Father Mark, Sermons

Rx for Complaining

Proper 20A; Pentecost 16; Exodus 16 & Matt. 20; 9/20/20

I remember running to a coffee shop during a break.  In the line in front of me were two young women in their 20’s followed by a soldier in fatigues.  One of the young ladies was complaining to the barista about not having enough whip cream in her coffee and the other was complaining about something else.   As they complained, I could see the soldier’s posture become rigid and begin to restlessly fidget about.  I backed up one step. 

I could surmise what was going through his mind having known other veterans.  Veterans have gratitude that they could just have a cup of coffee and not complain about what kind of fixings went in it. 

All of us have been complaining about COVID—how could we not—missing what we hold dear in life—most of all relationships.  We have plenty of company when it comes to complainers. 

Besides the Israelites in the Wilderness there’s Jonah who sits under a bush in the hot sun while his shade withers away having a pity party when Nineveh wasn’t destroyed.   The disciples complained regularly and it’s no wonder that this could have been a reason why Jesus wandered out by himself to pray in order to get away from them.   

This morning we read of the Israelites during their survival wilderness training, chronically complaining.  

Today they are complaining about the lack of bread. 

In the gospel story, Jesus tells a parable about a landowner who hires workers throughout the day and he pays a living wage to each of them whether they began early or late in the day.   The early workers complain that they had to work longer and the landowner wasn’t being fair. 

The parable isn’t about equal pay. 

The parable is about God’s love for all his people whether they come to him early or later.   When we’re in God, we’re happy that others come to Christ no matter what age they are.   

When we rejoice at the blessings of others we reveal that our spirits are in the heart of God.

Moses speaks a sentence of deep conviction:  “Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” 

Moses is right on target.   When we complain, we may not realize that we’re complaining about God’s order in the universe—that it doesn’t seem to be working because life seems to be so messed up.  

God’s order in the universe is working just fine.  Its human beings that get off track and take the order that was created and make chaos out of it.  This is the part we often forget.   

It’s not that we should shut up and stuff our complaints as we would still have them.  Complaints don’t disappear by suppressing them.  After our initial grumbling and murmuring, God seeks for us to direct our complaints to him.  God helps uncover what is underlying our complaints so that the Spirit can absorb our discontent as we re-establish contact with him, redirect our path and find a way through the conflict—returning to peace of heart and mind.     

In another story Jesus says that God is like the sun and rain, giving light and warmth and moisture to all. 

I remember the northern winters that average overcast skies 25 days a month—blocking out the sun.  I suffered from SAD from mid-November to mid-March.    During the few days that would have sun, I would go outside and stand in the sun, to absorb the Vitamin D that would help relieve my depression.   I could feel the change over me as the sun soaked into my body. 

Prayer is learning to come out of the dark to avail ourselves of the Light God pours into our lives.  When we’re disturbed and feel like complaining, instead of feeling embarrassed about it, we can take ourselves and our complaints to God so that the Spirit can reorient us into himself, his LIght and his peace.

Father Mark, Reflections

Resentment

Proper 19A Pentecost 15; Matthew 18:21-35; 9/13/20

Trivia question:  Do you know the bitterest substance on the face of the earth? Denatonium benzoate better known as Dentrol or Bitrex.    Denatonium benzoate in a solution of ten parts per million is unbearable to human taste buds.

The heart of people with long carried resentment becomes dark and the bitterness that spews from them is like tasting denatonium benzoate. 

Ten parts per million isn’t much of a ratio. 

It’s like .001 of a percent.  That’s all it takes for resentment to darken our life.  

Resentment is like putting a backpack on and carrying around 100 pounds of lead. 

Not only is the weight intolerably heavy, but the chemical contamination from lead poisons weakens the body and soul. Charles Dickens’ character, Scrooge, would be an example of one who is poisoned by resentment.  

Those whose hearts are unforgiving bring on their own agony and spreads that agony to others.  I am reminded of memories of working in a crisis mental health center of clients brought up by police who hadn’t bathed or changed clothes in over a month.  The stench would permeate the whole floor.   Resentment can carry the similar stench.

The king, after discovering his servant’s failure to show mercy to others after he himself received mercy from the king, reveals the perils of not forgiving.   It’s not that God is going to hold sentence over us for not forgiving.  No.

Spiritual law reveals that when we hold on to resentment and fail to forgive another, we are creating a state of hell for ourselves.  I don’t know if you’ve ever known anyone who has held resentments over an extended period of time.  They’re not much fun to be around. 

One of my favorite quotes that returns to my memory comes from St. Benedict:  Every day we begin again.   God has already forgotten our transgressions and so Benedict is urging us not to keep hanging on to them.   Resentment blocks us from living in the present moment. Learning from our faults is one thing.  Dragging them around is another. 

God does not withhold forgiveness like the hypocritical servant who showed no mercy or compassion to others.   Seventy time seven:   An infinite number. 

Seven and multiples of 7 for the Hebrew represent wholeness and a sense of being complete. 

Forgiving completes our soul, reuniting the lost pieces of ourselves that resentment scatters.  God is always available to relieve human suffering by entering our suffering with us—the way Jesus did it.   Jesus went to hell and back for us.  All we have to do is open the door when he knocks and the agony we carry will be removed from us, restoring us to our blessed Union with God.

Father Mark, Reflections

What HAM Radio Teaches Me About God

One of the joys I experience in life is discovering new things and their relatedness with God’s creation and how God works through creation.  Creation is a metaphor for God’s dynamic action in our lives.  

After passing my HAM exam I began seeing images of how the electromagnetic frequencies and wavelengths of radio waves are interrelated in all forms of sound communication.   The psalmist knew that when God “opened his mouth” and spoke, the frequency and wavelength emitted created life in some form. 

In the New Testament, Jesus would speak and that frequency or wavelength emitted from him would heal a sick person.  Depending on the context and spirit of our hearts, the words emitted from our mouths carry a certain wavelength and frequency to build up or to tear down.  

I was speaking with Pastor Bill Nobles of First UMC this week and we spoke of the message of Jesus that we preach.  Jesus, similar to a transmitter, sent out the Word in the Creator’s frequency and wavelength which was universally (and still is) available to the masses.  The message was received by some whose spiritual antennas were open to receive the message.  In a sense, our whole being is an antenna and receiver for the Spirit but we have to turn it on. 

As you cannot visually see electromagnetic radio waves, we cannot in the same way “see” Spirit.  But we can see what the Spirit does and feel what the Spirit does within us.

Then Pastor Bill and I took the conversation a step further, wondering if the message that we’re preaching is at the same frequency and on the same wavelength as Jesus?  We were silent for a while.  How can we offer the Word Christ preached and healed with at the same frequency and wavelength as he did (does)?  We spoke of the incredible responsibility of how important it is to get out of the way and make sure that it is Jesus speaking through us instead of ourselves.

But is not this the message for all the baptized?  Are not all of our mouths created for allowing the Word in all its vibration and wavelength to emanate from our soul center?  

The HAM radio reminds me of how important being “tuned” to the frequency and wavelength of God’s vibrating Word.  

Let us support each other in this most Holy task.  May the Spirit sound through each of us so that we may radiate the harmony of God.

May each of us experience God’s Peace vibrating through us,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Another Mystery of Life

When in Big Bend last year, Kathy and I stopped at a wonderful rock shop in Terlingua. As we all are “taken aback” when we see things, the above stone caught my attention and my eyes were riveted upon it for some time. Initially, it was the layers of coloring that blended together as I pondered how the minerals were layered so mysteriously instead of conglomerated together in a colorless blob.

The second insight that came to me is can be summed up in the word, “time.” The stone was created layer upon layer over time. Each period of time was layered, colored, and uniquely blended together. There are three different layers of color between the two darker brown layers, one being much thinner than the previous one while there are six layers separating the two pinker layers. How did the differentiation in color and layer thickness happen? How long did it take to happen. I only had one geology course in college so the questions will remain a mystery.

Are not our lives like this beautiful stone. Our lives are layered as we grow from different life experiences. Some of those experiences are darker than others but the darker layers remain as a foundation for other layers of various colors and thicknesses. The stone reaffirms to me that there truly is a “Divine Order in the Universe.”

Each phase of our lives, God is building on the previous layers something entirely new, differing from the other layers, calling us into wholeness and the complete nature of who we are. God is always about the task of shaping us. There are no two stones exactly alike just like there are no two people exactly alike.

Take a few moments before your head hits the pillow this evening to recall all the layers of your life and how each part was used by God to form you into the person you are today. Each part or layer is important and fits in as a part of the whole. Each of us is multifaceted and rich in blessing adding color to and benefiting the world God gave us.

Let your colors show or in the words of Jesus: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Make no mistake about it. Jesus’ directive tell us that all of our lives matter.

De Colores (All the colors),

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Labor Day

I want you to take a moment to look at your hands. I want you to recall a few moments of what your hands have already done today. Most of what your hands have done was most likely done without your awareness. Our hands have become so skilled that they just “do it” without much thought at all.

What your hands have done has been generally a two way effort towards taking care of yourself and your neighbor. The hands have washed and dressed yourself, helped your children, hugged members of your family and prepared and assisted you in eating your breakfast. On other days we we work, our hands in conjunction with our minds create something to bless the world.

Hopefully you remembered to allow your hands to either come to rest or together to pray for a few moments. It is the heart that guides the mind to direct what the hands will do and will not do. The content within the heart is the driving force which moves the hands in the direction, intent and the quality of the work we do.

Notice your hands. Be still for a moment while looking at them and wondering where God will have you use them today. Gratitude will fill your being.

God has no hands but ours.

Remember. Give thanks. Be.

Fr. Mark