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When Is Enough, Enough?

Mark 10:17-31

Our Father, we thank you for your Word and for the eternal truths that guide us day by day. We thank you most of all for the living Word, Jesus Christ, and the sureness of his presence. Teach us how to turn unto you so that your thoughts may be our thoughts, and your ways our ways. Amen.

We hear in the gospel that a rich young man asked Jesus how he could be assured that he would go to Heaven. He was a very successful young man, having been very fortunate in his business dealings, and was probably a paragon of virtue in the society. In fact, the equivalent scripture in Luke 18:18-23 tells us

“he was a man of great wealth, having an abundance of earthly possessions that exceeds normal experience, and a ruler”

He was a very observant Jew, living according to the commandments of the Torah, remarking to Jesus that

“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” (Mark 10:20)

So, one has to wonder why he wanted an assurance from Jesus that he would go to Heaven. He seemed to be sitting on top of the world. What did he feel he was missing?

Then came the shocker! Jesus lovingly told him

“You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Was Jesus really asking him to go from a very wealthy, respectable member of the community to what amounts to a beggar – bereft of all his wealth and stature. Did he have to give up everything – all those possession and ‘good’ things he had worked so hard to accumulate? Well, this was just too much for him; he went away disconsolate and dejected.

You may recall Saint Francis of Assisi did exactly that. Born the first son of a wealthy and privileged textile merchant and landowner, he was destined to inherit the business, the wealth, all the power. As a youth, he was a rowdy drunkard and wanted to become a knight, a man of war. Through several sobering experiences, including a year’s imprisonment after being captured in a war against neighboring Perugia, Francis began to change. He kept hearing the call of God telling him to “rebuild my church”. Finally, in 1203, in a dramatic confrontation with his father in the town square of Assisi, Francis took off all his fine clothing, gave them to his father, and walked away to serve the poor and win people to a new vision of the church. Clothed only in a wool tunic and sandals, he traveled by foot to villages and towns, caring for lepers, and winning followers for Christ. He chose to remain a deacon to better bring the message of God to the people. He had twelve disciple-like followers and by his death he was already considered a saint. His love of nature and animals earned him the title “God’s Fool” by many. He was the first person ever to show signs of ‘the stigmata’, and after his death in 1224, immediately was canonized!

The Franciscan Order developed from his ministry, and his burial site at the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi is one of the most inspiring places I have ever had the privilege to visit.

So, today, should we sell everything that we own and give it to the poor just to assure our place in Heaven? Perhaps we should look at this teaching in light of the culture of today. We have all accumulated things in our lives that make it comfortable for us and our families and friends. We want to assure that those within our circle have every need that they require, so that their lives will be secure and comfortable, and they can achieve those things they want in their lives. But, if we sell everything and give aid the poor, wouldn’t we be abandoning our families and friends, shirking our responsibility as parents and citizens?

So, what does Jesus mean by ‘everything’ in this scripture? We automatically think He means all of our worldly possessions in exchange for our heavenly reward. Should we become like Saint Francis? But let’s look at this in a different manner. Maybe Jesus is really saying that we should rid ourselves of those things that do not bring ‘goodness’ and positive attachments in our lives. We all have habits, behaviors that we know are not good for us; frivolous, unnecessary; let us consider that these are the ‘things’ we should rid ourselves of.

Martha Bolton and Phil Callaway, in their book It’s Always Darkest Before the Fridge Door Opens, tell about strolling through a mall one day laughing at all the things in the mall they didn’t need. They found, for instance, that they could do without:

  • A water fountain for their cat.
  • A cell phone that works underwater.
  • Alarm clocks that project the time on your ceiling in the middle of the night (when you should be sleeping) but can’t be read during the daylight (when you should be getting up).
  • Gas-powered blenders for the backyard.
  • And, perhaps most interesting of all, pants that talk. These talking pants say “Zip me!”[1]

Each of us can probably think of other things less stupid, but also unnecessary:

  • A TV in every room.
  • 3 or 4 automobiles
  • A wide array of PCs, laptops, tablets, cell phones.
  • 10 magazine subscriptions, NetFlix, HBO, Amazon Prime, Showcase and STARZ.
  • A toaster, air fryer, InstaPot, Cuisinart, hand blender and Bullet. (The latter is my personal ‘sin of commission’.)

There are many people who have basically given up all or most of their “riches” and gone to live in simplicity to serve others and follow Jesus. At once comes to mind Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Oscar Romero (who will be canonized today by Pope Francis) – and countless people who are not famous, but beloved in their cities and countries. And we admire, applaud, and are grateful for them all. Our earth is a better place because they lived.

But in reality, let’s face it – most of us are not going to do that and I don’t think Jesus really meant for us to do that. I think the story of the Rich Ruler in today’s Gospel is another teaching tool to help us learn what it truly means to follow the way of Jesus. For me, it means to be willing to put the teachings of Jesus first – to put into practice every day, putting the love, compassion and service to everyone – not just friends and family and colleagues – but everyone: all races, all economic levels, strangers, people I do not understand or think I don’t like – EVERYONE!

We must examine our priorities when considering our neighbors or church community, our civic communities and the wider world. There is poverty and injustice and violence that we can do something about. There are children without homes, people living on the streets, mentally ill citizens who have been neglected by society, elders who either have no one who cares for them or are in facilities that abuse them all around us. Hunger and want are rampant, not only in the United States, but places like Yemen where there is no food in the entire country. Climate change has created vast deserts that used to be the bread basket of African countries and many are now surviving on starvation rations or leaves and berries.

These are things that we can do something about by re-evaluating our priorities. There is a distinct difference between what we actually ‘need’ and what we ‘want’. Addressing our ‘needs’ and using our time, treasures and talents from those resources which were our ‘wants’ to contribute to the welfare of others will go a long way toward fulfilling Jesus’ admonition in this scripture.

But let me remind you of something else, the Good News is not about money: Salvation is not determined by what we’ve given up for God, but what God has given up for us. We are not saved by our tithes, but by our ties to the Man from Nazareth. That is good news, isn’t it? It’s called grace, amazing grace. We have not given all we should, but God has given enough for everyone. The disciples were startled when they heard Jesus say that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:25), and they asked,

“Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said (Probably very lovingly, because, once again they just didn’t get it), “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

In other words, salvation doesn’t depend on what we do, but on what God has done through Jesus Christ. God has accepted us as we are, and loves us as we are – and assures us a place in Heaven!

A young woman named Sharon was waiting to board a bus to New Jersey. She noticed a tall disheveled man trying to get on the same bus. He and the bus driver were arguing, because the man didn’t have the right amount of money. Finally, the man got out of line and stumbled against all the other people. Then he spied Sharon. He asked her, “Would you please give me some money so that I can get on the bus?”

What would you do in that situation? Sharon hesitated and said, “When I get on the bus I will see.” In the next 30 seconds as she walked up the steps to the bus and dropped in her $1.25 fare, she quickly thought through what she should do. She said the sort of things we say to ourselves. “Why should I help him? Why should he get a free ride? There are so many other people who have greater needs.” Sharon had noticed he was carrying some mail with a check on top. “He just needs to go cash that check. It’s probably a welfare check. He’ll just spend it on something ridiculous.”

On the other hand, Sharon reasoned, with a mind of faith: “Don’t you have any compassion? Where is your Christ-likeness? Okay, Lord,” she asked, “what should I do?” And before she knew it, she said to the bus driver, “Wait, don’t close the doors. Leave them open and let him in. I will pay for him.” The bus driver opened the doors, the man ran up the steps, looked at her and smiled and just said, “Thanks.”

God seemed to have spoken to Sharon and this is what God said, “Sharon, do you see? That’s what I did for you. No, that man didn’t deserve your $1.25. He didn’t do anything to earn it, but you gave it to him as a gift. And you did nothing to deserve my love either. I sent my Son for you. My Son died on the cross saying, “open the door, Father, let her in, I will pay for her; today she will be with me in Heaven.” And in that sobering moment Sharon realized again the grace of God in her life.

You and I are rich in many ways. Christ isn’t calling us to give up everything to follow him, only to give sacrificially. What matters most of all is not what we do for God, but what God has done for us. God has given God’s own Son to throw wide the gates of Heaven . .  . for all of us.

So, what can we do with our resources? In this time of stewardship focus at Saint John’s?

What can we do together – here – how can we combine our resources – not only financial, but time, energy and talents – to further the love and service of our Savior?

We have a beautiful and life-saving message for the world – for our friends and neighbors in Worthington and Columbus, for those in need either physically or emotionally. As an old agnostic once commented: “If I believed what you Christians believed, I would be willing to crawl through broken glass to tell the world about it”.

Together we can do so much – as a Beloved Community of people following Jesus, loving one another and serving others because Jesus opened the doors of Heaven to all of us.

Let’s all commit to give the extra dollar, go the extra mile with our time and abilities – to come together in generosity of all of our resources. So that together we can say ‘thank you’ to our God, for this amazing life we are given, say ‘thank you’ to our Savior Jesus Christ for showing us ‘the Way’, ‘the Truth’, ‘the Life’, and say ‘thank you’ by spreading that love individually and together at Saint John’s.

I leave you with some of the words attributed to Saint Francis:

O Divine Master –
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, we are assured of our place in Heaven by the grace of the death and resurrection of Jesus. But help us remember those who are less fortunate, who suffer, who are neglected by others. You have given us what seems like an impossible task with this Gospel passage. You have asked us to deny ourselves; even when our spirits are willing, the flesh is weak. You know our hearts- help us, with Your Holy Spirit, to examine our hearts and listen to your words. We desire to become more and more like You, less selfish and more selfless, willing to deny ourselves in order to follow Jesus’ teachings. This we pray. Amen.
 
[1]       Martha Bolton, Phil Callaway,  It’s Always Darkest Before the Fridge Door Opens, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006, p. 139
 
 

Delivered at Saint John ‘s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 14 October 2018

Let Us Be ‘Jesus People’

Mark 8:27-38

And His Name shall be call-ed, Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace”

The time is drawing near when we will all sing those familiar and beloved words from Handel’s Messiah, describing Jesus as a ‘mighty God’, a royal ‘Prince of Peace’ – underlined with tympany drums and trumpets, exaggerated and joyous rhythms!

We hear in the Gospel that when Jesus asked his disciples who they thought He was, Peter was the first to answer, identifying Jesus as the ‘Messiah’, the Hebrew word referring to the expected ‘Prince of the Chosen’, anointed by God to redeem his people, and foretold by the prophets of the Old Testament. The Jews, who were then under the subjugation of the Romans, looked for a ‘savior’, a ‘Messiah’ to release them from their bondage.

Peter had great hopes for Jesus’ future. If Jesus was the ‘Messiah’, Peter wanted Him to assume the role of God’s Anointed, and become the long-awaited powerful leader of the Jews. Jews believed that

  • the ‘Messiah’ would drive out the oppressive Romans through power and war;
  • the ‘Messiah’ would defeat all the enemies of the Jews;
  • the ‘Messiah would provide justice in the land;
  • and the ‘Messiah would restore the general welfare of the Jewish nation;

– meaning, in reality, the Jewish people would at last rule the earth.

Peter envisioned a great and glorious future for Jesus the ‘Messiah’.

But this wasn’t why Jesus had come. Jesus almost immediately began to teach his followers something completely different about the world, the Kingdom of God, and what His real power was. Rather than coming as a triumphant conqueror, Jesus would face great suffering; many prominent leaders of his own people (the Pharisees and Sadducees, the chief priests and scribes) would reject him. Jesus went on to shock His disciples by saying that he would be killed. Yes. Actually slain. They would see him die.

Jesus told Peter, and the rest of the disciples:

“You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)

He reminded them that divine things were not power, domination, wealth, or status, but peace, love, generosity and caring for all of God’s children. Those were stunning, stinging words, but they were words they needed to hear. And they are words that, more than ever, we need to hear. It is human nature to get so caught up in our own desires and wishes, our own agendas for ourselves and our loved ones, that we do not spend much time focusing on divine things, especially the message of God as taught by Jesus. But the truth is that it is only as we seek to know and do the path of God in all things, that we discover happiness in our lives.

Yet, if our main focus is often upon the marvelous dreams and hopes we have for our loved ones and ourselves – what can be wrong with that? An argument can well be made that we should have great hopes and visions for ourselves and our family members and friends. Surely there is nothing wrong and everything right with setting a goal to strive for.

There is only one caveat, one warning we should heed. Our goals and strivings need to be in line with the path God shows us. If they are not, in spite of whatever we might achieve, there will always be a feeling of something missing, something not quite right, in earthly status, power or wealth without inner joy.

It is quite clear that God wants us to choose carefully where we focus our minds and action. When Peter rebuked Jesus, Peter was focusing on his desire that Jesus be the militant and powerful ruler who would set things right in the world. Jesus, however, was intent on following the divine plan, the path to the Kingdom of God wherever that led. Even if the short-term future promised to be frightening and full of pain and suffering; even if a cross was in His future, Jesus taught and lived the path toward God’s Kingdom.

There is a great lesson here. When you and I make the proper choices, when we truly seek the mind of God as we travel down life’s road, we will find that we can handle whatever comes, even death itself.

However, if we decide instead to center on human things — on the temporary rather than the everlasting — we will find ourselves headed toward chaos and disappointment. Sometimes we may discover our life totally out of control and in a desperate condition. Our lives will only be truly fruitful and meaningful as we center on the path to God set out 2,000 years ago by Jesus. As we go from day to day, we would do well to develop a pattern of seeking the mind of God regarding each choice we face.

In his first sermon, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminded us:

“God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the Way. He came to show us the Way to life, the Way to love. He came to show us the Way beyond what often can be the nightmares of our own devisings and into the dream of God’s intending.

This is the Jesus Movement, and we are The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal branch of Jesus’ movement in this world.”[1]

Perhaps we would do well to follow something like the guidelines for daily Christian living developed by the Trappist Monks in the Abbey of the Genesee. They remind us:

This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving in its place something I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, not loss; good, not evil; success, not failure; in order that I shall not regret the price I paid for it.

You and I are free to live our lives as we please, if we choose. But those who are spiritually wise know that the precious gift of a free will is only truly meaningful and joyous when we surrender completely, day by day, to the One who knows best how our lives are meant to be lived.

Rather than as a powerful ruler, Jesus spent His life as one in service, of humility, of sacrifice. Jesus came to earth to serve, not to be served. His service ultimately cost Him his life. And in so loving and dying – as a humble and loving servant – He showed us the way to find salvation – and joy and meaning in our lives!

“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

That’s the question Jesus asks each one of us. He doesn’t want to know what we would like Him to be, or want Him to be … or even need Him to be. Jesus wants a relationship with us so that we can know “who” He is.

We answer that question each day of our lives with our choices and priorities.

The lyrics of a popular contemporary song, You Raise Me Up, by Brendan Graham and Rolf Lovland communicates what Christ is ready to do for us and through us:

“When I am down and, oh my soul so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Until You come and sit awhile with me.

There is no life, no life without its hunger.
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly,
But when You come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains,
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas,
I am strong when I am on Your shoulders,
You raise me up to more than I can be.”[2]

Jesus, through His Holy Spirit, is here for each of us, his suffering, death, and resurrection has assured us eternal life. We are beloved children of God, all brothers and sisters of Jesus. If we live His way, as His people, our communities, nation and planet will be a brighter, happier place – and our lives will be more full and rich than we ever dreamed possible!

Let us go forth into the world each day, being ‘Jesus People’.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
 
 
[1]      Delivered at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City, November 2, 2015
[2]      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLzshoYSulI

 
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 19 September 2018

Be Who You Are – The Body of Christ

John 6:41-58

Let us pray:

Creator of us all, we believe in you with all our hearts. We trust in your infinite goodness and mercy. Thank you for so patiently guiding us along the pathway to everlasting life. We love you and offer you all that we have and all that we do, for your glory and the salvation of souls. Lord, give us faith to believe that you are the Bread of Life. Amen.

We have heard in the Gospel readings for the last three weeks (we have one more week) that Jesus reminds us:

I am the bread of life. (John 6:48)

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. (John 6:50)

The series of John’s Gospel on the Eucharist remind us that God sent Jesus to teach us how to live, and to know that we have eternal life. We are directed to commemorate His life, crucifixion and resurrection in the celebration of the Eucharist.

The Episcopal Church regards the Eucharist as a memorial of Christ’s life and death and passion until He comes again. We believe scripture says that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was a ‘once-and-for-all’ event and Eucharist is the remembrance of His suffering and sacrifice. The bread and wine represent Christ’s Body and Blood. The miracle of the Eucharist is not in the inanimate objects of the bread and wine themselves, but in coming to the Lord’s Table in faith and humility, and sharing in that spiritual meal where we all seek to meet with God in a special way

Among many Protestant religions, what we call ‘Eucharist’ is normally referred to as ‘Communion’. Communion literally means “sharing.” It is the breaking of bread together. The word “communion” comes from King James Bible translation of the Greek word for “sharing” which Paul used in describing the taking of bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. The Latin root is com-mun’-is, participation by all. The same root is used for the words common and community; the bringing of everyone together as one body. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:17, when speaking of sharing bread as the body of Christ,

“Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.

“One bread, one body” – a belief that has fractured many communities of faith since time began. Some day we can pray that all Christians can come to the Lord’s Table as a community – share with everyone the “one bread, one body”.

I have to tell you an ‘interesting’ story. When Karen was younger, she attended another denomination in Jonesboro, Arkansas. They initially celebrated communion once a month and then once a quarter. Increasingly the rite of communion became a sort of ‘bother’ to the minister, interrupting ‘his’ service and seemingly devoid of meaning. So, the decision was made to move communion into the chapel, where there were the elements, and a piece of paper with the liturgy on it. If you wanted communion, you could go into the chapel and ‘celebrate’ communion by yourself! Somehow, they were missing the concept of communal meal – and Karen didn’t realize how far off-the-mark her childhood church had strayed until she became an Episcopalian!

“Self-Serve Communion” is like having a party only for yourself.

Crucial to the celebration of the Eucharist/Communion is the sharing of Jesus’ meal with the ‘community’ – with the body of Christ. We are all welcome to come to God’s table to memorialize Jesus and his sacrifice for us to have eternal life. Saint Paul called this feast ‘The Last Supper’ – maybe we should call it ‘The Lasting Supper’ because Jesus’ sacrifice was for our eternal life and lasts for eternity.

When we come to the table, let us remember we are all children of God and we will be sharing in the feast of The Last Supper with, not only members of Saint John’s, but Episcopalians and Christians around the world.

Let us remember, that when we receive the wafer with our fellow Christians we are receiving ‘what we are – the body of Christ’.

Let us pray:

Lord, give us always this Bread of Life. Open our hearts and our souls to long for this new life that only you can bring us through the Eucharist. Give us the humility and simplicity to listen to you and to believe that you have the words of eternal life. Amen.
 
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 19 Aug 2018

Who Will Speak for Them?

Mark 4:35-41

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of your hearts be inscribed on our souls. Amen.

Today’s Gospel reading, a story of Jesus calming the winds and waves also appears in Matthew and Luke in some form as well, and was surely meant to show the ways in which Jesus’ disciples were brought to faith in Him early in His ministry.  Control of nature is a characteristic attributed to the Divine; so here, as Jesus calms the storm that arose when He and his disciples were crossing the sea, this ragged group of young men, who had left everything to follow Jesus of Nazareth and His revolutionary teachings, were strengthened in their faith and belief—so much so that in a few years they could face mockery and suffering to spread His message across the known world.  Few of us who call ourselves His disciples today are called upon to endure the struggles and suffering of those early disciples. . . being a Christian in this strong Christian nation is easy. . . or is it?

I have been accused of being too political. My friends, let me remind you that the Gospel is about social justice, and social justice IS political, not partisan politics, but absolutely political. And as a Vocational Deacon in the Episcopal Church, it is my duty and ministry to preach and act for social justice. I will make no excuses for my calling – to speak truth to power.

Let me share with you some other quotes that I find meaningful:

“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”  — Thomas Jefferson

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke

“The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.”  — Plato

As we near the 234th celebration of the founding of our nation, we find ourselves in such a needless and cruel national crisis that I am compelled to speak about it in relation to our promise and mission as followers of Jesus. As national figures use our Bible to justify heartless treatment of innocent and desperate people, I believe we cannot — we must not let our Savior die again because of our silence. As we often use the cross as an adornment, a decoration, can we forget that it is a symbol of agonizing death and injustice dealt to the Son of God by people mindlessly following laws of a government and church devoid of justice and compassion? Can we rejoice in our buildings and organizations and committees and gloss over the fact that this good Son of Man came to teach us a revolutionary ideal of brotherly love, and to challenge us to work daily for His beautiful vision of a Heavenly Kingdom on earth – a world in which all are brothers and sisters who treat one another with the love, respect, and compassion that we yearn for ourselves?  Can we seize that cross of suffering and realize that human beings today are suffering and dying on our southern border—looking to us for help and safety, and it is our job—and our privilege to care for “the least of these”?

The “least of these” are the men, women and children who have risked their lives to come to the United States without documentation. In a similar fashion as the disciples, these people are terrified, leaving their own country because of gangs, drug wars, rape and murder. The disciples may have been terrified on the water, but the desert that these people have crossed to get to the U.S. border is far more cruel than a storm could ever be. It is their faith in Jesus – and us – that led them to make the dangerous trek to the safety of the United States to seek a better life, a safe future, and freedom.

But they haven’t found safety when they get here – they found cruelty and separation and unspeakable horrors. Children are dragged from their mother’s arms, potentially never to see their family again. They are warehoused in buildings hot and sterile, sleeping on a mattress on the floor with a survival aluminum blanket for cover. They are assigned a number, and herded into rooms created by chain link fence. The children are separated by sex, and we have seen only a few pictures of any girls in the detention centers. Toddlers are place in a separate area, where, unlike most toddlers, they sit motionless, crying and asking for their mother or father. Infants under a year old are separated into ‘tender age’ centers, away from their mothers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for the care of these children. In the time of their greatest need of human contact and comfort, no worker is allowed to touch or comfort these children.

The current administration is detaining these children as pawns to achieve political goals. These innocent and scared children are being used as a ‘tough deterrent’ to discourage others from entering the United States, seeking asylum or entering illegally when they have no other choice. Under any other circumstance, detention would be equal to kidnapping and the border officials would be subject to prison – kidnapping is a federal offense. Even though the policy of family separation appears to be discontinued through an executive order, over 2400 children are now orphans. There appears to be no plans for the rejoining of families – some of the parents may have already been deported, and their children housed in 17 states, as far spread as Washington state, Texas, New York, and Connecticut. These families will likely never be whole again.

I have to say that I am so ashamed of this conduct, yet feel helpless to do anything about it. America has always been a place and people and compassion for others, welcoming those who are strangers escaping for their lives from areas of extreme cruelty and possible death.

The Bible’s first stories of the life of Jesus emphasize that he would not have escaped death at the hands of a tyrant if his parents had not ‘illegally’ crossed into Egypt. Jesus’ ministry focused on reaching out to foreigners, usually commending them above those of his own kind. “The Good Samaritan” in Luke 10:25–37 is just one of many stories that emphasize the goodness of foreigners and the need to break the rules, if necessary, to give aid to the stranger. When some asked how to cross the border into God’s eternal kingdom, Jesus said, according to Matthew 25:35

“whoever feeds the hungry and gives drink to the thirsty and welcomes the foreigner welcomes me’.

God’s realm is made up of ‘those’ kind of people.

Jesus told us again and again that we are to

Love each other as he loved us. (John 15:12)

And we there are many admonitions to welcome the stranger

And you are to love those who are foreigners/immigrants, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19)

And furthermore,

“You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:22)

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:34)

These scriptures are fundamental to the Christian and Jewish faiths and to following the teachings of Jesus. We, at Saint John’s, offer the love of Jesus to one another and those who are visitors and neighbors. And we are a member of the communion of all believers, who preach and teach and live into the teachings of Jesus.

Our Presiding Bishops Michael Curry and Katherine Jefferts Schori, numerous bishops in The Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church, and many leaders of other interreligious groups have publicly protested this heinous separation and detention of immigrants.

We as a nation, and we as a global family – really, we as human beings – can’t survive unless we learn to give shelter to refugees, aid to the stranger, welcome to those fleeing terror elsewhere, and comfort to children who are not our own.

If you are not enraged by these conditions, YOU SHOULD BE.

This is the time to act!

To quote Albert Einstein:

Can we have the faith of those early disciples and follow Jesus at all costs? At perhaps great risk?  Can we stand by as our country—for decades the best hope on earth for justice and equality for mankind – can we let it disintegrate rapidly into a hypocritical and heartless mass of people paralyzed by a government of greed, lies, and racism? The United States of America is not a perfect nation nor are you and I as human beings, but too many people have fought and sacrificed to make this country a place of freedom and inclusiveness for us to let it fade into history as another failed civilization. And moreover, Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man died 2000 years ago so that you and I could have the opportunity to live, love, breathe free air, and not fear death – have we the faith to not let Him suffer again and again at our southern border?

I close with a passage many of you will know by Pastor Martin Niemöller – but I am changing his words a bit:

First they came for the blacks, browns, and the yellow-skinned people
And I did not speak out
Because I was not black, brown, or yellow.

Then they came for the disabled, the homosexuals, the transgender, the addicted,
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not disabled, homosexual, transgender, or addicted.

Then they came for the Jews, the Muslims, the refugees, and the immigrants
<And I did not speak out,
Because I was not a Jew, or Muslim, or refugee or immigrant.

Then they came for me,
And there was no one left to speak for me.

 
There is a handout on the Information Table which contains a list of resources, groups and organizations that are valiantly fighting to right this wrong. Feel free to take one and act as your conscience would dictate. Or you can find it on the Saint John’s website later this week with links you can click on.

Let us pray:

The voices of the persecuted children ring in our ears and we cannot stop them (and we must not!)
And we know these are only echoes of the myriad voices we have not heard over the years;
Refused to hear
Excused ourselves from knowing about.
“That was then”, “we would never do such a thing”, “we are better than that now.”
Evil is everywhere, everywhen.
Hear our prayers, O God: Let our cries come to you.
And strengthen our hands and feet, our spirits and our courage, because
We have a lot of work to do, along with our screaming.
Amen,
may it be so.[1]
 

[1]      Mary Beth Butler, North Texas
 
 
 
Groups to Support.

• The ACLU is litigating this policy in California.

• If you’re an immigration lawyer, the American Immigration Lawyers Association will be sending around a volunteer list for you to help represent the women and men with their asylum screening, bond hearings, ongoing asylum representation, etc. Please sign up.

Al Otro Lado is a binational organization that works to offer legal services to deportees and migrants in Tijuana, Mexico, including deportee parents whose children remain in the U.S.

CARA—a consortium of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association—provides legal services at family detention centers.

The Florence Project is an Arizona project offering free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody.

Human Rights First is a national organization with roots in Houston that needs help from lawyers too.

Kids in Need of Defense works to ensure that kids do not appear in immigration court without representation, and to lobby for policies that advocate for children’s legal interests. Donate here.

The Legal Aid Justice Center is a Virginia-based center providing unaccompanied minors legal services and representation.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras is an organization that provides humanitarian aid and shelter to migrants on their way to the U.S.

RAICES is the largest immigration nonprofit in Texas offering free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and families. Donate here and sign up as a volunteer here.

• The Texas Civil Rights Project is seeking “volunteers who speak Spanish, Mam, Q’eqchi’ or K’iche’ and have paralegal or legal assistant experience.”

Together Rising is another Virginia-based organization that’s helping provide legal assistance for 60 migrant children who were separated from their parents and are currently detained in Arizona.

• The Urban Justice Center’s Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project is working to keep families together.

Women’s Refugee Commission advocates for the rights and protection of women, children, and youth fleeing violence and persecution.

• Finally, ActBlue has aggregated many of these groups under a single button.

This list isn’t comprehensive, so let us know what else is happening. And please call your elected officials, stay tuned for demonstrations, hug your children, and be grateful if you are not currently dependent on the basic humanity of U.S. policy.

CLINIC’s Defending Vulnerable Populations project offers case assistance to hundreds of smaller organizations all over the country that do direct services for migrant families and children.

American Immigrant Representation Project (AIRP), which works to secure legal representation for immigrants.

CASA in Maryland, D.C., Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They litigate, advocate, and help with representation of minors needing legal services.

Freedom for Immigrants (Formerly CIVIC), which has been a leading voice opposing immigrant detention.

• The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center represents all of the immigrant kids placed by the government in foster care in Michigan (one of the biggest foster care placement states). About two-thirds are their current clients are separation cases, and they work to find parents and figure out next steps.

• The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is doing work defending and advancing the rights of immigrants through direct legal services, systemic advocacy, and community education.

Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights works for the rights of children in immigration proceedings.

• The Women’s Refugee Commission has aggregated five actions everyone can take that go beyond donating funds.

• The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)—which organizes law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a set of legal and human rights for refugees and displaced persons—just filed suit challenging the cancellation of the Central American Minors program.

Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative has a guide to organizations throughout Texas that provide direct legal services to separated children. Also listed within the guide are resources for local advocates, lawyers, and volunteers.

Immigrant Justice Corps is the nation’s only fellowship program dedicated to expanding access to immigration representation. Some IJC fellows work at the border, and others work in New York, providing direct representation in immigration court to parents and children resettled in New York City and surrounding counties.

• The Kino Border Initiative provides humanitarian aid to refugees and migrants on both sides of the border. They have a wish-list of supplies they can use to help migrants and families staying in the communities they serve.

The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network supports undocumented immigrants detained in Aurora, Colorado.

• Several companies also match donations—if your company does this, you need to provide the tax ID of the charity you have given to, which is usually listed on these organizations’ websites.

• The National Immigrant Justice Center represents and advocates for detained adults and children facing removal, supports efforts at the border, and represents parents in the interior who have been separated from their families as a result of aggressive enforcement.

 
 
Dahlia Lithwick, Margo Schlanger, The Slate, June 19, 2018
How you can fight family-separation at the border

Finding Our Way in Life

John 17:11-15


Do you enjoy working puzzles? I do. One kind of puzzle I like is called a “maze”. You each have a copy of a maze and here is a big one like you have (put maze on easel).

You may have worked a maze puzzle before, but to solve the puzzle, you take your pencil and begin where it says, “start” here (put pen on START) and try to find an open path in the puzzle that will lead you all the way to the picture of Jesus. The trick is you are not allowed to cross over any lines! Of course, you aren’t allowed to cross over any lines. That would be cheating! A maze puzzle like this can be very difficult. Sometimes it can make you very upset! Traveling through this maze, you will often have to change the direction you are going. For instance, you may find that the path you have chosen leads to a dead end – like this (show a dead end on maze on easel). When this happens, you just have to back up and start again. When the puzzle gets too difficult, you may need someone to help you, like your dad or mom. Even though finding the right path that leads to the finish may be difficult, still you will feel great when you finally reach the goal!

Growing up and making your way through life is usually a lot like finding your way through a maze. Almost every day you have to make important choices and decisions and it is sometimes difficult to know what do – which way to go – which choice to make – who you want to be friends with. Shall I put off my homework? Do I help at home with the chores? Can I ignore someone who says hurtful things about me, or fight back? Worse even – should I take up for a classmate who is being bullied or hurt – or pretend not to see? Shall I play football? Join the band? Can I say ‘no’ if people try to get me to do something I know is wrong? Sometimes we may make a bad choice – choose the wrong path, and end up at a dead end.

When that happens, we have to back up and start over again. Maybe apologize for our mistake or pay the consequences for not doing our chores or homework. Life isn’t easy and it can sometimes be very frustrating when we don’t know which way to turn.

Jesus knew that growing up and living life in this world is difficult – remember he was once a boy, too. That is why he prayed to God for his disciples when he knew that the time had come for him to leave this world.

And he prayed for us too, in this prayer:

“I am about to come to you, but my children will still be here in this world. Protect them, Father, so that they may be one, just as you and I are one. Protect them from whoever wants to hurt them.” (John 17:11-15)

Think about that – Jesus is asking God to watch after us – you and me – as we grow up and make our way in the world. This is pretty fantastic, isn’t it?

So, how do we find our way in this world?

We put our trust in God, our Creator, to show us the way, as Jesus ask God to do. We have his Word, the Bible, to help us. And we also have our parents and teachers and loved ones to help us. Today is Mother’s Day, when we say a special ‘thank you’ for our mothers and all they do for us (so don’t forget to tell your mother “thank you” and that you love her!)

Any time we don’t know which way to turn, we can also talk to God in prayer and ask God to guide and protect us. It may not be easy, but with the Creator of the universe leading the way, we know that we will never get lost. We will find our way through the mazes of life and always arrive safely home!

Let us pray:

Dear God, as we search for the path that will lead us safely through this world, we place our trust in you and ask for your guidance and protection. And we thank you for our mothers and fathers, and all those who help show us the way. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
 
[1] Adapted from ‘Maze Puzzle’, Sermons4Kids.com
 

Delivered at Formation Eucharist, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, 13 May 2018

Jesus Prays for Us!

John 17:6-19

Eternal and ever blessed God, grant this day light to the minds that hunger for truth, and peace to the hearts that yearn for rest. Grant strength to those who have hard tasks to do, and power to those who have temptations to face. Grant unto all within this place the ability to find the secret of your presence, and to go forth from here in the strength of the Lord. Amen.

Today we celebrate two important and seemingly very different things – one – Mother’s Day – is a secular sort of “made up” holiday that indeed fulfills a wonderful purpose: to remember, honor and thank our mothers, whether alive or not, whether biological or not – that woman or those women who love, nurture, and guide us through life – often from our first breath of air.

The second is a truly sacred day – Ascension Day – the day we mark Jesus’ ascension from earth to be with God – after he appeared several times to his disciples following his resurrection. After Ascension Day, no one sees Jesus again, but in his loving prayer in the gospel today, he asks God to be with us and protect us – to show us the way – and so God sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts and minds – if we will but seek it and listen.

Much of what we human beings experience involves our emotions. Whether we like it or not, we respond to everything emotionally. Our emotions are involved when we experience love, hurt, anxiety, stress, anger, jealousy, depression, happiness, joy. The most important growing experiences that we will encounter as we travel along the journey we call life, are emotional experiences and feelings. Certainly, they affect our mind and body, but they really reside in our spirit: that part of us that we Christians believe is eternal and connects to other spirits – and to the Holy Spirit of God. Our minds cannot fully comprehend the spiritual depth and breadth of our lives, for it is woven into our very nature – and we believe it is that part of us that exists before and after our life on earth.

The Gospel of John, from which today’s reading comes, is very different from the other three gospels. Written some sixty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection, it is less a narrative and more philosophical; in many ways, it seeks to summarize all of Jesus’ teachings and work. In John, after washing their feet and sharing the Passover feast with his disciples, Jesus began a long series of sermons, known as the ‘final discourses’. In them, he reiterates again and again that God is love (1 John 4:8), and we are to love and serve one another (John 13:34-35); that he is the vine and we are the branches (John 15:5); and that we are to draw nourishment and direction from his teachings and examples.

Jesus reminds us that if we follow him, we cannot be ‘of this world’. If the world hates us, hurts us, demeans and wounds us, we must know it hated him first, and that we are part of a different kingdom – God’s Kingdom. Following these discourses, Jesus prayed. In the other gospels Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we are told he prayed for strength for what he knew lay ahead. In John, however, this prayer, which we read today, is almost entirely for us – his disciples, for those he loved then and for those he loves today – you and me!

In the discourses, he promised the disciples that God would send them a companion – the spirit of truth – to guide and protect them, and so in this final prayer, he fervently asks God to do this.

He prayed, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they kept your word. Now they know everything you have given me is from you; of the world that you gave to me I have given to them, and they received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours and yours are mine; and I have glorified them.” (John 17:6-11)

Jesus continued to pray for the protection and unity of his followers, but then his prayer shifted to praying for all of his followers in times to come.

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes, I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:14-19)

In the years following Jesus’ death and ascension, his disciples would endure difficult and painful days as they spread his word throughout the known civilized world. They would be imprisoned, tortured and beaten, murdered; they would be alone and reviled. But we can only believe that the power of ‘the Companion of Truth’ that God sent – the Holy Spirit – was so strongly with them, so vibrant and clear, that they all endured, prevailed, and made sure that the work of Jesus of Nazareth changed the world forever.

We are all well aware that our world today is far from the Kingdom of God, but with all its flaws, it is closer to that Kingdom than it was 2000 years ago. Here we are, followers of Jesus, still facing difficult journeys of life, still encountering hate, deception, greed and consumerism, lust and depravity, violence and war, poverty and despair, addictions and destroyers, evil things and evil doings, just as Jesus acknowledged we would in his prayer. Each of us carries, in some way, the marks and scars of battling our way from birth to death in this world.

But, we, too, still have the Companion, the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, the God of love which protects and guides us, and we reach The Companion through our spirits, usually through our emotions. I have come to realize that what one truly feels in their heart is more real, more true, than most things we can study or read. We can use prayer, meditation, intuition, dreams, sudden ‘ah ha’ moments. All of these can reveal the Holy Spirit, can speak to us, guide our ways, just as we are taught in Matthew:

seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you”. (Matthew 7:7)

This, and this alone, gives us the strength and clarity of vision to not be of this world – to turn the other cheek, to walk away from conflict, to be the Samaritan who crosses the road to help and serve others in need, to face pain, illness and suffering with hope; to return hate with love, lies with truth, deception with reality, vengeance with forgiveness, and evil with goodness and love.

In short, our work is in this world. Jesus left physically, but we remain. What he began, we must seek to carry on. And Jesus left us the Holy Spirit, or Companion Protector so we may care for and serve others, love and forgive our brothers and sisters. We are promised no hedge, no short cuts, no escape routes, no end to the battle until we at last cross the River of Death to enter, once again, Eternity – and realize Death is not the victor. We are here, and we must stay here for a time to do his work.

Ultimately, we will always find the sheltering arms of God protecting us. Life is not easy, and if it is, we are probably not doing our jobs. But the reward is great and the Truth and Love of God will keep us strong!

So, take a minute today to look ahead to the coming week; read the prayer that Jesus prayed in John. Focus on how Jesus makes us holy for the sake of oneness with our fellow believers, and gives us courage along the journey, no matter how difficult the path. Ask yourself how God might use you to bring love to our broken, hurting world. How can God use you to transform the pain and darkness of our earthly life and turn it into the promise of resurrection and new life for others, as well as ourselves? Consider how Jesus guides you through his Holy Spirit, when you feel lost; don’t shut out your deepest emotions and feelings, – listen to them! Remember that Jesus prayed for and prepared a way for his disciples, and that includes us!

God answered that prayer then, and does so now!

Jesus’way is

‘the way, the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6)

Let us all seek to follow him.

Let us pray:

“Holy Father, keep us in your name … that we may be one … Sanctify us with the truth of your words. As you sent Christ into the world, so send us into the world, consecrated in truth, armed with your protection and love, and the good news of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension. Help us to turn our lives toward bringing the fullness of God’s Kingdom to all, sustained by the hopes and belief that when we reach the end of our lives, there will be no fear, no sadness, but real joy as we hear your trumpet sounding for us on the other side. Amen.

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, 13 May 2018

OF One Heart and Soul

Acts 4:32-35

This is Formation Eucharist Sunday, I am going to start the ‘grown-up’[1] sermon with some of the points that I made to the children in the first service.

This is the first Sunday after Easter, and Jesus is no longer there to lead the disciples or the people. They are all sad and kind of lost and missing Him. We heard in the Bible reading from the Acts of the Apostles today that the people who followed him began to live together like one huge family. The way they could share stories of Jesus so they wouldn’t miss him so much. Stories always remind us of a person who is no longer with us, and makes us feel better. In this new big family they created, no one owned anything, everything anyone had belonged to everyone. They shared food and clothes and all their possessions. That is pretty amazing!

Think for a minute about all your toys and things that you like. Can you imagine sharing them with every other child? Think about how your little brother or sister may get peanut butter in the hair of your favorite doll, or break your favorite car or truck. That doesn’t sound like very much fun, does it?

Well, one of the main things Jesus taught us was that we are to care for and share with each other. Do you remember the verse in Matthew:

Do unto others are you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12)

We all want to be good followers of Jesus, showing other people the love of Jesus. Sometimes we do a good job of it, and other times not so much. But you know what? God loves us anyway. Isn’t that great? As long as we try to be good examples, even when we don’t quite make it, we are all beloved children of God, even if we are 95 years old!

And Jesus asks us to share. I have a flower for each of you. Aren’t they pretty? Flowers are the sign that Spring is here(or at least we hope) – and another sign that, like all living things, Jesus rose from the dead. Lots of people really like flowers because they brighten up a room, smell good, and make people happy.

Don’t you like to be happy? Who doesn’t like to be happy?

So, like Jesus taught us, we should share with others. I want you to take a flower, and when you go back to your seat, give it to someone that you would like to make happy. It could be your parents or sister or brother, or maybe someone that you think could really use it to cheer them up.

This is what sharing is about and what our community here at Saint John’s should be like: some place where we care for each other and share our love. We hope, by doing that, we can help the whole world to learn to love and share.

So, pick out your flower – there are so many kinds in the vase. Take one that makes you happy, then give it to someone else – and make them happy!

Sometimes children, and adults, don’t grasp the significance of striving to live as one large family. But, as we heard in the reading from Acts, that is what we have been commanded to do. And I would add to that, that we need to live together in a Christian community which lives out the teachings of Jesus. We all need to put our faith into action.

But, what does “faith in action look like?” Fortunately, we have the acts of the early church recorded for us in Scripture alongside the words and deeds of Jesus in the gospels. So, if we want to see what we ought to be doing today and why, we only need to look at Scripture. In the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we heard:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

When the early followers of Jesus, before they were even known as ‘Christians’ lived together, they were a small number and it was easy for them to do this. But there are fewer communes and intentional communities today, an exception being the group of Episcopalians and AmeriCorp interns who work and live together in Franklinton, which follow these instructions. Most of us can’t go as far as that in our modern lives. We don’t all feel called to pool our money and move in together. But this picture of the early church should still move us to be a certain kind of people. These verses in Acts 4 should challenge us to carefully consider what it does mean for us to be a community that shares life together – taking care of one another and those less fortunate – the homeless, the abandoned, those suffering.

When we pray the Prayers of the People, we ask

“comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles”.

We pray this weekly, but what do we do to help God accomplish this? How do we reflect God’s love in our personal and communal lives?

So, what does it mean for us to be a life-sharing community? First of all, it means that we embrace a common purpose. Acts 4:32 tells us that

All the believers were one in heart and mind.

A ‘Christian’ sense of purpose. A determination to spread the gospel of Jesus, and try to live into his teachings and commandments. And very casually inserted in the middle of these passages is the reward for living a shared-life:

And much grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33)

So today we must ask ourselves who are Christians living here in America: “How are we reflecting this model in our churches today.” Are we preaching and singing one thing, and doing the opposite? Is the Kingdom of God furthered by our service? I would think, if this were so, there would be great power in the church today. There would be powerful witness to the resurrection of Christ in the life of the church. There would be great grace flowing from her to a hurt, rebellious and dying world. There would be people added daily to church membership. There might even be true miracles in the church. But if our churches are divided by race, riches, and culture, then what are we preaching? Should we expect great power in a church such as this? It seems to me that we need to seriously reconsider who we are as a church. Another word for reconsider is “repent.” Do we really want a powerful spirit-filled and led church, or are we happy just to be a fading mirage of what the church once was?

We all need to search our hearts and decide what we want to be, personally, and what we want Saint John’s to be for our community and world.

Let us pray together as the children prayed.

Dear God, you have created a world that is full of beauty, which you tell us to share with others. Thank you for sharing this beautiful world with us! Sometimes, when we don’t feel like sharing, forgive us. Help us to be nice to all those whom we meet and show them the love of God that you showed us!  Amen.

 
[1] Emphasize with fingers in air
 
Note: except for scripture, text in italics is part of the children’s sermon, “Jesus Tells Us to Share”, Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 8 April 2018
 
 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington & Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 8 April 2018