Sermons (119)

John’s gospel opens this way, “In the Beginning was the word”. He was referring to Jesus as the word. In the passion story, I am drawn to the words that Jesus offered to Pilate. Pilate asked him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ Earlier in John’s gospel Jesus said, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." The words of Jesus are truth which guide us and give us courage. When we listen to and follow the words of Jesus we are free from sin and free to do God’s will. Today’s truth is that Jesus died on the cross. He died because the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem believed that Jesus was preaching against their faith. It is also likely that they were jealous, afraid the people would listen to Jesus more than they listened to the chief priests. Jesus died because he loved us and wanted to show us how to be in relationship with God. We often say that Jesus died for our sins. I think that is true but I don’t believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was some payment made to God for our sins. There are many times in Scripture, both Old Testament and New, where God forgave the people. So, Jesus didn’t have to convince God to forgive our sins. That happens when we ask for forgiveness. I believe Jesus death was an effort to change us, to take us out of our sinfulness. We often use the word atonement for the sacrifice of Jesus. It can mean reparation for some wrong that was done. But a Christian definition of atonement is the reconciliation of God and humankind through Jesus Christ. Jesus wanted to bring us into one with God. I read a sermon this week given by Diana Butler Bass, a distinguished author from the Episcopal tradition. She pointed me to the words of an English lady named Julian of Norwich. Julian lived a long time ago from 1342 until 1416. She was an anchoress, that is she led a solitary life in a small building connected to the church. All the interactions she had with people were through the window of her small cell. When Julian was about 30 years old, she contracted some illness, perhaps the plague. She was lying on what was believed to be her deathbed. While in that state she had a series of visions of Jesus Christ bleeding in front of her. A web site called the Julian Centre offered this information, “She received insight into his sufferings and his love for us. Julian’s message remains one of hope and trust in God, whose compassionate love is always given to us. In this all-gracious God there can be no element of wrath. The wrath — ‘all that is contrary to peace and love — is in us and not in God. God’s saving work in Jesus of Nazareth and in the gift of God's spirit, is to slake our wrath in the power of his merciful and compassionate love’.” I would say that Jesus came to show us God’s love, God’s mercy and in so doing change us from people of wrath into people of peace and love. Julian eventually wrote about her visions in a book called Revelations of Divine Love, which is thought to be the first book written in English by a woman. In this book, there is a place where Julian focused on the suffering of Jesus. She wrote, “Of all pains that lead to salvation this is the most pain, to see thy Love suffer. How might any pain be more to me than to see Him that is all my life, all my bliss, and all my joy, suffer?” As followers of Jesus, we have pain because Jesus had so much pain. This led her to a conclusion, that Jesus suffered with us. She wrote, “Here saw I a great ONEING betwixt Christ and us: for when He was in pain, we were in pain.” That expression, ONEING, is just like that other expression I mentioned, atonement. Jesus suffering brings us into one with him and with God. Diana Butler Bass concluded that while we might say that Jesus died for us, we might better say that Jesus died with us. With us is so much different than for us. It joins us in community with other people. It indicates that we are experiencing an event together rather than separately. When we say that Jesus died with us it makes all the difference to me. Jesus isn't somehow apart from us. He joins with us in our lives, coming to meet us where we are, sinners who struggle, and yet he is right there with us. When I feel that Jesus is with me, it makes my journey easier. It creates an understanding that God didn’t just come to earth as some strange person but rather as someone that knows me and stays with me. It is like a best friend. Jesus showed how he is with us when they arrested him in the garden. They asked if he was Jesus of Nazareth. He responded ‘I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, ‘I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.’ Jesus was with his disciples and protected them from harm. What does it mean to be with Jesus? Today, it means that we suffer with him, we join him in his agony. It means that we share in his sorrow for some deserted him when he died while others refused to give up their sins. It means that we commit ourselves to following the will of God, even if it hurts us in some way. So, we reflect on the suffering that Jesus went through both for us and with us. We are thankful for his sacrifice. Given what we know about the word of Jesus, the truth of Jesus, we commit ourselves to be with him, walking with our Savior, staying committed to God each step of the way. Amen.
In the normal course of a Sunday liturgy, we encounter our faith and our relationship with God in multiple ways. We use our minds and the senses of sight and hearing as we listen to God’s word as it is found in Scripture. We enter into the ritual of our service. In so doing, we connect to the words of Jesus and the words of countless Christians over the centuries. And we use our sense of taste when we join as a community in the Eucharist, a meal of bread and wine, sharing in the Body and Blood of Christ. As we begin the busiest and most important week of the church year, we can expand our connection to God by using the additional sense of touch. We also have the opportunity to become emotionally connected with what Jesus experienced during Holy Week. I think this happens differently than at any other time of the church year. We began on this day with the procession of palms. As we carry the palms and process around the parking lot, we seek to recreate in a small way what the people experienced on that day. We add our voices to all of those who praised Jesus as the true Messiah, our Savior. The emotion is one of great joy. Hosanna to God in the highest we proclaim. This week will also end in great joy as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and excitement of Easter. But in between those two places of great joy we have sorry and suffering as we share the story of the terrible crucifixion of Jesus. It is as if we are on a roller coater, which has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. I would suggest that we try to place ourselves in these stories. Imagine how it would have felt if we were one of the disciples. Can you allow yourself to feel the confusion and the fear of what would happen to Jesus and to yourself if you were there? I believe they also felt the terrible loss from the death of Jesus. And on Easter, they must have had questions about whether what they heard was real. Then they finally shared the amazement and joy when they saw Christ once more. Let’s give into our senses and emotions as we live this Holy Week. Our gospel readings are from Mark. It is the shortest and I would say the most straightforward of all of the gospels. The largest portion of the gospel tells the story of the last week, focusing on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just today, we read 20% of the entire gospel. It is often said that Mark’s Gospel is a Passion narrative with a very long introduction. Many times prior, Mark prepared us for that last week such as the times when Jesus foreshadowed his death and resurrection. Mark has some twists as well. You may remember that every time Jesus performed a miracle in Mark’s gospel, he would tell folks to keep quiet about it. Tell no one he said. Now we switch from the idea of keeping the miracles of Jesus quiet to a magnificent, processional entrance into Jerusalem. Suddenly Jesus is surrounded by people who are cheering him on as the messiah. We had some interesting discussions on Wednesday after we had read the Palm Sunday story. How could the disciples go to a place where a donkey or colt was hitched and just take it? And when they were confronted by some bystanders they just said, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately and they were allowed to take it. One writer suggested that the use of the donkey had been preplanned, that when the disciples said the Lord needs it those words were a secret code about what was to happen. I usually think about the procession with the palms as something that happened on the fly but it may have been planned for some time. Maybe they were allowed to take the donkey because they were in Bethany, the place of Lazarus. Bethany may have been a stronghold of faith in Jesus. Another idea is that the fame of Jesus spread dramatically after he raised Lazarus from the dead and perhaps when someone heard that Jesus wanted a donkey, they were quite willing to allow it. Another discussion had to do with the palms. Processions with palms were part of another Jewish feast called the Feast of Tabernacles which was held in the fall so perhaps the palms were a connection to people of the glory of God. Of course, palms and tree branches as well as cloaks were strewn on the ground in front of Jesus as he rode the donkey. All of these are signs of honor for a king. And then there is the donkey. Using a donkey that had never been ridden before was a sign of honor for Jesus. It also connected him to King David who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In my daughter’s church in Flagstaff, they will have a donkey present during their procession of recreating, another way to touch, feel and smell what happened as Jesus entered the great city. The emotions we experience continue throughout the week and they are often accompanied by ways that we use our sense of touch as well. On Maundy Thursday, we will have the washing of the feet. For those who wash the feet, it recreates the washing of the feet that was done by Jesus for the apostles. Jesus demonstrated that we are to be servants of others. If you have your feet washed, it requires you to humble yourself to allow someone else to do this kind of thing for you. Peter actually refused when it was first suggested by Jesus. But Jesus told him that was required. Serving others and allowing others to serve you is part of our Christian life. We learn in the recreating and in the doing. The same thing is true of Good Friday. Someone will carry the cross into the church. As we do so, it is another opportunity to touch and to feel the emotions of fear and suffering that Jesus experienced for us. Perhaps we might even have the same sense of abandonment that Jesus must have felt, being left by his followers, knowing that this is what God the Father asked of him and wishing that it could be different. One way for us to understand the fullness of the crucifixion of Jesus is to realize that through his death and resurrection he can relate to the deaths that we experience. It is a time to remember those that have died and left us. As we reflect on the loss that we have at the death of Jesus, the sadness and the despair, we also know that Jesus joins us in the times of our sadness and despair. But the crucifixion is not the end of the story. The cross of Calvary is connected to the resurrection of Easter. We do not just remember the death of Jesus, we know the joy of the resurrection. When we remember the loss of our loved ones, we should also celebrate the joy of life after death for them, our hope of everlasting life. The crucifixion is intertwined so closely with the resurrection and the Easter joy that comes with it. We cannot come to Easter without having gone through the death on Calvary. We do all of this to connect to the things that happened when Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth. We recreate something that happened in the past, the reality of Jesus and his disciples going through the week that changed our lives. But it is not just about the past. It is also about the present. It is about the way that Jesus comes into our lives today, for I believe that he joins us on all of our individual emotional journeys. Jesus is with us in our suffering and sadness as well as in our joy. This week is also about the future. For Christians believe that Jesus died and rose again. He promised that he would go and make a place for us. We prepare ourselves for the future this week. I invite you this day and this week to consider how Jesus changed your life, not just by using your mind, the words you say or the things you hear. Let’s allow our other senses to be a part of this week as well, the sense of touch in particular, to feel the things that Jesus and his disciples did. And I invite you to open your hearts to the emotions of this week. Allow the feelings of sorrow and joy to enter you. Perhaps the highs and lows you experience will be more meaningful. For me, it increases my thankfulness for all that Jesus did for us. Amen.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a pilgrim? We use that term to refer to people who left England on the Mayflower in 1620 and came to Massachusetts searching for religious freedom. You may also remember that John Wayne called some people “pilgrim” in his westerns. I think he meant it as a derogatory term about people who came from the eastern part of the United States who were soft and timid, not ready for the harsh realities of frontier living. I am thinking specifically about our Christian pilgrimage. The idea of taking a pilgrimage is ancient. Fifteen of the Psalms are called Songs of Ascent. It is believed that these Psalms were sung by people on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Folks sang these songs as they ascended to Jerusalem some 2500 feet above sea level. Christians have taken pilgrimages to holy sites for centuries. The most famous of these is Camino de Santiago or the way of Saint James through northern Spain. Martin Sheen made a movie called The Way which is about that path to Santiago de Compostela. He learned things about himself and about his relationship with God on that pilgrimage. Our gospel story today is about a pilgrimage. The story takes place in Jerusalem during the Passover. The city may have grown by six or seven times its normal population during Passover. I am sure it was a spirit filled time for them. Jesus and his followers came to Jerusalem from Galilee. In fact, Jesus was somewhat of a celebrity because he had just raised Lazarus from the dead. We read that some Greeks came to Jerusalem as well. It would have been a long trip. Those Greeks must have heard the buzz surrounding Jesus. They asked Philip if they could see Jesus. Whether they wanted a sign, to just be able to see someone like Jesus, to get his autograph or perhaps to hear his preaching we are not told. Of course, Philip was one of the apostles, called by Jesus at the same time he called Andrew and Peter. Eventually Philip and Andrew told Jesus about the Greeks. I wonder if they understood the response Jesus gave them. Our whole life can be a pilgrimage, a journey to bring us closer to God. But today, let’s consider the journey we have taken during this Lenten season. Lent is a pilgrimage to bring us to the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday and the glorious resurrection on Easter. Maybe on your pilgrimage you have fasted or given up some kind of food. You may have entered into a time of study. Perhaps you have attended in a different way to your relationship with God in prayer. But all of us have also taken a journey in Scripture. The gospels of this Lenten season take us on the journey of Jesus, preparing us for the upcoming events. We have studied the baptism of Jesus, his temptation in the desert and the beginnings of his ministry as he proclaimed the good news that the kingdom of God was near. Jesus told people in Galilee that he would undergo great suffering, be killed and raised in three days. Peter rebuked him for saying that. It brought to mind times that we refused the words of Christ. We journeyed with Jesus to Jerusalem where he threw the money-changers and the vendors out of the Temple. We heard that God sent Jesus to redeem us that we might be saved through him. Today, we once again are reminded that Jesus will die and be raised from the dead, all to glorify the name of God. We join Jesus on his journey. I remember a time when I visited the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. While I was there, I went on a short pilgrimage on the grounds of the cathedral. They took us out into the gardens and we couldn’t see the cathedral for a time. When the enormous cathedral came into view again, I had the sense of excitement and joy that real pilgrims must feel. They know that the journey is near an end and they look forward to visiting a special place. We are getting close to the excitement of Easter. Perhaps you even imagine that your journey is at an end. How has the journey through scripture prepared you for the sadness of Good Friday and for the revelation of Easter? Let me encourage you to think about it this way. Last week, in my sermon, I asked you to feel this overwhelming message of God’s forgiveness and mercy, found in every lesson. In the Old Testament, God forgave the Israelites when they sinned as they followed Moses in the desert. God’s forgiveness was found in the Psalms. Later, we read about God forgiving the people Paul wrote to in Ephesus. And we listened to John tell us about God’s love for us which is so strong that he sent Jesus to save us from our sin. I know you have been through these events many times in your lives. Still, I wonder if it is possible for you look forward one more time to what is about to come. Can you be excited that you can see it in the distance? Can you look forward to experiencing one more time the love of God in Jesus? Jesus offered us compassion and forgiveness. Jesus said that he would do what God the Father asked him to do. Jesus gave up his life that we may be united with God. We are called to follow Jesus and to live our lives in the spirit of what Jesus taught us. Let’s dedicate ourselves to following the example of Jesus in our own life through compassion and forgiveness. Jesus showed compassion often. In Matthew “When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.” Matthew 4:14 In Mark, “‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.” Mark 8:2 And again in Mark, Mark 6.34: “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” We show compassion for those who are sick and suffering, for those who are lonely, for those who are depressed, for those who have lost loved ones, the list goes on and on. I hope that you are inspired to have compassion because Jesus showed his compassion. And the other trait that Jesus showed is forgiveness. Luke’s gospel speaks of the forgiveness Jesus offered, “they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”. In Matthew, we read “Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matt 18:21-22. Forgiveness is something easy to preach and hard to do. I would suggest that we forgive others who have wronged us and seek reconciliation with those from whom we have been separated. The Peace we have each Sunday is about reconciliation, an effort to be united with others before we come to the communion table. Forgiveness is something we offer to those who ask for it. Forgiveness is something we give to people who are trying to change their behavior. Forgiveness is something we look for when two people may have misunderstood each other or simply forgot how to treat each other. But forgiveness does not mean that we should make ourselves vulnerable to being hurt again. So, forgiveness may not come with the reestablishment of a relationship. The Amish people are an amazing group for their communal ability to forgive those who have harmed them. We could learn from what they do. May you find forgiveness in your heart this season. We are coming ever closer to the end of Lent. I hope that you can see the end in sight, not because you are tired of the work of Lent. Rather, I hope that you look forward to the experience of Holy Week. And I invite you during Holy week to all of the experience that our robust liturgy offers. We all have the chance to experience the mystery of Tenebrae, the humility and servanthood of Holy Thursday, the sadness and the gift of Jesus on Good Friday and the joy of Easter Evening and Easter day. Come and share in the time when Jesus glorified the name of God and join Jesus as he continues his journey of compassion and forgiveness. Amen.
I remember watching golf tournaments and seeing Christians who wanted to make a statement. They would wear some colorful outfit, maybe a rainbow colored wig on a man. They would stand in a place where the camera would find them in the background. They would have a sign or a shirt that had the verse John 3:16 on it. Others have that verse on a license plate or even a sign. Today we read that verse as part of the gospel. It may be the most famous verse in the entire New Testament. “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.” Today, I hope that you feel all warm inside. Because this single verse is clearly a statement about God’s love for us, God’s gift to us and the willingness of Jesus to save us regardless of what we have done. It is comforting. This single verse gives us reassurance in our faith. This verse comes with warning signs to the preacher saying beware, be careful. You see, the verse is so famous that it has come to have a particular meaning to all who know it and the preacher must tread cautiously around this verse in preaching the gospel. I think the good news we receive today can cause us to become complacent, to lose our focus or even to become lazy. For the work of a Christian is still hard even though God gives us so much. There is a very consistent theme that runs throughout all of today’s scripture lessons. In each reading, people have sinned against God and yet God reaches out, forgives them and heals them. So in Numbers, we heard that the Israelites complained to Moses about God. God gave instructions about placing a bronze serpent on a pole and when the people looked at the pole, they were healed from the bites of serpents. The Psalm has two verses that say something similar, First, we say, “Some were fools and took to rebellious ways; they were afflicted because of their sins.” Then we hear that “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” The letter to the Ephesians tells about the people in that city who were sinners and followed Satan rather than God. But God’s mercy came and saved them. God’s mercy comes to save us. This letter is full of theology and good news. We realize in this reading that God’s love is unchanging. Despite the fact that we have sinned, God’s love has never left us. God offers us renewal of life through Jesus Christ. Jesus brings us back into God’s fold. Jesus gives us new life whether we are Jewish, pagan, Gentile, whether we are man or woman. It is clearly a measure of God’s great mercy. We hear of God’s saving grace twice in this short reading. We seek to accept the grace that God has given us. It is a gift that we have not earned. Because nothing we do earns the grace and mercy of God, we have nothing to boast about. Our good works are the result of God working in us. We do not do these good works to obtain any benefit. Rather, we offer our good works out of thanks for the goodness and mercy we receive from God. Even the gospel speaks of the fact that some lived in the darkness of sin rather than the light of the world. But those who follow the light of Christ will be saved. God’s mercy is always present. God’s love for us lifts us up and brings us into the light of Christ. We have a consistent theme of God’s love, a cornerstone of our faith. I would also ask you to remember that reading this verse all by itself may cause us to miss a portion of what John is trying to tell us. I think there is also an indication of how difficult it is to follow Jesus, a message about how hard it can be to understand God’s mysterious ways and also a message about our actions in this world. John’s gospel connected us to the reading from Numbers. The people complained about God’s work. Then God sent serpents to kill them. The people repented and then God had Moses create a bronze serpent on a pole to heal them. Why would God have Moses create what seems to be an idol, a serpent on a stick? Our modern day minds cannot imagine that simply looking on a bronze serpent would heal the bite of a snake. Yet somehow, John decided that this story would provide additional meaning to his declaration that God sent his son to save us. The serpent on the pole brings us right to the tragedy of the crucifixion. John calls on us to lift up our hearts to the cross of Cavalry. In so doing, we are healed from our sins. The Greek word we translate as lift up can also be translated as exalt. So, comparing the lifting up of Jesus can be a way for us to remember not only his terrible agony and death on the cross but also a way to glorify the name of Jesus, the Son of God. We see the death of Jesus as a sign of his love for us. We know his resurrection as a way to eternal life. Theologian Lance Pape wrote about the serpent and the cross this way, “But in John’s theological imagination, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension are collapsed into a single movement of divine agency: Jesus exalted by God. Just as the Israelites were paradoxically required to look upon the very thing that brought death in order to receive life, so we are asked to look upon Jesus’ “lifting up” in humiliating crucifixion and receive it as part of God’s plan to glorify Jesus and save the world.” The passages in our gospel are part of a commentary given by Jesus at the end of a discussion he held with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee who came to see Jesus at night so no one else would know what he was doing. He asked Jesus several questions. Nicodemus appeared confused by the answers he received especially after Jesus told him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Jesus told Nicodemus that we must be born in the spirit. For Episcopalians being born is the spirit happens when we are baptized. Perhaps that is why Jesus later refers to those who will be saved as those who choose the light of Christ, a light that we receive in our baptism. It may be easy for us to understand all this now but Jesus’ words were not so easy to understand then. There are mysteries of God that we find difficult to understand now. We live by faith accepting that God will take care of us. When John told us to lift up the Son of Man it is more than just an act of worship, it is also a call to action. We are called to turn away from sin and to follow the way of Jesus. That call means living in unity with others and sharing God’s love with everyone in this world. It is not always easy. It can be hard to do in a world that often does not return God’s love to us. Despite the challenge, it is a wonderful place to be. We are blessed by God’s love for us. Nothing we say or do can change that love of God. It comes with forgiveness when we have sinned and confessed those sins, seeking never to sin again. It is because of that gift of grace that we now are free to offer that gift to others. As we find in the Book of Common Prayer we are now perfectly free to go and love one another. I am not sure what you have thought or felt during this Lenten season. Perhaps you have reflected on something in your past or current life that you wish was different, some way that you have sinned or missed the mark and now you want God to help you overcome your failures. Today’s message is that God is always there, loves you and wants you to receive God’s grace and mercy. May you feel the power of God’s unchanging love as you continue on your Lenten journey. Come and receive the bread of Christ that that he may live in us, and we in him. Amen.
When I was young, one of the special persons in my life was my grandmother on my mother’s side. We called her Nanny and she would come sometimes and stay with us for several weeks or a month. By that time in her life, Nanny wasn’t able to do a lot of things. She didn’t drive and didn’t do much around the house. But she was a fun loving, spiritual and caring individual. She loved all of her grandchildren and we loved being with her. Nanny had some special habits and hobbies. She loved to stay up late at night, perhaps 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning and she slept until about 1:00 in the afternoon. She also loved to watch professional wrestling. Pro wrestling used to come on TV around 11:30 at night and sometimes we got to stay up and watch with her. Why this lovely, genteel lady who wouldn’t hurt anyone liked pro wrestling is not something I can explain. What I do know is that sometimes people like to watch fights especially those that they know will not be particularly harmful. I think about going to professional hockey matches and the fans getting excited when two hockey players start to fight. Fans stand up to watch. The cheers and the jeers fill the stadium. Well, today we have a fight, or at least an altercation, involving someone we didn’t expect. Jesus gets angry with the moneychangers and those selling animals for sacrifice in the Temple. I wonder how many quickly ran to see the action, how many wanted to see it just for the sport. Did anyone really want to know what he said or what he was trying to accomplish? Unlike the fights in hockey and professional wrestling, this wasn’t something done just for show. It reminds me of the anger that God demonstrated to the people of Israel in the Old Testament, the times God decided to punish the people because they were unfaithful. The very fact that Jesus became angry and took action against those who had profaned the Temple was amazing. We always think of Jesus as the healer, both physically and emotionally, and yet here he is shouting instructions to those who did wrong. In response to people who questioned him, Jesus’ actions provide us with an important message, a message about his reason for coming to earth. Each of the other three gospel writers placed this event in the week that Jesus was crucified. They made the point that Jesus’ actions caused the Temple leaders to be so angry that they put him to death. But John describes this scene at the very beginning of his gospel, at the start of Jesus’ public ministry. John wants us to know from the start that we find God in Jesus, he is our temple. Jesus was describing his horrible death and the good news that he would be raised up again after three days. It is the centerpiece of our faith. Let us consider why Jesus made such a scene in the first place. Jews were required to come to the Temple and to offer a sacrifice. They came from all over the world and needed to change their money into Jewish coins. It is likely that those changing money and those selling animals for sacrifice were trying to take advantage of the pilgrims, tipping the scales so to speak. They were most likely encroaching on the sacredness of the Temple, moving ever closer to the holy place. Jesus didn’t want the honor of his Father’s name to be treated that way. He didn’t want the poor people to be taken advantage of. The changing of money and the selling of sacrifices took place in the Court of the Gentiles, the last place that non-Jewish people could go. I would say that Jesus wanted everyone, including the Gentiles, to know that God loves us as we are, that there is no need to pay for a burnt offering to have a relationship with God. We don’t have to pay a Temple tax to live in God’s spirit. This Jesus we encounter today is so different than the Jesus we will experience during Holy Week. This Jesus is strong and determined, willing to fight for his Father in Heaven. This Jesus seeks social justice for the poor Jewish people of his day. This Jesus seeks inclusiveness for the Gentiles in his world. When Jesus was arrested during Holy Week, he became quiet, often silent when he was confronted by his accusers. Perhaps Jesus knew that his time on earth was not just about teaching or healing, it was also about being. Jesus chose to be with us in all of our lifetime experiences. He even chose to be with us in our death. And through his death he leads us into a new life, the life of the resurrected Jesus, the life of the glory of God. The more important words in this Scripture come from the response he gave to the people who confronted him. Some of the Jewish people wanted a sign from Jesus, proof that he was from God. Jesus told them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Later we are told that Jesus was referring to his own body, that he would be crucified and raised up on the third day. I would say that Jesus was not just referring to his own body as a Temple. I was inspired this week by a commentary written by a lady named Debie Thomas who wrote about our bodies as a holy and wonderful offering to God. She suggested that Jesus wants each of us to think about our bodies as temples. As we continue our Lenten preparation for Holy Week, I would ask you to think about how you might consider your body a temple, a good place to welcome God into our lives. It seems that so often we think of our bodies in negative terms. I am too fat. I don’t like my gray hair. I wish that my clothes fit better. I don’t like my wrinkles. Or I don’t like the way I look as I get older. In this world, we tend to glorify beautiful bodies and people are made to feel badly if they cannot look like the models on TV. All this, of course, forgets about the fact that the models are often unhappy with their bodies as well. Even in our religious lives, we often come to believe that our bodies are somehow sinful, something to be controlled so as not to cause us trouble. In the spirit of Jesus’ statement today, can we think of our bodies as a place to welcome God? Can we see our bodies as a temple of the spirit? Can we realize the grace and beauty that we have been given? Can we see that our bodies were meant to be used in worship, to offer hospitality to others? Do we know how much God wishes to be with us in body, mind and spirit? When we open ourselves to God, then we invite God to give us faith to follow. We ask God in today’s Psalm to cleanse me from my secret faults. Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; God is our strength; through God we are enlightened. There is a song that was written by Brian Wren called Good is the Flesh. The song reminds us that Jesus was the incarnation, the coming of God to earth. The last verse goes like this, Good is the pleasure of God in our flesh, longing in all, as in Jesus, to dwell, glad of embracing, and tasting, and smell, good is the body, for good and for God, Good is the flesh that the Word has become. Despite all of our faults, we are made in the image of God. During this Lenten season, we take the time to remember God’s blessings to us and to consider how we might prepare for the glory of that Easter morning. I ask you to think about opening up your body, your mind and your spirit to God. For God loves you just the way you are. Invite God to come into you that you might live in God. I say that God wanted us to open ourselves that we might live in God’s glory. And let us give thanks for Jesus. He was willing to fight for the honor due to God the Father. He was willing to fight for each of us and he was willing to die that we might find God and receive God’s mercy. We find God in and through Jesus. Let us worship God with every fabric of our being by praising God, by praying to God and by listening and following the words of Jesus. Amen.

February 25, 2018

Each week, I ask the Holy Spirit to help me know what God’s message is to us. But each week I am uncertain whether God is offering us the words of comfort or the words that challenge us to follow. Am I called to share God’s love for us, the message that gives us comfort when we have great difficulties, the knowledge that Jesus is with us during our times of trial? All of us come to church bearing burdens, seeking God’s solace. Jesus spoke about his comforting presence in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 11:28-30), “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Today’s gospel is a reminder of the love that Jesus has for us. Jesus said that he would “undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed.” All of this he did because he loves us and was willing to give his life for us. But sometimes, the gospel is sharp. It comes to us as a challenge or perhaps a warning. We are told that following Jesus is a difficult path. Today’s gospel falls into that second category. Jesus is blunt. In a more common translation, Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter, he told him to shut up. Their exchange was not friendly. Get behind me, Satan, he said to Peter. If you want to follow me, take up your cross he said to the crowd. You will gain nothing if you obtain all the wealth of this world, rather you will lose your life and I will be ashamed of you when I rejoin God the Father in heaven. Peter had the unique ability to make great pronouncements one minute and to get himself in big trouble the next minute. It makes Peter a good example for us. He tried hard to do the right thing but often he made mistakes. Jesus never gave up on Peter and Peter became the head of the church. Peter had just proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. I think Peter’s pronouncement had a different meaning to him and the other apostles than it does to us today. Perhaps they thought that Jesus would become a king like his long ago ancestor David. That is why, when Jesus declared that he would be crucified, Peter jumped up and said, don’t be saying that Jesus. Jesus knew Peter was wrong. He didn’t come to kick the Romans out of Israel. Jesus wasn’t going to lead some army against their foes. Instead Jesus wanted them to understand his messiahship was something totally different. Jesus’ message was about how we give up the things of the earth and instead focus on the things of God. It was a hard message for the apostles to hear and it is a hard message for us to live today. What does it mean? Well I don’t think that Jesus wants all of us to live in a monastery. This past week at the clergy retreat we spent a lot of time in the prayers of those who lived in the Benedictine monastery. Benedictine monasticism proclaims communal prayers eight times each day. We offered prayers about four times on Wednesday. The prayers were wonderful but I would not be able to do that every day. Jesus often went off by himself to pray. But Jesus wasn’t a hermit. Jesus lived among the people, teaching and healing and sharing a meal. I think taking up the cross means something other than being a monk. What does it mean to say that I will take up the cross and follow Jesus? C. S. Lewis offered this “Some people when they say that a thing is meant metaphorically conclude from this point that it is hardly meant at all. They rightly think that Christ spoke metaphorically when he told us to carry the cross; they wrongly conclude that carrying a cross is nothing more than living a respectable life and subscribing moderately to charities.” We don’t have to actually carry a cross but it isn’t about being nice either. William Temple was the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II and he offered this suggestion, “The principle of sacrifice is that we choose to do or suffer what apart from our love we should not choose to do or to suffer”. Some people use the expression “That is my cross to bear” when they refer to a difficult situation in their life. It might mean that they have a difficult relationship with another person or a job that they don’t like or an illness that will not go away. I would say Jesus wasn’t thinking that taking up your cross meant that you would experience difficult things in your life, even though we often do. When Jesus said take up your cross I think he was telling the apostles that they should be willing to die for Jesus. They would proclaim the gospel of Jesus even though others threatened them. The apostles would be killed for sharing their faith. Today, there are Christian martyrs who stand up for their faith despite the political or social environment they live in. Christians in Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan face the pressure of persecution every day. I have been a follower of Jesus since the day I was born. I have never faced persecution as a Christian. So, what does taking up our cross mean to you and I. Let’s look at Peter one more time. When Jesus was arrested and about to be crucified, Peter followed at a distance. He entered the courtyard nearby and three times he was asked if he knew Jesus. Three times he said no, I do not know the man. When Peter was with Jesus in Galilee, it was easy to follow Jesus, easy to declare him the Messiah. But Peter fell down when difficult times came. Have you ever struggled with your faith in difficult times? Have you refused to acknowledge Jesus? Have any of us stood by and let others make false statements about Jesus? Jesus told us that we are to care for the poor, the hungry, the naked, the sick and those in prison. Have we ever forgotten to help those in need? Have we ever found ourselves enjoying the fruits of the earth so much that we forget what Jesus wanted us to do? All of us want to be wealthy, to be strong, to be successful and to be able to influence others. If we let those wishes keep us from doing what Jesus taught us, we deny him. Jesus always served others. Taking up our cross is dying to our selfish wishes and living for Jesus while serving others. C. Clifton Black is a professor of Biblical Studies who wrote that “Christian faith is not a life-style choice; it is a vocation to never-ending struggle. By lying about Jesus and the truth of the gospel, we deny the truth about ourselves. Rejecting the Son of Man, desperately trying to save our own lives, we lose ourselves -- just as he assured us we would (8:35-37). Only by giving ourselves to others as Jesus gave himself for us (10:45) will we ever find ourselves.” Our other readings for today are about faith. Abraham had faith that God would be with him. Abraham fell on his face before God trusting that God would take care of him and God did, giving both Abraham and Sarah a son even in their old age. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that Abraham did not receive God’s promise because he followed the commandments, the law. Rather, Abraham received God’s promise because of his faith. Jesus strong words in the gospel about taking up our cross are for our own good. Jesus wants us to be faithful. Take up your cross means that we trust that God will lead us on the right path. Our job is to give up the things of this earth and focus on the things of God. When we follow God through Jesus Christ we are destined to have that peace which only God can give us. We are comforted. That is why we take up our cross, to receive God’s peace and to receive the hope of the resurrection. It is the promise Jesus gave to those who follow him. Amen.

February 4, 2018

Many years ago I read a short story titled “The Lady or the Tiger”. The story was set in a time long ago, perhaps during the era when the Romans ruled the entire Mediterranean area. A king of a small community ruled with an iron fist. His way to determine the guilt or innocence of someone was to offer a test. The accused party would go to the center of the arena. The accused would choose one of two doors. Behind one door was a tiger who would kill the man. Behind the other door was a lady who would be the accused man’s wife. It seems that the daughter of the king had fallen in love with a young man who was not deemed to be a satisfactory partner. The king decided to put the young man to the test. Now, the daughter of the king had learned which door held the lady and which held the tiger. The young man looked to his loved one and she indicated that he should choose the door to his right. The author of the story, Frank Stockton, wrote that the daughter of the king had struggled with her decision. Should she allow her loved one to marry another lady or did she want him to die instead? The author doesn’t give us the answer, only asks us to decided for ourselves whether the young daughter had sent her loved one to death or allowed him to marry another woman. The reader decides. When I read the story, I wished that the author had given us the answer, rather than to suggest that we should figure it out for ourselves. I sometimes feel that way about Scripture as well. Each of us may need to do some soul searching when scripture is not totally clear. Mark’s gospel is the shortest and most straight forward . When I read it I sometimes want more. It would be helpful if Jesus had told us why he did certain things. What does the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law mean to us? Why did Jesus leave the crowds to pray? Why did Jesus decide to leave the town of Capernaum? I will share my ideas and hope that you might share yours with me later. This passage from Mark is about a miracle, actually several miracles. Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law and she immediately began to serve them. Let me point out that the words we actually read say Jesus “lifted her up”. It is the same Greek verb that is used in other parts of the New Testament to refer to Jesus’ resurrection. I would say that Mark wants us to understand that the healing Jesus performed was more than physical healing. This must have been a healing of body, mind and spirit. I think the serving that the mother-in-law did afterward had little to do with the household chores. This healing did not create the opportunity for a woman to be placed in a position of caring for the men. Rather, she was healed in a way that allowed her to serve God. It is the calling that each of us receives to spread the word of God through the service we provide to others. We follow in Jesus’ footsteps when we serve. Later in Mark we find this passage, ““For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). We are thankful for the healing that Jesus gave to the people he was with. We ask Jesus to heal us of all of our ills. The healing that we receive may be physical or as our collect suggests it might be healing us from our sins. Whatever we need, God heals us. Once we are healed we are ready to serve God and to serve others. Isn’t that what Paul wrote about? After all, Jesus healed Paul. Jesus got Paul to see that persecuting Christians was wrong and instead Paul was called to convert people to Christianity. Paul knew that his calling didn’t make him someone special. He was just doing his job, serving the Lord by sharing the good news of Jesus. Even more, Paul understood that he was called to meet people where they were. For the Jewish people, Paul helped them find Jesus in the law which was part of their life. For the Gentiles, Paul could explain that his relationship with God through Jesus did not depend on any law. By doing so, Paul made it as easy as possible for people to hear the words of Jesus and to understand that Jesus was their savior as well. Paul wrote that living and preaching the gospel was a reward in itself. Preaching the gospel was compelling and liberating. (James Childs) I found some helpful words about today’s gospel in a commentary by Eleonore Stump. “The whole town hears of her healing and rushes all their sick to Peter’s house. The Gospel says that by the evening the whole city was gathered at the door of Peter’s house (Mark 1:33)! Now, all of a sudden, Jesus seems to have become a one-man hospital. The Gospel says that Jesus healed most of them”. But soon Jesus left the crowds in Capernaum and Jesus decided to go to another town to give the good news to other people. What might we learn from all of his actions? On the surface, it seems that Jesus didn’t care for all of the people who came to see him and needed his help. What happened to his compassion? We all want people to be healed and I am sure that Jesus wanted to heal everyone who came to see him. One way to think about this is to remember that the healing Jesus provided was that resurrection healing, preparing them for service in the kingdom of God. I believe that Jesus concluded that some in the crowd were just there for the physical healing. They had no interest in becoming disciples. They were not willing to live the rest of their lives following Jesus. They were using him for their needs and not listening to the rest of the message that Jesus had to offer. Another thought is that Jesus needed a break. Although we are called to serve others, we cannot always be there for every person who needs our help. We must find some time to rejuvenate, to refresh. Jesus knew that self-care was important. Any of you who are involved in the daily care of another person must find some time for yourself, some time to rest. When Jesus left the crowds in Capernaum, he went off by himself to pray. There were too many people in the town for him to pray there. He went to ask God to restore him to his full strength and Jesus went and asked God to help him decide what he should do next. That may be the most important message we take from today’s scripture. Our prayer life is a time to find comfort, solitude, inspiration and renewal. Once again, I turn to Eleonore Stump, “And yet how absurd it is to suppose that prayer should take second-place to work, no matter what the work is! And how sadly and understandably absurd it is to suppose that the mission of Jesus is to be a ‘Doctor Without Borders.’” And so maybe it isn’t hard to figure out what Jesus was praying about in the early morning in the countryside. Each healing Jesus does is a good thing. But good things can actually get in the way of serving God well. To serve God well, a person has to do not just any good things that others want him to do. He has to do those good things that God has called him to do. It may take prayer to figure out which good things to turn down. In prayer and reflection, Jesus realized that he needed to go to another place, to another town. Jesus came to be the redeemer of every person, not just the people of Capernaum. Jesus knew that he came not just as an extraordinary healer but also to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God had arrived. In our prayers, we turn to God and ask for insight. Yes, we ask God for healing, for all of us need healing of one kind or another. We also pray that God will help us to know what actions we should take, to understand what we are called to do, who we are called to help. Let us pray not just for ourselves but also for this church that our community may know how we might follow God’s will. Amen.

January 28 2018

We live in a time when the number of people who say they are religious and the number of people attending church is declining. Yet, Hollywood still produces movies about religious topics. During my lifetime there have been many movies about exorcisms and last year a movie was produced called “The Exorcism of Anna Ecklund”. I must say I did not go to the movie. I think it was a horror movie and that is not my interest. But I do believe that there are evil spirits in the world and I do believe that we must fight against the evil that does exist. In the gospel story Jesus performs an exorcism. A spirit inside a man complains about the work of Jesus. And Jesus calls that spirit out of the man. Not many people today know of someone who had an evil spirit that required an exorcism. It would be easy to say that the lesson does not apply to us. We may not need an exorcism but I think we all call upon Jesus to help us avoid the evil spirits that keep us from being close to God. Or perhaps we can call upon Jesus to keep us from temptation. Each of our lessons today offers words of advice. The Psalm points out the glory of God. We give thanks to the Lord God with all of our heart. We recognize the wonderful acts that God has done. We know that God works in truth and equity for all. And we know that we will find wisdom when we trust in the Lord. Faith, trust and hope in the Lord lead us to ask God for help. In the first lesson from Deuteronomy, we hear that God will raise up a prophet from among the people. As Christians, we think of Jesus when we hear these words. We are told that “Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable”. God calls us to use those gifts of faith and trust that we may listen to Jesus. If we fail to listen to Jesus then we may be following the evil spirits that are mentioned in Mark’s gospel. Temptation may overtake us and keep us from hearing the word of the Lord. Paul wrote about temptation in his lesson for today. He wrote that knowledge can lead to pride whereas love leads us to care for our community. Much of the food in the marketplace came from offerings that were made to idols. Some people believed that eating this food was like worshiping the idol. But Paul said that idols are not gods therefore they cannot be worshipped. But the wise must not be prideful or hold this knowledge over the foolish. Paul wants us to help the weak, care for the suffering and love one another. Let us not lead others into temptation. Let us not think we are smarter or better than someone else. Once again it is about asking Jesus to help us avoid temptation, to avoid the evil spirits of this world. Today, we will have our annual meeting after the service. It is a time to celebrate what we have accomplished together, a time to recognize the work of many, a time to identify new leaders for the church and a time to consider what God might be calling us to in the future. I wish to share my own observations about our communal life with you as I know that some will not be able to attend the actual meeting. Our most important activity is the time we come together and worship God. We support each other when we come together, helping everyone to live in the Lord. Just as our lessons speak to us, it is a time to send away any evil spirits that threaten us and our relationship with Jesus. We praise God, we ask for God’s forgiveness and we share in the communion with Jesus. It is a special time. I find this congregation to be welcoming and caring for each other. I think that the Holy Spirit can be felt in this place. Every church, in fact every organization, has little cliques, groups that form. Our does too. But I don’t think our cliques are destructive to the life of this place. We should always be watchful that nothing separates us one from another. We should be friends with everyone. And we should also be watchful that we welcome other people to our church and encourage them to participate in any way that makes them feel comfortable. There are many indications that this is a healthy congregation of followers of Jesus. I am most thankful that so many volunteers have stepped up to offer activities for the church. Most recently, we have a couple offering an AA meeting and we have someone who plans to start a contemplative prayer group. Many others are active, offering programs like a book club, and a walking group. Our Harvest Festival took place for the second year in a row and so many volunteered to help. We had many people attend our strategic planning activity in the fall and many came in January to plan our next steps as a congregation. I encourage you to review some of our material on the strategic plan and I ask you to find ways to become involved in our many activities here. There are other positive signs for this congregation. The number of people attending our Sunday services has increased by about 3%. The number of people that we consider to be part of this congregation has grown as well. We have enough people on our membership lists that we were able to send an extra person to convention last year and we will do so again this year. It is always difficult to speak about money but we have good news in that space as well. If you look at our financial reports, you would see that our income was expected to be about $6500 less than our expenses in 2017. We were fortunate that so many people gave generously so that our shortfall was only $2700 for the year. In other good financial news, our budget for 2018 expects that our income will exceed our expenses for the first time in several years. Thanks for your generosity. We are blessed that someone left money to this church when they died. So many have given their time and money in the past to support this church. In 2012, this church created an Improvement fund that has helped us to maintain our church buildings and grounds. It is time to consider a new funding campaign for this place. My immediate wish is that we collect money to replace the air conditioners in this church which, I am told, have lasted for 17 years. I would also like to complete the improvements we have started in the Parish Hall kitchen so that we can relicense the kitchen and welcome people from outside of our church family for events that include food. I would also wish that we could finish off our plans to open a nursery. Several people have already given money towards that end. In my dreams, I would wish that we could replace our current organ with another used organ. I think we could accomplish that without spending too much money. Perhaps you have other wishes for a capital campaign for this place. In the near future, you will be asked for your own wish list and we will ask for your help as we move forward. Numbers are not the most important way to measure our communal progress. What I most appreciate is that we come together and share hospitality with each other. I have often heard from others about what delicious meals we serve here and I am thankful. We are called by Jesus and we were called by Paul to care for one another. I am so thankful for the outreach activities that this church is involved in. We help to feed the hungry, to care for those who have been abused, we help children in this community and in the world. Last year we gave money to the Boys and Girls Club for the first time, a new way to help young people. Today, I am so thankful for everyone of the people in this church who make it a special place. It is always risky to identify people by name. However, I wish to thank Linda Ostmeyer, our office manager, and Gary Quamme, our organist. I wish to thank our outgoing senior warden, Bobbie Lafford, and our outgoing junior warden, Don Strachota, for their wonderful work. Thanks to all of our vestry members and most especially thanks to my wife for her love and support. May Jesus keep the evil spirits from our door. Let us pray that God continues to send blessings to this place, that we hear the word of Jesus in all that we do and that the Holy Spirit Guides and protects us. Amen.

January 21, 2018

A week ago, I went to the movie theater. As I was coming out of the theater, I decided that I was going to stop in the restroom. I found myself following another person, A man was in front of me that I thought was strange looking. He was heavy set and not dressed well and I thought he had kind of a wild look about him. When we got into the restroom, I saw an employee mopping up the floor. Suddenly the man in front of me, the man I thought was wild looking, said to the employee, “thank you so much for keeping the restroom clean” and the employee thanked him for his comments. I was instantly ashamed of myself. I had judged the man as a strange person and yet he was the one who treated the employee with respect. He had demonstrated how all of us should act, caring for others and thanking them for their work. I realized again that we can immediately judge another person and yet our instant judgments of others can be so wrong. In Mark’s gospel today, we have another case of immediate judgment and action. Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee and he called on two sets of brothers to come and join him. In both case, the two brothers immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. Unlike my judgment, however, the apostles made a good choice. Their judgment, their choice to follow Jesus, was a good one. Our readings during this Epiphany season have been about the revelation of God: Jesus being revealed to the three wise men; John the Baptist declares that Jesus is the Lamb of God. We now take one more step in the process. Jesus declared that God’s kingdom was at hand and then called others to follow him. I believe that God does call us. It might be hard for us to recognize a specific call from God. As we have previously discussed many do not hear messages from God. But we have so many other ways to understand God’s call. We have the words of Scripture and we have the teachings of the church. We have the advice of good people who are with us and each of us has a conscience that helps us to know what we should or should not do. Our scriptures reflect several different ways that people responded to Gods call and some advice about how we are to behave. Let us consider the question of how others responded quickly, how God’s call can remain in someone’s heart for a long time, and how others have dealt with the question of balancing God’s call with the other things that happened in their lives. Perhaps we can find some lessons that may apply to our own situation. In the book of Jonah, the people of Nineveh responded immediately to God’s call for repentance as given by Jonah. They changed their ways. God showed his willingness to forgive and be merciful. Jonah’s story is also a reminder to us that each community is called to listen for God’s word and follow God’s call. It is not just something we do as individuals. It is something we do in community with others. Let’s consider the story of Jonah just a little deeper. You probably remember that the first time God asked Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah refused. In fact Jonah ran from God and got on a boat as if he could escape from God’s call by going someplace else in the world. You know how Jonah ended up in the belly of a fish and asked for God’s forgiveness for his lack of obedience. That is what brings us to this reading. Jonah finally did go to Nineveh and tell them to repent. I hear two possible messages to us in Jonah’s situation. First, It is probably not a real good idea to avoid God’s call for us since God will continue to ask us to do God’s wishes. The second message is that God will be with us as we seek to do his will. Jonah went to Nineveh and God was with him as Jonah shared God’s message with others. God is with us as well. I think about how to interpret today’s gospel as well. This reading suggests that the apostles left their families behind and left their careers as fishermen behind. Jesus wanted the apostles to do nothing else now but to be evangelists for God. If you are like me, it makes you feel as if you too are supposed to drop everything that you know and leave everyone behind. But if you read the entire gospel and think about other stories, it didn’t really work that way. Jesus stayed in Galilee for much of his public ministry. Soon after Jesus called these four apostles, Jesus went to the house of Simon Peter’s mother-in law and healed her along with many other sick people. Simon may have become a follower of Jesus but he didn’t leave his family behind totally. There are several stories about Jesus being out in a boat. In one, he fell asleep on the boat and a storm came up. Everyone was afraid but when Jesus was awakened, he calmed the storm. In another, the apostles took a boat and went across the Sea of Galilee ahead of him. Jesus came walking on the water and Peter soon followed. The apostles who were fishermen didn’t leave their original vocation that far behind. In some way, the family of the apostles and their fishing background became a part of their new lives as followers of Jesus and fishers of people. Perhaps you might think that Paul is encouraging people to leave everything behind as followers of Jesus as well. He encouraged people to set aside everything in this world and focus their life on God. Married folks are to set aside their spouse, those who spend money should act as if they had nothing and so on. Let us just remember that Paul believed that Jesus was going to return soon. That has still not happened. How does Paul’s encouragement fit in a world which has continued for so many centuries? Can we stay true to Paul’s advice? In the short time we have on earth, I believe Paul would still want us to remain committed to God above all. Immediate response to God’s call, God’s consistent call to us and the issue of whether we should drop everything to follow Jesus - How do we make sense of all of this today? I would suggest that it all begins with our unwavering commitment to God as the first thing in our lives. It doesn’t matter when we learned about Jesus and whether we immediately responded to the call of being a Christian. What matters is that we follow Jesus in our lives. Once we make our commitment to God, then I would suggest that we ensure that all of our lives are guided by God’s spirit. For some, answering God’s call may be a total change in their lives, for others not. God should guide our married lives and our work lives, our social lives and our recreational lives. When we live that way, I think we are consistent with the response the disciples gave to Jesus, an immediate response to follow him. I ask you to remember that God’s call will remain the same for a long time. Jonah refused God’s wishes the first time around but God was persistent. We don’t know how God called Jonah to bring the word of repentance to Nineveh whether it was spoken or came to Jonah in another way. We don’t know how strongly Jesus called his apostles in Galilee. Was it an authoritative command, a gentle request, or prophetic words? I often think that God was calling me to the priesthood for many years but I wasn’t listening closely enough and did not respond until later. I only hope that the experiences I gained in my lay life have helped me to become a better priest as I live my vocation today. Let us pray that God will speak clearly to each of us and that we will listen to the words of Jesus and follow him in all that we do. This week, I heard many quotes from the most famous poet of Scotland, Robert Burns, whose birthday is celebrated this week. There are many more famous quotes from Robert Burns but I offer these to you today as his most meaningful for us in our Christian lives, and that God will help us to understand exactly what God wants us to do in our lives. “O thou great, unknown Power! Thou Almighty God, who hast lighted up reason in my breast and blessed me with immortality! I have frequently wandered from that order and regularity necessary for the perfection of thy works, yet thou hast never left me nor forsaken me”. Let us be thankful for God’s presence in our lives and the grace we receive to follow his ways. Amen.

Last week, we read from John’s Gospel which spoke of Jesus as the Word. The Word of Jesus, the Wisdom of Jesus is our guidepost. It provides us with direction. One of the themes of Epiphany is the Light of Christ. The light of Christ is a beacon, the torch that leads us on. The three wise men followed the light of a star, a star that was put there by God. Once again we focus on following the light of Christ, being committed to his word and his will for us. And we respond to this guiding light with our commitment to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. People have tried for centuries to provide additional details about the visit of the wise men. Matthew does not tell us how many wise men visited Jesus. He doesn’t tell us where exactly they came from. And he doesn’t tell us how old Jesus was when they arrived. Our understanding of the rest of the story is discerned from what Matthew wrote or perhaps just someone’s interpretation. We often refer to the wise men as three kings but they were not. We call them by the Greek word Magi. According to the Catholic resource center there are four possible meanings for that word Magi. “(1) a member of the priestly class of ancient Persia, where astrology and astronomy were prominent in Biblical times; (2) one who had occult knowledge and power, and was adept at dream interpretation, astrology, fortune-telling, divination and spiritual mediation; (3) a magician; or (4) a charlatan, who preyed upon people using the before-mentioned practices”. We believe it means court priests or astrologers. They may have come from Parthia which was in current day Iran. They were given the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. Those names did not appear in Christian literature until five hundred years after the birth of Jesus. Saint Bede writing in the country we now call England in the seven hundreds wrote this "The magi were the ones who gave gifts to the Lord. The first is said to have been Melchior, an old man with white hair and a long beard... who offered gold to the Lord as to a king. The second, Caspar by name, young and beardless and ruddy complexioned... honored Him as God by his gift of incense, an oblation worthy of divinity. The third, black-skinned and heavily bearded, named Balthasar ... by his gift of myrrh testified to the Son of Man who was to die." (from Catholic Resource Education Center). People believe that it would have taken several years for the wise men to arrive in Bethlehem and Matthew refers to them entering a house, not a manger. They probably didn’t come when he was an infant. Matthew certainly doesn’t tell us much about the star. It could be from the East. In our translation it is his star at its rising. It is hard for me to understand how a star would move before them and then stop and stand over the house where Jesus was staying. Was it a comet, a supernova or a collection of planets that caused the wise men to come? We are not sure. “German astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed in 1604 that the star was a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C”. Grant Matthews, a theoretical astrophysicist from Notre Dame, proposed that it was a conflagration in April 17, 6 B.C., when the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn aligned in the constellation Aries while Venus and Mars were in neighboring constellations. (AP 12/1/2007). Astronomer Michael Molnar, agrees that it was on April 17, 6 BC. But he believes it was Jupiter alone that caused the wise men to look for Jesus. Molnar described how Jupiter moved in the sky both East and West and how it rose. ( All of the hard work and speculation about these details concerning the wise men is not as important as how we understand the story and what it means to our Christian practice. When the Magi saw the star they knew something important had happened. They believed that someone had been born who was destined to become a ruler. That is why Mathew wrote his star at its rising. The Star of the East encourages us to look for that important person as well. We look to Jesus for guidance in our lives. It means that we should be looking to God, and specifically Jesus, to help us on our lifelong journey. We need to find and follow the star of Jesus, a star that keeps us on track and makes sure that we keep following our God and king. When we use the word Epiphany outside of church it means “an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure”. Something special happens that switches on a light in our minds. It is an aha experience. The celebration of the Epiphany in the church is similar. It is the manifestation of Jesus, the Son of God. Manifestation is just a big word that means a public showing or a perceptible, outward, or visible expression. Jesus is publicly shown to the three wise men. It is the first time in Scripture that someone other than a Jewish person came to pay homage to Jesus. That matters to us because we are all Gentiles, non-Jewish people. Epiphany is like our anniversary of the first time that people like us saw and understood who Jesus was. This is the first time that the light switched on in the minds of Gentiles. This is God! The reading from Isaiah fits so well with the concept of the light of Christ. It begins, “Arise, shine, for your light has come”. The light of Jesus has come and will lead us in all that we should do. Later, Isaiah writes, “For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you,” The Lord Jesus illuminates our lives and chases away the darkness that is in our souls. This past week, I went to see the movie “Wonder” which is about a boy with a disfigured face. The boy must deal with all the perceptions of other students and parents when he goes to school. But for me the story tells about the struggles each person faces in their life. Even the bullies had problems. Everyone has some darkness that they must overcome. Jesus is the light that helps us out of the darkness and into the light. One Scripture commentary said, “We are all in need of the Light - and of more light to enlighten our hearts. We need Christ to fill our emptiness, relieve our fears and anxieties and bring us hope of life eternal”. In 1951, composer Gian Carlo Menotti wrote an opera called Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera was shown on TV many times. Menotti had grown up in Italy where the custom was that the Three Wise Men brought the Christmas gifts for children. In his Opera, Amahl is a poor disabled boy whose mother worries that he will become a beggar. The three Kings visit their house. Amahl’s mother tries to steal the gold meant for Jesus. She wants to protect her son. Although she is caught, King Melchior tells her to keep the gold because Jesus will not need earthly power or wealth to build his kingdom. Amahl offers his crutch for Jesus and is healed. Then Amahl goes with the Three Kings to visit Jesus and gives his crutch to the newborn Christ Child. We learn much from the actions of children. I think it was the Sunday before Christmas that a young boy who is 5 years old told me before the service that he had something to give me. After the service he handed me this small lego toy person. He asked me to give the lego to Jesus. I placed it in the manger with Jesus and it has stayed with Jesus the entire Christmas season. I am so appreciative of the thoughtfulness of the boy. His actions encourage us to consider what gift we will give to Jesus. The Wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. What will our gift be? Perhaps it will be something small but important to us, something personal. Maybe our gift will tell everyone what Jesus means to us or pronounce what Jesus means to the world. It might only be our faith. As we give our gift, we also remember that Jesus is God’s gift to us. Jesus is the light of the world. We are so thankful that Jesus became the light of the world to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. We pray that this light, this star, will fill the world with God’s glory and that God’s light will shine throughout the world. And we pray that Jesus will be the light that shows us how we can help make this happen. Amen.