Discipleship and Hooks

the Third Sunday after Epiphany
26 January 2020

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Click here to access these readings.

        I remember hearing today’s gospel reading back when I was in Sunday School as a kid. The call of the disciples, and especially the call of Simon Peter. Here they are casting nets into the sea, for they were fisherman. And Jesus calls out to them, “Come with me, and I’ll make you fish for people.” And, for some reason, the activity we did in Sunday School was to cut out Jesus holding a fishing pole, color him in, and then, at the other end of the line, put one of the disciples, his mouth open, waiting for the hook like a fish in water.

        Even as a kid I thought this was kinda silly, and, hey, maybe that was the point. But I remember thinking, “wouldn’t that hurt?” Is Jesus going to put a hook in my mouth, or, to follow the text a bit more, throw a net around me and drag me in? It all seemed kinda strange to me. What in the world is Jesus talking about, and do I have to bite on a hook in order to hear it?

        Well, one of the things that Jesus is talking about here is discipleship. We use this word pretty often in the Church. We’re disciples of Christ. And this word – disciple – it means a lot more than just follower. It means student, and not just any student, but a good one.

        Now, I’ve been a bad student before. I know what that’s like. Now, for some of you this might not be the case, but in school I hated learning math. Doing figures was awful. Adding two numbers up, multiplying them, figuring out which part of the equation to do first, everything, from addition all the way up to calculus, I just hated it. And whenever I could (I’m sorry to have to admit this) I cheated. I looked in the back of the book and just wrote down the numbers, or I put the problems into a calculator. And when I had to show my work, I slogged through it, tired and irritated.

        And why? I mean, I was decent at math. I could do it, but it took so much time, and I’d much rather spend that time reading, or playing outside, or doing anything else but adding up numbers. I did the work, but I hated every, single minute of it.

        This is not the sort of “student” we’re supposed to be. This is not the sort of “disciple” we’re to be of Jesus Christ. And I don’t mean just that we shouldn’t drag our feet through our prayers or look up the answers in the back of the book (just in case you were wondering, there aren’t answers to the odd questions in the back of the Bible. There are just maps, usually, which are probably better than answers). What I mean is that following Jesus is more like studying your favorite subjects, whether that’s actually math or something like English or history or science. Or, if you’re more of a training person, it’s like training for sports. And here is where that hook comes in.

        Christian discipleship can be hard, but it’s quite a lot more than being beaten down until we do what we’re told. There’s a hook to it, and by hook, I don’t mean the fishing hook but like a narrative hook. At the beginning of every good book or good movie, there’s always something called a hook, something that catches your interest and leads you deeper. In a movie like the first Star Wars, it’s the tiny little space ship being blasted by this huge, seemingly endless behemoth. We as an audience (if we’re into science fiction) say, “Oh man, look at that! How are these little guys gonna get away from this massive ship? What are they gonna do? Wow, I want to watch this and find out!”

        Or think of my sermon. I didn’t start by saying, “Discipleship comes from Latin and borrowed into Old English, meaning follower.” I told you a story that I thought was funny (Did you notice I do that with all my sermons? I hope you enjoy them). We even start our Sunday services with a hook (in the form of a song and a procession) to pull us in and set the stage for how we’ll be praying that morning).

And most stories and most preachers use hooks like this because we humans need to be jostled about sometimes, woken up, but not like an alarm clock buzzing and ringing and making all sorts of noise until you sleepily throw your hand out and knock it the clock or phone off the dresser and turn over to go back to sleep. No, these hooks pull us into the story with a story, they pull us into the tale with something, some fascinating or interesting or healing or hopeful something that we’ll find somewhere in the tale. For Star Wars it’s the battle against good and evil, and the temptation to leave good for evil, that’s at the heart of the story. For the liturgy, we begin with music not because it’s fun to sing but to lighten our hearts and turn us more fully to God’s presence. The hook pulls us deeper, from a world without to a world within.

And sometimes that hook can really be a wake-up call. There’s an icon on the shelf in the education room back there – it’s the one I got from Sewanee upon graduation. And it shows Jesus grabbing two people (they’re Adam and Eve) and dragging them out of coffins. The point is that sometimes God has to grab us by the wrists and drag us out of our stupor and sin so that we can see the light. Sometimes the hook can hurt, but it always pulls us deeper into the life of Jesus Christ – if we follow it.

Part of the life of discipleship is to look for these hooks. Part of the life of a Christian is to train ourselves to see God, to hear his call to us, and to put down our things and follow him. And we train for this through prayer, through studying God’s word to us in Scripture, through living a life founded in the teachings of Jesus Christ and of the Church, especially the Sacraments, and especially those two most beautiful Sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist.

But we also train as disciples through hearing God in the things we love. I was called to God through the natural world and through literature, and I’ve come to understand that my hearing God’s call in Lord of the Rings and Beowulf was not so surprising after all (these books are inundated with God’s Hope). I’ve heard some of you talk about gardening, football or basketball, running on the beach, or spending time with your family as responding to God’s call to you. For in all these things, God is calling to us to go deeper, to love more fully, and to hope with a more open heart, and you will find God filling you more and more with your light.

God’s call to us, however, is still a hook, and while God can call us through the things we love, sometimes God calls us through things that trouble us or frighten us. We are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that neighbor include those who keep to themselves and watch the house for us while we’re gone as well as the neighbor who wanders around at night and might just be up to something. That love that we’re called to is to find God’s presence with them and to seek (and often to help our neighbor seek) God in their lives. What that looks like depends on the person and the situation, but the call is always present, always present, to love others as Jesus Christ loved us. And Jesus loved us with hands that healed and with hands that were nailed to the cross. Loving is not always easy, but it’s what we Christians do.

We Christians are living in the Light of God. Through our Baptisms, and through our dedication to the Life that was and is in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit himself, God above all things, we are living in a Light that is healing, and joyful, and hopeful. Spend some time today during our Sabbath in the presence of that Light. And spend some time, as we prepare for the great 40 days of Lent, in considering how you can bring that Light more fully into your life and into the life of others, so that God’s call may be more fully known and more fully heard and more fully lived in this world so dark and lonely.

The Waters of Baptism, the Love of Jesus

The first Sunday of Epiphany
The Baptism of our Lord
12 January 2020

The readings for today are:
Isaiah 42:1-9
Psalm 29
Acts 10:34-43
Matthew 3:13-17

Click here to access these readings.

        The other day, I was talking to my Evangelical friend about Baptism. Which is kinda appropriate: today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, as we read this morning in the gospel of Matthew. But when my friend and I started getting into our discussion, we realized that we both had some pretty different ways of thinking of Baptism. He thought, as many or most Evangelicals do, that baptism is a symbol of something that’s already happened. It doesn’t have any internal meaning, but it’s a way of seeing something that is already taking place, of God coming and dwelling within a person who has made a commitment to Jesus Christ.

        For me, and for most liturgical traditions, something really does go on in baptism. We’re changed in some way, we’re brought closer to God and given a new relationship to him through Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism. Baptism is, after all, one of the two great sacraments along with the Eucharist. And sacraments are gifts from God, special acts of grace that draw us closer to the life of the Trinity.

        And so we disagreed, pretty fundamentally. I dunno, what do you all think?

 

Here, Father Tim listened and responded to people in the congregation.

 

        There are, I think, three ways out of this sort of situation. First, we can say that “everybody’s different” and go our separate ways. And that’s just fine if you’re trying to decide whether you like apples or oranges, or if you are wondering what kind of cheese to put on your hamburger, but we’re not dealing with simple choices. We’re talking about our relationship with God, and that’s a bit more serious and important to end with a shrug and a “let’s just agree to be disagree.”

        Another way you could solve the disagreement is to force agreement. I could say to my friend, and to all Evangelicals: you’re wrong. You’ve got baptism all wrong, you’re schismatics, you’re heretics. But that sort of thing breaks the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

        So what should my friend and I do? Or, to put it more broadly, what do we do with any sort of disagreement in the Church? There are quite a lot of issues in the Church these days that risk to rupture the Body, and there are a number of issues right here in our Episcopal Church, and even our diocese, that push people apart.

Back last summer, the bishop search committee did a few surveys to see what people in the diocese wanted in their new bishop. Remember this? And we gave a bunch of options: spiritual leader, teacher, prophet, activist, liturgist, administrator – stuff like that. And we asked people: choose three of these that you want to see in your next bishop, and choose three that you most certainly DO NOT want to see in your next bishop. And you know what? Some of the things that were in the “definitely want” column were also in the “definitely don’t want” column. Some of us vehemently want something that others vehemently DON’T want. And you know what, we’re not all that different from the rest of the Episcopal church, or, really, the whole Church as a whole.

So what binds us together? How do we live with our differences but still live in deep relationships with one another? My friend, the Evangelical, answered these questions when he answered one of mine about baptism: if baptism is only a symbol for you, with no real inner meaning, why do you do it? And he said, simply: Jesus.

I’m not going to get into Evangelical theology, because I’d probably misrepresent it, but even though baptism for many of them is just a symbol, even though their theology sounds strange to me and doesn’t get it just right, even still, they encounter Jesus in baptism. And I get that, I get that. For Jesus is at the heart of the sacraments for those in the small-c catholic tradition. Jesus is present in the Eucharist – “This is my Body” “This is my Blood” he told us. Jesus is present in the sacrament of Healing, Jesus, who spent his ministry going to the sick and the suffering. Jesus is present in Reconciliation, for it is not to the priest who we confess, but to Jesus; and it is not the priest who absolves us, but the priest speaking the words of Jesus pronounces his mercy and love to the penitent. And in baptism, when we are submerged in water, we are brought into Jesus’ life and his death upon the cross. Jesus is the foundation and life of it all.

And that’s where we agree. We could argue over details – is it the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or whether we should baptize babies. And those are important details. They teach us how God is with us in this world and how to respect God’s gift to us in Creation and in the Holy Spirit. And I think there are real answers to those details, and I’ll continue to preach the Real Presence and I’ll continue to baptize babies, but at the end of the day, what all this is built on, what truly and wholly matters, is that we are standing on a sure foundation, and that foundation, Jesus Christ himself, the second person of the Trinity, is unshakable.

Today we celebrate baptism, and in baptism we celebrate the community that we were brought into when we were baptized. My mom just found my own baptismal record, and it seems I was baptized in a Lutheran church in New Jersey. Helene was baptized as a child in a Roman Catholic church. Gwendolyn was baptized at All Saints in Sewanee on the same day that our presiding bishop was blessed into his position. Fiona was baptized here, so was Cooper.

Where were you baptized? Whose hands poured water over your head and said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?” Were you a little child dressed in white? Or were you an adult, and do you remember being thrust into the dark waters? Whatever the case, at the center of all that was Jesus Christ, for the center of our lives as Christians, and the center of the universe itself, is Jesus Christ.

But what does that mean? What does it mean to have Jesus Christ as the center of your life and of the universe? Well, stay tuned for the next, oh, fifty years, and maybe I’ll be able to speak somewhat to that great and beautiful mystery. But I can say this if you don’t want to stick around that long: on the night in which he was betrayed, on the night that he instituted the blessed sacrament, the Eucharist itself, Jesus gave to his disciples a new commandment: that you should love one another. As he has loved us, so shall we love one another. Then he went to the cross for those he loved.

Alive with the Light of God

Christmas Eve, 11:00
24 December 2019

This evening’s readings are:
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Click here to access these readings.

            So, this is something of a night owl sermon, but I’m assuming that if you’re here for the 11:00 Mass on Christmas Eve, you’re something of a night owl. If you’re a morning person, then cool, just wait a bit, I’m going to get to some morning stuff soon, but for a moment, I want to preach about how wonderful it is to go to church late at night.

            I’m a new priest, so I haven’t done many late-night Christmas services. As a child, my family went to the evening service at our local church just up the hill from where we lived. This was in New Jersey, and the church was in the New England style: white walls and tall, tall windows. Outside, everything was dark and sleepy, and this only made the light inside shine the brighter. There were greens and red banners and ribbons all over the place, people were sleepy but awake and strangely energized with that joy of Christmas. We’d sing Christmas carols, listen to the sermon, then leave into the frosty air and drive home to sleep and await Christmas morning.

            But there is something even more different about going to church in the dead of the night. Again, if you’re a night owl, this certainly isn’t the dead of the night (that’s like, what, 3:00?), but by this time, we’ve finished with the work of the day, put away the plates and left-overs from dinner, tucked in the kids, and finally settled down in a favorite chair, maybe cracked open a book. But to go out at this late hour, to put on a coat instead of pajamas, and to come to church to sing and to praise God with our fellow Christians – there’s a grace to this, a special grace and joy. On nights like this, I personally can really feel that God has made the whole Creation new in Jesus Christ. Late nights like this are like fresh snow on the ground, or a pristine starry sky, or that first breath of spring on the air, the golden light of dawn or the blue, twilit evening.

            Christmas Eve is about moving from Advent to Christmas, from the time of waiting, of expectation, of promised joy and light, to the fulfillment of that light, the answer to the promise, to the presence of Jesus Christ. And here, especially at this late service, is when we experience this turn, this turn from “how long, O Lord, how long” to “I am here.” And we know this turn, don’t we? We know those times when we have waited, patiently or impatiently, upon the Lord. We know the Lord’s call on us to wait and to expect, for God does not come at our beck and call as if, when we snapped our fingers, God comes running. But we also know the coming and the presence of God, when God swoops into our lives and fills us, fills us to the brim and then more, so that our cup runneth over and we know that God is good and holy and alive.

            And it is at this service, deep into the night, when we experience that turn, when we gather together and see Jesus coming and experience him here. It’s like driving before dawn (I wonder if you’ve experienced this, too). I’ve been going up to Eugene and Salem a lot recently for meetings, and each time I have to leave super early. And it’s usually pitch black, my eyes are droopy, and I’m alone on the roads heading east on 42. And the whole time I’m wondering, when will it be light so I can wake up? When will dawn come? And I look to the sky, through the trees or around the mountainsides, but it is still dark. Dawn never comes when I wanted it. But then – and usually it is when I least expect it – I turn a corner and my eyes suddenly see the smallest bit of blue peaking through the branches, blue almost at the edge of sight. And I know: it is morning, and light begins to bathe the river valley and everything is glistening and new and beautiful.

            We know this turn, I think, this turn from darkness to light, from despair to hope, from sin to life. We know it in our own hearts, for Christ has come to us like the dawn over the mountains, like birdsong on a cool spring morning. Some of us know the exact day and hour, for others, God has been a presence that we have only slowly come to understand and see and know; but whatever the case, we know that new light and we know its freshness.

            And Christmas is that specific day, that most blessed and holy day, right next to Easter itself, when we celebrate not only our own relationship with God in Jesus Christ but the birth of that light into the whole of Creation, made ready for all, for humanity and beyond. For when God came to us here in this world, he did not come just for a few or some folks here and others here, but for everything, in order to make the whole Creation new. Our Salvation is part of something, part of something great and mighty, a work of God that reaches to the end of time and back. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that all might come within the reach of his heavenly grace.

            And we Christians, we Christians who celebrate here the birth of our Savior, and we Christians all around the world, we are part of that good work of God. For we Christians are called on not only to be saved but to be the light of God in the darkness. Our salvation is not ours alone, something that we can keep to and for ourselves. We can’t stick our salvation in a lock-box under our bed or in a safe-deposit box at the bank. Our salvation is not some nice heirloom that we’ve received from our grandmother that we pout on the mantlepiece so that no one (and especially no one with dirty hands) can fiddle with it, and our salvation is not a piece of jewelry that we wear on our fingers.

            Our salvation is a flaming torch, and it is a great fire and a great light that is not to be kept secret but is to light the way in the darkness. Have you ever met anyone for whom this is true? I know I have. By the loving grace of God I have met many people in my life who are alive with the burning light of God. For some of them, it’s their eyes and their faces: I feel hope just in looking at them; for others, it’s their calm presence that speaks love without even parting the lips. I see that flame in our presiding bishop, Michael Curry, as he dances around the church when he preaches; I’ve seen it in the dedication of a teacher I knew in Japan, who I knew (and was helped by) for two whole years before, on my last day before returning home, he mousily told me that he was a Christian.

            But however it shines, that light is a healing light. It is a light of love and of hope and of Life, for it is the light of Jesus Christ, born this day two thousand years ago. It is the light of God Almighty, who created the heavens and the earth and who guides all things to fulfillness and completion. It is the light of Jesus, who is also God, born in a dingy old manger. It is the light of all that is good and all that is beautiful, because it is the light of God, and it will continue to burn until the end of this age and beyond.

Love is Born

Christmas Eve, 8:00
24 December 2019

This evening’s readings are:
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-20

Click here to access these readings.

There is a book at our house that is read each and every day. We think about it in the wee hours of the morning and, often, its words are our last as we lay our head to sleep. No, it is not the Bible; it is not the Book of Common Prayers or our hymnal. It’s this: What’s that sound, baby Daisy?

Now, if you have children, or you had children, or you spent even a tiny little bit of time around children, you’ll know that they love doing things (and especially reading certain books) again and again and again. And I’m like, great, awesome, let’s read these great children’s books that have really beautiful pictures and deeply engrossing stories – but no, we read What’s that sound, baby Daisy again and again and again. And I’m like, really? This again? My kids love this book so much that once Fiona couldn’t even wait until she reached me on the chair but had to throw it across the room at me. And it might not look like it, but this book hurts!

But that’s kids, right? Kids like doing things over and over again. I’ve heard people say it’s because they love routine and things that are set; the world is so confusing for them; they go to sleep here in their car seat and when they wake up, they’re somewhere else! I’ve heard it’s soothing for them to do things each day the same way.

And I think that’s probably true, but I think it’s also something else, and that’s that kids kinda love differently than we adults do. We’ve all got things we’ve learned to like and to not like. For instance, I deeply dislike pickles, and if you ever want to hear the Great Saga of Pickle Day, let me know, but make sure Helene’s not in the room, because I think she’s done hearing about it (seriously, it’s a real thing). And kids have things they don’t like, too, but for them, their hearts are open in wonder, because everything is new for them. The other day, I was telling Gwendolyn what a “one horse open sleigh” was and she was mystified that there was a time where we didn’t have cars. We’re amazed when a new Star Wars movie comes out, or when we find a new planet out in the galaxy that might have life on it, or that it’s finally time for the stores to carry egg nog again. But kids are amazed and filled with the deepest of wonder when you turn down a different street on the way to town (“wow, I’ve never been here before!”) or you open up a rarely-used cupboard, even if it’s empty, and they’re all like, “Wow, the wall opens!” For kids, everything is new, and so much of it is wonderful and magical and unreal. And that’s because they’re new, and their love is open and free.

        And I say all this not to just say something nice about kids but also to say something very important about God. This evening, Christmas Eve, the good old night before Christmas, we gather together to celebrate the Incarnation, that time when God came to us as a human, as Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. And when we think about Jesus, and Jesus’ presence in the world, often we think of him as an adult; you know, with that nice beard, the robes, standing with people around him teaching or healing or giving hope where even the word itself was forgotten. Or else we think of him with the Cross, either carrying it step by brutal step, or hanging on it, breathing his last. These images of Jesus, they touch us, they touch us deep in the heart, or in the mind, or in the gut. We carry these images with us as we live the Christian life, for they call us to live as Christ lived, as God lived, and that is to heal those who are sick, to give comfort to the lonely and the sorrowful, to feed the hungry, whether their hunger is of the stomach or of the mind or of the heart, and to place our hope not in earthly things but in heavenly things. Jesus, as an adult, taught us how to live.

        But Jesus was not just an adult; Jesus was also a baby. Jesus didn’t beam down from heaven as a fully formed individual. Jesus wasn’t carved out of stone, like Michelangelo carved his statue of David, perfect in every proportion down to the tiny little pinky finger. Jesus was born. Jesus was an infant and a toddler, he was a little kid and a teenager and a young man. Jesus, who we believe was fully God, also was fully human, and day by day grew up, just like we have.

        And as a child, Jesus must have had that same wonder at the world as I just described. Or, to put it better, we have that wonder because God’s love of the world is child-like. Not ‘childish’, mind you, but ‘child-like.’ The difference is important. We all know the childishness of kids, and all of us, I’m sure, still have a few bits of childishness in us as adults, too. Childishness is taking things for granted. It’s living as if everyone’s job is to comfort and care for us. We act this way as children because we do need all that care and attention, and we haven’t lived long enough to gain a healthy respect for the world around us and not take things for granted. But as adults, this childishness makes us proud, or haughty, or careless. In such childness we forget about others around us, and we put ourselves on a pedestal as an idol. And much of the work of the Holy Spirit, it seems, is knocking that idol over and turning our eyes, again and again, to the loving light of God. Childishness is pretty dangerous.

        Being child-like, however, that’s different. I think our presiding bishop Michael Curry. If you’ve ever seen him preach, he’s always jumping around and waving his arms, and I wonder that he hasn’t knocked candles over and set fire to his alb yet. And his face: you can see the love of God written all over his face, as if his heart was a beacon, drawing everyone around him to the presence of God. But I’ve also seen that child-like-ness here at St. James, in the love of this church and all it has meant to you, even if you don’t know how to put it into words; I see it in your love of a hymn, in your readiness, seemingly without a thought, to welcome people in off the streets no matter how tired or wet or smelly or confused they are, and to work tirelessly to help them. And I’ve had the distinct joy to be with you at the altar as you meet Jesus Christ in the holy sacrament, and I’ve knelt with you as we’ve all confessed our sins with a ready heart. This openness to God, this openness to the hurt and the hope of the people around you, and this love of the beauty of the natural world, the liturgy, and the life of one another, this is a child-like openness. And we adults, who so often forget in our own times of grief and resentment, need to be reminded often, but especially on Christmas, that God was child-like as a baby in the manger and, so too, is God child-like in heaven, in his earnest and eternal love for us.

        And that is the Gospel. That’s that “good news”, which is really what the word “Gospel” means: that the foundation of the world, that the one who created everything that is in this world, from the tiniest little single-celled organism up to the planets, stars, and galaxies, all that is founded firmly on one thing: Love. And I don’t mean the love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day, though that love is (or should be!) founded on that love. I mean this: those moments in your life, and hopefully there are many, those moments when we see that what really matters isn’t the darkness that is all around us, the hatred that people sling at one another like it’s their job, the anxiety and the sorrow, when we see that it’s not those things that are most important, but when we see, even just for a single moment, maybe just in the fleeting glance of a single person, that there is life in the world, and that that Life won’t let us fade away without a fight, that Life itself is not just a vague energy but a Person, and that that Person wants, more than anything in the world, for you and all of us and all this Creation to be whole and healthy and joyful and that, one day, we will be! That’s the love I mean.

        Tomorrow is Christmas Day. We all have different ways of celebrating. Mine involves egg nog, bacon, and my family. Yours might look different. The day after that is the 26th of December. The one after that is the 27th, then on into the new year. And I want to ask you this: we Christians believe that God loved us so deeply that he became a child and lived a human life, even to being nailed up on a cross and killed. Our God did that for us so that he could open up the real meaning of Love and Life to us wayward people. How will you live differently? For we have been given a light, a great torch to bear into the darkness of this world. How will you bear that light to those who do not know hope? How will you bring that light to those locked in the shackles of grief, of hatred, of despair? For on this night, and on each and every day, in each and every moment hereafter, the Christ child may be born inside your heart, so that you too may be a flame to dispel any darkness.

Simple Goodness and Saint Joseph

the fourth Sunday of Advent
22 December 2019

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

Click here to access these readings.

        We don’t talk all that much about Joseph. And that’s a pity. One might suspect that there’s not all that much to say. I remember, as a kid, learning about Jesus’ parents, though we mostly talked about Mary. Then, once, when I was visiting a Roman Catholic Church with Helene (I think it was St. Mary’s in Eugene), I remember seeing a statue of Joseph. And I thought, “Oh, how nice. You get a statue, too.” Joseph is kinda “that other guy” when it comes to the holy family. Mary is the “ever blessed Virgin Mary”, a major saint of the Church, who the angel Gabriel visited, who bore Jesus Christ. And Jesus, well, Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully God. And Joseph is, well, he’s Joseph.

        Now, I want to spend some time this morning talking about Joseph, but I’m pretty wary in doing so. And it’s not because Joseph is a difficult character (he’s not) or because there’s really not much to say about him and that, to make a whole sermon, I’ll have to pad this thing with tons of little stories that aren’t important. I’m wary of talking about Joseph, because I don’t want to make him into anything but simply Joseph.

        When we talk about people, and especially when we write sermons about people, we tend to tout them up. And sometimes that’s a good thing. I’ve given and heard many sermons about Jesus, of course, but also people like Mary, Paul, Peter, Francis, and Benedict. I’ve even heard a sermon on the angels, which was pretty cool. And I think we’ve all probably read biographies of great people. And these sermons and biographies try to get deep into these people’s lives and hearts. They try to explain what it was about these people the drew others to them. They reflect on their wise sayings, their great acts, their humility and virtue, their hope and charity and faith. And, if they’re good sermons and biographies, there’s something in there about how we, too, can learn from these great people and lead virtuous lives as well.

        And that’s just fine for people like Jesus or Mary or Peter, but when we do the same for folks like Joseph, I think we misunderstand what is important about common goodness. That’s not to say that Joseph wasn’t a good man. He’s important to Matthew as a link between Jesus and King David, and Matthew tells this really touching story in our gospel this morning about how Joseph struggled in how to best respond to Mary’s pregnancy. Joseph could easily have embarrassed Mary, ruined her name, and dragged her through court, but instead he respects her, tries to figure out the best way to save her honor, and respects her person even after they are married. But, really, what he does comes down to listening to the angel and caring about Mary as a human being – and that might be a miracle in itself, especially with how other characters in the Bible (like King David himself) treat women. Joseph doesn’t move mountains, lead great crowds of people. He’s just Joseph. That’s all.

        And again, that’s fine. The thing is, it’s alright if common things stay common. It’s alright if simple things remain simple. There is a deep, deep goodness to these sorts of things. We human beings, and especially we Americans, so often try to over complicate things. We have so much time to sit around and wonder about the ins and outs of things that we miss the goodness, the simple, honest goodness that is staring at us straight in the face. Have you ever been out in the summer heat and enjoyed – and I mean, really, really enjoyed – a tall glass of nothing else but water? Or after a long trip simply just hugged and held your loved one? My one cousin, Sean, whether he hadn’t seen you in months or saw you for lunch just yesterday, he’d hug you as if you were the most important thing in the world. Those sorts of simple things make all the difference.

I’ve told some of you about this, but once in seminary, for Good Friday, a few of us thought we would try fasting during the day. Now, while I think fasting is a good spiritual exercise, this was not a good experience for me. I got irritable, frustrated, angry, resentful; man, I was ugly, and grew only more ugly as the day went on. But that first taste of food when the sun went down, that first bite – and it was bread, just normal bread – was pure heaven. It reminds me of an author I’m reading who often writes about food; someone once wrote about her, “She has eaten about 54,000 meals in her life, and you can tell from her writing that she savored every single one.” What gracious praise of a person.

What was Joseph to Jesus? What wisdom or knowledge could he impart to a young man who was born of the Holy Spirit? How do you raise God’s Son? What was Joseph to Jesus? Well, frankly, he was probably, and quite simply, a good man. And when I say “simply” I don’t mean that he was probably just a normal, average Joe, or that he just showed up and did what he could. No, I mean that he was simply, and oh so deeply, a good, good man. He didn’t make a big splash. He didn’t make a huge impact on the early Church like Mary did. His virtue, what Matthew calls “righteousness” was probably, quite simply, in being a simple, good man.

Now, sometimes we Christians are call to great acts. In times of trouble, we are called to be more than we ever thought we could imagine ourselves to be. Throughout the ages, Christians have been called, and been called often, to carry their cross into some difficult terrain, giving their life and their spirit, and sometimes even their very lives, for the sake of Jesus Christ. And in Christ, we are all called to share in the inheritance of God’s Son, to be God’s Daughters and Sons ourselves. It is a great thing we are all called to, for in the waters of Baptism we do not find an easy, ho hum kinda life, but a life lived with Jesus Christ at the center, Jesus Christ who lived and served and died for everyone.

But most of us aren’t called to be what you might call “center-stage Christians.” We won’t be Michael Curry touring around doing revivals; we won’t be Thomas Aquinas writing tome after tome of theology that will serve as the foundation of thought for centuries to come; and many of us won’t die for our faith, die so that others may more deeply and more freely believe. We will be good people like Joseph. We will change people’s lives and bring them the healing, fulfilling love of Jesus Christ, not by some great a mighty work or sacrifice, but by simple, good, and honest living. And that itself is the miracle.

Because miracles don’t just happen on the large scale; they happen on the small, too. Miracles don’t need to feed the 5,000 with a few fish and loaves of bread; miracles can also feed just one person. For a miracle is God entering into the world, in whatever way God enters, to heal when healing seems impossible, to lift up the lonely and the sorrowful when all they see is darkness, to love even the unlovable because everyone, everyone, deserves to be loved. As a parent, I am gifted with miracles every day, for my little girls love me with a full and open heart. And as a parent, I know that my love to my daughters will be miracles that follow them for the rest of their lives. And from some things I hear from students I teach or taught, I know that I have been the presence of God in their lives simply by teaching them good rhetoric, or that it’s okay to love good, honest, simple things like books.

And what about you? I don’t have the market cornered on miracles and the presence of God just because I’m the priest. Where are the miracles in your own life? Where have you been a miracle to others? They may be hidden, hidden in the hearts of those you meet, planted there by you living a life to Jesus Christ. They may be hidden in your own heart as well, but just because they are small and hidden doesn’t mean that they’re not miracles. For small things are at the heart of our faith, for God Almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, became a small, tiny child, was born of a young woman, on a dark night in a manger, and that tiny child was the one who would save us all and make the whole Creation new.