Sunday, June 26, 2016

Being Who We Are

Fr. Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Pentecost 4 + Year C+ Proper 8         
Being Who We Are                 
26, June AD 2016                                                                          
St George Parish + Savannah

I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

The father says to the son: “So your intentions were good. That's what matters. The son responded:  “but isn't, like, the road to hell paved with good intentions?” His father responded
“Yeah, well, so's the road to heaven. And if you spend too much time thinking about where those good intentions are taking you, you know where you end up?” “New Jersey?” he responded.  
“I was thinking 'nowhere,” said the father, “but you get the point.”  (Neal Shusterman)

How intentional are we about following God’s will for our lives? Do we think about it?  There are so many things that pull us in all sorts of directions and dilute our focus in this very demanding contemporary culture. We read today that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. This is a Greek rendering of a Hebrew expression denoting a fixedness of purpose.   Jesus is very intentional and we are called to the same intentionality as His followers and representatives in this world.  What is it to represent?  One thing about it is to re-present Christ.  At Antioch the Bible tells us that we were first called Christians.  What does that mean?  It means “little Christ.”  In the gospel today, we are told that the time was coming for Jesus to be taken up.  What does that mean? It is an equivalent expression to what was said on the mount of Transfiguration.  He is about to make an exodus of the captives to sin into the glorious freedom of salvation for the human race. He was about to leave his ministry of teaching healing to his mission of sacrifice and atonement for the world. Why did he do it?  It was Jesus for who his was the Christ of God.

We say we “go to Church” but this building is simply where the REAL CHURCH gathers.  It is a place to go and be refilled for the labors God has assigned to us. If you will, we practice on each other here so that we may live more our mission outside of the sacred walls. That is really what Paul is addressing to the Church at Galatia: Christian living. Before I begin this, I want to say something.  You do know that when the preacher preaches, he is also preaching to himself, don’t you?  So let’s dive in.

Who are we as followers of Jesus?  What controls us?  Are we controlled by others?  Do we have “self-control”?  Many of life’s goods and evils come from the issue of control. As we approach the day we celebrate American “freedom,” it behooves us to ponder what it means for us as Christians. .  This morning we are going to talk about what God means by “control” and what the Devil means by “control.”  Many who live in the “flesh” or natural sinful nature are in bondage, not in Christ’s freedom.

What controls us? Control is important because within it is the concept of “submission.” No one likes to be controlled.  When we think of “control” we often think of “oppression”.  Oppression is why the first pilgrims came to this country.  Submission and oppression are not the same thing. 
Submission is a word of power because only the person being asked to submit can do so.  Oppression is one being forced against the will.   Submission is to come under THE MISSION of God in Christ.  It is to become world-makers, kingdom-builders for the sake of God in Christ.
It is the setting of our individual and collective faces, not toward Jerusalem as Jesus did, but towards the living out of our Christianity in the world. In baptism and salvation, that is who and me are in the Lord.

God does not oppress those he calls.  He is Lord but he is also: dear, dear Father. He respects human being’s rights so much that he will protect our right to go to hell if we want. God offers what he offers out of love.  It is not for God to fulfill his needs that God says, live by the Spirit but for our good. 

Most in this world, who desire to control others, do it for something that is not for the other person, or for some greater benefit to others, but is somehow for themselves. Some have been hurt in the past and believe that unless they control others, they will be hurt again. Some learned the behavior from others.  God did not put us here to “control” our spouses, our friends, our children.(which doesn’t mean not making your children mind). A good rule of thumb is not to try to “control” that for which we are not responsible or accountable. .  Then let us seek to exercise authority with love and self-less concern.  This is our commission from Jesus.

If in this world, someone is controlling us, and someone is currently trying to, as lovingly as we can, we should try to confront that person, firmly and not allowing ourselves to be controlled.  If we do not, we become as guilty as the one controlling us.  I think we know where control ends up: anger, resentment and ultimately bitterness.

Now, what is the remedy for our Christian walk? If we wish to have favor with God and enjoy the benefits of our salvation in Jesus Christ here on earth, we will seek to submit ourselves to being controlled by the Holy Spirit. Each week most of us pray or sing Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Do we realize that this includes our becoming as Jesus Christ is? Do we offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice and then when God comes to bring some pain, some change, something in our lives that will require of us a thimbleful of “submission” do we say, “NOooooo GOD !”  or do we set our faces to accomplishing the goal as Jesus did for us and winning the prize as children of our Father in heaven, as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. That is who we are!

Commitment to Jesus and the kingdom of God call for sacrifice and honestly, few even in the Church of Jesus Christ seem able to “cut it.”We don’t like sacrifice.  Sacrifice is painful: pain suffering, eventual death.  To willing embrace such a calling is beyond our comprehension. The only problem with a living sacrifice is that it can crawl off the altar, and isn’t that what we too often do? This brings us to the sacrifices we are called to make. When the pain of our human nature begins to free the rub, what do we do? They all involve our natural responses. But the sacrifice Christ calls for is for our human wills. The “be reasonable, do it my way” we practice at times has no place in that context, but that is not who we are in Jesus!  

Today, St. Paul calls out the “works of the flesh”. Skip the first four and the last three because those are what we usually think of. Of course most of us do not do these or are not tempted to do these, so that makes them much easier to use as battering rams to talk about all of those “other people” which of course, we always believe that we are not.

Notice the list:¨idolatry: that’s not worshipping a statue, it’s making anything of more importance than God!! Witchcraft? come on Paul.  What is he talking about?  Not the pointed hats and the brooms.  The Greek word is pharmakia, sounds a bit like pharmacy doesn’t it. Giving ourselves over to be controlled by something other than our minds and wills is what it is. about.  but “hatred” (of anything other than evil), discord (being a trouble maker, turning others against one another), jealousy (which usually manifests itself in talking badly about others whose position we fear or envy) fits of rage (I don’t suppose we know the power of a “rage-a-holic...however, people around you are controlled by the fear of when you might “go off” again), selfish ambition (controlling to get a position that is for some need we think we have) dissensions (dividing people into “us” and “them” and actively through gossip or  backbiting and undermining another) and finally factions (that means causing strife in the body of Christ or anywhere for that matter, sowing the Devil’s seeds in thought, word and deed.)  Many times it is because someone does something we do not like or hurts us we form a faction. 

Do we confront that person and say, “when you did this, I felt this way?”  NO!  That would require too much effort and potential pain (and I might add, MATURITY!)  No, rather we make up our mind that this person is like “this” or “that”.  We make a judgment, without all the facts mind you.  But we think that we can read their minds!  That is why God said: “judge not, lest ye be judged, for with the same judgment that you judge others you will be judged.”  Do we keep this to ourselves? Of course not, we’ve been wounded, so we go to this person or that person, saying something negative about this or that person or just saying what will leave a little doubt in the other person’s mind about that person’s character.  We had might as well put it on the evening news! . 

We NAIL JESUS CHRIST TO THE CROSS AGAIN AND AGAIN!  But Paul said today in the readings, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Notice what Paul says about these things: if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.   So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (vss. 15 & 16)   “Biting and devouring each other” Paul?  Don’t you think that’s a bit over the top? How farfetched?  Don’t know for sure, but I did hear about the family who left church only to have the priest for lunch!

The Devil wants to control our mouths.  Unfortunately many of us “submit” to that control because it feeds out flesh.  It is so hard not to spread gossip.  Gossip of course need not be a false rumor, gossip can be the truth, but it involves something that we are not given the responsibility for by God or humanity. Do you like to talk about other people?  We need to watch out.  Some of us this morning need to cry out to God for forgiveness and help with our mouths including the preacher. If we move one verse up we read the words which should be the mark of our faith: The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself..”You see, that is who you are.  That is who I am in the Beloved, Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “the truth shall set you free”, (Jn.8:32) but that of course is only true if you believe the truth and act upon it.  I made a serious mistake when I first became a priest.  I assumed that people gave a “DARN” about what the Bible said; that they wanted to follow Jesus Christ!  How many of us ask before we act, “would this please Christ?”  Satan tries to find a wound, usually an emotional wound, to enter a life, especially if that life has potential for God.  We must  take care how we respond.  Do not reward evil for evil but as St. Paul said, “overcome evil with good.”(Romans 12:21)  Satan doesn’t know what to do with that.  It is so against our flesh and his.  If you want to really “get” the Devil, when some sins against you, praise God and show love to the person who hurt you.  Join with the Spirit. Submit to the Spirit and find the light of God beginning to shine through you and all of your works and the joy of God’s salvation. St. Paul wrote: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self‑control.” This is true freedom and that is who we are.

In the collect we prayed: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you…our goal, the challenge of the Christian way of walking and living.  May Almighty God grant us the grace to accomplish his purposes in and through us that we may live as those who God has made us to be in His Son. .

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Out of Darkness...LIGHT!

The Reverend Robert R.M. Bagwell+
Proper 7+Year C                                   
19 June AD 2016                                                         
St George Parish, Savannah
Isaiah 65:1-9                                                                                                            
Psalm 22:18-27
Galatians 3:23-29                                                                                                        
Luke 8:26-39

On January 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake rocked Southern California. Pastor Jack Hayford, the founding pastor of The Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California, remembers the emotions he experienced after the quake:

"When it was over, our family was safe and our home virtually untouched. Yet in the days following the disaster, I was gripped with a fear I had never known.

After four days, I desperately sought God in prayer. 'Lord, I can't understand myself! I am not afraid for my life, and I am not in doubt of your presence and protection. Is there something wrong with me?'

Instantly, I sensed an inner whisper: "My son, there is nothing wrong with you. I allowed you to experience the depth of the trauma and fear that has gripped multitudes so that you might comfort them beyond their fears."

It was the words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4. “God uses his children who have endured difficulty to become strength to others experiencing the same trial. We comfort others not from the foundation of our superior faith, but from the commonality of our mutual struggles." 
"O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving­ kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen."

Who are those whom You have set upon the sure foundation of Your loving kindness?  According to out gospel and epistle readings this morning, it is US! I believe that in this late age of the world, there has come a certain malaise, a blurring of right and wrong, good and evil. 

How appropriate that we should have this gospel reading the Sunday after the Sunday when not a Gadarene demoniac, but an Orlando demoniac unleashed unmitigated evil on a group of unsuspecting people. We have yet another wakeup call that our lives, this present life, this world that we grow so dependent upon being predictable and somewhat controllable. Jesus, the Jewish itinerant rabbi proclaiming the coming kingdom of God, goes to an unclean land to meet a man possessed by an unclean spirit living in an unclean place.  He had no particularly compelling reason to be there in the natural realm.  The town was a gentile town yet Jesus made a point to going there.  As we observe Jesus in the gospels, Jesus always moves with purpose.  The purpose was a most unlikely cause: a person possessed by demons.  Now I know that demonology is “poo pooed” in some circles, however in the Bible demons are very real.  To Jesus they were real.  When we say that we believe in a devil, a fallen angel working against the forces of good in this world, then we also must believe in demons.  For some reason, in this telling, Jesus saw this man as someone he wanted to reach out to and to deliver.   

Upon landing, he is immediately confronted and verbally accosted.  The spiritual entities make the first move. Jesus immediately asks his name.  Interestingly, he does not give Jesus his name but rather that name which is used of a large segment of the Roman army.   I read it technically, refers to the whole of the military of the Republic of Rome!  With this we are again confronted with the question, what is the cause of such mass murder?  What causes it and will that enable us to stop it? 

One commentator wrote: This is, in short, the very last place Jesus should be. Which, when you think about it, is where God usually shows up. At our moments of profound doubt, grief, loss, and defeat. And – and this is the one that often surprises us – among those who may to this point have little interest in, let alone relationship with, God

I saw a young man telling a story of his experience on the football team as a high school senior in a Catholic School. He really had no time for God or anything else although his parents were always inviting him. It wasn't until his last game before the team was to go to the playoffs that his life changed. He have a plan to take on the other quarterback. The plan executed, and his play was effective. Unfortunately after the play finished, all of his limbs were immobilized. He went to the hospital with a traumatic neck injury. For the next few weeks his parents and friends hoped, prayed, and visited him. It wasn't until one night at 3 in the morning after the team chaplain had come to give last rites to someone else in the hospital, then everything changed. The priest came in said “it was a great play, too bad what happened.” He then tossed a New Testament on the young man’s chest and left the room. As he left he gave him two scriptures to read Psalm 6 and Psalm 136. Problem was he couldn't move any of his limbs. He said then his nose began to itch and he spent the next several hours trying to get his hand to move up and scratched his nose. Finally and suddenly his hand moved to his nose so hard he gave himself a dislocated nose. Later after the nose had  been tended to , he read the Bible. As he read the word "Lord rebuke me not in your anger, nor chasten me in your wrath.  Be  gracious to me oh Lord for I am languishing. Lord Heal me for my bones are troubled. My soul also is sorely troubled. But thou oh Lord how long?" He said that he knew that whoever wrote this had been there where he was now. He begins to cry out to God and read God's word every day since. God showed up. Carl Jung once famously said "bidden  or unbidden, God is present".

We are led back to fundamentals of good and evil.  In John 16, we have Jesus speaking to the disciples of the world after He is gone.  I’ll wager that few if any of us have heard a sermon mentioning this:  Jesus says the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.  Is there mental illness Yes.  Is their evil?, Yes.   Are there fallen angels? Yes.

In his work The People of the Lie Psychiatrist Scott Peck speaks of the sources of human evil and their manifestations.   He writes: Evil then, for the moment, is the force, residing either inside or outside of human beings, that seeks to kill life or liveliness. And goodness is its opposite. Goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness.”  The book is definitely worth a read and a good bit different than his most well known book, the Road Less Travelled.

As the story progresses, the spirits ask Jesus not to cast them out of their country but let the go into the pigs in the field which He allows.  For all that this means, do your own research, just note what the effect is on the people.  This is interesting.  The Swine herders ran off to the town to tell what had happened and of course the whole town went out.   We read: when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.

Why were they afraid?  They were accustomed to the demoniac but they were afraid…of Jesus!  Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

We live in a spiritual and supernatural realm.  As evil grows, we and the world need Jesus, but some hold back. Is the devil they know better than the Christ they don’t?  The Jews, Christians, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Church have all been fugitives, persecuted and suffered.   We have had it relatively easy in this United States since our founding, yet now, the voices are being raised against Christianity.  Jesus and Stephen as they were dying both prayed: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

An Eastern Orthodox Prayer, recited every evening says: Lord, we pray… for those who hate us and those who love us.”  Having lived under both repressive Russian and Moslem rule, they know something about persecution.  Was Jesus in Orlando?  Yes he was there.  He was reaching out to the fearful, to the victims as they died  and now to the families and friends in their grief.  We commend the souls who died to the Father.  We pray for their souls.  Jesus will not always stop evil, he rarely does, but to those who reach out to him in faith and hope and help, He is there.    We know that the evil spirits fear God, they fear Jesus and they fear the Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts. 
Their biggest weapon is fear and they are surely good at making people afraid .  They seek the evil in humanity, they use selfishness, greed, anger and a myriad of other human weaknesses and sins to magnify evil in this world.  That is but one reason the world needs Jesus.  The world needs us!  We are the Jesus with “sin on” as some have termed us. 
We represent, we re-present Jesus in this world.  Jesus calls us to love our enemies, even those who do the greatest evil to us, but we don’t do it alone.  A very unexpected and no doubt unanticipated thing happened there in Orlando, I’m sure it was a surprise to the Devil!  The ones whom the LGBT community felt the most condemned by, religious people, rose to the challenge!  Instead of saying things like: “serves them right”, Christians, Jews and even some Muslims came out in loving caring and supportive provisional roles. God showed up!  Maybe God will bring a softened, more loving and gentle understanding to those who just DON’T UNDERSTAND THE LGBT THING!   We all share the human journey of brokenness and hardship but God is present. Out of darkness has come the Holy Spirit’s LIGHT!  We know that Light. The Spirit of God works in and through us and by the love that gave His all even for the ones who killed him literally.  He loves us!  Let us love others with Him as we fight the good fight with God’s armor of LOVE. AMEN