my miscellany

Pentecost 26, 2018 — 18 Nov 18

Pentecost 26, 2018

RCL Year B Proper 28
Daniel 12:1-3, Psalm 16, Hebrews 10:11-14 and 19-25, Saint Mark 13:1-8

If we want a bird’s-eye view of this Gospel in the context of Good Shepherd in November, 2018, and we should want that, we need to imagine three rails or three tracks running in parallel until they end. Each of the three adds itself to our bird’s-eye view, and we need to keep each in mind for that bird’s-eye view to be accurate.

The first track involves Jesus and his disciples. They have finished proclaiming the kingdom, teaching the ways of God, and healing the sick in the hinterlands, in the outlying districts, and now they have come to Jerusalem, the big city, for the final show-down, the come-to-Jesus moment, for the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the followers of John, and the followers of Jesus. Those who oppose Jesus are about to kill him, and those who want him dead are in for a big surprise. He will die, willingly, but in three days he will rise again, powerfully. The world as they know it is in for drastic change. Time is marching on.

The second track belongs to the Jews, God’s chosen people, whose providential relationship with God is about to change. God has brought them out of slavery in Egypt, fed them with milk and honey in the promised land, prospered them, given them a king, allowed them to go into the Babylonian Captivity, redeemed them from that Captivity, empowered them to rebuild the Temple—that providential guidance is about to change. As drastic as the death and resurrection of Jesus are, they are as drastic as the change about to befall the Jews. They are about to be given a Savior and Redeemer in place of a providential history. Time is marching on for them, too.

And now for the third rail, the third track. Here we are at the end of the Church Year, and we are in for drastic change, too. We are two Sundays away from Advent, the Season that prefigures the drastic change of the end of time, the Season that marks repetitively our belief that time will end when Jesus comes again to be our Judge and our Redeemer. We live through that drastic change by celebrating the birth in barn of that Judge and that Redeemer. Things are about to change for us, too.

For time is running out. On our rail, on our track, we’ve reached that time of the year, the end of the Church Year, when the Gospels proclaimed on Sundays proclaim to us that the year is ending, time is running out, our freedom to be ourselves is lessening in the face of Jesus, who lets us be ourselves, but not forever. For the face of Jesus calls us to be his, wholly and entirely his, not just a little bit his, not just his one hour a week at church, but his all the time and in every way.

Each of us has the freedom to be and to do what we want. But Christ calls us to be his, his agents in a broken world, working to reconcile the world to God, working to reconcile people to God, working with God to bring all things to their perfection in Christ.

Each of us has the freedom to be that reconciler or not to be that reconciler. We have the freedom to be that reconciler 50% of the time, and to suit ourselves 50% of the time. But, I give you my word, if you choose to be that reconciler 50% of the time, Christ will want 51% of the time. And if you choose to be that reconciler 90% of the time, Christ will want 91% of the time. He will not be satisfied with anything less. The Epistle to the Hebrews, not in the Lesson for today but elsewhere, declares that “our God is a consuming fire.”[1] I know. I know firsthand. Whatever you try to keep to yourself, your private quarter, your private stock, your private part of yourself where you can be you and only you, God will want, and God will get in the end.

I believe I am talking to you about stewardship, but stewardship not in financial terms. But this stewardship is at least as important as your financial stewardship. It’s a stewardship that leads to your happiness if you will give to God. Everything that happens to you that you think is bad and painful and difficult and confusing can be what Jesus calls the “beginning of the birth-pangs[2].” Everything that is bad and painful and difficult and confusing can be turned to the birth of something—someone—namely you—who has worth and is very worthwhile if you will do but one thing. And that one thing is this. See and understand in that event God’s call to you for 51% of fidelity rather than 50%, 91% of forbearance rather than 90%, 95% of obedience to the will and call of God for your life rather than 94%. Death-pangs thus are converted into birth-pangs, and you will be reborn into the full stature of Christ. For time is running out, and the time when we shall see him face to face draws nearer and nearer each season, each Advent, and each second.

[1] Hebrews 12:29.

[2] Saint Mark 13:8.

Pentecost 25, 2018 — 11 Nov 18

Pentecost 25, 2018

RCL Year B Proper 27
I Kings 17:8-16, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:24-28, Saint Mark 12:38-44

The Lessons today give us two widows, two poor widows. They do not have a fixed income or a pension. Whether you are male or female, widowed, single, or married, I invite you to try to identify with both of these widows.

The widow in the Old Testament Lesson, the widow of Zarephath, is poor, dirt poor. And she is living through a severe drought. She has a young son, and her handful of meal and her little oil are just enough to prepare a skimpy last meal. But God intervenes through his prophet Elijah. And you remember what the prophet says: “The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.”[1] And you know how her story ends. “The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.”[2]

What little she has is little enough. But it is enough. That’s the heart of the Lesson. She has little but it is enough. If you read about this widow past the confines of today’s Lesson, you will learn that her son dies, but Elijah resurrects him by the power of the living God. This widow and her son are going to come to no harm, because they know their need of God, and they know God’s loving kindness.

The widow in the Gospel, the second widow, is also poor, dirt poor, but like the first widow she is rich, rich toward God. She shows how rich toward God she is by putting two small copper coins, all she has, in the temple treasury. Like the first widow, she relies on God’s word to live, and live she shall, just as the first widow does despite drought and death.

Both widows are poor in money but rich in spirit. Both have little money but discover that little money is enough when one is rich in spirit. With faith and with confidence that God keeps promises, both widows discover that their true happiness is in God and in God’s will.

The world in which these widows live, and the world in which you and I live, the world disclosed to us by the Word of God, is a world where we have a choice to be rich in spirit. We have a big choice. We can live our lives like these widows, putting our trust in God, or we can live some other way, putting our trust in something or someone else. The choice is ours, and we work out our choice in the decisions, large and small, that we make every day of our lives. Your choices, your past choices, are written in your checkbook. But your future choices, they are yet to be written. You can make whatever choices you want. Remember those widows. The Scriptures definitely show us in their lives that the smart money is on being rich in spirit. And for time and for eternity, you can do it all over again.

[1] I Kings 17:14.

[2] I Kings 17:16.

All Saints Sunday, 2018 — 4 Nov 18

All Saints Sunday, 2018

RCL Year B All Saints
Wisdom 3:1-9, Psalm 24, Revelation 21:1-6a, Saint John 11:32-44

The Raising of Lazarus on All Saints teaches us something about the Communion of Saints that we might not know otherwise. And that something is this. In the hands of the living God, the line between life and death is very fine. Life is life, and death is life, too. That is the example of Jesus, who gives his life, who accepts an unjust death, in order to live and to give life to “all who put their trust in him.”[1]

That, I think, is the central message of Christianity. It begins either with our sin or with our death as facts we cannot deny. But in the hands of the living God, in the hands of the Savior and Redeemer of the world, our sin and our death become the life of God and eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. That, I think, is very good news.

I have often wondered whether Lazarus really welcomed coming back to life. I wonder this particularly after witnessing calamities, hurricanes, human wrong-doing on a large scale, as we saw it in Pittsburgh just a week ago, and just ordinary human crankiness from people who should know better. But we don’t know how eager Lazarus was to walk out of his tomb. But I believe he will be there to tell us in heaven.

At a funeral in the Episcopal Church, you may hear these words from the Prayer Book: “In the midst of life we are in death; from whom can we seek help? From you alone, O Lord.”[2] And I believe it is true. In Christ’s hands what appears from the human perspective to be death is in the divine reality life itself. I believe also that this is the plain and simple meaning of the Reading from the Wisdom of Solomon: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died…; but they are at peace.”[3]

As a result of the good news in Christ, the question facing each of us is not whether or not we shall live. The question is how we shall live. Will we live and embrace the goodness of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and become fully what God intends us to be; or shall we turn away from God’s way of life? Will we choose death, or will we choose life? As we say daily in the Prayers, if we use them, “Our help is in the Name of the Lord; [t]he maker of heaven and earth.”[4]

[1] The Preface of Holy Week, BCP, page 379.

[2] BCP, page 492.

[3] Wisdom 1:1-3.

[4] BCP, page 127.

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