Christmas Day, December 25th 2022
This is the Sermon of Christmas Day 2022 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in DC, beginning with the Gospel reading for that day!
Gospel Reading: John 1:1-14 Rev. Todd Thomas
CELEBRANT: The Holy Gospel of our Savior Jesus Christ according to John.
PEOPLE: Glory to you, Lord Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.
There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
CELEBRANT: The Gospel of the Lord.
PEOPLE: Praise to you, Lord Christ.
Good morning, St. Timothy’s family, friends and everyone who has gathered for worship! Merry Christmas! It’s good to be together, and as we gather to worship on this special day and spend some time with our scriptures, so may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Rock and our redeemer! Amen.
Do you like stories? I love a good story, but I wasn’t always a very good reader. Did anyone else have that weird aunt and uncle around Christmas time, you know the ones who don’t have kids of their own, so they give nieces and nephews socks or gloves or something like that for gifts at Christmas? I had an aunt and uncle like that, and as kid I just wrote’em off, you know what I mean? I lowered my expectations with them, because I knew I wasn’t gonna get a toy, ever. Oh, I was a good kid, I thanked them for the socks, and I muttered my appreciation for the gloves they got me each year… but then they broke tradition and in one of my moody preteen years they gave me a hardback copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories and poems for Christmas! And I gotta give credit where credit is due: I loved that book! I consumed those short stories and poems! That gift not only made me a fan of Poe but also helped me learn to love reading. When we moved to Maryland a little over 15 years ago one of the first things I did was a little pilgrimage to his grave in Baltimore on an anniversary of his death. To this day I’m a Poe fan, and I probably owe that aunt and uncle a much-belated thank you card for their putting me on the path of Poe writings and the joy of reading.
I also love the stories in scripture, especially around the birth of Jesus! I love the story of Gabriel appearing to Zechariah to announce that he and Elizabeth will finally have a child, John the Baptizer. I love the story of Gabriel appearing to Mary and their amazing conversation about Mary’s coming son, the one to be named Jesus. I love their whole conversation! It includes the one verse of the Bible I memorized years ago in Kiswahili, “Kwa maana hakuna lisiliowezikana kwa Mungu,” because nothing is impossible with God!
I love the stories of Joseph getting a visit from an angel and the travel to Bethlehem, the shepherds in their fields, and the scene at the birth of Jesus when all have gathered and realized that hey, this is really happening!
A Really Big, Good Story
And along comes John’s Gospel… and John says Oh you like stories, here hold my parchment… in the BEGINNING! Oh not just the beginning of our story 2,000 years ago, not just back to King David, not just back to Abraham and Sarah, not just back to Adam and Eve… the BEGINNING. Back when there was nothing as we know anything to be… there was the Word. The Word was God but also with God… something is happening here, something from God… this Word brings everything into being, John says, brings it all into being and fills it with life and light.
John’s story reads like that amazing script at the beginning of Star Wars, you know the one. Huge letters which tell the story of a galaxy far far away… except this story is our story, of all galaxies, of all that has been, is and will be… our story of light and life.
When it comes to understanding Jesus, John the Evangelist, the writer of our Gospel, wants us to take a deep breath and step back for a broad view of the story, get your wide angle lens ready for this one! John wants us to understand that Jesus is the meaning and the purpose we’ve been searching to find. As the One who brought it all into being, he’s also the One to help us navigate the landscape of all that is.
Life and Light are found in the Christ. As the One through whom it all happens, we can have no better guide, no better friend, no better path than the Way upon which he invites us. John points us to the One in whom we truly find our beginning, our middle and our end. The One in whom find our light when our days grow dark and our hearts are clouded with pain. Christ is the One who is our life when the days feel rough and less fun than we thought they would be.
Oh the Christmas story is Baby Jesus and Mary and Magi and all that, but it’s also about the very foundation of what can be our joy, hope and peace, no matter what twists and turns the story of our lives may throw at us. And it’s the foundation of making our place in this world. For the life and light are not just gifts of God to us, but they become the very thing we offer the world around us in faith.
Christmas is a story, our story, and it’s still being written, as the author Rev. Howard Thurman wrote in his poem/litany The Work of Christmas…
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Rev. Thurman heard it, he heard it in John’s story. Did you hear it in the Gospel reading this morning, how in this opening poem and narrative of the Gospel John the Evangelist gives us the whole story, beginning to end? He gives us the whole picture even though we are in the middle still writing the joy and grace of our chapters!
John lets us in on the ending: the light shines and the darkness cannot overcome it! The light shines and it cannot be extinguished or hidden! Life is triumphant! The Word is doing its work in the world even today! I hear the words of Isaiah in chapter 55 when God says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
Now John and Isaiah may not be speaking of the same word conceptually or in the same context, but we can hear the same story being told. The will of God, the life and light of God gifted to us cannot be extinguished, for it is not simply something we have chosen or that we have devised, but we are chosen and we devised by it!
John says in his Gospel that the light is not extinguished by the darkness, not overcome. And he goes on to say that in this One, in this One who has from the beginning been our life and light, we find the open door to adoption into God’s family. We are brought in, brought near and made to be at home. We find our truest identity as God’s children, waking to who we truly are in this world. I once heard Father Richard Rohr describe it in similar words which I can only paraphrase, he said that God is our mirror, that in God see the image of our true selves, not making God in our image, but seeing ourselves as God sees us, creative whole and beloved.
This Is Really Happening
Like Mary and Joseph that night when the shepherds arrive to find them gathered around a newborn King, we begin to realize hey, this is really happening! This is my story, your story, our story. In this life and light we find the double miracle, that we can be forgiven and forgive. We find the blessing of a joy and strength beyond the moment in which we find ourselves. We find the love and presence of God which redeems and makes sacred all the mundane and seemingly small things of life. As Isaiah painted that picture so long ago of God’s word watering the ground and bringing forth good things from the earth, a reminder is planted in us of the Word who has made and called us and would bring good from our lives in this very same world.
“Ah Lord God, thank you for days like this. Maybe it is a cold day, and yet known to be so cold only in contrast to the warmth of your love and light in our lives. Bless those who do not have a warm home today. Bless those who need a warm place for their bodies and a shelter for their souls. Bless our families and friends as we gather to share life and light. Keep our hearts always open and reaching to one another, that our love may grow and may sustain us in all things. Bless those struggling with illness and loneliness. Bless those in prisons of cement and razor wire, and the prisons of addiction and pain. Thank you, God, for the reminder that the whole story is your love at our beginning, our middle and our end. Thank you for John’s reminder that we are yours and you are ours. We pray in Christ, our life and light. Amen. Amen and Amen.”
Merry Christmas and be blessed, Rev Todd
Fourth Sunday of Advent: God is With Us
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
Third Sunday of Advent, the Rose Candle
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
Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 4 2022
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.
First Sunday of Advent, Nov 27 2022
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
Thanksgiving Thoughts 2022
This is the text of my Thanksgiving letter to the church family at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. I share the same sentiments and prayers with you!
It’s Thanksgiving Day, again! I realize that some of us may not have been raised with a family or cultural tradition around the official holiday of Thanksgiving, but I know we all have people and blessings in our lives which cause us to be thankful. When next you spend some time with St. Paul’s letters to the churches, watch for how many times he expresses thankfulness or encourages it in his readers. He often begins letters with his thankfulness and adds thankfulness as an ending to important ideas, like in Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” He mentions gratitude and thankfulness in each of the next two verses as well, wrapping up a longer discussion in the chapter about setting our minds on Christ and living lives of blessing to one another.
Gratitude is a foundation for living joyfully, blessing others around us and for facing all the seasons of life, the best and the most trying. And gratitude is not just a decision or a feeling, but it’s also a practice. We do gratitude. It can be practiced in many ways, with a thankfulness journal, sharing our gratitude with friends and family, simply saying thank you, and it should always be part of prayers.
Speaking of prayers, let’s look at A General Thanksgiving on page 836 of The Book of Common Prayer. It has a beautiful way of leading us to explore all the areas of gratitude in our lives…
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love. We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us. We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.
I love the way this prayer takes us on a short journey through all the various seasons and landscapes of life; we have the world around us, the people around us, the work we do and the work of God in us. Seasons and landscapes may change, and days can be better or worse, but gratitude is a constant upon which we can build our lives.
How will we practice gratitude on Thanksgiving Day? How can we weave the practice into daily life? I invite you to try some different things, from listing items of gratitude (counting our blessings), to taking some quiet time to meditate on sources of joy in life. And in all things I pray that God blesses you in the day on Thursday and in all of the coming holiday season.
With peace, Rev Todd
Feast of Christ the King
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
All Saints Sunday 2022
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
Walking Humbly With God
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
Wildly, Powerfully Kind
“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.
My sermon of October 23, 2022 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
We continue today on our three week exploration of that amazing summation of God’s will for us given by the prophet Micah, to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. Last week we began with doing justice, and as we looked at the scriptural record, the prophetic witness and the teaching of Christ and others, we arrived at the point of defining justice as the upholding of human dignity. Acting and speaking to establish and protect and dignity of all people is how we are a just people in God’s eyes. Today we come to the second of the three admonitions, to love kindness.
When we speak of kindness, does someone in your life come automatically to mind? We know kindness when we see it, it’s compassionate and generous, it builds people up, increasing joy and lessening hurt. If someone says “well, I was actually being kind” we know that’s suspect, don’t we? Kindness doesn’t need an apology and it’s easily recognized because of the fruit it bears in life.
It makes sense that we build our understanding of kindness on the justice we defined last week, the upholding of human dignity. Kindness is justice in action. It comes from a place of seeing the intrinsic value and worth of a person, and acting on it. It’s going to look like courtesy and compassion and it will be evidence of our just view of people. You’ve known kind people; kind people are the folks who practice the welcome and hospitality that the prophets said God expected to see among the people. Kind folks are quick to share, quick to compliment, slow to turn away, slow to judge and more curious than condemning. Many English translations have the word mercy in place of kind, and that works too… the merciful overlook the little things, give the benefit of the doubt, forgive, and lend a hand when they can.
According to the English dictionaries I perused this week, Kindness is the quality of being generous, helpful and caring for other people… the Hebrew for kindness in Micha’s writing is chesed, a love and generosity between people, ultimately modeled on God’s covenantal love. Though it’s never an easy task to fully render an ancient Hebrew word into English today, with all of its nuances, there’s no hidden messaging or major traps here… it’s talking about deliberate, chosen kindness.
We really see this in Jesus, don’t we?
- Jesus saw people’s value and honored it with compassion and time, like with the woman who snuck up to touch his garment in Mark 5 and Jesus stopped to talk with her,
- Jesus saw people’s potential and invested in it, like when he saw short-statured Zacchaeus up in a tree top in Luke 19 and didn’t laugh, but said, “I’m coming to your house!”,
- Jesus saw people confused and in need and didn’t judge them for it, like the crowds who were directionless as sheep without a shepherd at the end of Matthew 9,
- Jesus saw people in all their human complexity and refused to discard them, as when someone caught in adultery in John 8 was dragged before him and he chose not to judge, but to rescue.
Kindness changes lives for the better! Kindness creates possibilities and opens opportunities.
You know the familiar passage from St. Paul… “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-25
Kindness is the fruit we bear in our lives which plants seeds in other lives. You know that’s the difference between fruits and vegetables, right? In general, fruits have seeds in them while vegetables don’t. Besides a few troublemakers like tomatoes, the rule generally holds. Kindness is a way of life that can be contagious and can multiply.
Things like kindness, the fruit born in our lives by the work and presence of the Spirit, can be powerful in reach and implication. I spent some time this week looking back at a powerful chain of kindness in action which is still blessing people today. Perhaps you know the story of Father Trevor Huddlestone an Anglican Priest in South Africa who bitterly opposed Apartheid. He would doff his hat in respect to a young Desmond Tutu’s mother, and because of his example of kindness Desmond decides he must follow the same path into the priesthood. The story of Fr. Huddlestone’s kindness varies slightly from source to source, but his kindness paves the way for an Archbishop Tutu to become the force he was against Apartheid, fighting for the dignity of all people, leading in reconciliation, and especially being outspoken in upholding the dignity of LGBTQ folks. His example and life continue to bless us, today.
Kindness is not meek and mild. Kindness is powerful, active and challenging for our world!
Exploring the call to love kindness from Micah, we might ask ourselves:
- What fruit of kindness am I cultivating in my life with intention?
- Who has been compassionate, generous and caring for me, and how can I pass that along?
- Who is in need of my compassion, generosity and care?
- What might be getting in the way of my kindness? What am I loving instead?
- Earlier and later in Galatians 5 St. Paul does give a list of things that get in the way… self-indulgence, biting and devouring each other, sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, sorcery, fights, strife, jealousy, anger, argument, divisions, choosing sides against each other, envy, drunkenness, conceit and competition. I’m not sure about you, but sorcery isn’t a struggle for me… but anger? Envy? Being argumentative? Being selfish? Yeah, there are things in my own heart which would fight against kindness.
Too often, it seems, that kindness is the first thing to be sacrificed on the altar of our political, economic, social or religious competitions. Kindness is left behind in the dust cloud of our angers, divisions and biting at one another.
Kindness is a choice, like choosing justice. It’s a calling; it’s the way we live. It’s who we were meant to be. Remember when St. Paul told the church in Ephesus in the middle of Ephesians 2, “we’re made for this, made for goodness, made to be doing good.” (That was my paraphrase!) We just have to move over all the other stuff that has gotten in the way, and then follow God on the world changing path of kindness. May God’s Spirit give us the wisdom, courage and opportunity to be wildly kind!
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
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