Last Sunday was the last time that Pam and I were scheduled to lead the Sunday afternoon worship at the Manor. I am sure that we will be back as we have offered to cover Fr. Jacobsen when he is away. It was my turn to give the homily. As I sat and researched and then drafted and edited the text, I realized that my homily style had developed in response to the congregation at the service. The homily may be shorter than a traditional sermon and may reflect on a single thought from scripture, but that did not mean that it could not challenge, or even make the listeners a little uncomfortable.
Homily given at St. Paul’s Manor, San Diego, Sunday 12th July 2015
Proper 5 Year B RCL Track 1
Today’s Gospel reading, the reading that we have just heard is the reading that no one likes to think about. Let’s be honest, it is a story that is tragic, petty, full of hate, full of revenge and quite gruesome as well.
He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother.
Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a Jew but he was also an officer of the Roman Empire. His personal life was complex. He had married his brother’s wife, whilst his brother was still alive. A definite no-no in those times. But he was in charge of the region and so he could get away with it. The only problem was, was this man called John the Baptist, a wild man, always preaching, always leading the way for the one who would come after him. John the Baptist called Herod out, told him that his marriage was wrong. Herod couldn’t let him just carry on like that even if he was drawn, maybe because of his Jewish roots, to the message that John the Baptist was preaching. The solution was to jail John. That way he could silence him in public but not actually kill him. Herod was intrigued by John but also frightened by what he stood for. Herod’s wife Herodias on the other hand just outright hated John the Baptist for the trouble he had caused.
So in the story we come to the party. And it sounded like it was a great party. A birthday banquet, full of food and drank and dancing. And there was his daughter the star of the show, working the dance floor, making everyone happy. Like any proud father, at a party, probably with a few too many drinks inside of him he makes a grand gesture to his daughter. Choose whatever you want – even half the kingdom, ask and it’s yours. The daughter do not know what to say, what to ask for, so she runs to her mother. Her mother is still full of hate for John the Baptist and so tells her daughter to ask for his life, his head on the plate.
When Herod hears this, he is shocked, he does not want to kill John the Baptist – secretly he quite likes his preaching. He wants him silenced in public but not killed. But what can he do to stop it? He is a high ranking officer of the Roman Empire, who lived by his word. If he refused his daughters request, his men would lose trust in him. Whenever he said that he would do something in the future, no one would trust that he would carry through. What was he to do? What choice did he have? Being an officer of the Roman Empire was more important than being true to his Jewish heritage. He had no choice. It was off with John the Baptist’s head.
What did this achieve? Maybe temporary validation of his empire status. Maybe his wife got some closure to her hatred of John. I’m not sure about his daughter?, Maybe she got her mother’s approval and favor. But long lasting achievements? If anything it only served to heighten awareness of Christ. John the Baptist was dead, but the one who came after him was growing in his ministry. Right after today’s gospel we have the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus sustaining life, as opposed to Herod killing life. Jesus feeding the many as opposed to Herod entertaining the few. The contrast could not be greater.
But Herod had no choice, he did what he had to do. He did what the empire and society expected him to do. Herod had no choice. Or did he? Herod could have heard the request for John the Baptist’s head and said no. Refused to kill him without just and legal cause. He could have stood up to his daughter, his wife, his fellow officers and the expectations of those around him and of the society that he was part of. Standing up to them may have caused him some problems, it may have led to people question his authority but had he stood up to them and refused to issue the death sentence then he would have known that he had the authority of God on his side. He could have chosen to listen and obey his faith rather than blindly following the traditions and expectations of the society in which he lived in.
And there we have the link to you and to me. To our life today. In many ways we are living the party. The party that does not fully care for the vulnerable members of our society, forcing them to live on the streets. The party that supports widespread and institutionalized racism in our nation. The party that makes gun ownership so easy. The party that leaves our veterans without the support that they need. The party that values someone’s life upon their material worth. The party where equality for all is a bad word.
Maybe some of those party descriptions make you a little uncomfortable. But today our gospel reading is uncomfortable.
So then we are left with the question. Do we want to be like Herod and go with the flow, save our face, sacrifice our beliefs when we know the truth that is deep in our heart? Or are we going to be Christ like, disciple like, and stand up for the poor, the vulnerable and those in need of our protection. Are we going to be Christians who value the worth of every human being? Are we going to be Christian’s that are prepared to be unpopular if needed, at odds with society but strong in the knowledge that we have the authority of the God behind us?
I hope so, that is my prayer for myself and for each and every one of us. May we be known through the love of Christ and not through the admiration of society.
Each week Pam and I have been leading the afternoon service at St. Paul’s Manor as part of our theological field placement. We alternate between officiating and delivering the homily. This week it was my turn to give the homily. I had a nice homily planned based on David and Goliath and then on Wednesday the tragic events surrounding the shooting of nine African-American people attending a bible study in Charleston, South Carolina stopped me in my tracks. I felt uncomfortable with the homily I had written and felt called to talk about the events. Late Saturday night I sat down and started over, writing from the heart.
Homily given at St. Paul’s Manor, San Diego, Sunday 21st June 2015
Proper 7 RCL Year B
1 Samuel 17: 32-49; Psalm 9:9-20; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41
Across the nation today, many pastors, ministers and preachers will be trying to make sense of another mass loss of life that occurred in the week before. In Charleston, South Carolina this week, nine lives were taken from members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church who were attending a bible study. Emanuel is a historic church that was and is known for its activism and work for making the local community, the church and our nation a better place. From all that we know, from what the police have reported and from what survivors have told us, this is a hate crime. An act of hatred, hatred of African-American people.
We have been in this position before.
We have struggled to find the right words too many times.
Bishop Mathes in his letter to the people of the diocese this week wrote
“African-Americans in this country are in poverty because of racism. African-Americans are disproportionately in prison (our modern slavery) because of racism. African-Americans are being killed because of racism. Look at the statistics. Look at the history.“
As Christians we must do something. We must act to transform the lives of our brothers and sisters who are suffering due to racism.
For those of us who use the Baptismal Covenant as part of our faith we promise “to respect the dignity of every human being,” If we are to mean what we promise than we must act.
Many of us are stricken by fear. Fear that as individuals we cannot do anything. Fear that we are a little shepherd boy with no armor sent to battle the massive giant who is protected by a thick and glorious suit of armor. But that fear should not hold us back.
The lectionary today gives us the story of David and Goliath. David was indeed that little shepherd boy but he was also the shepherd boy who had faith in God.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears;………. The LORD, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the LORD be with you!”
We know how the rest of the reading goes. Goliath baits David, and David uses the tools he had from his everyday life and defeated the giant against everyone’s expectations. David had faith, faith to overcome his fear. I’m sure that he was scared, who would not be. But he had seen how the Lord had protected him before and he had the faith that the Lord his God would protect him in the task ahead.
Compare that to the disciples in our Gospel reading. They were full of fear, fear that the great windstorm that was crashing waves over and into the boat would sink the ship. In their fear, they ran to the Lord and woke him up. The Lord said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He then questioned the disciples “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
How much better that we be like David the Shepherd boy than the disciples? But if we can’t then let us learn from the disciples, that even in our greatest fear Jesus will not let us down.
So we come back to our need to act. Our need to do something to break down racism in our country. I do not have a perfect answer for you. However we must look at the gun laws in our country. There have been too many deaths to let things stay as they are. We must do everything that we can to turn our social justice rhetoric and activism into concrete actions that allow our African-American brothers and sisters to live a life that is equal to all people of this nation.
How do we do that? What can we do? You and me? We can support all of those things I just said but there is something else that we can do. Importantly we have the power of forgiveness and love to fight racism and injustice whenever we see it.
You may say to me that showing love and forgiveness to a person who is being racist to whatever extent is extremely hard, if not impossible, it is indeed like sending David out to fight Goliath. I know it is hard and something that many people will struggle with, but I want to share with you one of the most powerful images from this past week.
At Dylann Roof’s court bond hearing on Friday, relatives of his victims were allowed to address him via a video link. Nadine Collier, a daughter of Ethel Lance, one of Roof’s victims, said the following to him at the hearing.
“I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
The story of David and Goliath was retold this week.
We can make a difference if we confront racism whenever we come across it.
We confront, we forgive and we show Christ’s love.
I know that it is hard, especially when we are hurting and the pain caused by someone else is as raw as the pain people are feeling now. But as Christians we are called to act.
We confront, we forgive and we show Christ’s love.
Today the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church reopened and continued the hard work of doing something. The name Emanuel means “God is with us”.
My prayer for us today is that as brothers and sisters in Christ that we will act to break down racism in our time. As brothers and sisters in Christ that we will raise up those who have been downtrodden. As brothers and sisters in Christ that we will act in faith starting with sharing the gospel of love and forgiveness to all, respecting the dignity of every human being.
A sermon preached on Lent 5 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Del Mar
RCL / Lent 5 / Year B
Jeremiah 31:31-34 / Psalm 51:1-13 or Psalm 119:9-16 / Hebrews 5:5-10
I know that it is not Palm Sunday until next week, but I wanted to share a little story to get you prepped and ready. A little boy was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from church with his mother. His father returned from church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?” “You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved Palm Branches to honor him, so we got Palm Branches today.” The little boy replied, “Shucks! The one Sunday I miss is the Sunday that Jesus shows up!” Have you seen Jesus yet today?
In our Gospel reading today we do indeed jump forward a little to the events of Holy week. In our Gospel reading today Jesus has already entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. We of course come back to His triumphant entry next week as we celebrate Palm Sunday. But today we find him in the midst of all of the activity of Jerusalem itself. Stories about Jesus, this man from the countryside, were spreading wide and far. A group of Greek’s had heard of this amazing man. They may have heard about him raising Lazarus from the dead. For whatever reason they desired to see Jesus. “Sir we wish to see Jesus” they ask Philip, a disciple with a good Greek name, Philip is not quite sure what to do and so he turns to Andrew and together they approach Jesus. It was a simple request “there are some guys over there who have heard about you and want to meet you”. Jesus could have said yes, invited them over and did the biblical equivalent of signing a scroll or allowed them to sketch a selfie with him. But Jesus knew that his time had almost come. Now was the time for him to reveal the reality of the week ahead.
Jesus does this of course by telling a parable. A grain of wheat is no good by itself. It must fall to the ground and die. Having been trampled on it finds itself in the ground and over time soaks up water. And then the miracle of life occurs. Life emerges from death and something new is created. Jesus knows that he must die in order for us to gain eternal life. Jesus’s death on the cross is sufficient for us all. But the parable is more than just a way of conveying what must happen to Jesus. It is also aimed at each and every one of us. For if we are to truly follow Jesus, then we must also be like that grain of wheat and let ourselves die in order to experience new life.
“Those who love their life lose it”. These words, or words very similar, are repeated six times throughout the gospels. Once each in Mark and John and twice in each of Matthew and Luke. Six repeats give us a hint that this is important.
If we truly want to see Jesus then we must seek him out in all places including places that we may not want to go. And when we find him, we should not always expect a nice happy face, because sometimes, maybe often, we will see him in pain, suffering and sharing in the brokenness of the world. But there is more, when we have found Jesus and gazed upon his face we must also listen to what he is calling us to do.
The Greek seekers said “Sir we wish to see Jesus”, a wise person in the crowd would have shouted back “are you sure?” And so my friends when we shout out “we want to see Jesus” we better ask ourselves “are we sure? Are we ready to see his suffering and to share in his death?”
Of course we can see Jesus, here in church. It is easy to see him in the beauty that is all around us, and there is a lot of beauty here in Del Mar. As we look a little harder we can see Jesus sitting alongside our homeless guests who come to our helping hands ministry. But I think that Jesus is calling us to seek him in even more places, especially in places where we may not want to look. Maybe in our workplaces there is a coworker that really is annoying and nasty to their co-workers. Can we take the time to look where Jesus may be in a situation like that? Maybe our kids sometimes tease another kid in our community, for whatever reason – maybe they have red hair, are over-weight or extremely introverted. What is teasing to some is bullying to others. Can we take a hard look and she where Jesus is in this situation? In this season of Lent we reflect upon our own lives. And I pray that we keep it real and see Jesus in situations where there is pain and suffering. For that is where he is calling us to find him.
Having found Jesus are we prepared to respond to his message? Jesus said “Those who love their life lose it”. What does this mean for us today? In order to answer that we need to reflect on our own lives and also on the world around us and whenever we see something that separates and pulls us away from God then that is what we need to let die. We need to let go of those things that keep us from God. Maybe that means letting go of the bad feeling towards the awkward co-worker and reaching out to them to try and understand what it is that is making them so angry. Maybe it letting go of pride and talking to our kids when we see them being less than friendly to another. When we die in these ways we are opening ourselves up to experience new life.
Seeing Jesus is not always pretty. Jesus calls us to look for him in the places that we not only do not want to go but rarely dare to enter into. Jesus calls us to look for him not only in the world around us but also in the depths of our own being. And that can be hard, and it can be scary. I hope that as we continue to journey through Lent, towards Jerusalem and the cross that we take time out of our lives, out of the churchiness of Holy Week to stop and to look for Jesus, in the world around us and in ourselves. I pray that we will make Jesus real.
When we find injustice, hatred, greed or anything else that keeps us away from truly being united with God. I pray that we will work to make a change, no matter how small. For it is in making that change that we let the old way die. Just like the grain of wheat must die before it can experience new life, so we must let the old ways of the world and ourselves die in order that we experience new life in Christ. And that is the Good News. In Christ we have new life. And we are certain that for every Good Friday there is an Easter Day. That following Christ’s crucifixion we experience his resurrection.
I want to see Jesus. Are you sure? Even when you know what that means and what Jesus is asking of us? My prayer is that each and every one of us responds “Yes, Sir, I want to see Jesus.”
A sermon preached on Thanksgiving Day at St. Paul’s Cathedral
RCL / Thanksgiving Day / Year A
Deuteronomy 8:7-18 / Psalm 65 / 2 Corinthians 9:6-15
There is a video that is very popular on the internet at the moment, especially on Facebook. It is actually for a Thai life insurance company and it ends with the words “believe in good”. The video is all about a young Thai man who goes around doing good deeds for others. The deeds range from helping an older lady push her street food cart, to sharing some of his meal with a stray dog but most heartwarming is the sight of him giving his spare cash to a mother and daughter who are begging on the street to help pay for the daughters education. In the first half of the video we see people’s reactions to these good deeds. Which range from disbelief, to mocking. A caption then comes onto the screen asking what does this young man get for his actions? The answer of course is nothing material, no riches, no fame but what he does receive are people’s emotions. The highlight of the video is seeing the young daughter of the begging mother run to meet her mum on the street in a new school uniform as she squeals with delight at being able to go school, made possible, presumably, by the young man’s donation. The look on her face is more than enough thanks for the young man. The message of “believe in good” is clearly aimed at focusing our attention on good deeds rather than on the need to be thanked. On this Thanksgiving Day I wonder what each of us is giving thanks for.
A good question indeed, and as we read today’s Gospel it seems like a question that Christ himself wants us to think about. Ten lepers present themselves to Jesus. Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the priests and on their journey there they will be cured. It will come as no surprise to us that Jesus’ promise comes true and the ten lepers are cured on their journey to the priests. Only one however, a Samaritan, turns back and returns to give thanks to Jesus. Jesus asks of the nine that didn’t return “Where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he says to the Samaritan “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well”. A nice story for Thanksgiving Day, a good reminder of for us to give thanks. But I think that there is much more we can learn from today’s Gospel reading. I believe that Jesus is calling us to action.
It is very easy for us today to miss some of the pointers that the Gospel writers were trying to show their readers as they wrote the Gospels. Today’s Gospel starts off with some scene setting. “On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through a region between Samaria and Galilee”. As we hear that we think of nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary. But to the early Christians hearing the Gospels for the first time this was something of interest. They would have been following Jesus on his journey towards Jerusalem but when they looked at a map they would have been scratching their heads. For the region between Samaria and Galilee was on no direct path that Jesus would have been expected to have taken. They would have known that he was taking not only a very long detour but also a detour into a region that would bounded by two very different countries. They would have known that his actions must have been deliberate.
On one side we know that Jesus spent most of his public ministry in Galilee, a region that he was familiar with. On the other side, Samaria, was a wholly different place. The Samaritans had the same scriptures and followed the same purity laws as the Galileans but they did not worship in the temple in Jerusalem and therefore were a despised group of people considered unfit for association.
I recently read an article by Brenda Loreman[i] who described the dilemma of Jesus finding himself in this in-between place. She writes
Yet Jesus, it would seem, has deliberately entered into this place, this area between what his community considers what is right and what is wrong, an area where he is sure to encounter not only his own folk, but those who are unlike him, whom his community considers unclean.
She goes on to describe the region as something like the neutral zone in Star Trek. A region deliberately put in place to keep two warring factions apart. A place that you are not really supposed to be in, a place where if you do find yourself in, you better be alert with your torpedo’s armed.
But that is exactly where Jesus went. He went to the place where many thought he should not go. In Biblical times he went to the region between Samaria and Galilee. Where would he go today? Maybe to Ferguson Missouri, maybe to a funeral service for a victim of Ebola in Liberia, maybe to San Diego’s east village, to one of the many makeshift homeless camps full of human beings but human beings despised by many people.
What did Jesus do in that region between? He continued his ministry.
What was so special about that group of lepers? They knew the rules. They had a terrible disease. They knew that society forced them to be separated, kept away from the public at large. But they must have known something of Jesus. Of his ministry. Maybe they had heard the stories of his miracles or his healing powers. For they came towards Jesus, keeping their distance. They shouted “Master”. Not teacher or savior but master for they knew that Jesus had authority. And shouting, shouting would have been hard for a leper for one of the side effects of leprosy is to make your voice horse. “Master, have mercy on us”. Jesus did not cure them on the spot. He sent them off on a journey to the priests. In order to be cured they had to have faith to go and follow Jesus’ command. And having done so they were made well.
Likewise, Jesus is calling us to action. He is calling us to go into that region between. He is calling us to engage with the very people that we want to avoid. He is telling us that we need to be practicing faith in action.
What does Luke 17 sound like in today’s world?
On his way from the Gaslamp to La Jolla, Jesus was passing through the area of San Diego known as Barrier Logan. As he turned onto South twenty-seventh Street he was approached by a gang of ten unemployed youth. Some were covered in tattoos, many were Latino and one wore a beard that marked him out as a Muslim. Keeping their distance they shouted out “Master, help us to find a better way, no one will give us a job, our lives are pointless”. Jesus walked up to the group and sat down with them and listened to their plight. After some time he said to them “listen, here is what you need to do and laid out a plan for help”. The group listened intently and even though the advice sounded a little lame they trusted the words of Jesus. The group members got up and headed for one of the self-help centers that Jesus had suggested. None of them was ever heard from again, apart from one of them, the Muslim, who came back to look for Jesus to thank him and tell him about his new job as an outreach worker for Father Joes village.
Today is a day for each of us to give thanks for all of the blessings in our lives. Today we will do well to model ourselves on the Samaritan, who remembered to return to his Master and give thanks. But let us not forget that in the midst of giving thanks Jesus Christ is calling each and every one of us to go into that region between, into the place between to do the work of Christ, into putting our faith into action.
A sermon preached on Ash Wednesday at St. Paul’s Cathedral
Ash Wednesday / Year A (All Years) / Imposition of Ashes
Isaiah 58:1-12; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21; Psalm 103:8-14
Late last year we learnt of the death of Sir. David Frost. A well respected, admired and talented journalist and interviewer. He was one of the few journalists who was well known on both sides of the Atlantic. You may also have known that Sir David was the master of satire – hosting ‘This was the week that was’ first for the BBC in the United Kingdom and then for NBC in America. But did you know that he was also a game show host. From 1987 to 2008 he entertained the British public every week by snooping into famous people’s homes and asking the question “Who would live in a house like this?”. The British public were hooked as they got to see famous people in a whole new light. The game show was most entertaining when the real personality of the famous person was completely different to their public image.
In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew is likely, at least in part, writing for a Jewish audience. The original readers of the Gospel would have been very used to the rituals of the temple and the need to be seen to be following the law. The Hebrew Scriptures were full of rules that governed every aspect of life, from what you could do, what you could wear, to how you should worship. Being seen to do the right thing was a crucial part of life. But Jesus demands more. Not more rules, not more regulations but he demands that his followers live their whole life as one who has been touched by the love of God.
So when Jesus say’s “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” he is not so much saying do not do good works in public, but he is telling those first Gospel readers, and us today, Do good works, not for public recognition but because it is the right thing to do as a follower of Christ. Do it not for the public but for what is real inside.
I must confess that at times I am guilty of having a public image that is not always exactly the same as the real me in private. You may see me as a gentle soul, but I am a redhead, and I’ve been known to say the odd harsh word at home, unfortunately often to the person who I love most. There are times when I have woken
up in the morning, and for whatever reason I have felt the need to put a public mask on.
In the traditional opening of the second act of the Phantom ofthe Opera we are treated to an image of a grand a
nd marvelous masked ball. The costumes are spectacular. The masks are so detailed that they hide the identity of each and every one of the party goers. So much so that even the two managers of the opera do not recognize each other when they come face to face but look at each other from behind the mask. In the midst of all of this hidden identity the chorus sing:
Masquerade! Paper faces on parade
Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you
Masquerade! Every face a different shade
Masquerade! Look around, there’s another mask behind you.
Last night, in this very cathedral everyone was full of joy as we celebrated the Zydeco mass. There was music, there was beads, there was dancing, there was fun, it was carnival, and there were masks. We joyously followed the tradition of a feast before our observance of Lent starts.
But today, Ash Wednesday, we move into our season of Lent. A season in which we engage in prayer and self-examination. We are reminded that God had no need for masks. He sees us for who we are, and in an instant he is able to peel back our masks and reveal our true nature.
God can see through our mask in an instant but often it takes longer for each and every one of us to remove our mask. So maybe one of the things that we can do this Lent is to work towards taking our masks off. To work at reconciling our outwardly public face with our inner heart and soul so that they both are filled with Christ’s love.
As we start on our Lenten practice. As we move towards Jerusalem, journey towards the cross, we are all too some extent wearing a mask, we have a private and public. As our journey continues I pray that we will align our lives to be one with Christ, to hand him our mask. So that we reveal to those around us that God is in us, in all that we do, in all that we are.
This Lenten discipline, to remove our mask and to align our life with God is something that we can do individually and as a church. It involves asking important questions, questions that require an honest answer and a commitment to action. Where is God in my life? When I come to church he is here, but do I invite him to walk through that door with me as I leave here and go into the world? The bible tells me to love thy neighbor as thy self. I help the homeless, giving money and even volunteering at some events we have here at church, but what do I do when I complain to my neighbor about the noise that the kids across the street make when their mum leaves them at home to work the night shift?
(repeat) So that we reveal to those around us that God is in us, in all that we do, in all that we are.
So that when we give our alms of time, talent and money it is not for public reward but is because we feel called to share the gifts that we have been given.
So that when we pray, it is not just to be seen and to be heard but because we know that God hears and answers our prayers.
So that when we fast it is not just for ritual but to help us walk and focus on our journey of Lent.
The Good News is that God already knows what we are like without our mask and he loves us and accepts us already steadfast in that knowledge.
Sir David Frost was never happier than when his contestant wore a mask. When the private was radically different to the public. But Lent is no a game show. We do not need to go through the keyhole. We do not need a mask. I pray that during this season of Lent, that when we walk with Christ fully reconciled to his love, that our true self shines through in all that we do and in all that we are. Amen.
A sermon preached at St. David’s Church, San Diego on the occasion of their 60 anniversary
on Sunday March 2nd 2014
Last Sunday After Epiphany / Year A / Eucharist
Exodus 24:12-18; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Diolch i chi am eich croeso y bore yma. Thank you for your welcome this morning. This special morning as you begin your 60th anniversary celebrations. Yesterday, of course, was St. David’s Day and I have to confess that I am not Welsh I’m English but I did live in Wales for over ten years before moving to the United States. In Wales, my home parish for much of the time was St. David’s in the diocese of Bangor, and so I do feel a special connection with you this morning. I also appreciate that you have even arranged a little bit of Welsh weather this morning. I almost feel at home.
Sixty years old, sixty years young. During the last sixty years much has changed. Recently I asked Phil Loveless to tell me a little about the history of the parish and how it is has changed. He told me that this beautiful building was not the original building. The parish started in a wooden structure that was filled with pews that were made by the first parishioners. He also told me of how fire destroyed that building in 1991, a fire that ultimately led to this sanctuary being built. The church building that we stand in today has changed as has the church that we belong to and the world that we live in. Bay Park is no longer a new hosing estate, Eisenhower is no longer the President, women are no longer barred from becoming priests in our church. Times have indeed changed and I am sure will continue to change in the future.
Change is central to our readings today. In our Old Testament lesson from Exodus, we see Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the wilderness and towards the Promised Land. It was a journey that would take many years. It was a journey that would change the Israelites forever. God called Moses to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the laws and the commandments that would hold this wandering nation together in the wilderness, as they learnt what it meant to have just one God that would care for all of their needs. God called them to movement, God called them to change, God was present and His unconditional love was the glue that held a nation together throughout all of that change.
Then in our Gospel reading we have Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. It is no coincidence that we have this reading today on the last Sunday before the start of Lent. In the chapter before the reading we heard this morning Jesus predicts for the first time the Passion Story. For the first time Jesus tells the disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and He starts to teach them that He must be killed so that on the third day He can be risen from the dead. And so when Peter acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, he is also acknowledging him as the suffering son of the Living God. Matthew is telling us that change must come to transform the suffering into the joy of eternal life through the resurrected Christ.
Now I don’t know about you but if I was Peter that would be a lot to comprehend and take in. He acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah and the next thing that Jesus does is start predicting and teaching about suffering and how he must die and then be raised to life from death. In the midst of all of this Jesus uses the transfiguration to strengthen Peter, and James and John. He takes them up a mountain. Symbolically to a place between heaven and earth. Then He is transfigured before them. His face shines, His appearance changes. Moses and Elijah, the great leader and the great prophet appear and talk with Jesus. To Peter, a Jew, the appearance of these two great figures cemented his belief that Jesus truly was the messiah and confirmed Jesus’ authority.
But hold on. Through human eyes and human understanding this scene would have been impossible for Peter to comprehend. What was happening before his eyes? How could he, or James or John explain how the appearance of a person standing in front of them suddenly changed, where did this bright light come from, for that matter where did these other two figures come from. People don’t just appear at the top of a mountain. But Peter, James and John had more than just human eyes and human understanding. They had faith. Faith that in God, anything and everything is possible.
If the transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah were not enough to completely convince Peter of who Jesus really was God himself directly intervenes and says to Peter, James and John. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with Him I am well pleased; listen to Him!” “listen to Him”.
By now, those three disciples are shaking in their boots, they are on the ground, so what does Jesus do? He does what he always does best – he reaches out and touches them personally and reassures them, “Do not be afraid”. But there is no time to rest the journey towards Jerusalem and ultimately to the cross is about to begin. It is time to come down from the mountain and get moving. The journey continues, change must happen before the kingdom of God can become more complete.
What does this mean to us today? What does it mean for you both as individuals and as a parish as you reflect and celebrate the last sixty years and look forward to the next sixty years?
I hope that this next bit by now is no surprise. I’d like to suggest to you that Jesus is calling you to a ministry of movement and of change. Of course, some aspects of this is very obvious, you are in the process of discerning who your next rector will be. Change will happen. But I invite you to think in other ways to. If you were to take Jesus on an anniversary walk through the neighborhood today what would He see? As you walk with Him on the road that goes under interstate 5 and you pass a homeless brother or sister, would you walk on by? Or would you stop and invite them into a conversation with Jesus?
If you invited Jesus to coffee hour here at St. David’s what would take His interest? Maybe He would sit and help sew one of the quilt squares that you make to send to support our troops serving overseas. Maybe if it were a Friday He would share a joke with people at the Gray Brigade. Maybe he would sit right over there and ask what more can we do to spread the gospel of Love. Maybe he would stand right here and say get a move on and go change the world.
Go change the world. That is a tall order. But change does not always have to be something big. St. David achieved a great deal in his life. He is remembered a spiritual leader who founded a monastic tradition and established many communities and churches. He inspired a nation. History records that on the Sunday before St. David died he preached a sermon. In that sermon he said “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about”. “Do the little things”.
One of my lasting memories of my time in Wales is centered on St. David’s Day. There is a road, a dual carriageway that stretches from Chester in the north to Caergybi / Holyhead in the west. The road hugs the north wales coastline for most of its length and is one of the most beautiful drives in the world. But just when you think that the drive cannot get any more scenic or beautiful a change happens. It happens once a year at the start of spring. It is happening now, it always happens around St. David’s Day. The center divide between the carriageways is full of daffodils and almost overnight what was once just a green stem burst into an oasis of color – from bud into full bloom. As you drive down the road all you see for miles upon miles are thousands of beautiful yellow flowers. A simple act of spring results in an amazing change. And that is exactly the model that we can us for the mission work of the church. Simple small acts can affect change which can lead to amazing results. But just like the transfiguration and Peter. If we rely only on human eyes and human understanding then the work of Christ, the mission work of the church can seem daunting, frightening and even beyond understanding. We must always put our faith in Christ. We must constantly strive to hear God’s voice as we discern what he is calling us to do in the world. We must reach out our hands to Jesus so that we can let him guide our way.
As you move into your next sixty years I pray that you will continue your movement in spreading of Christ’s Gospel of love and justice. As individuals, as a parish and as part of the worldwide church. I pray that you will hold St. David close to your hearts and in the little things that you do, change for good, will come about. The Good News is, that even when that movement and change may seem scary or uncertain that God will be with you just as he was for Moses and Peter. Journey with Jesus. “Be joyful, and keep your faith and your creed, and do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about”.
A sermon preached at the Festal Evensong of St. George at St. Paul’s Cathedral
on April 28th 2013
Readings for Easter 5 / Year 1 / Daily Office
Psalm 8, Wisdom 7:22-8:1, Matt. 7:7-14
Today we remember the story of St. George. The battle with the dragon, saving the princess and living happily ever after. Stories throughout history have been used as a teaching tool, we know that Christ used the parable stories to teac
h complex principles and there is nothing wrong with this traditional story of St. George. In it we are introduced to good and evil as well as the need to protect the defenseless and innocent. I remember sitting on my classroom floor the age of six, drinking my daily milk, listening to my teacher, Miss Woolly, read this story. I may not quite have grasped the need to protect the defenseless but I did understand good from bad, right from wrong. The story planted the seed and as a child it made me ask questions, and by asking I began to learn.
Let’s take a look at another version of the story. This story is widely accepted as the realistic account of St. George. Take yourself back to the third century and we find George being born somewhere in the Mediterranean region. His mother was from Palestine and he spoke Greek. He was also a Christian. He followed his father into the Roman army and became a respected soldier. His life came to an end when he became a martyr when he was beheaded for refusing to persecute Christians from foreign lands.
This story is more complex and if we are to get the full effect of it we need to seek out what the story can teach us, especially about our life today. I’d like to suggest to you that this version of the story shows us that Saint George is an early day role model for diversity and inclusion. Why? He was a Greek speaking Christian Turk, living in Palestine, fighting in the Roman army who defended a bunch of foreigners. Put that way and I’m quite sure he knew a thing or two about diversity and inclusion. By seeking the story becomes alive and relevant to our life today.
I want to tell you a third story about George. In this story George attends a school that was very much like my own school, an inner-city comprehensive in a multi-racial city with a very diverse population. One day in the playground George and his mates came across Dillip, a little 12 year old who’s Sikh parents moved to England from the Punjab in India. George’s friends started to call Dillip names. ‘Hey Turban Boy what’s that on your head?” George knew this was wrong and didn’t join in. Soon George’s mates also started to push Dillip around. George knew that he could no longer just ignore what was going on, he knew that he needed to do something. He verbally tried to stop the pushing and shoving but ended up being knocked to the ground by a punch from one of his mates that was meant for Dillip.
Once again we see our base story being built up but the story also builds upon our need to be active in living out our faith. It is easy to seek out injustice, intolerance and hatred but when we find it we must knock at those elements and call them out.
Our reading, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, is taken from the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus is assuring us that if we follow His teaching then His Father, our Father, will provide when we ask, guide when we seek and open the door when we knock. But what does it mean to ask, to seek, to knock? I think that St. George can help us in our understanding.
As children of God we must constantly ask what is going on around us, just as George of the Dragon rode up to the kingdom and asked “What is going on here? Why are people afraid?” Christ also commands us to ask questions, tough questions and sometimes questions that we may not want the answer to.
As children of God we must seek out injustice, seek out the helpless, seek out the innocent and even those who are different to us, the people that we don’t want to find are also the people who we should seek. George, in our third century story sought out those Christians from foreign lands who were being killed because of their faith. Christ calls us not only to ask but also to actively seek.
As children of God we must knock at the door of the oppressor, the intolerant, the bully. George in our modern day story, knocked at the bullying that he saw. By knocking he called his friends out. He held them to account. Christ calls us to knock. When we seek and find injustice, or some other wrong, Christ tells us to call out the injustice, He tells us that we can’t turn a blind eye, we can’t ignore it.
But that is not the end of the story. If our three George’s have taught us anything, it is that we must do something. You don’t have to necessarily give up your life, take a punch defending someone or even kill a dragon. But if we are truly to honor St. George we must work to achieve a better world, to protect the innocent, to love everyone.
Ask, seek, knock, do.