Sermon/Homily





Image result for A new creation in christ

Pentecostal Chats with Your Priest
June 17, 2018    II Corinthians 5:6-17


I grew up in the post World War II era when the economy was just beginning to recover from the bleakness of the war and the Great Depression.  Money was scarce and the thought of having something new was exciting and not a common experience.

I generally thought about "getting" something new without giving any thought to what it would mean to "be new."  St. Paul in our New Testament lesson makes the remarkable affirmation: "If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

This seems like the stuff of fantasy.  The thought of being a new person is almost impossible to imagine.  We have absorbed enough psychology to know that our present behavior results from past patterns, habits, emotional experiences, and well-established attitudes.

Yet, St. Paul proclaims that God gifts all of us with the invitation, the challenge, and the potential to alter our attitudes and our perspectives toward ourselves and others. He invites us to realize that being in a relationship with Jesus opens the doorway to phenomenal "newness"—the newness of belonging to God’s family—that brings new possibilities.

God invites us through the words of St. Paul to view all people as being the recipients of God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy.  He affirms that life becomes a new experience when we live out our faith-connection to Jesus and allow God’s Spirit to infuse our consciousness with new light.           
           
                                                 Charles



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Pentecost Chats with Your Priest
June 3, 2018 Mark 2:23-3:6, 25 

In his 1858 failed bid for the Republican Senate in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln stated:  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  He had concluded that the government could not endure as permanently half slave and half free.

In today’s gospel we learn that Jesus was the author of Lincoln’s statement.  When the scribes asserted that Jesus used black magic when he healed on the Sabbath, Jesus responded: (verse 25) “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that Kingdom cannot stand,” – “for he was grieved at their hardness of heart.”

Some of us wonder if the Episcopal Church will stand now that it has chosen to bless same-gender couples.  Jesus made his statement about a divided household to proclaim that bringing God’s healing presence to those in need would not be deterred by the forces of evil or even by the caring, though misplaced, concerns of his family, the religious leaders of his day or even his own followers.

As members of the Episcopal Church rooted in its hard won freedoms of the Reformation, we know that as individuals we are free to discover God’s truth through Bible study, prayer and reflection.  No pope, bishop, diocese, general assembly or priest can force us to alter our beliefs.
 
We also know that we are members of the Anglican/ Episcopal “catholic” Church that encourages all to join together in worship of our Triune God whose essence is unconditional love that extends to all persons irrespective of gender, race, age, economic status or level of education.  I hope our mission at MHEC is to reach out to others in love.                                                                                               
                                                              Charles

Easter Chats with Your Priest:
John 15:  9-17 May 6, 2018 

The “love” word glares at us throughout our Gospel and Epistle.  In our 21st century, “love” has lost much of its deeper meaning.  To Jesus, it meant life and death and new life—being resolutely connected to God and to his followers.

When Jesus and St. John used this word, they were speaking to rough and tumble seamen, carpenters, rugged shepherds and many who were on the fringe of society.  No romantic sentimentality for them.  Jesus was challenging his followers to live out their faith in determined caring for others and to maintain a fierce and persistent commitment to God.

So—what can we say about “love-Jesus-style?”  It may be as simple as emulating a “good mother/good father” who has unconditional good-will toward her/his children, who seeks to do the right thing by them, who remains connected to the  children even when they seek to go their own way. Not easy.

Can we remain involved when it’s not convenient or easy or when we disagree with how our children are living their lives or even closer to home, how our church is living its life? Jesus is talking about “Tough love!!”  Are we up for that?  Jesus was a trouble-maker because he commanded his followers to extend this kind of connectedness to those outside the family and outside the Jewish tribe—to the poor, the homeless, the sick, and to the  socially unacceptable.

 We are all challenged by this kind of love—whether it be  pesky neighbors, rebellious children, or a diocese and national church that is moving in directions we don’t like.
Can we stay connected?  Will we?  Jesus did. 
   Charles





Easter Chats with Your Priest:
John 15:1-8 April 27, 2018 

Electricity is a fantastic mystery: electron particles flowing in a wave-like fashion that produce energy to keep us warm, cook our food, run our TVs and computers and bring light into darkness—-almost sounds like God—who promises in Jesus to transform and enrich our hearts and bring God’s light into our darkness and the darkness within our world.

The thing about electricity that points to our Gospel is that electricity only works if an object is plugged into it.  Our computers, TVs, electric stoves, electric lights only work if they are attached to a source of electrons that flow from the source to the receiving object:  no connection, no flow of electrons, and thus no electric power to run a computer or TV.

The atoms that compose matter have negatively charged particles called electrons and positively charged particles called protons.  Electricity flows when there is an imbalance between negative ions and positive ions. 

Jesus identifies himself as the vine and we—his followers—are called the branches.  His life flows like electricity into our lives—only if we recognize the imbalance in us:  we are lacking the power to live God’s life on our own.  The life of God—like electricity—flows into us and empowers us as we acknowledge our need of God.  Then—like the well-nurtured garden—we produce the fruit of loving God,  caring for ourselves and for others and seeking justice for all.

                                                                 Charles                                          



Easter Chats with Your Priest:
April 22, 2018   John 10:11-18 

Do we really need Jesus as our shepherd in this 21st century?  Aren’t we able to manage our own affairs without resorting to an archaic, perhaps outdated image of God as our caretaker?  Doesn’t this kind of image place us “sheep” in a powerless, vulnerable, and dependent position?  Shouldn't we simply “Get a grip on life and stop being so wimpy?”

Perhaps. Perhaps.  Life can seem quite manageable—until we face powerful and overwhelming forces like sickness, aging, economic demise, the sudden loss of loved ones, or unexpected loss of work. 

The ancient writers of scripture lived at the mercy of nature, sickness, poverty, and of powerful militaristic enemies. Their only real resource was to look to a God who promised to be their constant companion, a God who covenanted to care for them, and to love them to the ends of time—and who promised that He knew the nature of real, authentic, “abundant” life.  Furthermore, Jesus promised he could provide this to anyone who had the courage to put his/her trust in him.

I can’t answer for anyone else.  But I know that I need a shepherd who can guide me into abundant living—and out of a life of constant acquisition; but into a life of ongoing caring for others; of inner growth, and inner peace.  This is what the resurrected Christ promises to each of us.    Halleluiah!
                                                                        
Charles






Easter Chats with Your Priest:
April 15, 2018    Luke 24: 36-48



Don’t we all want to be joyful?—unless of course, we have suffered so much emotional pain that we no longer think that is possible.  Shouldn’t the disciples have felt joyful when Jesus came and stood among them and revealed himself to them with his punctured hands?  But when Jesus comes into their midst a second time,  "they are startled and terrified." 

Then shortly later Luke tells us that "in their joy, they were disbelieving."  The disciples were grasping for joy, but like one grasps hold of a slippery ice-cube.  Just when you think you have it, it dissolves.  Their joy sprang forth from sensing the presence of Jesus.  Then doubt slithered in and their joy took second place.  Could this really be "Jesus"?

I believe that God wants us to experience joy in our daily living—even in the midst of difficult times when life might seem overwhelming.   I believe the very foundation of Jesus' life was the joy of living out God’s will by caring for the spiritual, emotional and physical lives of his followers.

But we are like those earthy, sometimes confused, often impulsive but nevertheless wonderful disciples of Jesus.  We can sense the joy that comes from being in relationship with God, with our loved ones, with the community of faith, with colleagues at work and play—yet even then doubt sneaks in and whispers:  "No one really cares about you." 

Not true! Not True! Not True!  Indeed Jesus battled death and won to let us know how very much God loves us and wants us to have joy running rampant throughout our lives.                                                        
Charles


Easter Sunday with Your Priest  
 John 20:19-31   April 7, 2018

"And the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews."  Do you lock your doors?  I do--mainly out of fear—fear of being harmed; fear being robbed of precious belongings; fear of people taking advantage of me.

Fear can be pretty devastating.  It can cause us to withdraw from others and it can keep us isolated, unaware of the larger world around us and uninvolved in social activities. 

Something happened between the fear-possessed disciples of our Gospel and the empowered Jesus-followers of our New Testament reading in the Book of Acts—who shared their assets with all so that there was no needy person among them.  How do we get from being controlled by fear to self-confident openness to the needs of others?  The answer for the early disciples was the resurrection of Jesus.  He refused to allow his followers to wallow in fear, depression, and their sense of powerlessness.   

Jesus came after them like a hound dog chasing a rabbit.  And ultimately faith replaced their confusion, despair, and fear.  As they became confident in their faith, their love for others blossomed.  And Jesus comes after us in the same persistent manner--inviting us into a life of caring for others.  We may still have fears but we also have choices and resources to deal with our fears.

Jesus calls us to a life of courage—facing our fears in faith that God is always with us and always seeking to lead us out of fear into faith                  
  Charles




Easter Sunday with Your Priest
Mark 16: 1-8 April 1, 2018


During this season of Lent, it has become clear to me that God has far too much respect for me, and for all of us, than to have some absolute plan that we are all meant to follow—that we have to struggle to figure this out through prayer and faith and some form of spiritual discipline.

God has created us with dignity and therefore must take a certain pride in letting us make a plan for our lives.  God must delight in the creativity and shrewdness of the choices we make, the plan we design for ourselves.  I'm sure, there are times God wishes we had made other decisions for our lives.  We are, in a way, out there all on our own making it from scratch—though never without God’s Spirit to aid us.

Except, that is, for Easter.  Except for Christ's victory over death and sin through his resurrection.  That's the only absolute plan God has for us as individuals and for the community of humankind.  According to God's plan, because of Christ's triumph any choice we make is redeemed in him and further, all of us are redeemed in him.  Thus, no choice is final or unredeemable, nor is any person.  This is the great hope the Church holds out to the world and for us here at Merchants Hope.

This Easter message comforts me because it gives me confidence in my personal future, in the future of Merchants Hope and indeed, in the future of this whole world.  Let’s you and I be open to this great choice God has made for us in the resurrection of our Savior       

       The Rt. Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE—edited by      Charles







Lenten Chats with Your Priest
March 25, 2018    Mark 15:1-47

Death, be not Proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

 

1 Corinthians 15:53-55

by St. Paul

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality.         “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
                                                      “Where, O death, is your victory?
                                                                            Where, O death, is your sting"


Charles

Lenten Chats with Your Priest
March 18, 2018    John 2:20-33
 The Apostle John proclaims:  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Spectacular!!  Certainly this means a new world order is emerging where love will prevail—where doing the right thing will be the norm—where God’s people will be safe and secure--where evil will cease to exist--where God will reign.

Well, what happened?  The Son of Man was supposed to usher in peace and justice. But instead, he was crucified. God's people were supposed to the safe and secure. Yet, they were and are being persecuted, abused, and often murdered.

Jesus talks about a “grain of wheat dying” and about “not loving” our lives—as if we are not to expect a new world order of peace and prosperity.  But who of us wants to face death?  Who wants to give up his/her life? 

Jesus, indeed, invites us live life with zest and vigor and vitality, but a life where we submit our ambitions and desires to God’s will in order to more fully embrace God’s desires and God’s life—which is our destiny and which leads to our ultimate fulfillment.

What a fantastic and yet frightening opportunity—to seek God’s interests above our own.  No wonder Jesus talked about our dying to self-interests.  We all need God’s Spirit working within us to empower us to continue this Lenten journey.  Thank God for Easter, and the resurrection and the gift of God’s Spirit—who empowers us to do what we cannot do in our own strength.

Charles


Lenten Chats with Your Priest
March 11, 2018    John 3:14-21


The Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) introduce us to the idea of the Covenants that God has made with his people—his covenant with Adam, with Noah; with Abraham with Moses and finally with King David.  These covenants are God’s commitments to his people to bless them and to care for them.

Many of us covenant with God to be different during Lent as a way of following Jesus into the desert during his 40-day fast; and as a way of preparing us for Easter; and as a way of signaling to God that we want to be "better" Christians.

What we tend to forget, however, is that Lent and our covenants with God have much more to do with God than with us.  It is God who covenants with us.  It is God in Jesus who establishes a new and better covenant with us. 

It is God who promises to write his laws on our hearts.  It is God who promises to come close to us in Christ so that we will truly “know” God.  It is God who continues to transform us.  It is God who takes us by the hand and leads us through this life to the next life.  It is God who gives us His Spirit at baptism, who prepares us for our new home with God.

That is why Lent leads us to Easter.  Lent reminds us that in ourselves, we are but "dust."  The resurrection of Jesus declares that God loves us beyond measure and that God takes our "dust" and adds bones and muscle and skin and spiritual vitality to our lives.  “For God so loved the world.”  


                                                                                        Charles               


Lenten Chats with Your Priest:
March 4, 2018    John 2:13-22
Jesus Throwing out the Money-Changers.

I kept hoping that as I got older, temptations to live contrary to the character and will of God would slowly evaporate. Sadly to say, such has not been the case for me.

Yes, there is a stream of thought that has permeated different aspects of Christendom that asserts that one can arrive at a state of "higher life" or "enlightened consciousness" where one is no longer tempted. Most religious scholars reject this idea.

As one who has looked at the human predicament/condition from biblical, theological and psychological perspectives, I think that our propensity to be self-focused and to distrust God’s love is universal and permanent in this world. Alas, what are we to do?

Thank God for the season of Lent.  Without this wonderful opportunity for self-reflection, confession, and repentance, we might be tempted to assume that all is well with our souls; or that there is no hope for our souls.  But this Lenten season provides us with precious opportunities to refuel, be renewed, and discover new direction and empowerment for our thoughts and activities.

Jesus drove out the moneychangers from the temple because connecting to God no longer had anything to do with temple worship.  Jesus himself was the “open door” to a personal relationship with God.  This season of Lent cries out for us to enter more fully into a faith connection with God and to live that out by intentionally caring for our family, our neighbors and others who enter out lives.                                Charles

Lenten Chats with Your Priest:
February 25, 2018 Mark 8:31-38
Jesus.   Wilderness.   Temptation.
I kept hoping that, as I got older, temptations to live in a way that is contrary to the character and will of God would slowly evaporate. Such has not been the case for me.

There is a stream of thought that has permeated different religious groups that asserts the view that one can arrive at a state of "higher life" or "enlightened consciousness" where one is no longer tempted.  Sadly this has not been the case for most of Christendom.

As one who has looked at the human predicament/condition from biblical, theological and psychological perspectives, I am inclined to think that the propensity to be self-focused and to be less than totally trusting in God is universal and permanent in this world. Alas, what are we to do?

Thank God for Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.  Without these wonderful opportunities for self-reflection, confession, and repentance, we might be tempted to assume that all is well with our souls. And, more positively, these times provide us with precious opportunities to refuel, and discover new direction and empowerment for our thoughts and activities.

If Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, tempted again and again during his ministry, then clearly we face the same potential to lose our trust in God and our direction in life.  But with God’s persistent presence, we will find our way.    

Charles



Lenten Chats with your Priest
February 18, 2018       Mark 1:10-19


And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

None of us readily invite hardship, conflict or difficult times into our lives.  Life provides enough of those bedfellows without our adding any more.

That may be why Jesus was “driven by the Spirit into the wilderness.”  He was like us in many ways—not wanting more hardship than was necessary. 

And, how would one describe the “wilderness,”—for Jesus and for us?  It would have been an isolated place—no human contact—certainly no cell phone, TV or other types of connection with the larger world of others.  For Jesus it was a time of personal self-denial—no food or water; no comfortable king-size bed; no warm fireplace or down comforter. No companionship.

For us the “wilderness” might be choosing not to use our smart phones after 5:00 pm; giving up coffee or sweets or alcohol; perhaps getting up 30 minutes earlier to pray and Bible study; or turning off the TV an hour earlier in order to  talk with our spouses and loved ones; it might mean exercising for 30 minutes each day; or taking dieting seriously; or perhaps spending time each week at a shelter for the homeless; doing a good deed for a neighbor; smiling and speaking warmly to a stranger; giving a begging person—perhaps a veteran—some  money.

What does this have to do with Jesus in the wilderness?  Jesus learned to trust God by turning his back on all that distracted him.  We can do the same and Lent is a great time to start.  Could we discover a new way each week to express our love of God and neighbor.                                                           

Charles

Sermon:  Second Sunday in Lent, Year B
Radical Living
Mark 8:31-38     March 1, 2015

Introduction

More than any other time in the Church year, Lent beckons us to consider living in a radical and electrifying fashion.  Lent cries out to us to engage in radical behavior.  Lent cries out to us to take the plunge in the cool, energizing water of being different.  Lent cries out to us to transfix our inner thoughts on death and resurrection and then to live that tension out in the world of people and places and things.  Sigmund Freud pointed to this reality in his little book, Civilization and its Discontent when he philosophized that humanity found itself in the tension between Thanatos and Eros:  between the inner forces of death and its opposite Eros, the life impulses.  

You won’t find the term “Lent” in the Bible.  There is no Old Testament Hebrew reference to Lent nor any New Testament Greek  reference.  Yet it became a crucial avenue that the early Church followed in strengthening it’s spirituality, in preparing new believers for church membership, and in highlighting teachings of Jesus on discipleship—on what the gospel communities saw as central in their early musings on what it meant to be followers of Jesus.

Today, for the most part, Lent has lost its central meaning.  Many of us use it in a positive fashion as an an opportunity to strengthen healthy habits, try our hand at an increased self-discipline, spend more time in prayer and Bible study.  Some may simply smile at the idea self-denial as if it were some ancient custom that has no real meaning in contemporary 21st century living.  And that would be absolutely correct.  The practice of fasting from foods or activities as a sign of penance for our sinfulness has clearly lost its foothold in our secular culture and for the most part, in our church practice.  This has happened as a result of significant cultural change.  First, very few of us have any real sense of sinfulness, or of being under God’s judgment.  many may have no real sense of God—and thus they/we have little sense of needing forgiveness or any need of spiritual renewal, transformation, conversion or what not.  On the other hand, many may feel unfulfilled, or empty, or even ensnared in addictions—and self-destructive life styles, but the contemporary sees little connection between these conditions and the ancient’s church’s concept of God, even a loving God.
and regretfully they do not look to the church or the faith community for help—rather we go to psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, counselors to seek some sense of healing and even salvation.

Today’s culture elevates self absorption, self-gratification, and the gratification of our children and grandchildren are the true gods to be worshipped and served with a single-minded devotion  devoid of religious insight and unchallenged by religious values or the spirituality of the early Christian community.  

II.  Jesus Speak Out

There are times in the life of Jesus that he becomes quite intense.  You know:After he had entered Jerusalem during his last week “Jesus entered the temple[a] and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13 He said to them, “It is written,

‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’;
    but you are making it a den of robbers.” 

 He became intense when he said of the Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”  Jesus became intense when he said of King Herod: “Go tell that fox, Look! I'm driving out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete My work.”

In todays Gospel we fine Jesus speaking with that same intensity to Peter and to his disciples:  "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  It is in this sense of urgency and passion that Jesus also looks at us eyeball to eyeball and delivers his earth-shattering, world-changing declaration on the essence of being his disciple:  "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Let me be clear:  everything else that Jesus or Paul or any of the other writers of Hebrew and Greek scriptures pale in comparison with this single statement.  It is like the purest oxygen possible for a person who cannot breathe.  It is like the purest and most possible pain reliever discovered by medicine.  It is the pearl of great value; the diamond of unimaginable beauty.  It is like the most beautiful Hollywood damsel; like the most attractive Hollywood star; it is like the most powerful and sexy automobile; like the most perfect gift one an imagine.  And perhaps it is the worse at the same time.

This single statement about being a follower of Jesus captures the essence of Lent and for that matter, the very essence of authentic spiritual life.  Without its reality in our lives, nothing we do will ever satisfy our sense of emptiness.  The context of this statement is essential if we are to understand what Jesus is saying to his disciples and what this will mean to us.  Peter and the disciples have finally got it through their thick heads that Jesus is the long-awaited, God-promised Messiah whose mission it is to deliver God’s people from injustice and slavery and sickness.  Now Jesus seeks to bring them to the fuller truth—that he will be arrested, humiliated and executed by the Romans as part of God’s plan and then raised to new life.  

And Peter and the disciples  will have none of that.  Not Peter and not the rest of his disciples.  No way Hosea.  They have followed Jesus and seen his miracles, his healings, his walking on water, his casting out of demons, his feedings of the thousands, his inspired teachings and they want this Messiah to be the strong man of Israel; to be the leader of God’s armies; to be the ultimate hero who vanquishes forever the enemies of God. They have no intention of letting Jesus be anything less than the conquering hero promised by the OT prophets.

The disciples of Jesus have no interest in pain, self-denial, vulnerability, sickness or death.  The events surrounding Jesus’ ministry have made it quite clear that he is God’s anointed, appointed and reigning Messiah and that is exactly who they plan to follow.  So Peter, their representative, chastises Jesus for his foolish speech:  “Have done with this nonsense and get on with being God’s deliverer.  No one wants to follow a loser, a weakling; no one wants to follow someone who will not take the sword and stand strong in the face of adversity.  Get on with being the powerful hero king of Israel, king of the Jews.  Rid us of these heather Romans; heal all of us.  Destroy our enemies.  Bring us into prosperity.

So Jesus responds with equal passion:  Death and vulnerability and weakness  is part of how God demonstrates his love for me and for you and for the world. And guess what:   if you want to be my follower, you will have to buy into it for yourself.  To truly be my disciple, you need to discover the radical and electrifying truth that real discipleship means letting go of your life and grabbing onto God’s life—which is radical, electrifying and it fills all the deep recesses and spaces of our souls.

III.  Conclusion:

So what does Lent mean for us?  It means we move through death to life; it means we chose now, tonight, tomorrow morning and every day to allow God to be in control of our lives—to let him empower us to say yes to his life; to say yes to being like Jesus; to saying yes to following his values, his teachings and his guidance of our lives.  For those outside the faith community, Lent makes no sense:  letting go of placing oneself first; letting go of seeking all the material comforts we can afford; helping the poor; feeding the hungry; caring for the sick—especially when they are strangers:  this makes no sense to anyone who has not been embraced by the love of God.  It makes no sense to anyone who holds onto the inherited belief that meeting our own needs is the most important reality in life.

But for those of us who have sensed God’s love in Jesus; who have felt his soothing Spirit call us into relationship, into intimacy, into service—it makes all the sense in the world.  And thus, anything we do to celebrate the call to renounce our self in favor to loving God and loving others—anything we do—no matter how small, is significant in God’s sight.  Because it alerts him that we are trying and perhaps that is all we can do.


Jesus confronted Peter because at that juncture Peter was choosing the ways of this world over the ways of God.  Our challenge remains the same:  do we choose the me-first values of this world or the   love-others values of God’s world.

   

Sermon:  5th Sunday after the Epiphany Year B
The Morning after the Night before
February 8, 2015   Mark 1: 29-39

 Introduction

Have you all had the experience of the “morning after the night before?”  You know, when you stayed out dancing until the sun came up; drank one or two  too many drinks; decided you couldn’t put down the book until you had finished it, only to realize it was 3 or 4 in the morning; or start watching a late night movie and decide you have to see it to its end, only to realize that you have only several hours before you have to get up and go to work.

In today’s gospel, we have an example of the morning after the night before.  No drinking; no carousing, no late night movies or dancing.  Just being surrounded by people who were hurting.  They brought their sick and hurting and demented loved ones to Jesus at night—after the stars had come out.  Strange you say.  Well it was their Sabbath—our Saturday, and the Jewish inhabitants of Capernaum and elsewhere were forbidden from doing any work on that day.  And, believe it or not, carrying a sick person was considered work.

So they weaved their way to the home of Peter, his wife, his mother-in-law and where Jesus and Andrew and James and john had come to rest after a day of teaching and healing in the Synagogue.  Jesus had healed a demented man in the synagogue,  He healed an un-named woman who as suffering from a potentially lethal fever and now he stretched out his heart and his hands to all who came burdened by emotional distress, physical pain, disease, and demonic possession.  

Who knows how long this continued—perhaps only an hour; perhaps into the wee hours of the dawn.  This was the night before the day after.  Exhausted, Jesus must have dropped into bed and instantly gone to sleep.  We don’t often think about what kinds of energy and emotional drain Jesus faced in reaching out to the sick and the suffering.  Just think how it is for you to sit with someone who is ill or in pain or suffering from an unknown disease.  How long do any of us stay with the suffering before we chime in:  well I’ve got to go—my wife—my husband—my children—my work is expecting me back home or at the office or wherever.




I don’t think Jesus just snapped his fingers and people were healed.  And the reason for this is that I don’t think there could be any real healing unless and until Jesus experienced the person’s pain and suffering himself and reached out and literally touched the sick and suffering.  Just think of the doctors you have encountered.  The ones who remained distant and professional may have been excellent in their knowledge of ailments, but I suspect it was the MD who listened with concern, who looked you in the eyes, who took you by the hand—it was that MD who made you feel better—even it he didn’t have the answer for your disorder.

II.  The Morning after the Night before

So, what does Jesus do on the morning after the night before?  Does he sleep in?  Does he take it easy?  Have a couple of cups of coffee and read the Capernaum Daily Times?  Have a leisurely breakfast?  Go for a jog with the boys?  Check his emails?  Gossip with Peter’s wife and mother-in-law?  All, by the way, are nice activities.  

While it was still dark:  no while it was still “very dark,”  in the early morning hours, Jesus arose and went into the wilderness—not to fish or hunt—mind you, but to pray.  And this tells us a great deal about Jesus and it tells us something about what we need to keep at the forefront of our minds.

There were two things that Jesus needed and those two things he sought to find in the wilderness, free from the increasing demands on his healing powers.  You are thinking, I suspect, that he needed to be alone.  And this very true but I was assuming that.  What did he hope to achieve by being alone?   That’s the real question.  And you are thinking, I  suspect, that he needed to be away from the distractions of others so he could collect himself and clear his thinking, perhaps plan for the next day.   Yes, yes.  That is all true.

Our Gospel writer fortunately for us, does not leave us in the dark.  Jesus went out to pray.  And of course, we all want to know what he was praying.  The two  things Jesus needed was to be refueled on the morning after the night before.  He had expended such emotional and spiritual energy and caring and healing that he must have felt depleted.  So he went to pray—to give himself over to God to be himself refueled and healed of the pain and sorrow and suffering he had encountered.  

And I think Jesus went into the wilderness to discover or rediscover what God’s plan was for his  continued ministry.  Jesus could easily have stayed right in Capernaum and spent the rest of his life healing the broken-hearted, the sick, the demented, the depressed, the bipolar, the schizophrenic, the deaf, the blind.  

Jesus knew this.   It would more likely have led to a quicker death.  The Jewish authorities would have become more paranoid, more jealous, more threatened more quickly had Jesus remained in one  location.  The Romans would have become increasingly worried about this charismatic healer and their ire and power would have come crushing down on Jesus most likely within a year or less.

Jesus was no dummy.  He was not a simpleton, nor a hapless romantic nor a naive goody goody two-shoes.  He knew something of the consequences of coming forward as the purveyor of God’s kingdom and as one who  saw that  reality is a vastly different light that his  contemporary rabbis.  

So, at this juncture if Jesus’ ministry, when he was collecting his disciples and planning his strategy, he needed two things:  he needed to be refueled for the trip and he needed a map to envision where he was heading and what he was gong to do.  And he discovered the answers to those questions in prayer.

III.  Conclusion  

The two needs that Jesus sought to address in solitary prayer are exactly the two primary needs that  are universal to the human condition, regardless of race, sex, age, economic status, marital status.  We all need to discover how we can be refueled to meet the demands of each day.  And we all need to daily rediscover the game plan for our lives:  what we plan to do this day, tomorrow and next week, month, year.

There are many ways we can address these two questions.  We can ignore them—which most of us do from time to time, generally until we run out of energy or lose our way in life.  We can keep so busy that we never have time to consider these questions, losing ourselves in our smart phone, iPads, computers, games, work, recreation and what not.

But our gospeler Mark gives us something invaluable in today’s gospel.  He reveals a Jesus who needed to keep his spiritual life vital and needed to consult his map for his travel directions on a daily basis.

And so do we.  if we find ourselves feeling tired, irritable, depressed, lethargic, unhappy, sad, pessimistic, angry—well the list could go on and on—it might be that we have some physical disorder—but it might equally be that we have simply forgotten to gas up our tanks.  And we do this in prayer.  We talk to God about the things that bother us.  we talk to God about things we want out of life; we talk to God about what we want to accomplish in life; we talk to God about our health, our wealth; our children; our spouses; our grand-children—we talk to God about everything.  And we keep talking until we find ourselves refueled, re-energized.  This may take 5 minutes or 60 minutes.  Martin Luther is rumored to have asserted that if he did not spend the first 3 hours in prayer each morning, he would never be able to accomplish all that he needed to do.  If Jesus needed to be refueled, how much more do we.

And we talk to God about our journey:  where are we going in our lives?  what is most important at this juncture in our lives?  where do we want to invest our time and energy and resources?  Every day is a new  road untraveled.  We can try to trust the old maps of yesterday, yesteryear, but life has changed; we have changed and we need to constantly download new information.  That comes from talking with God.

Jesus concluded that he could not stay in Capernaum.  He concluded that it was not in his best interest to invest all of his life as a healer in one community.  That was not what God wanted for him.  He was called to spread the good news that God was coming into  the world to bring healing and freedom not just to a select few but to all and Jesus had to move from community to community to share that and to teach about the heart of God and to reveal and embody that reality.  

We are called to embody God’s love for this faith community—don’t forget Jesus started his healing at home—at Peter’s home. and we are called to embody God’s love wherever our journey takes us.  And we need to be refueled daily to accomplish that.


     Sermon:  Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B
Snakes in the Wilderness
John 3: 14-21  March 15, 2015

I.  Introduction

In the opening scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones, throws a large snake out of the small plane he using to escape the enraged natives, growling out:  "I hate snakes."  Many of us might likely echo that sentiment.  Snakes have a bad rep.  Perhaps it's just that they are slithery and sometimes poisonous.  Or perhaps it's the Genesis story of Adam and Eve being seduced by a snake.  Whatever the reason, most of us simply don't like snakes, even the non-poisonous  black snake or the quite innocuous green garden snake.  For most of us, the slogan:  "A good snake is a dead snake" would ring true.

I think we might all agree that the Israelites who were fleeing Egypt to find a land promised to them by God would certainly have echoed these sentiments.  You may remember their predicament.  They had left their homes and the Egyptian environment with which they were familiar and had followed the charismatic and miracle worker, Moses who promised them that God wanted them to have a new life where freedom and justice and mercy would be the normative experience rather than being Egyptian slaves with little freedom and almost no status.

Yet three days after they crossed the Red Sea, their food and water began to give out and they complained:  "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food."  They just didn't like how God was providing for them.  And in addition to poor provisions, they have come upon snakes that are lethal and those bitten have started dying.  The Israelites are not having a good day or a good week.  I suspect we have all been there.  Nothing seems to be working out.  A flat tire; an important meeting canceled; a loved one forgets your birthday; the item in the store we wanted to buy has been sold; a loved one dies; a job we had been hoping to secure is not offered; no thank you notes for the lovely gifts given; the weather is too hot or too cold;  just when you were hoping to get ahead financially the refrigerator/heat pump/air-conditioner dies--or even worse, the auto dies;  and up goes the credit card bill/bank loan.

What do we do?  We do what the Israelites did:  we look for someone to blame:  usually our spouses are a handy target; our doctors are good targets if we get sick--they should have known about this or that disease/ or our employers--what do you mean we are not getting a raise; or the local government--how dare they raise our taxes up; or the federal government:  how dare they try to cooperate with Iran; or if worse comes to worse, we blame the president:  "who does he think he is?" and finally, if all else fails to make us feel better, we blame God:  surely a good, loving God would not allow me or my loved ones to suffer! 
Well, the Israelites jumped right to the top and blamed Moses and God.  Who did they think they were to bring us into the wilderness only to be killed by poisonous snakes--not to mention lousy food and little of that and no fresh water.

Well, it's no question that the pilgriminaging  Israelites were having a bad-hair day. (You know, when you read that Old Testament lesson, it does not say that God sent the snakes to punish the Israelites.  In the setting of that time, anything that happened in nature was considered to be caused by God.)  It is the Israelites who conclude they are being punished--but this idea of punishment does not come from Yahweh.  When they implore God for help, he does not simply destroy the snakes but provides them a way to counter the snake bites, when and if they are bitten. 

God tells Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and hold it aloft and when any of the Israelites are bitten, they are to look at the bronze statue and they would be healed.  This seems like a strange way for God to respond:  why not just zap the snakes and be done with it.  Perhaps the point has to do with God's desire for all of us to exercise our faith in him.  IF God just zapped the snakes that wouldn't require the Israelites to exercise their faith; but if they have to actually take some action in order to be healed--that is, they have to trust Moses and God enough to find Moses and get their eyes on the bronze snake, then they are exercising their faith.
Of course, you can just hear some of the fleeing Israelites saying:  "This just doesn't make any sense to me--I'm not going to be that foolish."  And their unwillingness to exercise their faith would have caused they their lives.

II.  Jesus as the Bronze Snake

Just when we might think that we are exempt from any such ridiculous activity, Jesus proclaims to Nicodemus"Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

It is quite shocking that God devised his healing/saving image to be that of a snake and even more that Jesus likens himself to that image in our Gospel.  The snake has a biblical annotation of being evil, of being the image of Satan, of being sneaky, dangerous, and lethal.  This play on images may suggest that the very thing we think is harmful, evil, dangerous may in fact lead to our salvation.

After his encounter with Jesus Nicodemus walks back into the darkness from whence he came.  Jesus was simply too dangerous, too lethal for him to embrace.  As John concluded: " The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil."  We think of Jesus as being this nice guy who went around doing good deeds, loving his fellow human being, healing the sick and the blind, feeding the hungry, raising the dead and essentially avoiding controversy and conflict and not causing any problems.  And that certainly describes some of the person of Jesus.

But when Jesus said that he had to be raised up like Moses'  Bronze serpent in order for people to believe in him, he was talking about his crucifixion and his resurrection/ascension.  He was saying to Nicodemus that he was the new Snake in the Garden, who instead of offering life that led to death, he offered new life that led into eternal life.  And that life had to do with dying and being born again; about dying to a life of self-focus, self-control, self-first, self- interest, and being born into a life where faith in God and commitment to caring for others were the operating values. 

This was too much for Nicodemus.  And it may be too much for all of us.  When Jesus affirms that God's love for all the world is poured out on the cross, we shout:  Hooray and Hallelujah.  But then we began to realize that all of this is God's invitation to a life of caring about others--even the homeless--even those who are different than we are--we persons who have different values, different life styles--and we all say:  "Just hold on!  I didn't sign on for this kind of life."

III.  Conclusion:

And that's exactly correct.  We didn't.  None of , the one who pours out his heart and blood for us.  And God keeps saying:  just keep the eyes of your faith on him.  On Jesus who is lifted up on the cross; in heaven and that faith will lead you through the messiness of life; through the heartaches and losses and it will be real life--not pretend; not simply living on the surface of life, but it will be a life of authentic encounter with God and with others; it will be painful; it will be joyful; it will cost you your life and it will give you new life.us did.  We didn't sign on to be Jesus' disciples.  We signed on to be those who receive God's love and God's blessing.  We want to know that God will take care of us.  We want him to zap all the snakes in our lives--all those uncomfortable, painful, horrible things than can inflict us with so much pain and unhappiness.  We are very much like those Israelites who really don't want to content to the sufferings in life.  Come on God; have done with this bronze snake and just zap all the things that trouble us.
But no, God keeps pointing us to the Bronze Snake; the new snake

 Lenten Chats with Your Priest
March 15, 2015    John 3:14-21



Our Old Testament lesson reintroduces us to the idea of the Covenants that God has made with his people—his covenant with Noah; his covenant with Abraham.  These covenants are God’s commitments to his people to bless them and to care for them.

Covenantal thinking attaches itself to our season of Lent.  Many of us covenant  with God to be different during Lent as a way of following Jesus into the desert during his 40-day fast; and as a way of preparing for the Easter Season; and as a way of signaling to God that we want to be "better" Christians.

What we tend to forget, however, is that Lent and our covenants with God have much more to do with God that with us.  It is God who covenants with us.  It is God in Jesus who establishes a new and better covenant with us. 

It is God who promises to write his laws on our hearts.  It is God who promises to come close to us in Christ so that we will truly “know” God.  It is God who continues to transform us.  It is God who takes us by the hand and leads us through this life to the next life.  It is God who gives us His Spirit at baptism, who prepares us for our new home with God.

That is why Lent leads us to Easter.  Lent reminds us that in ourselves, we are but "dust."  The resurrection of Jesus declares that God loves us beyond measure and that God takes our "dust" and adds bones and muscle and skin and spiritual vitality to our lives.  “For God so loved the world.   
                                      Charles      


                             
Lenten Chats with Your Priest:
March 1, 2015             Mark 8:31-38





Jesus.   Wilderness.   Temptation.
I kept hoping that, as I got older, temptations to live in a way that is contrary to the character and will of God will slowly evaporate. Such has not been the case for me.

There is a stream of thought that has permeated different religious groups that asserts the view that one can arrive at a state of "higher life" or "enlightened consciousness" where one is no longer tempted.  Sadly this has not been the case for me.

As one who has looked at the human predicament/condition from biblical, theological and psychological perspectives, I am inclined to think that the propensity to be self-focused and to be less than totally trusting in God is universal and permanent in this world. Alas, what are we to do?

Thank God for Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.  Without these wonderful opportunities for self-reflection, confession, and repentance, we might be tempted to assume that all is well with our souls. And, more positively, these times provide us with precious opportunities to refuel, and discover  new direction and empowerment for our thoughts and activities.

If Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, tempted again and again during his ministry, then clearly we face the same potential to lose our trust in God and our direction in life.


            Charles

       Sermon:  Third Sunday in Lent, Year B
The War against Jesus
John 2;21-38   March 8, 2015

I.  Introduction

This month's issue of National Geographic has as its feature article a summary of contemporary attitudes toward scientific inquiry.  The title of the article is "The War against Science."  This article is quite short and very readable and I highly recommend it to you.  The article highlights contemporary opposition to the fluoridation of our drinking water, securing vaccination shots against measles,  and widespread denial of global warming.  It suggests that many of us hold onto views that may actually harm us, not because we don't know the results of scientific inquiry but because of our deeply held beliefs.  Such was the case when Galileo suggested the preposterous idea that the earth was round and rotated around the sun rather than being flat and square and having the sun rotate around it.  Everyone in here would scoff at the idea of a flat world--why, because we can now see pictures from space that clearly prove this beyond any doubt.  But Galileo was forced to recant his views on the pain of death. 

The reality is that changing our ideas about the world is a challenging experience.  We hold on to our views of the way things were because that helps us make sense of who we are, where we are going in life and how we plan to get there.  Obviously if the world is flat, one has to be careful not to fall off of it.  And if in fact the world is moving around the sun, not to mention on its own axis, then why don't we get dizzy or somehow experience that reality.

II.  The War on Jesus

Our Lenten season calls us to look more deeply into our faith experiences, to see if there are are ways that God is speaking to us that we have ignored or avoided.  These weeks in Lent are precious gifts from God to slow down, look more deeper into our own souls and find new ways that God is showing us is love and his new life.

This morning we could easily title our gospel not the "War on Science," but  "The War on Jesus."  And it would seem from our Gospel that Jesus is the one who starts this war.  Keep in mind the very significant fact that our author John has decided to play fancy free with his arrangement of the incidents in the life of Jesus.  The synoptic gospel writers place this incident as the end of Jesus' ministry, and identify this as the incident that led directly to his illegal arrest.  John, however, is placing it at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, days after Jesus turned the water into wine at the marriage in Cana.

Be that as it may, we might argue that Jesus was having a bad hair day; or that he got up on the wrong side of the straw mattress; that he hadn't had enough sleep.  We might even hypothesize that he had had too much to drink at the wedding in Cana, that preceded this incident.  You remember--this was the wedding where the hosts ran out of wine--a horrible social faux pas in that day and age; and Jesus rescued the family from shame when he turned the six barrels of water into six barrels of delicious red wine--perhaps a Merlot or a Cabernet sauvigno or perhaps a rich cream sherry.
But the reality is much deeper than this.  This incident where Jesus made a whip of cords and drove the animals and money changers out of the temple took place during the 8 day celebration of Passover--the most significant feast of the Jewish year,  when all Jews in a radius of 15 miles were obligated to come to the Temple in Jerusalem to worship, pay a temple tax and offer an animal for sacrifice.  The temple was huge, and there were different areas that became increasingly restricted.  The first area that the worshipping pilgrim entered was the Court of the Gentiles (Court of the women, Court of the Israelites (male if you please) and the Court of the priests)--perhaps as large as several football fields.  And itwas in the Gentile court where Jesus chose to do battle.  

This was where all the animals to be  sacrificed were brought to be sold to the pilgrims; this was where the profane money of Greek and Roman origin was exchanged for the Jewish sanctuary shekel that did not bear the imprint of Caesar on them. There was nothing out of the ordinary happening her when

Jesus entered.  It had become a market place because the temple worship demanded a ready supply of oxen, sheep and doves to be used a ritual sacrifices.  There had to be money changers because Greek and Roman money was considered profane and could not be used to pay the required temple tax. 

Certainly Jesus may have been angered because the money changers were fleecing the Jewish pilgrims who were simply doing what the law required.  The temple tax amounted to about two days wage; the money changers were essentially charging a day's wage to make the transaction.  This may not sound like much since a day's wage was so little.  However, keep in mind that Jews came for the Passover service from all over the world.  There would have been between 500,000 to almost 2 million people attending this ceremony.  That would have made the money-changers and the Temple wealthy beyond imagination.  Certainly this would have outraged Jesus and for three reasons. 

Many of these pilgrimaging Jews came from distant lands at great personal expense.  There was essentially no middle class in  1st century Palestine--so most of those coming to worship were poor.  That the temple was allowing and encouraging this legalized robbery would have been absolutely infuriating to Jesus.  The very institution that should have been a place of prayer and solace and a place to experience forgiveness of sins and a connection to God was being used as an illegal market place and corrupt bank.

Secondly, there were Gentiles who came to pray to God in the temple.  They were not allowed to enter the more private courts of women or of the Israelite men or of the priests.  So they were left to find some space within the thousands of pilgrims buying and selling animals, changing money, arguing, yelling, pushing and shoving to get into the temple proper.  How could they find any peace and quiet to speak with God.  Jesus proclaimed:  You have turned my fathers' house into a marketplace--that was designed to be a house of prayer.
  
And finally and most importantly, Jesus came into the temple to destroy it's validity and its meaning.  Jesus came into the temple to destroy it symbolically.  Most likely he only drove out some of the animals and overturned some of the tables.  Had he done more than that, the temple police would have charged him with insurrection, arrested him, imprisoned him and executed him. 

Jesus came to proclaim he was the true temple of God; that in him the old sacrificial system with its market place mentality and its corrupt moneychangers and even more corrupt priestly order was finished; that in and through him there was a new way to access God; that in Jesus one could find a personal relationship to God; that in him, sins were forgiven; new life was offered; peace with God reestablished and eternal life given freely.

The wedding in Cana some weeks earlier and this clearing out of the temple lift up and inaugurate this new work of God in Jesus.  Turning the water into wine highlights the unlimited grace and love of God that springs forth from Jesus.  Clearing out the temple highlights how much Jesus wants us to realize that he is the one who leverages our relationship with God. 

III.  Conclusion

The question for us this morning is what would happen if Jesus came into our worship service.  Would he find it a house of prayer?  Would he find parishioners experiencing the presence of God?   Would he find people following along in the prayer book while daydreaming about some task or plans or a meal or what not.