First comes Death, then comes Life

Top Image: Blessing the Dust – Jan Richardson

Yesterday began our Lenten journey towards Easter.  For some of us, it is a welcomed old friend, for others, it is as foreign as walking on the Moon.  I hope my sermon from last night can help give purpose to why we celebrate Ash Wednesday and why we welcome the yearly application of dirty, nasty ashes on our forehead.  I also hope you get some food for thought as you begin a Lenten practice.

I talk about the recipe for a Lenten practice as given by Jesus in the Gospel lesson: Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting.  And to this recipe, consider the greatest commandment as told by Christ: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  Then, mix in our Christian anthem and theme of Lent: first comes death and the come life.

Now ask, what sort of changes/practices can we begin that will bring about new life and what sort of death (to self, habits, divisions) will we have to undergo?  What will your Lenten practice mean for someone else?

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Are you hurting or healing?

Continuing from last week’s conversation.  Jesus’ new teaching is the healing of his people.  As we work to define our new teaching we must also ask “Are we hurting or healing?”

Mark 1:29-39

After Jesus and his disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The picture at the top is an artists depiction of the woman touching the hem of Jesus’ robe from Mark Ch. 5.  The floor seen in the picture is the actual road where this healing miracle took place.  I also think it is the perfect imagery of our healing being seen as happening on the altar.  this was one of my favorite places I visited in Israel, outside of Jerusalem.

Below are pictures I took in Capernaum.  The top picture is inside the synagogue from the Gospel story last week.  The bottom pictures are on a slide show and the ruins of St. Peter’s House and the Chruch that now exists on top of it.  I thought it would be fun to share the locations mentioned in the Gospel and Sermon.

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A New Teaching — with Authority!

The people that experienced Jesus at work in the world called it a “New Teaching — with authority.”  I want to challenge us to think what that might look like in our community.  What shapes our life together and how do we be the Chruch?  This is my new teaching vision for Grace Episcopal Chruch in Monroe, LA.

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Just Keep Forgiving

Forgiveness is hard, but that doesn’t give us the excuse to not practice it.  On Sunday, I preached about forgiveness.  I even included a little exercise to help see what forgiveness  feels like and why it’s important for us.  I encourage you to “play along” at home!

The Gospel

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

You of little faith…

Back on August 13, I preached on the story of Jesus walking on water as told from Matthew’s perspective. (Gospel text below.)  That is also the story where Peter walks out on the water towards Jesus.

The picture above is one I took from my time in Israel.  The water in the background is the Sea of Galilee where our story takes place.  The statue is of Jesus reaching out and Peter on his knees.  This location is called the Primacy of Peter and was the site where Jesus asked Peter three times “do you love me?”, followed by each time by Jesus telling Peter to feed his sheep.  However, in the context of our Gospel and this sermon it can also gives illustration to Peter sinking and Jesus saving.

I concluded this sermon with some homework! I want to challenge you to give it a try and see what happens.

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus on the water with peter

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Me

I think today’s epistle lesson helps unpack our Gospel lesson. (Both readings are posted below.)  Paul in writing to the Romans shows us how  our life of discipleship should look.  Paul helps us understand what it looks like when Jesus tells us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  The stark reality is that I believe Jesus is telling us exactly what we need to be doing.  This is not a hallmark card sort of sermon: I pray it challenges you as well as encourages you to take up your cross and follow Jesus Christ.

The Epistle

Romans 12:9-21

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The Gospel

Matthew 16:21-28

Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 

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Who are you Transfigured for?

Back on August 6th, we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration.  The Gospel lesson for this day can be found below.

This is a story I think everyone is familiar.  Jesus going up the mountain with Peter, James, and John and while up there, something truly spectacular happens.

Through my prayers, study, and reading I kept coming to the same question.  What, or better said, who are you transfigured for?

I pray you find something you may not have expected and learn something you have always asked.

Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

 

Take Me Home, Country Roads…

After our first full day in the city we were back to the wilderness once more.  We traveled down from the holy mountain and were headed to the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea.  While in the area we toured Masada, King Herod the Great’s fortress that the Hebrew Zealots used to escape the Romans.  It was incredible to see this great fortress with all the decadence and excess and thinking how this compared to the lifestyle of the Jewish people he ruled.

Next we went to a place called En Gedi.  This was the desert oasis and cave network that David and his men used to hide out from Saul.  It was a pleasant site for us I can only imagine what finding a place like this in their time would had been like.  Pictured below is of the “youngest tour-guide in Israel”.  We came back from a side trail and ran into this group of kids.  We were talking amongst ourselves asking questions and this little boy begins to give us the rundown with directions and stories, all with an air of expertise from atop his rock.  On the way back to the bus, I found my most favorite ice cream snack in the whole wide world.  A snack that has become a diamond in the rough because I can list on one hand the times I have found it.  En Gedi, Dead Sea, Israel would never have been a place I would have expected to find this frozen treasure.

After our refreshing dip we went to Qumran, the site of caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  There was a little village, or I guess monastery would be a better term, located on this site that housed the Essenes that wrote these epic texts.

Then we lastly had to end out trip with a float in the Dead Sea.  This was the coolest and weirdest feeling.  It was familiar and foreign, because who hasn’t ever floated in the water? But you have never floated like this!  The salt content is 10x that of the ocean!! And it tastes like it too.  When you’re in the water you dig up some of the mud and slather it on, a full body mud mask treatment.  You can only stay in the water for about 15-20 min at a time, it gets to a point where your skin begins to burn.  This is not a healthy tingle that goes away with time; you have to get out of the water and go wash off in the fresh water shower as soon as you can.  I will say though afterwards my skin felt the smoothest it had since I could remember.

Probably my favorite part of today was that I feel we finally “gelled”.  We use this term all the time at Camp Hardtner during Training Camp to refer when the group of people we have hired for the summer transition into something more than just individuals and become the Permanent Staff.  From my ten years of Training Camp experience, I have found that the average time for this process is somewhere around a week.  We gelled today.  I think it is appropriate to use this term and its connection to Camp Hardtner, our Diocesan Camp, because everyone here has a connection to it in one way or another.  Either through retreats, the summer program, children or grandchildren, or just the long history and relationship the camp has had with churches in the diocese.  If I had to sum up Camp Hardtner in two words I would use Love and Community.  Those same two words is how I would describe my fellow pilgrims.  I am blessed be able to call them my friends.  I am blessed to share this life changing experience with them.  I am blessed to have heard their stories.  I am blessed to have poured out my heart, sang, cried, prayed, laughed, broke bread, and shared this incredible week with them.  No matter what chapter we each have next, or where our next journey take us, we will always have Jerusalem, and the love, and the community we formed on this most Holy Ground.

Setting My Face Towards Jerusalem

The time has come for us to head to the holy city, taking the route Jesus and countless other Jewish pilgrims would have taken to reach Jerusalem.  We followed the Jordan River as it ran South out of the Sea of Galilee. On our way south, we stopped by two sites.  The first was Bet She’an one of the 10 pagan cities Jesus sent the disciples in order to grow the Kingdom.  The 10 cities collectively are known as the Decapolis.

Our second stop comes straight out of Judges 7, when Gideon comes to a well and there he chooses an army to fight for the Lord.  It was a powerful experience to read the passage by the stream that flowed looking to the mountain and all the other geographical details mentioned and think to yourself, “this is the place.”

Once we left the green zone of the Sea of Galilee everything slowly turned to a pale beige, the color of a desert. However, don’t think of sand dunes like the Sahara, instead think of rock and mountain and dried river beds.  This landscape is the area that the Bible refers to as the wilderness. In the Gospels, we hear several times of Jesus going into the wilderness to pray.  My favorite story of Jesus in the wilderness comes quite early in the Gospels.  It happens just after his Baptism, when he heads into the wilderness and is tempted.  We were able to see from the road the traditional place thought to be the site of the temptation. (picture below)

From here we set our face towards Jerusalem and traveled the once deadly and treacherous pass that connected Jericho to Jerusalem. Christians are extremely familiar with this road and most of us probably didn’t know it.  The setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan is the road between Jericho and Jerusalem.  It is even thought that Jesus and his disciples were traveling that very pass when he told the story.   Well, half way up we made a pit stop.  It is the site of a known inn that existed, one of the only main stops on the way up to Jerusalem.  Look at the picture to see where we were.

One of the best parts of this day is that on our way up to Jerusalem we read Psalms 120-135, the Songs of Assent.  They are called this because Jericho is around 800 feet below sea level and Jerusalem is at 2500 feet above sea level. The Bible often talks about going up to Jerusalem because you literally have to go up hill, to get there.  The psalms of assent were read and sang by the pilgrims on their final assent to the holy city.  The original road ran through Bethany, then to Bethphage and then to the Mount of Olives.  It is at this point that the pilgrims would have seen their first view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.  It was such a welcome site to see.  I cannot even imagine what it would had been like for the original pilgrims, who after traveling so far, to finally see the Temple, the dwelling place of God.

Tomorrow I will share my stories from our first day in the Holy City.

 

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Traveling down the Jordan River Valley and the scenery takes a huge change.  More mountains and less vegetation.  I know you see crops planted here but that is only because of the arid farming techniques mastered by the Israeli farmers.
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A picture of the northern part of Jericho.  First off notice there is no wall!! Then look to the mountain and notice the flat top, that was the original site (but never finished) of the Monastery of the Temptation.  The current Monastery is located about half way down the mountain.
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The Monastery of the Temptation, owned and managed by the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.
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The name says it all.
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This picture is from the Mount of Olives, taken from the further North looking South-West.

 

Your Faith Has Made You Well…

Tuesday was our day visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee.  On this day, all our places were extremely close to each other.  This was the area centrally located around Capernaum, Jesus’ home, that acted as a type of head quarters for his miracles and most of his teaching.  The places we visited today: Church of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication, The Primacy of Peter, Capernaum, Magdala, a lunch on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and a drive around the sea with a final stop at the Jordan River.

Magdala is a city that I was not familiar with.  It was only excavated in 2006 and is thought to be the home town of Mary Magdalene.  It was a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and just North of Tiberius.  There is a beautiful modern Roman Catholic church on the edge of the shore line.  Down in the basement of this building is a small chapel where the floor is rough, jagged, uneven rock pavers.  This floor is the actual road pavers that ran through the village that Jesus would have walked! If that was not enough, although they have not officially declared (they are heavily suggesting), this is the city and road from Mark 5:25-34 in which Jesus healed a woman who reached out to him touching his robe in the crowd.  Jesus, upon feeling power leave him, tells the woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” I made sure to get a picture with my feet on the pavers.

The rest of the places were all familiar and yet I vastly underestimated what it would feel like being there.  The Church of the Beatitudes was of course where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.  What struck me, besides the view of the sea, was that from this spot you can see some distant mountain cliffs (which I have pictured).  In these cliffs, the zealots would hide in the caves while plotting their rebellion.  It is said that in this spot, at the time of the sermon, tensions were of course rising between the opposing forces, and it would not have been uncommon to hear forgers hammering out swords, weapons, and armor preparing for the coming war.  With that as the backdrop, Jesus boldly proclaims, “Blessed are the Peacemakers”! That revolutionary thought standing in the face of the rising zealot movement had never sunk in before.

The Primacy of Peter is the location where the events of John chapter 21 take place.  It is the beach shore where Jesus eats fish and breaks bread with his disciples and has that most beautiful conversation and commissioning of St. Peter.  While we were there, in a outdoor side chapel, a group of pilgrims were celebrating the Holy Eucharist.  It was moving and emotional to be at the location, where through the breaking of the bread, Christ is revealed to his disciples. To be at the Mesna Christi (the Table of Christ) in the midst of the same breaking of the bread and the presence of Christ was incredible.

We stopped at the river Jordan for a quick dip…ok more of a wade I guess.  Where we stopped was only a couple hundred yards from where it empties from the Sea of Galilee.  While this was not the spot of Christ’s Baptism it was still a great location because at this spot an incredible baptism venue has been built for pilgrims and local congregations to use.  The day we were there we witnessed no less than 20 baptisms!! In the words of Ben Harper, we were “blessed to be a witness.”

Lastly, the site of the Multiplication, the site of the feeding of the 5000 was probably the most moving.  If you look under the altar (pictured below) you can see a rock coming out of the ground. That rock it is said to be the spot where Christ: took, blessed, broke, and gave the fishes and loaves to the crowds gathered.  I often say that if the Last Supper is truly the last supper then the Feeding of the 5000 would be the first.  My call and discernment to the priesthood has been closely tied to a deep piety I have for the Eucharist.  Being in this place I felt encouragement and strengthened for the ministry to which God has called me.

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Standing on the actual road in Magdala where Christ would have walked.
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The view from the Church of the Beatitudes look to the cliffs where zealots hid out.
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From the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.  First off yes that is the color of the water and not a filter (The sun was hitting it just right). If you look almost dead center you will see a gray building on the shore line with a red roof and a small steeple to the right end.  That is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter.  Then moving to the left almost 3 buildings you can see the Church of the Multiplication.  The Church of the Beatitudes is the green domed building in the bunch of trees half way up the hill.
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A sculpture at the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter
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In the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter.  Mensa Christi is “The Table of Christ”; this is the site where Jesus shared breakfast with the disciples after the Resurection.
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The truly breathtaking Church of the Multiplication.  You can see pilgrims from all over the world, all denominations here praying.  You can zoom in under the altar and see the rock Christ stood on during the feeding of the 5000.