Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, April 14, 2024

YEAR B 2024 easter 3

Easter 3, 2024
Acts 3:12-19
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48
Psalm 4

“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Okay, first thing we need to do today is look at the epistle reading from First John.  You’ll recall last week I pointed out the challenge of him saying he was writing these words so that you may not sin, while at the same time saying “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.”

And today we heard, “No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him.”  John says we abide in Jesus; John also says no one who sins abides in him; John also says, if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.  I’m as comfortable as the next priest with holding contradictions when it comes to our faith life.  But this section of First John the past two weeks makes no sense to me.  Point being, if you find it confusing, you are not alone.  I am right there with you.

Moving on.  “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”  This is a key part of the gospel reading we just heard.  While in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering.  Now first we need the context for this reading, because I'm afraid we got dropped off in the middle of a story.  In Luke’s gospel, we go from the empty tomb to the Road to Emmaus.   That’s when Jesus appears to the disciples, but they don’t recognize him as they walk together on the road.  It is only after they sit down to eat together that something changes:  “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”

Right after that, those disciples get up and rush back to Jerusalem, where they find the 11 disciples gathered in a room.  “Then they told what had happened on the road and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”  This Road to Emmaus story is one of my favorite stories in all of scripture because of that very line: He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.  Ahem.  [points to Altar]  Anyway, while they were recounting this amazing story to the disciples, that’s the moment when Jesus shows up in the room in this morning’s reading.  And “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.”

But let’s back up again, to the empty tomb.  When the women get to the tomb, the stone is rolled away, and two men in dazzling white clothes appear beside them.  And they say, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to the hands of sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again.”  Remember how he told you.  And then the women remember, and they run to tell the disciples.  

And as Jesus is walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he says to them, “how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Remember how he told you?  Remember what the prophets said?  He’s been telling them this would happen.  Over and over he’s been telling them.  They knew it was going to happen, and yet, while in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.

This past Monday, April 8th we had an eclipse around here.  Perhaps you heard about it.  Hopefully you were able to see it, because it was amazing!  We’d been hearing it was going to happen for months.  For years in fact.  Here comes the eclipse.  Here’s how it happens.  Here’s how big the sun is relative to the moon.  Here’s what will be amazing about it.  Here are some tricks you can do with a colander, or by wearing red and green.  We knew all about it, we knew precisely when it would happen, as it had been foretold by the . . . scientists.  And yet . . .

While in out joy we were disbelieving and still wondering.  Everyone I’ve talked to who experienced the full eclipse has said they knew it would be awesome, but they didn’t know it would be that awesome!  We knew it would happen, we believed it would take place, but while in our joy we were disbelieving and still wondering.  We all understand the science, but it is still somehow an impenetrable mystery.

Jesus told them over and over that he would be handed over to people who would kill him, and then rise from the grave on the third day.  They heard him say it, many times.  And then when he shows up, well . . . While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.  But maybe after Monday’s eclipse I kind of understand them a little more.  

Because the eclipse was awesome and scary, and beautiful and terrifying, and understandable and mysterious, and light and dark, and every other contradiction you can think of.  Joy, disbelief, wonder.  While in their joy the disciples were disbelieving and still wondering.  

And Jesus.  Still.  Shows.  Up.  

You notice that Jesus did not require their understanding to show up?  He didn’t need their belief, or their faith, or their personal commitment, or even their memory of the words he had already told them.  Just like the first step in experiencing the eclipse is for it to happen, so the first step in a life of faith in the risen Lord is for him to show up.

You and I have doubts, in the midst of our joy.  And Jesus still shows up.  You and I have trouble believing that a person can actually rise from the dead and eat a piece of fish.  And Jesus still shows up.  You and I do not fully understand what happens with the bread and wine on that Altar.  And Jesus still shows up.  While we are in our joy, we are disbelieving and still wondering.  And Jesus still shows up.

Listen again to the collect for this day:
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

YEAR B 2024 easter 2

Easter 2, 2024
Acts 4:32-35
1 John 1:1-2:2
John 20:19-31
Psalm 133

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

Taken together, these lessons could be called, “Aspiration vs. Everything Else.”  With the subheading: Shouldn’t we at least try?  But first off, we should talk about the Path of Totality!  There’s going to be a big event tomorrow afternoon with a full solar eclipse over our heads . . . if we can see it.  There are those who say, unless I can see the moon blocking out the sun, and endanger my eyes by staring at the sun for a half hour, then I will not believe.  

If you’re unfortunate enough to have spent any time on Twitter lately, you know that there is already talk of conspiracy theories, and false flag operations, and chem-trails regarding the eclipse.  And there are definitely people saying, if I don’t see it, it didn’t happen.  But other people have traveled across the globe for the chance to experience this event.  Some have the aspiration to experience it, and some have the aspiration to be taken away by the rapture that it supposedly foretells.  But, bottom line, even if it’s a cloudy day tomorrow, shouldn’t we at least try to see it?

Which brings us to the reading from Acts.  You know, the radical leftist Marxist utopia of the early church.  How did that reading make you feel?  Uneasy?  Scared?  Skeptical?  Dismissive?  It sure sounds a lot different from the church we know today, doesn’t it?  But I should tip my hand and tell you that in the very next chapter of Acts, Ananias and his wife Sapphira sell some land and give just some of the money to the apostles.  And you know what happens to Ananias?  He falls down dead, that’s what!  This early Christian utopia falls apart one verse after the reading we heard.  It is aspirational, but not practical.  They kind of overshot the goal of living in community here.  But it also raises that same question, shouldn’t we at least try?

And then the reading from First John.  “If we say that we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.”  And, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  Fair enough, writer of First John.  But then we also get, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”  Huh?  You just said if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, but then you say you’re writing to us so that we may not sin?  What gives?  Well, in this case, living a sinless life is aspirational, but with a safety valve.  Like, John is giving us this information so that there is a possibility that we might not sin, but when we inevitably do, we have an advocate.  The idea that we might not sin is aspirational.  And raises that same question, shouldn’t we at least try?

And then we come to our gospel reading, from John’s gospel.  You’ll recall, the disciples are cowering in fear and doubt in a locked room, and Jesus appears to them and says . . . Peace be with you.  They rejoiced when they saw it was Jesus.  But there is no indication in the text that anything changed for them.  They just . . . rejoiced.  Because the next week, they are cowering in fear and doubt in a locked room, again.  But when they tell Thomas about their experience, he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  

I think we automatically hear this as defiance.  Like Thomas is saying, “I am choosing not to believe,” rather than, “I am unable to believe.”  Personally, I take it more as a confessed inability.  That is, Thomas sure would like to believe.  But he knows himself; he knows his weaknesses; and he knows that he needs to have the experience himself because—let’s face it—this story he was just told is hard to believe!  Thomas aspires to believe; but he cannot.  His belief is aspirational, but needs the experience.  What does he need in order to believe?

Jesus.  He needs Jesus.  And the next week?  Jesus shows up, and again says . . . Peace be with you.  And then he gives Thomas exactly what Thomas needs.    “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Does Jesus throw Thomas out for his lack of faith?  Or turn his back to Thomas for not believing the incredible story about his appearance?  Of course not.  And, perhaps more importantly, he does not require anything of Thomas.  He doesn’t say, “I told you so;”  he doesn’t call him Doubting Thomas.  No, Jesus meets Thomas right where he is and says, “Stop doubting and believe.”  But that’s just our bad translation getting in the way.  Because what Jesus says is, “Do not be faithless, but be faith-filled.”

And just like that, Jesus speaks the faithfulness of Thomas into existence, because the next thing we see is his profound confession of faith:  My Lord and my God!  Jesus tells Thomas that he is filled with faith, and he is.  Thomas does not set out to acquire this faith.  He does nothing apart from hear the words of Jesus, and he goes from being faithless to being faith-filled.  Jesus speaks, and it is so.  And not in a half-hearted way, either.  Thomas hears these words, and immediately proclaims Jesus as his Lord and God.  Didn’t see that coming, right?

Which brings us to the overarching lesson for you and me from these texts.  The aspirational side of our life of faith together.  Those first disciples aspired to live in a world where no one was hungry, where no one went without.  And with what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, we can see that world is not possible.  Because some people are going to end up dead!  But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And in the reading from first John, we heard that if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us, but he’s telling us that so that we may not sin, which we will certainly do, as he just told us.  To be without sin is aspirational, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

And with the story of Thomas, we can hear that he truly wants to believe, but he knows himself well enough to know that he is unable to believe without the physical proof in front of him.  His desire for faith is aspirational, but he needs Jesus to give him that faith.

All of which leads me to the Baptismal Covenant, which we just renewed at the Easter Vigil.  After the part that sort of reworks the Apostles Creed, we come to the outlandish promises that we can never keep, but which we say anyway.  Together we promise to

Continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the Prayers.
To persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.
To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.
To seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
To strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Every time we attend a Baptism, and several other times throughout the year, we make those impossible, beautiful, lofty, aspirational claims . . . and they come with a safety valve: the phrase, with God’s help.  That’s what gives us the gumption to make these promises together.  With.  God’s. Help.  All these promises are indeed possible, with God’s help.

Thomas freely admitted that he could not believe without Jesus, without God’s help.  And Jesus shows up, and Thomas says, "My Lord and my God!”  He’s the only disciple who makes this profession of faith.  The one we often call Doubting Thomas turns out to be the most faith-filled disciple, with God’s help.

Lots of things in this life are aspirational rather than practical, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  And with God’s help, we might find we actually can do the impossible.  To paraphrase from the Rite of Ordination, May the Lord who has given us the will to do these things give us the grace and power to perform them.  With God’s help.


Sunday, March 31, 2024

YEAR B 2024 festival of easter

Easter, 2024
Isaiah 25:6-9
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Mark 16:1-8
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

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

Happy Easter to you all!  I am so grateful that you are here this morning.  Last night we lit the new fire and the Paschal candle, this morning we shared a delicious potluck breakfast, and when we’re done today we’ll have an Easter Egg hunt after this morning’s service.  There’s something for everyone.  And speaking of something for everyone, did you know that there’s more than one ending to Mark’s gospel?  

Fair warning:  If your faith is based on the inerrancy of scripture, turn away now.  If you don’t know what “inerrancy of scripture” means, then stick around.  But, yeah, there’s an alternate ending to the gospel of Mark.  It’s not really called an “alternate ending,” though.  It’s called “the longer ending.”  And that’s because the shorter ending of Mark is the part we just heard.  It ends with, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”  So, to sum up, there was an empty tomb.  The end.  Happy Easter!

It takes a certain amount of faith to let the story end there, doesn’t it?  Jesus was killed, placed in a tomb, and when his friends came to anoint his body with spices, we was not there.  It takes a lot of faith to be satisfied with that ending.  Which is probably why there is also now that longer ending, where Jesus shows up and talks to people.  The story felt unfinished.

It would be like stopping the Wizard of Oz with Dorothy still stranded in the Emerald City and trusting that she wakes up in Kansas.  Or like the prince not finding Cinderella to have her try on the shoe.  People really want to know how the story ends, and it’s quite a cliffhanger to end the gospel with, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Now, just because that longer ending exists doesn’t mean it is not also true, of course.  The physical resurrection of Jesus is kind of a key feature of our faith . . . obviously.  And that longer ending does line up with the other gospels, so it’s not like somebody just made it up.  But it takes the gift of faith to believe the resurrection at all, and especially when it just ends with the empty tomb.

And it’s really not fair that we get this shorter ending right now, given all the uncertainties in the world.  It feels like we deserve the longer, more certain ending from Mark.  The one where Jesus actually shows up.  Physically.  In person.  Eating fish, and lighting fires on the beach, and telling Peter to feed his sheep, like we have in John’s gospel.  Reminding us that it’s not just an idle tale.  But this year, we get this short ending, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them.”

But here is the good news:  If we only have Mark’s shorter ending to work with—the gospel reading we just heard—we don’t really know where Jesus is.  But we do know where Jesus is not:
In. The.  Tomb.  It’s empty.

And that really is the most important part of the whole story if you ask me.  This shorter ending of Mark really hits on the thing that matters most.  Because Jesus could be many places right now, but we know the one place Jesus is not . . . in the grave.  He is risen!

And that is the good news for you and me.  The news we need to hear right now.  Because as any honest preacher will tell you, we don’t really know where we go when we die.  Yes, yes, of course we trust and we believe in the promises of God in Jesus.  That’s why we call ourselves Christians.  But any certainty about the beyond is . . . beyond our knowing until we get there ourselves.

But what we have heard this morning is the key:  The tomb is empty.  And that means that death is not the last word.  The tomb is empty.  And that means death itself has been destroyed.  The tomb is empty.  And that is why we have faith that we also will rise from the grave on the last day.

And when that happens, on that last day, we will be reunited with all those whom we love, and see no more.  We will be pulled up from our own graves by the one who was the first to rise up from the grave.
All because the tomb is empty.

Alleluia, the Lord is risen.  The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!


Friday, March 29, 2024

YEAR B 2024 good friday

Good Friday, 2024
Isaiah 52:13-53:12
Hebrews 10:16-25
John 18:1-19:42
Psalm 22

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

When we lose someone we love, someone who means the world to us, people often try to make us feel better by saying the only things they can think of saying.  Things like God needed a voice for the choir, or a rose for the garden.  Or that somehow God needed our soulmate more than we did.  These things don’t help, to say the least.  But people don’t know what to say, and they feel like they have to say something.

But they don’t have to say anything.  And in those times of painful grief, it is usually better to say nothing.  There is no positive way to spin having someone ripped out of our lives, having our hearts broken, losing someone who means so much to us.  There is no upside, and there is nothing you can say that will make things better . . . except, “I am here.”

And this is where we sit today on Good Friday.  We have heard once again how Jesus has been killed in a most horrific way.  We have listened to everyone trying to justify their own complicity in this gruesome execution.  We have watched as most of his friends and companions have deserted him in his final hours.  

And in this moment, we want to say something, at least to ourselves.  To remind ourselves that Sunday is coming, because we’ve read ahead in the book.  We want to tell his devastated mother Mary about the rose in God’s garden and the voice in God’s choir.  We want to tell Judas about the redemptive power of forgiveness.  We want to acknowledge to our Jewish brothers and sisters that centuries of anti-semitism and genocide come from this version of the story—from the gospel of John.

We feel like we have to say something.  Just as people throughout history feel like they had to say something.  Find some words that will make everything better.  And that is why theologians come rushing in with all their fancy atonement theories to explain why this horrible story is actually a good thing, or is a necessary thing, or that God’s ways are not our ways.  All of which are just fancy ways of saying God needed another angel for the choir and a rose for the garden.

Sometimes, it is best to say nothing.  Let the story speak for itself.  Ponder our own place within what has happened.  Bring a bag of spices and wrap the body and place it in the ground.  And then sit in silence and wait for God to say something.  Because God will say something.  And if we’re so busy talking and explaining things, we might not be able to hear what it is God is saying.  So for now, let us sit and wait and listen.  Because God will indeed say something, and we don’t want to miss it.


Thursday, March 28, 2024

YEAR B 2024 maundy thursday

Maundy Thursday, 2024
Exodus 12:1-14
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Psalm 116:1, 10-17

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

Maundy Thursday.  We get the word Maundy from the Latin word, maundatum, which is also where we get the words mandatory and mandate.  It’s related to com-mand and commandment.  All these words give us the notion of being told what to to.  What is required of us.  And in the gospel reading we just heard, Jesus gives us a commandment.  He says it’s a new commandment.  

What is that commandment?  Is it to wash one another’s feet?  No.  Is it not to eat pork?  No.  Is it to reject people who don’t think or look like us?  No.  The new commandment from Jesus, the maundatum of Maundy Thursday is to love one another.  Just love one another.  And a necessary part of that commandment is the “one another” part.  Because you cannot do what Jesus commands without other people.  It requires community.  There is no me and Jesus in this commandment.  It requires us.  Together.

Four days ago, on Palm Sunday, when we got to the final verse of our closing hymn, I was suddenly overwhelmed by it all, my eyes teared up, and I had to stop singing.  I just couldn’t do it.  And though I could not sing, the song did not stop.  Because of the community.  Congregational hymns are not solos, thank God!  We sing them together.  And if the priest or anyone else has to stop singing, the song goes on.  When you cannot sing, the community sings for you.  When you cannot pray, the community prays for you.  When you cannot believe, the community believes for you.

Last Sunday, I could not sing, but the song did not stop.  And when one voice stops, the song is changed, though it still goes on.  In our community, in our worship, in our singing, you add a part that only you can add.  A certain flavor, a certain tone, a certain shakiness, a certain wrong note even.  The song is different because you are there!  When you can’t sing, or when you stop singing, the song changes, but it keeps going.  The song goes on, and it was made different because you were there.

At the close of this service, after we have set aside the reserved Sacrament for tomorrow, we will adjourn for a time into the parish hall for an Agape’ meal.  The word “agape’” means love.  Unconditional love.  And the reason churches have that meal on this Maundy Thursday night is to remind ourselves of the commandment we have received.  That we love one another.  As Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

There will come a day when each and every one of us stops singing.  But the song will go on, because we love one another, just as Jesus loves us.


Sunday, March 24, 2024

YEAR B 2024 palm sunday/passion sunday

Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday 2024
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Philippians 2:5-11
Mark 15:1-39
Psalm 31:9-16

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

There is not much a preacher can say, after what we just heard.  Let me start over.  There is not much a preacher should say, after what we just heard.

This is the most bifurcated day of the church year.  Or, maybe it’s the fullest day of the church year.  Because it shows us the full range of the fickle nature of who we are.  Sometimes, we start by saying something encouraging, like Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, and we just keep talking and talking until we find ourselves saying, “Give us Barabbas.”  We might shout “Hosanna,” and we might then shout, “Crucify!”  And the words we choose to shout in this story—and in our lives—really do make a difference.  Because words matter.  And sometimes, what we all need to do is just. stop. talking.  As I said, sometimes, a preacher can say too much.

Everybody in this story has a lot to say.  And the more people say, the worse things get.  They just keep saying things that make the situation more and more dangerous, and no one says “STOP!”  All talking, and no peace.  Give us enough space and we will talk ourselves to death.  

In Mark’s version of this story, the one we just heard, nobody seems able to stop talking.  And once he gets sent to Pilate, Jesus speaks only two times.  First, when Pilate asks him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answers him, “You say so.”  And then all that horrible stuff happens because people can’t stop talking, and . . . Jesus remains silent.  At the end, from the cross, Jesus quotes the opening of Psalm 22 and says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Those are the only two times he speaks.

The 22nd Psalm opens with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And that psalm ends with, “They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that God has done.”

A people yet unborn.  That’s us.  We are those people.  And God’s saving deeds have been made known to us, because people have used their words to make those deeds known to us.  Those are the words we need to hear.  All of us.

When you and I speak, may God give us the wisdom to choose words that are doing that same thing: Making known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that God has done.  Let’s stop with all the words and speak only of this: The saving deeds that God has done.  To God be the glory.


Sunday, March 17, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 5

Lent 5, 2024
Jeremiah 31:31-34
Hebrews 5:5-10
John 12:20-33
Psalm 51:1-13

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

Well, as you can see, this week we have another fine example of John being John in this gospel reading.  There’s a lot of mystical-sounding language that we’re not quite sure we get, and—just like we had a couple weeks ago—John feels the need to explain the one metaphor we do get: that is, Jesus’ being lifted up indicates the way in which he is to die.  But let’s jump in at the beginning . . .

The scene is the Passover Festival, and people have come from all around to celebrate, or to watch the Jewish people celebrate.  (In the same way you don’t need to be Irish to go to the St. Patrick’s Day parade this afternoon.)  It’s, you know, a festival.  So people of a different faith—or of no faith—want to come and partake in the celebration.  That’s why “some Greeks” are there.  And they come to the one disciple who likely spoke Greek, Philip who was from Bethsaida, and they tell him that they wish to see Jesus.  Phillip goes to Andrew, and then they both go to Jesus.  End of story.  Poor Greeks.\

We never hear whether the Greeks got to see Jesus.  It’s like they’re just left in the waiting room and the story moves on.  Strange, right?

And in typical John’s gospel fashion, after Jesus hears that these Greeks want to see him, his answer has nothing to do with their request.  Instead, Jesus starts telling the disciples something else: The hour has come.  To us, that sounds disconnected from the request from the Greeks, but that’s because we forgot about the rest of John’s gospel.  So let’s leave the Greeks reading their magazines in the waiting room and think back to what “the hour” means in John’s gospel.

Early in the second chapter of John, Jesus is at a wedding in Cana, and they run out of wine.  His mother, Mary, asks him to do something about it.  And Jesus says to her, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”  In the 7th chapter of John, Jesus is teaching at a festival and the religious leaders are worried that he is winning over the crowds, and they try to arrest him, “but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.”  And then in the 8th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is teaching in the Temple, and the Pharisees are challenging his authority on technical grounds, “but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.”

And then today, in the 12th chapter of John, Andrew and Philip go and tell Jesus about the Greeks who wish to see him. And Jesus answers them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  This is it, you see?  It’s a turning point in the gospel of John.  Twelve chapters in, and the hour has finally come!  Great!  So . . . um, what exactly does that mean?  We’ve been waiting for the hour of Jesus to get here, and now it’s here, but now what? 

Well there’s the second half of that to look at: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  The Greek word doxazo is the one that gets translated as “glorified.”  (You can probably see that it’s where we get our word, doxology.)  Doxazo.  This word comes up in John’s gospel 23 times!  It is an important concept in John.  Doxazo: Glorified.

So, the hour has finally come for Jesus to be glorified.  But what does that mean?  What does it mean for Jesus to be glorified?  Jesus tells us, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  So it sounds like to be glorified means that Jesus has to die.  But that is certainly not how we think of someone being glorified.  We think of glory as being full of life, with winning and adulation, right?  Gold medals in the Olympics and stuff.  But here we have Jesus saying that he will be glorified by dying.  It’s not right.  You bring honor and glory by living, not by dying.  At least to us.  To be glorified is to grab hold of life, to love life.

But, Jesus contradicts our view: “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  But that’s kind of an unfortunate translation, because it misses the sense of the present tense.  When put that way, it sounds like, if you sacrifice now, some day you will have life.  Which suggests a cosmic retirement account.  But in the original text it is all present tense:  That is, those who love their life now lose it now, and those who reject their life now keep it forever.  But here again, it’s some of that tricky metaphor stuff that John likes to give us.  We’re not sure what it means exactly.  

I like to think of it as a call to turn away from focusing inward.  To be open to others rather than focusing on ourselves.  Not, lay down your life for others so that you will have eternal life some day.  But more like, lay down your life for others right now, because in doing so you will experience the glory of God today.  If you want to truly live, stop focusing on living.  If you want to know how to be alive, well . . . remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  

Have you ever known someone who collects toys simply for the purpose of the monetary value of them?  Closets full of toys still wrapped in cellophane that no one has ever played with.  It’s kind of like that.  You don’t know the true joy of a toy until you are willing to unwrap it and hand it to a child so they can play with it.  And you can’t know the value of truly living if you are sitting in a box on a shelf, afraid that you might lose your life.  Take your life down off that shelf and give it away; then you will know what it means to truly live.

And speaking of sitting in a box on a shelf, let’s go get those Greeks out of the waiting room where we left them.  Back in the 7th chapter of John, there’s this interesting exchange after they fail to arrest Jesus because his hour had not yet come.  Jesus tells them, “You will search for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” They say to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?  What does he mean by saying, ‘You will search for me and you will not find me’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

And right after the gospel reading we heard this morning, the crowd says to Jesus, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah  remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”  Jesus responds with some metaphors about light and darkness, and then, “After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.”

Jesus hides from the crowds.  Jesus hides from the Greeks.  Those who seek him cannot find him.  He goes with his disciples to share a final meal, and then he is handed over to the authorities to be lifted up . . . on the cross.  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”  The Greeks had come to Phillip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  Do they?  Well . . . has Jesus been lifted up?  Yes, and he draws all people to himself.  You, me, Greeks, Pharisees, Phillip, Andrew, and the family that keeps toys wrapped in their original cellophane in the guest room closet.  Jesus draws all people to himself, because his hour has come.

And since we’re all floating around in John’s metaphors and deeply symbolic language already, let’s go ahead and press forward.  If someone comes to you and says, “Sir, Madam, I wish to see Jesus,” what should you do?  You should point to Jesus, who has been lifted up, and draws all people to himself.  If someone asks, “Madam, Sir, where can I see Jesus?”  You can point to the places where he is lifted up: where relationships are restored, where the outcasts are welcomed, where the good news is preached, and at the Altar, in the moment where the bread is lifted up and you say AMEN, which means, let it be so.  All caps.  In italics.  That’s the point where you are saying, “We wish to see Jesus, and by God’s grace he is here.”

Jesus draws all people to himself, because his hour has come and he is lifted up.  Lay down your life, and God will lift you up.  Kneel down in Confession, and God will lift you up in forgiveness.  Go down to the grave, and God will raise you up in glory.  God is always lifting us up, so that God’s name will be glorified.  This is all God’s doing, and it is wonderful in our sight.


Sunday, March 10, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 4

Lent 4, 2024
Numbers 21:4-9
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Ephesians 2:1-10
John 3:14-21

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

So, how about that story we heard from Numbers today?  You know, with the snakes and the pole and everything?  You gotta admit: it’s a little bizarre.  The people have been freed from slavery in Egypt, and they’re out wandering in the desert, and they start whining again to Moses about not having food or a decent place to sleep.  I mean, I get it.  But they’re not remembering what they’ve been freed from.  They were slaves under the Egyptians, and now they’re free.  But they are grumbling.

And so, God seems to say, “You want something to grumble about?  Well here are some snakes to bite you.  Try those on for size!”  And the snakes come and bite the people, and they cry out for mercy, and God tells Moses to make a snake out of metal and put it on a pole, and everyone who looks at the snake is healed. 

Okay, now I have to tip my hand about the snake story.  This is one of those times where we can’t let the facts of the story get in the way of the truth of the story.  I mean, I’m as willing as anyone to say that this story might have happened exactly as we heard it today . . . I mean, God can do anything, right?  But it is definitely one of those times where if we look too closely at the details, we’re going to get a seriously messed up image of God.  Because we’re tempted to come away thinking that, if we complain to God, a lot of us are going to have snakes in our cars tomorrow morning.  And if God sent fiery serpents every time I complained, well, I’d be covered head to toe in snake bites by now.

So, my point is, we can’t get bogged down in how the snakes got there.  Sometimes, in order to make a point, you’ve got to add some details to the story.  You can’t just start off with, “One time, there were these snakes.”   Otherwise, everybody’s first question would be, “Wait, where’d the snakes come from?”  And then you’d have to say, “The snakes are not the point.”  And then people would say, “But snakes don’t just appear all of the sudden like that.”  And then you have to say, “Okay, fine!  GOD sent the snakes.  You happy now?  Can I get back to the point of the story I’m trying to tell you?”

And I know that some people will definitely want to argue about the snakes.  Some people will say that if you don’t believe that God literally sent those snakes, then it’s just a slippery slope till you’re saying Jesus didn’t rise from the grave.  There is no good response to that kind of argument, because . . . it isn’t an argument . . . It’s a lack of faith.  But that’s a story for another time. 

And that’s why we’re now going to leave this story about the snakes and go to today’s Gospel reading . . . Where Jesus also talks about snakes!   You can’t get away from these things, I tell you!

Today’s Gospel starts right out with Jesus recounting the story we were just talking about, saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” so it was necessary for the son of man to be lifted up.  Why did Moses lift up the pole with the serpent attached?  For the healing of the people, right?  That their suffering might be ended.  So that those who stop dwelling on the snakes at their feet—who look to the one lifted up—would be saved.  The point is to look at the one who has been lifted up, not the snakes at their feet.

But, we also want to ask, “Where did the snakes around my feet come from?”  Or, what we really ask is, “Why me, God?  Why am I suffering?”  And here is where I want to say, WHY you are suffering is not the point.  The point is to look at the one who is lifted up, the one who can heal you, the one who brings life and forgiveness and salvation.

But I also know that someone will come along and tell you that you are suffering because God is punishing you.  People will tell you that the reason you are suffering, or are in pain, or are losing a loved one is because God is tired of hearing you whine.  And I will tell you, plain and simple: THAT, my friends, is. a. lie.

How do I know?  Because as we just heard in John 3:17, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  God does not send snakes to torment us.  God sends us salvation through the cross, through the one who is lifted up.  Jesus said:  Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so it was necessary for the son of man to be lifted up, in order that the world might be saved through him.

That’s John 3:17.  John 3:16 has been called “the gospel in a nutshell.”  You’ve seen it at sporting events; you’ve seen it on signs from street preachers.  John 3:16 has a life of its own, because it seems to sum up the Christianity.  Most of us know it by heart, or at least some pieces of it.  How does God love the world?  In this way . . . so that people may not perish but may have eternal life

But . . . we still want an explanation for those snakes around our feet, don’t we?  We want an explanation for why we suffer, and why we have to watch those we love suffer.  And it’s easy to pin it on God, because we expect to be punished, for one reason or another.  In the back of our minds, we think it makes sense to say, “These snakes are biting me because I complained about leaving Egypt.”  We just update it to our present lives, of course.  “I failed that test because I haven’t prayed lately.”  Or, “My kid got sick because I skipped church last week.”  For some reason—and I don’t know why—it helps us make sense of the world when we pin our tragedies on God.  For some reason, we take comfort in thinking that our suffering is from the hand of God.  That God shows love by making our lives miserable.  I hope you can see how ridiculous and terribly sad that is.

John 3:16:  For God so loved the world that . . . God sent snakes to bite people who misbehave?  Nope.  For God so loved the world that God sends tornadoes and cancer to people who forget to pray?  Nope.  God sends mass shooters to punish countries that somehow “take prayer out of the schools?”  Nope again.  For in this way God loved the world:  that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.  God sends the savior, not the snakes.

And then Jesus says, God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not judged; but those who do not believe are judged already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

And you know what I think that last part means?  This idea of being judged already?  I think it means that spending our time looking at the snakes, fearing the serpents, rather than looking to the one who saves us from them.  Those who believe in him are not judged.  But those who do not believe are judged already.  Jesus did not come into the world to judge us.  He is not the snake who bites our feet and causes the sufferings of this life.  He is the one who is lifted up—like the serpent on the pole—to bring healing to the world . . . To all people, in every time and every place.  God sends the savior, not the snakes.

And this same one who is lifted up for our healing is also the one who is lifted up at every Altar where the sacrament is being celebrated.  As the bread of heaven, Jesus comes to heal us.  And, maybe for a few moments, in this time outside of time, God grants us the grace to stop looking at our own suffering and to see the gift of healing that comes through the power of the cross.  For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge the world, but in order that it might be rescued through him.  God does not send the snakes around our feet.  God sends the one who is lifted up for our healing from those snakes around our feet.  May God give us the strength to believe, and to keep our eyes on Jesus, the one who is lifted up, the one who heals us.


Sunday, March 3, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 3

Lent 3, 2024
Exodus 20:1-17
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22
Psalm 19

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

I think one way to understand today’s gospel reading is to view the anger and frustration of Jesus as being about the breakdown of community.  It looks like he’s mad because people have money and animals in the Temple.  But I think we have to look beyond those externals and look at how we got here.  And I think how we got here is because the people forgot that they are a community.  So, to understand that, we have to go back to the beginning of the community.  By which I mean, to the Passover.

If you think back to the stories you learned in Sunday school, or to movies like The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, you’ll remember that God meets Moses in the burning bush, and sends him to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go.”  And then there’s a bunch of plagues used as leverage until at last the angel of death sweeps over the city and kills the first-born sons of everyone who doesn’t have blood on their doorposts.  And where do people get that blood for their doorposts?  From the lamb at the Passover meal.

In the 12th chapter of Exodus, God tells Moses and Aaron how the people are to eat the Passover meal:
Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.

If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor.  You see how this includes everybody?  No one is left behind here.  If I have a lamb and my family cannot eat the whole thing, God requires that I invite in the neighbors, as many neighbors as it takes to eat the entire lamb.  And what does this do?  It creates community.  There are no leftovers, and no one goes hungry, and the people form a community by bonding over food.  We think the point of the Passover meal is to avoid death, but a case could be made that the point is to form a community.  To teach God’s people how to live together as one body.

And then let’s consider this morning’s first reading, also from the book of Exodus.  I’m sure you recognized what we heard as the Ten Commandments.  At first glance, these commandments seem like a hodgepodge of rules, just sort of randomly thrown together.  They certainly don’t seem to carry equal weight: don’t murder . . . and honor your parents?  But here again, it’s not about the specific rules for specific individuals.  No, the Ten Commandments are about community.  God is giving God’s people a set of guardrails for living together.  If you want to be God’s people living in the world together, following these commandments is the way to start that community.  

I mean, just look at how they are structured.  Off the bat, you get instructions for how to gather around the same God.  No other Gods, don’t make idols, keep God’s name holy, keep the sabbath.  And then all the rest are about community.  Don’t kill people (duh), don’t steal, don’t lie about other people, don’t commit adultery.  And then the outliers: honor your parents, and don’t covet your neighbors stuff.  Following these rules together builds a community.  It’s not about individual morality; it is about having a community.  The type of place where, “If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor.”  Nobody is left behind.  We’re in this together.

And, as an aside, I must say that this is why it makes absolutely no sense to post the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms and public spaces.  Because the Ten Commandments are not the basis of the legal system in the United States of America.  And it would be bizarre if they were.  Honoring your father and mother is not part of the Ohio Revised Code.  And, don’t make any idols . . . have you heard of social media influencers?  Don’t work one day every week . . . have you met any Americans?  Don’t covet your neighbor’s possessions . . . do you understand how capitalism works?  Our entire economy is based on coveting what other people have!  If we didn’t covet our neighbors’ goods, the whole system would fall apart!  And then what would we have?  Well . . . community.  We’d have community.  We may want to rethink the idea of putting the Ten Commandments in our courtrooms, is all I’m saying.

So we know that the Passover established a community of people, and we know that the Ten Commandments were intended to teach that community how to live together.  Now flash forward 1400 or 1500 years—depending on how you date things—and we go from the Ten Commandments to this scene with Jesus in the Temple.  A lot has happened in that time.  The Jewish community stopped wandering and built a Temple for the Ark.  That Temple was destroyed and then rebuilt and rebuilt again.  All the commanded sacrifices were now done at the Temple.

By now, there is a very specific and exacting system of how to do things right, a system that was carried out in the Temple, in Jerusalem.  As we see in Luke, 8 days after his birth, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to have him circumcised, and “offered a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”  

I bring that up to remind us that Jesus was born into this system of Temple worship.  These are his people and this is his culture.  And—it is important to remember—when faithful Jews came to the Temple, they could not use Roman coins to buy the animals for sacrifice.  So those money changers were a religious necessity, to convert Roman currency into Temple coins.  Like buying tokens at the arcade or something.  You can’t have a Temple system and follow the Law of Moses without having money changers.

So why does Jesus get angry and upend the entire system?  What’s so bad about what he sees on this day?  Honestly, we don’t know for sure.  But look at what he says.  “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”  A marketplace.  It sounds like the problem is that everything has become transactional.  Consider how back at the first Passover people were told to take their own lamb, one they had raised themselves, and invite over enough people to eat the entire thing.  That’s very different from bringing some coins to buy an animal you’ve never met, so that a priest can slaughter it in a room you’ll never see.  And what’s missing most of all is the communal element of the transaction.  The poor are left behind.  The lonely stay lonely.  You can do all this without ever talking to your neighbor.  It is transactional, a detached exchange: in the words of Jesus, a marketplace.

And then Jesus makes the turn and refers to his own body as the Temple.  Jesus will restore the community around the Temple of the Incarnation.  Around God in the flesh.  No longer disembodied isolating transactions between the people and God, but rather a community in Christ, gathered together around Jesus.  We are this community.  At our best, the Church is the place where no one is left out, no one is left behind.

And we bring our sacrificial offerings to this new Temple of Jesus Christ.  Our time, our talents, and our possessions.  And God does miraculous things with as much as we are willing to surrender of ourselves.  We have the perfect example of this in the ordinary bread and wine that we set on this Altar.  God takes the seemingly mundane and turns it into the body and blood of Jesus, who has been raised up, just as he said.  We don’t know how it happens, but it does.  And you are invited to this feast, because these gifts from God are given for the people of God.  Jesus creates community wherever he goes, and he is here today among us doing exactly that.


Sunday, February 25, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 2

Lent 2, 2024
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Romans 4:13-25
Mark 8:31-38
Psalm 22:22-30

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

So, you’ve heard me preach before.  You know that I am not a fan of bumper sticker theology.  As Will Durst once said, if it fits on the back of a Volkswagen, it’s probably not going to turn the world around.  For the most part, you should ignore what you see on people’s cars.  But there is one exception I think, and it’s the bumper sticker that says, “Let go and let God.”  That’s a good one for us as Christians.  Let go and let God.  I mean, not always of course; it doesn’t apply if you’re hanging by a rope over a canyon.  But when it comes to trusting in God, surrendering to God, letting God do what God does, it is the right approach.

And the reason I bring that up is because I think it kind of fits with the overall theme of today’s lessons.  We’ve got four absolute banger readings here this morning.  Each one could be a sermon in itself.  But let’s start with an interesting thing I learned this week . . .

In the first reading, from Genesis, God visits Abram for the fifth time.  God makes a covenant with Abram to be the father of many nations.  And as a sign of that covenant, Abram’s name is changed to Abraham.  This is the first time in scripture someone gets a new name.  But it’s not just any name.  Adding this “ha” sound to Abram’s name changes everything.  Because God is putting part of God’s own name into Abram’s name.  They are now fused into one.  And when you say the two names together (Abram and Abra-ham) you can see that it is the breath of God that gets added to his name.  This new name not only contains part of God’s name, but it now contains the literal breath of God.  And if Abraham is the father of many nations, then God’s breath—God’s spirit—is also spread out to many nations.  God is enlarging the circle.

And then the Psalm we read together continues this idea.  God “does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty; neither does he hide his face from them; but when they cry to him he hears them.”  No one is left behind, you see?  Enlarging the circle to include the ones we forget or ignore.

And there’s more: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.”  That’s everyone living now.  And, “To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust fall before him.”  That’s everyone who has died.  And,  "They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.”  That’s everyone who has not yet lived.  The biggest circle imaginable, those who were, those who are, and those who are not yet.  It’s literally everybody!

And then we come to Paul and his letter to the Romans.  I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: Paul is doing a little reputational whitewashing when it comes to Abraham’s faithfulness.  Remember how Sarah and Abraham doubted God would provide, and so we got Ishmael, from Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar?  And both Sarah and Abraham laughed when God said she would conceive and bear a son.  Paul makes it sound like Abraham never doubted, never wavered, but that’s not true.  More importantly, even though Abraham doubted, God still came through.  God did as promised, and Sarah bore a son.  They let go and let God.

And that’s part of what bugs me about Paul’s reputational whitewashing.  Because by way of making his argument for faithfulness leading to righteousness, Paul gives all the credit to Abraham, when in fact all credit should go to God.  I get why he does it, but it undermines the more important point of surrendering to God.  Of letting go and letting God.

Anyway, the other point Paul makes here brings us back to the ever-widening circle.  He says that God’s promise rests on grace and is “guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.”  By “adherents to the law,” he means his fellow Jews.  So Paul is saying, God’s promise extends beyond the chosen people, beyond just the Jews.  We’re back to the ever-widening circle of God’s grace to include all people, Jew and Gentile, dead and living and yet to be born.  One way to view it is, the only thing that keeps us from seeing this widening circle is our refusal to let go and let God.

And then we come to our fourth reading this morning, from the gospel of Mark.  This story comes up in Matthew as well as in Mark.  Jesus explains that he must suffer and die and be raised again from the dead.  And Peter tells him this must not happen.  And then Jesus says something like, Get behind me Satan, you are focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things.  So what does that mean?  Focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things?

It means different things for different people, I think.  But at it’s core, it is doing the opposite of the one bumper sticker I like.  You could say it is like saying, “Let go God, and let me.”  Focusing on earthly things rather than heavenly things.  Jesus tells the disciples what must happen.  Tells them the only way that will lead to salvation for all humankind.  Explains that the circle can only include everyone if Jesus dies and rises from the dead.  And Peter says . . . no.  This must never happen.

The way things have to be is not acceptable to Peter, because he has a different plan.  And that plan is that Jesus will destroy the people outside the circle, not rescue them!  In Peter’s mind, Jesus has the wrong script you see?  To Peter, God has enemies.  And far be it from Jesus to save those people!  But the ever-widening circle of God’s grace will include all people, Jew and Gentile, dead and living and yet to be born.  And the only way to rescue the dead is for Jesus to go and get them.

If Peter had been in church last Sunday, he would have heard his own words in the Epistle reading when he says, Jesus “was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey . . .” 

In religious terms, this is called the “harrowing of hell,” . . . which would be a great name for a band.  The harrowing of hell is what Jesus was doing between Good Friday and Easter morning.  There are fantastic depictions of this scene in the Orthodox tradition, where Jesus is pulling Adam and Eve and Abraham and Sarah and everybody else up from their graves.  In order to go and rescue those people, in order to widen the circle to include everybody, Jesus has to die.

But Peter says, no.  This must never happen Jesus.  You need to stay here with us!  You can’t die, just to save those other people.  And Jesus says, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”  You want to stay here and be comfortable.  You want me to write off those who have gone before.  Peter wants Jesus to ignore what we heard in today’s Psalm:  “To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship; all who go down to the dust fall before him.”  Those who have died are included in this widening circle, and Jesus has to go down and get them.  To say no to that . . . well, that’s satan talking.

And maybe that right there is the lesson for us.  Over and over, the disciples are presented with the option to stay where things are comfortable, like on the mountain at the Transfiguration.  Wouldn’t it be great to just stay right here where we are Jesus?  Just you and us, being comfortable and secure and not having to think about those other people?  And over and over Jesus says, no.  This circle needs to be bigger!  Who else can I find?  Who else can I save?  How can I make this the day where everybody lives?!?

And that’s where you and I can think in practical terms, bring it down to how we live in this world that God loves so much.  When we find ourselves thinking something like that, where we hear a voice in our head saying God has redeemed enough people already, set enough captives free, made the circle big enough already . . . well, that’s the voice of satan talking.  The voice of smallness.  The voice that refuses to let go and let God.  Let God do everything God has planned to do from the beginning of time.  Redeem it all!  Redeem them all!  Save every single person that God loves and treasures and calls beloved.

There is room for everybody.  Don’t let satan tell you there isn’t room.  Because God has drawn an infinite circle of salvation, which includes you and me, and everyone who was, and is, and is yet to come.  This circle is meant for everybody.  The circle includes everybody.  Thanks be to God!


Sunday, February 18, 2024

YEAR B 2024 lent 1

Lent 1, 2021
Genesis 9:8-17
1 Peter 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15
Psalm 25:1-9

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

Let’s review what we just heard:  Forty days.  In the wilderness.  With wild animals.  Tempted by satan.  Every one of those things is scary.  With some explanation, every one of those things is something we spend our lives avoiding.  It’s fair to say that someone would probably have to force you to go out and face one of those things, let alone all four at once.  And in today’s gospel reading, the Holy Spirit does exactly that to Jesus.

The way it gets translated in our gospel text is, “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”  That’s pretty close.  But I want you to know that the Greek word that becomes “drove” in that sentence is actually ekballo.  Which doesn’t help yet, but hang on.   Ballo is the Greek word that means “to throw.”  When you add the prefix ek, which means “out,” you get ekballo, to throw out.  So, immediately after his baptism, the Spirit throws Jesus out into the wilderness.  What that looks like, we don’t know, but it definitely suggests that Jesus didn’t decide to take a walk in the woods, right?

And then, let’s go through that list of four scary things I started with.  On the face of it, forty days is a long time, yes, but is it scary?  Does it drive fear into your heart?  I mean, for little children, the phrase “wait forty minutes” brings howls of protest.  For the most part, as adults, we’re pretty okay with forty days. 

But it’s important to look at the number forty from a symbolic perspective, which is what the readers of Mark’s gospel would bring to it.  For forty days and nights it rained until every living thing was killed except Noah and his family.  For forty years the Israelites wandered in the desert without a home.  Moses was on the mountain alone with God for 40 days when he received the Ten Commandments.  Twice!  Jonah warned the people of Ninevah for forty days that God would destroy their city.  Ezekiel laid on His right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah's sins. Elijah went 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb.  Our season of Lent lasts for forty days (minus Sundays).  And I feel compelled to point out that a healthy pregnancy typically lasts for forty weeks.  Forty is a significant number.  The number forty is usually connected to a time of testing, or endurance, or judgement, or all of the above.  So yes, forty days is a fearful amount of time.

Second scary thing: In the wilderness.  For me—kind of a city boy—this one is right out.  Forty minutes in the wild is 30 minutes too long for me.  As I’ve told you before, I’m what the comedian Jim Gaffagan calls, “indoorsy.”  But for those of you who enjoy being out in nature, I just want to remind you that the wilderness of Jesus’ time and place is not the peaceful parks of Ohio.  You’ve seen pictures or videos, I’m sure, of the desert places around Israel.  Not exactly a walk in Walden woods.  Plus, since there were fewer than 300 million people on the planet at the time, wilderness really meant wilderness.

Third scary thing: With wild animals.  I don’t really need to say much about that, do I?  I mean, you’ve seen Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, right?  Wild animals means exactly that.  There’s no lion tamer or matador walking in front of Jesus.  It’s just Jesus, and the wild animals in the wilderness for forty days until we remember, oh yeah . . . 

Tempted by Satan.  This fourth one is a little trickier, because we don’t really know what is meant by the word “satan.”  (But that’s a discussion for anther time.)  The main thing to remember is that it isn’t a man in a red suit with horns and a pitchfork (no matter what you may have read in Dante’s “Inferno” or seen in Renaissance paintings).  Nonetheless, tempted by satan would certainly be something Jesus would not be eager to run out and do.  

So.  Forty days.  In the wilderness.  With wild animals.  Tempted by satan.  And then we get the one good thing here: and the angels waited on him.  Now THAT is an unfortunate translation, especially given our cultural baggage.  Because, what do you picture?  A bunch of creatures with wings and white robes, with a towel over their arm, bringing Jesus silver trays filled with pina coladas, right?  Well, it’s what I picture, anyway.  But two Greek words we need to look at here.  (Who knew this would turn into a Greek class?)  

The word diakanoun means “ministered.”  We ran into it a couple weeks ago with the healing of Peter’s mother in law.  The second word is angello, which always gets translated as “angels,” which makes us think of chubby little babies with wings, but which actually means “messengers of God.”  We never get a reliable description of angels, but we each carry our own picture in our heads, either from Hallmark cards or artwork we’ve seen.  We don’t know what angels look like; we only know that they are messengers of God.  So, that phrase, “the angels waited on him,” should really say something more like, “the messengers of God ministered to him.”  And that’s important, for a reason we’ll get to in a minute.

To catch us up, then, immediately after his baptism, Jesus is thrown out into the desert for forty days with wild beasts, tempted by satan, and the messengers of God ministered to him.  And what happens after that?  Then, Jesus goes to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Now I want to revisit the specific dangers of those four things that Jesus faced.  You could say that forty days is a dangerous time.  And the wilderness is a dangerous place.  And wild beasts are physical danger.  And being tempted by satan is a mental and spiritual danger.  So, dangerous time and place, and dangerous physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Immediately after his baptism, all that Jesus is as a person is in danger.  And, in the midst of this, messengers of God ministered to him.  And then, Jesus went out, proclaiming the good news of God.

Each one of us faces threats in our lives.  Not usually all at once, or hopefully not.  But there are times for all of us when we are under assault by the dangers of time and place, where our physical, mental, and spiritual health are at risk.  I mean, just look around.  Sometimes those dangers are caused by others; sometimes they are caused by our own actions.  And sometimes they happen just because the world is a dangerous place to live.  But, thanks be to God, we have messengers of God who minister to us in our dark times.  St. Timothy’s Church is a place where you can find these messengers of God.

I’ve never been a fan of telling people to do what Jesus does.  You know, asking yourself, What Would Jesus Do?  Because you and I are not Jesus (in case you haven’t noticed).  But I am always a fan of pointing out instances where we can follow Jesus, where he shows us the way.  And today’s gospel lesson is just one such time.  And here’s what I mean by that.

After a baptism, it would be really nice to just stay over there by the font.  Safe and sound in the knowledge that God has redeemed us through the waters of baptism, and claimed us as God’s own child.  But then, the Spirit throws us out into the dangerous place of daily life, to live in the dangerous times into which we are born.  Along the way, there will be challenges to our physical well being, our mental health, and our spirituality.  But all along the way, we are ministered to by the messengers of God.  And, like Jesus, that is what gives us the strength to go out into the world, proclaiming the good news of God.

As we continue these forty days of Lent together, may God continue to send messengers to minster to each of us, to carry us through the hardships of our lives, so that we too can continue to proclaim the good news of God’s love for the world.

We all face challenges.  But we are not alone.  Because the messengers of God minister to us, and give us the strength to proclaim the good news of God.  We are not alone, and we have a savior.  And that makes all the difference.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

YEAR B 2024 ash wednesday

Ash Wednesday, 2024
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
Psalm 103:8-14
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

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

Tonight, you and I are being given the gift of being reminded that we will die.  I know that sounds flippant; but I’m serious.  It is a gift to be reminded that you will die.  Today is Ash Wednesday, but as you know it is also St. Valentine’s Day, and also St. Cyril’s Day.  We don’t know much about St. Valentine.  In fact, there is no proof that such a person ever existed.  We do however know things about St. Cyril.  For example, he created the Cyrillic alphabet, which is named after him.  St. Cyril did some amazing things with his life, and then he died.

And we are back to the idea that knowing you will die impacts how you will live.  That is the main point of this day, I think.  Knowing you only have so many days, how will you spend them?

I’ve talked about this before on Ash Wednesday, but it bears repeating.  Since we know we will die, it impacts how we live.  Knowing you would live forever is a curse.  Look at Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”  Or look at Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day.”  Knowing you would live forever—that you would never die—would most likely turn you into a horrible person.  Because nothing matters.  There are no guardrails.  There is no time limit.  You just . . . are.  Forever.  And I would be willing to bet money it would make every single one of us into a horrible person.  Which then suggests the opposite is also true.

On some level, people do good things because they know they won’t be here forever.  Look at all the medical wings at hospitals that are named after people.  Look at the names of the memorial funds in our endowment.  People know they will one day die, and so they want to make a difference while they can.  Because they won’t be here forever.  I mean, the whole reason Ebeneezer Scrooge has his change of heart is because he sees his own tombstone!

So, we’re back to brass tacks.  You have come here tonight to be reminded that you are going to die—even if you didn’t realize that’s why you came here tonight.  And so that raises the question, knowing you will die, how shall you live?  I don’t expect an answer to that question, but I want you to ask it of yourself in this season of Lent.  Knowing I will one day die, how then shall I live?

But I also want you to follow up that question with another question.  Knowing you will live again, how then will you die?  Because for us as Christians, death is not the end of the story.  Yes, we all will one day go down to the grave.  But because we worship a God of resurrection, there is a part two to our stories.  An epilogue, you might say.  Because some day, some how, God is going to call us up from those graves.  Call us up to a resurrected life in a new heaven and a new earth.  

Yes, we are reminded on this day that we will die.  But, because of Jesus, we are also reminded that we will live again.  We can face death with the assurance that there is more.  Though we are dust and will return to dust, that is not the end of the story.  There is more to it.  Because with God, there is always more to the story.  Yes, we are mortal; but we worship a God who is beyond mortality.  One who continues to make all things new.  Even dust.


Monday, February 12, 2024

YEAR B 2024 last epiphany

Last Epiphany, 2024
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9
Psalm 50:1-6

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

So today is what we call, The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, which this year is also the sixth Sunday after Epiphany.  As always, Epiphany was twelve days after Christmas, or, you know, January 6th.  There are certain times in the church year where we count time in relationship to significant days that have passed.  The Sundays after Epiphany is one.  The season after Pentecost is another one.  (Think, all the green stuff.)

Epiphany is sometimes called the season of light, because of the star that led the Magi to the manger.  And the end of Epiphany is yet another time where the church is about to be intentionally out-of-step with the world.  The biggest example of that rebellion is at Christmas; when the world is at its darkest—in our hemisphere—we are talking about light.  (That’s not unique to Christianity of course, since much of our Christmas symbolism is lifted straight out of pagan traditions.)  But the point is, in the midst of darkness, we talk about light.  There’s a poetic balance in this.

And now, this week, we will enter into the season of Lent.  Funny thing, as the days are growing longer, and a rodent in Pennsylvania has predicted our weather patterns, the church makes a decisive move into darkness, or, contemplation.  The world is turning toward light and rebirth, and we start focusing on mortality and sinfulness.  There’s a poetic balance in this too.

There’s a tradition in the church during Lent to downplay the beautiful things.  We figuratively “bury” the Alleluia; we usually cover all the shiny crosses; we stop all the chanting and singing the Gloria.  In a sense, we focus on the earthiness of things, the absence of glory.  And to get us ready for that journey into a somber six weeks, we get today’s gospel reading:  What we commonly call, The Transfiguration of Jesus.  And just to make things more confusing, I want to note we observe the Feast of Transfiguration on August 6th, along with the Catholic and Orthodox churches, while Lutherans and Methodists are celebrating that feast today.  So, for us, this is not Transfiguration Sunday, and yet, we still get this gospel reading about the Transfiguration.  We press on . . .

The reason I started with all that church year light and dark stuff is because I want to be sure we notice the joining of glory and earthly in this gospel text.  If I ask you what you noticed about that story, you’ll probably say the part where Jesus was all glowing more brightly than anyone could have bleached a cloth.  Or, you might remember that Moses and Elijah are suddenly standing next to him.  Or, if you’re more practically minded, you were wondering where exactly Peter was going to get a hammer and nails, let alone wood to build three dwellings on top of a desert mountain.  

But, really, the most startling thing has to be Moses and Elijah and the Transfiguration of Jesus, right?  Jesus is revealed in all his glory, standing next to Moses and Elijah, two of God’s most celebrated servants, heroes of the faith.  It’s almost like heaven has come down to the top of this mountain, and the disciples are there to witness it.  The glory of Jesus is revealed!  Such a vision!  But, the message they get is not, “Behold the glory of the Lord!”  The message is not, “Check out this vision of awesomeness!”  No, the message they get is, “Listen to him.” It’s like someone takes you to the Massillon Museum and says, “Listen to these paintings!”  Or, "Come on up to the Altar and listen to these statues!"  What is going on here?

And the simple answer is, the disciples are really good at watching, but not so good at listening.  In Mark’s gospel, over and over Jesus says, “Let those who have ears listen.”  He says that like five times.  Why?  Well, here’s why:  Every time Jesus tries to tell the disciples something, they either don’t get it, or they say they don’t want to hear it.  Just a few verses before this reading, Jesus tells his disciples that he must suffer and die, and Peter takes him aside and rebukes him, saying, this must never happen.  And now, next thing you know, they’re up on the mountain with a loud voice saying, “Listen to him.”  Listen.

But up on that mountain, the disciples see the glory of Jesus!  Brighter than bright.  Moses and Elijah.  Let’s build some houses and stay right here where everything is beautiful.  They love the glory of Jesus, and they don’t want to hear about any suffering.  And then—poof—everything is back to normal, and the disciples are alone with Jesus, standing on the mountain.  No glory, no Moses and Elijah, just them and Jesus.  And then they come back down the mountain, and Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they saw until he has risen from the dead.  

Now consider this for a moment . . . If that experience up on the mountain, with Moses and Elijah and the glorious Jesus was a glimpse of heaven, then Jesus is now coming down from heaven.  You could almost put it like this:  for us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.  Jesus is coming down the mountain to where you and I are, because we cannot climb the mountain to meet him.  We can’t go up, so Jesus is coming down to get us.  And guess what?  He brings his glory with him.  Jesus doesn’t stop being God when he comes down the mountain.  It’s not like a magic switch went on and off up there on the mountain.  Jesus is still Jesus.

But, like the disciples, we naturally prefer the glory to the suffering and death.  We are all very good at pretending death can be kept away, or avoided.  Easter is a lot better than Good Friday.  We’d prefer happy days every day, if you don’t mind, Jesus.  Fortunately, for us, it’s not an either/or kind of thing.  Jesus is truly God and truly man.  And by going to the grave for us, Jesus overcomes the grave for us.  We can’t get to Easter without going through Good Friday.  And Jesus doesn’t get to the salvation of all without dying a real death himself.  

So here’s something to ponder as we enter into Lent:  We typically cover the beautiful shiny objects during this contemplative season, but they’re still there.  Still beautiful, still glorious.  Jesus comes down the mountain with the disciples to eat his meals and take baths in the river, but he is still God.  Still beautiful, still glorious.  The glory is still there, though hidden, and that voice tells us to stop looking and listen.  Listen to Jesus.

Jesus was transfigured in heavenly glory on the mountain, yes.  But more importantly, for us, and for our salvation, he came down that mountain, so that we might share in his victory over the grave.  May God give us the grace to listen to this beloved son, and to trust in what he says:  that he has brought —and continues to bring—life out of death, freedom to the prisoners, new life to those who are dead in sin.  Jesus is still speaking.  May God give us the grace to listen to him.


Sunday, February 4, 2024

YEAR B 2024 epiphany 5

Epiphany 5, 2024
Isaiah 40:21-31
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Mark 1:29-39

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

There’s trouble in the kitchen.  It’s not easy to hear.  But there is trouble in the kitchen.  In a culture that prides itself on hospitality, this is a very big problem.  People come to visit.  People you’ve never even met.  You want to show hospitality, to be gracious hosts, to show them love and compassion and the best you have to offer.  But there is trouble in the kitchen.  This is not the way you want it to be.  You may never get a chance to show them your best side, because there is trouble in the kitchen.

Back in Jesus’ day, gender roles were . . . gender roles.  People had their place in society, and in the home.  Simon’s Mother in Law would be expected to provide food for any guests, whoever they may be.  And she would have taken pride in that.  Simon is bringing guests to the house—one them happens to be God in the flesh—and serving them food would have been her moment to shine.  Even if she didn’t know they were coming, even if she didn’t  know who was coming, this would be Simon’s mother in law’s moment to be lifted up.  To take her rightful place of glory.  To do what she does best.  But there is trouble in the kitchen.

The hostess has a fever.  She is not well.  What should be a feast is not going to happen because she simply cannot do it.  She lacks the health to put on a proper meal.  Maybe there’s some food people could scrounge up in the cupboards, but it’s not the same.  

But then what happens?  Because of the people who love her, Jesus comes to her.  As we heard, “they told him about her at once.”  Does Jesus say, “Let’s go eat somewhere else”?  No.  Instead, “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.”  He lifted her up.  He restored her to her rightful place in the community.  A place of pride in her time.  She is not ignored or condemned because there is trouble in the kitchen.  No, she is lifted up and healed and given new life.  And then, what does she do?  She steps back into her dignified place, as the one who serves guests in her home.

To be clear, she is not healed because Jesus needs a sandwich.  She is healed because she is beloved.  And her response to being healed and beloved is to serve.  To serve Jesus and God’s people.

And just think of all the ways she could have responded once the fever left her.  She might understandably have said, I appreciate feeling better, but why don’t you go visit someone who hasn’t been sick with a fever.  It’s great that she has been healed, of course, but she’s probably exhausted from being sick.  You’d expect her to send them all away and go back to bed.

But in her gratitude, she begins to serve them.  Is the gratitude for the healing?  Maybe.  But I think it’s probably even more true that her gratitude is for being restored to her particular ministry.  To be able to step into the place of pride in being a good hostess.  To be able to exercise her unique gift of hospitality.  The trouble in the kitchen has been transformed into a place of ministry with gratitude for the healing hand of Jesus.

Our words hospital and hospitality are similar for a reason.  They both come from the idea of shelter for the needy.  Granted serving in the emergency room seems a long way from serving by taking coats and offering beverages.  But is it really?  When we offer hospitality to our guests, we are offering shelter.  And respite.  And a place away from the cares and concerns of the world.  Sometimes it is for healing our guests, as in a hospital setting.  And sometimes it is because we have been healed by the loving touch of Jesus.

We serve others because we ourselves have been healed.  We offer hospitality because we ourselves have been sheltered.  And we love our neighbors because we ourselves have been loved.  There doesn’t need to be trouble in the kitchen because Jesus takes us by the hand, and we too can serve our guests with gratitude.  We just have to see it for what it is:  We welcome others because we have been welcomed.


Sunday, January 21, 2024

YEAR B 2024 epiphany 3

Epiphany 3, 2024
Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62:6-14
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20

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

First off, I want to acknowledge that—taken out of context—the Epistle readings from 1 Corinthians the past two weeks have been really bizarre.  I just want you to know that I also notice that, and maybe some day we’ll have some conversations about those readings.  But as my Greek professor used to say, “Sometimes the problem isn’t you; sometimes the problem is Paul.”  For today though, we’ve only got so much time, so let’s talk sports . . .

It was a very big deal for the city of Massillon when the Tigers won the state championship in November.  Massillon has had very good teams for a long time, and in 2023 they finally won the state championship.  It was a real boost for the city and the school.  Every sports fan loves when their team wins the big championship game.  As a lifelong Buffalo Bills fan, I am unfamiliar with this feeling.

But how do you get to the championship game?  By having a good record, right?  And you get a good record by winning individual games.  And you win individual games by being the better team, because you have better players.  And the way you get better players is through daily practices and workouts and conditioning and all of that.  So, what really gets you to a championship win is the day-in, day-out drudgery of workouts and practices.  It’s that way for most things.  Like when someone asks, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?"  And the answer is “practice practice practice.”

And, you know, deep down, we don’t want for that to be true.  We want Cinderella stories, and underdogs, and surprise upsets.  We want to see the drama, the heart-stopping come-from-behind unexpected victory.  Like when backup quarterback Frank Reich led my Buffalo Bills to the largest comeback in NFL history.  That’s what we remember, rather than the long slow steady drip of days spent working out and running drills. 

We have this tendency in everything, when you think about it.  We want our political candidate to win by a landslide, rather than simply getting enough votes.  We remember the story of the firefighters who dramatically rescue the family from their burning house, but having a fire extinguisher near your stove isn’t exactly front-page news.  We remember the big splashy meals at Thanksgiving or Anniversaries out, but it is the daily meals of pasta or grilled cheese that actually sustain us over the course of the year.  What we remember is not the steady drip of sustenance; what we remember is the giant supposedly life-changing moments that are a flash in the pan.

So, in today’s first reading, from the book of Jonah, God sends Jonah to the city of Ninevah, “an exceedingly large city, a three days' walk across.”    Jonah walks the streets proclaiming utter destruction in forty days.  Jonah, one man, walking through an exceedingly large city, telling people to repent.  Imagine the insurmountable task here.  With no bullhorn, no twitter account, no conceivable way to tell all these people to change their ways.  

But then we hear, “the people of Ninevah proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.  When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”  Hooray!!!!  Just in the nick of time!  And their story gets passed down to us because it is so dramatic, like a hail Mary pass in the closing seconds.  We love this kind of story, don’t we?  A huge city saved from the brink of disaster.  People slapping each other on the back, saying “Well THAT was a close one,” and heading off to the pub to celebrate.

We.  Love.  Drama.  I know, we all say we prefer a steady stable world where things happen in small predictable ways, but come on.  Nobody really enjoys life-insurance actuary tables.  Not even people who work with actuary tables.  We need stability and predictability in order to have peace in our lives, it’s true.  But we also need a little splashy drama to keep life interesting.  All of which leads me to today’s Gospel reading, from the book of Mark.

As you may recall from a couple weeks ago, Mark’s Gospel jumps right in with Jesus’ being baptized.  No shepherds, no angels, no wisemen.  Jesus gets baptized, is pushed off into the desert, and then suddenly is walking by the Sea of Galilee calling his first disciples, as we heard in today’s reading.  We’re not even out of the first chapter yet, and Jesus has already been baptized, tempted by Satan, and called four out of 12 disciples.  In Mark’s gospel, things happen fast.  And that makes for a good story.  A dramatic story.  A story you remember.

But let’s stop for a moment to consider things from the disciples’ perspective here.  Simon, Andrew, James, and John are all fishermen.  Though we like to imagine them as entrepreneurs, out there catching fish and selling them for what the market will bear, it didn’t work that way at all.  First off, the Emperor owned the lake, and if you wanted to get fish out of it, you had to sign a lease, which meant agreeing to give the majority of what you caught to the syndicate, who would then pass it up the chain in the form of taxes.  A fisherman in Jesus’ time was more like a peasant farmer than like a tuna-boat operator.  So, the first thing to remember is, these guys were not businessmen.

Secondly, these four have no idea who Jesus is.  You and I know the story, and we read back into it wearing our Resurrection Goggles.  But these fishermen are working along, catching fish and mending nets, and this guy walks by and says “follow me,” and they follow him.  I hate to sound cynical, but this is ridiculous!  Again, we tend to imagine the disciples carefully considering the offer, and then reasonably concluding that they should give up their business and follow the Savior of the world.  But, we need to remember, they have no idea how the story ends.  They have not seen one miracle, one healing, one anything.  And yet they drop their nets and follow him.  They walk away from the predictable drudgery of their lives to follow someone they just met.  They leave their families behind and start following a stranger passing along the shore.

And.  We.  Love.  This!  We love it so much that we want to have a story like this for ourselves, and some of us do.  We love hearing the testimony of friends who have big dramatic conversions.  We want to hear stories from people who once were lost, but now are found, were blind but now they see.

Lots of preachers use this text to make people uncertain whether their conversion to Jesus was dramatic enough.  I’ve heard them do it!  How can you know you are saved if you haven’t given up everything to follow Jesus?  How can you know you’re truly following Jesus if you haven’t dropped your net, forsaking your friends and family to begin a new life following Jesus?  If you don’t have a detailed story called The Exact Day I Got Saved, how can you be sure?  . . . Which leads us back to sports talk.

We remember the big dramatic championship game.  But what wins the season is the slow steady drip of ten yards at a time, one quarter at a time.  We remember the big splashy once-a-year meals by candlelight or in fancy restaurants, but what sustains us is the regular, predictable nightly meals of home-made soups and boring casseroles.  We remember the exciting stories of firefighters saving families from near-death disasters, but what keeps us safe is changing the batteries in our smoke detectors.  And, though we love to hear a story about some former drug-addict criminal who is now a missionary overseas, what keeps the gospel alive is the steady day-to-day conviction of people who believe just a little bit more than they don’t believe.  

The mark of faith is not how dramatic your conversion was.  The mark of faith is the slow steady drip of one day at a time, one decision at a time, one daily choice to remember your baptism, and to know that Jesus has called you to follow him on the path that leads to life.  We are suckers for a big conversion story, sure.  But you do not need to have a big conversion of faith in order to know that you are loved.  You simply need to reach out your hands and receive the one who gives us his body and blood: the slow steady drip of bread and wine, week by week, year by year, which sustains us over the course of our lives.  The reassurance that you are already forgiven and already loved, in the most dramatic way imaginable. 

Amen.  (Go Bills.)