Fr. Ken Saunders’ Sermon Blog

The Good News!

Fr. Ken Saunders' Sermon Blog

The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Church - Towson, MD

Year C - 3 Lent - February 28, 2016

I was immediately caught by the phrase in today’s collect… “we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” As much as we think that we have it all figured out and that we have it all together, we don’t! Not without the help of something else… Not without the help of someone else.

I can remember as a young child, full of ambition and pride, knowing and feeling like I could actually accomplish something on my own. You can probably remember a time like that too… Pick the task… Maybe tying your shoes, dressing yourself, or riding a bike. We can sometimes remember when we first did things by ourselves.

I can remember the time when my mom and dad thought I was old enough to order my own meal at the local Carroll’s drive in. (was Carroll’s a thing in Baltimore?) I’m now showing my age… Anyway, I can remember taking the change and walking up to the counter at Carroll’s (Because they were both eat in and dive in) and ordering my first meal… I was so proud of myself…

But our collective prayer that was written in the year 590 says, “we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” The church has been praying this for over 1425 years, and yet we still think we can do it all by ourselves…

Moses didn’t think he could do the tremendous task of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt by himself… That’s not the example that we get from Exodus. When given the great task by the mighty voice coming to him out of a bush he says, “who am I that I should go to Pharaoh” as if to say… I’m not able, I can’t do this by myself… And the voice then assures Moses… “I will be with you!”

Let’s think back again on those tasks that we remember… That we think we did all by ourselves, like Tying your shoes, dressing yourself, or riding a bike. I can assure you that when it came time for you to learn to tie your shoes someone taught you! For me, it was my grandfather… and he didn’t only teach me how to tie my shoes, he taught my kids how to tie their shoes… So, tying my shoes is not something I did by myself. And neither was dressing myself, or riding a bike…

If you can ride a 2-wheel bike, you can probably remember someone helping you, coaching you… maybe holding the back of the seat and giving you a gentle push. We all had help in one way or another.

In our baptismal vows, we ascribe to the covenant and promises … with God’s help…  I will, with God’s help. We say it allowed “I WILL, WITH GOD’s HELP!” We are not expected nor or we encouraged to do it any other way…  And we are definitely not encouraged to live the Christian life alone.

Part of our formation…  part of our learning is our dependence on being taught… it’s our willingness to engage… Our willingness to reach out for help and encouragement. In my opinion, It’s part of why we have many of the issues that we have today with narcissism and self centeredness…  

It all part of the stresses of life that have been wrapped around us by a society that expects everyone to have it all figured out… all figured out – all the time – all by ourselves. So we drive ourselves crazy as we puff out our chest and go in to tackle it… and not ask for help or input, because society thinks that asking for help is somehow considered a weakness.

The 1400 year old collective prayer says, “Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”

The fig tree is not producing fruit… It’s not producing bad fruit, it’s not producing good fruit… It’s not producing ANY fruit… And somehow, the owner of the vineyard thinks it’s the tree’s fault. Obviously he’s forgotten that it’s just a tree… and like any part of God’s creation, it needs to be cared for… None the less, the owner wants the gardener to cut it down. He says, “Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?”

The gardener pleads with the owner to give him another year… to nurture and fertilize the tree… to give the tree a chance...

We are all given a chance, a chance to learn… a chance to ask for help…  Help from God - the only One who can help us. A chance to relinquish some of our worldly control and stubbornness, and let go of our need to do it all by ourselves.

A chance to realize that we are not just a waste of soil, but we are held fast by the right hand of God like the Psalmist says. A chance to be nourished and given the opportunity to bare the good fruit.

But to also remember, when we do bare the good fruit, and if we follow and trust in God to do so… When we do, it was only done by the grace of God… And we didn’t do it ourselves…

Posted: March 3, 2016, 10:39 pm
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, MD

Year C - Christmas 2 - January 3, 2016

#magionthemove picture shared from the Rev. Jenny Cooper Gettys
Here we are, it’s the 10th day of Christmas and we pick up the story of the nativity of Jesus this morning with a visit from eastern strangers. The reading calls them “wise men.” Some translations call them Magi – from which we get the word Magic. They are speculated to be from as far east - as far as the orient, or from as near east as near as Persia (which is modern day Iran). We don’t exactly know how wise they were, but we do know that they knew something that the rest of the world hadn’t figured out yet. They were scholars who studied the stars in the western sky and decided to take a chance that one particular star they saw might lead them to something significant.

The Jewish world at the time was looking for and waiting for a messiah (a savior). The special “anointed one” of God that was promised by the prophets to come and heal and restore Israel…

Promise made, much like the ones we heard from Jeremiah, about a scattered and forgotten people being gathered together - the blind and lame being healed and led back to right relationship with God. Led back to a rejoicing community that will sing praises of joy and gladness because they were redeemed and delivered from the hands of their oppressors.

The people of Israel knew what they were looking for, they knew what they were praying for and they got it, but they didn’t even realize it.

What is significant to the story is that these different people com from a different land, a foreign land, and even though they were not Jews, they knew who this special child was and they came to pay their respects and worship him.

When Herod the Great heard about the strangers and what they were doing, he was terrified - afraid that his political life was over, and that he and the Herodian Kingdom would be overthrown. Afraid that somehow the Davidic Kingdom was being restored. We know that Herod didn’t want to worship Jesus. Herod wanted to kill him and selfishly protect his own power.

We can only imagine how everyone in the house felt when those eastern strangers showed up knocking on doors. Strangers asking questions, wondering where the baby was who was born to be “King of the Jews.” They finally find Jesus in a house in Bethlehem, and they knelt down and worshipped him. These strangers from a strange land. And these wise eastern strangers, these men brought with them gifts to present to the child… Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.

There’s an old joke going around, we know that these were wise MEN, because if they were wise WOMEN, they would have brought more practical gifts.

However, there are some interesting things about this story that we probably need to pay some closer attention to…

The first thing is not readily noticed. Probably because the song has more lore in it than scriptural fact. It is the number of these strangers. The scripture doesn’t say how many there were. We know that there was more than one, and that in itself is significant. This wasn’t a random act of one confused traveler. This was an intentional journey. For these strangers, this journey was a pilgrimage of discovery and hope. Hope in a restored Israel with a righteous King, and hope in a renewed and restored world.

We do know that these strangers brought 3 gifts with them. Maybe that’s where they got the three from. Because it wouldn’t be hospitable to show up empty handed.

Over the years, theologians and scholars have thought that these gifts were significant to who these eastern strangers thought Jesus was.

They say that Gold is important because it was associated with Kings. Herod certainly had his share of Gold. It would be only natural for someone regarded as a king to be presented with Gold.

Frankincense is the incense used in worship. Incense that is still used in worship. Originally, we can imagine it was used to ward off the stench of the carcasses of dead animals that were sacrificed and possibly the bodily odors of others. But it’s so much more than that. Burning incense symbolizes our prayers and offerings as the smoke rises to the heavens… We know and are reminded that God is there to hear us and receive our prayers and show us grace and favor. So it would be natural to give incense to someone who was thought to be righteous and faithful.

Myrrh is a precious perfumed oil that is used to anoint a dead body. Care for the deceased is a sacred act in most every culture. Scholars speculate that the gift of Myrrh is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ tragic death.

We don’t know what the reason for the gifts, we just know what they are. We can only speculate why these eastern strangers brought them and presented them to Jesus. These eastern strangers…  the magi… the wise men, who may have been wiser than we realize.

Wise enough to look for God and follow the signs that they recognized in order to find the perfect manifestation of God’s self the person of Jesus the Anointed one – the Christ.

Wise enough to seek God out amid struggles and stresses of the journey of life. They didn’t come because it was convenient. They came from far away and made a difficult long journey just to have an opportunity to kneel for a minute and worship this newborn righteous King.

Wise enough to honor God with gifts of wealth and symbols of worship and honor and respect… Representations of human livelihood and vitality.

We don’t know who these Eastern Strangers were. The scriptures leaves it very vague. Their only appearance is in the Gospel according to Matthew, and it is still somewhat a mystery.

A mystery which shows us that the reign of the living God is much bigger than just the nation of Israel…

A mystery that shows us that strangers… those that don’t look like us or act like us, sometimes know more about what’s going on than we do…

A mystery which allows us to have hope, have hope and rejoice in the possibility of a renewed and restored world.

It’s amazing how a simple story of 12 sentences can reveal to us a God who not only loves us but will make everything right that we have made wrong. It’s the part of the Christmas story that the modern church has lumped in with the Shepherds and the stable, instead of it owning its own respected place as it relates to the mystery of the incarnation.

I have a friend from seminary that is on social media. I remember her as super creative, and I loved what she has been doing recently with her posts, so I thought I would share it with you. It’s called “magi on the move.” Since Christmas, she has been posting a group of figurines representing the magi, much like the figures we have here in our crèche.

The fun part is that there isn’t just 3 of them nor are any of them the same. In one picture there has got to be 10 or 14 big and tall, short and small. And, much like the flat Jesus photos that we took over the summer, these magi figures can be seen at different places on their journey… even at a visitor’s center asking for directions…  searching for the one who was to be the ruler and shepherd of God’s people. Probably much like we know that those wise men did so long ago in search of a child that they knew would deliver Israel and restore the world.

My friend and colleague was pretty wise herself. And, in this fun expressive way, came up with a method to remind us what we all seem to have forgotten.

That like those eastern strangers of old, we need to be wise again.

We have forgotten how to search for God. We need to be wise enough to keep seeking and searching for God. And then we need to let God show up in those unexpected places.

We need to wise enough let God into this dysfunctional world and let God restore it with equity, truth, and peace.

We need to be wise enough to give of our resources in order to help continue the mission of restoration, so that not only us, but future generations will benefit from knowing God’s love.

We are called to be wise ambassadors for the Kingdom of God, bringing about restoration in our own lives… but not just our own lives, we need to be about the loving work God has given us to do and help restore the lives of others.

So that the WHOLE human race will be restored and will know the love of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Posted: January 4, 2016, 6:35 pm
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, MD

Year C - Advent 1 - November 29, 2015

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9 
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Here we are again at the beginning of another church year. There is a feeling of freshness about today as we break out the advent wreath and the blue vestments and as we start counting down the days of our Lord’s return in great glory to renew the face of the earth. The world is on the threshold of salvation and God is fulfilling God’s promises, not only to Israel, but to us.

One of the most thought provoking things that I have seen as this season begins is a picture that is floating around on social media that says, “You cannot spell adventure unless you begin with advent.”  - and I would go further to say that you cannot have an Adventure unless you start with  an Advent! Brothers and sisters, we are all on a grand adventure of living out God’s promise to restore the world and bring forth the kingdom of justice and righteousness and this is a celebration of the beginning. This is our Advent.

Advent is the beginning of our grand adventure…  and it’s a bit scary if we stop and think about it. The unknown lurks in the shadows of Advent. What is --- is yet to be revealed. Some of you have heard me say before that Advent is living in that thin ‘tween space of the already and the not yet… between what has happened and the beginning of what is yet to happen.

It’s sort of ironic that this is the time of year when folks break out the Christmas greeting cards and reconnect with friends and family over the miles. For me, it’s always a joy to get a card from someone that lives far away. I remember a friend in the family that lived in Ireland, Nellie, who would send me a Christmas card every year without fail. Each year, the card would have a different kind of image of a Christmas scene and words of well wishes and prayers for the New Year. It warms my heart to this day to even think about it. To think about the way I felt encouraged and together with her even though an ocean and many miles separated us… Even though I was far away.

Cards and letters have a special way of connecting us and helping us, especially through hard times… the dark times in our life when we feel forgotten and alone. Cards and letters can make us feel supported and remembered, and they can help us feel encouraged and appreciated.

At Timothy’s request, Paul sent a letter to the church in Thessalonica… The Thessalonians were struggling with persecution because they had started to follow the ways of a person named Jesus. In this new way, they had given up the ways of their pagan idols. This was a radical shift from what was socially, politically, economically, and religiously acceptable… it put stresses on families and on friendships, it caused turmoil in the workplace and in the marketplace.

The one thing that I think the Thessalonians got right – is that they knew that the world was on the threshold of salvation and they invested their whole selves, everything that they had and were in preparing for the kingdom of God to come. They let the teachings of Jesus take over every aspect of their lives as they were in the advent of their adventure.

But times for the Thessalonians were hard, and they felt like they were in the dark, struggling with their newly kindled faith. And Paul is removed and not able to return to them… and he so desperately wants to be there with them and help them endure their hardships, but the only thing that he can do is write to them and give them a letter of encouragement and hope.

That is the portion of Paul’s letter that we read today. Paul longs to be there with them face to face to help them withstand everything that is being thrown at them. To help them endure and hold fast to the faith that is in them.

How then shall we live, in a world so desperate to rush into store and beat people over the head for sale items just one day after being thankful for everything that they already have? How do we live counter-culturally in a time when gluttony and greed is rewarded and is a socially acceptable display of strength and power? We’re not too far off from having to live like the Thessalonians did when they were persecuted for being different, who had to remain drastically counter-cultural in order to keep the faith.

It sounds a bit like what Jeremiah did for the people of Israel in our Old Testament lesson, reminding them of God’s promises. Giving them encouragement and hope… At this time, Israel was in exile and the prophet Jeremiah points them in the direction and calls them to wait on the Lord for a time of equity and virtue… A time when things that were cast down are being raised up… a time when the old things are being made new… a time when the darkness, pain, hunger, war, and famine will be no more… the things we need to engage and participate in to help usher in the Kingdom of God… things that are of the Kingdom of God.

The community that Jeremiah is speaking to has been defeated and is in darkness, they have been cut down and are in a foreign land with foreign rules, and foreign rulers – in an area that doesn’t know the God of Israel. Jeremiah is sending word from his prison cell to the others in exile, who also feel forgotten and lonely in the darkness of their life.

But, Jeremiah tells them not to worry, that everything will be o.k. – that God has the ability to raise up a righteous branch… a new leader that will rule justly… and he says, “in those days Judah will be saved”… in those days, we will be saved.

We are in the advent of our adventure and we are in a time of uncertainty and darkness. Regardless of how many Advents we have celebrated as a church, we are only still right at the beginning…

There is so much hate and evil in this world, we long for a time when a great leader will rise up and govern us… a righteous leader that will help lead the way - to assure us of God’s love and care for us, to show us the plan of salvation.

Jesus is that leader… and Christ Jesus is that leader who encourages us and teaches us that if we stay alert, and we don’t get all tied up in the worries of this world, then we will begin to develop whatever we need in order to endure the hardships of our adventure.

But we don’t want to have to endure the hardships… We want to avoid them and just skip to the end where everything is perfect and restored. It’s only natural for us to want to get to the end before we ever get started. If you have ever traveled with a small child on a long journey, you have probably heard the phrase, “are we there yet?” “Are we there yet?” is our juvenile way of not being able to wait and anticipate what’s coming.

Jesus says that there will be signs along the way. I know that road signs always help me on long trips. They helps me to count down the miles that I have left to go. Sort of like the advent wreath here helps us mark time during the season… Road signs ease something inside of me as they helps me to visualize the destination, which allows me to enjoy the adventure even more.

“Are we there yet?” The Kingdom of God is breaking forth into the world, and we get to be the midwife. It’s an exciting adventure as we help others understand with words of encouragement and hope that if we remain faithful we will experience God’s plan of salvation… the plan that God has prepared for the whole world.

It’s the dawn of a new church year; a new era, a new and fresh beginning, and we are at our advent, waiting to begin the great adventure of ushering in the kingdom of God.

Posted: November 29, 2015, 10:54 pm
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, MD

Year B - Christ the King (Proper 29) - November 22, 2015

2 Samuel 23:1-7
Psalm 132:1-13,(14-19)
Revelation 1:4b-8
John 18:33-37

I put together a project for Trinity a couple years ago. It was called, where does God show up? Some of you may have participated in it either in a committee meeting or vestry or another group. My main intention was to have us, as a gathered body of followers of Jesus, to start to tune ourselves in to where the Kingdom may be breaking forth breaking forth into this world.

I’ll admit, it’s not an easy process.  Anytime we engage in an activity like this, we start to try to look deep and go to those places where it’s sometimes difficult to go. Deep into our thoughts… We realize very quickly that in order to get a glimpse of the Kingdom, we need to remain optimistic and hopeful, remembering all of God’s promises...  promises that all will be well...  everything will be ok, because all things will be restored in Jesus. That our sins, which divide and enslave us will become non-existent, as we are freed and brought together.

But, How do we recognize the Kingdom of God? What does it look like??

We have a difficult time describing something that is hard for us to see or imagine, especially if we haven’t spent much time thinking about it. With everything that surrounds us, we would probably do much better at telling folks what the kingdom is not, rather than what it is.

On this Christ the King Sunday… The very last Sunday of the Liturgical Year… All the readings today point to Christ Jesus, the anointed one of God, as King...  but not just King… THE King of all Kings, and not just Lord… THE Lord of Lords.

In last words attributed to David found in the 2nd book of Samuel, David seems to be reviewing his life, trying to determine if he would be considered a good king... a good king who who ruled over his people justly in a healthy fear of God, being like a light or a beacon of hope to his people, providing order and security… Or did he rule without God, being like a prickly thorn. Being a tyrant king that no one liked to be around. Someone who causes the people torment.

I believe that David had his issues, as we all have issues, but I do believe that David thought himself to be a good King. But is it the Kingdom of God?

I would think that at various times in David’s reign, people thought the Davidic Kingdom was of God, if not the very Kingdom of God…

So, what does the Kingdom of God look like?

The Kingdom of God is just. The people within the kingdom of God are in harmony and they have hope and security. There is no worry or torment.

In the Revelation of John the Divine as he was on the island of Patmos, John records a vision of the Kingdom, where Jesus is on the throne, surrounded by many faithful witnesses.

John refers to King Jesus as loving… one who sacrificed himself to free us from sins. A king that makes us the go-between, the priests, to help others recognize the Kingdom. John goes on to say that everyone in due time will recognize Jesus as Lord and King. And, those that don’t believe and don’t submit to his just rule, or those that fought him and his way will find themselves dwelling in misery.

So, what does the Kingdom of God look like?

The Kingdom of God is a glorious kingdom filled with loyal and faithful followers who become ambassadors of a King... Ambassadors of a King that gives up his very self to make everything right and restores the whole creation to perfect harmony. The Kingdom of God is a Kingdom that everyone will recognize because of its righteous King, Jesus.

Jesus is brought before Pilate after he was unjustly arrested and Pilate questions him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus seems surprised that Pilate has come to such a conclusion. After questioning Jesus and his actions, Jesus replies, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here… I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Then in one of the most profound responses… Pilate asks him, “What is truth?”

So, what does the Kingdom of God look like? The kingdom of God is a place not like this world as we know it. It is a place where the truth of God, the love of God, and the ultimate kingship of God is known. It’s not a structural or political jurisdiction that Pilate expects, like the kingship of David, but it’s a universal and cosmic kingship where God reigns supreme.

This world… the world as we know it is broken and hurting. There is hatred, and famine, and war, and horror and killing, and fear, and oppression, and evil. It can be seen most recently in the downright hateful reactions of people as they fearfully reject helping others because of their nationality, religion, or even the color of their skin – fearful that they might somehow be terrorists. Yes, I am referring to the Syrian refugees, mostly women and children that are fleeing from there war torn country where, if they stay would mean certain death. Brothers and sisters, If we act in fear, then evil has won.

We so desperately need Jesus, our courageous, loving and righteous King to guide us into all truth, because I’m not sure that the kingdoms of this world have any clue what truth is.

We as Christians… we know truth, because we belong to the truth… We, as Christians are ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. We belong to the kingdom and it’s our responsibility to answer the calling of truth and respond with open hearts and open minds. If we let the fear and hate in, it becomes an evil cancer that eats at the truth that is in us.

We are people who know where God shows up, and we know what the Kingdom of God looks like, even though our feeble words, ideas, and descriptions fail sometimes to do it any justice.

So, what does the Kingdom of God look like? 
I would like you to just close your eyes for a minute… Close your eyes and take a deep breath… 

Picture a world where there is no hate… only love. 
Where there is no separation… only harmony, hope, and security.
Where there is no worry, torment, or fear… only righteousness, freedom, and peace.

Can you picture such a place?  I know it’s difficult, it's difficult because we've never experienced it…

But as people of truth… as faithful believers in Jesus Christ, we have what it takes to make a difference in this world… We have what it takes to make a dent in the horrors, by responding in love… to take away the fears of this world, by responding in courage.

But, being ambassadors of the Kingdom of God is difficult work... So we need to remember that we are working for a loving King Jesus, who gave up everything in order to give the world a chance. God loves this world, as broken and hurting as it is… God loves the world right into its perfect restoration. And God loves us, as broken and hurting as we sometimes are…  God loves us right into forming us into the ambassadors that God needs to be the agents of the Kingdom.

We have work to do, and it’s not going to be easy… We have so much work, I suggest that we solicit as much help as we can get. Bringing forth the kingdom of God is hard work, it’s messy and costly work…

Our work is this… in 3 steps...

Our work is to look for and recognize where God shows up in the mundane of everyday life and celebrate it! Give it a chance…  This is not blind optimism, this is constantly searching for the glimmers of grace that always seems to show up. At work or at school or at church, they are right there in front of us. God is there wanting to show us all glimpses of the glorious Kingdom.

The next step is witness to what you have recognized… after you see the almighty, say something about it. Tell your story of salvation. Be an ambassador for the Kingdom and usher it in. If we are waiting for the world to point it out, we will all be lost. We need to be the ones to share the kingdom with others.

Finally, we are ALL called to respond… This is the costly and messy part. You many have heard the saying… “Jesus has no hands in this world but ours.” This is so true... We are called to respond with our actions, our lives, and our resources to this hurt and broken world, being Christ's hands at work in the world around us.

Jesus works through us as ambassadors for the kingdom agents of God’s grace and healing, advocates of God’s love and peace. When is the last time you reminded someone that God loves them? Reminded them that not only you love them, but God loves them? 

We have a great and loving God, and we know God through the kingship of Jesus Christ, who came into this world to testify to God’s truth, God’s love, and God’s abundant grace… Jesus, the king, gave himself up completely through death and was raised on the third day. Jesus, who is present with us today in the nourishing sacrament of the bread and wine, his own body and blood…  Ever-giving us the source of sustenance and strength to do the work of bringing forth the Kingdom…

The Kingdom of God, here on earth, and as our Lords prayer goes...  Here on Earth, as it is in heaven…  amen!

Posted: November 22, 2015, 8:08 pm
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, MD 

Proper 28B - November 15, 2015

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (as a canticle)

With the immediacy of international news, internet news reports, and social media, we cannot help but hear and be effected by the horrific attacks on Paris this past Friday. In confusion, horror, and panic, we look at our television or computer screens as the stories unfold and hatred and evil rears its ugly head.

For those who want to know what I’m talking about, a stadium, a theater, a restaurant, a popular café, and several other key locations throughout the city of Paris, France were targeted and attacked by a radical militant group that calls themselves the Islamic State or ISIS (not to be confused with Islam or followers of the Prophet Muhammad called Muslims). This is a group of extremists radical fanatics that hate anything that isn’t like them.

In the attack, they murdered over 128 civilians and injured over 300 others, causing complete chaos as the city was terrorized / as the world was terrorized – not knowing if the attacks are over, or if there is yet another fanatic with a bomb strapped to their chest lurking around the corner.

This isn’t the only attack that has taken place in recent days… In Beirut this past week, 47 were killed in a residential and market area during rush hour. In Kenya, in April, 147 students were murdered, and there have been many other attacks on the innocent, only intended to create more fear and horror.

These attacks mean to make not only those who were directly attacked suffer, but they become a reminder of any tragedy that we have suffered… meant to instill fear and terror in anyone that has love and compassion for humanity.

I couldn’t help but remember the events of September 11, 2001 at New York, Washington DC, Pennsylvania… the events of April 19, 1995 at Oklahoma City, and many other tragic events just in my lifetime.

For thousands of years, hate and evil have tried to weave there selves into the fabric of the world’s society, destroying relationships, destroying lives, making people afraid, and angry… stirring things up and starting wars. Confusing people about the nature of humanity and most notably confusing people about the nature of God.

They even say out loud… and you have probably heard them… “if God is a just God… If God is a loving God, then why do these kinds of things happen? How can God allow such evil to exist??”

This just confounds the issue further… and does what the evil one intended all along. This kind of thinking messes up out reasoning skills and makes us respond out of anger and confusion. It wants us to lash out at each other… It wants us to throw bombs and grenades at each other in response to what we are feeling – to somehow get rid of the pain… the pain from feeling that we can’t do anything at all to help.

That is how evil works… Evil and hate are in the fabric of society and they have destroyed relationships with each other and relationships with God.

I saw a post on social media yesterday. It said, “Don’t pray for Paris. Religion is the problem. Terrorism is a product of Religion. It’s time to let go of Religion…” All I did after I read this was sit there… I sat there and cried. I cried like a little baby… I cried, because in that instance, at that very minute, I realized that the evil one has gotten away with it once again... The evil one has done his due…

Jesus says, “Nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against Kingdom, yet the end is still to come…  these are but only the beginnings of the birth pangs. Bringing forth or “birthing” the Kingdom of God while surrounded by such evil, controversy and fear is difficult work.

It’s not the happy-clappy feel good Jesus that wants us to be comfortable… and it’s not pie in the sky bye and bye… To be a follower, to be a REAL disciple of Jesus Christ, means that we are part of a movement (like the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry says) The Jesus Movement that is intended to change the world… Change the world by infusing it with the love of God...

And that is the kind of change that is difficult… it’s messy, challenging, heart wrenching, and it involves a commitment to radical love – NOT radical hate… 

When Jesus was walking with his disciples in Jerusalem, they were all talking as they went along about all the fine buildings and large stones, in the magnificent architecture that surrounded them. Symbols of power and prestige… Noting, of course, the largest and greatest buildings of their day and time – Herod’s temple in Jerusalem. The temple - a place of connection to God (the divine), a place of worship, a place of sacrifice, and the center of Jewish life…

Jesus said to them, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; ALL will be thrown down.” It would have been difficult, for the disciples to envision the complete destruction of such a massive fortress of a building – let alone the most holy place of the Jewish faith. Yet, that is exactly what happened in the year 70, when the Roman empire burned it to the ground.

We, too, can scarcely conceive of a time when the important places and structures we know and love will be “thrown down.” Yet that’s what’s happening all around us. The temple of our soul is being destroyed by the evils of this world. The evils of this world that tell us that we don’t need each other… that we don’t need God... Our soul is being attacked by the evil one, and we cower in fear and confusion, questioning our need for God or religion.

In Jesus’ teaching today, he reminds us that this world is NOT permanent: “will ALL be thrown down.” God has placed a deep-seated need within us to desire something that will transcend this mortal life. Jesus cuts straight to our deep-seated desire for immortality with his deeply challenging words – No doubt this passage helps ease the pain a bit, knowing and trusting that the Kingdom is over the horizon. If we continue to live in love, God’s purpose will be worked out.

There is no question that the anxiety level of disciples was great, as they pressed Jesus even harder for answers by asking, “Lord, when will this be? Tell us when these things will happen!” In Jesus’ day, and even in this day, there are plenty who look for signs, as if knowing WHEN the end will come will somehow change its coming. Many have claimed that this is it!! Just looking at the world around us and all the destruction, they say that the end is near!! And I am sure that there are pastors in pulpits today, using the events of this past week to instill more fear and cause more panic and confusion.

Our faith, logical reason, and even science tells us that there will be a time when ALL things will come to an end; knowing exactly when that will happen does not give us any control or mastery over it. Even Jesus doesn’t give them specifics as to when the end will come, nor does he even tell them exactly what will happen. Remember this was 2000 years ago. He tells them there will be upheavals of many kinds, but he clearly says these are the beginnings of the birth pangs – not the signs of the end of all things.

We might wonder when the birth pangs will be done. I have a feeling that the birth pangs will be done when we stop letting evil win. The birth pangs will be done when we embrace or start to re-embrace our God… our God of relationship and love and be participants in the mission and start to usher in the Kingdom.

But, we are afraid… We are afraid of terrorism; We are afraid of the economy collapsing; We are afraid of losing our jobs; We are afraid of losing our health; We afraid of losing our economic security; We afraid for our children’s future; We afraid of rejection. The list of fears is endless.

We live in fear that our neatly constructed lives will somehow be “all be thrown down” so we live in imprisoned by that fear, and when we live imprisoned by fear, we never live!

Instead of being fearful, which ultimately lets the evil one win and has us question the good in humanity and has us question God… We should connect… Connect to the things that help us make since of this world, Connect to the things that help us look forward to something better yet to come…

In the context of Mark’s gospel, the reading today is a portion of the story just before Jesus enters Jerusalem, and is arrested, put through a mock trial and handed over to the evils of this world to be crucified.  “All will be thrown down” is a promise that ALL the things of this world, its’ structures, systems, and yes – even its’ evils will fall apart, disintegrate and die.

Jesus reminds us that our job isn’t to know exactly what will happen, how it will happen, or even when it will happen; rather our job is to be faithful, be patient and keep awake… watch therefore, because God is working out the plan of salvation… The Kingdom of God is being brought forth and God has not abandoned us.

It will be all right because God is in charge. I’m not saying that it will be easy and that there won’t be hardships and distress. This isn’t empty optimism that promises things will get better for our lives; we don’t know - they may or may not. However, It is a promise that God is in charge… regardless of what it may look like. Jesus promises us that things will be all right… everything will work out for those who trust and believe because God ALWAYS has the last word! When death on the cross appears to be the end for Jesus, God has the last word and brings forth an empty tomb and a risen Christ!

Throughout our lives, we have already experienced death and resurrection many times over as the neatly arranged constructs of our lives are ALL thrown down. Jesus’ words remind us to hang on and to place our trust in something more than ourselves, or our possessions, or our health, or our capabilities or our even our intellect.

It is to place our faith and ultimate trust in the One from whom all of these things come. It is to accept our own mortality and have a radical trust in God’s unchangeable grace, God’s gracious goodness, and God’ abundant love… So that we can inevitably be free from the imprisonment of anxious fear and finally live fully and freely as children of God.

Posted: November 15, 2015, 11:02 pm
Trinity Episcopal Church
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Year B - 24 Pentecost (Proper 27)
November 8, 2015

Track 1

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Psalm 127

Hebrews 9:24-28

Mark 12:38-44

She was a woman, a widow, the least and forgotten of ancient society, and she was poor. 

Ruth loved Naomi and decided to stay with her after her husband Mahlon, who was Naomi and Elimelech’s son, died. Even after being sent away, Ruth stayed and Ruth gave Naomi her full devotion. Naomi wanted Ruth to have security and knew that she could not provide for Ruth – herself being a widow because Elimelech had also died – They were pretty bad off and both were forced to glean for food on the outskirts of the crops, just so they could eat. So, Naomi arranged for Ruth to get together with her kinsman, Boaz, hoping he would take her as his wife and provide for her. And he did…

She was a woman, a widow the least and forgotten of ancient society, and she was poor.

She had come to the Court of the Women in the Temple in Jerusalem, and she was a widow down to her last two coins. Jesus saw her there and also knew about her, that she was a woman of great faith, so much that she became a living example... a living sermon. 

She became an great icon of faith as she puts her whole trust in God, not holding anything back. Unfortunately, we do not know this woman’s name. The unnamed woman is known by her marital status and her coins more than her name. We casually refer to the story as “The Widow’s Mite” and she is the star character,“The Widow.” And, each of this woman’s 2 coins were worth just a four-hundredth of a shekel or what we might think of as just an eighth of a penny each. 

We can learn a lot from these 2 remarkable women.

Ruth’s story is about relationship, love, and trust as Ruth follows in the way that leads to the birth of Obed, who will later become the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. It’s important to understand that Ruth was not a Jew, She was a Moabite woman taken as the wife of Naomi's son, Mahlon. So, she found her way into a devoutly Jewish household. A stranger that will be the great grandmother of Kind David.

Jesus has been teaching in the temple courts. And, on his way out of the court, he and his followers stop to watch as offerings are being made to the treasury. Each person walks up to one of the thirteen fluke-shaped pot receptacles, which were lining the wall of the Court of the Women. 

As they tossed in the money they had to offer, the person was expected to say aloud the amount and purpose of the gift in order to be heard by the priest that was overseeing the collections. It must have been quite a sight to see all the folks there there in finest clothes, tossing in large sums of money, calling out to all how much they gave. 

And in such a group, who would take notice the widow tossing the two of the smallest coins into the offering? Yes, only Jesus notices and calls attention to this act of incredible faith. Jesus calls his disciples together and says, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Ruth and Naomi probably don’t know what coins were, let alone did they have any. They must rely on the hospitality of others in order to get their next meal. They must glean the edges of the field and work hard for everything they get.

With the widow at the treasury, Jesus knows that these are not just any two coins, but these are the woman’s LAST two coins. The text says, “All she had to live on.”  Literally this is true. The actual word used in the Gospel is bios. The text says that she put in her “bios.” It’s the word from which we get “biology,” the study of life. So, Jesus tells us that the widow put her whole “life” into the temple treasury that day - EVERYTHING she had to live on.

Strangely enough, on this commitment Sunday, this is NOT a sermon about tithing. Because neither of these women gave ten percent of their income. 

Ruth had no security, and no money. The only thing she had to give was her self... she had nothing to give, so she gave her devotion, her love, her trust, and her life.

At the treasury, these were the widow’s last two coins that she had to rub together, but rather than keep one for her self, she tossed them both into the temple treasury. The widow gave 100% of her money and with it, 100% of herself. The unnamed woman is down to 2 worthless little coins, yet she trusts it all to God. She trusts her LIFE to God.

It would be nice if the details of both these stories were filled in a bit more for us. Ruth disappears into the genealogy of David that eventually leads us to the birth of Jesus. The nameless widow who gave the two small coins fades back into the crowd in the background. She remains nameless, but we want to know her name, you know, so we can name churches, schools, and hospitals after her. We want to give her a place of honor in Jesus’ stories right alongside the disciples whose names we know, though their trust in God wasn’t always such a good example.

Facing an uncertain future, both of these ladies, these widows, reached out to God. They trusted that if they gave everything they had, even the little they gave would be honored. We trust that both of the widow’s stories turned out all right. We trust that whether they lived or died, they was God’s.

By their example, Jesus shows us that what we withhold may matter a whole lot more than what we offer. These widows are 2 women of great faith, Women of great faith who held nothing back!

They gave their life and gained security – When we give, we are to give, knowing that everything we have is God’s already. We are crazy to think that we can give God anything. But we CAN offer our whole selves for the Kingdom of God, holding nothing back. 

We can give a portion of the gifts have been given to us to make sure that the mission of the Church continues to bring others to know the kingdom of God.

She was a woman. She was poor. She was a widow down to her last basket of grain gleaned from the edge of the field. 

She was a woman. She was poor. She was widow down to her last two coins. 

Yet, both of these incredible women were children of God who placed their whole life back in their loving creator’s hands.
Posted: November 15, 2015, 10:46 pm
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Church
Towson, MD

Year B - 5 Pentecost (Proper 8) - June 28, 2015

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27
Psalm 130

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Mark 5:21-43

The Gospel story this morning is interesting. It’s actually a story within a story or is it a story within a story? For the evangelist, Mark, this is a bit strange. See, Mark most always gets straight to the point and doesn’t usually include a lot of extra details. So if he is giving us this much detail, it’s probably something to pay attention to. So, let’s take a close look at the story within the story within the story.
Jesus and the disciples have just endured the great storm. Remember last week when the storm was tossing the boat around and all the disciples in the boat were freaking out? They went to Jesus, who was on the stern of the boat asleep, and woke him up. And Jesus got up and rebuked the wind saying, “Peace, be still!”

Well, the portion of text we just heard follows that great storm. Jesus is with a great crowd that has surrounded him. His reputation has preceded him... They have heard of his great healing powers and have come out to see for themselves. A leader from the nearby synagogue, a man named Jairus, came by and asked Jesus to come with him and heal his daughter who was very sick. Jesus agrees and started to go with him through the crowd, and that large crowd that was gathered started to press in on him.

Here is where we get to the story within the story... During all the commotion, the mingling and the pressing in on each other, Jesus stops and asks, “who touched me?” The disciples think that he is crazy because they are surrounded by so many, how could they know who touched him. Jesus knew something had happened, even in all the busyness around them. He felt the power go forth from him.

A woman, who was sick with what the scripture calls a hemorrhage, reached out and touched the hem of his cloak because she thought that just touching this amazing healer would be able to make her well. She had been under the care of physicians and spent all her money. (some of us know what that’s like) However, with one touch, she felt that she was healed of her disease.

Who touched me? Jesus says... and the woman who was healed, comes forth with fear and trembling and falls down before him. She explains what happened and he says very simply, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."

And then the original story continues... with some who come from the house of Jairus to tell him that it is too late, that his daughter was already dead, not to bother Jesus any longer. Jesus tell Jairus to believe and takes him with Peter, James, and John to the house. When they get to the house, they see lot of commotion, weeping and wailing. Jesus asks them why they are weeping and carrying on like that when the girl is only sleeping.

Jesus takes Jairus and his wife and Peter, James and John into where the girl was and takes the girl by the hand, and as Mark’s story (that is not know for the details) - Jesus says “Talitha cum” ... “Little Girl, get up.” The little girl got up and began to walk around, and Jesus told them to give her something to eat.

A story within a story within a story... So we’ve heard the story, and the story within the story, but what’s the story of the story within the story that I just retold you? What do you think the reason is that Mark spends so much time giving us the intricate details, up to and including the Aramaic words that he spoke when he told the little girl “Talitha cum?What is the significance of having a story nestled within the story?

I think that Mark uses these intricate and interlaced stories to tell us something about the Kingdom of God. First of all, God knows that we have busy lives and that the stresses and pressures closing in on us. The story reminds us that Jesus is there for us and responds to us. Jairus came to Jesus and Jesus responded to his need. As Jesus does throughout the scriptures, he always meets people where they are and responds to their need. 

In the Kingdom of God, God knows what we need, and God responds. God always responds to our needs.

The story within the story reminds us that in order to receive the Kingdom that God has in store for us, we must have faith... and if we are bold enough and have faith enough to claim the Kingdom for ourselves, and then we will receive the healing that we need. The woman that was sick with a hemorrhage was bold and daring... she was a risk-taker, and she reached out in faith knowing if she could just touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, then there was a good chance she would be well for the first time in 12 years. Bold and daring... she violated everything that society said was right. She was bleeding, and yet touches another person, a great healer and teacher, risking his ritual cleanliness and her possible ridicule and death... Nevertheless, she knew it was the only chance she had left to be well. She dared to receive the Kingdom of God and was made well.

And in the story of Jairus’ daughter, one would think that all was lost, that Jesus had lingered too long tending to others. That it was too late, she was already dead. But Jesus continues on, forward in mission to show others the Kingdom of God in their midst. He goes into the house and into where the girl was... knowing she was thought to be dead, and then risking everything (ritual impurity by touching the dead) he takes her by the hand and says, Talitha cum! Little girl, get up.

Do we let the Kingdom in? Even after we think all is lost? Even after we have given up all hope? Do we let the Kingdom in and let it takes us by the hand and raise us to the new life that is found in Jesus?

If we are bold enough to reach out in faith and grab the hem of Jesus and let him heal us, then we need to be willing to let Jesus take us by the hand and raise us to new life. We have to be willing to take a risk on behalf of our faith, and let it be proclaimed by our actions in the midst of adversity.
When the stresses of life start to close in on us, pressing on all sides, we must be willing to be bold and ask for help... reach out for the Kingdom of God and grab it by the hem... let it take you by the hand and raise you to new life... A new life of peace & love.

Jesus was present to all the situations that surrounded him, yet stayed on task and purpose through all the chaos that surrounded him. He was the calmness of the storm that surrounded the disciples, and he was the peaceful presence today in the midst of the chaos.

In the Kingdom, there is no chaos, there is only peace, love, and understanding. Reach for the Kingdom, and be willing to let it take you by the hand, and raise you to new life in Jesus Christ our Lord. 
Posted: October 8, 2015, 3:30 pm
Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, Maryland

Year B - Easter 5 - May 3, 2015

Philip the apostle and Philip the deacon are two characters in the apostolic community that have been confused over the years. While some say that they were the same, others separate the two. This account in Acts involves Philip the deacon, therefore the character study in this sermon is incorrect and would have been more interesting if it were Philip the deacon.

Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:24-30
1 John 4:7-21
John 15:1-8

In order to understand and be able to unpack the story, especially in Holy Scripture, we need to place ourselves within the action… Within the context of the story… We can do this several ways. We can be an outsider looking in on the action or we can try to place ourselves as one of the characters.

On the surface, our lesson from the Acts of the Apostles looks simple. Almost too simple. Philip is one of 12 apostles… It was this time after the resurrection that the apostle witnesses were sent out by Jesus to proclaim the risen Christ to the whole world.

And we have an unnamed Eunuch from Ethiopia that is an official in the court of Queen Candace. They both are traveling the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Philip sees the Eunuch reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Philip helps him understand the scripture he is reading and proclaims the Lord Jesus, the Eunuch is moved and has a desire to be baptized and Philip baptizes him.

The story seems simple from the outside, the characters on the surface are simple enough. However, if we peeled the onion and let ourselves learn a bit and try to understand the characters in the story, we may get a totally different understanding.

Let’s look a little closer at Philip first. Philip is one of the 12 called by Jesus to be a disciple. He is a witness to the resurrection and therefore an known now as an apostle. We know that Philip was from Bethsaida (the same city as Andrew & Peter) which is city of Northern shore of the sea of Galilee in Northern Israel. The name literally means “House of Fishing,” so we can assume, like some of the other disciples, that Philip was a fisherman like Andrew and Peter.

After Philip was called by Jesus he went around with Jesus everywhere. We know that Philip was a Jew and sources say that he was older than Jesus. We know from scriptures that Philip was inquisitive and asked Jesus questions like how he might find enough bread to feed 5000 people. Up to this point in the story, that’s about all we know about Philip.

Let’s take a closer look at the Eunuch. We are told that the Eunuch is Ethiopian, so we can assume he is of a much darker complexion than Philip. He is a Eunuch, therefore he has been castrated, forever damaged physically, never able to have a family and descendants of his own. We can assume that he didn’t volunteer for this condition.

Most Eunuchs were slaves that were made that way for a purpose. His particular purpose was to serve in the court of the Queen of the Ethiopians. We know that regardless of his enslavement, he is put in charge of the Kandakē – the Ethiopian queen’s entire Gaza treasury.

Because the unnamed Eunuch was traveling back home from Jerusalem (after going there to worship) we can assume he is Jewish. What’s interesting is that he took a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to the temple to worship, but wasn’t even allowed to go into the temple. He was “damaged” physically and therefore impure. Therefore, he was not allowed to enter but only be on the outskirt portico or the “hall of the gentiles.” According to Jewish practice, there was no amount of sacrifice or action that would restore him to ritual purity.

None the less, the Eunuch was studying the prophet Isaiah on his return trip from Jerusalem. But he wasn’t just studying Isaiah, he was reading the portion we know as Isaiah 53, that we know as the description of the suffering servant.

"Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,

and like a lamb silent before its shearer,

so he does not open his mouth.

In his humiliation justice was denied him.

Who can describe his generation?

For his life is taken away from the earth."

In his discussion with Philip, the Eunuch asks about whom is this passage written? Obviously, the Eunuch, in his condition identifies with the prophet’s writing, because he has gone through the same thing…  Led to the slaughter in his castration, humiliated and denied a choice in the matter… Literally having his ability to have a family taken from him. Therefore his life taken from the earth… Once Philip described the recent events that happened in Jerusalem concerning Jesus of Nazareth, and the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it was very easy for the Eunuch to identify with a God who suffered in the same way that he had.

We can understand, after thoughtful examination, that this Eunuch had a thirst to belong and understand, but because of his condition was not able to be fully part of the community… Not able, of course until he met Philip and heard the Good News…

The Eunuch’s question about what is to prevent him from being baptized is honest… He had been denied full inclusion into the Jewish faith because of his brokenness. Yet with baptism, the Eunuch is fully included into the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The Eunuch received baptism and was fully restored into full and right relationship with God. Fully restored and made complete… so complete, that when he returned to Ethiopia, he became a witness to others and ended up being a spiritual father to many.

Regardless of his condition of brokenness, regardless of his nation of origin, and regardless of the color of his skin… God restored him.

That’s what God does. God takes us as we are, whoever we are, and whatever we are, and restores us into full right relationship by baptism… It doesn’t matter who we are or what we look like, by faith in Jesus Christ and Baptism we are ALL the same. We are ALL equal!

However, some people think that social class, color, or condition prevents us from sharing that equality. The equality that God points out so clearly throughout scripture. By thoroughly examining the characters in the story of Philip and the Eunuch from Ethiopia, it’s hard not to think about the recent events in Baltimore this week.

It’s not hard to think about a neighborhood community that is in pain, longing to be healed. A community that is viewed by some as incomplete or not worthy of time and effort. A community striving to be accepted for who they are.

Many folks have come together (clergy and lay) to civilly bring attention to the lack of equity by marching in protest, by vying for time with the city council, by publically advocating for them and stating the case for those who lack a voice... for those who lack justice.

Regardless of what you think of what happened this past week, it was the right thing to do… It was the gospel thing to do… It is the way we show others the God we believe in... The God that shows no partiality…

In Jesus the Christ, God accepts us and loves us… But God doesn’t just love us… God loves us enough to die for us. God loves you enough to die for you. Die so that you and I can be fully accepted and have full and complete accesses to the living God. Access, so that we could live in the vine of relationship as branches and vine intertwined together. Us together with the savior, baring the good fruit of relationship with others, lest we risk being cut-off and cast out…

We, as a world, need to emulate that action… We need to bare good fruit. We need to live out the Gospel of restoration in our lives because that is indeed the mission of the Church.

The mission of the Church, the gathered body of the living Christ, is to restore the world to God through Jesus Christ our Lord… May we bear the fruit of relationship in this mission, and seek to serve those who may be different from us, those whom society has put into a hole and forgotten, those whom we may or may not understand…

We are called to listen and provide a path to restoration… and be the prophetic voice of restoration like Philip to the Eunuch, who, regardless of class or condition… and regardless of race or ability, gave the Eunuch complete access and showed him unconditional love.

May we be so bold.  

Posted: May 4, 2015, 2:10 am
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Church
Towson, MD

Year A - Proper 21 - September 28, 2014

I’m trying to think about what it would be like to wonder around in the desert for 40 years. It’s hard for us to think of… I’m sure that after just the first few days, we would be casting some serious doubt about why we were there and who we were following. We would be irritable, and hungry and angry… and like Sara called it last week, “hangry.”

I am convinced that it didn’t take 40 years for the Israelites to get out of Egypt. It took 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites. They were all in a process of formation and transformation… 

We heard last week that God fed the people of Israel with manna and quail, providing just enough so that everyone got their fill and was satisfied. But today, the story picks up with the Israelites still in the wilderness, journeying by stages and setting up camp where they were instructed. They were in the desert, and there was no water for them to drink. 

When in the wilderness, we should always remember the rule of threes… Which says that a human can survive up to 3 weeks without food (though that would be extremely difficult) – and even less in a harsh environment – but you can only survive 3 DAYS without water, or death is surely imminent.

Water is 65% percent of the human body and is essential to life. Water flows through the blood, carrying oxygen and nutrients to cells and flushes waste out of our bodies. It cushions our joints and soft tissues. Without water as a routine part of our intake, we cannot digest or absorb food.

I spoke to a nutritionist the other day, and she told me that I should drink anywhere from 8 to 10 servings of water per day in order to be healthy. So it was an extremely difficult situation for the people of Israel that were wondering around in the desert – not to have any water and they were quarreling with one another and looking for someone to blame.

They were mad at the world, and not trusting God and the path that they were on – even though they had seen the providence of God that gave them the manna and quail. God once again provides for them, he instructs Moses to go to the rock at Mt. Horeb, and take with him some elders and strike the rock with the staff he used to strike the Nile.

Now the elders would remember what happened when Moses struck the Nile… When Moses struck the Nile, it turned to blood. So at this point, I can imagine that they were at least skeptical that this would produce anything at all. But when Moses struck the rock, there came a gush of water, so that everyone could have a drink… 

God provided for them, so that they would know the power of God and be nourished for the next leg of their journey.

The problem with the whole situation was that the Israelites weren’t just famished from not having any water. They were questioning the presence of God among them… God, who promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. God who provided them with Manna, and Quail from heaven, and water from the rock.

I’m sure that some of the Israelites were thankful, or even recognized what a blessing this provision was… But I’m also sure that some were only temporarily pacified because they expected it and they grumbled and wined until they seemingly got their way.

The ones not recognizing the blessings that are being brought forth are sure to continue to grumble and quarrel and not be happy with what they have.

The situation hasn’t changed too much… 

The chief priests and scribes come to Jesus, and challenge his authority. In this case, Jesus asked them a question about the baptism of John. A question that Jesus knew the Chief Priests and Scribes would not answer. A question that Jesus knew they could answer, but the answer would point them in the direction of self-preservation instead of living a life of faith and proclaiming the truth that they knew.

The chief priest were grumbling and quarreling because Jesus was humbly claiming his authority as the son of God, Jesus was always advocating for the poor and forgotten… those on the fringes - demonized by society and they couldn’t handle it.

The chief priests and scribes were not able to recognize the blessings that stood right in front of them because they were on the defensive, and then they were tied in knots by Jesus’ parable of the two sons. See the parable of the two sons is about recognizing the presence and power of God’s transformation of the world.

The first son who says that he will go work in the vineyard and doesn’t is like the Chief priest and scribes with a hard heart. They are first devoted to God and the tenants of the law, but they fail to see and accept the transforming power of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

The second son who says he won’t go work and then later does is like the tax collectors and prostitutes, who have a moldable heart, who have turned from the error of their ways and accepted God forgiveness and are being transformed.

The understanding and power of God came later to them and then they changed their ways and have received God’s forgiveness and salvation. They recognize their blessings.

Today we bring into the body, Quinn Zapata, one whom we will hopefully teach over the years to recognize the blessings that are around her. To recognize and act on the blessings and salvation of Jesus Christ freely given to her.

One who’s parents trust and understand the blessings (the provision and presence) of God and the salvation of Jesus Christ in their lives.

Our baptism, by water, that elixir so important to our physical health and wellbeing, becomes the vehicle for us through which we are made Christ’s own and the catalyst of our spiritual health and wellbeing.

We who have been baptized have nothing to grumble about. We have received a new life, and have been taught to recognize the blessings. The blessings that lead us to live a life in thanksgiving to God, for God’s mighty acts of provision, God’s restoration, and forgiveness.

In a few minutes we will stand together and reaffirm our baptismal vows as Quinn’s parents and Godparents take them on her behalf. As we listen to these readings and again proclaim our vows of commitment, we are able to once again discern and process in our own hearts and souls, the answer to the question, “What do we believe?”

What do we believe – and how do we live as a people who trust in God’s providence? As a people who don’t grumble against God and who are willing to be transformed into what Jesus wants us to be?

I think that living this life, this baptismal life in covenant with God, requires that our hearts be open to one another and with everyone we encounter in our lives. This doesn’t mean that we need to brow beat “evangelize” to everyone everywhere. But we should, as St. Francis, who is credited with saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

What do we believe?

What we believe should be shown in the way we live our lives and the way we relate to one another. Our faith should gush forth like the water from the rock, and be shown in our thoughts, words, and actions.

Posted: September 28, 2014, 9:31 pm
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, MD

Year A - Proper 13 - August 3, 2014

Click here for the Lectionary Readings

Almost the whole month of July, we heard stories of sowers and seeds, and fields, pearls of great value and fishing nets…  all the images that Jesus uses in his parables to describe what the kingdom of God is like...
Last week, Sara even took us through a wonderful litany of what the kingdom of God may be like… and then challenged us to think about what the kingdom may be like for us, in our day and time… We have heard a lot about what the Kingdom of God may be like – but I like to think of the kingdom as the very best thing that I could ever imagine, actually better than the best thing I could ever imagine.
Jesus takes us away from his parables and descriptions of the Kingdom, away from the phrases ‘the kingdom of God is Like…” to a place away…  he gets into a boat and withdraws to a deserted place by himself. He goes off to get away in order to rest and recuperate.
However, Jesus has gained a reputation as a great healer and the crowds don’t leave him alone. They follow him on foot to the place where he is, and he has compassion for them and heals their sick. We need to understand that this was an enormous crowd, almost of an unimaginable in size = five thousand men plus women and children.
It was getting late in the day, so the disciples came to Jesus and told him to send the crowds away so the people could go and get something to eat in the nearby villages and towns… but Jesus, does the unimaginable and tells the disciples not to send them away, but for them to give them something to eat.
The disciples scurry around and gather up what provisions they can find among themselves. The disciples come up with 5 loaves and 2 fish… barely enough for the 12, let alone a crowd of thousands. And then, in a very simple act, Jesus takes what is given to him, gives thanks, and distributes it among the multitudes.
There was no show… no lightning bolts from heaven or booming thunder. Just a simple act of thanksgiving and then giving…
When we studied this scripture this week in our clergy Bible Study on Wednesday morning, I asked the question. “what is the miracle?” I was trying to go deeper into the scripture and take a story that seems so familiar and try to understand what Jesus wants us to learn…
The miracle could have been just that Jesus simply took what was given and made it enough to satisfy everyone… Or it could have been that Jesus caused more bread and fish to appear… Or it could have been that the gesture was so bold, that Jesus and the disciples were so willing to give everything that they had for the benefit of others… that people gave of themselves to provide for others. Thereby causing the miracle of the breaking forth of the kingdom of God.
However, what I think actually happened is irrelevant. The truth in the act of the feeding of the multitudes was that enough was made out of very scarce resources. Enough for 5000 men, and women and children. Enough, that after it was distributed and everyone got their fill, 12 baskets of scraps were collected.
In the previous weeks, we heard a lot about what the kingdom of God is like… but this morning, we actually get a glimpse of that very kingdom breaking forth into this world.
The Kingdom of God is right here in front of us and we get a very vivid picture of what the world should be as the Kingdom of God breaks forth… and everyone has enough regardless of who they are. There is no more ‘the kingdom of God is like…’Because we are living it and experiencing it through the account of Jesus feeding the multitudes.
The people are gathered together… there, in a deserted place, unknowingly seated at the foot of the creator of the universe… and he makes no claim to his authority or majesty, but he gives up everything he has in order to feed the others around him.
That is what the Kingdom of God is. The kingdom of God is a Kingdom where the compassionate king gives all for us… The king gives up his food so that we might have enough to eat. The king, full of love, gives up everything, even his life, so that we might live and have everlasting life.
Today we leave the parables of the kingdom behind for a preview of the real thing. And once we have experienced the kingdom, once we have encountered God, we are like Jacob, and we are forever changed.
Posted: August 7, 2014, 12:34 am