“Peoples is Peoples” and Syrian Refugees are Worth the Risk

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

Today is the end of the long season of green. Next week we enter into Advent as we anticipate the coming of Christ. But today, we are not green, we are white in celebration of Christ the King. Today we celebrate the reign of Christ—the King of kings and Lord of lords who reigns over all. We pray in our collect that “[all] the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.”

When you think of the people of the earth, what do they look like in your mind’s eye? Me? My loved ones easily come to mind. I daily pray for God’s protection of my family and friends—that he would guide, defend, and interact in their lives. I’m sure you do the same. It’s perfectly natural to pray for these people whom we love, and immediacy is always the easiest.

But this does not nearly cover all the peoples of the earth, so of course we extend out gaze to our covenant partners in prayer—the Diocese of Northern Malawi and La Gran Familia orphanage in Mexico. Now we are looking beyond our borders and asking God to look favorably on other members of the world. Awesome.

And we could go on, but how far do we regularly extend this prayer? The further we extend our prayers the foggier the image becomes. The people immediately in our lives are easiest because their faces and the issues of their lives are clearest in our mind. Those whom we link ourselves in prayer by covenant are less clear, but I regularly chat with Fr. Zowani on Facebook and I see pictures of him and his family, and I went on a mission trip to Mexico in high school and saw La Gran Familia in its infancy stages. So these images are not so distant, but still less clear than the images of you all—my Church family.

If we extend the circle much further and it becomes more difficult to pray with much gusto because the people do not have a clearly defined face when I imagine them. But sure, when things come up, we pray for the faceless person in need—that God will protect them and deliver them from the danger they face, and even we pray for their conversion as our collect alludes.

And if we were to extend the circle much further then we come to a dangerous places for us. We come to the people who scare us. We have essentially prayed our way around them, and stop at their door as if they have some sort of blood on their door posts that would prevent God’s blessing from coming upon them. Currently this group of people reside in the Middle East. “Turn the sand to glass” is a constant refrain.

The problem with this is these people, no matter how much they scare us and threaten our safety, are people for whom Christ died. In the words of the great philosopher Pete from The Muppets Take Manhattan: “Peoples is peoples.” These people have become a very real threat globally, and that is scary. And now people in some of those areas have chosen to flee the area and to take refuge in other countries—even our own. And this is scary. What if someone squeezes through the cracks and uses the good will of others to cause harm to those who would help them—namely us?

The problem is: “Peoples is peoples.” Each person has the same God-given dignity and is just as loved by God. Those who flee are trying to protect their families the same as we would should, God forbid, a similar thing happen on our soil. We are taking a very real risk opening our doors and providing shelter from the storm. But, there is risk in everything we do.

In driving, we risk the fact that other drivers will ignore the rules and put us in danger. Or we risk that someone will have a mechanical failure, potentially resulting in our injury, or even our death. But we need to go places so that is a risk we take.

One of my favorite guys to listen to Dr. Bill Creasy, regularly refers to Homer’s the Iliad in his teaching of the Bible. He does this to point out the difference between the Greek gods and men. The gods are immortal and as immortals they cannot be heroic. The ability to be heroic is to have the risk of death as a real possibility, yet still rush in anyway. The hero, Achilles, is given a choice, long life and anonymity or glory and death. He could not have both, so he knew that proceeding forward would require his death, yet on he went.

Creasy uses this to inform us of the heroism of Jesus’ death. Jesus knew that his path would require his death, yet he faced his death willingly. And in doing so defeated death. And today we celebrate the results of his heroic death that gave us life. This was foretold by Daniel, “And as I looked, the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned.” This is ultimately Jesus’ triumph over the ruler of this world, Satan.

But the text goes on, “As for the rest of the beats, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.” In the interim between Jesus’ victory over Satan and its ultimate realization at the end of time, there will be evil. Look at the world around us, this is a reality—evil still exists.

But there will come a day when Christ will step back into history, but this time he will not come as redeemer, he will come as judge. He will ultimately strike down evil with a final blow and once this is done we will all stand in judgment for our deeds and all the wrongs will be made right.

Until that time, there will be evil in the world. Bad people will seek to usurp good deeds for their purposes, but that should not prevent us from doing the good. We are called to be heroes for the faith and to pursue the Kingdom of God even at the expense of our own lives. Which means there will be risks in doing the will of God.

If we follow God’s will of protecting those who cannot protect themselves, then there is a chance that someone will take advantage and try to harm us. But this does not reduce our responsibility as Christians toward our fellow human beings. Each person is made in God’s image. It does not matter how much we like them, or where they come from, or the burden that they would cause. Each person is made in God’s image and is loved by God, so much so that he died for their sins. That is the problem with Christianity, Jesus died just as much for the people we like as the people we dislike.

War, even a just war, clouds our perspective because our warrior mentality takes over. It becomes us versus them, and it is very real because they are trying to kill us. But our desire to win a war does not release us from Christian responsibility—it merely makes it more difficult. Because now there is a face to the people but it is a face that is both feared and hated. But we are called beyond that face to see the person, loved by God—though that person may not even worship him or even acknowledge his existence—and we are called to minister to the sojourner.

I point this out today, not to go all political, or to tell us that we should not take some precautions, but remind us that Christian duty to humanity does not cease to exist in war, nor does it come without risk. Christianity is not easy. It requires something of us. And sometimes the thing that is required of us goes against what our brain tells us is right. But he does call us to be heroic in the face of death. But we do so not on our own, but with the knowledge of the fact that Christ is our King, and that he has ultimately defeated death, so if following him should result in our death, he has made it so that this will not be our end. We are called to further his kingdom so that “[all] the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule.” And we can do so, by showing Christian charity to all whom God loved enough to create.

“The waters of chaos and evil are all around the waters have lifted up, O LORD, the waters have lifted up their voice; * the waters have lifted up their pounding waves.

Mightier than the sound of many waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, * mightier is the LORD who dwells on high.

Your testimonies are very sure, *  and holiness adorns your house, O LORD, for ever and for evermore.”

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


Red Cups: The Abomination of Desolation or Maybe the Sign of a Deeper Truth

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

The end of the world is drawing nigh. Each day it comes closer and closer. And we in the Church celebrate it this day. We celebrate it because it means the coming of Christ, which is what we are preparing for in Advent. But before the coming of Christ, things are going to get bad. Something our lessons today highlight.

To get a little context, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem earlier in the week for Palm Sunday. Now the conflict with the Jewish hierarchy is at a fever pitch. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has just really laid into the Scribes and Pharisees with his series of Woe, and then he storms out of the Temple and heads up to the Mount of Olives. In an attempt to lighten the mood, the disciples try to get Jesus focused on the beauty of the sights around him. “Look at all the buildings Jesus, are they beautiful?”

“Beautiful?! These are deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s all going down!”

“Really? Tell us Jesus, when will this happen and what will the sign be when all this is going to take place?”

“Many bad things will happen. There will be wars and rumors of wars, and earthquakes and all sorts of things, but all this is but the beginning—it will get worse. And when it gets worse, you will think that will be the end, but it will get worse still. You will know when the end of the age when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it ought not to be, THEN watch out.”

Now that the scene has been set, we can dig in a bit. What Exactly is the Abomination of Desolation?

Here lately, there has been a lot of hoopla about a cup. Good Lord it has been all over the internet. Starbucks is supposed to be the worst company in the history of everything because they have officially taken Christmas out of Christmas by removing all their holiday pictures from their cup and simply having the Starbucks logo on a plain red cup. And let me tell you, I did a little digging, and I can assure you, that this cup is the abomination of desolation we read about today. It is all in the symbolism of the cup.

The plainness of the cup makes the woman on the cup stand out, and this reminds me of another scene we find in the end times. From John’s Revelation chapter 17: “And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names.” Now remember, Revelation is full of symbolic language so you have to do some interpretation here. And so we go on.

“The woman was adorned with gold and jewels.” Granted the logo is green and white, but that is just to disguise who she is. She has a crown on her head which would obviously be gold and the star is a jewel.

“And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints.” This is obviously a reference to the company and their unchristian stance of not keeping Christmas in their advertisement. It all seems to fit.

Or, it is just a cup. And Starbucks is just a company who is trying to be hip and trendy. But it is fun to play with it. I did some research to check on the claims of the Pastor in the backwards hat, Joshua Feuerstein that Starbucks is anti-Christian. Starbucks is outspoken on a good deal more issues that most corporate entities. But I couldn’t find the anti-Christian bias, so I chatted with a friend of mine, a favorite jousting partner in the various issue of the day. She lived in Seattle recently while she was getting her doctorate, and so I asked her for more insight.

Actually Starbucks is really just shrewdly capitalist. Even their stances they officially take are designed to appeal to the dominant culture to show that they are on the same side, oh and by the way, why don’t you show your support for your group by buying our coffee.

The problem is not that Starbucks is anti-Christmas, they are just a corporation who is hip and trendy with a minimalist approach to product design this year. The problem is that our society is so anti-Christmas that the corporate giant felt the best way to appeal to that was to remove all the offensive holiday material—even the snowflakes of last year. So it is not Starbucks’ fault but our society’s. Starbucks just calls ‘em like they see ‘em. Actual Christmas has gone so far away from the generic consumer Christmas that the two don’t even resemble each other other than the fact that the days in which they are observed overlap by two days—Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

So this cup may not be the abomination of desolation I claimed earlier, but it is a sign along the path. There is a lot that leads up to the abomination of desolation that Mark chapter 13 lays out. What Jesus is describing is the devolvement of the world back into the original state of chaos before God said “Let there be light.”

The human community will utterly break down. With wars and rumors of wars, and if Friday’s attack on Paris and the other less famous attacks by ISIS are not evidence of this the I don’t know what is. But this is not the end, this is the beginning of the end. The family unit breaks down, torn apart from within. This happens more and more every day, and the problem is that we are doing it ourselves. The faithful are increasingly persecuted, not quite to the point where brother is delivering brother over to death and the father his child, and children rise against parents and have them put to death—thankfully not yet, but one day.

And finally, the abomination of desolation—the thing that finally desecrates God’s Temple—removing God’s presence from the earth. This is the last straw—it is into this situation that Jesus re-enters the world. Jesus tells us that this stage will not be something that you want to see. This will be literally the godless state of affairs such that if Jesus did not come back all of humanity would be lost—no one would choose to be saved because they will have embraced God’s absence and will have lost all hope. This is when the King of Kings says again, “Let there be light” as he enters the world so deliver it from the darkness that has engulfed it.

So what can we do? Be aware of the situation and encounter the darkness with the light of Christ. As we prepare to enter Advent we make the world that is on a collision course with ultimate destruction brighter with the light of Christ in our lives. This is more than trying to trick a corporate giant into writing Christmas on a silly red cup. This is more than making sure to decorate our homes with festiveness and being nice to people because its Christmas time. This is encountering the culture with the Christian message that Christ came into the world to save sinners—each sinner—every sinner. And then living a life of constant repentance—constantly being aware of our own sins and doing everything we can to combat the sin in our own lives. This is the way to keep Christ in Christmas. This is the way to lighten the darkness that all may be saved through Jesus Christ. This is what restores the hope that is taken away, and gives people a reason to live—the whole reason Christ came into the world in the first place.

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

The Widow’s Mite…Might…The Widow’s Mite’s Might

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

God can do great things with a wiling heart.

Look at the scribes Jesus discusses in the Gospel today. They love themselves. They love being important and allowing others to know how important they are, even at the expense of others. They wear the long robes so that others will see how important they are. They love to be recognized in public places as important. They love the sound of their own voice and so they speak at length. Their concern is solely about them and their own importance, even to the point that they are willing to take from the poorest of the poor to build themselves up. Their heart is hardened toward God to the point where God was literally right in front of their faces and they could not recognize him.

And Jesus contrasts them with a woman who has no importance, who has had her house devoured apparently by the scribes, who has nothing really but her trust in God. She places her offering in the temple treasury, which adds up to basically nothing in the sight of these same scribes. She gave, not because it could advance her status, but because out of devotion to her God. This Jesus sets up as the example which should be followed.

But what happened to that money once it hit the bottom of the box in which she dropped it? Our OT lesson shows us.

Elijah was fleeing from the wrath of the evil king Ahab and his even worse wife Jezebel. It is said of Ahab in the Bible that he did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all who came before him. That is pretty bad. And his wife was even worse. Elijah the prophet prophesied that there would be a drought in the land and then had to flee. If you really want to upset the worst king in the history of the bible and his even worse wife—devastate their realm and see if you still remain on the royal Christmas card list.

So Elijah fled into the wilderness and was fed by ravens and drank from the brook. This seemed to be a decent existence, until his source of water ran dry. Now he had nothing to drink and since there was no water, the ravens had no reason to go there. So God tells Elijah to go to Zarephath and to be fed by a widow. When he gets there, the widow and her son are on their last handful of food, which they are about to consume and then wait on starvation to take them. They must have lived in a pretty remote area, they apparently didn’t even have neighbors that they could go to and borrow a cup of sugar.

Yet it is to this woman that God sends Elijah to be fed. And so God does through Elijah the only thing possible for all of them to eat, he multiplies their flour jar so that it will not run out until the rains return. Because the woman and her son were willing to give of the little they had, God multiplied it immensely.

Back to the widow’s mite.

As soon as those two coins landed, they were able to bless the rest of the money given because they were given not of abundance but of poverty. She gave what she had out of love for God with no regard to self. She put in everything she had—just like the Widow of Zarephath.

So what does the giving of these two poor widows have to teach us? Are we called to give everything we have to God so that we too can witness a miracle? Yes and no.

Yes, we are called to give everything but no that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are expecting a check for your entire life savings.

Since this is the time of year that the emphasis shifts to stewardship, as we draw closer to the end of the year we need to start thinking about a budget for next year, and as we draw closer to the end of the Church year with the celebration of Christ the King and the beginning of the new year with Advent and the emphasis on the promised coming of Christ, we shift our focus to the gives that God has given us and the expectation that we will use them in the interim between Jesus’ Ascension and his Second Coming.

I looked at a few bullet points for stewardship and one really stood out, and the one that really jumped out at me was: “Parishioners, who work in concrete ways to make their parishes true communities of faith and vibrant sources of service to the larger community;” meaning the church cannot be the church in the world without your participation. The Church is what you make it.

St. Paul tells us: “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” We are the Body of Christ here and so in a very real sense, this Church is what we make it. The Lord can do miracles with his body. Just look at all the wonderful things that are written in Scripture about the things Jesus did in his life. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, he fed the hungry—all the things that we regularly rehearse over the Church year, Jesus did those things with his body.

The reason that he was able to do all those great things with that body was not only because he was God, but because he was entirely committed. This commitment level was the same that was display by the two widows in our lessons. They committed all that they had to God, not out of the need to be acknowledged as the scribes were famous for, but out of devote to God and trust in him.

And so Beloved, they say if you really want to know what a person values most, look at their bank account and see where they spend the largest proportion of their disposable income, and that even if the person does not admit it, is what they value most. With that being said, you had the ability to look at your actions during the week similar to a bank statement, where would our Church rank on the things that you value most? How does that help St. Paul’s be the true community of faith and vibrant source of service to the larger community? This stewardship season, I am calling on all of us to up our willingness to serve God, because the more we up that willingness the more St. Paul’s truly can be that which God calls us to be. And the more we are willing, the more God can work miracles through us, just look to the widows for proof.

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

All Saints’ Day: More Than Just The First Day to Put Out Christmas Lights

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

Today is All Saints ’ Day a major feast of the Church in the midst of a triduum—fancy word for the observance of a feast that properly takes three days—of Halloween, All Saints’, and All Souls’. All Saints’ Day celebrates the all the saints official who have made it into heaven. All Souls’ Day is the day in which we celebrate all the faithful departed. So how does one determine the difference?

Recently my grandmother died and at the beginning of October I went with my mom and sister to California to attend her funeral. Now my grandmother—Nana—was a lovely person and I heard wonderful stories about Nana during my time there. In fact, by the end of the evening that day, one could surely have proclaimed her St. Nana. But that is what eulogies do, they do exactly what their name suggests: eu: Greek for good, logos: Greek for word or speech—a series of wonderful examples of the deceased that give us a final wonderful memory of that person’s life. But alas, a eulogy does not a saint make.

Saints, officially are those whom we know are in the presence of Christ as we wait for the end of this world and the beginning of the New Heaven and New Earth and eternal existence with God forever. How do we know who is and who is not a Saint (capital S)? Well for the makers of our Saints’ Day Kalendar, it seems that eulogies are enough. And actually, until 1234, this pretty much was the process—a general acceptance of the people that this person was a holy person in their life and that the deceased is a person whose life is worthy to be emulated. And local devotion would result, normally in churches begin named after the person or shrines, and the locals would remember the day every year. Eventually as the Church expanded, these local practices were adopted by those around them and the person would make the calendar of the diocese and eventually with enough popular devotion, the person would make the big list and be remembered Church-wide. This seems to be the process that still is in use for the makers of our Kalendar—that and a vote at General Convention to make it official.

In 1234 a more in-depth process was formed that required a few more things of the deceased in order to determine if this person is indeed a Saint and should be remembered on November 1st and the day of their death (their official entrance into new life), or if the person is remembered on November 2nd—All Souls’ Day (more on this day in a bit). That process entails a more detailed look at the person’s life and any writings the person may have produced to show that the person did indeed live a life that is worthy of emulation. And the thing that most people associate with the canonization process in the Roman Catholic Church—miracles. But why miracles?

When we die we are immediately judged with what is called the particular judgment. This is based on your life and your decisions and finalizes your name in the Book of Life found in Revelation 20, the book that will be opened at the general judgment when the final roles are called for heaven (those whose name is written in the book of life) and those whose ultimate destination is hell. Those whose name is not written in the Book of Life at their particular judgment can never attain heaven. But there is a further division that the requirement of miracles brings out.

When we die, our souls are made ready for our eternal destination. Something happens during this time that changes our soul so that we can no longer sin. But God cannot simply make us no longer want to do evil things, so something has to change in us that makes this happen. This process as we progress toward eternity with God somehow purges these desires away with the burning love of God. During this time of purging, we are confronted with every time we sinned not to rub our face in it because the guilt for that has been taken away through the saving deeds of Christ, but as we progress toward ultimate goodness we can then see what our failings caused and we feel the weight of that. This is a time in which we can only receive prayers, prayers for the increased process of our change into someone who can be happy with being in heaven forever.

What do I mean by someone who can be happy in heaven? Heaven cannot be forced on you, nor can hell for that matter. Heaven is the result of our willingness to accept salvation, and hell is the result of our willingness to embrace the results of our refusal to accept salvation. God wants all people to be with him forever, if not why make you in the first place? But he cannot make you want to be with him—that requires our willingness to do so. So if we are willing, he sent his Son to take the punishment for the times in which we fail but still wish to be with him. There will be those, sadly, who choose to reject him—their destination is hell, because it would be hell for them to be in his presence, so out of love for them, God created a place for them to be apart from him—we call it hell.

But for the rest of us who choose to be with him in heaven, we have to be made to be happy in his presence forever. We would like to think that all good people who die are immediately in heaven and love their presence there. But if they are not made ready for this, they would be miserable because they could never choose to do evil again. This sounds wonderful, but in this world, we make fun of those people—“Come on, live a little” we tell them. Imagine never even being able to break the speed limit again or sleep in on Sundays or gorge on Thanksgiving. These are things that never cross the minds of the saints—because they have been made ready for heaven. So during this time of preparing and learning, one can only receive prayers because that person is busy with the things of eternity.

But eventually this process ends and the soul is made ready for heaven, but the time is not yet for that person to receive their new body and enter into the new Heaven and new Earth, because this world has not yet ended. So the person who is finished with their purging and now is in the immediate presence of God can help others and influence the world around them to help them and lead them toward their destination—we sees this help as a miracle here on earth.

A miracle is the evidence of intimacy with God. This is why Jesus made the best miracles, because of his unique intimacy with God. Saints in the immediate presence of God perform miracles and this reflects the intimacy they have with God as well. This is why the presence of miracles is important in the canonization process for Catholics, because this signifies that they are no longer in the purgation process and no longer need to be prayer for because they are already made ready for heaven as evidenced by their ability to perform miracles. So these are the people whom we recognize today—those who are in the immediate presence of God and whose souls are ready to enter when this world ends.

Tomorrow we remember those who have died and still need our prayers as they are made ready to enter the immediate presence of God. We remember and love these people but we do not canonize them in the official list because we do not know where they are in the process. Some of us are really hard-headed and it will take until the very last day for us to be made ready—chances are good that this will be me. If you wonder where your loved one is in this process, ask them for a miracle. If nothing happens, keep praying for them, that God will make them ready for the glory of heaven and to be in his presence forever.

So today Beloved, we celebrate those who have come into the immediate presence of God and whose souls are made ready for eternal life with God. They provide hope for us that God makes good on his promises to us. And tomorrow we pray for those who still need more time, with the knowledge that they will be praying for us when our time comes to be purified as well.

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