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Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Zacchaeus Sunday

January 29th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

(and for the missions in Helena, GA & Big Island, HI)

 


1 Tim. 4: 9-15

Luke 19: 1-10

 


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

 

 

Once, when someone was stubbornly disputing with Abraham Lincoln, and when nothing that Mr. Lincoln said seemed to penetrate the man’s erroneously held opinions, Lincoln suddenly asked the man: "Well, let’s see, how many legs has a cow?"  Almost with a sneer his opponent replied in disgust, “Four, of course." To the man’s surprised confusion Lincoln said, "That’s right." He then went on and said, "Now suppose you call the cow’s tail a leg; how many legs would the cow have?"  With confidence, his opponent replied, "Why, five, of course." With a smile, Lincoln said, "Now see, that’s where you’re wrong. Calling a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg!" 

 


In the same vein, calling a lie “the Truth” or a “fact” does not thereby make it so, no matter how many times we might make that disingenuous claim. There is an awful lot in life which, out of our own making, mystifies us, and out of our confusion we sometimes make mistakes and forge habits which, in the long-run, do not serve us well. The problem is that after living by these habits for so long we forget that they can be changed. Great Lent is about that very change and renewal that we need, that change and that renewal which our heart secretly longs for, and which we yet fear.

 


Central to the feasts of Christmas, Theophany and the Encounter with Christ in the Temple… is the fact of God’s coming to us so that we might encounter him. In this morning’s Gospel, we hear about another encounter with God…that of Zacchaeus with Jesus…and it is with the proclamation of this Gospel incident that the church alerts us to a change of spiritual emphasis from what God has done for us… to… what we must now do. From this Sunday of Zacchaeus, until Pascha, all of the Sunday Gospels will now specifically have to do with repentance.

 


Zacchaeus was a man who was not well liked in Jericho… or, for that matter, anywhere at any time because Zacchaeus was a tax collector! But he was no ordinary tax collector: he was the Head tax collector for that area. Romans had military control over Israel and used Jews to collect taxes from Jews; therefore, by collecting taxes for a foreign power, tax collectors were viewed by the Jews of the time as traitors to their community… a “sinner” of the worst order. What made Zacchaeus even more despised was that his job of collecting taxes from his own people had also made him very wealthy. And yet, as wealthy as he was there was still something missing in his life, something that money could not purchase… and that perceived need drove him up that tree that day in order to encounter Jesus Christ. In other words, in order to meet Christ Zacchaeus had to make the effort of climbing upward. This Zacchaeus Sunday, and the other 4 Sundays before Great Lent, lead us towards the yearly season of repentance which is known as Great Lent, that season that Fr. Alexander Schmmenon has termed “the season of Bright Sadness”, that season of trying to climb upward out of the sinfulness of some of our habits.

 


Early on in their marriage Fed wanted kids and Lucinda didn’t. Once, when they were visiting Lucinda’s mother Grizellda and they were discussing the issue, Lucinda adamantly declared she wasn’t having any kids! Grizellda then asked, “Well then, do you know what to do to avoid that?” Before Lucinda could reply Fred retorted, “Yeah… she practicing ‘obstinance.’”

 


Like Lucinda, some of us try to bargain with life and it is entirely possible that we also try to bargain with Jesus Christ about our discipleship to him. We think that we are his disciples just because we come to church, but is that reallyall that our discipleship to him is about? Central to Christ’s life was his willingness to embrace whatever God asked of him, as is witnessed to in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said to the Father, “Not my will, but your will be done.” So then, if wanting to want what God wants was the hallmark of Christ’s own relationship with God, what about what God wants of us, Jesus Christ’s disciples? Would he ask less of us than he asked of his own Son? When we refuse to tackle our inner life’s lack of growth, we very clearly say to God, “Not your will … but mine be done!”

 


What about those bad habits which we suspect that we need to do something about, those habits that we have long suspected need to be addressed? Great Lent is about changing any habits which do not lead us towards God or towards becoming more like God. If we can’t think of any habits that are that detrimental to our spiritual life, then consider this: The chances are good that if we have a habit which we wish to remain secret and unknown by others, then that habit is most probably somehow destructive of our spiritual life.

Suddenly, one day, Fred’s neighbor Leroy “got religion” and from then on declared that he was only going to live by faith. He believed that, so long as he prayed in Jesus’ name, believing in faith that God would provide for his need would result in his receiving whatever it was that he asked for. One day he stood up in church and declared that from that day forward, he was trusting only God to supply all his needs. He quit his job as a high-ranking official in a fairly large company. The first night he prayed very fervently for God to send him some food, because he was beginning to get hungry. The next morning he walked outside onto the front porch, expecting to find food, but nothing was there. Figuring that he hadn’t prayed fervently enough, he dedicated that whole day to praying for God to provide food for him the next day. The next morning came, and still no food. That day he prayed even more fervently for God to provide nourishment because by then he was growing ravenously hungry, saying, "God, you must provide me with food, or I will die here." All during the night he prayed this over and over again. The next morning he walked outside, and still: No food! By this time he was beginning to get angry with God; nonetheless, that afternoon and evening he redoubled his efforts, wailing and rocking back and forth and beating his breast as he prayed, "Dear God, I’m going to starve to death unless you feed me. I haven’t eaten or had anything to drink in 4 days!" By morning he fell back onto his bed exhausted… and it was then, in the silence of the new day’s dawning, that he heard a small voice calling out his name: “Leroy! Leroy!” Lurching up off of the bed in excitement he fell down onto his knees and replied, "I’m here Lord! Are you finally answering my prayer?" The small voice replied, "I’ve been answering your prayers. You’ve just been looking in the wrong direction." Leroy said, "What do you mean Lord? I don’t understand." The small voice instructed, “Walk outside." So Leroy walked outside, looked all around the porch, but still found no food. "There’s nothing here, Lord. I don’t see any food." The small voice replied, “That’s because you are looking in the wrong direction.” So Leroy turned towards Fred’s house and then said, “I still don’t see food.” The small voice replied, “No, the other direction… and look up." So Leroy turned around and there, pasted onto the building next to his house, was a huge billboard with big black letters that said, "DAY LABORERS WANTED! LUNCH WILL BE PROVIDED."

 


The habits that we form become the mindset through which we view Life. How many blessings in life do we miss simply because they come with a different gift-wrapping than we want? We ask God for strength and he gives us difficulties to make us strong, and we accuse him of not loving us. We ask him for Wisdom and he gives us problems to solve. We ask him for patience and he places us in situations which require us to wait. Is it not possible that some of the confusion that we often feel is of our own making and comes from our insisting that things be “our” way instead of God’s way? And is not this attitude towards God’s will for us something of which to be repented? Only with an effort comparable to Zacchaeus’ climbing of his tree will we be able to change our habits this coming Great Lent. The habits that we form can, over time, take over our lives for us. Since last Pascha some of us, at least, have unwittingly and unnoticed, grown habits: Habits of laziness, habits of making excuses, habits justifying why we don’t need to change anyway thank you very much! For some of us, it is not even new habits that we have grown; rather, after last Pascha, some of us have gone back to some of our old habits! We know that we should exercise, and yet we excuse our not doing so. We know we should smile at people, and promptly forget about smiling when someone angers us. We know that we should stop gossiping, but then rush to tell someone the latest bad news that we have just heard.

 


Zacchaeus in this morning’s Gospel knew that something had to be done if he was to see Jesus Christ, so he climbed up a tree: Do we know that something has to be done? Will we climb the tree of this coming Great Lent by embracing the changes in our thinking and in our living which are necessary for our spiritual growth? If this coming Great Lent finds us with some of the same old problems… then perhaps we are not aware of how much our sinful dysfunctionality is actually hurting us! The question is: Have we so deadened ourselves to our inner life that we now don’t even feel how much we hurt?!

 


To quote that modern-day Seer of dysfunctionality, Dr. Phil: “So how’s that working out for you?”

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday January 22nd, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

(and for the missions in Helena, GA & Big Island, HI)

 


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

 

 

On the first day, God created the dog and said, "Sit all day by the
door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For
this, I will give you a life span of twenty years." So the dog said, "That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?" And God saw that it was good.

 


On the second day, God created the monkey and said, "Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year
life span." But the monkey said, "Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?" And again, God saw that it was good.

 


On the third day, God created the cow and said, "You must go into the
field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years." The cow said, "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?" And God agreed that it was good.

 


On the fourth day, God created humans and said, "Eat, sleep, play,
marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years." But the human said, "Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my
twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and
the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?" "Okay then," God replied, "You asked for it." So that is why for our first twenty years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next forty years, we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next ten years, we do monkey tricks to
entertain the grandchildren. And for the last ten years, we sit on the
front porch and bark at everyone.

 


Getting older does not automatically or necessarily mean getting wiser, and without growing in wisdom we are blind. In last Sunday’s Gospel reading we heard the Prophet Isaiah quoted: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.” In this morning’s Gospel reading we hear about someone who lived in a land of darkness, a blind man whom St. Mark identifies as Bartimaeus.

 


As Jesus approached Jericho, he passed by where Bartimaeus sat begging by the side of the road. Upon hearing that it was Jesus who was passing by Bartimaeus created a scene by repeatedly shouting, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those in the crowd tried to shut him up, but this caused Bartimaeus to cry out all the more insistently, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” In other words, the crowd wanted Bartimaeus to just get along and be a nice, quiet blind beggar by the side of the road.

 


Rodney King also once, famously, asked, “Can’t we all just get along?” and as a result, many of us try to not be different from what our culture tells us we should be. Too often, we follow the comfortable gospel of our culture rather than to involve ourselves in the asceticism required for us to grow in wisdom, the asceticism inherent in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Believing our culture’s gospel of comfort-at-all-costs even we Orthodox Christians can come to believe that the personal asceticism at the heart of Christ’s teaching is optional! The problem is that without asceticism, there is no wisdom; without wisdom, there is no morality.

 


The following actually happened, as was sheepishly communicated by the perpetrator. Early one morning a guy in Phoenix was on his way to work and stopped at a Dunkin Donuts drive through. He yelled to the woman at the window, "I'll have 3 cake donuts and a cup of coffee." The woman started mumbling something that the guy couldn't hear and he thought: Stupid woman! She’d be able to hear me if she just opened that window! Again, he yelled his order of 3 cake donuts and a coffee, and again she just mumbled through the closed glass. Pretty peeved by now the guy realized that he was going to have to lean out and stick his head through her window and yell his order, so… fueled by his anger… he lurched forward to lean out of the car and… he heard a loud SMACK right as he felt an incredible pain in his head. It turns out that her window was, indeed, open but that his was not! As he drove away with his 3 cake donuts and coffee he could hear the help inside laughing. 

 


Sometimes, we just don’t know what we are doing, and when we make a mistake we often then try to cover it up before anyone else can get a glimpse of our stupidity. The assumption that we can get away with things in life shows that we are just as blind, in a spiritual sense, as was Bartimaeus, this morning’s physically blind man. Next Sunday the Church will begin to lead us into Great Lent by showing us Zacchaeus who knew that he could not see Christ unless his desire caused him to climb up a tree. Do we recognize our blindness? Are we willing to climb the tree of this coming Great Lent in order to see better? What are we willing to do this coming Great Lent about those characteristics of ourselves that keep us from seeing God’s presence all around us?

 


Great Lent is a season of asceticism, a time for struggling with the blindness of our spiritual mediocrity… so what are the manifestations of that spiritual mediocrity? Spiritual mediocrity means smarting under every slight, challenging every word spoken against us, and cringing when another is preferred before us. Spiritual mediocrity harbors grudges, nurses grievances, and wallows in self-pity. Spiritual mediocrity finds excuses for why we are not as God calls us to be. Spiritual mediocrity, in other words, fosters the blindness of our self-centeredness.

 


We men know that anything that we buy always comes with a manual, which we also know by instinct is completely unnecessary since we assume that we know how to put something together just by looking at the picture on the box. So we spend time assembling until we feel it is finished, at which point we then end up with a few extra pieces that apparently should go somewhere. So we finally get the manual out and look to see if the manufacturer has included some extra pieces just in case we were to lose one. Of course, according to the manual which we are now reading, we are told that there’s not supposed to be extra pieces! So we search the manual and find some important steps that would have been helpful to know about an hour ago when we were trying to figure out how that piece attached to that other piece. So we then end up tearing it all apart and starting over by using the manual this time, which would have saved us the headache if we would’ve just looked at it in the first place. But that’s just how we guys roll!

 


Like meeting ourselves in the morning mirror, those extra pieces can sometimes show us an “us” that we would rather not own; how much more unpleasant, then, might it be to meet God and have him reflect back to us the many moments of our life when we just didn’t want to bother about becoming more like himself? Great Lent is God’s way of holding up a mirror and getting our attention and reminding us, once again, about the short-sightedness of our spiritual blindness.

 


How many Great Lent’s have come and gone, leaving us still the same, despite the passing thought, now and again, that we really should do something about the way that we think and live? Is such an approach not a manifestation of blindness? Will this coming Great Lent of 2017 be just another season of good intentions but little accomplishment? Or will this coming Great Lent be the time when we finally stop just complaining about our lives, the time when we finally get up off the side of the road… and do something about our blindness?

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday January 15th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

(and for the missions in Helena, GA & Big Island, HI)

 


Col. 3: 12-16

Luke 18: 18-27

 


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Three retirees, each with pretty severe hearing loss were taking a walk one fine April day. One remarked to the others, "Windy, ain’t it?" "No," the second man replied, "It’s Thursday." And then the third man chimed in, "So am I. Let’s have a coke.”

 


There are times when we just flat-out get it wrong. There are times when life itself is trying to tell us that we don’t know what we are doing, that we don’t know as much as we think that we do; the problem is that we usually assume that Life… and others… doesn’t know what it is talking about, but that we do. Isn’t it interesting how our assumptions put a certain spin on things. For example, isn’t it interesting how others have prejudices, but we have “convictions”? Others are conceited, but in us it’s a “healthy self-respect”.  Where others give excuses, in ourselves we see it as simply “explaining our position”. When others shout in anger it’s because they have a bad temper, but when we blow our stack it’s because the other person really had it coming to them! When we automatically presume that we are basically good people it then becomes possible for us to justify to ourselves anything that we do, thereby enabling us to give a positive spin to even our worst intentions; otherwise, if our intentions were not positive… what might that mean about the state of our heart? Such was the experience of the rich young man in this morning’s Gospel reading who was dismayed when he realized what goodness (according to Jesus Christ) was going to actually cost him.

 


The story of this morning’s “Rich Young Man” is found in all of the synoptic gospels. It is the story of a man who has everything, and yet, still feels an emptiness inside that no amount of possessions can seem to fill. When Jesus told him “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor… and come, follow me” the man left Jesus, saddened by Christ’s challenge to him to become better than he was. The problem, as Jesus saw it, was not the money or the possessions, but the young man’s attachment to them, the strength of which attachment held him hostage to being not as good as he could become! For the rich young man, as he saw it he was “good enough”. But Jesus Christ does not do “good enough”. The point that Jesus is making in this morning’s Gospel is that it is not “things” that harm us, but the fact that we will not let go of them in order to become better… and our assumptions about ourselves is one of those “things” that hold us back! Sometimes, one “thing” that we insist on hanging onto… and which repeatedly prevents us from becoming a better person… is the way that we think about repentance.

 


A hiker was brought into court charged with eating an endangered species while tracking the woods of California. After hearing that the man had eaten a condor, the judge quickly passed a harsh sentence of 10 years behind bars. The man pleaded with the judge to hear his side of the story because he felt circumstances justified his actions. The judge was interested to hear how anyone could rationalize killing a protected bird so he allowed the man to speak. The man began: “I had been lost in the wilderness for 3 whole days and nights without any food or water. I then spotted the bird sitting on a rock. With what little strength I had left, I threw a rock and killed the bird. After eating the condor I had to walk for yet another 3 days without any more food or water before being rescued. Your honor, had I not eaten that bird, I wouldn’t be here today." The judge was moved by the story and suspended the hiker’s sentence. As the man prepared to leave the courtroom the judge asked, “What does a condor actually taste like?” The man thought for a moment and said, "Well… it’s kind of a cross between a bald eagle and a spotted owl." 

 


Why is it that we can sometimes suddenly see the opportunity to do something wrong and then be able convince ourselves that it is actually okay for us to do it… even though we think of ourselves as a good person? And still, we can think that we actually have very little to repent of. And as a result of our lack of repentance, our lives… no matter how filled with things to do… are tinged by some degree of spiritual mediocrity, a mediocrity we justify by telling ourselves that we’re not so bad as some other people are! What gives us pause to reconsider how and what we do? Does anything give us pause to reconsider ourselves? Unlike this morning’s rich young man, those of us here this morning are not rich; and yet, Jesus’ words this morning are addressed to us as well as to the rich young ruler when Jesus states: “You still lack one thing.” That “one thing” is a repentance so real, a change so committed to, that it gives birth to a different way of our thinking and living… a repentance that gives birth to a different “us”!

 


Soon after they married Fred lost his job at the widget factory. At first he was busy every day looking for a new job, filling out application forms and such. But as time wore on he grew more accustomed to his new role as one of the unemployed. After a few months it got to where Fred spent the biggest part of his day just lazing around the house. One afternoon, after a hard day of waitressing, Lucinda came home and saw Fred laying on the couch watching TV. That was the last straw and she exploded. "If it weren’t for my money,” she ranted, “that TV wouldn’t be here! If it weren’t for my money that couch wouldn’t be here. If it weren’t for my money that popcorn you’re eating wouldn’t be here." Fred listened carefully, and then unwisely said, “With an attitude like that… if it weren’t for your money, I wouldn’t be here!"

 


Let’s just say that Fred paid dearly for that foolish remark. Whether or not we like it, the only time when we will be through with change in this life is when our life here comes to its conclusion. Life and living are defined and manifested by change. Whether that change is physical or spiritual… nothing in this life is static. Every seed that germinates either changes by growing, or it dies. Nature itself shows us that what is not in a state of growth is actually dying! In the same way, if the way in which we live is not manifesting our change for the better then we are spiritually dying.

 


Repentance is about cooperating with the change which God is trying to tell us needs to happen if we really do desire to be good. So no matter how good we may find ourselves to be this morning, what Christ is saying in this morning’s Gospel is that the one thing that we still lack… is the commitment to be “better”! No matter how much we might object that we have changed, there is always still more about us that needs to be changed! Repentance is not a “one-time affair and then we’re done with it”. Repentance is actually a commitment to keep on repenting. "The hardest thing about milking cows," observed a farmer, "is that they never stay milked." The same can be said of repentance: It always needs doing, no matter how many times we have already done it.

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday January 8th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

(and for the missions in Helena, GA & Big Island, HI)

 


Eph. 4: 7-13

Matt. 4: 12-17

 


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Eric Davis, 31, should have planned his bank robbery in Toledo, Ohio, a bit more carefully. Police say that after the heist Davis, running with the loot toward his getaway car, fell down. When his driver panicked and sped off, Davis jumped into the back seat of the next available vehicle, which had two men in the front seat; unfortunately for Davis the car was an unmarked police car that just happened to be in the area. Officer Anthony Duncan, a 16-year police veteran who was sitting in the front passenger seat in plain clothes, recounted: "He just threw himself into the back of the car, waved the gun and yelled at us to drive! We just kind of looked at each other when he yelled it again." Officer Duncan then dove over the seat and wrestled the gun away from the startled Davis who was then charged with bank robbery and two counts of kidnapping.

 


There now, that should make us all feel better about the minor mistakes that we make in our days. The thing is… just because we can operate a “smart phone” we assume that we (unlike Davis) are “smart”… but maybe we don’t know what we are doing in areas other than technology. In other words… maybe we’re not so smart as we presume we are! What do we know about ourselves, other than our name and our address? Have we ever wondered about what motivates us to do the things that we do? Do we come to church each week only because we are afraid that God will be angry with us if we don’t come? Or do we automatically come to church each Sunday only because that is just what we Orthodox do on Sunday mornings? Living either on automatic or in fear will not enable us to grow. When we do not take personal responsibility for our spiritual life, it is all too possible for us to be spiritually dead even while we are still walking around, paying the bills, and chatting away on our smart phones. And the way that we take personal responsibility for our spiritual life is through repentance. And with that word “repentance”… can you sense that Great Lent is coming?

 


In this morning’s Gospel reading the prophet Isaiah says: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region of death light has dawned.” This morning’s Gospel reading then goes on to explain what that light, that illumination, is: “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Have we ever wondered why the Church offers us the readings on Sundays that she does? Each year, the Church deliberately chooses this morning’s readings for the Sunday following Theophany, which feast was originally known as the Feast of Lights. In the early Church, Theophany – the day of Christ’s Baptism – became the day on which pagan converts to Christianity were received into the Church through Baptism. Each newly baptized convert held their baptismal candle during the Divine Liturgy, and since large numbers of people were often baptized on this day, the church became a sea of lights.

 


Not being of an evangelical bent myself I don’t tend to yell and scream during my sermons. There is, however, a story about a preacher who was getting fired-up in his sermon and who thundered, "Every member of this church is a sinner!" When he hollered this a second time for emphasis, he noticed that there was a man in the back who had a broad smile on his face. Well, this just really ticked the preacher off so to get through to the man the preacher cranked up the volume and bellowed, "EACH and EVERY member of this church is a sinner deserving of Hell!" The man in the back was still smiling, so the preacher decided to take a more direct approach and he yelled out: “Mister! You there in the back row! I said every member of this church deserves to go to Hell…didn't you hear me?!!!"  Still smiling, from the back the man called out: "I'm not a member of this church!"

 


Like the man in the back, sometimes we also resort to legalisms in order to avoid getting the point… such as coming to church and then leaving unchanged! In choosing the readings for today the Church is obviously saying that there is a connection between Baptism, illumination, and repentance; so what is that connection? As we heard last Sunday, for the Jews baptism was the beginning of a new life by being cleansed of an old way of thinking and living. We cannot live in a new way if we continue to think in the old way, and Jesus Christ proclaims that it is repentance that both manifests and fuels that new life. The word for repentance is “metanoia”, which means “turning around, changing”, and this is precisely what Jesus Christ is getting at this morning when he preaches his Gospel of repentance.

 


A photographer for CNN was assigned to cover southern California’s wildfires. He wanted pictures of the heroic work the firefighters were doing as they battled the blazes. When the photographer arrived on the scene, he realized that the smoke was so thick that it would seriously impede, or even make impossible, his getting good photographs from the ground level. So he requested permission from his boss to rent a plane and take photos from the air. His request was approved, and he used his “smart phone” to call the local county airport to charter a flight. He was told that a single engine plane would be waiting for him at the airport.  Arriving at the airfield, he spotted a plane warming up outside a hanger. And, to continue this morning’s theme of jumping into waiting vehicles, the photographer jumped in with his bag, slammed the door shut, and shouted “Let’s go!” The pilot taxied out, swung the plane into the wind and roared down the runway. Once airborne, the photographer said to the pilot, “Fly over the valley and make two or three low passes so I can take some photos of the fires on the hillsides.” The pilot asked, “Why?” A bit irritated the photographer responded, “Because I’m a photographer for CNN and, I need to get some close-up shots of the fire.” The pilot was strangely silent for a moment, but then finally said: “So, you’re telling me you’re not the flight instructor?!”

 


We have all had the experience of feeling like we don’t have the whole picture or know all of the facts. Sometimes, we also get this sense about our inner life and yet, so often, we try to fake it. But since God knows all about us… in fact even more about us than we know about ourselves… we cannot pull the wool over God’s eyes and fake our supposed “repentance”: If some aspect of our life is the same this year as it was last year on this date, then… at least as regards that one area… we have not really repented since repentance is proven by change. Repentance means change, and change is always “now”. Repentance is not about becoming who we weren’t; rather, repentance is about becoming who we should be. And we use Jesus Christ as the standard for who and how we Christians should be. Repentance is a turning around, a turning away from our old way of thinking and living (both of which are intimately intertwined) and turning towards Jesus Christ so that we can travel in the right direction… towards God… and we do this by traveling with the rest of the church, our one Baptismal candle in a sea of lights.

 


Jesus Christ has said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed which, although tiny, grows into a tree so large that the birds of heaven can find shelter in it. On Theophany the light of the Holy Spirit shines upon that kingdom seed that God planted within each of us at our Baptism. What Jesus is saying to us this morning is that we need to turn around and face the Sun of Justice in order that the rays of the Holy Spirit might enable that seed to grow. And if that seed has not been watered by our repentance… then the birds of heaven will need to look elsewhere.

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday January 1st, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

(and for the missions in Helena, GA & Big Island, HI)

 


2 Tim. 4: 5-8

Mark 1: 1-8

 


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 


Christ is Born!

 


Fred was hunched over at the breakfast table staring into his coffee mug when Lucinda came over and patted him on the shoulder. When Fred looked up Lucinda said teasingly, “I bet you don’t know what today is, do you?” Knowing a trap when he fell into one Fred replied, “Of course I know what today is!” and resumed staring into his mug. But his mind was racing through all sorts of dates and anniversaries and just couldn’t pinpoint the one that Lucinda was fixated upon. Not wanting to even think about the fight that they would have if he failed to observe the mysterious anniversary, or whatever it was, by the time he got to work he had concluded… erroneously, as it turns out… that it must be Lucinda’s birthday so he called the florist and had him deliver a dozen pure white roses to Lucinda at home. But then Fred got to thinking, “What if it’s our wedding anniversary?” So at lunchtime he went to a nearby jewelry store, picked out a diamond tennis bracelet and had the store deliver it to Lucinda within the hour. Just to make sure, on the way home from work Fred stopped and bought an expensive box of Godiva chocolates… just in case. When he pulled into the driveway Lucinda came flying out of the house, wrapped her arms around him, held her arm out and moved it so that the sunlight made the diamonds sparkle and said, “O Fred, this is the BEST Groundhog day ever!”

 

Unlike Lucinda’s surprise, we have all received at least one gift which did not turn out for us to be the delight that its sender intended, maybe even on Christmas day this past Sunday. And even the Gospel writers can surprise us; for example, the way in which St. Mark opens his Gospel, which we have just heard. In it, St. Mark makes no mention of the events leading up to Jesus’ birth which Matthew, Luke and John tell us about. In St. Mark’s version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no Christmas story. Instead, he immediately introduces us to Jesus’ second cousin, John the Baptizer, and takes us back to the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.’” In other words, Mark’s Gospel account begins with a call to repentance, with a call to the struggle for a new way of living. And with that call to repentance, this morning we leave the manger behind and head towards the Jordan where Christ will be baptized by his cousin John.

 


In the time of Jesus and John the Baptist, baptism was a sign of a change of life, of the start of a new life. Converts to Judaism were baptized to show that they were starting a new life in the Jewish faith. Their baptisms by John declared that they wanted to change and to experience a new life, which is what repentance is about. A new life, however, cannot be based upon old assumptions. What about our assumptions as we already make our way towards Great Lent of 2017; do our old assumptions keep us from changing, from living in a new way? For example: Do we ask ourselves whether or not we are prejudiced… or do we automatically assume that we are not prejudiced? Central to a new life brought about by repentance is the willingness to question our assumptions about ourselves.

 


Assumptions can lead to misunderstandings as the following series of advertisements in a daily newspaper make clear:

 


On Monday was posted the following: "The Rev. Jones has one

color TV set for sale. Telephone 626-1313 after 7 p.m. and ask for

Mrs. Donnelley who lives with him, cheap." 

On Tuesday was posted the following correction: "We regret any embarrassment caused to Rev. Jones by a typographical error in yesterday’s paper. The ad should have read: ’The Rev. Jones has one color TV set for sale, cheap...Telephone 626-1313 and ask for Mrs. Donnelley, who lives with him after 7 p.m.’" 

On Wednesday appeared the correction of the correction: "The Rev. Jones informs us that he has received several annoying telephone calls because of an incorrect ad in yesterday’s paper. It should have read: ’The Rev. Jones has one color TV set for sale, cheap. Telephone 626-1313 after 7 p.m. and ask for Mrs. Donnelley who loves with him.’" 

On Thursday appeared the following notice: “I, the Rev. A.J. Jones, have no color TV set for sale now because I have smashed it. Don’t call 626-1313 anymore. I have not been carrying on with Mrs. Donnelley who was, until yesterday, my housekeeper.’" 

On Friday the final posting read: "Wanted: a housekeeper, usual housekeeping duties, good pay and love in, Rev. A.J. Jones. Telephone 626…" 

 


Yes, assumptions can lead to misunderstandings. Assumptions can even prevent us from considering the questions that God sends our way, which he often sends through the most unlikely of people, people like the John the Baptists in our lives, to make announcements in our life. He sometimes uses the “ordinary” people who fill our days to speak to us, to call us to change, to call us to repent, to call us to turn away from all that takes us away from God. Are we listening, or do we simply dismiss them because the messenger is annoying? Do we ever consider that the annoying people in our day might, just possibly, be God’s way of speaking to us?

 


Just for fun let’s have a top ten list of "How to know when you are growing old." 

 


#10. The gleam in your eye is the sun hitting your bifocals. 

#9. You get winded playing cards. 

#8. You know all the answers but nobody asks the questions.

#7. You need your glasses to find your glasses. 

#6. You sink your teeth into a steak and they stay there. 

#5. Your children begin to look middle aged. 

#4. You turn out the light for economy instead of romance. 

#3. Everything hurts and what doesn’t hurt, doesn’t work. 

#2. Your knees buckle but your belt won’t. 

And finally, #1. You need a fire permit to light the candles on your birthday cake. 

 


None of us choose to get older; it just happens, whether or not we like it! But the question for us this morning is: Why do we choose what we choose? Perhaps at least some of our choices are based upon incorrect assumptions. Perhaps God’s call for us to change in this New Year will come in the form of asking ourselves about our choices: Why do I keep on making the same choices when they always produce the same unhappy results?

 


This morning’s Gospel reading speaks of John as being and preaching in “the wilderness”. Throughout the history of Christian spirituality wilderness has been seen not just as a geographic place, but most importantly, as an interior place or spiritual state. From this point-of-view we may understand “wilderness” to be that place within ourselves in which we engage in the struggle of repentance, the struggle to change. God sometimes sends others into our wilderness to speak his annoying words to us, words that cause us to struggle. Do we refuse to even consider what others suggest to us about ourselves? If we are serious about the issue of repentance, then preparing a way for the Lord will look like: At least being willing to question our assumptions about ourselves!

 

 

 

Christ is Born!

 

 

 

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