Painfully Preparing for Joy

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Palm Procession Gospel

Passion Gospel

Today, Holy Week begins, and by a quirk of liturgical history, we get the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem juxtaposed with St. Luke’s account of the Suffering of the Christ. For this reason, today is given two names in the prayer book: Palm Sunday and the Sunday of the Passion (or as we would say in modern English, “the Sunday of the Suffering”).

image

This dual nature of Palm Sunday bothers some people. They rightly point out that it is redundant to read one Passion narrative on Palm Sunday and another on Good Friday. A few churches have gone so far as to omit the reading of the Passion Gospel on this day. But this first, shorter reading of the Passion does serve a couple of useful purposes. First, it reminds us that we humans are fickle. For the very same crowds that acclaimed Jesus as their Messiah, later shouted for his crucifixion. Second, this first reading sets the tone for the week ahead; it serves as a sort of “preview of coming attractions,” if you will. And the coming attractions are many!

Continue reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Recent Sermons

Feeling the Love of Jesus

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

The Gospel reading today is problematic. It is problematic from the perspective of history and from the perspective of social norms.

Let’s deal with the historical problem first. This same story is told in all four Gospels, but the Gospels don’t all agree on the facts of the matter. In Matthew and Mark, the anointing took place at dinner in the house of a Pharisee named Simon the Leper. And there, Mary anointed Jesus’ head, not his feet. In Luke, it is a notoriously sinful woman of Galilee, not Mary of Bethany, who anoints Jesus’ head and wipes her tears from his feet with her hair. Now, these discrepancies don’t mean that the Gospel story is fake news. It just means that, as this story was handed down from one generation to the next, some details got lost in transmission.

image

Now for the issue of social norms! We live in a new age, in the age of the “Me Too” Movement. One major concern of this movement is the protection of “personal space.” The need for such protection is clear. A couple of years ago, Donald Trump was caught on tape bragging about how he liked to kiss and grope women without their permission. More recently, Joe Biden has been criticized for making unwanted physical contact with women he didn’t know very well. In our society, the perpetrators of such boundary violations are, more often than not, men, and the victims are women. But in today’s Gospel story, the “perpetrator” of the boundary violation is a woman, and the “victim” is a man. There is no doubt about it: Mary of Bethany violates Jesus’ personal space without permission. One wonders what the leaders of the “Me Too” Movement think about this Bible story!

image

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Recent Sermons

Holy Week at Incarnation 2019

HolyWeek2019v2
The Episcopal Church of the Incarnation welcomes all seekers wherever you are on your spiritual journey.

Episcopal Church of the Incarnation
1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122
www.incarnationsf.org | 415-564-2324

Palm Sunday
Sunday April 14, 10 a.m.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him and laying down palm leaves before him. It also marks the beginning of Holy Week. We will commemorate Palm Sunday by processing into the church with palm fronds.

Maundy Thursday and Agape Supper
Thursday April 18, 6 p.m.
Maundy Thursday is the commemoration of the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, when he established the sacrament of Holy Communion prior to his arrest and crucifixion. Maundy Thursday is the start of the Triduum, a three-day period marking Jesus’ death and burial. The service is followed by an Agape supper.

Good Friday
Friday April 19, 3 p.m.
Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross. The service will include reading’s from the Passion and veneration of the cross.

Easter Vigil
Saturday April 20, 8 p.m.
The Easter Vigil (also known as the Great Vigil) liturgy is intended as the first celebration of Easter. The service begins in darkness and consists of four parts: The Service of Light (kindling of new fire, lighting the Paschal candle, the Exsultet); The Service of Lessons (readings from the Hebrew Scriptures interspersed with psalms, canticles, and prayers); The Renewal of Baptismal Vows; and the Eucharist. The Easter Vigil is an ancient litury celebrated on the night before Easter Sunday commemorating Christ’s resurrection.

Easter Sunday
Sunday April 21, 10 a.m.
Easter celebrates the day that Jesus rose from the dead, and symbolizes forgiveness, rebirth, and God’s saving power. The service will start with the flowering of the cross. Please bring cut flowers to adorn the cross.

Leave a comment

Filed under Easter, Special Event

Lament, Trust, Pray, Strive

By the Rev. Darren Miner

This is only the second Sunday in Lent, but I am already longing for Easter, for that glorious celebration of the Resurrection. But that is in the future, and for now, I find myself lamenting. I lament not just my own sins, which are many, but the brokenness of this world. The news coming out of New Zealand about a mass murder weighs heavily on my soul. Such evil is a mystery, and it is hard to live with mysteries, with things we just can’t explain or understand. But, if the truth be known, evil is a lesser mystery. Fortunately for us, there is a greater Mystery, a countervailing Mystery, a triumphant Mystery, whom we call God.

We encounter that Mystery in the first reading from Genesis. Abraham, who has not yet received his new name from God and is known as Abram at this point, is the recipient of a divine vision. God promises Abraham a great reward. But Abraham laments to God that no reward has any meaning to him since he has no children. God responds by promising Abraham offspring, despite the fact that Abraham and Sarah are both far too old to expect children. And God further promises that, from his offspring, he will have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky. To his great credit, Abraham believes the Lord.

What happens next seems bizarre to us. God commands Abraham to collect five animals and to cut three of them in half! Why? Well, this is where a little knowledge of ancient Near Eastern customs comes in handy. What is being proposed is a solemn oath-taking. In the ancient Near East, one way a person might make a solemn oath was to cut an animal in two and then to walk between the two halves while making the oath. The idea, whether spoken or left unspoken, was that the person passing through the cloven animal was accepting a curse upon himself should he fail to fulfill the oath: “May I die like these animals if I forswear myself.”

So, the cutting up of the animals is not all that strange after all. What is strange is that it is not Abraham who passes through the cloven animals and takes the solemn oath. It is God! At sundown, Abraham falls into a deep trance, and in that altered state of consciousness, he witnesses a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch being carried through the midst of the slaughtered animals by an invisible figure. A voice then declares this oath: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

image

God kept his oath to Abraham. He had children. And they had children. And some of their descendants did indeed inherit the Promised Land. Nowadays, we have DNA tests that you can take at home and mail in. And I suppose that it would be possible to try to trace one’s ancestry back to Abraham. But that would be missing one important point. Not only did Abraham have many descendants according to the flesh. He had even more descendants according to the spirit.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Recent Sermons

I’ve Fallen, and I Can’t Get Up!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of forty days of self-examination and self-discipline in preparation for Easter. Those who attended the Ash Wednesday service heard a lengthy introduction to Lent that ends with this invitation: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

The purpose of self-examination during Lent is not to admire ourselves in the mirror and praise ourselves for our accomplishments, but to become aware of our temptations and to repent of our sins. Now, unlike the rest of us, Jesus did not sin, not ever. But he did know what it was like to be tempted. And in today’s Gospel, we hear the story of his temptation.

It begins right after his baptism by John in the Jordan River. The English translation we heard today says, Jesus “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” It makes it sound like the temptation of Jesus was a chance occurrence. The original Greek text, however, says something a little different. It says, Jesus “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness in order to be tempted by the Devil for forty days.” In other words, the entire event takes place at God’s behest, not the Devil’s.

Why would God test his Son? Unfortunately, we are never told explicitly, but I have some ideas on the subject. I suspect that this time of testing was necessary for Jesus to figure out what kind of Messiah he was going to be and what kind of Kingdom he was going to proclaim—and then to come to terms with the consequences of those decisions. Each of the three temptations serves in its own way to clarify Jesus’ thinking. At least, that’s my claim!

In the first temptation, the Devil preys on Jesus’ desperate hunger. After all, Jesus had not eaten for forty whole days. The Devil dares Jesus to magically transform a stone into a loaf of bread. In good Rabbinic tradition, Jesus responds by quoting scripture, in this case Deuteronomy: “One does not live by bread alone.” Now, to be honest, it doesn’t seem at first glance that the Devil is tempting Jesus to do anything even remotely sinful. But I suspect that the Devil is hoping that, if Jesus gives in to even one self-serving act, it will eventually lead down a slippery slope to a Messiah who is more concerned with feeding himself than he is with feeding a multitude of 5000.

image

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Recent Sermons

Lifting the Veil and Glimpsing Christ

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

In the Episcopal calendar, today is known as the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and the color of the day is rightly green. In other denominations, it’s called Transfiguration Sunday, and the liturgical color is white or gold. For some reason, our Episcopal lectionary insert displays a gold heading, instead of a green one. I have a theory about this: I think there’s a Methodist mole at Church Publishing Incorporated!

But no matter what we call this particular Sunday, it marks the end of the season of Epiphany, and it does so with three Bible readings about epiphanies. The first is an epiphany to Moses on Mount Sinai—the prototypical mountaintop experience, if you will. Then, we hear St. Paul’s take on what that event meant to him in his context as an evangelist to his fellow Jews. Lastly, we hear the story of an epiphany to three of Jesus’ disciples on Mount Tabor.

image

Let’s begin with Moses. After spending forty days on Mount Sinai with the Lord, he comes down the mountain to bring his people the Ten Commandments, the covenant between the Lord and the Israelites. Moses was transformed by the time that he had spent in God’s presence. How exactly he was transformed is not clear. The Hebrew text says that “the skin of his face was horned.” When St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, he translated the Hebrew literally. That’s why Michelangelo’s Moses has two horns! Most modern-day Bible translators understand the phrase to mean that Moses’ face emitted rays of light, which the Hebrews might very well have called “horns of light.”

image

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Recent Sermons

Measure for Measure

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel reading from Luke is a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. We heard the first part last Sunday. Remember the Beatitudes and the Woes? For some reason, Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain has never achieved the popularity of his more famous Sermon on the Mount. Maybe it has something to do with the aforementioned Woes. Or maybe it’s because of three demands that Jesus puts on would-be disciples: love your enemies, do not judge anyone, forgive everyone.

image

Now, that word “love” has a multitude of meanings, but Jesus makes clear what he means in this context. To love your enemies means to “do good to those who hate you, to bless those who curse you, to pray for those who abuse you.” Jesus is not asking us to “like” our enemies. “Love” in this context has less to do with feelings, than with actions. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans said, “‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:20–21).” The idea is that doing good to your enemy might bring about a conversion. Having said that, this approach isn’t always successful. St. Ignatius of Antioch, in a letter written while he was being escorted to Rome to be executed, famously commented how, the nicer he was, the worse his guards were in return. At least he tried!

image

Jesus then touches upon the question of retaliation when he speaks of “turning the other cheek” and surrendering your clothing. At first glance, it might seem that Jesus is advocating absolute passivity in the face of active evil. But something more nuanced is going on here. In Matthew’s Gospel, it is mentioned that the cheek being struck is the right cheek. Believe it or not, this little detail makes all the difference. For, if the attacker is striking the right cheek of his opponent, he is either using his left hand to do it (which was forbidden by Jewish custom), or more likely, he is giving a backhanded blow with his right hand. And in first-century Judea, a backhanded blow was reserved for social inferiors. Turning the other check to your attacker is meant to lure the assailant into striking again, but this time as he would strike an equal.

Continue reading

Comments Off on Measure for Measure

Filed under Recent Sermons

Lord, Who May Dwell in Your Tabernacle?

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Psalm 15

After years of preaching primarily on the Gospel reading, I find myself for the second Sunday in a row preaching on another reading. Today, I would like to focus my attention on the psalm.

image

The psalmist poses a question, one that we might very well ask ourselves today: “Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? Who may abide upon your holy hill?” In other words, who is fit to come into the presence of God? The psalmist proceeds to answer his own question by enumerating a list of requirements. The list is by no means complete, but it does get to the heart of what it means to be righteous.

image

The first requirement is that we lead a blameless life, do what is right, and speak the truth from our hearts. If taken literally, we are all in trouble! For who among us has lived a blameless life? But the point stands: it is the goal of the righteous to be blameless before the Lord. Before I move on, let me say a bit more about speaking truth from the heart. This phrase means to speak what we believe in the very core of our being. It is more than just a command not to lie. It is a command to open ourselves up to others and to share the Truth that sustains our soul.

Continue reading

Comments Off on Lord, Who May Dwell in Your Tabernacle?

Filed under Recent Sermons

Recognizing God and Family

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Last Sunday, we began that long season commonly called “Ordinary Time.” This season is marked by green vestments, and during Year B of the lectionary, we hear Gospel readings from the Gospel according to Mark. Despite the name “Ordinary Time,” some of the readings during this season are anything but ordinary. Today’s reading from chapter 3 of Mark’s Gospel is a case in point.

Jesus has started his ministry of teaching and healing and proclaiming God’s love. The crowds are so large that he can’t tend to them all. So he appoints twelve apostles to assist him. That same evening, exhausted and hungry, Jesus returns home to Capernaum longing for a meal and some rest. But the desperate crowds follow him home and won’t give him the time or the space to eat that meal.

image

That is where today’s Gospel reading begins. Then, we are told, back in Nazareth, some 25 miles away, Jesus’ family hears a rumor that Jesus is out of his mind, and they decide to intervene, to put a stop to his ministry. Perhaps they are afraid for Jesus’ safety. Perhaps they are concerned that Jesus might really be mentally ill. Or perhaps they are just embarrassed by the all the gossip. We don’t know their motivations.

 

Eventually, the rumor of Jesus’ miraculous healings reaches the capital, 100 miles to the south. (Even before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, word traveled fast.) And religious officials are sent to check out the situation. In reaction to Jesus’ miracles, these officials accuse Jesus of being in league with Beelzebul, another name for Satan. They claim that he casts out demons by the power granted him by the king of demons. Jesus responds by demonstrating the faulty logic of their reasoning. For “if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.” Jesus proceeds to tell a short parable that I would like to call the “Parable of the Home Invasion.” In this parable, a robber invades the home of a strong man, binds him, and then robs his house. Surprisingly, Jesus is the robber in this parable! And Satan is the victimized homeowner. One can infer that the robber’s plunder represents the people whom Satan has tormented and whom Jesus has set free. Satan may be a strong man, but Jesus is the stronger man, it would seem.

image

Jesus senses that the religious officials are not convinced. And he warns them that all their sins and blasphemies can be forgiven with one exception: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. For that, he says, is an eternal sin.

This idea of an unforgivable sin has puzzled Christians for some two thousand years. In the context of the Gospels, the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit is a form of spiritual perversity in which a person witnesses God’s loving action and then proceeds to condemn it as the work of the Devil. In the Letter to the Hebrews, however, the one unforgivable sin is said to be apostasy, the abandonment by a Christian of his or her faith in Jesus Christ. And in later Church tradition, the unforgivable and eternal sin is understood as the total rejection of God’s saving love. Perhaps the best way to characterize this unforgivable sin is to say that it is the stubborn and willful refusal to recognize God when we encounter him.

image

But let’s get back to the story! Jesus’ family finally arrives to put an end to Jesus’ ministry. The problem is there are so many people crowded in and around the house that the family can’t get to him. So they ask someone to pass the word through the crowd and inform Jesus that his family is outside and insists on seeing him without delay. Jesus’ response is unexpected, to say the least. Recall that Jesus came from a culture in which a child could be put to death for showing disrespect to a parent. And seemingly, that is just what Jesus does. He asks the rhetorical question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” He then goes on to answer his own question: “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” It would seem that Jesus is renouncing his biological family and replacing them with his followers. But if so, he has left the door open for his family to be received back into his good graces. All they have to do is to submit to God’s will. And eventually they do. We know that by the time of Jesus’ death, both his mother and his brother James were active members of the Christian community.

4881520But what about us today? As modern-day Christians living in the United States of America, how should we answer Jesus’ question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Whom should we recognize as our family? I would submit that the answer Jesus gave still applies: whoever does the will of God is our brother and our sister and our mother. In particular, the faithful Christians doing the will of God in Israel and Palestine are our brothers and sisters and mothers. As you know, I just got back from a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While there, the group I was with had the privilege to meet with Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. He confirmed what we had already seen with our own eyes: Christians living in the Holy Land need our support. He went on to tell us that the Anglican hospital in Gaza is quite literally overwhelmed by patients injured during recent conflicts with the Israeli security forces. They are running out of medical supplies and fuel for their generators. So today, we have the opportunity to acknowledge our family in Israel and Palestine and to give them some much-needed help. If you will make a donation to the “Rector’s Discretionary Fund” by June 24, I will forward the amount collected to our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem to use where the need is greatest. I pray that you will find it in your hearts to make a very generous contribution. After all, they are our family!

© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Leave a comment

Filed under Recent Sermons

Responding to God’s Call

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Reading

When I was going through the ordination process, I was asked again and again to explain my experience of God’s call to serve. The question was a bit embarrassing for me, because I didn’t have a dramatic story to tell. For me, God’s call came as a rather vague sense of spiritual hunger. Have you ever been hungry but didn’t know what you wanted to eat? You look through the cupboard, and you root around in the refrigerator trying to figure out what it is that you are craving. Well, that’s what it was like for me when I first experienced God’s call. But God’s call comes in many shapes and forms, and in today’s scripture readings, we have references to three rather dramatic calls to ministry.

image

First, we heard the story of Isaiah’s call to serve God as his prophet. It begins with a vision of God’s throne room in Heaven. Isaiah sees God himself sitting on a throne, being served by fearsome seraphs singing God’s praise. (And the song they sing should sound familiar, for it is the Sanctus, which we sing at every Eucharist.) Isaiah cowers in fear and shame, bemoaning his sinfulness and the sinfulness of his people. A seraph responds by touching Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal, thereby purifying him from his sin. Ouch! Then God speaks out, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” With unbelievable bravery, Isaiah pipes up, “Here am I; send me!”

Now, the lectionary allows us to stop there, on a high note. But if we do that, we miss Isaiah’s actual commission. As it turns out, Isaiah is given the difficult job of going to his people and pronouncing God’s judgment on them. God warns Isaiah that his message will fall on deaf ears. The Children of Israel are expected to do what American children do when they see or hear what they don’t like. They close their eyes. They put their hands over their ears. And they try to drown out the unwanted message by intoning, “La, la, la, la, la….”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Recent Sermons