February 26, 2023

Lent 1A – George Yandell

What appears most senseless can often seem most meaningful of all. What of Matthew’s story that becomes the gospel for today? This story tells of an event that proves to be a major turning point in Jesus’ personal history. It is recorded in three of the gospels. What could seem more senseless than Jesus getting baptized? Theologians have argued about it for centuries. Who could need more vocational reassurance than Jesus, standing there dripping wet and hearing, “This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well-pleased?” How many of us have ever had that kind of certainty?

And what sense is there to this wilderness temptation thing? It’s a great and dramatic story out of which preachers get a lot of mileage, but for Jesus, how senseless can it get? Well, there’s this. Matthew says that it wasn’t Jesus’ idea after all, for as soon as he was baptized, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” What sort of sense does that make? [The above two paragraphs adapted from Lane Denson’s sermon of 3/9/2003.]

The wilderness temptation is reminiscent of the trials of the wilderness wanderings of Israel, as well as the fasts of Moses and Elijah. During this time Jesus discerns the true meaning of the baptismal proclamation that he is the Son of God. Here the devil represents the role of the tempter rather than the personification of evil.

What specifically do we learn from Jesus’ defining of his ministry through this time in the wilderness? As Mother Teresa wrote in Love: A Fruit Always in Season (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987): “Total surrender consists in giving ourselves completely to God, because God has given God’s self to us. If God owed nothing to us and is ready to impart to us no less than God [full on], shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves? I give up my own self and in this way induce God to live for me. Therefore to possess God we must allow God to possess our souls.”

Jesus showed us how. Even when weakened by fasting and exposure to the elements—while passionately seeking God’s best for the way his life of service would unfold … amid wrestling with questions of authority and the implications of God’s coming reign … he waited on God. [Adapted from “Synthesis: A Weekly Resource for Preaching”, March 2014 issue.]

To fast can mean to strengthen our staying power. Whether it be the conquering of a bad habit or the establishing of a daily time of devotion, we need to concentrate on getting a firmer grip on our faith. … To fast means to hang on tighter. …

It also can mean to accept certain needed disciplines so that bodily matters will not interfere with, nor dominate, the affairs of the soul. … In brief, to fast in this sense means to make more time for God and thus giving the Holy Spirit more of a chance to work in us. [Adapted from Mark A. Beaufoy in The Parables (Forward Movement, 1971).]

The Matthew passage ends with this sentence. “The devil left Jesus and suddenly the angels came and waited on him.” From dire threat and confrontation to bliss with angelic beings. That’s the shift that God makes with and for us when we yield to the Holy Spirit’s leading. We trust more and more fully, and God wins the day. We look around and the company of angels is those sitting around us in the pews, working with us at CARES, Good Sam, ACES. Singing in the choir. We are found by God in company with folks we never knew would be our companions. The wiles of the devil are thwarted by us depending on one another in community. The host of heaven rejoices with our fellowship. Anything can happen, any moving of the Spirit can make us rejoice and move in love.

Often it’s the wisdom of foolishness that breaks through for us and lifts us out of the desert into community. I love Robert Alter’s fresh translation of the Book of Psalms. [The Book of Psalms, W.W. Norton and Co., p.32, 2007 New York] You might want to look at Psalm 32: 10-11 in your service sheet for comparison’s sake. The last two stanzas in Alter’s translation go like this:

“Many are the wicked’s pains, but who trusts in the Lord, kindness surrounds [that one]. Rejoice in the Lord and exult, O you righteous, sing gladly all [you] upright [people].” It is dire straits turned into giddy exultation. I suspect that’s what Jesus experienced in the angel’s company. Don’t you know he probably laughed with relief and joy at being delivered out of the presence of the devil.

There is in some gothic revival churches a small window above the chancel in the eaves. It is called a ‘hilarion’. Drawn from the same word as ‘hilarious’. A hilarion window sat high in the chapel of Virginia Seminary when I was a student there. In many churches it is situated above the rood screen, where the cross sits above a wooden archway, marking the solemn entrance into the sanctuary. The juxtaposition is startling. The architect was making a statement sort of like Monty Python. Hilarity above somber recollection of the cross. So in that vein, a story.

One hot Sunday morning, a resplendently vested bishop stood outside a small country church waiting not all that patiently for things to get moving when he felt a gentle tug at his sleeve and looked down to see a little girl looking up at him. As their eyes met, the little girl wondered out loud, “Mister, are you a clown?” [ibid, Lane Denson sermon.]

February 19, 2023

Last Sunday of Epiphany – Ted Hackett

This the second of a “mini-series” of Sermons on “Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgement”…

The so-called “Four Last Things” which all humans must face…

Last week we tackled two of them…Heaven and Hell…

I am sure all of you remember in exquisite detail all of that sermon…

I learned years and years ago not to ask students what I had said in the last lecture…

Continue reading February 19, 2023

February 12, 2023

Epiphany 5A – Ted Hackett
Today is the 6th Sunday after Epiphany…
      Believe it or not, Lent comes in two weeks…
             And of course, Lent is a penitential season…
                    40 days in which we are counseled to
                    calm things down in our lives…
                          To do some looking at ourselves…

And ask questions about our lives.
Lent is a little like Advent…
Except that over the years Advent has been a season of what you might call : “Joy Creep”….

Continue reading February 12, 2023

February 5, 2023

Epiphany 5A – George Yandell

Let me read you a letter to an insurance company about frustrations and disappointment. Maybe you have had similar experiences.

Dear Sir:

I am writing in response to your request for additional information. In Block #3 of the accident reporting form, I put quote – LOST PRESENCE OF MIND – unquote, as the cause of my accident. You said in your letter that I should explain more fully,

Continue reading February 5, 2023