Archive for February, 2011

Don’t Worry!

February 28, 2011

Occasionally – not very often, but occasionally –- the proper Lessons for a particular Sunday fit together so well, with one building upon another, that a very clear, consistent point is made. Not many complex thoughts, but one central teaching that we can all take home with us. This Sunday we have such Lessons, and the Collect, or prayer, for today even provides a kind of outline to take us there.

A few minutes ago we prayed, “Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us…” The prophet Isaiah might have written that prayer and his words today are full of thanksgiving to the God who had rescued his people from Exile:

“Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages…” (Isaiah 49) For Isaiah, the bringing of his people home from the long Exile in Babylon was just as great a miracle as their original delivery from slavery in Egypt.

They were to be brought out of the darkness of prison, fed along the way, and shielded from wind and sun just as their ancestors had been all those centuries ago in the desert. They were to be restored once again to the “Promised Land.” Even though they had feared that their God had forgotten them in their time of Exile, Isaiah writes, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16a)

Again, in the words of the Collect, Isaiah wanted them to “give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of God, and to cast all their care on God who certainly was showing that he cared for them!’ The Psalmist today shows us what it looks like to “cast all our care on God.” It looks like a child in the arms of a loving Mother:

“O Lord, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks/ I do not occupy myself with great matters/ or with things that are too hard for me/ But I still my soul and make it quiet/ like a child upon its mother’s breast/ my soul is quieted within me/ O Israel, wait upon the Lord, from this time forth for evermore.” (Psalm 131) Israel had waited on God in Exile, and God had delivered them…once again!

Today’s Collect goes on to say, “Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ…”

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul would have had every good reason to be filled with “faithless fears and worldly anxieties.” He was in a big fight with the church he had founded in Corinth. There were factions in the church. Some people were accusing Paul of not being very strong or effective as an apostle. They were even wondering if they should continue to follow him or turn to someone else. So Paul writes to them:

“Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself….it is the Lord who judges me.” (I Corinthians 4:1-4)

Paul was kept free from “faithless fears and worldly anxieties” by recognizing that he was not trying to please every member in the church at Corinth. He was trying to please God. And his confidence was that God loved him with a love which was immortal…and that no hassle, no conflict, no “clouds of this mortal life” could take from him that love which was able to save his soul.

Paul had learned that lesson from a Great Teacher from whom we heard in this morning’s Gospel, “Therefore, I tell you,” Jesus said, “ do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing…And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to the span of your life?”

“Therefore do not worry,..for it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25 passim)

So…what is the “one central point” made by all our Lessons today? The teaching, or message, the Church wants you to take home this week? Listen again to the Collect:

“Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord…”

In other words: God loves you with a love that will never end…a love that will not let you go! Be thankful for that love! And don’t worry so much! Don’t let the cares and occupations of you life overwhelm you. Give them to God…and see how much better he handles them than you do!

In other words: Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well!


February 1, 2011

As you heard on the Feast of the Epiphany and again in last Sunday’s sermon, this is a season of Light in which we remember that the Light of Christ is to shine forth into all the world. The Greek word “epiphany” means just that – a “shining forth.” But just how is that to happen? How is Christ’s Light “manifested” in the world today?

Well, I think our Collect – or Prayer – for today makes is very clear. Just a few moments ago we prayed “Almighty God, who Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth…”

If Jesus Christ is to be known in this world, it is up to us – Christ’s people – to get the job done. You’ll notice that the prayer does not say that only the “clergy, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory.” It asks that all of you, the people, may shine with his glory.

As excited as I am about the Search Process for a new Dean here, and as happy as I am about the good response to the recent survey, I always worry – in a moment like this – that too much emphasis will be placed on getting the “perfect Dean” who will somehow magically fix all that is wrong with this congregation.

Expectations that, as soon as the new Dean arrives, attendance will double, young families will magically appear streaming through our doors, and Trinity Cathedral will begin making the kind of impact in this community that will draw new members and increased commitment from current ones…Don’t hold your breath!

That is, don’t hold your breath for the next Dean to make all this happen alone. What we are praying for each Sunday is that God will guide the search committee and vestry to choose a Dean for this Cathedral “that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people, and equip us for our ministries…” That’s really about all a priest can do – and it’s plenty:

Be a person full of faith (which means full of trust in the grace and power of God); be a person who cannot only care for, but actually come to love, the people of this parish.  Be a person who can provide leadership, but also recognize that the Church is at her strongest when it is shared leadership – clergy and lay people; dean and vestry praying together to discern God’s yearning for this congregation and working together to carry that out.

So, in this morning’s Collect, we prayed that we might be ‘illumined by God’s Word and Sacraments.” Buddhists speak of their form of salvation as “enlightenment.” And we Christians have our own form of “enlightenment.” We get enlightened as we hear and read God’s Word in the Scriptures and as we receive the Sacraments of the New Covenant. At the very least that means being here on Sunday mornings to hear the Scriptures read and preached upon and to receive the very Being and Life of Christ into ourselves in the Holy Eucharist. If we do that, the Collect assures us, we will begin to “shine” with the radiance of Christ’s glory. I don’t know that that means a physical shining (although I have seen people so filled with the Spirit of God that they seem almost to glow). But it does mean that we can begin to reflect the Light of Christ in the way we live our lives, outside these doors, 24/7 as we say today.

If our lives gradually begin to take on the qualities of the life of Christ, believe me, people will notice. St. Paul writes in today’s Epistle “I give thanks to my God…that…you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…” (I Corinthians 1)

If your speech and your knowledge gradually begin to reflect Jesus’ words and his wisdom, believe me, people will notice!  And then, the Collect says, he will begin to “be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth.” We see that kind of progression beginning already in today’s Gospel:

First, John the Baptist encounters Jesus in his own life – he becomes “enlightened.” Then, he points this same Jesus out to two of his friends – “Look, here is the Lamb of God” – and they begin to follow him. One of those friends was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, and he passes the word along to him: “We have found the Messiah.” He brings his brother to Jesus and, as they say, “the rest in history.” “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas!” (John 1:29-42) – the Rock.

You see how easy it is? See how easy it would be to grow this church? Be here every Sunday morning yourself, and bring your family if you can. Drink deeply of the Word and Sacrament available in this place, day by day and week by week. Become “enlightened” in those encounters with Jesus just as John the Baptist was, and go back outside these doors willing to let your life reflect that “enlightened” consciousness.

Don’t be afraid to speak about your faith, about the God you serve, and about the church you attend which helps you deepen that faith. And be as willing as John and Andrew were to invite your family, friends, and neighbors to join you here on Sundays. You can even offer to give them a ride…or promise to meet them here for services.

Oh, you’ll probably get turned down sometimes. You may even get as discouraged as Isaiah was in today’s First Lesson: “(For) I said, ‘I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nothing and (for) vanity.’”

But, if you listen closely enough to that still, small voice within, you may hear the voice of encouragement – a voice which will say, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49)

It’s too light a think that we should be God’s servants to raise up members of Trinity Cathedral or to restore people to The Episcopal Church. God has given us to be a light to the nations…that his salvation may reach to the ends of the earth!

That, dear friends, is what “Epiphany” is all about!