Only Together

SHW went to high school with a guy who has gone on to become an ultra-marathoner.  He’s one of those crazy people who thought that 26.2 miles of running just wasn’t enough, and so now he regularly participates in races of 50 or 100 miles.  We once followed his progress on a 100 mile race that took him well over a day to complete.  We woke up and he was already running.  Went to church – he was still running.  Ate lunch – still running.  Took a nap – running.  Went to dinner – running.  Watched a movie – running.  Went to bed – the man was STILL RUNNING!

The human body is not particularly designed to run for 24 hours non-stop. We were designed for the rhythm of day and night; sleep and awake; and so, these events usually include pacers who run only a portion of the race to keep people who are suffering from delirium and exhaustion from doing real damage to themselves.  P’s last event wasn’t a race but rather his task was to set the pace for the final 40ish miles.  He waited at an aid station until the leaders arrived and ran with them, through the night, as they became increasingly tired.  The two leaders ran together every step of the way.  When one needed to stop to adjust shoes or take nourishment, the other waited.  By the end of the 100 mile ordeal, it didn’t seem right for either on of them to be declared the winner, and so they “ran” across the finish line holding hands.  They had survived the journey together, and one succeeded only because of the other.


The life of faith is kind of like an ultra-marathon.  It is a long and arduous journey, and if we are blessed to walk it for a while, we too might grow increasingly delirious and exhausted.  The author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds his readers and us that for thousands of years, faithful people have walked the same path, but even those who have died have not yet crossed the finish line.  Instead, we will all be gifted with the chance to cross over together when as one, we join with Jesus Christ, the firstborn of the dead, comes again to bring about a new heaven and a new earth.

We cannot go about this journey alone.  Instead, we are called to take our place alongside those with whom we worship, live, and work as well as those who walk the journey in other places and even other times in running the race that is set before us – a race filled with struggles and hardship as well as joy and laughter.  Whether you are Moses, Rahab, Saint Peter or Mother Theresa, this race can only be completed together by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  I don’t know about you, but that sounds like really good news.

The Way of Love – a sermon

My sermon for Proper 5c can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website, or you can read it here.

Yesterday morning, at about eleven o’clock, while sitting in traffic thirty minutes south of Lake City, Florida, I learned something about myself.  I was stuck in traffic on a Saturday morning, five hours from home, knowing that a sermon still needed to be written and I was giant ball of annoyance.  I was so frustrated that the calorie tracker on my Apple Watch tells me I was actively burning calories while seated in my car.  I was stuck in traffic because my nephew graduated from college on Friday.  It was a trip that, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really excited about.  Eight hours down on Thursday, thirty nine hours in Orlando, and, thanks to traffic, nine hours home on Saturday, isn’t my idea of a good time.  To make matters worse, I made the trip knowing that I wouldn’t have a ticket to the graduation exercises.  The family gathered from around Philadelphia to Fort Meyers to watch the ceremony on the internet: something each of us could have done from the luxury of our own living rooms.  As I came to grips with the stress I was feeling while stuck in traffic, I came to realize that there is a single source for most of the sin in my life. When I fail to love my neighbor as myself; when I fall short of seeing Christ in another person; when I get frustrated, frazzled, and flummoxed; it all typically flows from the same source: my unfailing worship of the idol of efficiency.

The false god of efficiency is the reason I dislike car line so much.  It is the reason that I much prefer to have my sermons written by Thursday, all the notifications on my iPhone zeroed out, and begin every week by creating a to-do list, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.  God’s Kingdom isn’t built on efficiency.  If it was, God probably would have never created human beings to begin with.  Keeping Noah around during the flood wasn’t efficient. Neither was picking 90 year old Sarah to be the mother of the people of Israel.  Perhaps the least efficient thing God has ever done was to send his Son to take on flesh and blood and move into the neighborhood.  Wouldn’t it have been that much easier for God to just pull a few strings and make us all love one another?  He didn’t have to send his Son to live and die as one of us.  He could have just fixed it all from heaven, but God didn’t choose the way of efficiency, he chose the way of love.

I could have had a sermon written on Thursday, saved three tanks of gas, and watched Cameron graduate from my couch, but then I wouldn’t have had the chance to see him face to face at his graduation party.  I would have missed the opportunity to hug him and his brother, whom I hadn’t seen in more than fifteen years.  I wouldn’t have been able to hear about their hopes and dreams.  As I sat in that traffic jam yesterday morning, I realized that the way of Jesus isn’t efficient, but it is highly effective.

Our Gospel lesson this morning is a prime example of the inefficient effectiveness of Jesus.  After healing the slave of the Centurion in Capernaum, Jesus, his disciples, and many others set out on a twenty-five mile hike.  Through Magdala, past Cana, maybe skirting around Nazareth, they eventually found themselves approaching the gate of another small town called Nain.  As Jesus and his large crowd approached, they were met by a funeral procession coming the other direction.  Coming out of town was a considerable crowd surrounding a dead man and his mother, already a widow.  Jesus and his followers, like good southern drivers, stopped to pay their respects as the procession went by.  The crowd moved slowly toward the cemetery as the woman wept bitterly over the death of her only son, and Jesus took notice.  Jesus saw her.  He saw that she was now a widow without a family.  Her only son, the one who was obligated to take care of her in her old age, was now gone.  Despite many laws designed to protect widows, Jesus knew that her life was going to be exceedingly difficult from this point on, and he had compassion on her.  Jesus could have walked right on past.  He could have fumed with frustration over the slowdown at the entrance to Nain, but thankfully, Jesus isn’t a slave to the false god of efficiency.  Instead, Jesus stopped and took notice.

Jesus saw the woman, he heard her weeping, and he was moved with compassion to act.  “Weep not,” he said to her with promise in his voice.  She might not have known what was coming, but Jesus did.  As the funeral procession continued to March slowly on, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the bier, stopping the pall bearers dead in their tracks.  Can you imagine the chaos of the scene?  Jesus and his crowd, now mixed with the widow and hers.  The pall bearers must be taken aback that this stranger has reached out, touched the coffin, and forced them to stop.  Efficiency Expert Pankey would not have like this very much.  “Just let us bury this poor woman’s son!  Why would you hold us up, can’t you see she’s suffering?”  But Jesus doesn’t care.  His way is the way of love and love is messy, slow, and inefficient.  Jesus speaks again – not to the widow, not to the pall bearers, not to his disciples or the crowd – Jesus speaks directly to the dead man and says, “Young man, arise!”  In an instant, he sat up and began to speak.

The way of Jesus is a slow moving walk from Capernaum to Nain.  The way of Jesus means taking the time to really see the people around us.  It means hearing their stories, even if all they can muster are tears.  It means not being afraid to reach our hands out, to touch someone, and, most likely, to get messy.  The way of Jesus isn’t really anything new.  It is the same way that God has been dealing with his creation from the very beginning: through compassion and love.

You don’t have to be Jesus to follow the inefficient way of love.  In fact, if you were paying attention this morning, you might have noticed that we already prayed that God would help us join in that way.  “O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them…”  The Gospel lesson this morning could have easily ended with Jesus merely feeling compassion for the widow. He could have seen her, felt sorry for her, and walked right on by.  He could have simply thought the right things, even felt the right feelings, but have done nothing about it.  But Jesus did something.  His compassion motivated him to action.

The world around us is full of opportunities to think the right things and feel the right feeling, but when we fail to follow through and do the right thing, we fall short as disciples of Jesus.  This summer, Saint Paul’s has the opportunity to reach out in compassion and love to neighbors in need.  Providing breakfast, lunch, and snack to thirty children in ten families for the next ten weeks won’t be an efficient process, I can promise you that.  At times, coordinating the shopping, sorting, and delivering might feel like we’re throwing pudding cups against the wall and hoping they stick, but the false god of efficiency shouldn’t be our motivator.  Instead, let’s allow compassion and love to motivate us to action, so that we can be the answer to our own prayer.  Not simply thinking those things that are right, but following the example of Jesus’ compassion for the widow at Nain, and doing them by the merciful guiding of the God of love.  Amen.

On Faith and Fear

Over the last year, 20 search terms have landed people on this blog ten times or more.  If I combine like terms, the number drops to 8:

  1. Images of Heaven – 203
  2. Faith and Fear – 156
  3. Draughting Theology – 74
  4. Hearing vs. Listening – 29
  5. Fig Monday Holy Week – 14
  6. Mandatum Novum (Maundy Thursday) – 12
  7. ego eimi statements (I am) – 11
  8. theos agape estin (God is love) – 10

Clearly, people are interested in what heaven will be like, but I doubt an old blog post with broken picture links will help much.  What I find most interesting is that faith, fear, and “the opposite of faith” are searched for again and again.  Last year’s post on faith and fear is the third most read post in this blog’s history with 814 reads.

And wouldn’t you know it, but we’re back at faith and fear again this week.  The Hebrew’s lesson for Sunday is the classic faith text, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen,” in which, Paul uses Abraham as the prime example of a life of faith.  Right on the heels of Hebrews 11, we’ll hear Jesus tell his disciples, “Do not be afraid.”

Both are about faith.  One, Hebrews, coming from the positive side – here’s what faith looks like.  The other, Luke, coming from the negative side – here’s why you shouldn’t fear.  Both, however, articulate the same truth as summed up in the words of Jesus, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

That’s the Good News, friends.  The Father wants to give us the kingdom, he wants us to share in his joy.  All it takes is having faith and not fear.  More on that as the week progresses.