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Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday June 11th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


Heb. 11: 33-12:2

Matt. 10: 32-33, 37-38, 19: 27-30

 


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

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 


After Lucinda’s father Ludovico died, her ancient mother Grizellda fiercely maintained her independence and lived alone in the old family home. Whenever she had an emergency, she rarely called any of her children, preferring to go it alone. One morning, however, Lucinda was startled to receive a call from Grizellda saying that she needed Fred to come over because there had been a burglar in the house during the night. When Fred arrived she took him up to her bedroom, saying along the way, “I think there is a burglar because I heard noises in my closet during the night.” When they reached the bedroom Fred was startled to see boards nailed all across the bedroom closet. From within he could hear someone asking for help. “What’s that about?” Fred asked. Grizellda replied, “Well, it was late and I hated to bother you, so I just nailed the closet door shut and went to bed."

 


The lesson from this story is that if you are going to burglarize a home make sure you know whose home it is; becoming a victim of your own ignorance is embarrassing. Those whom we commemorate this morning were not victims, but chose to live their lives in such a way as to be witnesses for the Faith! The Sunday following Pentecost is dedicated to All Saints, both those who are known to us, and those who are known only to God, all of whom were faithful, in large and small ways, in their discipleship to Jesus Christ. This feast originated at an early date, perhaps as a celebration of all martyrs, but then it was broadened to include not only martyrs, but also all those men and women who had borne witness to Christ by their virtuous lives, even if they did not shed their blood for Him.

 


In this morning’s reading from Hebrews, we have just heard: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Those Saints whom we commemorate this morning are those witnesses, whose hearts and minds… like those of the Apostles on Pentecost… were set afire by the grace of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and who went out into the world to bring to the whole world the good news that God has so loved the world that He entered into it, never to leave it, and that in His Resurrection He has taken all that is the world and brought it home to Himself. Good news, indeed, for those who had been banished from the Garden!

 


When he first began dating Lucinda, a young Fred went into a drug-store and bought 3 different-sized boxes of chocolate. The pharmacist asked, “Why 3?” Fred replied, "I’ve been seeing this girl for a while and she’s really beautiful. We’re having dinner with her parents, and then we’re going out. If she lets me hold her hand I’m going to give her the small box. If she lets me kiss her on the cheek I’m going to give her the medium box. And if she lets me kiss her on the lips I’m going to give her the big box.” Later that evening, when they all sat down for dinner, Lucinda’s father Ludovico asked Fred to give the blessing. Well, Fred went on and on, and when he finally finished and they had all added “Amen”, Lucinda leaned over to him and said, "You never told me that you were such a religious person." Fred leaned back and replied, “And you never told me that your father is a pharmacist."

 


Just like Fred, at one time or another most of us are tempted to think that we know just about all that we need to know. Like Peter in this morning’s Gospel reading some of us, at least, like to think that we are special. In this morning’s Gospel reading we heard Peter ask a question which, upon first hearing, might have struck us as crass; basically, he was asking what was in it for the Apostles if they followed Christ? The question, however, might be better understood as Peter’s seeking reassurance that in their following of Christ he and the other Disciples had made the right choice since they had, in fact, left everything to follow Jesus! While they had not always understood what he said and did, nor had they always selected the proper course of action, nonetheless, they had still sacrificed everything to follow Him. What Peter was really asking Christ was: Were we right to do this, or was this just foolishness on our part? Just as the Apostles did, so too a serious follower of Jesus Christ gives all that he can to that discipleship. I am sure that all of us have, at one time or another, asked the same question of God: “See, we have left all and followed you. Therefore, what shall we have?” To this question Christ gave a definitive answer: “He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

 


One year Lucinda waited until the last minute to send her Christmas cards. She rushed into a store and just grabbed a package of 50 cards, and once home just shoved one in each envelope without even looking at them or signing them, sure that when people saw her return label on the envelope that they would know the card was from her. On Christmas Day, when things had quieted down somewhat, she found a leftover card and finally read the message she had sent with the 49 other cards to her friends. Much to her dismay, it read: "This card is just to say – A little gift is on the way!"

 


When Christ says, “He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me”, sometimes our not knowing what we are doing IS our cross!The question for us this morning is: “Dowe understand that taking up our cross calls for… at least!... our willingness to embrace inconvenience?Or are we sitting here this morning thinking about what we have to do once we leave church?Do we really understand the extent of the sacrifice of those whom we honor this morning? And do we here this morning think that we are not called to that same level of holiness and commitment as were those whom we commemorate today? What the Church stresses in today’s commemoration of All Saints is that this feast is a call to each of us, a call to our own personal discipleship to Christ. And, as Christ makes clear in this morning’s Gospel reading, there can be no Christian discipleship without the cross! Are we willing to obey Christ’s command, and to embrace the crosses that come to us in the ordinariness of our days, the crosses sometimes great, but mostly small and merely annoying? At the heart of the cross is kenosis, or what we might call “self-emptying”. There is no way that self-emptying can be comfortable; it must cost us something! Jesus Christ knew this on the Cross. This morning’s Saints knew this, and yet embraced this. How about us?

 


An IRS agent walked into a church and asked to see the pastor. He was shown into the pastor’s office and offered a seat. The agent said, "Pastor, I believe a member of your church has stated on his tax return that he has donated $100,000 to your church. I am here this morning to verify that this large donation was actually made. Was it?” With a broad smile the Pastor replied, “It will be!”

 


The holiness to which we are called needn’t be accompanied by the shedding of our blood; sometimes, owning up to the truth can be crucifixion enough. The Church’s own evolving understanding about holiness is what caused her to extend the commemoration of All Saints from only martyrs to all those who have followed Christ at some kind of expense to themselves. Miracles needn’t be performed by us in order for us to be holy. When a fellow office-worker makes a joke at our expense, holiness would be to just laugh rather than to strike back. When our spouse dismisses something as irrelevant that we think is important, holiness would be to refuse to brood over that dismissal. When someone frustrates us on the road while driving, holiness would be not laying on the horn and letting him know that he has offended us. This is what holiness can look like in the ordinariness of our ordinary days.

 


Sometimes, our discipleship to Jesus Christ can feel like death by a thousand tiny paper-cuts. Instead of focusing, like Peter in this morning’s Gospel reading, on what we might get out of our striving for holiness, this week let us follow the example of the Saints whom we commemorate today and embrace our discipleship in the many small opportunities which constitute our days… which, for most of us, will be the only opportunities for holiness coming our way.

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!



Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday June 4th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


Acts 2: 1-11

John 7: 37-52; 8:12

 


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

 


Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

 

 

A policeman was in court being cross-examined by a defense attorney during a felony trial. The lawyer’s approach seemed to be to attack the policeman’s credibility.

 


Lawyer: "Officer -- did you actually see my client fleeing the

scene?"

Policeman: "No sir. But I subsequently observed a person matching the description of the offender, running several blocks away."

Lawyer: "Officer -- who provided this description?"

Policeman: "The officer who responded to the scene."

Lawyer: "A fellow officer provided the description of this so-called offender. Do you trust your fellow officers?"

Policeman: "Yes, sir. With my life."

Lawyer: "With your life? Let me ask you this then officer. Do you have a room where you all change your clothes in preparation for your daily duties?"

Policeman: "Yes sir, we do!"

Lawyer: "And do you have a locker in that room?"

Policeman: "Yes sir, I do."

Lawyer: "And do you have a lock on your locker?"

Policeman: "Yes sir."

Lawyer: "Now why is it, officer, if you trust your fellow officers with your life, that you find it necessary to lock your locker in a room you share with these same officers?"

Without missing a beat the Policeman replied: "You see, sir, we share the building with the court complex, and sometimes lawyers have been known to walk through that room." The courtroom erupted in laughter, and a prompt recess was called.

 


We have all had the experience of having the unexpected happen to us, causing us to realize that we had been mistaken about what we thought we understood… God himself being one of those things! Just because we assume that God approves of how we live doesn’t mean that he actually does; just because we assume that we are filled with the Holy Spirit this morning, doesn’t mean that we are. The chances are good that if we have the same problems on this Pentecost day of 2017 as we had on Pentecost 2016, then we are not paying attention to what the Holy Spirit has been showing us needs to change about us.

 


In the Church's annual liturgical cycle, Pentecost is "the last and greatest day." It is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Holy Spirit as the achievement and fulfillment of the entire history of salvation; at the same time it is also the celebration of a beginning: Pentecost is the "birthday" of the Church as the presence among us of the Holy Spirit, and of our new life in Christ. In the Gospel reading for Pentecost Matins, Christ breathes upon his disciples, bestowing the gift of the Holy Spirit upon them by saying, “As the Father has sent me, I also send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” And in the reading from Acts this morning we also heard, “And there appeared upon them cloven tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”

 


When, during our Baptism, we were chrismated with Holy Chrism, we too were filled with the Holy Spirit. And yet, there are days in which many of us just don’t “feel” that presence of the Holy Spirit, and we somehow then translate that feeling to mean that that “absence” is somehow God’s fault. But what about our part? During how many minutes in each of our days are we “absent” from our relationship with God by not talking with God, by not praying to God? Have we ever wondered why so many of our workdays feel like a slow and mindless slog towards the weekend? Maybe it’s because we relegate prayer to Sundays only. Through the grace of the presence of the Holy Spirit, prayer is a connection with God: When we stop praying, the connection to God is broken; this does not mean that God goes away, but that we abandon God. And then, when we pray again, the connection is re-established. The chances are good that if we have not changed this past year it is due to a failure on our part to pray.

 


It had been raining for days and Fred just had to get out of the house, so he got into his car and drove to his favorite bar. Parking in front of the establishment he noticed a bedraggled old man on the front porch who was leaning against the wall; the man had a fishing rod and his line went off the porch and into the nearest puddle. As Fred approached the front doors he asked the old man, “What are you doing?” Without looking up the old man replied, “Fishin’.” Fred thought, “Poor old fool”, and being moved by sympathy Fred invited the old man into the bar for a drink. The two men sat at the bar and ordered their drinks; when the drinks arrived they clinked glasses and sat sipping silently. Fred thought he should make some kind of friendly conversation with the old guy so he teased him by asking: “So, how many have you caught, fishing out there on the front porch?” Without even looking up the old man replied, “You’re the eighth one today.”

 


If we are as smart as we think that we are, then why do we say what we say? Why do we do what we do? And why do we even come to church? Is it to have God confirm for us what we already assume… that we are as good as we need to be? Our following of Jesus is about much more than attending church services or holding ethnic festivals; it is about allowing the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts just as the Holy Spirit entered that upper room and descended upon the Disciples. In short, Pentecost is about our allowing the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts and to help us to change, to become better, to become more like God himself. The fact of the matter is that not being as bad as we could be does not mean that we are as good as we should be!

 


In all States in the United States of America there are laws on the books which now make no sense; nonetheless, in that they are still on the books, they are still the law. For example, in Texas the law still on the books states that the entire Encyclopedia Britannica is banned because it contains a formula for making beer at home.  Another law states that when two trains meet each other at a railroad crossing, each shall come to a full stop, and neither one shall proceed until the other has gone first. Really?! How do they decide which one goes first… toss a coin?  In Texas it is also illegal for one to shoot buffalo from the second story of a hotel.  And finally, in Texas the law states that owners of horses may not ride them at night without tail lights. 

 


No matter what the law says, God will never force us to do what we choose to not do. Since God never violates our freedom to love him or to not love him; the tricky thing is that the Holy Spirit will not come in where he is not invited. So today’s feast poses to us the question: Do we really long for God to reside in our hearts as in the Upper Room? In today’s feast of Pentecost, the church offers us the incomparable revelation that the Godhead…the Holy Trinity…even while being the Totally Transcendent One…is imminently present with us. It is no accident that back at Christmas the church referred to Jesus as Emmanuel…God-With-Us. In today’s descent of the Holy Spirit, God tells us, yet again, that he is “with us”: The question for us this morning is… Will we, this morning, open our hearts and let him come in? Are we with God?

 

 

 

Glory to Jesus Christ!

 

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