Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, January 29, 2023

YEAR A 2023 feast of st. timothy

St. Timothy, 2023
2 Timothy 1:1–8
Psalm 112:1–9
John 10:1–10

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

The gospel of John really should have been called, “The Metaphors of Jesus, and Why We Don’t Get Them.”  It is a recurring theme in John’s gospel.  Jesus picks out a common everyday thing and uses it as an illustration for some bigger point he’s trying to make.  And pretty much every time he does this, the people he is talking to do not understand.

In the 4th chapter of John, we have the scene of Jesus and the woman at the well.  He says to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”  He’s talking about the gift of abundant life, and she says you don’t have a bucket.

In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus refers to himself as the bread that has come down from heaven.  And those listening complain to each other, asking, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

In the 3rd chapter of John, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  And Nicodemus asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

And after that conversation with the woman at the well, the Disciples say to Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.”

“The Metaphors of Jesus, and Why We Don’t Get Them.”  Over and over in John, Jesus uses symbolic and metaphorical language to make a bigger point, and the people around him take him literally and become confused.  Happens every time.

And when Jesus is talking about himself in John, we’ve got a whole list of images to get confused about.  I am the bread, I am the gate, the door, the Good Shepherd.  I am the water.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  For the most part, those listening know what these things are.  They’ve seen gates and doors and shepherds and vines.  But what seems to trip them up is in making the connection to Jesus that he’s trying to get them to make.

And we have it in today’s reading, from John’s gospel, a.k.a “The Metaphors of Jesus, and Why We Don’t Get Them.”  Jesus explains that he is like the Good Shepherd, and the sheep hear his voice and follow him.  They know the Good Shepherd’s voice, and they will follow him, which they won’t do when they are called by thieves, bandits, and strangers.  And then, as we heard, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but”—wait for it—“they did not understand what he was saying to them.”

And so what does Jesus do, after using this figure of speech that they did not understand?  After he calls himself a shepherd and they don’t get it, Jesus instead calls himself the gate, which probably isn’t helping, to be honest.  Out of the frying pan and into the fire, to use yet another not helpful figure of speech.

And I think the reason that the shepherd and the gate images don’t work for people is because they’re too vivid, to be honest.  You’re probably picturing an actual sheep pen, with a gate, and Jesus standing there in a long robe.  Calling to a bunch of sheep to follow him, while a bandit wearing an eye mask yells, “Curses!  Foiled again!”  I mean, maybe it’s just me, but that’s definitely what I’m picturing.  Point being, I think the imagery is too realistic, and so we fixate on that rather than the actual point Jesus is making.

So, okay, what is the point that Jesus is making?  Good question.  I think we get closer to it when we start at the ending of this reading.  Forget all the metaphors and figures of speech and pastoral imagery that’s floating around in your mind.  Instead, look at how Jesus contrasts himself with the thieves and the bandits.  He says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.  What Jesus means by thieves and bandits are whatever forces stand opposed to us having life and having it abundantly.  Ask yourself, what is it that sucks abundant life out of me?  What prevents me from accepting that Jesus came to bring life to this world?  Whatever those things are, they are the thieves and bandits Jesus is talking about.

Or, look at what he says just before that:  “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”  What do sheep do with their lives?  What is a prime example of a sheep living up to its full potential?  Of living life as it was meant to be?  Well, the answer is going in and out of the stable and finding pasture.  It’s what sheep do.  And a shepherd who empowers sheep to do just that is giving them life, and giving it to them abundantly.  But now you’re probably right back to picturing literal sheep going in and out of a fenced-in pen.  

Maybe a better way to rebrand all this is to give different names to the ones who are not Jesus.  Something like the thieves of hope, and the bandits of joy.  They are not looking to steal the sheep.  They are just looking to take away the abundant life that Jesus offers.  It’s not a hostile corporate takeover of the sheep owning industry; it’s more like just wanting to watch the world burn.  The thieves of hope and the bandits of joy come only to steal and kill and destroy.  But Jesus came that we may have life, and have it abundantly.

So let’s get those images of sheep back into our heads for a moment.  Jesus is the gate, and the sheep go out and find pasture, and they come back in and find rest.  That’s it.  Could hardly be more simple.  The sheep are not called to do impossible amazing things.  That is not what sheep are known for.  No, sheep are called to find grass and eat it.  That is abundant life for a sheep.  You can hardly get more abundant than that.

The sheep do not go out and hunt down the bandits, or give them scary othering labels to haunt their kids.  The sheep do not try to divide some sheep from other sheep for the accumulation of political power.  The thieves of hope and the bandits of joy are of no concern to the sheep in Jesus’ figure of speech.  And do you know why?  Well, I’ll tell you: it’s the voice.

The sheep have abundant life because they listen to the voice of Jesus.  There are many other voices in this world.  Lots of harmful voices screaming at the top of their lungs on television and social media.  Those are not the voice of Jesus.  And when we follow those voices, when we let those voices tell us what to think and what to do . . . well, those voices are the thieves of hope and the bandits of joy.  They are not the voice of Jesus.  Because the voice of Jesus calls us into who we are meant to be.

May God give us the grace to ignore the voices of despair and rage, and to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.  The one who opens the gate for us, who leads us to where and what we are meant to be, who calls us by name, and gives us abundant life.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

YEAR A 2023 epiphany 2

Epiphany 2, 2023    
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

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

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist says this about Jesus: “I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”  Not revealed personally to John, but rather to the community.  John does not come screaming about how Jesus has been made known to John, trying to claim the spotlight because he “knows a guy.”  No, instead John points to Jesus and says, “Hey you guys!  There he is!”  For everyone.  It’s not about John the Baptist; it’s about Jesus.  And by “it,” I mean . . . well, everything.

Because as John points to Jesus, he declares something amazing. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  That’s right: the world.  Not just the people who could hear John talking; not just the people who could sit here and read John’s words 2,000 years later.  Not the churchy people, or the good people . . . nope: the world.

And it’s even better in the original Greek, because John says, “Behold the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the Cosmos.”  Now some people can’t help adding a little extra “s” on the end of the word “sin,” including in our own Prayer Book, in Rite One.  But it’s not there.  The word is sin: singular, all-inclusive, nothing left out.  We want it to be “sins,” because then it’s about us, and all our misbehaviors, great or small.  We want it to be the actions we do, to ourselves and to others.  But that’s not what the text says.  The Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the cosmos.  All of it.

And now you’re thinking, well that can’t be.  We live in a broken world, where people die too young, and our politics divide us, and where our personal squabbles make us reluctant to even come to church.  There’s plenty of sin to go around, you might be thinking.  Well, fair enough.  So let’s set that thought aside for a minute and see what else John says.

“This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me’.”  After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.  What does THAT mean?  It’s like a riddle:  What kind of man comes after me, but ranks ahead of me, because he was before me?  Give up?  The answer is, the Lamb of God.  Get it?  No, me neither.  But we can look at the start of John’s Gospel for a clue.  (And—for the record—the Gospel writer John is a different John from John the Baptist.)

At the very opening of the Gospel of John we read:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. Jesus is there when it all starts.  All of it.  And then John continues . . .

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

Jesus, the Word of God, the Light of God, the Lamb of God, coming into the world, and John the Baptist recognizes Him and points to him: Behold, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the Cosmos.  Shows up after John, ranks ahead of John, because he was in the beginning, before John.  Heavy stuff, I know.  And I swear to you, John the Gospel writer is just a little mystical . . . not crazy or—you know—on something.  

Back to our Gospel text.  The first half, John points at Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the Cosmos.”  We don’t know who’s there or who is listening, or what happens after that.  But the next day, we get round two.  Here’s John the Baptist, standing with two of his own disciples, and he says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  And his two disciples turn, see Jesus, and follow him.  John’s disciples, see him pointing out Jesus, and they leave him to follow Jesus.  That seems strange, especially because John doesn’t seem to mind.

John’s disciples go up to Jesus, ask a couple interesting questions, and end up following him.  But they also go and tell someone else.  And that someone is Simon, whom Jesus renames Peter, whom we might rightly call the first Pope.  And Peter . . . well, Peter certainly spread the word far and wide, gathering communities around the good news.

The Lamb of God is taking away the sin of the world.  It’s not about you or me.  It’s about everybody.  The community.  The world.  The cosmos.  You may be the one to announce it, but when you do, you’re making an announcement on behalf of everyone.  Proclaiming: Look!  There is the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the cosmos.

And that gets us back to that question I left hanging a few minutes ago.  Based on our day-to-day experience, the Lamb of God has not eradicated sin from our broken world.  People are still dying in horrific ways, and oftentimes the people causing those deaths are people who call themselves “Christians.”  If the Lamb of God has taken away the sin of the world, then he definitely missed quite a bit.  Just look at your own life and you know that this is true.  There is plenty of sin and brokenness to go around.  

BUT, this statement from John does not say that Jesus has, or will take away the sin of the world.  What John the Baptist says is, “Behold, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.”  There is no timeline.  There is no statement that he will do this, or that he has done this.  The verb is present: “taking.”

John the Baptist is pointing at Jesus and saying, “That Lamb, right there, is taking away the sin of the world . . . right here, right now.”  When did he start?  When will he finish?  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. . . . What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

From the beginning of time, from before there even was time, the Lamb of God has been taking away the sin of the world.  Bringing life out of death.  Turning pain into healing.  Calling solitary individuals into loving community.  From the first fatal argument between Cain and Abel, to the senseless death happening somewhere at this very moment, and every dark and confused moment in between, where sin seems to be having the last word, the Lamb of God is there, taking away the sin of the world.  From the beginning to the end.

When our time of worship today has ended, we will move together into the parish hall for a light lunch and begin the 187th Annual Meeting of this parish.  For 187 years this community gathered around the Lamb of God.  All of us right now, and all the ones who have come before, and all the ones who will come after us.  All of us like John the Baptist pointing at this same Lamb, and saying behold!  There he is!  Taking away the sin.  For all of us.  For this community.  For everyone.  For all time!

And, as this gathered community comes to this Altar this morning, the words we hear are, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”  But those words are really just another way of saying this:  Behold, the Lamb of God, taking away the sin of the world.  Right now, and from the beginning, and till the end.  For everyone.  For me.  For you.  For everyone.  Forever.


Sunday, January 8, 2023

YEAR A 2023 baptism of our lord

Baptism of Our Lord, 2023
Isaiah 42:1-9
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17
Psalm 29

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

So today we are celebrating the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  Which might make you wonder, “Why is this a ‘feast’?  They didn’t have a feast when I was baptized.”  But actually, they probably did, if you think about it.  There was likely some kind of special meal or something to celebrate your baptism.  And if there wasn’t, well there should have been!  Because the day you were declared God’s beloved child is certainly worthy of a feast!

Today we heard Matthew’s account of the time Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.  It’s an important story.  And you can tell it’s important because it is in all three of what we call the “synoptic” gospels:  Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  The details in the three accounts vary a little bit, but the basic gist is the same:  Jesus comes to be baptized by John, when he comes out of the water, the Holy Sprit descends, and there is a voice from heaven calling Jesus God’s son.  It’s one of several cases where all three members of the Trinity are tangibly present in one place at the same time.

And in Matthew’s version of the story, which we heard today, the voice from heaven says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Now let me take a moment to remind you what has happened previous to this in Matthew’s gospel.  Matthew opens with that long genealogy, then the angel tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, then Jesus is born, the Magi come to visit, the despot Herod has all the young boys killed, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Egypt, Herod dies, and the family moves to Nazareth.  Next scene, John the Baptist is standing at the river, yelling at people, and Jesus comes to be baptized.  And when Jesus comes up out of the water, there is a loud voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

I tell you all that in order to note that, up to now, Jesus hasn’t done anything that we could call “belovedy.”  Nothing to make the Father “well pleased.”  There’s no sense in which Jesus has accomplished anything yet, beyond letting his earthly parents cart him around the middle east to keep him alive.  And yet, there is a voice from heaven, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  That voice could have appeared at the manger when he was born.  Or it could have appeared when the Magi confirmed that Jesus was the boy King who was to be born.  But there is silence.  Only after Jesus rises from the waters of baptism do we hear, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  Hold on to that thought.

So, when Jesus comes to John to be baptized, John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  That makes sense, right?  I mean, if baptism is for the washing away of sin and so forth, and since we believe that Jesus is without sin, then yeah, John needs to be baptized by Jesus, not the other way around.  But here’s the thing:  The point is not that Jesus is baptized like we are baptized.  No, rather, the point is that we are baptized like Jesus is baptized.  Jesus does not share in our baptism; instead, we share in the baptism of Jesus.

And that is important, because as Paul writes in Romans, “ . . . all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. . . .  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  We are baptized like Jesus was baptized.

And do you know what happens immediately after Jesus is baptized?  Well, I’ll tell you.  The last verse of the third chapter of Matthew is the voice from heaven saying, “ . . . the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  And the first verse of the next chapter is, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Nothing in between.  Jesus comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends upon him, the voice announces his identity, and “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

And here’s why I think that’s important.  As I said, up until this point, Jesus has not done anything “belovedy.”  His baptism by John is not some reward for achievement; his baptism is not the finish line for having done something to make him worthy of being beloved.  No, the Baptism of Jesus is the beginning of everything that matters in this world.  It’s not a “well done,” so much as a “get ready.”  The baptism of Jesus, and the declaration of him as God’s beloved, is preparation for living a life as God intends.

Let me rephrase what I said earlier: the point is not that Jesus is baptized like you.  The point is that you are baptized like Jesus.  Like Jesus, you were baptized with water.  Like Jesus, the Trinity was there, as the minister invoked the names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Like Jesus, you had done nothing but present yourself (or be presented) to be baptized.  And like Jesus, God declared, “This is my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Your baptism is the start of your life as a proclaimed child of God, a declared beloved of God, one with whom God is well pleased.  That’s why we tend to baptize children as soon as possible.  Because baptism is not a reward for a life well lived, or the finish line after decisions we make to follow God.  No, baptism is the start of a holy and mysterious relationship with the creator of all that is.  So why not get that relationship going at the first opportunity?!?

Now, to be clear, I am not saying that the unbaptized are not also beloved children of God.  Far from it!  As we promise in our Baptismal Covenant, we will seek and serve Christ in all persons, with God’s help.  If we promise to seek Christ in all persons, that implies Christ is in all persons, baptized or not.  All people are beloved children of the one who created us, and who loves us beyond measure.  What makes baptism different is that our identity is announced.  We are publicly and openly declared to be beloved children of God.  We are marked with the sign of the cross, as Christ’s own forever. 

And then, to celebrate, we mark the occasion with a feast.  Even if there’s no cake, or roast beef, or mashed potatoes, there is bread, and there is wine.  And at this feast, all the beloved children of God are welcome and fed.  No matter how you got here, no matter where you’re going, you are always welcome at this feast.  Because at your own baptism, a voice from heaven also affirmed, “This is my child, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”


Sunday, January 1, 2023

YEAR A 2023 holy name of jesus

Holy Name, 2023
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.

And here it is:  A new year.  Every year, at midnight on January 1st, the world celebrates New Year’s Day.  And on this same day, every year, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Name, Jesus.  Why is that?  Well, as we heard on the Sundays leading up to Christmas, the name Jesus literally means, “God saves.”  And that’s why we lift up the name of Jesus on this day, not because the word itself is special, but because the name Jesus is a constant reminder of that 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 to remind us.

But as I do every year on this day, I also want to talk about a different name:; and that name is 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 also an ending, and it’s a doorway, and a transition, and a gate, and so on.  So that’s why Janus gives us January.

The god Janus is 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.  As a child, I remember spending time at my grandmother’s house on New Year’s Day, listening to Casey Kasem tell me what songs were supposedly important in the past year.    None of my songs were ever on that list.  And these days, you can do your year-end wraps on things like spotify and instagram.  We naturally look backwards as we begin a new year, to see where we have been, and what we have done.

And, I think, most of us end up looking backward in judgement with regret, making New Year’s 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 feel 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, as Christians, we have Jesus—God saves—the one 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.  God no longer sees 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 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 raised.  Obituaries and resume’s are by definition an accounting of the past.  They look backward.  We naturally look to the past to tell us who someone is now.  Every job interview is about what we have done in the past.  People 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, and not 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,” as opposed to “have you.”  And the Church always gives you the partnership: “With God’s help.”  It doesn’t matter how you got here.  It matters that you are here.  Again, God always looks forward, never 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: the name that means, 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.  There is always a new beginning, always a new start, because of the Holy Name of Jesus: God saves.