It’s all gift

13 September 2020; Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 19A (RCL); Exodus 14:19-31; Psalm 114; Romans 14:1-12; Matthew 18:21-35

     On my trip to Colorado, I was being especially careful to avoid contact with people, not wanting to put my mom at any risk.  I took a cooler with food to eat, rather than going into any fast food restaurant along the way.  On the way back, though, I was tired of making and eating ham sandwiches, so one day for lunch, I decided to go through a Dairy Queen drive through window.

     I ordered my lunch, and the woman behind the speaker told me the bill would be ten dollars and change.  I got out a $20 bill, and the appropriate change, since there is a coin shortage going on.  But when I got to the window, she told me that the car in front of me had paid my bill.  I was completely flustered.  I almost drove off with a word of thanks, but then I remembered that this is not how the game is played.

     I asked her how much the order behind me was.  She said $7 and something.  I handed her the twenty, and told her to pay the bill behind me.  And then, I just drove off.  Remember, I was flustered.  I didn’t wait for any change from the twenty.  I hope she used it for other cars behind the one behind me.

     As I got back on the highway, I laughed at myself for being so nonplused by the whole thing.  For half a second, I thought about the change from the twenty that I had just left behind, but then I was grateful that people could be so kind.  Even if the girl at Dairy Queen kept the change for herself, it was a good day for someone, and certainly a good day for me.

     In last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus gave the church the only community rule we find on his lips.  If your brother or sister has sinned against you, go work it out in private, and they listen, you have regained your brother or sister.  If they don’t listen, take one or two others with you, and if they won’t listen to them, then and only then take the matter to the whole church.  And if they won’t listen to the church, then and only then, write them off.

     So, Peter, good old Peter, wants to pin Jesus down.  How many times should be willing to do that with my brother or sister?  Seven times?  No, Jesus says, seven times seventy times.  And then he tells a parable.

     A king wanted to settle accounts with his slaves.  One slave owed him ten thousand talents.  Talent is not a currency we use, so the number doesn’t mean much to us.  Herod the Great’s annual income had been about 1,000 talents a year.  So this slave owed his king ten years’ worth of a king’s income.  Unimaginable!  How does a slave get that far in debt?  We might very well fill in ten billion dollars.  So the king decides to sell him and his family into slavery and all their possessions.  The amount of the sale won’t come close to recouping the debt – maybe a single talent.

     The slave falls on his knees and begs his king for patience.  He promises to repay.  The king of course knows that’s never going to happen, but for a single talent, what’s the point of selling him?  So, he cuts his losses and forgives the debt.  But this same slave immediately meets a fellow slave who owes him 100 denarii.  A denarius was the usual daily wage for a day laborer.  So he owes his fellow slave about four months’ worth of minimum wage.

     Our main character throttles his fellow slave and demands repayment, and when he can’t repay, he orders him thrown in prison – for 100 denarii!  Matthew then adds the tag line that God will throw us in prison if we don’t forgive each other.  But I think the point of the story is much deeper than that – and parables invite a lot of interpretations.

     We can live in one of two ways:  either grateful for the incredible gifts we have been given, or suspicious always trying to figure out what the world owes us.  We are so used to thinking of the world in terms of debt, that it completely flusters us (me, at any rate) when someone out of the blue gives us a gift, or pays what we owe.

     When Jesus begins his ministry, he announces the kingdom of God by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has arrived.”  That word, “repent,” means literally in Greek, “change your mind,” or better yet, “go back to school.”  It requires training, homework, and a complete shift in mindset.  What if we approached every human interaction asking “What gift am I receiving,” instead of asking, “What can I get out of this?”  How would that change our view of the world.

     As we were cleaning out the house, my mom and I talked about the incredible gift the house had given us.  It provided a place of refuge, of learning, of discovery, of safety, and of love.  We decided that the best way we could move on as we lose this house was to hope that whoever buys the house will receive as much from it as we did, and then find ways to pay that gift forward wherever we find ourselves.  That made the grief bearable, and opens up new vistas for living life to the full.

     Last week I said that I am always troubled in the Old Testament that God’s favor for Israel always comes at someone else’s expense.  This week, we have Pharaoh’s army thrown up on the seashore, so Israel could go free.  But I think the same lesson is buried in this story as in the parable of the 10,000 talents.  Pharaoh could only see Israel as free labor, rather than as a gift.  Remember, Pharaoh (with Joseph’s help) had hoarded all the grain in Egypt, and then bought everyone into slavery by parceling out that grain.

     When Israel gets into the wilderness, they complain that there is no food.  “Oh, that we might return to Egypt, and sit by the fleshpots, with onions and cucumbers in abundance,” they complain.  So, God gives them manna.  They can collect just enough for one day.  If they gather more, it rots overnight.  There will be no hoarding food in the wilderness.  God is going to teach them the hard way that life is a gift.  If you can only collect food for one day, there is no way you’re going to get 10,000 in debt to anyone.

     Paul gives us the same warning.  Don’t look down on anyone.  Money is the way we rank ourselves and our worth.  It allows us to look down on others, or to think we ourselves are not worth as much when we compare what we have and make to what others have and make.  But the parable tells us that there is no difference between 10,000 talents and 100 denarii, but only in the way we look at the world.      Is life a gift, or does it owe us?  That’s the difference.  Even when it’s just ten dollars and change at Dairy Queen, life is a gift beyond imagining.

Reconciliation

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; 6 September 2020; Proper 18A (RCL); Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20

I said last week that we often find ourselves in Peter’s shoes; we want someone to come and make everything right.  Peter had confessed Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus said that on the rock of that faith, he would build his Church.  Note that this one of only three times the word “Church” appears in the Gospels, on Jesus’ lips.

Then, when Jesus begins to tell his disciples how he must die, Peter scolds him, saying that must never happen to him.  Jesus lays into Peter, calling him Satan, and telling him he is setting his mind on human things, not divine things.  I said we are in Peter’s shoes because we too hope for and expect God to set things right.

I think Psalm 149 is another example of this same kind of thinking, only even worse.  The psalm not only expects God to set things right, but expects that we, God’s people, will be God’s chosen instrument to do that work:  Let the praises of God be in their throat and a two-edged sword in their hands; to wreak vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples.

I would like to think this is not a very attractive image, but I’m afraid it is far more attractive than we would like to admit.  At least in the realm of our civic theology, our national ideology, this is the way we think.  We are God’s chosen instrument to bring the American way of life to the world.  Even the narrative of the Passover has an element of this way of thinking:  God executes judgment by killing the first-born of others.

But, last week, Jesus told Peter that he was setting his mind on human things, not divine things.  We have confused our way of thinking with God’s way of thinking.  And we can see the consequences all around us.  All of the anger in our political process comes from knowing we are right, and wanting to impose our way of doing things on others, or it comes from feeling like others have imposed their idea of justice on us, and hoping for a savior to set them right.

But, in today’s Gospel, Jesus shows us what a divine way of thinking looks like.  For the early Christians, the cross was the sign of God’s justice, and it was exactly the opposite of our expectation – not the sword at all.  God accepted into the divine self all the consequences of human sin.

And so, Jesus shows us how to live that divine way of life.  If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the problem in private.  If your brother or sister doesn’t listen to you, take two or three others with you, and if your brother or sister won’t listen to them, take the matter to the whole church.  Only then can you write that person off.

The idea is reconciliation.  If your brother or sister listens to you, you have regained a brother or sister.  The restoration of the world works from the bottom up, not the top down, and the responsibility falls squarely on us.

This is one of only three places where the word “Church” occurs on Jesus’ lips.  It is an anachronism – the church didn’t exist when Jesus was with his disciples.  This is the only community rule we have on Jesus’ lips, the only rule of the community that Matthew felt important enough to write back into Jesus’ life.

This is the Church that is founded upon the Rock of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ.  This is the divine way of thinking that we have such a hard time wrapping our heads around.  If the world is going to be set to rights, it will be done by reconciliation.

We tend to think of law and justice in the abstract.  When we hear talk of “Law and Order,” that is something that exists outside of us.  It gets imposed from the top.  Paul is saying much the same thing as Jesus is saying.  All of those laws that we think of as abstract rules – you shall not murder, you shall not covet, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal – are not so much abstract rules as ways of living in community.  Love sums them up.  Love does no wrong to a neighbor.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that in Christ, God was reconciling the world to God’s self, and that we have received the ministry of reconciliation.  Reconciliation requires a cost – we have to admit the hurt done, rather than turning it into anger and exacting retribution.  South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good example.  It is sometimes called restorative justice.  It’s not about punishment, but about mending relationship.

The Church built on the rock of the confession of Jesus as the Messiah is the place where reconciliation happens.  It sounds like hard work, but it is the only way to set things right.  Imagine if you were a member of one of the nations against which Israel imagined they were called to wreak vengeance.  The cycle of violence would only continue.

The cross shows us that God has done the hard work of reconciliation, accepting into the divine self all the damage of human sin.  In the confession of Jesus as the Messiah, we are invited to join that reconciliation, and restore the world from the bottom up.  God has already done it from the top down, and it didn’t look like we expected.  The work from the bottom up doesn’t look like we expected either, but it so much deeper a restoration than anything imposed from above would be.

That’s what Jesus means when he invites us to set our mind on divine things, not human things.  We get to join in that divine work.

August Vestry Minutes

August 31, 2020
Due to COVID-19 the vestry meeting was conducted via ZOOM beginning at 5:30PM.

PRESENT:
Clergy:The Rev. Dan Handschy and Canon Carrie Schofield-Broadbent
Wardens:Tina Kopp and Bob Meyer
Vestry:Laura Hannett-Smith, Mike Kimber, Carol Murphy, Jim Shults, Dave Tyler, Ann Wickes and Linda
Williams
Treasurer:Denise Mako

VESTRY/STAFF SURVEY:Dan H. and Carrie S-B.
Carrie S-B. and Dan H. went over the results of the survey that was given to the vestry and staff. Fifteen people completed it. To review the questions and responses, please see the attachment at the end of the minutes.
Carrie S-B. asked if there were any clarifying questions from the vestry. The only area that she noticed a discrepancy was the one about the vestry communicating regularly. Below are some of the comments from the vestry:
There have been a lot of changes at St. David’s in the past year. If we really think about it, due to COVID 19, the changes have come in the first six months. St. David’s is moving forward quickly.
The results were not surprising since our finances are in good shape and Dan H. is a positive influence at St. David’s.
The Mutual Ministry Review is the beginning of at the plan to see where God is leading us. This survey is a snapshot of where the parish is today. She doesn’t see much that needs to be fixed. We need to talk about how to keep moving forward. Some ideas put forth:
Form a survey for the whole congregation. Some think it is a good idea since the congregation may have different views than the vestry. We need to know if the congregation does not feel the same as the vestry.
Add a question about what can we do to become stronger. What are we missing? Do you feel welcome at St. David’s and why. Do you feel like you can participate in the life of the parish? How do you feel you can participate and why?
Have small group conversations. Surveys don’t always reach the heart of the parish. Face-to-face meetings often bring other issues to light.
Some do not feel that we need to survey the congregation but they should know about the survey and its results. It feels like we are giving ourselves a report card and the congregations needs to be able to respond. Sending a survey to the congregation can raise their anxiety.
The next step will be for the wardens and Dan H. to meet with Carrie S-B. and look at ways to share this data with the congregation as a whole. Dan H. will summarize the survey for the weekly newsletter. He will mention the positive internal review and ask where we would like to go from here. The Congregational Development Model will help answer that question.
Carrie S-B. offered thanks to God for his blessing on St. David’s and she is joyous to see us coming together. Bob M. thanked her for all her support over the last fifteen months. At this time Carrie S-B. left the meeting.


Carrie S-B. asked if there were any clarifying questions from the vestry. The only area that she noticed a discrepancy was the one about the vestry communicating regularly. Below are some of the comments from the vestry:
There have been a lot of changes at St. David’s in the past year. If we really think about it, due to COVID 19, the changes have come in the first six months. St. David’s is moving forward quickly.
The results were not surprising since our finances are in good shape and Dan H. is a positive influence at St. David’s.
The Mutual Ministry Review is the beginning of at the plan to see where God is leading us. This survey is a snapshot of where the parish is today. She doesn’t see much that needs to be fixed. We need to talk about how to keep moving forward. Some ideas put forth:
Form a survey for the whole congregation. Some think it is a good idea since the congregation may have different views than the vestry. We need to know if the congregation does not feel the same as the vestry.
Add a question about what can we do to become stronger. What are we missing? Do you feel welcome at St. David’s and why. Do you feel like you can participate in the life of the parish? How do you feel you can participate and why?
Have small group conversations. Surveys don’t always reach the heart of the parish. Face-to-face meetings often bring other issues to light.
Some do not feel that we need to survey the congregation but they should know about the survey and its results. It feels like we are giving ourselves a report card and the congregations needs to be able to respond. Sending a survey to the congregation can raise their anxiety.
The next step will be for the wardens and Dan H. to meet with Carrie S-B. and look at ways to share this data with the congregation as a whole. Dan H. will summarize the survey for the weekly newsletter. He will mention the positive internal review and ask where we would like to go from here. The Congregational Development Model will help answer that question.
Carrie S-B. offered thanks to God for his blessing on St. David’s and she is joyous to see us coming together. Bob M. thanked her for all her support over the last fifteen months. At this time Carrie S-B. left the meeting.

The July minutes were read on-line. Jim S. made a motion to accept them, seconded by Dave T. and approved.

FINANCIAL REPORT: Denise M.
We will have a loss of about $5400.00 for the month of August. That is typical for this time of year because some people prepay their pledges. Since we are not going to have a garage sale, we need to watch our expenses. As a parish we are better off than many at this extraordinary time. Denise M. will be moving approximately $15,000.00 in restricted (designated) money to the savings account until it is needed. Bob M. does not anticipate calling back the cleaning service until we are back in the building.

OLD BUSINESS:
PPP LOAN:Dan H.
Vanessa from Solvay Bank sent the documents that are needed to apply for forgiveness of that loan. We still have six months to get the paperwork in. The whole loan will be forgiven since it was only used for eight weeks of payroll.
INDOOR WORSHIP:Dan H.
There will be no changes until at least September 22 when the clergy meets with the Bishop.
MUSIC/CHOIR:Dan H.
Dick Fields would like to get music together for services. Possibly he will get together with people on Thursday evenings to prepare for Sunday. There can be no choir decisions until we know when we will be back in the building and allowed to sing. We are coming into September when the choir would be back. Dick F. would like the soloists to be back in business.

Bob M. mentioned that we need to start looking for a new treasurer since Denise M. will tender her resignation at the Annual Meeting. We should put something in the newsletter.

Laura H-S. mentioned that the parish hall would not be a good place for church services because there is only one usable egress/entry point. Although there is an outside door it is hard to reach since there is no sidewalk leading to it. Dan H. agreed, stating he would hate to have the church be the source of someone’s infection.

Jim S. made a motion to adjourn at 6:20PM, seconded by Linda W. and approved. Our next meeting will be at 7PM on Monday September 28.

Respectfully submitted,

Susan Parry, Clerk of the Vestry

Bold new empire

Proper 6A (RCL); Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7; Psalm 116:1, 10-17; Romans 5:1-8; Matthew 9:35-10:23.

     One of the differences between Morning Prayer and eucharist (besides the obvious) is that in the service for eucharist, the Collect of the Day comes right at the beginning of the service.  In Morning Prayer, it comes after the sermon, after the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer.  This morning, that’s too bad, because the Collect for today really sets up well what the Scriptures are about.  So, I’m going to read it here in the sermon.

     Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion:  for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.

     I could almost preach a sermon on the collect.  We pray, that through God’s grace, we might proclaim God’s truth with boldness, and minister God’s justice with compassion.  Watching what has been unfolding on our streets over the last two weeks, I think this is a prayer for our time.  We need boldness to proclaim God’s truth, and compassion to minister God’s justice.

     This prayer sets up these scriptures perfectly.  In Matthew’s Gospel, we hear the story of Jesus commissioning the twelve apostles, and giving them authority over unclean spirits, and power to heal disease and sickness.  Matthew introduces this commissioning with a statement about Jesus having compassion on the crowds, because there were like sheep without a shepherd.

     Matthew is saying more than it might look like on the surface.  He is quoting the book of Numbers.  Moses is worried that when he dies, the congregation of Israel will be like sheep without a shepherd, so he asks God to appoint someone to take his place.  God tells Moses to lay his hands on Joshua and give him his authority.  There is a great pun here that we miss in English.  In Greek, the name Joshua is Jesus.  In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, Moses appoints Jesus as his successor.

     That pun is not lost on Matthew.  And now, Jesus, knowing he is going to die, appoints the twelve as his successors, and gives them his authority.  Jesus sends them out to announce a new empire.  As they traveled they were to heal the sick, raise the dead, and announce that the empire of God had come near.  It is not as clear in this passage as it is in other passages that the disciples were to eat a meal with those they healed.

     In Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus sends out the disciples, he instructs them to call a sort of stone-soup meal in each town they enter:  eat what is set before you, heal the sick, raise the dead, and proclaim the kingdom.  When Jesus raises Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter, he instructs those standing by to give her something to eat.  The meal was part of the cure.

     The ancient world didn’t have the medical understanding we have now about how diseases work.  But they had a much clearer understanding of the social aspect of the disease process.  Some disease, like leprosy, cut people completely off from society, and so being brought back to the table would have been a powerful cure.

     One of the really tragic things about COVID-19, is that people who are really ill are nearly completely isolated.  We’ve seen images of hospital staff standing and cheering as someone is released from the ICU, overjoyed that the person is now back among loved ones.  Think of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s:  the social aspect of the disease was as bad as the disease process itself.  How many gay men died completely alone?

     I’ve been glued to my television these last few weeks, watching what is happening on the streets of our nation, and even around the world.  As nervous as I am about the possibility of these protests spreading the Corona virus, I am astonished at the outpouring of support for a movement against racism in our institutions.

     It would not be too much of a stretch to see racism as a social disease, and institutional disease, causing huge rifts in our social fabric.  I have been struck by the variety of people protesting.  In Ferguson, after Michael Brown’s death, white people joining the protests was newsworthy.  White people could get themselves on the front page of the newspaper by showing up at a protest.  In these most recent protests, it’s almost normal.  That’s a huge shift.

     Jesus sends out the disciples to cure the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead, and then proclaim that a new empire, the empire of God has come near.  Those early Christians were dangerous.  The Roman empire understood that their message called Rome’s authority into question.  If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not.  Those first Christians were not made martyrs for being nice people.  They were a threat to the powers that be.

     I think we’re seeing something like this on our streets.  Certainly there is some bad stuff happening.  There has been looting and destruction, but a lot less of that than during Ferguson.  People are proclaiming a new order of things:  Black Lives Matter.  They are seeking to heal a very deep and very old wound in our nation.  They are proclaiming a new empire, one of hope, justice, and love.  They are seeking to bring those who have been excluded back to the table, or maybe to the table for the first time.  I think Jesus would recognize some of what is happening.

     And that’s where today’s collect comes in.  Moses passed his authority on to Joshua/Jesus, and Jesus has passed his authority on to us, the authority to cast out demons, heal the sick, raise the dead, and announce a new empire.  He also tells us that we can expect opposition.  We will be called on to testify before powers and authorities, who might not like what we have to say.

     So, we pray for God’s grace to proclaim that truth with boldness, and to minister that justice with compassion.  We are going to need that grace to see the truth, in ourselves and in our society.  And we are going to need grace to proclaim what we see with boldness.  We are going to need grace to be compassionate with ourselves as we face an uncomfortable truth, and we are going to need grace to hear the anguish of those who suffer from this ill.  We are going to need grace to see justice done with compassion, welcoming those excluded to the table, rather than excluding them with force and violence.  We are the agents of a new empire.  God give us the grace to proclaim it with joy.

Let him go

Fifth Sunday in Lent, 29 March 2020, St. David’s Episcopal Church , DeWitt, NY, Dan Handschy

Lent 5A (RCL); Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

     I have to admit I’m finding it a little difficult to write sermons in this time.  There is a lot that looks bleak, and we all need a word of hope.  There are voices coming from every direction, some saying it’s dire now, and will get worse; others saying things will soon be better and we can go back to life as normal.  How are we supposed to respond?

     I think this pandemic is forcing us to realize that some things in the way we have organized the world will need to change.  We talk about ‘vulnerable populations’ as if they were something other than us.  And yet we know that if anyone has this virus, we’re all in danger of getting it.  We are far more connected than we like to think; we are not the rugged individuals we imagine ourselves, responsible only for our own well-being.  Now, we have to figure out how to reorganize society to make this so.

     Our Gospel reading for today is very confusing, but it may help us figure out how to think and live differently.  First of all, why does Jesus delay two days, when he knows Lazarus is dying?  And then, why does he grandstand when he prays – I know you always hear me, but I’ve said this for the crowds standing by?  We’ve had more than enough of delay and grandstanding.

     Both sisters, Mary and Martha, say to Jesus, with more than a hint of accusation in their voices, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  I think we’re feeling the same.  Why is God allowing this delay?  Why don’t people get how serious this is?  Lord, if you had been here, things could have been different.

     So, for me, it raises the question, “What would things look like if Jesus were here?  What would be different?”  We could spend a whole lot of time on that question!

     When Martha comes to where Jesus is, she asks, she accuses, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Jesus replies, “Your brother will rise again.”  She says, “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”  This is one of those classic examples of misdirection in John’s Gospel.  Jesus says one thing, and she hears another.  Jesus tells her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  She replies, “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the One coming into the world.”

     Again, she answers a question he didn’t ask.  She sees things in the standard way – the Messiah is coming, and everything will be all right.  He told her that the resurrection is already here, and it doesn’t look like she thought it would look.  It doesn’t look like we thought it would look.

     John wants to drive that point home.  When Lazarus comes out of the tomb, John tells us “the dead man came out.”  Lazarus is still the dead man.  And, he was wrapped in his grave cloths.  When Jesus was raised from the dead, the disciple whom he loved went into the tomb, and saw the grave cloths all neatly folded up.  Lazarus’ is the resuscitation of a corpse.  Jesus’ is a resurrection from the dead.

     What does that mean for us?  Mary and Martha want things to go back to the way they were before.  They want the resurrection to look the old order restored.  John is telling us the old order has already passed away.  Jesus’ resurrection is something new.  When Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Jesus in the Garden, he tells her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I have not yet embarked to my father and your father, my God and your God.”  (I guess Jesus understood social distancing).  The resurrection looks like a journey toward God, not a return to old hopes.

     What are the grave cloths we need to take off of Lazarus to see what God has in store for us?  What does a new and fuller life look like?  What does it mean that if we live and believe in Jesus, we will never die?  What does it mean to say that when so many are dying?  And, we ask like the sisters, why were you not here?

     John wants to redirect our attention away from a return to the way we think things are supposed to be, and toward something unexpected.  For John the resurrection is not just the restoration of biological life, the resuscitation of a corpse.  Resurrection is instead a fullness of life.  John’s favorite phrase for it is, “the life of the ages.”  We tend to translate that eternal life, and think it means living forever.  What it meant in John’s time and Jesus’ was living a life in the coming age that God intended for all the world.

     We’re seeing some of what it is not.  It is not the hoarding of scarce resources, whether that be toilet paper or personal protective equipment for our medical workers.  It does not mean manipulating a crisis for one’s own interest, whether that be profit or political points.  It does not mean going about our business as if nothing were wrong, and not seeing the impact of our actions on others.  These are the grave cloths about which Jesus says, “Unbind him and let him go.”

     So, the opposite looks like resurrection – making sure everyone has what they need; living our lives as if everyone else’s life depended on what we do; accepting with huge gratitude what others, even those invisible others we would rather not see, do for us.  The resurrection looks like the whole Body restored to full life.  Our Diocesan vision statement is “A world healed by love.”  I think that pretty well captures what I’m struggling to picture for you.

     In the Apostles’ Creed, we say that we believe in the resurrection of the Body, and I think the pun is intended.  Not just this physical body, but the whole Body, the Body of Christ intimately interconnected, overlaid with a stunning network of relationships, joints, sinews, connective tissue, organs; nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, truckers, musicians, waiters and waitresses, that whole glorious Body raised to newness of life.  That is the life of the ages.

     Jesus says to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life.”  The life we have in Jesus is a faint foretaste of that resurrection life.  The community we share with one another is the sign of that resurrection to the world.  And, oh, are we hungry for that now.  When we can get back together and sing ‘Alleluia,’ we will now more powerfully than we have ever known the resurrection of the Body.  That is the hope of Easter.  That is the life of Jesus in our midst.  Pray we hear Jesus’ words, “Unbind him and let him go.”

Living water

Sermon, Third Sunday in Lent, 15 March 2020, St. David’s Episcopal Church, DeWitt, NY

Dan Handschy

Lent 3A (RCL), Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42

     Water, water, everywhere, and not a drop to drink.  Have you ever noticed that in this story, Jesus never gets the drink of water he asked for?  That, if nothing else, should clue us in to the fact that this story isn’t really about water.  Something else is going on.

     I contend that this is a love story.  We have a woman and a man at a well.  If you’ve ever read the stories of the patriarchs, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – and let’s throw in Moses for good measure – you know that they all met their wives at a well.  When Abraham sent his servant back to his home land to find a wife for Isaac, the servant said to himself, the first woman I ask for water, and who gives it to me, that will be the woman for Isaac.  That woman was Rebekah.  Jacob said the same thing, and that woman was Rachel.  Moses met Zipporah at a well.

     In John’s Gospel, we’ve already had the miracle of changing water to wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  And last week, we heard Nicodemus asking how one could be born again.  Something weird is going on here.  And about Nicodemus:  he was a Jew, a Pharisee, he had a name, and came to Jesus by night.  This woman has no name, is a Samaritan, and meets Jesus at noon.

     Hmmm.  Jesus asks for a drink of water, and our unnamed woman launches into a speech about Jews and Samaritans.  They hated each other.  Jews considered Samaritans half-breeds, ethnically defective, worse than Greeks.  So, she is a bit surprised.  Jesus replies, “If you knew who was asking, you would ask for living water.”  Remember, Jesus has already changed water to wine, so we’re not talking about water here.

     She wonders if Jesus is greater than Jacob, whose well it is.  We know, of course, that the answer is “yes.”  Jesus tells her to go and call her husband.  She replies that she has no husband, and Jesus says that indeed, she has had five, and the one she has now is not her husband.  Many commentators have a made a great deal about her marital history.  She must be a woman if ill-repute.  That’s why she is at the well and noon.  But remember, there is more to this story than meets the eye.

     Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  It had been conquered in 722 by the Assyrians, who had deported 27,000 Israelites, and resettled a bunch of foreigners in their place.  That’s why the Jews (from the Southern Kingdom) consider Samaritans half-breeds.  The Babylonians had then conquered the Assyrians, and the Persians had conquered the Assyrians.  Then came the Seleucids, and finally the Romans.  Each of these empires had put images of their own gods in the Temple on Mt. Gerezim.  Count them.  That’s five different gods:  Israel, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and the Seleucids.  The Old Testament often uses the image of God as Israel’s husband.  Five husbands.

     And finally comes Rome.  And Caesar is not really a god, despite his statue in the temple.  Now the picture is starting to get clearer.  In the middle of all this, the disciples come back and offer Jesus something to eat.  He points to the fields ripe for harvest.  What?

     Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, and was not convinced about being born from above to enter the kingdom.  This unnamed Samaritan woman has a conversation with Jesus about water, Temples, and husbands, and wonders if he might be the Christ, the savior of the world (Caesar’s title, by the way).  John’s little beleaguered community had gotten itself thrown out of the synagogue, and now finds itself on the verge of welcoming a bunch of Samaritans!

     The book of Acts tells us that some of the first non-Jewish converts to the Jesus movement were Samaritans.  Here we have a story about how that happened.  And it’s a love story.  A man and a woman meet at a well, and she – the Samaritan woman – ends up marrying Jesus, accepting him as God.  And in the end, the people of the village believe for themselves.

     What does that mean for us?  Jesus’ disciples were startled that he was talking to a Samaritan woman, but no one dared ask him why.  They would have been shocked to hear the story the way we can hear it.  We’re the disciples in the story, I think.

     I love that our Presiding Bishop has asked us to think of the Church as the Jesus movement.  I’m not a real Jesus-y sort of person.  I grew up in a fundamentalist tradition, and people used to ask if I had a personal relationship with Jesus.  Being the snarky teenager I was, I used to answer, “I haven’t shaken the man’s hand, if that’s what you mean.”  Jesus as my personal lord and savior just doesn’t do that much for me.

     But what the disciples discover is that Jesus is already out there talking to unnamed Samaritan women who have had five husbands, while they’re worried about what to eat.  And Jesus meets her at the well, just like all of the patriarchs met their wives at wells, by asking for a drink of water.  Last week, we heard that famous verse, John 3:16:  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever should believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

     For God so loved the world.  Here’s the evidence.  And maybe that water is love.  Jesus turned 180 gallons of it into really good wine at a wedding.  That will keep the village buzzed for weeks.  And this poor woman hasn’t had a lot of it in her life.  Not enough to even return to Jesus a short sip of the stuff.  If she knew who Jesus was, he would give her unending streams of the stuff, gushing up to eternal life.  That’s loving with wild abandon.  For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.

     That’s the content of our Gospel.  Love profligately.  Throw it away in great quantities.  Let it gush up to eternal life.  Bishop Curry, by calling us the Jesus Movement is reminding us that Jesus is out there asking the questions about God’s love, rather than worrying, like the disciples, what we are going to eat, how we’re going to pay the bills, can we keep the doors open.

     Look around you, says Jesus, the fields are ripe for harvest.  The trick is to throw God’s love all over the place, not worrying about they’re acceptable or not.

On the holy mount

Last Sunday after Epiphany

St. David’s Episcopal Church

DeWitt, NY

Dan Handschy

Last Epiphany A(RCL); Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-20; Matthew 17:1-9

     The story of Jesus’ transfiguration is a very tightly packed little story.  The whole of Jewish tradition up to that time comes to focus on Jesus.

     The story begins, “After six days” or “Six days after these events.”  The six days refers to Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ.  Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain.  The passage we heard from Exodus tells us that when Moses went up the mountain, the cloud of God’s glory covered the mountain for six days.  Matthew wants us to think of the Exodus story.

     When Jesus is on the mountain, Moses and Elijah join him.  Both Moses and Elijah had mountaintop experiences themselves, one of which we just heard.  When Moses went up the mountain, he received the law.  In Exodus 24, which we just heard, he ratified the new covenant with God.  God had told the people not to come up the mountain, and instead build an altar at the base of the mountain.  The people then stayed on the plain, and ate a meal.  Seventy elders went up on the side of the mountain and ate, while Moses himself alone went to the top of the mountain.

     This is exactly the scheme of the Temple.  The people stay outside in the court, where the altar is.  The priesthood (the seventy) stays in the inner court, and the high priest alone enters the holy of holies.  Also, while Moses in on the mountain top, he receives the plan for the tabernacle – just this same scheme.  So, Moses represents both the law and the Temple.

     Elijah also had a mountain top experience.  You may remember the story.  Queen Jezebel had imported the worship of Ba’al into Israel.  Elijah challenged the 450 priests of Ba’al to a competition on Mount Carmel.  They set up an altar, and he set up an altar.  They prayed all day, but no fire descended.  He soaked his altar with water, and then prayed briefly, and fire descended and consumed his offering, whereupon he immediately slaughtered all 450 priests.

     Then he ran away, because Jezebel was going to kill him.  He came to Moses mountain and hid in the same cave where Moses saw the divine backside.  There was a storm and an earthquake, but God was in neither.  Then came a still small voice, saying, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”  Elijah made his complaint, and God said, “Return and anoint Hazael king of Syria, and Jehu king of Israel, and Elisha your successor.  Whoever Hazael does not kill, Jehu will kill, and whoever Jehu does not kill, Elisha will kill.”  Jeez, what a pleasant message.  So Elijah represents the prophetic and dynastic strands of tradition with Israel’s history.

     A cloud overshadows the three while they are on the mountain, just like the pillar of cloud overshadowed the tabernacle in the wilderness.  So we have the desert tradition represented here, as well.

     And then when the voice comes to Jesus, it quotes Psalm 2, which is a coronation psalm.  Ugh.  We are told that the nations are rebelling against the subjugation by God’s anointed, but God derides them.  The new king will smash them like an iron rod smashes pottery.  Here is the hope of vindication that runs throughout so much of Israelite literature.

     But the voice also quotes Isaiah 42:  Here is my servant, whom I uphold, in whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”  All of these traditions come together on the mountaintop.  And when the cloud lifts, only Jesus is found alone.

     In the wake of the destruction of the Temple under the Roman Empire, the question for Jews was “Who are we now?”  There was no more Temple to hold the traditions together.

     The little band of Christians, who were first of all Jews, answered this question is a very surprising way.  They were followers of Jesus, and saw in Jesus the fulfillment of all the various strands of tradition that made up the Judaism of their time.  They were saying that everything we can know about God and God’s interaction with us humans is revealed in this Jesus, who comes down from the mountain and heads straight to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified by the Roman power.

     So, what does it mean for us to say that everything we can know about God, we learn from this Jesus?  What do we know about God that no longer works?  What strands of tradition come together for us in this Jesus?

     We have not lived through a crisis as catastrophic as the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, but I think we live through events every day that challenge our orthodoxies.  We used to be able to think that this nation was a beacon in the darkness, that America represented the best hope for the world.  Given the turmoil on our southern border, given the way we treat the descendants of the peoples we enslaved, given the damage that we are doing around the world, in terms of climate change and economic colonialism, I don’t think we can think that any more.

     I think there are crises in our personal lives in little ways that challenge our orthodoxies.  If we live good lives, we think, God will be good to us.  Nothing bad will happen to those God loves.  Yet, we can see in our own lives that this is not always true.  Illnesses, deaths, grief of one kind and another happen all the time.  We might be inclined to ask, “Why, God?”

     What the transfiguration tells us that all we can know about God’s interaction with us messed up humans can be known in Jesus, who died on a cross.  God chooses to enter the human arena, the created world, in order to love it, and will accept into the divine self the very worst that we can do to another.  “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”  This Jesus, who will go to Jerusalem to die at our hands.

     All of this is revealed in blinding glory on the mountain top.  If we are to know God at all, we must make that journey to Jerusalem with this Jesus, the summary of all the theology in the world.  That’s why we read this on the Sunday before Lent, to draw our focus to this Jesus, who gives himself for us, so that we can know God.  There is no other way.

A greater righteousness

Sermon

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

16 February 2020

St. David’s Episcopal Church

DeWitt, NY

Dan Handschy

Epiphany 6A (RCL)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Psalm 119:1-8

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Matthew 5:21-37

     The Gospel reading last week ended with Jesus telling us that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, we would never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  We were left wondering what such a righteousness might look like.  Today, we have our answer.

     It was a standard rabbinic form of argument to list what other rabbis had said about a topic, and then conclude, “But I say to you.”  Rabbi so-and-so said.  Rabbi such-and-such said.  But I say.  What is remarkable in this passage is that Jesus isn’t listing what some other rabbi said.  He is quoting Torah, the text that rabbis interpret, and then adds, “But I say to you.”  That’s really bold.

     And then he ups the ante.  You have heard it said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder.”  But I say to you that anyone who is angry at a brother or sister is liable to punishment.  How many of us have committed murder?  Not very many.  How many of us have been angry?  Every last one of us.  Yikes!  So, what are we supposed to do?  Jesus gives us the answer:  if you are making your offering, and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar, and first go be reconciled, and then come make your sacrifice.

     Sounds do-able, right?  Imagine you’ve just walked two days from Galilee to Jerusalem, leading your lamb for sacrifice.  Now, you’re going to walk four days round trip before sacrificing.  But notice what happens.  The restriction against murder is reasonably enforceable.  The restriction against anger is not.  But anger tears up the community that is going to eat the meal made by the sacrifice.  Jesus insists that the community be reconciled.

     That’s why the Peace comes where it does in the liturgy.  We are about to make our offering, so we confess our sins against God and our neighbor.  The absolution takes care of the sins against God.  The Peace reconciles us with our neighbor.

     The saying about divorce is also likely to make a number of us uncomfortable.  We live in very different circumstances that Jesus did.  His prohibition of divorce was meant to be a protection for women; divorced women had little standing in his world.  One of the rabbis who debated divorce allowed a man to divorce his wife for burning his dinner.  But Jesus takes things even a step further in the saying about adultery.

     In the ancient world only a married woman could commit adultery.  If she had sex with anyone other than her husband, she invaded his rights to know her children were his.  And the man involved was committing adultery against the husband.  But Jesus says, anyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her.  Poor Jimmy Carter – he never lived that down.  But notice what happens here; it is the man who commits adultery, without the involvement of the woman!

     Again, Jesus turns the focus back onto life lived in community.  Adultery, as he found it, was reasonably enforceable.  It involved the violation of the husband’s property rights.  But Jesus refocuses the rule onto how we treat one another.  No one is to be treated as an object.  Everyone, even women, count in this new society.

     That is perhaps what the writer of Deuteronomy meant by saying that God was setting before us life and death, blessings and curses.  We tend to see the law as a code of things we shouldn’t do, with consequences for doing them.  Murder brings punishment.  But the intent of the law was to establish a livable society.  Since we can’t legislate what people think, we set consequences for bad acts.

     But if what holds a society together is only the fear of consequences of bad acts, society will fall apart.  There has to be some value in living together.  God’s commandments aren’t just “thou shalt not.”  We misunderstand the law if we make it into that.  So, Jesus radicalizes the law, and turns it into something that none of us can live.  No one can live without being angry.  None of us can live without, sometime or other, thinking of others and a means to our ends, as objects for our use.  No society has ever existed without divorce.

     That’s not the point.  The point is to show us that we cannot, on our own, create a livable society.  That requires grace, and grace is not something we can demand.  It can only be freely given and received.  I think that’s what is happening to our social fabric right now.  Many of us are coming to believe that the things society gives us are ours by right.

     In my ethics classes, I used to ask the students what a right is.  The Declaration of Independence says that God has endowed us with certain inalienable rights:  life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  What does that mean.  The only possible definition of a right is an enforceable claim we can make against others.  That’s why American case law is based almost exclusively on suing one another.  That’s our way of determining what is an enforceable claim.

     But what an awful way to live – to be going to law suit against one another all the time.  Jesus radicalizes the law to show that none of us can live without grace.  The things community gives us are not ours by right, but by grace.  Think of the huge shift this would make in our way of thinking.  It would make us grateful for everything we have, and make us want it for others.

     Every time I come back from Africa, I am grateful beyond measure for running, drinkable water.  It astonishes me that I can turn on the tap, fill a glass, and drink it.  What grace.  Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could do that?  Shouldn’t we want that, rather than allowing companies to have water for free, so they can put it in plastic bottles and sell it back to us?  Thinking about the law as restrictions on behavior makes us think, “What can I get away with?”  Thinking about grace makes us think, “What can I do for others?”  That seems to me the much happier way to live.

Third Sunday in Lent March 24, 2019

I didn’t preach on the shootings in New Zealand last week, so I was going to say something about it this week as it seems to fit with our Gospel lesson.  Haven’t we all been trying to make sense of that tragedy, trying to discern the reasons why it happened?  Just as the people around Jesus in Luke’s Gospel were discussing the folks whose blood was mingled with their sacrifices by Pilate’s actions.  We’re all trying to figure out why tragedies happen.  Perhaps you also heard about the Senator in New Zealand who got egged for suggesting that the fault lay with the people who were killed.  “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” said Fraser Anning.

It is a human thing to try and understand why bad things happen – to try to bring some order to a chaotic world or to help us feel safe.  We want to know cause and effect so that we can avoid the bad or somehow prevent it from happening to us.  There are all sorts of rules we give our children and loved ones to keep them safe.  Don’t cross the street without an adult.  Look both ways before you step out.  Don’t go for a run after dark.  Don’t drive through that neighborhood.  Don’t travel to that place.  We hope to discover the secret sauce that will protect us.  If we just do ‘x’, ‘y’ will never happen to us.

It is also a human thing to blame the victim for the evil that has happened to them.  If it’s the victim’s fault that the tragedy happened, then we’re probably safe.  If it’s the victim’s fault, then that lets us off the hook for not helping or not preventing or not stopping the bad actors.  She shouldn’t have been drinking…  the Muslim ‘fanatics’ should have been prevented from migrating to our country…  he was never going to amount to much anyway…  OR in the 1st century mindset:  they were terrible sinners and so God punished them.

Blaming the victims might make us feel better, but it falls short of how we ought to live as followers of Jesus. 

Life is full of difficulty – no one is immune.  To be human, to be born into this world, means that some things will go wonderfully well and some things will be awful.  Our world is full of illness, natural disasters, broken bodies, broken promises, mistakes and missteps, evil intentions and evil deeds.  And our world is full of life and love, full of incredible beauty, promises kept, honor and courageous actions, kindnesses and honesty.

As much as we would like to believe that only good things happen to good people, that only good things ought to happen to us, the truth is that difficulty is as much a part of our daily existence as all the goodness we experience.  Bad things happen.  Bad things happen to us, too.

Our lessons for today have some suggestions on how we ought to think about the trouble in the world.  First, let’s notice that Moses is called to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt because GOD SEES what has happened to them.  “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt,” God says to Moses. 

God sees what’s going on.  God knows the pain and struggle.  God knows the evil that has been done.  And God is calling us to join in doing something about it.

The people around Jesus were discussing the tragedies of their day – Galileans murdered while making their sacrifices in the Temple and eighteen people killed when part of the tower of Siloam fell down on them.  Jesus challenges them not to think that the people who died were somehow deserving of what happened.  They weren’t any more or less evil than his listeners.  Jesus tells them that they need to repent, they need to be ready, because the same fate awaits them. Don’t blame the victims for Pilate’s actions or the bad architecture of the tower. 

The second thing we can notice is that blaming the victims for the evil that befalls them reveals our lack of compassion.  What if, instead of blaming the vicitms, we saw ourselves in the lives of those who suffer.  What if we allowed ourselves to imagine how it feels to be them?  And what if we reached out in compassion and love?  An example of this also comes from New Zealand this week.  We saw pictures of the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in a hijab, mourning with the members of the mosques that were attacked.  There were pictures of New Zealanders who, on Friday, joined hands and stood outside mosques around the country to ensure that their friends and neighbors would feel safe at prayer. 

God sees what happens and has compassion.  We see what happens and we have compassion.  It’s another way of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Finally, that parable about the fig tree…  What does it mean when the evil befalls us?  Does it mean that God is angry with us?  Does it mean that we’ve done something wrong?  Was the tree bad because it wasn’t producing? 

Sometimes we do reap what we’ve sown.  If we’ve been less than kind, if we lie or cheat or steal, if we do not act with compassion when we see folks in trouble, then, yes, we may very well suffer for our own bad acts.

But I don’t think that’s what the parable is about.  Jesus has just said that God wasn’t punishing the Galileans who died because they were notorious sinners.  Jesus is less concerned about finding the cause of our calamities and much more concerned about growing our love and compassion for each other.  The tree isn’t bearing fruit.  The tree needs some tending to encourage growth – pruning and fertilizing.  That’s not punishment – that’s caring and loving.

When evil befalls us, when bad things happen, we have to decide how we will handle it.  We have to decide whether we will get stuck in that place and stop growing OR whether we will let the Spirit tend our hearts, prune out what we don’t need, feed our souls, so that we can begin to grow again.  Our compassion and love will allow us to empathize with those going through difficult times as well – we remember how it feels so we stand with others who suffer.

Bad stuff happens. God sees what’s going on.  God has compassion and calls us to have compassion as well.  Bad stuff happens to us. God sees and has compassion for us.  The bad stuff can prepare us for ministry and help form us into a people of love and compassion.  May we have soft hearts to respond to God’s call with ‘yes’ and become the loving and compassionate people God created us to be.  Amen.

Posted on March 28, 2019 By Kristen

Lent 2 March 17, 2019

During this season of Lent, as we examine our lives, we may find ourselves in places we’d rather not be.  Where do we find hope? 

This time of year always reminds me of our family trip to the Gulf Coast in 2007.   It was at the beginning of Lent that we spent the week in Biloxi, MS, and I worked with Camp Coast Cares, an Episcopal – Lutheran Katrina relief agency for three days.  We saw first hand the destruction of that hurricane and how much remained to be done a year and a half after.  On Friday of that week, we drove over to New Orleans.  There, neighborhood after neighborhood stood abandoned.  Nothing appeared to be happening, no cleanup even begun.

Where do we find hope?  How do we make sense of the mess that natural disasters or our life situations give us?  What can we learn from today’s lessons about God and our journey through Lent?

Abraham, or Abram as he’s still known in our reading from Genesis, has already picked up and moved away from his hometown, family and friends in Ur of Chaldea.  He’s followed God into a new place where God promised to give him land and a family as numerous as the stars in the heavens.  Abraham obeyed, followed God.  But Abraham remains childless in our reading.  And every day he and his wife Sara get older and less likely to have children.  When God appears and makes the promise of children once again we can understand Abraham’s doubt.  Abraham makes his complaint to God and God makes a covenant with him in the style of the times.

There are a couple of things to notice in this reading.  Abraham is not afraid of making his complaint to God.  He isn’t afraid of appearing doubtful.  We don’t have to worry about doubt either.  God knew Abraham, knew the promises that had been made, knew that the promises had yet to be fulfilled.  God wasn’t surprised by Abraham’s complaint.  What I like in this passage is that when God gives Abraham reassurance of the promise of children, Abraham’s doubts are relieved, Abraham believes, and God ‘reckons’ Abraham’s belief as righteousness.  God knows we need reassurances at times.  God knows that what we see in front of us is not always what we hope for.  God doesn’t think badly of us when we doubt – God reassures. 

I am sure that there were difficult times in this parish’s past.  You found yourselves in a place you had not wanted and weren’t sure you would move on from.  You were like Abram – following God into a new land and then not seeing the promises you thought God would fulfill.  There may have been doubt, and anger, and confusion.  But you were faithful and you continued to follow.  Every parish in our diocese, indeed, every parish and church has gone through moments when it seemed all was lost.  Every parish has gone through transitions they did not want to go through.  We can make our complaints to God.  God will hear us and reassure us, just as God did with Abraham.  And in time, God’s promises were fulfilled.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus shrugs off Herod’s threat.  I’ll be here today, and tomorrow and the next day, if he wants to come get me.  But he won’t.  I’m going to keep on working until it’s time to go to Jerusalem, Jesus says.

Again, there are a couple of things to notice in this reading.  Jesus isn’t concerned about Herod coming to get him, to stop his work.  He’s not going to worry about tomorrow’s evil today.  He’s just going to keep on working today and tomorrow and the work will be finished when He gets done with it.  A lesson we ought to carry with us as well.  We don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  God will take care of it, whatever it is.  In the meantime, our task is to keep on doing the work we’ve been given to do.  This is how a parish moves through difficult times – you just keep doing what you know you are supposed to do – keep giving, keep praying, keep figuring things out, planning for the future. 

These important points help us find hope, no matter what our present circumstance – voicing our complaints and fears, trusting that God will take care of our concerns, and keeping on keeping on. 

When we doubt – the One we turn to is the One who can reassure.  Doubting God isn’t the problem – doubting God and not going to God with our doubts is.  When we go to God with our problems, concerns, doubts, whatever, we give our relationship with God a chance to deepen.  When we turn to God, we are given the chance to see our situation the way God sees it – and that usually includes taking a long view of things.  God sees not only our present circumstance, but God will remind us of what has been and encourage us in what will be.

It takes all three views to move into the future – an understanding of where we are now, a remembrance of the past and a vision for the future.  This was brought home to me working in the gulf.  On Tuesday of our work week, I took a drive around Pass Christian with a group that included a woman who had owned a home in the community.  Where we saw empty lots and shells of houses, she saw and described to us what had been – antebellum homes, restaurants and shopping centers, churches.  Where her heart broke for what was, and some of us were discouraged by the current devastation, those with vision, those who were builders, imagined a future that would embrace and build on what was and what remained salvageable.

Abraham believes in God’s long view and God counts that as righteousness.  God will make things happen that fulfill the promises God has made.  Abraham is required to believe and, like Jesus in the gospel, to keep on doing what he knows he’s called to do.  Jesus also trusted God’s long view.  Jesus knew he had work to do and that God would take care of the future just as God had been with him in the past.

During this season of Lent, as we examine our lives, we may find ourselves in places we’d rather not be.  Where do we find hope?  How do we make sense of the messes in our lives?  By remembering Abraham and Jesus.  By turning to God with our doubts and broken promises and taking a look at God’s long view.  God knows us, knows our past, has a vision for our future – knows what we have been and who we were created to become.  By going to God with our doubts and hurts and fears, God is able to strengthen and reassure us.  And then by just keeping on keeping on, we follow in Jesus’ faithful steps.  God will take care of the future, with whatever good or evil is to come.  Ultimately, we are safe in God’s kingdom.  In the meantime, we’re called to do the work we’ve been given to do, trusting that God will bring it all to right.  May we all be faithful.  Amen.

Posted on March 25, 2019 By Kristen