My sermon notes from January 29 2023 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family and friends and all who have gathered for worship. Welcome, and welcome to all who are gathered online. As we go into our scriptures again for a time, may the words of my moth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I’ve been so energized by our discussions around the foundational practices of building life together! Thank you! I want to begin with gratitude! Our conversations in coffee hours, in the midweek study and the times in between have been rich, encouraging and so helpful. So far we’ve talked about the scriptural call to 1) be a people who listen well, 2) who ask good questions from a caring curiosity, and 3) who give the benefit of the doubt choosing to believe the best of one another.
All this is modeled on what we see in Jesus and from a basis of valuing one another and a desire to create the best possible space for our relationships and communities to grow. Today we make a little shift of sorts, from the way we might be responding and reacting to the way we are leading, projecting and actively shaping our conversations, interactions and relationships. We’re talking about the way that we are called to be a people who speak life, speak light and speak goodness into the world and the lives of the people around us.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good. A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
So then, putting away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with your neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Those who steal must give up stealing; rather, let them labor, doing good work with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths but only what is good for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
We hear in our readings today from scripture that our words have power and we are called to use that power to build up and bless, not to tear down and destroy. All of us!
The Greatest of Gifts
Have you ever been part of study on spiritual gifts? Have you ever done one of those spiritual gift inventories where you answer a lot of questions and get assigned a gift at the end? That was very in vogue when I was a young Christian. We would synthesize the various lists of spiritual gifts that the Apostle Paul gave in letters to the churches, then try and figure out how we might identify which gift we had each been given. It was a faithful effort to see and hear God in our lives, a faithful effort to get at what God might be doing in our lives. Those were fun exercises, though I’m afraid we sometimes missed the point a little. Those discussions from Paul were not in the context of deciding how to interpret a distribution of spiritual gifts, but reminders that we all in our various gifts and abilities share the work and shouldn’t ignore one another’s participation simply because our gifts were different. We are all called to ministry.
Those discussions in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 were far more about what brings us together than what separates and differentiates us. Paul wanted us to understand that we all carry the work of the church, all have our ministries and our parts to play in God’s redeeming work in the world. To be honest, we tend to know already who has gifts of hospitality and service, teaching, preaching and so forth. Paul doesn’t speak of any special way to discern your gifts, but speaks to us about making sure we accept the variety of gifts God gives to the church.
He also wraps up the discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 by elevating love above all other gifts and encouraging the church to seek it and let all other things flow from it. You know the passage, 1 Corinthians 13… Love is…
1 Corinthians 12…
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work powerful deeds? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 13…
If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
A Shared Calling
Whatever else God has done in your life to equip you for serving the church and the world around you, you are called to love and to let that love shape your speech and action. We each and every one share the call and the gifting to build one another up! To speak light and life into the lives of people around us. Pardon me for sounding like this is some incredibly deep theological concept, it’s really so simple… it’s often a thank you, job well done, you did great, you are wonderful, you did a great job, keep on you’re getting better, I love the way you said that… simply speaking from love and with intention, spreading encouragement and upholding other’s efforts and achievements.
Isn’t such a shame we have to grow up? We know how powerful our words are and we make sure that in every way we can we communicate to our children: job well done, you’re doing good, thank you, excellent work, look at you! We put stickers on their homework and shirts and we celebrate them and their successes and growth. But somewhere along the way we decide that we grow out of this, that we don’t have to be as expressive and speak that kindness and encouragement to one another. We’re all grown up, we should just do what we ought to do and mind our own business. Or worse, in the void of encouraging words we see critical words and more negative habits find a home in our hearts and minds and therefore in our speech.
It’s so simple and yet so powerful. We are every one of us called to build one another up and encourage one another. We are each called to throw off anger, wrath, bitterness and slander, and speak well of and to one another. We don’t grow out of this call, we don’t have another gift that supersedes it and negates this call.
Tend the Heart
No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil, for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45
And so we prepare the soil of our hearts; we till the soil and remove the stones of our anger and bitterness and aggravation. We plants seeds in that soil which will grow fruit to nourish us and those around us. As children we were warned that garbage in gets garbage out, and there’s truth in that. If we wallow in the anger, nurture the resentments and injuries, and allow habits of criticism and judgement to predominate our hearts and mind, we’ll speak out of that… they’ll show themselves in our speech and action. But more than just avoiding the garbage, what will we plant in ourselves to grow the good stuff?
We have scripture. We have prayer. We have one another. We can be wary of the voices we allow to dominate our days, in news, in entertainment, in literature and music. We can choose wisely the streams of goodness and encouragement with which we feed ourselves. And we can practice, practice and practice. Don’t hold back the gratitude or the compliments.
When critical thoughts and words arise in us, we can choose to set them aside. It may take some real effort and it make take some time to develop that habit, but we are called to be a people who speak life. We can be a people who yearn to be together, who hold one another up and build one another up. We can be a people who choose to revel in all the joy and life giving goodness of all our words can accomplish.
This is our call.
This is our shared ministry.
This is our future.
Amen, amen and amen,
My sermon notes of January 22nd, 2023, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
Our next foundational practice for building our relationships and community is the exercise of giving the benefit of the doubt. The online Cambridge Dictionary says that giving someone the benefit of the doubt means to believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the possibility of doing either. It’s a choice to believe the best of someone, even when we may have a doubt about their intention, meaning or justification. In biblical language, it’s thinking the best of one another and making every effort not to judge.
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.”
Jesus, Matthew 7:1-6
We Aren’t the Judge
The case for not judging one another is one of the strongest in our scriptures, and sometimes the most difficult to practice or accept. Again and again we’re called to stop our tendency to judge and to open ourselves to believing the best in one another. We just read it, Jesus commanded it: do not judge. He points out in a wonderfully comic way the fact that we’re all in the same boat… I can’t be all about pointing at and focusing on the speck of sawdust in my friend’s eye while I’m swinging a plank around from my own eye! It’s a funny and tragic image.
Jesus calls us to use the recognition of a speck in another’s eye as a catalyst to examine ourselves and take appropriate steps in our own lives. Now, taking care of the plank in my eye doesn’t free me to then judge, but in fact prepares and enables me to be a helper. Taking care of myself and dealing my own issues is never a license to judge, but a prerequisite to be able to help.
James picked it up and included it in his letter, asking us a good question: “Who are we to judge a neighbor and speak evil of them?” He offers I think a couple of good answers even as he asks his rhetorical question. First, it’s not our job to judge and pass judgement on others, as though we were the Judge and not under the same expectations and in the same boat as others. And second, we don’t know everything. We don’t know enough to judge people as good or bad and condemn them, speaking evil of them. We don’t even know with certainty what we’ll be doing tomorrow.
Oh, there will still times when we speak from anger, express ourselves in ways we don’t intend, or simply fail to love one another as we ought. Practicing the benefit of the doubt doesn’t mean that suddenly hurtful things and judgmental things aren’t ever going to be said, but we have an arena to unpack them, together. We have an opportunity to move forward, together. We don’t judge people, even for their mistakes, and we can move forward, past mistakes. We create the space for a couple of other foundational practices we’ll come to in February, asking for and giving forgiveness.
Jesus is famous for creating this non-judgmental space with the people around him. I wish his church was as famous for it. You probably recall the story of the woman we’re told was caught in adultery in John 8, and brought before Jesus to face judgement… only Jesus didn’t judge her. He dispersed her accusers and seeing in her what they could not or would not, sent her out to do better. He did this with Zacchaeus, a despised tax collector, a cheater and a crook who had swindled the people, but Jesus saw in him the best and said, “Let’s get lunch together. I’m coming to your house.”
This is definitely easier said than done, but I believe this is doable. I also realize it’s going to take a lot of prayer, practice and effort on our part. I think I was first pushed to consider the benefit of the doubt as a true expression of our biblical command not to judge, when I entered into spiritual direction almost 15 years ago with a wonderfully wise old Jesuit Priest in Georgetown, Fr Leo Murray. As we journeyed together through the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola I discovered the words that St. Ignatius wrote for spiritual directors about the benefit of the doubt, like 500 years ago. He wanted those giving spiritual direction to do everything they could to avoid judging the person receiving spiritual direction… even when the person seems to be way off base, wrong or deluded.
“In order that both he who is giving the Spiritual Exercises, and he who is receiving them, may more help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good Christian is to be more ready to save his neighbor’s proposition than to condemn it. If he cannot save it, let him inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to bring him to mean it well, and save himself.”
St. Ignatius, the Presupposition from the First Week
We’re not all spiritual directors or engaged in direction, but can you hear in the words of St. Ignatius the practices we’ve been talking about, and more importantly hear in our scriptures? How much more constructive and community-building might our conversations and relationships be if we more and more intent on believing the best of one another and pursuing the deepest and most honest understanding and comprehension of one another possible?
What hurtful words might be forestalled by believing the best of the person to whom we speak? What cycles of hurtful words might be broken when the benefit of the doubt is remembered and a greater desire to understand comes into play?
Pearls and Pigs
Have you ever wondered about the last lines from the Gospel reading today? “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” I used to wrestle with what exactly Jesus is saying in those words, and I was not helped by English Bibles which break those lines into their own section like a detached stand-alone piece wisdom. I think those words are very much attached to what Jesus has talking about. I believe that Jesus is giving a somewhat comic and tragic image of what it looks like to lose the value of the person in front of us (the pearl, what is holy) and to throw them to the destruction of our judgement (the dogs and pigs). Falling into a judgmentalism that forgets the value of the people before us is as crazy and dangerous as throwing our valuables before the destructive force of mad animals and expecting a good result. Our judgmentalism is a destructive wildness that will come back to haunt us.
Now imagine the community that deeply values one another and cherishes one another as the greatest of treasures! That’s what Jesus is building in us! Believing the best of one another, may we grasp every opportunity and make every effort this week to listen and understand one another. Can we have a couple more Bible verses? St. Paul says in Colossians 3:13&14 in the CEV says it this way: “Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.”
Let’s go create cycles of love and encouragement! Let’s put the dogs in the kennel and the pigs in the pen, and keep the pearls around our necks! Let’s go into the week and into our homes and schools and jobs and make everyone wonder what’s going on with us, because we are lifting them up and treating them better than they might ever have imagined they deserve! Let’s go and do this so that they and you and I may flourish in God’s grace. Amen, amen and amen!
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
Asking Good Questions: Curiosity that Cares. My sermon notes from January 15th, 2023, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
Good morning again, and as we begin some time with scripture talking about building our life together, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
We began our Life Together series with a reminder that we need to develop a caring posture of listening for one another, emulating our God who lends an ear to us when we pray. Listening well is truly an act of caring, and you may recall that my fear is that when we stop listening we too easily begin competing. The day wasn’t over last Sunday, in fact I wasn’t out of the building before someone said to me, “You know, I find that listening well means that I ask clarifying questions to test to my comprehension.” I tried not to panic, but I was like wait, please, that’s next week! They were exactly right. Even as we use our hearts, minds and bodies to listen well, we still might not understand what the person is trying to communicate. We’re only human and hopefully doing our best, but entering into a posture of listening is just the beginning.
Our Next Foundational Practice: Asking Good Questions
Asking good questions. Someone might immediately ask why we’re talking about this at church? Listening? Asking good questions? It might sound like at first glance we’re getting into some other field than theology like communications or linguistics, but just a moment. These aren’t just good communications principles which we’re studying: Jesus asked questions constantly! And just as importantly, Jesus didn’t always give answers! That’s maybe a striking admission or realization for some of us. We like answers. We like having the right answers. We like having the only answers. But Jesus was not an Answer Guy who roamed the countryside of his day giving out copious amounts of information. In fact, he was a storyteller who in classic Jewish rabbinical tradition often asked questions, often answered questions with questions, and always encouraged deeper thought.
I recommend the 2014 book Jesus Is The Question by Martin Copenhaver which explores this idea in detail. The author asks us to consider why “Jesus asks many more questions than he is asked. In the four Gospels Jesus asks 307 different questions. By contrast, he is only asked 183 questions.” He also points out that Jesus begins and ends his life with questions, “Why were you looking for me? I’m going to be in my Father’s house” and “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In his ministry Jesus uses questions to engage his audience and bring them into the process of his ministry. In our Gospel reading today in Mark 10 we find Jesus on a normal day, traveling about the countryside, passing through Jericho when he is hailed by someone wanting his attention… “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd isn’t pleased and tries to shush the man, but Jesus does exactly what we’ve been talking about with heart, mind and body… he values this man, stops his walking and calls the man to himself… he’s prepared to listen, and he opens with a wonderful question, “What would you have me do for you?”
This is really a beautiful scene. Jesus stops and prepares to listen to this man, and doesn’t make any assumptions about the situation, but invites the man to speak. Oh, I’m sure Jesus could have known what was up. We often are told in scripture that Jesus knows something through the Spirit. Jesus could have used what I suppose we’d label common sense. If he can see by movement or different clues that the man is seeing-impaired, and he probably wants to be healed of his blindness. Jesus stops and says let’s talk. What do you want? What mercy can I give?
It might seem like a small thing, but I think it’s huge. Jesus shows a caring curiosity toward the man. He does this often actually. Asking questions which bring him closer to people, engender conversations and get people thinking. When a woman sneaks up in the crowd to touch the hem of his clothes believing that will be enough to make her whole… Jesus stops and asks who touched me? And he finds and speaks with the woman. How valuing and validating that must have been for her!
When asked what someone must do to inherit eternal life in Luke 10, Jesus answers with you tell me, how do you read the Law? And you probably know the story, the one who asked the question gives the right answer, love God and love neighbor. But then he asks another question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answers with a story we call the Good Samaritan. Ultimately Jesus answers the question with a question, “Who acted like a neighbor?”
Jesus masterfully uses questions to bring people closer to himself, to engage with them, to make relationship with them, and to push them into thinking deeply about issues.
Questions & Confirmation Bias
I enjoy reading across disciplines, so I rarely just read about something from a theological or faith point of view. I enjoy reading from a business and scientific perspective as well, and in studying this kind of questioning curiosity from a business perspective I read a powerful article on the importance of curiosity in defeating confirmation bias. You know the phrase confirmation bias?
confirmation bias, is the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs.
Without good questions and a healthy sense of curiosity a business can lose touch with customers and their needs. That company can lose track of what sells and why, and what might important in the future. Instead, things seen and heard are understood only within the interpretive framework of pre-existing views and beliefs about the market and customers.
Ok, enough about business… can we agree that confirmation bias could be as devastating for our relationships? How about its stifling and devastating effect on our religion and spiritual communities? Once I have decided something about a particular person, if I don’t have a caring curiosity, I can easily make up my mind about them and hear and interpret every single thing through those beliefs. A caring curiosity can not only help us get closer and increase our understanding of each other, but also help us break out of cycles of confirmation bias which could keep us from getting past mistakes, disagreements and even injuries. A caring curiosity is needed to ask good questions and move us past mistaken ideas, ignorance and assumptions.
I believe Dr. King understood this and pushed us to ask important questions, only using a different vocabulary of his day and specifically addressing the ignorance, falsehoods and biases which the civil rights movement confronted in our society. He warned about confirmation bias and a lack of a caring curiosity in a church which closed it’s mind and stopped learning. In the pursuit of the biblical command to love God and love one another, he said:
Must we not admit that the church has often overlooked this moral demand for enlightenment? At times it has talked as though ignorance were a virtue and intelligence a crime. Through its obscurantism, closedmindedness, and obstinacy to new truth, the church has often unconsciously encouraged its worshipers to look askance upon intelligence. But if we are to call ourselves Christians, we had better avoid intellectual and moral blindness. Throughout the New Testament we are reminded of the need for enlightenment. We are commanded to love God, not only with our hearts and souls, but also with our minds. When the Apostle Paul noticed the blindness of many of his opponents, he said, “I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” Over and again the Bible reminds us of the danger of zeal without knowledge and sincerity without intelligence.
King Jr., Martin Luther . Strength to Love (pp. 39-40). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
Dr. King called on us to have the moral and intellectual strength to challenge assumptions and beliefs, to be open to learning and growing and being wrong if it’s part of the journey to being right.
A Caring Curiosity
What do good questions from a caring curiosity look like? Those questions are open-ended and express a desire to understand. You can ask, “Tell me more about…” or “What you think (or feel) about…?” Good questions don’t supply an answer or steer a person in a direction. Jesus didn’t ask Bartimaeus, “Do you want me to heal your blindness?” He asked, “What can I do for you?”
Can we step back a moment to our earlier discussion of contrasting Jesus as an answer man vs. a questioner? What a gracious question: “What can I do for you?” How gracious is that question compared to trying to always have the answer, to explain or fix things? I had a friend years ago who had this amazing capacity for memorizing scripture, so much more than I have ever had. The problem was, he also believed that quoting scripture at folks around him was the correct response to every single situation. If I was feeling down one day, he’d be quoting rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. If I was angry about something, he’d quote do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not give the devil a foothold. If I was struggling with something and had a big decision to make, he’d quote let everyone in need of wisdom ask the Lord and they will receive. It got to where I wanted to strangle him for quoting the Bible! It was so conflicting! Honestly, it got to where I wouldn’t tell him what was going on with me. If he just could have had a little more effort to make relationship instead of trying to always have the answer. Some good questions and conversations would have gone a long way.
I believe sincerely that Jesus modeled a caring curiosity for us in the way he engaged with people and asked questions, the way he did not make assumptions but instead created conversations and space for more than just answers. I also believe that St. Paul picked up on the principle of caring curiosity and carried it into his letters to the churches, as we see in our reading from Philippians this morning, take the joy and consolation of knowing Jesus and let it be what drives us to value and be interested in those around us. We’re not being nosy or busybodies, but creating a caring community where everyone’s interests matter; we’re creating a community where everyone matters.
As we face a new week of opportunities to ask good questions and have a healthy, caring curiosity, we go with this prayer of Dr. King’s…
“God, we thank you for the inspiration of Jesus. Grant that we will love you with all our hearts, souls, and minds, and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, even our enemy neighbors. And we ask you, God, in these days of emotional tension, when the problems of the world are gigantic in extent and chaotic in detail, to be with us in our going out and our coming in, in our rising up and in our lying down, in our moments of joy and in our moments of sorrow, until the day when there shall be no sunset and no dawn. Amen.”
Amen, amen and amen!
My sermon on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2022, at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
It is the Fourth Sunday of Advent! Can you believe another Advent Season and another year have almost wrapped up!? Next Sunday is Christmas Day and the next is New Years! Our four candles are lit, and only the Christ Candle remains for when we celebrate his birth next weekend! God is good.
Our Gospel reading shifts on us a bit this week. We’ve been spending more time this year with John the Baptizer and Jesus, but this week we pivot back to Mary and Joseph, especially Joseph. Matthew doesn’t tell the broad sweeping narrative of Luke’s Gospel… in Luke we hear of Gabriel appearing to Zechariah and to Mary announcing the births of John and Jesus, and we have the travels of Mary to see Elizabeth and Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Matthew seems much less interested in the dramatic and leans more toward the pragmatic; he shortens the story to a few lines of what happened and an unnamed angel who is sent to save the day when things get a bit too uncomfortable for Joseph.
I’m glad that Joseph gets a few lines in Matthew’s Gospel. We get to see a bit of the man’s character and I think we get a healthy reminder that God also chose Joseph just as Mary was chosen. Joseph has gotten a short shrift in some corners of the church over the years… some traditions, reading outside the Gospel accounts, have assumed him to have been very old when marrying Mary and incapable at his age of being a true husband and partner to her. They have viewed him as too old to be fathering the siblings of Jesus. He has been made in some traditions to be little more than a placeholder.
In the Gospels however, we find a much more relatable groom, looking forward to his wedding and seemingly crushed when things go awry. Matthew presents us with a Joseph who is fully “engaged.” Rather than a placeholder with no intentions of having a family with his new bride, Matthew goes so far as to point out that Joseph will later wait until after the birth of Jesus to consummate his marriage. This is not placeholder groom playing at the role of husband, but a committed partner to Mary. I think we’re reminded that God chose Joseph just as God chose Mary, to raise Jesus. We know from the Gospels that Joseph did just that; we last see Joseph when Jesus is 12 years old, but Jesus is still known by the locals as the carpenter’s son, Joseph, years later during his ministry. What a gift to have the stories of both Mary’s faith and Joseph’s faith when God comes calling on them. When God comes calling and it sometimes makes life a little complicated, scary even!
Life can get messy, even for good people!
Joseph is happily engaged when the unthinkable happens: his fiancé turns up pregnant! All Joseph knows for sure is that the baby isn’t his. I bet Luke would have given us some dialogue between Joseph and Mary if he told this part of the story, but Matthew simply tells us who Joseph is and what he plans to do:
- Joseph is a good man, the scriptures say he was righteous; he’s a decent and non-vindictive man, and so
- Joseph plans to end his engagement from Mary in the least damaging way for her that he can.
Do you think Mary tried to relate the message from Gabriel to her soon-to-be husband? Do you think he tried to wrap his mind around everything happening and had to ask himself, “Is this the kind of start I want to my marriage?” Has anyone told you a story lately that’s just too much to believe, even if you want to believe it? I suppose I can’t find much fault at all with Joseph if he’s struggling to accept things as explained to him, when all of it on the surface just looks so bad, so embarrassing and not what he thought he was getting into with this new chapter of life.
What do good people do when life gets difficult? What do good people do when someone lets them down or hurts them? What happens to good people in bad situations? I think that Joseph being a righteous person, a good person, must have been a main part of the reason for God choosing him as part of the parental team to raise Jesus. It’s surely a big part of why Joseph reacts the way he does. He doesn’t blast Mary on social media and he doesn’t add to rumors or pile on his own anger or disappointment to what must have been a tense time for her… you can imagine the rumors that must have been flying around. No, Joseph sets out to minimize the trouble and to protect Mary from anything more if possible. He’s going to quietly end their engagement and save her from what trouble he can.
Wow. That can’t have been an easy decision. He’s got to be feeling some major hurt from the whole situation. But he’s going to minimize what Mary has to face in her life. What do good people do when life gets difficult? What happens to good people in bad situations? Hopefully, they remain good. Hopefully, they do good. Cultivating goodness in one’s self can be a powerful anchor in the storms of life.
Now, let’s turn the story around.
I think that the goodness of Joseph is also part of his ability to receive, believe and trust a message from God’s angel. When the angel comes and explains things to Joseph in a dream a good man’s heart is strengthened and he awakes ready to follow God’s call and raise this unexpected child.
And what was the message from the angel? The message was that Joseph can trust God and trust that God will be doing good things through the situation in which Joseph finds himself. Don’t be afraid. Trust. Because of all this, all you don’t really understand, all that has been promised and foretold, boils down to this: God is with us.
What can we do if we remember that God is with us? What can we achieve and overcome if we remember that God is with us? What can we faithfully dream and do if we remember that God has also called us, called us and placed us in the church and never leaves our side?
I think of all of Paul’s letters to the churches, we find in his letter to the Ephesians a constant reminder of their calling, and our calling, in Christ Jesus.
…from Ephesians 1
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8 that he lavished on us.
…from Ephesians 2
17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20 built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone; 21 in him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
…from Ephesians 4
14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
This is what it all comes to: we are a called people, just like Mary, Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth! We are a people given a message of hope and strength for our times. We can cultivate goodness in our selves and be ready for what life brings us, remembering always that God is with us. Amen, amen and amen.
Be blessed, Rev Todd
Our Gospel reading today is from Matthew 11:2-11, another interaction between John the Baptizer and Jesus. I’ve had a difficult time with my sermon this week. It’s been a tough one because in some ways I feel like this week’s Gospel reading is the perfect time to talk about the times when the holidays don’t feel all that festive for some of us. And yet, it’s the Third Sunday, and that means we are lighting the rose candle and talking about Joy as an Advent theme. What to do!?
Let’s start with the Gospel reading.
You may recall we already talked about John and Jesus being cousins, and yet they never really seem to relate as having grown up knowing each other at all. We’ve seen the way that John did his work as the voice crying out in the wilderness preparing the people and pointing to Jesus… but in today’s reading we are moved a little down the road now and John’s landed in prison.
We mentioned last week that some of the things John and Jesus had in common were the practice of speaking truth to power and ultimately being put to death by the Roman authorities. John had been publicly shaming Herod Antipas and was now imprisoned in the fortress of Macherus, which know from the Jewish historian Josephus, and where we know we will soon be beheaded by Herod.
It’s during this imprisonment that John who proclaimed “Behold the Lamb of God” pointing to Jesus, who said he’s coming to baptize you with the Spirit and fire, and who said he wasn’t worthy to fasten the sandals on Jesus’ feet, now sends some of his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Is it really you? Are you the One?”
Does it sound to you like John is maybe at a low point? He’s maybe a bit shook? It doesn’t sound like the John who so clearly proclaimed Jesus in the streets and so surely pointed to the way to the One… it sounds like John is struggling. Maybe being thrown in prison wasn’t in his game plan. Maybe life has thrown him for a bit of a loop.
Sometimes life does that to us, doesn’t it? Sometimes, even when we’re in a season with twinkling lights and happy carols, it’s tough to feel the joy. Sometimes when others around us are right where they want to be, we can feel a bit out of place. I think that’s exactly where John has found himself, in a moment of doubt when he thought all doubt had been settled, in a moment of uncertainty when he certainly had thought he had all the answers. We can relate to that, can’t we?
So, now let’s talk about Jesus.
Do you think Jesus might have been a bit surprised by the question? He could have been like “Hey man, you said I’m the One, and now you’re asking if I am?” I actually love the answer Jesus gives to the disciples to take back to John. “Tell him what you see and hear. People are being blessed, God is on the move.” He doesn’t chide John for questioning. Instead, Jesus broadens John’s view: “Look, John, you’re in prison, and that’s not easy. It’s also not the whole story.” Look at how God is moving and good news is spreading!
And we know that Jesus doesn’t judge or think any less of John for having questions or doubts. He goes on in Matthew 11 to tell the crowd that John is pretty amazing, that no greater prophetic has arisen or been born; John is an Elijah figure among them. I don’t know how Jesus could have been more complimentary of John. When Jesus hears that John has been murdered, in Matthew 14, he goes off to be alone for a while in a deserted place. We may not have a record of their spending a lot of time together, but Jesus values John and keenly feels the loss when he is killed.
We can find ourselves in all kinds of prisons in life, literal ones and prisons of our own making: prisons of doubt and fatigue, prisons of loss, illness and frustration. Prison walls of all kinds can block the light.
Maybe if the rose candle has a chance of leading us to Joy when life has got us caught in difficult and frustrating times, it’s going to be when we, like John, hear Jesus:
- We hear Jesus deciding not to judge or to be angry with us over our doubts and questions, and
- We hear Jesus pointing us to Good News that is bigger than the immediate circumstances of our lives. Pointing John to the news of what God was doing in the lives of other people didn’t immediately change John’s own circumstances, but it did broaden his view of blessing. Sometimes that’s what we need, a broader view of God’s goodness in the world.
Did you notice that all our other readings today from Isaiah, the Psalm and the short bit from James, all assure us that patience pays off. Waiting for God and keeping our eyes on God will lead to joy, even if through some hard days and struggles. Faith never promises to do away with all the struggles or make our lives an easy journey without tough times, but we are promised that Joy awaits, and not only awaits but is begun now, even in these days.
Let’s let that rose candle remind us to look around and notice what God is doing, and in broadening our view of God’s blessing we’ll find some blessing and joy of our own. Whatever prisons would capture and hold our hearts in this Advent Season, may the joy of God’s blessing in the lives around us and our own chip away at those walls until the Light finds us and helps settle our doubts and fears. Amen, amen and amen.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
Have you lately given thanks for the forerunners in your life? You know, the ones who came before you and built lives of faith, struggle and wisdom upon which we have built our lives? Who were they in your life? I often think of a couple of people in my own life who truly and literally went before me to show me what and sometimes what not to do.
- My aunt Norma – a saint to me… I came home from Elementary School with head lice after the infamous Hat Day I hope they stopped having in school. I was kept home from school for treatment and I had to wear some cutoff panty hose on my head! My aunt Norma came over and I hid in the backyard because I was so embarrassed. She came out and found me and sat with me to love away my shame. She taught me, in example, an early and memorable posture of grace and love.
- And then I have an older brother… thankfully I saw enough of the rough life in his early decisions to help me avoid quite a bit of trouble as a teenager. Today he’s in a totally different place in life, walking with Christ… but wow did I benefit from his getting there! I had straighter paths and an easy way learning from his mistakes, and now get to enjoy watching his faith in action and family.
For a moment, I invite you to think of those who helped chart your course in life, who opened doors for you and pointed the way.
We have mentioned that the readings for our Advent Season this year, the fours Sundays leading up to Christmas, focus a lot on Jesus and his cousin John, whom we know as John the Baptizer. John appears ahead of Jesus as the one foretold to announce the arrival of the Savior, the awaited King. Here in today’s Gospel reading of Matthew 3:1-12, and in Mark’s Gospel as well, we’re simply presented with John’s arrival and the content of his ministry:
- He’s the fulfillment of Isaiah’s foretelling of a voice in the wilderness saying “prepare the way,” and
- He’s preaching and immersing people at the Jordan River for repentance.
I’m personally so glad we also have Luke’s Gospel to give us more on John’s parentage and preaching. It’s from Luke we learn of the angelic foretelling of John’s birth, his parents Elizabeth and Zechariah, and through that Gospel we know that he and Jesus are kin, some manner of cousin through Mary and Elizabeth’s family connection.
Is it crucial to know their family connection? I’m not sure it’s something we couldn’t live without, but it helps me to understand the person of John the Baptizer a little more, especially as he arrives to do his job and in his own words from John’s Gospel, “Jesus must increase and I must decrease.”
John and Jesus have so many compelling similarities and connections:
- John and Jesus are both prophets, understood by the crowds of their day to be sent by God and worthy of attention.
- They are related by blood, though honestly we have no record of them growing up together or spending formative years together; and in truth, they don’t seem to really know each other in a familiar way when they cross paths.
- They both are going to speak truth to power, especially to religious leaders of their day, and they both will be put to death by the pollical powers of the day in very gruesome and unjust ways. John will be beheaded for publicly shaming King Herod, at the request of his dancing niece-turned-step-daughter. Jesus will be sentenced to death by Pilate, at the request of the religious leaders, for sedition against Rome.
The content of their teaching is sometimes contrasted with John being seen as this fire-and-brimstone style of preacher while Jesus is presented a with different kind of Good News proclamation, and maybe you felt some of that in our reading today when John calls the religious leaders a brood of vipers and starts talking about axes chopping roots and unquenchable fires. But I actually don’t seen a huge difference in much of their preaching, with the exception that in the records of John’s ministry we don’t have near as much of his teaching or have things like the parables, healings and face to face conversations Jesus had with people as he travelled about.
Again I’m grateful to Luke’s Gospel for filling in more of what little we know of John’s preaching. When others came to them they would find both John and Jesus with applicable, doable preaching, lots of opportunites to change for the better… and we hear it especially in Luke’s chapter 3: if you more than you need share your food and clothes with those in need, if your job is being a tax collector or a soldier, treat people justly and fairly. Both those positions, tax collector and soldier, were easily abused. We can clearly see the justness, fairness and mercy of John’s preaching amplified in the ministry and preaching of Jesus. And when John got mad and called out the hypocrites, we see that in the ministry of Jesus as well, especially when dealing with the religious leadership of the day.
What about a personal cheerleader in your life? Who in your life has believed in you and pumped you? Who has always been in your corner and pushed you to achievement? I think that we see John doing this for Jesus. In today’s reading it is the clear message that I am not worthy even to be a butler for the One who is arriving, I’m not even worthy to fasten his sandals. You think my preaching is good, hehe, wait until he gets warmed up! I’m immersing you in water, but the One to come will set things on fire! And in John’s Gospel he’s pointing to Jesus and crying out “Behold, the Lamb of God!” After the second time John does this a couple of his disciples start following Jesus, and one of them is Andrew who goes and gets his brother, Simon Peter, and they follow Jesus. Yeah, that Peter.
Oh, John is coming into focus! He’s so much more than just a voice in the wilderness. He’s laying the foundation for the ministry and message of Jesus in his own preaching, he’s witnessing to the crowds, and he’s connecting Jesus to people we know are going to be pretty important down the line. John was many things it turns out, doing a lot, and always pointing to Jesus.
Always pointing to Jesus.
I believe that understanding John the Baptizer is key to understanding Advent. I believe that understanding John the Baptizer is key to understanding my preparing for Jesus to arrive… it’s not just about preparing me. Sometimes it’s also doing all I can to be a voice, to witness to the One who is Light and Life, and to always be ready and able to point to Jesus.
I’ve heard a variation on a good exercise done several times in different ways, and I’d like to offer it this morning as something we can take with us into this week of Advent as an exercise of preparing to ourselves to point to Jesus. It’s a fill-in-the-blank:
“When I got to know Jesus, _____________ changed in my life.”
Are we prepared to talk about the change Jesus has made in our lives? How would you fill in that blank? In John’s day, calling Jesus the Lamb of God made sense and got people listening, but we need to be able to point to Jesus in our lives in ways that make sense to people today. John talked about the way the sky opened and the Spirit descended to Jesus at his baptism. What is it today for us? What can we express clearly about knowing Jesus and experiencing Jesus in our own lives?
The more we think in this way, making straight and clear paths not in the wilderness but in our own thoughts and language, then the better prepared we are to point to Jesus. We’ll be better prepared to join John in that great work of calling out to the would-be and soon-to-be disciples of Jesus around us and helping them know the Way, the One worth chasing.
These are the notes of my sermon for the First Sunday of Advent at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family, friends and everyone gathered for worship. As we embark on the Advent Season once again, and delve into our scriptures, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today is the first Sunday of four in the Advent Season, a journey we undertake each year of waiting and preparing for the arrival of Jesus. Of course, that happened already, according to the witness of our scriptures, he arrived about two thousand years ago. But each year in our cyclical liturgical calendar we retell and relive the stories. The First Sunday of Advent is a new year’s day of sorts when our calendars begin again with the period of waiting and preparing for Christ’s birth.
In the Sundays of Advent, year after year, we find opportunities to talk about many different themes: waiting and preparing, welcoming, arrival, incarnation and more. We’ll go over the story of when Christ was born, and we usually hear about the main characters of that story: Mary and Joseph, John the Baptizer and his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah, and more. You may or may not know that our readings rotate in a three year cycle, and this Advent begins Year A, rolling back to the beginning of our cycle. I mention it only because this year’s Gospel readings for Advent spend a lot of time with Jesus and his cousin John, and the ideas of waiting and preparing.
This week we hear from Jesus much later in his ministry addressing questions he is often asked about the future. Our Gospel reading for today is Matthew 24:36-44. The idea of gaining an advantage by a timely heads up is nothing new… the disciples of Jesus had questions about the future and would ask how to know when things were about to get crazy for them, or momentous changes might happen. The answer Jesus gives is rather simple: 1) you can’t know when things are going to happen, and 2) you should act like they’re happening. ~ It’s a very active way of waiting.
Truly, “waiting” in the way Jesus teaches his friends to wait, is not a passive sitting back and watching things unfold. Instead it’s an active way of living life in view of what we believe or hope for, whether we’re seeing it unfold in the moment or not. I was laughing to myself this week because I couldn’t help but think of the way we speak today in some circles saying “Yeah, sorry, not sorry.” If you’ve heard that before, it’s a facetious way of saying sorry without meaning it… Jesus is sort of saying, “Yeah wait, but don’t wait.”
He is going to go on in Matthew’s Gospel to tell parables about how to wait… and it’s all about being prepared, staying awake and watching. It’s almost as though he hears the question, “When will something happen?” as the question, “When do I need to start paying attention to life?” And the answer is now. Don’t close your eyes, don’t drift off to sleep, don’t think you can ignore life and what matters most and somehow jump up and make everything meaningful and right later on, it may be too late… live your life now, in view of God’s future fulfilled promises.
We just mentioned that Jesus told parables about being prepared, active waiting…
- He tells the parable of faithful and unfaithful servants, contrasting the faithful way and unfaithful ways they cared for the household when left in charge.
- He tells the parable of the bridal party, contrasting those who made themselves ready for the wait stockpiling lots of lamp oil, with those who didn’t prepare.
- He tells the parable of three servants given three amounts of money and the various ways they were faithful or fearful in caring for and investing the money.
- And finally he tells that very familiar story of the final judgment when God blesses those whose faith was active, feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the imprisoned.
Jesus says “keep awake” and tells four stories about trusting in God to handle the timing while we get busy with our faith now. Jesus is calling us to lives of action and faith in this day, here and now. No need to wait while we wait. No need to be inactive while we wait for promises made.
We say it in some of our Eucharistic prayers, proclaiming the mystery of our faith… say it with me “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” We can trust God with the timing of all that, for nowhere is our faithful watching and staying awake going to be misplaced. We can live lives now in view of when God fulfills what may remain to be seen and done.
That’s the beauty of a liturgical calendar that cycles year after year. We have this reminder coming to us again and again in the hustle and bustle of life, keeping us pointed in the right direction. Changing from green to purple on the altar is not the reason for the season of Advent… it’s just part of the reminder that we shouldn’t be asleep. We don’t have to wait while we’re waiting.
So, how will we answer the call to stay awake and keep our faith alive and active? How will we live now in view of what God will do in fulfilled promises? How do we stay awake? Really, how do you? Caffeine! Go for walk! Turn on the light! How do we make ourselves ready and keep ourselves ready, for whatever comes our way and whatever God’s timing looks like for our lives?
How do we stockpile our oil like the bridesmaids who were prepared for a long night waiting? The easy answers are a bit like the proverbial low hanging fruit… we dig deeper into our prayer, into our study and into our service. But what concrete steps lay ahead for us?
- The Advent study beginning this week could be a great place to start. The link and the book it’s based on will be in the newsletter.
- Perhaps it’s a community of support and faithful partnership like the Brother of St. Andrew, Daughters of the King, or even something like my Anglican Dominicans.
- Maybe it’s reinvesting in communities of ministry here at St. Timothy’s like ECW, MoST or even service on the vestry.
Instead of just saying, I want to pray more, perhaps I can work to build a habit of morning prayer, or evening prayer. There are countless ways to do it and many resources available to us. I should probably start by setting an alarm on my calendar.
Instead of just saying, I want to study more, we have to open our eyes and look at our schedules to make time for it. And we need to go find the resources to fill the need.
Instead of just saying I want to serve more, we need to open our ears to needs and our eyes to opportunities all around us.
And partner up! Grab a partner, or partners, to get into some good trouble with this stuff. Grab a partner for mutual accountability and for support as you build a plan and move forward, someone who can help you stay awake and stockpile the stuff you need for the best life.
- We wait faithfully for Christ and for God’s promises, but we don’t wait to start living faithfully in view of those promises.
- We wait for God, but we don’t wait to open our eyes to the world around us and to get busy in life, love and living.
- We wait for Christ, but we don’t think for a for a minute that’s it’s just nap time until things really get going.
The truth is that while we wait, God is going to be moving full steam ahead and beckoning us to join the fun! So with eyes wide open, let us wait like the wide awake! Amen, amen and amen.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
My sermon from November 20th at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church on the Feast of Christ the King.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family, friends and all who have gathered for worship, especially those online. We gather on this day of celebrating the sovereignty of Christ to be reminded of what kingship means in scripture. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Our Gospel reading for the day was Luke 23:33-43
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by watching, but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The Feast of Christ the King is relatively new addition to the liturgical calendar, officially placed in 1925 by Pope Pius the 11th who sought to comfort a war torn and weary Europe with a reminder of a King and kingdom of peace and goodness with no end. It has since grown to be a very ecumenical celebration across all manner of churches, Protestant churches included. To be honest, all week long as I prepared for the day I’ve been singing, humming and listening to Third Day’s King of Glory from their 2000 album Offerings… here are the lyrics:
King of Glory
Who is this King of glory that pursues me with His love
And haunts me with each hearing of His softly spoken words
My conscience, a reminder of forgiveness that I need
Who is this King of glory who offers it to me
Who is this King of angels, O blessed Prince of Peace
Revealing things of Heaven and all it’s mysteries
My spirit’s ever longing for His grace in which to stand
Who is this King of glory, Son of God and song of man
His name is Jesus, precious Jesus
The Lord Almighty, the King of my heart
The King of glory
Who is this King of glory with strength and majesty
And wisdom beyond measure, the gracious King of kings
The Lord of Earth and Heaven, the Creator of all things
Who is this King of glory, He’s everything to me
We celebrate Christ the King today with a kinda heavy reading from the Gospels, one recalling the day of his murder. What a strange reading for the Sunday before Advent, and yet not all that completely strange! Just before we begin the beautiful season of Advent, we have this harsh reminder of the ugliest day… and maybe that’s the kind of reminder we need sometimes.
I mean, we do like to jump ahead to the good stuff don’t we? Sometimes we need to be reminded to slow down. Anyone have family who has already decorated their house top to bottom with Christmas stuff? Did they do it even before Halloween? Was it you? Hey, no judgement… I promise. Anyone ever had trouble waiting for Christmas to open a gift? How about waiting to give one? I can’t stand having a gift for someone and not giving it! And I’ll admit I’m usually the first in my family to fire up some Christmas music in the car or at home… and I don’t wait until Advent is ended!
It’s good to have a day on the calendar to be reminded of what it means for Christ to be our King… to be reminded of what God’s Kingdom means for us and the world around us. On the day that Christ gave his all, Christ showed us just what it means to be a king! To be a King, as Jesus was a King:
- is not to assert one’s own rights over others,
- is not to dominate,
- is not to exclude,
- is not to reject or to judge,
- is not to choose violence, and
- is not at all like the political figures of the world.
Indeed, we need this reminder when just barely two years ago on January 6th, 2021, “Christ is King” was chanted by some and seen on flags while our Capitol was attacked in open insurrection. Is that Christ’s kingship? No. Never. Truly, Christ our King never leads us in religious warfare or in a violent mob against our neighbors! But our King leads us against injustices and untruths, first those that have taken root in our own lives, and then those that have rooted in the soil of our society. Christ our King is never imposing his will by force.
Indeed, the Christ we see in scriptures is never cozy with the political powers of his day, but speaking truth to power…
- never seeking to dominate, but to serve
- never seeking to assert his own rights over a neighbor, but offering all he had to those around him
- never fearing or fearmongering about people who were different from him, but always spending time with the least expected and least expecting of the people around him.
The true King who is Christ will never be the comfortable poster boy of the powerful or the mascot of the violent and the hateful. But Christ our King consistently calls us who would follow him to pursue lives of healing, reconciliation, service, love and justice.
Christ, who is our King, consistently draws us ever onward, not judging and rejecting us, but refining and shaping our lives ever more into the shape of the cross, that symbol of service, dedication and of identifying not with the powerful, but with the powerless, with those whom God so loves.
It was a heavy day, when Christ our King was murdered. It was a heavy day when it seemed like violence had won, when it seemed as though love had lost to hate. But if you’ll indulge me jumping ahead just a bit, we know the grave couldn’t hold him, and death and injustice had no more a power to end him than it does to end us.
And the King we follow doesn’t call us to a wooden cross on a hill, but the cross of loving one another. He doesn’t call us to the cost of our lives taken at the hands of violent authorities, but to the cost of forgiving one another.
And even when this world does show us its worst, and the violent ones rise up with their hatred and their guns on the streets of our cities, our King still shines the light of healing, the light of love, the light of justice to keep us on the path of peace and of life. So that when the world shows its worst, and it seems that there is little hope or reason for carrying on, we will still shine our light, we will still salt this earth, with the presence of the King of Glory. Who is this King of Glory? His name is Jesus.
- This is the Jesus who announced his ministry as a proclamation of good news to poor, release and restoration to the oppressed and the marginalized.
- This is the Jesus who refused to judge and condemn the one caught in adultery and dragged before him to be killed.
- This is the Jesus who calls us to radical honesty with one another, that our yes be yes and our no be no.
- This is the Jesus who calls us to renounce hatreds and to love our enemies, and who loved his own enemies, even as they took his life.
- This is the Jesus who taught us that loving our God and loving our neighbor was the whole thing, the top of the charts!
- This is the Jesus who taught us that the way to really live this life is found in feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty, clothing the naked, and staying close to the sick and the imprisoned.
- This is the Jesus who called the children to himself, those without power or position, when others barred their way… no one is disposable or valueless in this kingdom.
- This is the Jesus who promised to be with his disciples to the very end, and will stay with us through it all.
So when we read Jesus say “forgive them, they just don’t know what they’re doing” we know we’ve found the King for our lives. When we hear the condemned criminal on the cross treated as a beloved one and welcomed to paradise, we know we’ve found the King for our lives. When we spend time with the Jesus of scripture instead of the flag and the slogans, the Jesus of our faith instead of violent, partisan politics, we know we’ve found the King for our lives.
Who is this King of Glory? His name is Jesus.
We rest in the grace of this King, knowing his love will never fade or fail to carry us through. And we move in the power of his call, knowing that in that pursuit of his love and justice we and our world will one day know peace. Amen, amen and amen.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
My Sermon of Nov 6 2022, All Saints Sunday at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question: “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”
Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead but of the living, for to him all of them are alive.” Luke 20:27-38
It’s our Sunday to celebrate All Saints! And we do all have saints in our lives don’t we? We have the capital S Saints who in generations past left legacies, teaching and examples for us to follow. And we all the lowercase s saints, too! They’re the folks in our own lives who may never have a feast day on the church calendar, but who made us who we are. Those saints often raised us as children and grandchildren, they taught us to pray, they sat with us through the hard storms of life, and they are ones who always had a helping hand and open heart to us in all things.
Thinking about saints…
Take a few minutes to think about those saints of your life, especially those who have passed on. Think of a time in life like going to college, being newly wed, welcoming a child into the world or your life, losing a job, making a major move in life… who was there to be a blessing to you in that time? Do you remember someone teaching you to pray, or someone in whose life you could see that faith just made sense and inspired you? Taking time to think about those saints can help us overcome problems in life today by reminding us of what they taught and showed us, and by reminding us that life is much, much bigger than just this moment.
And, here’s something fun to try, Google “Saints on <your birthday>” and see who comes up. You could have several, recognized by different church traditions. See what they are known for and if there’s anything in their stories to inspire you. See if there’s a spiritual friend out there you didn’t even know you had, but who has a gift to offer in your life!
That poor woman!
Our readings today point us to our connectedness, with one another and God, and the hope and strength of that connectedness. Our Gospel reading takes us to a day when Jesus is confronted by a group of religious leaders who denied the immortality of the soul and the idea of resurrection, and therefore denied our connection with one another after death. Life for them is only here and now, and then ended. Now scripturally, they held this belief because they only relied only on the Torah and concepts therein, but when they challenged Jesus, they did so with a puzzle, a hypothetical gotcha question. We read it, and it went like this… a childless woman by a weird quirk of fate is married in succession to seven brothers in hopes of a child. If there’s life after death, what a mess! So, there must not be a life after this one, right?
Now, hypothetical situations are usually extreme and have little to do with everyday life, or experience, but the premise of this question does have at least a basis in Jewish scripture. In Deuteronomy 25, there is a time when a brother of a deceased man is told to bear at least one child by his brother’s widow to keep that man’s name alive among the people. There’s no mention of an ever-cascading chain of obligation and there’s only two examples of this idea in scripture, three if you count an instance in the apocryphal writings (which could even be the basis of this gotcha question). In Genesis 38 Judah tells his son Onan to do this for his brother Er’s widow, and he refuses. In Ruth 4 Boaz explains that his marriage to Ruth will include this type of thing for her past husband, though not from a brotherly duty. This doesn’t seem to be super common, but who’s willing to let real life get in the way of a good gotcha question, right? And I bet I can answer their question for that poor woman about whose wife she’ll be! I bet she would say “Nobody’s wife! For Pete’s sake! No more, please!”
The answer from Jesus is to the point, and to paraphrase it: “The question has nothing to do with the reality of the living God or our faith.” Jesus fully asserts the immortality of the soul and reality of the resurrection while denying that we’re going to be at all subject to the needs and traditions of this life after it. It is another existence all together, in which there is no death and we are with one another and the living God.
And that is something which St. Paul wants to make sure that the church in Thessalonica knows and doesn’t forget… as rough as things seem in this life, even when we are separated for a bit, our time of being gathered back together is coming. In worship today we read verses along this idea from 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 and 13-17, but you may be even more familiar with similar words in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
All Saints Day is not only a day in which we recall those who have been so meaningful to us and such a blessing for us, but are also reminded that we’re not done with each other! Our connectedness and life together in God goes on, and we will be gathered together again.
We close this time together remembering the saints of our lives with a prayer slightly adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, pg. 838
“We give thanks to you, O Lord our God, for all your servants and witnesses of time past: for Abraham, the father of believers, and Sarah his wife; for Moses, the lawgiver, and Aaron, the priest; for Miriam and Joshua, Deborah and Gideon, and Samuel with Hannah his mother; for Isaiah and all the prophets; for Mary, the mother of our Lord; for Peter and Paul and all the apostles; for Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene; for Stephen, the first martyr, and all the martyrs and saints in every age and in every land. And for those saints who have passed the faith to us, supported us, taught us to pray and loved us, we thank you; especially for those we wait to see again, we thank you. In your mercy, O Lord our God, give us, as you gave to them, the hope of salvation and the promise of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the first-born of many from the dead.
Amen. Amen and Amen.
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
Sermon notes for Sunday, October 30th, 2022 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family, friends and everyone gathered for worship. It is good to be together and to take some time with our scriptures. As we do so, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“What shall I bring when I come before YHWH, and bow down before God on high?” you ask. “Am I to come before God with burnt offerings? With year-old calves? Will YHWH be placated by thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil? Should I offer my firstborn for my wrongdoings — the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Listen here, mortal: God has already made abundantly clear what “good” is, and what YHWH needs from you: simply do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with your God.
Micah 6:6-8, Priests for Equality. The Inclusive Bible (p. 1096). Sheed & Ward. Kindle Edition.
Beloved of God, we come to the end of a three-part sermon series based on Micah 6:6-8 exploring that amazing summation statement of God’s will for us, that we would: do justice, love kindness and walk humble with God. We’ve dug into justice in the biblical narrative and I believe we found it to be the upholding of human dignity… it is justly treating and living with one another. We dug into kindness last week and saw how it is part of that justice in action, kindness is an intentional decision to pursue mercy, compassion and goodness for the people around us. And this week we come to walking humbly with God.
Ok, first up, let’s just admit that doing justice and loving kindness are things we do, and sometimes don’t do. They are what we want to do, as God calls us to, but it’s also a pretty tall order some days isn’t it? We’re not perfect, and certainly just reading it in Micah, preaching a couple of sermons and saying, “Ok, sure!” isn’t really getting it done. This must be something to which we commit ourselves, something we pursue, and something in which we grow… and that’s where the invitation to walk with God is such good news.
How did you learn to swim?
Did anyone just get thrown in the water and yelled at? I hope that’s not ever been your experience of church. When learning to swim, did anyone have a person hold your belly, at your center of gravity, right at the water’s surface, and let you practice and perfect the way you kicked your legs and swung your arms? Getting thrown in the deep end may find out about your adaptability and chances in a life threatening situation, but it’s sure not teaching anyone the joy of swimming or helping you learn or perfect any technique. What kind of difference does it makes when we learn and grow together? Learning almost anything is so much easier when we do it with trusted friends, mentors and teachers who invest time and energy in our growth and understanding. And that’s what the invitation to walk with God is like, not being tossed in the deep end without a float, but asked to journey alongside and learn.
No one’s expecting you to throw on your cape, activate your super powers and go save the world, especially not God.
But what God does expect, is some time to grow together, to go for a walk together and to really take these commitments deep into our hearts and minds. Walking with God is a nice metaphor, but how do we actually do that? I’d like to mention several things to keep in mind…
- Start with Jesus. Spend some time with his teaching, maybe in the sermon on the mount in Matthew’s Gospel, chapters 5 thru 7. Spend time with the stories of how he interacted with people, giving grace and mercy, how he forgave and served. Go thru all the amazing stories that Luke wove into his Gospel. Choose a Gospel account and read it straight through like it was written; Mark is the shortest!
- Remember that we’re in this together. Yes, each of us is individually invited to walk with God, but often we’re on that road together. One of the things we can’t miss in Micah 6 is that justice and kindness are found, expressed and practiced between us… in community. Our walk with God also has a communal element, so lean in with those you see walking well. Not only can they be a help to you now, but you’ll be in a position one day to return the favor. Find an author who speaks to you. Find a spiritual friend for good conversation and listening to what God is doing. I was blessed to learn to swim at summer camp with a counselor who held me afloat while I learned the form and joy of swimming. I also learned to swim with friends, and the joy was multiplied in our sharing it.
- Finally, remember you’re walking with a God who loves you so dearly and stays by your side. Sometimes we can forget that amazing love of God which goes along with us. We’re good at placing reminders of things around ourselves in daily life, and maybe we need to do that with our walk with God. We wear wedding bands and use post-it notes on computer monitors, we set alarms on our watches and phones and we place photos and artwork on our refrigerators. It might be worth your time to set some new alarms for prayer times, start to journal more about your gratitude’s, place some visual reminders around that can trigger your memory of God’s promised love. And of course, going for a walk, or a drive, or a run with God is always an option. Walking with God is metaphorical for spending time with God, going somewhere with God and investing in your relationship with God… so find out what works best for you by trying different things and pursuing this amazing invitation.
To close, I’d like us to go back to that passage from Romans we heard this morning in worship… a glimpse at what our walk with God looks like from day to day in practice… Romans 12:9-18 “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil; hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal; be ardent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; pursue hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Does that not sound like a life spent humbly following God into doing justice and loving kindness?
And concluding with a prayer of self-dedication from The Book of Common Prayer, pg. 832…
“Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, however as you desire, always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.”
Be blessed, Rev Todd