SERMON St. Nathaniel’s North Port, FL October 29, 2017

gratitude
Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.                          
Henri Frederic Amiel

The Setting of the Gospel Reading Today

The setting for today’s Gospel reading has Jesus in Jerusalem, in the temple courts with his disciples, and he is there teaching and responding to the religious expert’s challenges and confrontations. In today’s reading a Pharisee tries to trip Jesus up, and tries to publically undermine Jesus’ popularity, to turn the people away, and to return things to the way they were. In other words, self-importance, the idols of the temple system, or maybe a desire for power and influence, became a stumbling block to the religious expert’s (the Pharisees) ability to understand and accept Jesus core message, which he was about to spell out clearly.

A Pharisee was a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law. These folks had power and influence in that community and in that system, and they saw Jesus as a threat that had to be eliminated. So they challenged Jesus’ teaching authority and they did so, by asked him a question about the greatest of God’s commandments.

Jesus eloquently answered the question, by boiling down the 613 laws of Torah, which the Pharisees knew by heart and could quote without hesitation, all into the two commands that God has for all of us, “Love God and love your neighbor.” 613 laws boiled down to just two.  I mean, just love God and love your neighbor. It would be so simple, but often times we all fall short. Like the Pharisees other things get in the way, whether it is our own desires, or idols of leisure or possessions, or maybe our desire to be in control of our own lives, leaving God out, but Jesus calls us to another way of living. Throughout his ministry he taught us about his overwhelming and perfect love. Out of Jesus’ own mouth, we are challenged to consider how we are going to respond to the abundant, overwhelming, perfect, and a never-ending love of God. Love God/Love Neighbor.

The response to the gift of love is when we give from the heart.

When your spouse gives you an unexpected gift, how do you respond? When he/she speaks a kind word, brings you coffee, tells you he/she loves you, offers to help you with a project, do you merely say thank you, and then dismiss him/her the rest of the week? If we were to respond in that way to the love given to us, by the people in our closest relationships, I would imagine that relationship would be benign, dysfunctional, and short lived.

Loving God and loving neighbor is a concept we sure could use a good dose of in our world today. At a time when people are being drawn apart and polarized, I believe we need to get back to loving and caring for one another, without strings and without expecting something in return. Our consumer culture is infused with messages that to get something we must give something. Transactional relationships like buying a car or other commodity, means we must pay for something to get something.

The idea that we could be recipients of a love with no strings is foreign to us. Jesus turns the idea of transactional love on its heels and tells us that we need to get back to authentically loving God and loving neighbor, because authentic love is not something that can be negotiated, manipulated, or earned. Love also is not something you put away and hide, or hoard for self-gratification either. Love is something you receive, and you give away. Love in action is a heart response that comes without strings and without expectations.

Love is our heart inspired action to share with others, what God has given to us. God’s love through our relationships, our wealth, our talents, and the very breath we have been given, are gifts that we are to steward and care. The gifts from God are meant to be given away. When we share with others from God’s abundant love, we are responding with love. Remember, love has no strings attached.

 What is love?

What is love? The word for love in the Greek means, “to welcome, to be fond of, and to love dearly.” In other words, the love Jesus expects us to share requires us to welcome God (and others) into our lives even the dark and broken spaces. We are to cultivate a fondness for God (and others) by spending time in the presence of others and enjoying God and friends. We are to love God (and others) dearly, which means the love we share must be authentic, profound, sincere, and true. By the way, this love command of Jesus is not about just “me and God.” Jesus command requires that we love God, and love our sisters and brothers, our neighbors, or better yet, all of creation.

Maybe you say, I’m still not sure about this abundant no strings love and giving thing Eric. Let me explain. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he provides us with a challenging definition of love. Paul wrote that love is patient, kind, it does not envy or boast nor is love prideful, nor dishonors, nor is it self-seeking. If you consider Paul’s description of what love requires, the expectations are a pretty high bar for which to strive. The greatest demonstration, the world changing love in action event was the love Jesus had for all of creation when he was reconciling us to God on the cross.

I don’t know about you, but I miss the high bar of God’s expectant love sometimes, well honestly, I miss the mark pretty often. Sometimes my own desires get in the way. Sometimes my personal priorities get in the way. Sometimes the idols of my life stand in the way of my loving the one to whom I am called to love with all my heart, strength, mind. I often miss the mark of love, and I chose things over God, and over my neighbors, the people God calls me to love. Despite our failures, God’s love abundantly continues to flow, and God’s gentle but persistent call for us to love in response to his love, remains. God continues to pour out grace, even when we fall short.

Stewardship

My senior year Pastoral Theology final exam in seminary was a very difficult one. The professor, Mother Julia Gatta was one of the toughest and probably the best professors I had in seminary. The topic for the exam was stewardship. I did pretty well on that exam and honestly, it was the only A I made in any of Mother Gatta’s classes. Before that exam, the best grade I could hope for from her was a B+.   Now, I did not receive an “A” because I wrote a profound and insightful paper on the virtues of stewardship, a work worthy of publication and sharing with all the church. No, I received a good grade was because I wrote these words in one of the paragraphs, “The best way to encourage stewardship within a parish is to mentor people to a deeper commitment and love of Jesus Christ.” Mother Gatta knew from that one sentence that I understood that our response to God’s love comes from the sharing of our gifts of time, talent and treasure, which is directly related to our commitment and love of Jesus Christ.

I have been invited to St. Nathaniel’s today, as you enter into your annual commitment season, to speak about stewardship. I think the Gospel reading today and its theme of love is fitting for a stewardship sermon, because I believe, when we talk about sharing our gifts of time, talent, and treasure, what we really are talking about is love. Of all the things we possess (our relationships, our homes, automobiles, and retirement portfolios), we must never forget that we are mere stewards of all that God out of love has given to us.

Sometimes, other priorities and idols cloud our response, especially when we wrestle with how do we respond to God’s love. We may struggle with the question, “how do I sacrificially give back to God, and how do I share God’s gifts with others?” The question each of us must ask is this, “What does God require of me?” I believe God requires everything of us. Jesus said, “Love the Lord our God with ALL our minds, souls, strength.” God asks nothing short of a total offering of our lives, most especially our time, talent, and treasure.

The wealth and treasure God has given us is not for private hoarding, but it is to be shared for the common good, especially the mission and ministry of the community of faith, for the use of worship, education, service, and outreach. When we respond generously out of love, we begin to rely deeply on Christ, because we understand and know that God is the source of our very lives. All that we return to God brings us into a deeper relationship with Christ. Some may say, “I have what I have because I have worked my entire life.”

At a very basic level, our very lives are a gift from God. Consider for a moment that next breath you take. As it fills your lungs with essential air, it is a gift from God. Likewise, consider that the next exhale of breath, through your words of encouragement, kindness, patience and self-giving, along with the actions of our hands and feet are likewise gifts from God, which are asked to return to God and others, as a response to God’s love. As you prayerfully consider how you will respond to God’s abundant and overwhelming grace this day and in the days to come, respond to God’s love abundantly, by offering back to God and your neighbor your time, your talents, and your treasure.

Loving God and neighbor can be as easy as breathing. Please close your eyes for a moment. Now, breathe in, take in the abundant love of God, but do not hold it for long, because you cannot, it must be exhaled. Now breathe out that abundant love of God, breathe it out. Yes, breathe life into the lives of others so that they too, may come to know God’s love, grace, mercy, and peace.

 

 

 

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Sermon Pentecost 5A St. Augustine’s St. Petersburg

wheat-field-ready-for-harvestMatthew 13:24-30, 36-43

When we hear Jesus’ parables about planting and harvesting, which he spoke about frequently throughout his ministry, we must note that Jesus used metaphor and stories with which, people of an agrarian society, would be familiar. In today’s gospel, we hear a well-known parable about a field that had both wheat and the weeds (sometimes called tares). Jesus explains that in this particular beautiful crop of wheat, unexpected, unwelcomed, and unhelpful weeds sprouted up alongside a life-sustaining grain.

Some scholars have asserted that the weeds Jesus mentioned in the parable could have been a plant called “Darnel” (Lolium temulentum), which is a ryegrass that looks much like wheat in its early stages of growth. Jesus taught that in this field an enemy sowed the darnel, and his intentions were mostly likely focused on ruining the crop. The field workers noticed the weeds were taking over and wanted to pull up the weeds. The wise landowner however, told them to wait until the weeds started to grow more and became distinguishable from the grain, and then they could weed the field, collect the darnel, and then burn it up.

Jesus explained later to his disciples that this parable, this metaphor was really nuancing how at “end of the age,” God’s will deal with righteous folks, with evildoers and with those things that cause sin. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I hear this parable, especially the part about that the landowner dividing wheat from weeds and then burns up the weeds I feel somewhat anxious, and here is why.

There are times when I think I act like a solid grain of righteous wheat, but there are other times when I am an unsullied grain of darnel rye grass weed. All of us can and are saint and sinner. All of us tend to be both wheat and weed. Life as a Christian is an unending cycle of ups and downs, of falling down and getting back up. None of us are perfect, and all of us fall short or miss the mark.

Sometimes, we go further and judge others. We desire to be the reapers of the field. We are like anxious field workers, who want to go out and do God’s job of reaping and sorting. We like to compare the sins of our sisters and brothers in our midst, and we try to determine who is the wheat and who are the weeds in the field.

The parable teaches us that sorting out the people in the field of life is not our job. The master of the house told the servants that he would send the reapers to sort out the wheat from the weeds. Yet sometimes, we in the church want to extricate the so-called weeds from our midst, burning them out of the community, in order that the we wheat grains might flourish. But what if, we truly are both wheat and weed.

That might be a little frightening when you think about that fiery furnace part of the parable. What happens to those weeds that are to be bundled up and thrown into the fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? Is Jesus saying that God will sort us out and burn up those who are not righteous? Is Jesus talking merely about some form of eternal punishment, or could there be an alternative explanation to this part of the parable?

Back in first century Palestine, when wheat was ripe for harvest, it was collected, ground up, made into dough, and then placed in brick ovens (furnaces), and baked into delicious bread; the sustenance of life. These ovens required fuel to burn and many times, it was darnel (rye grass) that was bound up and used as a fuel to keep the ovens lit. You see, when it comes to baking the sustaining, life-giving, food of life, it takes both wheat and weed.

Maybe another way to look at this parable is like this, “in God’s Kingdom, all of us have a purpose, and all of us participate in the work of God.” Nothing is wasted; not even weeds. Take a step back for a moment and consider the story that Jesus told, in this way. Jesus taught us about life in God’s Kingdom. Jesus attempted to help us understand the community system of interaction of everyday things like a wheat field. Jesus taught us about community, about how we as groups of people live life in community.

The purpose of a wheat field is to provide the raw materials to create an end product, which is bread or the fuel of life. It takes wheat to make edible dough, and it takes weeds to create the fire that bakes the bread. Also, the garden system requires the work of planters, tenders of the crop, reapers, and bakers. You know what, community is like that. Church is a variety of folks who are all at different stages of spiritual growth, with assorted gifts, with diverse backgrounds, ideas, and purposes to make a community of faith. Church is a group of people who at some times struggle through life as fine wheat and at other times, wrestles through each day as weeds. We are both sinners and saints.

Some of us would like to believe we are walking an unblemished, high quality faith journey with no sin and no problems. Folks, that’s just not reality for we frail and fallible humans. We all miss the mark, we all are both weeds and wheat, Saint and Sinner, and that I believe, is the beauty of living under God’s reign in the Body of Christ. God is the reaper of the field and the judge, but that is not something to fear, but something with which, to find comfort. God is the God of grace. God’s nature is as lover of creation, sustainer of life, and redeemer of the broken. We can be assured that God’s grace and purpose will be worked in and through all of us, both wheat and weed alike. Remember, God promises us that he makes all things new.

In Christ, we are a new people, we are city on a hill, and we are a light that cannot be hidden under a bushel basket. We are fed, taught, and brought together, so that we can go out and become a beacon of sustenance for the world. We are a mixed bushel basket of wheat and weeds, but by God’s grace, we live together and transform beautifully into a life-giving community of love.   The Church is a community that goes into the world and proclaims the Good News of God in Christ, even in the midst of our brokenness. That’s us, the church, God’s “field of dreams” – weeds, wheat, and all.

SERMON EASTER 4-16-17 Year A St. Edmund the Martyr, Arcadia FL

John 20:1-18

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” Over the past several weeks, television networks and news. shows such as the Science Channel, Discovery, the Today Show and even CNN are all offering special programming about religion. On Sunday nights, CNN has been producing a show entitled: “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, or Forgery.” The advertisement for this coming Sunday’s show is, “Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.” I have to wonder if the writers and producers of these documentaries somehow believe that providing certainty or scientific proof of the story of Jesus death, resurrection, and ascension somehow makes faith more reasonable and acceptable.

Science and History have always intrigued and captured my attention. For some folks it may seem strange, but in my vocation as a priest, I have come to embrace that science and religion are not at odds with one another. As a matter of fact, both science and religion provide us with answers to the most probing questions of life. The difference between science and religion seems to be that each provides answers to different questions. Science attempts to answer the how of things, and religion, the why.

John Polkinghorne is an English theoretical physicist and he happens to also serve as an Anglican priest. Attempting to explain the questions and answers posed to and responded by science and religion, he once wrote about the origin of the cosmos, “The universe sprang into being about fifteen billion years ago through the fiery explosion of the big bang (the how).”_ He added, “The universe came into being and remains in being, because of the Word of a Creator whose mind and purpose are behind all of the scientific truths that we perceive (the why).”

These two statements do not conflict with on another, but both embrace and complement each other, and both offer answers to our experience of the depth of questions we have about our origin and God’s work of creation in it. Science and Religion provide answers based on experience, but both experiences are very different. Religious experience is very personal; it deals with the emotion, the memory, and the subjective nature of the spirit. Polkinghorne states, “Science looks at only one type of experience, namely, impersonal experience.”_ Science attempts to explain life’s mysteries through the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.

On this day, we Christians celebrate, commemorate, and recall the experience of the first followers of Jesus, who three days after their Master’s death on the cross, went to his tomb and found it empty. A part of our proclamation as Christians is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, as experienced by Peter, Mary and the other disciples, while knowing that this reality has been carried in the hearts of billions of people for centuries.

Our proclamation, “Christ is risen, the Lord is risen indeed,” does not in itself aim to provide the world with scientific proof of the resurrection of Christ, but our proclamation, “Christ is risen” provides the world with the Church’s experience of Jesus’ resurrection, which is a reality for all believers.

If you listen closely, the Biblical account of the first glimpse of resurrection was a tomb absent of its occupant and a rolled away stone. It is only after that initial scientific evidence or discovery that we later come to know the early community’s experiences of the Risen Christ by the disciples. If we relied only on science and fact about that event, we might have been left with only other possibilities.

So, Mary, Peter and another unnamed disciple went to the tomb, and found it empty. Peter and the other disciple left and went to their homes. Mary remained crying and distraught, but she did not forget the promise that death was not the end. Suddenly, Mary saw Jesus, and at first, she did not recognize him, but when he called her name, she recognized that he had been raised. Mary experienced the Risen Christ and through that experience, she knew the promises of God were revealed to her in that moment. She ran to tell the others that Jesus was risen.

The gospels document several other encounters the disciples and others had with the Risen Lord, but if Mary’s solitary encounter with the Risen Lord had been the only one, we might have been left with other possibilities. If we relied only on science and supporting facts alone, we might make assumptions about her experience as delusional, filled with grief, or maybe she had a psychological disorder.

However, the story of the experience of the Resurrected Lord does not end with Mary, or even with that early Christian community. The ancient Christian faith, the hope of the Good News of God in Christ, has spread throughout the world as people have been transformed by the promise of resurrection, as people experience the Holy Spirit who inspires us to proclaim, “Christ has risen.” Billions of people throughout the centuries have experienced by faith, the reality of resurrection in their lives and the promise of the resurrection to come. That my friends, is a fact.

The recorded history of the life of the Church, emerging out of a small group in Jerusalem, expanded throughout the Roman Empire, shifted dramatically by the age of the enlightenment and the reformation, and continues to evolve and shift even today. The core of the narrative of our faith remains the same, God entered human history in Jesus of Nazareth; who healed and preached love, reconciliation, peace, and restoration.

Because of his message of love, Jesus suffered at the hands of the power wielders of that day; he was crucified and died. Our proclamation of faith does not end with his death, for from the resurrection experience of Jesus in a small community in first century Palestine over 2000 years ago, we today proclaim, “Christ is Risen, the Lord is Risen indeed.”

In the promise of Resurrection, people have faced life’s joy, peace, tragedy, challenges and death. Proving to the world scientific evidence of the resurrection will not bring about faith, but it will serve only as an artifact of a world-changing event. The experience of resurrection in the church, and the faith we have in the reality of Jesus’ reconciling life, ministry, death, and resurrection, inspires in us a desire to live and share the Good News of the reality of that proclamation, a declaration we believe is true, a fact, and which is the basis of our Christian faith.

Hard evidence of the reality of the resurrection cannot be found in archeological digs, ancient historical documents, or carbon date testing. The truth of resurrection is found in the hearts of the faithful, in the experience of people’s lives, who have been changed, are being changed now, and we live in the hope of new life in a time to come.

Eight years ago while in seminary, I served as a hospice chaplain for ten weeks. I spent many hours at the bedside of those who were actively dying. Each person’s experience of their last days was different, but they all shared a common journey. The reality of their own mortality was present in those last days, but strangely, almost every patient shared a sense of peace, a sense of quiet calm and joy as the end approached.

Most of the people I served during this time were people of faith. In our conversations about their impending death, they shared with me stories of the hope they had in God. It was the hope of God’s relationship of love that lived beyond the grave that brought them that peace, that sense of quiet calm and joy, that abundant hope, even as they faced their last days. Can you imagine life without hope?

Can you imagine facing the tragedies, the trials, the unsettling challenges of life, and facing death without hope? My sisters and brothers, we have hope in God’s promises of grace, mercy and love that have been fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The reality of Christ’s resurrection is not about the scientific proof of the event; it is about the reality of the event in the lives transformed by the promise and its reality.

The Apostle Paul, one of Jesus’ latent followers wrote, “as we die a death like his, we will share in a resurrection like his.” Our hope is in that future resurrection when God’s kingdom will be present, but new life emerges from death now, from suffering to hope now. God enters the fray of human experience now, death included, and new life emerges. Jesus’ resurrection is the promise that death is not the end, and Jesus’ resurrection is the promise that the daily dying is not the end either.

The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Lyle, Jr. once wrote, “We do not proclaim that we are raised to wait around for the hereafter. We do not proclaim that we are finished with the journey. We do not proclaim that there is nothing left for us to do. Rather, in baptism we proclaim that what has happened to Jesus will happen to us. We are raised to walk, right here, right now, in newness of life.”

The reality of resurrection in our lives should strengthen and empower us to bring about new life in the tragedies and struggles of others. Our proclamation that “Christ is risen,” is the proclamation that from the ashes of despair, tragedy, and pain, we can live in the promise that new life can, does and will emerge anew. “We are raised to walk right here, right now, in newness of life.” The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ is a reality for us who take on the identity as disciples of Jesus, and when we believe in, with faith in that reality, we are able to shout from the very rooftops, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Christ is Risen, The Lord is risen indeed.”

GOOD FRIDAY SERMON 04-14-17, St. Edmund’s Arcadia FL

John 18:1-19:42

“We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.” (BCP p. 281) Today is the second hearing of the Passion Gospel this week. On Palm Sunday we focused on the shift from cheers of the crowd and the triumphal entry, to the rejection and execution of Messiah.   Today on Good Friday, we hear again the dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel and through today’s liturgy and today, we focus on Jesus’ cross.

The cross of Rome was used by an oppressive, violent empire as an instrument of torture, agony, and death. Its purpose was to keep the population in line, to maintain dominance, to stand as a sign of power wielded over the people it ruled. If one stepped out of line, they were sent to the cross as a public spectacle. In many cases, the person crucified may have been a real criminal, but also they may have been an outspoken political figure, an advocate against Roman oppression, or even a victim of injustice.

Jesus was a victim of injustice. The loving, reconciling, healing, presence of God among us became the target of Roman and the religious establishment’s oppression. Jesus was a threat to the power systems, with his agenda of self-giving love and the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, he posed a great risk to the power-wielders. What they failed to realize that the humble servant was God present with us.

God was with us, God was present in Christ as the willing victim, whose obedience to forgiveness and non-violence, led him to the cross of Calvary. “We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.”

Jesus was faithful to love and non-violence until the end.   When in the moment he needed the disciples the most, he thought only of them, “Let them go,” was his cry as the soldiers wanted to take them too in the Garden. When Peter resorted to violence and drew a sword to cut off the ear of the soldier, Jesus reminded Peter that non-violent love was the way of salvation. Then, as the terrible torture was near its end, Jesus cried, “It is finished.” It is complete. The work of Christ was complete and he remained the loving servant, even up to the very last.

Jesus did not engage in vindication against the atrocities waged against him, nor did he retaliate against those who crucified him, he remained the loving, obedient servant to the last, and He fulfilled the abundant love of God that has no bounds, even love in the face of rejection and death on the cross.

The cross for us is a symbol of the salvific work of Christ for all of creation. Over the centuries there have been multiple theories about the significance of the cross and Christ’s death. The work of Christ is for us, for our salvation and life lived in a reconciled relationship with God. God in Christ made possible the reconciliation of humanity unto Godself by making a way for our mutual sharing of the divine life. This great reconciliation became a reality through God’s full participation in human life in Christ.

God in Christ experienced birth, suffering, betrayal and death. Our salvation began on the initiative of God in Christ, who came to participate fully in humanity’s destiny, which brings life and does not end with death. Faithful to his mission of love and grace, Christ did not give in to the threat of death, and engage in the often normal human response of vindication or retaliation. Jesus revealed God’s love and forgiveness even in the face of persecution, torture, and death, but his death was not the story’s end.

In those moments, the tide of the world had changed, and life would never be the same, because God declared that death’s sting was defeated. The cross has now been transformed from a sign of torture, death and power, and has become for all of creation, the sign of the new reality of God’s presence with us who with outstretched arms, God declares, “I love you this much.”

By the cross, God in Christ subverted the power of retaliation, violence, and vindication. Through the cross of Christ, God lived out in us a love beyond imagine. The cross declares that in God’s kingdom, all are called to participate in the divine life of God without bounds. We who have received the grace of that participation, stand as witness to the world that God invites us all to participate in the divine life of reconciliation, love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy.

That divine life rejects violence in all its forms and thus, we must love without bounds. We must take up the banner of suffering, of reconciliation and restoration, and we must demonstrate Christ’s love in the world. In a few moments, a cross will be brought into the church and each of us will be given the opportunity to express our devotion to the one who bore it for us. “We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.”

MAUNDY THURSDAY SERMON 04/05/12, St. Edmund’s, Arcadia FL

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

On the evening before his death on the cross, Our Lord gathered his closest followers and with them, he did something incredible. Washing the feet of another person in first century Palestine was usually the job of someone of very low social status. In that geographic region, the landscape was arid, dusty, sandy, and harsh. Transportation from home to work, from field to town, from village to village, was accomplished by walking and of course, the invention of hiking boots was several centuries away. Sandals were the fashion back then. You can imagine what their feet looked like by the end of the day. I am sure they were covered with sand, caked on with gunk, and you might imagine the odor. The cleaning of feet had both a practical and social significance in those days.

When traveling guests stopped for a respite at a friend’s home, it was not uncommon for a homeowner to instruct one of his or her servants to take fresh water to the entrance of the home, and wash each guest’s feet prior to entry. This was an act of great hospitality and not a mere a practical gesture. What is significant about Jesus’ actions was, he did not send a servant to his disciples at the Last Supper, he served them himself. This event was of great importance to that little band of followers, as it is for us today. What we sometimes see as an insignificant ritual, speaks volumes to the very nature of God’s plan of salvation in Christ. God, in the mystery of the Incarnation, sent not a mere servant to reconcile us, He did it himself in Christ. God invites us to be served by God.

Each year some of us are dead set against participating in this very important part of Holy week, but when we resist, we miss out on the great lessons of humility and community. There is great humility on both sides of the foot basin. For the one washing, you are humbling yourself to give care to someone, serving them from a very lowly state. For the one being washed you are humbling yourself to receive a free gift from someone and allowing them to enter your personal space. Personally, it is difficult for me to even have my spouse whom I love, trust, and share life to give me such a gift. However, in this ancient ritual, we allow ourselves to become vulnerable, by offering ourselves to be cleansed by another.

Isn’t this what the gift of grace all about? The reconciliation of humankind to God was not something passed on to someone else. It was not a job that was so insignificant that it was delegated to a flunky. No, God did it Godself. God took on flesh and walked among us. He offered himself not as a powerful ruler, king, sword wielder, but as the humble servant, willing to give all for all.

The wonderful thing about God’s grace, this free gift given us by the humble servant Lord, is that all we must do is receive it. Receiving grace gives us the strength to remove the masks we wear, the covering of ourselves that hides our brokenness, and we stand before God and say, “Here I am, wash me clean.” God does just that. There is humility and grace and both sides of the foot basin. The ritual of Foot washing is a practical lesson in humility, and it is a gesture of what it means to live in community. A willingness to humble ourselves and serve each other, reflects the commitment of God in Christ, to serve and reconcile us to Godself and each other.

The gesture of washing each other’s feet signifies our commitment to each other.   To allow a sister or brother to wash our feet, shows that we are a community of commitment, service, and mutual love. On the eve before he offered himself to death on the cross, as the humbled, self-giving servant, Our Lord used this very significant moment, this significant act to teach us, to encourage us, and to command us to love one another. As we gather on the eve on which Our Lord gave himself for us, I invite each of you to come forward this evening, and wash each other’s feet as a sign of humility, obedience, mutual commitment, and our love for one another.

SERMON 3/26/17 Lent 4A St. Augustine’s St. Petersburg FL

            A young father took his daughter down to the local “second hand” store to buy her a bicycle on her tenth birthday. As much as he would have liked, dad couldn’t afford a new bike, but he wanted to give the young girl a special gift nonetheless. She found the bike she wanted. It was obviously not brand new, but it was pink, had a little horn and it had well-worn tassels on the handles. She beamed with joy because in her heart she knew that the bicycle was very special; it was from her Dad. A few days later, the young girl was riding the second-hand bike down the street. Suddenly, her friend Sue rode up beside her on a brand new Schwinn bike. It was shiny, with clean tires, colorful tassels that were not worn, and a horn that was loud and clear. With an overbearing smirk Sue asked, “Where’d you get that old thing?”

When Sue saw the young girl’s bicycle, she only saw rust, worn tires and tattered tassels. When the young girl looked at the bicycle, she saw the birthday present her Dad had given her and it was to her, as good as new. Sue saw an old hand-me-down that just didn’t measure up to her standards. The young girl saw the outpouring of love from her Dad. On one hand, a solitary reality was seen differently through the eyes of love. On the other hand, truth was seen through the eyes of self-absorption.

For some folks, life can be merely solitary threads in an unrelated, individualistic, self-absorbed cosmic reality and yet, we are here for a moment and then gone. Life is often lived as if we are called to grab all the gusto we can with little regard for others.  For some folks, life is viewed as a tapestry of individual threads woven together, which intricately bring beauty to the whole. Both views express a given perception of reality. Jesus confronts us with his reality, which is the fact that life is meant to exist in an intimately interconnected community.

God set the cosmos in motion out of love. Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit breathed the Trinitarian dance of intimate relatedness, into the very nature of creation. We are invited to be in loving relationship with each other and with God. Over the centuries, humanity has chosen the pursuit of self-fulfillment. It’s almost as if we choose to be blind to God’s plan for creation. We grope around in a darkness, fraught with an individualistic, self-focused mindset. Today’s gospel provides us with an example of this mindset, through the religious leaders who refused to see God’s love in Christ.

Jesus opened the eyes of a blind man who never had sight before. The man experienced directly the loving, restorative grace of God through his healing. Referring to Jesus, the religious leaders said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” On the one hand, the blind man recognized the gift of sight as a gift from God. On the other hand, the religious leaders construed the healing as an unholy work of a sinner.

The obvious truth was that Jesus was embodying a relational dance of love in the healing of this man. Jesus was not just demonstrating but manifesting loving neighbor at the risk of scorn from the religious establishment. His outpouring of restorative love brought wholeness to someone, even though it conflicted with the religious laws regarding the Sabbath. Jesus confronted the religious leaders then, and Jesus confronts us now with the fact that the love for God and neighbor, comes before all else. The very life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord established this new reality. The cross exemplifies the reality that Jesus embodied self-giving life, not self-preserving life.

Through the light of Christ, we see clearly the truth of self-giving love.  As a community of disciples, followers of Jesus, we are brought together to be an outpouring of the abundant love poured into us. Receiving and pouring out, this is the truth of God’s love, and it is without a doubt, lived out in this community. The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. We are gathered, fed, empowered and sent out so that we may be reflections of “The Light of the World,” in the world. We are sent as lights to pierce the darkness of self-centeredness, isolation, pain, brokenness, all so that others may see and know Christ.

Can you even imagine what it was like the moment that the man’s eyes were opened? At first, the intensity of light may have been disturbing and difficult to receive. As the images emerged, they might have been strange and maybe even frightening. Yet the sounds, feelings, and smells of decades, accompanied now by the beauty of sight, began to make even more sense. He saw things for the first time, and he experienced life in a new and dramatic way. Imagine that moment of clear, perfect vision, when both his eyes and his heart were open to a new way of being.

The words of the chorus of a popular renewal weekend song are “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see you.” Like the blind man on the day, he saw for the first time, we must consider if we are ready for God to open fully the eyes of our hearts.

Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see clearly the life of self-giving love. Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see clearly the life of compassion. Open the eyes of my heart, I want to see clearly the God who created and redeemed. Open the eyes of my heart for I want to be blind no more.

Living in the light of Christ, we open our eyes to life lived in a new and dramatic way. The tapestry of our inner-connectedness and inter-relatedness becomes vivid and clear. We come to realize in a loving community, that others, and we ourselves experience God’s loving truth. This community is a loving community like that. Through your mission and ministry, God’s kingdom bursts forth, right here and right now in the lives of those around you. For those sick at home or in the hospital, for those struggling to pay the bills, for those walking the mourner’s path, for those recovering from addiction, and for those seeking God’s light, This community reflects the love of Christ, the “Light of the World”.

Through our lives, others do come to know the love, mercy, justice, compassion, forgiveness, love and grace lived out in the life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We are the Body of Christ and we are on a mission to bring others to unity with God and each other. As the Body of Christ, we are called and sent to face all of life’s challenges with eyes wide open, and with hearts filled with God’s grace, all so that God’s work might be revealed in and through each one of us.

SERMON Lent 1A 3/5/17, St. Edmund’s Arcadia FL

Matthew 4:1-11

During Lent, our readings, our prayers, and our hymns all are well laden with a focus on self-examination, penitence, self-denial and alms giving. As we shift our focus over the next few weeks to a spiritual wilderness experience, we rediscover the undertones of our struggle with temptation, and the word we often don’t like to speak about; sin.   Sin is the ongoing grappling with our human desire to put ourselves in that place, which is to be occupied by God alone.

We often wrestle with a “me first” attitude that can deny the very relationships for which we were created; the love of God and the love of each other. We often miss the mark and thing that temptation has something to do with a legalistic system of do’s and don’t do’s that encourages moral behavior for the sake of piety and holiness. God doesn’t desire our personal righteousness as the means to an end alone, God desires that we remain in loving relationship both with God and with each other. Our spiritual brokenness is about relational failure and not law breaking.

While driving down US-301 in Parrish the other day, it was obvious that there was a lot of law-breaking going on. There were four people stopped on the side of the road for some obvious traffic violations. The law had been broken and some folks were going to pay the fines for their infractions. Many of us think that God’s law and the sin associated with it, is a mere legal transaction similar to the traffic stop. In other words, some folks think that when we break one of God’s laws, there’s some sort of penalty to be paid.

This notion of sin rejects a relational connection, similar to the interaction between police officer and traffic law breaker. When the citation is written for running the red light, or exceeding the speed limit, the officer is merely applying justice and that may at times seem a bit cold and non-relational. We may confuse God’s dealings with human brokenness as a cold and distant transaction as well, but God is personally invested in his creation. God’s love is never-ending, even when we fall short, even when we fail one another, even when we sin.

Consider for a moment that sin is first and foremost the choices we make the creates barriers between us resulting in broken relationships. The sins of coveting, stealing, lying, and that adultery thing is all about the brokenness in relationship among neighbors. “Having other gods before me,” “not using God’s name in vain” and all that is really about a broken relationship with God. The heart of that brokenness raises its ugly head, when we live in such a way that we value our own needs above the love we have for God, or when our own needs stand high above the love we have for others. Placing others, and ourselves above God is like making ourselves into little gods and that is sin.

Jesus was God enfleshed, and he understood this frailty of ours and yet he faced the same human temptations that we do. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus was desperately hungry, having been in the desert for 40 days, and as a result he was tempted to turn stones into bread. This is the temptation of seeing to our own needs over others.

Despite his hunger, Jesus’ personal needs did not get in the way of his ministry to feed the world. Jesus remained faithful to the wilderness experience and it led him later to feed the crowds from a few loaves and fish, and by his cross and suffering, he offers the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation. Jesus continued on to the cross so that he might be offered to us in self-giving love. Jesus demonstrated that as brothers and sisters, we are interdependent and as such, we are invited to offer self-giving love to the each other and the world.

The next enticement came when Jesus considered the temptation of throwing himself down from that lofty height. This enticement draws out the attitude of complete and utter self-sufficiency, a “pull-oneself-up from the bootstraps” mentality, or the “I can take care of it all myself mindset.”   We forget that we are creatures and that our very lives come from God, every breath we inhale is a gift.

When we succumb to this temptation, it carries with it the misunderstanding of our place in creation, and it influences how we live and how we relate to others. We’ve all heard the old saying, “No one is an island,” and I believe sure enough that it’s true.  We struggle when we try to live alone, isolated from others because we all have an inherent need for human connection.

We are utterly dependent on God and an equally important we are dependent on each other. Jesus remained faithful to his wilderness experience and did not succumb to the tempters “throw yourself off the temple,” in order to test your “Go it alone with out God, independent, can do attitude.”

The last temptation in the desert was the idea that Jesus might consider the temptation of “All this is yours if you will bypass the cross.” Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God not because he was a mere miracle-worker, or merely a great teacher, or merely a good man, but because he was the Crucified One. When Jesus told Peter he would be crucified, Peter couldn’t stand the thought. Peter’s squeamishness about Jesus’ death was precisely the appeal of the Accuser’s temptations.

In other words, why bother with the cross when you can go straight for the glory right now? This temptation was one many of us face, “Go ahead and worship something else other than God and forget this self-giving love and obedience thing.” Many times other things get in the way of the One we are called to make the center of our lives, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus remained faithful to the wilderness experience and he did not turn away from human suffering rather; he endured it. Lent is our wilderness experience. It is a time to examine our own responses to the temptations we face in this life. Through a deeper commitment to our relationship with God and with each other, and by recognizing and living into our utter dependence on God, we can endure the temptations of life that would break the bonds of love we are called to share.

There is a very basic equalizer amongst God’s creatures.   We all come from the earth and on Ash Wednesday, we received a great reminder of that fact. The great leveler of humanity is our own mortality and thus, we are all in this together. When we recognize that we are dust and to dust we shall return, we realize that we are not little gods and taht there is one God. We are all creatures of the Almighty, and in God’s eyes, we are one family, and yet God individually knows our needs, knows our suffering, and yes God knows our transgressions.

Self-examination over next five weeks is a time for all of us to prepare ourselves to resist temptation and to be strengthened in our relationship with Christ. Through God’s grace we may begin to know our own vulnerabilities to the “me first” mentality. This Lent, we must enter a period of spiritual spring-cleaning and become aware of our own struggles with temptation. This Lent, we must be obedient to our own wilderness experience, by drawing closer to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, by restoring and reconciling the broken relationships we have with others, and by releasing our need for power and influence. This Lent we become aware once again, of the presence abundant and unprompted grace of God, if we accept the wilderness experience of self-examination, penitence, self-denial and alms giving.

SERMON 2/18/17 Epiphany 7A, St. Bede’s, St. Petersburg, FL

Matthew 5:38-48

One of the most recognized acts of slapstick comedy is the group pie fight. We’ve all seen these on television. The Three Stooges and many other comics have entertained us with their “tit for tat” bakery battles. Usually, the battle begins when one person lobs a volley with a whipped cream filled pan. The fight is on and one pie is proceeded by a retaliatory volley, and then back and forth until all parties involved have pie on their face. We find humor in this absurdity, but this simple comedy routine is emblematic of something intrinsic in some of our relationships.

When evil is done to us, often times our natural reaction is to act in such a way that we maintain the upper hand.  We feel we must react to aggression with aggression, to hurt with hurt. “An eye for an eye” “a tooth for a tooth,” was a legal penalty common in many cultures including early Judaism. It came into being in order to limit excessive retaliation against those who brought aggression to others. When this “tit for tat” moral code emerged, it was seen as real moral progress, but it didn’t quite go far enough. Revenge and retaliation does not bring things into equilibrium, it restores one person’s position over another’s. The intent is to restore and protect the ego.  Protecting our egos is embraced as a norm in western culture however; it contradicts God’s way of radical love that we hear about in today’s gospel reading.

Love your enemies and prayer for those who persecute you. Jesus doesn’t propose a sentimental idealism here, but offers us a strategy for dealing with those with whom we come into conflict. The love strategy is not introverted aggression or passive aggressive behavior, it is a way of life that allows love to overcome differences. The Divine ideal for human relations is loving community. Jesus gives us some culturally specific examples of what that might look like.

The people of Israel were under the occupation of a foreign, armed force, namely the Roman legions. As these soldiers traveled throughout foreign lands, they carried their own personal equipment and belongings with them. As their travel distances grew greater, the individual soldiers compelled the people they ruled, to carry their gear for them. The minimum distance you would have had to carry a Roman soldier’s gear was at least one mile. It was symbol of their authority, and an act of humiliation directed toward those they occupied. Jesus teaches us that the outward act of humble self-giving love is not only to carry the one mile, that which is expected, but also to go the second mile.

Today, going the extra mile, going beyond, surpassing expectations is very different from humiliation; it is a way to move up the ladder and get ahead; a way to support the ego. Jesus command to go the extra mile turns the notion of ego inflation and even humiliation, into an act of loving humility. Letting go of the ego, and humbling oneself, would have been required to go that extra mile as a servant to the soldier.  Imagine the soldier’s reaction, when after a mile, he began looking for someone else on which to heap his pack, but rather he noticed that the person he had earlier oppressed was going the extra distance with him. It may be that this simple act of humble love changed the heart of a hardened oppressor.

Remember the woman caught in adultery? The crowd was chasing her down ready to stone her to death in retaliation for her so-called breaking of the purity law. The woman did not retaliate with counter-accusations; she did not throw stones at the crowd. Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter and challenged the crowd’s thinking. Paraphrasing, he said, “OK, stone her … but the one of you without sin, cast the first stone.” They all knew they were guilty of some act of sin at some point. “Do not resist the evil doer, turn the other cheek.” There is a deeper teaching being highlighted here in the words of Our Lord. The reality is that we all have been the evil doer at some level. We’ve said the wrong thing to someone, we’ve mis-judged someone, we’ve spoken vile about someone else. Maybe Jesus is saying that when we are on the receiving end of evil, we are reminded that we too have been guilty of doing evil. Maybe we are called to stand in the humility of our own brokenness, and stop the vicious cycle of “tit for tat,” by embracing a non-violent resistance to evil.

Jesus reminds us to let go of our egos, to humble ourselves, and recognize that we are one family invited to participate in a radical kind of love. The love God summons us to embrace is one in which the other’s welfare is of greater importance than our own. Like the crowd ready to stone the woman, we must realize that in God’s eyes, we are all equally broken people, but we not of our own doing, are brought into right relationship through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Divine notion for what human relations could be was fully revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus humbled himself. Jesus accepted the humility of the cross and did not resist the evil brought upon him. He died as a result. The reality is that God could have responded, but that was not in God’s divine heart. God’s passionate love for creation is grounded in self-giving love. God’s love did not end with death. Christ was raised to new life.

Humble, self-giving love overcame and stands as the model for human relations, which was God’s Divine dream from the start. Right relationships embrace letting go of our ego, and humbly loving the other as we love ourselves. This is not sentimental idealism; it is the promises of God that the fulfillment of right relationships will one day come to pass. This is the beauty of the Kingdom of God.

The church is the beacon of hope that love will win out in the end. God’s love is perfect, and we are invited to participate in that perfect love, not only for those we love, but those we find difficult to love.        As the church, we can be agents and representatives of Christ’s humble, self-giving love. When we face conflict and relational brokenness, we have a choice. We can react with humility and with a non-aggressive spirit, or we can just hurl another pie. Humility begins with letting go of the ego and embracing the humble spirit of self-giving love. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, in fact, it’s counter-cultural. It’s not radical love merely to love those we find easy to love. Back in the day, even immoral tax collectors loved those who loved them; Gentiles blessed those who blessed them. The life we are summoned to lead requires us to let go of our ego and love those we find unlovable. The life God demonstrated for us in Christ begins today.   Being perfectly loving, as the Heavenly Father is perfectly loving is our ultimate destination, despite our failures and our shortcomings. Jesus simply said, “Love one another.”