Sunday, December 19, 2004

Palm Passion 2008

"And the curtain in the temple was torn in two...."

Mt. 27:51a

What a turn. What a shift in the crowd. One day, they are praising God and welcoming Jesus as the long awaited, long hoped for messiah. The next day, it’s a different story - Kill him! From Hosanna to Crucify seems like it ought to take a little longer, but, that is human nature . It turns on a dime. In a mille-second, the hero is the villain. It’s fluky as the wind.

Today, it’s important to let the passion narrative speak for itself today..for the words to hang in the air and to land in our hearts where they may…

Yet, there is one little verse that I’d like to point out to you …it is this one.. Matthew 27:51

It comes right after the death of Jesus…let me read a little bit of the passage to you…
Picking up at verse 50…Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. and 51…”And behold the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, and the earth shook and the rocks were split.”

It’s about the curtain…

To talk about the curtain, we’ll have to talk about the temple. There were two temples…
In the first, the Temple of Solomon, there was a wall dividing two areas – The Holy and the Holy of Holies. The wall was covered with a curtain.
In this second area – The Holy Of Holies - “the Ark of the Covenant had rested and was considered to be the place where God resided. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies - and God's presence - once a year, and then only after an elaborate cleansing ritual; even then he would have a cord tied to his leg so that others could safely drag him out should he enter God's presence with unatoned sin. “
In the second Temple there was a wall of curtain separating between the holy and the holy of holies. The curtain was 4 in' thick and would have been somewhere around 60-70 ft high and wide. The weight was approximately between 4 to 6 tons depending on the material used. In fact the Talmud teaches that it took some 300 priest to carry it to its place. “ This was not a sheer curtain. Think of the apron that x-ray people put on you and imagine it 4 inches thick.

Quite a curtain..why was it there? For several reasons really…some symbolic and others practical…

Symbolically it represented the rift between God and humankind…the separation between us …once a year only the high priest would enter so that atonement – that is, reconciliation and peace, could be reestablished between God and his people.
Year after year the priest did by coming before the living presence of God and offering a sacrifice of the blood of an animal – symbolizing human blood or life – meaning, “You gave us our lives…we dedicate them, we give them back to you…because we are yours. And…we know that the price of our sin is our lives…in this blood, we offer that price. Have mercy upon us.” Another aspect of the symbolism of the curtain was that it evoked a tent. Remember that God met Moses in the Tent of Meeting.

The other reason the curtain was there was for protection – because …to be in the presence of the living God, the creator of the universe would be – not an exact parallel- like being exposed to nuclear fission or looking directly into the sun. The sun is far too bright and our eyes will be damaged. To look on the Living God would be to die. This was and is the conviction of the Jews who had more experience with Him than anybody else at that time. Remember what happened when Lucy Pevensie in the Narnia Chronicles first went for an encounter with Aslan the lion. “Is he safe?” she asked. “Well, no,” the answer came back, “of course he’s not safe, but he’s good.”
I want to press this point a little further, but we live in a time that tends to water down the supernatural. Think about what happens in the bible when people encounter angels. They fall down or pass out in sheer fright. Remember Isaiah? His prophetic call came when he was in the Temple and looked on the living God. He said, “Woe is me, for I am an unclean man of an unclean people.” He thought that he was about to die on the spot.
The power and brightness of the presence of the living God was not safe for people. Do you remember the people’s reaction to Moses after he would come out of the tent of meeting – his face would be shining so brightly that it scared people and they begged him to put a veil on…no one, could look on God and live…and they were afraid they would die.
Did you catch that? He put on a veil…
So the curtain…the veil in the temple signified separation, estrangement, and protection.
When Jesus died ,when the Lamb of God breathed his last, the curtain was torn in two.
What could this mean?
1. That full atonement had been made – Jesus Christ, our great high priest offered the once for all sacrifice – not a sacrifice that would need to be repeated year after year…but once for ever – to bring about atonement – peace and reconciliation between humankind and God…that he would eternally be our mediator…no need for any other…
A side note…when I offer prayers on your behalf , I do so in the name of Jesus…standing within his priesthood…not on my own for that would be both useless and meaningless…but in his name, under the cover of his blood.
So, back the curtain – the second thing to say about this today – is that in Jesus Christ, there is no longer separation between God and us and ,in Jesus Christ, we look on the glory of the Father. Here’s something really key - the power and light we see through him as fearful and awesome as it is , we can now see its true nature – that is, it is the power of sacrificial love.
This past week, I heard a country gospel song which gets at what this kind of love is like. The refrain went something like this,
“Wherever you are you can't go far enough, Whatever you've done you can't outrun the long arm of love. “[1]
This coming week is Holy Week and today we have begun to walk the way of the Cross…Today, we go from Hosanna to Crucify and next Sunday, we will travel from Crucify to Hallelujah. It’s the heart of the gospel. Come stand at the foot of the cross and at the empty tomb. Get the atonement down in your bones so that you can truly hear and believe that the sacrifice of our great high priest was on your behalf and for you, that great veil has been torn…forever. AMEN.

JTCO- 3.16.08

[1] Crossway Quartet

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Proper 20 C -Sept 23, 2007

Proper 20C-2007
Text: Luke 16:1-13

Outrageous Forgiveness

This morning we hear another parable from Jesus – what has been called the parable of the wicked steward or dishonest manager. It is an odd story and strikes a strange note. Quite truthfully, this particular parable has been subject to more and varied interpretations than any of Jesus’ other parables because it is so difficult to figure out what Jesus was trying to say.
In seminary, I had a New Testament professor who was fond of saying that she would be glad to get to heaven so she could ask Jesus and St. Paul some questions about what they had said. I like to think about her quizzing St. Paul – “Now, exactly what did you mean when you said…?” I suspect this reading from today is one she’d be asking about too. Let’s take a stab at it.
The first thing to look at is where it falls – what teachings of Jesus are on either side – its neighbors, if you will. So notice that it follows the three “Lost” parables and comes right before a discussion with the Pharisees in which he took them to task for their love of money – so we need to bear in mind that this probably has something to do finding that which has been lost and, it may also relate to money, or what it symbolizes, and its place in our lives.
In each of three preceding parables, Jesus has been talking with us about the lengths to which our God goes to find us and to reclaim us, to heal and restore us. He does things, that from a human point of view, make no sense whatsoever…It can help us to remember that comment from God in Isaiah where he says – “Your ways are not my ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts.”
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus must have left his listeners shaking their heads…what father would put up with a son like this - one who had essentially squandered so much of the gain of the father’s life work. This would have been shocking and, in fact, the parable is sometimes called the parable of the Prodigal Father -- because the Father was so outrageously generous and forgiving…..forgiving the debt.
Here I am reminded of the Lord’s prayer…and remember that financial debt is sometimes a metaphor for sin – forgive us our sin, trespasses, debts as we forgive those who sin, trespass, or are indebted to us…So, the second stake we can put into the ground is that of forgiveness of sin…now let’s look at the parable.
We have an estate manager, a steward, who is being fired – perhaps unjustly, perhaps not, and who is scrambling to make the best of the short amount of time he’s got…
A lot of people owe the owner of the estate – and owe him “big”…
Owing a lot of money is fairly typical these days – 2.5 trillion $ in consumer debt as of June this year…The average household owes close to $12,000 in credit card debt.. If you are a homeowner, you will know that signing a home mortgage or big note is sobering…overwhelming if you think about it too much…
In another church I served, I had a couple come for some pastoral counseling…they were fighting like mad…and somewhere along the way I asked them how much debt they were carrying – it was close to $75,000 in credit card debt…their annual income was somewhere around $50,000. They were overcome by debt and could not hope to pay it off…Think how relieved they would have been if someone from Master Card, the person who had been harassing them previously, called out of the blue and said…we’re going to write off that debt. Or, if someone called and said…the bank is going to forgive your home mortgage…or your student loan debts…or your business debt…we’re going to forgive it …you’d probably be thinking…this is too good to be true, no way this is legal…it’s probably a mistake at the bank……and you’d probably wait and then check your balance…..and then the statement arrives in the mail…or better, yet, the deed…free and clear… what a celebration that would be! Wouldn’t you be praising American Express or Visa, or the bank to the high heavens…because debt really is a form of slavery ---
Now, some of you who are practical folks no doubt would be saying – well, that’s nice idea but that can’t work practically because the whole system would fall apart…if everybody’s mortgages were forgiven, the banking system would collapse…someone has to pay…and you are right to think this…back to this in a moment
To become debt free is a wonderful thing --- but more wonderful is to become debt free in a spiritual sense…
How scandalous it must have appeared to the religious authorities of the day that Jesus forgave people’s sins --- “No one but God alone can forgive sins” they buzzed – what does he think he’s doing? I can see Jesus looking up at them, raising his eyebrows as if to say…well? (Take it a step further)..If I am forgiving sins and only God can forgive sins…then…
What if…just what if…Jesus was telling us that God was like that dishonest or tricky steward? What if this is a kingdom parable? What if Jesus is telling us that this is how it is in the Kingdom of Heaven?

We live in a world that wants an eye for an eye – if you owe, you owe…in a world that forgives so little and holds onto injuries for so long…how shocking to have a God who forgives…and forgives much…but the more practical among us would say…that just can’t work…if everyone’s sin or crime is forgiven the whole system of justice would collapse…where there has been injury, someone has to pay…and you would be right..
Like the tricky steward, Our Lord Jesus did not have a long time to walk this earth...but, o, how he used that time – he wrote down and ripped up people’s debts with abandon and then poured out his life so that the debt --- the demand for justice could be met …and the paper could be stamped “Paid in Full” for all people for all time…
Now, here’s the thing….if you are baptized into his death and resurrection, then you are a part of this Christian economy, and we are called to write down the debts of others. This is something we can do because the living presence of Jesus Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit makes it possible. To forgive means to say – you owe me nothing…there is no debt remaining…and this is not something we have the power in us to do on our own…but we can forgive because we have been forgiven…because our spiritual mortgage has been burned…we can have the grace and power to do the same…
Jesus tells this story and then speaks about being faithful in the little things. This is because the practice of forgiveness is not just in the big things…it begins with the smaller hurts, slights, offenses . We learn with the smaller things for, if we can forgive in the smaller things…be faithful in the smaller things…then when the big ones come, through the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, we can forgive the larger ones…Today and in the coming week, I want to challenge, invite and plead with you to pull out your ledger book and have a look at who owes you…and then, like our Lord and Master Jesus, start writing those debts down and off for all eternity. AMEN.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Easter 6 C - The Promise of Presence

Easter 6 C * May 13, 2007 * Mother’s Day, Rogation Sunday* JTCO

Whoever thought that playing peek-a-boo would be so important? As it turns out, one of the very earliest developmental lessons babies learn is what called object permanence – that is, that a thing or person still continues to exist even we can’t see it or them. Little babies learn this through endless games and by learning to trust that when they cry someone will come. If they don’t learn it, they stay anxious, clingy, fearful every time someone needs to come or go.

In our gospel reading this morning, the disciples are having a lesson in object permanence as Jesus talked with them about his departure. This passage from, John Chapter 14, comes at the Last Supper they shared with him before his death. Our reading comes from a section of what is known as the Farewell Discourse. In some ways, it might seem that we are turning back the calendar to the events of Holy Week, but we are hearing this reading this morning – well into the Easter season – for two reasons.

The first is that we are right around the corner from the feast of the Ascension in which Jesus finally does take leave of the disciples after forty of days of being present with them, and which we’ll mark next Sunday, the day in which the resurrected Lord returns to the Father. The second reason is that Jesus is making a promise, the fulfillment of which is gift both to them and us – that the Father will send the Holy Spirit.

I am indebted to Jim Somerville,[1] who suggests the following dialogue -- questions from the disciples that Jesus answers in this section.

And these sound a lot like the kinds of questions mothers get from their children as they pick up their keys and pocketbook and head for the door…

"Where are you going?""I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am there you may be also." [14:3]

"Can we go with you?""Where I am going you cannot come." [13:33]

"How long will you be gone?""A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while and you will see me." [14:19]

"Who will take care of us?""I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever." [14:16]”

Sound familiar? Parents will recognize these questions and especially moms. Object permanence is one of the issues. Will Jesus continue to exist and will they be taken care off even when they can no longer see him? When little ones develop normally, they learn this, and so they can let Mom out of sight for a little while, trusting that she will return. And, it is a question for us who are followers of Jesus Christ in our own day and time. Can we trust that Jesus is alive and is actively caring for us, even when we cannot see him with our own eyes?

As happens so often, our Collect of the Day, can give us an important clue about how to approach this passage…Let me read it for you again –O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding; Pour into hearts such love towards you , that we, loving you all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire, through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

The good that God does for us …past, present and future…for those who love Him…is beyond what we can understand…(We can’t see it, but we can trust it)…and we ask God, give us such love for you that the promises you have given us will become reality…The word that struck me here as key, is the word “promise”..

My goodness, what parent doesn’t make promises to a child? And, as you know, broken promises can badly compromise any relationship but particularly with parents and children. What parents has not heard that terrible wail usually accompanied by tears…”But….you promised!”?

So, let’s take a deeper look at what Jesus is saying to the disciples as he gets them ready for his departure…Jesus gives us three promises to offset the disciples’ and our anxiety about object permanence. I’d like to add a fourth dimension for consideration. All of these speak to how we know that the Risen Lord is with us.

Jesus gives us three promises of his presence: That he is present in his Word, his Peace, and through The Holy Spirit.

1. First, Jesus promises us that when we remember and hold dear and honor his word that he will dwell in us. He says “Those who love me will keep my word….if we were doing a literal translation of this passage…if would read…if anyone is loving me, that one will keep my word. Loving Jesus and keeping his word are related…The word keep is worth considering. It goes beyond obedience and has the sense of “holding dear” “observing” “guarding” or “consider important”.

Jesus promises us that when we keep his word, we will know his living presence and the presence of Father inwardly…and it goes beyond just remembering …This makes sense if you think about it. Here I am thinking about some of the sayings in our family…from time to time, I think about or remember something a family member has said…for instance, my great aunt Fanny who died years ago at the age of 106. Aunt Fancy was a maiden great aunt – never married - , a great wit and could really turn a phrase. Here is one of our family stories about a saying of Aunt Fancy’s. My sister Susan had taken her to church – First Presbyterian Church in Columbia – she was about 92 at the time. It was after church and they were sitting in the car pick up area having a little rest before they walked to the car which was a good hike. A lady who was standing down from them leaned over and said, “I’m waiting for my husband.” Susan said, that without missing a beat, Aunt Fancy said, “I am too.” Sometimes when I hear or say the words, “I am waiting for my husband”, her words come to me. I hear them in her voice and in that moment, it goes beyond remembering into sensing that I am in her presence. So, too, with Jesus’ words when we treasure them, guard them, observe them - he is present.

2. The Second promise of presence Jesus makes is that we will know that he is with us because he gives us his peace. This is the peace that passes all understanding…the peace that can be ours even in the midst of a storm. Even when everything around us is coming unglued, we have the gift of knowing that, no matter how difficult or painful the outcome, we sense that we are not alone and that in the end all will be well.

Julian of Norwich, 14th century mystic, whose feast day we kept this past week, gets at this when she describes the following vision she had…She describes seeing God holding a tiny thing in his hand, like a small brown nut, which seemed so fragile and insignificant that she wondered why it did not crumble before her eyes. She understood that the thing was the entire created universe, which is as nothing compared to its Creator, and she was told, "God made it, God loves it, God keeps it." So too with us, God made us, loves us and keeps us.

I wonder how many of you have had that experience of the peace that passes understanding… it is not rational…this is another way that Jesus communicates his continuing love and presence with us.

3. The Third promise of presence is that He will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit…and we will say more about that in the next two weeks.

4. The Fourth way of knowing God’s presence with us…and this is not St. John but Jennie speaking…has to do with one of the other themes for this Sunday You may have noticed in our hymns and prayers that we are celebrating and praising God for the beauty of creation. This is because today is Rogation Sunday…a day traditionally kept for a procession round the village , beating the bounds…that is marking the boundaries of one’s land, and thanking God for the gifts of the soil, the sea, and the whole of the physical creation. There is more about this on the church blog…The mystics have referred to knowing God in two ways…through the book of the Holy Scripture and through the book of Nature…Now, as anyone who has lived for any length of time, we know that the physical creation is not necessarily benevolent…we live in a fallen world , beautiful yes, but fallen…where disease, and natural disaster, and accidents, and environmental degradation take their toll…..ah, but it is beautiful…as a child, one of the places I felt God’s peace and presence most clearly was sitting up in the top of a 90 ft pine tree in our back yard…far, far above the madding crowd of my brothers and sisters..the light glistened across the tops of the trees, and the wind ruffled through and around the branches and leaves as birds winged their ways. It’s the same calm peacefulness, one can get in the marsh or on the water…or looking at the morning mist lifting from a lake or a field. God’s calm peace and presence can speak to us …through the abundance of his provision for us…the rain that falls and the fruits that grow and the marvelous variety of creatures…

So, then four ways that we can trust that Jesus dwells with us even now, will return for us, and that the Father is providing for us in this and every moment…In his living words; in his peace, in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit….and in his marvelous provision through the creation. May we ever be assured of the truth of his presence. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.. Amen.

[1] James G. Somerville ( in "Who Will Take Care of Us?" in The Christian Century, May 6, 1998, p. 471)

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Service Schedule

Sundays - 10:00 am - Holy Eucharist I or II, depending upon the season, except for the Second Sunday of Easter which is the annual Brick Church Service and picnic. That service time is 11:00 am. The 2011 Brick Church service will be May 1. Celebrant and Preacher TBA. Please join us.

Bishop's Visitation - December 11, 2011

Sundays in Advent and Lent - Holy Eucharist, Rite I.- 10:00 am followed by Coffee Hour

All other Sundays - Holy Eucharist Rt. II - followed by Coffee Hour
Fifth Sundays - Morning Prayer, Rt. I

Program and Nursery for Children - During the service.
Village Youth Group - New Wappetaw Presbyterian Church - Wednesday evenings - 6:00 pm
Contact: April Zorn at New Wappetaw

Saturday, April 24, 2004

April, May and June at SJS

Sunday Services are at 10:00 am without fail.

Sunday Ap. 27 - The Rev. Dr. George Tompkins, celebrant and preacher. Mrs. Olbrych at St. Stephen's, Charleston

Saturday, May 3 - Shrimp Festival and Blessing of the Fleet - 11-5

A blessing of the fleet by local clergy celebrates tradition in this coastal community. Shrimp dinners, kabobs, chowders, barbeque and hot dogs are served. Children's area with inflatables, pony rides, etc. Local artist and crafters.

Sunday, May 4 - Shrimp Festival Weekend

Sunday, May 11- Mother's Day

Sunday, May 25- Memorial Day weekend

May 25-June 14 - Mrs. Olbrych at Princeton Theological Seminary - Supply clergy TBA