Sermon Archive

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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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Proper 25 Year B: Sunshine Of Your Love

Mark 10:46-52

The healing of Bartimaeus the blind man that we heard in our gospel story this morning is not the most dramatic healing Jesus has done. Healing our own blindness is a much bigger job, because we are blind in a much deeper way than merely being unable to see with our eyes. Jesus brings light to our inner darkness, and that darkness is caused by our own sin.

We have lost our way because we have put up barriers between ourselves and God. We might not be notorious criminals or cruel monsters, but our own petty selfish deeds are just as effective at rejecting God as are bigger sins. If our constant thought is “me, me, me”, then we are not thinking “God, God, God”, or “others, others, others”, or “God, others, and me” (which is actually the best of the choices). All of that emphasis on ourselves turns us into little black holes, sucking everything into our own little circle and covering us in darkness. We cut ourselves off from God, and in so doing lose all stability, sense of direction, and ability to discern truth from falsehood.

Of course, we are not always in that state. We wax and wane in our relationship with God, who remains stable in his desire and love for us no matter our condition. In fact, God’s love and desire for us is so strong that God takes action to dispel the blindness that we bring on ourselves, and sometimes that action is much more dramatic than the healing of Bartimaeus. We might experience it as being humbled by another person’s comments or actions that finally make us admit our pettiness, or by witnessing an event that causes us to finally see our own selfishness, or by a time of prayer and scripture reading that brings to light our own darkness and the need for God’s help. Those instances are more common than the kind of healing that Bartimaeus got, but they are no less miraculous. They might seem easier than healing physical blindness, but God’s healing of our inner selves is actually a lot more miraculous than healing of our bodies.

But even after we do wake up to God’s light, we ought not to just keep staring at it, dazed and confused. We have a life to live in the sunshine of God’s love, and we need to grow to the point where we can share that light. We need to work to stop ourselves from once again putting up barriers between us and God – all those selfish little things that blinded us in the first place. Of course, we must not forget that even with the need for work on our part, the healing that we need comes only from God. Like the blind man in our gospel story, we need to stand by the side of the road and cry to Jesus for mercy, no matter how often the people around us discourage us from doing so, like they did to Bartimaeus. But then we need to take that mercy that God gives us and put it to use, being honest about the thoughts, words, and actions that hinder our relationship with God. We do those things, and they are no one’s fault but our own. They might be big or small, hidden or well known to others, but they are there all the same, keeping us blindly isolated in a dark shell of self-centeredness. May we always cry to God for mercy, asking for God’s strength to save us and bring us out of darkness in to light. May we never be discouraged when we fall back again into our pride and thoughtlessness (because we will fall back again and again), and may we never discourage others from crying out for mercy (like those people around Bartimaeus). We fall dawn, we get back up again, but God is always there offering sight and hope. God will have mercy, we just need to be humble enough to ask for it.   AMEN

Proper 21 Year B: Ebony And Ivory

Numbers11: 4-6,10-16,24-29
James 5: 13-20
Mark 9: 38-50

We sometimes forget the great, freeing truth of what we just heard Jesus say in our gospel story this morning: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”. He said it in response to John who told him a story about finding other people working in the name of Jesus who were not from their own group. Jesus makes it clear that he is quite alright with people doing good deeds in his name, no matter what group they are in. He also makes it quite clear that anyone doing bad deeds, even if that person is in his group of disciples (and therefore presumably doing it in his name), will be cursed.

So it seems that actions are the important things, and group membership is of secondary importance. We probably all know people who are either indifferent or even hostile to official Christianity and yet are some of the most Christ-like people on earth – theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And we also probably know church members who are some of the cruelest people on earth – theirs is the kingdom of hell.

None of that is to say that beliefs are unimportant or that orthodoxy has no value. They do have value, but only if we allow the Holy Spirit to use those tools to form us into loving people. If, on the other hand, we use them to form ourselves into hateful people, we are working against Jesus and against ourselves.

And even within the church around the world and throughout history, we ought not to be so quick to judge other groups because of their styles of worship or government, or the education levels or social classes of their members. The body of Christ is big and diverse, and many different denominations are needed to help everyone fit in the Body. The church would be impoverished without the gift of the multiplicity of denominations. However, we can and often do take that gift and twist it into opportunities for rivalry and bitterness between denominations – and the smaller the differences between denominations, the more bitter the fighting. No wonder the Holy Spirit gets tired of it all and so often chooses to work through non-Christians.

But we can change that. We can see other groups working in the name of Jesus and be happy and grateful for them. We can see other groups doing good things whether or not they do them in the name of Jesus and be happy and grateful for them. It is so much easier than getting upset (and so much less ridiculous). Then, maybe the Holy Spirit will think we are ready to do good works and will use us. How much better to be filled with the Holy Spirit than with jealousy and pettiness. “Whoever is not against us is for us.” It’s all about Jesus; it’s not about us.   AMEN

Proper 12 Year B: More Than This

II Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 3:14-21
John 6:1-21

We have so much already, and God wants to give us more. The only thing stopping us from receiving all that God has for us is our own stubbornness in wanting something other than what God gives. God gives us the universe, but we want so much less.

Yes, the world is full people who have no food, no house, no clean water, no reliable compassionate government. The reason that is so is because somewhere down the line, someone or someones have not gratefully received what God has given them and have instead greedily and fearfully taken more than they needed, keeping it from other people who do need it. Natural disasters can happen, but most often human want and misery is caused by other humans.

That is completely unnecessary. There is no need for fear or greed. God gives us the universe. But, we want so much less, so we create misery in the world. We all do it to some extent – we are all caught in the web of sin and we all contribute to the web of sin.

But we can all do things to untangle the web of sin. Jesus, of course, has ultimately dissolved it, but right now we are still feeling its effects. We know we can all give to charity organizations and volunteer to help people and vote responsibly and recycle and waste less. But we can also be good to the people around us – cleaning up our messes and griping less about petty things and sharing work.

We can’t save the whole world all at once – that is God’s job and he has already done it – but we can make our little corner of the world better and we can make the entire world a little better with the help of others around the world. Like the gospel story, we can give our fish and bread and let God take care of the rest. We can let go of fear and greed and, as Paul says in our second reading this morning: “be filled with all the fullness of God.”

It is not easy. We are like the disciples in the boat – worried about life and even more worried when we see Jesus coming toward us because we know that he will ask us to do something that we think can’t possibly do us any good.

Of course, what he asks us is the only thing that can do us any good: fear not, share your bread and fishes, let God fill you.   AMEN

Proper 5 Year B: Talking Serpent

Genesis 3:8-15
II Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Mark 3:20-35

The story we heard in our first reading from the book of Genesis has always puzzled me. We heard only a part of it, but the whole thing is familiar to most people: God puts the first humans in a garden and lets them eat anything but the fruit of one tree (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), but the humans eat it (they are convinced to do so by a talking serpent), and so are thrown out of the garden. The parts that puzzle me are basically everything in the story, but especially: why did God put that tree there if it was so important that they not eat it? and why did God not want them to have the knowledge of good and evil? The first question is easily answered by saying that it is a Bible story, so we should expect weird things like that.

The second question is what has really always bothered me – a lot. Why did God not want them (and by them I mean us) to have the choice between good and evil? Did God really want a race of infants? Did God want to protect us from ourselves or from others (and even so, could God not have protected innocent people from evil and yet still allowed others to choose it?) Wasn’t it really a good thing that they disobeyed and in so doing made us more fully human by allowing us to be free moral agents? Isn’t it really better for God to have creatures who can chose to do good rather than creatures who have no choice but to do good (and is that really good anyway?)?

I sure am glad that they disobeyed God. Maybe that is what God wanted all along and was finally relieved and overjoyed that after so many prehistoric eons his children finally decided to grow up and look at the world around them (one might say that was not only the day we grew up, but also the day we were born). Of course, we do not yet see the world as it really is, but we have a better view of it now than before the fruit was eaten. Of course, we do not always choose good, but at least now we have a choice, and so when we do choose to not do evil, it really is good.

The Fall (as the tree incident is often called) was not the only day that humans were born or grew up. We have had many births: creation, fall, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost are all birthdays for the human race as we slowly grow into our vocations as Children of God. In the story this morning, they all blamed each other for what happened. The same thing happens to us – people do things that cause us troubles, but those troubles (as bad as they can be and even if they are not our own fault) can all be catalysts for further growth. When those bad things happen, (just like in the story) God finds us, clothes us, and puts us somewhere we can get to work, never letting us go back to what we knew before. Of course, unlike in the story, God does not force all of that on us now – we can go on living sadly in our broken paradises if we so choose. Or, we can look at what has happened, see the good and the evil (like eating from the tree), and use all of that to grow. It is not easy, but years later it does make for a good story, just like in the Bible.   AMEN

Lent III Year B: People Are More Important Than Rules

Exodus 20:1 — 17
I Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2: 13 — 22

We hear the saying a lot: “People are more important than rules.”, and it is a good thing to hear and remember. Rules are good, but people are always more important. That upsets us sometimes, because we all know how much easier it is to follow a set of rules than it is to consistently love other people and treat them with kindness and compassion. We sometimes forget that the reason we have rules is to help us live richer and deeper lives, both individually and corporately, and instead of using the rules to free us from our more harmful tendencies, we fall into the trap of becoming slaves to the rules, fearful of breaking them.

One area where that commonly occurs is in our relationship with God, or our spiritual life, if you would like to call it that. Human history is filled with examples of hatred, persecution, and even war caused by disagreements concerning religious matters. Sadly, many of these unfortunate episodes are sparked by disagreements over surprisingly petty things: the proper way to hold one’s hand while crossing oneself, the use of musical instruments in public worship services, the wearing of neckties by men. Of course, these minor incidents are only the excuses needed to start the trouble – the real reasons are an abundance of fear and a lack of love. We are fearful of breaking the rules and upsetting God, so we forget about loving other people. Yet, as Christians we say that God’s most complete revelation is not as a set of rules, but as a person – Jesus.

We see Jesus today as he comes to the temple in Jerusalem, which was supposed to be a focal point in the nation’s relationship with God; the place where God and the world met. He sees it filled with people making business deals to help them meet their ritual duties. This story often brings images of corrupt merchants being driven out by a Jesus who is angered because they are taking advantage of the people coming to the temple to worship. However, we shouldn’t automatically jump to that conclusion. It may very well be that many of these merchants were not cheating their customers – they were simply selling them the materials they needed to fulfil their religious obligations. People would travel long distances to the temple, and transporting the animals needed for sacrifice was sometimes not feasible, so they would bring money (no less a sacrifice) to the temple and then exchange it for the prescribed animal. In a similar fashion, those who came to give money could not offer the common currency, since it contained forbidden images – perhaps that of the emperor or a pagan deity. So they exchanged the money they had (once again, often not a small sacrifice) for acceptable temple coins. Of course there probably were some cheats among the merchants in the temple courtyard, and there most likely were some shady business deals going on. But in all likelihood, many of the people were quite sincere in what they were doing – trying to follow the rules as best they could.

If that is the case, then Jesus’s actions might seem a little rash. That notion might make some people uncomfortable, but if we truly believe that Jesus is God in human form, then we shouldn’t be surprised when he acts like a human being. Jesus is frustrated by what he sees: so much worry and fuss over the details of religion, while the essence of it – love – is so easily forgotten. In fact, some of the religious laws that had slowly come into being over the centuries since the exodus from Egypt and the Ten Commandments were so difficult to obey that many of the poorer people could not fulfill them, and the minority of the people who could looked down upon them as sinners. Jesus was witnessing the triumph of rules over people, and he is so grieved by it that he not only disrupts some of the details of the temple worship, he calls into question the temple itself.

He does not say the temple, or any of its laws and rituals, is bad. He merely asserts the authority of another temple: his body, where God and the world were united. By doing so, he upholds the sanctity of all human bodies as temples of the most high God. After all, we are made in the image of God. Furthermore. God was made in our image when God lived a human life as Jesus of Nazareth. Because of creation, we bear God’s image; because of the incarnation, God bears our image. We are doubly holy temples, where God and the world meet; each one of us bringing the presence of God into our world as we become channels of peace, love, joy, and health.

We have rules now in our society and church that are different from some of the biblical laws – that is fine, we are in slightly different times and situations. Still, the rules are there to help us grow in our vocations as temples, but we must never forget that it is the people who are holy, not the rules – no matter how good the rules are. That does not give us the license to follow only those rules that we choose to obey, but it does give us the responsibility to follow them prudently and mindfully – purposely using them as tools to help us grow in love for our God, our neighbors, and ourselves – which as we recall, Jesus says is the essence of all religious laws.

As living temples, we have built into us all the requirements we need to fulfil that law, even though we might not always nave the inclination to do so. That is why we still study the biblical rules gaining insights into how they can help us live in our, own time and place, and that is why we pray seeking to know God and ourselves better as we build our relationship with God through time spent in silent conversation and contemplation. We also look at the current laws and regulations, both in our church and in our nation, to see now they might be changed or interpreted differently to help us live together in peace and flourish as the unique and wonderful individuals God has created us to be.

We have a wonderful reminder of our vocations as temples of God here at the altar. Soon we will have the opportunity to come to the table and receive concrete and visible signs of Jesus into our lives. We might not understand exactly how that happens, but by faith we can then take the Jesus in us and give him to others. As the altar is prepared, it is treated with great respect, as is the bread and wine that we believe becomes for us the body and blood of Christ – the life of God in humanity. It is right that we show such reverence to holy things, but only if we are prepared to show the same reverence to everyone we meet everyday of our lives, for they too are holy. It may be more difficult to respect those around us than it is to respect the special things at the altar, and that is why we need to be aware of the reason we come to this table. We do it in remembrance of Jesus – God’s revelation to us that people are important: far more important than any rules.

So let us make this trip, and every trip to the altar into a time of growth as we become more and more aware of the holiness of the Body of Christ on the table as well as in the people around us. Let us reverence each other and ourselves as God’s image. Let us bring God’s grace to our world while never forgetting to accept it from others, as we grow in love and truth as living temples.  AMEN

Proper 17 Year B: The Gospel According To Stravinsky

Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9
James1:17-27
Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

In music school, we read a lot of letters written by composers about different aspects of their lives and music. One letter was from Igor Stravinsky, who at the time was thought to be a wild man, throwing all rules of composition out the window. However, in the letter he said : “ the more rules I place on my compositions, the freer I am to compose”.  He let the rules be a structure for his music, so he could make something meaningful and beautiful on top of that structure. Rules are important. Anyone living in a monastery knows that. Monastic rules help us live together as a group in relative peace while at the same time giving individuals room to flourish and reach maturity. Just as there are many different sets of  monastic rules, so are there many sets of rules in the Bible. Our first reading is an account of a speech that Moses is giving to the Israelites just before they cross over the Jordan and take possession of Canaan. Moses make it clear that the rules will help them prosper and will be a good example to other nations. He also says that they must never change the rules, but that is a little problematic, because a careful reading of all the lists of rules promulgated between Mount Sinai and the Jordan shows some differences between them. So which list are they to obey? The latest version? Or the version that makes them feel best because they are already keeping them while others whom they fear are breaking them? Or the version that helps the most people grow in their individual vocations while also helping the group live together in peace? Of course, that is the question we always need to ask, whether or not we live in a monastery: which version of the rules should I follow?

The Letter of James (in our second reading) is asking that very question, and the answer it comes up with is: “follow the law of liberty – help people in need, speak and act lovingly and wisely, listen more than you speak, clean the greed and fear from your hearts and minds, and don’t let anger control your actions.” The Letter suggests doing all this by “welcoming with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls”. That sounds a lot like what we call “lectio divina” – prayerful reading of scripture. Of course, merely prayerfully reading scripture or anything else that we do can’t save our souls – only God can do that. But the things we do will have an affect on whether or not the salvation already given by God can be seen in our lives. We are given life, but it is up to us to take care of that life and do what it takes to help it grow. So we are given rules to help us grow, but at first, many of the rules don’t make sense because we need to see the big picture in order to see how they all work together to help the individual as well as the community. We also need to make sure that we are following the rules with mindfulness and intentionality – realizing that we are doing things a certain way in order give ourselves and others space to grow. And in those times when the rules just seem too much for us to handle, we need to keep on following them with constancy and perseverance so that we can eventually follow them with love and joy. It is our choice to either let the rules free us and help us flourish, or to let them become a prison and suffocate us. It is our choice to either let the rules teach us the liberating truth that it is not all about me, or to let them make us whine : “what about me?”

Constancy and perseverance are two good tools to teach us the liberating truth that it is not all about me. The quotation from James: “welcoming with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls” also sounds like what we do every day up at the altar – we hold out our hands to take Jesus into our lives. Jesus is the word of God, and all we need to do is open ourselves in order to take him in. We can’t let Jesus in to our lives fully when we are preoccupied with ourselves.

Our gospel story is about the dangers of thinking that it is all about me. Jesus makes it clear that sin is not necessarily defined as breaking the rules, but rather as anything we do when we let our own pride and greed direct our actions, whether or not any rules were broken. The Pharisees that started the discussion with Jesus have an undeserved bad reputation. Most of them were not bad people – they were good, sincere people who were trying to do the right thing. Jesus just showed them that doing the right thing involved more than following the rules. He did not say the rules were bad, only that they were part of the picture, not the whole picture. Rules are important, because they are there to help people, but people are more important than rules. Sometimes, breaking a rule is the right thing to do, even when it makes us uncomfortable or look bad in the eyes of others; sometimes, keeping a rule is the right thing to do, even when it makes us uncomfortable or look bad in the eyes of others. Knowing when to break rules takes a lot of maturity and prayer, and knowing when to keep rules takes a lot of maturity and prayer.

It is also true that rules are not necessarily universal or helpful in all times and places. One gets a glimpse of that in the different lists of rules in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Sometimes, the lists begin with the phrase: “When you cross the Jordan…”, so it sounds like the rules were meant only for life in the promised land. They did not have many of the rules before the exodus, and they could not keep many of the rules after the exile, but that did not make them any more or less faithful to God. So we should be aware of when rules need to change – in our private lives, in the monastery, in the church as a whole, and in our society. As with knowing when to keep or break rules, knowing when to change rules take a lot of maturity and prayer, and should not be done rashly (but neither should it be forbidden). As the two old sayings go: “don’t fix something unless it is broken” and “the past has a vote, not a veto.”

We are called to a life of maturity in Christ, and we all know from growing up that one needs boundaries and structure to grow up. One also needs wisdom and prayer. So may we be grateful for the structures of our lives – in the monastery, in the church, and in our nation. May we wisely and thankfully follow them, and may we be open to the Holy Spirit’s prompting when they need modification or overhaul. May we, like Stravinsky, find great freedom in the gift of rules, so that we can make something meaningful and beautiful out of our lives.   AMEN

Proper 16 Year B: Choose Today

Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

In our first and third readings today, people are confronted with a choice. Our Old Testament story is about Joshua telling the Israelites to choose either the God who brought them out of Egypt or the gods that their ancestors served; the people choose the God who brought them out of Egypt. Our gospel story is about the disciples seeing a lot of Jesus’s followers leave him, but they decide to stick with Jesus. It might seem to us that we are not in danger of worshipping Baal or Mithras or Apollo, like the people in our story could have chosen. But we are always confronted with a choice of whether or not we will trust God or try to be our own gods. We are also always confronted with how we will Iive our lives: either honoring our marriage or baptismal or monastic vows, or trying to sneak around them. Rarely do we deny God or break our vows in big dramatic ways. Usually, we do trust in God and honor our vows, but even when we are unfaithful it is not in big ways – and we always start out rationalizing our behavior anyway, so we convince ourselves that we are being faithful or at least as faithful as should be expected. There are also times when we even think we are being faithful, and we do not see how our actions and attitudes are belittling our relationship with God and others in our chosen vocations.

Of course, then at some point we realize what we have done or what we have been doing and we admit our guilt and ask for forgiveness and strength to be more faithful. And of course later we catch ourselves being just as unfaithful in the same minute ways as before. None of that means we are bad people, it just means we are people, and we are at least good enough to come to awareness of our mistrust of God and misuse of our chosen vocations.

And so our second reading gives good tips on how to remain faithful to God and our vocations. Paul says to clothe ourselves in truth, righteousness, peace, faith, prayer, and perseverance. He mentions those things in the context of a suit of armor, and it is true that it is often a battle to teach ourselves to stop worshipping our own abilities and to instead trust in God to work through us. It takes time and effort to put to good use all the gifts that God has given us to grow, but it is worth all that time and effort, because we are worth the time and effort. Slowly and surely, the encrustation of fear and greed that our false selves have covered us in will start to crack open and our true, beautiful selves will shine through.

But we are still people, and no matter how much we grow, we will still fail at times. That is where the truth of God’s faithfulness comes in to play. We can always rest in the fact that God will always be our God, no matter how hard we find it is to trust him. We can always rest in the truth that God will honor our vows – marriage, baptismal, monastic – no matter how lightly we take them at times, or no matter how seriously we take them and yet still fail. We fall down, we get back up. But no matter how often or how hard we fall, we are still held closely by God. God is the basis of everything and is the source of reality, and as soon as we start living in that truth, things become more real and we become more real.

So, as Joshua says: choose today whom we will serve. We can add to that: “choose tomorrow, choose every moment of everyday – whom will we serve?” May God help us answer: “we choose God.”   AMEN

Proper 13 Year B: Sin And Ignorance

Exodus 16:2-4,9-15
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Like the Israelites in the desert, God gives us everything we will ever need (raining food down upon us), and like the Israelites in the desert, we still want to go back in to the safety of slavery (where we are fed the stingy food of our stingy masters). We are surrounded by opportunities to be selfless, loving, and compassionate – opportunities that will help us grow in joy and peace, and instead we so often choose to be slaves to our fear – caring only for ourselves and in so doing shrinking in despair. We are offered grace, and we choose sin. We so often think of sin as something to do with sex. Our society is starting to include power and money in that list, and that is a good start. But sex, money ,and power are all good things. It is only when we misuse the good things God has given us to thrill ourselves no matter how much it hurts others that it becomes sin. So sex, money, and power can be joined by religion, monastic discipline, words, and thoughts in the list of things that should come to mind when we think of sin. When we become proud of our own lives in comparison to others and judge others in a negative way, we are sinning as much as the Wall Street fat cat cheating on his wife with a child prostitute and then using campaign donations to cover it up as he runs for office so that he can have the power to gain more wealth.

So, should we despair because we are mired down in so much sin? Yes and no. We should not despair, because God can and will pull us out of sin. But we should take sin seriously, because it impairs our relationship with God, and without God, we are not in true existence. Nonexistence is hell. We do not need to think of sin as something we do that displeases an angry God with an arbitrary list of rules who sends us to hell. Sin is simply misuse of the good things God rains down upon us everyday, and that misuse keeps us from living in a good relationship with ourselves, our neighbors, and our God. Some other traditions have other names for sin: foolishness, ignorance, unskillful behavior. It might be helpful to think of those names as we assess our own lives. And even though it is God who pulls us out of our sin, God allows us to stay in if that is what we choose (and that must be the greatest heartbreak of all, but love must include the possibility of heartbreak).

God pulls us out of our sin in dramatic ways sometimes, and that is where we get the term “amazing grace”. But most often, God gives us tools to change ourselves so that we are drawn out of our sin and fall back into it less and less. Disciplines are the tools God gives us to help us grow more skillful and less foolish and ignorant, or if we want to be old fashioned – less sinful. So we need to be grateful for the grace of discipline and pursue it with mindfulness and charity, never allowing it to become an occasion for sin in itself. In our first story this morning, God rained down manna and quails upon the Israelites, but they had to do the work of gathering and storing. So we have to put into action those disciplines that God has given us, making sure we never compare ourselves with others. We are all different and have all been given different strengths and weaknesses by God, as our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians reminds us, so we should never expect others to do exactly as we do, and we certainly should never negatively judge them if they do not do exactly as we do.

Sometimes, if we lose sight of our promised land as we trek through the desert, we want to give up and go back into Egypt – into the easy slavery of our selfishness and fear. We don’t really want that, and we don’t want that for others, which is why we must practice constancy in our monastic vocations so that we ourselves grow and so that we can be a good example to others. Our ferver will ebb and flow, but our good zeal does not need to, because we live by faith, not by sight or emotion. Jesus is our bread form heaven. We do nothing to receive him other than holding out our hands. We just need to make sure our hands, hearts and minds are free enough to take him.   AMEN

Proper 9 Year B: Do What’s Right, Not What Looks Good

Ezekiel 2:1-5
II Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our gospel story this morning, the people in Jesus’ hometown balk at his words and actions; their closed minds and hearts prevent them from receiving the full gift of healing that Jesus offers. Since he was fully human, that rejection probably hurt Jesus. Maybe he was a little angry or flustered at the suspicion of the health he gave to the people. Hopefully, his main reaction was sorrow and grief at their closed hearts and minds. However, whatever his listener’s attitudes and no matter his feelings, he still did what he could to bring God’s peace and joy to them, and then he went on to other towns (and sent his apostles as well) to bring it to others. He did not let either the actions of others or his own emotions prevent him from doing what he knew to be right. He knew it is more important to do what is right than to do what looks good in the eyes of others.

Ezekiel and Paul make similar points in our other scriptures today. God even warns Ezekiel that he will be met with trouble, but that should not prevent him from spreading his message. Paul has already experienced the rejection that Ezekiel is warned about, and he talks about his life as an apostle in this way: “ I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

That last part about being strong when he is weak makes sense only when we remember what Paul heard from God in the preceding sentence: “My grace is sufficient for you”.  In other words, Paul has learned that safety and security are found only in God. We are in the most danger when things seem the most secure, because in those times, we tend to rest in our own power, rather than in God’s grace. We tend to forget God when we think we have done well and saved money for the future and made a good name for ourselves. We tend to rest in the false belief that we are safe and secure, rather than in the truth that nothing is permanent except God.

Everything will change but God. Our financial and political situations, our family life, our health, our feelings and emotions will all change whether we want them to or not, and nothing we do can prevent that. When we finally realize the fragility of our man-made situations and admit how weak we really are, then we can allow God’s power to be the basis of our lives, and we understand God’s assurance to Paul: whenever we are weak, we are strong, because God’s grace is sufficient for us, and God’s power is made perfect in weakness. We are safe only in God’s hands, and that is why it is so comforting to know that is exactly where we are, whether we know it or not, or whether we like it or not.

We might not always feel that we are safe in God’s hands, and we might not always act like it, but that does not change the fact, because it is the only fact that never changes. Our situations and feelings are temporary; God is eternal. So with that in mind we can go ahead and be more confident about doing what’s right instead of doing what looks good or seems safe. We can live secure in God’s love, rather than on doing or saying things merely to impress others so that they will like us or take us in their circles of power. We can rest in God’s arms, no matter what path our ever-changing emotions take. We can search our own hearts and minds for God’s truth, whether or not in fits any party line or popular agenda.
That does not mean that we ought to be our own source of truth or wisdom. We should still pray, learn from others and from history, and inwardly digest scripture. We ought to be always willing and able to admit when we are wrong, and humble enough to admit when others are right.

We need to realize that others have the Holy Spirit guiding them also, and that our own stubbornness rarely allows us to be fully guided by the Spirit anyway. But once we do all these things, we can tell the truth as we see it – always in a loving, humble, helpful manner. We can be God’s prophets and apostles, like Ezekiel and Paul, carrying God’s love, peace, and joy to the world around us whether or not anyone listens and regardless of our physical situation. We can be Jesus to the world around us, loving them and healing them, but never forcing it upon them. And in those times when our love is rejected, we don’t have to deny our hurt feelings, but we also don’t have to let them determine our actions or keep us from loving. There is an entire universe to love, and we need to get busy loving it, rather than wasting time worrying about ourselves. We will be OK, because we are in God’s love always and everywhere.  May we rest in God, rather than in our own instability. May we realize that God’s grace is the only thing that is sufficient for us. May we be prophets and apostles, bringing God’s love to others, and may we gratefully accept it from all the other prophets and apostles who surround us everyday.   AMEN