Mel Brooks and the Still Small Voice of God

Here is the text of my sermon today.

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

My buddy Fr. Jenkins who is coming next I like Mel Brooks films.  We are constantly texting lines from his movies back and forth—it will seriously go on for 30 minutes straight as we each try to bust the other up.  And when we are in person, it is fun trying to work the quotes into the conversation.  This stems back from when we were in high school and he would drive me back to my house after school and we would watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights over and over again.

Over the years we reflect back on that time and randomly text each other quotes.   We do this so often that we don’t need to specify which Mel Brooks movie the quote comes from, we just throw one out and then riff on that movie for a while until the next one comes up and so on.

But if one doesn’t know these movies then it would look as if we were simply quoting random and often somewhat vulgar non-sequiturs to each other and laughing.  (In fact I was trying to think of a line or two that I could use today, and there are very few that I could use.  Funny movies though.)  If you don’t know the movies then you can’t play our game, because it’s all in shorthand and we don’t pause to fill in the context.  It is all about our knowledge of the movies and how fast we can think of the quotes.

It seems that in the Gospel of John, John the Baptist has a similar relationship with some of his disciples.  John gives a couple clues, but if we didn’t already know, we couldn’t easily tell that John baptized Jesus or his relationship to him.  We just randomly see John spouting off about the Lamb of God when he spies Jesus off in the distance.  If you notice though, the first time this happens, no one really takes this message to heart.  No one had truly taken John’s message to heart—he had no one with whom to riff—to be able to understand what he was actually saying about Jesus.

The next day, however, Andrew and his buddy were with John the Baptist.  They must have been his top students, because rather than having to explain himself, John merely says to them, “Behold the Lamb of God!” and they know the significance of what he was saying.  They didn’t need the context because they were steeped in the background.  They were up to speed, and knew that John was pointing the way to Jesus who was to come and take away the sins of the world.  So they don’t even say bye to their mentor John as they change allegiance and follow Jesus.  But that is exactly what John wanted for them, to see the Lamb of God and follow him.

Lucky for them, they get to hang out with Jesus all night.  He doesn’t have all the crowds around him at this point since he just started out, so he could really get some work done with these two.  In fact, Andrew is so impressed with Jesus that he tells his brother: “We have found the Messiah.”

God sends little shorthand messages to us as well.  But we have to know the shorthand first in order to recognize it as a message from God.  If not the message blends in with the normal cacophony of life and we miss it.  In order to learn the shorthand we have to immerse ourselves in him and his ways.  Only then can we become accustomed to the way in which he speaks to us and learn that actually God has plenty of work for us to do.

The messages come in feelings and still small voices.  “Him.  Go.”  Or maybe it is just a feeling that this person needs special attention.  But just like with Fr. Jenkins and I, if you don’t know, you can’t play.  And if you can’t play, you are left out.  Look at the rest of John the Baptist’s disciples, it only mentions these two hearing and following, the rest, I’m sure we wondering what in the world Andrew and other guy were doing—but John knew.

The same is true in this game with us and God.  If you are not listening then you can’t participate.  I know lots of people who feel like God doesn’t speak to them anymore and they feel left out, when, in reality, they began at some point to go through the motions, and what you give is what you get.  If these people want to participate, they have to reengage—to rekindle the fire that was in them when they felt God speaking to them.  Excitement comes through playing the game.

This is true here at St. Paul’s as well.  There is plenty of excitement here—in fact, I am super fired up about what God has in store for us this year.  And if we want to play in the game that God has set up for us, we have to play by immersion.  It is only through immersion that we can hear that shorthand that comes with the game.  Once we become attuned to the call, the game is on and the game is infectious and all-consuming.  Playing the game is the fire that turns waking up on Sunday mornings (not normally a desirous task), into waking up to play a game and that is fun.

In order to play the game, the work first needs to be done.  We need to read, learn mark and inwardly digest the ways of God.  We need to ask question, and really interact with the text and teachings.  This is how we fine-tune our ear to hear the calls.  Now that we can hear the calls and know the rules it is time to go play.  The way to play is to clue others into the game as well.

It’s like a game I used to play in grade school called “Infection.”  One person starts out being “it,” and then they tag someone, but instead of the title of “it” transferring to the person tagged, now both people are “it.”  The object of the game is to tag everyone.  We are playing the same game.  If we clue someone into the game, then the flame glows twice as brightly and now it’s more fun.  The game gets exponentially more fun as more and more people are added.

And so Beloved, game on.  As we go through our Annual Parish Meeting, think of it in this manner—as a game.  All we have to do as individuals is add our light to the fire that we may increase the excitement and infect more people.

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen. 


New wine requires new wineskins

Here is the text from my sermon today 1-12-14.

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.

Sometimes when I am reading a book that I think is really worthwhile for the cause, I am tempted to begin my sermons: “From the reading files of Fr. Stubbs.”  It’s interesting/amazing how much sermon material I gather from reading books that I pick up on a whim.

In trying to get into the brains of present generation, there was advice in the book I have been reading***: ask the tough questions in sermons and seek to answer them rather than looking for the platitude to put the congregation at ease.  So I sat down with the text, pen in hand and allowed my mind to begin to ponder.  I began with a single question and was surprised when I looked down at the question and the direction it led me.

Tat question was: “Are we relying too much on past successes”?  An interesting question concerning the Baptism of Jesus indeed, but let us see where it goes.  There were times in the history of St. Paul’s when these pews were filled with people, and life was good.  Looking back on the pictures that I recently found of the building, even though the interior of our building was an eyesore, in order to see said eyesore, one had to look around all the people.  It may not have been the prettiest ship in the fleet, but one thing was certain, it was getting the job done.  And we have looked to those years as inspiration and a goal to which we would like to return and seeking to repeat them.  But are we going about it the wrong way?

Are we trying to put new wine in old wineskins?  Are we trying to re-create past successes by doing the exact same thing and hoping that it works?  Jesus tells us: new wine requires new wineskins.  But we may say, “Look at the wine that the previous wineskins produced.”  Alas, all that would happen were we to put that new wine in these old skins would be to burst the skins and lose the wine.  We can, however, use the knowledge that we gained in the past successes to be able to adapt to the new circumstances of the present.

Look at the Baptism of Jesus.  At the time of Jesus and his ministry, there was a cult around John the Baptist that thought he was the coming Messiah—that he was the promised final revelation from God.   He was what they recognized from the past as the way in which God spoke to them.  He was a prophet, and they came from far and wide to hear what he had to say, confess their sins and be baptized by him.   This was over against the later followers of Jesus who claimed that he was the promised Messiah.

So when Jesus submitted himself to John to be baptized by him, this was seen by the Baptist camp as a win.  But in our Gospel today, Matthew shows that Jesus was not merely submitting to John the Baptist and acknowledging him as the superior messiah, rather Jesus was changing the game entirely.

Jesus is saying yes indeed, John the Baptist is the final revelation from God…in the Old Testament.  Jesus says elsewhere of him: “Of those born of woman, there is none greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”  A new era is beginning, but first the old has to be finished.  The baptism of Jesus was always in the plan of God, as evidenced by the quote from Isaiah (in fact from our OT lesson today):  “I have called you in all righteousness.”  Jesus quotes it briefly here, but as we read earlier, it talks about the new covenant coming to the people, that was to be a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon who sit in darkness.

Jesus, the sinless one, needed no cleansing from sin, rather he used that baptism as to foreshadow the baptism to come.  For us that water is no longer a washing that represented confession of sins and the turning over f a new leaf—now it is the death of that person and their birth into the new life of the kingdom of God.  The previous success was John’s revelation to the people that Baptism was a new start.  The present situation that came with Jesus was that this Baptism was not a new start on an old life but a new start on a brand new life filled with the renewed bestowal of the Holy Spirit.  Old wisdom applied to a new situation.

Evangelism is like an ever-evolving puzzle—once the answer is found, it changes with the next generation and cannot be used in the same way again.  This could be very disheartening because we never get to the end.  But this is also the great challenge that can spring us on to greater accomplishments.

One of my least favorite things about getting involved in a book series is reaching the end.  There is a funk associated with a really good series of books when the final page is turned and there is nothing left but the acknowledgments.  Now it is time to go back to reality.  Sure, you can read it again, but there is no more mystery associated with it, you know how it ends—now begins the unsavory task of finding a new series and beginning from scratch.

For the really good series, I always hope that the author will get a spark that will cause the world to open again and let me back in.  This is the reason that I secretly wish J.K. Rowling will fail in all her post-Harry Potter endeavors, so she will be forced to sit down and think, “Hmm, I wonder what Harry has been up to?”

But this is where evangelism in real life is different than literary fiction—the world never ends.  In fact, once we think we have it all figured out, we take a look around to see that the game has been changed and we need to figure it out again.  Once we get to the final page of the series, we learn that new books have already been written on a new adventure ready to be engaged.

The problem is that since these new books have already been published we are behind if we try to jump in without any previous back story.  It won’t make sense and it will seem as if this series does not fit, but we need to go back and become acquainted with the characters before we care about how they fit into our beloved world.

Some of the characteristics of this new generation (my generation and the one following me) are: they want to be caught up in the mystical-ness of religion.  That is why we so often hear the phrase: “I’m spiritual but not religious.”  Spiritual is otherness—religion is too tangible—too rigid.  They want depth.  They want all the information (ala the internet) even though it is probably too much for them to easily process.  They like to struggle with it and don’t want easy answers.

They want authenticity and commitment from adherents.  If we don’t buy it, then why should they?  They want to engage the tough subjects.  They don’t want to hear, especially in church, “well that’s just not something we talk about.”  They like it messy.  I think of my mother when I hear this.  Her rules when engaging new people: No discussing religion or politics—and she will jump topics at the slightest opportunity if she accidentally finds herself engaged in such conversations.  This generation wants no part of that—sorry Mom.

In the end, Beloved, the new generation wants exactly what we have to offer.  Here at St. Paul’s we are perfectly set up to deliver that which they are longing for but have a hard time trusting (remember last week).  There is no greater way to tap into the mystical-ness of God than celebrating the mysteries of the Mass.  We already have the depth that they seek in the faith because it engages all aspects of life and we can easily invite them in to struggle to keep that faith together.

The last two require a little bit from us.  They require a commitment to practice what we preach and believe what we claim.  They also require of us a willingness to talk to them about that faith.

We can do all this, it just takes work—a lot of work—and an openness to the way in which the Spirit will move through us to reach them.  We then use the knowledge we have obtained from our successful past and see how we can apply to the new age to come up with our new vintage.

In the name of the F, S, and HS.  Amen.


*** The book in reference is Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them, by Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, Jason Hayes


God Bless




Trying out a new venue

This is my first venture into blogging, but it is probably time to get with the times I guess.

The purpose of this blog is to allow people to engage any questions that arise during time between Sunday services.  Do you want to interact with something that was said in the sermon?  Here is your venue.  Did something come up during the week that you would like to talk about?  Here you go.  We all have busy schedules and are spaced out a bit farther than is comfortable for the needed community that will allow our church to grow, so I am following a parishioner’s advice and coming up with a venue for a sort of Monday Morning Quarterback for Church.  Let’s see how this can enhance our experience at St. Paul’s Gainesville.