my miscellany

Epiphany 7, 2019 — 24 Feb 19

Epiphany 7, 2019

RCL Year C Epiphany 7
Genesis 45:3-11 and 15, Psalm 37:1-12 and 41-42,

I Corinthians 15:35-38 and 42-50, Saint Luke 6:27-38

If Last Sunday’s Gospel sounded to you like the Beatitudes or the Sermon on the Mount, you are on the right track. We are at the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, and this large number of Sundays after the Epiphany  means we have Gospels we do not normally hear. And this year the Gospels are Saint Luke’s version of Saint Matthew’s more familiar Sermon on the Mount, and they contain some of the hardest things for us to hear and to do.

“Love your enemies.” “If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” “From anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” “If anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.”

These are hard, very hard. And I confess to you that they go against most every human sense of right behavior and response. How, then, are we to make any progress in performing these things that Jesus asks us to do?

A couple of things may help us to understand what Jesus is asking us to do. The commandment to love our neighbor may be found in the Old Testament, in Leviticus 19. There is nothing specifically Christian about the love commandment. And a neighbor usually is considered to be a fellow countryman. In asking us to love our enemies Jesus is extending the commandment to love our neighbor to loving our enemy and our persecutor.

And in extending the love commandment from our neighbor to our enemies and persecutors, Jesus is asking us to do what God does. We hear him making that very request in the Gospel today when he commands us to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”[1] God is merciful to those who oppose him and even to those who sin against him. Jesus is asking us to be as merciful, and just, and even-handed as God is, for God’s justice is his mercy, and his mercy is his justice.

Matthew makes the point perhaps a little more clearly than Luke: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”[2]

We are asked to do nothing less than what God does, and that is a tall mountain to climb. Next Sunday, having climbed a mountain, Jesus will be transfigured into the glory of his Father, and we shall ask God, in the Collect of the Day, to “be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.”[3] That is the life and that is the possibility we are given. Our life and our purpose are to accept God’s blessings as a loving child, certain of God’s mercy and God’s justice.

[1] Saint Luke 6:36.

[2] Saint Matthew 6:44-45.

[3] BCP, page 217.

Epiphany 6, 2019 — 17 Feb 19

Epiphany 6, 2019

RCL Year C Epiphany 6
Jeremiah 17:5-10, Psalm 1, I Corinthians 15:12-20, Saint Luke 6:17-26

The Gospel proclaimed today both disturbs and comforts. It is a mix of “blessed” and “woe.” What is more bothersome is that the blessed conditions hardly seem blessed at all, like being poor and hungry, and the woeful situations, like being rich and laughing, seem very desirable. It seems as if Jesus is setting out “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable,” as someone once said. The word “blessed” simply means “happy.” The word “woe” is used as a warning. A sense of doom circles menacingly around it. Jesus seems to be saying, “you who are really in hard places are happy.” And, “you who are comfortable are doomed.” Which are we at Good Shepherd? Have we accepted the challenges of our circumstances, or do we lie back accepting the comforts of them? Are we “blessed” or is “woe” on our horizon?

Jesus, Lord of all, voluntarily accepts “woe,” makes himself poor, even to the point of the worst kind of death in order to make us “blessed,” in order generously and lavishly to give love and forgiveness to all of us. What are we to make of this? He’s made us blessed. What are we to make of this and to do in response?

First, we must accept that God’s ways are not our ways. God’s wisdom seems foolish and contradictory to most of us. God gave us love and forgiveness in a lavish fashion. God did not give us this gift because we did something for him. In fact God’s giving of love and forgiveness coincides with a horrible offense against God, Jesus’ death on the cross. This is very different from the way most of us are. Too many of us accept the comforts and not the challenges of our circumstances. We don’t voluntarily accept any “woe.” For example, if we accept that verse of Scripture which we often use in our services, “All things come from thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee,”[1] we give to God at bargain rates: ten cents on the dollar—that is, if we tithe.

Secondly, since we cannot repay God for the gift of lavish, unconditional love, we cannot earn or deserve God’s lavish, unconditional love. That love defies logic. But, it seems that God loves us all with equal, unending, and eternal love.

And, finally, since we can’t really understand it and really can’t deserve God’s love, what are we to do? My answer is this: we are called to use our gifts, our spiritual and financial gifts, to perform our ministry, our part in reconciling the world to God, to make sure that this parish is better than when it first welcomed us: healthier and stronger, more active, and fuller with more determined disciples. And to do this, we begin by accepting the challenges we have and not relying on our comforts. Then and only then can we give back what we have received. Then and only then can we be truly “blessed” with no “woes” attached.

[1] 1 Chronicles 29:14.

Epiphany 5, 2019 — 10 Feb 19

Epiphany 5, 2019

RCL Year C Epiphany 5
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Saint Luke 5:1-11

Like a fish waiting to be caught, just beneath the surface of this Gospel lies a very important truth, a truth I hope you accept, and I hope you will allow to change your life.

Let me approach that truth very gingerly. If you bake and sell Welsh cookies, isn’t it better to sell two hundred dozen rather than one hundred dozen? If you fish for a living, isn’t it better to catch and to sell two boat-loads rather than one boat-load? And here’s the one where our lives may be wanting and may need amending. If you are an Episcopal Church, isn’t it better for your parish to grow in people and giving than to go in the other direction?

That simple truth, that it is better to grow than not to grow, that it is better to catch more rather than fewer, lies behind the Gospel today. The power of the story lies with that simple truth, that simple assumption, which Jesus uses to give a new vocation to Simon Peter, James, and John. Their growing up involves catching people rather than fish, but the same truth applies: it is better to catch more rather than fewer.

It really is that simple. The task for us modern-day Christians is what it was two thousand years ago: to listen to the Lord, to follow him, and to begin catching people.

And this will always mean trying things we have tried before. And trying things we have never done before. Peter knew how to fish. He really knew how to fish. Soon, however, he is off healing people, teaching people, catching people for Jesus, and writing scripture!

Like Peter, not one of us thinks he or she is an evangelist. Let alone that any one of us might heal people or write scripture.

But one day, a letter you write to someone may bring that someone closer to God in Christ. That is scripture.

One day you will reach out to care for someone, and that person will be healed.

One day you will say something that will cause someone else to say, “You know, I never thought of things that way before,” and you will have become a teacher.

Jesus does not call us because we are worthy, or because we are qualified for the jobs he calls us to do. We are worthy and can do everything he did and more for this simple reason: he calls us.

Everything and more that good-hearted people want for Good Shepherd will be given to us. Our boats will be filled with fish, our pews with people, our Sunday School with children if only we will take the time to listen to the Lord, to follow him, and to begin catching people.

From now on we will be catching people for Jesus so they too can know what it feels like to be made worthy to stand before God. If Peter could do it, so can we.

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