Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Day
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 25, 2010

I must admit that until earlier this week, I had never heard of Francis P. Church. Francis Pharcellus Church was a publisher and editor who died just over 100 years ago. I’m sure he would have passed into obscurity as a newspaper editor were it not for an editorial he wrote to a young girl on September 21, 1897. Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun the following question to the editor, “Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so. Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” Not only did Francis Church take time to write little Virginia back, he did so with a depth and compassion that one would wish for and long for today. For those who have never heard this, here is how Mr. Church responded.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Certainly this letter was written to address a terribly important question in the mind of an eight year old little girl. For us though there is the even more crucial question for all mankind to answer: Is Jesus real, and is he who he claims to be? There are too many points of comparison between this letter and how we might answer that question if it were asked of us as His disciples?

However, one in particular stands out right from the beginning that is worth pondering. I believe that Mr. Church hit on something over 100 years ago that is even more rampant than I’m sure he could have ever imagined when he first penned those words. He told little Virginia that those who doubt the existence of Santa Claus, “have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age.” I think it quite plausible that Mr. Church comes from the same school as G. K. Chesterton who said:

“…But the new rebel is a Sceptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it.
Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time.
A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything…”

So here we are on Christmas morn to celebrate once again the birth of the Messiah, the Incarnation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We’re doing so in an even more skeptical world than either Mr. Church or Mr. Chesterton saw in their day over a century ago. And yet, the person of Jesus is the true answer to the skeptics of that age, our age, and the age to come. He has answered every skeptic in every age, and will continue to do so, the issue at hand for the believer is will we prepare a place for Him to rule as our Lord, heal those places marred with sin, and continue to make us holy as He Himself is Holy? That is our story, and what we celebrate again this day.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. However, more important than that Virginia, there is a Saviour born this day who is Christ the Lord. He lives, and He lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, Jesus will continue to make glad the heart of men if we but welcome Him in, and prepare a place for Him in our hears to rule for all eternity.

Merry Christmas, and Thanks be to God!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Eve
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 24, 2010

There is a wonderful component regarding the season of Christmas that somehow transcends most others. I’m not talking about Santa Claus or the giving and receiving of gifts. It doesn’t really have to do with Christmas trees nor does it pertain to the delectable treats that usually appear during this particular time of year. There’s something magical, something special about the notion of home, or being at home, or going home at Christmas.

We’ve all heard the traditional rendering of the popular song made famous by Bing Crosby, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. Perry Como sang the wonderful tune (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays in the 1950’s. For so many people, there’s something about the memories of home and Christmas that seem to go hand-in-hand. For those who are returning to Moultrie this time of year, and grew up here, and in this church, there are perhaps some grand traditions and comforts in returning to the parish of your youth and seeing the church decorated as you remember it for this service. You perhaps look forward to singing Silent Night at the close of tonight’s liturgy, just as it’s always been done. You can probably call to mind the sights and smells of Mom and Dad’s house that I hope conjure up wonderful memories from childhood.

I don’t mean to sound sappy, or sentimental, or maudlin here, but I hope to make a link between our longing for home, and its importance for this night.

We come again to the celebration of the Incarnation and Nativity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We hear again the traditional reading from Luke Chapter 2 that seems to tell the story that we all anticipate hearing. However, let’s look again at what we just heard.

First of all, Joseph and Mary his betrothed, are forced to leave their home by order of the Emperor Augustus. This man is so self-inflated that he wants to know how many people he actually rules over. Literally, he wants to know the population of the entire world, the home he has built for himself. So, Joseph and Mary set off toward Bethlehem, the ancestral home of his forefather David. We have no idea if they know anyone there. Do they have any distant relatives who might welcome them in, give them lodging, and show them some hospitality as they venture into an unknown future?

As we know from our story there is no room for them. No one will take in a stranger from Nazareth and his very pregnant spouse. They are without a home. There are no familiar sights or sounds around them to welcome their firstborn child into this world. It is most likely that Mary gave birth in some cave out behind the city, and we really have no idea if anyone was there other than Joseph and God. And yet, this is what we celebrate this night – the birth of a child, born miles away from home.

It’s easy to think about what Joseph and Mary gave up in order to follow the Angel’s message and continue on this dangerous journey, and the command of the secular authorities to travel to Bethlehem. We can somewhat picture what they laid aside to carry out God’s will. We’ve had to do some of the same things in our own lives. We’ve perhaps left a job and ventured off into unknown territory ourselves. Many have sent children off to college or seen them get married and wondered how things were going to work out. I know for some it’s been a question of how to make ends meet. We may not be able to comprehend the depth and profundity of what they forsook, but there is the human element that we can at least relate to.

What did Jesus give up?

Jesus gave up a home that we can only attempt to comprehend and long for. The Creator became a part of the very creation that He spoke into existence, and lived, breathed, and died as one of us. He gave up Heaven so that one day we might experience it for all eternity, in His glorious and wonderful presence.

Yes, it’s most certainly good to be home for the holidays. It’s great to be with family and friends at this time of year. As we gather together this evening, to celebrate our Lord’s Incarnation and Nativity, as some of us have come home for the holidays, let us remember the home that our Lord left in order to redeem mankind, and the home that awaits us. Our Lord said in John’s Gospel, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” This is what our Lord left, in order that we might one day share it again with him.

In talking with one of my seminary classmates about my sermon idea for tonight, Fr. Rhoades, who many of you met at my institution as rector, suggested the following lyrics as possibly being applicable for this theme of Jesus leaving his home out of love for us. The group DOWNHERE wrote a song in 2007 entitled How Many Kings that I believe summarizes the point I’ve feebly attempted to make, and speaks quite clearly about this night. Here are their words:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe after all we’ve projected
A child in a manger
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mothers shawl
Just a child
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn savior
All that we have whether costly or meek
Because we believe
Gold for his honor and frankincense for his pleasure
And myrrh for the cross he’ll suffer
Do you believe, is this who we’ve waited for?
It’s who we’ve waited for

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me

All for me
All for you
All for me
All for you

Only one King, one Lord, one Great, one God gave it all away in order for us to have it all, and to have it abundantly. Jesus Christ, the babe King did it all out of love, and He bids us to repeat His actions in the world. Let us with a glad and joyful heart receive Him once again, so that He might have a home to rule as our King, our Lord, and our God.

Merry Christmas, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and welcome home!
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 18, 2010

In less than a week the purple that we’ve become somewhat accustomed to over these past few weeks will be replaced with the white and gold of Christmas. The purple bows on the wreathes on our doors will be replaced with red ones, and our sanctuary will be adorned with the beautiful reds and greens of the poinsettias, and we will close our Christmas Eve service with the traditional singing of Silent Night in nothing but candlelight to anchor that theme from St. John, “and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

This season of Advent is intended to help us remember that we are to be intentional about our waiting and expectation for what we will celebrate at the end of the week. We are to take the time to be still. We are not to be still and simply fall asleep, but to stay awake, to be ready, to have our lamps lit with a supply of oil in reserve, and wait.

What are we waiting for? What are we longing for? Have we done the very thing that the season has been calling us to do?

If you are anything like me, you’ve most likely gone through some of the motions, making sure that all of the details are in order for entertaining guests, or welcoming home children and grandchildren, or making sure that all of the requisite presents have been purchased, that the intentionality of the season has somehow slipped by. We’ll get to the week following Christmas, look back, and ask ourselves the yearly question, where did the time go?

At this time of year I’ll bet we’re all much more Martha than Mary than we’d like to admit. If I would suggest any shift in the lectionary it would be to hear the Martha and Mary story as a precursor to the Christmas season so that we might hear again those words of our Lord, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

We sang the traditional hymn of Advent a few minutes ago, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Emmanuel is the Hebrew word that literally means God with us. I love the fact that this hymn incorporates the words come with Emmanuel. If you think about it, it almost seems like an oxymoron of terms. If God is with us, he doesn’t actually need to come any more. We always talk about hot water heaters, but if you think about it, if the water is already hot, why does it need to be heated? Sorry, previous life digression!

Seriously though, if we are asking for God to come, why use the word that means God is with us?

Perhaps we need to think again about what it means for God to be with us. We know intellectually that God is always with us. He’s with us in the good times and in the bad. He’s always ready to hear our prayers, and like the loving father in the parable of the Two Lost Sons, he’s waiting to run out to greet us while we are still a great distance away. On the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity we pray, “Almighty and everlasting God, who art always more ready to hear than we to pray, and art wont to give more than either we desire or deserve.” Emmanuel is with us, but if we are going to bid him come again, we need to know what we are asking for.

In last Sunday’s edition of The Parish Paper, Fr. Dunbar makes a splendid point regarding what are to expect, what we long for, and the necessity to examine the posture of our heart to await the coming of Emmanuel.

It is no doubt comforting to think that God is there any time we might need him – a well-trained God who does not speak unless he is spoken to, and concierge God who stands ready to answer our call. But that is not the comfort that we have in Christ. Christ does not remain at a polite and safe distance from us, somewhere up in heaven, or in the past, or in Galilee. He does not hover politely in the background in case we want him…. He does not wait upon us to invite him in; no, he comes to us, he invades our space and time, and when he comes, he presents himself as Messiah, and with the authority of the Lord he marches into the Temple, takes charge, and starts cleaning house.

The question therefore is not whether or if he is going to come or not: he is coming. Nor is even the question when he is coming – for he is even now on his way. With every passing moment the hour of his advent draws ineluctably closer: “now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.” The only question is whether we are ready to receive him, and to hail him as the multitudes did: “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: hosanna in the highest.”

As I mentioned last Sunday morning, one of the themes of our Advent lessons is that they seemingly pass quite simply through Christmas, and don’t stop until they approach eternity. We must remember that the first Advent that we proclaim each year and the final Advent are joined together in a sacred union. Each day that passes brings us one day closer to our perfect reunification with Almighty God. St. John closes the book of Revelation with the pleading for our Lord Jesus to come quickly so that he and we might enjoy the bliss that awaits those who believe and call upon Jesus’ name.

So, are we ready for what we say we are waiting for? Have we called upon the Holy Spirit to help prepare a place for us to receive our Lord Jesus again? Have we done the difficult work of being a Mary, and sat patiently at the feet of Jesus and allow him to speak to us through His Word, or through listening to him in our prayers, or feeding upon him in the Blessed Sacrament, or in seeing him in the very things that we do in his name? Or has this season of Advent been one of Martha type living in which we’ve been so diligent in making sure everything was just right that we lost focus on why we were doing what we are doing in the first place?

If that is the case, do not despair, for we are a people whose very foundation is built upon hope. Take this remaining week of Advent, yes I know this is the busiest week of all, and do the intentional work of waiting and watching. Spend this week in prayer and fasting as we anticipate the glorious celebration of the first coming of our Lord with the longing that awaits his second Advent. And to quote Fr. Dunbar again in closing:

How shall we make ready for so great a guest – a guest who comes to claim his people as their Lord? In its essence, I think our readiness is a matter of desire: wanting him to come, as Christ and Lord, wanting him with everything you have and everything you are, everything you do and everything that happens to you. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. Even so, [quickly] come, Lord Jesus.” Let this prayer be the desire of our hearts [this Advent], and the design of our lives.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 12, 2010

One of the themes of Advent is the notion of longing and expectation and one of the central figures of this season is John the Baptist. However, if you think back to the last two Sunday mornings we heard nothing about John the Baptist. The first Sunday of Advent sounds more like Palm Sunday than it does preparation for Christmas with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansing of the temple as recorded by St. Matthew. Last Sunday we heard an apocalyptic account from St. Luke regarding signs and wonders, fig trees and the like. So much for longing and expectation – well, not really. If you think carefully about Advent, you’ll remember that Advent isn’t just the first coming of the Messiah. We can’t properly think about the Incarnation if we don’t begin with the end in mind.

God’s plan for the salvation of mankind doesn’t simply stop at Christmas, or Easter, or Ascension, or Pentecost. It continues in a trajectory straight toward the Second Coming of our Lord and the final culmination in the establishment of the Kingdom of God for all eternity.

So, our lessons for Advent begin with the end in mind. They are of a more apocalyptic nature, and this morning and next Sunday the focus becomes more narrowed as we start to hear from John the Baptist and the nature of our Lord’s first coming. Even though we are moving our focus toward the manger, the second Advent is always looming in the background. Our collect reinforces that very fact when it holds the first and second comings in tandem with one another.

There is one overarching theme that I wish to focus on this morning as we look at the words of Jesus regarding his cousin John.

Our lesson opens with John at the end of his ministry and quickly approaching the end of his life, and he sends word to Jesus through some of his disciples, inquiring of him whether or not He is the Messiah, or is there someone else coming.
What is John’s motivation for asking such a question?
Is he sitting in prison now questioning his life’s work?
Has everything he’s done up to this point off base?
Is he suffering now because I was chasing after the wrong things?

Those are terribly relevant questions, and I dare say, ones we might ask ourselves.

Am I supposed to face this type of opposition in the proclamation of the Gospel?
Have I been doing or am I still doing God’s will in my life?

John is seeking affirmation and don’t we desire the exact same thing? The last thing any of us would ever want to do is travel down a lonely path only to realize that we took a wrong turn somewhere along the way.

In turn Jesus doesn’t simply send them away with a yes answer. Instead he tells them to open their eyes, open their ears, and observe what Jesus has been doing up to this point. He tells them that the blind have received their sight; the lame are now able to walk; the lepers are free from their horrible disease; the deaf are able to hear; the dead are now alive again; the poor have the Gospel preached to them.

We come again to a question that reappears throughout the Gospels – why does Jesus do it this way? Why didn’t he just say yes and go about his business?

I believe it’s because he wanted them to know it, accept it, and believe it for themselves. He wanted them to search their hearts, and what they’ve heard all their life in the Scriptures that Jesus is the fulfillment of the explicit prophesies of Isaiah, but implicitly throughout the Old Testament.

Isaiah 26:19 says, “But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.”
Isaiah 29:18-19 says, “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”

Isaiah 35:5-6 says, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.”

Isaiah 61:1-2 says, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn;”

In essence, Jesus is telling the disciples of John to receive the same gift of sight that He’s given to the literally blind; to receive the same gift of hearing that He’s given to the literally deaf.

After the disciples of John depart Jesus turns and asks the multitudes three times in succession, what did you go out to John to see? If you went out to hear and see John, what were you doing out there? What were you expecting, what did you want to hear, what did you long to see?

Jesus then answers his own question with two stunning statements: a reed shaken by the wind; a man clothed in soft raiment.

What’s Jesus getting at here?

Think about that first image, a reed shaken by the wind. It’s a lovely sight to behold, but it provides no real support. It almost collapses under the weight of a small bird, and can do nothing more than respond to the winds of change that constantly toss it to and fro. Jesus is asking them if John’s message falls into that same category. Did what he say simply sound like one thing today and another tomorrow? Did it vacillate depending upon which outside force might be acting upon it at the time?

The answer to that question was an unequivocal NO! John preached a very consistent message that those who were coming to him needed to change their way of life, to repent of their sins, and seek a new and amended life. His message was firm and was on solid ground.

Second, John’s message wasn’t like a courtier in a king’s palace who simply said the prudent and politically correct things to say. John wasn’t trying to impress anyone, but wanted to impress upon those who would listen that the Kingdom of God was breaking in amongst them, and that they needed rousing from their slumber. The people needed to know that there was someone else coming, the thong of whose sandal John would not even be able to stoop down and untie. God was coming, and they were going to be able to see Him, speak to Him, and ultimately follow Him.

I mentioned at the beginning that there was an overarching theme to John’s message and it is this – John always pointed beyond himself. It was never about John; it was always about Jesus. He never sought his own glory, honor, or fame. As a matter of fact, he set all of that aside for the job he was called to do from his very conception. If you remember, John’s father was a priest and was offering the appointed sacrifices when the angel appeared to him proclaiming the birth of his son. John was part of the priestly line, and yet, he laid all of the benefits that came from the lineage to do God’s work.

We too are called to that exact same work. Our life as Jesus’ disciples is not to point to ourselves, the good works that we do, how well we think we live our lives, but to the goodness and glory of the Lord we serve and proclaim as Messiah. As I say many times at the offertory, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.” As John told his disciples, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” John always knew that his entire purpose in God’s plan of salvation was to serve as the forerunner for the Messiah. He was the one, as we will hear next week, who would be, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”

Jesus then says that John was in fact a prophet, and goes one step further. He declares that he was more than a prophet. He was the one that had to come to prepare the way for God’s salvation to come into the world.

John’s words then should ring true today, “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. I am the voice crying out in the wilderness; make straight the way of the Lord.”

However, we save the most wonderful of all of John’s recorded words for later in our service when are invited to our Lord’s table, as the bread and wine are elevated before us to adore, and is proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him that taketh away the sins of the world.”

Let us with joy prepare our hearts to receive Him again, the one who takes away the sin of the world.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sermon for Advent II
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 5, 2010

We come this morning to one of the more familiar collects in the Prayer Book. It has been affectionately called the “Bible Collect” as it is a parallel to our Epistle lesson that we heard from Paul’s letter to the Romans. I would like to take a closer look at this masterpiece of a prayer, and see how it fits into our appointed lessons in this Season of Advent.

At the outset we notice that there is an affirmation that God is the very source of the writings that we know as Holy Scripture. For we declare that God has caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. There are some schools of thought regarding the Divine Inspiration of Scripture that say that the human component to the books we call the Bible is negligible and should be totally discounted. When they speak of inspiration it was almost as if Moses, or David, or Luke, or Paul were in some sort of trance and served merely as scribes for what was being dictated by God Himself. It was almost as if he was whispering in their ears and they mindlessly wrote down what they heard. In some cases there might have been a component of that. It is plausible and perhaps likely that many of the Biblical writers did hear God in some audible form, and transcribed as best as they were able what He said to them. I don’t subscribe to this form of inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe the Bible is Divinely Inspired because it absolutely is. In the same way that we declare as dogma that Jesus, the Word of God, is 100% human and 100% divine, so too do I believe that the Words of God, the Bible is 100% human and 100% divine.

We are actually handling God’s words, and thus they demand our utmost care, attention, and respect. Not to the extent that we fell unable to engage with them, and wrestle with what they are saying to us. That is the very thing that we are all called to do. Part of the preacher’s job is the handle the texts, and then exposit them. That work is most certainly done with care, attention and respect.

Our first calling is to hear God’s Word. This certainly happens in many ways – when we hear large portions of Scripture read in the context of our Sunday worship, through additional portions being read each day in the recitation of the Daily Office, in our personal or group Bible Study, or silently reciting those passages we memorized as children. We have numerous opportunities to hear the Bible, and we must take advantage of those as often as we are able.

We don’t simply stop at hearing though, this is just the beginning. After hearing we are to mark Scripture. If in hearing that word mark your initial inclination went straight to highlighters, colored pens, or Post-It notes, you’re on the right track even though none of those things had been invented yet. Think about how we use the word mark. We speak of “marking a ballot” or a “marked man” or if we were ever in trouble with our parents “mark my words.” We are calling attention to something for future comparison and see how it measures up.

Our next task is to learn Scripture. This isn’t simply memorization, while that is great, and it’s not just rote knowledge of the stories contained within. I’m sure we all can remember back to our school days when we simply knew something for a test and as soon as we turned our paper or test in to the teacher much of what we studied left us. We didn’t actually learn what we had been called to learn. We simply knew enough to get by, and when that need was gone, so was the knowledge. Learning is so much more because as I’ve heard it said, “learning is forever.” I’ll bet if I were to take a poll there are certain things that you learned in school that have never left you, and you remember them as vividly today as the day you learned them. They entered into you at a depth makes them a part of you, a piece of your very existence. We didn’t simply memorize the alphabet, we learned a language; we didn’t simply memorize multiplication tables, we learned some of the fundamental truths of mathematics; we didn’t simply commit to memory bits and pieces of our Nation’s history, we learned what it was like to be a citizen of a country. I hope you see the difference, and Holy Scripture must be considered in the exact same vein. Memorizing and being able to ace Bible drills isn’t the end of the story.

Learning and the final task of inwardly digesting give us the tools to begin to be able to apply what we have first read and marked. When we inwardly digest something it becomes to fuel for living. When we digest our food our bodies convert it to something that we can then use to perform the everyday activities we must each do. Think about the times you’ve ever had the flu, or been sick and unable to eat and receive nourishment. You become lethargic, incapable to doing much more than lie in bed and simply exist. We were not born to simply lie in bed and exist, we were created to be the outpouring of God’s love to this world. The only way that we can do that is by feeding and being nourished by the accounts of God doing that very thing Himself. How does the old saying go, “You are what you eat.” Jesus said:
I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst….I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (John 6:35, 48-51)

One preacher on this collect made the following statement:
When I eat food and digest it, it becomes a part of me. It provides nourishment and sustains life itself. To "digest" the Bible is to use it as a sustaining "spiritual food" for the soul and the body. Cranmer wrote that "The Bible is a book that is not for mere reading. It is a book for studying so that it can be applied. Otherwise, it is like swallowing food down without chewing and then spitting it back out again.

So why do we do all of this? Why commit to this type of engagement to a book?

The answer comes at the concluding phrase of the collect when two concepts are used in conjunction with one another – blessed hope and everlasting life.

Ours is a world longing, yearning, and not to be trite here “hoping for hope.” We are in the midst of a society that is looking for meaning, reality, truth, hope. The Christian faith is all of that and more. Our lives have meaning because we were created in the image and likeness of God. No other component of creation can claim that. Only man was created in the image and likeness of the Creator Himself. Our lives have meaning because live the opposite poles of a magnet, the positive pole of God and negative pole of man are constantly being attracted to one another. God’s position is fixed and it is only when we reorient ourselves in the wrong direction to we actually repel the attraction that has been there from the very beginning. We have to be oriented correctly in order to receive the fruit of being drawn closer and closer to God.

God is the ultimate reality because everything in creation was a part of His handiwork. That which we see and experience here is just a shade or glimpse at what ultimate reality looks like. All that is good here can only be imagined in its purest and most glorious form.

The very God who created all things became a creature when He came to live as one of us, and as we prepare to celebrate once again in a few weeks. The Incarnate Lord that we await again said to us in the clearest of statements, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life.” Truth came to us in the lowliest of forms, and He bids us to come and follow Him.

Finally, we have received hope beyond all hope because we receive the assurance that our lives do not end when we draw our final breath here on earth. Through our Lord Jesus death has been defeated forever, and our death in this life only marks the beginning of our eternal life with our Heavenly Father – that was bought and paid for and then given to us through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sermon for Advent Sunday
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 28, 2010

“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste. Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet: and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place.” Isaiah 28:16-17

Most of you know that I am a big fan of Ravi Zacharias. I think he is one of the clearest thinkers and best articulators of the Christian faith today. I remember hearing him relay the following story about his first encounter with postmodernism in a totally unexpected place.

Postmodernism tells us there’s no such thing as truth; no such thing as meaning; no such thing as certainty. I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts. He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.” I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?” He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.” I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?” He said, “That is correct.” I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?” All of a sudden there was silence. You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry.

The quotation that I began with this morning was from the Prophet Isaiah, and is the alternate Old Testament lesson appointed for this morning. We hear in that passage the familiar imagery of our coming Messiah as a tried, precious, and perfect corner stone or foundation stone. Shouldn’t we expect the One who laid the foundations of the world to have nothing less than a perfect foundation upon which we are to ground and anchor our faith? The author and perfecter of that faith is indeed a most stable rock for us to seek sure footing.

We come again to the beginning of our new church year, and those lessons that bring to our minds thoughts of longing, expectation, and waiting. We know what we are longing and waiting for because we know the rest of the story, but how are preparing to welcome our Lord and Saviour once again? Also, do we remember that a Christian notion of Advent doesn’t simply stop at the Incarnation, but continues all the way through to the end of time and the last judgment?

If we take another look at our Collect and Epistle lesson for this morning, I think we will see that we have so much more to consider.

In our Prayer Book there are two seasons of the church year in which a collect is repeated for more than simply its octave. Advent and Lent are those two occasions. For the next four weeks we will hear the ancient words that framed the opening of our service this morning. We come again asking Almighty God to give to us that wonderful gift of himself, His grace, in order that we may cast away the works of darkness. As we know from the Prophet Isaiah, and as repeated again by St. Matthew, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.” With the birth of the Messiah, all the people were living in a dark time, and now the light which was the light of men has come into the world. As St. John continues, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” This is what it means to build our lives upon that stone, that tried stone, that precious corner stone, that sure foundation.

Our Epistle to the Romans echoes that same thought of dark vs. light when St. Paul declares that we are to, “awake out of sleep.” When sleeping we are engulfed in darkness, and we are to rouse from our slumber so that we can keep vigil and watch for what is to come.

What is coming?

Well, for one, the source of our defense against powers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The armour of light that we are to put on is Jesus himself. St. Paul exhorts us to put on the Lord Jesus, and that is the only way that we can repel the temptations that will inevitably be coming our way.

We are to expect an assault from outside of this world, and that power of darkness will use everything at his disposal to keep us slumbering and sleeping. Our Lord Jesus even bid his disciples on that first Maundy Thursday to stay awake, and pray that they might not fall prey. Our lessons, our hymns, our prayers all convey that notion that the Evil One will constantly bombard us with the temptation to let down our guard. He will attack us the most when are at our weakest, when we are tired and on the verge of sleep.

It seems to happen when we are under pressure in our job, in our marriage, with our children. We lose our patience at the drop of a hat. The least little thing seems to set us off, and we do the opposite of what we are asked to do. We are quick to speak, and slow to listen. We fire off at the handle, and then look back and can’t even remember why. We find ourselves in the midst of great darkness, and there seems to be no light at all. I know this is true because I know it all too well.

This is when we must be more fervent in prayer, and pull that armour back out of the closet from where we put it away the last time we said we didn’t need it any longer; or when we said to ourselves that it didn’t fit too good anymore; or worse, when we said that we didn’t look good in it anymore. For those times when wearing the armour of light was no longer a badge of honour, but a hindrance to our own wishes and desires.

Finally, we must remain awake because there is more that remains beyond this life. As our collect reminds us, the very reason that our Lord Jesus came to visit us in great humility was so that we might be redeemed, and after His judgment rise to the life immortal. Our destiny is not just this life, but eternity with our Triune God.

Unfortunately, the designer of the Wexner Center was dead wrong when he declared that life had no real design and no real meaning, and was simply random and capricious. We serve a God who laid the foundation of the world, and has given us a sure foundation upon which we might place our sure trust and hope. That foundation is tried and precious, and is ours to cling to with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength. Clinging to that precious cornerstone is the only way that we might have any hope to cast away the works of darkness, and don the armour of light that will protect us from anything the Prince of Darkness might hurl our way.
Sermon for the Sunday Next Before Advent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 21, 2010

Earlier this week I posed a question to some fellow priests who preach from the historic Lectionary of the church, and asked them if they knew any reason why we heard this particular Gospel on the final Sunday of the church’s year. I realize that the framers of the Lectionary had to pick something, but I was just curious, why this one? We’ve already heard the account from St. Mark of Jesus’ feeding of the 4,000 earlier in the year, why John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 as we approach a new year, and our Advent preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

One priest wrote me back and said that he remembered from somewhere back in the deep recesses of his memory someone telling him that this feeding story was quite pertinent as we were preparing to enter a time of fasting and prayer in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah. While we limit the amount of food we partake through a prayerful time of fasting, we might concentrate on the notion that our Lord took a quite limited amount of food, and fed the crowds with more than they could imagine left over. With a very small amount at the beginning, the end result overflowed in abundance. When we approach the discipline of fasting and prayer, we too are able to receive overwhelming benefits from what seems to be a small beginning.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, two particular details strike me as puzzling. One occurs right at the outset when our Lord sees the great company of people following him, and turns to Philip and asks him, “Whence shall we buy bread, that they may eat?” Why Philip? It seems like Peter is usually the one who Jesus singles out for a teaching point, but here he selects Philip. In pondering that question, an interaction came to my mind, and might very well point us in the right direction.

At the beginning of John’s Gospel the following interaction takes place after Jesus calls Andrew and Simon. In the first chapter we hear these words recorded:

The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.

Philip was the one who went out and found Nathanael and told him that the One that they had been longing for and waiting for was here. At this point he had seen no miracles, no signs, and had most likely heard no teaching, and yet, he knew that the Messiah had arrived. Most importantly, he didn’t simply bask in that knowledge for he went out and shared that Good News with someone else. He did the very thing that we are called to do as his disciples.

This is my own speculation, but I think that Jesus wanted to see where Philip was now that he had been with Jesus for a while. Did he still exhibit that same sense of certainty about who Jesus was and what He was able to do? Of course, I know without hesitation I would have probably made the same mistake he did, and say the exact same thing if Jesus asked me that question. After all, I still do. We still do. Each and every day we second guess what Jesus wants for us, and it takes yet another miracle to bring us back to a place where we can again let God work in our lives.

The other peculiarity in this passage involves what I think is a curious phrase. For there are a number of instances when reading the Scriptures that a particular sentence, phrase, detail leaves you puzzled, and almost begs the question, “Why did the author include that?” In this morning’s Gospel lesson, I wondered about the phrase, “Now there was much grass in the place.” Most of the time I would probably glance right over something as seemingly insignificant as John’s detail about the terrain. A phrase that appears out of place like noting that it was sunny outside, the flowers smelled nice, or the birds were singing a lovely tune. However, I believe there is more here than meets the eye.

Certainly, I believe that the comment is a description of the area where the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 would take place. John is trying to paint a mental picture that there is in fact enough room for a mass of people to assemble and sit down as the story explains.

However, if we dig a little deeper I believe there is something else behind those brief words. One of the great I AM statements in John’s gospel speaks about Jesus being the Good Shepherd. One of the attributes of Jesus the Good Shepherd is that he leads his sheep out and goes before them leading them as the 23rd Psalm says, “beside the waters of comfort…[to] feed in green pasture[s].” The people who were following Jesus that day were being fed by the words that he spoke to them, and would then be filled physically as well. Of course the physical need for food was merely temporal, but the words that Jesus spoke were true bread and met their spiritual needs, which of course are the things eternal. They were in just the right place to receive this nourishment because the Good Shepherd had led them to a field with much grass. The environment was perfect, and I believe that John is conveying that detail when he mentions that there is much grass in the place.

As we sit here this morning, we too are in a place with much grass. A place where we were led by the Good Shepherd to receive nourishment in the form of Christ’s Body and Blood. Like the feeding of the 5,000, what seems like a woefully insignificant thing, the receiving of a small wafer of bread and a sip of wine is transformed into the most significant thing we can ever do. As St. Paul told the Corinthian church, “For as often as we eat this bread, and drink this cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

With the most remarkable of twists, and through God’s divine Providence, the Good Shepherd who leads us into green pastures where there is much grass, becomes the true Lamb, which was slain so that we might taste death no more. It is not grass that we are to feed upon, but Christ Himself.

When we gather together to celebrate the Holy Communion, we come to another miraculous feeding. No, we are not seeking to multiply loaves and fishes on the altar. Rather, we pray that God, through the Holy Spirit, might transform the gifts of bread and wine into the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. That He might so change that which seems so small, into something that surpasses everything we could ever imagine. That we through faith might worthily receive the greatest gift that has ever been given. And, that as we offer our selves, our souls, and bodies as a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice we seek God’s nourishment that we might be forever changed, and transformed.

Part of our life-long journey is the process of sanctification or being made holy. We bear God’s image and we were created in His likeness. Receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is a critical component of our sanctification as we strive to live out the last line of the Prayer of Humble Access in which we pray that we may evermore dwell in Christ as He does in us.

Jesus told his disciples as He ascended to the Father that He would be with them always. He made that promise to us as well. Behold there is much grass in this place and the Good Shepherd has led to a pasture where he has promised to be truly present.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sermon for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 14, 2010

Several weeks ago we heard the story of the nobleman who came to Jesus seeking his help in the healing of his servant, and I spoke about the progression of his faith from birth, through growth, and into maturity as he came to Jesus in faith; he was not really sure what the outworking of that faith might look like in its infancy, but he took Jesus at his word and his faith began to grow, and it reached its culmination with his entire household believing.

This morning we come to a healing miracle found in all three Synoptics that has the wonderful 2nd miracle stuck right in the middle.

We find ourselves near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and a ruler approaches him who says that his daughter is dead. When we compare the accounts from Mark and Luke we find out that the ruler’s name is Jairus, and it is in Matthew’s Gospel that he actually says that his daughter was dead. In the other accounts he simply says that his daughter is near death.

In comparison with the nobleman’s faith from a few weeks ago, we see that Jairus comes with a maturity of faith that borders on remarkable. Even in the midst of his own despair at losing his daughter, he comes to Jesus in faith and in essence says that death is no obstacle to Jesus. He declares with certainty that if Jesus would simply come and lay his hands on his little girl she will live. If you remember the death of Lazarus, both Mary and Martha come to Jesus and say that if he had been there their brother would not have died. Jesus tells Martha that her brother will live again, and she says, yes, I know that he will live again at the resurrection of the dead. They had experienced Jesus’ entire ministry and didn’t exhibit the kind of faith that this ruler of the synagogue exhibits when he says to Jesus that he knows that his daughter will live again.

Jesus agrees to go with Jairus and follows him back to his home. If we thought that the ruler’s faith was incredible let’s take a look at second miracle that is seemingly sandwiched in the middle. We encounter a woman who has suffered with an issue of blood for the past twelve years of her life. It’s important to know here that in those days any issue pertaining to blood would make someone ritually unclean, and could of course jeopardize her ability to be a full member of society. Mark even goes so far as to mention that she had suffered much at the hands of the many physicians that she had seen over the past decade trying to figure out what was wrong. He records that she had spent all that she had and instead of getting any better, she had actually gotten worse.

What a remarkable statement by this woman when she says to herself, “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” She doesn’t need to have Jesus say anything to her; she doesn’t need to have Jesus touch her; all she needs is to reach out and touch him. She doesn’t even have to cling to much, but only the hem or fringe of his garment. There is more to that phrase “I shall be whole” than meets the eye. In looking at the word used here in the Greek there is so much depth to what this woman says. The word that she uses is the same word that deals with being saved and salvation. Instead of just being made whole she is in essence saying that she will be saved. Sure there will be wholeness of body when she is healed physically, but she is going to receive so much more. She is truly going to be saved, and her reaching out and touching Jesus is the only way that is going to happen.

Matthew doesn’t give all of the details as Mark and Luke give regarding Jesus’ recognition that virtue had gone out from him, and Peter’s statement that due to the crowds how could he even know that someone had touched him. However, all three make sure that Jesus’ words to the woman are recorded because how he addresses her is crucial. Jesus speaks to her with a word that is packed with meaning – he calls her daughter. She isn’t just a woman, but by calling her daughter she has been given permission to address her Father. As John says in his prologue, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become sons and daughters of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

She most certainly believed on the Lord’s name, and received him and simply reached out to touch him in faith. As someone once said, “She came trembling, she went back triumphing!”

The great Anglican J. C. Ryle says about this daughter’s faith and ours as well, “Let us store up in our minds this history. It may perhaps help us mightily in some hour of need. Our faith may be feeble. Our courage may be small. Our grasp of the Gospel, and its promises, may be weak and trembling. But, after all, the grand question is, do we really trust only in Christ? Do we look to Jesus, and only to Jesus, for pardon and peace? If this be so, it is well. if we may not touch His garment, we can touch His heart. Such faith saves the soul….He that only touches the hem of Christ’s garment shall never perish.”

The encounter with the woman ends almost as abruptly as it begins and Jesus enters the home of Jairus and makes what seems to be a most absurd statement to those mourning the death of the young girl. He tells them that she is not dead but only sleeping. Those who heard him say that laughed him to scorn.

Let’s think back to the Lazarus situation again. Jesus gets word that his good friend Lazarus is ill and he tells them, “The sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.” He delays going back to Bethany, and after two more days he tells his disciples that they are heading to Bethany to waken Lazarus from sleep. Of course the disciples do not understand Jesus’ words, and they ask him why he needs to go and simply wake him from slumber. He then tells them plainly that Lazarus is dead.

As we heard in the Gospel this morning, Jesus tells a group of mourners who clearly know that the life has left a twelve year old girl that she isn’t dead but is simply sleeping. I don’t think we can even comprehend how that would have been received. Coming from my perspective, that is perhaps the most pastorally insensitive sounding comment imaginable. It’s no shock that they laughed him to scorn. Even so, our Lord is in complete control of the situation. The mourners are dismissed, Jesus walks into the young girls room, takes her by the hand and raises her back to life. She is given a new life. She was dead and is now alive again.

We too when we reach out and grab hold of the hem of Jesus’ garment are reaching out to the true source of life. Jesus reaches out his hand to each one of us, dead to our sins, and he lifts us up and breathes new life into us.

Bishop Ryle closes his thoughts on this passage with these words, “This is the kind of truth we never can know too well. The more clearly we see Christ’s power, the more likely we are to realize Gospel peace. Our position may be trying. Our hearts may be weak. The world may be difficult to journey through. Our faith may seem too small to carry us home. But let us take courage, when we think on Jesus, and not be cast down. Greater is He that is for us, than all they that are against us. Our Saviour can raise the dead. Our Saviour is almighty.”
Sermon for the Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity (All Saints’ Sunday)
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
November 7, 2010

There are a limited number of times when we would anticipate the celebration of a Feast Day of the church on the Sunday following its actual occurrence on the Kalendar. We usually commemorate or at least acknowledge the Feast of the Epiphany on the first or second Sunday in January even when its actual date on the calendar is January 6. We celebrate the Sunday following Ascension Day since its Feast Day always falls on a Thursday, and unless your church name is the Church of the Ascension, most don’t commemorate the Feast on its actual date. However, we at St. John’s do celebrate and properly recognize Ascension Day as the fortieth day following Easter. Finally, we come to this morning, the other Major Feast in which many churches fully celebrate what we did on Monday night – we come to the Sunday after All Saints’ Day.

We will sing again the great hymn For All the Saints as our recessional hymn this morning, and there are two other peculiarities about privileged feasts such as this one – one that has already happened, and one yet to come. The first came at the beginning of the service when we repeated the Collect for All Saints’ Day before praying the Collect of the Day. The second will come during the Communion service when we will hear again the words from St. Paul as they have been incorporated into the Proper Preface for All Saints’ Day and the seven days following. If you turn in your Prayer Books to page 79 you will see what I am talking about. All of the Proper Prefaces for the seasons as proscribed in the Prayer Book carry with them instructions as to when they are to be read. There are six that are to be read throughout the Octave – Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Whitsuntide, and All Saints’. If you look at the first five, they all pertain to Jesus or Holy Spirit personally – Jesus’ Nativity, His manifestation to the Gentiles, His Resurrection from the dead, His Ascension to the Father, the coming of the Holy Ghost to the Apostles. The final Feast celebrates those who loved, and served the Lord Jesus.
Of course our primary focus has to lie in the following of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the study of His holy Word, in the keeping of His law and commandments, in the taking of His message to the entire world. However, we do ourselves a huge mistake if we do not study the lives of His Saints, how they lived their lives, what they wrote and taught about the church and Holy Scripture. Why does the Prayer Book and Church Kalendar spend so much time writing collects and ascribing additional portions of Scripture to be read when we commemorate Saints’ Days if we weren’t supposed to learn something from them, live with the same fervor and passion for our Lord as they did, and bid them to pray for us? We should! It is meet and right for us to do this!

One of the great saints of the church was John Chrysostom. His name literally means “golden tongued” or “golden mouthed” and his voluminous writings are studied for their profundity and depth, his engagement of Holy Scripture, and the sermons that he left us. In addition to his writings on various topics of engagement and discussion, and a service of the Divine Liturgy attributed to him, Chrysostom has left some sixty-seven sermons on Genesis, fifty-nine on the Psalms, ninety on the Gospel of Matthew, eighty-eight on the Gospel of John, and fifty-five on the Acts of the Apostles. That’s 359 sermons on just five books of the Bible if anyone was counting. It’s certainly plausible that there hundreds more that did not survive since he was writing in the fourth century AD.

I wish to read an excerpt from one of his writings that is part of the lessons appointed for today in the Anglican Breviary. I believe he speaks so well as to why we are called upon to study the lives of the Saints so that we might walk the same path as they did in order to reach the same destination where they have now arrived.
“He that wondereth with reverential love at the mighty deeds of the holy, he that hath oftentimes on his tongue praises for the glory of the righteous, let such an one copy their holy lives and their righteousness; for if any take pleasure in the work of a Saint, he ought to take pleasure in serving God as that Saint served him. If he praiseth the Saint, he ought to imitate him, and if he is not ready to imitate him, he ought not to praise him. Let him that praiseth another make himself worthy of a like praise, and if he be in admiration of the Saints, let his own admirable life reflect the holiness of theirs. If we love the good and loyal because they are good and loyal, let us not forget that we can be what they are, by doing as they did.
“It ought not to be hard for us to copy others, when we see what they of old time did without any ensamples before them, so that in them who copied not others, but set ensample for others to copy, and in us who copy them, and in them which take ensample by us, Christ may be glorified in his holy Church. Thus from the very beginning of the world there have been the harmless Abel who was slain, Enoch who walked with God, and was seen no more, for God took him, Noah who was found righteous, Abraham who was tried and found faithful, Moses who was the meekest of men, Joshua who was chaste, David who was gentle, Elijah who was accepted, Daniel who was holy, and the three Children who were victorious.

The Apostles, the disciples of Christ, are held to be the teachers of believers. Confessors taught of them fight right manfully, the noble martyrs triumph, and the Christian army armed with the armour of God, ever prevaileth in warfare against the devil. All these have been men of like loyalty, divers warfarings, and glorious victories. And thou, O Christian, art but a carpet-knight, if thou thinkest to conquer without a fight, to triumph without a struggle. Nerve thyself, strive manfully, hit hard in the press. Consider thine engagement, look to thy state, know thine arm, even the engagement which thou hast taken, the state wherein thou art come, and the arm wherewith thou hast enrolled thyself a soldier.”

Each All Saints’ Day we hear again Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount known as the Beatitudes. On page 257 of the Prayer Book you can find the passage from the fifth chapter of St. Matthew where it says that Jesus opened his mouth and taught at a minimum the apostles, but quite likely the multitude that had followed him and began with those familiar words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” He continues with the other seven “Blessed are” statements, but I only wish to touch on this first one because of its blessing and its reward.
The poor in spirit is not talking about the destitute, or the financially poor, but rather those who consider poverty of spirit to be something to be sought after and not shunned. Poverty of spirit is that emptying of self and total realization that we do not possess what it takes to be the person our Lord calls us to be. We do not have on our own what is required to live the way God wants us to live. We are incapable of loving our Heavenly Father, our neighbors, or ourselves the way we ought without the influence of something outside of ourselves. We need help and that help comes from the Spirit of the God. The Holy Ghost dwelling within us is what is required and the great saints of the church recognized that a posture of poverty of spirit was absolutely necessary in order for the Spirit to come into our hearts and lives and begin to do His work. Only through poverty of spirit can we clean our spiritual house so to speak.

Those who embrace a poverty of spirit are promised the kingdom of heaven. It’s important to note here that the verb is in the present tense. Theirs IS the kingdom of heaven. It’s not just something we have to await, but it’s something to embrace. Jesus taught us to pray to our Father in Heaven for His kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.” God’s kingdom is to be experienced in the here and now even as we will enjoy those incredible joys in the life to come.
We are called to be those poor in spirit folk who embrace this particular form of poverty in order to be the inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. The reason this is so critical is because we are called to share that kingdom with others. The only way we can share it is if we experience it, live in it, and know it intimately. If we are indeed ready to embrace a life of poverty, a poverty of spirit, ours is our Father’s kingdom to enjoy and then share with a world that desperately needs to embrace it as well.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 31, 2010

So why does Jesus do it this way?

We come to the familiar story of Peter’s question of our Lord regarding how many times he ought to forgive someone who has sinned against him. Peter tries to put limits out there to make sure that he doesn’t do too much. Peter has turned Pharisaical and wants to know exactly what he’s supposed to do in a measured, quantitative fashion. It would be awful if Peter actually went the extra mile and continued to forgive when it actually hurt, when it actually cost him something. Our Lord answers him, and says, no, you are not to forgive your neighbor some documented number of times, and then put up a shield and say no more. When your neighbor comes to you in humility and with a sincere, penitent heart seeking your forgiveness you are to give it. His answer to Peter doesn’t even imply to do the actual math and limit it to 490 times. Jesus is using metaphor and hyperbole to tell Peter, quit putting limits on something that you don’t have any right to comment on – you leave that to me.

He then goes on and in familiar fashion tells them a story. He tells the parable that we’ve come to know as the parable of the unforgiving servant. Jesus doesn’t want Peter to concentrate on specific amounts regarding the number of times he tells him to forgive his neighbor, but this parable does use some specific amounts that helps tell the story. Notice that he is quite specific in making sure we know what he’s emphasizing when he tells us how much each debtor owed, and to whom they are owed. It said the first man owed the king 10,000 talents. How much is that? Let’s try and put this in perspective, and hang with me for a second.

A Talent would have been equal to about 60 minas. One mina would be equal to 3 months wages. Therefore, one talent would have been equal to 180 months wages. 180 months is 15 years so 1 talent would be 15 years worth of income. Jesus said 10,000 talents is what the man owed. You do the math, that’s 150,000 years’ worth of wages!!! This is what the man owed! He was indebted to the king 1,500 lifetimes worth of wages. Do you begin to see the magnitude of what he’s talking about here? There’s no way even in Warren Buffet terms that anyone could ever pay off indebtedness like that.

Jesus says it this way because of something very peculiar in the Greek. Two different words are in play here when looking at this parable, and when the servant literally “prostrated himself” before the king, begging him for mercy, the king was moved to compassion or was moved to pity, same word that I highlighted in a sermon several weeks ago, and forgave him not a debt, but a LOAN! What sense does the word loan make here in this context?

Think of what we say at the offertory, “All things come of thee O LORD, and of thine own have we given thee.” Think of what God said to Adam at creation, have dominion and stewardship over all things, take care of them, they are of an infinite worth, and I have entrusted them into your care. They are on loan to you. If you don’t take care of it, you can never repay the cost to replace it. I believe that there is a distinct theological point being made here, and very few English translations ever render to word as loan instead of debt. Our lives are in fact on loan to us. We in fact belong to God; we are made in His image; we have His Spirit within us. The giving of our lives, our souls, our bodies, is our woefully small, but crucial return payment for what we’ve received.

So the man who was forgiven the impossible loan or debt goes out and finds a fellow slave who owes him 100 denarii. So how much did this man owe? A denarius would have been the normal payment for a day’s wage. In Jesus’ day if you went down to your local Labor Finders a denarius would have been the amount you would have paid someone to work for you for a day. Therefore, 100 denarii would have been about 100 day’s wages. Certainly, with time, this fellow slave could have repaid the debt that he owed to his neighbor. However, the slave who had himself been forgiven couldn’t do the same, and had the man thrown into prison.

Word of course reaches the king’s ears regarding what happened, and he is infuriated with the man. If you remember back to the beginning of the parable, he said that he was going to take him, his wife, and his children, and everything that pertained to him, sell them off until everything that he owed was repaid. The unrepentant servant went a step further with his fellow-servant, and threw him into prison because he could not pay his debt. The plight of the first man became much worse when he went back before the king because he didn’t simply sell him and his family off for repayment, he didn’t simply throw him into prison, he turned him over to the tormenters. This is the only occurrence of this word in the Bible, but the word does in fact mean tormenter or torturer.

So here we come again back to my original question, why does Jesus do it this way? I believe that he tells the story the way he does and when he does is because the disciples like us today, need to hear things repeated and in a different fashion. What do I mean here?

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he taught his disciples to pray, and told them that when they pray they should ask their heavenly Father to forgive them their debts, as they are called upon to forgive those indebted to them. In Matthew’s recording of our Lord’s words, the same word for debt is used here as in the Lord’s Prayer. The disciples and we too haven’t yet figured out that our ability to be forgiven depends on our ability to forgive. I’m not saying that God’s hands are being tied, but the only way for us to ever understand what it means to be truly forgiven is if we do the same to our fellow man. I don’t think that we can ever comprehend the magnitude of the debt that we owe to God, that has been paid though the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and that we have had the slate wiped clean by God’s Son. I don’t think we can ever comprehend that magnitude, but we can begin to approach it if we obey our Lord’s command and forgive as we ought. This is a lens through which we can understand God’s mercy is through our ability to forgive others who wrong us.

It’s a safe statement to make that we really don’t understand this magnitude. How about this for an example. We have just received our Lord’s pardon and forgiveness, and fed at his table. As we leave church our neighbor pulls in front of us, goes too slow, or in general irritates us on our way home. I’ve totally forgotten about God’s forgiveness of me as I am at best simply muttering something uncharitable under my breath, thankful I didn’t say what I was thinking out loud for others to hear. How do we expect God to forgive us, if we can first forgive others in the simplest of things? The writer of Ecclesiasticus conveys those exact same sentiments, “He that revengeth shall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will surely keep his sins in remembrance. One man beareth hatred against another, and doth he seek pardon from the Lord? He sheweth no mercy to a man, which is like himself: and doth he ask forgiveness of his own sins? If he that is but flesh nourish hatred, who will intreat for pardon of his sins?”

We have a divine command to seek pardon and forgiveness for the sins we commit against God and our neighbor. Our duty is to call our sins to remembrance so that we might lay them before Almighty God and ask him to so far remove them as the east is from the west. God’s promise is that He will do just that, however, he makes one request of us in the process – do the same to others. Show the same kind of charity to them that has been shown to each of us. For in so doing, we practice what we preach, and we receive the joy of being in love and charity with our neighbor, forgiving them as we have first been forgiven.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sermon for the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 24, 2010

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11.1)

Our Gospel lesson for this Sunday shifts gears a bit as we heard a passage from St. John’s Gospel. We will return to Matthew for the remaining Sunday mornings in Trinitytide until the Sunday next before Advent when we will hear John’s account of the feeding of the 5,000. We heard a portion of the fourth chapter this morning, which tells the story of the healing of the nobleman’s son.

There are a number of items that aren’t readily accessible when reading this passage and the first comes from the fact that the beginning of our reading doesn’t actually start with the entire forty-sixth verse. The beginning of that verse reads, “So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum.” We are back in the very same city where Jesus performed his first sign as recorded in John, and now he is about to do it again. Our lesson this morning follows the long dialogue that Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well, and we hear of her faith, and the faith of the people who hear her story, who see and hear Jesus themselves, and believe that He is in fact the long awaited for Messiah.

I also don’t think we fully grasp this term “nobleman.” The word in Greek has its roots in the same word that means “kingdom.” Apparently this nobleman was perhaps a royal official in the court of Herod Antipas because that word literally means, “of or belonging to a king, royal, regal; the officer or minister of a prince, courtier.” We are dealing with someone who possesses an earned rank at the highest levels of government, someone who is used to getting what he wants, when he wants it, in the manner he wants it done. He carries with him the voice of the king, and that means people usually listen to him.

How appropriate, rather, how ironic, that a minister of the king, would humble himself to come to the King of kings, seeking his help that he might come and heal his son. What we have here is the birth of faith – that notion of realizing that we are impotent to do it for ourselves and that we must place ourselves into the care of someone else. It means that we have to place our pride upon a shelf and leave it there for the seeds of this infant faith to take root and begin to grow and sprout.

Most likely since this interaction takes place again in Cana, the nobleman had heard about what Jesus did at the wedding feast. He had prior knowledge that this man had performed a miracle and if he would come with him back to Capernaum he might be able to heal his son. That’s certainly a reasonable request since Jesus was physically present when he performed this first miracle, it should stand to reason that Jesus would need to travel with this nobleman to his town so that he might perhaps do the same. However, the nobleman has unintentionally placed limits on where, when, and how Jesus might work in our lives. It’s certainly logical that his first glimpse at faith in Jesus would require Jesus’ physical presence. As we will see shortly, as the nobleman’s faith matures quickly this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Jesus then responds with what sounds like a sarcastic response to him when he declares, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” However, we have to pay attention to the pronouns here. One of the shortcomings of the English language is the fact that we don’t have a mechanism for distinguishing between “you” in the singular and “you” in the plural. Except of course, here in the South we’ve solved that problem with what might be the best word ever, Y’ALL! The Old English of the King James does help us see this when it uses the word “ye.” That is the second plural of “you,” so he’s actually talking to the crowds here and not singling out the nobleman. If he had been speaking to him individually, it would have been rendered “thou.” See, Elizabethan English is good for something after all.

Why do I mention this? Because so many simply want to see the signs and wonders. So many want the empirical evidence before they commit to belief. So many have to see it for themselves. “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” There is also the more grave issue of attempting to separate the miraculous from Source of the miracle. With the miraculous comes the teaching and instruction of the miracles are even there in the first place. The miracles are nice, but if it does not lead to a full surrender of life to Jesus, then all has been lost. This is what begins to move faith from birth toward growth.

Even after the man hears these stinging words, he is not dejected, angry, or despondent. He simply asks again in faith, “Sir, come down ere my child die.” The nobleman again checks his pride in light of the gravity of the situation, and out of desperation asks again for mercy in whatever fashion it might manifest itself.

What happens next is almost hard to comprehend. Jesus says to the nobleman, “Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.” He didn’t ask him, “Are you sure?” He simply turned and walked away.

What has Jesus done here? What is the significance of why he did it this way? I think that Fr. Dunbar explains this wonderfully when he says, “By telling the man to leave, with the assurance that his son will live, he pushes the miraculous event, the wondrous sign, out of the spotlight, where it cannot be seen and cannot become a sensational crowd-pleaser. The miracle is pushed ‘offstage’, and the challenge of faith and obedience in response to Jesus’ word are brought into the spotlight instead. So the question for the royal official becomes not, will Jesus come down and heal my son, but, will I obey his command? And that in turn depends upon the question, will I believe his promise?

Those are the questions for us all, when we bring our hopes and fears to God in prayer. Will we insist on his submitting to our demands? Or will we subordinate our wishes to the purpose of his will? When we rise from our knees, are we still trying to have our way with God, or have we decided to let God have his way with us? Specifically are we ready to trust in his mercy, and obey his will, leaving the outcome to him? Notice also that you can’t believe, but refuse to obey; or obey, without first believing: Christ gives us something to believe, and something to obey, and our faith and obedience are the right and left hands by which the soul receives the blessing he gives.”

His turn toward home is the transition point between hope and faith. Something within his very soul helped him turn away from Jesus, with some type of assurance that what he had hoped for, the healing of his son, was going to happen. He came to Jesus as a nobleman who was used to issuing orders and having them carried out. He came to Jesus with the hope and expectation that he would come with him and perform something miraculous. He left in a spirit of true humility, with the assurance that something miraculous was going to happen.

As the man was on his way home, his servants ran out to meet him and told him that his son was fine. He inquired of the servants as to what time he began to improve and they said about the seventh hour, the same time that Jesus had told him to go his way that his son would live. The man “knew” that it was the Word of God who had spoken but a few words to him was the source of his son’s healing and restoration to health.

The birth and growth of the man’s faith comes to full recognition and fruition when John says that the man, “himself believed, and his whole house.” This is an emphatic statement in the Greek, and has the connotation of saying something like, “He, himself, this one, he believed.” This man went to Jesus as an officer or nobleman in the service of a king. He left as a servant of the true King.
In a few weeks we will hear the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, and the miraculous multiplying of food. This morning, we heard of the miraculous multiplying of faith. We saw the transformation of one man’s faith from birth, to growth, to maturity. The overarching theme that permeates this entire exchange is the posture of the man’s heart. He came in a state of humility, seeking a miracle. It was through that humility that Jesus was able to do more than simply heal a man’s sick son. He was able to heal the souls of an entire household.

The signs that Jesus worked while he was here on earth point to something greater and more glorious. May we have the humility to go in faith, believing in the evidence of things hoped for; and receiving the assurance of those things left unseen!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ummmm, NO!

Dr. Katherine Schori participated in a gathering in Atlanta in which she was a presenter on the topic of "happiness." A copy of her address can be found here. In a cursory glance at the text one paragraph stood out as quite strange.

Jesus’ ministry, his public work, is most essentially focused on feeding, healing, and teaching people – in that order. The goods of this world are essential to happiness and blessing. His contemporaries criticized Jesus for what was perceived as his inattention to the law. They charged him with being a glutton and a drunkard. Most of the alleged ways in which he violated religious law have to do with purity – not paying enough attention to who he eats with or talks to, or healing on the sabbath. His general response is that the law is made for improving human relationships (with God, self, neighbor, and creation) – and by implication, human happiness.

How on earth can she make the claim that Jesus' ministry was about feeding, healing, and teaching people - in that order? Any assertion of Jesus' ministry devoid of the atonement is a complete aberration, and is not the Gospel of the Christian faith. Jesus didn't have to become incarnate, to live and die as one of us, if He were simply a feeding trough, miracle worker, and moral teacher. What a complete and utter sham, and the very fact that she speaks on behalf of The Episcopal Church is a disgrace.

She goes on to say that the "goods of this world are essential to happiness and blessing." WHAT?! I guess that means that all of the monks and ascetics who ever lived, who have intentionally shed the goods of this world experienced no happiness or blessing at all. To read their writings would tell a very different story. Wasn't attachment to the goods of this world what led to the damnation of the rich man who asked Lazarus for a simple drop of water in his torment? Wasn't it the goods of this world that kept the man from selling all he had, giving to the poor, and following Jesus?

Dr. Schori has completely bought into the liberal theology that Reinhold Neibuhr criticized when he said those churches have produced, "a God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross." Abp. of Canterbury William Temple once wrote in his Readings in St. John's Gospel, "why anyone would have bothered to crucify the Jesus of liberal protestantism remains a mystery."

It would be so much easier of those of us who still acknowledge we are sinful and in need of a redeemer and saviour, who understand that true happiness comes not from the goods of this world, but the assurance of pardon and forgiveness, if Dr. Schori would simply be quiet and not put her ignorance of the Christian faith on a pedestal for all the world to see.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
October 17, 2010

Here we go again. We are again presented with a situation in our Lectionary in which we are hearing a similar story from the perspective of two different Gospel writers. On the Third Sunday after Trinity, we heard the Lukan version of the Parable of the Great Banquet, and its nuance in expanding the different excuses that were given by those who were bidden to the banquet, and why they couldn’t attend. This morning we heard the much harder parable told from Matthew’s vantage point that has the additional story at the end about one of the guests who isn’t wearing an appropriate wedding garment.

We come to another place where we might ask ourselves the question again, why don’t we just hear one of the two parables, and then have the preacher bring in the necessary bits about why Luke’s version is different from Matthew’s or vice versa? Shouldn’t we be able to get the point if we only heard one of these stories each year? The framers of the Lectionary certainly didn’t think so, and our Gospel lessons for Trinitytide have a central theme and focus that speaks to the issue of discipleship, and what being a follower and disciple of Jesus really looks like. They believed that it was important enough for us to hear shortly after Eastertide, and then again shortly before Advent to hear both of these parables, and not exchange one for the other. These two stories tell, each in their own way, what we are to anticipate, and the demise of those who shrug off the Master’s invitation.

If you notice from the heading, you can see that this passage is situated toward the end of Jesus’ ministry as recorded by Matthew. Jesus is making his final journey to Jerusalem and he knows that his time on earth is quickly drawing to a close. His criticism of the religious authorities, the Scribes, the Pharisees becomes even more direct and more pointed. In this parable though, his intended audience is everyone. So many times, Jesus’ words have a stinging tone directed at those who intentionally placed obstacles in the paths of those who would come and follow him. Jesus called out the religiosity more often than not. This morning’s story hits us all, and no one can stand back and say, “Oh, I don’t see where this applies to me.”

In much the same way as the version from St. Luke begins, Jesus tells the story of a man who throws a party. We hear these words, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son.” This parable comes at things differently as Matthew opens with the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven is like unto.” Eleven different times, Matthew begins a teaching of Jesus with these words as a point of comparison. The kingdom of heaven is like unto “a man who sowed good seed in his field,” “a mustard seed,” “yeast that a woman mixes,” “treasure hidden in a field,” “a merchant in search of pearls,” “a net,” “a king.” Many of the people who have been following Jesus have most likely heard some of these stories before, and therefore, would be attuned to what he was preparing to say when he begins with that familiar clause.

As we heard in Luke’s account, those who had received invitations made excuses as to why they could not come. Some of the folks who were bidden went so far as to take the very servants of the king who brought their invitation to the banquet, and “treated them spitefully and slew them.” When the news reached the king, he was infuriated with those who killed his servants and retaliated – utterly destroying them and their cities.

One commentator who holds to a late 1st Century date of the writing of Matthew’s Gospel asserts that the verse about the burning of the city was a historical account of the sacking of Jerusalem between 66 – 70 AD. If in fact Matthew’s Gospel was written after the Jerusalem destruction that would certainly make sense.

We have here the direct condemnation of the religious authorities of the day when Jesus says to his servants, “The wedding is ready, by they which were bidden were not worthy.” The very people who were charged with the instruction of the people, and the leadership of corporate worship of God were said to be unworthy. St. Paul echoes that same sentiment when he says to the Ephesian Church and to us as well to, “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness….” Lowliness and meekness would not have been attributes that we could readily ascribe to the Pharisees, priests, and scribes of the day.

Then in a gesture of inclusion and openness Jesus then says that the king throws wide the doors of the “palace” and instructs his servants to search far and wide and extend an invitation to anyone who will come to feast at his wedding banquet table. It’s almost hard to comprehend what that would look like. How can we fathom the size and scope of that much generosity?

We can’t, and that’s a critical part of the story!

That’s why the second half of this parable is included, and also why it seems to sting so much. There are many who would like somehow to soften the expulsion of the guest who fails to put on a wedding garment. You can’t explain this away. Our Lord is most explicit here in saying that those who will come and dine with him must be properly attired for the event. Some would like to say, oh that’s not fair, he was just brought in from off the street, how could he have put on a wedding garment? He was probably too poor to have been able to afford one, that’s an affront to the plight of the poor.

Those who would assert something like that don’t understand what’s going on here. Not only does the king go everywhere to open up his home, he had an antechamber full of wedding garments for the guests to put on if he’d only asked for one. Instead, he thought that he could just march on in, sit down, dine at the king’s table, and bring all of his old ways with him.

The king says to him, why have you come in here without first putting on the very best? Why have you not received the garment that I would have readily provided you? He, of course, is speechless.

The man has failed to put on the Lord Jesus. He has refused to strive to be Holy as the King who invited him to the banquet is Holy. He wanted to hold onto what he brought into the feast, when the King intends for us all to shed those things, and be a new creation and begin to look the part.

For those who were at the Basics class this past Tuesday, this will be a repeat, but I think that the example the Fr. Cantrell gives explains quite well what putting on the wedding garment looks like, and why Matthew makes sure that we hear these words of Jesus.

When I am baptized and confirmed, the Holy Ghost knocks on the door of my life. I answer the door. There he is in his top hat and cut-away coat standing on my doorstep. He says, “Hello, I’m the Holy Ghost, and I have come to live with you. May I come in?” And I say, “Oh, of course! I’m so glad to have you in my life. Please come in and make yourself at home.”

So he comes in and sits down. After he has looked around the parlor for a few minutes, he says, “Say, I notice that your furniture looks pretty run-down. Now, it just happens that I have all my fine antiques in storage. If you would like, I would be happy to move them in so we both could enjoy them.”

Of course, I reply at once, “Why that would be wonderful!”

So the Holy Ghost stands up and says, “Well there’s no time like the present.” And he turns around and starts to pick up the chair he has been sitting in.

Then I ask, “What are you doing? Why are you picking up that chair?”

The Holy Ghost replies, “Well, if I am going to bring in my good things, we will have to move out your old stuff in order to have room for mine.”

Now I get alarmed. I say, “Well, that chair was given to me by my grandparents. Can’t you start with something else?”

And he answers, “All right, if you prefer.” And he starts to pick up another piece of furniture.

But I object to that one also. And before long, it is clear that I am not willing to give up any of my old things. I am just too attached to them.

Finally, he tells me that I will have to choose whether I really want his things in my life or not.

Our life as Christians and disciples is one filled with the constant shedding of layers of our old clothing with the joyful experience of having the Lord dress us in his finest garments, garments fit for a King and a wedding banquet. Our fervent prayers and desires are to allow God to free us from our attachment to these worldly things, and gladly exchange them for things heavenly. Then, and only then, can we enjoy the fullness of our Lord’s banquet, and can go out into the highways and byways inviting others in to partake of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb that has been prepared for us to enjoy in the presence of the King. And, let us not forget to ask the Master for the clothing fit for the occasion.