Monday, April 24, 2017

Faith Conquers Fear

            I hope that your Easter was joyful.  Rosie and I had our kids, grandkids and our two great grandkids at our place for a wonderful dinner created by all of them.  Rosie made the sweet potatoes!

            That is such a day of celebration.  We have not only our Lord’s resurrection, but also the beginning of Spring, with great weather and the promise of more.  I am certainly ready for it.  Winter and cold are not my favorite things.  I love sitting on the patio and reading under the awning and feeling the breeze in my face. 

            What I love about our lessons as we get into the Easter season is that this season certainly isn’t over.  In the lesson from John today, Jesus’ disciples are all gathered in one room when all of a sudden, Jesus appears to them.  They are astonished.  Notice how the passage begins:  When it was evening, the first day of the week and the doors of the house where the disciples met were all locked for fear of the Jews… Here they are in their fear, waiting for who knows what.  Their Lord has been crucified and they are afraid.  But all of a sudden, their Lord is present.  He showed them his hands and his side and the disciples rejoiced.  He said to them:  Peace be with you! And as the Father has sent me, so I send you.  This is the beginning of the church.  He breathes on them and says Receive the Holy Spirit.  And he sends them out to forgive the sins that they find.

            Thomas isn’t with them.  When he came back to them, they told him, “we have seen the Lord!”  Thomas. told them “unless I see the marks of the nails on his hand and put my finger in them and put my hand in the wound in his side, I will not believe.” 

            A week later, they were all gathered again and Thomas was present.  Jesus again appeared to them and spoke to Thomas:  Here, put your finger in the wounds in my hand and your hand in the wound in my side.  Do not doubt, but believe! Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.”  Then Jesus says the most meaningful thing of all.  Do you believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen me, yet believe! That is you and me that Jesus is talking about..  We have only our faith to show us the presence of our Lord in our lives.  We haven’t seen his wounds or his body lying in the tomb.  All that we have are the scriptures that tell the story and the testimony of the followers of his who so firmly believed.  That faith is what we take with us into our lives to help us to deal with all of the things that happen to us; to celebrate our joy and to dry our tears because of our distress.  The truth is that our Lord is at our side and we are blessed when we believe that.

            We hear a lot these days about fake news and alternative facts.  This story about Jesus’ resurrection isn’t about either of these things.  It is about faith.  Faith is belief without necessarily having any facts to prove what we believe.  When I consider all of Holy Scripture, there are many places where facts are obscure and I’m not really sure what it is that happened.  What I hear in the stories is always helpful.  The stories in the bible tell us truth.  Most often, the facts of the story don’t really matter.

             When we were in Jerusalem, we got into a taxi and the driver asked us if we wanted to go to the home of the Prodigal Son.  We thanked him, but declined his offer.  He didn’t know where the Prodigal Son lived, nobody knows that.  It is simply a wonderful story in the Gospel that tells the truth about how it is that God receives the lost back into his care.  There have been many prodigal sons. I’ve been one. Some of you have been one!  The beauty of that story is that   God’s love is eternal and applies to us all.  Where those people lived or if they really lived is not important.  What matters is the truth of what that story tells us all.

            We all struggle with faith from time to time.  When things in our lives go sour, sometimes it is hard to believe that our God loves us.  We blame God when we ought to be looking at other causes.  We humans don’t always treat each other very well.  The other thing that we experience these days is fear.  Fear that North Korea will unleash nuclear weapons; fear that the things that have made our lives better, such as affordable health care may vanish. But God never promised us a perfect ride; only that His Love will remain constant no matter what it is that happens to us in our lives.  Our faith is a solution to our fear.  Faith connects us to the only thing that matters: the great God who loves us completely.  Our church is a collection of people of faith.  Each of us is here to help the other.  That is the beauty of community.

            Those disciples of Jesus, who witnessed his resurrection and saw the wounds in his hands and in his side were sent into the world by our Lord to forgive sin and to make the world a better place for the people whom they met along the way.  That is the same thing that Jesus did during his whole ministry.  You and I are the descendants of those disciples.  Our mission is to do what we can to help those whom we meet in this world.  When we love others, we spread the Love of God farther into this world.  What keeps us going is our faith.  Believe in the Lord with all of your heart, soul and your mind.  When you do that, all will be well.   

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

            I’ve never experienced a resurrection.  Not that I haven’t wanted to.  There have been a number of times when I have stood beside a casket at a funeral and have looked at the grieving family and I’ve wished that I could somehow bring their loved one back to them.  Grief is a difficult thing to experience.  We all have done it.  Even grieving over the death of a pet is a hard thing to go through. 

            This isn’t a day of grief, it is a day of joy at the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died that horrible death on the cross on Good Friday and was buried in a borrowed tomb.  That death produced grief on the part of all of Jesus’ followers, his family and his friends and we all experienced the loss of our Lord who meant so much to this world.  The message of Good Friday is that the God whom we all worship is dead.  God came to earth in the form of Jesus of Nazareth, and showed us all the love, mercy, compassion and joy that God has intended for all of us.  Our response to that outpouring of love was to kill our Lord and to ignore the consequences of that.

            I have had the experience of walking through the church on Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday and have smelled the flowers that the altar guild has set out for the following day and I have thought that there was something wrong here.  Holy Saturday is the day that God is dead.  Why are we celebrating?  Yes, I know that time is of the essence and that the Altar Guild really had no choice in their timing. They had to get it all done.

            But now it is Easter.  This is a day to celebrate the beauty of the resurrection of our Lord, the giving back to us of the Son of God who took away the sins of the world and who made so many lives brighter with his love.  Simply listening to the stories that we have told of the mercies that he brought to so many people is enough to help us to see the beauty that God has conferred on this world by the life of his Son. 

            Today, we receive the greatest gift that can be given to any of us:  the certainty of resurrection and eternal life.  When the Irish experience a death, they many times have what is called a “wake”.  This is a time of celebration for the life of the deceased and the certainty that their loved one has attained eternal life.  That is a wonderful idea.  Celebration at the time of death might seem to be out of place, but it is a statement of the truth of our faith.  We will see each other again when we all find ourselves in the arms of God.

            The story that is told in John’s Gospel about the resurrection is remarkable.  Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early in the morning and finds the stone rolled away and the tomb empty.  She runs and tells Peter and the other disciples that “they have taken the Lord’s body away and I don’t know where they have laid him.”  Peter and the other disciple, the one that Jesus loved, ran to the tomb and found it empty.  They saw the linens lying apart, but didn’t understand what had happened.  They returned to their homes. 

            Mary stood outside the tomb weeping.  Two angels were there who asked her, “woman, why are you weeping?”  She told them that it was because they had taken her Lord away and that she didn’t know where they had laid him.  She turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know that it was Jesus, she supposed that it was the gardener.  She said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where he is and I will take him away.  Jesus said to her, “Mary!” Mary said to him “Rabbouni”, which means teacher and she reached out to touch him.  Jesus said not to hold on to him because he has not ascended to the father. Her tears of grief turned into tears of joy. Mary ran and told the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!”

            I can’t imagine a more wonderful story.  Mary’s grief is incredible and when Jesus says her name, Mary! It creates great joy in her where grief had been the only thing that she had been able to feel.  This is the Lord’s presentation of resurrection to all of us in a way that we can take   for our own.  It helps me to imagine that after my death, I will see a strange figure before me who will turn out to be my Lord.  Jesus will turn and say Rodge! And I will know that my life in eternity has started. That is the message of Easter and it is why it is the greatest holiday of our year.  God bless all of you.  Enjoy yourselves on this wonderful day!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From Joy to Despair and Back to Joy

           Palm Sunday is such an extraordinary day.  When I was at Christ Church, North Hills, we would always dramatize the long Gospel for this day.  Various people would dress up and take parts.  I was always Pilate, or one of the priests who was denouncing Jesus.  I remember one Sunday when Judas came running down the aisle and threw the thirty pieces of silver at our feet and ran away again.  It was a great dramatization of this terrible moment in Jesus’ life; betrayed by his disciples, convicted by the religious authorities and put into the hands of Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor who was certain to have him killed. 

            All of this happens to Jesus after a triumphal march into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with the crowds throwing palms at his feet in tribute.  They all thought that their days of limited freedom was over and that this great king on a donkey was going to be the solution to all of their problems.  That was certainly true, but not in the way that they thought.  Jesus was coming in triumph.  His triumph was to provide salvation and resurrection to all of the people.  This was much more than the desire of people who had lived under Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian and Roman rule and had little say about their lives.  Jesus was present to provide for them the kind of life that God had in mind for all of humanity. 

            Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, with Good Friday preceding the glory of Easter.  We go through this story year by year looking closely at the life of our Lord to again understand the passion that he endured willingly so that we all can look forward to eternal life, even though death is a certainty.  Jesus certainly knew what he was doing, and his disciples also knew what the outcome would be.  When Jesus was preparing to go to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas said to the other disciples: “Let us go and die with him.”  Even though the disciples all ran away from the cross, there is certainty that they knew what was going to happen.

            What Jesus brought to all of us is compassion and mercy.  Those are the things that get us through life with all of its difficulties and moments of crisis.  I have watched how these two beautiful qualities can lift spirits and provide comfort, even in the most desperate times of life.  That wonderful old song for children: Jesus loves me, yes, I know, for the bible tells me so is a great tribute to our Lord’s life and his spirit.  I was at a clergy conference one year when our speaker was asked what was the most important thing for us to understand about Jesus.  He sat down at the piano and played and asked us all to sing that simple song.  It was a moment to relish.  He was teaching us about the beauty of love; God and Jesus for all of us, and us for one another.  It is hard to think of another quality that reaches as far.

            Love is what Jesus was doing not only on Palm Sunday, but throughout his ministry.  We have heard stories over the last month in our scriptures about how Jesus took care of the people whom he met along the way; the man born blind, the woman at the well and poor Lazarus dying in Bethany. Every time that he encountered someone with pain or great need, his attention focused on how to heal, how to comfort, how to express compassion.  All of the wonderful stories that we continue to hear about our Lord tells us constantly this story. 

            Our response to this great gift needs also to be to love.  We are living in a very difficult time in our history.  Bigotry, misogyny and other nasty traits seem to be expressed by people everywhere who ought to know better.  There are many people who are hurting and who feel like they are neglected and left behind.  We all need to care deeply about this and to make sure that those people who feel outcast and alone are not left there.  As we go about our lives, we need to look around us and take the needs that we see seriously and to offer our comfort and help to ease the stress, to raise hopes and to help us all to get through the difficult moments.  That is how we serve the Lord, who gave himself completely for all of us.




Sunday, April 2, 2017

Death and Our Lives

            Death is a hard thing for us to encounter.  It is difficult to listen to television night after night to hear about all of the shootings and the way that human beings take life from each other.  Those who kill don’t seem to have any appreciation for human life.  When I hear Dylan Roof talk about how he killed the people in the Charleston church it almost sounds like bragging.  He did it out of a sense that his white supremacist values were reason enough.  It hurt to listen to him try to offer this as a reason.  Death is a difficult thing because we all have relationships with each other.  We have developed affection and caring with the people whom we know.  Losing them takes value out of our lives.

            I remember when my parents and Rosie’s parents died.  We lost a great deal when that happened.  My dad was only 67 and my mother lived until she was almost 89.  Rosie’s dad was in his sixties and her mother was only in her fifties.  We mourned those losses and we still remember them.  This all comes to mind because we had two funerals in the last two weeks. Rosie’s uncle David died and we lost John Fetterman, a great priest of the church who was the interim at Christ Church, North Hills in 1981 before I became their rector.  We mourned these dear people also.

            I’m certainly not telling you anything new.  You have all had your own experiences with death and you know well the hurt that it creates.  One of the great things about this faith of ours is that it speaks to this problem with eloquence.  Jesus came to help us to understand that our God intends for us to have eternal life.  He proved this with his own death and resurrection which we will celebrate in a few weeks with the glorious Easter season.  In the process of his ministry in this world he provided a number of hints that this was what he intended to do.  The lessons that we heard today offer a window into that thinking and Jesus’ work to show eternity to all of us.

            The Old Testament lesson is that great passage from Ezekiel about the valley of the dry bones.  God sent the prophet to that place to speak to all of the dried bones lying there.  As he was instructed, Ezekiel called on those bones to rise.  He watched while they came together, took on sinew and flesh and then began to breathe.  God told him that these raised bones were the whole of the house of Israel who were being given back their land and their hope.  This was a beautiful moment for those seemingly lost people. 

            In the Gospel, we hear of the remarkable story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  This is an incredible story.  Jesus tells his disciples that his friend Lazarus is sick and that he must go to him.  He, surprisingly, waits a couple of days before he goes to him.  When he gets to Bethany, Lazarus’ home, Jesus hears that his friend has died.  Martha, Lazarus sister comes to him as he walks and says to him: Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died!  I don’t think that I can say those words with the pain and grief that Martha expressed.  After Mary came and said the same thing to him, Jesus asked them: Where have you laid him?  Jesus went to that place and wept.  This was not just some mechanical thing for Jesus, the raising of Lazarus.  Jesus had deep feelings about his friend and he wanted him to be alive.  Some of the Jews who were near the grave said, see how much he loved him; but others said could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?

            Jesus then went to the tomb, which had been sealed with a large stone and asked the people to take the stone away.  Martha warned him that it had been four days since the burial and that there would be a stench.  Jesus called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb.  Lazarus came from the tomb with his body wrapped in bandages.  He was unbound and walked away.

            What strikes me about these two stories is how they impact our lives.  Death is not to be taken lightly.  When Jesus wept at Lazarus’ grave, he told us that our grief is real.  And Lazarus’ raising tells us that God has eternity in mind for all of us.  May we be blessed in this life that we live and comforted when we experience the death of those whom we love.  Help us to know the beauty of life everlasting and be blessed always.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Judgement and Forgiveness

            I have a prayer that I use every time I open myself to God.  I ask God to “curb my judgement”.  I do that because I am a frequent and terrible judge, sometimes when I am watching television and particularly when I am driving.  “That guy on the motorcycle isn’t wearing a helmet!”  “Why did that car pull out in front of me?”  What is wrong with him!” “Why is that car going so fast?” I say that just before I start driving that fast myself.    I’m awful about that stuff.  I even stop myself when I am doing it and try to stop it.  Rosie calls me on it all the time.  Judgement is an easy thing for all of us to do.  It comes with setting the rules for how everyone ought to behave and then watching as people disobey. It is sometimes satisfying, making us feel like we are better than all of those offenders.
            After God rejected Saul from being King over Israel, he sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to find the next king.  In the process of this, Samuel found Jesse’s youngest son, David to be the one selected by God and he anointed him to be King.  It was a tremendous moment for the people of Israel.  David turned out to be a great King with a great story.  The great thing about David is that he wasn’t perfect.  He was also a remarkable sinner.  He is the one who lured Bathsheba to his home and seduced her.  The child that was born because all of this did not survive, but after they married, Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon who was a great king who followed David and who built the great temple in Jerusalem where the Ark of the Covenant was stored.  What I like about this story is that being a sinner is not the end of the game. That is the best news that we are ever going to get.  We are not going to lose the love of our creator just because we make some mistakes.

            I have seen this work out in practice.  I have listened to many people who have done things that they regret and are worried that they have fallen out of favor with God because of what they have done.  What I have been able to assure them of is that they are loved by God and are forgiven by God because God’s love is not conditional.  We are loved because we have been created by our God who stands ready to forgive everything that we do that we know is wrong.

            The Pharisees had a curious way of thinking about sin, kind of like me when I am in full judgement mode. They were the rule makers who watched how people obeyed.  When they failed, the Pharisees told them that they were sinners and threw them out of the temple.  This made the Pharisees better than the rest of the people because they were the rulers.  It is fascinating how this worked in the Gospel that we heard about Jesus healing the man born blind.

            The story begins with Jesus’ disciples asking him about the man born blind, “who was it who sinned, was it the man or his parents?”  Jesus answered them by telling them that nobody sinned, that the man was born blind so that the glory of God could be seen through him by his healing.  Jesus then made a paste of mud, rubbed it on the man’s eyes, told him to wash in the pool of Siloam and when he washed, all of a sudden he could see.  This story was told to the Pharisees who were disturbed that this was done on the Sabbath and was therefore a sin.  When they discovered this, they told the formerly blind man of this sin and threw him out of the temple.  Jesus found him and talked to him about what had happened.  The man told him and Jesus asked him if he believed in the Son of Man.  The man asked Jesus who that was and Jesus told him that it was he who was speaking with him.  The man said simply, “I believe.”  Jesus then said I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind.  Some Pharisees who were near heard what he said and replied, Surely, we are not blind are we? Jesus told them, If you were blind, you would not have sin, but now that you say “we see”, your sin remains.  This becomes a great discussion of what is or is not sin.  Certainly, the way that the man born blind was treated by the Pharisees in the temple was sinful.  He had done nothing at all wrong.  All that Jesus did wrong when healing him was to do it on the Sabbath, which was against the Pharisee’s rules.  It was only sin to the rulers of the temple, not sin before God.

            The way to stop all of this is by looking closely at ourselves.  Here in the season of Lent we are asked to do just that.  Beginning with Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return, a statement that tells us about our humanity, about our life and that our deaths are a foregone conclusion.  Getting right with God and with each other needs to be our focus and that is what slows down judgement.  Lent proceeds through its Sundays with stories of Jesus’ constant forgiveness featured.  Finally, we get to Palm Sunday, when Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph at first and then is handed over to the authorities, tried and sent to the cross to die.  Here is Jesus giving of himself to counter all of the judgement around him. This is God telling humanity how much we are loved, that he sent his only son to die for us that we might understand the depth of that love.  The way that we are asked to respond to that love is to love one another.  This can lessen our judgement and increase our community.    


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Accepting One Another

            Tony Norman had a column in the Post-Gazette this week describing how the young Muslims in Canada have been going door to door and introducing themselves, passing out pamphlets in order to counter the negative feelings that sometimes have existed even in peaceful Canada.  His column went on to wonder what would happen in this country if they did the same thing and speculated that there might be some shooting problems in the US with our Castle Doctrine, the extraordinary number of guns and the sometimes unabashed bigotry that we have in our communities.  Getting along with each other is certainly what we need in this nation.  We have had such a growth of conspiracy theories and misunderstanding over religion and politics.  I’m not sure that a house-to-house program led by the Muslims such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s witnesses do would work very well.  We have become a nation that has become more or less averse to listening.

            The story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well is one of the greatest stories in the New Testament.  Jesus has arrived at a town called Sychar, present day Nablus, which is the site of Jacob’s well.  We visited this place when we were in the Middle East and I got a jar of water from the well.  In the Gospel story, Jesus was sitting by the well at midday, thirsty from his trip.  His disciples had all gone into town to get some food.  The woman arrived at the well and Jesus said to her, give me a drink.  She was puzzled at this and she showed her puzzle by asking Jesus, how is it that you, a Jew ask me, a woman of Samaria to give you a drink? The Jews and the Samaritans had many differences stemming from the time of the Assyrian conquest of the northern tribes.  He told her that he would give her living water.  She said to him, give me that water so that I don’t have to come all the way out here to this well to get water. Jesus told her to go and to get her husband.  She said that she had no husband.  Jesus told her that she was right about that, that she had had five husbands and the man that she was living with was not her husband.  The woman went back into the town and told the people who were there that she had met an amazing man who had told her everything that she ever was and one who could possibly be the Messiah.  The people all streamed to the well to see Jesus.

            What strikes me about this encounter is not only the conversation between a Jew and a Samaritan, it also about Jesus encountering a cast-aside woman who deeply needed to find acceptance.  She came out to the desert to Jacob’s well to get water because the well in the town was surrounded by women who constantly rejected her because of her lifestyle, because of her many marriages.  You can imagine the tongues wagging as she went past the well where they were all gathered. 

            What is particularly impressive about this meeting that Jesus has with the woman is his lack of condemnation.  Jesus accepts her as a five-times married Samaritan who has no standing in her town and has to come all the way out to the desert to get water.  This is a beautiful demonstration of Jesus’ message to the world that God loves each and every one of us, that his forgiveness and his certain acceptance is there for each of us whenever we need to repent and get on with our lives.  He offers this to the woman at the well without any exception.  She is included.  What is amazing is that the people in the town, who have not accepted the woman at all are intrigued by her announcement that she has found a wonderful person who just may be the Messiah and come flocking out to Jacob’s well to see him.   All of their condemnation and bigotry evaporated because of her announcement that she had had such a wonderful experience at Jacob’s well.  I can imagine that the look on her face as she came to tell her story was enough to influence the people of the town.

            The lessons on these Lenten Sundays have been interesting in the way that we started with the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ definition of God’s commandments to include much more than we ever thought.  Thou shalt not kill now includes being angry with one another.  Committing adultery includes having lustful thoughts.  But Jesus goes on to show us in his interaction with the Pharisee Nicodemus and in this story of the woman at the well how that mercy and compassion are at the heart of God’s love for all of us.  Jesus told us how it would be best to live, but offered also the promise of God’s love and forgiveness when we fail.  In this culture of blame and finger pointing, this is exactly what we all need to hear.  Listening to each other is the key to our relationships.  Increasingly, the people in positions of power seem to listen less each day.  If we are ever going to have peace in this world and in this nation, we need to have them listen to us and we need to listen to them.  When that happens, we will begin to have understanding and understanding leads to peace and the better welfare of us all.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

Jesus Great Gift of Forgiveness

            The conversation that Jesus has with Nicodemus that is described in John’s Gospel is very significant.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the higher orders of the Jewish faith.  The Pharisees were always the judges of who was keeping the law and who wasn’t.  Rules were very important to them.  These leaders were the ones who God spoke about who made sure that everyone knew what good deeds that they were doing.  When they gave sums to various causes, they did it with great flourish so that they got optimum credit.  Jesus told us not to be like them.  When we said our prayers, or when we gave of our wealth to causes, we ought to do it quietly so as not to make people look at us rather than at the causes that we are supporting.

            Jesus also brought a message of forgiveness and restoration to the people that he met in his ministry.  They all lived in a society in which keeping the rules that the Pharisees set was all important.  The Pharisees set the boundaries.  What Jesus brought to this world is the infinite mercy of God, who sees the struggle and the pain of human existence and who sent Jesus to help us to understand that love is the answer to our struggle.  The story of the woman accused of adultery who is brought before Jesus who refused to condemn her to being stoned to death and who said those wonderful words, he who is without sin cast the first stone; and after he said this, the crowd just melted away. Condemnation and punishment was not something that Jesus wanted to see.  He wanted us to understand that the desire of our God is for us to be forgiven and returned to a place where we could live our lives in peace and hope.  Sometimes people want to focus on the fact that he also told the woman to go and sin no more, but focusing on that diminishes the message of this moment in Jesus ministry.  The last thing that Jesus says to Nicodemus is that God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world would be saved through him.

             Nicodemus saw something in Jesus that intrigued him and that he wanted to know more about.  He knows that Jesus carries with him the being of God and he admires him very much.  He says that nobody can do the things that Jesus has done apart from God’s approval.  Jesus tells Nicodemus that the only way that we can know God’s presence is to be born from above.  What our Lord means is that without being dedicated to the working of the Spirit, that you can’t know any of the things that God is doing in this world.  Nicodemus has a hard time understanding what Jesus is trying to tell him, but he follows him anyway.

            What I find compelling in the story of Nicodemus is that he is the one who provided the empty tomb for Jesus after his crucifixion.  Nicodemus, the Pharisee, came up with the place to lay Jesus’ body.  He did that out of a faith that came from watching Jesus do his ministry in this world. Nicodemus found a way to be “born from above” and see the beauty of the love that Jesus brought into this world, and the forgiveness that became the basis of Christianity as it began to tell the world about the Risen Christ.

            Over the years, the church has sometimes slipped back into the Pharisee’s mode of giving us all rules to live by.  Many Episcopal churches will tell you that all “baptized” Christians are welcome at the altar to receive the sacrament.  I’ve always thought that to be a bit too strict.  I like it when everyone in the congregation is invited to come and receive the sacrament.  The reason for that is that in the process of receiving the bread and the wine which has become the body and blood of our Lord, we receive the presence of God in our lives and have the joyful experience of being forgiven our sins and sent out to show the world the love that God has given us in the person of Jesus, his Son. 

            Here we are in Lent, a wonderful time to cleanse ourselves of the things that we have all done wrong and to find a way to be agents of the God who loves us all so very much.  That is a great gift and one that I hope that we all can share with the world.  I’ve had moments in my life when I have hurt very much.  When I had my brain tumor, I had a whole congregation surround me with their comfort.  I was so thankful for their care and their compassion.  It made a great difference in my recovery. As you go on with your lives, look for those who are hurting and afraid.  Comfort them as you can and make sure that you leave them with the sense that at least somebody cares.  That is our mission as Christians.  God wants peace in this world, not only between nations, but with all of us.  In this tumultuous time, listen to one another.  That alone will help create peace.