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. 

Father Mark, Sermons

Preparation

Proper 27A Pentecost 23 Matthew 25; 11/8/20

When I was younger, I felt confused because this parable of the wise and foolish maidens seems to convey a theme of rejection and I wondered how Jesus could reject anyone when we were taught that he loves everyone unconditionally.  Understanding the background for the parable helps us to understand that Jesus wasn’t rejecting anyone. 

Five of the ten maidens were invited but did not prepare their lamps. 

Middle East weddings were planned in the late fall or winter, after the crops had been harvested.  This meant less daylight in the evenings and since streetlights hadn’t been invented yet, it was exceedingly dark outside. 

People were dependent on either candles or lamps not only for light on the inside of the house but to travel outside.  Lamps were fueled either by butter or olive oil.  If your family didn’t process its own butter or olive oil, it would have to be purchased in shops that were open limited hours. 

Weddings would be held in the evenings between dusk to midnight depending on when the wedding party was ready and were sometimes a week long.  

One would have to arrive early enough to be invited into the home with lamps as space was limited.   

Arriving early enough to enter didn’t mean the wedding started on time.  “On time” meant whenever the bride, groom and all the arrangements were ready.  

One might arrive at 5:00 p.m. and wait outside until the wedding started near midnight.  If one didn’t bring enough oil for their lamps, they’d run out before the wedding even started.   Not only would they struggle to find their way to the door in the dark but it was a requirement that each guest would bring lamps to light the home as light represented happiness.  If you look at pictures of churches in the Middle East at Easter, this is why you’ll see hundreds of lit candles bundled together all over the sanctuary. 

Jesus is teaching us that the spiritual life involves preparation.  This doesn’t mean that we have to work our way into heaven.  Preparation means we allow heaven to work its way into us.   Preparation is our work of opening up our heart, mind and will to make room for Jesus.  The five were not ready to enter because they did not prepare and had no light to offer.  

One reason Jesus told parables was because they made a point about the spiritual life.  But the parable doesn’t give easy answers as they often leave us with more questions.  In our age of street lamps and flash lights, it may be difficult to realize this parable working in our own life.  

I am left with questions:

What kind of preparation is Jesus talking about for us? 

What are our lamps today?   What are we to bring to the wedding feast?

If the maidens were to bring oil and lamps, what are we to bring? 

And how do we prepare? 

Last week we reflected on the Beatitudes:  the qualities of a Spirt led light filled life.  Maybe the Beatitudes are a good place to begin.  How do we prepare to receive the One who will fill us with his presence without measure?

Father Mark, Sermons

Beatitudes as a Third Creed

Blessed are the merciful…

All Saints Day; Matthew 5; 11/1/20

Most of us have hobbies.  I know that some of you work with wood and others with needlework and fabric.  You have an image for what your completed work will look like and then you go about shaping the wood or the needlework and fabric into that image, sometimes making adjustments as you go. 

The same is true in our spiritual life.  The Holy Spirit in loving us is always about the task of shaping us into our true selves in his Image. 

I am reminded of the song we have sung before:  “Abba Father—mold us and fashion us into the image of Jesus….”

We have two creeds, Nicene and Apostles. I would like to think that Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5 is like a third creed except that instead of what we believe as stated in our creeds, the Beatitudes are what our beliefs are enacted—the Christ like life observed.  The Beatitudes lived are concrete evidence of the Spirit moving in us. 

For Jesus, truth is expressed through the qualities of: meekness, justice, peace, purity of heart, compassion, mercy, love of self, neighbor and enemy and devotion to God’s presence in the world. 

Humility, peace, purity of heart and the others are the individual musical notes on God’s harmonious scale. 

Each of the Beatitudes are intertwined, not separate. 

For example, for peace making, justice, compassion and the others all require humility.  Justice without humility is merciless.  Without humility, compassion can never come to pass.   The Beatitudes are all part of God’s symphony, each note sounding through us filling the universe with that symphony.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, means humility.  Blessed are the poor in pride.  We may be proud of our heritage and accomplishments for good reasons while underneath it all, humility means that we do not become inflated but rather see these as gifts of God.  Social standing means nothing in the Kingdom of God.  Humility comes from the word, humus, meaning of the earth—and treat others with value as well.  Humility means that we bow to God and allow God to guide us in everything.

Mourning is a spiritual practice.  Mourning is not self-pity although self-pity arises in the mourning process.   

Mourning is the way we move more deeply into God after a loss, experiencing the Divine Heart grow in our broken one.

Blessed are the meek.   Being gentle of spirit doesn’t mean that we become victims.  Gentle spirits are able to respond instead of react or retaliate.  We all know that quick tempers lead to unpleasant consequences.  Gentleness of spirit comes from an inner strength that like supple trees are able to bend during a storm but do not break. 

A gentle spirit enables a person to remain in contact with others allowing the presence of God to disarm them from their fear and anger.   In the Old Testament this quality is known as chesed or loving kindness.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. 

Righteousness has multiple meanings:  godliness, devout character and justice.  Justice means living in “balance” with God’s natural law.   Righteousness treats others with value.

Blessed are the righteous…

Blessed are the merciful and the pure in heart. 

Mercy involves compassion, offering loving kindness and mercy. 

Pure in heart involves one who is sincere and contrite. 

A contrite person acts with regret and sorrow for one’s wrongs.   When we live in the experience of the presence of God, the Golden Rule lives through us.  Contrition allows the Spirit to cleanse our hearts so that God might openly move through us.

Blessed are the peacemakers

Peacemakers often gathered at the gates of Jerusalem to offer their services as an alternative to a judge who could easily take a bribe. 

One cannot give away what they haven’t received.

A peacemaker is filled with the presence of God.

Peace in the Aramaic, schlama, means “surrender.” 

Making peace means that we yield to one another.

Only then can God make us one.  

Blessed are the persecuted. 

Sometimes I wince at this one.  Who likes being persecuted?

As we grow spiritually, it is not unusual for us to change in our presence, priorities and behavior aligning more with the Spirit of Christ.  We may no longer fit in with the norms and thought of the culture.  These changes can awaken anxiety in others, sometimes to the point that they will turn on us. 

When we are so merged into God that we can love unconditionally, we have already entered the Kingdom of God—the greatest reward of all. 

Blessed are you.  Enjoy the Spirit moving in your life. 

Father Mark, Sermons

The Changelessness of God

Proper 25A Pentecost 21; Matt 22:32 ff; 10/25/20

At clergy conference we often share ecclesiastical humor.  Last week, one priest joked that we were in the 32nd Sunday of Covidtide.  Welcome to the 33rd Sunday of Covidtide.  In this season of Covidtide, how many changes can you recall experiencing?  

There’s an old saying that the only constant is change.  But there is an exception.  

I am reminded of my favorite prayer in Compline.  I’d like to pray it with you right now, even though the prayer is written for evening: 

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  The love of God doesn’t change even when we up to our necks in alligators trying to find the plug to pull to drain the swamp. 

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  There is the eternal still, small voice of God that has circled the universe before its creation, now encircling us. 

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  The eternal still small voice of God, hums the love of God to us like a mother hums to her child in her arms. 

When is the last time we felt like we were being held in the arms of God—hearing the hum of the Divine still small Voice—the same voice of Jesus that calmed the storm?  

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  As storms of various kinds rage around us—are we not in need of the Divine still small voice stilling the hurricane force winds that storm within us?  

Jesus sought the solitude of the wilderness so that he could meet his temptations—the storms within to discover the Eternal Changelessness of God.  

When the storms around us calm while we still experience hurricane force winds on the inside, we are still chained within. 

This is why the Great Commandment begins with loving God.  In truth we are responding to the love of God—to the presence of the hum of the still small Voice God has implanted in us.  The still small voice calls out to us from within beckoning us to release our hearts to him. 

Receiving the love of God and loving God in return is the core of loving our neighbor.  The attempt to love others without being grounded in the love of God is dehumanizing. 

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  God has placed his heart within us merging with the heart of God is our greatest longing, whether we are aware of this or not.

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  Go to your heart right now—listen for the still small voice who longs for you. 

Discover your greatest longing of all. 

Entwine with the Eternal Changelessness of God. 

The Father and you are one.