Message Archive

Sermons

06
Aug

The Transfiguration

Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99 , 2 Peter 1:13-21, Luke 9:28-36

 

Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 

Today is one of the rather rare days in our Church calendar on which we divert from our sequential walk through our Old Testament lessons and our Gospel lesson to celebrate a “non-major” feast of our Lord; every Sunday is a feast of Our Lord.  The Feast of the Transfiguration takes precedence over our weekly Sunday feasts only when its assigned date of August 6 falls on a Sunday.  Thus, we put aside our normal Propers for the day, pull out the white hangings, and focus our attention on this glorious and very significant account in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

We refer to this feast as the Transfiguration because Jesus is transfigured.  What is it to be transfigured?

None of us can watch without tears the TV and YouTube clips of surprise encounters between children of our military men and women as they are reunited unexpectedly after a tour of duty.  In every case, the children are transfigured.  I was entranced these last few days as I watched, over and over, the twelve-year-old daughter as she followed her mother quite apathetically through the crowd at the dolphin show at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo.  I watched in anticipation of her transfiguration as she became aware of the announcement coming over the loud speaker welcoming her father home after nine months in Kuwait.  There he stood in dark blues – but, likely for her, in the glow of a dazzling raiment of white; the apathy evaporated; her expression was indeed transfigured as she rushed into the strong embracing arms of her father.  And, we in the audience were transformed by this demonstration of unrestrained unconditional love and joy.

In our Gospel lesson of Jesus’ transfiguration, the surprise encounter is with Moses and Elijah.  In anticipation, we read in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus leads his disciples Peter, James, and John to the mountaintop.  Throughout the Bible, mountaintops are places to encounter God; figuratively, we continue to speak of mountaintop experiences as those pinpoint-able moments when our lives are changed.

Most familiar is the mountaintop experience of Moses, much earlier in the history of God’s people.  As we read this morning in our lesson from The Exodus, after leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, Moses was called to Mount Sinai to encounter God and receive the Ten Commandments – God’s Law.  When Moses returned to the people after this encounter, his face was shining – he had been transfigured.

Today, as we read from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is transfigured as he encounters God on the mountaintop, joined there by Moses – the vessel of God’s Law, and Elijah – recognized as the chief vessel of God’s prophetic voice.  Here, Jesus is embodied in the foundation of our human relationship with God – the Law and the Prophets.  Jesus, much like Moses as he descends Mount Sinai, was transfigured.  Luke writes that the appearance of Jesus’ face changed and his clothes became dazzling white.  Jesus was transfigured as he took his equal place among these earthly representatives of God.

But Jesus otherwise remained the same.  Jesus continued to be Jesus Christ – God’s Son, God’s Chosen – as confirmed by the voice of God speaking from the cloud on the mountaintop.  God’s voice instructed the disciples, thusly, to “listen to him.”

This point of Transfiguration is a turning point in Luke’s Gospel message.  In the three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – we confront this turning point – that significant time when Jesus’ focus turns toward Jerusalem  – the necessity and the inevitability of the Cross.

In the early chapters of our Gospel narratives, we travel with Jesus as he calls his disciples, as he teaches and heals, and models the ministry to which we are all called.  But, in each case, there is this turning point, when we, along with the disciples, sense the baton passed to us as it carries the message of the necessity to listen for deeper understanding.  And, we become aware of Jesus’ face turning toward Jerusalem.

On this morning’s mountaintop, we read of Jesus speaking to Moses and Elijah about this earthly departure, which would be accomplished in Jerusalem.  In Matthew, Mark, and Luke we read of only one adult visit to Jerusalem for Jesus – that journey takes place in the last week of Jesus’ earthly life; that journey is toward his earthly death on the Cross, which we always hasten to add is followed by the Resurrection.  Thus, the time is urgent; the disciples must listen and seek clearer understanding.

The Transfiguration changes Jesus’ outward appearance; he is transfigured.  But, it does not and is not intended to change Jesus inwardly.  That change is clearly intended for these companion disciples who now have witness to whom and what Jesus truly is.

Had the message been intended to be left on the mountaintop, Peter would have been called to the task he suggested; he would have built booths of human construction to keep God and his earthly messengers here on the mountaintop – separate from all other.  And, we would be called to believe that God resides only in houses built by human hands and separate from us.

Jesus was not to be housed on the mountaintop, and these disciples were not to leave this revelation boxed up under lock and key high in the sky.

Certainly, not just for the disciples, but for us, it is not simply an outward transfiguration; it is an inward transformation that is expected.  This transformation comes when we go to the spiritual mountaintop to listen and to see Jesus as he really is, clothed in the light of the Messiah, our redeemer – the true Son of God.  But, we don’t leave God boxed up on the mountaintop; God is everywhere.  We are called to come together regularly and frequently here in these houses of God to join in relation with one another, to share our praise and worship, to hear the Word of God, and be transformed into the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Of course, we can’t leave all that here under lock and key – held separate for our return next week.

God is everywhere; God’s story is the story of all of his people; it is one story – from our Creation, through humanity’s Fall into sin and death, through our redemption from captivity in Egypt and our redemption through the saving grace of Jesus Christ – God’s story does not change.

God comes to earth in the human person of Jesus Christ to continue our transformation into faithful people of God – faithful people everywhere – our countenance transfigured by our encounter with God through Jesus Christ our Lord – our lives transformed by our commitment to his mission and ministry as we are embraced into his unconditional loving arms of grace.

And, we bring this mission down from the mountain, sometimes way down into the gutters of reality of daily life.  But, God is there in those gutters; we have been transformed to make known his presence in those gutters.

From the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 

16
Jul

Sower

Genesis 25:19-34  Psalm 119:105-112  Romans 8:1-11  Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

This teaching of Jesus is titled “The Parable of the Sower.”  It is an account that is to be read and reread and reflected upon on a variety of levels and perspectives.  Normally, a parable has one primary point, often demonstrated in a surprising ending.  This “parable” is more of an extended allegory in which we can substitute something or someone for each element of the story.  We could say, for instance, that the sower is God; the seed is the Good News; and the different types of soil represent the ways in which we receive or fail to receive the Good News.

Sometimes we are the soil of a hard-packed path, completely resisting or dismissing the Good News of Jesus Christ, allowing the Evil One to come and snatch away the Gospel message, assuring that it does not take root.  Satan’s greatest fear is for the Gospel message to take root and grow in us and through us.

Sometimes we are the rocky soil; we hear the Good News and are excited to share it.  But, the rocks inhibit the growth of the roots of the message; the roots are frail and shallow.  We haven’t really taken time to listen and commit ourselves to the hard truths of discipleship.  Once back in our daily routine, our enthusiasm fades; we find it difficult to maintain that sense of joy in the face of daily challenges – difficult to hold the darkness along side the light; and we return to complacency; and the devil smiles.

Sometimes we are soil that is overgrown with weeds and thorns.  We all have weeds and thorns in our lives – weeds and thorns that choke out the Gospel message – the message that God loves us and wants the best for us.  Weeds and thorns that choke our joy in life – weeds and thorns of meaninglessness and meaningless habits that distract us from daily prayer, Bible study, and worship, and choke out meaningful relationships with our family members and neighbors.  How the devil does love that crabgrass with its prolific roots that strangle the flowerbeds of mission and ministry.

The good soil is what we seek to be – good soil – hearing the message, opening our hearts and minds to the message, seeking to understand it more deeply, and bearing fruit – a hundredfold – bearing fruit, so that, in turn, we sow the seeds of God’s goodness everywhere we go.

Ah, it appears that being the good soil leads to taking on the role of sower for ourselves.  Let’s look at this parable of the sower from this different perspective.  Let’s suppose God intends for us to be the sower.  After all, how does the Good News of Jesus Christ get sowed without us to do the sowing?

The sower in our parable seems a little foolish doesn’t he?  Why would he cast his valuable seed on a hard path packed down by the many steps of frequent passersby?  Why waste good seed by throwing them among the rocks and the weeds? Why not just seek out the good soil for the sowing of our seed?

The Jacob of our First Lesson from Genesis doesn’t seem to be good soil worthy of the sower’s seed.  We have followed our Old Testament saga from the first patriarch Abraham through his son Isaac, and now, today, to the birth of Isaac and Rebekah’s twins Jacob and Esau.

As we note from the scripture, the brothers have been mired in conflict and competition since even before their birth.  Esau is the first of the twins to be born; yet, it will be Jacob who will carry the legacy begun by his grandfather Abraham’s covenant with God.  Jacob, however, appears to be a schemer, a blackmailer, who extorts his brother’s rightful claim to the principal inheritance.

Why would God choose Jacob over Esau to be the one to carry forth the heritage of his people?  Yes, Jacob’s scheme to capitalize on his brother’s hunger is cruel and selfish.  But, at the same time, Esau doesn’t put up much of a fight.  He seems very willing to sell the birthright for a quick and easy solution to a temporary problem – dismissing the responsibility of his heritage for a bowl of beans.

Perhaps God saw that Jacob, in spite of his unseemly actions, had what it took to carry the responsibilities that would be placed on him as the one chosen to carry forth the legacy of God’s word.  God’s ways are higher than our ways.  We are not meant, for now, to understand the mystery of God’s redemption of creation; God redeems Jacob just as he does each of us.

What is obvious is that God did sow his seed in Jacob.  Jacob would go on to make his own covenant with God.  Jacob would go on to be the father of all Israel, the father of the twelve sons who would become the fathers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel still, effectively, in existence to this day.

Just so, time and again, God takes the cruel and selfish and unseemly and uses it for his good.  God takes the hard-packed soil and the rocky soil and the soil infested with weeds and he makes them good soil.

An important bit of information that relates to our parable of the sower is that it was typical in first century Palestine to sow the seed first and then to plow it into the soil.   If we are going to be the sowers we must also follow through to plow the seed into the soil – to see that the seed has the greatest possibility to take root and produce a hundredfold.  God, we will see, has yet to do some plowing and tending of the soil of Jacob’s life.

God, the sower, has tossed upon us the gift of his grace.  God intends for us to be the good soil, and in being the good soil, to produce a hundredfold and, then, become sowers ourselves, helping each other to be the good soil.  We are not to turn our backs on the soil that appears to be hard-packed or rocky or overrun with weeds.  Sowing the seed is the beginning; God calls us to plow as well – plow and tend and keep seeking the yield – a hundredfold.

18
Jun

Willingness to follow

Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7) Psalm 116:1, 10-17 Romans 5:1-8 Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23)

‘My Lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.’  [Genesis 18:3]

The nineteenth century missionary Hudson Taylor is credited with the statement, “God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him.”

Father Abraham followed; Father Abraham is known as the first patriarch.  Our Old Testament lesson describes the visit of three men addressed by Abraham as “My Lord.”  We could speculate that this is an encounter with the Holy Trinity – One God in 3 persons.  Nevertheless, hospitality was of paramount importance in the culture of Abraham’s day.  Great sacrifice is made to provide comfort and sustenance for visitors who appear unannounced. 

These are quite special visitors who brought life-changing news to Abraham.  In due season, they announce, Abraham and Sarah, at advanced age beyond childbearing years, would become the parents of a son.  This child about whom our Old Testament lesson speaks is Isaac.  Isaac would become the father of twins – Jacob and Esau.  Jacob will steal the birthright and become Father Israel Thus, it would be Jacob who would carry on the patriarchal legacy; he would become the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel that exist until this day.  As the song says, “Father Abraham had many sons.”

Why would God have chosen Abraham in this very special way?  What were his credentials?  We know, and we will read in the coming weeks as the saga continues, that Abraham would become recognized as the epitome of faith – we speak of Abrahamic faith.  Abraham trusted God’s lead regardless of the sacrifice he would be called upon to make.

“God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him.” 

Why would God have chosen Abraham?  Why had Jesus chosen each of these twelve ordinary-seeming men to be his disciples?  We know very little about any of these twelve; like Father Abraham, they come with sparse resumes.  As we read about them in our Gospel lessons every week, they seem to stumble and fall a lot much like we do.  Yet, we read from Matthew’s Gospel this morning that Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

[Jesus’ concern at this stage in his ministry is for his own people – the Jewish people; that concern will evolve to include all people of all nations as Matthew’s Gospel continues.]

We know relatively little about these 12 disciples listed here except that they were individuals ready to follow Jesus wherever that might lead.

The Apostle Paul confirms that our faith is not rated by quality or quantity.  In his letter to the Romans, Paul’s message is clear.  It is a message for the ages:  Our justification is through the grace of Jesus Christ; we neither deserve our salvation nor can we earn our salvation.  The only necessary element is faith – a readiness to follow.

Our earthly fathers, whom we celebrate today, come with or without all sorts of credentials and resumes.  Recognizing that mothers often must be fathers as well – and sometimes fathers must be mothers – with all political correctness considered, the reality is that our earthly fathers create for us our image of God. 

What an enormous responsibility!!  We adults are “gods” in the eyes of the children around us.  Earthly fathers even have the same name with which we refer to our heavenly Father. 

None can doubt the correlation between the presence of a fatherly relationship and the reduced rates among youth, particularly males, of incarceration, suicide, behavioral disorders, and school drop out.  We mothers do our best, but nothing substitutes for at lease some form of the authority, discipline, protection, and unconditional love of father – the image of our Heavenly Father.  For fathers everywhere, fathers ready to follow the will of our Heavenly Father, fathers seeking to live up to their responsibility to be the earthly representative of our Heavenly Father – for all fathers we offer our prayers and we give thanks.  There are few earthly gifts that surpass the gift of an earthly father who demonstrates for us unconditional love – the unconditional love of our heavenly Father, the willingness to follow God’s will.

“God isn’t looking for people of great faith, but for individuals ready to follow Him.”

In closing, I share this prayer appropriate for this theme and this occasion of Fathers’ Day.  It is from the 19th century monk, Brother Charles of Jesus:

 

Father,

 

I abandon myself

into your hands;

do with me what you will.

 

Whatever you may do

I thank you;

I am ready for all,

I accept all.

Let only your will

Be done in me

 

And in all your creatures,

I wish no more than this,

O Lord.

 

Into your hands

I commend my soul;

I offer it to you

With all the love of my heart,

For I love you Lord,

And so need to give myself

Into you hands,

Without reserve,

And with boundless confidence,

For you are my Father.

 

Amen

 

‘My Lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.’

17
Jun

Carried

Isaiah 25:6-9  Psalm 46  John 6:37-40

Burial of Kathleen Dendy

When Kay Dendy was born, George V was a young king.  Later that same month the allies defeated the Germans at Amiens, France; this was known as the last great battle of the Western Front – WWI.  And, just over 3 months after Kay’s birth, the Armistice was signed at Compiegne, and the “First Great War” came to an end. 

For nearly 99 years, Kay basked in the faith that she was carried through hardship as well as times of joy in the arms of her Lord.  Kay lived in the affirmation of the words of our savior that we have read just now, assured that nothing with which the Father had entrusted the Son would be lost.  With typical British steel gentility and dignity, even enduring two world wars and their aftermath, Kay lived in the assurance that nothing of God’s creation is lost.

In our Gospel lesson from John are the words of Jesus that follow his statement “I am the bread of life, anyone who comes to me shall not hunger.”  Anyone who comes to me shall not hunger; none, Jesus promises, not one will be driven away.  Jesus continues to assure us that nothing with which the Father had entrusted him would be lost.  Jesus does not break his promises.

Interestingly, in this Gospel lesson, the Greek word used for “Everything” means just that – everything – all creation.  Jesus promises to lose nothing of the Father’s creation.  Through Jesus Christ, nothing in all creation is lost.  Humankind, in turn, is entrusted with the care of all creation as is confirmed in the account of creation that we read in Genesis.

In great joy, with hand and heart, Kay continued this ministry of seeing that nothing was lost, whether it was a Chesapeake Bay seagull or a stray kitten that hugs people around the neck just as humans do.

God comes to us in such simple and mysterious ways; we have to be constantly on the watch for such things.  Last Sunday, when I visited Kay in her home where Janie and Pam were caring for her, I took my home Communion kit in order to share with Kay the physical and spiritual communion of the Body of Christ that we all share.  The Communion kits contain the reserved bread and wine from the Holy Communion that we share on Sunday.  Sharing this reserve with the homebound assures them of their spiritual presence in the Body of Christ – in this case our parish family – though they are unable to be physically present.

So, on this occasion, undoubtedly Kay’s last earthly Communion, opening the pix that normally holds the consecrated wafers, I discovered to my embarrassment that the pix was empty; I had failed to refill it from the reserved sacrament that is stored here in our tabernacle.  Umm, what was I to do?  I could return to the car to check my other kit, or I could consecrate some bread from Kay’s kitchen, which seemed to be the best idea.  A roll was produced and blessed – far more bread, of course, than was required by the four of us as we shared the wine – reserved from that shared by the dear people of Advent – and the newly consecrated bread. 

What, then, would we do with the remaining consecrated bread?  Ah, of course, the seagulls!  How appropriate that Kay’s final Communion – her last heavenly banquet on earth – would be shared with the seagulls.  Jesus promises that nothing in all of his Father’s creation will be lost. 

In her earthly death Kay embraces the words of the prophet Isaiah, “the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed:” the Good News that in Christ, death, our last enemy, is destroyed; the Good News that in Christ no one is cast out, nothing in all God’s creation is lost, all and everything are held in the arms of God, as Kay was lovingly held by Janie as she drew her last breath.

Kay indulges now in this heavenly banquet in which we will all indulge one day – the heavenly banquet much like that, we can imagine, described by Isaiah.  

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.

In my last conversation with Kay, I struggled to understand her words; her mind was clear but her voice was weak.  Even so, there was one particular statement that was very clear – a statement that sums up her life and her death.  She was speaking of her grandson Geoffrey who had come from Atlanta early last week to assist in her care.  By then, Kay no longer had the strength to even lift herself up in bed.  Speaking passionately, Kay said, “Geoffrey, that dear dear boy, he picked me up in his arms just like this, and he carried me so gently, and laid me in my bed.”

Kay is raised from her bed, as we will all be raised.  Kay is feasting on rich food and fine wines along with loved ones, sea gulls, and kitty cats who went ahead of her.  Jesus said, “Anyone who comes to me, I will never drive away.”  None is lost; all are carried in his arms.

11
Jun

Embraced by the Holy Trinity

Genesis 1:1-2:4a 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Matthew 28:16-20 Psalm 8

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Many years ago, on an “ordinary Sunday,” as was our tradition, our family attended worship at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Raleigh.  It was the day of a baptism; I have no recollection of the identity of the child being baptized; in fact, I don’t remember anything else about the service except for one particular seemingly simple, mostly unnoticeable incident on that day that carried a profound message of welcoming embrace – a slice of life on which I continue to reflect especially as it relates to our baptism. 

The baptismal font at the Church of the Good Shepherd is (or was) in a small raised niche to the far right of the main altar.  At all baptisms the children in attendance are invited to come and gather around the baptismal font for a close up view of the baptismal sacrament. 

On this day, as the celebrant gathered the children into a circle around the font, two preteen girls in their summer gingham were standing side by side with their backs to the congregation.  Getting settled, one of the two glanced back to see another girl of similar description approaching.  She drew in her breath and her eyes brightened at the sight of another friend coming forward.  Tapping the shoulder of her circle mate, she pointed discreetly to the approaching friend; her whispered words were clear to anyone watching closely, “Look who’s here!”  The delight of all three was palpable as the circle parted, the friend was embraced into the circle, and the attention of all turned once again to the focus of the celebration as yet another of God’s children was baptized into the Body of Christ.

We find similar theological reflection of even greater welcome and embrace into the kingdom in the Holy Trinity, which we celebrate today on this principal feast of the Church.  In one example, this welcome and embrace is depicted in the fifteenth century Russian icon by Andrei Rublev entitled “The Holy Trinity.”  The famous quite familiar icon depicts three rather primitive characters with rudimentary angel wings seated on three sides of a square table.  The characters obviously share mutual respect and affection; they are three distinct characters yet their wings are overlapping as they are united in relationship by their mission symbolized in their shared presence at the table.

Significantly, the fourth side of the table – the seat open to the viewer – has no occupant.  This fourth side remains open for the viewer; one could perceive that the other occupants are gazing expectantly toward the empty seat; these three seated at the table invite the viewer to join and complete their circle.  I love imagining one in the group whispering to the others, “Hey, look who’s here!’ as each of us is welcomed and embraced into the sacred setting – the fourth who completes the circle of God in three persons – each of us as the fourth within the relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – was not known to the Apostle Paul or even, in these terms, by Jesus.  The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was not conceptualized until centuries after the earthly life of Jesus and the Apostle Paul.  Yet, Paul, at the conclusion of his second letter to the people of Corinth, expressed his understanding of the three persons of the Holy Trinity as he ended with the beautiful benedictory words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” 

And, similarly, Jesus in his last words to the disciples commissioned them to go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. 

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was conceptualized by the early Church as Christians began more and more to seek a clearer understanding of their relationship with God – finding their place at the table.  As our faith journey leads us to greater depths, we seek a more tangible understanding of what it is to be God’s children.  How is it that God desires and provides what is best for us?  In the most basic simple terms we glory in the one inseparable God who, through the grace and mercy of the Father, creates us; who, through the Son, redeems us; and who, through the Holy Spirit, sustains us.

The three persons of the Holy Trinity depicted by Rublev do not sit at a tiny separated table with their attention and their gaze trained upon one another, ignoring all else as if their purpose is serving one another.  The three wait expectantly, beckoning each of us to join them – to complete the circle – to open our lives to the love of God the Father, our creator; the grace of Jesus Christ, our redeemer; and the communion of the Holy Spirit, our sustainer.   

All three were present in God at creation.  As we read this morning in the account of creation, God’s breath swept across the formless void, separating the dry land from the waters and day from night, bringing light to the darkness, bringing life to every plant yielding seed and to all creatures of the air, land, and sea.  And, then, one the 6th day, God created humankind – as we are created we are embraced by God’s glorious creation that awaits us, AND we are given responsibility for the care of all creation.

The three persons of the Holy Trinity embrace each of us as the three meld together into one God.  Like the rainbow, we cannot distinguish endings or beginnings; they meld into one another and embrace us into their eternal existence.

In our baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, we are embraced into the Body of Christ.  Our place at the table is a place of welcome and, therefore, a place of responsibility.  In his last earthly words to his disciples, Jesus leaves to all of us the Great Commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you in all ways and for all time, to the end of the age.” 

 

Trinity Sunday

04
Jun

Comfort Rooms

 Numbers 11:24-30 Acts 2:1-21 John 20:19-23 Psalm 104:25-35, 37

Jesus said, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  [John 20:23]

Pentecost has come; we celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in every element of creation.  The spirit finds us and speaks to us wherever we are, in whatever language we understand.  The Holy Spirit embraced this eclectic group of followers gathered on this Day of Pentecost, which is described for us in our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles.  The Holy Spirit comes in the very same Breath of God that created the world. 

Listen!  Do you hear the Breath?  Do you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit – bringing you peace; inspiring you to follow the will of God in all that you do?  Be still mind; be still heart – for just a moment.  The Holy Spirit surrounds us, embraces us; the Holy Spirit is seeking to speak to you.

Yikes!!  There is something in all of us that is a little fearful of the movement of the Holy Spirit.  We ARE known as the “Frozen Chosen.”  Best to stay busy and not risk any odd sensations of spiritual direction.  Pentecostalism is an “ism” we prefer to avoid exploring.  It carries connotations of lots of noise and strange actions that frighten us. 

In reality, though, being open to the Pentecostal presence of the Spirit requires quietude.  That’s scary too!  What do we do with quiet?

Disappointingly, I learned on Tuesday that my Yin Yoga class was being cancelled.  Attendance had waned and the class is no longer viable.  My only classmates on Thursday were a 6’7” lean Marine and a very young-looking Naval officer retiring this month.

Yin Yoga is a slow-paced Yoga in which participants hold stress-reducing poses for several minutes.   In my case, I was led into a full hour of quiet meditation while allowing muscles and joints a gentle healthy morning stretch.  Oh, well, it couldn’t last.  My guess is that attendance waned because quietude and relaxation are undervalued. 

Our lives are so stressfully full, we have no time to devote to intentional healthy stress reduction through quietude and stillness.  Simply put, we are too stressed to reduce stress; we fear quietude.

Bearing this concern, my attention was attracted to an article in a newsletter from Jackson-Feild Behavioral Health Services regarding “comfort rooms.”  Jackson-Feild began as a facility to care for children orphaned by the yellow fever epidemic of the mid-1800s.  The foundation has evolved over the decades to keep their mission current in addressing the ever-changing critical needs of children.  Today, JFBHS’s primary mission is directed toward the specific needs of children affected by severe trauma and abuse.  Our parish supports this effort with yearly contributions and I encourage you to go to the website for more information about this significant ministry: http://www.jacksonfeild.org .

Toward this effort to address trauma and abuse, the JFBHS article describes the provision of “Comfort Rooms” in JFBHS locations.  The comfort rooms are designed to be places of reduced stress, agitation, and aggressive behavior.  Comfort rooms have come to be recognized as successful avenues for calming aggressive children who might previously have been subjected to seclusion or physical restraint, often leading to further emotional and physical injury. 

Comfort rooms, characteristically, are inviting atmospheres – usually painted pastel green and supplied with chalkboard walls, cozy carpeting and comfortable furniture, relaxing music, and attention-stimulating activities such as puzzles, stress balls, and drawing materials.  The goal is to bring calm through the stimulation of the senses in a healthy manner rather than attempting calm through efforts that stifle the senses – as would restraint or isolation in a bare room.  The comfort rooms provide a safe contained environment in which a child may willingly spend time while developing healthy coping skills through natural processes – thus more safely and successfully reducing aggressive behavior.

This concept of “comfort rooms” is increasingly important for all of us of all ages.  The inability to focus attention for any significant period of time, previously an expectation of youth, now creeps upward into older age groups, promoting more aggressive behavior.  Yet, we get fidgety when we are called into quiet reflection.  No please!  Don’t leave me alone with my thoughts!! 

Being out of reach of our cell phones is a cause for panic.  Look around you when you are stopped at a red light.  Can you find anyone who is not talking on the phone or texting or otherwise fidgeting with an electronic device – double-booking every moment?  Crash statistics indicate these activities are not reserved for stopped traffic.

We all need a “comfort room” – an established space away from “the world” where we are drawn into the quiet, being inspired to experience the presence and direction of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is our comfort room – Jesus promised as he was leaving his earthly ministry that he would not leave us comfortless. 

We see this loss of our ability to grasp fleeting moments of quiet and relaxation taking a heavy toll on our society, culminating in ever-increasing anger and aggression in opposition to God’s will for our daily lives.  God through the Holy Spirit is everywhere, but it is good to seek God first in our “comfort rooms” where we can be still and listen to God’s voice through the breath of the Holy Spirit – that same breath that breathed us into creation.  

As the psalmist acknowledges in speaking of God in the Holy Spirit:

You hide your face, and they are terrified;

            you take away their breath,
and they die and return to their dust.

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created;
and so you renew the face of the earth.  [Psalm 104:30-31]

 

Find your comfort room – your source for the breath of creation.  In that space, we can be still and sense the presence of God’s power as we are embraced in the breath of the Holy Spirit – the Breath of Creation.  Go there for God’s guidance toward peace and relaxation and call to ministry as the Holy Spirit directs us in our relationships with one another.  In the presence of the Holy Spirit, the peace of the world is our path.  Receive the Holy Spirit; peace be with you.

25
May

Looking Up

Acts 1:1-11  Ephesians 1:15-23 Luke 24:44-53 Psalm 47

There is a lot of imagery associated with “looking up.”  It’s good when things are “looking up” after we have been through a difficult time. 

If you have posed for a group photo lately, it is likely that the photographer was placed on a higher level, either with a very tall ladder or on some upper landing of a stairs.  All this is to capture you looking up, which is said to be our most photogenic angle.  As I look out onto this audience, I see you looking up, and I can report that you are appearing most photogenic. 

We can imagine that Jesus’ crowd of followers looking up as he ascended to the Father was a most beautiful sight.  Did they wave and blow kisses?  I’m not sure what the proper send off words are for someone who is ascending into heaven.

In preparation for Ascension Day, thinking of looking up, I have had this recurring vision of the hot air balloon carrying the Wizard of Oz as it lifts up above a chaotic and panic-stricken scene.  As the story goes, acknowledging Dorothy’s homesickness and desperation to return home to Kansas, the wizard wants to make amends for his bad behavior.  Thus, he pronounces that he is a balloonist and a Kansas man himself; he pledges to return Dorothy to her home.

The balloon is prepared and the plans ensue, but things don’t quite work out as intended.  As the wizard and Dorothy wave their tearful goodbyes and begin their sensational departure, Toto jumps out of the gondola to chase a cat, and of course, Dorothy jumps out behind him, leaving the wizard alone in the balloon as it rises uncontrollably out of reach above Dorothy and her newfound friends – all of whom are crestfallen that Dorothy’s one means of returning home has been foiled.  They stand looking up in a state of hopeless defeat – their dream lost.

Chaos and panic and hopeless defeat surely were not in the atmosphere of the scene as the disciples stood by while Jesus was carried up into heaven.  In his words recorded in the Book of Acts, Luke adds that a cloud took Jesus out of their sight.  Here, two men in white robes appear, perhaps Moses and Elijah, who had accompanied Jesus at the Transfiguration where they were overshadowed by a cloud through which God spoke.  As we read in 2nd Kings, Elijah himself, had gone to heaven in a whirlwind as Elisha stood looking up – watching and crying and tearing his clothes as his mentor disappeared.  Yet, quite calmly, Elisha picks up the mantle that had fallen from Elijah, the mantle – the mission – that now became Elisha’s mission.

In this scene of Jesus’ Ascension described in our Gospel account, there is no crying or tearing of clothes; Luke describes a setting that is quite calm, a silent suspension of time – no efforts to hold Jesus back.  Yet, as for Elisha we are aware of a critical turning point for these timid followers – a turning point that requires our attention on this day, a turning point critical to our understanding of our calling to Christian ministry – and we are ALL called to ministry. 

Jesus’ last words of instruction had opened the minds of the disciples; they knew this leaving was not hopeless defeat or loss of their dream – that it was, in fact, the beginning of an expanded journey.  Once Jesus was taken up, we are told, the disciples worshipped him and returned to Temple where they praised God.  They understood that Jesus’ ministry was not ending as their leader and teacher ascended into heaven; Jesus’ ministry was now transitioned to those followers who stood looking up.  “Disciples” – students were now “Apostles” – messengers of the Good News.

As Christ ascended into heaven these first followers turned to the mission to which they were called.  This Ascension, which we celebrate today as one of the seven principal feasts of the Church, is not simply a major feast to be celebrated on this 40th day of Easter each year, it is the day that the mantle of the Christian mission is laid before us.  None of our feasts is less emphasized yet more important than Ascension.  Will we pick up the mantle of the Christian mission as Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah’s mission?

In their state of despair, Dorothy and her friends come to understand that Dorothy has all along within herself the capacity to return home whenever she wishes.  Glenda the Good Witch reveals the power of the ruby slippers, prompting Dorothy to click her heels together and chant: “There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.”  Magically, Dorothy is transported back to her bedroom where she looks up into the faces of concerned family and friends.

Our calling to Christian ministry is not quite as simple as clicking our heels together.  But, like Dorothy and Elisha that ability to further the mission is within us; the responsibility is ours; the mantle is handed down to us.  As we are one with Jesus Christ, we carry the Christian mission within us. 

We come together as one Body of Christ sharing in the communion of that Body and Blood that unites us all, regardless of our faith tradition.  We came to gather in this assembly to celebrate the Ascension.  But, we did not simply come to a church to worship on this evening – We ARE the Church; we ARE the Christian ministry as it has been transitioned from that day of the Ascension.

Why do you stand looking up?  There is great joy in our worship and praise.  We move now into the sacred pause of the ten days between Jesus’ earthly departure and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  The mantle has been laid at our feet and we go forth to look out onto the ministry to which we are called

Drawing from the words of the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians:  On this blessed feast of the Ascension, with the eyes of your heart enlightened (as you go forward into the reflective quiet of these next ten days), may you know what is the hope to which our Lord has called you, [Ephesians 1:18]

21
May

Advocate

Acts 17:22-31 1 Peter 3:13-22 John 14:15-21 Psalm 66:7-18

Come Holy Spirit, Come.  Be with us in the speaking; be with us in the listening; be with us in the in between.  Help us always to remember that there is a Third present.

This is a prayer that I treasure.  My dear spiritual director and I begin our sessions together with this prayer.  Occasionally, I pray this prayer at other times of one-on-one conversations and times of counsel.  It is a prayer that is pertinent also at the beginning of a meeting – times when, as always, we seek God’s guidance in the words we speak – words that should be spoken with gentleness and reverence; we seek God’s help in reminding us to listen patiently and with open hearts to the words others will speak; we seek the constant awareness of God’s presence in our recognition of our reverence for one another – God’s presence that, as we pray, will lead us to the common ground we share.  Come Holy Spirit, Come; be our Advocate, as promised by our Lord.

During my clinical chaplaincy experience while in seminary, our group of “chaplains in training” would gather two to three times weekly to discuss our experiences as chaplains in a variety of health care facilities.  In my group was a young Jewish woman, “Ruth,” from whom I learned a great deal and came to admire.

Ruth shared her frustrations in one particularly difficult situation, providing pastoral care for a family in which a family member was at the level of maximum life support – unable to breathe on his own or to communicate in any way.  Yet, the family held out hope that their loved one would recover; they were paralyzed in their decision-making, unable to even discuss the removal of the artificial support.

Conversely, the medical staff felt very strongly that medical intervention was useless, in fact, intensifying suffering, and should be removed.  One particular medical provider was quite adamant about her feelings against prolonged support and even angry that the family was not willing to consider removal.  Advocating for the family as their chaplain, Ruth had become the target of her heated words; they had begun to see each other as enemies.

Ruth struggled with the existing tension of at least three complicated elements:  1) the tenets of her own faith and belief in the sanctity of life; 2) her sense that the medical professionals were correct in that the prolonged care was increasing the patient’s suffering; and 3) her position as chaplain, thus, advocate for this family – her calling to make known the presence of the God in this heart-breaking situation.

How should Ruth respond to this medical provider whose anger was spilling over into her own abilities to provide compassionate care, complicating an already highly challenging situation, and increasingly being directed at Ruth who stood in the middle ground as the advocate for the family?  Our group went round and round as we struggled with her, seeking guidance in finding the right approach to diffuse the anger that was inhibiting Ruth’s duty to be the source of calm amongst the anxiety.

What words would Ruth say in the next dreaded encounter?  We listened and pondered.  Finally, from the Holy Spirit, through the voice of a group member, came the words for her antagonist: “I agree with you.  I, too, am growing impatient and frustrated.  I believe we are needlessly prolonging the patient’s suffering.  BUT, I am, first and foremost, pastor and advocate for this family, and I will not abandon them at this time of such great need.  I will not argue with you; I am not your adversary; I am their advocate.”

Come Holy Spirit, Come.  Be with us in the speaking; be with us in the listening; be with us in the in between.  Help us always to remember that there is a Third present.

Our advocate leads us to the “third way” – common ground on which to begin building a right relationship with one another – relationship in gentleness and reverence about which Peter speaks in his Epistle that we read earlier.

Jesus assures us of his presence with us through the presence of the Spirit of Truth – the Holy Spirit.  In Jesus’ last words to his disciples in the last hours before his earthly death – the end of times together as they had known them – Jesus assured his disciples that he would ask the Father to send “another Advocate” to be with them forever.  The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, as Jesus promised in the waning hours of his earthly life, is with us forever.

In two weeks, Pentecost, we will celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as it was experienced for these early disciples 50 days after the Resurrection.  Today, we reflect on the blessing of our Advocate’s constant presence in our lives – this Spirit of truth about which Jesus speaks.  Jesus said, the world cannot receive the Spirit of truth because the world doesn’t see or know the Spirit of truth – the world unwilling to speak with lowered voices, unwilling to listen, unwilling to acknowledge the presence of the Advocate.

In our lesson from Acts, we find the Apostle Paul, arriving in Athens, as he journeyed in the awareness of the presence of the Advocate.  Athens was known to be the seat of Greek culture steeped in pagan worship and known down through the centuries for worship of multiple gods rather than the one true God.

Paul’s approach in these introductory remarks to the people of Athens relates his insight through the guidance of the Holy Spirit to seek common ground at the very outset of his Christian mission in this pagan land.

Thus, rather than target the pagan altar of the Athenians as an object of disapproval and dismissal in a display of his contempt and ridicule, Paul introduces his speech by noting an inscription upon the Athenian altar that reads “To an unknown god.”  Rather than shunning the Athenians for their inappropriate pagan-based worship center, Paul begins, wisely, by complimenting the religiously inclined nature of the people of Athens.  He looks beyond their ignorance and misdirected faith and chooses instead to capitalize on their willingness to acknowledge the existence of an “unknown god.”  Finding common ground, establishing a trusted relationship with the people of Athens, trusting the guidance of the Holy Spirit – the Advocate that our Lord promised to all believers – Paul sets the stage for evangelism as he begins acquainting the people of Athens with Jesus Christ, “the known God.”

Our present world, the present state of our country is quite resistant to the idea of seeking common ground.  We’re not willing to listen to others; our own words seem unheard, shouted down by the opposition.   We are unkind to one another.  We label each other with stereotypes and fear any compromise will lead to total loss of position.  Is there anyone willing to seek common ground?  Can we find a starting place that we all value and begin to rebuild reverence for one another?  Where is the gentleness and reverence in our relationships about which Peter writes?  It starts here, it goes with us in the presence of the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth; from here we take it out into the world.

Come Holy Spirit, Come.  Be with us in the speaking; be with us in the listening; be with us in the in between.  Help us always to remember that there is a Third present.

14
May

Seeds

Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

St. Augustine prayed, “Lord, my heart is restless until it finds rest in you.”

Happy Mother’s Day!  Thanks be to God for mothers!  Whether or not you are technically a “mother,” today is a day we celebrate the spirit of motherhood – the endless energy of the nurturing and nesting qualities of mother.  Today, we acknowledge our thanks for the quiet wisdom and guidance that we typically and positively associate with the maternal presence. 

We all carry these seeds of maternal wisdom in our lives – certainly, biologically, but also spiritually.  Wisdom, throughout the Bible, is addressed in the feminine.  Most of us by this time in our lives have learned the profound axiom: “If at first you do not succeed, do it like your mother told you.”  That is a seed of wisdom that sprouts and grows in our being more prolifically with each passing year.

I am sporting my Mother’s Day present – new earrings, a gift from my daughter; they are from Holly Lane Christian Jewelry.  The tiny ornament depicts a dandelion in its puffball stage.  The verse attached reads, “Remember lying in the yard blowing dandelions before you knew they were weeds?  May this piece [of jewelry] be a constant reminder that in the busyness of life, we can find true rest in Jesus.”

Steven, the apostle, knew of this true rest in Jesus Christ, even in the face of brutal death.  Our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles tells of the death of Steven who is known as the first Christian martyr whose death is described in scripture. 

In the days following the Resurrection and Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at the first Christian Pentecost, the Twelve Apostles chose seven new apostles to assist in the Christian mission and ministry.  These seven were officially appointed to assist in the spreading of the seeds of Christianity, which would begin in Jerusalem and spread to all the world as our attendance here confirms.  Steven was one of the seven chosen to assist in the spreading of these seeds.

Steven is described as being “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.”  [Acts 6:5]  As he gazed into heaven, embraced in the glory of God, and seeing the clear vision of Jesus Christ on his throne in heaven, Steven was dragged out of the city and stoned to death. 

We would not want to describe the seeds spread by Steven in his life and at the time of his death as weed seeds, but the seeds certainly were just as prolific as dandelion seeds.  The seeds carried in the breath of the Holy Spirit were spread in Steven’s life mission and, significantly, in his final prayerful requests.  As he died, Steven prayed calmly for the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit and to hold not the sin of his murderers against them.  The seeds were spread in the obvious presence of the true rest in Jesus Christ that Steven had found in life and that remained with him even in his violent torturous death.

Those in the murderous mob covered their ears; one amongst them, we are told, was a young man named Saul – specifically, Saul of Tarsus.  As the mob made efforts to stamp out the seeds of Christianity being spread by Steven, time would tell that the breath of the Holy Spirit blew those seeds upon Saul of Tarsus at whose feet the culprits tossed their coats. 

Saul, likely, had not covered his ears or diverted his eyes from the brutal scene of Steven’s death.  Saul had initiated and participated in many similar acts of violence – attempts to staunch the flow of the Christian message.  Saul, steeped in the Jewish faith from early childhood, had made it his mission to contain and destroy the followers of Jesus Christ such as Steven, whom he sincerely considered to be in opposition to God’s will for his people. 

With great earnestness and vigilance, Saul had pursued this mission, UNTIL these seeds of the Holy Spirit, which had lain dormant in him for a period of time, were brought to life on the road to Damascus.  Here, Saul, confronted face-to-face by the Risen Lord, found for himself these seeds of true rest that he had witnessed in Steven. 

Saul, who had spent his early life seeking that that he perceived to be the will of the Father, now recognized the Son, and understood that the true will of the Father is in knowing and following Jesus through whom God the Father is revealed.  At last, Saul acknowledged that God is revealed in the life and works of Jesus Christ – the mission whose seeds he had so ardently sought to destroy. 

Saul of Tarsus now understood the true rest in Jesus Christ that he witnessed at the stoning of Steven; Saul would receive the new name of Paul; his earnest and vigilant mission would be transformed to that of spreading the seeds of true rest in Jesus Christ.  Paul, in fact, would become, arguably, the most famous of all Christians.  He would give his life to and for the cause of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, in his final earthly hours with his disciples, had said, “If you know me, you will know my Father also.  From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  The writer of John’s Gospel makes it clear to us that Jesus is not just the Son of God, as we like to say, but that Jesus and the Father are One in God.  In this lesson from John’s Gospel, the disciples are being asked by Jesus to believe that this inevitably doomed man is God or, at least, a portion of God, and that it will be through Jesus’ oneness in God that the promises of the Father had been and will be fulfilled.

In knowing Jesus Christ we have seen God the Father – our Father, our Creator, who wants only what is best for us.  In knowing Jesus Christ, the seeds of true rest are nurtured and guided to full growth; in life and earthly death we experience the fulfillment of the promise of the Father through the Son. 

On this day, we reflect on the seeds planted in us by our mothers and surrogate mothers; Some choose to conceptualize the Holy Spirit as the maternal mothering aspect of God – the Holy Spirit continuing to blow upon us the seeds of true rest and peace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  And so, with ever increasing understanding we acknowledge that if at first we don’t succeed, we should do it like our mother – the Holy Spirit told us.  So … we could say Happy Holy Spirit Day!  May the seeds of true rest in Jesus Christ blow upon you.

07
May

Knowing the Shepherd

Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10

“The sheep follow him because they know his voice.  They will not follow a stranger… [John 10:4b-5a]

This fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday.  Year after year on this day, we read scriptures depicting Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd on a number of occasions in the Gospel accounts.  Among the “I AM” statements of John’s Gospel, we read specifically in John 10:11, Jesus’ words, “I am the Good Shepherd.”

In this morning’s lesson, leading up to this pronouncement, Jesus indentifies himself as the gatekeeper of the sheep.  Only the true shepherd can enter the gate and call the sheep of his fold to follow his voice.  Jesus’ words are intended to chastise religious leaders who mislead the flocks entrusted to them.  Sadly, these commissioned to lead are strangers to those whose spiritual lives are their responsibility.  Jesus labels these deceptive leaders as thieves and bandits who enter the sheepfold for dishonorable reasons.  They are not true shepherds and they are not to be followed.

Shepherding is an humble profession.  We encounter imagery of the shepherd leading his sheep throughout the Bible – Old and New Testament.  Jesus frequently used analogies drawn from the imagery of sheep and shepherding, an aspect of life very familiar within the culture of the 1st century.  

Historically, shepherds have been lowly nomads, often smelly and travel-worn from endless days seeking greener pastures and safe territories for their flocks.  Shepherding was not an easy glamorous life, but Jesus used this profession as the very best illustration of the purpose of his life and mission.

Many of the key familiar figures of Hebrew history spent at least some time as shepherds – Father Abraham possessed a wealth of sheep; Jacob, who would become the father of Israel and his twelve sons had significant experiences with sheepherding; Moses was tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro when God appeared to him in the burning bush; and David was shepherding the sheep when the prophet Samuel summoned him to be anointed King.

David was an accomplished shepherd.  David knew well the challenges of providing for the safety and nurturance of sheep over long hot thirsty days on dangerous terrain and cool nights fraught with the threat of predators lurking about the herd.  David understood the necessity of constant vigilance and good judgment required to lead the sheep.  He understood the importance of the relationship and the comforts of familiarity between shepherd and sheep. 

David knew this role well and he used this motif as he wrote what has become the most well known of all the Psalms – Psalm 23, our appointed Psalm for today.  From his position among the flock, David illustrates his understanding of God’s ever-present compassion, protection, and guidance.  Though written long before the earthly birth of Jesus Christ, still, we look to this psalm to illustrate our life within the sheepfold of Jesus Christ – lives lived in abundance of the overflowing cup of God’s grace through our faith in our Risen Lord.

 To complement Good Shepherd Sunday, our appointed Psalm each year on Fourth Easter is this Psalm – the 23rd Psalm.  Of all the scripture in the Bible, this is the one that almost all – churched or non-churched – can recite nearly by heart.  We know the words so well that we do not even reflect on the words, as we should, until a slice of life brings the words to mind in surreal moments.

On the English countryside, sheep dot the landscape.  As the sheep rest seemingly effortlessly on the hillside in the lush green grass, basking in the warm sun and cool breeze; there is the sense that God has placed them there; they are nourished and protected – all needs provided, they want for nothing.  Riding along the paths through the rolling English hillside, viewing this pastoral scene, the words of Psalm 23 bubble up.  We shall not want; God, as our shepherd, makes us to lie down in green pastures of solace and sustenance.  We rest alongside the still waters of provision and peace from which we drink our fill in the still waters of abundant safety – all because our shepherd is supplying our need.

Our souls are revived as we are led along the right pathways.  The Hebrew in which the Psalm is recorded is much more descriptive than is our English interpretation.  The intention of meaning is that God fully restores/repairs the totality of our being with his complete and perfect care.  And, as restored beings of God’s creation, we follow his lead, aware of our total dependence on his guidance along the right path of life.

Yet, Jesus himself confirms that evil will be forever present until the end of time.  Thus, it is reality that we walk through “the valley of the shadow of death,” whether from external threats to our safety or times of deep personal despair and darkness.  This “valley of the shadow of death” always comes to mind for me when I view the photo of the people of New York City running panic-stricken through the street, the tall buildings creating a valley for the rushing firestorm of dust and debris that seeks to encompass them as the twin towers were exploding and collapsing behind them. 

Sheep remain always in danger; evil lurks and they are easy prey for predators.  Yet, even in the face of this constant threat, they are at peace – peace that comes solely from confidence in the vigilance of their shepherd – absolute trust in the shepherd’s protection – absolute trust in the gentle but firm discipline and guidance of the shepherd’s rod and staff. 

We, too, remain in constant danger, easy prey for our enemy the devil.  But, being disciplined and guided by our Lord’s rod and staff, we choose the right path with increasing appreciation and awareness of the Lord’s bountiful goodness and mercy, dwelling in the house of Lord now and forever. 

Jesus affirms, we do not go to dwell with a stranger.  Through prayer and scripture and worship, mission and ministry, we know our Good Shepherd’s voice and we follow.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” – dwelling in the house of the Lord forever – dwelling in the sheepfold of our Lord whom we know as our friend and not a stranger.