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.

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.

Father Mark, Sermons

It’s Sorting Out Time

Pentecost Last; Mt 25:31 ff; 11/23/20

We all go through times of sorting things out—what do we keep and what do we get rid of?   Jesus’ story is about sorting out—sorting out sheep from the goats.  How can one tell the difference? 

Goats and sheep in Jesus’ time grazed together.  Both are needed for the resources they provide—hair from goats and wool from sheep while both provide milk and cheese. 

When it came time for feeding, the sheep would be separated into a sheep fold while the goats would be sent into a field.   The sheep would be fed fine grass while the goats would continue to graze off the land.  Sheep are the ones that were given real food.

Back in that time, breeding wasn’t a science like it is now and the distinction between sheep and goats weren’t as visibly apparent.  Sorting sheep from goats is discerned by their behavior.   So let’s look at the difference. 

Sorting goats:  I learned what I know about goats from the late John Farqueson from Junction who sorted me out on goats.   As I drove up the dirt road to his ranch I saw a goat standing on top of the cab of his pickup—not good for the paint job, I thought.  John was in the goat pen with several goats around him.  I saw a goat ease up on the side of John.  The goat then stepped out in front of him and a moment later he turned 180 degrees and rammed right into him, almost knocking him over.  Goats are spontaneous, impulsive and unpredictable.

Sorting out sheep—they tend to clump together—but will stray off from the others.   Sheep are nearly blind so they can eat their way apart from the flock becoming lost.  Sheep use the master’s voice as a homing device to find their way to become found again. 

Sorting out sheep from goats can be witnessed in how the shepherd works them. 

Shepherds lead sheep from alongside them.  One usually sees goat herders chasing the impulsive wandering goats.

We all have goat and sheep within us.   How can we sort out the difference? 

The sheep part of us is oriented and balanced coming from our hearing and following the master’s voice.   This is the key difference.  Sheep listen to their master’s voice.  The goat side of us listens to our own voice and thus become more self-referencing, impulsive and reactive.

So our question is, which voice brings harmony and life—the master’s or my own?  Can we sort out which voice we’re hearing?   What voice or voices do I hear me?  Do I experience harmony or discord?   Can we hear the voice of Jesus moving through us? 

Sometimes it’s difficult to see the Christ in others.   Sometimes it’s easy to find the weakness in others rather than the beauty such as in the hungry, sick and the prisoner.  We’re all prisoners of something you know.

One of the greatest challenges for the Church is to know the One Voice who reveals our soul.  Only then can we see the Christ in others instead of focusing on their unpleasantries. 

This large wafer is called the priest’s host.  In a few minutes we’ll prayer for Christ to become present for us in the breaking of the bread.   Christ is our host for himself.  By receiving Christ, the host, we become hosts for the living Christ ourselves.  As living hosts for Christ, Jesus comes through us to touch all that cross our paths during the week.  To become and remain hosts for Christ, we like sheep must receive the Master’s Voice so that it his voice and not ours that comes through us. 

We are living hosts for the living Christ.  By being carried by Christ we carry Christ to others.   Be who you are—the hosts of Christ.

Amen.

Father Mark, Sermons

Servanthood is joy–most of the time.

Proper 28A Pentecost 24 11/15/20      

Jesus’ message seeps into places we least expect.

I remember my sophomore year in summer football practice.  We were the bait for the varsity players to practice on.   One of my most dreaded drills was when the linebackers would practice their reaction time and tackling—on us.  

There were four tires laid down in a line about a yard apart.  The two senior linebackers, both larger and stronger than myself, were on one side and I was on the other—alone—no one in front of me blocking.  Coach Morrill would give me the ball and whisper in my ear in which gap between the tires to run.  

After a couple of runs where I was obliterated and then peeled off the ground, I had the wind knocked out of me.   When it was my turn to run the ball again, I hesitated and didn’t run toward them as fast.  After they flattened me again, the coach picked me up, stuck his face into my face guard, his eyes glaring red, the chewing tobacco oozing out of his mouth and he began to scream at me for not giving my best effort when I ran into them.   I made an excuse as I gasped for breath and before I could finish, he laid into me again telling me what a baby I was.   That hurt as much as the two linebackers grinding me into the ground. 

He yelled that the linebackers needed a real situation in practice to prepare them for the game.   At that moment, I crawled out of my cave of self-preservation and grew up a lot. The coach had revealed my victim consciousness and cowardice.  

I realized that I had value and that it was important for me to give everything I had in me to help the varsity prepare—even when it hurt.   

Translating this to the parable of the talents, I learned that even though God loved me, there was more to it than this.  We have the choice of a lifetime to open our hearts to merge with God’s presence.    The spiritual life is forged through faith, endurance and challenges, forged by hammer and heat.  

Servanthood is a way of life to which we are not accustomed. 

Used to our autonomy, we do not easily fit in a subordinate role, often equating being subordinate with a lack of self-worth or value. 

Servants back in that Jesus’ day time were actually guardians of the master’s estate and family.  The servant who did not invest himself in the work his master gave him to do made excuses, falsely blaming the master for exploiting him when it was his responsibility as a servant to invest his talents in some way, even if it were only to go invest them for a little interest.  

The Master didn’t buy into the servant’s blame game and victim consciousness that the slothful servant was playing.

The story never ponders the question of why the servant was slothful.  Perhaps he was fearful?  Ever been afraid to invest yourself in something?  Fear keeps us from receiving the love of the master and loving him in return.

In the Middle East, if the servants do not do their allotted tasks, they are not mollycoddled, they are released.  This is similar to if you have a fruit tree in your yard that doesn’t produce, sooner or later do you decide to cut it down.  

Jesus speaks of preparation and investing ourselves in him.  We walk with Jesus over the threshold as one.  

Being a servant of God is like being lost in his presence.  We’re not really lost—but so absorbed in the presence and what the Spirit is doing through us that we often lose track of what we are doing because we enter the timelessness of his presence. 

The master invites the servants to “enter the joy of your master.”  There is joy in co-creating with God.

Being in the presence of God, immersed in his Divine Rhythm,  is a foretaste of eternal life where we co-create with God on earth, sharing Divine Joy.  We often lose track of time because in those moments we are living in eternity—the place of true joy.

Get lost in God to be found—and to find yourself in joy.