Sermons -Lent 2020

Lent II

God is looking out for you

There is a military quip that says, “No plan will survive its first encounter with the enemy.” Indeed, the best laid plans usually go to naught as soon as they hit reality.

What was your new year’s resolution? How are you doing? And how about your 2019 resolutions? Do you still remember what they were?

Sometimes, life appears to be just a long list of unfulfilled to do’s, New Year’s and, yes, Lent’s resolutions. What did you promised to quit or start doing last year in Lent? How did you fare? I know, it is only a little over one week in Lent this year, but how are you doing?

Let me suggest that if we really would like to progress in the Christian life – and indeed, in many other areas of life – the first resolution we should make is to stop making grand resolutions.

“I’m going to read the whole Bible.” “I’m going to fast every Friday.” “I’m going to start tithing or I will fulfil my pledge to the church – even if takes me 10 years to get current!” I know that as St Paul writes, faith makes you want to do good things (2 Thessalonians 1: 11) and even our own sense of calling to grow to the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4: 13), motivates us to make resolutions that would have a big impact in our lives.

But it is not only in the realm of religion that our pledges go nowhere. How about the pounds you promised to shed? How about taking some real time off? How about taking homework seriously?

Let me suggest that often, our failure to keep our resolutions start by having unrealistic expectations. Even if your batting average for fulfilled resolutions barely moves the needle, yet it is easy to make .750 resolutions. Why or how would you expect to bat .750 out of nowhere?

I know; in part it is due to our natural optimism, a “can do” attitude, and even our past experience. However, experience tells us that, in fact, as they say in the financial world, “past performance is not guarantee of future results!”

Perhaps, there is a lot of wisdom and good insight into our human nature in the Chinese philosopher Lao Zi’s saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

So, how do you tame your desire to advance in the Christian life by leaps and bounds into a realistic but yet doable and fulfilling spiritual experience?

Let me suggest a Bible-based “Single Spiritual Step,” that may help you complete your journey into the heart of God.

In Genesis, we read about God’s invitation to Abraham. Abraham is invited to enter a journey in faith, leaving country, family, and friends towards a better future in a certain “promised land.” As we know, Abraham had just a very basic notion about God, and, at the beginning not a high sense of morals, either. Yet, not only he followed God’s lead, but also began to worship him, and wherever he went, building up altars.

Abraham was no model character, and yet, he pleased God. Not so much for believing IN God but, rather, as Paul writes in our second lesson (Romans 4: 3), for taking God at his word, “Abraham believed God.” Thus, Abraham became “The Father of us all,” (V. 16)

So, if you have not made any commitment for this Lent, or if you already gave up in making commitments, let me offer you “A Single Spiritual Step.”
A Single Spiritual Step that anyone can take – no matter where you are in your journey with God, how long have you been a member of the church, or what is your chronological age.

Start every day by believing God, and saying, “The Lord has blessed me. Let me be a blessing to others.”

First, you already won with your first affirmation. In our reading God promises to our ancestor Abraham that He will surely bless him and us, as his children in the faith. Your first step begins by believing God. There are no conditions to take this first step. Just believe that, indeed, from time eternal, God has blessed you.

But you may argue, “But I have sold out so many times!” Or, “It can’t be so easy?” Or even, “If God has blessed me, why did I have such a hard time in life, being it sickness, a failed relationship, being laid off, or having a troubled family.”

Perhaps those were the same questions that Abraham had in his mind when God approached him. Yet, Abraham dared to believe God.

God’s covenant with Abraham stood and still stands the test of years. In the history of the people of Israel, we know that after all the tribulations that they went through, still God reaffirms his promise of blessing. In Jeremiah 32, God says that He would make his people, “Of one mind and heart, always honoring me, so that they would live good and whole lives, they and their children after them.”

Later, God doubles down promising his beloved children, “Never get tired on doing them good.” And in our Gospel, we just heard about God’s love for you, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

So, every time you start your day by believing God, half of the battle is already won. God will surely bless you!   No! It doesn’t mean that gridlock will vanish as soon as you hit the road, or that your next casserole will not burn, and there will be no more “swing and a miss” every time you go to the plate of daily life.

But you’ll start your day knowing that God has you in his hands. That He is looking out for you to do good to you.

By affirming, “The Lord has blessed me,” you will be able to look at your job or the school, or the work at home or in the field from a new perspective – “Thank you God for you have blessed me with health so I can work.” “Thank you, God, for rather than giving me a rich inheritance, you have given me hands to work, a mind to ponder in the richness of your grace, and a Spirit-filled heart.”

Remember, sometime is easy to complain about what we miss and what we do not have. But always be thankful. There are many that would trade your job, your family, the friends you have, your health… So, acknowledge God’s many blessings in your life.

Look around to see in your daily life opportunities to acknowledge how much God has blessed you – “Thank you, Father!”

Now, if you start your day this way, the second part, “Be a blessing to others” will fall right into place.

Parents – say thank you to your children, not only when they do their chores. After all, that is just a transaction. Bless them. Tell them how much they represent in your life. Yes, they drive you up the wall… But, as the psalmist writes in Psalm 127:3, “Can’t you see that children are God’s best gifts?”

Smile and say thank you to the clerk in the store. Even if she doesn’t look happy. Who knows? Perhaps she doesn’t have enough to pay the rent, the spouse abuses her, or they received a bad medical report. Perhaps she never had caring parents to look after her.

As St Paul says, remember that you are an Ambassador for Christ. Smile to the clerk, or your co-worker, or even your boss, as hard as it may be.

Be nice to those who serve you. I know that it may sound crazy but say, “Thank you!” to the custodians and other people who work hard, so you have a nice place to learn. If someone cuts you off in traffic, keep your fingers under control, but raise your hand, and say a real blessing!

Like Abraham generations ago, today God is looking out for you, inviting you to join Him in the journey of a lifetime and beyond. God’s promise is straightforward and unconditional – “I will bless you.” What’s the fine print? “You shall be a blessing.” Like Abraham, would you dare to believe God?

To believe God is a simple and single step. But I promise you, it will be the first step on a journey even longer than a thousand miles. It will be a step that will take you back home, where it all began – All the way back to God’s heart.

 

Fr. Gustavo

Lent III

St David’s Episcopal Church

Lent III – March 15, 2020

Some time ago I read that the Gospel of John could be very well described as, “The Book of Missed Opportunities.”

You see, at the beginning of the Gospel we are told about Jesus coming to his own, and that his own did not receive him (John 1:9-13).

Then we learn about Nicodemus, the sage who came at night to meet Jesus and, that as far as we know, left still without much of a clue (3: 1-17).

Later on, when Jesus begins to talk about the hard road ahead, many disciples(!), began to leave (10: 60). Then we hear about Pontius Pilate missing the boat when he asked in derision, “What is the truth?” (18: 38), and even the famous story about doubting Thomas (20: 24-29).

Today, in our Gospel lesson, we learn about a chatty Samaritan woman, who for all her faults, real or imaginary, kept pressing Jesus. Against this story, here again we find another missed opportunity.

After the disciples return, they began to realize what happened while they were away. I wonder how the disciples might have felt once they heard Jesus offering the woman the “water of life,” while at the same time they were searching for food! “Did we miss all of this while we were looking for a McDonald’s?”

In many ways, Lent help us to take stock to the “missed opportunities” in our own life.

Life is never easy. Each one of us has his or her own burdens and complications. Aging parents, corona virus, challenges at work, relationships on the rock, finances, health issues, and so many more things. On top of that, there are social and family pressures that one has to take care of.

But even taken as a whole or individually, all the challenges and pressures of daily life also bring us opportunities to draw near the presence of the living God, a God who has promised to be “for us” (Isaiah 33:21, Romans 8:31).

Lent in many ways is the Church’s call not to miss the boat. When we are pressed under the weight of the challenges of everyday life and we may come to feel that we are in this world left all to our own, perhaps God is the farthest away from our minds.

Lent is God’s way to help us to remember that when we feel we are alone all by ourselves and perhaps even in despair, He still is close enough for us to discover His presence. When Moses was in what it would have been a dead-end road, God appeared to him in a burning bush, reminding him that he was standing on holy ground (Exodus 3:1-5).

Whatever you are going through, please don’t miss the opportunity of finding God wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be.

Jesus was quite willing to entertain the woman’s questions. Questions that eventually led her to see her life from a different perspective, now filled to the brim with the Water of Life freely offered by her Savior.

Today Psalm 95:7 invites you to act, “Today if you hear his voice…” Or, as “The Message” translation appropriately transmits its meaning, “Drop everything and listen, listen as He speaks.” Listen to God’s words bringing a message of hope, forgiveness, grace, and love and offering you, for the taking, the abundant and never-ending Water of Life for your soul: “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).

May the peace, love, and grace of God be with you, today and evermore!

Fr. Gustavo

Lent IV

Bible Readings
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41
The Collect of the Day:
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world:
Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A Psalm for a Time of Pandemic
The Psalm for today, the Fourth Sunday in Lent in the midst of the unprecedented Covid-19 Pandemic, quite fittingly is Psalm 23.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; *

I shall not be in want.

2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *

and leads me beside still waters.

3 He revives my soul *

and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.

4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; *

for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *

you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

 Individually and as a community and, indeed, as nation, it could be said that we are navigating into uncharted waters facing a rising storm, and the dark night looms close at hand.

The health and economic crisis, the social and individual challenges that we are facing are unprecedented. Switching the metaphor, we are entering a long and shadowy valley filled with questions, fears, and unknowns.  And, at a time when we would rather embrace each other looking for and offering support, we are told to keep each other at arm’s length.

            And as we walk into the shadows ahead of us, where there seems to be no way out, it is not unreasonable to fear, to be anxious and in distress.  There are unknowns ahead of us.  Even, as someone famously said, there are unknown unknowns.

But let me tell you a little bit of good news for you – There, in the deepest part of the valley, on the narrow path only surrounded by towering rocks and menacing shadows, there you’ll find that you are not alone.  There, in the deepest shadows, you’ll find walking by your side the Shepherd and Defender of your soul, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is there not only to comfort you in your time of need, but if necessary, to carry you on.  He has done it before, long ago, on a Cross in Calvary. And He’s ready to do it again.  And again, and again.  For as long as your soul cries for help and succor.

Now, when you may not be able even to hold on to the hand of your dearest one, this is when Jesus is ready not only to extend his arms to you offering his warm welcome, but to carry you on, safely back home.

Through the ages, the words of David have been proven true.  For Jesus has not promised to grab you out of this world to avoid pain and suffering, but He has promised to be with you until the end of time.  In the midst of uncertain times, His message still rings true – “Have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

Be bold. Be fearless.  Not by trusting your experience or your gut.  But casting “all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you,”  (1 Peter 5:7).

Let us pray:

Good Shepherd of my soul, in whom I find hope, grace, and everlasting love:  Unto you, O Lord, I lift up my arms in silent plea – Listen to the words that my mouth would not dare to voice and the anxieties of my fluttering heart.  Take my hands, Lord, and sustain me by your presence.  In this time of darkness, light up the fire of your hope in my soul, that in your light I may see the road ahead, just no longer in darkness but lit up with your enduring grace and your eternal love for me.  Amen.

Prayers:  Please keep in your prayers all those affected by the virus and, especially, pray for our own Susan as she ministers God’s healing to all those in need. Remember the nurses, doctors, and first responders and the unsung heroes of health institutions: aides, administrative, custodial, and service staff.
For the Sick: Carolyn, Janet, Michael, Fr. Roger, Christine, Karen, Carlos & Olga, David, Mike & Donna, Keith, Rick, Elizabeth, Kimberlee, Steve, Dottee, Bishop Susan (Had surgery last Friday)
For the faithful departed and for all those who are grieving at this time.
The Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Readings:
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45
A Promise for a time of Pandemic
            Since early in the history of humankind the world has seen natural catastrophes, agonizing famines, and raging pandemics and, even worse, the human-made devastations caused by unbridled greed and war, and the pollution of what used to be a pristine world.

Today we are facing the challenge of a once in a lifetime pandemic.  “You ain’t seen nothing yet” used to be an expression of a celebratory and confident attitude.  However, both science and what it is shown on the news, has turned the idiom into the dreaded by-word of a menacing and uncertain future.

And, even when one would have expected a sobering up of the general mood of our nation, it is painful and terrifying to hear about the nonchalant and childish behavior reflected in “Corona Virus Parties,” “If I get it, I get it,” “It’ll soon be over,” and “It won’t happen to us” selfish, and – frankly – reckless declarations.

Of course, and unfortunately, we are still far away to really appreciate the human toll that the pandemic will finally exact from all of us.  Let’s face it.  Perhaps you are miffed for not being able to go out shopping to buy your favorite toiletry. Or that you lost the reservation for a long-planned anniversary trip.  Or that perhaps, your 401 may never bring the security that you planned all along.  And yes, it is painful.  But again, it is not the bottom.

Some may have lost their full-time job – or the extra income that a part-time job represents and started wondering, “Will there be a job for me when this whole thing is over?” Some of you – like Jesus grieving the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11) – may be already grieving the loss of a friend or family member, and you are wondering, perhaps, “How could this be?”

Against that background, today’s Psalm 130 brings you hope in your hour of need.

Psalm 130 reflects the human condition. When human beings reach the bottom of their experience, in times when they find themselves lost in the dark and menacing valley of uncertainty, or when their sorrow turns into the aching pang of their soul, many find consolation, hope, mercy and the grace to keep going on in the warm embrace of their Creator and Redeemer.

Psalm 130 puts it this way – When the bottom fell out from under the psalmist’s experience, from the bottomless bottom of his condition, he sung, “In the Lord’s Word, there is my hope,”  (Verse 4).

And for you, God’s word is a promise, “You will rise again.”

I cannot pretend to have answers to all the fair and yet gut-wrenching questions we all have in our minds. But I do know this.  When Jesus faced the same questions, and ever a bigger challenge – Lazarus inside a tomb – Jesus did not try to explain away the questions. Rather, He declared the words you just heard, “He will rise again,” (John, Verse 23).

Jesus himself never promised to ghost you out of your condition, as unsettling and painful as it may be.  But Jesus did promise to be with you through the “pains and afflictions of this world,” no matter what. And that even going through the painful experience of the closeness of death, you will come through and walk again.

I always wondered how much Lazarus would have wanted to run and embrace his family and friends. I believe it is the same desire that we all share since our childhood – to embrace those who are close to us whenever we are afraid and uncertain. And it is in response to such desire that our Savior’s arms were stretched out in warm welcome for him and they are still are open for you.

Today Coronavirus may be trying to bind you with fear. But close at hand is Jesus to untie you and to embrace you with a love that knows no bounds.

You will rise again.  The life-giving love of Jesus has already embraced you – Yes, you! – and will continue to enfold you as you open yourself to the possibilities of His grace and mercy.

Risen Savior: You went through the gates of death and returned victorious to share the Life that knows no end. Unbind me of all the transitory confidence that the world offers, and bind me into your kind, loving, and merciful embrace that you so generously offer. Amen.

Fr. Gustavo.

May God’s peace, our Savior’s grace, and the Spirit’s power grant you a renewed hope and an expectant heart, now and forever. Amen.
Fr. Gustavo,
The Rev. T. G. Mansella, Vicar
St. David’s Church
PO Box 125
11291 West River Road
Aylett, VA 23009-0125
+1 804 496 1002