Listening for God, Last Epiphany (C) – 2016

[RCL] Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]; Psalm 99

In the coming week, churches around the world will undergo a transformation of sorts, as the liturgical calendar moves from the season after Epiphany to the season of Lent. Our praise-filled shouts of “Alleluia!” will give way to Lent’s solemn petition, “Lord have mercy.” Many churches will retire their finest brass and festive hangings in favor of simpler and more contemplative fixtures. And the lectionary will lead us down from the mountaintop where the transfigured Christ is revealed in glory, through the valley of the shadow of death, and ultimately to Jerusalem where the cross and tomb await.

Lent weighs heavily on us. It urges us to recall the suffering and death of our Lord. So, in many ways, we arrive at this final Sunday before Lent with a mix of anticipation and anxiety, a combination of joy and dread. It is no accident, then, that every year on this Sunday, we hear again the story of Christ’s transfiguration on the mountaintop because, at the heart of this story, we find these all-too-familiar feelings: anticipation diluted by anxiety and joy thinned by dread.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus summons Peter, James, and John to the mountaintop. Without getting our contextual bearings, we may be tempted to believe that the chosen disciples happily agreed and gleefully followed Jesus without reservation. However, we must recall that just a few verses earlier in chapter 9, Jesus tells the disciples that he must undergo great suffering, be rejected, killed, and then rise from the dead.

“If any want to become my followers,” Jesus says, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” As Peter, James, and John journey with Jesus to the mountaintop, they are forced to come to grips with the horrifying truth that Jesus, their beloved friend and leader, must suffer and die!

When they reach the top of the mountain, the Gospel tells us that Jesus was transfigured before them and Moses and Elijah appeared. As the disciples beheld their Lord, they realized that they were in the very presence of God. But even in this incredible moment of divine transfiguration, Peter could not forget what Jesus had told them before they came to the mountain.

“Master, it is good for us to be here,” Peter petitions, “Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

At some level, most of us can’t help but sympathize with Peter. Who among us would knowingly submit our self or our loved ones to pain and suffering? Peter’s efforts to protect Jesus are undoubtedly acts of love and devotion – but they are also acts couched in Peter and the disciples’ need for safety and security. They had seen a glimpse of God’s glory in the face of Jesus, and they wanted desperately to hold onto it, to protect it.

But the moment that Peter gets into cahoots with James and John to try and hold onto and protect Jesus, is the moment that a voice from above breaks in, proclaiming: “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!”

And notice what happens next: As the disciples came down from the mountaintop, they didn’t rush into the closest town and tell the first person they saw about what they had just witnessed. They didn’t wait until Jesus wasn’t looking to talk about it. And they didn’t take to Social Media with the news. Luke’s Gospel tells us that they “told no one any of the things they had seen.”

Although most biblical scholars interpret the disciples’ silence as a mark of fear over what they had seen and heard—which is certainly a plausible explanation—perhaps there’s more than one dimension here. What if the disciples’ silence allowed them to be obedient to God’s command?

The disciples had heard God say, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!” So instead of running and telling the world what they had seen on the mountain, what if they chose instead to obey; to be silent so they could listen?

In a world bustling with noise and chaos, where words and rhetoric are shouted with impunity, stirring up fear and angst, perhaps this is the word from the Lord that we need to hear.

Amidst all of the joys and heartbreaks of the world; in the face of all of the delight and despair that surrounds us; and despite all of the things we know and can never know, God beckons us, ever so gently: Listen.

Imagine for a moment, what the world might look like if we listened—not in preparation to respond, but in order to understand.

What might our politics look like if we listened more and argued less? What might our schools look like if we taught our children how to listen as intently and deliberately as we taught them how to speak and to write? And what might our churches look like if we listened intently for the voice of God from those who differ from us?

In his book, Bread for the Journey, the Catholic priest and theologian Henri J.M. Nouwen writes:

“To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept… The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”[1]

As our Lenten journey approaches, and the chaos of the world presses in with voices of despair clanging in our ears, may we remember how to listen. For it is in listening that we truly hear one another.

And it is in listening that we hear the voice of God.

Amen.

Download the sermon for the Last Sunday of Epiphany.

Written by The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly

The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly is the 26th rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina (Diocese of Western North Carolina). A native of Paris, Kentucky, he earned a BA in American studies from Transylvania University and a Master of Divinity and Certificate in Anglican Studies from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. His published work includes essays on Christian social engagement, theology in the public square, and preaching, appearing most recently in the Journal of Appalachian Studies and the Anglican Theological Review. 


[1] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (HarperOne, 1997).

Living Eucharistically, Epiphany 4(C) – 2016

[RCL] Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

Baptism is an amazing gift and an awesome responsibility. We Christians are set apart, commissioned, and ordained to boldly confess Jesus as Savior, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to seek and serve the Christ in everyone we meet.

And we can see this theme reflected in today’s gospel passage and Old Testament passage . Jesus picks up a scroll in the synagogue and reads from the Prophet Jeremiah:

“Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

Now, that is living baptismally! As one whose job it is to help put the world to right.

Jesus, of course, will go on to preach good news to the poor, to heal the blind, to set many of the oppressed free, and to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of righteousness. He understood what it is to live baptismally. There’s also another big piece of the journey for sacramental Christians: living eucharistically.

Living eucharistically means much, much more than coming to church and receiving communion. That’s how we gain the sustenance to live eucharistically, but it is not living eucharistically. Living eucharistically is to live a life of gratitude. That’s what “eucharistic” means. Living a life of thanks, appreciation and positive reception to the world around us.

It’s really difficult to do this. We live in a world that is full of suspicion, full of hatred, and full of fear. And don’t be confused: there are things of which we by rights are suspicious, things we should hate, and things we must fear. But there are also times when our blindness to the truth prevents us from seeing the good in everyone and causes us instead to seek out what we see as evil.

We are not alone in this. We humans have been doing it for centuries. Like in today’s gospel. Jesus proclaims what must seem like a pretty harsh truth to the people in that synagogue. They don’t like it, they don’t agree with it, and they don’t want to hear it. And so they become filled with rage and they drive him out of the town, prepared to hurl him off a cliff. They are not living eucharistically. Instead, they are seeking to sort out the things that trouble them, the concepts that offend them, the words that they consider an affront. They had a choice, and they chose a path of destruction.

Living eucharistically, on the other hand, would call for them to look for the signs of the coming of the kingdom of heaven, the concepts that inspire them, and the words that give them hope. Living eucharistically would call for us to listen carefully for what resonates with us in a sermon, in a hymn, in a scripture reading—and then living into that truth from God. Living eucharistically means putting aside our critical nature, leaving behind the things that upset us, and finding a way to be grateful.

This life of gratitude begins with a shift in how we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. It means no longer being content with fast-food spirituality that makes us feel good in the moment but leads only to chronic disease, discontent, and disappointment.

Instead, living eucharistically means investing ourselves in the sustained bread breaking of authentic and attentive prayer, mindful and deliberate service, and careful and sensitive listening. As the late Alex Haley, the author of Roots, once said, he strove to live his life by these six words: “find the good and praise it.”[1]

“Find the good and praise it.” And, sometimes, what is good for us, what we really need, what we have to confront: sometimes, this is something painful. Paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr., for instance, racial justice requires the complete transformation of social institutions and a dramatic restricting of our economy, not superficial changes that can be purchased on the cheap. That is a truth that hurts. But accepting that basic tenet leads to something quite wonderful: coming even closer to the bringing of that promised kingdom of God here on earth. “Find the good and praise it.” Just as we cannot find buried treasure without doing the hard work of digging a hole, we cannot grow spiritually if we are unwilling to confront our own stumbling blocks.

Perhaps it is helpful to remember that the gospel writers were not like us. They were not interested in facts, exactly, although very much interested in truth, and not much interested in details, really. This is especially helpful to remember this as we read the gospel narrative on Sundays. It probably never occurred to them that we would add chapter and verse numbers and divide their narrative into little snippets and read just a bit here and there. So it may be well to remind ourselves of just what scripture, exactly, Jesus is claiming is fulfilled in their hearing in that synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. We heard it just last week, you may recall. From the book of the Prophet Isaiah:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Now the Nazarenes may well be astounded that this young man they knew as Joshua, could read at all. It was not the usual thing, of course, for people to read, let alone the children of menial workers — isn’t this Joseph’s son, they ask. But, we imagine they are also astounded at what he chose to read: the very promises of salvation. Is Jesus proclaiming himself as a prophet, as great as Isaiah and Elijah? Is Jesus bringing the ancient Israelite prophet’s words into that first-century assembly? Or, is Jesus announcing that the kingdom of God has come very near? Well, perhaps all three. And even more.

By choosing to read from the prophet, rather than the law, Jesus has already aligned himself with a particular party within Judaism. We know, over time, he will continue to distance himself from the lawgivers: the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, to be more precise. And he has also chosen to align himself with a particular wing of the prophetic party — for he has not chosen to lament, with Jonah, or to chide, with Jeremiah. He has chosen to proclaim hope for a better tomorrow. He has chosen to find the good and praise it. He has chosen to live eucharistically. And he does so using an ancient text. He does not need to be inspired by the Spirit to create it; he needs not compose the words; he is simply the living, breathing mechanism for proclaiming God’s word. He finds the words on the page and reads them aloud:

“The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And in this act, he breathes new life into that text. You can almost imagine the bated breath, the hair standing up on the back of someone’s neck, the racing heartbeat—as if to say, “Wow, that’s part of our scripture? Our tradition says that?”

So, Jesus reads these words, proclaiming himself as a prophet, as great as Isaiah and Elijah, bringing the ancient Israelite prophet’s words into that first-century assembly, and announcing that the kingdom of God has come very near. With these words Jesus is calling us to be prophets ourselves. To live eucharistically, a life of gratitude and thanksgiving. To breathe new life into the ancient words of Scripture. To “find the good and praise it.”

Download the sermon for Epiphany 4C.

Written By The Rev. J. Barrington Bates, Ph.D.

The Rev. Dr. J. Barrington Bates currently serves as interim rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Essex Fells, New Jersey. He is also Church Review Editor for the journal “Anglican and Episcopal History.”

 


[1] http://www.alexhaley.com

Parts of the whole, Epiphany 3 (C) – 2016

[RCL] Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21; Psalm 19

In many dioceses, this month marks an important time for annual meetings in congregations. At these times, we necessarily focus on “the Church” – how things have been going for the last year and what we plan for the next year. But at such meetings, we also often pause to remind ourselves about what the Church is and what it is not.

A usual starting point is to declare that the place where we worship is not the Church. Rather, this building is a structure in which the Church gathers for solace and pardon and strength and renewal and for inspiration to become more fully what the Church is – the body of Christ.

In today’s Epistle, we received a reminder from St. Paul that all together we, the Church, are, in fact, “the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

We remember, too, that the clergy and the vestry are not the Church. Sunday School teachers are not the Church. Outreach ministers are not the Church. The altar guild, acolytes, and lay readers are not the Church. No one person, no one group, and no one activity can become the Church for us. The Church IS the body of Christ.

The Church is NOT something to belong to. Nevertheless, sometimes people talk about joining the Church like they do about joining the Rotary Club or the PTA or the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts. Those who do affiliate with such organizations pay dues to them, attend meetings when they feel like it, and turn in their membership cards when they grow tired of the organization’s activities or become angry at what it does or the changes it makes. The Church, committed to God, is very different, of course. It is – we are – the body of Christ.

Neither is the Church something to watch on television as interested spectators. For us, the Church is participatory. We are necessarily partakers and contributors. We are not like the audience at a concert, but we are like members of the orchestra making the music – God’s music to which we dance in our daily lives, following our Christian values.

We are the body of Christ, and each of us individually is a member of it. But we are not individuals WITHOUT the body – only WITHIN it. In a way, our faith and tradition create a certain conflict with the rugged and independent-minded individualism that has formed so much of the American culture. We are not Christians alone; we are not separate actors choosing our own views without reference to the faith. Always, we are together – parts of the whole. And our congregations, the Church, are part of the body of Christ.

St. Paul drives home this point as he expands his view of the body of Christ by using the image of a human body. He enlightens us with telling examples of its parts – hand, ear, eye, nose, feet, and head. Each has its special function. As we consider what we are as the Church, we do well to remember this. As different parts of a human body make their contributions, each of us finds a particular contribution to the Church, finding a ministry that suits us and complements the others.

And, we expand these ministries beyond the confines of the congregation as we all apply our ministries in making the work of Christ effective in our daily lives for the sake of all around us.

But, we dare not forget to balance these individual roles following another aspect of St. Paul’s analogy. It takes all parts of a human body working together to produce the functioning of a healthy one. We must work together, recognizing the equal importance of all ministries and all members and all people. St. Paul illustrates this in language we can never forget. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” Each, he insists, is equally indispensable. All of us, doing our parts, are indispensable.

And, we must also expand this view beyond the confines of the Church. In the broken and fearful and often desperate world in which we live, conflict and contention and extremism and lack of civility on many sides seem to have become the rule instead of the exception. Far too often, people in all sections of our country and of the world choose sides, ascribe to an “us versus them” mentality, and draw lines in the sand. How can we take Paul’s wisdom that no one can say “I have no need of you” and extend it to all people and all places to make this sense of Christ-like unity understood and accepted?

As the body of Christ, we are the activity and the continuing presence of Jesus in the world. We become the Resurrection. The Church is the means by which Christ remains involved in the world. So, we, his body, are Christ’s representatives on earth.

We, the Church, are Christ for others – at work, at home, at school, in the community, and in the life of our congregations.

It might help today to remind ourselves of a teaching from the Outline of Faith, the Catechism, on page 555 of the Prayer Book:

“What is the mission of the Church,” we ask. And we learn that the mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

When we ask, “How does the Church pursue its mission?” We learn that, “the Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships and proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love.”

And finally, we ask, “Through who does the Church carry out its mission?” And we are reminded that, “The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.”

The various ministries that we employ as part of the Church allow us to engage in the great mission of the body of Christ, following the challenges that Jesus lays before us. They represent how we actively serve as Christ’s continuing presence in the world.

What our world needs is for us to be the body of Christ. And how we begin to do that might well be found in today’s Gospel. The very first thing Jesus did as he began his ministry was to go into the midst of the community in which he had lived his entire life and declare what the world needed. He did so by reading from the Prophet Isaiah.

How do we, as the continuing body of Christ, in our time and our places do what Jesus read about? How, in word and in action, do we “bring good news to the poor?” How do we, in word and in action, “proclaim relief to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind?” How do we, in word and in action, “let the oppressed go free?”

How do we, in the expression of the catechism, “proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace and love?”

A fearful and anxious world, filled with far too many people who are hungry and oppressed, wounded and hopeless, await an answer from the Church – from us – the body of Christ.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 3C.

Written by The Rev. Ken Kesselus

The Rev. Ken Kesselus is a retired priest living with his wife Toni in his native home of Bastrop, Texas, where he serves as the mayor and writes history book and a column in the local newspaper. He is a former member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and author John E. Hines: Granite on Fire.

Come and Dine, Epiphany 2(C) – 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 36:5-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11

On the third day, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. How many weddings have you been to in your life? Can you remember what all those brides wore, the music that was played, the songs you danced to at the reception? Whether you enjoy weddings or dread them, they make an impression. You can recall details of a wedding many years after they happen. How the light caught her eyes. How the champagne tasted. Who caught the bouquet. It’s not just any day. It’s a day that strives for goodwill, for abundance and joy. Despite the fact that every wedding is a cliché — how could it be otherwise? — and despite the army of wedding professionals waiting to capitalize on your special day, a wedding remains the basic metaphor we have for things turning out right in the end.

Which is exactly why this wedding, with its water-to-wine miracle, marks the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in the Gospel of John. John is setting the scene for everything that comes after, and telling us what he thinks life as a follower of Jesus is really about. As Marcus Borg writes in his book titled simply Jesus, “The story of Jesus is about a wedding. And more: it is a wedding at which the wine never runs out. More: it is a wedding at which the best wine is saved for last.”

John is an odd duck. He clearly thinks this is a very important story for understanding who Jesus is, and yet this is a story that occurs only in his Gospel. The other Gospels make no mention of Jesus turning water into wine. Our lectionary runs in a 3-year cycle — one year each for Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John doesn’t get a year to himself: instead we get little bits and pieces of John in each of the three years. Where Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell variations of the same basic story about Jesus, John goes off in his own direction. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are more narrative, sticking to the facts of Jesus’ life and inserting Jesus’ teaching as it was preserved in early manuscripts. John is different: more interpretive and intellectual.  John wants to show us not just what Jesus says and does, but what Jesus means. And what Jesus means is life, joy, abundance, and peace. John is convinced that the Christian life is meant to be a comedy, not a tragedy. Despite how dark things might seem out there in the world, despite the fact that the path to life will lead Jesus — and us — through death, despite all of this: things will turn out right in the end. God is in control, leading us to light and life in Jesus.

John drops a hint about the meaning of Jesus in the way he begins the Cana story: “On the third day.” Important things happen in the Bible on the third day — most notably Jesus’ resurrection. In the same way that the first line of the first chapter of John, “In the beginning was the Word,” calls to mind the beginning of everything in the book of Genesis, “on the third day” points to the climax and resolution of Jesus’ story. On the third day is life, and that is where we are called to live.

Then John goes on to tell us about a wedding. Marriage as a metaphor for the union of God and humankind runs throughout the Bible.  In the passage from Isaiah that we heard today, God is the bridegroom joined in union to God’s people Israel:

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

A wedding in the ancient world was an unparalleled feast. Celebrations continued for days on end. For the poor people Jesus grew up among, a wedding meant a pause from seemingly endless labor and a chance to eat and drink abundant food and wine, in stark contrast to the meager rations that made up their typical daily fare.  The life that God intends for us is a life where there is enough: an abundance that springs from God’s own abundance.

But God intends more for us than mere sustenance. There should be enough wine, and it should be good wine, the finest wine. The marriage supper God invites us to is meant to bring us pleasure and joy. The life God intends for us is one filled with beauty and contentment and all good things. It is a lie to think of pleasure as immoral. As we see at this wedding feast where Jesus reveals himself, the day of banquet and feasting is also the day of reconciliation, joy, and peace. Only when there is enough to go around, plenty to be shared freely, can old resentments be washed away and new companionship begin to grow.

Despite John’s tendency to show us the otherworldly, mysterious and ethereal side of Jesus, this miracle makes a strong case that the Christian life is grounded in simple, daily pleasures like good food and wine: following Jesus is more about earth than heaven. God became incarnate not to pull us out of our bodies and into heaven, but rather to bring heaven down to us, to bring the peace and abundance that is God’s intention for all people and places into every corner of human life.  We are blessed with this feast at the Eucharistic table week-by-week and day-by-day, blessed with enough and more left over to share. And in our joy we are called to go out into God’s world and share God’s invitation: the table is set for all! Come and dine.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 2C.

Written by The Rev. Jason Cox

The Rev. Jason Cox has served as associate rector for Youth Ministries at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., since 2011. Prior to working at St. Columba’s, he directed the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, a year-long service and discernment program for young adults, in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Before ordination, he served as an intern in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program, working with homeless clients in a transitional housing facility on L.A.’s skid row

Manifesting God’s Love, Epiphany 1(C) – 2016

[RCL] Isaiah 43:1-7; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22; Psalm 29

As long as most of us have been able to remember, modern day so-called prophets have been crying that Jesus is coming sometime soon in our lifetime. For that matter, any quick glance at Church history reveals that generations of folks have been anticipating the Second Coming. Even St. Paul thought that Jesus was going to return during his generation. But here we are 2,000 years later still awaiting the coming of our Lord. The Church continues to be filled with expectation, not unlike those who listened to John the Baptist, wondering if the coming of the Messiah is nigh. It seems humanity has a deep-seated longing for someone to come and deliver us from all that is wrong with the world. The world’s three great monotheistic faith traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – all eagerly await the coming of the One who will rectify the world’s wrongs, set the record straight, and establish a reign of righteousness.

It’s easy to see why the people gathered around John mistook him for being the long-awaited Messiah. He was a mighty preacher, boldly proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God, and warning people to repent of their sins in preparation for the coming of the Christ. John, like Jesus, challenged the status quo of his day. He called the leaders vipers when they came seeking baptism from this man in the wilderness. John didn’t pull any punches, and in the end, it proved to be his undoing. Nevertheless, Jesus proclaimed that John was the greatest among all prophets. John baptized with water, but he prepared the way for the one who would baptize with fire.

On this day, the first Sunday after the Epiphany, we are still waiting for the Messiah to return. Many are busy trying in vain to interpret the signs of the times in order to determine when the Christ will return as promised. The world has become a very scary place for many of us. Terrorist attacks are happening around the globe, wars and rumors of war fill the airwaves and electronic media, natural disasters seem to be on the rise with ever increasing ferocity, and governments struggle to find solutions to what ails their countries. Each generation sees their time as being worse the any other time in history with fear and foreboding. People are divided over what is the best approach to solving all that is wrong in our world. Even in the Church, Christ’s followers cannot find consensus. Division is rampant and faith seems to be replaced with fear.

In light of all that burdens our souls in today’s world we are called to remember that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Paraclete comes not to only provide us with comfort, but to empower us to carry out the work of the Lord in a world that is desperate for answers for what ails it. God is separating the wheat and the chaff. Despite all the disorder in the world, God is still firmly in control of the situation. Nothing is happening that God is not aware of. God’s Beloved Son has already won the victory for us, we only have to learn to walk in that victory as we face all the challenges that lay ahead.

It helps to keep in mind that the world has always faced great adversity. When the Mongols invaded the Roman Empire the Church was convinced that was the end. When the Norsemen invaded Europe, wreaking havoc wherever they landed, the Church was certain that was the end. And when the Ottoman Empire was at the gates of Vienna, once again the Church was prepared for the end to come. No generation has lived that hasn’t witnessed great social upheaval, indescribable suffering, or cataclysmic disasters. But the world continues to spin, history rolls on, and the Church must learn to rise to the occasion and proclaim that God’s love knows no boundaries. The end may be near, but we are called to be overcomers in Christ, not merely survivors who are barely hanging on until the Lord returns.

Today’s Gospel states that Jesus will separate the wheat from the chaff, but how do we know the difference? What separates the wheat from the chaff? Fear. When we allow fear to rule our decision-making process we give into irrational thinking and actions. Fear tells us to shut the alien out, to deny mercy to those seeking asylum, and to hoard our resources out of fear that there won’t be enough. Fear compels us to distrust our neighbors, and arm ourselves before we leave the relative safety of our homes as if we are going out for battle and not just a simple trip to the store or movie theater. Fear, if given into, can become our prison master that prevents us from living our lives to the fullest as intended by God.

Those who have been empowered by the Holy Spirit have nothing to fear. As Scripture reminds us, “If Christ be for us, who can be against us?” Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear tells us that God isn’t big enough to handle our problems. Faith, on the other hand, says that God is bigger than all our problems combined. Jesus, the one God calls his beloved, conquered fear on the cross and He is coming back. But until that day comes, we are called to occupy the land (spiritually speaking). Perfect love casts out all fear, and love is perfected a little more in us each time we face a fearful situation and declare God’s victory over the situation.

The love that gives us power over fear is rooted in God’s beloved – Jesus. Just as God is well pleased with the Son, so too is God pleased with all his children who put their trust in His grace. This is the central message of baptism; the old being has been buried with Christ in baptism and the new creation has been resurrected. This is a spiritual truth that must be worked out during our lifetime; nevertheless, we can be assured that God’s love for us is eternal and trustworthy. No trial or tribulation we may face can separate us from the love of God.

Christ has come into the world to set us free from fear and spiritual oppression. He will come again as he promised. Until that day comes, let us continue to manifest God’s love for all His creation as we continue to love and serve Christ in all people. Amen.

Download the sermon for Epiphany 1C.

Written by The Rev. Deacon Timothy G. Warren

The Rev. Deacon Timothy G. Warren is a 26-year retired Air Force veteran with more than 15 years’ experience as an educator in the private and public sector. Deacon Warren is the founder of Trinity Victorville Outreach, an emergent ministry in the High Desert Region, Calif., and founder/president of Lifeskills Development, a newly formed nonprofit dedicated to providing assistance to at-risk young adults.

Our global Family, Last Sunday After Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 15, 2015

2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

Today, the Last Sunday After the Epiphany, the Episcopal Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. Today is a day when we are called to celebrate that we are a missionary church. Today is a day when where are all called, through our baptismal vows, to seek and serve Christ in all people and respect the dignity of every human being, to continue in the apostle teachings and to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

Today is a day when we remember that through our baptism we are reborn into the family of Christ as children of God.

In our gospel reading today, we are reminded of the divinity of Christ as the Son of God, and therefore, we are reminded of our relationship with God, as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. One reason why World Mission Sunday is important is that we are reminded that as children of God, we are part of a global family and mutually responsible for one another.

In 1963, 16,000 Anglicans from around the world gathered together for an Anglican Congress to discuss issues of mutual ministry, and to live into the belief that the Anglican Communion is one family, mutual interdependent on one another.

This congress struggled with issues of interdependence in an economically unequal world. The congress talked about moving away from the idea of giving and receiving, and instead focusing on equality, interdependence and mutual responsibility. The congress talked about needing to examine rigorously the senses in which we use the word “mission” in describing something we do for somebody else.

Perhaps one of the most revealing comments in the final document is: “Mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky; it is mutual, united obedience to the one God whose mission it is. The form of the Church must reflect that.”

If we truly believe that we are children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ, then we have a most profound responsibility, not only to our family of birth but also to our brothers and sisters around the world.

We see glimpses of this connectedness, often in times of tragedy. On April 15, 2014, when Boko Haram kidnapped over 270 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria, there was an outcry across the world, and we saw many people become a part of the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign, including First Lady Michelle Obama. The cry was, “Bring back our girls,” not “those” girls or “their” girls, but “our” girls.

More recently, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, the global community again rallied together, announcing “Je suis Charlie” – “I am Charlie” – to show solidarity with the murdered staff of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

There are times in our collective consciousness when we know that we are all intimately connected, part of the same global community and children of God. Within the church, many people experience this during major feasts and seasons of the year, when we can feel the prayers of millions of people during Lent, or Easter or Christmas. The wonderful thing about being an Episcopalian and a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion is that we also know that we are connected by the Book of Common Prayer, in which, although it has been culturally adapted and written in many languages, our foundational prayers are the same and are said by over 80 million people around the world every Sunday.

How would it look if this sense of oneness, this sense of being part of a global family was something we felt on a more regular and intimate basis?

The Episcopal Church is a missionary church; our corporate name declares that, in that we are the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. Our Baptismal Covenant declares that in what we say we believe, and how we say we will act.

The Episcopal Church continues to send out missionaries around the world, both young and young at heart. With the Young Adult Service Corps there is an opportunity for those between the ages of 21 and 30 years old to journey to another part of the Body of Christ and to see the Holy Spirit moving around the world. The Episcopal Church also offers opportunities for older adults to serve throughout the Anglican Communion.

While our parishes, dioceses and denomination send out missionaries around the world, we are all called to participate in this ministry. We are all called to pray alongside, to mutually support, to advocate for, to be with, to share stories with, to listen to, and to worship together with our sisters and brothers around the world.

As we were reminded in that 1963 congress, we do not “do mission to or for others.” Mission is not an activity in which someone is “sent” and “received,” mission is not the kindness of the lucky to the unlucky, of giving a little out of our excess. Mission is about being in a fully mutual and interdependent relationship, in which we recognize that we are blood of the same blood, flesh of the same flesh.

Where one person hurts, we all hurt. When one person is not able to live fully into their humanity because of a lack of human rights, then we are all in pain.

While we see glimpses of this connection at times of great joy and time of great sadness, our challenge is to see this connection every moment of every day. The challenge is to feel this connection to our sisters and brothers when we are engaged in our daily life, whether this is buying fair-trade coffee or lobbying for equal opportunities and better living conditions for those who work in factories around the world making the clothes we wear.

World Mission Sunday reminds us that we are all intimately connected to one another. The girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria are our sisters and daughters. The families who live in hunger in Sudan are part of our family. The children who are not able to go to school in West Africa because of Ebola are our children, just as much our flesh and blood as our families at home.

Our challenge, as it is every day of every week, is how do we live into this “Christian reality” of life? How do we live out our baptismal vows faithfully? How can we learn to be a global community as God has called us to live into?

On a practical level we can certainly become more informed:

  • We can listen to the world news and become educated about our brothers and sisters who are suffering.
  • We can learn about the work of the Episcopal Church’s missionaries through its website.
  • We can advocate for the poor and connect with the Episcopal Public Policy Network.
  • We can give through Episcopal Relief & Development.
  • We can pray for our brothers and sisters.
  • We can visit, share our stories and listen to the stories of others.

Lifting up placards and declaring our solidarity with one another at time of crises acknowledges our unity together and is important for us to do. We are also invited by God to lift up our hearts, our minds and our very being to connect with our global family.

Today is World Mission Sunday; we are invited to live into our baptismal vows and to engage concretely in mutual and interdependent relationships with our brothers and sisters around the world.

 

— The Rev. David Copley is the Episcopal Church’s officer for Mission Personnel. He was a missionary in Liberia and Bolivia and priest in the Diocese of Southern Virginia before accepting his current position.

Is there healing without curing?, 5 Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 8, 2015

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

Sometimes it’s difficult to get a conversation started or bring discussion to a deeper level. Luckily, there’s a game called TableTopics that is meant to get conversation started between two people or group. TableTopics is a clear cube filled with cards that have one question on each, and there are a variety of versions out there, including a Book Club version, Family version, and Spirit version. Each person in the group draws a card and reads their question, and all take turns answering. The Spirit version helps people get into deeper conversation that is helpful for exploring personal faith, as well as getting to know others better.

For example, one of the questions in the Spirit version leads to a discussion about the difference between being healed and being cured. Is there a difference between being cured and being healed? Can you be cured without being healed? Can you be healed without being cured?

When we are physically ill, we want a cure to make us feel better. But even though we may be cured of our ailment, it doesn’t mean that we are healed. Our understanding of healing, especially in our gospel stories, means something more: It means a restoration of wholeness, particularly when it comes to our spiritual lives. When we are healed, even if we’re not cured of a physical ailment, we have the ability to rejoin our community in whatever way we can and be at peace on our path.

Throughout our lives, we meet people – and sometimes are the person – burdened with physical and spiritual illness. There’s a story about a woman who was in the hospital quite ill with cancer and estranged from her sister because of something that happened years before. She knew she was dying and talked to the hospital chaplain about her sister and how she was finally ready to stop nursing the grudge she had for all those years. She was ready to make amends. They prayed together about it and she cried because it hurt – not only to let the grudge go, but because she realized all the years and energy that had been wasted in maintaining that anger. When she was able to repent for her part in the estrangement, she was finally healed. She felt wholeness, even though her body was still sick. She felt right with God and restored to the community that she longed for.

When we are ready to be healed, it demands action on our part. It demands that we are ready to invite Jesus into that place that is wounded and help us. In our reading from the Gospel of Mark today, notice that Jesus doesn’t just seek people out who are sick; instead, they come to him, either on their own or through the disciples. Simon’s mother-in-law is brought to Jesus’ attention as soon as they got to the house, and as soon as he healed her, she immediately goes about serving Jesus and the others of the house. She was restored to her community and to wholeness. Her healing demanded a response.

It is interesting that the word translated as “serve” here is the same that Jesus uses to describe himself as the “one who comes to serve” and also the same word used when the angels “waited on” Jesus in the wilderness. This example of serving embodies the ideal of discipleship as service to others, which was what Jesus was trying to get people to understand. It was because of the mother-in-law’s encounter with Jesus that she responded with immediate discipleship.

Although Jesus continues to cure many who were sick and to cast out demons, he did not allow the demons to speak because he did not want people to know he was the Messiah, the secret that is a big part of Mark’s gospel. His fame was already spreading from when he taught with authority in the synagogue at Capernaum and cast out an unclean spirit there. But Jesus’ call was always first and foremost to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God; everything else, including the miracle healings and exorcisms, was secondary. They just helped him establish “street cred” as someone not to be trifled with.

As it happens in human nature, people were getting caught up with the messenger and not the message. We’ve all been there. We get caught up in the hype of someone who is charismatic, and the next thing you know, you’re buying something, giving away your savings, donating a kidney, or whatever it is that person has seduced you into. Jesus was trying to avoid that reputation, in a way. He didn’t want to be seen as just another wonder-worker, because that was not his mission. His mission was to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is here, through God’s authority, not human authority.

It is in the third part of our gospel story today that Jesus teaches us something else that is very important. After all that healing and casting out of unclean spirits, Jesus gets up in the early morning and goes out to a deserted place to pray. Observing morning prayers was a regular part of Jewish religious practice, and we know that the desert or the wilderness in biblical tradition were places where a person would make contact with God; so it makes sense that Jesus does this. After all that pouring out of himself in the previous days, Jesus needed to get in touch with God again. Being battered with the intense and desperate needs of the world can make things a little foggy. We know how that feels. When your boss needs, your spouse needs, your family needs, your school needs, your church needs, your friend needs, it is easy to forget what God needs. So Jesus goes out to pray and be reminded of who he is and what his mission is by the one who sent him.

The translation in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible for this passage is particularly descriptive. It says, “And Simon and his companions hunted for him.” Jesus was being hunted like prey being stalked by a lion.

How many times have we felt that way? The needs of the world around us are overwhelming – we could help people all day and never fully satisfy all their needs. Jesus is showing us another way. He is teaching us when we should say no to something. He is teaching us how to discern what God is calling us to. If Jesus had come to solve all the aches and pains of people on earth, then we would be sitting here with a very different gospel and none of us would ever catch the flu or have arthritis.

Jesus gets his priorities straight by talking to God, and he realizes it’s time to move on and proclaim the gospel somewhere new. There will always be more need than one person can deal with, that’s why discipleship is important. The response to an encounter with Jesus is a converted life – a life in line with manifesting the Kingdom of God in the world, proclaiming the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.

The theologian and Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, once said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” There’s a whole world out there that hasn’t heard the Good News yet. Isn’t it time that we followed Jesus and told them?

 

— The Rev. Danáe Ashley is the part-time associate priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. She is currently working on becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist. You can learn more about her on the Soul Spa Seattle website.

Building up, not puffing up the church, 4 Epiphany (B) – 2015

February 1, 2015

Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

The gospel, on this fourth Sunday in the season of Epiphany, plunges us into the acts and words of one who speaks with authority. The light of Epiphany shines today on the character of the one sent from God. The evangelist Mark zeroes in on this divine quality at the very beginning of his gospel. He says of those listening to Jesus in the Capernaum synagogue: “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”

The people in that synagogue knew what the scribes had written. To them, no one was as important, as authoritative a prophet, as Moses. Maybe, hearing the young man from Nazareth on this day, they are remembering the words of Moses concerning true prophets: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people: you shall heed such a prophet.”

We know from the unfolding of the stories, both in the Hebrew scriptures and in the gospels, that true prophets are recognized but rarely heeded. We seem to prefer magicians to prophets. It is much easier to solve problems through magic than to spend a lifetime of obedience to the words of the prophets and the demands Christ makes in our lives.

Throughout history, movements arose to make easy knowledge of the divine possible – Gnosticism, theosophy, efforts to call back the dead in order to talk to them – as well as our modern emphasis on meditation as an alternative to prayer and study of the scriptures; one can spend hours enumerating human efforts to avoid the words of the true prophets and to ignore the one who speaks with authority.

It is truly fascinating to read the verses that precede the first lesson read today in Deuteronomy. They enumerate practices that are very old but are still to be found in our times:

“No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits or who seeks oracles from the dead.”

Think, for instance, on titles of popular movies and television shows and remember how many of these practices are found in the culture of the day. As an interesting sidelight, that first practice mentioned – passing through fire – is still found during Epiphany in certain villages of northern Greece. There the faithful, carrying icons of Constantine and Helen, dance until they become ecstatic and then walk over burning coals without suffering from the fire. They are called anastenáridhes. Human beings are attracted to magical solutions and practices. The new faithful are oftentimes confused: Is this something a Christian is allowed to practice or to believe?

This happened very early in the Christian church. The Corinthian believers of the first century, surrounded as they were by so many gods and the different cultures and worship of various people who thronged that rich city, were confused about what Christ asked of them and by what they had learned while living in a multicultural city. They had written to Paul to ask a variety of questions. Among them was the question of diet. Was it proper to eat the meat of animals after these animals had been sacrificed to a pagan god? This was practiced widely in the Roman world. They would offer the whole animal as sacrifice at their pagan temple, but then the meat would be sliced and sold in the marketplace. Some of the new Christians who felt superior because they had knowledge – they were educated – felt free to buy and eat this meat. Others, afraid that they would fall into the sin of idol worship, would refrain from eating meat and would eat only vegetables. Today of course they would be praised as being vegetarian, but in those days food was scarce and people who were knowledgeable were more concerned with feeding their families than with the niceties of the new religion that had its roots in very old Hebrew traditions.

The problem with Paul’s congregation was that the educated ones made fun of the ones who refused to buy the meat. Paul, who probably would have eaten the meat because he knew that it would not defile him, had great compassion for the weaker members of the ekklesia. It is evident from his writings that he dreaded being a stumbling block to a new Christian. He would do anything to support the weak in order not to cause one of them to be afraid or to be lost. Having learned from his Lord what mattered, he zeroed in on what built the congregation and disregarded what puffed up the congregation. Today he probably would ask us: “Do you have a fine choir, a gorgeous building? Good for you. But do you also welcome the stranger? Do you open your doors and hearts to the weak and the poor? Take care of what builds up the body of Christ.”

Paul spoke with the authority of one who lived in total obedience to the one who had called him by name. Jesus spoke with the authority of one who had come from God. We see clearly from the admonitions of Jesus to his followers not to speak about his miracles that he did not want his miracles to attract people to him. He wanted the Word of God to be the central Good News he was proclaiming. But his compassion for the hurting was so great that he could not ignore them but whenever they came before him, he healed them.

But always, always he made sure that the least of his followers – the blind, the weak, the poor, the despised women and the neglected children – were given equal status with those who had the power and who were respected as religious authorities. He made sure that they knew that God loved them and that God had no patience with hypocrisy and self-righteousness. That was his authority; the authority of the true prophet. He spoke and lived and acted in the name of the one who sent him to the world, to us, and this is the one on whom the light of Epiphany shines today. May we see it and rejoice.

 

— Katerina Whitley is an author and retreat leader. She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.

Follow me, 3 Epiphany (B) – 2015

January 25, 2015

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

In a recent National Public Radio report on contemporary family life in America, a somewhat exasperated young father describes parenthood as “always filled with joy, but sometimes not much fun.” Most parents today could probably relate to his words. For being father or mother, with all its wonder and joys, is not easy in any age. Good parenting invariably entails a great deal of giving and self-sacrifice – which as we all know is “sometimes not much fun.”

That father’s offhand comment on NPR seems somehow apropos as we reflect this day on our gospel account of the calling of the disciples – particularly James and John, the sons of Zebedee. “Immediately he called them,” Mark’s gospel tells us of Jesus and these two seemingly inseparable brothers, “and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.”

What must Zebedee have thought – or maybe sputtered – as he saw his otherwise perfectly sensible sons all of a sudden get up and leave their nets and their chores? And to do what? Why, to follow a little-known itinerant preacher no less; and without so much as a “Tell Mom we will not be home for supper.” Not much fun in that for Zebedee, one supposes, as the hired men meanwhile stare open-jawed in amazement at this little family drama unfolding before their very eyes.

Apparently parenthood and family life was no simpler 2,000 years ago than it is nowadays. By the way, commercial fishing was – back then and is still today in many places – a family business in which each member of the household has his or her important role. It is fair to say that fishing for a living – a lot of hard work – was not always fun. Perhaps it is the ordeal of it all that has made recent television docudramas about the contemporary lives of commercial fishermen such unexpected late-night favorites.

While a family-run fishing business might not have been the most glamorous profession in ancient Israel nor have put one into the highest echelons of Hebrew society, it was nevertheless a respected profession and a solid means of income and support for one’s family. It was, in fact, more highly regarded – according to some scholars and experts – than the work of a lowly village carpenter and jack-of-all-trades as was apparently Jesus’ own father, and perhaps Jesus himself.

So to follow Jesus – as admirable as that may seem from our advantaged perspective 2,000 years later – also meant for James and John the giving up of a not-insignificant trade or profession. As they say, people will always need to eat. The troubling conclusion also seems almost unavoidable: Following Jesus might well mean leaving parents and family and the security and comfort of a good job or career. By the way, how Zebedee was supposed to manage without the assistance and support of his sons we simply do not know from the gospel account. “Follow me,” indeed.

But “Follow me” is precisely what Jesus at the Sea of Galilee says to that other pair of brothers, Peter and Andrew, also fishermen. His call to James and John must certainly have sounded a similar note. Even now, there are probably few words in all of Christian scripture more demanding than these two: Follow me.

Jesus gives no explanation for his challenge. Nor does he give his followers or recruits a clear business plan of sorts for his own start-up ministry. He makes no promise of success and riches either. His vision statement – if you can call it that from a present-day corporate perspective – is only that his disciples will come to “fish for people.” And can there be much future in that?

The disciples must have thought so.

Because, curiously, they are not portrayed as having agonized over their decision to drop everything and follow our Lord. They did not first go home and sleep on it or discuss it at length with family members, friends or village elders. They did not check their bank accounts or savings. And surely, if they had approached their local parish priest for advice, they would most assuredly have been sent back to Zebedee forthwith.

Still, there is something energizing and exciting in the response or impulse – it hardly seems to have been a decision at all – of these first disciples. Perhaps in leaving hearth and home, they comprehended at once the larger family of humankind to which Jesus was calling them. To “fish for people” is, after all, about community – and family. And, though not always fun, as the disciples were themselves later to discover, it is most definitely about joy – the joy of bringing the Father’s love to others sorely in need of the Good News of the gospel.

Most of us have, no doubt, from time to time dreamed of dropping everything and heading off on some personal journey of discovery – until we sit back and calculate the cost, come down to earth, and get back to work and reality. Few of us today would leave our net, much less our Internet, to follow in the footsteps of James and John, Peter and Andrew – or Jesus himself. Yet our Lord’s challenge to the disciples of so long ago remains there to test us still today – just those two words:

“Follow me.”

The fact that we know from the perspective of faith just who Jesus is and what he calls us to do seems to make little difference. In some sense, our challenge and task is perhaps even greater than that of those impulsive young followers of Jesus. For most of us are called to follow our Lord at the very same time we are challenged to remain where we are – at the side of family and friends. Yet, perhaps paradoxically, accepting our Lord’s gospel imperative invariably leads us to others, to “fish for people,” even if we never leave home.

What the early disciples must have instinctively known is what we must not forget – that in following Jesus we leave everything but lose nothing. That is “the good news of God” that Jesus and his disciples proclaim with great joy throughout Galilee – and through us across our world today as well. And probably even the disciples’ own father, Zebedee, could find joy in that.

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is currently chaplain and area dean at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Episcopal Church in Budapest, Hungary – a ministry of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe. Please visit and “like” Saint Margaret’s Facebook page. Isten hozott!

Let your heart be light, 2 Epiphany (B) – 2015

January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

“You will see greater things than these.”

Like Nathanael, we are all looking for signs. We search high and low, near and far, for some confirmation that God is with us. When really, as Jesus says to Nathanael, we will see greater things, if only we will open the eyes of our hearts.

It can be as easy as listening to a song. Judy Garland, in the 1944 MGM musical “Meet Me in St. Louis,” introduced a song by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blaine called “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”:

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light.”

As much as some decry the commercialization of Christmas, in the end, letting our hearts be light is really what it’s all about. And Epiphany is a season of light – a time to reflect on just how our hearts and our lives can be light.

On Christmas Day, the reading from the Gospel of John said: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

This Second Sunday of Epiphany, we pray: “Christ is the Light of the World. … Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.”

And on the First Sunday After Christmas, we prayed: “Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.”

“Enkindle”: to stir up, fire up, inspire, rouse, awaken, ignite, instill, incite! It is all a way of saying that the Incarnation in which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us – and does so by taking up residence in our hearts – the Light that is the Life of all people resides within us, at our center. He makes a home in our hearts.

This light of each person is not meant for themselves, but meant for all, that all might see better the other gifts of creation. It is what Jesus talks about when he urges us not to hide this light, not to put it under a bushel, but to put it on a lamp stand so it will give light to the whole household – which in biblical terms always means “the Household of God.”

The word for “household” in Greek is oiko – from which we get words such as “economy,” oiko-nomos, the law of the household, and “ecology,” oiko-logie, study of the household, understood as the environment in which we live.

The idea is that we have all been given the gift of Light, which is the Life of the world, Jesus. And giving it away, letting go of what we already have, is what gives us eternal life in return. It is the Light of Life. This Light is what unites us with God in Christ. And it is meant to give Light and Life to the whole world, everyone, all people.

To hold onto this Light, to hold onto our gifts, results in a world that is upside down from God’s view of things. So God comes to us as Jesus to turn us right-side up again.

We have difficulties with all this. We find it difficult to believe God would give us a gift at all – so we hold onto it for dear life lest God stop giving us his Word, his Sacraments, his Light and his Life.

Little do we suspect what difficulties this holding on causes for others in the household. So much so that others begin to find it difficult to see the Light that shines within them. This causes the entire household to slip into darkness, a return to the darkness that covered the whole of the face of the deep, before God spoke and there was Light.

Yet, we are those people who believe and pray that this Light is already enkindled, instilled, stirred up within all hearts everywhere. We need to believe what we pray and what God’s Word and sacraments mean to instill and enkindle in our own hearts.

The story is told of the preacher who went about town preaching, “Put God into your life. Put God into your life!” But the rabbi of the town said, “Our task is not to put God into our lives. God is already there. Our task is simply to realize that!”

God is the ground of our being. The relationship between God and creature is such that, by sheer grace, separation is not possible. God does not know how to be absent. God is always at home. It was Meister Eckhart, a 13th-century German theologian, who reminded us that we are the ones who are not at home. We are not at home, even within ourselves.

Know that little by little – it takes time – Jesus will reveal to you how much he is at home with you.

He calls you to follow him
So that you may do something beautiful with your life and bear much fruit.
The world needs you, the Church needs you, Jesus needs you.
They need your love and your Light.
There is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives.
This is a deep secret you are called to live.
Let Jesus live in you.
Go forward with him!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, a blessed Epiphany season – and let your heart be light.

Amen.

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the Diocese of Maryland girls’ boarding school, where he teaches World Religions and American History. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.