Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Promise of Lent

Lent is a great time to do a bit of spring cleaning,
to declutter out soul by letting go of something
that weighs us down and so clears out some space
to receive the life that comes to us through
Jesus' resurrection at Easter.

RCL • Year B • Lent 1
Genesis 9:8–17
Psalm 25:1–9
1 Peter 3:18–22
Mark 1:9–15

Watch on YouTube here

Into the Wilderness

After Jesus was baptized, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. [And] he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan.”

A week ago Saturday, we had our first Quiet Day of the year, here at St. John’s. It was designed to help us get ready to enter Lent, which so often sneaks up on us and catches us by surprise, especially this year with Easter coming so early. When we were off on our own, I happened to pick up a book of sermons by Taylor. If you are not familiar with Barbara Brown Taylor, she is an Episcopal priest, a professor of religion, and a writer, who is well known for her sermons. I read a sermon entitled, “Lenten Discipline,” (from Home by Another Way) which offers some insights into the purpose and promise of this season we call Lent. I found it very helpful, so I would like to share it with you today. What follows, then, is Taylor’s sermon with a few modifications and additions. She begins:  (Taylor's words are in blue). 

Sunday, February 08, 2015

When Things Fall Apart: Exchanging Fear for the Wings of an Eagle

RCL, Year B, Epiphany 5
Isaiah 40:(18-20)2131
Psalm 147:1-12, 21c
1 Corinthians 9:16–23
Mark 1:29–39

Video on YouTube
I'm a little off center in this one.

Delivered on Sunday, February 8th, a.d. 2015
at St. John's Episcopal Church (Wichita, Kansas)

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Holy Is As Holy Does

RCL, Year B, Epiphany 4
Deuteronomy 18:15–20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1–13
Mark 1:21–28

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Watch on YouTube


Today, I want to offer a brief meditation on the word, holy, which is one of the church’s most important four-letter words. Why? Because “holy” is everywhere today. For example, following the sermon, Armani and Aaliyah are going to undergo the sacrament of Holy Baptism. During that liturgy, we who have been baptized will renew own baptismal covenant, by confessing our belief in the Holy Spirit and in the holy catholic Church. Afterwards, we will all gather at the Lord’s table and celebrate Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion. And just a few minutes ago, we heard the Holy Gospel, in which an unclean spirit cries out, Jesus of Nazareth, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). So holy is all around us today.


But what exactly does it mean? When we describe something as holy, what is it that we are trying to say about it? Holy has a variety of meanings. For example, holy may be used to characterize an object or a person’s state of being. In this usage, to be holy is to be pure, unblemished, without fault or defect, and to be unholy is be defective, impure, or unclean. 
     But the word holy can also be used to describe something that has been set apart, something or someone that has set apart for a special use, purpose, or calling. In this usage, the opposite of holy would be common or ordinary. So, if you wanted to, you could describe your fine china as holy because it is only brought out on special occasions and used for special purposes. Such holy china stands in contrast to the ordinary plates, cups, and silverware that you use for every day purpose.
So when we describe the Eucharist as Holy, we are saying that this meal has been set aside for a special purpose. The Holy Eucharist is a meal, but it is a meal like no other. Likewise, Holy Baptism is a bath, but it is not like any other bath or shower you will ever take. It has been set apart for a special purpose. And the Holy Catholic Church—of which we are all a part—is a community like no other. It too has been called and set apart for a special purpose.


But holy goes even further than this. If something is holy, then it has an effect. Do you remember the movie Forrest Gump? Forrest Gump was the main character, and he had some mental deficiencies, and so he was often made fun of. But do you remember what his mother taught him to say when kids called him stupid? “Stupid is as stupid does.” Well, I think the same thing can be said of the word holy. “Holy is as holy does.”
     You see, if something is holy, it doesn’t just sit around being holy, it accomplishes something; it has an effect on its environment. In other words, holy doesn’t simply describe what a thing is in itself, it describes what something does. Holy is as holy does.
Let me offer an example of this. Three weeks ago, we heard read the story of John the Baptist baptizing people in the Jordan River. He told them, “[There is a one more powerful than I am who is coming.]… I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:8). Now, there are two observations that need to be made [or, that I would like to make.]

Why the Spirit is Called Holy in Mark's Gospel

First of all, in Mark’s Gospel, God’s Spirit is called the Holy Spirit, in large part, because there is more than one type of spirit operating in the world. For example, you may have noticed in today’s reading that the troubled man in the Capernaum synagogue was not described as having a demon. Rather he was described as having an unclean spirit. Now, it should be said that demon and unclean spirit refer to the exact same thing, but in his gospel, Mark exhibits a decided preference for the term, unclean spirit. Why? Because he wants to emphasize what these spirits do; he wants to highlight the effect that these spirits have. These spirits communicate uncleanness to their victims. These spirits can take over a person and defile them and their surroundings.
     In sharp contrast to these unclean spirits stands the Holy Spirit. Holy is not the Spirit’s first name. The Spirit of God is called holy because the Spirit cleanses an unclean world. Unclean spirits defile the world by communicating impurity, sin, and sickness, whereas the holy Spirit cleanses the world and its people by communicating purity, holiness, and wholeness. The opening chapters of Mark can be read as a tale of two spirits—the holy Spirit of God verses the unclean spirits of Satan.

What it means that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit

This leads to my second observation. When John says that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit, he is not referring to the Day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit will come upon all of Jesus’ disciples. Instead, John is describing Jesus’ entire ministry. In other words, every single thing that Jesus does in Mark’s gospel can be characterized as baptizing with the Holy Spirit. Because everything that Jesus does has a cleansing, restorative effect. His exorcisms and healings, his pronouncements of forgiveness, his table-fellowship with tax-collectors and sinners, all of these things create holiness and wholeness, where once there had only been sin and brokenness. Holy is as holy does.
     We saw the cleansing power of the Spirit at work in today’s gospel. As was his custom, Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath. It’s a holy place on a holy day, and in walks an unholy man, unholy because he is under the influence of an unclean, dehumanizing power over which he has no control. This poor man can no longer help himself. He has no power to act on his own, he has no power to speak. He has lost all self-determination and self-control, he has lost his own voice. I wonder if you have ever experienced this?
     And so Jesus baptizes him, Jesus bathes this unclean man with the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus commands the unclean spirit, and the man is set free. He has been made clean, his life has been restored, and he has been restored to the community of faith. He was dead, and now he is alive. That is holy, and that is what we do today.

CONCLUSION (just notes)

Holy Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Holy Church, and we have become Holy.
The Holy Spirit animates all of these, so that they have an effect (including us).

The conclusion of the sermon can be found on the video.

Delivered on Sunday, February 1st, a.d. 2015
at St. John's Episcopal Church (Wichita, Kansas)