Thunder Twins

A sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, October 21, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

You’ve got to love James and John, these sons of Zebedee. They just keep coming after it. When the disciples talk about who the greatest one is, they start the conversation; when they get Jesus alone, they ask for the places of honor; in one of the gospels, even their mother gets in the act, trying to get the best places for her boys. They even had a great nickname: Boanerges, which means “Sons of Thunder.” Basically we’ve got the Thunder Twins here.

Jesus loved these guys. He put up with all their tricks, even though it was a bit puzzling at times. Why would they even WANT to be at his right and left hand in his glory, when we read in the Gospel of John that Jesus was glorified on the cross? A lot of people don’t realize this, but when Jesus chose his disciples, he didn’t choose them because they were the greatest geniuses. Not even because they had “potential.”  It appears that these guys thought a lot of themselves, and perhaps they thought that they were in a movement where it would mean a lot to be the chief lieutenants, maybe Jesus’ designated successors. They clearly didn’t get what Jesus was about.

I’ve sometimes noticed that when Jesus told his disciples that “the first shall be last,” we in the Episcopal Church decided that that meant that we should put the Bishop, or whoever was wearing the fanciest clothes at the back of the procession and make that the place of honor. Jesus just shakes his head. Jesus chose for his disciples pretty much a random sample of goofballs, illustrating that the Kingdom of God is made up of people who receive God’s mercy. They weren’t all the same, but none of them were grand or great. Each in his own way had failings and shortcomings, and Jesus loved each of them.

The Thunder Twins were a couple of guys pretty full of themselves. Insofar as I can tell, their resumes included being assistant fishermen on their father’s boat on an inland lake, until one day, in the middle of the day, they just left everything to go follow some guy. And they got a nickname that probably indicates they were loud talkers. They weren’t great strategists or rhetoricians, neither wealthy nor skilled at obtaining wealth. But they thought very highly of their own prospects. I’ve known a few such guys. Once or twice I met him in the mirror. But Jesus loved these guys, not because they were full of themselves, but because he loved them. They were human and he was their friend.

They may well have known that when Jesus asked them, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” that he was referring to difficult times ahead. They loved him, they were with him, even when they didn’t get it … at least, not completely.

Of course, once the issue of preference and status was raised, the whole crew got into a row. It might not have occurred to some of the others to ask to be at Jesus’ right hand, but now that you mention it, it’s a good thing to be offended about. Jesus stops it. “It is not so among you.” The Kingdom of God is not one of preference and advantage. When God is in charge, each of us receives mercy and love enough, no matter how needy we are. If our need is to lord it over others, then Jesus brings us more mercy and a new way to be God’s children and servants.

Here at Calvary we are beloved by God, each in our own quirkiness, and our own neediness, and in our own goodness. We have the opportunity, in being ourselves, to grow into the generosity and the welcome of God. We have the privilege to give, to help, to serve others, not out a need to have status or rack up achievements, but from the overwhelming mercy and love of God. Perhaps it’s paradoxical, but living humbly as one who is loved and who receives great mercy makes it possible to discover and share greater gifts than we would have in seeking to be first. There is no need to hold on to the things that will increase our own status or power—we have more to give. Here at Calvary there is an abundance of gifts, of people, intelligence, of good lives lived, of youth and possibilities ahead, of prosperity that can be shared. There is no need to be fearful or to seek further reassurance, Jesus is here, he serves us and invites us to serve his world. “Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

This is said another way in our epistle reading from Hebrews:

He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness;… Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”

He deals gently with all of us.  We see him dealing gently with the Thunder Twins, even when they mistake their faults to be leading virtues. He deals gently with us, even when we are afraid or mistaken. We live together in God’s mercy, and in that we can take joy.

Let us pray:

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

But they were Silent

A sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, September 23, 2018

Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey

Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent…

They were silent.

Not so much different from that silence that a parent hears when the young kids are in that other room playing, and instead of the sounds of playing, there is … quiet. You know that there is something going on, and it is probably not good. You know, we love these kids and they are actually cute when they first start doing this, but it is the first sign of the loss of innocence—they are quiet because they know that they are doing something they shouldn’t.

So these disciples were silent, and not in some deep, meditative, tranquil way. They had been arguing, and they weren’t even arguing about being allowed to pick up the check for the others. They were arguing over who was the greatest. It doesn’t say the greatest what. Was it the best accountant? The best leader? The one who could hold his breath underwater the longest? The one who was the most generous and Christlike? It doesn’t actually matter. The world rewards the best leader. The Roman Empire rewarded the best leader. A few years ago, Paula and I went to Rome and we walked around the ruins of the palace of the Roman emperors—it was huge by any standards, ancient or modern, bigger than the residences of any of the wealthy and powerful today.  None of these disciples ever saw that palace, but they knew about palaces and how the Great men who owned them received deference from everyone, and had all sorts of privilege. So that’s one kind of kingdom, and if we’re coming into the Kingdom of God, it might be different, but it’s a pretty good model, right? Especially if I get to be—not the king or the emperor—but maybe the Grand Duke or the Archbishop? I think that’s what they were arguing about. Who gets to be Jesus’ top assistant and maybe chief of staff, who gets the honor and the privilege in the Kingdom of God?

But when Jesus asked them what they were arguing about, they were silent. They knew, they could tell, that Jesus didn’t work that way.  “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Privilege and respect don’t even compute for Jesus. Be the servant, that’s what counts. There is nothing about following Jesus that involves achieving distinction, certainly not about power or privilege. It is about being who you are, not some status you aspire to.

The next step is Jesus bringing the child into the circle. I love little kids and so do a lot of us here. It’s a great joy to see them enjoy life, and learn, and develop and play. Kids are wonderful to have around. But I don’t think that’s what is going on in this particular passage. It is not the charm, or the affection, or even the promise of the little children that caused Jesus to bring this child into the circle of disciples. Everyone there knew that a child had no power or influence. The child did what it was told and its opinions didn’t count.  The disciples had been discussing who was the biggest and Jesus showed them someone entirely different. “Whoever welcomes one such child welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but God.” The privilege and the respect are for the powerless, those who are not respected. That argument—who’s the greatest, who’s the biggest, who’s the one who’s entitled to the most; that discussion and those whoevers are not even relevant to Jesus or the Kingdom of God. Who suffers? Who needs healing? Who has not been listened to? That is where the Kingdom is—that is whom Jesus welcomes.

One thing that I want to say here is one of those questions is really important, and we all over the Church just let it pass by, not just too often, but all the time: Who has not been listened to? The smart and the experienced think they can figure out everything, and so for years the Episcopal Church, and other churches, have been in decline.  We don’t actually listen to the opinions and the desires of our youth and our young adults. And it’s not so surprising that they drift away.  I am not going to oversimplify or solve these issues in one brief sermon, but we might be surprised by the Christianity that emerges from those who are younger, and are not interested in being the church like us.  I doubt that it will be what we think we already know. I doubt that the youth and young adults want to be pandered to, or that they want a Christianity that is easier or less challenging.

The challenge is Jesus. Jesus in the rest of this century, how do we listen to him?

Whoever welcomes one such as this, the last, the least, the most ignored, welcomes me, he says.  Welcoming God is welcoming those we want to ignore. That is the challenge for the church.

God guides us into a life of confident humility, and in thus welcoming God, we have the joy of the presence of Christ.

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,

nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,

and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,

bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither,

everything they do shall prosper.

A New Commandment I give–That you love one another as I have loved you

Maunday Thursday St. Paul’s-on-the-Hill, Ossining, New York. April 17, 2014

Maundy Thursday at St. Paul’s was an informal affair, built around a parish potluck.

First were the lessons [Exodus 12:1-14a –the Passover; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26—the Institution of the Eucharist; John 13:1-15—the footwashing at the last supper].footwashing_02 Then the invitation and instructions, which include an explanation that we are all servants of one another, so even though the priest might want to claim all the “juniority” for himself to prove that he’s really the Jesus character in all this, it is really appropriate for the congregation to wash one another’s feet.  Which they then proceeded to do.

A wonderful and various meal ensued.  There were edifying plays, in which a delivery person tries to find someone to take a cross off his hands.  At the end was the celebration of the Eucharist, in which the story and explanation of the last supper was told, as outlined below.

Eucharistic Prayer

C:The Lord be with you.

P:And also with you.

C:Lift up your hearts.

P:We lift them to the Lord.

C:Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

P:It is right to give him thanks and praise.

We thank you, O Father, for the creation of the world and for the redemption of your people Israel. And for giving your only Son, bringing all of us your redemption.

The story—

  • Jesus and his disciples came to the Holy City at the time of the Passover.
  • The story of the Passover:

o   Enslavement in Egypt

o   Moses confronting Pharoah

o   The first born and the Passover lamb

o   The red sea and wandering in the desert

o   Entry into the promised land

o   Participation in the meal as participation in the Exodus

  • Jesus and his friends at Passover

o   Seder or before the seder? Probably a special meal anticipating what was to happen.

o   The threat, the expectation

o   The bread, the wine, the footwashing

o   Participating in the Eucharist as participation in Jesus

Eucharisteo, We thank you, father for this life, the life of your people sanctified in Jesus, your Son.

And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.

On the night he was betrayed he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his friends, and said,”Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”


After supper,  he took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and said,”Drink this, all of you. This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”


Father, we now celebrate the memorial of your Son. By

means of this holy bread and cup, we show forth the sacrifice of  is death, and proclaim  his resurrection, until he comes agam.


Gather us by this Holy Communion into one body in your

Son Jesus Christ. Make  us a living sacrifice of praise.


By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and for ever. AMEN.

As your son Christ taught us we are bold to pray:

Our father–


The congregation then moved to the Church for the stripping of the altar. The reserved sacrament was then conveyed to Trinity Church for the all-night vigil at the altar of repose.