R.B.G. and Nino–A Lesson in Friendship

The following homily was preached on September 23, 2020, being Wednesday after the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, at the Daily Chapel service at Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Reading: Psalm 119:105-108

Collect of the Day: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”—Psalm 119.105

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

These past several days, the United States of America has been paying tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1993 until her death this past Friday at the age of eighty-seven. The second of now only four women ever appointed to the Court, Ginsburg became one of its most progressive jurists, becoming well-known for her passionate and expressive dissents in numerous legal cases. This arose for her the nickname “the Notorious R.B.G.,” a reference to the late Christopher George Latore Wallace’s stage name, “the Notorious B.I.G.,” a rapper (whose music, I’m sure, some of you are aware) who, like Ginsburg, was also from Brooklyn, New York. To borrow the words of the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, Ginsburg was a “brave and compassionate” legal scholar whose “life was one of the many versions of the American dream.”

In addition to the impact that her twenty-seven-year tenure had on the Supreme Court, another aspect that has been highlighted from those years has been the unlikely friendship she had with another of the Court’s late Associate Justices, Antonin Scalia. Unlike Ginsburg, who was very progressive, Scalia, nicknamed “Nino,” is regarded as being one of the Court’s most conservative jurists. To read their opinions throughout their years on the Court is to see two very different visions of the law. Yet, despite their legal and ideological differences, they became best friends, enjoying a mutual love of the opera and for traveling and their families often going out to dinner together.    

When news of Ginsburg’s death broke, Christopher Scalia, the late Justice Scalia’s son, recalled a story when Judge Jeffrey Sutton was one day leaving Justice Scalia’s Court chambers and his father had pointed to two dozen roses that he needed to take down to Ginsburg, as it was her birthday. “Wow,” Sutton said, “I doubt I have given a total of twenty-four roses to my wife in almost thirty years of marriage.” “You ought to try it sometime,” Scalia replied. Sutton, unwilling to let Scalia have the last word, pushed back: “So what good have all these roses done for you? Name one five-four case of any significance where you got Justice Ginsburg’s vote.” “Some things are more important than votes,” said Justice Scalia. Christopher Scalia said that his father had the last word.[1]

As I have mentioned before, Saint James this year has committed itself to discussing issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many people automatically think of such issues from either a racial standpoint or from that of sexual orientation. But there are other aspects of diversity, equity, inclusion that deserve to be highlighted. One of those other aspects is intellectual diversity. From the outside looking in, many people would think it impossible for Ginsburg and Scalia to get along. But they did and rather famously. There was an openness of mind that they each intentionally had toward the other. They recognized that “some things [were] more important than votes.” Respect for others and honoring the contributions our differences make to who we are as a community—that is more important than votes. With that recognition, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia became the model of friendship and collegiality that we all should strive to have with others. Theirs was truly a beautiful friendship.

We heard today read a portion of Psalm 119, the longest Psalm in the Bible. Throughout this Psalm are references to the goodness of God’s law, which is said to be rooted in love and to give life. “Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path,” the Psalmist says (Psalm 119.105). What made Ginsburg and Scalia’s friendship work and an amazing witness to us all was that they both, in their own respective way, viewed the law as something meant to build up others and promote the general welfare of all people. It was never just about them, but for the benefit of all people. Ginsburg and Scalia, the unlikeliest of friends, showed us that diversity, equity, and inclusion can and does work and that when we have open hearts and minds towards others, we all benefit.

That is what we should all strive for. “I have sworn and am determined to keep your righteous judgments…Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips, and teach me your judgments” (Psalm 119.106, 108). Respect of others and mutual flourishing—in them we find joy and exultation and, in the process, become better at being ourselves. Like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia modeled in their friendship with each other, as the old song says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.


[1] Christopher J. Scalia, Tweet on September 19, 2020, Twitter.

“A Homily for the Feast of Philander Chase”

The following homily was preached on September 22, 2020, being the Feast of Philander Chase, at the Daily Chapel service at Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland.

Reading: Luke 3:15-22

Collect of the Day: Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith: We give you heartfelt thanks for the pioneering spirit of your servant Philander Chase, and for his zeal in opening new frontiers for the ministry of your Church. Grant us grace to minister in Christ’s name in every place, led by bold witnesses to the Gospel of the Prince of Peace, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water; but He who is mightier than I is coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”—Luke 3.16-17

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today, the Episcopal Church calls to mind [the ministry and legacy of] Philander Chase, one of the Episcopal Church’s early-to-mid-19th century pioneer missionaries of the American West, particularly in the states of Ohio and Illinois.

Chase’s story emphasizes having a tenacious spirit when faced with many adverse situations. Ordained by the First Bishop of New York to the Episcopal priesthood in 1799, Chase was assigned as a missionary to New York’s rigorous northern and western regions, areas where other clergy at the time were not willing to go. In 1805, Chase continued his missionary ministry by going south to New Orleans, Louisiana, organizing what is now today Christ Church Cathedral, the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. Six years later, he returned north to Connecticut to serve as Rector of Christ Church in Hartford, serving there until 1811.

It was during Chase’s years in Connecticut that the call to missionary ministry reignited within him. Thus, in 1817, he moved to the new state of Ohio, where that May he helped form in Cincinnati what is today another Christ Church Cathedral, this one the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio. Two years later, he was elected as the First Bishop of Ohio. During his tenure as Bishop of Ohio, Chase founded two educational institutions that embodied his missionary spirit. One was Bexley Hall Theological Seminary, which functioned from its founding in 1824 until 2013. The other institution is Kenyon College, an Episcopal liberal arts college in the Village of Gambier in Knox County, Ohio, from which our own Mrs. L is a very proud alumna.

After resigning as the First Bishop of Ohio in 1831, the newly established Diocese of Illinois elected Chase as its First Bishop in 1835. His missionary zeal continued going strong, never wavering. In 1843, Chase became the Episcopal Church’s Sixth Presiding Bishop, serving in that capacity until his death on September 20, 1852 at the age of seventy-six.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we heard John say that there was One “who is mightier than I…coming…He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” John, of course, was talking about Jesus, toward whose way God appointed him to point. And in pointing to that One greater than he was, John was pointing to that, as a Christian, I would say was, is, and always will be the Truth.

Chase was very much a “John the Baptist” figure of his day. Like John, Chase’s ministry was driven by One much bigger than he was whose cause embodied the very meaning of true love and devoted service to others. Chase believed in that cause with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength. That is why he was willing to go to places where others would not go. Some of the churches and institutions he started have lasted; many of them did not. But despite all the trials and adversity he faced, Chase kept pressing forward. For Chase, the Truth made it all worth it.

Thus, it is important for us to have, like Philander Chase, tenacious wills for good. Goodness and sincere service towards others make life truly worth living. As we heard the Psalmist today say, “That which we have heard and known and what our forefathers have told us, we will not hide from their children” (Psalm 78.3). Chase’s legacy does that for us—reminds us of the good that has prevailed throughout all time.

Let us, then, strive to be good and do good things, no matter the cost.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“God Love You. I Know I Do.” (A Sermon in Memory of Melinda Waller Mangham)

The following sermon was preached on May 3, 2020, being the Fourth Sunday of Easter, at the 11:00am Rite II Private Eucharist at Saint James Chapel at Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland. 

Readings: Acts 2.42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2.19-25; John 10.1-10

Collect of the Day: O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear His voice we may know Him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“They held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.”—Acts 2.42

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

We heard this morning from the Book of Acts Saint Luke recount how Jesus’ early followers

“Held steadfastly to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers…And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2.42, 46-47)

When I first read this in preparation for this sermon, my mind was immediately drawn to Melinda Waller Mangham, one of my former parishioners and the all-school academic dean of my previous school[1] in Lafayette, Louisiana. You have actually heard about her. She was the lady Father Dunnan recalled during a daily chapel sermon in February who herself recalled in a phone call with him when I was applying to be Chaplain an unfortunate racial event targeted toward me during my first year at my previous school. It was apparently Melinda’s words about how I “just loved them through it,” despite the hurt this event caused me, that settled Father Dunnan’s mind to call me to Saint James. She had hoped to visit us this December to see the School in action and attend our annual Christmas Festival of Lessons and Carols. I say “hoped” because she died on Thursday and with her death came the end to an illustrious 58-year vocation as an educator. Melinda now goes from strength to strength under God’s most gracious mercy and protection.

I use the word “vocation” to describe Melinda as an educator because that is what teaching was for her. It wasn’t a job; it wasn’t a career; it was her vocation. Vocation is a strong feeling, a unique suitability for a particular role in this world. As one of her many former colleagues aptly described Melinda

She was never out for self-advancement or recognition. She was never in anything for herself…It was always about others. There was no arrogance…she was so humble. She used her connections and her experience to further the cause of students and teachers and the profession, but never in a selfish or personal way. She was extraordinary in that way.[2]

As Christians, realizing our vocation—that role to which God call us—comes from devotion to Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son of God and Incarnate Word. Not only does Christianity explain life, it is a rule for life. One cannot experience the joy of Jesus without completely surrendering to the God who first loved all of us.

Melinda was, both in word and deed, a Jesus follower. She was clear in her belief in Jesus crucified, dead, buried, risen, and ascended. She knew she wasn’t perfect and didn’t have all the right answers. She was humble in victory and gracious in defeat. “I don’t know how such steel and softness coexisted in the same person,” says one of Melinda’s former students, “but it’s part of what made her such a unique figure who affected so many.”[3] Melinda’s life and vocation testified to Jesus’ words

“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4.14)

The mission of Saint James “to prepare young men and women…to be leaders for good in the world” is rooted in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. From these things come lessons that run deep throughout any academic subject. No intellectual snobbery, no social superiority, no racial intolerance, no oppressive privilege—this is what Christian schools should reinforce about who we are in God’s eyes and should be amongst ourselves. Because the aim to which we should strive is beloved community. Saint Paul says

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to edify him…May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 15.2, 5)

And as the Psalmist says

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps. 133.1)

Melinda realized that, which made her such the influential teacher she was in Louisiana’s Acadiana region for almost six full decades. Yet, there were some who at times felt her to be a bit too “old school.” She often would ask me, “Am I crazy or something?” We heard today Saint Peter say,

“It is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly…If you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (1 Pet. 2:19-20)

My response to Melinda was always one of support: “Just keep doing what you’re doing.” All that Melinda did was done to encourage her students to be the absolute best she knew they could be. She loved God with her whole heart and out of that love sought to make her community a much better place by instilling time-proven values within every student she served.

Like Jesus’ early followers in Acts, we should devote ourselves to the Apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and saying our prayers because we find in them the truest love made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. It is Jesus who is beneath, above, besides, behind and within us and makes life truly worth living.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23.1, 3, 6)

As one of my former Bishops once said, Jesus is the Good Shepherd who “loves you more than your momma.” He is the visible face of Almighty God whose Holy Spirit always makes Him present with us.

The more we try to love like Jesus, the greater our joy becomes no matter what anybody else says. Christian love is oftentimes the hardest thing to show towards others, yet it’s the love that always works. It always works because Jesus lives. Christ’s cross and Resurrection prove this. Though it is hard to live out, we should never give up trying. True Godly love, from God Himself, from us back to Him and towards others, knows no bounds.

I recently wrote for The Living Church magazine about how Saint James is a school that flourishes on relationships; the strong brotherly love noticed by visitors being a hallmark of who we are as a community.[4] That is because we are a Christian school that is “not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith.” (Rom. 1.16) We embrace it, full steam ahead. That is why, through the grace of God, we have kept on for as long as we have. We have remained true to our mission centered on the resurrected Christ; if we keep true to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread and to saying our prayers then we will keep going from strength to strength as a community.

I wish Melinda could have seen us here at Saint James. She would have loved you all. But now she goes down into the grave, into the eternal rest of the God that gave her such joy and gladness. Melinda would never say goodbye; she would say, “God love you. I know I do.” Let that, too, be for us. God love you, dear friends. I know I do.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Ascension Episcopal School, Lafayette, Louisiana.

[2] Katie Gagliano. “Melinda Mangham, Longtime Lafayette Educator, Remembered for Her ‘Steel and Softness,’” The Acadiana Advocate (May 1, 2020).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Brandt Montgomery. “Let Brotherly Love Continue,” The Living Church (May 3, 2020), p. 17.

“No More Regrets”

Due to the Bishop of Maryland’s March 12, 2020 pastoral directive “that all churches in the Diocese…must shut down public worship services beginning this Sunday, March 15,” I am not able to preach the following sermon at Grace and Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Baltimore on the Third Sunday in Lent at the invitation of the Rector.

Readings: Exodus 17.1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5.1-11; John 4.5-42

Collect of the Day: Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give…will never thirst; the water that I shall give…will become…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”—John 4.14

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Who here hasn’t ever felt shame and regret? If we’re honest, all of us, at one point or another, have regretted things we did and/or didn’t do. The good news of the Gospel reinforced in Lent is that when we are honest about such things, sincerely repent of and humbly confess our sins to God, He redeems not only the person, but also the time lost between He and them. And from God’s love made visible in Jesus Christ comes not only the promise but assurance “of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel.”[1] That is why all repentant people have cause to “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation” (Romans 5.11).

This brings us to what Jesus said to Nicodemus during the night last Sunday: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3.5). Today, at Jacob’s Well in Samaria in the heat of the day, a local woman has been born anew by Jesus’ “[living] water welling up to eternal life” and the larger community, through her witness, knows that Jesus “is indeed the Savior of the world.”

In our wrestling with shame and regret, Jesus’ intentional passing through Samaria on His way to Galilee is good news. Any other Jew would have gone around Samaria, avoiding any and all interaction with Samaritans. Centuries of animosity dictated this, Jews resenting Samaritans because their Israelite ancestors intermarried with the local pagans and assimilated their religious practices.[2] Therefore, in Jewish minds, Samaria was a land of unclean half-breed race traitors. As inferred from the lawyer’s answer to Jesus in Luke 10, no Jew would have thought of a Samaritan as either good or their neighbor.

Not only is the Samaritan woman viewed in this way by Jews, but the fact that she has come to Jacob’s Well alone in the noonday heat instead of with other community women in the early morning or evening, in addition to having had five husbands and currently living with a man who is not her husband signals that she is a public sinner ostracized by her own people. Her multiple marriages and current relationship cause her to have an unpleasant reputation. She is a woman without a community. You can sense the shame and regret she bears. Hence, we see her come to Jacob’s Well alone.

Jesus’ request for a drink of water reinforces two things about Him. It first reinforces Jesus, “wearied as He was with his journey,” as “the [visible] image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1.15), God Himself come to us in human flesh who, except for sin, experiences the same human feelings and emotions we do. And with that, Jesus’ request reinforces God’s divine mercy seeking after us. “God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5.8). Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman reinforces the vast depths of God’s unconditional love for the entire world. Despite our failings and brokenness and the fact that we don’t deserve God’s grace, He still seeks, “thirsts,” if you will, after us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, a Jew, talks with a Samaritan. Furthermore, He is a man talking with a woman alone. Both these things were considered not right to do in that time. Jesus, though, doesn’t care. He ignores the boundaries and labels the world puts on us. Jesus still reaches out to this woman. He reaches out to all of us. Jesus isn’t governed by human social constructs. He says in Matthew, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’[3] For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9.13). Saint Paul says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23). All of us are like this Samaritan woman—all of us need Jesus. He knows our need, everything all of us have ever done, and wishes to redeem us and make us new.

“Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give…will never thirst,” Jesus says. “The water that I shall give…will become…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” “Give me this water,” says the Samaritan woman, “that I may not thirst.” Our acknowledgment of our need for Jesus changes us; it makes fall from us the shackles of shame and regret. Like the Samaritan woman, we become grafted into God’s everlasting Kingdom. “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Savior of the world” (1 John 4.14).

Of today’s Gospel lesson, Saint Augustine says regarding the Samaritan woman

She is a symbol of the Church…Righteousness follows from the conversation.

We must then recognize ourselves in her words and in her person, and with her give our own thanks to God. She was a symbol, not the reality; she foreshadowed the reality, and the reality came to be. She found faith in Christ, who was using her as a symbol to teach us what was to come.[4]

The Church invites us in Lent “to make a right beginning of repentance.”[5] This is a plea for God’s people to listen to and act on His most holy Word. In coming together, we make known our want for God to “create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we…lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain…perfect remission and forgiveness.”[6]

Today’s Gospel lesson ends with the Samaritan woman, once burdened with shame and regret and viewed as a nobody, becoming somebody through Christ and a member of God’s spiritual family. Furthermore, she becomes an evangelist to her local community, who, too, come to see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is an interaction of which we all should take note, seeing not only that the Samaritan woman becomes a new creation in Jesus Christ, but how her transformation happens. She was truthful about her condition and acknowledged her need for renewal. Thus, the Samaritan woman became “justified by faith,” attaining “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1).

Saint Augustine was right: the Samaritan woman is a worthy example for all of us to follow. “Lord, I am not worthy: that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.” God promises that He will save all repentant people and restore what had been lost. His love does lift away shame and regret and grants grace and redemption.

Do you, then, believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God? Hear again what He says: “The water that I shall give…will become…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Good news for repentant people. Let our answer be the Samaritan woman’s: “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 265.

[2] Note on John 4.7-42, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: The New Testament (Ignatius Press, 2010), p. 168.

[3] Cf. Hosea 6.6.

[4] “The Samaritan Woman at the Well—Augustine” (www.crossroadsinitiative.com), Web. Accessed March 11, 2020.

[5] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 265.

[6] Ibid., p. 264.

 

“A Christmas Carol (2019)”

The following sermon was preached at the 10:00pm Festal Mass of the Nativity on December 24, 2019 at Saint James Chapel on the campus of Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland. 

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

Collect: O God, You have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on Earth, may also enjoy Him perfectly in Heaven; where with You and the Holy Spirit He lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…”—Titus 2.11

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I watched on Hulu two nights ago English screenwriter Steven Knight’s new fantasy-style adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It is an adaptation that investigates the darkness of the season, the unhappy hearts thrown into relief by jollity, and asks who deserves their share of joy.[1] Like the original novel, the story’s main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a cold, bitter, miserly man who despises his fellow human beings and all that Christmas represents. He is visited by the Ghost of Jacob Marley, his seven-years-dead business partner, who warns him of the impending visit of three spirits, their Christmas Eve hauntings an offering to Scrooge the chance for redemption. He is confronted by visions of his past, present, and future in the hope that he accepts the redemption being offered and reconnects with humanity.

Two scenes particular to this adaptation stuck out at me. The first occurs before Marley’s visit to Scrooge. He is taken to Purgatory, where a blacksmith shows him the chains he forged in life—each individual link representing a man, woman, and child who died as a result of his and Scrooge’s actions—before being bound by them. Wandering through Purgatory, Marley meets the Ghost of Christmas Past stoking a bonfire. “I am…here to smoke out redemption,” says the specter. He tells Marley that his and Scrooge’s fates are tied—one cannot be saved without the other—because “it was with [Scrooge] that you profaned the soul of humanity.” It is then that Marley is commissioned to visit Scrooge to pave the way for him and the other two ghosts. “By the time this Christmas is ash,” says the Ghost of Christmas Past, “I must search the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge and find if there is a tender place there.”

The second is a conversation in Scrooge’s investment firm office between him and his nephew. For years the younger Scrooge has invited his uncle to come to his home for Christmas Day lunch and to meet his wife and children “whom [he has] never laid eyes on,” yet each invitation has proved futile. In what he believes might be his final ever meeting with his uncle, the younger Scrooge tells him that the reason he has offered the same invitation year after year after year, withstanding the rejection, was because of his late mother, Scrooge’s sister, who begged him not to give up on Scrooge. “You must forgive my brother,” he recalls her saying. “[Be patient with him.] He is just in pain. A very old pain.”

On this night the “grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…” (Titus 2.11) God Himself has miraculously, spectacularly, and physically appeared in the Person of Jesus Christ to offer us all eternal redemption. In Jesus “all the fullness of God [is] pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on Earth or in Heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1.19-20) Not only do we celebrate the birth of Christ but because of it the beginning of the incorporation of our own stories—our hopes, our fears, our own joy and pain—into Christ, who, in turn, will bring into them and ourselves His Good News. Through the Christ Child we will be given true life and the ability to walk in love and carry on in this world.

That is why the remembrance of Jesus’ birth is important. Not only did Jesus’ birth take place at a precise time in history, but, like Scrooge’s nephew’s persistence, the Church recalls it again and again and again, year after year after year, proclaiming God’s loving purpose of becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Jesus has come to “[give] Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession…” (Titus 2.14) We remember Jesus’ birth at a particular time in history because God is still redeeming in our own time. In His coming we see His patience and love for us and in His redemption we receive our freedom from the old shackles of sin, pain, and spiritual death.

In coming to Jesus lying in the manger and staying with Him all the way to the cross and the grave, we will see in His Resurrection to life again the reason “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (Titus 2.12) We celebrate the joy of Christmas because of the reality of Easter. Hence, like the similarly linked fates of Scrooge and Marley, to follow this newborn Holy Child is to become linked to His most glorious fate. But, unlike Scrooge and Marley, Jesus does not need saving; it is we who need redemption. We cannot be saved without Christ. The newborn Christ is Perfect God and Perfect Man who has come to Earth that we “may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10) He has come not to smoke out redemption, but to freely offer it to us.

This night is the fulfillment of God’s proclamation to the crafty serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3.15) Redemption was God’s intent from the earliest of days. In no way would God let sin and death have the final say. That is why God, like the three Christmas Ghosts, sent His prophets to call us back to Himself, to show us our need for redemption, and to announce the Messiah’s coming. And now tonight, God’s Promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, has come to save us because God truly loves us.

That, dear friends, is the Good News of Christmas. Jesus has come to offer Himself as the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction to God for us. No matter what past pain you have either experienced or caused others and no matter what you have either done or not done, in the words of the old Prayer Book, “Ye who truly and earnestly repent…of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God…walking from henceforth in His holy ways,” the redemption the Christ Child tonight brings into the world He offers to you. This very fact should be our motivation to live the way to which God calls. In the Christ Child we will see that which is good and what the Lord requires of us, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” (Micah 6.8) To live in this way, the way of Jesus, is for God to find in us tender places, living lives of fervent gratitude.

As God said to Moses from the burning bush at Mount Horeb, we see now in the Christ Child: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people…and have heard their cry…I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…and to bring them up…to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3.7-8) God has come in Christ to liberate us from sinful domination. And just as it was for Scrooge at A Christmas Carol’s end, from henceforth “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 1.17)

May we then, like Blessed Mary, Our Lady, treasure “all these things, pondering them in our heart” (Luke 2.19) to the end. How wonderful it is to be here with you to celebrate this magnificent event. Merry Christmas and may God bless us, everyone!

Unto us a Child is born: O come, let us adore Him. Amen.

[1] Lucy Mangan. “A Christmas Carol Review—Twee-Free Torment-Fest Is a Tonic for Our Times,” The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/dec/22/a-christmas-carol-review-twee-free-torment-fest-is-a-tonic-for-our-times), Web. Accessed December 23, 2019.

 

“Having Faith in Transition”

The following homily was preached on March 22, 2019, being the Friday of the Second Week in Lent, during the 10:00am daily chapel service at Ascension Episcopal School’s Sugar Mill Pond Campus in Youngsville, Louisiana.

Reading: Genesis 12.1-4

Image: The Seal of Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland

The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him…—Genesis 12.1, 4

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

God called Abram to leave his native land and every human source of identity and protection and completely trust God. Today’s reading doesn’t recall Abram expressing concern, only that he “went, as the LORD…told him.” (Genesis 12.4) Because of his trust and obedience, God promised to make out of Abram “a great nation…and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you…and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” (Genesis 12.2-3)

Abram’s example of faith in God is the foundation for Christian discipleship. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul says that the Christian life “depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all…who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of us all, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations.’” (Romans 4.13, 16-17)

Hence, Abram shows how, as a famous author once said, we should “never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”[1] For out of the nation God promised Abram came Jesus, the Messiah Scripture says whoever “confesses…is Lord and believes…God raised Him from the dead…will be saved” (Romans 10.9) and through whom God keeps His promise that “all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.” To trust and obey Jesus is to receive God’s blessing of everlasting life and be an heir of His Kingdom.

Five years ago, I experienced a similar situation as Abram’s. Then in my second year as a priest serving the Episcopal Church at the University of Alabama, I felt God’s call to leave Alabama, the land on which I was born, grew up, loved and best knew, and move to Lafayette, Louisiana, a place and whose people I never knew, to serve as Chaplain of Ascension Episcopal School. I trusted God and came and, just as He did for Abram (later “Abraham”), God has blessed me more than I ever imagined, the blessing being all of you. “In everything,” Paul says, “God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8.28)

Trusting God requires completely submitting to His will. It means telling Him (and meaning it), “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” (Luke 22.42) Throughout the past year, discernment of God’s will for me at this time of my vocation has been a prominent component of my prayers, leading to what I have today come to tell you:

I am leaving to begin a new ministry as Chaplain of Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland on August 1, 2019. My last day in the Ascension Church office will be May 31.

Saint James is America’s oldest independent Episcopal boarding school, founded in Western Maryland in 1842 to advance among young people the principles of the Oxford Movement, a theological movement seeking to restore within Anglicanism historic catholic Christian doctrines of the pre-Reformation age. Where I have felt God’s call to them is in their intentional maintenance in their community and spiritual life their historic foundation as an Oxford Movement school and that of its successor movement of Anglo-Catholicism. As an Episcopal priest deeply influenced by the Oxford Movement fathers and mothers and Anglo-Catholicism’s liturgical heritage, I feel God’s call to aid Saint James in its mission to raise up “men and women of virtue who can be ‘leaders for good in the world,’”[2] doing so by proclaiming to them nothing else but Jesus Christ in my preaching and teaching, sacramental ministry, and pastoral care. I am greatly humbled and highly honored to have been called to Saint James School as their next Chaplain and look forward to doing God’s work among them.

But I head to Saint James thankful to God for these past five years serving you and with you here at Ascension. My service to Christ in this part of God’s Kingdom has been enriched by your support and prayers, for which I will forever be grateful. Together we have grown up more into Christ, weathered challenges, and rejoiced in many blessings. I love Ascension with all my heart and will leave thanking God for giving me the opportunity to have served here.

There’s an old spiritual that says, “May the work I’ve done speak for me…When I’ve done the best I can and my friends don’t understand/May the work I’ve done speak for me.” I pray that my work has pointed you to no one else but Jesus the Good Shepherd, who, by dying and rising to life again, has freed us from sin’s power and gives all who believe His Gospel eternal life with God in His glorious Kingdom. It is Christ who is beneath, above, besides, behind, and within us and makes life truly worth living. My love and work for you has all been because of Jesus. If after this school year we should never see one another again in this life, always remember that I love you, but that there is a God who loves you more than I do, through whose love His Son our Savior Jesus Christ came “that [we] may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10) This is the Almighty God who is and always will be with you.

So, in these my now last days with you, just as I have hoped throughout these five years, may all things done be focused on Jesus, our Redeemer and Friend. May He bring you from strength to strength in this life that you may receive the joys of His Heaven in the next. Of your charity, please pray for me as I will continue to do so for all of you. Amen.

[1] Cornelia Arnolda Johanna ‘Corrie” ten Boom (1892-1983), Dutch watchmaker who, with her father Casper ten Boom (1859-1944), helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II by hiding them in her home. Later caught, arrested, and imprisoned at Ravensbruck, ten Boom’s story is recounted in her book The Hiding Place.

[2] Samuel Keyes, “From the Chaplain’s Desk,” Saint James School (www.stjames.edu), Web. Accessed March 22, 2019.

“Return, Redemption, and Rejoicing”

The following sermon was preached on March 31, 2019, being the Fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as “Laetare Sunday,” at the 8:30am Rite II and 11:00am Rite I Eucharist services at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Readings: Joshua 5.9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5.16-21; Luke 15.1-3, 11b-32

Collect: Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from Heaven to be the true Bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this Bread, that He may live in us, and we in Him; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Featured Photo Description: Me with my late father, the Rev. Dr. John Leonard Parrish (August 9, 1933-October 17, 2016) after my ordination to the Sacred Priesthood at Canterbury Episcopal Chapel at the University of Alabama on Advent Sunday, December 2, 2012.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My parents’ toleration for each other during my younger days was, for lack of a better description, not good. My mother, the “other woman” in a four-and-a-half-year on-again-off-again affair, was hurt when my father didn’t leave his first wife for her, as well as not marrying her when his wife died five months after I was born. This ignited in Mom a vicious vindictiveness towards Dad, displayed by pulling me the last minute from plans with my paternal family he would long make in advance. Trying his best to be a father to me, Dad was himself hurt by the vindictiveness and how, as a result, my visits with him and opportunities to know my paternal relatives were too few and far in between.

When I was five, Dad grew tired of the fighting. He made a decision that would hurt the both of us but hopefully lead to a joyful reunion. “For a time,” Dad stepped away, pausing his efforts to have a relationship with me, leaving me to make the decision once I got older whether or not to resume, or, rather, actually begin our relationship. It was a risk, but one Dad, by then a serious Christian, made on total faith in God, trusting that He would make a way for us to be together again as father and son.

“I will repay…the years that the swarming locust has eaten…,” (Joel 2.25) God promised His people in times of famine. For Dad and me, God’s restoration of our lost years came in 1997. Being a year from his “first” retirement after 40+ years in academic administration, Dad wrote Mom pleading to allow me back into his life and become reacquainted with my half/step-siblings, nieces, and nephews. Having seen the emotional effects of Dad’s absence on me, Mom agreed.

On March 28, 1997 on the campus of the Mississippi School for the Blind in Jackson, after seven years of estrangement, God answered Dad’s prayer. Scurrying off the bus, shoving everyone out of my way, I saw Dad a little distance away. I immediately ran into his arms, me and him embracing and crying tears of joy. It was the first day of a 19-year renewed relationship God blessed Dad and I to have until his death.

For the father in today’s Gospel, his younger son’s spendthrift ways cause their temporary separation; for my own father, it was circumstances beyond his younger son’s control. The common element in both stories is a father hoping to again embrace his son. And from this comes the Good News: no matter what circumstances, past sins, or offenses caused our separation, when we say, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before you,” (Luke 15.18; 15.21) God our Eternal and Compassionate Father joyfully embraces and receives us back as His children, for we who were dead became alive again; we who were lost became found.[1]

Most people call today’s Gospel the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” focusing on the younger son who, having squandered his inheritance in dissolute living, returns home destitute to beg his father to receive him back as a servant. But the parable’s title and focus should be that of “the Loving Father,” who surprises his younger son by not scorning him but receiving him back with joyful celebration. The ring the father gives his son stands for the reestablishment of a right relationship between God our Loving and Eternal Father and us. That is what makes Jesus’ parable the best-known summary of all Sacred Scripture, the story of God’s constant quest for all of us.

The sons in Jesus’ parable are all of us, some the younger, self-pleasing one, others the older, prideful one. The younger son’s sins are clearly seen; the older son’s better hidden, even that person at times not seeing them. But regardless whichever son each of us are more like, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3.23)

That doesn’t, though, mean that any of us are beyond hope or unworthy to strive living a holy life. Furthermore, to question one’s worthiness of God’s forgiveness, like the older son questioning his father celebrating his younger brother’s return, is one of the biggest lies and a sin we could ever spread or commit. “This son of yours…who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” (Luke 15.30) “How could you, Dad? What are you thinking?”

The older son exhibits what we should avoid: bitterness, resentment, jealously, pride, self-love, arrogance, and prejudice. But just as he did to his returned younger son, the father reaches out to his jealous older son with love. “Son, you are always with me,” he says, “and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” (Luke 15.31-32)

Jesus today reaffirms in His parable that the way to redemption is open to ALL willing to choose it. God’s reception of us back justifies us “by His grace…through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by His blood, effective through faith.” (Romans 3.24-25) In the younger son’s return is the image of God re-presenting and one rediscovering God’s love that always remained, that to which we should aspire.

God’s unconditional love is the same yesterday, today, and forever for all His good and not-so-good children. His is the only love that is perfectly patient and kind; not boastful, arrogant, or rude; not irritable or resentful; doesn’t rejoice in wrongdoing, but only in the truth.[2] God puts away your sins to focus on your present in order for your future to be spent with Him in Paradise. Paul said it best, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5.17)

Though Dad and I started anew in 1997 our father-son relationship, he continued to harbor for several more years resentment towards Mom for her past actions against him and how they robbed us of time together. Yet, unbeknownst to him, those several more years saw Mom experience regret and repentance for the hurt she caused all those years before. Her regret and repentance came with an acknowledgment, “Brandt, I did what I did because I was hurting. It was wrong and I’m sorry for how it affected you.”

Dad and Mom’s reconciliation took place five years ago on the weekend of my installation as Chaplain of the School. Exactly how and when it happened I do not know—perhaps that was God’s intention. All I remember is that after driving Dad back to the hotel, Mom and Mom Parrish (my step-mother) going off to “Nada’s High Tea,” following a celebratory lunch at the Rector’s house, Dad told me, “Brandt, I use to not like being around your momma and frankly was partly dreading this weekend because I would be. But I can see how much your momma has truly changed, God showing me how he can change a person’s heart towards Him. Your momma’s a good woman.”

As the hymn says

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in his justice, which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good;

There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in His blood.[3]

And so, it is. We all need God’s mercy, which we can only receive through Jesus, His Only-Begotten Son our Savior. Regardless of who you are, what you have done, and how long ago you did it and/or have been away, God, full of compassion and mercy, sees you far off, yearning to run and embrace you. Your return will be for Him a grand celebration, for you His child who was dead will again be alive, once lost become found.

To paraphrase the Church’s historic introit for this particular Lenten Sunday, “Rejoice! Rejoice greatly, all you who mourn, for you will delight in overflowing abundance.”[4] Let us, then, be glad and celebrate. Let us altogether return to our Father’s house.[5]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Luke 15.23-24

[2] 1 Corinthians 13.4-7

[3] “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” words by Frederick William Faber (1814-1863), commonly sung to the tune Beecher by John Zundel (1815-1882).

[4] Isaiah 66.10-11: “Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult and be filled from the breasts of your consolation.”

[5] Psalm 122.1: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”

“God Bids Us Welcome”: A Sermon for Quinquagesima Sunday

The following sermon was preached at the 8:30am and 11:00am Rite II Eucharist services on March 3, 2019, being the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Quinquagesima), at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Readings: Exodus 34.29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3.12-4.2; Luke 9.28-36

Collect: O God, who before the Passion of Your Only-Begotten Son revealed His glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of His countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into His likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“As [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered, and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with Him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His exodus, which He was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”—Luke 9.29-31

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

The 17th century Welsh Anglican priest and poet George Herbert wrote these lines posthumously published in a collection of poems titled The Temple, one of Herbert’s most well-known works.

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

John says that “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.” (1 John 4.16) Furthermore, Paul says that in God “we have such a hope” and “should not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 3.12, 4.1) In Herbert’s poem we hear God call out to us, imploring us to abide in the love that is Himself.

But, like the lyrical voice, we, too, if honest with ourselves about ourselves, have felt or do feel unworthy of God’s love and to accept His invitation. Yet, in that very self-awareness God still comes, knowing that His love is the remedy for our shame. Though we are unworthy, God in His love makes us worthy to stand before Him. “You were a forgiving God to them,” says the Psalmist. (Psalm 99.8)

God’s love is seen in how He “bore the blame.” God through His Son Jesus Christ stretched out His arms on the hard wood of the cross that we might come into the reach of His saving embrace. God brings us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, dazzling in white light on a mountaintop in the darkness of night, reveals Himself as “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” (Luke 9.35) Jesus says to us, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11.28) In Jesus’ call is grace and favor, access to Almighty God.

The Transfiguration of Jesus is a significant event. Peter, eight verses before, confessed Jesus to be “the Christ of God.” (Luke 9.20) He with James and John today see Jesus revealed as the Christ in His full glory talking with Moses and Elijah about His exodus. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9.22) In this is Christ’s future and our future, pointing to His blessed passion and precious death on the cross, His mighty Resurrection from death and glorious Ascension into Heaven, all through which Jesus will procure for us and all who confess His Name the benefits of eternal life in His everlasting Kingdom. “We all,” Paul says, “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3.18)

Thus, in the dazzling light of Jesus Christ three days before Lent, we see that which was, is still, and forever shall be: God’s love that bids us welcome. And in Christ we see that what we shall be, that when He comes again in glory, we seeing Him as He is will be transfigured from glory to glory. Today we see a glimpse into our future that has been made possible by God Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

If I lacked anything.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

Love said, You shall be he.

We have been made worthy guests because Jesus is the Christ of God. He was in the beginning with God and is God; “all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.” Christ our Lord and Savior shines in the darkness and darkness has not and cannot overcome Him. By His Incarnation, “we have beheld His glory, glory as of the Only-Begotten Son from the Father.” (John 1.1-3, 5, 14) This is the Christ come from God who takes away our sins, takes our hand and bids us to follow Him. In the light of Christ is life that is really worth living.

Therefore, like Paul, “I [have] decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2.2) God invites us up the mountain to see His Son in the fullness of His glory and back down to share this sight with others, proclaiming, “This is God’s Son, His Chosen; listen to Him!” This is an important and timely message heading into Lent, calling us to focus our hearts and minds and to cede our wills completely over to Jesus whose own life, death, and Resurrection breathes real life into us. This Jesus is the “mighty King, lover of justice, [who has] established equity; [who has] executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.” (Psalm 99.4)

What we today see on the mountaintop, have seen throughout Epiphany, and will see throughout Lent and Holy Week is Jesus’ Gospel message and His passion, death, and Resurrection all as crucial acts for our salvation. Today, we see a foretaste of Easter. For in the dazzling light of Christ is the summary of it all: Christ will die, but not forever; He will rise again and live! And “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. The death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6.8, 10)

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

So I did sit and eat.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“Service Above Self”

The following sermon was preached at the 11am Rite I Choral Eucharist at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York, New York on October 21, 2018, being the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24B)

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ You have revealed Your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of Your mercy, that Your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of Your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 53.4-12; Psalm 91.9-16; Hebrews 5.1-10; Mark 10.35-45

Special Note: A recording of this sermon can be heard at http://www.saintthomaschurch.org/calendar/events/worship/22318/choral-eucharist beginning at the 39:36 time mark.

“Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.”—Mark 10.43-44

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

A wealthy man[1] last Sunday asked Jesus, “Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10.17) Jesus brings the focus towards God’s call to discipleship and to love others: “Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in Heaven, and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 10.21) Though nothing is wrong with being wealthy, one must beware the temptation to trust earthly possessions more than God for security and comfort. Life in Christ’s Kingdom requires a new allegiance, a new way of thinking, full dependence on God more than wealth.[2] All who follow Christ’s way “shall receive a hundredfold now in this time…and in the world to come eternal life.” (Mark 10.30) Jesus ended last Sunday’s Gospel with heedful words: “Many that are first shall be last: and the last first.” (Mark 10.31)

Jesus today continues this teaching with the Zebedee Brothers, James and John. These two “Sons of Thunder” ask Jesus to “grant unto us that we may sit, one on Thy right hand, and the other on Thy left hand, in Thy glory.” They want the best seats in the Kingdom, supreme positions of rank and authority. The other ten disciples show displeasure toward James and John for getting to Jesus first with the request. They mistake Jesus’ coming glory for worldly power. Like sheep, the disciples are being led astray by vain ambition.

All of this comes on the heels of Jesus predicting His Passion to the disciples for the third time. He says

“Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes: and they shall condemn Him to death and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles. And they shall mock Him, and shall scourge Him, and shall spit upon Him, and shall kill Him, and the third day He shall rise again.” (Mark 10.33-34)

On the cross at Calvary, fulfilling the will of God who sent Him, will Jesus come into His glory. His blessed Passion, precious death, and mighty Resurrection will be the glory through which Jesus will grant eternal access to God the Father through the Holy Spirit. Jesus will reign in a Kingdom “not made with hand, [but] eternal in the heavens.” (2 Corinthians 5.1)

Though James and John will follow Jesus in the ultimate expression of discipleship, it will not earn them the prominent rank they today seek.[3] “To sit on My right hand and on My left hand is not mine to give,” Jesus says, “but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.” It is prepared for those willing to serve God by serving and loving others and suffering humiliation in this world for the cause of right. To sit with Christ in His glory in His Kingdom is to do His will.

Thus, “Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be chiefest, shall be servant of all.” James and John’s request unconsciously aligns them with rulers who get a thrill flaunting their power over others.  They are the types that “come…to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” (John 10.10) Such attitudes, Jesus says, cannot and shall not be with His followers. It is such rulers’ prominent status Jesus has come to reverse. “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)

Christ’s cross points us to God’s love and within all who love and serve others abides God. Jesus promises, “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of: and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized.” Only by the grace of Jesus Christ, received through faith, are we empowered to be faithful disciples. With our lives centered on Christ’s Truth, all of life’s rigors cannot, do not, and will never defeat us, for the Gospel gives us the ability to fight life’s battles and press on to victory. Saint Paul says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8.28)

As many of you remember, I had the honor seven years ago to serve this parish as its Seminarian. Very early on in those days, the now Rector Emeritus, Father Mead[4], asked me, “Brandt, what do you feel God is calling you to do as a Priest?” I had it all planned: “After graduation from General, I’m going to go back to Alabama, fulfill my two years of service to the Diocese there, then go to graduate school, get a Ph.D. in American Church history, then teach in a seminary or college theology/religious studies department.” I wanted honor and prestige, to be one of the most well-known Church historians of my generation. Admitting with shame, at that moment, it was more about me than about Jesus.

“That’s all well and good,” Father Mead replied. “But what about the parish?” “I have nothing against parish ministry,” I said back. “I just really feel called to be a Scholar-Priest.” “But even the great Scholar-Priests also served in parishes,” replied Father Mead. “Parish ministry is important. It is important that you be on the frontlines with your fellow clergy serving the people. Don’t ever forget the frontlines.”

Serving here at Saint Thomas taught me what a Priest of the Church meant being. It means being with and among God’s people, walking with them not only during good times but also the hardest moments of their lives. That year here among you changed my perceptions of the ordained vocation and me for the better. No more is it about me, but Jesus completely. Because of the love this parish showed me those seven years ago, to borrow Father Mead’s words, “the ministry of Jesus Christ and the Priesthood are the air I breathe”[5] and I love being a parish Priest.

What Jesus says about being first and great entailing loving and serving others is true, for He, who is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, did it. “And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2.8) The cross was not a joke, but the most genuine act of unconditional love ever displayed. Jesus “was wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53.5) Jesus loved and served us by dying and saving us from sin and spiritual death. “Whereby God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name which is above every name: that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow…and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2.9-11)

How will you live your life? Seeking the world’s glory, which will mean nothing at The End? Or following God and seeking after His righteousness, which will mean everything at The End? We have a chance to orient ourselves towards the right way.

The Church’s liturgy presents God’s redemptive message. We hear God’s Word, words that “are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6.63) Then comes the Confession of Sin, our beginning of becoming whole: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness…We do earnestly repent and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings…Grant [Almighty God] that we may ever hereafter serve and please Thee in newness of life.” And after confession comes Jesus’ comforting words of redemption: “Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 21.28)

The Eucharist is our meal of praise and thanksgiving, grateful that Christ’s Body and Blood given and shed for us have made us “members incorporate in the mystical body of [God’s] Son…and…heirs, through hope, of His everlasting Kingdom.” Redeemed through God’s Word and renewed by the Eucharistic Bread and Wine, we are sent out into the world “to love and serve the Lord.”

Christ in Word and Sacrament changes us. Hear, again, His Good News: WE go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes: and they shall…kill him, and the third day He shall rise again.” From Christ’s glory on the cross comes our glory, bringing us all from strength to strength. And as Saint Paul says, “The Spirit…beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ: if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8.16-17)

So, then, as Saint Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (John 11.16) And we shall be raised with Christ to eternal life, both here on Earth and in Heaven, taking our place in His everlasting Kingdom. May this be the glory we seek.

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] “The Rich Young Man” in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 19.16-30) and “The Rich Ruler” in that of Saint Luke’s (Luke 18.18-30).

[2] David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, ed. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Year B, Volume 4) (Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), pp. 164-165.

[3] Footnote on Mark 10.39-40, NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (Zondervan, 2018), p. 1796.

[4] Andrew Craig Mead (b. 1946), XII Priest and Rector of Saint Thomas Church (1996-2014)

[5] Andrew Craig Mead. “Letter to the People of Saint Thomas Church” (June 26, 2013).

 

“Take Up Your Cross”

Featured Image: Grave of Peter Quire (1806-1899), the Lay Founder and first Benefactor of the Zabriskie Memorial Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Newport, Rhode Island, in “God’s Little Acre,” the historic African-American section of Newport’s Island Cemetery.

The following sermon was preached at the 8:00am Low Mass and 10:00am High Mass at the Zabriskie Memorial Church of Saint John the Evangelist in Newport, Rhode Island on September 16, 2018, being the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 19B)

Collect: O God, forasmuch as without Thee we are not able to please Thee, mercifully grant that Thy Holy Spirit may in all things rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with Thee and the same Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 116.1-8; James 3.1-12; Mark 8.27-38

“[Jesus] said unto them, ‘Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.’”—Mark 8.34

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

How good and wonderful it is to be with you all, the People, Neighbors, and Friends of Saint John’s. My many thanks to your Rector for his invitation to preach the Gospel [and celebrate the Mass[1]] and bringing about this opportunity to meet new friends. And that is just how I see you, despite us not knowing each other long—friends—for as it says in Proverbs, “The rich and poor…together: the Lord is the Maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22.2) So, dear friends, thank you for your welcome of me, a sinner saved by grace and a fellow disciple of Jesus, the Christ.

And it is precisely that, “Thou art the Christ,” (Mark 8.29) Jesus’ very nature, that Peter today confesses in the Gospel. Jesus now asks us, “Whom say ye that I am?” (Mark 8.29). If we, too, believe Jesus to be the Christ, are we willing to do what He says: “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny Himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) Are we willing to follow Jesus to Calvary?

Jesus, in plain language, explains what being the Christ means: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8.31) Peter cannot conceive God’s Christ being subjected to such a fate. Hence, he takes Jesus aside and rebukes Him. But Jesus’ doesn’t fall victim to Satan’s scheme. “For I came down from Heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (John 6.38) As the Psalmist today says, through the cross, Jesus “hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” (Psalm 116.8)

Yet, just as the cross was offensive in Jesus’ day, in our own do many have misgivings about “taking up the cross” and following Jesus. Some hear the Bible’s stories and think them not logical. Others want to believe God is good, but when bad things keep happening, either to them or throughout the world, they wonder, “If God is good, then why does this stuff keep happening?”[2] For many, Jesus’ words are hard to believe.

Jesus knows our misgivings, fears and struggles. He invites us to put Him to the test: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)

Jesus’ cross talk may sound crazy. But it is true. Not only is it good news, it is THE Good News, the best in the entire world. Jesus shows us throughout our lives the good that comes from walking the way of the cross. It becomes less incomprehensible and shameful and more life-changing and joyful. Jesus says, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20.29)

And what we ourselves have not seen, faith helps us to believe. It was 143 years ago that another Peter, a black cobbler named Peter Quire, offered a Priest and a group of young men the use of his Newport Third Street home for missionary work and today on his faith in and confession of Christ this magnificent building stands.[3] Peter Quire is just one of the many saints known and unknown throughout history who were so changed by God that their lives are now for us examples of Christian holiness and gratitude. To the fullest they “toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew.”[4] They were not perfect people by any means but model how to live Christian lives in a broken world. God’s saints were and are regular people like us and their faith in Jesus is encouragement for us to also believe Him and be saints.

From the cross comes the good news that all who believe in Jesus and confess His Name shall not perish but have everlasting life. That is why Jesus speaks of God’s Kingdom over and over again. Its glory surpasses all parabolic descriptions that He doesn’t want whatever misgivings we have of the cross to cause us to miss out on it. We have no need to fear the cross, for Jesus Himself overcame it, death, and the grave and by His glorious resurrection has opened to us the way of everlasting life.

On the cross was God’s true love for all the world’s people on full display. Only through the cross and Christ’s love can we endure the trials of our own lives and conquer oppression. Paul says it best: the way of the cross helps us “beareth all things…hopeth all things, endureth all things.” (1 Corinthians 13.7) Thus, by following the way of the cross, forsaking our wills in favor of God’s, we become our best selves and, through grace, go from being spiritually poor to eternally rich.

Cyril of Jerusalem, one of the foremost theologians of the Early Church, in his time[5] said

“Let us not…be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the Cross our seal made with boldness by our fingers on our brow, and on everything…in our comings in, and goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we rise up; when we are in the way, and when we are still.”[6]

Therefore, we should embrace the cross, for Jesus’ victory on it proves His love is stronger than death. His victory gives us courage to know that we have been given the strength to “wrestle…against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6.12) Jesus showed on Calvary the extent to which God will go to prove His love for you. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are My friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” (John 15.13-14) What does Jesus command? “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13.34) To walk the way of the cross, the way of Christ, is to really live, not just on Earth, but forevermore with Christ in Heaven.

When I was a younger boy, I remember every time my antics would drive my mother close to the edge, she always shouted, “Jesus, keep me near the cross! Keep me near it!” We should all want to be near the cross, seek after it, and live its way. For in the cross and love of Jesus Christ is real life and hope, full redemption and release, and the courage and power to face our troubles.

May we then, like Peter, boldly confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. May we have courage to take up our own cross, walking its way to the destiny Jesus prepares for all who trust in Him—eternal life in His everlasting Kingdom. May Jesus be so glorified in us that “when He cometh in the glory of His Father with the holy angels,” (Mark 8. 38) His words to us may be, “Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matthew 25.23)

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

[1] Only at 10:00am High Mass.

[2] “More Young People Are Moving Away from Religion. But Why?” NPR (https://www.npr.org/2013/01/15/169342349/more-young-people-are-moving-away-from-religion-but-why), Web. Accessed September 12, 2018.

[3] James Merolla. “St. John the Evangelist—The Legacy of Peter Quire: Black Cobbler Founded Point’s Landmark Church in His Home,” Newport This Week (September 3, 2015), p. 22.

[4] “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God,” words by Lesbia Scott (1898-1986).

[5] Cyril of Jerusalem was a distinguished Christian the0logian who lived from c. AD 313-386.

[6] Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, ed. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Volume VII: S. Cyril of Jerusalem; S. Gregory of Nazianzen) (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), p. 92.