Message Archive

The Rev. Anne Edge Dale

17
Sep

Forgiveness

Exodus 14:19-31  Psalm 114   Romans 14:1-12  Matthew 18:21-35

Debt and punishment, forgiveness and mercy are carried to the extreme in the parable we have just heard of the unforgiving slave.  In this parable, we are told that the kingdom of heaven can be compared to the king whose slave owes him ten thousand talents.  For perspective, let us consider that one talent was worth six to ten thousand denarii, one denarius being a day’s pay.  Ten thousand talents, then, could amount to as much as ten thousand denarii times ten thousand days equaling 100 million days of work, which figures out to roughly 274,000 years of labor.  You can check my math, but even if I am off by several decimal points, we are assured that it is an inestimable amount and, certainly, a debt that is humanly impossible to satisfy. 

We learn though, in our story from Matthew’s Gospel, that the king takes pity on the slave and his family and forgives the massive debt.  Again, we experience the extreme when we register the enormity of the debt forgiven.  Only then, can we see the true greatness of the king’s mercy.

Sadly, however, we read that the slave, released of the life-threatening debt, goes his merry way and, upon encountering his fellow slave who is indebted to him, finds no pity for this former cohort – tossing him into prison for his inability to pay him the debt he owes.  And, when the word of this merciless injustice reaches the king (or lord, as he is referenced in the later verses of our lesson), the king hands the ungrateful and unforgiving slave over to be tortured until the fathomless debt is paid – thus, tortured for eternity.

Like the slave of our parable from Matthew, we go to God to beg forgiveness.  We pray daily as we will pray in just a few short moments when preparing to come together to the Lord’s Table.  In that daily and most familiar of all prayers, we ask that God will “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Or, as a four-year-old was known to say, “Forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who put trash in our baskets.”  [Sins, debts]

Seriously, do you hear these words?  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  We are asking to be forgiven of our sins equivalent to our willingness to forgive those who sin against us.  Thus, when we limit our forgiveness of others, we confess our recognition of the limit on the forgiveness we are due in return.  We admit to our unworthiness of God’s mercy.  Our prayer acknowledges that when we are not willing to forgive the sins of our neighbor against us we acknowledge God’s justification for not forgiving us for our sins.

Our God is a merciful God and we know that we are justified by grace through our faith.  At the same time, we cannot deny that these Holy Scriptures speak of judgment for our conditional, or limited, or complete lack of forgiveness of others.  This judgment for conditional forgiveness is more imaginable when we bring forgiveness into the domain of something more human and tangible to which we can relate.

I offer an illustration from a story told by Rabbi Harold Kushner:

A woman in my congregation comes to see me.  She is a single mother, divorced, working to support herself and three young children.  She says to me, “Since my husband walked out on us, every month is a struggle to pay our bills.  I have to tell my kids we have no money to go to the movies, while he’s living it up with his new wife in another state.  How can you tell me to forgive him?” 

I answer her, “I’m not asking you to forgive him because what he did was acceptable.  It wasn’t; it was mean and selfish.  I’m asking you to forgive because he doesn’t deserve the power to live in your head and turn you into a bitter angry woman.  I’d like to see him out of your life emotionally as completely as he is out of it physically, but you keep holding on to him.  You’re not hurting him by holding on to that resentment, but you’re hurting yourself.” [1]

For this young struggling mother, the eternity of torture was the result of her unwillingness to release the anger that was eating her like acid from within, tortured by the bitterness she held.  She could not be expected to forget the hurt and the brokenness, but she does have the capacity to deny it power over the goodness of her life and, in turn, the lives of her children.  Try to imagine God harboring such resentment toward us for our sins; not being able to respond with care and kindness to others of his children because he is mired in resentment for our lack of faithfulness.  It is a frightening scenario.

As God’s mercy and forgiveness are without limits, so should be our mercy and forgiveness toward our neighbor for our own personal good and the good of all. 

Whether God is parting the enormous depths of the Red Sea to preserve his chosen people, or forgiving us of the inestimable burden of our sins, or taking the most evil-driven human acts of tragedy and terrorism in our world and bringing from it the best of human goodness – it is all part of the unimaginable truth of God’s redemption of humankind.  We are redeemed through God’s coming to earth to live among us and to illuminate for us the truth of the enormous gift of forgiveness.  

Perhaps in recognizing the enormous weight of our debt (Blanchard), we can begin to conceive of the enormity of God’s mercy.  Surely in recognizing the depth of God’s mercy, we can forgive others who have hurt us and, in the peace of that forgiveness, we can reject the forces that seek to distract us from the truth of God’s redemption of us through His Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 


[1]  Harold S. Kushner, “Letting Go of the Role of Victim,” Spirituality and Health, Winter 1999: 34.

10
Sep

Relationships

Exodus 12:1-14  Psalm 149  Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said,  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Some years ago, in conversation with a fellow Episcopalian who is a member of a parish that at that time was dealing with some difficult conflicts, my friend said to me, “We go to church to praise God, and if all these conflicts keep me from being able to praise God, then I’ll just go somewhere else. “

Conflicts within our church family are enormously painful and disconcerting.  Is it too much to expect the church particularly to be a rose garden of loving, Christian fellowship?  It is not uncommon to hear:  I don’t really see the need to be in church; I can praise God wherever I am – on the golf course, or on a mountaintop, or in a fishing boat on the lake, or lying on the beach – just God and I.  Who needs all these other people – especially if I’m challenged to deal with conflict?

Yes, we need time alone with God, but that is not an end in itself.  We need that time alone with God so that we can listen for his guidance in how we are to live in relationship with our neighbor – how we are to obey God’s commands when two or three are gathered together.  Worship and praising God are not meant to be limited to a simple relationship between God and me.  Jesus said,  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  Worshipping God is about relationship – human relationship; in all human relationship we encounter conflict at some point.  So, where is God in our relationships and in our conflicts?  God’s presence is affirmed in a variety of ways.

First, building relationships with God’s people requires discovering a refreshing yet challenging reality about God’s law.  God’s law, so easily misinterpreted, is intended to guide our relationships with one another rather than provide impetus and opportunity for God’s wrath.  Remember, we are not punished for our sins; we are punished by our sins.  When we sin against one another, thus violating God’s law, we disrespect human relationship and we should expect to receive God’s discipline.  As a simple illustration: human decency dictates that we don’t allow a child to bite another child without discipline.  We don’t “make up” this no-biting rule just because we want an excuse to punish our children; we teach our children to abide by this rule because it is imperative to healthy and safe human relationships.  It would be an injustice to allow the child to believe it was acceptable to go on biting his playmates.

A Florida sheriff being interviewed regarding hurricane evacuations stated, “We’re not requiring you to evacuate in an effort to punish you; we’re requiring you to evacuate because we want to save your life.”  God sends down his laws for us because he wants to save our lives – that’s a gift.

Each of our lessons this morning seeks to increase our understanding of the connection between God’s laws and our relationship with one another – to see God’s commandments as a gift – a gift of instruction to guide us in our relationships with our neighbor – our neighbors being our closest family members and farthest strangers, our fellow parishioners and those outside the church, the ticket booth attendant at the parking deck who hands us our change with a smile and the driver behind us at the traffic light blowing the horn.

Thus, Jesus is speaking about the essence of relationship and this is where we begin to better understand the essential role of God’s law in human relationship.

Secondly, God affirms his presence through his faithfulness, and that faithfulness is dependent upon and manifested in relationship.  To be faithful requires relationship.

Today’s Old Testament lesson of the Passover narrative from the Exodus is an important expression of God’s intent to be faithful – to keep his promises to his people.  All the blood and the smearing of the blood is a little gruesome, but the most important message of the blood on the doorposts and the lintel in not in the sign of the blood itself, but that it is the sign of God’s divine promise – the promise of life and vitality, which blood symbolizes – the promise of an eternal relationship of life and vitality.

Finally, the third consideration of the connection between God’s law and human relationship is that it is all about love.  In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul echoes the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is not that we dismiss the Ten Commandments sent down by God from Mount Sinai when we quote Jesus’ “greatest” commandments” – Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is that Commandments 5 through 10, which address our relationship to others, can be summed up, as Paul says, in these words: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  These six commandments are very specific:  You shall not commit adultery, murder, steal, covet, or lie, and you should honor your parents.  But, if we love without fear, love as Jesus has shown us to love, there is no need to name the specifics – these acts of sinfulness will not occur.  As we read today from Paul, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

As much as we try, we cannot legislate human relationships.  We can institute laws against violence and laws seeking to control actions that degrade and exploit the human family, but we cannot legislate the root cause of the anger that leads to shattered lives and relationships.  And, no legislation can erase the hurt and mistrust that are the cause and effect of broken family relationships.  Jesus charges us to strive for the ideal in seeking to mend the root causes of broken relationships – to experience the presence of Jesus Christ whenever two or three are gathered together.  This is our mission and ministry that is our focus of celebration on this Welcome Back Sunday.

We are encouraged to keep seeking the gift of God’s guidance through the joy-filled times and the difficult times; God’s Law is set down for this purpose.  God is faithful, and faithfulness requires relationship.  Through faith with God’s guidance, we learn to love our neighbors without fear – to abide in love – to follow the law of the new commandment – to listen for our own personal calling to ministry.

There will always to be those among us who are difficult to convince that it is the conflicts in our relationships that keep us looking to the gift of God’s law for healing.  We praise God in mending the broken relationships – not escaping them, and thus, making us stronger.  In our relationships with one another as the Body of Christ, we come together in worship to confess our sins against God and each other, looking to God’s guidance for healing.  We exchange the peace that comes from being forgiven and forgiving one another.  We come time and time again as one Body of Christ to His Table to receive the Holy food and drink of new and unending life in him.

We come together for God’s guidance in mending and strengthening our relationships and we go forth from here with God’s guidance to love and serve the Lord in peace – seeking to mend the broken relationships of our world.  Where two or three are gathered – wherever there is human relationship – God through Jesus Christ is there.

06
Sep

No Separation

Romans 8:14-19,34-35,37-39  Psalm 139:1-11  John 14:1-6

 “In him there is no darkness at all; the night and the day are both alike.”

In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is assuring us, as he assures his disciples, that he goes ahead of us to prepare a glorious dwelling place for us in his Father’s house.  Jesus, speaking on behalf of the Father, assures us that God does not break his promise to his people; God is with us in the present, and God is with us in eternity; we simply need to acknowledge that presence.

God, in the human person of Jesus Christ, came to earth for the purpose of living and dying as one of us.  As we affirm in our creed, our Lord died an earthly death and descended to Hell; there, he looked into the face of evil and death, turned and walked away to rise from the dead, overcoming death, reigning triumphant over death.  The human Jesus of Nazareth – the divine Christ the King has vanquished death – our greatest earthly fear vanquished – that we may have no fear of our earthly death – that we may be assured of a glorious and eternal dwelling place being prepared for us in the eternal house of our heavenly Father. 

In this portion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, he prepares his struggling believers to face the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  In previous verses, Jesus has told his followers that where he is going they cannot follow just now.  Jesus is seeking to help them better understand their own earthly deaths in relation to the promise of eternal life – to accept the darkness in juxtaposition with the light.  Jesus wants his disciples in his audience and us, his disciples of today, to be better aware of our own unity with Christ as believers – to know that we are one with Christ – to trust that God, through Jesus Christ, has kept his promise to redeem his people and all creation.

Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled; I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.  I am the way, the truth, and the life.” 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus said, as he anticipated the Crucifixion and Resurrection and sought to prepare his disciples for this horrific chain of events.  We heard, also, the words of the Apostle Paul as he reassures us in his letter to the Romans that nothing – nothing – can separate us from the love of Christ and the eternal dwelling place he has promised.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

It is we, in our human brokenness, who seek to separate ourselves from Jesus Christ.  And, Satan smiles.  Satan nips at our heels, implanting temptations of all descriptions, tiny and massive – temptations of fear, a sense of being alone, feelings of being unloved or unworthy or inadequate, the perceived need for luxury, denial of the reality that life holds together both the dark and the light. 

And, so, rather than drawing ourselves closer to the love of Christ for strength, too often we seek insulation in our addictions – seemingly harmless addictions that are relatively unnoticeable, or life-threatening addictions, physical addictions or emotional behavioral addictions – any behavior that seeks to separate us from the pure love of Jesus Christ, any behavior that brings anxiety in the place of our faith.  The space in us that is cluttered with anxiety is space that has closed the door to God’s light.  Our prayer is that our anxieties will be replaced with faith – that our anxiety of addictive behavior will be replaced by a more powerful addiction to prayer and faith in whatever time we have on earth. 

We are not promised physical healing – all of us will eventually succumb to the wearing out of our earthly bodies; but God promises spiritual healing to all.

Barry Butler’s earthly body was beyond physical healing, but Barry was healed spiritually as God has promised.  In the last weeks of his earthly life, Barry was eager for prayer and healing oil, confession and absolution, and Holy Communion at his hospital bedside.  Barry was at peace that he was redeemed in the love and light of Jesus Christ.  He knew he was loved by God; he acknowledged God’s presence in the healing grace of loved ones and strangers who surrounded him, bringing comfort and encouragement. 

In spite of Barry’s addiction, God did not and does not love Barry any less; we cannot be separated from the love of God.  There is nothing we can do to make God love us any less than he loves us; there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more; God’s love is pure and divine and unconditional.  Barry was a father; he understood a father’s unconditional love for his child. 

God doesn’t love us IF we are “good”; God doesn’t love us BECAUSE we are “good”; God loves us because GOD is good; God loves us SO THAT we can be “good.”  God wants only what is truly best for us.  Acknowledging our lack of separation from God -acknowledging God’s unconditional love, we desire to do those things that are pleasing in God’s sight – to be strong in the face of temptation and pitfalls, to seek faith in the place or anxiety.

Barry knew the love of God through Jesus Christ.  As a young child growing up in this parish, the seeds of Christ’s love were planted; the light of Christ shined in his heart.  You see that light shining in his smile in the memorial video that has been prepared.  Barry walked as a child of the light; the light was there always; Barry dwells now forever in the light of Christ’s love; there is no darkness at all – no anxieties, no fears, no pitfalls, no pain – FOREVER. 

 

 

 

03
Sep

Dark Waters of Discipleship

Exodus 3:1-15  Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c   Romans 12:9-21  Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

I trust that none of us has gotten through this past week without witnessing the reality of God’s children of all shapes and sizes and ages and genders and skin colors offering their lives to save others of the same wide variety of descriptions – no questions asked – God’s children risking their lives to save total strangers who, nevertheless, are their neighbors, in this case, neighbors threatened by the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey. 

I wept at the news coverage of the miles and miles and miles of pickup trucks waiting patiently in line along a Texas interstate towing bass boats and jet skis and anything seaworthy that could maneuver the swirling storm waters and provide safe rescue.  I even have had to rethink my snobbish opinion of the uselessness of obnoxious Monster Trucks – if you travel to the Outer Banks, you have passed the home of the Grave Digger of Currituck County fame.  The tragedy of Harvey is a Monster Truck paradise; riding above the floodwaters, it is the Monster Trucks that are towing the all-powerful military troop carriers out of the muck and mire.

“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The outpouring of love and concern in the face of tragedy that we have witnessed this week confirms for us that we must live through this world – not around it or above it.  Those putting their physical lives in danger for the pure unadulterated call to save a life or bring warmth and comfort to those who are suffering bring clarity to the complexity of Jesus’ words that we hear this morning.  We live through the world, understanding a little better each day, as our faith journey carries us along, that losing our lives for the sake of Jesus Christ is the immeasurable blessing. 

All over the world, our military, our law enforcement officers, our fire fighters and EMT’s, and “ordinary” good Samaritans offer their physical lives and wellbeing to save others and, thereby, find the greater blessing.  Perhaps we will be called to risk our lives for the life of another, or perhaps we will be called to give our life in other ways; all of us are called to put aside our human luxuries and self-serving actions that distract our focus from our call to ministry.  In giving our time and talents, in seeking discernment of our calling, we find the greater blessing.

Jesus offers crucifixion to those who follow him.  Jesus refuses to deny the dark side of the world – the dark side of humanity, which is the cost of our discipleship.  God came to earth in the human person of Jesus Christ in order to live through the world – to live and die as all of us live and die – living through the world, acknowledging the tragic dark side of humanity while embracing the light of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

In today’s Gospel lesson we read again of Peter – fresh from receiving the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven as we read last week.  Perhaps Peter is feeling a new sense of boldness, as we read today, Peter rebukes Jesus for speaking openly of his eminent suffering, death, and rising again – all of which would be the necessary culmination of Jesus’ earthly life.  Peter sought to deny the dark side; Peter, quite unaware and innocently, sought to align himself Satan in denying the divine necessity of God’s plan. 

Wouldn’t it have been so much easier and pleasant to continue on with life as the disciples had known it?  Peter and his companion disciples had already given up their previous lifestyles and occupations in order to follow Jesus.  How could Jesus now speak so definitively and fatalistically of suffering and death?  The disciples’ clarity of Jesus’ words would come only after experiencing the darkness of the Crucifixion, which was the necessary element of the Resurrection that would overcome that darkness.

We are all called to ministry – even Monster Trucks have found their calling.  It is not an easy way; Jesus never suggested that it would be easy.  In fact, Jesus made it plain from the beginning that the call to discipleship is costly; there are swirling storm waters waiting to consume us.  As Dietrich Bonheoffer phrased it, “When Jesus calls us, he bids us come and die.” 

When Jesus calls us (and Jesus calls all of us), he bids us die to our old selves, die to our temptation to align ourselves with Satan in denying the reality of the dark side of discipleship, die to our fear of the swirling waters that seek to dissuade our calling to discipleship.  When Jesus calls us, he bids us to live into our salvation by remaining focused on his presence that allows us to keep walking toward him through the storm. 

Paraphrasing Richard Rohr:  God does not love us if we become disciples; God loves us so that we can become disciples.  God does not love us because we risk our lives – physically or otherwise – to save others; God loves us so that we recognize our call and so that we are able to save others in the name of Jesus Christ his Son. 

God’s call is not always as obvious as the “burning bush” was for Moses when he was called to lead God’s people out of bondage in Egypt.  The Apostle Paul reminds us to rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, and persevere in prayer.  Our ministries are as vastly diverse as the sea, and Satan is there to nip at our understanding and perseverance – as he nipped at Peter’s. 

Our neighbors in this community and throughout the world, in Texas and our inner cities and East Asia and the Middle East are suffering.  The time has come to take note of your burning bush, to climb into your Monster Truck and hook up your flat-bottomed boat, and get in line to receive God’s instructions.  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior will find it.”

 

20
Aug

Embrace

Genesis 45:1-15 Psalm 133 Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 Matthew 15:10-28

On Thursday, Mary Beth and I attended a conference on Alcoholism and Recovery.  One of the keynote speakers is a recovering alcoholic and son of an alcoholic father.  This middle-aged man had become addicted to alcohol by the time he was fourteen.  He credited the Church with the impetus for his recovery.  As a teenager, he had been invited to attend church by a friend’s family.  He had never forgotten being greeted with hospitality, being called by name, and being embraced by that church family.  This experience would plant the seeds that would give him the strength and courage in faith to redirect his life.

This impact of being embraced in unity with God’s people has remained in my thoughts as we consider today’s lessons and as we consider the unsettling environment that seems to prevail in our country.

Time and again through Matthew’s Gospel we encounter biting criticism directed at the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  In our lesson today, Jesus condemns the Pharisees as blind guides leading the blind.  Jesus, throughout his ministry, has his harshest words for these religious leaders called to represent God among the people.  Jesus rebuked them for using their positions to show preference to those of higher social status and to exclude and show contempt for those they considered less favored by God – those who most needed to hear the message of God’s mercy.  As representatives of God, these leaders had distorted the image of God; they had not embraced God’s people; their irresponsibility was inexcusable.

Jesus bravely and consistently confronts the contemptuous actions of the Pharisees, knowing these reprimands will foster the toxic environment of collusion against him.

We, the Church, cannot let this message fall on deaf ears; we need not dismiss Jesus’ harsh words as a message meant for these 1st century religious leaders only.  We digest these words and evaluate our own unjust tactics that distort the message of God’s mercy and exclude those we might consider undesirable.

And, yet, in this strange twist of activity, Jesus seems himself to be caught up in a demonstration of exclusivity.  His words to the Canaanite mother of the demon-possessed daughter are harsh and shocking to us.  As a Canaanite non-Jew, it would not be uncommon for her to be labeled a “dog.”  Gentiles by definition were non-believers, no better than dogs in the eyes of faithful Jews who by law were not to interact with them.  Yet, does Jesus consider her to be a dog?  Does Jesus truly believe that this woman is not entitled to mercy – that only his own people – the Jews – are embraced by God’s mercy?

We could speculate that Jesus responds with extreme satire in an intentional attempt to attract his audience’s attention with his outrageous words – thus making his point in a much more powerful way.  Regardless of Jesus’ motive, he does get our attention, and he raises our apprehension in a way that draws us into the need to seek further understanding.  We immediately tune into the message; we look on in amazement as the woman’s desperate assertiveness prevails over Jesus’ initial refusal to show her mercy; Jesus’ actions are redirected, not just in this encounter but from this point forward.  No longer would the mission be confined to Jesus’ own people to the exclusion of Gentiles.

The message is clear; there is no exclusivity in God’s mercy.  Jesus’ mission as recounted for us by Matthew would, from this point forward, be expanded to the Gentiles – embracing any and all who came seeking redemption and healing.  God, through Jesus Christ has redeemed all creation – all are drawn into the embrace of his mercy.

This message is reinforced in the events of our saga from Genesis in which we find Joseph demonstrating God’s unrestrained mercy when confronted by his brothers.  These were the same brothers who had so cruelly sold Joseph into slavery and convinced his father Israel that he had been killed by a wild beast.  Joseph, carried to Egypt by the slave-trading caravan, had risen to great prominence in the court of the Pharaoh.

The scripture tells us that, as Joseph’s true identity was revealed, the brothers were “dismayed.”  Understandably, they would have reacted with fear when realizing that this high-ranking officer of the Egyptian court was indeed the brother whose life they had sought to destroy.   Now, their lives were held in his hands as he, only, could provide the grain they needed to save the House of Israel from obliteration by famine.

Joseph looked realistically at the past, surely remembering the turmoil he had suffered as the result of the evil deeds of his brothers.  But, Joseph recognized that God had converted these evil deeds into good far beyond human ability or ingenuity.  The culmination of the brothers’ evil deed, converted into God’s good, allowed for Joseph to be the remnant that would preserve his people.  Joseph gave thanks to God for his mercy and, in turn, showed that same mercy to these brothers who had come seeking sustenance.  In a position to seek horrendous retribution, Joseph chose instead to embrace his brothers, restore the broken relationship, and provide the means of a prosperous future for his people.

Joseph could not wipe away the anger and suffering of the past; but, Joseph with steadfast faith in God’s guidance found spiritual healing and growth that led to restorative justice for his brothers.

Jesus’ initial outrageous response to the Canaanite woman draws our attention to our own unjust treatment of others.  As Jesus’ subsequent reaction highlights the turning point in his mission, our own spiritual growth comes to turning points, challenging us to put away our prejudices and embrace one another in unity as God’s children.

These words of scripture carry a pertinent message for us today in regards to the frustrating and frightening events in our country.  The Bible is a living organism; from these words of eternal wisdom, there is constantly refreshed guidance that remains relative regardless of the passing years.

I shutter at the thoughts of the environment that breeds the superficial arrogance and hatred of white supremacists.  In what sort of families and households must these misdirected individuals be reared?  Where was the Church in their childhood?  I’m told they represent far less than 1% of our population; why are they given a voice to inspire violence?

And, I shutter at the sight of non-white youth rushing city streets with their faces taunt with anger and hatred, heavy pieces of chain and crowbars drawn back ready to strike in anticipation of their perceived enemy.  Where did they learn such fear-inspired hatred; who fostered such anger in them; how did they inherit such little value for their lives and the lives of others?  Where are the religious leaders who are called to be representatives of God in the lives of these young people?  We, the Church, bear that responsibility.

Somehow, we must have the courage to take on the task of addressing the true underlying causes of this violence with all parties taking appropriate responsibility for wrong actions.  Like Joseph and his brothers, we cannot erase the evil deeds in our past – whether in our personal family history or our country, and any efforts to do so can only be detrimental.  Rather, we reexamine our history realistically with God’s guidance and we move forward toward spiritual healing and growth.  It’s hard work that must be done; it must be done with open hearts and lowered voices and a willingness to be listeners.

Only the mercy of God through the grace of Jesus Christ can lead us to restorative justice.  Only the mercy of God through the grace of Jesus Christ leads us to embrace one another truly in unity as God’s people now and forever.

13
Aug

Remnant of Faith

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

“You of little faith; why did you doubt?”

Our account of Jesus and Peter walking on water would appear to be a miracle account.  Certainly, if you or I were to walk on water we would consider that miraculous.

But, as in so many of our accounts of Jesus’ actions, there is a much deeper meaning and message than simply a demonstration of our Lord performing miraculous actions and deeds.

This evening sea voyage for the disciples as described in our Gospel lesson comes in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 men plus many women and children.  We read that Jesus, after the feeding, instructed the disciples to get in the boat and “go to the other side” as he dismissed the crowds and retreated to a quiet place on the mountain to pray.

Thus, as the disciples set out on their evening voyage across the sea, their minds were undoubtedly struggling with the events and signals of the day past.  Mesmerized by Jesus’ teaching, the crowd had remained well up until a time when they would have grown very hungry.  Quite shockingly, Jesus had insisted that the disciples would feed the people.  And so, from the crowd was produced a meager offering of 5 loaves and 2 fish – a remnant of physical sustenance.  Jesus took the loaves and fish, gave thanks for them, blessed them, and gave the loaves and fish in their bounty to the disciples to distribute to the crowd.  All were fed and satisfied and twelve baskets of broken pieces were gathered from that that was left.  From this earthly remnant of sustenance, in the hands of Jesus Christ, freely offered and blessed by God, all were fed and satisfied.

It would seem that walking on water would not be such a big deal in comparison.

As Jesus approached, Peter stepped out of the boat on faith – faith representative of the faith of all the disciples – “little” faith as described by Jesus.  Even so, as long as Peter walked upon that faith, with eyes firmly fixed upon Jesus, his path was clear and sure.  Distracted by the storm, taking his eyes away from Jesus, allowing his anxiety to inhibit his faith, Peter began to sink.

“You of little faith; why did you doubt?”  It was not a quantity or quality of faith that Peter needed to continue his straight path upon the water toward Jesus; it was the faith the size of a mustard seed – a remnant of the faith that had so bountifully fed perhaps 10,000 people on the previous evening.

We look to the preservation of this remnant of faith.  The greatest extent of darkness cannot extinguish the light of one tiny candle.  Our remnant of faith is not to be extinguished.

Evil, death, and sin cannot extinguish the good of God.  The saga of the sons of Israel illustrates this truth.  As we continue our journey through the history of God’s people in our Old Testament lesson from Genesis, we read today of the cruel jealousy-based actions of the older brothers of Joseph – the favored son of Father Israel.

At this point in our story, Jacob has been renamed Israel by God as a sign of the irrevocable covenant between him and God.  Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel along with their two handmaidens have born twelve sons to Jacob – Father Israel.  Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife died after the birth of her second son Benjamin; her first son being Joseph; Joseph’s preferential status in the house of Father Israel was overtly obvious.

We remember from our childhood the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors.  The element of the story we likely did not hear about as children was the bitterness and jealous reaction of the other sons of Israel to this favored sibling.  We probably did not focus on the arrogance and irritating cockiness of Joseph who lavished in his superior status as the favored pretty boy of his powerful father.

Our Old Testament lesson describes the brothers’ revenge on Joseph – a cruel and evil scheme.  But, amazingly, the outcome of this cruel scheme will be converted by God’s good into the preservation of the House of Israel.  Joseph, spirited to Egypt by these slave traders, the unwitting vessels of transport, will find himself preserved through faith for the specific purpose as the remnant.  Joseph will remain faithful to the God of his Fathers in spite of the obstacles he will face in Egypt.

As for the disciples, there are storms encountered by Joseph and his brothers; storms are quite common in the lives of God’s people.  But, God will stand by through the storms and the remnant will continue to be preserved by faith.

Jesus does not always calm the storms of our lives, but he never leaves us to weather them alone.

Just as God redeems Jacob and his sons of their evil deeds – taking the evil deeds and bringing good from them, just as God through Jesus reaches his hand out toward Peter to save him from sinking – So, God redeems us through his Son Jesus Christ and, with our eyes firmly fixed on his will, lifts us out of the raging waters of chaos.  In faith, we take that hand that is reaching toward us.

We have only to stay focused on his face in the storms and to take the hand reaching down to us as we are slipping beneath the swirling tempest, only to hear and respond to the most frequent and most difficult demand that God asks of us – Do not be afraid.

The remnant is preserved.  Why do you doubt?  In times like these – in our country, in the world, in the Church, in our family life, hold fast to that remnant that unites us in God’s good; nourish that remnant.  Keep focused on the presence of Jesus Christ with outstretched hands; keep walking toward those outstretched hands.

 

 

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.