Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”
We live in a society in which Christianity is dominant, it would be unusual for any of us to need to deny Christ in the way that Peter needed to in order to preserve his life. When passages recounting Peter’s denial are read in church they always brings me to tears. I am moved because of the pain and disappointment in himself Peter must have felt during that tumultuous and frightening night, but had Peter not denied Jesus that night, there might not be a Church at all.
I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
No matter our age, when we don’t feel good about ourselves we may need to be reminded that God made us. We can love ourselves as we are, if for no other reason than that God loves us the way we are. If we can get to a place where we believe that we are loved by God, how can we not love ourselves?
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
Whenever I receive the Eucharist I am reminded of the Shabbat dinners I shared with my family and later with my friends on Friday evenings, the the eve of the Jewish Sabbath. I can almost hear Jesus saying the Hebrew blessing over the bread and the wine. In The Eucharist, these simple acts of blessing and giving thanks have been transformed into something mystical, sacramental and universal. In the Eucharist we share the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, not just with those who are present, but with all people everywhere who are receiving the Sacrament. By taking Communion, we are communing with Christians around the world and with God.
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
Serving The Lord with gladness is transformative. It can change us. It can give us a more positive outlook. Worship, thanks and praise can lift our spirits when we’re feeling down or alone. Much like cognitive behavioral therapy, prayer can interrupt negative thought patterns and help us to regain our peace.
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.