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Sermon, November 29, 2015

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Sermon.11.29.15.Advent1

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Jeremiah 33.14-16; Psalm 25.1-9; 1 Thessalonians 3.9-13; Luke 21.25-36

 

While conducting my research for this sermon, I encountered the following thought-provoking characterizations of Advent.

 

  • “Advent is a season for feeling out of kilter… a period of waiting in the darkness. It is a season in which we are caught between joyful expectation and the harsh realities of the present condition while we wait for the promise to be fulfilled. . . . In Advent, we live in the unsettling tension between what is and what will be” (Anne Stewart: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2693 ).

 

  • “Advent invites us to name the places in our lives and society that are at odds with the divine vision of justice and righteousness . . . Advent is a process of looking to Christ’s birth and the inauguration of his kingdom on earth” (Anne Osdieck: http://liturgy.slu.edu/1AdvC112915/reflections_osdieck.html ).

 

 

  • “Advent is a time of preparation for Christ’s coming—yes, his first, but also, and perhaps even more, his second. So the season of Advent is not a time of high festivities; we’re not yet celebrating “The Holidays.” It is a time of sober reflection aimed at growing in holiness; we should treat the days of Advent as “holy days” (Stan Mast: http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-1c-2/?type=lectionary_epistle ).

 

During this awkward in-between time we are in the Church calls us apart to wait, to reflect upon a promise, to pray, to anticipate the coming of Jesus’ birth as celebrated in Christmas, and to hope for Christ’s Second Coming wherein all things shall be renewed. We are called apart from the bustling activity of shopping for a Christmas tree and gifts, from decorating, from attending parties and open houses. How do the readings for today reflect the spirit of Advent?

Jeremiah 33.14-16 follows the prophecy that God “will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first” (Jer. 33.7; NRSV). Jerusalem, to God, will be “a name of joy” and once more shall be heard “the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing” (Jer. 33.9-11; NRSV). Jeremiah proclaimed the impending destruction of Jerusalem, but assured the people that God’s promised restoration would follow. Furthermore, God would “cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, a branch that would “execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 33.15; NRSV). In Hebrew, justice (“Mishpat”) and righteousness (“Tzedekah”) are related but they denote different things. Mishpat concerns practices and processes for reconciling and restoring broken relationships among the people, the king, and God. Tzedakah is more concerned with one’s personal character and integrity; one is adjudged righteous when one’s character and actions reflects the attributes of God’s character. Mishpat fixes, mends and restores, while Tzedakah sustains what has been restored. Hence, Jeremiah was assuring the people of God’s ultimate restoration and continued sustenance and exhorting them to live in character with God’s attributes (Chesser, et. al.: http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship/lectionary-calendar/first-sunday-of-advent-year-c ).

Psalm 25 tells us more about the development of character, about training in righteousness, about living into the attributes of God. The Psalmist pleads (as should we): “Show me your ways, O LORD, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long” (Vs. 3-4; NRSV).      As the LORD is ‘gracious and upright . . . he teaches sinners in his way. He guides the humble in doing right, and teaches his way to the lowly” (Vs. 7-8; NRSV). The Psalmist confesses that this development does not take place overnight, and rarely occurs in one’s youth. Thus the Psalmist pleads with God, “Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O LORD” (Vs. 6; NRSV).

The theme of teaching, learning, developing character also appears in the reading from 1 Thessalonians: “Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith” (Vs. 10; NRSV). Paul desired personal one-on-one instruction and exhortation. He prays, “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (Vs. 12-13; NRSV). To put it more tersely, recognize our love for you, and in response, grow in love that you may be found holy and blameless at the Second Coming. Christian character development, the development of righteousness, is best cultivated and nourished in love; the attribute of God’s character God would most have us emulate is God’s love. When we can truly love, we will be righteous and will act righteously.

Immediately prior to our reading from Luke 21, Jesus speaks of the horrible impending desolation of Jerusalem, a desolation which occurred in 70 C.E. when the armies of Rome quashed the Jewish revolt. In verse 24, Jesus notes that “Jerusalem will be trampled upon by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (NRSV). Jesus then speaks of events which will precede the coming of the Son of Man, which we commonly interpret to be the Second Coming of Christ – heavenly signs in the sun, moon, and stars and distress among the nations. People will faint from fear. What are we Christians to do in the midst of such times and signs? We are to “stand up and raise” our heads for our “redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21. 28; NRSV). Jesus then tells them of the signs of the fig tree and all trees – when one sees buds, one knows that summer is near. When we see the signs, the portents, we should recognize that the kingdom of God is near.

Jesus went on to state, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place” (Luke 21.32; NRSV). How are we to understand this statement? If Jesus was referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, then the statement is true. But if Jesus was referring to the Second Coming, it appears to be false. N. T. Wright has suggested this passage may not refer to the Second Coming of Christ, but may rather focus on Jesus’ prophetic realization that continued attempts at military rebellion would only bring about the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem (http://girardianlectionary.net/year_c/advent1c.htm ). If we understand the statement as referring to Christ’s enthronement at the right hand of God, then again, it is true. If we are to interpret this passage as referring to the Second Coming of Christ, we must disconnect it from Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone of the Temple would be left upon another and that when Jerusalem is seen to be surrounded by armies, one would know that its desolation is near (Luke 21.6, 20; NRSV).

At any rate, the important thing is that we be prepared for such calamitous times – for times when we experience terrorist attacks on innocent people, the beheading of Christians by the Daesh, millions of refugees being denied entrance to other nations on the basis of fear and racism, and the downing of a Russian aircraft by Turkey. Jesus told the people, “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21.34-35; NRSV).

And now we come back to character grounded in righteousness, grounded in the love of God and our fellow neighbor. If we are going to develop the character of righteousness, we must remember and affirm our baptismal vows; “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?…Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?…Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” (BCP, p. 302).

Having renounced these things, we see the importance of Paul’s prayer: “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (Vs. 12-13; NRSV). Our love is a reflection of our holiness. As 1 John 4.17-20 tells us, “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

Let’s reflect on the words of the Collect: “Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”

 

Sermon, December 6, 2015

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Sermon.12.06.15

St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Baruch 5.1-9; Canticle 4; Philippians 1.3-11; Luke 3.1-6

The story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John is a beautiful story! Canticle 4 only tells a portion of the story. Let’s back up a bit and examine the context more fully.

Once upon a time in the days of King Herod there was a priest named Zechariah. His wife, Elizabeth, was a descendant of Aaron. As they kept all the commandments, loving God and their neighbor, they were righteous before God. From all appearances, their life was good except for one thing – they had no children, and they were getting older. They had been praying for a child for some time.

When Zechariah was performing his priestly duty of offering incense before the Lord, an angel of the Lord appeared at the right side of the altar. Like virtually everyone else who has ever seen an angel, Zechariah was terrified; fear overwhelmed him.

But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1.13-15; NRSV).

Now Zechariah was doubtful; he wanted assurance. Zechariah asked how he could be assured this would take place and reminded the angel that he and Elizabeth were quite old. The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur” (Luke 1.19-20: NRSV). When Zechariah came out from the altar and stood before the people, he could not speak.

Elizabeth soon conceived. In due time, she delivered a child. Her relatives and the neighbors heard of God’s mercy and they rejoiced with her. On the eight day, they came to circumcise the child; they were going to name him Zechariah after his father, but Elizabeth told them, “No, he is to be called John” (Luke 1.60; NRSV) which means “God is gracious.” The relatives reminded Elizabeth that no one in their family was named “John,” and they began to question Zechariah. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “His name is John” (Luke 1.63; NRSV). The people were amazed but they had not seen anything yet. John’s speech was restored and he immediately began praising God. The people were filled with fear and began to wonder what the child would become. Zechariah was then filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke the prophecy we read as Canticle 4.

The prophecy is a beautiful song which has been used in worship across the millennia. It begins with words of praise: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1.68-69; NRSV). Zechariah further recounts how God has shown mercy, fulfilled God’s covenant, and rescued the people from the hands of their enemies that they might serve God “without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1.75; NRSV). And then, Zechariah sets forth God’s plan for John: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1.76-79; NRSV). Note that the knowledge of salvation comes through the forgiveness of sins. This is unlike most knowledge, for it is experiential knowledge which comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ. Luke then tells us “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel” (Luke 1.80; NRSV).

John, “The Prophet of the Most High,” was the last in a long line of prophets who heralded the First Advent of Christ. In the Old Testament, the prophets were frequently set within the context of the times and the rule of kings. For example, in Isaiah 6, the call of Isaiah, we read, “In the year that King Uzziah died…” (Vs. 1; NRSV). Likewise, Jeremiah begins as follows: “The words of Jeremiah son of Hilkiah, of the priests who were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, to whom the word of the LORD came in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, and until the end of the eleventh year of King Zedekiah son of Josiah of Judah, until the captivity of Jerusalem in the fifth month” (Jeremiah 1.1-3; NRSV).

In establishing the significance of John as a prophet, Luke uses the same formula: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Luke 3.1-2; NRSV).

This common formula used to announce the coming of a prophet accomplished two things: first, it served to acknowledge the worldly powers and principalities of the time and it served notice of a new order which God was establishing on earth. In John’s case, this new order was announced to the region around the Jordan River – it was an order “proclaiming a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins” as announced by the prophet Isaiah. John the Baptist was “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God’” (Luke 3.4-6; NRSV).

So how does all of this relate to you and me? What significance does it have for us?

First, John proclaimed a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. Last week, we noted the renunciations required during our baptism – renunciations which would promote righteousness: “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?…Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?…Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” (BCP, p. 302). Baptism also calls us to affirmation and commitment: “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? … Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? … Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?” In Advent we need to once again consider the implications of these renunciations, affirmations, and commitments. Baptism invites us to participate in Incarnation – it leads us to new life in Christ.

Second, we must remember that the Incarnation was not just a one-time historical event; it is also an ongoing process through which Christ’s presence becomes more and more manifest in our own being and actions, and hopefully, in our social structures and cultural practices. Are we experiencing the blessings of Christ’s incarnation in our own lives? Blessings which come from preparing the way of the Lord, from having our valleys filled and our mountains made low, from having our crooked paths made straight and our rough places made smooth, from seeing and experiencing the salvation of God? Preparing the way of the Lord demands that we question injustice and oppression. Preparing the way of the Lord demands that we confront exploitation of natural resources by the rich and the powerful and the resulting degradation of our environment and habitat. Preparing the way of the Lord calls us to consider St. Paul’s mission and witness. Preparing the way of the Lord calls us to love God and our neighbor, to live in the imitation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. All of these practices promote the presence of God’s kingdom – the way of the Lord.

Third, like Zechariah, our experience of God’s mercy and majesty should at times leave us speechless. When we can’t talk, we tend to listen more. And who would not benefit from listening more closely to God? Advent is a time to watch, listen, and pray – a time to hope for new life within us. It’s time to prepare the way of the Lord!

Amen

 

Sermon, December 13, 2015

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Sermon.12.13.15
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort

Zephaniah 3.14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4.4-7; Luke 3.7-18

Our opening hymn called us to “rejoice”. Today’s readings are about joy! It is Gaudete Sunday – Joy Sunday! What is all this joy about? And for that matter, what is joy? How does one experience joy? Some have facetiously said, “Joy is a blue-eyed blonde!” Maybe. Maybe not.

 

Merriam-Webster defines “joy” as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires” (http://beta.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joy). Couldn’t that definition also apply to happiness? Yet, I suspect most of us would agree that happiness and joy are two different things. To get a better sense of the meaning of joy, listen to these quotations:

 

Rumi, the Islamic scholar and Sufi mystic said, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a revered Christian mystic, said, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian, Hindu poet and mystical writer, said: ““I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Mother Teresa, a Christian mystic, said: “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. She gives most who gives with joy.”

Mark Twain, who had a lesser opinion of religion than the above, said: “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”

 

Unlike most other emotions, it appears that joy is spiritually grounded. One who pursues joy for the sake of joy will likely find that joy eludes her grasp. Like happiness, joy appears to be a byproduct of some other activity – doubly reflected activity in that it reflects the best of the human spirit, which in turn is a reflection of God’s Spirit – of God’s light shining forth from within us. Those who know God should be privy to an awareness of this double-reflection; those who do not know God may experience joy, but may not be aware of its doubly reflected nature.

 

How do our readings reflect joy? Zephaniah was a prophet during the reign of King Josiah in Jerusalem. Like Amos, he prophesied the coming of the “Day of the LORD,” the day when God would judge the nations. The book of Zephaniah is only three chapters; the portion we read today is the good news portion. The rest of the book is pretty grim.

 

The advent of God’s presence is cause for rejoicing. Despite God’s judgment, God promises to leave a remnant – “a people humble and lowly” (Zeph. 3.12; NRSV). It is they who will sing aloud and shout; it is they who will “rejoice and exult with all” their heart, for God has taken away their judgment. God rejoices over them with gladness and renews them in God’s love (Zeph. 3.14-17; NRSV).

 

In Canticle 9, from Isaiah 12, we read a psalm of praise for God’s deliverance. As a result of this deliverance, the people “shall draw water with rejoicing from the springs of salvation” (Isaiah 12.3) The people will sing praises for the great things God has done; the inhabitants of Zion will “ring out” their joy (Isaiah 12.5-6).

 

In Philippians 4, St. Paul tells us to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again…Rejoice.” Gaudete Sunday is so named on the basis of this reading. Paul assures us “the Lord is near.” Consequently, we are not to worry. We are to make our requests known to God in prayer with thanksgiving and supplication. In doing so, we are given the peace of God which surpasses all understanding and we are assured that God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

And in Luke, John the Baptist takes the people to task: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” From this statement, it is apparent that John believed Jesus was coming into the world to judge the world and usher in the Messianic reign. When this did not happen, John sent word from prison asking Jesus if he was the Messiah. John was expecting a very different Messiah from the sort Jesus turned out to be.

 

John further told the crowd to bear fruit worthy of repentance, that is, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc.; he further warned that every tree which does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

 

Three groups come to John: the common people, tax collectors, and soldiers. The people asked, “What then should we do” (Luke 3. 10; NRSV). The message is clear! “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise” (Luke 3.11; NRSV).

 

Luke then tells us the tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked, “Teacher, what should we do” (Luke 3. 12; NRSV). Imagine that! John’s preaching must have had quite an impact! The tax collectors were Jews hired by the Roman Empire; they had to pay the taxes up front, then collect taxes from the people. This means they were very wealthy. If the tax collectors could collect more than was required, they could pocket the surplus. “Teacher, what must we do? … “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you” (Luke 3.13; NRSV).

 

And the soldiers asked, “And we, what should we do” (Luke 3. 14; NRSV). And John tells them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3.14; NRSV). In other words, do not abuse your power for personal gain.

 

John called the people to repentance that righteousness and peace might abound. What is the message for us? If we have more than we need, we are to share that others may have what they need. And if we are in positions of power, as were the tax collectors and the soldiers, we are not to use our power in ways that create poverty. If we believe, and if we repent, we must act as though we believe and have repented – we must bear good fruit.

 

As John was aware the people were wondering if he was the Messiah, he told them, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals” (Luke 3. 16; NRSV). In other words, “I am not even worthy to be his slave.” John continues, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3. 16-17; NRSV). Then Luke ends the passage with this statement: “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people” (Luke 3. 18; NRSV).

 

Being baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire may be good news, but what about that “unquenchable fire” bit? The fire of the Spirit is unquenchable. This is good news! Our chaff is burned away that we may be pure wheat.

 

I love the way John Foley, S.J. comments on the nature of joy in relation to this passage:

 

God’s gladness sings out joyfully at every instant, and his song is the earth, the galaxies, the people and plants and chemicals and soaring hawks and encircling planets, droplets of dew and heavy black holes, youthful beauties, ancient wisdoms, and everything else that exists.

 

We are God’s song. … People in long rows gather to be baptized in expectation of the Savior who is to come. Each segment (the crowd, the tax collectors, the soldiers) ask John the Baptist the exact same question: “Teacher, what should we do?”

 

“Let your life sing,” he answers.

 

Let it sing.

 

Let your life be what it is: God’s joyous, interleaved and always consonant melody, sounding outwards in deepest joy. Share your cloak and your food, collect only what is owed, do not extort, do these things and you will be sounding the true melody of your life.

 

 

 

When you sing from your soul, you feel God’s presence in you, and you experience joy – deep and wondrous joy. Advent is a reason to sing for joy.

 

Amen

Landscaping Review

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Landscaping at St Paul’s Reduces the Church’s Carbon Footprint

 St Paul’s has been “greening” since 2003.  Greening means renewing our commitment to Creation Care through education, reflection, and action.  Significant conservation actions have taken place inside the church (e.g., energy efficiency, recycling, etc) and outside the church (e.g., landscaping).

These activities help the church appearance and finances – yes, but a larger goal is to educate Parishioners, visitors and neighbors about what can be done in their own homes and yards for conservation.

Energy Use in Buildings

The most significant program to date inside the church buildings (church and rectory) was relamping – conversion of fluorescent and incandescent light to more energy efficient lighting.  We enrolled in the EPA’s Energy Star Congregations Network, and small energy projects are ongoing (weather strips, HVAC maintenance, caulking, etc).  We were recognized as a Cool Congregation by Interfaith Power and Light in 2011 for the relamping project.             http://www.interfaithpowerandlight.org/2011/12/cool-congregations-winners-announced/

In addition to the lighting project, we further lowered our “carbon footprint” at the rectory by installing new storm windows (28 windows), upgrading the heating and cooling system to a heat pump, insulating brick walls that were exposed during remodeling, and making other small energy-saving improvements.

An unkempt lawn at the front of the church is now an attractive garden; much admired by passersby on 6th Street, and by pollinators (e.g., insects like butterflies and bees).

Landscaping has several goals

On the church grounds, we are finishing a 4-yr project to further reduce our carbon footprint by converting lawn to urban wildlife habitat.  An important part of the landscaping project is to provide contemplative gardens where people can appreciate The Creation (i.e., at least the aspects of nature that can be demonstrated in our small urban setting).

The landscaping project is focusing on three areas of the Parish grounds 1) front yard conversion of grass to native flowers and shrubs, 2) back yard conversion of grass to patio and gardens, and 3) gardening for wildlife throughout.  Most of the work has been done by volunteers who consider their time, talent and treasure as an “environmental tithe.”

The landscaping project had two overall goals 1) reduce carbon footprint, and 2) garden for wildlife.  The gardening for wildlife theme was made possible by funding from the Ralph Town Memorial (Ralph was a retired U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Biologist).

Southwest corner of 900 ft2 patio and rose garden showing arbors that will support vines for hummingbirds, pollinators and other urban wildlife.  An important part of the landscaping project is creating places for people too!

Wildlife habitat with people too!

When the plantings and gardens  mature, they will have four key components of wildlife habitat 1) water, 2) food, 3) places to raise young, and 4) places to rest (as prescribed by the National Wildlife Federation’s Gardening for Wildlife Program (http://www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife.aspx).

We are creating habitat for pollinators, butterflies, and birds, although small mammals such as bats, rabbits and squirrels also frequent the grounds.  Native plants were chosen because they are native to this region (e.g., cone flower, blue stem) and are drought tolerant.  Plantings provide four habitat complexes (e.g., open lawn, vertical vines, short shrubs, trees) and several types of food (e.g., berries, nectar, fruits). Artificial structures (e.g., bird baths) provide water in summer and winter.  Places to raise young (bird houses, bee houses, bat houses) have been added (or are planned).  We plan to feed birds in winter. (http://blog.nwf.org/2010/12/ten-simple-tips-for-successful-winter-bird-feeding/).

The ultimate goals of the “greening” projects at St Paul’s are education and inspiration.  Wildlife gardens included contemplative venues for people to pause and appreciate the “Natural Cathedral.”  Information about the wonder of nature and Earth stewardship is included in Parish newsletters (The Messenger) and special events (e.g., Ecopalms on Palm Sunday, Earth Day Sunday, Rogation Day, Beating of the Bounds).  The landscaping project includes a tulip garden that will demonstrate the fun and values of observing nature as a Citizen Scientist, and help educate about the complimentary roles of religion and science in our lives

http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tulip/index.html

[St Paul’s is the only tulip test garden in South Dakota, see map on web site above]

 Landscaping reduces carbon footprint and pollution

In addition to the advantages for urban wildlife and appearance of the church grounds, the conversion of lawn to gardens, patios, seating areas, and walkways will reduce St Paul’s use of water, energy, and herbicides, and reduce air pollution from mowers.  Following is how we calculated our energy and pollution savings through landscaping.

Lawn watering uses water and energy (e.g., embedded energy of pumping and purifying).  We converted about 1,800 ft2 of lawn to garden and other uses.  We estimate we will save about 1,248 gallons of water, which amounts to reducing our carbon footprint for water energy use by 2.8 pounds of CO2/year.  The calculation method is described in:

http://www.rivernetwork.org/water-energy-toolkit-understanding-carbon-footprint-your-water.

We will mow eight hours less/year with a riding lawnmower that consumes about 0.5 gallons of gas/hour, thus saving another 70.8 pounds of CO2/year (We used this equation: Footprint = (gas used) x (17.7 pounds of carbon per gallon) .

A gas mower produces volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides emissions in one hour of operation equal to that of 11 cars each being driven for one hour.  Because we mow 8 hours less than before gardens were installed, we have reduced pollution equal to that of 88 trips to Sioux Falls (a 1 hour drive).

http://www.peoplepoweredmachines.com/faq-environment.htm#pollutant

For the remaining lawn, we follow a policy of “cut it high and let in lie,” which is a cliché summarizing the fundamentals of ecological lawn care that improves the turf while reducing weeds, watering, and mowing time.             http://pubstorage.sdstate.edu/AgBio_Publications/articles/EXEX6030.pdf

The patio is made with porous pavers thus reducing runoff.  Water use will be further reduced when we install a rain barrel for watering the rose garden.  Conversion from evergreen to deciduous trees on the south side of the church increases the efficiency of passive solar radiation for heating and cooling the church (one large spruce was replaced with a red oak).

Although St Paul’s energy impacts are small, the savings may be increased when Parishioners, visitors and neighbors learn about and see the benefits of landscaping with ecological goals (see how the church savings of about 75 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere relates to greenhouse gas emissions from other sources at             http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html#results).

Inspiration and Outreach

Environmental problems sometimes seem so big that we think that there is nothing we can do, but there are everyday decisions an individual makes to help our society walk more gently on the Earth.

The inspiration of St Paul’s landscaping project comes from Psalm 19 that says in effect that “the Lord speaks through two works, the Bible and the masterpiece of Creation.”  Further, we are to serve and preserve The Creation – God’s Garden (Genesis 2:15).  “God has no hands but our hands” to do this work, but we must improve our understanding of the moral imperative to do so.  We have hope (active hope) that St Paul’s Creation Care program will contribute in a small way toward a transformative change in stewardship of the Earth.

St Paul’s began an outreach effort in 2013 that is extending these stewardship ideas beyond the Parish to the Episcopal Diocese of South Dakota (80 churches, https://www.diocesesd.org/).  A Creation Care workshop at the 2014 Diocesan Convention was organized by St Paul’s Natural Cathedral Committee.  Ten churches have joined the Creation Care Network proposed by St Paul’s – the grass-roots project is growing! (See page 4 in:

https://www.diocesesd.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/NovDec14.pdf.)

This Creation Care “mission” at St Paul’s is symbolized in three new stained glass windows installed in 2014.  The window is a memorial to Dr. Ruth Alexander who championed Creation Care (among many other services to the church).  The window sends the message of Faith, Hope and Love in a landscape featuring a bed of Pasque flowers (the South Dakota State Flower) and butterflies (unique in that they are in relief or 3D).

St Paul’s youth hold the earth in their hands on Earth Day Sunday as they surround Ruth Alexander, an early advocate of “the greening of St Paul’s.”


Lower section of the Alexander Faith Hope and Love window showing part of a flower bed with butterfly.

 

 

 

Sermon, November 23, 2014

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Sermon.11.23.14
Fr. Larry Ort
St. Paul’s – Brookings

As noted earlier, Matthew 25 sets forth three eschatological parables. Two weeks ago we looked at the parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids; we noted how we are to live the spiritual life in readiness for Christ’s return. Last Sunday we considered the parable of the talents; we noted that this parable does not really apply to the use of our talents, but rather points to the fact that while we await Christ’s coming we are to boldly proclaim the Gospel and promote the kingdom of God. In today’s parable Jesus tells us that when the Son of Man comes in his glory with all the angels, he will separate the peoples as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

Today is Christ the King Sunday. But this king, as the lectionary readings note, is unlike other kings. The imagery of the king as a shepherd is not so different, for Near Eastern rulers often thought and spoke of themselves as shepherds. But as Ezekiel notes, this shepherd of Israel is unlike the other shepherds of Israel. Ezekiel says, “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel…Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?” (Eze.34.1-2; NRSV)

Now, take notice of the things these shepherds have done: “You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep” (Eze. 34.3; NRSV). And take notice of the things they have left undone: “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost” (Eze. 34.4; NRSV). There was no prayer of confession, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you…by what we have done and by what we have left undone” (BCP, p. 352). According to Ezekiel, the people were ruled “with force and harshness;” “they were scattered, because there was no shepherd” (Eze. 34.1-5a; NRSV).

Ezekiel is prophesying in Babylon; he is one of the scattered carried off into exile. And what does God promise through Ezekiel? “I myself will search for my sheep…I will seek out my sheep…I will rescue them from all the places they have been scattered…I will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel…feed them with good pasture…I will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down. I will seek out the lost…bring back the strayed…bind up the injured…strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice” (Eze. 34.11-16; NRSV).

These are not the actions of your typical king who sits on his throne, is attended by servants, and multiplies his kingdom. No, this king doesn’t wait for his subjects to bow before his throne; this king seeks them out, finds them, and leads them to rest in lush, green pastures and drink cool waters from living streams. This is the picture of the 23rd Psalm and Psalm 100 – the Jubilate Deo! “Be joyful in the Lord…serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song. Know this: the Lord himself is God…we are his people and the sheep of his pasture” (Vs. 1-2; NRSV).

Each week brings its own special set of trials. It may be an adverse diagnosis, the need for surgery, the death of a loved one, misunderstandings, the loss of a friendship, a debilitating illness, marital strife, a cutback in hours, or loss of a job. Like the sheep, we become scattered – either physically or mentally. But let us never forget – there is cause for rejoicing! Jubilate Deo! Our God, Christ the King, the Good Shepherd, seeks us out and rescues us. He makes us lie down in green pastures and we are restored, healed, bound up, and strengthened. This may not happen overnight, but we are ultimately rescued. As the Psalmist says: “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30.4-5; NRSV).

In the passage from Ezekiel, God further promises to set his servant David as a shepherd over the people. From the earliest days of the Church, this passage has been interpreted as referring to Jesus. In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us of the fulfillment of this prophecy. Paul prays that the members of the church of Ephesus would receive God’s “spirit of wisdom and revelation” such that their hearts would be enlightened. This enlightenment pertains to three things: 1) the hope to which they have been called; 2) the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints; and 3) the immeasurable greatness of God’s power. This power is seen in the resurrection of Christ and in Christ’s enthronement at the right hand of God. As such, Christ the King, says St. Paul, is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1.20-22; NRSV).

In the last of Jesus’ eschatological parables of Matthew 25, Christ the King comes in his glory with his angels and sits on his throne. All the nations are gathered before Christ the King and are separated as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

This parable reflects a common practice — sheep and goats were commonly pastured together, but on cold nights, the goats needed more shelter than those fleecy white, warm bundles of wool, so the goats were separated from the sheep and herded to shelter.

When separated, the sheep are at the king’s right hand; the goats at the left. The king then says to the sheep, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Mat. 25.34-37; NRSV). The righteous then ask when they have done these things, and the king replies, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mat. 25.40; NRSV). Conversely, the unrighteous, the goats are told to depart to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for they failed to give him food and drink, to welcome him, to clothe him, to take care of him or to visit him in prison. They asked when they failed to do these things, and the king answers, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me” (Mat. 25.45; NRSV).

John Pilch, a biblical scholar, observes that sheep and goats were among the earliest domesticated animals, they are plentiful in the Middle East, and the Hebrew language contains many words which make distinctions among sheep on the basis of sex and age. Sheep also suffer in silence, a trait which is deemed the mark of a man. Consequently, “sheep came to symbolize honor, virility, and strength.” In contrast, goats are known for their lasciviousness; they will not protect their females as will a ram. As Pilch observes, “a man whose wife was ravished by another man was (and in the Middle East still is) considered like a goat. Goats symbolize shame and shameful behavior.” In ancient Greece, rams were associated with Zeus, Apollo, and Poseidon while goats were associated with Pan, Bacchus, and Aphrodite. Goats were also associated with women as women herd and milk the goats. The goat also symbolizes the devil. (John Pilch: http://liturgy.slu.edu/ChristKingA112314/theword_cultural.html). Hence, sheep represent the righteous; goats the unrighteous.

In the parable, what really distinguishes the sheep from the goats? Hospitality! Pilch further comments that in the Middle East, hospitality is almost always extended by men to strangers. The kindness we extend to our family, our friends, our loved ones is not hospitality; it is steadfast love, which is seen as one of the attributes of God. The Old Testament frequently speaks of God’s steadfast love (hesed) for us.

When we extend hospitality to the stranger, when we feed or quench the thirst of the stranger, we encounter Christ. When we welcome and clothe the stranger, we encounter Christ. When we care for the sick and visit those in prison, we encounter Christ. When we support the Harvest Table, or fund projects such as Rebuilding South Sudan through Education, we encounter Christ. When we perform charitable deeds through the discretionary fund, we encounter Christ. When we help strangers bear their burdens, we encounter Christ. Some interpret this parable to mean that we should practice these things. Perhaps that is implied, but that is not the point of Jesus’ parable. If we have life in Christ, we are sheep, and since we are sheep, we do these things.

As your sheep, O Lord, forgive us our sins for the things that we have done, and for those things we have left undone.

May we honor Christ the King! May we hear those beautiful words, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”    Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon, November 16, 2014

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Sermon.11.16.14
Fr. Larry Ort
St. Paul’s – Brookings

Last week we looked at the parable of the five wise and five foolish bridesmaids waiting for the coming of the bridegroom. Jesus begins the parable by noting, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this” (Mat. 25.1; NRSV). The five foolish bridesmaids’ lamps were going out so they asked the wise bridesmaids to share their oil. As we noted, if the oil represents our life in Christ, our life in the Spirit, they were making an impossible request. Jesus ends the parable by saying, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mat 25.13; NRSV).

The Revised Common Lectionary readings for this Sunday include Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25.14-30). Jesus begins this parable by noting, “For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability” (Mat 25.14-15; NRSV). The “for” indicates this parable is a continuation of Jesus’ eschatological discourse; it sheds further light on the subject of the final days. A talent is a lot of money; it is the equivalent of 6,000 drachmas. A drachma equals one day’s wages. Thus a talent was the equivalent of 16 years of wages.

After a long time the master returned and asked for an accounting. The first two slaves doubled the money. In response, the master told them, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things; enter into the joy of your master” (Mat. 25.21; NRSV). The third slave told his master that he knew he was a harsh man, reaping where he did not sow, gathering where he did not scatter seed; he tells the master he was afraid, so he hid his talent in the ground. He returned the talent to his master, and said, “Here you have what is yours” (Mat. 25.24-25; NRSV). The master responded harshly – he called the slave “wicked and lazy,” and told him he ought to have at least invested his money with the bankers to gain some interest. The master then takes the talent and gives it to the slave with the ten talents. The master further says, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 25. 29-30; NRSV). As a friend of mine asked, “Where’s the Gospel in this?”

This parable lends itself to a number of interpretations, the first of which deals with stewardship. Through the influence of the King James Bible, “talent” took on the more common usage of today (“gift, aptitude, and flair”), a usage which undoubtedly stems from the phrase “to each according to his ability” (Chris Haslam, http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/apr33l.shtml). Consequently, this parable is often interpreted as referring to the proper use of the talents with which God has endowed us. We are reminded and encouraged to develop our talents more fully such that they can be used for the kingdom.  I must confess that I once looked at the passage in this manner. The parable is commonly used as a stewardship text concerning the use of our time, talent, and treasure. We may be able to derive a lesson in stewardship from this parable, but I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind.

Secondly, some Christians who wholeheartedly embrace capitalism interpret the parable to mean that we should make as much wealth as possible, we should shrewdly double our money every chance we get. Don’t hide your money under your mattress, or in the ground. At least invest it for interest, and even better, invest it in stocks, bonds, and precious metals. I doubt this is what Jesus had in mind.

This reminds me of Kenneth Bailey’s story of the British journalist who “asked Mother Teresa how she kept going, knowing that she could never meet the needs of all the dying in the streets of Calcutta. She replied, ‘I’m not called to be successful; I’m called to be faithful.’” Bailey adds in parentheses, “(Very bad capitalism! Don’t invest in her company.)” (Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 409)

These two interpretations appropriate the parable for other uses. Quoting from the Gospel of Fr. Larry, “Woe unto those who appropriate Jesus’ parables for their own ends.”

What would this parable have communicated to one of Matthew’s contemporaries, to the ordinary Jew of the age? How would the parable have struck the disciples, the group to whom Jesus told the parable? With these questions in mind, we must remember that a parable was meant to shock the listener, to cause the listener to reflect critically upon what was said. So where is the shock value?

It is rather doubtful that a wealthy man would entrust such sums of money to slaves. And even if he did so, the conduct of the third slave was more likely the accepted conduct of the day and age. Money was commonly buried for safe-keeping. That is why a cache of coins is discovered with some frequency. Also, a certain amount of respect and admiration was given to those who reaped what they did not sow. Thus, the third slave meant his remarks as a compliment. He must have been very shocked at the master’s reaction. So what is this parable saying? Let me suggest three things.

First, as John Foley, S.J., observes, (http://liturgy.slu.edu/33OrdA111614/reflections_foley.html) from the standpoint of spirituality, only one thing goes away when buried, but gets greater when used – love. If, like the third slave, we are afraid to love, we will end up in darkness; we will wail and gnash our teeth. The master will not even have to send us there, for this is a natural consequence of our choice.

Second, if we view the master as Jesus, and the Master’s return as the second coming, the parable serves to inform those who hear it of how they are to act while awaiting the second coming. The master has entrusted us with the Gospel and with love. We should shrewdly and openly share the gospel and Christ’s love with others. We should not cower in fear, but should be willing to take risks for the sake of love and life. From this perspective, the parable is saying something significant about the master. The master is generous and gracious. In response, we experience a compulsion to act on behalf of the master in accordance with our ability, in response to the love and the grace entrusted to us.

Third, when we exercise life and love, they are never diminished – they are enlarged beyond our imagination. As the master said, “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance.” As we love others, our love grows. As we practice love, we come to love God more, we come to realize more fully the extent of God’s love for us, we come to more fully love ourselves, and we are then capable of loving others more fully. Love expands – it is never diminished by being given away.

When we share God’s grace and love, when we share the Gospel with others, let us act boldly, let us take a few risks in response to all with which we have been entrusted. Let us remember that we have a master like no other, and let us enter into the joy of our master.

Amen

Sermon, November 9, 2014

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Sermon.11.09.14
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort

Last week we contrasted the reality of the life of the saints as portrayed by the beatitudes with Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. After this act of condemnation, Jesus leaves the temple and soon thereafter meets privately with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. Jesus begins to discourse on the end of the age.  He tells the disciples, “About that day and hour, no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mat. 24.36; NRSV)…“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Mat. 24.42; NRSV). Jesus then tells five parables. The first parable observes that had the owner of the house known when the thief was coming, he would have been prepared. The second parable contrasts a faithful and wise servant with a wicked servant; the master will return unexpectedly and catch the wicked servant. The third is the parable of the ten bridesmaids (which we just read). The fourth is the parable of the talents (which we will read next Sunday). And the fifth, is the parable of the sheep and the goats (which we will read two weeks from now). And that brings us to the last Sunday of November – the beginning of advent.

These parables, and today’s lectionary readings, deal with watchfulness and preparation. And what is Advent? A season of watching and waiting as we prepare to celebrate the First Advent. Hence, we now enter an extended Advent season. Some theologians and church leaders are actually advocating the extension of Advent into a seven week season of the Church calendar.

If we are to be prepared for the coming of the end of the age, we must make the right choices — preparation involves choice; one must choose activities of preparation over other routine activities. Our reading from Joshua makes this amply clear. The tribes of Israel have entered the Promised Land and subdued parts of it; they are now gathered at Shechem and presented before the Lord for a renewal of the covenant. Joshua encourages the people to forsake the gods of their ancestors and to serve the Lord. If unwilling to serve the Lord, they must choose whether they will serve the gods of their ancestors or the gods of the Amorites in whose land they are presently living. Then Joshua boldly declares, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Jos. 24.15b; NRSV). Choices. Preparation. Are we willing to put away those things in our life which we put in God’s rightful place?  Are we willing to serve our Lord Jesus Christ?

If we are to choose wisely, we must be fully informed of the alternatives. Thus in the gradual we read how the Israelites were to recite “the glorious deeds of the Lord … the wonders that he has done … that the next generation may know them” (Psa. 78.4; NRSV). They were to teach these things to their children (Psa. 78.5) so they could choose wisely.

In Deuteronomy 31, Joshua is named as Moses’ successor. Moses writes down the law, gives it to the priests, and commands that it be read every seventh year (Deu. 31.10). The Mosaic covenant is patterned on ancient suzerainty covenants, covenants between a conquering king and a subject people. Such covenants included stipulations for the public reading of the terms of the covenant. Moses commanded:

Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess (Deu. 31.12-13; NRSV).

As you may recall, the Rite I celebration of the Eucharist often includes the reading of the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, part of the Mosaic Covenant given at Mount Sinai. And what do we do in Sunday School or Church School – we recite the wonderful deeds of the Lord to our children such that they may know the Lord and choose wisely.

In 1 Thessalonians, Paul is addressing the concerns of the community. The early church fully expected that Jesus’ return was imminent, for Jesus had said this generation would not pass away till all the things associated with the end of the age be fulfilled (Mat. 24.34).  So what about those who had died since Jesus’ ascension? Paul is assuring the church that, through Jesus, the dead will be resurrected unto new life. At the sound of the trumpet, Christ shall descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will be raised first. After that, we who are alive will be caught up in the clouds, and together with those who have been raised first, we will meet Christ in the air. And we shall remain with the Lord forever. We are to encourage one another with these words and we are to be prepared for this event, for we know not the hour or the day of Christ’s return or of our death.

This event has come to be known as the rapture, a term found nowhere in the Bible, and variant theologies of the rapture have emerged. Most people are unaware that rapture theology is relatively new. Its roots can be traced to 1820’s London, England and the preaching of a Presbyterian minister named Edward Irving. Irving held that spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and prophecy would be restored prior to the Second Coming. By the early 1830’s some people began to manifest these gifts, and Irving was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church. In the early 1830’s a very ill woman named Margaret Macdonald had a series of ecstatic visions. She became convinced that the Second Advent would appear in two stages as opposed to the single event long believed. In the first stage, Christ would come secretly only to those who were looking for his return; those who were not looking for Christ’s return would be left behind. In the second stage, all would see Christ’s return. This theology has has entered pop culture through the Left Behind books of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, and more recently, the Left Behind movie.

Macdonald’s view was popularized by John Darby, a theologian who went on to found the Plymouth Brethren. Darby and his followers fostered renewed interest in biblical languages; they furthered biblical studies. Nonetheless, the rapture theology he espoused which stressed Macdonald’s view if the Second Advent is not supported by the scriptures.

N. T. Wright, a noted Anglican theologian and former bishop, stresses the view set forth in 1 Thessalonians. As we have noted, on this view, the dead in Christ shall rise first, then all others shall be snatched up among the clouds to meet our Lord Jesus Christ in the air. As N. T. Wright observes, the idea of meeting Christ in the air is grounded in a cultural view. Wright says,

When the emperor visited a colony or province, the citizens of the country would go to meet him at some distance from the city. It would be disrespectful to have him actually arrive at the gates as though his subjects couldn’t be bothered to greet him properly. When they met him, they wouldn’t then stay out in the open country; they would escort him royally into the city itself. When Paul speaks of “meeting” the Lord “in the air,” the point is precisely not — as in the popular rapture theology — that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. (Surprised by Hope, pp. 132-33)

This view better accords with what the rest of the New Testament has to say, and, unlike rapture theology, it is not grounded simply in one person’s ecstatic vision.

The really important thing is that we be prepared for the Second Advent, and this leads us to the reading from Matthew 25, the parable of the ten bridesmaids. Jesus tells us that “the kingdom of heaven will be like this,” then he sets forth the details of the parable. The five wise bridesmaids bring an extra flask of oil but the five foolish bridesmaids bring no extra oil. The bridegroom is delayed, and the bridesmaids fall asleep. When the cry goes up that the bridegroom is coming, the five foolish bridesmaids realize they have insufficient oil. They request the wise bridesmaids give them some oil, but they are refused and told to go purchase oil. Upon returning, they discover that that the wedding banquet is in progress and the door is shut. The foolish bridesmaids plead, “Lord, lord, open to us,” but the bridegroom replies, “Truly I tell you I do not know you” (Mat. 2512; NRSV).

But wait a minute, doesn’t Jesus tell us to give when we are asked to do so? If so, why wouldn’t the five wise virgins share their oil? Is it a matter of would not or could not? As this is an allegory, the oil represents something else – our life in the Spirit. We must be prepared to celebrate the bridegroom’s coming — Christ’s coming. Each of us must accept our own responsibility. Each of us can only prepare himself or herself. I cannot lend you the oil of preparation; I cannot give you my life in the Spirit. So Jesus bids us, “Keep awake, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. “Keep awake” — remain in the Spirit, live in the Spirit. May we never hear those words, “Truly I tell you I do not know you.”

Amen