I recently heard some older people complain about the younger generation. They said the younger generation does not work as hard as they did. The younger generation doesn’t take financial responsibility. The younger generation does not behave as they should. The younger generation relies too much on their parents. That last complaint got a lot of press recently when the parents of a 30 year old took their son to court and had him evicted from their house. The son had lived in the house for eight years as an adult and despite several efforts to get him to leave, the son was still there. A judge agreed with them and the son was forced to move out. Some would suggest that this is an example that millennials are unable to live independently. In 2001, Time Magazine wrote, “They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial.” I remember similar things being said about my generation when I was in college. Older people at that time complained about young men having long hair. They complained about hippies and communes. They complained about the peace movement. Complaints about the younger generation have existed forever. In the 4th century BC, Aristotle wrote that “(Young people) think they know everything, and are always quite sure about it.” Parents frequently complain about the excuses that their children give when something goes wrong. My brother started it. He looked at me funny. It wasn’t me, it was the dog that did it. Blaming our problems on someone else or giving excuses isn’t new either. Today, I ask you to ponder times that you might have made excuses for your bad behavior, most especially I would ask you to think about times that you have made excuses for your sins, for your failure to follow God’s will. Excuses have been given since the beginning of humankind. In our first reading, Adam and Eve gave excuses to God for their behavior. The first sign from Adam of his sin is that he tried to hide from God. He told God that he was hiding because he was naked. Of course, God already knew that. God knew that Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit. But let us listen to the excuses that both Adam and Eve had for their behavior. The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” Neither Adam nor Eve was responsible for what had happened. I know that people keep secrets as a way to surprise another person. But often, hiding something that we have done is a sign that we have committed a wrongdoing, we have sinned. If you ever find yourself hiding an act from someone, then you should at least question yourself, ask yourself why. Am I ashamed of what I have done? Am I concerned that the outcome would be bad if other people found out what I had done? And how about excuses. Do we ever give ourselves a free pass for our sins? We may blame another person for our own actions. Or we may blame our sins on some uncontrollable situation. Someone gave me this book titled “Get over yourself; God’s here!” By Kate Moorehead. In the introduction priest Kate reminds us of all the excuses we give. For example, some people talk about their issues. In today’s culture, it is acceptable to say, I have issues rather than to say I have done something wrong. Another word we use is mistakes. I just made a mistake as if we did something we really didn’t mean to do. If it is a sin we have committed wouldn’t it be better to say, I screwed up rather than to say I made a mistake. Mistake implies that we didn’t do it on purpose. Some people speak about an addiction as if it is something that cannot be controlled or dealt with. In my time the most famous excuse for a sin is the one Flip Wilson made popular, “The devil made me do it”. I am here to suggest that admitting we have sinned is the best first step towards dealing with that sin. I don’t care if all you do is say to yourself, I committed a sin and I was wrong. Of course, you may choose to say something to a person that you have wronged and offer an apology. In the Episcopal tradition, we confess our sins in community, jointly saying the confession each Sunday and receiving an absolution from the priest. The risk that we run when we confess our sins together is that we may not identify our specific sin to ourselves. We may just say God, I am sorry for what I have done wrong. While that is good, it may not help us to deal clearly with a sin that we have committed over and over again. By the way, you always have the option of going to a priest for a private confession. Several times, I have had people come to me for a private meeting to share a specific sin and ask for God’s forgives for that sin and to seek God’s help in changing their behavior. It really isn’t as hard as you might think. Today, I ask you to identify your sin by that name not with some excuse. Adam and Eve were punished for their sin. Not only were they banished from the Garden of Eden but they were also told they would experience pain, suffering and their work would be difficult. It would be hard for them to scratch out a living on the hard soil. It is possible that God will punish us for our sins. That may be reason enough for us to stay on the straight and narrow, to stay away from those sins that haunt us. But an even better reason for us to admit to our sins and to commit to stop those sins is the benefit of living in God’s grace. Do you remember that Adam hid from God after he had eaten from the forbidden fruit. Our sins can be something that causes us shame. It may cause us to hide from God or even to hide what we do from other people. Wouldn’t life be so much better if we find a way to live in God’s love, to live in the light instead of in the darkness? There is good news in the rest of our scripture readings for today. It is found in the forgiveness that God is always prepared to offer us. Forgiveness is found in the Psalm. The Psalmist wrote that we call out to God from the depths of our failure, from our grief at what we have done and from our wish to be reunited with God. And God responds. We say, “For there is forgiveness with you”. In another verse we hear that “for with the Lord there is mercy; With him there is plenteous redemption, and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.” Not only do we know of God’s forgiveness but we have a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus, the one who redeemed us from all of our sins. Isn’t that the best of reason to forgo our sins, to admit to our faults and to strive to live all of our lives in Jesus. For we know that God loves us and we know that Jesus loves us and came to redeem us for our sins. Adam was ashamed and hid from God. Both Adam and Eve tried to place the blame for their choices on someone else. As we listen to their story, we realize that not much has changed. There is a little bit of Adam and Eve in all of us. Instead of being ashamed, let us turn our faces to God and say, God I am sorry for my wrongs. God, lift me up and take me from this dark place. In the reading from Corinthians we hear that good news in another way, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” God is working in us and for us all the time. All we need is to accept God’s work in us, to let that love and grace come in. Amen.
Today’s gospel is rich in meaning. It is often referred to as “Jesus Prays for his Disciples.” Personally, I wish that the next verse had been included in our reading. That verses says, “do not ask for these only,(meaning the disciples) but also for those who come after who will believe in me through their word.” Those coming after, are you and me. Jesus is praying for us.
Twenty-nine years ago in November I became a deacon. To reach this goal I had to study for four years at my own expense for a job that didn't pay. Yet I did this gladly as I knew that this was my calling. The word Deacon comes from the Greek and means one who serves. Long before my ordination and the right to the title of Deacon I was a deacon, just as long before I was married I was in love with Betsy.
I grew up in Philadelphia. My parents, siblings and grandparents all lived in a small house with only one bathroom. I grew up in the Catholic Church. Growing up I learned that we are all called to be Christ to one another. We are called to break down barriers, to reach out and to serve.
The Hymn “Anthem” speaks of this as we sing
We Are Called, We Are Chosen.
We are promised to tomorrow,
while we are for him today.
We are sign, we are wonder.
We are sower, we are seed.
We are harvest, we are hunger.
We are question, we are creed.
I have learned over the years that most of us prefer to live in boxes we create for ourselves. We believe these boxes provide us with safety, that they can protect us; but that is illusion I learned that lesson again this year. I was near death and during that time I was struck by the fact that we take millions of things for granted each day. Last Sunday as I listened to Fr Bob’s sermon I looked out the window and saw a lone bird on a wire. The bird became a symbol to me of our freedom. Our ability to make choices. Choices that can demonstrate our commitment to the belief that we are Christ to one another.
In our baptism we are anointed and we pledge to resist evil, to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves and to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being. It is hard to keep these vows if we are locked in a box of our own making. However, if we remember that we are children of God and that as such we are Christ’s siblings and that God has given us the freedom to make choices then how can we do less than strive to live up to these vows every day and to also thank God for all that he has given us. We need to work each day to be the person God knows we can be.
In formation for the Diaconate we learned that every Gospel reading is a call to action. We have the freedom to serve others. We have God’s love. We need to leave our boxes behind and serve others. The service does not always need to be grandiose. We might serve by acts of kindness, by helping our neighbors, by being more aware and looking around to see what needs to be done. It might be calling a fellow parishioner, volunteering in a prison, teaching a class, visiting someone in the hospital. The gesture might not seem like much to us but it would be a big deal to those who are in need.
In my final interview with the bishop before my ordination, he asked me what if I were kept from taking the final step because something had been discovered in my past that prohibited my ordination. The answer was easy. It would not matter because a deacon is a person who serves and regardless of the formality I would always serve God. I am reminded of this today, my last day as a formal deacon, because even though I am retiring I am not quitting. I will continue to serve God.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my wife Betsy. She has stood by me through good times and bad. She did not desert me in the days when I drank. She has supported me in my work. Thank you. Betsy. I also want to thank Fr. Bob and all of you here at Transfiguration. As I said, I may be retiring but I am not leaving. My call to action has merely changed.