Monday, November 25, 2013

Advent 4, 24 November 2013

Luke 22:33-43
Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox 

O Rex Gentium, King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save all humanity, whom you have fashioned from the dust of the earth. 

One of my seminary professors, the Rev. Charlie Cook, was fond of supplementing the gospel of John, chapter 8, verse 32:  “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free…but first it will make you STRANGE.”  

Today is known as “Christ the King” Sunday, and so we remember our brothers and sisters in congregations in Kingsland and Valdosta, as well as other places, who keep their feast of title this day.  And it is, above all, a Strange Feast.  It is a relatively new feast, having only come into existence in 1925 at the direction of then-Pope Pius XI, as the “Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ King of the Universe.”  The Book of Common Prayer 1979 does not use “Christ the King” as a title for this day, but the prayers and the lessons appointed for today are attentive to that theme. 

We have trouble with the words of “king” and “kingdom” nowadays, and in this part of the world.  We fought a revolution over 200 years ago to be free from monarchy; if we hear the language of kings and kingdoms most of us either tend to think of the British royal family, or a scene or character from a Disney movie.  Neither of which are helpful in this context. 

This morning’s gospel describes a scene of Jesus being called “the King” but in the most mocking, abusive way, as he hangs on the cross, in the company of criminals, on a public street corner for all to see.  The political and religious power-structure of his time and place have done all they can to destroy him.   

What sort of king is this? 

Not the king that perhaps had been expected.  Jeremiah, writing centuries before to the exiles in Babylon, clearly had a particular sort of person in mind, a descendant of King David of long ago, who would deal decisively with unjust and abusive and neglectful rulers (“shepherds”) of the people, and who would make a place of peace, justice, and safety for all over whom he should rule.  And all would be as it was in the good old days.  

By this criteria, Jesus isn’t much of a king, as kings go.  He has no army to rally behind him; he has no courtiers to advise him; at this last, he has not even a friend nearby to comfort him.  He is crucified as a troublemaker, a threat to the Pax Romana and the fragile balance of power in that time and place, a potential danger to those whose own positions in the social and political hierarchy were all-too-vulnerable.  A strange king, indeed. 

There, in humiliation and pain, moments from death, he is abused by those who look on and recognized by only one person.  A stranger, one of the criminals crucified there that day, who knew himself by all reckoning to be outside society’s boundaries, deserving (at least in the eyes of those who judged him) of all that he was suffering—and he alone understands who Jesus is.  He has become known in subsequent years as the Repentant Thief, but he’s not really all that repentant.  He doesn’t ask for forgiveness for the things he has done—and we do not know what those might have been.  He acknowledges those things indirectly, but only asks Jesus to “remember him.” 

Remember me when you come into your kingdom. 

He has no right to expect anything.  But even so, he reaches out in hope of mercy. 

He is like the tax collector in the temple back in chapter 18, who cannot even look up to heaven, but cries out for mercy.  And whose cry for mercy is heard and answered. 

He asks to be “remembered.”  Not merely “called to mind as a recollection of a past event.” But re-membered, re-stored, re-newed, put back together in this kingdom—whatever sort of kingdom it may be—that he somehow believes that Jesus is capable of, even in that moment. 

It is the same word, “remembered”, that Jesus speaks to his followers earlier, around the table at the last supper. “Do this in remembrance of me.”   The criminal crucified with Jesus was not present for that final meal, but he is participating in its grace and power, without bread, without wine, but with the Host welcoming him to the banquet nonetheless. 

This royal banquet, this welcome into the garden of abundance and refreshment (which is what Paradise originally meant, a watered garden) is promised to one who did not deserve it, had not earned it, could not pay for it, and yet somehow had just the tiny mustard-seed bit of faith enough to ask for it.  And it was enough.  For in Jesus, crucified and risen, there is always enough for those who ask—and even those who cannot ask.   

And so the writer of the letter to the Colossians can speak joyfully, even exuberantly, of our being adopted into the family of God, given an “… inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 

This forgiveness of sins, this restoration of relationship between human beings and God, and between human beings and one another, is the gift of God in Christ.  It is accomplished once-for-all in Christ; its full appearance is still yet to be fully revealed to us in this world.  It is not accomplished by anything we do or refrain from doing; it is entirely God’s handiwork.  We can welcome it into our hearts and lives, or we can refuse it—but even then, God does not have to take “No” for an answer. 

The writer goes on:  “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-- all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” 

What was seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was not the whole story.  “Just wait, there’s more!”   In him All That Is, has its source and its sustenance.  In him the resurrection and restoration of all the creation has begun.  What his enemies intended as an instrument of shameful death becomes a symbol of forgiveness and mercy.  “Father, forgive them: they do not know what they are doing.”  Violence was not met with cursing or further violence; Jesus did not call down the wrath of God on his enemies.  Even there, he asked good for them.  The word of forgiveness, even there at the point of disaster and death, has the power to change everything.  And it does.   

It is not any kingdom that the world has ever understood, in the world’s terms.  It looks strange, and weird, and wrong.  Because in order to include all the strangeness and weirdness and wrongness of the universe, Jesus had to become part of that strange weird wrongness himself.  Even to the point of death, so that no part of human experience would be omitted.  He knew it all, so that he might know us all, so that all we are or ever shall be, might be known by and in him in the Resurrection.  No one is left out; no one is left behind.  All are lifted up into the fullness of this kingdom of God of which Jesus speaks.  

We are, all of us, adopted into God’s family and household through God’s love revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; we have heard what that love looks like, through words calling for blessing and forgiveness even for those who would hurt or destroy us.  This message Jesus preaches, this kingdom to which he directs his hearers, is indeed not like any kingdom we know in this world.  It is STRANGE, and we are made STRANGE as citizens in it.  Forgiveness for enemies; love for God above all things; love of neighbor as self.  Giving of ourselves—time, talent, and treasure—in order to bless strangers and people we don’t know, whom we may never know.   

Very strange citizens, following a very strange king.  
The world does not know what to do with such people.  
Never has, never will.    
And yet it is these who have challenged and changed the world at every stage of history.   

Called on the powers and principalities in every time and place:
to do justice, to love mercy, to walk in humility with God.
Called forth the broken, the hurting, the sick and the sad and the lost and the dead:
to walk in the light of God’s mercy and grace and abundant life.  
Called upon God, to come and dwell among the people as leader and guide, protector and deliverer. 

My brothers and sisters, may we be so strange, so fearlessly and joyfully strange.  
Strange followers of our strange King.


May it be so for us.
May it be so among us.  
This day, and always.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Advent 1, 10 November 2013

Luke 20: 27-38
Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox

From T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets: “Little Gidding”:
“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” 

Today we begin the season of “The Long Advent.”  The end of the year, and the beginning.  Purple vestments on the ministers, bare branches on the altar, and seven (not four, but seven) candles to mark the progression of time.  There is a history behind this “Long Advent”, and an intentionality to remember—to be re-membered, put back together by—the hope and promise of the season.  We need more of it, because we are much robbed of it by the time and place in which we live.  Already we hear the strains of Christmas carols at the store and in the hold music on the phone; we look at our rapidly-decreasing dayplanners (printed or electronic) and panic at what remains to be done, before either we leave to visit scattered friends and family, or they descend upon us. 

Time is running out. 

We need to remember.  And to be re-membered, brought back into God, into our right minds.  To begin anew, to look and listen for the voice of God—still, small, easily overlooked or missed—and yet always speaking to us, whether we will hear or no.Always calling to us through the distractions and confusions.   

Jesus is teaching in the Temple this morning, and the Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) come to him with a distraction, a confusion.  They tell the hypothetical story of a woman, married and widowed seven times in sequence to seven brothers, who then herself dies without offspring.  “In the Resurrection (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) whose will she be—for all seven of them had had her?  

Social Context:  The custom of levirate marriage (from levir, “brother”) was a way of assuring both the continued legacy and estate of a deceased older brother, and the protection of a (presumably young) childless widow.  Such a practice “…not only continues the line of the deceased, it also affirms the…widow’s place in the home of her husband’s family.” (Anchor Bible Dictionary, “Levirate Marriage.”) 

Which is all well and good as far as it goes, but the example is ridiculous.  Seven brothers all marry the same woman, and all die one after another without ever fulfilling the intended goal—that is, to “raise up children” to the elder brother.  In a time and place where women were valued as wives and mothers and not much else, this was a problem.   

And so the Sadducees, “who say there is no resurrection”, come asking a question which, in their worldview, has no possible legitimate answer in the first place.  But then, they don’t really want a legitimate answer.  They are there in this scene to make life difficult for Jesus, and for his followers. 

Context:  In the Temple, after the triumphal entry, after the temple tantrum (Luke 19:45-46.)  We are reading it in November, but in the story arc it’s late in Holy Week.

Jesus (and by extension, his followers) are being questioned and attacked by a number of opponents, coming at them, one after the other, in rapid sequence. 
The end is upon them, and they know it. 
Time is running out. 

This absurd case that the Sadducees put before him provokes a dramatic response from Jesus.  Basically he tells them “You are all full of it if you think that’s how it works.”(Matthew and Mark are much more explicit about this telling-off.)  He doesn’t disparage marriage as such, but he tells them that “In the resurrection, everything is changed.  None of the categories that you want to make use of (married, unmarried, childless, fertile) apply.” 

“Those whom God chooses as worthy of this new world cannot die any more.  They are like the angels/they are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”  (Lit, in Gk: “sons of God/of Resurrection”—which the NRSV makes gender-neutral, but loses the “sons of God/SON of God” connection.)  In other words, the Resurrection from the dead is Jesus first as the down-payment, then the rest of us as sons (and daughters) of the Kingdom too.  

And this is Luke telling the story.  Luke, who through the words of John the Baptist all the way back in chapter 3, tells those who think they’ve got an inside track on God’s favor because of their ancestry: “Do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  The perceived necessity of “raising up (biological) children” to preserve the family ancestry and heritage is not required in the household of God; God can create life even out of stones, even out of the dust of the ground, even out of death itself.  Remember Genesis 1?  God created…and it was SO GOOD!  (So good!) 

The categories we’ve built our lives upon are not binding on God’s grace, God’s favor, God’s power.  Our notions about who is valuable in a household, in a town, in a community, may not be what God has in mind at all. 

Jesus does not come to help us be “less dead”; Jesus comes—as the babe of Bethlehem, as the prophet of Nazareth, as teacher and healer and crucified and risen Lord, and as the Savior of the World who was, and who is, and who is yet to be—to bring us life, abundant life.  The life of God, in which Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Miriam and Aaron, Peter and Paul, Martha and Mary, Augustine, Brigid, Francis and Clare, Gwinn and Caroline, Molly, Lloyd, Rosemary, Mary and North, Genie and Mort, all of them, all of them, still are held in God’s care and keeping.   

“When God raised Jesus from the dead, God inaugurated a new humanity and initiated the fulfillment of all things. A conviction writ large in the New Testament is that God’s promised future has already begun in the death and resurrection of God’s Messiah. So hope is living today in the certainty that God’s promises will be fulfilled. Hope is living as though what we believe will happen in the end is as good as done already.” 

The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection of the dead. 

And therefore they were very sad, you see.

But the Church did believe.  Does believe.  Holds that as central, from which all else flows. 

When we come to the end—of the calendar, of the year, of the road, of our rope, of our own lives—we trust that that that end is not the final word.  That there is yet more. 

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.” 

Happy new year, dear ones.

(Dr. D. Jay Koyle, APLM website,, accessed 11/10/13)

Monday, November 4, 2013

All Saints’ Sunday, November 3, 2013

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-123; Luke 6:20-31
Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox 

At my house, the kitchen and the living room are one long open space, so I will frequently have the television on while I’m cooking dinner.  The other night—I think I was watching one of the DIY home improvement channels—when the commercials came on.  Twice as loud as the regular program.  (Why is that?  I mean really…)  I was not paying the least attention to whatever labor-saving product or gadget was being advertised, until the voice proclaimed, in a still louder tone:  But wait—there’s more! 

But wait—there’s more!  Whatever it was, was not all there was. 

Just wait—there’s more.

Our Wednesday Wisdom Study Group is currently reading the Rev. John Price’s book Revealing Heaven: The Eyewitness Accounts That Changed How A Pastor Thinks About The Afterlife.  It is not a long or difficult book, but it is deeply challenging to many of the notions many of us learned in Sunday School, or more probably from the pop culture images of heaven and hell we’ve picked up from movies and television.  Fr. Price served (and continues to serve) in Texas as a parish priest and hospital chaplain over several decades, and has collected these eyewitness accounts of persons who have died and returned to life (“returnees” as he calls them) which tell a consistent story—a story of profound hope, great peace, and reunion and restoration in God with those whom we love.  The story of our lives, and the lives of those we love, does not end at the moment of death.  Just wait, there’s more! 

It is a story that we as Christians know, but sometimes we need to hear it again.  Often we forget.  We are struck with a kind of amnesia, forgetting what we know, because we’ve been pulled apart, torn apart, dis-membered, by the powers of darkness and destruction and distraction.  And so we need to be re-membered, rebuilt, put back together, into the wholeness God intends for us.   We need to hear once again the old, old story, of the love of God revealed to us in the goodness of creation, in God’s call to walk in the ways that lead to life, in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, and in the promise that the powers of darkness and destruction and death shall not have the last word.  That indeed, There Is More—Just Wait. 

Today we commemorate the feast of All Saints, remembering the “great cloud of witnesses” that have gone before us, showing us in this world what it means to be one of the saints of God.  Which does not mean they were without their own faults and shortcomings and imperfections. They were, and are, no less human, no less imperfect than you or I are.  Some of them are well-known around the Christian household: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Martha of Bethany.  Some are known most particularly to us here in Augusta:  Mary Bragg.  Barbara Johnson.  Johnny Moak.  Neil Phelps. 

And one was a doctor and one was a queen, and one was a shepherdess on the green.  They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.     

Because of this great community of love and prayer and spiritual companionship in which we stand, today is one of the great days for Holy Baptism.  We baptize not for fire insurance against catastrophe or damnation; we baptize because it is the way in which we say “yes”, however tentatively and imperfectly, to God’s welcoming us into that enormous, eternal reality even now.  It’s already happening, it’s already underway—we can only say “yes” and then learn to live into that “yes.”   

St. Paul talks about this in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth, when he tells them: “As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been ‘Yes and No.’  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you… was not ‘Yes and No’; but in him it is always ‘Yes.’ For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen’, to the glory of God. But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment.”  (2 Corinthians 1: 18-22) 

God makes a first installment.  God puts down a down payment.  On us.  Anointing and sealing us—with baptismal words, water and oil, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The beginning of something great, something huge, something we can barely begin to imagine.  Just wait—there’s more! 

And there is always more—more to learn, more to discover, more to do; more room to grow, more love to share, more people to greet and discover Christ already present in them.  With water and oil, candlelight and promises that we will:

“continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship…

…persevere in resisting evil…

…repent and return to the Lord…

…proclaim the Good News of Christ…

…seek and serve Christ in all people…

…strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being…”

we commit ourselves to a great and huge and all-encompassing undertaking. 

Always there is more.  Always we undertake these things together, for we cannot possibly do them alone.  And always, always, always—with God’s help. 

Your vestry, working together on retreat in October, stated of St. Augustine’s Church, that our vision for ministry is that we are, and we intend to be:

A singing congregation, a resource for children and families at risk in the community, and a place of profound fellowship and hospitality centered around God’s holy table. 

That is a high and lofty goal.  We cannot, any one of us, do such a thing by ourselves.  But we are not by ourselves.  Because there is, there are, always more. 

And one was a soldier and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast.  And there’s not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.   

In commemorating the Feast of All Saints we bless and give thanks for the whole of the Christian story and way of life.  It is among the most ancient of Christian festivals, this feast of All Saints.  From early on, it marked both The Ending and The Beginning, the completion and consummation of all things in God, and the renewal of all things in the promise of eternal and abundant life.  It both brings a conclusion to the story, and renews us in the knowledge that the story does not end merely because our perception is limited.  Just wait—there’s more. 

Today we begin our annual Pledge Drive for the 2014.  All that we have, all that we are, is by God’s grace and gift.  And there is much that we have been given, many gifts with which we have been blessed.  What we do with those gifts, and skills, and assets (remember the Asset Mapping?) is our thanksgiving, our “first installment”, our “downpayment” on the wholeness that we ultimately intend—body, mind and spirit; right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot, and whole self—shall be God’s.  Nothing held back; no fingers crossed.  All In.  Because after all, it is all God’s in the first place, every bit of it.   

There is cause for celebration, in this place, among our beloved saints and friends of God.  After mass, please go to the Parish Hall for fellowship and refreshments, and see what has been done there.  Go out into St. David’s Hall and look at the bulletin boards.  Walk through the memorial garden and remember those who have gone before us.  Give thanks for them; make an act of eucharist (which means thanksgiving) this day; watch your mailbox this week, and consider how you will support and contribute to the ministry of God’s kingdom in this place in the year to come.  For indeed, there is much, much more to come.

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea; in church or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; For the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too. 

How about you?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

18 Pentecost, Year C, 22 September 2013

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1; Psalm 79:1-9; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13
Preached by Rev. Deacon John Warner

God or Mammon?
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

I was 30 year old, married with a new born baby girl, recently hired by the local community mental health center, and a rising star. I was initially hired to work with individuals with developmental disabilities but felt that I could have greater impact in their lives if I moved into management. Within approximately ten years, I was promoted into positions of increasing responsibility and salary until I was selected by the governing board as the center’s new Executive Director. Promotions have their downside. As you climb the corporate ladder, the positions become more political. When the mental health center encountered difficulty in managing increasing state demands with diminishing resources, I began to see the worse for my future. The board lost confidence in my ability to lead the center and requested my resignation. Although I was able to find another position, my salary was reduced in half. Having become accustomed to a particular lifestyle, I was worried how my family would make it. I asked Marsha if she thought I should find a second job.  She wisely advised me that we should look at our budget, cut where we could, but delay the decision about a seeking a second job. As I look back upon this painful life experience, I am amazed that when you have your back against the wall, how well you can prioritize things, what is important and what isn’t.

Our scripture readings this morning include people who have felt overwhelmed by events and find their respective backs against the wall. Although Biblical scholars disagree on whom the speaker in the Old Testament reading is - possibly Jeremiah, Jerusalem or God – there is no doubt the speaker is experiencing despair, “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” One has to look hard to find anything but despair in Psalm 79 in which the speaker cries to the heavens questioning when the Lord’s anger will be replaced with His compassion.

And then we have the parable of the dishonest steward or manager in our Gospel reading.  It’s a tale about a steward who has been managing a rich man’s estate. His master has called him “on the carpet” to account for his wasteful spending. He sees the “writing on the wall.” He believes that he is about to be fired. Like me after my resignation, he is scared for he doesn’t know what the future holds. Possessing little marketable skills he begins to plan on how best to transition into unemployment.  It is a sure bet that he won’t be receiving a letter of recommendation from his boss. “What about those vendors who owe money to my master?” he ponders. “If I reduce their debt significantly, one might be so grateful that they will take me into their home.” He then proceeds to reduce each debtor’s bill by 20-50%.

The term “wealth” used in today’s Gospel may not define in the way that you think. The King James Bible uses another word for wealth, mammon, which I believe communicates better. Mammon is derived from the Hebrew for “wealth or possessions in which one puts his or her trust.” During the Middle Ages, Christians began depicting mammon as any false god. John Milton carried this theme into Christian literature when he portrayed mammon has a fallen angel who worshipped earthly treasure over all other things.

According to the theologian William Barclay, there are three attitudes that we can take toward money:

a)                 We can regard money as the enemy and have nothing to do with it. This is what the desert fathers (and mothers), the hermits, did when they, viewed material things as tainted by human sin, refused to possess anything. This attitude if practiced widespread would be detrimental since the hermits depended on the generosity of others.

b)                We can regard money as our master in other words to be a slave to it.  The image that comes to mind is Charles Dickens’ character, Uncle Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, a miser whose  obsession in accumulating riches was so strong that he didn’t care how he obtained it or whom he ruined along the way. 

c)                 We can regard money as our friend, not to be avoided or to be worshipped, but to be used wisely and unselfishly.

How many times did Jesus talk about money? Well it is true that he talked more about the Kingdom of God than money. Not the Kingdom of God future but the Kingdom of God present - the Kingdom of God outside of the church doors.

          Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that money is evil. Money by itself is not good or evil; it is just a thing. It the person’s intention regarding the money that intrinsically makes it good or evil. Some might reply angrily, “Money is the root of all evil,” as a Biblical support for their argument; however, they would be misquoting scripture. The correct quote is “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Timothy 6:10 NRSV).  I believe money and the accumulation of wealth can become evil when its acquisition and maintenance becomes all consuming – when it becomes your mammon, your God worshipped.

            Jesus’ last words are very demanding. “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.” We cannot be slaves to both God and mammon. Psychologist terms this behavior as “divided consciousness” or more commonly known as “multitasking”, a situation that can lead to disastrous consequences as some may have encountered if they attempted to text on the cell phone while driving a car.  We cannot multitask God and mammon or wealth. Wealth is not a guarantee for salvation.

            Again, I’m not being critical of wealth and an individual’s acquisition of it. After all, I am a fan of capitalism and the free market system. However, taking liberty with the Spiderman comic series, “With great wealth comes great responsibility.” Therefore, I leave you this morning with three questions to reflect upon:

1.      How possessive are you of your wealth?

2.      In what way might your wealth benefit the disadvantaged, those that the church is charged to serve through our baptismal covenant?

3.      In what we have we benefited from our economic system and does this make us responsible for any who may have suffered from our success?