Sunday, April 29, 2018

Look, Here is water!

Sermon Easter 5 Acts 8.  4/29/18

What is to prevent anyone from being baptized?

How do you share God’s love?  How do you share the good news?  Do you share the love of God with others?

One of my lowest moments as a priest came in September 2002.  I had only been a priest for a few short months. My first daughter was born on September 26th.  It was a great blessing, but there was a lot going on that week. I was on overload. First, of course Lydia was born.  The tricky thing about this is that Lydia was born with one kidney. So shortly after she was born she had to be medically transported to the nearby Children’s hospital.  Erin could not leave the hospital where she was just yet, so I had to go back and forth between hospitals. Then, I got a call that a parishioner was in intensive care at a different hospital.  Now I was driving between three hospitals. Finally, the parish secretary called and said the church roof was leaking. I told her the Senior Warden can take care of that. Here is where my low point came.  In the morning I got to the NICU to hear the doctor’s briefings. They would go around to each crib / cubicle and discuss what needed to be done. Lydia was fine. Her one kidney had successfully taken over the whole system.  Then I heard some sad news. I could hear the doctors at the next crib station pronounce that baby as terminal. None of the family was around. I think they were all too sad and upset. I was wearing my collar and when I returned to Lydia’s crib in the afternoon, I saw the parents of the terminal baby at the crib.  Here is where my low point happened. I froze. I figured that they would come to me if they wanted me, seeing that I had a clergy collar on. Later I saw them again in the waiting room right outside. I still said nothing. I just walked past as their heads were in their hands crying. I could have said something. I could have simply asked if they needed anything, or if they needed someone to talk to, or even just if I could pray for them.  Who knows how they would have responded had I said something, anything, but they were left with the image of a priest in a collar just walking past them. Now this would not have been a time to witness my faith, but it was a time to offer God’s loving support, and I didn’t follow the prompting of the Spirit in my heart to say something. Whenever I get a call to visit someone now, even someone I don’t know, I picture that young couple sobbing.

How do you share God’s love?  How do you share the good news?  Do you share the love of God with others?

Today, our first lesson comes from Acts chapter 8 and is about the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch.  Philip is lead to encounter the Ethiopian Eunuch. After hearing him read from the prophet Isaiah, Philip shares about the suffering and love of Jesus.  The Eunuch is moved to become a follower of Christ’s loving way. “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” the Eunuch asks.

There is so much to this encounter, but I will focus on two aspects of the story that can teach us.  First, we are called to trust the Holy Spirit guiding us in our encounters. In the passage, an angel (messenger from God) leads Philip down to the road to Gaza, where he encounters the Ethiopian Eunuch.  The Spirit then prompts him to get even closer. “Go over to this chariot and join it,” the Spirit says. Philip goes over and hears the Eunuch reading from Isaiah, the suffering servant image. Philip senses an opportunity to share about Jesus because he senses the willingness of the Eunuch to hear about the sacrificial love of Christ.  Philip engages by asking a question, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Eunuch then states the obvious, “How can I unless someone guides me?” Then the love of Jesus is shared.

Notice, this is not a conversion prompted by Philip’s apostolic ingenuity.  Philip is not saving a soul here. He is though allowing himself to be a conduit of the love of Christ that is already bubbling up in the Ethiopian Eunuch.  Philip, however, does two things right. He follows the Holy Spirit guiding his heart to listen to another, and he asks questions to help spur along the conversation.  My brother and sisters, this is all that we are asked to do as well. We do not need to force evangelical opportunities. Evangelism happens. It happens when we enter into the Spirit’s leading.  It happens when we ask questions and follow the lead of the other. Evangelism is not about how many we can save, or convince. Evangelism is about coming alongside another and joining in their journey, and sharing about Jesus when the time is right.

A few weeks ago, I was getting ready for Holy Week.  We were to have two baptisms on Easter Sunday. I was looking over our list of prospective new members, and saw Kenny’s name.  I wondered if Kenny had ever been baptized. Kenny is an adult who has come more and more frequently to church, and I had noticed he always received a blessing and did not take Holy Communion.  I wondered, how should I approach Kenny? When should I ask him? The thought popped into my head, “Why don’t you just call and ask? He has been seeking after all.” I called Kenny, and three weeks later he was baptized.  It was one of the more special services that I have ever had the privilege to be a part of.

Another aspect of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, that we should always remember, is that nothing is to prevent anyone from being baptized.  After Philip has simply shared the love of God, then the Ethiopian Eunuch’s journey is now firmly on the path of Christ’s way. The Eunuch asks, “ Look, here is water.  What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The answer is obviously nothing. Of course it could have been lots of things. ‘Oh you are not Jewish yet, you need to become Jewish first.’  ‘Oh, you are a Eunuch, and We do not accept Eunuchs.’ ‘Oh, you need to take a test and earn a certificate before you are baptized.’ However, the obvious guiding of the Spirit trumps any of these man made obstacles.  We should asks ourselves, “What prevents us from helping others seek the love of God?” What excuses do we make?

In fact, would any of us be here if someone had listened to the excuses in their head and not the Spirit in their heart to share the Gospel?  “Oh well, Cornelius is a centurion, of course he can not be a follower of Jesus way.” “Oh, this Saul is too dangerous. We can’t let him be a member of our community and the way.”  “Oh, it is too dangerous to seek out seekers in Rome and spread the gospel there.” “Oh no, we can not share with or impose on this Lydia. She is obviously rich and will never fully accept the good news.”  “Oh no, these barbarous people in England will never listen to the Gospel.” In fact the Venerable Beds relays this story about Augustine’s mission journey after he is sent by Pope Gregory:

They set off obediently, but were soon seized with terror, and wanted to return home instead of going to this barbarous, fierce and unbelieving nation where they did not even know the language. They agreed that it was safer to return, so Augustine – who was appointed to be bishop if they were accepted by the English – went back humbly to implore the blessed Gregory to let them off this dangerous, hard and uncertain journey. The Pope responded by sending them a letter urging them on to the work of preaching God’s word, and to rely on God’s help. This is what he said: “From Gregory, the servant of the servants of God, to the servants of our Lord. “Since it is better not to begin a good work than to think of giving it up once you have started, you, my beloved sons, ought diligently to complete the good work, which, by the help of the Lord, you have undertaken. So do not let the toil of the journey or the tongues of men, discourage you, but with all earnestness and by God’s guidance fulfill what you have started, knowing that great labor is followed by the greater glory of an eternal reward….”

Where would we be today if Augustine had abandoned his missionary journey?  People, how we respond and what we do, even in the smallest of encounters, matters a great deal.

“Oh no, those tribal people in Africa will never accept the way of Jesus.”  Now Africa is where Christianity thrives the most, much more so than in the so-called civilized West.

How do you share God’s love?  How do you share the good news?  Do you share the love of God with others?

We do not need to come up with a fancy new slogan or marketing campaign for Christianity.  The blueprint has already been made. It is the Spirit who moves hearts. We are called to the important task to journey with others and be there ready to share how we have experienced the sacrificial love of God.  Let us respond to God’s call of love in another, “Look, here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hope is powerful…

What is Hope?  When we say the word ‘hope,’ what do we mean?  Do we mean that we have hope in some pie in the sky wishful thinking?  Like we hope the Cubs will win the World Series?  Oh wait that happened.  Or maybe that IPFW will beat Indiana University in Basketball?  Oh wait that happened too.  (Please forgive me IU faithful.)  For me, hope is not just wishful thinking.  Hope is powerful and real, and affects us more than we even know.

Good morning.  Today is the first Sunday of the season of Advent.  While the culture celebrates Christmas from Thanksgiving until Christmas, we here in the church focus on Advent.  Advent means ‘coming’ or arrival’, so over the next four weeks we will be reminded of the waiting Israel did for the messiah, and be reminded that we are now in a time of waiting.  Christ (Christos is Greek for messiah) has come, but God has not fully reigned yet.  Thus we say, “we remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.”  So, today, on the first Sunday of Advent the theme is hope.  The Gospel lesson is from Matthew chapter 24 and points to the end.  Thus we start with what is to come, and I think gives us a few marks of what hope is all about.

First, Christian hope is mysterious.  In the passage Jesus reminds us that NO ONE knows the day or the hour, not the angels, or even the Son, but only the Father.  If you ever have anyone who says, “Hey I’ve calculated when Christ will come again.”  Remind that person that many have tried, and tell them to go read Matthew chapter 24.  Many people have tried to guess the time from clues in the bible, and they have all been wrong.  I even think Isaac Newton has proposed a date in 2060.  He seems to have forgotten to read Matthew chapter 24 as well.  I think there is a reason why we are not to know the day or the hour.  Imagine if you will that Jesus gave us the exact day and hour, say he said the world will come to an end in December of 2021.  How would that change the way we live?  No, I think it is purposeful that we do not know exactly when, so we can focus on the love of God in the present.  There is a story I once heard about a wise man that lived a thousand years ago or so.  There was much fervor about the end being nigh then as well, so a few people went to ask this wise person, “What would you do if Christ came back tomorrow?”  The wise man said, “I would plant and apple tree.”  The people went away perplexed.  What did he mean?  Was there some great symbolism in an apple tree?  Was he harkening back to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden?  Curious they came back to the wise man and asked, “Why did you say that you would plant an apple tree, if Christ came back tomorrow?  Is there some great symbolism in this act?”  The wise man paused and said, “No, that was what I was going to do anyway.”  This is a great lesson about hope.  We can hope for things in the future, but not knowing when and how they will happen is actually a good thing, because then we have to focus on the present.  Hope at it’s best can make us focus on the present.

The second great mark of hope talked about in this gospel lesson to day is that hope causes us to be ready in the present.  Thus, hope does not just cause us to focus on the present, but to prepare us to be ready.  Jesus says to be ready for the son of man will come at an unexpected hour.  Hope in something in the future helps us be ready and shapes the present.  My daughters love Christmas.  Thus, even now we have watched a few Christmas movies.  One movie we recently saw was “A Christmas Story.”  Now I had seen parts of it, but never sat through the whole movie.  Of course in the movie little Ralphie desperately wants a red rider BB gun.  People keep telling him that, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”  Surprisingly though I found a great teaching about Advent in this movie, and this is not a plug for guns rights.  No the message is that hope is powerful.  In the movie Ralphie hopes so much for his present that he allows it to shape all his waking hours.  He thinks all the time about the present.  He does everything he can to convince others of the need for his present.  In other words he prepares to receive the present all on hope.  Hope is a powerful thing if we let it be.  What do you hope for this year?  What is God preparing you for?  I pray you may have a powerful advent leading up to Christmas.  May we open and prepare our hearts in the present to receive the love that is and is to come.

God bless,

Dan +   

Sunday, November 6, 2016

To be a saint?  For I want to be one too?

What characteristics do you look for in people, say a friend?  Do you want them to be kind, compassionate, loyal, maybe funny.  What characteristics does our culture value?  We want people who are strong, assertive, resourceful, articulate, and attractive.  What characteristics do you think God values in people?

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints and All Faithful Departed.  All Saints was November 1st, and All Faithful Departed was November 2nd, but we transfer their celebration to this Sunday.  So I am wondering, what is a Saint?  Often times when we think of a saint we think of someone who is perfect in all ways.  Often times we think of a saint as a very nice person.  We say, “Oh she is such a saint, or he is such a saint.”  My parents thought my brother Jim was a saint.  He did everything right.  He was nice to everyone.  He followed the rules and never caused trouble.  He always did his homework and chores.  He always ate his vegetables.  He was a mother and father’s dream child, not that I harbor any jealousy.  However, they didn’t know Jim the way I knew Jim.  The Jim I knew use to pinch my nose.  The Jim I knew threw my pacifier out the car window when he lost his.  That is the Jim I knew.  All kidding aside, Jim is a wonderful person now, and probably always has been.

What does it mean to be a saint?  The word saint is rooted in the Latin word ‘sancti’, meaning ‘holy’.  The root of that word can be found in many other words.  The sanctuary is a “holy” place.  The sacristy is where the “holy’ things are kept.  We sing the sanctus or “Holy, holy, holy.”  To be “holy” is to be set apart for God.  Thus, to be a saint is to be set apart as holy for the Lord.  So what does that mean? 

On All Saints day, the gospel lesson is the beatitudes.  Blessed are you who are poor.  Blessed are you who are hungry now.  Blessed are you who weep now.  Blessed are you when people hate you…on account of the son of man.  Later on it gives the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  In the New Testament Paul refers to all believers as Saints on occasion.  Many Christians like me thus believe we can all be saints.  That is we can all be set apart as ‘Holy’ for the Lord.  From this passage I believe we get a clue about what it means to be that kind of saint.    

First, we are saints when we know that we rely on God.  Once again today’s gospel lesson from Luke chapter 6 gives us the beatitudes.   Blessed are you who are poor.  Blessed are you who are hungry now.  Blessed are you who weep now.  Blessed are you when people hate you…on account of the son of man.  Now does God think it is great to be poor, hungry, weeping, and hated?  I hope not.  I do not think God thinks it is great to be in that state just because.  What is important is that when we are in those places we know, or have a greater possibility to know, that we need to rely on God.  When we are in great need we can more easily know that it is by God’s grace that we live.  One characteristic of all the saints is that they know they have to rely on God.

Saint Ignatius of Loyola is one of my favorite saints.  Saint Ignatius, however, did not start out being too saintly.  Early in his life he sought military glory.  He wanted to be highly thought of like successful people in his culture.  Along the way though, Ignatius was injured in battle.  As the story goes he was in a place recovering and all they had were books on the saints.  He wanted books on military conquest, but there were none.  So he read all about the saints of God.  He decided that he wanted to be a saint too.  He wanted to be the best saint one could possibly be.  He wanted to do saintly stuff better than anyone else.  In other words he still did not get it.  However, God works in mysterious ways.  God broke Ignatius down, what Frederick Buechner would call the magnificent defeat of the soul.  One day, Ignatius had a profound experience where he truly knew that God was in all things and all things were in God.  Finally he got it, or better yet he was gotten by it (I know that is terrible English, but it says my point the best way I know how.)  Ignatius learned that his whole life relied on the grace of God.  We too can learn and live out of that lesson as saints for God.  Being a saint is not something we achieve or is a characteristic we have, but it is when we allow God to work through us.  I always like to say, “Are you strong enough to be weak enough to let God be God in your life.”

Second, we are saints when we let God work through us to touch the lives of others.  In the passage Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Now this does not mean that we should do to others what we want done to us.  What it means is that we should love others enough to give them what we truly need, and that is the love of God.  Thus, saints of God let God work through them to share the love of Christ in their lives.  Yesterday was the Diocesan convention for the Diocese of Northern Indiana.  We have a new Bishop, Doug Sparks.  Bishop Sparks made it very clear that we are called to be a Missional church.   That is a church that lives and shares the love of God and does not exist solely for itself.  Bishop Sparks even quoted Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple who was Archbishop in the 1940’s.  The quote was Temple’s definition of evangelism, which I commend to your Googling.  Coincidently I too used a quote from William Temple a few weeks ago.  Temple said, “The church is the only society that exists solely for those who are not it’s members.”  We as Christians, as saints for God, set apart as holy for the Lord, need to keep this in mind, always.  I cannot think of one saint who after experiencing the love of God curled up in their bed and kept it to themselves.  If we have been gotten by God (yes I know more bad englich) then we know that it is a love to be shared.

God bless,

Dan +

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5: 19 & 20)

As I write this article I am celebrating 15 years of ordained ministry.  Yes, I know, many of you have socks older than that.  However, for me it is a very significant milestone.  It marks the halfway point of a thirty year career.  Currently, after thirty years a priest can retire at full benefits.  Sitting with this though, I realize that it is not about me.  Ordained ministry is to serve, and it is always about community.  Everyone who does any form of ministry does so in community, shaped by the community, lifted up by the community.  Most importantly ministry is about God and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.  There are two clear things I have learned in 15 years.  One is that one can never master divinity, we can only serve.  When I was in seminary I thought, “I will be soo knowledgeable after ten years of being a priest.”  Now after 15 years I feel like I know less than ever.  Perhaps I am just waking up.  Now I have a Master of Divinity degree, and I think it is the stupidest description of a degree ever.  Second, clergy learn more from lay persons than the other way around, and hopefully as a result learn more about God.  For God is awake, alive and moving in community and in relationships.

As I look back on 15 years I find myself being nostalgic, and I give thanks.  I give thanks for many things.  Often in my November Cross and Sword article I write about and give thanks for all the programs and exciting ministry in which we are engaged.  However, now I find myself giving thanks for the little things.  The little encounters and special moments that have made me smile over the almost ten years I have been at Saint Alban’s.  Above all else I am thankful for God and for you.  I pray you may give thanks for the little moments in your life when God touches your heart.  Below are some of my favorite little things for which I give thanks.  Some are funny and some are serious, but they are all special times, gifts from God.
1.                I always give thanks when I hold the hand of a person after we have shared home Holy Communion.  I cherish the feeling of Christ feeding those in great need.
2.               After every funeral I give thanks.  I almost always find peace washing over me as I ride back from the cemetary, giving thanks I knew the life we just celebrated.
3.               I actually have come to enjoy and give thanks for Vestry meetings.  There have been some serious characters on our vestry over the years.
4.               I give thanks and love my ‘Friends in Faith.’  There is no place I have learned more than on Wednesday mornings with some of the most faithful people I have ever known.  I love how we can laugh and be serious, and above all respect and learn from each other.
5.               Spending time with the youth of the parish always brings me joy.  I give thanks and love youth group and sharing our hi’s and low’s for the week.  I love poking fun at the youth when they say something ridiculous (Yes I am looking at you Megan Spice and Lydia Layden).  Finally, I love our youth trips, and especially enjoy the van rides when I can act like a child while the other adults are in charge.
6.               I give thanks for Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  They are Holy times.  I love coming home late at night and having a few cookies that Santa left for me.  Further, I love the stillness of Christmas morning driving too and from church while most everyone is snug at home.
7.               Finally, I give thanks for Holy Week.  I love the Maundy Thursday liturgy and the quietness of the prayer watch that follows at the altar of repose.  I also love the deep silence in the church after Good Friday services.  Finally, I love watching the children hunt for eggs knowing that God has done a great work that week.
This is me.  How about you?  For what are you thankful?  For what are you thankful in your family?  For what are you thankful for at Saint Alban’s?  How does God warm your heart?  I pray you may have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!

Dan +