Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bridesmaids Oil

All four Scripture lessons today deserve some comment, the Gospel first and longer, then the Epistle, Amos, and the Psalm.   Do you remember the old church camp and Bible school song?  The version I remember goes:

 Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, Give me oil in my lamp I pray.
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning,
Keep me burning till the light of day
Sing Hosannah, sing Hosannah, Sing Hosannah to the King of Kings

Sing Hosannah, sing Hosannah Sing Hosannah to the King

There are lots of other verses:
Give me joy in my heart keep me praising       

Give me love in my heart keep me serving
Give me peace in my heart keep me resting       
Hide your word in my heart, keep me learning,
Make me fishers of men, keep me searching
Some others are these:
Give me wax on my board, keep me surfing for the Lord...

Give me coffee in my cup, lift Him up, up, up...
Give me water in my shower God is power, power, power...
Give me gas in my Ford, keep me truckin' for the Lord...

Give me gas for my Chevy Keep my testimony heavy
Give me wheels for my skates, then I’ll roll to heaven’s gate.
Give me Nikes for my feet, I’ll be preachin’ on the street
Give me chicken on my plate, God is great, great, great...
Give me umption in my gumption, help me function for the Lord...
Give me beans in my burrito, God is neat-o, neat-o, neat-o... 

Give me salt on my Fritos, God is neat-os, neat-os, neat-os....
Give me hot sauce in my taco, let me witness in Morocco
(from England) Give me batteries for my torch, keep me shining  
I’m sure there are more. 

In Christian history the oil of this parable has had many meanings. In our time reserves are important – material reserves and spiritual reserves. Last year a Federal Reserve survey said nearly half the people in this country could not raise $400 in an emergency. In terms of net worth – 10% have less than $1,000, half less than $100,000,10% more than 1,200.000. My church pension is funded by an 18% assessment for 37 years, and I paid into social security.  But pensions are going away and savings are not making up for them. We need to build up our material and financial reserves.

More importantly we need to build up our spiritual reserves. Regular prayer, regular bible study, regular worship, regular Christian service – all these help us grow in God’s love and grace. We can’t pass on what we have not received for ourselves. In   Christ Jesus we are forgiven sinners. We have been given new life in Jesus Christ. God has given us the Holy Spirit – the spirit of God’s truth, the spirit of God’s power to overcome the temptations of this life. Focusing our attention on God’s gifts helps us keep our spiritual oil flasks filled.   

We all know the feeling of burnout – to be overworked and under-appreciated. It is easy to burn out. Overwork is a subset of the sin of pride. Make time for God. Remember “this is my father’s world.” He is in charge, and he wants us rested, and filled with his Spirit.  

Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, Give me oil in my lamp I pray.
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning,
Keep me burning till the light of day

Today’s Epistle reading from Thessalonians includes the proof text for the Rapture. 4:17 “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.” You may have seen the bumper sticker, “In case of Rapture this car will be unmanned.” The Rapture is one way of understanding the final coming of Jesus Christ at the end of time.

That Jesus will come at the end of time again is a matter of faith. How and when he will come is pious opinion and speculation. Our task is to remember how Jesus has come to us our lives, to be wise, prepared with extra oil to obey Jesus’ command to keep alert and awake.

We all look for the Day of the Lord, the day of judgement Amos writes about. We tend to think of it as our day of vindication. Amos reminds us God’s judgment is righteous, and that we are to live by God’s standards, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  

And the Psalm reminds us of our need for God’s deliverance.  I am poor and needy; come to me quickly, O God.  You are my helper and my deliverer; O LORD, do not tarry.”  

 Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, Give me oil in my lamp I pray.
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning,
Keep me burning till the light of day
Sing Hosannah, sing Hosannah, Sing Hosannah to the King of Kings

Sing Hosannah, sing Hosannah .Sing Hosannah to the King

Thursday, November 2, 2017

All Saints Sunday 17

All Saints Sunday November 5, 2017

“Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.” The Church of the Savior is coming up on our 40th anniversary. Our first service was July 2, 1978 in Smokey Chapel. Almost 5 years later in April, 1983 the Lutheran Episcopal fellowship was officially organized, and the first weekend in July that year Bishops Wolber and Weinhauer dedicated our church.  It’s like a marriage; we keep the public wedding anniversary, but the relationship really began some time before that.

The God who made us loves us. Our personal relationship with God begins before birth, before we are aware, before we can become aware. The paradox is that we are born alone and we die alone, but we do not live alone. At birth we have mother, father, and other members of a family, a community of people who care about us.  We become part of a spiritual community, the mystical body of Christ. We are spiritual descendants of Abraham, joined in his covenant with God, and joined in the new covenant of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

It is a covenant of faith. In Acts 16, when the Philippian jailer asked “What must I do to be saved, St. Paul told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” In the last chapter of St. Mark’s gospel Jesus said, (16:16) “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned.”  Faith and baptism are signs of salvation. Faith is God’s gift. Faith is not dependent on feelings; feelings come and go, but faith, God’s love, and God’s salvation in Jesus is everlasting.

Baptism is a sign to us of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Lutheran, Episcopal, Orthodox, Catholic churches all agree about the sacrament of baptism. The Episcopal catechism (BCP 857) defines sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” We are spiritual bodies, and baptism is our bodily response to God’s gift of faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

We are blessed to be able freely to respond to God in baptism. Many cannot. In the late 19th century British missionaries opened hospitals in Persia. From the village of Tafti a young woman came to learn to be a nurse, but in obedience to her Muslim parents she returned home and married a Muslim. She was a secret Christian, and her son Hassan was later an army officer and then a priest and the first native Persian Anglican bishop. He served there for 20 years, but when the revolutionaries attacked him, wounded his wife, and murdered his son, he fled to England. The German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner (1904-84) wrote of “anonymous Christians,” like Bishop Deqani-Tafti’s mother, Christians prevented by circumstances from being baptized or enjoying the benefits of church fellowship. In the early church people were baptized only at Easter after several years preparation. Sometimes these catechumens were martyred in persecutions before they could be baptized. The church said they had been “baptized by desire” and counted them among the saints.

Baptism is an important human response to God’s grace freely given all his people, but of the ways churches have misused their spiritual authority to impose restrictions on the grace of God. The Spanish speaking congregation at St. Paul’s Church, Smithfield, NC, where I was twice interim rector, began when some Spanish speaking men came to the employer, a member of that church, to complain that the local Roman Catholic church would not baptize their children because the parents had not been married in the church in Mexico. In that country the civil marriage is done at city hall; the church wedding costs extra. The boss responded, “We’re Episcopalians; we baptize anybody.” I did some Spanish language baptisms there. 

When I was rector in Shelby, Jenny Schwartz, a beautiful and talented 11 year old, was a leader of the youth choir. Her mother Florence was active in the church; her father Mike was from a leading Jewish family in Georgetown, SC. We noticed that when Jenny sang her father cane to church. When I visited them we’d talk about God and Jesus. One Sunday was a baptism; Jenny and the youth choir sang.  As I went down the aisle at the closing hymn, Mike asked me, “Can I be baptized?” “Yes, when?” “Now?” When the hymn ended I said, “If you a roast in the oven feel free to leave. The rest please stay for Mike Schwartz’s baptism.” We formed a men’s group and twice a month for almost a year met for breakfast and discussion to help Mike learn and grow in the Christian faith.

Florence died young of cancer, but Jenny and Mike continue in the church. Florence, with Hassan Dequani-Tafti, his wife, and his mother, continue in the communion of saints, “one communion in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.”   

My mother used to say, “We’re all examples for one another; some of us are good examples.” Everyone I have known in the body of Christ has contributed to my spiritual growth. On this All Saints Sunday I invite you to remember and to thank God for those saints who have contributed to your own spiritual growth, and I want to list some of the saints who have been God’s agents in my own spiritual life. First are my parents, Nelson and Elizabeth Rightmyer. Most of what I know of God’s love and grace I learned at home. My father was a priest and a seminary professor; that helped. Walden Pell was headmaster at St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, Delaware. When his office door was open we could go in and talk about anything. God is always available.  Jim Reynolds was Chaplain; I learned from him about the beauty of holiness. Tom Fraser was bishop of North Carolina. He taught the younger clergy by word and example to be hard on ourselves and easy on others.  I could go on, but you get the idea. Give thanks to God who has made know to you by his Word Jesus and the example of the saints in your life that he loves you, that Jesus has saved us and given us new life in the Holy Spirit who guides us and all the saints in truth and power.  Amen

Friday, October 13, 2017

Wedding Banquet

We all have wedding stories. Some stories are about our own weddings, or our children’s weddings, or our parents, other family members, friends. Many of the stories are happy stories; a few are sad, some are poignant. When Lucy and I go to weddings, and we get to go to a lot, we come home with a deeper appreciation of our marriage.

Jesus spent much of his last week of earthly ministry in controversy with the official leaders of his people, people who misused their authority and power to lie about Jesus to the Romans who misused their power and authority to hang Jesus on a cross to die. But God his father raised Jesus from the dead, and gives us the authority and power to share in Jesus’ resurrected new life.  

On Easter Day the church reads part of the passage from Isaiah we read today, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.  And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.”

A favorite image of heaven is the wedding feast, when the church as bride is united with the Lord the bridegroom. James Boswell in 1781 quoted the English writer Samuel Johnson, “marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” It is always interesting to see at a wedding reception how two groups of extended families and friends begin by having in common only a relationship with one of the two people getting married and sometimes find groundsfor friendship and a continuing relationship.

In Jesus controversy story the invited guests refused their invitation to the wedding banquet. Those who heard Matthew’s gospel could see them as the leaders of the Jewish community; we might see them as leaders of our secular society. So the king’s servants brought in the street people, “both bad and good.” We know ourselves as both bad and good, but “street people” maybe not so much. Our churches tend appeal to middle class retired folks. But even middle class retired people need Jesus’ love and grace.

But in the parable one of the guests did not have a wedding garment, and the king ordered, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” That seems really unfair, doesn’t it?  But what does “wedding garment” mean? And how does that fit with bringing in the street people?

Martin Luther began the 95 Theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” 

When we go to a wedding we focus on the bride and the groom and wish them all the happiness of married life. We try to leave our bad feelings at the door. We plan to be as gracious as we can to our fellow guests. So at the wedding feast of the church and her Lord we focus on the Lord. Our wedding garment includes repentance and faith.

In the early 19th century John Keble, an English parish priest, wrote a hymn:

“New every morning is the love, our wakening and uprising prove, through sleep and darkness safely brought, restored to life and power and thought.”

“New mercies, each returning day, hover around us as we pray; new perils past, new sins forgiven, new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.”

“If on our daily course our mind be set to hallow all we find, new treasures still, of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.”

“The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we need to ask, room to deny ourselves, a rod to bring us daily nearer God.”

Only, dear Lord, in thy dear love fit us for perfect rest above, and help us this and every day, to live more nearly as we pray.”

Our wedding garments of repentance include sacrifice and self-denial, “the trivial round, the common task” and we ask God, “help us this and every day, to live more nearly as we pray.”


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Blessings: Anmals and Quilts

`At the Blessing of Animals October 8, 2017

Sovereign of the universe, your first covenant of mercy was with every living creature. When your beloved Son came among us, the waters of the river welcomed him, the heavens opened to greet his arrival, the animals of  the wilderness drew near as his companions. With all the world’s people, may we who are washed into new life through baptism seek the way of your new creation, the way of justice and care, mercy and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.  (From Evangelical Lutheran Worship p.152)  

Almighty and everlasting God, Creator of all things and giver of all life, extend your blessing to all these animals. May our relationships with them mirror your love, and our care for them be an example of your bountiful mercy. Grant these animals health and peace. Strengthen us to love and care for them as we strive to extend the love of Jesus Christ our Lord as you demonstrated in the ministry of  your servant Francis. Amen.

The Prayer of St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. where there is hatred, let us sow love;  where there is injury, pardon;  where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O Divine Master, Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;  to be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

For the Blessing of Quilts

Gracious God, you have filled the world with beauty, the fields with summer flowers and the trees of the forest with the bright colors of the changing autumn leaves. In the psalm (90:17) we pray, “may the graciousness of the Lord our God be upon us, prosper the works of our hands, prosper our handiwork.” 

We give you our thanks for all who have contributed to the making of these quilts. We especially thank for the gifts you have given those who made them. We thank you for their work together and for the fellowship and joy these women have received in making these. 

We now offer these quilts for your service. We ask you to make each of these quilts a sign of your love and blessing to each person who receives one. We trust that each quilt will be a source of comfort and hope in the midst of disaster and fear, a symbol of Christ’s love to those who suffer, a reminder that each recipient is a beloved child of God. We pray each quilt will bring warmth in the cold and joy in beauty. May it be a sign of your love and care, an offering by a friend whom the recipient may never meet.

Lord, we ask your blessing on these fruits of our labor, on these works of our hands, on this our handiwork. We ask you to continue to bless the group who make these quilts and to pour your continued blessing on all who will receive them, and we pray in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.    

Vineyard & Cornerstone

Pentecost 18 Proper 22 October 8, 2017

We thank God who makes himself known to us in Jesus Christ, We thank God for Jesus’s life, and death, and resurrection, and for his gift of his Holy Spirit. We thank God for the witness of family and friends and fellow church members in whose lives we see the fruit of the Spirit of God. We thank God for the opportunities he gives us to love and serve him. We thank God for the vineyard, and we thank him for the cornerstone of right living. We thank God.

The last week of Jesus’ ministry before his Crucifixion and Resurrection was a time of controversy and conflict with the leaders of the people. Our bible readings for 3 weeks of October and 2 weeks of November tell of this controversy and conflict. Today we hear two parables, one about a vineyard and the other about a stone.

We read the first parable about the vineyard in three gospels – today in St. Matthew, in St. Mark 12, in St. Luke 20, in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, and also in early Muslim writings. Roughly a century after this gospel was written, Irenaeus began the tradition of understanding the vineyard parable as an allegory. God planted and prepared the vineyard is God. The people of Israel, and particularly the leaders of the people, are the tenants.  The prophets came to collect the harvest and were beaten, killed, and stoned. Jesus is the son who was killed and cast out. The destruction of the Temple in 70 AD shows that the wicked tenants have been removed, and replaced by the Gentile church.

This understanding of the parable has some problems. First, parable says the owner of the vineyard, “leased it to tenants and went to another country.” But “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.”  (Psalm 24:1)  The Lord God has never gone “into another country.” That is the error of deism. No, God continues to be present, sustaining and maintaining the world he has created. On the 7th day God rested. He did not go away on vacation. Genesis tells us the Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening. He spoke to Adam and Eve. He continues to speak to us in Scripture and by the Holy Spirit. God continues active in our world and in our lives.

A second problem with the allegory is that the new tenants in the vineyard have only partly given the owner the “produce at the harvest time.” The produce of the vineyard is spelled out by St. Paul in Galatians 5:22, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” We enjoy some of that spiritual fruit in our lives and in the life of the church.  We offer some fruit, by God’s grace. At the offertory this morning we will ask God’s blessing on the fruits of the labor of the quilt makers in our congregation.

But we also fail to give all the “produce at the harvest time.” Last Sunday’s murders in Las Vegas and the other offences we see against God’s love and peace show us that we do not at all times and all places respond as we should.  

A third problem with the allegory is the bad fruit it has produced.  The idea that the people of Israel are the wicked tenants, the wretches to be put to death, has been misinterpreted as a proof text for antisemitism, for hatred of Jews. Antisemitism is no longer respectable, but a century ago it was. Only after the Holocaust and World War II did the church recognize antisemitism as a sin. Only in 1948 did the U.S. Supreme Court rule that restrictive covenants forbidding sale of property to Jews, blacks, or Asians could not be enforced at law. God loves all his creation and offers his love to all people. As the song says, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The vineyard is a sign of God’s love, but not our judgment.    

In the second parable about the cornerstone Jesus quotes from Psalm 118 – the last of the psalms sung at the Passover celebration – the Passover for which the people were preparing in this last week of Jesus’ earthly life. We place a cornerstone in a building because its right angle is necessary for the building to be square and secure. Jesus’ hearers remembered Isaiah 28:16, “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tested stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation . . . and I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet.” When Peter and John were tried by the chief priest for preaching Jesus’ resurrection in the Temple, Peter said (Acts 4:11-12) This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

We thank God who makes himself known to us in Jesus Christ, We thank God for Jesus’s life, and death, and resurrection, and for his gift of his Holy Spirit. We thank God for the witness of family and friends and fellow church members in whose lives we see the fruit of the Spirit of God. We thank God for the opportunities he gives us to love and serve him. We thank God for the vineyard, and we thank him for the cornerstone of right living. We thank God. Amen.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017


Pentecost 17 Proper 21 October 1, 1017

The other day at dinner I heard about an event that happened over 60 years ago. A high school sophomore had been raised in a church. The church was central to the life of his family; uncles were ministers; he had been elected president of the youth group. This young man was interested in science, and one Sunday morning he asked his Sunday school teacher, the pastor’s wife, “Is it necessary to believe in the virgin birth to be a Christian?” She didn’t answer the question, but got offended that it had been asked. Later in the week a girl at school, a fellow student, told the young man that the the pastor’s wife, his teacher had told her to tell him that, she, the pastor’s wife, had removed him as president of the church youth group and appointed the girl in his place. The young man never came back to Sunday school – or youth group. He did continue to go to church and do his church job recording the service for the shut-ins. He later found out that the teacher, pastor’s wife, had been telling parents that the young man, “had a filthy mouth.” The young man later became an eminent scientist, but the story of the reaction to his innocent question in Sunday school continued to rankle more than 60 years later.

My immediate reaction to him was that the teacher had grossly misused her authority in the church. In 50 years of ordained ministry I have seen other examples of such misuse of authority. About half the congregations I know of have suffered from some kind of serious misconduct by either clergy or important lay leaders. The usual problems we see are with sex, substances – alcohol or drugs, and stealing money, but more subtle that these, and I think more dangerous, is misuse of power and authority.

One of the spiritual dangers of faith is a misplaced sense of entitlement - the sin of pride. We serve a risen Savior; we are not the savior.  Yet again and again I see Christian people asking for special treatment, which is an example of using the Lord’s name in vain. At the end of his first epistle St. John exhorts us, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” We can make ourselves and the things we want little idols that turn our attention away from our Lord Jesus. 

We see that in today’s gospel reading. The setting is the beginning of Holy Week, the day after Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When he entered the Temple Jesus drove out those who were selling and buying in the Temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers; he cured the lame and blind, and accepted the cheers of the children, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” recognizing Jesus as Messiah.  

Jesus drove out the merchants and the moneychangers for God’s sake, to restore the Temple as a place of worship, to restore the people to God’s love and service.   

The Temple priests had a racket going. The four areas of the Temple were (1) at the center the building where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept and the Chief Priest worshipped once a year. (2) Surrounding the Temple building an open area -- the court of the priests - where animals were sacrificed. (3) Surrounding that the court of Israel, where Jewish men stood to worship and (4) Surrounding that the largest area, the court of Gentiles.

“For the convenience” of those who came to offer the animal sacrifices commanded by the Law, the priests had allowed authorized dealers of certified sacrificial animals to set up stalls in the court of the gentiles. The priests also required money contributions be made only in coins minted over 100 years before during the century of Jewish independence. So worshippers changed their Roman money into Jewish money at authorized money changers - and the priests controlled the rate of exchange. Two rackets – authorized animals and authorized money – and Jesus had broken up these rackets.

When Jesus came back to the Temple the temple authorities asked, By what authority are you doing these things; who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered that question with another question about John the Baptist. But the Jewish leaders for political reasons refused to answer.

Jesus in the controversies of Holy Week kept his mind and will focused on the will of God the Father.  God gives us his grace by his gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and of Power so that in our lives we can keep our minds and wills focused on the will of the Father shown us in Jesus. The correct answer to the question Jesus asked the Jewish leaders was “John the Baptist was of God, and we failed to believe him. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”  We who accept Jesus’ authority say the same, “We failed to believe. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”  But by the grace of God poured out on us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are again forgiven, and we are given yet another opportunity to love and serve.

Jesus calls to a life of repentance. The 95 Theses begins, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” That is as true now as it was 500 years ago.  God allows us a small part of his authority in the world he has created. Our task is to live all our lives to his honor and glory, and when we sin and misuse God’s authority, when we make an idol of our desires, then to repent and confess. Amen.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Take up your cross

Proper 17A September 3, 2017

A Palm Sunday prayer sums up today’s Scripture lessons: “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Jesus tells his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He asks, “what will they give in return for their life?” St. Paul says in the Epistle, “1I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.  3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Since the 16th century we have prayed, “here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee . . .”

The only way of true life and peace is the way of the cross, the way of self-offering in union with Jesus’ self-offering on the cross. Our final goal in life is God, and God’s way of life, his way of final peace is the way of the cross. God gives us life, and God makes it possible for us to give that life back to him. The more we give, the more we receive. We don’t have to fear that we will “give out.” God loves us and gives us the gift of love. God wants what is best for us. God is all-powerful and all wise, and God gives us what is best for us.

I remember a painted clay ash tray I made in 3rd grade and gave my mother. We were living in Philadelphia and on a school trip to the science museum I had been fascinated by the stegosaurus dinosaur – the one with the small head, big body, long tail, and the plates that stick up along the back. The ash tray was more or less shaped like a stegosaurus, painted red and blue, and so ugly only a mother could love it. But I remember how proud I was when I gave it to her, and I remember how she said she appreciated it. The ash tray was really ugly, but she received it in love.    We give God our lives, all our lives, ugly and misshapen as they may be. And God receives our gift in love, and God makes us beautiful, and holy, and acceptable. We have all fallen short; we have all made a mess of least parts of the lives God gave us. But God receives our self-offering, and God makes us beautiful, and holy, and acceptable.

God makes us worthy by the cross, by the complete self-offering Jesus made on the cross. Jesus died on the cross to defeat the power of sin and death and Jesus rose from the dead to offer new life to all who will receive him.

Try as we might, we can do nothing to make ourselves acceptable, holy, worthy to God. God has done it all in Jesus Christ. We receive the new life God in Jesus offers us, and offer ourselves in thanksgiving and service.  The cross we are called to carry is this gospel, the good news of God’s perfect love in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us new life.

The cross and the gospel are not acceptable by the standards of this world. By the world’s standards, we are measured by the acceptability of the things we have. By the standards of the world, we don’t give; we buy and sell. The world is basically me-centered, not God-centered. When we conform to the standards of the world, we think of ourselves - first, and last.

But St. Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what the will of God— what is good and acceptable and perfect.” St. John learned in his exile on Patmos that Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of the alphabet, the first and the last. When we are made new people in Christ Jesus, we think of God first, and last.

As new people in Christ we learn a new way of life. We learn to put God first, to live the good news of God’s perfect love in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose to give us new life. It takes regular practice. It takes daily self-offering in prayer and worship and thanksgiving. And God makes us worthy to bear that cross.

 “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified:  Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”