Sunday, November 30, 2014

An Angry God

Isaiah 64:1-9


        While the calendar still reads November, the candles in front of the sanctuary and the familiar strains of O Come, O Come Emmanuel have announced we are entering that mystical season of Advent. Once a year, as the days grow shorter and our psyches darken, sometimes even the church fails at the task of helping the folks understand the significance of the Christ event.   

        Part of the problem is the church has lost its exclusive rights to Christmas. One cannot turn around without being overwhelmed by the holidays. My favorite station on my satellite radio has already been replaced with the sounds of the season. Wednesday, I was listening to Miles Davis play selections from the album Kind of Blue when suddenly, without warning, I was subjected to Alvin and the Chipmunks singing Blue Christmas.  

Yesterday, Deb took me Christmas shopping at Short Pump. I now fully understand that phrase from the Apostle’s Creed, “He descended into hell.” It was awful. People were flying from one store to another trying to get a bargain on some trinket they could have bought on-line. Children were screaming as parents dragged them to sit on the laps of old men who looked pretty suspect to me. Music blared through the speakers in a vain attempt to drown out customers fighting over the last Snow Glow Talking Elsa Doll……..OK the music was drowning me out but it was the last doll on the shelf and it was for my only granddaughter. That woman should have acted her age.

        Of course, it is not totally fair to make commercialism the scapegoat. Maybe deep down we really don’t want to confess why the birth of Jesus was necessary. Listen to the ancient song that opened our service:

   O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,

  That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears.

The words, originally in Latin, come from a series of poems spoken during Advent in the twelfth century. Each verse is a plea for freedom from tyranny, captivity, sin, and everything ungodly. The music was added six centuries later when Thomas Helmore, a 19th century choirmaster, discovered a French tune used at funerals called “Libera me”. How perfect to link a tune desiring liberation from death with a poem mourning one’s exile.

Singing about exile seems almost inappropriate during this season of parties, lights, decorations, gifts, and finally the big Christmas dinner. But how often, at the end of the season, do you find yourself completely exhausted, wishing for peace and quiet. How often, the night after Christmas, have you wondered if maybe we lost Christ along the way?

Christmas as we know it has expanded beyond the faithful. It is a day almost everyone celebrates, regardless of their religious affiliations. Don’t mistake me for Scrooge. I am still a kid at heart on Christmas morning. I anxiously anticipate what might be wrapped in that gift brandishing my name. I love turkey, cranberry sauce, and I have never turned down a piece of homemade sweet potato pie. I will even let you in on a little secret. Once the Christmas Eve services are finished, I really don’t want to think about anything related to Jesus until the following year. Christmas Day is my Sabbath from God. I love the festivities, the company, the football games, even the mess in the middle of the room. Just don’t ask me to talk about why Jesus had to come. That is too painful a subject for such a glorious day.

That is why Advent is so important. Advent is when we raise those unspeakable questions. Advent is when we expose our most secret yearnings. Advent is when we cry “Come Lord Jesus,” even though we doubt he will. Christmas Day comes and goes, comes and goes, and comes and goes. The presents change with the ages of the children. The food is always wonderful and the stories delightful. The reason for the day hardly matters as we celebrate our families and cherish how much we have been blessed. We need this one day as a respite, a break, from the tragedies of our world.

 The writer of third Isaiah offers a minority opinion. He prays, “O God, come down to us so that even the mountains might quake at your presence. Make your name known to my enemies so that the nations might tremble.”

How many of us have prayed this prayer? We call out for God to rage against our adversaries and bring justice upon those who have blasphemed God’s holy name. We want vindication. We want God to step back into our world and make things holy. We understand Isaiah because we all have our holy causes. All we desire is a holy response. What is not to like about the words of Isaiah?

I warn you, Old Testament prophets will tease your appetites and then pluck the candy from your lips before you can take the first bite. Isaiah answers his request even before the Almighty can speak. “God, have you been silent because we have been negligent? Have you been absent because we have forgotten your ways? Have you become angry because we have sinned and become unclean? If we call on your wrath, would your punishment begin with us? Do not be angry. Do not remember our sin forever.”

Few of us want to hear a sermon about the anger of God, especially when there are only 25 shopping days left until Christmas. None of us want to hear a sermon suggesting our disregard for Holy expectations has left God deaf to our prayers demanding holy retribution.

This prayer of Isaiah has always fascinated me. Its inspiration comes from a people complaining it had been too long a time since God made a house call. The cynical prophet mocks an unfaithful people, when in their voice, he prays, “My flaws may be many, but can they compare with the sins of my enemy? Come down from heaven and do something…..NOW!”

Ever pray that prayer? I suspect we unconsciously pray it far too often. I also suspect until we admit our own sins, we will never fully appreciate the necessity for God’s anger.

The hardest job I ever had in my life was being a parent. Deb and I were blessed with two really good kids. I also like to think they were blessed with two pretty good parents. That does not mean we did not encounter active resistance on behalf of our two children. We were not their “best friends forever,” we were their parents. More than once we were told we were the worst parents in the entire universe. We made choices for our children, which they would have never made. We engaged them in activities other parents found questionable. We had high expectations, which were not always met. When our children failed, they knew offering excuses or blaming others was not acceptable. As they got older, they didn’t fail nearly as often.

I can still remember getting angry with my children. I can remember moments when their actions were less than appropriate, and I was terribly disappointed in the choices they made. I could have stepped in and smoothed things out but I didn’t. What would they have learned? More importantly, what responsibility would they have taken for their inappropriate behavior? I would seethe, but when I cooled down, Deb and I would try to initiate the proper discipline to motivate different behavior. We loved and continue to love our children more than life itself. But sometimes it was our anger, not our love, which helped Martina and David become who they are today. 

Imagine how often God must seethe at our behavior? Imagine how angry God must be over skies swollen in smog, water unfit to drink, children dying before the age of two, and others living as slaves. Do you think God is unaware of the tragedies of the Middle East or riots in Ferguson, Missouri?  Where is God? Why doesn’t God step forward?

Could it be that God the parent is wondering why we are so inactive? Could it be that God the parent wonders why we cannot comprehend the choices we make? Could it be that God the parent has become really tired of our excuses and our inability to share in the responsibility for our personal and global problems? Could God’s greatest pain and anger come from good folks doing nothing in the face of these injustices? Could it be that God the parent would like to hear our confessions?

The world has turned Christmas Day into a global timeout. For one day we call a truce on having to think about any of the ungodliness that soils our lives. That’s why some folks want everyday to be Christmas. No more thinking, no more responsibility, because one day God will come and clean up the whole mess.

Advent highlights both the love and anger of a righteous God, who has great and holy expectations.

Advent proclaims that God has saved us once, and God will save us again.

Advent reminds us that until Emmanuel comes again,


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Least of These

Matthew 25:31-46


        Our faith journey is filled with epiphanies, which can excite and challenge us. Just when I have this faith stuff figured out, I will read a book or encounter a person, who pushes me to another level of this Godly road we travel.

        One of my earliest epiphanies came when I encountered a rewriting of the text we heard this morning. I was barely 20, a sophomore in college, attempting to find a connection between the traditional values of the church I loved and a counterculture which both frightened and intrigued me.    

        My father, with whom I engaged in many a political debate, never discouraged me from exploring the road less taken. Even when I wandered down what I am sure he suspected was a rabbit hole, he always supported my right to be wrong. I shall give him credit for introducing me to this poem by Bob Rowland. It is called Listen Christian.

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club and discussed my hunger --- Thank You.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel in the cellar and prayed for my release.

I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.

You seem so holy; so close to God. But I am still very hungry, and lonely, and cold.

                Thank You.


That sort of “in-your-face” rhetoric perfectly fits the bill of one who wants to save the world before suppertime. The poem has those wonderful components that tweak folks in all the wrong places. Inspired by the poem, I took my very shaky stand against the powers that be and shamelessly asked how a church could preach the words of Jesus and ignore the face of poverty. Ironically my rants were targeted at a small church that was taking giant steps toward addressing both the political and economic issues of the day. Their patience with me was a reflection of both their wisdom and hope that one day, I might strive to better understand the complexities of systemic institutions.  

After some years of wandering through my own wilderness, I took their challenge to work within the system rather than simply be amused by tossing inflammatory barbs whenever the spirit might move me.

Part of the educational ritual at a good Presbyterian seminary is to be inundated with the writings of Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, Brunner, Calvin, or in other words, the ABC’s of a good theological education. It was expected that I have an understanding of the doctrines of Atonement, Creation, Sin, Incarnation, Resurrection, Justification, Sanctification, and all the other “tions”.  I learned some fancy words like exegesis, eschatology, ecclesiastical, and a lot of other theological terms that don’t start with the letter “e”.  What I did not learn was how to eliminate poverty.

To undertake that journey, it became necessary to encounter folks like Cox, Cone, Campbell, Day, Gutierrez, Soelle, and a host of others. The one thing each of these folks has in common is their insistence that an answer to poverty is probably not going to come from those who have never experienced poverty. While that eliminates a lot of folks whose hearts are in the right place, I came to understand the wisdom of their words.

What is most important to you? We could all make a pretty impressive list. High on that list would be family, followed closely by our health. Many of you are concerned how the economy might affect your investments, while the rest of us wish we had investments to worry over. We have worked hard to get where we are and we are concerned about catastrophes that might cripple those plans.

So what are our basic theological concerns? According to Christianity Today, the big question dominating conversations about God centers on defining sin and salvation. In other words, who is in and who is out?

I go to Presbytery meetings and much of the discussion revolves around what is a sin and what is not a sin. I read articles about Bishops in the Catholic Church discussing the complexities of being a single adult. Who is sinning and who is not?

But, what about poverty? What about racism? What about immigration? What about prisons? What about abusive behavior? What about….the list could go on forever. Are not these also theological issues about sin and salvation, at least from a broader perspective? Why do these matters consistently get pushed out of our collective consciousness until finally we don’t think about them at all? The answer is painfully obvious. I am not poor, I am not discriminated against, I am not an immigrant, I am not in prison, and I am not being abused. But, I can still broaden my horizons.               

Matthew’s gospel doesn’t begin in a stable. Joseph is a well-known carpenter, who is highly respected by his fellow citizens in the city of Bethlehem. He has his eye on Mary until he discovers she is pregnant. In a dream, Joseph is convinced by the Holy Spirit to do more than what is socially acceptable and bring the young woman into his house. In the Gospel of Luke, the birth of Jesus happens to a couple refugees, who give birth in the worst of situations. It doesn’t surprise us that Luke’s story elevates the plight of the poor. But in Matthew’s gospel, it is kings, not shepherds who visit the Christ Child. Matthew’s gospel is KINGDOM BOUND from the beginning. The Sermon on the Mount is a retelling of the Ten Commandments. Most of the parables in Matthew begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Jesus is seen as a rabbi, an interpreter of the law. Finally, at the death of Jesus in Matthew’s, the main accusation against Jesus is he claims to be King of the Jews.

We understand the Gospel of Matthew. It is the law and order gospel. It is the gospel that most consistently points us to the kingdom of heaven. Its primary motif would seem to echo our chief concern; what is sin and what is salvation?   

The first 25 chapters of the Gospel of Matthew elevate the teaching of Jesus. In Chapter 26, Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem. Most good orators save their best story for the end. If we are to remember one thought, it is usually wrapped up in that last illustration that captures the moment so perfectly. What is it that Matthew wants us to remember about Jesus’ teachings? What is Jesus’ primary concern as to how we are to live our lives?

“When I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty, you gave me drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me. When I was naked, you gave me clothing. When I was in prison, you visited me. When you did it unto the least of these, you did it unto me.”

This church has had an interesting relationship with a family a couple miles up the road. When they were thirsty, some of you dug a ditch and repaired a water line. When they were cold, some of you carried wood up the hill to their house. When the wind blew too hard, some of you replaced the windows. When the rain came through the ceiling, some of you put on a new roof. Peggy and Otis, both hearing disabled, have lived a hard life. Otis was able to work most of his life, but his jobs paid him under the table in order that he might avoid taxes and social security. The deed to the home is held by Charles, the brother who resides up the hill.

Peggy is dying. Right now she is at UVA, and it is unlikely that she will return home. When she dies, Otis will no longer have a place to live. Even if he is able to find housing in an apartment for folks with disabilities, Otis will have no income. His failure to comply with tax and social security regulations has caught up with him. What he did was not only shortsighted, but also wrong. When Otis made those choices, he believed his actions were necessary. Who has time to plan for heaven when you are living in hell?

Such is the face of poverty. Yes, bad choices were made. Yes, his brother-in-law is less than human. Yes, every conceivable thing that could have gone wrong went wrong. But worst of all, this is not an isolated story. No one has an answer for the plight of Otis and the hundreds of others like Otis who reside in Nelson County.

Forty-five years after being inspired by a paraphrase of Matthew 25, it seems like I am right back where I started. The poverty, the hunger, the sickness of this world is still overwhelming. All the education and theological education I received has changed very little. In fact, the only thing different today than in 1970 might be my eyesight.  Today, I see you delivering wood. I see you volunteering for the Rescue Squad. I see you filling baskets of food. I see you supporting and when necessary, challenging those support agencies that are on the battle lines. I see you visiting the sick. I see you making sure the face and words of Jesus are not hidden or forgotten. Your commitment to value the life of every human is the centerpiece of our ministry here.

What is salvation? It is touching another heart with love. It is caring about another human being, even when they can barely care for themselves. Salvation is when we stop from obsessing about ourselves and begin to worry and respond to the needs of others. 

Yes, poverty is systemic. Yes, most stories don’t have happy endings. But if we get discouraged, if we lose our way, if we fail to see Jesus in every person we meet, sin will win, and I dare say, no one here wants that to happen.

Wednesday, some of us were lucky enough to take a load of wood to Otis. It might be our last trip up that hill. As we got ready to leave, Otis embraced Sam and from his heart uttered the holiest words of salvation.  “Thank you.”


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Winning the Lottery

Matthew 25:14-30
        I have never played the lottery. I have never had the rush that must come from scratching that little card that briefly offers the hope of instant riches. I have never been to Las Vegas. I’ve never experienced the thrill folks must get from Texas Hold’em. I can’t even remember buying a half and half ticket at a high school football game. I wish my reasons for not playing these games of chance were based on some deep moral conviction. But the truth is, I am not a big fan of long shots, particularly when my money on the line. More importantly, I would be a bookie’s delight. Once I lose, be it golf, tennis, or even Go Fish with my grandchildren, I am obsessed with getting even. Las Vegas depends on pigeons like me showing up in droves. In other words, I can relate to the poor guy in this morning’s parable who refused to invest money he was given by his master.
        Let’s review the story. The owner of a huge farm decides to take a year off and do some traveling. He brings in three of his workers and says to them, “Boys, I am going to be gone for a while and want you to take care of things. I am going to entrust part of my fortune to you and I want you to treat it properly.” To the first he gave five talents, the second was given two talents, and the last worker was given one talent. A year later, the owner returned, and the workers reported back to him. The worker with five talents had doubled his investment. Likewise the second worker had turned his two talents into four. The third worker had placed his investment in the ground and returned exactly what he had been given. The owner was furious with him. He called the worker worthless and tossed him off the farm.  
        This seems like a pretty simple parable with a pretty simple meaning. Use the talents God gives you, and God will be pleased. Waste those talents, and you risk discovering God’s wrath. But, I also believe there is more to this parable than meets the eye.
        Let’s begin with the absurdity of the story. The audience is a bunch of farmers and fishermen who have taken a long lunch break from their duties to get a chance to hear this young rabbi who has captured the imagination of the people of Galilee. These are hard working folks who barely make enough each day to feed their families. They understand the role of the workers in the story. What they could not possibly comprehend is the advance each worker was given. 
        A talent was a huge amount of money. Some scholars place the value of a talent at around $1,000 dollars. The footnote in my NRSV identifies a talent as 15 years of wages. Let’s put that into a language we all understand. Let’s say a person makes make $50,000 a year. Multiply that times 15. No need to pull out your calculators. That would be $750,000. But, that was only the amount given the last worker. Worker number two was entrusted with $1.5 million, and the first worker was handed $3,750,000.  Talk about winning the lottery. Only the payout wasn’t over 20 years. The owner handed over the complete sum, trusted them to do the right thing, and off he went on his cruise.
        Can you imagine what the original hearers of this story must have thought? They barely made enough to scrape by. All they knew was farming or fishing. When they heard this story I am sure they punched their neighbor and said, “Give me that kind of money, and I would spend it a thousand ways and take my chances when the owner comes back.” How could these folks be expected to understand such an absurd tale?
Imagine you are the third worker. An advance of fifteen years of labor is suddenly placed in your hands. Would you try Real Estate or stocks and bonds? Would you place the money in some low risk savings account? Would you create a new business? What would you do with this incredible windfall? In today’s crazy economy, the safest approach might be to bury it and come back a year later. That is what I would do. I would play it safe. Nothing ventured, nothing lost. That is too much money to be messing around with. Fortunately, there are other members of my trade who are much more creative than yours truly.
        I read recently about a minister who publicly illustrated the possibilities of this parable. He took $10,000 out of the church’s savings, then after telling this parable, gave $100 to each person in the pews. He told them they had 90 days to invest the money in God’s work. I guess the markets must have been better than they are now, because after 90 days the results were incredible. The initial investment had doubled. In addition, a number of new ministries were created. Their success was so great the church was invited to DateLine to tell its story. Other churches considered doing this same thing as part of their stewardship program. And why not? These folks seemed to completely understand the deep-reaching meaning of this parable. They were given a gift and they multiplied it to God’s glory. It all sounds great, except I have a suspicious mind. The more I thought about this church the more I began to ask myself what had really happened. I know the money was doubled; I realize new ministries were hatched. But where was the risk? Who among us wouldn’t take a chance with “house money”?   
        While I have never been to Las Vegas, I suspect if you are going to get out alive, you need to be playing with someone’s money other than your own. Folks who enjoy gambling tell me the secret is to decide how much you can afford to lose and never exceed that number. They suggest walking into a game with only $100 in your pocket. If you lose it, walk away from the table and count the experience itself as worth 100 bucks. If you are fortunate and actually make a few bucks, you can enjoy the experience longer, because you are playing with the house’s money. The key is to remember your limit and enjoy the ride. 
        The truth behind the parable Jesus told has nothing to do with house money. The first man was given the equivalent of 75 years of wages; the second, 30 years; the third 15 years. Then the owner said, “How will you invest what you have been given?” Think about it…75 years, 30 years, 15 years.
        Some of you are getting close to or have passed your 75th birthday. What part of your life has not been a gift from God? Some of you can still remember your 30th birthday. What part of your life has not been a gift from God? What if suddenly we were 15 all over again? I am not sure when I was 15 I had any real concept of who God was or what God expects. My motivation for believing was based more on fear than grace. But I still had some understanding of how blessed I was.   
        This parable is not about playing with “house money”. It is about understanding who we are and whose we are. It is about professing that our life is not only a gift from God, our life is an investment made by God. This parable is asking what sort of risk will we take to see a return in God’s investment.
        I suspect most of us think of ourselves as more sinner than saint. We see ourselves as under qualified or inadequate to do the task God has set before us. I find that kind of amazing. When I look out on this congregation, I can see the gifts God has bestowed upon each of you. God has invested a lot of years in some of us. Now God is waiting for the payout. Each one of us has won the lottery. Each of us has been blessed with a gift, a talent, waiting to be shared. 
        A while back I was talking with Irene, the wonderful woman who is downstairs every Sunday working with our children and grandchildren. Sometimes no one comes but she always sits patiently, just in case a family is late. I asked her how she found the strength to dedicate her life to children who often are noisy, often misbehave, and demand more attention than I might be willing to give. Irene said, “This is what God wants me to do.” 
        Imagine if all of us could be as open to God’s gift as Irene. Three things would happen.
        First, there would be more saints than sinners.
        Second, the army needed to bring about God’s peaceable kingdom would swell with recruits.
        Third, the cemeteries would not be so crowded with unused treasures.
        You are a child of God, gifted with treasures beyond your imagination. God knew what God was doing when God created you. Don’t bury those God given talents behind hollow excuses. Become the treasure God intended you to be.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Priesthood of All Believers

Matthew23:1-12; Micah 3:5-12

Micah, the 8th century prophet/poet who gave us the inspiring words, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God”, woke up one morning in a less than lyrical mood. In the third chapter of his diminutive book, Micah lashed out at priest, prophets, seers and kings, declaring them all responsible for the coming demise of the nation.

Eight centuries later Jesus must have read Micah 3 for his evening devotion. The next morning, the one who has calmed many a troubled heart, upset every soul within ear shout when he ranted and raved at the scribes and Pharisees, claiming the whole lot was a bunch of hypocrites.

I know a selected few of you get real excited when texts like this appear on our lectionary radar screen. Others wonder how words like these could have possibly slipped past the ancient biblical editors. Sweet Little Jesus Boy could not possibly have suggested members of the political and religious elite were headed to hell in a hand basket. That is not only politically incorrect, it crosses some strict lines concerning what ought to be said from the pulpit.

All I know is when text likes this venture across my desk all kind of conflicting feelings emerge concerning what I should preach on Sunday. Both Jesus and Micah have crossed that dangerous line of mixing religion and politics. Some of you delight with glee when I am tempted to cross that line. Others suggest I tread lightly.  

For example, Tuesday is Election Day. How do these texts impact the decisions we will make in the voting booth? Many of my peers across the nation are using this hour to make sure that their congregations know exactly how they are expected to do once in the voting booth. If I were to preach from the selected texts this morning I might be tempted to paraphrase Jesus and say, “Woe to you Democrats and Republicans, hypocrites that you are.” But I would leave it at that. I will simply encourage you to vote early and vote often.

Another possibility I might consider is to continue our theme of Reformation Sunday. Earlier we sang Luther’s best known anthem and we will conclude our service with a marvelous hymn attributed to Calvin. I am certain all of you who claim Scottish ancestry know that this year celebrates the 500th birthday of the founder of the Presbyterian Church, John Knox. He was a firebrand if there ever was one and probably cut his baby teeth on the third chapter of Micah. His tirades against Mary Queen of Scots from the pulpit are legendary. While some marveled at his courage others, questioned his Christianity. I quote, “Permeated with the spirit of the Old Testament and the gloomy austerity of the ancient prophets, Knox displayed no recognition of the gentle, mild, and forgiving character of the Christian faith.”    

While you know how much I admire an Old Testament guy, perhaps we should wait until 2017 and celebrate the 500th anniversary of the 95 Theses being nailed to the Wittenberg Door. Luther is a lot less controversial than Knox. Besides, I know the Stewardship Mission Team was hoping that I would preach a sermon to highlight their Campaign and I actually considered it until I reread the verse where Micah accused “the priest of preaching for money and prophets giving oracles for a price.” Comments like that make me a bit nervous. 

Fortunately one never runs out of options on the first Sunday in November. Yesterday was All Saints Day. Perhaps it would be the most appropriate if we took a moment to remember those whose lives and resurrections we celebrated during the past year.

Please take a moment of silence to remember:

Alice Fortune

John Stone

Margaret Martin

Tom Fletcher

Gerbo Taylor

April Varnadoe Boyett

Don Wheaton


In remembering them, we celebrate the priesthood of all believers, a concept which connects to God, connects us to God’s word, connects our past, our present and who we are as members of Rockfish Presbyterian Church. 

From the beginning of time people have been trying to connect to God. In some cultures priest or shamans were appointed to seek divine counsel. But our tradition is different. No one is given the authority to speak for each of us. In the words of Luther, “All Christians are priest, and all priests are Christians.”  Calvin continued this thought by insuring that laity and clergy alike would serve in ordained offices of leadership. It is a gift, a celebrated gift that each of us hears God differently. It is the connection of our voices, our experiences and our faith which work together to allow us to be challenged by the word, inspired by the word and finally celebrate the word. Being a priest gives each of us first class status in the ministry of the church. For some folks this is a bit scary but our Protestant Reformers knew exactly what they were doing. The priesthood of all believers both challenges and liberates us. Yes, we each come to the text and to the mission of the church differently, but we come as equals. We come as people who respect each other and have the courage to express our differences gracefully. We come with a degree of patience and with a sense of history. We come as old timers and newbie’s, each with our own experiences. We come from a multitude of denominations, but primarily we come as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Let me give you a few examples. Let’s start with Margaret Martin and Tom Fletcher. What on earth did they have in common? One was a man’s man; the other a Southern woman. One moved here to retire; the other lived here all her life.  One was city and one was country. One could be abrupt, and so could the other in her own gentle way. One represented an invasion of a valley loved, at least in the mind of the other. One represented progress being halted, at least in the mind of the other. Both were faithful members of this church. Where would Rockfish be without the witness of Margaret, Jim, Buddy, and our Rockfish Valley neighbors who have been the priest of this church for over 250 years? And yet, has the migration of the rest of us been all that unhealthy?

Through the last year I spent a lot of time with Alice Fortune, John Stone and Gerbo Taylor. Their circle of friends and influence could not have been more radically different. John was never without an opinion on anything. Alice preferred to talk baseball and tell ancient family stories. Gerbo’s brilliant mind was slowly and tragically deserting him. But each smiled at the mention of their church. 

And then there was April Boyett. Most of us never met her. She lived a difficult life, loving others but never herself. Such is the nature of mental illness. But we knew Nan and Gene. We entered into their struggle with their daughter. We supported them when she died and accepted her as one of us without question. Such is role of a priest.

In our text this morning Jesus said, “The exalted will be humbled and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Sometimes the prophetic side of us needs to be more pastoral. Sometimes the pastoral side of us needs to be more prophetic. Sometimes both side need to listen to a third voice.  Such is the role of the priest.

In other words, sometimes John Knox needs to be leading the battle and sometimes the reformation happens when Luther and friends share a beer together.  

The only thing I have found that is not acceptable is to sit idly by, completely uninvolved in the life of the church. But why would anyone want to do that? You would miss the joy, you would miss the fellowship, you would miss the honest exchange of opinions, and you would even miss the occasional bruise. Most of all you would miss the opportunity witness a church to growing together in faith.

Loud or quiet you are a priest. Hands on or otherwise, you are a priest. Stubborn or reconciler, you are a priest. Nurturing or being nurtured you are a priest, ordained to be a servant of God, predestined to the ministry of God’s church. 

Wow, I guess this was a stewardship sermon after all.