burning bush and the revelation of God's holy name. In doing so, Jesus establishes the validity, indeed certainty, of life after death.
What all of our scriptures point to and particularly the gospel is that the resurrected life, is very different from the life of here and now. Which invites the question- What is the resurrected life like? Or more to the point, “how much will our resurrection life be like our life in this world? And what will our relationships be?
As human beings we want to believe that our existence in the next life will be a lot like our existence in this one where we will retain our persona- our memories- our relationships. But we should limit our imagination when it comes to God’s design. When we talk of “eternal life” we talk of being in the nearer presence of God. Remember that Jesus all along has been calling us to be citizens of the Kingdom of God where the rules are vastly different from that of this one. Time and space canot understood in the same way as we understand them now. And as far as our relationships go, we cannot know what they will be like, but we know that we will be related to each other in and through our relationship with God.
In the resurrection- what exactly is resurrected? The soul? The body? I once asked the question when I was young what happens to those who are cremated? Job after all says, “After my skin has been torn apart this way— then from my flesh I’ll see God, whom I’ll see myself— my eyes see, and not a stranger’s.” Is there an implication that all the ash pieces will come back to form a whole person again? Or is it the soul that is resurrected? Once again, the vision of resurrection lies in the imagination of God himself. But what we can sense is that resurrection insists that the whole person will ins some way be united with God. And it is our whole selves not some wispy essence that God promises to redeem. All of us go down to the dust- in other words we all die and there is no escaping it, but because of the One who died on the cross and was raised again- who as our creed says descended to the dead and has come back. We now live and die with the promise that God will also raise us from death to new life where, in the words of Jesus today we hear that we cannot die, because we are lie angels and are children of God, being children of resurrection.
God is a a god of the living. That is God does not exist for us when we die, but as followers of Jesus we ought to be about things that bring life.
As children of the cross we believe that resurrection is possible. How can our lives lived on this earth be lives that bring life and hope- lives that seek to destroy death and despair?
When the Queen was deposed she willingly abdicated ceeding her authority to that of the pro-American businessmen who sought power for their own gain. There were Hawaiian’s - Native and citizens of the Kingdom, willing to fight and to die to protect their queen and their homeland. But she said no, she wanted to avoid further bloodshed. She believed ultimately in God and in justice. While under house arrest she composed hymns including one called the Queen’s Prayer which we will sing beginning next week. And though no longer queen of the Hawaiian kingdom, remained Queen of Hawaii until her death in 1917. Lili’uokanlai’s life and her actions were about caring for the people of Hawai’i in a way that brought hope and life.
Like Queen Lili’uokalani before us, as followers of Jesus, as children of the living God and the god of the living, what ways can we bring light and life to this world even as we wait for the next? We will offer this world the Aloha it so desperately needs- an Aloha that is missing from our public square. A love so profound and deep that it can overcome any darkness- because it leads to resurrection and eternal life.
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
There is that word: “grace.” It’s such a religiously sounding word that can come across as pious and out of reach. So when a prayer, such as our collect for today, talks of God’s grace going in front of us and behind us, we sort of shrug, say “fine” but do we really think about what it means at all?
In today’s collect, the description of grace is a reminder of God’s glory in visible form, as a great light, which the story of the Ancient Israelites went in front of and behind the children of Israel as they escaped Egypt and went in search of the Promised Land. Yet escaping from Egypt and looking for a Promised Land seem so very far from our experiences at work, or at home, even in church.
The readings today try to give practical examples of what “grace” means. Inevitably they are stories about, or reflections on “grace” set in a very different world than ours. No cars, no supermarkets, no global warming, no politicians -it all sounds wonderful! But what have two stories about lepers and one bit of advice to young Bishop Timothy have to do with high blood pressure, a fight with the teens or our parents, and mortgage payments, or even job insecurity?
Leprosy was once the scourge of all illnesses. It was incurable. Those with it were shunned and shunted off into separate places, ostracized and feared.
Hawaii has its own intimate relationship with leprosy. In 1865, acting on the counsel of his American and European advisers, Kamehameha V, then King of Hawaii, signed into law "An Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy," which criminalized the disease. In the first year, 142 men, women, and children were captured. The law in various forms remained in effect through the annexation of Hawaii by America in 1898, the adoption of Hawaii as the fiftieth American state in 1959, and until the middle of 1969, when it was finally repealed.
Under the law, persons suspected of having the disease were chased down, arrested, subjected to a cursory exam, and exiled. Armed guards forced them into the cattle stalls of inter-island ships and sailed them fifty-eight nautical miles east of Honolulu, to the brutal northern coast of Molokai. There they were dumped on an inhospitable shelf of land of the approximate size and shape of lower Manhattan, which jutted into the Pacific from the base of the tallest sea cliffs in the world. It was, as Robert Louis Stevenson would write, "a prison fortified by nature." Three sides of the peninsula were ringed by jagged lava rock, making landings impossible, and the fourth rose as a two-thousand-foot wall so sheer that wild goats tumbled from its face. In the early days of the colony, the government provided virtually no medical care, a bare subsistence of food, and only crude shelter. The patients were judged to be civilly dead, their spouses granted summary divorces, and their wills executed as if they were already in the grave. Soon thousands were in exile, and life within this lawless penitentiary came to resemble that aboard a crowded raft in the aftermath of a shipwreck, with epic battles erupting over food, water, blankets, and women. As news of the abject misery spread, others with the disease hid in terror from the government's bounty hunters, or violently resisted exile, murdering doctors, sheriffs, and soldiers who conspired to send them away. A Belgian priest, Daimien de Veuster, in 1879 volunteered to provided pastoral ministry to the exiled. Mother Marrianne Cope followed. Damien would later contract and die from the disease. Damien was made a Saint in 2009 and Marianne became a saint in 2012.
Even after the disease was curable with modern antibiotics in the 20th century, a few still live in there in the only home they know, and now help to tell the story of their lives as a people who made their own community after having felt alone, misunderstood, helpless.
While the scene recounted in the Bible stories today may be unfamiliar, there are plenty of modern equivalents and experiences.
The conditions of the 10 lepers may well be translated into OUR feeling alone, misunderstood, helpless, and perhaps actively shunned. Feelings of being alone and helpless surely attack most of us at one time or another. Feeling misunderstood often happens in the classroom or the office at church meetings and of course even in families!
Struck with leprosy, General Naaman’s problem was that he thought his condition and status required a dramatic response, a unique form of treatment, not merely a dip in a foreign river on the orders of a prophet who hasn’t even the courtesy to come out to meet this important dignitary. The lepers whom Jesus heals have a different problem. They take a miracle for granted, and all but one shrugs and gets on with life. Only one is thankful.
In the cases of both Naaman and the 10 lepers, we see that what gets in the way of grace, what gets in the way of receiving a gift, is pride in one form or another. We think we are the only person with our problem. No one has had this problem before or like we have it. To suggest that God has a universal answer, something as simple as merely doing as one is told and accepting a simple gift in a simple manner - is that just too much of a stretch ? Merely accepting, as Timothy is told to do, that Jesus is sufficient- he says:
“If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful--
for he cannot deny himself.”
Merely accepting God’s grace is the clue to wholeness and a life lived within God’s gifts.
In a few minutes perhaps we share in the Communion of Christ’s body and blood. You will leave your seat and come to God’s table to receive promised gifts, the grace that goes before us and behind us, guiding and keeping us in the midst of everything. How on earth can a crumb of bread and a sip of wine address my extraordinary needs and problems? Or perhaps I will reach, take, and get on with life without a thought of “thanksgiving,” the word from which “Eucharist” derives.
In place of the word “well,” some translations use “made whole” or “saved.” There is ambiguity about the Greek meaning, but its use by Jesus surely implies more than simply being cured from a disease. “Your faith has made you whole,” seems closer to the way Jesus used this episode to provide a new teaching. The Samaritan was not simply cured like the others, but experienced something more important something more than just being physically cured.
So healing is not the result of being “zapped” by God, but the result of being given an opportunity to anchor oneself in the gift of grace that is given, and an opportunity to live life with a new and different perspective.
We in our own way cry out, Lord, have mercy on us. We yearn for healing. That is, we seek to be made whole. We come with all our faults and failings, our sins and offenses. Christ does not shun us. We present ourselves that -as God transforms bread and wine, we too might be transformed. In this celebration and receiving of communion, we participate in a divine moment of grace.
Sacraments are powerful stuff and if we think about it, like the Samaritan, we cannot leave here the same than when we came in. The word Eucharist means, “thanksgiving”. We call the liturgy we have at the table, the Great Thanksgiving. At its conclusion we are grateful.
I have no doubt that the other nine were grateful to Jesus for their miraculous healing. However the Samaritan shows us a faith that speaks to the deeper truths of God. To be touched by God is to be transformed. And transformed in our faith we respond to the very love, grace and forgiveness that that heals us and makes us whole.
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.