Our daughter was baptized when she was nearing 3 months old, and because we waited “so long” (according to my mother), we had to purchase a larger christening gown instead of using the tiny family gown that my mother made when I was born, and was also worn by both of my younger sisters at their baptism. For my mom, the dress we three sisters wore was an important memory of a milestone in each of our lives, but even more so, it served as a reminder of our union within the body of Christ through baptism, a community that has existed since the occasion of the baptism of Christ by John that we heard proclaimed in our Gospel reading today.
So from my earliest memories, God and by extension, the church was the center of our family story. We were there every time the doors opened and you cannot name one committee or guild position in the church that didn’t have at least one of our family members serving on it. You can even drive down to Redeemer in Sarasota and find the kneelers that my mother embroidered before we moved away when I was in the 3rd grade and she left her position as the church secretary. One of my favorite memories came a few years later when our church enlisted every available person to participate in a tableau depicting scenes from the stations of the cross for Palm Sunday, right on the front lawn of St. Peter’s in Fernandina Beach on the busiest street in town. We were frozen in position and couldn’t move, sneeze, or talk, and strangers walked by watching – and I was so very sure that I was playing a critical role in the telling of the story of Jesus that day. These memories serve as the foundation of my feeling of being called by God.
Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Today we encounter a scene where Christ himself is being baptized by John – something that a young girl like me wondered about each and every time we heard this section of the text read in church. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? Why did God need to be baptized if Jesus was God? My young self didn’t have the courage to ask that question as a child, but my grown woman self most surely did. Today’s gospel syncs closely with our gospel reading from the third Sunday of Advent in that John is again reminding folks that he is not the Messiah and that the Messiah will baptize with the spirit. Jesus is baptized, but not for the same reasons that we are baptized – he is baptized as a symbol of the beginning of his public ministry. The words that close our gospel reading today are public words of affirmation of Jesus – who he is and what he was incarnate to do for the world.
When we think about our own baptisms, or those baptisms we have witnessed over the years, we find ourselves drawn back into the words spoken in the liturgy in which we recommit ourselves to our own baptismal covenant. We, like Jesus, also hear words of affirmation in our baptism. We are received into the household of God, and directed to confess our faith in Christ as we are marked as Christ’s own forever. We are changed as we are recognized as members of Christ’s body. This is more than just getting a little wet for Jesus on a particular day – this is a public affirmation of whose we are and that we are called into the world to share Christ’s love as we ourselves are reborn by the Holy Spirit.
But let’s be real – the Holy Spirit is not just a gentle nudge on our lives. The Holy Spirit takes us places that we might never imagine for ourselves. I spent 25 years as a teacher and school principal. I loved lay ministry and found my way into all kinds of roles within the church and in service in my community. After losing my mom to a brief but intense illness in 2012, I found myself being led by the Spirit in ways I could never have imagined. I began seeking new theological experiences, experimenting with a writing a blog on the weekly lectionary, and started feeling as if my career in education was no longer filling my bucket in the ways it had for all those many years. I was seeking….searching for the ways that God was calling me anew, and the voice of God took hold in ways I had not experienced before. I was unsettled. Unnerved. Unsure of things with which I had previously been quite sure. God was calling me into a new direction, and it was far from a gentle and soothing experience. Leaving behind my career to go through the discernment process which led me to seminary and the priesthood is not something I had ever imagined God would call me into, and I sometimes would find my sweet husband (who wasn’t experiencing a call of any sort), looking at me intently as if trying to figure out who I was after being with me for nearly a quarter of a century at that point. The path was not straight. The way was not clear. The journey was one of the hardest things I have done. And here I am – barely on the other side of my ordination, listening and praying for discernment in where God is calling me next.
I didn’t make my own decision about my baptism as an infant, and maybe that is true for you as well. But we each have the opportunity to make decisions today about how we might discern God is calling us into ministry in the church. It could be that we are meant to serve others through the activities of our upcoming day of service on MLK day. It might be that there is opportunity for you in a new lay ministry here at the Cathedral that is bubbling up inside, waiting for you to pray and discuss with a member of the clergy. It may be as simple as deciding to join the Good Book Club of the Episcopal Church as we read Paul’s letter to the Romans between now and Ash Wednesday to spend time with Scripture. Or perhaps you are still discerning a way to draw closer to God and share the love of Christ with someone.
I’m sure of this – God is calling each and every one of us into relationship and covenant. Stepping out in faith and living out our baptismal vows is what we are called to do, even when we are not sure exactly what that means today. I’ll leave you with one of my longtime favorite prayers from Thomas Merton, that may help you along the way:
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
John 14:16 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
On the first day of school in kindergarten classes all around the country, teachers read the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. This picture book tells of a young raccoon who is apprehensive about leaving his mother for the first day of school. He would rather stay in the comfort of his mother’s presence forever. She kisses his hand and explains she will always be with him, and that kiss acts to remind the raccoon of the gift of his mother, helping him feel her presence even when he is physically away from her. This book is read by teachers to their students on the first day of school to help encourage and give them strength as they go out in the world to begin their formal learning journey.
The readings for Pentecost remind all Christians that we have the gift of the Holy Spirit with us forever. In the Gospel reading from John, the disciple named Philip tells Jesus that he wants to see the Father because he doesn’t fully grasp the divinity of Christ himself. Jesus goes on to explain that he will be leaving to be with the Father, and that God will provide an Advocate to be with us forever. Jesus reminds them to keep the commandments and do even greater works for the glorification of God and with the Holy Spirit abiding within them and therefore in us all.
What does it mean to have an advocate in the Holy Spirit? Another way to translate the word advocate is as a companion or helper, making the Holy Spirit an ever present guide in our lives. As followers of Christ, this means that we are not alone as we go about our daily lives. Philip didn’t really understand God when he asked Jesus to show him the Father, and the same is true for us today. How can we fully comprehend that which is divine when we are only humans? Although our revelation may be limited by our humanity, we can see the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. As we face the challenges that come our way, our faith in God can give us strength that can only be understood as divine, since we would never be able to overcome those challenges on our own. That evidence points to God’s promise to be with us as Jesus said to the disciples that day.
This text also speaks of the great works we will do, with Jesus using his own works as a model for us and as a way to show his divinity with God. Imagine if our own works showed our creaturely relationship with God as well! With the companionship and help from the indwelling Holy Spirit, our helping actions toward our neighbors, the poor, the marginalized, the neediest among us, will point directly to our God. The restoration of the Kingdom of God demands these works from us, and the Holy Spirit is in our midst to make it happen. We just have to seize the opportunity.
The words of the first verse of Hymn 516 in our Hymnal say it best:
Come down, O love divine,
seek thou this soul of mine,
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
within my heart appear,
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
May we know God’s presence in our lives as more than just a kiss on the hand, and may we call upon the Holy Spirit to work in us to serve God in the world. Kindle in us the fire of your love!
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
- “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
- according to your word;
- for my eyes have seen your salvation,
- which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
- a light for revelation to the Gentiles
- and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
We were on vacation on the island of Kauai about eight years ago and visited a local church for Sunday worship, as we try to do whenever we travel. We happened upon the yearly visit from the Bishop of Hawaii, so the church was packed and there was a high level of excitement present at the gathering. One of the great things about worshiping God in the Episcopal Church is the familiarity of the liturgy, no matter where you go, but there are still subtle nuances in each individual parish which make it a distinctive experience, and the Bishop’s visit was certainly a factor making this visit even more unique. We were about halfway through the sermon when my husband leaned over and whispered in my ear…”Do you know who that is?” and he pointed to a gentleman sitting in the pew in front of ours. Let’s start with this – I have a terrible memory. I also need a lot of scaffolding to keep information safely in my brain and I couldn’t place this guy at all. David tried to give me a few subtle hints, but I was getting nowhere. Then he shared that it was Beau Bridges, the actor and brother of Jeff Bridges. He was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts (as most of the worshipers were as well) and he passed the peace to us later in the service like he was just another guy and without any hint of his fame and fortune. We chatted with him later and learned this was his home parish, and he welcomed us as parishioners should always welcome any visitors to their church.
But I didn’t recognize him at all. David not only recognized him, but was able to name many of his appearances in movies and on TV. Once I was told who he was and what roles he had, I was able to make the connection in my memory. Without the help of my husband (whose ability to remember and recognize people from his past is LEGENDARY!) I would have never even noticed Beau Bridges. For me, it took someone to make that connection for me – then I was a bit starstruck and distracted the rest of the service, admittedly.
Simeon knew that he had to meet God’s Messiah before dying. He knew to go the temple the day that a little baby named Jesus was brought by Mary and Joseph to be presented as he was “guided by the Holy Spirit” to be there that day to meet him. I am sure that Mary and Joseph knew that their roles as parents to Jesus were a bit out of the ordinary based on the experiences with the archangel and the whole “born in a manger” thing, but they still may not have understood at that time the significance their little boy would have on them and the world. Simeon didn’t necessarily know that either, but the prayer he speaks following his meeting of a little child in the temple speaks loud and clear that he understood something huge had just happened to him and to the world. That prayer has been so important in the life and development of the Christian church that it is found in our Book of Common Prayer, specifically in the service of Compline found here.
Lord, you now have set your servant free *
to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *
whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, *
and the glory of your people Israel. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
His parents seemed to be surprised by this spontaneous prayer from a stranger who recognized the significance of Jesus’ presence on Earth. Simeon hugged Jesus and then told Mary a great foreshadowing of her life as a mother and the powerful impact on the world that Jesus would have. He RECOGNIZED both the greatness of Jesus’ life and the pain that would come to Mary as a result. There were most likely others in the temple that day, but Simeon was the one who knew that this small child would change the world. After Simeon, the elderly lady named Anna had a similar experience. She appears to have spent her nights and days in worship at the temple around the clock, and must have seen folks coming and going all day long. But something was different about Jesus. She wasn’t afraid to go and tell all who came after of the saving grace of Jesus in Jerusalem.
Beau Bridges was lovely and welcoming to us that day in church, but Jesus is so much more to all who turn to him. As we look ahead to more severe winter weather, the picture for today’s entry is that of the flower called the Snowdrop flower. It is a winter flower that appears around February 2nd for the first time, the day some refer to as Candlemas – celebrating the cleansing of Mary following the birth of Jesus when the baby is brought to the temple for the first time. It looks like such a fragile flower but has an incredible design that encourages it to bloom in the darkest and coldest times of winter.
We don’t always feel equipped to face the dark and cold times that challenge us in our daily lives ourselves. But the strength comes from somewhere beyond us and directly from the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Simeon would have missed out on his lifetime opportunity if he had ignored the will of the Lord. Anna’s deliberate existence in the very presence of the Lord gave her the chance to speak to others about Jesus in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t stayed the course. God gives us strength to face our challenges and provides us all we need if we will just take a moment to recognize it, even if it is hidden right in plain sight.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, and we accept the call to recognize Your Presence in our lives. The gift of your son was life-changing and in an enduring influence on our work in the world. Thank you for always finding ways to reach us and have us see you in the face of others. In your name we pray. AMEN
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Baptism of Jesus
13 Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14 John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16 And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
“Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 298).
In the waters of baptism we are lovingly adopted by God into God’s family, which we call the Church, and given God’s own life to share and reminded that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ (from the Episcopal Church website).
I remember hearing this story as a child and wondering (probably out loud, as I was prone to do) why Jesus would need to be baptized by John if he was God. My lens as a child in the church was that children and sometimes even adults, went to the front (or back) of the church to the baptismal font for a big celebration on Sundays or other holy days. I knew it was special then, but it wasn’t until I had the honor of standing with my husband as he made the decision to be baptized as an adult in front of our friends and family that I had the full realization of the personal commitment of being baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. Then, a couple years later, our infant daughter was welcomed as the newest sister in Christ and marked as Christ’s own forever and I nearly lost it that day as the enormity of my responsibility as her parent and fellow Christian to raise her to know and love the Lord, accepting Christ as her savior on her behalf.
Baptism was a relatively new concept started with John. He brought people to faith and repentance with water, and with the promise of someone greater than him coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:1-8) John and Jesus grew up close like brothers, but had not spent a lot of time together as adults. John prophesied in the above lesson from Mark about the good news of Baptism in Christ, so I can only imagine how he felt to be in the position to be commanded to fulfill the will of God by baptizing Jesus himself. I can hope that John had more faith than I would have had under the same circumstances, “You want me to do what to YOU? Right here? Right now? Are you crazy, Jesus???? I’m just not worthy”).
There are some things happening in my life right now that make me feel a strong pull from God in directions that seem quite unusual, difficult, even a little bizarre. I don’t feel comfortable as I think about this plan that God may have for me that is not aligned with the plan I have had for myself. Following Him as he leads me into uncertainty DOES NOT MAKE MUCH SENSE. John probably felt the same way as he was tasked with the actual Baptism of Jesus. But fulfilling the plan is exactly what he did…and much more as we go on to read in the Gospel stories of his edgy and unusual life.
The baptism of Jesus was a necessary step in the completion of the Trinity. And each of us takes that step of joining in the relationship when we are baptized as well. For some critics of baptism in the very young who technically cannot make the decision on their own, here is my response: It is my job as a parent who decides to bring a child into the world and our family to ensure the choice of future of success and happiness. I am tasked with making education a priority, teaching values which support a child growing up to contribute to the world, and demanding that she is NICE in the world and to those she meets. But my most important job is to provide my child the opportunity for a lifelong relationship with God through Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit. That starts with baptism and continues in my expectations for her and the experiences we give her as parents until she goes out into the world in a few short months to make decisions far beyond our control but hopefully withing the realm of her life to date.
Jesus’ baptism fulfills God’s plan, but it also shines a light onto his bottomless forgiveness, love and compassion. Malcom Gladwell talks about finding his faith in this article, highlighting the so called “weapons of the spirit.” He discusses meeting a family who lost their child in a horrific murder, and their discussion of forgiveness and love – sounding so foreign under those extreme circumstances of love. Although I pray I never (and you never) have to experience a life changing event like that, the gift of baptism in my love has given me the weapons I need to approach any challenge I may have with love and forgiveness. I’m not worthy of the gifts I have received, that much is true. So as the receiver of those gifts, how can I be selfish and not turn around and share them with others who may or may not be deemed “worthy” in my human eyes?
We are living in a world where things happen that bring us great sadness. Terrible things happen to the most innocent among us and as we rock along in our well-planned life, a detour pops up that leaves us bewildered and confused. But God has given us all we need to approach these difficult situations with grace and love, giving gifts we didn’t know we could give because it what God calls us to do. It’s the most surprising thing to see when a yucky situation is met with love and forgiveness; let’s walk our walk with Christ making it less surprising to see and more of what we expect to happen when Christians face life’s challenges.
John baptized Jesus and we are baptized by water and the Holy Spirit to join our brothers and sisters in Christ in fulfilling God’s kingdom work in our lives. John followed God’s command and we are called to do the same. Because don’t we all want God to see us and our work and tell the world he is well pleased with us?
Gracious God, thank you for the gift of Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit. The love and forgiveness you show to us every day is a gift we want to share with those we meet, even when we may deem them unworthy, just as we are. Teach us how to love one another without judgment and to respond to the challenges of our world in ways that make You well pleased. We ask all this through your son Jesus Christ. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
3 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
We’ve been stuck in the ice since Thursday night, victims of “Icemageddon 2013” in North Texas. We have come together to laugh and watch movies, gone to our separate corners to have time alone and have skated across the driveway to use a hairdryer in an effort to free the teenager’s car encased in an ice tomb. Our part of the world can get ice without snow and there is really no way to save the trees that have snapped and the cars that have collided when everything is covered in ice. So we are pretty much just hunkered down, waiting until we can peek above the freezing mark which will hopefully come soon so life can get back to normal.
I generally prefer NOT to have a day off from school – a day that will have to made up on a beautiful spring Friday where the weather is perfect, I’m sure! But I can’t even tell you how much this gift of time has been appreciated. All the hectic holiday schedules were cancelled and the tempo of time has slowed down considerably. As I have reflected and studied this week’s Gospel reading from Mark, I am struck by the image created in my mind of John the Baptist.
I picture this really crazy looking guy showing up when least expected. The Pharisees and Sadduccees are up to speed on the prophets’ stories and John seems pretty darn far fetched as the one who prepares the people for the coming of the Lord! Dressed as an outsider and maybe even smelling a little ripe, John comes on the scene shouting of repentance and that the Lord is coming, taking people to the Jordan river to experience baptism, a completely new concept in the traditions of the faith at the time.
As John is calling out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy, I can only imagine their confusion. That same confusion still exists today in those who proclaim their faith with television ratings and prosperity gospels, with our own hypocrisy in what we say we believe and the story our actions and words tell that conflict with those beliefs – the self-righteous were hustling to get baptized by John for sure. But John throws cold water on this party as he tells about Jesus who will separate the wheat from the chaff (or the righteous from the lowly) and bring those who need mercy into the fold while banishing the rest of them (or us!) from the Kingdom of God.
So here are a few observations about this story and what we can learn from it in today’s world:
- God doesn’t seem to select the high and mighty to tell of his kingdom. He chooses the lowly, the ones who look and sound different from the usual leaders. So listen to everyone with a discerning ear and a loving heart.
- Get ready y’all! Advent gives us the time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the future coming of Christ into the world. Don’t squander the time we need to get ready for all God has prepared for us.
- Don’t be the chaff. Don’t be a wasted part of the world. Add value to all you meet, love with reckless abandon, even when it is uncomfortable and don’t be afraid to listen to God’s message in your life.
- If you aren’t living the life you know that God is intending for you, take a step toward that today. One step forward brings you closer to God. Don’t assume that just showing up at church will ever be enough to meet God in his desired relationship with you. He wants to be known to us and makes himself available whenever we take the time to notice.
So, prepare the way of the Lord. Make it easy to find you on the threshing room floor when the time comes, or the ice thaws once and for all.
Giver of life, you have given us all we need to love you and follow you. Thank you for your goodness and mercy. Draw us nearer to you so that we may do the work you have called us to do in your kingdom. Give us strength and courage to love and serve you, preparing ourselves for your coming into the world. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Rich Fool
13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16 Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
We moved into our home in 2001. It was the third move in our then 9 year marriage, so I didn’t look much beyond a few years. So now as we start our thirteenth year in the same home, I am struck by how much stuff we have. When you move frequently, and if you are like me and just detest the chores of packing and unpacking, you tend to purge. When you can tuck stuff in a closet for 13 years and forget about it, you realize at some point that you are one cool whip container short of being invited to film an episode of “Hoarders!’
So how do we find ourselves with too much stuff? I think our American society is rife with messages of excess and enticements of the next best thing. My drawer full of awesome hair products is evidence of that (and I’m not even having a good hair day as I type this). In addition to our visual and audio bombardment of reminders of how incomplete our life is now without (fill in the blank here), we measure our life’s successes through the eyes of currency. As our daughter is ending her high school career, everyone has advice about what she should choose as her college major so she can graduate and make $xx,xxx salary right away. We look with envy on those who have “more” than we have – more money, more square footage in their home, more vacations, more fun = better life! Heck, we are even envious about people’s faith!
Greed is not a nice word – it just doesn’t invoke a warm and fuzzy feeling when we think about the concept. But Jesus is pretty clear in his parable in this passage of Luke’s Gospel. What are we doing with all this stuff in our lives???? If we spent a third of the energy/money/time on our relationship with and service to our Lord, we would have lives that were richer in ways that “things” cannot make us. Oh, and don’t we already know that, yet still fall in the stuff trap anyway?
And we always seem to feel like what we have is just never enough. Americans in particular have terms like “rainy day fund” and “back up plan” in our everyday vocabulary, making us feel like we need more than we have, even though we may have all that we need. Last week’s post discussed the Lord’s Prayer as our format for communicating with God (https://paigehanks.wordpress.com/2013/07/) and Jesus teaches us specifically to say, “Give us this day, our daily bread,” as if we should live for what God provides us today, knowing that he will provide for us again tomorrow and the next day after that. Since we are such control freaks (ok, maybe it’s just me here) we think we better have a contingency plan just in case.
Although I am not a collector of any one thing, I do find that my stuff can pile up around me. It can interfere with my ability to think clearly and focus on the task at hand when I am at work and my desk is cluttered with papers. When things are organized and every item is in its place, I find a sense of calm and ability to focus. Having what we need and not more than we can ever want or use is not what God calls us to do. As Christians, we are commanded to serve others, feed the hungry, take care of the sick and meek among us, and our stuff usually prevents us from doing that in any systematic way.
I find that I can give when I see a need, but mostly just up to the point where I think that giving more may hurt me. That is hard to say outloud and type in this space, as I am ashamed and embarassed to think that at all. I am sure I could give away my time, talent and treasure far more than I do today and I wouldn’t even notice a difference in my own needs – that is my insecurity talking, not my reality. So this week’s Gospel from Luke is just what I needed. I am reminded that I have really greedy tendencies and I want what is mine – I want my fair share. In my mind, my actual fair share is far smaller than the piles and piles of my fair share that I actually have, whether it’s money, space or stuff. And all that excess interferes with my true calling as a child of God. If I am to love and serve God with all my heart, mind, body, soul and will, then I need to get down to the nitty gritty with my stuff. It will be a process with ups and downs I’m sure, but I don’t want my time left in life to be spent hoarding more than I need of anything. If today were the day for perfect healing through death and eternal life, I wouldn’t need a thing I have now besides my uncluttered faith in my Lord and Savior.
Generous Father, you are worthy of all the glory and honor. Help me clear my heart, mind, body and soul and let my will be your will in all I do and say. I commit to loving and serving you through generosity of spirit and with a heart to serve, sharing your many gifts with all I meet. Thank you for loving me enough to give me enough, even though I never deserve it at all. To you be praised. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Lord’s Prayer
11 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”
Perseverance in Prayer
5 And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7 And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Two of my favorite memories from my personal faith journey converge today in this Gospel reading – the giving to God’s people the Lord’s Prayer and a reminder of my favorite hymn “Seek Ye First.”
I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but as a camper at Camp Weed in Live Oak, FL (check it out and send your kids there! http://www.campweed.org/), I remember one of our spiritual advisors (read: clergy) giving us instruction on the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t remember ever “learning” to say this prayer; it has always been the foundation of my prayer life. But I just went through the motions of saying it because – let’s face it – the word “trespass” isn’t really in a child’s daily vocabulary. I wish I could give credit to that priest, because that day of learning changed the way I have prayed that prayer for the rest of my life. We broke the prayer down into parts:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
This opening line is about adoration, honor and a reminder to give praise to God. We were encouraged to think about every single word and its meaning, and I began to emphasize the word “THY.” Thy is not a word kids use either, but to give it extra value helped me focus on my true north of following God.
Give us this day our daily bread.
The next part asks God to provide for our needs. I remember a great discussion about the difference between needs and wants – the first time I really ever thought about that as a kid. A reminder that God provides us our needs – and we should be much more grateful than we usually are.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
This forgiveness line was easy at first – I knew how to say I was sorry and I really meant it! But there was another new concept for the kid version of myself – I had to forgive others???? Whoa…and if I don’t do that, then I may not be able to get forgiveness myself? I think this is a very complex issue and because of God’s grace we get far more forgiveness than we could ever deserve. I am a work in progress on forgiving others…two steps forward and one step back on my good days. Still working hard on this one.
Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
I can get to temptation all by myself, but this part of the prayer is where I really ask God to save me from myself. I am always my own worst impediment to success, but with help from God, I can turn away with a greater success rate than when I just rely on myself.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. AMEN
Again – “thine” isn’t in my every day vocabulary, but putting an emphasis (picture the word in bold and underlined!) on thine puts the focus where it should be; on living in God’s kingdom and giving him all the power and glory. This prayer Jesus gives to his followers is so comprehensive that it can truly be a “square meal” when praying. It has all the parts that God needs from us in our conversation with him.
Then the bonus part of today’s reading comes as the final punch when discussing the value and importance of our prayers and conversations with God – a reminder of that awesome song, “Seek Ye First.” Ask and it shall be given, seek and we will find, knock and the door will open. Matthew’s Gospel also has a similar phrase, which I interpret as the not so scholarly phrase, “Keep it simple.” Ask for our needs, look for God and how we can serve him and take the steps we need to go out in the world. I see this as God emphasizing our need to be relentless in prayer and service. He gives us the words to use – a roadmap for our prayer life. Then tells us to be singularly focused as we pray…ask, seek and go. Simple for sure, but not easy with all life’s distractions. Stay focused on the prayers and the service, and the rest will come with our faith in God.
Lord, thank you for teaching us how to pray. You are full of mercy and deserving of our glory. We praise you, we have faith in your love and care for us and we know you will lead us through all adversity we encounter. Our faith is in you and you alone. Your will is ours to follow. In your glorious name we pray, AMEN.
Peter’s Report to the Church at Jerusalem
11 Now the apostles and the believerswho were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believerscriticized him, 3 saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4 Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5 “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6 As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8 But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9 But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10 This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11 At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12 The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14 he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18 When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
This is a great story. As a parent of a teenager, it is so interesting to hear her discuss the hierarchy of cliques in school. There are the popular kids, the band geeks, the druggies, the loners, the wannabes, the do-gooders, the quiet ones, the athletes/jocks and those who don’t fit in anywhere. From her perspective, the “popular” kids have life so much easier than anyone else. They are smart, funny, attractive, date frequently and bad stuff doesn’t happen to them. And I am sure that those popular kids have some of the same insecurities that all teenagers feel, but they have the disadvantage of believing their own press – that they are better than everyone else simply because of their status.
This reading has Peter back in Jerusalem with the “circumcised believers” who just can’t believe that Peter has spent time with those “uncircumcised men,” even eating with them! Peter tells of a great vision from God, helping him understand that God cares nothing about the group you belong to and everything about believing in the Lord and Savior.
I love a good vision…the subtlety of looking for signs and discerning God’s will is hard for me. When God speaks to me in a vision, it seems stronger than a nudge and more like a push or a shove! Jesus spent his travels and teachings with the poor and meek; the religious hierarchy was not where he wanted to spend his time. The Bible has stories filled with Jesus healing the sick – not the rich and sick, but the poorest of the poor. Those who needed it the most and had nothing to lose by trusting in Jesus and his love for them were the leading characters in many of the miracles in Jesus’ life. Yet still, the “circumcised” (read: the most righteous folks in the land or the “popular kids”) couldn’t believe that Peter spent time and energy on them. What would it take? Why, a vision of course!!!! And Peter was still worried about eating “unclean animals” himself. The vision made things pretty clear – Jews and Gentiles alike were all called to follow God and were not to be separated by the things that humans use to divide ourselves from each other.
In today’s world, we spend a lot of time seeing the differences between ourselves and those near and far. We see the things that separate us as barriers to forming our community of believers. This vision of Peter’s that he tells to the men of Caesarea makes clear that we are called to reach across the differences between us to love one another and lead people to Christ. No one is to be excluded and all are welcome at the table. Now, do we live out this declaration from God or are we standing in the way?
God of all, we reach out to you in love and praise your name for all to see. We ask you to lead us to serve you among all people and love our neighbors as ourselves, even when the differences between us seem insurmountable. Help us to see our common ground and build up your community of faith. In Jesus’ name we pray. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus Appears to the Disciples
19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
The Purpose of This Book
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believethat Jesus is the Messiah,the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Maybe it’s just me, but forgiveness is a tough one. I have to work really hard on forgiving those who I perceive have wronged me. Now, I’m not talking about forgiving someone for taking my parking place at the mall or for drinking the last diet coke…I’m really thinking about those biggies. One of the ways to really “get” to me is to misrepresent me. When someone says, “I heard you said blah blah blah,” or “I heard you did blah blah blah,” and those things not only didn’t happen but are contrary to what I WOULD have said or done, it doesn’t bring out the best in me.
But Jesus is pretty clear about the concept of forgiveness. He appears to his disciples following his resurrection, breathing on them the Holy Spirit (wondering about the awesomeness of that!!!!) and explained about forgiveness. He said, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Talk about empowerment! Jesus uses the Holy Spirit to gift the disciples with the ultimate power of forgiveness, while chiding them at the same time about what happens if they don’t fully utilize this incredible gift. Through the building of the wider body of Christ, we all have the same responsibility as Christians. Forgive others. Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on this method of forgiveness. He gives them the power and through the gift of love we all have the same power. And when we don’t forgive others? That’s pretty clear too…the sins are still there.
That’s pretty discouraging if you think about it terms of just humans. But the best news of all is that we are forgiven in totality when we ask God. He will NEVER “retain our sins,” and gives us forgiveness no matter the grievance. And I can assure you I have some pretty egregious sins, I tell you! I ask…he forgives. So why can’t I do that too?
I want to forgive, I really do. I often have to forgive over and over again until it is gone, because one time forgiveness can still leave me with retention of the hurt and pain that came with the wrong. That’s why this one is such a tough issue – our humanity stands in the way of forgiveness at times. But holding on to resentment, pain and the feeling of being wronged gets right between us and God, which no one really wants, especially God!
This joyous Easter season of new life brings new opportunities to grow in our faith. Let’s commit to work on forgiveness…of ourselves and others, without exception. It’s the purest form of love – Agape love.
Lord, we ask you to guide our hearts and minds to forgive. Help us to know and love you and show that love to our brothers and sisters. When we struggle with this, show us the way to reach out and heal our wounds and those of others. We ask this in Jesus’ name. AMEN.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Resurrection of Jesus
24 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.[a] 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women[b] were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men[c] said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.[d] 6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.
You know those days – we all have them. We have the best of intentions and set out to do our part to make the world a better place through our small niche of interactions, actions and reactions. Then it all goes horribly wrong. We make mistake after mistake and even begin to marvel at how absolutely screwed up things have gotten over a relatively short period of time. Those days it may seem even hard to put words together to fully state the crazy events of the day, because it is just THAT BAD. Then we go to bed, glad to have the day behind us, only to awaken with a fresh start and a renewed spirit (hopefully we were able to put the bad day behind us!).
Let’s face it – Thursday and Friday before Easter were some really bad days for Jesus’ friend and follower, Peter. Up until that point, things had really been rocking along with the disciples. They were witness to powerful miracles and developing an intensely personal relationship with Jesus. He was dropping hints about leaving them but I’m sure those subtle statements just rolled away like water off a duck’s back. There was simply no way for mere humans to understand the power of Jesus’ words about leaving – things were just too great to stop it all now. Peter was one of those closest to Jesus, so it must have been quite a surprise to hear – right from Jesus’ mouth – that Peter would deny knowing him not once, but three times. But deny him is exactly what we read that Peter did following Jesus’ arrest. Did he set out to do that – of course not. In fact, I am sure he couldn’t believe he had done it either when he heard that rooster crow the last time. But none of us knows what we will do in a scary conflict until we are there. Peter must have felt incredibly disappointed in himself. Then the events of the crucifixion unfolded and Peter had to have known he played a key role in the process. My bad days haven’t ever really been THAT bad, but Peter’s feelings of devastation must have been so very overwhelming as he watched his friend die that Friday afternoon.
But the opportunity for redemption came much sooner than any of them expected! Peter was the first to hop up and take off running for the tomb when he heard the news that his friend was risen again, just as he said he would. Peter felt “amazed at what had happened.” The word amazed is probably the best English word choice based on translation, but seems to be very much an understatement. When Jesus rose from the dead after the dark and confusing weekend following his death, thinking of it today as amazing seems also to fall short of how mysterious this would have been for Jesus’ friends and followers, especially for Peter.
In our Christian faith, Easter is the big one! It’s the day in the church that represents our foundational belief that Jesus Christ came to save us from ourselves. I’ve made some sacrifices in my life for those I love, but none can even scratch the surface of the sacrifice that God made to share this gift of his son with us, even when we obviously weren’t deserving of it. Jesus Christ is risen today, as we celebrate every Easter morning, with the promise of new life in him. I’m sure his friends were all grateful once they realized who he was (another blog post about how confusing that must have been to not even recognize him when they saw him!), but I’m sure that Peter’s feelings were just indescribable.
Our lives intersect with Peter’s in so many ways. We have denied our Lord many more than three times. We have turned away as things are going badly and we make sure to protect ourselves when confronted with challenges to our beliefs. But Peter and all the rest of us children of God get both grace and mercy on this beautiful Easter morning. Peter spent the rest of his life doing what God called him to do, spreading the word of God to all who would listen and dedicating his work to fulfilling the promise of the Holy Spirit. It seems to me to be the very least we can do as we are renewed and redeemed through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Gracious God, lover of all souls, bring us closer to you through the gift of your Son to the world. We are redeemed through the resurrection and we know what you ask of us as we walk with you in our daily lives. We commit to you that we will love one another and spread the Good News. Jesus Christ is Risen Today – Alleluia! Thanks be to God. AMEN.