Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

From the Rector

This is not a political statement.
This is your priest dropping a marker in the soil.

Our government recently declared that Judaism is a different nationality, for political purposes.  This is dangerous, and has life-threatening precedent.

Jewish people born in America are Americans. They are not another nationality.  When the government says they are a different nationality, that is a dangerous thing.

We have seen governments do this to the Jews in the past, and it does not turn out well.
Our government claims they do this for their own good and protection.
We have seen governments make that claim in the past, and it does not turn out well.

In case we think it is only words, we have the shootings in Jersey City just last week to remind us that it is not just words.

The Jewish people are God’s chosen people. And they have never stopped being God’s chosen people. Christianity is grafted onto Judaism, not the other way around. We are welcomed into the Jewish faith as Christians, not the other way around.  The Jewish faith is the foundation of our faith.  And without the Jews, there is no Christianity.  Our own Lord and Savior was a Jew.  We recite the Psalms because they were the prayers that Jesus prayed.  We Christians are adopted Jews.

I say all this not as an opinion but as a matter of life and death. It is not okay to say that American Jews are a different nationality than other Americans. It is not okay to say that American Jews have a different leader than other Americans.  The Jews who live in America are Americans.

To deny this fact is dangerous, and there are people we all know and love who are put in danger by such claims.

Americans are Americans, no matter what our government says.  Our Jewish brothers and sisters are Americans, no matter what our government says.  Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise, because we’ve seen where this road leads, and we must not walk down that road again.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

YEAR A 2019 advent 1

Advent 1, 2019
Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So . . . as I remind you every year in December, the church and the society around us are not in synch when it comes to Christmas.  Five seconds after Halloween was over, people started putting up Christmas decorations.  Stores started selling wrapping paper.  And, best of all, the breweries started releasing their Christmas ales.

HOWEVER, in the life of the church, we don’t start celebrating a thing until it has happened.  Easter begins at sundown on Holy Saturday, and goes for 50 days.  Christmas begins after sundown on Christmas Eve and goes for the 12 days of Christmas.  (If only there were a song to remind us of that.)  Point being, in the church, we are waiting for Christmas, no matter what the muzak in the mall might be telling you.

We get to soak up four weeks of blue before Jesus gets here.  (Well, and also a little bit of rose color, two weeks from now, thanks to our awesome sewing guild.)  Nonetheless, the contrast between what is happening all around us and that Gospel reading we just heard is pretty stark, I think you’ll agree.  But speaking of scary readings, let’s start here . . .

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Left Behind” series.  If you haven’t, good for you!  Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins teamed up to write a bunch of books based on their premillennial dispensationalist interpretation of the end times.  (I’m just gonna let that sentence sit there because we don’t have nearly enough time.)  The first book, called “Left Behind” was inspired by the Gospel reading we just heard, based on what such people call “the Rapture.”  In a nutshell, certain groups of Christians believe that God will snatch away the believers to a safe place and then let evil take over the world.  In this misunderstanding of the passage, you do not want to be left behind, because that means you will have to go through the great tribulation.

But if you look at the words we just heard, that has it all backwards.  In the story of Noah, which Jesus mentions, the other people are swept away, and Noah is left behind.  If there is a big flood that sweeps away life on the planet, you want to be left behind, in that ark, with the animals.  And, though I don’t want to get too deep into the Greek weeds here, a legitimate way to interpret the other two examples Jesus uses is that one woman will be “taken away,” and the other will be “forgiven.”

Being left behind means you are spared, not cursed, is the point I’m making.  Not only that, since all the biblical references to heaven indicate a time ON EARTH in the future, rather then a time right now SOMEWHERE ELSE, the place you want to be is right here, in the future.  You want to be left behind.  So, please leave behind any “Left Behind” thoughts you might have from this reading, because those books are just plain fantasy writing.

Now.  The two things I want to talk about this morning are promises and hope.  Promises and hope are tied together, and especially in today’s readings.  When we go back to the text we heard from Isaiah, we hear a promise that, “in days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.”  It is a promise for the future, though we are not told when it will come to pass.  And here’s a tricky thing about promises about the future:  God can already see that future.  It is not a thing that might happen, if everything goes according to plan.  It is not a promise that will occur, if we all behave, or whatever.  No, from God’s vantage point, it is a done deal.  We just can’t see it because we are constrained by time.  But, in days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains.  Shall be.  Period.

Which leads us to hope. If God has promised something will happen, and we trust in that promise, then we hope for the future.  Our hope roots our focus in the future, you could say.  We’re not there yet, but when we have hope, we have a stake in that future promise.  You could say, hope keeps us in two places at once, confident that a thing will happen in the future, and living in the present, before that thing takes place.  You can maybe see how that is different from wishing a thing might happen.  Hope anchors us in the future, a lifeline to the time when the promises shall be fulfilled.

But, of course, we want to know when these promises will be fulfilled.  In fact, a few verses before today’s gospel reading from Matthew, the disciples come to Jesus asking him when the end will come.  And Jesus says that he “will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”  But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  Salvation will come.  But we don’t know when.  And the angels don’t know when.  And Jesus doesn’t know when.  So we live in the sure hope that it will happen, because God’s promises are true.  Our salvation is already accomplished, but it is not yet here.

So . . . Advent.  As you and I move through the Church year together, we always know what is coming before it gets here.  We know there’s a baby coming, but he is not yet born.  We know who his mother is, and we know he will grow up and gather his disciples, and be arrested, executed, and rise from the grave, telling his disciples to tell the world that we too shall rise from the grave and  . . . But he is not yet born.  We know what is coming, but it is not yet here.  And, at the same time, no one is surprised to wake up on December 25th and find out Jesus has been born, right?  Already been born, and not yet here.

I want to briefly touch on the Psalm we read together a few minutes ago.  “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’. . . Pray for the peace of Jerusalem . . . For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you’.  For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”

There is a theme throughout the scriptures that peace is always accompanied by justice.  I don’t mean 21st century legal punitive justice.  I mean a just society, where the naked are clothed and the hungry are fed.  And if you give it some thought, you’ll see this is not just a biblical concept.  There really can be no peace where there is no justice.  Even if you take compassion and love out of the equation, if some people have nothing while others have everything, no one will ever really have peace.  There will always be anger and bloodshed and violence.  And look at what the psalmist says in that closing line:  “For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do you good.”

If I truly seek what is best for you, truly love my neighbor as myself, there will be peace on earth.  From Isaiah today, we heard “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”  And here we see, it’s not just that war stops, or that the need for war stops.  There’s a second step, a constructive step.  A step where we stop turning the tools of violence toward our neighbor, and instead turn them into a means of helping our neighbors.  Peace and justice go hand in hand.

And so, back to waiting for Jesus . . .
The sudden and unexpected return of Jesus we heard about means . . . what?  Well, clearly that will vary according to what you’re expecting, and what you feel is expected from you.  But the Spirit of God convicts each one of us to do something to get ready.  And the reason we want someone to tell us the exact date is because deep down we’re each afraid we’re not doing enough to get ready.

Sure, the Spirit convinced Noah to build an ark.  But remember the other examples:  two people working in a field, two women grinding grain.  We are not all called to build arks.  (If we were, the world would be awfully crowded, and there would be no trees.)  We’re not all called to work in the fields or grind grain.  But in our baptismal covenant, we do all promise to work for justice and peace.  We can’t all clothe the naked, or feed the hungry, or do whatever.  But you are uniquely called and equipped to do something in God’s Kingdom.

There is some part of preparing for Jesus’ return that you alone can do, because of who you are, and where you are, and mainly because of what you are:  a claimed and redeemed child of God, a living witness in the world, proclaiming the hope of the one we are longing to welcome.  That same one who offers himself to us this day, at this altar.  We do not know the hour that Jesus will return, but we do know that in this hour he is present among us.  We know that when we gather together in his name, he is already here.  So come today and welcome Jesus into your life once more, in the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation.

Amen.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

YEAR C 2019 christ the king

Christ the King, 2019
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, this is the last Sunday before Advent starts.  No more green!  It’s the end of our year spent hearing from the Gospel of Luke.  We call this day Christ the King Sunday, and it signals the close of the church year.  And knowing that it’s Christ the King Sunday might lead you to ask the obvious question:  Why is Jesus the king on a cross?  Why don’t we hear instead about Jesus’ resurrection or something?  You know, some part of the story that looks a little more like reigning victorious rather than dying beside a couple two-bit thieves?

Well, since we’re right on the verge of Advent, it will probably help to start with how God arrives on the scene in the beginning.  As you know, the Jewish people were waiting forever for the Messiah, the anointed one.  They wanted and expected God to send someone to knock the Romans off their perch and throw off the yoke of oppression.  You know, someone riding in on a white horse with a blazing sword who could set things right.  A restoration of a king, when it comes right down to it.

But if we take our minds back to what we vaguely remember hearing from the Hebrew scriptures, we might recall the history of kings in Israel and Judah.  God told Moses, if the people would serve God as King, they would have no need for a mortal kings. They needed a leader, yes, but not a king.  (And Moses, you’ll remember, was a shepherd, not a king.)  So God says, I the Lord shall be your king.  And Israel was led by prophets and judges for generations.  (I’m paraphrasing whole books here, so bear with me.)

After 400 years of being led by prophets and judges, the people approached the Prophet Samuel, clamoring for a king “like all the other nations.”  This desire to be like other nations is the root of the problem for them.  God did not want them to be like their faithless neighbors, and having a king (as they would soon find out) would lead them right down that same path.  Then we get Saul, and David, and a whole list of kings who do what is evil in God’s sight.  The kingdom splits in two:  Judah and Israel.  The people are taken away to foreign lands in captivity.  The Jewish people start coming back a couple hundred years before the birth of Jesus.

(Almost done.)  Then Alexander the Great takes over Palestine in 331 BC; then the Jewish people revolt and take it back (which you’ll find in the books of Maccabees); then the Romans take over, the Parthians invade, and Herod gets the Romans to support him in taking it all back.  Herod dies, and his three sons take over (two of whom also named Herod, because of his creative child-naming skills), and this leads us right up to what we could call year zero.  Or, maybe more accurately, 4 AD, but who’s counting.

After all this violence and oppression, God’s chosen people want a mighty warrior king who will overthrow the Romans and restore them to their land and heritage as a free people.  And what do they get?  A baby.  Born to an unwed mother.  In a feeding trough, behind a sold-out hotel.  This Jesus cannot possibly be the Messiah they’ve been waiting for.  He’s a defenseless baby.  He is no king.

Now fast forward about 2,000 years and here we are.  Gathered on a Sunday morning, and looking for a king.  It’s Christ the King Sunday, so we’re expecting to see our Savior in the most elevated position possible, right?  Jesus our King, lifted high in glory, having defeated all his enemies and ours.  A king who will overthrow the evil forces all around us and restore us to our heritage as free people.  And what do we get?  Not a king lifted up in glory, but rather a man who is hung between two thieves, on the verge of death.  One who is beaten and mocked and disgraced.  God’s people wanted a king, and instead got a baby.  Now we want a king, and instead we get a man about to die.

You know what we have in common with God’s people across the ages?  We don’t understand kingship the way God shows kingship.  We associate being kingly with being powerful and getting our way.  We expect a ruler to force their will on others, for better or worse.  In fact, we have come to expect a ruler to act like all the people around Jesus in this gospel reading.  Mocking, taunting, humiliating, displaying arrogance and might.  We expect the king to be the one who sentences someone to death.  You know, like your Pontius Pilate, or Herod, son of Herod, brother of Herod.

But, turns out, the King is the one on the cross.  The King is the one who is willing to suffer, and willing to lay down his life for others.  Not what we would expect, we have to admit.  And that leads us to the disconnect in this gospel we just heard.

Notice how everyone is setting up these if/then scenarios for Jesus.  The people say, If he is the Messiah of God, let him save himself.  The soldiers say, If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.  One of the criminals says, Are you not the Messiah? Then save yourself and us.  And we might also say, if you are a king, come and save us as well.  Come and make things better.  Come and save us from the senseless violence and creeping despair.  Come and save us from the pain and darkness in our world.  If you are the Messiah, come and save God’s people!

You see where that puts us, of course.  If we are expecting that Jesus, that Christ the King who will squash our enemies and stamp out evil . . . well . . . we kind of end up sounding like the people mocking Jesus, don’t we?  Jesus has to prove himself to us through his mighty deeds.  And we end up speaking the words of the angry crowd, the mocking soldiers, the taunting thief on the cross.  And that’s the natural reaction to this scene, isn’t it?  Jesus never claimed to be a king.  But the people wanted a king, and so they made him a king, and when the king can’t defend himself . . . well, what kind of king is that, right?  Off with his head!

Jesus did not come to rule.  Jesus came to serve.  Those who rule, take lives.  Those who serve, give up their lives.    We worship one who lays down his life.  One who is willing to give everything he has and everything he is.  He is not an earthly king, but he is worthy of worship.

And this is the point where, if you’re like me, you say, okay Father Preacher man, that’s all well and good.  But it sure doesn’t sound like . . . you know . . . good news.  We get that Jesus came to serve, and we get that Jesus is willing to lay down his life, but . . . well . . . so what?  But maybe we ask those questions because we’re still thinking like the crowd, and the soldiers, and the mocking thief.  So let’s look at the other person in this story.

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

When we set aside our natural drive to get Jesus to prove himself, when we set aside our quid pro quo of, If you really are who I say you are, then you will do this or that, when we step back and focus on what we really need from a savior rather than a king, then we can say to Jesus what we really need to say.  And it is just this:  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

That’s the one request that matters.  That is the true sign of faith in the midst of turmoil and despair.  If we ask one thing of Jesus, it should be this:  Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

And it is interesting, to me, that this other thief on the cross should word it this way.  The others are saying, if you are a king, then save yourself.  And if you are a king, then save us.  But the thief on the cross is saying, when you are a king.  When you come into your kingdom.  When you come into your kingdom, remember me.  When you are seated at the right hand of God, remember me.  When the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven forever sing this hymn . . . remember me.

Which brings us to this Altar.  That hymn, that song, is going on at this very moment.  You and I are remembered in that kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world.  And in a few minutes, you and I will once again join in the timeless stream of that eternal hymn.  It is not a song sung to a king on earth, as though we were simply paying homage to some temporary ruler.  No, it is a song that goes on forever, to a Savior who rules our hearts forever.  It is a song that unites us with people of every time and every place.  A song of praise to the King of heaven, and the Savior of the world.  Christ the King, who rules this Sunday, and all the days to come.  Jesus, remember us in your kingdom.  Say it with me:  Jesus remember us in your kingdom.

Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

YEAR C 2019 pentecost 23

Pentecost 23, 2019
Malachi 4:1-2a
Psalm 98
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

In some ways, this is the perfect Gospel text for our politically troubled and divisive times.  As we heard,  “some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down’.”

Some people see what has been happening in our country as a good and proper thing.  And others sense that the Temple has already been torn down.  We are in one of those periods of time where two people can look at the same exact thing and yet somehow see exactly the opposite.  Some see a restoration of goodness that will last forever, and others despair over something that has already been thrown down.  And the problem with both those views is that we are putting our trust in things human.  We are putting our hopes in things that will pass away—eventually—whether those things are ascending or descending.  We admire what is fleeting, temporary.

But, Jesus says, “do not be terrified.”    We are used to Jesus saying, “Do not be afraid.”  He says that a lot.  But here, he says “do not be terrified”—well, what he actually says is, “may you not be terrified.”  These things will happen, yes.  And when they do, may you not be terrified.  Personally, I prefer when Jesus says “may you” about something.  Because when he says “do not be afraid,” that sounds more like a command . . . like it’s up to us to do that thing.  But “may you not be terrified” sounds more like a blessing to my ear.  “May you live long and prosper,” as opposed to “live long and prosper, buddy!”  But I digress.

So, as you probably noticed, this is a very strange gospel text.  Some people use it to claim all sorts of things about the end times.  And, of course, there are timing issues.  Like, Luke’s gospel was written after the Temple was already destroyed, but he’s quoting Jesus at a time before that happens.  But let’s not get bogged down in that.  What I want to concentrate on is the good news of this gospel text.  Because it sounds like bad news if we just look at the “sensational” aspects of it.

When we hear or read this part of Luke, we get focused on the destruction and despair.  The wars and insurrections, the nation rising against nation.  We fixate on the earthquakes, and famines and plagues, and dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.  You know, the kind of thing that is usually followed by the phrase, “film at eleven.”

And then some people (say, Hal Lindsay or Tim LaHaye) write books that make us think Jesus is giving us clues about when the world will end.  That is NOT what is going on here.  What is going on here is that Jesus is giving his disciples a pep talk, if you will.  He is giving them hope, in the face of what they will (or already have) gone through.

It is an unsettling text, yes.  But it is meant to be settling . . . or, I mean, reassuring.  Jesus is not telling us what the future holds.  He is telling us who holds the future.  He is not saying, “Though there will be suffering . . . you’ve got this.”  He is saying, “Though there will be suffering, God has got you.”  God holds the past; God holds the present; God holds the future.  Our story is God’s story; the two are interwoven from the beginning, and God will not let us go until the story is entirely written.  Jesus is saying: what is important is not what the future holds, but who holds the future.  Remember that.  (Or, I should say, may you remember that.)

When bad things happen (and they will), may you not be terrified.  You and I are not likely to be dragged before kings and rulers.  We probably will not be handed over to prison for our faith.  And the things Jesus describes will probably not happen in our lifetimes.  But there will be suffering for each of us, in one way or another.  Marriages will fall apart; family members will disown one another; jobs will be lost, and loved ones will pass away.  These things will happen . . . and may you not be terrified.

We want to be saved from suffering.  We want God to prevent sorrow and pain.  But God does not save us from suffering.  God saves us during our suffering.  Since our story is God’s story, God meets us in our pain.  I don’t need to tell you that suffering is part of life.  Being a Christian does not mean you will not suffer.  In fact, based on what Jesus says to us today, being a Christian just might be the cause of suffering.  That was certainly true for his disciples, who suffered under the Roman persecution.  Sure, our suffering is different from theirs, but it is still our suffering, and we still need God to meet us in our pain, just as much as the disciples did.

We should look for God in our suffering.  But we should not look for God as the cause of suffering.  There are people who will say, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”  Please.  Just.  Don’t.  God is not sitting around handing out suffering to see how much you can bear.  Let me say this clearly:  God does not cause the suffering in your life.  God meets us in our suffering; but God does not cause it.  Sometimes it’s us; sometimes it’s other people; and sometimes it’s just the way things are.  But no matter the cause of our pain and grief and sadness, the important thing to remember is this:  God does not cause it; but God meets us there.

In today’s gospel text, Jesus tells the disciples, “make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”  He has just warned them about the persecution they will face, and says that persecution will give them a chance to testify.  But he tells them not to plan what they will say in advance, because he will give them the words they need.

How does that relate to us?  Well, it’s hard to say.  But let me suggest something like this:  Maybe we should avoid having bumper sticker slogans prepared, like “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”  Maybe we should resist the temptation to always have a pat answer to explain away evil, and pain, and heartbreak.  God does not cause the suffering in your friend’s life; but God meets them there.

Maybe instead we should face whatever suffering comes our way with an eye toward finding the place where God is meeting us in that pain.  Perhaps it is more helpful and faithful to seek God in the moment, trusting that God is there.  That God will give us a word when we need it.  Rather than preparing in advance to explain God’s absence in our pain, maybe we’d be better off looking for God’s presence in our pain.  Trusting Jesus when he says, “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

That’s a hard thing, I know.  Because it is our nature to plan in advance what we are going to say when people ask us about God.  It is sort of our Christian duty to always be ready to explain our faith.  As we read in 1st Peter:  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  And we know that our hope rests in God’s promises, and in the hope of the resurrection.  But that is a far different thing than pre-planning a reason for why there is suffering.  We can explain our reason for hope in advance.  But it is a fool’s errand to explain why we got hit by a bus before it ever happens.

But enough of that.  Here’s what I really want to get to this morning.  This section of Luke’s Gospel finishes with Jesus telling the disciples, “You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  Let me start with that last sentence.  Though the translation we get sounds like a thing we have to do—that is IF we endure, we will gain our souls in the future—the actual wording is more like, “keep your souls in patience.”  Which is more akin to saying, “do not let your soul be anxious.”  It’s not an if/then, meaning “If you want to gain your soul you must endure.”  Rather, it is more like, “Keep your soul at peace.”  Two very different things.

And secondly, the hair thing.  Jesus promises, “not a hair of your head shall perish.”  I point to my own head as Exhibit A here.  I seem to have lost a few hairs over the years, I think you will agree.  They are lost to me, but they are not lost to God.  Now, of course, I’m not saying God has some bag of my hair on a shelf in the closet—since that’s weird, and kind of gross.  This is obviously a metaphor.  And the metaphor can be interpreted as something like this . . .

Whether or not things in our nation's capital are turning out the way you wanted, and whether or not you got the job, or kept the marriage, or survived the operation . . . you are not lost to God.  The Temple that Jesus talks about was the center of Jewish worship—the very place where God was thought to dwell.  People marveled at its beauty  And it was destroyed.

Yet even in the destruction, it was still known to God.  Just as you and I are known to God.  The hairs on your head, and the love in your heart, and the despair you may sometimes feel, all of these are known to God, and all held close at hand.  God knows you intimately, because your story is part of God’s story, and that story is still being written.  And for that reason, no matter what may come, the blessing from Jesus remains:  may you not be terrified.  May you never be terrified, because God holds your past, God holds your present, and most importantly, God holds your future.

Amen

Sunday, November 10, 2019

YEAR C 2019 pentecost 22

Pentecost 22, 2019
Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

My oh my.  That was quite a gospel text there, wasn’t it?  I’ve never had the “opportunity” to preach on this text, so today is our lucky day, me and you.  As with so many of the readings we get on a Sunday, the first step is to sort of break it down and get the context, so we know who is who, and what they’re saying.

So, the Sadducees.  We don’t often hear about these guys, and we don’t know much about them.  We usually hear the Sadducees grouped together with the Pharisees, because they were both leaders in the Jewish community of Jesus’ day.  Painting with a broad brush, we could say the Pharisees typically had the majority of regular folks on their side, while the Sadducees had the wealthy elites backing them.  The Sadducees controlled the Temple at this time, while the Pharisees sort of handled education and daily laws.

As a result, the Pharisees accepted many writings and books of the prophets, whereas the Sadducees only accepted the Torah, or the Law of Moses . . . which we call the first five books of the Old Testament.  Now the reason that is important to know is because nowhere in the first five books of the Bible is there any reference to life after death.  If we only had Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy as our scriptures, then you and I would say that when you die, you die.  You go to Sheol which is the land of eternal sleep.  There’s nothing past this, in the words of the band Deathcab for Cutie.

So, there’s your background.  Now a group of these Sadducees comes to question Jesus.  And they proceed to lay out what sounds like an algebra problem about two trains leaving Chicago, but is really about what happens after death.  It’s important to remember that they personally don’t believe anything happens after death, so it’s not like they’re trying to clear something up.  This is more like trying to poke a hole in someone else’s beliefs by applying logic to it.  You know like asking, “If angels play harps of gold, then how can they possibly float in the clouds, since there’s nothing to support such heavy instruments, huh Jesus?”  At which point, I want to read you something written by C.S. Lewis . . .

"There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of 'Heaven' ridiculous by saying they do not want 'to spend eternity playing harps'. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible.”

Lewis continues, “Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs."

I love C.S. Lewis.  But, let’s go back to the reading we just heard.  So the Sadducees sure sound like they’re mocking Jesus, and probably trying to let him know that they don’t believe in this life after death stuff, like he and the Pharisees do.  But then Jesus answers them, using their own scriptures, those first five books of the Bible, by referring to the story of Moses and the Burning Bush.  Remember that story?  Of course you do; it’s kind of an important one.

To refresh our memories, Moses is up on the mountain in the book of Exodus, tending the flocks for Jethro.  He sees a burning bush, and God calls to him from out of it.  When Moses asks who God is, the reply is “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.”  Keep that story in mind as we go back to Jesus’ reply to the Sadducees . . .

Jesus says to them, “the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  You don’t have to know much about the Bible to know that, by the time Moses shows up in the stories, Abraham, Issac, and Jacob are long gone from this earthly plane.

We get a little tripped up here because of of how we typically use phrases about the past.  Like we might say, “St. Timothy’s is the church of my great grandfather,” meaning it’s the church that he went to when he was alive.  But it doesn’t work that way for God.  As Jesus says, “Now God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.”  St. Timothy’s Church doesn’t work that way, right?  This building doesn’t think of your great grandfather as being alive.  But to God, he is.  Which means to us, he is.  And for that reason, when we celebrate Holy Communion together, your great grandfather is celebrating with us.  The saints of every time and every place, every time we gather around this Altar.

And even though Jesus doesn’t start talking about the time-space continuum and mutability of time, it does kind of enter into this.  And here’s what I mean by that.

For you and me, time passes in a straight line.  We are born, we live our lives, we die.  And we can only experience things that happen within our lifetimes.  As far as any of us knows, once we’re dead, we are dead.  And yet, we talk about the dead as though they are currently alive, somewhere else, don’t we?  Right in our Book of Common Prayer there are all sorts of places where we pray for the dead, that they would go from glory to glory, that they would increase in perfection, that they might pray for us.  It’s as though they are dead, but they are not dead.  A Schrodinger’s cat of eternal life, if you will.

But now listen again to the words of Jesus: “God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.”

You and I do not know what happens after we die.  I mean, we don’t really know, you know?  We have faith.  We have belief.  We have trust.  But we don’t have knowledge.  Not true, factual knowledge.

But what we do have is faith, and hope, and trust in God.  We trust in the promises of Jesus that, just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so we too will rise from the dead.  We don’t know when, and we can’t say how, but we live our lives trusting in that promise.  That’s all we have to go on, but we trust that it is enough.

And in the meantime, we remember the words of Jesus:  God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.  Today, we know we are alive, and we trust that we are in God’s hands.  And one day, we know we will die, and we will still be in God’s hands.  Because God is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive, just as you will also be alive.  We live our lives trusting in that promise.  Our God is a God of the living, and as long as we belong to God, we are alive.  You belong to God right now, and you always belong to God.  The God of the living.

Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

YEAR C 2019 all saints

All Saints’ Sunday, 2019
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

You’re probably familiar with what people call, The Sermon on the Mount.  Sometimes we call its phrases, The Beatitudes.  They pop up all the time, in greeting cards, on calendars, times when people want to say, “It gets better.”  Blessed are the sad people, for they will one day be happy, and that kind of thing.  Now the Sermon on the Mount is found in Matthew.  Jesus climbs the mountain and delivers a lengthy encouraging poem to his listeners.

But Matthew’s Gospel comes next year.  This year, we’re using Luke, at least for a few more weeks.  And one of the characteristics of Luke’s Gospel is what we might call, The Great Leveling.  Luke is big on lifting the poor and pressing down the rich.  And today, we even see it in the landscape: Matthew’s Jesus delivers his words on a mountain.  But in Luke, this scene is called the Sermon on the Plain.  Luke levels it out.  No mountains here.

But we also see in today’s reading—from Luke—a balance in Jesus’ words.  Whereas Matthew is all about encouraging the downtrodden, Luke gives us four encouragements, to the poor, to the hungry, to the grieving, and to the outcasts.  But Luke also adds the Four Woes:  woe to the rich, woe to the well-fed, woe to the laughing, woe to the popular.  Blessed are the poor, but woe to the rich.  Blessed are the hungry, but woe to the well-fed.  Blessed are those who weep, but woe to those who laugh.  Blessed are the hated, but woe to the well-liked.

You know, it’s almost like our armchair view of karma, right?  The first section could be summed up as, What goes around comes around. There’s a sort of circular thinking in this.

And the blessings fit with our view of life.  It’s un-American to suggest that the poor will always be poor.  No one running for office ever suggests things are going to get worse, or that people will always be poor.  Or, I should say, no one running for office who could ever win.  It’s good politics to give people hope.  It’s inspiring to hear that tomorrow will be better.  All the blessings in Luke seem like good politics.  And all the woes seem like . . . well . . . reality. 

And even when we bring this lesson into the spiritual realm, it still holds true.  The poor, the hungry, the grieving, and the outcast will all have their redemption at the grave.  And, they’ll end this life with a focus on the things that really matter, rather than worrying about whether they have the latest i-Phone gadgets.  And, the rich, well-fed, happy, popular ones will end up in the same state when they face the grave.  We leave this world with nothing, just as we entered it.  So, of course, we all leave on the same footing.  Simple, right?  Blessed are the poor, and since the rich will also one day be poor, they’re blessed too . . . just not quite yet.

But that isn’t what this gospel text really says.  Or, rather, this text says much more than that.  My simplified reading overlooks what comes after this section.  The blessings and woes are kind of the preamble to what follows.  They’re the set-up for this . . .

“But I say to you, “ says Jesus, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  The blessings made some sense to us.  You know, for the poor, hungry, sad, and unpopular.  But, if anyone strikes you, offer the other cheek also?  If they take your coat, offer your shirt?  Give to everyone who begs, and when someone steals from you, don’t ask for your stuff back?  If we actually followed these rules, we’d end up . . . well, poor, hungry, sad, and unpopular. 

Society is based on doing the exact opposite of these things.  A good citizen goes to the police.  A good citizen defends her property.  A good citizen doesn’t give to beggars, since it might just be some kind of scam.  And being a bad citizen will make you unpopular.  If we follow the advice of Jesus, you and I will end up poor, hungry, sad, and unpopular.  That does not sound like a happy kingdom.
But let’s look at today’s other readings, with a mind toward God’s kingdom in the midst of our earthly kingdom, or—better yet—our earthly kingdom’s place within God’s eternal kingdom.

The reading from Daniel gives us a bunch of scary monsters, all seeming to put the story into the land of fairy tale, rather than some believable narrative.  And that’s sort of where this story belongs.  It’s not a newspaper account of the day scary monsters came to visit Daniel’s house.  But, at the same time, it’s more than a dream Daniel had.  There is an important truth at the end of that story: “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—forever and ever.” 

The four monsters in Daniel’s day were said to represent four oppressive kingdoms.  In our own time, they might be said to represent four things that oppress us on a daily basis.  You know, things like being poor, hungry, depressed, or lonely.  The four beasts ruled the earth for a season, their kingdoms rose up for a while, but the saints of God shall receive the kingdom forever—forever and ever.

And, from the reading in Ephesians, the writer hopes his readers might come to recognize the riches of glorious inheritance among the saints.  And I want to draw our attention to that phrase “glorious inheritance among the saints.”  An inheritance comes as an unexpected gift.  Among the saints implies it is shared by all the saints.  We receive and we share this inheritance with all the saints, of every time and every place.  We belong together; we were meant to be together; we were meant to receive this inheritance together: In the Communion of Saints.

You’ve heard that phrase before, yes?  It’s in one of our ancient Creeds of faith.  But it’s not in the one we say every Sunday.  The Nicene Creed does not include the “Communion of Saints.”  But the Apostles Creed does.  We don’t use the Apostles Creed on Sundays very often in the Episcopal Church.  But we say it at two crucial moments. 

As a community, we recite the Apostles Creed at baptisms.  And we recite the Apostles Creed at funerals.  When the Church welcomes a new member, we proclaim our belief in the Communion of Saints.  When we gather to commend to God’s care one who has passed from our midst, we proclaim our belief in the Communion of Saints.  At these bookends of the life of faith, we are reminded of our common inheritance, we are reminded that the saints of God shall receive the kingdom forever—forever and ever. 

And who are these saints?  Well, the short answer is, they’re everywhere.  Rich and poor, hungry and fed, grieving and rejoicing, lonely and popular.  There are saints who spend every possible moment in church.  And there are saints who spend Sunday mornings driving tow trucks and coaching soccer.  God’s kingdom includes all sorts of people, including ones we might not expect to be included.
And the way you know it includes so many people is because of the times when we proclaim the Apostles Creed.  A baby is baptized, and we might not see that saint again until the day when we gather to bury him or her.  A saint nonetheless, and one who receives that glorious inheritance, right along side us. 

We pray for one who has died, “Acknowledge, we pray, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.”  It is the prayer that will be prayed for you, whether rich or poor, hungry or filled, sad or joyous, outcast or welcomed.  When you enter the Church by baptism, and when you leave the Church at death, the Church gathers and proclaims your membership in the Communion of Saints.  Your citizenship in a kingdom that is not of this world, distracting though your time in this world might be.

And so I want to say to you what we heard from Ephesians this morning, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.”

And in a little while, we will stand together before this Altar, with the saints of every time and every place.  Rich and poor, hungry and fed, grieving and rejoicing, lonely and popular, we all celebrate together our place in God’s kingdom, here among us now, and in the world to come.  A blessed All Saints’ Day to all the saints this day.

Amen

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Tigers Prayer Service

Massillon Tigers Prayer Service
November 2, 2019
Hebrews 12:1

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

What a week you all have had!  So much going on.  It makes me tired just reading the schedule, to be honest.  And all week long there have been people yelling for you and yelling at you.  I would guess it all feels pretty overwhelming, and might even make you ask yourself, “Wait.  Who’s the person who’s actually playing this game today?”  And . . . that’d be you.  No matter how much people encourage you do play well, it’s still going to be you out there on that field.

And I’m guessing everyone you ran into this week had some piece of advice for you, from how to play the game, to what to eat this morning.  Just because some of all that noise is helpful, doesn’t stop it from being noise. And you all know that everything is going to get a lot louder this afternoon.   And that’s why I want to tell you this:  The annual service here at St. Timothy’s is a chance to just stop all the noise for a minute.  A chance to sit and rest in the presence of God and one another.  For this time here today, it’s okay to just be silent.  To give yourself time to think and reflect and just sit, without taking notes, or yelling back to me, or bracing yourself for somebody running into you at full speed from the side.

A few minutes ago, I read to you that verse from the letter to the Hebrews:  “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, in the faith and on the field.  Some who have played on this team before you, like our own John Muhlbach.  And some who are destined to simply watch the game, like me.  But you are also surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, and who cheer you on from a different place.  Some cheer you on from another part of the country, and some cheer you on from another place entirely.

But there’s another part of that scripture verse that I want to be sure you notice.  The writer says, “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  The race marked out for us.  Because, sure, all those other people are cheering you on, happy to tell you what this game meant for the team in their day.  But today’s game is not their game; it is your game.  Today is the race marked out for you.  No one else will play this game, on this day, against that particular team . . . who shall not be named in God's house.

This game is yours alone.  But you are not alone.  That’s the thing that I hope you’ll remember today.  This game is yours alone.  But you are not alone.  Go Tigers!

Amen.