Category Archives: Sermons


Life Isn’t Fair

Life not Fair-motivated

There was once a story about a Rabbi who was distraught because he didn’t have enough money. One day he entered the synagogue and cried out ‘Lord, Lord I need to win the lottery – my daughter needs braces and my wife wants new furniture’. Nothing happened, so the next week he again went to the synagogue and cried – ‘Lord, Lord I need to win the lottery . . . my daughter needs brace, my wife wants new furniture and my car needs new tires’. Again nothing happened . . . so the third week he went into the synagogue crying out ‘Lord, Lord – I need to win the lottery – my daughter needs brace, my wife wants new furniture, my car needs new tires and my house needs a roof. Please Lord, please I need to win the lottery!’. As he got up leave, a voice came from the midst of the synagogue saying . . . “Saul, Saul” and the rabbi said ‘Yes Lord?’ “Saul” went the voice . . . “meet me half-way . . . buy a ticket”.
One of the things Barbara and I have always taught our children is, if there is a rule number one in life it is that: Life Isn’t Fair. Right or wrong, most of us who are grown-ups accept this rule as a basis of life. It is what we see borne out everyday. We see it in our neighbor’s lives, we see it in the newspapers and on television. We see it also in our own jobs and in our own households as we try to chip out for ourselves a little piece of the American Dream. And even though we have included within our society such things as Equal Opportunity, Leave No Child Behind and Americans with Disabilities equal access laws we know that for the great majority, ourselves included, life is not fair.
A child is taught from the very beginning to share his toys, to clean up his own mess and to help others. These are all altruistic traits that, if everyone actually grew up taking these on as life goals, the world would be a very different place. But, as it is, there are two ways of looking at the world around us. One is the way it ought to be; and the other is the way it actually is. These two perceptions have been at odds with each other since the fall of man.
If you didn’t know it by now, you ought to know that the universe is at odds with itself. There is a tension that exists that forces us to choose sides each and every day. Each day we choose between good and evil, between right and wrong, between our own well-being and the well being of others, between giving and getting, between helping others and helping ourselves.
We are forced, all the time, to choose on issues about war and peace, about sexuality, about smoking in public places, about prayer in schools and about abortion and euthanasia. And this is only part of the tension that we live under.
But, this tension is not the way it is supposed to be. In fact, if there were no one on earth, if man had never been created, this tension would not exist because the fall of man would never have happened. That is why Jesus came; that was his mission; to change the hearts of men to be more in line with the Father’s in heaven. Jesus tried to show us a new way of being one with the universe instead of at odds with it. He tried to teach us what we teach our children when they first start out in school . . . share your toys, help each other out and be kind. Some listen, but many do not. The teachings of Jesus do not always fit easily into the world as we know it; a world that, for the most part, accepts as rule number one: Life Isn’t Fair.
Job, of course, was probably the poster child of ‘Life isn’t Fair’ when we recount the story of how a man who has everything and then suddenly stricken with terrible misfortune and as a result loses all . . . his home, his possessions, his family and his health . . . . all because of a bet between God and Satan . . . and then to regain it all back again in today’s reading . . . a very strange story indeed. The point of course was that God wanted to prove to Satan that Job, a righteous soul, would love God no matter what happened in his life . . . no matter how rough things got. Some may ask if this was a real story or just an object lesson. To answer it I guess you would need to believe that God would actually test someone to the very limits of his life to prove a point to someone else who thoroughly hated him.
Then there is the story of Bartimaeus. In thinking about him this week I couldn’t keep my thoughts off the details of the story. A blind man in Palestine was probably considered not only useless but most likely was thought of as being punished by God for something that he might have done. He was desperately poor and begged for what little he had . . . he begged every day for his very life. His only possession was a cloak that probably kept him warm at night and protected him from the sun by day. And the people crushing around him, telling him to ‘keep quiet’ since they heard him begging every day and probably thought of him as the town nuisance.
And yet he yells out in the din of the crowd anyway “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus hears him and calls him forth and as the story goes . . . So throwing off his cloak (the only thing he owns – his only protection against the elements), Bartimaeus, a blind man, sprang up and came to Jesus.
What this story tries to instill in us is how to pray when we really, desperately need something and how God responds to us when we pray. I am no expert on this subject but as a guy with a lot of gray hair and a few years on me, I’ll tell you what I think. I think God is quite different from us in many ways. We may have been created in God’s image but because of the fall I doubt very much we think in quite the same way. Jesus gives us a lot of clues as to the way God thinks in his stories.
You may remember the story of the unrighteous judge, who after finally getting tired of hearing the complaint of the woman day after day, finally grants her request, just to be rid of her. Not a very nice story . . . but a story with a point.
Or the story about the man who finds a pearl in a field and then goes and sells everything he owns to buy that field . . .
Or how about the untrustworthy manager who make deals with his employer’s creditors before he is fired so that someone might hire him after his job loss.
These stories and the story of Bartimaeus this morning show us that it takes more than just asking to have prayers answered . . . it really takes three things – faith, hope and charity.
God rewards faith without limit. He also rewards charity, as much as ten fold. And he especially rewards hope as we struggle against all the obstacles we encounter in the world, in the flesh, and from the devil.
But you may ask . . . what if I am lacking in faith? Or what if I lack charity? And what if I am a coward at heart and lack hope? Then find someone who has the traits that God respects . . . someone who you know loves God and ask his help to pray for you. And if you can’t find some one like that in particular, then find a group, a community that shares a common conviction and have them pray for you. This works . . . I know it does because it has happened in my life.
We all know deep down what our lives should be like . . . that we are supposed to be fair. It’s one of the reasons we patiently wait in lines at the bank, at the market check out and at the airport. It is one of the reasons traffic lights are timed and ordered and we all agree to drive on the same side of the road. It is one of the reasons we keep schedules in our work and school life and we all agree to the same standards of measurement and time. If things were not somewhat ordered, life would be far more chaotic than it already is.
But on the same token, we know that Utopia is only a pleasant thought for philosophers and that communism will not work in this world. There is always someone or some group who will desire power and assume control over the masses, and there is always the tendency of the masses to relinquish the power they hold to a false hope or an unrealized dream.
The universe is well ordered and set into motion like a gigantic clockwork. But within the rules of universal order there is always the possibility of collision and of chaos. But upon collision, even though it may be devastating, the rules of order (gravitation, thermodynamics and physics) continue to take precedence until equilibrium is again achieved.
Faith, hope and Charity are the unchangeable rules in the spiritual world. God has set them as the standard for our existence. In our own lives, collision with others will occur and chaos may rule temporarily making life seem terribly unfair. But through our troubles the laws of the spirit continue to bring order out of the chaos, to bring light out of darkness and to bring life out of death.
The reason for the existence of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ is to bring order into the lives of people within the chaos and hardship they experience in their earthly walk. The church holds the greatest gift to mankind, for within it resides the salt of the earth. And as long as we as a church continue to resist the world; yet remain in the world, we will remain salt and will retain great value as the agent of God’s will. But as Jesus warns, once the saltiness is lost (i.e. should the church succumb to the world) its value will be diminished and its continued existence will be in doubt.
The number one rule of life that we, as Americans, have all come to believe and accept in this world is that Life is Not Fair; but the number one rule that Jesus came to teach us about everlasting life is: Do unto others as we would have them do unto us. These two statements are at odds with each other, just as we may at times be at odds with each other through random collisions between us in life. One person, Winston Churchill, resolves this with a statement that I think is profound when he said . . .

We make a living by what we get,
we make a life by what we give.




When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s, the Episcopal Church used the 1928 prayer book which, as it turns out, we also are using here today at Saint Nicholas. One of the words in the Holy Communion service is the word ‘propitiation’. For years I wondered what it meant – and perhaps you have wondered as well. So as a young guy growing up I decided to see if propitiation was actually a word, and sure enough, it is in the dictionary right next to propitiator and to propitiate. Propitiation means sacrifice but more accurately it means ‘atonement’. In the Holy Communion service, Christ is stated to be the propitiation (sacrifice or atonement) for our sins. Sacrifice and atonement are the flavor of today’s readings.
In our Bible the prophet Isaiah describes a Messiah destined to be abused and stricken with grief so that his followers might not have to endure a deserved punishment. In this way the Messiah would step in as an atonement, or sacrifice and die a death that was meant for us. The New Testament reading from Hebrews is an exhortation to keep ones faith by practicing a sacrificial life through obedience and overt moral intentions of the heart. It is also a warning that we will, in the end, be judged by the word of God, and that all will be required to render an account to a judge who knows us better than we know ourselves. And finally, the Gospel today relates the story of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, disciples of Jesus, who through, it seems to me, pure arrogance or stupidity, ask to be seated on the right and left hand of the King of Kings. Their lack of tact and humility were recorded for all time by Mark. I wonder what we can learn from them about sacrifice and obedience?
There were three items that were in the news that fit very well with today’s scripture readings.
Perhaps you will recall that last week marked the twenty-eighth anniversary of the rescue of the little girl known as Baby Jessica. Some of you may remember this story when back in 1987 an infant fell down an eight inch pipe and how rescuers worked fourteen hours digging through solid rock in order to free the little baby girl. I can still picture the day that Baby Jessica was brought out of that hole in the ground, and seeing it over again on the news this week brought back the same shivers I felt when I saw it the first time. Here was an act of kindness, of sacrifice and of courage against what seemed like impossible odds; and yet the rescuers succeeded and the baby survived. Somehow, through television, all of us became a part of that drama that unfolded hour after hour. We all prayed, we all cried, we all hoped and we all feared for that little girl in Midland, Texas. Her story became somehow intertwined with our own story. Her life became somehow important to our life. And when she was rescued we all felt somehow a part of it all.
What was demonstrated in this story was a supreme act of love and sacrifice for one of our own. We as a people were unified and strengthened in that one act of kindness to a point that many of us still remember it vividly, many years later. What struck me most about the story was that no one weighed the cost against the odds. No one dared give up, nor could they have lived with themselves if they had. Through the news media, if the rescuers needed something, it was almost instantly provided through a few of the millions of us watching the drama unfold on television.
This week also was the anniversary of the million man march in Washington D.C. Our black neighbors were once given a challenge by Louis Farrakan to take off on a Thursday as a Day of Atonement, a day of reflection. I want you to know that I don’t agree with nearly everything that Louis Farrakan stands for. But the idea of a Day of Reflection or a Day of Atonement, at least to me, sounds like something all people ought to do at least once a year, if not more. Louis Farrakan may come across to us as objectionable, but sometimes listening to him, I get the feeling he has the best of intentions for his people at heart. And we can’t fault him for that. Yes, he is manipulative and hateful, but if even one person came any closer to God, then we are all somehow better off today. Sacrifice and prayerful reflection is always acceptable in the eyes of God regardless of who suggests it.
Finally, this week marked the anniversay of the death of a prolific writer, a favorite of mine, named James Michner. In an interview I once heard, Mr. Michner was asked to comment on, as he looked back on his life, how pleased he must have been with all his success. His answer was curious. He said that as he looked back on his life what stood out for him most were his failures and his shortcomings. He pondered his failure wondering why he had failed and how he might have lived a better life had it not been where he fell short of the mark. He was visibly remorseful and not at all what I would have expected of a “success” in life.
Success in life has little to do with how the world defines it . It is said that money and fame cannot buy happiness, but why do we all long to be rich, famous, (though perhaps unhappy), people? The Bible says that Jesus is the key to our success as Christians. His life demonstrated for us that a life of self sacrifice and humility is deemed of far greater importance in the Kingdom of God than earthly goods and treasure. And though it is a very good thing to be rich or famous, it is a far better thing to be happy and loved and accepted for who you are.
God loves us for who we are, he is the one person able to look past our faults and value who we are as a people. He values our courage in the face of insurmountable obstacles. He values our unity in the face of adversity and how we will sacrifice everything, even our lives to save another. He values our candor and our humor and our uncontrollable urge to spiritually prosecute ourselves for our mistakes and failures. He loves our creativity and our skill and our ability to love.
Our God is a sacrificial God and creation has inherited His sacrificial nature. His need is for us to take on this sacrificial nature full time. To live a sacrificial life worthy of his calling. To rejoice when things are right with our lives and to be reflective and change our course when things go awry. To be willing and able to lend a hand when one is needed. To give of our talents and our time to causes worthy of his call to us. To do our work and to live our lives as if everything depended on it. In this way we will live in the shelter of the Most High.
You may suggest that what God asks of us is too hard, that it just isn’t natural to be sacrificial. Was it natural for those rescuers to work day and night digging through rock? Is it natural that a people, on their own, to take a day off without pay to reflect on where they’ve been and where they’re going? Is it natural for a successful person to ponder his failures at the expense of his success. No, it isn’t natural. In every case there is the Holy Spirit, the Source of all life, providing the impetus, giving us the courage and will to continue.
At my son’s school there was once a poster that read:

Theater is Life
Film is Art
Television is Furniture

What we all need to do, is to spiritually turn off the television and go out and do something. Get into the world and do something about it rather than sitting at home and watching it happen without us. The Holy Spirit can give us the strength and courage to do just that. We need only ask for help and he will come.
Jesus came into the world to save us because he loved us. Through his sacrifice we have been saved just like the baby Jessica in the well. Through thoughtful prayer and reflection, our lives can change from where they are to where we would like them to be. And through our failures we can learn and grow into a better people. A successful life has little to do with money or power. If you have loved God and have loved others as yourself, then you are success in the Kingdom of God. And in the end, that’s all that really matters. Amen.

The Eye of a Needle


Today from the book of Job we hear of the rich man, Job’s lament as he sits in pain, having lost everything he ever held dear in his life . . his family, his home, his wealth and his health and finally, his God in whom he trusts . . . all of them gone because of a test between God and Satan to see if Job would give up on God and curse him to his face if faced with hardship and loss. And finally Job laments the loss of fellowship with God in whom he trusted saying . . .

“If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face!”

How different these verses are compared to the verses given to us in St. Patrick’s Breastplate of a man so enveloped by God’s mercy that he cannot contain himself as we read . . .

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

And so in these two writings we see in one, the rich man Job, at his very lowest point in his life when he feels abandoned by God and then we see another man, Patrick at the very high point of his life when he feels the utter envelopment of God in Christ round about him.
These two men, both believers, show us how important it is to stay the course in terrible adversity. We all know the story of Job of course . . . a rich and blessed man tested by Satan to lose everything only to be eventually restored tenfold on a dare that God himself designs for him. But what about Saint Patrick? What’s his story? We know about the snakes in Ireland, but do we really know the story of the man Patrick?
Several months ago we celebrated Saint Patrick in our monthly newsletter. At the time I may have mentioned that Patrick was born in Roman Britain. Calpurnius, his father, was a deacon, his grandfather Potitus a priest. Patrick, however, like many ‘PKs’ (priest kids) was not an active believer. According to the Confession of St. Patrick, at the age of just sixteen Patrick was captured by a group of Irish pirates. The raiders brought Patrick to Ireland where he was enslaved and held captive for six years. Patrick wrote in his Confession that the time he spent in captivity was actually critical to his spiritual development. He explained that the Lord had mercy on his youth and his ignorance, and afforded him the opportunity to be forgiven of his sins and he converted to Christianity. While in captivity as a slave, Saint Patrick worked as a shepherd and strengthened his relationship with God through prayer, eventually leading him to convert to Christianity.
After six years of captivity he heard a voice telling him that he would soon go home, and then that his ship was ready. Fleeing his master, he traveled to a port, two hundred miles away, where he found a ship and with some difficulty persuaded the captain to take him. After three days sailing they landed, in Britain, and apparently all left the ship, walking for 28 days in a “wilderness”, becoming faint from hunger before encountering a herd of wild boar; since this was shortly after Patrick had urged the men with him to put their faith in God, the men became quite impressed that this God whom Patrick proclaimed would save them from starvation in such a miraculous way..
Acting on another vision, Patrick returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary. Tradition has it that St Patrick was not welcomed by the locals and was forced to leave to seek a more welcoming landing place. Patrick eventually became a deacon in the church, then a priest and finally was made the Bishop of Ireland. Here was a man, a slave, who started with less than nothing, overcame all obstacles and was rewarded with everything because God was with him.
Then there is Psalm 22 which may seem familiar to you because we say it every Good Friday. It is the prayer and prophetic vision of a man dying on a cross. A man somehow abandoned by God and a man who has lost everything for the sake of those who stand taunting and mocking him all around him. It is of course the prophetic vision of Jesus, a king who came to earth willingly . . . leaving his glory behind him to become the slave and servant of all . . . and for what reason you might ask? Jesus came to set men free from the slavery of sin in which they find themselves. By giving up his glory, Jesus shows us what we must also do in order to inherit eternal life – that is by giving up ourselves to his service and by walking in holiness all the days of our lives – by picking up our own cross and following him.
And although Pslam 22 begins with a man’s utter abandonment of God, it ends in a song of victory – for it ends like this . . .

I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.

So here in this Psalm is a story of one who losses everything only to be paid back for his faith not just ten fold, or a hundred fold but a thousand -thousand fold for what he has done for the Father in faith.

So it is within the backdrop of these stories that our Gospel is proclaimed to us today of a rich young ruler who is decidedly welcomed in the eyes of Jesus because he has done everything according to the law and is innocent in his eyes . . . but Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
The meaning of this saying by Jesus . . . about a camel going through the eye needle, has over the years, been taught in many different ways. For several hundred years there has been an accepted teaching that there was in Jerusalem a man gate called the eye of a needle, a gate where a camel could not pass through fully loaded with goods . . . but this may or may not be true since it was written in a book and accepted as fact only from the 9th century.
It is far more believable that Jesus here was using an exaggeration, an hyperbole, to make a point . . . a way of talking that many Hebrew scholars used in those days using certain sayings popular at the time.
Ancient Jewish writings use the “eye of the needle” as a picture of a very small place as in the saying “A needle’s eye is not too narrow for two friends, but the world is not wide enough for two enemies.” The ludicrous contrast between the small size of the needle’s eye and the largest indigenous animal in Israel is truly meant by Jesus to illustrate its very improbability.
Jesus’ hearers believed that wealth and prosperity were a sign of God’s blessing (cf. Leviticus and Deuteronomy). So their incredulity is more along the lines that, “if the rich, who must be seen as righteous by God by dint of their evident blessing, can’t be saved, then who can be?” Later, Christians turned this around to portray wealth as a hindrance to salvation . . . which it can be – but no more so than many other things, when the message is actually that salvation is in fact, impossible for all men (rich or poor) for it comes from God alone. But, Jesus goes on to say that things beyond the impossible are truly possible with God for, elsewhere, a Jewish midrash records:

“The Holy One said, open for me a door as big as a needle’s eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and camels”
In other words God only needs a sinner to open up just a crack for him and God will come pouring in and set up room for an oasis. God only needs a ‘foot in the door’, so to speak or faith the grain of a mustard seed to grow . . . and that is really the message that Jesus was trying to impart.
All of us, whether rich or poor, young or old, good or bad have fallen short of the glory of God. None of us are saved by good works or by what we have done or have not done in this life. Salvation comes to us all only as a gift . . a free gift that is bestowed on the undeserving through faith in the blood that Jesus sacrificed for us all on the cross at Calvary. You and I are made whole only through faith in that sacrifice and in our acceptance that everything we have is not really ours at all, but belongs to the God who saved us. When you eventually come to realize that you are only the caretakers of the things you have . . . whether it be your house, your job, your family, your body or your life you will have grown into the full knowledge of what God means for you in this life and willingly and with gladness be able, to give up any of these things to become one with God as the Lord of your life. Amen

A Promise and A Possibility


600 years before Jesus came into the world there was a philosophy developed in China that eventually became known as The Tao. Taoist philosophy explained the existence of good and evil as a struggle in the spiritual realm of light and darkness. The eastern yin-yang symbol seen in our pop culture depicts this struggle as two swirls. One of light, and one of darkness, pursuing each other in an infinite circular cycle of motion. It was believed that all people are consumed in this struggle and that both the light and the darkness seek to tip the scales of our thoughts and actions by influencing our choices and circumstances as human beings.
Two months ago there was an unveiling of this struggle in the news as one particular story came out. It was revealed in the intentional harm of nine black Christians in a Charleston, S.C. Church by a man obviously oppressed by evil. I doubt there is anyone whose heart did not go out that week to the Emmanuel AME church community at their heartbreak and sorrow in losing their beloved friends and relatives. This tragedy was for all of us totally incomprehensible in its scope and shock.
But, even as it played out over the day’s news, it was reported that there were no bitter words from the Christians who were left to pick up the pieces, no calls for who was to blame, no demands for justice, no law suits planned . . . only forgiveness from that community for the man who caused so much heartbreak and only words and deeds of comfort for the man’s family. It was through their faith that the community remained strong, convinced of the redeeming work of God in their lives. They knew their loved ones were in paradise and that they would one day see them again. They knew that darkness can not win over light . . . that evil will never prevail.
The struggle of darkness to overcome light is more insidious in our current world than it has ever been. Through television and the internet we are bombarded with every kind of temptation. From commercialism and manufacturer’s propaganda that tell us we need everything there is to buy even to our own state selling us lottery tickets, with that one time quip . . . all you need is “dollar and a dream”.
But God is hardly about a dollar and a dream . . . He is more about a ‘promise and a possibility’ – the promise of salvation and the possibility of a redeemed life wrought through faith and servanthood. Where darkness takes our time and money and exploits our dreams and fantasies, God only gives . . . our life, our talents, our resources and our ability to love on another.
From the very beginning God has tried to show us through his word and his example what it takes to lead a happy and fulfilled life. And we, as humanity, have often laughed at the simplicity of the truth that God has in mind for us. The truth is, relationships take work and they take care. Whether you are talking about a relationship with a child, a spouse, a friend or with God himself, they all require an abundance of giving and very little taking. That is the way of an enlightened person and the way of God, always striving to give of one’s self and one’s love in a relationship. The greatest example we have is in the relationship of marriage.
Today’s readings offer some insight into how God views the institution of marriage in particular and relationships in general. We read throughout the Bible about the marriage relationship between one man and one woman and how this relationship mirrors the relationship between God and Israel . . . and Jesus and His Church.
In today’s world marriage has taken quite a few hits due to many factors, the most prevalent of which is a ME FIRST attitude which has permeated much of our society. The feeling that “I want what I want and that’s what I want”, and “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine too”, brings about with it a prevalence of greed, apathy, pride, neglect, and ambivalence resulting in the highest divorce rate ever recorded. Humankind seems to be on a collision course with something yet unseen, something that is tearing us apart before we even get a chance to really know each other. With a divorce rate currently at 45% and rising, it is no wonder that many people are content to remain single.
But what happened to marriage? In a little more than one generation, married life has gone from the norm of American life to only one option among many. 60% of our children are growing up in households with only one parent who is an actual blood relative.
I can remember as I was growing up, how Television depicted the normal family. You might remember shows like ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or ‘Lassie’ or ‘Ozzie and Harriet’. These demonstrated to us what the quote ‘Perfect Life’ was all about. My own family and the families’ of my childhood friends mirrored this main stream way of life shown on television. Each family that I can remember had a devoted mother who stayed at home to be a homemaker, a father who worked all day to support his family of about two or three children. Although I don’t remember if my mother wore pearls while vacuuming the living room rug like Helen Cleaver, I do remember a very ordered and happy life back in the fifties. Although, I am sure divorce must have occurred at that time, it was one of those things that was rare, done usually for reasons of marital infidelity or abandonment and usually under the watchful eye of the local parish priest.
But times have changed. What is depicted today on television as the American norm in our present day has little resemblance to the life of the fifties. Today, more women work outside the home than ever before. They hold down jobs, usually out of necessity, in order to meet the bills and payments of an increasingly expensive way of life. In today’s world, a family like my own, represented by a father who works, a mother who stays at home represent less than 20% of American families. That’s only 1 family in 5. The rest are either working married couples with children, single working mothers with children, single working fathers with no children, or working singles living together with possible children, or working singles living alone, or retired couples with no children or just plain singles trying to get by. Holy Matrimony! What happened?
It seems pretty obvious from today’s readings that Jesus is not in favor of divorce, yet the Pharisees wanted to test him because in those days, all a man had to do to be rid of his wife was to get a scribe to write her a letter of dismissal. (In other words….. He fired her!) Even in today’s world this would be considered cruel. Jesus explains why this law was on the books. He said that Moses gave them that law because of their ‘hardness of heart’. Moses probably figured it was better than having men ordering their wives assassinated. You have to remember that here was a paternalistic society where women were considered property and nothing else. I don’t think any of us would have wanted to live under that system.
The real system, the one that Jesus quotes from the book of Genesis was the one where God joins two people in order that they become one flesh, one organism, if you will, in order to provide mutual love, affection and help in difficult situations. Marriage started out as an extremely good thing for the man and the woman. It provided protection and security for the woman, love and companionship for the man. Meanwhile, the institution of marriage perpetuated, through a promise, the possibility of a human species producing off-spring who would also grow and take on for themselves the marriage promises that their parents had taken, thus establishing the basis for community and government, the family unit. And so it worked pretty well for the last million years or so.
But, in today’s world, that basis for community has been eroded to a point that community and government have had to change in order to keep up with the current family unit. Divorce among married couples has prompted a complete change in the way government does business. The gay rights movement has created a whole new family unit that didn’t even exist 50 years ago, (at least not out in the open) and family discord remains at an all time high. The arguments about who is in control (i.e. who is getting more out of a relationship) continues to be the defining battle in all relationships.
But that is where God comes in, because within the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, (that is a marriage ordained by God and sustained by God), control is not an issue, because it is God who is in control and we need no longer to see ourselves as power brokers, but as servants, doing the will of him who put us together, to love and to cherish each other. It is when the world outside our homes breaks into our marriage through power, control, and abuse that our marriage falters because there is no longer room for God in our lives. God becomes relegated to some small corner in the back of our minds, and we feel a tremendous need to fight for control, if only for own emotional survival, in a love story gone bad.
The prophetic book of Hosea is about just such a love story gone very bad. In a way it mirrors God’s relationship with man.
In the story, God tells Hosea to go out and marry a prostitute. I am sure Hosea probably wouldn’t have chosen this for himself, but being a man of faith, he does what God asks. He marries Gomer, a prostitute, and he as three children with her, and supports and loves his wife and family and all seems very well, until his wife starts to long for the money and excitement of her past life. For the lure of licentiousness and extravagant living, she leaves her husband Hosea and her children behind to become once again, a prostitute for hire. But things don’t go well for her. She becomes abused and decrepit through riotess living and finally ends up as a slave. Hosea, meanwhile, still loves her and goes out looking for her everywhere. Upon his final search, he finds his wife for sale in a slave market. He buys her back for fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of barley. He brings her home to her children and promises to remain ever faithful to her and asks her to do the same. In a word, he forgives her and shows more mercy than most of us given the same situation. This is a story of abiding love and of great mercy and is the story about God’s relationship to his people.
Hosea is God in the story and Gomer is Israel, but it could just as well be any one of us. You and I were created in the image of God but we were born into sin through Adam’s fall. We have been held captive by sin all of our lives – in effect we are slaves to our sin, just as Gomer was a slave to hers. Jesus came looking for us and bought us back, not with money, but by giving up his own life. We need only believe this to be true in order to be set free. And if we believe this to be true, we need only confess our sin with a renewed commitment and amendment to life and all will be forgiven (just as Hosea forgave his harlot wife). This is the way of God to his people and it should be the way of all of us towards each other.
Jesus picked his disciples, not because they were pure and without shame, but because they were responsive to his word and ready and willing to confess their fault and be restored into the Father’s love.
Our job, and I have said this in many sermons over the years, is from the prophet Micah . . . “and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” And that’s it. You don’t need a black belt in religion. You need not wear a collar or a stole or pray out in the streets. You don’t need an icon or crucifix hanging around your neck to show that you are Christian because you are already the icon of Christ in the world. If you are doing your job right, people will instantly recognize you for what you are. And what is your job? Your job is to do the work Christ has given to you to do (i.e. to love and serve the lord in all people and in every situation of life).
God made us man and woman for our benefit and for the good of all humankind. We are made the way we are for each others companionship, affection, and security. Though different in many ways, I am sure you would agree that our lives would be exceedingly boring if we all thought the same way and if we all viewed life in the same way. If we truly see God as the strength and control in our relationships, we will be most blessed, because we will become one with our God as we become one with each other. A dollar and a dream . . . or a promise and a possibility, the choice is yours. Jesus gave us a promise and asks us to choose life.

Saint Michael and All Angels


I happen to be one those few who listen to a lot of talk radio each day as I travel to and from work and at lunch time. During a few of these sessions I am always surprised when the topic of religion comes up, because invariably the host tells his listeners that he is in fact not a Christian or a believer of any one religion . . . even though apparently he is a believer in ghosts, the supernatural, and angels. He is always up front to mention that he has a problem with the resurrection of Jesus and seems to insinuate that the apostles made the whole thing up.
But far from being offended by this, I myself find it a bit refreshing to hear a person explain with some candor why he is not a believer in Jesus even though he has great respect for those who do believe . . . and not only for Christian believers, but believers of all faiths. One cannot help but recognize that this is just the kind of person that God can appreciate – not because of his unbelief, but because of his openness to the heart of the gospel and to the existence of God.
Wasn’t it Jesus who told the unbelieving Jews who approached him “If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”
I believe this statement is the key to helping any unbeliever find his faith, for Jesus always pointed to the Father as the source of his power to do the works he did and the miracles he performed. But just like the miracles that we as Christians accept without reservation, many of us would rather not think of the other, unseen ones described in the Bible as angels or demons or other beings who occupy the heavens and the earth with us here and with God. For many, these are just fanciful legends made up for children at story book time . . . but for the prophets and those who have experienced them and seen them firsthand, these other beings are truly real and a force to be considered.
Today is the Feast of Saint Michael and all Angels and we celebrate and give God thanks for these ‘others’ who are with us at all times and in all seasons who perform the will of God by protecting us from those spiritual forces who would most like to do us harm.
In my first thoughts about the angelic realm so many years ago, I wondered why God would need an army of Angels at all. Certainly heaven must have been secure in the beginning and so an army to protect it or to defend it just didn’t fit my vision of heaven as a place of everlasting peace and joy.
But in our lesson today John writes something rather cryptic in that . . . “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world– he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
And so it seems that the Seraph Lucifer (or Satan) and his angelic followers were thrown out of heaven and made to reside with us, here on earth . . . which according to the book of Genesis, was where all the trouble began with Adam and Eve and the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil . . . and where there has been trouble ever since.
So just who or what are angels and why should we believe they exist?
One of the most important of the angels, we are taught, is the Angel Michael who is almost always depicted with the wings of a seraph trampling on the head of Satan, the devil (as in the famous painting by Guido Reni). Michael has been said to be in charge of the defense of the Nation Israel and of the Church of Christ until the return of Jesus. Michael has at his command hundreds of thousands if not millions of angels of every rank (of which we know there are nine)
A few years ago, our friend Shirley Lawrenson was here at St. Nicholas Church from Israel. She told the story that in the most recent war between Hamas and Israel, it was reported by the Palestinians that rockets shot into Israel were simply being swept out to sea or into the desert to explode harmlessly. Others were exploded with the use of the Iron Dome that had a 95% success rate. These were all thought to be miracles by the Jewish people . . . but these are the kinds of happenings that are caused by the angels of God. In fact, the president of Israel told the news reporters that in order to live in Israel today, you have to believe in miracles such as these . . . because there is no other explanation.
There are of course hundreds of other stories about angels on the internet and how they interact with human beings in our world, but in order to prove their existence to the unbelievers in our midst we need to look very closely at the biblical references that the prophets provide . . . and not only the prophets, but to Jesus Christ himself . . .
Remember in the garden of Gethsemane when Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant . . . “And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. “Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?”
Can you imagine what it was like to be the angelic contingent that was guarding Jesus his whole time on earth, and how they had to watch as he was flogged and crucified on that fateful day . . . ordered, we have to assume, not to interfere. I have often thought it was an angel who may have, in anger, torn the gold tabernacle curtain in two when Jesus died. What other explanation could there have been?
The New Testament includes many interactions and conversations between angels and humans. For instance, three separate cases of angelic interaction deal with the births of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. In Luke 1:11, an angel appears to Zechariah to inform him that he will have a child despite his old age, thus proclaiming the birth of John the Baptist. And in Luke 1:26 the archangel Gabriel visits the Virgin Mary in the Annunciation to foretell the birth of Jesus Christ. Angels then proclaim the birth of Jesus in the Adoration of the shepherds in Luke 2:10. And today we continue to proclaim the same song of the angelic host each week at the end of mass in the Gloria in Excelsis . . . Glory to God in the Highest.
Angels also appear later in the New Testament. According to Matthew 4:11, after Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, “…the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.” In Luke 22:43 an angel comforts Jesus Christ during the Agony in the Garden. In Matthew 28:5 an angel speaks at the empty tomb, following the Resurrection of Jesus and the rolling back of the stone by angels. Further on in the New Testament, it is Paul and Barnabus, his companion, who are released from prison by an angel. Hebrews 13:2 reminds readers that anyone may “entertain angels unaware” at anytime and anywhere.
As recently as the 20th century, visionaries and mystics have reported interactions with angels. In a biography of Saint Gemma Galgani written by Venerable Germanus Ruoppolo, Galgani stated that she had spoken with her own guardian angel.
I too, at least until the day of my ordination to the diaconate, had conversations with my guardian angel whose job I believe it was to see me trained and ordained into the service of God’s church. At the end of his/her role, she bid me farewell as she was to be assigned to the people of China. A week later Tienanmen Square became the subject of a pro-democracy uprising of students, thousands of whom were murdered or imprisoned.
Finally, A few years before my mother died I was driving to work one morning, and I had the thought that I should get off the thruway and head towards my mother’s house because something was very wrong. At the time I was in the middle of the airport project and I had a meeting that couldn’t wait so I proceeded on to Niagara Falls. When I got to work, what started as a suggestion became an overwhelming insistence and I found I had to leave . . . the thought was ‘forget the appointment – leave NOW!’ . . . and so I did. When I got to my mother’s house, she was in the midst of a stroke and couldn’t talk. I didn’t know what to do so I called my daughter Becky, who you know is an RN. She called 911 and my mom was sent to the hospital just in the nick of time. She made a full recovery and I can tell you now that it was her own guardian angel that saved her life.
I guess the bottom line here is that God asks us all the time to accept things on faith. He asks us to accept that we are saved even though we know we don’t deserve it. He asks us to believe in the sacraments of baptism and the body and blood of Christ that they have been given to us as a means of grace. Though we see only water and bread and wine . . . because we have faith we know these things to be for us the instruments God uses to give us grace. And so . . . though most of us do not see them, nor hear them, we all can take notice of the influence that God’s angels have on our world and in our lives. We know that angels are real because Jesus taught us that they are real.
And whether newly baptized or not, every Christian is ultimately a pupil in the school of Jesus Christ. We sit at the feet of our Master. We want to bring our minds and our wills, our beliefs and our standards, under his yoke. In the Upper Room Jesus said to the apostles: ‘You call me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am’ (Jn. 13:13). That is, ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord’ were no mere courtesy titles; they bore witness to a reality. Jesus Christ is our Teacher to instruct us . . . and our Lord to command us. All Christians are under the instruction and the discipline of Jesus Christ and It should be inconceivable for a Christian ever to disagree with, or to even disobey, him. Whenever we do, the credibility of our claim to be converted Christians will become clearly in doubt. For we are only truly converted if we are intellectually and morally converted . . . and we are not intellectually and morally converted if we have not subjected our minds and our wills to the yoke of Jesus Christ.

Knobby Knees


Many years ago when I was in sixth grade, my mom made a costume for me to wear in the school play. The play was The Pied Piper of Hamlet and I was given the part of the Town Miller – kind of a bit part, with only one line line . . . a line that to this day I cannot remember. But what I do remember about the day after the play was an incident that happened to me that has haunted me my whole life.
You see, being a twelve year old is like being between a child and an adult . . a child who has yet to fit in with the teens in his life but desperately wanting to. The costume that my mother made me was that of an alpine worker with a hat, a white shirt, shorts with colored suspenders and green knee socks. In the eyes of a twelve year old, this – at least at the time was – for me the ‘cat’s meow’ and I decided to wear the costume the next day, a Saturday, and to show all my friends how I looked in the play.
Now there was a girl, the older sister of my best friend, Jeffrey, who I particularly liked at the time but was much to shy to talk to. If you can think of Charlie Brown and his nemesis, the little red haired girl, then you’ll get the picture. This girl also had red hair and was probably about sixteen at the time and quite beautiful, especially in the mind of twelve year old boy – if you get my drift.
So it was with a bit of courage, I guess, that I decided to walk over to Jeffrey’s house to show him my costume, with the actual intent of running into Debbie, his sister to see what she thought. And much to my surprise she was there and told me exactly what she thought because she started laughing uncontrollably about my silly little get up and especially about “my little knobby knees” hanging out of my pants that were way to short.
Well, like anyone who has just been verbally skewered, I was pretty much mortified by this and ran home crying. I took off the costume and threw it into the waste can. Then I promised myself that I would never again wear shorts for as long as I lived . . . and I didn’t (except for an occasional swim in the pool) ever show my ‘little knobby knees’ ever again.
Now fast forward thirty years from that time and I was now a happily married adult with a wife and child, Becky, age 6 and I was accepted as an intern into the process of becoming a deacon. I was assigned to Trinity Church on Delaware Avenue and my sponsor there was a wonderful woman named Nan Clarkson. Nan was also in charge of the annual Christmas Pageant at Trinity and asked if I would take on one of the roles in the play – one that had no lines fortunately, because if was a pantomime sketch. But little did I know that their pageant would be an almost Hollywood production . .. with stage lights, costumes and scenery.
So when it came to hand out parts . . . as always it went to the leaders of the church to take on the primary parts of Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and all. And it was left to the draw of straws for the other supporting parts. And the part I picked was for one of two Roman soldiers . . . and my costume was . . . you guessed it a Roman Soldier helmet, spear, sandals and a short orange pleated skirt . . . at which I froze . . . thinking back to those words that still haunted me from thirty years ago.
As I sat there looking at this costume and panicking as to what to do . . . should I decline? . . . should I quit the program? . . . should I go home and forget everything about becoming a deacon? . . . that a voice in my head told me straight out “This will be the hardest thing I will ever ask you to do . . . but you need to do it” And so I did. And when the spot light came on, I stood there holding my spear awaiting the Holy Family to enter Bethlehem . . . it was the first of many times I have had to overcome my fear in thirty-odd years in ministry.
And as my wife Barbara, can attest, I still to this day will never wear shorts . . . all because of some careless words spoken to a little kid of 12 over fifty years ago.
Today in the epistle, James warns us about the use of our tongue and how it can cause great calamity if it is not controlled . . . How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue– a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
And so it is that from the heart and by way of tongue “that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. As Jesus warned us a few weeks back . . . All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Growing up, my family drilled into me a proverb that you probably were taught as well . . . that being. . . “If you cannot find something nice to say, you are better off saying nothing at all” Too often today though, we see just the opposite happening, especially in social media where people are able to hide behind pseudo-names and spill out all kinds of evil against everyone and everything. And once out . . . there is no way to retract it or hide it and so people are publicly humiliated and skewered verbally which continues to escalate until tempers become so unmanageable that killings and murders are planned and executed . . . all because someone somewhere could not control their tongue.
As much as the internet has become the cradle of human knowledge, it has its flaws, and its biggest flaws are in the hearts of those who use it in the wrong way. God gave us each free will and that will extends from the very best of intentions to the very worse pit to where a human can sink. In the end of course he will give up on those who cannot control there lives or their tongues. This is written, no less in the proverb that we read this morning . . .

Wisdom cries out in the street;
in the squares she raises her voice.
At the busiest corner she cries out;
at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
and fools hate knowledge?
Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
I will make my words known to you.
Because I have called and you refused,
have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
and because you have ignored all my counsel
and would have none of my reproof,
I also will laugh at your calamity;
I will mock when panic strikes you,
when panic strikes you like a storm,
and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
when distress and anguish come upon you.
Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
would have none of my counsel,
and despised all my reproof,
therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
and be sated with their own devices.
For waywardness kills the simple,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
but those who listen to me will be secure
and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
It is a simple rule that all should know and follow . . . that those who turn to God and accept his commandments as a rule of life, will live in the gracious presence of the Lord forever. Those who cannot accept the commandments of God and would rather to live by their own rules are given the freedom to live without God and without hope forever.
This is such a frightening prospect that how do we know it to be true? It is written everywhere in the scripture for eyes to see if they have a mind to see . . . that we must strive to set our mind on Christ and the life he offers us and not on our lives in this world, for they will all come to end . . .
Today, Jesus asks his disciples . . . “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Amen

Faith Believes Nor Questions How


Several years ago I came down with a cold that I could not shake. I was home-bound for about a week and it wasn’t getting any better . . . in fact it was getting worse. I lay on the living room couch without the strength to even get up for glass of water. I didn’t eat for days. As my temperature began to soar past a hundred degrees, it appeared I was destined for the hospital. I had never really been sick in a very long time so I didn’t have a doctor to turn to. When finally I got to Mercy Hospital I remember literally having to crawl on my hands and knees to get up the steps at the front door.
The ER people took one look at me and called in an emergency internist who began to diagnose my problem. It turned out that I had a life threatening form of pneumonia that was resistant to the normal routine drugs. Over the next two weeks, my doctor would try a number of combinations of antibiotics to try to counter the disease. After about ten trials and twenty three different drugs, he hit on the right combination; but not before nearly losing me completely to the disease. During those final hours I was delirious with pain due to lack of oxygen as my lungs were nearly completely filled with fluid and my body was screaming for air.
I knew that I was at the point of death and begged for God to relieve me of the burden of my life by calling me home. That night I was given an extraordinary gift; one that I have remembered in great detail even to today.
We often read about near death experiences, but seldom do we encounter many who actually have had one. Well this was for me a second experience, far more vivid than the first one, back when I was eighteen. In this experience I was ushered somehow through a tunnel of light and was met on the other side by one who I can only describe as a being of light. I didn’t know if it Jesus or an angel but I knew that it was a being, clothed in light and exuding great love for me and for everyone there. In an instant I was shown my past – where things had gone right and where they had gone wrong. I was also shown a probable future if I decided not to go back. But the future I was shown would not be a pleasant one for my family or for those I would leave behind. I felt an intense desire to stay where I was but was ridden with guilt by the thought of leaving those I loved behind. And so I was given the choice to give up my life and be welcomed into paradise and be forever surrounded in love –or- go back to save my family from a dismal future and . . . to begin a second life’s work – to be literally born again. In either case I was assured that I would be forever welcome into the arms of mercy regardless of the choice I made. And so reluctantly, I chose to return. I woke that morning in my hospital bed. My temperature was now normal and I was finally able to breathe. Whether it was a dream, the medication or a miracle I am not able to tell you. But I know it was an experience so intense that it has stayed with me all these years and I have been thankful for every minute of every day since. I was healed of pneumonia and was literally given a new lease on life; but more importantly I was given the blessed assurance that all is exactly as how we all have been taught.
Today’s gospel story relays to us the story of two healings by Jesus. One is the healing of a man, born deaf from birth . . . they brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
The other is the story of a small girl with a demon, born to a woman of Syria, a foreigner and not a Jew, who begs Jesus to help her daughter. Jesus at first refuses but then changes his mind when the mother quotes a bit of scripture that we should all be very familiar with . . . Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But [the woman] answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
It was from this particular discourse that Thomas Cramner wrote the prayer of humble access that is in our Holy Communion liturgy . . ‘We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy’:
In both of these stories Jesus meets people that only he can cure. One who was deaf and did not know the Messiah and yet was healed; and the other was a girl possessed who also did not know Jesus, and in fact was not a believer and yet she also was healed through the faith and prayer of her mother.
The key question that can be asked in these stories and in so many others was when the disciples asked Jesus, upon the healing of a blind man in a different gospel story, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” And so it can be inferred that all these miracles happened so that you yourselves might come to believe . . . as the deaf hear, as the lame walk, and as those with demons are made whole . . . all for one purpose and one purpose only – so that you also will believe.
And so one man’s mission in life was to be born blind, another to be born deaf, and yet both are healed for the sole purpose to illustrate for those would believe that Jesus Christ came down from heaven in order that all people might be saved from what afflicts them. All the recorded stories of healing in the new testament are meant to illustrate for us that there will be those who cannot believe or will not believe and who are blinded by pride and arrogance that may be lost forever in their sins.
Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see . . . may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `’We see,’ your sin remains.”
There can be no doubt that the blind man, the deaf man, and even the girl afflicted with a demon in these stories desired to go to heaven. I think most everyone holds in their hearts, to some degree or another, a general expectation of what heaven or the life hereafter is like.
I also believe that there is not one person outside these doors, however false may be their views, however unscriptural the ground of their hope, however worldly-minded they may be . . . who does not wish there to be a heaven to go to when they die. But Jesus tells us that many in this world . . . without a change of heart . . . will never get there. He tells us that many desire to wear the crown – but most are ashamed of the cross. Many would like the glory–but few can stomach grace. All would like the happiness–but very few buy into holiness in their lives. All would like the peace that believing brings–but very few will seek after truth. We all would like the victory–but none of us wants to fight. We all would like the reward–but not the labor. We all would like the harvest–but not the plowing. We all would like the reaping–but not the sowing. And so the way to heaven is fraught with difficulty for those who have little faith and it is nearly impossible for those who have none at all.
So yo might ask . . . why is it so difficult for even those of us who actually believe? I think it’s difficult because we hear the stories of God’s workings and of his healings, as in today’s readings, but few of us are healed. We see earthquakes in Nepal and droughts and recent wildfires in California and disasters all around the world and we wonder where is God in all this? We see stories on the news of fellow Christians murdered for their belief in the messiah and their churches destroyed and we wonder what is our faith all about if God allows atrocities against innocent people to be committed?
If God is not sending earthquakes, destroying economies and inflicting pain upon human beings, then we might ask, what is He doing? I believe scripture shows us clearly, that God works through people like you and me, calling them to help their neighbors in need. God comforts his people, walking with them even through the valley of the shadow of death as we read in the Psalms. God bends or forces suffering, tragedy and evil that occur to bring about good in all things. God redeems the suffering and heals the broken hearted. Those who are believers in God find strength from their faith in the face of terrible suffering. We are compelled to give sacrificially to help those in need. And we have the hope that comes from knowing that, with God by our side, the tragedy we witness in others, or are facing tragedy ourselves, is never the final word. I believe we are called, like Christ himself, to be “wounded healers” in a broken world.
You and I were each born for a purpose; we each have a mission in life. We may not all be aware of exactly what it is but like the deaf man and the young girl in the Gospel story, you were chosen just as you are (perhaps in ways broken, confused, blind or deaf) so that God’s works might be revealed in you. Remember always that you did not choose God, no one can . . . God chose you for this time and in this place.
If you go away with any thought from this homily today, remember that there’s nothing more precious to your life than your time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but I would tell today, that you do not. Wasted hours will destroy a life just as surely at the beginning of life as at the end, only at the end it becomes much more obvious.
Saint Paul wrote to us once . . . Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light . . . for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Amen

A Royal Priesthood – A Holy Nation


Among the many reasons I have heard, over the course of my lifetime, as to why people do not come to church, is that of the sin of hypocrisy which is discussed in the readings this morning. I have often heard say that the church is full of hypocrites who act all nice on Sunday only to act as the devil incarnate the rest of the week. And of course, this may be true of some people who go to church, but certainly not all of us.

When I first moved into our house in South Buffalo many years ago, my neighbor, who was Roman Catholic at the time, told me that she would never step foot in her church again. When I asked why, she told me that it was because she saw her parish priest in a movie theater, one where he ought not to have been. Of course, perhaps she also, ought not to have been there either, but that did not seem to weigh too heavily on her conscience at the time. She was angry because someone she respected, who taught in his congregation about the the law and scriptures, was found wanting in his personal life and she was upset because she found out that her priest was as human as she was and it did not set well with her. At the time I tried to remind her that Christians as a whole are not perfect . . . but they are forgiven . . . and that perhaps she should understand that everyone, including her priest, is imperfect . . . and will, at times. fall short of the glory of God.

In today’s reading James tells us “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” So how can we do this? How can we live our lives being both hearers and doers of the word, being as we are, imperfect people in an imperfect world?

There is only one way of course . . . and that is through Jesus Christ . . . for it is he who has adopted us into God’s family and it is he who has given us power to overcome the world in every circumstance in which we find ourselves, if only we would let him.

Last February, you may remember the beheading of twenty-one Coptic Christians that took place in Iraq. These men were executed because they were identified by ISIS as “people of the cross.” In them, we should be reminded of the possibility of martyrdom and the reality that in this side of glory we are but strangers in a foreign land.

Consequently, we Christians often find ourselves in a most difficult position. We are called by God to love our neighbors— even neighbors who might better be described as our enemies. And we are never to return evil for evil regardless of how much we think we are justified in our feelings of revenge. While most of us will not face the imminent threat of death, testifying to our belief in Christ is most often far from easy. How then, are we to live faithfully amid these challenging circumstances and among very difficult people?

As sons and daughters of the One who is both the eternal King and our High Priest, we have assurance that we will never be forgotten or abandoned. We do not need to be absorbed with self-preservation; we are in fact free to live our lives shaped by mercy and to love others as ourselves. To appreciate this vision, we must understand that we are in fact chosen as a people to be a blessing, and that we are to carry out this important work in a priestly manner.

A few weeks back, the apostle Peter gave us encouragement when he wrote: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellence of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. Peter here drew from a long and cherished tradition, theologians call ‘election’ that is woven throughout the Old Testament.

You may remember when God called Abraham, He made it clear that from this man a great nation would arise. What is interesting about the idea of election in this context is that the goal was a gracious inclusion rather than hard-hearted exclusion. At the time, God chose Abraham and his offspring, the Jewish nation, to serve as His representatives in the world. In this way, Israel was meant to function like a city on a hill or a lighthouse, where others would be drawn to the light of the creator Lord. We, as God’s adopted people should never forget that we, like the Jewish people, are in fact blessed, in order to be a blessing. That is at the heart of the biblical movement of election. But Peter reminds us that election and priesthood are meant to go together.

Peter references the Book of Exodus where we read of the promise that “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Israel of course had a specific people set apart to be ordained as priests, but the promise to Abraham was that all of God’s people would serve him as priests and as kings.

It is clear from scripture that all who now have faith in the Christ, the messiah, are part of this “chosen race” that is “a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” We then, with the Jewish nation, together, are the true heirs of Abraham’s covenant with God. Barriers between Jew and Gentile are all meant to and will eventually disappear. What unites us as a people is not our ethnicity or culture, but our worship of Yeshua Meshya – Jesus our Messiah. Even amid serious diversity we have become one in Christ. As those who are connected to the Great High Priest, His people are to carry out His final work of reconciliation in the world. We as believers are to carry out two vital ministries as part of the royal priesthood.

First, in our priestly role, all Christians are to live sacrificially for others. We are, as ISIS has so rightly labeled us, “the people of the cross”. Jesus laid down His life for sinners who are in desperate need of grace and love. As imitators of the crucified Lord, we now are to offer ourselves to Christ through sacrificial acts of love done in behalf of our neighbors, even the neighbors who consider us their enemies. We can truly honor God through our works of grace and mercy, hoping and praying that these same people, who are the enemies of God now, may one day “glorify God on the day of visitation”. We cannot make atonement for them, but through our lives, we can point them to the Lamb of God who alone can bring reconciliation between a holy God and a sinful world.

Second, we are faithful in our priestly role when we offer our prayers of intercession on behalf of others. In the New Testament Paul urges Timothy to offer “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for ”all people, for kings and all who are in high positions”. Part of living as the chosen people and a holy nation is that we are set apart to be instruments of God’s grace and reconciliation in this world. And this begins with our prayers. We must pray not just for those we love, nor even just for God’s own people, but for the world, including even the most dangerous people who wish to do us harm.

Jonathan Cahn, a well known prophetic Rabbi commented recently that the days of grayness are now at a close . . . that there is very soon to be only light and darkness (i.e. only good and evil) in the world. He admonishes all believers to choose and to stand firm – in the light – for salvation is quickly drawing near to us. But for those who persist in living in darkness, they will soon be lost – forever. And that is the world where we find ourselves today.

So how can we love our neighbor? We must intercede for them, asking for the light of God’s mercy to overcome the looming darkness. Jesus did this as an example for us even as He hung on the cross. You and I cannot change or save our neighbor, but we must continue to believe that God can.

Jesus, our high priest, is the perfect Mediator who makes intercession on our behalf, offering Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice so that we might enjoy peace with God. We who have received mercy are now His chosen vessels to be instruments of His grace and love to the world. This is what it means to live as part of the royal priesthood.

But in order to live the life we have been chosen to live, Jesus commands us in his Gospel today when he says to all his followers . . . “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” So we must, every one of us, prove all things; hold fast to that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil. And may the very God of peace sanctify you always; and pray to God that your whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


The Full Armor of God


Several years ago when my children were small, I got the idea to plant a vegetable garden in the back yard. I decided I would plant everything that I liked . . . tomatoes, corn, squash, but also including some eggplant that Barbara likes. After a lot of tilling and weeding the soil, I finally got down to planting all the little starter plants that I expected would one day yield a lot of fruit. But little did I expect that I would be in for one fight after another to be able to call the fruit my own. You see the first onslaught on the tender shoots were rabbits who ate everything they could above ground. So . . . after replacing most of the crop, I erected a chicken wire fence to keep the rabbits out. Later in the summer the tomatoes were attacked by snails who ignored the fence and simply bit off the young tomato plants at their stems. After installing some beer filled fruit jars, I managed to stave off that attack, only to start battling aphids, who decided to cover the leaves of some of the young plants. After spraying nicotine laced water on them, the aphids finally subsided. By this time it was nearly fall and I went out into the yard expecting to pick a few ripe tomatoes and cucumbers. But to my utter amazement, what the rabbits hadn’t eaten and the bugs hadn’t destroyed, my prize tomatoes and cucumbers were gone. They had been stolen by a thief in the night (presumably one of my neighbors). So I put up another, bigger fence to keep people out as well.

But all was not lost, because out of the whole garden upon the advent of fall, I was finally able to harvest a wonderful crop of the most wonderful tomatoes, beans, cucumbers, squash and of course, eggplant, that you have ever seen. In fact we had eggplant to eat all the way up to Thanksgiving that year . . . yum.

I wanted to relay this story to you today because God is also a gardener of sorts. Jesus tells us he is raising and tending people of all types and sizes for a future harvest that is still to come. But the people in his garden are in far more jeopardy than a few tomatoes stems planted in Buffalo. So much in jeopardy, that they need the protection of spiritual armor and God Himself, to stave off the assaults that would do them all in.

Paul writes ‘For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

In many respects this shows us that we are not ‘merely vegetables’ in the garden of God, but are, in fact, soldiers in the army of God. So you might ask, when did we all get drafted?

A few months ago a friend at work relayed a story to me about how her son, who has been an honor ROTC student in high school and was awarded numerous prizes and honors from the Air Force but was turned down when he went in to sign up. You see, the boy had had ADHD and speech therapy when he was little and this fact on his medical record excluded him from joining the very thing he had worked toward his whole life. The good news is that he was finally this year accepted into the Niagara County Sheriff’s Department. The point is we hear on television ads asking us, pleading with us, and begging men and women to join the armed forces . . . but once they do, the government appears to be extremely selective in who they will actually accept.

We might say to each other that this isn’t very fair. Why should a young man or young woman be denied because of something they can’t help or change? And we think how very intolerant.

But Jesus tells us that God takes much the same position. We have heard it said by Jesus that ‘many are called but few are chosen’. Jesus tells us that God is extremely selective in choosing his friends and that is why so many are called, but so few appear to be chosen to walk with Him. Some would say that, and especially in this world of tolerance for the individual, whatever their belief, whatever their behavior, that this is an intolerant intolerance . . . and you know what? They would be correct. For God has a bar for us to pass over, one that is set very high . . . but there are others who would set the bar so low that it becomes a stumbling block for the many who would try to take the easy way out. That bar, of course, is Jesus Christ our Lord and it is only with his help in overcoming that bar that we can succeed in obtaining Gods fellowship and access into the Kingdom of God.

But you might ask then, will some not be saved? . . . and I would tell you that many will not be saved. Jesus, who in the gospel lesson today, was perhaps the greatest preacher who ever lived, and also lost nearly his entire following by telling them a spiritual truth, that they must eat of his flesh. To which when many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go?”

Not much is known about the many disciples who would not accept and believe, and who left Jesus and the disciples. The New Testament tells us there were at least seventy disciples besides the original twelve. But we also know that there were others who stayed; among them were Stephen, Barnabus, Mathias, the two Marys, Martha and Phoebe. Did the others return? I think someone would have reported it if they did return, so I am thinking that they probably did not and so perhaps they were lost.

But of the ones who stayed there came forth the truth of the Spirit of God and an entire belief system in redemption, in the resurrection and the life hereafter in God’s Kingdom.

Paul, who came to the scene later writes to the church in Ephesus while in chains and describes a war, not as the vanquished, but as a general directing his army, he writes . . . “Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

There was another disciple of sorts who also wrote while in chains, but in an English prison. His name was John Bunyan and his work was the book ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ written in 1678 and remarkably, still in print. John Bunyan relates the story of a man named Christian who sets off on a journey from ‘The City of Destruction’ to the ‘Celestial City’. The story is an allegory of the Christian walk and all the obstacles that we face in a faith-filled journey towards our heavenly home. It is one the best books I have ever read and it is actually available for free online.

The man Christian comes across other characters like Evangelist, Pliable and Obstinate and many others who sometimes help him and sometimes become stumbling blocks to him on his way to the Celestial City. The point of the story is that we as Christians, are burdened with our sins and we need to relieve ourselves of the burden that we hold in order to be saved. But many of us do not want to unburden ourselves because we have become so used to the burden that we cannot bear the drastic change in our life. It is only through Christ that our burdens are set down and we are released to live in perfect freedom.

The book is an allegory of what our spiritual walk is all about but in a very real and dramatic way it also portrays our physical world in what and who we need to fight off in order to win the final battle.

Today, we face an onslaught of unbelief and of evil on all sides. Our freedom to choose is in jeopardy and those who would limit it are telling us it is for our own good as they slowly take it away. As you go about your lives this week, keep your ears open and the shield of faith at your side. Become more aware of your surroundings and note how many times you hear or see an attack on God, his Christ or the Truth. You will be quite surprised to find that Paul is right . . . believers in God literally are at war with the world. Amen.

On the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin

The universal church over the centuries and within its liturgy evolved with a number of habits that are sometimes rather hard to break. One is that baptisms are always performed on a Saints Day or other Holy Day as can be arranged with those who wish to be baptized. At one time this was pretty easy to do because baptisms were at one time private family affairs and were done during a small weekday service that also corresponded to a Holy Day; which are conveniently spread out over the whole year.

But today of course we perform baptisms in much the same way as the early church did, on a Sunday, with the whole congregation present. But Sundays don’t always fall on Holy Days – so in the present day we sometimes need to move Holy Days a few days forward or back which we have done today. For today we celebrate not only the baptism of Valery Rose but also the Feast of the Virgin Mary who we all know of course as the mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Now, as good Anglicans or Episcopalians, you may never have heard of the Feast of the Virgin Mary because as ‘protestants’ we have never much completely bought into the doctrine of Mary as the Queen of Heaven as our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters regard her.

But in our own way Anglicans certainly should and do venerate Mary as a saint of the elect and as the mother of Jesus because Mary’s place within the gospels carries a message of veneration. Many who do not see this particular feature of the New Testament generally get lost in the details, reading too much into sayings such as Jesus’ “Woman what have I to do with you?” and the like.

But I would tell you that the stories of Mary hold an important place in the gospel narrative. Whereas Mark’s gospel has the least mention of her, with no birth narrative – Saint Luke has the most material, and Saint John’s Gospel perhaps the most important.

For me, it is the seemingly “gratuitous” material that points to veneration of Mary. St. Luke’s account has within it the most famous Magnificat hymn as was read in our Gospel lesson today in which Mary declares, “All generations will call me blessed.” It is a phrase that can only be compared to God’s promise to Abraham which we read a few weeks past – I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:2-3)

Then in Mary’s encounter with her aunt Elizabeth (and with the child in her womb, John), the focus is on Mary herself rather than the child within her womb. As Elizabeth exclaims “But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” (Luke 1:43-44) And then Later in Luke, when the child Jesus is presented in the Temple, the elder Simeon prophesies addressing both Mary and Joseph, her husband: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luk 2:34-35) . . . thus linking Mary to the Cross of Christ in the piercing of her soul.

The abundance of Marian material in Luke explains her veneration in the primitive early Church. She is not just the Virgin who gives birth to Christ – she is also blessed by all and she is the cause of joy to the Prophet John even in his mother’s womb; she is a unique participant in the sufferings of Christ, destined herself for a mystical sword that will pierce her very own soul. She is present at the beginning, at the incarnation and she is present at the end at Calvary.

This all points to the unique place that Mary held in the first century Christian community and in their worship.

The veneration of Mary has actually never ceased in the Anglican Church over the centuries, but has matured over time as the Church considered the meaning and depth of Christ’s Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection.

John’s gospel stands out for us as imbued with a profound understanding of the mystery of Mary. Of special note is John’s first mention of Mary. We meet her at the Wedding in Cana. John provides no introduction to her character – because he presumes a prior knowledge on the part of his readers. At the Wedding, the wine runs out. And with no explanation of a practical sort, John simply relates that Mary tells Jesus, “They have no wine.”

This is profound because the disciples have seen nothing as yet that would relate Jesus to the Father in Heaven. No miracles have been performed; for this Wedding will be the scene of the first miracle. And yet Mary knows who Jesus is and what He means for mankind. She is already fully initiated into the truth of His life and ministry.

Many Protestants have made much of Christ’s reply to her: “What is this between you and me?” They have treated the statement to mean: “What business is this of yours?” In fact, it simply asks, “What is this between you and me?” But Saint John puts the statement in a context: “For mine hour has not yet come.” Christ says to His mother, “It’s not time. This doesn’t have to begin yet.”

I believe that Mary and her Son shared a bond of knowledge of the coming Cross. His life will be offered and a sword will pierce her soul. And once His ministry begins, nothing can stop his movement towards the cross for our redemption. Her response is simple: “Do whatever He tells you.” It is a repetition of her earlier, “Be it unto me according to your word.” Her complete humility and self-emptying before God is a human reflection of the self-emptying of Christ on the Cross.

And it is for this reason that the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin is the perfect opportunity for baptism in the church. For it is in Baptism that we, like Mary, come to God in complete humility knowing only the cross and Christ crucified.


From our Epistle today we read from Paul’s letter . . .


When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

In far eastern religions, it is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is true of all journeys, both physical and spiritual. By means of our baptism, we have taken the first step (and for many perhaps, upon reflection, this has been one giant leap). But none the less, it is through our Baptism that we have begun a journey that will last our whole lives long and we are walking where Jesus walked and we are going where Jesus went. But there are many who have an idea that the rest of the journey is simply a slide into heaven, but it is not. Like Jesus, who went directly into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, we too are to follow him and begin a journey that is hard and difficult and not without pain. Jesus’ journey ended on the cross where he died so that we wouldn’t have too. Our journey ends at the cross with His mother, Mary and His disciples . . . waiting . . . in hopeful expectation for his resurrection and his return, when he will gather us all up into the arms of His Father and live forever in His Heavenly Home. Amen