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Lent 4A, March 22, 2020

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Our opening reading today is the account of how the faithful and courageous prophet Samuel was called by God to anoint the next King. King Saul has become unfit to serve as ruler, and God calls Samuel to go to the house of Jesse. There, God will let Samuel know which of Jesse’s sons to anoint as the new ruler of God’s people.

There is a great deal of tension and turmoil in the land, and Samuel is afraid that King Saul will kill him if he finds out that God is going to call forth a new king. God reassures Samuel and gives him a plan.

One by one, all of Jesse’s sons appear before Samuel. Samuel feels that any one of them would make a great king. But that is not God’s will. Finally, the last of Jesse’s sons, David, is called in from tending the flock. This is the one. Samuel anoints David as king.

This passage contains the wise insight into the nature of God: “…the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the lord looks on the heart.” David will turn out to have failings as all of us do, but he will also be able to face and admit his failings. He will be deeply loved by the people.

Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved psalms in the Bible. David was a shepherd, and our Lord is indeed our Good Shepherd. The past few days and weeks have been upsetting. We have been called to practice social distancing, and we have missed being together. In spite of all barriers, our Good Shepherd has been with us, leading and guiding us.

Our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans calls us to be children of the light and tells us that the light of Christ will shine on us.

In our gospel for today, we hear the story of the healing of the blind man. The disciples wonder who sinned, that this man was born blind. Sometimes we try to explain things by trying to find something or someone to blame. We live in a world that is not operating according to Gods vision of creation. God wants all people to be well and whole. Jesus tells them and us that he is the light of the world. Any illness or brokenness of any kind is an opportunity for him to bring wholeness and healing.

Jesus sees the blind man. The man does not even have to ask for help. Our Lord makes a poultice of mud  and spit, as people did in those days, and puts it on the man’s eyes. Then he tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, which means “sent.” The man does this, and immediately he is able to see. People ask him whether he is the man who used to beg, and he tells them yes, he is, but the neighbors and then the Pharisees try to cross examine him. They even find his parents and question them. How difficult it is for them to believe that, yes, this man is healed. The Pharisees and the neighbors find it so hard to believe what has happened to this man that they finally drive him out of the town.

The man knows what happened. He knows who healed him. When Jesus hears that the people have driven the man out, he finds him and tells him who he is. Immediately the man says, “Lord, I believe.”

This man has been unable to see since the day he was born. Jesus comes and puts on the poultice of mud and saliva and says, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” The man does not argue, He does not ask why. He does not question. He simply goes and washes in the pool, and the whole world opens up before him. For the first time in his life, he can see.

This man’s life has been transformed. He has had an encounter with Jesus, and he knows exactly who Jesus is. He has experienced the power of the healing love of our Lord. He has faith in Jesus. We do not know the rest of his story but we can easily believe that he might have become a disciple. He certainly proclaims the good news by repeatedly telling the people, “I was blind, now I see, and this is the One who healed me!”

Yet many of the people who have seen the before and after of the man just can’t believe the sheer fact of what has happened. He was blind. Now he sees. What is keeping them from seeing this? Sometimes our preconceptions keep us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes. The neighbors and the Pharisees are not able to see the spiritual and physical truth of what happened.

Thank God we can see. Thank God we, too, have had encounters with our Lord that let us know that he is here to spread light and love. He is here to heal our hurts, our worries, our fears in these trying times.

Epidemiologists tell us that the best way to deal with this virus at this stage is to practice social distancing. We love being together and we miss seeing each other. Keeping a distance is the last thing we want to do. Yet we really need to stay away from other people as much as we possibly can to slow the progress of this pandemic. Let us pray for all those who are affected by this situation and let us help them in any way that you can. I thank God for our food shelf volunteers.

So here we are, worshiping on Zoom. As Bishop Shannon has said, this Lent we have to fast from being with each other. When we get back together, O what joy will burst forth!

Meanwhile let’s keep in touch. Let us remember that our Good Shepherd is in our midst. Nothing, including viruses, can stop him. He comes among us offering gifts of peace, faith, hope, and love. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being right in our midst at this moment and for ever. Thank you for calling us together to share your love. Amen.

Pentecost 13 Proper 15B RCL August 19, 2018

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

In our first two readings this morning, the term “wisdom” is mentioned. In our gospel, we focus on Jesus as the bread that came down from heaven, and this leads us to reflect on the meaning of the Holy Eucharist.

In our first reading, Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, becomes the King of Israel. In his encounter with God in a dream, Solomon asks God for the gift of wisdom, and God grants that request. Scholars tell us that there was a great flowering of wisdom literature during the reign of Solomon, and the wisdom tradition has continued since that time, about three thousand years.

In our passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, we are called to live as wise people, not foolish ones. This involves understanding and doing the will of God. We are called to keep our minds clear. Singing psalms and spiritual songs, including Taize chants, is one very effective part of the wisdom tradition. This kind of singing helps us to center our lives in God, in Christ, and in the Spirit. Giving thanks for everything at all times is a powerful part of our prayer lives.

Our gospel for today leads us into a deeper awareness of our life in Christ. We are one with him. He has given his life for us so that we may have new life. He gives himself to us, his life and energy, every time we gather for Eucharist.

We gather, we pray, we read the word of God. We hear the readings interpreted in a sermon; we say the Nicene Creed together as our statement of faith. We pray for the Universal Church, the world, our nation and all in authority, our local community, those who suffer, and those who have died. We give thanks for God’s many blessings. We confess our sins and receive God’s absolution.

At the Offertory, we we offer our time, talents, and treasure to God, We ask God to take our lives and transform them and use them in God’s service to build God’s shalom.

And then we move into the Eucharistic prayer. We remember what happened when Jesus shared that last supper with his closest followers and gave us the commandment to love one another as he loves us. And we recall that he told us to gather and share this special thanksgiving meal of bread and wine—His Body and Blood—to call him into our midst. And so, here our Lord is, the host at this Thanksgiving feast, feeding us with his very self.

We say the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer he taught us, the prayer that has been said over two thousand years.  And then we come to the part of the service called the Fraction, the breaking of the bread. As the body of our beloved Lord was broken on the cross, he took all the brokenness of the world and made it whole. He takes all the brokenness in our lives and makes it whole even now. We receive the body and blood of our Lord knowing that he is risen and present among us. He is in us and we are in him.

Now, let us pick up the thread of wisdom and try to integrate that into our reflection on these readings and on our life in Christ.

In her book Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault writes, “What [Jesus]…has in mind is a complete, mutual indwelling: I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other. His most beautiful symbol for this is in the teaching in John 15 where he says, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.” Bourgeault, Wisdom Jesus, p. 31.)

Bourgeault says that Wisdom calls us to“[see] with the eye of the heart.” She continues, “We almost always think of the heart as the center of our personal emotional life. But this is not the way the wisdom tradition sees it. In wisdom, the heart is primarily an organ of spiritual perception, a highly spiritual instrument for keeping us aligned…with the realm of meaning, value, and conscience. The heart picks up reality in a much deeper and more integral way than our poor, Cartesian minds even begin to imagine.” (pp. 35-36.)

Bourgeault goes on to say that seeing with the eye of the heart operates …from harmony, as when we hear a G and automatically think of a B and a D, “that make it into a chord, that join it to a whole.” (p. 36.) She says that metanoia, the process of transformation to which Jesus is calling us, “literally means to ‘go beyond the mind’ or ‘into the larger mind.’ It means to move into that nondual knowingness of the heart which can see and live from the perspective of wholeness.” She says, “This is the central message of Jesus. This is what his Kingdom of Heaven is all about.” I would add that this is what Jesus meant when he said that we are all one as he and God are one.

We Christians are beginning to return to the wisdom way of knowing and living. The Rock Point Intentional Community celebrates a Celtic Eucharist each month and another Wisdom School will gather this fall.  I think that Grace Church is very much a wisdom community, having an awareness of the oneness of God and the creation and the oneness of God and all God’s people. I think that awareness is at the root of Grace’s deep love for God and all people, a love that people can feel when they come into this building or when they spend time with this community. Today, once again, we meet the risen Christ and take another step toward looking at the world through his eyes and his heart.  Amen.

Lent 4A March 26, 2017

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Our opening reading today tells the story of how God led Samuel to anoint David as King. David, the youngest, the shepherd, had to be called in from the fields. But he was the one God had called. For me this Lent, the key thought in this passage is, “…for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Our psalm for today is one of the most powerful and inspiring and beloved of all the psalms. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and he will lead us to still waters and nourishing pastures. We have nothing to fear. He will lead us every step of the way into eternal life.

In our reading from Ephesians, we are encouraged to live as people of the light.

Once again, I would like to focus on today’s gospel because it has so much to teach us. Jesus is walking along with the disciples, and they meet a man who has been blind from birth. Immediately they ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”

It is so human that when something bad happens, we want to find someone to blame. Who sinned, this man or his parents. First of all, there is no way that a baby can sin. Secondly, we live in a fallen creation. Bad things happen to good people. So the disciples are asking the wrong question. Sometimes, in our effort to understand something, we do that. We ask the wrong question. We want to find an answer because that gives us some sense of control. We want to be able to say, “That’s what caused it.”

With the state of science in the time of Jesus, even if there was a cause for this man’s blindness, the people of that time probably would not have been able to find it. Perhaps it was some genetic problem. Perhaps it was something that happened during birth which would have been a tragic accident, but with the state of medicine and surgery at that time, nothing could have been done. Sometimes asking why something tragic has happened can lead us down into a pit of hopeless futility.

As Christians, we are called to focus on the attitude of our Lord. What does he say? Neither the man nor his parents sinned. This is an opportunity for us to work with God and bring light and hope into this man’s life. We are not going to dither and worry about why it happened. We are going to make this man whole.

What does Jesus do? He makes a poultice. He spits on the ground and makes a little mud pie with the dirt and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes. Then he tells him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man follows the directions to the letter and comes back able to see.

In times gone by, people would make poultices to heal all kinds of things. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines “poultice” in this way: “A soft, usually heated and sometimes medicated mass, spread on cloth and applied to sores or other lesions.” In the fourteenth century, an anonymous mystic and spiritual guide wrote, “Take the good gracious God just as he is, as plain as a common poultice, and lay him to your sick self just as you are.”

What a wonderful thought—take the Good gracious God and lay God on our human and limited and hurting self like a common poultice.

Jesus puts a poultice on the man and cures him. The man can see. But the people around him are not convinced. They interrogate him. Then they take him to the ultimate authorities, the Pharisees, who interrogate him some more. Then they question his parents. On and on it goes. For this man, it is very simple; he was blind and now he can see. We hear these words in that wonderful hymn, “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, who wrote, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” He left the slave trade, a man transformed. The man in our gospel, who was blind from the day he was born, can now see, thanks to Jesus. But many people do not want to believe this good news. They even accuse Jesus of being a sinner.

All during these interrogations and the continuing harassment from the Pharisees, who are in positions of great power, this unnamed man shows great courage. He never stops stating the facts—“The man put mud on my eyes, then I washed, and now I see.” Finally,  after demeaning and insulting him, they actually chase the man out of town.

Jesus hears about this and goes back to see this man he has healed.

They have a conversation. The man realizes that Jesus is the Savior and becomes one of his disciples. This humble and courageous man who has a disability which has put him on the margins of society, can see who Jesus is. But the learned and respected Pharisees, who have so much power, abuse the man and his parents, and fail to see the reality of Jesus.

Once again, our Lord has a healing encounter with a humble and courageous person who is open to Jesus’ transforming power.

Once again, we see the healing and transforming power of Jesus’ love.

“Take the good gracious God, just as he is, as plain as a common poultice and lay him to your sick self, just as you are….Nothing matters now except that you willingly offer to God that blind awareness of your naked being in joyful love, so that grace can bind you and make you spiritually one with the precious being of God, simply as he is in himself.” (The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling, Trans. William Johnston, Image Books, p. 153.)



Pentecost 12 Proper 15B RCL August 16, 2015

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-55

In our opening reading, King David has died, and his son, Solomon, is the new king. At this point in his life, Solomon is a young man. Scholars tell us he is about twenty. In this passage, Solomon has a dream of an encounter with God. He shows humility, admitting that he does not yet know how to perform the duties of a king, and he asks for the gift of wisdom. In the passage immediately following this one, Solomon does show wisdom when two women come to him claiming to be the mother of the same baby. When Solomon offers to decide the case by cutting the child in half and giving each of them a portion, the real mother, putting the baby’s welfare first, tells him that there is no way that she is going to let him do that, and he should simply give the baby to the other woman. Of course, Solomon gives the baby to her.

We know that Solomon built the great temple in Jerusalem. He also built himself a palace, and, toward the end of his life, he built shrines to the various gods of the many foreign ladies he married. All of this construction required workers, and he forced his subjects to do this labor. He also taxed the people heavily in order to afford all these projects plus the luxurious lifestyle of his large court. In short, he did not show  proper respect and concern for the people. He also failed to respect the traditions of Israel. Soon after he died, the country split in two.

It was a good thing to ask God for the gift of wisdom, but Solomon did not follow through on the gift. In the beginning of this lesson, we read that Solomon loved the Lord, yet he worshipped at the high places and had gone to Gibeon to sacrifice to another deity. We have the beginning of a theme here, the conflict between wisdom and foolishness.

Ephesus was a port city, full of all kinds of temples to various gods and goddesses, full of many temptations and worldly distractions. By the time Paul was writing this letter, most followers of Jesus were expecting the Lord to return very soon. They felt that their time was limited. He might come any day. So Paul is calling them and us to make the most of the time we have. The Greek word used here for time is kairos. Kairos is kingdom time, the quality of time that we experience when we are living in the new life, as opposed to chronos, or clock time.

Paul calls us not to be foolish, but to seek the will of the Lord. That is what it means to be in Christ. We ask our Lord what he wants us to be doing. We don’t simply do what we want to do. We let him guide our actions and our thoughts.

We are called not to get drunk on wine. Then as now, people used to get drunk because they thought it let them have a quick way to have an ecstatic experience of God. Obviously, getting drunk is not an experience of God. Paul calls us to allow ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit. That happens from giving every moment of our lives to God, and asking God to lead us and guide us in our choices so that we are living in the Spirit and filled with the Spirit.

We are called to praise God, to sing psalms and hymns to God. When we sing praise to God, especially when we sing and pray together, something happens within us. Praising God allows us to open ourselves to God’s love and grace.

We are called to “thank God at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is a tall order sometimes. Do we thank God that Elizabeth is going to have to have more surgery and chemo and radiation therapy? I find it impossible to do that, but we can thank God for the love and faith of her family and for the skill of her medical team, who are doing everything possible. We can thank God for the gifts of faith and hope, and we can pray for and with everyone who is praying for Elizabeth.

“Be careful then how you live,” Paul writes. Thank God that we know that there is another set of standards that go beyond the values of this world, and that we are trying, with God’s help, to live by those standards and to become new in Christ.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is actually asking us to eat his flesh and to drink his blood. In the early days of the Christian community, some people thought that we Christians were cannibals. As we study this reading, we think of Eucharist. “This is my Body,” our Lord says, “This is my blood.” Jesus is with us. He is the host at this Thanksgiving Dinner. Remember, Eucharist means “thanksgiving.”

No, we are not cannibals, but our Lord is giving us Himself in a way that goes beyond our understanding. Centuries after he walked the earth with healing and love, he is able to be more present at every point on this planet and throughout the universe because he has risen.

Every time we gather, he is here, and he feeds us with food and drink that transforms us into his likeness and welcomes us into a new way of living, a way that is very different from the values of this world. We are not just spectators at this feast. We are participants. We are joined with him in something that can transform us and transform the world.

Once again, the religious authorities are caught in the literal, the earth-bound. Jesus is inviting us into the heavenly realms that transcend those earthly prisons, and thanks be to our Lord we are able to follow him. At the center of our life in Christ is the cross. Living in wisdom and love requires sacrifice and discipline.

When he was young, Solomon asked for wisdom, but he did not have the spiritual stamina to sustain that gift. Paul calls the Ephesians and us to use every day and every moment to choose the way of compassion, maintain the spiritual focus to follow our Lord. Jesus comes to us, having suffered every horror, even the horror Elizabeth and Keith and Sara and Chris and Jack and Teddy are now enduring, and he gives us the food of himself so that we can walk into a new dimension of life and eternal life with him. Amen.

Lent 4A RCL March 30, 2014

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Our opening lesson today is the reading from the First Book of Samuel about the calling of David, a young shepherd, to be the King of Judah. David is the son of Jesse of Bethlehem. David is the shepherd-king, who takes care of the people as a shepherd tends the flock. The theme of the shepherd-king is very powerful, both in the history of God’s people and in literature in general.

Our psalm for today builds on this theme. This is one of the most comforting, strengthening psalms in the Bible. The Lord is our shepherd. He leads us beside the still waters; he leads us to good pasture. He takes care of us. He is with us in everything we face.

Our epistle brings up the theme of light and darkness. We are called to walk as children of the light.

In today’s gospel, Jesus us walking along and he sees a man who has been blind from birth.

Note what the disciples do. They try to find a reason why the man was born blind. As my beloved mentor, David Brown, former Rector of Christ Church, Montpelier, and now retired, says, “We live in a fallen creation.” This means that the world does not operate as God would want it to. Bad things happen to good people. Things happen which are not God’s will. Children are born blind or with other terrible things wrong with them. Fortunately, medical science has reached the point where skilled physicians and surgeons can correct many of these conditions. This medical knowledge and skill is, of course, part of God’s gift of healing. God gives us brains to figure out ways to help and heal people.

But back to our gospel. It is very human to try to find explanations for things. Unfortunately, the disciples immediately go to the blame game. Aha! Someone must have sinned. That’s why this man was blind from birth, It must have been either the man or his parents. This is what I call Bad Theology. Something goes wrong, so someone must have sinned. First, remember, we live in a fallen creation. Second, there is no way a baby can sin. Thirdly, sin is not the issue here.

Jesus tells us that this situation is an opportunity for God to work to bring health and wholeness. He speaks in terms of light and darkness. Every situation of darkness is an opportunity for God to bring light and healing.

Jesus then does a totally earthy thing. He makes a poultice of saliva and mud and puts it on the man’s eyes. The he tells the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, meaning “sent.” and the man is healed.

Then we have the doubters. Well, this couldn’t be the same man we have seen all these years. This must be a hoax. Then we have the Pharisees, who can’t simply accept the healing with the great joy it deserves, They gave to get into all the intricacies of the law and begin a full investigation. Throughout it all, we have this man who has been healed, And he keeps saying, over and over, “I was blind. Now I can see. Jesus did this for me.”

Finally, the Pharisees drive the man out. They see him as a sinner who is not qualified to teach them. Jesus hears about this, and he takes the time to go and find the man. He lets the man know who he is, but the man has already become a follower of Jesus.

Sometimes the people who think they have a corner on truth and wisdom don’t really have much grasp on truth and wisdom. Sometimes the most humble people among us are the most wise. Good Lord, give us the gift of humility.

Saul of Tarsus thought he had a hold on truth, and he was killing followers of Jesus, He was filled with hate. On the road to Damascus, Jesus spoke to him. He was blinded by the light, and his whole life was turned around. He shared the good new about Jesus and planted churches around the Mediterranean. John Newton was a slave trader, but, when he met Jesus, he stopped all that. He wrote those immortal words which stir our hearts. “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

Our first reading reminds us that God does not see as we see. The Lord is our shepherd, even today. God can heal us of all kinds of things. God can lead us from darkness to light, from brokenness to wholeness. God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and gives us courage and strength to face anything we have to face.

When Jesus sees this blind man, he does not get hung up on details or technicalities, He sees this as an opportunity to help this man and heal him. That’s how Jesus looks at us. If we have something that is hurting us or weighing us down, f we are sick, or if we need help, Jesus is there for us just as he was for this man.

So, if something is bothering you, or if something is weighing you down, please ask Jesus to help you with it. As the old song says, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.” Ask Jesus for help. He will and does help us. These gospel stories are not just for days of old. Let’s take another look at Psalm 23, page 612 in the Prayer Book.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me. In the presence of those who trouble me. The older translation read “in the presence of my enemies.” God is making a safe place for you and putting on a feast for you in the face of those who are giving you grief.

You have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. God is showering us with abundance. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. God is surrounding you with God’s goodness and mercy and healing and love at this very moment and every moment.

God is walking with each of us and all of us every moment, guiding us, protecting us, healing us. I would suggest that we say this psalm every day this week and that we pray for a deeper awareness of God’s constant presence and healing. Amen.