Father Mark, Sermons

Advent 2C; Malachi 3:1-4, Luke 3:1-6

My father shared the hobby of coin collecting with my brother and me as boys.  We were fascinated by the art, beauty and history in coins.   I found the contrast between raw silver ore and uncirculated–untouched silver coins to be fascinating.   The coins are shimmering as they reflect light.  The silvery light from shiny coin catches the eye.   

What does your eye gravitate towards, the raw ore or the finished coin?    

Refined silver is much more attractive that in its unrefined state.  Refined silver is benefits us in many ways:  as the best thermal and electric conductor there is. Silver’s antimicrobial qualities make it useful in medicine.

The light that silver reflects holds our attention.  I’ve never seen a group of women who are introduced to a new piece of silver, gold or diamond jewelry, to react apathetically to it.  They know of the value of the beauty reflected in the refined metal.

Perhaps this is why Malachi describes the messenger of God as one who acts as a refiner and purifier of silver, beckoning the question:  Where in our lives are we like refined silver—reflecting the beauty of its creator and where are we like raw ore that has yet to be refined? 

John the Baptist speaks of a refiner’s fire.  He has spent his life in the wilderness allowing God to refine his soul.  

I expect that each of us is like a silver mine.  John says the One who is coming will take to mining and refining that which is precious within us, separating out the slag.  There’s always more to be mined and refined and so the messenger keeps coming to us.  The mining and refining takes time and deliberate inner work.   

Raw ore is crushed, chemically washed and fired to extract the pure ore that it is to reflect the light of its true nature.   Mining is hard work—mining involves digging.

Prayer and spiritual study are like digging for and processing the ore that is within us into refined silver. 

The point to remember is that it is the refiner, not the metal itself that does the work. The ore is not the refiner.  The ore is worked on by the refiner.  We are not the refiner but the ore.  

The messenger points to the refiner and his skill of applying the laser of Divine Love so that we reflect more and more of the beauty of who we truly are.  Where it’s easy for us to muck things up is to possess a belief that something is wrong with the ore.  Ore is natural.  There’s nothing bad about it.  It’s just not finished yet.  

When we look at our unfinished selves, it is easy to react–feeling shame when we look at the unfinished state of our ore.  But this is not God’s intention. The danger in this is that the shame might inhibit us into withdrawing from the love of the refiner’s fire which would be counterproductive to our becoming refined.  

Shame is a distortion that is only productive when it motivates us to move back into the refiner’s hands. 

God has created us to shine.  We await again for the One who will free us to do so.

Father Mark, Sermons

Advent 1C; Luke 21 ff

One of these days…   How many times do you catch yourself saying to yourself, “One of these days….?”   Do you have a list in your mind called the “One of these days list?  Do you ever find yourself saying, One of these days I’m going to___________. How would you finish the sentence?  

What’s on your One of these days list?   It’s easy to put off something on our one of these days list.   We have so many demands on our time…but how many of the demands on our time are the things we have chosen—not that have been imposed upon us?   Do we really have to do all the things that we think we have to do?  By what authority? Sometimes I wonder if we surrender to the “Have to do list in our heads without even examining if we really have to do themout of habit or outside influence , if we are giving away our God given free will. 

Jesus is coming…where is it or in what way do you think that Jesus wants to show up to us this coming year?   The best way we prepare for the Advent of Jesus’ coming by being in the present moment.   

Research reveals that our minds at least 47% of the time (I think it’s more) are involved either in past memories or thoughts about the future.   How easy it is for the mind to wander….   Our minds whether we like it or not, put thoughts in our heads.  Our minds are good at noticing what we want and ignoring what we don’t.  

I used to read a series of books to my children and now my children read to my grandchildren.  They are a series of books called Find Waldo Now.  

Just in case you don’t know about the series, there are detailed pictures where there are people in various detailed settings and you have to look diligently to find the picture of Waldo in his red and white striped clothes. I think that Advent is something like this:  Find Jesus Now.  

Where is Jesus hidden in the picture of our lives waiting for us to find him?   

Where is Jesus showing up?   

One question I have found helpful is the concern Jesus shares with his disciples:  Be on guard, so that your hearts are not weighed down….   

Where is it that our hearts are weighed down?   Where are hearts are weighed down we are not free and our wills become imprisoned in a world that is neither created by ourselves or by God. 

Sometimes we find the weight laid upon us through external events.  Other times we inadvertently choose them.  Either way, our hearts become burdened and the eye of the heart unclear.  

Our lives can be going pretty well—but I am not sure that with a little reflection each of us might find somewhere in our hearts where we are weighed down—weighed down just enough, so that we’re not really running on all of our spiritual cylinders.

Jesus is coming to take the weight off our hearts. Our first step to removing them is by the practice ofbeing present to him with what it is that weighs down our hearts.  Sometimes it’s the little things that we disregard that can weigh us down so it’s easy to minimize their importance—hoping they will go away.  But if unattended, like mold and mildew, they proliferate. 

St. Paul mentioned this in that as spiritually strong as he was, he spoke of that thorn in the flesh that often seemed to hinder him.   So what are some of the things in our lives that weigh down our hearts?  They can be past events or present challenges or even preoccupation with the future.  

Where is Jesus now in your life picture waiting for you, like Waldo, to find him?

Do we wish that Jesus would go to another part of the picture because where he is waiting would be a place that we don’t especially want to visit?  Thorns are uncomfortable. Metaphorically, as I travel the countryside, I see acres of pasture that was once wilderness which has been cleared of thorns. 

A new year brings opportunities.   We have 365 days of present moments where we have the opportunity allow Jesus to hold our hearts in his and to release us from that which has prevented us from fully receiving the life of God given to us.  

It’s Advent.  We wait for Jesus.  But Jesus is also waiting for us. 

Stop what you are doing.  Take time to seek the Eternal One who waits for us.  

Father Mark, Sermons

Christ The King Sunday; Last Sunday of Pentecost; John 18:33 ff. November 25, 2018

Today is the last Sunday of the Church Year otherwise known as Christ the King.  Saturday night in a sense is New Year’s Eve.                                  

I ponder why did the Standing Liturgical Commission chose the Jesus-Pilate narrative before Jesus’ crucifixion for the last Sunday of the Church Year?   The movement from death, resurrection to the Holy Spirit creating apostles out of disciples and then the time warp back to the crucifixion.                                                

And so what does all of this have to do with anything, especially on Monday morning?  Plenty.

Jesus’ last words to Pilate were: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.   Confused, Pilate asks Jesus:  What is truth?  Jesus remains silent.  If Pilate had to ask, he didn’t get it.  

What is truth?   Truth is like gravity—an unchanging reality.  I remember in my younger years, the term, defy gravity, was used a lot, as it was during the early NASA days and previously in the Wright Brothers era.  

Gravity is a part of the human condition.  By flying, some are duped to think that gravity has been defied.  

Gravity is still in force.  As long as the engine and wings work within the gravitational field to lift the craft off the ground, it flies.  Once it doesn’t, as my Marine Corps veteran friend in Tennessee always used to say: You’re running out of airspeed, altitude and ideas.   

Gravity is still gravity.  We are a part of it.  Just as gravity is not abstract, neither is truth abstract, but is grounded in Reality. 

Truth is much the same thing.  Truth is something we belong to.   Truth in the Biblical understanding is defined as firm, solid, reliable, faithful, tested and a reality that is firm and unchanging.  I am reminded of the collect in Compline which prays for us to rest in God’s eternal changelessness.  Changeless doesn’t mean static but the identity of God’s being which is consistent and intact—like the sun shining whether we see it or not.  

Truth designates the quality of God’s nature and will.  Truth is living in the presence of God’s Being—in the words of Paul: In him we live, move and have our being.  We are animated by the presence of God in a holy mystical union in a way that can only be known and not explained. The intrinsic being of God moves through us and creation.  Like gravity, we belong to this whether we are conscious of it or not.  We may choose to walk out of step with this presence but the presence always remains present.  

Truth is not arbitrary nor is it limited by pragmatic sensory experience.  A philosopher may dabble in the subject and place truth on a dualistic continuum with falsehood.  The Biblical understanding of the opposite of truth is not falsehood but fickleness—not being true—not aligning oneself with reality.  Dostoevsky wrote from his Marxist prison cell:  “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” 

Truth contains and establishes fact yet transcends it.  Truth is a Dynamic living energy pervading all who receive its presence that shapes the receiver into the same traits and character of being as the sources of that energy.  It is like when you see yourself as spontaneously and automatically acting in similar ways as your mother or father—you just pick up on the mannerisms, as ways of being. 

Summing up:  Truth is the movement of Divinity moving through creation and its people. We belong to this living truth, this Spirit moving over and through the creation and created.  God is truth simply Being Himself.  

Back to Jesus’ statement: Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. When Pilate then asked Jesus, What is truth?  Jesus could not verbalize what Pilate could not see.  Pilate was looking at truth incarnate in Jesus and did not realize it.  

Truth is not a proposition but a divine impulse which is realized directing and working through us.  Truth is not impulsive.  Impulsivity comes from a lack of rootedness in truth. 

Perhaps the whole purpose of the church year can be summarized in learning how to allow the Source of our being to be the source of our being—receiving the Divine Impulse and living in the heartbeat of God.

Listen for the heartbeat of God within you this week.  

Saint Thomas Aquinas
Father Mark, Sermons

Proper 28B; Joshua 2; 11/18/18

Proper 28B; Joshua 2; 11/18/18

Saint Thomas AquinasThere was a philosopher who visited a monastery and conversed with a monk.  In the context of the conversation, the philosopher challenged the monk: “Why are you so wary of thought?  Thought is the one tool we have for organizing the world.”  The monk responded, “True. But thought can organize the world so well that you are no longer able to see it.”   

A thought is a screen, not a mirror; that is why it is easy to live in a thought envelope, untouched by Reality.”

Three questions:  What has influenced our lives in the past?  What is influencing our lives now?

What influences are we able to choose and are there influences where we lack the ability to choose?   

Past influences have shaped us to be who we are now.   Our pathways of perceiving, thinking and acting can be so normalized that we are hardly aware of their influence over us.   

What has influence over our lives is a combination of external and internal forces that are presently acting upon us without our always realizing this.  

How much of what we approach or avoid comes from our own choices or by outside influences?   

All of this may sound rather tedious but the spiritual leaders of the Old Testament including Jesus were very specific about directing us in the choosing of our influences—when to interact and when to withdraw.  

Our reading from Judges might have us questioning if what Joshua heard was really from God.  Joshua is very specific: Do not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars…because they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you.

This seems a bit harsh to the multicultural experience of our present day and the cultural value of tolerance. Yet the Old Testament writers throughout history make it very clear that when the people co-mingled with the peoples, religions and practices of other cultures, their moral fiber began to disintegrate and their culture fell apart.  

Jesus further instructs his disciples: Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.  What influences give us life and which influences pretend –the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing—to break us down?  When livestock veer from the path, often they become vulnerable. Amish culture has maintained their practices within a closed community and they still appear to prosper.  There may be some downsides to the Amish way of life but their culture has remained intact for several centuries.  

Influences consist of people, places and things.  What are the people, places and things that manifest the presence of God’s image and likeness within us that bear the fruits of peace, love and joy?   What are the influences of people, places and things that inhibit, detract or deteriorate our souls?  

Jesus himself modeled this in his own life.  He went about the people, teaching and healing.  But at the day’s end, he would withdraw to be alone or with his own.  Jesus gave warnings beginning using the word, beware.  Beware of the Scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus would begin a sentence: “You have heard it said that…” followed by old influence and then add “But I say….” giving a new influence.

We’ve left the altar red since Pentecost to emphasize the Season of the Spirit given to the disciples, creating the church, and us.   This season is quickly coming to the end of another year.  The Season of the Spirit is a period of continual discernment of listening for direction of the Spirit’s influence—bypassing discordant influences. 

Spiritual discernment is an intricate process.  Everything we encounter we have some level of relationship with.  Withdrawing is an important part of the spiritual life.  Withdrawing is not passive but active.  We withdraw from the distractions which inhibit our focusing on the presence of God.

Withdrawing is an Advent practice. 

The other item that the Book of Judges addresses is that fact that Joshua’s generation remained faithful in their spiritual covenant and intact as a people.  

But the generation that followed did not and the culture atrophied.   

Throughout scripture there is a pattern of spiritual practice, intimacy with God and cultural harmony in one generation which becomes lax and later abandoned in later generations resulting in cultural depravity and suffering.   The church itself has a history of thriving and decay.  History reveals that the act of withdrawing from and choosing spiritual influences not a once in a lifetime choice but a daily lifestyle.  

We are preparing for a New Year: assessing the influences in our lives and which ones we should approach and from which ones to withdraw.  Advent is a season originally intended to give us the opportunity to withdraw and listen for the Spirit’s direction so we are able to fully receive the Christ coming into the world.   

What are the influences that will shape our Advent?  Do they mirror in any way the intent of original purpose of the season?  

Influences—to withdraw or attach.   Where are we being led?  What is God doing in this time and place? 

Father Mark, Sermons

Stewardship in 2018

As children, we are like sponges, soaking up everything from our environment. Our experiences form our perceptions, beliefs and shapes our behavior. Parents, relatives, neighbors, teachers, peers, the media, environmental events all influence us so that our basic understanding of the world and our habits are formed by the end of our 7th year. In the meantime, life begins to rub up against us and challenge our perceptions and beliefs. We usually resist incongruent experiences before we examine our beliefs and behavior because changing our life perspective and habits for the unknown can be uncomfortable—unless over time our original beliefs and behavior create a level of unpleasantness where we realize a change is in order. We learn faith partially by allowing ourselves to walk through the fear holding us to our attachments to people, places, objects and beliefs that hinder us—and Then let go of beliefs and behaviors which no longer serve us to embrace a new way of seeing, believing and acting in the world.

I may have mentioned some of my experience of stewardship before. I was reminded at clergy conference that sometimes we have to hear something 20 times for us to remember and integrate it into our lives. Stewardship of my time and talent has never been a problem for me. I was blessed with a hunger for learning and sharing what I learn. After my graduation from high school I have been involved for at least 24 years in formal education: learning amassing various knowledge and skill sets to enhance my life as a priest and a human being to be able to serve humanity. Sharing time and talents has been a joy and relatively easy for me. Part of my stewardship of treasure has involved investing thousands in these educational endeavors of self-development. In other ways, stewardship of treasure has been more challenging for me.

Church was an early influence that shaped my perceptions, beliefs and behavior. Church was like my second home, a place where I belonged. My dad took me there often and I helped him with various chores around the church. We had a living creche in Advent where we constructed the frame and built walls with bales of straw. We also had to catch the animals for the creche which was a whole lot of fun. Then we took turns dressing up as Mary, Joseph, and shepherds standing in the creche under the evening lights. Sunday evening of the 4th Sunday of Advent we would sing carols and listened to Luke’s birth narrative. I have many warm memories of my childhood. We were given small children’s envelopes with our very own number on them. We put our quarter into them every Sunday that our parents gave us. It was fun giving my offering—I felt a part of the community of giving. During all these wonderful formation experiences there was another environmental current affecting me.

I will preface this with the fact that no one is perfect, including parents: and this has no effect on how much I love and respect my parents. My mother was a product of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and my brother heard numerous stories over and over such as how they scraped by eating beans and wearing hand me down clothes. I didn’t like Brussel Sprouts at that time and I was constantly reminded of the poor starving people in China who had nothing to eat. There were other incidents woven though my early years which transmitted my mother’s anxiety and belief of scarcity into my mind and life’s outlook. Since then, my studies have revealed that anxiety is transmuted from parent to child—even in utero and children absorb our emotional states because they have no identity to differentiate from their parents.

After leaving home, I began to make my own money and my own bills. It had been easy to put the quarter in the envelope as a child because my parents gave it to me. But now, I had to figure out how much went where. Stewardship at the time was a low key endeavor. One gave to the church to keep the doors open. There was a disconnect between stewardship and faith formation. Then came marriage, children, and the increased fiscal challenges that come with it. The following is a fact of life and not a complaint: While in suburbia, I learned that one of the challenges of running a clergy household is that most church members have a much higher income. It was difficult to participate in some activities because we couldn’t afford to keep up with the level of their lifestyle and there were many times where we overspent our budget in order to participate. Relocating to another church can also be costly. When we sold the first home we bought, we lost all the equity we put into it due to a slump in the housing market. By this time the church began to teach about stewardship as proportionate giving, working toward the tithe.

There were many years when I had a lump in my throat due to the fear of how could I manage to be faithful without going into debt. This is when we learned to set priorities. During those few difficult years, we still looked at our income and stewardship proportionately and had to back up our percentage of giving a couple of times. But each year we’d bump it up another percentage point. However, the core issue for me throughout was the parental infused anxiety birthed in my belief in scarcity and fear that God would not provide. My head knew the theology of God granting us abundance. But my mind and feelings feared that we just might not have enough. Relocating to Luling was a blessing. Fiscal changes involved higher taxes and real estate costs, going from no mortgage to having one, Kathy moving from full time to part time work and my change from two income sources to one.

What’s really important to me in this is not the money itself but transcending the fear that plagued my life in the past to be given a heart of gratitude in its place. So this year we will step up a percentage point to 8.2%. The fear still raises its head periodically, but the decision to move through the fear by acting in faith has helped to dissolve it. Peter walked on the water toward Jesus until he began thinking too much and sank due to his fear. Reviewing the salvation of history of God working in my life has also helped me realize that we have been carried this far and God has never let us down. Reviewing one’s salvation history is a powerful antidote to fear. Being delivered from fear into freedom is a part of salvation. I have learned that I need to give in order to discover my identity as a child of God and as a co-creator with God—in order to know in the words of St. Paul: “whose love and service is perfect freedom.”

Will you join me in walking the path of stewardship as a spiritual practice?