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John 15:9-17

Welcome to Brass Tacks Sunday. This is the day when Jesus makes clear – crystal clear – what he has done and what he expects of us.

And what has he done for us?

He chose us.

We did not choose Jesus.

Jesus chose us.

Jesus chose you. And you. And you, and you, and you, and yes, you …

And me.

All of us.

Brass Tacks: We have been chosen.

And why did Jesus choose us?

Because Jesus has a job for us, a mission for our lives.

To love one another as Jesus loved us.

Brass Tacks: We are chosen in order to love our neighbors. Not just as ourselves … because if we are honest, there are far too many days when we don’t love ourselves very much. We all know those times. For many of us, when we stop on the scale. When someone makes a snide comment about the clothes we’re wearing. Or the work we do. Or the car we drive. Or what we eat. Or don’t eat. Or drink. Or don’t drink. Some days, it takes so very little for us to stop loving ourselves.

Which is why Jesus doesn’t ask us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Jesus asks us – no, he commands us – to love one another as he loved us.

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

Just Brass Tacks.

We all know there are a lot of different interpretations of the Christian faith out there right now. The arguments over what it means to be a Christian are being fought in our own Church, and in this country, vociferously and all too often, viciously. We know this. We have heard it, we have witnessed it, and sometimes, we have participated in these arguments. Some people say, “Christianity means ‘A, B, C.’ Others say, “No, it means ‘whack, whack, whack.’” And still others say, “No, it means, ‘yadda, yadda, yadda.’”

All we do is argue, it seems, and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

Because Jesus is crystal clear:  I chose you so you can go love one another.

Brass Tacks.

• • •

I’m going to say something here, and then I’m going to have to correct myself right away.

For 17 years, I owned two cats.

Here’s the correction: For 17 years, the cats owned me. Anyone who has ever lived with cats know that to be the truth.

The older cat was named Boomerang. She was truly the Queen Witch of the household, and she never – ever – let you forget that.

The younger cat, who was 14 when I left to go overseas, was named Riki Tiki Tavi ( actually, Rrrrrrrikiii Tiki Tavi, because that’s how it is said in the book).

These two cats clearly ran the household, doing exactly what they wanted. And why not? They were cats, and they knew that they were born without original sin, whereas we, the mere humans, were born with original sin, and they never let me forget that.

The house where we lived had a foundation crawl space, which was inhabited, as near as I can figure out, by approximately 1 million crickets. Every night, the two cats would go down to the kitchen and crouch in a corner, staring intently at what they knew was a hole between the kitchen and the foundation. (I honestly never found the hole in all the years I live there.)

The cats would hunker down, with their tails twitching, and their ears pointed forward, staring intently … waiting … waiting …

Meanwhile, I am convinced, down below, the crickets would gather, and one would cry out, “Who will go up into the light, and then come back to tell us what is up there?” And each night, the crickets would send up one – one – representative, and Boomer and Riki would catch it and play with it – because that’s what cats do – and eventually kill it, and the next morning, I would find body parts strewn around the house, usually placed exactly where I would step on them barefoot.

For years, I was under the impression that the cats were bringing me tribute. That’s what the animal experts told me, and I believed them – although why I did I don’t know, because remember, the cats thought they were superior to me, so why should they bring me tribute?

And then I read some new information. It turns out that the cats were not bringing me tribute. They were actually trying to teach me to hunt! That’s right, they were trying to teach me!

It’s called the Mama Lion Method of Ministry.

You’ve seen the Animal Planet shows, right? Well, if you watch that show, you’ll see, in great detail, how Mama Lions train their cubs to hunt.

When the cubs are small and still nursing, she’ll bring them pieces of the animals she kills, not so that they can eat, but so that they can play with the carcasses and, frankly, get the taste for blood.

When the cubs are a bit older, and on the verge of being weaned, she’ll take them to the hunt, place them in a hidden and safe spot, and make them stay still, so they can watch and learn. And let me tell you, if they so much as move, she whaps them upside the head to keep them in line.

After they’ve watched and learned, the Mama Lion helps them hunt. She’ll pick out the target animal – something small and weak, usually – and help the cubs take down the animal.

Once they’ve gotten used to hunting, and had some measure of success, the Mama Lion will go to the hunt with them, but now, she’s the one who settles in on the sidelines. She may direct her cubs in picking out an animal to kill, but she won’t do a thing beyond that to help them.

Because it’s time for the cubs to grow up and feed themselves. She’s got other things to do – have more cubs – so she lets them feed themselves.

In essence, throughout their training, the Mama Lion says to her cubs, “See? It’s not that hard. You can do this too!”

And isn’t that what Jesus did for his disciples? And for us?

Didn’t Jesus teach his disciples how to preach? And teach?

Didn’t he show them how to heal the sick?

Didn’t he teach them to pray? And not just any prayer, but the prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, giving the disciples, for the first time, an intimate way to talk to God on high?

Didn’t he send them out to do all these things, not alone, but two by two (because we are never alone in our ministry)?

Face it, folks: Jesus used the Mama Lion Method of Ministry to teach his disciples – to teach us ­– how to love our neighbors not as ourselves but as Jesus loved us.

Jesus chose us and taught us so that we could love just as deeply, just as broadly, as he loved us.

Brass Tacks.

Now I know this sounds rather simplistic, and I know people say (because they have said it to me repeatedly), “That’s nice. But what does it mean? It’s too vague.” As though love were something hard to understand, hard to give, hard to receive.

Or they’ll say, “Well, of course we are to love one another.” And then turn around and say, “Well, not that person. Because I don’t like that person. Because his dog poops on my lawn every night, and he never picks up after it. So I’m certainly not going to love that person.”

As though Jesus differentiates between those he loves, and those he doesn’t love.

On this day, on Brass Tacks Sunday, understand this:

Jesus is not suggesting we live in love.

Jesus is commanding that we do so.

He has chosen us – us – to carry on his mission in the world.

This is now our mission in life.

To love.

Not just the people we like, not just the people we know, but everyone. Regardless of race or religion or ethnicity or nationality or gender or orientation.

Everyone.

The good news for us this morning is that as Episcopalians, we not only know what we are supposed to do, we know how we are supposed to do this.

Because we have the Baptismal Covenant, which lays out for us the steps we need to take so that we indeed can love one another as Jesus loved us. Take our your prayerbooks and look it up. Turn to page 304.

What does it tell us to do?

To continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and the prayers. Tell me: How many of you say prayers before you eat? And how many of you pray in public before you eat?  That’s what we have vowed to do, remember.

We break bread together at this table, welcoming all, sharing all that we have with each other.

We know how to repent of our sins – we’ve done the Hokey Pokey in this very church, have we not?

We serve others … instead of demanding to be served.

We work for justice and for peace … and not for our justice and peace, but for God’s justice and peace … even if it means that some will deride us and question our motives.

And we respect each other … always.

Again, some of us may say, “This is too hard. It’s too vague. I don’t understand.”

Well, let me tell you, on Brass Tacks Sunday:

Yes, this is hard. It’s very hard to love someone, especially when you don’t like them. But there is nothing vague about loving. We either love or we don’t.

We didn’t choose.

We have been chosen.

Brass Tacks.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 13 May 2012, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.


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Lasix dosage

John 15:1-8

This morning’s Gospel is one of those difficult passages in the Scriptures to which we need to pay a great deal of attention, because over the years, it has been translated, quite loosely, to mean, “My way or the highway.”

This passage talks about pruning, about cutting off, the branches that do not produce well. It is a passage that many preachers, and many churches, have
used – and we all know this – to say, “This is the only way to interpret the Scriptures, and if you don’t agree, you need to leave.”

Jesus is talking about being the vine, and us being the branches, and that branches need to be pruned so they can produce better, and those that do not produce will be cut off and cast into the fire.

Far too many people in our lives have used it to justify their “My way or the highway” approach to life, and to faith.

But John never uses the word “to prune” in this passage.

John, who is so elegant, so deliberative in his writing, who so carefully chooses each word in order to make a point, actually uses the Greek word katharei, which means “to cleanse.” Not to “cut,” but to “cleanse.”[1]

And if you pay attention to John’s Greek – and we should, because it is beautiful and John knew exactly what he was doing with his choice of words – you don’t end up with being cut off and cast into the fires of eternal hell. We know, from the Scriptures, that God has no intentions of casting us into the fires – not if we accept his love. Paul tells us that, doesn’t he? Paul is the one who tells us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Nothing.  So if nothing can separate us, where do people get the idea that they can do so, that they can preach, “My way or the highway”?

Instead, what John is talking about here is being cleansed.

Cleansed of all the things that get in the way of living in love and living in community.

• • •

Many of you know that I own a townhouse in Alexandria, which I have rented out for years, because I’m a missionary. But when I did live there, I had beautiful rose bushes. Actually, they were more climbing vines than bushes … vines that grew and spread, and which I intentionally tied up against my house, framing the breezeway that led to my front door and my back porch.

Over the years, those vines grew and grew, held up by an intricate web of string and nails and poles and ties, all so that my roses could bloom gloriously … for three weeks at the beginning of May.

That’s it. They appeared in early May, spread gloriously for three weeks, and then they faded away.

For six years, I tended those vines, mainly by using more and more string and twist ties to form the vines into bowers that framed each end of the breezeway, so that’s what I did.

One of my neighbors kept telling me that the roses

would be better off, would bloom more gloriously, if I pruned them each year. And by “pruning,” I mean cutting them way, way, way back.

Finally, I agreed, and went out there with my cutters, and … I just stood there. I could not bring myself to do this.

So I went to my neighbor, to Gray, and said, “You do this. I can’t cut them.”

And oh, my, did he cut them back. He cut and hacked and trimmed and pruned, and it go to be so painful that I couldn’t watch any longer. I simply turned my back to him and let him do what was best for the roses.

When he was done, I turned around and looked, and all I could say was, “Really?”

I felt like I had cut myself off.

Of course, the next year, those bushes blossomed like crazy, and I had roses all over the place and it was lovely. But I did not have the bowers any longer, because the bushes had been cut back so much.

That’s the problem with pruning, isn’t it? You cut away a lot because it’s supposed to be good, but sometimes, the good that you get isn’t the good you want, and it doesn’t achieve what you want it to achieve.

That’s why John doesn’t talk about “pruning.” He’s talking about cleansing. And we need to remember that.

• • •

This morning, as I was trying to get here (having started a bit late, having wandered slooooowly through Staunton on what I thought was a shortcut, and having been stuck behind two trucks whose drivers didn’t seem to know the mountain roads and at times dropped us down to 12 miles per hour), I felt that need to be cleansed.

 

You know what it’s like to come across the mountains, twisting and turning, up the mountain, down the mountain, through the forest, up the mountain, out of the forest, down the mountain.

When I first fell in behind these trucks, and realized how slowly they were going (and how much I have become accustomed to driving over the mountains to get here), my first reaction was, “Well, spit.” Which quickly accelerated to, “Really?” Which in turn, as we sloooooowed down to those 12 miles per hour, to, “Really?!?!” I could feel the anxiety building up in me, feel the frustration, even though I had already called Caroline to tell her I would be late, even though I knew you could start the service by yourselves, even though I knew that all would be well.

I was getting angry.

And I needed to be cleansed of that anger.

I needed to relax, to simply drive, to remember what it was like the first time I drove out here, at night, not knowing the roads, with a pickup truck on my tail the whole way. I needed to realize what it was like to be the driver of that pickup, frustrated that I wouldn’t go faster, and wouldn’t pull over because I didn’t know where to do so.

We all have moments when we need to be cleansed as well.

When we feel that we are not loved enough.

Or appreciated enough.

Or that we are alone.

Or that the fates have conspired against us.

When we’re told that what we believe is wrong. That we need to leave, to quit, to go away, because we don’t fit in anymore.

When someone says to us, “You are out. God doesn’t love you.”

Or, “You are out – because you are wearing the wrong color.”

Or, “You, Caroline, don’t belong, because you are sitting at the piano, instead of in the pew.”

We all know this, right?

Well, I’m here to tell you, this is not what the Gospel says.

Because John doesn’t use the word for pruning. He’s talking about cleansing.

From the Greek word katharei we get the English word catharsis, which according is an emotional release or purification, a purging. We’ve all had, or know people who have had, cathartic experiences – through grief or great pain – and when we think of the word in this way, we realize: Jesus isn’t talking about getting cut off. He’s talking about us being cleansed of that which is harming us, paining us, grieving us.

Not quite the same thing, is it?

Being cut off is harsh. It separates us from the love of God, which we know isn’t possible for, as Paul tells us, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Being cleansed? Well, that’s a whole ’nother story, one that implies love, because only someone who loves us enough will bother to clean us.

So instead of spending this day thinking about what we need to cut out of our lives, so as to avoid being cut off and thrown into the fire, we get to spend our day concentrating on what we would like to have cleaned off in our lives, where we would like clean up our own acts, so that we can indeed to do that for which we are created …

Which of course is to love.

God loves us enough to cleanse us.

So that we can love in return.

Because it is in loving that we bear fruit.

Love is what counts … not just us being love, but us loving others.

Cleanse Your Spirit by Cathy Beharriell

And we can’t do that to the best of our ability until we clean out the stuff, the junk, that gets in the way of love.

So think about it: What do you want to get rid of? What do you want God to cleanse in you?

And how will your life change when whatever it is that needs cleansing is gone? Will you be able to love more? Will you be able to bear more fruit? Will you be able to be the person God is calling you to be, the person God created you to be?

It’s not about pruning, folks. It’s not about cutting off.

It’s about being cleansed.

So we can bear fruit.

So we can love.

Amen.

 

 

Sermon preached on the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 6 May 2012, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.

 


[1] Rev. Peter Woods, Methodist minister in South Africa, “The catharsis of not cutting, “ The Listening Hermit blog, http://thelisteninghermit.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/the-catharsis-of-not-cutting-easter5/

 

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Seroquel

John 10:11-18

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, your patronal feast day, when we celebrate the fact that Jesus has proclaimed himself as our good shepherd, and the fact that we have said “Yes” to Jesus’ proclamation.

Now, we could spend the whole morning talking about sheep and how cute those little lambs are, and dispelling the myth that sheep are stupid (they’re not and we know it. Goats are stupid; sheep are smart), and how much we don’t like being called sheep, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But you all know sheep, because so many of you raise them here. For y’all, sheep are, for the most part, a commodity, a way of making a living. And those of you who have been shepherds? Or who know shepherds? You don’t need me to explain sheep to you.

So instead, let’s talk about wild sheep.

I was shocked to discover how many kinds of wild sheep there are out there.

There are the ovis ammon, the wild sheep of the semi-desert regions of central Asia; these are the ones known as Marco Polo sheep

… the ovis vignei, or the urial, the bearded reddish sheep of southern Asia.

… the Dall sheep, also known as the ovis Montana dalli, which are the large, white, wild sheep of northwestern Canada and Alaska …

… the Ammotragus lervia, the Barbary sheep of northern Africa …

… the ovis Canadensis, also called the Rocky Mountain bighorn and Cimarron, which are the wild sheep of mountainous regions of western North America with the massive curled horns …

… and the ovis musimon or moufflon, the wild mountain sheep of Corsica and Sardinia.

That’s a lot of wild sheep. I actually didn’t even think of some of them as sheep until I looked them up. To me, Bighorns are bighorns, not sheep.

And who watches over all these wild sheep?

Well, there’s the Wild Sheep Foundation … the Grand Slam Club … the Eastern Chapter Wild Sheep Foundation, the Idaho Wild Sheep, the Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, the Bighorn Sheep Society of Idaho, the Northern Wild Sheep and Goat Council, the Wild Sheep of North America – Bighorn Institute, the Utah Foundation for North American Wild Sheep, and the Washington Wild Sheep Foundation. And those are just the groups that I found. Lord knows how many other groups there are out there, watching over these sheep in one form or another.

Why do these wild sheep need these groups to watch over them?

Because they don’t have a shepherd.

Because while wild sheep are communal … they stick together, they raise each other’s lambs … they have no leader. There is no one ram or ewe to guide them.

There is no voice calling them. No one feeds them. No one waters them. No one guards them against predators.

Wild sheep are on their own.

So on this Good Shepherd Sunday, perhaps we need to pay less attention to Jesus’ proclamation that he is our Good Shepherd (because we’ve already agreed to this), and more attention to his proclamation that there are other sheep out there – wild sheep – who do not yet belong to his fold, and that he’s going to bring them also, and they will listen to his voice.

Today’s Gospel, my friends, is not about us.

It’s about all those wild sheep out there …

… and the fact that Jesus is actively looking for them.

Lord knows, those sheep, those wild sheep, need to hear Jesus’ voice right about now.

Think about all the voices that abound in our society … voices singing their siren songs about getting ahead (and leaving others behind) … that make impossible and irrational promises (does anyone here really believe a car will make you sexier? A car?) … that spew hatred and condemn civil discourse …

It’s no wonder so many sheep are wild these days.

It’s no wonder that the latest surveys show that more and more young people in this country claim to be “spiritual” and not “religious.” How could they be anything but “spiritual and not religious” when the only voices they hear are ones of discord and discontent, of maliciousness and hatred, of vituperative dismissal of anyone who dares to disagree with the speaker?

With all that negativity being spewed about, how is it even possible for Jesus’ voice – the voice of God proclaiming, “I love you” – to be heard?

You all are the Church of Good Shepherd, nestled in this little valley town (town? village?) of Blue Grass, in Highland County, hard up against the West Virginia border. What are you doing to make Jesus’ voice heard?

This is your call, in this time and in this place. This is why you are called the Church of the Good Shepherd – to make the Good Shepherd’s voice heard, above all the babble and nonsense that fills our ears every moment of every day.

It is all well and good for us to say, “Well, we have a good shepherd. We have the Good Shepherd.” But if all we do is rest on our laurels and never do anything with this knowledge, we’re in trouble. Because Jesus is clear: There are others who do not belong to the fold, and he fully intends to go get them as well, so that they, the wild sheep, can hear his voice over the cacophony that threatens to deafen us today.

As one of my favorite theologians says, “This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ – to remind each other of God’s promises and speak Jesus’ message of love, acceptance, and grace to each other … [so that] we’ll find the courage to [speak Jesus’ message of love, acceptance, and grace] to others in our lives as well.”[1]

And we are the ones who are to be his voice … in this time, in this place.

We who already belong to the fold are to stand up for Jesus always, to invite others in … sometimes by speaking Jesus’ words of love, sometimes by living Jesus’ life of love.

We have to live our lives in such a way that others who have not yet heard Jesus’ voice can hear it through us and say, “I want what you’ve got.”

With all that we are and all that we have and all that we say and all that we do, we are the ones called to love in truth and in action, every moment of our lives.

Bringing in the Sheep by Ted DeGrazia

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, y’all’s patronal feast day. It is a day – the day – to celebrate the fact that we have the Good Shepherd in our lives, who knows us each by name, who calls us, guides us, feeds us, waters us, loves us.

It is also the day when we are called – specifically – to go into the world, to find those wild sheep who are hearing a plethora of voices but not the voice, and to be that voice to and for them.

Because believe me – there are wild sheep out there. Jesus is looking for them. And he’s counting on us to bring them home to his fold.

Amen.

• • •

This sermon was created via discussions with my friends The Rev. Laura Minnich Lockey, Betsy Heilman, Amber Parsons-Zack, Laura Lynn Batelli and Kathleen Merrill Jackson.

Sermon preached on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, 29 April 2012, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va.



[1] David J. Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, “Abundant Life,” http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=581

 

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Side effects of crestor

Luke 24:36b-38

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches, does he?

The Risen Lord, by He Qi

Here the disciples are, deep in shock and mourning because their Teacher, their Lord, the man they thought was their Savior, is dead … and two of their group are telling them this fantastical story about how they met the Risen Lord on the road to Emmaus, and boom! There’s Jesus … right … in … front … of … them!

Good Lord, they thought they were seeing a ghost!

How can this be?!

They saw (although from a distance) Jesus die on the cross!

They saw (again, from a distance) Jesus’ body laid in a tomb!

They’ve been in hiding for three days – three days! – because they know the Romans are really good at rounding up “known associates” and hanging them on crosses, too – just to teach the rabble a little lesson, don’t you know …

And, boom!

There’s Jesus, standing right in front of them!

And how does he comfort them?

But telling them, in essence: Your turn!

You are the witnesses, he says, to all these extraordinary things that happened when I was with you.

And you are the witnesses to the fact that here I am with you now, raised from the dead.

I’m not a ghost, he says, not a dream.

I am risen!

And now it’s your turn …

So go on. Get out of here. Go tell the story.

You.

And you.

And you.

You are the witnesses.

And I, the Risen Lord, am counting on you.

• • •

I am confident this is not what the disciples wanted to hear.

When you get right down to it, they have never been the ones to do all the work, have they?

After all, Jesus performed the miracles.

Jesus preached.

Jesus taught.

Jesus healed.

And now he’s telling them it’s their turn?

Their turn to tell the story, to witness to all they had seen and heard and learned and experienced?

Their turn to perform miracles?

Their turn to preach?

To teach?

To heal?

Them?!?!?

• • •

For us sitting here, 2,000 years after the fact, this sounds like a no-brainer, I know.

It’s easy for us to say, “Yeah, c’mon, disciples, go do your job! Go tell the story!”

And it’s just as easy for us to say, “Well, we know they did, because if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t be sitting here today. So good job, disciples!”

It is easy for us to say all that, and to sit back with a bit of satisfaction and perhaps even some smugness.

“Yep, those disciples. Didn’t get it at first, but man, when the Risen Lord challenged them, they finally got it, finally did what Jesus told them to do. A bit slow out of the blocks at first, but after that, yep, they did a good job, don’t you think?”

And then, of course, we can walk away from all that.

Because the job is done, right?

It’s over with, right?

My friends, the good news is that indeed, the disciples did  get over their shock, they did tell the story, and as a result, we are here today.

Sounds like the end of the story, doesn’t it?

Alas, I am here today to tell you:

No it is not the end of the story.

It’s just the beginning.

Sir Winston Churchill

As Winston Churchill said at the end of the Battle of Britain, “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning.”

And at the end of the beginning, it is now our turn.

Our turn to be the witnesses.

Our turn to tell the story.

Our turn to perform the miracles – to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, proclaim the good news that God indeed does love us … to make the blind see and the deaf hear and the lame walk and the mute sing with joy!

Our turn to teach and preach and tell the story.

Make no mistake, my friends.

The Risen Lord is not just talking to the disciples 2,000 years ago.

He is talking … to us.

Because we are the witnesses.

Now I know that a lot of people these days – perhaps even some of us sitting right here today – are not interested in preaching and teaching about the Good News of God in Christ Jesus. We are not interested in going throughout the world and proclaiming, “Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!”

Not outside the doors of this church, at any rate.

But we really do not have a choice in this, do we?

Because Jesus, because the Risen Lord, the one we are here celebrating this very day, has given us our marching orders.

He is saying to us, right here, right now:

You are my witnesses.

So go on … go tell the story!

You.

And you.

And you!

• • •

Let’s do a little experiment.

Let’s figure out a way for you … for each of you … for each of us … to tell the story.

(Warning Number One: This is a little lesson in evangelism, which is part of mission, which is the very reason for which God created us. As Jesus said, “What are you afraid of?” It’s just a little evangelism …)

(Warning Number Two: I’ll tell you about that in a minute.)

Do you see these flowers here?

These are pansies.

Cute little things, aren’t they?

Harbingers of spring …

You see them all the time, all over the place.

Hardy little buggers, aren’t they?

I bet you did not know that in addition to being pretty, you can eat them.

Yes, you can.

You can pull the flowers right off the stem and eat them.

Mmmm, mmmm, good, as the commercial says.

(eat … eat … eat)

(Warning Number Two revisited: Before you go outside and starting pulling up flowers to eat, know this: You can’t eat most of them. Make sure you’re eating pansies, OK? Nothing else …)[1]

Now … if one of you were to call someone who is not at church today to witness the preacher standing in the pulpit eating pansies and told that someone that the preacher indeed did stand in the pulpit and eat pansies … do you think that person would believe you?

Most likely not.

I’m fairly certain this is not happening in a lot of churches this morning.

So if one of you were to call that one person and tell that person about what I’m doing, that person most likely would think you were doing nothing but telling a fantastical story.

You might even scare that person (who would be wondering, I assure you, not about me, but about you and your sanity).

Now, what if two of you were to tell the same story to the same person?

Do you think that person might believe two of you?

No?

Well, what if say, 10 of you were to tell the story … the exact … same … story?

That person might … or might not … believe you.

But … what if everyday here were to call that one person who is not here, and told the exact same story?

Would that person believe you then?

And what if all of you were to tell everyone you met … today, tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday … that your preacher stood in the pulpit and ate pansies?

Wouldn’t that be a great story to tell?

Wouldn’t that be a whole lot easier story to tell than just walking up to a friend (or heaven forfend, a stranger) and saying, “Listen, let me tell you about Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord”?

Wouldn’t you rather go up to a friend, or heaven forfend, a stranger, and say, “You’re never gonna believe what happened in church this morning? The preacher stood in the pulpit and ate pansies”? Doesn’t that make for a much easier story to tell?

Because then folks are going to ask you, “Where do you go to church?” And you can answer, “I go to St. Martin’s … you know, over on Jamestown road … right near the place that serves breakfast, lunch and antiques.”

And doesn’t it then give you the opening to tell the rest of the story?

I’m telling you:

Jesus doesn’t pull any punches.

The Risen Lord is standing right here in our midst, and telling us, in no uncertain terms:

You are my witnesses.

So go!

Go tell the story!

If that makes you nervous, fear not.

You can start by telling them about pansies in the pulpit first.

Heck, if you want, you can even eat some pansies yourself.

I guarantee you, people will listen.

So remember:

It’s our turn.

We are the witnesses.

And we’ve got one heck of a great story to tell.

Amen.

Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2012, Year B, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Williamsburg, Va.



[1] Yes, you can eat other flowers. I know this. But for the purposes of talking to folks in the pew in church, the warning is simple: If it’s not a pansy, do not eat it!

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Mark 16:1-8

For the past month, I’ve been working via a temp agency at a non-profit in Falls Church. We were at a staff meeting recently when the boss asked me why I hadn’t finished some work he had assigned to me.

“I don’t have all the information,” I said. “If I had the information, I could do the job.”

The boss looked at me and said, in some exasperation – for he did not have the information either, “Well, why don’t you just give me eternal life while you’re at it!”

Immediately, I shot back at him: “I can do that! I’m a priest! It’s a done deal! You already have eternal life! Now can I have my information?!”

My boss’ reaction to this was … well, it was a bit startled. In the month I worked there, he kept forgetting that I’m a priest, and that proclaiming the Gospel is a more important to me than anything else. He kind of laughed off my remark, and meeting went on from there, but I couldn’t help feeling that his remark is emblemic of the challenge that we face as disciples of Jesus these days.

For us, the Resurrection – the triumph of God’s life over mortal death – is a done deal. Happened 2,000 years ago, outside the gates to Jerusalem, on a Sunday morning. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt to boot.

But for so many, the Good News of God’s love is not a fact around which they center their lives.

For so many, it is … well, it’s a special brunch on a Sunday morning. Or an Easter Egg Hunt. Or a chocolate bunny.

You can’t really blame people for not knowing this Good News, for reducing it to off-hand comments like my boss, for making it seem impossible …

Not when you read Mark’s Gospel, you can’t.

Because Mark’s Gospel ends in such a way that it’s amazing anyone knows the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

Really.

Women Arriving at the Tomb, by He Qi

Listen to it again:

So they (the women) went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

You may not realize it, but this verse is considered the true ending of Mark’s Gospel. That’s it: The women left and said nothing to anything, for they were afraid.

No actual resurrection moment.

No Mary Magdalene going to the others to say, “He is risen!”

No disbelieving disciples.

No other appearances, not to the 11, not to the two walking along the road.

No charge to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.”

Nothing.

For they were afraid.

How many of us are as afraid as the women to proclaim the Good News?

How often do we, who gather joyfully on Easter morning to celebrate, to say “Alleluia!” again, go out into the world and actually use that word?

How many of us are willing to overcome our fear and tell the truth, God’s truth?

The ending of Mark’s Gospel – the true ending, not what has been added on later – is as abrupt as its beginning. In his beginning, Mark doesn’t present a long genealogy like Matthew, he doesn’t tell a sweet story of the birth in the stable like Luke, he doesn’t engage in theological discussions like John.

Mark simply and brutally lays out the truth:

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Short and sweet and to the point. Just the facts, ma’am, thank you very much.

The ending is the same: He has been raised; he is not here. … And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Short and sweet and to the point. Just the facts, ma’am, thank you very much.

And if you think about it, wouldn’t you have been afraid, if you had been the first ones to go to the tomb, filled with grief, because the man you’ve followed for so long, the man you’ve seen done miracles, the man who preached a truth such as the world had never heard, if that man were dead, crucified by the cruel Romans in the cruelest way possible, in a way that in your own tradition was nothing less than total humiliation?

Wouldn’t you have been afraid, if when you arrived at that tomb, you discovered it was … empty? And that some young man … a man you do not know, whom you have never seen before … was sitting there, clothed in a white robe, telling you that Jesus was gone, that he had been resurrected (“What?” you think. “What does he mean, ‘resurrected’?), and that you are to go tell this improbable, this impossible so-called “truth” to the rest of the disciples?

Wouldn’t you have been, like those three women, scared to death?

And wouldn’t you, like those three women, have kept your mouth shut?

Well, thankfully, the women did not keep their mouths shut, nor did the disciples, because obviously someone girded up their loins and told the truth, God’s truth, and the world soon knew … with astonishing speed, if you think about it … that Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Because – think about it – if no one had told the truth, God’s truth, we wouldn’t be here today, would we?

But that still leaves us with the question, on this Easter morning, of whether we are afraid, in this day and age, to tell that truth, God’s truth, ourselves.

Commentator David Lose believes that Mark intentionally ended the Gospel as abruptly as he began it “precisely to place the burden of responsibility for telling the Good News squarely on our shoulders. … By ending his account in this way, [Mark] invites us into the story, to pick up where these women left off and, indeed, go and tell the Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified, has been raised, and is going ahead to meet us, just as promised.”[1]

In other words, no matter how afraid we might be, it is our job to tell this story, to finish it. It is our job to tell people, like that boss of mine at the non-profit, the meaning of Easter.

It is our job, my friends, to set aside our fear so that we can stand up for Jesus.

• • •

I remember the first time I tried to proclaim the Gospel, tried to tell the story of Jesus. I was a child in Catholic elementary school – I was probably in fourth or fifth grade at the time – and I, the little Roman Catholic who had cut my teeth on doctrine, tried to tell my little Protestant friends about Jesus. The problem was, I had cut my teeth on doctrine, and that’s about all I could proclaim, whereas my little Protestant friends had cut their teeth on the Bible and actually knew the story of Jesus. I can tell you, it was a good long time before I tried proclaiming the truth of God’s love in the Risen Lord!

So I know what it’s like to be afraid … I know what it’s like to be like those three women who went to the tomb very early on the first day of the week, and to be confronted with a truth bigger than I could handle.

Now, as you all know well, you can’t keep me from proclaiming the Gospel!

So … on this Easter morning, I am asking each of us to dig down and think hard and long:

What are we afraid of?

What is it that keeps us from proclaiming the truth, God’s truth, to the whole wide world?

If we can’t speak the words – He is risen! – in public, then can we at least live those words with our lives?

Can we do what St. Francis is purported to have said, to “preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words”?

Because, I can assure you, there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Because I can assure you, this is true: Christ is risen.

So let’s get to it.

Let us set aside whatever it is that scares us, let us stand up for Jesus, and let us proclaim that truth, God’s truth, to the whole wide world:

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Amen.

Sermon preached on Easter morning, Year B, at Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 8 April 2012.

 


[1] David Lose, Marbury E. Anderson Biblical Preaching Chair, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, “Just the beginning,” on workingpreacher.org, http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=574, posted 1 April 2012.

 

 

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The Last Seven Words: “I thirst.” (John 19:28) 

For the last week, I have been staying at the house of a friend while she and her family are on vacation. My job is to care for the house without breaking too  many things, and to care for the family’s two dogs without letting them get away.

It is a lovely house in an older section of Arlington: Large, airy, filled with light, obviously much loved, and very much a home.

In the kitchen, there is one thing, however, that has completely captured my attention: a perpetual waterfall.

It is one of those things that is mounted on the wall, with a copper base that hides a small motor and water that flows continually down a slab of dark-green granite.

The waterfall flows day and night, making a gurgling, dripping noise that you can hear throughout my friend’s home.

I have not told my friend, and probably never will, but I can tell you:

This thing is driving me nuts!

I cannot stand the thing.

I know that it is a perpetual use machine, that the water is recycled constantly. I know that water is not being wasted.

Really. I do understand the mechanics of the thing.

And I know that this is supposed to be a soothing sound, the flow of water down the slab, the drip of the water when it hits the pool at the bottom …

I know all this …

And yet, the thing still drives me nuts.

Because more than most people, I understand the importance of water in our lives. I understand that without water, we cannot live.

A quarter-century ago, I was Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya. I was a water technician – meaning that I did water engineering projects sans the benefit of an engineering degree.

It was in Kenya, in the semi-arid portion of that nation in which I lived, that I learned more about water than I had in the previous 25 years of my life.

Like most of us here, I grew up with water – with clean water – readily available. Open a tap, and presto! There was life-giving water. Whenever I felt like it, whenever I was even mildly thirsty, I had water to drink.

In Kenya, I learned, first-hand, what it meant to live without water.

I learned what it was like to stand on the edge of the largest fresh-water lake in all of Africa, Lake Victoria, and not be able to take a drink.

I led a project that was bringing that water, with the assistance of two motors, up the steepest hill overlooking Lake Victoria, to a series of water tanks that my group built, and then flowing that water for miles – literally for miles, because the water tanks were on the highest ground around – so that people could have water.

And not only would they have water, but they would have clean water, because those three tanks I helped build would filter the water before it flowed out again, down the hill and across the plains to taps, where people would, many for the first time in their lives, be able to simply turn a faucet and … drink … water …  clean … life-giving … water.

One day, when we were still in the construction stage, mixing cement and placing rocks and building the walls of these tanks, my crew and I ran out of water to drink. It was a blistering hot day, which was the norm on the equator in Kenya, and I had taken three bottles of water with me, water that I had boiled the night before … but now, it was all gone.

And there I stood, on the beach of the largest fresh-water lake in all of Africa, knowing that if I drank that water, I would take ill and possibly die, and that if I did not drink that water, I would take ill, and possibly die.

One of the young men who worked for me, who was learning to become afundi wa maji – a water engineer, one of the most exalted positions in Kenya – looked at me and said, “We have to drink that water. We have to. You have to. Or you will get sick. And you might die.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, the people face this dilemma every day of their lives. They build up some immunities to the various parasites that abound in their waters, but still, they take ill all the time. And some of them, especially their children, die.

My worker, my friend, Baraka (whose name means “blessing” in DhuLuo, his native language), was indeed a blessing to me that day.

So we both bent down, we filled our water bottles, we drank deeply of Lake Victoria, we poured the waters of that great lake over our heads … and we went back to work.

Both of us indeed took ill – which is the chance you take in Africa.

Neither of us died, which only came about by the grace of God.

So I know something about water … and I know a lot more about being thirsty, about crying out, “I thirst,” about being so dehydrated that my body feels on fire, my brain begins to cease its proper functions, my skin crawls with tightness …

All of which is why that perpetual waterfall in my friend’s kitchen is driving me nuts.

Because, even though I know it is not a waste of water, it sounds like a waste.

And I, who have been thirsty nearly unto death, cannot abide by wasting water.

Whenever I go to a friend’s house – which I do a lot, because I am a missionary with no fixed address and no fixed income – I have to restrain myself from turning off the water. I use little when I’m washing dishes (which drives my friends crazy). I take the shortest showers possible. I refuse to let a tap run while I am brushing my teeth. Sometimes, in other people’s houses, I cannot help myself – I walk boldly up to the kitchen sink and turn off the water that they have left running while cooking, or cleaning, or even filling cups. My friends, God bless them, understand this about me. They always make sure I have water to drink, and they try, once they get to know me, not to waste water in my presence.

I learned even more about water, and about great thirst, when I served as a missionary in Sudan, living on the both the edge of the Sahara and the banks of the mighty White Nile River, the longest river in the world.

In Sudan, water is an even more precious commodity than in Kenya, for much of Sudan, especially the northern half, is the Sahara. In Sudan, water is the symbol of hospitality – to friend and enemy alike, you always, always offer water first.

The cruelest month in that arid land is April, when the Fall rains have longed ended and the Summer rains are but a dream in the far distant future. In April, the temperature routinely soars to 140 degrees, while the humidity dives down to 4 percent.

In April, nature itself is so desperate, so thirsty, that it sucks all that water out of you that it can, drying you out, turning you into a husk … and once that water is gone from you, nature sucks other moisture from you as well, so that you can be walking along – trudging is more like it – with the sun beating down on you so hard it feels like a 50-pound weight is sitting on your head, and suddenly, you have a runny nose, which startles you, because your sinuses long ago dried out, leaving you with a constant, pounding headache, and it is only when you go to wipe your nose that you realize you have a nosebleed, that nature is now sucking out your very life.

In April, no matter how much water you drink – no matter how much water you filter so that you can drink it – it is never enough. Daily, I would filter up to three gallons of the precious commodity simply so I could drink. Three gallons. And still, it was not enough. So I would drink the water that others would offer me, knowing, as I had in Kenya two decades before, that if I drank it, I would take ill and possibly die, and if I did not drink it, I would take ill, and possibly die.

So I drank the water that was offered to me in hospitality, by friend and enemy alike, and I did take ill, and I would return to the States with various parasites, so much so that I told my physician, who was constantly confounded by my diseases, “Don’t worry. I’m giving you more free continuing medical education than you ever dreamed of.”

And by the grace of God, I have lived through my ravaging thirsts.

As Jesus was hanging on the cross, wracked by pain and his own ravaging thirst, he, too, asked for a drink.

Some will say[1] that he did so because one of the intended by-products of crucifixion, a by-product of which the Romans knew well, was dehydration and powerful, body-wracking, brain-numbing thirst, and that Jesus’ cry was the fulfillment of Psalm 22, verses 14 and 15: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death,” which is a terribly accurate description of a crucifixion, which, many say, was presaged in this particular psalm.

And some will say[2] that Jesus cried out, I thirst, because it was the fulfillment of Psalm 69, verse 21, “For my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink,” even though the “vinegar” or “sour wine” they gave him was nothing more than the common wine that all people drank during the day – because they knew that their water, polluted as it was, would kill them, and that cheap wine would not.

And some, too, will say[3] that by having Jesus proclaim, with nearly his dying breath, that he was thirsty, the evangelist John was proving, once again, that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine.

All of these interpretations may very well be true, alone or even together.

But I will say that Jesus, who knew more about life and giving life, actually was crying out for life itself. That his thirst was not just for water – he was dying, and he knew it, and no mere sip of water or wine was going to change that fact – that his thirst was for life itself.

The Crucifixion, by He Qi

And not just any life … not the life in which man oppresses man, and humanity turns its back on God and God’s desires … but the life that is nourishing and fulfilling and like that silly waterfall in my friend’s kitchen that drives me nuts, is perpetual.

Jesus’ thirst was more than just a human one brought on by torture and temperature and pain and agony.

His thirst, from the moment he first appeared on the banks of the River Jordan, was for a better life, for a life that was and is and ever will be centered in God, and in God’s great love for us.

At the end of his life, Jesus cared only for our lives.

He knew of the great thirsts that ravage our lives – pain, hunger, physical thirst, illness, oppression, war, hatred, division, poverty – and he desired to end all that.

His whole mortal life was lived as an example of how we could overcome those thirsts, lay aside our differences, unite in God’s love for us and our love for each other.

His thirst was for life.

For our lives.

Not as we know them.

But as they can be. As God declares they can be.

Jesus thirsted … even in those last, agonizing moments of his mortal life … for us.

• • •

Whenever I hear Jesus’ cry from the cross, I flash back to those days in my life when I, too, cried out, with great meaning and desire, “I thirst.” In the same moment, I am carried back into my own past, and to my old homes in Kenya and Sudan and to the people there, who still thirst every day, not just for water that will not kill them, but for the life that Jesus imagined for them, and as well into the future, to the place that can be, to the life that can be.

Jesus’ cry, for me, is not just about fulfilling the Scriptures, nor is it just about proving a theological point.

Jesus’ cry, for me, is about life.

God’s life – in us and through us and for us and with us.

Amen.

A sermon preached on Good Friday, 6 April 2012, Year B, at St. Francis Episcopal Church, Great Falls, Va., in conjunction with the Great Falls Ecumenical Council.

 



[1] The United Presbyterian Church of Middletown NY in ministry with Interim Pastor Jack Lohr, http://unitedinterim.blogspot.com/2009/04/good-friday-reflection-i-thirst-john.html, Friday, April 10, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

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