September 20, 2009

The Greatest is the Servant of All

Sermon, Mark 9.30—37 Fr. Scott T Homer
In the name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sometimes, I think that we read the Bible as if it is somehow isolated from our daily lives, as if Matthew and Mark and Peter and Paul are living in some sort of time capsule and that their words are some sort of historical oddities. We look at them as curiosities. We don’t seem to see how they are relevant to our modern lives. And that is too bad because the Bible writers demonstrate an uncanny wisdom about human nature. Their observations are often precisely accurate. And why shouldn’t they be? People today are really no different than they were then. We suffer from the same spiritual diseases now as people did then.
St. James tells us that, “where envy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” And I think it is fair and in fact helpful to invert the saying and to conclude that where we find disorder and every vile practice we will find that jealousy and selfish ambition are at its root. Where you’ve got one, you’ve sure to have the other. And in our day and age we have an abundance of both disorder and vile practices.
By disorder, St James means conflict. We know about conflict. We live with it all the time. Forget about the minor bickering and separations that plague our days. Let’s just look at conflict at the extremes. America has become a very dangerous place to live. A couple of years ago I looked up the number of military fatalities suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan and compared it to the number of murders in America. I wanted to see how the numbers compared. What would you guess was the bigger number? If you guessed murders in America you are right. In fact, the statistics are not even close. There were three or four times as many murders in America as combat fatalities. We are killing each other by the droves. And violence is not restricted to our streets. You don’t have to leave home to get hurt. One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. And this year alone, 1.3 million women will be physically assaulted—not by a stranger, not because she wandered down the wrong alley somewhere but by someone she knows and in her own home. We know about disorder. We know about conflict. And we know about vile behavior as well. Drug and alcohol addictions, pornography, child molestation, abortion, suicide, our children are cutting themselves, we see demonism and Satan worship at disturbing levels. And these are just the extreme things. In fact, America has developed a rather prodigious list of social ills. In terms of “every vile practice” we have really distinguished ourselves.
But speaking about “America” is just a way of holding the problem out at arms length where we aren’t implicated. We personally aren’t involved. It is simply too antiseptic. The fact is that we are involved. All of us are affected. The problem isn’t “theirs out there.” It is ours right here. The question for most all of our families today is not, ‘is there vile behavior in our midst but rather which ones.’ If you aren’t an addict you don’t have to look very far to find one in your family tree. If you aren’t being abused you know someone pretty close to home who is. Chances are way above 50% that one of your computers contains downloads of sexually explicit materials. Each of us can, if we have a heart for honesty and the courage to examine our lives, catalog our own personal list of things we would rather nobody knows about us. We don’t talk about the messes. We don’t admit our faults to one another. In fact we have an unspoken agreement with one another that we will pretend that our lives are happy, healthy and whole. If you don’t expose me…I won’t expose you. And so, disorder and vile behavior abound in our lives even as we agree to pretend that they do not.
So, we know what St James is talking about when he talks about disorder and vile behavior. And if our hypothesis is true, then we ought to see envy and selfish ambition at the root of it all.
If we are ever going to know freedom from the tyranny of sin, and if we are ever going to know peace with our neighbors we are going to have to understand what the Bible is telling us about the relationship between the mess we find ourselves in and our own self-centeredness. And I think we need to look particularly at the self-centeredness issue because even envy is only a manifestation of it.
What is self-centeredness? What does it look like? Bette Middler was on a talk show years ago, and she had been going on and on about how wonderful her life was and finally she looked at the talk show host and said, “But I have done nothing but talk about myself…what do you think of me?” Self-centeredness, there just is not room for anyone else. Like small children, adults in our society act as if all of their passions must be satisfied, right now. We step over people to get what we want. We have become unable to have a reasoned conversation with someone who disagrees with our position. Our lives are lived isolated from everyone else. We see other people as a means to our end. We become greedy. We find we are increasingly angry because, after all, the world does not seem to be as devoted to me as I am devoted to me. Our relationships suffer.
Our society has decided to glory in self-centeredness. It is sold to us as a virtue. We see books telling us how to go about getting the things we want from life. (They are always about how we can successfully manipulate others) We see television commercials telling us that we deserve to be treated lavishly. We are told that you can’t love anyone else unless you first love yourself. Even our means of communicating with one another have grown incredibly isolated and self-focused. How many of you are on facebook? Facebook is all about me, talking about me, so that the world might see me in the way that I want them to see me. Our obsession with our own lives really is a mess and it really does go a long way in explaining why we are suffering the social problems we are suffering. After all:
If how I feel is the most important thing then why wouldn’t I abuse prescription drugs? If me getting what I want is the most important thing then why wouldn’t I beat up my spouse when she wants something different? If my gratification is the most important thing why wouldn’t I be willing to degrade and humiliate another human being in order to get my perceived needs met? If my self-centered interest is the only thing that matters then the world becomes nothing more than a tool that I manipulate as best as I can to get what I think I must have. And when all of us are trying to do the same thing then we end up in constant conflict with one another. Every time your interests conflict with mine I must find a way to defeat your purpose in order to accomplish mine. Disorder and vile behavior are the inevitable fruit of a hedonistic society. And by the way, every culture that has gone down this path has failed. History books are full of stories about hedonistic societies that used to exist.
Now St. James contrasts this dysfunctional way of living with a functional way. He says that, “the wisdom from above (that is the wisdom from God that will give life) is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.” And that is all very good stuff BUT to get to the real solution we will do far better by looking to Jesus and listening to what Jesus has to say about it. In Mark chapter 9 we see self-centeredness rearing its ugly head amongst the disciples. Jesus asks his disciples what they were talking about while they were walking along and sheepishly they admit that they had been arguing (there is that disorder and conflict theme again) and it had been over the issue of who was the greatest. (there is that self-centeredness theme again) Isn’t that amazing? Right under Jesus’ nose. Apparently nobody is exempt—not even the chosen twelve.
Jesus hears what happened and he immediately understand that this is a serious problem. And he addresses it without delay. This is the correct way of dealing with our sin—quickly and without compromise. It never gets easier by waiting. Confess it now. Get help now. (and one of the things I admire about the apostles is that they always remain teachable. They never refuse Jesus’ correction. They don’t try to defend their actions or rationalize their faults. They submit to Jesus’ teaching time after time after time. It would be better for us if we were more teachable.)
We have all heard, a thousand times, “the first shall be last and the last shall be first and if you wish to lead you must be the servant of all.” And we treat it as a hard teaching but in fact it is not that hard at all. Do you want to have a successful job interview? Pay a lot of attention to the interviewer. Honor what they are saying to you. Be helpful to them. Listen carefully and respond compassionately to what they are saying. More often than not, if you can make the interview about the interviewer’s self-interests you will have won the job. Who do you like to talk to? People like Bette Middler who only talk about themselves? Or somebody who takes a genuine interest in you and asks questions about you and listens to your concerns? Who are you most likely to allow to lead you? Isn’t it the one you know has your best interest at heart? We are most likely to trust, to obey and to follow the one who loves us, cares for us and is kind and generous to us. And so the person who puts themselves last, who thinks of others first, who acts out of love, is the one who exhibits the best leadership gifts.
You see, when Jesus puts that child in the middle of the circle, that kid doesn’t mean anything to any of them. He can’t give them anything. He is just a burden. And yet, Jesus says, when you help this helpless one, you are being the most godlike. When you care for the least, the last and the lost; when you sacrifice your life to save the life one someone who can never hope to repay you; when you give generously knowing full well that you will never get it back; when you suffer pain in order that someone who does not care about you will not have to suffer, then you are truly living like God lives and doing what God does. This is the highest ideal. This is a purpose worth working to achieve. It is the impossible dream and the great experiment. And if we were able to attain it our society would be transformed. We would see freedom from addiction. Our lives would be characterized by strong, caring relationships. We would know peace with one another and our lives would be blessed by God’s powerful presence in our midst. Love, which is what we have been talking about, conquers all, heals all, restores all…and it is a quite distant possibility. We get glimpses of it but we are not there yet. We need help. We need a savior who can do what we can not do for ourselves.
Now I believe that this saying from Jesus is more than just a moral teaching on the advantages of loving one another. As Jesus talks about the last being first and the first last, as he talks about the greatest being the servant of all, Jesus points to himself. Jesus is the Anointed One. Jesus is the Holy One of God and yet, even as he is speaking to his disciples he is on his way to Jerusalem. He is going to Jerusalem to complete a mission. He is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 53. He is to become a ransom for many. He is to become sin in order that sinners can be set free. The Greatest is about to become the least, the last and the lost. He does this voluntarily. He does this for people who don’t care about him, people who can never repay him, even people who despise him. The first becomes the last in order that the last might become the first.
And when Jesus sacrifices himself for your sake, his sacrifice is completely sufficient. When Jesus dies on the cross for your sins you are truly set free. You need do nothing in order to be saved, other than to believe in your savior. It is no longer about you being good enough. I heard a wonderful illustration last week. A woman got on a bus carrying a suitcase. And as the bus lurched along she hung on to that bag with all her might…but after awhile she grew weary of the weight of that bag but still she hung on to it. Finally, the bus driver turned around to her and he said, “Lady, you can put that bag down. This bus is powerful enough to carry you and that bag to our destination.” Friends, Jesus is powerful enough to carry you and your sins. He will see you safely home.
And something happens when we put that bag down and we trust in Jesus. We find that we have been set free to act unselfishly. You see, as long as our future depends on us and our efforts, we will find that we are acting selfishly. We have to. If we don’t get what we need nobody else will get it for us. (and that is where most of us live most of the time. But it doesn’t have to be that way.) We can accept the truth—that the Son of God has died in order that we might live. We can entrust our lives to Jesus, and when we accept the fact that he has all power is completely capable of carrying us to our destination, us and our sins, then our days can be devoted to more important things—like the service of others—like becoming more Christ-like—like celebrating this tremendous gift of life that we have been given—like worshipping this awesome God who has given everything in order that we might spend eternity with him.

September 17, 2009

Pray for the Judge hearing our case in Pittsburgh

Pray that the Lord would show us favor through the ruling of Judge Joseph James who is deciding the case brought against us by Calvary Church and the Episcopal Church. Pray blessings for the judge as he weighs this very difficult case.

ACNA Diocese of Ft Worth Wins Big Decision against TEC

CO U R T I S S U E S D E C I S I O N O N RU L E 12 M O T I O N
FORT WORTH, Texas – In a hearing today in the141st District Court, Judge John Chupp granted theDiocese partial relief under Rule 12 of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. He ruled that attorneys Jonathan Nelson and Kathleen Wells do not represent the diocese or the corporation which have realigned under the Province of the Southern Cone. He denied a second aspect of Rule 12 relief which would have removed the plaintiffs’ diocese and corporation from the lawsuit filed April 14, 2009.
The judge also ruled that neither the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church nor the Constitution and Canons of this diocese prohibit withdrawal from TEC and realignment under another province. Further, he found that the Diocese had done so at its November 2008 annual convention, saying that “they [the members] took the diocese with them.” The action of the November convention was not, he said, ultra vires and void, as the suit’s plaintiffs have argued. He declared, too, that the
Diocese had taken its property with it in realignment. He said he did not consider any court ruling concerning a realigning parish to be applicable in the present case, and he said that he considered it “self-serving on [the part of TEC] to say that [Bishop Iker] abandoned his job.”

The hearing on the Rule 12 motion began Wednesday, Sept. 9. At that time, the judge denied a motion for continuance filed by Nelson and Wells. Each party filed a supplemental written statement in the period between the first and second portions of the hearing. The statement submitted by attorney Shelby Sharpe is available on the diocesan Web site.

Commenting on today’s ruling, Bishop Iker said, “We are pleased that Judge Chupp has recognized the legitimacy of the vote of our Diocesan Convention in November 2008 to withdraw from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and has ruled that we had the legal right to amend our Constitution in order to do so. This a positive step in support of the position we have taken. We will continue to keep our concerns before the Lord in prayer.”

The date for a further hearing to take up the remaining Motion for Leave to File a Third-Party Petition will be set shortly. A date of October 15 has been set to hear the plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgement.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth was organized in 1982. It is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion and the Province of the Southern Cone. The Rt. Rev. Jack L. Iker has served as the third diocesan Bishop of Fort Worth since 1995. The
diocese enjoys companion relationships with the Dioceses of Northern Malawi and Northern Mexico.

September 8, 2009

Episcopal Nuns in Maryland join Roman Catholic Church

All Saints’ Sisters Join Roman Catholic Church
Posted at The Living Church Online on: September 4, 2009

Ten of the 12 members of the All Saints’ Sisters of the Poor were received into communion with the Roman Catholic Church during a liturgy held at their convent in Catonsville, Md., on Sept. 3.

The nuns renewed their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to the Rt. Rev. Edwin O’Brien, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. The Rev. Warren Tanghe, the former chaplain to the order, also has applied to become a Roman Catholic priest.

The two nuns who decided to remain Episcopalians will continue to live in community with the other sisters. The Rt. Rev. Donald Parsons, retired Bishop of Springfield and the order’s episcopal visitor, was among the 120 people present at the service.

“I speak for all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Baltimore in expressing our thanks to God that you, good sisters, will ennoble our Catholic community with your sterling and steadfast witness to consecrated life, with a rich heritage of prayer, liturgical and private, and with a 137-year tradition of joining contemplative prayer with care for the poor, for children with special needs and for the dying,” Archbishop O’Brien said in his homily.

Sister Emily Ann Lindsey told Baltimore’s Catholic Review newspaper that the order has received many messages of support since they announced their intention to leave the Episcopal Church. “Seeing all this support makes me feel this is what the Lord meant for us to do.”

Bishop Eugene T. Sutton of Maryland issued a written statement wishing the order “God’s blessings as their journey takes them into the Roman Catholic Church. Despite the sadness we feel in having to say farewell, our mutual joy is that we remain as one spiritual family of faith, one body in Christ.”

The Catholic Review reported that archdiocesan leaders hope to establish the order as the archdiocese’s first “diocesan institute,” a religious community overseen directly by the bishop. The nuns will attend Mass in the Latin rite and have received permission to also attend Mass in the Anglican-use rite.

Listening to God's Voice

Sunday's Sermon on Mark 7.31—37 by the Rev. Scott Homer

“Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped…” Isaiah 35.4

What is the most important thing in life? I have heard lots of different answers over the years. Happiness is a common answer. When people are surveyed happiness is always near the top of the list. Some people say, if you have your health, that is the most important thing. Others say its love—love is what makes the world go 'round. We used to joke around when I was a boy and say, “Money isn’t everything but it’s running a close second.” Fame, success, power, there are a good many things vying for the “most important". How would you answer the question?

The Bible has some things to say about what is most important in life too. For example, after Jesus finishes telling the parable of the Sower of the Seed to a crowd of people a woman yells out, “"Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you." I think what she meant by that was that the best thing in the world was to be the one who gave birth to Jesus. And I think we would all have to agree that Mary must have been held in very high esteem by God to be chosen to bear the Son of God…but interestingly enough Jesus disagrees with the woman in the crowd. No offense to his mom but Jesus throws his hat into the wring and he offers his opinion. What is the most important thing in life according to the Son of God? Jesus said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" The most important thing is to hear the word of God and keep it.

This is not the only time and the only place where Jesus insisted that hearing the voice of God was the most important thing in life. In the Gospel of John, chapter 5, verse 25 Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” There is nothing more important, in the entire world, than to be able to hear the Son of God. See, the question we have been asking is a bit tricky because embedded in the question is the answer. What’s the most important thing in life? Well, the truth is that the most important thing is life. Without that there is no fame, no success, no power. Without life there is no health, no love nor money. Life is the most important thing in life and Jesus, the Son of God is the author of life.

In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus and his disciples are way away from where we might expect a Jewish rabbi and his disciples to be. We would expect to find Jesus moving from town to town in Judea talking to the crowds of faithful Jews. After all, that was the Promised Land and that is where God’s chosen people lived. And the Jews, God’s Chosen people had long believed that Messiah would come to save them. Even Jesus himself said to the Syro-Phonicean woman that he has come to bring salvation to the Jews and so, our story this morning is all the more spectacular in that it takes place in the region of the Decapolis. And the region of the Decapolis was on the East Side of the Sea of Galilee and the wrong side of the Jordan River. The land that Jesus was walking through was not the Promised Land. It was not the home of the Chosen people. This was the land of pagans. This was gentile country. This is the land of the dead—those who had never heard the word of God and who had no hope of eternal life. And in the midst of this pagan land, in this dead zone, the Son of God causes a deaf man to hear. Jesus restores the man’s hearing and the first thing the man hears is the voice of the Son of God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

And so, this little miracle story in the region of the Decapolis is way more than just a story about Jesus having the power to heal. This story is about Jesus bringing salvation not just to a chosen few but to the whole world. What is Jesus’ mission? It is nothing less than to bring the salvation and the hope of eternal life to the whole world. And the message for each and every man woman and child in the world is that when we come to Jesus he is able to make us hear. He is able to unstop our ears in order that we may hear his words. He can cause us to hear the Word of God and to know freedom from death. Hearing the voice of God, hearing his son is the most important thing because it is the means by which we have life and have it in all its fullness. So let’s look at what our gospel reading has to say about this miracle of being set free to hear the voice of our Savior.

"They brought to him…"
We aren’t told who “they” are. It could have been disciples. (You remember they were sent out to towns and villages ahead of Jesus’ visit) It could have been local people coming out to see Jesus, or faithful believers. The important matter here is not who they were but rather that they brought him. We can bring people to the Lord. We can’t bring them to Jesus in the flesh because Jesus is no longer living amongst us in the flesh but we can bring them into Christ’s presence none the less. In fact, that is precisely what we are doing every time we pray for someone—or when we invite someone to church, or we engage them in a Bible Study, or we move them to attend Sunday School, or we bring them to the Altar for Communion, in all these things we are bringing people to the Lord—because he is the healer. He is the one who has the words of life. But don’t miss our importance in all these things. We bring people. That is our part and we can not shirk our part. If “they” don’t bring the deaf man, there is no healing story.

We are told that when two or three are gathered together in his name that He is in our midst and there are certainly more than two or three gathered here this morning. And that is one of the primary reasons that we pray in teams—Jesus says that he is there with our team. We can not bring people to the physical Jesus but we can bring them before Jesus none the less.

"a man who was deaf and had an impediment of speech…"
I want to look at this issue of not being able to hear nor speak. Deafness and muteness are two disabilities that manifest themselves in a number of different ways. There are those who are born without the ability to hear. And there are those who suffer an illness that robs them of their ability to hear. And then there are those who are injured and the injury makes them unable to hear. Finally, there are those who will not hear. And although we have some folks are hearing impaired for physical reasons, the real problem for most of us is that we refuse to hear. This sort of deafness is just as real, just as profoundly dysfunctional as those with a physical condition. But interestingly, this deafness is more insidious and resists healing more than the others because all those who are deaf as a result of physical causes know they are deaf but those who are unwilling to hear…often they will not even admit that they do not hear.

The same might be said of those who can not and those who will not communicate with others. Those who can not because of physical limitations recognize the problem and can oftentimes be healed or alternate means of communicating may be found but the person who refuses to speak requires a miracle cure. Might I suggest that all of us here present are deaf to the Lord’s voice and mute in praising him more often than we should be?

"And taking him aside…"
Sometimes Jesus does grand miracles in the presence of everyone. But sometimes Jesus’ efforts to heal someone are private and personal. He takes us aside where the crowd can’t see and where even those who brought us can’t see. And while that healing is taking place, nobody can observe anything happening. Tat is the case in our reading today. Jesus takes the man aside. We are not told why Jesus takes the man aside. Perhaps the noise and confusion was distracting and Jesus wanted to be able to focus. Maybe he wanted to have a conversation with the man while he was healing him. Maybe Jesus didn’t think the people who brought him had the right to know what he was doing. Whatever the reason they did not observe what we observe.
That is often true today as well. We bring people before the Lord and the Lord does what he wants with that person…and oftentimes he does not allow us to see the work he is doing. How many people here have prayed for someone and not been able to see any change? It is almost always true, at least for some time that the Lord is working in someone’s life long before we can see any change. Sometimes we pray for years without being able to discern any signs of God working in their life…and so we must remember that God often heals in private. It does not mean that God is not answering your prayers. It means that God works on a “Need to Know basis,” and often you don’t need to know. I can tell you from personal experience that people were praying for me for years and the Lord was poking me and prodding me for a very long time before I actually began to be willing to change. Those people that were praying for me thought their prayers were going unanswered…but it wasn’t true. God was working to transform my life all along.

We need to pray courageously and persistently and doggedly and determinedly and for a long time and with a real commitment to not quit and to persevere…Get my point? I know some of you have been praying for someone for a very long time and you have grown discouraged. I know some of you have given up praying altogether thinking it doesn’t seem to make any difference. But it does make a difference. God is answering your prayers—some way, somehow God is doing the work of restoring his people. You can count on it. It is safer than money in the bank—much safer. So, if you have stopped praying—start praying again. If you are discouraged, take courage and keep praying. Prayer is powerful...but don’t pray alone unless you have no other option. God is love and love is a group activity. Pray with one another, group prayer is far more powerful than individual prayer.

"Jesus] put his fingers into his ears, he spat and touched his tongue, and looking up to heaven he sighed and said, “Be opened”…"
Kind of gross huh? Jesus pokes the guy in the ears. He spits, we aren’t told where but he spits. I’m not sure my mom likes the idea of the Son of God and the Savior of the World spitting anyplace but there you have it—right there in the Bible. Don’t blame me. I didn’t write it. Jesus spat and then he touched the guys tongue.
Now what I take away from this is that we do not get a vote on how Jesus heals us or our loved ones. If Jesus says, “go stand on your head in the corner and recite the alphabet,” I am going to go stand on my head in the corner and recite the alphabet because he is the source of power. He is the one who heals. He is the all knowing, all loving one. So, if he says or does something I don’t understand I have to conclude that He is doing the right thing and I just can’t figure it out right now.

The second thing this story teaches me is that if I am going to get healed, I am going to have to get humble enough to receive the healing Jesus is bringing in the way Jesus is bringing it. In my pride I will never allow Jesus to do the things he wants to do to heal me. I don’t much like God poking me and prodding me. I can’t say I like the idea of anybody, including God sticking his hand in my mouth but God restores us in the way that he sees fit and if we are going to be healed we are going to have to surrender to his method. Humility is not something any of us actively seek out. Nobody likes to be humbled…and yet humility forms in our lives, the fertile ground into which God sows the seed of our salvation. And in a humble heart the Lord is able to accomplish incredible miracles. So, like it or not, healing often involves humbling.

I believe that Jesus is speaking into a number of people’s lives here today. I know that God has been working inside some folks here, to transform you and to heal you. Some of you have suffered humiliation. Your hearts are being sifted. You have not been able to figure out why…but I believe that God is doing a great work within you. He wants your ears to opened. He wants you to hear the truth. He is saying “be opened” to you just like he did to this deaf man in our reading this morning. And I know too, that they will be opened. They will be opened because He commanded it. And what he says goes. There is not one case in all of Scripture where Jesus tries to heal someone and can not do so. He succeeds in every case, not matter how severe. Even death is not too much for him. Jesus will keep poking you and keep prodding you and keep speaking to you until you surrender and are healed. And that is good news indeed. Because we need a miracle worker in our lives. We need Jesus to do for us what we have never been able to do ourselves. And we give him all the thanks and praise.

"Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" Amen.