Dear Members and Friends of Saint James Church Lake Delaware,

Greetings and best wishes to you all for a happy and healthy 2015 and an increase of the fruits of faith in your lives and hearts. The church year, which began on the 1st of Advent, has already borne us through another Christmas season and conveys us towards Lent. A brief early thaw a week or so ago has given us a remembrance of the spring to come, which now sleeps beneath the frozen earth. In the prayerful darkness of this season, when even the trees turn inward and drop to their roots and all the world sits in silence, we should be reminded that God calls us out of the frenetic drum of worldly life into an intimate and inward communion with him.

The ultimate Reality at the heart of all existence is a Spirit of peace, harmony and infinite love; it is in the image and likeness of this Reality that you have been fashioned, as we are reminded in Genesis 1. Looking at human affairs in the world around us, however, it can be difficult to discern peace, harmony and love. Infants and children are being brutally slaughtered in the Middle East; a $3 billion per year child pornography industry booms globally with 50% of this revenue being generated right here at home in the United States; at the current rate of species extinction it is predicted that by 2100 over half of all presently existing species of life on this planet will be gone forever, and all of this great loss of life is related to human activity, overconsumption and exploitation. With such decidedly bad news pummeling about we might wonder if God can exist at all, or if the Christian faith has any bearing on our contemporary situation. Certainly much of the Christian faith has become conventional and unreal, largely because its language has been tossed about but its story has not been particularly lived or practiced in a deep, life-changing way. We’ve dressed up worldliness with Christian clothes, but the clothes don’t transform the wolves who wear them; we’ve confused salvation with a passing life of passing pleasures. As our culture strips itself of Christian adornments, however, Christians are left with an opportunity to truly stand apart and witness to the verity of the faith, but to do so will demand a concerted effort and real sacrifice. Living the Christian truth, walking the Christian walk, practicing the Christian faith as handed down to us in the fullness of the Anglican tradition, these indeed have the power to transform a life, and so to transform life itself. But we must first cease from using Christianity as a means of feel-good, quick-fix therapy as if God were our servant and not we his; we must truly desire that he transform us. This means that we must deal with the problem of evil, and we must show up and avail ourselves to God even when doing so doesn’t feel particularly “fun.”

If we do not first deeply wrestle with the problem of evil and suffering, which is the problem of sin, then our spirituality becomes stifled. We must face the hard fact of sin – in the world around us but, most importantly for our own spiritual growth, chiefly and primarily in ourselves – before we can come to that Reality which I have proclaimed to you, the Reality of God’s peace and love. It is no coincidence that the forerunner to Christ is the Baptist’s cry to “repent,” which literally means to turn around, to be transformed. A moment of clear self-assessment and unsentimental honesty might give us a clue as to why such a transformation is necessary; and one small taste of God’s light and love in the depths of our prayer will remind us of what we have forsaken in our constant efforts to exist apart from him. Much of our effort in life seems to be an attempt to quell the reality of our absolute dependence on God and his creation for our very existence. We pass through life futilely pretending that we somehow exist by the merits of our own exertions. But who among you has chosen birth? Who among you chooses the surety of death? Existence, this very life, is something we receive and not something we create, and so it is something that we must give back. Why not pause to wonder at this miracle, and take some time to give thanks? The greatest tragedy of this program of denial is that by denying that our lives and existence have a source we are by necessity denying the source itself, and the water runs clearest at its source. We’ve lost touch with the infinite ground of life who is God, and so we have lost touch with love, with peace, with harmony. We have entered instead an existence that is compromised and confused; God’s infinite life in us has become obscured and locked under a spiritual winter of the soul.

Just as the early thaw gives remembrance of spring, so does prayer give us a remembrance of the life that is to come – should you accept it; should you seek it; should you treasure it above all else. As spring lies in wait beneath the frozen soil; as it lingers in the depths of the ice-bound mountain lake; as it bubbles beneath the petrified brook, so does the spring of redemption wait within you. Christ has won it for you; and the Spirit has implanted his resurrected life in your soul; and he will be quickened by your spiritual engagement of the Christian life and will move across these frozen waters like an Easter breeze. And the waters will run again. And you will taste that fullness of life for which you were made, to which you are called, and into which you now move so steadfastly. Your suffering will be turned to compassion; your anger to justice; your apathy to service; your confusion to peace, and it will be you who proclaims to an anguished world that Reality in which it even now exists and which it has so tragically forgotten. In the face of all of the jeers and snickers and cynical jibes of this fallen world you will proclaim this love, pointing that same fallen world to the Truth and Beauty towards which it even now reaches in its own heavy-eyed way. It is for the sake of this Reality that we gather as the Church; that we live the Christian faith; that we return, again and again, to the reception of that one Blessed Life which has been broken for us, and offered for us, and is offered to us week after week that we might commune with him and live in him.

My gratitude goes out to you for your support in 2014. My hope is that you might continue to hold the ministries of Saint James dear in the year to come that my deepest prayer for this wonderful place would come true: that Saint James might become the hub of a vibrant, gospel-centered community rooted in God’s life and love; that it might be a place of spiritual refuge and deep Christian practice; a crucible within which lives are nourished, healed, and transfigured into that blessed form of true humanity and true Godhood which has been revealed to us in Christ Jesus. Will you make time for this in 2015 and show up to do the most important work we will ever do: to remember, and to enter into, that Blessed Life which gives us our lives?

With Best Wishes and Prayers,

Fr. James Krueger+

Christ the King

A Sermon Delivered by Fr. James Krueger

Feast Day of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

October 26, 2014

Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my kingdom not from hence.

Saint John 18:36

 

Last week I spoke about Christ’s kingship, juxtaposing it with the kingship of David. I pointed out the many significant flaws in David’s reign as king, that his kingship was decidedly a kingship of this world. Though certainly chosen of God from among the poor to be a shepherd of his people, David yet abused the power he was given in order to curry favor not for God but for himself. He employed all of the all too familiar maneuverings and manipulations that worldly leaders employ in order to accomplish this agenda: murder, seduction, deceit, war, oppression. David’s mistake was to take what belonged to God – which was both his power and his people – and to treat them as if they were his own possessions. Any real power comes of God, and anything that we might be given charge over – be it a nation or a town, an organization or a household – is not our own possession but belongs to God alone. At the end of our lives we will have to offer all of it back to him, and it will either bear witness against us or it will speak of our generosity, of our care, our service and our love. We’ll have to give it all up one day in any case, so why not make your whole life, everything you encounter, your continual offering to God? Isn’t this why we do what we’re doing today? Our singing, the colorful vestments, the prayers we pray, the concerns we carry in our hearts; the vessels, the incense, our presence in body and mind, the money offering and the bread and the wine which are symbols of life itself: do we not offer all of this to God from whom they come and in whom they are saved? Yes, all of these things are saved when we offer them to God. They are saved because they are turned towards their greatest good and God given end, which is to be an offering and not a possession. “For by him all things were created,” proclaims Paul in our Epistle, “whether in heaven or in earth, visible or invisible, thrones, dominions, principalities and powers: all things were created by him and for him. . . . and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself.” (Col 1:16-20). Salvation is not an individualistic affair: it involves the whole creation. God in Christ works to reconcile all things to himself. This is the basis of the Christian liturgical and sacramental life.

Royalty, too, must be an offering. All of us are created to be royal. In Genesis 1 God, the true King, brings order out of chaos, creating a cosmos in which life might flourish. There he places the human being, you and I, and blesses us and instructs us to do exactly what he has done: to have dominion, to rule, to govern. Like God, then, and in harmony with God, the human being is to work towards maintaining order in creation not for his own ends, and not even just for human ends, but so that life as a whole might flourish; all of God’s creation. According to the biblical worldview, then, we are all royal; we have the dignity, and the obligation, of rulers. But we have turned this power away from God towards ourselves. We’ve made ourselves, our own appetites and desires, our own gains, our own persons, our own glory, the central end of our activities and so we bend our power towards manipulation and possession, we expect rewards and our giving is not free. Now, a king in the biblical sense is to become himself an offering. The greater power one has the less of an individual one must become, for the true leader is the one who lives for the good of all. The biblical king never possesses power of his own authority, but is always a vassal king. It is not his own realm which he serves but God’s, for the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof (Ps 24:1). The king is to lead the people in this service, and so must himself become the servant of all. As you will recall from my sermon last week, this was not the case with the kings of Israel. Going the way of the great mass of fallen humanity the kings of Israel used their power and position ultimately to serve neither God nor the people, but their own agendas and drives for personal glory and profit. And so they were swallowed up in the great ebb and swell of the tide of worldly empire, becoming themselves vassals to the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans. And where are all of these great empires now? They have vanished like a passing cloud, which is the point of our Old Testament reading from Daniel: the beasts represent the empires of this world and, despite great arrogance and bullishness, one by one they fall as they always will.

In our Gospel reading today Christ, the true servant and so the true King, meets with the Roman king through the person of Pilate. The worldly king and the King not of this world: face to face, nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball. Pilate is clearly confused; he has no idea what to make of Jesus, just as we, if we are really honest and if we really follow it through, have no idea of what to make of Jesus. What do we make of a King who refuses to fight? Of a King that goes willingly to a cross? Of a King who gives himself for all and offers forgiveness for all even as he is being brutally killed? What kind of king is this, anyway? Imagine if we elected a President and he behaved like this? Imagine if we didn’t retaliate after 9/11 but responded with some act of love for our enemy? Oh we could be sure to tell the world that such an act is inappropriate and that we will not stand for it, but the best way to do this is to not enter the melee, just as Christ refused to enter the melee and thus proving that he will not stand for such behavior. Christ is no doormat, and neither need we be. Nonetheless, we would have such a President impeached and hung as soon as we could, and we should reflect deeply on this today as we celebrate and hail as our true King someone who did exactly this; who not only forgave his own nation as they betrayed and murdered him, but forgave the enemies of his own nation and gave his life even for them. It’s a little shocking if we put it in these terms. But this is indeed our true King, and it is by his standard that we will finally be measured and not by the standards of this world and all of its oh-so-practical concerns. So let us love, and let us forgive, even when it makes no sense to do so.

Today we are celebrating the Feast of Christ the King. Compared to many of the feasts of the church this one is a new-comer. It was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. With the rise of numerous dictatorships in Europe during that time, Pius felt that many people were losing trust in Christ’s authority and were rather putting their trust, dangerously as history tells us time and again, in worldly power. The problem has worsened in our time with the rise of individualism, which tends to make little dictators out of all of us. As I alluded to in last week’s sermon, we tend to balk at the idea of kingship – we threw off the monarchy in the Revolution, and to us the very definition of monarchy is a repressive system of government. The irony is that this is the basic point of the whole biblical narrative and exactly the basis of Christ’s kingship: his is a kingship of love and service, and so his is the only true kingship, the only true leadership. Jesus knew the oppressive nature of secular kings; his whole life and ministry was to show that the true leader is the one who serves. Jesus rules from the cross, not from a throne bedecked with jewels, and this cross is a revelation of God’s consummate and universal power which nothing can ultimately defeat. The worldly authorities mocked and nailed him to the tree, but even then their hypocrisy and powerlessness was exposed; even then they were judged while love, true love, reigned supreme. Let us, then, make an offering unto our King, and go into his courts with praise and thanksgiving.

Whose Son is He?

A Sermon Delivered by Fr. James Krueger

The 18th Sunday After Trinity Sunday

October 19, 2014

 

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”

Saint Matthew 22:41-42

 

“What do you think of the Christ, the Messiah?” It’s a question that might seem, for us, pretty irrelevant. What is a messiah, anyway, and what need do we have of one? After all, we abolished kings back in the Revolution; we vote for our rulers, put up with them for four years, and then vote again. First the Republicans, then the Democrats, and the difference between the two seems small indeed. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to not expect too much, a little good accomplished perhaps but mostly the on-going moral and ethical confusion of the agendas of both the left and the right, their endless bickering, corruption, big money and big business and business as usual. Whether you’re living in Palestine in the beginnings of the first century AD or in America at the turn of the second millennium justice and peace seem far from us; the need for a true leader, a true servant of integrity and love, seems as burning as ever; the desire for redemption and renewal still overwhelms us, and still we look for it in all the wrong places, in the things that will ultimately and always disappoint us. “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?” Perhaps this question is not so irrelevant after all, and the answer as important as it was two thousand years ago.

This passage in Matthew’s gospel occurs in a larger context: Jesus has just entered Jerusalem having been hailed by many as her true king, the long awaited Messiah through whom God’s justice and salvation will come. He went straight to the Temple and caused a huge ruckus by casting out the money-changers and vendors, angry that a place of worship and prayer should become a place of commerce and profit. The authorities aren’t happy. They send delegation after delegation to Jesus to ply him with questions trying to find something against him, trying to catch him up so that they might justify what they plan to do anyhow, which is to get rid of him. Answer after answer Jesus astounds them; they cannot help but to recognize that they have a true teacher on their hands, not just some quack or charlatan or rebel without a cause. Finally Jesus asks them a question in return, “What do you think of the Christ, the Messiah? Whose son is he?” Their answer says it all, “The son of David.”

David came to power after Saul, who was the the first king of Israel. The Old Testament books of First and Second Samuel describe the transformation of the people of Israel into the nation of Israel. 1 Samuel 8 recounts:

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. . . . 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel . . . And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds which they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, hearken to their voice; only, you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No! but we will have a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. 22 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Hearken to their voice, and make them a king.” (1 Sam 8:1-22)

David was from the tribe of Judah; it was under his rule that Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem, came to ascendency. As a boy David worked as a shepherd, and so dwelt among the poor and was beloved by God. But when he became king he abused his power time and time again. Behaving as if other people were his own property, he had his general killed in battle in order to possess his general’s wife, Bathsheba, and from this relationship will come his successor Solomon. He exploits the hospitality of the Philistines when he needed refuge only to stab them in the back later on, using the divine prerogative of Holy War for his own personal gain (1 Sam 27:9-11). He stormed Jerusalem and waged war on the other tribes of Israel who shared it (Josh 15:63; Jud 1:21; 2 Sam 6:6-12) trespassing the brotherly covenant among the descendants of Jacob. He declared the city to be, not Zion, the city of God, but “the city of David” — his own personal possession (2 Sam 5:7-9). By so doing he ensured that the law of the jubilee year, during which time all slaves and prisoners would be freed, would be null and void in his jurisdiction. Then David ensured that the ark of the covenant would be housed in Jerusalem in order to stage-manage the allegiance of the twelve tribes to himself and to his city, essentially using God in order to establish his hold on the people (2 Sam 6). God himself thwarts David’s plan through the prophet Nathan, who declared that God does not live in man-made buildings but in tents as shepherd’s do, at once reminding David of his own humble past and of his failure to be a true shepherd to his people. Then, also against divine teaching, David orders a census of the people in order to measure the military power of the new nation clearly with the expansion of his empire in mind. Lastly, violence racked his household, just as it will deteriorate and divide his own people only two generations down the road.

Solomon, his son by Bathsheba, was his successor. Solomon will build a grand palace for himself, strongly fortify Jerusalem and, most ironically, construct a glorious Temple to God by subjecting his own people to forced labor, just as they were subjected to forced labor as slaves in Egypt. He will live in extreme decadence with 700 wives and 300 concubines and end his days having forsaken God. In short, the record of human kingship in Israel is grim and, if Jesus is indeed King, then he is not an earthly king of an earthly empire after the image and likeness of David. He is not David’s son, but God’s Son, and his rule is not a rule that we are familiar with among any nation up to and including our own. If we proclaim Christ as our king, if we say that it is he who rules our hearts and minds, then we must indeed look well beyond the whims and wiles of earthly governments and human rulers; we must see through the promises of advertisers and the sellers of things, and must even pass beyond our own sense of personal power and pride. Who is the Christ? Whose son is he? He is God’s Son, the king of love who rules from the self-giving, life-giving cross. He is not the one who is justified by his own sense of prerogative and merit, not the one who looks to have power and possession over others, not even the one who seeks to be popular and to garner everyone’s vote. He is the one who is willing to love, and to love to the end; to love God with the whole heart, with the whole mind, with the whole life and to love neighbor as self. And if this is our King, then we must follow him and do the same, for the servant does the King’s bidding and acts in his name.

“What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?”

Arise

A Sermon Delivered by Fr. James Krueger

The 16th Sunday After Trinity Sunday

October 5, 2014

 

Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her. And when the LORD saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.

St. Luke 7:12-13

 

Today we hear two stories about two boys who were resuscitated from the dead. I have to admit that I spent a good, long time putting off writing this sermon because I think that the subject of one coming back from the dead is a little daunting. In fact, I find it easier to talk about the resurrection than I do about these stories, stories which most of us, I would venture to guess, read as touching little tales with something to teach us but stories which we can’t really take all that literally. I refuse to stand here today and to try to convince you of their literal truth, making all sorts of arguments as to how and why this could have actually happened. To do so would be to miss what I think are the most important points being made in the readings, a few of which I hope to tease out for you today.

First, we have to see the similarity between both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel. Both of the women in the stories are widows, and each of them has an only son. There are numerous biblical injunctives which command us to care for the widow. In biblical literature widows are placed in the same category as orphans, the poor, and the landless immigrant (Ex 22:21-22; Dt 24:17, 24:19-21). In other words, they were among the most vulnerable people in the population. When one looks at the general terms which relate to widows in the Bible one gets an idea of the plight of the widow: they weep (Jb 27:15; Ps 78:64), they mourn (2 Sm 14:2), they are desolate (Lam 1:1), they are in poverty (Ru 1:21; 1 Kgs 17:7-12; Jb 22:9) and indebtedness (2 Kgs 4:1). A woman had minimal, if any, rights of inheritance and without a husband, who was her main source of economic stability, she had only her children to rely on, most specifically her sons. If she had only one son, and she lost that son, she would have a great deal to worry about. There are exceptions to every rule (2 Sm 14; Jb 24:3; Prv 15:25), but a widow’s great vulnerability in Jesus’s time was the norm.

We might tend to think that Jesus here is having compassion on the dead man. After all, the guy is dead, and wouldn’t it be a great thing for such a young man to have a chance at fulfilling his dreams and to be alive again! By all indications, however, we have to assume that this is not the case at all. Jesus, perhaps angry at the injustices of his society, has compassion on the mother. This is not to say that Jesus is not moved by the futility of death and loss, but his great act of power here is aimed not at restoring the child for the child’s own sake, but at restoring the child for his mother’s sake. Elijah was doing the same thing. This is an extremely important point. Way too often do we engage God, and religion in general, solely for our own benefit, for our own sake. This has been called “moral, therapeutic deism”. In such a view God, or spirituality, is like a doctor, a therapist, or a pill; someone or something we go to when things are tough, when we’re having a crisis, when we want or need something, when we’ve lost confidence in ourselves to achieve all the dreams that we’ve set before us. God will heal me, we say; God will restore me; God will bandage me up. Then I can go on living for myself just as I have done my whole life; after all God wants me to be happy just like all the television commercials do. Indeed God does want you to be happy, but the mindset I just described will never get us to the biblical vision of happiness, of true fulfillment. Christ restores a child’s life not for the child’s sake but so that the child might fulfill his duty to his mother. The child’s life is not, and never has been, his own. Our lives are dependent, one on the other, and this is the whole basis not only of Jesus’s act in today’s Gospel, but of his whole vision of morality, of life and of salvation. We must realize that our lives are not our own; that, though life is given to be fully received and enjoyed, life can only be fully received when it is in turn given away. We cannot possess or hoard life; life is like water, it keeps flowing. When it doesn’t flow it becomes murky and smelly. To realize this deeply is to be saved.

There are many different ways that the Bible talks about death. One of the more prominent ways it talks about death is as spiritual death, the death of sin, sin which locks us up in ourselves and makes us unable to reach out to and receive the fullness of life, a fullness which surrounds us even this very moment. We’ve become dull and blind; we’ve become apathetic and disheartened; we’ve become unable to respond open heartedly to the world around us; we’ve become cut off from reality and caught in the machinations and fantasies, in the greedy furnaces and intractable highways, of our own minds. With our gaze glued to little screens and our own little programs we act without willing, we look without seeing, we relate without feeling, we exist without living, we’ve become like the walking dead. This is the death that should be of the greatest concern to us, the death that results from being cut off from the very source of life itself, which is God. Physical death, the futility of life in the face of constant and inevitable loss, is only the inescapable outcome of this spiritual death which grips us all. It is time to awaken, O sleeper! (Eph 5:14); it is time to arise. (Lk 7:14).

But when we know God, when Christ dwells in us, then we are united to “the whole family in heaven and earth” as Paul puts it in the Epistle (Eph 3:15). When we know God we know, by direct experience, that we participate in a life that is way bigger than anything we can ever lose by dying; a life which is boundless and vast and oceanic and yet which reaches down into the very sorrow and fear of a single widow in a single town in Palestine at the turn of the first century and restores her to hope. That is what Jesus does; that is what God’s life does: it lives so that we all might live. Let us do the same for one another, for our communities and for the world; let us give our lives away so that we might have life like God has life. Fear not, you will not be diminished by it; you will, in fact, be saved by it. When your life is God’s life where will you go? What will work against you? (Rm 8:28)

Paul’s hope for us is this, that we “may be able to comprehend with all the saints,” that is, with all the faithful past, present and yet to come in the heavens or on the earth or in the earth, “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” that we might “know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, and be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:18-19). How amazing is that? That we might be filled with all the fullness of God!

The point I wish to leave you with today is this: that Jesus does indeed restore life, for by him all things were made. But life is not given to be muscled into our own little truncated and individualistic demands; life is given as a gift to all to be shared. This is the nature of life: life supports life; it is for the sake of another. This becomes extremely clear on the cross, which is to us a revelation of the very nature of God and so of life itself: giving all he has, sustaining all, even when being rejected. Today Jesus restores life for the sake of life: the son for his mother, the mother to bear witness to God in her community so that all may be saved. The widow is vulnerable only because we fail to do this; because we fail to live one for the other and rather have become handicapped and blinded by seeking our own private gains. It is this tragic state of humanity which moves Jesus with compassion; let it also move us.

Be Not Therefore Anxious

A Sermon Delivered by Fr James Krueger

The 15th Sunday After Trinity Sunday

September 28, 2014

 

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. Yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven: shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Be not therefore anxious, saying: What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow. For the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

St. Matthew 6:28-34

 

“Consider the lilies of the field.” Emily Dickenson wrote that this is the one commandment in the Bible which she never has any trouble fulfilling. This passage is probably one of the most sublime pieces of writing ever committed to the page; it has served to inspire countless people of a multitude of faiths for two thousand years. How many generations have turned to these words in times of trouble? How many have found great comfort in these lines when the heavy press of life has sought to squash them down? Yet the very sweetness of these words is deceptive; their poetry covers a sharp hook – a hook by which Jesus wants to catch us and yank us out of all that we hold dear. Is he not asking us here to make a radical commitment? Is he not asking us to throw away all practicality? To set aside the normal level-headedness by which we are accustomed and encouraged to make decisions and to step forth into a seeming abyss? Is he not asking us to throw it all to the wind? “No man can serve two masters” (Mt 6:24) – it’s all or nothing; a total commitment to God in absolute faith. It is no wonder that Emily Dickenson felt that all she could do was consider the lilies!

But there is another commandment here that, I think, is more important than the lilies; one that cuts to the heart of this passage: “do not be anxious.” “Fear not.” From Genesis to Revelation God appears to his people and tells them to “fear not.” Genesis 15:1: “After these things the word of the Lord came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” Genesis 21:17: “And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.” Exodus 20:20: “And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you . . .” Deuteronomy 20:3: “Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them.” Deuteronomy 31:8: “And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.” Joshua 10:25: “And Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the Lord do to all your enemies against whom ye fight.” Ruth 3:11: “And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest.” Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Joel, Zechariah, Matthew, Luke, John, Acts, all the way to John’s Revelation: “And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last.” (Rev 1:17). And here we get to the whole point: God is the first and God is the last, the beginning and the ending; God has the victory and the final word and God is a God whom we can trust, who desires not the death of a sinner but that we might be saved.

I saw online that there is a movie series soon to be released based on Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” novels. These novels are based on a very questionable reading of scripture, certainly not a reading that is acceptable given the historical Christian faith, which talks about the so-called “end” times, the notion of the rapture and all the rest. These are fictional novels, bordering on the magical, with a morbid focus on evil which almost glorifies it, and people read them as if they were scripture. I suppose that they are designed to scare the living daylights out of people; if that is not their design it seems to be their effect. “Don’t be the one left behind! You’d better get right with God or he’s going to torture you and kill you!” This is not the message of the Book of Revelation, let alone the message of the Gospels or the rest of the Bible! The message of John’s Revelation, which was written and directed to persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire of the late first/early-second century, Christians who were already being tortured and killed, is exactly Jesus’s message to us today: “Fear not; I am the first and the last. There is nothing, nothing, that can ultimately stand against me for I AM, and I am a God of love.” Revelation is not about the “end” times so much as it is about a new beginning, a new creation which has already been inaugurated in Jesus Christ. “Behold, I make all things new” is Revelation’s refrain; I restore all things because I made them and I love them and I will redeem them. John was encouraging his readers into a radical commitment of total faith in God’s redemptive love, which is God’s power, the power of the cross. This is the very same encouragement that Jesus gives us today in our Gospel passage. John was encouraging his readers to not look back at what is lost and left behind but to move forward in faith; forward into the redeeming, trustworthy, outstretched arms of our God and Father who, even now in the midst of all of this trouble and sorrow and heartache and headaches, is making all things new. “Do not be anxious.” “Do not fear.” “Seek God first, and all shall be well.”

Jesus tells us to not be anxious about what is to come. He’s realistic about it too: for the morrow will be anxious for itself, he says, and the evil of the day is sufficient! He doesn’t promise a proverbial rose garden, but simply tells us to have faith and to be at peace, for God is with you always. In fact, God is really all there is! The threads of our garments unravel and are eaten by moths, precious metals tarnish and go to rust, the grain in the barn is eaten and decays, the lilies will be thrown into the fire; all of these things come and go as do all the things of this world. But God does not come and go; God is, and that is the basis of our faith in him. When we are in God we participate in his life, and that life cannot ever be destroyed because it has never come into being; it is constantly renewed, it always was and ever shall be, world without end. Do you see?

So we have to understand the nature of created things. Jesus is here instructing us about this nature. Understanding the nature of created things we will come to realize that we cannot put our unbridled trust in them because, by their very nature, they come and they go and so will always ultimately disillusion us. This is why Paul writes that he is “crucified to the world and the world to him” (Gal 6:14). It is not creation denying; it is only to recognize the nature of created things, and so to try to see beyond or through them. This can be painful, and Jesus here pulls the rug out from underneath us. But his aim is to save us, to call us out of a burning house, to spurn us on to a true and lively quest for God. It is, ultimately, salvific: Paul, for instance, in our epistle reading wants us to know that our salvation does not depend on externals; our salvation, our very worth as creatures, does not depend on circumcision of the flesh, or ethnicity, or whether we are rich or poor, whether our lives are easy or difficult, whether we had a good family or not, whether we are successful and talented or not, whether we are beautiful or ugly, and all the rest. God doesn’t judge by human standards; God judges the heart. All of these conditions and standards are like the grass, which is here today and tomorrow is cast into the oven. In God we are fulfilled: in God we are circumcised, in God we are rich, in God our burden is light, it is God’s glory which brings true beauty; it is God who brings success because it is in God that the restless and thirsting human spirit is quelled and satisfied. So it is God whom we must find, and his righteousness, and in him is our peace. In him we can, indeed, fulfill the commandment: “Do not be anxious.” “Do not fear.”

Saint Matthew: Apostle, Evangelist, Martyr

A Sermon Delivered by Fr. James Krueger

Feast of Saint Matthew, 14th Sunday After Trinity Sunday

September 21, 2014

 

And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom. And he saith unto him: Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.

Saint Matthew 9:9

 

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of scripture is not what it says but what it doesn’t say. It’s a literary device which we too little appreciate in our time of ramped-up media which leaves little, if anything, to the imagination. The silences of scripture are one of the many reasons why the Bible and its stories can never be successfully made into a movie or TV series, though I suppose that people will keep trying because, quite frankly, the attempts continue to make big money. Movies by necessity have to fill in gaps which literature does not; and the Biblical literature has many big gaps. This is what makes it so compelling; this is what draws the reader in so that the reader becomes a participant, rather than a spectator, of the story. In fact, the Bible is ultimately about one vast, astounding, incomprehensible silence: which is the mystery of God. Who can make a book, let alone a movie, about that?

Matthew is one of these biblical figures of whom scripture tells us little about. He, like God, is an enigma. In fact, he is an enigma because of God. We know that he was a tax-collector. This means that he was a Jewish man working for the Roman Empire. It was his job to collect taxes from his own people in order to fund the enemy. Not only this, but the very system he worked under encouraged him to extract more money than was actually owed from his people, because whatever he made on top of the assessment for his district was his to keep. That is the means by which he drew his salary. The whole system, then, gave license for deceit and extortion. Nobody likes a tax-collector, but tax-collectors in Jesus’s time were in a whole other class of terrible. They were dishonest, exploiters of their own communities, enemies to both God and country.

When Matthew was called by Jesus he was “sitting at the receipt of custom” (9:9). In other words, he was in the tax-office collecting taxes. Jesus, passing by, says, quite simply, “Follow me.” And then the strangest thing happens: Matthew rises, and he follows! Talk about not enough being said! Why would this tax-collector just rise up from his seat and walk away, leaving behind him his office and his whole life? Had he heard Jesus preach, and did that preaching touch him somehow? Despite being considered a great sinner was he, too, awaiting the Messiah? Was he hoping on God; hoping that something of this cruel system of which he was a part might be turned to justice and mercy? Was he merely greedy, trying to ride the Messiah’s shirttail to success? We don’t know the answer to any of these questions because scripture is silent about all of them. We are not told Matthew’s motivations and the inner workings of his heart; we are told only one thing: Matthew rose, and he followed, and he followed to the end.

And here we hit on exactly the singular thing about the beginnings of the Church which not only cannot be explained away in historical or psychological terms, but which is the surest witness to the power of God at work in Jesus Christ: conversion of life. What is it that inspired such a radical change in Matthew? And not only in Matthew, but in Peter and John and James and all of the early Christians; perhaps most especially Paul, who one day was happily and mercilessly sending Christians to their deaths and the next day was being kicked out of synagogues and flogged and was eventually sent to his own death in an extraordinarily bold witness to Jesus Christ!

The early Church was a persecuted Church just as it is becoming again in areas of the Middle East and has been elsewhere to this day. None of the early Christians had anything to gain by following Christ. No one gained power or prestige by proclaiming the risen Christ. They were, instead, laughed at, mocked, scorned, beaten, robbed, alienated from their communities, mercilessly tortured and put to death. Why they were willing to go through this is one of the great mysteries in history. It is the big silence in the historical record. The early Christians had everything to lose by following Christ. Matthew himself, rose from his seat of custom, and followed Jesus to a martyrs death in Ethiopia, where he was burned alive. The early Christians weren’t seeking power and prestige; they weren’t making up the story of the resurrection in order to save face, or whatever. They were witnessing to something astounding, something glorious, something so beautiful that it broke their stony hearts and changed their lives for eternity; and they felt obligated by its very significance to make it known to the world. What was it? Paul, in our epistle reading today, writes,

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’s sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor 4:5-6)

This is what the Christian proclamation is about: “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” It isn’t about an angry, hateful deity on high who wants to coerce and arbitrarily punish people. Even less is it about a bunch of lying wackos trying to convince people of their own fables or to sell their worldview. No; it is about a living encounter that is revolutionary, vivid, and life-altering: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of a person. Matthew, Peter, James, John, Paul: they had all beheld this glory, and having beheld this glory their lives were radically changed, were healed, redeemed, restored, brought out of the too familiar and too numerous dark corners of human existence into the glory of a life that is significant and vivid, that is true and eternal: the life of God himself, giver and source of all life. This is the Christian proclamation, and if you yourselves were to behold God’s glory even for a second you, too, would be as exuberant and as assured as they. Now, God’s glory is all about you: open yourselves to it.

This is what we should strive for: that we might truly know God. This is why living the Christian life – the life of prayer and liturgical worship, of the sacraments and study and our inter-personal relationships as a community of faith – is so important because the whole of the Christian way is designed to thrust us into this life-changing encounter with God. That is why we need the fullness of historic catholic Christianity, which our Anglican heritage offers us, and not some stripped-down version of Christianity that sees the Christian life as little more than me, my Bible and my buddy Jesus. But we must engage what our tradition offers; and we must desire true encounter with God. Knowing our darkness, we must long for God’s redemption.

Matthew’s first act as a disciple is to throw a dinner party and thereby share Jesus with his friends, which our reading today tells us were a rather sordid bunch. We can imagine that some of these friends, perhaps many of them, walked home that evening wondering what got into Matthew’s head; worrying amongst themselves that Matthew had gone over the deep end; puzzling about why he wanted to leave such a lucrative job to follow this Jesus guy. What might this have felt like for Matthew to feel some of his friends pull away as he began to realize the cost of his decision, the cost of discipleship? What kept him from turning back?

“The light of the knowledge of the glory of God.” If we had but a little of this; if we really knew who our God is, glimpsed him for just a brief moment, we too would be willing to give everything we have for this one pearl of great price (Mt 13:45-46). And imagine if we were to go out from here today having given ourselves to this light and trying, as Matthew tried, to bring that encounter out into our community. People might begin to wonder: “What is going on at Saint James Church? Maybe I should check it out!” Just as Jesus comes for the broken that the broken might be made whole, so we are sent to the broken, for God will have mercy and not sacrifice (Mt 9:13; Hos 6:6).

In appreciation of Matthew, then, I will end with the ending of Matthew’s gospel, a passage which takes place after the resurrection known as “The Great Commission.” It reads,

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:16-20)

Lift High the Cross

A Sermon Delivered by Fr. James Krueger

Feats of the Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross

September 14, 2014

 

At that time Jesus said unto the multitudes of the Jews: Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

John 12:31-32

 

Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is being celebrated today by both Eastern and Western Christians who follow the ancient liturgical traditions, namely the Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Anglicans. In Greek the feast is called “The Raising Aloft of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross.” Unlike Good Friday this feast is not so much about the passion of Jesus as it is about the cross itself as the instrument of salvation. If we pause for a moment to reflect on it, a cross is a strange thing to celebrate, most especially as an “instrument of salvation.” To us the cross is a thing of beauty; we carry crosses in procession and wear them as jewelry. To the first Christians, however, the cross had no beauty. Outside nearly every city wall is where crosses were to be seen, bedecked not with flowers or jewels but with decaying corpses, a sarcastic dare to anyone who would defy Rome’s authority – including Christians who might refuse to sacrifice to Roman gods.

The feast has its origins in Jerusalem in the early 300s. According to custom St Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine under whom Christianity would be legalized, travelled to Jerusalem on pilgrimage. There was a temple to Aphrodite in the city that was supposedly built over Jesus’s tomb. Helena duly had it demolished and, by order of herself and her son, the Emperor, had the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher built on the same place. During the excavations for the new church workers discovered some wood, which turned out to be three crosses. The one on which Christ hung was identified when a dying woman was healed by its touch. The cross immediately became an object of veneration and was housed in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. Today’s feast, September 14, is the anniversary of the dedication of that Basilica. So it was, for quite a while, merely a local feast of that particular church.

Enter the Persians onto the stage, who sacked and occupied Jerusalem in the early 600s, and carried off the cross. Emperor Heraclius won it back and, according to the story, wanted to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself. He was, however, unable to do so; not until he put off his imperial garb and took on the likeness of a barefoot pilgrim; only then was he able to bring the cross back into the church. Whether this is historically true or not, this is significant; if you have listened to the epistle reading today Paul recounts that God, indeed, has done this very thing for us, stripping himself of his glory and dying on the cross. The return of the cross into the hands of the Roman/Byzantine Empire is what caused this local feast to become universal throughout Christendom. And, because of the militaristic overtones to the occasion, it is not surprising that it became more of a secular celebration than a sacred one, even though to make this distinction is somewhat anachronistic because a disunion between church and state would have been a foreign concept to the ancient Roman/Byzantines. Church and state, the sacred and the secular, worked together in symphonia, in harmony; this was, at least, the ideal. This is why the emblem of the Byzantine Empire was a double headed eagle – church and state — and the same with so-called “Holy Russia” when Russia identified as a Christian empire.

During this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross a cross would be solemnly raised in the four directions of the civilized world; hymns were sung to God that he might bring victory to the Christian empire. The cross itself, since Constantine’s time, became a symbol for the empire. So this celebration was kind of like our Flag Day or Independence Day celebrations: we’ve captured the cross back from the Persians, God grant us victory over all our enemies!

Now, of course, all of these elements have been removed from the liturgical celebrations of this feast, and I’ll be blunt in saying that this is a good thing. The cross is indeed a symbol of victory, but not the victories of earthly empires, be they Christian or otherwise. The cross represents for us the victory of love, and this victory of love is a victory had over all of the ruthless machinations of the empires of this world, be it the Persian Empire, the Roman Empire or the American/Western Empire in which we live today. By the cross we are shown that God is King. God is our President, God is our Emperor, God is our Lord, and God alone because it is God who has the first, and the final, word, and that word is his Word, that which gives life and being to all. It is perhaps a good thing to be reminded of this during an election season; as Christians, we can certainly work with our governments according to our consciences, but we are not to put our absolute trust in the often confused and certainly fickle agendas of any particular political party. It is God’s love which must be our ultimate authority, our guidepost, our country, and our home, and this love is revealed to us as victorious most especially on the instrument of the cross.

A few verses prior to our gospel reading today John recounts the words of Jesus, who says, “The hour is come that the Son of man should be glorified.” (Jn 12:23). The son of man, that is: the human being, will be glorified; the human nature will be brought to glory, made a partaker in the divine, on and by the cross. How is this so? Paul tells us in his epistle (Phil 2:5-11): it is so through love; through God’s love for the human being, and the human being’s love for God, a love so strong that both God and the human being are willing to endure the cross, the one for the other. You see, this is what happens on the cross – in the whole life of Christ, actually, because the divine and the human are united in him; but this union, and the incredible bond of love that constitutes this union, is most especially revealed on the cross. Here the divine and the human intersect in a mutual act of total self-offering, a mutual act of love. This is the very nature of the symbol of the cross: the intersection of the divine and the temporal, God and man, heaven and earth. This is the very form of Christ’s death, outstretched and embracing all, lifted up for all to see, creation nailed with the points of love to God and God to creation, reconciling in himself all things into one harmonious whole, making all things new.

Christ is the perfect, and the only, priest: interceding on behalf of all, offering himself for the life of the world, and giving that world life and being in the form of his very own body and blood (Heb 4:14-16). It is this priestly act of Christ that we are called to be participants in as the Church; this is what it means to be the Body of Christ. Eucharistic worship is all about this intersection of the divine and the created, of God and man; it is all about this priestly intercession on behalf of the world, and our becoming, in our love for God and one another, life and light for the world. Beloved, by the cross we are called into a love as big, and as astounding, and as simple as this. A love which is so powerful and true, so focused and trusting and pure, that it can conquer addiction, bitterness, grief, depression, adversity, persecution, anger, sickness, and all of our little everyday challenges and hardships. We’ve seen the cross at work in so many lives, and this is why we should honor and be in communion with the saints of the Church.

I was attending an ecumenical prayer service for peace yesterday and someone put into my hands this magazine. It is called The Plough, this issue’s topic is “Living the Sermon on the Mount.” It’s quite well done, coming from an Anabaptist perspective, which the reader should keep in mind, but with some really good articles. There is one article in particular which stuck out for me, called Love in a Leper Colony. It relates the story of individuals who had lived in a leper colony in Paraguay. Many of them entered at quite a young age, before there was a cure for leprosy, and lost everything. Many of them were abandoned by their spouses and children, who left them as soon as they were diagnosed without giving any indication of where they were. They were afraid to even receive a letter from their sick spouse for fear of contracting the disease. One such woman was interviewed in this article. She says,

I found that my thoughts had completely changed since those early days in the colony. Then my thoughts were entirely about me or mine. I was sorry for myself and I worried endlessly about my husband and my son. Now I hardly ever thought about myself. I knew that just as God had cared for me all these years, so he could care for my husband and child. So I did not worry anymore but trusted them to His hands, for I knew He could care for them better than I could.

And I began to realize how many things I would not have known if I had stayed happily at home with husband, son, house, and farm nearby. For at the colony I was forced to find strength and comfort in the Bible and the hymnal. I had also learned that God can come and give a joy such as I had never heard of when I had all the things around me that folk prize most in life.[1]

This is the power of the cross.

God’s love for us, for you and for you and for you, is a love so powerful and true and absolute that it moves divinity itself to leap out of the self-contained bliss of heaven and to take upon itself the darkest experiences of humanity in a movement of intimacy and compassion. Since we have first been so loved, might we also seek to love like this? Might we love with a love that is equally as tenacious and tender, a love which reaches out of the darkness of this world towards God, a love that is so enraptured by God that it is willing to do all for God’s sake; a love so strong that death itself will not and cannot keep it down.

To love like this is to lift high the cross. Let us, then, lift up that cross today that all the world might see and believe.

[1] Johann Christoph Arnold, “Life in a Leper Colony,” The Plough Quarterly, Summer 2014, 1.

Be Opened

A Sermon Delivered by Fr. James Krueger

The 12th Sunday After Trinity Sunday

September 7, 2014

 

And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech, and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And Jesus took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears; and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him: Ephphatha, that is, Be opened.

St. Mark, 7:32-34

 

Today we hear one of the many stories of healing found in the gospels. On the surface it seems rather straightforward: Jesus has returned to the area around the Sea of Galilee from a sojourn into gentile regions. Great multitudes are thronging about him, having heard of his mighty acts; they are the desirous, the desperate, or the simply curious. The man in today’s story is presented to Jesus to be healed, and Jesus heals him. Countless similar stories are found in the gospels, and even the most enthusiastic of preachers might get a little tired if they had to preach on all of them. Yet, the very number of healing stories found in the New Testament tells us that the early Christian writers thought that they were crucial to the story as a whole. Indeed, the healings clue us in to the very identity of Jesus Christ and to the very nature of his work in the world.

Some of you may know that Thomas Jefferson wrote his own bible. Well, it can’t really be said that he wrote a bible; rather, he created his own version of the gospels, not with a pen but with a pair of scissors! He started with the full text and cut out of it everything that was, in his estimation, superstitious and irrational, which included all of the healing stories. He was trying to get down to the “real person” of Jesus. Scholars have been trying to do this very thing ever since; they call it the quest for the “historical Jesus” as opposed to the quest for the Christ of faith. When Jefferson was done with his scissors he ended up with what has become a familiar presentation of Jesus: a good man who taught a universal message of morality and stood up to the corrupted power structures of his time. This Jesus of Jefferson was probably more Jefferson than Jesus, though certainly these were aspects of his ministry. In the end, however, this is not our Jesus. The story we hear today did not make Jefferson’s cut, but it has made ours.

Jefferson’s purposes are all too understandable: remove the religious dogma and the “supernatural” and you will get to the truth of the story; you will figure out who Jesus “really was.” The problem with such an exercise is that the only surviving material we have about Jesus is the witness of the evangelists – the gospels; and, for whatever reason, the evangelists felt that these stories of healing were essential not only to the identity of Jesus himself but to communicating the overwhelmingly powerful effects of having been in his presence; of having known him. This is so much the case that the evangelists not only present Jesus as the quintessential moral teacher and courageous lover of justice but as being the very locus of God himself, creator and master of the universe. This is our Jesus: the one who heals and restores the world because he is the one by and for whom all things were made. In him was God, united to his creation through the human person, and so restoring and redeeming his creation through the human person. That is what all these stories of healing are all about.

The man brought to Jesus in our reading today was deaf and had an impediment in his speech. In essence, then, he was cut off from communication and so from communion with his fellow human beings. The world was created by God for communion. According to the Christian worldview that is the original purpose and the glorious goal of the whole cosmos: to have a share in God’s life and being; to be in communion with God so that what is created and so constantly in flux, constantly coming into and going out of being, might yet have a share in what is eternal. It is the human being who is the bridge; the human being shares the physical nature of dirt, stones, grass, tress and animals while at the same time sharing the spiritual nature of angels and of God himself, for our scripture tells us that we are fashioned in God’s very image and likeness (Gn 1:27). What is more, God for us is Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit; three divine persons united as one. This means that God’s very essence is communion; God, for us, is revealed as loving relationship. The Father gives all that he has to the Son; the Son gives himself back to the Father in loving obedience; the Holy Spirit, generated by this mutual self-giving, overflows from the Godhead into all things sanctifying them and taking them up into this love. Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, we are made for this love. This is salvation: to be united in this divine communion.

Sin cuts off this communion. Sin is not merely bad-behavior in the eyes of a kill-joy God who stubbornly holds fast to some Victorian sense of moral purity. Sin is broken communion with God, largely through rebellion against him and so rebellion against our deepest and most basic nature, for to rebel against God is to rebel against his divine image in ourselves. In doing so our lives are compromised; we are cut off from the very source of life. Consider Adam and Eve being cast from the garden, the world around them turning from a sustaining gift into a curse (Cf. Gn 2:23-25, 3:8-19). Consider the words of Cain after he murdered his own brother, one of the most vivid examples of broken communion: “My punishment is greater than I can bear,” he cries to God, “you have driven me this day away from the ground; and from your face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” (Gen 4:13-14). Not only has Cain broken communion with his brother, but with God and even with the ground, with the earth itself. This is sin, and we are all affected by it whether we like it or not; not a single one of us is capable of perfect and sustained communion, neither with God nor with our fellow creature. We are all compromised to one degree or another; something always gets in the way of wholeness and full connection, of true intimacy. Sometimes this is because of our own brokenness, sometimes it is because of another’s brokenness; often it is a whole lot of both.

So, this man who is brought to Jesus is us, with closed ears and an impeded mouth, cut off, unable to fully know the other or to be fully known; unable to truly listen to, to hear, and so to receive the other; unable to speak openly and honestly, always mincing our words, rarely ever even knowing who and what we are and what an honest word would be. Jesus, because he is not just a good man with a high standard of morality but is perfect communion, that which is the fashioner and the goal and so the restorer of all creation, Jesus leads this man out of the mad and thronging crowds into an intimate encounter with himself, and opens him there. Beloved, will you allow Jesus to open you today? Are we not tired of our isolation and hardness? Do we not want to realize who and what we really are?

Thomas Jefferson was wrong: we have a plethora of good people to look up to from every nation and religion, but Jesus must be more than this if we are to truly be redeemed. That Jesus is more than this is the good news of the gospel; it is what makes the gospels gospel. We may be struggling; our health may be failing, our eyes dimming, our speech fading. That the old man must die is something that we have to accept. Yet we fade with faith, trusting the one who can and does, who has and who will yet again, make all things new (Rev 21:15, 2 Cor 5:17); the one who will crack the hard shell of this current life and allow the new shoots of blessedness to emerge (Jn 12:24). Death and decay are not the final word, nor is the sword of the persecutor and the tongue of the accuser. The final word is that victorious refrain from the Book of Revelation, the very book which concludes our bible: “Behold, I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the ending.” (Rev 21:6, 22:13). This is our Jesus; our life is his life, and his life shall never fade.

Depart From Me, O Lord

A Sermon Delivered by Fr. James Krueger

The 5th Sunday After Trinity Sunday

July 20, 2014

 

They beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come, and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Luke 5:7-8

 

You’ve been up working all night to no avail, and now the only things on your mind are home, a hot meal, and bed. All of a sudden a throng of people come surging down to the water’s edge. They’re following that strange wandering rabbi who you’ve been kind enough to put up in your house for a few nights. Before you know it, this rabbi climbs into your boat, the very boat which you have just cleaned and put up for the day, and asks you to cast out into the water so that he can gain a little distance from the crowds and teach them. You know that he will be heard quite well if you keep the boat a few yards from shore, but you also know what this will mean for you: it will mean that you will have to be constantly at work on the oars to ensure that the boat remains stationary, perpetually correcting its drift. You feel yourself recoil inside; you really want to go home; you’ve had enough but, after all, this rabbi did recently heal your mother-in-law (Lk 4:38-39) and you owe him one so you get in, you cast out, and you work while he sits and talks, and talks, and talks . . .

Just when you think he is finished and you can finally go home, he asks you to launch out into the deep and to let down your nets. Imagine that: you’ve labored on the oars while he preached about God, a subject that he obviously knows something about, but now he’s going to tell you how to fish! What can an inland carpenter know about fishing, anyway? You’ve fished all night without any catch; you know for sure that the fish are not active during the bright and warm days; and you know where the best fishing spots are because you’ve been doing it since you were big enough to stand. Can’t this rabbi just say, “thank you for your time” and be done with it?

But, with some credulity, “Sure boss, we’ve toiled all night and taken nothing!” you go; you do what he tells you, and by God you make the catch of your life! Perhaps you’ve found a new spot, a new feeding shoal; perhaps a new spring has welled up under the sea where the water is cooler and rich in oxygen and now the fish are schooling around it. One thing is sure, a few catches like this and you will be a wealthy person! So, taking care to not alert other fishermen, you quietly beckon to your partners to come, and both boats are filled to the point of sinking. Your mind is flushed with a coursing tide of greed and excitement as you calculate the value of this extraordinary catch. But then you pause and, as the dollar signs fade from before your eyes, you wonder: how did this Jesus know the fish were here? With knowledge like that he could be the wealthiest man alive, and yet he has chosen one thing only: he has chosen God, not mammon; not bread alone, but every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Father.

Two questions break upon Peter’s mind like lightening: Who is this Jesus? Who am I? The answers come quickly, hence Peter’s response: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

This little story has all the biblical elements of a theophany: a revelation of God. Peter, in the midst of his everyday routines, finds his whole world interrupted. He is, all of a sudden, confronted by the reality of God; not God as some theological, philosophical, or sentimental abstraction, but God as an authentic, actual, evident, living, blistering reality, and his response is typical: Isaiah, for instance, while dutifully going about his priestly chores, was confronted by God’s reality, a reality which filled not only the temple but the whole heavens and the earth; he cried “woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell amongst a people of unclean lips!” (Is 6:5). Ezekiel, when confronted by God’s reality by the river Chebar, fell on his face and went dumb (Ez 1:28). Paul, when confronted by God’s reality on the road to Damascus, fell on his face and went blind, unable to eat or drink for three days following (Acts 9:1-19). And here, Peter suddenly realizes that he is in the presence of God almighty, a presence that, by its very power and holiness, by its very light, necessarily reveals our weakness and our sinfulness. God’s holiness is the measure of our paltry lives, woe to us as we cower in the cramped and dismal corners of our earthly comforts and securities, our precious fears and joyless pleasures! God is breaking in like a laser through the darkness; demanding our best, that we rise to his holiness, that we stand up in honor and courage, in faith and surety, that we give all that we have to and for him, and so become like him again. It is best to say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

But the Lord’s response comes quick and sure, a response which accompanies every theophany in the Bible: “Fear not.” Fear not for I have come to restore you. Fear not for, though I judge, I judge to heal and to redeem. Fear not, for I am calling you to me.

Jesus met Peter in his world of fishing, and in his world of fishing Peter met God, and this world of fishing was forever transformed. Peter will now be a fisher of men, called to a life of holiness by the holiness which he encountered on the boat that one morning. Called to a life lived for something larger than himself, a life ultimately given as a sacrifice to God on behalf of God’s people.

God continues to meet us in our own worlds, desiring to transfigure and redeem these worlds, and there is nowhere that God cannot and does not reach. I remember driving through Woodstock on my way home from an event at the Spiritual Life Center. I stopped to shop at the local health food store, a one-time regular haunt of mine, and was feeling some anxiety about wearing my clerical collar in there. I was a newly ordained Deacon and was still quite self-conscious about the collar and worried how people would react to it, especially people around town who knew me as a guitar-strumming singer/songwriter. After all I had a certain amount of coolness to uphold and a clerical collar, well, a clerical collar is just not all that cool. I went into the store and, almost immediately, some strange woman was staring at me. I did my best to look hip, surely to no avail, and then ducked into the cookie isle to hide. But it seemed that everywhere I went there this woman was: first in the produce isle, then in the bread isle, then chips and chocolate isle, the frozen goods isle, the baking supplies isle. We couldn’t lose one another, and so we finally decided to strike up a conversation. It wasn’t long before she was telling me about a very dramatic revelation of Christ which she was given some years ago while attending, of all things, a Native American event. She described this revelation in the most intimate of terms, as an actual seeing into Jesus’s very person and nature. She assured me that drugs were not involved. Though one might complain that she seemed somewhat new-agey and pluralistic in her spiritual views, she confessed without a hint of doubt that she is ultimately and wholeheartedly given to Christ as her Lord and savior. I was amazed; had I not worn my collar I never would have had this conversation.

And just a day ago I heard the story about a young man who was deeply entangled in gangs in the city who, one day, all of a sudden was confronted with a similar vision of Christ. He was so enthralled and broken by this vision of Christ’s love that he adamantly refuses to argue about theology or churchmanship or whatever: self-gifting love is the key, he affirms; it is the worship in spirit and in truth to which we are called as Christians, for he himself was confronted and judged and saved by this very love.

Peter writes, “Dearly beloved: be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing, but contrawise blessing: knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” (1 Pt 3:8-9).

Whether it be in dramatic ways or ways more subtle and protracted, God meets us where we are, and he calls us – the driver on the road, the hiker in the wood, the nurse in the hospital, the new ager at the tribal gathering, the gang member on the street – just as God met Peter the fisherman in fishing and wooed him there. Indeed, God comes to meet us today in bread and wine. Though we might indeed say, “Depart from me,” he will yet say, “Fear not, for I have come to restore you; I have come to bring you back to me.”