Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Sermon, December 3, 2017

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry O

Isaiah 64.1-9; 1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Psalm 80.1-7, 16-18; Mark 13.24-37


From 66 CE to date, there were at least 174 predictions for the end of the world; seven more say before 2280 ( Those predicting include individuals and groups.  They include Pope Innocent III, Michael Servetus, Martin Luther, Christopher Columbus, Cotton Mather, Nicholas of Cusa, John Wesley, Charles Taze Russell, Wovoka, Herbert W. Armstrong, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Pat Robertson, Harold Camping, Nostradamus, and John Hagee. When predictions failed to come true, they often reset the clock. If you are looking for things to worry about, Jeane Dixon says it’s going to happen in 2020. If you would rather trust science, you’re good for the next 300,000 years, and perhaps the next 22 billion years ( Of course, we remember all the hype around 2012 – the supposed end of the Mayan calendar – and don’t forget the special effects movie!

And yet, Jesus said, “In those days … the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken” (Mark 13.24-25; NRSV). The Son of Man will come in the clouds with great power and glory; the elect will be gathered from the four winds and the ends of earth and heaven.

Jesus tells the disciples, just as the fig tree branch becomes tender and puts forth leaves, and you know that summer is near, so it is with the end times. When there are wars and rumors of war, earthquakes, and famines (Mark 13.7-8) – the beginning of the birth pangs – we are to know that the Son of Man is near, that he is standing at the gates. Jesus also said, “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13. 30-31; NRSV).

Biblical scholars are not sure what to make of this statement – some argue that “generation” may better be translated as “age.” No one can say with certainty what Jesus meant. Jesus further stated, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13.32; NRSV). On that basis, I have not been able to bring myself to worry or to believe the forecasts of those who profess to know more than the Son knows and only what the Father knows.

Some might argue, given all these erroneous forecasts, we should not be concerned. Rather, we should live as Bobby McFerrin says – “Don’t worry, be happy.” Well as any philosopher worth his salt will tell you, that is oversimplifying things – the existential side of our nature recognizes our happiness, and then we begin to worry about how long our happiness will last!

The important aspect of Jesus message is what comes next: “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13.33; NRSV). Rather than forget about the end times, we are to be faithful, to always be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus illustrates this state of readiness by citing a man about to go on a journey. He put his slaves in charge of things, and commanded his doorkeeper to be on watch. After all, the master could return “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.” If the doorkeeper is to be ready, he must be awake, so Jesus said, “What I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake” (Mark 13.35-37; NRSV). We are to remain alert, to be ready for Christ’s return.

Evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn – at any of the four watches of the night. In Mark’s passion story, Paul Berge notes, Jesus as Messiah came to us at all four watches of the night. In recounting the celebration of the Passover, Mark tells us, “When it was evening he came with the twelve” (Mark 14.17; NRSV). (Paul S. Berge.

Following the Passover meal, near midnight, Jesus and the disciples went to Gethsemane. There he took Peter, James, and John with him and told them to sit while he prayed, to remain and keep awake. After praying, he came and found them sleeping; Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14.37-38; NRSV). Jesus resumed his prayers. Coming to them twice more, he found them asleep. The third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Mark 14. 41-42; NRSV).

In a more figurative sense, Jesus comes to Peter after Peter’s denials. Mark tells us when asked if he were one of those with Jesus, “Peter began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept” (Mark 14.71-72; NRSV).

Mark also tells us, “As soon as it was morning,” i.e., at dawn, the chief priests bound Jesus and took him to Pilate who asked, “‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say so.’”

Jesus not only came to us at Bethlehem. He also came in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, and at dawn. We cannot separate his birth from his crucifixion and resurrection. Advent encompasses both. What will we do with Jesus when he comes to us? Will we be awake? Will we open the inn, welcome Joseph and a very pregnant Mary, keep awake and witness his birth in our midst, or will we crucify him?


Sermon, December 10, 2017

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Isaiah 40.1-11; Psalm 85.1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3.8-15a; Mark.1.1-8

Fr. Larry Ort


Last Sunday we focused on waiting; we noted a sense of expectancy, and hope. The prophet Isaiah cried, “Oh, that you tear open the heavens and come down” (64.1; NRSV). The psalmist pled for the restoration of God’s people. St. Paul spoke of the grace of God the Church of Corinth had received through Jesus Christ such that they were “not lacking in any spiritual gift” as they waited for the revealing of Jesus Christ, of how God had strengthened them to the “end” so they would be blameless upon Christ’s return (1 Corinthians 1.7-8; NRSV). Mark recounted Jesus’ exhortation that the disciples be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man, that they “keep awake” (Mark 13.36; NRSV).

Our readings for this Sunday, peace Sunday, focus on three things: 1) announcing “good news,” 2) absorbing the good news, and 3) living the good news by serving as the instruments of God’s peace. Let’ examine these in greater detail.

Announcing the Good News

                Mark introduces his gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1.1.; NRSV). These words do not constitute a sentence, for there is no main verb (Paul Berge. What we have here is the title of the Gospel. Understood in the context of the day and age, this is a radical title with radical claims!

Why? For three reasons. First, the Greek word for “good news,” evangelion, connotes the proclamation of a military victory – “Our forces have prevailed; the war is ended” (Eugene  Boring in As such, “good news” was properly the political domain of Caesar and the Roman legions (Travis Meier. Second, the phrase “Son of God” was reserved solely for Caesar, the Roman emperor. Attributing this title to anyone other than Caesar was seditious. Third, Mark’s title announces the end of the old covenant and the beginning of the new covenant, a covenant at odds with the Roman empire and all worldly kingdoms. To put it bluntly, this title was treasonous and seditious! I doubt that St. Mark could have penned a stronger entry to his gospel. The reader of the time would have been aware of these contextual elements; this provocative opening would immediately have caught the reader’s attention. From this standpoint, the gospel of Mark was a page-turner. Our familiarity and lack of context cause us to lose sight of this fact.

Absorbing the Good News

                The good news fulfills two separate prophecies which Mark creatively combines when he states, “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,”’ John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1.2-4; NRSV). Malachi speaks of sending the messenger, “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3.1; NRSV). In Isaiah 40.3 (NRSV) we read, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”

Malachi and Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah. Mark’s gospel is proclaiming the Messiah’s arrival. Now if we were “god for a day,” I suspect we would have managed events a bit differently. We would have held a huge press conference in Jerusalem Square. After all, everybody knows that’s where God would arrive. We would have had banks of microphones, television boom cameras, a gold-plated key to the city, all the dignitaries, and speeches. Lots of speeches!

But what did God do? God found a long-haired crazy clothed in camel’s hair eating bugs and honey who liked to hang out on the banks of the Jordan River in a remote section of wilderness to be God’s messenger, to announce the coming of the Messiah. Word must have traveled rather quickly, for people from the surrounding countryside, and from Jerusalem, came out to hear him preach a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. And John told them, “You know, I am preaching away here, I’m calling you to account for your sins, to repent and be baptized, but I’m telling you, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mark 1.7-8; NRSV).

Living the Good News

                How are we to respond? The psalmist says, “I will listen to what the Lord is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people, and to those who turn their hearts to him. Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land” (Psalm 85.8-9; BCP). And what is to be the result when we turn our hearts to the Lord? The psalmist further states, “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85.10; BCP). On the one hand, granting mercy without truth abets another’s life of delusion and sin. On the other hand, telling the truth without mercy or compassion furthers another’s sense of unworthiness and isolation. When true reform takes place, mercy and truth meet together; they work in harmony to promote wholeness. Mercy and truth lead to the restoration of relationships; when relationships are restored, the parties to the relationship stand in righteousness; and peace accompanies righteousness. There is great wisdom in the words of the psalmist: “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

And last, the author of 2 Peter, in addressing the criticism of those who scoffed at the Lord’s failure to return immediately as promised, reminds believers “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3.8; NRSV). He tells the believers God is not being slow about his promise but is being patient, not wanting any to perish. They, and by extension us, as they waited and as we wait for the Lord’s return were/are to “strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3.14b-15; NRSV).

The Messiah comes that we might attain righteousness through God’s grace. In truth, we repent of our sins and experience God’s mercy; thus, we stand in righteousness and in peace. Ultimately, this condition will encompass all of creation, but for now, we are to strive to be found by him at peace.

May you know God’s peace. If you do not, Advent is a good time to discover it.


Sermon, Dec. 24, 2017 (Evening)

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017


St. Paul’s –Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Isaiah 9.2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-20


Most of you have heard these scriptures and this story countless times. A challenge confronts us: how do we look at the story with new eyes, how do we hear it with new ears.

After prophesying doom and destruction in concert with the Assyrian captivity, Isaiah says: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” (9.2; NRSV). Isaiah tells the people to hope, for God will break the rod of the oppressor – their boots and their “garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire” (Vs. 5; NRSV). Then he presents the Messianic promise: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Vs. 6; NRSV). If authority rests upon his shoulders, what will be the characteristics of his reign? Isaiah tells us, “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore” (Vs. 7; NRSV).

Luke tells us of Caesar Augustus’ decree that all should be registered, undoubtedly for the purposes of taxation. The people or Israel were now living under the oppression of the Roman Empire. One had to return to one’s place of origin to be registered. As Joseph was descended from the house of David, and was living in Nazareth, he had to return to Bethlehem (the city of David) – a 100-mile journey, a good ten days of walking with a very pregnant Mary riding on a donkey. We tend to project our own cultural practices back on their time, so we think of them as pulling up to the local Holiday Inn Express. In accordance with their customs, they would have stayed with their relatives (perhaps distant relatives) as most everyone there would have been from the house of David.

During this time, houses were built, as they still are in some places, so the family lived above the stable or adjacent to the stable. It was all under one roof. All the spare rooms were taken, so relatives extended the hospitality of the stable. As hospitality was an important aspect of the culture, they more than likely were given fresh straw and hay. And here, under these humble circumstances, among the sheltered livestock, Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, most likely filled with hay.

And who were the first to hear the remarkable news of Jesus’ birth – the shepherds watching their flocks by night, those who were lowest on the social scale. Many towns barred shepherds from entry. They were looked upon as liars, degenerates, and thieves. Shepherds were not allowed to testify in a court of law. Yet an angel came and stood before them; God’s glory shone around them. And the angel said, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Then a multitude of the heaven host appeared “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’ (Luke 2.10-14; NRSV). The shepherds went to Bethlehem, found Mary and Joseph and the infant, and told them all that had happened to them. Isn’t it ironic that God would use a bunch of lying shepherds to confirm the birth of the Messiah! Luke further tells us that Mary treasured their words “and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2.19; NRSV). Meanwhile, the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they and seen and heard.

In the remainder of Luke, chapter 2, we encounter the story of Jesus’ circumcision, of Mary and Joseph’s purification, and of Jesus’ presentation at the temple in Jerusalem. Every firstborn male was to be presented to the Lord as holy, and a sacrifice was offered up to the Lord. A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem; the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. The Spirit of God directed him to the temple, where, upon seeing the infant Jesus, he took him in his arms and prayed: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2.25-32).

This image of light is profoundly important. We encountered it in Isaiah’s “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” We encountered it in God’s glory which shone about the shepherds. Here we encounter it in Simeon’s “light for revelation to the Gentiles.” We sing of this light in the carol, O little Town of Bethlehem, “Yet in thy dark streets shineth, The everlasting Light.”

This carol was written for a children’s Sunday school at Holy Trinity Church in Boston by the Reverend Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), a rather remarkable Episcopal priest. We remember him annually on January 23rd, the date of his death, as his life is featured in Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints, (pp. 184-185). There we read:

Born in Boston in 1835, Phillips Brooks began his ministry in Philadelphia. His impressive personality and his eloquence immediately attracted attention. After ten years in Philadelphia, he returned to Boston as rector of Trinity Church, which was destroyed in the Boston fire three years later. It is a tribute to Brooks’ preaching, character, and leadership, that in four years of worshiping in temporary and bare surroundings, the congregation grew and flourished. The new Trinity Church was a daring architectural enterprise for its day, with its altar placed in the center of the chancel, “a symbol of unity; God and man and all God’s creation,” and was a symbol of Brook’s vision—a fitting setting for the greatest preacher of the century. This reputation has never been challenged.


In 1865, Brooks made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On Christmas Eve, 1865, he travelled on horseback from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. Brooks wrote: “Before dark we rode out of town to the field where they say the shepherds saw the star. It is a fenced piece of ground with a cave in it, in which, strangely enough, they put the shepherds. . . . Somewhere in those fields we rode through, the shepherds must have been. As we passed, the shepherds were still ‘keeping watch over their flocks,’ or leading them home to fold” ( ). The hymn was written in 1868 on an informal leaflet. Bearing his visit to Bethlehem in mind, let’s examine the words of this beloved hymn:


1. O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;

The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.


2. For Christ is born of Mary;
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth;
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.


3. How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.


4. O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.

We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.


Louis H. Redner was the hymn’s composer. Christmas was rapidly approaching; Brooks asked Redner, the organist of Holy Trinity Church, if he had “ground out the music for it yet.” Redner recounts, the “simple music was written in great haste and under great pressure almost on the Eve of Christmas. It was after midnight that a little angel whispered the strain in my ears and I roused myself and jotted it down as you have it.”

Yes, angels still visit bearing the light of God: “Where meek folks will receive Him still, The dear Christ enters in.”



Sermon, Dec. 24, 2017

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

2 Samuel 7.1-11, 16; Canticle 3; Romans 16.25-27; Luke 1.26-38


“See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent” (2 Samuel 7.2; NRSV). King David recognized the goodness of God, the blessings he had received – a beautiful palace and peace – and unlike so many, he sought an appropriate expression of gratitude. Nathan tells David to “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you” (2 Samuel 7.3; NRSV). But as the story unfolds, we see God had other things in mind. In the night, God told Nathan to convey a message to David: “Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” To paraphrase further, “In all the time I have been with Israel, I have lived in a tent and a tabernacle. Have I ever asked, ‘Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?’ I took you from a lowly life, and made you a prince. I will make a great name for you. You are not to build me a house – to the contrary, I will make you a house. The verses omitted from today’s reading foretell the birth of Solomon and his building of the temple. The Lord further tells David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7.16; NRSV).

Now we fast forward a few centuries. Our reading from The Gospel of Luke begins with a reference to the house of David: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 126-27; NRSV). The annunciation follows; Gabriel said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1.28; NRSV). Mary was perplexed; she pondered the meaning of these words. She was probably no older than thirteen or fourteen – it’s no wonder she was perplexed. Gabriel continued, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1.30-33; NRSV).

Mary responded, “How can this be, since I am a virgin” (Luke 1.34; NRSV). As you may recall, Gabriel previously appeared before Elizabeth and Zachariah and foretold that Elizabeth would conceive and bear a son who was to be named John. Zachariah objected, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years” (Luke 1.18; NRSV). Gabriel told Zachariah, “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. 20; NRSV). Unlike Zachariah, Mary believed, but she sought an explanation – “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Gabriel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1.35-37; NRSV). And Mary responded with these beautiful words, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1.38; NRSV).

Well, I don’t know about you, but I think we are still left with a divine mystery. How did the Holy Spirit come upon her? How was she overshadowed by the presence of the Most High? We don’t know. Many feel this is grounds for denying the veracity of the virgin birth. Suffice it to say, if we believe in God the creator, in the creation of the universe ex nihilo, effecting a pregnancy when fifty percent of the material is already present is a rather small matter in comparison…”nothing will be impossible with God.”

St. Paul, in his letter to the Church of Rome, alludes to the mystery: “Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith– to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 16.25-27; NRSV).

Thus, we see the intricate connections among these passages – the promise set forth in 2 Samuel, the annunciation of the Incarnation which became the fulfillment of that promise in Luke, and an acknowledgment of the mystery of the Incarnation in Romans. To these we add Mary’s song of praise in the Magnificat. In these scriptures, we hear the echoes of God’s word across the ages and we see the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, this is something to celebrate, for God has chosen to pitch his tent and dwell among us in human flesh. The only thing which eclipses this is the Resurrection, but as we know, we cannot really celebrate one without the other.

But there is more to consider: What are the implications of these passages for our own lives? In what ways can the beauty of the Incarnation transform our existence? What in this story challenges us?        First, we are called to participate in the Incarnation. If we permit, Christ comes to live in us, but we must be willing to say with Mary, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word!” These words reflect one’s humble submission and dedication to Christ our Savior. Like Mary, we can participate in the fulfillment of God’s word, and when we do so, we will sing with Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;  for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant” (Luke 1.46-48a; NRSV).

Second, there are several instances of annunciation in the scriptures. These stories share many features: a greeting, a startled reaction which typically reflects fear, an exhortation (“Do not be afraid…”), a divine commission, an objection (“Not I, Lord”), a reassurance, and confirmation. (Mark Allen Powell; ). Think of God’s call to Moses and Isaiah. The annunciations come from the messengers of God – sometimes human, sometimes angelic. As Christ’s disciples, we have received this call, for we have been commissioned to preach the good news: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28.19-20; NRSV). Note the commission and the reassurance in these verses – “Go therefore … I am with you always…” It is a privilege to be so called. As Isaiah says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (52.7; NRSV).

Last, perhaps you are thinking, I could never be like Mary or the disciples, or you might be thinking, one must be nearing a state of perfection to say, “Let it be with me according to your word.” Let me assure you, this is not the case. The disciples certainly were not perfect, yet Jesus took them where they were and set about the slow work of transformation. Remember some of them were fishermen, and even though they sailed freshwater, I suspect they were rather salty! Yet Jesus saw them as diamonds in the rough; he began the slow and painful process of faceting and polishing. In their lives we see what we can become. Jesus gave us a great gift – the greatest gift of all. The greatest gift we can give in return is the gift of our self, even if it is a bit flawed and tarnished. Trust God to do the rest.


Sermon, Dec. 17, 2017

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24; John 1.6-8, 19-28


Today’s lectionary readings emphasize joy even though the context points to some not so joyous times and experiences. The prophet Isaiah, after noting the Spirit of God had anointed him, says God has sent him “to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… to comfort … and provide for those who mourn” (Isaiah 61.1-3; NRSV). It is worth noting that Jesus used these same verses when he stood up and read in the synagogue in Nazareth – but he added something, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4.21; NRSV). The people Isaiah addressed had experienced calamity and hard times, yet Isaiah says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory” (Isaiah 61.3b; NRSV). I have long loved the imagery associated with oaks of righteousness. Oaks are incredibly strong – they can endure quite a beating.

Many biblical commentators believe Isaiah was speaking of those who had returned from the Babylonian exile following the destruction of Jerusalem. References to the “oppressed,” “brokenhearted,” “captives,” and mourning certainly bear this out as does verse 4: “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastation of many generations” (NRSV). In verse 7 Isaiah proclaims, “Everlasting joy shall be theirs” (NRSV). This note of joy is even more pronounced in verse 10: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (NRSV).

The psalmist speaks of laughter and shouts joy in celebrating the restored fortunes of Zion. Psalm 126 closes with the assurance “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves” (Vs. 6-7; NRSV). This calls to mind the old hymn, “We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.” In Psalm 30, the psalmist reminds us “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Vs. 5b; NRSV).

In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul exhorts us: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Vs. 16-18; NRSV). Looking forward to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, Paul adds, “May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body [i.e., your whole being] be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Vs. 23; NRSV).

Now we come to the Gospel of John. John tells us John the Baptist came as “a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him [i.e., the light]” (John 1.6; NRSV). John makes it very clear that John the Baptist was not the light: “He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light” (Vs. 8; NRSV). People began to take note of John’s preaching and baptizing. He was not a rabbi, nor a prophet, so what was he doing out there in the wilderness on the banks of the Jordan? The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, in that they were subject to Rome, were always on the lookout for any movement that might upset the status quo. Hence, they sent some priests and Levites to investigate. They asked, “Who are you?” I suspect the question also conveyed a bit of the sense of “Who do you think you are?”

An interesting interchange follows. John tells us John the Baptist confessed and did not deny “it,” which I take to refer to John’s testimony to the light. The Baptist replied, “I am not the Messiah [i.e., the Christ].” They replied, “What then? Are you Elijah?” to which he answered, “I am not.” They must have thought, “Huh, we are not getting anywhere here.” So, they asked, “Are you the prophet?” to which John the Baptist answered “No.”

Can you sense the frustration level building just a bit? They get a bit more direct: “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” And the Baptist replied, quoting Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1.20-23; NRSV). I suspect this may have rocked them back a bit on their heels. They then asked, (and this is where we really get to the “Who do you think you are?” part), “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” Note how John skirts the “why?” of their question with his response, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal” (John 1.25-27; NRSV). John never tells them why. In effect, John the Baptist said, “I am no one of any account – merely a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord.”

What can we learn as we contemplate these scriptures? What can we take with us? Can we live in joy and rejoicing?

First, let’s note the abject humility of John the Baptist. Most of us, when asked, “Who are you?” will engage in a bit of fluffery, huffery, and puffery. Let’s face it, we want to project the best image we can – no, actually, we want to project a bit better image than the best image we can. This is our humanity shining through, our own sense of importance and ego. But John the Baptist simply says, “I am no one of any account—not the Messiah, not Elijah, not the prophet— merely a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord.” How can we become more like John the Baptist?

Second, to what extent are we willing to cry into the wilderness, to prepare the way of the Lord? Yes, we live in a wilderness! Truth seems to have lost all sense of mooring. Your “truth” is no better than mine. If we disagree with someone’s rendition of truth, we now dismiss it as “fake news.” The only thing that is important is what this means to me and for me! To hell with financial responsibility! We deserve a tax break! Let the grandchildren worry about tomorrow. Everyone knows “Boys will be boys!” What’s wrong with being a man’s man? What does one’s character have to do with running the country? So what if I am a child molester, I have a moral vision for America! Forget about the needs of the poor, the stranger, the alien, the sick, and physically and morally injured veterans. Yes, it’s a wilderness out there. How do we cry into the wilderness? How do we prepare the way of the Lord?

Last, Christmas can be downright painful for many people. It can bring back memories of poverty and abuse. It may be the time of the year when someone’s best friend or loved one died from illness or an auto accident. It may be the time when someone was supposed to have returned from the battlefield but did not. Given the state of the wilderness in which we live, it is difficult to remain upbeat, to live in faith. Joy? What’s that? Where is it to be found?

We can learn something from a good celebration of Advent, for Advent invites us to not only remember and celebrate the Incarnation of the Light, of God become flesh in a receptive womb, but to also anticipate the Second Coming of Christ, Christ’s triumphal return. Advent invites us to remember the joy of the resurrection was preceded by the pain and sorrow of the crucifixion. Despite the pain and the sorrow, the darkness of the hour of crucifixion and of the sealed tomb, God’s triumphal love and Light could not be buried. What a gift! Christ meets us in our pain and sorrow bearing the gift of love and new life. Perhaps the best of Christmas is experienced when we carry the gift of Christ’s love to others, when we meet them in their pain and sorrow such that joy may come in the morning. I like the way this is expressed in Peg Whalen’s Facebook post:

This is a rule in our house. If we know you’re coming, the door will literally be open for you.

Our house is a safe zone. Coffee or tea can be on in minutes or a beer, and the kitchen table is a place of peace and non-judgment. Anyone who needs to chat is welcome anytime. We can pray, talk, share a laugh or two, or just listen. It’s no good suffering in silence. I have food, or we can always order out, eat and cry. I will always do my best to be available…you are always welcome!! This is an old value that has been lost to technology…a text, facetime, gif or emoji is not the equivalent. This is called Midwestern Hospitality. This is called being there for someone, thru the good and bad; thru the happy and sad; thru thick or thin; no matter your skin color or your gender; just being here, because it’s the right thing to do. So, my door is always open.


I was very tempted to reply, “I’m on my way over!”

We can get so wrapped up in our pain and suffering that we fail to remember that we can choose to rejoice! With Isaiah, let us gather together and proclaim, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (61.10; NRSV).


Sermon, October 29, 2017

Sunday, November 26th, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Deuteronomy 34.1-12; Psalm 90.1-6, 13-17; 1 Thessalonians 2.1-8; Matthew 22.34-46


“Go, learn!” Given the number of educators in this congregation, I suspect these words are well received. They appear at the end of a passage in which the House of Shammai is compared with the House of Hillel – two opposed schools of thought in ancient Judaism:

It happened again that a certain stranger came before Shammai and said to him:
–”I will become a proselyte [a new convert] providing you teach me the whole Torah while I’m standing on one foot.”
(Shammai) knocked him down with the builder’s rule in his hand.
(The stranger) came before Hillel who made him a proselyte.
He told him:
“What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor.
That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go, learn (it)!” (


“What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor” is the expression of the Golden Rule as it appears in Judaism. We are more familiar with the Golden Rule expressed as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Our gospel reading for today continues the account following Jesus’ entry of Jerusalem. Let’s look at a few of these events. Matthew 21.12-13 (NRSV) says, “’Jesus entered the temple, and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.’” What’s going on here? What about this “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

When Jesus entered the temple the next day, the chief priests and the elders confronted him and asked, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21.23; NRSV). Jesus said he would tell them if they would answer a question: “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” Jesus had them on the horns of a dilemma. If they said from heaven, he could ask why they did not believe, but if they said of human origin, they feared the reaction of the crowds. When they refused to answer, Jesus refused to answer the question pertaining to his authority. What about this “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Jesus then proceeded to tell a series of parables which the Chief Priests and Pharisees realized to be directed at them, so they began to plot how to entrap him through a series of questions: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” Referring to the emperor’s image on a coin, Jesus told them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22.15-22; NRSV).

The Sadducees then raised a question pertaining to the resurrection of the dead – “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.” Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh…In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be?” Jesus told them they were wrong, that they knew neither the scriptures nor the power of God. In the resurrection, there is no marriage, as with the angels in heaven. Jesus added, “And as resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead but of the living” (Matthew 22.23-33; NRSV).

The last and final test, after which they began to plot how to kill Jesus, comes from the Pharisees and appears in today’s passage: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and the first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 2234-40; NRSV). As Hillel said, “That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go, Learn!” All the other commandments merely define what loving God and our neighbor looks like. If you love God, you will not take God’s name in vain.  If you love your neighbor, you will not murder. If you love your neighbor, you will not steal, nor will you bear false witness. If you love your neighbor, you will not covet his possessions or his wife.

We could stop here and simply address this first part of today’s reading. If we were to do so, we would miss something important.

Jesus then asked, “’What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put my enemies under your feet”? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day on did anyone dare to ask him any more questions” (Matthew 22.42-46; NRSV).

This last exchange invited the Pharisees to consider the nature of the Messiah – does the Messiah come from man (David) or from God? In a sense, Jesus was inviting them to open their eyes, to look more closely, to learn.

Who is this Jesus? How do we square his actions with “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? I suspect most of us would not look upon these confrontations as loving actions! Where is the warm regard for others? Where is the gentleness, the meekness, we have come to associate with Jesus’ love?

Perhaps our understanding of God’s love is too limited! Perhaps in our attempts to be nice to everyone, we have cozily consented to overlook certain aspects of God’s love. The highest form of love, God’s agape love, is a sacrificial form of love in which one acts for or on behalf of the other in a manner which leads to fullness of life. Agape love is not a warm, fuzzy emotion. Calling someone to the fullness of life is an awesome responsibility. Agape love also demands that we be willing to confront evil, to speak truth to power. Sen. Jeff Flake’s speech may serve as a contemporary example.

God’s love is a transforming love. As we come to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind, we are forever changed. We cannot comprehend this change through rational analysis. Such love transcends reason, for although the fullness of our mind is engaged, so is all our whole heart and soul. Our deepest experience of the love of God is mystical communion in which we become one with Christ. Agape love involves a commitment to a living God, not to a set of beliefs or creeds. In growing into agape love, we take on the very nature of Christ. As we take on Christ’s nature, it becomes impossible for us to hate our brother. Such love is profound – it is tough – when necessary, it is downright confrontational. God’s agape love calls us to accountability, and as we love others through God’s agape love, we care enough to be confrontational. This, I submit, is the lens through which we are called to ultimately understand “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This radical love calls us to fullness and wholeness of life; it wants what is truly in the best interest of the other viewed from the standpoint of eternity.

In God’s agape love, we do not judge or criticize others from a sense of moral superiority, for the experience of God’s love is humbling.  In humility, we call our brothers and sisters to account so that we may sorrowfully and compassionately walk with them more deeply into God’s purifying love.

Jesus’ confrontation with the Chief Priests, Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes was an act of love. Jesus was calling them to a new order grounded in God’s agape love – an order which they chose to reject in favor of the order of this world. We, too, are called to that new order. If we are wise, we will “Go, Learn!”


Sermon, October 15, 2017

Sunday, November 26th, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Exodus 32.1-14; Psalm 106.1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4.1-9; Matthew 22.1-14


Living Well in Community


In Philippians 4, Paul reiterates a few points he has previously addressed. Again, we see his affection for this church: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved” (Vs. 1; NRSV). In that I love you and I love St. Paul’s, I think I have some sense of how St. Paul must have felt. He wants what is best for the Church of Philippi, so he gives them an action program for standing firm in the Lord. Let’s examine the elements of his plan.

First, he urges Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. When we are of the same mind in the Lord, there is no room for envy and rivalry; to the contrary, we are to empty ourselves so as to serve a higher call. Many commentators assume that Euodia and Syntyche were at odds with one another. That may or may not have been the case. Paul may be commending them for having worked well together and may be encouraging them to continue to work in this manner. It was not uncommon then, nor is it today, to encourage behavior that was already happening. We see this in Philippians 2.12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me . . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (NRSV). (Fredrickson, David E.

Some of you may remember Dr. Kenneth Blanchard’s book The One Minute Manager. Blanchard spoke of a “one-minute praising” in which the manager encounters someone doing what is truly important and briefly praises them for doing so. This practice reinforces the behavior.

Second, having spoken of the leadership roles of these women, Euodia and Syntyche, Paul asks that they help them in their ministry. Paul notes how they have struggled beside him in the work of the gospel, along with Clement and other coworkers whose names are in the book of life. The maintenance of a Christian community, or for that matter, of any community, requires a lot of work. Think of the coffee hours, the soup suppers, potluck dinners (all forms of breaking bread with one another); the preparation of bulletins and programs; publication of the Messenger; property maintenance; weeding the flower beds; arranging flowers; church school; altar guild; funeral luncheons; the Hobo-Day sale; nursery; calling people to see how they are doing; making visitations; etc. I am sure I have overlooked some things we do, but the point is we do these things as a community. Know that I greatly appreciate all you do to support our life in community!

Third, Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4.4; NRSV). We have previously noted Paul’s emphasis in Philippians on joy and rejoicing. When problems exist, they need to be addressed in a positive manner. But I believe that Paul is onto something here – a spirit of joy and rejoicing keeps at bay our tendency to think or to look upon things negatively. We are far from perfect – whether we choose to focus on the minor annoyances we present to each other or on our good traits is our choice. But rejoicing, especially in the Lord, always bears better fruit. Let’s protect our joy and share it with others.

Fourth, Paul says, “Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4. 5; NRSV). Paul believed that Christ’s return was imminent. Perhaps that was his reason for stressing the need to be gentle to all – endure a little longer. We now know Paul was mistaken, but the Bible commends a gentle spirit in numerous places. In 1 Peter 3.4, wives are exhorted to let their “adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight” (NRSV). In Proverbs 15.1, we read, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (NRSV)

Fifth, Paul says, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4. 6-7; NRSV). Have you ever expressed prayers of thanksgiving and experienced joy? If not, I encourage you to begin this practice. As we express our gratitude, joy seems to well up within us like a hidden spring. Likewise, in prayer, we come to know God’s peace. In Galatians 5.22, Paul writes, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NRSV). Note how Paul’s plan is touching on the fruits of the Spirit. When we live in the Spirit, the peace of God guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Sixth, we are to think about virtuous things – “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable” – and of whatever is excellent and worthy of praise. But what about doing these things? Hold on, we are coming to that.

Seventh, Paul says, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4.9; NRSV).

As one who has taught Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics for several years, I can’t help but hear some echoes from Aristotle – it is not enough to think on virtuous things; we need to practice them until they become habitual, until they become part and parcel of our character. When we practice the virtues, especially the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, the peace of God rests upon us.

Will Paul’s plan, a plan grounded in his love for the Church of Philippi, remove all danger of conflict. Certainly not; every community experiences conflict. If it does not, it dies. A certain level of conflict is necessary i9f a community is to remain viable and healthy. But a community which lives out of this plan is prepared to handle conflict in constructive ways, for ultimately, its members are of one mind in Christ Jesus our Lord and they seek the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.


Homily, November 19, 2017

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Homily for Proper 28 Year A
By Tasiyagnunpa Barondeau
One of my favorite things about small c catholicism and liturgy is that we are not afraid of
reading the hard to hear things in scripture. The lectionary for this Sunday, a week before we
observe Christ the King, and two weeks before the beginning of Advent, brings us a serious
wake up call to live the Kingdom of God.
Or else.
I wonder if this Sunday and next are meant to prepare us for Advent, which a long time
ago was thought of as a mini-Lent. In today’s world, Advent has become popular again across
the entire Body of Christ as an answer to Black Friday violent consumerism replacing spiritual
readiness for Christmas.
This idea of preparing to do the Advent mini-fast as we ready for the Twelve Days of
Christmas is appropriate for today. The Lessons bring a witness to God’s tough love combined
with our Christian hope.
In going over today’s lessons, I read over the ‘alternate’ Hebrew Bible reading from
I think we are probably a bit foolish if we don’t exhale at least an ‘oofta,’ when hearing
this portion from Zephaniah. The words are meant to trouble us. In fact, I had trouble flipping
straight to this prophet’s writing, since most of my Bible study was done in a different style of
church that really only focused on the ‘prosperity’ and ‘Word of Faith’ movement verses:
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the people
who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,
“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”
Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.
The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.
That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
I will bring such distress upon people
that they shall walk like the blind;
because they have sinned against the Lord,
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
Now, if we are to truly be Christians, then I think it’s a good thing to bring a Christocentric
relational view to scripture. This is not often how today’s churches read the Bible, and I think
sometimes we do a better understanding of the Hebrew Bible by doing so. My husband has of
late been reading “God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism,” by Abraham Joshua
Heschel. Sometimes when he reads to be tidbits or shares with me about the book, I think to
myself, that sounds like Christ to me.
Not that big a surprise, because we often forget in America that Christ was a Jew in
Roman-occupied Israel.
We cannot understand Jesus unless we understand two things: He was a Jew and He grew up
under terrible oppression.
We must begin our NT reading knowing these two things. For example, in my annotated NRSV
bible, I came upon a footnote in our Thessalonians (which echoes Zephaniah and other
prophets) reading regarding verse 5:3 “When they say, “There is peace and security,” then
sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and there will
be no escape!” The footnote states that the use of the phrase ‘peace and security,’ by this ‘they,’
may very well be a reference to the Pax Romana of the Roman Empire. The lazy and
complacent are often the well off or those who tell themselves they are within the worldly order
of Empire.
A quick Wikipedia search on the Pax Romana gives this quote:

Augustus faced a problem making peace an acceptable mode of life for the Romans , who
had been at war with one power or another continuously for 200 years. [10] Romans regarded
peace not as an absence of war, but the rare situation which existed when all opponents had
been beaten down and lost the ability to resist. [6]
So is this the peace that Christ calls us to? Peace for the upper classes who have built up
vineyards and homes on the backs of the lower classes and those who lost their lands and lives
to the Empire?
Being a tribal member of the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, I have a taste of what that feels like.
Or perhaps we think it mere justice then to call for revolution. The Pax Romana wouldn’t
begin to crumble until the First Jewish-Roman War, caused in part by a poor economy thanks to
King Herod’s overly ambitious building projects. I had never realized that in the movie, The
Nativity Story , his obsession with taxation for his own gold-plated decorating and building
schemes wasn’t just artistic license. His greed would further the turmoil and dissent and anger
against Rome. This is the same one who sent Baby Jesus and his parents into exile into Egypt
and killed innocent babes, as well as all sorts of other people, to protect his own throne under
the Romans. And it was this sort of socio-political turmoil that would see Jesus crucified as well.
For those laborers, slaves, grieving mothers and silenced babes, victims of income
inequality, castes, genocide and wars, who will save them? And as Empire falls, who will save
displaced Roman Gentiles, as the empire crumbles and many Romans fled to the countryside
and eventually had to trade their civic rights for serfdom during the Crisis of the Third Century? .
What a mess then that St. Paul is handling in this letter to the Thessalonian Gentiles who were
converts to the Gospel of Jesus. He commends them in being faithful and to not be afraid of death or
life and to continue in their love for one another, building each other up. He helps them build peace
in the midst of worldly signs to the contrary.
What a mess then that we step into the Gospel reading of Matthew 25, where we see Jesus giving
us the parable of a master dealing harshly with the slave who out of fear hid the single talent
entrusted to him, rather than even trying a bank. He misread his master, acting out of fear, instead of
realizing through his relationship with him what he really ought to do.
How are we any different in today’s world, when we get bogged down in the political slop of today’s
world as delivered by cable news and Facebook algorithms?
What can we do?
What can be done when we live in a country and world where income inequality is growing
And what can the words of ancient texts hold for us today?
As it turns out, plenty.
In Judges we read that Deborah is the judge of Israel, in the time before Israel had kings. She is also
a prophet. She ends up prophesying, if you read the further context, that because Balak was afraid
to fight and asked her to go with him, wanting her bodily on hand apparently as a safeguard rather
than trusting her word as God’s prophet and judge. So she prophesies that the victory then will be at
the hands of a woman. As it turns out, the wife of a man who one might assume was at odds with his
family as he had moved his tent away from their camp, was home one day. Who knows, maybe they
knew God needed them in one place, but the rest of their family disagreed, but they moved anyway
and were in the right place at the right time. Regardless, the fleeing enemy captain sees their tent
and assumes that this family are allies of his. The wife coolly provides him rest and even some milk.
As soon as he is asleep, she takes one of her tent stakes and a hammer and drives it through his
temple. When Barak, Israel’s commander, shows up looking for his enemy, Jael shows him the body
that she had already dispatched. The next chapter Deborah and Barak sing of the peace thus gained
for Israel for the next 40 years.
While still a violent story, we see our God willing to circumvent the usual means of nations
fighting nations, by allowing a woman from a tribe adjacent to Israel to win Israel’s victory. Who
knows, perhaps she herself was Hebrew and married into the Kenites. Barak didn’t have excess of
numbers to pulverize his enemies into the ground, God’s angel caused confusion on the battlefield to
give Israel the victory, but Barak’s doubt caused him to receive no honor for the victory. God was
quite happy to hand the victory to a strong and wise house wife.
God works through many means, including prophecy, even today. Christian scholar Walter
Brueggemann says this:
In an increasingly confusing world, as Christians, we are to put down our tent pegs and
hammers and listen to what the Spirit of God says to us today. I would challenge you to abide in
the words found in the context of today’s I Thessalonians reading:
“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of the prophets, BUT test
everything: hold fast to what is good, abstain from every form of evil.”
America is like Rome. We see those who have are lazy and complacent, sure that
nothing will touch them, while the poor and overworked or marginalized cry out for justice, when
the bread and circuses are no longer enough. However we know that in the days of the Lord’s
wrath, money is no protection. This is actually good news for all those who cry out for justice.
God has ears to hear. The day of the Lord is at hand, but will we be ready?
It is in our relationships together with God, individually as expressed collectively, that
allows the continuing incarnation of Jesus Christ in this world and thereby the Kingdom of God
until that day.
Will we be found as servants who have dealt wisely with what their master has entrusted
us or will we be found too scared to start in the first place, thereby judging ourselves to be
enemies of God? Oofta.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ though is Good News! Through our baptismal covenant,
every single one of us here are priests and prophets in the ministry of Christ. It is for us to allow
our imagination and our walk with God to realize that God gives all good gifts and to recognize
and shush the world of Empire as it screams at us to be anxious and fear scarcity and lack. I
just recognized the scholar Walter Brueggemann as being behind some of my favorite Christian
movements and writers, and I’m so thankful as we approach Advent to be able to begin with a
newly awakened imagination. Through his scholarship, he is the author of books regarding how
evil in this world operates through convincing all of us that we are in terrible need and we best
do whatever we can to help ourselves and our own. He contrasts this with God’s economy of
love, grace, mercy and imagination. This is the meat of real peace making. This is not passive
or lack of conflict, but it’s creative and bursting with life. This sort of prophetic imagination also
gives us the Agapistic Ethics that our own Father Larry teaches in his classes and models for us
in his life and ministry. Just when we realize how much work we have to do, I challenge all of us
to realize how many answers we have already been provided if we listen to the Spirit of God.
She is faithful to us. I would like to close with this poem by Walter Brueggemann:
“On Generosity
On our own, we conclude:
there is not enough to go around
we are going to run short
of money
of love
of grades
of publications
of sex
of beer
of members
of years
of life
we should seize the day
seize our goods
seize our neighbours goods
because there is not enough to go around
and in the midst of our perceived deficit
you come
you come giving bread in the wilderness
you come giving children at the 11th hour
you come giving homes to exiles
you come giving futures to the shut down
you come giving easter joy to the dead
you come – fleshed in Jesus.
and we watch while
the blind receive their sight
the lame walk
the lepers are cleansed
the deaf hear
the dead are raised
the poor dance and sing
we watch
and we take food we did not grow and
life we did not invent and
future that is gift and gift and gift and
families and neighbours who sustain us
when we did not deserve it.
It dawns on us – late rather than soonthat
you “give food in due season
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
By your giving, break our cycles of imagined scarcity
override our presumed deficits
quiet our anxieties of lack
transform our perceptual field to see
the abundance………mercy upon mercy
blessing upon blessing.
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your muchness may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder,
without coercive need but only love,
without destructive greed but only praise
without aggression and invasiveness….
all things Easter new…..
all around us, toward us and
by us
all things Easter new.
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”
― Walter Brueggemann
Sources from Wikipedia for Pax Romana:
Momigliano, Arnaldo (1942). “The Peace of the Ara Pacis” (PDF). Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 5: 228–231. doi : 10.2307/750454 . JSTOR 750454 .
Stern, Gaius (2010) [2006]. Women, children, and senators on the Ara Pacis Augustae: A study
of Augustus’ vision of a new world order in 13 BCE . ProQuest. ISBN 978-0-549-83411-3 .
Sources on King Herod for the First Jewish-Roman War:
Cohen, Shaye. “Roman Domination: The Jewish Revolt and the Destruction of the Second
Temple” in Ancient Israel: From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple, ed. Hershel
Shanks (Prentice Hall, Biblical Archeology Society), 273
The plight of Romans in the Third Century see Wikipedia. Numerous sources on manorialism,

Sermon, November 5, 2017

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Joshua 3.7-17; Psalm 107.1-7, 33-37; 1 Thessalonians 2.9-13; Matthew 23.1-12


Last Sunday we noted several events following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It was the common people, the so called “little people,” the poor people looking for hope, who welcomed him. The religious leaders recognized Jesus as the threat he was, and set about to entrap him with a series of questions: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority” (Matthew 21.23; NRSV)? “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not” (Matthew 22.17; NRSV)? In the resurrection, “Whose wife of the seven will she be” (Matthew 22.27; NRSV)? “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest” (Matthew 22.36; NRSV). In each case, Jesus evaded the trap; his answers revealed the inadequacy of their understanding. This becomes even clearer when we consider Jesus’ question addressed to the Pharisees: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” When they answered, “The Son of David,” Jesus then asked, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son” (Matthew 22.42-45; NRSV)? The Pharisees were reduced to silence.

Jesus then turned to the crowds and his disciples and warned them of the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus began by noting their legitimate authority: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23.2; NRSV). They could trace their authority back to Moses. The scribes wrestled with interpretation of the law while the Pharisees wrestled with application of the law to daily living (Haslam, Chris. As Jesus accepted their authority, he told the crowds and the disciples, “Do whatever they teach you and follow it” (Matthew 23.3a; NRSV). So far, so good.

But then Jesus cautions, “But do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matthew 23.3b; NRSV). Jesus is addressing a lack of integrity – the scribes and Pharisees are talking the walk when they should be walking the talk. They are hypocritical. Jesus then gives three examples. Let’s look at each of these.

First, Jesus says, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23.4; NRSV). What are these heavy burdens? Remember that the scribes and Pharisees were tasked with the interpretation and application of the law. Jesus was critical of their interpreting and applying the law in ways that were excessively burdensome, in ways that lost sight of the very foundation of the law – love and mercy. For example, in the Gospel of Mark, Mark tells of Jesus and his disciples walking through grain fields. The disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain – much to the consternation of the Pharisees. Jesus emphasized love and mercy, and reminded the Pharisees, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath” (Mark 2.27; NRSV).

In Luke 11.46, Jesus responds to a rebuke from the lawyers, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them” (NRSV). If you ask me, that sounds a bit like the legislature!

In Matthew 11.28-30, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (NRSV).

In short, Jesus was critical of the scribes’ and Pharisees’ use of power and authority in ways which made the lives of the common people burdensome. The receipt of God’s law was originally perceived as a reason for rejoicing – at last, God has told us how we are to live. Hear the joy of the psalmist’s exclamation: “Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long” (Psalm 119.97; NRSV).

In Acts 15.10-11, Peter is critical of Jewish Christians who expected gentile Christians to religiously follow Jewish practices: “Why are you putting God to the test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear. On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of our Lord Jesus, just as they will” (NRSV). As Jesus noted, the emphasis on the law was not for the sake of the law, but for our sake. It was to teach love and mercy, and to remind us that salvation does not come through obedience to the law but through the grace of God. (Note: Adapted from Chris Haslam, Jesus had every right to be upset.

Second, Jesus criticized their pursuit of prestige and honor: “They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi” (Matthew 23.5-7; NRSV).  Phylacteries are small boxes containing scripture that are worn on the arm or the forehead as stipulated in the book of Exodus. The use of fringes is stipulated in Numbers 15.38-40. God told Moses to command that fringes be placed at the corners of garments to serve as a reminder to remember and do all God’s commandments. Phylacteries and fringes were not the issue – the issue was how they wore them as a means of proclaiming their piety and drawing attention to themselves. Make those boxes broad and those fringes long!

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matthew 6.1; NRSV) and “Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others . . . whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6.5-6; NRSV). We are to humbly practice our piety rather than draw attention to ourselves. We are to worship and praise God rather than use our worship and praise to elevate ourselves. One who is humble before God does not seek out the places of honor at banquets or the best seats in the synagogue; nor do they wish to be greeted in the market place because of their piety or to be called “rabbi.”

Third, Jesus cautions the crowd and the disciples, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father– the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah” (Matthew 23.8-10; NRSV). Once again, we see an emphasis on humility – we are all students in this journey, our true Father is the Father in heaven, and the Messiah is our true instructor. God is to be accorded the place of honor. The title of “Father” crept back into the church through monasticism where it was used as a title for one’s spiritual director. As servants of God, we are not to seek titles for self-aggrandizement.

Jesus closes his address to the crowd and the disciples by saying, “The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23.11-12; NRSV).

I think it is safe to say that most church conflicts, or for that matter, most conflicts in organizations stem from our failure to live out of love, mercy, and humility – the very things to which Jesus call us. We talk the talk, but we are unwilling, or unable, to walk the walk. As with the scribes and Pharisees, our desire for power and prestige pulls us away from living a life of love and servanthood. Jesus wants more than our talk – he wants our walk.


Sermon, October 8, 2017

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry Ort

Exodus 20.1-4, 7-9, 12-20; Psalm 19; Philippians 3.4b-14; Matthew 21.33-46


In our study of Philippians, we have noted Paul’s exhortation to the Christians of Philippi to live their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, to stand firm in one spirit and one mind. Paul encouraged them to live in unity with one another. To do that, they were not to act out of selfish ambition or conceit; to the contrary, they were to regard others as better than themselves and were to subordinate their own interests to the interests of others. Noting that Christ emptied himself, and took on human flesh, he encouraged them to “Let the same mind be in [them] that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2.5; NRSV). We closed last week by noting that as we act, or strive to live more deeply into Christ, we are acted upon. Paul captured this in his exhortation: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure” (Philippians 2.12-13; NRSV).

We have also noted that a key theme in Paul’s letter to the Philippians is joy and rejoicing. In 1.18, Paul speaks of rejoicing over the proclamation of Christ. In 1.25, Paul speaks of the Philippians joy in their faith. In 2.2, Paul asks that they make his joy complete by being united in one love and one mind. And in 3.1, Paul says, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord” (NRSV). He next cautions them to “beware of the dogs . . . the evil workers . . . of those who mutilate the flesh,” i.e., beware of those who would lead them astray, of those who insist on circumcision as a rite of entrance to the Christian faith. Paul says, “It is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh, even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3.3-4a; NRSV). Paul now directs their attention to what is truly important, to what is truly valuable – the internal affairs of the heart and soul as opposed to external signs of the flesh.

In our reading for today, Paul draws upon his own life and uses it as a negative example: “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more” (Philippians 3.4b; NRSV). As Elizabeth Shively notes, Paul then lists seven advantages he can claim: four of which are inherited, three of which are achievements:

1)   He is a full member of God’s covenant people (“circumcised on the eighth day”),

2)   He is an Israelite by birth with all the rights and privileges that adhere (“a member of the people of Israel”),

3)   He hails from one of the two tribes (Benjamin and Joseph) considered to be faithful to the covenant (“of the tribe of Benjamin”),

4)   He is the son of Hebrew parents with no Gentile contamination, that is, he is not a “mud-blood” (“a Hebrew born of Hebrews”).

5)   He practices strict observance of the law (“a Pharisee of Pharisees”)

6)   He exhibits avid devotion to God (“as to zeal, a persecutor of the church”)

7)   He is above reproach according to a Pharisaic interpretation of the law (“as to righteousness under the law, blameless”). (

Many years ago, I worked in human resources. If a resume like Paul’s had crossed my desk, I would have been on the phone. Get that man in here! I want to see if he is a good in person as he is on paper!      To put Paul’s life in modern day terms, think of the televangelist with a multimillion home, a private jet, and the best of everything. From the world’s point of view, this is the pinnacle of success. And this televangelist would convince you that God also wants you to experience this success. But as Paul warned, beware of the evil workers who would lead you astray. We are to pay attention to what is truly important, truly valuable?

What does Paul say about this list of credentials? “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3.7-8a; NRSV). Something powerful happened to Saul on the Road to Damascus – his life was forever changed. All he had inherited and all he had achieved, wonderful things from the standpoint of the world, he now counted as loss. Paul even went so far as to state, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith” (Philippians 3.8b-9; NRSV). “I regard them as rubbish” – literally translated, as “dung,” when viewed sub specie aeternitatis (“under the aspect of eternity”). Paul is like the merchant in Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl of Great Price: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13.45-46; NRSV).           What does Paul want? Paul says, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3.10-11; NRSV).

I want to know Christ.

I want to know the power of Christ’s resurrection.

I want to know the sharing of Christ’s sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul is selling everything that he might gain the pearl of great price. Paul’s eyes are no longer fixed on the things of this world; he no longer perceives things from the perspective of this world’s values; he now looks at things under the aspect of eternity; he sees things from the standpoint of eternal values.

Paul admits that he is still in the process of selling everything, for he continues, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3.12-14; NRSV).

As Paul moves to the end of this chapter, he encourages the Christians of Philippi to “hold fast to what [they] have already attained,” he reminds then their citizenship is not of this world but is rather in heaven, and assures them Christ will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself” (Philippians 3.16, 20-21; NRSV).

What do we value? Do we treasure the things of this world? As Paul tells the Christians of Philippi, we need to hold fast to the spiritual maturity that we have attained. We need to view our life and our world from the standpoint of eternity. With Paul, we will hopefully come to that place where we can say,

I want to know Christ.

I want to know the power of Christ’s resurrection.

I want to know the sharing of Christ’s sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.