Sunday, January 28, 2007

Faith, Hope and Charity

28 January * Epiphany 4C
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 * Luke 4:14-30
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland

Faith, Hope and Charity. These are three things we all want, three virtues to which we all aspire- Faith, Hope and Charity. Saint Paul says this is what following Jesus is all about. We are hard pressed to disagree. Yet, we look around the church and the world and see that the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity appear to be in short supply.

The world we live in seems more at home with the Seven Deadly Sins: greed, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, wrath, pride. Pick any one of the seven and you can see and hear a television commercial or show that advocates at least one of the seven deadly sins as something to which we should aspire. Ditto the paper, the radio, the internet, not to mention the urgings of our political leadership of any party.

We find Jesus reading and preaching in his hometown synagogue a vision of enormous Faith, Hope and Charity: good news for the poor, indentured servants to be set free, sight for the blind, and the year of the Lord’s favor.

This last, the year of the Lord’s favor, was what the Bible calls Jubilee. Every seven years, and again especially on the 49th year, all debts were to be forgiven, land that had been foreclosed returned, and the whole world set right-side up again for everyone – that is for all people. I try to imagine what that would look like and feel like, and quite honestly given the world we live in it is just plain hard to imagine.

Yet, for those sitting in front of Jesus at that moment, we hear that all spoke well of him. That is, until he extends the vision of Faith, Hope, Charity and Jubilee to include, oops, gentiles. Evidently gentiles are included among “all people.” Luke says Jesus returned from the wilderness “filled with the power of the spirit.” With this news about gentiles folks are thinking perhaps he is full of something else.

But you see, the land was under a military occupation by gentiles – the Roman Empire was the epitome of gentile power and glory. Unless, that is, you happen to be subject to the Empire’s occupation. And it turns out Jesus specifically edited Isaiah which should have ended with “and a day of the Lord’s vengeance against the gentiles” rather than “the Lord’s favor.” He really meant to include gentiles in God’s promises.

But Jesus essentially says there is enough Faith, Hope, Charity and Jubilee even for gentiles – putting the “all” back into “all people.” Folks were just not ready to hear that. It is not clear that we are ready to hear that even today.

Despite the opposition to his program of liberty for all, we know full well he went on to live a life of good news for the poor, release of captives of all kinds, recovery of sight and vision, and looking to set the world right-side up again. Jesus lived a life of Faith, Hope, Charity and Jubilee. And most remarkably he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Not in his teaching, nor in his doing, but in our hearing.

We might ask ourselves, since we are Christians, “Just how did Jesus live a life shaped by these virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity and Jubilee?” And how might this scripture be fulfilled in our hearing? The answer appears to be in our lesson from Luke: “…he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.”

As was his custom. He went to meet with the gathered community of faith every week. That was his custom. You knew where Jesus would be on the Sabbath day – in the synagogue listening to the Word of God and talking about God’s Word with others.

This was as reliable as the sun coming up in the east and setting in the west, for this was his custom. We might note that Mary and Joseph raised him with these expectations: on the Sabbath day we all go join the gathered community in the synagogue.

We recall that when he was twelve his parents took him to Jerusalem for the Passover as was their custom every year, and on the way home noticed he was missing from the clan on the road back to Galilee, and eventually he was found in the Temple, again listening to and discussing the Word of God.

He said to them, “Why are you searching? Did you not know? I must be in my father’s house.” His mother, we are told, treasured this experience in her heart. And he grew in wisdom, in years and in divine and human favor – all from spending time in his father’s house. Who among us would not want to grow in wisdom and divine and human favor? The years we could do without!

And when his disciples ask him how to pray he says, “Say, Our Father in heaven….” That is, his father is Our Father – and this, Saint Peter’s, is our father’s house.

Our catechism says it is the duty of all Christians to come together week by week for corporate worship. Why? Because this was Jesus’ custom. It must also be ours.

To ever have a chance of embodying the virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity and Jubilee the way Jesus does, his customs need to become our customs, beginning with being in our father’s house on the Sabbath day – week by week, reliable as clockwork. If it is Sunday and people want to know where we are, we want them to know we are right here – week in and week out. Only by being here and hearing the word of God will God’s Word become fulfilled.

The single most important Holy Habit is weekly corporate worship. Are we ready to make this our custom as well? How badly do we want a life of Faith, Hope, Charity and Jubilee? How soon do we want God’s word to become fulfilled?

I must be in my father’s house
I must be in my father’s house
Why are you searching
Do you not know
I must be in my father’s house

I come to hear and teach the Word of God
I come to hear and teach the Word of God
Why are you searching
Do you not know
I must be in my father’s house

Mary treasured all this in her heart
Mary treasured all this in her heart
Why are you searching
Do you not know
I must be in my father’s house

We must be in our Father’s house
We must be in our Father’s house
Why are we searching
Do we not know
We must be in our Father’s house

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Sermon By The Right Reverend John Rabb

January 21, 2007
Acts 4:8-13 * Matthew 16:13-19

JANURY 21, 2007

The Right Rev. John L. Rabb
Bishop Suffragan, Diocese of Maryland

Peter is a wonderful saint. As a lifelong Episcopalian I have always understood his grumbling at the “Johnny come lately” such as Paul. I often hear all of these wonderful stories of conversion, and say to myself; “Hey I have been here all along and no one notices.” So I know how Peter felt. As one prone to imperfection I have always been relieved by the fact that he has more than his share of missteps. On a deeper level, I have often that Peter who is given such a role of leadership may not have been, in fact, the best. For example I suspect John may have been Jesus’ favorite. I suspect that Thomas was the brightest. In short what makes Peter so wonderful is that he is so human!

We do hear in the Gospel;

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the
keys of the kingdom of heaven, and what ever you bind on earth will
be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed
in heaven. Matthew 16: 18-19

For all of Peter’s clear humanity, it is clear that Christ is counting on him. This is not just about Peter’s humanity, but the humanity of all of us. We finite, limited and sinful individuals are instruments of God’s salvation. It is clear from call after call in scripture, that God does not call the qualified. There is Gideon, the least member of the least family of the tribe of Manasseh. There is also Paul, an enemy of the church. Over and over the unlikely are called. So to that list we add Peter. Yet over and over we look for reasons to assume God is not calling us! “But, bishop, we just a small church!” Or we think someone is talking about the church down the road, the one with resources. Whether or not is about serving on vestries, taking risks, stepping out in faith or just doing what Christ asks, we cannot believe it is us! God does not call the qualified. God does qualify those called. It is through our humanity, our dreams, fears, longings and loves that God is at work. As we express our deepest yearnings, we learn of and symbolize the power of love, grace and mercy. Like Peter, God wants and needs us as human persons!
There is something else. Peter is called and even the name Jesus gives him is rock and upon this rock will the church be built. What is won on earth is won in heaven and what is lost on earth is lost in heaven. This is serious business! Christ is counting on us! Look at what Jesus said in last Sunday’s gospel (note this is from the propers for the Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr.) We are to love our enemies and we pray for those who curse us. We turn the other cheek. This is not behavior the world affirms! It is to be the church to which we are called. This is an unconditional call and what that is about transformation of the world and not confirmation by the world. We reach out, as Jesus, did to those most forgotten – the current equivalent of the publicans and the tax collectors. We show forgiveness and mercy.

Finally we must realize that what we do is essential, critical and of the utmost importance. What we bind on earth is bound on earth and what we lose on earth is loosed in heaven! This is serious stuff! So when I hear people say in regard to the work of the church, “…but in the real world,” I am shocked. Doing the will of the Lord is as real as it gets!

Peter reveals to us a lot about ourselves. Our humanity is being used by God and in and through it we are called. Peter reveals to us that Christ has called us and called us as the church to be an instrument of salvation. So let us be like Peter and say yes that we will be the church. Amen

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Best Is Yet To Come

14 January 2007 * Epiphany 2C
I Corinthians 12: 1-11 * John 2: 1-11
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek – St. Peter’s at Ellicott Mills

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Today we pray that we might “shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory that he may be known.” We pray that the light of Christ might shine through all that we say and all that we do.

Saint Paul, writing to the young church in Corinth, says we are each given spiritual gifts – gifts of this light of Christ if you will. And that these spiritual gifts are different for everyone, but come from the same Spirit, the same Lord and the same God. That these gifts become manifest, or apparent, for all of us so that we might contribute to the common good.

The common good means for the good of all – all people, all creatures and all of creation: all. A small word that encompasses a lot of territory – an entire universe which we are told even now is expanding, getting larger, reaching out further and further, bringing into existence things seen and unseen.

Saint John paints much the same picture in this story of a wedding reception in Cana of Galilee. On the surface of it, the story seems to be about a party that is running out of wine, along comes Jesus, and suddenly there appears about 180 gallons of wine. Not just wine, but good wine. In fact the finest wine anyone had ever tasted.

Now it very well may be that they ran out of wine because seven people show up unexpectedly - Jesus and six others, his mother and five new friends. They show up, we are told, “on the third day.” That could mean they traveled for three days. It could mean the third day of the wedding party since first century weddings went on for several days. But it could be a reminder that we all know that something quite astonishing happened on the “third day” – Jesus rose from the dead. I believe John wants us always to keep this in mind – Jesus rose from the dead after three days.

So this day at this wedding is somehow related to Easter, the day of resurrection. We may also notice that there happen to be six stone jars. Not just any stone jars. These are special jars reserved, set aside, for special holy and religious purposes. The jars appear to be empty since Jesus tells the servants to fill them. Now along with Jesus there were six others – that works out to one jar per person who followed Jesus to the party. And at the end of the story we are told that these six – these disciples, followers – “believed on Him.” They are not said to believe him, in the sense of believing what he said was true, but rather they commit themselves to him in personal trust.

It seems as if the story might very well be about you and me – people who follow Jesus to a party that takes place here at this altar every week. Could it be that we are the empty vessels needing to be filled? Filled to the brim with living water, light and gifts of the spirit? Are we meant to understand that we are very special, sacred and holy vessels for God’s own using and purposes – purposes that are meant for the common good of all people, all creatures and all of creation?

God in Jesus transforms the contents of the jars from water to wine. Suggesting that Jesus can change whatever is inside of us. Now in the natural course of things, people who meet us at first see us at our best – we are civil, polite, friendly, considerate. After a time, however, they may get to know our less good sides – my grumpiness, my impatience, all that which is worse than the first impressions.

But in our communion with God in Christ, our best is yet to come! Every time we come to this altar together on behalf of the common good we can say, “you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus was dead and buried on Good Friday, but the best was yet to come – he rose again “on the third day.”

Which by the way answers a long and frequently asked question. Since Jesus turned the water into wine, and not just wine but good wine, and not just good wine but lots and lots of good wine – 180 gallons of good wine – is it possible that the people at the party drank all the good wine? Someone actually asked the ancient Bible scholar Saint Jerome this very question, “Did the guests at Cana drink all the wine Jesus had made?” Jerome wisely replied, “No, we are still drinking it today.”

As it turns out the guests at Cana were just like you and me – they were thirsty, but not for more wine. They were thirsty for faith, for a living relationship with God. We come here because we are thirsty for God. When we look at the wine on the altar which we are still drinking, we, like the six followers of Jesus at the party, are to believe. We are to believe, as John says, “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through believing we may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)

And “life in his name” means to die as a grain of wheat in order to bear much fruit (John 12:24) for the sake of the common good – that is to use the gifts of the Spirit for the sake of all people, all creatures and all of creation.

Someone once said, “Leave it to a crowd to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time.” The right end of this miracle is you and me. We are the vessels. We are filled to the brim with gifts of the Spirit. When we follow Jesus and “do whatever he tells” us, we are changed. This change says that there is always more and better yet to come.

As we come to know this about Jesus and about ourselves, we, like the six followers in this story, come to believe on him. For those of us who believe on him, our lives will shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. We will become those people who employ our gifts for the common good – the good of all people, all creatures and all of creation.

Follow Jesus to the party and be filled to overflowing with the wine that never gives out, a relationship with the Living God of all creation. The best is yet to come.