SERMON Pentecost 21 B Proper 24 St. Andrew’s Grove, OK

Job 38:1-7, (34-41); Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37bHebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

WATCH ONLINE https://fb.watch/8J6WH3fWNW/

Success vs. The Cross

            James and John asked Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus nicknamed these two “Sons of Thunder.” The Greek word for “Thunder” is Βοανηργές , which I believe defined James and John’s fiery and critical zeal.  True to their name, these two disciples’ request of Jesus surely sounds a bit like they felt entitled to something special. They longed for power and success, which made them act so “thunderous.”  Like the “Sons of Thunder,” we all want to be efficacious, and to be closely associated with equally efficacious and powerful people. We all like the winners.   Our culture reserves seats of honor for those who are “on top.” 

            Nontheleess, the story in today’s gospel is about two of Jesus’ disciples who wanted their way, their own success, and their glory, but they were very foolish thunderous disciples.  The crux of their entitled feelings became evident when they asked Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”  When you hear this passage, we hear it through the lens of knowing the path Jesus took, which led to a cross and to his ultimate trial, crucifixion, and death.  So, we hear this request and think, “do these two not get what Jesus mission was all about; were they not listening to Jesus talk about going to Jerusalem to be rejected, beaten, and to die?”  They must have thought that Jesus was going to be welcomed into the city, and be glorified as a hero, as a great king, as a repairer of all that was wrong in Israel (initially he was).  

            James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” wanted their special place, their seats of glory at the throne, a seat reserved based on some misguided notion of Jesus’ upcoming success.  They did not comprehend what it really meant to “be a follower of Jesus.” Sometimes, we are like the “Sons of Thunder, unaware of the costs of discipleship. Despite James and John’s ill-advised ideas about Jesus’ mission, and even with their bold demand for seats of Jesus’ glory, both of them still dared to be a disciple.

Get into the story

            A few years ago, one of the college ministry interns I worked with in South Florida asked, “what does it take to follow Jesus these days?” I easily could have suggested she read a good book or an article about some awe-inspiring saint, but I decided to encourage her to go to the source himself for the answer; Jesus Christ. I explained to my intern, “If you are going to follow someone, if you are going to call someone ‘Lord of my life,’ then you have to know who He is, how he lived, the depth of his love, and how he interacted with his disciples, as well as his opponents.”  I continued, “We all need to learn more about him, then live in gratitude for his grace and finally, go and show him within ourselves to others.”

            We all say we want to be disciples, but some of us are not versed in the narrative of Jesus’ life.  We followers once a week hear the scriptures read to us, but that is like eating a good appetizer, and missing the nutrition found in feeding on the whole meal.  We all need to eat often and ravenously on the life of Jesus every single day, so we can be changed by the one we all call Lord. 

            If Jesus’ story intrigues you, let me share are some facts about him to whet your appetite for more study: (1) Jesus was clear about who he was and what his mission was going to be in the world. (2) Except when praying, resting, eating, Jesus was always moving towards an objective; reconciliation of creation through the self-giving love of the cross.  (3) Jesus let nothing stand in the way of his mission.  (4) Jesus reordered the power structures of his day by going head-to-head, with the religious and political leaders who kept the people in spiritual bondage.  (5) Jesus loved folks who did not love him back and gave of himself, when others denied him even a place to lay his head.  (6) Jesus was kind, compassionate, loving, and self-denying and yet, he was a bold, radical, and a truth teller who held people to account.  (7) Jesus endured the abandonment of his friends, and the rejection of his followers, as he died a gruesome, shameful, and scandalous death.  (8) Here is the key to it all: Jesus is fully God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all we perceive. God in Christ was born, lived, died, and his unimaginable love raised him to life again, and he lives today. Now that is something to sink your teeth into.

Seats in the Jesus’ Movement 

            Jesus’ focus on others was so unimaginable, that it ultimately led to his death.  Jesus loved in ways that to say the least, we all find difficult to incorporate into our own way of being today, especially when success is our primary driver. Jesus calls us to follow him, but to take our seats beside him in his movement, those seats have a shockingly different focus than that espoused by the success of our culture. 

            Jesus disappointed James and John, when they did not get the kind of seats of success they desired.  Even so, the Sons of Thunder, journeyed on with him all the way to Jerusalem.  As misguided as their ambition seem to have been, they did not become mere passive, disinterested sideline fans of the movement. They went the distance with Jesus to the cross and remained well, almost to the end.  We like them may have a hard time going all the way in the Jesus mission of love, but Jesus does not turn his back on us, if we cannot.  

            Jesus loved James and John despite their foolish ambition, and maybe that kind of love is what we need, when we become distracted away from what it really means to follow him.  We often desire a discipleship that steers far away from the rugged path of the cross. What we need is a reminder that Kingdom life is about shedding our mistaken ideals about the kind of life to which we hold so dear. We get distracted from the Jesus’ way, and the way of success and ambition becomes our target.  One way to get back on track is to live a life of gratitude and to DARE to BE a DISCIPLE!

Gratitude

            “How can I practice that kind of gratitude Canon Eric,” you may ask? Try this.  Take a deep breath and let it out.  You see, all that we have, all that we are, all that we see, even that little breath you just took is a gift from God. Discipleship begins with a life of gratitude, acknowledging God is the source of every aspect of our life.   Gratitude humbles us, makes us vulnerable, and infuses us with God’s love. Gratitude is more than a feeling.  Gratitude is our love for God and others in action. Our Presiding Bishop The Most Rev. Michael Curry said in a sermon, “if it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God.”  I will add, God’s love moves us to action.

            Christians are not mere “fans,” “cheerleaders,” or “card-carrying members” of the movement of God’s love in the world.  When we proclaim Jesus as Lord, we should be moved to do more than just show up on the mission field.  We are Christ’s ambassadors in the world and representing Jesus in the world requires us to go out, to move out, and let our lives proclaim the gospel.  When we call Jesus Lord, we are really saying, “I am willing to be Jesus for others in the world today.”  So, take a risk and DARE to BE a DISCIPLE!

Dare to be a Disciple

            So, what does “Dare to be a disciple mean Canon Eric?”  It means that if we are to really follow Jesus, then we must do as he does, serve as he serves, take a risk and be faithful in love!  When each of us stands on the left or right of people traversing the pain and abyss of life’s terrible situations whatever they may be, we are daring to be a disciple.  When we bring solace to those living in poverty, loss and broken heartedness, we are daring to be a disciple.  When we love each other, even when it is difficult we are daring to be a disciple.  When we love others outside our circle of friends we are daring to be a disciple.  When we live with a spirit of gentleness, compassion, mercy, boldness, and forgiveness we are daring to be a disciple.  

            Following Jesus means we must be engaged, we must be involved, we have to be generous, and be willing to be changed forever.  Following Jesus absolutely means that (when like James and John) we seek a place nearer to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, we will certainly lose our life and the things that were once important to us.  

            God is calling his church in a bold way, to re-discover the physical and spiritual needs of our neighbors around us, and then to build teams to bring our gifts of love (hands and hearts) to bear on their situations. God is calling all of us to his mission field, and when we decide to faithfully and fully engage in this Jesus’ way of life, we will surely discover a life of abundant love, peace, and joy.  If this Jesus Movement of active and engaged love is true and I believe it to be so, what are we waiting for?  Like James and John, the Sons of Thunder, it is time for us to Take a risk and DARE to BE a DISCIPLE!  

References

1 Wadell, Paul J. “Living By The Word: Reflections On The Lectionary [O 18, 2009].” Christian Century 126.20 (2009): 19-318. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

2 Chapman, Stephen B. “Sons Of Entitlement.” Christian Century 123.21 (2006): 20-318. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.

3 Kim, Yung Suk. “Jesus’ Death In Context.” Living Pulpit 16.2 (2007): 12-13. ATLASerials, Religion Collection. Web. 15 Oct. 2012

SERMON 9-26-21 Pentecost 18B Proper 21, St. James OKC

Watch Online: https://fb.watch/8hrNQfb0Qv/

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22; Psalm 124 ; James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50

Stumbling in faith

            Jesus said, “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?  Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Jesus is teaching his disciples using the metaphor of salt to encourage them to remain faithful and perseverant.  Wikipedia defines perseverance as ” persisting steadfastly without giving up; continuing in spite of difficulties or setbacks; persevering.”  Perseverance is deeply embedded in our tradition in the church.

            A Benedictine monk was once asked, “What do you do all day long in that monestary?” He answered, “we fall down and we get back up, again and again.”  The monk meant that the life of discipleship requires us to always try, to fail, and we must try again.  Trying to be a disciple of Jesus means we often fail one another but if faithful, we make amends, and then try and love again.  We all fall down and we all get back up again.   We are imperfect beings filled with grace.  Grace is key because getting back up after stumbling requires of us to rely not on ourselves to pull us up from our falling, but to rely solely on God’s grace.

            So, if being a disciple means we are not perfect, why then do expect other disciples to be, well, so darn perfect? Why do we expect our clergy and lay leaders to get it right all the time?  We act surprised when others fail our expectations.  Even Jesus’ first disciples stumbled. They betrayed him, ran off when he was arrested, denied him in the streets after the trial, and they failed his mission of love by jockeying for power and influence within the group.  

            In today’s gospel, Jesus warns us not to trip up a sister or a brother, who is trying to do the best they can do.  The consequences of putting stumbling blocks in front of others are far worse, than having a weight around your neck and being thrown into the sea.  The consequences of causing others to stumble are far worse, than if we were to cut off our foot or hand. Even though we believe the community should be perfect, the early God fearers failed each other just like us, and they often tried to trip one another up.

Leaders Beware 

            We hear this in the Old Testament reading in which, the Spirit came upon some of those on the outside of Moses’ leadership team. Joshua son of Nun, the assistant to Moses, heard about the spirit-filling event, and they became a little jealous because it did not happen to them.  Joshua went to Moses and said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” Joshua got tripped up and fell down, because his motives were self-centered, misguided, and unloving.  

            Back to our Gospel reading, some of Jesus’ leadership team demonstrated that same self-serving attitude.   John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”  Both Joshua and John were insiders who became frightened when their plans for influence were turned upside down, when others threatened their so-called “special places” in the kingdom. Unknowingly, these leaders tried to stop God’s mission, just as it was bursting through in unexpected ways and through unexpected people.  God’s kingdom always emerges from those we least expect.

            Theologian Kenneth Carder explains how fear of change and loss makes us act in often, unhealthy ways.  He wrote, “When threatened with loss, when feeling insecure, we circle the wagons. Gathering the clan and resisting the outsiders is a popular reaction against insecurity and fear.” (1) Like Joshua and John, those early biblical leaders, we church people today often become threatened by change, or by people we just do not like, and we begin circling the wagons, pointing fingers, and becoming exclusionary.  

            These are the kinds of stumbling blocks Jesus speaks of in Mark’s gospel today.  Carder explains, “Jesus, the very incarnation of God’s power and presence … challenged the practice of confining God’s redemptive and transforming action to one’s own race, one’s own religious institution, one’s own political party.” (1) I would add that Jesus does not deny grace to the people we do not like, or those that do not meet our expectations, or to those who are just not like us.  Jesus tells us rather, to “have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”  This is especially true for church leaders, but the fact remains, each one of the members is a LEADER as well as a disciple!

Saltiness – Discipleship in God’s mission

            No, you may say, “Canon Eric, I am no leader, I merely follow the crowd.”.   By virtue of your baptism, every single one of us in the church is a leader and we all must strive to be leaders with “salt in ourselves.” Let me explain this metaphor of saltiness Jesus used.  Salt was a preservative placed on fish and meats to draw out moisture and keep it from rotting.  Salt enhanced the flavor of food. 

            “Salty disciples” are just like salt and by their actions and influence, both preserve the movement of God’s Spirit, and they enhance the movement of God’s Spirit in the life of the church. We all are leaders despite the fact some of us have titles and formal roles, and others are not formally designated. Some leaders do not even recognize their own leadership identity, but because of their influence, they serve in leadership positions outside the formal organizational structure. Whether you’re are a formal or informal leader, you have the choice to act as salt in the community, enhancing and preserving God’s mission, or you can put out stumbling blocks for God’s people and God’s mission. 

            “Salty disciples” are helpful coaches, mentors, and supporters of those struggling to walk the path of Jesus.  Likewise, “Salty disciples” can be unhelpful by making decisions that sometimes cause unanticipated, unexpected, and unintentional injury or stress, because no one is perfect.  Hopefully, healthy “Salty disciples” do not intentionally try to put out stumbling blocks for others.  Rather, they help others recognize that spiritual growth depends on flexible, open, willingness to respond to God’s call to transformation, to traverse the fires and trials of discipleship.

            Theologian Christine Bartholomew said, and I quote, “God is constantly refining us with fire, whether that fire be conflict, persecution or sacrifice. These events can change us and draw us closer to God. This is a work of sanctification, not salvation.”(2) We often have to walk through the fires of difficult circumstances, in order to be led into the grace God has in store for us. 

Daring Leadership

            Sometimes we need to release our Burger King mentality about our ministry (have it your way), allowing God to direct us so that we might trust that he has a better plan than us.  That plan may not be easy because we all traverse a path of fiery circumstances and unexpected challenges, and that is the time to persevere and remain faithful and engaged.

             “Salty disciples” must leave the safe and secure sidelines of church life and get into the middle of the arena of ministry.  It is easy to disengage from active ministry and just poke the bears when they stumble and fall.  It is easy to criticize those who are trying to do their best, being faithful and obedient.  It is easy to undermine God’s progress, because it does not fit our own idea of church.  “Salty disciples” must reject the safe seats of inactive criticism or finger pointing, and choose the risky arena of hard work in mission and ministry, while all along remaining open to God’s life-altering and transformative grace.

            Dr. Brene Brown in her book, “Daring Greatly” describes the kind of bold, focused, and committed “Salty discipleship” each of us must strive to embrace.  She quoted President Theodore Roosevelt who once said; “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

            We are called to be salty disciples who focus on the mission and not the detractors, to put away fears of failure, change, and the desire to maintain the status quo, to get out in the arena of mission just like Jesus, who took a risk for us, who let his face get marred by dust and sweat and blood for us, let his hands and feet be pierced for us, gave his life for us, and he cleared away the stumbling blocks, all along the path for us.   Despite our constant falling and getting back up, despite our failures and imperfections; if Jesus did all that for us, should we as “Salty disciples” in the Kingdom, do the same for one another; we who boldly claim him as Lord? 

REFERENCES

(1) Carder, Kenneth L.Bp. “Unexclusive Gospel.” The Christian Century, vol. 114, no. 25, Sept. 1997, p. 787.

(2) Bartholomew, Christine R. “‘For Everything Will Be Salted with Fire.’” Touchstone, vol. 28, no. 1, Jan. 2010, pp. 5–7.

SERMON Pentecost 11B Proper 14, St. James, Wagoner, OK

1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

Community and Unity

Two Sundays ago, we heard about Jesus feeding the 5000 with bread and fish, last week we heard Jesus describe himself as “True Bread from Heaven,” and this week, we hear Jesus portray himself as the “Bread of Life.” Be ready because this bread theme continues for the next two Sundays. Despite the repetition of theme, we preachers in August will need to dig a little deeper into the readings, so that we might find the subtle nuggets of spiritual nourishment. The holy appetizer for the main course of the “Bread of Life” today, can be found in this week’s epistle reading.

            “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus is a sweet and sour first course of delicious spiritual food for the soul.  

            This reading is an exhortation to a little upstart church that was finding the path of living together in community rather difficult.   In the first century, Ephesus was a very important center of culture, trade, and commerce.  You would think that a sophisticated city like Ephesus would be filled with people who treat each other with respect and love.  However, that was not the case.

Ephesus and Community

            Paul saw the strife in that little community and so, he had to lovingly discipline God’s people for behaviors that were not Christ like.  He chastised them for not speaking truth and for lying to one another.  He called them out for their anger, for stealing, failing to share with the needy, for evil talk, bitterness, wrangling, slander, and malice.  He reprimanded them for not being kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. The Ephesian Christians were a little messed up. 

            We often romanticize those early churches as perfect little groups but they were not.  They struggled to live out the faith each day just as many of us do.  No faith community is perfect and so, we too need to take heed to Paul’s exhortations, because loving one another is how we follow Christ, and loving one another is never stress-free.  

            We grow together when we know God and practice his “no strings attached” love.  We mature when we are in the middle of this messiness of Christian life together.  As recorded in Acts 2:42 those early communities thrived because they continued in the apostles teaching, the prayers, through fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread; the Bread of Life.  Returning to this simple model of community is how our churches will thrive today, and when we center our lives on the “Bread of Life.”

“I am and Jesus and I am”

            Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.”  It sounds simple, but there is more meat than bread in Jesus’ words.  When God sent Moses to lead Israel out of bondage, Moses was not sure what to call God.  God told him tell them, “I am, who I am. ‘I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14)   Did you know that Yaweh, the name for God throughout scripture is translated as “I am?”  

            It is no coincidence that Jesus called himself, “I am the light of the world,” “I am the door of the sheep,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the way, truth, and life,” “I am the true vine,” and “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus was proclaiming that he is the “Great I am.” In his ministry and life, he was showing us the very character and essence of God through images of light, door, way, vine, Good Shepherd, and “Bread of Life.”

            When we feast on the “Bread of Life,” we gather together in this blessed messiness we call church to connect forever and intimately with the great “I am,” the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all of creation.  Imagine for a moment the mystery of communing together with the “source, beginning and end” of all we perceive. We can, when we commune with Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Eating the Bread of Life

            Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” and then added, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The literal eating of Jesus’ flesh was a difficult concept for his Jewish audience of the day, but Jesus was not talking about literal cannibalism when he made that statement.  

            Early Christian father Clement argued that when Jesus spoke of eating his flesh, he was referring to “the faith and hope by which believers are nourished, and … (faith) in terms of repentance and the search for spiritual truth.”(2) Consuming Jesus is a metaphor for a quest for the true nourishment found in the truths of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ.  We spiritually eat when we take into ourselves the teachings, the way of life, and conversion found in Jesus and further, when we spiritually eat at the Lord’s Table.

            In the Eucharist, the priest offers the Gifts of God for the People of God saying, “take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.”  This is a reminder that Jesus is the true nourishment and the only food in which, we can trust.  He is the only sustenance we need, in order to have life abundant and life everlasting.  I believe Jesus is really present among us in the Word proclaimed and the Bread and Wine consumed.  

Community filled with Bread of Life

            Methodist pastor Juan Huertas writes, and I quote, “we come to the “bread of life” again and again with the promise that God will come, that the spirit we are calling will show up, that the claim that we make will be made present, that you and I will find ourselves part of a new reality, transformed into God’s own, pushed, propelled, into the reality of God’s kingdom in the world.” (3)

            Like that quirky little church in Ephesus, the church will always wrestle with our brokenness, messiness, and failures.  Truth be told, each one of us has the capacity to hurt one another, to fail in our mission, and to get sidetracked from the way of love.  We also have the capacity for so much more, when we live in faith together in Christ.

St. James’ is not an association of like-minded individuals, who like eggs in a crate, occupy common space once a week. We are a tapestry of individual threads woven together, and like a beautiful cloth, the lines that might separate our individual gifts and lives become blurred, and the whole body takes on a new hue. When we feed on Christ together, when we love one another, when we go out there and show others where to find bread we are being sent into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

            The hymn by which, we rejoice, the tune we sing is the song by which, the world will find holy food in us, find Jesus in us.  That little tune goes something like this: 

I am the bread of life.
They who come to me shall not hunger;
They who believe in me shall not thirst.
No one can come to me
unless the Father draw them.

And I will raise them up,
and I will raise them up,
and I will raise them up on the last day.

REFERENCES

(1) Berge, Paul S. “John 6:1-71 – the Bread Which Gives Life to the World.” Word & World, vol. 5, no. 3, Sum, pp. 311-320. 

(2) Koester, Craig R. “John Six and the Lord’s Supper.” Lutheran Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 4, Wint, pp. 419-437. 

(3)  http://day1.org/4041-sharing_in_the_life_of_jesus (Pastor Huertas)

SERMON 7/25/21 Pentecost 9B Christ Church, El Reno, OK

2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19 ; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD

            How many of you love food, and how many of you love to cook?  My first career was as an Associate Buyer with a national retailer, where I developed product assortments, designed advertising, developed financial plans, and imagined new product ideas for many of those awesome kitchen items, cookware, bakeware, and cutlery that you have in your home.  Even now, I love watching cooking shows on Create TV, PBS, and YouTube.  I guess some folks might call me a “Foodie”, or maybe I am just a “wanna-be” Sous chef.  I enjoy preparing a meal for folks, and I love to see their reaction when they try a dish I have made.  

            Feeding people, sharing food with others is a way of showing love to other people.  My mother made some incredible dishes when I was a kid, and I know each one was filled with hard work and love.   If you think about it, food and sharing a meal is a core theme of the narrative of Our Lord’s ministry.  Jesus ate meals with all sorts of people, Jesus fed crowds, and Jesus instituted the holy meal we share each week.  

             “Give us this day our Daily Bread.”  The Lord’s Prayer reminds us of our reliance on God’s provision, and the intractable place of food in faith. However, God’s provision for creation does not merely include we good churchgoers.  Grace extends beyond and is unfathomable.  So, the church from its beginning has wrestled with this question, “Does our being fed, mean we must feed others?” Even his early disciples were unsure about their responsibility to feed others. 

            In today’s gospel reading, Jesus asked Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat.” Post-resurrection at the beachside with his disciples, Jesus had to tell Peter three times to “feed my sheep.” This mission of feeding body and soul was at the heart of the ministry of Christ and thus, it is the work of the church.  We are called to continue Christ’s ministry and now more than ever, the world needs the church because, there are many folks who go to bed every night hungry; but moreover, because most folks go to bed each night spiritually hungry.

HUNGER .. REAL HUNGER for JESUS

            Have you ever been hungry, I mean really hungry?  Not that Snickers chocolate bar “Hangry” we occasionally experience.  I mean that real, “I get one meal a day, I have not eaten all day, and I may go to bed empty, kind of hungry?” An article in the “Daily Mail” reports that the average individual American consumes an average of about “3770 calories per day.”(3) We Americans are blessed to have an abundance of food to eat, but like the folks in first century Palestine, nearly 42 million of our sisters and brothers in America, go to bed hungry every night.  

            The often hunger pains of an empty stomach, combined with a life of hard labor was the life of the average person in Jesus’ time.  In first century Palestine, people were able to gather a lot less than 3800 calories each day, and 70% of the calories in their diet came from bread, often eaten in one main meal in the evening.   This was the dilemma of Jesus’ feeding miracle as recorded in John’s gospel.  A large crowd of 5000 men (plus women and children) was chasing after the Great Healer seeking restoration, but they had not brought food along with them, for the only meal they would eat that day.  

            They sought Jesus so steadfastly that they forgot about their basic physical needs in order to seek Jesus.  Ironically, the disciples who intimately knew the Master’s sustaining grace first hand, when they saw the hungry crowd, just threw up their hands and said, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  The disciples who had received grace so easily, did not understand their responsibility to share it with others, except for one little nameless boy.

            William Lamar writes, “A quiet little boy with fish and bread shares with Jesus and something astonishing happens. The whole crowd is blessed. No gift given to the Lord is given in a vacuum. Instead, all gifts given to God bless the entire body of Christ.” (2) Jesus fed the crowd from a small boy’s lunch of five barley loaves and two fish, a meal the boy was willing to share with others, so Jesus could share it with the crowd.  Each one of us, must share from the abundance we have, and share in Jesus’ ministry of feeding others, both body and soul.  We who are fed by the miraculous meal of bread and wine, Body and Blood are fed, must share that grace with others, just like that little boy.  

THE GREAT THANKSGIVING

            Each week, we gather around the Lord’s Table with the simplest of food (bread and wine), and we are sustained by God’s abundance. With the staple food of bread and the nourishing drink of wine, Jesus gathers his followers together and instituted this meal, which we commemorate and make present in the Eucharist or Great Thanksgiving.  This is the same meal by the invocation of the Holy Spirit, becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  Thus, we are nourished not just for ourselves, but we are fed heartily, so we might live fully each day as followers of and doers of Jesus’ mission of love. 

            There is much more going on in this meal than just bread and wine, or even more than a memorial meal, because in it we are being fed and transformed in ways that only mystery can begin to explain.  Theologian David Fredrickson states, “There must be something bodily going on between Christ and believers (starting with Christ and moving to believers!) in order that the life of God, which is fully present in the Son, becomes their life as well.”  

            In the liturgy we say, “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength, for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.”  In this holy meal, we receive grace, strength, pardon, renewal, and in it together we are made one body, so that we might serve the world in Christ’s name.  

Sharing the Good News – “Does being fed, mean feeding others?

            “Does being fed, mean feeding others?  Yes!  At the closing of the liturgy at the baptismal font, the deacon dismisses the congregation.  From Table and past the Font, we are sent out, not to go home and take a nap (like most of us do every Thanksgiving), but we are dismissed into the world to share Christ with others. Methodist pastor and Christian leader D.T. Niles, was quoted in a 1986 New York Times article, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”  

            We are being fed each week for a purpose, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.  Our mission is to be witnesses in the world of Christ’s redeeming love, and we do that by sharing the Good News and literally being Good News.  We do that by reaching into the storms of others’ lives and showing them the bread of grace.  We do that by working to restore justice and dignity to every human being.  We do that by loving one another as we love ourselves.  Being fed DOES means we show others who are spiritually hungry, where to find bread.  

            From feeding a crowd of 5000, Jesus goes and walks on the water.   In John’s version of the story, Jesus is not in the boat where the other disciples are being sheltered.  This time, Jesus is out there on water itself walking through the storm. Jesus is not merely in the boat with us good churchgoers, but he calls us out there with him, out onto the trepid and crazy waters of this life, to share his ministry of feeding body and soul, and there is much work to be done. 

            So, get ready when you come to the Lord’s table today, and get your fill my friends, eat hearty, eat well and then, go and share God’s abundant grace, love, mercy, healing, and reconciliation with everyone you encounter this week.  Go and show others where to find bread, because their soul and your soul depend on it.    

            Let us pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

REFERENCES

(1) Fredrickson, David E. “Eucharistic Symbolism in the Gospel of John.” Word & World, vol. 17, no. 1, Wint, pp. 40-44

(2) Lamar, William H IV. “Chasing Jesus.” The Christian Century, vol. 120, no. 14, 12 July 2003, p. 17.

(3)  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2722815/Daily-calorie-intake-countries-world-revealed-surprise-U-S-tops-list-3-770.html

SERMON 7/18/21 Pentecost 8B St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Sand Springs, OK

Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

A Call to Prayer

            “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.”  I imagine Jesus sitting there patiently with the twelve, as they shared their stories.  Maybe one or two were overjoyed about how the ministry that they were doing with Jesus was changing lives.  Maybe a couple of them were disappointed and wanted the mission to go into another direction. Maybe one of them was deeply saddened, because back home the family was struggling without him.  Even so, Jesus invited them to come away from the chaos and sit with him for a chat, to lay their burdens at his feet, and to share the joys of their day together.  

            You can just picture Jesus listening to each one of them as he occasionally offered gentle encouragement or patient correction.  I bet he lovingly taught, counseled, guided and consoled them too.  Put yourself into that scene for a moment.  Imagine being with Jesus having a conversation like that with him every day.    You do know that you can do that right? We have a powerful communication tool that we can use to share our joys, fears, disappointments, and stories with Jesus anytime. It is not Zoom, a smart phone, or even Facebook Messenger.  The tool we have available to share our joys, celebrations, fears, disappointments, and needs with God is called prayer.

What is Prayer?

            Prayer seems a simple thing to do, but not all of us know how to do it.  Maybe we believe we have to do it a certain way.  Some of us did not grow up in a home where our parents prayed.  Many of us were taught only one or two prayers like, “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.”  Maybe before bed we prayed, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” Television and movies do not provide a good model for prayer either. 

            One of my favorite mindless comedic movies is “Talladega Nights” starring Will Farrell, who plays a successful, failed, and successful again, egotistical NASCAR driver named Ricky Bobby.  One of the early scenes in the movie goes like this, after successful race Ricky and his family gathered around the dinner table, and Ricky says grace.  He begins it with, “Dear sweet, tiny, eight-pound six-ounce Baby Jesus,” and then breaks into this weird speech prayer that I dare not repeat in church.  Ricky’s prayer was naïve, immature, inappropriate, and a bit heretical at best, but the fact remains, he believed that he should pray.

            Prayer is not perfect words or specific incantations we say hoping God will respond and give us what we want.   Wikipedia defines prayer as, “an invocation or act that seeks to activate a rapport with an object of worship, typically a deity, through deliberate communication.” The key to prayer is to see it less as a one-way dialogue, and approach it as holy communication. Communication, as I have experienced it, happens through the exchange of information with someone. Communication requires more than talking. Communication requires listening and speaking.  Prayer also requires listening and speaking.

            Prayer is not empty one-sided requests by which, we proclaim our needs to an unseen cosmic vending machine.  Prayer is a conversation with God.  Prayer is conversations like those you would have with a close friend.  Prayer can be conversations like those found in our prayer book, which have been used by generations who come to God weekly to talk with God together in community.  Prayer can be simply listening and relaxing with God in an awareness of God’s presence.  We all need to pray, not to check off a spiritual to do list, but prayer affords us a chance to “take a break from all the chaos of life and spend time alone with Jesus every single day.” Prayer is about a relationship.

Why Pray?

            Put yourself into this scenario for a moment.  You come home every single day after a hard day’s work, and you sit in your favorite chair and your spouse or partner is sitting on the sofa lovingly anticipating hearing about your day. He or she smiles at you, patiently waiting, but every day you never saying anything to them.  There is no communication, and thus that relationship is doomed for failure. I guarantee it will not grow and flourish, because the couple will not share their lives with one another.  

            Prayer is a relational conversation and the model of that kind of prayer is found throughout scripture.  Jesus invited his closest friends and followers to share with him, what they had done in their ministry.  Jesus is interested in us.  Jesus wants us to share our lives with him, as he shares his resurrected life with us. In a world where social media, cell phones, music, and other noise drowns out the still small voice of God, we disciples must make it a point intentionally to carve out space, to be present with God. 

How to Pray                

            “Alright Eric, I will do it,” you may say, “but I have no idea how to pray.”  Relax then, and just try this simple prayer formula I am offering.  Prayer is so simple, because there are so many ways to pray.  Reading scripture can open up a whole new way to pray.  Let me give you an example using Psalm 23 and its beautiful words to help you pray.  First you read, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”  Maybe the prayer goes like this, “Dear brother Jesus, Lord, you promise to provide for my needs, and you do so in so many ways, thank you Lord, my friend, my brother.”  Next you read, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me.”  Maybe the prayer is, “Father, I am in a really bad place right now with work, and I messed up. I am afraid I might lose my job.   You promise me that I have nothing to fear, for you are with me. I trust that Lord, but right now, please give me peace and calm to deal with this situation.”  You get the picture right.  The Psalms are a playground for prayer, and each one can help the novice and expert prayer warrior alike, to have a conversation with God.

            Maybe you would rather use something tactile to help you pray.  I bet you did not know that the first “spiritual” fidget spinners (invented by monks) are called prayer beads.  Prayer beads help you have something to focus your hands on, and to center your mind while praying. Repeating a simple word or phrase (grace, Jesus, Lord), while fidgeting with prayer beads, can calm your mind as you listen for God. Prayer beads can take you to that specific quiet space that allows you to rest and relax with Jesus.

            Journaling is another way to pray. I often write in my prayer journal, and I start by finding a quiet place in our house, where I can write what I want to say to Jesus about my ministry, my day, my struggles, and my intercessions for others.  On one page of my journal, I write a letter of love to Jesus, in which I pour out my fears, joys, and sometimes my anger.  On the second page, after spending some time in silence and listening for the still small voice, I write a letter from Jesus to me, and that is where the conversation gets interesting.  It has been one of the most powerful spiritual practices of my life.   There are so many ways to pray, but the key is to commit to creating space and time to have holy conversations with God. 

Go Pray, all day, every day

            Do you know the old Janis Joplin tune, “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz, my friends all have my friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends? Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends, So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” At one time in my life, I thought prayer was a futile exercise, because I honestly thought prayer was merely coming to God, as if God was vending machine.  I thought prayer was saying the right words, only to get what you want.  I love Joplin’s prayer song, but like her song which was a hit so many years ago, prayer sounded less like a holy conversation, and more like a negotiated transaction.       

            We disciples must pray not because we wish to negotiate with God or event to try and change God’s mind. We pray because like in any relationship, we need to have conversations, which cultivate growth in our love and commitment to one other .  Those conversations often require or lead to an exchange from the heart.  Even Janis Joplin’s famous song or even Ricky Bobby’s “Dear Sweet little Baby Jesus” prayer may seem silly and irreverent, but I do like them both because they are honest and non-pretentious petitions from the person’s soul.  Prayer must be authentic and from the heart, even if the words are not right, or even if the intention is a little misguided.  

            Then, there are times we do not have any words to say. Theologian Rachel Srubus wrote in a recent Christian Century article, “I trust that the Spirit, who deeply sighs where words leave off, intercedes for me— and for you, and for all creation.”  If we but make the time, God will lead the conversation. Remember, the invitation to pray is there, “My beloved child, just come away to a deserted place all by yourself with me, and rest a while.” Pray my friends, and then, pray some more.  Jesus is waiting patiently to hear from you today. So say a prayer, and “take a little break from all the chaos of life and spend some time alone with Jesus.  You will find peace, strength, and hope when you leave your burdens at His feet.” 

REFERENCES

(1) Srubas, Rachel M. “Pray as You Can.” The Christian Century, vol. 122, no. 14, 12 July 2005, p. 19. 

SERMON 7/11/21 Pentecost 7B St. Paul’s Cathedral, OKC, OK

Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

To Tell the Truth

            In the late 20th century, there was a popular game show called “To Tell the Truth.”  In this popular television series three contestants all claimed to be the same person, and the focus of the game was to try and convince a panel of celebrities that they were truly who they claimed to be.   Two contestants were imposters and only one was telling the truth.  The panel would ask each contestant several questions, and try to guess which one was the real mystery guest. After a lengthy interrogation by each panelist, the host would the questioning, and boldly declare, “will the real mystery guest, please stand up.”  

            Each contestant would act like they were going to stand up, and then the real person would rise from their chair, stand proudly, and claim their true identity.  It was just a game show, but I wonder if “To Tell the Truth” could somehow serve as an example of how we face the challenges of claiming our true identity as Christians today, by telling the truth about the Gospel, and speaking truth to power.  

            To tell the truth today requires we Christians to have courage, but it may come with some consequences.  To “stand up” and tell the truth of God’s life-changing grace we have experienced as individuals has been for some reason a daunting task for Episcopalians. However, I believe now is our moment to shine.  I believe that after nearly a year and a half of the isolation of a Global Pandemic, people are so hungry for community that we stand on the precipice of an opportunity for growth and revitalization.  I believe People are seeking in church community, a middle way, big tent, “all are welcome” way of following Jesus, and that is just who we are as the Episcopal Church.  However, great social media, billboards on the road, and television commercials just will not work.  We must tell our story as individuals.  We must invite others to the table.  We must be willing to “tell the truth” of God’s love both corporately and as individuals.

For 9:00 …  Shepherds – Truth Telling

            In today’s gospel reading, the shepherds were visited by an angel who declared, “Do not be afraid, for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.”  Now, what is interesting about this story is that the shepherds after hearing this message given just for them, did not return to the fields and sheep and hold on to it.  They had to see the promise in action, and so they went to Bethlehem to experience the promise and good news of the Savior in the manger.  When they had experienced first-hand the savior in their lives, they did not just sit in awe and or go back to the sheep.  They returned to their village, their occupations, and their friends and they shared the good news with others.  I wonder, maybe those shepherds were really some of the first evangelists.  Wait, Canon Eric are you telling us that we have to be evangelists like those shepherds?  Not exactly, but we have to share good news as our authentic selves and be bold about it.  

            We 21st century Christians (especially we Episcopalians) wrestle with our evangelism mission to “tell the truth: of the Gospel, to claim our true identity as followers of Jesus, and share Good News.  Taking our part in Jesus’ Great Commission may not cost us our lives like it did some early followers, but it may cause us to lose a few friends, or it may cause us to suffer rejection.  

Claiming Jesus may require us to take a stand on issues that the world finds distasteful, and in the process, it will cause us to be transformed, changed, and renewed in the image of Christ.   When we are changed, and we begin to live the way of Jesus, the way of mercy, grace, peace, reconciliation and love, then truth abounds, and Good News is shared.  Our world surely needs the truth of Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, reconciliation, and peace and that is the reality, on which, we all can rely. But we must tell the story.

What is truth?

            What does it mean to tell the truth as disciples of Jesus?  Sometimes truth telling is simply when we help our sisters and brothers that stray from the path of grace, and we lovingly offer some straight talk with them, even if the truth hurts. Sometimes we truth telling is simply speaking truth to power and standing for justice and equality for all.  Sometimes we truth telling is simply claiming the truth of our identity as followers of Jesus, even if it costs us friends.  Truth telling comes with consequences just like it did for John the Baptist, and just like it did for Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Following Jesus is costly, because it requires us to leave our old selves behind, in order to find our new identity in Christ.  

            The early Christians understood this concept and their claim was simple, “Jesus is Lord!”  This simple statement meant that following Jesus was how they lived their lives every day.  They claimed that Jesus’ ministry, his life, his love would lead, guide, and directs their lives.  We Christians today must do the same, claiming Jesus as Lord of our lives.  We Episcopalians at General Convention over the past two weeks, spent some time dying to our old selves and then, boldly claiming, “Jesus is Lord” in ways that I have not seen before.  Here are a few examples.

Evangelism and Mission Go hand-in-hand

            We Episcopalians stand against hunger right here in our own neighborhood. I read on your website about one of your ministries here at the Cathedral, “Mobile Meals” where “every week, volunteers meet in the Cathedral kitchen to prepare meals for those who are home-bound and who are shut-ins, and then deliver them throughout Oklahoma City. Mobile Meals has been a treasured and meaningful part of the Cathedral outreach mission since 1979.” 

            Next, I read on your website about how your “New Hope” ministry stands for justice and love by breaking “the cycle of generational incarceration through hope and opportunities for children of prisoners, many of whom become the first in their families to complete high school. St. Paul’s outreach in this area is at Mark Twain Elementary School in Oklahoma City. This ministry offers hope that all young people need and deserve support and guidance from caring adults including ongoing, secure relationships with guardians and parents in addition to positive relationships with teachers, mentors and neighbors. It promises a safe place for young clients are physically and emotionally safe. It teaches that living life with a healthy body, a healthy mind and healthful habits is a result of regular health care, good nutrition, exercise, health education and healthy role models. It embraces that young people need and deserve intellectual development, motivation and marketable skills to equip them for work and lifelong learning. 

            St Paul’s with outstretched arms loves your neighbors and shares God’s amazing grace in other ways as well.  Last month, you opened your doors and sponsored a COVID 19 vaccine clinic right here, providing another venue for your neighbors to become vaccinated.  Last month, you stood up and supported the diversity of all people, and participated in the OKC Pride parade.  You support Whirlwind Mission, Palomer Family Justice Center, and Hope for the Future.    You are out there sharing good news, being good news, and telling the truth of God’s love and doing it effectively.  However, we must take our part as individual evangelists as well.  We have a God-given mission as evangelists, bearers of Good News, people who have experienced God’s grace first-hand, and then must tell it to others. 

Evangelism and Mission 

              Evangelism today is a lot like the old “To Tell the Truth”Game show played out in your local neighborhood.   You are one of the contestants and your co-workers, friends and family are the celebrity panelists.  You stand up and claim, “I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.”  The panelists (your friends, family, and co-workers) do not ask you questions about your theology, church history, scripture, doctrine, or even liturgy.  

            The panelists only watch “how has your faith changed how you serve others just like Jesus did,” “how has your faith changed how you face tragedy, joys, and challenges,” and “how has Jesus’ love brought healing, reconciliation, and mercy to you.”  They listen and watch to see the evidence of who you are and whose you are.

            Every day we Christians have friends, neighbors, and family members who I really believe are truly captivated by the “Way of Jesus,” the way of love, peace, grace, and mercy, but need to see it in action.  You do know that for those same people, you may be the only gospel many of them will ever read.  These folks hear our claim that Jesus is Lord, but they are looking for our actions to match our words.

Evangelism for Episcopalians

            We Christians today are afraid of this word evangelism because it is misunderstood.  Evangelism is not a call to stand on the corner of our streets with bullhorns and Gospel tracts yelling, “Jesus saves.”  That is definitely not evangelism for Episcopalians and besides, it is not an effective way to share good news today.  Evangelism is a call to “tell the truth” of Jesus’ love, by claiming our identity as followers of the way of Jesus in the way we live without pretense, but with intention and authenticity. There are many ways to be an evangelist without being a proselytizer.  

            My dear sisters and brothers, as evangelists, we are the stained-glass windows through which, the light of Christ shines, so others may see Jesus Christ shining brightly in each of us. Our culture stands in wonder and asks, “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and love one another?” “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and tell the truth of how Jesus Christ has transformed their lives?”  “Will the real followers of the Way of Jesus stand up and care for the least, lost, and lonely?”  Religious skeptics of the world are not so much interested in our wonderful history, middle way doctrine, amazing tradition, and some of the things we hold so dear, but they are very interested in whether we like Jesus, make our actions speak louder than our words.  

            So what will you do the next time you have a cup of coffee with a friend who may be a religious skeptic?  What will you do when God puts in your that difficult person with whom, you are called to love?  What will you do when someone asks you, “Why are you so joyful, why do you care for others so much, or why do you go to church?’  This moment is your evangelism moment, and it will be your opportunity “to tell the truth” about God’s grace, reconciliation, mercy, peace and love. 

            This is your opportunity to be living advertisements of the Good News and the bearers of God’s love.  So when the opportunity to tell your story of God’s grace in your life comes, and surely it will. When the opportunity to love your neighbor comes and surely it will.  When the opportunity to take a stand for justice, dignity, and love of others comes and surely it will, I pray “will the real disciples of Jesus Christ, please stand up?” 

REFERENCES

(1) Thomas, Rodney. “The Seal of the Spirit and the Religious Climate of Ephesus.” Restoration Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 3, 2001, pp. 155-166

(2) Campbell, Charles L. “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 28, no. 2, Lent, pp. 10-18. 

(3) Baker, Kevin. “Capital T.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 14, 11 July 2006, p. 20.  

SERMON – St Mark’s Perry OK -Pentecost 4B Proper 6-20-21

The Boat:  A symbol of the Church

            Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.” Pre-Covid, Terri and I used to love cruising the Caribbean.  We have been on at least seven cruises and we love the peace, quiet, and serenity of the sea.  However, a few years ago, we sailed on a voyage, whereas on which the first night it was far from peaceful and serene.  Our first night on that ship was a rocky, unsettling evening to say the least.  Now, I do not get motion sickness.  As a matter of fact, I have been a pilot since I was 16 years old, and I have never been air sick, but I have to say that I was a little queasy and nervous on that one ship that night. I prayed that our ship was sturdy, that we had an experienced crew, and the seas would calm.  Later that night, I continued to pray and strangely, I was at peace when the sea was not.   Sometimes the seas of life are rough and uncertain, and we need to rest in God’s reassurance of peace.   

            In today’s gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples were on a boat in a violent storm. The disciples were afraid and Jesus was asleep on a pillow.  The disciples were desperate, and with a cry of despair, which I bet many of us have prayed before, they said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  Sometimes when we face terrible events, we cry out to God, as if God may not be aware of our troubles and we might think, “Do you not really care Lord?”  

            Our faith may be challenged in those moments, but I believe it is in those moments that there is a power beyond our imagine available to us.  “Peace be still,” our Lord proclaimed, and through those words, he reminded those early followers, and he reminds us that we often have the resilient and ever-present peace in which, we might tap into, and one that will always carry us through.  We can with confidence, rely on God’s grace in our despair, and God gifts us with a community of faith on which we can lean, when all around us seems to be beyond our ability to cope.   Now think about that when you prayer.  Think about that when Christians come together to pray, especially when all around us may seem chaotic. 

The Boat of Faith

            Bernard Baruch an early 20th century philanthropist, consultant and advisor to Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt, and was later quoted by Martin Luther King Jr.  King and Baruch once said, “We did not all come over on the same ship, but we are all in the same boat.”   Baruch was also reminding us that we all traverse this life from different histories, backgrounds, and experiences, but we are all in the same family of God, all of us, and we must all care for one another.  We are all in the same boat.  

            The church in our ancient history was symbolized as a rescue boat, set about on the rough seas of life.  Some church’s architecture often resembles a boat. “For example, the area between a narthex and sanctuary was called the “nave.” This word comes from the Latin navis, or ship and was meant to portray the reality that the Church is a ship protecting those inside it from the waves and buffets of the world.” (4) Several churches in the Episcopal Church have this type of architectural design, and when you sit in the pew, and gaze at the ceiling, it is as if you are looking at the inside hull of a boat.  We the church have a long history of being rescue boats, protecting others from the seas of despair and injustice.

            Now if the church is like a boat, then we are traversing the sea of life and death.  In scripture, the sea is often described as a place of despair, hopelessness, and death.  “ Old Testament creation is described in part as a great struggle between God and the sea. In fact, the sea is presented as a monster that only God’s ineffable power can tame.” (3) In the ancient baptismal rites, full immersion in water was normative and as the candidate walked into the pool, the water covered their head as a symbol of dying to our old self.  Rising out of the water was symbolic of being raised to new life.  As Paul writes, “We die to a death like his, so we might rise to a resurrection like his.”   

            So, the symbols of the church as a boat of rescue, and the violent sea as a symbol of death is pretty serious business for we Christians, and today’s gospel reading gives us the origin of that symbolism.  We the church are a rescue vessel, but it is not a seafaring cruise ship for merely ourselves, and it is not a voyage of faith for the faint at heart.  

Church is not a Cruise Ship

            I recently read a funny article by Mark Ralls, Senior Pastor with the First United Methodist Church in Hendersonville, N.C.  He comically compares how some churches act more like cruise ships rather than rescue boats. Pastor Ralls wrote “People on cruise ships are passengers, a very passive and consumerist role.   People on cruise ships all do their own thing. They dine at separate tables.  They are entertained because it does not take much courage to sign up for a cruise.” (5) Please hear me say this clearly, I know this church is no cruise ship as Ralls describes, because you all are out there on the high seas, trying to pull others into the boat of God’s grace.  

            Don’t get me wrong, I love cruise ships and I enjoy the disengaged world of cruising.  There is nothing like being fully detached from the responsibilities of life, the internet, the news, my phone, and living a time in bliss that cruising offers.  Nonetheless, you do understand the metaphor, and we all know the church was never meant to be a cruise ship that disconnects us from the world, and what is going on in the tempestuous seas of life.  We the Body of Christ are meant to be a lifeboat.  So, if we are a lifeboat, what is our purpose?

             “We did not all come over on the same ship, but we are all in the same boat.”   The church is a rescue boat for all those dying and suffering in this life, and those who are without hope in those waters of death and despair.  We cannot merely be a closed-in ship in which, we al huddle in the holds below staying dry and calm, or resting in our staterooms being comfortable and entertained.  We have to be out there on the decks of the ship hauling in those who are drowning.   

            The church has a long history of speaking out for the least, lost, and lonely in this world.  Dietrich Bonheoffer, a well-known Lutheran pastor, stood in defiance against the atrocities of the holocaust by Nazi Germany, and was made a martyr for the cause of justice.  Bonheoffer is quoted as saying, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”  Bonheoffer stood boldly against such atrocities in the name of Jesus Christ, and suffered death because of his courage and honestly, we the church are to do likewise. 

The Church as Rescue Boat

            We are not merely individuals who enter the rescue boat for our own benefit, and climb aboard to do our own thing.  We are bound together in common mission and   what we do in our individual ministries connects us to one another, and together connected to the mission of God and thus, we are connected to all humanity.  We do not function independently from one another, but everything we do has an impact on all of God’s creation. In the midst of all that is changing around us in this world, it is clear that we must advocate for our neighbor, to love our neighbor, and to invite all peoples into the boat.  

            At our baptism we made promises to God and to one another, about how we will love ALL people.  We committed to those baptismal promises, and we responded, “We will with God’s help.”  I invite you to consider again two of those promises we made, which are found on page 305 of the Book of Common Prayer.  First, “Will you seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”  Second, “Will you strive for justice and peace among ALL people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”   I pray in these days of incredible injustice, unprecedented intolerance, and unimaginable pain being heaped upon God’s people, we all will have the courage to take a stand for ALL people.  

            My prayer is that our commitment, compassion, advocacy, and love for our neighbors will stand as a witness of the one that we call Lord.  My prayer is that each time the call to stand for injustice comes, and my friends that call is ringing loudly in our world today, I pray we can claim all of God’s children as our neighbors by saying, “I will with God’s help” and then, go and do likewise.  Please never forget, “We did not all come over on the same boat, but when it comes to loving our neighbor, caring for the least, lost, and lonely among us, and standing for justice for all, we ALL are in the same boat together.”

REFERENCES

(1) http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2015/06/piety-and-panic.html

(2) King, Michael A. “Storm System.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 12, 13 June 2006, p. 19.

(3) Callahan, Jim. “Weatherproof.” The Christian Century, vol. 117, no. 18, 07 June 2000, p. 643

(4) http://www.philipkosloski.com/how-the-church-is-portrayed-as-a-ship-in-theology-architecture/(5) https://www.faithandleadership.com/mark-ralls-it’s-not-ship-it’s-boat

SERMON 5/23/20 Feast of Pentecost, St. Mark’s Seminole; St. Paul’s Holdenville

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Mentor, Teachers, Advocates, and Guides

            Have you ever had that teacher, coach, mentor, or friend in your life, the one who saw gifts in you that you did not see in yourself? Have you ever had that someone who looked past the rough and rugged exterior and saw the beauty and potential within?  I have had the gift of mentors like that.  My first flight instructor, my youth minister, my friend Curt, a priest friend named Becky, my former Region Chaplain, and yes, my wife Terri, and so many more have been mentors to me.  What would we do without the wisdom, encouragement, empowerment, and drive of those mentors, coaches, and friends?              

            Without advocates and mentors, many of us would be like the first disciples after the Lord had ascended, and before the first Day of Pentecost.  We may have been like them, spending our lives locked in a room, fearful, uncertain and discouraged.  Could you imagine what went through those early disciples’ minds in that room for those days?  Maybe they pondered, “Well, he’s gone, let’s go back to fishing, or return to our neat, protected, and normal lives.”  Maybe they thought, “We are just poor fishermen, and there is only a few of us, and we can barely keep food on the table, oh, woe is me.”  

            When faced with new situations, it is not unusual to speak the language of despondency, but in those times, and in all of life, we must realize that we have an incredible mentor, teacher, advocate and friend.  We Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.  

 The Holy Spirit 

            God’s Spirit reaches into the depths of our struggles and despair and lifts us up. God’s Spirit enlivens our joy and gives us hope, and God’s Spirit sets the church on the path of mission in the world then, today, and tomorrow.  The Holy Spirit, God’s active presence in the church then, and today, moved that small band of misfits from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, violent wind rushing new life and mission that literally changed them, and changed the world.  That same Spirit is moving in us today. 

            Today is the Feast Day of Pentecost!  In Jewish tradition, Pentecost “literally means “fiftieth” and signifies the celebration of the festival on the fiftieth day of Passover.  We Christians commemorate that day with the church decorated in red, and the vestments we clergy wear are red, and many of you today have donned your red to help us remember the vision of “tongues of fire” that came over the apostles nearly 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost.

             On that day and in a single moment with the sound of rushing wind and the imagery of flaming, divided tongues, the miraculous, life-changing, demonstration of God’s great work of salvation had come to a pivotal point, and while Jesus had left and the disciples were all alone, God’s Spirit rushed in on the scene.

The Spirit of God is always Moving     

            The Spirit moved and breathed as she always does, like a forcible, violent wind or breath, the Spirit filled the house in which the disciples abided.  “Pneuma” is the Greek word for spirit or breath or wind, and if you think about it, breath is the essential action of life.  That same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation is the same Spirit that breathed life into dry bones and brought new life.  The same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, was that same Spirit present and active in this community.  The Spirit was as she always is, pushing forward new life that emerged from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

            Prior to the Pentecost event, and hearkening back to the Tower of Babel, the world had been separated by languages, but in a new way, division was being restored in the power of the Spirit coming down on this little community.  The imagery of “tongues of fire” represents the divine origin of the Spirit, the divine intervention in the speaking and declaring God’s Deeds of Power.  “Wind, breath, and language; these are the works of the Spirit in that historical event, that event which, is still manifested in and through the Church today.  

Pentecost  – 20th Century

            Let me give you an example of how the Spirit works today, or at least, how she moved in two particular instances many decades ago.  Two communities of faith emerged from an idea, a spark, a risk-taking adventure of faith.  The Spirit breathed and moved calling them to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”   

            St Paul’s and St. Mark’s began as two different communities faithfully serving as witnesses of God’s grace, and serving since the early 20th century. Those two communities have over their lifetimes received and responded to the Spirit’s call, and throughout their histories, they have grown and took on new projects.  They have lived into the story of God’s abundance, God’s amazing, outlandish, out of the box call to go and proclaim the Good News.  The Spirit breathed and moved calling them to mission, and the people responded, “We will with God’s help.”   The Spirit that inspired those young churches has not left you all abandoned, but inspires you now in fresh ways to consider how the Spirit might be moving you now into a risk-taking adventure of faith. 

            Just think about it, the same Spirit that brooded over the waters of creation, the same Spirit the prophet Joel mentioned that breathed into the dry bones and brought new life, that same Spirit that was active in the Incarnation, that same Spirit present and active in Jerusalem 2000 years ago on the Day of Pentecost, is the very same Spirit active in many decades ago with these two churches, and she is still active today however, you the people must be willing to respond.   You must regain the rushing fierce wind, tongues of fire bold spirit, so you might move from fear to action, from complacency to engagement, and from despondency to a tongues of fire, ferocious wind rushing new life and mission that literally will change you all and you. 

Skeptics and Naysayers

            Despite the events of Pentecost, there were some naysayers back in Palestine that did not believe God was acting through this group.  They negatively retorted, “They are full of wine,”  Like the cynics of old, if we are not careful, we too can get bogged down in disbelief and fear.   Trusting God and relying on God is deeply embedded in the history of these two churches, and bold proclamation is in your DNA.  We have a history here in which, God’s Spirit has guided us boldly, so we might proclaim new possibility, vision, and dreams.  Our spirit led nature is to reject scarcity, discouragement, and fear.  

            We move boldly in mission because we have a guide, mentor, coach, and advocate that sees more in us than we see in ourselves.  God is not the God of the tomb, a symbol of death, which would hinder us, stop us, or keeps us from moving forward.  God turns despondency and complacency upside down, because death is not the end.  God is the God of possibilities, and we are people of amazing possibilities.   The same Spirit who on that first Pentecost breathed new life into that first Christian community, is the same Spirit that breathed new life into a group of people with a dream for a mission in these two villages.  That same Spirit is breathing new life into you all today, because the Holy Spirit is calling us to a new vision, a new life, and a new focus.  

            For you see, the Spirit sees gifts in us that we cannot see in ourselves.  The Spirit looks beyond our former miscalculations and mistakes, and she sees in us, greater possibilities.  Nonetheless, we cannot become too self-assured, and too self-confident that we try to do this work through our own weak human effort.  We cannot carry this load of mission with only a few select individuals or one or two exclusive groups. 

            We have to rely on the fact that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness . . .  and that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” If we trust God’s Spirit to lead us, we can we achieve that which, God has in store for us.  The Spirit may push, nudge and guide us out of the familiar and into the unknown, but never forget that we are never alone.  God is with us, guiding us, empowering us, and giving us all we need to do the work we have been called to do. 

            How do I know? God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”    All along the way, from our earliest beginnings decades ago up until today, you all have had the help of a holy coach, a gentle mentor, a strong advocate, and an amazing friend.  We have had God’s Spirit, guiding us all along the way, and we have that same spirit with us going forward.  So, what do you say church, will you all respond, “We will with God’s help?”     

http://www.festalpulpit.com/6.html