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Sunday, February 18, 2024

When Jesus Met Satan

 

                                     The Temptation of Christ, by Simon Bening

When Jesus Met Satan
St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Millsboro, DE
Lent I - February 18, 2024

 

“He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan ; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” Mark 1:9-15

So, as tempting as it is to talk about Noah’s Ark, and as easy as it is to be seduced into talking about The Flood and the Baptism of Jesus, well, it’s the first Sunday in Lent. I won’t be with you again until the fourth Sunday in Lent, and so, let’s just dive right in, shall we?

 

Let’s talk about Satan. And, wild beasts. And, angels. Yes, let’s roll up our sleeves and do that.

 

I want to talk about Satan because I’m really tired of him taking the fall, as it were, for our shortcomings. And, yes, I’m just going to say it: Sin. Yup, you are hearing a sermon on sin preached from an Episcopal pulpit from a progressive woman priest.

So, buckle up, friends. Satan, wild beasts, angels and sins. Looks like the preacher is fired up. Except, this isn’t going to be a hellfire and brimstone sermon. (Is Tommy Ray frowning? He told me once he loved a good hellfire and brimstone sermon, but, he also told me that while he wasn’t used to my style of preaching, I didn’t do too bad. I’ll take that.)

 

I want to talk about the Christian version of “When Harry Met Sally.” Let’s just title this sermon, “When Jesus Met Satan”.  By now I hope we know a little something about Jesus. So how ‘bout we get to know this Satan a little better, shall we?

Names for the Satan are numerous: Besides Lucifer, he may be referred to as the Devil, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Baphomet, Lord of the Flies, the Antichrist, Father of Lies, Moloch or simply - as the SNL Church Lady says, “Saaa-tannn”.

The word “devil” derives from the Greek diabolos, meaning “adversary.”  In Judaism, “Satan” as a noun, means “adversary” but it is also a verb and generally refers to a difficulty or temptation to overcome rather than a literal being. In Buddhism, Mara is the demon that tempted Buddha away from his path of enlightenment. Much like Jesus of Christianity resisted the Devil, Buddha also resisted temptation and defeated Mara.

 

Turns out, all three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Satan is known as the fallen angel of God. His name in Hebrew is Lucifer which means “The Shining One.” The Latin translation for Lucifer is “The Morning Star,” or the planet Venus. In Greek, he is known as “Phosphorus” which means  “light bringer” and “Eosphorus,” meaning "dawn-bringer".

In one of the Midrash stories in Judaism, Lucifer’s original job was to present humans with the opportunity to choose between good and evil. In other myths, Lucifer acts as a prosecuting attorney in the heavenly Court. In that role, he brings up all the wicked, evil, selfish choices of human beings before God for the human to be judged.

 

But there is a myth that Lucifer was kicked out of heaven because he wanted equality with God. Now, in some versions of the myth, Lucifer’s plan is that no one would have the ability to sin against God, so that not one soul would be lost, and all would be able to return sinless to the presence of Heavenly Father without the need for a Savior. Sounds pretty cool, right?


Ah, but as recompense for his plan, Lucifer demanded that the power and the glory which God  possessed be transferred to him, effectively making him "God." God, of course, saw right through the plan and rejected it. Lucifer was furious and rallied other angels to his side and started a war in heaven. The result of which, of course, is that Lucifer lost and became “the Fallen Angel” and thus became more commonly known as Satan, God’s adversary.

 

In today’s Gospel, after Jesus is baptized, the Spirit immediately sends him out into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. This is, of course, a mini version of Moses and the Israelites, having been freed from bondage in Egypt, who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before returning to Canaan, The Promised Land, Paradise, flowing with milk and honey.

It is there, in the wilderness, that Jesus meets the ancient foe, the adversary of God, Lucifer, the angel who fell from the brightness of the morning star to the darkness of the depths of the abyss; one of the sons of God who tempts Jesus just as others were tested.

Buddha was tempted by the demon Mara who challenged him to prove his enlightenment. Buddha touched the earth and called upon the earth to testify for him.

Muhammad was tempted by the demons of Satan with suicidal thoughts to throw himself off the cliff of a mountain, but the angel Gabriel appeared before him to reassure him that he was one of God’s prophets.

When Jesus met Satan, in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism. There he remains and fasts for 40 days and 40 nights. During that time Satan tempts Jesus three times: to turn stones into bread, throw himself from a temple, and submit to Satan in exchange for power.

In other words,
Lucifer is taking on his original job to present Jesus with the opportunity to choose between good and evil, to tempt Him and, in so doing, to test the decision of God to gift humans with free will - the power of choice - our own autonomy - our own moral agency.

When Jesus met Satan, not only were humans given a clear sign of our liberation in Christ, but God’s decision to give us the gift of free will in The Garden was justified.

When Jesus met Satan, God’s decision was reaffirmed when God chose to place a rainbow in the sky as a reminder of the covenant God made with Noah “and every living creature of all flesh” never to destroy the earth or the human race ever again.

When Jesus met Satan, God’s decision to send Jesus for our salvation was validated.

When Jesus met Satan, we were deemed worthy of salvation.


Our baptism reaffirms the freedom God has given us to choose between good and evil, wrong and right. That’s not to say that we don’t make wrong choices. We do. All too often. And, when we do, we call that sin. But, that’s not the end of the story.

When Jesus met Satan, the end of the story was changed - or, perhaps, completed - so a new chapter can begin.

Because of Jesus we have, as our prayerbook says, “the means of grace and the hope of glory” if we but follow His way, obey his commandments and observe his teaching.

Here’s the thing: It really doesn’t matter what you call the forces of Evil in this world - Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer. What matters is that you understand these things: We all have within us enormous potential for good. We also have within us enormous potential for bad. When we choose the good, we call that being righteous with God. When we choose the bad, we call that Sin. Sin is what separates us from God  - and often, from each other.

Our Catechism in the BCP defines it this way: “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” The key here is that we don’t get to say what sin is for other people. Sin is a matter between God and each person. And, each person, when they truly repent of their sins, can seek out a good and faithful priest and make a good confession and be assured of God’s absolution and pardon for their sins. When sin affects others negatively or harmfully, then sin is a matter for the community, and sometimes, for the courts.

 

But what is evil? It is said that sin is the root of all evil. Some say love of money is the root of all evil. The sages hold that the seven deadly sins - Lust, envy, anger, greed, gluttony, sloth and pride - but, especially pride, is the root of all evil.

I think what Lucifer teaches us is that evil happens when we try to be like God, when we want the power and authority of God by some sort of scheme or negotiated plan. Evil happens we set ourselves up to be the one who decides who lives and who dies and why; who gets food and shelter and clothing, the basics of life - based on some human construct of worth or need.

Evil happens when we set ourselves up as the prosecuting attorney before the Heavenly Court, charging people with crimes WE think they’ve committed because of their race or gender, their age or social status, their country of origin, sexual orientation or religion, or because we disagree with the decisions they make for themselves and their lives.

That, my friends, is evil.
 

Annie Lamott says that you can be reasonably certain that you have created God in your own image when it turns out God hates all the same people you do.

Yes, there are evil forces, temptations, seductions, that can lead us astray. Call those forces of evil what you will, but when Jesus met Satan we learned that we cannot - not for one Red hot New York minute - blame our bad choices on Satan. We have been given the gift of free will. It is our choice, not Satan’s fault, that leads us away from God. We must take responsibility. We must hold ourselves accountable.

Yet, even when we do, we are assured of the second gift God has given us in Christ Jesus and that is the gift of GRACE. Grace to repent - to turn around, to walk away, to start anew. Grace to seek and ask for forgiveness. Grace to seek amendment of life and to “go and sin no more.” And, grace is always available to us. As my friend, Jerry, the UMC preacher from Tennessee says, “Grace is like grits. You don’t gotta order it. By God, it just comes.”

When Jesus met Satan in the wilderness, after Satan left defeated, we are told that “the angels waited on him”. So, too, will be our reward, when we resist the power to pull us from the path of righteousness and “seek first the Kingdom of God.” Amen.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

"To The Left" - Ash Wednesday

 


“To the Left.”
A Sermon for Ash Wednesday - February 14, 2024
St. Mark's Episcopal Church - Millsboro, DE


There’s a wonderful book I’ve been reading (and recommend highly) called, The Amen Effect, by Rabbi Sharon Brous. In the early pages of the book, Rabbi Sharon describes a pas­sage from the Mish­nah about an annu­al pil­grim­age that took place when the tem­ple in Jerusalem still stood.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Jews “ascend­ed to the Tem­ple Mount, entered the court­yard, turned to the right, and then cir­cled and exit­ed to the left, except for one to whom something had happened.”

That person, who “entered and circled to the left,” would be asked why. “They would reply: ‘I am a mourner,’ and they were blessed,” the Mishnah text continued.

Another counter-circler might answer “Because I have been ostracized,” and also would be blessed, although the content of the blessing is debated.

The ancient Rabbis hoped that the blessing would open the heart of the one who had been ostracized so that they might find their way to repentance and forgiveness and the fabric of the community would be repaired.

 

Rabbi Brous says that the word "Amen," comes from the Hebrew word emu­nah, mean­ing “to believe” or “to affirm.” The word amen serves as an acknowl­edge­ment of the oth­er. Yes, I believe you, I see you. Amen.

Ash Wednesday, for me, is the day when Christians enter the Temple to the left. Some of us are in mourning, yes, but others have been ostracized; still others may not be formally ostracized but there is a separation, a rift, in a relationship.

Some of us are not so much mourning but rather are simply sad - sad about the state of affairs in our families, our neighborhoods, our church, our state, our country, or the world. Others of us know that something is wrong with us. Why are we snapping and grumpy all the time? Why have I become so critical and criticize everthing?

 

Am I using my busyness as a sort of defense - a barrier or boundary - to keep myself, protect myself from the need to engage with others when I just don’t have the energy - or the desire? Because maybe they WILL see me? And then, what will I do?

Are we really that tired and exhausted all the time, or has the sadness we can’t really name become a form of depression? Some of us are scared and anxious because we know our bodies - and perhaps our minds - are not what they once were.


Ash Wednesday, as the beginning of Lent, marks us as the ones entering the world from the Left. We’re the ones with a big black smudge of ashes on our foreheads, announcing to the world that we understand that we are not going to live forever, that our time on this earth is finite and limited, and that we are struggling to come to turns with those facts.

The smudge of Ash Wednesday declares that while everyone else is walking to the right, we are taking this time to intentionally walking to the left. Counter-circular. Counter-clockwise. Against time. Reclaiming our time to take the time - 40 days’ worth of time - to repent, to turn around and take steps in another direction and consider our lives in faith from a different perspective.

We have forty days to reconsider our relationships with others and the ways in which we might take the risk of repairing that which is wounded or sore and tender and needs healing.

We have time - this time, this Lenten Season - in the words of that great hymn, to “ponder anew what the Almighty can do” if we but open our hearts and our souls and our minds and confess our imperfections, acknowledge our limitations, and concede our shortcomings.

This is also the time to look into the eyes of the people who are walking to the right - those who seem to do it right, to have it right and all together, at least enough to bless us if they stop to ask why we are mourning or fasting, or marking Lent.

Lent heightens our awareness that appearances can, indeed, be deceiving, and when someone who is walking on the right looks at you, walking on the left, it may well be because they recognize something in you that they know is in them, too. Some who are walking on the right have not yet had the courage to walk on the left, to admit that they are not perfect, that they, too, need healing and a blessing.

Lent is a time to exchange our Alleluias for an Amen.  To say to each other, “Yes, I believe you. Yes, I see you. Yes, I recognize your pain, your struggle with questions, your quest for answers.”

As I mark your foreheads with the ashes of the Hosannahs and Alleluias in the palms of yesterday, let us whisper to each other, “Amen”.

Let us say silently to each other, with our eyes which are an amplification of the soul, “I see you. I see you are a beloved child of God. I see you are hurting in some way. I bless you. Please bless me.”

Scripture tells us that we were created out of the dust of the earth, that we are mortal, and only God is immortal. We know that life is a fragile gift and our time here is limited, so how can we make it better? Make ourselves better people? Become the person God had in mind when we were conceived and created?  

On this particular Ash Wednesday, the 14th of February, while the rest of the world walks to the right and celebrates Romantic Love, let us smudge our foreheads with the stuff of our mortality, walk to the left and celebrate the Love of the Eternal.

Let us confess and say right out loud the words of our faith, that we believe we are dust and to dust we shall return.

And let the church whisper to each other, “Amen”.




 

Ash Wednesday - Sr. Bucky


 Good Ash Wednesday morning, good people of Lent. It's the first of 40 days of the Lenten Season. Like a fine wine, this season needs to age and then aerate before it is fully appreciated.

It's amazing to me how many of us are still stuck in 6th Grade Sunday School when we were taught to "give up something" for Lent - a small sacrifice to reflect the Great sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

I can still hear Sr. Bucky's high, thin, post-menopausal voice shrilling, "Surely you can give up yer bubble gum or penny candy for 40 DAYS and 40 NIGHTS after JESUS, himself (make a fast sign of the cross after a quick bow of the head) Suffered in AGONY on the cross for YOUR SINS."

No, Bucky wasn't her name. It was Sr. Mary Joseph Something-Or-Another. We called her Sr. Bucky behind her back because she had really awful bucked and splayed teeth.

I know, I know. We were horrid children. Horrid. I know that because Sr. Bucky told us that at least three times a day. After a while, you know, you just figure, what the heck. No matter how good I am, she'll always and only think I'm horrid.

SooOOooo . . . to her face it was, "Yes, sister," and "No, sister," and "Please, sister," and "Thank you, sister," but after school, far, far away from earshot of her or any of the other nuns, it was "Ugh! Sr. Bucky."

Then there came the day when one of the fathers of one of the kids in the church school who was a dentist "fixed" Sr. Bucky's teeth. Well, he yanked them all out and gave her dentures. I have to think there was another remedy to the poor dear's orthodontic challenge, but that was probably the cheapest and easiest and so it was what was done.

She was so proud of those dentures. Seriously. And, you know, it did dramatically change her appearance. But, not her disposition. She was still a horrid human being. So, we continued to call her Sr. Bucky. And, for her part, she continued to call us horrid children.

So, my memories of Ash Wednesday and Lent as a child are that we were served a double portion of the guilt trips and images of the suffering and agony of Jesus. I think the word "SUFFERING" was written on the BlackBoard and stayed there throughout the entire 40 days and 40 nights of Lent, lest we forget.

It was replaced the Monday after Easter with colorful butterflies who perched themselves on the words, "HE IS RISEN!". Or, "ALLELUIA!" Or "REJOICE!". It varied from year to year, depending on that particular nun's mood.

How we ever made it through without losing our minds and breaking the Sixth Commandment I'll never fully understand.

Later on, after Vatican II as I recall, some clergy tried to make up for the sins of the fathers (as it were) and try a new tack. "Take something ON for Lent," was the new Lenten slogan. We were to try something new. A new way to pray or meditate. A new course of study. Learn a new language.

You know, something that was rollicking good fun. Which missed the point just as badly as giving up candy for Lent. I have come to know that Ash Wednesday is really a joyful day.

Yes, way. Okay, it's not like the joy of Christmas, and it's nowhere near the joy of Easter. There is a maturity to the joy of Ash Wednesday. Sort of the difference between appreciating a glass of Boone's Farm Wine at $1.99 per bottle and a glass of 2010 Domaine Armand Rousseau, Chambertin Grand Cru at $75,000 per bottle.

It begins with understanding that famous statement from Carl Sagan, "“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff”.

Once you get your head wrapped around that, you begin to appreciate that the smudge of ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a process to connect you more securely with the origins of your life.

It is to understand that we are connected in ways too deep for human understanding that we are part of a Great Mystery that includes stars and comets, planets and asteroids, sun and moon, ocean and stream, mountains and valleys.

It's about understanding what Bill Nye (the Science Guy) used to say, "We are a speck on a speck, orbiting a speck, in the corner of a speck, in the middle of nowhere."

That puts us all in our place, including Sr. Bucky who, poor tortured soul, didn't get to understand or appreciate that until after she, herself, returned 'dust to dust, ashes to ashes'. Which is why she treated us like dirt.

She had no idea that when Joni Mitchell sang the words to Woodstock, she was not being a hippie radical, she was singing the joyful truth:

We are stardust, we are golden / We are billion-year-old carbon
And we've got to get ourselves / Back to the garden

So, friends, Rejoice! It's Ash Wednesday! We're all gonna die. So, take this time to really live. As de Chardin said, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."

Your Lenten task is not to become spiritual. You already are. Your task, this Lent, is to become the BEST human being you can be before you return to the spiritual plane from which you came.

Let's get on with it, shall we? Don't give something up. Don't take something on. Be more of the image God intended when you were conceived and created.

Gratitude is a good place to begin. Find one thing to be thankful for today and then watch how your heart begins to open. I don't know how it works. It's a mystery to me. I just know that it does.

I am convinced that if you cracked open the middle of the middle of this planet, the sound that would emerge is millions of billions and trillions of voices saying in millions and billions and trillions of languages and tongues, "THANK YOU".

But, all those languages would merge together and the sound you would hear is not specific words but laughter. Deep, raucous, joyful laughter.

And that, my friends, is your Lenten assignment if you choose to take it: To listen for the joy in the center of the universe.

I hope something good happens to you today.

Bom dia!

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Luckiest Person

 


Epiphany II - January 14, 2024
St.Mark's Episcopal Church
Millsboro, DE

 

It was 1925 and Yankee first baseman Wally Pipp had a headache. He decided to sit out the game and lost his position to Lou Gehrig, who would go on to play every game for the Yankees until his retirement in 1939.

That was a total of 2,164 games – or 2,130 consecutive games – a record that stood for 56 years, until broken by Orioles hitter Cal Ripken, Jr., in 1995.

Henry Louis Gehrig played first base and was a batter for the Yankees and, during
his 17 seasons, the Yankees won seven pennants and six World Series. Gehrig's World Series contributions include a .361 batting average, 10 home runs and 35 RBI in 34 games.

Gehrig played his last game for the Yankees on April 30, 1939. Gehrig's consecutive games streak came to an end on May 2, 1939, when he removed himself from the lineup after a dismal start caused by a mysterious neuromuscular disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS – later known as “Lou Gehrig's Disease.”  Gehrig was the Yankee captain from 1935 until his death in 1941. He was 38 years old.

On July 4, 1939, Gehrig stood on the field that he loved and gave a speech that stunned everyone. My father said he listened to it on the radio and he remembered it more than any speech given by any politician, or sermon preached by preachers like Billy Graham, or even any passage from scripture, except, maybe, when Jesus said, “Love one another.”

Lou Gehrig - a man who had just been told that he had a rare neurological disorder that would gradually rob him of his ability to walk, use his arms and hands, or speak, and would die – sooner rather than later – of respiratory failure -  that same man stood on that field and said to the crowd, “I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

Some people said he was trying to make people feel better. Others said it was because he was proud and didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him or have anyone’s pity. Daddy said that only great men can make a speech like that, men who know they are called to the job and give it their all. He said only great men know and are so thankful that they were given certain gifts by God that they use those gifts to the best of their ability.

My father said that when you know those things – that you have been gifted by God, no matter what those gifts are, and that you use those gifts to the best of your ability, and you have met all the challenges behind you – you know that God will give you the strength you need to face all of the challenges before you.

He said, “The power you have before you is even greater than the power that has been behind you.”

All our lessons today – well, except for what St. Paul is saying to the church in Corinth, God only knows why he was going on and on about sex or why the people who put the lectionary together thought Paul’s words had a place in all of this (because, you know, they really deserve to be taken seriously and talked about by serious Christians) – but all the OTHER lessons in today’s lectionary are about vocation.

 

Vocation. From the Latin “Vocare” meaning “to call”. It’s a word most people think applies only to ordained ministry, to bishops, priests and deacons. But, our catechism is clear. We have four orders of ministry – laity, deacons, priests and bishops – and those four orders are equal. The institutional church is a hierarchy and it is the hierarchy that ascribes to those orders increasing or decreasing value. But, in our baptism, all four orders are equal in call, equal vocations.

Now, I admit that I had never considered baseball a calling but my daddy sure did. He might miss mass on Sunday, but he would never miss a ballgame. Baseball, he said, was like life. “You know, we’re all just trying to get home,” he said, pointing up. “Sometimes in life, we’re just trying to get a base hit. Sometimes, we just try to pitch one over the plate. Sometimes we hit a pop fly. Sometimes, it’s a swing and a miss. Sometimes, we steal bases - you know, for the good of the team.”

“And sometimes, sometimes, you hit a homerun and, if you’re really lucky, you hit a home run when the bases are loaded. That’s the best,” he said, “because not only do you get home, but you bring three others with you.”

“Even so,” daddy said, whether it’s a strike or a hit, we all get our time up at bat and we all get three balls and we all get three strikes. And, nine innings, with the possibility of overtime.”

For my dad, Gehrig was one of several players who were uniquely gifted. How could I forget their names? Babe Ruth, the Bambino. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper. And, of course, Hungry Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse.

Understand, please, that these three men were all Yankees – well, daddy said never forget that Ruth was “stolen” from The Boston Red Sox – and Boston Red Sox fans are the natural born enemies of the Yankees. And, vise versa.

In fact, my dad used to always say that he had two favorite teams: The Boston Red Sox and any team who beat the Yankees. (I think I’m pretty safe in here because I’m willing to bet that, come Spring, most everyone in here will be rooting for either the O’s or the Phillies.)

Baseball is like life, daddy said, and in his world, you were as called to the mound as a priest is to the altar. He also felt that way about his factory work. He felt he was called to it. As an immigrant, lucky to have the job. Blessed to be part of a union that guaranteed his wages and the safety of his work conditions and helped to provide health insurance for his wife and children.


It was hard work, dirty work, but it gave him dignity because it gave him purpose and it gave him the means to support his family – a home run, rounding the bases and bringing others home with him. “What a great country,” he’d say.

How many of you feel that way. – or, felt that way – about the work you did? Maybe you didn’t feel called to it because the institutional church can be pretty stingy with the words it uses – words like vocation and blessings and sacramental.

Take old Eli in the first scripture lesson from the First Book of Samuel.
The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Eli’s eyes, we are told, have grown dim, but it is not difficult for the reader to see that far more than Eli’s eyes are in trouble.

In the previous two chapters, we learn that his sons are out of control. They’ve been outrageous and irresponsible with the spiritual authority they’ve been granted. Furthermore, we read that Eli’s spiritual perception is weak; he has mistaken Hannah’s fervent prayer for drunkenness, and now, in this encounter, he is slow to realize that it is God who is calling Samuel.

Eli is the representation of institutional religion of his day. And, he blew it. Several times. With his sons, with Hannah and with Samuel.

But, when God creates us, when we are “knit together in our mother’s womb” as the Psalmist says, we are given certain gifts. We are called here to do something or some things no one else can do. We all have our time up at bat. We may strike out but there are nine innings in the game. There’s always another inning to give it our best.

And then, there’s Phillip, who followed Jesus and his eyes were opened to all the possibilities that were laid out before him. Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. He went and found his friend Nathanael to share the Good News (literally,) but it was Nathanael’s turn to be skeptical.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asked.

“Come and see” said Phillip

When Jesus saw Nathanael, he recognized instantly that this was an honest man. Nathanael, having been seen for who he was, the gift of integrity he had, was able to see exactly what Phillip and Andrew and Peter before him had seen: A man who was able to see past the externals and into their soul, into their unique gifts and potential, and call them to come and follow him, come and try out their gifts and put them to use for others (for the team, as it were)

That’s what got people excited. Oh, the miracles were wonderful. The healings were incredible. His teaching was powerful. But, what got people excited, was the invitation.

“Come and see.”

Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, are three of the best hitters in baseball history. (Two of them – Ruth and Williams, my father would want me to say – were Boston Red Sox hitters.).

Even so, Lou Gehrig was up at bat 8,001 times. He had 1,888 runs, 1,995 Runs Batted In, and 493 home runs.
And, you would be pleased to pay attention, while he had 493 home runs, he struck out 790 times – almost twice as many times as he hit home runs.

But, he never missed a game. Unlike Wally Pipp, he didn’t sit one out because of a headache. He was always there. Always ready to use what God had given him to do the best he could with what he had been given. Always ready to accept the invitation to “Come and see.”

Which is why, even though he had been given a diagnosis of a terrible neurological disease that would slowly sap the life from his body and he would die a terrible death, he could face any challenge before him because the same God who had given him the strength he needed to face the challenges behind him would also give him the strength he needed to face the challenges that were ahead of him.

As my daddy said, “The power you have before you is even greater than the power that has been behind you.”

And, if God can do that for Lou Gehrig, God will do that for you, too. Because God has done that over and over again, with Eli and Samuel, Peter, Andrew, Phillip and Nathanael, and so many, many others whose sacred stories we read in holy scripture. We, too, can face any call, any vocation, any challenge, that lies ahead of us, look it straight in the eye and say, “I’m the luckiest person on the face of the earth.”   

Don’t believe me?

Come and see.            

Amen. 

NB: Thanks to Boyd Etter for the story of Lou Gehrig and to Bill Shatzabell for some of the information in this sermon. I especially love the story of Babe Ruth who had a tough childhood and was adopted. Some sports journalists used to complain that the Bambino was arrogant b/c he was often not at the press conferences before the game. Ruth was visiting children at orphanages, bringing them hope.