All posts by The Very Reverend Edward H. Ihde

Fr. Edward Ihde serves as Priest and Rector for the congregation of Saint Nicholas Anglican Church (ACA) in Buffalo, NY where he brings into perspective thoughts and anecdotes from thirty years of ordained ministry. He is also Dean of the Western New York deanery

The one you Feed


Let’s start today’s sermon with a question . . . Do you think that the people of the cities of New York and Atlantic City were worse sinners than all other Americans because their homes were destroyed by a blizzard a few weeks back?  Or do you think that that the Haitian people were more deserving of an earthquake some years ago because their forefathers allegedly made a deal with the devil in the 1700s? And from the gospel today . . . “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? . . . Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

            It would seem that in the days of Jesus, as now, there were those who would point to a terrible event and endeavor to dismiss it as punishment from on high by blaming it on the very people on whom it had befallen.  Such was the case a few years ago in Haiti when the rumor was released that the devil had redeemed a contract made some 300 years ago.  People, it seems, are all too willing to look at another’s tragedy and try to piece together a reason for it all.  And being who we are, we are more apt to blame others for what has happened than to look at the situation rationally.  Such, it seems, is the case with nearly everything that makes up the news these days . . . or else I guess it just wouldn’t be news.  When Pat Robertson’s statement was published saying that Haiti is cursed because of a 300 year old pact with the devil it sent a shiver down my spine.  I thought to myself here was yet another example of why the church is losing membership all over the world.  We don’t need a devil to defeat us.  It seems we’re doing it so very well on our own.

            Today I would like to speak to the design of the universe, about Divine Providence and the pivotal part God plays in its control and its eventual outcome.  Many of us share the notion that God is directly responsible for everything that happens good in our lives and that we are responsible for everything that happens bad in our lives.  And we aren’t far off in this notion because we can create the world we will live in – one way or another – by the good we do and by the evil we commit.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if we rob a bank, we’ll probably end up in jail.  And if we donate a kidney we will probably save a life.  But we wonder . . . how is it then that bad things often happen to good people?  . . .  and why is it that good things all too often happen to bad people.  Assuming God is in control of it all, the whole thing just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

            To answer this we must first understand the nature of God.  In the beginning, we read in first Genesis ‘Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.’  It was the Spirit of God that was in the beginning as the world was created.  It is said that God the Father thought it, God the Son said it and God the Holy Spirit made it so.  This three in oneness or ‘Trinity’ of the personhood of God remains to us a mystery, but most of us pretty much understand the term Father in relation to God.  We also understand the term Son as a part of the family of God.  To a believer, God the Father’s relationship with humanity is as a father to his children and that we all pretty much ‘get it’. However, there is a deeper sense in which Christians believe that they are somehow made participants in the eternal relationship of Father and Son, through Jesus Christ. That is why we call ourselves adopted children of God.  Paul explains this further to the Galatians . . .  “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”  It is the Holy Spirit or divine nature of God that makes this so.

            Throughout the Word of God, water is a symbol of the spirit of God, and is often used analogously to represent the Holy Spirit, that is, the divine nature and power of God. In Jeremiah God refers to Himself as a “spring of living water”.   It is important to think about water and what it means to us.  Water is essential to life—we die without it. The average person can go about 60 days without food before he starves to death, but you can only live three days without water, because it is so vital to our cells.  We see in the scriptures that just as actual water gives life physically and is integral to one’s physical life, so spiritual water gives life spiritually.  Water is life and essential to all living things on earth and so it is with the Spirit.

            In the New Testament the Spirit is also compared to the wind in the Gospel according to John  . . . Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  And from the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel . . . Come from the four winds, O breath; and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. And so the Spirit is like the wind and air as our source of the breath of life.  Without air we would live only a few short minutes.  The air we breathe is equally essential to all living things on earth.

            And finally, the Holy Spirit throughout the scriptures is described as fire  . . . The Holy Spirit was likened unto fire at Pentecost. In Acts “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” The cleansing power of the Holy Spirit was symbolized by fire in Isaiah . . . “Then flew one of the Seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and your iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” The Word of God was as fire in the bones of the prophet Jeremiah . . . “Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more of His name. But His Word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay.”  Fire is chosen to symbolize the Holy Spirit, no doubt, because of what it does. Fire burns out the dross. Fire gives light. Fire gives warmth.   Without the spark of life, we are told that life could never have started.


            Socrates called water, wind, and fire ‘elementals’ and along with earth made them the basis of the creation.  We now know, of course, that there are many smaller elements that make up creation, but for Socrates, these were the things that comprised all of the unknowable mysteries of creation at the time.

            Physicists tell us that we live in a determinist universe; that is a universe that (they believe) has been set in motion with no pre-definable conclusion because of the infinite number of causal changes that can occur due to uncontrolled factors like planetary and galactic collisions down to what can be described a the ‘Butterfly Effect’ (i.e. the beating of a butterfly wings causing a wind current that causes something else etc. etc.).  Christians, however, are taught that the universe has a purpose and a conclusion that has been revealed in scripture as God’s divine providence.

            So, you might wonder, can both be correct?  Can the universe be fluid with infinite possibilities and yet remain predetermined with a defined ending?  These of course have been questions pondered by philosophers and theologians for millennia. 


            I believe that if you read the scriptures correctly, you will come to realize that creation was set into motion by God for a specific purpose with a predetermined outcome but designed with the inherent possibility of changes influenced by divine providence along the way.  It is only when those changes get in the way of the design that God himself intervenes to set things right again. 

            We see this in the story of Noah, in the story of Babel, in the stories of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and in the story of deliverance that begins today with Moses and the burning bush.  In every case God’s Spirit searches out from among all mankind one person who can best perceive his call and carry out his will.  Though many hear it, most do not listen carefully . . . Perhaps this is why Jesus tells us that “Many are called but few are chosen.”  But from those who are called and chosen to receive the Spirit, we see through their lives powerful changes that affect the lives of millions of people.  We call them prophets and we call them saints but the mystery of it is that they can be any one of us at any given time.

            The Holy Spirit is the unspeaking mystery in the triune personhood of God.  When Moses asks God his name in today’s lesson he is told by God the Hebrew word ‘yawah’ which literally means ‘I exist’ translated into the English I AM.  Later the text writers use the Hebew Tetragrammaton name – Jehovah – which means literally “One that is of himself”.  God chooses a burning bush that is not consumed to get Moses’ attention . . . which I think it would get all of our attentions if it happened to be seen somewhere.  So why did God choose Moses do you suppose?  If you remember Moses was found as a baby by the princess of Egypt and then grew up in the Pharoah’s court to become a great builder of Egypt but eventually became an outcast for defending a slave.  In Moses, God saw a nexus that would connect the enslaved descendents of Abraham with the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey.  Moses of course took on this role rather reluctantly but God made a promise that He would go with him to help make it happen.

            It is no accident that this story of an enslaved people set free from their bonds at great cost parallels so closely the Good News of Christ who is our deliverer from the slavery of sin and that we also are inheritors of a kingdom that is ‘flowing with milk and honey’.  It is no accident that the people of Israel wandered for forty years in the desert while we ‘wander’ a lifetime waiting for the promise of a heavenly reward.   And it also is no accident that the leader who led the children of Israel into the Promised Land was named Joshua because, as you may or may not know ‘Joshua’ is the Hebrew name for the Latin word ‘Jesus’.

            With the Holy Spirit of God there are no accidents.  The Will of God is certain but his ways continually mystify us . . . However the Spirit of God is deterministic like a spreading fire or a howling wind or raging river, we have no control over its comings or its goings.  Natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, forest fires and the like are caused by natural forces . . . Lightning, hurricanes and techtonic plate movements that are a natural part of a determinist universe set in motion at the Creation.  Forgiveness and Salvation are God’s hands on the throttle and brakes on his creation as it winds its way to its final end.  And as it turns out just a week ago it was discovered that the Higgs Bosom or ‘God particle’ has a measurable predetermined end – though long off into the future by some billions of years – but a definite end that shows that scripture is correct, that an end will come.

            Your life in grace is a microcosm of what God is doing in the whole of creation.  With the Spirit of God abiding within our individual lives of free will God knows that we can either help -or in some cases- hinder the final destiny of millions.  That is why he chose us, as he chose Moses, to help in the battle of setting the captives free.  But even as we try to do this we are assaulted constantly on every side.  The enemy does not rest, so neither can we.

            “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”


            Finally there is a famous story from an old Indian Cherokee talking to his grandson.  The chief said:

            A fight is going on inside of me.  It is a terrible battle-between two wolves.  One wolf represents fear, anger, pride, envy, lust, greed, arrogance, self pity, resentment, lies, and cruelty.

            The other wolf stands for honesty, kindness, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, friendship, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

            This same fight is going on in you, and inside every other person too, he added.

            The grandson reflected on these words for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

            The old chief replied, “The wolf who wins is the one you feed.”  Amen.

Get Real


             A few months back my wife Barbara showed our friend Paul how to make an apple pie.  Paul is a librarian and neighbor and friend of ours and was asked to bring in a dessert for a work party at the library.  Paul was looking to bring in something special, something that he had had at our house, and so he got together with Barbara to make a pie; apple being one of his favorites.


            The next day after the party was over Paul relayed to us the following story about a person at his work who had a piece of his pie, and then another, and then another.  Soon the pie was gone.  Paul’s co-worker asked where he could get a pie like that.   Paul told him that he didn’t buy it . . . that he made this delicious pie.  He asked what kind of apples were in the pie . . . meaning what brand name?  Paul told him that he put apples in the pie.  But the man asked . . . yes . . . but what are they called?  Where could he get a can of the same type so that he could make the same kind?  Paul said there was no can . . . that they were apples, you know, the ones that grow on trees.  The man was incredulous and said . . . you mean you made a pie out of apples? And Paul said yes . . . in fact that is why it tasted so different than anything he had ever had before.  No cans, no frozen food, no premade crust, no margarine . . . just plain ingredients . . . apples, flour sugar, butter and lard that you put together to make an apple pie.  For some reason this just about blew this guy’s mind . . . that anyone could make something so good at home with their own two hands. 

Anyway it was a very humorous story I think, because it was so pathetic.  Here was a man who for once in his life ate a piece of actual apple pie and had an epiphany that he had missed out completely on something so basic to human existence.

This week also I got chance to have lunch with an architect friend of mine who happened to have attended the ordination back in November.  He asked me how the church was going and I told him we were doing fine.  He mentioned that it was such an honor to come and be part of the service and commented on how authentic he and his wife found the liturgy.  I told him that we, as a church have been doing it the same way for well over a thousand years and that not much has changed.  Apparently this is what really made an impression on him.  Over his lifetime he had gone to many protestant and catholic services but nothing that could compare with the liturgy he witnessed here at Saint Nicholas. This is probably because, like our friend’s apple pie, our liturgy is authentic.

Due to commercialism, our lives today are filled with things that are only shadows of what they pretend to be.  We are inundated with fake food, fake jewelry, fake furniture, and fake products of every kind . . . all made in effort to make things cheaper and easier to obtain.  And yet these fake things do not seem to last very long, and we are again out looking for replacements that may be even cheaper and easier to get.

But it seems that when we are finally shown or given something that is real, it reminds us of what we have been missing.  We encounter this feeling when we go to an art gallery, or a fine restaurant, or we drive a luxury vehicle.  We know what is real when we see it, but for most of us we are content to live in a copied universe where the real does not often get equal time.

In today’s gospel, we find Jesus performing his first miracle at a wedding in Cana.  At the request of his mother, Jesus helps the newly married couple save face by turning water into wine.  The steward, after tasting the wine, compliments the bridegroom on the wine as perhaps the best he has ever tasted. 

This story tells us a number of things about Jesus and how God relates to his people.  First off, at least to me, it appears Jesus is willing to help even in the smallest of things.  He didn’t really have to perform this miracle.  He really didn’t.  The wine could have run out and the party ended but it didn’t because he helped.  But why did he help? 

It’s pretty plain to see from the story that he helped because his mother, Mary, who was in attendance, asked him to help on the steward’s behalf. What can be inferred from this is that Mary had a greater influence on Jesus than the bridegroom and the bride and it was Mary’s intercession on their behalf that made Jesus choose to agree to help in this situation.  This is the primary basis of the belief in the communion of saints . . . that Christians are able to intercede, like Mary, on the behalf of each other.   It is the very reason we pray for each other.          

The communion of saints is one of the most profound doctrines in the Christian tradition. All Christians are incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Through Christ we are inextricably linked to God and to each other, and together we form what could be called the post-Ascension presence of Christ on earth. It is this real and authentic presence that we call the Church (big C).  Jesus heals through the touch of our hands.  He feeds the hungry through our generosity.  He speaks the words of forgiveness through our relationships with each other.  We are not meant to be a community of disembodied spirits but rather the living Church through which God interacts with the real world and spreads the message of the Resurrection to all who would listen.

The Church is composed of two parts — the Church Militant (the faithful who are still on this earth) and the Church Triumphant (those who have undergone physical death and are now with Christ). We know that Christians who have already completed their pilgrimage on this earth are not truly dead but are alive in Christ. The link between Christians is so strong that not even physical death can sever it. Together the Church Militant and Church Triumphant are participants in the Divine Liturgy and that is why we continue to pray for them each week in the prayers of the people.

From the very earliest recollections of the early Church, believers felt that the martyrs and saints who had departed this world were not separated from Christians who were alive, but rather they were in greater communion with God and with earthly Christians.  This led to the doctrine of the intercession of the saints which is still present in our Anglican tradition. To ask for a saint’s intercession is simply to ask them to pray for you as you would a fellow Christian who is alive on this earth.

However, this intercession is not at all analogous to praying to God — worship is due to God alone.  Since saints are truly alive it is completely orthodox to allow for this practice as long as it is done in the proper sense.  It is only through God’s grace that the intercession of the saints is even possible. It is a reasonable practice that is consistent with historic teachings of the Church.

Some Christians may raise the objection that there is only one mediator between God and man and that Jesus is this sole mediator. This is certainly true, but we ask fellow Christians to pray for us all the time.  Other people interceding for us in no way reduces the unique work of Jesus’ complete mediation between he and the Father as demonstrated for us in today’s Gospel message at the request of Mary.

The Church of Jesus Christ is as unique today as it was in the earliest of times.  Though many call themselves Christians under many banners and many names, including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Methodist, and Presbyterians, and many others, there is really only one authentic Church of Christ made up of authentic believers everywhere . . . and when you encounter it, you will never forget it, for it will fill you in a way that no other church can.


The world today is under attack by evil forces that would give you everything that you want but nothing that you need.  Like buying frozen pie . . . manufactured to look like pie, feel like pie, smell like pie we are being tricked into accepting any thing, any doctrine, any precept, any way of life, except that which is real and ordained by God.  The way we combat this is to live authentic lives, practice authentic religion by using the authentic gifts of the Spirit described today by Paul . . .

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.  Amen.



In 1898 there was a book written by an author named Morgan Robertson called Futility.  It was a story about the lives of many important and influential people who boarded a huge steamship for its maiden voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.  In the book, the ship was described as ‘unsinkable’ and carried approximately 3,000 people.  The story goes on to tell of the ship setting sail in mid-April and how it hits an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic.  The unsinkable ship begins to sink and the passengers on board discover that there aren’t enough lifeboats to save everyone on board.  

This particular book, at the time of its printing, never made to the top ten, in fact it was an obscure little book that never got past the first printing because the publishers said no one wanted to hear such a depressing and unbelievable story. So Morgan Robertson the author was buried into the obscurity of history and his little book called Futility about a steamship called Titan never quite made it . . . until 14 years later when this prophetic work was resurrected upon the sinking of an actual ship, the Titanic hit by an iceberg in the Atlantic on April 15th 1912.

Today’s lessons are about prophecy and how one can either believe, or not believe . . . but how only the foolish will ignore or mock God’s prophetic message to all mankind.       

Malachi was one of the Old Testament prophets who we heard this morning in our reading when he prophesied saying . . . “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”           

 In this one sentence are three prophesies, two of which have been revealed to us and the third we continue to wait for.  See I am sending my messenger . . . is a reference to John the Baptist who came to prepare the hearts of the Jewish people for the Messiah . . . and then . . . the Lord whom you seek will be suddenly come to his Temple.  Jesus came to Jerusalem and entered the temple on what we celebrate as Palm Sunday.  It was at this time that he drove out the money changers, which many believe sealed his doom.  And then finally Malachi continues  . . . he is coming . . . but who can endure that final day . . . who can stand when he appears.  This is the prophetic vision of Advent that we celebrate each year concerning the Lord’s second coming and the event we as Christians have been waiting for since the ascension of Christ into heaven so many years ago.           

The second line of Malachi’s vision is equally telling  . . . for he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.           

What this final vision offers is a look into the far future when the sons of Levi, the descendants of the temple priests at Jerusalem will be refined . . . meaning that what was impure will be drawn out of them and they will once again make an offering of thanksgiving to God which will be pleasing in his sight as in the days of old.            

Now ‘as in the days of old’ refers to the days of Solomon and his temple built to honor the presence of God in the holy city of Jerusalem.Today, both Christians and Jews around the world and for generations before us have been waiting for the rebuilding of the temple and re-establishment of the ancient religion at Jerusalem, the prophetic capital of the world at the end of time.           

But it hasn’t been until this generation that the rebuilding of the temple could be even remotely possible. For within this generation, within the past 60 years, nearly all of the biblical prophesies about Israel and the end times have come to pass beginning with the establishment of Israel as a nation in 1949 . . .  then the return of the Jewish people from all across the world during the great Exodus, then in 1966 a great war that Israel would win against foes on every side and the regaining of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and then lately the desert of the Negev has been transformed by irrigation and now supports pools of water and . . . more recently, through Operation Exodus, the coming of thousands of Jews from all over the world to their homeland.  Israel, once a desert, now exports its fruit like dates, pomegranates and olives and grows vegetables and raises dairy cattle and in fact has been transformed in 60 years into a land of milk and honey and is the virtual garden of the entire region and the envy of all its neighbors.  All of these . . . fulfilled prophesies of Israel before the end of time.           

So when, you might ask did all this start?  Well it started with the coming of John the Baptist who we celebrate today and who was foretold of in a prophecy by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah . . “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”It was John, the son of Zachariah, and himself a Son of Levi who would herald in the messiah, Jesus Christ, the Son of God who would first free his people from their sins by sacrificing himself upon the cross . . . and then to lead his people from this world into a paradise by finally defeating Satan, the enemy and the god of this world.           

And if you and I are blessed to live long enough, we may see the end of days happen in our life time.  As the time draws on, it seems to becoming a distinct possibility that the final prophesies could take place within the next generation because the rebuilding of the temple is already a distinct possibility as the corner stone is already hewn and the vessels for the service at the altar are already forged and in waiting.  The war of Armageddon (the final war between good and evil), it seems is nearer today than at any time in our history, so it seems appropriate for us to continue to watch and to wait as we pray . . . for this is our bounden duty according to the Advent tradition.Paul writes to us today . . . And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Twenty five years ago, my Aunt Lucille gave me a stole for use in Advent as I had just become a deacon and needed a purple stole.  My Aunt Lou was a believer and also, for all intensive purposes, a clairvoyant, who often told my family some pretty unbelievable things.  We all took her with a grain of salt and delegated her as our ‘crazy old aunt of the family’.  I want to tell you though, that when I received this stole from her, I received with it a prophesy from her to me.  She said that one day I would become a priest in a parish in Buffalo, but not until my hair was gray.  When I left the Episcopal Church years ago, I left any thought I had ever had of becoming a priest because for 1. I knew it could not happen now matter what and 2. I really didn’t believe what she told me in the first place because it was impossible.  But today, as you know this prophesy of hers has come true as well.

I am here to tell you that you can never take God by surprise. You can never anticipate what he will do.  In my life, he has always made the first move.  He was there ‘in the beginning’ and . . . before any of us existed God acted on our behalf.  Before a person stirs himself up to seek God, God seeks him out.  In the Bible we never see a person searching in the darkness after God; we always see God reaching out for them in the light. 

This is what our Lord’s Advent is about.  Let us hope and pray that the Lord of the Harvest finds us faithful to our calling when he comes again to reclaim his own.  Amen.