my miscellany

The Third Sunday in Lent, 2019 — 24 Mar 19

The Third Sunday in Lent, 2019

RCL Year C Lent 3
Exodus 3:1-15; Psalm 63:1-8; 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Saint Luke 13:1-9

Two weeks ago today, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, after taking off from Addis Ababa, crashed, killing all of the 157 people aboard. And so, I ask Jesus’ question in today’s Gospel. Do you think that because those passengers suffered in this way they were worse sinners than any other group of people we could mention?

I ask this of you because Jesus speaks very stridently and high-handedly today.  It’s the Third Sunday of Lent, and if we are to listen to some tough things, now, or never, is the time.  Today he says, and I have trouble simply repeating the words: “unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”[1]  Who, really, wants to preach on that?  Who, really, wouldn’t rather evade that, swerve around it, and tap-dance to a different tune?  “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”[2]  Jesus says this twice in today’s Gospel.  The first time, he refers to some “Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”[3]  My study bible tells me that the Galileans had been slain by Pilate’s order while they were sacrificing, that is to say, worshipping, at the temple in Jerusalem.[4]  Pilate, evidently could give an order to kill when he wanted.  Jesus’ point is that the Galileans who were killed didn’t specially deserve to be killed.  The same goes for the passengers on Flight 302. They were not worse sinners that other worshippers in Jerusalem.  Jesus declares that everyone has the need to repent in order not to perish.

Jesus says the same to us.  We have to change, too, from living for ourselves to living for God.

I once heard a fine sermon on today’s Epistle, a good sermon about temptation and the assurance that our temptations are never stronger than we are, itself a fairly challenging idea.  It made the same point that Jesus makes in the Gospel: we have to change.  We have to give in to fewer temptations if we hope to be forgiven for our sins.  Having God on your side helps in resisting doing those things, those sinful and harmful things, which destabilize our families and our parish.

That, I believe, is what Jesus is telling us if telling us rather harshly.  We have to change for the better if we hope to live.  The Good News is that we can choose life rather than death, and God offers us life, offers us life in the person of his Son who died to open the gate of everlasting life to all who put their trust in him.  That’s very good news.  But it’s not good news for passive people who wish not to have to repent or not to have to change.  It’s good news for people who are willing to put aside the comfortable life to live the life God calls them to live.

Not one of us is free from this obligation. Ours sins are no worse and no fewer than those of any group we can think of. Everyone of us has to embrace, if not a wooden cross, at least the cross that God has prepared to give us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling.[5]

[1] Saint Luke 13:3.

[2] Saint Luke 13:3 and 5.

[3] Saint Luke 13:1.

[4] The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), page 103 nt.

[5] Philippians 2:12.

Advent 3, 2018 — 16 Dec 18

Advent 3, 2018

RCL Year C Advent 3
Zephaniah 3:14-20, Canticle 9, Philippians 4:4-7, Saint Luke 3:7-18

If you look at the nineteenth chapter of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, you will find Saint Paul traveling from Corinth to Ephesus where he finds followers of Saint John the Baptist. He asks them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” “No,” they replied, “we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Paul says, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” At last, Saint Paul baptizes them in the name of the Lord Jesus, and then he lays hands on them whereupon the Holy Spirit comes upon them.[1] And we have the pattern of Baptism and Confirmation that exists in the Episcopal Church to this day.

I draw your attention to this to amplify the Gospel today. While it is clear that John prepares the way for Jesus, he has a distinctive message that prepares the way for Jesus. He tells the crowds that follow him that whoever has two coats must share with those who have none. He tells tax collectors to collect no more than the amount prescribed. He tells soldiers not to extort money from anyone and to be satisfied with their wages. In short, John demands an ethical and a moral conversion that readies people for the salvation that Jesus later will bring. Giving up extortion, blackmail, and greediness opens people up to receive the kingdom that Jesus brings and preaches.

The line between John’s ethic and Jesus’ salvation remains very fine. One is not the other, and this Advent I am pondering the relationship of the two. I am pondering the progress from John’s ethic to receiving Jesus as our Lord and Savior. I am suggesting to you that if you want to receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior that you will first put behind you the slavery to sin and wrongdoing that itself keeps you away from seeing the face of Jesus. John the forerunner and Jesus the Savior have set this progression as the road we are to travel.

As you make your way to the crib, as you ask God that Jesus be born in your heart, do not forget the journey that lies before you. And do not forget the loving and encouraging arms awaiting you.

[1] Acts 19:1-6.

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.

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