Archive | June 2016

No matter what, we are loved

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him–that she is a sinner.”

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:36-39, 44-48)

Jesus is asked to have a meal with a Pharisee – and he accepts. We know from other stories in the Bible that the Pharisees considered themselves paragons of virtue, most holy men who were very unhappy with things that they were hearing about Jesus. We could wonder if the Pharisee invited Jesus to try to ‘get the goods’ on him. It would not be the first or last time they tried to trap Jesus.

Probably knowing this, Jesus accepted the invitation and expected to be welcomed as a guest. In this time, it was usual that when a guest came to a home, the host had a servant wash the guest’s feet and anoint them with oil. This served two purposes: everyone walked everywhere on dusty road and it was hot and feet could get pretty smelly. By washing the feet and applying oil, the feet were clean, didn’t smell, making the banquet room a little more pleasant. And according to Jewish law, it was an honor accorded guests.

But as the scripture says, Simon the Pharisee did not give Jesus the honor greeting him with a kiss, and washing and putting ointment on his feet. He treated him like a servant, or at least a lesser, unworthy person.

It was also a custom of the day that there were no closed doors on houses; when someone walked by, they could see who was in the house. And it was acceptable to come in to see what was going on. So this woman, who had obviously not only heard of Jesus, but also knew him as a prophet, entered the house.

We heard that she cried on Jesus’ feet, wiped them off with her own hair, kissed them and poured expensive perfume on them. Then she continued to kiss his feet and soothe them with ointment.

Simon did not react well to it at all. In fact, he used it as proof that Jesus was not who people said he was: a prophet. He said to himself,

“If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)

Now, we don’t know who the woman was, what her sin was, or if she was a prostitute, which is implied. All we know is she came from the street to care for Jesus. In reality, compared to Jesus, even Simon the Pharisee was a sinner, although he would never admit it.

Jesus reminded Simon that the ‘sinful’ woman showed Him much more love and honor than Simon had. He declared that her sins were forgiven and sent her off, saying

     “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:50)

You see, the woman may have been sinful, but she was still seeking Jesus. She probably wasn’t a faithful Jew; she probably didn’t attend synagogue weekly. But she loved Jesus more than the righteous Simon. Her prior actions were sinful but her heart was loving, and Jesus saw into her heart. The sinful one was more in touch with Jesus than the righteous Pharisee.

The woman doted on Jesus. She didn’t care that there were others there who looked down on her. She cared only about what Jesus thought about her. She didn’t care how many hypocrites were around – her worship was focused on Jesus.

So what does this story tell us;

what does it mean for us?

First of all, we are not to judge another person by their actions or reputation. Simon may have acted holy, but in reality, he was not living according to the teachings of Jesus. He judged everyone according to his yardstick and found everyone else lacking.

This story is really about the sinful woman and the love that she showed Jesus. It didn’t matter how good the woman was, compared to anyone else. All that mattered is that she loved Jesus. She realized how little she deserved to be with Jesus, and she was just grateful for what she had. She loved much because she was forgiven much.

Just like the Pharisee looked down on the woman, we have all been in situations where someone tried to make us feel unworthy, or lower than themselves. But we know that we are all beloved of God and Jesus, no matter what. Jesus accepts us and forgives us, warts and all.

We don’t have to be perfect worship Jesus. As Jesus said, when we are aware of our own shortcomings, when we acknowledge the holiness of Jesus, when we know we can’t earn forgiveness, we know God loves and cares for us anyway. We will receive from God much more than we can ever give. And that includes eternal life!

We need to be thankful for God’s love – and love Him back.

So I say, love Jesus.

Honor Him in your hearts.

Try to follow his teachings.

Remember all that you’ve been forgiven of.

Don’t forget all His goodness to you.

Because, just like the woman, we are promised eternal life through the forgiveness of God and the love of Jesus.

Amen.
 
 
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; June 12, 2016

Be a guard dog, NOT an ostrich!

bestguarddogbreeds2Whether we like it or not, today’s reality is that the United States is seeing an ever growing number of rampant cases of shooting and mass murders; it has become so common-place and occurs somewhere several times a month. And no one seems to be overly concerned about these events.

In fact, Columbus and Ohio have not been immune to these mass killings; the Chardon High School shooting which occurred last year near Cleveland, resulted in three deaths and three injured, (one permanently paralyzed). And just within the past few months, the Nazarene Restaurant here in Columbus was attacked by a man wielding a machete, injuring four people. Our willingness and ability to do anything about this as a nation seems paralyzing. However, we can, as individuals, learn how to respond and help ourselves and our neighbors, should we find ourselves in such a situation.

The perpetrators of these mass attacks were not terrorists, or readily identifiable as ‘the bad guys’ – they looked just like everyone else when they entered the buildings to commit mass murder. The FBI and local law enforcement have labelled these people as ‘active shooters’ (since most of the incidents are done with firearms). An active shooter is someone who enters a building with the deliberate intention to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. They look for places where large numbers are present: shopping malls, movie theaters, concerts, restaurants, schools, and unfortunately, churches. Most of the perpetrators were seeking their ‘fifteen minutes of fame’, wanting to go down in history as the worst mass execution.

These assailants are single-minded – they are there for one purpose, so talking to them will do no good and ultimately end up in more deaths. Statistics show that for every 30 seconds people stay in an assault situation, up to ten people can die. Don’t try to reason with them – more people could die, including yourself – MOVE!

This is a frightening subject and one we think will never happen to us, but we must be cognizant that active shooters are intent on committing mass murder. We cannot put our heads in the sand! We need to know what to do if we happen to be in a place where this starts.

Recently the Early Education Center had members of the Active Shooters Training Task Force come to Saint John’s. They spent four hours instructing the teachers and several members of the staff on precautions and actions to take in case of entry of an active shooter.

There are some things that we can and should do in the case we are in an active shooter situation.

  1. The most important things is to get out! There are always alternate exits from rooms; it may mean you go through the kitchen in a restaurant or go down a stairway, but you must get out so you are not a target.
  2. DO NOT hide under a table or chair or pews. These pieces of furniture do not stop bullets. And they leave you extremely vulnerable because you cannot move to get away; you offer the shooter the opportunity to ‘shoot fish in a barrel’.
  3. You need to calm yourself with a simple breathing exercise. This is used by police and SWAT Teams before they enter any building. It is simple:

    1. Take a deep breath and hold it for four seconds.
    2. Let the breath out and do not breathe for one second.
    3. Take another breath and hold for four seconds.
    4. Let the breath out and do not breathe for one second.

This little exercise calms the nervousness as well as prevents hyperventilating. Now you can think calmly and plan appropriately.

  1. It may seem unbelievable, but active shooters are generally hyped up and not very good shooters. One of the best things you can do is distract the shooter by waving your arms or yelling. Create a distraction that takes their mind off shooting people.

And most of all, get out of the situation! Even police admit that moving targets are extremely hard to shoot. If you are weaving as you run away, there is a significant chance that, not only will you get out of the area of danger, but also that you will escape injury.

These are unpleasant things to think about, but having a plan may very well save the lives of yourself and others. You don’t have to be a 500-pound gorilla to make a difference. In an active shooter situation at an Oklahoma school board meeting, an elderly lady clobbered the assailant in the gun arm with her purse and ultimately saved the lives of all the people in the room.

The Franklin County Sheriff, Columbus, Hilliard and Westerville Police have formed an Active Shooter Task Force, designed to educate members of the Central Ohio communities in response to active shooter situations through their Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) program. They provide three services: introduction to active shooter response, evaluation of facilities to optimize safety in case of an active shooter, and a higher level hands-on training on casualty prevention and first aid/triage for injuries from active shooter incidents. They are more than happy to come present some or all of these trainings to any group.

It is important that every member of Saint John’s know what to do if caught in an active shooter incident at church or elsewhere.

So let’s not be like ostriches with our heads in the sand, pretending that ‘it doesn’t happen here’. It can and has happened here and there is a strong possibility that it could happen again.

Be a guard dog, ready to protect those around you. Be informed, be aware, be proactive, and know what to do if the unthinkable happens.

Contact the Franklin County Sheriff’s office (614 525-3333) or Deputy Tony Casper (trcasper@franklincountyohio.gov) to participate in one of the training sessions. More information about the program can be found on the website http://sheriff.franklincountyohio.gov/programs/civilian-response-to-active-shooter-events.cfm.

 

Note: in light of the mass murder in the bar in Orlando, I am reposting an article I wrote for The Crossroads, the newsletter for Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH

Death Does NOT Win

Luke 7:11-17

The scriptures we heard today tell sad and remarkably similar stories – of a widow losing her son to death; and of the prophet Elijah, and later, Jesus restoring these two sons back to life.

To Biblical scholars, this is seen as one of many attempts to depict Jesus as a fulfillment of ancient scriptural prophecies – as the ‘new Elijah’ or the Messiah, foretold in the ancient Torah.

For New Testament scholars, the raising of the son of the widow of Nain takes its place with the two other stories of Jesus restoring life to those taken by death. In Matthew 9:18-26, Jesus returned Jairus’ daughter to the living. A president of the local Galilean synagogue, Jairus probably felt threatened by teachings and works of Jesus, but nevertheless, faced by Jesus’ powerful presence, asked his daughter be restored to life. Jesus felt compassion for this father and immediately went to his house and restored the life of the little girl. In an even more famous story told in John 11:1-44, Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha and Jesus beloved friend, was raised from the dead by Jesus before a large and awestruck crowd.

There are many levels upon which we can learn from these stories: theologically, culturally, and individually. One could expound for hours on their implications – indeed, countless books have been written that do so– but, today, let me examine a few.

The woman of Nain is referred to as a ‘widow’. Not only was this poor woman mourning the death of her only son, but she now was all alone in a society that did not have provisions for the care of widows. There was no one left to care for her in her old age; no welfare or assistance available for widows like her. It was up to a woman’s children, especially her sons, to see that she was cared for. But, she has no one left! She is all alone, helpless and caught in a desperate situation. She has nothing to look forward to except poverty and despair. She is at the mercy of others people’s kindness. She has nowhere to go and nowhere to turn. She finds herself trapped in a helpless condition. Widows were the lowliest of the lowly.

widow of nainAs Jesus looked upon this woman, He saw that all her hope was gone, a woman who not only was having to grieve without family at the death of her son, but also being judged by her own society and people. Jesus told her not to weep because He was about to turn her tears into celebration at the return of her son.

In each of these stories, Jesus speaks to the person – He speaks and life emerges where there was death. This is just one of the examples of His works and teachings that turned the world upside down, countering everything that man thought they knew and believed; that, in fact, the least can be the greatest, the lowliest are indeed powerful, the sick and suffering can find wellness and healing, the poor and outcast can find hope and acceptance.

Conversely, Jesus taught us that many of the things for which we strive: power, wealth, possessions, knowledge, titles and accolades are fleeting, finite, and mutable.

These stories also teach us that Jesus and His ‘way’, the thinking and life values that He taught and represented, also turn the world upside down. That our deep and paralyzing fear of death, drives us to hurtful behaviors that generate greed, arrogance, vengeance, pride, envy and judgment.

Yes, in reality and on a daily basis, we are afraid. Motivated by our fear of death, we strive to make our mark on our earthly life, because we fear ‘that this is all there is’. We fear one of the harsh truths of life:

death is still death.

One day, you will die.

YOU will die. I will die.

Our friends and our family, our neighbors – everybody you know will die.

They are all going to die. Sooner or later.

It doesn’t matter how clever we are,

It doesn’t matter how wealthy we are,

It doesn’t matter how many important people we know… everybody dies.

Death is a painful reality of life.

But Jesus assures us

“For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40)

He also lovingly scolds us:

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2)

These are the promise God gives every human being, and God proved that promise in the life, death and resurrection of his Son, our brother, Jesus Christ.

Paul reminds us

“don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-5)

This is the life-transforming and world-changing message of these biblical stories we have heard today, and of the life of Jesus. That in following in His way, His values, and living by His examples, we will grow to understand and truly believe, to the core of our being, that

DEATH IS NOT THE END!

That Jesus is indeed, ‘God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God’;

  • if we follow His way, embrace the values of love, inclusion, forgiveness, and service that He taught;
  • if we live our lives on earth with humility, compassion, mercy and hope,

we will gain the reassuring understanding that death is only a door to new life.

Because He lived as we have lived,

and died as we must,

that we shall live again as He does.

Whether the end of our lives is by crucifixion, torture, war, cancer, body-crippling diseases, accidents, or old age

DEATH IS NOT THE END!

This is the life-giving hope, this is why we can be joyful and fear no more.

We are free.

This is the good news that we must tell to everyone.

Alleluia!

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Worthington Episcopal Church, Worthington, OH; 5 June 2016