Gates, Bread, and Jesus

May 3rd, 2020
the fourth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings are:
Acts 2:42-47
Psalm 23
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

If you don’t have a Bible handy, you can click here to access these readings.

       As I mentioned this morning already, today is the first day that we’ll be praying morning prayer instead of celebrating the Eucharist. Our liturgy this morning probably looks pretty much the same so far, and it will until after our prayers. Then we’ll say the Lord’s Prayer, wave goodbye, and sign off. It’s a pretty short service.

       And it can feel, I think, like it’s a too short service. That it’s not long enough. I know, I know, Episcopalians often joke about how, if a Sunday service is too long, or if a sermon is too long, we get all antsy. We mumble and grumble and say, “Come on, come on, I’ve got to get to lunch!” But when it comes to praying morning prayer on a Sunday, after the dismissal, often we all sit in our pews for a bit and wonder, “Wait a sec. Something’s missing.” Something big is missing.

       For Episcopalians, and I’m sure for other Christians who celebrate God in the historic liturgy, it’s not really about length; it’s about robust worship. Even if we don’t sing, we love music, and music that is deep and soul-searching. Even if the sermon should be only ten minutes, we want a good, thought-provoking sermon that hits the heart as much as the head. And we’ve come to want, to expect, to hope for, the Eucharist. Whether the service is too long or too short, whether the prayers of the people are straight from the Book of Common Prayer or prayed in the Spirit, really, we Episcopalians want to make sure that the Eucharist is celebrated. And we hope for it every week.

       This isn’t how it always was. Back before our current prayer book, a time when some of you might remember, we celebrated the Eucharist once a month. And back even earlier, folks celebrated it four times a year, or just once a year. And that’s all just fine, but over the years the Church has come to realize that there is great joy in meeting Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament week after week after week. There is great spiritual depth, an open well of life, a hope, and a joy that exceeds anything in this world, in reaching out our hands and receiving the Body and the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ each and every week.

       I remember the first time I received Communion in an Episcopal Church. It was in Athens Georgia. My good friend Joseph had suggested we go. I had read about the Eucharist while studying medieval literature, and I had seen in while at a Roman Catholic friend’s funeral in high school, but I had never participated in one, I had never been part of one. And so we joined my friend and went.

Now, the first part of the service, the part we’re praying this morning, I knew – readings, prayers, I got that; the kneeling and standing was new, but that’s cool. But then the priest, Father Edwin, sung the sursum corda, and my heart began to sour, just like those words sursum corda mean: lift up your hearts! In just the prayer I saw hinted the beauty of heaven, and that was even before I went up with everyone else, knelt at the altar rail, and received the Body and Blood, and, as we Episcopalians believe, literally tasted heaven. And my thought at the end of it all was: This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I want to do this forever.

       Jesus is the most beautiful thing we will ever see. And that’s not to say that sunsets and springtime flowers and the faces of our spouses and children and the good love of someone giving up their lives for those around them, that these things aren’t beautiful. But the source of their beauty, the source of all beauty and goodness and love, of hope and truth, the source of all that, the very Gate of Heaven, is Jesus, who we meet in the Most Blessed Sacrament. For the Eucharist is not just something we humans made up because we like making up ritual. It’s not something we created with our own hands, but that we received from the hands of God in Jesus Christ. For the Good Man said, “Take, eat, this is my Body, given for you!” And our Scriptures remind us, “And Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread!” and “The Bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the Body of Christ?”

       And now, on this fourth Sunday of the Easter season, now your priest has said, hey, let’s take a break from all that. This Eucharist, a gift from our Lord Jesus Christ himself, yeah, let’s take a breather from it. Even though you yourselves haven’t been literally partaking in the Bread and the Wine but have, with Lisa, prayed a prayer for Spiritual Communion, even so, just sticking to morning prayer may seem for you like we’re stopping worship, not just easing off the gas but stopping the car and stepping out the door. What gives? What do we do now? How do we wait until the last Sunday of the month (which, I’ll note here, is the festival of Pentecost, the very birthday of the Church), how do we get along without it?

       I will answer this question with a story. Back after college, I spent two years in Japan teaching English. And while I had studied Japanese before, all I could really do was ask for simple directions, talk about the weather, ask for the time (and understand the answer); you know, stuff you learn in a class. I could hold simple conversations, but, man, when it came to reading, on the whole, I was completely illiterate. I went from studying literature in college, reading stuff like Shakespeare and knowing what the man was saying, to not knowing how to find a sign for the bathroom. I mean, I could catch a glimpse of things in English, sure. And there was an English bookstore in Kyoto, and I’d go there and devour whatever I bought. But for the most part, I was illiterate. The world around me was full of symbols that I didn’t have the first idea of how to read.

       And it was horrible. I’m a reader. It’s how I understand the world around me and the world within me. It’s the bread for my butter, the burger for my ketchup. I imagine that folks who play sports might feel this way when they’re injured and laid up in bed. Sure, they can watch a game on the television, and that’s great, but it’s just not the same. They want to be on the field, hearing the crowd roar, pushing their bodies to the limit and then finding they can push themselves more. That’s how I felt about reading, and about not being able to read.

       Now, I’m not sure if this is how it works for people who play sports, but for me as a reader, being illiterate for a while – changed me. When I returned here to the US, at first I read things voraciously. I took a good friend to a bookstore with me and asked him, “Give me anything you think I should read.” He gave me $150 worth of books. And that was fine. I didn’t care. I wanted to read.

       But something else began to happen. I began to hear my language differently. This language that I had spoken ever since I was a little toddler, I heard it with new – with renewed – ears. Where once I had found it just kinda ho hum, now I found it to be beautiful. I read good old Shakespeare, who I thought was sometimes just confusing to be confusing, but now found him to be full of wisdom and heart and humor (though still a bit confusing). I even saw signs on the side of the road and marveled at the beauty that they were in English. My language had been a tool before, just something that I’d used to order a pizza or tell a stupid story or, mea cupla, insult someone. Now I saw it to be just what it is: a gift. And I wanted to use it as a gift.

       This is, at least, my experience, and I offer it to you as we think about Holy Communion. For now, we cannot receive the Eucharist, we cannot celebrate the Sacraments as they ought to be celebrated: the Sacraments, those most holy gifts of God. We’ll be praying a different prayer, something from our prayer book tradition in which we turn our hearts to God. For somewhere in the world the Eucharist is being celebrated, and that celebration of the Heavenly Banquet, which is the heart and soul of each celebration of the Eucharist, is eternal. It knows nothing of place and time because it looks to Heaven, not to Earth. But the Eucharist won’t be celebrated here at St. James at that altar behind me. And that’s okay. God is still with us. The Eucharist isn’t the only way to God – Jesus is the Gate, and Jesus is all throughout the world, walking in the forests, sitting there with you at home, in the open hands of the poor who are begging for food, in our own open hands, giving, giving, giving.

       And it’s okay to mourn the fact that we aren’t celebrating here, that we’re just praying Morning Prayer a while. It’s okay to mourn something like this. But while we mourn, while we long for and miss and feel weird about just praying Morning Prayer, let’s reflect on what the Eucharist means. What does it mean to us? What does it mean to the Church? What does it mean to our lives as Christians? What does it mean to you, being given a gift from God each and every week; and what does it mean to you, unable to receive that gift fully during our time of quarantine? And what will it mean to you when, finally and at long last, you can come to this altar, hold your hands out once more, and have those hands filled with the very stuff of Life Eternal?

Leaving Home

the Second Sunday after Lent
8 March 2020

Today’s readings are:

Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

If you don’t have a Bible handy, click here for these readings.

        Okay, so the journey of Lent has begun, and here we are, now, at the start of the second week. Last week, the first Sunday of Lent, we began with the question, “Where did we come from?” And this is a great place to start, isn’t it? How can we know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been? While we’re starting our Lenten journey afresh, we’re not starting it with a completely clean slate. We all have histories, be they long or short, good and bad, and just because we got a bit of ash on our foreheads and started off on our journey doesn’t mean that everything in our past has up and disappeared. We’re no longer bound to it, but it is still there.

        Think of it this way. Have you ever had a down and dirty, drag out fight with someone you love? You know, one of those really nasty arguments where one of you, or both of you, said some really hurtful things – or did some really hurtful things? Sometimes these sorts of arguments break the relationship, and there’s no going back, but sometimes, when we have the courage, or when the love is strong enough, we return, and we apologize. That relationship, that was broken, is now healed, but the history is still there. Those hurtful things were still said and still done, and an apology won’t heal things completely. Our work with our beloved, now, is to repair that relationship, to repair the trust and the love that were so sorely wounded.

        This is something that Jesus reminds us of pretty often: that the past, be it good or bad, doesn’t just disappear; it sticks with us. He reminds of this while talking about the Law – I did not come to change the law, he says, but to fulfill it. And he reminds us of this in our Gospel reading this morning; he says: the Son did not come into the world to condemn it, but that that world might be saved. What goes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in other words, is not destroyed and remade but refounded on something deeper, stronger, more beautiful and more holy than we could ever imagine.

        Yes, we are products of our upbringing; yes, we are people who developed and grew because of the history that came before us; and, yes, we need to know where we came from, but we’re also free of it – and that’s the theme of this second Sunday of Lent. And this is very good news. Those things in your past that have hurt you, that have caused you grief and sorrow, those things that you might regret – you are not bound to them. You can be healed from them. That is some of the work of Jesus Christ in our lives, that we are not merely products of our past, and certainly not products of those painful or regretful things that we’ve done or that have been done to us.

        And this is a great, great joy. Have you ever thought about how much a miracle this is? We humans have the ability to grow beyond sin. We often have to deal with the repercussions of sins in the past, be they our own or those done to us, but we do not have to remain in that sin or oppressed by it. We are free to move on through the power of the Holy Spirit. It takes work, surely, but that path towards life and away from darkness is open to us. That is a miracle.

        And it is also, often, extremely, extremely scary. For the Lord said to Abram, “Go. Go from your country – oh, and your kindred, too – and your father’s house – go from everything you have ever known and all the things that have made your life comfortable and happy. Go. Leave. Don’t turn back. Oh, and by the way, I’m not telling you where you’re going. But don’t worry. I’ll tell you later.”

        I’m paraphrasing our reading from Genesis, adding a bit to it, but I think the sense is there. Leaving what we know – even if what we know is painful – can be a scary, scary thing. Do you remember the first time you were out on your own? Yeah, it’s great at first, but the adrenaline tapers off after a while, and the sense of adventure turns (sometimes quickly) to the real struggle and trials of a journey.

I remember, once, I was traveling with some friends in Thailand. We were off looking for ruins and wandering through old castles and monasteries, where the bricks themselves were works of art. Then, as often happens, there was an argument, and the group split up. And so there I was, alone, in this ancient, ruined capital, alone. Alone.

At first it was pretty cool. I didn’t have to go where my friends wanted to go (I was up for seeing ruins, they wanted to go to bars). I could sit for hours (and I did) wandering through these old temples or gazing artistically at the colorful minarets. And then, you know, the coolness of all that kinda wore off, and I realized that I was alone, I didn’t know where I was, I had no map, I knew no one for literally one hundred miles, I was catching a cold, and I couldn’t speak (much less read) a lick of Thai. I was far from home, with no safety net, and I was alone.

Now, you don’t have to have ever been wandering the old ruins of Thailand to have felt this emotion. God may have said to you, like he said to Abram, “Go, leave everything behind, everything, without knowing where you’re going.” And that place may have been where you could not hear God’s voice, or where that presence you always have had of Love, capital L Love, was not present anymore, and you felt like you were alone. Turning away from all we know, even if what we know is something painful, can be scary. We don’t know what will happen. We have no map to help us along the way. Things don’t make sense anymore, and we don’t know if they ever will again.

This is what is called a Dark Night of the Soul. It’s that time in our walk with God where God asks us to go deeper. It’s when God takes the training wheels, those training wheels that make it so easy to ride that bike, but until they’re off, we won’t really be riding a bike. It’s that time in student teaching where, after team teaching and helping out, our mentor finally says, alright, you teach the class. The whole class. And no, I’m not going to be in the room to help.

Because God isn’t satisfied with a training-wheel faith. Jesus tells us that we need to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our spirit, and often we just give God some of our heart, and a little bit of our mind, and a dash of our spirit. And God says in these times, no, I know you can do more than this, and he steps away, just as many of us let go of our kids’ handle bars and let them petal that bike on their own. That doesn’t mean that we’re not still standing there, praying to high heaven that our kids will really learn how to ride that bike, and ready in a jiffy to rush up and help if that bike crashes – but God wants us to petal that bike.

There are two things to say about this, and then I’m done. First, we should be careful not to confuse real despair with a dark night of the soul. Sometimes God steps back so that we can grow; sometimes we fall into a grief so deep that we think God is turned away from us. This is why we practice Lent in a community, so that if we do experience darkness, we can speak that to wise and discerning guides who can help us see whether we’re in the depths of doubt and despair or whether God is calling us to go deeper. The dark night of the soul is not one that we go through alone, like me off like a dork in Thailand, thinking I can huff it through a country on my own. Dark nights of the soul are experienced alone and discerned in community.

And this reminds us of something else, that when we, as parents and grandparents, take the training wheels off of our children’s and grandkid’s bikes, it’s not so that they can go and leave and disappear. It’s so that they can grow, and continue to grow, into stable, strong, honest adults. And, as adults, we can enter with them into a deeper and more loving relationship. It is the same with God: God doesn’t tell us to go and leave our father’s house, he doesn’t lead us into (and then out of) dark nights of the soul just so that we can be more self-reliant and self-possessed, so that we will need God less and less. No, God leads us through these times, and again, out of them, so that we may mature as Christians and grow into an adult faith. For what God hopes is that we are not mere children but true Daughters and Sons like his own Son Jesus Christ. And for that we walk through the darkness of Lent with the dawn of Easter on the horizon.


Lent and the Unconditional Love of God

the Last Sunday after Epiphany
February 23rd, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Click here to access these readings.

       So you’ve only got a week left, right? I mean, you’ve got until Tuesday night and maybe a little into Ash Wednesday, but, really, you’ve only got until next Sunday to figure out what you’re going to give up for Lent. You’ve only got another week before I start pestering you with, “So, what did you give up for Lent?” and “How’s it going? With the Lent thing?” and “Do you need me to pray for you?” A friend of mine, in seminary, told me that his sending priest once gave up Lent for Lent. “You can’t do that!” my friend said, and the priest only shrugged his shoulders. But there’s no shrugging shoulders for me: I’m gonna ask!

       Jokes aside, Lent is beginning soon, and it is traditional (and spiritually healthy) to either give up something or to take on a new practice. And that’s because we’re preparing: we’re preparing for Easter, the time when we celebrate the world’s new birth, the 8th day of the week, when Jesus Christ rose from the death and destroyed death forever. That’s something you prepare for.

       Preparations are important, right? Think of it: let’s say you’re getting ready to cook dinner. Instead of just turning on the stove and going at it, you should prepare a little, right? You should figure out what you’re going to make, maybe open up the cookbook. You should get out everything you need and, really, probably check the fridge to make sure you actually have everything you need. Otherwise you’ll be running around the kitchen, or running out to the store, right in the middle of cooking, and that might mess up what you’re trying to make.

Or, if you’re going on a trip to, say, Portland, you don’t just hop in the car and go. Otherwise, when you hit Roseburg you’ll realize you forgot your toothbrush; and when you hit Eugene you realize you forgot your wallet; and when you’re in Wilsonville you’ll be like, “Hey, where’s my wife?” You prepare for these things so that, when the thing comes, you’re not hung out to dry.

Now, a person might say: wait a second. Father Tim, you talk about God’s love every week. And I do. If you notice, I make sure that, in each and every one of my sermons, I say something about God’s love, how powerful it is, how healing it is, how it transforms us and guides us and holds us. God’s love is unconditional. We don’t need to do anything to earn it. It’s just right there, open and free, like birdsong in the springtime.

And so, if that’s true – which it is – that God loves us unconditionally, then what do we really have to prepare for? Why go through Lent if God’s love for us is right there before us with open arms, ready and willing to heal us, to give us hope, and to show us a light that we have longed for all our lives? Why prepare? I mean, if my children came in from the rain, cold and wet and dirty, and they were sad and alone for all that, I wouldn’t say, “Go take a bath first, then I’ll love you.” No, I’d scoop them up, get myself all dirty and wet, but who cares when someone is in need of and longing desperately for love? My love isn’t conditional; it’s love in the wet and the rain as well as in the warm sunshine. God’s love is the same, but only more so. So what are we preparing for?

This is an important question, and it’s why Lent isn’t a requirement. There are some people who won’t practice Lent, not because they don’t need it, but because their lives are filled with enough struggle and darkness as it is. Now, I think Lent, where we take stock of who we are and examine the health of our relationship with God, can do a lot for those of us who struggle with depression. It can show us how God heals and how God shines a light into darkness that we thought buried deep within our hearts. Some of my own sorrow has been healed through living a holy Lent, but that’s not the case for everyone. We don’t need to do anything to experience that healing – it is God that heals us, not our practices or our techniques.

But for most of us, we need this time. Our lives are busy, and we’re not always sitting down and thinking about how our relationship with God is doing. Often we take it for granted, and we only start thinking about it when tragedy strikes. But think about your other relationships in your life. Think about the relationship with your spouse, or your children, or your good, good friends. These relationships need care. Your spouse may love you unconditionally, and your children may be loving, and your friends may be devoted, but if you take them for granted, you hurt those relationships. That’s why we celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, why we give gifts, and why we call someone up out of the blue. And it’s why we spend time with the people we love in our lives: to deepen those relationships, to further them, to grow together. I didn’t think I could love Helene more than I did when I married her, but after ten years, I’ve learned that I do. I didn’t think I could learn more about my best friend, but after knowing him for thirteen years and giving love and attention to that relationship, I’ve found that there is so much to learn and know and experience and love about him. These relationships, and my life as these relationships, are better because of the care and attention that I’ve given them, and the care and attention my friends and family have given me as well. And because of this care, I think we have all become better people.

How is your relationship with God? Do you take the time to call God up out of the blue? Do you spend time with God only when you have to, here on Sunday mornings, or do you sit with God in your grief, in your joy, in your wonder, and in your fear? How is your relationship with God?

Lent is the time to ask that question. It’s the time to ask God, “God, how are we doing?” and then to listen. It can be a scary thing at times, to listen. Not because God’s going to give you more to do or tell you that you’re not up to snuff or anything. No, because when we turn to God and really listen, when we open our hearts to the presence and the life and the fullness of God, God’s going to come inside. And he’s going to say something, something right in the heart of your deepest grief and your deepest fear. God’s going to go right inside of your darkness that is dark as pitch, and God’s going to say, “I love you.” And that can be scary.

But that’s not all. After saying those beautiful words, those words that reach down to depths that we didn’t even know we had, he’ll start mopping up inside of us, and he’s going to throw open the windows and let the daylight in, and he’s going to invite other people in so they can help, too. And that can be hard. But it is also good, so deeply Good that one day, perhaps not far off, we’ll sit with God in that inner room of our heart laughing. And that laughter will be so loud and so raucous and so joyful that it will shake the walls of the world and echo out into eternity.

Breaking and Healing

the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 16th, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Click here to access these readings.

            The passage from our gospel reading this morning often makes people a little uncomfortable. In it, we hear about some things that we Episcopalians often don’t want to talk about: general things like sin and Hell, and more specific and human things like divorce. Now, I have some thoughts here on these topics and on this reading, but I feel that it would be improper of me to talk about these readings without talking about divorce. It’s a very touchy subject, and the Christian discussion on divorce is pretty complicated. And so, instead of just breezing by it and talking about what Jesus is getting at here (which is pretty amazing, to tell you the truth), I want to sit for a little and teach a bit about the Episcopal Church.

            Many churches – or, at least many that I’ve come into contact with – begin talking about divorce with a prohibition: you can’t get divorced unless this or this occurs. The Episcopal Church begins with a question: “how have you been hurt in the breaking of this marriage?” as well as an offer: “how can we help?” These questions are based on a view that marriage is a sacrament and a sacramental bond, something many folks talk about as a covenant. Marriages are bonds that reach to the same level of a person as confirmation, our adult profession of faith, and holy orders, when some of us give ourselves over to service of God and his Church. They’re not broken lightly. But when marriage is broken, by unchastity and unfaithfulness, it often leaves broken people behind. And the Episcopal Church, and other churches as well, say that such broken people don’t need a prohibition, they need healing. And that is exactly why Jesus Christ was born into this world: to heal and to lift up to God.

            Now, of course, this is an Episcopalian talking about all this. I might be missing the nuances of other churches, but I think this turn, from prohibition to healing, is something the Episcopal Church does particularly well, and it’s an important turn to note. For, while Jesus here certainly gives a prohibition, the whole passage is less about making up new laws or furthering old ones; instead Jesus here asks us what is at the foundation of these laws to begin with. Nor is this just an argument between following the letter of the law (what the law actually says) or the spirit of the law (what it means). Jesus is asking what is at the heart of the law. What is at its foundation? What sort of life, what sorts of relationships, is our religion asking us to live?

            You see, in Jesus’ time, there were a great many discussions about the Law. And when I say “Law”, I don’t mean the law like you or I would understand it; you know, laws like stop for foot traffic in cross walks, or pay your taxes, or make sure to bring your library books back on time or else. For Jesus’ time, the law was The Law, the Law of Moses, set down and followed, for some in a lax way, for some in a pretty strict way. And, just like today, there were all sorts of people who had lots of opinions about just how we ought to follow the Law. Nor did they think that these opinions on the Law were just for themselves, but they demanded that others live according to their version of the law as well. And they fought about it, they yelled about it, and, as we see in the Book of Acts and the letters of St. Paul, they could even kill about it.

            And so Jesus comes and says you’re missing the point. You’re talking about the “what” instead of the “how”, the action instead of the being, the law instead of Life. For Jesus says, yeah, sure there’s this prohibition against murder, but what is this prohibition really about? It’s about living in a very particular way with your neighbor; and not just a kind of “you do your thing and I’ll do mine and we can live nice, happy, separate lives.” No, Jesus says that we have a responsibility to our neighbors, to those around us, be they our brothers and sisters or the guy down the street who we really don’t like and talk about behind his back. For when we curse people, when we cheat people, when we slander people, they’re not just words. We break something with them. We break something precious and dear that, often, can’t be just repaired with an apology. And that thing we break can be a relationship, but it can also be a society, and it is often another person. And if there is any prohibition in the Bible, it is this: that we should not break other people.

            Marriage is a sacramental bond. It is an important and it is a holy bond. But, like most things in this sinful world, it can be broken. Nor is divorce the actual breaking point. More often it is the result and, sometimes, the necessary result, when one person betrays that sacramental bond, be that betrayal sexual, emotional, physically abusive, or even spiritual betrayal. Divorce, for some, is actually the time when healing can really begin, when the broken pieces can, at last, begin to be put together. And so, the Episcopal Church teaches that, on one hand, a marriage is a sacrament, a bond that goes to the heart of us, that ought never be broken; but also that, if it ever is, it is much more important to heal than to condemn.

            And this may seem, at first, a sort of paradox, or a cheat, that we want things both ways, that we claim marriage to be an indelible bond but that we’re not going to hold people to that standard. I think, however, that our church’s position gets to the heart of what Jesus is saying: when you put people together, you actually put them together, and that’s for marriage as much as it is for living in the same town, or state, or country, or world. We are no collection of individuals all living near one another but never touching; we are one people, and our lives are intertwined and connected. We are bound to one another in the deepest regions of our humanity. And woe be to you if you dishonor that, and not because it’s just bad to do but because when a bond like that breaks, the hurt is real. And that hurt needs the loving hand of Jesus and His Church. That hurt needs love.

            And so I want to end this sermon in a different way than usual, and that’s with a specific invitation. It’s my personal feeling that gospel passages like this are better read around a table, with some tea and perhaps a box of tissues, and held in discussion, not a sermon but I didn’t write the lectionary. Jesus often challenges us, and, if I may speak for our Lord for a moment (forgive me, Lord, if I speak incorrectly), I believe that the last thing that Jesus wants to do by challenging us is to make us feel alone. These readings, and my interpretation of them here, may have opened up some hurt from your own marriage or your own divorce. Or, on the other hand, you may disagree with me and think that the Episcopal Church just plain silly on this one. Whatever the case, talk to me. Sit down with me over tea, come by my office, or throw me an email. This isn’t one of those issues that you just hear, go ‘oh yeah, cool’, and forget. Nothing Jesus says ever is. So just know that the invitation is open; I am hear to listen.

Salt of the Earth

the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 9th, 2020

Today’s readings are:
Isaiah 58:1-12
Psalm 112:1-10
1 Corinthians 2:1-16
Matthew 5:13-20

Click here to access these readings.

            “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”

            Good question, Jesus! How DO we make salt salty again? I mean, Jesus isn’t just asking how to make bland things salty, like if you cook up some eggs and they’re just kinda eggs and you want some spice to them. He’s not asking us how to put a bit of pizzazz on the plate and how to entertain a bored tongue. He’s not looking to add some color to your grey, some blue skies to your cloudy weather, some light, summer reading to your study of Scripture. He’s saying: what is salt is no longer salty. How do you make it salty again?

            Think of it this way: if you were to go to Portland with your family or friends, and you walked around all day, shopping, eating at food carts, that kinda stuff, and you get home and your legs have that tired, city ache to them – you might be sore, but you’re still you. Or let’s say, God forbid, you take a tumble. Maybe you’ve got a bruise, maybe you broke a wrist. But even if you break a bone, you’re still you: yourself. Or if you’re sick, and even really sick, even to the point of death you are still who you are. I am Tim Hannon if I walk around Portland all day, break a bone, or am lying in the hospital. I am still me.

            There are times, however, when we are not ourselves. Times of deep grief and despair can change us. Struggle and darkness can change us, so that when we look in the mirror, we don’t know who’s looking back at us. These are times of deep pain, when, if we are wise, or if we’ve got some good friends or family with a stern word, we say, “I’m not being myself.” How do you become you again? How do you ground yourself in who you are as a person, deeply and truly, inside and out?

            And we Christians know that, really, we’re never truly ourselves. There’s something inside of us that makes us, no matter how hard we try, lose sight of the Good and the True that is calling out inside or each of us. We Christians call it “original sin”, but it’s that feeling that there is some Truth buried deep down inside of us and we just can’t figure out where it is. Christians for centuries have said, “I am salt, but I have lost my saltiness; restore me to who I am, to who I am truly meant to be!”

            Who are you truly meant to be? Who are we truly meant to be? Who am I truly meant to be? I haven’t the foggiest, really. I keep trying to figure it out, but I keep on messing up (there’s sin for you). But I do know one thing: that even in my unsaltiness, even in my confusion and my vain wanderings, I know that I’m loved. I know that we all are loved. I know, and I want to tell you this morning, that you, you are loved.

And it is in this love that we find our true selves. You know, I said that I haven’t the foggiest idea who I really am, but that’s not really true. I catch a glimpse of it sometimes. I catch a glimpse of who I am meant to be in the love my wife has for me. I catch a glimpse of it each time my children run up to me and give me a hug. I see it when I talk to my good friends or when I reminisce with my sister. I have who I really am when visiting the hospital and when I baptized Cooper and Fiona last year. And I’ve seen a glimpse of who God made me to be, and who God is loving me into being, in the Eucharist, in partaking of it myself and in handing each of you, one at a time, the wafer or the bit of bread, and saying, “the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.” In these times, I heard the voice of God whispering in my ear: this is who you are meant to be; and more!

In a little while we’ll be gathering for our Annual Meeting. We’ll hear reports, I’ll give you some figures about 2019, and we’ll vote in BAC members and delegates. And then I’ll ask you something: what has St. James been to you? And I want you to think about this, because it’s our foundation and our history and it’s important. And I want you, standing on that foundation, to ask another question: what is St. James meant to be? What does God hope for us? Who, in God’s heart of hearts, is St. James? Not just what do we feel like doing here at Church but what does God Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who took flesh upon himself so that he could live with us and die for us, who does God want to love us to be? And how can we be ever more open to that love?