Message Archive

The Rev. Anne Edge Dale

29
Jan

Beatitudes

Micah 6:1-8, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Matthew 5:1-12, Psalm 15

O mortal, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?  [Micah 6:8]

These words from the eighth chapter of Micah’s prophecy are titled the “Golden Text of the Old Testament.”  They bring to mind the concluding lines of our Confession of Sin that we make as one body whenever we come together to worship.  We express these thoughts in a variety of ways:

For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

have mercy on us and forgive us;

that we might delight in your will,

and walk in your ways,

to the glory of your Name.

In the Rite I Confession, we ask our “most merciful Father” to forgive us and “grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life.”  And, in the Rite I Morning Prayer Confession, we ask for mercy and restoration that we might “live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of [God’s] holy Name.

How are we to walk humbly with God as the prophet Micah suggests?  How are we to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways?  What is it to live in newness of life – a godly, righteous, and sober life?

There is no better source for this answer to how we are to walk humbly with our God than the Beatitudes – the beginning words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that we read today as our Gospel lesson.  Here we find nine indications of what it is to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways.

We read last week of Jesus receiving the news of the arrest of John the Baptist and of Jesus’ calling of the first of his disciples.  He has moved from is childhood home of Nazareth to Capernaum, a town northeast of Nazareth, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where his ministry has now begun in earnest.  We are to understand that the “new age” is introduced as Jesus begins his teaching; Matthew writes that Jesus sat down, as is the traditional teaching position of a Jewish rabbi.

Jesus speaks of “newness of life” – Jesus has not come to abolish the law; Jesus has come to guide us in our clarified interpretation of God’s law.  As Jesus took his place upon the mountain and began to teach, Jesus took his place as the new Moses on a new Mount Sinai bringing a new revelation of God’s law – the epiphany of the Word made flesh.

God’s law and justice are real; as humans we require strict laws and the demands of justice.  We require strict laws and the demands of justice as our guidance in the ways of living in relationship with one another.

The Beatitudes are about relationship.  Otherwise, the Beatitudes make little sense to us; we cannot keep the Beatitudes to ourselves – the blessings about which the Beatitudes speak come in our relationships with one another.  The Beatitudes do not express demands; rather they suggest characteristics that indicate one’s humble walk with God.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Those who recognize their poverty of spirit acknowledge total dependence on God’s presence – a sense of patience and calm as we place ourselves in the delight of God’s will.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Those in Matthew’s audience were mourning for the repeated destruction of Jerusalem and the persecution of God’s people.  These words echo those of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of his purpose as bringing comfort to those who mourn for the state of God’s people in exile.  We are blessed by God when we mourn with empathy for our neighbors who are grieving and broken by the ways of the world, when we recognize and mourn for injustice.  God will console us – will strengthen us – so that we might bring comfort to others who suffer.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  The literal meaning of the term used for the word “meek” is equivalent to “poor in spirit.”  What better way to understand God’s desire for meekness than that meekness expressed by the newborn babe laid in the manger – the epitome of meekness who was, at the same time, God incarnate.  Through our willingness to open our hearts and minds in all meekness to God’s powerful gifts, recognizing our powerlessness, we shall inherit the abundant prosperity of God’s blessing.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  God’s justice is real; as we hunger and thirst for God’s justice, we find guidance and nurturance in our human behavior in our relationships with one another.  We love without fear; we seek justice for our neighbor.  The psalmist speaks of those wandering in desert wastelands until they cried to the Lord and were led to an “inhabited town” by the steadfast love of the Lord.  Here, in relationship, we find God’s wonderful works to humankind, as God satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  [Psalm107:4-9]

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  It is from our merciful God that we beg forgiveness of our sins.  Mercy is God’s attribute; in knowing God, we obtain his mercy and attain that mercy for others as we are expected to be merciful in the same way to others.  Our hope is founded on the mercy of God at the final judgment.  We are assured of this mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  In total sincerity, the vision of the pure in heart is not obscured by the ways of the world.  God’s uprighteousness extends to our inmost being and is expressed in our every action.  Shortly, as we offer thanks for the spiritual food in the Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood, we will ask to be sent forth into the world with gladness and singleness of heart – purity of heart that we might be ever mindful of God’s everliving presence with us and through us.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. The Hebrew word for peace is shalom.  Shalom expresses the ultimate fullness of God’s gifts – peace that only God can provide.  We are children of God when we work for this peace in our earthly lives; yet, we know that it will only be accomplished in total in the perfection of God’s kingdom.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Just as the Hebrews were and continue to be persecuted by non-believers; just as Jesus’ fellow Jews who sat at his feet listening to his words were being persecuted by their political and religious leaders; just as the early Christians to whom Matthew is writing were persecuted and martyred; so we, too, will be ostracized by the world for standing up for our beliefs in God’s righteousness.  We will be ostracized for loving without fear.

Christians are murdered for their faith daily in many areas of the world.  Yet, Jesus says we are to rejoice and be glad, for our reward is great in heaven.  We live in the hope and expectation of God’s kingdom that is now and is to come.  In God’s kingdom, his power and his righteous judgment will prevail and be acknowledged by all creation – made manifest for all creation.  There, by the grace of our salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we will walk humbly with our God.

22
Jan

Vessels

Isaiah 9:1-4  1 Corinthians 1:10-18  Matthew 4:12-23  Psalm 27:1, 5-13

 

Three years ago, as a monthly mission here at the Church of the Advent, our parish collected school supplies for children in Honduras.  These were kindergarteners who had been attending class in a sparsely supplied tiny firetrap of a room attached to the rear of a home in the little mountain village of San Antonio, Cortes, Honduras.  Our Friends of Honduras USA foundation had recently completed the construction of a spacious building that was to be their school as well as a community-gathering place.

That January, my husband, daughter, and I travelled to Honduras to deliver the school supplies you had contributed and to be a part of the community celebration of the opening of the school.  We spent our first few days there doing the final cleaning and painting the interior and exterior walls, and setting up the desks and chairs.

On Sunday, we returned to the school with the generous boxes of supplies from the people of the Church of the Advent – ordinary supplies that our children enjoy daily – storybooks, crayons, drawing tablets, activity books, glue sticks, flash cards.  We laid the supplies on each table, hung some colorful displays of ABC’s and numbers on the walls, and waited for the children to arrive.

They arrived in their Sunday best, polished and groomed, not a hair out of place.  And, we were taken aback by their reaction.  We expected them to charge into the room and grab the colorful supplies.  Instead, they crept in just barely beyond the entrance door; eyeing the bright and cheerful environment, their big dark eyes growing wider and wider, amazed at the thought that these gifts could be for them, hesitant to consider the thought.  We essentially had to beg them to come in, sit at the tables, and begin enjoying the crayons and coloring books.  Clearly, they had rarely seen such a sight.  Their pure innocent amazement and gratitude was overflowing.

These children had no idea that their gift to us had a greater impact than our gifts to them.  In that moment, those ordinary crayons and coloring books became sacred – a vessel of love from thousands of miles away – from you to them.  It was a holy moment.  In holy moments, God breaks into our lives unexpectedly; the ordinary earthly things of our lives become sacred.  Your simple gifts had touched these lives in profound unforgettable ways.

In our Gospel lesson ordinary, fishermen become followers of Jesus Christ – ordinary unsuspecting men become saints whose names and legacies will be handed down through centuries of Christendom.  Ordinary earthlings made sacred.

It is an ordinary day in the lives of Peter, Andrew, James, and John as described for us in Matthew’s Gospel.  What did Jesus see in these four fishermen?  Typically, fishermen have rough gnarled hands and muscular sunburned arms.  They are covered in fishy slime from head to toe.  Their hair is crusty with salt spray; often their manners and language can be just as crusty.  Fishermen are tough and weather-beaten; they challenge nature; they weather rough cold seas and the brutal heat of the mid-day sun as they haul in their priceless nets filled with bountiful catch.  Without doubt, these fishermen in our Gospel lesson matched this description of typical fishermen on this ordinary day as they were going about their daily livelihood.  We might have wanted to turn away from them, but Jesus didn’t.  What did Jesus see in them?

And, what was in the natures of these four fishermen that made them so readily drop the nets they were right then, at that moment, casting into the sea?  The literal translation of the phrase describing their action indicates a direct response – almost involuntary response.  What was it that transformed these men and this ordinary day into a day most sacred in their lives – and ours?

“Immediately,” Matthew writes, “they left their nets and followed Jesus.”  They left all that was familiar and secure – the sea, their nets, their livelihoods, their families – and followed Jesus into the unknown and the sacred – so sacred that 2,000 years later, lives continue to be affected profoundly by their discipleship – the sacred gift of the inbreaking of God into the otherwise ordinary daily lives of four rough unrefined fishermen who could not resist Jesus’ call.

Our names may not be so famous, or even known at all, by the lives we touch as we become vessels of the inbreaking of God.  Here, at the Church of the Advent, victims of alcohol addiction know our building as a place to come to gather in comfort and receive support from others experiencing the same challenges.  Hundreds of children and adults are fed by the food distributed through our food pantry each week and their souls are fed through the ministry of our compassionate volunteers and prayer partners.  Our clothes closet patrons not only receive much needed clothing, but respect and fashion advice; they go away with a boost to their appearance and their spirits.

Our Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts are becoming an integral part of our parish.  Though most are members of other churches, these young people and their leaders will remember the welcoming spirit of our parish that provides a familiar, safe, and comfortable space for their meetings.  Many of you have come to know and respect Dr. May who comes here weekly to provide psychological counseling for a growing number of clients.  Through our monthly missions, we address needs of worthy charitable causes such as the Barry Robinson Center, the SPCA, Boys’ Home, and others; our spring and fall fundraisers provide financial contributions to numerous efforts.

On an average of seven times a year, we reach out to families who have lost loved ones, providing the comforts of Christian burial and emotional support to parishioners and extended family.  Sunday after Sunday, guest worshipers of all descriptions know they are welcome to join us for worship.

Through this parish, you are ministers to all of these.  Your ordinary lives become sacred as you become vessels of the inbreaking of God for all of these who come with these wide-ranging needs.  And, each discovers the inbreaking of God, the ordinary made sacred in each of their lives in ways that only God can measure.

It is this inbreaking of God that we come to celebrate today as we gather for our annual parish meeting.  Perhaps we think our parish membership is small and our financial resources inadequate, and certainly we can use some expansion in these numbers, but we cannot measure and we cannot underestimate the impact that our ministries make on the lives of those who come into our midst.

Each of you is an unexpected vessel for the inbreaking of God into the life of an ordinary person in need of experiencing the sacred.  Jesus sees that in each of us and Jesus says, “Follow me.”

14
Jan

Father’s love

Revelation 21:2-7  Psalm 46  John 5:24-27

What you want to hear is why.  Our God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer; our God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving.  Why does a child of God – so kind and giving, so loved, so needed – why did this child of God suffer so terribly and die so young leaving this precious family?  We just don’t understand, and I don’t have that answer.

But, Joel understands all of this now; and, one day we too, like Joel, will understand, fully, we will understand all that is God.  This is the true source of our peace, even when our hearts are so very broken.  There is peace in the acceptance that one day we will understand.

Certainly, Joel’s earthly presence is absent; but, mostly, Joel’s earthly absence is so present.  That absence will be so very present for so very long.

Some will say, “It is God’s will.”  Others will say, “All things happen for a reason.”  True, perhaps, but those thoughts are not always very helpful in grief.  Many of us will say less than helpful things in our desperate attempt to bring comfort.  Better, I believe, to acknowledge that God’s Good reigns over all – that there is no tragedy or evil – no hardship or grief that is not overcome by the power of God’s healing grace – no sadness that is not assuaged by the goodness of God, which is love.  In every human condition, there is love; there is good.

Kelly, Sierra, and Gage, Sharon and Bob, in this, your deepest grief, you are lifted and carried by the goodness of God expressed in the loving community that surrounds you.  Total strangers weep with you – This is the Goodness of God’s love that, in God’s time, overcomes all grief.  This is the goodness that will bring strength at the times you struggle to breathe.  This is the Good News – the reality – the peace that allows us to celebrate Joel’s life and legacy, even though our hearts are heavy.

Our message is the Resurrection message; our host who makes this celebration possible is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The ultimate Goodness of God came to earth in the human person of Jesus Christ who was born as Joel was born, who loved and lived on earth as Joel loved and lived on earth, who suffered as Joel suffered, who died much too young as Joel died much too young.  Our Lord came to earth to live and die as one of us; our Lord willingly took our sins into himself; our Lord patiently and willingly died and descended to hell infested by our sins.  There, our Lord destroyed sin and death forever and rose victorious from the grave – all for us, each one of us, with no partiality.  Jesus Christ rose victorious from the grave that we might not die but have everlasting life.

Our greatest fear is our earthly death, and even more so, the earthly death of those we love.  Yet, our Lord assures us we need not fear death; our Lord is victorious over death.  Joel now resides in that everlasting victory over death; Joel runs free of suffering where “mourning and crying and pain are no more,” [Revelation 21:4] as revealed to us in the Revelation to John, which we heard earlier.  Joel would want us to hear this Resurrection message on this occasion and carry with us this message of resurrection as we grieve the presence of his absence.  He would affirm the words of Jesus, as recorded for us in John’s Gospel, “anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”  [John 5:24]  The key, Jesus says, is simply to believe.

Joel was patient and gracious in his earthly suffering.  I did not know Joel before he had become critically ill and was recovering from his radical surgery.  Yet, I remember being impressed on that first visit in the hospital by the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit.  I knew on that day that whether Joel lived or died he would live out his earthly life in the awareness of God’s healing grace, which he so readily embraced.

Do not go from here believing that Joel was not healed.  True, his physical body – the temporary vessel of his soul – was not healed of its infirmity; but all was and all is well with his soul.  Joel knew he was healed by the Holy Spirit; In baptism, he was sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.  Joel knew this.  I believe he knew that we are not promised physical healing, but we are promised spiritual healing if only we will embrace the healing power of God’s love.  If only we believe.  Joel embraced this healing power.  Joel was healed unconditionally.

Ideally, God’s unconditional love is never more visible and realistic to us than in the unconditional love of our earthly fathers.  Fathers bear an enormous responsibility – a responsibility that is very difficult for anyone else to fill.

It is said that our image of God creates us.  As children, the adults in our lives are earthly gods to us, especially our fathers.  Whether good or bad, our image of our heavenly Father is formed by the image of our earthly fathers, and our image of God, our heavenly Father, creates us.

Joel leaves these precious children much too young, much too soon, but he leaves them with the incredible gift of the understanding of a father’s unconditional love – he leaves them with the image of God’s unconditional love for his children, and this image of God will shape their lives in incredible ways.  Joel left much too soon, but he left this incredible gift.

Fathers, mothers, parents, teachers, all adults, as you celebrate Joel’s life, as you grieve his absence, carry this image of God’s unconditional love; carry the awareness that we form the image of God in the eyes of our children.

Sierra and Gage, your father could not have loved you more and, truthfully, there is nothing you could have done that would have caused him to love you any less.  That is the gift of our heavenly Father sent down to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, and passed on to you by your earthly father.  Your father lives forever in this gift of unconditional love.

St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Chesapeake, VA

08
Jan

No Partiality

Isaiah 42:1-9  Acts 10:34-43  Matthew 3:13-17  Psalm 29

There is a lot of activity at the bird feeder and berry-bearing bushes these days.  Birds need a lot of feed when the weather is so cold; and when the ground is frozen and snow-covered, there is little chance of finding sustenance in the usual locations.  So, the birds come, each type with the distinctive markings of classification:  cardinal, chickadee, finch, tufted titmouse, sparrow, robin, warbler, blue jay, red-winged black bird – all coming to be fed.  Each bird classification is distinguished by coloring and size, beak and facial shape, but there is no partiality in their need for food for survival.  And, there is no partiality in the food’s availability – it is available to any who come to receive the food provided.

In our lesson from Acts, Peter is speaking of God’s acceptance of all who believe; God shows no partiality.  ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him,’ Peter says in verse 34.

This impartiality of God for all people is an epiphany for Peter.  Peter had struggled with the acceptance of non-Jews as God’s people – as legitimate followers of Jesus Christ.  Up until the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth, anything non-Jewish – whether food, livelihood, or people – was considered profane, unclean.  Simply visiting the home of a Gentile, sharing a meal, rendered one unclean.  This was the context of Peter’s strict Jewish upbringing.

In today’s lesson, Peter is speaking to the household of Cornelius, a Roman centurion; it is understood that all in the home of Cornelius are Gentiles.  Cornelius was a God-fearing man who, himself, had had an epiphany.  In the previous verses of the 10th chapter of Acts, we read that, as Cornelius was praying, he was instructed through a visit from an angel of God to send for Peter to come to him and speak the word of God.  Peter, simultaneously, had a vision in which a voice from heaven instructed him of God’s acceptance of all, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’  [Acts 10:15]  Thus, when summoned by Cornelius, Peter knew that he was to answer this call to ministry.

These visions by Cornelius and Peter are interlinked and greatly significant.  In concert, these epiphanies institute great changes in the lives of both men; our reflection on these events brings about our own epiphanies in our understanding of God’s unconditional impartial love for us and in our need to receive all others as God’s children – as God receives us.  Cornelius and his household would hear the words of God through Peter, and Peter would come to accept and receive all people – all “made clean” by God.

Chapter 10 of Acts continues with the account of Peter’s visit to the household of Cornelius at which time Peter spoke the words we read today.  Acts 10:44 tells us that the Holy Spirit descended upon all who heard the words of God preached by Peter that day; all were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

It is our baptism by the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ that unites us as one in the Body of Christ.  All four Gospels place Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his ministry; we know nothing of Jesus’ ministry before his baptism.  For Matthew and Luke, the baptism serves as the reentry of Jesus, now an adult, into the Gospel narratives as his ministry begins.

Jesus, himself, came to be baptized by John in the Jordan.  Was Jesus, too, seeking forgiveness of sin?  We know Jesus to be without sin.  So, why was Jesus baptized and why is it so important that we are baptized?

Our events of celebration of the Incarnation, The Epiphany, and the Baptism of our Lord – which we celebrate each year on this first Sunday after The Epiphany, are not randomly placed events.  The events represent the evolution of our own epiphanies, and it is important that we see the interconnectedness.

From the Incarnation, we come to understand that it is okay to be human – that our humanness is to be celebrated – that God himself chose to come to earth as a human in the human nature of Jesus, the Word made flesh.  Looking to the human Jesus, we affirm that our bodies are not just containers.  Certainly, our bodies are limited, at times quite frail, but our bodies allow us to carry out our ministries within the Body of Christ as Jesus’ earthly body allowed him to carry out his ministry on earth.  It’s okay to be human, and we are called to celebrate that humanness in our understanding and belief in the Incarnation, and, similarly, in our celebration of the Baptism of our Lord – the earthly baptism of the human Jesus who came to live as we live.

Because we are human, we have a need for outward, visible, tangible signs of life’s transformational experiences – in this case the water in which we are baptized.  Similarly, the wedding ring is an outward and visible sign of the sacrament of our marriage.  But, it is the inward and spiritual grace of the Holy Spirit that seals our commitment to our marriage vows.  And, it is the inward and spiritual grace of the Holy Spirit that brings about the transformation of our baptism – the cleansing and renewal – our humanness made sacred as we are commended into Christian service.

As affirmed in our Gospel account of Jesus’ baptism, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in which Jesus is baptized and in which all are baptized – prince or pauper, rich or poor, young or old, healthy or frail – all are baptized by the same Holy Spirit.  Cornelius and his household were baptized by the same Holy Spirit.

Through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed.  There is no partiality; all who come are fed.  Through baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, the humanness of each of us is transformed into the sacred Body of Christ.

Our ministry begins.

01
Jan

Name

Numbers 6:22-27  Philippians 2:5-11  Luke 2:15-21  Psalm 8

Today, on the eighth day of Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name.

NAMES are important.

When we are baptized into the Body of Christ we are named before the Lord, marked as his own forever as we are presented for His service.

The names we give to our children will impact them for their lifetimes.

When someone important to us forgets our name, it hurts; and, more positively, when someone remembers our name when we had not expected that particular person to remember our name, our self-esteem is lifted.

Politicians seek to develop particular skills in remembering names of potential supporters.  Clergy and schoolteachers recognize the power of calling parishioners and students by name.

Tennis shoes were just tennis shoes until Nike launched the Air Jordan in 1984.  Carrying the name of Michael Jordan, Nike has introduced a new version of the ever popular shoe yearly, keeping the adoring public in expectation of the newly introduced collectors’ item for over 30 years.  We are now up to Air Jordan XXXI “Chicago”; get your pair from Nike for $185.00.

Names are a “control thing.”  Naming rights signify control.  Super Bowl 2017 will be held in NRG Energy Stadium in Houston, Texas on Sunday February 5.  NRG Energy, Inc. is a large US-based energy company with corporate offices in Houston.  The stadium is part of the enormous NRG Energy Park sports complex, which received its name in the year 2000 as the result of a 32-year naming rights contract at a cost of $300 million.  Throughout Super Bowl evening, we’ll learn more about NRG and we can expect the half-time show, the instant replays, and the scoreboard to boast names of other significant corporate contributors willing and able to purchase mere moments – dollars per second – of the limelight of our attention, hoping that their names will be seeded in our memory.

Names are a “control thing.”  We can trace the history of naming rights to the creation of the world and throughout our biblical history.

Today, the eighth day of Christmas, we celebrate the Holy Name – the name that is above every name.  In verse 21 of the second chapter of Luke’s Gospel we learn that eight days following Jesus’ birth, the time had come for him to be circumcised and named.  This second chapter of Luke, from which our Gospel lesson comes, recounts the only and very minimal information in the entire Bible of Jesus’ childhood and youth.

These ritual acts associated with Jesus’ birth and naming that are described for us in our lesson from Luke are in keeping with the traditional Jewish laws of Moses.  Jesus and his parents were faithful Jews loyal to the Jewish traditions of their heritage.

Yet, Jesus’ name was not the typical family heritage generated name.  At the Annunciation, Mary had been instructed by the angel to name her child JesusThe Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion states, “proper names in ancient times had a significance to which no parallel exists to the present day.  The name was taken as representing the essence of the bearer.”  We note in Biblical history that when a significant change in mode occurred in a person’s life, the name was changed to represent the point of change of being.  A name was changed to signify a person’s newly accepted covenant with God.

So, we see that from the beginning of time until today, name holds great significance.  In our story of the nativity, when the angel appears to the shepherds, he announces the birth of a Savior, Messiah, Lord.  The Greek translation of Lord is KyriosKyrios is the very same term as that used for God’s holy and personal name throughout the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  In today’s lesson, Mary, as instructed by the angel, names the child Jesus – the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which translates “The Lord has saved.”  Thus, the name Jesus means “the Lord has saved,” – Lord being the same term used as God’s holy and personal name throughout the history of God’s people and until the birth of Jesus.  Jesus’ name affirms him as Lord – God eternal, true God from true God.

This significance of the name “Jesus” is emphasized in today’s excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  Here, Paul meticulously points our attention to the reality of the humanity and the reality of the divinity of Jesus Christ; the reality of these two natures of humanity and divinity is expressed through the name Lord.

For Paul, the name of Lord carries with it its secular historical meanings of master and owner, later evolving politically into an official title for Roman emperors and, then religiously, as a title for Greek and Roman gods.  For Paul, the name Lord encompassed all these historical, political, and religious meanings.  Jesus as Lord is Master and Owner of all life, King of all Kings.[1]

These familiar verses that we read from the second chapter of Philippians have come to be regarded as the Christ Hymn.  “Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  [NRSV Philippians 2:9-11]

Jesus, the name that speaks the essence of the bearerthe Lord has saved.

The prophet Jeremiah says, “You, O Lord, are in the midst of us, and we are called by your name.”  [NRSV Jeremiah 14:9b]  Let us not forget, we are the Lord’s covenant people, called by His name.

Our Christian sacrament of baptism has replaced the Jewish tradition of circumcision and naming on the eighth day.  Whether we are baptized as infants or teenagers or mature adults, as we are baptized, we are named, and presented to the Lord for service as Christians in the Body of Christ serving the world.

There is no $300 million contract necessary in order to be called by the Holy Name; you will not need the newest pair of Air Jordan’s; the price is paid.  Jesus, true to the essence of his name; Jesus the Lord has saved.



[1] Willam Barclay, “The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians,” in The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2003) 41-46.

25
Dec

Reflection of the light

Isaiah 52:7-10  Hebrews 1:1-4,(5-12)  John 1:1-14  Psalm 98

 

Our emergency EXIT lights that hang above nearly every doorway throughout the church building are a big issue around here.  Our wardens Bill Menheer and Ray Camden will confirm that these lights require constant attention – keeping the bulbs replaced or the entire fixture replaced is an ever-present hassle.  If Church Insurance or the fire marshal shows up and finds one of these lights not working, we are cited for this critical safety violation.

We scoff and shake our heads at this bother.  And, yet, when we find ourselves in the dark, particularly in a crisis, our first goal is to get light restored.  We keep a flashlight where we know we can find it in the dark when our power goes out at home; airlines assure us that if the cabin lights fail during flight, the aisles will be lighted for our safety; our Christmas trees are not very festive without lights; when we head down an otherwise dark hall here in this building, our path is lighted by the ever-present emergency exit light, which is to our advantage.  We want to know that if we are plunged into darkness, light will soon be available.  When, we are in the darkness, we just can’t think of much else until we have light.

Yet, I am known to creep around in the dark.  When I go out at night to walk the dogs, I refuse to turn on the floodlights; I want to see the moon and the stars and the bright planets that are visible.  I can always be depended upon to tell you the moon’s progress – waxing or waning.  There is great satisfaction in strolling under the bright moonlight.

However, if we know our earth science, we know that the moon has no light except that reflected by the sun; though we refer to the quarter moon and half moon – the waxing and the waning, the moon doesn’t change; the light of the moon is dependent upon the ever present light of the sun and the position of the earth; the moon has no light of its own; it simply sends back to us on earth the reflection of the light of the sun, which is always shining somewhere in the world.

Light is an important theme for the writer of John’s Gospel.  The Word (capital W) that has come into the world is the true light.  We affirm that, and will reaffirm that in just a few moments when we stand together to recite the Nicene Creed:  “God from God, Light from light, true God from true God.”  Jesus the Son is the true light; his light is the light of God.

Our lesson emphasizes that John the Baptist was not the light, but that he had come to testify to the true light that was coming into the world.  John the Baptist was a reflection of the true light, which is Jesus Christ.

Just as for John, the true light does not radiate from us; it is the reflected light of Christ; it is reflected upon us into the darkness of the world.  Being the reflection of the light of the world requires our remaining close to Christ.  It is the light of Christ reflected in us that comes into the chaos of the world.

I pray this Christmas is a renewal of your joy, perhaps a time to understand more clearly the awesome impact of the Incarnation – the true light of the Word made flesh coming to live among us.   Do not let the glory of this season go unnoticed – the grace and truth of the Word made flesh.

There is no evil that is not overcome by the goodness of God; the vast darkness of the night sky only serves to accentuate the brightness of the sun’s reflection on the moon.

As you carry with you a renewed sense of joy of the Word made flesh, remember that you are the reflection of the light of Christ – the light of grace and truth that shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

24
Dec

Awe

Isaiah 9:2-7  Titus 2:11-14  Luke 2:1-14(15-20)  Psalm 96

Wow!  It is Christmas again!  I think we all agree that Christmas comes quicker and quicker every year.  As children, we waited in awesome wonder, seemingly endlessly waiting for Christmas to come.

My brother and I would beg my mother to drag out the decorations earlier and earlier each year.  We had a favorite tree ornament that, I’m sure, came in a flimsy carton of ordinary ornaments from WT Grant’s in Great Bridge.  But, my brother and I thought this particular ornament was the most beautiful ornament ever.  It is a small round ball of clear glass; it has alternating bands of white snow-like glitter and transparent green.  We had never seen an ornament so unique, and we would take turns being the one to hang it on the tree year after year, standing in awe of its beauty.  To anyone else it is non-descript and 1960’s out-of date, but I treasure it still because of these memories, and it now hangs on my tree every year.

Why is it that that sense of awe wanes as we grow older?  The faithful simplicity and freedom from inhibitions that allowed us to be present there next to the manger, waiting endlessly for the babe’s arrival, gets diminished and distracted by the cares of adulthood – perhaps diminished to the point that we come to worship on this eve of the Nativity wondering what happened to the awe, maybe wondering why we are even here.

We don’t stand on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay wondering what happened to the awe.  Whether the mountainous waves are crashing on shore as a terrific storm approaches or mere tiny ripples are lapping gently peacefully onto the sand, the constancy of the sea reminds us of God’s power.  The sea is awesome.  We never outgrow that sense of awe; the sea is a constant reminder of the omnipotent omnipresence of our Creator God.

Neither should we allow ourselves to outgrow the sense of awe that we come to celebrate and relive on this night.  Just as the sea is constant, so also, is our all-powerful, ever present, all knowing Creator constant in his love for us.

This love is so powerful and so constant that God the Father sent God the Son to be born of human flesh – God the Son, to live and die as one of us, to take the sin of all creation upon himself, rising victorious above evil and death so that we and all creation might be redeemed of the sin we brought into the world.  God came among us in the meek, seemingly powerless human nature of Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth, born in a stable in Bethlehem; God is forever constant with us in the all powerful divine nature of Christ –the Messiah, Emmanuel – God with us.  How can we ever allow the awe of this truth to wane?

God’s love for us is so awesome that he came to be born as one of us, to suffer and die as one of us.  God’s pure love comes with no expectations, except to be love.

In love, God the Son being born of human flesh assures us it is okay to be human.  Jesus Christ was born of human flesh to help us understand that it is not God who punishes us for our sins, but our human sins themselves that punish us.  Jesus came to show us how to live as redeemed humans in relationship with all God’s creation.  How can we not remain in awe of this love that transforms our painful sins into God’s guidance for how we are to live in relationship with one another?

Jesus doesn’t wait for us to become saints before he calls us to follow him.  Remember his motley crew made up of fishermen, a tax collector, a carpenter, a hotheaded zealot, and other virtual unknowns.  Two of them were so arrogant as to request that they be seated on the left and right of Jesus’ heavenly throne.  Even after three years of such a close relationship, Jesus’ very human disciples denied him, doubted, and betrayed him at the end of his earthly life.  But, they were redeemed by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and they were transformed into amazing apostles, spreading the awe of the Good News of the Christian message to all the world.

The disciples were human like us – as Jesus was human; they were redeemed as we are redeemed because of Jesus’ humanity; they followed as we are called to follow – all through the awesome power of God’s love come down to us in the Incarnation that we are gathered here to celebrate, the awe of the Incarnation into which we are to live each day.

So, we are here on this night because of the constancy of God’s love – love so powerfully awesome that God the Father sent God the Son to be born of human flesh, to live among us that we might know how we are to live.

Come, little children.  Come into the warmth and light of the stable.  Kneel beside the manger; be present in faithful childlike simplicity, uninhibited by the world.  Kneel there so close that you can feel the calm breath of the Christ Child; kneel there where you can gaze into the new baby’s big dark eyes; kneel there, suspended in awesome wonder, as the babe turns to look at you.  Kneel there where you can see so clearly your own reflection in the eyes of the tiny Christ Child – your own reflection in the eyes of the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace, God Incarnate.

11
Dec

Sleeping Lions

Isaiah 35:1-10 Canticle 15 James 5:7-10  Matthew 11:2-11

 

A highlight of our recent trip to Africa was a safely distant encounter with 5 lions at the Chobe National Park in Botswana.  These quite docile kitties were snuggled together for their 20-hour daily nap, snoozing in the shade, sheltered from the brutal heat of mid-afternoon African sun.  There was an occasional bored acknowledgment of our paparazzi presence.  I’m confident, however, that any one of the five could have devoured this entire pulpit with one swat and gulp.

I don’t even like to wake our dogs from a nap; I assure you I was not eager to disturb these enormous and ferocious beasts.  We had been cautioned not to wave our hands outside the jeep, and of course not to exit the jeep – though I don’t recall it being necessary, actually, for the guides to give us such instruction.

The concept is that as one large composite unit we did not represent a threat to the lions; separated from the group however, one would become a suspicious nuisance attracting investigation and, perhaps, consumption.

Later, as our group travelled up the path a bit, we came upon a young man whose Subaru was stuck in the deep sand; our guides offered an unsuccessful tow, but in the end, after calling alternative help, we had to leave him behind.  He was eventually rescued, I’m sure, but driving away from him, I felt a sense of aloneness for him, abandonment by us even for one so seemingly foolish as to set out alone and ill-equipped in such treacherous terrain.

In our Old Testament lesson this morning, the prophet Isiah is speaking to the people of God who have felt the abandonment of exile in Babylon.  Judah had fallen in the 6th century BC; the Great Temple of Jerusalem destroyed and her people scattered and held captive by the empires to the east of Israel.  Today’s words of prophecy from Isaiah bring hope to God’s people – whether feeling separated and abandoned in ancient Babylon or in 21st century America.

These words appear at an odd place in the book of Isaiah.  Nearly 2/3 of the earlier chapters of Isaiah are filled with words of warning and woe about the judgment that was to come for the people of God, still residing at home in Judah, complacent in their faith.

But, here amidst the doom and gloomy prophecy are the beautiful words of hope and joy that we read this morning.  Condemned to exile, in this state of abandonment and hopelessness, fraught with fear, the people of God sense this inbreaking of God expressed through Isaiah.  Unexpectedly, inexplicably amongst the woe, God’s words voiced by Isaiah inspire patience in suffering.

James, too, is writing to the people of God who are experiencing spiritual exile.  The first century Jewish Christians to whom James writes were scattered by decades of political and religious persecution that had driven God’s people from their homeland to various areas of the known world.  James exhorts them and any one of us feeling abandoned to be patient as we wait for the coming of the Lord.

Ah, we are not abandoned; God has always and is forever gathering us into his Kingdom.  We are never separate from God; we are one composite unit in God’s presence.  Remaining one composite unit, we are insulated, resistant to evil.  The message of James and Isaiah would have been interpreted with great joy by the exiled people of God willing to listen – exiles in foreign lands, persecuted for their faith in the one God.  Sensing this inbreaking of the Spirit, they were assured that God was present, hope restored.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, even in the gloom and doom of a 1st century Roman prison, John the Baptist is assured of the inbreaking of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  In the eleventh chapter, Matthew reports that John the Baptist had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas.  It was this John to whom Jesus himself had come for baptism.  From what we have read of John, we know that he would have been the type to wave his arms outside the Jeep, fearlessly awakening the ire of the sleeping lions – the Pharisees and Sadducees and Herod Antipas specifically.

Yet, held in a dark and dank Roman prison, John is assured that he is not abandoned; Jesus, whom he knew, is the Messiah.  As the result of Jesus’ life and ministry, the blind see, the lame walk, the leper is cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor receive good news.  In the dark dank Roman prison, John leapt for joy, just as he had leapt for joy in his mother’s womb upon encountering the expectant Mary, just as he experienced the joyful ecstasy of the presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit at the baptism of the Son in the Jordan River.  The awakened lions could not take away John’s joy even as they threatened earthly death.

The joy of the people of Judah in exile, the joy of the early Christians under persecution, the joy of John the Baptist in the brutal Roman prison is inexplicable, except by God – all this joy is the inbreaking of God – the clear sense that God had not abandoned them, even in their dire earthly situations.

God continues to break into our earthly lives, bringing us that same sense of joy, even on difficult days when we might tend to think God has deserted us.  God, suddenly, unexpectedly breaks through the gloom of our grief and sorry and chaos like the sun suddenly, unexpectedly breaks through the clouds on a rainy day.

This joy is the specific focus for today – the third Sunday of Advent.  Today is Gaudete (gou-day-tay) Sunday.  The name is the Latin word for “Rejoice.”  In today’s lessons, as on every 3rd Sunday of Advent, we hear prophecy of hope and promise – from Isaiah: we are assured of the days to come when the desert shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing.

Gaudete Sunday is the day we take a break from our penitential focus of the season of Advent to celebrate our joy – symbolized in the rose colored candle we light today.  Whatever our gloom, God breaks through to assure us we are not abandoned.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel; ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.”  Come, Emmanuel, break into our hearts with the joy of the Incarnation – the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ that assures us we are never abandoned – alone and stuck in the deep deep sand, within nose-range of sleeping lions, we are not abandoned.  God is present, the joy of Christ breaks into our earthly lives.  Gaudete!

27
Nov

Resourcefulness

Isaiah 2:1-5 Romans 13:11-14 Matthew 24:36-44 Psalm 122

As my daughter, stepson, dear friend, and I embarked on the first legs of our trip these past two weeks, in Atlanta, our Boeing 777 had been successfully loaded with nearly 400 passengers prepared for the 8,439-mile trip to Johannesburg, South Africa.  It is complicated, frustrating, and time consuming to get 396 passengers of every imaginable description on board, carry-ons stowed in the overhead compartments, seat belts fastened, and everyone settled in for the 14½ hour flight.  It was late evening; we were already tired and ready for bedtime, hoping at least for some decent catnaps as we cruised all night high above the Atlantic.

But, we had indeed accomplished the boarding and were prepared to back away from the gate when my pastoral senses detected the veiled urgency in the flight attendant’s voice and footsteps as she approached her coworkers from the back of the plane.  “Did you hear that?” she said, with calm but obvious concern.  Uh oh.  I remember thinking this was going to be potentially good sermon material.

Silence reigned; moments passed; an ominous air of uncertainty began to prevail.  Finally, the loud speaker brought word from the captain: a massive luggage carrier, backing away from the plane had collided with one of the engines of our enormous plane, leaving it extensively damaged.  Finding another plane was only a remote possibility.  Our fate was undetermined.

We deplaned, muscling our heavy baggage and returning to the gate where we first heard the inkling – something about crew timing out if we didn’t get in the air by 10:00 p.m.  Surprisingly though, bringing a glimmer of hope, another plane was located and brought to the gate; we were told the hour-long servicing and fueling process had begun, and we were instructed to reload as quickly as possible.  But again, hope faded; seated and prepared for take off the second time, the diminished presence of crewmembers became noticeable.  Ten o’clock had come and gone; the announcement about which we had been warned came over the microphone: our crew had timed out; it would be illegal for them to make the flight.  We were to deplane once again and cue up to receive alternate flight arrangements and/or overnight accommodations.

Now, we recognized that this was an unexpected crisis, and we sympathized with the unfortunate baggage handler team whose negligence had created this mess.  But, we were a bit incensed by the airline’s seeming lack of crisis preparedness.  Surely, this was not the first ever last minute crisis occurring mere hours before the required crew change.  It must have been immediately obvious that this plane wasn’t going to fly.  What caused such delay in finding a backup plane and calling in a back up crew?  We’re talking 400 passengers, most of us with baggage for multiple weeks.  Herding us and our baggage on and off two planes with obviously little chance of making the flight seemed monumentally inefficient.  How long did it take to determine that the obvious and only resolution would be to re-accommodate 400 unhappy travelers cued up and waiting for assistance into the wee hours of the morning?

The experience, of course, is simple in comparison to the urgent message of necessary preparedness in anticipation of crises as described in our Gospel lesson.  But, comparing the two situations, we see that we can learn from our very earthly experiences such as these to gain insight into the reality of what seems for us very ominous, even frightening warnings of the consequences of being unprepared for the second coming of Christ and/or the end times – predictions of doom and gloom.  Jesus implores us to be ready in anticipation of the unexpected hour of the return of the Son of Man.  Jesus provides our resources for rising above the crisis.

Do we ring our hands, lash out at one another, and melt down in panic; or do we remain calm and focused on the resourcefulness that our faith in Jesus Christ provides?  – Finding Christ in one another and all creation, worshipping regularly together, studying the scriptures, praying endlessly, focusing on our relationships within the Body of Christ.  These are the resources our Christian faithfulness provides.

Did we ring our hands and throw a tantrum and browbeat the flight crew of our doomed flight to Johannesburg?  No, my dear friend and I remained patient while the youngsters got on their phones to make alternate plans.  As anxiety grew for many of our fellow flight companions mired in uncertainty, the four of us were in a dead trot toward the Air France gate for our successfully rebooked flight through Paris.  Hours later we found ourselves on a delightful late afternoon taxi tour of the City of Lights all decked out for Christmas.  Our driver quite skillfully planned our arrival at the Eiffel Tower just at the top of the hour when the lights covering the entire tower sparkle for a full five minutes.  Afterwards, we returned to the airport in time to attempt again the overnight flight to Johannesburg, arriving finally a half day later than expected – a full 48 hours after leaving home on Monday morning, but with a great story to share!

Jesus never promises that our earthly life will be an unhindered primrose path.  In fact, he warns us time and again that our Christian discipleship will be filled with uncertain detours and pitfalls and threatening crises.  But, Jesus provides us with the resources to work through the crises that threaten; he admonishes us to take up these resources and be prepared and open to the unexpected inbreaking of God into our daily lives.  And, above all, Jesus admonishes us to remain unafraid.

The Season of Advent that begins today is a joyful time of preparation – getting our house in order for the coming of the Christ child – joyful expectation of the celebration and opportunity to experience anew the glorious Christmas story that we have loved since earliest childhood.  Today’s Gospel lesson alerts us that we are also to anticipate and prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, which he has promised at an unexpected hour.

The words of our Gospel lesson, words from the mouth of Jesus, may seem ominous and confusing and even quite distressing.  We are reminded that God’s judgment is real, but God’s judgment is meant to restore our relationship with God; God’s judgment is not intended as retribution.  And, we are reminded of our responsibility to one another in seeing that all are prepared to meet Christ when he comes again.  If, when Christ comes, our neighbor in the field is left behind, we who know the good story of the saving grace of Jesus Christ have neglected the fullness of our Christian mission.

Sharing our Christian relationship with one another, worshipping together regularly, praying endlessly, studying the scriptures that contain all things necessary for our salvation – all these are the necessary ingredients of our preparation for the promised second coming of Christ; all these are the necessary elements of our Blessed Advent; all these are the essentials that allow us to kneel amongst the sweet smelling hay of the cattle stall and embrace the monumental glorious reality of God Incarnate – the Word made flesh – God coming to earth in the human person of Jesus Christ to live and die as one of us.

What could possibly stand in the way of your resourceful preparation in anticipation of these glorious promised events?  Jesus’ words are not ominous to those who are prepared, and we are all gifted with the resources to be prepared.  These are words of inspiration for the journey – a journey far-surpassing even an unanticipated sparkling evening in Paris.

Therefore, you must be ready, for the Son of Man – Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, our Savior and Redeemer – is coming at an unexpected hour.  Believers rejoice!  From today’s words from the prophet Isaiah: “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!”

13
Nov

Stewardship

Malachi 4:1-2a  Psalm 98  2 Thessalonians 3:6-13  Luke 21:5-19

In this morning’s Gospel lesson, the people gathered around Jesus in the Temple are admiring the Temple’s magnificent adornments.  Jesus is speaking to them prophetically about the chaos and tragedy of the coming destruction of the Temple.  This glorious earthly Temple, the crux of Jewish religion and society, would be destroyed for the final time by the Romans just a few decades after Jesus’ time there.

Jesus’ words are rich in meaning and symbolism.  It is more accurate to say that he is speaking metaphorically about the chaos and tragedy of the days surrounding the Crucifixion that is to come.

Even more significantly, he is speaking of the “birth pangs” of the end of time, which tends to strike fear in all of us.  From our Gospel lesson, we learn that characteristic of these fear-filled times are false leaders exalted by others and claiming to be the “one” who will save the world.  These times bring violence and turbulence – wars and insurrections; there will be arrests and persecutions.  Being prepared to confront these times is to know Jesus Christ, so that keeping our eyes focused on our faith, we are led through the chaos, whether it be the simple chaos of our daily lives or the ultimate chaos of the end of time.

Those who are prepared will be able to endure the violence and persecutions.  To be prepared requires the understanding that the true temple of our faith is not a magnificently adorned earthly building; the true temple of our faith is Jesus Christ.  Jesus says, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”  “Not a hair on your head will perish.”

The writer of the second letter to the Thessalonians implores us to be prepared by fulfilling our fair share of responsibility to one another.  In these years not so long after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, the Thessalonians took to heart the expectation that Jesus would return again soon.  In fact, they were so self-assured of Jesus’ soon-to-be return that they had become complacent in their ministry to one another; they began to see no need to do the work of the Church.

These words in the letter to the Thessalonians remind us that we are called to continue being faithful and recognizing our responsibility as members of the body of Christ, regardless of our life situation.  It is our responsibility to explore the expectations of our faith – to be prepared to endure the “birth pangs” – to be prepared not as consumers of church but as members of the Body of Christ – the Church. 

As consumers in the marketplace we expect, at the least, a fair deal that corresponds directly with our cash input.  We want quality products and good customer service.  From the Church, however, we too often expect way more than a fair deal.  If we are consumers of Church, we expect high standards of perfection from the Church regardless of our input.

I use the example of the car going to the gas station.  Once a week, I drive to the gas station; I get just enough gas to drive back home and get back to the gas station the next week.  There is not any extra fuel that allows for trips to visit friends during the week, to drive a neighbor to the doctor, or to venture to the grocery store to purchase food, not even enough fuel to stop along the way for lunch with family as I make my weekly journey to and from the gas station.  Even so, I demand that I have the very best customer service in response to my once a week limited purchase and that the gas I purchase be of the very best quality at a discounted price; I want my visit to the gas station to be pleasant, uplifting, and well worth my valuable time.

If my car could speak, it would say, “My purpose is to go to the gas station and get fuel; I have fulfilled my purpose in life.”  But, life is an end in itself, not at all fulfilling, and my car and I are not at all prepared for any opportunities or emergencies that might arise.

If we are consumers of Church, we misinterpret our purpose and duty as going to church; we fail to recognize that we are the Church.  We are the Body of Christ.

It is our responsibility to recognize ourselves as the Church – the Body of Christ – and to be prepared for the coming of the kingdom just as Jesus exhorts us to be prepared.  It is in our preparation – our understanding of ourselves as the Church that we are able to endure the birth pangs of the end of time.

Stewardship is a huge piece of the theological practices expected of us as members of the Body of Christ – the Church.  There are many misconceptions about stewardship, specifically, money and the Church.

We might feel that the Church is not doing the same great things that other charitable organizations are doing, or that somehow the Church should be able to go on meeting our high expectations for great ministry with limited funds.  In tomorrow’s mail, as in everyday’s mail, millions of glossy eye-catching mass solicitations will go out across the country from organizations and institutions that have no shame or hesitation about begging for your money.  In fact, these groups invest enormous amounts of your contributions in these well-crafted initiatives to solicit your continued financial support.  They do that because it works.

Certainly, many of these are wonderful organizations that oversee great charitable and educational causes throughout the world.  They build homes and feed the hungry and educate our children.  But, they don’t baptize our children; they don’t visit us and pray with us and bring us Communion when we are in the hospital; they won’t be there to commit our bodies to the ground – earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  These organizations, as wonderful as they are, won’t be there to continue to pray that our souls may rest in peace; they won’t be there to console our grieving loved ones.  Who will be there for these most sacred life changing events?  The Church will be there.

On Wednesday afternoon a young woman arrived at the church office with a pickup load of items for resale.  She is moving and wanted us to have these things to raise money for our mission and ministry.  In the course of getting the truck unloaded and the items stored, the young woman said time and again, “Everyone in the neighborhood knows about this church; y’all are wonderful; you do so much for so many people; this is a wonderful church; everybody around here knows that, because you do such wonderful things for this community.”

Being prepared for the end times about which Jesus is speaking is to know Jesus Christ, to experience Jesus Christ in one another.  Being prepared for the end times is accepting our responsibility to see that others around us know Jesus Christ.

Knowing Jesus Christ and making him known is the essence of our faith – the essence of our stewardship of God’s creation.  “Brothers and Sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.”  [2 Thessalonians. 3:13]