Sunday, January 17, 2010

Good News!

Today at the Bishop's Committee meeting at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa, we received some very good financial news. It seems that the total amount of pledges has risen by over 26% as compared to last year. I have heard from a number of other local Churches of all denominations with a common theme, congregations are putting less and less in the collection plate.

So it is truly a Godsend to be part of a small but growing congregation that doesn't have to worry whether there will be enough money to keep the lights on and the toilet flushing.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit sermon

This is a sermon that I gave on January 10, 2010 at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa.

Don’t you hate it? You are watching a great movie on T.V. The excitement is mounting. You are getting to a really good part. You are sitting on the edge of your seat. Then right in the middle before the plot is revealed or the plot takes a new and exciting twist, a commercial comes on. For the next two to three minutes you see commercials about everything imaginable.

We are told that advertisers may buy at least forty time slots on a single station, for a single day, when introducing a new product. No doubt they are on to something. Classic sayings abound. “Plop. Plop. Fizz. Fizz. Oh, what a relief it is.” “Snap, Crackle , Pop.” “Don’t Leave Home With Out It.” "Finger lickin’ good." "Have a break. Have a Kit-Kat." "Just do it." “Built Ford Tough.”

The very successful media people have one question in mind: Have you heard? We have heard. We remember those jingles, even years after they have been taken off the air. They are memorable. Now, I wonder, have we heard the Gospel? It is full of the Good News of the gospel! Did we give it our full attention to hearing it? Do we hear the Gospel with all our channels on, our tuning controls adjusted and the sound turned up?

There is a lot of interference in our lives. Sometimes we even may experience a complete breakdown in the reception. Just as when it comes time to hear a sermon. The sleep mode kicks in or we put everything on mute. Hearing is not easy even at the best of times. I read a story about a church that installed devices for the hearing impaired. One man in his mid-eighties had been going to the church regularly for years. But in these later years he was unable hear very well. Still, he came to be present, to have a feel for what was happening, to imagine what was being said, to read the preacher’s lips and catch enough to enable him to later talk with his wife about the main points. The day came; he was given a receiver; he placed the earphones in his ear. As he left the church all he could say was, "I could hear. For the first time in years I could hear, but I guess I didn’t miss much.”

When Jesus was baptized a voice spoke to him, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. ” According to some of the gospel accounts it seems that Jesus was the only one who heard that voice even though he was baptized with others. Was it because the voice was only spoken to him or was no one else really listening? How easy it is to tune out the voice of God, to focus our lives on the routine, the practical, the house to be cleaned, the oil change for the car, the errands to be run, taking the kids to their various activities. How easy it is tune out the voice of the world. Even though we now live in a "global village" our own little worlds are becoming smaller.

As the earth becomes one family, the fences become higher around our lives. Often it is said people don’t visit like they use too. How ironic that we are becoming more insular in a world that has become much smaller. We would rather keep to ourselves than hear the voices of others. One thing is clear, God needs many channels, many witnesses, and many voices speaking the Good News. That is why the baptism of Spirit comes not only to Jesus, but also through Jesus to his followers, that’s us. We are the voices of the Spirit. We are communicators of the gospel in the midst of the world. We are called, every one of us to live each day with the central question in our minds, heart, and souls: Have you heard? We need to ask ourselves have we affirmed this part of our baptism - the promise that God will speak through us for the transformation of the world? Have we considered the promise of a Spirit who will work in us and through us in many surprising ways for the blessing of God’s people?

Earlier in this Chapter, John the Baptist had been preparing for an important visitor. He encouraged people to turn to God and baptized them in the Jordan River. Baptism was normally administered to Gentiles, non-Jews, who wanted to join the Jewish religion. For a Jew to submit to baptism required great humility. It was as if they were admitting to not being part of God’s people, and wanting to join them.

There was also the symbolism of washing. Baptism conveyed a spiritual cleansing, turning from what was wrong to make a fresh start with God. So this should affect the way they lived their lives. The chronological order of this was :

  1. someone decides to turn away from living life their own way and start living for God.

  2. they are baptized to symbolize this.

  3. They have to live for God in a practical way.

John’s ministry caused people to question if he was the Messiah or anointed one from God whom they were expecting. John makes it clear that he is not, and that the Messiah will be superior to him in a number of ways.

The most menial job that a slave could do was to untie someone’s sandal before washing their feet. That is why none of the disciples volunteered to do this job before the Last Supper in the Gospel of John. It was a vile job because people’s shoes and feet would be caked with who knows what from the streets. John is saying that he is not even worthy to do this menial job for Jesus. He said that he baptized in water. This Baptism was inferior to that of Jesus. John’s baptism signified that people wanted to turn from their sin to live life God’s way. But it gave them no power to live like that. It was not a Christian baptism because it did not involve the death of Jesus, or the work of the Holy Spirit. The first Christian baptisms were administered to three thousand people on the first day of Pentecost.

John said, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. " What did he mean by this? This is not saying that pouring water on someone’s head with water, or plunging someone under water will make them a Christian. It is saying that Jesus will give the baptism of, or immerse or flood his followers with, the Holy Spirit when they give control of their life to him.

In the Bible, fire can be used in a number of ways. Here it is referring to the refining or purifying work on God’s Holy Spirit. A precious metal such as gold or silver is heated up to burn away any impurities. The Holy Spirit also works like fire, burning away our nasty bits, making us more like Jesus. God the Holy Spirit gives us the power to be holy. The word holy means set apart for God. He lives inside all Christians and being God, and being Holy is opposed to that which is unholy, not of God.

John goes on to talk of how Jesus will divide and judge people. "His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The winnowing fork was used to toss wheat and chaff into the air. The wheat grains, being heavier would fall straight to the ground. The lighter chaff would be blown to one side, and be swept away to be burned. This represents the way that God will one day judge people in the way that they have responded to him. Those who have accepted God into their lives will be gathered up, taken to be with God for ever. Those who do not accept God will be condemned to spend an eternity without God. This is another way that fire is used in the Bible. To refer to the punishment that awaits the unrepentant.

Did John the baptist have the Holy Spirit within him? Of course he did, just like all of the prophets in the old testament had the Holy Spirit within themselves. Do we have the Holy Spirit within us? I believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, does work within each one of our lives. In Acts today, Peter and John laid hands upon some Samaritans and then the Holy Spirit became very evident within those people. This is very much like when the Bishop lays his hands upon the heads of the confirmands at their confirmation.

So my prayer for all of us today is that we recognize that the Holy Spirit is within us. And that we use the Holy Spirit to do God's will within our lives as well as in the wider world.

I would like to close today with the following:

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on us,

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on us,

Melt us, mold us, fill us, use us,

Spirit of the living God,

Fall afresh on us.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Don't let the bastards get you down.

A week ago I was called into the headquarters for the farm cooperative that I work for. I was told that they were "rearranging the seats on the bus" and that my position was going to change. Well my seat went from being towards the front of the bus to being somewhere by the frame and the rear tires. I was pissed to say the least, they were transferring me to a different branch and dropping my wages. All of this was due to a restructuring of the company and a run in that I had with a salesman that is the current golden boy of the company.

For a few days, I felt as if the dark specter of depression might be creeping back into my life. But I did recognize it and with the help of my lovely wife and God, I can keep that monkey off my back. And I decided that I can't let those bastards get me down.

But compared to what people in Haiti are dealing with, my problems are minuscule. So please pray for all of the people that are having to suffer through the aftermath of the earthquake.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The beginning of a journey.

After much prayerful thought, I've finally decided to get the ball rolling vocationally for me. I've sent a letter to my Bishop to let him know that I want to officially get going on the priesthood ordination process. This isn't something that I come by lightly or something that I decided on overnight. It is the culmination of a dozen years of discernment that started in the United Methodist Church and ended up in the Episcopal Church. Along the way I was even offered a local church pastorate but I had the feeling that God wanted me to wait for something else. That something else was the Episcopal Church and specifically the Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa. It is a place where my family and I feel like we really have found a Church home. As one of the parishioners puts it, "Church of the Saviour is the home to people that don't fit in other Churches. It like the island of misfit toys where everything seems to actually fit together."

As time goes by I will be having a post now and then about my journey through the candidacy process.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Wise Guy Sermon

Here is the sermon that I gave at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa today, January 3, 2010.

Even though today is still in the Christmas season the Gospel lesson tells us the story of the Wise Men. Epiphany is the time when we celebrate the coming to the three Wise Men to meet Jesus and their encounter with King Herod

But have you ever stopped to think what would have happened if it had been the three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?

  1. They would have asked directions in Bethlehem rather than feeling that they needed to stop off at the Palace in Jerusalem,

  2. They would have arrived on time,

  3. They would have helped deliver the baby; they would have cleaned the stable and given practical gifts – like bringing a casserole and

  4. There would be Peace on Earth.

But who were these wise men – the Magi?

Very little is known about the Magi.

Matthew doesn’t even record how many of them there were.

All the Bible tells us is that they came from the East to Jerusalem. And so it is more than likely they were not Jews but Gentiles.

Popular myth calls them astrologers but that wasn’t necessarily so.

It is generally accepted that the Magi were a priestly caste from Persia where modern Iran and Iraq are now located.

In the second century, a church father named Tertullian suggested that these men were kings because the Old Testament had predicted that kings would come to worship the Christ. Tertullian also concluded that there were three kings based on the number of gifts mentioned, gold, frankincense and myrrh.

In the sixth century, someone decided that their names were Melchior, Baltazar and Gaspar.

And the term Magi is the base from which our modern words magician and magistrate are derived.

I would like to focus on the gifts they brought. If the Scripture can be bothered to record them so carefully - there must be a reason for doing so.

The gifts were: gold, frankincense and myrrh

The first gift was Gold.

Gold signifies Jesus’ Kingly role. What is more fitting than gold for a King!

If Jesus is to be the King in my life, then I am challenged by the thought: What gold can I bring to Jesus today?

In other words: What do we hold onto as precious that we can give to God?

The second gift was frankincense. Why did they give frankincense to Jesus?

Frankincense was an ingredient used by the priests in temple worship to blend with the smell of the sacrifices.

To me it signifies Jesus’ priestly role.

Jesus was the King of Jews, but he was also the "great high priest."

The writer of the book of Hebrews expressed it like this:

"For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people."

As Paul puts it, One of Jesus’ greatest desires is that we offer up our lives as a sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.

In other words, that we live for God and cultivate a deep relationship with Him

So the gift of Frankincense speaks to me of a daily time of quiet that we should spend with Jesus - in prayer and Bible Study.

This is often the hardest time to find. As we live busy lives, this is the first thing that gets pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Is this the gift you can bring to Jesus today? Our gift of time?

The third gift was myrrh.

Myrrh is a very intense perfume. In Jesus’ time, people used Myrrh on their dead. A thoughtless gift, you might say for a baby shower?

Not for this baby. For myrrh signifies the death of Jesus. These wise men, in their wisdom knew that Jesus was born to die.

The writer of the book of Hebrews put it like this: ".. we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

So when I think of myrrh, I am challenged to think of why Jesus came to earth – to die for the sins of all the world. And that makes me consider mission work.

Jesus has called his Church to share the Good News to all nations.

Is a willingness to share the good news of Jesus with your friends and neighbors the gift that you might bring to Jesus today.

Or perhaps you might consider supporting a mission through Episcopal Relief and Development or helping out in our Swaziland fund instead?

In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a thought from the presents that the Magi brought to Jesus.

What Gold, Frankincense or Myrrh do you believe God is calling you to bring to Christ at this time?

Gold – do we have something we hold precious that we can offer to Jesus?

Frankincense – are we prepared to give more time that we hold precious to God each day– for example a longer time of quiet with Him each day and

Myrrh –are we prepared to be more willing to share the Gospel, its good news and sacrifice, with those around us?

My prayer for all of us is that we are willing to give these three gifts to God today, tomorrow, and all throughout this year


Saturday, January 2, 2010

A bit chilly....

A view to the north.

Tonight the low temperatures are supposed to be a bit on the cold side, the forecast is calling for air temperatures to be -17 F (-27 C) and the wind chill forecast is a balmy -26 F (-32 C). Right now it is -2 F (-19 C) and actually it doesn't feel bad at all outside. I took the above photo while I was out doing chores this afternoon. Even though I had problems with watering the livestock due to the cold, the chores went well.

So to everyone, stay warm and safe tonight. God Bless.

Thanks for 2009

The restroom at Church of the Saviour in Clermont.

What are the things that I'm thankful for during the past year?
Well there are many things....
Such as being thankful for my family, the kids have grown in many ways, physically, emotionally, spiritually. It is hard to believe that all of them are now in school.
I'm thankful for getting a different job, one that pays much better and allows me to work in agriculture and actually get paid for it.
I'm thankful for being a part of a growing congregation at Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa, where after 142 years there is finally indoor plumbing!
I'm thankful for my lovely wife, Marcia, who has put up with me for over 21 years.
And the thing that sums it all up best is this:
I'm thankful to God for all that I have and all that I am.