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.

Whose Son Is Jesus? Fr. John Bedingfield January 4th

January 4, 2015
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In the name of the Incarnate God, Amen.

          Today’s Gospel story is one of a kind.  This is the only story in all of Holy Scripture that tells us anything at all about Jesus between the time of his infancy and the time that He takes up his earthly ministry as an adult.  And for a short story, this one is packed with information.  There are several aspects of this story that bear examination, but the one that really stands out to me is the question: “Whose son is Jesus?” 

          Now obviously, we Christians know that Jesus is the Son of God.  We know this because we already know the story of Jesus.  We know about the miracles, the teachings, and most importantly, we know about the Resurrection from the dead and the Ascension into heaven.  But perhaps the issue of whose son Jesus was, might not have been so clear cut, early on.

          In today’s story, Jesus was twelve years old – or in modern vernacular – He was a “tweenager.”  The experience of having a tween in the house is, to say the least, an interesting one.  At an age in which a young person sits right on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, many interesting (and sometimes maddening) things happen to them, not the least of which is, the beginning of a need to start separating from their parents.  At this stage of life, a young person starts to create an identity of his or her own.  And that is a part of what was going on in this story of Jesus.

          When Mary and Joseph left Jerusalem at the end of the Passover festival, Jesus stayed behind, literally and figuratively separating from his earthly parents.  We do not know exactly why Jesus stayed behind in the Temple, but clearly it was more than just being a tweenager, it had something to do with living into the title of Son of God.

          In Luke’s Gospel, from the time of the Annunciation to this time, Jesus’ relationship to God the Father has been spoken of by others.  First, the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would carry the Son of God in her womb.  Then Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, told Mary that John leapt in her womb when he heard the voice of the Mother of his Lord.  Then Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, prophesied that Jesus would be the Savior of Israel and the prophet of the most high.  And then, when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple for the first time – as an infant – an old man named Simeon walked up to them and told them that he could now die happy, because his eyes had seen, “salvation, which [God had] prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to [God’s] people Israel.”  And as soon as they had left Simeon, Mary and Joseph ran into the 84 year old prophet, Anna, who praised God and spoke to everyone about Jesus as the redemption of Jerusalem.  But when Mary discovered that Jesus was not with the caravan of friends and relatives going from Jerusalem back to Nazareth, and she and Joseph trekked back to find Him in the Temple, Jesus’ first words in this Gospel are His announcement of whose Son He is.

          For twelve years Mary and Joseph had been very good parents to Jesus.  They had fed, clothed, cared for and taught Jesus.  They had been good, devout Jews themselves and had no doubt imparted the importance of living a devout life to their child.  They had Him circumcised on the 8th day; took him to the Temple for infant purification rites, and they made the costly and time-consuming yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover.  Mary and Joseph took good care of their son, we should never doubt that.  They were his loving parents and he was their son.  Then came that day.  Jesus had been missing for three days by the time His parents discovered Him.

          After a couple of days searching the Temple, His mom and dad found Jesus with the teachers, “listening and asking questions.”  As an aside here, I think that it is important to note that – unlike the renaissance paintings which portray Jesus to have been “teaching in the Temple,” – what Luke tells us is that Jesus was listening to the teachers and asking questions.  In other words, He was being a student.  But the thing that made Jesus stand out was the combination of His young age and the understanding of the Scriptures that he already possessed.

          When Mary and Joseph found him there they heard him interact with the teachers and saw the amazement of both the teachers and students who heard him.  It must have been an amazing mix of emotions for His parents at that moment.  On the one hand, they must have been incredibly proud of their son.  But on the other hand, Luke tells us that Mary said, “Child, why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  The word translated as “anxiety” here, is only used three times in the New Testament, and each time it means the broken heartedness of one who is losing someone they love.  So clearly Mary and Joseph had the same feeling of sadness and loss that any parents would have if their child was missing.

          Imagine what they thought next, when Jesus responded to His mother, “Why were you searching for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”  Jesus made that announcement and thus made His first public proclamation about whose Son he really was.  Jesus, the twelve-year-old prodigy with extraordinary knowledge of Scripture was now much more than just a gifted tween, suddenly he was something no one had experienced before, the face of God among humans.  And this is where Jesus gives His first lesson on faithfulness.

          There He stood in the Temple – the place where the Jews believed that God actually lived, the holiest place on earth – and He could very easily have told His mother that He had decided to stay there and continue His education while preparing Himself to do the work of His Father in the world.  But He did not do that.  He faithfully followed God’s call and returned with His parents to Nazareth and “was obedient to them.” 

          When He was a child, Jesus needed to know very little, other than the fact that His mom and dad loved Him.  But as He grew, He began to experience God in new ways and He began to understand who He really was – and is.  Whose Son is Jesus?  He is the Son of Mary and Joseph of Nazareth – earthly parents who loved and cared their child.  But Jesus is also the only Son of God.  The Son of the God who created and loves the world deeply enough to enter into our existence and love us the same way parents love their children.  Amen.

Holy Name of Jesus Fr. John Bedingfield 010115

January 1, 2015
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In the name of One God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, Amen.

          This is the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus.  I am so glad that that is now the name of this day because, until the 1979 prayer book revision, this day was called, “The Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  A priest friend of mine used to joke that during the time when we celebrated “the circumcision,” the most appropriate hymn for the day should have been the one called “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded.”  It’s a bad joke, I know.  Although it does seem a little weird to call a celebration, “Circumcision Day.”  The irony is, even though the prayer book now refers to this day as “Holy Name,” the event that we remember is exactly the same, the brit milah (or bris) – the Jewish rite in which the infant, Jesus was circumcised and given His Hebrew name.

          There is power in naming something, or someone.  In the Harry Potter series, the most villainous of all villains is often referred to as “he who must not be named.”  Even saying the name of Lord Voldemort meant that something bad might befall the speaker. 

Even as children we are aware of this power.  We are frightened by some strange sound or shadow in our rooms and then, when mom or dad comes in and shows us what was casting the shadow or causing the noise – in other words, names the thing – we can obtain control over the thing, or our fear of it.  That’s the power of a name.

          Luke tells us that on the eighth day after His birth, Mary and Joseph took their newborn son to be circumcised, as was, and is still the requirement for Jewish males.  During the liturgy of circumcision, the baby boy is named.  That day long ago in ancient Palestine, the Mohle – a specially trained Rabbi who performs the ritual of circumcision – said something similar to, “Name this child,” to which Mary responded, “Jesus.”  And there it was.  He was named.

          Throughout the ancient Near East, it has always been thought that names carried with them a description of the person or thing named.  People chose names for their children very carefully because the name should describe some aspect of a child’s hoped for character or identity.  A “good” name would say something about who the parents prayed their child would become.  Jesus is a Latinized version of Joshua or Yehoshua which, in Hebrew means “God is Salvation,” “God delivers” or “God rescues”.  The Angel of the Lord had come to Mary and told her that she would have a son and would name him Yeheshua.  So, God had ordained that this child would be known as God’s salvation, God’s deliverer or God’s rescuer.  There’s certainly power in THAT name.  But there is something even more powerful about GIVING that name to THIS child.

          After all, Jesus was not just the firstborn child of Joseph the carpenter and Mary of Nazareth.  He was the incarnation of God; God among us; the God of all Creation and as human as any of us. 

One of the tenets of Judaism is that the name of God cannot be said or written by humans.  People cannot possibly know the character or true identity of God, so they cannot possibly name God.  Jews write God’s name with asterisks or dashes where the vowels would go (Y*HW*H, the God of Moses) and they do not speak it.  (If you really want to impress your friends at cocktail parties, this way of expressing God is called the tetragrammaton).  There have always been ways for Jews to express that it is God about whom they are speaking.  From the time of Creation to the Exodus from Egypt, or at least until the covenant with Abraham, God was referred to as Elohim meaning “strong God,” which was taken from the name of gods in the days when the people had individual household gods, before they became acquainted with the singular God of all creation.  Later the chosen name to speak became Adonai, which became translated as “Lord,” in English.  Lordship may describe one aspect of God’s character, but certainly not all of it.

          The world into which Jesus was born knew only a God who was so distant from the people, so apart, so “other worldly,” that God’s name could not even be spoken.  This was the same God who spoke with Moses from a burning bush and warned him not to look at God or else Moses would die.  Elijah tried to glimpse this same God in gale force winds, earthquake and fire, but could only find God in a still, small voice.  This was the same God about whom the prophet Ezra said the people could not lift their faces heavenward because they were not worthy to be seen by God.  No wonder the coming ministry of this little child would be such a challenge and such a threat to Jewish authorities.  Jesus – God’s salvation – brought not only a name to God, but a face as well.  Suddenly people could not only speak ABOUT God, they could speak TO God and could SEE God’s face as they did so.  How much power is there in THAT?

          Look at the Old Testament stories, full of the wonder and might of God, but also full of God’s wrath against humanity.  And who could blame God for being angry and vengeful?  All God ever asked of humankind was to love God with all their hearts, minds souls and strength, and to follow some fairly straightforward commandments.  But the people could never seem to accomplish this seemingly simple task.  Instead, they created false gods and they broke every commandment given them.  God tried everything to get their attention; banishment, flood, fire and brimstone, enslavement, and freedom from slavery.  God sent prophet after prophet to the people to tell them what their mistakes had been and to try to return them to God’s path.  Nothing worked.  Until finally God decided to try a new way.

          As St. Paul tells us in this morning’s reading from the letter to the Galatians,

When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

God decided to approach humans in an entirely different way, as one of us.  And from that day on, we occupied a different place in God’s created order.

In the fullness of time, God sent a baby named Jesus – God’s salvation – to take us from being fearful subjects of an angry ruler, to being children of the Living God.  Jesus came into the world to redeem us from slavery to sin and to show us the face of a loving God.  Jesus brought us close to God in a way that had never been experienced before.  He did something that could never have been accomplished by a prophet or a teacher or a great religious leader. 

The angel said to (Mary), ‘(N)ow, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, … He will be the Son of God.’

Jesus – what a name.

Amen

Slaughter of Holy Innocents Fr. John Bedingfield December 28

December 28, 2014
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In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

          In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew alludes to the story of what is known as the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.  After Jesus’ birth, King Herod ordered the killing (for political and power-seeking reasons) of all of the children under two years of age in the region of Bethlehem.  Herod believed that if he killed all the children, the infant Jesus would not grow up to be the King of the Jews.  As a result of Herod’s rage, some historians put the number of dead in the 10s of thousands.  That is an incredible atrocity. This sort of ridiculous violence has always existed in the world and continues today. 

          Two weeks ago, seven members of the Pakistan Taliban walked into a school in Peshawar and opened fire on unarmed, innocent people.  Before local authorities could arrive and put a stop to the carnage, the men had killed 132 students and 15 adults.  In the last decade there have been any number of such mass killings in the name of religion or ethnicity.  How do we explain that?

          One explanation, and one that is very popular with some people today, is that there is no God, or if there is a God, it is not a God who cares us.  The image being: a God that created the world and then turned it loose to function as it would – sort of like a watchmaker, who crafts a beautiful timepiece, starts it running and has nothing else to do with it.  It is much easier to rationalize horrible mass killings or disasters that cause loss of life on scales that we cannot imagine, by saying there cannot be a God who loves God’s creation.  Otherwise this kind of thing just could NOT happen.

          I submit to you that that is, indeed the easy way out – to dismiss God from the equation and move on.  What we, the children of God, the faithful, have as our task is much harder – reconciling what has happened with the God we have not only read about, but have experienced in this world.  We all know the old sayings that have followed us throughout our Christian journeys: things such as, “the Lord works in mysterious ways,” and “we cannot know the mind of God.”  But all such expressions used in these circumstances, are meant to tell us that God is definitely in charge, even though we cannot understand what good God is up to.  Frankly, such statements (no matter how true) are less than comforting to most people. 

          Unfortunately, situations like the one in Peshawar inevitably trigger, among theologians, philosophers (and those who are neither but have very strong feelings on the subject), debates on the existence or the relative power of God to act in the world.  But, as one religious commentator wrote, these are not times to consult with theologians or philosophers, but rather with poets.  So we look to the Psalmist for guidance.  In today’s reading we find,

If the LORD had not been on our side, *

when enemies rose up against us;

3

Then would they have swallowed us up alive *

in their fierce anger toward us;

4

Then would the waters have overwhelmed us *

and the torrent gone over us;

5

Then would the raging waters *

have gone right over us.

6

Blessed be the LORD! *

he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.

8

Our help is in the Name of the LORD, *

the maker of heaven and earth.

 

          So how do these visions of the Psalmist, and our own experience of God’s work in the world square with what we have seen on television and in other media outlets for the last decade or so?  First, we look at God in the world.  God created the world to be the world.  God is perfect.  But the world is less than perfect.  What began as Eden became less than perfect when people could not follow God’s rules.  But it was God who created humans with free will, freedom to do and be what we will.  God is not an uncaring watchmaker, but neither is God a master puppeteer, pointing a finger making the world bend to Godly will. 

          The Living God is decidedly active in the world.  If you do not believe that, follow the news stories of the people of Pakistan and their response to the Taliban attack.  There has been an incredible outpouring of love and support for the families who lost someone and the people and government are beginning to fight back against the extremist forces who have terrorized their people.

          God exists.  God is alive.  God cares about each and every one of us, regardless of who we are or where we are.  God is the God of all comfort, the God who never promised that we would not suffer from horrible occurrences; the God who suffered incredibly Himself, while Jesus suffered on the cross.  This God is the one who promised to be with us through thick and thin, through good times and horrendous times, on sunny days and days when storms threaten to wash us away.  This is the God who became a human, just like us, so that God could fully understand what it means to be a suffering person in a world filled with the tragic deaths of Holy Innocents.

Amen.

What God Wants for Christmas Fr. John Bedingfield December 24

December 28, 2014
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In the Name of the Incarnate God, Amen.

          Have you heard Darius Rucker’s new Christmas song?  For my money it is one of the better songs written for the season in a number of years.  It is called, What God Wants For Christmas.  Rucker wrote the song, along with Frank Rogers and Monty Powell.  In it, they look around at all of the presents being exchanged at this time of the year and wonder what might be on God’s wish list.  What the song writers imagined say a lot about how many people view God.

          The song writers suggest that God’s Christmas list includes: no more empty seats in church, every Bible without dust and the Devil giving up; all of which sound perfectly plausible.  But are those things really what God would wish for?  

First, I would dispute the part about defeating the Devil.  If you read the Book of Revelation, there is one thing that is certain – in the end, God wins!  There is no doubt that in the fullness of time, God will defeat Satan and all evil – so our wishing for it is wholly unnecessary. 

          And then there is the part of about filling the churches and making sure that everybody reads their Bibles.  Obviously, as the head of a church congregation, I am all for those things.  I think that everybody should be in church every week and that all people should – as our Book of Common Prayer tells us – hear, read, mark and inwardly digest God’s Word.  But again, is that at the top of God’s list of wished for things?  I mean, after all, Jesus never had a church building and He did alright.  And (at least the New Testament of) the Bible was not written in His day, so for everything preceding the last two millennia, there was no Bible to blow the dust off of.

          I think Darius Rucker gets a little closer to the important stuff when he says that perhaps God would wish for, “more sister, more brother, more loving one another,” and that we should “believe in [God] like He believes in us,” because it seems to me that God would want those things that are the most important for the well-being of this world that God created.

          On this night, almost 2000 years ago, a baby boy was born to a teenaged virgin and her fiancé, in a non-descript town.  With the exception of the part about the “mother who was still a virgin,” the same thing was happening all over the world and no one but the immediate families of those other babies cared very much.  But although this baby looked, cried, made messes and did all of the other things that all infants did, this one was very different.  This one was Emanuel – God with us.  This one was the only Son of God, the God who entered fully and completely into the lives of all humanity by becoming human.

          So, as Darius Rucker asks, “what do you give someone who gave His only Son?”  I believe that that same Son, Jesus, answered that question, himself.  In the 25th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells His listeners:

Matthew 25:34-45   'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;  35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'  37  …

[And they asked Him when they had done these things to Him.  He said,]

 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.' 

[And then He told them about the people who did not do such things.]

…  I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  44 Then they also [answered], 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?'  45 [And Jesus answered], 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'

          Churches are wonderful places and you should be in one (hopefully this one) every week.  The Bible is the story of God’s on-going love affair with human beings, and you should read, mark, learn and inwardly digest that story until it becomes an ingrained part of your own story.  But if you really want to reach deep and figure out how you can give the Creator of the Universe a gift that means something – something more than a new necktie, or sweater, or gift card to iTunes – then begin to change your life into a life that reflects God’s love in the world.  That would be a gift that would probably make God, our Father in Heaven, well up with tears, in the same way that we earthly fathers get teary eyed when our children give us gifts from the heart.

          Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself.  Treat your neighbors as if they are Jesus returned to earth.  Feed them, clothe them, give them something to drink and care for their other needs.  In other words, BE God’s Incarnation to those around you – believe in God in the same way that God believes in you.

          May God’s eternal blessings be with each of you on this evening of the Nativity of our Lord.  And may each of you begin this night to give that gift that God wants for Christmas, tonight and every day that follows.

Amen.

Saying “Yes” to the Topsy-Turvy Mission of God, Fr. John Bedingfield 21st December

December 21, 2014
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In the name of the God who calls to humans, Amen.

            In Kevin Smith’s completely irreverent film Dogma, there is a great scene near the opening, in which Bethany (the main character) gets in her bed and falls asleep, only to be awakened by a man at the foot of her bed, engulfed in flames and possessing a very impressive set of wings.  There comes a loud voice, repeating: “Behold the Metatron, herald of the Almighty, and voice of the one true God!”  Now fully awake and scared out of her mind, Bethany does what most of us who are not as well-armed as many Louisianans would do … she takes a fire extinguisher and puts out the Metatron’s flames and then threatens him with a baseball bat.  That silly scene is a perfect explanation of why it is that every time an angel appears in Scripture, one of the opening lines is, “Do not be afraid.”

            I mean, think about it for a minute.  You are just a regular person – perhaps a good and faithful person, but certainly a regular person – and then suddenly your life is interrupted in a most incredible way, when God’s herald comes to give you a personal message.  Let’s face it; that would freak any of us out.

            Throughout Scripture we find stories of God communicating with humans in various ways.  Moses conversed with a burning bush and a cloud.  Abraham had a trio of human-looking, but other-worldly visitors.  The prophets all heard the plainly audible “voice of God.”  But almost without exception, when God sent an angelic messenger – a herald – it was because the message that God wanted received and understood, was way beyond what the human’s previous experiences had prepared him or her to understand.  And certainly, the Annunciation of the coming of the Christ child was such a message.  As one commentator put it,

It is as if the truth that is being told is so strangely wonderful that there is no way to receive this truth except by a kind of enlargement of our imaginations, a mind-blowing sense that reality may be richer and more surprising than we first thought – thus Luke’s beautiful, strange, wonderful story of a young woman who is told by an angel that she shall bear the Son of God into the world[1].

            This week I read a blog post about the Annunciation by a friend of mine, Dr. Greg Garrett.  Greg said that the word that came to mind for him, was “topsy-turvy[2].”  What the angel Gabriel brought that day was a message saying that everything Mary thought she knew about God – and God’s interaction with the world – was about to be turned upside down, or topsy-turvy.

            Try to remember that the Mary of the Annunciation story is not the stylized, idealized Mary whom we see in so many paintings.  She was not the beatific Madonna, the Lady of Fatima, or Our Lady of Guadalupe, all dressed in blue, with a “Mona Lisa smile,” and an understanding and forgiving look on her face.  She was instead, a young – probably 13 or 14 year old – girl, who lived in a hidden corner of the Roman Empire, Nazareth of Galilee.  And that fact is one of the things that makes this story so amazing that it still captivates us almost 2,000 years later.

            Luke tells us this story on the heels of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Remember that Elizabeth was Mary’s much older cousin.  We are told that Elizabeth and her priest husband were old; so old that they knew they would never have children.  And one day the Angel Gabriel (yes the same one who visited Mary six months later) came to Zechariah and told him that he and Elizabeth would have a son and that they would name him John (later to be “The Baptizer”).  But Zechariah neither understood, nor believed what Gabriel told him.  In essence, he challenged the Herald Angel to prove what he said.  Naturally enough, Gabriel did not take very kindly to that.  He told Zechariah, “It’s true because I’m Gabriel, representing God, and that’s enough.”  But since Zechariah did not believe, Gabriel took away the old priest’s voice until after the baby arrived.

            Luke puts those two stories back-to-back, not only because the lives of Elizabeth and Mary are intertwined, as are the lives of their sons; but also because he wants us to understand the difference in the reactions of Zechariah and Mary to their respective angelic visitations.  Zechariah said, “Prove it,” and God did God’s work anyway – but there was no sense of Zechariah’s participation in the mission of God.  By comparison, Mary said, “How can this be?” in other words, “I don’t understand, please help me get this.”  As Greg Garrett says, “Mary knows where babies come from, and she has not satisfied the requirements for having one.  So how is this going to happen?[3]

            You see, Mary – this young, naïve, country girl – may not have understood what God was doing (How Could She?) but she understood that she was to have a part in this new thing, and she readily accepted the call.  The Greek word that Luke uses for Mary’s reply, genoito (genoito), does indeed mean “let it be with me,” as the NRSV Bible translates it.  But interestingly, that word can also be translated as “let it be born.”  So Luke has used this interesting double entendre to tell us that Mary agreed without hesitation to let this thing happen as God willed it – and to let Jesus be born of her, even though she did not fully understand how it was to be.

            I talk to you with regularity about being called by God.  I truly believe that God is calling all of us, all the time.  We may not get a visit from the Angel Gabriel – or from the fiery Metatron – but the still small voice of God is always at work, calling us to go new places, do new things.  In other words, God is calling us to be a working part of the topsy-turvy Kingdom of God and its mission in the world God created.

            God called a teenage girl from just west of nowhere to become the mother of God Incarnate.  That was not the way God is supposed to act.  God was supposed to be … well … God; bigger and mightier than we can imagine and far removed from us.  God was not supposed to be born, out of wedlock, to a nobody from no place.  That is decidedly upside-down from the expectation of the ancient Jews.  And I would argue that we still do not really get how radical that is two millennia later.

            God is still doing this radical, transformative work here today.  God is still whispering to us, “Let go of your expectations.  Take me as I come.  Don’t try to tame me or make me be what you want me to be.  Let me be the God who loves you so much that I’m willing to enter into your world as one of you, and to show you the way to everlasting life.”

            Gabriel came to Mary on behalf of that God.  And he brought an unbelievable message to her: “You, Mary do not know how the God of all creation works.  But say yes, readily, thankfully and joyfully and I will show you things that you cannot imagine.”  Gabriel brings that same message today.  Just give in to God’s invitation.  Let God know that you too are willing to be God’s vessel in the world.  And then stand back and prepare to be amazed as God’s topsy-turvy mission in the world unfolds before your eyes.

Amen.

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