Father Mark, Sermons

Remembering Our Mission to Our Children

Christmas II:  Luke 2; 1/3021

I wonder if you ever were separated from your parents when you were young, or perhaps lost track of where your young child.   Then it would be easy to identify with the anxiety of Mary and Joseph when they couldn’t find Jesus—especially in the big city of Jerusalem when it was time to leave for home.

How could something like this happen?  Men, women and children all worshipped in separate places in the temple.  After worship, each group gathers together in their own group for a meal.  

There was a separate group for educated teachers to gather and during the meal, discuss and sometimes argue to the point of quarreling, about the Torah and spiritual practices.  

Showing great interest, Jesus was invited at age 12, as a new young adult to join in the meal and to listen to the teaching and discussion.  The story indicates that Jesus also was involved in the discussion and teaching.

Joseph and Mary expected Jesus to be with his peers and when discovering he did not return with the group to the caravan to return home, with great angst returned to Jerusalem, searching all over until they found him at the temple. 

I remember a decade or so ago how during the late news, the announcer would say, “It’s time for the evening news.  Do you know where your children are?”  In this case, Mary and Joseph did not know where Jesus was.  They also were not aware of where his mind, heart and intentions were at the time which led him to leave his peer group and to seek God. 

Jesus’ seeking wasn’t finished after worship.  His seeking continued.  

I think this story has much to teach us as adults:

Christianity is counter-cultural.   Children tend to follow the culture and the culture of the family.   Jesus at age 12, after his bar-mitzvah, continued to seek God in contrast to the majority of the youth and adults in church who after Confirmation, tend to have the mindset that they’ve graduated from church.  Other things in the culture that appear to be more exciting tend to take priority.  

Children and youth are more capable and hungry for God than we are aware of. 

What do we model, not only for our children but for others?   Do we include children and youth and other adults in discussions about our faith at the dinner table?   Children on average watch 4 hours of TV a day often during meal time, not including cell phone internet use. They are waiting for us to lead them.  If we don’t someone else will.  I hesitate to compare how many minutes a week are given to teaching and nurturing in scriptures and tradition.  Without God growing at the core of their being, children and youth are left with the maze of confusing and sometimes dangerous messages that leave them at risk.  Jesus put a child on his lap and told his preoccupied disciples to forbid them not—by forgetting them.  Are we aware of where our children are—not just their location, but what they are carrying in the minds and hearts? 

One of the great realizations as a parent is that I have regular conversations with my two daughters in their late thirties about their spiritual journey, talking about how to negotiate the present world in the context of their faith.   I have learned that parenting never really ends.  It just changes in its process.  As we share the journey our relationship continues to deepen. 

We have the authority given to us by Christ to be his hands and feet to the younger generation.  Sometimes, just spending a few minutes with a young person that we might not even know well will create a blessing.   This was reinforced to be when the old track was open in the mornings and I was able to converse with members of the cross country and track teams.   +Without realizing it, we may just be Christ to a young person without realizing it and influence their lives in a positive way.  Many young people feel isolated and alone even when their persona may cover this. 

Summing up, each of us, no matter our age, have the opportunity to reach out to the young.  Think of the adults in your younger days who gifted your life with blessings.  Now it’s our turn to be that blessing for them.  We can model to others by our own choices that prioritize Christ first over cultural aspirations and values.  

There are many ways we can metaphorically hug a child.  Allow Christ to hug a child through you so that they may experience the Presence of God in the temples of their hearts.

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Gabriel’s Wisdom

Advent 4B; Luke 1:46 ff; 12/20/20

Do you believe in angels?  Have you ever heard the voice of an angel in a quiet moment or seen or heard an angel in a dream?   God’s messengers can come to us in many ways.

If you had been visited by an angel, would you hesitate to tell another?  If so, we might be able to identify in some way with Mary who didn’t tell anyone about her experience with Gabriel until she traveled to see her cousin Elizabeth.  After all, if you saw or heard an angel, who would you tell?  Who would listen to you and not back away, give you a funny look, change the subject or all of a sudden excuse themselves, remembering that they had another appointment that they had forgot about. 

Gabriel offered compassion to Mary telling her that her cousin Elizabeth was also with child, thus giving her someone with whom to confide.   How uncomfortable it is when we have a spiritual experience, or a struggle and there is no one to hear us to break the isolation. 

There’s a certain vulnerability in telling the story of our spiritual experience.  Jesus remarked on this in Matthew 7 “not to cast our pearls before swine” because of the risk of having our spirit and our experiences dishonored.    Yet we face the paradox in Luke 8 when we hear after Jesus heals the Gerasene demoniac from his demons to “tell others what God has done for you.” 

The pattern of the early church reveals an eagerness of its disciples to reveal the work of the Spirit in their lives. The Church today is much more timid than Mary’s day, more reluctant I think to tell others what God has done in our lives.   I ponder why that is? 

Gabriel visits Mary and Mary has a story to tell that she is blessed among women. 

Are we not also blessed among others?  Do we consider ourselves as beings who are blessed?  How have we been blessed?   Is being blessed is just for those few special people in the Bible?   Or is being blessed for each of us?  Do we feel blessed by 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon after being inundated with phone calls, texts, computers that don’t work, crabby bosses or employees, losing a job, the faucet that broke at home, the assaults and deceptions of the media, sick children or grandchildren, and the list goes on…?   

Why would God have sent Gabriel to Mary had it not been to pass the blessing on to us? 

When we receive that blessing again on Christmas to whom will we go?  What shall we tell them? 

Is there not a Mary and an Elizabeth in each of us?  Mary has received a story and is bursting at the seams with no one to tell except for a cousin over a day’s journey away.  Telling the story is vital for our spiritual health or it becomes dormant within and soon becomes trampled upon and lost by the tasks of the day which are pale in comparison. 

Is there not an Elizabeth within us who is able to hear the story of Mary and others who desperately need to tell the good news bequeathed to them or release the sorrow of a painful event? 

Gabriel points us to the Mary and Elizabeth within us all—to the necessity of the hearing and the telling the Life of God imparted to us all.  Share the Story.  Receive the Story.  This is our birth rite and the most important daily task we can ever be about.

May the Incarnation be enfleshed in you,

Fr. Mark Bigley

Church of Annunciation, Episcopal

Luling

Father Mark, Sermons

Spiritual Recycling

Advent 3:  John 1; 12/13/20

We’ve been into recycling in town the last couple of months and I am wondering how it is going for the town.  I’m wondering what you’ve heard and how it’s going for you? 

We enjoy it because we’re able to recycle more and it saves us a trip to The Green Guy in San Marcos. 

Occasionally we’ve heard of strikes by sanitation workers where trash wasn’t picked up for weeks leaving piles of trash laying all over the roadways.  Imagine if there was a strike for a month and trash began to build up in streets, yards and highways.  Imagine piles of trash strewn along 183.  Back in the time of John the Baptist, before the days of recycling and trash pickup, people didn’t know much of what to do with it all.  Trash was just strewn across country roads.  After a few years the roads in some places were nigh impassible.  So it was customary when a special dignitary was coming to prepare by having a large roadside cleanup. 

John was keen enough to see the metaphor in connecting repentance to clearing out the trash. 

When we get too much trash in an area, it inhibits our ability to live.  We cannot move freely about.  To play with the metaphor some more, aren’t there times when we just feel trashy?  

There’s just stuff in our minds and in our hearts that just give us the blahs and we just don’t fire on all cylinders.  Life throws us too many curves and we find ourselves out of mental and spiritual balance. Sometimes there’s too much fear.  Fatigue.  Anger or resentment takes its toll on our performance.  Self-preoccupation can create a situation I saw on line where someone driving a car was angry with someone on a sidewalk and they ran their car into a light pole, turning his car, the pole and his driving record into trash.

John asks us to do a state inspection—an inspection of the state we’re in.  To find the trash that’s been piled within and to bring it to the Jordan River and give it to God.  After all, someone is coming that we don’t want to miss. A hindered road to meet him whether that road is internal or external need not prevent us from meeting him—receiving him and allowing him to grow in our hearts for another year.

Father Mark, Sermons

The Most Freeing Word in the World

Advent II, Mark 1:1-8; St. Nicholas Day, December 6th, 2020

This may seem like a dumb question, but have you asked yourselves why you are here or watching online this morning?  The obvious response would be: “To hear the Word, pray and receive Holy Communion. 

Let’s explore this question a little more.    What are we seeking?   What are our minds and hearts seeking?  Could it be that we have something in common with those seeking out John the Baptist?  Are they looking for healing for their wounds, for God to fill their emptiness, to commune with the Holy One?  

People seeking John were desperate.  Israel had been without a prophet for 400 years.  What would it be like for a church to be without a priest for 400 years?

People flocked openly to John confessing their sins to John at the Jordan—to a person they didn’t even know.   I wonder: If John came down to the San Marcos River, would people flock to him?  Would John gain traction in the Episcopal Church in our day with the message:  Repent, followed by confessing our sins openly in public? 

What was their motivation? To drop what they were doing: weekend plans, a shopping trip, the football game-to confess their sins in public?  Think of the restlessness and agitation carried by them for 400 years.  There’s a saying: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Sin has a weight to it—when carried long enough becomes burdensome and becomes heavier over time.  Sin that we do not release carries on through us, affecting others and is passed on from generation to generation.  Perhaps they were sick and tired of being sick and tired. 

John had something they wanted:  relief from their burdens in exchange for God and his gifts of Liberty, peace and joy.  Confessing sins openly released them, opening a place for God within them to dwell. Repentance is the way of release and recovery of our birth right in God.

Does John offer something we want?

What is John asking the people to turn away from?  Sin, anger, judging others, self-condemnation, resentment, false teachings, misplaced priorities, false gods…. Changing one’s heart and mind for the Hebrew is to change one’s action—which requires the conversion that repentance initiates. 

John’s message was revolutionary—in how we seek repentance.   Previous to John, for two thousand years, the only way sins were remitted was through the shedding of blood—from animal sacrifices.   Now, John was baptizing with water, which required an inward repentance to reunion with God.  Baptism was a sign of this reunion with God. 

Forgiveness manifests itself through the Spirit working good works in us.   Repentance empties the heart so God can fill it. John was baptizing with water, which required an inward repentance to reunion with God. 

The animal is no longer a way of accomplishing spiritual reunion.  The human heart is involved.

Those who sought John, were hungry to release the death they carried within themselves.

From what do we want God to deliver us?

What is the suffering that our minds are cluttered with and our hearts are burdened with that we seek to release?

The time is now.

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Waiting is Good News

Advent IB; Mark13:24; 11/29/30

Where do you look for a little good news?   The newspaper?  Online?

Mark’s meteorological report doesn’t offer much either:  The sun will be darkened, moon will give no light, stars falling and the heavens shaken.  

This Jewish poetry describes the collapse of things as they know them.  For them this is nothing new.  They lived through the Assyrians, the Babylonians and now the Romans.   Ethnic cleansing, exterminating cultures and lives was commonplace.   The Jews were hoping that they wouldn’t be next.

Jesus assured them that “this generation shall not pass away” when things collapse.  The word “generation” in the Aramaic means race—not a time period. 

Jesus tells the Jews: not exterminated but survive.  This was good news to them.   

That was then.  This is now.  Thanksgiving Day has passed.  Our minds shift towards Christmas.   We remember the first coming and anticipate the second.

Do we not ask similar questions? How’s it all going to work out in the end?  No one knows.  Not even Jesus.  How can there be good news in this?

The good news comes in these words:  “we do not know when the master of the house will come—keep awake.”  How can this be good news? 

We begin by asking why we’re looking forward to Christmas in the first place? 

Outside of the family, gifts and merriment, why is it that we look forward to a babe lying in the manger?  Why do we remember all the faith that it took Mary and Joseph to bring the child to Bethlehem?   What does the manger have to give us?  What are we hoping for from this child?  

Is not what we are hoping from the manger the same thing we are asking for at the end of time?  Do we not all desire a life that is not overcome with suffering—but rather a way to transcend suffering?  Do we not seek a quality of life and meaning that will lead us into eternal life?   “Eternal” has as much to do with the quality of life than the longevity of it. 

Jesus words are good news:  “You do not know when the master of the house will come—keep awake.”  The only difference is that now the master is already here. 

The Master comes again and again and again to deliver us from captivity—our spiritual captivity.  Jesus did not come to save his people from the Romans but to save them from themselves and from the evil that can influence and imprison us.

Advent is here with its paradox:  Jesus is here and Jesus is coming again—to be born in places within us where he is yet to make his home in us—places where he has yet to be invited, places within us that we do not yet know exist.  

Jesus is coming to inhabit us—not as others do with oppression, but with a Divine Presence that brings a life that words cannot describe—a life of joy, peace and abundance—and it’s all inside.  Christ’s presence is so profound that he will hold us no matter what happens outside of us.

Once within, this life seeks to burst forth to invite others to become a part of that presence also.

Meister Eckhart: “We are all meant to be mothers of God…for God is always needing to be born.”

We all have rooms within where Christ is waiting to be born.