Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, January 23, 2022

YEAR C 2022 epihany 3

Epiphany 3, 2022
Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Luke 4:14-21
Psalm 19

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

What a marvelous collection of readings we have this morning!  As you know, we get four readings assigned each week, and I usually focus on just the gospel reading.  I have to say, it’s a rare day when all four lessons are this “preachable.”  And today . . . well, I could preach an entire sermon on each one of these lessons.  But don’t worry, I’m going to preach more like Jesus, and less like Ezra.  That will make sense in a few minutes.

And speaking of Ezra, let’s look at that first reading, from the book of Nehemiah.  So many things to notice in this reading!  Ordinarily, a public reading of scripture would have been attended by men only.  But here we have the crowd described—more than once—as “both men and women and all who could hear with understanding.”  Men AND women AND all those who could hear with understanding.  What does that even mean?  It must mean more than just children, or else they would have written "and children.”  Whatever it means, it clearly implies ALL the people, right?

And the people stood up when the book was opened, much as we do with our gospel readings.  And then Ezra read and preached for something like six hours!  Six hours!  But then here comes the important part.  The people wept when they heard the Law of the Lord, and they are told not to weep because this day is holy to God.  Isn’t that interesting?  It’s like God’s holiness is more powerful than their grief over their sinfulness.  Their inability to follow the law grieves them, but God’s holiness is much bigger.

And then, after this sort of “absolution,” they are told to go forth and feast, AND to “send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to the Lord."  Their sorrow at hearing the law is turned into feasting and celebration which spreads out to those who don’t have enough.  Hearing the word of God results in feasting for everyone: men and women and those who could hear with understanding AND those for whom nothing is prepared.

And then look at that Psalm we read.  The poetry of those first few verses is just stunning.  “One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another.”  Wow.  And creation itself declares God’s glory.  “Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.”  Creation itself is speaking to us of God’s glory.  Can we hear it with understanding?  I think we can.  I think all of us do.  As I’ve told you before, I am what comedian Jim Gaffagan calls “indoorsy,” but even I hear creation declaring God’s glory.

And then, Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  I’m sure you’ve heard this reading many times before.  Many parts make up the body, and all the parts work together for good.  It’s a continuation of the reading we had last week, about the Spirit activating our various gifts.  We usually think of this reading as a reminder not to neglect the seemingly unimportant among us, and not to place extra value on those who are supposedly “important.”  But what really stands out to me about this reading today is the reminder that body parts cannot self-select out of being part of the body.  The foot cannot say “I am not part of the body,” because it is!  The ear cannot say “I’m going to go somewhere else,” because it is already part of the body.  Men and women and those who could hear with understanding and those for whom nothing is prepared, and the ear and the foot.  Altogether, in one body.

And then we come to the gospel reading.  A very short reading by comparison, most of which is quoting from the prophet Isaiah.  Jesus has been traveling around, teaching and preaching in the synagogues, and now he comes to his hometown.  The place where he grew up.  These people know him.  He goes into the synagogue, they hand him the scroll, and he specifically finds the part that says:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

And then he preaches the word’s shortest sermon by saying: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  That’s it.  That’s all he has to say.  There is no need to explain anything, apparently.  That’s all you need to know: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and I proclaim good news, and freedom, and proclaim God’s favor.

Now interesting thing here.  That word we get as “favor” is actually closer to meaning “welcome.”  To proclaim the year of the Lord’s welcome.  That’s even better news!  It suggests that rather than just tolerating us, rather than reluctantly forgiving us, God actually welcomes us.  All of us.
Men and women and those who could hear with understanding and those for whom nothing is prepared, and the ear and the foot, and you and me.

Jesus has come to proclaim God’s welcome to all of us.  And we are gathered to feast at the heavenly banquet in the Holy Sacrament, and to take this good news to those for whom nothing is prepared.  And as we leave this place, all creation will be shouting out the glory of the Lord, along with the saints of every time and every place.  This is the year of the Lord’s welcome.  To you, and to me, and to everyone.


Monday, January 17, 2022

Funeral of Judy Wigginton

Burial of Judy Wigginton, 1/17/22
Isaiah 25:6-9
Revelation 21:2-7
John 14:1-6

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

In the gospel reading we just heard, Jesus is talking to his disciples at the Last Supper.  He is explaining to them that he must depart from them, but that they need not be afraid.  And he says, “You know the way to the place where I am going."  And then Thomas says to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”  Leave it to Thomas to point out the obvious question.  Thomas was not afraid to say the thing that everyone in the room is thinking, but will not say.

I think Judy Wigginton was a lot like Thomas in this way.  Those who knew Judy know that she would just flat out say the thing she was thinking.  Sure, she might tone it down a bit as she said it, but I never had any doubt where Judy stood on things.  Toward the end of last year, she pulled up outside the church and handed me her offering envelope and said, “I’ve increased my pledge this year, even though the priest is a little too liberal for me.”  And I said to her, “Judy . . . if you think your Episcopal priest is too liberal . . . I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you.”

But Judy kept showing up.  Through the days, and years, and decades, Judy kept coming.  She served on every possible committee, chaired things, served as treasurer of things, helped start the book club, maintained the Altars, and on and on.  The priests would come and go, liberal or conservative or in between, and Judy kept showing up.  She was the very model of what it means to belong to a church, and to give your life to it.  And all the while, she kept on speaking her mind, and letting people know what she thought.

I once found a note in the Vestry minutes, written by Judy and one of her friends chastising the priest for not properly using the Priest’s Cross in the correct way during the procession!  I don’t know how this all played out in your relationship with Judy, but I can tell you that I never had to spend one minute asking myself, “I wonder what Judy Wigginton thinks about this?”

Which brings me back to Thomas.  You remember the other well-known story about Thomas?  It’s the one that gives us the phrase Doubting Thomas.  After the resurrection, the other disciples had seen Jesus, and they’re telling Thomas about it.  And he says, unless I see Jesus with my own eyes, I cannot believe.  Thomas did not shirk from hard questions.  He said what he was thinking, even if it was unpopular with those around him.  He brought his gift of forthright speech to the Church, and we honor Thomas for that.

And, today, as we just heard, Jesus tells the disciples, “You know the way to the place where I am going." And our outspoken friend Thomas, says, Um.  Excuse me.  Jesus?  Yeah, um, we don’t even know where you are going. How can we possibly know the way?  And Jesus answers him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  Turns out, Thomas and disciples did know the way, because Jesus is the Way.  And you know why we know that Jesus is the Way?  Because Thomas asked the uncomfortable question, that’s why.

Our beloved Judy knew the Way.  And I am convinced that that is why she was so bold in saying what she thought, in asking the questions nobody else would ask.  She could say that her priest was too liberal to the priest himself!  And I am convinced that she knew I’d be okay with that, because we shared an understanding:  

The understanding we shared is that Judy knew the way, and I know the way, and you know the way, because we know Jesus Christ.  And everything else is just details along our journey home together.  We know the way.  And even better than all that, the Way knows us.  The world is a better place because God gave us Judy, and now in our grief we are sending her back to God.  Jesus has prepared a place for Judy, and Judy knows the Way to that place.  Thanks be to God.


YEAR C 2022 epiphany 2

Epiphany 2, 2022
Isaiah 62:1-5
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
John 2:1-11
Psalm 36:5-10

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

I want to start with the Epistle reading this morning.  In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we get that curious line, “You know that when you were pagans . . .”  My Lutheran clergy friends and I had quite a laugh over that line in our text study group, since Paul clearly did not know about Episcopalians.  What with our labyrinths and boar’s head festivals and all.

But Paul goes on to say there are many varieties of gifts and abilities in the Church, but they are all activated by the same Spirit.  All these gifts and talents work together for the greater good, and they are activated by the same Spirit.  It’s almost like, these gifts and abilities are hidden or sleeping until the Spirit wakes them up—reveals them to be the gifts that they are.  

Now, I do wish that the list was a little more up to date, because the gifts Paul goes on to list are far removed from our common life in the church.  We don’t really talk much about the gifts of prophecy, and speaking in tongues, and discernment of spirits.  (And we tend to look askance at those who do!)  But in our modern context we could update the list and think of those who clean the church, and sing in the choir, and handle the business affairs, and deal with contractors.  We could think of parishioners who drive others to doctors’ appointments, and check in on the shut-ins, arrange flowers, read lessons and hold the chalice and ring the sanctus bells.

All these—and more—are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.  The gifts and talents are inside us, and are then activated by God to serve the common good of the Church and the world.

Now hold onto that thought as we move the lens to a wedding in a place called Cana.  You’ve heard this story many times in your life, I’m sure.  Jesus and his mother are at a wedding, they run out of wine, Jesus’ mother asks him to do something, he has the servants fill up the jars, the water becomes wine, and the wedding is saved.  And this story is so familiar to us that I think we miss all sorts of details when we hear it.  We’re just sort of like, oh yeah, the water into wine one, and then think back to some joke we once heard about Baptists wanting Jesus to change it back.

But when you read this passage carefully, there are all sorts of interesting things to notice.  For starters, the mother of Jesus does not get a name.  In fact, if the only gospels we had were Mark and John, we would never even know Mary’s name.  Which is . . . weird.  But once Jesus tells the servants to fill the jars with water, the whole scene becomes like an Oscar Wilde play.  Like a comedy of secrets.

The servants draw out some water, which has become wine.  (Notice we don’t hear the phrase, “Jesus turned the water into wine.”)  They take it to the steward as they are told, but they don’t tell the steward where it came from, and so he doesn’t know.  The steward assumes the bridegroom had been saving this 150 gallons of top-notch vintage to bring out in reverse order, after the guests are drunk.  And the bridegroom doesn’t say anything either, and let’s the steward think he’s crazy.

So, in this story, only the servants know the connection to the stone jars, but even they did not witness the miracle.  And nobody bothers to ask any questions or offer up what they know about it.  It’s like what they all really need is to bring in a private detective to piece it all together for them.  But they don’t, and so only we are left to see what really happened.  Like I want to tap the servants on the shoulder and say, “TELL THE STEWARD GUY ABOUT JESUS AND THE STONE JARS!”

Those stone jars, that’s what I really want to talk about this morning.  I’ve been thinking about the idea that we are like the stone jars in this story from Cana.  We live out our lives in the church, slowly being filled to the brim, just as Jesus tells the servants to do.  We don’t usually see a big change or miracle happening, and it’s likely no one else does either.  Until . . . Jesus said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”

Can you see how the servants drawing out the water are acting in the same role as the Spirit I was talking about a few minutes ago?  The “activator” of gifts and talents and ministries?  We don’t see the change in ourselves.  And no one sees the change in the water in those stone jars.  But when the water is drawn out, when the gifts inside us are drawn out, then we see the miracle.  That’s when we see the amazing change that has taken place, because of Jesus.

We don’t cause the change in ourselves, just as the stone jars do not cause the change.  We just sit there, being filled up at the command of Jesus.  And when the Spirit of God draws out the gifts inside of us, that is when others can say, God has saved the best for last.

And that is another remarkable thing about this wedding at Cana.  Saving the best for last.  One would expect the bridegroom to be a cheapskate.  And maybe he was.  We would expect him to move from top shelf to bottom shelf over the course of the reception, since that’s what people have always done at weddings, and since no one would be any the wiser.

But here comes Jesus, standing everything on its head once again.  Here comes God’s overflowing and unmerited generosity, giving more than we could possibly ask or imagine.  And maybe we can take special note of that point now, as we have passed the two-year mark of this seemingly never-ending pandemic, in the midst of political turmoil and acrimony.

Just when everyone would be expecting an inferior-grade level of gifts from us.  Just when everyone would assume that we are too worn out and worn down from just trying to get by.  Just when the world would expect us to serve the worst wine . . .

Jesus looks at the gifts and talents and skills that have been slowly filling us up over the years and says, "Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.”  The Spirit activates those gifts and talents and offers them to the world.

This morning after the 10 o’clock service, we will gather for our 186th Annual Meeting.  We’ve been here a long time!  God has been drawing gifts out of this stone jar of a building for 186 years now, and there is no end in sight.  St. Timothy’s continues to be transformed and to transform the world around us, because God continues to fill us up and draw amazing gifts out of us.  St. Timothy’s is a blessing in this world, and will continue to be a blessing as we follow the One who makes all things new, the One who saves the best for last.


Sunday, January 9, 2022

YEAR C 2022 baptism of our lord

The Baptism of Our Lord, 2022
Isaiah 43:1-7
Psalm 29
Acts 8:14-17
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

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

I don’t know if you are familiar with the tradition of chalking your door on Epiphany.  (If not, that probably strikes you as a very strange question.)  For those who don’t know, the practice involves writing the initials of the names given to the three Magi, interspersed with crosses, inside the current year.  Which sounds super confusing.  But to simplify, this year we wrote 20 + C(aspar) + M(elchior) + B(althazar) + 22.  The letters CMB also stand in for the Latin phrase, Christus mansionem benedicat (Christ bless this house).  The practice is supposed to keep evil spirits away from the house until next Epiphany, when we will do it again.

In the years 2020 and 2021, I kept thinking that maybe we had been doing it wrong.  As virus surges and new variants kept coming at us, as political discord reached fever pitch and common decency and kindness seem to have left the land, as we kept having to close the church doors a mere few weeks after opening them again, as loved ones continued to get sick and sometimes not come home from the hospital . . . well, maybe we hadn’t been chalking our doors correctly these past few years.

But, of course, I don’t really believe that chalking the doors keeps evil spirits away.  That’s not why we do it—at least not in the Baumhaus.  We put chalk on the door to remind ourselves that God is with us, not to dispel demons.  As I say over and over again, God does not save us from trouble; God saves us in our troubles.  We worship a God who specializes in resurrections, new beginnings, hope for the hopeless, love for the unloved.  All the miracles of Jesus are about setting things right: restoration of sight, healing of disease, raising the dead back to life.  Chalking the door reminds us that Jesus is with us; that’s why we do it, despite the troubles that might come our way.

And today we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord.  It’s a big deal in the Christian Church; it gets its own Sunday every year.  And in today’s version, from Luke, we have John the Baptist with his dramatic speech to set the stage.  He’s really building Jesus up to be a scary guy, baptizing with fire, a winnowing fork in his hand, with unquenchable fire!  The drama is off the charts here!  “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you JESUS!”

And then Luke writes, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also was baptized and was praying . . .”  That’s it.  That’s the entrance.  Jesus gets baptized right along with everyone else—a parenthetical thought of the Feast Day of Our Lord’s Baptism.  Luke doesn’t give us any details about the baptism.  Jesus is just . . . baptized along with everybody else.  Or, as Luke says, right along with “ALL the people.”  All the people were baptized, and Jesus also was baptized.  Kind of an understated entrance for the one for whom John the Baptist has been stumping, isn’t it?  I mean, the set-up seems a little overblown, doesn’t it?

But, of course, you know what happens next.  Jesus is praying, the heavens open up, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and there is a voice from heaven saying, “You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Whole theological careers have been built on this sentence.  And mine will not be among them.  There are too many questions about what this means for Jesus’ own sense of his Messianic identity for me to wade into.  But this voice from heaven sounds remarkably similar to what comes just prior to the reading we heard from Isaiah this morning.

In Isaiah 42 we read, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.”  Of course, we might conclude that Luke intends for it to sound remarkably similar, and that’s why it does.  But the echo is certainly there, and it would make the connection clear for anyone familiar with the writings of Isaiah.  

And just after that prophecy, in today’s reading from Isaiah, we have a series of promises.  I have called you by name and you are mine.  Do not fear; I am with you.  You are precious in my sight.  I am the Lord your God, your Savior.  These are promises to God’s people.  These are promises to you and me.  

And these texts from Isaiah parallel the announcement at Jesus’ baptism along with the people.  ALL the people.  Isaiah 43:2—When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.  When you pass through the water, God is with you.  You are God’s beloved child.  In you, God is well pleased.  And how do we know God is with us when we pass through the water?

Because as we heard, Jesus meets the people being baptized in the water, and God is well pleased.  Jesus joins with each of us in the waters of baptism, just as he meets all of us at this Altar in the sacrament.  When Jesus meets us in the water, the water overflows with promise--forgiveness, new life, God calling us by name, God proclaiming us beloved. Like Jesus, we are named precious, honored, and loved. God is with us always; we do not need to be afraid. 

And, after meeting us in the water, Jesus meets us in every circumstance, every season of life, even in the moment of death—especially there. From the water, Jesus meets us in the journey of our lives, ending at the cross, and the empty tomb. Jesus has gone before us, and walks with us, whether we chalk our doors or not.

But there’s a sticky point in the Baptism of Jesus, and maybe it’s a thought you’ve had yourself, and it is this:  If Baptism is for the remission of sin (you know, forgiveness of sin), and since Jesus is without sin, then why does Jesus have to be baptized?  Why does Jesus get baptized along with ALL the people?  Well, two thoughts on that . . .

First, we kind of have the shoe on the wrong foot here.  It’s not that Jesus is baptized like us; it’s that we are baptized like Jesus.  Jesus isn’t doing what we do in baptism; rather, in our baptism, we are doing what Jesus does.  We are joining in the baptism of Jesus.

And secondly, baptism is not a requirement; baptism is a gift.  God doesn’t love us because we have been baptized.  Instead, we get to be baptized because God loves us.  And that’s particularly clear when we remember those words from Isaiah.  God says when you pass through the waters I will be with you.  Which is quite different from saying, after you have passed through the waters, I will consider loving you.

And as we saw in today’s gospel reading, when ALL the people were baptized, Jesus was with them.  Not just watching them from the shore, nodding in approval.  No, Jesus also is baptized with them.  Not in some special, private, rock-star baptism, but right along with them.  

In our own Baptismal Covenant, we make this crazy promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We renew that covenant every time we witness a baptism.  Every time we see someone get confirmed.  Every time the Bishop visits.  Every Easter.  And today.  And, as with all the promises we make in church, we make the promises along with the phrase, “with God’s help.”  We promise to do the impossible, with God’s help.  To seek and serve Christ in all persons, with God’s help.  Because God is with us.

I encourage you to hear these words again, especially in light of what we all have been through these past two years:

God says to you, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.   For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.

God loves you.  Exactly as you are.  Whether there is chalk on your door or not.  Jesus is with you.



Sunday, January 2, 2022

YEAR C 2022 christmas 2

Christmas 2, 2022
Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84:1-8
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-52 

Also preached at the monthly Solemn Sung Eucharist at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland OH

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

So, here we are on the 9th Day of Christmas.  I hope you’re enjoying the 9 ladies dancing.  (It’s getting a little crowded in our house at this point.)  The Christmas season is almost over, we’ve just entered a new calendar year, and Epiphany starts on Thursday.  Things are changing . . . and quickly, whether we’re ready or not.

Accepting change is very hard.  The most recent example for you and me right now is probably the appearance of the number 2, since I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had to cross out 2021 and write 2022 on something already.  We say that change is good, and that we embrace change, and change is for the better and all that; but when it comes right down to it, change is hard.  Especially hard when we don’t want things to change.  Still, the change keeps coming.

But first things first, to change the subject . . . The question we’re all honestly asking ourselves right now:  Three days?  They were searching for Jesus for three days?  I have often lost track of my kids for three minutes, and in some settings three hours, but THREE DAYS???  And when they find Jesus, Mary says to him, “Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  Well there’s an understatement, huh?  “Great anxiety” doesn’t begin to describe it I’m sure.  On the other hand, part of me expects Jesus to say, “Well you’re the ones who left me.”  And, of course, that’s why he’s Jesus, and I’m not.

And the next question is, how did that happen, anyway?  How do you just leave your eldest child behind and not even notice for a whole day?  In fact, I think that question is so distracting that we risk missing the rest of the story.  It’s especially strange because this is the only story we have from Jesus’ childhood.  Only Luke has anything about the early years and this is it.  We get one childhood memory between his birth and the start of his ministry, and it’s: Remember that time we left Jesus in the Temple and didn’t notice? 

Two things to point out here:  First, Mary and Joseph are traveling with a large group of people.  It’s not like they’re climbing into their hatchback with an empty carseat in the back, not noticing that someone’s missing.  As the text says, “they assumed he was within the group of travelers among the relatives and friends.”  I am only dwelling on this to try to get us past what is probably a glaring obstacle in our modern minds.  And, Mary’s reaction on finally seeing her boy sets the right tone.  She has been worried sick about him.  Searching “in great anxiety.”  Great anxiety is something we can all relate to right now, isn’t it?  Every morning, I wake up vaguely worried that everything is about to get much worse.  We have all been living in great anxiety for nearly two years now.  We can relate.

And the second thing going on here has to do with the gospel of Luke.  When you read Luke’s Gospel, you’ll notice that everything points to the Temple.  Jesus is always heading for the Temple.  The Temple is the scene of all the big confrontations.  For Luke, Jesus’ destiny is always in the Temple.  It’s the most natural place for him to go; it’s sort of his default destination.  If you’re looking for Jesus in Luke’s gospel, you should probably start in the Temple.  Which is also something we can relate to.  How we all long to just pack into our beautiful church buildings and sing loudly together, like we used to.  To pray with each other and share meals together.  To just be in God’s house together, like we are used to doing.

Mary asks, “Why have you treated us like this?”  She’s not ready for this kind of change.  And so she makes it a story about Mary.  But, really, who wouldn’t?  At this point, she doesn’t really know the full truth about Jesus.  And, personally, I’m willing to consider that Jesus doesn’t know the full truth about Jesus, either.  To Jesus, it seems only natural that he would be in the Temple.  Just like when I was 12 years old, it seemed only natural that I would be at the candy store.  Jesus responds to his mother (and it’s worth noting, this is the first time Jesus ever speaks in the gospels), he asks “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  It’s almost as if Jesus hasn’t noticed the change of focus either.

Then Luke adds, “But they did not understand what he said to them.”  Well of course they didn’t!  They don’t know that when Jesus says “My Father’s house,” he’s not talking about Joseph’s place.  To Jesus (and Luke), it’s only natural for Jesus to be in the Temple. 

So Jesus disappeared, his parents found him, he seems surprised that it took them so long, and then the gospel reading today closes with this:  “And Jesus increased in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favor.”  That seems like an odd phrase, doesn’t it?  It kind of sounds to me like, “And Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived happily ever after.” And Jesus increased in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favor.  It actually sounds more like it’s the beginning of a story, rather than the end of one.  Maybe even like the end of an introduction to a story.

Just before that, we see Mary doing what Mary does in Luke’s gospel:  Pondering these things in her heart.  Well, our translation today uses “treasured these things.”  Mary treasures these things in her heart, because she does not understand, but she also ponders them, and turns them over to try to understand.  Pondering is a good word for this, since it implies an activity, an action on her part.  These are not precious little memories of Jesus’ childhood to store away in a scrapbook and bring out to show friends at holiday parties.  She ponders, trying to understand.

Mary ponders these changes in the boy Jesus, just as we ponder these changes we continue to go through.  We want our great anxiety to end.  We want to gather safely in this temple to worship God.  We want the baby that we just had nine days ago.  Safely tucked in his crib, no crying he makes in the silent holy night.  A baby, we know how to handle.  Change the diapers; feed the stomach; wrap the baby in warm clothes.  Babies we understand.

I think that’s one of the reasons Christmas is so comfortable for us, and for everyone, really.  We embrace the “little 8lb 6 ounce newborn baby Jesus, don’t even know a word yet, infant cuddly, but still omnipotent.”  Because that’s how we like Jesus to be.  We don’t want him to change into an adult.  And it’s tempting to think that the Christmas story is the biggest part of the life of Jesus—given how our society treats Christmas—like it’s all just details after December 25th.  But, honestly?  It’s not.  Christmas is just the way to start the story.

And the fact that we moved from his birth last week, to his circumcision yesterday, to his first words in the temple at the age of twelve today kind of drives home the point.  Christmas is important because it is the start of our redemption story.  And for that reason, on some level the whole Christmas story is like the phrase, “Once Upon A Time.”  It starts the story, but it sure isn’t the point.  I mean, it’s a big deal that God walks among us, don’t get me wrong.  But the point of the story is yet to come.

Things have changed quickly these past 9 days.  Jesus is out of the crib and taking on the world.  Suddenly he’s twelve years old and giving us clues as to where this story is going.  And, like Mary, we’re already confused.  We’re already wishing he’d just stay put, surrounded by animals and shepherds and wise men.  Stay right there and don’t ever change, little Christmas Jesus.

But that Christmas Jesus has moved on.  The manger is empty.  And now we follow him on this journey that takes him to the cross and leads us to the empty tomb.  It’s one, long, wondrous story that begins with his birth, and takes us to our rebirth.  From the empty crib to the empty tomb, a lot is going to change for us in the next few months.

Like Mary and Joseph, we are living in great anxiety.  Like the child Jesus, we naturally want to be in God’s house.  But for now, this two steps forward one step back, this stopping and starting and stopping again, is how things have to be . . . because we care about other people and their health.  We don’t know how long we will have to wait until we can fully and safely gather like we want to, but we know Jesus will be waiting for us when we do.

And here’s the thing:  Jesus is not confined to a manger scene.  And Jesus is not confined to this building.  As we heard, Jesus is out in the world now too, busy doing the work that the Father sent him to do: bringing restoration to the world, and restoration to our relationships.  Jesus has come, and now God walks among us.  And you and I will continue to ponder all these things in our hearts, knowing that one day we will gather safely together again.  May God continue to remind us that Jesus is out in the world with us, among us, wherever we may be.  Yes, we have great anxiety, and yes we are all really, really tired, but Jesus is with us.  Emmanuel: God is with us.


Saturday, January 1, 2022

YEAR C 2022 holy name

Holy Name, 2022
Numbers 6:22-27
Psalm 8
Philippians 2:5-11
Luke 2:15-21

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

Every year, at midnight on January 1st, the world celebrates New Year’s Day, while on the same day the Church is celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name, Jesus.  As we heard on the Sundays leading up to Christmas, the name Jesus literally means, “God saves.”  So we lift up the name of Jesus on this day, not because the word itself is special, but because it is a constant reminder of the promise: God saves.  “Jesus” means, God saves.  That’s why we call it the “holy name,” and that’s why we have this feast day.

But as I do every year on this day, I want to talk about a different name: the name Janus.  Janus was the Roman god of beginnings and endings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, and passages.  Our month of January gets its name from Janus, and you can see why.  When the odometer of the calendar rolls over, it’s a beginning, and an ending, and a doorway, and a transition, and a gate, and so on.

The god Janus is always depicted as having two heads: one facing forward, and one facing backward.  Seeing the future, and looking at the past.  And how fitting this is for the way we view the start of the new year.  We look back at the past year, and we also give some thought to how things will be in the new year.  And, every year—especially this year—we can’t help but look back in judgement and regret, making resolutions about how things will be better, how we will be better.  And that’s why so many people feel dispirited at the turn of the calendar: because when we look backwards, we can be disappointed in ourselves and others.  And thanks to the Romans, we have Janus, who is always looking backward, always judging, always disappointed.  Just the kind of god human beings would make up, when you think about it.

But then we have Jesus, who is always looking forward.  When we confess our sins together, we hear in the Absolution that God forgives all our sins through our Lord, Jesus Christ.  ALL our sins.  But we still see them, don’t we?  We still lie awake at night with regrets over something we said to someone in third grade, or whatever.  We can see all our mistakes and failures and disappointments clear as day, because—just like Janus—we are always looking backward.

And that’s because—even in a positive way—we always look backwards to define ourselves and others.  We explain our identities by looking at the past.  Here’s my degree; here’s where I served in the military; here’s my Eagle Scout badge; here’s how many kids I have.  Obituaries and resume’s are by definition an accounting of the past.  They look backward.  We naturally look to the past to tell who someone is now.  We want to know, “How did you get here?”

But God always looks forward, never backward.  And that is why the promises we make in church are always forward, never backward.  The priest asks a couple about to be married, will you love, comfort honor and keep each other?  Before a person is Baptized, the priest asks will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?  And the candidate says, I will, with God’s help.  The Church always asks “will you,” never “have you,” and always gives you the out: “With God’s help.”  It doesn’t matter how you got here.  It matters that you are here.  Again, God always looks forward, not backward.

Because when God looks backward, God sees . . . nothing: all your sins have been erased.  They’re just  . . . not there.  When God looks back there is nothing but Jesus: God saves.  Your sins, your mistakes, your regrets, those are no longer known to God.  They are only known to you.  God’s hindsight sees nothing but goodness and forgiveness and Jesus.  Because God saves.

May God give us all the grace to see our lives as God sees them, repenting of our past, turning around, and always looking forward.  Because of the Holy Name of Jesus: God saves.