Sermons

Some of the sermons I have preached.

Be Subject to one another

A sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 19, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ

I was looking at the readings this week as I prepared for this sermon.  I noticed that the epistle lesson from the book of Ephesians was shorter than most of the lessons from Ephesians have been this summer. So I looked at what the framers of the lectionary were doing with our read through Ephesians.  It turns out that after this lesson, they skip well over a chapter and finish next week with a portion from near the end of the epistle. In the process, they have left out one of the best known passages from Ephesians.  That passage is difficult and it makes a number of people uncomfortable, but it is still there. I think it is more important to look directly at the difficult passages in scripture and struggle to understand them, rather than skip over them and let our discomfort and the discomfort of others do the interpreting. So, let me read this morning’s reading from Ephesians again, continuing through that passage:

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.

The key to understanding the last part of this reading is its first sentence: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  In other words, as we respect Christ, we should put the needs and concerns of others above our own. It is addressed to ALL Christians, not one group more than another. We should keep that in mind as we look at the rest of the passage.

The thing that makes this passage uncomfortable, of course, is the next couple of sentences: “Women be subject to your men.”  Why does Paul write that? I don’t really know. However, there are a couple of things to bear in mind when interpreting this. First, we should not assume that we know everything about the place of women in ancient Roman society, from our experience and understanding of nineteenth and twentieth century European and American society, or even of medieval society.  The Christian church in the first century probably had more women than men, not too differently from today. And we know from very early on there were some quite prosperous women in the early churches. In Roman society, a woman’s primary allegiance was to her father, more than to her husband. A wealthy woman, whose father was prominent, might be quite independent of her husband, and, if so inclined, might look down on him and not respect him. In the early church there was also an inclination among many people to understand the freedom in Christ as entitling them to be free from all social conventions. The Apostle addresses the women of Ephesus, reminding them that their freedom as Christian adults is for the service of others, and not for disrespect. There are many details of this passage that are worthy of a much more detailed examination and discussion than we can do on this hot August morning—certainly this is not the last word in understanding the whole of this passage.

But the second thing we should remember about this is even more important: we hear this passage, most of the time, in the light of really bad interpretations done by men who skip over all the important parts to reinforce their own privilege. Believe me, I’m a man, we do this—and it distracts from the real understanding of the words in front of us.  A few years ago I saw an interview on TV. The interviewer asked a man about many crude, demeaning, intimidating and disrespectful things he had said about women in public.  His response was to say he was referring to only one person. When it was pointed out that there were many others,  he labelled the issue as being about “political correctness,” as if respect for other human beings is political. He also said it was “all in fun”—though I think it was he who was having all the fun—and then he finished his response by claiming to be the victim of personal attacks. He never took responsibility for his own attacks on others, nor did he answer the moderator’s question.  Men often do this when they are reading this passage. “Wives be subject …”—hear that? Be subject to me. Treat me like Jesus, the King of Kings!

If you point out to these men that the passage continues regarding men… Well of course, “Husbands love your wives.” Well, you know, I love the ladies, and yeah, just as Christ loved—he’s a man like me, right? So I don’t need to look at the rest—it’s all there, Wives be subject to your husbands, right?

Wrong.

The Apostle is saying something much different, and we need to listen carefully. “Love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it.” It is not the honor or privilege that we give Christ that is supposed to parallel the place of men, but rather Christ’s self-sacrifice.  It continues, “husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies,” with respect, love, care. It is not quite so necessary to remind women of this, they bear children from their own bodies and often spend their whole lives nurturing them. But we should always keep this in mind: “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.” Christians are subject to one another, not as slaves or inferiors, but as people who respect themselves and hold others as Christ’s gift, worthy of that same respect.

In thus serving one another we abide in Christ, the Bread of Heaven.

As He says in today’s Gospel: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 

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For there is forgiveness with you

A sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, August 12, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord hear my voice

Our psalm today is a cry of desolation. The psalmist is lost and in trouble, bereft.

“Lord hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication. If you Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?”

At times of great loss, or confusion: loss of a clear path, human beings can feel desolation.

In today’s reading from the Second Book of Samuel there is a cry of desolation, this one from David, the King. “O my son Absalom, my son, my son, Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” David was bereft. His most beautiful and talented son had been killed by David’s own soldiers. The background of this is very complicated; filled with rape, violence, war and intrigue.  The portion of this book between the lesson we heard last week, in which the prophet calls David to account for causing the death of Uriah to this story where David’s son is killed is a set of tales that makes the Game of Thrones pale by comparison.  Absalom rebelled against his father. He raised a large army and caused David to flee Jerusalem. It’s a complicated story, with many motivations, yet one thing stands out to me as the source of this chaos: David failed to respond seriously and to implement justice when his daughter Tamar was raped by his eldest son, Amnon.

David had many wives and concubines, so his many children had different mothers. Tamar and Absalom had the same mother, so Absalom was particularly enraged by Amnon’s outrage against Tamar, his half-sister. David was upset, but did nothing to address the situation, so Absalom arranged for Amnon to be killed and over the next several chapters, chaos, intrigues, violence and war ensued. David continued to fight the war, but didn’t want Absalom hurt.  In war, people get hurt and die. David knew that, or at least, you would think that he did.

We all learn to idealize and think of David the King as a hero, never in the wrong, and always favored by God. But when we read the actual text of the scriptural stories, that’s not what we see. David was very human, very flawed. In combat and certain kinds of politics he was often bold, courageous, and skilled. But when it came to his personal life and his family, he was not courageous or clear about what was important.  He wanted things to go well for himself, to be comfortable, to get whatever women he desired, to have his sons get what they wanted and not to cause him trouble. He wanted the handsome, strong, smart Absalom—this young man who so resembled David himself—as his heir. David didn’t have the courage to sort these things out, to act in ways that would have offended Amnon but brought him to accountability; to seek justice and vindication for his daughter Tamar; to confront the schemings and intrigues of his chief general, Joab; or to speak honestly and frankly with Absalom early enough to address his grievances and perhaps prevent his rebellion. So David went from being a man with ultimate power in an expanding country to…

“Absalom! Oh my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

… to desolation. Make no mistake, David’s desolation was a result of his blindness to his own selfishness.

“If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?”

Such spiritual blindness as David had is common. I would venture that anyone who believes that they have never been blind in that way, to some degree, is likely still pretty blind. As the psalm says, “If you were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand?” It takes great courage to acknowledge our own blindness and misdoings. Many people avoid facing these things because they believe they will be condemned—indeed people will condemn you if they have a chance, especially those who are blind to their own misdeeds and selfishness. But here, we believe in God, and we take our courage from God’s forgiveness of us. Believing that God’s vindication is more important than human condemnation, we can become more human, free and alive. We can see things as they are. The psalm continues:

For there is forgiveness with you;

therefore you shall be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for him;

in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,

more than watchmen for the morning.

 

Most of us, perhaps all of us have or will face a time of desolation. A time of loss and bewilderment. Often it has nothing to do with our moral blindness or misdeeds—even when it might, the connection is usually far different than anyone would likely make at the time. It doesn’t matter, forgiveness is with the Lord. In the courage of that forgiveness we can hope to see things as they truly are.  Hope is in the reality of God’s world and of God’s love. But we don’t see it, not really, not in the darkness of desolation. Like watchmen in the darkest hours of the night, all we can do is wait… and hope. The shape of God’s fulfillment of our hope will never be exactly as we wish. David had lots of wishes. And those wishes … he thought they were what he deserved … but they were ultimately his desolation. It takes courage to hope in God, to hope for the reality of God’s compassion and mercy, God’s compassion for every living creature.

O Israel, wait for the Lord,

For with the Lord there is mercy;

With him there is plenteous redemption,

And he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

 

Let us pray:

 

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Being truthful in love, we must grow up

A sermon for the eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 5, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

“What sign are you going to give us then?”

The Gospel story from last week continues. It looks like some of the same people who wanted to make Jesus a king chased him across the lake. It’s this odd thing, they know he’s special and they want a piece of him. He can do something for them, and they want it.  And Jesus is having none of it. They want to talk scripture with him, but they want to argue for their own ends. They have an idea of Moses and of miracles, and they want that from Jesus.  They say, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness …”  Basically, Jesus’ response is, “Wait a minute. You’re making both me and Moses into magic bread vending machines … you just want the bread, and you are ignoring the whole point: God is the source of life, not just getting that bread.”

In our Epistle lesson from Ephesians today, it says: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.”  We see that in these people in the Gospel lesson who are arguing with Jesus.  The problem is not so much about false assertions, or big heresies. What is going on is that they are defending their prerogatives and asserting their selfish rights. “Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, what work are you performing for us?” These people contesting with Jesus were Jewish, but in Ephesians Paul is talking about gentiles, who are also more preoccupied with manipulating the good news (“craftiness and deceitful scheming”) than with listening to Jesus.  So there is equal opportunity selfishness being displayed throughout the Bible. It is people who are stuck on their selfish schemes and their narrow view of their own importance—like children. But what is expected in children, is no longer acceptable once we are ready to take up our adult place in a Christian community.

Which is why Paul exhorts the church: “Being truthful in love we must grow up.” Grow up into Christ who is the head of the body, the Bread of Life. The version of the Bible we are reading translates that phrase differently—it reads “speaking the truth in love.” That’s not inaccurate, but the word “speak” isn’t in the Greek original. What the word in Greek means, literally, is “doing truth.” Which means the emphasis is not on the talking part. Paul is encouraging the Ephesians to be living as truthful and honest people—that means far more than just saying things that are accurate, it means embodying the openness and love that we know in Jesus, or rather, growing into it.

That honesty in love is a good definition of Christian humility, and that is what this entire Epistle lesson is about. It starts, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility…” Humility, especially Christian humility, is not about thinking of yourself as unworthy or not good enough—it’s not about that at all. It is about that honesty in love.

Here’s the problem with being honestly who we are, however. Sometimes, our personality traits can have their positive sides and their negative. Another way of saying this is that our virtues are often closely linked with our besetting sins. For example, intelligence and arrogance—those often come in pairs, we might notice. Kindness may be linked with fear of confronting others over wrongdoing. Passion and impatience is another duo I have noticed—I’m sure there are many others you can name in yourself and others. So how do we, as Christians, have that honesty in love that lets us balance out our strengths and our weaknesses?

I want to suggest the way can be found in the opening line of today’s epistle: “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility…” Humility is about being honest about both sides, recognizing strengths while acknowledging shortcomings. It takes courage to be humble. A person who recognizes her real strengths may be called upon to use them generously. The result of that is not always being admired or thanked, to say the least. And a person who honestly sees his shortcomings is vulnerable in that moment—others might remark on them as well—but that clarity gives surprising freedom and strength, and the person’s real strengths emerge from that humility. I would go so far as to say that those who say, “I am not much good, I just have weaknesses and sinfulness” are not humble at all, but avoiding seeing their real shortcomings along with their strength and God’s calling.

Our Epistle lesson today is one of the most extraordinary chapters in the Bible.  “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” The life to which you have been called is to recognize the Bread of Life in Jesus and to follow him.

This chapter outlines the Christian life; it is worth taking the text of this lesson home and meditating on it for a long time. We don’t stop being the difficult people that we are by being baptized or by attending church. We don’t have a magic solution; we have a calling.  It starts by encouraging us all to humility and gentleness, bearing with one another in love. Because Paul knew that we would have a lot to bear.  There is plenty of non-gentleness and non-humility among Christians, and each of us needs to go a little further in patience than we think we should have to, in order to get along.  We don’t get along by being small factions of like-minded people, because, “There is one body and one Spirit”—our calling has one and only one hope, that is: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.  We have one hope, which brings us all together, and that is Jesus, the Bread of Life. We are brought together, not by agreement, but in Jesus, the head of the body.

We are called to live lives worthy of our calling—worthy of our best selves and worthy of Christ.

We are called to partake of the Bread of Life, humbly, honestly knowing Jesus.

Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

The Fool has said in his heart

A sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

The fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.”

Usually when people hear this line from Psalm 14, they think that it is about whether someone thinks God exists or not. That somehow it’s a question of philosophy and that the resolution of the argument over the fact of God’s existence will resolve all the other problems. But that’s not what this psalm is about at all. The existence of YHWH, the God of Israel, was for Israel an unquestioned fact. There was no intellectual argument about that—God was the definition of the community of Israel. Without God they had no identity or existence.

If we look at the next line, we can get an idea of what is going on: “All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none that does any good.”

The psalmist is referring to fools who behave as if the living God does not exist; as if the bonds of the love of God binding the community together don’t exist or matter at all.  The fool forgets about God.

Our Old Testament Lesson today is the famous story of David and Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite. David was a great leader, a great warrior who was anointed as king, seized the kingdom from Saul and consolidated the twelve tribes of Israel into one effective kingdom. He is remembered not only as a great warrior, but also for his beauty, his ability as a singer, and he is credited by tradition as the author of the Psalms. The story takes place in the spring, and the text reminds us that that is the traditional time for kings to go out and fight their wars. Why have wars at all? Why not use the spring to plant crops and take the flocks to fresh green pastures? Well that would be one alternative, wouldn’t it? But with ancient military technology and logistics, you couldn’t successfully send armies into the field in the winter. The environment would do in your army without any input from the enemy. We hear the same about combat in Afghanistan to this day. What I actually find a little puzzling is why the warrior king sent someone else to lead his army in this war. Somehow, this time was different, or perhaps he was different now.

So, Joab was leading the army out in the field, and David was lounging in his cedar house in Jerusalem. David gets up and goes up to the roof to look around in the late afternoon. He sees a woman bathing, a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, the wife of one of his officers, Uriah the Hittite, who was away at the war. He sends for her and has sex with her and the next thing you know, she’s pregnant. To cover up his affair, David has Uriah recalled from the battlefield and encourages him to go home to his wife.

But Uriah won’t go home, he stays at the king’s palace, because as far as he’s concerned, he’s still on duty.  Uriah’s mission was to support his colleagues who were in harm’s way in the conflict with the Ammonites—he wasn’t going to take time off while that was going on.

That puts David in a bind. If Uriah would not spend time with his beautiful wife, the illicit nature of the pregnancy would be obvious and David’s adultery would be revealed.

Let’s think about this for a moment. David was a man of great power and wealth. He had important responsibilities. Most regarded him as courageous. Yet at this point he abandoned his responsibilities to his people, responsibilities entrusted to him by God, responsibilities that extended far beyond himself. If you look at the whole of the story told in the books of Samuel, David was not the passive recipient of these responsibilities, he sought them out, even fought for them. The responsibility and stewardship of his country’s well-being was something he freely accepted. And now, he acted corruptly, simply to satisfy his own desires he coerced a woman, the wife of another man, to have sex with him and then corruptly sought to cover up the consequences of that choice. This harmed both Bathsheba and Uriah at the outset.  The thing is, corruption doesn’t just stop, there’s no easy reset button. When David’s quick cover-up didn’t work, he tried something more desperate. In order to make Bathsheba a widow, he manipulated his country’s military, he arranged for the troops to do something contrary to any battle plan, or indeed their own safety. He ordered them to put forward a hot attack and then to abandon Uriah the Hittite to be slaughtered. David caused his army to lose one of its best officers to cover up his own lustful indiscretion. David had gone down the steps of selfishness, greed, deceit and corruption and betrayed his army and indeed his country. As this happened, it became for David, as if his commitments to God did not exist, as if God was not real for him.

“The fool has said in his heart, there is no God. All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none who does any good.”

This story is too long for just one Sunday lesson, so it continues next week. I won’t say now what consequences are in store for David. But David was a fool as the psalm explains.

It’s not necessary to be a fool, though many in the world would like you to think it is when they blame others for their own corruption. The opposite of being foolish is being wise. We know wisdom in Jesus. Here’s just one sample from today’s lesson from the Gospel of John: There’s a huge crowd and Jesus talks with his disciples about how to get them fed. Philip observes that they have nothing like the finances to take care of the problem. Jesus just waits—and Andrew looks around for the resources they do have. There was a young person who had a decent sized lunch: five loaves and two fish. The young person contributed what he had, and from that Jesus fed the five thousand people with leftovers to spare. Jesus intentionally did not do this alone, he started with the imagination, resources and generosity of the community. God’s wisdom is in the generosity of God’s people, one with another, their welcome and support of one another, not in the selfishness of a wealthy, powerful and corrupt fool.

Jesus withdrew when they wanted him to be their king, but when the disciples were in trouble out on the lake, he came back to them and said, “It is I, do not be afraid.”

Let us pray.

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy: that, with you as your ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Come to a deserted place and rest a while

A sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 22, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

The disciples told Jesus what they had done, and Jesus told them to come away and rest. People in general, but Americans in particular, like to focus on the things they do, what they accomplish, how busy they are. I’ve been involved in several occupations, and wherever you get a group of people in the same occupation together, even among clergy, someone (or several) will start talking about how busy they are, how little time to relax and so forth.  Much of this is what might be called “humble bragging”—showing off how successful we are by enumerating our hardships. It’s a trap.

The disciples came to Jesus, and they had been out doing good things, challenging things, and there were all sorts of people around them and all sorts of things were going on. Lots of opportunities, challenges, people to heal or to teach—and Jesus says, “let’s get out of here.”

The text of the Gospel points out that so many people were coming and going that they had no time to eat. In that kind of situation, people stop being able to pay attention. Mostly, we just fling back automatic responses, maybe just do anything we’re asked whether it is of any help or not, or maybe just do the opposite: just say no or avoid helping anybody. There comes a time when our rush to respond and do things and get things done makes us of no earthly good to anyone.

Living in God’s compassion is not a competitive sport.

Our society doesn’t seem to care—busyness for the sake of being busy is rewarded. But Jesus tells his disciples, “come away to a deserted place and rest a while.” Quiet, rest, and prayer build compassion and attention. We think that we can do that while we’re multi-tasking with our busyness. … But that doesn’t make much sense, does it? It takes time to dwell in God’s presence—Yes, God is always here, always present FOR us—but it takes time to re-order our brains, empty our minds, let go of the quick and anxious solutions that we obsessively jump to, in order to justify our busyness. It takes time and rest to hear God’s invitation and to see the truth of God’s world and to appreciate the beauty of God’s people.

Now the world conspires to keep us busy and it is not always easy to find the place and time of rest that God is calling us to take. It says that the crowds figured out where Jesus and the disciples were heading in their boat and they ran around the lake and got there before them. Some deserted place that was. I imagine Jesus laughing when he saw them. It says he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. In other words, confused, heading in all the wrong directions, not finding the pastures they wanted, and putting themselves in danger. So Jesus began to teach them. I suppose that they paid him enough attention that the disciples could sit and take it in without being harassed, at least.

Our lectionary does a funny thing here. At this point they skip two of the most important and best-known stories in the Gospel of Mark, the Feeding of the Five Thousand and Jesus Walking on the Water. Most everyone knows those stories, so let’s keep them in mind, because they shed light on today’s reading. Those are big miracles and we remember them as pretty flashy, but they are mostly about Jesus addressing the disciples’ anxiety, getting them to listen and to be calm. Jesus taught the people and they were sitting there all afternoon and it was time to eat. The disciples told Jesus to get rid of the crowds, “Send them away.” Jesus response was to welcome the people, to extend them hospitality. His response to the disciples’ saying the crowds should go and fend for themselves was, “You give them something to eat.” Likewise, later, they were in the boat, struggling, and when they saw Jesus, they panicked and cried out. They were so preoccupied with their anxiety (one translation says “they were tormented in their rowing”) that they couldn’t process the reality that was there: Jesus walking toward them on the water.  We tend to focus on the miraculous and unbelievable aspects of these stories, but in them, Jesus makes his disciples focus on the reality that is there before them. And in the seam between these two miracles, the text says, “After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.”

Prayer and rest are essential in being able to see the world as it really is; to be able to listen and know truth beyond our own anxiety, fear, and unspoken assumptions we hold from our upbringing or our culture. Jesus leads his disciples into hospitality, not by telling them to run around desperately doing things, but telling them to give, telling them to not fear, for he is here with us.

Don’t get caught up in our current fearfulness that manifests in rushing about. All those crowds rushed around, trying to catch Jesus. But he took time and prayed and saw them as they were. Then he reached out his hand and healed them.

Our healing comes in participating in God’s welcome for all people. It’s not some high volume production process – it’s in a simple smile, or a word of encouragement, or a shared prayer. In welcoming we see each person as they are, God’s beloved child. When we are rested in mind and spirit, we can see that.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

 

 

That we might live for the Praise of His Glory

A Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 14, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.

This morning we are baptizing Griffin Loeffler. As beautiful as Griffin is, he is not old enough to talk about it. In all likelihood he won’t directly remember what we do today. So what is it that we are doing? What we are doing, is that TOGETHER we are being Christ’s body, the Church.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, … so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” We will live for the praise of God’s glory, because we participate together in the Resurrection of Christ.  What we are doing is not an empty ritual of the past, but the essential way we live into the future.

This is serious business, so I am going to go through what we will be doing in a minute. If you would like to follow along, you can open your red prayer books to page 302.

We are all called, not only the godparents, but all Christians who take responsibility for being baptized into Christ—we are all called to support this child and his parents so that he can be brought up in the Christian faith and life. This means that we have to be the Church, and live our Christian life in our daily work and society, so that there will exist for this child and others who will be the Church of the 21st century, a Christian faith and life to grow up in. We are called to live in the Truth, and not give into the real forces of evil that exist in this world.

The baptismal service is about how we do that. We renounce the spiritual forces and evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.  These aren’t demons like spooks in movies or on TV. Likening these evil powers to TV shows is one of the ways that we avoid living in the truth. Destructive spiritual powers exist in the real world and they are—what? They are the behavior of real human beings who are acting in their own self-interest and who, usually, are telling themselves they aren’t doing these things. That they’re not behaving with prejudice—even hatred—toward their neighbor because of the color of his skin, or where she went to school, or what country he was born in. Other people are destroyed by that kind of behavior, and nobody takes responsibility for that kind of evil human creation. Christians are called on to renounce those things, to renounce hatred and racism, and prejudice; to renounce disrespecting others because of where they come from, or their education, or social status. Doing this is not simple, it’s not a matter of saying it one time and then forgetting it. Renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness is a lifetime affair, we discover the workings of those powers in our environment and in ourselves over and over throughout our lives.

If we are truthful, we recognize that we do not have the power to defeat those powers, even in our personal lives, let alone in the society around us, where we see manifestations every day in the news. Fascism and terrorism feed on one another, and neither our anger nor our fear can do anything but help them grow. The power that can defeat the forces of hatred, death and destruction is the grace of God in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In him, God has the courage that we need to live honestly and with care for all God’s children.

If we continue on pages 304 and 305, this is the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, this is how we persevere in resisting evil, this is the Good News that we proclaim, this is how we seek and serve Christ in all persons and strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human person. Christ went through everything that we go through; that any one of us goes through. He died. Real death. He was, from beginning to end, a human being from God’s perspective, entirely human, entirely the incarnation of the love of God. His heart was filled with the truth, and he could see the forces of death and destruction—and he loved all those people, yes those who were allied with the forces of death against him—yet he took not those powers of wickedness into his heart.

The word courage is derived from the word for heart—in Jesus, God has the courage for all of us, to live and to reject those forces of evil all around us and have life. As Christians we live in hope—not in wishful thinking, or in fearful apprehension about the future. Hope is the sure knowledge of God’s love in the present and the future, hope is knowing the trustworthiness of Christ. God raised him from the dead so that we live with him and in him without fear. Even if we might be afraid or sad at time we share in the joy of Jesus as he shares his compassion for us. “We who were the first to set our hope in Christ now live for the praise of his glory.”

So we do this together. In baptizing Griffin, we are joining once again into our own baptism into Christ. It is a serious challenge, on a beautiful summer morning, to join in the life of Jesus and live in courage and integrity in a world that is often lacking in both. But it is only in this courageous truthfulness that we have the freedom to live in the joy of God, to live beyond ourselves in the praise of God. We do this together as a community, encompassing all our families. Griffin has a mom and a dad, Erin and Cavan. They clearly love him and do everything to make his life joyful and fruitful. So does Colin, Griffin’s big brother. In baptizing Griffin, we participate in and support that love. In fact, as we welcome a new child into our midst, we become the Body of Christ.

Thus our lesson today concludes:

“In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and had believed him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.”

Let us now proceed to seal Griffin as part of God’s own people, and the praise of the glory of God.

Where did this man get all this?

A sermon for the seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 8, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

Jesus went home, and he taught in the synagogue and it was pretty impressive. But THEY knew his background. “That Mary woman, he’s her son. Yeah, we know about that family. He’s just a rough carpenter, sometimes picked up work framing houses—but I hear now he mostly just wanders around the countryside with those ‘disciples’ of his.  He’s better off just wandering out of here.”

Around home, they know all the down sides of people. When we know people from a long time back, we’re not so inclined to be polite about them, and we’re not so inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt—because we think we know them. But with strangers, it’s different. Especially when someone appears successful, well-dressed, wealthy, powerful. Despite the fact that we really don’t know them, we want to think of them as perfect. And we want to imagine that the people we endorse are perfect—perfectly powerful, perfectly good-looking, no blemishes or doubtful aspects to their background, and certainly never disagreeing with us, or calling our behavior into question.

Jesus was a hometown boy, and the people remembered every little thing, every jealousy, every mistake, every disagreement. By the way—when we talk about Jesus being the incarnation of God, we tend to think that he didn’t make mistakes. I think that’s wrong. He was a human being, and there is no reason to think that, for instance, as a Palestinian kid, he did calculus and differential equations as a three-year-old. His perfection was in being the perfect manifestation of God’s love, and that did not mean that he was never annoying to his elders or contemporaries. So he came to his home town, and he preached in the synagogue. And at first, they listened and the insight touched them, it was extraordinary, but then they said, wait… we know this guy, he’s not so impressive…he’s not a great philosopher, he’s a carpenter.  And we know his family… you know, one of those families—in fact those brothers, James and Joses, I had some dealings with them…

Like the rest of us, the people of Nazareth were looking for something really big, and really impressive, and from sources that could not possibly be criticized. And you know what? Those sources don’t exist, because ever since Eve saw that apple and got into that conversation with the serpent, criticism and suspicion have been a big part of how people do business. So great acts of power… the people of Nazareth weren’t going to see those.

What did Jesus do?  It says, “he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Jesus reached out and healed, and pretty much nobody noticed.  Because he was familiar, and not driving the newest car, or wearing the fanciest clothes, no one noticed that he reached out to the sick and healed them. No flashes of lightning or puffs of smoke, no fireworks like we saw this week, he just laid his hands on a few sick people and cured their disease.

The important things that God does are not fireworks. We come to God for salvation, but that word salvation—it does not mean dramatic rescues, or big rewards far away and a long time off—salvation means healing, salving, of our souls, our relationships, our bodies and our society. Sometimes, especially close to home, that healing comes without all the fanfare that we might want or expect. Jesus healed a few sick people, and that was all that was necessary. Then he sent out those twelve who were with him. Two by two they went with nothing.  Just themselves, no resources. And what did he tell them to do? “Whenever you enter the house stay there.” That’s all, stay there. Nothing big, nothing dramatic and nothing about what wonderful people the disciples were, or even how wonderful Jesus was. So they were there, they talked about the love of God and repentance. In the process here’s what the Gospel says happened, “They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

Sometimes we think, “Oh, if I just lived in Bible times, or the times of the early church!” or “Oh, if there was just the opportunity to know what God is clearly calling me to do, and the chance to do it.” I’ve certainly thought that at times. But if we look at Jesus and his disciples, their life was much like our lives, and what they did, was what we do, they came together, talked about the love of God, prayed for the sick and anointed them with oil.

Friends we are living in Bible times. There has never been a time when the world needed healing more, or when there was more hate abroad in the world. Jesus sent his disciples to be with people to bring peace to their houses, just to be there with them. God is the one who casts out demons, but we gather together and pray—like the disciples we may have no bread, no bag, no money in our belts—but God cures the sick and gives us life, not through drama, but through his presence.

St. Paul said this to the church at Corinth:

God said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.