Clergy Corner: The Transformative Powers and Riches of Easter

2nd Sunday of Lent, Feb. 24, 2013. St. Nicholas. C Cycle.
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18,
Psalm 27
,
Philippians 3:17-4:1,
Luke 13:31-35

Trust in God First, Foremost and Always

I knew a woman who was a frequent guest at the soup kitchen I used to run down in the city. This woman had 5 children, which is a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, and sadly, these children had different fathers. It was unfortunate because the fathers were not in the children’s lives. These ‘dads’ had little to no contact with their or their mother anymore. These kids were all young, under the age of 10 when I first met them, and this was some 19 years ago. This woman was a good Mom: she did what she could to help her children. Coming to the soup kitchen was necessary: she just could not provide for them alone and the soup kitchen was able to assist her with feeding her children. She made good use of the Case Management Department, too, as well as the clothing and laundry services that were provided. I looked forward to seeing her and she was, as I said, a regular attendee, virtually every night.

Let us allow this holy season of Lent willingly move forward toward the transformative powers and riches of Easter. We venture onward, with open hearts and receptive minds… wishing to know more of our Lord and desiring for ever more grace, strength and peace to fill and overflow our senses and bodies.

She had a very difficult job to say the least. Parenthood is the most demanding of careers. It is tough enough for two parents, but one parent managing and handling 5 children while marred in a life of poverty, barely making it; living in a neighborhood that is riddled with crime and violence? One parent, with five energetic youngsters all under the age of 10 and one of which was a mere baby in a stroller…Dear God…

I’m not a parent, I readily admit to this. However, I saw and was witness and was the beneficiary of how much work, sacrifice and energy my two beloved parents put forth to care, protect and educate my 8 brothers and sisters and I. I would like to think they did a good job and I am ever grateful and humbled for their uncompromising and unquestioned love. Yet this woman, this single parent…she seemingly had the world on her shoulders and each day, the ground appeared to be getting closer and closer as she stooped lower and lower under the pressures and burdens of doing all she could to care for her children.

My heart ached for this women. In the summer months, I would take my lunch break by taking long walks…to clear my head, to pray silently and enjoy the warmth and sunshine. I would see the woman walking around the neighborhoods near the soup kitchen, trying feverishly to keep track of where the kids were running off to. She’d call for them to stay close and they’d eventually come and walk with her. She would take them to the park and they’d play on the swings and such…until they became bored and demanded more of her. She looked defeated most days, yet she was undeterred and undaunted in her desire to provide, care and protect her children. Her situation provoked me to do more for people like her… people who had the deck stacked up against them. I opened the door of the soup kitchen at noon for people to come in, have coffee, play board games with the volunteer staff and just relax until dinner time…all in a safe and clean environment…and most importantly, these beautiful people knew they were surrounded and cared for by folks who truly and genuinely loved them.

This woman, this single parent, desperately tried to keep her children under her protective and loving care. Try as she did, in the years to come, her two sons spent considerable time behind bars for a number of offenses. The girls were unattended and poorly chaperoned and subsequently became subject to the advances of older men. I need not elaborate this point, for sadly we know what came next…

She tried and desired to keep her children under her protective wings, but they rebelled and chose otherwise. She knew better and she loved them so. Yet, they chose differently. Jesus tried, in vain, to shelter the people of Jerusalem, to protect His very people from the evils and destruction that sin creates. Sadly, the people of Jerusalem thought differently and did as they wished. They stoned and killed the prophets and anyone who spoke with authority from above. Jesus’ heart ached for His people.

He longed to care for them, just as in today’s passage from St. Luke we heard: “how often I desired to gather your children together, like a hen trying to gather her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jesus wasn’t afforded this role while in Jerusalem, was He? Jesus lamented over the apathy and ignorance of His own people in His beautiful yet lost Jerusalem. He truly did not have anyone in whom He could trust….no one except God, His father, the Creator.

The Pharisees warned Him that Herod wanted Him dead…but Jesus didn’t trust these guys in any way, shape or form. They had an agenda, these Pharisees. They wanted Jesus out of the picture and they knew if they were unable to rid themselves of Jesus, Herod would find a way. Fact is, Jesus didn’t even like the Pharisees…He called them a “brood of vipers.” Jesus wasn’t too fond of Herod for that matter, too. He, Herod was viewed as weak and a ‘mere puppet for the Roman authorities.”

Jesus couldn’t trust the Pharisees and He couldn’t trust Herod. His disciples…well, they had flaws and shortcomings and Jesus knew this when He chose them. When Jesus needed them most…sadly, they disappointed and let Him down. Ultimately, as we know, the disciples showed their true worth and strength; wearing the crown of the martyrs as they gave their lives for the Kingdom!

There are times we all feel like we are alone; that there is no one really listening to us. I certainly have those moments. I know I’m wrong thinking like this. (For goodness sake’s I have Douglas who I know cares for me and I have my sisters and brothers and a slew full of nieces, nephews, grand nieces and grandnephews who love and care for me and I have this amazing and wonderful community of St. Nicholas, who show me, daily, how much you all care.)

Yet, when we are in pain or when sorrow overwhelms us or suffering invades our very fibre, even the ones who love us most may not be enough. Sadly, pain and doubt overpower us and blinds us to the reality that WE DO INDEED HAVE SOME ONE WE CAN ALWAYS TRUST…AND THAT IS JESUS, OUR MOST HOLY REDEEMER.

IT IS JESUS WHO NEVER LETS US DOWN
IT IS JESUS WHO ALWAYS HAS OUR BACK
IT IS JESUS WHO NEVER FORGETS NOR OVERLOOKS US…ESPECIALLY WHEN WE FEEL EVERYONE ELSE HAS

St. Paul implored the people of Philippi to “STAND FIRM IN THE LORD, BECAUSE THE LORD WILL TRANSFORM US…FROM HUMILIATION TO GLORY…” Likewise, we, too, must allow the Spirit to transform us…to take us from those moments of doubt and fear, those times when pain and sorrow and suffering seem insurmountable and allow the glorious, healing powers of Jesus transform us…from HUMILIATION that is sin and suffering, to GLORY…that is found fully and solely in Jesus the Christ.

Let us allow this holy season of Lent willingly move forward toward the transformative powers and riches of Easter. We venture onward, with open hearts and receptive minds… wishing to know more of our Lord and desiring for ever more grace, strength and peace to fill and overflow our senses and bodies.

Let Jesus take us under His protective and loving wings…He is already beside us…He is already before us, leading us onward…He is ever within us to comfort and sustain us…so let’s put our full trust and faith in Him and always Him and forever in Him as we continue to place a fuller and richer faith in one another…shall we?

manny@stnicholasepiscopal.org

Manny

Sermon: Fishing for People – Do We Have It In Us? (Father Manny’s Lake Mistake Fishing Story)

Hand-net fishing on Lake Michigaan

Fishing for People…Do We Have it in Us?

Being a city kid, I didn’t have too many opportunities to go fishing. Actually, I really didn’t have too much of a desire to go fishing. A lack of fishing places was not a problem. After all, Michigan has the big lakes surrounding it not to mention a couple hundred smaller lakes and rivers and streams, too. However, living in a big, urban environment, there were far too many other options from which to choose. There was always a pick-up baseball or basketball game in the summer. If I were able to find and return enough pop bottles and cut enough lawns, I was able to take in a ball game at Tiger Stadium…I was pretty independent and I didn’t want to ask my parents for the money…and, there was no such thing as “an allowance,” that’s for sure. When the weather was colder, there was skating at the park and hockey games to be played.
Needless to say, there were chores to be done at home and growing up a ‘church mouse,’ I was always being asked to help out at the parish church which conveniently sat right across the street from my home. Was my childhood ideal…who knows and really, who cares? For me, it was perfect or as close to perfect as it could get. Then again, I did wish we had a second bathroom…3 older brothers and 5 sisters and 2 parents…you do the math!

When I entered Holy Redeemer College Seminary in rural, Waterford, Wisconsin, I was transported to a very different way of life. Seminaries were often times situated in rural, “off the beaten path” areas. The belief and understanding was having seminaries in these areas took away the potential of too many distractions or diversions. And thus, these quiet, tranquil areas afforded the seminary student the environment and time for more prayer and meditation time. I guess they underestimated our abilities to create diversions and distractions! But, yes, this part of Wisconsin was indeed rural, quiet and did provide many opportunities for prayer, meditation and lots of open space to be alone.

I took up jogging and playing soccer…sports that had me outdoors more and more…and I loved it. Mornings that I had no classes, right after Morning Prayer, I would get out and start running. Passing corn fields that stood higher than me was a simple joy. Running past the cow pastures made me run faster…for very obvious sensory reasons!
The hills were no problem and the down hills runs were a kind of dare to run as fast as possible! There were days I could have run on and on and on…I didn’t want to stop.

In the spring, the annual snow melts would cause the local lakes and streams to overflow their banks. There was a small lake that sat on the seminary property. Lake Mistake, which was its actual name, was relatively small and tame. We swam in it, took a little row boat out into it and at night, we’d sit on the dock and skip stones across its surface, having no problem getting our stone from one shore to the other shore. Behind the lake was a small drainage pipe, actually wide enough for me to stick my head into if I so choose…I didn’t try, but I’m just saying… Every spring, the lake was overflowing and out of that drainage ditch poured out fish…lots of them, splashing and flawing out of that pipe and into the small stream that developed. That small stream would lead back into another small pond that fed back into the larger lake the fish originally came out of. And the cycle would continue, again and again. Those poor fish…if they weren’t being caught on the hook or some seminary-fishermen; they were being sucked into a drainage ditch that took them for a ride from one lake, to a stream, to another pond and into their original home.

Remember, I really never had much of a fishing history, but here was my chance to make up for lost time. The first time I came across this fish spectacle, I ran back into the school, fetched a net and caught a sizeable number of fish, some of which were worthy enough to make it to an outdoor grill that night. The smaller ones, I let loose in a much larger lake down the road from the seminary. I did this 4 or 5 times, until the early spring thaw had completed its cycle and the fish run stopped. I felt like I had done my part in sustaining and maintaining the delicate eco-system and…I had become a fishermen, well, sort of!

In today’s Gospel passage from St. Mark, we find Jesus in the act of calling forth several of his disciples. He just doesn’t call out to them, or challenges them…he goes to the heart of what they know best…fishing and says to them that He was going to teach them how to fish for people which would be far more complicated and costly than fishing in the sea with nets and hooks.

This fishing for people is not just for the sacramentally ordained in the church. For after all, we are all priestly people through our baptismal covenant with God and the Church.

This fishing for people is not just for the sacramentally ordained in the church. For after all, we are all priestly people through our baptismal covenant with God and the Church. No…this call to fish for people is a call for all of us in the church. Each and every one of us is responsible in building the church, this local community of St. Nicholas and the Episcopal Church, in general. It is our duty to help grow the Kingdom of God and we do so with our involvement and engagement within the church ministries and activities and we have plenty of opportunities here with which to get busy. The list for bread-bakers has been filled for the next several months…wonderful news and a testament as to how generous and giving a community of faith we are!

Fishing for people isn’t easy…but fortunately, it has much the same requirements as when we fish for, well, fish…

We must be patient…people, like fish, need time…when God catches us, God does
His work within us and we in turn, do God’s work for the Church.

We have to find the right place…fortunately; people are everywhere and so is God…there’s a good chance that when God calls out, some one is going to listen and come forward and that person or persons will do what they can for God and another and we are to be there with them to aid and assist them in their efforts.

We have to have the right equipment…we don’t need any pole or net…we need wide open hearts that are willing to embrace others, with no distinctions to be made, for we are all one in God’s eyes and it should be so in our eyes, too.

We have to have a love for this activity…if we don’t love what we do, then, well, we are wasting time and time is a most precious gift from God. If we love people and wish to have people live lives that are full and enriched, what better place is there then right here and what better source is there than a relationship with God the Almighty and His Son, Jesus the Redeemer?

We have to be willing to share…once we have been successful; we must have a willingness to share our bounty and our ‘catch’ with every one. God’s house has many mansions and rooms…our St. Nicholas has room for many others, for the many or for the few, who wish to come, worship and stay…this home becomes home to any and all.
Yes, this fishing for people is a pretty tricky sport. It takes determination, the patience

I spoke of earlier and a strong disposition and stubbornness for not giving up even when things don’t go as we planned or hoped. It takes being accommodating and willing to bend on occasion so as to willingly listen to others and be open and receptive to their point of view. When we fish for people, we are not doing so for human nourishment.

Rather, we are PROVIDING spiritual nourishment for them as well as ourselves. And this is food for the soul…the best sort of nourishment possible. It comes in the form of Jesus himself, the bread and wine shared on the altar and with God’s grace, become the body and blood of Christ, the nourishment that strengthens our soul and yes, our body, too.

I wonder if that little lake up there in Waterford, Wisconsin, that little lake that sits behind what once was a college seminary still has that fish overflow issue come each spring thaw. If so, I hope there is some one there to catch those fish, protect them and move them to a safer, larger body of water. Then again, I have my own fishing to do. In fact, we all have some fishing to do. The work is hard and demanding. The work of bringing people to God, to this safer port, this place of worship is not for the faint of heart. Yet, the potential and rewards are otherworldly, just as Jesus promised us.

3rd Sunday after Epiphany. B Cycle Jan. 22, 2012 Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 6-14; 1 Cor. 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20

manny@stnicholasepiscopal.org

Manny

Advent Sermon: Here He Comes Again, But Just When?

The Rev. Manny Borg, Episcopal priest and city boy, muses on Advent, the Gospel, and stopping to pat wild turkeys.

1st Sunday of Advent  B Cycle.  St. Nicholas.  Nov. 27, 2011

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 13:24-37

 

HERE HE COMES AGAIN…BUT JUST WHEN?

 

But, we can not focus solely on the end time… let’s face it, none of us wants to think about our final days while there is so much yet for us to do, to experience and celebrate. I’m waiting for the Lions to play in a Super Bowl game… Cub fans are waiting for a World Series appearance… and yes, these are minor things to some, and so they are in the grand scheme of things.

Boy scouts are told, as their motto states to, “be prepared.”  Apparently, history has  given us individuals who, in the spirit of the scouts, have taken this motto to spiritual heart, as we’ve had countless prophets who have been rather public and particularly vocal about their preparedness for Jesus’ second coming.  Problem has been that the times and dates of these soothsayers have provided have all been off…we’re still here, aren’t we?  Simple fact is they were flat out wrong with their predictions of the end of time as we human beings recognize and appreciate.  However, their bigger offense, the graver sin was that these doomsday officials tired to do some thing that even Jesus Himself could not nor would not do!  How can any mere mortal assume to know when this existence as we know it will come to a screeching halt, to a total and complete conclusion?  How dare they condescend to play God…yet that is what they tried and they failed miserably.  Again, we’re still here and Jesus is still, “in the wings,” awaiting His return to this, His “earthly performance,” upon this, His “earthly stage.”

This passage from St. Mark, the first of the four gospels in the New Testament, though only one of the many gospels relating the life and lessons of Christ, is a rather dark and prophetic passage.  Jesus clothes His message of His second coming in stories that His Jewish audience would certainly understand.  Before He returns, He says there will be wars and earthly violence.  The people listening to Jesus would remember the words from the prophets.  For example, the prophet Ezra wrote, “Quakening of places, tumult of peoples, scheming of nations, confusion of leaders, disquietude of princes.”  Jesus also said that there will be the darkening of the sun and moon and “the outgoing of the stars shall change.”  This eerie prophecy was also spoken of by the prophets Amos and Joel, “then shall the sun suddenly shine forth by night and the moon by day,”   Just imagine what the people listening to Jesus were thinking, hearing such things.  Lastly, Jesus makes mention of a time when all Jews were to be gathered back into Palestine, from the world wide.  Quoting ancient scripture again, He says, “Stand on the heights, Jerusalem and behold thy children, from east and the west, gathered together by the Lord.”

I suppose if today’s doomsday prophets were to be reading these and the many other Old Testament passage that Jesus used, it would be almost understandable why they’d be so adamant about the end time being so near…I may well have to cut them some slack after all.  What with all that goes on in our world today…wars and violence dot our planet’s surface; the heavens display celestial signs that could well be interpreted as more than mere lunar or solar eclipses and the Jewish people from the world over continue their return to Jerusalem…Palestine…to rebuild their Kingdom…it’s kind of easy to sympathize.  Still, they were out of bounds and off base to be god-like and predict such a thing as when God will return.

This season of Advent is about preparation, namely, a preparation of Jesus’ coming into the world.  However, the reality is, this is a season for our re-preparation…getting ourselves prepared for Jesus’ second coming.  We don’t always associate death and Advent.  Yet, Mark’s Gospel used in Advent is primarily a preparation for Jesus’ second coming at the end of the world.  Certainly, not quite the theme to get us into a joyful and jolly holiday mood is it?  Doesn’t make me want to sing carols and decorate my home  with festive colors and holiday splendor.  Yet, my sisters and brothers, we are encouraged and we are warned, repeatedly, that we are to be ready when the “master of the house” returns.  Jesus uses that imagery, this theme…the slaves are put in charge of the house while the master is away and are told to be alert and on watch, for they know not when the master will return.  Keep awake!  Keep alert!!  Jesus tells us be ready and be prepared.

Just what is it we are preparing for?  Jesus’ return will usher in a new creation, a new world.  Just as Jesus’ first entrance into our world changed the course of human history, so will His second coming, in an even far greater fashion…the end of what we know and the creation of God’s Kingdom come to full fruition and glory.

But, we can not focus solely on the end time… let’s face it, none of us wants to think about our final days while there is so much yet for us to do, to experience and celebrate.  I’m waiting for the Lions to play in a Super Bowl game… Cub fans are waiting for a World Series appearance… and yes, these are minor things to some, and so they are, in the grand scheme of things.  WE ARE TO BE PREPARED FOR LIFE AS WELL AS OUR EARTHLY DEMISE!!!  We are to be prepared to live when we wake up in the morning.  We are to be alert to all the possibilities of life, really excited about them.  We are to begin our morning and our day with the feeling of, “I wonder what the Spirit of God will pop up today in my life?”  Am I missing any of the manifestations of God in those things which seem so ordinary to me?  Am I open to the fact that God may be tapping me on the shoulder right now, pointing to a special mission for me?

A couple weeks ago, I was on a road I had never traveled before…it was an old, winding road, with lots of little ‘one block towns’ here and there.  I wondered if whether or not I had ventured into Wisconsin or Iowa…the area was so wide open and rural and so beautiful.  In between these little villages and hamlets, large open fields, filled with the autumn harvest ready to be brought into the barn.  I stopped along the road and walked out into one of these fields.  It was raining, kind of hard, too, but I didn’t care.  It was magical… I saw a large rafter of turkeys, (that’s the fancy title for a gang of turkeys),walking and eating their way through the fields.  I was so close I could almost reach out and pat one on the head.  It was amazing… God’s handiwork, right there for me to take in.

Admittedly, I am a city boy, yet these scenes are truly Divine Reflections…God is so very, very present, alive and real.  I could have walked all day, in the rain, in those fields, with the wind whirling all about.  God was tapping me on the shoulder and saying to me…Enjoy my creation…slow down and savor my bounty!

God’s reflection is everywhere; in people, events, material things.  Sometimes, we all have “eyes that may not see, the ears that hear not” The spirit of Advent encourages us to look wide-open at all creation, at all human activities so that we do not miss the Divine Reflection present and alive all around us!

Be alert, stay awake; be ready for the end.  But be equally alert and ready for those little Divine beginnings that are all around us every day.  Look around our church and see how God’s Divine Reflection can be seen and recognized in God’s blessed children…there is a beauty, a blessed joy and true love that shines in us all.  But, we must see to those situations that are strained and injured and make every effort to repair that which is broken.  We must fix and strengthen that which is broken.  We must resolve those differences we have with family members, friends, workmates and make sure we right what is wrong.  Let’s keep one another alert and awake…none of us wants to be unprepared and after all…that’s what family does for one another, we look after our loved ones, right?

manny@stnicholasepiscopal.org

Manny

Sources:             “The Gospel of Mark,” William Barclay, 1975
“Sunday Morning Insights,” Eugene F. Lauer, 1984