Feb. 18, 2018, noon
Text – Mark 1:12
February 18, 2018
“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” [Mark 1:12]
The spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness. It is odd that I never focused as much on this phrase in the gospel assigned for the first Sunday in Lent. This is the same spirit that was present at Jesus’ baptism, the same spirit that carried God’s seal of approval. The baptism of Jesus, being marked as God’s own, just as we are marked as God’s own in baptism, was part of being ready to deal with all the not so nice stuff the world was going to throw at Jesus.
Why is the wilderness experience necessary? Was Jesus’ being in the desert part of some rite of passage? Perhaps. The intent of the experience is not stated directly. Maybe because Mark thought future audiences would have to ponder what a wilderness experience would be for them.
I was beginning my sermon prep Saturday evening, and a funny thing occurred to me. I was thinking I did not have one of those “wilderness” tales to tell to illustrate what Jesus must have gone through in the wilderness. I did not get stuck in the desert with only a bottle of water and no foresight to check the day’s weather to see that it might be 120 degrees in the shade and maybe not take that desert hike in the first place! The closest I may have gotten to a wilderness experience was in my college days driving home for the Christmas break through the Adirondacks in a Volkswagen Beetle with no heat on the coldest and snowiest night on record. I remember there were four of us and we were the only car on the road – sensible people closed their restaurants and gas stations and stayed inside. I remember scraping ice off the windshield – inside the car! All I could think of was a warm bed and food. That was the closest I ever got to a wilderness experience.
But I did have a wilderness experience. I realized this while reading Mark’s account of Jesus in the wilderness. My wilderness was spent in the “wilderness” of Rensselaer, NY after graduating from seminary in 2008. During this time, I was starting over a process for ordination in the Episcopal Church in the diocese of Vermont. From June 2008 until January 18, 2014 was a period of uncertainty. Most of my seminary cohorts were ordained shortly after graduation and were working in parishes. I had no guarantee that ordination would happen, and I simply had to trust the discernment process one day at a time. Two years into my wilderness experience I had become comfortable with the waiting and was viewing the time as preparation for the demanding work of ministry. To become what God intended me to be I had to go to a place I had never been.
It is only today that I can look at the period between seminary and ordained ministry as a wilderness experience. If I had my “druthers,” I would have preferred to skip this period of spiritual struggle. We don’t volunteer to travel in the wilderness places of this world because they are scary. We as a people want things easy. We want our faith but without the generous helping of trial, temptation, and struggle (1). Oftentimes in our faith journey, we don’t get the luxury of picking and choosing spiritual challenges. Sometimes they are of our making other times these challenges pick us.
It is important to state that God is not the source of struggle or wants to teach us some divine moral lesson. But when the times of struggle find us, and they will, we need to be open to how God is still present for us and in the experience of wilderness.
When we find ourselves in a wilderness experience, there might be some questions to ask: “Even though I did not wish for this, how might God be at work through this difficult period? What can I get out of this? How might God use me to help someone else? (2) These questions arise so that we might pay attention to the presence of God amid trying times when we don’t have enough strength and courage to meet the challenge. Though not stated in today’s gospel, we need to know that the Spirit that drove Jesus into the wilderness did not abandon him but was with Jesus and brought Jesus out of the wilderness. The same is true for us.
So here we are at the border of the wilderness of Lent. We are not alone in our struggles, God is with us and will carry us through them. The spirit of God just might want us to take a trip into the wilderness to discover something about ourselves. God might want us to be in that wilderness because at some point you or I will be the one of the angels that attends to someone suffering a wilderness experience. “God is in the business of taking that which seems only to cause death and wring from it resurrection life.” (3)
Your homework for the first week in Lent is to think of those wilderness experiences you have gone through. Ask yourself how God was with you and brought you out of that wilderness experience. Then share that story with someone.
1 - David J. Lose, “Wilderness Faith” from the blog …in the Meantime, www.davidlose.net
2 - Ibid.
3 - Ibid.
Feb. 15, 2018, 3 p.m.
One tradition many of us grew up with is the custom of “giving up” something for Lent – like chocolate or alcohol or sweets. This modified fast is rooted in the very early Jewish and Christian practice of fasting on certain days of the week and on holy days throughout the year. In some places, especially in the desert and medieval monastic communities, Lent was indeed kept as a forty-day fast, though acceptance of the practice in parishes seems not to have been widespread even then. In the Middle Ages the keeping of a Lenten fast became associated with Jesus’ forty-day fast in the desert following his baptism. Today the church encourages us to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent, and many find this way of expressing their Lenten devotion through their bodies very helpful for cleansing the mind and focusing the soul.
Another approach to keeping Lent is to “take on” a spiritual discipline or practice. Some find it is not what they eat or drink that is separating them from God, but their lack of time spent in prayer or study, their neglect of worship, their self-centeredness in relationships, or the ways they spend their time or money or energy. For them, making a commitment to spend a half-hour a day in prayer, or to attend a Bible study once a week, or to devote an evening or weekend to doing something special for a friend or spouse, or to take a meal to a homeless shelter can be a useful Lenten discipline. Lent can be a time for clearing away those things that stand in the way to a vibrant spiritual life, as well as a time for adding practices of prayer, study, and outreach that lead to God.
Feb. 4, 2018, 10 a.m.
A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Text – Mark 1:29-39
February 4, 2018
This is a small bit of gospel that contains much for our minds and hearts to “read, mark, and inwardly digest.” I find that I can relate to the predicament of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She is sick with a fever. In fact, so sick that she has let go the duties of running a household and receiving visitors. The sickness has removed her from the normalcy of life. Sickness has removed her from her purpose.
In my work as a hospital chaplain, I have seen how illness that requires hospitalization can separate a person from their life of normalcy. The more serious the illness, the more the patient would suffer from the separation from the run of the mill activities of daily living that you or I take for granted. Here is a story told to me by a fellow chaplain.
She went to visit a woman who was suffering from a debilitating illness that the doctors were having a challenging time diagnosing and treating. One thing that was certain – life would not be the same for this woman when she recovered. My friend delved into her joys and sorrows to become familiar with the place where this patient was. It was discovered that this woman was a phenomenal cook and hostess. The patient lamented that she would not be able to host the kinds of dinner parties for which she had become popular in her community. As she was telling the chaplain her story, the patient reached over to a tin that was on the nightstand near her bed. She took the lid off the tin and offered the chaplain a piece of candy. My friend, who never misses an opening remarked, “You’re still a hostess. Your simple offering of a piece of candy is one small way in which you are showing me that you still can perform acts of hospitality. You may not be able to host the dinner parties you used to, you may not be able to cook gourmet meal, but you can still be the consummate host in a different way.”
Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from a fever. In the time of Jesus, where there were no modern antibiotics, let alone the medical diagnostic tools we have, a fever was significant. A fever might be something serious that could lead to death. The cause of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law’s illness is not mentioned. We know that whatever it was, it kept her from being about the task of being able to run a household and to receive guests. Her life’s work at that time and in that place, was narrowly outlined for her, and a fever was keeping her from what was a normal life in her place and time.
One must understand the context for this gospel story. Sarah Henrich, a professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary offers this view: illness bore a heavy social cost: not only would a person be unable to earn a living or contribute to the well-being of a household, but their ability to take their proper role in the community, to be honored as a valuable member of a household, town, or village, would be taken from them. Peter's mother-in-law is an excellent case in point. It was her calling and her honor to show hospitality to guests in her home. Cut off from that role by an illness cut her off from doing that which integrated her into her world. Who was she when no longer was able to engage in her calling? Jesus restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her from that fever. It is very important to see that healing is about restoration to community and restoration of a calling, a role as well as restoration to life. For life without community and calling is bleak indeed.*
Notice what the text says Jesus does upon learning of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law’s illness. “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” Jesus, the Word made flesh entered into an intimate interaction with this unnamed woman and lifts her up. God sent his son to earth to be near us. This lifting up should remind us of the end of Jesus’ earthly story with us when after he is crucified he is resurrected and raised up.
The fever leaves this woman, and she is able to return to her role in the world by serving her guests. Some of us might cringe at the notion of a woman who was on her sickbed getting up to take care of her guests, able-bodied men, without a period of recuperation. That’s because we are viewing her from our modern feminist perspective and that is too easy an interpretation of what is going in this portion of Mark’s gospel. Jesus has restored this person to her vocation. Jesus has freed her to be who she was meant to be.
Word gets out that this healing has taken place. And after sundown when restrictions related to the sabbath were lifted, people brought the sick and those possessed by demons to Jesus. Mark exaggerates a bit when he states, “And the whole city was gathered around the door.” Jesus healed them. Jesus heals, frees, and restores people to their place in the world and to their place with God. Jesus even tells the demons who might give away his identity to be quiet. This is known as the Messianic secret and is a theme in Mark’s gospel.
So, what does this gospel mean for us today? Jesus freed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law from illness. Jesus frees the crowds from physical illness and demonic possession.
How is this gospel relevant to my life? Jesus has come to set us free from whatever ails us. It could be sin identified as “fear, loss, despair, insecurity, addiction, racism, sexism, or any other -ism you can think imagine or experience.** Jesus comes to free us from all that. Jesus comes to free us from the things that limit our God-given potential. We are freed by Jesus for living into our God-given potential. We are freed by Jesus for a life that has purpose, meaning and good works.***
Your homework this week is to think about what you have been freed from and what you have been freed for. Then share that story with someone else.
In ending I leave you with a blessing written by Jan Richardson.****
That each ill
be released from you
and each sorrow
be shed from you
and each pain
be made comfort for you
and each wound
be made whole in you
that joy will
arise in you
and strength will
take hold of you
and hope will
take wing for you
and all be made well
* Sarah Henrich, Commentary on Mark 1:29-39, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1200
** David J. Lose, Epiphany 5B: Freedom For, http://www.davidlose.net/2015/02/epiphany-5-b-freedom-for/
**** Jan Richardson, And All Be Made Well: A Healing Blessing, http://paintedprayerbook.com/2015/02/01/epiphany-5-that-all-be-made-well/
Jan. 21, 2018, 10 a.m.
A Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany
Text – Mark 1: 14-20
On a trip to Cape Coast, Ghana I remember seeing from the windows of my hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean fishermen. These were fishermen who used boats that were cut and shaped from large tree trunks. These were not the type of fishing boats you would see near Cape Cod on the Maine coast in this country. I marveled that these primitive looking boats were able to ply the rough ocean waters with nothing more than an outboard motor. I observed these African fishermen go about tasks. Their life is simple. There were nets to mend and boats to be cleaned. I am sure this scene was a familiar sight for Jesus.
Last week we had Jesus’ direction to “come and see.” In today’s gospel, the idea of invitation is carried further to include simple fisher folk Simon and his brother Andrew, James, the son of Zebedee and John. From these rough, fishy smelling, hardworking people Jesus extends the invitation to follow him so that they might fish for people instead of fish. This, I think is the real beginning of the Gospel of Mark. I think it is the beginning of how Jesus comes to find us in the messiness of our day to day lives.
Jesus calls his rag-tag followers from fisherfolk. Notice where Jesus is when he calls together his followers. Jesus is not getting his disciples from the big city of Jerusalem. Jesus is gathering his followers from the margins of society and not from the centers of influence. He could have but didn’t. This observation is important for us because we all live in “Galilee.” A modern comparison would be any small village, like Coxsackie, where I’m from in upstate New York to the bright lights and hustle and bustle of midtown Manhattan. They are two different worlds. Most of us are from Galilee, doing small, everyday things to get by. “It is in the small out of the way parts of the world, the Galilees of this world, from the simple fisherfolk, or the small villages that can be found anywhere in the world, that Jesus, the Savior comes to meet us, to call us to follow him."1
Jesus uses the occupation of the fishermen to indicate what he wants them to do as his followers – to become fishers of people. Jesus’s invitation was a good hook. Maybe had they been construction workers, Jesus would have invited them to become builders of human hearts. Maybe had they been real estate agents, he would have invited them to become sellers of kingdom turf. These are strong metaphors that Jesus uses to reel in his followers. What metaphor might be used for you to follow Jesus?
And there is another question: What is Jesus offering us? Certainly, the fisher folk who made their living from the sea didn’t see Jesus as some financial guru who was going to help them make lots of money. I would like to think that in Jesus’ invitation to become “people fishers” their hearts were touched. Maybe it was the promise of a kingdom come near; maybe it was the promise of good news. The disciples wouldn’t know unless first, they had answered the invitation and secondly, they followed Jesus.
I can’t help thinking of what our President said some time ago about immigrants who come from less desirable countries. These less than desirable countries that coincidentally happen not to be European are countries that can be seen in the President’s thinking as marginal places not worth the time of day. The President is calling for people to be builders of capitalism rather than builders of human hearts, to sell the land beneath our feet for profit rather than gathering people together to create something sacred.
We are in a time of invitation. No committee, no church growth package or scheme has ever existed apart from the simple one to one relationship that is the opening to invite someone to come experience a community of faith. Notice I say community of faith rather than church. For too long, the church was thought to be the building rather than the church being the people. Shifting from becoming fishers of people to maintenance people for the institutional church has caused many to find their spiritual sustenance elsewhere. People are looking for something different. Many are “too easily satisfied just to make do with what is quick and easy and cheap. People settle for sex or liquor or a rock band or the distractions provided by entertainment. They look to these things to save them, or at least help them move forward in a grim world.”2
We as the body of Christ in the world are called to be “people fishers,” to invite people to another way of being in relationship with each other, the world, and with God. We need to be like Jesus walking on the shores of the Sea of Galilee finding people who are willing to exchange a temporary way of living that feeds the physical body for one that is everlasting, and that feeds the soul.
I think of the lines of a modern hymn by Marty Haugen – “Gather Us In” as what Jesus is calling all of humanity to do from his time to ours. I wish these words had been in the heart of our President before he made the mistake of uttering words that will have the wrong kind of influence on the world.
“Gather us in the lost and forsaken; gather us in the lame and the blind; call us now, and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name.
Gather us in the rich and the haughty; gather us in, the proud and the strong; give us a heart so meek and so lowly; give us the courage to enter the song.
Gather us in and hold us forever; gather us in and make us your own; gather us in, all peoples together; fire of love in our flesh and our bone."3
1 Scott Hoezee, Epiphany 3B, Center for Excellence in Preaching, www.cep.calvinseminary.edu
3 Marty Haugen, “Here in This Place Gather Us In”
Jan. 14, 2018, 10 a.m.
A Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany B
Text – John 1:43-51
Two thousand years ago Jesus issued an invitation. “Come and See.” Down through the centuries the invitation is still the same, “Come and See.” What would it be like to hear these words spoken to you let’s say, as you were standing in the line at Wegmans? I can honestly share with you that I might be taken aback. I might remember those childhood warnings not to speak to strangers, to not accept rides from strangers, and definitely not to take candy from strangers. Or would these words pique your curiosity, make you feel a bit of excitement? Now suppose the context were different, say that of the workplace. “Come and see this new movie with me,” or “Come and see this new art exhibit.” Maybe you might feel grateful that someone thought enough to ask you to join them.
“Come and see” are simple words of warmth, assurance and yes, an invitation to be a part of a group. Such was the case when I was beginning my discernment for ordination. A previous Commission on Ministry in another diocese thought I might be called to the religious life and that I should explore one of the monastic communities to be found in the Episcopal Church.
The Society of St. John the Evangelist located in Cambridge Massachusetts and the oldest monastic community in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition was holding a “Come and See” weekend. It was a full immersion into the life of the monks of this order. The invitation included following a monastic schedule of prayer, work, and recreation. The Prayer part consisted of taking part in the Monastic Hours of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Eucharist, Evening Prayer and Compline. One hour in the morning was spent in one’s room doing Lectio Divina on scripture. Labor consisted raking leaves in the cloister and polishing the woodwork in the refectory. Come and see was an invitation to be in community with the brothers if only for a few days. It was hoped the invitation would lead some to commit to the life of the monastic community on a deeper level.
All are invited to respond to the invitation to “come and see.” How are we responding to this radical bidding to see what Jesus might be up to in this time and place? Another question to ask is, “What are we called to “come and see?” Let us look at a portion of John’s gospel for a possible answer.
John’s entire gospel is about encounters with Jesus the Christ. The encounters run the gamut from the call of the disciples, to meeting a secret admirer, Nicodemus at night; to the meeting of the Samaritan woman, to the woman caught in adultery, and to the man born blind. The people Jesus encounters have great faith, no faith and everything in between the two extremes. Jesus even deals with Peter’s all too humanness and Thomas’ doubt.
The invitation to “come and see” happens in an early section of this chapter where John the Baptist is with two of his disciples and he exclaims, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” Upon that declaration, the two disciples of John the Baptist leave to follow Jesus. Jesus asks the two, “What are you looking for?” The two disciples reply to Jesus’ question with a question, “Rabbi, (which translated means Teacher), where are you staying?” Jesus tells them, “Come and see.”
Andrew takes that invitation and runs with it to his brother Simon. The invitation continues when Jesus goes to Galilee and asks Philip and the others to follow him. Philip finds Nathanael who sarcastically replies with, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It’s amazing the invitation didn’t stall at Nathanael!
How often when do we hesitate to extend an invitation to “come and see” because there is a little of Nathanael in each of us? How often do we think that certain places are filled with people who have nothing to say to us or that we can learn from? Such was the case with Nazareth back in Jesus’ time. Nazareth was so insignificant that it is not mentioned in Hebrew Scripture. We might find ourselves asking a similar question as to whether anything good can come from the ghetto, the barrio, the migrant camp or from any other marginalized group or neighborhood or country you can imagine. We see how that kind of exclusionary thinking played out this week.
And this brings me to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s life exemplified this idea of invitation to come and see what the United States could be if it lived up to the idea (and ideal) that all persons are created equal. I am sure invitations were extended by King and the Civil Rights Movement to diverse types of people from many walks of life to come and see what a truly free society could look like if freed from the slavery of small minds and hearts. The more I think about it, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that is often quoted at this time of year was and is an invitation to come and see a new beloved community. Dr. King’s words still invite us to come and see a world where the sons and daughters of former slaves and the sons and daughters of former slave owners can sit down together at the table of harmony as a beloved community where the content of one’s character matters more than skin color.
Come and see.
Jesus was the first evangelist. Jesus used these simple words of invitation as a means call new disciples. We can use them now not to mercilessly proselytize that our way of belief is superior to some other belief. Our invitation comes with no strings attached and no threat that one refusing the invitation will not be saved and will be doomed to hellfire. No, it is not that kind of invitation. It is an invitation that we offer others so that they might come to see what Jesus is up to in our neighborhood and in this community, that we call Two Saints. It is an opportunity, a rare opportunity to experience the blessing of radical welcome, to experience an intentional, multicultural community where deep and lasting friendships across barriers of difference are possible.
Part of that requires us to say to those we meet in the course of our varied and busy lives, “Come and see.” We must have the certainty and ease that we are capable of extending an invitation to join our faith community. You know my favorite saying is, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Church growth is based on how well we extend ourselves. Being the source of the invitation to come and see will mean moving out of one’s comfort zone, to cross borders to be with others. It will mean taking a holy risk.
David Lose again says it better than I can: It’s not the size or reputation of the church; it’s not the beautiful or simple building; it’s not the service times, style of worship, or quality of the music; it’s not even the brilliant preaching of the minister. All of these things have value, but the number one reason people give for coming to church for the first time is someone invited them personally. Just as Philip said to Nathanael, that is, someone said to them, “Come and see.” Which means that the future of the church depends greatly on ordinary everyday Christians summoning the courage to invite someone to come and see what they have found in the community of the faithful that is their congregation.
Your homework is to begin to become comfortable inviting people to come to church with you. Don’t be so afraid of a negative reaction, or of hearing a “no” keep you from asking. Begin by sharing your favorite thing about Two Saints, then invite others to “come and see” what it is you enjoy about Two Saints.
Jan. 7, 2018, midnight
As the Rev. Keith Patterson said in his blog post, most of us enjoy a mulligan. I particularly like the concept of a mulligan because -- at least in cards -- it connotes another draw, but not a complete scrapping of the hand. The cards at hand are modified, and ideally improved -- but not discarded altogether. Like a mulligan, a new opportunity comes to us in the shape of a reformed web presence. Elements of the former Two Saints website are still present, but with the new year comes a new look and feel to the church's online presence.
My name is Brandon Choi, and I am the developer of this new website, the newly remade www.twosaints.org! I invite you to look around, and if there are any questions or concerns, comments or criticisms, I welcome all communication. You need just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The site, new as it is, will be undergoing just a few more changes as new needs arise in early 2018 (and beyond). You'll notice that the media page is still in the works. Many positive changes will be featured there in the coming months. Please look forward to it and more! For the latest updates, look to the announcements page, and don't forget to like the Two Saints Facebook page at http://facebook.com/2saintsroc/ for more news as well.
Even though this new site takes the place of the old one, if you need information from the old website that you cannot find here, do not worry! It still exists at the below URL:
Thank you for visiting, and stay tuned!
Jan. 6, 2018, 8:33 p.m.
Who doesn’t enjoy a do over, a mulligan, or a second chance? That’s the opportunity the New Year brings to us. We get another chance to do things differently than we did last year.
Howard Thurman had this observation on the possibilities a new year brings:
One of the simple things that is very good and very positive about a New Year is the fact that one does have another chance, that there is available to the individual the fluid dimension of time that has not been frozen and has passed on into the past. It is liquid, living, vital, quick in the sense of being vital. The individual stands in the midst of a stream of vitality, awareness, and fluidity, and is able, by an act in the present moment, to do for him or for the context in which he is operating, something that nothing else in the world can do. Therefore when thinking about the New Year, we think in terms of the sense of alternatives, the sense of option, that are still available to us. It means that all of the options are not frozen, that it is still possible to do something about a situation. Now, this is one of the very simple things (Howard Thurman, The New Year II).
A new year is opening up for everyone; imagine the possibilities, the alternatives, the options!