Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 29, 2017 - Epiphany 4A

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            In Ephesians, Paul writes “by grace you have been saved.” The Epistle of James states that “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” And therein you can see the foundation being laid for the debate over what faith is all about. Are we saved by Christ’s faithfulness, regardless of our own thoughts and practices? Are we saved by thinking the right things? Are we saved by doing the right things and not doing the wrong things? It’s the classic case of grace and works.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017 - Epiphany 3A

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you get on the same page and that you cut it out with these divisions, that you be united in the same intention and purpose. For it has been reported to me by Fox News and CNN that your bickering is reaching catastrophic levels, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says “I’m a Republican, or “I’m a Democrat,” or “I’m above political party,” or “I’m Episcopalian, “Or I’m with Luther,” or “I’m Progressive,” or “I’m an Evangelical.” Has Christ been portioned out? Or were you Baptized into the name of anyone other than Jesus Christ? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Addison Griffith and Ruby Corriher. (I did baptize also my daughter Rowen; but the point is that I really don’t bother keeping a tally of people who I baptized). For ,Christ did not send me to me to gain my own following, but to proclaim his gospel, and not with soaring rhetoric that overshadows the power of the Cross of Christ. For the understanding of the Cross is utter foolishness to those who are fading away, but it is the power of God to liberate us.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January 15, 2017 - Epiphany 2A

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            What are you looking for? Seriously, why are you here? Why did you choose to get up on the weekend and come to church. A hidden perk of being a priest is that you get out of the task of getting two children ready for church and out the door on time – but I understand it’s not an easy thing to do. So why do those of you who have children do it? Instead of having a leisurely morning to read the paper at home or catch up on some tv shows or do some chores around the house, why do you come to church on Sunday? What is it that you’re looking for?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

January 8, 2017 - Epiphany 1A / The Baptism of our Lord

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            What is Baptism? Have you ever stopped to really consider what Baptism is all about? The first thing that you see when you walk into St. Luke’s is our Baptismal Font, and this is by design. The Font is the first thing you notice when entering because it is through Baptism that one becomes a member of the Church. Our Book of Common Prayer, is built upon the foundation of Baptism – Eucharist, Burial, Ordinations, Confirmation, all of these liturgies would be dramatically changed if we removed the underlying Baptismal theology. The belonging, calling, and hope that are embodied in these services flow from our Baptisms. It is clear that Baptism is crucial to our faith, but really, what is Baptism?

Friday, January 6, 2017

January 6, 2017 - Epiphany

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
            When you look to Scripture to find examples for your daily discipleship, who do turn to? Ruth, Peter, Abraham, Paul – these are all popular choices, and for good reasons. Often overlooked, the magi in the Epiphany story give us another great example of what faith in action looks like.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

January 1, 2017 - Holy Name

In the name of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
            “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet.” That famous line, spoken by Juliet, is a question that philosophers and linguists have wrestled with for centuries. I come down on the side that believes that language shapes our experience of the world. Some languages are constructed differently and therefore shape their cultures in substantive ways. If you’ve studied a foreign language, you know that in addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, if you’re going to be proficient, you must also learn the worldview of the language. So I would disagree with Juliet, and as Romeo and Juliet plays out, it becomes clear that, indeed, names do matter.
            Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Name. Most years, when you come to church on a Sunday in the Christmas season we celebrate either the First or the Second Sunday of Christmas. But not this year, as January 1 falls on a Sunday. As the Prayer Book directs, the Feast of the Holy Name takes precedence over the regular Sunday readings. Perhaps you came this morning, excited to sing more Christmas hymns. And we will sing a couple during Communion, but the emphasis of this day is on the name of Jesus. As I often tell people, if the Church won’t keep its own calendar, we can’t expect society to do it for us. So, today our attention is turned to the name that is above all names: Jesus.
            This feast is rooted in Scripture, though there is only one verse about it – as we heard read: “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” It was, and still is, the common practice to circumcise Jewish males on the 8th day after their birth. For those of you keeping track, that makes this the 8th day of Christmas. In addition to the circumcision, the child was named. In older traditions, this day was called the Feast of the Circumcision. But that name isn’t at all the most appealing of names. If I had advertised this service as the “Feast of the Circumcision,” you might have attended with a bit more trepidation.
            But both aspects are important to our keeping this feast. The fact that Jesus was circumcised on the 8th day, as prescribed by Leviticus, firmly cements Jesus’ identity as Jewish. Since Abraham, the sign of the covenant for Jews has been male circumcision. Now, this isn’t a sermon on circumcision – if you want to read more about it, and why scholars think it became a custom of the Jewish people, then feel free to read up on it. Rather, the focus is the theology of circumcision. The practice, quite literally, makes Jewish males different, physically different.
            We don’t know why it is, but God chooses to save all people through one people. Through the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, God becomes intimately known and God’s salvation for the world comes through them. This was a shock in the time of the Old Testament – as each nation had its own god who would provide for them, but there wasn’t really a focus on people beyond their tribe. But the God of Israel is different. As God tells Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Through one specific people, God chooses to save all people.
            This is what Jesus’ circumcision is about – linking him to this promise of God. Jesus does not come to abolish, supersede, or supplant the Torah and the Prophets, but rather to bring them to fuller fruition. So it is crucial to remember that Jesus is a part of God’s on-going salvation for the world through Israel. And we see this same dynamic in Jesus – that God chooses to save all people through one person.
            This is what Jesus’ name means: “God saves.” “Jesus” is the translation of the Hebrew name “Joshua” into Greek. And that name is built with two Hebrew words – Ya, which is part of God’s proper name; and yasha, which means to “save” or “help.” When Jesus is given this name, it fulfills a promise. The angel comes to Mary and tells her that they are to name the child Jesus. By doing so, it signals that Mary and Joseph are faithful and obedient to God. And the name also signals that Jesus is a part of the on-going salvation of God.
            There is, of course, great power in Jesus’ name. That name has been used for thousands of years in exorcisms and prayers against evil spirits. Nearly every prayer that is used concludes with some version of “this we prayer in Jesus’ name.” Jesus’ name is indeed a powerful one; though he goes by many other names in Scripture: Lamb of God, Emmanuel, King of kings, Son of God, Lord of lords, Bread of Life, Word, Lord, Alpha and Omega, Good Shepherd, Light of the World, Great Physician, Prince of Peace, Messiah, Christ, Rabbi, Cornerstone, Savior, Great High Priest, Prophet, the Resurrection and Life, the Way, Truth, and Life. Which resonates most deeply with you? I invite you to ponder those names of Jesus this week, seeing which is the most helpful and true to you. Think about why that particular name of Jesus strikes you. Pray to God for the guidance and wisdom to go deeper into that name.
            Whichever name of Jesus is the most meaningful, today we celebrate his given name. It is a powerful name. You might know that most Jews and many Christians do not pronounce the proper name of God, which God spoke to Moses. Instead of pronouncing that name, they say “Lord.” But as God comes to us in Jesus, God becomes more fully known, and God’s name becomes pronounceable – Jesus. And this is a name that isn’t just a nice symbol, or a name full of theological depth, but Jesus’ name is operative. That is, Jesus’ name actually saves. To turn Shakespeare’s phrase, a Messiah by any other name wouldn’t be as sweet.
            Do you know the story of your name? Why were you named your name? In the worldview of the Bible, names are extremely important. Names mean something, they are even prescriptive. So, for example, “Abraham” means “father of many;” “Moses” means “drawn out,” alluding both to how he was drawn out of a basket in the Nile and how he would draw out the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt; and “Ruth” means “companion,” as she was a companion to Naomi.
            Names in Scripture are much more than names, they are blessings. A blessing in the Bible isn’t at all what we think of when we think of a blessing. A Biblical blessing isn’t wishing someone well, it isn’t giving them permission, and it isn’t an affirmation. Rather, a blessing is the passing on of power and prosperity. Think of Jacob and Esau and how their father, Isaac, only has one blessing to give. Blessings aren’t unlimited because they actually bestow something.
            What makes the name of Jesus so powerful is that his name, and therefore the blessing of God’s salvation, is given to each of us in Baptism. It’s why we Baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It’s why in the book of Acts when  it becomes known that a group of people was baptized in John the Baptist’s community, but not in the name of Jesus, they are immediately baptized again in the name of Jesus. And so Jesus’ name becomes a blessing for us – because in it we take on God’s name.
            We see this idea of names and blessings going together in the reading from Numbers. God says “So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” You probably recognized that blessing, as it’s one that I often use. It’s called the “Priestly blessing,” as it is given by God to Moses to give to Aaron, the priest, to say over the people. This blessing is actually the oldest bit of the Bible that we’ve ever found. That isn’t to say it’s the oldest part of the Bible, but of all the fragments of Scripture that we’ve discovered, the oldest one is this blessing – showing just how important this blessing has been to the faithful through the generations.
            The blessing indicates that God will bless us and keep us – protecting us, being with us, giving us our daily bread. The blessing shows that God bestows upon us the light of revelation, joy, and warmth and this gives us the grace of God’s mercy, love, and forgiveness. And the blessing tells us that God lifts up his countenance, that is, his gaze, upon us. God sees us, and this gives us peace. It’s a beautiful blessing, and it all comes to be because it puts God’s name on us.
            This is what Jesus’ name does for us through our Baptism – it actually makes us a part of God, and through that, we are blessed. Again, this blessing might not be what the world calls a “blessing,” that is, only good and pleasant things. But it is the blessing of salvation, a blessing that promises God’s presence at all times, a blessing that means that joy can be found in brokenness, a blessing that is built upon God’s faithfulness.
            I want to conclude by giving you a bit of homework, and since today is New Year’s Day, I strongly commend it to you as a resolution for this near year. As a way to reflect on the name of Jesus, to know more fully the blessings of your Baptism, to be aware of God’s faithful promises of peace and joy, I commend the Jesus Prayer to you. The Jesus Prayer dates back to the 5th century in Egypt. It’s a very short prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. There are some variations to it, if you like. You can lengthen it by including one or more extra phrases, such as “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But even at its shortest form it is a prayer used by Christians all over the world.
            The way to use the prayer is simply to repeat it to yourself, constantly. As you sit in traffic, as you approach the altar for Communion, as you run on the treadmill, as you walk the dog, as you cook dinner, as a part of your prayer life and meditation. Just whisper to yourself “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” If you want do it in a more contemplative fashion, you can say “Lord Jesus Christ” as you breathe in, inviting God more fully into your life, and as you breathe out, you can say “have mercy on me,” indicating your prayer for mercy throughout your life and world.
            The Jesus Prayer is a great way to meditate on the Holy Name, and to internalize God’s love, peace, and joy. Some who have used this prayer say that by using it regularly, it becomes second nature, that God “happens” in you. A well-known proponent of his prayer is the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who has said “It is not a magical invocation, but a vehicle to detach you from distraction and draws you into the mind of Christ.” If you want to learn more about the prayer, the book The Way of the Pilgrim is based on it.
            This year, if you seek to go deeper in your faith, if you seek to know more fully the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, if you seek God’s blessings for you and those around you, if you want to experience the power of Jesus’ name, I commend to you the Jesus Prayer. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Try it out, so that the same mind will be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Amen.