2 Sons and the Abundant Love of the Father

Rembrandt’s “The Prodigal Son”: https://www.overstockart.com/painting/rembrandt-return-of-the-prodigal-son

Lent 4 Year C

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

“That’s just not fair”

“You will get what is coming to you.”

How often do we justify our own position with a desire for someone else to experience delayed repercussions? Somehow, we want to assuage our own desire for affirmation, for accomplishment, with the desire of they will have suffer the consequences of their immediate actions later.

God has other plans.

God turns our human desires upside down, our expectations of revenge, retribution and resistance into grace, mercy and love.

The Gospel of Luke Luke tells us stories of mercy, love, and redemption.

Stories of people, named and unnamed. Stories of grace and audacious love.

People who come to Jesus in need of healing, in need of acceptance, in need of miracles.

Much like Matthew, Mark and John, these stories are similar and yet Luke tells some of his own unique stories. They are longer, these stories are more involved, when we read them on Sunday mornings we settle in for the whole story. Luke’s stories are familiar and also always inviting to hear God’s love in a new way.

Today is quintessential Luke. Settle in. Jesus is teaching.

At the beginning of our Gospel today we hear that those gathered around are the Pharisees and Scribes. Jesus has been up to his typical things: eating and drinking with those who are around. Healing, teaching, being present with the people in the market place.

And the Pharisees and scribes are up to their typical thing: Grumbling. Judging and quibbling.

Jesus keeps teaching. He doesn’t tell the Scribes and Pharisees (here at least) you will get what you deserve. Nor does he argue with them about what is fair. Instead, we hear Jesus tell a story.

The parable we have today skips over two parables that precede it, the parable of the Lost Sheep and the parable of the lost coin. The parable we hear today of the prodigal son is the culmination of Jesus’ message to the pharisees and scribes.

We are familiar with the story.

A man with two sons.

One asks for his inheritance early and leaves the house.

The second son, the older son, the first born, stays home. The older son tends the fire, manages the farm, lives with the family.

The younger son squanders his money. He ends up taking a job tending pigs. As a Jew this is would be an unclean occupation and also reflects that the son was willing to submit to supporting the Roman Empire (who else is eating pork?!)… and he realizes, it would better working at his father’s farm.


Let’s be clear, the younger son does not have a contrite heart. He is not repentant. He does not admit that he is sorry, that he has changed, that he regrets what he asked for or even his actions. Instead, the son once again asks for what is not deserved nor earned- this time a job from his father. He rehearses his speech and begins the journey home.

We know what the father does. When the father sees his son, he runs to his son, before his son can even finish his rehearsed speech, his father has already started making plans, re-establishing the son into the family as a full member.

And if the story ended there, well it would be much like leaving the hallmark movie with 15 minutes to go. We would be left wondering “what about” the other brother.

The older son has his huffy and puffy moment.

His father goes to meet him also. The older son essentially says, “where are the consequences to his actions” and “Where are the rewards of my faithfulness?” “This is unfair to me.”

The father embraces his son exactly where he is and says to him, “Son you are exactly what you needed to be, you are exactly the son I need and you, too, are home. Come and rejoice in my joy for both of you.”

Come and rejoice.

I wonder where might you see yourself in this story?
Have you been the father faced with hard choices, faced with demands that are altruistic, that you do out of love even though you know the difficulties they might lead to? Forgiving when you were not required to, even when it might cost you?

Have you been the father who has been able to give thanks for the faithful who have always been with you and those who have recently returned? Those who have never left your side, quietly, constantly, present, enduring with you?

Can you see yourself as the son who asked for more than they deserved and have squandered much? As the child who received more grace than you deserve? Making wrong decisions over and over again and feeling entitled, lost, and that you can figure it all out on your own, if you only had enough money, success or “fill in the blank.”

Can you see yourself as the older son? The one who is in the shadows, present and faithful, filling in the gaps and feeling unappreciated?

Each son needed to come home, to feel the embrace of the Father.

One son needed to come home geographically, to find that financial stability and safety that was provided within the boundaries of his father’s land and understand that love is more than financial stability or success in material ways.

One son needed to come home in his heart, to more deeply understand that his father’s love for him was not diminished by the different outpouring of love for his brother.

Each needed the embrace of grace, mercy, and love.

More than they deserved.

“Unfairly” lavished upon both.

Our hearts are hungry to be heard, to be embraced, to be given the love that we crave. If we are honest, that is what we, too, are looking for, approval, acceptance, affirmation.

In grade school we seek approval in getting the right answer, spelling all of the words right, perfect attendance.

In high school it is getting into the next school.

In college it is the right next step be it a job or graduate school.

Each of these next steps emphasize personal achievement.

If we are not careful, we become like the brothers, seeking more only for self-satisfaction and we miss that we are called to come together rather than see each other as competition.

If we are not careful, we become like the Pharisees and Scribes, we forget the joy that each person brings to the table, the joy that God has meeting us like the father, right where we are and wherever we might find ourselves. The joy we, too, fully realize when all are fully receiving God’s love, realized and embraced for who we are.

Joy/Love that runs across the field to meet us, yes YOU.

Joy that levels the playing field with love, transforming us and our whole demeanor because joy begets joy.

Even in this season of Lent we are called to be and see this type of Joy.

In this war-torn world where innocents are being killed , sons and fathers left behind to fight an ungodly war, we are to seek the space to protect those in harm’s way and seek community, promote peace not inequity of power.

In this space where we are polarized with parties, we are to seek the dignity of every human being as they are seen by God. Beloved.

We are to seek and be the Joy that puts aside the personal gain first and runs to welcome each person and welcome them to the table.

We are to seek community over competition.

This is Jesus’ message to the Pharisees and Scribes grumbling and it is the same message to us…..

How will we receive this challenging message of love and walk in love this week?

Let us pray:

God beyond rivalry,

Our desire to have more, to be more to achieve more than others can lead us badly astray.

In Christ you walked among us showing a different way, a way not dominated and directed by rivalry.

May the way of the father guide us, to support the weak, to encourage the fearful, to welcome the estranged. In the name of he who is the way, the truth, and the life. Amen[i]


[i] What were you arguing about along the way? 2021 Edited by Pat Bennett. Prayer by Trevor Williams Page 180

You are Treasure, use this time wisely.

Ash Wednesday  YEAR C 2022

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

God of Reconciliation,

You demand much of us

inviting us to tell truths

by turning towards each other.

May we leave our trinkets where they belong

and find our treasure

by turning towards each other,

Because you needed this.

Because we all need this.

Amen.

Padraig O’ Tuama (Daily Prayer)

We find ourselves here, again, today.

Today, a Holy Day, 7 weeks before Easter Sunday.

We stop today, we pause, we are somber, we reflect on our mortality:


Not because we are to assume guilt, more guilt in our journey.

Not because we are to seek out blame and punishment for sin.

Not because we are more pious than someone else.

Instead, we stop today:

to be encouraged,

to set our pilgrimage towards Easter with the mindset of how then can we live lives turned towards God

and to join in those around us in seeking to reconcile this world with God’s Love.

I wonder how then can we carve out time in our busy world to seek the treasure of being reconciled,

or being connected to God and one another,

and to know the beloved-ness of a God who has sacrificed the deepest love for us.

Our readings today remind us that the God we believe in:

Is full of compassion

Slow to anger

Full of mercy

The God we believe in is like a parent who cares for all of us children.

How often do we recognize that in the midst of our strife, this love and care and compassion is the example of God that we follow?

How often do we instead think of God as judge and executioner only and not as a bridge and community builder?

Now is the time to make space to reflect on the attributes of God.

These 40 days allow us to stop.

To Reflect

and be reminded.

Now is the time to make space to experience God’s faithfulness, beloved-ness and worthiness.

We are reminded in our reading today that the faith we are a part of has endured

THROUGH afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.

This faith of ours is nourished by- purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness, genuine love, truthful speech.

The love of God turns our busy world upside down.

When we give all that we have, we succeed.

Where do you give your all?

When we collaborate, we see that together we can do more than we can even imagine.

Where have you seen these effects of collaboration build bridges?

When we look to those faithful people who have gone before us, we see that the success of this world is not the same success defined by God.

Treasure is being known by and knowing God.

Each of you ARE treasure and bring treasure to the community. Each of your stories and walking in faith

Our greatest value is in seeing and sharing the light of God.

YOU each are a beloved treasure.

You each have spiritual treasure to share.

When was the last time you sat and reflected on the treasure you hold and are able to share with the larger community?

Made space to listen and develop that treasure for God?

Our gospel today reminds us that in Prayer, Fasting and Giving we can live in a practice of the love that God has given us.

These 40 days, how will you make space for your heart to grow, your lives to expand and the treasure of WHO you are grow in the knowledge of WHOSE you are.

God of Reconciliation,

You demand much of us

inviting us to tell truths

by turning towards each other.

May we leave our trinkets where they belong

and find our treasure

by turning towards each other,

Because you needed this.

Because we all need this.

Amen.

Letting Go and Holding On

Last Epiphany Year C 2022

O God, who before the passion of your only ­begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

God of timelessness,

From chaos and disorder

you brought forth the beauty of creation;

From the chaos of war and violence

Bring forth the beauty of peace.

God of compassion

You saw the humanity of the outcast and the stranger;

Help us to see the evils of our hatreds and suspicions

and to turn them into the embrace of your Beloved Community.

God of peace,

Through your love on the cross

You overcame the power of violence and death;

Turn us away from the love of power

That we may transform a warring world

through the power of your love. Amen.

Letting Go and Holding on.

We live in a world where we seem to be holding on by a thread sometimes and at the same time we have to continuously be letting go.

In the past 2 years we have let go of plans, of expectations and even desires. We have had to learn to hold onto different traditions. Rather than graduations in person we have had to refocus on the significance of the act of graduation, the hard work and perseverance through an epidemic, the appreciation of the accomplishment rather than holding onto the pomp and circumstance as the meaningful event.

We have had to let go of quite a bit and yet we hold on.

We have found the footholds for each day, where we can hold on and what is indeed worth holding onto.

We live in a world steeped in tradition.

Think for a moment- what things are you holding onto that make your heart sing? What things are you holding onto that give you deep gladness?

What things are you holding onto that give you comfort but not assuredness?

What things are you holding onto so tightly that you cannot see the abundance that exists around you?

Moses today goes up the mountain and speaks with God.

In the midst of the madness of wandering in the wilderness (not building homes, no stability, no beautiful adornments),

In the midst of the constant uncertainty (will that manna really show up tomorrow?),

In the midst of vulnerability (the grief, the anger, the isolation yet community),

In the midst of change and dreams deferred (what year will we get there? Not this year? When?),

In the midst of all of these questions, Moses lets go of his flock.

He left his brother Aaron in charge, and he held onto what he knew would not abandon him.

He held onto the one who called him.

He held onto the faith in the fact that God would be present with him and he took one step at a time and went up the mountain.

When Moses returned his face was shining, fully shining with the presence of God.

IN letting go, he held onto the one sure thing, the constancy of God, the love of God, the assurance that God would be right there with him in the midst of all of the things that had to be let go of, God was not going to let go of Moses and his people.

Jesus, today is also inviting his disciples to step away, to let go of the community, to go up to the mountain and pray.

Go up and be present. Go up and listen deeply.

Peter, James, and John go up and in letting go of the community,

they are weighed down by sleep.

In letting go, they can truly, deeply feel the exhaustion of holding onto the worry, the weight of compassion, the fatigue of walking with Jesus.

Sleep weighs them down, perhaps, because they feel like they can finally let go.

And yet, Jesus wants more from them.
He invites them away to refresh their souls not through sleep but through experience.

Jesus, too, is transfigured.

Jesus, too, shines up on that mountain top. Elijah and Moses are there with him, speaking to him and Peter, James and John might have thought in their exhaustion that they were hallucinating or perhaps not thinking correctly.

Giving up their hopes and expectations of what that hike up the mountain was intended for, they are able to hold onto the unimaginable, the dose of divine, the newest version of God’s surprising nature to astound.

Peter, with a burst of boundless energy has shaken off the mantle of exhaustion and now wants to hold onto the moment, to clutch the space and not leave. To hallow the ground, create a shrine, place a plaque, and memorialize the experience.

Let’s think about this theme….. it’s not a horrible one.
Peter’s heart is in the right space. It’s tradition…..

All through the Old Testament, naming a space and remembering the encounter with the divine is what people did. Jacob named places for the divine encounters in his life. Abraham did also. You remembered the space.

And here Jesus says, let go of that notion.

I am with you wherever you go and NOW we are to keep going.

Hold onto me in your heart and let’s keep walking. We are needed down the mountain at a time like this.

Peter, tradition is changing.

Peter, our time is short, we have work to do.

Peter, let go of that notion of memorializing this here and now in that old way.

Jesus is constantly redefining what we are to hold onto and let go of.

Think of the hemorrhagic woman who holds onto his prayer shawl, he says let go…let go of all that ails you.

Think of Mary at the Tomb, when she realizes it is Jesus, she wants to hold onto him and stay in that space.

And Jesus over and over again is saying, you have to let go of the way things were done and we are here together to do a new thing, to be a new people, to let go and hold onto the new understanding of the divine within each of you in this space, now.

Jesus denies Peter’s desire to stay in one space, he compels him to realize that the divine is wherever they are. The divine compels one to keep moving and to fully be present to those around them. Giving hope, giving something deeper and more meaningful to hold onto.

And these words ring out “This is my only Son.”

Words we heard when Abraham hiked up the mountain with Isaac. My only son.

Words we heard from the clouds at Jesus’ baptism.

Words we heard again from the clouds today up on the mountain.

Words we hear from the man in the crowd, at the bottom of the mountain shouting. “My only son.”

Words of pleading, words of affirmation, words desiring healing.

Words spoken with hope.

Words spoken deep to the core of our being.
Words clinging, holding onto the hope that God can change the outcome.

And Jesus shows the disciples- your faith- holding onto God’s love, transforms.

Your face, too, shall shine.

Your image, too, transfigured.

Holding onto the love certainty of God’s love in uncertainty lets you let go of the superficial band-aids we place upon the hurts of this world, and gives each of the strength and courage to not be defeated in a world where the madness of the wilderness, of dreams deferred, of division and violence seem to persist and even appear to prevail.

Moses never entered the promise land AND he also never gave up leading or hope.

He kept on, he never let go of the dream rooted in God’s Call.

Jesus invited the disciples to transfigure their own dreams, to shine with mobility and reconcile the “only”s with a healing that only God can create.

We were holding our breath last week holding onto hope that …… you fill in the blank. That your child got into the right school, that Doak would or would not get the funding it desired, that Russia would not invade the Ukraine, that bills would pass or not pass……

That each beloved child of God might experience the beloved fullness of God’s love.

And this week, we, as we always do, hold fast the knowledge that in each moment where there is pain and division we are to strive to rebuild the kingdom of God.

We are not to grow weary.

We can’t cling to “back when,” INSTEAD we are invited into the messiness each day and are assured that even when exhaustion weighs us down, that God is inviting us to hold on and keep being healers.

Each person’s only child requires this love from us.

And in so doing, the love of God will shine in each of us, giving hope, and changing one little moment from glory into glory… a little bit of that divine to stop us in our tracks and invite us in the messiness, in community, into the work at hand.

Letting Go AND Holding on is the story of God’s people.

Peter, James, John, YOU— let’s let go of our illusions of God’s kingdom and listen more deeply to certainty of the power of the divine interrupting into our midst creating healing even in the midst of deeeeeeep division.

God’s love has the power to transform each of our deepest divisions and in the darkest of times to bring about the deep peace of God’s kingdom here on earth. We, like Peter, James and John are called into that work daily.

Aon Wednesday we will begin the Holy Season of Lent- I invite you this year: Let go of your fear, exhaustion, anxiety.

Hold onto Jesus’ hand and let’s keep working in this messy world.

Love Sweet Love is Hard Work

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost Year C 2022

O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing: Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
(Jackie Shananan performed, Burt Bacharach music, Hal David composed) 1955

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love
No not just for some, but for everyone

Lord, we don’t need another mountain
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross
Enough to last ’til the end of time[i]

It’s amazing what can happen on a train ride. Hal David wrote these lyrics while riding the train from Roslyn NY to Manhattan in 1955. The chorus came easily enough in that train ride……the verses though, took time.

Months of time… time with the assistance of Burt Bacharach who wrote the music.[ii]

Think about 1955: a world 10 years after World War II’s conclusion where 75-80 million people died, we were 5 years into the Korean War, The Bus Boycott of Montgomery, AL began in 1955- and lasted for 381days. [iii]

The world was a world of anger and division, a world of pain and also seeking purpose beyond one’s self. Families were divided and the world needed a little more love for everyone.

AND If we only talk about these factors of anxiety of the time period, we are seeing only the scarcity…. The division, the confusion of the times.

And yet, in 1955, the polio vaccine was created, DisneyLAND opened, the microwave was invented along with the TV remote. People needed wellness and a little bit of comfort and happiness, too.

Many of you were alive in 1955, many of you know the history from books.

The world needed coming together, and Hal David saw it in love, sweet love, needed for everyone.

After Valentine’s Day this past Monday, it is hard to not pause for a moment to talk about love, sweet love this week with all of our readings, too.

From Joseph and his brothers to Jesus speaking to his disciples.

We hear deep conversations about what love, sweet love looks like to each of us.

It is easy to say that Joseph’s brothers did not love him.

Remember the story? Joseph is the youngest of the 11 (Benjamin the 12th comes later), Joseph is the highly favored son of Jacob.

Joseph is a dreamer. He is given dreams that in turn he interprets for those he is around. These dreams are hard to hear.

All of his brothers are told that they will bow down to him in the future. This dream coupled with the fact that Jacob gives Joseph, the baby, the beautiful (as Andrew Llyod weber says) technicolor jacket and that action pushes his brothers over the edge.

His brothers react. They are so upset that they sell their brother off to be enslaved for the rest of his life and they tell their father Joseph is dead.

Just normal loving family dynamics, right?

And yet, Joseph is not dead. His adventure is not over. He finds himself interpreting dreams wherever he lands. Eventually he becomes the Pharoah’s right hand advisor because of this ability and it is here that we encounter Joseph and his brothers.

A reunion. Joseph says to them, God has sent me here ahead of you to preserve you. And later we hear in chapter 50, What you have meant for ill, God has used for good.

A divided world, with haves and have nots and God provides what is needed.
The right person in the right place at the right time.

Joseph does not turn his back on his brothers, despite their actions.

Joseph provides with what he has in their time of need.

Love your enemies

Do Good to those who hate you

Bless those who curse you

Pray for those who abuse you

Turn the other cheek

 Give to everyone

Do to others as you have them do to you (lend expecting nothing in return)

Jesus has called his disciples and continues to show them a new way, Jesus shows them how to live a life a transformed by love. This segment falls directly after Jesus’ sermon on the plain we heard last week, (Luke’s version of the beatitudes we find in Matthew.)

Jesus grounds all of our actions in love.

And he lives this out as an example within his days in Galilee.

Jesus loves all those encountered him, from the pharisees who set out to trap him to the centurions and thieves in his final moments of life.

He heals the sick and loves those who revile him. And, Jesus in the next moment of great need met those who come to him with their needs. Gentile, Pharisee, or Jew.

Jesus never wished anyone harm, spoke always of invitation and welcome.

He said prayers throughout his ministry, in solitude and on behalf of those who needed to hear our prayers.

Jesus taught his disciples and  us the Lord’s Prayer and how then to pray for our own enemies.

In his death, Jesus turned the other cheek, receiving ridicule and deception, betrayal and misunderstanding.

And gave all of his own self up for the love of the world.

Love sweet love.

So much love that we are still talking about this love each and every day that we read scripture.

A love story that outlasted the flowers and chocolates of Valentine’s Day and all the temporary forms we see and experience in our culture. A love that is exactly what the world is in need of, right now. Each and every one of us. Deep, healing, reconciling love. Love that sacrifices all else for the other, for the greater good, for the good of creation.

While there wasn’t an Olympics in 1955, we are still living in a world with escalations and polarity. We waited this week for what was going to happen with Russia and the Ukraine, we are still holding our breath about COVID and what the next steps are, we in the holy in between on so many things and understandably our anxiety is high.

Hal David saw his world and let his lyrics sing his heart’s desire.

Joseph saw his brothers and brought them out of harm’s way rather than seeking punishment and revenge.

Jesus, never sought to alienate or punish, with his loving arms he always stood ready to embrace the world as it came at him, seeking to help the other find the love that is needed to heal the brokenness.

Jesus’ love offered much more than temporary relief, Jesus’ love offers deeper answers that give us endurance to build bridges, repair the hurt and be brought together.

What if you are the right person at the right time, to transform what could be a moment of revenge to a moment of reconciliation.

What if you believe that the love you have been given and the gifts that you have been given can transform someone else’s life? Just like Jonas Salk who in the midst of a war-torn world worked to create a vaccine to change the health of the community?

What if you were to realize that is “the fullness of life” that Jesus is inviting his disciples and us into? What if we truly believe that we live in a world of abundance and possibility and that being in the right place at the right time we, too, can, with God’s help, transform this world.

Lord knows we don’t need another mountain to climb, but we will climb it if we need to because this love of God empowers us to boldy speak in love and truth.


[i] https://www.google.com/search?q=what+the+world+needs+more+is+love+sweet+love+lyrics&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS977US977&sxsrf=APq-WBv-aKjQgXfu7BKnM_WTfjitaJ0S9A%3A1645024692073&ei=tBUNYra1AurKkPIPw-ytIA&ved=0ahUKEwi236nDwoT2AhVqJUQIHUN2CwQQ4dUDCA4&uact=5&oq=what+the+world+needs+more+is+love+sweet+love+lyrics&gs_lcp=Cgdnd3Mtd2l6EAMyCAghEBYQHRAeMggIIRAWEB0QHjIICCEQFhAdEB46BwgAEEcQsAM6BggAEBYQHjoICAAQhgMQiwNKBAhBGABKBAhGGABQ2wFYsgxg3A1oAXABeAGAAYQCiAGHB5IBBTEuNS4xmAEAoAEByAEIuAECwAEB&sclient=gws-wiz

[ii] https://americansongwriter.com/chicken-soup-for-the-soul-behind-the-song-what-the-world-needs-now-is-love/

[iii] https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/history/info-2018/civil-rights-events-fd.html#:~:text=1%2C%201955%2C%20the%20Rev.,walk%20or%20get%20rides%20instead.

God’s Love is a Whale of a Tale: One worth Believing in!

Epiphany 5 2022 Year C- Also, St. John’s ANNUAL MEETING DAY

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Florida is the sunshine state with water surrounding most of it.

We know fish, don’t we?

Fishing competitions, fishing boats, swimming with manatees, dolphins, fish.

We have also heard our share of fishing stories, too, haven’t we?

The honest ones- we didn’t catch much

The nearly honest ones- the fish were plentiful and we caught our limit (not telling you the size of the fish)

And the whale of a fish story, “That fish was on the line for hours, my bicep tore, and yet it got away.”

I did not grow up fishing, but we lived in Seattle, Washington when I was little and my father took us fishing once. All four of us had poles. My father was outnumbered by small people with long sticks with sharp objects at the end (he deserved combat pay for this) and after we put bait on the hooks we were allowed to sling our pole towards the water.

And of course, disaster struck.

My pole hooked by brother’s sweater. My brother dropped his pole, someone was crying and I am pretty sure my father asked himself, “Lord why me?!”  We were all exhausted at the end and caught absolutely nothing (My brother’s sweater did not count.)

This was the day I learned about the true meaning of “a whale of a story” and the whale of a story that we sold to my mother was that the store bought fish from Albertson’s were caught by us that morning. (She was not fooled) The point, though (I think?!) was that we tried a new thing, we spent time together, and learned a lot even if we didn’t have nets breaking with fish.

Fishing takes time, practice, and stillness.

The sea of Galilee (also known as the Lake of Gennesaret), nestled into the hillside of the present day Israel, is not really a large sea. It’s more of a lake. Measuring 13miles long and 8 miles wide, it’s a sea that has the Jordan river running through it, keeping the sea stocked with fresh fish. The sea is small enough that you would see your neighbor’s boat, and find your own favorite spot too.

The sea was both commercial and personal economics at work. Your livelihood and your own nutrition were dependent upon your daily catch. It’s a space where weather could blow up (think of the storms we hear about later in the gospels) and also be still and calm.

The lake sits as a dividing line also, dividing the Jewish communities and the gentiles. The northern and eastern shores hosting those who were not Jewish.

As one might expect, towns have settled around it’s shores fostering commerce, living spaces and thriving economies (both now and in Jesus’ day). Nazareth was inland, west of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus started his ministry with his baptism in the river Jordan, he then wandered east towards the desert for 40 days and then back to the western shore of galilee to teach and preach and travel from town to fishing town.

It’s no wonder he encountered fishermen as some of the first people he encountered while teaching.

In Luke’s Gospel, Luke takes his time to introduce us to the extraordinariness of Jesus. From Angels appearing to Mary and Joseph, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Jesus presented at the temple, Jesus the boy left at the temple, the arrival of John the Baptist, the baptism and temptation of Jesus, Nazareth rejecting Jesus, and then all before he calls his disciples, in Luke , Jesus teaches, heals and preaches. In the Gospel of Luke, those who will be called have already seen and potentially heard of Jesus’s words and works.

And the first called are fishermen.

Today we hear Jesus on the edge. He is on the shore and it’s the end of the day for those who spent the night fishing. The fishermen are doing their daily maintenance of nets and ready to finish their night shift and rest.

This day is different though, at the end of their workday they hear a new message and they see big crowds.

Jesus gets into Simon’s boat and continues to teach.

Jesus asks Simon to put the boat out a bit so he can have some space to teach.

After teaching Jesus says, “Why don’t we go out deeper and fish a bit in a new space”

After this third request Simon finally says politely ,but I would expect a bit firmly, “We worked all night, we are tired. But if you ask us to, we will.” (I think Simon was trying to get Jesus to say “well never mind”)

Jesus doesn’t back down. (He never does, does he?!)

And fishing in those deep waters, those nets cast on a different side–

The fishing is overwhelming. Nets so full they almost sank the boat.

It’s a whale of a story!

Fish too many to count, nets nearly breaking.

Others came to help.

Listening and receiving abundance.

How does Peter react to all of this? Peter is ashamed. He is ashamed that he didn’t believe despite his exhaustion.

And Jesus says, “Don’t fret, come with me- there is more to see. I am here with you, in the boat and on the dry land.” (Like the coach Ted Lasso, he points to the word believe, trust in me, I trust in you)

The Good News we carry with us is a whale of a story. It sounds too good to be true.

A God who loves us so deeply that he created his only son to become one of us, live amongst us and be killed by us for our own salvation.

The thought is exhausting.

The faith journey can be tiring and yet Jesus calls us in the midst of our own “I am tired, I have done enough, it’s a pandemic” excuses to do a new thing.

Today is our annual meeting, a time where we look at the year past and also to the goals and joys of 2022. I give such thanks for each of you in this past year. Your faithfulness, here in the pews, in the meetings, online and beyond.

When easily you could have said, “I am too tired,” you have each said the words in Isaiah, “Here I am Lord.”

From patiently preparing to serve with Kearney center or Riley Elementary Mentoring, you have been willing and ready to be present, listen, teach and serve in the midst of uncertainty.

We have been able to continue our in-person worship services in the morning and adding back our mid-week Healing service and our Sunday evening 5:30pm services with parishioners sharing their own moments of grace and love, all the while continuing our online opportunities for folks to continue to participate.

Our music program continues to excel with an amazing choir, evensongs, guest instrumentalists, all under the leadership of our team of Betsy Calhoun, Elizabeth LaJeunesse and Mike Norris.

Sunday school for all ages has resumed in creative ways to bring all ages into the digging deeper in their own spiritual journey. The Front Porch has taken off with offerings that appeal to those who have a spiritual foundation and those who have never encountered a formalized church experience before.

We have gathered again in familiar ways with the St. John’s Market and small groups, bible studies and the café.

Our committees have been hard at work with finishing the 5 year Capital Campaign and the upkeep of the buildings and property of this campus and our cemetery.

And we too, in the midst of the longevity of these pandemic times, are fishing in a new way- we started and continue to have a Pastoral Care Shepherd program that seeks to extend the pastoral care of the clergy team to all those in our parish who need pastoral care and connection.

We are visioning the St. John’s Choir school as an offering to all children for learning.

We are continuing the conversation about Becoming Beloved Community and how we too can speak honestly about our own history as a church and live in relationship with our larger community.

We are dynamic part of the Capital Area Justice ministry here in Tallahassee as they research and work towards justice work with an action on affordable housing and gun violence.

All of these new programs come from within our strategic plan, each involves all of us to say, “Here I am” even in the midst of fatigue.

As I, too, read through the St. John’s parish profile in December, I thought to myself- that must be a whale of a tale…. It’s too good to be true. ….

And here is the thing, the love of God is present here.

The love of God is present here and CALLING each of us to keep on fishing.

The fishing might be messy, there might be tears, but Jesus is in the boat with us and that deeper water is worth going to, to catch those fish, to be called into ministry together.

For this work I say, Come join our Whale of a tale- it is too good to be true…and you are worthy of that goodness. Because the good news of God’s Love here at St. John’s is true and there is a space for you to belong here and now.

Amen.

Love and Fog, Finding our way in the difficult times.

https://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/most-beautiful-colleges-in-america

Epiphany 4, Year C 2022

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“We don’t see things clearly. We’re squinting in the fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as god sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us.” (1 Corinthians 13:12- The Message)

Sewanee, Tennessee is KNOWN for its fog. Seriously, it’s a thing. I am not talking about a college stupor, I am talking about literal fog. My husband, Rob, even has a t-shirt, “Sewanee FOG.” The fog gets so thick in Sewanee that buildings literally disappear. Cars can’t be seen. Downhills surprise you. As a cross country runner in college, I actually enjoyed running in the fog because you could not see the incline in front of you, you just felt the incline in your bones with each step as you decreased in speed no matter how much effort you put forth.

In Sewanee, I learned that using your high beams are ineffective in fog. Rather, to navigate the fog, you simply have to slow down, take your time and watch carefully for dogs, people, and other cars on the street.

When the fog settles in and long-distance vision is dimmed, we often find that we can’t see things clearly…….. and we have to wait.

AND, due to the winds and the elevation, the same reasons the fog forms, the fog lifts. Having seen the blue skies before, we know that the blue skies will return and vision will be clear again, IF we have patience and take our time.

St. Paul, in all of his letters to the church in Corinth, is writing words of encouragement, words of hope, words of now might not make sense but be intentional, slow down, and have patience.

Vision might be limited right now and yet we know that the abundant vision is coming. Paul reminds us that our waiting is in love. His words of encouragement invite the listener to listen deeply to what love looks like, love is so much more than an emotion.

In words that we have heard at many a wedding, Paul speaks to a community that has just been reminded that each person is important to the family. Each voice is vital to the discussion, and we all have been given gifts. In this portion of his letter, Paul is speaking bluntly that love accepts all, loves all, and the love he is talking about looks to abundance not the scarcity.

Where might you need to see more of this sort of love in your lives?

Where might the fog be too thick to see the way, where you might not know how to love or even to be loved in a community?

In The Message translation of the bible this portion of scripture is read this way:

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head.

Doesn’t force itself on others

Isn’t always me first

Doesn’t fly off the handle

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth

Put up with ANYTHING

Trusts god always

Always looks for the best

Never looks back but keeps going to the end.

I wonder if you were to finish this sentence, how would you do it?

Love is________________

For me, Love looks up.

Love sees the other.

Love is being reminded of the abundance that God has created even when we can only seem to grasp scarcity.

Think about it. When Abraham is wondering about the “where” and the “when” of God’s promise. God says, “Look up, see the stars!” See the abundance that awaits you.

When Hagar feels abandoned and isolated and cast out, God says look up, here I am, you and your son are still beloved. I hear you, I am here with you. Look up, see me.

When the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness, God says look up to the heavens for manna, I will provide you what you need daily. Look up to see the cloud of smoke during the day and pillar of fire by night, I will lead you.

Look up and be encouraged, while you might be only able to see a little bit now, looking up puts our trust in God, looks for the best, and never looks back, keeping going to the end.

This past week, I had a moment to pause and look up. I was invited to say the invocation at the county commission meeting. After a brief introduction, I said my prayer and then sat amongst the meeting to listen to the proclamations.

To listen to those who looked up.

The first proclamation was for an individual who rushed to rescue a man who had just had a car accident. Looking up and seeing the distress, this individual ran to assist the stranger risking his own life and in turn saving another.

The second proclamation recognized the directors of Honor Flight, the program that honors veterans and takes them to Washington DC for the day, showing them the national monuments, built in honor of their service. A program recognizing a part of veterans’ stories that not many understand, a pain and a challenge that no one should have to go through and these monuments draw your eyes upward, to the heavens for hope and strength to not repeat our mistakes, to prevent war and NEVER AGAIN.

The third proclamation was in celebration of the FSU Women’s Soccer team. The entire team was there to be recognized for their achievement this past year, through challenges of covid, of a summer defeat, they kept looking up and won the championship in December. This remarkable team of women stood shoulder to shoulder as their accolades of not just sportsmanship but academic prowess were shared. And they too spoke of the gift of their own heroes and who they looked up to in order to succeed.

Each proclamation showed a community of love, of acceptance, of those who might be overlooked who see the light of love shared and are an example for others.

The final words in Paul’s writing today says, “trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.”

This extravagant love is the love that Jesus has shared with us. In Nazareth, Jesus shared the good news of who he was and he was rejected for such radical words. Not only rejected but they wanted to kill him.

Talk about foggy and dark days! And yet in the midst of the fog of Nazareth, Jesus looks up and beyond. He walks through the crowd and continues to teach, he continues his mission. Jesus loves extravagantly and trusts steadily in God, never abandoning the love he has for all of God’s people. He takes his time, intentionally, and continues forward.

The fog lifts. The path becomes clear to him, to those who followed him. A path that walked through the fog of rejection, of pain, of betrayal. And through all of these there is love. A love that only God can share through becoming fully human. An extravagant, ridiculous love uneconomically inefficient, lavish love for you and for me. Real and true love.

Love is All around us. (to quote the movie Love Actually)

I wonder when you look up where the manifestation of God’s love makes itself real to you.

I wonder how you might proclaim that love even in the midst of your own fog of depression, isolation, disappointment, or fear.

I wonder if God might be calling you to look up and hope unswervingly.

Rest assured, the fog will lift, it always does.

And God is there with you until it does.

https://fineartamerica.com/featured/a-walk-into-fog-derik-smith.html

Amen.

Coming together: from Weddings to Social Justice, we need to come together in love.

Second Sunday after Epiphany Year C 2022

To listen to this sermon, click this LINK

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Unclench your fists, hold our your hands, take mine.

Let us hold each other.

Thus is God’s Glory Manifest. Amen. – Madeline L’Engle

I don’t know about you but 2022 is off and running at top speed.

Even if you haven’t resumed all of your activities of 2019, the opportunities seem to abound this year. While not all in person, many by zoom, things that were postponed are back, and some things still not quite back to full force.

Legislative Session is in Session, Today is Martin Luther King, Jr’ Day, our Omicron numbers are not peaking yet…….so many things straining for our attention.

In the life of the church, we are celebrating people having babies, couples getting married, beloved friends dying. Our lives are full. There is deep thankfulness for these moments of new beginnings, new chapters and the moments we have had when we let go of a loved one as their chapter here on earth ends.

We raise our glasses, we pause, we give thanks, we reflect.

And the reality is that we need each and every one of you in this story.  Each of your quirky selves with strengths and flaws help make this story to move forward together. If anyone one has told you otherwise, they were wrong.

Together, holding each other, we manifest, or make evident, God’s glory (in the words of Madeline L’Engle)

This message of unity of individuality is the message that Paul has today for the Corinthians. Corinth was a booming town with lots of conflicting messages. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians were letters to help them where they were on their spiritual journey and go deeper. Today he is reminding them about the importance of each person within the community and this message continues in this same chapter, later. We are all different and that is something to celebrate, embrace, and welcome- each vital to the community’s identity.

In the fullness of our days, have we resumed the things we have always done in the way we used to or have we realized where we might need to stretch and to grow in love, in understanding, in relationships?


Have we let go of the time when the world stood still and we all realized how busy we were and we didn’t like it?

What fills our day?

Is it activity?

Is it anxiety?

Is it joy?

Is it sorrow?

Does it depend on the minute, hour, day?

I don’t believe there is a wrong thing to fill our day, I do believe what we do with that emotion and activity matters. Each moment is a moment for transformation.

In our Gospel reading today we have moved from the baptism of Jesus in the water of the River Jordan, to the water being transformed into wine at the wedding in Cana. (Rumor has it that once every three years when this reading read, there is free wine in Cana in thanksgiving. I have not had this confirmed, though.) At the wedding, the wine has run out. While this would happen regardless, the timing was not what the host had planned.

Mary, like any good southern woman, wanted to save the host the disgrace of lack of hospitality. Mary came to the rescue with a plan to fix the problem. She believed her son could and should resolve the predicament. She believed in him and told him so. After discussion and time, Jesus acts and the new wine he has created is better than the wine they toasted with at the beginning of the celebration.

Let’s look at this first sign of Jesus’s power as imagery for God and creation and the message for our own lives. The sign has very little to do with alcohol at all.

God created this world perfect, marvelous, abundant with resources. All was in perfect relationship with God and with one another. (The beginning of the wedding reception when all that was needed was available)

Temptation and sin distanced us from God, our own flawed divisions take over. We see shortage rather than abundance. (What was needed at the wedding ran out)

We are promised, in scripture, a new creation a reunification with God in heaven, a New Heaven and Earth, better than we can imagine. The good wine that Jesus creates at the wedding is imagery of the heavenly banqueting table, being reunited with abundance, divisions ceasing, and only joy and connection exists.

I wonder where you find yourself in the story.

Do see yourself in the wine at the beginning of the wedding, the abundance? The space in the story where all is going well, relationships, and you are coping with the stress of the world going around you?

Do you see yourself in the space where the wine has run out, where your energy is gone, your frustrations are high, perhaps you are at the end of a bitter divorce, you live in fear of your own safety, the safety of others, you have lost a loved one, anger at injustice, you cannot seem to get well, your anxiety inhibits you from finding joy?

If you resonate with this part of the story, hear this, just like in the wedding in Cana, there is the promise of even better wine. There is a promise that God is there with you and the time of “running out” will end.

Some days we are the ones running out and we need a Mary to reach out and assist.

Sometimes we are the Mary for our friends who are running out and invite them to hold on. Reminding them that Jesus is here too and there is possibility.

St Paul liked to give instructions through letter form, we hear that today. His reminder to come together as community, to strive together for unity. Dr. King gave to those who followed him 10 commandments to non-violence that governed their work. They are worthy of reflection and refocusing our lives even so today.

Similar to St Paul, Dr King reminded people:

  1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
  2. Remember always that the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all men might be free.
  6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

Each of us, uniquely, has the opportunity to come together and to be with one another. This takes work, stretching and growing beyond what has always been done. Stretching beyond ahat is comfortable.

Jesus was and is with us in the ordinary and transforming small moments of running out into moments of new beginnings and celebrations.

We each are a part of this conversation. Our Common humanity depends on it. Each of our unique gifts and talents can be listened deeply to and be engaged.

St Paul wrote to encourage his flock, John wrote to show us in beautiful imagery the hope we have through Jesus’ actions, and Dr. Martin Luther King also spoke to the vision that has yet to come. Dr King believed we were capable of change and those words still invite us today to keep working together.

So, Unclench your fists, hold our your hands, take mine.

Let us hold each other.

Thus is God’s Glory Manifest. Amen.

Polar Bears, Harry Potter and the River Jordan: are you ready for the Plunge and transformation of Baptism?!

First Sunday after the Epiphany: Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ Year C 2021

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Do you have unique ways to bring in the New Year?

The right food- black eyed peas, cornbread, greens?

Do you make an intentional way to reflect on the past year and look forward to this new year?

Did you read the article about the people who take a plunge in the Atlantic Ocean as an annual polar bear plunge- to plunge into the new year? I know there was also a group down St. Teresa, Dog Island way who did the same this year.

Polar Bear plunges are unique, exhilarating, and total immersion.

In high school, much to my parents and the school nurses’ chagrin we would do our polar plunge every Wednesday morning, once the outside temperature reached a certain level of briskness and we would continue weekly until the outside temperature rose above that same designated mark.

This did mean sometimes it was just cold and sometimes this meant you had to break ice in order to do our polar bear jump/plunge.

In the weekly polar plunge, you could jump off the T-deck (dock) or you could lower yourself in one step at a time off the ladder, or if you desired (and had the will power) you could walk into the water, and submerge yourself that way. We were encouraged to give a barbaric YAWP as we plunged into the water.

I do believe the sales of fluffy bathrobes increased along with the alertness of students on Wednesday morning classes. And also the noise at breakfast.

Regardless of how we did our plunge for the day, our day was transformed. The jarring disruption from the comfort of our warm bed to the crispness of the air and water heightened all of our senses for the day. The sharpness of the temperature of the water brought every sensation alive in our body, we were awake, alert and ready for the rest of the day. Transformed.

Today, we find ourselves jarred from the scene of sweet adoration, just over 2 weeks ago, of the celebration of Christmas with Baby Jesus in a manger, to this past Thursday when we celebrated the magi showing up with gifts for the child Jesus, to today- where Jesus is an adult being baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist.  We don’t know what happened in between- where were those awkward teenage years?

Today, Jesus, too, is being plunged into the water, submerged and transformed. The scripture does not say that Jesus gives a barbaric yawp when he emerged, instead we hear of a different sound.

Something quite unique happens in this baptism- a voice from the heavens saying for all to hear, “You are my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Our gospel writer, Luke, tells the story in his own way. He clarifies John’s identity and Jesus’ in these 5 short verses and from here the Gospel continues to transform the rest of our understanding of who Jesus is. This opening of the heavens heightens everyone’s senses and awareness of the uniqueness of this Jesus, his identity (in case you didn’t hear about the angels, shepherds, magi and star)- a new thing is happening and in the midst of this ordinary Jordan river, transformation of understanding occurs and continues to be revealed.

God’s love for god’s creation continues to be unveiled and revealed and continues to become apparent to those around Jesus and us today.

In baptism, regardless of if we are plunged under and submerged under the water in our childhood or adulthood, or if we had water poured over our heads at a font in a sanctuary as a baby, our identity too is transformed.

We too are claimed as God’s child and reminded that we are beloved, loved by God and called to love because of God. The water is the outward and visible sign of the grace bestowed on us. The act of baptism is both a r-i-t-e and also a covenant between you and God. A promise of Love. Love bestowed and love to be shared with those we encounter because in the words of John, “you first loved us.”

You are beloved.

You are enough.

You have received a love that is more faithful than any human love that you have ever received and in fact any love you have received is a glimmer of the love that God has for each of you.

Over the holidays there are often opportunities to watch some of your favorite movies in their entirety, each part of the series. Harry Potter is one of those Christmas/New year’s series. One year, I remember every time I turned on the television there was Harry in some phase of his career at Hogwarts. (For those of you who read the books, I know, I know the movies are not as good- but they tried and they did get many of the major themes to carry through.) Two of the themes are first the power of sacrificial love and second, we always have the choice to act in love.

With Harry Potter, it is the sacrificial love of his mother that shields him from death. This love is given to him unrequested, and he is reminded of this love by the mark on his forehead, left as a reminder of her death and his survival. “The boy who lived.”

Each time Harry is faced with self-promotion or leaving someone behind so that he might win/succeed/be the best, Harry always chooses to assist the other person—often putting competition aside and instead promoting collaboration and togetherness. One of my favorite examples of this is when Harry plunges into the water in the third movie and completes his designated task and also completes the task of another who has dropped from the competition. Harry can’t leave the other behind knowing their fate and his abilities could change that fate.

Don’t get me wrong, Harry doesn’t always think altruistically as his first inclination, as he grows older it becomes more and more challenging for him to not give into anger, pain, and revenge. Yet, in each decision he makes, Harry inevitably shows the love that he received and realizes is the motivation that he should choose for each action is because of the love that he has known and continues to understand from that initial action of self-sacrificing love of his mother.

We, too, receive marks on our foreheads, while they are not scars in the shape of a thunderbolt like Harry’s, we too are marked by sacrificial love at baptism with a cross made with Chrism oil. We remember the love of God that has saved God’s people time and time again from captivity in Egypt, to Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and life that we are given through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s son, God’s beloved. We too are plunged into the waters and brought up out, awoken to a new life, a new day, a daily opportunity to be transformed.

During these covid times we have not had a baptism within our Sunday morning liturgy, but we continue to reaffirm our baptismal covenant together, our promises to God and this community gathered to continue to see uncovering of God’s love in our lives, god’s love transforming our lives and while we too might still struggle with what shall I do—we always have this community to support us in discerning the acts of love that we too can commit to, building up community rather than promoting self, seeking to serve and live in this world.

In this new year, shall we together commit to refreshing our covenant, taking the plunge and immersing ourselves in (as father bill said last week) putting others first, loving with our whole heart. Remembering that we are sons and daughters of God, and beloved, treasured?!

Angels, Shepherds, Mangers, O MY!

Christmas Day Homily Year C 2021

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

God of fear, God of the night, God of the Expectation,

You visited the angels in the night with songs and sights of joy.

In all of our nights, turn us towards hope, because hope might just keep us alive. Amen[i]

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

We have lived through the night and here we are on this Christmas morning.

We began with the hymn, Oh Come All ye Faithful!

And truly ye faithful are here, a smaller crowd than last night and yet no less faithful, indeed.

Oh come let us adore him, oh come let us adore him. Christ the Lord.

It’s a wonderous and mysterious thing we celebrate each year, this mighty king born in a manger with the most unique visitors showing up to be amazed and in awe and wonder.

A wonderous pregnancy, no room in the inn, and a band of angels singing messages to the community tending sheep.

And the Angel said, “Do not be afraid, for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” In the middle of the night, angels, shepherds, mangers, good news.

Do not be afraid is the most commonly used greeting by Angels….. the phrase is used over 365 times. To me, this means there was a lot to be afraid of in those times.

Fear of death, fear of punishment, shame, the government, illness.

We live in similar times of fear, fear of death, illness, economics, daily life and choices.

And yet in the midst of this darkest of nights, the Angels appear and say to the shepherds- do not be afraid. These same words Gabriel said to Mary and to Joseph. “Do not be afraid….” This birth is indeed good news for all the world.

In the midst of these fears there is joy.

God is with us. Emmanuel.

God did not immediately rid the world of fear.

Rather, God transformed that fear to showing the world how one can live in the midst and not give in to fear. God bore God’s love for the world in this tiny baby we celebrate each year as that baby grew into a man, grew into a movement, grew into the call to each of us to live in the same way that God was born to us, each year- starting small and transforming one heart at a time.

God, in the midst of a manger, born amongst us, changed the world through love.

Born in the midst of the messiness of life on earth, these anxious times, God came near and dwelt amongst us.

God is with us and that gives joy and hope.

God with us makes Angels sing, shepherds hustle their flocks to the manger, and a couple who were bewildered by their first born, be amazed at those who arrived as their child was more than their child, their child was a gift of love for the whole world.

I wonder what the shepherds said as they left the manger, as they tried to retell the story of their evening to those who were not there.

I wonder how their faces might have shone with the deep joy of being invited to “Oh come all ye faithful” after so many times of not being invited or otherwise occupied with duties.

I wonder the joy the angels felt in being part of the story that night of being able to sing and share such exciting news and show the way to the manger, the beams of light shining from their fingers and toes.

Oh come all ye faithful, come and adore him, Christ the lord.

The Christmas Carol itself is a beautiful collaboration of many translators and theologians. Rather than being written in one sitting by one composer. The latin words and music were date back to 1743 written by John Francis Wade, but he is not the only composer. So inspired by this work, the Fredrerick Oakley added three verses, and the Frenchman Abbé Etienne Jean François Borderies  added 2 more verses. The lyrics place you in the role of shepherds who rushed to see the christ child and remind us of all the faithful ahead of us who have come to adore the newborn in the manger.

The fifth verse: Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,
Fain we embrace thee, with awe and love: Who would not love thee,
loving us so dearly?[ii]
Reminds us of the love and embrace God has given us on this holy day.

Wherever you might see yourself in the story, the one who needs the reminder to not be afraid, the one who needs to be invited, the one who is reminded that God is right here with us, know that on this Christmas morning- new beginnings still occur and even in the darkest nights, we are turned towards hope, because hope will keep us alive. Amen

Angels, Shepherds, Mangers, Oh MY!


[i] Daily Prayer by Padraig O Tuima Canterbury Press 2017, page 9

[ii] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-o-come-all-ye-faithful-1

“George, John, Paul and….not Ringo- who is in your brood of vipers?”

Advent 3 Year C 2021

Image from https://pixels.com/shop/fleece+blankets/music

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

We love to tell stories, don’t we?

Stories of loved ones, of their challenges, of their triumphs.

People who have gone before us bear witness to faithfulness, to bearing fruit.

Today I will tell stories of George, John, and Paul, …. But not Ringo (for those of you who are Beatles, fans, so sorry for the pun)

First, I want to tell you a story of a boy named George he was born in Germany in 1685. His father wanted him to be a successful and economically stable lawyer, his mother saw his talent for music, encouraged him to pursue his musical gifts.

While George attempted to humor his father with studies in law, he only did so for a short time and quickly escaped those studies to be a musician. Excelling in playing the violin and the harpsichord, George was not only an accomplished musician, he was also a successful composer. With the rise of operas, he moved to Italy, composed many an opera and was very successful. Moving to London, he continued to compose. As time passed, the operatic style faded in popularity and so did George’s success.

In 1741 George was on the brink of going to debtor’s prison, being unable to pay his bills, and the Irish Duke of Devonshire financed George’s composition to Charles Jenans’ libretto (or text). George was so inspired by the text that in a mere 24 days he composed 259 pages of music for the text.

On April 13, 1742, the world heard for the first time, what we will hear potions of this evening, known as George Fredric Handel’s Messiah.[i]

Set to music, the story of God’s love and hope for God’s people is told from the prophecy of Isaiah to the passion and acclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. Each movement of music telling the story that scripture has told us each year of the hope in this dark world of a new beginning, redemption, and restoration of joy. We are wrapped up in the somber and jubilant music hearing of the promise of prophets and the joy of the coming of the Savior.

Over 250 years later we still sing the story, we will hear it this evening, right in this space.

A little boy who defied his father and used his gifts and talents to tell a story.

And then there is John. John, a child born late in life to parents who have given up the hope of having a child. John, who dedicated his life to prayer and fasting. He was a bit of a zealot. With a father who was a priest, the prayerful life was modeled for him daily.

John, as an only child, also took his call to prayer seriously. He didn’t care about his hair, his clothes, he lived on the edge of town, and he ate honey and locust. He was known for his sharp truth and for his reminding people that they needed to change.

He was not his kind and gentle cousin, Jesus.

Older by 6 months, John went ahead of Jesus in age and in ministry, making straight the path. John the Baptist called people out and at the same time he gave forthright direction.

People from all regions came to hear him speak these words. Gentiles, Jews, Roman Soldiers, tax collectors. These were not the typical assortment of people that you brought home to your mother to gather around the dinner table.

John did not discriminate; his words were for all. Today we hear him speak directly to the community gathered, of gentiles, soldiers, and tax collectors. Those who wanted to know more, who weren’t often in like company with each other.

“Bear fruit with your lives”

“Be fair with one another”

“Do not threaten each other and abuse your power.”

Sounds like great advice, right?

These words were sound advice that was also counter cultural, outward facing, and had a strong impact to those listening.

To not overtax meant less money in the tax collector’s pocket.

As a soldier fear and intimidation were common practice.

Each of these directions were challenges to the status quo.

John spoke with passion, compassion, and compelling all those who came together to grow.

John said to them change your ways, give from your heart, give fully, give to realize we must work together and bear fruit. The spirit is moving among us, calling us to this new thing together.

Finally, we have a lad named Saul who was also passionate about his faith. He grew up in Hebrew school, he learned his lessons, he excelled in leadership as a young man. He was faithful. So faithful that he sent people to jail if they broke church laws.

Then on his way to do his job one day in Damascus, he was struck blind.

In his blindness, he heard a voice. A voice crying out in the wilderness “Why do you persecute me.” Blinded for three days, Saul is taken in and given food and shelter by a man whom he would have persecuted. With this loving care Saul is transformed.

The voice heard on the wilderness road changes his story, he converts not just his name from Saul to Paul, he converts his cause. No longer punishing those who disagreed with him, rather engaging those whom he encountered and exhorting those he met. Paul writes letters, not music, to those whom he loves. He reminds his friends in Philippi to find the deep joy in their lives, to hear the resonating notes of the long-told story, the story of Jesus who lived among them and loved them. To hold onto this love and to not lose hope, just as he is joyful.

Using what he has, Paul’s heart’s delight is to care for those who are distressed, to give them hope, to share with them not fear, but peace.

Each of these men are a part of our own story, giving hope, giving strength, moments of comfort, moments of joy. Each used their gifts and talents to bear fruit, to change the path for those who followed after them and create a space for peace to take root and blossom.

The first performance of the Messiah took place in Dublin. The composition was performed by the combined choirs of St. Patrick’s and Christ Church (a whole 16 men and 16 boys) along with 2 female soloists and an orchestra of strings, 2 trumpets, and timpani. The audience was so large in attendance that women were told to leave their hoops at home. No Hoop skits were allowed that night for all to fit in the space to hear the offering.[ii]

Handel’s messiah first performance was a benefit concert. The proceeds went to three charities in Dublin- a debtors prison relief and two hospitals. This marvelous piece of work provided for others within the community, those on the outskirts of society, those who were overlooked.[iii]

George, John, and Paul, each in their own time and place, invited those who would listen to hear the story, sing the story even, of hope to a world that needs joy.

This season of Advent, we lean into the darkness and remember the story of hope given to us in our holy scriptures. The same story that is sung to us in tradition and still offers the same hope that transformed the lives of those who gathered by the river with John, those who received the letters from Paul and those who heard the music of George.

Jesus, cousin of John,

Like your cousin, you envisioned communities made up with all kinds of people.

And with that imagination, you gathered all kinds of people around you…. Even us.

Call us towards the kinds of communities That will shape and change us

Towards a greater diversity, a greater justice, a wiser distribution of power.

Because this is the Jordan where we will find you and people like you. Amen.[iv]


[i] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-glorious-history-of-handels-messiah-148168540/

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Messiah_(Handel)

[iii] https://theimaginativeconservative.org/2017/12/ten-odd-facts-handels-messiah-terez-rose.html

[iv] “what were you arguing about along the way?” Edited by Pat Bennett, Introduced by Padraig O Tuama p.79