Proper 18 Year A: Not So Fast

Matthew 18:15-20

September 6, 2020   Abbey Church   Abraham

The first part of this morning’s gospel reading is more helpful than the next-to-last part: try to take care of problems privately before they become too big. That is easier said than done, because what might seem to be an offence that another person is committing is not wrong in that person’s eyes. It might be an offence only in our own eyes. So, at least by confronting people privately, we get a chance to learn that we might in fact be the one who is wrong, rather than the other person. We then have a chance to either correct our perception of the other person’s actions, or at least learn to live with them. Going to a person privately to confront them about a problem is difficult, and so it gives us a chance to ponder if the problem really is big enough to do anything about, or even if it can even be changed at all. We learn to accept the fact that sometimes the best thing to do is in fact to sweep things under the rug. That’s life.

The middle part about using a group to discern wrongdoing and confront the wrongdoer is a little better, because it relies on collective discernment and wisdom in how to confront the person and correct the problem. Even then, actions and intentions can be misinterpreted by the group, but it is not as common as one person misinterpreting another person’s actions.

The next-to-last part about group decisions having eternal consequences is really frightening. Yes, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. But honestly, we are not really all that good at following or even listening to the Holy Spirit. The fact that our group decisions have eternal consequences should make us veer far to the side of forgiving rather than condemning. We should always remember that we need to correct problems, rather than punish people. Punishing people solves nothing and only makes thing worse.

At least we get some consolation at the end of our reading: Jesus is with us, but only if we gather in His name. Gathering to condemn is not gathering in Jesus’s name. Gathering to heal and forgive is.   AMEN

Proper 14 Year A: Out of the Depths

Proper 14 Year A
I Kings 19: 9-18
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 12:22-33


August 9, 2020 Abbey Church Abraham

In our gospel story this morning, Peter and the other disciples are doing exactly what they are told, but run into trouble anyway, and Peter follows Jesus’s instructions, but still becomes frightened. That’s life: even the best people living the best lives will have problems. In our story, Peter is rescued by Jesus. In our own lives, sometimes people are not rescued.

Many people say the existence of random desperation is a sign that either there is no God, or that if there is a God, it is an evil one who doesn’t care about suffering. We can’t blame people for thinking that way – they have a good point. Other people say that random suffering is actually not an indicator of the lack of a good God, but rather is an indicator the our good God is a lover, rather than a control freak. If God is not a controller, but rather a lover, that means that instead of changing our situations, God goes through the situation with us. We don’t know why tragedy happens to some and not to others – all we can really count on is that God loves us and is with us always and everywhere, even in our desperation.

Like Jesus on the cross, God does not always intervene and save us. On the cross, God did not save himself, because God is a not a controller. God suffers with us, as a lover does. That sounds comforting when we are safe, but not so much when we are hurting. Maybe the thing to do is to remember that although God does not always put an end to bad situations, God instead makes something completely new out of them – better than what came before and always much better than we could have imagined. But the fact remains that crucifixion comes before resurrection.

We don’t know why some people suffer so much and others don’t. Our job is to help others as much as we can. And it is quite alright to have faith in God while at the same time questioning God for allowing the suffering. We will suffer at times. Even worse, people we love will suffer, and sometimes won’t get better. God is with us and goes through the pain with us. It is not easy – it’s just the way it is. We will soon be up here to meet God our lover at the table. The time here is intimate as we join our lover in a meal and bring our bodies together in a union that is physical as well as spiritual. That is the perfect time for bringing our hurts, questions, and complaints to God, as people do when sitting down to a meal together or whispering to each other while making love. We might not get the answer we want, but we will be held close and offered a place to rest in the arms of the God who loves us and will never leave us. AMEN

Proper 10 Year A: Good Soil

Isaiah 55:10-13
Romans 8:1-11
Mathew 13:1-9

Good Soil
July 12, 2020   Abbey Church   Abraham

Everything we have is a gift – that’s “Grace”. We have to take what we are given and build a life out of it – that’s “Works”. Grace vs Works has been a topic throughout Christian history, and unfortunately, many times people have lived as if the two can not exist together. They can and should, and monastic life is a good example of the fact that grace should be a catalyst for good works, and good works are met with grace.

We have been given the opportunity to live here in a monastery (Grace). We then have to use monastic life intentionally and mindfully for it to come to any good (Works). All the tiny rules of refectory jobs, all the discussions, all the early mornings in church followed by gathering in the church throughout the day, all the private prayer and scripture reading, all the do’s and don’t’s, and all the grating characteristics and habits of the other monks: all of that is an opportunity to clear away the rocks and weeds of our own pettiness and whininess so that the seeds of God’s love can grow in the good soil of our cleansed hearts.

It takes a long time, and is tedious, and we can’t see our own progress, so the tools of perseverance and not comparing ourselves with others are important helps in preparing the soil of our lives. We will progress at times and fail at other times, but we won’t give up, because God never gives up – that’s Grace. May we work with the grace that is given to us. We are worth it.   AMEN

Christmas II Year A, B, C: Special

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a
Luke 2:41-52


January 5, 2020 Abbey Church Br. Abraham

It has taken two generations of stars to make us humans. In the words of Chrissie Hynde: “we’re special…so special”. But instead of treating ourselves and others and the world around us as the amazing stardust that we are, we so often treat each other like dirt. We don’t even treat our dirt very well. Still, God thinks we are special enough that he became one of us. We share DNA with God! God inhabits the material universe, making all of it a holy temple! Infinity flows throughout finitude! God is transcendent, immanent, and embedded in our world!

And we did not like that, so we killed Jesus. So, God solved that by raising Jesus from the dead, pulling us up into his resurrection. We are special because of creation, incarnation, and resurrection.

We need to remember that, and stop treating ourselves, others around us, and the things in our world so poorly. When we see someone whose life, words, and actions are causing others pain (bullies, business people, political figures, religious tyrants), we need to not only do what we can to stop the wrongdoing, but also have compassion on all involved (victims as well as perpetrators). Dehumanizing and damning the wrongdoer is in itself wrongdoing. After all, they are just as special as we are, and are caught in the same web of fear and sin as we are. They need help escaping evil just as much as we do.

God has wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature. May we take that to heart, and live as if it were true – because it is. AMEN

Advent II, Year A: Unnatural Acts?

Isaiah 11:1-10
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12


December 8, 2019 Abbey Church Abraham

In our first reading this morning, Isaiah tells of a golden age of peace and happiness that will come when one of Jesse’s descendants brings righteousness and faithfulness to us. We identify that person as Jesus, and we look to him to bring the golden age to our private lives and the entire world. However, all we need to do is take a quick look around to realize that we are not in a golden age in our private lives or in the rest of the world. It is not here yet, as much as we pray for it and work for it. Paul knows this as he writes to the Christians in Rome, as we heard in our second reading this morning. He tells them to keep living in harmony and to keep believing, and especially to keep hoping.

We also heard from John the Baptist in our gospel story this morning, telling us to not only hope for the golden age, but to do something about it: “repent…prepare…bear fruit…”. John warned the people that the person coming to bring the golden age might not be what they were expecting, and what he was bringing might not be what they expected. John tells the religious people who were coming to him that their piety would not stand up to what the messiah was bringing. We often think of John the Baptist as someone who merely yelled at people whom he considered hypocrites. Maybe we should really think of him as someone who cared about people and so warned them when he thought they were in danger of missing out on the truth.

But still, those warnings would have come as a shock to all the religious people coming to hear him. The warnings would not only be a shock, they would have seemed unnatural and wrong because they weren’t the same as their religious viewpoint told them the way the world should be. The coming of Jesus should shake us up just as much as it shook them up. The things he brings should make us squirm in our smugness and self righteousness. The prophet Isaiah this morning is a good example this: wolves, leopards, lions and bears are not supposed to pal around with lambs, kids, calves, and cows (they are suppose to eat them). Children are not supposed to play around asp and adder dens, because the natural things those snakes are suppose to do is bite children. Isaiah is telling us that the unexpected one will do unexpected things, so it is in our best interest not to have a list of jobs for Jesus to take care of. He will do what he sees fit when he sees fit.

That might sound scary to us because it takes things out of our control. But really, it should make us feel safe and secure, because it means everything is in Jesus’s hands. There is no place safer than that. So, we need to make sure we are in those hands, instead of always trying to escape because we think we know better than Jesus. By trusting Jesus, the golden age is already within us, because with Jesus, every moment is an eternity of heaven. Then in our turn, we can take that heaven and give it to the world around us.

We are not there yet – that could not be more obvious. So, we wait. Tom Petty says: “the waiting is the hardest part”, so as we wait, we also prepare: we hope and pray, and make peace. We take ourselves out of the center of our petty lives and put God in the center (which in turn makes our lives not-so-petty). Jesus comes on Christmas Day. He can also come into our lives everyday and every moment. All of those comings involve unexpected things, but that is good, because it gets us ready for his next coming. AMEN