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November 2017

Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday May 21st, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


Acts 16: 16-34

John 9: 1-38

 


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

 


Christ is Risen!

 


As Lucinda and Little Olga were driving home from church on Sunday morning, Little Olga was excitedly telling her mother what she had learned that morning about creation. Little Olga gushed, “First, God created Adam. Then he created Eve. And he made them both out of mud-pies!” Amused by Little Olga’s enthusiasm Lucinda just said, “Mm-hmm.” When they got home Little Olga rushed into the living room to tell Fred what she had learned. When she was finished, Fred said, “Now Honey, I know you are very excited about this but I need to tell you that what the church is teaching is just a story and that it is just not supported by science.” So he then proceeded to tell Little Olga about evolution and how humans were descendants from apes and monkeys and gorillas. Little Olga took it all in with a somber face. Seeing her enthusiasm die away Fred said, “Now Little Olga, I know that you are disappointed but it is better for you to learn the facts than to grow up believing a fairytale.” Little Olga then went into the kitchen and told her mother everything that her father had told her, and ended by whimpering, “How can they both be true? Daddy says these are the facts.” Lucinda calmly replied, “Oh those are the facts all right; he was telling you about his side of the family!”

 


As we grow older we often come to our own conclusions about things and wonder how we could have previously been so ignorant. “If I only had known” expresses an understanding that at one point one was blind. This morning’s Gospel reading is also about blindness, specifically about how Jesus Christ healed a blind man by giving him back his vision. But this morning’s reading is about much more than physical eyes working again; as we see with the Pharisees in the reading, the key issue in this morning’s reading is actually about the blindness of living by assumptions. While we may think that we are basically good people, when our emotions are aroused we can sometimes reach for solutions that might not be the best. Even for those of us here this morning, just because we have shown up in church does not mean that we are wise or that we understand our heart’s dark mutterings. Even at our advanced age, it is possible that there are still things that we don’t understand, and what we don’t understand is a type of interior blindness. For example, we assume that we are good people because we are here in church this morning and because we haven’t murdered anyone this week. But how many times this past week might we have murdered someone’s reputation by repeating gossip about them? Murder doesn’t always require a knife; sometimes, a tongue will serve the purpose just as well.

 


Like this morning’s Pharisees, there is always the danger that we followers of Jesus Christ may well be blind to our own actual spiritual reality. The terrible thing about spiritual blindness is that it lulls us into thinking that we, like the Pharisees, are “good”… when, in fact, we may not even be “good enough”.

 


One dark night a terrible fire started inside the local chemical plant and an alarm went out to all fire departments from miles around. After fighting the fire for over an hour, the chemical company president approached the fire chief and said, "All of our secret formulas are in the vault in the center of the plant. They must be saved! I will give $50,000 to the engine company that brings them out safely!" As soon as the chief heard this, he ordered the firemen to strengthen their attack on the blaze. After two more hours of attacking the fire, the president of the company upped his offer to $100,000. From off in the distance, a long siren was heard and a local volunteer fire truck came into sight, the company being composed entirely of men over 65. To everyone’s amazement, the little fire engine careened through the chemical plant gates and drove straight into the middle of the inferno. In the distance the other firemen watched as the old timers hopped off of their rig and began to fight the fire. After an hour of intense fighting, the volunteer company had extinguished the fire and saved the secret formulas. Once the fire was out and the company president knew that the secret formulas were safe he announced that he was doubling the reward to $200,000 and walked over to personally thank each one of the aged volunteers. The president asked the group, “So what do you intend on doing with the reward money?” At 80 years old, the fire truck driver looked him right in the eye and said, "The first thing we’re going to do is to fix the blasted brakes on that truck!"

 


Just as the men presumed that the brakes on their firetruck were in good working order, so too we often assume that we know more about our inner life than our behavior would actually give evidence of. We assume that we are good people. We live many of our days by assuming things; the problem is that just because our assumptions are ours does not mean that they are correct. We can see this in this morning’s Gospel reading where the Pharisees assumed that they were right since their religious culture proclaimed them to be “the righteous”… and this assumption robbed them of the ability to really see and comprehend: they saw the healing that Jesus had just done before them, but being unable to understand it… a type of blindness… they could not comprehend the miracle and the mercy of it.

 


There was an important business executive who boarded the New Orleans-to-Washington train. He had a very important business engagement for which he needed to be awakened at five o’clock in the morning so that he could get off of the train in Atlanta. Before he went to sleep he said to the Porter, “I am a really heavy sleeper, but I absolutely have to get off of this train in Atlanta. So here’s $50 extra so that you will make sure I get off, even if I am too sleepy to comprehend what you are doing. I HAVE to get off of this train in Atlanta!” Well, the next morning he woke up at 9 o'clock, having slept all night and having missed Atlanta, and found that he was speeding on towards Washington. He located the Porter and really yelled all sorts of abusive language at him. After the business man stomped away someone said to the porter, "How could you stand there and take that kind of abuse from that man?" The porter replied, "That ain't nothin'! You should've heard that guy I put off in Atlanta!"

 


Not knowing what we are doing is a type of blindness. Spiritual blindness… like the foolish stunts we do when drunk… is often rooted in the assumptions that we make about ourselves and others. Just because we didn’t murder someone this week we think of ourselves as “good”, but what about the fact that our heart WANTED to murder others this week even though we didn’t do so? When we are inattentive to what our heart wants we are blind. Being good certainly begins with exterior behavior, but once we have that under control being good requires that we then train our heart to not want what it ought to not want. And yet, often, we persist in making those same bad choices, whether or not they have actually ever worked on our behalf.

 


Too often we live our lives on automatic. We automatically assume that we are better than others. We automatically assume that we are right. We automatically assume that someone else is the problem. And yet, it is all-together too possible, no matter how many assumptions we might make, that our heart is still blind, that we still do not understand. The church is now leading us towards Pentecost, towards the coming of the Holy Spirit, the One whose presence illuminates so that the eyes of our soul might see and understand. Only The Holy Spirit can illuminate; only we can yearn for that illumination, for the ability to understand that which we do not presently understand. During these remaining days leading up to Pentecost, let us presume that we are blind and not assume that we are not, and let us await the coming of the Holy Spirit with this prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit. Heal what is infirm in me, and supply what is lacking.”

 

 

 

Christ is Risen!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday, May 14th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


Acts 11: 19-26, 29-30

John 4: 5-42

 


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

 


Christ is Risen!

 


Leroy, Fred’s next-door neighbor, had been feeling unwell for some time so he went to see a doctor. A week or so later the doctor went to a party one night and saw Leroy dancing up a storm with a woman of some ill-repute. The doctor went up to Leroy and asked, “With your health, what are you doing?!” Leroy replied, “Hey Doc, I’m just following your advice!” Confused, the doctor asked, “What advice?” Leroy said, “Well, you told me to find a hot mama and be cheerful.” Horrified, the doctor blurted out, “You dummy! That’s not what I said! What I said was that you had a heart murmur and need to be careful!!!”

 


Do you get the feeling that there is something that Leroy does not get? Unfortunately, in various areas of life many of usalso don’t get it either! Take, for example, the many instances in which we think that “I forgot” is a valid excuse. In how many areas of our life do we cultivate a deliberate forgetfulness, thinking that we are excused just because we didn’t remember what we should have remembered? And one of those things that we seem to constantly forget is that of praying to God. How come we don’t remember to pray to God, but instead, keep running to all the wrong wells in life to satisfy our yearning for him?

 


In this morning’s Gospel reading Christ says to the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink.” In other words, he is speaking of the thirst that all human beings have, a thirst that has nothing to do with liquid. Not being as smart as we’d like to think that we are, we run to all sorts of things, searching for that which will quench the thirst in our souls, the thirst for a relationship with God, a relationship which requires communication on our part. And communication with God is what prayer is all about.

 


The story is told of a Hindu man who was caught in a terrible storm. As the wild storm raged all around him and filled him with terror, he promised God a sacrifice of twenty oxen if God would let him survive. Once the storm had quieted, the man thought, "Why be so foolish as to give oxen? Why not twenty nuts instead?" On the way to offer the nuts, the man became very hungry, and ate the nuts. When he arrived at the temple to make his sacrifice, all that he had in his hands were the empty shells, which were of no value.

 


When we do not pray, our life has nothing to offer back to God but empty shells. When we thirst for God, why is it that at that time we give into frustration and neglect to pray? In the summer, when the heat is so intense and there is the danger of becoming dehydrated, we are warned that once we realize that we are very thirsty it is already too late and that we are already in real danger of heat prostration. In the same way, why is it that it seems to only be when we realize that we desperately need God’s help that we become aware of having neglected our relationship with God?

 


What we so often lose sight of is that it is through prayer that we are able to be in relationship with God, who addresses our thirst by giving us His Holy Spirit within us, the coming of whose presence we are now moving towards on Pentecost. How come the only time we adults talk with God is when we are either angry or we want something? We yearn for God, and yet… do we bother to talk with God each morning in prayer, or is our coffee and the morning news more important? Instead of talking with God throughout the day, do we try to quench our spiritual thirst during the day by engaging in gossip? In annoyance we sometimes blurt out “I just don’t have time to pray”, which statement betrays the fact that we do not understand that prayer is about talking with God, not about sayingprayers! And why is it that we only talk to God when the ship is going down?

 


The following is a true story. Police in Radnor, Pa., interrogated a suspect by placing a metal Colander on his head and connecting it with wires to a photocopy machine, telling the suspect that he was now hooked up to a lie detector. The Message "He’s lying" having already been placed in the copier, was produced every time that the police pressed the copy Button, which they did whenever they suspected that the man wasn’t telling the truth. Believing that the "lie detector" was working, the suspect eventually confessed.

 


How honest are we with ourselves about our relationship with God? How often do we tell ourselves that we have a pretty good relationship with God, even though we do not pray to him? I would be willing to bet that all of us here check our email each day more times than we pray and talk with God. Calling ourselves a Christian even though we do not pray to God does not make us a Christian, just as simply standing in a garage does not make us either a car or a mechanic. The fact of the matter is that we invest our heart in what we perceive to be a treasure for us; is that how we view prayer, as a treasure… or is prayer simply one of those annoyingly inconsequential and insignificant things that Pastors are supposed to harp about? The central significance of prayer is found in the fact that it deepens our awareness of God and our communion with God. Let us ask ourselves: If I haven’t the desire to pray to God, to be with him in the here and now, then how will I bear being with him for all of eternity?! If I have nothing to say to him now, what will I have to say to him then?

 


With this morning’s commemoration of the Samaritan woman, the Church leads us further on our journey from the Tomb to Pentecost, towards that meeting with the Holy Spirit, the Living One who is the only satisfaction for our thirst for God. From now until Pentecost, let us prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit by taking some time each day… even if only 5 minutes!... to pray.

 

 

 

Christ is Risen!

 


Sermon given by Father James (Bohlman)

On Sunday May 7th, 2017

At St. Mary Magdalene Church

Rincon, GA

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

 


Acts 9: 32-42

John 5: 1-15

 


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

 


Christ is Risen!

 


During a children’s sermon one Sunday morning, the Pastor held up an ugly-looking summer shirt that he had worn occasionally around the house. By way of discussing the issue of forgiveness, he stated to the children that someone had said to him that the shirt was ugly and should be thrown away. To the children he said, "This really hurt me and I’m having trouble forgiving the person who said those mean things. Do you think I should forgive that person?" Immediately, his six-year-old daughter Alicia raised her hand and blurted out, "Yes, you should!" The Pastor asked, "But why? The person hurt my feelings." Without hesitation Alicia responded, "Because you’re married to her."

 


When it comes to hurt feelings it seems that we can always come up with a reason for losing our temper with those whom we view as imbeciles, or with others who simply annoy us, and at that time that reason makes sense to us. As momentarily satisfying as getting back at someone might feel, when we indulge in striking out we eventually find out that the first victim of this approach is our own heart which becomes increasingly paralyzed by the inability to wish well upon others. In the immediacy of our heart’s hurting, however, we can sometimes seem unable to see further down the road than our hurt feelings. What we don’t understand about ourselves, about our heart’s desires, can even paralyze our spiritual life. As Christ makes clear in this morning’s Gospel reading, no matter what kinds of excuses we may give to others, the interior paralysis of our heart is often of our own doing, is often the result of those dark impulses in which we indulge.

 


In regard to this morning’s Gospel reading, there was a local belief that the waters of Bethesda had healing powers and people believed that when the waters of Bethesda bubbled up, the first one in the water would be cured. In this morning’s reading people with all manner of ills were gathered by the pool when Jesus walked among them and, for whatever reason, singled out one man, a paralytic, who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” The paralytic immediately began complaining: “I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps in before me.”

 


Notice what is happening in this response: Instead of answering Jesus’ question of “Do you want to be made well?”, the man offers excuses for his ongoing paralysis, in essence saying: “It’s not my fault!” As in all situations that Jesus dealt with, it is quite possible that the paralysis that Jesus was really addressing in this morning’s Gospel reading had nothing to do with the man’s legs, but, rather, primarily had to do with the man’s inner orientation, with his refusal to to do something for himself!

 


The following was a true incident which was reported in the Police News column of the local paper:

 


Diane Fittipaldi, of 2013 Sunset Lane, told Municipal Court Judge Levi Grantham that she had, indeed, used a forklift to attack her husband. It seems that they had a long-standing feud regarding her housekeeping. In court she testified, "Oliver is a horrible neat freak and he drives me nuts about keeping everything tidy." It seems that after the couple had argued about the proper alignment of table place settings, Diane rented a 3,000-pound, pneumatic tire forklift Tuesday evening and drove it through the front wall of their one-story frame house, using the machine to smash the dining room table. When the Prosecution asked why she had done that, Diane replied, "Well, after Oliver yelled at me about where his fork was supposed to go I figured I’d fix it with a forklift." The moral of the story is: Never marry a woman who knows how to operate heavy machinery. Either that, or learn to keep your views to yourself!

 


How many times have we blamed our angry actions on someone else? The anger that paralyzes our heart at times, however, is ours, no matter what has brought it to the surface, and our inability to control that anger is ours as well. The excuse of “Well, I’ve always just been that way” does not give us permission to continue being that way! What we never try to control we never learn how to control, and one of the ways in which we injure ourselves is by our refusal to tell ourselves the truth about ourselves, to own-up to our own part in our interior crippledness. Too often we blame others or genetics or misfortune for why we are not as we should be. This morning Jesus asks the paralytic… and US!... to attempt something: To stop making excuses!

 


After spending 3-1/2 hours enduring long lines, rude clerks and insane regulations at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Fred stopped in at a toy store to pick up a gift for his son Little Igor. Finally, he settled upon a really beautiful baseball bat and brought it to the cash register. "Cash or charge?" the clerk automatically asked. Something about the impersonal way that the clerk asked the question caused the frustration of the whole day to suddenly bubble up and Fred barked back: “CASH!” The clerk staggered back a step, ambushed as she was by the intensity of his reply. Fred was immediately ashamed of himself and explained, "I’m really sorry. I’ve just spent the entire afternoon at the motor vehicle bureau and I’m really frustrated." Like a real professional, the clerk replied, “Oh, that’s okay, I understand.” And then with a twinkle in her eye she asked, “Shall I gift-wrap the bat…or are you going right back there?"

 


What does it say about our spiritual life if the only way that we can feel good about ourselves is when we can look down upon someone else or blame someone else for our misery? Christ’s question of “Do you want to be made well?” applies to us this morning just as much as to the paralyzed man by the pool. Like the man in this morning’s reading, we all have our favorite pool by which we like to lay and complain, blaming our lack of spiritual growth on the pool, on our lack of friends, on everything but the fact that we will not DO something to help ourselves! This morning, in the middle of the Paschal season…in fact, both the Epistle and the Gospel readings speak of what resurrection is essentially about: A coming back to life. Both readings speak of healing as being given back one’s life, a type of coming-back-from-the-dead. Christ tells us plainly this morning that if we want to be healed of whatever paralyzes our hearts, we need to stop laying around by our pool, we need to stop finding excuses for why we haven’t changed, and we need to begin doing our part to contribute to the Paschal healing for which we so yearn.

 

 

 

Christ is Risen!

 

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