Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Lord be with you . . .

     Weekends like this convince me that we ought to do Bible studies on the cut out passages.  Truly, given attendance at most churches to Bible studies, we should really just do a sermon series from the pulpits on those cut out passages.  I don’t know how attentive you are to what is cut out, but I am always amazed at how important the cutout passages are to understanding the passage selected by our lectionary editors.  As rector, of course, I have the right to include what’s cut out from the readings in our Order of Worship.  Often, I do.  But this week was super busy and my schedule was thrown for a loop.  Tina was off Thursday and Friday to spend time with Grace.  Wednesday was the Fourth of July.  That meant worship work had to be completed before I had discerned a sermon.  A great deal of work was done around here on Monday and Tuesday—basically, five days’ worth of work.  Of course, Tuesday saw the beginning of General Convention and all the accompanying social media blasts and blog posts.  That meant my work took a dramatic shift to the pastoral.  As a result, you did not get the skipped verses in your reading.
     Before I go any further, let me clarify some statements from earlier in the week.  I’m glad that some people like to sit around in meetings and talk and argue.  If it feeds them, I am glad they get to do something that energizes, that feeds them.  My problem with it is that they share their fights.  Every leadership group around here could not figure out a way for me to calm people down before the storm hit.  Some mistakenly thought there would be no storm.  Then came the calls, the e-mails, the texts, the drop-in’s, and not just from Adventers.  Add to that the headlines from mainstream media and my subsequent conversations at the Y and other places and I get. . . well, frustrated.  For the last month Adventers have been trying to use conversations with friends and co-workers regarding the Royal Wedding to invite people to Advent.  That’s awesome work!  I’ll do that any time.  My conversations at the Y and other places around town have been the same.  It has been refreshing to have positive publicity for a change.
     Then the headlines about GC changing the gender of God hit, and those conversations switched dramatically.  It is church growth suicide.  And before anybody gets to upset, I don’t care too much about expanding the language with which we speak of God.  I think I do a good job of reminding you that God is not misogynistic.  Given the matriarchs around here who, I think, would hardly shy from calling me out if I did not do a good job, I think I am safe in that self-evaluation.  God created women in His image, just as He created men.  It is incredibly hard, I think, to argue violence against women as a “godly” behavior.  It is incredibly hard, I think, to argue that women are not co-equal stewards with men.  Now, I recognize you and I live among some who go to churches who do just that.  I think we need to be reminded that God was the God of Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Hannah, Mary, just as He was the God of the men that often get listed.  And I think it important for us to pay attention to how Jesus ministered to women, such as we did last week in the healing and restoration of the bleeding woman.  We preachers need to be educating you how to engage with those in the world around you in a thoughtful, graceful, biblical way. 
     Of course, as much as I don’t mind expansive language, I am also mindful of Scripture and of historic, orthodox Christianity.  It is one thing to speak of God as a brooding hen or nursing mother or other image.  It is quite another to baptize in the name of the mother, the daughter, and the Holy Spirit or some of the other nonsense coming out of General Convention as reported by a press that wants to sensationalize everything.  Jesus gave us the Dominical Sacraments.  It was He who ordered baptism and the Eucharist.  We mess with those images at our peril.  But that’s a discussion to be held away from Advent.
     On top of that mess came the headlines that the Prayer Book needed to be Revised.  I learned quickly that the 1979 BCP, for all its faults, is as well loved by people today as the 1928 BCP was back in its day.  I have to laugh.  People are actually thinking about starting 79 Prayer Book Preservation groups!  Those of you who lived through those fights: Could you ever envision THAT!  All that, of course, reinforced what I thought God wanted us to hear today.  Who knows, maybe Tina is right?  Maybe others will read and calm down a bit.
     Before we get to that message, though, turn to the passage from Second Samuel.  To remind you where we are, to put it in context, as the hip theologians like to say, we are at the transition point between the peoples’ choice for a king, Saul, and God’s choice for a king, David.  You remember, no doubt, a few weeks ago or twenty years before our passage today, that David was anointed king of Israel by Samuel.  Samuel had instructed Jesse the Bethlehemite to bring his youngest, ruddy-faced son to the sacrifice.  That was whom God had chosen to be king/shepherd over His people Israel.
     That’s not to say the transition was easy.  We learn today that David had to wait nearly twenty years before he inherited the throne.  That twenty years included a lot of challenges.  A couple weeks ago, we read that one challenge was name Goliath.  We skipped over that bigger challenge, Saul.  Those who study Scripture may understand that Saul tried to kill David on several occasions.  Last week, I reminded you of that truth during David’s mourning for Saul, but it bears repeating for those who were absent.  It’s also not as if the people of Israel said “Hey, Saul is dead; now David is king.”  People are people.  We like to think that the divisions between the norther and southern kingdoms did not happen until after the death of Solomon.  The truth is a bit more complex.  After the death of Saul, those in power, particularly in the northern part of the kingdom, wanted to stay in power.  If kingship passed from Saul to David, who knew what David might do?  Who knew what their standing would be in the new administration?
     So, after a period of some political unrest and not-quite-civil war, all the elders approached David at Hebron.  Some of us may be cynical and think that they are simply trying to butter David up, but there is also a discerned truth.  Verse 1, We are your bone and flesh.  It is true.  They are all among the tribes of Israel.  Every single one of them could claim to be sons of Abraham and Sarah, that were part of the covenant lineage.  Is it a ploy not to be killed by a king mad over some battles?  Possibly.  But chiefly it is a public proclamation that they are a big family.
     Verse 2, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in.  Again, are the leaders merely flattering David?  No doubt some were sycophants.  But there is truth in their statements.  One of those discussions about David that infuriated Saul to the point that the latter would want to kill the former was that David was far more successful in battle.  Saul had killed his thousands, but David had killed 10,000’s.  What could be going on is a serious period of discernment on the part of the leaders of the northern tribes.  The skirmishes likely have not gone well in this internal battle.  No doubt some wiser heads began toput two and two together.  You know, while Saul was king David won the battles.  Maybe God is with David?  Such fruits would clearly cause some in the northern kingdom to accept the claim that the prophet Samuel had anointed David king.
     Whether the claims of the norther leaders were cynical or sincere, whether the statements were meant to flatter David and soften his stance against them or were, again, sincere, the fact remains that all of Israel acknowledges that David is God’s chosen king.  In the ANE, a king was a shepherd of his people.  And so Israel and David swear a covenant with each other.  David will pastor them according to God; they will support him according to God’s commands.
     Almost as interesting, of course, is David’s next move.  The people of Israel are coming off a period of great division.  There is some competition between the tribes of the north and the tribes of the south.  So, what does David do?  He conquers the Jebusites by means of some brilliant strategy involving the water or sewer and takes their city, Jerusalem, as his capital.  No one had conquered the Jebusites in recent memory, and some, including the Jebusites, thought the city impregnable.  Think of the situation in Israel as not dissimilar to our selection of our nation’s capital.  DC does not belong to any state.  It’s not part of Maryland; it’s not part of Virginia.  It is unique.  Similarly, Jerusalem did not belong to any tribe.  And, it does not hurt that it was sort of in middle ground.  Now, David has a capital city that neither the north nor the south has a particular claim.  It belongs to all of Israel.
     Our lectionary editors also kept in some interesting facts.  We learn thanks to the author that David finally ascended to throne in the eyes of human beings at the age of 30 and that his reign lasted over 40 years, 7 ½ years in Hebron and 33 years in Jerusalem.  Given all we learn in Sunday School as children, it is probably hard to believe that David accomplished all that he did before age 30.  We lose the bit about how David took the city; and we skip the part about how the lame and the blind are not welcome in his house.  But we get the significant point that I think we all need to be taught or reminded this morning.
     What causes those of Israel fighting David’s ascension to sue for peace and accept David’s rule?  Most of us would quickly assume that David won some important battles or cut off some important supply lines.  But what, or more importantly, who is behind David’s brilliant tactics?  God.  What causes those elders gathered to acknowledge finally David’s anointing?  We can be cynical and say they were buttering him up, but their reflection and evaluation is spot on.  When Saul was king, it was David who won the victories.  Even as a ruddy faced child, it is David, not Saul, who strides forth to battle Goliath.  Saul is there.  Saul hears the excitement and confidence of the young boy, yet all Saul does is offer David his armor.  When God gives Saul over to madness or an unclean spirit, whose singing soothes the king?  David’s.  Now, in a battle against a previously unconquerable people, David wins.
     At no point are we taught that David is the reason for David’s success.  Standing beside David, looming over David, protecting David, guiding David is the Lord.  It is the Lord who has steered David to this point.  It is the Lord who has protected David against Saul’s attempts to kill him.  It is the Lord who has given the Jebusites over to David.  It is the Lord who has caused Israel to see that it is the Lord behind all this.  Look at the last verse: David became greater and greater because the Lord, the God of hosts was with him.
     Why is this an important message for us today?  How many of us long to know that God is with us?  Everybody ought to be nodding or raising their hands.  We are all good Episcopalians, right?  What is the first thing we say to each other?  Ok, too tough for a stormy Sunday morning.  What’s the thing I say and you respond when we start a meeting or given directions in a loud space?  The Lord be with you.  And also with you.  Of all the blessings that we can have or ask on behalf of another, what is the most significant?  The Lord be with you.  Why?  Why do we value that knowledge that God is with us so much?
     At a core level that some of us might not be able to articulate, we fear separation, we fear apartness from God.  Human beings will disappoint us—we learn that lesson early and often.  Family members may love us, but they will sin against us.  Tempers get lost and hurtful words fly.  Sometimes, abuse even follows.  The idea that the Creator of that there is, seen and unseen, loves us dearly, is thus more greatly to be desired.  Sure, people chase money and power, people chase drugs and alcohol and sex, people chase all kinds of idols in attempt to fill that void we instinctually know is there.  But at are deepest, most fundamental level, we want to know that we are loved, that we are valued, that someone thinks us special.
     That kind of love in a God could not come from reason; comprehension could only come from revelation.  It’s part of what made the euangelion truly Good News in a world that thought the gods capricious and little more than super strong human beings.  Think back to your favorite stories of the Old Testament.  Can you go long before you begin to think of God with His people?  Adam & Eve?  Abraham and Sarah?  Jacob?  Ruth?  Elijah?  What is God’s promise to the prophets?  You will be My people, and I will dwell among you.  The Incarnation, of course, fulfilled that promise in ways unimagined by the prophets and teachers and saints of the Old Testament.  God really dwelling among us?!  And after His work on earth, what is one of the big fears addressed by the Apostles?  Have we been abandoned?  Does God care?  Like Ancient Israel during the Exile, we wonder at times whether God has forgotten us.  Abandoned us.  Surely, we’ve each earned that response from God.
     That question looms larger in the world today than it has in the past.  We live in an economically blessed community in an economically blessed country of the world; yet how many in our neighborhoods are one buy out of their employer, one major illness, one major terror away from unemployment and the loss of all they value.  Perhaps some of you share that anxiety.
     At least we can depend on our country to do things right, right?  One of the great blessings of General Convention for me has been the almost virtual ceasing of political commentary on my Facebook feed.  I have had to read only a couple posts declaring our current President the new Hitler or the anti-Christ and a couple remarking that the current President was a better choice than the alternative.  Few are working to change or influence policies with which they disagree; we seem to have gotten lazy and decided to lob grenades at one another across a virtual fence.
     Speaking of virtual fences, at least we have our neighborhoods.  At least we know we share connections with people who live near us, right?  I’m guessing by the rueful laughing that you don’t hang out on the porch drinking tea or adult beverages with your neighbors any more.
     Well, at least we can depend on our church to provide us with good relationships and rocky steady dependence, right?  That’s ok, that does deserve a big belly laugh.  I have to admit I have been both bemused and annoyed by the rantings of some deputies and others who seem totally surprised by the pushback against BCP Revision.  Given the uncertainty in geo-political forces, the uncertainty in our interpersonal relationships, is it any wonder that people do not want upheaval in their religious life?  Is it any small wonder that people have pushed back hard against the idea of change?  And, make no mistake, I am not against change as such.  One of the geniuses of the Prayer Book is that it can evolve with language, which itself is always evolving.  I am, as a pastor though, very much aware that some, if not most, of those involved should not be entrusted with that evolution.  PB Michael made the wonderful observation this week that if those deputies and those in charge of revising are not doing the Daily Office and encountering Jesus day in and day out through the current Prayer Book, they had no right to expect to be able to discern God’s voice in this process.  It feel on deaf ears in the House of Deputies, clearly, but PB Michael was simply expressing in another way that connection with God for which we all long.  For many of us, the offices and rites and sacraments in that red book in your pews represents the timeless and changeless love of God.  When so many other things are in upheaval, why mess with it?  Why add anxiety to what’s already on people minds?
     The truth is, of course, that you and I should expect uncertainty from the world and should know that God is with us in the midst of any uncertainty.  He’s in the midst of us when we think we have certainty, but we do not often go looking for Him then.  But we know that Episcopal blessing is true.  The Lord is with us when we are seeking to do His will in the world around us.  How do we know this?  The central sacrament or teaching of that BCP that so many hated in 1979 that so many of you are loathe to consider changing is baptism.  It is in that sacrament that we are reminded that we are dying to self, that we will bear a cross to His glory, and that we will, one Day in the future, share eternally in His glorious Resurrection.  We are, in a real sense, given our marching orders.  We are to reach out to those in the world around us and draw them into His saving embrace.  And when we fail, as He knows we will and do, we are simply to repent and return to Him.
     And that Sacrament is not a private affair.  We do that in community to remind ourselves again and again of His claim on our life and our promises we made to Him.  Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching, in the Breaking of Bread, and in the prayers?  Will you persevere in resisting evil?  Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  Will you respect the dignity of every human being?  You know the questions.  You know the answer.  We will, with God’s help.
     It is in that Sacrament, though, that you and I are reminded that the void is filled.  We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.  It may seem insignificant compared to the teaching about water or the instruction regarding our vows, but that sealing is a promise that God will be with us always.  When we sin, He is there to mitigate the evil we risk through His grace and power.  When we do His will, He is even more visibly present sharing with us the glory we intended for Him.  In all times and all places, the baptized should have an understanding that God is, indeed, with them.  And if the Lord, the God of hosts is with us, who can stand against us?
     Brothers and sisters, I know the event in the world around us seem crazy and disjointed.  Perhaps your friends wonder where this God of yours is in the midst of craziness, of brutality, of fake news, of armed domestic and foreign threats, of thin skin and short temper.  Who would not wonder?  Though Scripture does not tell us much of David’s internal debates, can you imagine what ran through his mind for 20 years?  When Saul tried to kill him repeatedly?  When the Jebusites taunted him from the wall of their city?  When he found himself seeking sanctuary among his sworn enemies, the Philistines?  When he found himself later in life sinning against Uriah and then killing him?  When he found himself on the run yet again, as his own son rose up against him?  Yet, through it all, God kept his promise to be with David, just as He keeps His promise always to be with you and with me.
     That promise, brothers and sisters fills the void we all fill and is the longing to which we are all attuned.  It is a promise of both encouragement and of mercy.  It is, in a real sense, a vocalization of Christ’s work on the Cross.  We know, because He is with us, that we can accomplish that to which He calls us.  We can attack any evil in His name because we know His heart desires it and that His power is such that our feeble failing can be redeemed.  And even if to human eyes it appears our failure is complete because of our death, we know, we absolutely know that one day, like Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter, He will command us to rise.  And rise we will!  To be vindicated for our trust in Him and to share in His glory.
     It is also, of course, a promise of mercy.  So often, you and I are worried that if somebody figures us out, if somebody realizes who we really are, they’d lose respect or love for us.  In God, of course, we know He knows every secret part of us.  Just like David’s great sins, He knows our own great sins.  And still He chooses to be with us despite ourselves!  To walk us through the consequences of our sins as any good Father would, let alone our heavenly Father!  And, ultimately, to redeem us from the consequences from those sins.
     Those words and that promise were the gift of life to David, just as they are the gift of life to you and to me!

In Christ’s Peace,

Thursday, July 5, 2018

There are healings . . . and then there are healings!

     Yes, I would love to preach on David’s decision regarding his ordering the death of the Amalekite for killing King Saul, a man with whom David had a . . . difficult relationship.  And Paul’s letter to the Corinthians today was certainly applicable as we mourn the passing of Son of Traul and welcome his great, great grandson into our parish hall kitchen.  But, c’mon.  It’s healing Sunday and we get a great set of healing miracles from Mark.  How often do I get that kind of alignment with the special services?
     Just to remind you, Jesus has been crossing the sea in his ministry.  Mark has Jesus bouncing back and forth between Jewish and Gentile communities.  One side is predominantly Jewish; the other is predominantly Gentile.  Mark’s reason for telling the story this way probably serves several purposes.  We have a temptation in some corners of the Church to think the Jewish side all bad and the Gentile side all good, but life is seldom ever black and white.  There are some prominent Jews in Mark’s Gospel who respond positively to the ministry, preaching, and teaching of Jesus Christ, just as there are prominent Jews who reject Jesus’ offer of salvation.  The same is true for the Gentiles.  We skip the story of the Gerasenes demoniac, but that story reminds us that some accept Jesus’ authority while others fear it and reject Him.
     Today, we are back on the Jewish side of the Sea.  Jesus has landed with His disciples, and the crowds have formed.  A man by the name of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, approaches Jesus to beg for the life of His daughter.  The best modern job description of Jairus would be like that of a Verger.  Jairus is not a priest or Rabbi.  He simply makes sure that the readers are present, the teacher or priest is present, that the candles are lit, the synagogue is clean and organized—things like that!  Imagine his joy at the willingness of Jesus to go and cure his daughter.  If you have ever had a child near death, you certainly can empathize with Jairus.  My guess most parents can imagine what Jairus is feeling.  Sometimes, we are helpless to do anything for our children.  When we are impotent in any given situation and can do nothing for our children, is there any worse feeling?  That’s Jairus this morning.
     There is, of course, a problem.  The crowds are huge and pressing in on Jesus.  Jairus is probably wishing he had an armed guard at his command to help speed Jesus along by keeping the crowd back.  But Jesus is working His way with Jairus.  In a bit of a sandwich, Mark then shifts our attention to the menstruating woman.  I will gloss over some of the details since it’s Healing Sunday, and I am mindful of your time.  But we learn that the lady has been bleeding for twelve years and spent all her money on doctors.  Rather than helping cure her, the doctors’ ministrations have allowed her condition to worsen.  Her only thought is that, if she touches Jesus’ cloak, she will be healed.  She does just that.  Jesus, of course, feels the power flow from Him and asks who does it.  I will talk more about that in a minute because I do not think Jesus is sincere in His question.  I am certain He knows who touched Him, certain what healing has taken place, and is certain what healing she truly needs.
     But He stops and asks who touched Him.  The disciples are probably frustrated with His question.  Think of the crowds the last time you attended a Titans’ game or a Preds’ game.  Ever get touched there?  Think you could ever hope to figure out who touched you in that setting?  That accounts for the disciples’ exasperated answer!  You have got to be kidding, Jesus!  Look at this crowd!  They are all pressing in on you!
     After the woman steps forward, Jesus continues on to the house of Jairus.  Can you imagine poor Jairus’ frustration?  He wants Jesus to save his daughter, but Jesus is being slowed by the press and need of the crowd.  Finally, once Jesus gets going again, folks from his house come to tell him that his daughter is dead, that there is no need to waste the time of the Teacher any further.  Jesus turns to Jairus and tells Jairus only to believe.
     They head to the house and find a great commotion.  There used to be a job for those who could mourn.  I guess you and I would consider it akin to acting, but people were paid to mourn the death of people, especially wealthier people.  Professional mourners are already on site when Jesus and Jairus arrive.  No doubt a sympathizing member of the synagogue has paid for this service.  Additionally, other members of the synagogue have shown up to express their condolences.  Jesus, of course, asks why the commotion.  He asserts the girl is sleeping not dead.  Those present at Jairus’ house scoff at Jesus’ declaration.  In return, Jesus casts them out and allows only three of His disciples and the mother and father to go into the house with Him.  There, he tells the little girl to get up, and she does!  He tells mom and dad to feed her and to keep this miracle a secret.  Obviously, since we are reading about it nearly 2000 years later, they had a hard time keeping this secret!
     What is going on?  Why would Mark tell two different miracles, with one sandwiched in between the other?  How is it that Jesus can be God and not know who touched Him?  Why would Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead and then instruct the grateful parents to keep their mouths shut?  I’m also certain some of the details cause questions in your minds, too.
     I was thrilled to see this was our reading this morning earlier in the week.  As I said, it never happens that healing miracles line up with our Healing service.  For those of you knew to the parish the last three months, this is an approved service where we anoint with oil and pray for those who want healing.  I know.  It seems a little “out there” for Episcopalians to be doing such a service.  Anointing with oil, impromptu prayers, expecting the Holy Spirit to come powerfully—I know it makes some of us uncomfortable.  But, any student of the Bible understands that such was the practice in the Old Testament and the New Testament for the people of God.  We are supposed to be a healing community. 
     Anyway in a few short minutes, I will invite those who desire anointing prayer to come forward.  We don’t argue much over whether it’s a rite or a sacrament nowadays, though our forebears sure did!  I will ask each individual what they think they need.  Then I will anoint and pray over them.  Sometimes, prayers will come unbidden to my lips; sometimes, I will pray exactly what the person wants; sometimes, I will say one of the prayers from our BCP’s.  Sometimes, I will be . . . compelled/guided to pray something that makes no sense either to me or to the one over whom I am praying.  It is only later, when the person reflects on the prayer and subsequent events in their life, and then they choose to share it with me, what the prayer really meant and how God answered it.  Then, as I end the prayer for healing, I will often ask God to give the one for whom I pray and me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand how their suffering glorifies God and for strength to persevere. 
     Those of us struggling in our relationship with God may well ask why He does not cure everyone who comes?  If He’s a good God and has the power we think, why is there any suffering in His people?  We remind ourselves in these moments that His servants are often suffering servants.  God delights in redemption.  Just as He used the suffering of His Son Christ our Lord to save us, so He uses us, His adopted sons and daughters, to reach into the lives of others.  I wish I understood His logic.  I wish I knew why He does things or does not do things the way I think He should.  That’s probably a different sermon or teaching.  Today, we are talking about our Lord providing us what we need.
     Look a little closer at the healing of the woman.  What did she really need?  I’m not a woman so I cannot relate to the menstrual bleeding really well, but I am the father of three girls and married to another.  I can testify a bit to the expense of the woman’s condition.  Clearly, Mark wanted us to understand that she had spent all her money on doctors and prescriptions and supplies, but was that his focus for us?  No.  Jesus does not pull a bag of coins out of a fish or His robe and give it to her.  In one sense, He does not even actively heal the woman of her bleeding.  Yes, it is the power jumping from Him that cures her, but Jesus does not say “Be healed” or “Quit bleeding.”  We learn later from His instruction that it is her faith that has made her well.  What does Jesus give her?  What did He think she needed?
     Mark does not dwell on many of the details, but those in the crowds and the early audiences would have understood this story far better than we.  As a result of her bleeding, she is unable to go to worship.  She is ceremonially unclean.  Now, being ceremonially unclean does not equal “disgusting sinner.”  No doubt people judged her for her condition, as people do in most cultures and most ages—think of those in your younger years who attended not wearing dresses or suits.  I have no doubt there where whispers of her notorious sins.  She’d lost a husband; she was bleeding for twelve years.  Yahweh had clearly turned His back on her in their eyes.
     Her uncleanness, though, was like cooties among our youth.  If anybody touched her, they were unclean.  Some rabbis and priests would instruct that anybody entering her house would be made unclean—they would touch things she had touched or sit in chair in which she had sat.  Ceremonial uncleanness meant that one needed to be cleansed in order to worship.  There were appropriate sacrifices and baths.  Those, of course, cost money.  Have you heard the old adage, “No good deed goes unpunished?”  If you took her food and accidentally touched her, you had to be cleansed.  If you loved her and just hugged her, you needed to be cleansed.  If you bumped into her on the streets, or touched something she had touched, you had to be cleansed.  Her bleeding had resulted in a loss of community.  Normal social interactions were denied her.  I am sure people meant well in the beginning, but human nature is human nature.
     Think of this in modern terms.  For how long would you be willing to take communion or a meal or just visit a shut in if every time you did that you had to go through the expense of paying me a stole fee to cleanse you ritually?  I suspect most of us would volunteer once or twice, but where would we draw our lines?  Would the line be higher for close family?  Would it be lower for the curmudgeon or shrill?  This lady has been experiencing that for 12 years!  12 years!  For reasons of self-survival she has had to become invisible to those around her.  The one wrong move, the wrong one touch, and who knows what happens.  We do.  Such outcasts get blamed for all societal evils and misfortunes.
     Jesus, though, is aware of her life.  He recognizes what she truly needs!  As God and Man He clearly knows who has touched Him—He would not be worthy of our worship otherwise.  In front of everybody He asks who touched Him.  Mark tells us that He had an intense face.  Mark does that only a few times in his Gospel, so we know it’s a significant face.  More importantly, the lady knows it, too.  Her big fear, no doubt, is that this incredible Rabbi who just healed her is going to be furious with her for deigning to sully Him.  Given His face, He may incite the crowd to violence against her.  But she recognizes she is caught.  She throw herself at His feet and confesses with fear and trembling what has just happened.
     It is then that Jesus truly heals her.  “Daughter, your faith has made you well.  Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  To us it may sound simply like a strange observation. To her, they were the words of life!  The Prophet, the Rabbi, the Messiah has told the crowd that her faith has healed her.  As the village no doubt struggled with the identity of Jesus in the days, weeks, months, and maybe even years to come, she would have His pronouncement in that village that her faith had made her well.  No doubt the hypocrites might still accuse her and whisper, but those seeking to follow Yahweh would be forced to acknowledge that God had powerfully healed her because of her faith.  Whether they understood Jesus’ true authority later, they had to acknowledge that God had done something through Him because of her faith.  Just like that, twelve years of isolation, 12 years of shame, 12 years of varying degrees of hopelessness is undone.  Even if hypocrites still accuse her, she knows the source of her healing and why it flowed.  To use our language of Wednesday night, God shema’d her hurt and answered her gloriously, so gloriously in fact, that you and I talk about her 2000 years later!  Talk about giving us more than we can ask or imagine!
     And what of poor Jairus?  What is his true healing?  Again, he is taught by none other than Jesus Himself to have faith!  Certainly, that is reward enough.  But can you imagine Jairus’ life after this encounter?  His frustration at Jesus for stopping in the crowd must have been incredible.  Time was at an essence—from his perspective.  If Jesus tarried too long, his daughter could die.  Now, his worst fears have been confirmed.  Jesus tells him only to believe.  And Jairus does.  And because of that faith, with whatever struggles were going on internally, he gets to witness Jesus at work.  As I have pointed out to you many times regarding Jesus’ deeds of power, there is not strain, no effort, no special words or gestures.  Jesus speaks, and all else obeys—nature, demons, and even death!
     What kind of peace and encouragement is given to Jairus in this miracle.  I understand.  The raising of the daughter is enough from our perspective.  But think what must of happened to Jairus as he reflected on the events of the day.  Was God attentive to his need?  Absolutely!  Was God subject to the vagaries of even time as we know it?  Of course not.  It did not matter that Jairus did not have a Christological understanding regarding Jesus.  All he really knows is that God worked through Jesus even after his daughter had died.  When God chooses to act in mercy and power, nothing, not even death can stand against Him and His prophets!  Now, now he is truly fit to lead the people of God in their worship of God.  For Jairus, that service of worship will never be the same.  He has passed through an Exodus experience of his own that has taught him all kinds of lessons about God.  How excited must he have been to share them with those at the synagogue?  And like the woman in the crowds, he knows . . . he absolutely knows that God is attentive to our cries and needs.
     In the end, is that not what we all desire when we are suffering?  Misery likes company, I get that.  But we sure crave to know that our Father in heaven truly loves us.  When we are suffering, the doubts creep in, the whispers creep in, the fear creeps in.  How beautiful for us, on a day when some of us will come forward for healing that may seem slow in coming, that we are reminded of God’s compassion for us, His attentiveness to us, and His power to accomplish what we need in our lives!  What’s even better this day is that we are reminded that God is never too late to bring us the healing we need.  Even if our current sufferings lead us to the grave, just as with Jairus’ daughter, one day we know He will tell us to awaken with no more than a spoken word.  And waken we will, because not even death can separate us from Him.  And because He gives us more than we can ever ask or imagine, just like that little girl whom He instructed others to feed and like that lady He restored to her community, He will instruct others to lead us to that feast where all this suffering, all this pain, all this hurt, all this doubt, all this loneliness is forgotten, not even worthy of a tear.  That is His unwavering promise and reminder to us this day, and every day!

In Christ’s Peace,

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Do you have perpetual love and reverence for His holy Name?

     Some people have enjoyed the “how sermons come about” the last few weeks.  I guess I take it for granted, but for some of you, this has been a bit of pulling back the curtain.  We will see how we all feel this week.  By late Monday afternoon, I found myself wrestling with God.  I had a sermon, quite frankly, a pretty good one.  But I did not want to preach it.  What’s worse, all the confirming signs were there.  The things I was worried about with respect to the sermon, specifically your reactions, were all lived out in other venues.  So, before I get started, understand that I know there will be some spiritual wedgies this morning.  As I speak, though, I do not have any single person or any single event in mind.  I am preaching in general terms and about how you and I are called to minister to the world, more specifically, how you and I are called to glorify God in the world.  We talked last week about how you and I have plots where we tend to the fields.  We water when told to water by God, we weed when told to weed by God, we fertilize when told to be God, and we harvest, every now and again, when given that job by God.  I am speaking this morning about how we are called to that work.  So, if you hear yourself being attacked from the pulpit this morning, it is not me attacking you.  I am here to remind us all that, despite some of the failures we may notice in our callings as a result of this word, all God asks is that we repent and try again.  And remember before I begin, I know I am on that edge.  I worry that I am over that line.  I have wrestled with God all week begging for another sermon, for other signs. 
     The sermon actually began last week, though I did not know it.  There was a particular fight on a site devoted to Episcopalians where participants were conflating immigration and human trafficking.  The name calling was, quite frankly, shameful.  I know it’s part of my ministry within the diocese to stroll into difficult conversations and try to facilitate those, to teach people we can disagree well, that we can disagree and, yet, glorify God in the process.  Nevertheless, I sometimes get tired of the fighting.  Y’all know I wish I had the power of Holy Fire from my WoW priest, where I call down lightning that zaps but leaves a little fire that burns over time.  We are all thankful God does not give that to me.  I know I would have used it last week.
     On this thread, our Episcopal brothers and sisters were arguing about immigration.  Let me first state I understand that there are high passions on the issue right now.  I understand there are tremendous frustrations about this issue right now.  Remember all those times I have told you we are not God’s chosen nation, that we are not the new Israel, that we are not even a Christian nation, if we ever were.  Some of you argued with me  . . . extensively and passionately.  And I reminded all of you who argued that we were that we really did not want to be His new people.  What happens when His people fail to keep the Covenant?  They get punished!  Does anyone here today doubt that we deserve to be punished for how we are treating the children of those trying to sneak across the border?  Does anyone in this sanctuary this morning have any doubts that God’s heart is righteously angered by our leaders claiming to do this with His blessing?
     And, if you are assuming that Here it comes, Brian’s gone all progressive or liberal on us as you sit in your pew this morning, my anger is focused equally on Democrats and on Republicans on this specific issue, as it is on most issues that confront us as a country.  Remember, I am the one who has listened to elected officials of both parties, some men and some women, tell me for years that there just was not enough votes around slavery to justify their paying attention to the problem!  Nobody ever told me slavery was not a moral issue.  Moral issues of right and wrong simply do not inform the actions and votes of our politicians.  We have let the issue of immigration go unaddressed for, what, 30 or 40 years?  We have allowed our legislative and executive leaders to use human beings as pawns in election cycles.  Each side blames the other.  We cast votes according to the way we think.  And nobody addresses the issues.  They avoid the hard work of sausage making, as the legislative process is sometimes called, pocketing money from groups that will run detention camps for money (and who knows what other groups).  And we are left as a country in this position.  And what happens.  Each side blames the other.  The battle lines are drawn.  Hysteria is created by any means possible.  And we gullible sheep go to the polls and pull the buttons or touch the pads just like we always have.  What is the definition of insanity again?
     That effort to tribalize or separate us has conquered our church.  The joke about Episcopalians some years ago was that we were Christian-Lite. Politicians attended our churches because we did not want to offend the rich and powerful in our midst.  We have so marginalized ourselves and God that they do not even bother to come any more.  Even now, some years after the departures of so many of our brothers and sisters for other greener Anglican pastures, still we are allowing ourselves to be divided, to be duped into the belief that we have no obligation to unity, just as the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit are one.  In the Bibles of other churches around here, that prayer that we may be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one, is in red letters!  And still we have chosen the wisdom of the world over the instruction and grace of God.
     Knowing better, I chimed in on this particular thread.  Words were being hurled that did not honor God; worse, statements were bordering again on dehumanizing others – others that are in our church still!  They have had the same opportunities to take the off ramp from our way of doing things and they, like us, have stayed.  The issue that caught my attention was the false claim that the federal government had allowed 1500 children to be sold into slavery.  This was a big story a month or six weeks ago.  Some in the mainstream media read or heard testimony that 1500 children of undocumented immigrants were “lost.”  In their passion to fight against a policy, they tried to frighten the public and stir up emotions by claiming those children had been sold into slavery.  It was only after representatives from all the administrations dating back to the Clinton administration started speaking with the press that the picture really started to come into focus.
     When a family is arrested for illegally crossing our borders, the adults are taken to jail.  The children are deemed innocent because they are being brought by their parents, so we cannot send them to jail.  Instead, they are sent to facilities where they are supposed to be cared for.  Parents are told that, if they accept deportation back to their country of origin, they will be re-united with their children and returned, often within 24 hours.  If they claim asylum, though, a legal process that can take more than a year is begun.  Our system is so freaking broken that we force parents who have fled a native land because of violence or lack or provision or whatever reason to come to a country whose mainstream media teaches them we hate them to choose between getting their kids back and returning to the land they fled or trusting the state to care for their children.  If ever there was a Scylla and Charybidis of parenting, this is it.  And it is, essentially, our law.  A President can try to Executive Order his way around the law, and there are individuals along the way who can make life better or worse for those trapped in its machinations, but, in a country that demands legislative changes to laws, we have allowed this issue to go unaddressed for decades.  Decades.
     But, until we hold our legislators accountable, until we make it clear that this issue really matters to us enough that we are willing to vote them out of office, it will be used by officials to frenzy us up, to divide us.  Think I am crazy?  This week we heard the first stirrings of a possible consideration of maybe making some legislative changes.  Party leaders from both sides responded by telling us that nothing would happen until after the midterm elections.  Only after the election, they claim, will they know the will of the people for sure.  Those tear-inducing stories that you have read?  Our elected officials forget they are about human beings.  If they truly were Christian, if they truly believed themselves to be empowered by the grace and sufferance of God, do you really think they would consider these men and women and children mere votes?  Or would they not remember that these men and women and children, like us, are created in the image of that God they claim to follow?  Would not Christians remember their spiritual ancestor Abraham, a wandering Aramean?  Would not Christians remember Israel sojourn in Egypt, the Exile, and the Dispersion?  Would not those events in our history teach Christians in power about the heart of God and His expectations for those who exert authority?
     Back to the 1500 kids.  If parents claim asylum, they are supposed to be given a chance to have friends or family take the kids in during the asylum process.  The family or friends, if they agree to take the kids, are supposed to be vetted.  Assuming the parents are fine with it and the vetting process suggests everything is fine, the kids are placed in those home of the friends or family.  The federal government is then supposed to check on the well-being of the kids.  We all hate taxes, so this program, like most of the government’s programs, are underfunded.  They resort to e-mails and phone calls rather than physical visits to determine the welfare of the kids involved.  Not unsurprisingly, many of these friends and family of those incarcerated during the asylum process do not look upon our government favorably.  Cooperation can be . . . spotty, to put it delicately.  Understandably so.  When that number of 1500 came out, it meant simply that those responsible for caring for the kids refused to return calls or e-mails to the government.
     Main stream media and politicians helped work us into a frenzy.  Trolls on Facebook tried to paint a picture that our evil government officials, in many cases people just like you and me, were selling children knowingly into slavery.  Such screaming and misinformation unfortunately made it into some of our wider church groups.  As one who is considered by others knowledgeable both about Scripture and about modern slavery, I gave consideration to posting on one of these Episcopal threads.  In truth, I usually hate posting on stuff like that.  I understand the extra work it creates.  Some will engage me as if I’m an idiot, and I have to be gracious toward them, sometimes simply listening silently as they pontificate.  Others will truly engage me, wanting to know what makes me think what I think.  Those conversations, of course, MUST be had.  What kind of a priest, what kind of a reconciler would I be if I passed on those opportunities to get people to see a bigger picture and a God who may have a call on their life regarding the issues about which they are so popular?  And, it’s not like I don’t have enough to do at Advent.  I really don’t need any more work.  But, I was on Facebook and this particular thread popped up on my screen.
     After a bit of wrestling, I started typing.  When finished, I read and re-read and re-read to make sure my language was calm and measured.  And I prayed.  Really, God, do I really need to speak into this and hit the send button?  Will anybody even listen?  I got back that familiar “if not you, who.”  So I hit the send button.  In short form, all I reminded people in our church was that those 1500 children were at less risk of being trafficked in the hands of the government than in the hands of the coyotes who smuggled them into the country.  We know that some coyotes are in the business of trapping undocumented people into slavery.  If we did not take those kids into some kind of custody and left them with the coyotes, they were far more likely to be enslaved.  Can you imagine?  Mostly men who profit by smuggling people.  All they do is guide them into the country, illegally.  They get paid first, and the sums they charge are impressive.  It’s no wonder so many get involved in modern slavery.
     Anyway, the blowback was predictable.  The most creative critique was that I was like Bonhoeffer and other Christian leaders who supported the Nazis.  They claimed to be praying that I would have my spiritual awakening.  Others were far less gracious.  A few engaged in conversations.  Could individuals involved in this on behalf of the government be evil and selling the kids?  Sure.  I’ve no doubt that the for profit prison models and attitudes are guiding us in these camps/warehouses.  Once they are willing to withhold food, water, entertainment, a real bed, it becomes easier and easier to think of those in their care as less than human, more like pets or animals.  If someone with the wrong attitude has financial issues and a slaver discovers it, temptation may win.  But, it still must be done in the shadows.  If other colleagues discover it, or if more and more children find their way into particular slave “rings”, so does law enforcement.  Breaking the law has a legal consequence.  If those same governmental officials find themselves on the inside of a jail accused of child sex trafficking, there are other “penal” consequences.  And let’s just say inmates’ sense of justice is a bit more brutal than our own.
     Not all the conversations that flowed were negative.  In fact, a couple were very positive.  Some admitted to being so blinded by partisan politics that they had not considered how our politicians divide us, stir us up, and then use the frenzy to keep the status quo.  A couple were shocked that I had no easy answer for the immigration issue.  I suppose we live in a society and a church that must have ready-made answers.  I clearly do not on this one.  Since more than half our country does not self-identify as Christians, we certainly have no national Christian duty to move to open borders.  On the other hand, as our support and fomentation of discord in other countries have come to light over the years, some non-Christians argue that we have a moral obligation to those displaced by our activities.  And what of those here already?  Other immigrants are far from one mind!  I’ve been in conversations where they were the most adamant about not rewarding others for breaking the law.  We have fallen into the same pattern so often and so long, that we have a ton of work to do on this issue.  And this is only one issue facing us.  And our church has now been conquered by culture.
     That last statement was driven home Monday afternoon.  A bishop not our own called to chat.  We have a . . . complex relationship.  In some areas, we are in agreement.  In others, we are in disagreement.  Maybe that’s why he’s never been in authority over me; maybe that’s why our relationship flourishes.  God, knows.  But our discussions, while passionate, are always respectful.  We have never stooped to serious name calling in our arguments—we have joked, but we both know we are joking and try to make sure no one overhears us.  He called Monday ostensibly to talk about other issues.  After sharing my opinions and hopes on a couple issues like SSM, Prayer Book Revision, adding administrative salary to the Triennium budget, the unwillingness of Church leaders to move 815, and the recent Supreme Court action with respect to SC at the upcoming General Convention, he asked me what I was thinking when I stepped into that fight last week.  Why make work for yourself?  Later, I had to call and apologize, though he confessed no such apology was needed.  Like me, he does not post on many threads.  When he speaks on any issue, regardless of how well he ties the Gospel or Scripture to it, he always gets flamed.  While there are Adventers who are passionate about specific issues in the wider world, there are way fewer of them than there are in any single diocese.  That’s what this bishop deals with in his ministry.  He hears from members of 60 or 80 or more churches rather than one!
     But I launched into a bit of a frothy diatribe.  If we clergy are not reconciling people to God and each other who will?  If we are afraid to speak what we think is God’s heart into a matter who will?  As a chief pastor in Christ’s One Holy, catholic, and Apostolic Church, he should have had an even greater understanding of that.  You all can imagine that conversation.  You’ve known me for three years now.  I apologized later because Tina grabbed me.  Can you say that to a bishop?  Aren’t you worried about getting fired or de-priested?  When I explained the conversations, she knew what we were talking about, but she also knows human nature.  None of us like to be reminded of what we already know; fewer of us like being told what to do when we have been rebelling against that knowledge for some time.  When I called the bishop back to apologize and to explain myself, he cut me off.  He explained that his skin was thick and that God sometimes needed to use sharper pointed arrows to pierce it from time to time.  In a world so in need of God’s reconciling word, a bishop should encouraging the clergy and laity that are passionate and lovingly about that work, not stoking fears or division or arguing for the easier path of the status quo.  We had a much calmer discussion, at least as far as Tina was concerned, for a few more minutes.  And now you know two big background pieces to this week.
     Look back at our Collect today.  Do you have perpetual love and reverence for God’s holy Name?  More importantly, if you have the guts to ask them, would the people in your daily life and work testify to others that you have perpetual love and reverence for God’s holy Name?  Do they see you reaching out to others in His holy Name that others might be drawn into Christ’s saving embrace?  Do they see you humbling yourself and serving them and others, as your Lord Christ humbled Himself and first served you?  When confronted by difficult issues, are you a measured voice or face to which they turn expecting you to demonstrate how God’s redeeming love in present in whatever mess?  I see the squirms.  I see your faces.  I am not here to condemn you.  I am here to ask you to consider prayerfully the answer to those questions.  If the Holy Spirit is convicting you that you are not the hands, and feet, and voice of His in the world around you, still I am not here to condemn you this morning.  All God asks is that you repent, try again, and trust in His power and love. 
     Let’s dig a bit deeper.  Do we as a congregation evidence a perpetual love and reverence for God’s holy Name?  I’m not talking about there being no disagreements among us.  I am talking about us being able to disagree well.  When we argue with each other in love, do those outside us know that we are seeking to glorify God in our midst, in all that we do, even when we understand we may not be able to discern God’s call or wisdom on any given issue?  Or do they see us as a Sunday morning version of world around us?  Do they see us living our lives as wandering Arameans, confident that our citizenship is not of this country, not of this world, but of someplace far more glorious, somewhere far more inspiring?  Or do they instead, merely think of us as Republicans or Democrats at prayer, listening gullible to men and women in cassocks and albs rather than power ties?
     I would ask those same questions of the Church, but I think we all know the answer to that question.  And while we all know there are many people with the bully pulpits of the world claiming to do things in the name of God, is the Church living into its calling?
     The last couple weeks we have talked a bit about our plots.  I have shared how we are planted in the wilderness as little garden plots.  Our job, to extend the metaphor, is to be those places of Sabbath, those places of shalom, those places where people know and feel they are loved by God.  That’s our job.  It’s out there in the wilderness.  We gather here to be educated, to be trained, to be fed, to be watered, to be encouraged, to be restored to our callings, and then sent back out there again.  To so many of us it seems pointless.  To so many of us it seems impossible.  Who is paying attention anyway?  Who is listening to us?  We claim to serve a God who loves everyone in the world; yet how quickly do we give up serving them in His name?  We claim to serve a God who revels in doing the impossible; yet how often do we quit trying because our calling seems impossible or hard?  We claim to serve a God whose abundant provision is limitless; yet how often do we quit serving in His Name for fear that the “stuff” will run out, be it resources, energy, or time?  We claim to serve a God who is wholly and holy other; yet how often do we fool ourselves and represent to others that we really think He looks and thinks and acts a lot like that person who looks back at us in the mirror?
     As I was trying to wrest the sermon into something more palatable this week, I found myself in wonder in the Gospel.  These guys that were hanging out with Jesus were professional fishermen.  As I was reflecting on the passage I was envisioning ANE versions of those crab fishermen from Deadliest Catch.  With such men there is a certain crustiness, a certain “we’ve seen it all” attitude.  Understandably so.  Death is a constant companion; their own insignificance and vulnerability is thrust upon them by the Bering Sea.  What does it take to frighten such men?  This was that kind of storm.  They wake Jesus and ask rhetorically whether He cares they are going to die.  What does Jesus do?  There are no mumbo jumbo formulaic words.  There’s no wild gesturing.  He simply and maybe even sleepily commands the storm and waves “Peace!  Be still!”  And they obey.  Such is His authority that nature obeys His simple command.
     Place yourself in their shoes for a second. Pretend you are terrified you are about to drown from that storm.  Add to that your cultural understanding that the seas and oceans are the places where Yahweh and Chaos battle.  Place yourself in a region where most think chaos and death reign in those watery places, and that we are truly only safe on land.  You wake Jesus from a good, solid nap.  He tells the storm simply to be quiet, and it quiets!  Should not your fear be greater regarding the one who commands the storm that terrified you?  Should not you recognize that, as powerful as that storm was, He is even more powerful, almost offhandedly so?
     Chances are, you have already had that moment in your life?  What event or series of events caused you to choose to place Jesus Christ as Lord of your life?  What encounter in your life convinced you that He was worthy of worship, worthy of honor and worthy of glory?  Does your reverence today resemble the reverence of that day?  Does your love of Him today and His saving work in your life resemble the love you had when you first made that decision to pick up your cross and follow Him?  Or has, as the sophists taught, familiarity bred contempt in your heart?  My real guess is that our love and reverence get misplaced.  When we first hear the Gospel and internalize it, when we first make that decision to follow Jesus, we are truly thankful, we are truly loving, and we are truly reverent.  The mere idea that the Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen, would stoop down to lift us up is awe-inspiring.  Each of us gathered here has a story or series of stories to tell ourselves and others about what makes us unlovable.  I have heard some of those stories these last three years.  Some of us sought love in a steady of arms of others, using them for our own pain and never once considering how our use of them dehumanized them.  Some of us sought to dull the pains of our life in the bottom of bottles or through the use of illegal drugs.  Some of us worshipped blindly the idols of our society: money, power, reputation, or others.  Some of us grappled uncomfortably with the question of whether “this” was all that there is.
     Until we met Him.
     For some of us, that encounter was like a lightning bolt, more akin to Paul’s encounter on the road to Damascus.  One moment we were going through our day, dealing with our normal cares and concerns and fears, and then, BOOM!, He was there.  And we were blessed to recognize Him as the answer to those questions in our lives.  We were blessed to see Him offering hope in the midst of despair, healing in the midst of our woundedness, and life in the midst of death.  For others, the encounter was less earth-shattering and more a “long, slow play.”  Maybe a sermon or service caught our eye.  Maybe the calm witness of another intrigued us.  Maybe we decided to do our own research and figure out what “this” was all about.  And before we knew it, we were saying the creeds, we were participating actively in the Eucharist, and we were talking (praying, if you like) with Him all the time.  We might not be able to point to the moment like others, but the offer of salvation was no less meaningful.
     Like those in our story today, like those in the stories of Mark yet to come this season after Pentecost, though, we wanted to reject His power, His authority, His claim.  That reverence and love we first had were overcome by our doubt of the encounter.  If we answer honestly, our love and reverence for what He offered was replaced by a fear of what He expects of us.  We despise the unknown; we despise change.  And so we misplaced our love on who we were; we misplaced our reverence for fear that He might not know or might not be able to effect the change, the transformation to use the fancy language of the Church, to which He called us.
     Want to argue with me?  Feel free.  But wrestle, too, with the Scriptures and with God.  How do the disciples and the Apostles respond to His power and authority?  How do the good folks at Gerasenes, when confronted with His authority over supernatural evil?  How do the mourners at Jairus’ house, when confronted with His authority even over death?  The folks in His hometown?  The rabbis and scribes?  Herod?  How did I?  How did you?  Time and time again, when confronted with the authority of Jesus, human beings prove unwilling to love and reverence God’s Christ.  We live that same unwillingness in our own lives.  And the world is a bit darker for our stiff-necked irreverence and hatred.
     Thankfully and mercifully, that is not the end of the story.  Those same apostles and disciples who do not know what to think of their Master in the calming aftermath of the storm will be given the fullest demonstration of His power and authority that wonderful Easter morning.  Similarly, you and I understand, even if we do not know quite what to make of God and His plan, that Jesus’ authority is supreme in our lives because of that empty tomb and glorious ascension!  And so this day, as with every day, we pray that God, in His loving-kindness, His hesed, will give us that perpetual love and reverence for His holy Name, that our witness to His power and His authority might draw others into His saving embrace, might turn our wilderness plots into miniature shadowy copies of Eden, might inspire others to act according to His will on earth as it is in heaven.

In Christ’s Peace,