Sunday, August 27, 2017

12 Pentecost

August 27, 2017

Matthew 16.13-20

+ At times, I occasionally mention someone during my sermons that I think you should know about. And what I love is that you actually follow up on occasion. I see you writing down those names on occasion. And you sometimes even engage me later.

Well, I have a new one for you today. Some of you might have heard of him.

His name is Matisyahu. Matisyahu is an American reggae singer. But, about ten years ago, when he first became popular, he was unique because he was a Hasidic Reggae singer. Yes, I did get that right.

I remember the first time I ever saw him. It was quite an experience. He appeared, in yarmulke, payot (the earlocks) and beard. And he sang like you wouldn’t believe.

I followed his career pretty closely over the years. And I am still a huge fan. Some of his songs about God are some of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear.  Matisyahu does
not look not like he did ten years ago, however. He doesn’t because he actually shaved his beard and separated himself from Hasidic practice.  Which was very controversial. Shaving his beard was looked down upon by many people. 

I just recently read a fascinating article about Matisyahu’s decision. He said he found himself separating himself from the more strict aspects of Judaism because all the rules actually got in the way of his relationship with God.  
 Religion, he said, got in the way of his relationship with God.  He’s still Jewish, mind you. And an Orthodox Jew too.

As I read the article, I had to relate.  At times, I realize, that being a priest often feels like I’m married. Married to the Church—capital C.  And like any marriage, there are good days, and there are not such good days. Well, that’s definitely the way it is with the Church—capital C.

I often wonder why God even called me to the Priesthood. I am not the typical person called. Now, I know this is a shock to all of you, but I do not like authority. I do not like being told what to do. I never have. And I probably never will. I respect authority. I will follow the rules. But, let me tell you, I don’t always like it.

There are days when I don’t like the Church—capital C, or the authority of the Church or the hypocrisy of the Church.  There are days when I really don’t like some bishops, or some fellow clergy, especially when Bishops act pompous and full of themselves and when clergy act like weasels.  There are days when I don’t like Church leaders—not just ordained ones—who coerce and manipulate the Church.

Probably most of us here would say we have felt the somewhat same way about the Church at times.  In fact, I know you have. Because that is why you are here at St. Stephen’s.

There are days when we all groan when we see or hear other Christians get up and speak on behalf of the rest of us.  There are days when we are embarrassed by what some Christians say or do on behalf of Christianity.  There are days when we get frustrated when we hear clergy or other authorities pronounce decrees that, in no way, reflect our own particular views or beliefs.  And there are times when we get downright mad at the hypocrisy, the homophobia, the misogyny, the ambivalence, the silence in the face of oppression and evil and war, the downright meanness we sometimes experience from the Church.

Most of us—idealistically, naively maybe—wonder:  wait a minute.  The Church isn’t supposed to be like this.  The Church is supposed to be a place of Love and Compassion and Acceptance.   It is supposed to be a place where everyone is welcomed and loved.

Knowing that and comparing the ideal view of the Church with its shortcomings only make us feel more helpless, listless, angry, and disgruntled.  And that’s all right.

I personally think that’s a somewhat healthy way of looking at the Church.  Because we have to remind ourselves of one thing: What we find ourselves turning away from and what we are often tempted to run away from is not God.  What we are running away from is a human-run, human-led organization.  We are running away from a celestially planned treasure that has been run (and very often mis-run) throughout two thousand years of history by fallible human beings.

In today’s Gospel, we find this wonderful interchange between Jesus and Peter.  Peter, when asked who he thinks Jesus is, replies,

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

Yes! That’s definitely the right answer!  
But, Jesus responds to this confession of faith with surprise.

He responds by saying,

“I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

Of course, as you might know, Jesus is playing a little word game here with the words “Peter” and “rock.” In Jesus’ own language of Aramaic he would have said, “You are Kepha (Peter is also called Cephas at times in the Gospels) and on this kepha (or rock) I will build my church.”

Now, depending on who you are, depending on your own personal spiritual leanings, this reading could take on many meanings.  If you’re more Catholic minded—and especially if you’re more Roman Catholic minded—it certainly does seem that Jesus is establishing the Church on the Rock of Peter—and of course in that tradition Peter at this moment becomes essentially the first Pope.

I don’t hold to that view, personally.  On this one, I’m a bit more Protestant or Reformed minded. For people like me, it could be said that the Church is being established not on Peter himself, but on the rock of Peter’s confession of faith.

Either way, Jesus is commending the Church to Peter and to his other followers.  And this is important, especially when we examine who Peter is.

Jesus commends his Church to one of the most impetuous, impulsive, stubborn, cowardly human beings he could find.  Peter, as we all know, is not, on first glance, a wonderful example for us of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  He is the one who walks on water and then loses heart, grows frightened and ends up sinking into that water.  He’s the one who, when Jesus needs him the most, runs off and denies him not just once, not twice, but three times, and even then cannot bring himself to come near Jesus as he hangs dying on the cross.

But…you know, Peter is maybe a better example of what followers of Jesus truly are than we maybe care to admit.  Yes, he is a weak, impetuous, cowardly, impulsive human.  

But who among us isn’t?

Who among us isn’t finding someone very much like Peter staring back at us from our own mirrors?  

And the thing we always have to remember is that, for all the bad things the Church has been blamed for—and there are a lot of them—there are also so many wonderful and beautiful things about the Church that always, always, always outweigh the bad.

Obviously most everyone here this morning must feel that same way as well to some extent.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here this morning.  Most of us are able to recognize that the Church is not perfect.  And I think that, when Jesus commended his Church to people like Peter, he knew that, as long as we are here, struggling on this “side of the veil,” so to speak, it would never be perfect.

But that, even despite its imperfection, we still all struggle on. Together.

I love the Church and I love the people who are in the Church with me, sometimes even the ones who drive me crazy.  And I sometimes even love the ones with whom I do not agree or who lash out at me for their own personal issues.  Why? Because that’s what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  That is what it means to be the Church.

I am here in the Church because I really want to be in the Church.  I am here because the Church is my home.  It is my family.  It is made up of my friends and Jesus’ friends.

I am here because I—imperfect, impetuous human being that I am—am part of the Church because I love my fellow Christians, and I don’t just mean that I love Desmond Tutu and all those Christians who are easy to love.  I love those who are hard to love too.  I love them because, let’s face it, sometimes we are those same people too.

Sometimes we are the ones who drive people from the Church as well.  And sometimes we ourselves drive our own selves away from the Church.

But as long as we’re here, as long as we believe in the renewal that comes again and again in recognizing and confessing our shortcomings and in professing and believing in and what it means to be a baptized Christian, then we know it’s not all a loss.  As long as I struggle to not be the person who drives people from the Church, but works again and again in my life to be the person who welcomes everyone—no matter who they are and where they stand on the issues—into this Church, then I’m doing all right.

Because the Church Jesus founded was a Church founded solidly on the rock of love.  The Church’s foundation is the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God and the message to us as followers of this Son of the Living God, the Messiah—the bringer of freedom and peace—is that we must love God and love each other as we love ourselves.

But the Church that is firmly founded on the Messiah, the Son of the Living God—when it founded deeply on that balanced love of God, of each other and of ourselves—then it truly becomes the Church Jesus founded and left to us.  If we are the Church truly built on a love like that then, without doubt, the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.  And as long as I’m here, and you’re here, we are going to make the Church a better place.  We need to be the Church from which no one wants to leave.

So, let us be the Church we want the Church to be—because that is the Church that Jesus founded.  Let us be the Church that Jesus commended to that imperfect human being, Peter.  In those moments when we find ourselves hating the Church, let’s not let hatred win out. Let love—that perfect, flawless love that Jesus preached and practiced—eventually win out.

We are the Church.  We are the Church to those people in our lives.  We are the Church to everyone we encounter.  We are the reflection of the Church to the people we serve alongside.

So let us be the Church, and if we are, we will find ourselves in the midst of that wonderful vision Jesus imagined for his Church.  And it will truly be an incredible place.  It will truly be the Kingdom of God in our midst.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

11 Pentecost

August 20, 2017

Matthew 15.10-28

+ Now I know this might come as a surprise to most of you, but I have, at times, gotten myself into a bit of trouble with my mouth. I sometimes say things I maybe shouldn’t say. I do not have much of a filter. I sometimes find myself speaking out on things and then, maybe, possibly, regretting something I have said.  And, in those moments, there’s no one to blame but myself.  

I know I’m not alone here. We are a congregation of people who speak out, who use words well to convey convictions and beliefs.  Which is why many of you are here at St. Stephen’s. We are definitely NOT a cookie cutter congregation.

Sadly, though, for me anyway, as I look back in my life at those times when I’ve been “in trouble” it was almost always because of something I said.  There have been times when, even as the words are coming out of my mouth, I wish I could just grab them in the air and swallow them before they get too far. I have no filter, sometimes.  And it’s been a long-time “growing edge” for me to work on.

We realize very clearly that the words spoken really do have ripple effects. If we think, when we say something either on the offense or defense, that those words will not have consequences in the long-run, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

Jesus tells his followers—and us—in this morning in our Gospel reading—

“it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles; it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. ”

(As a vegan, I may have to disagree with that a bit)  But yes, these are words that hit home for me, and no doubt, for many of us. We were all raised reciting that little verse:

Sticks and stone may break my bones
But words will never hurt me.

Guess what? Words actually DO hurt.  In fact words do more than hurt. They do more than just create a ripple effect.

Words can destroy.

Words can tear down.

And sometimes the words don’t even have to be directed at someone or something. Words spoken behind people’s backs, that we think won’t hurt them if they never hear them, hurt and destroy too.  

Words are oftentimes much more painful and hurtful than sticks and stones.  

And when it comes to our relationship with God, the words we say carry much weight.

In today’s Gospel we find Jesus making very clear statements:

“…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and this is what defiles. For out of the mouth comes” all kind of evil intentions.

These are what defile a person…” he says.

Jesus is clear here about what makes one unclean.  The words that come out of our mouth are really only the end result of what’s in our hearts.  The words that come out of our mouths are really only little mirrors of what is dwelling within us.

When we say dumb things, we are harboring dumb things in our hearts.  When we say hurtful, mean things, we are carrying hurt and meanness in our hearts. And what’s in our hearts truly does make all the difference.

If our hearts are dark—if our hearts are over-run with negative things—then our words are going to reflect that.  When we talk about something like “sin,” we find ourselves thinking instantly of the things we do.  We think immediately of all those uncharitable, unsavory things we’ve done in our lives.  And when we realize that sin, essentially, is anything we chose to do that separates us from God and from each other, it is always easy to instantly take stock of all the bad things we’ve done.

But it’s not always what we “do.” Sometimes, we can truly “sin” by what we say as well.  The words that come out of our mouths can separate us from God and from each other because they are really coming from our hearts—from that place in which there should really only be love for God and for each other.

We have all known Christians who are quick to profess their faith with their mouths, but who certainly do not believe that faith in their hearts.  And, I think, we have also known people who have kept quiet about their faith, who have not professed much with their mouths, but who have quietly been consistent in their faith. If we profess our faith with our mouths, but not in our hearts, we really are guilty to some extent.

Probably few things drive us away faster from church than those self-righteous people who shake their fingers at us and spout their faith at us, but who, in turn, don’t show love, compassion and acceptance to others.

The name we encounter in the Gospels for those people who do not practice what they preach is “hypocrite.”  And throughout the Gospels, we find that Jesus isn’t ever condemning the ones we think he should condemn.

He doesn’t condemn the prostitute, the tax collector, any of those people who have been ostracized and condemned by society and the religious organizations of their times.  The ones Jesus, over and over again, condemns, are the hypocrites—those supposedly “religious” people who are quick to speak their faith with words, who are quick to strut around and act religiously, but who do not hold any real faith in their hearts.

The Pharisees that Jesus is having trouble with in today’s Gospel, are not at all concerned about what is in their hearts.  Their faith has nothing to do with their hearts.  They are more concerned about purification rites.  They are more concerned about making sure that the food one eats is clean and pure—that it hasn’t been touched by those who are unclean. They are concerned that they are the clean ones and they are concerned that there is a separation from those that are unclean.  They are more concerned with the words of the Law, rather than the heart of the Law.  They are more concerned with the letter of the Law, rather than the spirit of the Law.

We, as followers of Jesus, must avoid being those hypocrites.  With everything in us, we must avoid being those people.

Yes, I know: it’s just easier to stick the letter of the Law. It’s easy to follow the religious rules without bothering to think about why we are following them.  It’s just so much easier to go through the motions without having to feel anything.  Because to feel means to actually make one’s self vulnerable.  To feel means one has to love—and, as we know—as we see in the world right now—love is dangerous. Love makes us step out into uncomfortable areas and do uncomfortable things.

But the message of Jesus is all about the fact that to be a follower of Jesus means not being a hypocrite.  That is ESSENTIAL. The message of Jesus is that to be a follower of Jesus means believing fully with one’s heart.

We at St. Stephen’s are saying, again and again, not just by our words, but by our actions, that we are a people of a God who is love—we are a people here at St. Stephen’s who believe all people are loved and accepted, fully and completely by that God. And how do we do that? How do we show that and preach that?  We do that by loving and accepting all people. Even when that is hard!  We do that by knowing in our hearts that God loves and accepts us all, no matter who or what we are.

To proclaim the Good News, we need to do so by both word and example.  It is to truly practice what we preach. It is to go out into the world beyond these walls and say, “this is a place—and we are a people—wherein love dwells. We are a people who strive to embody that radical, all-encompassing love of a God of love.

So, let us take to heart what Jesus is saying to us in today’s Gospel.  Let us take his words and plant them deeply in our hearts. Let the words of his mouth be the words of our mouth.  Let the Word—capital W—be our word.  And let that Word find its home, its source, its basis in our hearts.

When it does, our words will truly speak the Word that is in our hearts.  

Let us allow no darkness, no negativity to exist within our hearts. Let us not be hypocritical Pharisees to those around us. But let us be true followers of Jesus, with love burning within and overflowing us.

As followers of Jesus, let love be the word that speaks to others.  Let our hearts be so filled with love that nothing else can exist in it but love.  Let us strive to live out our Baptismal Promises with God by proclaiming “by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”  And if we do—if we do just that—we will find that Good News pouring forth from our mouth and bringing joy and gladness and love and full acceptance to others—and even to ourselves.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Feast of Blessed Jonathan Myrick Daniels

The Feast of Blessed Jonathan Myrick Daniels

The mirror sees us
It reflects our colors
and glorifies
our differences.
It blurs the imperfections
and accentuates
our fake smiles

We ask instead
for fire. A burning
from above. Burn
these cataracts of ignorance
and prejudice.
Turn to ashes
our adolescent minds
we delight in.
Consume our inbred instincts.
These human eyes, after all
will soon enough
go blind with death
and turn to ash.

But true vision—
true sight
will survive us.

Calm the violence that grows within us
when we are frightened
and challenged. Instill
within us peacefulness
and a love
that helps us to embrace color—
to see, in our various tints,
the holiness of flesh.

Love us
in the colors of our skin—
in our reds,
in our blackness,
in our yellows
in our browns
and in our whiteness.

Love us for
the fire
that burns in us—
that inferno of
of compassion
and truth—
that flames
stronger than all flesh.

Love us for the life
within us—
for the frail breath
here, with us, in this moment
and gone,
in an instant later.

Love us for
the blood
in our veins—
the same blood
drained from your veins.

Make us, truly,
as you are

Jonathan Myrick Daniels (1939-1965) was an Episcopal seminarian who was shot and killed in August 20, 1965 in Selma, Alabama while defending a young girl during the Civil Rights demonstrations in the city.  His feast in the Episcopal Church is celebrated on August 14. 

Originally published in the anthology, Race and Prayer: Collected Voices, Many Dreams, edited by Malcolm Boyd and Bishop Chester L. Talton. Published in 2003 by Morehouse Publishing.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

10 Pentecost

August 13, 2017

1 King 19.9-18; Matthew 14.22-33

+  As we gather this morning, the world seems in turmoil—even more so than usual. I had hoped and prayed that we would not be facing what we are now facing in this world—this show-down of nuclear powers or the amazingly overt racism that manifested itself yesterday in Charlottesville, Virginia.

It is all sobering. And it is all very frightening.  And it causes me to return to someone would understand all of this.

I am speaking of Thomas Merton.  If you do not know Thomas Merton, you must find out more about Thomas Merton. I cannot stress that enough. You will never regret knowing more about Merton.

Merton was an American Roman Catholic Trappist monk at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, who died in December 1968. And in the turbulent 1960s he was, despite being a monk in a very enclosed monastery separated from the rest of the world, a radical, to say the very least. He was a pacifist who spoke out loudly against the war in Vietnam at a time when few priests and monks did so. And he spoke out loudly and clearly on the issues of racial discrimination that was coming to the forefront in the United States 50 years ago.  And because of his views, let me tell you, there are many people returning to Merton, especially now.

Merton’s voice from 50 years ago is echoing to us across the abyss this morning. In fact,
 an article that just appeared in the Jesuit magazine America asks the question: What would Thomas Merton be saying about the current situation with North Korea?  I would add, what would be his response to Charlottesville? His response would not surprise many of this morning.

Merton would be telling us that, as Christians, we have only one response. We, followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace, have only peace as our option. And not just a supernatural peace, not such a warm fuzzy sense of peace.  But real, practical peace in this world.  Merton wrote,

“Christ Our Lord did not come to bring peace to the world as a kind of spiritual tranquilizer. He brought to His disciples a vocation and a task, to struggle in the world of violence to establish His peace not only in their own hearts but in society itself.

In other words, we must strive for peace—not only a supernatural, spiritual peace, but actual peace in this world, in society. Because, there are consequences to war, to actions, to words thrown in violence and anger, to hatred and anything hate-fueled, to tweets, and to a car driven into a crowd, as we all know. There are consequences to the votes we cast. And there are consequences to racism and inequality and homophobia in this world.

Merton writes,

“We cannot go on playing with nuclear fire and shrugging off the results as ‘history.’ We are the ones concerned. We are the ones responsible. History does not make us, we make it—or end it.

And exactly 50 years ago, in the summer of 1967, Merton wrote this about the racial issues that were raging at that time,

"The problem as I see it is no longer merely political or economic or legal or what have you (it was never merely that). It is a spiritual and psychological problem. . . . We are living in a society which for all its unquestionable advantages and all its fantastic ingenuity just does not seem to be able to provide people with lives that are fully human and fully real."

He wrote that 50 years and it rings as loudly right now as if he wrote it this morning. 

Merton would understand the storms we are living within right now, right here. And he would be asking us, “Seriously? You’re still dealing with these things after all these years?”

Sadly, yes, we are.  It’s not a pleasant place to be this morning.

And I want to be very clear. I want there to be no doubt on what I am about to say:

Warmongering is a sin.

Racism is a sin.

You cannot be a Christian and be a warmonger.

You cannot be a Christian and be a racist.

You cannot be a Christian and be an anti-Semite or a homophobe or sexist.

And I never thought in a million years that I would have to say this in 2017, of all years, but you cannot be a Christian and also be a Nazi, a neo-Nazi, a member of the KKK or Alt-Right.

You cannot hate and still be a Christian. (unless, of course, you hate injustice or inequality or or homophobia or war).

It’s as simple as that!

(If you have any issue with what I have just said, don’t attempt to debate me on it. Do not try to convince me otherwise in the narthex or at any other time.)

So, how do we respond to this violence and war and racism and collective and personal anxiety and fear we are experiencing?    

Well, today, in our reading from 1 Kings and from our Gospel reading, we get an idea. In those scriptures, there are storms.  We find, in our reading from First Kings, that the prophet Elijah is being confronted with first a storm, then an earthquake and then a fire.  And in each of them, he finds that, despite their magnificence, despite the fact that they are more powerful than Elijah himself, God is not in any of them.  He does not hear the Word of God coming to him out of these instances.

For our life right now, I can tell you, God is not in any type of nuclear response to what is happening. And I can tell you God is definitely not in the storm of hatred and violence we find at a neo-Nazi rally!

For Elijah, God speaks to him not in the storms, but rather in the “sheer silence” after the storm.

Our Gospel reading is similar in many ways.  There too is a storm.  And this one is just as frightening.  The disciples in the boat are buffeting, they are trying to make their way back to shore and cannot because the storm’s wind is against them, and they are clearly afraid.

A word we keep experiencing in our gospel reading for today is “fear.”  The disciples see Jesus, think he’s a ghost and they cry out in fear.  And Jesus says to them,

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter, audacious as he is, then gets out of the boat and starts walking to Jesus.  But when he notices the storm raging around him, he becomes frightened and begins to sink.

Fear brings him down.

Jesus then reaches out his hands and lifts him from the water and stills the storm.

These scriptural storms speak very loudly to us on this particular Sunday morning.  We understand these kind of storms today. We know the fear storms of whatever kind can produce.

In the storms of this world in which we live, we often find ourselves at a loss.  We too often do unpredictable things in these storms like Peter.  We do the equivalent of getting out of a boat and attempting to walk on water.  We find ourselves doing naively audacious things.  And while doing it, we sometimes lose heart, we become afraid, and we begin sinking.

This is what storms and fear do to us. This is what terror does to us.  These things sap us of our energy, of our joy, of our bravery and they leave us vulnerable to them.

Fear causes us to lose heart.  It causes us to lose our joy and our gladness and our happiness. It saps our life and our energy from us. It gets in the way of standing up against injustice.

And that is why, during those storms, during those moments of false courage, during those times of raging fear, we need to lean into the storm and we need to hear that calm voice speaking to us with familiar words:

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

In the storms of our lives, in the raging tempests of fear, these are the only words we can cling to.  God, again and again, says to us,

“Do not be afraid.”

Do not be afraid of the things this world can throw at us.

Do not be afraid of things you cannot change.

Do not be afraid of wars and rumors of wars.

Do not be afraid of North Korea or Kim Jong-Un. 

Do not be afraid of Nazis and neo-Nazis and the Alt-Right and hatemongers.

Do not be afraid, but also let us not stand here passively in the face of the storm. Rather, let us take courage and let us embody the Price of Peace in our lives. Let us be true children of the God of Peace.  Let us be symbols of peace and love and acceptance in this world. Let us strive actively for peace, as we speak out against war, against aggression, against racism, against inequality, against violence in action and words. And I never thought I would ever have to say this, BUT, let is speak out against Nazis! 

For those of us who live in faith, we have no reason to fear.  Faith means trust.  Faith means being able to look to God, in those storms of our lives, and know that although frightening things may rage about us, with God, we can find the calm center of our lives.

As we strive for peace, even in those choppy waters of our lives and the world,  we need to look up and see Jesus, the Prince of Peace, standing there.

This reminds of the greatest part of the Gospel reading for today.  In the midst of that storm, as Peter sinks into the waters, Jesus doesn’t simply stay put and raise Peter miraculously from the waters from a distance.  Rather, Jesus actually comes to Peter where he is in that storm and lifts him out of those waters.  And that is the image we can take away with us as well. In the storms of this world and of our lives, as we sink deeply into the dark waters of anxiety and fear and war and anxiety, when we call out to Jesus, he comes to us in peace, where ever we are and he raises us up.  He instills peace in us.  And, in peace, he leads us back to a place of safety.

But it doesn’t end there.  We also in turn must go out in peace into the storm, without fear to help others, to lift them up and lead them from the waters of chaos. 

So, let us follow this Prince of Peace. Let us allow the Prince of Peace to reign, to come to us and let him lift us up from the waters of chaos.  In telling us not to fear, in taking our hand and raising us up from the darkness of our lives, he stills the storms of our lives as well. He stills the storms of anxiety and depression and frustration and war and racism and hatred and fear that rage in us and all around us.  

There is a wonderful prayer from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church in New Zealand that I often pray with people I visit in the hospital or who are suffering from any anxiety or fear.  The prayer begins,

O God of the present moment,
O God, who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart,
bring hope and courage to those who trust in you.

That is our prayer today as well, as rumors of war and violence and hatred churn around us.   We also should pray that the God, who in Jesus stills the storms of our lives and soothes our frantic hearts, truly does bring hope and courage and eternal peace to us, who trust in God. And when Jesus does, we will find an abundance of hope and courage in our lives so that we can live our lives fully and completely in peace—without any fear—as God intends for us.

Let us pray.

O God of the present moment,
O God, who in Jesus stills the storm and soothes the frantic heart,
bring hope and courage to us—
us, who live here, at this time of fear in the midst of the storm—
for we trust in you.
You are God, and we need you. Amen.

25 years as an Oblate of St. Benedict

25  years ago today, on August 12, 1992, I made my oblation as an Oblate of St. Benedict at Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, SD. I very gratefully renew those promises this morning.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Storm approaching (before Wednesday night Mass at St. Stephen's)

Sunday, August 6, 2017


August 6, 2017

+ As most of you might know, I am a huge film fan. I LOVE films. It’s my escape. Some people have alcohol. I have movies. And I especially love those Technicolor spectaculars put out by MGM in the 1940’s and 1950s.  Talk about escape from reality. I always say, my idea of heaven is like a scene from an Esther Williams film from 1951.

Well, today, we get a Technicolor scene from the Bible. Today in our Gospel reading we hear the story of Jesus’ being transformed on the mountain top.   Actually, we more than just hear it. We get to see it.  It’s a very vivid description of what happened.  And it’s truly one of those incredible moments in the Bible.

It’s incredible because, for one holy moment, the veil between our world and God’s world is pushed aside.  On that mountain top, Jesus seems for a moment to have one foot in each world—one in this world, in which he is a human being just like the rest of us, and one foot in the next world in which he is much more than just another human being.

That would have been, in and of itself, enough.  But Jesus is also seen standing between Moses and Elijah—a sign obviously that what they foresaw in their prophecies, in their visions of what was to come, is fulfilled in Jesus who stands between them.  Jesus is the fulfillment of what those great prophets foretold. He is a fulfillment of the Law. 

The presence of Moses and Elijah shows us that—in a sense—their mission is complete.  Here, in this glorified person they flank, all that they foretold—all that they looked forward to—has found its completion.

Everyone who witnesses this vision is affected by it.  The Apostles who witness it—Peter, James and John, that inner sanctum among the Apostles—don’t quite know what to make of it.  They have been roused form their tired state by this incredible experience.

They are obviously baffled by what they saw.  And in doing so, they do the only thing they can do—they offer to build three sanctuaries there—to worship what they see as divine.  Finally, they seem to come down from the mountain in what I’m sure was a dazed state.

But why is any of this important to us? Why is this story that seems so strange and so exotic—so much like a Technicolor scene from a 1950s Biblical epic—so important to us—in this day and age? We have a hard time wrapping our minds around these images of dazzling white light and booming voices from clouds. We don’t experience God like this in our lives.

I suppose the question could be: why not?  Certainly, we are longing and searching for God in our lives, aren’t we?  We hear about it all the time. We hear of people searching for God.

But, to search for God means that, somewhere along the way, we seem to think God got lost. We know better than that. We don’t worship a lost God. And we don’t come to church on a Sunday morning to search for God.   We come to church because we long for God—we long for an experience similar to the experience those apostles encountered on the mountaintop.

So then, what is this story of the Transfiguration saying to us?  Do we too need to be crawling around on top of hills to find a place in which the veil between this world and God’s world is lifted?

Well, to some extent, that is exactly what we do every Sunday. In a sense, when we come together today, here at this altar, we too are coming to a place every much like the mountain top experience we heard about in this morning’s Gospel.

In the scriptures we have just heard, we have heard God’s voice, speaking to us.  When we celebrate Holy Communion together at the altar, when Jesus comes to us in the Bread and the Wine—for a moment, the veil between this world and God’s world is parted, as you hear me say over and over again.  We too are able to come close to Jesus our God, and see him—truly see him, without a cloud—if only under the appearance of Bread and Wine.  We too get to hear him, in our scriptures readings.  And we too get to experience him in each other—in all of us who are gathered here together.

But I think the interesting thing we need to remind ourselves of is this: it’s all right to seek out these experiences of God’s presence in our lives.  But why our searching and longing for God is different than others is that, in our case, as Christians, our God is not evasive or elusive.  

God is not playing hide-and-seek-with us.  God is here.  All we have to do is ask.  All we have to is look.  All we have to do is seek.  And we will find.

We have never lost our God. God has come to us as dazzling Light, yes.  God has spoken to us—at least through the scriptures—with a booming voice from heaven, yes.

But God has also come to us as one of us. God has come to us in Jesus. God comes to us in the Jesus we share with each other here at the altar, in the Jesus we share with each other in our own very presence as the people of God and the Body of Christ in this world.

God is no further from us than right here, in our midst, when gather together to worship, to hear the scriptures and to break the bread that is Jesus’ body.  And like those disciples, we must, when we’re done, go from here.

We must leave the mountaintop experience and go back down, to share our experience, to live out what we have learned and seen and felt here. We are compelled—by the words we hear in the scriptures, by the spirit of Christ we take with us from this Holy Communion—to live out that experience out in the world.

We do that be by being, honest, humble, authentic Christians. Being an authentic Christian means being loving and compassionate and accepting people.   It means walking in love.

Of course, we will fail in that.  I fail in walking in love—in being compassionate and loving—all the time.  I get angry at the guy who cuts me off in traffic or at the injustices in the world around me. I complain.  I grumble.  I can tell you, I am not always a walking talking billboard for the Christians faith.

But hopefully, our experience here—our encounter with God in this place on this day—can make enough of a difference in our lives that we will be able to carry it with us throughout our week and into our very day-to-day lives.  Hopefully, we can go from here glowing with the experience we have here. That glow might not be a visible glow, but hopefully it is one we can feel within us.  That glow—that aftereffect of our experience of God—is what we can carry with us and cherish within us long after we leave here.

Of course, we also need to face the facts about not only the story we have heard in today’s Gospel, but in what we have commemorated here at the altar. The Gospel reading begins ominously: “About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection…”   The Transfiguration is a foretelling of the glory that awaits Jesus--it is a foretelling of the Resurrection--but it is a glory that comes with an awful price.  It comes only after Jesus has been tortured and murdered.

Today is also the anniversary of another bright light. It was on this day in 1945 that the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  Now, not a lot of people know this, but I actually know a fair amount about Hiroshima, because I actually wrote a book about it. I know. You have probably not read it. Not many people have.

My little-know third book, Cloud, published twenty years in 1997, is a long (166
page), two-act poem (verse play) about Hiroshima and its after-effects in the lives of five people.  I think three people read the book, including my mother, who, I don’t think, “got it.” It’s  out-of-print now. I did see that a copy of it is currently for sale on Amazon for $49.99 (trust me, that 50 bucks I’m never gonna see) The theme of the poem is the Light of the bomb, and how that light illumined more than just the event of that day.

We, in a sense, are still living in the afterglow of the Light of that event.  It changed all of us and transformed us in ways we could never imagine.  In that white light, a violence like we have never known was unleashed upon the world.

What we celebrate today at the altar, is a remembrance of the violent death of Jesus and his triumph over that death.  And not just over his death. It is a triumph over the death that was brought upon Hiroshima and all those people who through violence.  It is a triumph over our deaths as well.

As I’ve shared with you before, I have been a big fan of so-called Indie Music for many, many years, back before it was even called “Indie.” One of my favorite Indie performers, whom I’ve mentioned in sermons before is an incredible singer and song-writer by the name of Sufjan Stevens. Stevens put an amazing album back in
2004 called Seven Swans. On the album was a deceptively simple and beautiful song called, “”The Transfiguration.” I highly recommend you find it on YouTube and listen to it (especially today) But there’s a great verse that in that song that is just wonderful:

What he said to them, the voice of God, the most beloved son
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come
The prophecy was put to death, was put to death
And so will the son
And keep your word, disguise the vision
Till the time has come

The Transfiguration shows us that we  must “keep [the] word,” and maybe sometimes “disguise the vision/Till the time has come.” Whenever that will be.

The Transfiguration shows us that God—not us—gets the last word.  Our experience on the mountain-top—like all life-altering experiences—will fade from us eventually.  It did for those apostles who accompanied Jesus there.

All of them—Jesus, Peter, James and John—would experience much sorrow in the weeks and years ahead of them.  The experience of the mountaintop cannot be preserved.  Like all the wonderful moments in our lives, they can only be cherished.  And they can be shared.

But we have the continued opportunity to come back and to participate in it again and again.

God is here.  God is present among us—God’s people.  God is longing too.  God is longing for us—to know us and to have us experience God.

So, let us go from here—let us go back down the mountain, into the valley below, with our experience of God glowing brilliantly on our faces. Let us cherish this experience we have of God. And most, importantly, let us live out this experience in our life, as we walk in love.  

3 Pentecost

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