Pentecost 9

Way back in 2002 (I think – it was somewhere in there), I volunteered to help out at St. James Long Branch with their annual Christmas Dinner, which fed several hundred of our underserved neighbors in the parish hall and delivered a couple hundred more meals to those who couldn’t attend.  The fact that they held the dinner on Christmas Day itself made me really fall in love with the place, though the annual summertime Fish Fry didn’t hurt.  Anyway, Fr. Doug asked me what special skills I could lend the effort, and I was truly stumped.  I couldn’t speak Spanish (and still can’t), and that was a big deal for our expected guests.  I shouldn’t be allowed to cook anything (thank God for Doan).  I finally stammered something about being able to lift heavy things, which did come in handy considering the size and contents of the coolers coming in and going out of the kitchen.  But otherwise, I felt like I really just didn’t have much to offer.

 

The disciples said to Jesus, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.”  That’s not much to offer to 5000 men, plus the women and children.  None of the disciples had the number for any of the local catering companies, much less the funds to buy much food. Jesus and His disciples were off in a field by a lake, a good hike from the nearest village, and it seemed like they had almost nothing to offer, and they knew it.

 

But they had fallen victim to a classic blunder.  We know that the most famous classic blunder is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” as well as the only slightly less well known “Never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line.”  But even more important is to never forget who you’re dealing with when you’re dealing with Jesus.

 

The disciples failed to take into account what could be called, perhaps, directional focus.  They were busy looking at all these people, the harassed and the helpless, who were now, somehow, their problem.  First they want Jesus to send them away, let them find their own food, their own comforts.  Jesus tells the disciples essentially No, they followed us out here, now you get to feed them.

 

Where does the focus of the disciples rest next?  On the five loaves and two fish, the generous offering of a boy, yet not sufficient for thousands of people.

 

The disciples got lost because they focused on what they thought was a problem and on the meager resources they had to solve it.  They had forgotten who they were dealing with.  They had lost their directional focus.

 

They didn’t need to bring food to the people.  They needed to bring the people to Jesus.

 

Do we fall into the same trap?  Of course we do.  To return to the Christmas Dinner at St. James, Fr. Doug had me lift heavy things, but he also had me peel potatoes and garlic, take out the garbage, help get volunteers organized, and deliver meals in neighborhoods where other volunteers might have been less safe.  Fr. Doug was focused on bringing the people to Jesus and Jesus to the people, not on me as a meager resource.  I learned that when the focus is on Jesus and doing His work, talents are revealed, the worst tasks become true joys, and most importantly, even when we see insurmountable problems and meager resources, the people get fed.  Loaves and fishes, as they say.

 

The miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand was real; of course the Son of the Living God, He through whom all things were made, can take five loaves and two fish and multiply it to feed thousands.  While I don’t expect any of us to do the exact same thing, we can expect miracles.  When we keep our focus on Jesus, when we remember who we’re dealing with, anything is possible.  Loaves and fishes, as they say.

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Pentecost 8

Back in the 1st century, there was man named Ignatius, who lived in Antioch.  Ignatius had the good fortune of meeting a man named John, who was also known as the Blessed Disciple, the writer of the Gospel according to John, the epistles and the book of Revelation.  Ignatius was converted to the Faith by way of John, who had a habit of doing such things, and the rock solid faith seen in John was also seen in Ignatius.  Ignatius was so respected in Antioch that both Peter and Paul instructed that he should be bishop of that city.  He didn’t let the Apostles down; Ignatius held the Church in Antioch together under Roman persecution and helped establish the Church as we know it, writing especially about the importance of bishops as the heirs of the Apostles.  Ignatius wrote that “Wheresoever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”  That was the first time anyone wrote down the words catholic and church together.

Ignatius was on to something, because that’s still what makes up the human portion of the Catholic Church.  Where there’s a bishop, there’s the Church.  The people of God gather around a bishop, and Christ is there as sure as anyone else is.  In Ignatius’ time, a time when a Christian was more likely to die on a cross than hang one around their neck, or in Ignatius’ case, eaten by lions, this definition of the Church was vitally important.  That definition might seem less important now that the church seems everywhere – you can’t swing a cat around your head without hitting a church in Bordentown – but despite all that, Ignatius’ definition still holds.  Wherever we Christians are, there is the Church, maybe not in her entirety, but certainly in her fullness.

Jesus give us a hint of this in the parables we just heard.  Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God, which much like the Church, shows up in many and diverse ways.  Much like the Church, the Kingdom of God is both huge, almost unthinkably powerful, and at the same time the Kingdom can be graspable, even personal.  And most of all, the Kingdom of God has the power to surprise us and to keep surprising us.

If we learn anything from the parables we just heard, it’s that the Kingdom of God is, by nature, not given to flashiness.  That might be obvious, considering that the Ruler of that Kingdom thought it a good idea to have His only Son born in a stable out in the boondocks, but that same Son seemed perfectly comfortable with His Kingdom’s natural humility.  It’s that humility that keeps us guessing, that makes the Kingdom of God more like a mustard seed or hidden treasure than like Nicki Manaj or the Las Vegas strip.  Jesus talks about the Kingdom like it’s something you would stumble upon on the way to something else rather than something you could point out from the window of an airplane.  The Kingdom of God represents the most powerful force known, the only force that can change the world, change even our hearts, but it’s also the only Kingdom that you could miss if you’re not looking.

So Ignatius, in chains and awaiting his martyrdom by hungry lion, wrote “I am God’s wheat, ground fine by the lion’s teeth to be made purest bread for Christ.”  He must have been thinking, at least tangentially, of these parables about the Kingdom of God we just heard. The Kingdom of God is like yeast kneaded into dough.  Like a mustard seed.  Like a treasure found buried in a field.  Jesus describes His own Kingdom in such strange terms; the lack of triumphalism is astounding.  What king goes on and on about how hidden and tiny his kingdom is?

And yet, the Kingdom of God encompasses all things and has triumphed, so what’s the message here?  First, we’re learning what our God is actually like: all powerful yet humble; He’s everywhere and yet chooses to come close to us; He is holy and other from us, yet where one of His bishops is, somehow He is there.

Second, we’re learning how to look for God’s Kingdom, especially where we don’t expect to find it.  We’re learning to find it in the little things and in the hidden places; in the empty distance we keep between us and in the masks that muffle our Amens; in hearts that soften and voices that grow louder on behalf of the unheard.

St. Ignatius was on to something, and maybe it was because he heard and learned these parables: the Kingdom of God is truly the most powerful and most humble force we can possibly imagine, and by being the Church, we participate in its power and seek to emulate its humility.  Where will you look for the Kingdom today, and what will you do with it when you find it?

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Pentecost 7

Christianity, along with almost every major religion, has long wrestled with the issue of purity.  The easiest example for us is the Puritans because, well, they called themselves Puritans.  Their main issue was that the Church of England was too Roman Catholic; they wanted to purify the Church of Roman influence and custom, including much of what we’re doing and seeing right now, and return to, in their perception, what was a “Biblical” faith.  In more modern times, we find a thing called purity culture, which seeks to keep people pure of sexual sins, especially if those people are teenage girls.  I’ve seen this in action: anything that could lead a young person to think about sex is prohibited, including things like dancing or holding hands, all the while ignoring the simple fact that teenagers need little to no provocation to start thinking impure thoughts.

 

There are two major problems with all this.  One is that there is really no such thing as purity.  We have all sinned and fallen short of the Kingdom of God.  We are made pure only through the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and any thinking person knows that this is not a one-time deal – we need God’s grace every day and all the time – there is nothing we can do to remain pure.

 

The second major problem is how an obsession with purity makes us treat those we see as impure.  The Puritans famously got rid of all kinds of people like Ann Hutchinson and Roger Williams, but they also forced out the Quakers.  Who hates Quakers?  Modern purity culture in the more fundamental Christian sects puts disproportionate strain on women and girls, too often singling out members when they don’t live up to whatever standard is in place.  On top of not being in any way Christian, it’s just creepy; grown men should not put that much time and effort into the sexual thoughts and deeds of teenage girls.  It’s also obvious that none of the leaders of the purity culture has ever seen Footloose or learned its lessons.

 

So what, then, do we do with the problem of sin in the Church?  We can’t deny that sin degrades us, leads us to more sin, and leads us ultimately to spiritual death.  We can’t deny that there are notorious sinners in the Church (not necessarily this church, but the Church), which have to be dealt with.  Some have to go – I’m thinking child abusers and the like – but most of us are garden variety sinners.  What would Jesus have us do?  Hmmmmm, if He had only told us a parable….

 

“In the Lord’s field, there is the wheat and the weeds.  Some people are good wheat and are gathered to the Lord.  And then there are people who are weeds.  It isn’t good to be the weeds. The weeds get gathered into bundles for burning.  So how do we know which people are those bad, destined-for-burning weeds?”

 

We don’t.  “The Lord knows his own.  But we don’t.  We can judge thoughts, choices, acts, and habits; but we don’t know enough to judge a person’s final resting place when the angels come at Judgment Day.

 

“And so the Lord’s parable about the wheat and the weeds can raise a terrible question: what am I?  Am I weeds, too?  If I can’t tell the wheat from the weeds, how can I tell whether I am wheat or weeds?  The problem with finding an answer to that question is that the question is confused. You are not the judge, not for the other guy and not for yourself either.  Our job is not the job of judge, because we are not up for that job.”[1]

 

Our job is rather to cling to the Sower of the good seed, who lets both the wheat and the weeds grow up together.  Our job, the job of the Church, is not to judge but to cultivate, to make room for each other to grow, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that the person next to you is doing the same.  Our job, then, is to cling to the Sower of the good seed,

who has gone so far as to suffer and die for the wheat and the weeds, so that none of us is lost to the fire.

 

[1] Eleonore Stump: https://liturgy.slu.edu/16OrdA071920/reflections_stump.html

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Pentecost 6

So, it’s been four months since most of you all have been in the church, so welcome back.  If you’re at home watching this because that was the smarter decision for you and for others, well done!  I was asked not long ago why it was safe to open now as opposed to, say, two months ago, given the fact that nothing has changed regarding Covid-19.  That was an excellent question.  The answer is that we’ve found ways to mitigate the spread of the virus; we’ve been able to structure the service in such a way as to minimize contact and yet still provide what we have longed for, to be together and to receive the Blessed Sacrament.

 

That said, the structure, the plan, only works if we execute it.  It’s up to us, to you and me, to wear our masks, to sanitize our hands, to keep each other safe.  That includes staying home, if need be.  As Fr. Ryan added to the end of the Communion Protocol video he put together, “This is how we love one another.”

 

This is how we love one another.  This is what it looks like.  For those of you at home, what it looks like is a church one quarter filled, capped at 50 people, with me standing as far away as I can while speaking without a mask, hoping that the people in the back can hear me at all.

 

In a different place and time, not in the midst of a global pandemic, Jesus had a similar issue, kinda.  His issue was that there were so many people gathered to listen to Him, He had to create an amphitheater of sorts, using a boat on the water to amplify His voice.  He started His sermon with the Parable of the Sower.

 

We hear that parable every three years as the lectionary gets around to it, and every three years I wonder if we have inadvertently turned the Parable of the Sower into the Parable of the Soil.  Preachers, and I’m guilty of this too, tend to talk much more about the different kinds of soil the sower’s seeds fall onto than we talk about the sower.

 

Not that I’m not worried about the soil.  We have all encountered, in ourselves and others, inner spirits that amount to soil that’s packed down or rocky or full of thorns.  Being, as we are, in an election year, in the midst of a public health crisis, and at the beginning of a long overdue societal upheaval, some of these traits have been brought to the surface: our rocky or thorny sides are perhaps more easily detectable; perhaps we keep walking down our well-worn but less charitable paths.

 

But again, this is the Parable of the Sower.  This is a parable about how much God loves us, and how we should love each other.  The Sower sows seeds of the Kingdom of God, and He seems to have an unlimited number of seeds.  Sometimes it seems like Doan has an unlimited number of seeds, as much as she plants things, but Doan also seems smarter about how she goes about it.  This Sower just flings seeds all over the place, regardless of where they are going to land.  Some of the seed falls on ground that isn’t ready for it or seems undeserving of it, resistant to it.  But don’t concentrate on the soil – look again at the Sower.  The Sower doesn’t learn His lesson.  He doesn’t come back around, see the rocks or the thorns or the harden soil and conserve His seed.  No, He keeps throwing seed everywhere in the hope that they will take root.

 

This is how God loves us: no matter how many times we reject Him, ignore Him, turn our heads to the next shiny object, He keeps at us.  And this is how we are to love each other.  It’s not that we should ignore the rocks and the thorns and the unchanging paths of others (and ourselves), it’s that we continue to sow the seeds of the Kingdom of God everywhere, while always cultivating our own soil.

 

In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus tells us that God never gives up on us, never presumes that His Kingdom is lost to anyone.  This is how He loves us, and in doing the same, this is how we love one another.

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Pentecost 5

In case you didn’t notice, yesterday was the Fourth of July, Independence Day.  Like most of us, I’ve lamented the loss of seeing fireworks and going to parties, and even the loss of being able to mark a certain time – here is the day you eat hotdogs and blow stuff up.  As you probably know, Independence Day is a holy day in the Episcopal Church.  In the Collect for Independence Day, we pray that we, as a people, will be granted the grace to maintain our liberties, to keep the torch of freedom lit for ourselves and for the world, words we may need to hear and pray with new perspective and fervor in our current times.  Nevertheless, the grand experiment that is the United States of America was born, more or less, on the Fourth of July, when we threw off the yoke of British oppression.

 

We then chose different yokes, for ourselves and for others, as all humans inevitably do.  No one is unyoked, even if they think they are.  There are yokes of responsibility, both personal and community.  There are yokes of sin, of sadness, of addiction, of oppression, of illness, of all manner of things that weigh us down.  There are also yokes of gladness, yokes that tie loved ones together, that tie us together as a people.  The Church has a particular yoke: commonly called a stole, it literally hangs on the shoulders of the ordained, those yoked to the Church.

 

All of these yokes carry weight, some heavier than others.  And so when we hear Jesus tell us to take His yoke and learn from Him, we might be understandably hesitant.  Any yoke taken on is, well, another burden to carry.  That’s why Jesus follows up, tells us that He is gentle and lowly in heart, and if we follow Him, we will find rest for our souls.  “For my yoke is easy,” Jesus says, “and my burden is light.”

 

Jesus was drawing a comparison there: if His yoke is easy and burden light, then it must be that the yoke his audience was carrying was difficult and heavy.  The source of that heavy load was two-fold: from the outside, they had Roman oppression and all that came with it.  From the inside, they had the 613 laws of their own tradition, zealously enforced by the Pharisees.

 

The Romans were, of course, no picnic.  The Jewish Law, on the other hand, was just fine on its own; it was the constant interpreting and reinterpreting of the Pharisees, their strict enforcement, and their using the Law for their own benefit that weighed down the people.  Those twin yokes chafed something awful, and were truly too heavy to bear.  Any relationship the people had with their state or their God was one of travail, of being heavy laden.

 

We, as a people and as we so often do, managed to break our relationships with each other and with God.  Not much has changed, on our side.  We corrupt the yokes that are supposed to bind us together, and so we carry weights that break us, and worse, we lay unbearable burdens on others.

 

This is not something we can fix for ourselves without God’s help.  We cannot find rest for ourselves from ourselves.  That’s why we hear these words of Jesus every week at the Comfortable Words: Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

 

The yoke Jesus offers is the yoke of love, the yoke that binds us to the God who gave us life and liberty, the God who lit the torch of freedom and who guides us by that light.  As we celebrate this weekend our independence, let us pray that we and all the people of this land are given the will to unburden the heavy laden and the grace to maintain our liberties, that we may be a people of righteousness and peace.

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Pentecost 4

For the last few weeks, the Gospel lessons we’ve been getting have been a little heavy, I’d say. What we’ve been hearing is Jesus preparing His disciples to go out on their own, to lay the groundwork of Jesus’ arrival, to preach the Kingdom of God, to even perform miracles in His Name.

 

Today’s Gospel continues the heaviness, at least to start. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Doesn’t that seem like the opposite of what is always preached and prayed and proclaimed? That the peace of God that passes all understanding would be with us, would naturally follow Jesus wherever He goes?

 

It does seem like that, but like so many Bible verses or sayings of Jesus taken on their own, the full story isn’t being told here, much like the story of someone’s whole life isn’t contained within the few words written on their tombstone.

 

That’s not to say that what Jesus said there is minor or unimportant for us to learn. Jesus tells us that His coming into the world will divide families, cause strife and separation, cause loyalties to be questioned and broken. The question has to be, well, Why?

 

Why? Because no one really likes to hear the truth, especially when the truth can upend long-held beliefs or rip away security or topple the narratives we have written for ourselves.

 

Hearing the truth can be hard. The last time I went to my doctor, I was feeling pretty good about myself, all things considered. I had lost a little weight, I had recently deadlifted more than twice my weight, and I knew that my blood pressure had been perfect the last two times I had given blood. My doctor congratulated me on all these things, and then she told me that I was getting old and I was still too fat, that I ate and drank and worked too much, that my joints were shot, and that I needed to change most of my habits. Did I already know that? Yes. Did I like hearing it from my doctor? No.

 

This is kinda like meeting Jesus for the first time, or the third time, or the hundredth time. Every time we’re in the presence of Christ, we’re in the presence of truth – I am the way, the truth, and the life. There is nothing about Jesus that isn’t true, and some will allow the truth to change their lives, and some will reject the truth outright. Some of us will do both at different times in our lives. Some will reject not only the truth, but those who pursue it, or Him, in this case. That’s the way it is sometimes, Jesus tells us, truth be told.

 

This passage does give us some happy news (as opposed to good news, the good news being Jesus is the truth, tells us the truth, and has our lives in His hands), and I don’t want to skip the happy news.

 

So it turns out that Jesus is really generous when it comes to who is on His side. Receiving Him into our lives does not have to look like a classical literary struggle. We don’t have to be artist abandoning the world to find truth; we don’t need a degree in philosophy and a place in the Vienna Circle to discover it; you don’t have to be one of the five doctor-lawyers at the firm of Kline and Specter to suss out Jesus.

 

Jesus is easily met, because He shows up all over the place. Have you been kind to someone today? Jesus was there. Have you read or heard Scripture? Did you go past the church and say hello? Did you donate or volunteer or just smile at the cranky lady at the grocery store? Jesus was there. Have you stood up against injustice?  Jesus was there. It’s not easy right now for two or three to gather in Jesus’ Name, but if you’re watching this, chances are someone else is watching it right now too, and so guess what, Jesus is here. Just supporting a fellow disciple in any way is to support Jesus in His mission to bring truth into the world and life to those who receive Him.

 

Will the presence of Christ always bring nothing but peace and comfort? No, but now we know why. Is the reward of receiving Christ worth the cost? Truth be told, yes.

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Pentecost 3

So wow, there’s a lot going on in today’s Gospel, and it can be a bit much to take in.  For one thing, we know a whole bunch of these sayings of Jesus on their own: sheep in the midst of wolves; do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake; he who endures to the end will be saved; a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; but even the hairs of your head are all numbered; you are of more value than many sparrows; every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.

 

It’s a lot, and it can seem more like a collection of sayings than a thought out master class on what to expect when following Jesus.  But that’s exactly what it is, from Jesus Himself.

 

Like we heard last week, following Jesus is not always the easiest thing to do.  Remember that if we follow Him completely, we end up on a cross, or at least at the foot of one.  Jesus knew and knows this, and so when He sends us out to do His work, He gives us advanced warning on what to expect.

 

Now, I know what you may be thinking, because I’m thinking it too.  So far, none of us have been subjected to excruciating scrutiny because we are followers of Jesus.  I, for sure, have not suffered any great indignity or persecution, nothing that can be held up as proof that following Jesus is particularly harrowing.

 

But that could change.  I wrote this sermon on Thursday, on the feast of Bernard Mizeki.  Mizeki was born in Portuguese East Africa, now Mozambique, in about 1861.  He left for Cape Town, South Africa when he was twelve, and in his twenty’s he fell in with a group of teachers from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, the Cowley Fathers.  After graduating from the school, he moved to Mashonaland, a tribal area in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to work there as a lay catechist, a religious teacher.  His efforts won many converts to Christianity, which was not popular with the locals.  Many African nationalists regarded all missionaries as working for the European colonial governments.  During an uprising in 1896, Bernard was warned to flee.  He refused, since he did not regard himself as working for anyone but Christ, and he would not desert his converts or his post.  On 18 June 1896, he was fatally speared outside his hut.  His wife and a helper went to get food and blankets for him.  They later reported that, from a distance, they saw a blinding light on the hillside where he had been lying, and heard a rushing sound, as though of many wings.  When they returned to the spot his body had disappeared.[1]

 

Bernard Mizeki followed Jesus, mostly unmolested, right up until the time he was driven through with a spear.  He had the courage stay with his people and to stand by his work for Christ, courage derived from a foundation of faith, a faith that had been developed and nurtured by years of prayer and worship and service.

 

In today’s collect, we ask God to make us have a perpetual fear and love of His holy Name, for we know that God never fails to help and govern those whom He has set upon the sure foundation of His loving-kindness.

 

Loving-kindness is something both tender and firm; it is, to translate more literally the Latin collect from which it is drawn, the “solidity of your love” (soliditate tuae dilectionis).  God’s love for us is a trustworthy and reliable foundation.[2]

 

Following Jesus can, and perhaps should be, an adventure.  As disciples, we will experience great love and great loss, joys that can’t be described and deep sadness when confronting the ills of humanity.  We have been warned of what a disciple’s life can be, and so if you’re serious about following Jesus, build up your faith with prayer and worship and service; build up your faith on the solid foundation of the Lord’s loving-kindness.

 

 

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Pentecost 2

So I tend to think that I am not much into poetry.  All evidence points to this, actually, including my not owning a single book of poetry and my complete lack of understanding of 99% of every poem I’ve ever read.  I have a favorite poem, Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, a choice that probably betrays my lack of poetry depth and acumen.  For some time, though, I had a poem printed out and tacked on the wall by the phone in the Rectory.  It’s called On Those That Deserve It, written by Francis Quarles sometime in the early 1600’s in England, which was not a phenomenal time for English priests.

 

Quarles begins with some sharp criticism of the priests of his day, how they reject the very things that feed the Lord’s flock, their dismissiveness of looking and acting like priests: they don’t want to wear their collars and cassocks and funny hats, lest they look foolish.  The poem ends like this, speaking of Jesus:

 

He that was scorned, reviled, endured the curse
Of a base death on your behalf–nay worse,
Swallowed the cup of wrath charged up to the brim–
Durst ye not stoop to play the fools for him?

 

Today we hear of Jesus sending out the disciples to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  He told them to “preach as you go, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.  You received without paying, give without pay.”

 

If that sounds to you like Jesus sending His disciples out like sheep amongst wolves, very good!  He literally tells them that a few sentences later, and we’ll hear Him say it in the Gospel lesson next week.

 

This mission sounds for all the world like a losing effort, a fool’s errand.  The disciples are clearly not ready for this kind of power and responsibility.  They have no sense of the context of Jesus’ wider mission; they probably don’t fully understand even who He is.  They haven’t been to seminary, for crying out loud, how could they possibly be expected to execute God’s mission in the world?  Did they know they would be taken by many as mere fools?

 

Probably, yes.  And surely some of them weren’t looking forward to being mocked or having rotten fruit thrown at their heads, or worse: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee.”

 

Of course, this is a problem both ancient and modern.  We so often feel unprepared, unworthy, even, of proclaiming the good news of God in Christ.  What if I don’t know the answers to the big questions?  What if I start a conversation on faith and get trounced by some snooty smartypants?  What if I tell people that God is here, God is with us, and they cancel me out, take me for a fool?

 

Well….they will.  Or at least someone will.  Jesus told us that would happen: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  It will happen, but not because you’re not prepared: you most certainly know more about Jesus right now than those disciples did when Jesus sent them out.  It will happen, but certainly not because you’re unworthy: by your baptism you have been made worthy, not just a disciple but an evangelist.  It happens to me, by the way, all the time; I never feel quite prepared or worthy, and a cassock and biretta doesn’t always draw the admiration of others.

 

God is on a mission, the mission to save humankind from the chains of sin that bind us, that cause us to hate each other, to hate ourselves, to even hate the God that made us and gave us all things.  We all play a part in that mission, the mission of taking the joy and strength found at the Altar of God and bringing it out into the world.  The mission of letting everyone know that by His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has purchased for us the reward of true life here and in the world to come.

 

Durst ye not stoop to play the fools for him?

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Trinity

It’s Trinity Sunday, that Sunday each year when any thinking Rector pawns off the sermon to someone else, lest they attempt to explain the Trinity themselves and fall into any number of heretical pits.  Unfortunately for me, Vasu is off doing her field education and Fr. Ryan is taking care of another parish, and so you get me this Trinity Sunday.  So I’ll do what I normally do, which is to take the safer route, avoid the heretical pits, and stick with the Gospel of the day.

 

Uh oh.  Today’s Gospel has perhaps the clearest annunciation of the Trinity in the entire Bible.  “Go therefore,” Jesus said, “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…”  So just a quick note on the Trinity.  The idea that our God is one God in three Persons is essentially impossible to understand.  We know it to be true, and we’ve seen the evidence.  When God made humankind, He said “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  When Jesus was praying, He wasn’t talking to Himself, but to the Father.  The Holy Spirit, as we saw last week, shows up differently than the Son did.  On top of that, Jesus just told us that there are three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The three Persons are of one substance, one will, and yet are somehow distinct.  I don’t get it either, but I guess if we understood God, He wouldn’t be much of a God.  So back to the Gospel of the day.

 

So, “we can all identify with the reluctance to obey a difficult command.  Jesus made so many. Love your enemies.  Turn the other cheek.  Give without holding back.  Expect rejection and persecution.  Drop everything and follow me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  We hear Jesus tell us today that all authority in heaven and earth is His.  And yet, we don’t want to tell other people that they should do so.  So instead, we tell ourselves what we want to hear.  Jesus was exaggerating, using hyperbole for rhetorical effect.  He was addressing a very different culture.  We’ve come a long way since then, so we’re already basically doing what he said.”[1]

 

But are we?  Sometimes, absolutely.  The displays of faith, hope, and charity I see amongst you all is sometimes overwhelming; perhaps at times I’m a little too proud.  But still, the commands are difficult, so much so that we repeat one of them at almost every Mass: love your neighbor as yourself.

 

We, as a nation, have always had difficulty fulfilling that command.  Our original sin, chattel slavery based on race, still stains us as a people.  An entire people was dehumanized, made property rather than person, and the system that developed out of that context has continued to dehumanize people of color.  I doubt I have to count the ways.

 

So I should acknowledge here that I benefit from that system.  It’s not difficult to be the Very Rev. James Matthew Tucker; doors rarely close when I show up, which cannot always be said even for my own wife.

 

The events of the last couple have weeks have brought into stark contrast the different ways people of different colors experience our world.  At a peaceful protest right here in Bordentown last Sunday, our friend Senator Troy Singleton reminded us that we are all responsible for each other, that no one can stay silent and still in the face of injustice.  In other words, we must love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

That kind of love, the love shown perfectly in Jesus, the love that is the first property of our Triune God, is inherently and necessarily active; that kind of love drives us to act on behalf of our neighbor.

 

We’ve been brought to this place on Trinity Sunday; the lessons of the day give us the spiritual space to dwell on these things, to dwell on our place in the world, and what all of that means to our neighbors who can only expect injustice and oppression, when what they should be shown is the grace and love of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised us that He would be with us to the close of the age.  Our question today is, who do we count as us?


[1] The Rev. Bret Hays

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Pentecost

Given that time has taken on a new character in the last few months, I find some comfort in the fact that Church-Time still ticks along normally.  Today is the Day of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Easter (remember when we all hoped the church would be open by Easter?).  I know it’s the Day of Pentecost because Mary Ellen has put out the red frontal and vestments, and because the flowers look like tongues of fire, but I do miss seeing Mrs. Trout especially all decked out in red.

 

While Pentecost is certainly a day that we celebrate arrival, the arrival of the Holy Spirit, I think it can also be a day that we contemplate, or even celebrate, waiting.

 

As we talked about last week, Ascensiontide, that strange ten-day span between Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit, may be the strangest stretch of days in the narrative of salvation.  This is because almost nothing happened in those ten days.  The Apostles were told by Jesus to wait for something to happen, so that’s what they did.

 

But wait!  They did do one thing.  They chose Matthias to take the place of Judas Iscariot, who was obviously no longer available to do the job.  It’s interesting to note that the group cast lots to choose who would take Judas’ place.  I’ve mentioned this before because it’s illuminating.  Jesus was not there to make the decision, nor was the Holy Spirit yet present with them.  So they cast lots, they gambled, they played Rock Paper Scissors to find out who would be the next APOSTLE.  After the Holy Spirit, after Pentecost, they stopped gambling with those kinds of things, because, well, it was no longer necessary.

 

Outside of this meeting of the Vestry of the Early Church to appoint Matthias, we’re told that those gathered did what Jesus told them to do.  They waited.  They prayed.  Surely they rejoiced in what they had seen and heard, surely they mourned what they had lost, but still, they waited, they waited wanting to get on with it; they waited not knowing exactly what they were waiting for.

 

To draw comparisons to our present situation is either a little too easy or a little strained, I couldn’t decide which.  We too are waiting, waiting to get on with it.  We too have rejoiced in the goodness that crisis brings and mourned what, and who, we have lost.  We too are waiting for what comes next, not knowing exactly what that will look like.

 

What we do know is that whatever comes next will not resemble normalcy.  The world has changed – I know we’ve all heard that before, but this time the world has changed to a degree to which we’ll actually notice it going forward.

 

I wonder if the Apostles knew that the arrival of the thing, or rather the Person, they were waiting for would be a world changing event.  The Holy Spirit changed them, that’s for certain, and they went out and changed the world.

 

Pentecost is fun because of the Holy Spirit’s crazy arrival, the wind and the fire and the speaking in different tongues, all of which are true miracles, evidence of God breaking into our broken world.  But the true miracle is the change within the Apostles themselves.

 

Before the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they waited quietly in a room, flipping coins to make decisions, praying for the best, certainly, but not knowing what was to come for them and for the world.  After the Holy Spirit?  Well, here we are, two thousand years later, on the other side of the world, in the midst of a global pandemic, and Mary Ellen has the flowers glowing red to celebrate the Spirit’s arrival.

 

So wait, even in our impatience and anxiety, wait and pray for the Holy Spirit to come and inhabit all that we do.  The world has changed, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can change the world.

 

 

 

 

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