Sounds Like Love To Me, Fr. John Bedingfield, April19th

April 19, 2015
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In the name of the Risen Lord, Amen.

            Madre Annie told this joke a couple of years ago, but it worked so well with the sermon that I had to use it again.  A young Episcopal priest called all of the children in the congregation to come forward for the children’s sermon on Easter morning.  He started by asking, “What’s warm and furry and hops around on the ground?”  There was silence.  A little perturbed, he tried again.  “What’s warm and furry, hops around on the ground and has long, floppy ears?”  Again, nothing.  Somewhat exasperated, the priest asked, “What’s warm and furry and hops around on the ground and has long, floppy ears and loves carrots?”  One of the boys nudged his friend and said, “I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but it sure sounds like a rabbit to me.”

            We could begin today’s sermon with a similar line of questioning.  What do all of the readings today have in common?  Just like the little boy, we all KNOW that the answer is always supposed to be Jesus.  But let’s see if maybe there is also something additional we should look at.

            In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter cured a lame man and everyone watched the man walk away.  They were astonished at what had happened, and Peter said, “why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk.”  And then he preached to the gathered crowd about the power and wonder of the risen Lord.

            In the Gospel, Luke says Jesus appeared to the Disciples, shortly after the resurrection.  They were in the midst of despair over His death, and suddenly there He was.  The first thing He said to them was, “Peace be with you.”  And then, he began to convince them that He was real, was risen, and was truly there amongst them.  And He said, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in (Jesus’) name to all nations, ….  (Because) You are witnesses of these things.”  In other words, you know who I am, you have experienced the power of God in your own lives, now you must go out and show others what you know.

            And what DID they know?  They knew what the author of 1st John said in this morning’s reading.  “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; .…  Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

            And what WOULD God reveal to them about who God was – and is?  The Psalmist tells us, “Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O LORD.  You have put gladness in my heart, more than when grain and wine and oil increase.  I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; for only you, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

            I KNOW the answer is supposed to be Jesus, but this sure looks like love to me.  In the Collect of the Day this morning, we prayed, “Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold Him in all His redeeming work.”  That redeeming work is love. 

            2012’s Academy Award winning film, Life of Pi is based on the book of the same name.  The book tells the story of Pi Patel, a young man who moves with his family from India to Canada.  They cross the ocean on a cargo ship which is also carrying the animals from the zoo Pi’s father operated in India, but which he has had to close.  During the ocean crossing, the ship sinks and Pi ends up in a lifeboat with an injured zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a tiger.  Needless to say, the story gets interesting from there.  But the really fascinating thing in the story is the fact that Pi is a very religious Hindu who is also a student and follower of both Islam and Christianity.  

Pi loves God and spends a great deal of his time thinking back on what he learned about God.  One commentator describes Pi’s spiritual search this way:

"Pi (has trouble understanding) ‘Christ crucified.’  Father Martin, a Catholic priest who befriends Pi, listens to the young man’s questions.

Pi says to Fr. Martin, ‘What?  Humanity sins, but it is God’s Son who pays the price?  I tried to imagine my own father saying to me, ‘Pi, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas.  Yesterday another one killed a black buck.  Last week two of them ate the camel.  The week before it was painted storks and grey herons.  And who’s to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti?’  The situation has become intolerable.  Something must be done.  I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them.’

‘Yes, Father, (Pi says) that would be the right and logical thing to do.  Give me a moment to wash up.’  Hallelujah, my son.  Hallelujah, Father.’  What a downright weird story.  What a peculiar psychology!’

Pi goes on, ‘Why would God wish that upon himself?  Why not leave death to the mortals.  Why make dirty what was beautiful, spoil what is perfect?  Love.  That was Father Martin’s answer."

            Love.  The author of John’s first epistle uses that word 38 times in only 5 chapters.  This love that John talks about, the love that was so confusing to Pi when Fr. Martin tried to explain it, is a love that is even hard us to understand – and we’ve known Jesus all our lives.

            Jesus came into the upper room, where the disciples were hiding from the authorities after the crucifixion.  Judas wasn’t there – after he betrayed Jesus, he left and hanged himself.  Peter was there, hiding, after he had denied that he knew Jesus three times.  They were all there.  All of the people who said that they loved Him during His earthly ministry were there … and none of them had lifted a hand to help Him in His time of need.  But Jesus was there too.  The Love was there.

            Jesus came into the room and said, “Peace be with you.”  To a room full of people who had let Him down, He said, “Peace be with you.”  And then He sat down and had a meal with them.  He opened their minds and their hearts to the truth of who He is and what that means. 

            See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.  Beloved, we are children of God – the God who loved us enough to sacrifice His only Son on our behalf.  We are all children of the one who loves us and wants nothing more than that we reflect that love to each other.  He wants to open our minds and hearts to His love.  And He wants us to love each other, just as He has loved us.  He wants us to love each other unconditionally, to be for each other what Jesus was to them – the epitome of love. 

Jesus told the Disciples – and us – to love each other, no matter what.  John tells us that we don’t know what we will be like in the end.  But we DO know what we are supposed to be like now.  We are supposed to be like HIM – loving those who hurt us – loving the prodigal sons of the world – loving the unlovable.  That’s what He tells us we are supposed to be like.  Jesus tells us that we are to be the reflection of His perfect love in the world.

            Yep.  Definitely sounds like love to me – the love that can only come through the grace of God; and the love we can begin sharing today. 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.

Amen.

Jesus Comes Into Our Lives — Fr. John Bedingfield April 12th

April 12, 2015
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In the name of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord, Amen.

            A preacher was scheduled to preach at his denomination’s convention.  He was told that he had about twenty minutes.  The other preachers from his district were sitting behind him in the choir section, giving him moral support and throwing in an occasional "Amen" to help the preacher along.  He preached his twenty minutes and then just kept going.  He preached for 30 minutes, then forty and then an hour.  Finally, when he had been preaching for an hour and ten minutes, a man sitting on the front row took a hymnal and threw it at the preacher.  He saw the hymnal coming his way and ducked but kept on talking.  The book hit one of the preachers sitting in the choir section.  As the man slid out of his seat, he could be heard to say, “Hit me again, I can still hear him preaching!”

            What was it like for the Disciples in those days after Jesus’ resurrection?  John’s Gospel tells us only that they were in a house together with the door locked, “for fear of the Jews.”  That’s not much to go on, but if you think about the situation in Jerusalem at that time, perhaps we can put ourselves in their place.

            The Temple Authorities (those people whom John shorthands as “the Jews”) were certainly looking for them.  They thought that they had solved the problem of Jesus when they convinced Pilate to crucify Him.  But now there were rumors spreading all over town that Jesus had arisen from the tomb.  This was, without a doubt the worst nightmare imaginable for those who feared that Jesus and His followers might one day overthrow the entire Temple system.  The Disciples were certainly right to be afraid of these people.

            There was also a real reason for the Disciples to fear the Romans.  Pilate had doubtless had his fill of hearing about this itinerate Jewish preacher who had caused such a stir during the Passover.  Having capitulated to the Temple Authorities and had Him crucified, Pilate would have been in no mood to deal with Jesus’ followers. Pilate must also have been pretty uneasy when he heard the rumors about Jesus’ tomb being empty.

            And there were the Disciples, living behind locked doors.  Living in fear.  And perhaps worst of all, still not convinced that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.  After all, the only thing that they had to go on was what Mary Magdalene had told them.  At this point, they had no real “proof” that Jesus was alive. 

And we should all remember that over the centuries the Disciples have become sort of “idealized” Christians for us.  Because we know the whole story, we tend to think of these folks as the “super faithful,” the ones who had actually lived with and experienced Jesus, and therefore would never lose faith in what He had told them.  But that is just not true.

Behind those locked doors was a group of people who were frightened for their lives and doubting that what Jesus had promised had come to pass.  We call Thomas the “doubter” because of this story, but there was no one in that room who had less doubts than Thomas did.  He is simply the exemplar for that doubt.

There they sat, wondering what was to become of them, living in what must have felt like their darkest hour ever, and through the locked door came the risen Christ.  And into their life came faith, hope and peace.  Jesus gave them living proof of who and what He was – so that they could have faith in the Resurrection.  He brought them hope of what was to come, now that they had renewed their faith.  And He brought them that peace, “which passes all understanding,” that can only come through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus gave them a preview of – as He breathed on them.

We sit here at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, in Lafayette, Louisiana, almost 2,000 years after that day in Jerusalem, and the same thing happens to us today.  Although the doors of the church are not locked, they are typically closed when we begin the service.  But Jesus appears to us in the breaking of the bread.  He comes into our midst in the persons of the brothers and sisters in Christ who surround us here.  And He comes to us in the sharing of His Gospel message.

If you are having a crisis of faith – if you feel that your faith has faded, or ebbed, or just plain disappeared – the risen Jesus Christ is here for you today.  If you are scared because of what the future may hold after: a call from the doctor’s office, or a pink slip at work, or a note saying that your spouse has chosen to live elsewhere, or anything else that causes you fear; look at the faces of the people around you.  This IS the Body of Christ.  All those around you are the very real hands and eyes and ears of the Risen Lord.  They can comfort and hold you when the fear gets bad. 

And in just a few minutes you will all come forward but instead of touching the wounds in His hands, Jesus will be laid into your hands.  Touch Him.  Experience the feeling of His real presence.  And then … invite the Holy Spirit to touch you.  Feel the peace that comes from the power of the Spirit through believing in the Resurrected Christ.

Jesus died once, for the redemption of the whole world.  But He is Resurrected every week in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.  Our Lord and Savior is alive.  That is the Easter miracle.  And He has come through our doors today to bring comfort, a reaffirmation of your faith, and the peace He gave His first Disciples.  Have faith.  Don’t be afraid.  


The Lord is risen.  Alleluia.  Amen. 

Jesus and the Faithless, Fr. John Bedingfield, March 29th

March 29, 2015
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In the name of the God who was crucified for faithless people, Amen.

On Palm Sunday, we almost always talk about the amazing turn of events that led Jesus to the cross.  There was the triumphal entry into Jerusalem — which we remember by processing from outside into the church with palm branches.  And then, almost in an instant, we turn from saying “Hosanna in the highest,” to “Crucify him,” as we read the Passion narrative.  It is an incredible contrast to go from parades and adulation to crucifixion in a matter of minutes.  But we do this to recollect what it must have been like for Jesus and His disciples, who experienced all of these things in just a matter of a few days.  But what got Jesus to that point?  What were the circumstances that caused all of this to happen?

First, there was the city itself.  Historians believe that there were usually about 40,000 people living in Jerusalem at that time.  But during the Passover festival, when the faithful Jews from around the area made their pilgrimage to the Temple, the population of the city could swell to over 200,000.  Think about that for a minute.  That would be like having Festival, during which the population of Lafayette would go from its usual 120,000 to 600,000.  A 500% population increase will always put a strain on the resources of a city.  And resources being stretched thin will always create tension amongst city residents. 

Then there was the Roman army.  Rome usually stationed a cohort of soldiers in Jerusalem to keep the peace.  A cohort was somewhere between 360 and 480 soldiers.  So imagine being an ordinary Roman soldier stationed in Jerusalem.  Not only were the language and customs of the local people strange and foreign to you, but there were only 480 of you to keep the peace among 600,000 people, most of whom hated your guts.  There had to be more than a little tension among the soldiers.  When you add to that, the fact that there were members of the Zealot political party running around trying to start riots so that the Romans would respond and the people could be led to rise up against them; the city was pretty much a tender box.

And the third part of this trinity of circumstances was the Temple authorities: the Pharisees, the Priests and the Scribes.  Mark tells us that these folks had been watching Jesus pretty closely from the time He began His ministry, three years earlier.  And He scared them.  These men were the ultimate religious leaders of that day.  As such, they had a great deal of power over the jewish people.  With power came wealth and they had that as well.  The Temple authorities saw Jesus as a charismatic rebel, capable of gathering huge crowds and then winning them over to His way of thinking.  To those men, nothing was more dangerous than what Jesus represented — a world in which they were no longer necessary, much less exerting power.  They desperately wanted Jesus dead, but Roman law had taken away their power to execute Him.  For that, they needed the Romans.  So they made a sort of unholy alliance with their sworn enemies, and called it something done for the good of all jewish people.

And so it was that Jesus road into Jerusalem to crowds of adoring people proclaiming Him the blessed one who comes in the name of the Lord, only to thereafter run into a power structure that was ready to remove Him from the scene because His very presence was frightening to them.  But how did all of that translate into the crowds themselves turning against Jesus?

One simple answer is that the crowd that met Him when He came into town may not have been the same people who, a few days later, called for His execution.  With 200,000 people in town, gathering a crowd would not have been difficult, and those who followed Jesus might well have gone into hiding when they heard of His arrest, leaving those who sided with the Temple authorities to stand outside the Governor’s palace and give voice to their desires.  But there is a more disturbing possibility.

I think that the way Mark tells this story, shows that the author believed the two groups of people — those who yelled “Hosanna” and those who yelled “crucify him,” — to have been the same people.  And that has implications for us all.  

You see, whenever we profess to be followers of Jesus and then fail to do as He would do, we are, in a very real sense, showing that we too are members of both crowds.  When we say that we love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength and yet do not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend to the sick and visit the shut-ins, we too are showing our tendency to live in both camps.  And when we say that we support the ministries and good work done through our churches but do nothing to provide real support for them, we are likewise showing ourselves be on both sides of the fence.

It is absolutely true that whenever we say one thing about our religious identity and then do something else, we are modern-day representatives of the crowds in the Passion story.  But fortunately, that is not the end of the story.  Because, as the faithful Centurion who stood at the foot of the cross said, “Truly this man was the Son of God.”  And for God’s Son, there can even be forgiveness of our unfaithfulness.  Amen.

Let Your Light Lead Others To Christ, Mthr Mitzi George, March 22

March 22, 2015
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Let Your Light Lead Others To Christ

Last week in my sermon I mentioned that there were probably many Hebrews in the wilderness who refused to look at the staff Moses made with the snake on top, and as a result of that refusal died from snake bites. You remember the story. God allowed poisonous snakes to enter the camp and when the people begged Moses to speak to God and ask for help on their behalf, God instructed Moses to make the staff with the bronze snake on top and then told Moses to instruct those who were bitten by the snakes to look at the staff and they would be healed and live. But we all know that people can be stubborn. Not only can we human types be stubborn, but we also really hate to be made to look foolish. Looking at a stick with a snake on top in order to be healed from snakebite seems foolish; and I am sure there were many who thought so and died.

 

I also mentioned the correlation between that staff and the cross. The correlation runs pretty deep. Like the staff, looking at the cross with Jesus hanging on it in order to receive healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation, seems foolish. For that and other reasons many in our society today prefer to claim either no religious affiliation or they claim to be spiritual but not religious. After all much of what we do here makes no sense and/or has little meaning in the minds of those who do not know or have not experienced a real encounter with Jesus. How could they understand the little idiosyncrasies of the liturgy; things like the order for lighting the candles and putting them out, when to stand, sit, or kneel, when to make the sign of the cross or even why we make the sign of the cross, what about bowing or genuflecting, and that is just to name a few. All of these things and more seem foolishly ritualistic and meaningless to those who have not had a real encounter with Jesus or who have never really experienced the Good News of God’s kingdom.

 

Now the reality of all this is that people in our society have not experienced Jesus or the Good News because the Church has lost sight of its mission. Like Phillip and Andrew in today’s gospel, you and I are disciples. Like Phillip and Andrew, people look to us to introduce them to Jesus. Like Phillip and Andrew people should know that we are followers of Jesus. The Greeks in today’s gospel wanted to see Jesus. They had heard of him, they had heard he was in the area, and they wanted to see for themselves this Jesus they heard so much about. Phillip and Andrew were disciples and because they were known followers of Jesus, others sought them out so that they themselves might have a personal encounter with Jesus.

 

You and I are the disciples of Jesus today. We are the followers of Jesus’ teaching, the followers of Jesus’ way of life, followers of and keepers of the Good News. But we can’t continue to claim our status of disciple or follower if we are not sharing the Good News and introducing others to Jesus’ teaching, his way of life, or the Good News!

 

Ask yourself these questions: When others see you do they know you are a follower of Christ and do they ask you to introduce them to Jesus? When people who are SBNR or NRA come to St. Barnabas do they come expecting to have an encounter with Jesus? Do they have an encounter with Jesus?

 

You see our whole purpose for being here today and every other time we come together as the Church gathered, should be to gather the body of Christ. If that is true people should recognize Jesus in our midst. When two or three of us are gathered, others should see Jesus among us. But are they having that experience?

 

In the last five weeks we have journeyed through the Gospel of John. We have come to know Jesus the Word made flesh.  We have experienced his baptism and recognized our own baptismal connection. We have envisioned the struggle of the wilderness and connected our own struggles and temptations to those Jesus experienced. We have witnessed a firm commitment to mission and message through the encounters Jesus had with all of those seeking healing, forgiveness, truth… one after another. We experienced Jesus’ reactions of compassion and love, anger and irritability, faith and trust as we have walked through these last five weeks of Lent.

 

We have come to know Jesus through John’s gospel and through our similarly related experiences. We have come to know Jesus better. But are we ready to share Jesus with others? Have we become true disciples that are ready to introduce Jesus to those who have not yet encountered the Good News?

 

You see that is the point. The whole reason we exist, the Church exists, is to continue that mission and that ever important message we call the Good News! Do people encounter Jesus’ message and presence in us when they see us out there in the world or when they come here and gather with us?

 

Lent is a time of the Church year that is supposed to prepare us through self examination and reflection to experience the passion of Christ. Our preparation and experiences in Christ are supposed to compel us out into the world to share the good news. We have a mission!

My husband’s Sitti (grandmother in Lebanese) upon meeting every child, grandchild, and great grandchild in the family would spit into her hand and make the sign of the cross on their foreheads as she said: “Now you have the light of Christ.” Sitti expected that light to shine in their lives.

 

You and I have received the light of Christ in Baptism. God expects that light to shine in our lives. If our light is shining in the darkness others will see it, be drawn to it, and want to know all about it. So, let your light shine that others may know and be found by Christ.

Amen+

What Is Your Concept of God — Mthr Mitzi George, March 15

March 17, 2015

I have a little mind exercise for you this morning.

I would like to invite you to consider your overriding concept concerning the character of God. I mean when you boil it down, who is God, what kind of personality does God have, how does God behave or function in your opinion? What is God’s primary characteristic, that which governs how, when, and where God acts? I know that is a tall order for an early Sunday morning reflection; but I think it is important that we are clear about what we believe regarding God. After all, we are here to worship God? If so, then we should have a clear understanding of the God we worship.

You see, I think that is what Jesus was daring Nicodemus to do. Jesus is testing an old, well-respected Jew to articulate just what his vision of God is. In addition, Jesus challenges Nicodemus to consider how that belief system translates into his worldview.

This is important theological work: Who is God? How does God relate to the world? Out of which characteristic or motivation does God act? How does the way we view God affect the way we view the world and others in the world?

Jesus is questioning Nicodemus’ preconceived ideas about God whom Nicodemus has worshipped all his life. Nicodemus, you remember comes to see Jesus because he wants answers, he wants to know the truth about what motivates Jesus. Nicodemus wants to know if there is something more about God that he himself has missed, but he does not want anyone to know he has sought out Jesus or engaged Jesus in this conversation. Nicodemus wants to remain in the dark, hidden from the truth and from light.

I think most of us are like Nicodemus. Most want to know the answers to our spiritual questions. We want to understand how this God thing works. At least we want to know how it might work better for us. However, we do not want to expose our concepts of God because we fear how others will respond, we even fear how God might respond. What will happen if my notions of God are all wrong? What if I do not know as much about God as you. What if you think my concept of God is weird. We all carry around our secrets. We have secrets about ourselves and about our own understandings of God and faith; and we do not want to be in a position of vulnerability, which is why we keep our secrets.

It works like this for most of us: “I will tell you just enough about myself that you will have a favorable opinion of me. I might reveal some long ago past fault or perhaps even a sin or two, but the really dark things about myself are mine and I am not going to trust you with those dark secrets.”

Now some of you are thinking, “Whew, good, because I do not want to know that much about her, you know the TMI syndrome from which we suffer these days, and I certainly do not want to feel like I have to share my dark secrets with you.” After all, you might reject me or think less of me. The problem with that is that you and I are to walk in the light; we are to-be in relationship with one another. We are “called” to take risks of vulnerability and build intimate, trusting relationships. We only achieve that by exposing whatever is in the darkness and bringing it to the light. I will never truly feel loved by you unless you know everything about me, especially my dark side. If you know that part of me and then still love me, I will believe you really love me. That is really the only way to experience the freedom that Jesus offers us. The gospel today tells us that judgment is this: “that people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.”

You see, I think it is important to be clear about what motivates our answer as we consider who God is. The scripture clearly says that judgment and condemnation comes about because of our choices. If we can trust God enough to reveal our darkest thoughts and experiences then God can move us into the light. Our sins are forgiven. We are already restored through Christ in Baptism. Our lives can be transformed now by the power of the Holy Spirit. For transformation to occur we must die to ourselves and live in Christ Jesus.  We do not have to wait for restoration, forgiveness, or transformation.  The work of the crucifixion and the resurrection is already done. We just have to choose to accept it. I also trust and acknowledge God already knows my dark secrets, and yours, along with the dark secrets of the rest of humanity and guess what; God sent Jesus anyway, because God already loved us!

That is the secret behind Jesus’ quote from the Book of Numbers concerning Moses and the serpent. Do you remember that story? The people of Israel had infuriated God so God allowed poisonous serpents to enter the camp and people were being bitten and dying all over the place. When they realized their actions brought about a catastrophe they went back to Moses and asked him to pray. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and place it on a stick and whenever one of the people were bitten by the snakes and were about to die, they should look at the serpent on the stick and they would be restored to wholeness.

Here is what I find interesting about this Old Testament story: God did not just take away the snakes. God allowed the snakes to remain but he gave people a way to wholeness through the bronze serpent Moses placed on the stick. The sick, the dying, still had to take some action. I wonder how many people refused to look at the stick. I wonder how many people chose to die rather than look at that stupid stick with the bronze serpent stuck on top. You know some did, you know they were just too stubborn to believe that looking at that stick would heal them… they were human after all, and some of us sitting right here would do the same thing. If God said “You can be made whole, you can be restored if you just ________,” fill in the blank, some of us sitting right here today would refuse to do it.

In fact, some of us have already been guilty of just that. God has said to us come to the light. Be restored. Be made whole. Experience new life and a new way of living. However, to do it you have to die to self. You have to let those dirty little secrets out into the light stop being afraid of your past and embrace the present. You have to die to all the lies and manipulation you have worked so hard to build up around you, so the real true you can be born to new life. You must die to the person inside who sees the world only as a place to achieve selfish goals and desires which only serve to destroy the true you. To do that just look at that man hanging on that cross, the one who gave himself for you and for the world. Do that and live as a new creation.

It sounds silly. How can the cross bring me out of my darkness and into the light? Really, a little trite huh? It is true, as trite as it sounds the imagery and all it stands for has that power. Looking at yourself from the position of the cross makes a difference how you see yourself. Looking at the world from the position of the cross changes how you view the world. Looking at the cross changes how we think of God. I think it also changes the way God looks back at us.

God is a loving God, who did not send his son to condemn the world. God never intended for our religion to alienate and destroy others. God meant for our religion, our spiritual practices to bring us peace and well-being. God’s intention is that the whole world might know and come within the loving embrace of Christ our Lord.

God sent Jesus with a mission. Jesus’ mission was to spread the Good News. Christ’s mission is always salvation, restoration, reconciliation; it never was, is not, and never will be condemnation. Moreover, our mission, as members of the body of Christ is the same mission… we are to continue Christ’s mission in the world. We are to bring healing and restoration of body, mind, and soul. We are to offer reconciliation and we are to live a life of reconciliation in community with one another. So let us keep the cross ever before us and remember that darkness is behind us when we choose to walk in the light.

Amen

 

Cleansing Our Temples as Jesus Did, Fr. John Bedingfield, March 8

March 8, 2015
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In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Time for a pop quiz!  What was Jesus angry about, in today’s Gospel reading?  Money?  Livestock?  When we hear that that day in the Temple, He made a whip and: 

[D]rove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here!  Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!”

the first thing we think of is: that He was angry about people buying and selling livestock - and doing their banking business - in the Temple.  After all, in Jesus’ day the Jews believed that God actually lived inside the Holy of Holies, in the Temple.  So, someone with Jesus’ religious convictions would obviously be upset about all of this activity going on in God’s house.  If that is what you thought - that Jesus was angry (simply on principle) about mercantile activities in the Temple, you get partial credit for your answer.

John’s Gospel makes it abundantly clear that Jesus was incensed about what was going on within the Temple walls.  But He was not just angry about what was going on - He was really angry at the authorities who had set up the system.  And most importantly, he was angry about what Temple worship itself had become.

When we think about this story, we should keep in mind that Jesus was a faithful, observant Jew.  He read, taught and preached in synagogues.  He fasted on fast days and feasted on feast days.  And He made pilgrimages to Jerusalem, to the Temple, on the pilgrimage festival days.  That is important because this story is not about Christianity being greater than, or more pleasing to God, than Judaism.  In Jesus’ day, there was no such religion as Christianity.  No, this story is not about Judaism.  It is about Temple worship and the way it had slowly disintegrated over the centuries, into a corrupt and misguided system in need not only of reform, but in need of dissolution.

When Jesus went through the Court of the Gentiles — where the sacrificial animals were sold and the foreign money exchanged for Temple currency — He literally overturned money tables and animal pens.  But more importantly, He figuratively overthrew the entire system of Temple worship.  In other words, it was not just the changing of money or the selling of animals that was the problem.  Instead, it was the manner of worship that required those activities, which was in need of replacement.  That is the reason that Jesus ends this story with the statement, “Destroy this Temple and I will rebuild it in three days.”  He told His disciples that day that His sacrifice on the cross would be the replacement for all of the sacrifices conducted in the Temple.

In this incident, Jesus was telling the Temple authorities (and us) that when the system of worship takes the spotlight away from the God whom you are supposed to be worshipping, then you have a system whose purpose has become simply to support itself rather than serving the God who is ostensibly being worshipped.

In the season of Lent, St. Barnabas does away with some of the beautiful and ornate works of art that we usually have in worship.  We cover up the crosses that decorate our altar.  We remove the beautiful brass candelabra.  And we use simple (if incredibly beautiful) pottery instead of silver and gold vessels.  Likewise our altar hangings and vestments change from silk to a much more plain, burlap sort of material.  We make these changes, not because there is anything wrong with our usual and customary worship accoutrement, but rather to change the way things look so that we will view our worship with fresh eyes as we prepare for Easter.  We do what we do - and do without what we do without - during Lent, to emphasize the distinctiveness of this season.  I am not advocating that we change the way that we ordinarily worship.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with the way that we do things during the other seasons of the Church year.  Please let me be very clear about that.  But this changeover during Lent is a good reminder of what Jesus was pointing out to the people in the Temple that day.

While worshipping in beauty and holiness is a good thing, it is not necessarily about the grandeur of our worship.  The Temple in Jerusalem took over forty-six years to build.  It sat on a high hill and it is said that it could be seen for miles around.  The construction of the Temple was done by the best craftsmen, from the finest materials.  Historians believe that there was a great deal of marble and gold used in its construction.  And the Temple had the look of a palace — the palace where God, the King of all Creation, lived.  But what had begun as a project undertaken to give thanks to the God who delivered the people from bondage; to provide a place for the one true God to dwell with God’s own people; had become this huge, monolithic structure whose only purpose was to place the burden of obligation on the people, in order to feed its own excess.

What Jesus saw when he went to the Temple, was an institution that no longer provided care and comfort for the physical or spiritual well-being of the poor and needy, but rather focused on growing its own power base while actually making the lives of the disadvantaged more difficult.  In the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus faces off with the men who were in charge of the Temple and He says this to them,

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

That is exactly the way He had come to view the Temple and its worship system.  It was a beautiful place on the outside, but what happened inside — what the Temple system stood for — was no longer beneficial to the people.

In this Lenten season, when the Church universal calls us to look deep inside and to evaluate who we are as Christians — to look critically at how we are carrying out God’s mission in the world — it is good to use Jesus’ yardstick as our measuring tool.  Are we, as individual Christians and as a community, functioning as vital parts in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Or are we more like those whitewashed tombs, or the mighty Temple edifice — monuments to God, but failing to do God’s work in the world.

Episcopal Churches are not immune from becoming “whitewashed tombs.”  I know congregations that profess to be houses of worship, dedicated to God’s mission,. and yet, what happens is that the worship is ritually pure, while the real work of Jesus Christ — that which takes place outside the walls of the building — is non-existent.  

Last week I challenged us as a congregation to continually take stock of everything that we are doing, as well as everything we profess, and to find new ways to “pick up our crosses” and follow Jesus.  This is the next part of that challenge.  As individuals and as a parish, let’s never be afraid of critical self-analysis.  Let us take a careful look at who we say that we are, as well as who we show ourselves to be.  And let us never forget that it is God’s mission, the mission of loving God and loving our neighbor, that we should always be about.  So may we always strive to carry on the wonderful tradition of St. Barnabas, that first and foremost we worry about: feeding the poor, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and those in need, and visiting those who cannot be here with us.  Amen.

Pick Up A New Cross - Fr. John Bedingfield, March 1

March 1, 2015
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In the name of one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Most of us have heard this morning’s Gospel – or at least a paraphrase of it – so many times that it is one of those that can just sort of wash over and not “stick to us,” if we’re not careful.  Sometimes when someone offers me a decadent dessert or another Scotch that I don’t need, I have been known to jokingly say, “Get behind me, Satan.”  But what follows that famous line in today’s Gospel, may have a much more important message for us.

Mark tells us that Jesus followed His famous rebuke of Peter with something that is even tougher.  He gathered his Disciples together with the crowds of followers and challenged them with,

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (v. 34).

The initial response of His first hearers must have been, “Are you kidding me?  What about the feeding miracles and the healings?  Isn’t this all about how good we feel when we’re around you?”  The people gathered around Jesus that day did not want to hear His challenge.  And 21st Century Christians are not any more ready to hear that we should lay aside everything else and pick up Jesus’ cross than were the first hearers of Mark’s Gospel.  Let’s admit it, it does seem pretty daunting to think about picking up Jesus’ cross and carrying it.  I mean, going off to face death on behalf of God and God’s people, is somewhat outside our comfort zones. 

But what exactly does it mean for us, the people of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, to pick up our crosses?  Frankly, carrying the cross of Christ could potentially mean many things.  But here is one that makes particular sense and seems to ring true to me.

In 2003, Jon Weece became the Senior Pastor (what we Episcopalians would refer to as the Rector) of Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky.  At the time that Weece took the call, Southland was already a “mega-church,” with weekly attendance of around 7,000.  You might think that he would have taken the helm of this successful venture and just sort of enjoyed the ride.  But he did not.

Jon Weece spent a good portion of his childhood in Haiti, living with his missionary parents, who worked with some of the poorest people on earth.  So when he became the leader of Southland Christian, he told the congregation that they should take a period of time to read the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles and then figure out what they were being called to do in order to facilitate God’s mission in the world.  After a year and a half of self-study and Bible study, Weece says,

“We started focusing on people outside our four walls, and we found our niche.  It was a catalytic season for us in that we determined we’re here in central Kentucky to love people that no one else in our church community was paying attention to.”[1]

And now, 10 years later, the Southland Christian congregation is an incredibly active group of participants in what is known as the “Social Gospel,” the belief that Jesus’ mission on earth was centered around ministering to the poor, the outcast and those to whom society has turned a blind eye.  Pastor Weece says,

We decided to launch a series of free medical clinics throughout our city ….  We are now the primary care provider for 3,500 people in central Kentucky who can’t afford to visit a doctor or fill prescriptions.  It takes an army of volunteer doctors and nurses and a lot of donations from major pharmaceutical companies to make it work, but all the effort is worth it.[2]

Southland also operates a school lunch program, a community garden, and they provide tutors for local students.  They run a prison care ministry and they even have a garage to provide cheap automotive care for those who cannot afford regular repairs.  They have obviously taken very seriously, Jesus’ admonition that we should: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit those in prison.  But one of the “marquee ministries” that Southland offers is what they call the “Dollar Club.”

This congregation with current weekly attendance of 12,000, asks every man, woman and child in attendance to bring a dollar bill to church.  So, in addition to the tithing and other monetary giving that the congregation does; every week, each person gives a dollar to the Dollar Club.  That $12,000/week is distributed directly to individuals in need.  “Weece explains.  ‘We’ve paid for surgeries, wheelchair-accessible vans and adoptions.  It is so fun watching people who can’t afford what they need get overwhelmed by the same love that overwhelms me: God’s love.’”[3]

It would have been much simpler and less demanding for Southland Christian Church to focus on those things that they did well inside their walls, and to carry on doing things the way they had always done them.  But they did not choose the easy way – they chose God’s way.  They set down the things that had held them back and instead, picked up their crosses and followed in the way of our Savior.  They risked what they had in order to serve those who had less.  They followed Jesus’ command to love the Lord their God, and to love their neighbor.

Fred Craddock, one of America’s great preachers, once said that most of us would like to make some sort of grand gesture (on behalf of Christ) – giving a large sum of money to build a church or, perhaps, dying on a mission field.  However, (he says) God has called us to pay the price of discipleship a quarter at a time – giving a sandwich to a hungry person or a cup of water to someone who is thirsty – teaching a Sunday school class or singing in the choir.  Those things are not as glorious as martyrdom, but our willingness to do the small tasks as they are needed is more important than our willingness to die when that is not needed.[4]

Fred Craddock, Jon Weece and all of the true adherents to the Social Gospel understand that Jesus’ call to pick up our crosses seldom has anything to do with walking “the Way of the Cross,” or following Jesus’ footsteps into martyrdom.  Instead, picking up our crosses most often means that we should walk the way of Jesus while he ministered.  It means teaching those things that He taught, doing those things that He did; in other words, loving people as He loved them – unconditionally and completely.  It means meeting people where they are and not judging them for being in those places.  And it means caring for people enough to make sure that they get the best we have to offer – whether our judgmental minds believe that they deserve it or not.

St. Barnabas is a community that reaches out to those in need.  It has been that way at least since the days of Father Ken Cooper.  Through our incredibly dedicated and faithful Outreach Committee we do much good in the world.  But we can never sit back and rest on our laurels.  We can never accept the idea that we are “doing enough.”  There is so much suffering in the world, so many people who are doing without, or otherwise need a helping hand, that there are surely more crosses for us to pick up and carry in and around Lafayette.  During this Lenten season of introspection, let’s try to find out where those additional crosses are, and begin to make plans to pick them up and carry them as we should – in the name of the one who carried cross for us, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Into The Wilderness, Mthr Mitzi George, Feb 22

February 24, 2015
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Into the Wilderness

The short gospel passage that John+ read today certainly conjures up a lot of questions in my mind! I hope you don’t mind if I share some these questions with you. Sometimes I just need to ask my questions out loud and in the presence of others in order to hear them and wrap my head and heart around them so that I might wrestle with the answers, like Jacob wrestling with the angel. So here are a few of my questions:

“In those days Jesus came from Galilee and was baptized…” In those days! What days? What is Mark saying to us by opening this passage with “In those days?”

In those days when Judea was aggressively occupied by the Roman empire, in those days during the 1st century when a majority of people lived in complete and udder poverty, when most people didn’t have enough to eat, when child mortality was common place and disease was ramped, in those days Jesus came to be baptized.

One may wonder, why? Why did Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah need to be baptized? Wasn’t Jesus already divine? Wasn’t he already without sin? So what was the purpose of this baptism? Why did Jesus come forward to be baptized by John? Was he just being supportive of John’s ministry? Was he just going through the motions, like some of us do? Or was he doing it because it was expected, again like some of us do? Or is there something more to this baptism than we understand or acknowledge? For example, was it this act of baptism that empowered Jesus to become the Messiah? Was it the baptism that caused Jesus to be filled with the Holy Spirit?  Is this the act that made Jesus divine? Was it the baptism that gave Jesus the power to become the Christ?

We don’t really know the answer to most of those questions, do we?

What we do know is this: Jesus came forward for baptism. He apparently thought he needed to be baptized. Through Mark’s writing we know Jesus saw the heavens torn apart and the Holy Spirit coming down, descending upon him. Then Jesus heard a voice from heaven which said to him “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” So perhaps it was this act of baptism that caused Jesus to recognize his own identity. “You are my Son…” Jesus recognized his true identity. Perhaps for the first time in his life Jesus recognizes that he is indeed God’s son. That must have been a humbling experience, or at least frightening to realize for the first time in your life that you really are God’s beloved.

However, this new found reality didn’t stop the Holy Spirit from driving him out into the wilderness. This force, the Holy Spirit, drives Jesus into the wilderness. Drives him into an area where there are no other people, where he is all alone with the exception of wild beasts. We are told by Mark that he was driven into the wilderness in other words it was as if Jesus had no choice. If he was driven then he was not in control of this situation, something else was moving him, pushing him to go out into the wilderness.

The wilderness is a strange scary place, even in the most pristine beautiful areas of the world. I would think the wilderness around Galilee would be pretty stark and certainly frightening. I would imagine being alone in the wilderness in the 1st century anytime or anywhere might have been a scary experience. But that is where Jesus finds himself being compelled to go.

Have you ever been in the wilderness all alone, for any number of days?

I remember my one and only wilderness experience. I rented a cabin just outside of Sewanee, about 15 minutes from the gate and deep in the woods. It was a lovely cabin isolated from any neighbors and surrounded by lovely trees and a pond. It had been a record year for bear attacks in the area, so I worried a little about bear in the area. I was careful to not keep food out and to keep garbage away from the cabin. I had been there about four or five days when the telephone rang and I picked up the receiver to answer it when a huge snake thumped onto my head and slithered down the front of my body and coiled up in a strike position at my feet.

That’s right! I had been there four or five days living in the woods, privately retreating before beginning my first semester at Sewanee when all hell broke loose. To top it off, the snake went back up into the walls and I realized all the holes I had assumed were simply from the knots in the wood, were actually snake holes. Then the reality that I was going to have to sleep there that night was almost enough to drive me out of Sewanee and back to Louisiana. I could have easily rationalized that God was trying to tell me something, trying to tell me this was a bad decision and not for me.

I imagine Jesus had some of those sorts of experiences in the wilderness, times when he was faced with those wild beasts, even snakes, that made him wonder “Do I have what it takes to move forward with what it is I am being called to do.” I imagine Jesus had those moments in the wilderness when he asked if this was the right decision. He may have even thought of giving up, packing up and going home. No one would have ever known. He could pursue his career as a carpenter and no one would have thought a single thing wrong with that decision, in fact it would have been what was expected of him.

Have you ever prayed for or hoped for the empowering of God’s Holy Spirit? Have you ever thought to yourself, “Boy, I would love to have the abilities Jesus had.” I think we probably have all wanted to be empowered like Jesus at some point in our lives. But are we willing to be driven into the wilderness in order to receive that power?

I have to wonder if we don’t use all our difficult or trying moments to rationalize that God is trying to tell us not to do something, but what if God is really trying to prepare us for something greater than our safe status quo existence. In actuality, if we compare our own experiences with those of Jesus’ life, we might come to realize that it is the difficult times, the moments of struggle and survival that angels come to minister.

I have discovered in my own life that the most difficult experiences of my life, the hard, even negative experiences are what have enabled me to be more dependent on and more open to the Holy Spirit and the empowering grace of God.  And I can tell you, I’ve had a lot of scary and trying moments. I share that with you because many people assume that those of us who wear a collar like John and I lead charmed unruffled lives. I think you will find that those called to ordained ministry have just as many experiences of hardship as anyone else. And we like you have to hold on at times and hope for the best.

We certainly know that Jesus faced hardship. Even after that wilderness experience, Jesus came back to discover that John had been arrested. Yet another excuse readily available to affect a change of mind where Jesus was concerned. John is arrested in those days, the days right after Jesus’ baptism, those days right before Jesus returned from the wilderness, those days of the Roman oppression, it was in those days Jesus returns to Galilee to proclaim the Good news!

Jesus didn’t wait for the dust to settle, for things to calm down and get back to normal. Jesus began proclaiming the time had been fulfilled and the kingdom of God was near. Even though there were those who could look around and say but what about the Romans, what about John being arrested, what about all of the misery in the world, how can you say God’s kingdom is near? Jesus didn’t let those things in those days stop him from fulfilling his own call to proclaim the good news. Jesus told people to repent and trust in the good news! Trust in the reality that you can’t see, trust in me, in what I am telling you even though it doesn’t seem like this is a good idea, keep in mind that God is alive and is with us even in the midst of this turmoil. Even when those we love are imprisoned or dying God is still with us enabling us to move forward.

 Yes, when snakes fall on our heads, God is with us! And even during those times God will send angels to minister to us; we will find the strength and empowering Spirit to move forward and to become children of God, disciples of Christ, and members of the living body of Christ proclaiming the message that the world desperately needs to hear trusting in the reality that God’s kingdom is indeed at hand.

So, are you ready to be driven into the wilderness? Are you willing to be driven by the Holy Spirit, to let go of the control and let God’s spirit direct where you go and what you do? Because the world is still waiting for the Good News!

 

Amen.

It’s All About the Simple Things, Mthr Mitzi George, Feb 8th

February 11, 2015
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There are some very important and very concrete events taking place in today’s gospel passage; which, if we allow it, will directly impact and improve how we each live into a life of faith, a life in Christ.

The first is such a natural act that we may miss its importance. Jesus left the synagogue and went to Peter’s house. Jesus left the synagogue and entered the home of a friend to have dinner, visit; he went to enjoy the evening, not very impressive, huh? He did what many of us do when we leave Church. He left with friends to go have dinner. The act is so commonplace, so natural that we might over look the power of what is taking place.

You see, Jesus had just blown people away in the synagogue with the power and authority of his words and teaching. He had just left the scene of public worship, where the proclamation he offered caused many to question the depth of his authority. He left the worship of the synagogue having proclaimed by word the authority of God’s power unlike anything the people had ever heard or seen. Then he goes home, or at least to a friend’s home where he enters the house to find Peter’s mother in-law ill with a fever. Upon hearing of her condition Jesus goes in to the room where she was lying, takes her by the hand and assists her to her feet and the fever suddenly leaves her. Nowhere does it say that Jesus prayed for her, or anointed her, he simply reached out his hand and takes her by the hand to help her up from the bed where she was lying and the fever leaves her body. Again, not very impressive as a simple act or is it?

You see, Jesus brings the power of God that had been proclaimed in the synagogue to reality in this ordinary act. Jesus leaves the synagogue having been filled with the authority of the word and enters the home of a friend to then bring that power to fullness in an ordinary act of kindness. He took her by the hand and lifted her up, assisted her, an ordinary act of great kindness. In the 1st century, to touch a person with a fever was risky, even riskier than it is today. There weren’t any vaccines, there were no walk in clinics that could prescribe antibiotics, and they were Jewish! For a Jew to touch a sick person required a seven day cleansing ritual before you could be accepted into the communities life again. Jesus walks in to Peter’s house and reaches out his hand, lifts her up, and the fever leaves her. Jesus brings the power of God proclaimed in word and experienced in worship into the ordinary, into the lives of a woman in need.

Today, in our world and practice, all too often, when the body of Christ gathers together for the proclamation of the word and worship that experience is left in the sanctuary. We walk out and leave it here as if it were a hymnal that had been stamped “Property of St. Barnabas, do not remove.” That’s right! We walk out and leave behind the power and authority that we have been given as members of the body of Christ. We forget the power of the Spirit we experienced in worship, we neglect to take the authority and power given to us in Baptism, proclaimed to us in word, and renewed in ever experience of sacrament and worship in order to offer that power of God’s holy Spirit to the ordinary world in which we move, and live, and have our being. We neglect to take the power of God to those in need.

Do you know that in the Book of Common Prayer and in our rubrics we specifically make the recommendation that communion be brought to the sick and shut-ins right after the sacrament is celebrated because it has been well documented throughout the history of the Church that the power of the Spirit is strongest right after the sacrament. Have you ever been to an ordination service and noticed that right after the ordination often times the +Bishop and others will come forward to the person newly ordained in order that they might lay their hands on them and pray for them. It’s not an act of respect, it’s because the power of the Holy Spirit is so present at that moment. At my own ordination to the priesthood, a woman named Ruth was in the congregation. She had a stroke sitting there and wouldn’t say anything or leave the service. Immediately after the service they came up to get me so that I might pray for her, which I did of course. Nervous and feeling rather guilty because she didn’t want to interrupt my ordination, I sat down next to her and prayed with her just before the medics came in to take her to the hospital. It was my first healing prayer as a priest. Ruth was in her 80’s at the time and lived well into her nineties. She would tell everyone about the incident and always said it was that prayer that made her well.

The fever that had incapacitated Peter’s mother in-law could have been any number of illnesses. You and I live in a world still filled with fevers and illness. Just think of recent headlines: the measles outbreak, the flu, Ebola, the common cold and thousands of other illnesses that cause fevers.  We live in world filled with fevers and some of those are viral or physiological, and some are emotional. There are the fevers of fear and anger, anxiety and depredation, restless seeking, consuming, and greed; all of which ravage body, mind, and soul. Just imagine if we, as the body of Christ, left this sanctuary and took with us the power and authority given through the proclamation of word and sacraments and went into the world reaching out our hands to touch theirs, to bring the power of God into reality and allowed that power to touch the ordinary lives of people in need of that healing grace. What a remarkable experience of the Holy Spirit that would be. And like Jesus, we don’t have to say a special prayer, or know any incantations or decorous phrases, all we have to do is be willing to take someone else by the hand and lift them up from that which keeps them down.

The world is still full of people in need of that touch. Perhaps not many would crowd around the doors of this sanctuary to receive that power of God’s grace, but they would welcome an outstretched hand of someone who was offering that kind of healing. People may think they aren’t interested in organized religion, but they are still interested in recovery and wholeness, and whether they use the term or not, even salvation.

You and I must see all of this with compassion. You and I must feel the anguish of this broken world in our hearts and in our words and deeds we must proclaim God’s healing power and salvation through Jesus Christ. We are the body of Christ gathered, we are the ones to whom Jesus says; “Let us go.” We have to take that message into the streets, into the ordinary places of this world where people are in need of the restorative, transforming, and healing power of God.

 

That can only be done if we, like Jesus, take our own Spiritual health seriously. For Jesus, the renewal of life through prayer and solitude was a priority. In the three scenes just before the 33rd verse of Mark’s gospel we see Jesus expending power. In the 33rd verse we discover the mystery behind all that Jesus was able to do. The healing power of Jesus was created and renewed in prayer. Behind his very public ministry; when people pressed in from every side to take from him whatever they could get, Jesus practiced the private solitude of a life in prayer. That was the hidden spring from which he drew living water. It was the solitude of prayer that brought about the astonishing power and authority that amazed everyone who heard and saw him.

Our lives have become so public and vociferous. It’s become more and more difficult to shut out the noise; it’s become impossible to disconnect and find a quiet place. But Jesus made it priority. He didn’t ever happen to find himself in a lonely place, or free from interruption. Jesus carved out the times of solitude that he needed. Jesus depended on times of solitude and prayer in order to renew and gain strength and readjust himself to the will of God.

A life bombarded by noise and outside pressures cannot know health and wholeness without the intentional act of solitude and prayer. I think our world breeds illness through our inability to be quiet and disconnected from everything except our Creator. A life of noise and business has no hope of renewal or healing. To sit in silence before God is a remarkable act, the highest act of mind and spirit. There can be no fulfillment or well being without it. More than any other practice that I can name for Spiritual well being and vitality, the practice of quiet centering prayer and solitude are essential. Jesus’ life demonstrated the importance of the true practice of Sabbath.

We are fast approaching the Lenten season. And as we move toward it my prayer for all of us here at St. Barnabas is that we would intentionally carve out those times of solitude and prayer so that we might be renewed and reconnected in a deeper and more powerful way to God our father and to Jesus Christ our savior and that in doing so we might see more clearly where it is we need to go and for whom we need to extend our hands in order that the healing grace of God is revealed through us.

 Amen.

Jesus, Atticus, Authority and Love, Fr. John Bedingfield, Feb 1

February 2, 2015
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In the name of One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In Harper Lee’s wonderful book, and almost equally wonderful movie, To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is an authority figure.  He is a lawyer in the poor, small town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression.  Atticus is one of the pillars of the town and someone whom the townspeople, by-and-large know and trust.  In other words, when Atticus Finch speaks – whether they agree with him or not – people listen.  And the first part of the story deals heavily with establishing Atticus’ level of authority, both at home and in the town.

Twice in only seven verses, the author of Mark’s Gospel tells us that the people were astounded and amazed that Jesus taught and acted, “with authority.”  Clearly for Mark, Jesus’ authority was an important thing, and one that the congregation members in today’s Gospel story had never seen until that day.

The people in the synagogue at Capernaum that day had no idea who Jesus was.  Mark tells us in previous verses that Jesus had just begun His ministry by choosing His first four disciples, who lived in Capernaum.  Jesus wasn’t a local boy.  He had just gotten to town from Nazareth.  So, when he began to teach that day, he came to the people as an unknown quantity.  But as soon as He started to teach, they “were amazed.”  Jesus taught them “as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  That was a real difference for the people, even though the scribes were the men who had been trained in the Scriptures and were given the job of teaching them about their faith.  Mark wants us to understand that Jesus’ teaching was a new experience for a people who had been previously taught by trained experts.

In my days in the courtroom, I saw some of the best, and some of the worst trial lawyers in Texas.  I sat across from some very good ones and some very bad ones, but I also spent countless hours in the gallery – the place where “the audience” sits – waiting for my turn to go before some judge.  Through those experiences, I learned that there are very real differences between lawyers.  Some will out work and out prepare their opponents every time.  Others will never be prepared, no matter how much time they have or how important the matter they’re handling.  But there are also some (a small number to be sure) who have a God-given gift when they step inside the bar.  They do their jobs with authority and with authenticity.  And it makes a difference.

If you’ve ever been into a real courtroom, you may have seen these same things.  One lawyer gets up before the judge or jury and has a whole stack of papers and file folders.  Methodically, he or she goes through each one, asking good questions or making good arguments, in a very measured and careful way.  And inevitably you’ll find yourself falling asleep, halfway through their presentation.  Then the other lawyer gets a turn.  This person begins to speak, either with few – or no notes, and you find yourself riveted; captivated by every syllable, waiting to find out what is coming next.  One of the main differences between these two is that one presents the case with authority and one does not.  One knows which files to reach for in order to find the pertinent fact, the other knows, and has lived, the case.

The Scribes knew what the Scriptures said.  They knew where to find every law in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  They knew where to look to find what the prophet Isaiah had said.  But Jesus knew the God from whom all the Scriptures had come.  “The Law,” of Scripture was written on His heart and the Prophets spoke words that Jesus didn’t have to look up, He knew the God who had spoken the words to them.  The Scribes taught the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus was the Scriptures.

People were – and are – drawn to Jesus, not because of the miracles He produced.  Sure, the miracles made people gasp and show their awe, but in the long run, the miracles were signs, not events.  They were signs of who Jesus was, signs of where His authority came from, signs that the things He taught, said and did were true – were authentic.

One hundred and forty-odd years ago, the Bishop of Rhode Island, Thomas March Clark wrote a book entitled Primary Truths of Religion.  In it, Bishop Clark wrote this about Jesus:

The great evidence of Christianity is Christ.  And He authenticates Himself.  …  The truths which He uttered were not truths which He had learned; He was the truth.

Thomas March Clark expressed the amazing power of Jesus that the people of Capernaum saw – Jesus’ supernatural authority; that which drew people to him as if by magic so that they could experience who God really is, just by being around Him.  

Like Jesus, Atticus Finch distinguished himself from every one of the people of His time who also spoke with authority.  Atticus was an authority figure around town, but when Tom Robinson was being unjustly charged with rape, Atticus got down into the middle of the racially heated situation and faced danger with him.  And when Jem was injured in Bob Ewell’s attack, Atticus stayed up all night, sitting by the boy’s bed, looking after and caring for him.  He did not send anyone else to be a caregiver, he got into the suffering and helped to bring healing.

Atticus is indeed a Christ figure in To Kill A Mockingbird. And this is one of the areas where that fact shines through brilliantly.  You see, Jesus did not just authoritatively teach the people about Holy Scripture or what God had said and done in the past.  When the man with the unclean spirit came in, Jesus left his teaching and went to interact with the man … He got down into the man’s misery with him.  And in the process, He brought the man healing and wholeness.  As one commentator wrote, “Jesus – whom Mark has introduced as none other than ‘Messiah’ and ‘Son of God’ – is also one who confronts and responds to human suffering and need.  Even though Jesus has an exalted title, he wades into human misery.”

We all have misery in our lives.  No matter who we are or how “charmed” people view our lives to be, we all have misery from time to time.  Whether it is the loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship or some other traumatic event, we all go through times of suffering.  And it is in such times - the hard times of life - that the love, compassion and grace of Jesus Christ shines through, because it is most especially in the tough times that Jesus is with us.  

How do we know this? (As I read recently,) We know it through Gospel stories like the one today where Jesus enters into human life, showing up at worship where people bring their burdens and confusion and cares. We know it through our own experience. I’ll admit that nothing as wild and strange (as a possessed man barging in) has happened here in our church on a Sunday, but I bet that something close to that has happened to you, here. You came here, perhaps silently shouting at Jesus because of some tragedy in your life, only to have him shout back, “I love you still.”  

Where is God when we are in misery?  God is here.  Jesus is the authoritative voice of God … and the love of God with us.  Amen.

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