Monday, August 22, 2016

Pentecost 14 Proper 16C

[NOTE:  I rarely post sermons on this Blog but I received so many requests this week for copies, that I decided to make an exception.  This is the text of the sermon I preached on Aug. 21, 2016 at St. Andrew's Jacksonville]

Almost every Friday my son Ian calls or texts me to say “Happy Friday.”  Which I guess means “The weekend is coming!”  A day of rest is upon us.

Which always makes me wonder, “How will you rest? How will you keep the Sabbath?” 

Scripture suggests two origins to the Sabbath commandment.  One comes from the creation story—as God rested on the seventh day, so also should all creation have a time of rest and renewal. 

Pretty straight-forward and unambiguous. God endorses a day off from our work for us to rest.  

The second Sabbath story comes from Exodus. The Hebrew slaves working for Pharaoh never, ever had a chance to rest. So, the commandment and promise of rest was extended to all; rich or poor, adult or child, human or animal, everyone needs a time to rest, and so God makes it a commandment to safeguard rest for all. 

It was an important question for the Jewish community in Jesus' day. Jesus rebuffed those interpreters of the Law who argued that even healing should be put on hold until the Sabbath was over. 

Jesus recognized that the larger purpose of the commandment was to free God's people from whatever holds us in bondage, including work.

When he healed the crippled woman he did so in order to free her from a condition that had held her in bondage for eighteen years.

Whenever we hear a story of Jesus healing or doing some other ‘forbidden’ act on the Sabbath Day, look for the bondage from which he is freeing us. And look for the overriding Law of Love which guides Jesus and you and me.

Ask yourself how you might reclaim the necessity—and the gift of a weekly Sabbath from daily work?

We are most faithful to the Sabbath when we use it to help and protect each other; to take a time of rest and refreshment from our daily work and routine and not insist on Sabbath it for its own sake.

As I suspect you have also, I have been watching a lot of the Olympic games from Rio and I have been hearing many stories of dreams that have been fulfilled by the athletes as they trained and participated in these games.  One in particular came to mind and reminded me of the woman in today’s lesson. 

Stacy Lewis is a woman golfer who has achieved the pinnacle of her profession by winning two major championships.  The amount of sacrifice and practice that she put into her sport is amazing, especial considering she suffered from scoliosis, which was diagnosed at a young age. She was treated by a spinal fusion when she was in high school, and missed her first collegiate golf season at the University of Arkansas recovering from the surgery.

As a child, Stacy wore back braces to try and correct the results of the disease—a curvature in her spine which affected her posture. In a TV interview she described how difficult it was to wear these braces, then return to the doctor only to be told that she had to continue to wear them another three months. Finally, her back was straight and she no longer had to wear the brace.

The commentator asked Stacy if it was difficult to look at the brace he had in the studio.  She said no, because they made he into the person she was today—they made it possible for her to be a Championship Golfer.

Stacy had dreams for her life. She wanted to be a golfer and she wanted to be cured from scoliosis.  I wonder what goals the crippled woman had that Jesus cured? 

I doubt if she wanted to play golf. Maybe she simply wanted to stand tall and erect, free from the pain of her affliction?  Did she envy the other women who were able to carry water from the wells to their homes?
We all have dreams and we all struggle to achieve our dreams.

So I have for us five ways to tend to our dreams .

First, dreams don’t happen overnight.

It takes commitment and hard work to achieve our dreams.  When we hear of someone who has burst onto the scene, we are often told that person is an overnight success.

There is no overnight success.  Success takes years of preparation, practice, wearing a back-brace, study.

Robert Schuller, the American televangelist who built Crystal Cathedral said, “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.”

The second way to tend your dreams is to remember, you may want to believe that someone out there has all the answers for you. They don’t.
Someone else may have a part of the answer you need, but only you have what’s necessary to put your dream together.

One of our great thinkers and leaders, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Rarely do we find people who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”  So wherever you need answers, THINK.

Third, never settle for some for less than your best. There is always an improvement that will make your idea better.

When Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State, he gave an assignment to one of his aides.  The young man was excited to have been trusted with an important task. He ran off and burned the midnight oil completing the task and the next day returned it to Kissinger’s desk. Later that day it was returned with the note: “Nice beginning, try again. H.K.”

The aide doubled down at re-wrote to paper, checking all his research again and then put it on Dr. Kissinger's desk the next morning. Again, later in the day it was back on the aide’s desk with the note, “This looks kind of light. H.K.”

This time the aide tore his work apart, looking for every possible way to improve his writing. The next morning, he carefully placed the edited document on the Dr.’s desk and said a prayer. Again, later in the day the paper was back on the aides desk with a new note, “Is this the best you can do?  H.K.”

Despondent, after the third re-write, and worried that his short career in the diplomatic corps was about to end, the aid made an appointment with Dr. K. 

He said, “Dr. Kissinger I have put my heart and soul into this paper. I’ve checked my research, referenced every citation, and followed up on every quotation. Sir, this is the very best I can do.” 

Without looking up, Dr. Kissinger took the paper from the aide and said, “Ok, now I’ll read it.”

Fourth. Never believe that someone else is at fault when things don’t go according to your dream. You can’t blame your teachers, your father or mother, or even your most trusted adviser.

If you want to tend your dream you're the one who has got to change—take responsibility because it's always your fault.  

Finally, as you chase your dream remember, it is not the goals that are important. It’s passing the milestones and inch-pebbles along the way that are important. Steady progress. 

Life and dreams are never about the goals themselves. It is about the journey—the steps are what are important.

If we did not have God’s Law, it would be everybody for him or herself. But God has given us the Law as His gift to help us live into God’s dream of abundant life for everyone. 

We are most faithful to the law not when we blindly follow it but when we use it to help and protect each other, not insist on it for its own sake or for personal again. 

Sabbath is for our benefit. A gift from God of rest and refreshment.
Now, rather than looking out for ourselves, we have a whole community of people looking out for us, even as we look out for others.

We are invited into this new life, placing the law of love above all other laws; reaching out to help those around us stand up a little taller—a little straighter—as they hear of and experience God’s love through our words and deeds.   


Sunday, February 14, 2016

You are invited to observe a Holy Lent

During Lent we talk of repentance, resisting temptation, and the Passion of Jesus.  We dramatize the story of His final days and make movies which reenact those terrible moments of pain and suffering Jesus underwent for our sake.  

We live in a world of competing stories. In such a world, we must know the Christian story in order to resist the false stories that seek to take us captive. The reading in Luke 4:1-13 is the familiar story of Jesus’ temptation by the devil in the wilderness. This story is so well known that we sometimes conflate the different accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke into one story about Jesus’ temptation. But each account is unique from the others.  As we read Luke’s version carefully, we can see two competing stories: the story that Jesus taps into in order to resist the devil and successfully navigate the temptations laid before him and the narrative the devil presents.

 We have stories as well, concerning our temptations with the devil and our challenges to be the kind of person we seek to be.  We face temptation each day and we try to resist that still small voice which whispers into our ear, leading us away from the path we intend to take.  

Lent is a good time to take on new things and one thing we all should take on this year is the attitude that all of our stories and resolutions find their genesis in God.  We can resist temptation if we turn to God; through God, we are able.


Father Mark+

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Rom 12:2)

Paul’s letter to the Christians in Roman lays out the perfect description of what is expected of us. Matthew Henry’s age-old commentary describes our journey as one from being under the control of this world—with all the temptations and desires and sin to which our lives are subjected—to true holiness. It is not a journey which has a certain end or destination, rather it is a journey which results in a change in the qualities of the soul.

It is a process through which the Spirit is allowed to work within us to affect a change in our understanding of supernatural things—until through a process of conversion and sanctification our minds are renewed and we see the world with fresh eyes. Think of Jacob as he wrestles the angel.

Sanctification means we die to sin. We more and more reject the worldly offerings which taint our ability to be god-like. More and more we reject evil thoughts and actions which drive us away from the love of God which is freely offered and rightfully ours to receive. We become more and more spiritual beings living in a physical world. We become more god-like by giving up ourselves to God and turning away from worldly things.

We are specifically warned to not plan for our own happiness because all we can do to be happy involves things of this world which are fleeting and will soon pass away. We learn true happiness is found in being children of God who are heirs to the kingdom which God desires us to receive.

This is the great renewing work which the Spirit is doing in us—conversion and sanctification until we are changed into the likeness of God in knowledge and righteousness and holiness.

And the only thing we have to fear is conformity to this world. Falling in love thing earthly and rejecting the things eternal. Therefore, Paul says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”


Father Mark +

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The finish line is in sight

“The finish line is in sight”

It’s only a few more weeks until our Annual Meeting when the pledge campaign is all wrapped up and we take a break from talking about Stewardship.  At least that is the plan, though I really expect to spend time in the coming weeks and months teaching how we are to be good stewards of God’s resources all year.

But honestly, in this uncertain environment, Stewardship for many is an economic issue.  If you had extra money in your family budget, I know you would increase your giving to reflect that.  And I know that if times in your household are dire, there is nothing I could do or say to make you pry a few dollars out of your empty wallet to give to St. Andrew’s.

So, let me say this. God’s love for you will not be diminished because you cannot afford to tithe this year.  It is not a sin to tell Father Mark that times are hard and you need prayers, or help, to help get through the squeeze.  I was reminded recently that the Church has been there for me and it will be there for you when needed because the church is not about money; it’s about love.  God’s love for us is faithful and unchanging and we are the hands and arms that make that love available to all who seek it. 

We are Great Commission people who bring the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus to all who seek it and God will see that, if we act in love, we have what we need to answer our call.  The resources we need to fulfill our ministries to God’s people will be there when needed because we will give and all will be fed.  Please do your part and give what you can for God’s work in the world—no amount is too small.


Father Mark +  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What he must do to inherit the kingdom of God?

I recently got up in the middle of the night, as is my usual practice, to make a trip to the bathroom. I know there is a chair at the corner where I turn to go into the vanity, but I stubbed my toe on it just the same.

“Darn, I need to put a brighter bulb in that nightlight.”  That dark corner is a menace to my feet.

Have you ever tried to make something ‘less dark’ without adding light?  It doesn’t work that way.  You cannot remove darkness.  You can only add light.

Just as you cannot remove darkness without adding light, and you can’t remove coldness without adding heat, so you can’t remove evil without doing good things.  In this universe there is only good.  Evil does not really exist just as there is no such thing as darkness—only the absence of light makes something dark—there is no evil, only the absence of goodness.

When a rich young man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit the kingdom of God, Jesus replied he must obey the commandments.  The young man replied that he had kept them since his youth.  Then Jesus said to sell everything and give it to the poor, and he went away sad because he had many possessions.

The rich young man had kept God’s commandments by following the law, but Jesus knows that following the law alone, does not make one good.  Living by the law only, and not doing good with our lives, our talents, and our possessions does not drive out evil.  In order to do that we must determine to do good while obeying God’s commandments.


Father Mark +