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All of these sermons were delivered in the Abbey Church. To make it easier to find a certain topic or lectionary day, click one the blue tags below (Holidays, Sundays Year A, Sundays Year B, Sundays Year C). The sermons are posted in order of their calendar date, so not all in the same lectionary year are together – keep scrolling down, and you will find more from earlier calendar years.

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We’ve Only Just Begun: Annunciation 2017

Annunciation 2017
Isaiah 7:10-14,8:10
Hebrews 10:4-10
Luke 1:26-38

When you are in love with someone, you don’t want what that person can give you, you want that person. In a strange way, that is what we heard the Letter to the Hebrews say: God doesn’t want our sacrifices, God wants us. Instead of showing God our “sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings”, God want us to say: “See, I have come…”

When you are in love with someone you want to be with that person as close and as often as possible. We heard about Ahaz and Isaiah in our first reading. The story is about Judah being afraid of an attack by the Arameans. God is going to protect Judah, and wants to show King Ahaz to not be afraid. God says he will give Ahaz a sign of love and protection – a sign “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” That sounds like the way one feels when one is in love; everything is “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Ahaz won’t ask for a sign, but Isaiah says God will give it anyway. The sign that is deep as Sheol and high as heaven is the Immanuel – God with us. God is in love with us, and is with us as close and as often as possible.

God shows his love for us by being with us, even if we so often do not think we are worthy of God’s love. Maybe that is what Mary thought when the angel greeted her in our gospel story this morning. The angel said: “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” When she heard it, she was perplexed and “pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Maybe we do the same thing – we are told God loves us and finds favor with us, but we doubt it. In response to our doubt, God shows us with a sign “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” The sign, written all over us, is: God is with us – God wants to be with us, to come to us, to be inside of us, and to reproduce himself inside of us. The angel told Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That sounds a lot like the closeness that lovers enjoy – covering each other, being inside each other, using that closeness to produce a new life that will grow and add even more joy to the relationship. We are called in a similar way that Mary was. God loves us, and if we so allow it, God will come to us, cover us, and reproduce Godself within us.

We can have our excuses to doubt God’s ability or desire to be in us and grow in us. Mary said: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” We might be tempted to say: “how can this be, since I am selfish, or hateful, or dull, or impetuous.” We also might have trouble believing that anything we give birth to (even if the other parent is God) will be of any good to anyone. But with God working with us, we will give birth to exactly what is needed.

Mary shows us how we are all living temples of God. As Mary carried God in the flesh inside of her, so we also carry God in us. As in any pregnancy, the outward appearance of the mother changes, so we will change outwardly as God’s presence grows inside of us. We do need to remember, though, that we are all different to start off with, so sometimes it is difficult to discern how we ourselves and those around us are changing. It is best no to judge them or ourselves anyway – just let God control the growth of everyone. Another aspect of pregnancy is the importance of the mother taking steps to insure that the person inside her is growing properly. So we also must change our habits and actions to promote the growth of God’s presence in us, so that eventually we can give birth to God in our own world – to bring God into other people’s lives by our own life.

Mary was told to rejoice because God found favor with her, the Lord was with her, and she was to carry God inside of her. So we also should rejoice, because God finds favor in us, the Lord is with us, and wants to be carried inside of us. God is in love with us and wants to be with us as close and as often as possible. How can we resist – when God comes to us and covers us; when God’s breath (the Holy Spirit) is upon us; when God says he wants to be with us always. All we have to do is rejoice that we are so highly favored, and say: “Be it unto me according to your word.”   AMEN

No More, No Less: Thanksgiving Day Year C

Deuteronomy 26:1-11
Philippians 4:4-9
John 6:25-35

Everything comes from God; nothing comes from us – that is the theme of today, and we are grateful for all that God has given. But from our narrowly human point of view, God is good at providing only raw materials; it is up to us to put in the work required to turn these raw materials into things which are (once again, only from our narrowly human point of view) useful. So we are thankful not only for the things God has given us, but also for the ability to work – for blessing us with memory, reason, skill, and most importantly: opposable thumbs. We must also remember to work not instead of God, but with and because of God.

There are a few things to help us work in gratitude and thankfulness. The first is to remember that we get the most satisfaction from our work when we do our best. We usually do that in terms of doing no less than our best, but we also need to be careful to not get caught up in the frenzied attempt to do more than our best. We have limits, and trying to go beyond them is as harmful as never trying to reach them. Work is our area of responsibility; results are God’s area of responsibility (and it is not our job to tell God what the results should be). We do our best and let God take care of the rest – that takes a huge burden off of our backs that we mistakenly took up in the first place.

We also need to work not with patience, but rather with constancy. The difference in the two words is subtle, but can have a big impact on our lives. Patience means we are merely waiting until things get better, so we work with a stiff upper lip and hope for the better. Constancy means we choose to do what we consider to be the right things no matter if things ever or never get better. Patience can lead to bitterness. Constancy is already infused with joy.

And we need to work out of love, not out of expectations for outcomes. One of my biggest prayers is that I hope to never see the fruit of my labors, and that we never see the fruit of the monastery’s labors (not that there will not be fruit, but that we will not see it), because when we see the fruit of our labors, we are tempted to work for results rather than out of love.

And so, the human race takes this wonderful planet that God has given us and makes wonderful things like donuts, spacecraft, and Olympic curling teams. I am thankful for all of those things. We at the monastery take this wonderful corner of the wonderful planet God has given us and we make guesthouses, meals, letters to prisoners, and calendars. Most importantly, we make prayers.   AMEN

Good Enough For Him: Holy Name Year C

Exodus 34: 1-8
Phillipians 2: 9-13 or Romans 1: 1-7
Luke 2: 15-21

A preacher in Georgia once had this to say about Jesus: “He did not come to put us to shame with his divinity. He came to call us into the fullness of our humanity, which was good enough for him.” (Barbara Brown Taylor — God In Pain). Human life is important to God. Individual humans are important to God. Human activities are important to God. In fact, all of those things are so important to God that God freely became an individual human and participated in all the common activities associated with that particular human — Jesus of Nazareth. Today we celebrate two of those common human activities: the naming of a child, and the circumcision of a child.

The naming of a child is usually an important decision for the parents. They come up with lists of names and then come up with new lists of names and then come up with other lists of names, until eventually they settle on a name or two or three to give the child. Our gospel story tells us that Mary and Joseph were spared all the work of choosing a name for their child, since an angel had already said that he was to be called Jesus. Where I grew up in Texas, Jesus was a common name, although most of the Hispanic boys in my school with that name usually went by a nickname like Chuy or Beto or Junior. It was only on the first day of school when the class roll was called that you heard their real names (usually mispronounced by the Anglo teacher as Geezus instead of Haysoos). The name Jesus is not all that uncommon up here in the midwest, either, although most of the time it is pronounced Joshua, which is simply the anglicized version of the real semitic form of Jesus. The name Jesus (in its semitic form) was not all that uncommon in Jesus’ time, either. There are several Jesuses in the Bible. Some English translations have them as Jesus, some as Joshua. In fact, the prisoner who was released instead of Jesus by Pilate was named Jesus Barabbas, which means Jesus Son of the Father.

A common human name was good enough for God.

The circumcision of a child — a male child — is also an important decision for the parents. Now days the matter to be decided is “should we or shouldn’t we”. Once again, Mary and Joseph were spared this decision because in their time and place, it was simply the thing to do. It was a common, although quite meaningful human activity, and it was good enough for God. The circumcision of Jesus also shows us that Jesus had all his human parts.

A common human body was good enough for God.

If we keep reading the gospel after the section we heard today, we hear a little about Jesus’ childhood and adolescence. Not many details are given, but twice in this chapter Luke mentions that Jesus kept growing. A common childhood and adolescence seem to have been good enough for God, also, and even though his later years were a little extraordinary, they were lived out in the ordinary society of the time and place. In fact, if we really believe it when we say that Jesus is fully God and fully human, we are saying that we believe that every human bodily function, every human urge and desire, and every human fear, joy, pleasure, and pain were experienced by God in Jesus. All of those things belonged to Jesus, and therefore they belong to God. Since whatever belongs to God is holy, then all of human life is holy — every bodily function, every urge and desire, and every fear, joy, pleasure, and pain. Because of the creation, we bear God’s image — because of the incarnation, God bears our image. We are doubly holy.

We are also doubly responsible for treating ourselves and each other as the holy beings that we are. We must take care of our holy human bodies, as well as our holy human spirits and souls. Our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits need proper care to function as best as they can. Our intellectual, sexual, social, and family lives must never be forgotten, abused, or neglected. Mistreatment or improper use of any parts of our lives degrades their holiness and lessens us and the entire human race. We don’t always seem all that holy to ourselves or to others, but that’s because although we are holy, we are human, and humans grow. Our holiness must grow, and in order to grow it must be fostered and cultivated with love. As the years and decades of cultivating our holiness roll by, we will seem ever so slightly more holy.

More importantly, as our holiness grows, we see the holiness in others more clearly. We begin to realize that our immature ideas of holiness might have been wrong, and we realize that even though others are different from us they are holy, nonetheless. However, even before we reach total maturity in Christ, we are obliged to treat every other person we meet as the doubly holy image of God that they are created to be, whether or not they are growing in that image, or are stagnant, or even actively trying to erase the image of God from their lives. That is not an easy task, treating everyone as the holy image of God. It is hard work, and we fail at it a lot of the time. We all need to work at it, every day and every hour. We can grow only with God’s help, but we still need to put that help to work, through prayer, meditation, honest self-examination, and other disciplines. Fortunately, we have an example of growth and holiness set before us in the particular, common human life of Jesus of Nazareth. As that preacher in Georgia said: “He did not come to put us to shame with his divinity. He came to call us into the fullness of our humanity, which was good enough for him.”

May we all grow in our holy human lives, while encouraging and helping others to grow. May we see the holiness of God in every person we meet, and treat them accordingly. And may the doubly holy images of God that we are created to be grow ever brighter, spreading the love, peace, and joy of heaven to the entire world. AMEN

 

 

Before And After: Transfiguration 2015

Exodus 34: 29-35
II Peter 1: 13-21
Luke 9: 28-36

This morning’s Old Testament story of Moses’s face shining with glory after coming down from the mountain of God happens shortly after the incident of Aaron making the golden calf that was worshipped by the former slaves, causing Moses to smash the tablets of law that God gave him the first time they met on the mountain. This morning’s gospel story of Jesus shining with glory happens the day before his disciples fail to heal a boy of demon possession, a failure that Jesus attributes to their perverseness and lack of faith. So in these two stories, we have the glory of God shown both before and after major instances of human faithlessness.

Though not specifically stated in these scriptures, it could be inferred that the glory of God shining from Moses’s face was meant to reassure the people that even after their infidelity, God was still in their presence and was still guiding them. Similarly, it has often been assumed that the incident of Jesus’s transfiguration was meant to strengthen the disciples and prepare them for the crucifixion, even though they would be unfaithful many times before and after it.

So it is still with us. Like Aaron, we make our own gods out of the things we can accomplish, rather than trusting in the true God to guide us. And like the disciples, we often lack the faith to cast out the demons that hurt us and those around us. But even with all that faithlessness on our part, God still loves and cares for us, and gives us signs to strengthen us and reassure us of his presence in our lives. We may not see Moses or Jesus shining with glory, but we can, if we choose, see God’s glory in the wonderful universe around us. We can see God’s love and care for us in our family and friends, and even in strangers who treat us with kindness. Sometimes those signs are hard to see and understand, especially when it seems that the universe is being cruel to us, or when those around us abuse us or are lost to us.

That is why Jesus gives us another sign of God’s glorious presence in our lives. Every time we gather at the table up here, God shows his presence in our lives by feeding us with himself. We not only gather together with Jesus to share a meal with him, we partake of his being as he freely gives his body and blood to us. The very life of God is given to us, and since we gather together with others at the table, we are assured not only of God’s presence in our own lives, but also of God’s presence in the lives of all those who share in the meal. The meal we are about to consume at this table is not merely some kind of symbol of our life with Jesus (although it is that); it is a tangible conduit of his presence in us and in our world. We are what we eat, and as we partake of the life of Jesus, we grow ever more into his likeness as we take that likeness into our own small corner of the universe, bringing God’s shining glory to those who need it.

We will still be unfaithful many times before and after this meal, just like the people in our scripture readings. We might not be very good at seeing God’s glory shining on the faces of those who gather here with us, and they might not be able to see it in ours. But the more we know the glory is there, the more apt we are to see it and show it to others. We will fail many times at seeing and showing God’s glory, but that must not stop us from our slow growth in trying to do so. The glory is not our own, it is God’s, but it is freely given to us. May we take it with joy and assurance that, instead of the short glimpses that we catch now every once in a while, one day we will see it fully and forever. AMEN

 

One Table: Corpus Christi 2015

Deuteronomy 8:2-3
I Corinthians 11:23-29
John 6:47-58

There have been too many quarrels about how the bread and wine that is used at celebrations of the Lord’s Supper is or becomes the body and blood of Christ. It is difficult to see much good that has come from all the bickering over this question. The eucharist, which is supposed to be an act of remembrance that serves as a source of unity and joy, is instead (for many people) a source of conflict and division. Why have we not more often followed the example of Jesus on this question? When some of the people asked: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”, Jesus did not answer with explanations and theories, he simply told them to eat.

There are some instructions concerning the proper way to celebrate the eucharist which have come down to us through scripture and other tradition, and we should expect ourselves and other Christians to follow these instructions, but we must do so with the full knowledge that we are not doing exactly the same things as Jesus and his friends did that night. We just don’t have or know all the customs that Jesus and his friends had, but we can do what we can to be faithful to the request that we eat and drink together in remembrance of Jesus. We heard some instructions about how to celebrate the eucharist from Paul’s Letter to Corinth in our second reading this morning. The Corinthians were having trouble in their celebrations of the eucharist, so Paul is trying to help them, and if you read the few paragraphs before our passage this morning, the trouble that he mentions has nothing to do with academic arguments over sacramental theology – the trouble is the fact that poor people and rich people were being treated differently at the meal. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that this division shows contempt for the church of God, and that their improper celebration of the Lord’s Supper brings judgment upon them. He actually says that they bring judgment upon themselves by eating and drinking without discerning the body. The Body that they were incorrectly discerning is not only a reference to the Last Supper where Jesus took the bread and said: “this is my body”, it is also a reference to the people who were sharing that bread, for in the same letter to Corinth a few paragraphs later, Paul says: “You are the body of Christ.” As Augustine of Hippo once said: “There you are upon the table…there you are in the cup.” (sermon 229) We need to have that in mind when we come together at the table up here – just as the bread that we eat up here is the Body of Christ (how and why we don’t know), so the people around the altar eating the bread are the Body of Christ (how and why, we don’t know).

We treat the consecrated bread from the altar with respect and reverence, as we should. However, if we do that, we should also treat each other with just as much respect. Reverence toward one form of Jesus is mocked by disrespect toward the other. We know we don’t always reverence each other as we should, but we also know that we are trying to grow so that we do. We also have the sure hope that the more we come together and believe together at the altar, the more we will be changed from the inside so that our outside actions match our desire, and that hope is met with grace.

We can also work from the outside in order to help our inward desires become more Christlike, and that outward work is also met with grace. There is some help in this regard from our reading in Deuteronomy this morning. Moses is speaking to the Hebrews as they prepare to cross the Jordan into their promised land. He asks them to keep all the commandments – not out of fear of God, but because those commandments will help them live in increasing joy and prosperity. He reminds them that the hardships they encountered while wandering in the wilderness were a means of preparing them for their life in the promised land. One of the ways of preparation was to allow them to hunger so that they would have to rely on God to feed them. Moses said this was a form of discipline.

Discipline is a means of preparation for something. Maybe if we accept the discipline of treating each other with respect as the Body of Christ, even when it is difficult or when we don’t want to or when we don’t feel like it or when the respect is not returned, then we will be prepared to enter our promised land of life with Jesus. Actually, we will already be there, and our families, our monastery, our nation and our world will truly be a land flowing with milk and honey. So, as God fed the Hebrews with manna, may we now be fed with the living bread from heaven, and may we do our best to see Jesus in that bread and in the people around us. Both tasks are difficult, but all we are asked is to take and eat.   AMEN

Friends of God: St. Benedict’s Day 2015

Genesis 12: 1 – 4a
Ephesians 3: 14 – 19
John 15: 9 –17

We are God’s friends. We just heard Jesus say: “I do not call you servants any longer… I have called you friends… “. It is good to be with friends. When we are with friends, we can be ourselves without worrying about appearances. We can do ordinary, everyday things and find great satisfaction in them: sitting on the couch, riding around in the car with no particular destination, goofing off at work, talking about silly or stupid things, or maybe not talking at all. Friendships thrive on the ordinary, everyday things in life, not on the spectacular. Spectacular things may happen, but they can not be the basis of friendship, because spectacles don’t last, and neither do those things based upon them.

And our friendship with God is meant to last. Right before Jesus calls his disciples friends, he says “abide in my love”. Right after he calls them friends, he tells them to “bear fruit, fruit that will last”. Both abiding and bearing fruit take time and require stability. They can’t be rushed, and they involve a lot of unspectacular, everyday work. We might not think of abiding taking a lot of work, but just think of all the people you know who can’t sit still for five minutes, much less keep the same address for a year or two. We might have a better concept of the labor involved in bearing fruit, not merely from the viewpoint of having a summer garden, but even more so of planting and tending an orchard or vinyard. Abiding in God’s love and bearing fruit are much the same: they take a lot of work, patience, fortitude, and time, and they might not be the most glamorous thing to do, but they are what God our friend has asked of us.

We heard Paul writing to the Ephesians about abiding and bearing fruit when he prays that they “may be strengthened in their inner being… and that Christ may dwell in their hearts… as they are being rooted and grounded in love.” All of that suggests a lengthy process, not a one shot emotional or spiritual rocket to heaven. Rockets may go off every now and then, but they are not necessary, because heaven is not a place we need to get to – heaven is a place we need to cultivate and abide in. If we abide in Jesus, and allow him to abide in us, then heaven can and should be wherever we are, and that is why we need to work so patiently to bring it to fruition.

We bring heaven to our world in simple ways; making God’s love a concrete thing for those around us. A tv preacher once said an unusually smart thing by commenting that people don’t make love in bed, they celebrate love in bed. Love is made earlier in the day by cooking, cleaning, and otherwise earning a living. That’s what we should do as God’s friends – at home, at work, in the monastery or at our parish – making love for and with others by doing our simple, daily round of chores in peace and joy, thereby slowly and surely helping to bring heaven to those around us. Every once in a while we might have the chance to do something spectacular, and of course we should do the best we can when that happens, but we shouldn’t be disappointed if the opportunity never occurs. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta said: “we don’t need to do big things, we only need to do the little things with love”. The big things might seem more important and heroic, but in the end they are much easier than the little things, because the little, everyday, ordinary things never end, and they can easily become drudgery if not done in thoughtfulness and love.

The story of Abram which we heard today is a good example of patiently abiding and bearing fruit. It may sound strange to say that a man who spent his entire adult life wandering around the middle east is a good example of patiently abiding, but Abram’s home was in God, no matter where he pitched his tent. Abram lived in God’s promise through good times and bad, through doubt and surprise, and because of his constancy, produced fruit that is still blessing the world. A lot of spectacular things happened while Abram traveled (including having his name changed to Abraham), and we read about them to help us in our life with God, but it was the ordinary, everyday work that made those big things possible: pulling down the tents, setting them up again, grazing and watering the flocks, finding suitable places to camp, calming fights between wives and concubines. That’s a lot of hard work, even with all his slaves. We should be thankful for his work and patience, and we should follow his example.

And so today, in that spirit, we remember one of God’s most unspectacular of saints —Benedict. He is not very popular, although he is becoming more so. Most people don’t know what he did. When people look for an icon or medal bearing his image, they usually have to search through pages of catalogues filled with pictures and stories of several other more glamorous saints, and even then are lucky to find anything in his memory (although it is getting easier to do that, also). However, the work that he did in setting forth a way of life based on patiently abiding in Christ and bearing fruit from that relationship has had long term effects that most of those other more popular figures can’t claim. We should be thankful for his work and patience, and follow his example, bringing God’s love to our world as best we can in our own time and place with joy, constancy, and peace. And now in his memory and honor as we continue our festival of the mundane, let us with thankful, ordinary, everyday hearts prepare to meet at this familiar table for yet one more meal with the God who calls us “friend”. AMEN

 

Take On Me: Holy Name Year B

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

It is eight days after Christmas and it is time to name and circumcise the child. By naming him we recognize that he is an individual person, and by circumcising him we recognize that he is part of a group.

We are all individuals and we are all parts of several groups. One group we are part of is the church: the community that has its origins in the people who hung around Jesus. That community has grown and changed over the years, and one of the biggest changes was when it finally decided to verbally express what it had been thinking, feeling, and praying all along: “Jesus is God.”

The community has spent a lot of time and energy trying to refine and define that expression, and in the process has sometimes lost sight of another thing they knew all along: “Jesus is human.”

“Jesus is human, Jesus is God.” Human life now is part of God – not only in the sense that everything is made by God, but now also in the sense that human life is actually a part of God’s life. Since human life now belongs to God, human life is holy. Jesus had a name (given to him eight days after his birth), body parts (circumcised eight days after his birth) and was part of a group (post-exilic Roman-occupied Palestinian Jews). Therefore, human names, body parts, and groups are holy.

We should treat all of those things as the holy things that they are. But we know we don’t and so we have these recurring celebrations to remind us of what we need to do. We also need to remember that holy simply means special – set apart for a special purpose (usually in terms of things set apart for God to use.) We as individuals, as physical bodies, as groups are specially purposed to be used by God – loving the world around us as we give of ourselves.

It is eight days after Christmas and it is time to be holy.   AMEN

Pastors And Priests: Peter and Paul 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16
II Timothy 4:1-8
John 21:15-19

Whether we like it or not, we are all pastors. The only choice we have in the matter is whether we will be good pastors, bringing others to God, or bad pastors, leading ourselves and others away from God. Of course, God is our ultimate leader and shepherd, as Ezekiel points out, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but if we say we are the Body of Christ, then we must recognize that some of that pastoral office falls on us. With that office comes authority and duty, both of which can either be burdensome or joyful. The vast majority of the time, our individual pastoral vocation is not expressed intentionally, but rather passively in the words and deeds that those around us hear and see.

We usually don’t know who is looking up to us for leadership, and we may never know. Most likely, the people looking to us as pastoral figures don’t know it, either – it is often unconscious. In the same manner, the people to whom we look for guidance will probably never know that we are following them. However, that doesn’t relieve any of us of our duty or authority. In fact, the knowledge that someone of whom we are unaware is learning from us should cause us to examine our lives to make sure we are setting a good example. That doesn’t mean that we should abandon our own personalities, it means that we should be always be growing into our complete, mature selves – the best unique individuals that God wants us to be. Then maybe the people around us will follow that example and be encouraged to mature in Christ, being filled with the fullness of the Godhead that Jesus brings to us.

We have heard from two good examples of pastoral leadership today: Peter and Paul. They didn’t have much in common beyond their Jewish ancestry and their relationship with Jesus. In other matters, they were often quite different. One was urbane and educated, the other uneducated. One was a citizen of the empire, the other not. They differed on their approach to spreading the gospel. They weren’t pals. However, their bond to Jesus and their desire to share him with others were far more important than their differences, and they seem to have realized that.

There are two themes in these scriptures today about Peter and Paul: perseverance and death. On the one hand, Peter is told repeatedly by Jesus to feed his sheep. On the other hand, Paul is in turn encouraging his young protege to “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully…”(II Tim 4:5) “whether the time is favorable or unfavorable”(II Tim 4:2). Those two examples speak to us of perseverance – “feed my sheep in good times and bad, feed my sheep even while you are suffering, feed my sheep to the best of your ability.” We also see a chain forming as experienced pastors hand over their duties to others: from Jesus to Peter and Paul to Timothy, and eventually down to us. That is where the theme of death appears in today’s readings. Jesus mentions Peter’s eventual death and Paul talks about his own, but neither event is seen in a morbid or fearful way. Both deaths seem to be taken for granted (and why not, it’s going to happen no matter what we do), and therefore the need for perseverance is seen in a truer light – work while you can, because one day, you can’t – work while you can, and then let others take up the task. No heroic measures are necessary, simply the need to be the strongest link in the chain that you can be.

Paul mentions a crown coming to him from the Lord after all his work. Some people see this as a reward for all his efforts, but it might be better to see it simply as work itself. After all, he doesn’t call it a crown of riches or power, but a crown of righteousness. He has done the best he could, and that knowledge is the best reward he can have at his death. It is the best reward any of us can have: standing before God, knowing that although we are far from perfect, we did our best in our own time and in our own place. Maybe we faltered sometimes, but we got back up. Maybe we strayed and led others along, but we learned our mistake and found the right path again. Maybe we didn’t even find the right path, but were looking for it to the best of our ability. All of that takes perseverance and is not easy, but we must do it anyway. Of course we should never think that it is our good work that makes God love us. God loves us because God is love. We do the right thing because of that love, not the other way around.

We have a good book in our library by a very wise nun who talks about the importance of perseverance. (Being Nobody, Going Nowhere by Ayya Khema) She says that it is better to live and work with an attitude of constancy than with an attitude of patience, because patience implies that things might get better, while constancy asserts that it is perfectly alright if they don’t. Patience means that we are working hard and biding our time until something better comes along, while constancy means that we are working hard simply because it is the right thing to do, and when we do things simply because it is right to do them, then we can live contentedly in joy and peace, instead of merely waiting for joy and peace to come. It is a little like the difference between making our world heaven or making it purgatory.

Patience, constancy, perseverance – the words we use are not as important as the life we live. The important thing is that we take seriously our roles as pastors and priests to those around us who follow our example. We all know how hard it is to always do the right thing and to live with an attitude of joyful perseverance. That is why it is so important to realize that although we do have to put in a lot of work, the result of that work is not our responsibility. It is God working through and in us who makes the whole thing possible. We merely become channels of God’s love and grace for the world around us, doing our best to open up ever more to accept that grace and pass it on to others, and in the meantime growing in love so that we can then add our own to the mix. Then after a lifetime of growth as vessels of God’s love, we can joyfully pass that job on to others, confident in the knowledge that God can and will work through others just as he does through us.

So let us be thankful for those pastors who have gone before us, and for those who lead us now, and let us set good examples for those who will come after us. For at the same time that we are all part of God’s flock: straying at times, and always needing to be fed and protected, we are also God’s arms: gathering other sheep who have strayed, feeding those who are hungry, and leading them all to safety. May we do so with joy and thanksgiving, with constancy and confidence in the knowledge that the Lord is our shepherd; we shall not want. AMEN

Cherub Rock: St. Michael and All Angels 2013

Gen 28:10-17
Rev 12: 7-12
John 1: 47-51

The call of Nathanael by Philip to come and see Jesus is a somewhat familiar story to those who either read the Bible or listen to it read in church. One of the best parts of the story comes at the end, when Jesus alludes to another Bible story one that he was perhaps familiar with from his own time spent listening to and reading the scriptures. The strange and familiar story of Jacob’s dream is quite memorable, and has even inspired a lot of artwork through the years: songs, paintings, movie titles. Seeing heaven open up and watching angels travel back and forth between different planes of existence would in fact be awe inspiring, both in its beauty and in its terror. However, one of the most important parts of the story that we should remember is the setting that brought about this vision of Heaven’s Gate Jacob (liar and cheat that he is, like all the rest of us) is on a long journey, camping out with a stone for a pillow. No matter how well ail the other parts of anyone’s life are going, sleeping on a rock is painful. It is painful during the night, and it is worse the next morning. Yet it is now, while he is in this uncomfortable position, that Jacob receives the wonderful vision along with God’s promise of bountiful and blessed posterity, not while he is back in his father’s comfortable home.

Jesus tells Nathanael that he will also see heaven open up and angels ascending and descending, but not in exactly the same way Jacob witnessed the scene. Jesus says that the angels will be ascending and descending upon himself. In the same way, if we want to see heaven, all we need to do is look to Jesus, and, like Nathanael, follow him. By doing so, we will often come to the same situation as Jacob when he saw heaven and received God’s promise of blessing traveling, tired, with only a stone for a pillow, But at least we have that stone. Jesus said that he had no place to lay his head. There is a lot of other suffering that Jesus went through that we might not experience. That is fine with me. Suffering in and of itself is never good. Many people become bitter and spiteful toward God and everyone else because of the pain that they can never get rid of, and who could blame them? But then again, living in complete comfort is not good, either, if it keeps us from seeing heaven. Comfort can blind us to God just as easily as discomfort can. On the other hand, both can be means of growth, helping to bring us to maturity in our life with God and other people, because our situation is not always as important as our response to it, it is up to us to take the raw material given to us and build a life of love out of it. We all most likely know examples of people who have taken their difficult lives and turned them into blessings for other people, just as we all probably know of those who have allowed their suffering to turn them into a source of pain for those around them. Conversely, we all know of those fortunate ones who use their good fortune to help others, as well as those who make life miserable for the people they meet, We might ask, then, if it is true that we don’t have to suffer like Jesus or like so many of his followers to see heaven’s gate open up, and if we can live in perfect health with no problems and be as close to God as those who are suffering, just as those who suffer can turn away from God as their suffering continues, why it is that some have it so good while so many others experience such difficulty in life. I think we have a perfect right to ask God that question. The danger comes when we think we have the answer, for it seems that God, instead of simply giving us an easy answer, has chosen to experience the mystery along with us.

As we look to Jesus, the Gate of Heaven, we see God living with us and experiencing all of life’s pleasures and pains along with us. Jesus seemed to know that the wealthy and powerful were blessed only if they used their resources rightly, and that the poor and suffering were just as likely to forget God’s mercy as they were to be thankful for it (like the ten lepers he cured, only one of whom thanked him for it). However, that didn’t stop Jesus from having compassion for the suffering, and healing all those he could. So must we, if we want to follow Jesus, do all that we can to help stop or at least alleviate the suffering of those around us. We must be the angels of God, showing the way to heaven to those who are in trouble, sleeping on rocks. We must be the angels of God, casting Satan out of people’s lives, as he tries to deceive them and tell them that they are not God’s children. We must be the angels of God, ascending and descending on the Son of Man, drawing people to Jesus as he lives their sorrows with them. We must also be the angels of God, rejoicing with people in their prosperity and health, while at the same time reminding them not to turn their backs on the Stairway to Heaven, or to pretend that they can simply buy their way up the ladder when the time comes.

We must do all those things even while we ourselves are going through bad times. God knows how much we hurt, because God hurts, too. Jesus is our God of Compassion, not our God of Pity, because Jesus knows firsthand how painful life can be, and has chosen to hurt along with us. It is true that sometimes we are sleeping on a rock because we are just too lazy to get a pillow or too stubborn to move the rock. Even worse, at other times we put our rock under someone else’s head and make them sleep on it. In both of those cases, we need to simply get up, take care of the rock, and be done with it. But there are times when our difficulties are too much for us to bear the rock is too heavy for us to move, or the rock has landed on top of us, trapping us with no means of escape. In those times, we need to remember that God is there with us, even if we don’t understand how or why. The Gate of Heaven is near, even if we can’t see it clearly, like Jacob. Jesus is hurting with us and his angels are taking care of us, too. If it seems as if the angels God sends are not quite what we expect, or take a long time getting there, or don’t do as thorough a job as we would like, remember that they, too, might be having some difficulty in their lives, because the angels that God sends might be the very people sitting next to us. May we in turn be God’s angels to them. AMEN