Category Archives: Sermons

Homiletics

A Life’s Work

help-yourself-help-others

There is a story that some of you may have heard before, but it bears repeating every now and then, about a chicken and a pig who visit a small town.  The chicken remarks how in every restaurant window there hangs a sign that reads ‘Ham and Eggs’.  The chicken remarks on how awesome it is that their two species have had such an outstanding influence on the world of men and tells the pig that they should double . . . even triple . . . their efforts in helping to feed the human race.  The pig, after some reflection about the idea, responds to the chicken that “it is easy for you hens to double your efforts, because for you it is only a contribution . . . but for us pigs, it requires a total commitment”.

Today’s gospel today is particularly relevant to me as a general contractor who has over the years estimated the cost of hundreds, perhaps thousands of projects, both great and small.  There is no doubt that (the carpenter) Jesus knew exactly from whence he came in speaking about the possible pitfalls in the estimation, financing and building of a tower.     

A few years back my company completed the building of the Niagara Falls International Airport Terminal, a thirty million dollar structure that took two years to build.   The building of this project required the expertise of hundreds of others who worked tirelessly to accomplish this highly complex building design.  Nearly all of the subcontractor firms and project managers were hand selected by me because I was aware from past experience exactly who would be capable of keeping us on track and had the resources and wherewithal to solve problems on the fly.  They were those who, like me, were willing to totally commit themselves to a project that, at the very outset was, fraught with problems. 

Then there were also with us others who contributed to the project.  These were people who I did not know and who I did not choose and who had no real vested interest in the project; but yet because they held the purse strings . . . the gold . . . they were the one’s who made the project possible since it was their idea.  They were in fact the ‘hens’ of the project who always wanted us to double our efforts through no sweat of their own.  These two groups, those who contribute, and those who commit are an integral part of every project and there isn’t a construction project out there that would be completed without both the drive and the means.  But how much better things would be if both groups shared a common commitment and a common vision to arrive at the final goal?

Although Jesus today speaks about a construction project in the gospel lesson, he is not specifically speaking about actually estimating and building a tower project or of a king being defeated because he did not plan well enough.  He is speaking about another thing . . . he is speaking about the project of our life’s work and how it is helped and shaped by God and / or influenced by others (perhaps some who may not be so pure) and how it may or may not be completed in the end without  total commitment on the part of ourselves.

He tells us something hard to take in all at once . . . “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  And we wonder what does he mean by this?  What is he really saying?  For most all of us, the people closest to us are the most important things in our lives.  I, like you would do anything to keep our families safe from harm because we love and cherish them more than life itself.  How many stories have you heard where a father or a mother risked their own lives to save the life of a child.  And yet Jesus is telling us we must be willing to give them all up and take up our cross in order to follow him.

In order to understand this saying we need to come to the realization that one saved soul in the eyes of God is a priceless thing gained at the greatest of cost.  The gospels infer that its worth is known only to God and we will never really be able to comprehend its value.  You and I came into the world quite alone (with nothing) and in the end we will leave this place in basically the same way.   It is God who has given us a life and a purpose . . . and it is God who will one day take it away.

LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *

you know my sitting down and my rising up;

you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places *

and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *

but you, O LORD, know it altogether

           

From the Psalm this morning you can see that this relationship God desires is a highly personal one that transcends our thoughts and our dreams and perhaps everything else we know to be familiar . . . even the family that we hold most dear.  The words from the Psalm to me suggest a melding of our spirits into one perhaps like a lover’s dream but with even greater intimacy and familiarity.  It is this fusing of the spirits that Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and countless sages wrote about regarding their relationship with God in their lives.  And it is our life’s work to strengthen this relationship by striving to be at one with God even as we walk a path separate from Him in this world.  Today Jesus meant that this means putting aside mother and father and sister and brother and all the things the world offers as our heart’s desire in our lives  . . . and instead striving to put God and our relationship with Him first in everything we do.  Only in this way can we truly be called as his disciples.

But you may ask how do we do it?  How do we continually strengthen or renew a relationship of spirit with someone who is so incomprehensible?  Think of your own life and its relationships with others. Those that are strongest are those where honest communication is a hallmark.  The ones that are weakest are the ones where there is ambivalence.  Wise families strive to fight ambivalence and find strength in eating and playing and talking together.  Groups find strength in working together.  Lovers find strength in living and sleeping together.  Communities find strength in building together  . . . and so it is with us and God. 

Each week as we come together as a church, we are endeavoring to build on the relationship we have as community of believers and as individuals in communion with God.  Each day as we set about our work, we offer prayer and praise to God as a way of keeping the lines of communication open, in order to perceive his will for us in our daily lives.  In this way, when the time comes for us to go, we will be welcomed into a familiar presence as a grateful friend and not as a stranger.  This is a Christian’s life’s work.  This is what Christianity is all about, a relationship with Christ.

This life’s work that Jesus is speaking about is not something we can retire from.  It is not only the work we have done (or will do) over our lifetime . . . to keep bread on the table and a roof over our head.  It may include these things but it is not these things.  The work Jesus refers to is the project of your life, the one He bought back for you at Calvary and the one you may either merely contribute toward the maintenance of in a physical sense . . . or . . . commit yourself totally to its continual growth in the spiritual sense.  In short, the life he speaks of is not what you do in this life but who you will be in the next.

There is a famous book (still in print), written in 1678 by John Bunyan entitled The Pilgrim’s Progress.  It is among my favorites (I’ve read it at least 5 or 6 times) and I recommend it to any of you.  It is an allegory of what Jesus was trying to explain in today’s lesson.  John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while sitting in an English prison.  His crime was that he held a church service that was not sanctioned by the Church of England, the Anglican Church . . .  our church, if the truth be known.

Pilgrim’s Progress catalogs the journey of Christian, a man who is seeking his salvation on a pilgrimage to Heaven. Along the way, Christian encounters many obstacles that test his faith as well as many characters that are useful in showing him the difference between right and wrong, from the perspective of Christian religious faith. After Christian attains his heavenly reward, his family completes a pilgrimage to join him. The story is told as a dream, this seventeenth century religious classic uses Bible verses mixed with allegorical characters to preach a very unusual evangelist message.

Christian sets out on a journey to save his soul. He leaves behind his friends and family in the City of Destruction and follows the advice of his spiritual guide, a man named Evangelist, in order to reach the Celestial City. His first obstacle is the Slough of Despair, which he manages to overcome with the help of a kind stranger but with the loss of all his possessions. Christian is admitted into the Wicket Gate, the official starting point of his journey to the Celestial City. Only those who are invited through this gate are eligible for entrance into the Celestial City.  This book is a powerful representation of our Life’s Work that Jesus describes for us.

Like the character Christian, each of us is on a journey.  God helps us along by sending friends and family members and strangers to help us overcome the world and its trials.  Through constant perseverance and personal responsibility and with the help of our faith we strive to overcome addictions and dependencies as we fight our way through life.  However, winning can only happen if we are truly committed to keeping our eye on the prize which is the Kingdom of God.

However, as Christian learns firsthand, there are stumbling blocks that some will face along the way.  They sometimes come in the form of people who claim to be our friends . . . but who really are not.  They come as temptations to veer us off the correct, but stony, path onto a smooth and well traveled road that leads to utter destruction and despair. And then of course there are those who ‘help’ us by contributing to the complexity of our life by loading upon us more and more responsibility until we cannot bear to stand any longer.  But worse by far, are those who stand by ridiculing our moves as wrong even while they are suffering in their own afflictions.

The choice God gives us is clear, though almost no one understands it.  Our goal is to work out the project of our life as best and expedient for us as individuals all the while helping all those around us attain success in their life’s work as well.  Through living a pious life of thanksgiving and loving without reservation, and having empathy and good-will towards our neighbor we will fulfill the law which has been written in our hearts, thus making us true and worthy disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because in the end of life, it is not what we have gathered together or have built that will count in our favor . . . but only what we have given freely away. 

Amen

Connections

Connect

A few weeks ago at work I had an experience that many computer users fear most.  Upon trying to open a file, my screen spit out the ominous message “attempting to open a corrupt file” and then it just stopped in its tracks with a resound-less crash and then of course the worse possible scenario happened . . . the dreaded . . . ‘Blue Screen of Death!’.  Being a computer user with some thirty years of experience, I tried every trick I could think of to repair the error, until finally I gave up, called the IT guy about the problem, and went home wondering ‘Why me, Lord?’. Why does it always happen to me?’  But, as I drove home, I got to thinking that in reality, problems with computers in fact, never happen to me, but when they do they are so very annoyingly noticeable, and, at least in my own mind, always seem to border on the catastrophic.

When I returned to work the next morning, the problem had been repaired with a little note to remind me that problems like these are the price we occasionally have to pay for being connected.  My software program, an adobe reader/writer, had somehow been corrupted by a faulty plug-in file somewhere out there in hyperspace causing a system wide failure that was, in ‘computer speak’ a fatal error.

But, the lesson in all this wasn’t totally lost on me as God was able to use this incident to clarify something that was bothering me for past few days about today’s readings.

It has been speculated that the internet is probably the most significant invention by man since the invention of the wheel.  We are creators of the computer, and not surprisingly, most of its components have been made pretty much in our own image.  Printers represent hands, hard drives represent memory, programs represent skills, monitors, keyboards, speakers and cameras represent speech and communication centers.  Just like us, a computer can be born, live out its life and die . . . and sometimes in a most horrible death.  As a single device, a computer is nothing more than a hard working information machine, but when connected through the world wide web, our computers and iphones become something much more than the sum of their parts, something that is still evolving through infinite numbers of appliances, wires and ubiquitous connections known only to the designers. We can only dream of what is next in the evolution of this technology.

People, like computers in this new internet age, are connected to one another in ways that are sometimes quite obvious but at other times quite incomprehensible.  We draw on each other’s altruism and knowledge to solve problems and we suffer at each other’s cruelty and apathy as we strike out against each other’s ideologies.  Because today we are not only connected by our relationships but also connected by our technology, the hurt we inflict on each other is not only magnified by sight and sound but is felt everywhere, almost immediately, throughout the world, on our computer monitors and on our television screens.  As witness to the power of these sights and sounds, how many of us witnessed the horrible acts last week in Syria or the Boston Bombers a few months ago or of 911 in real time or the Challenger accident?  I, for one, experineced all of them.

The problem that can happen by being so connected is that we as a people are left wide open and vulnerable to whatever those connections may bring.  As our home computer is subject to assaults from viruses and worms sent by people who wish to cause us harm, so we ourselves are also subject to the assaults of our enemies through word and deed and the spreading of ideologies contrary to our core beliefs.  When enough of us are convinced or turned to one way or another, a critical mass is formed and revolution is not far off on the horizon. This is how the messages of hate and evil are spread and the way evil feeds on the fear of others.

So what can we do?  Well, we have three choices . . . (one that has been taken by way too many believers judging by our many empty pews) . . . to simply shut down, stay away and let others take up the cause, i.e. we can choose to live in benign neglect of our own salvation and our own beliefs.  The attitude of ‘I don’t need you and you don’t need me’ may work until one day there comes a problem that cannot be solved on our own and we are forced to face it and fail, or reconcile with each other and overcome it as a community of faith.

The second choice is not much better than the first choice.  The second choice is to become immersed in the psycho-media-religion of the day.  To take on all kinds of belief systems, attitudes and ideologies that basically uphold the humanistic value systems so prevalent in the media and in our self centered and hedonist society. Humanism teaches that it is immoral to wait for God to act for us. Jeremiah describes this best in the Old Testament reading to day . . . But my people have changed their glory for something that does not profit.  Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says the LORD,  for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water. Humanism tells us that whatever our philosophy of the universe may be, ultimately the responsibility for the kind of world in which we live rests with us and not with God.  Jeremiah tells us that our humanistic beliefs consist of cracked cisterns and arguments that cannot hold water.

The third choice is that we can stand as a group united, connected and resisting the assaults of the enemy that are thrown our way.  As in today’s lesson Paul exhorts us to let love be mutual, show hospitality to strangers. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled. In other words “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”. 

In the church today there are many issues that divide the orthodox and conservative from the progressive and liberal.  Not surprisingly, it’s not the first time this has happened.  There have been many such controversies starting at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. where a bloody fist fight broke out and two priests were officially cursed and anathematized over the words we say each week in the Nicene Creed. Then of course, there was the reformation, where believers in one camp (the Roman Catholic Church) went to war with believers in another (the Reformers) in Germany mainly over one teaching of Paul called the doctrine of Justification of Faith and the Church’s subsequent split.  In our most recent times there was a great controversy over the release of a new prayer book in 1979 which this church, the Anglican Church of America was so vehemently opposed to.  And then, of course, there are the continuing controversies over the gender of priests and same sex marriage issues that continue to be dividing issues in many places. 

The third choice is of course the way to get though it . . . to humbly sit, to wait, to listen and to decide what truly is the will of God.  But while we are watching and waiting, we need to be open to the power of God to amend our lives, to heal the brokenness of our spirits and to strengthen us in all things.  We can do this in having faith that God will bring into connection with us, others of the body who are willing to be called into the same service . . . “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”  What Paul is saying to us in the New Testament is that we, as the Body of Christ, are dependent on each other for our mutual spiritual support.  It is not only ‘a nice thing to do when we have time’, but our bounden duty to use the gifts that God has given us to work and pray for the strengthening of his kingdom.

Many think that the focus of such ministry is on the priest or the vestry, but it is not.  The focus of ministry is on all believers according to their gifts as bestowed upon them at their baptism.  The priest and the vestry are connections or strands in the fabric of one’s spiritual life but they are not the only ones, there are others including your family, your friends and those with whom you work.  We, as the church of Saint Nicholas, form a wonderful tapestry of soul’s as it were, each connected to each other by the spirit that lives within all of us; each different in race or gender or heritage or custom, but each very much the same in being loved as a child of God.  When one is added we all rejoice, and when one is lost, we all mourn.  This is as it has been since the creation and will be until we are all called home.

I believe that this church is poised and now ready to begin a new work of renewal in the spirit.  The liturgical roots that have been faithfully kept since the inception of this church provide both foundation and substance to what we have to offer as a community of faith.  I can tell you that from my travels throughout the various churches and places in Western New York, there are hundreds of people outside these walls that would give anything to have what we have; a place of quiet dignity in an environment of mutual love.  If they knew what was here, I know that they would come.  It is up to each of us to invite them and let them know that all are welcome.  Amen

Right on Red

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           Nearly forty years ago a traffic law was changed in order to make our hurried lives a little more hurried.  It was a change that many had hoped would finally be passed in order to ease the congestion in many of our major cities.  It was the change in the traffic law that made it possible to permit all of us to be able to turn right on a red light.  If you are new to driving, you may not know this, but at one time a red light actually meant “stop”, no turns, no anything.

            The day this alteration in the rules of traffic was passed – was a day long hoped for by the driving public.  It gave us all a freedom to go about our business without wasting time sitting at red lights.  Everyone began exercising their new right all at once, well. . . almost everyone, because some people took a little longer to catch on to it than others.  I can remember waiting behind a row of cars, all wanting to turn right on red, but unable to because of someone up at the light sitting and waiting for the light to turn green.  The more considerate drivers just sat and fumed while the majority sat and leaned on their horns, screamed and yelled out the window to ‘get out of the way’.  Of course the driver of the car up front, probably to this day, didn’t know why everyone was making such a commotion

            The best thing about this new law was that everyone liked it.  In fact if you were to ask today whether we should return to the ‘good old days’ when red meant stop, I doubt you would find even one person who would rather sit and wait at a red light.  But unfortunately, not everyone was happy about the new law at the time it came into being.

            You see, the new law came with some fine print, some exceptions, that had to be followed, though it seems few, if any, ever knew it.  One is that school buses are ineligible to turn right on red, as are many of the larger ten and eighteen wheeled vehicles and tanker trucks.  Second is that cross traffic has the right of way – this means that the old law is still in effect until cross traffic clears and you have to stop completely before turning.  Thirdly, and most importantly, pedestrians are considered cross traffic and also have the right of way, especially if there is a crosswalk.

            While driving around Niagara Falls this week, you would never have guessed that there was any limitation to the Right on Red law at all.  I have witnessed first hand being cut off by someone turning in my lane as if I weren’t even there.  I saw pedestrians nearly run down as cars zoomed around corners honking their horns.  I saw whole lines of cars with there right turn signals on honking at a bus at the head of the line.  They must not have seen the little sign that read ‘this vehicle doesn’t turn on red”

            How many of you have been honked at (or perhaps worse) to turn right even though you had no intention of turning right at all?  How many of you as pedestrians, have been nearly run down by careless drivers turning right on a red light?  I know I have, and my guess is that you have too.

            So how did this good law turn so ugly?  Didn’t the driving public ever read the fine print?  Or was this a case of the old adage, ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’?  Did a law that was changed to give us more freedom in our lives, to make our lives run smoother, create a whole army of drivers bent on exercising the leniency of this law at the expense of all else?  Did something change that made drivers who were originally subject to the law – all of a sudden – above the law?

            Some years ago I was invited to dinner at the house of six Iraqi soldiers who were sent here to Buffalo by our government as a result of an armistice agreement to all of Saddam Hussein’s’ forces.  During the first war in Iraq, we told Saddam’s army, ‘if you desert your post, the United States will take care of you’, and so we did.  After two years in a Saudi POW camp, these six were sent to the United States.  I guess you could say that they were sentenced to life in Buffalo, NY.

            As it turns out, these Iraqi soldiers lived under special dietary laws.  They were all Shiite Moslems, who follow the dietary laws of Abraham in the Old Testament.  Like the orthodox Jews, they are unable to eat meat that isn’t blessed before it is killed.  They can’t eat pork and certain bottom scavenger fish or any prepared canned food made with milk, cheese, or animal fat.  On their first day, they asked if we could provide them with a small lamb or goat so that they could kill it and prepare it for their dinner.  Needless to say, they were a tough crowd to please.

            It all eventually worked out though.  We found that they could eat whole fish as long as they cleaned it and they could eat canned goods and prepared foods as long as they were marked as kosher.  Also they could eat any fruit or vegetable or pasta.  Now you may think that they should have been thankful for any help they received, but they were trying as best they could to live out their religion.  To tell you the truth, I found it somewhat refreshing to see people so fervent in their beliefs that they would rather starve then break the law under which they were subject.

            If some of the fathers in the early church had had their way, we as Christians, would be subject to these same Old Testament dietary laws.  If it were not for the proliferation of Christianity to the gentiles by Paul and the relaxation of some of the laws that applied to the Jews; we too, would find ourselves subject to these very same dietary laws.  But we are not.  We have sort of taken a spiritual ‘Right on Red’ that has given us a freedom that neither the Orthodox Jews nor the Moslems are able to enjoy to this day.  But with this freedom from the Old Testament laws has come a greater responsibility to know and understand the ‘fine print’.

            Because we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior and intend to lead a new life following the commandments of God and walking in his ways…. then, as Paul explains throughout his letters in the New Testament…. we as followers of Christ, who once were gentiles, are not subject to the Jewish dietary laws, nor are we subject to the circumcision requirements of the Old Testament.  The laws concerning these acts of subjection have been relaxed and we can eat anything we want, we do not need to kill and butcher our own meat, nor do we need to show ourselves to the priest for a healing, nor do we need to sacrifice animals for the atonement of our sins.

            In fact, since Jesus has come and has died and has risen again – we have been granted a great freedom from all these things through faith in his blood and sacrifice.  This freedom has released us from many of the rules and regulations that our orthodox brothers and sisters find themselves subject, but at the same time it has caused division between our faiths.

            But, just like the Right on Red law, there are limits to this freedom that we have been given.  Though the law was relaxed for our sakes. . . it was not removed.  There are still Red Lights that we are bound to obey.  As it is written in the epistles, women are still subject to their husbands and husbands are still required by the law to love and support their wives and the Lord continues to discipline those whom he loves.  Some might be offended by these passages.  In fact many in the Church are offended by the sayings of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

As I have read the scriptures throughout my life, I have found that the places where I, personally, have the most trouble with the words of Jesus are the places where he demands my attention.  One of those attention getters is in the Gospel today where Jesus says “Do you think that I have come to bring peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division.”

            We as Christians, and especially those Christians who are called Liberal, do not like to be told to do anything.  The freedom that we enjoy as followers of Christ, both for the conservative and liberal, is sometimes misconstrued.  We often get the mistaken idea that the Kingdom of God is a democracy like our own United States of America.  We often get the mistaken idea that we can decide for ourselves what is best for us by majority rule.  But this is simply not the case.

            We seem to have the impression that, because we elect our representatives, our senators, our bishops, our judges and our presidents that the Kingdom of God is some kind of grand democracy.  Our Lord and Savior takes on a role as some kind of elected Prime Minister whom we have chosen to do our will.  But God is not our Prime Minister . . . He is our King!  We did not choose Him – He chose us – and that is where our biggest hang-up is.  This is where the division between the liberal and the orthodox starts.  Some of us want a democracy where we have some say in the rule of the universe.  Some of us want to be able to change laws that upset us and language that offends us in the name of an ‘all inclusive’ god who we may create in our own image.

            But such is not the case at all.  Because when we call our Lord “Lord of lords” and “King of kings” we are no longer talking about a democracy where we all have some small say, but a Monarchy where we are subject to him who is Lord of all.

And though we might like to spiritually turn ‘right on red’ whenever we please, we are bound by the spirit of the law to be subjects of our King; to be obedient to his commands and teachings.  Because, if we abandon his commandments and disregard his teachings, are we not in effect creating for ourselves a god of our own choosing or perhaps even a god in our own image?

         And so the divisions and the arguments go on . . . between the Catholics and the Protestants . . . between the liberals and the conservatives . . . between Orthodox Anglicans and Liberal Episcopalians and all for the question of who God is and how He is made known to us.

            So you might ask, how do we know that what we believe is right? . . . how do we know it is true?  Or at least . . . what to orthodox conservatives believe so that we might compare what we believe to what they believe to be true?

            The orthodox position is that we believe that no one can know the love of God on our own.  But even if we are alone with no one near us with whom to share it, we are surrounded by a host of heavenly witnesses eager to speak to our heart . . .  and the voice that speaks to our heart is one and the same voice who spoke to the prophets and the messengers of old.  The orthodox believe that we are not free to add to that voice or detract from that voice, because the love of God demands that we submit to Him and obey his word and commands.  We know there are other voices out there, but, if we wish to remain faithful to God’s love, we must learn to avoid them.  We believe that not every revelation we might experience is from the divine nor is every spiritual experience from God.  Distinguishing the true from the false and clinging to that which is good is vital to the health and wellbeing of our relationship with God.  And it is the specialized task for our clergy, our bishops, priests and deacons, to keep everyone’s eyes fixed on what is right.

            First off you need to know that God’s love for you is ever constant and unchanging, but our love for him has many ups and downs.  We know that we are easily distracted and are seldom able to concentrate exclusively on this relationship.  Without correction from time to time through the written word of the bible and through the liturgy and through other people who care for us, we would soon go astray and lose the joy of our relationship with God, even if we do not lose the relationship itself.  We believe that in the depth of his love, God really does want what is best for us.  It is to help us toward that end that he has given us enough understanding of Himself to enable us to attain the final goal that all believers must seek.

            Orthodox Christianity believes that every human being, regardless of his estate or condition, is created in God’s image and likeness, and is therefore uniquely privileged to have a relationship with God, but the quality of that relationship varies enormously from one individual to another.  For the majority of people in the world it is broken and dysfunctional because we have rebelled against God and are no longer willing or able to enter into the kind of love relationship God wants for us.  But we know that for some people, the brokenness of the past has often become the instrument that God uses to put things right in the future . . . so that in the context of the entire human race, these people may not be very large in number but those who have been restored to God’s grace are an enormous company of saints drawn from every race, every nation and every language and every place and every time.  They are the cloud of witnesses Paul refers to today and they bound together by nothing more than their shared experience of the love of God at work within their lives . . . but that love is everything to them and is no less than a new birth or new creation in which the old self has been transformed and made new without the old self being denied or discarded.  We believe that we are destined for eternity with God even as we struggle in our daily lives to obey him as our Lord.  And that is the reason we are bound to the written word for direction in our lives.  Scripture for us is central to our understanding of the way God works and that is why we are so insistent about adhering to the faith as once delivered to us from the saints, in word and in deed through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

            Christians may have taken a ‘right on red’ at the coming of Jesus into our world but the law has not changed . . . it has only been fulfilled.          Orthodox Christianity, that is, the three branches of the Catholic faith, has no choice but to continue to uphold the law, even as others ignore and abuse it.

            Pray for the church universal, and pray for it often and diligently because it needs it more today than at any time in its history.   Pray that it does not abandon the teachings of Jesus in its pursuit of radical hospitality.  Pray that it will realize division is a part of the Christian Walk.  Pray that when it sees a Red Light it will at least stop to see Who it is about to run over before it makes another right turn.

Amen.

Faith

Faith

In today’s epistle, Paul writes a cryptic remark when he states . . . “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen”.   What do you think he means by that . . .  the assurance of things hoped for . . .  and the conviction of things not seen?

All of us, I am sure, have faith to one degree or another.  But I think that most of us would agree that we do not have nearly enough of it.  Why is that?  Do we not believe strongly enough?  Is our sense of the spiritual world not quite whole?  Why do we always feel like we are somehow lacking in faith?  Especially when faced with some of the more debilitating slings and arrows of life.

Jesus tells us that if we have faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, that we can move mountains.  Nothing is insurmountable.  Yet most of us have a hard time finding enough faith to just get out of bed in the morning.

So what is faith?  And how do we find it?  And most importantly, how do we keep it once we’ve got it?  These are the questions we need to think about this morning.

A friend of mine, who was an agnostic, once told me that “Faith is like trying to find a black cat in a dark room that isn’t there”.  Meaning he thought faith was a trick of nature played by God on all his people.  In his agnostic frame of mind, he believed that God . . . if he did exist, was pushing our buttons ‘sort of speak’ when it came to the issue of faith.  That faith, like hope, was a figment of our collective imaginations.

But, I can tell you that it is nothing of the sort.  Faith is as real, or perhaps even ‘realer’ than the pews you are sitting on.  Though you cannot see it or hold it, it is here none the less.  Like love and grace, faith, can be perceived best in those who have it.

Have you ever known someone who exuded an aura of goodness around him or her?  Not the current vernacular aura of new age science, but an almost perceptible force of goodness surrounding them.  They might be anybody, rich or poor, young or old.  But something is perceptively different about them that is different from almost every other person you might know.  It is the feeling of ‘safe’ that you get when you are around them.  Like in the midst of turmoil and explosive circumstances you know everything is okay, that everything will somehow be all right.

I felt this in a person a few weeks ago when she came to St. Nicholas for a visit.  You may remember Ann Marie Zon, who came here to tell the story of the Nicaraguan Project.  Her very presence was inspiring, to say the least.  That day, she really didn’t have to actually say anything to get attention.  To me it seemed as if the universe was focused in and around her.  When she spoke, it was as if God himself was speaking to us using Marie’s lips.  To me, it was quite dramatic.  You got the impression that she believed so strongly, without a waiver in her voice, that she could do anything at all with a single whisper.  That is what a strong faith looks like.  That is what a strong faith is.

And that is what our faith ought to look like.  But, many wonder, how do I find the faith I need to even begin to get started?  The Bible tells us that faith comes from hearing the Word of God.  That means that faith can be found in the stories of old, in the Bible.  It can also be found in a preacher’s sermon, so long as it is Biblically based.  It can be found in the prayers of the faithful, for that too is the word of God as it is brought forth into the world; and it can be found in the words and meditations of our own hearts, for even there God lives within us.

But, the hardest part about finding faith is that there are so many other things that distract us from recognizing it when it is right on top of us.  All too often the TV is blaring, the CD player is running, the kids are shouting and neighbor’s lawn mower is going.  There is no time with work, responsibilities and the business of life to simply stop . . .  and say ‘Lord help me have the faith I need to be whole’.  But we all need to know that, that is exactly what He is waiting to hear from us.  A time to be holy . . .  ‘apart from our everyday lives’ where God has our undivided attention.

For myself, I find this time of reflection in reading books and in writing sermons like this one.  Writing sermons, actually makes me read the bible.  It actually makes me think about something other than the gas bill or the insurance payment.  It actually puts me alone in a room with God (which can be a scary thought at times).  Somehow, it makes it possible for God to get my full attention, and for those of you who know me, I am usually thinking about ten things at once most of the time.  At work, I may be the king of multi-tasking; but not when it comes to this special time in my life.  But best of all, it makes a time when I have God’s attention.  I think about us, here at St. Nicholas’, and the problems I know some of you are facing.  I think about the readings and what they might be saying to me and to you.  I think about my place in the universe and God’s control over almost all that I am.  This is how you find faith . . .  through prayer and gentle conversation with God and in reading and re-reading the Story . . .  The Story with the capital ‘S’ so that you might know it backwards and forwards and inside and out.

Well, you might think that’s great for you, Fr. Ed, you have to write sermons, and you are expected to meditate . . .  you’re the priest!  But that’s where you think wrong.  We are all God’s children.  We are all God’s ministers.  Should He not expect something from each and every one of us?  Perhaps not a sermon . . . or a journal entry, but maybe just fifteen minutes to just ‘check in’ with him?

In today’s Gospel Jesus talks about preparedness and how important it is to our faith should something befall us.  Obviously, if we knew a flood would happen here in Buffalo tomorrow, we would all head for the hills.  We would take some precautions at least to keep ourselves and our family’s safe.  God tells us that there is a spiritual battle approaching and that we ought to be prepared, even though we have no idea when to expect it.  Keeping our faith strong is part of the preparedness he is talking about.

Little kids have this spirit of preparedness, especially around Christmas time.  Little kids around that time of the year, live in constant expectation.  They all experience the assurance of things hoped for and they all hold the conviction of things unseen.  Why?  Because they trust in their mommies and daddies to provide them with all the things they desire.  And on Christmas morning they awaken to the climax of Christmas when the faith they hold is transposed into real blessings that they can see and touch and rejoice in.

Wouldn’t it be something if grown-ups could live like their kids at Christmas time; always in joyful expectation of a miracle around the corne?  Isn’t that what Jesus tells. . .  to enter the kingdom as a little child with eyes wide in joyful expectation!  That, my friends, is faith and that is the kind of faith we should be praying for.

The final question is once we have this faith, how do we keep it?  All too often we find ourselves on the downward side of the mountain.  Something wonderful happens, but all of a sudden reality comes crashing through the gates of our bliss and we find ourselves alone with our old thoughts and in our old lives.  These down periods are devastating to faith because they chip away at our belief, at our religion and at our psyche.    We can combat these feelings by staying connected, especially to each other.  Like recovering alcoholics, we need a support structure to help us through the more difficult times of our lives.  For most of us, our support structure is our families; but all too often we forget that our church companions can offer great assistance that sometimes our families cannot.  All too often though, we think that we don’t want to burden our friends with our problems.  But, that is exactly what we are supposed to do.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  Let us prayerfully accept the limitations of our lives while we pray for faith to be revealed in each and every one of us.  Amen

Wisdom of Age

god_and_wisdom

Back when I began working in the 70’s I was employed as an intern in the research engineering department at a manufacturing company in Buffalo.  One day the company received an order for an offset fly wheel from a customer in Sweden for one the many machines this company made.  This part happened to be for a mechanical stamping press made in 1910 . . . not exactly a stock item; it was my job to look for a drawing of the part in the engineering archives, which I did, and to produce a template for manufacturing it.  Upon looking at the archive drawing I noticed that the draftsman’s initials were ‘H.K.’ I asked my boss who H.K. may have been, and surprisingly he told me that H.K. still worked here and was sitting at the desk across from me. It was in fact Henry Kartus, a very old fellow I was working with.  Henry Kartus was the American inventor of the hydraulic shear and held the patent on the device.  He had worked at the same company for 50 years and the press that I was looking up was made during the first year that Henry had worked for the company back in 1910.  Since Henry had held the patent on his shear design, the company did not want him to retire.  If he did, they would have to buy out his patent for a huge amount of money or pay him royalty rights.  They were also fearful that Henry’s relatives would inherit the patent if he died.  Instead, every year that passed, the company convinced Henry to stay on another year past his retirement . . . which he did.

During the course of that summer I learned a lot from this eighty year old engineer.  The greatest gift of wisdom that he instilled me is that you really need to love whatever you do, whatever it is . . . and that money should never be the motivation behind one’s life work.  When money becomes our only motivation we will, in essence, give up something of ourselves and we will consequently lose something very important to our spiritual wellbeing.

I came back from lunch one day to find Henry asleep at his desk.  I gave him a tap on his shoulder to tell him it was time to go back to work . . .  but Henry didn’t wake up.  In fact, he had passed away at his desk during his lunch hour.

Jesus tells us throughout the gospels, that one cannot serve God and Mammon (mammon is described in the gospels as wealth) . . . “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.”

We have been taught that money is at the root of all evil, and yet we all know that without money much of the good in the world would come to a grinding halt; and so we are left with a lot of questions that have few good answers.

In the book of Ecclesiastes we will read the words of the preacher who tells us that all our work is vanity (that is, it is futile) and that after all is done, and our life is over, it was all for no reason at all if it was done for the accumulation of wealth or possessions.

He tells us that we need to face the fact that our net worth and all we have gathered and protected throughout our life will one day become another’s property, to either conserve or squander, and we will have no say in the matter . . . A depressing thought indeed.

But some would ask  . . .  then what is it all for?  Is our life but a fleeting fancy that time will all but forget except for our headstone in the end?  Or is there a purpose under heaven for what we hold of value . . .  for what we hold sacred?  In other words, we need to ask again and again then . . . What is the meaning of life?

The sacred stories tell us that we live at odds within ourselves.  We live in a precarious balance between what our physical bodies need and what our spiritual selves require.  Jesus would say that we struggle between the flesh and the spirit and that the two are opposed to each other.  Jesus would also tell us that the flesh is worthless and that only the spirit is of value, and yet in the real world we find the needs of the flesh often far outweigh the needs of the spirit.  So what are we to do?

The author of Ecclesiastes offers us the following advice . . . to seek the wisdom above riches, before honor and in lieu of wealth and suggests that one should endeavor to enjoy the simple pleasures of daily life, such as eating, drinking, and taking enjoyment in one’s work, which are our gifts from the hand of God.

The human condition craves one thing over all else . . . Peace.  Because by living in peace, our security, and the safety of our children is assured for generations.  Happiness becomes a goal, and fulfillment, a reward.  And yet, reading the news each day, it is apparent that very few in the world actually live in peace and therefore fewer still are truly happy and so only a small fraction of us find reward or true fulfillment in what we do.

To somehow compensate for this void in our lives, our society has invented the concept of consumerism.  We have built a society around the concept of consume, consume, consume.  Its’ advertising tries to stimulate our sensuous desires, converting luxuries into necessities, which only intensifies our most inner misery. The business world is bent on creating hungers for its products which never really satisfy, and thus it adds to the incredible frustration of our times.  But, its advertising! . . .  and it’s what we are told will make us happy!  But unfortunately it is all part of a deception and one tremendous lie.

In today’s lesson a young man comes to Jesus and tells him “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me”.  Now we don’t know for sure what the inheritance is but, we can assume it is not readily divisible.  It is most likely a house or farm and the one younger brother wants his share of the wealth now . . . which could destroy the inheritance for both, because it will be sold to others, or it will destroy the peaceful loving relationship of the man’s family.   Jesus, who sees into the heart of all of us, sees only greed in this man.    And he addresses his reply, not just to the man, but to us as well.  “For a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses”. In other words, you are not defined in God’s eyes by what you have.  But no matter what Jesus could offer in the way of an equitable solution, it would seem that neither brother would be happy with the outcome.

Freud examined the issue of whether money could buy happiness, and, what he came up with was that happiness for anyone would be in the fulfillment of early childhood wishes.  But if you think about it, wealth is not a childhood wish, therefore, no amount of money can buy happiness.  Children crave peace, love and security from their parents and consequently, we as grown adults continue to crave peace, love and security from those around us.  When we don’t get what we desire or when we are disappointed with our lot in life, we turn to other ways in which to fill the void in our lives.  For believers, it is God to whom we turn, but for the majority of us, it is money.

For some of us, the pursuit of money can become an addiction. And like any addiction, once we cross the finish line, we find to our frustration that it is only the chase that gets us high.  That’s how as in recent days multimillionaires can be caught stealing money from those who can least afford it and common criminals can prey on the very weakest among us.

What many people attach to money is a statement about themselves.  They think people judge them by it.  For many women, an expensive purse and jewelry is the opening sign in terms of status, or maybe it’s their shoes.  For men it may be a certain kind of car or business title . . . this is acceptance.  It’s a kind of code to indicate ‘You’re okay’ : ‘I’m okay’.

This ‘You’re okay’ sentiment falls into the categorical need for love and belonging. Country clubs are indicators of this need, as are luxury automobiles and Caribbean condominiums and so also, and unfortunately, can be the Church . . . but only if we let it.

Some time ago on television there was a story about a man who quit his job because he simply could not cope with the stress of working any longer.  In the pursuit of the American dream he had become not only rich, but hyper-stressed and emotionally ill.  He and his wife would argue all the time. His children avoided the two of them and he finally realized that his life was on a collision course with a heart attack, a divorce or a nervous breakdown . . . so he quit.  His family thought he was nuts at first, but then his family began to regain what they had lost as they began to come together again.  The man began making guitars by hand, something he had loved to do in his youth, and other people began buying the guitars because they weren’t something mass produced.  And his family life, though poorer, was restored . . . in peace.  The man had traded personal consumption for personal production.

In other words, he found that part of the answer to the secret of life is that it is important to actually DO something, not just buy something. How much sense of accomplishment is derived from doing something one’s self rather than buying something from a store?   When our children start at school the first thing we have them do is to produce something – whether playing a game or making something with their hands.  It creates a feeling of accomplishment.  We should accept no less from our ‘adult’ selves.

The world says “Money is a commodity and a useful commodity.  It can be used to buy things.  And then once you have enough of that commodity . . . then you can use money to buy freedom.”  That is the normal thinking in our society. That is the goal.  But the Bible shows us that this is a lie.  Wealth does not create freedom.  Wealth is a prison because it controls you and your time. And the one commodity you can’t get back in this life is time.  Jesus shows us that the focus of life should be on how we spend our time — in the most productive manner and in the most meaningful ways, by loving God and by loving or neighbors as ourselves and in personal accomplishment.

Peace is a gift and is free to all who ask, even to those who live in war torn countries.  In our church service, the liturgy offers to us the ‘Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of God and in his son, Jesus Christ our Lord’ . . . and when we accept this peace, beyond our  comprehension, we receive God’s blessing and forgiveness of our sins.  This is where True Peace is to be found, without payment and without cost, and to all who ask.  Like the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, peace comes as manna from heaven to everyone who is hungry for it.  It has little or nothing to do with wealth and everything to do with love, with happiness and with the fulfillment of our life.

The spiritual self requires peace, happiness and fulfillment as much as the physical body requires air, and food and water.   Our other self, our flesh if you will, craves acceptance, abundance and security in order to mask the needs of the spirit.  These two selves are in a continual battle to overcome the other.  It is the wisdom of age that gives us the ability to keep our lives in balance by controlling that conflict.

My friend Henry knew this to be true because he died doing something he loved to do.  He was at peace and he was happy because he knew the purpose of his life was fulfilled . . . even as all the while the people around him were desperately trying to gain from Henry’s life’s work, they in the end, lost everything.  Eventually the company was sold to a multi-conglomerate corporation and then a few years later it was forced into bankruptcy, receivership and finally closed.  Nearly a thousand workers eventually lost their jobs, many of whose families never recovered, all because of a certain vanity called greed.

Jesus came to tell us that there is a better way to live.  You need not be wealthy to experience the peace of God in your life . . . you need only accept and believe in the Word of God which passeth all understanding . . . and you will be saved.  Amen

Prayer . . . the Foundation of Our Faith

PrayerForYouth

Back in the 50’s many of us grew up with some nursery songs that kind of explained the way things were at that time.  One of the songs I remember was called ‘This is the way . . . and you may also remember that . . . this is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes . . . this is the way we wash our clothes, so early Monday morning’.  Then of course there the verses about ironing our clothes on Tuesday, and cleaning the house on Wednesday, and shopping on Thursday, and then finally  . . . going to Church . . . so early Sunday morning.

What this song taught us as little children was the accepted way of doing things  . . . at least at that time when so many mothers were home and nearly all of the fathers went to work during the day.

And for us who lived at that time . . . it worked . . . because I would see my mother washing on Mondays along with all the other mothers in the neighborhood who would wash clothes and hang them out to dry in the backyard on long ropes with laundry pins.  They would also clean house on Wednesday and go shopping on Thursday or Friday and then everyone would be off from work on Saturday, when all the fathers in the neighborhood would wash the family car and cut the grass as if in some kind of an army led by an invisible drill instructor . . . it seems like such a long time ago.

 

Why this all made any sense to us was that by each family doing the same things at the same time, it instilled in our lives a sort of natural order that made sense of life.  Like the movement of a clock, everyone knew what was coming the next day and the next day after that.

But when something out of the ordinary was going to happen (like Christmas, Easter or Halloween), it was all pre-planned and taken in stride.

This in effect was the liturgy of the people at that time in our history and like the liturgy of the church it did not change much over the years because nobody found a reason for it to change.

By the end of the 60’s however, many changes in our society were occurring at an alarming rate.  Mothers began to go to work, many at odd times of the day.  Also, there was strife going on in America as people began to realize that some were missing out on equal employment, equal education and the American dream due to skin color and other factors.

And so, the liturgy of the people changed with the times . . . some people began to wash their clothes on Saturday while others began to work at night.  Some men stayed home while their wives took on jobs outside the home.

 

No one sang that little tune of the 50’s anymore because it just wasn’t the way it was anymore.

And then there was the church . . . whose own liturgy had not changed in 500 years and now it was trying to compensate for missing people on Sundays. Desperately trying to stay relevant to the life and times, many churches changed with the times to survive the parishioner’s new found schedules.  The mainline churches began using trial liturgies in order to keep the people’s attention.  But the more they tried new innovations (in schedules, women’s ordinations, inclusive language etc.) the more they lost both people and resources until even at the present day when many churches have totally accepted the liberal agenda and an ever ‘inclusive Christianity’ as a newly invented religion, equal among many . . . the mainline churches continue to falter and decline.

In the epistle today Paul warned us that many would try . . . and would succeed . . . in leading the church astray through innovation and acceptance of ideas that are unbiblical and of no spiritual help.  He tells us “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.”  For indeed, all answers to all questions are derived through Christ who saves us.

And what did Christ say in the Gospel today when asked what to do . . . and how to pray?  Jesus provides for us the basis of communication with God in the simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer, which we all know and use each week in our liturgy.  The Lord’s Prayer has been called the greatest prayer ever imagined.

“Lord, teach us to pray” implored one of Jesus’ disciples after hearing him pray in the gospel story today. The disciples must have witnessed Jesus’ personal magnetism and empowered mission that emanated from his regular intimate communion with His Father.  This surely prompted the request. In response, Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer that, by the end of the first century, was being prayed three times daily simple believers and in churches and monasteries. Since then, it has been the most repeated Christian prayer for nearly 2,000 years.

 

So what is it about the Lord’s Prayer that makes it so comfortable for us and our liturgical order?

 

You may remember back in your Sunday school days of yester-year that there are at least five forms of prayer (or communication) that are acceptable to God.

They are first . . . Adoration in which we praise the greatness of God, and we acknowledge our dependence on him in all things.

Then there is Expiation – a prayer of contrition whereby we acknowledge our sinfulness and ask God for His forgiveness and mercy.

Next there is the prayer of Love or charity which are both just that—expressions of our love for God, the source and object of all love, truly evidenced in our personal commitment and our giving of our time, talents and resources.

Then there are the prayers of petition which are the type of prayer we are most familiar with. In them, we ask God for things we need—primarily spiritual needs, but physical ones as well. Our prayers of petition should always include a statement of our willingness to accept God’s will, whether He directly answers our prayer or not.

Lastly, perhaps the most neglected type of prayer, is the prayer of thanksgiving. While Grace Before Meals is a good example of a prayer of thanksgiving, we should get into the habit of thanking God for answering all our prayers each and every day.

 

So contained within the Lord’s Prayer all five forms of prayer are to found –

 

Adoration . . . Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.  On earth as it is in heaven.

Petition . . . Give us this day our daily bread and lead us not unto temptation

Expiation . . . forgive us our sins

Love and Charity . . . as we forgive the sins of others

Thanksgiving . . . For thine is the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen

 

Back in the very beginning of the Liturgy of the Church, Thomas Cramner used the Lord’s Prayer within the model for the service liturgy we use today.  The entire liturgy of Holy Communion is built upon these five forms of prayer as we enter singing adoration to the Most High in the hymns . . . as we give our Love we offer our alms and oblations to the Lord during the offeratory . . . as we ask petitions in the prayers for the whole state of Christ’s Church  . . . as we ask forgiveness in the prayer of expiation devoutly kneeling . . . and as we provide prayers of Thanksgiving in the post communion prayer and in the Gloria in Excelsis.

Our current liturgy, as it has been handed down to us from 1662, is nearly intact as originally written and continues to be for us the primary source of our spiritual life together.  The liturgy of the church links us directly to the saints of the past as it looks forward to the coming of Christ at the end of time.  The fact that it has not changed in the face of innovation and heresy is a testament to the steadfast fortitude of those who have gone before us who experienced within its words and motions a God and Savior who truly loves us and wants the best for us and his creation.

And finally from the Psalm today . . .

Show us your mercy, O LORD, * and grant us your salvation.

I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, * for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.

 

Amen

Proof

Higgs

Yesterday I received a facebook post from a friend in Boston, Mass of a movie clip that was shot in Paraguay about a group of people who scour the dumps there in search of junk, ‘refuse’ that might be put together to make musical instruments.  The movie clip features young people of many ages playing cello and violin and flute made from the garbage they found in the dumps.  The instruments hardly look like what you would expect, but the music produced by these young folks is clearly incredible  . . .  and nothing like what you might expect from homemade instruments.

This got me thinking about the sermon topic today because many times, and in many ways, it is God who picks up the garbage left of our lives and fashions it into something that will truly sing to His glory.  It happens to Christians and agnostics occasionally but much more often to the atheists among us . . . to those who simply do not believe.

A few weeks ago a group of atheists proudly installed the nation’s first public monument to a nonbelief in God which was allowed on U.S. government property. It is a stone bench and sits alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten Commandments in front a courthouse in Starke, Florida and was unveiled on June 29.  Given the number of U.S. atheists, this move is not so surprising: a report from the Pew Research Center last year revealed that the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – consider themselves as religiously unaffiliated.  The two monuments are side-by-side because American Atheists sued to try to have the six-ton statue of the Ten Commandments removed from the courthouse lawn in Starke, a small town in northern Florida. The Community Men’s Fellowship erected the Old Testament monument in what is described as a free-speech zone.  During mediation on the case, the atheist group was told that the Old Testament slab had to stay, but that the atheist group could have its own monument as well.

Today in our Epistle, Paul describes for us the lordship of Christ in a dramatic and forthright way, he writes “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

That, the final line “in him all things hold together” is telling, because nowhere else does this concept appear for us in the scriptures.

The Holy Spirit, in giving Paul this inspired passage, explains that all things (both visible and invisible) in the entire universe were created through this same Jesus, the Eternal Word.  Many have been taught to think of the universe and its intricate design as being conceived in the mind of the Father then spoken into existence by the Son who makes the invisible, visible.  The Nicene Creed goes on to explain Holy Spirit as the One who energizes and supplies life to the creation, not only at the time of creation but perhaps also moment by moment after that.

We are also told in this passage that all things were created for Jesus.  He is “the heir of all things.” That means that we are, for all intensive purposes, “house guests” in Someone Else’s universe.  Finally, the Bible tells that there is a future accountability to be given by all of us—time itself is headed somewhere . . . unknown, but at the end of all things stands Jesus to whom all power and authority has been given:

Jesus said, “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.  For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man.  Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:22-29)

One of the key words in the Colossians passage today (“…and in Christ all things hold together”) is the Greek word sunistemi which means “to stand-together,” “to be compacted together,” “to cohere,” “to be constituted with.” Remarkably, this passage may be applied in physics to the structure of the atom. The nucleus of every atom is held together by what physicists call “weak” and “strong” forces.  We should all be familiar with four basic forces in the natural world: gravity, electrical forces, a “strong,” and a “weak” nuclear force which act at very short range. Recently two additional close-range, weak gravitational forces have been suggested by research scientists. These are thought to be quantum mechanical corrections to Newton’s Law of Gravitation.

As you are probably aware, the nucleus of the atom contains positively-charged and neutral particles. Mutual electrostatic repulsion between the like-positive protons would drive the nucleus apart if it were not for a “strong force” which binds the nucleus together.  If it were not for this force, all atoms in matter would simply fly apart.

Coincidently, a third New Testament passage talks about atomic structure and physics in 2 Peter:  “But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise and the elements (atoms) will be dissolved with fire and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)

The Greek word translated “elements” in this passage from Colossians is stoicheion which means the actual building blocks of the universe, or “the ordered arrangement of things.” It can also mean the “atomic elements.” The word translated “dissolved” is literally (in Greek) luo, meaning “unloosed.” This suggests a, future letting-go of the nuclear binding force that holds the nuclei together.  I believe that this passage suggests that the active power of God is behind the mysterious strong force that holds every atomic nucleus together. If this is so, all the other fundamental forces of nature are likewise forces that originate with Christ and His sustaining direction of the old creation.

A further coincidence to this is a phenomena, discovered only a few months, ago is a kind of particle glue called the Higgs Boson, which scientists have euphemistically nicknamed the ‘God Particle’.  It is believed that this particle is instrumental holding the nucleus together, but it is quite elusive and no one has ever seen it itself, only evidence of where it’s been.

Knowing this then, if God was to merely relax His grip on the universe every atom would come apart “by fire” (that is, by nuclear fire). Paul shows us that God dynamically sustains the universe, including the atoms themselves. They are “stable” only because forces from the spiritual realm are being supplied into the physical nuclear binding fields. Whatever we may think of God and his relationship to physics, the Bible leaves us with no room to doubt that God really does care about the sparrow that falls to the ground, the widow, the orphan, and the homeless. He does not lose track of His children and watches over them with infinite, patient, intimate Fatherly care. He sustains the universe by His mighty word of power. He also alters the status quo and, in response to prayer, frequently changes the course of people and nations.

Saint Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, credits Jesus with holding all things together and with sustaining the entire universe “with His mighty word of power”.  From behind the curtains of our present world, God supplies not only force but it would seem He also supplies also vast amounts of energy to sustain His Creation.  In more ways than one we owe not only our lives but the moment by moment sustenance of the physical universe to His energetic involvement, both now discernible, in the conceptual understanding that modern physics has given us.  Knowing the Creator personally gives us every reason to feel secure and to stand in awe of Almighty God who has by no means left us alone in the cosmos . . . it’s very existence is a direct expression of His power and His will.

And so we learn that all of creation cannot help but speak to God’s Glory.  And even atheist’s, not believing, have erected a monument to their unbelief and have engraved into a monument of granite a symbol that they believe justifies their unbelief for all time – that, the symbol of an atom, God’s fundamental building block of creation – how very appropriate and oddly amusing that atheists would pick something so basic to the proof of the existence of God.

Amen

Life in Grace

Neighbor

Last week at work I had an opportunity to learn about encryption programs that make it possible to send, by e-mail, encrypted messages to people all over the world.  With recent news of the NSA and the FBI prying into the files of American businesses it has become somewhat of an issue that we try our best to keep private things private.  We needed to be able to do this because we occasionally work with a number of defense contractors in Niagara Falls.  With an encryption program, computer files are converted into gibberish on the sender’s end and then reassembled into readable files on the receiving end using a key.  The key can be any word or group of words that I select.  The only way you can convert the files back is with the key – if you don’t have the key, then supposedly you’re out of luck.  If you are a terrorist, you have no way to open the files, even if you manage to steal them.  It’s a great system to keep the bad guys from knowing your business.

You might wonder what this has to do with religion or the gospel, but I got to thinking about it the other day how sometimes Jesus used stories that were sort of encrypted, sort of ‘secret’, if you will – that had one meaning to the hearers and another to the people who had the key.  We usually associate these secret sayings with the parables that Jesus used to explain the Kingdom of God to those closest to him and yet remained secret to those far distant from him.

Today’s story of the Good Samaritan is one of the most familiar stories in the world.  Everyone knows the story of Good Samaritan because it is timeless in its message and moral teaching.  The reason we remember it is, that in the story, the two perceived good guys, the priest and the Levite, turn out to be the bad guys and the perceived bad guy, the Samaritan, turns out to be the good guy.  As you may know the Samaritans were considered by the Israelites less than dogs mainly because they raised pigs for the Roman army.  They also held to a different belief system – and so they were, to the Jews, the pariah of their times and blasphemers.  But of course, as the story goes, this particular Samaritan, even though he worshipped god in other ways, and probably helped feed the enemy, had more of a sense of honor and morality than the so-called righteous priest and pious Levite who showed none of the compassion that their religion required of them.  And so, as we have grown up, we are all quite aware that if we happen to come across a wounded man laying in the street we will all know what to do.

Initiating this story of course was a lawyer trying to trip Jesus up into saying that one commandment was greater than another . . . “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

 

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And (just) who is my neighbor?”

 

After reading this some weeks ago, I started to wonder this myself . . .  that is . . . Just who is my neighbor and perhaps almost as importantly  . . .  who is not?  And since I don’t often come across wounded people in the street I started to wonder if Jesus was telling this story on two levels . . . one for the lawyer who wanted to trick him and perhaps one for a future disciple who might want to believe.

To answer this I started to think about who it is Jesus himself came to help.  They of course were the outcasts, the poor and the sick and the suffering.  He came to help those who were enslaved in sin and hurting, bruised and neglected by those who thought themselves better than others.  And then I got to thinking who it was that were the enemies of Jesus . . . they of course were the learned, the religious, ‘the righteous’ of the time.  They were those who would not pull a lamb out of a well on the Sabbath.  They were those who proclaimed long prayers in the streets while ringing bells to show their piety and moral character but would not touch or help a poor person in the street because they thought them too unclean.

And so it would seem in the story of the Good Samaritan we have two stories, the one we all know and another one, a hidden one, that mirrors the life and theme of Christ’s mission on earth.  Within the hidden story, the cast of characters remains the same . . .  the priest, the religious of the day, who crossed to other side of the road before he even got close to the man.  The Levite, the learned of the day, who walked right up to the man, saw him in distress, and then crossed to the other side, and then the Samaritan, a man rejected by the priests and Levites as an unclean sinner who picks up the injured man and transports him to the nearest hotel, pays for his care and then promises to return again thereby saving his life . . . are you starting to see a theme here?

So finally, it occurred to me that the story of the Good Samaritan also reveals the story of the Gospel.  Jesus shows us in this story that our religion and our piety are not valid if we reject relationship with humanity . . . and that we live in a balance of sorts between a Faith that we hold true and a life in Grace which is our salvation.  If we take our belief in God seriously and without reservation then our relationship with humanity needs to be just as broad and far reaching.  If it isn’t, we will fail . . . even if we have the best of intentions.  Our lives will be out of balance with the Good News, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and out of sync with God the Father.  Paul tells us that as Christians, we are to bear one another’s burdens, to help the faint hearted, to clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless, to bind up the broken and live in charity with all people as community of believers.  Many today believe they can be good Christians while not being part of a Christian community.  How do I know this? . . .  I see it every Sunday morning as I drive here seeing cars parked in nearly every street and driveway.  We as Christians are strongest and at our best when we live as a community of faith.  The community of faith is a living sacrament that exists as the body of Christ in the world when we are in relationship with each other.  It is sacramental in that the community of faith is an outward sign (i.e. people helping each other grow in the love of God) of a spiritual grace (the helping hands, heart and soul of Christ on earth).  Often we think of the church as a building and often we are reminded that it is not.  If we were to gather together across the street under the fueling canopy at the Mobil Gas station we would not be any less a church than when we are, sitting right here . . . some would say however that we were those ‘crazy gas pump worshipping Anglicans’ and yet others would probably say ‘those Christians are smart to worship in the open air  . . . how original’!

What is most important is that we all realize that people we meet will read ‘the story’ through the lens of our lives.  They may never hear the gospel, and they may never go to church, they may never experience living in a community of faith.   You may be the only bible they ever try to read.  And so Jesus is telling us that we need to be the Good News in the world, we have to be his hands and ears and hearts in the world, we need to be a community for the stranger that we might find in the street, or at work and in all walks of life.

We are told through the Story of the Good Samaritan that in the grand scheme of things religion and piety are worthless to God if not integrated into a life lived with mercy, justice, peace and humility toward our neighbor . . . and that we are just kidding ourselves if we think any differently.

Jesus asked . . . Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The (lawyer) said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Amen

New Creation

newcreation

In today’s epistle reading Saint Paul uses a phrase that has influenced me pretty much my entire life . . . Paul states to the church in Galatia . . . may I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!

The theme of, ‘new creation’ is used throughout the Bible but, especially in Paul’s letters to the churches in the new testament . . . but the one that got my attention was this verse, part of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth . . . Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.

This phrase . . . a new creation . . . became for me a focal point as I struggled in my early teens to know where God was leading me in my life.  I thought to myself that, if indeed I was a new creation by accepting Jesus into my heart, why was it that my old self, my will, could not help but show itself at every turn?  Why was it that I felt ‘New’ only part of the time?

The thought of a new creation haunted me on many levels as I began to consider why God would save me from death, only to abandon me now and then?  How could I put off my inner feelings of self in order to put on the whole armor of God as a soldier of Christ for Christ’s sake?  Also I thought, what is a new creation and how could I discern a person who is . . . from one who is not?

During this time of reflection on the word of God, I got the feeling that I wasn’t living up to the promises of God.  My faith was weak and my belief was fleeting.  At the time, in the mid-eighties I was a life insurance salesman and had a chance to discuss life and death with many people, both young and old.  It seems that all people, whether they are believers, or not have questions that need answering . . . and often I found myself ill prepared to answer them.  The final straw was a nine year old boy who was killed by car here in West Seneca . . . and as fate would have it, he was insured by our office.  It is one thing to deliver life insurance proceeds to the grieving family of an eighty year old who has passed peacefully away in his sleep, but it is quite another to face a grieving mother or father on the accidental death of one of their children.  There simply are no words that can be expressed.  Again, my faith failed me and I felt it was time for me to leave that job because I knew that I could not fix the circumstances life and death . . . but I knew I could fix other things . . . maybe for a better world.

I left to establish my own company, doing something I really loved to do, which was refinishing old furniture and wood work.  And since I was in the business of restoring things to new, I decided to name this venture New Creation & Company.  And so for ten years I took what was old, decrepit and abused and restored it to its original shining beauty.  Instead of having to explain what could not be, I was able to prove to myself and to my customers the possibilities of what could be, if only they believed.

It was also during this time that I was studying for the diaconate and found it a logical and compelling jump from restoration of wood to reconciliation of a penitent heart, because they were part and parcel much the same thing.  I came to the realization that each of us is born with a unique character.  We also exhibit a reputation, one (but sometimes more than one) that we choose for others to see.  Much like a solid wood door whose character might be maple or oak; its finish can be almost anything from pristine lacquer to worn out, decrepit and old.  But regardless of the finish, whatever people might see, the character of the wood remains . . . forever . . . unless it is subjected to abuse, to rot or decay.  Jesus came to show us that when one’s character and one’s reputation are equal . . .  that is . . . when ‘what you see is what you get’ . . . that is when you are close to being a new creation in the eyes of God.

So how do we go about doing this?  How can we know for certain that what I am projecting and what ‘I am’ are coming closer together as an authentic Christian?  There is a test and it is the Bible.

As you may already know our modern world detests authority but it worships relevance.  So to further use these two words in relation to the Bible is to claim for it one – the authority which many people fear it has, but wish it had not, and two – relevance which many people fear it has not, but indeed, they wish it had.  The orthodox Christian conviction in Anglicanism is that the Bible has both authority and relevance – to a degree quite extraordinary in so ancient a book – and that the secret of both is in Jesus Christ.  Indeed, John Stott teaches us that we should never think of Christ and the Bible apart from each other. ‘The Scriptures . . . bear witness to me,’ Jesus said (Jn. 5:39), and in so saying he also bore his witness to them.  This reciprocal testimony between the living Word and the written Word is the clue to the Christian understanding of the Bible.  For our Lord’s testimony to it, assures us of the Bible’s authority, and its testimony to Him of its relevance.
The authority and the relevance are his and his alone.

So when Jesus spoke today in the gospel lesson when he said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”, he was not speaking as a new creation, a person newly born of the spirit, but as the Creator of you and of me and of all things.

And so I found on my own quest that the willing submission to the Bible must be for all of us the starting point if we are to become a New Creation in God’s eyes.  For in submission to the truth, the face and reputation we present for others to see is completely stripped away to reveal the character that we sometimes are caused to believe we have to hide from others.

Submission to Scripture is for evangelicals a sign of our submission to Christ, a kind of test of our loyalty to him.  Even our incarnate Lord, whose own authority amazed his contemporaries, subordinated himself to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, regarding them as his Father’s written Word. So if the scripture was relevant to Jesus as the authority of God the Father, who are we to deny its relevance in our own lives?

Why do you suppose there are so many detached from the scriptures in our own day if they are indeed the Word of God?  Why do so many reject God’s Word but accept the words of others who simply relay conjecture and theory as scientific truth?  Could it be because they do not trust the men who wrote the scriptures in the first place?

The men who wrote the Bible were not historians in the modern sense, writing with scientific detachment.  They were instead, and in a sense,  theologians, writing from a divine perspective.  They were not morally and spiritually neutral;  but they were deeply committed to God’s cause.  The Old Testament history books were once regarded as prophecy, and the four testaments of the life of Jesus are not biographies but gospels written by evangelists (preachers), who were bearing witness to Jesus.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John selected and arranged their material according to their own unique theological purpose.  Moreover, their purpose arose naturally, much like this sermon, from their individual temperament, their background and their God-given responsibilities to the people of God.  Man and message were and are related to each other.  To me it is no accident that Amos was the prophet of God’s justice, Isaiah of his sovereignty and Hosea of his love; or that Paul was the apostle of grace, James of works, John of love and Peter of hope; or that Luke, the only Gentile among them, stressed the worldwide embrace of the gospel.  The Holy Spirit communicated through each of them a distinctive and appropriate emphasis for each and every one who reads from the Bible’s pages.

From the Psalm today we read  . . .

1

I will exalt you, O LORD,

because you have lifted me up *

and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

2

O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *

and you restored me to health.

3

You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *

you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

4

Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *

give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

 

And to those who have ears let them hear.  Amen

The Fruit of the Spririt

fruit-of-the-spirit 

When I first met my wife, Barbara back forty some years ago, her mother, Margaret, had a list of rules on her refrigerator that were first . . . sort of funny and then kind of scary.  Rule Number One was that ‘The Woman was always right’ . . . Rule Number Two was ‘See Rule Number One’.  Rule Number three was that ‘The Rules could change at any time without notice  . . . . and if you had questions, again, see Rule Number One’. 

Although these rules were meant to be funny, there are some rules that are actually good life tips to follow.  One of them that we have always tried to instill on our kids is that ‘Life is Not Fair!’  For if life was fair, then everyone would be equal.  Everyone would live in the same kind of house and drive the same kind of car and eat the same kind of food and go to the same kind of school.  Our government has been trying its best, as of late, to somehow even the score for many by the redistribution of wealth and through healthcare, welfare, job fairs and affirmative action programs, and through free phones, free food and free housing.   But, even after all the money has been spent and all the effort has been exhausted one of the Biblical truths has and always will be true.  The poor will always be among us.

            Yesterday’s Buffalo News shows us that Buffalo ranks 3rd for children living in poverty in the United Sates. Bu poverty is the world’s greatest problem and there is no easy quick fix known.  Poverty in the United States is estimated at 14.1% or nearly five million people and consists for the most part of families with single women with children . . . and it is growing.  This is the same group that has always been in the majority of the poor.  Poverty in the world scale is estimated in the billions of people.  Unfortunately, many middle income American white folks like me have a prejudice that sees only one cause.  It would seem that we, the working class for the vast majority of us, see laziness as the cause for being poor.  But, poverty has many other root causes.

            Back in the days of the prophets, poverty was caused by war, calamity, disease, and death.  If these sound familiar, they should,  because these are the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  These are the horsemen who will one day herald the end of time.  In our own history, they have wreaked havoc on humanity from the beginning.  If you look at all the countries in the world, the nations with the greatest amount of poverty have in their recent past these four things in common.  War begats calamity, the breakdown of family, calamity begats disease, the breakdown of the body, and disease begats death and the cycle continues.

            In the United States, where there has not been a war in a long time, so our poverty has other causes.  Poverty can be caused by lack of opportunity, lack of education, drugs and alcohol addiction, depression, and mental illness.  Poverty also can be caused by gambling, racism, ignorance, and chronic illness.  Today in Buffalo, there are hundreds of beds filled with homeless men every night.  But these beds represent only the tip of the iceberg to the number of actual homeless people that are sleeping in their cars or roaming the streets of the city at night.  Because many poor people suffer from these conditions, they are stigmatized as somehow bringing this on themselves by a self-indulgent lifestyle.  People who suffer from AIDS and HIV are stigmatized regardless of how they contacted the disease.  People on welfare are also stigmatized as living off the labor of others.  People who cannot read (as we have seen firsthand this week) are often stigmatized as lazy and unemployable even though, in many cases, their plight is not entirely their own fault.

            Jesus came into the world as one of the poor for many reasons.  First, I believe he wanted to show us that to be poor is not a crime.  Second, people do not really need worldly possessions in order to be happy and to be fulfilled in life and to be loved by God.  Third, he wanted show a parallel between God and man; man being a slave to sin and God being the benign Father leading the way out.  And finally, he showed us parallels between slavery to sin and poverty of spirit, and that is what I want to talk about today.

            As you know, slavery, in the United States, was abolished after the Civil War.  Slavery is when one person owns, as property, another person just like you own your refrigerator or your cat.  In our day, slavery is not condoned in any modern nation in the world, even though it still exists in many forms, in many countries, including our own. 

Back in the days of the Bible, slavery was considered part of the normal scheme of things.  The biblical writers saw nothing wrong with it because it was always the way things were from the beginning.  In many ways, I guess, it was part of Rule Number One ‘Life is not Fair’ and it was accepted for what it was.  Slavery, in biblical times, had causes in war when the victor enslaved his enemy so that they would not be a threat again.  As you know, the Jews were once slaves in Egypt and also Persia and also in Babylon.  Slavery was (and still is, in some countries) a way for a family to escape poverty, by selling a child or sibling so that the rest of the family might survive.  This happens in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to name a few.  The original slaves who came to the Americas may have been men and women who were sold by their own tribal families in Africa.  Why they were sold is anyone’s guess, but that appears to be what transpired.

 To live as a slave you do not have a lot of choices, but . . . you basically have three options . . . You can try to escape, but you have to be willing to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life because your owner will come after you.  Or , , , You can give in, and do whatever it is your master desires.  Or . . . You can be bought and emancipated by another rich but benevolent owner. Today, in Africa, there is a program whereby free people have the opportunity to purchase and free slaves.  I have only heard of this recently, and to me it seems intriguing.

            The Bible tells us that all of us have been born into the slavery of sin.  It happened because our forefathers were slaves to sin and their fathers before them and theirs before them all the way back to the first human beings who rejected God and accepted the works of darkness.  This is what we call original sin.  And just like slavery in third world countries, slavery continues upon birth.  Slaves begat slaves who begat slaves which means we, who are living today, have all been born as slaves to sin.  We cannot help but sin because that is our nature.  Christians believe that it is through Baptism that we are freed from the bonds of slavery and are adopted by God as children of light.  Jesus came to buy us back with the price of his own blood.  Though many Christians do not live like it, we are indeed set free and need never sin again.  But like the Israelites who were freed from slavery after escaping Pharaoh and crossing the Red Sea . . . they had been slaves so long that they didn’t know what to do.  So, if you remember, they got tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain with a word from God, their liberator, but rather they built for themselves a new god to rule them out of gold, i.e. the golden calf.

And you know, today we do pretty much the same thing.  We who have been freed from sin, like the Israelites in the desert, have no idea what to do with our new freedom, so many of us build for ourselves our own version of a golden calf.  It may be a house or a career or bank account or a way of life, but just like the golden calf, if it takes the place of the God who saved you, it is no less than the god who enslaved you in the first place.  What this causes is a spiritual vacuum in many of us that can lead to depression culminating in a poverty of spirit and in some extreme cases, eventual death by one’ own hand.  On the outside we have all the trappings of the redeemed, but on the inside we become spiritually bankrupt.  If you remember, this is what Jesus accused the temple priests of becoming.

            Because they, like us, were wealthy and self-righteous, living what they perceived as pure and wholesome lives while ignoring the plight of those around them.  Where they should have been helping the poor, they were instead accusing them of sinful lives, of laziness and self-indulgence. 

Which brings us back to the poor among us.  Jesus said that the poor would always be with us.  The poor are here to interject Gods goodness and compassion in us so that we might be moved by the Spirit to help them as He helps us.  The poor are also here to convict us of self-indulgence and greed in our lives.

 That is why Paul, today in our epistle reading exhorts all believers to live by the Spirit . . . and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law . . . but in a word, Paul says you are free.

            Jesus does not ask us to go without in order to provide for the poor.   He asks us to trust in Him to provide for the poor through Him by our offerings at Church, by our cheerfully paying our income and property taxes and through private giving and lending to anyone in need.  God loves a cheerful giver.  And what is your reward?  Your reward is a life in grace marked by the fruit of the Spirit that lives within everyone who is child of God . . . and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it is by these fruits that everyone will know you.    Amen.