Br. Armand Koss will profess first vows at 11:00am Eucharist Saturday, January 6, 2018 (Epiphany).
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Amos 5: 18-24
I Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Matthew 25: 1-13
November 12, 2017 Abbey Church Abraham
All of our Bible readings we heard this morning speak of the appearance or return of the Lord. They all seem a bit scary, and in fact they are used to scare people a lot of times. Most of us have probably heard some preacher at one time or another using these very scriptures to frighten someone into doing something, and doing it now, before Jesus comes back and it is too late. The motives behind those urgent sermons might be good, but the method seems to be a bit different from what we heard the Apostle Paul say. In his letter to the Christian in Thessalonica, writing about the return of Jesus, he tells the listeners to encourage, or console or comfort one another with these words. He did not intend for his words to frighten.
Not only the words that we heard from Paul, but also the story from Jesus in the gospel reading has been used to scare people into acting the way the preacher wants them to, so that Jesus would not reject them when he returns. The way the story is made scary is: Jesus is cast as the groom, people whom the preacher thinks are saved are cast as the wise bridesmaids, and people whom the preacher thinks are not saved are cast as the foolish bridesmaids whom Jesus shuts out of heaven because they aren’t ready when he comes back. In all honesty, that’s a good casting of the characters in the story. The one flaw in that rendition is the part where Jesus shuts the foolish bridesmaids out of heaven. In reality, Jesus does not shut people out of heaven, Jesus brings people in. It is we ourselves who shut ourselves out of heaven, and unfortunately, many times when we turn from heaven and make our own hell, we bring the people around us in to hell with us.
Hell is all about thinking we don’t need or deserve the oil or keeping the oil all to ourselves; heaven is about sharing it. But, there is also the question: if we are always sharing our oil with the same persons who never get it for themselves, are we in some way keeping them from the joy of accepting heaven? The oil is never of our own making, of course – it only comes from God, and is always freely and lovingly given. Of course, people who think they have not been given any oil are wrong – God is pouring it out upon them as much as all other people, but we all need to open up to receive it. And anyway, at the end of the story, Jesus says nothing about having enough oil; he just mentions the importance of being awake – and both groups in the story were asleep. So who knows? All we need to know is that God gives us all we need for life and joy, and what he gives us is God’s own self, poured into us until it overflows into the world around us, making heaven for us and the people around us. May we freely open up to accept God’s gift of Self, and freely open up to give it to others. We need to be familiar with what Jesus is like before he returns, so that instead of being frightened and blinded by the amazing awesomeness, we are ready to add our shine to His and to all others who are His lamps around the world. So why not, as Paul says, encourage one another with these words? AMEN
The prophet Jeremiah told the truth about the situation his nation was in, and he got in a lot of trouble for doing that. He was alternately persecuted and consulted by the religious and political leaders who knew he was telling the truth but dared not publicly agree with him. This morning we heard him complaining to God for putting him in this uncomfortable and dangerous situation. Immediately before our reading, Pashur the priest had put Jeremiah in the stocks for the night for warning that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Babylonian army, and immediately after our reading, King Zedekiah sends another priest (also named Pashur) to ask Jeremiah to pray to God to make the Babylonian army go away, because the king knew they would destroy Jerusalem.
Our gospel reading talks about Jesus putting his disciples in much the same situation as God put Jeremiah. He warns them that they will meet with danger and be persecuted for bringing the truth of Jesus to the world around them, but he also tells them not to worry about it, because God will carry them through to safety. We may never be in physical danger because of our allegiance to Jesus, but if we are doing it right, we will arouse the suspicions of the people around us who owe their allegiance to other things like money, or power, or reputation. We won’t blindly follow any party line, so we will be accused of being dangerous and stupid by those who do. But all of that is ok, because we have work to do bringing the joy, peace and healing of Jesus to the world around us. Our individual tasks as members of Christ’s body are important and necessary in order that all the other tasks of the other members around the world and throughout time can be fulfilled and fall into place.
Like Jesus and Jeremiah, we need to speak the truth, even when other don’t want to hear it. We need to speak the truth humbly, and then we need to live it as best we can. And the truth is: God is love, we are all infinitely loved, and we are to love ourselves, our neighbors, and God. May we not shrink from this task of loving. We might not do it very well or often, but Jesus slowly transforms us into his love every chance we give him. May this gathering be one of those opportunities to grow in Jesus. AMEN
Lent V Year A
Our scripture readings this morning point to the fact that life comes from God. Without God, there is no life. Of course, without God there is nothing at all, so there would also not be life. But in our daily lives, we so often live as if there were no God. We don’t always do that intentionally – usually, we just get so busy and frenzied that we forget about God, or we get so lazy and negligent that we don’t care about God. Sometimes, yes we do intentionally live as if there is no God – those times when we intentionally tell little lies or commit petty frauds to get what we want before someone else gets it.
In all those cases, when we finally come to our senses and realize that we have either intentionally or unintentionally forgotten God, we realize how dead we feel and how much we need God to be fully and truly alive. So, we as individuals and groups make helpful rules for ourselves to keep reminding us of God. Churches have membership rules, worship services, educational facilities, and special times (like Lent) to help us live more in the reality of God and therefore more fully. Individuals have scripture reading and prayer time to help them do the same thing, and the two (group and individual) should theoretically help each other and work together.
But we know that sometimes, even surrounded by reminders of God, we don’t always remember God and sometimes we even willfully forget God. Sometimes we just get tired of always remembering, and in so doing, we manufacture our own deaths. If that happens to us a lot, maybe that is a sign that we or our institutions are going about it the wrong way. Maybe we are using fear as a tool to help us remember God. If so, we should probably stop what we are doing and reconfigure our group and individual programs to take out the fear and replace it with love. Love won’t tire us out and make us want to forget God. And, if we are living in love and forget God anyway, no big deal – we will be doing life-giving things and so we will be living in God even if we do not realize it.
God takes our old bones and brings them to life. God brings us out of the grave. God give life and holiness to this beautiful flesh of ours. And if we are Christians, we go so far as to say that God has this beautiful flesh of ours, making it even more alive and holy in the person of Jesus. So, let us not forget to live in God. One of the best ways to remember is to come up here and eat with God at God’s table. We will all probably forget God sometime today, but that is ok – we will be doing this same thing tomorrow. AMEN
When you are in love with someone, you don’t want what that person can give you, you want that person. In a strange way, that is what we heard the Letter to the Hebrews say: God doesn’t want our sacrifices, God wants us. Instead of showing God our “sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings”, God want us to say: “See, I have come…”
When you are in love with someone you want to be with that person as close and as often as possible. We heard about Ahaz and Isaiah in our first reading. The story is about Judah being afraid of an attack by the Arameans. God is going to protect Judah, and wants to show King Ahaz to not be afraid. God says he will give Ahaz a sign of love and protection – a sign “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” That sounds like the way one feels when one is in love; everything is “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” Ahaz won’t ask for a sign, but Isaiah says God will give it anyway. The sign that is deep as Sheol and high as heaven is the Immanuel – God with us. God is in love with us, and is with us as close and as often as possible.
God shows his love for us by being with us, even if we so often do not think we are worthy of God’s love. Maybe that is what Mary thought when the angel greeted her in our gospel story this morning. The angel said: “Greetings, favored one. The Lord is with you.” When she heard it, she was perplexed and “pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Maybe we do the same thing – we are told God loves us and finds favor with us, but we doubt it. In response to our doubt, God shows us with a sign “as deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” The sign, written all over us, is: God is with us – God wants to be with us, to come to us, to be inside of us, and to reproduce himself inside of us. The angel told Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” That sounds a lot like the closeness that lovers enjoy – covering each other, being inside each other, using that closeness to produce a new life that will grow and add even more joy to the relationship. We are called in a similar way that Mary was. God loves us, and if we so allow it, God will come to us, cover us, and reproduce Godself within us.
We can have our excuses to doubt God’s ability or desire to be in us and grow in us. Mary said: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” We might be tempted to say: “how can this be, since I am selfish, or hateful, or dull, or impetuous.” We also might have trouble believing that anything we give birth to (even if the other parent is God) will be of any good to anyone. But with God working with us, we will give birth to exactly what is needed.
Mary shows us how we are all living temples of God. As Mary carried God in the flesh inside of her, so we also carry God in us. As in any pregnancy, the outward appearance of the mother changes, so we will change outwardly as God’s presence grows inside of us. We do need to remember, though, that we are all different to start off with, so sometimes it is difficult to discern how we ourselves and those around us are changing. It is best no to judge them or ourselves anyway – just let God control the growth of everyone. Another aspect of pregnancy is the importance of the mother taking steps to insure that the person inside her is growing properly. So we also must change our habits and actions to promote the growth of God’s presence in us, so that eventually we can give birth to God in our own world – to bring God into other people’s lives by our own life.
Mary was told to rejoice because God found favor with her, the Lord was with her, and she was to carry God inside of her. So we also should rejoice, because God finds favor in us, the Lord is with us, and wants to be carried inside of us. God is in love with us and wants to be with us as close and as often as possible. How can we resist – when God comes to us and covers us; when God’s breath (the Holy Spirit) is upon us; when God says he wants to be with us always. All we have to do is rejoice that we are so highly favored, and say: “Be it unto me according to your word.” AMEN
The story that we heard this morning about Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit has spawned a lot of theories and questions about human nature, such as original innocence, original sin, and the fall of man. It has also raised the question of what is meant by the “knowledge of good and evil”, and why God did not want them to have it. We assume that Paul is talking about this story in his letter to the Romans that we heard in our second reading, and although he does not cite the story specifically, that is probably a good assumption. Paul’s take on the story seen in the light of his relationship with Jesus has also spawned a lot of questions and theories, such as substitutionary atonement and justification by faith through the grace of God.
Tempers have flared, friendships have dissolved, churches have split, and violence has erupted because of differences of opinion concerning these theories. Yet we still don’t know all the answers to the questions posed by the story and Paul’s interpretation of it. Maybe we would do better if we just acted on what we do know. We know that we do bad things. We know that doing those bad things ruins our lives and the lives of others and sours our relationship with God and other people, as well as our relationship with ourselves. We also know that no matter how hard we try, we can not completely stop doing those bad things. We know that from our own experience. We can also learn a few things from other people’s experience transmitted to us through scripture, such as the fact that God loves us and made us good, that Jesus did not do those bad things that we are prone to do, and that ruined lives and soured relationships are healed by Jesus.
The difference between knowing that we hurt ourselves and other people and trusting that Jesus heals those hurts involves a leap of faith. Without taking that leap, we remain the same hurtful people. By taking the leap, we at least have a chance of changing – if what the gospels and subsequent Christian experience teaches is true.
I don’t know of many or any people who have really made that leap, but another leap we can make is that of trusting Jesus to count the desire to make the leap as good as making the leap itself. We can come up with all kinds of theories about exactly why we do what we do and exactly how Jesus fixes the mess, but it might be more productive to just admit our sin and let Jesus fix it. He invites us to do that. He stands at the door and knocks. All we have to do is let him in and eat with him. We have a table set here to allow us to do just that. How convenient. AMEN