SERMON 9-27-20 Proper 21 Pentecost 17A, St. Luke’s, Bartlesville, OK

Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32

 

Are You Saved?

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  Some folks get this little phrase a bit mixed up.  Some folks would tell you that you have to work to attain salvation, as if Jesus’ work on the cross was insignificant.  Paul, I believe is teaching us that our relationship with God is not a passive, “one and done” baptism ritual along and we just keep living like grace has no power to change us.  Nor is our relationship with God like Pelagianism, which holds that humans have the free will to achieve human perfection without divine grace at all.  In other words, our salvation is not about what we do, but about what God does with us. Grace, or the power of our relationship with God is a participative journey, and it is one, which we never take alone, because God journeys with us.

Driving down the road to the office the other day, a car passed me with one of those old-fashioned bumper stickers that read, “Are you saved?” That certainly caught my attention especially the use of the word “save” in the past tense.  Some of us have been asked this question by overzealous folks wanting to convert us.  Even some gospel tracts include this question on them; you know the ones found stuffed under our windshield wipers at the local supermarket.

There is something really intriguing about the question, “Are you Saved?”  It implies that when it comes to salvation, the one asking you the question has somehow arrived at salvation already, and they want to know if you have too.  Over the centuries, one of the things theologians have wrestled with about salvation, is whether being in the state of God’s grace is something that happens in a particular moment without anything left to do afterward, over whether salvation is a transformative period of time that includes work and struggle.  Some have argued that it maybe even both.  I imagine, based on Paul’s intent in his letter to the Church in Philippi, his design for a bumper sticker would not ask “Are you saved.” Paul’s version would probably ask, “Are you BEING saved?”  Salvation is a past, present, and future transitory excursion, by which we grow in a deeper love and commitment to Christ, each and every day.

 

Love Growing

Have you ever experienced love at first sight?  Many of us have, and I know I did over 22 years ago.  For some of us, we might have taken one look at our first love and proclaimed on the spot, “you’re the one,” but even then, the relationship had not yet reached its completion had it?  Rather, many of us came to know our heart’s desire for the other gradually, and the love grew as we learned more about each other, as we did things together, and as we spent time together.  The growth of a deeper love for another person might begin in a solitary moment, but the relationship becomes more profound, more mysterious, and more fulfilling only with time and effort over weeks, months, and years.

Our love and commitment to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may begin in a moment, but it too must grow over time.  The invitation from the Spirit is an ongoing, past, present, and future work going on in us, a work to which we are called to respond.  Living in the Spirit is not a “one size fits all” proposition.  We have available to us a variety of Christian practices and disciplines that can help form us, deepen our love for and with Jesus, and draws us closer to Our Lord.

Benedictine spirituality is very attractive to many folks, and it is deeply woven into Anglican spirituality, mainly because it is unpretentious and accessible.  The Benedictine monks embrace a very simple practice in their cycle of daily prayer, work, and recreation.  They embrace a deep awareness of God’s presence in all things.  In prayer, the monks commit to intentional time with God in which they can become acutely aware of the Spirit’s presence.  In the simplest of chores like washing dishes, folding linens, or even mopping floors, they even then, become acutely aware of the Spirit’s presence in the mundane.  Awareness is central to the monk’s life as every moment is spent loving God every day, and in everything they do.

 

 

Working out Salvation

“God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Imagine what the relationship with our first love would be like, if only one party put in all the effort.  What if he or she left little love letters for you? What if he or she spontaneously embraced you when you least expected it? What if he or she whispered their love in your ear?  Despite all that, what if you never responded to simple acts of devotion?  It sounds like a one-sided relationship and it is unlikely that love could blossom into a life-long commitment.

The Spirit is actively working in us, bidding us, leaving love letters of her work in the pages of scripture.  The Spirit is embracing us when we least expect it.  The Spirit is whispering grace and mercy and joy into our ears.  God is at work in you, enabling you both to will and work for his good pleasure, but we need to be aware whether we are responding?  We who are working out our salvation, we who are growing in a deeper love of Christ, do not have to be monks to embrace the practice of awareness of God’s whispers and embrace.     When we begin to recognize, to become aware of the Spirit’s tugging on us, inviting us, and bidding us, our spiritual journey is well on its way to deepening love and grace.   We are working out our salvation. So, we become aware of the Spirit, but then, what comes next?  The answer is, “we simply respond.”

 

Invited to the Kingdom

In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us about two sons who were invited to share the work of their father’s vineyard.  One acknowledged the invitation but did not go.  The other son refused to go, but later recanted and went and worked. This is not a parable about how sons and daughters need to obey their Father’s wishes, in order to win their father’s approval.  The point here is that both children were invited to share in the father’s work and their father’s abundance, and each responded to the invitation in different ways.

We are called to respond to God’s love, with love in return.  We are invited to respond with love, not out of fear, or out of some misguided motivation to win God’s favor.  We are invited to respond because God first loved us.  Some folks believe that if they work hard enough, pray often enough, attend church frequently enough, and do mission work without ceasing, they will win the prize of God’s grace.  Some folks may not realize that they are in essence trying to win love, rather than accepting and responding to a love that comes without strings.

“No strings attached” grace is not something that can be coerced or forced through manipulation.  God does not coerce or manipulate us, and we cannot manipulate or coerce God.  Love is a choice and we have the choice to respond to God’s abundant Grace, or we can simply ignore it.  Jesus says, “I promise you life everlasting.”  The point is, if we ignore God’s never-ending invitation, we will miss the joy, peace, mercy, and fullness of a complete life in Christ, which we have been promised.  When we respond to God’s grace, we begin to work out our own salvation and like any relationship, it is no longer a one-sided proposition.  When we become aware of the Spirit’s tug on our lives, our hearts will to align with God’s, and we respond to grace with a life fully dedicated to God.

“Are you saved?” or “Are you being saved?”  Past tense, or present reality, or both and, which is it?  The wonderful mystery of growing in a deeper love and commitment to Christ can only be cultivated when we respond by spending time with God.   If we study of scripture, we embrace the narratives of others who have followed Christ before us and there, we find reflections of our life story in the narratives of those who have gone before, and we can become aware of how God was present in their lives.  If we engage our talents and time, we allow God’s use of our spiritual gifts in the service of others, we are responding to the call to go into the vineyard and work for the Kingdom of God.   If we tell the world the Good News, the transforming grace of God’s love in our lives, and we share in the ministry of love, mercy, reconciliation and grace, we are responding to God’s love.  Sisters and brothers, the invitation to a life of discipleship is always before us, and the most important question we should ask ourselves every day is this, “Am I growing in a deeper love and commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ?”  Rather, maybe this is the more accurate and simpler question, “Are you BEING saved?”

SERMON 9-20-20 Pentecost 16A, Proper 20, St. Paul’s Clinton, OK

Liminal Places

The 1983 blockbuster movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation” portrayed the adventures of a unique American family and their summer road trip vacation.  In the film, this Midwestern, suburban family led by Frank Griswold, (played by Chevy Chase) made a cross-country journey to “Wally World,” a fictional theme park that seemed a lot like a Disney World vacation spot.

As the family prepared for the trip, tensions were on the rise, tempers were short, and anticipation of the long journey ahead, overshadowed any dream of a joy-filled, relaxing, and fun vacation for which, they hoped to experience. Throughout the film, the family faced a lot of challenges: lost credit cards, terrible hotel accommodations, a major car breakdown, and a brief visit with some strange cousins.  When they finally arrived at Wally World, things were not as they expected and as a result, the leisurely family vacation transformed into an escapade of criminal proportions.

Maybe the movie Vacation sparks a connection to a family vacation we remember.  Maybe we connect with a silly story of a journey and its related pandemonium.  Maybe we identify with it because it reflects our own life journey. Maybe we understand what can happen when a group of folks on a journey to reach a particular destination, find themselves reluctant to change, unable to seek assistance from someone else, and possesses a perception of powerlessness to choose a different route, an alternative path, or another mode of transport.

All this makes me wonder what would have happened to the Griswolds, if they had just stopped their journey when they lost their credit cards, the car broke down, or they lost their luggage, and just called a friend for help.  Imagine the story if they had just stop thinking they could do it all themselves, and reached out to a neighbor, a friend, or a relative.    Would they have made it to their final destination?  I bet the movie would have ended differently because the chaos and uncertainty would have diminished, and quite possibly the vacation they dreamed of would have come to fruition.  I wonder how our journeys in life might be different if we considered alternatives, opportunities, and truly sought God’s will.

Tough Journeys with God

Toilsome journeys are difficult sometimes because we become so focused on the destination and our desire to control the outcome that we ignore the reality of what is going on around us.   Life can be frustrating because we are not in the comfortable space of where we were, and we are not yet where we would really rather be; we are somewhere in-between.  These in-between places are the “liminal” spaces of life.  These places are where we have to realize we need help, because we are really not in control and thus, we need to seek God’s will.

In today’s Old Testament lesson we hear, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”  The desert journey of the people of Israel was one of those liminal places.  Moses led the Israelites out of their bondage of slavery, and into a newfound freedom, and a new way of being.  The liminal place was the long desert hike, which at best was uncomfortable and at worse, life-threatening.  However, this trip was absolutely necessary, in order for the Israelites to be ready for what was to come later on, the 40-year trip served as a time of preparation in action.  In the desert, the people had to wrestle with their identity as a community, they had to grapple with what they really needed to change in themselves in order to become a new nation.  Finally, they had to struggle with what they themselves had to do, which was to not merely wait for God to intervene, but to take action themselves in order for God’s will for them to be realized.

The story of the Israelite’s sojourn in the desert was not only about God’s demonstration of God’s benevolent power in action, it was a story of how a community of people had to take responsibility for the circumstances around them and then, take action, so that God’s will for them would become a reality.  It is in these liminal places of difficulty and unsettling reality that we grow, change, transform, and become better able to move forward; that is, if we accept the new reality and then, partner with God in the midst of the changes, God is making apparent in our midst.

Change is Not Easy

God’s creation is not a static system that we can enter into and not expect change.  Consider all the cycles in the universe, because seasons come and seasons go.  Science confirms that organic things evolve and adapt, weather systems are fluid and dynamic. The basic concept of the cosmos is that things move from one state, through a period of transition, and then into a new state.  Changes like these test our faithfulness to God who is working in our lives. Let me share an example. There was a small, rural town in Florida, who a few years ago hired a new city manager fresh out of graduate school.  The young woman came to her new position with lots of new ideas, energy, and imposing excitement.   The new city manager, after several attempts to make changes, soon realized that there was going to be many difficult problems with which, she and the city council would have to wrestle.

Homes were being sold left and right because families, frustrated with the lack of city identity and sense of mission, were moving further out into the suburbs and thus, revenues were declining. The spirit of service to the local residents beyond the urban area, which had been a core value of the city for years, had all but disappeared.  The city, rather than shining as a lighthouse of possibilities and hope, became an island focused only on self-sufficiency, resulting in further isolation and decline.  In the midst of all this change, the city council members were spiraling into hopelessness, putting their heads in the sand to the problems all around, and just waiting for a sign that God would intervene soon.

This was a liminal time of uncertainty, doubt, stress, and yes, there were tensions.  The young city manager cast a new vision, a new spirit of hope that would affect the community for years to come.  She said, “We find ourselves in a desert place, where our city seems isolated, stuck in our own circumstances, and we have abandoned the people around us to whom we are called to serve.”  She continued, “We can continue on this journey, self-absorbed, and without hope, or we can take action, seek outside assistance, reconnect with our suburban diaspora, and redefine our mission as a city.”  An epiphany happened on that day, and the council realized that they had to do something and take an active part in developing the future of the community.  They realized that this change required the community to literally, prayerfully, and faithfully work toward a new way of being.

Soon that small town began to experience renewed life, simply because they agreed that God was doing a new thing there and they had to partner with God and respond.  Others in the town began to catch the spirit of new ideas, energy and excitement and the earlier discomfort, doubt, stress, and tension became peace, hope, joy, and a sense of renewed cooperation.  Together that little town has a new reality of revitalized life and peace and harmony and growth they had not seen in years.  They realized that the vineyard in which they had been planted was not their own, but God’s.  They realized that they as faithful stewards of the vineyard owner, who had work to do in God’s Kingdom.

Vineyard Workers

The Gospel Reading today is a metaphor for God’s vineyard.  God called workers to work the vineyard and yet, some came to work at different hours of the day.  Each of them though were promised and agreed to the daily wage, regardless of when they started.  In other words, the bargain was that God would feed the workers, if they agreed to show up and work.  The point of the story is that God is generous to all and yet, sometimes we become uncomfortable in the liminal places of this work, where God is teaching us a new way of life.  The in-between time of showing up and getting fed is the liminal place where God is transforming us.

For many of us as individuals, and for all of us as communities of faith we must find a greater tolerance for discomfort, a renewed desire to explore fresh possibilities, a willingness to seek help from folks beyond our community, and a commitment to serve those folks outside our four walls.  We can only do these things by remaining faithful to God and to each other in the in-between times.  We must pray for patience, forbearance and grace as we live into this new thing the Spirit is doing right here and right now.  There is a prayer found in our prayer book that is comforting and encouraging as we traverse these liminal places of life:  O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the pride and impatience that infects our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggles so we may accomplish your purposes on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (BCP p. 815)

Planted for Service

When we consider the desert sojourn of the Israelites, I wonder what would have happened if they merely decided to sit in the desert and wait for God to move them.  They did not do that did they?  They got up and walked, they moved, they traversed the liminal challenges of the desert.  The Israelites, under their own foot power, moved into the land promised by God.

We can be assured that as we embark on these long arduous, challenging, and yes uncertain journeys as communities of faith, we will face overwhelming obstacles.

Through prayerful discernment, through visionary and prophetic planning, and through apostolic action with God, we too can move from the desert places, the liminal places, the in-between places, and grow into the communities that God is calling us to become.   The local church, wonderful faith communities are called and planted to become incarnational partners with God.  When we join the work of the Kingdom, we are to the Spirit’s nudges to pray, hope, and yes, to act through word and deed, bringing about the Kingdom of God, right in the midst of the place we have been planted to serve.

You see, the Griswold’s forgot one key point to the whole trip to Wally World.  The fun and family time they were really seeking was not to be found on the rollercoasters and rides at their destination.  The real joy, peace, and purpose of the trip was to be found on the road.  Imagine, if they had spent time enjoying the journey, being open to the challenges they faced, helping each other through those difficulties, and maybe, just maybe, helping others on the same road and path all along the way.

SERMON 9/6/20 Labor Day Service – Diocese of Oklahoma

Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

            “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.”  Have you noticed how maybe this scripture should be a part of the user agreement for all social media accounts?  It seems like today our divisions seem to fueled by this mindset instead. “If another person sins against you, tell everyone except that person, post it on your Facebook page, and never sit down and talk to them about it.”   Matthew 18 is the earliest and best model for the church to use, when we are dealing with any type of conflict, unfortunate misunderstandings, or little squabbles.  If you think that conflict does not happen in church, just wait around a little bit and it please know, it will happen.  

            However, healthy and helpful conflict is not a bad thing.  Opposing ideas presented in a loving way can move people and organizations forward is a fact of life.  As a matter of fact, it is the conflict between your tires and road that helped you travel down the road today.  However, no matter our age or situation, we all at some time, have in the past, or maybe are right now, or will in the future, enabled unhealthy conflict to hurt someone, or you have been hurt by someone else.  Even the best of friends disagrees and we mishandle disagreements.  Our own saintly superheroes the Apostle Paul and Barnabas had a little tiff and “they had such a sharp disagreement (so heated) that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left.”

            We are human and fragile, because we are fallible creatures and like our favorite saints or superheroes, we succumb to the sin of strife and unhealthy conflict.   Many of us have experienced the community life of church in many different places.  I am sure you or someone you know has been on the receiving end of a conversation like this, “Hey, I have to tell you what so and so is saying about you.”  Maybe the conversation was more like this one, “Can you believe that Bill would do something like that to me,” or “have you heard the latest rumor about so and so?”  Conflict, strife, and dissension is normal, but the problem we have is unhealthy conflict devolves into undermining our Lord’s command to “love our neighbor.” When that happens, people get hurt and we risk losing our grace-filled witness in the world. 

Gospel Witnesses

            Our holy mission as the church is to proclaim to the world our loving bond with God, and by our shared baptismal identity in Christ, we proclaim our mutual love, peace and support for each other.  The way of the Body of Christ is different from the way of the world, because we are called to invite and restore folks back to the flock; we are set apart so we can be about the business of reconciliation.  

            Do you remember the story of the young man who took his inheritance and left his family behind. He squandered it all and found himself broken, alone, and living in a feed trough with the pigs.  He decided to come home, hoping for a job as a hired hand, but upon his arrival he was surprised at the welcome her received. He expected a trial and judgment for his failures, but that was not to be on that day.  His father received the young man, not with condemnation, but with open arms and a party thrown in his honor.  This story is our story of God’s reconciling love in action. This story is what Jesus means when he commands us to find the lost sheep and bring them home.  

Steps to Biblical Conflict Resolution

            Forgiving, making amends, and restoring is complex, but Jesus gives us some sound and simple advice on how to go about it.  First, he recommends when we hurt one another that we take the initiative to talk about it one on one.  This step avoids the unhealthy human drama associated with spreading rumors, backbiting, and the behind-the-back sin of tearing each other down.  Now, if that move does not work, Jesus suggests we go return to the person who caused the hurt, but this time bring a friend along. Partnering with another brother or is sister to deal with a third party sometimes can become unhealthy triangulation, by which we might go to a third person and say, “do you know what so and so did to me?” No, this model is a move to bring a sister or brother along with you, and one who lovingly works with both parties to try to heal the broken relationship. It is kind of like spiritual mediation, but without all the attorney’s fees.  

            Now, if that does not work, Jesus offers us third option, which is to bring this before the church.  In other words, Jesus suggests that we bring someone in authority into the conversation. Notice that is not the first thing Our Lord recommends when we have disagreements, but only after we have tried to work it out together, and only then should we consider going to this step.  

Gentiles and Tax Collectors

            Then, when all else fails and we have exhausted all other options, we are admonished to “treat the offender like Gentiles and Tax Collectors.”  Some folks hear this and might say, “Oh I like that one, let’s start there and post this on the Gentiles and Tax Collector’s Group page.”  In other words, people think Jesus is telling us to say,  “I did my best, I tried everything, and I just couldn’t get them to see my side of the story, so I’m writing them off my list.”  

            Hang on there a minute and listen closely to what Our Lord is really saying.  Ask yourself, how did Jesus treat those old Gentiles and Tax Collectors?  Let’s see, He showed favor to a Centurion soldier, he healed a Gentile woman whose daughter was possessed, and he healed a Gentile demonic in Gennesaret.  That doesn’t sound like “writing someone off” to me.   

            What about those old crooked tax collectors?  Let’s see Matthew was at his tax booth and Jesus invited himself to go to his Matthew’s house for dinner.  Now that was a scandal fit for social media!  That doesn’t sound like he “wrote Matthew off.”   By the way, today’s Gospel we heard today was the one recorded according to a faithful, forgiven, and restored Tax Collector; Matthew. 

            This little phrase, “treat them like Gentiles and tax collectors sounds more like a little twist on words. Jesus was not advocating for mistreatment; he was promoting an attitude of “don’t give up on them.”  Treating those hardheaded folks like Gentiles and tax Collectors (those who refuse to reconcile), is not a permission slip to write someone off, nor is it a mandate to remain in an abusive situation either.  

Keys to Reconciliation

            Some broken relationships may never be reconciled, at least not in our lifetime.  However, writing folks is just not something we do  s followers of the one who never abandoned any of the sheep.  Jesus never gave up hope of the possibility of reconciliation with those on the outskirts of the community nor should we.  To restore our sisters and brothers who have fallen away, requires God’s grace of course, but it requires our obedience to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”  This reconciliation work is thorny and complex.  It is not a ministry of sentimental words of temporary forgiveness, and then go right back to the rumor mill.  It is difficult work, but its work we must do, and it is work that requires honesty, humility, courage, and gentleness.  

            Open and direct loving honesty is vital to reconciliation because it requires us to set our egos aside when we hurt one another.  We must be willing to take a risk and be authentic and vulnerable in order to participate in God’s desire to restore relationships when broken.   Humility is crucial because it requires putting away our desire for power over one another, in order to participate in God’s desire to restore relationships when broken.  

            Courage is needed as well, because it may require us to go to someone who has hurt us, and reveal our painful emotions.  If an abusive or unhealthy relationship is the case, we may just have “let go and let God,” in order to participate in God’s desire to restore relationships when broken. Gentleness is fundamental because it may require us to put on Christ’s meekness even in the face of persecution, so that we might love those who may not love us. 

            The ministry of reconciliation is essentially the mission of God, and it is essential for the church and our common life together.  If we are to remain a lighthouse of love and restoration in the world, if we are to fulfill this mission of grace given to us by God, we must love and restore each other when we fall.  We must recognize that we all are broken and we all will fail each other at some time.  All of us.  No one was perfect except Our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, the drama of common life is messy, it is complex, but it is also joyful, enriching, Spirit-filled, and it is the life to which have been given.  It is the life we live together as one family.  In these uncertain and complex days, I believe our prayer should be that God will give each of us a new opportunity, to be strengthened by the Spirit, so that we can have open our arms of love.  Maybe we too can offer the same kind of welcome that the Prodigal one received, who just like us had to admit the he was a lost sheep of the flock.

SERMON 8-23-20 Pentecost 12A St. Luke’s Chickasha, OK

Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear about some of the folks who followed Jesus around, you know the ones who witnessed the miracles, who heard the sermons, and listened in on his sparring with Pharisees and scribes. Today they are asked a very importantquestion from their Master. Jesus asks, “who do you say that I am?” Now, Peter did not hesitate to answer, and with over-zealous glee, immediately shouts, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Sometimes when Peter sounds off so quickly, have you ever just wished you could have been there, and whispered in his ear, “Now brother, don’t speak too quickly, because you know that your exuberance is going to get you in trouble a little later in the story.”  Peter, the disciple who claimed he trusted Jesus, when things got tough, or when he faced a new challenge,seems to always lose heart and lose faith. Peter had a hard time following through.   When he walked on the water with Jesus and the waves started to toss around him on the sea, or when the soldiers were carrying the Master away to his trial and crucifixion, or when three times accused of being a disciple, Peter turned coat and ran.  Peter really was not ready to back up his exuberant words with actions. 

Good old Peter; I am so glad he was an apostle, because with a follower like him, I too believe that I can be a faithful Jesus follower.  He was always the first to proclaim, but likewise, the first to hesitate and the first to fail.  Peter’s story is probably the story of most of us disciples.  Quick words and clumsy actions; great intentions and run-of-the-mill responses, may be the nature of following Jesus.  

Worship

For me, I have to admit that I fail as a disciple more times than I like, but I am so glad that God’s grace is abundant and overflowing. I am so glad that when we fall down along this walk of discipleship, God is quick to forgive, and ready to receive us back. So, how do we respond to that kind of grace? Our response is to offer to God a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Unfortunately, sometimes, our responseto God’s love (like our brother Peter) is just mere words. Another later Apostle, one who like his counterpart, failed in his attempts to follow Jesus too. Today though he tells us how we are to respond to God’s grace.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  Worship can be confused with a worship service.  What makes worship different from merely saying the prayers, singing the hymns, and receiving the sacrament, is our hearts.  Worship is not mere liturgical calisthenics, but it is an ourpouring of our heart to God. 

Webster’s defines worship as, “extravagant respect or admiration for, or devotion to, an object ofdivine affection.” Our worship to God is our way of answering the question posed to Peter today, “Who do you say that I am?” If you were asked whether “in your everyday life, Jesus is number one and the one to whom you offer respect, admiration, or devotion, then the answer is right there in front of you, and your heart will make it clear.

Trusting Jesus; Lord of my Life

“Who do you say that I am,” Jesus asked. Peter responded, “you are the Son of God.”  Listen closely to his words.  The answer Peter gave may sound a little non-committal and slightly impersonal.  What if Peter’s response would have been different?  What if his words were more like Thomas’ post-resurrection proclamation, in which Thomas called Jesus, “My Lord and My God,” a statement that is based on trust and reliance and intimacy?  Thomas, with clarity and purpose, declared his intimate connection to the Master, and did not just identify Jesus’ public persona.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. A woman in the Wal Mart parking lot was asked by a friend, “who is that man standing over there near your car?” She responded, “that is my male civil partner with whom I share a common domicile.” That sounds like a legalistic statement of fact. There is no emotional connection or relational references made between the woman and the man. Let’s try that again. A woman is asked, “who is that man standing over there near your car?” She responds, “That is my dearly beloved husband, whom I love with all my heart, and for whom, I would risk my life!” Do you see the difference? The second response is personal, committed, and from the words, you sense that there is deep intimacy shared between these two people. Trust, reliance, and love shared between two people.

Moments of Change

My sisters and brothers, life’s circumstances are ever-changing.  We know that now in 2020 that life today is just not what it was a few months ago. Nonetheless, we can trust Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, even in times of uncertainty and grief.  In just a few weeks, your beloved priest Mother Lin will be moving on to a new chapter in her life, and St. Luke’s will be moving on to a new chapter in your lives. Even now, when things are uncertain and the future is not quite clear, I encourage you to trust God’s assurance of his presence, grace, and peace.   

In this time of change, you my sisters and brothers can live in the trust and peace knowing that God will not abandon you, nor will God forsake you. Imagine today that Jesus is walking beside you in the days to come. When you feel like you are in despair, he notices, stops for a moment, places his arm around you and asks, “Do you trust me, because you know I am with you.” Then he smiles and just like he did with theearly apostles, asks you to consider, “My child, who do you say that I am.”

SERMON 8/9/20 Pentecost 10A St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, Oklahoma City, OK

1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13;  Romans 10:5-15;  Matthew 14:22-33

 Caught in a Storm

“Lord save me!”  In today’s Gospel reading, we hear the miraculous account of the time Jesus’ disciples were crossing a body of water in a small boat and out in the middle of a terrible storm.  Suddenly, as the storm begins to achieve its full strength and fear fills their hearts, a figure is seen, walking on the water.  The group misidentified the figure, thinking that they were seeing an unknown spirit, a ghost per se.  Then bold, brazen, overconfident Peter takes a chance, and with the power of a little faith, or arrogance says, “If it is you Lord, command me to come out there with you.”  Then Peter gets out of the boat and starts literally treading water, that is until the water gets rough.

One interesting point about this story is that it represents how we many of us deal with our own storms; our own fears. The story shows us how we struggle to trust God in ominous times, and how sometimes we will step out in faith in the middle of the chaos, only to find ourselves still in the storm sinking in despair.  Despite being first-hand witnesses to Jesus’ miraculous feeding of 5000+ people, and all the other miracles of healing enacted by Our Lord, most of the disciples were paralyzed by fear in the midst of a squall.  Peter on the other hand was like us, who step out and trust, but when the waves still crash around us, we lose faith and believe we can do it all alone.

Do you live in fear today and want to cry out, “Lord are you really are here with us in this stormy pandemic? If so, I will walk with you in this storm!”  Then the waves start to crash and with every evening newscast, every Zoom meeting, and the ever-present face covering we all wear, we realize the entire planet is in the midst of a storm.  Fear sets in and then despair, paralyzed struggling to face the day.  “Save me, Jesus,” Peter cried.  The Lord did just that and pulled him from the depths of despair.  Beverly Gaventa in her Christian Century article Doubt and Fear writes, “Not only does Jesus have the power to control the turbulent waters and even to walk on them, but he can bestow that power on others and rescue those in distress.” (3) These crashing waves and clapping thunder crashes is just noise that challenges us to take courage, to be willing with great caution and mitigating protective measures, to step out in faith again, to step out and walk toward Our Lord.  We need to face this storm, trust God is with us, and reject paralyzing fear.   At some point, our faith needs to lead us to realize who, in this situation, is really in control.

Takeoffs and Landings – Moments of Terror

Psychology Today describes fear as “a vital response to physical and emotional danger that has been pivotal throughout evolution. If people didn’t feel fear, they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves from legitimate threats—which often had life-or-death consequences in the ancestral world.”(1) Fear is a natural emotional, physical, and psychological reaction to a threat, which results in actions that facilitate our ability to survive.

As an FAA Flight Instructor, I have been teaching people to fly airplanes for nearly 20 years.  Some student’s fear of flying, especially during certain training maneuvers can bring moments of sheer terror.  Sometimes a student forgets their training, they freeze up, and with little time for reaction, the instructor has to take the controls in order to save the aircraft and occupants.

When I teach someone to fly, there is a sacred safety rule we follow. When the student is of control and needs some help, I merely call out, “I have the controls.”  The student responds, “You have the controls.”  And just to be certain there is a clear understanding who is flying the craft, I repeat, “I have the controls.” This rule is non-negotiable, because a misunderstanding at that moment, can result in a life or death choice.  Fear of flying can keep you on your toes and facilitate reactions that can save your life.  Fear of flying can also paralyze you and keep you from reaching your dreams.

Corona Anxiety

Fear can move us forward and cause us to make survival choices.  Fear though, when experienced without hope, without being grounded in love, with an overconfidence of self-sufficiency, without recognizing that God really is in control, it can lead not to survival, but death.  Like learning to fly, when fear strikes, when we face ominous times, there comes a time when we need to let go and let God take the controls.

Life is so different now, and what has been comfortable and normal seems to be a fleeting memory.  We long for interaction beyond the video screens that we live behind today.  We long for a hug, a handshake, a dinner out, a movie, an extended hand to receive bread and wine, body and blood.  We may ask, “Where is our hope in the future?” We may even find ourselves in “doubt, a sense of loneliness, as well as fear of failure before God, (which seems to be) left to fester and grow into a difficult form of unfaith. (2). We are in a new kind of storm and like the apostles that came before us, we too cry “out in fear.” But just like them, “Jesus speaks to us like he spoke to his first disciples in the middle of their storm, and says, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

With Jesus’ comforting words of hope, he is not offering some sentimental encouragement, “don’t be afraid, just take heart.” Just be happy is certainly not helpful in the midst of a global pandemic, but maybe what he is saying to us really is what we all need right now.  Maybe we need to accept that right now, we are not in charge and we are not in control.  Maybe we need to admit that we are afraid and then, know that our fear is not a failure, but it is a part of the nature of being a follower of Jesus. Like Peter, we all cycle between bold hubris and cowering denial, but neither reaction is a sign of our inability, to be lifted from the depths by our loving Lord, Emmanuel, who is with us in all things.

Even now, when fear grips us all, when life is not what it was only a few months ago, we need to be drawn now more than ever, to trust the true Son of God.  Even in the midst of all the noise, where the wind, the chaos, and uncertain fear threatens us each and every day, we still need to trust God.  We can with assurance know that nothing comes between us and the love and God, not even this tempest all around us, not even death.  “All will be well, and all will be well,” said Julian of Norwich.  “All will be well,” even for we people “of little faith.” The Psalmist also offers us encouragement now when we need to he hear it most, but we must listen to, ” what the Lord God is saying, * for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.”  Maybe it is time for us to turn off the noise for a few minutes today, and listen then closely, so we might hear what Jesus is trying to say to us right now, “Don’t be afraid.  It’s ok, I have the controls.”

REFERENCES

(1) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/smashing-the-brainblocks/201511/7-things-you-need-know-about-fear

(2) Raj, A. R.Victor, et al. “Homiletical Helps on LW Series C–Old Testament.” Concordia Journal, vol. 33, no. 2, Apr. 2007, pp. 185–212.

(3) Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. “Doubt and Fear.” The Christian Century, vol. 110, no. 21, July 1993, p. 709.

SERMON Easter 6A 5-17-20 St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL

Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

Peter Pan – Reluctant Disciple

In 1991, Robin Williams played a unique role (Peter Pan) in the blockbuster hit “Hook.”   This version of the story of Peter Pan, Wendy, Tinker Bell, and the orphaned “Lost Boys” is one of my favorites.  The movie features Peter Pan as an adult who has forgotten all about his childhood. In his new life, he is known as Peter Banning, a successful but unimaginative and workaholic lawyer with a wife (Wendy’s granddaughter) and two children. However, when Captain Hook, the enemy of his past, kidnaps his children, he returns to Neverland to save them. Along the journey, through the insights, wisdom, and gifts of a young lad named Pockets, Peter reclaims the memories of his past, he rediscovers who he really is, he helps his old friends face their challenges, and in so doing, Peter becomes the person he always had been.

Everyone in this fairy-tale that, became better people than they had been before, but more importantly, they all discovered their purpose.  Wendy came to realize that being Tinkerbell (the helper and overseer of the Lost Boys) was her life’s calling all along.  The Lost Boys discovered that they were a family that could accomplish anything together, because they had each other, and because they had the support and comfort of the Spirit of Truth.  Even Peter discovered something in this brief adventure, because he came to realize his true gifts, and he found out who he really was and in so doing, he found his life’s purpose as well.

Sometimes when we face the unexpected circumstances of life, our sense of who we are and what our purpose really is becomes clearer, especially when we encounter change and discomfort.  We all are facing changes in our lives right now, unimaginable fear that none of us expected.  This pandemic for one has changed for all of us what is important, who is important, and why life is so important.  In times like these, when we happenstance unexpected changes, the faithful way to move through the pain, anger, fear, and uncertainty is NOT to resort to blame, rumors, disillusionment, or to walk away.  The true heavenly path to facing change is to put your faith in Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who never leaves us.  He is the true pastor of our lives.

 No orphans

The writer of the Acts of the Apostles recorded, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands.” We can be assured that God is always with us and will never abandon us.  If we put our faith in God, God will not allow us to be disillusioned, nor will God leave us to live in fear and anxiety.  Even when changes come, when the unexpected happens.  God is with us, for God is not contained in four walls, in idols, or even religious systems.  God is always with us.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” Wikipedia defines orphans as people (mainly children) who are left comfortless, bereft of parents, a teacher, guide, or guardian.  The idea that Jesus would say to us that we will never be left orphaned, clearly defines the nature of the relationship we have with him.  If we are not orphans, then we are his children.  Sisters and brothers, in all of life’s changes, we have the assurance that God will never desert or leave us.  We are not orphans, even though Jesus left his ministry to us.

Orphaned children in first century Palestine were left to live off the charity of the community, and they had no assurance of life beyond their fate.  Death was common among orphans.  Abandonment to this fate was one that many children feared, especially considering the life span of people in that era.  Jesus’ promise that we will never be abandoned, reveals an incredible truth, which is this, “Even in our darkest moments, we will never be alone. God is always faithful to us.”  God is always with us, and God will faithfully provide us with eternal providential care, even when we cannot see sense it as life unfolds in was we did hope. Now, here is some hope for all of us. God is with us, even when our emotions and our disappointments go awry, and even if and when we do not believe.

Trusting God

My sisters and brothers, I have to ask you something, “Do you really trust God right now?”  I mean can you let go of your fear and uncertainty and really believe that God is in charge of your life, God wants the best for you in all circumstances, and God will never abandon you?  Can you trust that right now?  The Apostle Peter, the trusted, broken, sometimes failing disciple who denied Jesus three times wrote, “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.”  I am so glad Peter (The Rock) was a follower of Jesus, because he gives me hope that I can be faithful.  Peter often, got it wrong as he followed Jesus around Galilee.  However, at one point in Peter’s ministry, only after Jesus had left the ministry to him and the other apostles, Peter began to find his purpose.

It is almost like Peter had to finally stand on his own two feet, in order to be the leader Jesus had called him to be.  Lord knows he could not stand on his feet on that water.  However, despite Jesus’ ascension to the Father, Jesus never abandoned Peter, the apostles, the early followers, and Jesus never abandons the church.   The church is able to accomplish her mission today, because she has the Holy Spirit in us, leading us and guiding us.  You see, faith is the power of our walk with Jesus that transforms fear into confidence, reluctance into courage, and despondency into amazing grace and action.

Sisters and brothers, are you willing to put your life, your heart, your spiritual health in God’s hands?  Are you willing to be bold and believe that even when change comes, God is in charge?  Now is the time to step out in faith and trust that God will not abandon you as orphans, as if you were Lost Girls and Lost Boys with no Peter Pan to lead the day.  For in this family, the true leader of our lives, the true pastor of our hearts, and the one in which, we can always depend is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ alone.

Living in Faith

For some of you, mine and Terri’s leaving creates feelings of great sadness.  For others, you may be feeling dismay, disappointment, and honestly, some of you are probably angry.  Maybe some are experiencing secretly, a little joy.  All of these emotions are normal, and all of them are ok.  For Terri and me, we are so brokenhearted to have to leave you.  Our hearts ache because we have come in only two years, to love this parish, this community, and we cannot tell you how difficult it is for us to leave you, our friends and fellow followers of Jesus.

It is difficult for us to leave our home Florida as well.  Other than the three years we lived in Tennessee in seminary, we have lived in Florida for 20 years, and for me, I have lived here longer than where I grew up.  Terri and I, are in the midst of change, and we live with our own fear and anxiety, because we are leaving this call at a time when we find ourselves in a difficult circumstances; a global pandemic.  However, Terri and I are hopefully and faithfully demonstrating to you, what it means to really trust God in all things. We are taking a bold leap of faith, trusting that our shepherd, Jesus Christ will never abandon us as we answer an unexpected call, and we are trusting Christ that he will never abandon you as we live in faith.

Living every day in faith means that you step out in trust and confidence in God.  Living in faith means you move when God calls, even when the circumstances are not easy, when you are moving 20 hours away, and you are selling a home, buying a home, and living in a place you have visited only once.  Living in faith means that you listen to others who have discerned with you the call that lies before you.  Living in faith means that what is comfortable, stable, and good must sometimes be left behind, because God is calling you into a new way of being.  This living in faith was how two years ago, Terri and I stepped out in faith in order to begin our journey together with you all in the first place.

What is next?

Right now, St. Monica’s is being called to live in faith.  You stand at the edge of a new chapter in your ministry, and this change is only the beginning of something new and fresh and amazing.  Trusting Jesus right now does not take away the emotions of loss, but it can fuel our hope to carry on.  At the end of the movie “Hook” after the villainous Captain Hook had been defeated and his kids were saved, Peter Pan called upon Tinkerbell to whisk his children away back home and suddenly, Peter began to fly off with them.

As he looked back at the Lost Boys, Peter stopped and returned to the them for a moment.  One of the young ones said, “Don’t leave us Peter, and don’t say goodbye.”  One of the boys said, “You’re going away and forgetting about us all over again.”  Peter said, “You all are my Lost Boys and I will never forget you.” Then, Peter stood up and asked, “So who do I leave in charge?” He took out his trusty blade, a symbol of his authority and work among them and then, he handed it to Pockets.  Pockets was that first Lost Boy who recognized who Peter truly was even as an adult.  Pockets took the blade and with glee in his face, he came also came realize what his true calling was all along; leadership.

Jesus left his ministry of reconciliation to us, and the church has continued that mission for centuries.  Jesus leaves that ministry to you all here in this place, and that mission will continue for many decades to come.  In the movie Hook, as Peter flew off to his next adventure, living faithfully into a new call of service in his life, the Lost Boys (lost no more) heard their friend say, “Thank you for believing.”  Peter thanked the boys for changing him, because in a way they all grew together joyfully and faithfully.  Peter thanked them because through their new adventure, they all came to know that the Spirit of Truth (I believe God’s Spirit of Truth) transformed them all.   My sisters and brothers, for our time together, I want to say, “Thank you for believing.” I encourage you all to remain faithful and do not despair.  I encourage you to trust in Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to lead you into new adventures of mission, right here and right now, and in the many years to come. 

SERMON Easter 4A St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL

Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Sheep: Metaphorical Disciples

In today’s gospel reading Jesus speaks of our relationship to him as the Good Shepherd, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” This is not the only place in scripture we hear Jesus refer to himself as the Good Shepherd, and we his disciples as his flock.  In Mark’s gospel, as Jesus came ashore in a boat, he showed compassion and said, “they were like sheep without a shepherd.” For many of us who never grew up on a farm, this metaphor may seem somewhat confusing. I am sure many of you have wondered why Jesus refers to us as his sheep and he as our shepherd. Maybe you wonder what that relationship means for we 21st century Christians.

First, we must understand that the church is a community of people gathered for a purpose.  The word church, comes from the Greek word, Ekklesia, which translated is a compound of two segments: “ek”, a preposition meaning “out of”, and a verb, “kaleo”, meaning “to call” – together, it means literally, “to call out.”  We are a community yes gathered together but called into fellowship not for our benefit alone.  We are called out for a purpose, and as icons and stained-glass windows of the image of the Good Shepherd that we follow, we have a job to do.

We are Jesus Hands and Feet of service and love in the world, and bearers of God’s grace in our daily lives.  So, in order to get this sheep and shepherd metaphor, we need to first understand the holy and often imperfect relationship that we share in the community of the gathered faithful.  Now if you believe that sheep behavior has nothing to do with being a disciple, and nothing to do with how we act as God’s people together, then listen to some of these interesting Wikipedia facts about sheep, then consider, maybe we disciples really act like that.

Sheep Behavior

Wikipedia states, ” Sheep are flock animals and strongly gregarious, sheep have a tendency to congregate close to other members of a flock, and sheep can become stressed when separated from their flock members.”  It adds, ” During flocking, sheep have a strong tendency to follow a leader (in the group who) may simply be the first individual to move.”  Further it explains that sheep can, and do, get a little agitated, and when “cornered sheep may charge and butt, or threaten by hoof stamping and adopting an aggressive posture.” (1).        So, although sheep gather to support one another, not everything in the flock is always sweet “Bahs,” gentle “Nays” and “aren’t we cute little “Lambsy Divie.” Wikipedia tells us that “Sheep (often) establish a dominance hierarchy through fighting, threats and competitiveness. Dominant animals are inclined to be more aggressive with other sheep, and usually feed first at troughs.” (1) Wait, Fr. Eric are you telling me that there are spats in church?  I would say, “Have you ever made a sister or brother in Christ angry or have you ever seen a dispute over changing anything in church?”  It does happen, and I have seen a lot of hoof stamping and aggressive postures in my ministry as a priest, and so yes, I would say we can and do sometimes act like sheep in need of a shepherd.

Here is the key point I want to make about sheep, “Being a prey species, the primary defense mechanism of sheep is to flee from danger when their flight zone is entered.”  As followers of Jesus, the one who suffered at the hands of those who rejected his teachings, we face the same fate.  When we stand against injustice, when we take a counter-cultural stand for the oppressed, when we defy the norms of consumeristic culture, well, you can bet that we will face the ravenous jaws of groups and individuals, who would rather silence God’s Kingdom call to love our neighbor as ourselves.  So, like sheep we need the shepherd to keep us together as a flock, and to protect us from those things that would separate us from the flock, and would keep us from the mission God has given us. We need our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ to guide us, even when we must flock together today, in new, distanced, and safe ways.

Jesus is the Shepherd

So, you have learned a little more than you ever wanted to know about sheep, but let’s turn our attention to the Good Shepherd Jesus for a moment.  In the most well-known Psalm, read at every funeral, spoken in times of great despair, and memorized by Sunday school children worldwide, we hear these words:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

In the 23rd Psalm we find the very nature of the Good Shepherd, Jesus.  If we follow him and his ways, we learn that he provides for us with abundant pastures of grace to eat and vast cool waters of opportunities for growth, which puts us on the best paths of life to traverse.  If we follow him and his ways, even in times of peril or death we can live without fear.

Even his discipline when we stray, when that rod and staff, usually used to fend off wolves appears, he uses them to gently nudge us back together and thus, we are reassured.  Even when we are placed in precarious situations with others, Jesus provides for us.  The Good Shepherd assures us that goodness and mercy is with us, as we dwell in the Lord’s presence every single day. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for the flock that is, if we remain with the flock and receive that guidance of his loving, caring, guiding hand.  Jesus is Our only Good Shepherd.

Clergy are Helpers, not the Shepherd

Over my ten years of ordained ministry, I have more than once, had people mistakenly call me the shepherd of the flock of the parish I served.  I believe people often confuse the vocation of the clergy and believe for some reason that the priest or pastor is the shepherd.  Jesus Christ is the shepherd of the flock, and we clergy are merely his helpers.  We are mere sheep like you, who just so happen to be ordained (or set apart) for a specific purpose, which is to serve as a helper to the Good Shepherd.  We are called to assist Jesus, and often we are called to that work for only a time.  Once we all understand that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, then we will realize truly what it means to be his flock.

Jesus is permanent, transcendent, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the Lord, the Savior, the Teacher, the Redeemer, and God Incarnate. Jesus is the one who leads us, guides us, and if we follow Him, we are well on our way to fulfilling his mission and our purpose.  Jesus keeps the flock together, protecting, feeding, and sustaining us.  We must keep our eyes on Jesus, and not anyone or anything else, otherwise we will become distracted, scattered, lost, and we will spiritually starve to death.  We need to listen to Jesus’ teachings alone, that life of love lived out incarnate in his ministry.  We need to walk the path of following the self-giving loving Lord, and not some misguided idea of Jesus, filtered through of our own personal, political, or idealistic concepts of who he is.

If you want to hear the Master Shepherd’s voice calling you to the green pastures of grace, right relationships, and perfect discipleship, you really need to read the story, of how he lived, how he taught, and how he treated others, then let those stories become your story.        Once we understand from scripture the ways of Jesus, then we like sheep must stay close together and close to him.  Being a disciple has nothing to do with our so-called rugged individualism, our personal agendas, or even our own individual journey.  Being a disciple, a sheep of Jesus’ flock, requires us to do this life of perils and fear together in community.  We are brought together to help support one another, care for one another, and in so doing, together, we face all that is out there that threatens the flock’s survival.

Be Sheep – Live Life abundantly

One last thing about the flock concept is this, Jesus’ flock is not just this parish, this diocese, this deanery, this tradition, this communion, or the church universal.  The truth that we need to understand is that under God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God’s flock is all of creation, and we all need one another as we endure the perils, which we all undergo today; a new normal not yet to be fully revealed.

In this time of uncertainty, fear, and a rising, hasty yearning to “return to what was before,” this flock needs to do something that is counter-intuitive to everything we are taught about our natural flocking tendencies.  We need to NOT be close to another quite yet, at least not physically close.  We need to face the enemy that threatens our very existence, and find ways to still fellowship and worship, but to do so in a way that protects each other.  At the same time, we must do what we are called to do as sheep, which is to support, love, care for, and protect one another.  We need our Good Shepherd now more than ever to guide us into this new era of being the sheep of Jesus’ flock.

Right now, we can still be the flock led to green pastures, even if we are not all sitting in the same room together week in and week out.  Being the church is not about a room or a building, but it is about being faithful to the Good Shepherd in prayer, in worship, and in service.  We can still flock together, but we can do so through virtual Bible studies online, our Centering Prayer gatherings and Virtual Fellowships on Zoom.  We can be together in worship on Sundays through YouTube.  We can still care for on another by just calling your fellow sheep next week and check in on them and see how they are doing.  We are not suffering under an unjust system, we are still God’s people called to adapt, connect, and serve in difficult times.

One of my favorite television shows from the 1970’s was Black Sheep Squadron, a modern depiction of a WWII Marine Corps Aviation Squadron that constantly got into trouble with the higher ups, acted like rebels, and nearly always faced court martial.  The theme song for the show was, “We are poor little lambs, who have lost their way, Bahh, Bahh, Bahh.”  Right now, we all may feel like poor little lambs, but the reality is, our Good Shepherd has never left us and never will.  Jesus is with us right now and every single day, calling us together, even when it is still unsafe to be together in this room, or in any room, beach, restaurant, or other public space.

So, when you feel anxious, when the walls feel like they are closing in, when you feel the urge to try and return to what was before when it was safe, I implore you to listen to the admonition and heed the advice of our brother the Apostle Paul who assures us, “For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”

REFERENCES

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheep