January 6, 2019 – Sermon

Epiphany Sunday    January 6, 2019   Psalm 72, Isaiah 60:1-6, Ephesians 3:1-12, Matthew 2:1-12         eyes on the star ************************************************************* A few weeks ago, reading the Barton Chronicle (the Northeast Kingdom Vermont weekly Joyce McLane subscribes to, and passes along to the rest of us with Vermont connections in our Cataumet church) – I got to a story about a panel discussion among journalists, about the state of the newspaper business in Vermont. I have  Vermont friends who are reporters… I read with interest… As most of us know, newspapers everywhere are hurting financially, mostly due to the internet. (Good local papers like the Chronicle may have a little advantage – since the internet’s not very interested in covering small town life – nor are most of the national media.) Anyway – one of the panelists was Chris Braithwaite, founder-and-retired-editor-publisher of the Chronicle… Another panelist asked him one of those Frequently Asked Questions – ‘How do you define the mission of the local paper?’ And, well prepared, Braithwaite replied: “If someone called and said Christ had returned, my question would be – ‘did he come to Orleans County?’” Panelist David Moats, retired editor of the Rutland Herald, immediately got the drift, chiming in… “And if he didn’t come to Orleans County…” “We’d let the dailies cover it,” Braithwaite said, completing the sentence… Which is sometimes a pattern even with The Good News. If Christ shows up in our town. We’ll be there. If not – maybe we’ll wait and see if he makes the evening news. *** The national religious leadership of the day knows exactly where the Messiah is to be born. They’ve got no trouble answering Herod’s inquiry – quoting the prophet Micah (5:2) – pointing to the little town of Bethlehem, a small village just five and a half miles from Jerusalem – small – but well-known as home town of King David – and final resting place of Rachel, wife of Jacob (whose other name is Israel) – and the setting for most of the book of Ruth. But either religious authorities are thinking so extremely local that even five-and-a-half miles away is too far off to be local news they’re willing to cover…. Or – Maybe these Magi look so out-there – so very not-from-around-here – what with turbans, funny hats, strange clothing, maybe different skin color… that our national wise men don’t trust these wise men from afar to be reliable sources. They decide, perhaps, anyone looking like this, and following a star has got to be dispensing fake news…News designed to make them look bad… And yes, possibly some cultural profiling is happening here… Because if this new king-to-be-of-the-Jews is not fake news – this is not good news for King Herod – who likes to think of himself as king of the Jewish territories – though he himself has never been anything close to a practicing Jew. And if Herod isn’t king, perhaps the resulting government shut-down will cost the religious leaders who advise him and kiss up to him their jobs… So – let the Persian Times or the Roman Herald cover the baby story. We don’t think it’s news… in Jerusalem. ******* I enjoy gazing into the night sky… (Most often I get to do this when I’m out fishing.) It’s...

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December 30, 2018

Christmas 2   December 30, 2018   Psalm 85, Isaiah 49:1-6, Colossians 1:15-18, Luke 2:41-52          In our Father’s house ************************************************************** Even Jesus goes through a bit of a difficult growing-up phase. (Thankfully, for his parents, it only lasts three days.) But – here, today, we see Jesus – twelve years old – going on thirty… Jesus and his family have gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the annual week-long festival of Passover – as was his family’s practice every year. But this year, on the way home, his parents notice they haven’t seen Jesus all day. They search for him among family and friends. People typically traveled together as extended family-and- friendship-groups in those days (as some still do). It wouldn’t be unusual for older children to travel together a bit apart from grown-ups and younger children for much of the day. (That still happens.) But when Jesus still hasn’t shown up at the end of the day at the campsite, now there’s cause for alarm… So his parents anxiously return to Jerusalem to search for him in the morning… (The full day’s journey they’ve gone towards Nazareth, and the full day’s journey back to Jerusalem probably count as part of the three days in which Jesus is missing. Though the gospel doesn’t seem interested in explaining chronology for us…) On the third day they find Jesus, finally, in the temple with the teachers of the Law and Prophets of Israel. Listening to them and asking questions. In the next breath we’re told – all who heard Jesus were amazed by his understanding and his answers – suggesting that already, as it will be later, his questions and his answers are essentially inseparable… Doubtless Mary and Joseph are also astonished. Though not exactly overjoyed, I expect, to find Jesus here like this – having disappeared, it seems, without having said good bye. I can’t imagine his explanation, “Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” could have been much comfort for his parents. And when St Luke tells us “his mother treasured all these things in her heart” – it catches my attention – thinking, for me, as a parent, this would be a bit like treasuring a memory of surviving a car crash. But I’m not Mary – I can’t know all that was in her heart… Though I do remember… Luke’s gospel has mentioned Mary pondering several times previously. Pondering when Angel Gabriel tells her she’ll become the mother, though still a virgin, of a holy child who will be called Son of God. Pondering again, and this time treasuring also the words she hears when shepherds show up on the night of nativity, testifying of a host of angels appearing to them, proclaiming her son’s birth. (This latter pondering and treasuring is our Thought for the Week). I have no trouble envisioning Mary pondering, again, this Jesus coming-of-age episode – though this time St Luke’s word treasuring – seems like a stretch. But pondering – treasuring, whatever we call it – here’s our heads-up sign of what lies ahead… As Jesus lets his parents – and us along with them – know – he’s already got the vision of his life’s work – as he tells us he must be in his Father’s house – doing his...

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December 23, 2018

Advent 4   December 23, 2018   Psalm 98, Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, Luke 2:1-20          How beautiful are the feet ************************************************************** Long ago, the letter to the Hebrews reminds us, God spoke to us through the prophets. God still speaks through the prophets – especially, in this season of Advent, through the prophet Isaiah – whose scroll the early church sometimes called “the fifth gospel.” The prophet Isaiah proclaims “how beautiful are the feet of the messenger… who – announces peace – who brings good news – who announces salvation…” But in these last days, Hebrews says, God has spoken to us by his Son – whom he has appointed heir of all things – through whom he has created all the worlds. Which is one very big download. No wonder sometimes we’re a little slow…in  figuring out how best to be messengers of… God’s stupendous grace… It’s difficult to visualize God’s peace unfolding in this war-torn world. Hard to picture God’s good news triumphing over all the world’s bad news… God’s full salvation prevailing over the world’s despair… Yet in this darkest time of the year we are reminded – God’s ways are different from our ways. As the Son of God Most High is born to a young unwed mother in the lowliest of circumstances. No room in Bethlehem for the Son of God to be born… except a stable. Where his mother lays him in a manger for his cradle. And… some time… late in the middle of that night…A band of shepherds, strangers to Mary and Joseph, glimpsing, perhaps, light shining dimly in the stable… Enter… and quietly draw near… to see this child wrapped in bands of cloth… lying in a manger…The child of whom they’ve heard angels speak… And sing… *** The Christmas story is still so very strange and beautiful… But often the story gets so mixed together with the mythologies of the commercial Christmas season… that the story sounds either so long-ago-far-away… or so overly familiar in not-very-beautiful-ways… that the story becomes hard to hear…Hard to find our part in. Unless – we’re young, pregnant, poor, about to give birth… Or homeless, not sure where we’ll lay our head tonight… Or accustomed to long, searching, silent conversation with God… Or used to noticing the merest whisper of God’s Spirit… Used to God leading us in strange directions… If any of this is part of our experience… Maybe we can identify with Mary and Joseph… Or…perhaps if we’re a night-shift worker used to being outside at night for long hours… A night watchman… a fishermen or sea-farer out at sea… a police man or woman on night patrol… Perhaps if we’re used to looking up in the night sky a lot… Listening… to every shift in wind and weather… We can identify with the shepherds… Watching flocks by night. But for most of us Christmas can be a difficult time to hear the genuine Christmas story… Unless some how the story catches us by surprise… And we find ourselves… anew… caught up… in the story. *** I’ve prayed and read the Christmas story…Sung the songs of Christmas… many times these past few weeks getting ready… Still I’ve found myself far more often than I had hoped… suffering various forms of seasonally-affected-dysfunctionality. Which is...

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December 9, 2018

Advent 2   bournecataumetparish.org/?p=2626 (Canticle of Zechariah, Isaiah 9:1-7, Philippians 1:3-11)    Luke 1:26-38   Then the angel… ************************************************************ Then the angel departed from her… Leaving Mary to ponder what has happened… And what she has heard… and what she’s said… I’ve got no doubts as to the truth of the words of St Luke’s gospel…But I can’t help wondering about the rest of the story – the parts undisclosed – like, what can Mary have been thinking? – as this encounter with the angel happens…And I can’t help imagining Mary asking God – and asking herself – “‘Did this really happen?’ (And… realizing yes, it surely did – did I really say – ‘yes?’”) Remembering… There was no way in those days for Mary to snap a selfie with the angel. Even if there had been, would the image of the angel be visible to anyone but Mary? I’m very sure we don’t see or hear everything God is doing…. We don’t see or hear everything God keeps inviting us to see and hear… And quite possibly God chooses Mary partly because she is a very good listener… (but…) We have no way of knowing what may have gone through Mary’s mind. The bible  respects our privacy and seldom discloses our innermost thoughts (except where not to tell would be worse than telling). We get to overhear only these brief snippets of conversation between the angel Gabriel and young Mary – engaged, not yet married, still a virgin – now, suddenly, invited to become mother of a child to be named Jesus who will be called Son of God, who will inherit the throne of his ancestor David and rule over the house of Jacob forever… And ‘not to worry’ the angel tells her – ‘all this will happen by the power of God’s Spirit. The child to be born to you will be holy.’ And as the moment of encounter is fulfilled… I picture Mary praying silently, urgently… and God’s Spirit stirs within her… and the assurance of God’s presence comes over her….And I imagine… the first word that comes to Mary is a deep, almost silent – Wow. The whole conversation’s takes only a few moments…   But… this very short conversation between Mary and God’s messenger turns out to be more than enough…. to keep the universe pondering ever since…  what has now begun… in this invitation from God Most High…and… This yes – let it be with me … response… from Mary. ***** Getting to Yes with God seldom goes anywhere near as quickly for most of us… as it seems to go with Mary… I often feel guilty about how slow I am to listen and hear what God is asking. And I’m probably a little afraid of some of the things I imagine God might ask. Still, I resolve, often, to try to do better at listening. So it was good for me, last Thursday, when Pastor Sandra Smith and I attended a workshop on prayer, led by Kristen Vincent with Upper Room Ministries (publishers of The Upper Room daily devotionals). As we went around the room answering Kristen’s opening question – “What is prayer for you?” – I was relieved to hear it’s not just me – a lot of us talked about prayer...

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December 2, 2019

Advent 1 Ps 24, Genesis 15:1-6, 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, Luke 1:5-25   Be ready ***************************************************************** Be ready. Don’t be afraid. Be prepared… for God’s Good News. One never knows when an angel might show up. Always remember  – Do not be afraid. But – Do – Be ready. Prepared… Zechariah the priest is serving in the Jerusalem temple. Doing God’s work in God’s holy place. He and his wife Elizabeth are old, getting older, still childless. Children were considered a sign of God’s favor, and they’ve been praying for a child – and they must be wondering – why is that we have not received this blessing that’s supposed to come to the righteous? And they are, both of them,  righteous and blameless we’re told. Yet they have no children. They’re still not seeing the blessing they believe they’ve been promised in spite of all their prayers. Zechariah the priest for sure knows the ancient biblical stories of Abraham and Sarah, childless for a very long time – till Sarah gives birth to their son Isaac (whose name means laughter) finally, when she’s 90 years old and Abe’s 100. Zechariah knows the biblical stories of Abe and Sarah’s grandchildren, Jacob and his twin brother Esau, born to Isaac and his wife Rebecca after 20 long years without children. He knows the story of Samuel the son born to Hannah after long years of childlessness and many tears poured out. He surely knows Psalm 113, where we’re told God“gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children…” And for sure Zack knows the first thing angels just about always say when they appear to people is “Do not be afraid.” But Zechariah is shocked out of his socks in fear and terror when the angel Gabriel appears… bringing good news of great joy…. And… Zechariah can’t quite bring himself to believe the angel’s words. Can’t quite believe all those prayers he and his wife have been praying all these years are finally being answered. Even though the first thing the angel tells him is “Don’t be afraid” – he is very afraid – literally terrified. *** And isn’t this still….the way life so often is? We know we shouldn’t be afraid –  especially not afraid to receive good news. We know we shouldn’t be afraid of the presence of God… Afraid of receiving the blessings we’ve been praying for. We remember Jesus telling us not to be afraid even of those who those who can kill the body, but not the soul. Long before Roosevelt said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” Jesus said, many, many times – “don’t be afraid.” Roosevelt, in that same speech named many challenges and difficulties that lay ahead in the worst days of the Great Depression. Jesus names many great challenges and difficulties that lie ahead for those who follow him. But Jesus never stops telling us “Do not be afraid.” Yet of course we still have fears… Which I sort of understand, on one level. We’re programmed instinctively to fear things that can hurt or kill us if we don’t watch out… But I have a harder time understanding – Why, I myself, and many other people… often seem afraid not only of fearful things –...

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Christ the King Sunday November 25, 2018

Christ the King Sunday   November 25, 2018   Psalm 47, 1 Samuel 8:1-9, Revelation 1:4-8, John 18:33-38a ************************************************************** Clap your hands, all you peoples – shout to God with loud songs of joy – for the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth…. Sing praises to God, sing praises – sing praises to our king, sing praises – for God is the King of all the earth – sing praises with a psalm…. God is King over all the earth Psalm 47 tells us joyfully and emphatically. But…as I read the daily news, it still feels like most of the world is in all-out rebellion against God. Not at all willing to have God rule… Arrogance, hatred, bragging, disrespect, doing our own thing without regard for others – disregarding God’s law of love – still seems to be considered normal…especially among those who have the most power in this world. Even in Israel of old, in our first reading today, all the elders of the nation ask Samuel, the prophet and judge of Israel, to give us a king like all the other nations. Samuel is dismayed to hear God’s people talking like this. But God tells Samuel “it’s not about you, it’s about me. They don’t want me, God, as their ruler. They want a king like all the other nations have. Someone who will tell them how great the nation is and what a great leader he is… while leading the nation into idol worship and ruin…” So when God sends his only Son into the world to rule with him and save, teach, and heal the world and establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven… it shouldn’t be a total surprise… When God’s Son is rejected, mocked, scorned, crucified and buried. Even now, to this day – it often seems as if Christ our King still suffers through endless reruns of his trial before Pontius Pilate – as all the spiritual descendants of Pilate and Herod in every land still interrogate King Jesus, asking, a thousand and one different ways, the same dismissive questions asked by Pontius Pilate, concluding with – “What is truth?” Pilate, the governor over Judah is really not interested in truth. But he is interested in the politics of Jesus. He understands quite well the politics of self-preservation and self-advancement…And he does want to know “Are you the king of the Jews?” He really is curious to know: “What have you done… to get yourself sent here to me to be crucified?” Probably even Pilate senses something much more in Jesus…than he’s ever known. And as Jesus tells him “my kingdom is not from this world…” We can almost hear Pilate and all the kings of this earth ever since with him… breathing sighs of relief.  We can almost hear them say to themselves, “thanks be to God. (Even if we don’t believe in God.) Thanks be to God that Jesus says his kingdom is not from this world.” And yes, what a nightmare for this world’s kings it would be… if Jesus were to say my kingdom is of this world and I’m here to fight with all the angels of heaven to install myself as king… Sometimes the church has acted as...

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