The Call to Follow

Why preach?  I don’t mean this existentially, although there are some who would ask this question that way.  Why, in a world that is increasingly skeptical of “experts” do preachers think they have the right to stand before their congregations and tell them anything?  That’s not the question I want to ask.  As a preacher, you’d assume that I am fairly well convinced of the power of the homiletical craft.  Rather, as one who preaches, I have to regularly ask myself, why?  Why is this sermon worth hearing?  Why this text?  Why these words?  More often than not, the why question comes down to asking myself, “what is the goal of the sermon?”

For many these days, the goal of a sermon is to offer a practical lesson from Scripture that is applicable for our lives.  This is a good goal, by and large.  Sermons that get stuck in the past – historical lessons on what was happening in the context in which Jesus lived – can be interesting, but won’t get much traction over time.  It is helpful to bring the story forward and to help our people and ourselves understand what this particular bit of holy writ has to do with life in 21st century America.  The downside, of course, is that we tend to over emphasize ourselves in the text.  Eisegesis and vapid moralization aren’t all that far away when the goal of the sermon is to make the text offer some lesson for our congregation today.

These questions and concerns came to mind this morning as I read the short Gospel passage appointed for this week.  It is the familiar story of Jesus calling Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John from their family fishing boats to become “fishers of people.”  My initial reaction was to think about what was happening in the hearts and minds of the four newest Disciples that would allow them to drop everything and follow Jesus.  I wondered about the reactions of their families.  I worried for their livelihoods.  I pondered what it might take for each of us to respond immediately when Jesus says, “Follow me.”  While I think these are all worthwhile questions and would make for a decent sermon on the text, I found myself wanting something more.

fishers_of_men

It can’t just be about me.  The goal of the sermon ought not just be about giving the congregation something they can hold on to or motivating them to change their lives in some way.  Rather than another sermon admonishing them to drop everything and follow Jesus (which isn’t really a thing for 21st century Christians), what if the sermon focused instead on the call to follow in and of itself?  What if, instead of focusing on the response, the sermon looked deeply into the one who does the calling?  Isn’t that what grace is all about?  Not about how I can get myself over the hump to follow Jesus, but how by God’s grace, Jesus brings me into the kingdom.

The text doesn’t give us much to work with, but I think there is something there.  The one who is preaching that the Kingdom of God has come near beckons.  The one who is called the Son of God calls us by name.  The one who is the Good News invites us to share in it.  There is more to dig into here, and time will tell if I can find a sermon that doesn’t devolve into “will you follow Jesus?” but for today, I’m adjusting the goal of my sermon; not to motivate us to follow, for that is God’s job, but rather, to focus on a deepening relationship with the one who calls.

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If Christ is King – a sermon

You can listen to this on the Christ Church website, or read it here.


In the Fall of 1925, Pope Pius the Eleventh threw a fit.  The Pope was upset about the growing power of modernity in the world.  As people believed more and more what science was coming to discover, Pius and many other religious leaders, were afraid that the Bible would have less and less power in peoples’ lives.  He was anxious that the Church might become irrelevant and he desperately wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.  On top of that, the Pope was embroiled in a nearly hundred-year-old controversy between the burgeoning Kingdom of Italy and the Papal States.  Since 1849, a newly unified Italy had been fighting with the Roman Catholic Church over who controlled the city of Rome.  The Popes were sure that the Church was in charge.  The Italian Parliament had other ideas.  By 1925, Pius, the fifth Pope to take on this fight, had had enough.[1]  On December 11, 1925, he published an encyclical entitled Quas primas which argued for the Kingship of Jesus above all others and reiterated that the Roman Catholic Church was the “kingdom of Christ on earth” with the Pope obviously serving as its temporal ruler.  Finally, to commemorate these two foundational truths, Pope Pius the Eleventh created the Feast of Christ the King.[2]

In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the Last Sunday after Pentecost uses, almost verbatim, the Roman Catholic Collect for Christ the King, but it stopped short of making today a Feast Day.  When we adopted the Revised Common Lectionary in 2009, Christ the King was included in the package and became a thing in the Episcopal Church.  Some would say it shouldn’t be a thing seeing as, if you look in the Prayer Books in your pews, you’ll find absolutely no reference to the Feast of Pope Pius the Eleventh’s Temper Tantrum.  I’m sure Pius is in heaven today, scratching his head and wondering how a bunch of Protestants ended up subscribing to a feast created to affirm the earthly authority of the Pope, but here we are, on the Last Sunday after Pentecost, celebrating the Feast of Christ the King.

While I find this Feast Day’s genesis to be questionable, what I appreciate about having a day set aside to honor Jesus Christ as our King is that it gives us an opportunity to imagine Jesus in an unusual way.  21st century American Christians aren’t well versed in the language of kings.  We live in a country that was founded in rebellion against the King of England.  If I’m honest, most of what I know about kings and queens is the result of whatever the American news decides to pick up from the British tabloids.  Yet this image of Jesus Christ as King is a well-established, apocalyptic, theme in the Scriptures.  Dubious feast day or not, it is worth our time to ponder what it means to call Jesus Christ our King and to live within his Kingdom.

In our Gospel lesson for this morning, we find a very clear image of what it means to live within the boundaries of the Kingdom of God.  Remember the context for this parable, and for all the apocalyptic parables we have heard over the last month. [3]  Jesus isn’t making general claims to a large audience, but rather, these are final words about final things, addressed to his closest disciples.  It is Tuesday in Holy Week, and the cross is quickly approaching.  Jesus knows that his disciples have already committed quite a bit to following Jesus.  He isn’t trying to tell them what they need to do to be included in his Kingdom, but rather, what is expected of those who claim to live under the authority of Christ the King.  As inheritors of this Apostolic Tradition, we should read these words carefully, not as a parable of judgment against those who do not know Christ, but as a stark judgment against those who claim to follow Christ the King but can’t be bothered to live in his service.  This parable is a helpful reminder that the proper response to the love of God is to reach out with compassion to those Jesus came to save.  We who are bold enough to claim a place in the Kingdom of God bring honor to the King when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, take care of the sick, and visit the incarcerated.

What is particularly interesting in this parable is that neither the sheep nor the goats realize they had seen the king in the poor, the hungry, or the sick.  One group was motivated to action, not out of guilt, fear, or shame, but out of love.  This group saw a need, and decided to do something about it.  Living in the Kingdom of God means having your eyes open to see God’s hand at work in the world about you.  Yet it means more than just seeing.  Living in the Kingdom of God, being counted among the sheep, means seeing and being God’s hand at work in the world about us.  As Episcopalians, we affirm this Kingdom truth every time we renew our Baptismal covenant; promising that with God’s help, we will seek and serve Christ in all persons.

Over time, I have become more and more convinced that the true work of discipleship is learning how to see Christ in our neighbors.  It is only when we can see that we can then act to relieve their suffering.  In the Ephesians lesson, Paul prays a prayer that is becoming the foundation of my that understanding of discipleship.  “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.”

We grow in relationship with God by learning how to see the world through God’s eyes.  As we become more in tune with the heart of God, we see more clearly the injustices of this world, we see the suffering and are moved with compassion, we see the lonely, the anxious, the hungry, the naked, the poor, the outcast, the incarcerated, and the hopeless and we are compelled to act because in them, as in all our neighbors, we see the face of Christ.  Of course, this does not happen on our own.  The only way to fix our spiritual eyesight is with the help of God.  Through prayer and studying the Scriptures, God works to focus the eyes of our hearts, making us more and more able to see, so that, when the day of judgment comes, our question cannot be, or at least should not be, Lord when did we see you, because as baptized followers of Jesus Christ the King, we have already made a promise, that with God’s help, we will seek and serve Christ in every person we meet, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Pope Pius the Eleventh might not have had it 100% correct, but he did get some things right.  Jesus Christ is the King of kings.  It is under his authority that all of humanity lives.  One day he will come with power and glory to sit in judgment upon his throne, and all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, members of his Kingdom and subject to his authority, will need to be ready to have an answer to the question: Did we see our neighbors in need and respond with love or with apathy?  Everyday, we see dozens, if not hundreds, of our neighbors.  All of them need God’s love.  This morning, our lessons invite us to see Christ in each of them, to reach out in compassion, and to offer the love of God, not out of fear of judgment or guilt or shame, but as a loving response to the love which our King has shown to us.  Who knows, one day, with God’s help, we might just find ourselves counted among the sheep and pleased to hear these words, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  Amen.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of_Christ_the_King

[2] http://w2.vatican.va/content/pius-xi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas.html

[3] https://evandgarner.blogspot.com/2017/11/one-sunday-two-voices.html

When did we see you?

The Good Shepherd and two angels. Mosaic (6th)

Okay guys, look surprised

One of the things that gets me each time I read the parable of the final judgment in Matthew’s Gospel is that both those judged to be sheep and those judged to be goats are completely surprised by the King.  It seems as if they are expecting some other mark of judgment as they gather before the throne.  I think I’m struck by this because I imagine that I too will be surprised on the day of judgment.  I will likely be as surprised by who God lets in as I will be the starkness of my own judgment.  The one thing I hope I won’t be left asking is the question that gets asked by both the sheep and the goats.

“Lord, when did we see you?”

While I think Episcopalians, myself included, have a tendency to lean too heavily on the Baptismal Covenant, an invention, albeit a very good one, of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer that we pretend was handed down to us by Saint Peter himself, I do think this lesson is one of those opportunity to be reminded that if this is the criteria by which we are going to be judged, we have already made vows to fulfill the obligation.  With God’s help, of course.

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

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul prays that God might “enlighten the eyes of their hearts to know the hope to which they have been called.”  This phrase is increasingly becoming the foundation of my understanding of discipleship.  I think we grow in relationship with God by learning how to see the world through God’s eyes.  As we become more in tune with the heart of God, we see more clearly the injustices of this world, we see the suffering and are moved with compassion, we see the lonely, the anxious, the hungry, the naked, the poor, the outcast, the incarcerated, and the hopeless and we are compelled to act because in them, as in all our neighbors, we see the face of Christ.

Of course, this does not happen on our own.  The only way to fix our spiritual eyesight is with the help of God.  Through prayer and studying the Scriptures, God works on the eyes of our hearts, making us more and more able to see, so that, when the day of judgment comes, our question cannot be, or at least should not be, Lord when did we see you, because we know, with God’s help, that we see Christ in every person we meet.

You think you know a guy

il_340x270-1290039490_8ory

Last week’s parable about the 10 bridesmaids had lots of people becoming members of the Jesus Seminar ready to cast a pocket full of black beads that Jesus didn’t actually say these things.  It is really hard to believe that Jesus would a) lift up the selfishness of the wise bridesmaids, b) call anyone foolish, c) declare that even his close followers who maybe didn’t quite get it would find themselves outside of his grace, and d) compare all of this to the kingdom of heaven.  We think we know Jesus and how the grace of God works, and because this story doesn’t compute, we want to throw it away as an editorial decision on the part of Matthew or some later redactor.

As I began to read the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, I began to wonder if Jesus knew that this would be the reaction to his eschatological teachings, and so he told this parable to prove, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that what we think we know about Jesus isn’t all there is to know.  The third slave, you know, the one who dug a hole and buried his single talent because he was afraid of a master who “was a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, and gathering where he did not scatter seed,” thought he knew his master, but as with everyone whom we meet, there is always more to learn.

Remember that these parables are all coming late on Tuesday in Holy Week.  It is not unreasonable to think that the Disciples are absolutely clueless as to what Thursday evening through Sunday will bring.  They can sense things getting tense between Jesus and the religious authorities, but they’ve experienced that before.  Whole crowds have had stones in hand, and yet Jesus walked away, unscathed.  They think they know how this will end.  They think they know what the Messiah will do.  They think they know Jesus, but there is still much to learn.

One of the harder lessons they will learn will come when, like in the parable, Jesus departs from them.  How will they respond?  Will they be about the work he had given them authority to do?  Will they continue to expand his ministry?  Or, will they live in fear, unable to do anything but bury the ministry to which they were called?  After his resurrection and ascension, the same questions will arise as they stand, slack-jawed, staring into heaven.  Will they use the gifts they’ve been given to spread the Good News, or will they return, in fear, to the lives they once knew?

We think we know Jesus.  We think we know what he is about.  We think, but there are always surprises.

Be Ready – a sermon

The audio of today’s sermon did not get recorded, however, you can still read today’s sermon.


I want to begin this morning by taking a moment to brag on your deputation to Diocesan Convention.  The folks from Christ Church were among the most diligent in the whole diocese.  If it was on the schedule, they were there.  They put up with a Rector who had never been through a Convention in Kentucky before and so didn’t have special plans for cocktails or a fancy dinner in the hoity toity Crescent Hill neighborhood.  They were thoughtful, discussed things well among themselves, and are engaged in the work of the Diocese.  You should be proud of Deacon Kellie, Sharon Valk, Billy Adams, Belinda Palmer, Jan Funk, and Hamp Moore.  You can even be proud of our Parish Administrator, Heath Harper, who used his continuing education time to attend the Convention.  Your Rector, on the other hand, well, I really was on my best behavior, except I do have the unfortunate tendency to get hangry.  For those who maybe don’t know what hangry means, it is a combination of hungry and angry, and is what happens when a lack of food makes you grumpy.  I am most prone to becoming hangry when I make bad choices, like I did yesterday morning.

After a rough night’s sleep, breakfast felt like it came very early.  Even so, I made good decisions.  I ate a bagel, some fruit, and had a decent cup of coffee.  Noonday Prayers and the lunch break, though close to five hours away, seemed easily doable.  As a group, we attended the hearing on the budget, which ended 20 minutes early, thanks be to God, and we prepared for the morning business session.  As everyone got ready, two different groups of people came by each table and dropped off candy.  Yesterday, the tempter looked like the Rector of Grace Church, Paducah and a nice woman in a red apron with handfuls of Fun Size candies and Hershey Miniatures.  It didn’t take long before I unwrapped my first Krackle bar.  Having grown up 40 minutes from Hershey, Pennsylvania, those miniatures are a real weakness for me.  Naturally, I quickly opened another.  Later, I ate a Milky Way and a two-pack of Starbursts: pink and orange.  Boy were they good.  As the morning wore on, however, the sugar rush that followed those several small pieces of candy wore off, and by the time 11:30 came around, I was crashing back to earth and in desperate need of some lunch.

The poor soul who unwittingly, and thankfully, unknowingly caught the full brunt of my hanger was the good man who re-presented the budget to us for adoption.  He was doing a decent job, taking the 40 minute presentation he had given at 8am and turning it into a 20 minute rehearsal of the 2018 budget, but because I had heard it all before and, more so, because of the negative effects of a sugar crash, I spent most of those twenty-one minutes vacillating between checking my watch and rolling my eyes.  As he finished, at 12:01, I calculated that with 99 deputies in attendance, we had spent close to 35 man-hours listening to a report we were all supposed to have heard three hours earlier.  “How long, O Lord, how long!?!  How long must I wait for lunch?”

Yesterday, I was a foolish bridesmaid.  I had failed to prepare for what I should have known to be inevitable.  Diocesan Conventions always run behind.  There are always redundant reports.  There are never not silly questions.  But I had no extra oil for my lamp, and so, in that moment, I found myself outside of the joy of the bridegroom, looking for a way in.  Like the foolish bridesmaids, I was frustrated, more by my own lack of preparation than by the inevitableness of the situation.

This parable that Jesus tells is a glimpse into the end of time.  He tells it, not just randomly, but after some prompting from his disciples.  It is late in the day on Tuesday in what we call Holy Week.  Jesus has spent the day arguing with the Temple leadership.  They’ve questioned his authority and sought to catch him in verbal traps.  Jesus, for his part, has not backed down. He’s told parables about their destruction. He has called them hypocrites, and wept over what Jerusalem has become.  It has been a really long, really tense day when Jesus and his disciples finally leave the Temple to return to Bethany.  Hoping for some innocuous conversation to pass the time, a few of them begin to discuss architecture.  They note how majestic the Temple is, and Jesus, still on edge tells them that soon “not one stone will be left upon another.”  Matthew indicates that the rest of the trip was silent.  Safely back on the Mount of Olives, the disciples mustered up enough courage to engage Jesus again, this time asking him to expand on the warning of destruction.

“When will this be?  What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?”  What follows is two chapters of Jesus teaching about the coming apocalypse.  False prophets, persecutions, and the desolating sacrilege will precede the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory, but, Jesus warns them, “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt 24.36).  Yet even as no one knows when it will happen, Jesus is clear in his warning, “be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Mt 24.44).  It is in response to that warning that Jesus tells this parable as part of a series of parables about what it looks like to be ready.

This parable is unique to Matthew’s Gospel, which was written for a unique community, fifty or sixty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The first generation of disciples were almost all dead, and this raised some real questions in the Church.  As we heard in the lesson from First Thessalonians, written thirty years before Matthew’s Gospel, there was already some long-standing concern about why Jesus had not yet returned.  The common expectation among the first Christians was that Jesus would be coming back tomorrow, if not sooner.  They had kept vigilant, but after twenty years of waiting, they were nervous they had somehow missed out.  Thirty more years later, you can imagine that Matthew’s community was beginning to think that maybe Jesus would never come back.  Knowing Jesus, however, they should have expected this.  The delay of the bridegroom was inevitable.

Jesus was always making his disciples wait.  As they traveled, he would constantly stop to talk with some beggar on the side of the road.  When he would heal someone, the whole nearby village might show up looking for help.  When Jesus saw an opportunity to stop and teach about the kingdom of God, he would do it.  Given their experience, the Disciples had every reason to expect that Jesus’ return would be delayed.  Matthew’s community, having heard the stories over and over again, should have had every reason to believe that Jesus wouldn’t be coming back tomorrow.  And yet, like I was yesterday, they got anxious.  Waiting is hard.  Sisters and brothers in Jesus were dying.  They didn’t know what to do with that.  Two thousand years later, he has still not returned.  I’m not sure we know what to do with that.

As much as parables often have deep meanings woven within the details, I think the lesson we learn from this parable is quite simple.  Be ready.  The bridegroom has been and will be delayed, but the work of the Kingdom will go on.  We had better be prepared to wait for as long as it takes.  Friends will die in the Lord.  People will be hard to deal with.  Conventions will test your patience.  Life will happen.  In the meantime, we must be sure to pack some extra oil: spending extra time in prayer, being immersed in the Scriptures each day, and engaging in work of loving service.  Don’t make the mistake I made yesterday morning.  Don’t fill up on empty calories that will quickly flame out and leave you hangry, but rather, be about the Gospel work of filling your lives with good lamp oil, for the Son of Man is coming, but at an unexpected hour.  Amen.

We are All Saints – a sermon

This sermon can be heard on the Christ Church website, or read it here.


The first time I think I really understood what was happening on All Saints’ Day was actually a few years after I had been ordained, and it came to me while standing in a Christ Episcopal Church, of all places.  It was the evening of all All Saints’ Sunday at Christ Church, Pensacola, Florida.  I had been invited by their Youth Minister to preach and celebrate at their evening service.  Before the service began, we were socializing in the Parish Hall where the walls were lined with pictures of dead, old, white guys.  I read the names, noticing that they appeared not only on the plaques below those pictures, but on buildings, parks, and hospitals around the city.  I took a moment to give thanks for their lives, their witnesses, and their generosity before we moved into the sanctuary for the service.  As I sat in one of the choir stalls, listening to the lessons being read, I was deeply moved by the lesson from Ecclesiasticus, a wisdom book from the Apocryphal, a set of texts written between the Old and New Testaments that are included in some Bibles.

I was initially taken aback by the lack of gender inclusive language, which is odd in the New Revised Standard Version.  “Let us now sing the praises of famous men” caught my ears, even as I had missed it in reading the passage all week, and I heard the whole text in a new way.  I listened as the author spoke of their majesty, valor, and intelligence, and I thought about those pictures in the Parish Hall.  I heard tell of musical talents, skilled writers, and great resources, and I pondered the names etched on plaques installed on pews, organs, windows, classrooms, and sacred vessels in the several congregations I had served.  I pondered the reality that we very often, if not constantly, are singing the praises of famous men, and I wondered, for a very brief moment, why we needed All Saints’ Day to add to that ongoing and generational honoring.  And then, as if for the first time, I heard these words, “But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.  But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten.”

And suddenly, All Saints’ Day made sense to me.  Yes, today we take the time to honor and remember all those saints whose names live on forever, but even more so, we take the time to recall all the myriad saints who may not be remembered by name, but whose example lives on in the hearts and minds of faithful disciples from generation to generation.

Common usage of the word saint makes us automatically think of the beatification and canonization process in the Roman Catholic tradition.  Our minds tend to immediately go to the need for a couple of miracles as we contemplate why hardware stores need Saint Sabastian to be their patron or how Saint Isadore of Seville became the patron saint of the internet.[1] What we lose in all that is the reality that sainthood, both biblically and etymologically means nothing more than being a follower of Jesus.  At the beginning of several of his letters, Saint Paul addresses his audience as saints.  The Greek word he used is hagios, which means “to be set apart” or “holy,” and in every instance, Paul uses it to describe all the followers of Jesus in a place.  “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints…”[2]  “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”[3]  “To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus…”[4]  The examples go on.  What we learn from Paul’s use of the word hagios, is that in the early church, the concept of sainthood was not reserved for the especially religious, nor even for the dead, but in fact, all of us who claim Jesus Christ as Lord are included among the saints.  Etymologically, our English word “saint” follows this pattern.  It comes, as most churchy words do, from a Latin word, sanctus, which is the translation of hagios.  We are the saints of God because we are set apart, and made holy, not of our own doing, but by the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.

This all comes together beautifully today as we 1) celebrate All Saints’ Sunday, 2) Baptize Merritt and Brody, and 3) give thanks for another successful stewardship campaign.  Both this morning and at Evensong tonight, we will name before God saints whom we have loved but see no longer.  Some of these saints truly are famous men and women, legends in their own time.  Others were the quiet sort, busy doing the work of building the Kingdom in ways that many of us will never know.  All of them had their flaws.  None would have accomplished sainthood on their own, and yet each of them held fast to their faith in Jesus.

As we look back on the saints who have built Christ Church in Bowling Green to be what it is today, we also look forward with hope for what we are to become, with God’s help.  [At 10 o’clock] this morning, we welcome two brand new saints into the body of Christ.  We will join with Brody and Merrit in taking the vows of sainthood as the Episcopal Church as interpreted them.  We will promise to remain a part of this community in worship, fellowship, and prayer.  We will commit to working toward the restoration of all relationships by resisting evil, sharing the Good News, loving our neighbors, and striving for justice and peace.  In our prayers, we will seal them with the Holy Spirit and mark them as forever set apart in Christ Jesus.  Today we make Brody and Merritt saints, not because of anything they have done or by anything we can do, but by the grace of God and in keeping with the commandment of Jesus to teach and baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Finally, then, we celebrate the commitment of saints, both now and in ages past, who have made a financial contribution to the ongoing work of building the Kingdom as the Christ Episcopal Church Bowling Green branch of the Jesus Movement.  With the help of saints whose names we remember like Porter Sims and the Gaines, Cole, and Covington families, we are able to enjoy some flexibility when it comes to our finances here, but the vast majority of the work we do is because of saints whose names we may never know who give faithfully and sacrificially, some twenty dollars a week and others tens of thousands of dollars a year, to the building up of the kingdom of God right here in Bowling Green.  For the faithful stewardship of saints past, saints present, and saints to come, on this All Saints’ Sunday, we give thanks.

All Saints’ Day is a powerful reminder that we are not in this discipleship thing alone.  The path we walk has been walked by countless others who through faith and doubt, joy and sorrow, excitement and apathy, have called on Jesus Christ as Lord and thereby have been set apart as holy and blessed.  Today, as we welcome Merritt and Brody into the communion of saints, as we commit financially to another year of walking together, and as we remember both the “famous men [and women]” and “those who perished as though they had never existed,” I am grateful to be walking this journey with each of you, my fellow saints, in the path of God’s beloved children.  Amen.

 

[1] http://www.aggiecatholicblog.org/2012/09/top-20-odd-patronages-of-saints/

[2] Romans 1:7

[3] 1 Corinthians 1:2

[4] Ephesians 1:1

Giving our Lives to God – a sermon

The audio of this sermon is available on the Christ Church website.


Today marks the beginning of three pretty awesome weeks here at Christ Church.  Alongside the other great stuff we are always doing, we get to add a commissioning of our music ministries, a fall festival for our Sunday school, the English Country dancers meet next week, our Youth and Campus Ministries are joining forces for an All Saint’s Day service, and we will rejoice in a successful stewardship campaign on November 5th.  To top it all off, we get to celebrate a baptism each of the next three Sundays.

I am of the belief that baptismal celebration should encompass the entire Sunday.  So, whether we are splashing water at 8, like we are this week, or 10, like the next two weeks, all the signs and symbols will be present at both services.  The Paschal Candle is lit, reminding us that through our baptism, we all share in the light of Christ.  The font is in the crossing as a visual reminder that each of us comes through the font, to the table, and out into the world.  The altar hangings are white, symbolizing the washing away of our sins that occurs in baptism and was secured in the resurrection.  And, no matter which service you attend over the next three weeks, we will all have the chance to renew our baptismal covenant.  In so doing, we are reminded of the basics of discipleship, the minimum requirements of those who claim a stake in the Kingdom of God.

Episcopalians often focus on the second half of the covenant.  We talk a lot about “respecting the dignity of every human being” and “seeking and serving Christ in all persons.”  These are good and noble actions, but we ought not forget that they follow a statement of our faith in and reliance on God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well as three other questions about the life of faith.  The primary question in that list of five is “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers?”  This question is first in line because if we fail to fulfill these basic practices of discipleship, none of the others is possible.  Without regular study of scripture, the mutual support of other Christians, nourishment at the Table, and an ongoing life of prayer, there is no foundation from which we can persevere in resisting evil, share the Good News, love our neighbor, or work for justice and peace.

I could be biased in suggesting this.  After all, I did spend the first half of this week at the Discipleship Matters Conference, but I don’t think so.  Instead, I think that the very real need that Christians have for study, fellowship, worship, and prayer are in the mind of Jesus as he goes toe-to-toe with the Pharisees in today’s Gospel lesson.  Lest we forget, this story takes place in Holy Week.  Jesus has already entered Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna.  He has already flipped the tables and run out the money changers from the Temple court.  Things are getting increasingly hostile between Jesus and the religious powers-that-be.  The Pharisees are intent on ridding themselves of this meddlesome Rabbi, but they know that they have to be sneaky about it, because they fear how much the crowd loves Jesus.  Again and again, they come to him with topics for debate, hoping to trap him in his own words.  Again and again, Jesus outwits them, offering a vision of God’s Kingdom that is grace beyond their wildest imaginations.

In our today’s lesson, we hear of one particularly devious attempt wherein the Pharisees, a group of devout Jewish rabbis intent on restoring the purity of Israel team up with the Herodians, a group of Jews who were friendly to the Greek culture and loyal to the Roman government, to trap Jesus between a rock and a hard place.  “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”  It may seem like a straightforward question, but it is not.  The tax in question is the census tax.  Every year, every occupied person in the Roman Empire was required to pay a denarius, approximately one day’s wage, to Rome to support the occupation forces.  Essentially, the oppressed had to pay for their ongoing oppression.  If Jesus were to say “yes, it is lawful,” he would become wildly unpopular, and the Pharisees would have the opening they needed to get rid of him.  If he were to say “no, it is not lawful,” then the Herodians could turn him in for sedition.  Somehow, Jesus avoided both possible outcomes by asking to see the coin required to pay the tax, noting that it bore the image of Caesar, and answering, “give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and give to God the things that are God’s.”

In the ongoing chess match between Jesus and the religious authorities, this is nearly check mate.  They leave him amazed.  His rhetorical skill is unmatched.  In asking to see the coin used to pay the census tax, Jesus turns the question on its ear.  No longer is it about the tax, but it is about the role one’s religion plays in their life.  The coin bore the image of Caesar as well as an inscription that called the emperor the son of god.  Not only was paying this particular tax financially onerous, but the very act of carrying that coin meant you were guilty of violating the first two of the Ten Commandments: thou shalt have no other gods but me, and thou shalt not make a graven image.  A faithful Jew would take delight in getting rid of that coin as quickly as possible.  “Give it to Caesar because it certainly doesn’t belong to God,” Jesus insinuates, “and give to God that which belongs to God.”

The coin bears the image of Caesar, but human beings, Genesis tells us, bear the image of God.  Everything we are, everything we will become, and everything we have belongs to God.  Our very lives, every breath we take, comes from God.  If we are going to take seriously these words for Jesus, then we must be willing to give our whole lives back to God, which in the end, isn’t a bad definition of discipleship.  We give our minds back to God through studying scripture and theology.  We give our hearts back to God by using the compassion that comes from them to motivate us to loving service and by opening them up to God in prayer.  We give our hands back to God by reaching out in care to those in need.  We give our feet back to God by walking into work, school, grocery stores, and hospital rooms radiating the love of God.  We give our wealth back to God by tithing for the upbuilding of the Kingdom.

In Baptism, we offer our lives back to God.  For little ones like Jocelyn, her parents do so on her behalf, promising to do their best, with the help of God and the body of the faithful to help her grow in study, fellowship, worship, and prayer.  What about you?  As you renew these promises, are you doing all in your power to grow in the knowledge and love of God?  Are you reading the Bible?  Are you praying?  Are you giving? Are you serving?  Are you sharing the Good News and the hope that is within you?  Are you giving back to God everything that is God’s?  What might you be holding back?  What is God asking you to offer him today?  If discipleship is about being a good steward of the gifts that God has given us, then maybe these next three weeks are an opportunity for a personal stewardship campaign: an invitation to give back to God everything that he has so graciously given you, your heart, your mind, your gifts, and your worship.  Jesus invites us to give to God the things that are God’s. by giving God our whole life.  Amen.