Archive for March 2017

Lent IV John 91-41                                                      3/26/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

The Gospel passage I’ve just read from John is a really important passage. In the second sentence of this passage, we get one of the great questions of life being asked – and then answered.
 
Jesus and his disciples are walking along, and they come upon a blind man – blind from birth. Now, we need to remember that the Hebrews considered anyone handicapped to be “unclean” – untouchable. Jewish thought was that there was something wrong with them because THEY had done some horrible thing – sinned – or THEIR PARENTS had done some horrible thing – sinned. One could not associate with them, touch them, employ them, or speak to them. AND, if a good Jew had contact with someone like a blind man – HE, too, would be considered unclean, and have to present himself in the temple to be purified. By the way, this didn’t apply to women. This was “a guy thing.” But this was the Jewish mindset of the day.
 
Now, Jesus and his disciples come upon this blind man. And his disciples ask: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” That was a very logical question. It HAD TO BE one or the other. And Jesus answered them that NO ONE had sinned. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” And Jesus made mud, put it on his eyes, and healed the blind man – gave him sight – ON THE SABBATH. And the Pharisees got very upset.
First – Jesus did this on the Sabbath.
Second – Jesus performed a healing.
Third – He had contact with an “unclean” person.
Forth – He taught against the Temple’s teaching about sin.
 
And this becomes a major element in the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees, which led to his trial and crucifixion.
 
Now, what is Jesus saying with his answer? It really deals with the Jewish idea of “predestination.” The Jewish idea was that each year God decides what is going to happen to each person in the coming year. Practicing Jews pray to God to go easy on them, but once God has decided, it must be “lived out.” And what Jesus is saying here is that God ordained that this man would be born blind so he would be there for Jesus to heal. AND, God ordained that Jesus would heal him. It had all been arranged by God and had nothing to do with “sin.”
 
Well, this is one area where most modern Christians, and certainly Anglicans, deviate from traditional Jewish teaching. We are just not very much into “predestination”, where God has it worked out for us. But I’m going to talk about that Thursday after next in our last Lenten Program. But I have to say that we Anglicans see ourselves as much more responsible for our own state, with God working hand-in-hand with us to resolve problems as they arise in our lives. So, we’re not quite “in sync” with the Jewish teaching, to which the writer of the Gospel of John is referring.
 
But the basic question, and the basic answer are just as real for us today as they were to the disciples of Jesus’ time. We still say something like: “What did I do to deserve this?” We have one of those days where everything is a mess, and we might think, “Boy! God must be angry with me today.” We get sick, and we ask, “Why me, God?” “What did I do to deserve this?”
 
Sometimes when things don’t go just right, in the back of our heads we’ll sort of take inventory, trying to figure out what we did wrong. It’s the old idea of “The Wages of Sin”, about which many a sermon has been preached. Well, that’s good pre-Jesus Jewish theology, but it’s not compatible with Jesus’ teaching. Here in the Gospel of John we’re told that it doesn’t work that way.
Now, Anglican theology has taken Jesus teaching, and carried it a little further. And this is what OUR church says: There is a brokenness in all of creation, a warp. God chose to make all of creation less than perfect. If perfection was required, or the standard, then anything “not perfect” would have to be destroyed.
 
And this IS ancient Jewish thought. In the Genesis Creation Story, each day, after God has finished that portion of creation, God looks upon it and finds it “very good” – not perfect – just “very good.” And we are part of that creation – not perfect – just very good.
 
But since we are not perfect, sometimes we go wrong – sometimes EVERYTHING goes wrong. It’s made that way. That’s Jewish. That’s Christian. That’s Anglican.
 
Now, here’s where Anglican theology gets a little different. Anglican theology says that when things go wrong, God steps into the situation with us and strives to work it out. God doesn’t create the situation. God allows the situation to happen, and then God uses it to help us grow, and mature, and learn, and become more fully aware of God. God makes something positive out of bad situations.
 
At the fireside chat a few weeks ago, someone asked me what my favorite preaching topic is. I think I answered: “Anything that lets me talk about walking hand in hand with God.” And this is a good example, because I can’t imagine living my life without that understanding of my relationship with God. I’ve never had a sense of God “whacking me” when I did something wrong. I’ve never had a sense of God doing horrible things to me to punish me. I’ve always had a sense of God helping me deal with the mess, so that I can learn from it, grow from it, and move on with my life, perhaps in a new direction.
 
The God that I feel I know doesn’t do bad things to us. It makes no sense to me that a loving, creating, life giving God would do hurtful things to us. The God that I know helps me straighten it out when things become a mess. And I KNOW that God walks hand in hand with me, and with you. I know it inside. I can feel it. And God is NOT doing bad things to me, and not doing bad things to you. That’s our Anglican theology at its best.
 
Amen.

Posted March 28, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Lent II John 3:1-17            3/12/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

                                                                                                                                               
This morning is “Pay Back Day” for Julia. For several weeks she has been giving me “sideways looks” as she’s seen our Gospel Readings. When we agreed that I would preach today, she giggled: “You get Nicodemus.” And indeed, our Gospel Reading is the story of Nicodemus. And it is a tricky reading.
 
The story of Nicodemus only appears in the Gospel of John, which was probably written in what is now Turkey, perhaps Ephesus, about 120 years after Jesus’ death. That means that it was probably written as a teaching tool, rather than an historical encounter. That’s why it is so full of themes. It’s a story to teach a whole bunch of stuff.
 
The name Nicodemus is Greek, and was a fairly common name among Greeks, and eventually became popular amongst the Jews, as well. This is the only time the name Nicodemus appears in our scripture; however, if you are poking around, you might run into the Gospel of Nicodemus. It’s a minor, non-canonical Gospel, and has nothing to do with this Nicodemus.
 
Well, let’s get back to our story. The writer presents Nicodemus as a Pharisee, and a “leader of the Jews.” So he is presented as a pretty important guy. And he comes to Jesus at night, not wanting to be too open about this visit. The other Pharisees probably wouldn’t have liked this, one bit. And Nicodemus begins by saying: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.” The “we know” indicates that the Pharisees have been discussing Jesus, perhaps pretty extensively. And the writer has them recognizing Jesus’ knowledge and deciding that he acts with the authority of God. And the writer has Jesus responding with a number of themes and teachings.
 
Now, the theology of this story is very Greek. It’s got the separation of body and spirit, which is totally Greek. Hebrews didn’t understand this. It was Greek thinking. We get the idea of “rebirth”, another Greek theme. We get the idea of “the Spirit” being the “holy wind”, the “breath of God”, that blows where it will. We get the idea of “earthly things” and “heavenly things”, again, very Greek, with their ideas of creation being opposites and dualities. Remember, the Greeks had the idea of “parallel worlds”: earth down here for mortals, and an “upper world” for the Gods. As time goes on, this gets reinterpreted as Heaven and Hell, but it’s not quite there at the time of this writing. But this thinking creeps in here with the idea of “ascending into heaven”, which even comes down to us in our creeds.
 
All of these themes are Greek. But it’s no surprise that early Christianity is so influenced  by Greek theology and thinking. After Jesus was crucified, Christians got out of the Holy Land. It wasn’t a very nice place to be, in the first place, under Roman occupation. And then the Romans started hunting down Christians and doing horrible things, like feeding them to lions. So they fled.
 
It was easy to get to places like Ephesus, and from there they could cross the Aegean Sea to Greece, and places like Corinth. So by the time John is written, there were far more Christians in Greece and what is now Turkey, than in occupied Israel. And the impact of Greek thinking on the early Christian Church cannot be understated.
 
Well, of all the themes in today’s reading, there’s one special one at which I want to look. It’s the closing sentence of today’s reading: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
 
I’ve always found that to be a very powerful passage. And for me, it’s sort of the answer to the whole thing. For me it says, first, that Jesus lives in our hearts, and souls, and actions. You and I are the walking bodies of Christ on this earth today. We carry the Spirit of Christ in our souls. And our job is to put to work the power of Christ in this world, to heal and make whole, sometimes just in little ways, but they can add up to be powerful experiences.
 
Our job is not to use Jesus to beat people up, and make people feel guilty, and condemn, and judge, and make life hard for people. Our job is to support our neighbors, encourage them, make them feel whole, and healthy, and loved, and worthwhile. And we do this by living out our own lives in a way that shows the love of God. The recognition of Jesus in our lives should be a freeing, wonderful sensation, that tells us that we are loved, we are o.k. with God, and we are ok with each other. The recognition of Jesus in our lives empowers us to celebrate life with each other, and recognize that no matter what happens, Christ is on our side, leading us, guiding us, empowering us.
 
If anyone ever tells you that Jesus is going to punish you, or is angry with you, or doesn’t like you, or is going to harm you, get away from that person. That’s not what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about.
 
It IS about celebrating life, and living our lives in a way that upholds and empowers those around us, makes us feel good about ourselves, and each other. If I can’t feel good about myself, as I feel the love of Christ, I can’t feel very good about you. The two go hand in hand.
 
In a few minutes, we’ll walk out these doors into a world that is not always friendly, not always supportive, not always caring. We have to bring that to this world. That’s our job, and it’s a holy job, given to us at our baptism. If WE don’t do it, it won’t get done.
 
So I urge you this morning to look for ways – just little ways – to tell someone else that they are ok, that they are loved by God, and loved by you, too. Help the people around you just lead good and faithful lives. Show them, from within yourself, that there is hope in this world, there is kindness, there is the love of God.
 
“God did not send the Son into the world
   to condemn the world,
      but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Amen.
 
 

Posted March 14, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper 2017

A most enjoyable event!

Posted March 8, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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