Jesus told the disciples a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Here in the Hudson Valley, we might replace the fig tree with an apple tree. Like the first disciples of Jesus, we live in an agrarian community and we are conscious of the changing seasons and the various crops each season brings. Also, like the disciples, we live in a turbulent time, and we can easily become overwhelmed with worry over current events. First century Palestine was ruled by capricious and vengeful kings and governors and we currently have a capricious and vengeful president as our head of state. Finally, like the early disciples, we have the living Word of God to sustain us through any trial we will face.
See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. Then I will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.
Today on The Nativity of Saint John The Baptist once again scripture bears witness against the actions of the Republicans and far right. John The Baptist railed against injustice and today I’ll follow his example. Most Republicans and other right wingers wear “Christianity” as a mantle and use the hate speech of radical right wing pastors to justify themselves. I’m not impartial, apolitical or non partisan, and at this point in our country there is a moral imperative to block legislation that hurts many millions of people and benefits few. The “healthcare” bill being put forward by the Republicans oppresses workers and costs them their hard earned wages, it oppresses widows and all other people over forty-six. Medicaid caps and allowing discrimination based on pre-existing conditions will oppress the disabled, orphans and anyone in need of costly medications or medical interventions. So far, every policy put forward by our president and his party stand in stark opposition to the teachings of Jesus and The Prophets. When Saint John The Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees a viper’s brood, he could well have been speaking of the Republican’s in both the house and the senate. John The Baptist was not shy about calling out the leaders of his day for their sinfulness and we shouldn’t be shy about calling the denial of healthcare from tens of millions of people sin, because in my opinion that is exactly what it is.
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.
The followers of Jesus were viewed as radical ideologues in their time. They rebelled against the harsh system under which they were governed by living in community and supporting one another in every way. Universal healthcare and programs to assist the poor, hungry and elderly, all align quite well with the teachings of Jesus and the ways of the early Church.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.
I once heard Aretha Franklin sing the Carol King song, “You’ve Got A Friend.” She sang it as a hymn or spiritual and it was clearly meant to be about God and it was profoundly beautiful and moving. God is there for us when we are down and troubled and we feel as if we don’t have a friend to console us.
God of mercy, help us to see your son, Jesus Christ in every refugee, in every person who is fleeing from injustice, war, persecution or famine. Help us to open our hearts and our minds so that we may provide places of haven and rest for all who are in need of our help. Let us welcome each stranger as we would welcome Christ himself so that all may know the love and compassion of your people. Through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen
“Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.
Every Sunday at the offering we say, “All things come of Thee, O Lord; and from Thine own have we given Thee.” So what then belongs to Caesar? We are wholly God’s and all of our blessings, spiritual and material, are gifts from God. Money and spirituality don’t seem to be in any way connected to me. Of course, I’d love to be able to pledge much more than I can afford because I love the church and I want to support it, but I’ve always felt that giving to support the church is more practical than spiritual. We need after all to maintain the building and pay the staff. As for Caesar, the government collects their due and since Jesus tells us to pay our taxes there is no easy out. In any case, I’d rather worship with my parish family than in a prison chapel.
Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
The restorative power of prayer is beyond what we can comprehend. We gain great strength, insight and peace through prayer. Perhaps we are touched by the light of God’s countenance when we seek to share with God our true countenance through prayer.
Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!
What are we to do when the Church itself is the stumbling block? This being the month of Gay Pride celebrations around the country has brought into focus the fact that for many LGBTQ people the Church is the stumbling block. We are excluded from full inclusion in many denominations, in some we are not welcome at all. For LGBTQ people of faith it can be hard to find a place to worship in which we feel welcomed and comfortable; that can lead to feelings of alienation not just from the Church but also from God.