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Las Vegas, NV 89183
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Bulletin

February 18th – Bulletin Announcements

Posted February 16, 2018

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Bishop Search Committee will hold a luncheon meeting today after the 10:00 service. This is an opportunity to let your voice be heard as we seek a new Bishop. Please plan to attend this 90-minute session.

Join Communities in Schools and Epiphany during Nevada Reading Week (2/26-3/2) to read in a local elementary school!

Takes no more than 15 minutes and they will provide the book!

See Laura Canon for a list/map of schools and to sign up!

Christian Spirituality – Fr. Vince will be offering a seminar on Christian Spirituality on Saturday March 17 at 10:00AM. All are invited. Please sign up in the narthex.

Outreach Meeting – Fr. Nicholas will have Outreach meeting on Sunday, Feb. 25th in the Parish Hall. All are welcome to attend.

Church School Meeting March 4 – Immediately following the 10am Mass the Church School Committee will meet in the classroom.

Lenten Study begins Wednesday February 21 at 6:30PM. We will be reading and discussing the book “Born of Water, Born of Spirit”. Please read the introduction and chapter 1 to prepare for the first discussion. Each Wednesday in Lent we will offer Stations of the Cross at 5:30, Holy Eucharist at 6:00, and a light supper & study at 6:30.

Ministers in Today’s Service

Presider: The Rev. Rick O’Brien

Preacher: The Rev. Vince O’Neil

Deacon: The Rev. Sam Morford

Pianist/Organist: Kathy S

Altar Guild: Judy F

Eucharistic Ministers: 8 AM Kris K    10 AM Kelly M, Bev H

Acolyte: 8 AM Paul G    10 AM Lexi R, Emilie C

Readers: 8 AM Bobbi P, Kris K     10 AM Dorothy H, Jim G

Greeters: 8 AM Bobbi P   10 AM Rosalie M, Carol C

Usher: Bob A

Nursery: Trish G

Coffee Hour: Mary E

Minister Minutes: None during Lent

Bulletin

Homily – 2/11/18

Posted February 15, 2018

Knowledge is a funny thing.  We spend a great deal of our time trying to acquire it, so that we can cope with the world and make a life for ourselves.  Knowledge, we are told, is the key to life.  Knowledge is power, it is the gateway; it is something to which we aspire.  Our society places such a value on knowledge that we use public funds to offer every child the opportunity to attend school.  We go further and create institutions of higher learning which are in some ways modern temples to knowledge.

Yet, for all of this, there are times when knowledge fails us.  There are times when knowledge can get in the way of real learning.  Paul talks about this to the church in Corinth when he speaks of the god of this world.  There are many gods of this world that we create: money, power, status.  But knowledge can also be one of the gods of this world. For knowledge can create certainty, and certainty often leaves little room for other things.  Differing thoughts, opinions, new ways of looking at the world – these can all be crowded out by the certainty which we feel through knowledge.  We KNOW that the world is a certain way, so it can be hard for us to imagine any other way that the world might be.

But there ARE other ways that world may be.  Jesus teaches the disciples this time and time again.  We know that you cannot restore a blind man’s sight or a deaf man’s hearing by simply touching him.  We know that you cannot feed 5,000 people from 5 loaves and two fish.  We know that the dead cannot come back to life.  Yet Jesus did every one of these things.  And in each case, he challenged the disciples to see the world in a new way; to rely less on the certainty of their knowledge.

There are times when I envy the disciples their experience of walking and talking and sharing meals with Jesus when he was among them on earth.  And there are other times when I am quite grateful that we have the perspective of history and retrospection of knowing the rest of the story.  This is one of those times.  It is easy for us to judge the disciples harshly, to wonder how on earth they could be so dim.  They were right there, standing next to him when he worked all of the miracles.  How could they not see that Jesus was truly different, that he was not bounded by the limitations that we take for granted?

But perhaps that is the point.  They were so grounded in their knowledge, so certain that they knew how the world worked.  And Jesus was like no one they had ever encountered before.  Rather than accept the world as it was, Jesus challenged the paradigm and had the power and ability to change it.   Not only that, but he challenged the disciples to not accept the world as their knowledge told them it was, and to be a force of change; for he taught them that they too, could change the world.

Jesus asked them, “Who do people say that I am?”  Peter responded, “You are the Messiah.”  And Jesus confirmed this, but told them to not tell anyone about it.  Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must be arrested and humiliated; that he must be rejected by the leaders and be killed, and that on the third day he would rise again.

To the disciples, this must have been crazy talk. For common knowledge said that the Messiah would come to fix everything that was wrong with the world.  The Messiah would be a warrior king who would overthrow the Romans, drive them out of the land and restore Israel to its former glory.  Everyone knew this and it was the fondest hope of all the Jews that the Messiah would come and do all of these things.  And now Jesus is confirming that he is indeed the Messiah, but that he will do none of these things.  Instead of leading the rebellion he was to be hated and beaten, he would accept the shame of the cross and be killed by the very people he was supposed to overthrow.

Judged by the lens of their knowledge, this would mean that Jesus was not the Messiah.  Yet they had seen the miracles, they had listened to his teaching, and he told them he was the Messiah.  So they found themselves with quite a conundrum.  Either Jesus was the Messiah, or he was just a powerful man who was a bit of a kook.  And then, Peter and John and James go with him to the mountaintop and witness the transfiguration.  Jesus is surrounded by a gleaming white light and out of nowhere appear Moses and Elijah to confer with Jesus.  And a voice from heaven tells them, “This is my Son the Beloved, listen to him.”

On their way up the mountain the disciples must have been puzzled as they were trying to reconcile their image of what the Messiah should be with the reality of what Jesus taught them.  And now they are witnesses to another miracle, this time not one that Jesus is performing, but one that is performed on Jesus himself.  They see the Holy Spirit illuminating Jesus and transfiguring him in front of their eyes, and they hear God himself speaking directly to them.  This is more than enough to convince them that Jesus is truly the Son of God, the long awaited Messiah.  They are finally ready to admit that their knowledge has failed them, that they must rely less on what they know and more on what they hear and see and learn from Jesus.

We too are disciples.  We have the perspective of history to inform and shape our understanding, but is that enough?  For Jesus challenged the disciples to change the world, and that is exactly what they did.  After the resurrection they went to the four corners of the earth and spread Christianity throughout the world in an unprecedented fashion.  They had finally learned to rely less upon the knowledge of the world and more upon the knowledge of the Risen Christ.

Do we do the same?  Do we rely more upon the things we know about the world, or do we allow ourselves to trust that God is at work in the world and will enable us to do his will?  Self-examination is never an easy process.  It is tempting to fall back on the knowledge of the world; to embrace the familiar and not open yourselves to the possibilities of change.  But Jesus teaches us that while this may seem the safest and easiest way, it is not HIS way.  Jesus challenges us to look at the world with a fresh set of eyes and embrace other ways of living, other paradigms. The way may be difficult and unfamiliar, but he will be by our side the whole time.  And we just may find ourselves changing the world in ways we could never have imagined.

Bulletin

Homily – State of the Church – 1/28/18

Posted February 1, 2018

“Hallelujah!  I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.” So beings Psalm 111, our lesson for today.  I find this perfectly appropriate for this mornings sermon which is, essentially, my state of the church address.  For today is the day that we look back on the past year, and look forward with hope to the coming year.  Later this morning you will hear from our Senior Warden and read reports from the vestry and our many ministries.  You will hear of significant progress in our physical plant; parking lot improvements, paint and carpets and great strides in landscaping.  You will hear of our wonderful church school, our youth, and their joyful expressions of God’s love.  You will hear about fellowship and outreach and many, many things that have made this a wonderful year.

Since I don’t want to steal any of their thunder, I will leave those reports to the folks who did all of that wonderful stuff.  I will focus my reflections then on how we have accomplished our mission.  Remember that in the great commission we are called by Jesus Christ to makes 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 Jesus commanded us.  This is our call and our mission, but it is a bit wordy isn’t it?  I tend to be a simple kind of guy, so I like to reduce things down to easy to remember phrases.  So, for me, the great commission can be boiled down to this; we are called to create and equip disciples.  Create and equip disciples.  It is as simple, yet difficult as that.

So, how did we do with that in 2017?  Well, we baptized 4 people last year, which is a very good start.  But in addition to that, we welcomed a far larger number of new people; seekers who came to our door in search of a church home and a deeper relationship with God.  One thing I hear from new folks on a regular basis is how welcoming Epiphany is to newcomers.  There seems to be something in the DNA of this church that make the stranger become a friend almost immediately.  I felt it the first time I came here, and it still strikes others as a blessing.  That is precisely what it is, God showing his blessing by using us to welcome others in his name.  I pray that we hold onto that as it helps us to claim the first part of our mission, to create disciples.

Equipping disciples sound a bit more daunting, doesn’t it?  We may sometimes feel that we aren’t even fully equipped ourselves, so how are we supposed to help equip others?  We needn’t be worried, for this is not as hard as you may think.  The vestry has been discussing a paradigm this year; looking at the church as base camp.

How many of you have ever climbed a mountain?  Now I am not talking about Lone Mountain which is a 45-minute hike to the top.  I am talking about a serious mountain, something with significant elevation.  This is not something that you just do.  It takes preparation.  You need to get in shape physically, you need to get climbing equipment and learn to use it.  You need to learn from others who have already climbed mountains.  You need to study the trails and determine the best approach.  Only once you have done all of this are you ready to attempt your first mountain climb.

After you have a great deal of climbing experience you can finally set your sights on the ultimate feat; Mount Everest.  But Everest is no ordinary mountain.  Even for the most experienced climbers it is the most daunting of climbs.  You have to prepare yourself and you need the help of others.  Once you have done all of this preparation you begin your trek to your destination; base camp.  You see, you cannot summit Everest all at once.  The air is too thin and the altitude is too high.  You first need to climb to base camp where you can rest and prepare yourself for the journey ahead.  Base camp is provisioned with everything you will need for your assent; food, water, oxygen, and most importantly, experienced guides who can lead you and offer encouragement for your journey.  Only those who have spent time at the base camp and availed themselves of the resources it offers can succeed in the quest for Everest.

By now you are figuring out why we compare the church to base camp.  Base camp is not the destination for climbers, it is merely a place to equip and support them in their quest.  The Church is not the destination for disciples, it is merely a place to equip and support them in their quest.  Our job as the church is to be the base camp for disciples; to offer a place of refreshment and preparation for each disciple’s mission and ministry.

This past year we have done well at being base camp.  We held education and formation programs to help disciples get to know one another and get to know God.  We held workshops on gift discernment, spirituality and grace to assist people in knowing their unique gifts.  We shared our gifts by hosting guests through Family Promise, gave of our resources to Epicenter, communities in schools and Gabriel’s gift, and gave our time working with the Just One Project.  We prayed with and for people in need, people hurting, people in need of God’s healing touch.  We came together to discuss the challenges we face in the Las Vegas valley as part of Nevadans for the common good.  Most importantly, we celebrated Holy Eucharist together 8,000 times, communing with God and with one another.  We truly are living into our call to create and equip disciples.

In the coming year, we still have work to do.  Building and maintain the base camp takes work.  Everything that a climber needs is in base camp, but it all has to be carried to the camp and that requires a great deal of labor.  Our base camp requires work as well, and it is work that we all share.  Just as church is not something done to you but by you, base camp is both for you and made by you.

As we move into the coming year, May God continue to shower us with blessings and may we be a beacon of hope to the disciples as we equip and encourage them for their journey.

 

Bulletin

Homily – 1/7/18

Posted January 14, 2018

We have today’s gospel from Mark, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.  John had been preaching a baptism of repentance from sin.  He was an outsider, as the gospel writers clearly tell us.  “Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.”  This is meant to paint a picture for us of just how much of an outsider John was.  He dressed funny.  He ate weird foods.  He consorted with the wrong kind of people.  He lived alone in the desert.  And yet this strange man connected with people through his message of repenting from their sins and returning to God.  Remember that it had been more than 300 years since a prophet from God had been heard from.  The people knew that they were not right with God, and were eager to hear again from God’s messenger.  And so, this bizarre man who was completely outside of their normal experience was surprisingly enough, someone they would listen to.

But rather than allow himself to be elevated by the people, John maintained his humility and proclaimed the coming of another who would be more powerful than he.  “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.”  John foretold the coming of the worthy one who would baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.  And then we have Jesus coming to John to be baptized.

Mark doesn’t mention this, but in Matthew we hear the same story, but with a bit more added.  “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.”

John knew who he was, and even more importantly, who he wasn’t.  John knew that he was not the Messiah.  He had been given gifts of the spirit to allow him to fulfill the mission and ministry God had set for him.  John knew what his gifts were, but also was very sure what they were not.  So, when the Lord comes to him and asks him to do something else, John balks.  “No Lord, this isn’t my job.  I am not worthy.  I am not equipped.  It is too big a job.  I am afraid.  I don’t feel equal to the task.  It is not my place.”  Yet in the face of these sentiments, Jesus merely tells him, go ahead and do as I ask.  Jesus is really telling him, you ARE equipped for the work.  It IS part of your calling.  For though John didn’t understand it, he was about to have a role in a momentous occurrence.

“Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  Here we see the three aspects of the trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit each demonstrating their uniqueness, yet acting together in concert to fulfill God’s plan on earth.  God in all forms is acting in the world, not for Jesus, but for us.  God the Father does not need to speak out loud to Jesus; he does this so that we may hear.  Jesus already has the Holy Spirit, but it comes from heaven to him as a visible sign for us to see.  God in all forms is acting in the world to remind us of his power and his willingness to love us with all that He is.

John could never have imagined that he would play a role in such an event, but it was his act of baptizing Jesus that precipitated this appearance of the Trinity.  Though he tried to turn away from it, John listens to Jesus and the result is nothing short of amazing.

We too are like John.  Each of us has been given gifts through the spirit.  Each of us has been given a mission and a ministry.  Now, there are some of you sitting there and saying to yourselves, ‘he isn’t talking to me.  I don’t have any gifts.’  My brothers and sisters, that is pure bunk.  I am here to tell you that each one of us, ALL of us, every single one of us is given gifts.  Each of us is also given a mission for which these gifts equip us.  The challenge is to discern what your gifts are.  To help with that, later this month we are presenting a gifts discernment workshop specifically designed to help you discover your unique gifts.  I commend it to you as well worth your time and effort.

But there is another lesson that John teaches us here.  For remember that John had a clear idea of his mission and his gifts.  When Jesus asks him to do something different, John balks and says in effect, “no Lord, that is not part of my mission.”  And yet, Jesus knows better.  God uses John in a way he could never have imagined, a way far beyond his understanding of his gifts.

So, learn from John.  When God calls you to do something, listen to that call.  It may be outside your comfort zone.  It may be something that you don’t want to do.  It may be doing something that you fear.  But trust in God.  For as John learned, God can use us in ways beyond our imagining.  And if we too can trust in God and act, the result may just be that we change the world.

Bulletin

Homily – 12/24/17

Posted January 4, 2018

I want to start by saying that I am an enormous fan of Christmas music.  Sacred or secular, I love it all.  But they started playing Christmas music this year shortly after the fourth of July.  Even for me, that is going a bit too far.  Actually, a lot too far.  The main problem with this, aside from its crass emphasis on trying to separate you from your money, is that starting the music so early makes it somehow less special.  It is difficult to focus on the words to Silent Night when you have heard it 73 times before Labor Day. So, what begins as a lovely reminder of the season quickly fades into nothing but background noise.

But every once in a while, at an unexpected moment, the fog of life clears, and you find yourself listening to the words.  I was driving home from a long day, caught up in my own little world, concentrating on my own problems.  Without realizing it, I found myself listening to the song “Where are you Christmas? “

I had heard it many times already this year, but for some reason I found myself paying attention to the words.  “Where are you Christmas, why can’t I find you, why have you gone away?  My world is changing, I’m rearranging, does that mean Christmas changes too?”  This started my thinking about MY Christmases; how they used to be and how they, in fact, have changed.

I recall as a young child that Christmas was about Santa and presents and, as I was an only child, being the center of attention.  I rather liked that.  The first time Christmas changed for me was when I was 6.  My grandmother died at Thanksgiving, the first time that I had any experience of death.  Christmas was not going to be the same after that.  Later that year, my mother gave birth to my baby brother, on December 22, and Christmas changed again.

Fast forward and I am in college for my first year, all by myself and homesick.  Christmas was very different that year, with none of the preparations and traditions I had taken for granted as a youngster. So, after feeling sorry for myself for a bit, I took the bus to Kmart and bought a tiny tree and a cassette tape of Bing Crosby.  Setting up this Charlie Brown tree in my dorm room, listening to White Christmas, I started to feel better and realized that I was now creating my own Christmas traditions.

When Jen and I were married, Christmas changed again.  For the first time in my life I didn’t wake up in my parent’s home.  We now had two families, with two different sets of traditions, and both wanted their traditions to stay the same.  Each family expected us to take part in their traditions, and we had to find a way to mediate the differences and act as agents of change.  Neither family got exactly what they wanted, but all had to adapt to a new reality that included changes in Christmas from that point on.

We had our first son, and that changed Christmas again, in many, many ways.  We now found ourselves in the position of establishing traditions for our own family, both as keepers of the past, and looking forward into the future.  Two more sons followed over the years, and we evolved our own set of family traditions, some that incorporated our larger family, some that were only for us.

Then our sons grew up and left for college too.  Christmas changed again when one of them could not come home from school, so we went to him.  Our first Christmas in a hotel room was unusual, but lovely in its own special way.  Over the years, we have celebrated Christmas in my parents’ house, in Jen’s parents’ house, in a hotel room, in a church basement, in a rented house in Florida, and one memorable time in a closed Italian restaurant during a blizzard.

As I think about it, Christmas has been changing all of my life.  Life moves on, people come into and leave our lives, and the world keeps on turning.  Change is a constant; even when we don’t want it to be.

For some people change comes rather easy; while others meet change kicking and screaming.  If you are one of the former, then you are comfortable with the idea of Christmas changing.  You can listen to the song and answer, “Yes, Christmas DOES change, and all will be well.”  But if you are one of the people who is uncomfortable with change, perhaps this may help a bit.

Our Christmas celebrations change.  The people we celebrate with change.  We go to different places, we eat different foods, but there is one thing that does NOT change.  That God sent his only son into the world in the mostly lowly fashion to become one of us and save us from ourselves.  This infant Jesus who we celebrate today is the one thing that does not change, in fact has never changed.  Jesus is eternal.  He has always been, is now, and will always be part of our triune God.  As John tells us in his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

The word that John so eloquently describes is Jesus.  Jesus was with God at the creation of the world; indeed, the world was created through him as all things came into being through him.  This Jesus, born today as a tiny baby in a humble cattle stall is none other than the eternal God, who loves us so much that he chose to take on our humanity and dwell among us.  Our light in the darkness; the light of all people.

It is not about HOW we celebrate, but about WHAT we celebrate.  Our Christmases will change.  People we love will not be with us, we may find ourselves in unfamiliar places.  But Christmas, the coming of God Immanuel, has been the same for 2,000 years.  And it will always be.  I wish you a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

Bulletin

Homily – 11/12/17

Posted November 20, 2017

A wedding.  Everyone has their own interpretation of what a wedding is, or at least what it should be.  Your own, your friends, your children’s and perhaps even your parents.  A wedding is a celebration of life, a union of two people in love who pledge their lives to one another.  A wedding is a binding contract tying two people together.  In the church we consider it to be one of the sacraments as we see it as far more than simply a civil contract, but as a gift from God and a pledge of obedience to each other and to God.  It is also often a huge event!  It is a time for celebration with family and friends, a time to eat, drink and be merry.  A time to connect with people you don’t see often and to renew bonds of friendship and family.

In the ancient world, weddings had some of the same character, but there were some very distinct differences.  It is these differences that make today’s passage from Matthew a bit hard to understand.

Today we think of a wedding in basically two parts; the engagement and the ceremony.  Whether in a church in front of a priest, at city hall in front of a justice of the peace, or in a wedding chapel in front of Elvis, the ceremony marks the beginning of the union.  An engagement is an agreement to be married, but it is not until the ceremony that a binding contract is established between the two people.

In ancient days things were different.  The wedding was actually in three parts.  The first was the betrothal.  This was what we would consider the engagement where an offer of marriage was made and accepted.  It was not typically made by the couple, but by their families.  Arranged marriages were common and were much more about joining of families for economic reasons than for anything as silly as love.  But, unlike our concept of engagement, the betrothal was a binding agreement and the couple were considered to be married at that point, even though they would still live apart.  In some cases, this was because the couple were children and had to wait to move forward until they had come of age, while in other cases it was to allow the groom time to earn the dowry called the Mohar that had to be paid to the bride’s family.  Remember the story of the Virgin Mary and her betrothal to Joseph?  Each advent I get asked why Mary would be traveling with him if they were not yet married.  Now you understand that as they were betrothed they were in fact considered to be married.

When the time came for the second part of the wedding, the families would agree on an approximate time, but it was not a fixed point in time. The second part is what we would think of as the consummation of the marriage.  Remember that the couple was already considered to be legally married, but the consummation would establish the virginity of the bride and the commencement of their life together.  It was largely up to the groom to determine the exact date and time.  The bride was expected to make herself ready for the groom, attended by her bridesmaids.  The bridesmaids would prepare her for the arrival of her husband, but since they did not know when he was coming, they were with her morning, noon and night.  Only once the groom had arrived and the marriage had been consummated would the third part of the wedding begin; the celebration.

Remember that we are not talking about a time and place with 9 channels of HBO and a 4G WiFi connection.  These were small rural villages in Palestine with extremely little in the way of entertainment.  Every wedding in the village was a huge event and all of the family and friends would take part in the celebration; a celebration by the way that would last an entire week.  A wedding was the event of the year and after all, who doesn’t want to be part of a week-long party? But there was of course a catch.  You had to be there when the party started.  If you were not, then you were quite literally shut out.  So it was important to be sure you were ready when the groom arrived because you clearly did not want to miss out on the event.

Which brings us to the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids.  Those who were wise had planned ahead and brought enough oil for their lamps, while the foolish had not.  I imagine they were very excited for their friend, were flattered to have been chosen to take part in this momentous occasion in her life, and were very much looking forward to the feasting and dancing at the wedding banquet.  But in their enthusiasm for the moment, they had let their concern for the present come before their hope for the future; and in so doing they sacrificed their ability to share in the wonder of the event that was to come.

Now I think we are starting to get a taste of the meaning of the gospel.  The bridesmaids were called to wait with the bride for the coming of her groom; for the commencement of the life that meant, and the celebration that they had long looked forward to.  But they were either too excited about the event to properly prepare themselves for their task, or they were too caught up in their own lives and problems to invest the effort and energy needed for the task at hand.  The wise had been just as excited or just as preoccupied, but in their wisdom they knew the importance of preparing for what was to come.

The Wisdom of Solomon tells us “Wisdom is radiant and unfading and is found by those who seek her.”  If you seek wisdom, we are told, you will have no difficulty in finding her as she waits for us, graciously appearing in our paths and meeting us in every thought.  But that is the catch isn’t it?  For while wisdom is always ready for us, we must want to find it in the first place.  We must seek wisdom; we must place a value on wisdom and want to open ourselves to what we can learn from it.

If we don’t value wisdom, or if we aren’t willing to accept that we have things we can learn and be willing to invest the time and the energy, then wisdom will elude us.  The foolish bridesmaids saw no value in wisdom and found themselves on the outside looking in, but the wise were able to accomplish their task and enjoy the rewards.

But there is another point to be made.  This is not just about the good maids vs. the bad or the wise vs. the foolish.  For what happened when the foolish asked the wise for some oil?  They didn’t tell them, tough luck you should have planned ahead.  No, they told them we don’t have enough, but you should go and buy some and return.  Instead of deriding them for their lack of preparation, they gave them a helpful suggestion and a path to the wisdom that had eluded them.

If you are not actively seeking wisdom, now would be a good time to consider it.  For as Jesus says, you know neither the time nor the hour when the groom will come.  If you are wise and are preparing for the coming of the bridegroom, good for you.  But remember not to be smug about your preparation.  Remember also to offer help to those who need it so that we all may attend the bridegroom when he returns.  For the bride is the church and the bridegroom is Jesus Christ the Lord.  We know not the day nor the hour when he will return to take possession of his world.  But if that day were today, which of the bridesmaids would you be?

 

Bulletin

Homily – 10/29/17

Posted October 31, 2017

Last week’s gospel was an interesting one and it brought up a number of good questions.  Many of you had good points in Father Nicholas’s interactive sermon.  The best reaction to the gospel, in my opinion, was this one.  “Jesus told them that money was a human creation and not God’s, so money remains in the human realm and I don’t need to give any to the church.”  I don’t think this is what the vestry wants to hear.

Many of you come from different faith traditions and may not understand how the Episcopal church is funded.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to clear up a few myths that people have about money and the church.

Myth #1 – our parish does not need money from us since funding comes to us from the diocese or the national church.  This is false.  In fact, it is actually the other way around.  A percentage of what we give here at Epiphany goes to fund the operation and ministries of the diocese.  In turn, a percentage of the diocesan funding goes to the national church to support its’ ministries.  So rather than have our funding come down from the top, it actually is built up from the bottom.

Myth #2 – church should be free.  Well, that one is partly true.  Church IS free.  We don’t charge admission.  We don’t take tickets at the door.  Unlike the casinos on the strip, we don’t even charge for parking.  But operating our church does cost money.  And while the church is free to all, it is only free because some of us believe so strongly in the mission and our call to spread the gospel, that we pledge financial support to fund the church.  It is this pledging that covers the expenses of the church and ensures that it is free to all.

Myth #3 – I don’t need to pledge; I put some money in the plate when I am here and that is good enough.  That one is also false.  While the church is not a business, it does need to operate like one in some ways.  We need to develop a budget that will support our expenses and to do that we need to have an idea of what funding we can expect.  That is what makes pledging so important to the church; it allows us to build a realistic plan to fund our operation.

Now, if you are like me, you are probably a bit uncomfortable right about now.  I always used to get uncomfortable when our priest would talk about money.  Money is a funny subject as people take it enormously seriously and are often quite private about the concept.  Others of you may be sitting there wondering to yourselves if this sermon is not just a bit self-serving on my part as I am actually paid by the church.  On that part you are correct, so let me address that.  For the first time in my life I now earn my living as a priest and I am the first full time employee Epiphany has ever had.  Through your pledging I am paid a salary of $80,000, which to some of you may seem like a lot and to others may seem like a little.  Our household budget is not unlike yours I imagine.  Being a priest does not exempt me from having bills to pay.  The largest expense in our home is the mortgage, which is probably true of many of you as well.  The second largest is our pledge to the church.

You see we sat through many sermons like this one, and when the part about tithing came around I started to roll my eyes.  10% of my income to the church?  Impossible!  We have bills and expenses that they didn’t have back in Jesus’ time.  Jesus didn’t have a cable bill or a cell phone plan.  But as time went on, Jen and I talked more about our giving and embarked on a plan to give proportionally and keep increasing until we achieved the goal.  When I took this job, we agreed that this was the time to make the leap and give the full 10%.  Now I am not telling you this because we want any praise, but rather to share with you something important.  It wasn’t until our giving became sacrificial that it really became important to us.

Sacrificial giving means that you need to sacrifice in other areas of your life in order to give.  I am not talking about skipping the occasional Starbucks, but a real change in lifestyle.  Tithing for us has brought about such a lifestyle change.  Gone are fancy dinners on the strip.  They have been replaced by more simple things.  Did you know for instance that Ikea has a really good cafeteria and two people can eat there for about $17?

We didn’t do it for this purpose, but we have found that living into the tithe has brought us to a new appreciation of giving back to God.  For what we have does not come from us, but from God.  And only by giving something back, by sacrificing for God, do we have an understanding of how important that relationship is.

Which brings me to myth #4.  Stewardship is about the church’s need to receive.  This is also false.  Yes, your money is needed to fund the mission, but stewardship is not about the needs of the church.  It is really about our need to give.  Let me say that again.  Stewardship is not about the church’s need to receive; it is about our need to give.  Think of it this way.  When are you happier, when you get a gift or when you give one?  Have you had that Christmas morning experience of waiting for a loved one to open that “perfect” gift you got them?  As Christians we are about giving not receiving.  Stewardship then is a way for us to recognize the gifts that God has given us in life; our skills, our experiences, the opportunities to create the life we have.

Now there is always one lectionary fanatic in the congregation who measures the value of the sermon by how it relates to the lessons of the day.  That person (and you know who you are), is probably saying to them self, “he is talking about last week’s gospel but hasn’t mentioned this week’s yet.”  But fear not, for this week’s gospel too is relevant to a conversation on stewardship.  When asked by the Pharisees about the greatest commandment, Jesus replies; “’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 first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Through stewardship we show our love for God and for our neighbor in the mission and the ministry of the church.  Remember the words of St Teresa of Avilla who said, “Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks Compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”

 

Bulletin

Homily – 10-15-17

Posted October 16, 2017

Oh, those darn Israelites!  They are at it again.  We have seen time after time that they turn away from God, seemingly at the drop of a hat.  The God who led them out of bondage in Egypt.  The God who parted the Red Sea for them.  The God who fed them manna in the wilderness.  Apparently that was not enough.  For no sooner does Moses climb the mountain to speak with God, then they are ready to bolt once again.  “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

So Aaron makes a golden calf and they begin to worship it.  This is expressly against what God has commanded them.  And God says to Moses, “Your people have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it.”  God is angry, for no matter what He does for them, the people continue to take him for granted and turn away at the first chance they get.

We sit here this morning many generations removed from the story.  And let’s be honest, we sit here in judgement of the Israelites.  We ask ourselves, how could these people have been so faithless?  How could they abandon God’s ways when he has done so much for them?  And we look down on them, partly in pity, but also partly in contempt.

But before we judge them too hastily, there is something we should consider.  Have we done the same thing that they did?

We tell ourselves, no, we haven’t abandoned God’s ways. We haven’t built a golden idol and paid homage to it.  But then a tragedy like last week happens, and we are forced to reexamine that statement.  Have we truly embraced God’s ways?  Are we living as God wants us to live?  I don’t think that we are.  I think we have built a golden calf of our own, an idol that we have allowed to replace God in our minds.  That idol is violence.

We live in a culture that venerates violence.  Violence seems to be everywhere that we look.  Movies, television, music, video games, they all feature violent images.  And it seems that the more violent they are, the more popular they become.  Violence has become the norm, and it is insidious.  Since it is everywhere in our culture, we have become immune to it.  We don’t even notice it, any more than a fish notices the water in which it lives.  And then real-life violence intrudes into our lives, and we are forced to face the fact that we have been complicit in allowing it to become our culture.

Don’t misunderstand me.  None of us wanted a tragedy like the one we have just witnessed.  It was an evil and terrible thing and the repercussions will be with the victims for the rest of their lives.  But while none of us would cause such an evil, we must accept some responsibility for allowing our culture to become so obsessed with violence.  So much so, that an act like this could become commonplace.  For, I am sorry to say, that is what it is.

I was very disturbed when I spoke with my 20-year-old son about the shooting.  He was deeply affected, as we all were, by the fact that it would happen here in our own town.  The loss of so many, and the callous disregard shown for human life by the shooter was jarring, and magnified by the fact that we know the area so well and most of us have at least some connection to one or more of the victims.  But as we talked, it became clear to me that he saw this, not as an isolated incident, not as some abomination that came at us from nowhere, but rather as a normal event.  And then it dawned on me.  My son does not have the same life experience I have.  I was raised in a world where an act such as this was nearly unthinkable. A tragedy like this was not part of our worldview.  In school, the only thing we had to deal with was the annual fire drill.

But my sons are growing up in a world where acts like this not only take place, but they occur regularly.  These kids have been raised in a world where the phrase “shelter in place” is part of their lexicon.  Where all schools have emergency response plans in case someone enters the building with a gun.  Whether you live in Las Vegas, or Orlando, or Sandy Hook, or Columbine, senseless acts of violence are the norm for this generation.

I don’t know about you, but I found this shocking.  And it became clear to me that we have a choice.  We can either accept this, or we can work to change the culture.  I vote that we change the world.  For I am not ready to accept that violence is here to stay and we must simply accept the world we have made.  I say we must change the culture.

Don’t misunderstand me; this is not an easy proposition.  It is not about changing a gun law or two, though that is something we should be looking at.  It is not about a quick fix, for we swim in violence as a fish swims in water.  But it is a challenge that we must accept.  It starts with each one of us.  We must become aware of the violence that surrounds us and we must reject it.  Stop buying tickets to movies that glorify violence, stop buying games that do, stop supporting violence on television.  If we stop offering our money to companies that produce violence, I assure you they will notice.

But acting on our own is not enough.  For one of us cannot change the culture alone.  But together we can make a start.  Epiphany is a member of Nevadans for the Common Good, an organization of religious communities that come together to advocate for social change.  This is a good place to start.  NCG is embarking on a house meeting program where hundreds of people from the member churches will come together to share stories of the things that impact their lives.  We will be having several of these meetings here.  The feedback from these meetings will fuel the agenda for the group for the years to come.  I urge you to participate; to bring to the conversation your own stories.

Now you may be sitting there saying, sure I would like to see change, but it is too late.  Violence has been with us forever and we cannot make the changes we need.  To that I would remind you that 200 years ago black people were thought of as property without the same rights as whites.  In 2008 Barack Obama, a black man, was elected President of the United States.  100 years ago, women were not thought to be intelligent enough to vote.  Today women run multinational companies, sit on the Supreme Court and in Congress, and are one of the most influential voting blocks in the nation.

We CAN change our culture.  It is not easy, and it takes a great deal of work and pain.  But if enough of us are willing to put forth the effort, if enough of us are ready to say “no more”, then we can begin to return our world to God’s path.  We can put away the golden idol of violence and live as Jesus commanded us, not harming but loving one another.

Bulletin

Homily – 9/24/17

Posted September 26, 2017

Matthew 20

Four million dollars.  That is my number.  I have given this a great deal of thought and I think that is the right number.  You see, I am in my early fifties and hope to live for another 40 years.  Four million divided by 40 would give me an income of $100K a year, before Uncle Sam takes his portion.  I think that will do nicely.  My wife and I live a fairly simple life, but like everyone we have bills to pay.  Four million dollars would pay off our mortgage and leave more than enough for us to drive fancy new cars.

But I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.  It’s not only about us.  We would like to be able to give more money to the church and to other worthy causes.  We would like to take some mission trips to other parts of the world.  I wonder if Royal Caribbean cruises to such places?  OK, I guess I have to admit that it is mostly about us.  And, I suspect if you are honest, it is mostly about you too.  Who here has not had that fantasy of winning the lottery or hitting the big jackpot down on the strip?  We all want more than we have.  I think that is part of the human condition, to always want more.  At least when it comes to money.

Matthew’s Gospel today is a favorite of mine.  It is the type of story that can make you want to pull your hair out.  I have heard passionate debates among clergy and scholars railing against the sheer unfairness of the landowner in this story.  No matter the group, this story is certain to provoke heated conversation and often leads to a discussion of today’s political arena.  Now before you start squirming in your seats, I am not going to turn this sermon into a political discussion.  A wise priest once told me that sermons are far too important for that.

But I am going to see if we can make some sense of this story.  On its face it does appear to be unfair.  Why should those who work all day get the same as those who just showed up?  Shouldn’t some get more and others get less?

I think the problem we have with this story is that it is about money.  We take money far too personally.  It is fine to talk about God and faith and service, but when the conversation turns to money, it is as if we have crossed a line and are now in very personal territory.  So let’s turn the parable around a bit.  I think we can agree that the landowner in the story is God.  God goes to the marketplace, finds people, and puts them to work in his fields.  This happens again, and again and again throughout the day.  And when the work is done, all of the workers stand before God for their wages.  And God gives them their pay.  Eternal Life with Him in heaven.

This story is not about money at all.  It is not even about the work.  It is about God loving us so much that he will bring us home to be with him when our time on Earth is done.  It matters not whether we have worked our entire lives for him or if we were baptized on our death bed.  We all get the same reward.  He can’t give some more than others because this is one-size fits all gift.  There is no greater hope for us than to be with God for eternity and there is nothing we can do to earn it.  Jesus paid the entry fee for each and every one of us.

So why then should we labor in the fields for the Lord?  Why not just sit back and wait for the good things to come?  Because that is not what God wants us to do.  We are commanded to work for the Lord, not because it will earn our way into heaven, but because we know that our life is better by having God in it.  Walking with Jesus in our lives is a miraculous gift and we would be selfish if we did not share that with other people, so that they may have the same joy that we have.  Spreading the love of God does not dilute His love, for that is impossible.  So how can we not share this amazing love with others?

Did you wonder in this gospel story why some folks were ready to work at dawn while others trickled in over the course of the day?  Some were not ready to work because they were too caught up in their own lives.  Some were not ready because they were too busy complaining that they didn’t have everything they wanted, that they didn’t have their $4M.  Others were not ready to work because they didn’t know that they already had the skills to do the work.

Let’s work together to be satisfied with the blessings we have and discover ways to use the gifts we have been given to bring others to God.  That is our mission.  That is evangelism.  That is how we are the people of God.

But before we leave this story, there is another point that bears examination.  Looked at from the perspective we have just discussed, hopefully the story makes a bit more sense.  God is giving us the greatest of gifts; eternal life.  That makes the story sit better with us, as it removes the perceived unfairness from it.  But why does this make it easier?  Why are we more comfortable with people being given eternal life than we are with people being given money?

What is it about money that makes us take things so personally?  It is easy to rail at the apparent unfairness of the landowner when we think the story is about money.  But when we separate money from the story, we feel it is less unfair.  What is behind that?

I think it has to do with our relationship with money.  We look at money as something that we earn, something that gives us the things we need in life, but also as a way of keeping score.  Are you familiar with the phrase “whoever dies with the most toys wins?”  Our culture is obsessed with wealth and money and it pervades everything that we do.

Think about this; which is it easier to go a whole day without thinking about, God or money?  If you said God, you are a better person than I.  For we spend our lives thinking about money; how much we have, how much we spend, how we can get more, how I can get my $4 million dollars.  We do this so much that God can get crowded out of our thinking.  And then we run across a story like today’s gospel and God and Money come together and it rocks our world.

But what if we focused less on how money can be ours and more on how money can help us further God’s kingdom?  Funding the mission of the church, donating to the hurricane relief efforts or the earthquake victims in Mexico, helping our poorer brothers and sisters who are hungry or homeless.  These are ways the we can use money, rather than let money use us.

Looked at from this perspective, I guess I don’t really need $4 Million dollars.  For what I have is enough; enough for us and enough to share.  Enough to help build the kingdom and to love others as we are called to do.

 

Bulletin

Homily – 9/17/18

Posted September 18, 2017

Epiphany Episcopal Church

15th Sunday after Pentecost

 

Opening:

 

Let the words of my mouth…

 

And the meditations of my heart…

 

Be always acceptable in thy sight…

 

O’ Lord…

 

My strength and my redeemer…

 

Amen…

 

Introduction:

 

“I forgive you…”

 

“I forgive you…”

 

If anything was ever easier…

 

Easier said than done…

 

To forgive has most certainly been a struggle in my life…

 

My inability…

 

My inability to genuinely forgive…

 

You see…

 

With every good intention…

 

I have forgiven persons in my life…

 

Those who remain in…

 

Those who remain out…

 

I have forgiven myself…

 

Yes…

 

I have forgiven all those who have harmed me…

 

In some instances…

 

In word only…

 

I have not…

 

I have not forgiven them in my heart…

 

In my heart…

 

As I reflect on what lies beneath…

 

When I search those deeper…

 

Darker spaces of my heart…

 

I have found…

 

I have found greater understanding as to the layers of my stubbornness…

 

My unwillingness to forgive…

 

In those deeper darker spaces…

 

What lies beneath???

 

What lies beneath is hurt…

 

What lies beneath is pain…

 

And sometimes…

 

When I visit those spaces…

 

I too…

 

I too find anger in my vulnerability…

 

I too…

 

I too find betrayal in my trust…

 

I find…

 

I find fear in my peace…

 

All reinforcing my stubbornness…

 

My unwillingness…

 

To forgive…

 

Now…

 

As I meditated in that space with this week’s Gospel…

 

I came to the realization…

 

The realization that I have much work before me…

 

That time…

 

Time does not heal all wounds…

 

Healing…

 

It is a process…

 

Forgiveness…

 

It is process…

 

And…

 

As much as I realized the work before me…

 

I too realized…

 

I realized that in some cases…

 

In some cases, I am still not ready…

 

Not ready to forgive…

 

That I am not healed…

 

That I…

 

That I am still in process…

 

Body One:

 

Forgive in word…

 

Why???

 

Because it is the polite thing to do???

 

It is the Christian thing to do???

 

Forgive in word…

 

Why???

 

To relieve the awkwardness???

 

To allow a relationship or circumstance to move forward???

 

Forgive in word…

 

Why???

 

Perhaps it is in the hope…

 

In the hope that if we say it…

 

That maybe…

 

Just maybe, we will believe it…

 

Yes…

 

Maybe we will believe it and we will no longer have to endure our suffering…

 

Forgive in word…

 

It is not the polite thing to do…

 

Two wrongs do not make a right…

 

Forgive in word…

 

It is not the Christian thing to do…

 

It is the dishonest thing to do…

 

Forgiven in word…

 

Does it really relieve the awkwardness???

 

Or does it only veil it…

 

Does a relationship or circumstance???

 

Does it really move forward???

 

Or does it spin off…

 

Spin off onto a new disingenuous path???

 

A path leading back only to its place of origin…

 

Forgiven in word…

 

Have you ever said it???

 

“I forgive you…”

 

Have you ever said it and instantaneously been absolved of your pain???

 

Of your hurt???

 

I didn’t think so…

 

Body Two:

 

Forgive in word…

 

But who???

 

Just exactly who is the beneficiary???

 

Is it the one who caused the harm???

 

If so…

 

Just what have they gained???

 

A false sense of security???

 

That they are indeed forgiven???

 

Surely, they will know that they are not…

 

The one who is hurt will demonstrate that through their actions…

 

Did they learn???

 

Did they have an opportunity to understand the hurt???

 

The pain they may have caused…

 

What they did…

 

Why they did…

 

How to not do it again…

 

Were they enabled???

 

Having earned what is not rightfully theirs…

 

Trading only the vacant words of “I am sorry…”

 

In the exchange for “I forgive you…”

 

Who is the beneficiary???

 

Is it the one who has hurt???

 

Forgive and forget…

 

God knows…

 

God knows I would like to…

 

To forget…

 

I imagine I have wished…

 

I have prayed…

 

I have wished and prayed as much for certain experiences to have never have happened…

 

Just as much as I have wished and prayed that I can just forget them…

 

Those wishes…

 

They have never come true…

 

Those prayers…

 

They remain unanswered…

 

They happened…

 

And…

 

I remember…

 

Forgive in word…

 

We can be childishly naïve…

 

Naïve in our thinking as to what lies beneath…

 

That it indeed…

 

That it simply lies…

 

In our attempt to not feel…

 

In our attempt to not feel we fail to recognize…

 

We fail to recognize that what lies beneath is far from idle…

 

(pause)

 

But just how active…

 

How active the hurt…

 

The pain…

 

The anger, the vulnerability…

 

The fear, the mistrust…

 

Just how active they are…

 

How much they shape and influence us…

 

How it can consume us…

 

Our thinking…

 

Our feeling…

 

Our behavior…

 

How what lies beneath…

 

What lies beneath is really what is active on the surface…

 

How it leads us to self-medicate…

 

How the anger leads us to hurt others…

 

How the vulnerability leads us develop sharp edges…

 

How the fear leads us close ourselves off…

 

How the mistrust leads us to isolation…

 

Body Three:

 

Forgive in word…

 

A fallacy…

 

Genuine forgiveness…

 

Cannot…

 

Cannot be delivered from our lips…

 

It must…

 

It must be delivered from our hearts…

 

Forgiveness is the actualization…

 

The actualization of catharsis of that hurt and that pain…

 

It is the release…

 

The release of the emotions…

 

The trauma…

 

The setting free and letting go of what it is we house in those…

 

Those deeper darker spaces…

 

Healing…

 

It is a process…

 

Forgiveness…

 

It is a process…

 

It is a process of understanding…

 

Of understanding that we too cause hurt…

 

That we cause pain…

 

It is a process of seeking…

 

Seeking those emotions housed in those deep dark spaces…

 

Identifying those feelings…

 

And allowing ourselves to feel them…

 

It is a process of discernment…

 

Discerning that forgiving…

 

That forgiving does not mean forgetting…

 

Our forgiveness may very well be solely to set ourselves free…

 

Setting ourselves free while binding the other to the caution necessary to protect ourselves…

 

Closing:

 

“I forgive you…”

 

If anything…

 

was ever easier…

 

Easier said than done…

 

I ask you…

 

What is in your heart???

 

In those???

 

Those deeper???

 

Those darker spaces???

 

What lies beneath???

 

Just what???

 

Just how has does it shape you???

 

Who???

 

Who do you have to forgive???

 

What???

 

What do you have to forgive???

 

Where are you???

 

Where are you in your process???

 

Are you ready???

 

Healing is a process…

 

Forgiveness is a process…

 

I pray…

 

I pray you heal…

 

I pray you understand…

 

That you seek…

 

That you feel…

 

That you discern…

 

I pray…

 

I pray that in your own time…

 

That in your own time you may forgive beyond word…

 

I pray that you heal…

 

That you forgive…

 

Forgive from your heart…

 

And that from your heart…

 

You…

 

You are set free…

 

Amen…

 

 

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