Jesus is our Hope

A Sermon for the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

January 9, 2022

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

“Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.”

Jordan by Emmy Lou Harris

Oh, come in as you tread life’s journey

Take Jesus as your daily guide

Though you may feel pure and safely

Without him walking by your side

But when you come to make the crossing

At the endin’ of your pilgim’s way

If you ever will meet our Saviour

You’ll surely meet him on that day

Now look at that cold Jordan, look at these deep waters

Look at that wide river, oh hear the mighty billows roar

You’d better take Jesus with you, He’s a true companion

For I’m sure without him that you never will make it o’er

It was a bitterly cold Winter evening in January of 1971 at Beech Mountain Missionary Baptist Church in the Dark Ridge when three Southern Baptist Congregations: Beech Mountain, Fall Creek, and Whaley, gathered to observe the Ordinance of Baptism and through this Service to welcome the handful of new believers into membership in the Church. It was a very rare thing for these churches to do something like this together. However, as the result of a series of Revivals after the harvest, there had been a number of persons who had been saved. Since Beech Mountain was the only church which had an inside Baptistry, it was the logical choice for the Service.

Even though there was an indoor Baptistry (with an incredibly beautiful mural of the River Jordan—painted by Deacon Truman Church), the water for the pool came from a stream not far from the church. It was NOT heated, although the church was. As a result the water was VERY cold. It was so cold, in fact, that when the preacher entered the water (wearing wading boots like mountain fishermen often did when they went into the cold mountain streams) there was a thin layer of ice on top of the water. Those who were to be baptized, and who were watching from the room just off the side heard the ice crack as the preacher walked down the steps into the water!

Before each person was Baptized, the choir sang a verse of “Shall We Gather at the River,” and then the baptizand walked down the steps, into the water, and out to where the preacher was standing. At the front of the Baptistry there was a glass window some four feet tall (rising from the metal tank) which allowed those in the church to witness what was taking place).

I was eight years old, and was one of the neophytes that evening. I think that I was tall enough to have at least my shoulders and head above the water. But, this was a mysterious and somewhat frightening thing. I had seen other Baptisms of course, even some at the “Baptismal Hole” in Beech Creek, flowing down towards Watauga River. But those services happened during the day—and in far warmer weather.

The preacher said a prayer, and then when everyone shouted “Amen,” he raised his left hand and said something like, “Brother Mickey (that was my childhood name) upon your profession of faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord we baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” He then placed a clean white handkerchief over my nose and mouth with his right hand, and immersed me in those cold Baptismal waters. Even though I was already cold, being thrust below the surface of those cold waters was literally shocking, I nervously struggled, for a moment, to breathe. When the preacher lifted me up, out of the water, I will never forget that first deep breath which I took! Later, in looking back on it, that language which Saint Paul used to speak of burial with Christ in Baptism and rising with him to newness of life made perfect sense to me!

Then, I went into the men’s Sunday School Room and put on the dry dress clothes which Momma had prepared for me in advance and then went back into the church. When all the Baptisms were completed, the Preacher invited the joined congregations to come and to welcome us with the right hand of full membership. Of course, I was related to almost everyone there. So, there were lots of hugs and tears as well as handshakes.

Those of us whom come from a catholic Traditon have a somewhat different understanding of, and a different experience of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. For us, Baptism initiates the Christian life. In it we, who were previously, “strangers and aliens,” are adopted through Baptism, washed from anything which could ever separate us from God, and are claimed as Christ’s own forever. The old language spoke of an indelible mark which no power could ever erase. We were changed. We were reborn. We were welcomed into the household and the family of God.

Through the Blessed Holy Waters of the new creation, we were given a share in the three-fold ministry of Christ who is priest, prophet, and king–and do remember we just celebrated the symbols of that three-fold ministry in the gifts of the magi on the Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord: gold (a gift for kings), incense (a gift for priests), and myrrh (a gift for the bodies of the prophets who, more often than not, were martyred).

And thus, we began the Spiritual Life. Now since most of us were babes or children, our parents and godparents made promises and commitments on our behalf. We belong to a tradition which regularly chooses to renew, reaffirm, and recommit to our Baptismal promises. And, so children in The Episcopal Church grow up thinking that this is not just a onetime experience which happened to us in the distant past. We will never be re-baptized, there is no need for that. But, in order to live out our Baptismal promises, we need to turn from sin and embrace the good news every day. And it is with that in mind that we publicly acknowledge our failing to do so almost every time we gather as a community. Several times a year, though, and most often today, we collectively renew our Baptism through the profession of our faith and through our re-commitment to the Baptismal Covenant.

It seems incredible to me that these five questions which we hear, and to which we respond, capture the heart—the essence of what Baptism means to us—both individually, and as people who aspire to become “Beloved Community.”

Celebrant   Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Celebrant   Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

People        I will, with God’s help.

Although Baptism is the beginning of our journey with God, it is not the totality of that journey. God offers us further grace and power through the other Sacraments of Initiation: Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist. In times of physical and spiritual illness we are offered anointing and absolution. And to enable those called to Holy Marriage and to the ordained ministry and service to the People of God,  there are Sacramental graces as well.

Our Church made the decision that, because Baptism is an entrance into Community, we ought to routinely and normally celebrate it on a Sunday Eucharist. And so the notion of “private Baptism,” really does not make sense—unless there is some unusual reason which would necessitate such a rare occurrence.

As I have grown older, I have become much more aware of the need for faith in Christ to be a source of light, of leaven, and of salt. There seems to be so much darkness in our world, and such a need for the light of Christ. In my own case, this has caused me to return to certain prayers and devotions which I knew in my younger years. Some of these I later tossed to the side as being “old fashioned,” or “too conservative.” For me, though, and I speak here only of my own life of prayer, they have become a source of hope, encouragement, and of invitation. In reflecting on the reality of Baptism, I am reminded of a prayer from the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy which speaks of the water and blood which flowed from the pierced side of Our Lord on the Cross.

“You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us.

O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You!

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.”

I began these words today with the music of Emmy Lou Harris. As we approach the cold waters of the Jordan in our own time of uncertainty, fear, and darkness, may we choose to trust in our Good Shepherd to lead us safely to our destination.

Now look at that cold Jordan, look at these deep waters Look at that wide river, oh hear the mighty billows roar We’d better take Jesus with us, He’s a true companion For I’m sure without him that we will never will make it o’er.

“God seeks us.”

A sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

and

The Episcopal Cathedral of the Nativity

in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (in Spanish)

A Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Lord God, we adore you because you still come to us now.

You come to us through other people and their love and concern for us.

You come to us through men and women who need our help.

You come to us as we worship you with your people.

One of the most powerful descriptions of the Christian vocation which I have ever encountered is taken from the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict. In it, he speaks of the monastic as one who is “truly seeking God.” Of course, he recognizes that most Christians who are beginning that journey will be quite clueless as to how to even begin. And so it is, to assist them on their journey, that he establishes a “school of the Lord’s service.” He offers tools such as prayer, work, and Lectio Divina. But it is clear to anyone who has spent time in one of these schools—or monasteries, as they are more commonly called—that the essential tool is that of life in community.

This makes perfect sense to me, because—at its best—Christianity is truly incarnational. In the Nativity, we celebrate that God chose to become one of us—one with us. One who completely understands our limitations, our frustrations, our sufferings—as well as our joys and moments of transcendent connection. All the theology and theories about God will make sense to us—but only after we have experienced God’s reality in our lives! While that experience does often come to us through prayer, or worship, or even nature, it is far more common for it to come to us through the love, kindness, generosity, and affirmation of others. Anyone who has ever had the experience of feeling loved, of being loved, of receiving love will inevitably be changed, and perhaps even transformed, by that experience. I think that it is for that very reason that Sacred Scripture uses this very language—time and time again. God is love, and all who love, are of God. “That we have passed from death to life we know, because we love others.”

And so, after having encountered God’s love—in some form or fashion—we begin out quest, our journey, to find God. The most important truth is this: It is not that we have first sought God, it is that God sought and encountered us. That is how the spiritual life begins. It is for that very reason that St. Benedict begins the Holy Rule with that word, “Listen.” We are reminded, of course, of that beautiful prayer which is at the center of the Jewish Faith, “Hear Oh, Israel, the Lord, our God, the Lord is one.” Shema Israel Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad.

The last week of Advent is the week in which this reality is laid out for our contemplation in the most basic and profound way. Because in it, we see reality from God’s perspective, and not from our own. In this final week we move from a contemplation of the theology of the Incarnation to the reality of a Holy Family of Mary and of Joseph, looking for a place to welcome God into their lives and into our world.

One of the greatest gifts of Latino Spirituality is that of the Posadas. It takes a theology which might feel abstract or theoretical and makes it real, present, and effective. It is a liturgical re-enactment—in the very best sense of that term—of the Infancy Narrative of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke. This past Thursday evening, at the Cathedral of the Nativity, the Hispanic/Latin Community celebrated this lovely tradition.

How to briefly summarize what the Posadas are about. Here is a good overview which I found on the web: “There are two parts to the traditional posada song. Those outside the house sing the role of Joseph asking for shelter and the family inside responds, singing the part of the innkeeper saying that there is no room. The song switches back and forth a few times until finally, the innkeeper agrees to let them in. The hosts open the door, and everyone goes inside.”

I love this tradition because it helps us to see the action from two very different perspectives. The Posada song is amazing because it gives all the sensible reasons which the Inn Keeper has for turning away the Holy Family. And, after all, those inside the Inn have no idea who this is asking for shelter. In the end, though, a place of welcome and safety—if ever so humble-is offered, and Mary and Joseph are able to come in out of the elements. Then, there is a party, and everyone celebrates.

These final days of Advent, then, challenge us. Is there a place in our Inn for God? Is there a place in our homes, in our church, in our community, in our nation, and—perhaps most importantly—in our hearts to welcome and receive the God who has come to be with us? While there might be a million sensible reasons to say no, will we find the courage to say yes?

If we struggle to understand just how it is that God comes to us in this holy season, we need only to listen to the revolutionary words of our Blessed Mother in the Magnificat to truly understand who it is that God has visited—and who we are invited to welcome too.

  • God comes to lowly servants-to women, to persons who are not valued or prioritized or even acknowledged. In welcoming them, we welcome God
  • God comes to those who respect and love and acknowledge God. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the humble, the meek, the mild. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the lowly, the weak, the powerless. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to the hungry, the poor, the destitute, the homeless. In welcoming them, we welcome God.
  • God comes to families and communities in crisis, to those who long for equality, and justice, dignity and respect. In welcoming them, we welcome God.

Saint Benedict reminds us that it is often in the unexpected visitor who shows up at our door that we discover and welcome the presence of Christ. The challenge, then, is to recognize that is so often in the unwelcome interruption—in that moment in which we are convinced that we are doing God’s work, that we are doing “real ministry”—that we are given an opportunity to truly love, to truly serve, and to truly welcome God. Isn’t that what this holy season is all about? The God who created all that is takes us by surprise—knocking at our door: dirty, homeless, hungry, poor, weak, vulnerable, exploited, marginalized, and excluded. That is what the Incarnation, the Nativity, is all about.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, may we throw open the doors to welcome you, to love you, and to celebrate your presence with us this Advent, this Christmas.

“Innkeepers:

Is that you, Saint Joseph?

And the Virgin, too?

I would have opened sooner

if I’d recognized you.

All:

Enter, holy pilgrims,

Welcome to my humble home.

Though it’s little I can offer,

all I have, please call your own.

All:

Mary, Joseph, and our Savior,

what a joy to have you here!

We are honored to receive you,

May you stay through all the year!”

Want to hear a sung version of the Posada Song?

“Saint Nicholas, help us prepare for Christmas.”

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

December 5, 2021

“Grant, Almighty God, that your church may be so inspired by the example of your servant Nicholas of Myra, that it may never cease to work for the welfare of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Saint Nicholas providing dowrires for theree poor girls by Bicci di Lorenzo.

Every liturgical season has its own focus and theme. Advent is a season which focuses on the two comings of the Christ. The first part—until December 16th, in theory is future-oriented. In it, we begin the new liturgical year by asking ourselves important questions, “What do we want Jesus to find when he returns in glory to bring to fulfillment the fullness of God’s Beloved Community?” And, on a personal level, what do I need to do to prepare and to be ready? Will Jesus find me prepared when he returns?”

The second part of this season—the octave, or eight days, from December 16th-24th are a time in which we more specifically focus on our preparation to commemorate, to celebrate, and to recall that first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ—his incarnation in flesh as one with us at the manger in Bethlehem.

Having said that, though, this first part of Advent also has a time of transition. The Second Sunday of Advent ceases to present to us images of the apocalypse, of the eschaton, of the Parousia — of the “final things,” and invites us to enter into a reflection of how it was that God prepared the world for what we as Christians believe to be the culmination of “salvation history.” It is important to choose our words wisely here and to proceed cautiously. The Nativity of our Lord is not a rejection of any of the other covenants which preceded it. Nor is it a replacement. Each of those covenants remain in place, and in effect. However, for those who are called to enter into each succeeding relationship with God, we find in them a greater level of inclusion, and of welcome for the whole human family.

In Second Temple Judaism, there was an ever greater appreciation for the words and example of the Prophets—and especially for the words of the Prophet Isaiah. The primary mission of the prophet, we are reminded was to “comfort the afflicted, and to afflict the comfortable.” Their words were often hard to hear—because they presented God’s view of things—and reminded humans that in God’s plan there was a place for everyone at the table. In particular, the prophets pointed out that those who were comfortable had a moral responsibility to care for, and to protect, the oppressed and marginalized—widows, orphans, and migrants. All too often prophets spoke words of truth to those in power and challenged them to examine their values, priorities, and actions. We have only to remember the words of Nathan to David or of Elijah to Ahab and Jezebel—or of John to Herod!

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke today introduces us to the last prophet, the greatest prophet—in the words of our Lord—John, the Baptizer. John’s words, inspired by the words of Isaiah, inform us that God plans something different, something surprising, something dramatic. What humans have not been able to do, or willing to do, God will do. God will bring about a new reality—a reality in which every person will witness God’s healing, transforming, and inclusive love. This new creation—flowing out of God’s unfolding covenants with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abrahm and Sarah, Moses and the People of Israel, and with the family of David—will now include justice and equality for all. In words which remind us of the hymns of praise of Hannah, Zechariah, and of Mary, we hear that crooked paths will be made straight, mountains and valleys will both be leveled, rough ways will be smoothed out, and humans who have been oblivious to the presence of God in others will have their eyes opened to see, to value, to respect and to love, the presence of God in every single person whom they encounter—without exception! In short, God calls us all to conversion, to growth, to change, and to become something new.

Over the centuries, Christians came to realize that theoretical words about loving and serving God are not nearly as powerful, effective, or helpful to us as are living examples. In other words, we need something which not only touches our mind, we need something which touches our heart. For that reason, we have so often turned to the example of those who lived out their belief in Christ as an image, or—to use the Greek word, an “icon”—of how to put that faith into practice. These holy women and men of profound holiness, and that is what the word “saint” means, allow us to see what happens when we choose to say yes to God. It is fascinating to me that each year, quite early in Advent, we encounter the feast of one of our most popular Saints, that of the Holy Bishop Nicholas of Myra.

I do not feel defensive, and thus have no desire to defend Saint Nicholas against the better know cultural reflection of him, Santa Claus. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we Christians ought to be pleased that the holy bishop, through a complicated process, became an image or icon across so many cultural barriers—who inspires, motivates, and encourages some of the best actions of love and generosity in people of profound faith, and of those who claim no commitment to any community of faith at all. If presented properly—and with love and respect, the story of Saint Nicholas could well be a very powerful tool for evangelization. We should not be hesitant to explain that behind the legend there is an actual person who modeled an important charism of service and generosity. And he did so because of his faith in the child born in the manger at Bethlehem.

Today, in our Advent journey, I think it is entirely appropriate to take a few minutes to reflect on one story—out of the many possible ones—to explore the connection between faith and action in the life of Saint Nicholas. This is what Wikipedia has to say about him: “In one of the earliest attested and most famous incidents from his life, he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them.”

It is this story of the anonymous gift of Nicholas which lies at the heart of our custom of giving presents, and of wrapping them up. And, it is important to remember that these first gifts were not given to beloved family members or even to peers. They were given to unexpecting recipients who were poor, marginalized, weak, and vulnerable. The three girls remind of us of the many times in which the Gospels show us us that Jesus cared for the poor, the exploited, the abused, and the oppressed! They teach us that Nicholas looked for ways to do the same thing in his own time and place.

While one might hesitate to use the word “miracle” because there is a rational, normal, explanation, it would be hard to miss the point that for these girls, for their family, and for those who loved them, these gifts were nothing short of miraculous. Their lives were changed. They experienced deliverance, hope, and promise at a time when they had known only fear, despair, and resignation. If that is not the hope promised by the Season of Advent, then I do not know what is! It is no accident that the three gifts remind us of the gifts of the magi—which we commemorate each year on the Feast of the Epiphany. It is that moment in which the Light of Christ is revealed to the nations. Holy Nicholas teaches us to look for Christ’s presence in the most unexpected of places, and reminds us that in serving and caring for those in need we minister to Christ himself. Our gifts to the hungry, the poor, and the marginalized—to those who may never be able to give anything in return—are gifts given to Christ!

In this first part of Advent, we are not yet ready to celebrate Christmas. There is something which we must do first. Before commemorating God’s self-giving to us, we must look at the places of darkness—in our own hearts, in our families, in our community, in our nation, and in our world. Where is the healing light of Christ needed? It is only in acknowledging our need for that warmth, hope, and light that we prepare places to welcome it. May this Advent prepare us to have loving, and generous hearts—and not only for those who are dear to us—so that when the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ comes, we, with holy Nicholas, and with John the Baptizer may celebrate God with us. On that day, or the night before, may all in need find love, welcome, and generous care.

Every day of the year, and not only in Advent and at Christmas, may we live out the collect for the holy Bishop of Myra: “may we never cease to work for the welfare of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief.” Amen.

“Reina, reina, Jesús para siempre.”

Sermón por la Fiesta de Cristo Rey.

Noviembre 21, 2021

Te damos nuestra tristeza, desesperación y desesperanza.

Te damos nuestra ira, dolor y rabia.

Le damos nuestros pensamientos, palabras y acciones que son racistas, perjudiciales,  

y discriminatorio,

Te damos nuestra tendencia a menospreciar a los demás y hablar mal de los demás.

Permítanos ver a cada persona por lo que es, un hijo amado de Dios.

Te damos la falta de fe que tenemos en tu misericordia, amor y perdón

hacia nosotros, y por los demás o por tu capacidad de transformar nuestros corazones endurecidos.

Sana nuestras heridas y rompe nuestras dudas.

Jesús, sana nuestras heridas con tu corazón y abre nuestros corazones al amor–con el

amor de tu Sacratísimo Corazón.

Sagrado Corazón de Jesús,

Coro:

Sagrado Corazón de Jesús,

viva llama de amor y de luz;

amigo tierno de Betania,

maestro y modelo de virtud.

Reina, reina, Jesús para siempre;

reina aquí ¡oh amado Redentor!

y derrama tus gracias, divino Jesús;

quiero vivir tan sólo de tu amor.

Coro:

Entronizado serás en todo el orbe,

donde quiera que haya un hogar;

y buscando tu amparo, te busco Jesús;

yo quiero un día contigo reinar.

Coro:

Bendecid nuestra patria querida,

sé el dueño de nuestra nación;

y que en toda la tierra resuene esta voz:

Viva, viva el Sagrado Corazón.

Coro:

Querides hermanas y hermanos, a lo largo de muchos años, hemos escuchado muchos sermones. Viniendo, como lo hacemos, de una tradición que valora ambos la Palabra como el Sacramento, semana tras semana, hemos escuchado la palabra de Dios proclamada, predicada y aplicada.

Pero, si son como yo, dudo que puedan recordar muy pocos de esos sermones. Tenemos una tendencia a recordar los que no nos gustó, no apreciamos, o con los que no éramos de acuerdo. ¡Pero se siente como si todos los buenos sermones de alguna manera corrieran juntos! Sería difícil nombrar más que solo uno o dos.

Sin embargo, cuando recordamos un sermón, a menudo es porque nos tocó de una manera inesperada. Tal vez proporcionó alguna idea en un momento de confusión, o de pérdida, o de luto. Tal vez nos dio esperanza en un tiempo de incertidumbre en el que luchamos por perseverar en la fe. O tal vez nos dio una nueva visión que nos hizo ver las cosas de una manera diferente.

Uno de los sermones más poderosos que recuerdo haber escuchado, me tomó por sorpresa. Una mañana, estaba navegando por el canal, y por casualidad me encontré con una misa dominical televisada de la Arquidiócesis Católica Romana de San Antonio en Texas. Resultó que el predicador era el arzobispo Patricio Flores, y predicaba en la solemnidad de Cristo Rey.

Más tarde, aprendí un poco más sobre el arzobispo Flores. Resulta que fue el primer sacerdote mexicano-estadounidense ser nombrado obispo en este país. También fue cofundador del Centro Cultural Mexicanoamericano. Pero en esa madrugada de domingo, no sabía nada sobre el arzobispo.

Casi desde el momento en que comenzó a hablar, sentí algo muy diferente. Habló de años de experiencia pastoral en lugares y situaciones difíciles. Estaba claro que había sido testigo de mucho dolor, angustia y tristeza. Se había ministrado en lugares y comunidades que muchos habrían considerado peligrosos y para personas que muchos otros habrían descartado como que no valían su preocupación.

Lo sorprendente, sin embargo, fue que, en lugar de ver razones para preocuparse, e incluso desesperarse, el arzobispo Flores fue uno de los oradores más esperanzadores y alentadores que había escuchado en algún tiempo. Esto fue aún más sorprendente porque claramente no era ingenuo. Habló de realidades y situaciones que estaban lejos de ser agradables.

Comenzó hablando de las vidas complejas que experimentan aquellos que viven en la pobreza en los centros de las ciudades descorridas. Describió la violencia, el crimen, los problemas con la pobreza, la adicción y la falta de buena educación, atención médica y oportunidades de empleo. Habló sobre la madre soltera que trabaja en dos trabajos y lucha por mantener a sus hijos. Habló de la abuela anciana temerosa de caminar a la tienda o al consultorio del médico porque le habían robado y herido en el pasado. Habló sobre aquellos que carecían de un lugar para vivir, comida y ropa, o cualquier sensación de seguridad.

Habló sobre las comunidades en conflicto, sobre los prejuicios y el odio racial. Habló de la experiencia de los inmigrantes que lucharon por inclinarse por otro idioma, por encajar en una sociedad que no los quería ni los acogía, y de su deseo de aferrarse a su propio orgullo por su lengua materna, su comida y su música.

Hizo preguntas difíciles: “¿Cuál es la fuente y el origen de estas heridas en nuestra sociedad? ¿De dónde vienen el odio, la violencia y el miedo? ¿Por qué hay injusticia, opresión, explotación y abuso? ¿Hay algo que se pueda hacer con respecto a estos problemas que, tan a menudo, se sienten insuperables?”

El buen arzobispo hizo entonces algo completamente inesperado: dijo: “No somos las primeras personas en encontrar estosproblemas. No somos las primeras personas en hacer estas preguntas. ¡No somos las primeras personas en buscar significado y esperanza!”

Luego parafraseó el cuarto capítulo de la Carta de Santiago. Y su punto era este, todos los problemas que vemos afuera, alrededor de nosotros, tienen su origen en nuestros propios corazones. ¡Es en nuestros propios corazones heridos, endurecidos y divididos que encontramos el camino para comprender el caos y la confusión que encontramos a nuestro alrededor!

La solución, que encontró el arzobispo Flores, no estaba en alguna proclamación teórica de que, si solo permitimos que Cristo fuera nuestro Rey, todo estaría bien. No, Flores habló de la realidad de Jesús como gobernante, no como Rey en un trono lejos y celestial, o incluso como una víctima pasiva en una antigua cruz. No, habló de la esperanza, la sanación y la promesa que se encuentran—aquí y ahora—en el Sagrado Corazón roto, herido y sangriento.

Aquí está la gran paradoja: de ese corazón herido fluye agua y sangre. De esas sangrientas heridas fluyen la vida sacramental de nuestra Iglesia: las aguas del bautismo y la sangre de la nueva y eterna alianza. Este corazón sangrante ofrece sanación, reconciliación, perdón y esperanza. El Sagrado Corazón de Jesús ofrece la posibilidad de sanar las divisiones, el odio y la desconfianza.

En los últimos años me he preguntado si la Comunidad Amada, que es inclusiva, afirmativa, empoderadora, justa y honesta, es realmente posible. Las palabras del arzobispo Flores, así como las del Obispo presidente Curry, me dan la esperanza de que la Comunidad Amada no es solo un sueño, o una esperanza cariñosa.

  • Comenzamos pidiéndole a Jesús que sane nuestros propios corazones heridos y sangrantes.
  • Comenzamos pidiéndole a Jesús que sane a nuestras familias rotas y divididas, a nuestras atribuladas comunidades de fe, a nuestras aldeas, pueblos y ciudades caóticos.
  •  Comenzamos pidiéndole a Jesús que llene nuestros corazones de amor por los pobres, los necesitados, los oprimidos, los marginalizados, los explotados y los abusados.
  •  Comenzamos pidiéndole a Jesús que llene nuestros corazones a rebosar de tal amor que queremos amar, alentar, y ayudar a cada persona que conocemos a conocer el mismo amor transformador.
  • Comenzamos comprometiéndonos a erradicar el malentendido, el miedo, el odio, y el prejuicio.

Si emprendimos estos proyectos por nuestra cuenta, probablemente no lograríamos mucho. Pero, cuando Jesús está en el centro de nuestros propios corazones y de nuestra comunidad, nada resultará imposible.

“Reina, reina, Jesús para siempre;

reina aquí ¡oh amado Redentor!

y derrama tus gracias, divino Jesús;

queremos vivir tan sólo de tu amor.”

“Reign, oh reign, Jesus, forever.”

A Sermon for the Feast of Christ the King

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

In Easton, Pennsylvania

November 21, 2021

We give to you our sadness, despair and hopelessness.

We give to you our anger, hurt, and rage.

We give to you thoughts, words and actions which are racist, prejudicial,

 and discriminatory,

We give to you our tendency to look down on others and speak ill of others.

Help us to see each person for who they are — a beloved child of God.

We give to you the lack of faith we have in Your mercy, love, and forgiveness

 for us, and for others or your ability to transform our hardened hearts.

Heal our wounds and shatter our doubts.

Jesus, heal our wounds with Your Heart and open our hearts heart to love with the love of Your Most Sacred Heart.

“Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

Chorus:

Sacred Heart of Jesus,

living flame of love and light;

tender friend of Bethany,

teacher and model of virtue.

Reign, oh Reign, Jesus forever!

reign here, oh beloved Redeemer!

Pour out your grace into our hearts, divine Jesus.

May we live only in your love.

Chorus:

Be enthroned throughout the world,

wherever your heart finds a home;

Seeking your protection, we seek you dear Jesus;

May we, one day, reign with you.

Chorus:

Bless our beloved country,

be the Ruler of our land.

May this cry resound throughout the whole earth:

Live forever, reign forever, Sacred Heart!

Dear friends, over the course of many years, we have heard a lot of sermons. Coming, as we do, from a tradition which values both Word and Sacrament, week after week, we have heard God’s word proclaimed, preached, and applied. But, if you are anything like me, I doubt that you can remember more than just a few of those sermons. We tend to remember the ones we didn’t like, appreciate, or agree with. But it feels as if though all the good ones somehow run together! We would be hard pressed to name more than just one of two.

When we do remember a sermon, though, it is often because it touched us in an unexpected way. Perhaps it provided some insight at a time of confusion, or of loss, or of mourning. Perhaps it gave us hope in a time in which we struggled to persevere in faith. Or, perhaps it gave us some new insight which caused us to see things in a different way.

One of the most powerful sermons which I ever recall hearing, took me by surprise. One morning, I was channel surfing, and just happened to come upon a televised mass from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio in Texas. The preacher, as it turned out, was Archbishop Patricio Flores, and he was preaching on the Solemnity of Christ the King.

Later, I learned a bit more about Archbishop Flores. It turns out that he was the first Mexican American priest to be appointed as bishop in this country. He was also the co-founder of the Mexican American Cultural Center. But on that early Sunday morning, I knew nothing about the archbishop.

Almost from the moment that he began to speak, I sensed something very different. He spoke from years of pastoral experience in difficult places and situations. It was clear that he had witnessed a lot of hurt, pain, and sadness. He had ministered in settings which many would have regarded as dangerous and to people whom many others would have dismissed as not worth their concern.

The surprising thing, though, was that rather than seeing reasons for concern, worry, and even despair, Archbishop Flores was one of the most hopeful and encouraging speakers I had heard in some time. This was all the more surprising because he clearly was not naïve. He spoke about realities, and situations which were far from pleasant.

He began by speaking about the complex lives which those who live in poverty in run-down inner cities experience. He described the violence, crime, problems with poverty, addiction, and lack of good education, healthcare, and opportunities for employment. He spoke about the single mother working two jobs, and struggling to provide for her children. He spoke about the elderly grandmother afraid to walk to the store or to the doctor’s office because she had been robbed and beaten in the past. He spoke about those who lacked a place to live, food and clothing, or any sense of security.

He spoke about communities in conflict, about prejudice, and racial hatred. He spoke of the experience of immigrants who struggled to lean another language, to fit into a society which did not want or welcome them, and of their desire to hang on to their own pride in their native language, and food, and music.

He asked difficult questions: “What is the source and origin of these wounds in our society? Where does this hatred, violence, and fear come from? Why is there injustice, oppression, exploitation, and abuse? Is there anything which can be done about these problems which so often feel insurmountable?”

The good Archbishop then did something completely unexpected—he said, “We are not the first persons to encounter these problems. We are not the first persons to ask these questions. We are not the first persons to seek meaning, and hope!” He then paraphrased the fourth chapter of the Letter of James. And his point was this, all the problems which we see on the outside have their origin in our own hearts. It is in our own wounded, hardened, and divided hearts that we find the path to understanding the chaos and confusion which we find all around us!

The solution, which Archbishop Flores found, was not in some theoretical proclamation that if we only allowed Christ to be our King, everything would be fine. No, Flores spoke of the reality of Jesus as Ruler—not as King on some distant heavenly throne, or even as a passive victim on an ancient cross. No, he spoke of the hope, healing, and promise which may be found—here and now–in the broken, wounded, and bloody Sacred Heart.

Here is the great paradox—from that wounded heart flow water and blood. From those gory wounds flow the Sacramental Life of our Church: the waters of baptism and the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. This bleeding, pierced, heart offers healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, and hope. Jesus’ Sacred Heart offers the possibility of the healing of divisions, hatred, and distrust.

In recent years I have asked myself if Beloved Community—which is inclusive, affirming, empowering, just, and honest—is really possible? The words of Archbishop Flores, as well as those of Presiding Bishop Curry, give me hope that it is! Beloved Community is not just a dream, or a fond hope!

  • We begin by asking Jesus to heal our own wounded and bleeding hearts.
  • We begin by asking Jesus to heal our broken and divided families, our troubled places of worship, our chaotic villages, towns, and cities.
  • We begin by asking Jesus to fill our hearts with love for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, the marginalized, the exploited, and abused.
  • We begin by asking Jesus to fill our hearts to overflowing with such love that we want to love, to encourage, and to help every single person we meet to know the same transformative love.
  • We begin by committing ourselves to eradicating misunderstanding, fear, hatred, and prejudice.

If we undertook these projects on our own, we would probably not accomplish very much. But, when Jesus reigns in our own hearts, in our homes, and in our communities, nothing will prove to be impossible.

“Reign, oh Reign, Jesus forever!

reign here, oh beloved Redeemer!

Pour out your grace into our hearts, divine Jesus.

May we live only in your love.”

“Walk always as a Child of Light.”

A Sermon for All Saints’ Day

November 7, 2021

Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

“You have become a new creation,

and have clothed yourself in Christ.

See in this garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity.

With your family and friends to help you by word and example,

bring that dignity unstained

into the everlasting life of heaven.

You have been enlightened by Christ.

May you walk always as a child of the light.

Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart.

When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him

with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”

Adapted from the Rite of Baptism for One Child.

Our Book of Common Prayer asks us to regularly renew our Baptismal Promises—and today is one of the days in which it is recommended that we do so. There is an intentional desire to connect two important ideas—the celebration of what it means to be holy, to be a “Saint,” and the reality of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

On its most basic level, the Feast of All the Holy Ones, or of All Saints challenges us to re-examine our notion of what it means to be holy. It could be easy to think that holiness is a very rare thing indeed. If, for instance, we only imagine that the handful of those who have been canonized, included in a list of those who are considered holy, or placed on the calendar of those who are to be commemorated—we might well be tempted to think that holiness has nothing to do with most of us. This is especially true if we make the mistake of thinking that the call to be holy is primarily connected with miracles, a brutal death, or with a life of profound asceticism and renunciation.

In fact, our celebration today suggests just the opposite. It is a reminder that many who are holy, who are profoundly connected to God, who have lived lives of deep an profound faith will never be formally canonized. Many of these holy ones have lived lives of faith which are “known to God alone.” What a shocking idea! The language which has been used to describe this is the “universal call to holiness.” In other words, each of us—without exception– is called to be a saint!

Has anyone ever told us that we are called, invited, and challenged to be saints—to be holy—to be living icons or witnesses to the loving, healing, emancipating, and transforming presence of God in this world?

—–What might it mean if we chose to accept that invitation?

—–What might it mean if each of us chose to say yes to God in a radical and profound way?

—–What might it mean if we chose to view every event in our lives, and every person that we meet, as an opportunity to seek and find God?

—–What might it mean if we intentionally chose to live out our beautiful Baptismal Covenant every single day—and not only on the days that we repeat it in church?

Our call to holiness, to be saints, began with our own Baptism. It began in that moment in which we were united into the passion, death and resurrection of Christ through the waters of Holy Baptism.

The two prayers which I shared at the beginning of these words today remind us of that. The purity of out baptismal garment, and the light of Christ given to us from the Paschal Candle, the reminder that we are marked, sealed, and claimed as Christ’s own forever give us some explanation of the power that the Sacrament of Holy Baptism offer us—if we choose to embrace that promise and allow it to be active and fruitful in our lives.

My own favorite image, taken from the Twelfth Chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, is that of the “Great Cloud of Witnesses.” Here is that text: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

One very important way that we see the power of this hopeful promise is found in the image which I asked to have shown on the screen today. It is a photo which I took only a few weeks ago here at Trinity. It shows our Church surrounded by the graves of those who have “gone before us marked with the sign of faith.” It reminds us that we are the heirs of their faithful witness to Christ. It also reminds us that there will come a day when we will join them—wherever we are buried–as a visible part of that Great and Holy Cloud. The practice which our tradition has of using the funeral pall—with its close connection to the baptismal garment–reminds us that “both in life and death, we belong to the Lord.”

May the waters of Holy Baptism continue to empower us live to live holy lives as Children of God. May we become living candles who carry that light of Christ to a dark world so in need of warmth and light.

“Hear, O Israel.”

A Sermon for the Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at the Comunidad Hispana/Latina

at the Cathedral of the Nativity

in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

October 31, 2021

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

The Shema

My Grandmother Cook was from the Bunten family—and her husband Jack was also a Bunton descendant. So, from the time that I was very young, I knew a good deal about the family.

The story we were told was that the ancestor, Billy Bunton, had come to the British Colonies in North America as young man as a solider for the English. Apparently, he decided that he did not want to return to England, deserted, married, and started a family in what would become the State of Tennessee, after the war ended. We had always assumed that the family was an old English one.

When I was in college, at around the age of 20, something happened to dramatically change my understanding of this family. One of my cousins, who had some time, and the money to do so, decided to go back to England, to the little town that Billy was from to see if she could learn more about his family. She was surprised to discover relatives still there. They knew that one of their cousins had come to the United States centuries ago, but had no idea what had happened to the family. They then told her an astonishing story. The Bunton family, it turned out, was not English after all. They had come to England from Amsterdam in the 1600’s. Before that, they had lived in Spain. The name was originally Butino—and the family had been Sephardic Jews. In fact, they were exiled from Toledo in 1492 because they refused to convert and become Christian.

To say that this was a surprise, would be an understatement. It was a shock. I was a bit skeptical, but later took a DNA test which confirmed that I did in fact have Iberian Jewish ancestors. And more than Jewish ancestors, I had Spanish ones—from several regions of Spain.

For the first time, I found myself to be interested in learning about Judaism. Until this point, I had never really given it much thought. As a committed Christian, I found myself fascinated by the Judaism of Jesus. I suddenly realized, in a transformative way, that Jesus was Jewish. His mother was Jewish. His earthly father was Jewish. Almost everyone he knew, cared for, and loved was Jewish. All the Apostles were Jewish, most of the disciples were Jewish. He was surrounded by a Jewish context about which I knew almost nothing.

  • What role had his Jewish family, religious training, and formation played in his life? From the first breath at that manger in Bethlehem of Judea to that last breath which he took on the Cross, he had lived, worshipped, and prayed as a Jew.
  • How had that faith shaped his understanding of God? How that faith sustained him in difficult moments in his life?
  • How had the faith of Abraham, Isaa, and Jacob formed his own self-understanding?
  • What had it been like to know that he had been circumcised and named on the eighth day?
  • What had it been like to know that he had been presented in the Temple?
  • What had it been like each year to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the pilgrim festivals of Passover, Weeks (Shavuot or Pentecost), and Tabernacles (or Succot)?
  • What had it been like to light the menorah and to celebrate the Feast of the Dedication (Chanukkah)?
  • What had it been like to be Bar mitzvahed become a “son of the commandment” at the age of 13?

I also found myself wondering about the Prayer Life of Jesus—not so much the personal, private prayer life with his Abba, but the communal life of Prayer which he prayed daily—and in the synagogue each Sabbath. Later, I had the blessing of being able to be introduced—on a very simple level—to Hebrew. I learned a few of the prayers which Jesus would have prayed each day.

I have concluded that there are perhaps a handful of Hebrew Prayers which I think every Christian would benefit from learning. The most important of those, is one which we encounter today in the Holy Gospel According to Saint Mark. Jesus refers to this prayer when he tells the scribe, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This prayer, known from the first Hebrew word for “hear,” is called the “Shema.”

I would like to do something quite different today. I want to teach you the beginning of this prayer in Hebrew. I want us to pray it together, and then I want to share with you—very briefly, a few ideas about what this prayer could mean to us. Perhaps we, like Jesus, and even like observant Jews to this day, might consider praying it—even if not three times each day (at morning, at noon, and at night).

Repeat after me:

Shema

Israel

Adonai

Elohenu

Adonai

Echad

Shema Isarel

Adonai Elohenu

Adonai Ehad

Shema Israel

Adonai Elohenu

Adonai Echad

Now all together

Shema Israel

Adonai Elohenu

Adonai Ehad

Repeat after me:

Shema Israel

Adonai Elohenu

Adonai Ehad

Once more:

Shema Israel

Adonai Elohenu

Adonai Ehad

Now here is a surprise. This prayer is sung, as often as it is recited. It has a very simple melody. As it is sung, there is the tradition of closing the eyes and of placing the right hand over them.

Now all together:

Shema Israel

Adonai Elohenu

Adonai Ehad

Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one!

In the explanation which Jesus gives to the Scribe, or the teacher of the Law, Jesus uses two primary verbs: hear and love.

The first verb is the Shema—hear and listen. The beginning of the relationship with God is based on our hearing God call out to us. It is no accident that Holy Father Saint Benedict begins the Holy Rule with that instruction: “Ausculta”—listen. The Christian is one who is seeking God, and who hears the call of Jesus to “come and follow.”

The essence of the Jewish faith, as well as the Christian faith is the commandment to love. Here, Jesus is very precise. He defines this love—first of God, and then of others, in a very clear and detailed way: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

What do these words mean?

–the word heart refers to “the will”

–the word soul refers to “the whole life”

–the word mind refers to the memory or “things memorized by heart, like prayers”

–and the word strength refers to “might, effort, or struggle”

What our Lord is teaching us here, is that the kind of love which we are called to have is transformative. When we love God and allow God to love us, we are changed. We are renewed, we are empowered, we grow. And that love will inevitably spill over into a concrete love for others. We become advocates for justice, equality, compassion, inclusion, healing, and reconciliation. We work to break down any barriers which marginalize, exclude, demean, or oppress. We become proponents of a Beloved community which includes everyone without exception.

This commitment to love and serve Christ and Christ-present-in-others does not happen in a single moment. It happens over a lifetime. And that is why we pray each day. To remind ourselves of what it is that God calls us to do—and to be. We pray to love and to be able to show love.

As we grow in prayer. May we grow in love—love of God, and of neighbor.

Let us pray, as Jesus prayed each day:

Shema Israel, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Echad. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

“Come to the Light.”

A Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

In Easton, Pennsylvania

Sunday, October 24, 2021

“The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch our ears

to receive his word, and our mouths to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of

God the Father.”

“My teacher, let me see again.”

The Light of the World is Jesus

1. The whole world was lost in the darkness of sin,

The Light of the world is Jesus!

Like sunshine at noonday, His glory shone in;

The Light of the world is Jesus!

Refrain:

Come to the light, ’tis shining for thee;

Sweetly the light has dawned upon me;

Once I was blind, but now I can see:

The Light of the world is Jesus!

2. No darkness have we who in Jesus abide;

The Light of the world is Jesus!

We walk in the light when we follow our Guide!

The Light of the world is Jesus!

3. Ye dwellers in darkness with sin-blinded eyes,

The Light of the world is Jesus!

Go, wash at His bidding, and light will arise;

The Light of the world is Jesus!

4. No need of the sunlight in Heaven we’re told;

The Light of the world is Jesus!

The Lamb is the Light in the city of gold,

The Light of the world is Jesus!

Title:  The Light of the World is Jesus

Author:        P. P. Bliss (1875)

One of the most fascinating things which happens when we hear the Gospel, the “good news” proclaimed, is that we are confronted by the reality that God’s vision is very different than our own. It forces us to acknowledge and to admit that we are blind. That there are things all around us that we just do not see. Even worse, left to our own devices, we would not even know where to begin to see things as God does. Even though we mean well, and want to do good, we often find that we are just clueless. It doesn’t mean that we are bad, selfish, solipsistic, or cruel. It just means that we need help, assistance, and guidance in order to truly see—and thus to know what God asks of us to truly be transformed into loving, affirming and Beloved Community.

The account of the encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus, from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark, challenges our presuppositions about what it means to have sight, to have a voice, and to be a disciple.

Bartimaeus-literally “the son of Timaeus,” is someone who has been marginalized, excluded, pushed to the border, to the edge of the road. People are tired of him. They are tired of him asking for money, and for assistance. They are tired of hearing his voice, and his cries for help. They just want him to go away. They don’t want to hurt him, or be mean to him. They just want to pretend that he is not there. They want him to go away. And so, they pretend that he is invisible, and just ignore him.

They haven’t yet erected a wall to keep him hidden and out of sight. But, for all intents and purposes, he is on the other side of the border—and they are committed to keeping him in his place!

What they do not realize, though, is that Bartimaeus has a kind of vision, a kind of insight, and kind of clarity, which they do not have. How often it is true that those who are challenged, in one way or another, are often perceived as “less than.” Consequently, I think of Bartimaeus as one who knows this particular community better than anyone else. Over the years he has heard them speak. He knows which voices are kind, and which are mean. He probably knows all the secrets of the city. Because others think so little of him, they just ignore him, and let down their guard. They say what they truly think and feel—in his presence they are authentic and honest in a way that they would not be if they thought he was someone who really mattered. That is what happens when one lives on the border, on the margins. Even if blind, one sees and learns what is really going on.

Jesus comes to town. The community wants to impress Jesus. They want him to think good things about them. They want to be affirmed, acknowledged, and praised! Then, at the worst possible moment, they think, Bartimaeus acts up. He creates a scene. He has a conniption fit. He draws attention to the fact that they have ignored him, they have pushed him to the side. What will Jesus think? As they have often done, they try to silence the blind beggar. He has gone too far. Shut up! Be quiet! Go away! Get lost!

They do not know who they are dealing with, though. Bartimaeus has a voice, and is not afraid to use it. He has nothing to lose. I can imagine him as having a “The day my Momma socked it to the Harper Valley PTA” moment. “Oh, you want me to be quiet, oh you want me to go away?” He knows every person who is yelling at him—and he knows all their secrets. It would be easy for him to put them in their place and to tell Jesus what each of them has been up to!

When Jesus reaches out, their hypocrisy is fully revealed. Suddenly, with Jesus watching them, they become concerned, solicitous, and caring. Bartimaeus is not fooled, and neither is Jesus. Then, they fade into the background. Now there are only two people active in the scene: Bartimaeus and Jesus.

For possibly the first time in his life, someone asks Bartimaeus what he wants. For the first time, someone listens to him. For the first time someone gives him a chance to speak, to be heard, to say what truly matters to him. And it is clear that Jesus is listening. Jesus is focused on Bartimaeus. Jesus sees Bartimaeus—and renders him visible, vocal, and present. Bartimaeus is not ignored, not pushed to the side, not marginalized. This action from Jesus is transformative. It is as healing, as restorative, and as empowering as anything else which happens. In fact, we could go so far as to say that it is this first healing which makes the rest of the encounter possible!

The term which Bartimaeus uses to address Jesus is astonishing. Bartimaeus calls Jesus, “My teacher.” The English translation here is really inadequate. The Greek text says, “My Rabbi.” But those listening would have probably heard echoes of the term of endearment which Jews of that time and ever since would have used to speak of the Prophet Moses. “Moishe Rabbeinu,” “Moses, our Teacher, Moses, our Prophet.” For them, this term acknowledged the greatness of this friend of God. Other than Abraham., Moses was the one human who had the closest connection with God. I can imagine that they must have been shocked to hear someone speak of Jesus in this intimate, respectful, and powerful way. We could spend all day reflecting on the power of these words!

What the words reveal, though, is that Bartimaeus sees who Jesus is in a way that almost none of those around him does. This blind person acknowledges Jesus and enters into an act of commitment to him that is absolute and unhesitating. After all, he threw off his cloak to get to Jesus.

Anyone who is homeless, helpless, and destitute realizes how important that cloak is. If one has to sleep on the street, or at the at the side of the road, there are countless untold dangers! The worst of these, perhaps, is to be completely exposed to the elements. There is no tent, there is no raincoat, there is no extra blanket to keep one warm when it gets cold. Several years ago, for instance, two guests of the Soup Kitchen at Trinity in Bethlehem froze to death in a field when the temperature unexpectedly dropped, and they had no place to go.

Bartimaeus trusts Jesus so fully, that what he really does is to throw away his safety net to get to Jesus. I am reminded of Saint Francis who stripped off every item of clothing and came to the Bishop of Assisi, who represented Jesus to him — totally naked, not ashamed, not embarrassed. Because Francis saw who Jesus is, he did not hesitate to abandon wealth and privilege—he chose to become marginalized to love and serve people like Bartimaeus, and to do so by begging.

When Bartimaeus has his sight restored, he now sees and understands what it is that God is inviting him to do. Like so many of the other disciples, he leaves everything behind and makes a new beginning. He follows Jesus on the way. And to remember that that phrase, “the way,” is the very term used to describe the primitive church.

We are invited to follow the example of Bartimaeus. If we are to take on the mantle of disciples, though, we will need to ask our Teacher Jesus to open our ears and eyes, our minds, and our hearts, to enable us to recognize Jesus’ presence — previously unseen and unacknowledged — all around us. Like Jesus, we then find our purpose in welcoming anyone at the margins, at the edge, at the border and inviting them to the center of road as we walk together with them on the way.

Jesus, Light of the World, illumine our darkness and allow us to see, to love, and to serve every person we meet on the way.

“Prefer nothing, whatever, to Christ.”

A Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

October 10, 2021

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

In Easton, Pennsylvania

O Lord Jesus Christ, you became poor for our sake, that we

might be made rich through your poverty: Guide and sanctify,

we pray, those whom you call to follow you through lives committed to poverty,

that by their prayer and service they may enrich your Church, and by their life and

worship may glorify your Name; for you reign with the Father

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

I’d Rather have Jesus by George Beverly Shea

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather be His than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands.

I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hand

Chorus:

Than to be the king of a vast domain

Or be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything

This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;

I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;

I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame.

I’d rather be true to His holy name [Chorus]

Author: Rhea F. Miller (1922)

Tune: I’D RATHER HAVE JESUS (Shea)

As a Southern Baptist child in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the 1970’s, I recall watching Billy Graham preach on television many times at the home of my Grandparents, Jack and Edna Cook. On more than one occasion, I recall hearing George Beverly Shea sing “I’d rather have Jesus” as a central part of the musical prelude before the Sermon. He was a favorite of Mammaw Cook, and she love this song in particular.

Unlike so many of the other songs which we heard, in those days, which made making a commitment to Christ sound daunting, and even overwhelming, there was something about this song which sounded more upbeat and positive. It portrayed a commitment to Jesus as something unique, something precious, something amazingly valuable. Jesus was an incomparable treasure, something more desirable than anything which the world could offer.

For people who are poor this imagery is especially powerful. It is consoling to know that, in their poverty, they do have Jesus! He too, understood what it was to be so poor that he did not even have a place to lay his head. He too, understood what it was to huger for daily bread. He too, understood the struggle to pay taxes imposed by others. And yet, in the midst of all that, there was the clear sense that he was loved, that he was valued, that he was cared for by a loving Abba who wanted the very best for him—and who provided for his needs in generous and life-giving ways.

For those who were not poor, though, the song could be challenging, For them it raises questions: “How important are houses, and wealth, and land?” Are these things as important as Jesus? Are they more important? Do they get in the way of my love for and service to Jesus? That, I think, was the very reason that Mr. Shea sang this song. It was to prepare the hearts of those who, in just a few minutes, would be listening to the words of Evangelist Billy Graham. It was an attempt to plant the seed for the altar call which would come, in which women and men, young and old, poor and rich would be invited to make a commitment to place Jesus at the center of their lives.

The shocking words in the Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me,” take us by surprise every time we hear them proclaimed! Perhaps our first thought is something like, “That is a lot to ask of anyone.!” And then, we might be tempted to try some mental gymnastics, “Of course, Jesus intended those frightening words for the rich young man with whom he was speaking.” Or, we might be tempted to say, “Those words were not meant to be interpreted literally.” We might even think, “I can’t do that!”

We are not alone in struggling with these words, they have been an issue of concern, debate, and even of heated disagreement among the followers of Jesus from the first day that they were heard to this present day.

These words proved to be transformative, when they found a receptive audience! Saint Antony of Egypt heard these words in church one day, and felt that, through them, Jesus was asking him—personally—to sell what he owned, give the money to the poor, and to come follow him. That is exactly what he did. And thus, religious life, as we have come to know it began in the wild and desolate places in Egypt.

Saint Francis of Assisi, struggling to understand what Jesus call to “repair my Church” meant, heard these words in the cathedral, and realized that they were addressed to him—personally—and embraced a life of radical poverty. Thus, the very life of the Church was transformed, renewed, and blessed.

Each of us will have to decide for ourselves exactly what these words mean, and what we are supposed to do about them. This is at the very center of our call, to put into effect the grace which we have received through the Sacramental graces of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. This is not something which anyone else can choose for us. It is something which we, after prayerful reflection, must decide for ourselves. We are called, though, to remember, that whatever our decision, we are must be mindful of the poor, care for them, and serve them!

There are a few things which jump out at me from this passage, though, and I would like to share them with you today.

Are you not surprised by these words from Mark, “Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Now that is amazing! It is one thing to speak of a kind of generic love, “God love us all.” This passage, though, is very specific and precise—this young man—personally, specifically, individually, is loved by Jesus. And, it is out of love that Jesus speaks truth to him. Regardless of any other audience, Jesus tells him what he could do if he chose to follow after him and become a disciple. Because of love, Jesus invites him to a relationship of love and service. We know that Jesus loved his other friends deeply—and yet, we are not told that when he hear that Jesus invited them to leave whatever it was that they were doing and to come and follow him.

What might it mean to us, if we really believed that we were loved in this precise and specific way? What might it mean if we believed that when Jesus looks at us, it is with love? It might literally change everything. But that is not guaranteed. Remember that this encounter with Jesus does not end in the expected way. We do not see, in this passage, the calling of another Apostle; we see an apparent failure! The young person leaves sadly, and goes on his way. We would hope that the story does not end there.

Perhaps the young man later changes his mind. But perhaps he does not. Perhaps, like the other Apostles, he replies that this invitation is impossible! He does not hear the hopeful words which Jesus shares with them, “for God all things are possible.” In any case, whatever his decision—then, or later—that does not impact, in any way, the fact that Jesus loves him! St. Paul reminds us of this elsewhere, “There is literally nothing which can ever separate us from Jesus’ love!” Now that is good news!

In the most interesting encounters, which the gospel accounts share with us, there are often two stages to the story. In the first stage, Jesus will often dialogue with someone who comes to see him with a question. In this stage, Jesus draws on their own experience of struggling to be a person of faith. But then, unexpectedly, Jesus turns the question on them in an unexpected way. We, too, are taken by surprise and look on in astonishment as they struggle to understand what Jesus is asking of them, “Can I re-enter my mother’s womb, who is my neighbor, sell everything that I have and give the money to the poor?”

From this we discern a model. Jesus invites each of these persons to go deeper. He challenges them to lay aside a superficial understanding of faith–and to enter into a new and radically inclusive vision. He invites them to move from an “outward-focused” notion of some abstract theological concept– to a personal encounter with a God who challenges them to become involved with the issues that really matter here and now. An essential part of that challenge is to become involved with issues of justice, equality, and inclusion. In each case, the listener is invited to realize that Beloved Community includes persons whom they might not have been prepared to welcome! In short, in each of these encounters, Jesus invites people who probably thought they were “already converted,” to commit to new and ongoing conversion, to renewal, to ongoing growth, change, and transformation. He invites them to live holy lives marked by love of God and service of others.

There is something very different in this encounter, though. Something which does in fact, seem both addressed to this particular one person, and intended for a wider audience. In reflecting on this, we come to realize that each call, each vocation, each invitation from God is unique. God calls the rich young man to a particular and specific life. The same is true for each of us. We are each unique. Only we have certain gifts, talents, and abilities to offer. At the same time, only we have certain baggage which we carry. What is for me a potential impediment, struggle, or distraction from answering Jesus’ call will not be the same as the challenges which you face as you seek to find God, and to respond to God’s call.

We can learn, though, from this encounter. Jesus asks this young person to sell what he has. He does not ask him to just give things away to the poor. What does that mean? It means that he literally has to take an inventory. He has to draw up a listing of everything he owns–every single thing! He has to then put all this stuff on the market, find out what each item is worth, find a buyer, negotiate for a price which he is wiling to accept. He then has to accumulate all the money and count it up. What a lot of work! What an exhausting project. And yet, what an incredible insight. In most cases, we never have to do this. Instead, it is something which others will do for us after our death–when they sort out our “estate.”.

What does it mean for us to examine each and every thing that we own? What does it mean for us to evaluate the worth, value, and usefulness of all these possessions? What does it mean to clear away all the clutter, all the things which surround us? What does it mean to discover how much we really do own, possess, and control? What does it mean to ask essential questions? What is important to me? What matters most? What do I really need? Do all these things help me find happiness, joy, and energy? Or, are they distractions? Do they get in the way of my hearing God’s call and of saying yes?

The good news, of course, is that though this may feel impossible to us, it is not impossible to God. May we take the risk of running that inventory—as if though we really intended to sell everything we own. God will give us the grace to take that second step—whatever that means to us personally!

St. Benedict makes this very point in the Holy Rule, “Let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”

“Give up, let Jesus take over”

A Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 26, 2021

Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church

In Easton, Pennsylvania

Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son came not to be served

but to serve: Bless all who, following in his steps, give

themselves to the service of others; that with wisdom,

patience, and courage, they may minister in his Name to the

suffering, the friendless, and the needy; for the love of him

who laid down his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus

Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Give up, let Jesus take over

By the Happy Goodman Singers

Oh, give up, let Jesus take over, oh yeah

And He’ll make a way for you

Well, if you’ve got mountains that you can’t climb

Oh, and if you’ve got rivers that you can’t cross

And if you’ve got valleys that you can’t span

Let Jesus, let Jesus take a hold of your hand

Now if you got burdens too hard to bear

Oh, and if you load is more than your share

Kneel, kneel down, talk to Jesus because I, I know and I know He cares

And He’ll, He’ll make a way, make a way for us somehow

Sing it together, sing it, let Jesus take over

Oh, give up and let Jesus take over

Oh, give it up and let Jesus take over

And He’ll make a way, say He’ll make a way

He’ll make a way for you

There is a special field of theology called “ecclesiology.” The name is derived from two Greek words, “ecclesia,” and “logia.” While we could translate ecclesia as church—it really means “the gathered community.” Logia, as anyone who ever studied for the S.A.T. remembers is “words about, “or more commonly, “the study of.”

Ecclesiology asks essential, vital, and ultimate questions. What is the Church? What is the mission and purpose of the Church? What should the Church be doing? How should the Church operate? What does it mean to be a member of the Church? Who is allowed to be a member of the Church?

In an attempt to address these questions—and many others, Avery Cardinal Dulles, of happy memory, wrote a helpful book—which all Roman Catholic seminarians of my day were required to read. It was called “Models of the Church.” To greatly simplify the nuanced thought of Dulles, In it he addressed, among others, two primary models—“the Institutional,” and “The Charismatic.” Cardinal Dulles suggested that the conflict between these two ways of understanding the Church are at the very center of most of the conflicts and problems which the Church has experienced over the centuries. Because at the heart of this conflict is the issue of control!

Sadly, the need for control, the desire to control, and the actions taken to gain and maintain control have been like a drug for Christians. Once consumed, it never fully satisfied. And, when combined with fear, it led to actions which were counter-productive, because they brought about the very opposite of what the Church was supposed to be.

Inevitably, this need for control, leads to excess. At first, it appears to do a good thing—perhaps it clarifies a point which has been a source of anger and division. Perhaps it helps a community to move beyond a hurt or mistake, or failing. But all too soon, it begins to draw lines in the sand. Either you are with us or you are against us. Some are included, others are excluded. Sadly, it even goes farther—most of the Ecumenical Councils, for instance concluded with the famous sentence, “Those who hold the heresy, let them be anathema, let them be accursed, let them be damned!

This temptation is nothing new for Christians, Jesus addresses it head on in the Holy Gospel, According to Saint Mark, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

What a fascinating encounter. The disciples want to control the “Jesus brand.” They act as copyright police. The issue a lawsuit to force the outsider to cease and desist. This is our Jesus, not yours, only we have the right to say who will use his name. Only we have the right to say who will be included among his followers. It appears that their actions are motivated by fear. Unless they step in, who knows what this itinerant exorcist will do or say. What damage might he do? What will people think?

Jesus, though, operates from a place of trust. He is far more interested in including, rather, than excluding. He is willing to find common ground. He understands that his followers are going to have more than enough enemies, and wants them to find friends wherever they can. Jesus realizes that ultimately that his Abba is control, and that he can not be. And, so, he is not afraid to trust that God’s plan will best be accomplished when everyone is included and allowed to fulfill their vocation within the body of the gathered assembly. As he goes on to point out, that does not mean that there will not be conflicts, that does not mean that there will be disagreements, that does not mean that there will not be mistakes. But, if the leaders of the community are able to act with love, humility, and with a desire to serve and not control, they will be able to move forward in good, healthy, and holy ways.

There are the two opposites here, the call to enter into community, and the desire to shepherd the community together along the road to Beloved Community. God calls whomever God wills to  enter into community. That is beyond the control of humans. It is the community who receives those persons who show up at the door. The question is how will they be received? Over the centuries this has been a real challenge.

What if the person is a

         Woman

         Lesbian

         Gay

         Bisexual

         Transgender

What if they are

         Black

         Brown

         Asian

         Indigenous

What if they are a

         Refugee

         Foreigner

         Migrant

         From a group which we have identified as our enemy

What if they are

         Poor

         Uneducated

         Homeless

         Dirty

         Smelly

What if they are

         Ill: physically, mentally, emotionally

         Are addicted to alcohol or some other drug

         What if they appear dangerous

         What if they are a criminal

         What if they have been incarcerated

What if they are

         Not Christian

         Hurt by religion

         Spiritual but not religious

What are we to do? What does Jesus want us to do? Are we willing to run the risk of welcoming them? Are we willing to invite them to join with us at our table? Are we willing to share with them the Sacraments? All the sacraments, or only some? Are we willing to pray with them, to help them discern the vocation which God has given them? Are we willing to help them find their place around our altar, and at our business meeting? Are we willing to give them a voice, to allow them to use that voice, and to prayerfully discern what God is telling us through them?

So many have been hurt, abused, wounded, and damaged by people of faith. It is not so much that they do not want to be people of faith. Rather, it is that they are afraid to trust again. They have been told that they are evil, sinful, flawed. They have had scripture quoted at them, and well-meaning people point out their flaws, mistakes, and errors. They have been threatened with the fires of hell. No wonder they are afraid to walk through our doors. And yet, in so many cases, they have a hunger for God, a longing for community, a desire to find a home.

What might it mean to them if we said: “Welcome,” and really meant it? What might it mean if we told them that God loves them, that they are beautiful, and that in them we see a reflection of God. What might it mean if we thank them for the gift that they are, for the talents which they offer to share with us? What might it mean if we apologize for the hurt which they have experienced—even if we did not cause that harm or hurt? What might it mean if we really listened to them, and made them feel that they had been heard?

As good Anglicans, we are not people of either/or, we are people of both/and. We are not afraid to find a way to reconcile the Institutional and the Charismatic. But, we must know this, we are entering an age and time in which new expressions of the Charismatic are being poured out by God. The challenge for the Institution will be to celebrate, to welcome, to include—and above all to trust that this is the work of God. We must respond then with trust in God, and with thankful hearts because of the wonderful ways in which God is doing new and exciting things here and now.

The Rev. Canon Dale Grandfield and the Canon Sandy Milien representing the Diocese of Bethlehem at the annual Lehigh Valley Pride-in-the-Park celebration, August 15, 2021.