Sermon: Easter 6 RCL A – “Seek”

For years a particular church had been growing. Folks from every walk of life were attending. The music was good, the coffee was good, they were adding to their numbers every week, but what was the best was the preaching. That preacher could take to the pulpit and the congregation was like putty. We he wanted them to cry, they bawled. When he wanted them to laugh, it was comedy central. When he wanted them to give, they couldn’t give enough. Word of this church made its way all the way to heaven, so Jesus decided that he would like to see it for himself. Choosing a Sunday at random he showed up. No one recognized him, but he remembered that the disciples had a hard enough time recognizing him after the resurrection also, so he wasn’t concerned. No one welcomed him, but my goodness, they were busy, so that was OK too. Intent on seeing it all, he made his way to the front pew and sat dead center (he stuck out there, as no one else was in the first several pews, preferring to gather towards the back). Continue reading “Sermon: Easter 6 RCL A – “Seek””

Sermon: Easter 5 RCL A – “The Old Argument”

A young American engineer was sent to Ireland by his company to work in a new electronics plant. It was a two-year assignment that he had accepted because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long-time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee, and their plan was to pool their resources and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They corresponded often, but as the lonely weeks went by, she began expressing doubts that he was being true to her, exposed as he was to comely Irish lasses.

The young engineer wrote back, declaring with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. “I admit,” he wrote, “that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.”

In the next mail, the engineer received a package. It contained a note from his girl and a harmonica. “I’m sending this to you,” she wrote, “so you can learn to play it and have something to take your mind off those girls.”

The engineer replied, “Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.” Continue reading “Sermon: Easter 5 RCL A – “The Old Argument””

Sermon: Easter 4 RCL A – “The Opportunist”

An armed hooded robber bursts into a little bank in South Louisiana, and forces the tellers to load a sack full of cash. On his way out the door with the loot one brave Cajun customer grabs the hood and pulls it off, revealing the robber’s face. The robber shoots the guy without hesitation! He then looks around the bank to see if anyone else has seen him. One of the tellers is looking straight at him and the robber walks over and calmly shoots him also. Everyone by now is very scared and looking down at the floor. “Did anyone else see my face?” calls the robber. There are a few moments of silence, then Boudreaux looking down tentatively raises his hand and says: “I think my wife, Chlotile, peeked.” There’s an opportunist in every crowd. Continue reading “Sermon: Easter 4 RCL A – “The Opportunist””

Sermon: Finding the Holy Cross

If you weren’t here last Wednesday, you missed the warning, but last week I had just come back from my trip to Washington D.C. and so I told them that it was likely to pop up in a few more sermons. Guess what? Yeah…

As I travelled through the various monuments, I always wanted to find something to remember the place by, a souvenir of sorts, but as it turns out, most of them were a bit kitschy or too expensive for what they were. When I visited Arlington National Cemetery, I was determined to find something, but even there, it was less than desirable. However, my friend knew my search and so, when we got back home, she handed me this bag. It is labeled “Grass froIMG_0977m Arlington National Cemetery, April 2017”. You may find this exceptionally strange, but I will never throw this away. It is a part, although small, of something very significant. Continue reading “Sermon: Finding the Holy Cross”

Sermon: Easter 3 RCL A – “A Waiting Soul”

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A woman’s car stalled in traffic. She looked in vain under the hood to identify the cause, while the driver behind her leaned relentlessly on his horn. Finally she had enough. She walked back to his car and offered sweetly, “I don’t know what the problem is with my car. But if you want to go look under the hood, I’ll be glad to sit back here and honk for you.”

If we were to go around the room, I suspect we would discover that there are very few of us who have no plans for the rest of the day. Not many will head back home, prop their feet up, and enjoy. Instead, if we were to go around the room, I suspect that there are many who are only waiting for the last candle to be snuffed out on the altar before taking off to the next event on the calendar. We are very busy people and I suppose that is OK, we can enjoy the busyness just as much as the quiet, but that busyness has a way of changing the way we think. We can begin to believe that if we aren’t doing something, if something isn’t happening, then we are wasting time, and if we believe that we are wasting time, then we will lay on the horn until that idiot gets the heck out of our way, or if there is no idiot, we will invent something to fill the time.

Our Gospel reading today begins, “Now on that same day two of Jesus’ disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” “Now on that same day…” We have to go back and look, but the day being referred to is the day of the resurrection of Jesus. So these two disciples, Cleopas and most likely Luke, had been in Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, the following day had been the Sabbath, so they wouldn’t have travelled, and then the next day – today – they headed out to Emmaus. In deciding to go to Emmaus, they must have left late in the day, because it doesn’t take but maybe three or four hours to walk seven miles even if you’re going slow, but they don’t arrive until evening.

I can’t say for certain, but I suspect they had sat in a room with the others trying to make sense of all that happened, just as they had been doing on their walk to Emmaus. And I also suspect that they headed off to Emmaus knowing they wouldn’t make it until nightfall simply because they couldn’t take it anymore, just sitting there. They were desperate for a change of scenery and they absolutely reached a point where they had to do something to fill the time. Maybe they thought about remaining with the others, but decided – after all the uproar – they just needed to get away and so starting off to Emmaus was as good as anything else. At least they would be moving.

Along the way, although they did not recognize him, Jesus appeared to them and asked, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, asked him, “Exactly which rock did you just crawl out from under?”

I should find fault with these two disciples and their actions, but if I find fault with them, I’m going to have to find fault with myself, and that’s just not going to happen. Truth is, we all do it. We get antsy, impatient, bored, call it what you will, but we get to where we need a bit of moving about and occasionally we get irritated with folks who get in our way and so we lay on the horn to hurry them along, and we do the same thing with God.

Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” So, we knock and when there is no answer, we knock again. We will knock until we have bloody knuckles, and when that doesn’t work, we ring the doorbell, we bang, we look for an open window to shout in, we lay on the car horn, we curse, we shake our fists. In our lives, in our spiritual walk, in our prayers, we say to God, “I got things to do!” – whether we really do or not. We have that need to be doing something or to have something… anything happen.

They told us in seminary that one of the dangers of staying in a parish for too long is that after awhile, you have to start burying your friends. This past week I experienced that again with Christie. In a visit with her a few weeks before she died, I shared with her Psalm 62. It is a go to Psalm for me in situations like that and I firmly believed – and still do – that a person in distress can find comfort in those words. When I heard how much it meant to Christie, I looked at it again and then wished I had known her a lot longer, because I believe I could have learned so much from her. Perhaps it only came at the end – I don’t know – And I shared this on Wednesday at the funeral, but but I think she was able to live into the words the Psalmist spoke:

For God alone my soul in silence waits;
truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

The Psalmist then speaks of trials, difficulties in his life, but then returns to the same prayer, adding even greater understanding to the soul’s waiting on God:

For God alone my soul in silence waits;
truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor;
God is my strong rock and my refuge.

After experiencing the faithfulness and security of God in his own life, the Psalmist shares what he has discovered, by saying:

Put your trust in him always, O people,
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.

The Psalm is a tremendous response to our statement to God, “I got things to do!” For if we will learn to wait in silence on him and to place our hope in him, then we will witness his faithfulness to us, his beloved children.

I am doing my best to wait patiently for my roses to begin to grow at home; however, there are other plants that take much longer to produce, the Chinese bamboo tree being one of them. Once the gardener plants the seed, he will see nothing but a single shoot coming out of the bulb – for five full years! That tiny shoot requires daily food and water, yet during these first five years, the exterior shoot will grow less than an inch.

However, at the end of five years, the Chinese bamboo will perform an incredible feat. It will grow an amazing ninety feet tall in only ninety days! So ask yourself this: when did the tree actually been growing?

The answer lies in the unseen part of the tree, the underground root system. It’s a bit like an iceberg. When you see one, you’re only seeing about 10% of the total size, the remainder is under the surface of the water. The first five years of the Bamboo tree’s growing cycle are taking place under ground where it is putting out an extensive fibrous root structure that spreads deep and wide in the earth, preparing to support the incredible heights the tree will eventually reach.

It’s been said that when God wants to grow mushrooms, he can do it overnight, but when he wants to grow a mighty oak or, in this case, a towering Bamboo tree, it takes many years. When it comes to growing the pinnacle of his creation – us – it can take even longer, perhaps even a lifetime.

When in the midst of these sometime slow growing seasons, instead of taking off for Emmaus for lack of anything else to do or laying on the horn and shouting up to God, “I got things to do!”, remember the words of this remarkable Psalm:

For God alone my soul in silence waits;
truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.

Remember these words and take refuge in him.

Let us pray (a prayer from St. Thomas Aquinas): Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen.

Sermon: Holy Saturday

A man’s daughter had asked the local pastor to come and pray with her father. When the pastor arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said. “No, who are you?” “I’m the new associate at your local church,” the pastor replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.” “Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?” Puzzled, the pastor shut the door. Continue reading “Sermon: Holy Saturday”

Sermon: Good Friday

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A man dreamed of walking through a vast desolate area. In the distant, near the horizon, he saw a cross and immediately altered his course to go see this site. The closer he got, the more detail came into focus and soon he realized that Christ was on the Cross. He knew that these horrible events had happened two millennia before, but the closer he came the more he understood that it was also happening today. A line from the poem, The Dream of the Rude, came to mind:

I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the ruler’s corpse with clouds,
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
Bewailed the king’s death; Christ was on the cross. Continue reading “Sermon: Good Friday”

Sermon: Wednesday in Holy Week

Image: https://500px.com/photo/174948193/silhouette-by-jan-bambach

As a kid growing up I was a Boy Scout. I don’t think I ever progressed much further than Second Class, but I really wasn’t in it to progress through the ranks. I was in for getting to do all the fun stuff: camping, canoeing down the rivers, jamborees, etc.

I recall one time we went somewhere – I think it was in Arkansas – where we had the opportunity to go on a guided spelunking trek through one of the caves. The guide was very much a comedian and clearly enjoyed his job. At one point he told us as we entered one of the larger caverns, not much bigger than this room, that if you placed your ear to the rock and listened closely you would hear music. Of course we all got quiet, placed our ears to the rock, and listened intently. After a minute with none of us hearing anything, he said, “Really? It’s called ‘hard rock’”. About half way through it came time to turn off all the lights so that we could experience absolute darkness. The darkness was perfect. Continue reading “Sermon: Wednesday in Holy Week”