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.

Father Mark, Sermons

Choose Life by Practicing Stewardship

Proper 24A; Pentecost 20, Matt. 23 October 18, 2020

For all of you out there who own cattle, how would you like to pay an added $100 tax per head on each of your cows?  For those who don’t, how many would like to pay the tax on your dog or cat?  I’ll get to this in a minute. 

Meanwhile, the Pharisees were desperate to get a political argument going with Jesus, trying to find a way to trap and get rid of him.  So they tried trapping him with one of our favorite subjects: taxes. 

Judah was a part of the Roman New World Order when it was conquered in 63 BC.  Rome allowed the Jews a puppet government subservient to the oversight of a Roman governor.  Roman citizens paid property taxes.  Others, like Judah that were called protectionaries were taxed by what is known as a head tax. 

Jews were resistant to a head tax to Caesar called a tribute.  

Not only did Judah resent being invaded by Rome and having to pay a tax for a government they didn’t want, but that the Roman tribute coin minted in Rome, bore the head of Caesar.  Since Caesar was worshipped as a god, the Jews believed that this was idolatry against God—violating the Ten Commandments by making an offering to a graven image.  Head taxes were also paid on sheep and cattle.  How would all of you who have animals like to pay additional taxes on each of your animals?  

It’s time to trap Jesus.  Is it lawful according to the Torah to pay the head tax?   If Jesus answers:  Yes means idolatry against the Ten Commandments and is unpatriotic.  By answering no means Jesus is guilty of sedition to the Roman authorities. 

Jesus transcends the polarization in his statement:  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”   In the latter half of the statement of giving the things to God that are God’s, Jesus teaches about stewardship. 

What are the things that are God’s?  

Let’s reverse the question—what doesn’t belong to God?  Living like everything belongs to God aligns us with the Father’s will.  Jesus is reiterating the Word given to Moses in Deuteronomy 30 when he says, “choose life, that both you and your seed may live: That you may love the LORD your God, and obey his voice…for he [is] your life…”    Choose life, says Moses.

Choosing life is stewardship. 

I’ve read that the average person makes 35,000 choices per day.  We’re rarely aware of how many choices we really make.  Most are based on our past history of conditioning and are done on automatic pilot. 

The Hebrew word for life is both singular and plural, meaning the temporal life we live on earth is coupled with the eternal life we can begin living now.  By choosing life we choose both life in the now and life forever as they are intertwined, not separated.

I wonder, what would it be like to be able to reflect on each choice we make prayerfully, asking God to help us choose life in each instant?   Would our lives change for the better?  Choosing life means our daily choices are in alignment with the Spirt of God’s order of creation, creating harmony in ourselves, others and in creation. 

By choosing life, our choices also have a cumulative affect increasing life exponentially within and in our environment.  Choosing life is stewardship—a spiritual practice in all that we do with all that we are and all that we have received. 

Choosing life—the practice of stewardship—is the place where joy is to be found.

Father Mark, Sermons

Preparation

Gardening, digging ground with a shovel.

Prop23A; Matthew 22:1-1410/11/20

I imagine that there have been times when you accepted an invitation only to at the time of the event, wished you could just stay home, get a beer out of the fridge and watch the game—or perhaps just find a good book and curl up in your easy chair and read. 

Invitations require preparation.  We have to shower to get the garden we were working in off of us and to put on a change of clothes.   Sometimes we’re not always clear as to the dress code and wonder what we should wear.  Sometimes we end up going to the event when we don’t always feel like it and many times at the end we’re glad we did.   

I recall my younger years when I didn’t want to go to Church but was glad I did after I went.   Sometimes the pull to not make the effort can be pretty strong.  

Jesus is meddling again, confronting the religious authorities.   He tells a story about a king who sends out two rounds of invitations only to be refused.  

The religious authorities knew only too well that he was talking about them and their ancestors who were beaten by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. 

The king’s next round of invitations were going to the people on the streets and shops—the very people the religious authorities didn’t mix with.  The king’s palace was filled, except this one fellow didn’t wear a wedding garment.  he term is misleading because a wedding garment was simply a clean set of clothes. 

Many only owned the clothes they had on their back.   It was customary to borrow second clean garment from a friend or relative to wear.   The problem was, it wasn’t easy to find a place to change as many families lived under one roof. 

So this fellow just did not bother to make the proper preparation to get cleaned up before going to the wedding.  He was later caught and thrown out. 

It may seem to us that the king could have cut the fellow some slack.  But this is our projection which misses the point of the story. 

Jesus is telling them and us that going to the banquet isn’t the same as getting a get out of jail free card.   To enter the kingdom of God, one must make the preparation to cleanse oneself of those things that impair our relationship with the king.  

Practicing the spiritual life with God—known as Divine Union, practicing forgiveness—seeking it and offering it, showing mercy and the like requires time, effort and practice in order to make the king’s presence a part of our life. 

There was a survey done years ago asking a large number of Episcopalians what their prayer life consisted of.   Well over half did not have one.  

Jesus is inviting us into the heart of God.  Every one of us has been invited.  What can we do to prepare?