Homily For Lent 4

What an intriguing story; a man born blind was miraculously if not crudely healed by Christ.
“I was blind, now I see,” declares the man.
In our baptism God washes us with water and the Word and through this bath our eyes are opened, and we begin to see the truth of who and whose we are: God’s beloved children.
When we are baptized, we are also anointed with oil just like we heard today in our Old Testament Lesson that the young shepherd boy David was anointed king of Israel.  Just as he was anointed and called to lead the people in baptism God anoints us and calls us to bear witness to the light of Christ in our daily lives.
We live in a dangerous and uncertain time.  When David was faced with a threat he found the strength to worship God with some of the best poetry ever offered, Psalm 23, especially the refrain; 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over. As we walk through the valley of the shadow of death cast by CoVid19, may we call upon the kind of radical faith exhibited by David and our anonymous blind man.
As you read between the lines of today’s gospel story you sense some danger looming for Jesus.  So much intrigue and controversy in today’s gospel story! What got Jesus in so much trouble.  He healed a man born blind and he did the healing on the Sabbath, breaking the law that prohibits any work being done on the sabbath, even healing.  This provokes a hostile reaction among the religious leaders.  Ironically, it is the newly healed formerly blind man that points out the absurdity of their hostile response and points out their spiritual blindness to the things of God. 
The religious leaders  judge the formerly blind man him as a sinner and they say the same about Jesus then the blind man asks the simple question that puts them in a bind; how Jesus be a sinner and still be able to work such a divine healing?
It is such a radically simple conclusion.  But this clear testimony does not align with the preconceived judgment of the religious leaders, who can’t find it in themselves to rejoice that the man’s eyes have been opened. Instead, they play out the blame game, the same one initiated earlier by Jesus’ disciples; Is this man blind because of his sin or his parents’ sin.
The disciples and the religious leaders express no empathy or compassion about the man’s blindness.  And the religious leaders express no joy about the new possibilities presented to this man for participation in community now that he can see.
As we listen to the narrative unfold, perhaps we recognize some of the voices blaming, accusing, or (as with the man’s parents) seeking to withdraw from the controversy. We do well to learn the lessons of this story and forgo judgement of our family friends and neighbors as decisions are made concerning coping with the spread of CoVid19.
Today’s story stands in John’s gospel as another important sign, identifying Jesus as “light of the world” (John 9:5).  In our Baptism, we have our first moment of enlightenment. As we grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, we are reminded of ways we tend to be blinded by our judgments and critiques of others and of ourselves, even and sometimes especially when they are religion based. 
The spotlight of the gospel illuminates issues for us as to what and to whom our eyes are closed. Showing us where we can be more faith centered and loving in our practicing of our faith in the world. 
We heard this in today’s second lesson from the letter to the ancient Church at Ephesus where the Apostle Paul reminded us that because we belong to God (through baptism) we now live in the divine light which is Jesus Christ, allowing us to conduct our lives in ways that reflect the light of Christ, living a life that is truly pleasing to God.
Baptism, like this blind man’s mixture of mud and washing can open us to see differently and by grace through faith that openness can restore us in and to community.  Amen

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Sunday’s Sermon based on the Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11 Where Jesus experiences anew the temptations that Adam and Eve faced in the Garden and Israel faced in the wilderness. As the Son of God, he endures and thwarts the testing of the evil one.
Into the Wilderness
Wednesday we had crosses drawn on our foreheads with the ash of last year’s palms.  In those services we saw those crosses on each other’s heads and heard how we are dust and to dust we shall return.   Step one in the journey of Lent. 
Today, those ash-drawn crosses have been washed away and are no longer visible.
We are several days into this year’s Lenten pilgrimage.
In the early church Lent was a time of intense preparation for new converts to prepare to be baptized on Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil. The catechetical focus was on exploring the meaning of faith as the new Christian began their first Lenten journey to the baptismal waters of Easter.
And today here we sit, newly converted and well experienced believers sitting side by side, hungering and thirsting after God’s righteousness  and mercy, and later we will be expressing our gratitude as we receive the bread of life that will nourish us for the days ahead.
Today we gather to receive a word that will inspire and equip us for this unfolding journey. Rather ironic isn’t it … here we are at the outset of our forty days and Jesus in today’s story is just finishing his 40 days of fasting.  We are not as famished as he is … And he is still going strong on the spiritual infusion he received at his baptism 40 days ago. 
Remember how The Spirit landed on him like a dove at his baptism? 
That same spirit drove him out into the desert wilderness for a time of spiritual testing and just as he ends his fast the temptation comes. 
The tempter starts by goading Jesus with invitations to test his identity as God’s Beloved, challenging Jesus to feed his hunger by turning stones to bread, or to test God’s care for him by hurling himself from the temple pinnacle.
Notice how Jesus resists temptation by , pushing back with scripture. “One does not live by bread alone,” he says (Matt. 4:4), and “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7).
In the third temptation it sounds like the devil promises to give Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor,” as if they were his to give away, and all Jesus has to do is “fall down and worship” him (Matt. 4:8-9). Jesus does not take the bait.  Instead he chases Satan off once again quoting Scripture in the context of this temptation saying,  “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him’” (Matt. 4:10).
Lent, for us, is not likely to be anything like the extremes of enduring the Judean desert or sparring one-to-one with the devil following a forty-day fast! But I guarantee that you will be faced with your own unique temptation.  When that temptation comes may we face our temptations and remember how the best approach to resisting temptation is to rely on our relationship with God through Christ and find our resistance is also Spirit-led and Scripture-grounded.  Amen

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Listen, Just Listen
“This is my Son, the Beloved; . . . listen to him!”
That’s how a thunderous, divine voice directed the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration to listen to Jesus.
The disciples Peter, James, and John saw the light of eternity shining in Jesus’ and in fear they fell to the ground in fear, not understanding what it meant.
Then they felt Jesus’ gentle touch and heard his soothing voice say, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
That’s all.
There was no denunciation, no condemnation, no call to repent of their fears and failure to understand. There is only his healing touch and words of assurance: “Do not be afraid.”
It would not be until many days later that Jesus’ disciples would start to grasp the significance of that holy moment they had shared on the mountain with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. 
Like us, they are just beginners when it comes to understanding the light of God shining forth from the beatific face of Jesus.  Sometimes the light of Christ warms and illumines our hearts to overflowing. The wonder of his loving presence fills and lifts us above our doubts and fears into the joy of simply knowing him. That feeling of overflowing is the mountaintop. We don’t live there, and can’t—just like the disciples couldn’t remain on the mountain where Jesus shone like the sun. But we should listen and savor what we hear and know, lest we forget.
Listen as Jesus speaks of his suffering and death. As you listen you will hear the voice of an everlasting love, calling you “beloved.”
Listen to Jesus’ voice after the resurrection. You will know beyond a doubt that he will be with you “always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
Listen to that voice with its gentle strength saying, “Do not be afraid.” Hear his voice, and then walk into your future knowing a great love holds you and always will, through all the highs and lows of living.
Listen to Him!.  Amen
Adapted from Sundays and Seasons, 2020

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Introduction to the biblical thoughts presented to us in today’s readings …
“Light shines in the darkness for the upright,” we heard the psalmist sing (Psalm 112).
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah declared that when we loose the bonds of injustice and share our bread with the hungry, The Light breaks forth like the dawn. (First Reading: Isaiah 58:1-12) Context: Shortly after the return of Israel from exile in Babylon, the people were troubled by the ineffectiveness of their fasts. God reminds them that outward observance is no substitute for genuine fasting fro0m the heart that compels us to do acts of distributive justice like feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the naked.
In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the light of the world, calls his followers to let the light of their good works shine before others (Matthew 5:13-20).  Conclusion: Christ’s disciples are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, doing good works and keeping God’s command to love God and to love people. 
Be who you are!  Let your light Shine!
Is your baptismal candle lit every year on your baptismal anniversary?
If so, do you post it on Facebook to show the world you are still the salt of the earth and the light of the world?  Your pic on FB shows the light of God’s joy dancing in your eyes and this in turn illuminates the hearts of your family and friends and other members of your spiritual community. 
As the candle burns, you are reminded that you are a beloved child of God, a holy vessel of an everlasting love.
As we go through life it is inevitable that dark and difficult days will cloud our bright baptismal eyes.
Doubts will trouble our minds.
Moments will come when we feel rejected or not “good enough.”
Sadness will shadow our smile when loss and disappointments cause us to forget how precious and beautiful we are.  And, pre-occupied with our set backs, we forget how much the world needs the powerful love that shines from our heart.
When that happens, I pray we have enough faith to light our candles and remember who and whose we are. 
I hope someone is there to tell us the truth: “Andy, Child of God, you are the light of the world. The love of Jesus shines in your heart. So be who you are. Let your light shine, that others may see your good works and give thanks to your Father in heaven.”
Our greatest spiritual illness is having Spiritual amnesia, where we forget who we are in Christ. 
So, let me remind you, we are vessels of a great and everlasting love. We need to remember and remind each other of the mystery we carry in the depth of our being. This is why we come together, again and again, to pray and praise, to share the peace and break bread at the eucharist. We gather in here week after week and bask in the warm light of Christ, so we can then shine out there with the dazzling light that we are. And after gathering and being reminded of all the benefits of our baptism we are sent out into the world walking wet and shining with the light of Christ.  Amen

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Sermon from 2/2/2020

Feast of The Presentation of Our Lord
“My eyes have seen your salvation!” ~ Simeon, Luke 2:22-4
God is a saving God. 
The Loving Mystery invites us to wake each day with a living hope, just like Simeon and Anna from today’s Gospel did all their long lives.  Our hope is that we too will see salvation THIS very day, no matter what else is happening around us or in us.
Simeon goes to the temple every day hoping to see the fulfillment of God’s promise. He wants to hold it in his hands and feel it in his heart. He hungers to be lifted into joy so he can live and die in peace, knowing God’s faithful love. Holding the infant Jesus, he gazes into the light of God’s loving presence and knows the salvation God intends for all people.
For us. Every day is a day of salvation.
The details of daily life hypnotize us; we neither seek nor hope to see the exquisite Presence who is always there. Our individual circumstances may be wonderful one moment and then laced with loss and Sorrow the next. 
Either way, we experience salvation each time our minds and hearts awaken to Love’s presence, the presence that makes and keeps us whole and complete.
This longing for God’s presence is not new with Simeon and Anna.  The Lesson we heard today from the Old Testament prophet Malachi who speaks longingly of God’s coming.  Malachi is looking forward to that day when the wondrous power and presence of God will purify the priestly descendants of Levi who serve in the temple at Jerusalem managing God’s program of distributive justice. 
And then, in Jesus, God comes to us, revealed in every act of love and every word of peace and every divine promise and by grace through faith we see The Face of salvation.
We enjoy the living, loving presence of The One whom Anna praised and Simeon held. 
He comes to us too, in everything that gives life, and in every thing of beauty, every moment of pure joy, and every impulse that awakens love in our hearts.
God is faithful, God is love; God is present in each moment of our lives, and God longs for us to open our eyes to see and our hearts to receive the salvation and love that are always ours. AMEN

Pentecost 3      6/10/18     Mark 4:35-41
     One of the most memorable things I’ve done in all my years in ministry was to take a trip to the Holy Land.   On that trip we took a boat ride along the Sea of Galilee.   The sea is actually a large lake, ten miles long and four miles wide and about 150 feet deep.   It sits more than six hundred feet below sea level, surrounded by mountains, which makes it particularly susceptible to sudden storms.  Winds sweeping across the land come up and over the mountains, creating downdrafts over the water.   Combined with thunderstorms that appear suddenly over the surrounding mountains, the water can stir into violent twenty-foot waves.   The sea can be calm one minute and violent the next.  Experiencing such a storm myself on that boat trip, I can attest to how scary it can be.
    It is not surprising that the wind and the waves threatened to swamp the little boat occupied by Jesus and his disciples in today’s gospel story.   The fishing boats used by Galilean fishermen at that time had low sides so that the men could cast and draw in their fishing nets.  Such a boat could have been easily tossed about and, given the right circumstances, completely capsized by the wind and waves.   Remember that some of these disciples were seasoned fisherman accustomed to life on the sea, so you can appreciate the ferociousness of this storm.  The disciples thought they might die.  They were so frightened they woke Jesus who had somehow managed to sleep through it all.  Almost panic stricken, they asked him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

     Many of us have asked the same question at some time in our lives.  A sudden storm arises in our life--a health or family crisis, the loss of a much needed job or whatever that storm might be--and Jesus seems to be asleep, and we want to ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”    Of course he cares.   But sometimes he may seem to be sleeping.   Everybody goes through storms at some time or another.   The worst part is that sometimes during the roughest part of the storm Jesus seems to be asleep.   Something bad happens and you pray to God as you have many times before, but nothing seems to happen.   The silence is deafening.   You think to yourself, where is God when I need Him?   All of us can look back over our lives and see a series of answered prayers, but all of that is forgotten when we encounter a truly horrible situation.

     “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” asked the frightened disciples.   Every believer goes through a time like that sooner or later.  Today’s Gospel is an affirmation that yes, Jesus does care.   When the storms of life are raging, he does care.   When it seems you cannot hold on a moment longer, he does care.  When the waters threaten to engulf you, he does care.

     The disciples wake Jesus from his sleep, and he does what only the Master can do.   He speaks to the wind and the waves and says, “Peace! be still!”  And the wind ceases and there is a great calm.   Then he turns to the disciples and asks, “Why are you afraid?   Have you still no faith?”   The central question in life is not how many storms we encounter.  The question is whether we have faith for the storms.   All of us will encounter storms.    Sometimes it will seem as if God Himself has forsaken us.   It is at such times that our faith will be critical.

     John Claypool was one of America’s best known preachers.  When he was at the height of his popularity as a pastor he lost his six-year-old daughter, Laura Lou, to a battle with leukemia.   One evening while he was sitting alone in silence and filled with despair, he realized that he could either spend the rest of his life mourning the loss of his daughter whom he would never see grow up, graduate and get married, or he could look back in joy and say, “Thank you, God, for the gift of my daughter Laura Lou and the six best years of my life.”  (1)
     John Claypool chose to trust God with his storm.   So can you and I.    Do you believe in a God who loves you and has promised never to forsake you?   Do you believe that, however dark the clouds may be, behind those clouds, the sun still shines?    Do you believe that beyond every cross, there is an empty tomb?   If you do, you can weather the storm, however severe.    Amen.
 1. Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie,
http://www.stthomaswhitemarsh.org/docsPublic/LisaFiles/documents/SermonsArticles/Healing%20the%20Body%20and%20the%20Spirit.pdf.`
additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2018.

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Pentecost 2    6/3/18  2 Corinthians 4:5-12

    There was a couple in Lander, Wyoming who went to the city dump to dispose of some larger yard trash.    As they were ditching their junk, their eye was caught by a rather ornate but worn old wooden bed headboard.   The wife suggested they take it home and try to restore it.    As they were loading this rather heavy and bulky item onto their truck, a cap on one of the posts came off and out began to pour dozens of old gold coins from the late 1800’s.   Both legs of this old headboard had been hollowed out and filled with a fortune in gold coins. (1)

     You’re probably thinking: why can’t something like that happen to me?   Well, in today’s second lesson Paul talks about a treasure that surpasses all others.   But people don’t recognize that it is the most desirable treasure of all because it is hidden in an innocuous and somewhat fragile clay jar.    Paul writes, “It is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.   But we have this treasure in clay jars. . .”

     The treasure is knowing God through belief in Jesus.   The clay jars are those who believe in Jesus.   Now clay is not a costly material.    It’s not very strong.   Rather, it is somewhat fragile and vulnerable.   Why was it chosen then?   Paul writes, “We have this treasure in clay jars so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”   The treasure Paul talks about does not lie somewhere “out there.”   It shines in our hearts.

     Many people are obsessed with finding meaning and purpose outside of themselves.   A better job, a nicer neighborhood, a trimmer body, and on and on.   But Paul says that meaning and purpose and happiness do not reside “out there.”   Paul says that the greatest treasure is within our own hearts.   If we have this treasure within, we can handle whatever comes to us from without.   Again, Paul writes, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . .”   Life can be cruel to us, Paul is saying, but if we have this treasure, adversity cannot conquer us.

     We need to understand, though, that this treasure is not to be found by looking “in” so much as it is in looking “up”, looking up to the One who is the source of life.  The path to inner peace is not simply a matter of getting in touch with our feelings but getting in touch with our Heavenly Father.

     A man named John lost his vision in a chemical explosion when he was thirteen.   He felt helpless, that his life was over, and he hated God for it.   For six months, he pretty much never left his room.   But then one day, his father came into his room and said, ‘John, winter’s coming and the storm windows need to be up.  That’s your job.   I want those hung by the time I get back this evening or else!’   Then he turned, walked out of the room and slammed the door.   “I got so angry,” said John. “I thought, ‘Who does he think I am?   I’m blind!’   I was so angry I decided to do it.   I felt my way to the garage, found the windows, located the necessary tools, found the ladder, all the while muttering under my breath, ‘I’ll show them. I’ll fall, then they’ll have a blind and paralyzed son!’”  John continued, “I got the windows up.”   But then he finished his story with these powerful and helpful words, “I found out later that never at any moment was my father more than four or five feet away from my side.” (2)

     To find this treasure that surpasses all other treasures in this world we look to God, a Father who is always with us regardless of our circumstances or our worthiness.   “We have this treasure in clay jars,” Paul says, “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us . . .”   Amen.

1. Johann Neethling, https://www.sermoncentral.com/sermons/gods-goodies-in-cracked-pots-johann-neethling-sermon-on-grace-61561. 
2. Larry Briney, More Grace for the Daily Grind (Xulon Press).
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2018.
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Trinity Sunday  5/27/18  Romans 8:14-17

     A couple were vacationing in Yosemite National Park.   The wife expressed her concern about going camping because of bears and said she would feel more comfortable in a motel.    The husband said that he’d like to camp.   To calm her concerns he said they’d talk to the park ranger to see what the likelihood was of an encounter with a bear.   The ranger told them, “Well, we haven’t seen any grizzlies in this area so far this year, or black bears, for that matter.”   The wife shrieked, “There’s two types of bears out here?” she asked nervously. “How can you tell the difference?   Which one is more dangerous?”    The ranger replied, “Well, that’s easy, see, if the bear chases you up the tree and it comes up after you, it’s a black bear.   If it shakes the tree until you fall out, it’s a grizzly.”   The motel room was quite nice that night. (1)

     Some of us can sympathize with that woman’s fear.   Fear is one of the most common characteristics of what it means to be human.  The market for home and personal security systems today is booming.  One in three homes in America is now equipped with some type of burglar alarm.    Americans spend more than $100 billion per year on personal security systems and devices.   Why?   Because we are afraid. (2)

     So it is good to hear these words of Paul from our second lesson today: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.   For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”

     Notice that this message is addressed to believers.   Paul is not speaking to the world, but to the church.   Defeating fear is a spiritual priority.   The call to follow Christ is a call to boldness.   It is a call to let our light shine for all the world to see.   It is a call to courage.    The opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is fear.   Fear is our enemy.    Fear makes us give up before we even begin.   It makes us see obstacles rather than opportunities.   It is fear that produces sleepless nights as we worry about events over which we probably have no control.

     Paul was confronted with shipwrecks, imprisonment, beatings, and all manner of physical and social persecution.   There was simply no way he could have been the ambassador for Christ that he was if he had given in to his fears.   And neither can we.

     “Let your light so shine. . .” says Jesus. Don’t hide it under a bushel!    “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear . . .”     If fear is the opposite of faith, then the reverse must be true as well: the ultimate cure for fear is faith.

     How do we let go of our fears?   We do it by moving from being slaves to being sons and daughters of God.  It is when we realize that we have a Father who loves us and will never forsake us.   It is when we understand that we are heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--that we know that even our final enemies, sin and the grave, hold no dominion over us.

     You and I have been adopted by God.    We have no reason to be afraid.  Amen.

1. Laugh & Lift, http://www.laughandlift.com/.
2. Faith Popcorn and Lys Marigold, Clicking (New York: HarperBusiness, 1997), p. 34.
Additional source material from Dynamic Preaching, 2018.



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