Archives for 2007

Seeing Christmas, 1 Christmas – 2007

December 30, 2007

Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147 or 147: 13-21; Galatians 3:23-25, 4: 4-7; John 1: 1-18

I once watched a television program on the theoretical physicist, Richard Feynman. It was said that he had the finest mind since Einstein. He had worked on the Manhattan Project, taught at the California Institute of Technology, and as a final project, had served on the commission that investigated the Challenger disaster.

The TV program talked about Feynman’s friendship with an artist, and how the artist had taught Feynman about art and Feynman had taught the artist about physics. At one point in the program Feynman held up a flower. He commented that his artist-friend had said how wonderful it was that everyone could see its beauty, that no specialized knowledge was necessary to appreciate the wonder of the flower.

Feynman agreed that this was partially true, everyone could look at the flower and see it; but as a scientist, he was able to “see” much more of the flower than most of us. He could see the beauty of the cells working together to support life; the mystery of the flower’s color, locked in its cells, that attracted insects; which, in turn, would lead him to wonder about the insect’s perception of color. In short, Feynman “saw” much more in that flower in a few minutes that most of us would see in a lifetime of looking.

Christmas, too, is deserving of that same kind of looking.

We need to “see” Christmas in ways that move beyond the sentimental and saccharin. So often we see Christmas and the familiar Christmas story by looking at a Christmas card that has a neat and tidy picture of the nativity on it. We look at it the way we might look at the flowers at the market as we pass by to get to the produce.

The prologue to the Gospel of John invites us to look at the Incarnation as Richard Feynman looked at the flower. The Church, in its wisdom, chooses the prologue to John’s gospel both for Christmas and the Sunday following each year. We are invited to let the words roll over us, like waves of music. We love to hear them, even though we may not be too sure about what they mean. John’s words can be like wonderful music that is experienced before it is understood.

The passage from John is more than just the preface to the gospel; indeed, the remainder of the book is in a sense an elaboration on Verse 18: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”

John has no nativity story, no animals in the barn, no shepherds and angels, but presents us instead with this hymn to Christ. This hymn is a love song, full of increasing light, celebrating the relationship between God and God’s only child and then extending that intimate relationship to embrace all humankind. These are powerful words that speak to us about the one who comes to us in power to make all things new for us – the exiles, the inhabitants of darkness.

Who is this Jesus, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us?

If we see only the baby lying in the manger, we see only part of the picture. As we did not celebrate Advent by pretending that Christ has not come, so we do not celebrate Christmas by pretending we don’t know what is going to happen to this child.

Christmas does not stand alone; it cannot be celebrated properly in isolation from the whole story of Jesus the Christ. To separate the story of Jesus’ birth from the harsh reality of the crucifixion is to engage in denial. The whole story reminds us that we must also see Jesus as the one who is not received. The very people who hoped, finally got the one for whom they hoped, and they did not recognize him and rejected him. When God came to us, it was as one who is weak and vulnerable, not just as the holy infant, but also as the adult hanging on the cross.

Yet Jesus, the weak, flesh-and-bone one, has real power. It is not the world’s power; it is not the power to make things right or prosperous. The power of Christ continues to be rejected by the world because it is the wrong kind of power. Jesus’ power is to let us be who we are created to be – children of God.

By embracing his weakness, our lives are transformed, and we are empowered. It is the one who is empty who makes full. It is the one who is poor who makes rich. It is the one who dies who gives life.

This Jesus, the rejected yet powerful one, comes full of grace and truth. The Evangelist here quotes a phrase from the Hebrew Scriptures meaning loyalty and reliability. Because of the coming of Christ, we look at the world in a new way. God’s faithfulness contrasts with our daily experiences in the world and calls us to faithfulness also.

The coming of Jesus presents us with a choice. We can be transformed by the power of the gospel to be God’s people, walking in God’s vulnerable ways. Or we can reject him and continue business as usual. Business as usual means sitting in the darkness, shielding our eyes, and turning away from the life-giving light. The story around which we gather today is one of transforming hope for a new life. We are invited to cooperate with the divine initiative, to let the light enable us to see the path more clearly, to make a new beginning as God’s people. Where that happens, heaven and earth do sing, there is joy to the world, and the waste places do break forth together in singing.

The Church gives us not one day, but twelve, to celebrate the birth of Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Join me in taking that time. Don’t be overwhelmed or fatigued by the cultural trappings that have surrounded us since August.

Persevere in hope and joy; don’t abandon them like Christmas trees discarded on Christmas afternoon.

For the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

 

— The Rev. Mary K. Morrison is pastoral associate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Los Gatos, Calif. 

Our story, Christmas Day (A,B,C) – 2007

December 25, 2007

Isaiah 62:6-12Psalm 97Titus 3:4-7Luke 2:(1-7) 8-20

On Christmas morning couple of years ago, I was walking down Eleventh Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, to prepare for the eleven-o’clock service at my former church. There, at the curb, was someone’s Christmas tree, laid out for the trash truck. Now, can you imagine this? It was 9:30 a.m. on Christmas Day, and one of the neighbors – who, thankfully, will remain anonymous – had already taken down the decorations, the lights, the glass balls; removed the screws that attached the trunk to the stand; and carried their symbol of the Christmas celebration to the curb for the Department of Sanitation to remove along with yesterday’s junk mail.

Nine-thirty in the morning on Christmas Day.

It makes sense, you see, in our culture. It makes sense that a Christmas season that starts, at latest, in September and builds into a consumer frenzy in November should come to a crashing climax on Christmas Eve. We mailed our cards, bought our presents, and given our parties. We’ve sung the carols, enjoyed the meals, shared the gifts. Now, let’s relax. Let’s put away all this stuff, clean up all the mess, and enjoy that welcome sense of relief. It’s time to move on. Good grief, New Year’s Eve is barely a week away!

Yet, that is not what we celebrate liturgically. This is not the first time this winter that the church has proclaimed a countercultural message. Remember, during Advent, we were told to keep awake, to be still and know that God is God, to prepare in solemnity for the coming of Christ. That alone made us Christians feel a bit Scrooge-like, didn’t it?

And now – when our culture says Christmas is over – we are reveling in twelve days of it. And we’re only at day one.

We, in the church, are telling a different story from the one told by our culture. I’m told that some towns, in an attempt to thwart laws that prevent municipally sponsored manger scenes, have erected a kind of stable out of wood, in which they’ve placed a manger filled with hay, and laid the statue of a babe in it. Just to be sure you don’t think this could be the Son of God, they show Santa Claus kneeling in homage.

That’s our cultural norm, I’m afraid: Jolly old St. Nicholas, who comes to give good children gifts – and bad ones lumps of coal. And jolly old Fifth Avenue, that sells the best gifts money can buy.

Our culture’s idea of Christmas is all about spending, buying, getting more and more stuff. It’s about rewards and punishments, based on worthiness. It’s almost demonic.

Yet, our Christian story is not about gifts – although it may well include gifts, as tokens of our love.

Our story is about the redemption of the world.

Our story is about singing praises to our heavenly God, who created us out of dust.

Our story is about this God who became human, one of us.

Our story is about a God who frees all those who trust from Satan’s power and might.

And our story is not over, not complete, not fulfilled. That’s true at the level of the Christmas story, which began with the Annunciation. Don’t tell the retailers, or else next year they’ll set out Christmas decorations on March 25!

The Christmas story has slogged through morning sickness, and hormonal changes, and nine months of pregnancy – pretty ordinary stuff, hardly festive. Then, one day, the story bursts forth into joy. That’s Christmas: out of quiet, humble, simple beginnings comes an event that will rock the world.

And Mary and Joseph don’t seem to get it. Mary’s probably decided by now that the encounter with the angel months ago was some kind of hallucination. Here she is, with her working-poor husband in a stable, giving birth among the animals. Then shepherds appear, praising God. That’s a lovely thing, I imagine her saying. Aren’t the people friendly here in Bethlehem? And still, she doesn’t seem to grasp just who she holds in her arms, who suckles at her breast.

Then to complete this chapter, twelve days later, wise ones from the East appear, bringing gifts of unimaginable splendor. Great monarchs, in rich robes, traveling many miles in large entourages.

And Mary, who just days before, was bartering with a local tradesman, exchanging some wild onions she picked for some goat milk – Mary now has a chest of gold, some precious ointment, and some expensive incense.

This marks the end of the chapter, not the birth of the infant savior. And the church commemorates this event on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany.

On Epiphany Eve, you see, Mary and Joseph received gifts they could not imagine, did nothing to earn, and really did not deserve. Heavenly and divine gifts, to be sure. Gifts you and I each have received, as well. Gifts we could not imagine, did nothing to earn, and really did not deserve. Gifts of grace, of redemption, of love.

The gifts themselves had a monetary value in their culture, of course – but that’s not the point. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh – these gifts served primarily to point to the significance of another gift they had already received: the gift of God’s grace and redemption and love in the birth of Jesus.

So today and for twelve days hence, we revel in the chapter called “Christmas.” And we do so knowing that the birth of Jesus was the highlight of the story – but not the end of it.

Like so many stories, we really will not grasp the meaning of it until it is completely over. We focus on the beautiful image of a tiny babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. We reveled in that evocative image so much that we missed the point: “born on earth to save us, him the father gave us.”

And so the Church gives us, not one, but twelve days as a kind of “second chance” on Christmas.

Twelve days, to see behind the sense of obligation the underlying love that each gift given represents.

Twelve days, to realize how much we are loved by God.

Twelve days, to appreciate how little we deserve that love.

Twelve days, to comprehend that we have done nothing to earn that love.

Twelve days, to believe that God loves us unconditionally.

Twelve days, to revel in this good news of great joy.

Twelve days, to understand what it is to worship Emmanuel, God with us.

Twelve days, to feast on the joy of our redemption.

Twelve days, to spread the word, as tidings of comfort and joy.

Twelve days, to sing, with one accord, our praises to our heavenly Lord.

Twelve days, to let the flames of love lead us to the joys of heaven.

Twelve days, to comprehend how much we, each of us, are capable of giving and receiving the one gift that endures: love.

 

— The Rev. J. Barrington Bates is rector of the Church of the Annunciation, Oradell, New Jersey.

He remembers us as we are, Christ the King, Last Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 29 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Jeremiah 23:1-6; Luke 1:68-79 or Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43

“It’s good to be king!” says Louis the Fourteenth in Mel Brooks’ film “History of the World, Part One,” but the Feast of Christ the King makes many of us uneasy. We have little experience of kings and queens, and much of our experience has not been very positive. Of course, the United States was born out of a rebellion against royal authority, and the last two hundred years of Western history is the story of the gradual decline and disappearance of royal power and its replacement with that of duly elected representatives. Historically, we know kings and hereditary rulers as tyrants, refusing to yield power, or as buffoons, unable to see that their time had passed. In either case, they were forced from power. Say “king” and an American with some historical knowledge is likely to think of France’s Louis the Fourteenth saying, “I am the state,” or Marie Antoinette dismissing the hungry and their cries for bread with her notoriously callous comment, “Let them eat cake.”

Christ the King may also make us uneasy because of its association with religious imperialism. If Christ is the king, then does his church occupy a privileged position? The Anglican cross followed the British flag throughout the British Empire and enjoyed a privileged status, sometimes reinforced by bullets and bayonets.

So what kind of king is Christ, and how does he exercise his authority?

First, we need to recognize that kingship was central to Christ’s mission. Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak with one voice in telling us that at the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus announced that the “kingdom of God” was drawing near. But Jesus upended and undermined the whole concept of kingship. This world’s kingdoms are about power and prestige; Jesus was about service and humility. The rulers of this world are about coercion and violence; Jesus’ life was characterized by peace and reconciliation. Kings surround themselves with throngs of fawning courtiers; Jesus chose the lowly and rejected as his companions.

Two of the three sayings of Jesus from the cross illustrate the nature of his kingship. One of the powers of kings is to pardon those accused of crimes. The irony of the crucifixion is that Jesus was sentenced to die for claiming to be a king. However, even while being nailed to the cross, Jesus demonstrated that it was his executioners who were in need of pardon and he alone had the power to grant it. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

In pardoning those who were executing him, Jesus showed us the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness frees not only those who are forgiven; it also frees the forgiver. When we forgive, we release ourselves from the chains of anger and resentment. In forgiving others, we exercise the royal power that Christ delegated to his followers.

The power of forgiveness is also illustrated by the example of Sir Thomas More. During the English Reformation, More, who was Henry the Eighth’s Lord Chancellor, would not recognize the king’s authority to rule the church as he ruled the state, so Henry had More tried on charges of treason and bound over for execution. After being sentenced, More addressed the judges at his trial, saying, “I verily trust and shall therefore right heartily pray, that though your lordships have here in earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation.” More knew and demonstrated the power of forgiveness.

Secondly, kings and rulers are usually surrounded by throngs of sycophants. One thinks of Louis the Fourteenth’s palace at Versailles, deliberately built to keep France’s nobles occupied in an endless round of meaningless ceremonies so that they would have no time to plot against the king. In contrast, Jesus surrounded himself with the poor and marginalized. He crossed social, moral, and religious boundaries by accepting women as disciples. His critics charged that he ate and drank with thieves and prostitutes. United Methodist Bishop William Willimon remarked that Jesus does the same thing every time we celebrate the eucharist!

Even on the cross, Jesus continued his habit of associating with the despised and disreputable. Poignantly, the second thief pleaded, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

What persuaded the penitent thief to believe not only that Jesus was a king but would survive the cross and “come into” his kingdom? Had he observed Jesus pardoning his enemies? Or was he able to see that the cross itself was Jesus’ royal throne?

“Remembrance” is central to Jewish thought. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, Exodus tells us that God “remembered” the covenant he had made with the patriarchs. The kind of remembering that God did in Exodus and that the thief was asking Jesus to do is not the opposite of forgetting; it is the opposite of dismembering. The thief was asking to be made a part of Jesus’ kingdom.

In his Easter sermon for 2004 Archbishop Rowan Williams suggests that remembering is central to the concept of resurrection. He said:

“At Auschwitz there is an inscription in Hebrew from the Old Testament, ‘O earth, cover not their blood’; the Holocaust, along with the mass killings of the thirties in the Soviet Union or the revolutionary years in China, went forward at the hands of people who assumed as blandly as any ancient Roman that the dead could be buried once and for all and forgotten. … Some lives, it seems, are … forgettable; some deaths still obliterate memory, for those of us at a distance. … When deaths like this are forgotten, the gospel of the resurrection should come as a sharp word of judgment as well as of hope.”

The judgment of Easter is that the Crucified and Risen Christ remembers not only us but also those whom we have forgotten and neglected and marginalized; he remembers us as we are – right and wrong, good and bad.

“Lord Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” prayed the penitent thief; but it is our prayer, too. Indeed, it may be the most important prayer that we pray. Like the thief crucified beside Jesus, we pray that we may be a part of the great kingdom he is building in this world and the next. But we must always keep in mind that we make our prayer to Christ the King, whose judgment is ever against those who trust in their own righteousness (and at times that is all of us) but whose arms are always outstretched in love.

Written by the Rev. Dr. J. Barry Vaughn
The Rev. J. Barry Vaughn, Ph.D., has led congregations in Alabama, California, and Pennsylvania. He has preached at Harvard, Oxford, and the Chautauqua Institution, and more than fifty of his sermons have been published. He is a member of the history faculty at the University of Alabama.

Engaged in Christian worship, Pentecost 25, Proper 28, (C) – 2007

[RCL] Isaiah 65:17-25 or Malachi 4:1-2a; Isaiah 12 or Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

It is hard to hear today’s epistle without recalling Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ants. Thinking about the fun-loving grasshopper who showed up at the hard-working ants’ door, cold and starving during a winter storm, seeking food and shelter, it’s easy to imagine what the ant doorkeeper had to say. Maybe something like: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.”
It would be easy to consider this a very appropriate answer. It would sound about right if we were to imagine ourselves as parent ants seeking to protect our innocent baby ants from the irresponsible grasshopper who might eat the precious food we had saved for our little ones. Anyone unwilling to work should not eat – especially the able-bodied but lazy among us. This is a natural opinion.

Engaged in Christian worship, however, we might consider that such a view clearly seems more in keeping with the realities of modern politics than with the teachings of the church. Yet, of course, we realize that the response made by the ants to the grasshopper is nearly an exact quotation from today’s Epistle reading.

St. Paul reminded the Christians in Thessalonica that “We gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” And he added, “For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

This doesn’t sound like the gentle, caring Jesus we normally think of, does it? Perhaps we even wonder if Paul misunderstood the Messiah, who seemed far less judgmental. Wouldn’t it seem more like Jesus to tell the ants, “You need to share what you have with this poor creature”?

How do we understand these seemingly inconsistent views?

We can begin by recalling the context in which Paul wrote. The new Christians in Thessalonica were caught up the spirit of believing the Second Coming of Christ would occur immediately. Assuming that was the case and that all would be fulfilled very soon, some of them appear to have decided not to do anything except wait and watch for Jesus to return and bring in the fullness of God’s realm. What riled up Paul was that the idle were taking advantage of the loving, outreaching and given nature of the local Christian community.

It is important to remember that what is being called into question here is a refusal to work – an unwillingness to contribute – like the grasshopper in the fable. Paul obviously was not referring to those who have no ability to produce. We must be careful not to apply this lesson to those who have lost their jobs, or are disabled, or to retirees reaping the fruits of a lifetime of work.

The refusal of some Thessalonians to work is bad enough, but what Paul seemed to dislike most was what the idleness was causing. These people weren’t just playing away the summer like the grasshopper, but their idleness had led them also to become busybodies. Paul is alert to the fact that there are few sins more damaging than gossip, especially in the life of the church. Malicious interest in the business of others is harmful and hateful. Even gossip that is not intended to be harmful has little chance of becoming productive and has no place within a life lived in the spirit of Christ.

We don’t have to be lying around waiting for the Second Coming to fall prey to this malady. It is all too easy to have enough time on our hands to spend it as busybodies. We see this among our friends and acquaintances and in ourselves. We recognize it as the familiar peeping-out-the-window desire to know what the neighbors are up to. We see it as a growing phenomenon that feeds on a culture of celebrity in which people take undue interest in every detail of famous people’s lives.

Listening to and spreading gossip about public figures, about anyone in authority, or about anyone in the church or our local community is something St. Paul warns us against. The warning he issued to the church in Thessalonica is a warning for us too: This is not the way Christians love their neighbors as themselves, and it not a way to respect the dignity of every human being, as the Baptismal Covenant requires of us.

What led to the Thessalonian busybodies’ refusal to work was a fundamental misreading of basic Christian ethics. They understood the beginning of our faith: the grace of God, love given without our having to earn it, given with no strings attached; God loving us and forgiving us regardless of our sins; unconditional love. But they missed the fact that this is only the surface view, only the beginning.

The idle people in Thessalonica took advantage of God’s grace, asking “Why should I exert myself to do God’s will? Why should I work? Why should I take risks? Why should I sacrifice and give myself away for the sake of others? Why not just sit back and take it all in?”

Perhaps in our time we have moment of relying on such a surface view, wondering “Why should I, too, not also become idle?” And so we ask, “What is the incentive?”

In today’s epistle reading, Paul used his own behavior as an example. “We were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you.” St. Paul understood better than anyone about the power of God’s grace, but he did not “rest on his laurels” or take advantage of God’s love. He did not fall into idle pursuits. Rather, he did what he could to contribute the well-being of the community. He did not become a busybody or gossip or talk maliciously about others.

The incentive for us not to be idle comes through the development of a thankful recognition of what God has done and continues to do for us. In grateful response, we Christians do all in our power to respond to God’s love by loving God in return and, in so loving, also love our neighbors as ourselves. We do share as we are able, day by day, discharging the stewardship opportunities the Christian life lays before us. Using our God-given abilities to their fullest, keeping focused at all times on the values of God, we will not have the idle time to lapse into being busybodies.

Knowing that God loves us unconditionally, with no strings attached and regardless of our sins, we still have an incentive to refrain from the idleness that reaps such a bitter harvest. Our incentive is to gain the richer, fuller, more meaningful life to which God draws us.

Written by the Rev. Ken Kesselus
The Rev. Ken Kesselus, author of Granite on Fire (Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest, 1995), is retired from full-time, active ministry and lives with his wife, Toni, in his native home, Bastrop, TX. Email: Kesselus@juno.com.

Strength, comfort, and assurance, Pentecost 24, Proper 27 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Haggai 1:15b-2:9 or Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 or 98 or 17:1-9; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38

In today’s gospel reading, the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, confronted Jesus with the question of what life would be like if there truly was life after death. They wanted Him to assure them that the human laws, given by Moses, would also apply if there was life after death. In a powerful statement about the reality of the resurrected life, Jesus declared that it is absurd to compare physical life with the resurrected life:

“Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”

Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica were devoted to addressing the issue of how to wait for the return of Christ. In this passage from the second letter, Paul confirmed the wisdom given in the passage from Luke, assuring the people that in the resurrection the faithful would be united with Christ: “As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed.”

Certainly, this letter addressed the doubts that many followers had about the return of Christ and the context of life in the resurrection. As time went on after the crucifixion and resurrection, the early Christians began to lose hope of the imminent return of Christ. They began to question the promise of their own resurrection to a new life. But Paul gave them this assurance: “God chose you as the first fruits for salvation, through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Like many of Paul’s letters, this one sought to give strength, comfort, and assurance to the new Christians who were challenged in their faith by both external persecutions and inner doubts.

Holding faith in the mystery and power of the resurrection is a challenge to all of us. We, like the early Christians, are tested and tried by both internal and external powers. The powers of death and evil are ever present. When we find our faith wanting, we have many verses of scripture that help us focus on the reality of the resurrection; both Christ’s and our own. Unlike the first followers of Jesus, we have a deposit of faith through both the Old and New Testaments to strengthen and inspire us. Although the gospels and the epistles bring us encouragement, perhaps the most powerful affirmation of resurrection is taken from a book in the Hebrew scripture.

The book of Job is often recommended by pastors responding to situations that call for words of hope and inspiration. It is used to give people faith when it is impossible to understand or explain the mystery of suffering. What is so significant in this book is the exploration of the depth of faith in the midst of suffering.

The simple story is that Job was a righteous man who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” It is a difficult book because the story of Job becomes a contest between Satan and God for the soul of Job. Satan challenged God to abandon Job and see if Job would continue to be faithful to God. The book recited the many trials and tribulations Job suffered, including being taunted by his friends to forsake his faith in God. In the passage we read today, Job responded with perhaps the most well-known affirmation of faith in the resurrection:

“For I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has thus been destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.”

This powerful affirmation is well known to Episcopalians because of its use in the Book of Common Prayer. We hear the priest recite a paraphrase of that passage from Job as an anthem at the beginning of the Office of the Burial of the Dead: “As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth. After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God. I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”

The other place in our culture where this passage has become widely known is in “The Messiah” by Handel. Perhaps many people think of that aria immediately upon hearing these powerful and moving words.

The question of what happens to us in the resurrection transcends time. Christians in all ages have posed similar questions to ministers and to themselves; just as the Sadducees confronted Jesus. In our technologically advanced scientific and medical world, the concept of a physical bodily resurrection is one dismissed by many.

Clearly belief in the resurrection of Christ is the central article of our faith. It is our foundational doctrine, which gives us the hope and the assurance that we too shall live in the resurrection of our own lives at our mortal death. When we come to that state of resurrection, we shall be united to Christ in a state for which we have no foreknowledge. Through our baptism and through taking communion, we affirm our belief in Christ’s promise of a resurrected life.

We must not trouble ourselves, as the Sadducees did, about what laws would or would not apply in the resurrection. Like Job and countless faithful people throughout the ages, we must believe in the resurrection. We must believe that, in the mystery of the resurrection of Christ, we are promised a life in the resurrection with Him and with all of the saints and angels who have gone before us. This is Christ’s promise to His followers throughout the generations.


The Rev. Frederic Guyott, III, is a priest in the Diocese of New Jersey serving in parish ministry and has also served in the dioceses of Pennsylvania, Bethlehem, and Delaware. He received a Master of Divinity (1993) from the Episcopal Divinity School and a Master of Sacred Theology (1997) from the General Theological Seminary. The Rev. Guyott has been a private school and university chaplain, and he founded an after-school youth enrichment program in Philadelphia based on academics and squash racquets. E-mail: urbansquash@myexcel.com.

Jesus is already here, Pentecost 23, Proper 26 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 or Isaiah 1:10-18; Psalm 119:137-144 or 32:1-7; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12; Luke 19:1-10

“Just looking, thanks.” When a salesperson in a store approaches us to see if they can be of assistance, we may say these words to keep them at a safe distance: just looking. We’re interested, but not willing to commit; curious, but don’t want someone pressuring us into making a purchase. Just looking, thanks.

Zacchaeus was curious that day when Jesus came to Jericho. The crowd was big and he was small, so shinnied up a sycamore tree – the perfect solution. He was high above the noisy crowd and he could get a glimpse of Jesus from a safe distance. Besides, let’s admit it, he didn’t have any friends in the crowd.

Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector for the Roman government in this prosperous town, and his position may have made him the most hated man in all of Jericho. He worked for the occupying forces and was therefore a traitor to his own people. What’s more, he made money off his neighbors as part of a system primed for corruption. He was obliged to send in only what the Romans expected. Anything he took in above that, he was free to keep. “He was wealthy,” reads our text, in his case an indictment rather than a description. Who would make room for him in a crowd? Who would want to be seen with him?

One day, along comes Jesus. The word has spread about Jesus, and Zacchaeus is one of the many in Jericho who want to see him. But what does Zacchaeus expect to see? Would he like what he saw in Jesus, or not? On the one hand, maybe he has heard that Jesus was known for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. Maybe he has heard that in some of Jesus’ stories, it’s the tax collector who is the hero, and the Pharisee who comes across as the fool. Maybe he has heard that a man named Levi, who was a tax collector, is among Jesus’ closest followers. On the other hand, maybe Zacchaeus has heard that Jesus told the rich man to sell all that he had and follow him. Maybe he has heard Jesus’ statement that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. And after all, Levi had to leave his tax collector’s booth behind in order to follow this Jesus.

So maybe the most we can say with any confidence about Zacchaeus is that he is curious. He wants to see Jesus; he doesn’t want to meet him. He doesn’t want to touch him, or be touched by him. He certainly doesn’t come to him for healing. He wants to observe from a safe distance.

Zacchaeus thinks he is safe in the tree where he can watch, where no one will confuse him with the cheering crowd, where no one needs to know where he stands. Where he can’t touch or be touched. Where he is safe to say, “Just looking, thank you,” if anyone accidentally spies him up there. “Just looking.”

And suddenly this strange little man in a tree seems a little more familiar. Don’t we all have times when it is easier to stay in our tree, to watch the events of the world as a spectator, rather than come down and get involved? Rather than come down amongst the crowd, and the dirt, and the noise, and the needs, and the confusion, and put one foot in front of the other and follow Jesus? Isn’t it easier sometimes to say, “Just looking,” when asked to help, to give, to get involved?

There’s a different sermon for those among us who try to do everything, who need to learn to say no, who need to work on some Sabbath time. But for others of us, is it time to get involved, to stop being a spectator, and join the action? Maybe it is time to take on some ministry in the church, to get involved in the community. Maybe it’s time to vote, to serve, to say yes.

Sometimes getting involved in a church takes a leap of faith. “Church shopping” is not a bad thing – many of us “shopped” our way into the Episcopal Church, or into a particular parish church. It’s important for people to look around, to explore different faith communities, to find a place where they can worship, grow, participate, serve, be at home, and yet, be challenged too. But there can be a danger sometimes that people don’t ever come down out of the tree and say, “This is it. Here I am. I’m getting involved.”

Or in our faith lives: wanting to see Jesus is a good thing, but do we keep him at arm’s length? Do we ponder him from a distance, rather than meet him, come to know him, to love him, to serve him, to be changed by him? Rather than grow more and more into his image and likeness? Rather than discover the meaning of our lives through a deep relationship with him, empowered by prayer, nurtured by participation in the faith community, nourished by the sacraments?

That day in Jericho, Jesus looks up into the tree. He sees the little man clinging to his branch and commands him to hurry down, because Jesus needs him – his hospitality, his welcome, his company. Jesus plucks Zacchaeus out of his tree, and Zacchaeus is happy to welcome him.

Zacchaeus could have said no. It would have cost Zacchaeus less. It would have attracted less attention. It would have prevented the townspeople from having one more reason to grumble about something Zacchaeus did. We know it may seem easier to go on with our own lives and continue our preoccupation with ourselves and our own agendas rather than allow the Messiah to invite himself over to lunch and allow him to delve into our truest selves. It might be easier to say, “Just looking, thank you.”

But if we’re honest, we know from experience that it is not easier to go on with our own preoccupations, to try to take care of our worries ourselves; that actually there is a tremendous ease and grace in letting Jesus take our burdens from us, to giving ourselves over to Christ, to letting Christ set our agendas. It really is easier to stop scrambling up trees and allow ourselves to know the one who knows us completely and loves us still. Like Zacchaeus, we can take the chance, invite Jesus in, and watch the radical realigning of our lives.

Zacchaeus’ life changes greatly. Something in his encounter changed the way Zacchaeus saw the world. Now he could see people in need, whereas before he only saw people he could use.

That’s part of what happens when we come out of the tree and allow Jesus to touch us. Whereas before we might just be looking, Jesus enables us really to see. Now we see real people with real needs. We see real opportunities to get involved. We see true beauty in others. We see the astonishing array of gifts God has given us and our community.

Salvation comes to Zacchaeus’ house and he is forever changed from a taker into a giver. And Zacchaeus is not unique. We see it over and over again. When Jesus finds a home with us, the result is a generous heart. Giving is a joy, not a burden. What’s given may be money, may be time, may be some ability that can be shared. But time and time again, when Jesus plucks us out of our tree, we ripen into givers, not takers; workers, not watchers; people who serve, not observe.

Jesus isn’t just coming to our town. Jesus is already here. And he may be looking up at you, inviting you out of some safe, but lonely perch, and into the kingdom of God.

Written by the Rev. Amy Richter
The Rev. Amy E. Richter is Missioner for Lifelong Christian Formation for the Diocese of Maryland. E-mail: arichter@ang-md.org.

Being a saint, All Saints’ Day (C) – 2007

[RCL] Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 ; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31

Most Episcopalians are familiar with the church year: that great cycle of prayer and liturgy that takes us from Advent through Christmas and Epiphany, on through Lent and Easter, and into the long stretch of Sundays after Pentecost. Fewer among us may be familiar with the cycle of the saints’ calendar. While most of the saints and great lights of the Church have a special feast day or celebration assigned to them, it is rare that they get a mention in Church on Sundays for the simple reason that the assigned Sunday liturgy nearly always takes precedence.
It is, in a sense, a pity, for there is always much we can learn from the lives of the saints. Some were great scholars; others illiterate. Some were ancient; others modern. But what is particularly striking about the calendar of the saints is that it is a hodge-podge – messy and unpredictable. In the calendar of the blessed, saints come and go in no particular order. Ninth-century saint follows twentieth; European, American; young, old; and so on.

Just this month, for instance, ancient Willibrord, whose feast is kept on the seventh of November, hobnobs with Reformation-era, Richard Hooker, of November third, and medieval Margaret of Scotland, of November sixteenth. It must make for some very interesting conversations in high places.

The calendar mirrors our own lives in many ways. People come to us in no particular order. We probably did not choose the particular members of our parish community, for example. Friends and future spouse appear seemingly out of nowhere, although we often impute order to their presence among us after the fact. And we do not get to choose the people without whom we would not be here: our parents.

Those described as blessed, or saints, in our gospel text today are also a pretty heterogeneous lot – perhaps an unfortunate and desperate one. They are not particularly popular, or well-off, or prosperous. They are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the despised. If they have anything in common, it is perhaps that they are those not in control of things. They are those who are often described as victims and vulnerable.

No one – martyrs and saints included – wants to be victimized, used, manipulated, cheated, or made a chump. And certainly Scripture does not require that of us. We read the daily papers and shake our heads as we learn of all the evil things our fellow human beings are capable of, including the shedding of innocent blood. We certainly do not want such things to happen to us – no matter how committed we are to the Gospel.

But somewhere in our fear of being hurt or made a victim we may, if we are not careful, also lose our ability to be vulnerable; to take a chance on another human being, on life, on God. For if we open ourselves to others it is quite possible, some might say likely, that we will be hurt. But unless we take that risk, we may find ourselves living lives of fear and loneliness – in other words, lives not worth living – lives devoid of human warmth and caring and love.

So the saints do have something in common, in spite of their variety and age and culture. They have learned to become vulnerable, to be fully human, and to take chances on others, even when it may seem to go against common sense or one’s own self interest. And like it or not, each of us will also be given plenty of opportunity to experience this vulnerability in our own lives – at work, at home, among friends, and sometimes at church as well.

So what about being blessed? What about being a saint? We can determine our state of saintliness and blessing by our willingness to be open to the needs of others. Sainthood becomes not so much some unattainable goal of moral excellence as it does a way of life marked by commitment to others and their needs.

We will not always be good. We will not always get it right the first time. We will fail. We will have plenty of reason to witness to and accept our own vulnerability. But then we are in good company. After all, what words other than “vulnerable” and “committed” can we use to describe a God willing to become one of us with all the messiness of our self doubts, and strings of failures, and hurts, and even death?

It probably does not take much effort to be poor, grief-stricken, or hungry. But being blessed – that is something else. That involves a radically different way of seeing the world. It requires a worldview that embraces the poor, and the exiled, and the remnant, and the refugee. Not just for the reward enumerated by our Lord in the gospel story, but because we recognize ourselves in the very least of those we know. We recognize that our saintliness and blessing comes only in embracing wholeheartedly and without reservation those others in need of God’s blessing.

Is it easy being a saint? I am afraid it is more difficult than we ever thought. Difficult, that is, if we try to do it on our own power and with our own wisdom and cleverness and effort. But it is paradoxically easy when we embrace the blessed cross of Christ that irrevocably committed God to the world; the cross that consecrates us in the blood of the Lamb, who gave himself that we might live.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is completing his ministry as priest-in-charge at Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church in El Cajon, California, and is looking for work. He can be reached at frankhegedus@hotmail.com.

Do you love me?, Pentecost 22, Proper 25 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Joel 2:23-32 or Sirach 35:12-17 or Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22; Psalm 65 or 84:1-7; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14

Every person who is born into this world, who lives and learns and grows, who works and worships and plays, who grays and grows old and dies, has one fundamental question that underlies his or her whole life: “Do you love me?”

We are created for connection: connection with others, connection with the universe, and connection with God. Being hardwired for relationship, we seek communion and reconciliation with all people, with the cosmos, and with God. This desire is the search for love. All of human life is a quest for love.

Unfortunately, the fundamental question “Do you love me?” is soon transformed by genetics, by socialization, by original sin, by whatever, into a different question, “Am I worthy of being loved?” or even more tragically, “What can I do to be worthy of your love?”

With these distorted questions the unfortunate soul soon seizes upon answers provided by family or society or even the church: I will be famous, I will be rich, I will be powerful, I will be elected, I will be esteemed, I will be ordained. In the process, we manage to convince ourselves that we will be happy if we achieve these goals, and by happy we mean that we will be loved.

The funny and sad thing is that humans continue to persist in these delusions even after experience repeatedly has shown them to be false. Maybe the next promotion or the next home or the next prize will bring true happiness. Throughout our lives, we continue to make the same mistake of trying to find in the finite and limited things of the world the response that is found only in the true object of our desire. Tragically we make idols of our strength, our money, our fame, and our power. Perhaps most tragically we make idols of our religion. We latch on to the things that should be pointing us to God and make them into idols.

In our gospel lesson for today, we hear the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. In the form of a parable, Jesus presents the central theological conviction of God’s justification of sinners and the ultimate futility of self-righteousness. Two men, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector, go up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee stands by himself and he really is quite impressive.

Although centuries of Christian interpretation have led us to think of Pharisees as the bad guys, this is not fair. They are often presented as Jesus’ opponents in the gospels, but we need to remember that they were society’s good people. They were dependable, honest, upright, good neighbors, contributors to the community. Quite frankly, they were the type of folks we would all like to have as members of our parishes. The Pharisee is a man at home in the temple. He says his prayers. He gives more than he has to. Although the tithe on income was standard, he tithes on everything he has, and many people would have benefited from his generosity.

He stands in the correct posture for prayer in the temple, arms raised and head lifted. But – and this is a big but – in his prayer, he has nothing to ask of God. He’s basically giving God a progress report. As far as he can tell, he’s got it all under control, and he’s happy about it: “God I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, unrighteous folks, adulterers, or even like that tax collector over there.”

Meanwhile, standing off at a distance, is the tax collector. He has got nothing to show for himself, and he knows it. He earned his living by working for a foreign government collecting taxes from his own people. For years he has collected high taxes from his Jewish neighbors to give to the Roman government. He gives the Romans their flat rate on every head, and makes his money by charging an excess and keeping it for himself. Basically, he is a crook, a traitor, and a lowlife. He is guilty and he knows it.

He keeps his head lowered as he comes into the temple. We don’t know why his guilt has got the better of him today, but there he is in the temple, full of remorse, beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He doesn’t even promise to shape up. All he does is ask for God’s mercy.

The surprise ending of the story is that the Pharisee, who gives a wonderful performance in the temple, goes home empty. He came asking nothing of God and he goes home getting nothing from God. The tax collector, despicable fellow that he is, shows up empty handed asking for God’s mercy, and goes home justified, that is, in right relationship with God.

We may hear this parable as a lesson on humility: don’t be proud like the Pharisee; go home and be humble like the tax collector. And just like that, we fall into a trap. We take a parable about God’s amazing, unconditional grace and acceptance, and turn it into a story about how we can earn or merit God’s love. We’ve got the answer now. If we can just be humble like the tax collector and not be puffed up with pride like the Pharisee, then God will accept us and love us. We may even find ourselves praying, “God, I thank thee that I am not like the Pharisee.”

The trap here is that we ask the wrong question of this parable. It’s that distorted question “What can I do to be worthy of your love?”

The Pharisee in the parable asks this question, and he thinks he has the answer in his religious observance. He fasts, he prays, he tithes, he lives an upright life. The tragedy and the irony is that in the very act of demonstrating that he is worthy of love, he is cutting himself off from his neighbors and from God. The tragedy and the irony of trying to make ourselves worthy of love through our supposed virtues, even the virtue of humility, is that we end up casting a sideward glance at others and measuring ourselves against them. If I need to earn God’s love, then I will have to be better than the other guy. In the fire of God’s love even our supposed virtues need to be burned away.

But if we ask the right question, the question “Do you love me?” then the parable gives us an answer. To the question “Do you love me?” God replies resoundingly and forever “Yes.”

The tax collector’s humility was not a virtue that earns him God’s love and acceptance. The tax collector’s humility is a posture of openness in which he is able to receive God’s love. Ultimately, the Pharisee and the tax collector are the same. They both need God’s love. The difference is that the Pharisee doesn’t know it and the tax collector does. The tax collector goes up to the temple with nothing to show for himself. His hands and his heart are empty and he knows it, and therefore he has room to experience the gospel and the good news that there is nothing we need to do, nothing we can do, to earn the grace and love of God.

The love that moves the sun and the other stars, the love that creates, sustains, and redeems the cosmos, is always uttering its eternal “Yes” to our question “Do you love me?”

The only thing we need to do is open ourselves to that love and return it. Everything else is a veil before our eyes, thrown up by our culture, our career, and our churches. All self-flattery and self-importance and self-righteousness ends in futility. When we stop reciting our resumes in the temple, the incarnate love of God meets us and embraces us, saying I know your pain, my beloved, and I forgive your sins. I know your emptiness, and I will fill it and I will fill you with my melting love.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano
The Rev. Dr. Joseph S. Pagano is rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore, MD. He received a Ph.D. in Theology from Marquette University in Milwaukee WI.

To us and for us, Pentecost 20, Proper 23 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 or 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 66:1-12 or Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

Do you sometimes get turned off by “religion talk”? Or do you think that the vocabulary and jargon used by many Christians somehow makes an ordinary idea so religious that it doesn’t apply in day-to-day living?

Such a word is “grace.” It sounds so pious and out of reach. So when a prayer, one of those lovely compact “collect” prayers, talks of God’s grace going in front of us and behind us, we sort of shrug, say “fine” but really don’t think it means very much at all.

The prayer – collect – today is a reminder of the story about God’s glory in visible form, as a great light, which went in front of and behind the children of Israel as they escaped Egypt and went in search of the Promised Land. Yet escaping from Egypt and looking for a Promised Land seem so very far from our experiences at work, or at home, even in church. Surely, sometimes we would love to run away. Maybe we pray that one day we will go to heaven. After all, why else would we be in church today, singing those hymns and saying these prayers? God seems to like that sort of thing for some unknown reason, so we do them. Perhaps we get some comfort and some hope. But as to the practicality of all this, perhaps some of us or most of us reserve judgment.

The readings today try to give practical examples of what “grace” means. Inevitably they are stories about, or reflections on “grace” set in a very different world than ours. No cars, no supermarkets, no global warming, no politicians – it all sounds wonderful! But what have two stories about lepers and one bit of advice to young Bishop Timothy have to do with high blood pressure, a fight with the teens or our parents, and mortgage payments, or even job insecurity?

Leprosy was once the scourge of all illnesses. It was incurable. Those with it were shunned and shunted off into separate places, ostracized and feared. Some people with AIDS feel that way. Even the word “cancer” or admitting one has that disease installs an irrational fear in some people. So the condition then may well be translated into our feeling alone, misunderstood, helpless, and perhaps actively shunned. Feelings of being alone and helpless surely attack most of us at one time or another. Feeling misunderstood often happens in the classroom or the office – and frequently at a vestry meeting! While the scene recounted in the Bible stories today may be unfamiliar, there are plenty of modern equivalents and experiences.

General Naaman’s problem was that he thought his condition and status required a dramatic response, a unique form of treatment, not merely a dip in a foreign river on the orders of a prophet who hasn’t even the courtesy to come out to meet this important dignitary. The lepers whom Jesus heals have a different problem. They take a miracle for granted, and all but one shrugs and gets on with life. Only one is thankful.

In both cases, we see that what gets in the way of grace, of receiving a gift, is pride in one form or another, that deadly sin. We think we are the only person with our problem. No one has had this problem before. To suggest that God has a universal answer, something as simple as merely doing as one is told and accepting a simple gift in a simple manner is just too much of a stretch – or should one say a stoop? Merely accepting, as Timothy is told to do, that Jesus is sufficient, that:

“If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful–
for he cannot deny himself.”
Merely accepting is the clue to wholeness and a life lived within God’s gifts.

In a few minutes perhaps you will leave your seat and go to God’s table to receive promised gifts, the grace that goes before us and behind us, guiding and keeping us in the midst of everything. How on earth can a crumb of bread and a sip of wine address my extraordinary needs and problems? Or perhaps I will reach, take, and get on with life without a thought of “thanksgiving,” the word from which “Eucharist” derives.

Almost all healing is not the result of being “zapped” by God, but the result of being given an opportunity to anchor oneself in that which has been given, and an opportunity to live life with a new and different perspective. I accept the bread crumb and the sip of wine as a promise that I died with Jesus in baptism and rose to life, eternal life – something that starts at the font and not at the death bed.

So, as St. Paul reminds us, we are given the extraordinary gift to endure, to get on with life, a life made new and special because we are able to be thankful. Endurance doesn’t sound like much fun, but Christianity isn’t about fun, it is about cross-bearing, self-sacrifice, self-examination, admitting one’s faults and sins which get in the way of our vision of God. Yes, endurance made splendid, because we are given the gift of thanksgiving, of gratitude that we have been placed in the company of those who have gone before us in patient endurance; in the company of those who walk with us in joy. And we are given the gift of gratitude to be in the company of those who will come after us and who will endure as witnesses of the Christ who came, died, rose again and ascended into heaven and who restores everything and makes all things new.

Accepting simple gifts as the answer to what seem to be complicated needs takes humility. Accepting simple gifts when they work with thanksgiving takes a good deal of humility. Humility and being thankful are two sides of the same coin – a coin if you will, given to us by Jesus, who is equal with God but who empties himself to us and for us.

Written by the Very Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier
Father Tony Clavier is the priest in charge at St. Thomas a Becket Church in Morgantown, WV, and the editor of LEAVEN, the journal of National Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations (NNECA), http://www.nneca.org/.

How much is enough?, Pentecost 19, Proper 22 (C) – 2007

[RCL] Lamentations 1:1-6 or Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137 or 37:1-9; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10

How much is enough?

This is a fundamental question for all of us: How much is enough? Especially at this time of year when words such as “stewardship,” “pledge,” “proportional giving,” and “tithe” are in the air.

Luke has told us in no uncertain terms that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. On the way, Jesus talks endlessly about the life of discipleship. He talks about hospitality, welcoming and helping strangers, seeking lost sheep, visiting prisoners, lost coins, prodigal sons, the rich man, and Lazarus. Then he lays it on in Chapter 17 by saying if you cause anyone to sin, may you sleep with the fishes with cement overshoes on! And you must rebuke those who sin, and forgive those who repent seven times a day.

Is it any wonder the disciples cry out, “Increase our faith”? They are being asked to assume major leadership positions in the community of Christ. And no one wants to end up in the proverbial sleep with the fishes.

For much of the gospel, Jesus has questioned the faith of the disciples. “You have such little faith,” he says often. “Where is your faith?” he asks on the stormy sea. So it is only natural that they cry out, “Give us more. … Give us more faith. … Increase it, please, so we can succeed at all of this.”

It is a familiar cry. Whenever the church is faced with challenges, we say we need more: we need more resources, we need more planning, we need for people, we need more, more, more of everything before we can possibly do what Jesus calls us to do.

We all know just how the disciples are feeling. We put off leading Bible study until we know more about the Bible. Or we put off increasing our pledge until we are making just a bit more money. Just tap into those feelings of need more before listening to Jesus’ response.

His response exemplifies what is wonderful about Jesus and his method of training us and developing our discipleship. Hear what he says. Jesus says you do not need to increase your faith; you just need the tiniest bit of faith imaginable. A grain of mustard seed’s worth of faith can empower you to do great things. Which is to say, unless you have no faith, you already have enough.

You have enough! What you have is sufficient.

As it says in our catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, we are to bear witness to Christ wherever we may be, and “according to the gifts given us, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.” This is the definition of lay ministry in the church. For this we were baptized.

This acknowledges that we have all been given gifts and resources. As Saint Paul makes clear in his letter to the Corinthians, we do not all have the same gifts, but we all have gift necessary to do the things Jesus does. And most astonishing of all, in the fourteenth chapter of John, he tells us, “and greater things than these you will do.”

Pause. Try to take this in. We are promised by Jesus that with the gifts we have been given, we will do greater things than he does. What an incredible assertion. What a promise!

Jesus goes on to say that, at the end of the day, when you have used the gifts you already have been given, you may still feel as if you have not done enough – that you do not have enough to give. You will still feel unworthy somehow. That it is only your duty to have done these things Jesus calls us to do.

This is only natural, because you are so filled with the love of God, so filled with the Spirit of God, so perfectly created in God’s own generous and giving image that you will always want to do more for God’s sake and our neighbors’ sake.

Trust what you have – what you have been given. Trust what you have to give. It is more than enough. You can uproot trees. You can move mountains. The lame will walk, the blind will see. Loaves multiply so there’s enough to feed everyone. As you sow, you shall receive. As you follow Christ, you will begin to lead. If only you have faith as small as a mustard seed.

The kingdom of God is at hand. We can reach out and touch it, feel its nearness, participate in its fullness. If only we have the tiniest bit of faith, God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Written by the Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek
The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek is rector of St. Peter’s Church in Ellicott City, MD, a parish in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He also travels throughout the church leading stewardship events for parishes, dioceses, clergy conferences, and diocesan conventions. He has long been involved in the work of The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), and the Ministry of Money. He frequently uses music and storytelling in his proclamation of the Word. E-mail: kkub@aol.com.