This past Tuesday, we remembered those who died in the 9-11 disaster. We remembered people who died in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania. We remembered those first responders who came immediately to help those who where affected, putting their lives at risk. We remember that first responders are still impacted by their efforts on 9-11. We remembered those who lost loved ones, friends and colleagues.
As I watched the news on Tuesday, one of the television stations aired a segment on Pat Tillman. I am sure you all know that Pat Tillman was a defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals who decided after 9-11 to serve in the military. Tillman died in a battle in 2004 in Afghanistan. We are thankful for his patriotism, his commitment to defend the United States and we are thankful for his sacrifice. I continue to be amazed by his decision to give up a lucrative football career to serve in the military. Clearly, his desire to protect our country was stronger than his joy in playing football and his wish to make money.
As the newscast continued, I watched an interview conducted with Pat Tillman the day after 9-11. You can see in his face and hear in his words the resolve to do something in response to the disaster. Players and coaches on that Cardinals team later would say they knew something significant had changed in Tillman. They could tell by his words and his look. They were not surprised when he left his football career behind him. Here is part of what he said,
"My great-grandfather was in Pearl Harbor and a lot of my family has given up, you know everything, and has gone and fought in wars. And I really haven’t done a damn thing, as far as laying myself on the line like that, and so I have a great deal of respect for those that have, and what the flag stands for.” Pat Tillman showed his resolve and determination that day.
Our lessons for today, remind us that we are called to have dedication and commitment to follow Jesus Christ. We are asked to have resolve. We are asked to stay the course even though our lives may be difficult. We are asked to follow the example that Jesus gave to us.
You may remember that in last week’s readings, I spoke about persistence. The characters mentioned in Scripture were persistent in their prayers to God. It seems to me that this week is a continuation of that sense of determination. Let us be resolved to follow Jesus.
The phrase that most touched me in Isaiah today is the expression, “therefore I have set my face like flint”. Flint, of course, is a hard stone. It was used as a tool, as an arrow by the Native Americans, and it was struck to start a fire. In the image of a person setting a face like flint we understand the determination that individual has. I am reminded of a point in Luke’s gospel where Jesus decided that he must go to Jerusalem, be crucified and rise from the dead. Luke wrote, “Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. Jesus would not be deterred from this path. No one, not even Peter, could keep him from doing what needed to be done.”
In order to understand what this means to us, we return to Scripture. The passage from Isaiah is about a prophet who has heard God’s word. Knowing the word of God helped the prophet to remain steadfast in the Lord. The prophet was not moved by adversaries or temptations. Nor was the prophet changed by punishment or persecution.
I think we are in a similar position. We have heard the word of God. We should remain committed to following God’s word. It does not matter what difficulties we encounter. We may be tempted by sin, tempted by those who would lead us astray. Jesus was punished on the cross. Our punishment may not be physical, but we may be laughed at or teased by people who do not believe. Our call from God may put us in situations where it would be easier to just give in and deny that Jesus Christ is our Lord. That is why we set our face like flint. We will not be held back from our mission.
One of the temptations we face is found in the letter to James. We must be careful in all that we say. For the tongue can be a source of evil in our lives. The tongue is such a small part of our body and yet it can be so powerful. The tongue can be a source of good such as when we declare the glory of God. It can be the source of evil, such as when we gossip about others.
James wrote that the tongue can control the rest of the body. He referred to the bit of a bridle through which a rider controls all the movements of the horse. He wrote about the rudder of a ship which can be small but controls the movements of a massive ocean liner. We must let the small voice we receive from God control our words and actions.
James even warned preachers like me, telling them to be careful in what they say and mindful of God’s word, we can send many off in the wrong direction. Words can be so powerful. Let us use them to worship and praise God, not to separate ourselves from others.
The Gospel reading gives us another example of determination and the risk of temptation. Jesus was testing the Apostles. He asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke out and said you are the Messiah! His words were inspirational. He used his tongue for good. Then, Jesus spoke about the suffering and rejection he would experience. Peter must have been horrified. He loved and worshipped Jesus so much that he couldn’t imagine Jesus suffering. Peter decided he couldn’t let it happen. So he chose to argue the point with Jesus. Perhaps Peter spoke too quickly, letting his tongue and his emotions get the best of him. I don’t think Peter heard the most important words that Jesus spoke on that day. For Jesus said that after three days he would rise again. Peter missed the glory, the promise, and the redemption that he would receive when all the events were concluded.
Jesus gives us a great lesson. Jesus knew what he was going to encounter but was resolved to go through with it. Jesus knew that he would suffer in body and in spirit, but he would continue anyway, for the final result would be transforming.
In the sorrow and depths of despair that the United States experienced during the Civil War, after the death of so many soldiers who fought on both sides at the Battle of Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln captured the essence of what it means to be committed. He said, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Lincoln was steadfast in his efforts to save the union. His words guide our nation to this day.
Lincoln was focused on patriotism, love of our country and dedication to live the ideals upon which it was founded. The example that we receive from Pat Tillman and Abraham Lincoln is about dediucation. Today, we seek to apply their ideas on dedication to our love of God and our resolve to live our lives as followers of Jesus.
Our commitment is to be firm in our faith, followers of Jesus. We live to be part of the Jesus Movement. We need to be dedicated for we know that we will have hard times. I don’t expect that we will be persecuted physically even though Christians in other parts of the world face that possibility. Our temptation will come in other ways. We must expect it and be ready to face it. Perhaps our temptations will be like the one Peter faced. We may experience a time when our faith in Jesus, our love of Jesus is so strong that we only want to live in the resurrection. We want to avoid the suffering Jesus experienced in his life and avoid any suffering in our lives that may come from our faith. Let us instead recognize that we may be tried and let us be resolved to remain faithful followers in all we do. Let us be strengthened by the work of Jesus and accept his mercy and love, his forgiveness when we do wrong. And let us remember that if we are resolved to follow Jesus, we receive his promise of eternal life. Amen.
Do you remember a few years ago a commercial that appeared on TV? The final line of the commercial was “When EF Hutton speaks, people listen”. It is often the quiet people that tell us what we really need to know. The loud ones can say so much that it is hard to identify what is important in their words.
The saying that we might take away from today is “when we pray to God, God listens”. It doesn’t matter whether we approach God with a silent prayer or speak in the loudest voice. God will listen. Another image that you might consider today is how we can be changed when we are in God’s presence.
In the Gospel, Jesus sought some place to rest, he chose a place away from the crowds that were following him. Jesus went to the area called Tyre, an area without Jewish people. Certainly no one would have heard about Jesus in this place. But even the Gentiles knew about Jesus’ healing power. A woman approached and asked Jesus to heal her daughter. The response Jesus gave is surprising. No way, he said. I came for the Jewish people. We could think this is an example of the humanity of Jesus. He was tired and probably didn’t think he had the strength to help. He told the woman to go away. But she was persistent and reminded him of his calling. Jesus healed her daughter. The woman asked God for help and God responded. This is an example of the power of prayer.
That initial response that Jesus gave might be a lesson to us in our own humanness. I think Jesus wants us to remember the times we have rejected the power of God and all that God does. Have you ever questioned whether God is working in the world, thinking that maybe God is just sitting back and watching? Have you ever thought that God is only listening to certain people or believers of a certain faith? Have you wondered whether Jesus really did all of the miracles we find in Scripture? I think Jesus is suggesting to us that in our humanness, we may place limits on God’s power, grace and love even though we are believers. Even during the times we question, we can pray that God will help us in our uncertainty. The power of God transcends all of our humanity, reaching out to everyone in love. Just as the woman cried out to Jesus, we may need the stranger to remind us of God’s healing power available to each person.
God’s healing power is described in all parts of our scripture today. In the gospel, Jesus healed two people each from a different culture. After healing the woman’s daughter, Jesus left Tyre and went to Decapolis. Once again, he was looking for a place where he could find quiet and rest but the people in need still found him. Some folks wanted to help a deaf and dumb man so they asked Jesus to heal him. Just like the Syrophoenician woman, the deaf and dumb man was not Jewish. Jesus didn’t reject their request and he did more than just say you are healed. He didn’t just say go your faith has saved you. Speaking to the man would not have worked. Instead, Jesus physically showed the man how he healed him. Jesus touched and spat, helping the man to experience the miracle.
Perhaps after his encounter with the woman, Jesus was a little stronger and was not distracted from his mission to all. That mission became even clearer after his resurrection. First Paul and later Peter open their ministry to the Gentiles in their lives. They both knew that Jesus offered himself to all people. So, we shouldn’t limit God by what we understand. God isn’t found in just the Episcopal Church. God isn’t found in just the Christian community. God is here for everyone in every race and every nation. The differences in the healings indicate that God deals with each of us differently according to our needs.
God’s healing power is mentioned in other passages from today’s Scripture. In the reading from Isaiah, we hear “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped”. Later in the Psalm it says, “the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down”. Yes, God’s healing is available to every person not just those who followed the Jewish customs at the time of Jesus.
Let us consider one more way these two healings connect. I find the message for us is persistence. The message is found in the willingness of people to call on God. The woman wouldn’t take no for an answer. Jesus tried to hide from others but she found him. Jesus tried to turn her away but she demanded that he help her daughter. And the deaf man sought out Jesus as well.
Given the examples we read today, I would say that we are called to ask for God’s help always. We never know when God will respond to our plea but we do know that God will always listen. In Matthew’s gospel, we find this, “Matthew 7:7-8
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”. Jesus actually wanted us to ask God for what we need.
A similar expression is that we should pray without ceasing. Those words pray without ceasing are found in 1 Thessalonions 5:17. I would say that we can ask God for what we need without ceasing. Given today’s healings, I think we could say that God helps those who ask. God responds to everyone and responds to us when we are the squeaky wheel.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American essayist, brings some clarification on this theme in his sermon “Pray Without Ceasing.” Emerson made the following observation: “It is not only when we audibly and in form, address our petitions to the Deity that we pray without ceasing. Every secret wish is a prayer. Every house is a church; the corner of every street is a closet of devotion.”
So, let’s make everything we do and think a prayer. Let’s always be interacting with God in ways that help us to focus our lives on holy things and what we can do to bring ourselves closer to God. The best way to understand what praying without ceasing means is to listen to the entire passage in Thessalonians.
The verses actually say this “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.”
Praying without ceasing relates to everything we do in our lives. It is connected to the sense of good that we do for others. It is connected to our willingness to give thanks to God for all that God does for us. It is connected to our willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. And it is connected to our effort to do good and avoid evil.
We wish to experience God in all parts of our lives and to express the glory of God to others. That last part fits really well with what happened for after the healing of the deaf and dumb man, Jesus asked folks to not tell anyone what had happened. But they went out and proclaimed his good work to everyone they met.
Our scripture encourages us to see the power of God at work in our lives. It encourages us to trust that God will help us on our journey. It encourages us to reach out to God in prayer, asking God to help us. It doesn’t matter what we have done, it doesn’t matter where we are. God has the power to heal what ails us. We may not even know what healing is best for ourselves. But God knows. Let us pray that God will continue to work in our lives and that each of us in thanksgiving will proclaim God’s glory in all that we do, praying every day through our words and actions. Amen.
You may have noticed the common thread going through our readings is the encouragement to act with wisdom. If we look hard enough, we can find many ideas about what wisdom is. Let me start with three short sayings.
A British journalist named Miles Kington once said, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”
W.C. Fields said, "Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people.”
Milton Berle once quipped, “You can lead a man to Congress, but you can't make him think.”
I am not sure any of those help that much. How might you define wisdom? You probably wouldn’t say the smartest person in the room is the wisest. The most highly educated person is not always the wisest either.
We get some good definitions of wisdom from Scripture today. It all starts with the Book of Proverbs. The entire book provides encouragement to us that we acquire wisdom and avoid folly. My study Bible says that wisdom is a word that is rich in nuance, and that throughout the book of Proverbs wisdom is referred to with terms such as insight, understanding, advice, prudence, discretion discipline and good sense. The book of Proverbs contains many sayings, advice to the unwise such as “A soft answer turns away wrath” which is found in Proverbs 15:1.
A French writer named Nicolas Chamfort wrote, “There are more fools than wise men, and even in a wise man there is more folly than wisdom.”
A newspaper columnist named Doug Larsen wrote, “Wisdom is the quality that keeps you from getting into situations where you need it.”
Perhaps we should read the entire book of Proverbs for wisdom is a fleeting virtue. In today’s passage, Wisdom is referred to as a woman. The connections to the Gospel are pretty clear. Woman wisdom invites others to enter her house “to eat of my bread and to drink of the wine I have mixed”. While dining in her abode, having bread and wine, those who come will be given words of wisdom. It connects so well with what Jesus said many years later. In the bread and wine given by Jesus, we receive wisdom and with that gift Jesus also offers us everlasting life.
Wisdom is a theme in the second reading as well. Paul exhorted his flock to live as wise people, to make the most of their time. Things haven’t changed much in that regard. The world is a difficult and dangerous place. There are many threats to our existence and many temptations. Wisdom is our way of keeping on the straight and narrow path. In the entire passage, Paul wanted his followers to live as children of the light. Before they began to follow Jesus, they lived in darkness. Now, they have received the wisdom that came from Jesus and the light that they have entered into is good and true.
Paul believed the wisdom of Jesus would change their lives. Divine wisdom brought them closer to God and Paul said they would be so excited that they became filled with the Holy Spirit and would sing hymns and psalms. In our Bible study on Wednesday, several people were moved by this idea and remembered the songs of their childhood. I am sure some of you remember those songs as well. Did you feel the Holy spirit moving in you? Were you thankful for adults who taught you songs of joy? Let’s take just a minute and sing together two songs from childhood. Let’s start with this little light of mine, a song that fits with the call to live in the light.
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine let it shine.
And how about the song Jesus loves the little children
Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world
Jesus cares for all the children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus cares for the children of the world
Jesus came to save the children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They're all precious in His sight
Jesus came to save the children of the world.
I hope that singing those songs helps you to feel the power of the Holy Spirit within you and that in wisdom you are excited to praise God. Jesus wanted us to live in a community where the wisdom of God is something we seek together and something we share with each other. I think Paul wanted us to sing in our hearts as well. Our singing can be “literal singing which gives God praise, and the kind of heart attitude for which “singing” is a metaphor (Understanding the Sunday Scriptures)”. We are thankful for wisdom and we are thankful for the gift Jesus gave us. Through his sacrifice we have salvation. Our hearts are alive with joy.
This Gospel reading must have been difficult for the Jewish people to hear. Jesus said, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” How can Jesus offer us his flesh to eat, they asked. If I had been there, I would have asked the same question. It is through our reflection, through our looking back and knowing that Jesus died for us that we better understand. His death and resurrection was the gift of life for us. His blood was also given and for that we are thankful. Because of his sacrifice, we are redeemed, we are lifted up out of our sin and we have the opportunity to live a life of joy. It is through the teachings of so many who come before us and through our faith that we come to understand that Jesus is present in the bread and wine which we consume each Sunday. Jesus is not changed by giving up his flesh and blood. Rather we are changed. It is a mystery. But more important it is a gift. It is another example of the mercy of God given to each of us. Our communal worship is a time to praise God and to reverence the Lord. As Jesus told us, if we follow, we will be given wisdom. The wisdom we receive then helps us to come into union with God. That union helps us to live our lives in the way that God intended. As the prior readings suggest, this union with God is what keeps us from sin and helps us to dedicate our souls to God.
I have two more sayings from unknown sources to share.
“Going to church does not make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger. Let us join in our worship together and praise God for all that God has done for us.”
“A coincidence is when God performs a miracle, and decides to remain anonymous.” I believe that God is at work in our lives and often performing miracles. However we may not think of them as miracles.
Can you remember the last time you were really hungry or thirsty? I know, it doesn’t often happen to most of us. Perhaps, you skipped a meal trying to loose weight or maybe you were on a trip and couldn’t get to a place to eat. I remember a trip we took to Yellowstone National Park. I got so thirsty that I couldn’t stop drinking water. When we are hungry or thirsty, all we can think about is food or water. That is what our readings refer to today. We are called by Jesus to wish with all of our souls that we can be with him, that Jesus will give us the food we need. We wish that Jesus will help us to have the wisdom to deal with all that life has to offer. We pray that Jesus will nourish us in a way that all we want to do is follow him. If we can focus on Jesus then we know that all of the cravings of our human bodies such as drinking alcohol are just ways to take our minds off of what we really need. This week, let us take the bread and the wine that Jesus offers to us and allow ourselves to grow closer to Jesus, living in his love and knowing it to be the best place we can be. Amen.
I don’t often do sermons that involve everyone but today perhaps you would be willing to help me in a small way. Let’s start with this question? What is your favorite food? This past week, I went to a restaurant and my wife and I shared a steak for dinner. It was tender, tasty and moist. I loved it.
Another of my favorite foods is mashed potatoes. Jan and I tease each other about my desire for mashed potatoes. We don’t often have them at our house because they are high in carbohydrates. I like to say that we only have mashed potatoes at home when we have guests over for dinner. I love mashed potatoes. For some, their favorite food is dessert. Can you imagine the taste of your favorite desert right now? I sometimes like to go and eat gelato and may favorite flavor has Nutella in it.
I decided to begin with food because in our gospel Jesus speaks of himself as the Bread of Life. Our lesson is from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. It is quite a lengthy discourse so you need to be prepared to hear some similar words the next two Sundays as well. Jesus describes what it means that he is the Bread of Life to his followers and those who had doubts. We probably fit into both of those categories.
With any food we actually eat like a steak or mashed potatoes or gelato, we are satisfied by that one meal but our satisfaction may not last. Our joy is only as long as our memories can bring back the taste of that good food. We may need to go back and experience that food one more time. Our experience with Jesus is a little different. Jesus is constantly feeding us. Jesus feeds us on Sunday and gives us strength for the week. It is also true that Jesus is with us each day of that week and if we seek it, Jesus will feed us again and again.
Our scriptures are full of times when God fed people. These readings describe three times when God fed the people with real food. Jesus reminded everyone that God provided manna as the Israelites wandered in the desert. Jesus said, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” The Israelites never seemed to be satisfied by the food they were given. They often complained about God and about Moses.
The second example of feeding comes in the reading from 1st Kings. Elijah was running away from the wrathful Jezebel who was out to get him. Elijah was frightened, exhausted and dispirited. He stopped under a broom tree and feel asleep. God sent an angel to give Elijah food. He was so refreshed that he could go forty days without any more food. If you were to continue to read the story of Elijah, you would learn that Elijah wasn’t too excited about doing what God called him to do. God wanted Elijah to go back and care for God’s people. It took some nudging on God’s part. God takes care of us just as God took care of the Israelites and Elijah.
Just two weeks ago, we heard the familiar story of Jesus feeding the five thousand also in the Gospel of John. That is the third example of God feeding the people. But as the story continues this week, we learn that many of the Jews grumbled when they heard what Jesus had to say about the Bread of Life. They had just experienced a miracle, some wanted to make him king, but they couldn’t believe that Jesus could do another miracle, that Jesus could continue to feed them and that Jesus would feed them not only with physical food but also with spiritual food. God is kind and caring but we don’t always appreciate what God does.
When we hear Jesus speak of the bread of Life our thoughts usually turn to the spiritual food, communion. We have forgotten that God gives us food on a regular basis. Many believe that humans are the ones that make food, on large farms and in pastures. How quickly we forget that God created all things and we are intended to be stewards of God’s creation, using it to feed ourselves, to feed others and to care for all creatures and living things on the earth.
And so we say in the Our Father, give us today our daily bread. I accept that prayer on two levels. First that we wish that God will allow for creation to be abundant and that we will have food to live on. We also ask God to send Jesus so that we will be fed spiritually and have the strength to live holy lives.
Providing food for all people continues to be a challenge. It is surprising that many go hungry while farmers who grow grains are having a difficult time making money. We seem to have enough food for everyone. And yet we know that people are not getting fed. I recently read a note from the United Food Bank in Mesa. There were pleased to report that a recent study indicated some improvement in hunger in Arizona. They reported on a statistic called food insecurity. “Food insecurity refers to USDA’s measure of lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.” In Maricopa county, the percentage of people who struggle to get food was reduced from 15% to 14.3 %. That is still a large number who need food. Children are significantly more likely to have trouble getting enough foods. It is well known that poor people are often given food that is not appropriate, filled with carbohydrates that causes weight gain and increases in diabetes. We try to help solve this issue of a lack of food because we are God’s hands on this earth. We pray that God will provide enough food to feed everyone.
But our more important lesson is that Jesus feeds us spiritually. When Jesus said, “I am the Bread of life” he provided us with information but more importantly he gave us an invitation. Come and see he is saying to us. When the Jews went out to Galilee to see Jesus, they went because they heard about all the signs he had done. They knew that Jesus healed the sick. We too come to see this Jesus. We have heard and know that Jesus lived his life for us. We see that Jesus feeds us just as he fed the five thousand. Taste and believe he said. We receive communion and believe that Jesus is God.
Each time we come to church we are fed with this Bread of Life. Jesus gave his life for us and continues to give us a new life. The Bread that we are given each week nourishes us and strengthens us. We are able to leave this place uplifted spiritually, all because of God’s gift, all because of the promise that Jesus made to us. This Bread carries us throughout the week, helping us to reject sin and to live our life for God and others.
And it is nourishment for our entire life. Jesus promised that if we follow him and take this Bread we will receive eternal life. It is an incredible gift. So, we come each week to receive this gift. We see the Body and blood of Jesus. We are strengthened for our journey and we believe that Jesus is our Savior.
This food that we have been given, this bread of life, helps us to follow the words found in the letter to the Ephesians. It gives us the courage to speak truth to our neighbors. It encourages our contrite hearts to give up anger each day. The bread of Life keeps evil from escaping our mouth and gives us instead kind and considerate words to share with others. It helps us put away bitterness and wrath and wrangling and slander. We become kind, tenderhearted and forgiving, imitators of God’s grace.
Let us not be like the people in the road who were murmuring and questioning, doubting that Jesus could really do this, wondering about how it is possible. Instead let us accept Jesus as our Lord.
The Bread of Life is the reason we offer communion every Sunday. Jesus said come and see, taste and believe. We join fellow Christians today and every Sunday. We experience the grace and love of Jesus. We receive the Bread of Life. We believe in Jesus for we know that Jesus will give us life eternal. Amen.
Each of us has our own identity. Some times we choose our own identity and other times it is thrust upon us when people call us names. And we are often identified in several different ways. I am a husband and a father and a grandfather. I am also a priest, a designation that was given to me when I was ordained on January 19, 2014. When I am asked, what should I call you? I respond call me Bob or Father Bob for that is how I identify myself. The identity that we choose is important for ourselves and for others. As we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration, I have asked Bill Robinson to come and explain the icon which he wrote and which first appeared in this church the day before my ordination. That was special. As Bill shares the story of the icon and how it helps us to understand the Transfiguration, I would ask you to keep in mind that this feast is one way that we identify Jesus. I also ask you to consider what it means to you to be identified as a follower of Jesus.
Icon of the Feast of the Transfiguration by Br. Bill
To better understand the Icon of the Transfiguration, it might be helpful for us to have a short understanding of the nature of an “icon”, and why this particular graphic format is different from other types of religious artwork.
The word “Icon” is simply the Greek word for image, and “icons” consist of symbolic images of Jesus, Mary, all of the canonized Saints and, occasionally, the feasts and events of the church year (such as The Feast of the Transfiguration). They are usually painted on wood, or fresco, or done in mosaic, and they always illustrate portions of scripture. Icons are regarded by the major liturgical churches as “graphic scripture”. Like scripture, icons are said to be written rather than painted. By interacting with icons in prayer and contemplation, icons can become windows and doorways to a spiritual connection that one might not otherwise experience. This is similar to the icons on phones and computers. Interact with these icons by clicking, rather than prayer, and whole programs open up!
The three synoptic Gospels tell us that Jesus took the three apostles, James, Peter, and John “the beloved” and led them up a high mountain. There, as Matthew tells us, he was “transfigured into blinding light; both his face and clothing changing before their eyes”. Mark, in his Gospel, writes that “His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became dazzling white.” And again, Mark says that his clothes were “such that no one on earth could bleach them”.
In today’s Gospel, Luke tells us that the transfiguration took place while Jesus was praying. It is this comment that is depicted in this icon, where Jesus is raising His hands in prayer. Luke says, “While He was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white.” Then, before the eyes of the apostles, appeared the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus. Then, if that was not already enough, a voice came out of a cloud and said, “This is my Son, the beloved. In today’s Epistle, written near the end of his life, Peter states “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed.”
The icon we are discussing today is a symbolic representation of the event described in the Gospels. The composition of this icon follows a strictly symmetrical scheme. It shows a stylized mountain landscape, characterized by a central peak that is flanked by two lesser peaks. Jesus stands (or almost floats) on the central peak. He is clothed in a white and gold robe that appears to have dazzling light coming from within it. This is not sunlight. It is what students of theology refer to as the “uncreated light of God”-- a source of light, unlike sunlight or chemical light or electrical light that appears to come right out of darkness. Furthermore, He is surrounded by a gold and red boat-shaped image known as a “mandorla—the ancient symbol of the creator God. At Jesus’ feet is a round medallion showing an Agnes Dei—the Lamb of God, which is one of the earliest symbols for our Lord
Jesus is flanked by the two prophets. Moses is on His left (your right as you look at it), and Elijah on His right, each standing on his own peak. The image of Jesus is larger than the two prophets. This follows an iconic convention, which calls for the most important figure to be the biggest. Moses carries the tablets representative of the Law, and Elijah wears the “mantle of prophesy” that he passed on to Elisha before ascending to Heaven in the chariot of fire. Elijah’s mantle, or cloak, is described in the Old Testament, and in the icon it is shown as somewhat ratty. The same cloak is depicted in one of the stained glass panels at the back of our own church!
The three medallions at the bottom of the icon represent James, Peter, and John. Normally, the three apostles are shown as figures rather than symbols, but the round shape of this icon did not permit that design. The medallions, however, are accurate copies of the symbolic representations of these apostles that also appear in the stained glass windows at the back of our church. These designs have been a part of this church since its construction. So, even though the icon is new to this church, the symbols have design continuity with our whole history. James is symbolized by the three shells. After his martyrdom in the first century, James’ remains were moved to the village of Compostela in NW Spain, and the cockleshell became the symbol worn by pilgrims to his tomb. Peter is symbolized by the crossed keys. Jesus told him: “I give you the keys to my kingdom. James’ brother, John, is identified by the serpent in the chalice, which symbolizes his willingness to drink from the same cup as Jesus, and which leads to his death.
The Latin word for transfiguration, transfiguratio, means, “to be changed to another form”. The Greek word is metamorpheos and has much the same meaning. The Transfiguration, therefore, is a revelation of Christ’s divine nature, a manifestation of the Trinity, and a confirmation of the continuity between the Old and the New Testaments. This is shown symbolically by all of the white and gold lines that crisscross the image of Jesus and seem to come from within Him, rather than from an external source. This light is the central feature of this icon and was mentioned earlier as the uncreated light of God. It is a supernatural light with transforming power that has its source in God’s own being. It is the light that Jesus Himself speaks of in John’s Gospel when He says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” As Jesus becomes that light, his true nature is revealed. As Paul says in his letter to the Colossians, “For in Him the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily.
Today’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration also serves as a very early recognition of the Trinity. The disciples hear the voice the Father, they see the Son, and they were enveloped by the Holy Spirit in the brilliance of the uncreated light. They also witnessed Moses and Elijah, who represented the “Law and Prophets”, and who confirmed that Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. Thus, the God they had served so faithfully for so long, without actually seeing, could now be seen and spoken to face to face. Here, in the blinding light on the mountain of the Transfiguration, prophets and the disciples were able to witness God’s personified radiance directly.
Fr. Bob speaking again
Bill has shared with you the images of the Transfiguration. The Icon is a great example of what we see in our minds when we imagine the Transfiguration of Jesus. I would ask you to think about what we hear. In this passage, God the Father speaks and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
It is not the first time in Luke’s gospel that we have heard God speak about Jesus. God did so when Jesus was baptized when we heard God say, “‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
This sounds different to me. At his baptism, God spoke to Jesus, encouraging him to begin his public ministry. At the Transfiguration, God spoke to the apostles and through them God speaks to us. Listen to him. Jesus is the Son of God, Jesus is God. Jesus told us who God is and what God expects of us. Jesus is the way to help us understand God and to hear God’s wishes.
It is so easy for our modern day minds to hear this because we already know that Jesus is God. But, I ask you to remember the gospel stories that come before this one so that you might understand the confusion that existed about who Jesus was.
We followed Jesus as he healed the daughter of the leader of the synagogue and the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Jesus told everyone this is no big deal, don’t tell anyone what happened. Did they ask who this Jesus is?
Jesus sent the apostles out to evangelize giving them power over demons and the ability to cure diseases. Did Jesus have the authority to do this? We heard Herod speak as he wondered about Jesus. Is this John the Baptist who has come back to life? Is it Elijah? Is this a prophet? Jesus fed the five thousand people with a few loaves and fish. People wanted to make him a king.
Many questions and suggestions surrounded the identity of Jesus. All these questions are answered by the Transfiguration. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus is God. It is his identity. As I said, none of this is a surprise to us. I just ask you to think about your identity in the context of the Transfiguration. I wish to be identified as a follower of Jesus, a disciple. I wish to be changed forever, to be transformed, to live into the name of our church. I wear a cross to say to everyone who I am. What does this change we seek mean?
On Friday, I went to the movies and I saw a preview for a new Transformer movie that will premier in December. It is called, Bumblebee. A young lady picks out a yellow Volkswagon beetle or bug and drives it home. She learns later that the car is really Bumblebee. The car is transformed into a massive robot that can handle any threat, any enemy and yet still have a caring personality.
We seek a change that allows us to focus on God and caring for our neighbor. We seek to be freed from the desires of the earth, desires for riches or fame or power and instead be dedicated to a life like Jesus led.
Have you ever had a special encounter with God? Whether your experience included images of a radiant Jesus or you heard the voice of God, I hope you can recall that time. I encourage you to ask God to continue to change you, to transform you in a way that you are willing to stand up and say, I am a follower of Jesus. I know who I am. I want to live my life for Jesus. Amen.
If someone asked you to summarize the teachings of Jesus, what verses in the Bible would you turn to? Would you start with Matthew’s gospel where it says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Or perhaps you might reach into John’s gospel where it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
We have a less well-known but equally important reading which comes to us from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This entire passage that we read today is a summary of all the blessings that God has bestowed upon us and all that Jesus has done for us. Commentators might say that in these verses, Paul has covered a great deal about Christian Theology.
Allow me to paraphrase from a commentary by the Rev Scott Hoezee. In this lesson, Paul wrote about each of the persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. He wrote about the fact that God has chosen us to be God’s people. He described the redemption we receive through Jesus Christ. Paul told us that we are saved by grace. He mentioned the doctrines of creation and providence. Paul wrote about the end of the world. He spoke of faith and sanctification. And Paul proclaimed the gospel as the center of our faith. Hoezee wrote “It’s all here. Of course, each topic could be fleshed out, but by the time you finished fleshing them out, what you would have would be close to a complete seminary curriculum.” By the way, the original Greek was written in just one sentence so if you have trouble connecting with all that was said in these fourteen verses do not feel alone.
Today, I want to take on two ideas that are mentioned in Paul’s letter. The first is the overwhelming work of God and in particular the overwhelming work of Jesus in the world. The second is that Jesus Christ gives us truth. I want to explore what that might mean to us.
Oftentimes, when we read Scripture, we hear about actions that we should be committed to. Love your neighbor. Care for the sick and those in prison. Obey the Ten Commandments. Pray to God. But this part of Ephesians has no words about what we are to do. It is all about what God has done for us. God has chosen us and called us to follow Christ. God designated us to be holy people. God decided to adopt us as God’s children. God forgives all the wrong that we have done. Jesus Christ called us to follow him. Jesus gave himself for us. Jesus explained to us about the wisdom of God. And the inheritance we receive from God leads to redemption and a promise of joining God in heaven.
If you find yourself coming to Transfiguration today and you feel like you need a break, you’re in the right place. For today, let us be lifted up by all the gifts that God has given us.
One of my favorite God given gifts is that we are sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Most of you remember that we receive the seal of the Holy Spirit when we are baptized. The seal is an indication that we belong to God. In baptism it is a sign that we belong to Christ. The seal of the Holy Spirit comes to us all the time-not just in baptism. We are God’s children when we are born and the seal of baptism is just another time when God once again marks us as God’s own. We are chosen as God’s adopted children.
The Holy Spirit does more than mark us as Christ’s. The Holy Spirit remains with us. The Holy Spirit guides us and leads us to do God’s will. It is a presence that can help us anytime and anywhere.
The Holy Spirit and the words of Jesus give us our spiritual direction. We often call that receiving the wisdom of God. Another word that we can use is the truth. It is Jesus who provides us with the truth, the gospel of your salvation.
The truth is a difficult thing to find these days. I find it difficult to know the truth when I listen to the various perspectives of people in the news. We have many tough issues that must be resolved and the feelings run strong on both side. It seems that everyone points to certain facts, the truth as they understand it, to support whatever position they might take. There does not seem to be a likely answer to many of our most pressing challenges.
But when it comes to our faith and to our relationship with God, we turn to Jesus for the truth. The disciples turned to Jesus for the truth. In Luke’s gospel it says, “‘Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.”
In John’s gospel, Jesus said to his followers, “‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Also in John “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
We also look to the Holy Spirit for truth. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. The truth is right there for us, a gift of Jesus, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Everyone of our readings today refers to the truth.
Amos, the prophet, was a shepherd who proclaimed the truth to the divided countries of the Jewish people. Amos came from the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the Northern Kingdom of Israel and he predicted destruction because the leaders were mistreating the poor and wallowing in their riches. It was a difficult message because Jeroboam’s reign was a time of economic and political prosperity. Not surprisingly, the king and the head priest did not want to hear what he had to say. In fact, Amos was asked to leave the country for his words. It took a while but Amos’ prediction came true. The Northern Kingdom was taken over by the Assyrians some thirty years after Amos made his prediction.
The Psalm places truth with God’s mercy and connects truth to our relationship with God when it says that righteousness and peace shall come together. When we seek the truth from God, we will find peace and receive God’s mercy.
And in the gospel, John was killed because he told the truth. He told Herod that it was unlawful for him to have married his brother’s wife, Herodias. She became so angry that she plotted against John and eventually found a way to have him killed.
Amos and John chose to confront leaders with the truth. Both of them suffered for what they said. I don’t think our search for the truth is as dangerous as it was for Amos and John. We look for God’s truth in Scripture. We look to the words of Jesus for our truth. We look to the Holy Spirit in prayer for the truth. Our search for truth may be for our own benefit or we may be called to speak the truth to others.
Today, I wish that you would bask in the blessings of God that were shared by Paul. We often think about what Jesus told us to do. “Go and make disciples of all nations” for example. But today, I would hope that you would hear the word of Jesus and hear him saying to you “Come.” For the first words that he said were “Come and follow me” (paraphrase from Charles Heimsatt Sermons on the Inner Life).
Let us come to Jesus for the truth. The truth is that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is our redeemer. Jesus forgave us of our sins. Jesus promised that he would save a place for his followers.
We may be called to share the truth that we learn from Jesus with others. We may be called to declare the truth to people who do not want to hear it. I would say those are worries for another day. Today, I just want to accept the grace that we receive from God and the opportunity to share those blessings with everyone in our spiritual community. Amen.
A pastor gave a message on evangelism and one family thought they had better do something to witness to Jesus. So they invited their neighbors to dinner the following Friday night. When it came to the meal, the believers were keen to show their neighbors that they upheld Christian standards in their home. So the mother asked her 5-year-old son to say grace. Little Johnny was a bit shy. “I don’t know what to say.” There was an awkward pause, followed by a reassuring smile from the boy’s mother. “Well darling,” she said, “Just say what Daddy said at breakfast this morning.” Obediently, the boy repeated, “Oh God, we’ve got those bad people coming to dinner tonight.” That’s probably not a good way to share the good news of Jesus and a good reason to be cautious as you listen to this sermon.
We often cringe when we hear the word evangelism. It has so many negative connotations. Evangelists are usually hard working, dedicated and well meaning individuals. And yet our minds often turn to examples of people who do evangelism in a way that we don’t appreciate. So, for example, our minds may turn to television evangelists that we think are disingenuous when they ask for money from their followers. I think of Jesse Duplantis, a televangelist. It was reported in the Washington post that Duplantis has asked for donations of $54 million from his flock so that he can purchase a Falcon 7X private plane that will allow him to fly non stop throughout the world. This plane would be the fourth one in his fleet of private aircraft. I know that I am not supposed to be judgmental, but that seems excessive to me.
You might think about people who go door to door seeking to evangelize people. Most of these people do their best but perhaps we do not want someone to convert us in this way. Your thoughts might turn to someone who stands in the streets and cries out that we need to repent and return to the Lord. Or you may even think of the European powers who colonized many countries and sent missionaries to convert the people to their religion. Despite these examples of evangelism, you and I are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus. I am sure I make some of you nervous when I talk about it. But, evangelism does not have to be such a difficult task. Much of it has to do with simply behaving like Christians and sharing the story of Jesus.
Today’s gospel lesson is about evangelism. There may be some clues about how we might approach the subject. Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and tried to help the people but had little success. The people who knew him when he was a child were unable to understand how he could be so wise and so powerful. He was a carpenter and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon. So they rejected him and his teachings.
Then, Jesus directed his apostles to go out and evangelize others in the world. Their job was difficult for he sent them out without food or money. They were totally reliant on the charity of those they met for their survival. Perhaps Jesus thought their lack of wealth and their need for food and a place to stay would help them share the gospel. They came to visit people just as they were. That may be the key to how evangelism really works. I say we just need to be who we are. It might be as simply as giving a stuffed animal to someone in hospice or helping a non-profit in need.
Jesus sent his disciples out with a partner. Having a partner must have given them someone to talk with on the journey, someone who could provide encouragement when it seemed like things weren’t working and someone who might be able to say things to others in a way that the first person may not. So much good can come from partnerships. Perhaps it is a good idea for us to consider partners in our evangelism efforts.
I believe that Jesus was humble in all of his ministries. He met people were they were. Often he answered their questions and responded to their needs. Paul wrote that God had given him a thorn, a reminder that God was in charge and that he should not be too proud. In all that we do, let us be humble.
Jesus sought to heal people. Let us try to heal people as well. Jesus told us to love one another. When the Christian Church first started to form, many people decided to join. In his book The Early Church, Henry Chadwick writes, “The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success. The pagan comment ‘see how these Christians love one another’ (reported by Tertullian) was not irony. Christian charity expressed itself in care for the poor, for widows and orphans, in visits to brethren in prison, and social action in time of calamity like famine, earthquake, pestilence, or war.”
When Jesus went to Nazareth, he was rejected. When Jesus sent out his apostles, he told them to be prepared for rejection. Shake the dust off your feet he said and move on. If you invite someone to join us please do not worry if they say no.
Are there things we might avoid in our evangelism efforts? A religious writer and public speaker named Tony Kris begins his evangelism talks by asking folks to list the lies that Christians tell when trying to evangelize. People quickly come up with examples. Let me give you two. Kris would say “We lie when we don't acknowledge our doubts within the drama of faith”. Kris offers his own doubts, “Where did evil come from? Why did God put this whole human story into motion when it has caused so much pain?”
A second is “We lie when we pretend that the Bible doesn't say some really nasty things when in fact it does”. In Psalm 137 there is a verse that says "Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”. I usually try to skip over that verse. Tony would say we need to own the whole Bible not just the parts we like.
Our presiding bishop continually asks us to focus on the love of Jesus. On Tuesday, a few of us gathered to watch Bishop Michael Curry discuss ways to use the sermon at the Royal Wedding in our daily life. That Royal wedding sermon was about the message of love. He spoke about God’s love for us and the love of Jesus who gave himself as a sacrifice for us.
Bishop Curry often speaks about the Jesus Movement. He would say that we should share the story of Jesus with others. The story is not about the church as an institution, it is about the love of Jesus and the actions and teachings of Jesus. Our job is to live our lives as much like Jesus as we can. We are at our best when Jesus is at the center of our lives.
In his sermon at the beginning of the General Convention on Thursday, Bishop Curry continued this encouragement. He mentioned that for centuries monastics have used a guide called a rule of life to help them follow Jesus. Curry suggested that we identify our path as a rule of love. He hopes that we would pick up our own rule of love and use it to practice our faith.
I would suggest that evangelism is not so much about what we say but how we act. It is not about going to other people and telling them that they need to change. Instead, we should think about evangelism as an invitation to join a community that is seeking to follow Jesus. Come and see we might say. I wasn’t told that the Episcopal Church is the best way to be a Christian. My invitation was not judgmental. An invitation is about joining a community that admits everyone is sinful, all of us are trying to find our way. We ask people to join us along our journey. We say that we follow Jesus in the Episcopal way, understanding that there may be other ways. We speak of the love that Jesus has for us and the love that he offers to all.
Evangelism for me is about being yourself, not trying to be or do what others might do. Evangelism starts and ends with being centered in Jesus and to contemplate what Jesus did and what Jesus taught us. Evangelism is sharing how the love of God has affected our lives. Only then can our invitation to another be sincere and helpful. Amen.
The latest issue to divide our nation is that of immigration. The feelings about this issue run deep on both sides. Some people are worried for their safety, they are concerned about dangerous gang members entering the country and they are worried about the amount of drugs that cross into the United States. Many of these people wish that everyone followed the laws of the United States and that no one would enter the country illegally. On the other hand there are people who wish that we cared for the stranger, people who worry about children and their safety and wish that we could help the people of Central America who are facing danger and hardship. I have visited several Central American countries. I have been a tourist in Mexico and Costa Rica where I saw many people living in great poverty but I never felt close to them. I have visited Honduras twice as part of a mission to the children and staff of El Hogar, the Episcopal school which this congregation has supported. In Honduras, I experienced poverty up close and personal. I visited the home of a lady who struggled to make ends meet. She made tortillas over a wood fire outside of her one room house. I know that parents make painful choices when they send their children to El Hogar because they will no longer have children to sell their goods on the street. We were told to be very careful because the streets were not safe. We learned that one former student had been killed because he joined a gang and was gunned down by the opposing gang. We went to El Salvador with one of our seminary professors who had family members living there. I once again experienced the harsh realities of poverty in that country, especially among the native people. I became aware of the number of gangs who threaten folks with either helping the gang or loosing their life. Many of the people crossing our borders are here because the alternative is death if they return to their homeland and don’t comply with the gangs. I also came to understand the beauty and the happiness, the hope, the gentleness and the loving kindness of so many people who live in those two countries. Given my own experience, I would say that the vast majority of people living in Central America are faithful Christians. They are humble and hard working and they wish to live safe and healthy lives just as we do. Everyone here is welcome to their own opinion. I myself would prefer a more friendly position on immigration. I am OK with closing our borders to illegal immigration but I would wish that we would allow people to file for asylum because I think they are legitimately in danger and deserve the chance to find safety. I support citizenship for dreamers. I don’t agree with separating immigrant families. But I am not here to change anyone’s mind. Whichever side of this controversy you support is fine for me. My responsibility is to speak about scripture and to speak about what Jesus taught us. So, we study scripture to find God in our life today to see if scripture fits our current issue. This week, scripture speaks specifically to the compassion of God. By extension, I believe we are called to have compassion for others. Scripture speaks to God’s gift of life and I think we too are called to give the gift of life. As a church community, we perform many outreach functions, seeking to help our neighbors in need. There is plenty to do for people living right here in this neighborhood. Many need food, clothing, and shelter. If you decided that your calling is just for those in Arizona right now, that is fine because there is so much to do. Still, I think by his word and his example, Jesus reached out with compassion to people who were outside of his Jewish community and people who had been shunned from society. The reading from Lamentations says it clearly, “Although God causes grief, God will have compassion according to the abundance of God’s steadfast love; for God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” Yes, God has compassion for us. In the gospel, Jesus had compassion for Jairus. After all, Jairus interrupted the teachings of Jesus and Jesus allowed that. Jesus went immediately to heal his daughter. It is one example of Jesus’ compassion. Jesus also had compassion for the woman. The woman was an outcast, she was depressed from her constant bleeding. She was poor from paying the doctors, and she was afraid that she might be noticed and forced to leave the crowd. According to Mosaic laws, the woman was not supposed to interact with other people. Her bleeding made her ritually impure. But she took a chance. She had faith that just touching Jesus’s clothing would make a difference. When the woman touched Jesus, healing occurred instantly. Jesus knew that someone had been healed because the energy flowed from him. When they spoke, he had compassion. He didn’t say, you cannot touch me. Rather he said, “your faith has made you well.” I say we wish to be touched by Jesus, to be held by Jesus. Touching is an important word for us today because we have been told that the immigrant children who have been taken from their parents were well cared for but the workers were not allowed to touch them. I understand that there may be a concern about whether the children will be harmed by any of the workers. But touching is important for children. Touching changes us. The woman’s story has special meaning to me because of my nose bleeds. I sure want to be touched by Jesus and healed. I also want to focus on the message of life that comes to us today. In Wisdom, we are told that God did not make death but rather God created us in God’s own image. God wanted us for life. Jesus gave the gift of life as well. He gave the woman a new life, free from bleeding and free from her life as an outcast. And he gave the young girl a renewed life, life from death, life with her family and life to grow into God’s love. In doing so, he overcame the laughter of those who believed that he could not bring her back. He showed the nay sayers that God can do anything. He confirmed that we should have faith and ask God for what we need. All of us have times when we struggle and need God’s help. All of us have had difficult times of sickness or poverty or loneliness. We have lost loved ones. Jesus is the one who brings us back to life. How do compassion and life giving fit into the immigration story? Well, whether we wish for open or closed borders, we can still have compassion. Let us have compassion on the children and parents who are separated from one another. Let us have compassion on those who seek asylum from dangerous living conditions. Let us have compassion on those who have walked thousands of miles to find a new life. Compassion doesn’t mean we let people do whatever they want. Rather it means trying to find a way to care for these people even if we turn them away. At the very end of the 2nd Corinthians passage, we are reminded that both the rich and the poor have something to give. Paul believed that people should have sufficient wealth not only to satisfy their own needs but also to share the excess with others who should reciprocate. I have read that the poor are more generous than the rich. In Honduras, I heard stories about poor people giving food and clothing to those even poorer. We sat with a child who saved some of his lunch for his brother. Perhaps when we show compassion to others by sharing what we have, we will receive something of value in return. I am trying to find a way that I can be more helpful in this immigration challenge rather than just sitting back and judging the work of others. I hope that you will do the same. I hope that we can find a way as a country to use compassion and life giving in a way that helps us find solutions to the complex issues of immigration. I would hope that we would find a way to deal with immigration by being strong and caring at the same time. I hope we can find a way to deal with this issue in such a way that we find safety and health for all. May God bless us on this difficult task. Amen.
This past week, I had three personal interactions with people dealing with depression. And in the public space, we heard about two people who committed suicide. The first was Kate Spade. She and her husband started a business that changed the look of women’s fashion. My daughter prefers Kate Spade purses and carries the latest Kate Spade handbag with her everywhere she goes. Kate Spade was only 55 years old when she died. She left behind a daughter who is thirteen years old and other family members. Anthony Bourdain was the host of a popular television series called Parts Unknown. It was certainly about finding unusual kinds of foods and international cuisine but I think it was really about meeting people, learning about cultures. He helped us connect with people we don’t know. Anthony Bourdain leaves behind a family including a daughter. By all of our normal measures, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were successful. Both had lots of money, they were famous people, they lived a good life and they made our lives better. Most of us probably thought of them as happy people, but instead they struggled with depression and sadness. These two figures are not the only famous ones. Actor Robin Williams, Football player Junior Seau, and author Ernest Hemingway also killed themselves. Perhaps you have had a personal experience with suicide. I had an uncle who killed himself. In the last five years, I have known 3 people, all quite young who either killed themselves on purpose or accidentally overdosed on drugs. My niece’s brother-in-law died just last week from an overdose. Although I never contemplated suicide, I did have bouts of depression many years ago. Suicide and depression are difficult topics to discuss. Yet, I believe that it is important for us to discuss because I want to encourage those who are depressed to reach out to organizations and people that can help them. I also want all in this community to do everything we can to help those who are depressed. I encourage you to investigate suicide. It is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. The Center for Disease Control reports that the suicide rate has increased by nearly 30 per cent since 1999. Depression is something that can be caused by a physical issue. It can also be caused by circumstances, the loss of a loved one, a physical ailment that keeps the person from living their life in a way that they consider normal, perhaps the loss of a job or a divorce. Combinations of these factor simply make depression more likely. In our church service Steve Dingle spoke about his perspectives on depression and suicide. Steve is a psychiatrist who has worked in that profession for about thirty years. Here are some things I heard from Steve during our service. The large majority of people who have tried to commit suicide have never sought treatment for depression. This makes it very difficult for professionals or others to know whom they should help. It makes it difficult to determine who is at risk. A key part of depression is loneliness. Steve would encourage us to look for people who are withdrawing from others, who may no longer feel that they are a part of society. These people may be potential candidates for suicide. Thank you, Steve. Depression may be a side effect of prescription drugs. Over 200 prescription drugs list suicide and depression as a potential side effect including painkillers, blood pressure medicine and heart medication. The potential may increase when several drugs are taken together. When depression becomes so strong that the individual reaches a point of hopelessness or loneliness it may cause that person to feel that taking their own life is the only way out of their situation. If you ever feel this way, I encourage you to reach out for help. I am not an expert on depression or suicide, but I am willing to listen and to see if there is a way that I can assist you. You may also choose to reach out to another person in our congregation and ask for their help. I encourage you to have some phone numbers available to you. The Maricopa crisis service hotline is 800-631-1314. The national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255. Our faith is an important place for us to return when we are depressed. Today, we heard that we “walk by faith and not by sight”. Our faith helps us maintain our equilibrium. Faith helps us to stay focused on what we should be doing and where we are going. As a child, I was taught that suicide was a sin. One of the commandments says Thou shalt not kill. Some denominations think that suicide violates that commandment. After many years, I am not so sure. While I wish that people did not commit suicide, I understand people who are in so much pain that living offers no real alternative. We also should remember that humans are not the judge. God is the only one that can see inside of an individual, understand their motivations and determine what judgment should be applied. Our faith is there to help us when we struggle. God will help us when we are depressed. I often use an app called the Daily Office from Mission Saint Clare. It includes music along with the words and scriptural passages of that service. I find great solace in a hymn that was written many years ago which is based on the words of Psalm 86. It is often part of the Mission St. Clare office. Allow me to paraphrase: Lord I humbly turn to you. Please hear my words. Save me, O Lord for I have no help, nor hope except from you alone. Lord, please send me your relieving gladness to my soul which has so much sadness. I seek to free my soul from the bonds of this earth and fly up with eagerness to be with you. God is there for you even if no one else is. That is what I hear in this hymn. Psalm 23 is another place to turn. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil: for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You will also find great comfort in the Book of Job. God is able to make things happen in our lives. In today’s reading from Ezekiel we hear about God’s power, “All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree;” If God can make high the low tree then God can lift us out of our depression and make us whole. And we should not rely too much on wealth or fame or other temptations of the earth for God can bring down the high tree. In today’s lesson from 2nd Corinthians, I find words of hope in our hopelessness. “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” When we are feeling alone, let us turn to Jesus. For Jesus came to earth for everyone of us. Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Jesus wants to see us healed from ever sort of problem that we face. Jesus will encourage us to continue our journey and stand beside us as we go. And Jesus is the great healer for all that troubles us. In the ninth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, there are several stories about healing. The centurion’s daughter was returned to life and the bleeding woman simply touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed. Two blind men were healed and a man who couldn’t speak was healed. Near the end of the chapter we are told “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness”. And we learn that Jesus had great compassion on all of the people. If Jesus had compassion on those he met along the road, doesn’t he also have compassion on you and me? I believe that Jesus wants us to be healed from all of our sicknesses. As a faith community, we are called to help those who are sick and suffering. Today, I remind you that we are called to care for those who are depressed or alone. I ask each of you to look out for others, to reach out to them and help us to make sure that no one is alone. I am so thankful to the ladies who are seeking to grow our ministry to those who need help. We get to know others better when we give them rides and offer companionship. We lift the spirits of others when we offer food. I hope that you will join in this ministry. Whether you add your name to this group or not, I hope that you will have compassion on others around you, that you will seek out someone who is alone or in need of a companion. I hope that you will help someone who struggles with the symptoms of depression. Whatever our situation, let us be firm in our faith, for in our faith God will give us the wisdom and strength to deal with all the things that trouble us and others. Amen.
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.