Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sermon; Epiphany 3B; Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Mark 1:14-20


What do you hear when I say that word?

Do you hear a sense of judgment?  Do you hear condemnation?  Do you hear accusations?

The problem with that word, I think, is that it has lost it's original meaning and has been taken over by people too eager to point out the sins of others; and not just any sins, but particularly salacious sins.

Repent of your gambling sins!  Repent of your drinking sins!  Repent of your lustful sins!  Repent of sloth and indulgences of all kinds!  Repent of your gluttony!

These things get our attention.  They get our attention for the same reason the Enquirer gets our attention – they are bigger than life, not seen every day and they make us feel superior.  They are also easy targets because, really, who is going to stand up and say, “You know . . . I really believe sloth is good for the soul.”

Repent and Repentance seem to have been co-opted by some religious people to be used as a form of control.  They've been used to point out the shortcomings and inadequacies of victims.  And using these words in that way is a sin.

The word Repent, and the action of Repentance, isn't about control.  They aren't about over-the-top actions that are easy targets.  They aren't about being easy for us to deny we've ever participated in those particular sins.  And they aren't to be used to point out what the victim did wrong.

To repent, to go through the act of repentance, is to change your course, to change your direction.  These actions also remind us that there is much rejoicing in heaven for those who do truly and earnestly repent of their sins because of the simple fact that one who was lost is found, one who was dead is now alive.

In the Lesson today, repentance is a major theme.  We know the story: God sends Jonah to Nineveh; Jonah runs away; he gets swallowed by a big fish; he goes and prophesies their destruction; they repent; they are saved.  It's a good story of people truly and earnestly repenting of their sins; that is, unless you are Jonah.

But there is more to repentance than putting on sackcloth and ashes, and saying you're sorry.  A true and earnest repentance is, like I said, about a change of direction.  It's about moving from death to life.  And it's that change we see in both the Lesson and the Gospel.

In the Lesson, the people of Nineveh are confronted with their evil ways (whatever those were).  Then, beginning with the king and going all the way down to the animals, the city changed how they did things.  They changed how they related to each other.  They changed how they treated widows, orphans and foreigners.  They promised to respect the dignity of every human being.

And when God saw their change of heart, God changed his as well.  God changed his mind about the calamity that he was planning on bringing to Nineveh.  Some translations say God repented.  But the important part is that God changed the path he was on, and God moved from death to life.

Today's Gospel doesn't have any episode of repentance, but it does have a change.  Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him and become fishers of men (people).  Like the act of repentance, this was a change in direction.

This act of following Jesus off the boat changed how they saw and related to God.  It changed how they saw and related with each other.  It changed how they saw and related to others.  There was no condemnation of how they had lived, or were living, their lives to this point.  There was simply an invitation to change directions and find a new way with God.

This is what repentance should be about: changing our lives and living into a new way of relating with God, a new way of relating with those around us, and a new way of relating with those whom we consider Other.

Another way of saying this is that we have an Epiphany.

The Epiphany Season is all about the manifestation of Christ to the world.  That manifestation showed Jesus to be God incarnate.

As we move forward, from what do we need to repent?  Where do we need to make a change of direction?  Will that change of direction lead to much rejoicing?  Will those around us notice the change?

Nineveh changed directions.  God changed directions.  Simon, Andrew, James and John all changed directions.

This Epiphany Season when we celebrate the manifestation of Christ to the world, will you be willing to change for God?


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Busy, busy, terribly busy ....

Yesterday, Friday, I spent the day in a small northern town with a group of inter-denominational clergy dudes discussing preaching.  It's an ongoing CE group that meets roughly once a month to discuss preaching and other aspects of ministry.  The group is coming together and I'm enjoy my time with them.

When I got home, Mrs. Ref and I then spent a long evening over some really good pizza with my Canon to the Ordinary (C2O).  She was down in the southern part of the diocese hammering out a contract with a facility nearby for our upcoming diocesan convention.  It's been a very long time since convention was held in these parts for two reasons: 1) there really isn't an adequate facility for conventions in this part of the state (business idea -- if you want to invest in a convention center in southern Oregon that would serve people between Roseburg and Redding, you would probably do fairly well); and 2) people in Portland don't like coming down here because, "It's tooooo faaahhhrrrr."

But, the diocese will hold convention here anyway.  Now it's all about the details.  So besides discussing that, we just had a nice chat in general.

Today there's a PEO thingy (they don't talk to men, so it's a big secret) at the church this morning, and then at 2 is the funeral for our organist.  When I got home from the CE gathering yesterday afternoon, there was a message on my phone saying that the organist's widow was in a roll over car accident.  Ish.

I talked with her this morning and, other than the car being totaled, everyone is fine.  Which is good, because I really don't want the experience of doing a double funeral.

And finally, tomorrow is the annual parish meeting.  That will be interesting in all sorts of ways.

But now, I've got the last load in the dryer before the funeral, and I need to go make myself presentable.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Always Surprised

I visited a parishioner this morning.  She's elderly and relatively homebound, but also rather spry and spunky despite having various aches and pains that come with being mid-80's or so.

We talked a little about stuff, catching up with each other because it had been awhile since I had been out to her place.

Suddenly her face lit up and she said, "I have a joke for you!"

"Okay ..."

"Two little boys are in the hospital next to each other getting ready for surgery.  The first boy asks the second boy, 'What are you in here for?'  The second boy says, 'I'm having my tonsils out.'  'Oh,' says the first boy, 'that's easy.  They put you to sleep and when you wake up you get all the ice cream you can eat!'

The second boy then asks the first boy, 'What are you in here for?'  He replies, 'I'm having something called a circumcision.'  The second boy gets a horrified look on his face and says, 'Oh ... that's awful.  I had one of those when I was born and I couldn't walk for a year!' "

After that, it was time for Communion.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sermon; Epiphany 2B; John 1:43-51

I find today's gospel to be an odd little story.  Two days ago, John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Son of God.  Yesterday, John again identified him as the Lamb of God.  At that time two of his disciples, Andrew and one unnamed (I'll call him, 'Bob'), decided to leave John and follow Jesus.  Andrew then went and told his brother Simon that they had found the Messiah.

And today Jesus goes to Galilee where he called Philip to follow him.  Philip then goes, finds Nathanael, and tells him that they have found the Messiah.  Nathanael famously replies, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

He and Jesus exchange words, Jesus telling him that he saw him under the fig tree before Philip called him, and Nathan making the proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel.  Nathan then disappears from the gospel story until the post-resurrection fish fry in Chapter 21.

Where do we go with this?  Do we focus on the titles John gives to Jesus – Son of God and Lamb of God?  Do we focus on Nathan's extreme willingness (some might say gullibility) to proclaim Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel?  Do we focus on Nathan's innocence (an Israelite in whom there is no deceit)?  All of the above?  None of the above?

I'll take Option Number 5 – none of the above.  Instead, I want to focus on what we might overlook (because I’ve overlooked it many times before), and that is discovery and evangelism.

First, discovery.  In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus calls the disciples to him.  He calls Simon and Andrew and James and John out of their fishing boats.  He calls Matthew away from his tax collecting business.  All of this calling reminds me of Hymn 550: Jesus calls us o'er the tumult of our life's wild restless sea, day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow me.”

Our imaginations and memories are filled with that type of imagery: Jesus calling to us; Jesus knocking on the door; Jesus calling and searching for us like lost lambs.  But John has given us a different vision.  In John, Jesus doesn't necessarily call his disciples to him as much as his disciples have been looking for him.  In this opening chapter of John, Philip is the only person Jesus explicitly calls.  Others – Andrew, Bob, Nathanael – come to Jesus through their own searching.

Andrew and Bob were disciples of John the Baptist.  However it happened, their search for the Messiah took them through John.  And John clearly proclaimed he wasn't the Messiah, but was a voice preparing the way.  They probably figured he would lead them to the right person.

Nathanael was also searching for the Messiah, but in a different way.  Jesus says he saw him under the fig tree.  The fig tree is a symbol for Israel.  By placing Nathan under the fig tree, John shows him to be searching for the Messiah within that tradition.  But Jesus didn't come as expected, or in a way that met Nathan's preconceived ideas about who the Messiah should be.  Maybe that's why he isn't mentioned again until the end of the story, because he spent all that time trying to figure out who Jesus is.

All of these people discovered who Jesus was.  Two of them immediately followed Jesus.  One had his preconceived ideas challenged, but eventually came to see him for who he was, not who he wanted him to be.

Second, evangelism.  In today's passage, and other places in John, we hear something along the lines of, “We have found the Messiah.  Come and see.”

John identifies Jesus as the Messiah and Andrew and Bob go to him.  Andrew tells his brother, Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah,” and brings him to Jesus.  Philip found Nathanael and said, “Come and see.”  I/we have found.  Come and see.

Later in John, a Samaritan woman announces to her community, “Guess who I found?  Come and see.”

You know what?  That's the only way this endeavor is going to work – by inviting people to come and see.  We are all searching.  We are all inquirers.  And although there is some uncertainty in a search process, I would hope that we are all open to seeing where God might be calling us.  No matter where that search takes us, we need to continue to ask questions, delve into the mystery and learn.

And when we have found something that speaks to us, as happened with Andrew, Bob, Philip and the Samaritan woman, we need to invite other people to come and see.  Jesus may call us o'er the tumult of our life's wild restless sea, but that call often goes unanswered if there isn't anyone to help us into the boat.

Evangelism is a one-on-one endeavor.  It doesn't happen because we painted the doors red.  It doesn't happen by delivering clothes and snack packs to Ft. Vannoy.  It doesn't happen through liturgy.  It happens when we invite someone to come and see.

The Epiphany season is all about the manifestation of Christ to the world.  We saw that in the story of the wise men from the east.  We saw it in Jesus' baptism and heavenly announcement.  We see it today with the disciples inviting other people to come and see.

There are a lot of people who feel all alone in a wild, restless sea.

There are a lot of people searching.

There are not enough people inviting others to come and see.

This Epiphany season, may you so shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory that those whom you invite to come and see may behold him as Son of God and Savior of the world.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Signs of the times?

Several weeks ago, a women's group booked the parish hall for their annual event on the morning of Saturday, 1/24.

My organist died on Monday.  His funeral will be held the afternoon of Saturday, 1/24.

Yesterday there was a phone call from one of the members of the aforementioned women's group miffed that we were scheduling a funeral the same day as their annual party -- because they want time after the event to mix and mingle and don't want the funeral to interfere with that.  And, besides, they booked the room first.

The short answer:  Find another place to mix and mingle.

And on a sports talk show I listen to in the mornings, the guys were talking about NFL coaches who were unsuccessful in their first job but found success in their second job.  Some of the coaches who fell into this category were Dick Vermeil, Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin, John Gruden and Bill Belichik.  As a matter of record, Pete Carroll is the only coach in NFL history to take his third team to a Super Bowl and win it (having coached the NY Jets and NE Patriots before going to USC).

It would appear, then, that sometimes things are better the second time around.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sermon; Epiphany 1B, Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord; Gen. 1:1-5; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11

Today is the first of five days set aside as appropriate for either baptisms or the renewal of baptismal vows.  The other four fall on Easter, Pentecost, All Saints and the bishop's visitation.  We may need to talk about that last one, since Bishop Michael is scheduled to visit April 19.  If you're quick at liturgical math, that's three renewals over the seven weeks from Easter to Pentecost.

All of that aside, today is the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord.  And today we heard three baptismal stories: the opening of the creation story, the baptism of disciples in Ephesus and Mark's version of Jesus' baptism by John.  I want to touch on each.

Before I do that, though, we need to ask ourselves a question, “What exactly is baptism?”  We know baptism is important.  It's seen as so important by some people that the only church service they attend is the baptism of their children.  But what exactly is baptism?

Baptism is the initial means through which we enter the household of God.  It is the means through which we are adopted as children of God.  And at its very core, baptism initiates a fundamental change.  Baptism changes the way we relate to the world, to others and to God.  Or it should.

In the first lesson, we heard the opening verses of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void.”  This is how we are used to hearing this passage.  But it can also be read as, “In the beginning, when God began to create, the earth was a formless void.”

In this translation, the earth already existed.  God didn't create everything out of nothing, but began to create from what already was.  What already was was a formless body covered by water, over which the Holy Spirit hovered.

As we read through this story, we can see what Ephram the Syrian saw – a prefiguration of the baptism.  The God who called forth life from the primordial waters of the deep also calls us to life through the waters of baptism.  The world as it was was changed by God's Spirit.  At baptism, we are changed from what we were to a new creation by the Spirit of God.

In the Epistle we heard an early baptismal story.  Paul arrives in Ephesus, finds some believers, has a discussion about the type of baptism they received, baptized them again, whereupon they begin to speak in tongues.

I have to admit that I have some problems with this particular passage.  First, there is the issue of multiple baptisms, or of a correct baptism.  Christianity is filled with denominations that refuse to recognize other baptisms.  Whether it is the issue of receiving a “believer's baptism,” as most Baptist churches proclaim, or whether an exclusionary belief that only “our” baptisms are valid, such as the LCMS and others follow, multiple baptisms are problematic.  When I was in Columbus, I met a lady who told me she had been baptized six times.

As an Episcopalian, this should concern us.  Why?  Because we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  One baptism.  We don't check your id to determine if you were properly baptized.

Another problem is the whole issue of speaking in tongues.  There are some groups who view this as proof and validation that a person is a real, true Christian.  I don't think we can determine if a person is Spirit-filled based on whether or not they speak in tongues.

But again, what exactly is baptism?  Baptism is a fundamental change to our being.  Or it should be.  The problem in Ephesus was that the baptized didn't understand this.  They were only given partial information.  They were not fully instructed in the faith.  And maybe this is where the idea of a catechism came from.  That problem remains today – we need to do better at teaching the faith.

The other part of this, speaking in tongues, doesn't necessarily mean rolling on the floor, waving our hands in the air and spouting gibberish.  Speaking in tongues can simply mean speaking in a way people don't yet understand.

Looking at our baptismal covenant, when we truly speak about continuing in the fellowship of the apostles, repenting, loving our neighbors as ourselves, and respecting the dignity of every human being, we speak in terms many people don't fully understand.  As an example, the next time someone tries to make a lunch date with you, tell them you can't make it because you have a private confession scheduled with your priest that day.  Speaking in tongues can be gibberish spoken in plain English.

And in the gospel we hear of Jesus' baptism.  Jesus certainly didn't need a baptism of repentance, for he was without sin.  Nor did he receive a baptism of adoption, for he was always God's son.  His baptism was as an example for his followers.  Some theologians posit that by his baptism he sanctified the waters of all baptisms.

But again, baptism is a fundamental change.  On some level I can't explain, Jesus was changed at his baptism.  Up until this point he was simply Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter.  Up until this point, he was simply Jesus, just one of many followers of John the Baptist.

But at his baptism there was a fundamental change.  The heavens opened.  The Spirit descended.  A voice said, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  And, in the verse immediately following, he was driven out by the Spirit into the wilderness.

In the beginning, God began to create, changing a formless world into one teeming with life.

The Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and prophesy.

Jesus was baptized, and that change in him changed the world.

Do you reflect the life-giving power of God?
Do you speak God's language?
Has your baptism driven you?

Baptism initiates a fundamental change in us.  How have you been fundamentally changed by your baptism?

Friday, January 09, 2015


So things have been a little quiet around this corner of the blogiverse. 

The family got through Christmas vacation just fine; although I really need to remember that Sundays need to be the end of the vacation.  As such, I didn't really have time to prep a sermon (which is why one wasn't posted here last week), so I sort of ran with a rough draft about gifts.  It seemed to work.

Other things in the office are going less smoothly, and, like Forest Gump, that's all I've got to say about that.

In the meantime, we keep plugging along wondering what the new year will bring.

For now though, it's Friday, which means laundry, maybe a few bills, general housework and starting to organize for tax season.  Happy happy joy joy.