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.
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.
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!
Friday, August 26, 2016
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people." (Ephesians 6:18)
Being held in prayer...
"I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers." How many times have we said this? Do we know the power behind these words? As a priest I have said these words many times, and I do hold up many people in prayer everyday, but do I really grasp the true power of the statement? I often hear this phrase in our culture. Sometimes I think people truly mean what they say, but other times I think people say it because it is a nice thing to say.
Recently I had my back surgery. This was the first major surgery I have ever had. I found nyself on the receiving end of prayers. Even though many have prayed for me before for various other things, I have never felt so surrounded by prayer and good wishes before. I thank all of you for your thoughts and prayers. There is a great comfort to it. Knowing that many are praying for you and thinking about you really helps put your mind, soul and body at peace. Prayer, love and good thoughts really do have great power to heal, even if the outcome is not always what we desire. I would still argue that prayers are powerful and bring great peace.
There is another great aspect to prayer than just knowing the love of our family and friends. That is of course knowing the love and healing of God through Christ our Lord. When we pray, we are not just letting our wishes be known to God, but we are entrusting others we love to God's love and providence. We are saying that only God can properly and powerfully take care of this person. It is God's will that will be done, and God who surrounds each person with the redeeming love that swells up for eternity.
So next time you tell another you are thinking and praying for them, then please know that it is more than just a nice thing to say. It is a way of expressing true love and caring to that person, yes. More importantly it is lifting up one of God's little creatures to the master of the whole big universe and trusting that that loving God will surround that small creature with true love and do what is truly best for them. God cares for all creatures great and small, you and me, through the redeeming love of Jesus Christ. I truly thank you for holding me up in prayer.