Archive | January 2016

A Stranger in Our Own Home

    Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:21-30)

You just heard that Jesus went home to Nazareth to visit the family. By then, he was well-known as a teacher and rabbi and healer. You would have thought that there would be a parade or a celebration that the hometown boy was back. But, that was not the case.

Jesus was speaking at the synagogue in Nazareth. He had just announced

    “This day this Scripture passage is fulfilled even as you listen”. (Luke 4:21)

The people were excited, they had waited a long time for a savior and were ready to greet the Messiah! But the excitement wouldn’t last. Jesus is too familiar. We heard:

    “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

Remember, Joseph was the local carpenter – not a rabbi, not someone important, not a rich man. He was just. like. them. The green eyes of jealousy or envy struck them – why didn’t Jesus come from them?

And then Jesus challenged their understanding of the Jewish law with a few examples of God’s generosity to outsiders.

How dare He!

Jesus had spent his adult life making people feel uncomfortable and question their understanding of how people should treat others. The Jewish laws were very specific about what was clean and unclean, who were to be acknowledged and who was to be avoided at all costs (think of the lepers and the Samaritans). And Jesus taught and showed by his actions that the lepers and the Samaritans and all those ‘unclean’ people were accepted and loved by God.

The people were outraged! How could the Messiah come to save EVERYONE? After all, they were God’s chosen people. . . only they had been chosen and promised to be saved in the Old Testament.

Now here was this upstart, saying that everyone would be saved. . . that He was the savior, the Messiah!

How could He!!!

I don’t often add anything personal to my homilies, but I am for this one. As a child, my mother let everyone in the world know that I was the ‘perfect’ child – I never caused any trouble, obeyed my elders and those in change, and did everything I was supposed to. She would point out to my aunts and uncles the shortcomings of their children and how they should be more like me. She even did it in the grocery store to parents of small children! You can imagine how popular I was with my younger siblings!

But, when I went away to college, got a good job paying more than my father had ever made, the tables were turned.

I thought my parents would be proud of me – I was the first one on both sides of the family to go to college, and I had a good job. I hadn’t been married four times. But, I was not going to come home, get married, raise a family and take care of my mother. I had lived in other states for about 10 years, making my reputation in the business world. So when I came back to Ohio, I thought they would be happy for my success – was I wrong! At one point, they came to where I worked and accosted me in the lobby, saying that I would ‘never amount to anything’, and if that was what I was getting paid, I was lying! And maybe they should talk to my boss and let her know what a horrible person I was.

To this day, they still are not happy for my success. Eleven years ago I left the corporate world for my true calling and am now an ordained Vocational Deacon in the Episcopal Church – I don’t even know if they know or would care.

Like my parents, the people of Nazareth were also unkind to Jesus. They almost tarred and feathered him and ran Him out of town. The scripture says

    they led Him to the top of a hill and were going to throw Him over. (Luke 4:30)

But Jesus knew who he was and what His mission was, so continued on His way. . . to be condemned, crucified and resurrected.

All for us!

So even if we are not welcome in our own town, like Jesus, we need to continue on our path and God will help us accomplish it.

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, often we feel that we are unwelcome and unwanted by those who are our friends and family. Please remind us, like Jesus, we have our own paths to follow. Let us be strong enough to fulfill our destiny and remember that you are there beside us all the way.

Amen
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 31 January 2016

Save Me From This

    Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die (John 12:28-33)

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week for most of the Christian world. It is a time that we remember the suffering and death of Jesus that leads to his resurrection on Easter morning.

I would like to tell you a story.(1)

    The time was the roaring twenties. The place was Oklahoma. John Griffith was in his early twenties – newly married, and full of optimism. Along with his lovely wife, he had been blessed with a beautiful blue eyed baby.

    John wanted to be a traveler; he wanted to visit faraway places with strange sounding names. He would read about them and research them. But then came 1929 and the great stock market crash, and with it all his dreams. Brokenhearted, he, like so many others, packed up his few possessions and with his wife and little son, Greg, headed east in an old Model-A Ford. They made their way toward Missouri, to the edge of the Mississippi River, and there John found a job operating one of the great railroad bridges that spanned the massive river.

    Day after day John would sit in a control room and operate the enormous gears of that immense bridge over the river as bulky barges and splendid ships glided gracefully under his elevated bridge. Then, he would lower the massive structure so great trains could roar by. Each day he looked on sadly as they carried with them his shattered dreams and his visions of far-off places and exotic destinations.

    In 1937, His young son was now eight years old, and John had begun to dream that Greg would someday work with him and share his dreams. Excitedly father and son packed their lunches and, arm in arm, headed off toward the immense bridge.

    Greg looked on with wide-eyed amazement as his dad pressed down the huge lever that raised and lowered the vast bridge. He thought his father must surely be the greatest man alive. He marveled that his father could single-handedly control the movements of such a giant structure.

    When noontime had arrived, John elevated the bridge and, taking his son by the hand, they headed off for lunch. They inched their way down a narrow catwalk and out onto an observation deck about 50 feet over the water. As they ate, John told his son, stories about passing ships.

    Suddenly John and his son were startled back to reality by the shrieking whistle of a distant train. Looking at his watch in disbelief, John saw that the bridge was still raised and that the Memphis Express would be by in just minutes.

    Not wanting to alarm his son, he instructed his son to stay put. Leaping to his feet he jumped onto the catwalk and ran to the control house. Once in, he searched the river to make sure that no ships were in sight and then looked straight down to make certain nothing was below. But, below him in the massive gearbox was his beloved son.

    Greg had tried to follow his Dad but had fallen off the catwalk and was wedged between the teeth of the gears. His son’s leg had already begun to bleed. Immediately, John knew that lowering the bridge meant killing the apple of his eye.

    Panicked, he frantically searched for solutions. Suddenly a plan emerged. In his mind’s eye he saw himself grabbing a coiled rope, climbing down the ladder, running down the catwalk, securing the rope, sliding down toward his son and pulling him back up to safety. Then in an instant he would move back to the control room and grab the control lever and thrust it down just in time for the oncoming train.

    As soon as these thoughts appeared, he realized there just wouldn’t be enough time. He vainly searched for another solution. What would he do? What could he do?

    His agonized mind considered the 400 or so people in the train moving closer toward the bridge. Soon the train would come roaring out of the trees with tremendous speed. But this – this was his son – his only child – his pride – his joy.

    His mother – he could see her tear stained face now. This was their child, their beloved son.

    He knew in a moment there was only one thing he could do. He knew he would have to do it. And so, burying his face under his left arm, he plunged down the lever. The cries of his son were quickly drowned out by the relentless sound of the bridge as it ground into position. With only seconds to spare, the Memphis Express – with its 400 passengers – roared out of the trees and across the mighty bridge.

    John Griffith lifted his tear stained face and looked into the windows of the passing train. A businessman was reading the morning paper. A uniformed conductor was glancing nonchalantly at his large vest pocket watch. Ladies were already sipping their afternoon tea in the dining car. A small boy, looking strangely like his own son, pushed a long thin spoon into a dish of ice-cream. Many of the passengers seemed to be engaged in either idle conversation or careless laughter.

    But no one looked his way. No one even cast a glance at the giant gearbox that housed the mangled remains of his hopes and dreams.

    In anguish he pounded the glass in the control room and cried out, “What’s the matter with you people? Don’t you care? Don’t you know I’ve sacrificed my son for you? Want’s wrong with you?”

    No one answered; no one heard. No one even looked. Not one of them seemed to care. And then, as suddenly as it had happened, it was over. The train disappeared, moving rapidly across the bridge and out over the horizon.

This story is but a faint glimpse of what God the Father did for us – of what Jesus did for us in offering for us his own life for us.

Unlike the Memphis Express, that caught John Griffith by surprise, God – in his great love for us – determined to sacrifice His Son so that we might live.

It is difficult to comprehend the will of God, difficult to grasp just what He has done.

But we know this

    and we are called to accept this
    and to embrace this
    that it was done for us
    so that we might live.

Let us pray:

Dear God and Loving Father who gave his only Son that we might live, please accept our humble prayers of thanksgiving for the ultimate sacrifice you made. Let us remember that love and try to live in this world as an example of your love to our world.

Amen
 
 
(1) Hank Hanegraaff, Christianity in Crisis
 
Prepared for In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH

The Final Enemy, DEATH, Is No More!

If life has a way of killing dreams, Christ’s resurrection has a way of bringing them back to life.

Life has a way of killing dreams, doesn’t it? You set out with high hopes—for your schooling, your career, your family, and your golden years. You have plans, aspirations, and expectations. But things don’t always turn out the way you expected. Plans fall through. People let you down. You let yourself down. Suddenly the life you’re living isn’t the life you dreamed of at all; or you find yourself in a place you never expected to be.

But we can have hope.

Hope.

What is hope, anyway? Wishful thinking? Naïve optimism? “Hope it don’t rain,” we say. “ “Hope the sermon doesn’t go too long.” (That is wishful thinking!) Emily Dickinson tells us it’s “the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul”.

The dictionary tells us that hope is “a desire with the expectation of fulfillment.” So hope begins with a desire for something good, but then adds the element of expectation, of confidence. Without expectation, it’s just a wish. And wishes tend not to come true. When we hope for something, we’re counting on it.

But hope is more than a word – without it, we die. When a team loses hope, the game is over. When a patient loses hope, death is crouching at the door.

Viktor Frankl survived years in the Nazi concentration camps. He noticed that prisoners died just after Christmas. They were hoping they’d be free by then. When they weren’t, they gave up. He learned that as long as prisoners had something to live for, a reason to press on, they could endure just about anything. But once they lost hope, they quickly died. Dostoevsky said that “to live without hope is to cease to live.”

Bobby Knight has a different take on it. Bobby Knight, of course, is the legendary basketball coach who led the Indiana Hoosiers to three NCAA tournament finals; he was also famous for throwing chairs and chewing out officials, players, fans, and anyone in the vicinity. According to Bobby Knight, “hope” is the worst word in the English language. He says it’s foolish and lazy to tell yourself that “things are going to be all right.” They’ll only be all right if somebody steps up and does something

Hope needs a reason. Something, or someone, that can get us to a better place. Without a reason, hope is just wishful thinking.

But for us, ‘hope’ is a who; hope is not a what, or a when, or a why. Hope is a “who.” Things don’t get better just because we want them to. They get better because somebody does something. Hope is always embodied in a person. Hope is a “who.” Somebody wise enough, strong enough, good enough, to get us to a better place.

And Jesus Christ is that someone. His resurrection proves that he is stronger than any setback, any failure, any loss, any disappointment—any fears. If life has a way of killing dreams, Jesus has a way of bringing them back to life.

That’s not to say we always get what we want, or that every bad thing can magically be un-done. Life doesn’t work that way. But it is to say that God can and will do something good with our future. Hope is the confidence that God can and will do something good. Hope is the confidence that God can and will do something good — in this life, and the life to come. Wherever you find yourself in this morning, whatever pain, loss, or disappointment you may be dealing with, God can do something good with it, or in it. That doesn’t minimize the pain or loss or evil of it. It simply means the story isn’t over yet.

In this life, we can find joy, beauty, forgiveness, healing, purpose, restoration, and the reality of God’s presence in our lives every day. In the life to come, we can look forward to reunion with those we have lost, the restoration of all creation, and to eternal life with God and one another in worlds beyond our imagining.

Hope isn’t wishful thinking—it’s confident living. It’s facing the future knowing that God can and will do something good, in this life, and the life to come.

Probably, the most unnerving thing in all our lives is the fear of death – we don’t what is going to happen, It is a fear that we will go into ‘nothingness’, a big black hole. What we are now and will become will disappear like dust in the wind.

We hope that it will be like Heaven, where we meet with our friends and family who have gone before us. That we will suffer no pain, have no disabilities, have no reason for weeping and mourning.

Fear of death is a morbid, abnormal or persistent fear of one’s own death or the process of dying; a “feeling of dread, apprehension or anxiety when one thinks of the process of dying, or ceasing to ‘be’”.(1)

It’s a fear that somehow we will die before we have reached our hopes and dreams. . . that we will leave things unfinished. It can be irrational and often debilitating, keeping us from achieving our hopes and dreams.

But by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection He conquered the most fearful thing of all – DEATH.

We have been promised by Jesus:

    “And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am”. (John 14:3)

Death can no longer hold us in constant fear!

If you should find yourself in a tough place right now, have the courage to stay in that place and invite Christ to meet you there. If you know who’s dealing with pain, disappointment, or loss—share hope with them. Ask them how they’re doing. Listen to them. Be with them. Pray for them. And when the time is right, point them toward the resurrected Jesus. Because life has a way of killing dreams, but Jesus has a way of bringing them,

    and us,

back to life!

Tomb, You shall not hold Him longer,
Death is strong, but life is stronger
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right;
Faith and hope triumphant say; Christ will rise on Easter Day.

While the patient earth lies waiting
Till the morning shall be breaking
Shuddering beneath the burden dread
Of her Master, cold and dead,
Hark! she hears the angels say; Christ will rise on Easter Day.

And when sunrise smites the mountains
Pouring light from heavenly fountains
Then the earth blooms out to greet
Once again the blessed feet;
And her countless voices say; Christ has risen on Easter Day. (Phillips Brooks)

Jesus Christ is the death of Death!

Let us rejoice and be glad!

Amen
 
(1) Farley G.: Death anxiety. National Health Service UK. 2010, found in: Peters L, Cant R, Payne S, O’Connor M, McDermott F, Hood K, Morphet J, Shimoinaba K. (2013).
 
Prepared for In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Easter Sunday

The Seven Days That Changed the World

(Luke 19:28-44)

Today we begin the final week of Lent. In Jesus; at one time these seven days were called Passover, as it is still called today by the Jewish people. Christians around the world know these seven days as Holy Week, the Passion of the Christ. It is a week that starts with triumph and celebration, goes to betrayal, condemnation, and death; then climaxes on Easter Sunday with in the resurrection of Jesus – His triumph over death, and the saving of all mankind.

It is seven days that changed the world.

These seven days have been the topic of a thousands of sermons, countless debates, and numerous books and films. These seven days have inspired the greatest painters, the most skilled architects, and the most gifted musicians. To try and calculate the cultural and historical impact of these seven days is impossible. But harder still would be an attempt to account for the lives of men and women who have been transformed by the life of Jesus and the events of Holy Week. And yet these seven days, as they played out at the time in Jerusalem, were of little significance to anyone but a few people involved.

What happened on those seven days?

Let’s look at these seven days to see how they changed the world:

  1.  This Sunday, commonly known as ‘Palm Sunday, is the first of the seven days of Holy Week. As related to us in the Holy Gospels, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of ‘Hosanna’, fulfilling an old prophecy in Zechariah 9:9.
  2. Shout and cheer, Daughter Zion! Raise the roof, Daughter Jerusalem! Your king is coming! a good king who makes all things right, a humble king riding a donkey, a mere colt of a donkey.

    People were excited – the man they knew as Jesus was arriving in Jerusalem. . . coming to celebrate Passover and save them from the persecution and tyranny of the Roman rule. In The Gospel of Luke we learn they shouted:

    Blessed is he who comes, the king in God’s name! All’s well in heaven! Glory in the high places! (Luke 19:38)

    Or at least that what they hoped for and dreamed of and thought. People lined the streets and waved palm branches as He rode in on a donkey. People spread out their cloaks on the road to soften His path. It was a time of great celebration and anticipation. But little did they know what they waited for was not what they were going to get.

  1. On Monday Jesus walked into the Jerusalem Temple and found money changers and stalls of animals. This was the great temple of Jerusalem – the place of the Ark of the Covenant, the house of God. The Temple authorities had been using the Second Commandment about no graven images to cheat the people by requiring them to exchange their Roman money for Jewish shekels, thus making the Temple a place of profit rather than of prayer. In a great rage, Jesus overturned the tables and ran all the animal sellers out of the temple.
  1.  On Tuesday Jesus taught in parables, warning the people against the religious authorities who cheated the people. As we hear in the Gospel of John, Jesus also predicted the destruction of the great temple of Jerusalem, saying:
  2. Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. (John 2:19)

    This enraged the Jewish religious authorities and they started to plan for the crucifixion of this troublemaker, Jesus. They asked him all kinds of questions, trying to trick him into saying things that would indicate He was a rebel and was aiming to overthrow the Romans. But Jesus stayed quiet and gave them no justification for arrest.

  1. Wednesday, the fourth day, is also known as ‘Spy Wednesday’. This is the day that Judas, who was going to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver met with the religious leaders and made the deal to identify Jesus the following night with a kiss. The thirty pieces of silver was the going price for the purchase of a slave in that time.
  1. On Thursday, in an upper room, Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. But he gave it a new meaning. No longer would his followers remember the Exodus from Egypt in the breaking of bread. They would remember his broken body and shed blood in a meal that became known as ‘The Last Supper’ or ‘Communion’ or ‘Eucharist’.
  2. Knowing what was going to transpire, Jesus agonized in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane at what lay ahead for him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

    It was during His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane that the Jewish officials and Roman soldiers would come to the garden. Judas led the Jewish priests to the Garden of Gethsemane and identified Jesus by kissing him and addressing him as “Master.”
     
    Jesus foretold that he would not only be betrayed but denied as well by his closest friends. Peter, on whom He would found his church, indeed denied knowing Jesus three times before the cock crowed, just as Jesus had foretold. The priests and Roman soldiers took Jesus away and imprisoned Him.
     
    Thursday of Holy Week is also called ‘Maundy Thursday’. In the evening many Christians strip their altars of everything and cover all icons and statues and crosses with black cloth to symbolize the mourning of the betrayal and upcoming crucifixion of Jesus. The stripping of the altar also signifies the seizing of Jesus’ clothes and the humiliation he suffered.
     
    Trinity has a Maundy Thursday service which is very moving, held at 7 pm in the church. I would invite every to come attend the service and participate in the solemn remembrance of the imprisonment, death and resurrection of Jesus.

  1. Friday, the fifth day known as ‘Good Friday’, isn’t named ‘good’ meaning pleasant or fun but holy or pious. Jesus was abandoned by his disciples, suffered through a false trial in front of Pontius Pilate, and was condemned to death by the Jewish officials. The Bible tells ys that Pilate had been warned by a dream of his wife that Jesus was innocent of the charges made by the Jewish officials. But the crowd wanted blood and so he washed his hands, symbolically removing from him any responsibility for what was about to occur.
  2. It was the custom during Passover for the Roman officials to free one criminal. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd, riled up by the religious officials. wanted blood. So Jesus was sentenced to death on a cross, a sentence which was only given to the lowest and vilest of criminals. He was even made to carry his own cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha (“The Place of the Skull”), where he was crucified with two common thieves.

    He suffered for about three hours and then died. Since Jewish custom required burial within 24 hours, His body was removed from the cross and placed in an unused tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathaea.

    Many Christians honor these three hours with prayers and music and meditation, but there are no formal services with Communion.

    At Trinity, we observe Jesus’ walk to Golgotha and a walk around Capitol Square, with a life-size cross. This begins at 11 am from the front steps. When we complete the walk, we come into the church and meditate for three hours on the death of Jesus. You are welcome and come and go as you wish, respecting the solemnity and quiet of the vigil.

  1. On Saturday, the observance of Lent ends. Jesus lay dead in the tomb and women came and anointed his body with oils and spices, as was the Jewish custom. The disciples locked themselves in a room, afraid to come out for fear of being imprisoned or killed. No one remembers of understands that Jesus will rise from the dead the next morning. No one understood that when he said
  2. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”(John 2:19)

    He was talking about Himself and His resurrection.

    Today’s Christians often hold an Easter Vigil at the onset of Saturday evening, as a time of waiting in prayer for the resurrection of Christ. Often baptisms are conducted so that these new Christians may rise with Jesus on Sunday. The practice of communion begins again in celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

  1. On Sunday, Jesus’ ordeal was over, the stone had been rolled away. Jesus was alive. He appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter, to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and to the 11 disciples gathered in a locked room. His resurrection was proclaimed and our salvation ensured.
     
    Easter Sunday is a day of great celebration of Jesus’ resurrection and our salvation guaranteed by His death and resurrection.

Trinity holds a festival Eucharist at 9 am on Easter Sunday, with music and choir and trumpets to celebrate the wondrous resurrection of Christ. Following that service is brunch to celebrate. Please consider coming to enjoy the pageantry and celebrate in the resurrection.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 24 March 2013

Only You Can Change Your Habits

A reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

    The Lord said “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
    (Isaiah 43:18-19)

I ran across this story as I was working on this homily and want to share it with you:

    “A bazaar was held in a village in northern India.

    Everyone brought his wares to trade and sell.

    One old farmer brought in a whole covey of quail. He had tied a string around one leg of each bird. The other ends of all the strings were tied to a ring which fit loosely over a central stick. He had taught the quail to walk dolefully in a circle, around and around, like mules at a sugarcane mill. Nobody seemed interested in buying the birds until a devout Brahman came along. He believed in the Hindu idea of respect for all life, so his heart of compassion went out to those poor little creatures walking in their monotonous circles.

    “I want to buy them all,” he told the merchant, who was elated. After receiving the money, he was surprised to hear the buyer say, “Now, I want you to set them all free.”

    “What’s that, sir?”

    “You heard me. Cut the strings from their legs and turn them loose. Set them all free!”

    With a shrug, the old farmer bent down and snipped the strings off the quail. They were freed at last. What happened? The birds simply continued marching around and around in a circle. Finally, the man had to shoo them off. But even when they landed some distance away, they resumed their predictable march. Free, unfettered, released . . . yet they kept going around in circles as if still tied.

The moral of the story is:

    “Until you give yourself permission to be the unique person God made you to be . . . and to do the unpredictable things grace allows you to do . . . you will be like that covey of quail, marching around in vicious circles of fear, timidity, and boredom.” (1)

Our lives today is essentially the sum of our habits.

    • How in shape or out of shape are we? A result of our habits.
    • How happy or unhappy are we? A result of our habits.

What we repeatedly do (that is, what we spend time thinking about and doing each day) ultimately forms the person we are, the things we believe, and the personality that we portray.

We all have gotten ourselves into ruts of behavior (or habits) that we don’t even think about . . . we just do. Take a minute and think about something that you do ‘because you have always done it that way’.

Have you ever thought that you could climb out of that rut and change? It’s easy to get caught up in the desire to make massive changes in our lives. But, we all know that it is not easy to change a habit (ask anyone who has tried to stop smoking). They are so ingrained in us that we often don’t even know they are habits. And to change a habit is not easy, and can’t be changed in on fell-swoop. They have to be changed one little piece at a time.

The good news is, God says,

    “I want you to have a fresh start in life, I want you to have a new beginning, I want to do something new in your life.” (Isaiah 43:18)

Aren’t you glad that God wants to do something new in our lives? Doesn’t it make you excited to know that God desires to give us a fresh start, a new beginning in life. What all of us here need this morning is a fresh start. Last year some of us said we were going to start the new year differently, getting rid of some of our old habits. The fact is all of us have made some mistakes or we made some bad decision that hindered us from doing those things that wanted to do.

Well this morning there IS good news is according to Isaiah 43:18

    The Lord says, `Forget about what has happened before. Do not think about the past. Instead, look at the new things I’m going to do. ”

Listen to what God is saying in this verse.

    Forget about what’s happened before.(Isaiah 43:18)

He says ‘don’t think about the past. It’s over. The book’s closed on it.’

Remember, that we can all change our habits with the support of God; we are reassured:

    “I am doing a new things” (Isaiah 43:19)

And we can be part of that new thing if we just begin to get rid of our old habits. All we have to do is plan how to get rid of those bad habits, one little bit at a time. We all know that habits are so engrained that it takes work to begin to break their hold on us. We have to do it a little at a time.

Mark Twain once said:

    “A habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”

We have help getting rid of our bad habits; we can do it. We just need to remember we are not alone and that God has a plan for us. And He tells us that in Isaiah 43:19:

    “I am doing a new things”(Isaiah 43:19)

Amen
 
 
(1) Charles Swindoll, Dallas Seminary Daily Devotional, 2-7-05; http://www.preaching.com/newsletter/
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 24 January 2016

I Am the New Year (with commentary)

I am the new year. I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.

    There is a belief among the Hebrews and early Christians that each new year is a new beginning. The book of life has been closed and all past actions are sealed, never to be opened again. So as be begin this new year 2016, we have the opportunity to make a new start in our lives, forgetting those things in the past, and writing in the book of time new and wonderful things we will accomplish in 2016.

 
I am your next chance at the art of living.

    This new year will allow us to change some of the ways we lived in 2015, making better choices than we did in the past.

 
I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about life during the last twelve months.

    There are many things that we have learned in 2015 which can be a yardstick for what we do and want to accomplish in 2016. Remember those things that caused you to say “I could have done that better” and do it better.

 
All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me, waiting for you to search it out with more determination.

    Those disappointments and failures from last year are gone – this year, 2016, contains the things that we wished you had done if you just search for them. They may be deeply hidden, but there are there – you just have to hunt.

 
All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.

    Remember those things that you tried and didn’t quite make it – you have a clean slate. There are no conflicts on the blank page of your life that will stop you from accomplishing your wishes and dreams. Just keep at it.

 
All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will, all the faith that you claimed but did not have–these slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened by the touch of a strong purpose.

    With no past history, you can do what you dreamed to do but, for whatever reason did not have the courage, faith or opportunity to try. This is your chance to awaken these dreams and ‘go for it’. .

 
I am your opportunity to renew your allegiance to Him who said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

    We must remember that we are all beloved children of God, a loving God who wishes the best for us. This is a new year, fresh, just as God promised when he said:

      “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5)

Make the most of this opportunity to make 2016 the best it can be.
 
 
Written for In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 10 January 2016
 
 
 

I Am the New Year

I am the new year. I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.

I am your next chance at the art of living.

I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about life during the last twelve months.

All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me, waiting for you to search it out with more determination.

All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.

All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will, all the faith that you claimed but did not have–these slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened by the touch of a strong purpose.

I am your opportunity to renew your allegiance to Him who said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
 

How to Start the New Year Off Right

This is 2016!   A NEW YEAR. . .

a new year of possibilities or

    a new year of discontentment and the same old thing.

Today we have:

    349 days to whine or to worship.
    349 days to give or to hoard.
    349 days to encourage or to criticize.
    349 days to express hope, joy and power.

We CAN make the most of this coming year.

As you approached this year of 2016, perhaps like me you are jaded and discouraged when it comes to setting unrealistic New Year’s resolutions. You may have set yearly goals in the past but have thrown in that infamous towel at day 11 … or day 16 … or day 21.

Rarely, if ever, has a New Year’s resolution of mine survived to day 365 or day 366.

Perhaps you have resolved never to resolve again because it only makes you feel like an abysmal failure. I know that feeling so well.

We all make New Year’s resolutions with all intentions of keeping them, but then they fall by the wayside (sometimes before New Year’s Day is even over). National statistics say that just 8 percent of people keep their resolutions.

We’ve all done it: made resolutions to work out regularly, to stick to a budget, to eat better. Those are all great goals. And they can pay off if we stick to them. But the thing about strict resolutions is that when we break them, it can feel like we’ve failed, and it becomes easy to ditch them altogether.

There are lots of reasons we don’t keep these resolutions – most of them are that the resolutions were unrealistic to begin with. We can’t make major changes in our lives at once. And often our resolutions are based on do’s and don’ts – not small habits that can make a difference in our lives—even if we don’t do a good job of always sticking with them.

Here are some suggestions what will make 2016 a better year for each of us, and as a result a better year for those around us.

First of all:

1. Be Realistic

    Ambition is a good thing, but if we set the goal so high that it’s nearly impossible to reach, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. No one likes giving up chocolate or going to bed earlier every night; none of us like to deprive ourselves of things. Think of something that you like to do (such as read a book) and make a resolution to read more books. Or if you like to sing, make a resolution to join a community choir. These are realistic resolutions – ones that we have a possibility of completing – and ones that will make us feel good about ourselves.

2. To Complain Less and Do More

    We’re all guilty of it from time to time: We see something broken—in culture, the Church, the government, in our own personal relationships—and our first instinct is to vent about it instead of thinking of ways we can help change it. Complaining may make us feel better, but working on solutions to the problems in our world can actually fix the things that are broken.

3. To Spend Less Time Worrying

    Any time spent worrying is time wasted. It’s also counterproductive. There are things in our lives that we cannot control; worrying about them does not make any difference, except to make us feel less in control. Remember the Parable of the Lilies of the Field (Luke 12:13-40)

4. To Challenge Our Own Presuppositions More Often

    We often hear, ‘Well, you know’ followed by a statement based on someone’s personal opinion. We live in a time where politics has polarized people and some people have to prove that they are ‘right’. Let’s take this year to stop and think about what has been said and determine for ourselves what we think or feel about the situation. It is good to stand up for what you believe, but make sure that it in fact what you believe, and not something someone else told you.

5. To Spend Less Time on Your Phone

    We cannot have meaningful relationships with our friends and those we love if we are glued to our cell phones. There is NOTHING important on the phone that should keep us from having face-to-face relationships. We need to spend more time enjoying the people and places around us. You miss a lot of beauty in the world if you nose is stuck on a cellphone screen. In fact, leave your cell phone behind in a safe place for a day. Voicemail can take care of any messages and see how freeing not constantly look at the phone can be.

6. Accept Compliments With a Simple “Thank You”

    We all desperately need compliments, but when we are given a compliment, we often deny it. Or we quickly dismiss it with some trite comment. (I am especially guilt of that – compliments make me feel uncomfortable). But, what I didn’t realize and probably you didn’t either is that putting down the compliment, in a sense, say that we think the person is lying. That is definitely NOT what we want to convey when someone gives us a compliment. Start by simply saying “Thank you.” You’ll be surprised by how good it feels (and you might even begin to believe it) and how the other person feels valued when you do.

7. Let Go of Your Guilt and Shame

    Stop hanging onto and replaying your mistakes. We all make mistakes and carry guilt and shame because of them. This is a new year – bury all the mistakes and guilt and shame. It is in the past! Life only moves in one direction, and that direction is forward.

8. Be Willing to Say, ‘I Was Wrong’

    No one likes a person who constantly makes excuses. Refusing to admit you are wrong does not make you any more right. “To err is human”, and we are all human. There is power in admitting you make a mistake – and you will gain the respect of others if you are willing to admit that sometimes you get things wrong. And that gives the other person the opportunity to forgive you – “To forgive is divine” has a lot of meaning to it, not only for the person forgiving, but for those who are being forgiven. Give someone a chance to acknowledge that you are a big enough person to say when you are wrong, so that they can be a big enough person to forgive and let by-gones be by-gones.

And most of all:

9. Remember That Resolutions Are Not Legally Binding Contracts

    Making new year’s resolution is a voluntary thing; no one is holding a gun to your head if you don’t observe the resolution. Resolutions are designed to remind us that there are things in our lives that we would like to change, and want to start on that path to change. Most New Year’s resolutions don’t require us to publicly broadcast our resolutions to the world. We are not going to be sent to jail or slandered in the news if we don’t succeed.

With each new year, we have the opportunity to start fresh and make a better life for ourselves. We want to move forward, and making New Year’s resolutions that sabotage us is a good way to stop us for further growth.
 
NOTE: this was to be delivered on 3 January 2016, but because I had two Sunday funerals, it was delivered on 17 January
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 17 January 2016