Fr. Ken Saunders’ Sermon Blog

The Good News!

Fr. Ken Saunders' Sermon Blog

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

RCL Year A - Epiphany 7 - February 19, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23
Matthew 5:38-48
Psalm 119:33-40

I’m always cautious about having baptisms on days other than the appointed feast days like the day we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, the Great Vigil of Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day… And whenever the Bishop decides to visit. But sometimes, like last week, and like today, and like next week, we make a pastoral concession and have a baptism.

When we do that, sometimes the lessons are difficult to deal with… 

In today’s Gospel, we just heard part of one of the most famous sermons Jesus ever gave during his ministry. But, in a way, it is fitting for us to hear this Gospel on a day when we will baptize (at the 9am service) and welcome Bo Brumfield into Christ’s Body, the Church… and make promises to nurture him in the Christian faith as part of the Trinity family.

But, what is seems problematic, is some of the difficult things that we hear Jesus saying in the Gospel lesson. Jesus is pretty clear and direct… “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Turn the other cheek, if someone takes your shirt – give them your coat also”  It almost doesn’t seem like the real world, does it… How in the world can we be expected to love our enemies, let alone turn the other cheek…

It’s when we get those feeling of challenge that we need to understand that Jesus is doing it again… Jesus is inverting the value system and changing the understanding of what society would consider normal. Jesus is starting a revolution – or as Bishop Curry calls it, a “movement…” “The Jesus Movement!”

Jesus is starting this movement by calling the rules of this world into question… by describing an entirely different way for those who believe in and claim to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior… to live in this world and relate to one other… inviting us into relationships not governed by power or prestige, but governed by vulnerability grounded in love and acceptance.

So, if we want to dismiss the instructions we just heard in the Gospel as simple idealisms, maybe we should slow down and take them more seriously. They seem at first to be “crazy” statements. But in these few “crazy” sentiments – Jesus gives us the plans for the kingdom he proclaims and the movement he is starting.

And so, before joining the “Jesus Movement,” we should probably know what we’re getting ourselves into! And we should definitely know about this movement – the revolution, that we are welcoming little Bo into! Wouldn’t it be something to imagine Bo – and his siblings Holly and Cole – growing up and living in a world where we actually treat each other the way Jesus is telling us to?

Like what it says in the baptismal covenant – those promises we all make… To seek to serve Christ in ALL persons, loving our neighbor as our self and strive for Justice and Peace among ALL people, respecting the dignity of EVERY human being… Not some, not just a few, not just the ones that you like…  ALL… and ALL means ALL… It’s radical, it’s difficult, but it’s gospel. 

Then, there is the last line of the Gospel lesson, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” "Be perfect." When we hear that command, most of us hear an injunction to a kind of moral perfectionism. But that's not actually what the original language says. "Perfect," in this case, is the Greek word telos, the word used for "goal," "end," or "purpose." The sense of the word is more about becoming what was intended, in fullness or completeness… accomplishing our God-given purpose in the same way that God constantly reflects God's own nature and purpose on us...  

While telos, can indeed be translated to be “perfect,” it typically refers to something not so much morally perfect but means something that has grown up, matured, and now has reached completion and fullness. That is, telos is the goal or desired outcome of a thing. A fruit tree’s telos, we might say, is to grow and mature so that it can bear good fruit (to use another image from scripture). So, I don’t think that Jesus is simply commanding something of us but he is also commending something in us.

That is, maybe Jesus simply knows that we have more to give, that we can be more and do more than what we have settled for – and that we can absolutely make a difference in the world if we would simply trust God and believe in ourselves.

And so I hear in the commands in this Gospel reading as an invitation to be the people God has created us to be so that we might not just persevere through this challenging life, but actually flourish, making a difference to those around us by sharing the abundant life Jesus has given us. Does this sound Crazy? Maybe.

But Eugene Peterson's translation of the gospel passage in The Message gets closer to the mark, I think… And helps us understand the passage.

He says, “In a word, what I’m saying is - You’re kingdom people. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Now, Does that let us off the hook with all the other things? I don’t think so... But it does help us get to the root of the issue. We can only do these other things – take the higher ground, repay evil with good, forgiving and praying for those who harm us – to the degree that we can live into our own God-given identity as the blessed and beloved children of God that we are. You can't give what you don't have, and so only those who have experienced love can in turn share it with others.

Jesus, who was human like us, not only commands, he also understands – understands just how hard it is for us to love rather than hate, to forgive rather than begrudge, to share rather than hoard, to heal rather than wound, especially when we go through so much of our lives wounded and hurt.

So, today, as we baptize Bo, and promise to support him as he grows in the Christian live and faith, we are also there to remind him that he has a God-given identity as a blessed and beloved child of God. And every baptism is a chance for us to remember our own baptisms – and to remind ourselves that we too are blessed and beloved… and why we are a part of Christ’s Body the Church in the first place.

Evelyn Underhill, the famous Anglican writer of the 20th Century, once wrote, “The real business of the Church is … to bind us together—the learned and simple, the strong and the weak—in a great social act of love and worship; to provide a home for the nurturing of the spiritual life. For we cannot get on alone, in religion or anything else.  Our spiritual life must be a social life too. Wonder and love are caught, not taught; and to catch them we must be in an atmosphere where we are sure to find the germs. A living Church ought to be full of the germs of wonder and love.”

So in a few minutes, as we remind Bo that he is a blessed and beloved child of God, surrounded by the germs of wonder and love, I urge you to remind yourself – too - that you are a blessed and beloved child of God.

Is that easy to remember? Of course it isn’t. So many things get in the way. Past disappointments or hurts that still haunt us. Old grudges and wounds that are a long time healing. Painful memories that are slow to fade. Just for a minute, close your eyes and think about what it is that gets in the way of your being the blessed and beloved person that God created you to be. Then, in the days and weeks ahead, try to grow past the things that get in your way – and remember just how much God loves you – and that the Church is always here to support you on your journey.

We who are gathered today to witness Bo’s baptism, represent Christ’s Body, the Church, God’s family on earth, and we have the God-given potential to change the world… Change the world, and live by the radical ethics that Jesus is teaching us – right now. We can be part of the Revolution - part of the ‘Jesus Movement,’ modeling a new and different way of being in the world… a world that we might simply call the kingdom of God.

Because, as Peterson’s translation says, “You’re kingdom people (blessed and beloved by God) Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” - Go, and be who you are!

This message was inspired by and written in collaboration with Kathleen Capcara, Lay Associate for Parish Life at Trinity. 

Posted: February 21, 2017, 9:08 pm
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, MD

Year A - Epiphany 5 - February 5, 2017

Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]
1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16]
Matthew 5:13-20
Psalm 112:1-9, (10)

Sometime we see things in scripture that we think we know a lot about... When we do, we glance right over them without thinking about what truth the scriptures might be teaching us. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, reading along and glossing over the details as I read along...

This morning, the readings seem pretty straight forward. In this season after the Epiphany, we would expect to see the images of a redeemed people trying to figure out who this Jesus person is… and trying to wrestle with what he came to do and be for us, and what we should do and how we should be as his followers.

This morning, the scripture introduces us to 2 images that I would like to unpack a bit. These are the images of Light and Salt. They seem simple enough, like yes Ken, we know what light is… we turn them on every day or we can look outside and see the sunlight (hopefully more this week that we did last week) or we can say “pass the salt” and sprinkle it on our food, or we can scatter it on the frozen sidewalk and melt the ice… 

However, if we closely examine the images of light and salt as they are referred to in scripture, then we may find that they have more meaning than they initially let on. So, this morning, I want to reflect a little on the images of Light and Salt and how they are used in the scripture readings we just heard.

The image of light is used in the Old Testament Lesson, the Psalm, and the Gospel. The image of light is used throughout the season after the Epiphany, as we refer to the Light of Christ, and Jesus as the Light of the World. But what about light is so important? Why would this be an image that the Prophet Isaiah, the Psalmist, and Jesus use to reveal a truth about God?

After the prophet Isaiah tells the people that once they get the priorities correct in their life and they start acting in a way of restoration and forgiveness… “then (the Prophet says) your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.” Light, or the ability to be light, for the prophet Isaiah, becomes the reward… but what is the light? And why would we want to be it?

I’d like to offer the simple definition of light: “a natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible.” Seems simple enough doesn’t it? So, if our light is breaking forth like the dawn, what does that look like? I would like to say what you’ve heard me say before about “walking the walk”… about living as a child of God in this world…

If we have our life right – in perspective… If we are living with the right priorities, in right relationship with God and with each other, then we actually stimulate another’s sight. We make the living God visible to others. We show others what we believe God to be as we live our life for God and as we seek to serve God through our relationships with others.

Light shows up again in the Psalm for today… in Verse 4, it says, “Light shines in the darkness for the upright; the righteous are merciful and full of compassion.” If we Christians, gathered as the community of faith, are able to act with mercy and compassion and live in right – relationship, then our light will shine. And we know that when light shines, we are able to see things more clearly. Rather than guessing what is lurking in the shadows waiting to tempt us and trip us up, we are able to know and avoid the evils that seek to destroy the creatures of God.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus calls us the “Light of the World” and suggests different comparisons – like a great city on a hill that cannot be hid or a lamp put up on a lampstand that illuminates a room rather than hid under a basket.

It would be useful at this point to briefly talk a second about that other condition, the condition called darkness. I would like to offer you another simple definition… “Darkness: The partial or total absence of light.” It’s interesting that the definition of darkness is dependent on the existence of light not the other way around… 

So, if light is hiding under a bushel basket, then there isn’t any less light, it just that the light isn’t revealed in its full potential. So, if we are being light, reveling the living God as clearly as we can, then we are giving it our all and living up to our full potential. However, if we allow things to crowd the light, letting the bushel baskets of this world to shade what should be reviled, then we are guilty of not letting our light shine… 

We could name a few bushel baskets – those things that keep the light from shining… those may be fear of what others may think, injustice, oppression, hunger, homelessness – anything that causes humanity any harm or anytime that a human being is not given the respect and dignity they deserve as a child of God, and we have the opportunity to do something about it, our light is hidden under a great big bushel basket.

I found it interesting that in our Gospel lesson that Jesus doesn’t just call his followers light. In fact, before he calls his followers light, he calls them salt. Salt of all things. The first thing that I think of when I think of salt is the stuff that sits on our dinner table in the shaker… the white crystals that we use to season food… or the larger crystals that are used in a compound that makes the freezing temperature of water lower. This time of year, it melts ice on sidewalks and driveways.

Salt is harder for us to understand in Jesus context. Why in the world would Jesus call his followers, salt? What is it about salt would people of that time know and understand? They would know that salt in the ancient world was a commodity. It was traded in the market place. It was valuable and was used as a preservative for food as well as made it palatable (able to eat). Salt is a pure mineral…

What’s ironic for me is when Jesus says, “but what if salt has lost its taste, how can it’s saltiness be restored?” I got to wondering, can salt ever really loose its saltiness? Is salt ever really diminished? Salt – or Sodium is extremely stable and cannot loose its flavor. So the suggestion that salt loosing its saltiness becomes problematic for those of us that know a little about science… for those of us that may have gone through high school and possibly college chemistry. Whether the people that Jesus was talking to know it or not, Salt cannot just loose its saltiness…

So, I think Jesus must have been up to something here. I’d like to suggest that by using the image of salt, Jesus was telling his followers that if they follow him and learn and live his ways, then they will become people of substance, like salt. That they will be able to endure and persevere. But if they were to become diluted by the evils of this world (if they were to allow themselves to diminish - lose their saltiness) then they would be useless to his movement.

Jesus is on a mission of setting the world right, and inverting the value system that everyone thought they understood… Jesus teaches his followers to live the intent of the law rather than the literal letter of the law. Jesus is being the change agent in the world, rather than waiting on the world to change.

We have learned today that light cannot be taken away or overcome by darkness, only shielded by it. We have also learned that salt cannot have its saltiness taken away, only have it diluted by those things of this world that are disingenuous, and have no substance.

Light and salt become for us the descriptive metaphors used by scripture to describe the people of God. So in the week ahead, every time you see the sun shine or flip a light switch, I want you to remember that Jesus called you light, and I want you to think about how you are showing others who God is and how you are being the light of the world for others… 

Also, every time you reach for the salt shaker to salt your food, or scatter rock salt on a frozen walkway, remember that Jesus called you salt, and thought you were a worthy and of substance… think about how you are not allowing yourself to be diluted by the evils that are all around you, and how you are being the salt of the earth, real and true.


Posted: February 6, 2017, 2:48 am
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Church
Towson, MD

Year A - Epiphany 4 - January 29, 2017

I couldn’t help but try to focus on the current events this week through the lens of scripture, Christian behavior, and teaching. If we take scripture seriously at all, then these passages in today’s context of immigration issues, wall building, and human torture the passages we just heard become very challenging.

We know what the Bible says, we have all heard the familiar verses before, but I don’t know how much we, as a community of faith, actually hear or pay attention to what we we’re reading. These are well known passages, but if we all understood the depth of what the scripture was saying to us, we might start to feel that our lives and actions have come up a bit short.

As Christians… followers of the way of Jesus Christ, as his students and disciples, the words in Holy Scripture consistently challenge us to live in a way that is different. A way of healing and restoration… a way that calls us to a level of righteousness before the living God.

I think the first thing we must do is just stop for a minute and realize that the scriptures, especially the ones that we just heard, have a Jewish context… The historical, socio-economic and political environment in which the Bible was written bears much on how we should interpret the writings in order to make them relevant to us in today’s world.

That’s part of the difficulty... that’s part of what makes it uncomfortable. We don’t understand completely because we’re not Jewish. We don’t understand culturally what it means to be Jewish, we are just normal everyday Christian folk. So, it’s a challenge for us to comprehend the depth of the meaning of the text from the people that actually wrote it.

We come here on Sunday and then go home and go about week in our day to day business – we may or may not come next Sunday or read or study scripture during the week – and we may or may not participate in a ministry beyond our Sunday worship. Somehow, being a “comfortable Christian” has become the stylish in our modern world…

Now for those who might be wiggling in their pew a bit, I hope to share with you the context from which the prophet Micah (in the Old Testament lesson), and Jesus (in the Gospel lesson) are both coming from this morning.

The term I would like to introduce you to is called “Tikkun Olam” (say it with me… Tikkun Olam) It is a phrase in Hebrew that literally means “repair the world”… It is a concept that those who follow Judaism would understand, it is part of the teaching or the “Mishnah.”

But how is this relevant to us? How do we Christians repair the world? How do we use what we have and how we act to fix what seems to us to be wrong with our society. There, for us, is the challenging part… it is the piece that calls out of our comfort zone, beyond our worship and puts our love of God into action.

It calls us out of the mode of just showing up on Sunday and sitting in the comfortable pew, listening (or not listening) to what the priest has to say, and puts the reality of the living God to work in society – out there in the streets… It is truly being the church in the world…

That is exactly what ALL of these readings are about – the idea of “world restoration” – The Tikkun Olam brought about by the way we act and its influence over others.

It starts out this morning with the prophet Micah, who is preoccupied with social justice. He is the champion of the oppressed and under-privileged of his time. Micah verbally attacks the socio-economic injustices of his day by reminding the people of Israel of God’s favor for them. The people are called by the Prophet Micah to repentance and again turn their hearts to God…  turn their hearts from the worship of wealth and pagan idols, and restore the world rightly to God through their actions and their influence.

After the peoples pleading of – what then shall we do? How will we make it right? How will we once again get back in right relationship with God? – they go down a laundry list of sacrifices… Sacrifices that they would expect worthy of the most High God… burnt offerings, rams, and calves, and oil… even the ultimate sacrifice of the first born (the fruit of the womb for the sin of the soul)… But then Micah reminds them of “Tikkun Olam” of their responsibility to repair the world… the responsibility to do what is “required” by God… to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. It’s not a request or even a hint, but a “requirement” to repair the world by doing three things that God requires… to do justice, to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

The idea of “Tikkun Olam” even makes its way into the gospel story this morning… Words the Jewish audience of Matthew would understand. Jesus says, Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are the pure in heart, Blessed are the peacemakers, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account… Jesus’ list of those blessed, known to us as the “beatitudes,” are really Jesus’ way of reminding the people of the “Tikkun Olam” that God requires of them…  of how to the repaired and restored world looks like… Jesus uses examples of things that are not right in society, the poor, the ones considered weak and hungry those that would be otherwise despised for challenging the status quo…

He says to them that they will be blessed or “happy” in the repaired and restored world – the world that he calls the Kingdom of God – and it’s the people’s responsibility to bring it about. Just as the prophet Micah before him, Jesus calls his followers to the restorative action… to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

Likewise, We, as followers of Jesus, as his disciples, we are required by God to “Tikkun Olam”… we are required to repair the world. But that’s where it gets difficult for us, especially those of us that do very little beyond our Sunday morning worship.

Scriptural teachings are not easy to follow, and just because we have received salvation through faith in our Lord Jesus, doesn’t mean we are exempt from what our faith requires of us.

Every time we see an injustice in society, we are required, as a church, to help right the wrong.

We are required to do what we can to repair the world’s injustice – to uplift the fallen and demand equity for ALL of God’s children, even those different from us.

It is manifested most simply, most locally through our ministries, like our work with the Assistance Center of Towson Churches food bank…

It’s speaking out against what we see going wrong with government… It’s advocating for building relationships, not walls… It’s finding a way to help the stranger in need, not keeping them huddled in an airport, scared for their life.

It’s caring for and properly using and conserving our natural resources, not disregarding the voice of the Native American community just to make a dollar.

It’s keeping our baptismal promise to seek to serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Not letting our fears of the “other” control our decisions.

And it’s keeping the promise to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being… Not subjecting those being held in our custody to torture for information (that probably won’t be accurate anyway)…

The world’s poor, the destitute, the forgotten, and the hungry are to be remembered and restored… are to be clothed, housed, fed, and protected in our community’s effort to do justice.

On top of this, (as if that weren’t challenging enough) we are required to be kind to one another… to put aside the hate and divisions that divide us and be reconciled and display a genuine loving kindness. This is tough! Because, it’s not just the plastic exterior notion of just “getting along” or being “nice.” We are called to do the hard work within ourselves – and turn to God for help in repentance and then outwardly display God’s love and kindness toward one another regardless of our differences.

I actually found this manifested is a little boy I know, this remarkable young man, Henry, who is a fellow Episcopalian (member of Epiphany in Timonium), he and I are both students of TaeKwonDo… He started what he calls, “The Kindness Club” … calling out and recognizing random acts of Kindness wherever he sees it. Tikkun Olam calls us to be part of the Kindness Club!

Finally, we are required to walk humbly with our God. I think that the issue to work on here is the humility. Saying we are humble and actually being humble are two totally different things. Humility demands we come to a realization that it’s not about us, and we don’t have it all figured out all the time. It requires a submissive approach to our worship, prayer, and study as we listen and watch for the presence of God in our lives.

God has showed us a model of humility in the person of Jesus Christ. God emptied God’s self in complete humility and became one of us and lived among us… And, if we remember the story correctly, as great a teacher, healer and prophet as Jesus was… society rejected him, convicted him and sentenced him to die as a common criminal. So, if we are actually doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God as Jesus did; we might just get hung on our own cross.

It doesn’t surprise me that the stated mission of the Church in our catechism… (the teaching in the prayer book) is to restore all people to unity with God and each other through Christ. Our mission as a church is not a mission of just Sunday worship – but, it’s the difficult mission of repair and restoration. It’s Tikkun Olam… A “fixing” or “repairing” of the world so that ALL people might be in unity with God AND each other through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“Tikkun Olam” – repair the world… do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Amen!

Posted: January 29, 2017, 7:38 pm
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, MD

RCL Year A - Epiphany 2 - January 15, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

More than any other time in the Church year, Epiphany is a season of light. It starts out with the Magi (or Wise Men) following that bright star that illuminated the night sky. It is a time designed by the church for us to reflect on coming out of the dark… Out of the dark and desolate places of our lives and coming to live out in the open… into the light of Christ. It is an invitation to be baptized as a believer in Christ and to participate and share in his ministry.

Last week was the First Sunday after the Epiphany – The Baptism of Our Lord, and in place of the Nicene creed in the service we stood up and renewed our baptismal vows… As it is fitting and proper to do on that day, as it is during the great vigil of Easter, on the day of Pentecost, and on All saints day. These are the major feasts that are especially appropriate for baptism  but even though we didn’t baptize anyone, we took a moment to remember our own baptism… to remember WHO we are and WHOSE we are, by virtue of our own baptism – our baptism by water and the holy spirit into the life, death, and resurrection, of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ own baptism illuminates our understanding of who Jesus really is… The savior that takes away our sins and offers the whole world restoration and redemption… He is the Holy and anointed One, He is the Christ! And today, we follow that awesome reminder with the lessons that we just heard. 

Last week we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel according to Matthew. But today, we hear a portion of the story a little differently from the Gospel according to John. In John’s story, the baptizer John (not the Gospel writer) proclaims several times who Jesus is.  John the Baptist said, “look… there he is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world… He is the one that I have been talking about… He is the Christ, He is the one that came into the world. Believe me, when I baptized him, I saw the Holy Spirit descend on him, and I heard the voice of God say that he was the one, God’s only son, with whom He is well pleased!”

Baptism is the first step… Our first step of our living into the light of Christ and embarking on the journey that we are all on together!

The theme that unites all the readings today is “Call.”

Who are we called to be and what are we called to do as baptized persons??

It is the famous writer Parker Palmer who says that our “call” by God, referred to by Palmer as our true vocation, is something we can’t not do!” I realize that his phrase is a double negative (and it’s driving the English teachers in the congregation crazy), but I think Parker uses this language it to make a point.

Our true vocation is this deep yearning, a yearning and seeking that is deep inside us. It is something that is knit into the very fabric of our lives. – It’s in our DNA. This is expressed by Isaiah who says, "the Lord called me before I was born" – before I was knit in my mother’s womb, you knew me!”  

The Psalmist adds, that after waiting patiently for the Lord, "he lifted me out of the pit... and he set my feet on a high cliff...";

The epistle from "Paul, called to be an apostle," to Church in Corinth "called to be saints" and equipped with all the necessary spiritual gifts; even though they weren’t very good at it in practice.

John story, after he explains who Jesus is, is the call of the first disciples. I find that the most engaging part of this passage is Jesus' first conversation with the two disciples. He sees them following him and asks them a question, "What is it that you are looking for?" They answer the question with a question: "Teacher, where are you staying?" Jesus answers, simply, "Come and see."  

The question he asks them first, "What are you looking for?" is strangely enough the question that begins the service of admission to the catechumenate. Since the ancient church, the catechumanate (from where we get the words catechuman and catechism – the learners and the teaching) has been the period of preparation for baptism.  

It has most recently been resurrected in the church as a preparation for confirmation and spiritual enrichment: and I’m thinking very seriously about offering it during the Christian Education hour during Lent.

The question is "What do you seek?" in the Catechumanate service, the answer is "Life in Christ!"  This is essentially what the Christian faith believes that all of us are seeking. Andrew and the other disciple don't know that – or at least the text doesn’t say it – But they do ask a question "Where are you staying?” Where are you coming from? Where are you going? And Jesus' answer to them was simple, open, and inviting: "Come and see." 

We need to realize that the Gospel is not something that we read in a book or learn from a statement. It is a life, that must be lived and experienced to be understood. Jesus is inviting these two disciples, these two seekers, to “come and see” and share in His life. He doesn't set conditions, or insist on a permanent commitment, or make them “sign on” or “punch in.” 

He simply invites them to experience what it means to live "in Christ," to live into the "kingdom life." That is at the very heart of that word that we are often afraid of as Episcopalians: “evangelism.” Evangelism - The way we tell the story of salvation and invite seekers to come and share in the life we have in Jesus the Christ. I invite seekers to “come and see.”

In Epiphany season, we are exploring and spreading the light of Christ through the world – beginning with us. On some level, each of us is continually being invited by Christ to share more deeply in his life. We are all called by our baptism to extend the invitation to the seekers that we meet to "come and see."

The completion of the story, of course, is the irony that Andrew goes back and invites his brother, Simon – who Jesus calls by a nickname, Cephas (in Aramaic) which translated to Greek is “Petros” or “Rock” (Petros in greek means rock). Peter, as we well know will be that steadfast rock of the continuing church -  the keeper of the keys to the kingdom.

We need to stop and think for a minute: What if Andrew had not been invited by Jesus? And what if Andrew had not followed? What if Andrew had not invited Peter? How would Peter have ever found the way?

We never know what plan God has that may be set in motion by what we do as followers, as we invite people into the light of Christ, into the gospel life, and into the community of the church!  And people who we invite come and see how we acknowledge and accept who Jesus is to us by the way we live. 

To follow Jesus as Lord and Savior means that we are called to live into that gospel life that illuminates the lives of others. As Christians, It is our calling… our true vocation… It’s something that we can’t not do! 

For a baptized Christian, Jesus is our source of light and life. He is our reason for being!

We all have many questions that we don’t have all the answers to, you have even heard me refer to life many times as one big mystery that we are all living into. But, we need to tune our ear this morning and hear what our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to do. 

Today – Jesus is calling us out of the darkness into the light. He is calling us to participation in the life of His Holy church… He is calling us to live out the gospel in our lives… And the question is: What is it that YOU seek? Follow Jesus…  and come and see! You may actually find what you’re looking for…

Posted: January 18, 2017, 3:27 am
The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church 
Towson, MD
December 24, 2016

Year A - Christmas

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Psalm 96

We have just heard an amazing story… An amazing story of a miraculous birth… A wonderful story of a child that was born who was called Jesus (God Saves)… Emmanuel (God With Us). A child who, before he grew up, was referred to as Lord and King.


The lesson that was just read from the 2ndchapter of the Gospel of Luke is probably one of the most well know chapters in all of holy scripture. Folks who consider themselves Christian, who have heard the story before, but probably couldn’t tell you what chapter or book it’s from, could probably recite a few verses of Luke 2 from memory. That’s how well known it is... A story this deep and this meaningful goes deep into your soul and gets into your DNA… It becomes part of you.

Can you remember the first time you remember hearing the story? It could have been when you were very young, or it could have been just last year, or last week, or even 3 minutes ago. Remember? Remember how it made you feel deep down inside? Remember the simplicity, the mystery, the magnificence, and the harshness… all rolled into one tight-knit, complex story.

Most of you know that I have been working on my Christmas sermon for a little over a month now, amid all the other complexities of my life. Kelly is not home this Christmas, she continues to improve, but will not be discharged from the hospital until Tuesday. So, it is through this lens that I am thinking about the story… the story that is deeply part of who we are. I decided to have you think back a bit because that is what I have been doing these past few weeks…

I can remember when my sister and I were little… I’m talking little-little…  too little to go to “late church” on Christmas Eve. My parents would go to midnight mass and we would stay with my Grandparents who had come to spend the Holidays with us.

But before my sister and I went off to bed, we would always be allowed to open one Christmas gift from under the tree. I was ALWAYS a new pair of pajamas. See, my dad was a photographer, so the Christmas morning outfit had to be just right for pictures!

After we opened the gift, my sister and I would crawl up in my father’s lap on the couch in the living room, and he would open up the Bible to Luke, chapter 2. He would open it up and start reading, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed…

And with the poetry and rhythm of the Victorian English in the King James version, the story was shared. Shared… shared outside of the church, shared in the comfort of a living room in a father’s lap… shared while surrounded by family. Shared within a family by a family.

My family wasn’t uber-religious. They were just simple believers with a deep and profound faith. A deep faith that was developed, sustained and nurtured by practice. We went to church and practiced our faith. Practiced, because proper preparation takes practice. So, we showed up and participated… I would like to think it played a part in my continuing faith formation. I think that it has helped me become the person of faith that I am today…

There is another tradition in our home around Christmas time. It is watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special.” Some of you may have seen it. It has run every year since December 1965. 51 years of Charlie Brown and Linus and the Peanuts gang, the poor raggedy excuse of a tree, and of course, snoopy and his overly decorated dog house…

The part of that animated special that always sticks out for me was the part during the preparations for the Christmas play at their school, directed by Charlie Brown, of course, Good Ole Charlie Brown asks the question, “does anyone know what Christmas is all about?”

And then you could have heard a pin drop when Linus perks up and takes center stage and the spotlight goes on him and he starts reciting a portion of Luke 2 that we just heard read…

“And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

And then simply turns back to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

I must have seen that show 40 or 50 times. I know that I’m only 49 years old, but some years I watched it twice! It wasn’t till this year when I read something that was written about the creation of the famous Christmas animation. Then I watched it again, and understood that Charles Shultz, with the wonderful characters and animation, gave us a message within the Christmas story. Gave us a message that we would only notice if we were paying careful attention to what was going on in the action of the scene.

The character of Linus, who was Lucy’s brother, was an intelligent, yet insecure and somewhat immature young man who carried a security blanket and sucked his thumb right up into elementary school. This character, Linus, who needed to hold onto his blanket to feel safe to feel secure in this cruel and broken world…

When he gets to the part where he says that the angel said, “FEAR NOT,” he drops his blanket and continues to tell the story.

At the words, “Fear not,” he releases everything in this world that he holds onto to feel safe and trades it for the peace of this newborn hope...

Fear not, when we would be otherwise be terrified and riddled with fear cowering in a corner In a puddle of our own tears…

Fear not, of the evils of this world of the destruction and danger and death around the block, down the street, and over the seas…

Fear not, of the powers and regimes, of kingdoms and presidents and governments and economies and other principalities and prisons, both physical and psychological.

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Brothers and sisters, this is the day where we start anew. Start anew with a fresh hope that God is indeed with us… Immanuel

A fresh hope that comes to use amid the terror, death and destruction that we bring upon our selves…

A fresh hope, born in a stable in Bethlehem of Judea those many years ago.

I asked you to stop for a minute to remember. Remember the ancient story and how it was revealed to you. How you came to know the story. It could have been through a parent a father or mother, or another relative. Or it could have been a friend, or a pastor, or teacher. Or possibly you could have heard it the first time when watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Or you could have possibly heard it for the first time tonight.

Regardless of how or where, you’re here tonight because this story means something to you.

It hopefully means that you haven’t given up in your quest for understanding…

It means that regardless of how bad things are or how bad they may get, you know that your real security… your real faith is based on things that can’t always be explained…

It means that we trust in a truth revealed to us by fulfilled prophecy…

It means that we believe in a story that brings hope, love, and peace in the midst of despair…

A holy story about a holy child who is God with us…

A holy child, Jesus, who is God saving us…

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Hearing the story again, what does it mean to you? Is it a part of you, part of your DNA that you will share with others? How will you let it change your life? How will you let it change the world?

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace!                

Posted: December 26, 2016, 5:33 am
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