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Matthew 18:15-20    9/10/17       Leave a comment

I don’t think any of us could help having seen one of the articles, or documentaries on Elephants living in community. During the last few years, I’ve learned more about elephants than I ever would wanted to know. And I’m not alone. We all know about Ringling Brothers retiring their elephants because the life style of the circus was considered cruel to some very intelligent and wonderful animals. And then our own zoo gave up its elephants because they needed to be in communities larger than two animals, and we didn’t have the space to accommodate three or more elephants. I loved those elephants. I loved to watch them, and look into their eyes, and marvel at their trunks, and mouths, and ears, and patchy hair. I can remember as a very young child going to the circus and putting peanuts in the trunks of the elephants. That was a greater treat for me than for them, and it’s the only thing I remember from those childhood circuses.

And there’ve been a bunch of Utube videos recently showing elephants “in community.” A recent one showed a whole community of elephants going to the rescue of a young elephant that got stuck in mud. Its mother couldn’t get it out of the mud, and there was a Tiger nearby, hungrily watching. Several of the large male elephants faced off with the tiger to keep it at bay while the rest of the community rushed to the mud hole and helped the mother get her young to safety. It’s a wonderful little video that you can probably find and watch.

Well, I’ve learned a lot about living in community from watching those elephant videos. And their sense of community is all powerful to them. The herd has a “rule of life”, with a pecking order, and standards of behavior, and concern for each other. They show grief when one of their community dies. They help and assist their elderly. They keep their young almost between their legs when moving about.

Now, what’s with all of this “elephant stuff”? Well, our readings this morning reflect on how we humans should go about “living in community.” The readings are very Jewish. Ezekiel – one of the great Old Testament prophets talks about how to deal with wickedness. Sadly, Ezekiel sees the Kingdom of Israel as having slipped into wicked and evil ways. He sees death as the solution for evilness that will not repent. His reading this morning ends: “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live: turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” That’s pretty strong.

Then we get Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Paul sees the 2nd coming of Christ, and the end of all time, and judgment day as just around the corner – any day. And he’s pleading with his young church in Rome to get their act together, follow the commandments, love their neighbors, put on the armor of light,  and live honorably. Paul is convinced that life as we know it is going to end very soon, and what we’ve done in this life, will determine what happens to us when judgment comes.

Again, this is very Jewish in thought. Paul was a Roman citizen, but also a Jew. He knew Jewish scripture. He thought like a Jew. He spoke like a Jew. And he feared for the community of his small church in Rome.

Then we get Matthew, the earliest of our Gospels and almost certainly written in Jerusalem as a “source text” for the Jewish Christians and as a “conversion tool” for new Christians. It is Jewish in thought and style. And it instructs how members of the Church are to handle being “wronged.” It takes it step by step – what one is to do when one feels “wronged.”

First, the victim is to confront the perpetrator privately. If that doesn’t work, take a couple of witnesses and try again. If that doesn’t work, take it to the whole congregation of the church. PLEASE DON’T DO THAT. It might work fine in a Jewish synagogue, but not here. Well, if the perpetrator doesn’t listen to the church, he/she is to be considered unclean and be cast out of the community.

That’s just not the way we do things in our culture, in our time, in our church. I’m all for sitting down with someone with whom I disagree, and trying to work it out, but I don’t like involving other people in my disputes – we call it “triangleing” today. I also don’t like the idea of “casting someone aside” because I have a disagreement with him or her. Friends aren’t that easy to make in our culture, and our time. I’d rather keep the friendship and perhaps swallow my pride, or position, than loose a friend or make an enemy.

I DO really like Matthew’s closing statement in today’s reading: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

I do think the Spirit of Christ is found in the midst of people as they try to live in community. I know that Christ is found in the sacrament, and at special times and places, but I think even more so Christ – the Love of God – is found in people relating to each other out of love, and concern, and caring. And I really believe that.

When we leave this building this morning, and perhaps even before we get out of here, we are going to run into people who need some caring, need some compassion, need some support, need some “good old lovin’.” And quite often it’s our friends and family. But it’s in those moments where we find the Living Christ, the “Shepherd of Souls.”

Try not to pass up an opportunity to meet the Spirit of Love, the Spirit of Hope. That’s what we’re about in this place. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.     Amen.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Amen.

 

Posted September 13, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Transfiguration                                              8/6/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is celebrated in our Church Calendar, and the Roman calendar, on August 6th. Normally, it falls on a weekday, but this year, it’s Sunday. And that did not get by the head of our Altar Guild, Jim Fisher, who several weeks ago came to me with a chuckle, because I would not be able to escape the Feast of the Transfiguration this year. Oh, Jim knows me too well. We’ve been in this place together long enough that he knows that I stumble all over myself when it comes to the Transfiguration.

It’s the story that I just read to you from the Gospel of Luke. Peter, and John, and James accompany Jesus up “the mountain” – some feel it is Mt. Tabor, some feel it is Mt. Horeb –
to pray. While they are praying, Moses and Elijah join Jesus. Heaven knows how they knew it was Moses and Elijah, but whatever. Jesus’ appearance changes, and his clothes become dazzling white and he talks to Moses and Elijah. Then a cloud envelops them, and a voice – presumably God – says: “This is my Son, my Chosen: Listen to him!” And Moses and Elijah disappear, and everything is back to normal.

Now, I cannot begin to explain that! But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And that gives it awesome credibility.

The thing that seems to me to be most important is that after this event, Jesus ends his ministry in Galilee, turns south, and heads to Jerusalem where he is tried and crucified. He has had this nice little “wandering ministry” up in Galilee, away from the Romans, and the temple, and all of the upheaval in Jerusalem. He’s been safe. He’s been happy. But after this event, he leaves all of that and heads to his death. Something happened in that event that changed him. It changed his purpose. It changed his ministry. It changed his understanding of his life. It changed his future.

They call the event the “Transfiguration” because we’re told he looked different. But the real importance of it was that it changed (or transformed) everything about his life, including his understanding of his ministry.

Last week Bob Everett and I took the train up to DC to visit a couple of the Smithsonian museums. At the Museum of Natural History we watched the Imax movie “Amazon Adventure 3D.” Their 3D happened to be broken, but we both still enjoyed a great movie.

It is the true story of Henry Bates who was an explorer and naturalist. He lived during the time of Darwin and the early fascination with evolution. Henry Bates was so intrigued with it, that he journeyed to the Amazon jungle and spent 11 years studying and doing research on issues surrounding evolution.

One of the things that fascinated Bates was why an animal or insect would evolve to look or behave like something that it’s not. We were watching on a 6 story screen, and the camera zoomed in to show the head of a poisonous snake dangling from a tree branch. But as the camera panned to the left, it became amazingly clear that the dangling snake head was the tail of a caterpillar. It had evolved to look like a snake for its protection and survival. Bates became fascinated by two seemingly identical butterflies with the exact same markings. But Bates noticed that one stood on 2 legs and one stood on 4 legs. As he
studied them, he discovered that they were each different species. The one that stood on 2 legs tasted terrible. Birds and lizards and frogs knew not to eat that one. But the one of 4 legs was tasty, and it had evolved to look like that nasty one so it wouldn’t be eaten. And the same thing has happened throughout nature. And I think it happens to us, too.

When Todd and I visited Sewanee this past Spring, we attended the Senior Class Banquet. We sat with a delightful woman and her husband. Her name was Molly Payne Hardin. She was a middle aged woman who would be graduating and ordained Deacon within days. I’ve followed her on Facebook. Yesterday she was ordained to the priesthood, and I sent her congratulations. She’ll be a great priest.

But what happened to “transfigure” Molly Payne Hardin from wife, mother, daughter – to priest? There had to be an “evolution.” As Jesus left his ministry in Galilee and turned south to face his destiny, Molly left her family, and probably job, to return to school and become a priest. And she didn’t have generations to do this like the butterfly.

I’ve tried to think back into my own life to understand my “transfiguration” from a young happy school teacher to a young happy priest. What happened? I think it was too long ago, and I think we can’t see it clearly in ourselves.

And like the caterpillar that transfigured itself over a period of generations to look like a snake, for survival, we, too, transfigure or evolve for safety and survival. We do what we have to do to survive.  Countless times people have asked me if I am an introvert or an extrovert. And they often are surprised when I tell them that I am very much an introvert. For survival, and to “function”, I’ve learned to be assertive and function as an extrovert, out of necessity.

So, whatever happened to Jesus on that mountain, happens to us, too. I can’t explain it, but it demonstrates God acting in our lives, and that’s important. Jesus turned and moved to face his destiny. We turn, from time to time, and face our destiny, as well.

The Gospel writer presents Jesus’ transfiguration as a holy, mystical event. And I think ours is, too. When God moves in our lives, or the lives of people we know, don’t throw stones at it. It just might be God speaking on our Mount Tabor.

Amen

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

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 7/16/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23                                           7/16/17 Epiphany, Norfolk
                                                                                                                                               
A few of you may know what I’m talking about when I mention “Funeral Home Fans.” “Back in the Day”, before air conditioning, it was tradition in all churches that the local funeral homes provided cardboard hand held fans with kind of popsicle wood handles. They were in the pew book racks, or left in each seat for people to fan themselves in the heat of the summer. The back of the fan was always an advertisement for the funeral home that donated them. The front was always a romanticized picture of a Bible story, with sort of a Nordic depiction of Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes, or one of the popular Bible stories. For some reason, a picture of the sower spreading his seeds from sort of a flower sack slung over his shoulder was a popular funeral home fan picture. It always reminded me of Johnny Appleseed, but it was popular. I can remember studying that picture over and over as a kid – as the deadly sermon droned on and on in sweltering heat.
 
Since most churches had windows that only opened a few inches, they could get miserably hot in the summer. I can remember sticking to the varnish of pews, softened up by the heat. But church did go on, thanks to huge noisy electric fans in the back of the church, two of which we still have upstairs – and “Funeral Home Fans.” We somehow did it, and without a lot of fussing. And in that broiling heat, ladies still wore hats and gloves, and men wore coats and ties, although it was ok to take off the jacket, once we were in our pew. It was just how things were, and it was ok.
 
Our Gospel Reading for this morning is the “Parable of the Sower”, depicted on thousands and thousands of Funeral Home Fans. It’s a good parable because it has a lot of layers of meaning. I don’t care for some of Matthew’s interpretation of the parable. It’s very Jewish with “the evil one snatching away what is sown in the heart”, and all of that sort of imagery. But Matthew was written in Jerusalem for the Jews in Jerusalem, so it all makes sense. It doesn’t always fit our theology, but it is good Jewish theology, and it does give an explanation for why things sometimes go wrong, and how we handle problems.
 
That makes for a good parable. And we need to remember how hard it was to grow any kind of crop in the soil of the Holy Land. There were no “fields of golden grain.” Every seed that was planted was full of hope, and if it grew, it was a victory.
 
When I was doing a lot of interim work, going from parish to parish, I always looked forward to this passage because I could talk about “thorny parishes”, and “rocky parishes”, and “fertile parishes.” And I worked with them all. Epiphany probably got one of those sermons when I was the interim priest here back in the mid 80’s.
 
In digging through my sermon file last night, I did find one from 1993 that I preached here, talking about “thorny people”, and “rocky people”, and “fertile people”, and how to deal with each of them. Heaven only knows what was going on to prompt that. It was not a very nice sermon.
 
I’m really fortunate in that I’ve had an unusually long career, and I’ve worked with a huge number of congregations. And as I think about that, I’m very aware of some of my efforts falling on rocky ground, some amongst thistles, and some on good soil. I’ve had a lot of what I consider to be successes in my career. But I’ve also had a whole bunch of efforts that didn’t go so well. Sometimes opportunities were “plucked from me.” Sometimes they were just not well planned, or thoroughly thought through. But sometimes they really did work out.
 
I started young enough to have the energy and the vision to be a little creative. And I also had the tenacity to drive people crazy until something happened. While trying to get Tucker House built, I can remember a HUD supervisor saying, “You just won’t go away, will you.” “No”, I answered. “Not until I get what I need.” I got it. Of course, I’ve mellowed, I think. But I still push for what I think is important.
 
Well, I think life is just kind of like that. We see it in our relationships. We see it in our families, our jobs, our involvements and our faith. Everything doesn’t always work out well. And what a bore life would be if it did. We need challenges, even with our faith. If it comes too easily, we don’t appreciate it. We do best when we have to push a little, when we have to come back and try it again, and sometimes again. We seem to be built that way.
 
Every effort we make is like one of those seeds. It has the potential of getting plucked away, or not taking root, or being choked out, or flourishing. And sometimes it’s not under our control. We just have to do the best we can, and then see what happens. That seems to be one of the great mysteries of life. If we just knew what was going to work and what was not going to work, life would be a whole lot simpler. But it doesn’t work that way.
 
The sower sows, and the seed falls, and some of it makes it, and some of it doesn’t. We do the best we can and take our chances, and then put our energies into tending that which takes root and grows. That’s living a faithful life.
 
Last night at dinner with some folks, I asked Bob Everett what he wanted to hear in today’s homily. His response was, “I always enjoy the ‘Amen’ at the end.” So – for Bob, Amen.
 
 
 
 

Posted July 18, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

John 14:15-21                                                5/21/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Since we are “Beating the Bounds” after our 11:00 service this morning, and it adds time to the service, my homily is shorter than usual, today.

First, what is “Beating the Bounds”? It’s an old Celtic celebration which was passed down to the Anglican Church in England, when on “Rogation Day”, which is today. the parish priest and people processed around the boundaries of the parish, chanting hymns, praying, censing, and beating the land with switches to chase away any evil spirits which might harm the crops that would then be planted. The switches were then burned in a big bonfire, and everyone joined in a feast. Many years ago we started “Beating our Bounds” here at Epiphany, followed by a picnic, and we’ve continued it. It’s fun. It links us to our Anglican and Celtic roots, and everyone thinks we’re crazy to do it.

Well, now I want to say something about our Gospel passage, because it’s one of my favorite passages. It comes from the Gospel of John, the gospel that was written later than the others, and probably written in what is now Turkey.

And I love this passage. First, John has Jesus talking to Philip. Now, some New Testament scholars feel that Philip was “slow.” He never fully understood what was going on, and his questions were very simple. If you read the text with this in mind, you see Jesus, in all of the Gospels, trying to help Philip “understand”. It’s like a parent talking to a young child.

Another thing we need to notice with this story is that it doesn’t appear in the other gospels. That means that the writer of John made up this story as a teaching tool. So, what is he trying to teach? John is doing two things with this story. He is trying to explain why Jesus gave this “new commandment”, and, he is trying to answer, “What is the Holy Spirit?”

Now, in our calendar, we haven’t gotten to Pentecost, yet, when the Holy Spirit comes. But Pentecost, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, would have been very familiar to the writer of John. And John’s big theme is that if you want to know Christ, and want to gain union with God, you have to do it through “love”. And it’s not good enough to talk about love. You have to “do love.” John’s idea is that by loving one another, we will love God. That’s pretty simple. But what does he mean by “love”? He means “caring”. I can’t love someone who does evil things and hurts other people. Don’t ask me to “love” that person. It isn’t going to happen. But I can “care” about that person, and perhaps hope that he/she gets the help he/she needs. And that’s what John is talking about: caring – passionately caring.

So, the opening sentence of our reading this morning could read, “If you care about me, you will keep my commandments.” I can honestly do that.

Now, there’s something else very special about this same sentence. John puts “loving (or caring)” before “keeping commandments.” And this is the very core of Anglican Theology. We can not earn God’s love – God’s caring. We already have it. And our response to that love is to do good works and keep God’s commandments.  And this is different from most other denominations and religions. They would say, “If you keep my commandments, God will love you. You can earn God’s love by living a good life.” As Anglicans our understanding is that we have God’s love. We can’t earn it. It’s ours. Now, our responsibility is to live our lives in response to that “divine love.” We don’t have the check list of do’s and don’ts so God will love us. We already have that love. Now we have to put it to work. We have to honestly care for each other, care this environment and creation, and care for ourselves.

That’s the theology of John.

That’s the theology of our church.

“If you love me,
you will keep my commandments.”

Amen.

Posted May 23, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Easter Day      4/16/17 Epiphany, Norfolk John 20:1-18

                                                         
                                                                                                                                   
The Easter Story that Julia has just read to you is not a very happy story. We may have just sung, “Welcome Happy Morning”, but in fact, it wasn’t a happy morning. Our story tells of a pretty tragic series of events. Jesus has just, a few days earlier, been killed in probably the most detailed and gruesome execution ever recorded. It was a horrible week for everyone involved in the story.
 
And now, Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb and found it opened. And she is convinced that Jesus’ body has been stolen. That would be a horrible experience for anyone. So she goes and gets Peter and another disciple, and they, too, find the tomb empty. And it makes no sense to any of them. The disciples return home, but Mary stays at the tomb. Then Mary sees two figures sitting where the body had been, and they spoke to her. That was strange beyond belief. Then she has some sort of an encounter with what she understands to be a pre-resurrection Jesus. That event raises more questions than answers for Mary, and for scholars, even today.
 
The other Gospels also describe a very confusing and tragic Easter Morning Event. It takes another 50 days of Resurrection appearances, and remembering and analyzing the teachings of Jesus before an understanding of the resurrection begins to emerge. And in fact, it’s still being analyzed and studied, 2,000 years later. And 2,000 years later it still doesn’t fully make sense, even to the greatest theologians.
 
I think that’s pretty normal. When events happen in our lives, even today, we don’t understand them right away. It takes time to “process” what is happening. And so often, it looks totally different with time, then it did “in the moment.”
 
Here, we have a tragic story beyond understanding, evolving into a story of hope, and joy, and promise. We celebrate this strange event with flowers, and triumphal music, and decorations, and Easter egg hunts, and all sorts of things. Today we celebrate a sense of God acting in creation to heal, and forgive, and turn pain into beauty and wonder.
 
Yesterday morning the weather was so beautiful that I could not stay in the house. I decided to give my very neglected yard a little attention – not the big heavy stuff with power tools and a lot of noise. It was so beautiful out there that I wanted it to be quiet and simple. Birds were singing all over the place. A wonderful breeze was blowing. My camellias are starting to fade, but the azaleas are in full bloom, along with all kinds of little bulbs, and flowers, and things that I don’t even know what they are or from where they came. The roses aren’t open yet, but they’re in bud and I know they’ll be beautiful in just a few more days. And the dogs and the cats were following me around, chasing the rake and playing with everything. Of course, there were also a lot of dead leaves, and twigs, and trash that needed cleaning up. But that was o.k. That’s what I was out there for – to start cleaning up. And I could feel the Vitamin D soaking into my pores.
 
Gray, cold winter was gone. Regenerated life, and warmth, and rebirth were all around me. It was one of those beautiful mornings that I think I’ll always remember. I had not a concern or worry in the world. And I realized that I was really experiencing a sense of joy: joy of the beautiful weather, joy of the new growth all around me, joy of my pets playing, joy of the breeze, and birds, and earthy smells of the garden. And I pondered that as I raked, and trimmed, and started putting things right. And I decided that joy, and happiness, and contentment are holy feelings that come from inside. They sort of “well up” from within. No one can talk us into joy, or give it to us in a package. Joy is a state of mind from deep down inside.
 
And this is what I think happened to those involved with the Christ event. Their utter despair evolved into hope and joy as they began to understand, sometime after Easter Morning, that what Jesus had been teaching had actually come true. It still couldn’t be explained. But something wonderful had happened out of the pain and horror of their Holy Week, and their lives were changed.
 
Well, my hope and prayer for all of us this Easter Morning is that we might find that sense of joy welling up in us as a holy feeling of being “at one” with the Risen Christ. My hope is that we not even try to understand. If we can just “feel” the Risen Christ, and come together with our friends, and family, and neighbors, our lives will be changed.
 
My prayer is that this will be a Blessed Easter Morning for all of us, as we experience the Risen Christ from deep within our souls.
 
Amen.

Posted April 18, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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

Epiphany VII Matthew 5:38-48 2/19/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

I was very proud of myself last week for gifting Julia with the readings for the 6th Sunday after Epiphany. I slid out from under them, nicely. Then I read our readings for today. THESE are the readings that Julia should have gotten.

And where did they even come from? Well, they’ve always been there, but we don’t usually have seven Sundays after Epiphany. It all depends on when Easter falls. Last year Easter was as early as it can be. This year it is as late as it can be. That means there are a bunch of readings that seldom get read, and today’s are some of those.

Our first Reading is from Leviticus, the Old Testament Book of Do’s and Don’ts. It’s sort of another version of the Ten Commandments, but there are a lot more than ten in this passage. It is presented as God speaking to Moses and telling him to say these things to the people. They become a moral code of living for the Hebrew People. And I can’t take issue with any of them. They tell us how to live a just and good life, and every one of them makes sense. And I probably do a pretty good job of living by them, and I think you do, too. They weave together a moral life style that helps take care of the poor, protects the innocent and disabled, avoids vengeance and grudges, and generally provides for a good, responsible, communal life. It’s a beautifully written passage.

There is one special note of interest in this text, and it’s part of the Hebrew literary style and theology. Interspersed throughout the reading is the phrase “I am the Lord.” This is much more special than it appears. For the ancient Hebrews, the name of God is any form of the “verb to be.” And that carries all through both the Old and New Testament. “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other Gods but me.” “In the beginning was the word.” And in today’s reading: “I am the Lord.” The Hebrews could not speak the name of God, so they used nicknames like Yahweh and Elohim. But they could also use any form of “the verb to be”, and people would know that it referred to God. When reading scripture, watch for any form of “the verb to be.”

Our Psalm is a song celebrating the statutes and decrees passed down from God. It doesn’t see the commandments as a burden, but as a way of preserving life. It’s beautiful, and lots and lots of music has been written around these words.

Our second Reading is from Paul’s 2nd Epistle to his church in Corinth. It’s a teaching Epistle, and a good reading – very typical of Paul.

Then we get Matthew. This takes everything else that has been written, and ratchets it up a few notches. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” “If anyone wants your coat, give your cloak as well.” “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” “Give to everyone who begs from you.” “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.”

Did Jesus really say these things? Well, this comes from Matthew, which was probably written in Jerusalem, and probably written very soon after Jesus’ death. He probably didn’t say these things all at one time, but chances are very good that this was part of his teaching. And in another passage when a group of his disciples tells him that his teachings are too hard, and they leave him, we can see why.

I don’t know about you, but these are expectations that I can’t meet. In fact, I don’t think I even want to try to meet them. I don’t want to give to everyone who begs from me, no matter what my resources. I’ll try to help somebody out, if I can, but not everybody who begs from me.

Love my enemies? I’m glad I don’t have many enemies because I can’t do that. I can turn from my wrath and vengeance, but I can’t love someone who is doing me harm. And if someone strikes me on the right cheek, I don’t think I’m going to offer the left. Do you think I’m crazy? I can work hard to be a good person, but I can’t follow these principles.

So what do we do about this? I think the key is in the first line of our reading: “You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you…..”

Jesus’ life time was a very violent and brutal period in Hebrew history. The land was under Roman occupation, and the Romans didn’t take any mess off the Jews. It was a rough and brutal occupation of the land. And even the Jews weren’t getting along with each other. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were fighting it out on the religious front. The temple was corrupt. The government was weak, almost non-existent. Starvation was everywhere. It wasn’t working. The great Hebrew kingdom of King David was in ruins. Nothing good was happening. One of the writers of the period describes approaching Jerusalem through a sea of crosses along the road with bodies hanging on them as a reminder from Rome that this was a place of violence, injustice, torture, pain, starvation, and hopelessness. And Jesus was trying to say, “There is a better way. We don’t have to live like this. We can do better.” And of course, he ended up hanging on one of those crosses. But he tried.

And I guess that’s the best any of us can do – is try. I can’t live the life Jesus describes. I know I can’t. But I can try, just a little bit. Maybe I can’t turn the left cheek, but I don’t have to lash back. Maybe I can’t give to every beggar, but I don’t have to be rude about it. Maybe I can’t love my enemies, but maybe I can avoid making enemies. This is a hard teaching. But it offered hope in a hopeless situation.

We’re living in a tough time right now. And we have to work to keep it from getting out of control. We have to work to find reason. We have to work to prevent violence. We have to work to listen and hear each other. And maybe that’s as hard as Jesus’ teachings were to his time in history. We just have to do what we can.

This teaching ends with Jesus saying, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I am a very imperfect person. Being perfect like the heavenly Father doesn’t even compute for me. I just have to try to do what I can do to make my little corner of this world a better place.

Amen

Posted February 22, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Epiphany II John 1:29-42                              1/15/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Our Gospel Reading for this morning is a portion of the 1st Chapter of the Gospel of John, also referred to as The 4th Gospel. The Gospel of John is very different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

When I was in seminary, they stressed pretty heavily that no one was sure who wrote the Gospel of John, or when, or where, or why. In those days, every scholar seemed to have his/her theories. But when John Roberts and I were in Turkey, they seemed to know a lot about John, and talked about him all the time. I think our seminaries need to get a good Turk to come over and teach John, because there’s a lot more information out there than I was ever told in seminary.

Well, here’s where things seem to stand. The “base line assumption” is that the Gospel of John was written about 120 a.d. That’s about 90 years after the death of Jesus. Now, you might hear that John the Baptist wrote the Gospel of John. We know that John the Baptist was beheaded while Jesus was still alive, so we know for sure that the Gospel of John was not written by John the Baptist.

When I was in school, the suspicion was that it was probably written in what is now Turkey. The Turks today confirm this. They know all about him, where he traveled, who his family was, and where he wrote. Most of us don’t realize that places like Ephesus and Constantinople (now Istanbul) were big cities with very large Christian communities – much larger than in Israel. So, this Gospel was probably written as a teaching tool to those Christian communities up there in Greece, Constantinople, and what is not western Turkey. And this is why the language and imagery of the Gospel of John are so different. The vocabulary, the sentence structure, and the language are very sophisticated and very stylized. You get a constant reference to “opposites in tension” – like “light and dark.” That is basically Greek thinking. But Greece was part of that cultural melting pot.

So, what we have with John is a writer up around today’s Turkey, trying to tell the story of Jesus and the events around his life, as he imagines they would have happened way down south in Israel, about 100 years earlier. But he’s not trying to write history. He is trying to explain “why”, not “what”, and we’re not very used to that. We today are ferocious about historical accuracy. We want correct facts and history, or we get very fussy. The writer of Luke and Acts was writing history, trying to get the historical facts right. But the writer of John was “reading back into history” from a distance of years, miles, and cultures, and making this “Christ Event” fit into a “divine scheme.”

The writer of John was trying to show God moving in this creation, and not just for the moment, but from the beginning of time. He opens his Gospel with “In the beginning was the word…” paralleling Genesis, “In the beginning God created…” The writer of John is going all the way back to the beginning of time, and bringing time forward to the life, ministry, and death of Jesus. Because for John, with the death of Jesus, there  begins a new creation where all human sins have been forgiven, and creation has started anew.

Well in today’s reading, we get two very important symbols: the Lamb of God, and the Dove. Let’s take the dove first, because that’s the easiest. According to the Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, any bird in the pigeon family was referred to as a “dove.” They were non-aggressive, peaceful birds, sometimes used to symbolize innocence, and sometimes seen as messengers from God. They ride the Holy Wind of God, and could go all the way to the heavens, up where the divine was. It was the dove that brought back the olive branch in one version of Noah’s Ark. We get doves all over the place in both the Old and New Testaments. And when doves appear, they are usually symbols of God’s acting – – or they are offerings to God. Now, that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If they are messengers of God, it seems like you wouldn’t sacrifice them, but that’s what we get.

So, in today’s reading, the dove represents the “Spirit of God”, or the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Wind, or the Holy Breath of God. To the writer of John, this dove descending on Jesus fulfills the prophesy from John the Baptist: “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And the dove descends.

One of the things I really liked about the dove on the front of our bulletin this morning is that it appears to be coming down from the Holy Winds, the Holy Breath – with some effort – to lite on “the chosen one.” I see a lot of action and energy in that painting that says to me what I think John was feeling.

Well, more complicated is the Lamb of God. The lamb also is seen as “innocence and purity.” Sheep were very important to life in that region of the world. If you had sheep, you could live a comfortable life. They reproduced easily, and they provided almost everything necessary to life from food, to textiles, to income. And they demanded very little, other than protection. They cannot protect themselves from predators. They have to BE protected. So, we get this picture of innocence with mystical powers, kind of like the idea of the Unicorn. Innocence and mystery go together.
At the Passover, it is the blood of a lamb, the Pascal Lamb, that is put on the door posts to protect the Jews, and allow them to leave slavery in Egypt. We get references to the “innocent lamb” being led to the slaughter, usually as a sacrifice. The idea is that since it is defenseless, and pure, and innocent, it can carry our sins away with it – again – innocence and mystery working together.

So, through Jewish history, each year the Pascal Lamb was (and is) offered at the Passover, the most perfect lamb that can be found, because in its perfection, it can carry away the sins of the people.

Now, this still comes down to us in our Eucharist, even today. This morning, when the bread is broken, the priest says: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.” and the people respond, “Therefore let us keep the Feast.” The idea is that Christ became the perfect lamb, the Pascal Lamb, and because he was perfect when he was sacrificed on the cross, he was able to carry away the sins of all humankind, and usher in the New Creation.

Our Gospel Reading this morning begins: “John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’”

See how it all weaves together? And the writer of the Gospel of John is the “master weaver.” When you read the Gospel of John, you are reading one of the most brilliant compilations of theology through the ages that has ever been written. It really does start at creation and carry right up to today. It is difficult reading. You almost have to read one sentence at a time, and think about it for a long time, before going on to the next idea. But it’s well worth it, and I commend it to you.

Amen.

Posted January 17, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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