“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.

“Let us take up our cross.”

A Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday. September 12, 2021

Preached at Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Si alguien no le sigue, por no llevar su cruz. Yo sigo, yo sigo, yo sigo a mi Jesús.

Yo sigo, yo sigo, yo sigo a mi Jesús.

If anyone will not follow him, by taking up their cross, I will follow, I will follow, I will follow my Jesus. I’ll follow, I’ll follow, I’ll follow my Jesus.

Crux sacra Patris Benedicti,” the “Cross of Holy Father Benedict.”

The reality of the Twenty-First century, for members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, is that the middle of the month has two transformative commemorations. September 11th and September 14th. Only three days apart, these memorials could appear to recall and commemorate two great defeats, two great tragedies, two moments of despair and anguish. But yet, there is another aspect to both—a connection which unites them—and which suggests that there is a very different meaning found hidden within them. The recollection of the massacre of the innocents in the City of New York, the Pentagon, and on a lonely hill in Pennsylvania—and the Feast of the “Finding or the Triumph of the Holy Cross.”

The mystery which lies at the center of September 11th and September 14th is that of suffering: human, divine, personal, collective, and even the suffering of creation. This is the question with which every faith; every culture, every race and place have grappled. Why does suffering occur? Does it have some meaning? Or is it proof that there is ultimately no meaning at all? Is suffering something which happens to only a few or is it an essential part of what it means to be human?

Jesus confronts this very issue in the passage which we hear today from the Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark. In Mark, this is the first (of three) predictions of his passion, suffering, and death. Clearly, he takes his disciples by surprise: “He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

This is not what they want to hear. Peter, even goes so far as to tell Jesus that he is wrong, he is mistaken. After all, he has just proclaimed his faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, the one who has come to bring about good things-not to suffer. He can not imagine any possible reason for suffering. He denies it because that does not fit into his narrow conception of who Jesus is, who God is, who humans are.

It is helpful to remember here that Jesus is not actually telling Peter that he is the devil, or that he is channeling Lucifer. The word Satan literally means adversary or opponent. Peter is opposing God’s plan and is becoming a stumbling block to Jesus and to Beloved Community. So, it is Peter who will have to change, to grow and to learn—and he will.

Jesus has a clear-eyed perspective of what this will mean in his own life and for his own ministry—in his own vocation to seek and find God “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly.”

Jesus understands, and explains to his closest friends, to his chosen family, that he will encounter great suffering and that, when this happens, it will appear as if though it is a great tragedy. His disciples will be traumatized, will scatter, will lose hope, and will hide out in fear. They will believe that all their hopes and longings were in vain. They will taste bitterness, and fear. They will quite simply give up. They will surrender to despair.

And yet, it will be in that very moment that something new will happen. Something unexpected, something that is so surprising and unimaginable that it will literally be gospel, good news.” Because the narrative will not end as Jesus broken body is taken down from the cross and his lifeless corpse is held in the arms of his sorrowful mother. It will end at the empty tomb and the glory of the Resurrection.

Then, it will be part of the daily experience of anyone who chooses to follow Jesus, anyone who chooses to take up, to carry, to wear as a yoke about their neck, the Holy Cross. They will become not people of great suffering, but children of the Resurrection!

When confronted with evil, with sin, with suffering, we really do not know what to say. We want to be helpful. We want to console, to encourage, and to be a source of strength and hope. Yet, we really are clueless. In our ineptitude, we say, as the old show phrased it so well, “the darndest things.” I must tell you that the greatest damage I have witnessed among families and friends, has come at Funerals. Well-meaning people say the most unimaginable and thoughtless things. Rather than helping, they just make those who are suffering feel worse. Rather than encouraging them, they find that their hurt, sorrow, and pain are renewed. It would have been far better to have said nothing, and just to have been present! Sometimes those wounds are so deep that they never really heal. Relationships are damaged forever.

Sadly, the Christian message too has been twisted to such a degree that it appears to be just the opposite of what was intended. Rather than being life-giving, liberating, emancipating and hopeful, it becomes oppressive, burdensome, and manipulative. When suffering is viewed as punishment, chastisement, or curse, there is no sense of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, or healing. There is no hope.

The crucifixion, I was taught in seminary, is not about how much Jesus suffered. It is about how much he loved. And it was that all-encompassing, bottomless abyss of love that made the difference. It was that love which transformed the suffering which Jesus accepted and made it into sacrifice—literally sacra facere-to make sacred, to make holy. It was on that altar of the cross that Jesus united to himself every hurt, every wound, every bruise, every tear which would ever exist and poured out his life in love. This means that, in that moment, in that final and conclusive act of loving sacrifice, the ultimate value and purpose of suffering is revealed. It is that God completely and fully knows suffering. It is that God’s love will not be overcome by suffering, It is that when all seems lost, and hopeless, and impossible, God will speak a final word. That word is life, that word is love, that word is Resurrection!

As disciples of Jesus, then, we have a new understanding. Rather than carrying the cross of Jesus, it is now Jesus who carries our cross. Rather than choosing to join our suffering to the suffering of Jesus, it is that Jesus is now present to us, that Jesus chooses to unite himself to our suffering. It is that every act of hurt, every act of violence, every act of hatred, discrimination, oppression, selfishness, and of cruelty is confronted by God—and will ultimately be transformed by love.

As the abused, tortured, broken, lifeless corpse of Jesus hung in defeat on the cross, the Roman soldier pierced his sacred heart with a lance. Water and Blood flowed forth. Water of healing, of a new creation, of Baptism. Blood of the new and eternal covenant. Solace for those who thirst for redemption, for salvation, for healing, for comfort, for consolation, and for hope.

Remember that in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism we were anointed with oil, were marked with the sign of the cross, and were marked and claimed as Christ’s own forever! We were incorporated into the passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ.

To take up and to carry our cross means that we do all in our power to live as people of love, to work with all our might to make holy and sacred the suffering which we experience and encounter—to bring it to an end, whenever it lies in our power to do so–and to transform it into good news. Jesus reminds us that whenever we are mindful of those who suffer, and care for them in their pain and sorrow, we minister to him in his own pain and hurt.

May we then find in our experience of suffering and death the promise of Resurrection, and so live as people of hope.

“Hungry and Restless for God.”

A Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

August 15, 2021

Preached at La Parroquia Catedral de la Natividad

in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Lord Jesus, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, you gave us a memorial of your passion, death and resurrection. Grant that we may venerate the sacred mysteries of your body and blood in such a way that we sense within us the fruit of your redemption. Who lives and reigns with the Father  in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Gift of Finest Wheat

You satisfy the hungry heart

With gift of finest wheat

Come give to us, O Saving Lord

The Bread of Life to eat

As when the shepherd calls his sheep

They know and heed his voice

So when you call your family Lord

They follow and rejoice

With joyful lips, we sing to you

Our praise and gratitude

That you should count us worthy Lord

To share this Heavenly food

Is not the cup we bless and share

The blood of Christ outpoured?

Does not one cup, one loaf declare

Our Oneness in the Lord?

You satisfy the hungry heart

With gift of finest wheat

Come give to us, O Saving Lord

The Bread of Life to eat

Author: Omer Westendorf (1976)
Tune: BICENTENNIAL

500 hundred years ago, Christians in Western Europe were engaged in a vicious and often bloody conflict over exactly what it was that happened during the Mass, the Holy Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. One group contended that at the words of Consecration, the very reality of the bread and wine were changed into the actual body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Another group suggested that Jesus became present in a very real but mysterious way. They rejected terms like “transubstantiation,” and preferred not to even try to come up with a term or phrase which explained what happened. They had learned to be cautious about the use of philosophical terms, and feared that too much defining created a kind of rigid and narrow view. Others rejected the notion of Sacraments at all. They argued that this was just a symbolic gesture which recalled something which had happened in the life of Jesus. For some of them, the washing of feet which was a part of their celebration was just as important as anything which happened with bread and wine. And finally, there was a quite interesting group which said that what really happened at the Eucharist was the consecration of the gathered community into the Body of Christ.

Each of these groups claimed that their own view was clearly and unmistakably supported by the Christian Scriptures. Each of these groups anathematized and damned anyone else who did not agree with them. And, in some cases, even went so far as to torture, abuse, and kill those with whom they disagreed. I am sorry to say that it was not the finest moment for Christianity!

I don’t think that there is much point in saying much more about Eucharistic theology today, other than that it sems to me that the words of Princess Elizabeth of England, before the death of her sister, Queen Mary, are as good an explanation as anything else I have ever read about this topic:

“Twas God the Word that spake it,

He took the Bread and brake it:

And what that Word did make it,

That I believe and take it.”

Today, I would like to reflect with you on the famous passage from the Holy Gospel According to Saint John, which is often referred to as “The Bread of Life Discourse.” Without focusing on particular and specific words, I would invite us to consider what the passage as a whole might tell us about God, about what it means to be human, and how all of this might assist us in our desire to truly become a Beloved Community—also known as the “Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.”

The first thing which immediately occurs to me is that even before he preaches, teaches, or explains anything to those who are following him, Jesus takes action. He notices that there are hungry people. And he feeds them. Only after that does he engage in a dialogue with them. When we encounter people who are starving, God challenges us to feed them—not to try to convert them, not to try to educate them, not to try to equip them for ministry and service. This is essential. We have to honestly acknowledge that for some, this is all that they will feel they need or want. That is ok. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, protecting widows and orphans, welcoming foreigners and caring for those with any need—these are ends in themselves and need no other justification than that is what Christ has commanded us to do!

It is insulting to speak to someone who is starving about the life to come—it is insulting to them, and it is insulting to God! This is the very thing which Marx and others condemned. This is “pie in the sky” theology—and it has nothing to do with authentic Christianity. First, those who are starving must be fed, they must be cared for, they must be loved. Only then, do we have the right, as Saint Paul would tell us, to “give an explanation of the reason for the hope which is in us.”

Do we know what it is like to be truly hungry? Most of us have never starved. We might have missed an occasional meal or two. There might have been times that we were not able to eat the meals which we might have preferred. But very few of us understand the horror of real hunger pains! Few of us know what it is to fear that we will not find something to eat. Few of us know what it is like to wonder if we will survive. Few of us can even imagine what it is to go to sleep in pain, aching, because our bodies crave a morsel of bread or a sip of clean water. But in our world, even in our country, state, and county, there are people who experience debilitating hunger as a daily reality. A Beloved Community is one in which the gracious abundance which God freely gives is shared so that the needs of every person are met!

There are many kinds of hunger: physical, mental, spiritual. Each of these hungers is valid. God desires to feed all who are hungry in any way–and in every way–with an abundance which will surpass any hunger or longing which they ever experience.

Among the many kinds of hunger, though, there are three which seem to me to be paramount—after the first physical craving for nourishment is satisfied: the hunger for God, the hunger for community, and the hunger for the beauty of creation.

In the passage from the Gospel of John, after Jesus feeds the crowd, they follow him. Some of them are looking for another free meal. But many others are looking for more than that. Jesus engages them. He takes time to speak with them, to get to know them, and to hear from them the longings and desires of each heart. Then, and only then, does he share with them an invitation to go deeper—to lean more, and then to become disciples. Jesus gives us the very model of evangelism. We do not preach to those we do not know. We get to know them first, identify with them, listen to them explain their needs, desires, and longings. Then we share with them the way that God has satisfied our own longings and desires—individually and collectively.

It is all about relationships. Only if we are in relationship with God will we be able to help others to find a way to connect with God. Only if we have prayed, we be able to help others learn to pray. Only if we have read the Holy Scriptures, will we be able to assist others to listen to God speaking through them. Only if we have washed the feet of others will we be able to help them to find ways of loving and serving others in turn.

Above all, we must never try to impose our own experience on others. What has worked for us may not work for them! But we can give them a template and invite them to find ways of using it in their own journey towards God. I will go so far as to say that the hunger and longing for God is the most basic need of the human heart. It is foundational. Without encountering God and experiencing God’s transforming love, I do not think that we will ever really know lasting happiness. There will always be an emptiness, a vacuum inside us! It was Saint Augustine who wrote of this reality so beautifully: “Our hearts are restless, O God, and will find no rest until they rest in you.”

We were not created to be lonely. We were made for relationship. This means that we are called to not only to seek God, but to find and experience God in community. The beauty of authentic community is that it is diverse, inclusive, and comprehensive! Those who are well-connected often feel that it is easy to enter into community. It is often not the case. Some people have been hurt and wounded by community. Some have been exiled, excluded, shunned, and rejected. Some are fearful of giving community another try for fear that they will be rejected again. Some find that they live in large cities and do not know anyone. Some know lots of people, but do not feel that they really have any friends.

True community, beloved community, has the power to heal the loneliness which so many experience. It has the capacity to encourage, empower, affirm, and enable in a way that quite no other entity can ever do. The power of that love, welcome, and inclusion, can be transformative—even life-changing! True community has the ability to help each of us overcome our limitations and liabilities and develop our potential.

A wise monk once told me, community is like carrying a small back full of rough stones. Over time, those stones will rub together as you walk. Eventually, all the rough edges will be removed, and the stones will become smooth. The character and beauty of each of the stones will then be revealed. True community is productive and generative. It produces abundance to share with others. It is in true community that each of us finds our vocation, our calling, our purpose.

When God created humans, we were placed in a garden. Later, we were given responsibility to care for and to nurture creation. It is in that work of tikkun olam, as Jewish mystics call it, of “working to heal and repair wounded creation,” that we become co-creators with God. We experience the beauty of creation, we become creative. We become artists, artisans, craftspersons. We take the gifts of creation with which God blesses us in such abundance and we transform them into offerings for the world. Our act of offering them to God allows them to be made holy, to be made sacred, to become food and drink for those who hunger and thirst.

The offertory prayers used in Judaism and many Christian traditions speak of this “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation. You give us bread from the earth and the fruit of the grape. By the work of human hands they are transformed into bread and wine. And you transform these gifts into our Spiritual food and drink.” From creation, from human work, from the outpouring of God’s Spirit, we receive the very Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.

You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come give to us, O saving Lord, the Bread of Life to eat. And then, dear Lord, transform us into bread to be broken for others, and wine to be poured out in loving service to all who long and hunger–for you, for community, and for your presence in creation.

“Get up and eat.”

A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Preached at

Trinity Episcopal Church

in Easton, Pennsylvania

August 8, 2021

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Eliyahu hanavi, Eliyahu hatishbi, Eliyahu hagiladi. Bimheirah b’yameinu,  yavo eileinu,  im Mashiach ben David.

Elijah the Prophet, Elijah the Tishbite, Elijah of Gilead. May he come, and with him soon, bring the Messiah, the Son of David.

“And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” The window is located in the Chapel of the Church of Saint Bartholomew in the City of New York.

This haunting song about Elijah the Prophet is one of my favorites. In part, that is because it was one of the very first songs which I learned in Hebrew. It is also, because this is a song about my favorite person from the Hebrew Scriptures. As a child, I remember hearing the story of the very mysterious “death” of Elijah, if we can use that term, in Sunday School. And, over the years, I have delighted each time I have found a new image of the fiery chariot taking Elijah up into heaven.

From an early Christian perspective, and from a monastic one, Elijah was the great exemplar of what it means to be a faithful follower of God. He is called “The Man of God,” and it is clear that he served as the model which Pope Saint Gregory the Great used when he told the story of the life of Saint Benedict. There is something about his story which captures our imagination, and which engages us in a very deep way.

We just heard the account of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ this past Thursday. In it, the two greatest prophets of Judaism appeared with him on the mountain—Moses and Elijah. They advised, him, comforted him, encouraged him-as he was transfigured by the Power of His Father’s love—and then left the mountain to begin his final journey to Jerusalem.

In Jewish thought, Elijah will reappear to bring with him the Messiah, the Son of David. The Gospels which include the account of the Transfiguration want to make sure that we understand that this is what is happening on the mountain. Moses and Elijah present our Lord as the Messiah, and welcome in the Messianic Era. It is, thus, not only God’s validation of the essential reality of who Jesus is—it is the endorsement, the ultimate “seal of approval” by the Jewish faith as well.

Rabbinic Judaism, though, did not—and does not—see in Jesus the fulfillment of the Promised “Anointed One” of God. And, thus, to this day, this lovely hymn of longing and expectation continues to be sung at the Sabbath meal at home, and each year at the Seder—when the door is opened to welcome in the Prophet Elijah.

There are a few themes, that I would like to briefly explore with you today, taken from our First Reading today, and from the Scriptural account of the Prophet Elijah.

Elijah turns our expectations of God upside down! We often think that “seeking God,” is something which we have to do. As a result, we expend a great deal of time, energy, and effort, in trying to open ourselves to God’s presence in the world. Now that is not a bad thing, at all, but it ignores an important fact. Long before it ever occurred to us to look for God, God was already looking for us. We are not left on our own on the quest to find God. God lovingly and graciously gives us numerous opportunities to encounter God. Even if we miss most of them, God has a way of finding us—and almost always at the exact time which we most need God. There is a saying which we sometimes here, “God’s timing is perfect.” I think that we can all testify to a healing, loving, and comforting word, presence, or person whom we have received at moments of pain, suffering, confusion, and uncertainty in our lives. At the moment it happened, we may not even have appreciated how significant this was. In looking back, though, we understand how powerful—and even life, changing this encounter was!

Elijah teaches us that God is not so much found in dramatic things—not in tornadoes, not in earthquakes, not in public spaces—but in the terrifying quiet of the silence in the cave. Thus it is, that we are called to lay aside our own prejudices and stereotypes. After all, they can be an obstacle to us. If we believe that only a true encounter with God includes lightning, brilliant and blinding light, thunder, and trumpets—we may well be disappointed. But, if we allow it, God will come to us in unexpected ways. And here, I think that it is important to affirm, that this is something which God intends for each of us—and not just for a few. God wants each of us to encounter God, and to be transformed by God’s love.

As one brief example of this, Vatican II spoke of the various presences of God which we find at the Eucharist. God is present in the community gathered, God is present in the Word—proclaimed, heard and preached. God is present in the Ministry of those who act in the Person of Christ. And God is found in the broken bread and in the chalice of wine-poured-out.

God is found in the Sacrament of Baptism in which persons are washed in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ—are marked as Christ’s own forever, and are sealed with the power of the Holy Spirit.

God is found in the other Sacraments (or Sacramental Rites for those who prefer that language) in which we are empowered, healed, forgiven, bless and are blessed, and sent forth as witnesses to Christ.

Elijah reminds us that not only is God mysterious, we are mysterious too! We are each created in the image and likeness of God. We are given unique talents, abilities, and gifts. There is no one else quite like us. We have the opportunity to make a difference in a way that no one else can or will. God wishes to use us to affirm, encourage, love, and invite others into Beloved Community. That means that each interaction we have is fraught with potential. It opens the door for us to encounter God—and for others, through us, to encounter God as well. An important thought here is that everyone is important. No one is insignificant. Every single person has worth, value, beauty, and potential. Each person is needed in God’s community—no one can be excluded or left outside!

Elijah challenges us to celebrate our humanity-and not to dismiss, disparage, or apologize for it. I love the very honest conversations which Elijah has with God. He is not afraid to tell God that he is hungry, that he is tired, that he is frustrated, that he is depressed and unhappy. Things have not worked out for him the way that he hoped, or wanted, or wished. The evil Jezebel has put a contract on his life to anyone who will bring him in “dead or alive.” And at his weakest moment he wonders if he has made any difference at all? He wonders if anything he has done matters? I have no reason to think that this is just wallowing in self-pity. Elijah acknowledges the reality of the human condition. This is often what it is like to be human! Elijah asks the questions which each of us will ask—and perhaps more than once in our lives. And yet, despite all that, Elijah takes a nap, has a meal, and gets up and goes on his way. He perseveres—even when there seems to be no reason to hope. In that way, he is a reminder to us of what faith is all about.

Finally, Elijah inspires us to believe that God is active in ways which we do not understand. God has a plan! We are part of this plan, but it is much greater than each of us individually-or of all of us collectively. We see that fully when we hear our Lord Jesus Christ speak of himself as the Bread which came down from heaven. God’s gift to the human family is far greater than anything we can imagine or anything for which we can long. God’s love can fill every hunger, longing, and desire of the human heart. God wants to transform us, transfigure us, and shape us into being Women and Men of God! We need a Messiah, and God has given us one!

What we can not do on our own efforts and under our own power, God can and will do! Elijah has indeed come again. May he come this day, and every day, and open our eyes to see Jesus Christ—the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God, the Bread of Life come down from heaven!