From Fear to Faith, From Resurrection to Reconciliation

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel reading begins on the evening of the Resurrection. Earlier that same day, you may recall, Mary Magdalene had encountered the resurrected Jesus standing outside the empty tomb. Sometime later, she reported what she had seen to the other disciples.

Now, just a few hours later, we find the disheartened disciples in hiding. The predominant emotion is not wonder and joy at their Lord’s Resurrection, but fear. We are told that the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jewish authorities. And the specific fear that casts such a pall on their gathering is the fear of death. They fear that soon they too will be arrested and put to death on a cross.

Now, we shouldn’t judge the disciples too harshly. Everyone here, I suspect, has experienced the crippling effect of fear sometime in his or her life. And there are oh, so many things that we fear—this damned pandemic being one of them! And each and every one of our fears impedes us in some way, keeping us from living life fully. But the one primal fear that underlies all others is the fear of death. What we all ultimately fear is a death that utterly annihilates, a death that renders life meaningless. For, if death wins in the end, what is the point of life? Fortunately for us, this existential crisis was resolved at the Resurrection.

In today’s account, Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples, locked doors notwithstanding. He greets them. And then he verifies his identity by displaying the wounds of his crucifixion. This Resurrection appearance, in and of itself, serves as a sign to the original disciples, and to us today, that death does not win and that life is not meaningless.

Jesus comes back to give new life and new purpose to his disciples. He breathes into them. Just as God breathed the breath of life into Adam’s nostrils in the story of Creation, so Jesus breathes new life into his fearful disciples, saying: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” The disciples, and the Church that follows in their footsteps, have been empowered for mission by the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that mission is the reconciliation of the world.

Now, back to the story…. Thomas was absent when the Risen Lord had appeared to the other disciples. And he adamantly refuses to believe their account of the event. Literally translated, he says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and poke my finger into the mark of the nails and stick my hand into his side, I will never believe!”

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A week later, the disciples again are holed up in the house with the doors locked. This Sunday, however, Thomas manages to make it to church. Again, Jesus appears to the assembled disciples and greets them. He openly invites Thomas to follow through with his grotesque demand to probe Christ’s wounds. And then he admonishes Thomas, saying, “Stop being untrusting; rather, be trusting.”

Does Thomas then go ahead and poke Christ’s wounds? No, despite the misleading testimony of over a thousand years of Christian art, he does not. Instead, he proclaims Jesus as his Lord and God. Thomas has what can only be called a conversion experience, and in the blink of an eye, he enters into a more profound state of faith.

Now, let me end by saying a word or two about the nature of faith. First, it is not the same thing as belief. Yes, as Christians, there are some foundational truths that we are asked to believe, the Resurrection of Jesus being one of them. Even so, the core of Christian faith is not belief, but trust. Now, we may have doubts from time to time, especially during a trying time like this pandemic. That’s to be expected. But what is crucial, I think, is to hold on tight to a fundamental trust in a loving God—a God who loves us so much that he gave us his only Son, so that we might have eternal life; a God who then raised Jesus from the dead, so that we might come to believe. For if, with God’s grace, we can abide in trust and believe in the hope of the Resurrection, we can let go of every crippling fear and get on with the joyful work that God has given us to do: to share God’s love and forgiveness with the world and to reconcile the world to God.

May God grant us that grace, now and always. Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Angel’s Easter Command

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

The resurrection account we heard read today comes from the Gospel of Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels. The evangelist tells us that three women disciples of Jesus got up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. You see, he had been so hastily entombed that his body had not been washed and anointed with perfume, as was the custom.

Now, the women clearly put some thought into what they would need. The story mentions how they went out and bought aromatic spices in order to perfume the body. But they forgot one rather important fact: the tomb was sealed with a very large and very heavy stone. It is only as they are walking to the tomb that they remember this little detail. They don’t have a team of strong men with them. They don’t even have a crow bar. And the chances of success are pretty minimal. Now, most reasonable people would have turned back at this point and rounded up a work crew. But the three women do not, in fact, turn back. They just keep going. Were they being foolish? Or did they just have great faith? I suspect it was the latter.

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When the three women get to the site of the tomb, they find that their worries had been for naught. The stone had already been rolled back. Now, at this point, you have to give them due credit for extreme valor, for they march right into the gaping maw of the tomb to find out what on earth is going on. What they find is a young man dressed in a white robe. We can only surmise that he is an angel. And he tells the women pretty much what all angels say when they first encounter a human, “Don’t be alarmed.” (Yeah, right!) He goes on to inform them that the tomb is empty, because God has raised Jesus from the dead. He commands them to tell Peter and the other disciples that the Risen Lord will wait for them in Galilee. Presumably, the point is to start the next phase of Christian mission in the very place where the first phase all began.

Now, here is where things get complicated. The women flee from the tomb in terror. The Greek text says that they flee trembling uncontrollably and out of their minds with fear. So much for the angel’s command, “Don’t be alarmed”! The last verse of the Gospel, as Mark originally wrote it, ends with “And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (You see, the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel were added years later, in order to give the Gospel a more fitting conclusion.)

Well, obviously, the women said something to someone at some point in time, or we wouldn’t know the story at all! But the disturbing fact remains that Mark’s original version ends with the three women disobeying the explicit command of the angel. They do not, in fact, carry the message to Peter and the other disciples…at least not immediately. How long, I wonder, did it take for them to go tell this improbable tale to Peter and the others? Hours? Days? Even longer?

Now, St. Mark tells us that they delayed because of fear. OK, but fear of what? If they were afraid of the angel, you would think that they would be quick to obey him. So it must have been something else. Perhaps they were afraid of being disbelieved, and even mocked, by those to whom they were sent to proclaim the Good News. It isn’t hard to imagine first-century men initially dismissing the women’s account of the angel and the empty tomb. (Frankly, it isn’t hard to imagine twenty-first-century men, and women, initially dismissing the Easter message.)

So, here we are on this Sunday of the Resurrection with a resurrection story that has no resurrection appearance of Jesus. Unlike John’s Gospel, we do not get a story about Mary Magdalene encountering the Risen Lord and mistaking him for a gardener. Instead, what we are given is the story of three women disciples who gave into fear, at least for a while. Even so, we know that they eventually must have overcome their fear and shared the Good News. And for that testimony (albeit somewhat delayed), these three women will be remembered as long as the Church endures.

Brothers and sisters, I would urge you to follow the example of Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, who in the fullness of time did, in fact, obey the angel’s Easter command. Be like them. Overcome your fear, even it takes some time. And proclaim to all the doubters of this world the Good News of Easter, that:

Christ is risen, and death is overthrown!

Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!

Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!

Christ is risen, and life is set free!

Christ is risen, and the tombs are all empty!

To him be the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

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© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Incarnation Radio Hour presents Lewis Carroll’s ‘The Nursery Alice.’

Published in 1890, ‘The Nursery Alice,’ is a shortened version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, adapted by the author himself for children “from nought to five”. It includes 20 of John Tenniel’s illustrations from the original book, redrawn, enlarged, colored – and, in some cases, revised – by Tenniel himself. The book was published by Macmillan a quarter-century after the original Alice.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel by English author Lewis Carroll. It tells of a young girl named Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children.

The Radio Hour will share a reading of ‘The Nursery Alice’ along with John Tenniel’s illustrations.

Date & Time: Wednesday April 14, 4 p.m. PDT
Free admission. Donations gratefully accepted. Click here for details.
Register here for zoom call details.

LEWIS CARROLL (1832–1898)

Renowned Victorian author Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on January 27, 1832, in Daresbury, Cheshire, England. The son of a clergyman, Carroll was the third child born to a family of eleven children. From a very early age he entertained himself and his family by performing magic tricks and marionette shows, and by writing poetry for his homemade newspapers. In 1846 he entered Rugby School, and in 1854 he graduated from Christ Church College, Oxford. He was successful in his study of mathematics and writing, and remained at the college after graduation to teach. His mathematical writings include An Elementary Treatise on Determinants (1867), Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879), and Curiosa Mathematica (1888). While teaching, Carroll was ordained as a deacon; however, he never preached.

Many of Carroll’s philosophies were based on games. His interest in logic came purely from the playful nature of its principle rather than its uses as a tool. He primarily wrote comic fantasies and humorous verse that was often very childlike. Carroll published his novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed by Through the Looking Glass in 1872. Alice’s story began as a piece of extemporaneous whimsy meant to entertain three little girls on a boating trip in 1862. Both of these works were considered children’s novels that were satirical in nature and in exemplification of Carroll’s wit. Also famous is Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky,” in which he created nonsensical words from word combinations. Carroll died in Guildford, Surrey, on January 14, 1898.

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There Comes an Easter

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Passion Gospel

We begin Holy Week with Morning Prayer by conference call. It’s the second Palm Sunday that we have been unable to celebrate in the church. Like you, I miss the traditional liturgy, with the procession of palms and the dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel. And I miss seeing all of you face to face. But all is not lost. Thanks to technology, we can still be present to one another virtually. And we still have the opportunity hear a short excerpt from the Passion narrative read out and to contemplate once again the cost of our salvation.

Later in the week, on Good Friday, we will get the full story of Jesus’ arrest, torture, and execution, taken from John’s Gospel. Now, there is an obvious redundancy to hearing two accounts each year of the Passion of the Christ. But this first, shorter reading serves a useful purpose: it sets the tone for Holy Week. It lets us know, in no uncertain terms, what we can expect in the days ahead—namely, a protracted recollection of Jesus’ last days on earth.

On Thursday, we will gather on a conference call at 6 p.m. for Evening Prayer to commemorate the Last Supper. (Fr. Webber has graciously offered to preach.) Normally, we would observe this holy day by celebrating the Eucharist and sharing a simple meal together in the parish hall. This year, like last year, we cannot gather physically for worship and a common meal. So, after Evening Prayer has concluded on Thursday, I would ask you to invite Jesus to join you at your dinner table (assuming you haven’t already eaten dinner!), to invite him into your heart, and to pray for your fellow parishioners from whom you are separated.

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On Good Friday, we will gather at 3 p.m., at the very hour of Jesus’ death, to hear St. John’s account of the Passion of the Christ—again by conference call. We cannot come together to venerate the rugged cross, but we can still take time on that day to meditate on the crucifix hanging on the wall or to gaze at an icon of the crucifixion or to ponder a medieval painting of the Passion online. We cannot receive communion from the reserved sacrament, but we can humbly ask God to grant us the grace of the Blessed Sacrament.

As for today’s Gospel reading, let me just say a word or two about Jesus’ cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The words are deeply disturbing, for they indicate that the Son of God experienced the abandonment of his heavenly Father. In that moment, the unimaginable took place: the Second Person of the Holy Trinity experienced a sense of disconnection from the First Person of the Holy Trinity. In other words, God experienced what it feels like to be abandoned by God!

At that moment, our crucified Lord experienced what many of us experience at some point in our lives, the feeling that God has ceased to care. I suspect that many people have been feeling that sense of abandonment this past year! That feeling can come when we’ve prayed and prayed and still our loved dies. It can come when we ourselves are seriously ill and begging for the pain to let up. It can come when we are feeling lonely and afraid because of this pandemic and prayer no longer brings us any comfort. Each of us, I think, will eventually experience this sense of God’s absence at some point. Each of us, in our own way, will undergo our own little Passion.

In that moment, what are we supposed to do? To whom should we turn? Well, the answer is to do what Jesus did in his darkest hour. He turned to God, shared his anguish, and expressed his continuing faith. Yes, even in those words of seeming despair—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—we find an implicit declaration of faith. At that moment, when Jesus could have said anything at all to express his sense of abandonment, he quotes the start of Psalm 22, a psalm that begins in anguish and despair but ends in faith and hope.

The appointed collect for today asks that we might walk in the way of Christ’s suffering. And in a way, we all have. In this time of pandemic, we haven’t really had a choice in the matter! But the collect goes on to ask that we might also share in Christ’s Resurrection.

Brothers and sisters, as you contemplate the mysteries of Holy Week—and as you continue to endure the final trials of this pandemic—hold on tight to the hope of the Resurrection. Remember that after every Passion Sunday, after every Good Friday, there comes an Easter. And know that there is no darkness that can ever overcome the Light of Christ.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Christ’s Glory and Exaltation

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday. In ordinary times, we would gather at the church for the Eucharist, and we would start off with a procession, in which we would sing “All glory, laud, and honor,” a hymn about Christ’s glory. Later, we would hear the story of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Now, why sing a song about the glory of Christ on the day when we hear the story of his shameful torture and execution? Well, the answer to that question is given to us in today’s reading from John’s Gospel.

Up till the events recounted today, Jesus had repeatedly downplayed the dangers he faced, defying death with equanimity. Again and again, he would say to this disciples, “My hour has not yet come,” meaning “My enemies cannot harm me, for the time appointed for my death has not yet arrived.” But in today’s Gospel story, Jesus says something quite different, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Now, that doesn’t sound too ominous, till you realize that the means of his glorification will be crucifixion on a wooden cross.

The arrival of some Greek-speaking foreigners signals to Jesus that his time on earth is short. Somehow he recognizes their visitation as a divine sign. Jesus attempts to prepare his disciples for what must happen. But he does so in an oblique and puzzling manner, almost speaking in code. He only hints at his coming death. And he avoids all direct reference to the cross, speaking only of being glorified, of being lifted up or exalted. The disciples could not possibly have understood what Jesus was speaking about at that moment. I suspect that it was only later, after his death on the cross, that this puzzling language made any sense. But we know very well what he is talking about. We already know what is going to happen to Jesus. And it isn’t very pretty!

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Jesus is going to die a horrible death. And he knows it. And yet, he speaks of his glorification, of his exaltation, as if his brutal death were something to be desired. Why? Well, here we enter into one of the deep mysteries of our faith. It is God’s will that the world be saved from the powers of sin and death at any cost, even if his Son must die in order to achieve the world’s salvation. In the Letter to the Hebrews, we are told that Jesus made “prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears.” If so, his prayers and supplications were made on our behalf, not his own. For John’s Gospel makes it clear that, even though his soul is troubled, Jesus refuses to ask for a reprieve. Instead, he says, “It is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” With these words, Jesus submits fully and unreservedly to the will of his heavenly Father, seeking only the greater glory of God.

Jesus’ act of submission is acknowledged from on high. God himself speaks in a thunderous voice: “I have glorified my Name, and I will glorify it again.” Yes, God’s holy Name has been glorified again and again in ages past, in the life and teaching of Jesus, in the many signs and miracles that Jesus performed. But the ultimate and crowning glory of God’s Name will be achieved in an act of unconditional obedience by his Son, an obedience even unto death. And it is because of this glorification of his Father that Jesus will himself be glorified by his Father. The paradox of the cross is that Jesus’ shameful public execution is also the means to his eternal glorification, that his being lifted up onto a cross is also the means of his exaltation to the right hand of God.

Today’s Gospel reading prepares us for next week’s Gospel. It provides the theological context for that dread story of Jesus’ suffering. And in a way, it helps diminish the sting of the Passion Gospel. For we know a week in advance that the suffering of our Lord will result in his eternal glory, that all shall be well.

But today’s Gospel reading is not all comfort and consolation. There is a heavy dose of demand as well. For Jesus tells his disciples, and us, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” Well, think ahead to next week; Jesus will be on the cross. And we are called to follow him there, to abide with him there for a time. We are called to witness the cost of our salvation and to acknowledge the part that our sinfulness played in Jesus’ death. Yes, Jesus will eventually be glorified for his obedient submission to the will of his Father. Yes, Jesus will ultimately be exalted to the right hand of God on high. But first, he must suffer. And we have one week to prepare ourselves to follow Jesus to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, and to witness his suffering for the sake of our salvation. Just seven short days to make ready!

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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For God So Loved the World

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel reading relates the tail end of an encounter between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus. Now, Nicodemus is an interesting fellow. He sat on the ruling council of Jerusalem. He was a member of the pious Pharisaic sect. He was an acknowledged teacher of Israel. Yet with all these credentials and reasons to be smug about his knowledge of God, Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus is something much more than an acknowledged teacher of Israel; he recognizes that Jesus is “a teacher who has come from God.”

But Nicodemus is not a full-fledged convert. For one thing, he is not willing to be seen in public associating with Jesus. John’s Gospel emphasizes that Nicodemus “came by night.” Perhaps he felt it would be too damaging to his reputation to be seen with this itinerant rabbi.

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Jesus opens the conversation with Nicodemus with a teaching about the need for spiritual rebirth. When Nicodemus fails to understand Jesus’ teaching, Jesus gently chides him for his invincible ignorance. But Jesus doesn’t give up on Nicodemus. Instead, he continues to teach him.

He teaches Nicodemus about the price of salvation, death on a cross. And he likens his future crucifixion to the bronze serpent that was raised up by Moses to bring healing to victims of snake bite. But unlike the episode with the bronze serpent, the lifting up of Jesus on the cross will bring healing to countless people throughout the generations—to all who come to trust in him and in the Father who sent him.

Jesus then tells Nicodemus, and us, one of the most important teachings in the entire Bible. He tells us why God sent Jesus, his Son, into the world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:16).”

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Now, in most instances in John’s Gospel, the word “world” is code for those who actively oppose the ministry of Jesus. But here, I think, the word is used more inclusively. Here, we learn that eternal life is a gift from God, given to the entire world out of pure love, and that we can choose to accept this gift through faith in his Son Jesus Christ and faithfulness to Jesus’s teaching.

The next verse in today’s reading reinforces this happy teaching, reassuring us that Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. Now, if Jesus had concluded his teaching at this juncture, I think we would all be more comfortable with the Gospel reading. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Instead, he warns that those who actively reject him and choose to walk in spiritual darkness have thereby condemned themselves.

Jesus makes it clear that God’s offer of salvation comes with strings attached; or to be more precise, it comes with one string attached. We are required to trust in Jesus, to trust in him so much that we give over our entire life to him, walking in his way of love.

Now, so far as we know, Nicodemus never became a full disciple of Jesus, never gave himself wholly and openly to the service of the Son of Man. But we know that he was so close to doing so. So close!

Brothers and sisters, don’t be like Nicodemus. Don’t hold back. Give yourself, your entire self, to the service of God’s Son. Trust in him with your whole heart, and follow him, bearing your cross, wherever he may lead. For the reward for total trust in him is nothing less than eternal life.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Ten Commandments: For Men Only?

Bible Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In the first reading from Exodus, we heard God giving the Ten Commandments to Moses. Now, our tradition teaches that, while many of the commandments in the Old Testament are no longer in force, some, including the Ten Commandments, are still very much in effect. The prayer book goes so far as to say that in the entire Old Testament “God’s will for us is shown most clearly in the Ten Commandments.”

Thematically, the Commandments are split into two thematic groupings. The first four commandments deal with the community’s relationship with its God, and the last six commandments deal with relationships within the community itself.

In the first commandment, the Israelites are told that they must worship one God and only one God. Like the Jews, Christians are also monotheists. We worship one God. But unlike the Jews, we worship one God who exists in three divine persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

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Next, the Israelites are told not to manufacture and worship idols. Now, we know from the Bible and from archeological discovery that the ancient Jews broke this commandment on a regular basis. Christians theologians have debated whether Greek Orthodox icons and Roman Catholic statues of the saints violate this commandment. Frankly, I worry more about whether Christians in America have made an idol out of the almighty dollar!

The third commandment is not to misuse the Name of God. One school of thought is that this commandment is prohibiting making oaths in God’s Name. The other school of thought is that it is prohibiting the use of his Name in magical spells and amulets, a common practice in many ancient societies. For us today, it is best to keep this commandment by not using Jesus’ name as a swear word!

Then, we get to the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. Now, to be technical, almost all Christians are Sabbath-breakers. For one thing, the biblical Sabbath is Saturday, not Sunday, and most of us are busy on Saturdays with a whole variety of chores—or at least we were before COVID-19! Early on, the Christian Church transferred its Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. And for many years here in the United States, businesses were closed on Sunday. People were expected to go to church and then to devote the rest of the day to godly pursuits. Well, folks, those days are long gone!

At this point, the Ten Commandments turn from the Israelites’ relationship with God to the relationships between its members. They, and we, are told to honor father and mother. In particular, we are expected to provide them with food and clothing and shelter when they are in their old age—at least that’s the theory! In Asian culture, this commandment is deeply engrained. Not so in American culture! All too often, we Americans put out parents in nursing homes when they can’t take care of themselves and then forget to visit them.

We, like the ancient Israelites, are prohibited from committing murder. Now, this commandment does not prohibit all kinds of killing. It does not prohibit killing during war. It does not prohibit capital punishment. Later, however, Jesus goes on to prohibit not only the taking of a human life in anger, but violent anger itself.

The Israelites were prohibited from adultery. More specifically, Israelite men were prohibited from having sexual intercourse with the wife of another man. To be honest, it was seen more as a violation of another man’s property, than an act of sexual impropriety. Christian tradition, however, has extended this prohibition to both men and women, and the violation has been understood primarily as a violation of the sacred covenant of Holy Matrimony.

Next, we are told that stealing is just plain wrong, and it is strictly forbidden. Keep this in mind the next time you are tempted to take a pen or a towel from a hotel, or when you fill our your income tax forms this year.

The ninth commandment is against bearing false witness. This commandment clearly prohibits spreading malicious gossip. But more importantly, it prohibits giving false testimony in court. The point here is that all societies need systems of justice that function fairly. That is impossible if people lie under oath. So God quite rightly forbids it.

Finally, we get to commandment Number Ten, the commandment against coveting the belongings of our neighbor. God is not forbidding us to wish to have nice things like our neighbor. It is OK to want a new car or a new smart phone like the guy next door. It is OK to wish you had a garden as nice as your neighbor’s. What is forbidden is obsessive desire, the kind of desire that leads to plotting and scheming to acquire that bit of our neighbor’s property that we admire so much.

Now, let me end this overlong sermon with an announcement just for the women on this conference call. You are free to forget everything I have just said. You are even free to forget the Ten Commandments themselves. As the original Hebrew makes perfectly clear, the Ten Commandments are addressed only to men. Having said that, I have a sneaking suspicion that it would be pleasing to God if we all tried to remember the Ten Commandments and to keep them.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Take Up Your Cross

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Today’s reading from Mark, chapter 8, takes place immediately after the Confession of Peter, in which that saint rightly identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Despite the fact that Peter got that bit right, Jesus knows full well that he is not the kind of Messiah that Peter and the other disciples expect. They expect a military leader who will free the people of Judea from the yoke of Roman imperial rule and sit on the throne of David. Dashing the disciples’ hopes, Jesus begins teaching them that this Messiah “must undergo great suffering…and be killed.” Peter is understandably dismayed. So he takes Jesus the Messiah aside and attempts to set him straight. There’s a bit of a role reversal going on here. Peter assumes the role of the master correcting an errant disciple. But this attempt at role reversal doesn’t last for long. Jesus turns his back on Peter, addresses the on-looking disciples, and rebukes Peter, saying: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” It was a teaching moment intended not just for Peter but also the other disciples.

Jesus’ rebuke of Peter comes across as harsh (at least in the English translation). Here, as is sometimes the case, a knowledge of Greek can further our understanding. That command “Get behind me!” is ambiguous in the original Greek. On the one hand, it can mean something like “Get out of my way!” On the other hand, it can mean something quite different: “Keep following my lead!” I suspect that Jesus intended the latter meaning. He is not pushing Peter aside; he is reminding Peter who is the leader and who is the follower. As for calling Peter “Satan,” that was to drive home the point that Peter was playing the part of the Tempter, even if unintentionally, by encouraging Jesus to be a more “conventional” kind of Messiah that doesn’t die on a Roman cross to save the world.

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After correcting Peter, Jesus then calls the crowd to come closer. And he gives them this uninviting invitation: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” For us, this phrase has become a metaphor for any unwanted burden that we are forced to bear, no matter how trivial. But for Jesus’ original audience, the metaphor was no metaphor at all! They knew that Jesus was referring to the all-too-real practice of compelling the condemned to carry a crossbeam to the site of their own crucifixion. Jesus was talking about being willing to suffer, and even die, for the sake of discipleship.

As Christians, we too are called to take up our own cross, whatever that cross may be. For us here today, that cross is unlikely to be literal martyrdom. What then? Well, our cross might be fear of what old age has in store for us or plain old-fashioned fear of death. It might be chronic pain or recurring bouts of depression or yet another surgery. It might be poverty or loneliness or grief—or even pandemic. Each of us in our lives has burdens that weigh us down, that make it difficult to go on, that test our very faith in God. These are our crosses. We would like to toss them aside. Instead, we are called to take them up and follow Jesus, no matter how heavy these crosses may be.

Paradoxically, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus assures us, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” How can that possibly be true? Sometimes, the burdens of life are enough to bring us to our knees. The answer lies in the fact that we are not called to carry that yoke, or that cross, all on our own. We don’t have to be strong all the time, and it’s OK to ask for help. (Even Jesus himself depended on the assistance of Simon of Cyrene on the road to Calvary.) So when your cross is getting heavy, ask for help. Reach out to Jesus for support; he is never further than a prayer away. And reach out to me, and let me share your burden.

Now this Way of the Cross that we are called to travel doesn’t sound like “Good News.” But it is! It’s Good News because of where that Way ultimately leads. Jesus promises that those who are willing to offer up their life for his sake will be rewarded with new and unending life in the immediate presence of God. That is the reward of the most illustrious Christian saint ever martyred in the Name of Christ. That is the reward of countless unnamed disciples whose cross was not martyrdom, but a life of constant struggle. And that can be your reward as well, if you but take up your cross and follow the Master.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Incarnation Radio Hour presents T.S. Eliot’s poem ‘Ash Wednesday’

‘Ash Wednesday’ by Nobel Prize winner, T. S. Eliot, is a complex, six-part poem concerned with a speaker’s hope for human salvation.

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Date & Time: Wednesday March 10, 4 p.m. PST

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‘Ash Wednesday’ by T. S. Eliot is a complex, six-part poem concerned with a speaker’s hope for human salvation in a faithless world.

The poem takes the reader through stages in a speaker’s faith. At first, he is hopeless and overly concerned with his own human error and inability to accept God fully into his heart. As the poem progresses he goes through a series of metaphorical transformations in which he’s eaten by white leopards and made to climb up a staircase away from the past. These trials improve him and help him leave behind the sins of the past.

By the time he reaches the sixth section of ‘Ash Wednesday’ he has changed. Human salvation now seems possible and the hopelessness of the first section has left the speaker’s mind.

What is Ash Wednesday? Each year, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and is always 46 days before Easter Sunday. Lent is a 40-day season (not counting Sundays) marked by repentance, fasting, reflection, and ultimately celebration. The 40-day period represents Christ’s time of temptation in the wilderness, where he fasted and where Satan tempted him. Lent asks believers to set aside a time each year for similar fasting, marking an intentional season of focus on Christ’s life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection.


		T.S. Eliot's Ash Wednesday - a  six-part poem for human salvation image

Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (26 September 1888 – 4 January 1965) was a poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic and editor. Considered one of the 20th century’s major poets, he is a central figure in English-language Modernist poetry.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, to a prominent Boston Brahmin family, he moved to England in 1914 at the age of 25 and went on to settle, work and marry there. He became a British citizen in 1927 at the age of 39, subsequently renouncing his American citizenship.

Eliot first attracted widespread attention for his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in 1915, which was received as a modernist masterpiece. It was followed by some of the best-known poems in the English language, including “The Waste Land” (1922), “The Hollow Men” (1925), “Ash Wednesday” (1930), and Four Quartets (1943). He was also known for his seven plays, particularly Murder in the Cathedral (1935) and The Cocktail Party (1949). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, “for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”.


		T.S. Eliot's Ash Wednesday - a  six-part poem for human salvation image

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A Time to Seek Forgiveness

Bible Readings

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of 40 days of self-examination and self-discipline in preparation for Easter. Those who were able to attend the Ash Wednesday service heard a lengthy address concerning the origins of Lent. For those here today who missed that, I will read just a brief excerpt: “This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.”

This explains why all three of today’s Bible readings deal in some way or other with the sacrament of Baptism. The first reading from Genesis gives us God’s covenant with the remnants of humankind, those who were saved from the Great Flood. As you may recall, God was disgusted with the sinfulness of his people, and he decided to “reboot the system.” He drowned all the creatures on Earth, with the exception of eight members of one family and the animals that they had collected into the ark. God then made a covenant with those eight survivors, and with their descendants, never to do such a thing again.

Now, if we take the story literally, it is horrific. Millions of people must have been drowned. But our ancestors in the faith, including St. Peter, sought a deeper, more spiritual meaning in this tale of mass destruction. And they accomplished this by reading the story of the Flood as an allegory. The waters of the Flood were understood as symbolic of the waters of Baptism. In their understanding, the drowning of the Earth’s many sinners symbolically represented the drowning of our sins in the baptismal font. Noah’s ark of wood was understood as a symbol of the salvific wood of the Cross. Lastly, the covenant of the rainbow that we heard about in the first reading was seen as a prefigurement of the baptismal covenant.

The Gospel reading is also thoroughly baptismal in content. It is St. Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus. We heard the first part of this story on the first Sunday after the Epiphany. Today, we get the rest of the story. Today, we hear what happens right after the great epiphany when the heavens opened up and God’s voice resounded from on high. Today, we discover that the sequel to Jesus’ baptism was 40 days of temptation and testing at the hands of Satan.

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Forty days in the wilderness sounds unpleasant. But I think Jesus had it easy! He only had to deal with 40 days of temptation after his baptism. We, on the other hand, can expect to experience a whole lifetime of temptation after ours. And unlike Jesus, we are not without sin; we will eventually fail the test. What then? Well, we repent. We say we’re sorry to God. We say we’re sorry to whomever we have wronged. We attempt to make amends. And then we do our very best to turn away from sin, to change our way of thinking. And when we inevitably fail the test yet again and give into temptation, we repeat the cycle of repentance all over again.

Now, if we had no help, we would be stuck in a vicious circle. For it is not really possible to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” as the old saying goes. What we really need when we have fallen down is a helping hand. And fortunately for us, we have it. Quite simply, Jesus is our helping hand. When we fall, we can reach out to him for help. We can reach out to him by picking up a Bible and meditating on his words and deeds. We can reach out to him through private and public prayer. And of course, we can reach out to him through the sacraments of the Church—or at least we can when our church is allowed to reopen!

As I mentioned at the start of this sermon, Lent was from early on a time when notorious sinners repented their sins publicly and were received back into the Church. None of you, to my knowledge, is a notorious sinner. Even so, Lent is an appropriate time for each of us to take stock of our sins and to seek release from them. And even though we are, for a time, deprived of the sacraments of the Church, we can still find forgiveness from our sins and strength to persevere by turning to God in prayer and opening up our hearts to his healing grace.

Amen.

© 2021 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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