True Allegiance

Bible Readings

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Today is the feast of the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, one of four baptismal feasts in the church calendar. And in normal times, the sole focus of the day, and of this sermon, would be on the meaning of baptism. (And I do intend to get to that topic.) But first, I have to say something about what happened in this nation on January 6, the feast of the Epiphany.

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This nation received a shock, to say the least. The President of the United States, either intentionally or unintentionally, incited an insurrection. The Capitol was taken by force and ransacked by a violent and angry mob. While the mob was still violating the Capitol, the President released a video addressed to the insurrectionists in which he said, “We love you. You’re very special.” Not exactly a blistering condemnation! The insurrection failed. But five people lost their lives. Four died trying to keep President Trump in power by means of violence, and one, a police officer, died trying to stop them. On one of the greatest feasts in the Christian calendar, the feast of the Epiphany of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, this nation had a very different kind of epiphany: that our democracy is in real peril.

But we can do something about it. We can, I believe, start mending this divided nation. And this is where our baptismal faith comes into play. At every baptism, the candidate is asked to renounce the Devil, the Father of Lies, and to vow to follow Jesus Christ as his or her only Lord and Savior.

Again and again, we are told in Holy Scripture that there is only one Anointed of God, only one Messiah, only one Christ. And when push comes to shove, we must follow him and only him. Sure, we can support our favorite politician. We can donate money to campaigns. We can work to get out the vote. But when we begin to see ourselves as a “faithful follower” or a “devoted disciple” of any politician, we are lost. I think that has happened to some of the people in this nation. They have become disciples of a false Messiah.

But we need to move on as a nation, to find a way to unite. This current division is deadly—both spiritually and literally! As I said earlier, it is not too late; there are still steps we can take to mend this nation. Step one: renounce the lies, just as every candidate for baptism renounces the Father of Lies. And that may mean you stop watching your favorite cable news channel and look for less politicized sources of news. Step two: ask for forgiveness for your transgressions and forgive those who have wronged you. None of us is without sin. Step three: Remember the humanity of your political opponents, whether they be Republicans or Democrats. For to demonize any other human being only strengthens our true Enemy, by which I mean the Devil. Lastly, we come to step four: hold fast to your one true allegiance. If you would call yourself a Christian, you must be a follower of Jesus Christ—not of Donald J. Trump and not of Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Never forget that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life, that Jesus is the Light of the World, and that Jesus is our one true Lord. There can be no other.

With that in mind, let us pledge our undivided allegiance to Jesus Christ, as we recite that ancient affirmation of baptismal faith, known as the Apostles’ Creed.

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

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The Source of Our Christmas Joy

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Let me begin this short sermon by acknowledging a reality: this has been a horrible year. We all live in fear of COVID-19, and we are compelled to isolate ourselves from friends and family. And some among us are actively grieving the loss of a loved one. As I said, it has been a horrible year. Even so, there is still joy to be found in the world. And this day, the day when we commemorate the Incarnation of God’s Son, is meant to be a day of joy.

We should be joyful because a Light has come into this dark world, and the darkness did not overcome it. The very Word of God took human form and walked among us, proclaiming Good News, healing the sick, and even raising the dead. He came to oppose the darkness of sin and death, the darkness of ignorance and oppression, and to trample them under his feet. He came to forgive our sins, to strengthen us for service, to remind us how to love, and to renew our hope.

Into this fallen Creation, the very Word of God became truly human, in the form of the Christ child, and abided with us for some 33 years. This Word of whom St. John speaks is both the Father’s only Son and the divine self-expression of God’s love for the world. He was “spoken” by God at Creation; was proclaimed to Israel by their prophets; walked among us as a Jewish rabbi named Jesus; and continues to speak to us in the Good News of the Gospels, in the sacraments of the Church, and in the beauty of Nature.

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Now, why, you might ask, did God’s Son condescend to become human? To save the world! Just look at the state of the world in Jesus’ day! Just look at the state of the world today! Clearly, we human beings need God’s help. Oh, yes, our scientists can create lifesaving vaccines to defeat COVID-19. (And I am extremely grateful for their work.) But to date, no scientist has found a way to inoculate us from sin and death. In that regard, we are not capable of saving ourselves. So God intervened and sent his Son to do what we could not.

The message of the Incarnation, the message of Christmas Day, is that God is not distant and detached, but present and caring. The message of Christmas Day is that God the Son was willing to dwell among us for a time and to suffer death, so that we might know eternal life. As St. Athanasius puts it, the Word “became human that we might become divine,… [and] he endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality.” And therein, brothers and sisters, lies the source of our Christmas joy, pandemic notwithstanding. For in the end, sin does not win; death does not win. No, in the end—through the intervention of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ—love wins; life wins; we win! And that is cause for great joy.

Merry Christmas!

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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A Time of Krísis and Expectancy

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Today’s Gospel reading is the story of the angelic Annunciation to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear God’s Son. The museums of Europe are full of paintings of the Annunciation. Many are quite spiritually moving, but none captures even a semblance of the real event.

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Imagine, if you will, an illiterate peasant girl around the age of fifteen, for that was the typical age of betrothal in Mary’s day. Out of the blue, she receives a strange greeting from a messenger of God. And she is told that she will conceive a child out of wedlock who will be acknowledged as God’s own Son and who will sit on the throne of David forever. Her response to this amazing announcement is pragmatic. She asks how such a thing can happen when she is a virgin. The angel goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and overshadow her, so that she will conceive.

Now, despite all this language about what will happen to Mary, in point of fact, the angel is announcing what is only a possible future for the girl and for the world. At this point of the story, the virginal conception of Jesus Christ is not a done deal. The teenage Mary could, in fact, say No (and in my experience, teenagers often do!). At this pivotal moment, the fate of the world hinged on the willing cooperation of a frightened teenage girl. For that one instant, the whole universe must have held its breath as it awaited its fate. Fortunately, Mary’s response was Yes, and the universe could breathe a sigh of relief.

Her “Yes” was an act of full and irrevocable commitment to God’s will. Mary knew how her culture worked; she knew that saying Yes to God might be very costly for her. For by agreeing to conceive outside of wedlock, Mary was accepting the very real possibility that she would be publicly disgraced and cast out from her family to fend for herself. Even so, she took the risk and accepted the cost of obedience.

But what does this story of Mary have to say to us today? More than I could include in one sermon, that’s for sure! But for us here today in our present circumstances, two themes come to mind: krísis and expectancy. Krísis is the Greek word underlying the English word crisis, and it can mean a moment of decision, an act of judgment, or even the interpretation of a vision. Today’s story of the Annunciation to Mary is a story about krísis in every sense of the word. In the moments following the invitation to be the mother of God’s own Son, Mary had to use her judgment, interpret a vision, and make a rather difficult decision.

As we know, what followed for Mary was a prolonged period of expectancy, the second theme of this sermon. Mary literally became expectant. But not only did she go through the normal nine months of expectancy associated with pregnancy, she also had to endure a much longer period of expectancy. She had to wait an additional thirty years to see the start of Jesus’ ministry as the Messiah of God. Only then did she know for sure that the promise of the angel Gabriel had indeed been fulfilled.

This time in which we live now is also a time of krísis and expectancy. Like Mary, we are being called to use our judgment, to make difficult decisions, and then to wait for God’s plan for us to unfold. For some, the difficult decision may be to keep going in the midst of loss and grief, waiting for the pain to let up. For others, the difficult decision may be to give sacrificially to the church in a time of great financial insecurity, waiting for the parish to return to life. And all of us are faced with the difficult decision to stay home and stay safe, even when we are desperate to gather with our family, and to wait for the day when God frees us from this pandemic. In so many ways these days, we are called to use our judgment, to make difficult decisions…and then to wait.

Now, our decisions may not change the world in the way that Mary’s decision did, but they have their effect. They either advance God’s plan, or they hinder it. So let us learn from Mary to decide for God at every turn and then to wait patiently upon the Lord.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

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© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Rejoice Always!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is the third Sunday of Advent. It is traditionally called “Gaudete” Sunday. “Gaudete” is Latin for rejoice. Accordingly, this Sunday’s readings are noticeably less gloomy than the readings for the other Sundays of Advent—not a single mention of hellfire or the gnashing of teeth in the Outer Darkness.

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The first reading from Isaiah is an oracle from the third section of the book of Isaiah and dates to the time of the restoration of Jerusalem, after the Israelites had returned from exile in Babylon. If you read in between the lines of this prophecy, you see that things were not as they should be. The prophet is commissioned by God to announce “good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, the people were suffering. But this situation, we are told, will not last forever. “The Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up.” And on that day, the prophet will “greatly rejoice in the Lord.”

The second reading is from the First Letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, the oldest book of the New Testament. But its advice is just as fresh and pertinent today, as it was then. Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How appropriate for Rejoice Sunday! And it is undoubtedly good and wholesome advice. But it is also hard advice to follow—especially these days! We are in the midst of a global pandemic. Folks we know and love have died. The nation is politically divided. So, how can we rejoice at all, let alone “rejoice always”?

Well, we can rejoice always, because there is, in fact, some good news that abides: the Good News of Jesus Christ. For just as there is light at the end of the tunnel with regard to the pandemic (I am speaking of the vaccine, of course), so also is there light at the end of the tunnel with regard to all the trials and tribulations of this life—and that Light is Christ.

Finally, we come to the account of St. John the Baptist found in John’s Gospel. In the very first line of the reading, we are told all that we really need to know about this strange prophet: He was sent by God “to testify to the Light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the Light, but he came to testify to the Light.”

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On this Rejoice Sunday, each reading touches upon rejoicing, even if only implicitly. The Old Testament prophet proclaims that he will “greatly rejoice in the Lord” and that his whole being will exult in his God, for the year of the Lord’s favor has been proclaimed. And St. Paul advises his readers to “rejoice always,” no matter the circumstances. Admittedly, there is no explicit mention of rejoicing in the Gospel reading. Instead, what we find is John the Baptist pointing us to the source of all joy and the ultimate reason to rejoice: that the Light of God has come into the world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

And so, on this “Gaudete” Sunday, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, we are reminded to rejoice. Rejoice, for God came into the world some 2000 years ago in the person of Jesus Christ. Rejoice, because the Lord loves us, and walks with us, even as we traverse the valley of the shadow of death. Rejoice, because Christ will come again in power and great triumph “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.” “Rejoice, again, I say, rejoice!”

Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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And So We Wait…

Bible Readings

By the Rev. Darren Miner

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Like our ancestors in the faith, Christians today look to prophecy to guide us, to point us in the right direction. And like our predecessors, we find that God’s oracles can speak different messages in different times. Today, we heard an excerpt from Isaiah chapter 40 and an echo of that same scripture in the Gospel reading from Mark.

Isaiah spoke of a voice crying out to prepare a highway in the desert for our God. The ravines are to be filled in. The hills are to be leveled. And when this roadwork is done, God’s glory will be revealed to all. When these words were originally prophesied, the Jews were living in exile in Babylon, pining for the day they could return home. With this oracle, Isaiah prophesied the eventual vindication of the Jews. A highway would be made through the desert separating Babylon and Jerusalem, and God would lead his people home in glory. This prophecy would seem to have been fulfilled with the Jews’ return home after some 60 years in exile. But then again, maybe not!

In the Good News of Jesus Christ according to Mark, we find yet another understanding of Isaiah’s prophecy. For Saint Mark, the voice crying out is not the voice of God, nor even the voice of some anonymous angelic herald, but that of John the Baptist, and the Lord whose arrival is eagerly anticipated is not God the Father, but his Son Jesus Christ. In Mark’s Gospel, Isaiah’s prophecy of a divine highway through the desert is understood as a metaphor—a metaphor for another kind of work that is just as strenuous in its own way as building a highway in the desert—namely, repentance!

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In today’s Gospel reading, the desert highway signifies the path to God that believers must build through the wilderness of this sinful world. And all those who travel this road to its end will see the salvation of God. As Mark understands it, John the Baptist’s work was to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry by exhorting those Jews who had turned away from righteous living to repent and return to the path of justice and righteousness. As a token of their conversion of life, John called the people to submit themselves to a ritual bath, to be baptized in water for the forgiveness of their sins.

But what about us gathered here today on this conference call? What meaning does all this prophecy have for us? We are not living in exile in Babylon, looking for a divinely ordained way home as in Isaiah’s time. Neither are we living in anticipation of Jesus’ first coming to proclaim the Kingdom of God, as were the followers of John the Baptist. No, but we are waiting for freedom from this pandemic. And like the church addressed in 2 Peter, we are living in anticipation of Jesus’ second coming, when the righteous will be rewarded with eternal life in that Kingdom where “death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

In the meantime, we wait, and we prepare. We keep ourselves “without spot or blemish.” (Or at least, we try our best!) And when we fail, we repent. Admittedly, waiting is hard work. It could not have been easy for the Jews in exile to wait 60 years for their freedom from the Babylonian captivity. It is not easy for us today to wait a year or more for our freedom from this pandemic. And it certainly has not been easy for the Church to wait some 2000 years for the fulfilment of God’s promise to establish his Kingdom on earth. But as Saint Peter notes in his letter, God’s time is not our time. For “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” And so we wait…with longing, with expectation, maybe with just a bit of grumbling, but always with hope. For in God’s good time, God freed the Jews from their captivity. In God’s good time, he will free us from COVID-19, I have no doubt. And in God’s good time, the Lord Jesus Christ will return to rule over his Kingdom. And by all accounts, it will be well worth the wait! Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Wake Up!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and the church begins another liturgical year. This season has two distinct foci: the first coming, or advent, of our Lord some 2000 years ago and the second coming, or advent, when Christ will come again in glory to judge the world.

In normal times, the church observes the season with the use of violet vestments and paraments. And each Sunday of Advent is marked with the lighting of a new candle on the Advent wreath. But this is not a normal time, so we don’t have these visual cues. Even so, there are changes to the liturgy that mark the change of season. For example, we now begin Morning Prayer with a Confession of Sin, and the canticles between the readings have changed to match the change of the season.

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The first reading today from Isaiah speaks of the Day of the Lord. The prophet longs for a day of final judgment when God will act definitively against the nations that threaten Israel. And he laments that God has seemingly abandoned his people because of their sinfulness and lack of faith. On behalf of his people, Isaiah asks God to overlook the people’s sins and to continue to shape and mold them into a priestly people.

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that God is with us and that he has given us many spiritual gifts through Jesus Christ. Paul assures us that God will continue to abide with us, even to the very end, for God is faithful. We may not always be faithful, but God always is! And with God’s own help, should we choose to accept it, we will be made ready to stand before the throne of God and receive judgment at his hand.

Finally, we come to the Gospel reading from Mark. It is an excerpt from chapter 13, often called “the Little Apocalypse,” because it resembles the greater apocalypse of the Book of Revelation. And like all apocalyptic literature, it deals with what will happen at the end of time, using symbolism that is both difficult and disturbing.

In this excerpt, Jesus warns us that on the Last Day his chosen ones, the Elect of God, will be gathered up by angels for salvation. Precisely when this Day of Judgment will occur even Jesus doesn’t know. And so he urgently counsels his followers to keep awake and to be spiritually prepared at all times. Think of this scripture as something akin to those blaring alerts from the Emergency Alert System you get from time to time on your TV.

For a couple of centuries, Christians managed to maintain that sense of urgency, that expectation that the Last Day was at hand. But to be quite honest, it’s been 2000 years since the emergency broadcast was first aired, and we’ve stopped paying close attention! But even if the Second Coming of Christ does not occur in our lifetimes, the fact is that all of us will eventually face our Maker and be judged. And we should live each day as if it were out last. If we truly thought we had only this one day to set things right with God and our neighbor—what might we do differently? I suspect we might start doing what we should have been doing all along!

Now, if you’ve been paying attention in church, you already know what God expects of us. For the Scriptures have given us plenty of guidance. We have the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: to be poor in spirit, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers…. We have Jesus’ advice to keep the three traditional Jewish acts of piety: to pray, to fast, and to give alms. We have the hidden commandment in the Lord’s Prayer: to forgive others their trespasses. We have the continuing guidance of the Ten Commandments. And finally, we have the Summary of the Law: to love God and to love our neighbor.

Admittedly, it takes real effort to maintain righteousness. And it takes attentiveness. It’s so easy to fall asleep spiritually. Going to church every week can get to be a chore (even phoning in can be a bother), so our attendance starts to drop off. The cost of living keeps going up and life in a pandemic can be precarious, so maybe we stop giving to charity. Forgiveness is such hard work, so maybe we just hold on to that little grudge. Then there’s the task of daily prayer—it can be so tedious and time-consuming—minutes out of our life that we will never get back!—so we stop talking to God. And little by little, we drift asleep.

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Well, “wake up, and smell the coffee”! Now is the time to prepare for judgment. Now is the time to make things right. Now is the time to put the house in order, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come.”

Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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A Christmas Carol – Incarnation Radio Hour

Please join us for our 6th edition of the Incarnation Radio Hour featuring an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’

Date & Time: Wednesday December 9, 4 p.m. PST

Free to attend.

For zoom call details send an e-mail to comebefed@aol.com

Featuring:

  • Jere Torkelsen as Mr. Scrooge
  • Margaret Genovese as Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present
  • Sally Munro as the Narrator

A holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol, is a short novella by Charles Dickens, originally published in 1843. Through a series of spectral visions, the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is allowed to review his life and to change its outcome. The Ghost of Christmas Past reveals vignettes of Scrooge’s early life as a schoolboy, an apprentice, and a young man in love. The Ghost of Christmas Present reveals to Scrooge that joy has little to do with wealth; together they visit the homes of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s much-abused clerk, and of his generous nephew Fred, who has married for love. Finally the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come allows Scrooge a vision of what his end will be like if he continues on his present course—he will die despised and unmourned. After witnessing these scenes, Scrooge is a changed man. He immediately sets about mending his ways, becoming generous and thoughtful and thereby finding redemption and joy.  (from https://www.britannica.com/topic/A-Christmas-Carol-novel)

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Be Ready at All Times

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Jesus’ story about a wedding that goes awry strikes a chord with me. I officiated at my nephew’s wedding some nine years ago. And a few minutes before the wedding was supposed to start, I asked the best man if he had the rings. The answer was no. Luckily, the bride was delayed. So, there was time to retrieve the rings, and the story had a happy ending. But Jesus’ allegorical parable about the Kingdom of Heaven deals with a wedding that doesn’t have quite so happy an ending.

Ten maidens from the groom’s household are waiting for him to return to the family abode with his new bride. Their job is to meet the wedding party on the road and to escort the couple to the wedding hall carrying torches (more precisely, oil lamps attached to poles).

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The groom is unexpectedly delayed. Now, it turns out that five of these bridesmaids had brought no oil with them, and five had. After a long while, everyone, both the wise and the foolish, falls asleep. When the groom finally arrives hours late, the five foolish bridesmaids suddenly realize that they are missing one essential item, olive oil to keep the torches burning during the long procession.

When asked, the wise bridesmaids refuse to share. This seems rather selfish, at first glance, but the explanation is that there is not enough to last ten people for the entire procession. If they did share, all the torches would go out in the middle of the procession, and the procession would be stranded in the dark.

So, the foolish bridesmaids are sent off to the shops at midnight to buy olive oil. It would seem unlikely that a shop would be open at that hour. But the story implies that eventually they were successful.

When they get to the wedding hall, the procession is over; the wedding ceremony is over; the doors have been locked; and the party has started. Now, the locking of the doors is an anomaly. At a typical Jewish wedding in those days, the doors would normally be kept open, and guests would come and go all night long.

When the foolish bridesmaids find the door unexpectedly locked, they call out, asking to be let in. But the groom refuses to open the door, claiming he doesn’t know them. He is fibbing, of course. He knows very well who they are. But he judges them unworthy of joining the celebration.

Jesus ends by telling us the moral of the story: “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

So how do we interpret this allegory? Well, the groom clearly represents the Messiah, Jesus himself, when he returns on the Last Day after a long delay. The ten bridesmaids represent the Christian community, and the oil for the torches probably represents faith in action. The wise are prepared for the Second Coming with a supply of good works, while the foolish have no good deeds to witness to their faith.

Finally, what about the final command to “keep awake.” Taken literally, it makes little sense, since even the wise bridesmaids in the parable fell asleep. In this context, I think we have to understand the “keep awake” command as a command to be prepared at all times.

Jesus’ parable is troubling in several respects. The wise bridesmaids, who represent good Christians, come across as selfish. The groom, who represents Jesus himself, comes across as petulant and vindictive. And the ending is not a happy one, at least not for the foolish bridesmaids.

The author Nikos Kazantzakis was so bothered by the ending, that, in his novel The Last Temptation of Christ, he changed it:

“[The bridegroom] called to his servants to open the door. ‘This is a wedding,’ he cried. ‘Let everyone eat, drink, and be merry. Open the door for the foolish virgins, and wash and refresh their feet, for they have run much.’ ”

In some ways, this rewritten ending is much more pleasing. But it has a fatal flaw: it implies that our actions in this life have no ultimate consequences. And according to Jesus, that is just not the case. So perhaps the original story, as unsatisfying as it may be, is the more truthful one.

While Jesus’ parable speaks of the Day of the Lord, when the Messiah returns unexpectedly to judge the world, it applies equally well to another event that can come unexpectedly—our own death. For one way or another, we will all stand before the Lord and be judged. Today, we have been solemnly warned to be ready at all times to face that final judgment. And how we fare will all depend on us—on our faith and on our faithfulness, on how well we have loved God and on how well we have loved our neighbor.

And so, my fellow bridesmaids, let us be wise and prepare ourselves even now for the coming of the Bridegroom, for we “know neither the day nor the hour.” Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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For All the Saints

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

All Saints’ Day is a “principal feast” in the calendar of the Episcopal Church. It is one of the seven feast days when Beth and I normally get to smoke up the church with incense—but not this year—this year is hardly normal! But pandemic notwithstanding, here we are, gathered together virtually to remember all God’s holy people: the official saints found in the volume Lesser Feasts and Fasts and the unofficial parish saints who have gone to glory during the last twelve months.

Now, some parishes prefer to remember the unofficial saints on November 2, All Souls’ Day, in a “separate but equal” celebration. But I am firmly against making any such distinction. Pastorally, it may make sense, but theologically, not so much! So on this day, we celebrate the blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, and St. Paul, as well as St. Kate Schultz and St. Judy Wargo.

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St. Kate Schultz was an integral part of this faith community for decades. She taught Sunday school. She sang in the choir. She served on every possible committee. She helped out with every fundraiser. She opened her home to Christian study groups. And she opened her home to a fellow parishioner in need. As you know, St. Kate was an intelligent and well-read woman, and she knew a thing or two about the Christian faith. But more than that, she actually lived out her faith!

Likewise, St. Judy Wargo served the church faithfully decade after decade and will be sorely missed. She served the children, when this church had children. She led the bazaar a time or two. She served on vestry more times than I can count. But I remember her best as the consummate junior warden. And if you ever wondered why she didn’t hug or shake hands at the Peace, that was because she had a compromised immune system. Just attending the Eucharist was a risk to her life, but she came anyway. That’s what I call courage! That’s what I call faith!

But the point of today’s celebration is not only to remember the holy people of God who have preceded us in death, but also to remember our own calling to a life of holiness. And to this end, we were presented with today’s Gospel reading from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which deals precisely with issues of holy living.

Jesus begins his famous sermon by assuring the poor, the grieving, the hungry, and the oppressed that they are blessed, that they are fortunate. What on earth does Jesus mean by declaring that those who suffer are actually fortunate? Well, they are fortunate because God loves them so very much, knows their pain, and will reward them accordingly. Yes, God loves all his children, but God’s primary concern is always for the “losers” of this world, for the underdogs who cannot fend for themselves.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to side with the losers of this world as well. We are meant to help the poor, whether they be poor in money or poor in spirit. We are meant to comfort those who are in mourning. We are meant to protect the meek and the vulnerable. We are meant to feed the hungry and to give drink to the thirsty, whether they hunger and thirst for earthly food and drink or for righteousness. We are meant to side with the merciful, and to be merciful ourselves. We are called to be pure in heart, to refrain from judging others and always to give others the benefit of the doubt. Lastly, we are called to be peacemakers, active peacemakers, in our families, in this parish, and in the world.

But, there is a cost to discipleship. If we live such a holy life, we will suffer for it, one way or another. For some people will, no doubt, take advantage of our meekness. Others will take advantage of our generosity. Some may ridicule and belittle us, mocking our “naïveté.” If this should happen, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Now, what our heavenly reward will look like is something of a mystery. As St. John writes, “What we will be has not yet been revealed.” But he then goes on to promise that “we will be like [God], for we will see him as he is.” Such a promise beggars the imagination! The Revelation to John attempts to describe the situation, using imagery that obscures as much as it reveals. But one thing is made clear: many will be saved from every people and nation. And there, before the throne of God, “God will wipe away every tear.” And there, in the company of the blessed Virgin Mary, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, and St. Paul, we will be reunited with departed friends and family, and with this parish’s most recent saints in triumph: St. Kate Schultz and St. Judy Wargo.

Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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The Messiah’s Two Commandments

Gospel Reading

By the Rev. Darren Miner

In today’s Gospel reading, we get two snippets from a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees. The first snippet is about which commandment in the Law of Moses is the greatest. The second snippet is about the identity of the Messiah. Let me deal with snippet #2 first.

Jesus wants to silence the Pharisees who have been plaguing him with trick questions. So he asks them a riddle about the identity of the Messiah. He quotes the first verse of Psalm 110, written by King David about the crowning of a future Messiah. In that verse, David refers to the Messiah as “my Lord.” Now, biblical prophecy foretold that the Messiah would be a descendent of David. And in a patriarchal culture such as ancient Israel, the ancestor is usually given higher rank than the descendent. Why, then, would David refer to his own descendent as “my Lord”? Well, the Pharisees can’t solve this riddle, and they wisely stop pestering Jesus. We, on the other hand, have the answer. As the foster son of Joseph, Jesus the Messiah is the descendent of King David by adoption and can legitimately be called a Son of David. But as the only Son of God, Jesus outranks any earthly king, including his royal ancestor.

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Now, let’s turn to the first snippet from the debate. What is the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses? Jesus answers, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” But that commandment alone is not sufficient to summarize the purpose of the entire Law of Moses, so Jesus adds a second commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He tells them that these commandments are the two hinges that hold up the door of Holy Scripture. Now, Jesus is not saying that the other biblical commandments count for nothing. Far from it! But he is saying that these two commandments give us the lens by which to view all of Scripture, keeping us focused on what really matters.

As I have stated many times before, when the Bible speaks of love, it means action as opposed to mere sentiment. Yes, it is good to like God and our neighbor. But that is not what is being asked of us. We are asked to love God and our neighbor. In other words, we are expected to perform actions that express our loving regard for God and neighbor.

So, how might we show our love of God? Well, we might decide to forgive him, rather than hold a grudge, when he lets us down. We’ve all felt that feeling, I suspect. We expect God to protect us from harm, but then we get hit by something like a pandemic. And we get angry at God, good and angry. Maybe we rail at him, or maybe we give him the silent treatment. And that’s OK, so long as we quickly move on from that anger to forgiveness. And if we want to show our love of God, we need to talk to God on a daily basis, not just on Sunday mornings, and we need to listen for God’s response. And lastly, we need to get to know God personally, through prayer and Bible study.

And much the same applies with the love of neighbor. Sooner or later, some other human being is going to hurt you or disappoint you. And you won’t like it. Why should you? But then you have to decide to move from anger and resentment to showing love, even if you don’t quite feel the love at first. And just as I advised you to talk to God regularly, so must you talk to your neighbor and listen when your neighbor responds. Honest communication is a part of any loving relationship—just ask anyone who’s been happily married for a decade or two!

Now, none of this is easy at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. The loneliness and limitations of the pandemic put us all in a black mood from time to time. We all feel cut off from one another. And to make matters even worse, the divisive politics of the current moment foment anger and resentment throughout this nation, and it’s not by accident. Frankly, it has never been harder to love our neighbor—especially if that neighbor supports a different candidate for President! But it is precisely in such circumstances as these that we must hold fast to the core teachings found in today’s Gospel reading: Jesus Christ, Son of David and Son of God, would have us practice love of God and love of neighbor—always and everywhere, no matter the cost, till the day we die. For the sake of him who suffered on the cross for love of us, let’s not let him down!

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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