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Luke 6:17-26 2/17/19 Epiphany, Norfolk

Posted August 31, 2019 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Jeremiah 20:7-13                                                  6/25/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

This morning I want to look at our first reading, from the Book of Jeremiah. We don’t often have readings from Jeremiah, and most of us probably don’t know a great deal about him. So, this morning I want to talk about Jeremiah.

Although we’re not sure when he was born, we do know that he was born two miles outside of Jerusalem. We also know – because he tells us – that God “called him up” in 626 BC, at a very young age.

Now, before I go any further, I need to talk about “prophets.” Old Testament theology says that for a specific period of time in the history of the Hebrew People, God spoke to them through “prophets.” These were special people who God selected. God would “tell them what to say”, and their job was to “speak for God.” Their job was also to interpret events of the day, to show how God’s hand was moving in those events. So, they had two tasks: speak for God, and interpret God’s actions for the people. This made them very special “holy people”, and we really need to remember this, especially when we deal with Jeremiah, the great “Prophet of Doom.” A prophet is not speaking for himself. He has been chosen by God and is speaking for God. And because of that, he is entitled to respect, even if one dislikes that he’s saying – as in Jeremiah’s case.

Well, how did they know if someone was really a prophet, or just a crackpot? That was easy. If the prophecy came true, then the prophet was a “good prophet.” If the prophecy did not come true, then he was a “false prophet.”

Well, let’s look at Jeremiah. His years of activity were from 626 BC to 580 BC, or about 46 years. But it was 46 years of total upheaval, war, and political revolution in that part of the world – just like today. The “Glory Days” of Israel and Judah had peaked. The two kingdoms had been unified by King David, and had enjoyed awesome prominence as a world power. But now they were in rapid decline. And Jeremiah’s prophecy foretold this decline, and the eventual fall of Judah, and even the exile to Babylon.

So, the concept of “The Age of Prophecy” says that God was using Jeremiah to warn the Hebrew People of what was happening, and try to help them avoid it. Jeremiah was interpreting the events of the world, and those events were not pretty.

So, what did happen? Well, it’s going to sound very much like today’s world over there. In 614 the City of Asshur fell to the Medes, and this started a domino effect. Two years later, the great City of Nineveh – which we know from Jonah – fell to the Chaldeans. Then the Medes and the Chaldeans formed an alliance, and they began moving through the Middle East, capturing city after city.

From another direction, the Assyrians and the Egyptians were capturing city after city. Two years after Nineveh fell, Harren fell. The next year, Josiah, King of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, was put to death. The Assyrians installed Manasseh as King of Judah, and it remained under Assyria for the next 55 years. Eleven years later, in 598, we get the first deportation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah to Babylon, and the Great Babylonian Exile begins. And Jeremiah was right there for all of this.

Well, what did Jeremiah say that got everyone so upset? For the first five years of his prophesy, he spoke out against religious corruption and “nature cults.” He also kept talking about an invasion that would be coming from the North. And he tells the nation to return to God if they want to avoid destruction. He talks about Judah, the Southern Kingdom, as a “harlot”, which was once “God’s bride”, but now has turned to other gods for satisfaction. That wasn’t very popular.

But in 621 there was sort of a “reformation.” The nation and the temple did sort of “get back on track”, and nothing was heard from Jeremiah for twelve years. But then, in 609, Jeremiah went to the temple, at the command of God, and delivered a sermon. The theme was that just coming to the temple would not save the nation. Rather, it was the lives each person led that would be the salvation, or destruction, of the nation. The temple priests didn’t like that at all, and ordered Jeremiah killed. But the idea of killing a prophet really scared the public. The people feared and respected prophets. So, there were some public demonstrations, and the temple priests relented and didn’t execute Jeremiah.

But that started a series of confrontations for Jeremiah. He kept calling his country to obedience, repentance, and a change of heart. But that was not what the public wanted to hear, and it wasn’t long before the public turned on him, too. Finally, Jeremiah attacked the king in a public address. He ended the address by saying, “With the burial of an ass, he shall be buried.” That turned the king against him. Then he entered the temple courtyard and proclaimed doom on Jerusalem. For that one, the High Priest had him beaten and put in stocks. So, in retaliation, Jeremiah repeated his “oracle of doom”, but added the High Priest.

By 605 the kingdom was really falling apart. Cities all over were falling to foreign armies, and in seven years the Exile would begin. And Jeremiah began a whole new series of writings, known as his “confessions”, from which this morning’s reading is taken. They are writings of despair, and he accuses God of deceiving him. This is the Jeremiah who Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and is on the front of your bulletin – an older Jeremiah, in despair. I think Michelangelo captured him beautifully.

Well, in 598 the Exile begins. Jerusalem is sacked and the king is taken to Babylon in chains. Everything that Jeremiah foretold has now happened, and Jeremiah now offers no hope. He tells then that the line of David will never return to the throne of Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, placed Zedekiah on the throne. Zedekiah liked Jeremiah and even called on him for advice. Then Jeremiah proclaimed Nebuchadnezzar to be an “instrument of God”, and ordered the people of Judah to subject themselves to Babylon. He wrote letters to the exiles in Babylon, telling them to give up hope. He began going naked and wearing only yokes of wood and iron.

Finally, Nebuchadnezzar and his army attacked Jerusalem. Jeremiah did everything he could to foil any attempt at resistance. He stood in the town square, throwing rocks at the army, as they marched out to defend the city. They kept throwing him into prison and beating him, but as soon as he got out, he started all over.


In 587 the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar had heard of Jeremiah and ordered that he be given special consideration. He was released from prison and invited to live as he liked, either in Judah or Babylon. He chose to spend the rest of his life in the Wilderness of Judah, from which 600 years later, John the Baptist emerges.


Well, that’s Jeremiah. So maybe this helps us understand what he’s saying in today’s reading:

“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;

you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all day long; everyone mocks me.

For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the Lord has become for me

a reproach and derision all day long.”


That is Jeremiah, the “Prophet of Doom.”



Posted August 28, 2019 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Exodus 3:1-11 10/14/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Exodus 3:1-11 10/14/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

We’re using a different O.T. reading this morning at the request of our guest preacher at our 11:00 service this morning. As you know, he is a candidate for the job of priest at one of our neighboring congregations. And he asked if we could switch from the Isaiah Reading in our Lectionary to this reading. Since it’s the story of God calling up Moses out of the burning bush to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, it makes sense for a priest considering a call. And it’s also one of my favorite O.T. texts, because it has a bunch of great O.T. themes.

Before I get into the text, I have to share with you that a number of years ago I attended a series of lectures on the Old Testament by a Jewish O.T. scholar. It was a great series. And one of the things he said was that he was so sorry that Christians take the O.T. so seriously that they miss all of the humor and fun. He said that the Jews have a totally different approach to reading the O.T., and a different understanding of God. He said that the Jews see God as kind of whimsical, sometimes a little addled, and sometimes very unpredictable. God does strange things for no reason. God gets confused and changes his mind. God has never figured out what to do with this creation he made, and is always messing things up. And it becomes man’s job to try to figure out what God is up to, and try to make it work. He used a number of examples, and this text was one of them. “Here’s God, at it again, playing around with fire, and even hiding in it. And he’s got his “angel of the Lord” doing his dirty work by tempting Moses to come and look.

And he went on, picking the text apart. He saw the text totally differently than I had. In all fairness, I’m not doing his lecture justice. He had us rolling in our seats as he retold this story, and others. I just don’t have the idiom to bring that alive for you.

Well, how about the story as we serious Christians understand it? We know that Moses was found in the bulrushes by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. But as an adult, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He killed the Egyptian, and he had to flee Egypt. He went to his father-in-law, Jethro, in Midian, where he agreed to tend sheep for Jethro.

One day he led the flock over to the Holy Mountain, Horeb. Now, this immediately tells us that this story is from the lore of the Northern Kingdom, because the Holy Mountain is Horeb. In the lore of the Southern Kingdom, the Holy Mountain is Sinai. And they get all confused in the text, so don’t let that bother you. It’s just that two stories get put together, and both names get used.

Well, he’s standing around with Jethro’s sheep, and the Angel of the Lord appears to him in a burning bush that’s not being consumed by the fire. Well, Moses doesn’t seem at all concerned that something’s in the burning bush. He just wants to know why it isn’t burning up. So he goes over to explore. God sees that he goes over to the bush, which the Jews find really funny, and God calls to Moses from within the bush, by name.

And now we get one of the most important themes of the whole Old Testament. Moses replies, “Here I am.” The meaning of the name of God is the verb to be, “I am.” Any form of the “verb to be” in the O.T. is a reference to God. You can count on it. And when God calls anyone up, or God addresses anyone, for anything, the responding phrase must be a form of the “verb to be.” The “verb to be” is a “key” that opens conversation with God. Without it, conversation can not proceed.

In Isaiah, God asks, “Who can I send?” Isaiah responds, “Here am I. Send me.” “Here am I” contains a form of the “verb to be.” And you will find this all through the Bible. Watch for it.

Well, once the “key” is used by Moses, conversation with God can continue. First he tells Moses to take off his sandals because he’s on holy ground. Now look at what comes next – “I am the God of your father”, and so forth. God responds with “the key”, “I am”, and a “mind link” between God and Moses is established. Now it goes beyond conversation.

And Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. Hebrew tradition was that if you looked upon God, you would die.

So God goes on to tell Moses what he’s about. He wants to rescue the Hebrews who are slaves in Egypt, and bring them to what becomes “The Promised Land, which, of course, is not their land. That’s a situation with which we are still dealing. But it’s God’s plan, and God wants Moses to do it. And God says, “So now, go. ‘I am’ sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.

Hey, God. Moses has a price on his head. He fled Egypt because Pharaoh was going to kill him. And Moses begins his argument with God as to why he could not possibly do this. It goes well beyond our reading this morning, and it’s well worth your reading.

Well, what does all of this say to us? I think that from time to time we each have a sense that God is calling us. It’s probably nothing big. But I think sometimes God has something to “say” to us. When you have that sense, try using “the key”, “Here am I”, or “Here I am” and see what happens. We call it “The Faith Response.” We respond out of pure faith. I find it sometimes works. I don’t hear voices coming out of burning bushes, but sometimes I get a sense, or an understanding, of what I’m supposed to do.

Secondly, remember that God is never practical. God never does the easy thing. Moses was the last person in the world to go to Egypt and Pharaoh and free the Israelites. Sometimes we’re the last person who God should be sending. But God works best in messes. And sometimes God asks us to be part of that holy mess.

Listen for the voice of God coming from the most unlikely place, like a burning bush. Make the Faith Response. Answer “Here I am” and see what happens.


Posted August 28, 2019 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Christmas 2018

Posted January 22, 2019 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Blessing of Pets 10/7/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

In this month’s parish newsletter,

   I mentioned that this year’s

      Blessing of the Pets –

         would have a sad overtone –

            since we had recently experienced the death

               of several well known pets

                  in our parish family.

I think I got more response

   to that article –

      then any of the many that I’ve written.

And I found that other folks

   had been thinking the same thing.

The death of a pet –

   is taken very seriously in this parish community.

No one had ever dare say something like,

   “It was only a dog”

      or “It was just a cat.”

Be advised –

   that is about as politically incorrect around here –

      as one can get.

And you might really find yourself

   “on the outs”

      if you don’t get excited about a new pet

         in the parish family –

   and take appropriate notice

      of the death of a beloved pet.

It’s just who we are in this place.

As most of you know –

   my pets are very dear to me.

I have a strange habit

   of adopting old –

      and sometimes unhealthy pets –

   from the local pounds and shelters.

I seem to be drawn

   to the animals

      that I think no one else is going to want.

And I know from the day I take them home –

   that my time with them

      is going to be relatively short –

         perhaps a few years –

            if I’m lucky.

And because I know that from the start –

   it allows me to make a special effort

      to give them

         a little extra care,

            and love,

            and attention –

   that I perhaps would not give –

      if I knew that I would have

         18ish years with them.

And I think they know this.

I think they know

   that they’ve been “saved from the gallows” –

      and I think they give me

         that little extra care,

            and love,

            and attention,

               in return.

Right now –

   I have two cats and two dogs.

The cats are cats –

   one a loving lap cat –

      the other a temperamental diva.

One of the dogs

   is a high spirited Westie –

      that I sort of inherited.

He loves to chase any wildlife

   that comes into my yard –

      especially a raccoon

         that might be twice his size.

He’s fearless –

   and spends a significant portion of his life –

      in the bathtub –

         getting black swamp mud washed off him –

            from chasing some animal.

He goes to the office

   a few times a week.

He is just very cute.

The other is Frisky.

I’ve always liked big dogs –

   really, really big dogs.

And after my two very old labs died –

   I started regular visits to the SPCAs

      and the Animal Cares Center –

         commonly referred to as “the pound.”

I was looking for

   another big old dog, or two.

And way down in the very last cage

   of “the pound” –

      was a little old Rat Terrier –

         sort of like a Jack Russell.

He was really old,

   and not very responsive.

I noticed that he had been there

   for 4 months –

      and I figured his days were numbered.

But he wasn’t what I was looking for.

About every 3 days

   I paid “the pound” a visit.

One day it dawned on me –

   that I was going to visit

      the old Rat Terrier first –

   and then going to look for “my new dog.”

Another day it dawned on me –

   that the Rat Terrier –

      “Frisky” had found me.

I took him to “the get to know you room.”

He didn’t bite –

   or growl,

      or exhibit any bad behavior –

         so I took him home.

I did not know

   that he was totally deaf.

I also did not know –

   that he could barely see –

      until we got home –

   and I watched him run into things,

     and fall down steps.

I took him to the vet

   to have him checked out.

He had things wrong with him

   that I’d never heard of –

      resulting in a slew of nice expensive pills –

         every day.

Frisky lives on.

I’ve had him about 3 years.

He can’t get up and down the steps any more –

   so he has to be carried –

      and I have a lot of steps.

He sleeps on my bed –

   so he won’t get into trouble

      during the night.

He wakes me up in the middle of the night

   by licking my face –

      to let me know that he has to go outside.

I put on some clothes –

   carry him down the 17 steps to the 1st floor –

      then outside –

         and down 5 more steps to the ground.

He does his business –

   and we reverse the whole thing –

      and crawl back into the nice warm bed.

About a month ago –

   I had a serious conversation with Frisky –

      a totally deaf dog

         that may not even know what I look like.

I told Frisky –

   that I wasn’t sure

      I could keep carrying him

         up and down the steps –

   and outside –

      in the middle of the night –

   especially with winter coming.

I told him about some options

   that I’d been considering –

      the best of which

         was back to the pound.

Thank God Frisky

   could not hear a word I was saying.

When I got back in bed –

   with him curled up next to me –

      I knew I never could do any of those things.

I had adopted him.

Nobody forced him on me.

He is my responsibility –

   and I will do everything in my power

      to give him the best life possible –

         for as long as I can –

            or as long as he lives.

That’s just the way it is –

   and just the way it’s going to be.

And I wouldn’t want anything else

   for Frisky –

      or for me.

That’s what I think this is all about.

And in its own strange way –

   it’s a truly wonderful blessing –

      human and pet –

   bonded to care for each other –

      with all the love and affection

         that we can muster.


Posted October 10, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

James 3:1-12 9/16/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

I don’t know about you –   but the only thing on my mind this morning  is giving thanks that this we were spared from that storm this past week. If it had drifted just a few miles further north –we would be in the same mess as our neighbors in the Carolinas.

At the same time I feel so badly for our neighbors whose lives have been turned upside down by that storm. I’ve visited Newbern and Wilmington many times. They are both beautiful cities – with very nice people. It’s going to be a long struggle for them to get back on their feet. And of course – it’s not yet over for them as they continue to deal with massive flooding – in the dark.

This could so easily have been our fate. So – I have mixed feelings this morning: joy and relief that we were spared, and deep sympathy for our neighbors who are suffering so badly.

Well – this morning I want to again look at our 2nd Reading from the Epistle of James. This is the 3rd week in a row that I’ve talked about The Epistle of James – but is has become one of my favorite smaller writings. I never paid much attention to it until recently,  but it has really grown on me.

Just to refresh your memory – we’re not sure who wrote it – but we do know  that the writer was Jewish – and that he was taking old Jewish morals and codes of behavior, and trying to interpret them from a Christian perspective. We also know that he was writing for Greeks – not for Jews. The Greeks were fascinated by this new Christianity. It was totally different from anything in their religions, and they were intrigued by it

Now – I need to remind you  that the Greeks saw life and the world –  in terms of opposites in balance. Everything has its opposite: light / dark  cold / hot  wet / dry  active / at rest  tense / relaxed.

And for the Greek – the trick to living a good life was to keep the opposites in balance.

If one overpowered the other –  you were is “dis – ease”, or disease. And this idea becomes a theme all through the Epistle of James. We get phrases like:  “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” See the opposites? It’s the same opposites that I feel about the storm: Joy that it missed us –   but pain that it hurt our neighbors. That is very Greek.

Now – in today reading – the writer of James  gets into “the healthy use of our tongues.”And he likens our tongues  to the rudder of a boat. The big boat is steered –  by a small runner on the back. Likewise – our whole being is governed by our relatively small tongue.

He says: “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze  by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire…. It stains the whole body… For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed  and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil,   full of deadly poison.” And then he goes on to describe it as a tool for blessing and cursing – the classical Greek opposites.

Well – the writer of James doesn’t think very much of the tongue – does he? He describes this big organism of a human being – being controlled and directed by this little “rudder” of a tongue placed in the middle of the body. And everything has to answer for the directions that the tongue sets. James has an issue with that.

I know – in my own life –  if something is going to get me in trouble –  it’s going to be my mouth. I know that. I’ve always known that. So James speaks right to my heart.

Now – all of this business of “the tongue” – and “speaking blessings and curses” – – –  this builds on one of the great O.T. themes – that pops up all over in both the Old and New Testaments. The early Hebrews knew that it was breath that allowed one to speak. If you couldn’t breath out –  you couldn’t speak words. And the Hebrews saw “breath” –  as a very holy, sacred thing. When God breathed into Adam,  and gave him life, God put breath in him.

So humankind’s breath –  is an extension of the “breath of God” – the Holy Wind,  the Holy Breath,  the Holy Spirit. The Hebrews also knew – that when a human uses that “Holy Breath” to form a word – and send it out – it is Holy –  and it can never be taken back. It is sent out –  to either give life / or take life, heal / or hurt, build / or destroy. And once it leaves our lips –  it is gone –   to do its work –  and can never be reeled back in.

All through the Bible – God, or a person, or an angel, or something SPEAKS – and it happens. And this is what the writer of James is building on in his Epistle. “The tongue is a fire. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likes of God.” Great ancient Hebrew thinking –  presented in a Greek context. Oh – the Greeks would have loved this. It’s just brilliant.

Well – does it speak to us today? I think it really does. First – I really like the Greek idea of opposites. Like many of you, I live kind of a hectic life – with multiple offices, and multiple jobs, and way too many gadgets, and too many interests. And I have to balance all that stuff – or my life spirals into a mess – and suddenly I’m feeling pulled apart and confused. I’m very conscious of striving to keep balances in my life – so I stay mentally and spiritually healthy.

And then there’s the matter of “the tongue.” I try really hard – I really do – to send forth good words – but I can sure mess it up. It is SO EASY to say the wrong thing – and really hurt someone. If I don’t bridle my tongue – – –  an image that James uses – – – I can get into serious trouble – and then, I’m in “dis-ease.”

So – this passage from James gives us two things to work on in our day to day lives. One – the Greek idea of keeping all of those opposites in balance – to avoid “dis-ease.” The other is that old Hebrew idea of being aware that we use Holy Breath to form words – and that our words are “holy expressions.” We should be very careful how we send those words out – because they can do wonderful things – or they can do very destructive things.

I like the Epistle of James. And I commend it to you. Just remember that it has to be read with the context of two cultures. But it offers us some pretty powerful insights into living a full and faithful life.


Posted September 19, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

A fond farewell

On Sunday, September 9th we sadly said good-by to some faithful 8:00 AM regulars: Eva-Maria Hoffmann & Brian & Susanna Wilson. They are going on to new adventures; Eva-Maria to Vermont and the Wilsons to Richmond. We wish them well in their new and exciting life changes!

Posted September 11, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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