Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tidying Up - Sermon for Lent 5B

 You know I’m going to do more teaching than preaching when I begin a sermon this way: Please turn in your Book of Common prayer to the Catechism, page 845. If you did not know about this section of the BCP, I highly commend it to your study. If a sermon is particularly off-base, you can always fact-check it here, or even just start reading on another topic altogether. The Catechism is the Outline of our Faith; it is what and how we believe as Episcopalians.

We’ve been talking about the Old Covenants, the Ten Commandments, the New Covenant, the Summary of the Law, and the New Commandment throughout Lent. You can read more about all of those in the Catechism – it’s all there in question and answer form for you to refer back to and study.

In this week’s readings, we have some more of the language about covenants in the reading from the prophet, Jeremiah. There’s an echo in the Psalm also. The Hebrews reading reminds us that we are ALL priests – all of us are capable of direct communication with God for prayers and supplication and confession. In our gospel reading, we get a glimpse of the level of obedience that is expected of us all as brothers and sisters of Christ.

As you all know, this is my first call as a solo priest in a parish. I have been an intern, or a deacon, or an associate before – always on staff at a large church. There are some things that haven’t occurred to me yet that I just do not know. For instance, at this time of year, in each of the churches I have served, the rector always puts a blurb in the bulletin about making appointment times available for Confessions. OF course, confession is offered all the time, but some people make it part of their Lenten discipline to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so priests often bring it to our attention during Holy Week in case we feel so moved. It did not occur to me until this last week that I have never asked how that went for each of the rectors for whom I have served. I have no idea if they had fifty people for whom to hear confession, or five, or none. I realized I did not know what I did not know! Eek. I have of course received the Sacrament of Reconciliation with a spiritual director, so I know how it goes from the side of a Penitent Person. I have also heard confessions at times other than Holy Week, usually in a less formal set-up. Mother Mo happened to call on an unrelated matter last week, and she was gracious enough to allow me to grill her for her wisdom and experience. I think I’ve got this.

So back to our Catechism – page 858. What are the two great sacraments? Baptism and Eucharist. Those are the two we believe are necessary for all persons. Now flip to page 861 and look at the list of the other five sacraments: confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction. None of these are strictly necessary for all persons. For some of us, some are very necessary, but the church leaves it up to us to discern which are ours to claim. Not everyone has to be a confirmed Episcopalian, married, ordained, completed confession or received laying on of hands for healing (or Last Rites as some call it). Even though we are all priests in the order of Melchizedek, we are not all ordained priests in the Episcopal church – so don’t run around getting in trouble with the Bishop! Conversely BECAUSE we are all priests in the order of Melchizedek, you may say your own confession at any time to God and feel forgiven – God says in the Jeremiah reading today that you will be forgiven – no ifs ands or buts. Says so right there.

So then why do we have the sacrament of the Reconciliation of a Penitent? Look at the answer: so that a person “may confess [their sins] to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution.” Sometimes there are things we confess over and over and are not sure of forgiveness. Sometimes we need to hear another person – someone who has received the sacrament of ordination – assure us that God has forgiven us and that God loves us. Sometimes we need to shut the door on that sin forever – not take it out and play with it ever again. Sometimes we need a penance to do to feel as though it is done and finished in our lives.

The church, and I, leave it up to you to discern if the Sacrament of Confession would be helpful in your spiritual journey. If it is something you need, please let me know and we can talk about how to go through it all. If it is something you do not feel would be helpful in your journey of faith, then do not worry about pursuing it further.  Either way, please know that you are already loved beyond measure and completely forgiven by our God who is the origin and eternal pool of love and forgiveness. Amen.

Audio in the right sidebar PodBean player.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Snakes on a Stick

Snake on a Stick – sounds like something that would be served deep-fried at the State Fair of Texas – maybe served with a fun Cajun spicy sauce. Yum!

This OT reading is odd-sounding to my ears, for many reasons. So imagine my surprise to find it in the beginning of our Gospel reading in John today. Jesus Christ himself is compared to the Snake on a Stick. “Curiouser and curiouser” as our friend Sheldon Cooper would say.

So here’s my take on it all. John is reminding us that just as the snake in the Numbers reading would “save” those who gazed upon it, so will Jesus Christ “save” those who gaze upon him. You see, in John’s Gospel, one only has to believe to be saved. Once Jesus comes among us, according to the author of John, the world get divided into those who are saved and those who are not. But I do not think John means it is the evangelical, Texas-style phrasing of “Brother have you been saved?” If we look closely at John 3:17, that particular verse changes what many of our evangelical brethren think about judgment and being saved.

As we get closer to Easter – my first one among you all – I want to talk a bit about judgment and being saved. I believe Jesus saved the world merely by entering it. God loved us so much that she sent her only-begotten son to live among us, teach us, show us how to BE God’s believed people in the world that whosoever believes in Jesus will have ever-lasting life.  At the core of that statement, is what I was taught as a child growing up Southern Baptist at 1st Baptist Church in Archer City, TX – 25 miles from here. But my journey has been ever so much longer than that. God could have “saved the world” in any infinite number of ways. Jesus could have lived a long and happy life, surrounded by family and friends and the world would have been saved merely by his existence among us. The circumstances of the fateful week dictated otherwise. I’m NOT saying there is no value in Jesus’ actions concerning the crucifixion, but I am saying it did not have to happen THAT way. You will never hear me glorify the violence of Holy Week. Instead you will see and hear me continually point out the actions of Jesus and his followers – what they did and how they handled what was happening.

The Stations of the Cross are difficult for some of us. It is a Lenten discipline I practice – not because of the re-hearing of the violent actions, but because every year I enter into the story from a different place. There is a different bystander I can empathize with or learn from: compassion from Veronica, service from Simon, empathy with Mary… there are many ways to enter into the story – and for that reason, I find value and devotion there to strengthen my own spiritual disciplines.

Now before you think I said it’s all good – we’re all going to Heaven, so we can just live our lives however we choose with no accountability to God and our neighbors, I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that this is all much harder than it seems – we cannot just say the words of a Believer’s Prayer and make our reservations in the Father’s House. We actually have to believe. We actually have to love God with all that we are, and all that we have to offer, & love our neighbors as ourselves. I believe CS Lewis is onto something in the Great Divorce: we have to choose to be saved. We have to give our consent. We can refuse the grace that God offers – that is part of free will. So I am not saying that this is all good, we’re all going to Heaven, go about your business and be happy.

I am saying that God loves you so much that there have been numerous covenants made – that God loves you so much that Jesus Christ as one of the Godhead came to dwell among us in human form and ascended into heaven in human form – that we are loved THAT much and even more than we can imagine.  Amen.

I put a new battery in the recorder, so the audio is on the right sidebar PodBean player.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Covenants and Temple Cleansing

Exodus 20:1-17 : Ten Commandments
Gospel: John2:13-22
Lent 3, Year B

Collect:  Almighty God, you seest that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul – it is a lovely collect for the day and a great summary for the readings today.  Today is one of those glorious days when all the  readings and the Collect inter-weave beautifully.

I don’t know if you have noticed or not, but throughout this Lenten season, we have had Covenant readings in our Hebrew Testament first readings.  The First Sunday of Lent, we had God making a covenant with Noah: “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”  A flood is certainly an adversity which may happen to the body – and God promises to protect us from an earth-encompassing flood.  What do we have to do to uphold our end of the bargain?  Nothing – the rainbow is the sign that reminds God.  There is no Rainbow Bat signal that we have to flash – it just happens – God makes the rainbow happen and restricts the flood.  Who does this covenant affect?  All of us – every human on the earth.  Some may perish periodically in floods, but never again has there been a flood that covered the entire earth.  When I first saw the previews to Evan Almighty a few years ago, I wondered if the writers had forgotten this covenant.  “Defend us from all adversities which may happen to the body.”

On the Second Sunday of Lent, last week, God made a covenant with Abram and Sarai, who became Abraham and Sarah. Abraham became the father of the three major religions who worship the same God: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity: “you shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations…to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”  And three major world religions followed, which I sometimes wonder if all three remember that we are siblings.  What do we have to do to uphold our end of this covenant:  nada.  “Almighty God, you know we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”

This is the Third Sunday of Lent, and we have more covenant language: the Ten Commandments.  This is a covenant between God and the Hebrew people.  As Christians who descend from the Jews theologically and scripturally, we inherited this covenant.  The Quran does not have the Ten Commandments – it has similar teachings, but not in this form like we have it in both Exodus and Deuteronomy.    Do you see how the field is narrowing each time?  All people with Noah; Jews, Muslims and Christians with Abraham, and now Jews and Christians with the Ten Commandments.   And this is where we got to the question: How do we uphold our end?  What is expected of us?  Jesus later narrows it even further for us as Christians as we hear in our opening proclamation every week in Rite I, “Love God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbors as yourselves” – the Summary of the Ten Commandments – simplified.  That’s all we have to do to uphold our end of this covenant – simple enough - ha.  “Keep us from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.” 

So what does all this have to do with Jesus getting angry in the Temple?  God could only be found in the Temple in those days – it was where God lived for the Hebrew people.  We have no concept of how pervasive that thought was for them – God lived there and they went to visit God there as a show of obedience and sacrifice.  Only certain people were allowed to be in the same space as God.  What we know that they did not, was that Jesus incarnate is God.  When He was walking among them, God was out of the building (maybe God had never truly resided there for long), but now God walked and talked and got angry.  I actually like this portrayal of Jesus because I can so clearly see both the fully human and the fully divine here.  Jesus sees the gauntlet people are expected to walk through to get to God, and knows that HE is right there.  Jesus tried to tell them that HE was the temple – the body for God – but they would not get that- really get it – until after his death.  When the curtain of the Temple is torn in two later – it signals that God has left the building, once and for all.  The Holy may visit there, but will no longer ever be thought of as living there.  Ironically enough in John’s gospel, Jesus turning over tables, driving out the money changers, and proclaiming to be the Temple is what made the powers-that-be mad enough to start conspiring to kill. 

We know that God walked in the body of Jesus – we also believe that the Holy Spirit lives in and moves among every person here.  We know that God is not only in a building or a room.  We believe that God loves us and covenants with us – that God will defend us from adversities of the body and evil thoughts that hurt the soul.  We can look historically and faithfully to see how much God loves us – the covenants point us there.  What kind of clearing out have you been doing in your Lenten discipline?  What have you driven out of your life to make room for the Holy Spirit to dwell more fully there?  What practice have you chosen to help you see God more clearly in this season?  The psalmist reminds us that God’s laws are perfect and sure and clear, and pure – sweeter than honey.  I know that when I pressure myself to exceed God’s laws, I stress myself out.  God does not do that to me – I am reminded that God loves those foolish enough to believe as Paul reminded us today – and that the strength of God is enough to keep and defend me.

And why?  Why does God keep us, defend us, and bind the holy to us – as human beings, as people who believe in Jesus Christ, as spirit-bearers in the world?  Why would God do this?  I’m giving you the soap opera ending - That answer comes next week – you’ll know it when you hear it… Amen.

There is no audio for this one - dead battery :(