Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, Holy Name, Circumcision

          Happy New Year!  This morning we celebrate new year’s, and the Name of Jesus, and finally the Circumcision of Jesus.

We keep track of time either by sun or by moon.  Every 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes and 9.76 seconds the earth makes a complete revolution around the sun – or from the earth it takes that long from the shortest day in the year to the longest and back. When the sun is midway days and nights are the same length. In 1582 Pope Gregory offered a calendar revision that keeps the spring equinox when days and nights are equal length around March 21 and thus keeps Easter in the spring. Muslims use a calendar based on the moon which is 11 days shorter than the calendar based on the sun. One result is that the fasting month of Ramadan moves through the seasons. In 2005 Ramadan began October 4; this year July 20; by 2015 June 18. The Jewish calendar is also a lunar calendar but keeps in synch with the seasons by adding an extra month 7 times in 19 years.

          The Romans used the extra month system until 45 BC when Julius Caesar reformed the calendar to 12 months with an extra day every 4 years, just 9 minutes, 9.76 seconds off. Over time 9 minutes a year adds up. In 1582 10 days were dropped - October 4, 1582 was followed by October 15, 1582. Protestant countries were slower than Catholic ones to change. In England Wednesday September 2, 1752 was followed by Thursday September 14, 1752.

          Gregory also changed the date of the beginning of the new year. The Jewish year begins with Rosh Hashanah (the head of the year) in the fall; the church year begins with Advent 4 Sundays before Christmas. In England before 1752 the new year began March 25 the feast of the Annunciation, but in Scotland and most of Europe after 1600 the new year began January 1. The Reformation in Scotland was more thorough than it was in England. The Scots abolished all “Catholic” observances like Christmas. But people need a winter time to party and Scots’ celebration of Hogmanay and “first footing” on New Years Day came to America with the Scots-Irish and continue.

          New years offers us a chance to reflect on the year past and to celebrate, repent, and to change attitudes and behavior. Fitness center membership spikes the first two weeks in January. We joke abut new years’ resolutions and our inability to keep them. Our experience is that no matter how worthwhile and important the resolution change is hard. But we can make changes; conversion is a reality. Change requires lots of grace and lots of support. We are children of God by adoption and grace; the Holy Spirit dwells in us; God calls us to help one another to live lives in which God’s grace is evident. So Happy New Year!

          Ous second celebration is the Name of Jesus. The 1979 Prayer Book has January 1 as the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus – from the gospel reading. Names are important. Our names both mark us as individuals and show our connections to others.  Hebrew names generally are words with particular meanings. Jesus is a form of Joshua which means “I will save.”  And he has saved us by his death and resurrection.

          Today’s Old Testament reading begins, “The LORD spoke to Moses . .  .” In the English Bible tradition LORD in all capital letters translates the Hebrew Yod He Vav He - J H W H -– called the Tetragrammaton – the 4 letters. It is a form of the verb “to be” as Moses heard God say at the bush that burned and was not consumed, “I am that I am.” God’s name for himself is holy, so holy that it is not spoken by Jews. The old style was to say “Adonai” my Lord. Modern Jews say “Ha Shem” the name.  Classical Hebrew is written in consonants only, with no vowels, and no spaces between words. People learned to read the Bible by hearing it read to them; the written text was simply a reminder. In about the year 800 of our era a system of dots and dashes under the letters was developed to show the proper vowels The vowels for Adonai were placed under the JHWH, and when Christians who did not know the tradition but did know the vowel points read the Hebrew Bible they pronounced JHWH as Jehovah. We don’t know how God pronounced his name, but we do know that God has chosen to reveal his name to the people he has chosen for himself.

            And we know that God chose Jesus to save us. God chose to become a man, fully and completely human, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile all humanity with God. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatian church, “,so that we might receive adoption as children. Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” We bear the name of Jesus’ sisters and brothers. God grant we may be worthy of the name!

          And last, beginning in France in 565 we have records of a celebration of the Circumcision of Jesus on the 8th day after his birth, and for 1400 years we heard sermons about the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ circumcision.

The sermons had two major themes, both of which are important in our spiritual life. The first spiritual meaning of Jesus’ circumcision was Jesus’ obedience to the law of God. Beginning with Abraham God commanded male circumcision as a sign of his covenant with his people. The church very early replaced circumcision with baptism as the sign of the covenant. The issue is obedience, obedience to God’s will. We teach that obedience to the moral law of God is required of all people. Christian people are not required to observe the ceremonial law. We don’t have to abstain from shellfish and barbeque – thanks be to God, but we may not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet; we must honor our parents and those in authority and we must both take reasonable rest ourselves and offer rest to those over whom we have authority. The Prayer Book Catechism pages 847 and 848 summarizes the moral law that we are called to obey. 

The second spiritual meaning of Jesus’ circumcision pays attention to Jesus’ blood shed for us, fully expressed in Jesus’ death on the cross, but beginning with his blood shed by the command of God’s law to his people the Jews at his circumcision.

          So New Year’s Day, the Name of Jesus, the Circumcision – all three have spiritual meaning. May God give us grace to live a new year, celebrating Jesus name, and giving thanks for his obedience and his blood shed for us and our salvation. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Eve 2011

         We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son. For in these last days you sent him to be incarnate from the Virgin Mary, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.

       This is the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving, the prayer over the bread and wine which we pray will be for us the sacramental body and blood of our Lord Jesus as we participate this evening in the great banquet of heaven. It is in the red Prayer Book on page 367, and I invite you to join me in unpacking its meaning.

       Christians believe that God is good and that God is love, that God chose to create us and the world in which we live to share the goodness and love of God throughout the whole world. From the beginning the whole creation was filled with goodness and love.  God’s love gave all people free will to choose for good or against good. Our choices include choosing an unlimited good for all or choosing a limited good for one at the expense of others. 

       God is eternal and knows all things. We are limited in time and space and knowledge. Some of our decisions are wrong because we are ignorant. But God has shown us his will in the laws of nature and in his moral law given through Moses on Mount Sinai. And all people have by desire and by action done what God has shown us to be wrong. As St. Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “All have sinned” (3:3, 5:12).  Our sin brings us guilt, shame, and isolation, isolation from other people and from God that leads us eventually to spiritual death.

       God’s will for us is goodness and love, and God showed that goodness and love in the world through Abraham and Abraham’s dysfunctional family. The Patriarchs and their wives experienced the goodness and love of God: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and their 12 sons. God chose Moses, a murderer, to lead the people from slavery in Egypt through 40 years wandering in the wilderness to the promised land. God called Israel to be his people and gave them his Law.

          And when the people again and again failed to obey the Law and worshipped false idols God sent the prophets to call them back to him. When King David committed adultery and tried to cover it up by murder, Prophet Nathan called him on it, “You are the man!” When the people began to worship the idol of money Amos (5:21-24) spoke the word of God, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies . . .your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept . . . Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, God made known goodness and love through his word, spoken through the prophets. Sometimes the word was encouragement, preparing the people for God’s further self-revelation, like tonight, the prophecy of Isaiah, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Our God made goodness and love known to us in the Word spoken through the prophets.

       Above all God made goodness and love known to us “in the Word made flesh, Jesus, the Son. For in these last days you sent him to be incarnate from the Virgin Mary, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world.”  Creation began when “God said ‘Let there be light.’”  God has chosen to be present in the world by the natural processes he created, but when it is necessary to do so to accomplish his purposes he moves in ways we do not fully understand. We believe that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that the Son through whom all things were created chose to be born as a human baby, to grow and live as a man, to redeem and save all ncreation from the consequences of human sin.

       We celebrate that birth tonight. As someone said, “It’s Jesus’ birthday, and we get the presents.”  In Jesus God delivered us from evil. The Holy Spirit of God lives in us to guide and direct our spirit in God’s ways so we don’t have continually to do the same thing over and over again looking for a different result. We are freed from guilt and shame and empowered to do the right thing. In Jesus God takes away our anxiety and fear, washes us spiritually clean and makes us worthy to stand before God.  In Jesus God brings out of the errors of thinking and action that come from our limited and sinful understanding into the fullness of his truth. In Jesus God forgives our sins and makes us righteous. By Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross and by Jesus’ resurrection Easter Day God has set us free from eternal death and given us new life in Jesus.   And for that we give thanks tonight.  Amen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent 3B December 11, 2011

           Last week I went with others to see the icons at Bob Jones University museum and the Greek Orthodox church in Greenville, SC. Icons are holy pictures used as an aid to prayer in the Eastern Orthodox church. Icons are full of symbols; everything has a meaning. I’ve brought a few reproduction icons - in the parish house.  Where we have an altar rail the Greek church has a wall of large icons in the Byzantine style. John the Baptist is shown with wings.

          Wings are for angels. Angels are messengers of God and John is also pictured with wings to remind us that John was a messenger – the Greek word is martyrion from which we get “martyr” – witness.  John “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”

          This Advent in the two weeks we have before Christmas, I invite you to be like John the Baptist, witnesses to the light. We’ve all walked in physical darkness, and we know that it doesn’t take much light to be able to see. Many of us have experienced spiritual darkness, the heaviness of despair, and we know first hand about the light of the love of God in Jesus Christ that has come to us in that spiritual darkness.

          John was a witness that the light of the world had come in Jesus Christ. We are witnesses to the light of Christ that has come to us. We know ourselves to be forgiven sinners, set free from the natural guilt and shame that comes when we sin against God and others, set free from the compulsion to keep on doing what didn’t work then and won’t work now, set free to be able to receive and give the love that God shares with us in family and friends, set free to love and serve God and one another.

          Our task is to own our experience, to rejoice in it, and to be ready to share it as God gives us opportunity. The world is hungry to hear good news; we wait eagerly to hear that we are loved, that our sins are forgiven, that God has “graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.”

I spoke last week about Isaiah’s word to the returning exiles from Babylon. Today’s Old Testament reading continues the word of the Lord, “Comfort, comfort ye my people.”  The returning exiles were rightly depressed when they thought of the amount of work they faced to restore after generations of abandonment and neglect land and city and destroyed temple. Their fathers had been taken captive into exile. They were free, free to struggle and conflict and hard work.

The Lord promises them comfort – comfort in the old meaning – “with strength.”  When I talk with couples before weddings I remind them that the vow to love and comfort means comfort as strengthening one another. And in a society of conflict and easy divorce I spent some time asking couples to tell me how they plan to live out their vows to honor one another, “and forsaking all others, be faithful.”

God gives us comfort - strength, spiritual strength that comes like physical strength – with sweat and discomfort. God gives us gladness instead of mourning, “praise instead of a faith spirit.” And God promises his justice. The exiles had to deal with squatters had moved in on the lands of the returning exiles; their family houses had been looted, and recovery of the stolen goods was not easy. But the word of the Lord says, “For I the LORD love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.”

It took a long time, but God’s everlasting covenant was made. In the death of Jesus the penalty for the sin of the world was paid. In the resurrection of Jesus new life is offered to all who will receive it in him. We are among those who have accepted that new life. We sealed our covenant in Baptism and we renew it today in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. “We remember his death. We proclaim his resurrection. We await his coming in glory.’

The people did not see the wings of John the Baptist. They were invisible and we know of them only in the picture. People can’t see our wings either, but we’re as called as John was to be witnesses and messengers in our time. May God grant us the invisible wings and the grace of his Holy Spirit to be effective witnesses to his love and grace in the next two weeks.

As John Keble wrote in the hymn “New every morning,” “God help us, this and every day, To live more nearly as we pray.”

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent 2B 2001

          These are rough economic times, and have been for a while. Yet this week I received from Bishop Taylor an invitation to contribute to the Mission Fund, “established so the important initiatives identified by the Executive Council of the diocese would not be diminished by the downturn in the economy.”  Bishop Taylor may know something I don’t know. He very likely does. He’s a man of hope.

          We’re called to be people of hope, people who trust in the love and mercy of God, not only about money, but about all our life, in this world and the world to come.

          The first 39 of the 66 chapters in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah tell of the last days of the southern kingdom of Judah. Then Jerusalem was captured, the Temple destroyed, and the leaders of the people taken into exile in Babylon – 586 years before Christ. Two generations later Babylon fell to the Persians, who allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem. Gradually they did so and the last 27 chapters of Isaiah are God’s word to the returning exiles.

          The Jews who returned had heard from their parents and grandparents of the land of milk and honey, the beauty of the Temple, the joy of living in Judah. Our children and grandchildren occasionally ask us about the past, and we all tend to describe the good parts. Going back to places where we lived as children is always a shock. The houses and the rooms are much smaller than we remember them. So we can imagine some of the returning exiles’ reactions, particularly from the reluctant spouses. “What have you gotten us into? This is not like grandmother described it. This “homecoming” idea is a big mistake. We’re being punished like our grandparents were. We should have stayed in Babylon.”  They forgot that their ancestors in the desert said the same things about Egypt.

          To this dispirited group, the word of the Lord comes by Isaiah, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.”

          The penalty has been paid. By his death on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the whole world, and for our sins, our individual sins and the sins that come because we live in a world filled with sin and evil and pain and injustice and hopelessness.  We can live in hope because on Easter Day Jesus rose from the dead. Because he lives, we live, and we live in hope. The Holy Spirit of God came at Pentecost to in-spirit us in God’s hope.

          The exiles had followed the route our father Abraham had taken, up the river and then down the valleys past the Sea of Galilee and down the mountain road to Jerusalem. It took several months on a rough road. They knew first hand about the wilderness and the desert, the valleys and the mountains, the uneven ground and the rough places.  They understood the call of the Lord, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The exiles understood the call to hope.

          We’ve all had our own experiences with valleys and mountains, with uneven ground and rough places. And we know something of how the Lord has brought us through them into the place where we are now. For some of us it is easier than for others, but we’re in this together, to help each other, to hope together.

          The decision to leave the familiar in Babylon to return to Judea was not an easy one. Families were divided. Some left; others stayed. During 500 years of Europe’s Dark Ages Babylon was the center of Jewish learning, and Jews were only forced out after the founding of Israel in 1948. The returning exiles knew from experience about the pain of broken personal relationships.

          Many of us know something of that kind of pain and loss and the loneliness that invites our own loss of hope. We know how “people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades . . . surely the people are grass.”

To the exiles, and to us comes the word of hope, the word of the Lord. “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” Our hope is in God’s promise. We are called to take the long view, the view from the mountain top, to trust in the love and power of God who “comes with might,” feeds “his flock like a shepherd,” who gathers us his precious lambs in his arms, and carries us next to his heart, and gently leads.

          St. Peter reminds us that we live in God’s time, and encourages us to patience. “With the  Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

          John the Baptist called the people of Jesus time to repentance, and he calls us to repentance. We are exiles in a sin-filled world who are on the road – the sometimes rough road – to God’s kingdom. We are sinners saved by God’s grace in Jesus. And while we are on the road we are called to hope, to hope for our final redemption, to look in hope for God at work in the world and in us.

          December can be a dark month, a time of despair and loss and pain and hopelessness.  But Advent is a time of hope, hope in Jesus’ final triumph, hope in our redemption, hope  both in the last day and hope every day. In the busy days let us hope for the guiding of God’s Holy Spirit. In the sad moments let us look in hope for God’s love and power. In the happy times let us hope for the fullness of God’s love and joy in our lives, in the lives of those we love and those we have trouble loving, and in those whom we do not know with whom we share life in the world redeemed by Jesus death and resurrection. Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent 1B 2011

          That Jesus will come again is a matter of faith.  We’re familiar with the burial office reading (St. John 14: 2-3) Jesus said, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” We think of the Lord’s coming for us at our death, but he will also come again at the world’s last day.

          When Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1:11) the angels told the disciples, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians about the Holy Communion, says (11:26) “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 

In the Apostles’ Creed we say, Jesus “ascended into heaven . . . from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.” In the Nicene Creed we say, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom shall have no end.” We confess the mystery of faith in Eucharistic Prayer A “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” In Prayer B “We remember his death. We proclaim his resurrection. We await his coming in glory.”

          We don’t preach much about the final coming of Christ. The church teaches that Jesus will return; we don’t say how or when. There’s been lots of speculation and interpretation of the relatively few Biblical passages about the final coming.   You’ve seen  bumper stickers about the Rapture “In case of Rapture this car will be unmanned”. The Rapture teaching became popular in the early 19th century.It puts together verses from Thessalonians and Revelation in a complex system.  We’re free to speculate how and when Jesus will come again. I don’t know the how and when but I believe Jesus will come again and we need to take seriously his command in today’s gospel, “Keep awake.”

The final coming of Jesus teaches that life has meaning and purpose. It directly opposes the materialist notion that life is accidental and finally purposeless. That idea is a real temptation particularly when we wake up and hurt, or when we suffer loss and feel despair. Those are the times in life when we have to hold on to faith with both hands.

Jesus is alive; he will come again, our lives and the world are in the care of the God who made all things and has redeemed us and all things in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The day will come when God’s perfect justice and mercy will be done and will be seen to be done, and we wait expecting that day. We keep awake.

We keep awake and look for the ways God is at work in our lives and the world around us. We keep awake and rejoice when the sick are taken care of, when mourners are comforted, when as Jesus said in St. Matthew 25, the hungry are fed, water is provided for the thirsty, strangers are welcomed me, children who need them are given underwear, and those in prisons, physical, emotional, and spiritual, receive visits of encouragement and support.

Hymn 10 (Hymnal 1982 - the traditional tune is Melcombe 531) written by the Rev. John Keble in 1827 summarizes our Advent call: “New every morning is the love our waking and uprising prove; through sleep and darkness safely brought, restored to life, and power, and thought” especially verses 5 and 6, “The trivial round, the common task will furnish all we need or ask: room to deny ourselves, a road to bring us daily nearer God” “Only, O 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.” Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christ the King November 20, 2011

          On December 11, 1925 Pope Pius 11th ordered the last Sunday in October be the feast of Christ the King. In October 3 years before Benito Mussolini’s Fascists had seized control of the Italian government. The Fascists were political gangsters, determined to maintain order at the expense of justice. In June, 1924, they kidnapped and murdered Giacomo Matteotti, an opposition member of the Italian parliament. Fascist ideology moved Adolf Hitler to try to overthrow the government of Bavaria in November, 1923 In prison Hitler wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle) published in early 1925. In November, 1925 Hitler formed his private army the SS. Fascism promised social order opposed to Communist social revolution. Both Fascism and Communism were totalitarian ideologies, incompatible with Christian faith.

          Proclaiming a feast of Christ the King was a political act. The Christian world view that “Jesus is Lord.” Because Jesus is Lord the early church refused to burn incense to the Roman Emperor as a god and took the consequence of martyrdom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor joined the plot to kill Hitler. Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador opposed the civil war in that country and was machine-gunned at the altar. Ten years ago the Rev. Emmanuel Allah Ditta, priest of the Church of Pakistan at Bahawalpur in the Punjab, 14 parishioners and the Muslim guard were murdered when a gunman broke in at the end of the church service and opened fire with an automatic rifle. In Iran, Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani sits today in prison because he refuses to return to Islam. He was converted to faith in Jesus Christ over 10 years ago and arrested when he sought official recognition of the 400 member church he serves. Iranian courts say, “Once a Muslim, always a Muslim;” Pastor Nadarkhani says, “Jesus is Lord.”

          We are blessed to live in a country whose government power comes from the will of the people, not the barrel of a gun. Our civil government controls the military force. The stars and stripes represent “one nation under God indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty is not absolute; human justice at best only approximates God’s perfect justice. But Christ our King calls us to know God and in each situation seek to do his “service which is perfect freedom.”

          In August 1925, the same year Pius 11th proclaimed the feast of Christ the King in the face of European fascist and communist totalitarianism some 40,000 white sheeted unmasked members of the Ku Klux Klan marched up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. The Klan is seen as southern, but these American fascists came from the upper Midwest and other parts of the North. My father said that when he was a boy in Chester, PA, the Klan was strong in southern New Jersey – just across the Delaware River. The people of this land soon saw this Klan as gangsters and turned against them and the social system they espoused.

          We’ve made some progress toward what we proclaim in the Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all,”  and we have a ways to go in ordering our common life for our common good. First Timothy chapter 2 commands us to pray “for kings and for all in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable lives.” Here “we the people” are the final authority. Prayer includes action, so it is a religious as well as a civic duty to vote.

          Our church historically supports the good work of government. The separate identity of the Church of England comes from popular and government opposition to what was seen as unjust and tyrannical rule from Rome. From the 16th to the 18th century the Church of England in America supported royal authority. Many of the early Patriots were Episcopalians, and the Episcopal Church reorganized after the Revolution supported public order and government.

          Our call is to engage in the life of the community, not to withdraw to attempt to create something better. We proclaim that Jesus is Lord, that Christ is King, and we try to show that Lordship and that Kingship in our own lives, in the lives of our families, our work places, and our common political life.

          We all will face the final judgment of God. Both Ezekiel and the Gospel reading bear witness to that judgment. That judgment is real; that judgment is final, and that judgment is finally just and true.

       We all stand condemned. We have not, as individuals, as church, as nation, adequately fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, nor visited the prisoners. We’ve all done something, but “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done,” and there is no health in us.

       But the good news of our salvation is that Jesus our Lord, Christ our King, was content to die for us to take away from us and from all who will claim his sacrifice the penalty of our judgment. By his resurrection he gives us day by day a new opportunity to love and serve him. On this Feast of Christ the King, a feast established in the conflict of Christian faith and totalitarian values, let us recommit ourselves to love and serve Jesus, our Lord and our King, this day and every day that is given to us. Amen.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Proper 28A November 13, 2011

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”

          Reading the Bible will change your life. Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky lived on the edge. His life was changed by reading the Bible, and his life changed the lives of millions of people.

          Schereskewsky was born May, 1831 and died October 15, 1906. He was born in modern southwest Lithuania, on the edge of the Russian and the German empires. His parents were Jewish, his father from the eastern European German and Yiddish speaking Askenazi community, his mother, his father’s second wife,  from the Spanish and Ladino speaking Sephrdi community, on the edge of two cultures. Both parents died when Joseph was young and he was raised by an older half brother on the edge in his family.

          The 25 years between 1790 and 1815 were a transitional time in the history of European Jewry. The philosophical Enlightenment, the French Revolution and Napoleon brought Jews out of the shetels and ghettos where they had been forced to live since the Middle Ages and forced them into new relationships with their neighbors.  Jews in western Europe began to share political and economic freedom. They could now own property and engage in all kinds of business. Schereskewsky learned to work with window glass.

          There were conservative, liberal, and moderate responses to the new situation. The liberal responses included the Reform movement. Some Jews became Christians and several societies were formed to support and encourage these new Christians. The New Testament was translated from Greek into Hebrew.  Moderate responses included a new system of Jewish education focused equally on study of the Jewish Law and on study of modern science and culture. When he was 16 Schereskewsky began to prepare to teach in one of the new schools.

          He was given a copy of the New Testament in Hebrew and read it over several years at school and university in Germany.  Schereskewsky later said that he was converted by reading the New Testament over several years.

Still a young man, he came to New York. A spiritual experience at Passover meal led him to be baptized and to study at the Presbyterian seminary in Pittsburgh where he became a friend of the Rev. Theodore Lyman at Calvary Episcopal Church. Lyman was later Bishop of North Carolina. Schereskewsky could not accept Presbyterian teaching on predestination and Bishop Wittingham of Maryland recognized his language gifts and sent him to General Seminary, New York. (I was ordained in Maryland and studied at General, but don’t have Schereskewsky’s gifts). Schereskewsky was in many ways on the edge of the church, a European Jew on the edge of a white, Anglo-Saxon church.

At graduation the Episcopal Church sent him to be a missionary in China. China had recently been forced to allow foreign commerce and foreign missionaries. It was on the political and economic edge. The missionary work was new and Schereskewsky and others saw the need for a Chinese translation of the Bible.

He learned spoken Chinese on the trip and joined the Peking translation committee using his knowledge of Jewish tradition of interpreting the Old Testament.

In November 1867 Miss Susan Waring arrived in Shanghai from New York. They met in January, and married in April.  In 1877 he was consecrated as Bishop of Shanghai where he established St. John’s University. In 1881 he suffered sunstroke and was an invalid until his death in 1906 in Tokyo.  Despite his illness he continued his Bible translation work typing with the one finger of his right hand that he could control. For 25 years he lived on the edge of death, but by determination, and God’s grace, shown in the missionary support of the church, he accomplished much. His translation is the basis of all modern Chinese translations of the Bible, and the

Four years before his death he said, “I have sat in this chair for 20 years. It seemed very hard at first. But God knew best. He kept me for the work for which I am best suited.”

They had two children – a son Joseph 1873- 1949, a doctor with the Public Health service, and a daughter Caroline 1874-1942. Caroline taught in a missionary girls school in Tokyo until 1941, died in Asheville and is buried at Calvary, Fletcher.

We don’t know as much about the ministry of Susan Waring Schereskewsky. She died 3 years after her husband. Her daughter Caroline wrote, “Had it not been for her sympathy, her unflagging devotion, and thoroughly consecrated Christian character, it would have been impossible for my father to have done his work. As nurse, secretary, companion, she was by his side for the 25 years of his life as an invalid. When he died her heart seemed to be buried with him.” One of her talents was an interest in keeping up with people.  The Tokyo chaplain said, “there as never a sick person or one needing a visit from me that she was not the first to advise me of.”

So what’s the point of this long story?  Today’s gospel is about the talents. Each of us has some particular talents given us by God our creator to be used in his service. Our times are as difficult and challenging as were the times Joseph and Susan Waring Schereskewsky lived in. Their use of their talents is an example for us in our use of our talents. Our lives have their own excitements and opportunities. God converted Bishop Schereskewsky through his word written, the Bible. Let us also read the Bible looking to our own conversion to Christ’s service.

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”

          Reading the Bible will change your life.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Prope 25A October 23, 2011

     Shema. Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonia ehad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

     Every pious Jew recites this verse morning and evening. Rabbinical tradition says the Shema in the morning as soon as there is enough light to distinguish colors and before 3 hours after sunrise, and in the evening after sunset or as soon as three stars can be seen. The Shema is the core of the synagogue service where it continues from Deuteronomy 6:5-9, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

When the lawyer asked Jesus, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” he was looking for some unusual response to show that Jesus was a kook. But Jesus responded with the answer he had been reciting morning and evening all his life. 

The Shema is so central to Jewish identity that because during the Nazi holocaust many Christian individuals and institutions took in Jewish children to save them but couldn’t raise them as Jews. After the war an American rabbi went to Europe to look for these children. He would go to a group, sing the Shema, and look for a response from those whose earliest memories were of their mother singing at bedtime and in the morning.

A Jewish revolt resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD and in another revolt in 132 AD the great Jewish scholar Rabbi Akiva was tortured to death. One early evening they took a large iron comb and began to scrape off his flesh. As the sun set he began to sing the Shema. As his students looked on in horror, Rabbi Akiva told them, “All my life I never was able to fulfill the commandment to 'love God with all your soul’ until now." He extended the last word until he died. (Brochot 61a)”

To this central affirmation of faith Jesus adds from Leviticus 19:18 “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Rabbi Hillel was the spiritual leader of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus’ birth. Jewish college student associations bear his name today. Hillel was famous for pithy teachings, one of which quotes this verse. The lawyer came looking for some strange teaching he could use to condemn Jesus, and Jesus responds from the core of the biblical and rabbinic tradition. “Love God; love your neighbor.” Five words, the essentials of spiritual and moral life.  “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

            Just before 400 AD in north Africa Augustine wrote, God, “you have made us 
for yourself and our heart is restless until it comes to rest in you.” In the early 17th century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote , (Pensees 10:148), “Man’s . . . infinite abyss can be filled only . . . by God himself.”  We all seek an experiential experience of the living God, and we find God, and God finds us, as we love God and love our neighbors.

          It is simple, but not easy. The search for God is difficult. God’s search for us cost Jesus his life, in a painful death on the cross. Our search for God, and God’s search for us, requires truth and effort. As the early 20th century English writer Gilbert K. Chesterton wrote, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”  Chesterton also wrote, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
            The lawyer knew intellectually the truth of Jesus’ responses, but intellectual 
knowledge had not become action. We know this from the lawyer’s motives. He did not ask. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” because he wanted to know, but because he wanted to test Jesus, to try to discredit him. He was a hypocrite. So are we. We can talk the talk, but we find it difficult to want to walk the walk. When we confess our sins we confess our hypocrisy.

            And we are forgiven. We are forgiven sinners, forgiven the sins of the past so 
we may try again, guided by the Holy Spirit of truth and power to love God and neighbor. Thanks be to God!

            Jesus has been answering questions all week. Now he turns to the Pharisees, the 
religious leaders, and confounds them with a question about the Messiah, quoting from Psalm 110. Everyone, Pharisees and common people alike, looked forward to the coming of a Messiah, an anointed one, who would begin in Israel a time of political freedom and economic justice. They expected a “son of David” a successor to Israel’s great king in the past, David who had written the Psalms. Jesus tells the Pharisees that their understanding of the Messiah is too small. God is doing a new thing. The Messiah is not only Israel’s Messiah but the Anointed One for all people everywhere and in all times. He is the Son of David, yes, and also the son of the Most High, the Son of God whom they proclaimed morning and night.

          “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” The leaders of his people had shown the truth and the spiritual power of Jesus, and they had decided that he was a sufficient threat to their rule that they had to remove him by death. They began a plot to accuse him falsely of fomenting rebellion, to accuse him to the Roman government and to execute him. And they did, and God raised him on the third day, and of that we are witnesses.

    Shema, Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonia ehad. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Proper 24A October 16, 2011

          Today’s Gospel requires some explanation. In Jesus time Jerusalem and Judea were under direct Roman military occupation and had been so for the last 25 years after Roman emperor Augustus deposed King Archaleus (in 6 AD) as incompetent. Archaleus was a son of Herod the Great. His brothers continued to rule in Galilee, Syria and Jordan. The Romans feared a popular rebellion, and Jesus’ opponents tried to trap him into advocating such a political rebellion. The Pharisees and Herodians came with flattery. “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” They thought they were lying, but in fact they told the truth. Jesus is truth. We can rely on Jesus to teach the truth and to be the truth. And when we do Jesus’ will we do Jesus’ truth.

When they ask Jesus the trick question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” his response is, “Show me the money.”  And they do. Roman coins had the face of the emperor and an inscription that he was divine. To bring the images of false gods into the Temple was an offence against the Law of God. The Temple head tax was paid in old money with no face and no inscription, money from the old days of independence bought from the money changers who had set up shop in the Temple. The man who brought the Roman coin into the Temple was violating his own interpretation of the law. He was a hypocrite. And it was the hypocrites who said, in their hypocrisy, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.”

Jesus’ true teaching is, “Show me the money.” If we use the Roman money we obey the Roman law, and pay the Roman tax. If we enjoy the benefits of the social order we fulfill our responsibilities to the social order. That is the short answer and the easier answer.

But Jesus went on, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.” In the King James version, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

That is harder, and we’ve been working on it for over 2000 years. The eternal God  made us all, and all the world. He is the final source and ruler of everything that is. In the last day we will all face his just and final judgment. In the mean time we are guided in our lives by his revealed word written in the Bible, by the life and teaching of God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of his only Son Jesus our Lord, and by his Holy Spirit of truth and power.

And in the mean time we live among the present powers of the physical world. History tells us that the powers of this present world continually seek to control more and more of the world. The powers of this world exercise temporary and limited human judgment. The judgment and the power of God are eternal, just, and final.  The Christian task is to seek to discern the will of God by the grace of the spirit of truth and to do the will of God by the grace of the spirit of power.

The Christian church, as an institution in time and space, has a very mixed record in discerning and doing the will of God, particularly in its relationship with the present powers of the physical world. Some times the church has stood on the teachings of the word of God written and rightly proclaimed God’s judgment on particular actions of civil government. Some times the church has failed to live up to the biblical standards even in its own internal life and has failed to witness to truth. And some times churches have allied themselves with unjust civil government and in doing evil have taken the name of God in vain.

But by God’s grace we are forgiven sinners. When we confess our sins and hypocrisies God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and renew our minds and wills by his Holy Spirit so we can begin again to seek to know and do his will.

God is creator and eternal just judge. God is first and only. Human institutions are second and many. The early church obeyed the laws of the Roman empire but always judged human law by the law of God. Christians refused to acknowledge the Roman emperor as divine. In times of persecution they were brought into court where there was a little charcoal fire burning under a bust of the god-emperor. “Just throw a pinch of tree sap incense on the fire and we’ll let you go.” And thousands refused and died horrible deaths in the arenas, torn alive by the wild animals. We honor the sacrifice of these martyrs.

There are limits to what the state can require. In the 1930’s and early 1940’s Christians resisted the power of Nazi Germany. From the 1920’s for 70 years Christians resisted the power of Communist regimes. In our own time Christians resist the power of the state in China, India, Egypt, Zimbabwe, and other places. More Christians have suffered martyrdom in the past century than in all previous centuries combined.

We are fortunate in a Constitution that forbids government from establishing any religion ‘or prohibiting free exercise thereof.” For most of American history we have had an official or unofficial establishment of biblical religion. In our time courts and society are taking seriously the establishment clause. Some of us educated before the early 1960’s remember prayers read in school. The present rule seems to be that voluntary activities may include prayer; where attendance is compulsory public prayer may not be said.

As Christians and as citizens we recognize God as creator and eternal just judge. God is first and only. Human institutions are second and many. As we participate in them we seek to recognize how God is at work in and through them and to look for the opportunities to know and to do God’s will, following our Lord Jesus Christ. “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” As with Jesus, so with us, who are members of his body, fed on his body and blood, to show forth his glory in the world he has redeemed. Amen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Proper 21A September 24, 2011

          Hymn 661. They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown; such happy, simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down. 2. Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too. 3. Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died, Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head-down was crucified. 4. The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod, Yet let us pray for but one thing -- the marvelous peace of God.

          That was written by a Mississippi lawyer, a graduate of South at Sewanee, foster-father of Southern writer Walker Percy. In a life filled with tragedy and family suicides he wrote this  hymn of faith in time of conflict.

          We’re coming to the end of the church year. Pentecost season ends November 20 with Christ the King Sunday. Our Old Testament readings will bring the Children of Israel through the desert into the Promised Land and into conflict with the people of the land and their neighbors. Epistle readings from Philippians and Thessalonians are St. Paul’s teachings about how to live a Jesus-centered life in a pagan society while we wait for the final coming of Christ in triumph. And the gospels include stories of Jesus’ final week of controversy with the leaders of the people that ended with his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection.

          People don’t like controversy and conflict in churches. Too easily it gets personal and divisive. But our scripture readings over the next 8 weeks help us deal with the inevitable conflicts that come in life. We learn to keep our eyes on Jesus and trust his grace in the guidance of his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of Truth leads into truth; the Holy Spirit of Power gives us the grace “to run to obtain God’s promises and partake of his heavenly treasure.”

          Our gospel readings are from St. Matthew chapters 21 through 25 – Jesus in Jerusalem after the Palm Sunday Triumphal Entry – 4 days of controversy. The Triumphal Entry is followed by the account of the Fig Tree. The follows today’s Gospel, 23-32 where the leaders question Jesus’ authority and he responds by questioning their non-response to John the Baptist and the parable of the two sons.  Next week, October 2, is the parable of the Vineyard. The following week October 9 is the parable of the Wedding Banquet. Then October 16 is an  attempt to entrap Jesus about Tribute to Caesar. The lectionary skips a complicated question about Marriage & Resurrection and on October 23 we hear about the Great Commandment. October 30 is where Jesus endorses the leaders teaching but not their actions. The lectionary skips the Woes to the Pharisees and a lament over Jerusalem and all of Chapter 24 about the last days. On November 6 All Saints Day we will miss the parable of the 10 Virgins, and finally November 13 we will hear the parable of the Talents. Then Christ the King and Advent.  

          Controversy after controversy for the next two months. It gets tiresome. Controversy does get tiresome, in church and in life. But that’s what we’ve got, “The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod, Yet let us pray for but one thing -- the marvelous peace of God.”

          The first Holy Week controversy is about authority. “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 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.

          That takes some explanation. The Temple priests had a racket going. The Temple included three areas: at the center was the building where the Ark of the Covenant had been kept and the Chief Priest worshipped once a year. Surrounding it was an open area the court of the priests where animals were killed as sacrifices. Then came the court of Israel, an open area where Jews came to worship, and adjacent to it the court of the women or the court of Gentiles.

“For the convenience” of those who came to offer the sacrifices commanded by the Law, the priests had allowed authorized dealers of authorized and certified sacrificial animals to set up stalls in the court of the gentiles. And since money contributions could only be made in money coined during the 100 years of independence 100 years before worshippers had to change Roman money into Jewish money at authorized money changers, and the priests controlled the rate of exchange. Jesus had broken up the racket. And when he came back to the Temple on Monday he was asked, By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered the question with a question about John the Baptist which the Jewish leaders for political reasons failed - or refused - to answer.

We’ve all had to deal with authority questions. The child who keeps asking, “Why” ends up with the answer, “Because that is the way it is” And all personal and social change comes from questioning “that is the way it is.”  At some point we each come to recognize and accept the authority of the loving God who made us and all creation, who has revealed himself and his will in Holy Scripture and uniquely in the life and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus in the controversies of Holy Week kept his mind and will focused on the will of God the Father. In the controversies of our lives we can, by his grace given us in his gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth and of Power, focus our minds and wills 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 acknowledge Jesus’ authority say the same, “We failed to believe. We acknowledge our sin and repent.”

And by the grace of God poured out on us in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven, and given yet another opportunity “to run to obtain God’s promises and partake of his heavenly treasure.” Amen.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Proper 20 September 18, 2011

          For a lot of us these are tough times. Last Wednesday the Census Bureau reported that the income of the family at the statistical mid point fell to an inflation adjusted $49,445. Half the families in the country had income less than $49,445 and half had income greater than $49,445. That is 2.3% less than last year and 7.1% down from the 1999 peak.

            When I was rector in Shelby in the 1980’s a parishioner was an engineer at a local electronic parts manufacturer. Parts were designed in Shelby and some were made there – for the US military. Civilian market parts were made across the border in Mexico. Our government wanted to be sure that we retain in this country the ability to make these parts.

          The laborers who had worked all day perceived the landowner’s action as unfair to them, but if the goal is to get the work done you have to pay what is necessary.

   Jesus’ goal is the salvation of the world through faith in him. There is no other secure and certain means of salvation and reconciliation with the Father. Jesus believed so firmly in the goal of salvation and reconciliation that he was willing to undergo the shameful and excruciatingly painful death of the cross necessary to accomplish that goal. He calls us to be his witnesses, to proclaim in our lives his death and resurrection – to bear his cross. And he calls us early and he calls us late: early in the morning, 9, 12, 3, even in the last hour, he calls us.

He offers us the salvation and new life we experience and proclaim. He offers  us freedom from past sin and guilt; he offers us the truth and the power of his Holy Spirit – regardless of when we come to accept his call.

God’s goal was to set the children of Israel free from slavery in Egypt. When they complained for the fleshpots of Egypt he gave them first quails and then manna – every day except the Sabbath but on the eve of the Sabbath a double portion.

St. Paul trusted in God’s provide-ence for the little church at Philippi that “so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

For many of us these are tough times. Many of us have had tough times before, and we will have them again. God provides. For some he provides through cooperation in government; for others he provides through church, family, friends. Those of us who have enough to be able to share have the positive obligation to share, to look for ways to give to those in need as we are able.

Some years ago a survey asked people, “How much would you need to feel comfortable?” The general answer was “About 10%” more than I have now.” God understands us; he made us, and he calls us to tithe, to give away 10% of what we have. My father was a priest and taught me to give the first 10% to the Lord’s service, to save the next 10%, and to live on the rest. I’ve tried to follow that advice and God has blessed me.

The older I get the more today’s collect resonates in my life, “Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Proper 19A 9-11-11

          God’s character includes liberty and justice, and justice includes forgiveness and reconciliation. God sent his pillar of fire and cloud of smoke to guide the people of Israel to liberty and to confound their enemies who sought to keep them slaves. God offers liberty of conscience to believers, liberty combined with responsibility under God’s perfect judgment. And Jesus by his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection offers God’s gift of forgiveness for us to enjoy and to share.

          The Pledge of Allegiance, composed in 1892 and formally adopted by Congress in 1942, expresses ideas valued from the beginning of our nation. A bitter and bloody Civil War determined that this country is one nation, indivisible. And in 1954 congress added “under God,” the national motto - from the Star Spangled Banner and coins since 1864.

          As a country we have worked for a very long time to make real “liberty and justice for all.” We aren’t finished, but liberty and justice are our goals, liberty and justice in the character of God, revealed to us in his holy word written.

     In the Sermon on the Mount (St. Matthew 5:14-16) Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  Puritan leader John Winthrop preached on this text in 1630 to the new colonists in Massachusetts and Presidents John Kennedy in 1961 and Ronald Reagan in 1989 referred to it. President Reagan said, “in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it and see it still.”

We’ve heard and seen much in the last week or so of the smoke and destruction of the attack on the World Trade Center, and on the Pentagon, and of the heroism of those who prevented a further attack at the cost of their lives, attacking the attackers and crashing Flight 93 near Pittsburgh. Ten years ago on the Sunday after 9-11 our nation resolved that smoke of destruction would not overcome the light of the city of God shed forth from a land where liberty and justice are the goals.

It has been a rough 10 years As many have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan as were killed on 9-11. The continuing conflict and other factors have stressed national economies all over the world. Our common resolve is not as evident now as it was 10 years ago.

But we continue to strive for liberty and justice for all. The struggle will not soon be over. The people of Israel escaped through the Red Sea waters and wandered 40 years in the desert. We learn today that “the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” That did not keep them from complaining about the lack of water and yearning for the fleshpots of Egypt.” But they kept moving and God provided for them. To live in freedom requires some hard choices, but God provides when we trust in his provid-ence.

          Justice also requires some hard choices. Justice costs. St. Paul reminds us that we are called to live in fellowship with those whose choices are not ours. A big controversy in the early church was over eating meat that had been sacrificed to the false gods of the pagans. Some said that since these “gods” were not real one could accept the meat ration passed out since it was the only way to get meat. Others said that the meat had been tainted by the sacrifice and was not acceptable. Paul calls the Roman church to set this controversy aside and leave it to God and the Christian conscience.

          Justice includes forgiveness. Resentment over past injuries is “giving others rent-free space in your head.” For our own soul’s health, we have to let past events go. That’s hard to do. We have a natural right in justice to self-protection and self-preservation. There is no Christian duty always to put ourselves back in danger. We are normally called to stay out of danger and to live in peace. Jesus died for our sins so we don’t have to die for our sins or the sins of others. He did it for us.

          That said, for our own souls’ health, we have continually to forgive, to give up the desire to “get even” and to commend to God’s judgment those who have sinned against us. That includes the 9-11 terrorists and all our enemies. We don’t forget, but we do forgive. And we need to receive God’s forgiveness for our sins against others. Jesus died for our sins; continuing to nourish feelings of guilt dishonors his sacrifice. We don’t forget; we remember and seek in the truth and power of the Holy Spirit to amend our lives, but we do forgive .

God’s character includes liberty and justice, and justice includes forgiveness and reconciliation. God sent his pillar of fire and cloud of smoke to guide the people of Israel to liberty and to confound their enemies who sought to keep them slaves. God offers liberty of conscience to believers, liberty combined with responsibility under God’s perfect judgment. And Jesus by his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection offers God’s gift of forgiveness for us to enjoy and to share.