Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Humpty Dumpty Advent Sermon

This is the sermon I gave at the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa on December 11, 2011.

John 1:6-8, 19-28
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalms 126

We've all heard the old familiar nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the Kings horses and all the kings men. Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. You are probably thinking, where in the heck is he going with this, so please bear with me.

Humpty Dumpty was this egg who lived in a kingdom. He was cheerful and chipper sitting high up waiting on a wall. Never had the fear of being poached, boiled, or fried. Never had the concern of becoming an omelet or a meringue. Humpty Dumpty lived a good life. Sitting high up, he was able to look down at the townsfolk as they went by. Never had a care or a concern. But one day as he sat up on top of his wall, something happened. Now the story doesn’t breakdown what it was. Perhaps he had an argument with his wife. Maybe she became angry and tried to scramble him. Perhaps he had upset his neighbor and they had their boys go and attempt to crack him up. Maybe he had just received a bill that was so astronomical that it caused him to split his yolk. Maybe he found out his daughter was pregnant and became so angry he popped, like an over boiled egg. Maybe he lost his job and it caused him to tumble. Maybe his son got sick and it broke him up. Maybe he got cracked up because he was strung out on crack. I don’t know, I wasn’t there. But Humpty Dumpty fell down and he broke so the king of the town was called to come and try to put this egg’s life back together. Now we have all dropped an egg. We have each seen how it splatters and shatters. Imagine the King and his men’s attitude when they saw this mess before them. A shell in millions of pieces. Egg white mixture possibly even beginning to sizzle on the hot pavement. The yolk speckled with gravel and soot. Humpty Dumpty dipped, tripped, and fell down to go splat! The king and his footmen gave up and left Humpty Dumpty in a heap. What in the world does this have to do with anything?

Well, Humpty was waiting around just like we do during Advent. We wait and prepare for the birth of Jesus at Christmas. But just because we are waiting doesn't mean that the rest of the world stops. Things happen, and sometimes, they aren't good things, as in Humpty Dumpty's case.

The local yokels, the king and his men, couldn't put Humpty together again. But we as a congregation can help, by supporting one another during our time of waiting, when those little cracks appear along the edges.

But let's look at the story again. Perhaps Humpty was a reptile egg. Perhaps it was a baby turtle, and the cracking was a necessary part of the process. In that case, the King's men wouldn't have been able to put Humpty together again, but they wouldn't have wanted to. Humpty, though the act of becoming cracked and broken, became something new. Something that represented new life. In fact, those cracks may have been the signal that something new was coming. In that case, we, as a congregation, can gently help the people as they move and grow, encouraging and being there as they transform into something new. The cracks are normal—what we do when they appear is our measure of Spreading the Kingdom of God.

Paul tells us today to do a number of things including rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Those are things that we do every week at Church during our Prayers of the People and during Eucharist. We need to remember that living our lives in the fashion that Paul describes will bring us closer to God and help us in our waiting.

In the Gospel, John the Baptist came as a witness to the light, to be the precursor to Jesus. John didn't simply wait though, he had an active ministry in helping people to repent. Now we might not be all called to a ministry like that of John the Baptist. But we all are called to ministry, helping out those in need, and that is something we can do during advent and all throughout the year.

So, I pray for all of us to be reminded that we shouldn't just wait during advent or at any time of the year, we should help others when they have a Humpty Dumpty moment and that they will help us when the cracks appear. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Friday, September 23, 2011

College Football - Week 4

This week is a bye week for the Iowa State Cyclone football team.

I had a couple of fumbles in last weeks predictions.  I had Oklahoma losing but they won and Iowa losing but they also won.  So for the year I'm 10/12 which is 83%, a B grade, so I could improve.

My top team, Oklahoma, beat a very good Florida State team by 10 last week, this week they start conference play with Missouri.  I believe that it will be a good game but in the end I have the Sooners winning by a couple touchdowns.

My bottom ranked team, the San Jose State Spartans, lost another one last week to Nevada but by a surprisingly small margin of 4 points.  This week they face New Mexico State at home, this is a game that I think they can win, but it will be a squeaker, the Spartans by a field goal.

Iowa beat a good Pittsburgh team in the fourth quarter last week.  They came back and beat the Panthers by 4 points.  Next up for the Hawkeyes is Louisiana - Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference.  The Hawkeyes should have no problem with this team.  Iowa wins by four touchdowns.

The Iowa State Cyclones beat Connecticut by 4 points in a come from behind win.  This is becoming familiar with this Cyclone team.  Iowa State has a bye week this week, they will need it to get ready for Big XII action, starting with an improved Texas team.

Until next week, keep the grill warm at the tailgate!

Friday, September 16, 2011

College Football - Week 3

The Iowa State Cyclones meet the University of Connecticut Huskies on Friday night.

There were some surprises that happened in the college football landscape in Week 2.  But for the teams I mentioned last week, my predicted winners won and the predicted loser lost.  So I was at a 100% again.  But for the spreads I did ok but wasn't spot on.  My top ranked team, Oklahoma had a bye week so that was easy on me.  The bottom feeder, San Jose State, lost by only 10, where I had a loss by multiple touchdowns.  I missed that spread by a bit.  But for the BIG GAME, the Iowa State Cyclones hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes, I predicted a win by two from the Cyclones.  As it turned out it was decided in the third overtime,  Iowa State beat Iowa by three points.  No matter who won, it was one of the most enjoyable games that I've attended in a long time.  But that chapter has closed and it is time to move on to the upcoming weekend.

The Oklahoma Sooners travel to Florida State on Saturday.  This is the marquee game this weekend.  I believe that this will be a very tough game and a very close game.  Since they are playing on the Florida State Seminoles home turf, I think that the Sooners will walk away with a loss by around a field goal.

The San Jose State Spartans host WAC foe Nevada.  The Nevada Wolfpack has started out 0-1, but I believe that they should be able to handle the Spartans with no problem.  The Wolfpack will win over the Spartans by a 4+ TD margin.

The Iowa Hawkeyes host Big East power Pittsburgh.  The Hawkeyes have a lot of questions on both sides of the ball and I'm sure that the Pittsburgh Panthers will be ready to play.  So I believe that it will be a close game but the Panthers will beat the Hawkeyes by less than a touchdown.

Finally, the undefeated Iowa State Cyclones travel to Connecticut to face the UConn Huskies on Friday night.  This nationally televised game is very important to both teams.  The Cyclones are overall playing better than the Huskies so my prediction is that Iowa State will win but by another close margin of less than a touchdown.

Friday, September 9, 2011

College Football - Week 2

The New CyHawk Trophy that won't be used. (Anyone need a doorstop?)

The second week of college football is upon us and here is how my predictions panned out for last week. Oklahoma was to win by 4+ touchdowns and won by 33 points. San Jose State was to lose by 4+ touchdowns and lost by 54 points. Iowa was to win by 4+ touchdowns and won by 27 points. Iowa State was to win by 3+ touchdowns and won by 1 point. So I got all of the winners and losers correct but only got the spread right on half of them. Maybe I can improve on that...

Anyway this week in my rankings I have Oklahoma retaining their top status. But this week is a bye week for the Sooners so they will have to watch any football on the television.

San Jose State retained their bottom ranking and this week they play UCLA which isn't all that great either but I believe that the Spartans are so bad that they again lose by 4+ touchdowns.

Saturday is the "BIG GAME" for the State of Iowa. The University of Iowa Hawkeyes will square off with the Iowa State University Cyclones in Ames. The last couple of years have been all Hawkeyes but even with the scare that Northern Iowa gave the Cyclones last week, I believe that Iowa State is improving with head coach Paul Rhoads. Since the Cyclones play at home, I will be a 'homer' and predict that Iowa State wins by 2 points, 30-28. Hopefully I will be correct and watch the Cyclones keep whatever they have for a trophy this year.

Friday, September 2, 2011

College Football - Week 1

Another college football season has rolled around again. And again I will offer my measly rankings and prognostications on my top ranked university, bottom ranked university, and the local teams at Iowa and, of course, my beloved Iowa State Cyclones.

For the first week, my top ranked team is Oklahoma. The Sooners were very strong last year and it looks like they could be completely unstoppable this year. Oklahoma plays Tulsa on Saturday and I think that the Sooners will roll, winning by 4+ touchdowns.

On the other end is my bottom ranked team, which is San Jose State. The Spartans were rather hapless last year with only one win. I'm not seeing all that much improvement for them this year. San Jose State plays Stanford on Saturday and I expect that the Spartans will lose by a margin of over 4+ touchdowns.

Iowa hosts Tennessee Tech on Saturday and the Hawkeyes should have an easy time of it with a win of 4+ touchdowns.

Iowa State hosts intrastate rival Northern Iowa on Saturday. The Cyclones should win this hands down but Northern Iowa will have some tricks up their sleeve. When the dust settles, the Cyclones should have a win by a 3 touchdown margin. I know I will be in Ames to cheer Iowa State onto victory.

I will report back next week to see how my predictions turned out.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Watching out for those gray days...

Today starts the third week of my official permanent layoff from my employer. It has taken me a couple of weeks to really come to terms with it and what it means to me.

At first I was really upset, angry even, about the dysfunctional leadership at the company. My employment was not ended by my manager but by the CEO, COO, & CFO of the company. The only thing I can think of about why I was terminated was that I have a tendency to ask questions and some of those questions are hard ones, especially about finances of the company and why certain things were happening within the company.

After the anger episode I went on to what seems like my trusty companion of depression. My mood became gray, a lot like the days have been of late. Feeling like I was starting to slip into the clutches of depression, I've decided to fight. Not fight my former employer because I wasn't really happy at my job, but to fight the depression and see what is good about this change. I've sent out many resumes but haven't gotten much in return.

Then last week, I heard about an opportunity through my sister for a part time position in the real estate/banking industry. It may not pay as much as I've gotten in the past but it does provide flexibility in the schedule. That flexibility will be crucial as I look to start taking seminary classes and do more in ministry as I slowly plod towards priesthood. Also, it appears that my Mulefoot pork business is finally starting to take off. So I will be able to get some income from my hogs instead of having a bunch of expensive pets.

I am still on the watch for those gray days, but here and there, a sliver of sunshine is starting to break through.

And that feels wonderful!

Monday, March 14, 2011


The temptations of Jesus.

This is the sermon I gave the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa on March 13, 2011.


Matthew 4:1-11
Romans 5:12-19

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

Psalms 32

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

We have entered Lent, it is a time that is set aside for self examination, repentance, reconciliation and restoration. And on this first Sunday of Lent, we hear the readings where Jesus is tempted, Adam and Eve are tempted and sin, and Paul tells the Romans that sin is death. It is a good thing that the Psalm tells us that we can be forgiven of our sins, otherwise this could be a real downer.

But, I'm going to focus today on Jesus and the temptations that he faced and what he did about them.

If a commercial on the television is to be believed then temptation truly comes in the form of cake or chocolate or chocolate cake, but of course temptation comes in many shapes and sizes, such as the story of Billy.

Billy woke up one Monday morning particularly tempted to stay at home because he was feeling quite sick, fed up and nervous about going off to school and so he told his mother about it. She was having none of it.

But Mom,” said Billy. “I hate school. Lots of people can’t stand me. Most of the children call me names. Most of the teachers can’t stand the sight of me. I can’t concentrate on anything. No one wants to sit near me at lunch time, people walk off if they see me coming, and there have even been graffiti drawings about me. Mom, I am not going to school anymore.”

“But Billy, you have to, you’re the principal.”

Billy was sorely tempted to lie and to avoid his responsibilities, and he was giving in to the temptation. He was removing the chocolate from its wrapper, and falling into sin.

Let’s be clear. Temptation is not sin. So if temptation is not sin, then what is it? Temptation is pressure to give in to influences that lead away from God and into sin. Temptation is a doorway and then a bridge into sin if we cross it.

While I was thinking about today's Gospel, I thought through again all the questions that have been raised for generations.

Was this temptation experience a literal event in the life of Jesus or are we supposed to see it as a parable of sorts?

Was it partly that Jesus was hallucinating after 40 days without food?

Is Jesus deliberately being presented in these stories as an archetype for the people of Israel, who were themselves tempted in the wilderness for 40 years?

Are the forms of the temptations meant to reflect the temptations that were given to Israel or perhaps even to Adam and Eve?

These and other similar questions are the ones we tend to get caught up in when we ponder this text. But then it occurred to me that by getting caught up in all these esoteric questions, we run the real risk of overlooking what is surely the most fundamental thrust of the whole passage: namely, that Jesus was tempted!

Whatever happened out there in the wilderness, and however we understand the actual nature of the experience, this is, I think, the one thing that the Gospel writers wanted to make abundantly clear, that Jesus was tempted, and I don’t think we want to underestimate the significance of this.

We struggle here on planet earth. We struggle with greed, with lust, with the desire to get ahead or at least keep up with the idiots living next door. We covet our neighbor’s car and their bank account, and quite possibly their spouse and their ox and their ass as well, and I think we generally assume that God is somehow above all of this and yet we’re told here quite clearly, Jesus was tempted too!

Now you’re probably thinking, “well, I don’t think He was tempted with exactly the same things that tempt me”, but I do think that the temptations we are presented with are supposed to be sort of generic, that within these three temptations, all the temptations that are common to us are covered.

Jesus is tempted to satisfy the ‘lusts of the flesh’, even be it his basic physical hunger, as he is tempted to satisfy that all too human lust for power.

These two temptations of Jesus: that He satisfy his hunger with bread and that He take authority over all the kingdoms of the world; coincide rather neatly with the two most prominent psychological theories of human motivation.

Sigmund Freud said that all our actions are determined by ‘The Pleasure Principle’; by our desire to pursue pleasure and run away from pain, and Jesus’ rejection of this first temptation is a rejection of a life determined by the pleasure principle.

Similarly, Jesus’ rejection of worldly authority is a rejection of a life that is driven by the lust for power and significance, which some psychologists have suggested is the basic motivational factor behind all human behavior.

By refusing to become either a consumer or a politician, Jesus defied these two basic human motivational principles. His life was not going to be determined by the pursuit of either pleasure or power.

The third temptation of course, where Jesus is tempted to throw Himself off the temple and let God take care of Him, is a little harder to make sense of in terms of these basic theories of human motivation, but it does strike me that if it’s a temptation to let go of your responsibilities and let God take care of everything, it does tap into something very basically human.

In my forty plus years, I've noticed that there are some people who don't want responsibilities, who want to run away from their problems instead of dealing with them. They want others to take care of them so they can do what they please without consequences. There is a temptation sometimes to do this, which can lead into feelings of guilt, not guilt because they’ve actually ran away from their problems, but guilt because they feel tempted. But hang on: Jesus was tempted with the same idea – to give up personal responsibility.

“Thus he had to become like his brothers in every way,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “so that he could be a merciful and faithful high priest. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Does that sound like Jesus to you?

We know Jesus suffered. We know He suffered on the cross; that he suffered physically and perhaps even at some spiritual level when he took on the sins of the world, but according to the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, and according this story that comes up in the Gospels, He also struggled with the same basic human drives with which we all struggle.

This is important, I think, and comes to the very heart of our understanding of the incarnation of God in Jesus. In Jesus we not only see God, but we also see ourselves. And I don’t only mean ourselves as we could be, can be, and should be. I mean that we see ourselves in all our human weakness too.

To quote the from the letter to the Hebrews again: "Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are.”

The affirmation of faith here is that there is no struggle that we go through and no weakness that we experience that Jesus does not sympathize with and understand, which is what makes Jesus a much better Savior than you or I would be!

This, I believe, is the very meaning of the Incarnation of God in Jesus. It means that we not only see God becoming human in Jesus, but also that in Jesus we see something of our humanity lifted up into God. And thus we find in God someone who feels what we feel and who sympathizes with us in our struggles, even when no one else can sympathize with us in those struggles.

Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. He knows what it is like to feel pain and want and overwhelming passion and temptation. He goes there with us and he struggles with us and he suffers every kind of temptation known to humanity, and yet; He overcomes, which means that there is hope for us too!

Temptation isn't something that just happens to us once in our life. That doorway of temptation will always be there, with the bridge to sin just beyond. It is like a combination of a long distance race that has a round of boxing every once in a while. We won't win all the battles, but we know that with Jesus in our corner, sympathizing with us in our weakness, comforting us when we fail, and strengthening us to persevere, that we will still be on our feet when the final bell sounds.

And then we can say, 'I have fought the good fight. I have run the race. I have kept the faith.'


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Working together as servants

A stained glass of St. Paul.
He had to keep reminding the Church in Corinth to stay on the correct path.

This is the sermon I gave the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa on February 13, 2011.

1 Corinthians 3:1-9

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

The Corinthians self-image was of a spiritually mature congregation, endowed with all the spiritual gifts they needed, well taught and self-sufficient. In fact they were quite similar to some churches today. They thought their learning and their experience of the gifts of God made them better than others. But as Paul looks at them he says Mature? I think not! Spiritual? No! Not spiritual.

You could say they’re suffering from what you might call an adolescence syndrome. They think they’re mature, and in some respects they are, but in other respects they’re still acting like children. What they don’t realize is that mere lapse of time doesn’t bring maturity whether in the secular or the Christian world. Maturity has more to it than just age or experience or education. It has to do with an attitude to life, with an ability to deal with the real world, to accept the limitations of life, the variety of gifts that people have. And that’s how he knows that they’re not yet mature as Christians.

There’s quarreling and jealousy among them. How can they say they’re spiritually mature if they show that sort of worldly immaturity? Rather than being directed by love for one another they’re driven by competitiveness. They’re constantly comparing one with another to see who’s the best, who’s the smartest, who’s got the right answers, or the best pedigree.

And of course the major issue in this divisiveness is the issue of leadership. They each have their favorite spiritual leader that they place on a pedestal. It’s amazing how little we’ve changed isn’t it? They may not have had TV or the mass media that we have today, but they still had their favorite stars. So what’s wrong with them having their favorite spiritual leader? Why is this a sign of immaturity?

The problem is that this view of leadership comes from the world, not from God.

The world’s view of leadership is that the leader is the one who gives directions, who sets the agenda, who determines what’s important and what’s not. He or she is the most important person in the organization. They’re the ones to be emulated. That’s why big companies pay their CEOs million dollar pay packages. Because without them their company will flounder. And of course that’s why eyebrows are raised when those corporate executives still get paid even if their company does flounder. But that’s another discussion.

But this isn’t big business. This is the church we’re talking about, and the criteria are different. Mind you, we need to be careful here. We’ll see later that he isn’t saying we don’t need leaders, or that the apostles or the preachers of the gospel don’t have a place in setting the direction of the church. But the problem he’s addressing here is the status that these leaders are being given that seems to set them above even Jesus Christ.

So he asks what is Paul, what is Apollos? Not who, notice, but what? You see, this isn’t about personalities, it’s about function, gifting. What are they there for? Well, in the Christian economy they’re there as servants. In fact he uses a metaphor from everyday life to illustrate what he’s saying.

Paul says, one plants another waters. So which is the one that matters most? Well, neither. What matters is that God gives the growth.

Will the plant grow if it isn’t planted? No. Will it grow if no-one waters it? No. What if the waterer waters a different piece of soil and ignores the bit where the seeds are? The seed won’t grow then either. Both are vital tasks. Neither is more important than the other. They are in fact fellow servants of the one God. Equal in importance and value.

Look around you today. What do you see? I hope you can see not just an odd bunch of people (or maybe a bunch of odd people) but a team of workers called by God to work together to grow his church.

You see, we’re all important members of God’s workforce. There are no part-time Christians in the Church; at least there shouldn’t be. Some of us are the ones who plant the seed of the gospel, through our words or our actions. Some are those who make the last connection for someone when they finally take the step of faith in Jesus Christ. Others water the seed until it comes to fruition or nurture the plant after it’s sprung into life through our encouragement. But without all of those tasks being accomplished by you and me the plant won’t thrive. In fact it could whither and die.

But notice that the one who serves is not dismissed. This isn’t saying they don’t matter. God uses this servant leadership to do his work, to build his church. Leaders matter, but only ever as servants of God, never as gurus or figureheads.

So there’s a line we need to walk between raising up our leaders to a place above the community and merging them into it to the point of insignificance. All the time remembering that we’re each fellow workers for God, serving together on God’s project, the Church.

So who do you belong to? Not Paul or Apollos, not the Episcopal Church. In fact they all belong to you, because you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. Here is true wisdom. If you’re on God’s side it doesn’t matter who else is on your side or not. We are all working together to plant the seeds, water the plants and then after God gives the growth, help in the harvest.

So lets work together as servants, so as to build up the church in unity according to God’s wisdom, not human wisdom.

Let us pray,

Dear God, we may plant the seed of your faith, but it is you, God, that makes that plant, your Church, to grow. May we be careful tenders of the Church, so that your will on Earth be done. In the name of the Father, the Creator, the Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.


The Berlin Wall, Martin Luther King Jr., The Field of Dreams, and Jesus

Martin Luther King Jr.

This is the sermon I gave the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa on January 16, 2011.

John 1:29-1:41

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

In 1961, one of the abiding symbols of the Cold War and Communism went up between East and West Germany. On November 9, 1989, that symbol came down. I remember watching TV news reports as people celebrated on top of the wall and how they took sledgehammers to break the wall down by themselves. I also remember reading an article about the fall of the Berlin Wall written by a World Methodist Council representative, it quoted a sign that the author saw the day after the wall came down, it read, 'Not the bear, not the lion, not the tiger, but the Lamb; the Lamb wins!

The lamb is usually a sign of gentleness and timidity, prone to disaster from many hazards. But for Christians, the lamb is a sign of victory. In today’s lesson, John the Baptist attaches the title “Lamb of God” to Jesus. While all of the gospels record the baptism of Jesus by John, each does so in a different way.

On the day after Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist saw Jesus walking toward him and exclaims that Jesus is the Lamb of God. While the expression Lamb of God has passed into regular Christian usage, it is not at all clear what it means exactly. This phrase only appears in this chapter of the Gospel of John.

St. Jerome, the great 4th century scholar, translated Scriptures into Latin (Vulgate) from their original tongues. Near the end of his life, Jerome encountered Jesus. The old saint and scholar gazed at Jesus for a moment and then asked: "Lord, what do you want from me?" Jesus said nothing, and continued to look lovingly on his faithful servant. This silence greatly disturbed Jerome. "Lord," Jerome insisted, "what do you want of me? My writings are all yours, my mind and my gift for languages are all yours, my piety and prayer life - they are all yours." "Jerome," Jesus said, "I already have all these things. I want what you have kept from me. Give me your sin."

Giving God our sin can be the hardest part of the Christian faith. It means that we have to admit that even our best efforts fall short of God’s righteousness. John the Baptist understood at some level that the Lamb of God would be sacrificed for the sin of the world. Perhaps John the Baptist is referring to the lamb of the Jewish sin offering. The Passover lamb is not a sin offering, but this is another possibility for interpretation. Possibly the Lamb of God of John the Baptist should be understood by the Church that lives after Christ’s resurrection as the conquering lamb of the Book of Revelation. Or is He the gentle lamb led off to slaughter in the prophecies of Jeremiah (11:19)? There are so many possibilities.

John the Baptist testifies that he saw the Spirit of God descend from heaven like a dove and come to rest on Jesus. John reiterates that before this happened he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. Now he understands that it is Jesus that he has been preparing the world to receive. Two of John's disciples listen, turn, and follow Jesus.

When Andrew and friends asked Jesus where he was staying Jesus replied, “Come and see.” They stayed with him for the whole day, and at it turned out, they stayed with Him the rest of their lives. The very definition of a disciple is one who stays with Jesus wherever that stay may be.

On the third day of this story, John sees Jesus once more, and he again identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God. This intrigues his followers. What could John mean? Someone versed in the Old Testament might recall the lamb that God provided when Abraham and Isaac went up on the Mount of Moriah (Gen. 22). Some see the Lamb of God as a subtle reference to the suffering servant that we find in Isaiah’s prophecies. Maybe Lamb of God is meant to signify the horned ram that leads a flock of sheep.

The truth is that there are so many possibilities, but what is clear is that the Lamb of God is the Messiah sent by God to bring judgement to the wicked and deliverance to the righteous. As we were last week, again we are at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. In today’s lesson, John the Baptist is pointing his followers toward Jesus. Two of them are curious enough that they begin to follow Jesus and Jesus notices them and asks them a question. This is the first question that Jesus asks in the Gospel of John and it is a good one. It still has relevance. "What are you seeking?"

It is quite possible that they, like many of us, didn’t know what they wanted or what they were looking for. What is it that any of us seek and find in Jesus? Perhaps there is a vague sense in us that we want what most people want: a comfortable lifestyle, good health, and maybe children who are successful. We want security for our golden years and to have some fun along the way. And hopefully, along that same way we can be of help to others that we meet.

Maybe we want nothing at all. I recall one of the scenes in Field of Dreams when Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella goes to Fenway Park with reclusive author Terrence Mann. Kinsella asks Mann, “What do you want?” To which, Mann answers, “I just want to be left alone.” Kinsella points to a concession stand and explains that he was asking whether or not Mann wanted any food or drink.

Maybe you feel like Terrence Mann; you just want to be left alone. The problem for the Christian is that Jesus doesn’t just leave us alone. When we are first intrigued by Him, he beckons us further with a simple invitation, “Come and see.” When we have chosen to be His follower, He sends us into places and situations that we never would have chosen for ourselves. Chances are, for most of us, we’re not going to be staying at a fabulous hotel when we are on the road with Jesus.

In April of 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King was invited to stay in a place that was not of his choosing. King was in Birmingham, Alabama for a series of civil rights protests. The police commissioner “Bull” Connor had King arrested on Good Friday along with 54 other marchers for “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing. King was parked in the Birmingham Jail where he was singled out for isolation and denied the chance to make phone calls or the legal right to talk to his lawyers.

He had no mattress or linen, and ended up sleeping on metal slats. Over the Easter weekend, in solitary confinement, down in what was called “the hole,” Martin Luther King was staying with Jesus. It was while he was locked up that King penned one of the most significant Christian documents of the civil rights movement. Surprisingly, his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” was not addressed to abusive police officers or racist politicians, but to a group of white, liberal clergymen who were urging people to withdraw from the demonstrations which they called “unwise and untimely.”

King responded strongly to their criticism and rebuked them by saying “we must use time creatively and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right.” He pointed out that “it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” His letter was a stirring condemnation of those who would do nothing in the face of so much injustice directed at blacks.

When Jesus invites us to “Come and See,” He is welcoming us into a life that is abundant with meaning and purpose, but He is not necessarily inviting us into a life free from conflict or turmoil. Who is this Jesus? One of the hallmarks of our day is the proliferation of alternative views of Jesus. Listen to what Andrew says about Him:

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah.”

Andrew understands John’s calling of Jesus to be the Lamb of God as a synonym for the Messiah. When we come to understand that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, sent from God, it doesn’t matter where He sends us or what we find in the places where He sends us. Back in 1963, who was really staying with Jesus? Was it the white moderate who was devoted to law and order, or the black radical who used non-violent means to push for justice? Was it the majority who preferred a negative peace based on the forceful control of tensions? Or was it the minority who worked for a positive peace marked by the presence of justice?

Whether it is the Berlin Wall or the Birmingham Jail, wherever Jesus takes us we have nothing to worry about. He may take us to a natural disaster like the recent floods, or to an AIDS hospice. He might lead us to be a part of a demonstration or a mission trip. He may send us to a classroom, a community, a neighbor’s house or a hospital. What matters most is that we go at the direction of Jesus and stay with Him.

You see, the lamb that we follow is the Lamb of God. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. His is the one who calls us to Himself, and the one whose presence transforms our lives. Go with Him and stay with Him. Jesus bids all who encounter Him, “Come and See.”

Let us pray.

Most loving Father, we give thanks for your Son, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Set us free from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in whose Name we pray. Amen.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Going to Egypt

Joseph taking Mary and Jesus to Egypt

This is the sermon I gave at Morning Prayer at the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa on January 2, 2011.

Matthew 2:13-15,19-23

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer. Amen.

Sometimes,we take the long way home, just to enjoy the scenery and the companionship. Christmas is about a lot of things, but it is at least about getting back home. We sing about it: “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

And “Over the river and through the woods.”

Over the river and through the woods,

To grandmother’s house we go;

The horse knows the way to follow the sleigh

Through the white and drifting snow

When I was young, in my mind's eye, I imagined what the stable where Jesus was born was like. It was a lot like the barn that we had. During the chill of wintertime, it was a warm place where the milk cows stayed. It was a nice, warm, steamy place with the earthy smells of the cows. So I thought I knew what a stable was like because I knew what a barn was like. I knew how warm it felt to lean against a cow. I knew what it felt like to lay on a pile of hay or straw. I had seen donkeys and sheep. It was not hard to picture Jesus’ birth place as being very like our farm on a bright, snowy, December night. It was a place of safety, where, in my child eyes, no one would want to leave.

Which brings us to this first trip of the holy family. Of all the dreams of Christmas, this one is the strangest even if it makes common sense. Joseph went to bed with his conversations with the Wise Men on his mind. What should he do? He was terrorized, for that was the way the Puppet King Herod ruled the land on behalf of Rome. Herod maintained control by a reign of terror. He had his own male children killed because he feared they might grow up and steal the throne from him by leading a rebellion. He feared Rome. He feared his own people and his own children. It was said of Herod, better to be his swine than to be his sons.

In the night, God spoke to Joseph’s mind in a dream. An angel said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. ”

To Egypt? Why such a long way? The recent history of the Mideast tells us why. During the last century there have been large movements of people across the Mideast borders of Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Amenia, Palestine, Iraq and Iran as people attempt to escape civil war. Some 1400 years before Jesus was born, the Hebrew people immigrated from Egypt, not just once, but in waves over decades. They wandered in the desert of Sinai before arriving at what is modern day Palestine. Similarly, they had migrated from Ur to Palestine then to Egypt centuries before the Exodus from Egypt. The mass movement of people through the Mideast and frrequent wars in that area has occurred throughout recorded history.

Why would the angel say “Go to Egypt?”. Why not? Though it would take weeks, it was the nearest state, and the way was on a well-marked international trade route.

The long journey is typical of our spiritual life. It is the far country, the place outside the gate, the burning bush in the desert we must turn aside to see. It is the dream in the night, the sojourn out of the way, that leads us safely home. Mary and Joseph’s long way to safety makes a point: Jesus is special. He is the person chosen to be the leader of the people. Holy men had written in Scriptures describing what Messiah would be like and how he would appear.

Out of Egypt I have called my son,” Hosea tells us in the Scriptures. To get away from Herod’s search for the heir to the David's throne, it made sense to go to the neighboring country. But something else is involved here. Getting where we want to go, really want to go, often involves going the long way home. Because it is in the journey that we are given the chance to deal with our brokenness, to discover what is missing in our lives, to confront our unanswered questions.

A gift is given in places where we are broken. We tend to equate brokenness with shabbiness. We toss our spare change into a pot for the entire lot of ill clad, unkempt people who stand on the street corners and mumble to themselves. We view them from inside our locked cars. We think that they are a problem of cities not our local small towns. We have words for them like “homeless,” or “marginalized,” and a thousand other subtle ways of saying, “Not like us.” Not so. The journey into wholeness leads us first to our own brokenness, to an inner Egypt. We can drive a nice automobile, have a comfortable home and be a pillar in our community but find our souls wandering in the desert wilderness. Each one of us who have lived any time at all have experienced a crises within our families, within our sense of who we are at home or at work or both. We are faced with death in the family, personal illness and one or another of the many losses life hands us and we wonder who we are and why there are such large potholes in our spiritual journey.

It is said that prayer is the spiritual journey into the unknown. We have to get rid of the need for certainty. It requires a long time of deep prayer for a person to understand his motivations and become vulnerable to God. The journey into our brokenness is a journey deep into our own being and outward into the unknown, where God is.

To find God we must be willing to undertake the journey to Egypt, into our own questionable motives and hidden wounds. It means leaving behind the familiar and going where only Gods love can feed us. Then we learn truly what Jesus means when he tells us, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,.” for we all are.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.

The journey is about “the dark holes where something is missing.” We don’t like to think that anything is missing. We attempt to impose our definition of perfection on life while the actual process of life is something else altogether.

We imagine the things we must have to make life bearable and in the clutter of stuff, we lose sight of what makes life meaningful.

Most of us wish that life could be without trouble and trial. But we operate under a false view of a perfection that can be reached without darkness, without trouble and without sin and suffering.

We think of perfection as wholeness. Finding wholeness is a process of discovering the full life God always intended for us to have. It means finding our true selves. “

The Holy Family’s journey to Egypt is idealized in early Christian lore, glossing over the difficulty of the journey. The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas tells of palm trees that miraculously bent down to feed the holy family, lions and leopards that wagged their tails in worship. One story tells that in one of the towns they passed through, all the idols in the local temple fell to the ground. It’s human to idealize our journey, to smooth out the rough places as we retell it.

But Scripture doesn’t. The flight to Egypt is also a reminder, an anticipation of the costly and painful price of wholeness for us all. If Jesus is the new Moses, come to deliver us into a new kingdom, then we must make a journey from our present Egypt and be brought out a dangerous and difficult way.

It is tempting to sit and wait for life to come to us, to forsake the journey and simply subsist. But doing that, we stop living life and squander it. Our refusal to follow, either as individuals or as a church does not mean that opportunities won’t be missed. There is a price for delay and disobedience.

At times I have thought, and I’ve heard other Christians say after an apparent failure, “It wasn’t meant to be.” We try to blame God for our failures. The Kingdom will come, even if we have no hand in it, and our improvidence is not to be interpreted as the Providence of God.

The Magi didn’t have to follow the star.

Joseph didn’t have to wed Mary.

God can and will bring in the Kingdom with or without us. We should be diligent so as to eventually enjoy the welcome into peace God offers.

Joseph and Mary could have sought an easier way to avoid Herod’s wrath than the journey to Egypt, but what disaster might an easier way have invited? What might they have missed?

Mary didn’t have to say to the Angel, “Be it done according to your Word.” She didn’t have to be a mother. Life will not come to us on our terms. Joseph’s dream was a call to enter the full danger of the spiritual journey.

Joseph and Mary knew some of the reasons for their journey. Their preeminent motivation for leaving was to escape the possibility that Herod would come after Jesus. But here we meet the question of suffering head-on. Innocent baby boys are killed for nothing more than political insecurity. The point is not how many died, but why God, who could intervene to save Jesus, did not intervene to save dozens of little innocent babies. Never is the idea of life’s purpose more at risk than in the face of innocent and undeserved suffering. Many come to Christmas every year with some unbearable sorrow that seems to render life senseless. “Why did this happen?” they ask. And there is no answer.

Things gone wrong, evil, is not God’s will, but its occurrence is still God’s dark mystery of how he creates good from evil. Jesus did not escape death at the hands of tyranny so much as postpone it. The death of the innocents was not a tragedy Jesus avoided but a tragedy that anticipated the darkest tragedy of all: the saving tragedy of Jesus’ cross.

Matthew affirms that God is not the author of evil. But he does assert that God is evil’s editor. God has the final word. God reframes, restates and corrects evil until it fits within God’s deeper purposes. That is what we want to know in our tragedies and sorrows—that they are not in the end merely empty and sad coincidences, random and broken bits of unfortunate pain.

God’s way is to outwit evil, or use its consequences for good.

We hear from friends all over the United States during the Christmas season. Sometimes in their Christmas letters there are hints of a long journey: a death, an entry into a nursing home, an illness that has changed the course of life forever, or other such things. Some of the letters we receive are from people asking help, as they have experienced disaster or failed in an undertaking. Others are reporting recovery from failures or tragedies.

There is a long way into and out of Egypt that leads us home. It is not the way we would necessarily choose, given our perfectionist ideals and our reluctance to experience pain as a price for joy. But that way is there.

So my prayer for all of us is that we find that no matter where we go on life's journey, God will be there for us, supporting us as he leads us home, just as he did with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Amen.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Joseph's Dilemma

Dream of Joseph by Rembrandt

This is the short sermon I gave at Morning Prayer at the Episcopal Church of the Saviour in Clermont, Iowa on December 19, 2010

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

Yesterday, we heard the Bishop's take on today's readings. I'm not even going to come close to the wisdom that he shared with us, but his message raised some thoughts and questions with me.

What we have heard here in today's Gospel is Joseph’s story. The struggle of a good and righteous man, the struggle to come to terms with the fact his fiance is pregnant and that he is not the Father.

The truth, though, is that this pregnancy was only a part of Josephs dilemma.

The rest of the dilemma lay in the fact that God may have a place for Joseph, a place that only Joseph could fill.

Joseph, despite being a man of faith, could not believe that God would want anything to do with him, and his simple life.

He couldn’t believe that this living God that he worshiped regularly every Sabbath day would want anything to do with his tiny little life.

In God's eyes he saw himself as insignificant; after all, he was just a carpenter wasn’t he? Just your normal everyday person, he wasn’t anyone special was he?

If he was on God's chessboard, he would not have even considered himself to be a pawn worthy of sacrifice.

How dense could he be, how stupid could Joseph be to actually think that this Living God could not use Joseph?

How idiotic could Joseph be to think that God could not find a part for him.

I think we are all pretty stupid times.

We can all be rather dense like just like Joseph.

We may not face the dilemma that Joseph did.

But as a people of faith we often just can’t believe that God would want anything to do with us, and our simple lives.

After all we are nothing special either.

We often can not believe that this living God that we worship would want anything to do with our contribution.

We see ourselves as insignificant as Joseph saw himself.

How can we be so silly?

What Joseph needed was a wake up call, something to bring him back to his senses.

I am glad to say that as Joseph tortured himself over this dilemma. God gave him a wake up call.

One night an angel came to him in a dream, an angel that set the alarm bells ringing in Josephs life. An angel that gave him a wake up call, an angel that told Joseph that God did have a place for him.

It took an angel to convince Joseph of his importance to God.

What is it going to take for you?

What will it take for you to wake up and realize how important you are to God?

What sort of alarm call will it take?

I will leave you these questions for you to ponder as we pray:

Dear God of all,

May you help us, the people, your people gathered here today. To find what you would want us to do so we can become an advent people. Not just to wait for you, but to discern what you have in store for us and to go out and do your will. In your Holy Name. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.