18 February 2008

Who Me??????

This sermon was delivered at the Procter Conference Center, Diocese of Southern Ohio, as part of my ordination exams on 6 January 2008

Based on Matthew 9:35-10:8

O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my mouth and in the thoughts we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.

Today’s scripture can be called ‘The Great Commissioning’. From Matthew 10, we heard the following:

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out.

Jesus had been traveling through the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues, healing with compassion and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. He was healing with compassion people he saw as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

He knew there was much work to be done than He could accomplish by himself – that He would need help. So he began to select his apostles.

The world ‘apostle’ in Greek may be translated as ‘sent ones’. These apostles he selected followed Him, watched him preach and teach, heard his parables and became prepared to help Jesus with his work – sort of a ‘disciple school’. (They were now prepared to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the leapers and cast out demons. More importantly they were to proclaim the good news, just as Jesus had done.)

It is important to notice that Jesus called all sorts of people – you don’t have to be pure as the driven snow. Saint Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most hated people of the times. But Jesus went right into his office, grabbed him by the collar and called him to be an apostle. Simon Peter and his brother Andrew were common fisherman, probably with little or no education. And Simon the Zealot, an assassin, was one of those people that nobody wanted to meet in a dark alley.

None of these men were born leaders, highly schooled, well-positioned in the church. And although Matthew does not tell us this, we also know from other scriptures that Jesus called women to be disciples. None of his followers had training to heal or preach before they met Jesus; none would be considered persons worthy of martyrdom. But they dropped their nets, left their jobs and families and followed Jesus as apostles. What a motley crew they were. I am sure that they didn’t even get along with each other; there was all kind of jockeying to be Jesus’ favorite.

But, as C. S. Lewis once said,

“Dogs and cats should always be brought together – it broadens their minds so”.

The apostles were told to gather the ‘lost sheep’ into the fold. Sheep without a shepherd are a foolish lot; they will wander off and not be able to find their way home. There is absolutely nothing more pitiful than a group of sheep with no one to lead them. Jesus commissions the apostles to bring these sheep back to the fold. Jesus clearly gave them the power to do so. In Matthew 10:19-20 Jesus told them:

“do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time”

This unusual and diverse group of people clearly gained through His example and teaching and power, the skills to do the work Jesus commissioned them to do.

It seems Jesus purposely called people from all walks of life to follow and serve Him. Jesus could see the possibilities that people found disgusting or repugnant. But He sees into the heart and knows their worth.

Christ wants all to be saved, to be a part of the Kingdom of God. So He sends apostles, prophets, evangelists, priests, deacons and teachers to go and preach the gospel of salvation.

And YES, he even sends YOU!!!!

Each and every one of us is called to be disciples for Christ. The word disciple comes from the Greek word meaning ‘learner’. We are called to be disciples when those three handfuls of water are poured over our heads in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. You can’t escape that calling from the baptismal covenant. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to proclaim the Gospel.

As Christians, we have a special responsibility to not let the church become complacent and forget its commitment to God and God’s purpose. We are asked to build a community where it does not exist or reinforce a community that is fractured. We are challenged to bring calmness to the chaos of individual’s souls.

Just as the apostles were directed, we must reach out to bring lost souls to the grace and salvation of Christ. As members of His body, it is up to us to do His work. And just as the apostles were varied and an unusual lot of people, so are we. Just as Jesus looked into their hearts and knew what they were capable of, so does he look into our hearts and knows us far better than we know ourselves.
Now, I know some of you think that you can’t be shepherds to lost sheep, that you are not called to do the work of Jesus. We all have hundreds of excuses why we can’t be disciples for Christ:

  • I don’t know what to do;
  • There are too many;
  • There are professionals to do this;
  • It’s not my job;
  • I don’t know what to say to people;
  • I’m not a good enough Christian to witness to others.

So I ask you, how did YOU get to know the love and grace and salvation of God through Jesus???????

Didn’t someone gather you in like a lost sheep? Didn’t someone show you the grace of God and welcome you into the fold, regardless of who or what you are?

  • Was it a religious professional?
  • A friend who listened to you in a time of need?
  • A stranger who helped you when you dropped a heavy load?
  • A co-worker who helped you finish an impossible task?
  • An acquaintance who brought you food when you were sick?
  • Someone who loved you when you thought you were unlovable?
  • A child who smiled at you when you were sad?
  • Someone who gave you forgiveness when you couldn’t forgive yourself?

Are not these lost sheep just as precious as you were then? The love of Jesus comes to us through the eyes, hands and hearts of everyday people, just like you and me. We are all called to be shepherds, to love and guide each other in the path of Jesus.

A voice from the fourteenth century, Saint Teresa of Avila, reminds us:

God has no hands but our hands, to do his work today;
God has no feet but our feet to lead others in his way;
God has no voice but our voice to tell others how he died;
And, God has no help but our help to lead them to this side.

You say you do not know what to do. God has equipped us all with the tools necessary:


  • Go with prayer.
  • Pray for God to strengthen and nourish those that are lost . . . and those already found
  • Pray for the ability of others to hear and receive the Word
  • Pray for opportunities to be disciples
  • Pray for open hearts, ready to hear the hope in God’s love
  • Pray for the strength and courage to share that hope with others
  • Pray for the Holy Spirit to work his power in the hearts of others.

The best evangelist is one who reaches those around them. Perhaps first learn to talk about your faith to fellow church members through study groups and witnessing. Through this you may then learn to talk about your faith to the disenfranchised and strangers. Most of all, be an example of the gospel message and the needs, hurts and fears of the lost sheep will be made known to you.

For example, I know a graduate student, who through a living example of Christ’s love and an open invitation to attend church, has brought a fellow student to know the grace of God. It was a simple act of friendship. Let the Spirit move you and give you the words to say.

We know where lost sheep are – those who have been thrown away or abandoned. In ancient days, if you did not want your newborn, you threw it out or abandoned it in the desert. Lost souls are like these helpless children - left to die in the wilderness, without any word of comfort of God’s love. There is no one to come and help them. Jesus saw these lost sheep and sent his disciples to gather them in. He is sending us!

Do you want to be one of those lost sheep . . .

Or are you willing to be committed to Jesus?

When we see those lost sheep and we do nothing, we are sinning! We are not trusting in God to show us the way! We are being selfish, thinking more of our own comfort than the spiritual welfare of others!

God is loves in this world!

God sent His Son Jesus, to live as a man and die a most painful death as a man to teach us God’s love.

This love is free and undeserved.

This love is complete and total, with no restrictions and no boundaries.

This is the love that we can grow into and learn to give each other,

  • our friends,
  • our families,
  • our fellow church members,
  • strangers,
  • criminals,
  • those who would hurt us,
  • people we don’t understand,
  • our enemies,
  • people who have never seen the love of God as shown through the life of Jesus

This is our great commission: to live this love every day, to show it in every choice we make and to everyone we see.

God will give us the tools,
God will give us the words,
God will give us the strength,
God will teach us

To quote Isaiah 6:8,

Here I am, send me.

From Darkness into Light

Delivered at The Church of the Good Shepherd and Lindley Assisted Living Center in Athens, OH on 17 February 2008

Based on John 3:1-17

Today’s scripture from John contains probably one of the best known pieces of text in the Bible. You can’t watch a football game on television without seeing at least one sign saying: “John 3:16”. You can find this reference on billboards and marquees, spray-painted as graffiti on walls in tenements and rocks and rooftops.

We, as Christians, know that God sent Jesus so “that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

But, as Paul Harvey says, ‘this is the rest of the story’.

This passage of scripture is probably also one of the most misunderstood or misapplied.

Here we have Nicodemus, a very educated Pharisee, who acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God. But he wants to know more; so he secretly goes to Jesus in the night.

Now, why did he go in the night?

In the Jewish tradition, studying of the Torah was reserved for the night time – when things were less bustling and one could concentrate on the Word. Nicodemus was not sneaking to see Jesus so that his fellow Pharisees would not see him, or the set Jesus up for heresy. He truly wanted to learn more – he was seeking.

We might call Nicodemus the Patron Saint of the Seekers. . . he was seeking to find his spiritual soul. He was a truly observant man, but he found himself lacking. If you remember, Jesus’ response to Nicodemus was that physical observances were not enough. No matter how stridently Nicodemus followed the Jewish law, no one could enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and spirit.

This being born of the water and spirit is one of the phrases that is so often translated as ‘born again’. This becomes the core of the fundamentalist belief that anyone who has not been ‘born again’ is doomed for Hell. And, unfortunately, we find in this day and age a lot of people who use this interpretation as a hammer to lessen the worth of anyone who does not agree with their theology.

But let’s look further at this text.

To begin with, the original Greek is actually translated as ‘born from above’. This is not baptism of water, but the descending of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and minds. We as Episcopalians, when we baptize, become members of the fellowship of Jesus and the Kingdom of God.

One who enters the kingdom of God by being born of the Spirit has experienced the reign of God, which cannot be experienced by someone who is simply born of the flesh. This ‘second birth’ involves a complete reorientation of one’s goals, desires, affections, values, and direction of life

-- in other words, a changing of our heart and spirit. . .

and accepting the great love and supreme sacrifice when God sent His Son, Jesus, so that we may have everlasting life.

Everything is oriented toward the kingdom of God as the center from which life is lived out.

Nicodemus, this Pharisee, the patron saint of seekers and the curious, understood this and changed his life dramatically to follow Jesus, not only in his daily religious observances but by accepting the Holy Spirit.

Do you know that this is not the last time that we hear of Nicodemus?

In this scripture, he moves around in the darkness, looking for the Light of the Word. He sees that divine Light in Jesus and leaves his darkness of spirit by being ‘born from above’ into the light.

During the trials of Jesus with the Sanhedrin found in John 7:45-52, who speaks up for Jesus, but good old Nicodemus. He questions the other Pharisees:

“Doth our law judge [any] man, before it hear him, and know what he doeth?”

As a Pharisee, his defense of Jesus was not without risk – after all, he was one of the respected establishment and now he was following this heretic Jesus!

He is willing to put his life on the line to defend his faith and Jesus. What a change from the man who came in the dark seeking to learn how to enter the Kingdom of God. What a transformation when he was ‘born from above’.

And we hear about Nicodemus one more time in John 19:38-42 --- after Jesus’ death on the cross. Everyone ran away. . . afraid. But Nicodemus, along with Joseph of Arimathea, came back to the cross. They came to the cross in the darkness of that Black Friday to remove the broken body of Jesus and lay Him in the tomb. Only these two were there to give Jesus a proper Jewish burial.

Nicodemus wrapped Jesus body in cloth and anointed it with precious myrrh and aloes and spices. He and Joseph lovingly carried Jesus’ body to the tomb. They rolled the stone over the opening and left Jesus in the darkness.

But in three days, the Light of Jesus did shine again! The darkness of the soul and death would not EVER overcome the world again. By the death and resurrection of Jesus, we are all saved and marked for everlasting life.

There is no more darkness!!!

Let us all be seekers like Nicodemus. . . may we be ‘born from above’ and live in the Light of the World. When others reject or ignore Jesus, let us be Nicodemus and defend his words and works and meaning for the world. May “we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen.”

Let us pray:

Nicodemus, Patron Saint of Seekers: May you protect the seeker in each of us from condemnation and condescension. May you guide our steps in the way that leads us to eternal life. May you place us in the company of compassionate teachers whose love defines a new community of hope and grace. May you give us courage to dare to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength.


Fishers of Men . . . And Women!

Delivered at The Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH on 27 January 2008

Based on Matthew 4:18-22

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart by acceptable to you, my Lord and my Redeemer.

Last week we heard John’s version of Jesus calling Andrew and Simon as disciples. Today, we heard the very familiar scripture calling them to be ‘fishers of men’. Last week Jesus asked Andrew and Simon to ‘come and see’; this week his calling is for more active participation by both these men.

There are many stories within the Bible that are known as ‘call stories’. A call story related how someone is invited by God to become something new and unexpected. God calls this person to begin, and not only begin, but persist so that this new thing can take place.

One day Andrew, Simon, James and John got up before the sun came up, walked down to the sea and hurled nets into the water, anticipating a catch of fish. It was a day just like every other day – it was dark and probably cool and the nets were smelly and heavy. They were doing what they did every day. There were, after all, fishermen.

Jesus comes down to the seaside, amid the water and nets and fresh fish, roughly hewn boats of wood, the rhythm of the waves. He stands on the bank watching these men throw out the nets and then haul them back in, loaded with fish. He looks at these men, and in a very commanding voice, announces:

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people”.

I imagine they looked at this man on shore as if you he was a little crazy. Obviously, he knew nothing about fishing – the very idea that they could fish for humans!

Who is the crazy man, this itinerant preacher who calls them to ‘fish for people’? And where did he come from?

They were fishing near Bethsaida, an outpost of Palestine. This area was far removed from the country of Judea, part of Israel.

What was this man doing there? And why had he come all this way from his home in Nazareth?

Jesus had come to the area around Capernaum, which is close to the Gran Trunk Road which led from Damascus to India, Afghanistan and China. Along the coast beside the Mediterranean Sea was the Via Mares, connecting Cairo to Asia Minor. This was the trade crossroads of the existing world. What better place for Jesus to escape to after the arrest of John the Baptist; here he could preach and teach to all sort of people traveling through Galilee.

And why did he chose these men?

We know that Jesus did not read resumes before he calls people to be his disciples. He didn’t care what their history was. And as we now know, sometimes he didn’t always make the best decision on who he calls. Simon, who became known as Peter, denies Jesus three times during his trials. James and John, often called the Sons of Thunder, think this calling is going to enthrone them in glory – quite the opposite of what Jesus taught. But Jesus called them, and in spite of their own personal deficiencies, he still made them his partners. And they left their old life, its security, and even their families – they may have been afraid, but not so afraid that their faith in Jesus does not lead them forward.

And why did they follow Jesus?

When they were called by Jesus, they must have felt the joy of the new world that Jesus was preaching. They were about to see miracles performed and illnesses cured. Jesus was going to show them a wonderful new world, touch everyone who heard him and then make the ultimate sacrifice to bring about the new world.

If Jesus called this group of imperfect humans to be His ‘fishers of men’, then why wouldn’t He call each of us to follow Him? Our discipleship means the same kind of new beginning; each of us are called to go to that edge of safety so we can bring people to Christ. Jesus comes to us and chooses us, and sends us out to do something new.

We Christians are called to be evangelists. . . to look for and bring people to Christ. We are called to say to others ‘Come and See’. But we can’t be fishers of people until we have been ‘caught’ by Jesus. We need to fish for others using our own personal experience as bait.

I remember giving a testimony at a church as part of the stewardship campaign about how the church and God had gotten me through a very rough time when my partner of 27 years was dying of cancer. After the service, a young man came up to me and thanked me for my testimony. It seems that he was so depressed and sure that God hated him that he had been planning to go home and commit suicide.

Imagine how I felt at that moment. I certainly had not given the testimony with the intent of ‘fishing for people’. But with God’s help and direction, my little testimony was the bait that brought a young man back to God and salvation.

We are called to bring others to the kingdom of Christ. . . where we are all one in His love.

This is the last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – a time when Christians around the world pray unceasingly all week to bring about unity. A hundred years ago an American minister, Paul Wattson, began the tradition of praying for Christian unity over the course of eight days, from 18 to 25 January. So as we pray this year, we can find strength not only in the prayers of brothers and sisters across the world who pray with us at this time, but also in the prayers of Christians of all denominations over the past century. With them, we root our yearning in the prayers of Jesus Christ, the source of our unity – Jesus Christ, who, died and prayed among us ‘so that whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him’ This unity is the oneness in Christ that Jesus preached and taught – the thing that he is calling us to.

How do we become a member of the oneness of Christ?

What can we do to facilitate Christian unity?
Within our church?
Within the Christian community?
Within the world?

By praying unceasingly!

Let us pray:

Open our hearts, God, to your vision of peace, where our jealousies vanish because we are whole, and our pride falls away because we are healed. Open our hearts, God, to your vision of peace, and inspire our work as we make it real. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Deep desiring God, in the secret of our hearts you teach us wisdom. Teach us to encourage each other along the road to unity. Show us the changes needed for reconciliation. Amen.

Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world, who was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God, help us to know our own weaknesses as well as those of others, that together with them we might experience your risen power. Amen.

We are lazy sometimes, God. Sitting comfortably here, it’s easy to ignore the suffering of others, easy to forget the challenge to see your image in friend and stranger, easy to expect others to work for justice. We are lazy sometimes, God, and that diminishes me. Make us uncomfortable, make us alert, make us responsive. Above all, make us love, in your name. Amen.

God, perfect unity, keep our hearts so burning with the desire and hope for unity that we will never stop working for the sake of your gospel. We ask this through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Trinity in unity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, grant us the grace to pray without ceasing for the unity of your Church. May we reflect in your Church the unity in diversity that is yours. Amen.

Are You The One?

Delivered at The Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH on 16 December 2008

Based on Matthew 11:2-11

Today we enter the third week of Advent – with it the anticipation of the Birth of Christ. In just a little over one week we will be sitting in this sanctuary celebrating Jesus’ birth. . . the Advent of the Messiah.

But today’s scripture is not foretelling the birth of Christ. We are dealing with another advent – the advent of the New World, the New Jerusalem. As we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, we are in the midst of the preparations for the coming of the Kingdom of God in the end time.

In today’s scripture we find John the Baptist languishing away in prison, put there because he renounced Herod Antipas’ marriage to the wife of his brother. He has been there for over a year and probably getting very cranky – not that he wasn’t before. He hears rumors that the Jesus he had baptized and proclaimed to be the Messiah was traveling the countryside. His hopes high, he was sure that Jesus would ride in on a white horse and rescue him.

But what does he hear?

He hears that Jesus is out there performing miracles, preaching mercy and compassion and love. This is not what he expected of the Messiah!!! Jesus was not proclaiming himself the Messiah King, bringing about the destruction of Rome and overthrowing Herod’s rule. He was not preaching revolution and smiting evildoers! He was proclaiming good news for the poor and destitute, the broken-hearted and downtrodden, the captives and oppressed. He was even saying people who believed in Him would be persecuted.

Even though they were cousins and had known each other since the womb, John was no longer sure that this Jesus was the Messiah.

He sends his disciples to speak with Jesus. After all, John had been prophesying that the Messiah would come with fiery judgment, pitchfork in hand and with an axe. Here was this man, preaching and teaching hope and love and healing, not fomenting revolution. What was going on here?

Imagine you were John and had been extolling the virtues of this Messiah, only to find out that He was not a revolutionary – or at least not in the sense John expected. Jesus was preaching and healing, not riling up the citizens. There was no message of revolt in his stories. He stressed compassion and inclusion of everyone in the Kingdom of God. The Jews had been waiting with expectation for the appearance of the Messiah that would save them from the Roman oppression and restore them to their rightful kingdom. This Jesus was certainly not acting like that Messiah!

John wanted to know if their waiting was over or if there was another Messiah who would be coming.

Had he been wrong about Jesus?

Was he looking like a fool?

I don’t think so.

The scripture goes on to say that Jesus affirms John and his prophecy. Jesus reminded John that he was ‘the voice crying in the wilderness’, in goat skins for clothes, eating locust and honey. He reminded him that his calling was as a preparer - he had called many to the wilderness to be baptized. He was more than a prophet; he was a forerunner and reformer, a way-preparer.

Those times for which John was baptizing people and foretelling had come to pass. Just as Elijah foretold of Jesus’ birth, John was foretelling of Jesus’ life on earth. John’s purpose was to prepare the people for the arrival of Jesus among them.

That prophesy was fulfilled in the person of Jesus:

  • A Jesus that was a man of words and compassionate actions
  • Not one of authority and military might.

Jesus sends John’s disciples back, telling them to tell John what they had seen. Tell him about the:

  • Healing the sick
  • Casting out demons
  • Raising the dead
  • Forgiving sins
  • Preaching to the poor

We can only hope that when the disciples returned and told John what they had seen, he remembered the prophecies of Isaiah about the marvels that would take place in the wilderness. And he remembered his faith in that man he baptized so long ago. But wouldn’t it have been natural for John to have been a little upset that he was sitting in prison for an itinerant preacher who gave mercy to anyone who asked (even Romans) and would lead his followers into a brutal death. Possibly John sent his disciples to Jesus to try and prod him into the action that he expected from the Messiah.

But Jesus, the Messiah, was not what John the Baptist expected. He was not coming to destroy Rome; they could and did do that without his help. He was here to establish the Kingdom of God.
A Kingdom of God where everyone is welcome, all are loved and mercy and compassion flow like waters.

This is the even that we are waiting for as we continue this Advent Season.

The Kingdom of God!!

06 February 2008

It's Almost Here!!!

Delivered at Lindley Assisted Living Center, Athens, OH 23 on December 2007

Based On Matthew 1:18-25

Here we are, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Christmas Eve is tomorrow and we are all waiting wide-eyed for the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child.

We all know the story of the Nativity, with shepherds and angels and Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus. And we can all remember the many years of being in or watching a children’s re-enactment of that blessed event:

• how one little angel’s halo was always crooked . . .

• how dashing the shepherds looked in their bathrobes with towels on their heads. . .

• Mary and Joseph kneeling around a manger filled with straw and some little girl’s doll . . .

• Singing of all those old favorite Christmas carols that told the Christmas story.

Today’s scriptures tell the Nativity story from another point of view – from the standpoint of Joseph, the father. But Joseph was not the father of Jesus. We all remember the story of the Angel Gabriel visiting Mary and telling her she would bear the Son of God.

Imagine yourself in Joseph’s place; here he is betrothed to a lovely young maiden, probably making him the envy of Nazareth. And all of the sudden, she is pregnant! Now, he knows he is NOT the father. In those times, when a couple was betrothed, the girl moved into the house of her intended. So it wasn’t as if she was living somewhere else and could have been carrying on with someone behind his back. Joseph intended to quietly dissolve the arrangement and send Mary back to her home.

But God had other plans for him. He may not have been the biological father, but he was being charged with bringing up the Son of God. No pressure there!!!!

The Bible generally does not give us a very good picture of father. Look at Herod, who slaughtered all the newborn male children out of fear; or Herod Antipas, who promised his daughter Salome anything, including the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.

Joseph could have become one of those fathers. He had every right to be upset, after all, Mary was carrying another man’s child. But he didn’t.

Joseph raised Jesus to fulfill his destiny on earth. He showed him the kind of love that Jesus and God show us. He risked common opinion to do what was right, no matter what the consequences. And he had NO idea of what was going to happen to his little boy. He was the best stepfather he could be. I have a friend who married late in life and had three stepchildren. He swears to this day that Joseph is the patron saint of all stepfathers.

Joseph represents the type of father on earth that God is in Heaven. Jesus teaches us that we are to look to God as our father, redefining the laws of the times. Joseph showed Jesus the kind of love that comes from God. He shows us the kind of love God has for all his people, particularly those who are the least. And he risks everything to make sure that his Son is safe. Joseph was not the earthly father of Jesus, but showed to us the sort of love that God wants us all to show.

May we, like Joseph, know and show the love of God to each other this Christmas and always.