Tag Archives: Year A

Sermon: Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Below is my sermon from this past Sunday at St. Luke’s East Greenwich.  We are using track two, and the lessons can be found here.  I preached this sermon without notes, but there is a video recording of it.  As always your feedback and comments are encouraged and welcome. 

 

 

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Drive Fast and Take Chances: A Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7A)

Below is the sermon I preached yesterday (25 June 2017) at The Church of the Redeemer.  It was a powerful day at the Redeemer as we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the laying and blessing of the corner stone, and it was also my last Sunday at the Redeemer.  The lessons can be found here, we used track 2.  You can listen to the recording over on the parish website, or click on the link below.  

DRIVE FAST AND TAKE CHANCES

drive-fast-and-take-chances-2One of my favorite memories of my late Aunt Kim was the way she used to send us forth from her house after a visit. Now, some people might be inclined to say “Be safe,” “drive carefully,” or “call me when you get home,” but not Kim. As we descended the steps from their front porch, she would stand with my uncle and cousins waving goodbye. And just as we were about to enter the car she would yell, “drive fast and take chances.”

I have always found great joy an amusement in this saying. But over the last two months, I have begun to think a bit differently about it. It seems to me this is more than just a quirky dismissal from my godmother, but rather a charge for discipleship.

Drive fast is not about recklessness, it is about urgency. It is about knowing that you have to get to your destination with a sense of intense determination. It is a call to move with haste and not delay from the journey that has been set before you.

 Take chances, then, is not about getting ourselves into foolish situations, it is about letting go of fear so that you can make bold proclamations in word and deed. It is about standing up for truth and justice. It is a willingness to be counter-cultural for the sake of what is meet and right.

As I look at our lessons today – at Jeremiah, Romans, and Matthew

As I think about the historic occasion we celebrate in our parish life – the 100th anniversary of the laying and blessing of the corner stone.

As I think about my final Sunday here with all of you.

I cannot help but think that at the center of it all is that phrase:
Drive fast and take chances.

 In the book of Jeremiah, we encounter a prophet in the midst of turmoil: a prophet who is lamenting his prophetic mission. God has placed upon Jeremiah the task of proclaiming to the people of Jerusalem that their city will be destroyed. Jeremiah expresses deep grief and anger for this call, and that is exactly what we hear this morning.

Now these words from Jeremiah are not the words of some mental breakdown, or existential crisis.   These are words of his tradition. They are an expression that finds its place rooted in the psalms. Jeremiah has been influenced by the tradition, he has been immersed in it, and therefore cries out in that familiar language.  So he offers his lament.

You can almost feel Jeremiah’s anguish at the beginning of today’s lesson:

O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.

Lord you have lured me in, it is as if Jeremiah is saying.  There is something almost seductive in the way the Lord calls Jeremiah.

And because of that call, Jeremiah has become the laughing stock of his community.  Proclaiming that message, proclaiming that the great city of Jerusalem will be destroyed is certainly not winning Jeremiah any popularity contests.  But Jeremiah has no choice. He does not take on the mantle of prophet because it seems like a glamorous way of life. He does it because he cannot not prophesy.

If Jeremiah refuses to speak then a burning fire is kindled inside of him – a fire so hot that he cannot hold it – a fire so hot that it will incinerate all his bones.

And because of this in the midst of his anger and grief, in the midst of his pain and anguish, he cannot help but trust in God. Jeremiah trusts that God will indeed protect him, protect him like a dread warrior, and therefore has no choice but to worship God and go on prophesying. For Jeremiah there is great urgency and intensity in his prophetic witness.

What if we allowed ourselves to channel that same prophetic intensity?

What if we allowed ourselves to be so overcome by the word God has placed on our hearts, by the vocations that God has laid before us that if we did not act upon them, if we do not proclaim them, then an intense fire would be kindled in each of us – a fire so intense that we could not bear to keep it in?

What would Hope Street look like if we lived with that same prophetic intensity as Jeremiah?

If despite any anger or grief, any pain or anguish we went on glorifying God?
Singing to the Lord
Praising the Lord
Proclaiming the words that have been revealed to us.
Living fully into our identity. 

But what is this word . . . what is this identity that God has laid upon us.

The Word is Jesus.

The identity is:
Disciple
Christian
The Baptized

Paul in his letter to the Romans is unequivocal about what that identity means:

Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Being the Baptized means living in a completely new way. Baptism is not just some rite of passage, or familial obligation. When we are baptized our very being changes – we are united with Christ in a particular and intimate way.  When we are lifted out of the waters of baptism we share in the death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are empowered with a new identity and if we fully embrace that identity it will have implications for every aspect of our lives.

As baptized people we are called to share in the life and ministry of Jesus. That means it is our responsibility to teach, to preach, to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. It is our responsibility to build relationships in our community through such ventures as the East Side Community Alliance. It is our responsibility to support the work of Camp Street Ministry. It is our responsibility to continue working to break down the systematic oppression of racism that plagues our neighborhood.

Being the baptized is a great responsibility. But through the gift of the Holy Spirit we have been empowered to take risks: to make bold proclamations in word and deed. For Jesus is clear, that we will do greater things if we truly believe.

Baptism places before us a road of discipleship that ultimately leads to the cross.   But through the grace, mercy, and loving-kindness of God we can trust that God will protect and care for us. We can trust that this life is not a burden, but a journey to the most glorious way of living imaginable.

So be not afraid.
Let go of the anger and grief, the pain and anguish for we are alive in Christ.

But let’s be real. There is plenty to fear on the Christian journey.

Once again this week we hear some pretty startling words from Jesus:

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . . and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Despite what we might think at first glance, Jesus is not against family. But Jesus is making a profoundly clear statement as to where our loyalty should lie.

We are to love God above all else.
We are to serve God about all else.
We are to follow God above all else
.
And sometimes that is going to lead to conflict. Sometimes that is going to mean we will have to reject expectations from our families and friends.  It is not an uncommon story to hear family ties and ties of friendship being strained and broken because one person answered the call to follow Jesus.

In the midst of this warning, Jesus also offers words of comfort.  Jesus knows exactly what he is asking us to do.  Those who sacrifice for the sake of Christ will ultimately be rewarded – those who lose their life will find it. Those who give everything up to answer the call of Jesus will find the path to glorious and abundant life.

By virtue of our relationship with God we are the beloved of God and thus will be cared for by God: So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Knowing the risks. Knowing the cost. Jesus still asks us to follow. Jesus still invites us to claim our identity as disciples, as Christians, as the Baptized.

It is that invitation that allows us to proclaim with boldness, to shout from the housetops that which was whispered to us, to declare in the light that which was spoken in the dark.

It is that invitation that allows us to drive fast and take chances.

And that my friends, is exactly what the Church of the Redeemer has been doing for the last 100 years.cornerstone

100 years ago, the people of the Redeemer understood the urgency of the being followers of Jesus. They listened to the call from their Bishop. They prayed together. And they decided to get up and go. To leave the place they had known and come to a new neighborhood. 100 years ago the people of the Redeemer proclaimed with boldness that they were not afraid to take risks for the sake of spreading the Gospel.  And ever sense then, this community has been striving to fulfill that call – to live fully into the identity as disciples of Jesus.

It was with a sense of determination that this place – was set apart to be a temple of the Most High God. To be a place that would continually offer prayers and praise to the Most Holy Name of God. From the very beginning of the Church of the Redeemer at 655 Hope Street that life of prayer has been carried out with integrity and dedication to our Anglican tradition and heritage.

This is a place that has been profoundly blessed by the grace of God. This place has been filled with the Holy Spirit in ways that surpass almost every other that I have experienced. But most importantly this is a place – this is a community – that is unabashed in sharing that grace with those whom we have been called to serve.

This place has been a refuge for the broken and hurting. This place has been a haven for those society places at the margins. In this place there is truly a place at the table for each and every person who dares to enter the doors. That is the legacy that was built upon the cornerstone 100 years ago.

Today as we mark this important anniversary we have the responsibility to continue to build upon the foundation, which previous generations have laid. We must continue this legacy for the next 100 years, and we do that by laying new foundations. Foundations that further embed this community within the fabric of our wider neighborhood.
Foundations laid at Camp Street.
Foundations laid at the East Side Community Alliance.
Foundations laid with the emerging choir program.
Foundations that will serve as a tangible witness to the reconciling love of God that has inspired this community for the last century.

As members of the Baptized gathered here on Hope Street a great trust and responsibility has been laid upon us. So act with urgency to proclaim with boldness the love of God in your words and deeds. Let go of fear so that you might be able to take risks to spread the Gospel and follow Jesus on the road of discipleship.

Dear friends of the Church of the Redeemer. It has been my joy and privilege to be among you for these last few years. You have enriched and blessed my life in ways you will never know. So today I say to you that quirky dismissal my godmother said to me: drive fast and take chance.

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sermon: Proper 27A

Photo taken by Linda L. Grenz.

Photo taken by Linda L. Grenz.

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at my sponsoring parish   The Church of the Redeemer.  I decided to take a risk and preach without notes or manuscript.  It was an amazing experience and I give great thanks for the incredibly generous and gracious response of my parish community.   You can read the lessons for Proper 27A here. Note: we used Amos 5:18-24 and Psalm 70.  Specifically, I preached the Gospel.

 

 

 

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Lord, have mercy.

Sermon preached on Proper 15A (August 17, 2014) at The Church of the Redeemer, Providence RI. You can read the lessons here.  

Over the last several weeks, I have heard and seen one phrase more than any other: Lord, have mercy.

To watch the news, read the paper, to look at social media means being confronted by the violence, destruction, and hatred in the world around us. Planes being shot down; terrorist groups massacring men, women, and children; violence overtaking Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, East Africa; violence taking over the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. I don’t know about you, but as I watch the horror unfold it is all to tempting to turn the page to the next story, to change the television station, to scroll through my Facebook feed until I find pictures of cute little animalLHMs. This, however, is not a luxury that we can afford. We cannot as Christians – as human beings – pretend that nothing is going on and turn and look the other way. We must cry out – Lord, have mercy. This mercy is the cornerstone of our Gospel passage today.

This Gospel passage is a complicated and messy one. There is a demon, Jesus ignoring the cries of a desperate mother, annoyed disciples, a restrictive mission of Jesus, and the apparent insult of Jesus calling this woman a dog. There is far more going on in this Gospel than any preacher can cover reasonably in one sermon. But if we step back and look at the larger picture, it seems to me this Gospel brings forward one very key theme. God’s mercy transcends all boundaries that separate and divide humanity.

The Gospel begins, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” The religious authorities, the Pharisees, are greatly concerned with the purity codes – they are ever vigilant to not put anything into their body that is seen as unclean. Jesus is criticizing and chastising the official keepers of the Jewish tradition. They have become so concerned with following the rules and regulations that they have squeezed the life out of their tradition turning it into a tool of division. Jesus, in a seemingly crass way, calls them out saying that it does not matter what you eat. What you ate yesterday has been washed away in the sewer, but lies, hatred, and violence are not washed away. When those things come out of your mouth, it changes your heart. That is what we are to be concerned about these are the things that defile, that make a person unclean.

Now Matthew is writing to the church of his day, a church that is an increasing blend of Jews and Gentiles. It is an increasing blend of those who were raised within the structures of Jewish written and oral tradition and those who were excluded on the basis of the same tradition. It is a church struggling to figure out who is in and who is out, which rules to follow and which to ignore, what traditions to carry with them and what traditions to leave behind. The new Christians are trying to sort out their life of faith and so the evangelist recounts this hard-hitting message from Jesus. According to Jesus, purity or religious faithfulness is not about worshipping tradition uncritically. It is not about blindly following the rules and regulations at the expense of others. It is not about policy that segregates portions of the population. It is not about casting aside individuals as unworthy and less than.

For Jesus, religious purity and faithful discipleship are not measured by how many perfect attendance badges one earns for Sunday School, how often one has read the Bible form cover to cover, how many liturgies one goes to, how much money one contributes in their pledge, or how many A’s a person gets in seminary. Purity and faithfulness are shown ultimately by how the church speaks and lives out the radical hospitality and love of Christ. It is marked by what comes from our hearts, the words we preach, the way we treat others, and how we care for the stranger and outcast in our midst.

For better or for worse, we live in a society based on power and privilege, a society where some are put down for the benefit of others, where the system does not treat everyone equally. We live in the midst of a broken system where only the extreme voices are heard. Moderation and compromise have been lost. The scariest part of this system is the boundaries it creates. If you do not act like we do, if you do not follow our rules, if you disagree with what we say, if you do not believe as we do you are not only wrong, but you are evil. This is the system I see at work when I look at what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri. A sysFergusontem that has been completely broken down and plagued by a “huge poverty of trust in the community.” The sides have been set, and the extreme voices are those that are being broadcast at the highest volume. The situation has escalated to extreme proportions and it is easy to confuse the images coming out of Missouri with those coming out of a war zone. This is the same system for which Jesus chastises the Pharisees.

A friend and colleague of mine is the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis. He has been working tirelessly with other clergy, community leaders, and youth to stand peacefully in the midst of the violence plaguing their community. In one interview Mike had the following to say:

It’s so easy in moments like this to cast one side, one person, one group of people as completely good and the other side as completely evil and we have to resist that at all costs. But, we are called to be ambassadors of Christ and ministers of reconciliation and we stand with everyone. We have to call all of us to be those images of God that are our best selves.

Mike’s words apply not only to the situation in Missouri, but to this Gospel passage as well. We cannot cast people aside and continue to create boundaries of separation. We must be ministers of reconciliation. We must pray that the mercy of God descend upon the people of Ferguson – and all places of war and violence – and wash away the defilement in our hearts. It is this mercy that will lead to understanding, and it is only through understanding – not violence – that peace will prevail.

As soon as we finish hearing about Jesus taking these Pharisees to task, we hear of the encounter of Jesus and the unnamed Canaanite woman.

“Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Jesus ignores her, and the disciples are UCWclearly annoyed. They want her sent away out of their sight. Jesus claims his ministry as one “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” A ministry not meant for her. But, the woman does not stop. She kneels before him and begs, “Lord, help me.” Jesus’ responses is one that catches me off guard each and every time I hear it, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus seemingly insults the woman. (It should be noted that “dog” was a common name Jews gave to Gentile pagans). But even this insult does not stop this woman. She said in response, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus has a change of heart, he listens to the pleas of this woman, recognizes her great faith, and heals her daughter.

What I find so striking about this encounter is that it is not Jesus who takes his mission to the Gentiles. But rather, it is this Gentile woman that goes after Jesus. In taking the initiative in this encounter, the woman crosses countless societal boundaries. Again and again she violates boundaries of ethnicity, heritage, religion, gender, and demon possession. She must even contend with Jesus’ reluctance to violate the ethnic boundary, but nothing will stop her from obtaining the mercy and healing of God for herself and her daughter.

This woman believes that she and her daughter are people who should benefit from God’s work in the world. She is willing to go against every boundary established in her societal context. Jesus recognizes her unending desire for the mercy of God, and names it her faith – her great faith.

Part of the challenge of this passage is that Jesus does not act as we expect he should act. Jesus is the one who constantly breaks down barriers of power and privilege. He is the one who corrects the disciples when they say, “surely you can’t be serious about helping that person.” He is not the person who lives in step with those boundaries. Yet that is what he seems to be doing here.   Now some commentaries I read this week say that Jesus is being tongue in cheek following the first few verses of this passage, while others said this is a moment where Jesus is caught “with his compassion down.” But, I think the motivation and reasoning of Jesus’ actions are irrelevant to us. What we must struggle and wrestle with is that Jesus does not act as we want him to. We must recognize that we do not control the timing or direction of the spread of God’s mercy.

This Gospel passage leaves us with far more questions than answers. I know that it leaves me in an uncomfortable place.

Despite hatred, violence, and prejudice the boundaries of God’s mercy are stronger than any barrier we can put in place. In witness to the depth of human misery and suffering we cry out, “Lord, have mercy.” When it seems that everything, even the church, stands in the way of God’s mercy we must persist. Like the unnamed Canaanite woman, we must not take silence, no, or insult as the final answer. We must continue to shout, beg, and plead for God’s mercy to come into the world. We must act as reconciling agents working to break down every barrier that divides: barriers of race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical ability, geographic location, and political affiliation.

As my friend Mike said, “[This] is the long term work of the Church, to build relationships of love and respect with everyone so we can bring people together and say let’s listen to everybody and look at who God is calling us to be.”

In a world of division and enemies, we must adhere to enemy love: To refuse to live in the “us and them” paradigm, to refuse to battle for the destruction of our enemy. We must work to make sure that all voices are heard, that every single human being is valued as the beloved child of God that they are.

This is a parish that knows how to do this work. It is a parish that has been at the forefront of every fight for inclusion in The Episcopal Church. In light of this history, and our call as Christians to break down the bonds of oppression and the barriers of violence, I wonder what dark place this community is being called to next. What defiled, toxic, and unwanted place is Jesus calling us to follow him? Who are the outcasts and those deemed unworthy of God’s mercy that we can stand up for and shout for until they too know the mercy and grace of God. My friends, our work is not done yet. May we join with those in Missouri, Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, East Africa, and with the unnamed Canaanite woman in proclaiming, “Lord, help me. Lord, help us. Lord, have mercy.”

AMEN

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Life is hard

Sermon preached on Proper 12A (July 27, 2014) at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea, Narragansett RI on the occasion of my final Sunday as the Director of Ministry.  You can read the lessons here.  

Life is hard. There is no way around it. Life is simply hard. For me, and maybe for you, today is hard. There is no way around it. Today is simply hard.

Many people say that when a person prepares a sermon, what they are really preaching is what they need to hear most. When I first read the lessons for today, I was less than amused. What was being said is exactly what I did not want to hear. But, in a way only possible by the Spirit, today’s lessons could not have been more appropriate. These lessons are exactly what I need to hear, and I hope that they provide a similar encouragement and support to you.

I wonder how many of you thought today’s Epistle – the lesson we hear from Paul’s letter to the Romans – sounds familiar? If 1 Corinthians 13 – love is patient, love is kind – has become the lesson for weddings, today’s lesson from Romans has become the favorite text for funerals. There is something incredibly profound for those who mourn in this lesson. “For I am convinced,” Paul writes, “that neither death, nor life . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” One of the most important pastoral privileges is to stand with those who have been weighed down by the power of death and cannot proclaim with Paul, “No, these things cannot prevail.” When we are surrounded by death, when we face the painful reality of being separated in this earthly life form a loved one – it is easy to see how moving these words can be, that nothing – not even death – can separate us from the love of God. But, this message and the power of this lesson, goes far beyond the liturgical setting of a funeral.

Separation is a genuine issue in our lives. Each and every day with each and every decision we make we are faced with the reality of separation. To chose one thing inherently means we leave behind something else. This leaving behind is a source of great pain in life. One cannot become an adult without leaving childhood behind. One cannot raise children without the full expectation that they will go away and leave us behind. One cannot become postulant and go to seminary without leaving a parish community behind. At the very heart of what it means to be human is separation from those things and those people we love. This is the genius of the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Paul writes eloquently about the powers that cause separation. Paul understand this conflict, he understands the cosmic forces that cause separation. He understands leaving behind a way of life in order to follow God. So Paul lists the many forces at work in the world around us. Hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword, death, life, angles, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, and anything else in all creation.

Hardship is the first thing listed, and as such it is easy to overlook and pass by it without a second thought. This is something we should not overlook, because hardness of life is a struggle that presents itself to us each and every day. Life is hard. We must make difficult decisions, do things we do not wish to do, be faced with circumstances we have never been prepared for, leave behind things and people we have come to know and love. The best pastoral care we can extend to one another is to stand along side, to be a companion along the way, to help each other find ways through the hard stuff of life.

From hardness Paul goes on to talk about distress. Let’s talk about a frequent force in life. When we cannot complete all that we want to finish, when we do all that we can do and it is still not enough, when we are unable to figure out what we need to do next, we are in distress. Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever not been able to accomplish everything? Have you ever felt that what you have to offer is never enough? Have you ever felt that no matter how hard you try you can never accomplish those last few things on your to-do list? I know I have. I know that I will not get to those last couple of emails, phone calls, or meetings I hoped to as your Director of Ministry. This distress, this seeming failure, can easily overwhelm and over take us.

Paul moves on, from hardness to distress and distress to persecution. The prevalence of persecution makes this force especially significant. The violence done to women and men as a result of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, socioeconomic status, physical ability, political affiliation, and so on. The violence committed for no other reason than the continuation of more violence and hatred. Maybe you have been victim to this violence, to this persecution and oppression. I know there are people in our midst, people we may not even realize, who have experienced the devastating pain of being named other – of being cast off and set aside.

One of the saddest things about this type of violence is that we are the creators of such boundaries. We are the ones who create the status of other. It is our duty and responsibility to recognize where we build up and sustain societal expressions of power and privilege. We must recognize that we benefit from someone else being put down. We must recognize that the Church is at times, the worst offender of naming someone other.

These forces are completely overwhelming, and have seemingly tipped the scales completely over. How easy it would be to just let these forces of separation knock us over and become further participants and bystanders to their work in the world. How easy it would be to accept that this is just the way life is. But, Paul – this great apostle to the gentiles, the apostle to you and to me – reminds us that this overwhelming reality is not the last word.

In the midst of all this, it is remarkable that Paul proclaims, “NO!” Shall these things prevail? Shall these things have the capacity to undo us, to undo the most central element of our lives – God’s love? No! Paul is convinced, and we should be too, that nothing will ever prevail against God’s love. The conflict of the powers is engaged head-on, and the victor is God’s love. It is God’s grace, power, and love that will have the last word, that will overturn all the binds and oppresses us, that will flip the scales in the other direction – the direction of the true nature of creation the nature of the Kingdom of God.

So what is this Kingdom of God, to what should we compare it? The kingdom of heave is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea. Mustard and yeast, a thief and a merchant.

If we take a second look at the characters we find in this rapid-fire list of parables, you might be struck by the fact that they are a little shady, subversive, and corrupt. Mustard is a weed a farmer would pull from a field, but here God’s empire is compared to the mustard seed, starting very small but growing into a shrub. Yeast, the agent that bloats and rots corpses and what a woman would clean from her house in preparation for Passover, is a positive here. God is fermenting the kingdom of heaven within the world, just like the woman mixes – or spoils – flour with yeast. What about the man who finds the treasure in someone else’s field? He sells all that he has, gets rid of every possession, in order to buy that field. By the way, he doesn’t tell the current owner that there is a treasure on his property. What was he even doing digging around someone else’ field in the first place? His action is a theft.

Now merchants were not highly regarded in biblical times. Their motives and everything they did was suspect. This merchant, however, puts himself out of business to make the ultimate purchase. Once one has sacrificed everything to make the ultimate purchase, there is nothing left to buy and sell.

These parables elevate convention-subverting persons and things to describe discipleship in the kingdom of God. Whatever else they mean, these parables hint that God’s kingdom – and therefore good citizenship in God’s kingdom – is fundamentally different from Rome’s. It is fundamentally different from the secular culture around us.

These parables present a radical challenge to us living in the United States, where the Christian faith is predominantly a middle-class, convention-supporting religion. While church going does no occupy the same mainline practice as it once did in the 1950s, we still operate under a mainline mentality. These parables challenge what it means to be a mainline mentality by asking what is means to prepare – to be trained – to be a disciple fit for the kingdom of God.

The church’s work in every age is to form disciples who value contemporary equivalents of weeds, yeast, thieves, and merchants. We are to value that which is cast aside and use it to proclaim the Gospel in our midst. We are to put our own greed aside to help those who have nothing – to realize that we are called to give up some of our power so that those who have been put down can be raised up. We are to shed everything of this world that binds us so that we can obtain the ultimate possession. We are to take that which we wish to deny in ourselves, that which we have been told is wrong, bad, evil, and no good and use it to build the Kingdom of God.

It is easy to think we are not good enough, that we have not done enough, that we do not know enough, that we are not worthy enough to do that which we have been called to do. To think we have no place being a business owner, a teacher, a community member, a parent, a spouse, a priest, that we have no business being a seminarian. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the forces at work in the world that try to do nothing more than tear us down. It is easy to allow those forces to do that work, to believe the world when it tells you that you are not rich enough, pretty enough, fast enough, or smart enough to carry out your work. But when all this gets in our way, we join our voices with Paul and proclaim that nothing can separate us from the love of God – that nothing can separate us from the reality of the goodness of our creation. We remember that the Kingdom of God does not subscribe to the wills and understandings of this world, because that which the world names a weed, God uses to build the kingdom.

We live in a world based on fear and scarcity. In a world where we are told there is not enough to go around. But I wonder, what would it mean for us to live without fear? I wonder what it would mean to live a life of abundance? If God’s promises are true, if Paul is correct, than nothing will ever stand in our way. If we truly believe the Good News of God in Christ there is always enough to go around, there is no reason to live a life of any fear, anxiety, or scarcity. If we trust in God, God will have the last word and the Kingdom of God will prevail. This is the work set before us, this is what we are called, implored, begged to do.

As followers of Jesus we are called to participate in God’s work in companionship with others, walking alongside them as equals. We are to reach out to the world God so loved, the world far outside our Church doors, the world that may not know the story of Jesus and of God’s unconditional love for humanity. We are to tell the world of God’s power over death and all that separates us from the life abundant God offers.

Together as Director of Ministry and congregation we have begun to do this work. We have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, given the gift of joy to those in despair in ways that I still cannot even begin to comprehend. Together we have trained to be disciples of Jesus. Thank you for trusting me to lead you in this ministry, thank you for joining in being a weed in this world, thank you for counting me as a member of this truly blessed community.

My friends, life is hard. Each and everyday we make decisions that cause us to leave behind those people and things we know and love. But in the midst of all this we have no reason to fear, and every reason to rejoice.

AMEN

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The Most Amazing Relationship

Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday (June 15, 2014) at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea, Narragansett RI.  You can listen to the sermon here.  

Today is one of my favorite feast days in the life of the Church.  As such, I find it baffling that all week long my Facebook feed has been filling up with clergy lamenting on having to preach today.  The Trinity is one of the most – maybe even the most – complicated doctrine the Church holds.  A poor metaphoric choice can easily lead the preacher down the path of heresy.  The Trinity is like water that can be found as a solid, liquid, or gas.  Nice try, but that’s modalism and it’s heresy.  The Trinity is like the Sun, which is star, heat, and light.  That understanding is arianism and it is a heresy.  How about the three-leaf clover metaphor?  That’s partialism, and you guessed it that is a heresy too.  Like I said, the Trinity is a very complicated thing to understand.

So if the Trinity is so hard to understand – if it is in fact beyond human comprehension why do we bother preaching on it?  Why bother having a Sunday dedicated to this doctrine?  If you ask me, it would be completely foolish not to.

TrinityIn a recent interview, I was asked what my image of God is when I pray.  My image of God is one of relationship.  Not only is God in relationship with God’s self – three in one and one in three – but God also desires nothing more than to be in a deep and abiding relationship with each and every one of us.  All that we are and all that we believe as Christians is based on this – God loves us so much that God will do absolutely anything to build and maintain this relationship with us.  We know the extent of this love; we know what happens on Good Friday.  This relationship, this desire to love us completely, even when we do not love ourselves in the same way or return that love to God, is what this day, this Trinity Sunday, is all about.  Understanding the Trinity is how we understand our relationship with our Triune God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to baptize people in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  But, what if we had been given a different formula?  What is there was no Trinity?

“I baptize you in the name of the Father.”  To only recognize the Father, leaves out the person and work of Christ and the ongoing activity of the Spirit.  This would mean being baptized into a God full of mystery and power, but it would also mean being baptized into the fullness of a God who is detached.

“I baptize you in the name of Jesus.” In this we miss the Maker of heaven and earth, we miss that which is larger than what we can see, understand, or even image.  Only baptizing people in the name of Jesus also leaves out the continual presence of God with us today.

“I baptize you in the name of the Holy Spirit.”  Here we miss the awesomeness and creativity of God the Father.  We also miss the work of Jesus Christ, who is God in human flesh.  Without this work, we miss the redemptive work of God – the God who rose from the dead for our salvation.  If we are to leave that out, we might as well go home now because we are clearly wasting our time.

This is the relationship we are drawn into – we are immersed into by virtue of our Baptism.  We are in relationship with the creative, mysterious, and awesome God the Father.  We are in relationship with the God in human flesh that brings our salvation, God the Son.  We are in relationship with the presence of God that is the ongoing workings of God the Holy Spirit.  When we are in relationship with this God we are not powerless in the world, but we are powerful.  We are connected to God’s creative work, we are redeemed, and we are filled with the spirit that works wonders in, among, and through us.  This is what we celebrate this day.  We celebrate the most amazing relationship we could ever be invited into.

By virtue of our Baptism we have been invited into this relationship, but relationships are not one-way streets.  We must accept the gift of this relationship, and participate in its growth and development.  We do that by living into the very act that gave us this invitation in the first place – our Baptism.

Last Sunday as Tucker and Charlotte were baptized, we reaffirmed that which was promised for us at our own baptisms – that which many of us have affirmed for ourselves in confirmation.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?  Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?  Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

First and foremost, we build our relationship by being present with God and learning about God and how God works in our lives.  We participate in our continued lifelong formation as disciples of Jesus.  We pray.  We celebrate that which is the heart of our life of faith – the Holy Eucharist.  We come week by week to be strengthened, healed, and renewed:  to come closer to the Holy and participate in the foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

We know we will fall short, that we are human.  When that happens we cannot beat ourselves up.  We cannot tell ourselves that we are not good enough, that it is always our fault when things go wrong.  We cannot blame ourselves for things beyond our control.  So when we fail to get things right, we must remember where our center is and go there.  We must turn to God to be healed and strengthened, and go out and try again.

We must live our lives so that all people know we are disciples of Jesus.  We must in our words and actions proclaim this Good News of Great Joy that has been embedded deep within us.  We must not be ashamed of this most glorious relationship we have entered into with God; and what does any person do when they are in an amazing, powerful, and love filled relationship? – they tell the whole world.

We must share in our Gospel mandated work to seek Christ in the people and places we think are most unlikely.  Will you love your neighbor?  I am not just talking about the person who lives across the street, but the person across the world, the person who is other than you are, the person who supports the other political candidate, the person who has participated in hurting you.

We must use our prophetic voices to call out the injustices of the world.  The places where people are being systematically oppression, the places torn apart by endless war and violence, the places where the created order is being used and abused to the point of no return.  We cannot rest until every person is treated with the love, dignity, and respect they deserve by virtue of their being beloved children of God.  Take a moment and imagine what the world would look like, if in fact, we treated everyone like the beloved child of God that they are.

GoMakeDisciplesJesus says, “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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus is calling us and all nations – the entire world – into this life.  It is scary, it is hard, it is down right impossible to achieve on our own.  But thanks be to God we are not left comfortless, we are not left alone, we have this beautiful, awesome, love filled, and holy relationship right in front of us.

When God the Father created the world and calls everything good and invites us to share in the power of creation; when Jesus ascends into heaven and bestows upon us the power and responsibility preach, teach, heal the sick and raise the dead; when the Holy Spirit descends upon us like tounges of fire to enliven our souls on that great day of Pentecost we have two choices.  To say no and turn our backs on the greatest gift we have ever been offered or to say yes and share in this most holy relationship.

If you ask me, Trinity Sunday ought to be a bigger deal.  We cannot continue to let it silently sit there on our liturgical calendar.  We cannot as a Church find ways to skirt around it, because we do not understand.  Today is a day to celebrate.  To celebrate the precious invitation offered to us in Baptism to be in relationship with the Triune God.  To celebrate our place in this life as disciples of Jesus.  To celebrate the fact that we cannot even begin to comprehend the nature of God, but that we do not have to understand to change the word in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  And that is why I love Trinity Sunday.

 

AMEN.

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From Observation to Participation

Sermon preached at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea for the noon Ascension Day (May 29, 2014) Eucharist.
This sermon was preached without a manuscript, you can listen to the sermon here.  

 

Image

 

Collects for Ascension Day

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. 

Grant, we pray, Almighty God, that as we believe your only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into heaven, so we may also in heart and mind there ascend, and with him continually dwell; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.  

 

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John 19:34

Sermon preached at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea on April 18, 2014 during the Three Holy Hours liturgy for Good Friday.  You can listen to the sermon here

GFIconThe thing I love most about reading, hearing, and studying Holy Scripture is the way that new insights are revealed each and every time I engage a passage. Even when I think I know the story inside and out something new still comes forth. However, I did not anticipate this happening with today’s Gospel passage. This is a Gospel that I, like I suspect many of you, know well. We hear this every year on Good Friday, I love listening to sung versions of it, and in the past several weeks I have regularly been rehearsing chanting this Gospel for our liturgy this evening. But here is the great thing about the Holy Spirit and Scripture, yesterday morning as I sat in prayer with this lesson, something new jumped out at me.

Remember it is the day of Preparation, and the Jews did not want bodies left on the crosses for this Sabbath of great solemnity. So the soldiers begin to break the bones of the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus. Then they get to Jesus, they see he is already dead, and they decide to do something different. Here is what struck me; chapter 19 verse 34 says, “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” At once blood and water came out.

In all the time I’ve spent with this passage in my life, I do not think I have ever given this verse a second look. I don’t know that I’ve ever paid this verse any attention whatsoever. Now maybe that is because I do not really understand the first thing about biology or anatomy; or because I am not a fan of blood and gore, but for whatever reason this time was different.

Blood and water are simple and ordinary things – yet they are so important. These two things literally make life. It should not be surprising then, that these two things are central symbols in our life of faith.

Thomas H. Troeger, Homiletics professor at Yale Divinity School, wrote about this connection in his book “Preaching While the Church is Under Reconstruction: The Visionary Role of Preachers in a Fragmented World” Listen to what Troeger has to say:

 Years ago someone gave me a medical article that attempted to account for the flow of blood and water from the crucified Jesus on a purely physiological basis. As reasonable scientific speculation it might have been well founded, but as a piece of theology it was bankrupt. It depended upon a literalism that abrogates the imaginative accuracy of John’s community and the liberated slaves. The true cross is the tree that grows among the community of the suffering.

Connecting blood and water, the symbols of communion and baptism, with the crucifixion of Jesus was an act of theological construction that bonded John’s community to one another and to Christ . . . John’s community did not travel back to Jerusalem. They made their pilgrimage to the cross where they lived. They made their pilgrimage every time they broke bread and poured the wine, every time they welcomed a new disciple with the ritual sign of water in the name of God. Theirs was not an archaeological theology of the cross, an attempt to return to the originating event. Through their worship they fed on a living theology of the true cross.

Being struck by this verse gives the opportunity to shift our view of the cross; to shift our view from death and suffering to life and wholeness. Troeger illuminates the connection of our sacramental life with that of the cross. With this understanding, every time we participate in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, every time we baptize a new Christian we are bound to the cross. When we participate in these Sacraments we must know that we can only participate because of the cross.

Last night we remembered the Last Supper – a holy and sacred meal consisting of ordinary things turned extraordinary. It is when we are told that the blood of Christ pours out over the world as a sign of the relationship between God and us. When we participate in the Blessed Sacrament we allow Christ to penetrate our very being in a way unlike any other.

Tomorrow night and Sunday morning, new Christians will be baptized. They will be washed and made clean with water. In those waters they will die to an old way of life, they will die with Christ of the cross – and be raised into a new life, a life illumined by the glories of Christ’s resurrection. A resurrection that is only possible because of the cross.

We have the opportunity this day to stand in front of the cross, in front of the crucified Christ. We have the opportunity to stand and face the ways we have fallen short, the ways we are broken. We must stand beneath the cross and allowed ourselves to be washed clean by the blood and water that flows out of Christ, to be made new, to leave behind all that holds us in bondage – all that holds us in sin and death.

But we must not, we cannot, stop there. We must not allow the grace of God and the glories of the cross to end with us. In Troeger’s book, he quotes a Nicaraguan peasant named Oscar. Oscar understands the connection of the cross with our daily lives. Here is how he puts it:

Lots of people in Holy Week think only about the sufferings of Jesus, and they don’t think about the sufferings of so many Christs, of millions of Christs that exist. And Jesus didn’t want them to be wailing for him but to wail for the others that were going to suffer like him or worse than him.

As we stand at the foot of the cross of the crucified Christ, we also stand below the cross of so many – too many – persecuted and oppressed peoples. Our call in Baptism, our call in receiving the Blessed Sacrament of Bread and Wine; our call in being washed by Christ’s blood and water which flow forth from him is to not be caught up in the historical nature of these events, but to recognize how they still are working in our lives today – how the true cross is in our midst. We must allow the cross and our lives to join together so that the meaning of each is continuously expanded by the other. We must ask: Where is blood and water flowing in our community? Where is the cross now? Who is praying, “My God, my God why have you abandoned me?” We must act to answer those questions, to stand with those who know nothing other than brokenness and death, to bring all people to the saving embrace of God so they know that the Savior and Redeemer of the world suffered as they suffer.

Blood and water are powerful things. They empowered John the Evangelist’s community in the face of violence at the hands of the Roman Empire; they empower millions of people suffering in the world to know they are not alone; they empower the Church to stand up to the corrupt powers of this world and say No to all that breaks down the people of God. They empower each one of us to know that we cannot fully celebrate the glorious Resurrection of our Lord and Savior without the Cross. This is not a day we can gloss over to more quickly get to the wonderful celebration of Easter morning. This is a day we must allow ourselves to sit with regularly. It is a place we must allow ourselves to dwell. If you are anything like me, we need more time to face our own brokenness and allow the loving embrace of God to make us whole again.

May we come before the cross this day and every day. May the blood and water of Christ pour out over us – make us clean and new, nourish and strengthen us. And may we take seriously our call to glory in the cross of Christ, to confront our own shortcomings and brokenness, to bring its restorative and healing power forth from Good Friday to the rest of our lives.

AMEN.              

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A Sermon for Lent 5

Sermon preached at The Church of the Redeemer, Providence RI on Sunday April 6, 2014 (Lent 5, Year A).  You can listen to the sermon here.  

This week, my twitter feed has been flooded with commentary of the Afghan presidential elections. But one tweet more than any other stood out to me. “Afghan presidential vote extended by an hour because of heavy turnout.” I sat staring at my computer screen for a few moments thinking, “Hours extended due to heavy voter turnout?” This made no sense to me. A people who have known so much war, violence, and poverty have shown up to vote even in the face of terror. It made we wonder what is inside them – what moves in them – to give them this courage. Does the same thing move inside me? Inside you? Is there something inside us that allows us to stand up in the bleakest of situations, in the face of adversity, and attempt to change the world?

ImageThis morning we have heard one of the most imaginatively dramatic readings in all Scripture: Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. This vision reminds every generation that God not only gives life but also restores life even in the bleakest of situations. We are reminded that death will not have the last word, even when all signs of life have been taken away.

The key word of this passage is the Hebrew word ruach meaning, “breath,” “wind,” or “spirit.” The prophet prophesies just as God commands and the bones come back together, sinews and flesh come upon them. But there is no life in them. They need the breath of God – they need ruach. It is this life-giving breath that makes these bones live once more. But, this breath does so much more than bring these bones back to life. This is the same wind that moved over the waters in creation; it is the same breath God breathes into the first human beings; it is the spirit that comes upon each one of us when we are baptized; and it is the same life-giving force that moves in Lazarus.

When Jesus calls out to in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Breath is restored to Lazarus and he lives once more. He who has been dead for four days gets up and walks out of his tomb. But, just as was true with the man blind from birth last week, there is far more going on than the miraculous nature of this episode.

In many ways the miracle itself is not the focal point, but rather this restorative act serves as a sign of something far greater than one moment in time. The revelatory nature of this act tells us something about the power and glory of God. The raising of Lazarus signifies that God’s eschatological promises – God’s promises for the end of time – are here and now, already being realized amid, and despite, the ordinariness of the course of life, which includes illnesses, deaths, and burials just like those of Lazarus.

This chapter from John’s Gospel opens with Jesus letting those around him – and us – know something important is going to happen. “This illness” meaning Lazarus’ illness, “does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be gloried through it.” It is important to keep in mind that “glory” and “glorification” for John have to do with oneness with God. It has to do with Jesus being lifted up on the cross, being lifted up from death to life, of being made one with God. This oneness is central to the Gospel message, to the Christian life, to all that God has in store for us and for the world.

Life as we know it is a balancing of the tensions between life and death. In this season of Lent – in this Gospel passage – this tension between the hope of resurrection and the finality of death is palpable. It is far too easy to see the world as a valley of dry bones both literally and metaphorically. In the midst of war, violence, and death – of news stories of shootings and tragic accidents it is easy to lose hope, to be dried out, to think all is lost. At times it seems as if the world around us is stacking the deck towards death – towards an old way of understanding the world.

In the midst of all this we yearn for resurrection and the unbinding that releases us to dream beyond the boundaries and experience life anew. To dream beyond the boundaries is to imagine a world in which wholeness, well-being, health, and prosperity are normative expressions of human existence and to partner with the God of life in making that dream a reality. It is to see the world as God sees, to take our place in the life giving work of God, to be open and receptive to the breath, the wind, the spirit of God.

In this new life we have a role to play. We cannot be passive observes and just wait for God to do all the work. In Ezekiel’s vision, it is the mortal who follows the command of God and prophesies to the bones. It is the prophet whose actions usher in the will of God. In the Gospel our charge comes in the penultimate sentence, “Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Jesus calls on the community to participate in Lazarus being raised from the dead. In this Jesus brings the reality of resurrection to the present.

In this respect, resurrection confronts us as an urgent call, impelling us to consider the possibility that those whom our world deems dead – no matter if that be socially, physically, spiritually, or emotionally – might live into a new reality; that life is still possible for them. We pray that all those oppressed and held in bondage will be filled with the spirit of God and come out! Each and every one of us can participate in this new reality. We have the power to unbind, to release persons and communities from the clutches of death. Resurrected woman, men, and children today require caring communities that are willing to nurture and strengthen them until they are able to walk alone; they need to be unbound, to have the graveclothes of self-doubt, social isolation, marginalization, and oppression removed. We can help them tear away the wrappings of fear, anxiety, loss, and grief, so that unbound people might walk in dignity and become creative agents in the world. The breath of God moves in all people – the restorative, resuscitating, renewing, and resurrecting spirit of God is present in the least, lost, and left out of the world. Our call as Christians is to unbind them and set them free so that they can be restored and live without fear.

The bones Ezekiel prophesied to represent the whole house of Israel. They have gone through devastating loss. Their temple has been destroyed, there has been tragic violence against them and their leaders, and they have been removed from their land. Everything they knew has been taken away from them – they are in despair and all seems hopeless. This is the same witness that our world needs today. Ezekiel’s vision is for these people who need to be unbound. It is for those people who pay the physical and spiritual toll of poverty, natural disasters, and genocide.

We are called to prophecy to the dryness of the world. We are called to unbind those who are held captive to oppressive forces. When God asks, “Can these bones live?” This is what God is asking. This is what God wants us to do.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, gives us a glimpse of how we are to do this. He makes clear that we are to set our minds on the Spirit, we are to allow the Spirit to dwell in us. We hear this morning that, “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” We are to set our minds on the Spirit. Throughout Romans, the most comprehensive statement of Paul’s theology is that the Christian mind must become the initial, and transformative, locus of renewal. When we set our minds on the Spirit, we set our minds on life and renewal. We allow the spirit of God to dwell in us – that same spirit that raised Christ from the dead, breathe life into the dry bones, and brought Lazarus back from death.

This makes accessible to us a force beyond ourselves. It gives us the power to stare sin, decay, and death squarely in the face – to proclaim that death will not have the final word. We are given the wisdom to discern how God is calling us; how God is equipping us to serve the present age as agents of God’s transformative work in the world.   To live life in the Spirit – to set our minds on the spirit – refers to how we conduct ourselves. It is manifested in how we use our physical energies and our material resources, how we care for our neighbors and for our planet. It is through this spirit that we participate in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

In an historic election Afghan people showed what happens when people are unbound. They know the destructive nature of evil and death, but they have been able to stand up and be counted. The breath of God is moving in our midst and making all things new. Death is being transformed to life, despair is turning into hope. Today we find ourselves quickly approaching the end of this Lenten season. The three holiest days of our life as Christians are within sight.

This Lenten season, may we look at the dryness in our souls. Where do we need the birth of God to bestow upon us life-giving strength? Where do we need to proclaim God’s saving love and grace in the world? Where is there unbinding that we need to attend to? Who can we walk with and participate in their restoration to health, wholeness, and oneness with God? When God says to us, “Mortal can these bones live?” let us stand together and proclaim, “Yes, Lord, they most certainly can.”

AMEN.

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Who? What? Why? How? Where?

We have just concluded one of my favorite weeks in the life of the Church.  Over these last several days, I’ve been struck yet again by the depth and continuity of the words and examples we hear in the Scripture lessons appointed for the day.  These days since January 18 are filled with examples of holiness, call, and discipleship.  (Not bad things to be considering at anytime, but there is something particularly fitting during this annual meeting season.)  These days are filled with questions, deep and profound questions.

questionsOn January 18 the Church celebrates the Confession of St. Peter.  On this day we hear of an encounter with Jesus and the twelve: an encounter where Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?”  In that moment Peter has the most amazing confession – the most amazing proclamation – of faith.  “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”  In the seeming simplicity of this statement is the most profound moment of faith.  Peter does not wax on with a lengthy dissertation on the nature of Jesus using complex theological terminology.  Peter utters ten words.  You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  What Peter does in this is give an unquestionable witness to his faith.  Peter in a sense of quiet, strong, confidence indentifies Jesus for who He is: The Messiah.  This example Peter sets provides an image, an example, of something we too must consider.  When we hear this Gospel it is not just the disciples being asked this question, but it is we ourselves being asked, “Who do you say that I am?”  It is a basic question of identity: Who are you?  Who is Jesus? But if we take a moment we will discover that this is a question that can – and should – serve as the foundation of our lives of faith.  So I ask you dear reader, who do you say that Jesus is?

How the calendar falls, the next day brings us to the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.  In the Gospel appoint for this year – year A – we hear John proclaim Jesus as the one he is sent to prepare the way for.  As the lesson progresses we learn that two of John’s followers turn and begin to follow Jesus.  On noticing this, Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?”  They ask Jesus where he is staying and he responds, “Come and see.”  Jesus not only asks them what they are searching for, but he also offers an invitation.  Like these two disciples of John, we to must consider what is it that we are looking for.  Are we looking for a social club, community service organization, or a philosophy of life? Or are we looking for a connection with the Holy and to participate in the life of faith handed down to us by our ancestors?  When we begin our search, when we inquire where Jesus is going – how Jesus is working on our midst – we are not given an answer but an invitation: Come and see.  This invitation from Jesus to come and see stands before us all.  It is up to us whether or not we accept that invitation.  I wonder, what are you looking for?

A week after the Church remembers the Confession of St. Peter, the calendar keeps us mindful of the Conversion of St. Paul.  In the lesson appointed from the Acts of the Apostles, we meet Paul – then known as Saul – traveling on the road to Damascus.  On his travels he is knocked off his horse by a blinding light.  The resurrected Lord appears to him and says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  In that moment leads to a drastic change in Saul’s life.  He looses his sight, is sent off, and in the midst off all that he is transformed.  When he regains his sight we hear that scales fall from his eyes, he sees the world in a new and different way.  No longer is he set on persecuting the Church, but instead he becomes the Apostle to the Gentiles.  As is common in Biblical stories, with his transformation comes a new name – a way of signifying that he is a new person.  No longer is he Saul, but now he is Paul.  Whether we like it or not, we do not always live our lives the way we are called to.  We deny ourselves; one another; and even Jesus himself.  It is in our very nature that we will fall short of the glory of God.  While we may not be like Paul and set out to persecute followers of Jesus, we turn our backs and deny God’s presence in our lives.  I wonder what our response to Jesus would be if he came to us and asked, “Why do you turn away from me?”

If we stop Paul’s conversion story there, there is a temptation to feel guilty or ashamed.  But, that is not the point.  The point of this story is conversion and transformation.  When we fall short of the glory of God we have the opportunity to do something about it: to have a change of heart; to turn around; think of the Greek word metanoia.  Like Paul we can repent and change our ways.  We can allow the scales to fall from our eyes, to see the world in new and different ways: to take our place in the transformation and conversion of the world.  Will you allow the scales to fall from your eyes, and take your place in the transformation of the world?

All of this brings us to today – the third Sunday after the Epiphany.  The Gospel for this morning is all about call.  We hear James and John, the sons of Zebedee, leave all they know behind to follow the call they receive from Jesus.  What of our own call?   How is God working in our lives?  How are we called to respond?  What are we being called to leave behind as that we may accept the invitation of God to follow him?

In these last eight days, through Holy Scripture, we are asked the: who, what, why, and how of our life of faith.  Questions that on the surface seem to be simple and harmless questions.  But, we if go deeper – if we allow ourselves to pause and wonder in these questions – we find that they are not so simple.  Rather, these questions are life changing.  Questions, it seems to me, we must consider if we are to allow our lives to be transformed: if we are to live as mature Christians in the world.  In looking at these eight days, these four questions, it seems one question is left to consider.  Where do we do all this?  Where do we live this out?

We are called to ask and live into these questions in our own time and place: In school and work; at home and at Church; with friends and with strangers.  If we take serious our call we will find that our lives of faith are indeed surrounded by these questions.  I wonder where you are in your search – in the who, what, why, how, and where of your faith.

Who do you say that Jesus is?

What are you looking for?

Why do you turn your away from Jesus?

How is God calling you?

I pray you will join me in pondering these questions.  I hope you will join me in accepting the invitation to come and see.

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