Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Feast for Minor Disciples


OCTOBER 28, 2020


OCCASION:             The Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude



Today in the church year is set aside as a major feast day – the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.


They were two of the lesser-known disciples of Jesus. They are among the lists of disciples in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and in the Book of Acts.  The Gospel according to John does not have an exhaustive list of the disciples.


If you are wondering about Jude – he is sometimes referred to as Thaddeus. He is also said to be the author of one of the epistles of the New Testament, the Letter of Jude – a one-chapter epistle that includes some memorable phrases.  I will finish with one in a moment.


As I mentioned, we know very little about Simon – called the Zealot – and Jude.  They were disciples of Jesus, largely in the background of his ministry.


Tradition ties Simon and Jude together by indicating they had a joint mission to Persia, modern-day Iran, in the early days of the church.  The various disciples had their ministries in different parts of the world – John, of course, ended up on Patmos; James was in Jerusalem; and Peter ultimately ended up in Rome.


Tradition holds that Simon and Jude met their ends when crucified in Beirut, Lebanon.  There is, of course, no accurate record.


Perhaps the most frequent reference to either of them is the fact that Jude is a patron saint of hopeless causes.  His ministry and the memory of both Simon and Jude is cause for remembrance.


The final two verses of Jude’s letter in the New Testament are these:


“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever.”


Monday, October 26, 2020

Promises Made


OCTOBER 25, 2020 


TEXT:                        Deuteronomy 34:1-12



In the first lesson, we have Moses’ death.  It is the end of the Moses saga.  He first appears in Exodus, and his presence permeates Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.  The first five books of the Bible are known as Torah, the Law.  They are also known as the Five Books of Moses.  The Sadducees of Jesus’ day accepted no other scripture as being divinely-inspired.  Not the prophets.  Not the wisdom literature.  Not the faith history books about Israel, Judah, and their kings.


Moses is standing in what is modern-day Jordan.  He is on Mt. Nebo, looking over at the Promised Land.  The view is spectacular.  The vast expanse of the Jordan River Valley and the Judean Hills stretch out before him.  Jericho, the city of springs and palms, is a tiny dot in the distance.  On a clear day, he could see all the way to the Mediterranean Sea.


But Mt. Nebo is as close as Moses will get.  He will not cross the Jordan into the land he had been shown. He dies and is buried there – short of his dream. He will forever be remembered as the Prince of Egypt, a Hebrew, who led his people out of bondage in Egypt.  But he will not taste the flavors of the Land of Milk and Honey.  For him, the promise was theoretical.  Just as it had been for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


Or was it?  


Is a promise deferred, a promise denied?  Does the fact that Moses did not walk the last few dusty miles into the Promised Land negate God’s abiding promise – made to him and multiple generations of patriarchs and matriarchs?


The thing we lose sight of in our highly individualistic culture is the notion of the corporate nature of God’s promises.  They are made to a people – first, the descendants of Abraham, then the Hebrew people, then the followers of the crucified rabbi, then the young, fledgling church, and over the centuries, the promise has been conveyed to the successors.  The ever-widening circle has included many races and nations.


Those promises – down through the millennia – have been to people… ever-broader groups of people.  We know those promises and blessings most fully as a community of faith.  And we come to know their timelessness, too.


That is because the blessings transcend our lives.  We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Yet the promise endures.  We may be like Moses, and never reach our dreams.  But as people of hope, we can always rest assured that the promise continues.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Venturing from Safe Waters


OCTOBER 21, 2020


LESSON:       The Prayer of Sir Francis Drake



As we begin to emerge from the chaos that has surrounded us in the next several months, our tendency might be to play things safely.


When political chaos, economic clouds, pandemic threats, and storms on the horizon have subsided, we may want to find safe harbors in which to live.  An old saying in psychological theory says that stress brings on regression.  That may be very tempting to us, in light of all that we have endured.  Seafarers, such as Paul in his journey to Rome, found rest in a quiet harbor.


But there is another way to view life – and that is to dare greatly.  A new world will be awaiting creation.  We cannot craft and mold it from our warm, safe places.


That sense of risk and adventure was close to the heart of the 16th Century English Sea Captain, Sir Francis Drake. His bold embrace of life led him to circumnavigate the globe, when that was a very dangerous thing to do at that time, and serve as the second in command in the British defeat of the Spanish Armada.


He wrote a poem that I first heard quoted by the Reverend Frank Wade, rector of St. Alban’s Church, Washington, when he was chaplain to the House of Deputies at General Convention.  It is both stirring and encouraging. Listen to his words.


Prayer of Sir Francis Drake 


Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves, 

When our dreams have come true 

Because we have dreamed too little, 

When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore. 


Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess 

We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity 

And in our efforts to build a new earth, 

We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim. 


Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, 

To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery; 

Where losing sight of land, 

We shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love. 




Those are good words – and a strong sentiment – to keep in mind as we come out from under this cloud of chaos.


Monday, October 19, 2020

The Source of Blessings


OCTOBER 18, 2020 


TEXT:                        Matthew 22:15-22



My brother, Jerry, is an accomplished retired attorney.  His wife is a determined woman who once was the first female head of the Highway Patrol in Mississippi.  There is little that she has not delved into.


My brother once described their division of responsibilities in this way: Louisa is an expert on everything and I handle the rest.


That is kind of a perverse illustration of what Jesus says to us in the gospel lesson from Matthew today.


In the gospel lesson, the Pharisees and the Herodians – people tied closely to the Roman puppet king – are trying to lure Jesus into a trap. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?”


The gospel tells us that Jesus is aware of their malice and trickery.  He asks them to show him a coin, and they do so – a common coin of the day a denarius. “Whose image is on it?” “Caesar,” they respond.


“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Simple enough, right?  His response confounds the challengers.  They have nothing on which to charge him with a spiritual or civil offense.


I used to see a clear dichotomy between spiritual blessings and secular possessions. I work hard. I earn what I make. I have accumulated these possessions rightfully. Life is what I make of it. Sure, I made my pledge to the church each year and felt quite righteous in doing just that.


But, over the years my perspective changed.  My spiritual journey has taken me to great depths, for which I am thankful. My heart is filled with gratitude. I recognized – as we say when we approach the Eucharistic table – All things come of thee, O Lord.  My life, my health, my family, my breath, my vocation, whatever gifts I have – they all come from God.  EverythingI wonder: Do we mean what we say?


So, if we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that none of us is a self-made person.  We recognize – again, if our journey has taken us deeply enough – that all of our blessings come from God.


That is a meaningful concept to have in mind as we approach this season of giving.  


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Quite a Fish Tale


OCTOBER 14, 2020


LESSON:       The Book of Jonah



Nearly every person that has attended Sunday School as a young person knows one thing about Jonah:  He was swallowed by a whale.


But not exactly.  He was, scripture tells us, swallowed by a great fish. And, of course, a whale is not a fish!


The back story about Jonah, though, is an interesting one – and one that most people don’t know.


The Jonah whose story is told in the eponymous book is the story of a reluctant Galilean prophet.  He was called by God to go a preach repentance to the massive city known as Nineveh – located in modern-day Iraq.


But, Jonah didn’t want to do that.  So, he boarded a ship to flee to Tarshish – a city 3,000 miles away in Spain.  During the journey, a storm arose. Lots were cast, and he was selected as the one to be thrown overboard.  It was then that he was swallowed by the fish.


After three days, the fish vomited him up on dry land.  The reluctant Jonah proceeded to walk across Nineveh, proclaiming its coming destruction.


Jonah must have been satisfied with himself, and he sat down to watch the city’s destruction. Unexpectedly, the people repented – and all put on sackcloth, sat in ashes, and refused to consume food or water… animals and humans.


The fact that the city repented and that destruction did not come displeased Jonah.  He expressed his anger to God, essentially saying, “I knew you would do this!”


But, the book concludes with God expressing compassion for the penitent city: “Do you not care for this great city and all its inhabitants? People who do not know their left hand from their right?” And humorously, the last verse of Jonah says that Nineveh also has “many animals.”


+ + + 


The upshot of this story: It is important for us to remember that we worship a merciful God.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Virtue of Patience


OCTOBER 11, 2020 


TEXT:                        Exodus 32:1-14



In the first lesson today, Moses had ascended Mt. Sinai.  Unknown to the mass of Hebrews he had liberated from slavery in Egypt and was leading through the wilderness, he had received the a covenant from God while he was up the mountain.  They assumed he was lost; they did not know where he was and if he would even return. The biblical expression of 40 days and 40 nights was mean to convey an indefinitely long time.


These are the same people who had been fed by manna and quail in the wilderness, had been delivered through the waters of the Red Sea, had been given water from a rock, and had been led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  They had much to look back on – and much to be thankful for.


Yet, in Moses absence they had grown impatient.  They felt lost and abandoned.  They were like sheep without a shepherd – and even without a border collie to guide them.  They were at wit’s end.


So, they turned to their own devices. Their sense of being alone led them to abandon the hope for a Promised Land that Moses had instilled in them.  They asked Aaron to forge an idol for them.  And he did.


+ + + 


How quickly people become impatient.  How soon they lose their sense of perspective and hope.


These days – our time now – can lead to such impatience and grasping at straws.  Just in the past week I have encountered three major automobile accidents that were, in all likelihood, caused by someone who had become so impatient that the driver took dangerous actions.


I know we all feel impatient.  I, myself, have commented that I am so tired of all the chaos – with Covid, political divisions, economic struggles, the threat of destructive weather, and its aftermath.  I suspect we all know that feeling. And we wonder if it will ever end.


Let me share a theological point here:  Moses came down from the Mountain. More importantly, Jesus came down from the cross and out of the tomb.


We are a people of patience and a people of hope.  On matters eternal, we see the grave is a gateway to greater life. On matters of less importance, our waiting patiently will allow us to enter a new world and a deeper relationship.


Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Known by the Fruits


SEPTEMBER 30, 2020


LESSON:       Luke 7:18-35


We are to assume that John the Baptist and Jesus went separate ways once Jesus had been baptized.  Jesus, of course, had gone into the wilderness afterwards.  John, it is believed, continued his ministry of preaching and baptizing in the Jordan River.


John the Baptist had offended Herod Antipas – the son of Herod the Great, and king of the region of Israel where John preached.  John had criticized Antipas for marrying Herodias, his brother’s wife. So, Antipas had him imprisoned and would ultimately have him beheaded.


But at the point of this lesson, John is in prison. Prison, I suppose, does strange things to a person’s mind.  That was certainly true of John.  He is wondering whether Jesus is “the one who is to come” – a point he had emphatically proclaimed at the baptism. Imprisonment and knowledge of impending death have caused him to doubt.


So, John sends two of his disciples to see Jesus.  “Are you the one who is to come?  Or should we wait for another?”


Jesus response is telling: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.”


Jesus is basically saying, I am known by the fruits I produce. These are my fruits…


We know and recognize plants by their fruits.  An apple comes from an apple tree. Pecans come from a pecan tree.  Lemons come from a lemon tree.  And so forth.


Analogously, we produce the fruits of our true beliefs.  Jesus’ works are more dramatic.  But scripture describes the other fruits that the followers of Jesus are to produce and live the characteristics of the children of God:  Blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peacemakers; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; blessed are the meek, among others.  We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we welcome the stranger, we comfort the grieving.


The popular hymn has the refrain, They will know we are Christians by our love. Our faith produces attitudes and fruits that serve to identify us.  Those attitudes and fruits will bear witness to others who wonder.