Sermons

Stir it up

12/15/2019

Is Anybody Listening?

12/15/2013

Cloth of Gold

12/12/2010

In His Own Way

12/16/2007

Matthew 11:2-11

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. 9 Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.’ 11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

Stir it up

Sermon given on 15 December 2019 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

St. John the Baptist visited in Prison by Master Astorga (Spanish XVIII, 1512-1530)

Stir up your power and pardon our offenses.[1]

There are a lot of things being stirred up in some of the most surprisingly watched TV shows, found mainly on The Food Network. Seems like some of these top shows are averaging five million viewers an episode.

The top-rated food network shows are:[2]

  1. Iron Chef

  2. Master Chef

  3. Guy’s Grocery Games

  4. Beat Bobby Flay

  5. Chopped

  6. The Great Food Truck Race

  7. Diner, Drive-ins, and Dives

  8. Ace of Cakes

  9. Cake Wars

  10. And any type of Baking Championship.

 

As much as we think we watch our favorites because of how delicious the food might be, let’s not kid ourselves. Most of the time we like to watch to see how the drama is stirred up around the greatest goofs, and mishaps around cooking offenses by these competitive chefs. Let’s go to season 2, of Master Chef, where contestant Erryn Cobb was given $500 worth of truffles to make a culinary masterpiece. Instead, he gave the judges a collapsed, burned steak and rubbery vegetables. At the final judgement of the meals, judge Ramsay didn’t even dismiss Erryn by name. Instead, he basically suggested that the worst contestant must know who he is and that he should see himself out. Erryn ultimately explained that he had been having a bad day.

 

If this type of criticism awaits when we arrive at the gates of heaven, we may all be in a lot of trouble as we are certainly not perfect and most of us would admit to having a bad day most days of our life. It brings to mind by seeing all of this food glory, that man’s best friend is not a dog. Instead it is a perfect meal that satisfies perfectly. It must use choice ingredients.

They need to be prepared just so, in order with nothing left out. That would be a huge offense.

They must be stirred just right.

The most important ingredient you ask? Patience. In the epistle by James, he says, “Be patient therefore, beloved until the [meal is served]”[3] It must go in the oven at the right time and be removed the same. But for the meal to be complete, to be perfect, it is the presentation, the offering which is most important. Without the offering and description of the ingredients, one cannot fully appreciate the meal.

Between 1965 and 2014, Carl Schauk, professor at Concordia University in Chicago, set a lovely offertory piece to the collect in which we enjoy today. “Stir up your power O Lord and come. Protect us by your strength and save us from the threatening dangers of our sins for you reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”[4]

There simple offertory gives texture to the meal being prepared in this refreshing, third Sunday in Advent. Something good is being stirred up by the prophet as he presents the Savior of the world. You can see this in the exchange between John the Baptist, preparing the dish of salvation for inspection by the Master Chef, Jesus Christ. Held captive, over on the side in this prison, John awaits the evaluation. John and his audience await validation from the chef, by asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” It is not that John doubts the prophecy of the Messiah, found in Christ; it is rather that he wants to hear the words return back to him. He is not simply a man who people went out to see in the wilderness as a nervous chef who quivers under the pressure. Jesus reaffirms John by listing the main ingredients to which are used for the offering of the grand dish called “Salvation.” What has been stirred into the bowl and what is being presented, Jesus affirms:

  1. “The blind received their sight,

  2. the lame walk,

  3. the lepers are cleansed,

  4. the deaf hear,

  5. the dead are raised

  6. and the poor have good news brought to them.”[5]

 

These are the exact words found in the Book of Isaiah where long ago the recipe became known.[6] Jesus is demonstrating his mastery of the creation, leaving nothing out, presenting it at precisely the right moment, giving it the proper description. This is not new to us, as we come to Church, faithfully taking our place before the altar where the meal is clearly observed. The place where we prepare it with the same ingredients from the Collect, the Word of God, the confession, creed and prayers, and finally the Blessed Sacrament. It is the complete and perfect dish that God calls us to dine, but it is not without noticing our offenses. We offer our blindness, our lameness, our illness, deafness, death and poverty. Jesus takes all these ingredients, leaving none of them out, in order to create something truly artistic and incredible. It is not simply food to eat; it is an experience to keep.

Let us join one another by stirring up something with power while asking our Lord to pardon our offenses.

 

 

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, Advent III, Year A (Adapted by The Rev. Jon Roberts)

[2] Sidereel.com 2019.

[3] James 5:7-10 (Adapted by The Rev. Jon Roberts)

[4] Carl Schalk, “Stir up your power, O Lord” MSM-50-0205. 1971.

[5] Matthew 12:2-11

[6] Isaiah 35:1-10

Is Anybody Listening?

Sermon given on 15 December 2013 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Calvary Episcopal Church, Indian Rocks Beach, Florida

 

St. John the Baptist in Prison by Juan Fernandez de Navarrete 1565-1570

Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?[1]

 

This is Gaudete Sunday, meaning we are to “rejoice” for what is heard. The third Sunday is about finding relief when we hear the most important response from our Lord to the prophet John the Baptist. He is the one! There is no need to wait for another. You heard it. You were listening, weren’t you?

How often did John get up on the rock by the Jordan and preach the same sermon? We preachers really have only one sermon, one message to deliver. We can present it in many different ways, but when pointing people to the Messiah, to Jesus Christ we have only one sermon. There are times, though, when we wonder if anybody is listening. After the service people may be kind enough to come up and shake the preacher’s hand, saying something like, “That was a lovely sermon” or “Thank you for the message.”

Today the message is the same as last week’s, that is, Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who was sent here to save your soul and mine from a life imprisoned, an eternity in hell. That second part seems pretty harsh. It’s not there to get your attention. It may not give you the feeling to rejoice.

General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, once told his students, "If I had my choice, I wouldn’t send you to school, I’d send you to Hell for five minutes, and you’d come back real soul winners."[2] John the Baptist tasted a bit of hell on earth during his imprisonment and later by his ugly death, but he would truly be credited by our Lord as one of the finest winner of souls. He, like so many others before and after, like the prophet Isaiah, like the disciple James, delivered the message of the one to come, over and over again, sometimes, perhaps, wondering if anyone was listening. It was an exercise of sacrifice through loss and humility through patience.

In our American history, there was another man who delivered a strong message that we must all come together and work together if we are to overcome the evils of this world. He was President Franklin D. Roosevelt and he delivered this message in many different ways, but it was the same message. He wondered if anybody was listening. He got tired of smiling that big smile and saying the usual things at all those White House receptions. So, one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came up to him with extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said; "I murdered my grandmother this morning." People would automatically respond with comments such as "How lovely!" or "Just continue with your great work!" Nobody listened to what he was saying, except one foreign diplomat. When the president said, "I murdered my grandmother this morning," the diplomat responded softly, "I’m sure she had it coming to her."[3]

We all deserve what is coming to us. We all deserve death. We all deserve to have our life ended and that’s that. But the irony of Christmas and our preparations thereof, is to listen to the message, one that says our death will be overcome by the birth. Did John the Baptist doubt Jesus was the one foretold, that he was the Messiah he had been prophesizing?

The early Church Fathers, St. Gregory the Great, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom say, “No.”[4] They delivered the same message that John not only knew Jesus was Lord, but that he sent those to Jesus from his prison cell,  that they may ask the question and know for themselves as well. John the Baptist, you may recall, sent Jesus his first disciples. Andrew was the very first.

When we come to the manger scene in ten days, we will ask the same question, “Are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” You will not be like a “reed shaken by the wind” because you are truly listening to God’s message.[5] Matthew, the evangelist points ahead, quoting the comfortable words given by Christ, intended to give us relief and hope. They are like the reeds that blow back and forth in the wind. Here them as they say,

“This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” [6]

“For God so loved the world that he sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”[7]

“Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God.”[8]

“Come unto me all ye that travail and are heavy-laden and I shall give you rest.”[9]

This is God’s message sent to those who will be prophets.

Is anybody listening?

 

[1] Matthew 11:2-11

[2] From a sermon by Gerald Flury, What Made John the Baptist Great? 12/12/2009.

[3] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 318.

 

[4] http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2010/12/did-john-baptist-doubt-that-jesus-is.html

[5] Matthew 11:17

[6] Matthew 17:5

[7] John 3:16

[8] Ephesians 5:2

[9] Matthew 11:28-29

Cloth of Gold

Sermon given on 12 December 2010 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Venice, Florida

 

Crocus angustifolius (Cloth of gold) from Curtis's Botanical Magazine, 1803

Advent is a wilderness;

A time for the blind and the blurry,

whose souls become cleansed,

from all their stress and worry;

 

Advent is a desert;

A place for the dead and the old,

whose reeds are shaken by the wind,

from touching God's Cloth of Gold.[1]

In our Gospel today, did you hear? The blind will see, the lame will walk, the leper will be healed and the dead will rise up. These are God's signs of his miraculous hand and they are ongoing today. Miracles come in many different shapes and sizes. Whether they are big or small, they are all "great." It's easy to take miracles for granted.

Once upon a time there was a man named Edward and he too discovered that there was a miracle in his life, one that he considered small, for granted. On the outside everything looked good. He was in his midlife career. His marriage was intact. His children had grown and were now out on their own. But if you took a closer look you would find a different story.

Edward went right out of college into a good paying job with a good solid company. He worked there for ten years when the company decided they would be more profitable by exporting their jobs out of the country, to places like Mexico, the Phillipines and China. His boss came to him one day and told him that his services were no longer needed and he was fired. Heartbroken and confused he went and worked just about every job he could. He worked in hotels and hospitals. He worked in restaurants and even slung a hammer to make a living for his family. Truth be told, he was miserable and depressed.

His wife warned him, that if he didn't get his act together she would divorce him. The children were going their separate ways and falling away from their faith and going to church. Edward felt there wasn't much to cling onto anymore. When he felt times couldn't get worse, the bank foreclosed on the house. They had a few yard sales to make some extra money and jettisoned many of their things to lighten their load before moving into an apartment for a while. During his packing, he went up into the attic. In the back he discovered a box and he blew the dust off the top. He carefully opened it and was amazed by what he found. Opening the delicate paper inside, he revealed a delicately folded, cloth of gold. It had seen better days. It was now a little tattered on the edges and a few holes peeked out. It was made of silk and he rubbed it between his fingers. His thumb, he nudged up from an old habit to touch his lips. It was his baby blanket. With it in hand, he knew what he had to do. He marched downstairs, retrieved his cell phone and dialed up his mother. "Ma", he said, "we need to talk." "OK", she responded, "give me about an hour and we can meet at that coffee shop you like so much."

He called his mother because he knew she would understand more than anybody else what he was going through. She was the quintessential worrier of all time. When he was a teen and stayed out late, she didn't worry about where he was or what kept him from his commitment. Her mind raced ahead and began to fathom the worst. She wondered whether or not to have his funeral in Philadelphia, where they had the family plot, or in Detroit, where he grew up. He dumped his entire struggle on the only person he knew could handle it. When it was all over, he looked at her and said, "Well?" "Aren't you worried for me", he asked further. Seeing that she looked reasonably calm, she said, "Son you can't worry about your worries." He always had an appreciation for his mother's faith, but it puzzled him that a woman who believed so deeply could still worry so much. Didn't her faith protect her from such anguish? She looked at him and answered, "Heaven's no!" "I believe God worries, too, about us, even with us.

Jesus worried. He wept. When I worry, I feel closer to Him, like we're working on the problem together. Isn't that why you're here, calling me to share the things that blind you and make you blurry?" He thought about this awhile and then took the box out from under the table. He pulled out the blanket, the cloth of gold and showed it to her. "You still kept it", she said; "What a miracle."[2] Some things are worth keeping and the miracle of all is that we keep our faith. Our faith is sometimes taken for granted. Out in the wilderness there is another miracle. In the late winter and into early spring everything is barren but once and awhile there is a reminder of life. It's in the form of a flower, the Crocus. One in particular can be found in the driest soil and it is called "The Cloth of Gold." When one sees it, they are reminded that life returns. On the banks of the Nile in Egypt there are reeds that grow down by the water. The wind shakes them to and fro. They are recipients of the waters that can flow out of the desert. It is here where the Egyptians believed heaven existed. From the wilderness where the Cloth of Gold lives to the current of the Nile where the reeds are shaken there is an important connection.

On a similar river, that runs through a similar desert, John the Baptist is making this connection as well. He tells the people of the Messiah, the one who is to visit us in the winter of our soul. He tells the people of the Holy Spirit the one who can flow out of the desert. Does John do so with great conviction or do we find him searching his own attic? Was it not interesting that the other week John is saying, "Here is the Messiah. Prepare the Way for Jesus", but this week we hear doubt in his message? He sends a messenger to Jesus, "Are you sure you're the one?"[3] Is there doubt in his voice? Who can blame him? His neck is literally on the line and all he has is his faith. But faith needs assurance. It's the one thing we hold onto when the wind becomes violent and blows us like the reeds on the river from one place to the other.

Every one of you are God's creation. He has sent his Son to bring you hope in your desert. He has sent his Holy Spirit to spring up in you and take you to a heavenly place. For now, prepare the way. Touch what is familiar and be drawn to the manger. For we are the blind, we are the lame and the dumb. We are the ones who were dead and raised up. Hold on to your faith. That in itself is a miracle. Don't take it for granted.

 

Advent is a wilderness;

A time for the blind and the blurry,

whose souls become cleansed,

from all their stress and worry;

Advent is a desert;

A place for the dead and the old,

whose reeds are shaken by the wind,

from touching God's Cloth of Gold.

 

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts

[2] Edward Grinnan, Daily Guideposts 2007, p.130.

[3] Matthew 11:2-11

In His Own Way

Sermon given on 16 December 2007 by The Rev. Jon Roberts

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Venice, Florida

 

St. John the Baptist in Prison Visited by Salome, Il Guercino Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666)

God sets us free and heals us, in His own way.

On this third Sunday in Advent, the midway point before Christmas, we hear the words of the Psalmist, “The Lord comes to set the prisoners free. He opens the eyes of the blind; He lifts up those who are bowed down;” What better prophet could God give us this day, “To proclaim this message of healing,” than from the lips of John the Baptist? It has been said that a prophet is one who has the wisdom of God in their minds, the truth of God on their lips, and the love of God in their hearts. John had all three. He had all three at the beginning of his ministry and at the end. Jesus came to him at the Jordan. Humbly, John declared he wasn’t worthy to carry his sandals but Jesus told him to go to the muddy banks and to baptize him. There, John held our Lord and Savior in his arms and lowered him into the water and raised him up. Then he heard God’s voice, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased”; and he saw the Spirit of God descend upon his Son like a dove.

John was in God’s presence holding the most precious gift, just like Mary would on the day he was born in Bethlehem. We think there couldn’t possibly be a better view of God’s glory than that experienced by John with Jesus as an adult, and Mary with Jesus as a baby but sometimes God can be right there in front of us and we still can’t see him as he is. Instead we want to see him, or to show him to others as we see fit. John charged the hundreds and thousands who swarmed into the desert to “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” What happens when God doesn’t show up as we expect him too? What happens when we live a life waiting for something to take place but it never happens? There is let-down and disappointment.

John the Baptist, the last of the prophets who boldly proclaimed the future coming of the Messiah went through this. He became a prisoner to disappointment. To understand John we have to go back in time; back to the time when the Jews were exiled from their native land, 587 years before Christ was born in the manger. Jerusalem had fallen into the hands of the Babylonians. The walls were toppled, the houses and streets were ablaze. The streams in the desert were made from the tears of the many families separated from one another. There was a highway of despair that led to captivity.

John knew the story recorded in Isaiah, the same one we heard today.[1] He heard that the same highway in the desert would one day be glad when a mighty God would come with vengeance, and make up for any wrongdoing. The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the lame will walk. One day this would all happen, but John grew tired of hearing about it, and decided to do something about it. He spoke against the rulers of this world condemning them of their actions, and this is what got him into political trouble. It was Herod who would see that John spoke out no longer.

Condemning Herod of his adulterous marriage, John was arrested and sent to an underground prison. Used to living in the open fields, feeling the warm breeze against his face, and the light of the sun in his eyes, John was now confined to a cold and dark cell. It is here that we see him face to face with the present world; He no longer proclaimed the future based on the past. He lived in a dark present and was held captive. How could he be strong and fear not, when the God he had seen at the banks of the Jordan failed to come and rescue his people? How could he let his servant who faithfully delivered the message be punished like this?

Like the reed shaken by the wind, John, perhaps, began to waver. What else would lead him to send a message to Jesus that asks, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another.” Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear.” This was God talking through Jesus his Son. In his way, God shares with John that his kingdom is at hand and will have no end.[2]

The language God uses goes to a deeper level of our being. John didn’t need a Hallmark card. What he needed in his state of captivity was assurance that Jesus was the Messiah, and God delivered. God shined light in his darkness by his words of eternal wisdom. His truth rings out in the hearts of those feeling the bouts of disappointment and depression; who feel they have God locked down in their understanding, leaving no room for his great glory.

John expected God to be a King to come and set right what was wrong. Saddened he must have been in that cell, but in history he is not alone. For thousands who died before him and thousands who will die beyond, many experience the same type of loneliness that comes when distance from the Lord is felt. When salvation is expected to occur on our terms, relief cannot come soon enough. God’s message, is consistent and eternal. Not only will he come again, but he came before all creation as the Word, the Logos that gave life. He is the alpha and the omega; the beginning and the end. He healed those who were gripped in the exile long ago, in his own way. He healed those who came to hear John speak in the wilderness, in his own way. He continues to heal those who come to Church each Sunday, in his own way.

We prophesy the same each time when we say the Nicene Creed. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. Again and again he comes in glory. We may not see him but he is there. God is in the continuous work of healing. God is the fountain of life; the true stream in the desert that waters the tide of all humanity.

Advent is a time where we make our preparations for the birth of Jesus, and it is God’s light; his healing power that spans the past, the present and the future. When we keep the wisdom of God in our minds, the truth of God on our lips, and the Love God in our hearts, we are healed within our souls. We move out of the darkness of our infirmities; out of those things that take us captive. Like the prisoner, who receives the word of Christ, God sets us free and he heals us, in His own way.

 

[1] Isaiah 35:1-10

[2] Matthew 11:2-11

© 2012. Black & White Chi Rho Ministries 

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