For Mickey Vassallo
November 10, 2016
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
They say that you’re supposed to be eminently relaxed in front of family, but for the first time in over two years, I decided to sit down and put down on paper the thoughts I hope to share with you this morning.
So let me start with my own experience of knowing Mickey. I can’t remember the first time I met Mickey, but I can say that it must have been at Bethesda. I can’t remember any one conversation with her that stands out. What I have are simply images imprinted on my memory.
And the image that stands out among them is set in the Kitchen on Washington Street, where all of us so often enjoyed each other’s presence and company and shared our lives with one another. Here I was, an early twenty something want to be priest, welcomed into the extended Rectory family. And there was Mickey, with what I think is a glass of white wine, talking to me, truly engulfed in our conversation as the hustle and bustle of the Rectory family swirled around us. Allison there making lunch, no doubt something organic with which she will later use to challenge my palate. The Crawfords doing whatever it is they do, which never was, nor is nor ever will be, below the level of 180 decibels. And Tracy, of course being her just come from church bubbly self. And Tom there, somehow holding us all together.
And there in the midst of the whirlwind, was Mickey, focused and centered, asking me about my latest adventure. What struck me the most, perhaps, about any memory of our conversations with her were two things. First, the softness of her demeanor, her gentle spirit. She, like me, had been no doubt been thrown headlong into that cacophony which we call the Rectory Family. But even as the scene raged on around us, she never lost that focused and gentle spirit. And secondly, the genuineness of her questions. She never made me feel like she was just asking questions for the sake of making conversation. It always felt, and I think was the truth that, she truly wanted to know, that she was truly interested in what I had to say.
In an email Allison wrote to me saying “It’s so hard to sum up 90 years of her life.” Perhaps no more greater tribute could be given to someone than to say just that. Here was a person who had such an experience of life, the good and the tough mixed up and tumbled together, that no words would be enough to say we’ve captured the essence of it. Obituaries tell us where a person has lived, the things they liked to do, the organizations of which they were a part. Mickey had no small list of accomplishments there. From Tennesee to England, to North Carolina, to Vermont, and Saratoga; she loved golf, and gardening clubs; collecting Wedgwood and antiques; UFOs and ghosts; and oh, let’s not forget the New York Yankees and Derek Jeter.
But an obituary can only tell us so much. “It’s so hard to sum up 90 years of her life” Allison wrote to me “And in the end it’s not about what someone has ‘done’ but what qualities they brought forth into the world and how they affected others.”
How can one really put into words what it truly means that Mickey will be remembered for her warmth, free spirit, humor, and sense of adventure? It’s hard to sum that up because those are the ways she affected the world. Those are the images she has left implanted in our hearts.
I want to share with you another little anecdote from my time in the Rectory in Saratoga. One which really has nothing to do with Mickey. It was sometime, between January and March, I found myself there in the bedroom with Jane and Tom. In the midst of the conversation, Jane said to Tom “even now, you have so much more to teach us about the Kingdom of God.” I’ve never forgotten those words, and in a real sense, they have over these last 5 years shaped how I understand the latter and end stages of life for those who I am privileged and honored to minister to, and it something I share with them and their families. We never stop teaching others, showing others, the Kingdom of God. CS Lewis of Chronicles of Narnia fame wrote in another book “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
One of the things which Allison said to me is that as Mickey’s dementia continued to run its course, it became more and more difficult for Mickey to interact with the world around her as she once did. But she said one of the blessings she saw was the worldly anxieties of an accumulated lifetime, which we all have, began to fall away. And the way that Mickey began to respond to the things around her was as a pure soul, simply with love. When all that other stuff had disappeared, what shone forth from her was love.
The response that came to mind was that’s God shining through. As she decreased, God increased. The Church teaches that the goal of our lives, above anything else, is union with God, to be one with him. We gather here today to offer our prayers and remembrances, and to make our communion with him. And in a beautiful way, the more and more we are united with God in his life, the more and more his qualities shine through us
I said to Allison, that in his letter, the Apostle John, when he was trying to find a way to talk about God could find no better word than Love. He said, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love come from God… God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”
You see, even as the disease of dementia ran its course, Mickey, in a most wonderful way taught us about the Kingdom, showed us God. And as everything that we thought mattered, what she thought mattered, fell away, what really and truly mattered eternally, remained: Love.
And so today, as we gather here, we do so to remember and to give thanks for Mickey’s life. Not so much the things she did, where she lived, or the adventures she went on – those were for her.
Rather, we are here to give thanks for the qualities that she brought for into this world which affected us, which showed us God: that warm, gentle and free spirit, that sense of fun and adventure, that genuine friendship, the humor and most importantly, Love.
We offer her life back to God in thanksgiving for the opportunity to have known that life and to have been touched by it. For the gift of having seen God working through it for indeed, God is Love; whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God in him. Amen.
Sermon Proper 16 C 2016
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the ancient world, evil spirits or demons were often understood to be the root cause of physical ailments and diseases. In some cases, it was thought that disease and physical deformity were punishment from God for sin. In some cases, they even thought that if a child was born with a problem, this was a result or punishment for their parents’ sins.
In our gospel this morning, we encounter our Lord teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. A woman appeared, we don’t know where from, but we are told that for 18 years she had been suffering under a disabling or crippling spirit, that caused her to walk bent over. She was unable to fully straighten herself and walk upright.
Our Lord called her over to himself and simply said “Woman, you are freed from your disability” and laid his hands on her. Immediately she was healed – she could stand up straight and in response to her healing she began to praise God.
The reason that Luke includes this story of Jesus healing is not really to demonstrate his power to heal. If you’ve made it this far in the Gospel, 13 chapters, and you’re still reading, you already know the power of God in Jesus to heal the sick and cure the lame. Rather, Luke includes this story for other reasons.
Jesus heals this woman on the Sabbath. As we’ve talked about before, the Sabbath, Saturday, was the seventh day, the day of rest. The commandment to Keep the Sabbath Holy meant that one couldn’t work on the Sabbath – bakers couldn’t bake, seamstresses couldn’t sew, and according to this “Ruler of the Synagogue”, the healer couldn’t heal. Actually, and perhaps even more shamefully, he rebuked not our Lord who had done the work of healing, but the woman who came to be healed! “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath” he told the sick.
But Jesus rebuked them, he called them hypocrites, who allow people to lead their livestock to water, but refuse to permit the healing of a daughter of Abraham on the Sabbath. Rightfully so he adversaries were put to shame, and the crowd rejoiced at the glorious things done by our Lord.
Even though the healing itself is not itself the chief point of the gospel this morning, I want us to have a closer look at it, and see what we might glean from it.
The first thing we notice is that the woman just appears. Hobbled over, unable to stand upright. She didn’t come to Jesus to heal her. Maybe she had heard of him, of his works, and his powers, but nowhere does it indicate in our text that she sought out healing from Jesus. I wonder, did she think of herself as in need of healing. Perhaps she didn’t like to be thought of as someone having a disability. One of those folks who refuse to ask for help, sometimes doing things which other think she couldn’t as a source of pride for herself.
But Jesus did notice. Jesus knew her ailment, her problems, and he knew her need. So he called her over to himself, and so she came. She responded to that voice by coming before him. He laid his healing hands on her, and she stood upright.
I want to suggest that there is a pattern in the healing of this woman which we might meditate on. Many of us walk around with disabilities, ailments if you like, that we don’t even realize. Some of us walk around with physical problems which we won’t go to a doctor to get looked into. We need to be mindful that God gave us the medical sciences and the intelligence to have skilled doctors as a gift.
But not everything that cripples us and keeps us from walking upright is a physical problem. Our problems can also moral, spiritual, and emotional. Sometimes these are the most difficult of all our problems to face. They might come from deeply held anxieties, fears, habits or addictions.
Socrates, and if you’re a Greek philosophy student, you’ll forgive me for taking him a little out of context, once said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Hindsight, they say, is twenty-twenty. How often have we said that? How often have we said to ourselves, “if only I had realized beforehand”? The things that keep us from walking upright, living health lives are not just physical. They are moral, spiritual, and emotional. How often have our own short comings led to problems for us?
Perhaps the hardest thing of all is realizing that the problems which cripple us effect not only ourselves but the lives of those around us, even the ones we love. Too often we don’t recognize how serious our own crippledness is until it begins to affect others.
The hardest truth of all, which we need to understand today, is this: We can’t solve the crippledness of ourselves. Nor can we solve the crippledness of others. We can only seek forgiveness from God and those whom we effect, and most importantly, walk by faith in the grace of God, so that like the woman in our Gospel we can be healed, restored, and made to stand upright by the power of his love.
So what is keeping us from walking upright? Do we even know that we’ve got a problem? Are we willing to respond to the voice that is calling us to himself? Are we willing to let him into us, that he might lay his hands upon our hearts, and make whole.
The voice of Jesus is calling us – in Word, in the Sacraments – Calling us to himself that he might lay his hands – those wounded, scarred hands, those hands full of blessings and grace and love, upon us, to heal us. So that we might walk upright in his Kingdom, to the honor and glory of his God, and our God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning, a brash young lawyer asked Jesus a fantastic question. It’s a question we’ve all probably have been concerned about at one time or another in our lives- “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”- “How is it that I get to be part of the life of God and his people into eternity?” Jesus in his typical fashion fires back a question of his own- “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
The answer the lawyer gives is the familiar “Summary of the Law” which we hear at the beginning of every Mass. It’s also called the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.”
The lawyer goes on to ask another question – “Who is my neighbor that I am really supposed to love?” Jesus’ reply, and no doubt the focus of many sermons this morning, is the parable of the Good Samaritan and what it means to “love your neighbor” or “what it means to be a neighbor to someone in need.”
But I want to follow another line of thought this morning. It’s something that has been running through my head all this week. We’ve all heard that sermon time and time again about the Good Samaritan and being a good neighbor and loving our neighbor. But the commandment is that we love our neighbor “as our yourself.”
So I want to know, what does it mean that we are to love our self? And indeed, what is this “self” that we are called to love? I’ve preached before on the idea that we can’t love God unless we love our neighbor, and we can’t love our neighbor unless we love God. Now, as it turns out, it seems we can’t love neighbor, or God, unless we love our self. But in order to do that, in order to love our self, we have to know what “self” God wants us to love.
For a long time, I have thought that the commandment to love my neighbor as myself meant something like this: If I’m truly honest, I really care about myself more than anything else in the world – that is to say, I’m more concerned with my own wants, needs, and desires than I am with anyone elses and what Jesus wants me to do is to take that energy that I expend on myself and use it somehow to love my neighbor.
This way of thinking is, i now think, terribly flawed. It really misses some important things about God, about love, and really about myself. You see, this “self” that I was thinking about is really something more like the ego, the part of me that is really only concerned with me, myself, and I.
I think that the self that God wants me to love is something different. St. Paul in Second Corinthians, refers to an outer self, which is wasting away, and an inner self, which is being renewed by the Holy Spirit, Day by Day.
Christian mystics such as Julian of Norwich, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, have called this inner, true self “The summit of the soul”, “the place where God dwells within us”, and the place where we can “be still and know God.” Psychologists talk about this inner self, as the core of our personality; an almost indefinable center from which our being radiates.
You see, the self is not about what you do, but the very heart of who you are. It’s not the things that you do – It’s not me as a priest, or an EMT, or an Historian, or a Son, or a Friend- rather the desire to do these things comes from that inner self, which defines who we are. Discovering that inner self, that core, is a life long journey, and that journey is one of the utmost importance. But that journey of discovering who we truly are is not found by achieving some status, (I didn’t discover who I was by becoming a priest), doing meaningful activities (I won’t discover who I am by being an EMT), or even relationships because in due time these things vanish and yet the core of who we are will go on. Rather, I am driven to do the thing by the central principles of my inner most self to do these sorts of things.
Knowing our self, that self on which we are called to base of neighborly love upon, requires space and opportunity for quiet reflection. It requires that intentional self-searching that comes only when we are completely and totally honest with ourselves.
The problem with finding that inner self, in which God seeks to dwell, renew and enliven, is our constant busyness. We fill our life with things that give us a superficial happiness or joy, while ignoring the unrest deep in our souls and minds. We use things like Drugs, alcohol, sex, and even relationships to provide us with temporal happiness in order to get us through day by day and week by week.
Over time, we can become addicted to the “good feelings” that these temporary “quick fixes” provide us, and become even more negligent of the true inner self to which God seeks to give new and eternal life.
I have had to stop and reflect and ask my self – “Is being a priest what I really am supposed to be doing? Does being a priest really match up with and flow from the inner most self that I have discovered I am? Or, am I doing it for some other reason?”
When Jesus tells us that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him; when Paul tells us that we are to lay aside the old, corrupted self, so that we may be renewed; the self which cares only about me; which settles for cheap, selfish, superficial joy; that is the “outer self” of which they are speaking. It is in that dying, and laying aside of that false, pretentious self, that we begin to have that space and opportunity for quiet reflection that knowing the inner self requires.
Discovering the self where God seeks to dwell – spending time and giving our self-space – going into our room and shutting the door to be with our heavenly Father in secret – is just the first part the equation.
The second part is learning to love and accept that self. And that can be even harder – because that inner self can be hard to face because we don’t always like what is there. Sometimes we discover that our selfish actions come because we are, infact, a selfish person, and all this time we’ve been pretending to be something we’re not. And yet, God seeks to dwell in us, to transform us, to sanctify us, to renew our hearts within us so that our inner life might be made alive by his life, and begin to look more like his life.
The ability to be comfortable with and indeed love who we truly are is self-esteem. It is that ability to recognize and to say “I am” regardless of what others may think, or what others may say. It is the ability to love our self, even though we know we are imperfect, and flawed human beings at the deepest level.
The big question in all of this is “why should I love myself at all? I know I’m imperfect. I know I’m flawed. Why love?”
I think the answer comes to us from the Fourth Chapter of the First Letter of John. He says “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
Each of us knows the flaws in our inner most self. And yet, God sent his son into the world for you and for me because he saw and sees in us something worthy to be loved. That’s redemption. And if God can see in you and me something worthy of his love, how much more should we love what he already loves.
God’s love for you and for me – that love that sent his son to the cross – that love that raised him from the dead – that love that drew him up on high when he ascended, bringing captivity captive – that’s why we can talk about loving our self at all. We are counted worthy of God’s love. Yes, there we are sinners, yes we need to grow in holiness and sanctification.
But until we know that we can love ourselves just as God loves us, then we cannot love him or our neighbor. Jesus said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind; and your neighbor as your self.” Let us seek to know our true self, the self which God knows and loves, and know ourselves in deed, as God’s beloved children so that we may indeed, obey his Great Commandment. Amen.
Sermon for Proper 6 C 2016
The Rev’d Thomas J. Pettigrew
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Gospel this morning is one of those passages which probably sounds familiar to us, but not quite familiar as say the Good Samaritan, or the beatitudes.
Jesus has been invited to the home of a Pharisee for a dinner. Certainly, he was invited because of his growing renown as a teacher – someone who was making waves in society. Simon the Pharisee, the host of this formal dinner wanted Jesus there so he could see and hear what everyone was talking about.
As a bit of an aside, it turns out that Luke is the only of the Gospels that tells us that Jesus accepted formal dinner invitations to eat with Pharisees. And in each instance of these dinners, he turns out to be a scandal to his host.
This is true here, in this dinner party at Simon’s house. Jesus becomes a scandal to his host when he allows a woman, who was publically a sinner, which is an euphemistic way of saying she is a prostitute. She comes into the house and anoints Jesus’ feet with ointment, and wipes her tears off his feet with her hair.
First off, lets cover two things – How did she get into the dinner party, and second, how did she get access to Jesus’ feet. Believe it or not, her access into the house was not a problem at all. Apparently it was common that at these dinner parties, the public could freely come and go from the house. It doesn’t really make sense to us – I can’t think of any other equivalent in contemporary society where the public is allowed to come into a dinner and watch the invited guests eat, up close and personal.
As for this woman’s access to Jesus’ feet – Luke tells us that the guests reclined at table. Since Alexander the Great in the 300’s BC, Israel had become increasingly Hellenized – that is to say they were adopting many customs and courtesies of their Greco-Roman rulers. If you recall, this is one of the main themes in the Maccabean Period of the Early 1st Century BC. It was the custom, at formal dinner parties such as this one, for the guests to recline in the Greco-roman fashion in which a short table was in the middle with everyone laying with their heads towards it, while their feet were behind them, like the spokes of a wheel.
Visualizing that will show how easy it is for someone to have access to the feet of Jesus.
As this woman is there at our Lord’s feet, anointing them with oil, and wiping her tears off with her hair, Simon, the host of the dinner party notices, and says to himself “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And in a certain ironic twist, Jesus knows what Simon is thinking and so he tells them a parable about two debtors, who owed money to a lender but who’s loan debts were cancelled. “Which of the two will love the lender more?” asked Jesus. Simon replies, “the one who had the larger debt.”
He then goes on to point out that this woman has done all the things which Simon failed to do as the host of the party when Jesus arrived: “You gave me no water for my feet, but she was we my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
Now, to be clear, it’s not that Simon, in not doing all of these things was being a bad host. By failing to do these things he wasn’t being rude. Social convention did not require him to do any of these things. What it does show, though, is the relationship that Simon had with our Lord, his guest. Simon treated Jesus properly according to the polite demands that a respectable host would be expected to treat his guest. That he didn’t go beyond those demands shows us he true attitude toward Jesus. On the other hand, this woman had to break social convention, and no doubt, over come many mental and emotional barriers in order to show her love for Jesus.
Going back to that question of Jesus- “Which of the two debtors will love the lender more?” The word that Luke uses for Love is agape. It’s a word which I have drilled into your heads over the last 5 years as meaning something like “God’s perfect love.” And in this context, that word Agape means a love that expresses thanksgiving.
Think about it this way – the early Christians gathered for worship – and they were accused of some rather bizarre things – because they called their gathering a love feast – and agape meal – overtime that word agape was replaced by Eucharist – which means more directly, thanksgiving.
So Jesus’ question could perhaps better be translated as “Who will be more thankful to the lender for the forgiveness of their debts” – “the one who was forgiven more.”
Simon’s welcome of Jesus followed the prescribed social norms. But think about how we welcome a great guest into our homes. If the UPS guy knocks on our door to drop off a package, we follow a set of norms and courtesies – we say good morning, we might ask how the day is going, we say thank you, have a nice day. These are the social norms and courtesies which keep us above the “your being rude” line.
But if our long lost best friend were to knock on our door unexpectedly, the reaction to their appearing would be tremendously different. Our reaction would be more like the father of the prodigal son – we’d probably have a big smile, a hug, invite them in, offer them a drink, and just be full of joy at their presence.
Simon’s greeting and welcome of Jesus was perhaps the equivalent of our greeting of the UPS man – while the woman’s greeting of Jesus – well to say it was the greeting of a long lost friend might just be right.
This woman’s actions towards Jesus demonstrated a greater joy and a greater thankfulness and greater love for Jesus’ presence than Simon’s – because she had realized the great gift that Jesus’ had given to her – the forgiveness of her sins.
But in order to show that gratitude, in order to give that thanks, that woman, who was publically and probably notoriously, a sinner had to overcome much within her self in order to greet her Lord with such joy and thanksgiving. And I want to suggest to you that you and I must go through the same things which this woman did, so that today, as we kneel at communion, we too can give thanks and greet the Lord with love and joy.
She had first to acknowledge her sinfulness. Everyone probably made it know to her that she was a horrible sinful person – by the way they treated her in the streets; by the way the disrespectfully spoke to her; by what they used her for as a prostitute. But for you and for me to face our own sinfulness is not something which we like to do. We become comfortable with our faults and our flaws. And rather than charging at them head on to allow the grace of God to conquer them, we learn to live around them, to hide them, from ourselves and from others.
Secondly, she had to be willing to come to our Lord for that forgiveness. She had to be willing to believe that God has the power to forgive her. Like her, we need to realize that no matter how great our sin – how bad we may think it is, or how long we have been living in it, God is able, and indeed, ready and willing to forgive us for our sins.
Finally, she had to be willing to accept the forgiveness within herself. Forgiving others for what they have done is hard enough. But forgiving ourselves for our faults and imperfections is, I think, even harder. Once we acknowledge our sinfulness, we have to acknowledge that we are infact the person who did that sort of thing. And we don’t like to admit to ourselves that we’ve done wrong, let alone the type of person who would do that sort of wrong in the first place.
Why don’t we like to do that? I want to suggest that it’s because when we’ve discovered that we’re the kind of person who sins – indeed, does that one particular kind of thing – and you can name your own fault – we begin to feel that our value, our worth, our self-respect, and perhaps even our integrity as a human being has been utterly and completely destroyed. We might even say that we feel that something within us, or who we thought we were, was dying or had suddenly died.
What I want to say this morning is that it’s okay to feel that way. Indeed, there is a sense in which we must feel that way. And the reason is that because those feelings come because we have had the source of our value, worth, respectability, and dignity all wrong.
They don’t come from within us, though they do exist within us.
When we realize, like the woman weeping at our Lords feet that our value, our worth, and our dignity come to us from God, and from God alone… When we realize that – when we realize that our value and worth as people come from God, who sent his only Son to die for us on the cross, then greeting which we give to our Lord will be the same greeting that the Sinful woman gave Jesus, instead of the customary platitudes given by Simon.
When we realize that our sins can be forgiven, our value and dignity, not only restored but given from the true source they were supposed to come from all along, then how could we not with Joy and Love, and thanksgiving, greet our Lord as we would greet a friend who has returned to us.
Yet, in a certain twist, in greeting our Lord this way, we realize that it’s not we who have given the greeting, but indeed it is our Lord who greets us at his door with joy and love as one greeting a long lost friend who has returned.
Rev’d Thomas J. Pettigrew
Proper 5-C 2016
Luke 7:11-17 (Jesus Raises the Widow’s Son)
+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Over the last six months, basically from Advent through the end of Easter, we’ve been on a track of readings which focus our attention on seasonal themes: During Advent we read about the first and second coming of the Christ; Christmas was about birth of Christ and the revelation of Christ to the world; in Lent we focused our attention on the Lenten themes of repentance and preparation for the Paschal Feast; during Easter, we turned out attention to the appearances of Jesus, among other things. Then there was Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, and just last week, Corpus Christi.
This morning, we change gears as we head off into the Summer months, to a more systematic reading through of Luke’s Gospel.
This morning we pick up in the midst of the Seventh Chapter of Luke, to the account of the Raising of the Widow of Nain’s Son.
Let me give you a little background first. Early the day before, Jesus had gone up a mountain with his disciples, and from among them, he had chosen the Twelve men who would be his closest companions for the rest of his ministry – we call them the Apostles. That afternoon he came down from the mountain, and he gave what is in Luke’s gospel, the equivalent of the Sermon on the Mount – sometimes referred to the sermon on the plain. When he had finished speaking, he went to Capernaum, on the Shore of the Sea, and he heals the servant of a centurion.
The next day, Jesus moves out from Capernaum, and was going to a town called Nain, which was southeast of his home town of Nazareth. Ther was a large crowd with Jesus and as he came to the walls of the city, to one of the gates which one had to pass through to enter, he met a funeral cortege. Luke tells us “a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.”
It’s here, in the midst of two large crowds – one full of weeping, mourning, and sadness, at the death of their fellow citizen, and another, full of wonder as the thought about all the things which Jesus had taught about the day before – in the midst of these two crowds, the Lord sees the grieving mother, and he has compassion on her. And speaking only the words “Do not weep” he approaches the bier and touches it, a silent indication to the pall bearers to stop. “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Luke tells us that at those words, “the dead man sat up, and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
There are two other accounts of Jesus raising someone from the dead in the Gospels: Jarius’ Daughter, and Lazareth, the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany.
We may be tempted to think that the miracle which Jesus wrought in raising the son was for the benefit of the Son – to save him from death, perhaps. But Luke’s telling of the story tell us different.
Jesus compassion wasn’t for the boy on the bier. Rather, the one who Jesus had compassion upon, the one he sought to comfort was the mother. Luke tells us “he had compassion on her and said to her ‘do not weep’”.
Rather than the focus being on the dead man, Jesus draws out attention to the living woman – the one who suffered the most from the loss, first of her husband, and now of her only Son.
We could think about why Jesus had such compassion on her over the loss of her son – on her grief, but rather I want us to focus on something more.
In response to her grief, Jesus gave her back her son. Luke says “he came forward and touched the beir…” and said “Young man I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”
Jesus gave him to his mother.
That’s what struck me about our passage this morning.
There is something here which tells us that our life is not our own. It does not belong to us, and we do not live it for ourselves.
Jesus did not raise the dead man for the dead man’s sake. Rather, he raised the dead man for the sake of someone else. The life he gave back to the Son was not meant for the son, but rather for others.
There’s something here that we learn about Jesus’ own resurrection – he was not resurrected for himself, but rather, he was raised for the life of the world – he was raised for someone else- for you and for me – that we might not grieve death, that we might indeed have life and have it abundantly in him.
And finally, there is something in this short little story that reminds us that the life which Christ has won for us – which he has given us in our baptism, which he nourishes with his own Sacramental Body and Blood on the altar – that life we have is not for our own sake.
It is for the sake of others – our life is a gift that has been given, not to us, but to the world.
The world around us is full of self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-infatuated people, who are only interested in three people: me, myself, and I.
But our lives as Christians are meant to be markedly different than the world around us. Our lives are not for ourselves, but are a gift to those around us.
Our Lord himself said “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
More than anything else, everyone who looks at us should know that we are Christians by the way that we love one another.
Love is never about me – it’s not about my own ego, but rather, it’s about me reaching out into the world.
Jesus gave the Son to his mother.
Our heavenly Father, gave Jesus to you and to me.
Jesus gave us life – his life
And that life we have been given, which Is not our own, is meant to be given to others in and which the same love which it has been given to us.
HUDSON FALLS—The women’s group at Church of the Holy Cross in Warrensburg donated five handmade quilts, stuffed animals and toys to our children in foster care. The groups looks forward to finding new ways to give to the children at Berkshire and encourages others to give when they can. Thank you to Barbara and Church of the Holy Cross for their thoughtful gift to our children in care. We truly value the meaningful friendships we build with our local community members and love seeing the creative ways they give to our children and families.
The Holy Cross Knitting Circle meets the Second Saturday of the Month. Please contact Barb Kelly through the Church Office (623-3066) with questions! Everyone is welcome, even if you are not a member of Holy Cross Church!
Easter Day 2016
Lent’s long shadows have departed!
All our woes are over now!
Death is conquered, man is free,
Christ has won the victory!
Today is the day the lord has made!
Let us be glad and rejoice in it! Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!
Today really is a day to rejoice. Setting all else aside, counting it as nothing, we rejoice for many reasons, all of which are the result of Christ’s victory over death.
And so today, we have one last and final thing to give up, one last thing to set aside to the greater glory of God and the building up of his Kingdom.
We have been working on giving up popularity, our lives, our enemies, superiority, expectations, and control throughout the forty days of Lent.
And now we come to one final thing which we must all give up in order to imitate Christ in his life, death, and resurrection so that we may receive the fullest benefits of our adoption as Children of God, heirs with Christ, of the Glorious and great kingdom of God our heavenly Father.
The psalmist says “Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me for your mercy’s sake. For in death no one remembers you; and who will give you thanks in the grave?”
Today, on the day when Christ has won the victory for you and for me over sin, we are called to give up Death and to accept that wonderful and powerful gift of the resurrection into the very center of our lives and our beings.
Now, from a human point of view, death is a natural part of living, you might say. Each of us, save for the second coming of Christ which we must all be awaiting with eagerness and a blessed hope, will face the death of this body, this jar of clay.
But nonetheless, we must be willing in our hearts and minds, to give up the belief that death has the final say in our lives and indeed, the lives of those whom we love, and who have passed on from this life, and await the glorious coming of our Lord.
I also do not mean, dear brothers and sisters, that we might somehow keep this body from dying. I’m not suggesting that we be modern day Ponce de Leons scouring the everglades of Florida for the fountain of Youth.
No. Rather, we must allow the treasure that is within these jars of clay to be made alive by the power of Christ’s Resurrection. That treasure – its not our hearts or minds – and yet that treasure is in them – that treasure is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God – in the face of Jesus Christ.
The kind of death that we are called to give up, in addition to this idea that the death of this body is the final say in the world, are those thousands of little deaths we face week by week, day by day, hour by hour as we live our lives in this world.
A dear colleague of mine, imparting his knowledge and wisdom of the Church’s liturgy and worship said to me once “You have to be careful not to interject too much of your own personality in the liturgy of the Church. It’s not about you. Your job is to lead God’s people in worship. The one place where your own experience and personality can come through however, is when you preach.”
I can only talk to you today about my own experience of giving up, or, rather, attempting to give up death.
Each of us, no doubt can recall moments of great despair, moments of suffering, moments of great turmoil brought about by forces external to us.
And I have found that, in my weakness, in my frailty, in my finiteness as a human being, I have allowed my self, who I am, or perhaps, who I think I am, to be turned over to those thoughts and feelings.
And in those moments, perhaps if you are anything like me, we have found ourselves spiritually dead. And in that death, that darkness, that place of unhappiness and despair, perhaps you, like me, have found that you wanted to remain there. To remain unmoved, unchanged, by anything or anyone.
This death that we face in those moments is a sort of dying to self. Like as we must all eventually face the death of our bodies, that death too, that death to self, is one which we must all go through.
I am reminded of the 18th chapter of the Book of Jeremiah. God calls Jeremiah to go down to the local potters shop.
“go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. And the vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to do.”
You see, you and I and all of us, are clay in the hands of our potter, our heavenly father. And the promise that Easter brings, is that no matter what, in the end, there will be a resurrection. There will be, when God is done with us, a perfectly crafted, beautiful vessel.
Our lives are like the clay. When it arrives on the wheel, it is formless and full of imperfection. But as the potter shapes the clay, he turns it into something useful, something beautiful.
But from time to time, the potter notices an imperfection in that clay. It’s too thick on one side, a sidewall out of shape.
And rather than trying to make something good out of something flawed, he starts over. He collapses the clay into a lump on the wheel, and begins to fashion it all over again.
The promise of this day, is that we shall be made into beautiful vessels in the hands of our Potter.
But that process of being pushed back into a lump. That process is a painful one. We’re okay with out imperfections, we can live with them. We learn to cope, we learn to live with them.
And so when we pushed down in to that lump again, so we can be reshaped and reformed into the beautiful vessel God wants us to be, we must give up the temptation to become bitter, angry, and resentful of that process. We must give up the old vessel we were. And we must accept that this lump we are in is not the final word of who God will shape us to be.
We face these little collapses, these reformations, day by day, week by week. Some, we hardly notice, and some are the most painful experiences of our lives.
We must give up the thought and belief that the collapse is the final word in our lives.
The final word is our lives is the Word of God, made flesh for you and for me, and having suffered and Died like you and I, gives us his life, the knowledge of the glory of God, in these earthen vessels.
On that day the Disciples found the tomb empty! The empty tomb is the mark of our Faith. And so we too must take up the life we have been given, Christ’s life, the Resurrection life and power, and live, leaving the tomb empty behind us as we move forward toward the fullness of life which the lord has given to you and to me – His life.
Today is the day the Lord has made. Let us set death behind us. Let us take the life he gives us, day by day hour by hour, moment by moment and live it in love and thanksgiving and adoration.
O Risen Lord we look to you
For light and understanding
Be with us now to guide our way
In life and love commanding
Foil our fears and wipe our tears
Each of life moments demanding
Till at last a life time is past
And its your life we see we’ve been living.
Giving Up Popularity
Palm Sunday 2016
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Throughout these days of lent, we have been considering that old Lenten discipline of “Giving something up” for Lent. Each of us as individuals has probably tried giving something we like as a matter of self-discipline. Something that we like: chocolate, beer, gin. Maybe we even tried to give up something about ourselves which we didn’t like.
Together, we have been considering those things which God is calling us to give up, not just for Lent, but for the whole of our lives: Control, Expectations, Superiority, Enemies, and even our Lives.
Today we consider giving up popularity, which Merriam-Webster says is the “state of being liked, enjoyed, accepted, or done by a large number of people.” The Oxford Dictionary adds “or by a specific group of people.”
Its very appropriate that we consider this theme today, Palm Sunday.
For it was on that day that Jesus was welcomed into the Holy City Jerusalem by the crowds who shouted “Hosannah to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” In a few moments, we will join with the crowds who welcomed Jesus into the Holy City of Jerusalem to the popular shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and we too will carry with us palm branches to spread in his path.
But what really happened that day?
We have heard the story, we know it by heart.
Jesus enters Jerusalem not on the valiant white steed of some great earthly King, but on a donkey, the foal of a beast of burden. I’m always reminded this day of G.K. Chesterton’s poem “the Donkey”.
When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.
The honor of carrying the Son of God into his Holy City was not given to the greatest specimen of horses the world could provide. But to that creature which would know the great honor given to it. And so it is, too, with you and me as we carry Jesus our into the world.
We know the story by heart. But what lies behind it?
The prophet Zechariah foretold this event. IT was an event that was part of the Restoration of Israel, when Isreal’s enemies would be defeated, and her King would triumphantly return to his City.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
The crowds no doubt saw the donkey, knew the significance. The knew this was the one whom Zechariah had prophesied about. And seeing the great event they gave the festal shout “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
They quoted Psalm 118.
Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
Where else would the King go but up to the Temple? They knew where he was going. They knew what was happening. It unfolded right before their eyes. Lift up your heads you mighty gates and the King of Glory will come in. And to the Temple he went.
And that’s where our Gospel lesson this morning ends.
Jesus, welcomed in popular acclaim by the crowds in Jerusalem. The Pharisees telling him to stop them and he replying if they do not cry out the very stones will shout for joy to proclaim the victory of the King.
Do you remember what happens next, according to Mark’s gospel?
What does he find?
He finds nothing. The temple was empty. The crowds that shouted with acclaim had left him. Popularity is a fleeting thing. Here one minute gone the next.
Did Jesus allow this event to happen because he wanted to feel popular? Did he do it to feel good about himself?
No, he didn’t. He allowed it to happen in order that the prophecy might be fulfilled.
But it also gives us pause to reflect on the crowd and it’s reaction to our Lord.
As we gather here this morning, will we too allow our Lord to find the temple in which he truly wishes to enter, the temple of the Holy Spirit, our selves, our souls and bodies, will we allow him to find that empty?
Jesus enters again into the Holy Temple today. Not seeking us to acclaim him with popular fervor.
Rather, he comes to us, yes, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but also as the one who said “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”
As we make this procession today, we lead Jesus, not the popular prophet that the crowds saw that day into the city to find the temple empty.
Rather, we lead in our King and our friend, who paid that ultimate sacrifice for you and for me. Greater love hath no man, he said, then to lay down his life for his friends. That’s what he did for you and for me in that Holy Week so long ago. And for that we rejoice and give thanks to him, our friend, whose life now lives in us and through us, to the glory of his Father and our Father. Amen.