Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Love Born Off-Script: Christmas Pageant Reflection 2015

"A Love Born Off-Script"
Christmas 2015

Christmas in Selma and across the nation had a different “feel” to it than most.  In fact, most of Alabama felt air temperatures rise into the low 80s!  On Christmas Eve, parishioners at St. Paul’s had to dodge several severe downpours just to make it to the service.  We were the lucky ones though as others around the southeast saw tornadoes and flooding and some even tragically lost their lives because of the weather. 

Meanwhile, as a thunderstorm raged on outside St. Paul’s, the children and youth were poised to offer the annual Christmas Pageant.  The weather didn’t dampen the Christmas spirit though as over 200 gathered at St. Paul’s to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  The children, especially the younger ones, were showing off their angel and shepherd costumes and giggled with excitement. 

When the organist keyed the first few notes of “Angels We Have Heard on High,” the youth and children flooded down the center aisle that was paved with a red runner.  Some strutted as if there were celebrities.  Others walked timidly trying to deflect the eyes of the entire congregation.  And a few walked as if to say, “I can’t believe I am humiliating myself like this.”  In procession, they all carried a piece of the Nativity scene to place at the front of the Nave for all to behold. 

Before the pageant officially began, one angel got distracted during the procession and ran to her grandma.  Another angel, who reluctantly put her lamb by the baby Jesus, kept going back to get it.  Another angel (who shall not be named) became hysterical after one of the shepherds accidentally bumped into her. This angel could not recover and was taken to the nursery.  And we even had a “runaway” shepherd as proclaimed by one of the older shepherds. 




Eventually the chaos dissipated and the show went on.  And through it all, the gospel was proclaimed by the voices of youth and children in word and song.  The good news of the birth of a Savior was heard and seen despite the many distractions and like Mary the congregation "treasured all these words and pondered them in their hearts."  

As the rector and the person in charge of worship, my anxiety level increased with every little mishap during the service.  I couldn’t help it.  I wanted everything to go smoothly and be “perfect.”  But a part of me, the voice of God most likely, kept reminding me that the story doesn’t have to be perfect in order for the love of God to be made known. 

If we remember the story from scripture, we also know that Christ’s nativity didn’t go off without a hitch either.  First of all, Mary had to give birth while traveling to a different city and she was well into her third trimester!  And because the city of Bethlehem was packed with those who went to be registered, they couldn’t even find a place to have the baby because there was no place for them at the inn.  Despite all obstacles, Mary and Joseph found to way to safely bring the Savior into our chaotic world. 

After Jesus was born, an angel of the Lord and a host of others appeared to the shepherds and proclaimed the birth of a Savior singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”  The shepherds heard and believed the news and went to Bethlehem and found Jesus lying in the manger.  At once, the shepherds proclaimed the good news of a Savior and all who heard it were amazed. 

After the pageant, God lifted our voices and we sang the praises of the new born King.  The St. Paul’s Choir sang the Vivaldi Gloria in stunning fashion and gave us a glimpse of that heavenly throne room where a chorus of angels stand around the Lamb of God singing his praises night and day.  The St. Paul’s Youth and Children’s Choir sang of the wonders of Christ’s love and reminded us of what it means to have faith like that of a child. 

Veigh Kay Spencer left the congregation in awe and wonder with her vocal and violin solo of What Child is This?.  Veigh Kay was accompanied by her brother Mac on the guitar.  “This, this Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing: Haste, haste bring Him laud; The babe, the son of Mary.” 

Still, over 2,000 years later, God has given us the greatest story ever told.  Like a well-aged wine, the story of Christ’s birth only grows better with time.  The story that started with an angel’s announcement to the Blessed Mary that she would bear a son is a story that is still pregnant with possibilities.  This is a story that still has much love to give to people everywhere.  Even when the story goes off script, the love of God in Christ is still proclaimed. 

And upon further reflection, maybe the story is supposed to go off script.  In twenty years, we will still be talking about the runaway shepherd.  We will still be talking about the angel who threw a temper tantrum.  When we remember the parts that went off script, we will ultimately be reminded that through it all love was born.

At the end of the day, this is the story of how the love of God is born in all of our hearts.  This is a story that reminds us that God’s love is made known most clearly when everything else in our lives seems to be going wrong.  Even more, this is a story that tells us that God love’s is with us no matter what—nothing can prevent God’s love from breaking into our lives.    


May the love of God that was born in a manger in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago be born again in your heart today.  May the love of our Savior carry you through the changes and chances of this life and lead you home to the dwelling place of God in heaven. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

How Secular Christmas (can) Enhance the True Meaning of Christmas.

        
     This may be surprising to some of you but historians believe that the birth of Jesus did not take place during the winter months.  If you look at Luke’s Gospel in particular, two things take place that would never happen during the winter.  First of all, it would have been too cold for shepherds to stand outside to guard the flock of sheep.  Secondly, the sheep would not be grazing because the grass was dead during the winter months.
            So the obvious question asks, “Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25th?”  The celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th was not a tradition of the Church until the 4th century when the Church started to Christianize pagan rituals.  Instead of flat out rejecting these pagan festivals, the Church tried to name how the eternal truth of God was present in idol worship.  One aim was to convert pagans and another was to redirect the hearts of nominal Christians.
            The days around December 25th were common for pagan festivals that observed the winter solstice.  In particular, an Egyptian festival honored the birth of the only son of the queen goddess of heaven whose name was Isis.  This celebration also observed the renewal of the cycle of the sun when the days began to get longer again.  It isn't difficult to see why the Church chose December 25th to name the day when the Son of God "came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary."  
            Later the Catholic Church urged all Christians to cease from observing any remnant of the pagan holiday connected to Christmas namely the receiving and exchanging of gifts.  Obviously, I do not believe this is a stance that the Church needs to make today when it comes to the secular observance of Christmas. 
Like 4th century Christians, I think we would do well to name how God is present in the secular observance of Christmas.  And that is why I will invite the children forward for a Blessing of the Toys.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to make the connection with God’s help! 
            Before I get to the blessing, I want to note something in John’s Gospel that will help prepare us.  John recalls that everything that came into being is because of God’s Word.  The opening sentences of John’s Gospel take us back to Genesis when he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.”  At the end of the creation story, we are told that all of God’s creation and all that is in it is named “very good” by God. 
            So why is there so much evil in the world we must wonder?  Why is there evil in a world that God calls “very good.”  One way to answer that question is to say that evil is the perversion of good.  Evil manifests itself when creation is used for purposes for which it was not intended.  Remember when Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit?  Evil is often the result of using what God has given us for selfish gain. 
            Ultimately, the danger of material goods is when they become the object of our worship.  The danger of things like money and houses and toys and any good thing like family happens when our world revolves around those temporary things instead of the God of eternity who made all things.  As yourself this, "Where does your identity come from?  From the things that you have? Or from the One who made all things?"
            I read recently that the purpose of life is finding your gift and the meaning of life is to give that gift away.  As Christians, the ultimate gift is life and the fullness of that life is revealed in Christ.  Later in the book of Genesis, we learn that God blesses his people so that they may be a blessing to others.  So during the Christmas season, we gather to discover again the gift of life through God’s Son Jesus Christ and our hearts are kindled to share that love with others.


I want to leave you with one final note connecting the secular observance of Christmas and the Christian observance.  The narrative of Santa Claus tells us that only the “nice” kids receive gifts on Christmas while the “naughty” kids get coal in their stockings.  However, the narrative of God in Christ tells us that we are given the gift of salvation for free!


John’s Gospel says we are children of God not because of the will of the flesh or of the will of man or even because of who our ancestors are.  Instead, we are chosen as God’s beloved because that is who God says we are regardless of our posture towards God and the world.  No matter what, God’s posture toward us will always be a posture of love--a love that we know in the Word made flesh.
            The more and more we are able to live by this narrative God's free gift of love the more we are able to live a life that is soaked in "grace upon grace."  The more we live by God's narrative of unconditional love the more we grow in gratitude and the freer we are to become that blessing to others. 
During this season of Christmas, I invite you to remember the free gift of God’s love in the Word made flesh.  Remember that God’s blessing is pronounced in the truth that God lives in the heart of humanity as we know perfectly in Christ.  Remember that God’s perfect love lives in you through Jesus Christ who is born in the heart and flesh of all humanity. 

May you have the grace to receive the free gift of God's love so that you may share God's perfect love with a broken and sinful world.  Amen.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Power of (Christmas) Hymns

Dear Friends,

A few nights ago I found myself tossing and turning wondering if I'd ever fall asleep.  I don't think I was particularly worried about anything.  If I had to guess, I would say I was filled with energy and excitement that this season has the potential to bring.  

Anyway, I stumbled across a version of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" that I had never heard before (on Facebook).  This version of the song was produced by a band that I had seen in concert called The Civil Wars.  I clicked on the link to listen to the hymn and almost immediately a calm overwhelmed me, and I was able to fall asleep.  



While no expert on the subject, I have always had a profound appreciation for hymnody.  Hymns, especially ones where the tune matches the gravity of the text, seem to transport me to place of calm and peace.  I feel deeply connected to God and his peace that surpasses all understanding.  In a way that nothing else can, hymns have the power to center me in the face of the many changes and chances of this life.

Not only do the hymns take me to a place where I feel at peace with God but also to a place where I feel more connected with the human family.  My heart is softened and is able to be more compassionate and understanding of a broken and sinful world.  Even more, I am easier on myself and am freed to live and treat my neighbor as a beloved child of God.

On Christmas Eve (5:30 p.m.-You Are Welcome!), we will gather to worship, and we will sing lots of hymns.  At St. Paul's, we will devote a portion of the service to the singing of and listening to hymns.  During the pageant, we will join in singing God's praises with our youth and children.  Again, during Holy Communion, we will sing Christmas hymns as we approach the altar and partake in the life of the One whose birth we celebrate this season.

I invite you to be fully present in the singing and listening to of these hymns.  Like the Angel Gabriel says to Mary, "Do not be afraid."  Don't worry about how you sound.  Don't worry if you sing off key--I know I will!  Simply sing using the joy you find in receiving the greatest news of all-the birth of a Savior.  

Sing boldly in the knowledge that these songs do have the power to soften your heart and change the world as you know it. Sing boldly because these are the songs that announce with joy the peace found in the birth of the One who came to save us from sin and death.  These are the songs that have the power to take us to the land of light and life where we discover again we are beloved children of God.

These are the songs that have the power to take us to a manger in Bethlehem where we remember that God saved the world through the birth of a child, the birth of God's beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.   

With the Joy and Peace of Christ,

Jack+

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"You Serious, Clark?!": A Response to the Good News of Salvation

You Serious, Clark?!


I want to do something that an Episcopal priest should know better than to do.  And that is ask the congregation a question that isn’t rhetorical.  I’d like to wait patiently for some of you to raise your hands but for the sake of time I might have to call on one of you.  So, are you ready?!  What is your favorite Christmas movie?  (insert: "You serious, Clark?!)



Congregation Replied:  Home Alone, Elf, It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Love Actually, Christmas Vacation, Muppet Christmas Carol, A Christmas Carol...to name a few.

I believe one of the reasons we love our Christmas movies so much is because on some level they speak so much to our own experience with Christmas.  In particular, most of these movies name a disaster that threatens to destroy Christmas.  There is a lot of grace and laughter found in the knowledge that you aren’t the only one with issues around the holidays. 
Kevin McAllister, an 8 year old boy, gets left home alone for Christmas.  And then the next year Kevin gets left alone in New York.  And I’m not sure where he gets left alone the next year…I stopped after Home Alone II. While I hope none of your parents left you home alone on Christmas, I imagine that many of you know what it is like to feel alone around the holiday season. 
In the classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, George, a man of great character, keeps getting passed over in life until finally he snaps when his insurance agent said he’d be worth more money dead than alive.  Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is made fun of because he looks different.  In A Christmas Story, Little “Ralphie” Parker and his friends are bullied by the cool kids at school.  Bob Cratchit has to practically beg Mr. Scrooge to give him Christmas day off.  In the movie Love Actually, Liam Neeson’s character Daniel grieves the death of his wife. 
In the movie Four Christmases, Brad and Kate played by Vince Vaughan and Reese Witherspoon, are a married without kids.  They don’t have kids because both of their parents are divorced and don’t want to repeat the same mistake.  So Brad and Kate spend their Christmas visiting all four sets of parents.  And for Clark Griswold, everything that could go wrong goes wrong. 
However, these Christmas stories don’t end with the disappointments.  Something unexpected happens.  Joy is experienced in the most ordinary places like at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas morning.  George finds hope when he realizes his self-worth isn’t defined by money but instead he discovers that he is defined by something as free as love.  And in order for Clark Griswold to give his family the Christmas present he hopes for Cousin Eddie has to kidnap somebody, something scandalous has to happen. 
Joy and hope are born out of the unexpected, out of the ordinary, and even out of the scandalous.  This sounds a lot like another Christmas story we know, doesn’t it?  It sounds like it because that other story is the first Christmas story, it is THE Christmas story.  And the beginning of THE Christmas story has one leaping for joy. 
Scripture says that when Mary greets her cousin Elizabeth with the good news of Jesus, the child in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist, leaps for joy.  Up until now, the promise of the coming Messiah, the promise a Savior, has been a story filled with disaster and detour.
But hope is poised to break into a seemingly hopeless story.  And the story of hope is made known to two unsuspecting pregnant women.  One is a preacher’s wife and the other is a lowly young virgin.  Even more, neither of these two women have any business being pregnant.  Elizabeth is well beyond child birthing years and Mary isn’t even married.  How unexpected? How ordinary? And even how scandalous?  This is the kind of stuff that ends up on tabloid magazines at the grocery store checkout aisle.  But this is where we find the beginning of THE Christmas story.
THE Christmas story is a story that has John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb, a story that begins with a song.  First, Elizabeth sings and then Mary sings.  They sing songs of hope.  They sing songs of the miraculous.  They sing songs of thanksgiving.  They sing songs of joy.  They sing in anticipation of the coming of their Lord.        
Last Sunday, the mouths of unsuspecting children sang of the good news. Our newly formed youth and children’s choir sang a song like the songs of Mary and Elizabeth.  Their song anticipated the coming of our Lord.  As we prepare to receive the news of salvation through the child of Mary, I can think of no better way for the news of salvation to be proclaimed than through the voices of children.   
                The sound of their innocent, tender, fragile, beautiful voices coupled with the good news of salvation left the congregation paralyzed with joy.  Sometimes I wonder what might happen if the voices of children surrounded our world with songs of good news.  Maybe the world would be paralyzed with joy and live in peace.  Is that too much to hope for?  Is it too much to hope that the world can be paralyzed with joy and live in peace? Maybe.  But that is THE Christmas story. 
                As the season of Advent comes to a close, we are reminded through the songs of Elizabeth and Mary that the story of salvation isn’t found by looking for big flashing neon signs.  The magic of Christmas isn’t about making sure we get the biggest and best toys.  Instead, the story of Christmas is announced in unexpected, ordinary, and even scandalous ways.  
                The magic of Christmas is about finding the love of God being born in all the wrong places like at the food pantry when people who aren’t supposed to associate with each other embrace with a hug.  The magic of Christmas is poised to be born in a dysfunctional family situation when we let go of our pride and say, “I’m sorry.”  The magic of Christmas is all about finding hope revealed in all the places we would never expect to find hope.  
                 The love of God is pregnant with possibilities and that is the hope that we celebrate and sing about. And this story isn’t proclaimed by professional singers but instead by the faithful, by the ones whom God has chosen to sing of the good news, people as ordinary as Elizabeth and Mary.   Like Mary and Elizabeth, we too have a song to sing.  We, too, can surround this broken and sinful world as children of God and sing about the wonders of God’s love.  
                 We can respond to the Cousin Eddie's of the world who say, "You serious, Clark?!" and reply, "Yes, we are serious.  Hope is on the way! (in a manger, not on a sled).  

(click to watch video)


Friends, we, too, have reason to leap for joy, a child is to be born.  In just a few short days, we will gather again to be paralyzed by joy as our youth and children proclaim the good news of a Savior.  May the proclamation of this news give us the grace to go out into the world and sing so boldly, not only with our lips but in our lives, that our world is paralyzed by the joy we have found in THE Christmas story.  Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2015

An Open Invitation to the Ball




           For some reason, the movie Cinderella has been on my mind a lot lately.  I cant imagine why?!  We are currently trying to transition Mary Katherine to Christmas movies and now we are stuck on Mickey Mouses “Twice Upon a Christmas.” 
            Anyway, I am reminded of the scene when Cinderella receives the invitation to the princes ball.  While Cinderella is strictly forbidden to interrupt her step-mother while her step-mother is giving music lessons to her musically challenged daughters, Cinderella cant wait to share the news of this ball with the rest of the family.
            So Cinderella puts the breaks on her chores and races upstairs to inform the rest of this exciting news.  At the sound of Cinderellas knock at the door, the step-mother hammers out a sour note on the piano.  Step-mother is enraged.  But Cinderella is not deterred, she exclaims with excitement the news of the ball.  Nothing is going to hold Cinderella back from sharing this news not even it means breaking the rules of the house. 
After the initial shock of Cinderellas interruption, the step-mother and sisters are excited by this news and immediately begin to dream about living in the palace.  However, when it is made clear that Cinderella is also invited to the party, they begin plotting ways to make sure Cinderella doesnt make it to the ball.  The step-mother and sisters will not tolerate their servant attending the same party as they do.   


            In todays gospel lesson, we learn about the invitation that John the Baptist receives from the Lord.  Instead of being locked up in a drafty attic, John spends most of his time in a dry desert.  He is shut off from most of the world.  While going about his normal life, John receives an unexpected invitation from the Lord.  One that is filled with hope.  An invitation that says, “prepare the way of the Lord…all flesh shall see salvation.” 
In other words, John receives word from God that there is a way out the hopelessness of Roman occupation and oppression in the holy land.  John must share the news that his people will be set free like they were set free from Pharaoh in the land of Egypt.  And like Cinderella, John is not going to let social custom prevent him from sharing the good news even if his presence is a nuisance for the establishment.  But unlike Cinderella’s story, John’s story does not end happily-ever after or least not in the fairy tale kind of way.  His story ends in more of a horror film kind of way…      
            John’s world is controlled by people who are much more intimidating than evil step-mothers.  These people are listed at the beginning of the gospel lesson and are fueled by power and greed and will take out anyone who gets in their way much like they try to take Jesus out after the announcement of his birth and these are the people who will eventually sentence Jesus to death on the cross.  To put it bluntly the announcement of this good news will shatter all social and political agendas and send many into an uproar of biblical proportions.
            This past week I participated in a discussion with other Episcopal clergy in the area on the subject of evangelism.  We talked about the challenges of sharing the good news of Jesus especially in a world that is often hostile to this news.  In order to get us talking, we talked about the importance of Christs presence in our lives.  After all, understanding what Jesus means in our lives ultimately dictates what news we will share.
            A majority of us talked about how the presence of Christ gave us a sense of peace even in the midst of a chaotic world.  One person, however, sort of shattered these pleasant ideas about Jesuspresence in our lives.  And believe it or not, this person was not me nor was it John the Baptist resurrected from the dead—now that I think about it this person did I have a beard.  This clergy person said that the presence of Jesus often means a kick in the backside.  He went on to talk about Jesuscall to peace is rarely a call to complacency but rather a call to repent and prepare the way of the Lord.
            This priest is absolutely right.  The presence of Jesus in our lives is often a kick in the backside.  And today, that kick in the backside comes in the form of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord as he calls the people to repentance.  Scripture tells us that John is fulfilling the prophecy as recorded by Isaiah.
            This prophecy as recorded in Isaiah and as told by John in the wilderness foretells of the way in which God will make salvation known to all flesh.  He will fill every valley.  He will make every mountain and hill low.  The crooked will be made straight and the rough made smooth.  In other words, Jesus is going to carve out a way no matter the obstacle and no matter who or what stands in his way.  So John is warning the people to get ready for the way of the Lord because if you arent ready then you might just get a kick in the backside. 
            Again, during this Advent season, a season that is advertised as quiet and calm, we get a rude awakening from our Lord.  This rude awakening comes via a wild haired hippy crying out in the wilderness.  While this news will be good news for many, this news will strike a sour chord for some.
Ultimately, the invitation is an open call God’s very own ballroom where all flesh shall see salvation—the rich and the poor, the healthy and the lame, the black and the white and the brown and the tan, the American and the Latino and the Middle Eastern and the Asian, the democrat and the republican and the independent, the Auburn fan and the Alabama fan—all are invited to Gods ballroom.     
For many, this invitation to Gods ballroom will be received as good news.  This invitation will be the only good news some will receive in a life that is otherwise consumed with bad news.  For others, this invitation will stir chaos into ones life.  This invitation will cause grief for those who already have ballrooms of their own. 
Friends, if we are honest, then this kind of news will kick most of us the back side—I know this news is kicking mine.  If we are honest, then this invitation will hammer a sour note in an otherwise pleasant life—I know these questions hammer a sour note in my heart.
But receiving this kind of news is what the season of Advent is all about.  Embracing this news is how we as Christians can prepare the way of the Lord.  This is the kind of news that is preparing a place where all people are invited to the party.  And if you feel that kick in the backside upon hearing this news, then what you are feeling is a call to repentance. 
And the good news is that a life of repentance leads us to experience the knowledge of Gods forgiveness.  The good news of Gods forgiveness is the truth that there is always a chance to start over.  There is always an opportunity to begin anew.  There is always the opportunity to say, “you know what, I could do a better job preparing the way of the Lord in my own life and in my own community.” 
This process reminds me of a “Coffee with Jesus Cartoon.”  Carl says to Jesus, “Don’t you ever get tired of this? Me and my same old screw-ups and my same old apologies?  Jesus says, “Two way street, Carl. Do you ever go tired of my same old forgiveness?”  This is what growing in grace looks like.


The process of repentance and forgiveness, the process of grace, calls us to be less present in a world controlled by evil step-mothers and more present in a world that is ruled by the humble presence of our Lord, by the one who humbled himself to the point of death.  The process of repentance and forgiveness, allows us to see that a kick in the backside is actually good news as this loving gesture from Jesus is actually a way to put us back on the road to salvation.
The process of repentance and forgiveness gives us a way to be less satisfied with the rulers and rules of this world and more content sharing the news of a ruler who is making all flesh one even if that means a disruption to the world as weve always known it.  
In the end, God is preparing a place where all flesh shall see salvation.  In the end, God is preparing a place where all may find true joy.  And the good news is that God has already prepared this place of joy, a place where all flesh can know salvation and that place is in the face of Jesus Christ, in the face of the One who draws the whole world to himself in a spirit of love and compassion for all people.

Friends, ready or not, the redemption of our world has drawn near in Christ.  May we have the grace to prepare the way of the Lord.  Amen.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent: Will it be Chaotic or Calm?



            Included in your weekly E-pistle was an article entitled “Seven Reasons to Ban the Lord’s Prayer.”  The title of the article is a little misleading as it was written by a bishop in England who is actually advocating for the public use of the Lord’s Prayer after it was announced that a 60 second commercial that recited the Lord’s Prayer would be banned from movie theater previews because it was thought that the prayer would be offensive to some. 
The article went on to name how counter-cultural the words of the Lord’s Prayer actually are.  Ultimately, the article talked about the seven ways in which our culture has already banned the Lord’s Prayer based on how we live our daily lives.  I’m not going to go in depth this morning but highly recommend the article.  This article was another reminder of just how counter-cultural the gospel of Christ actually is. 
I am especially mindful of the counter-cultural message of the gospel during this time of year as we gear up for Christmas.  The secular world is telling us that we need this and that and everything else to have a Merry Christmas while God is telling us that we already have everything we need and more in Christ.  The secular world is telling our kids that only the richest kids get the biggest and best gifts while God is telling us that he is making his love known most clearly to the poor and lonely and forgotten child.  
If we take seriously the counter-cultural message of the gospel, then we must take seriously the truth that at some point something has got to give.  At some point, the message of the gospel will shatter the false promises of the secular world.  At some point, the message of the gospel will force us to rethink how we have always operated in our daily living.  At some point, the message of the gospel will put us at odds with the ideas and values that our secular world has trained us to believe in.  At the end of the day, the truth of the gospel will collide with the false messages of our culture and create chaos.    
Our gospel lesson for this morning gives us that final and ultimate vision of what will happen when the gospel message and the message of the secular world collide.  Scripture says there will be distress among nations.  A modern day hearer of this scripture might do well to imagine 5 a.m. on Black Friday when the clerk at Belk unlocks the doors.  When this happens, there will be sheer pandemonium—no order, no direction—just complete and utter chaos.

(A fight in a Kentucky mall on Black Friday)

Scripture says this collision will cause people to faint from fear and foreboding.  All this chaos will happen when the Son of Man comes to establish his reign on earth.  Life as we know it will be completely turned upside down when God’s Son comes to rule the world. 
Jesus goes on to say that not only will chaos ensue but everything in this life will pass away—even heaven and earth will pass away.  Then he says, “but my words will never pass away.”  In the end, the only thing left standing is the promise of God’s Word—not our civilization, not our homes, not our communities, not even creation as we know it—only God’s Word will survive. 
Because of the cosmic nature of this lesson, it would be easy to distance ourselves from what is being said here.  Oh well, that isn’t going to happen on my watch!  It would be easy for some to get caught up in reading the signs in the sun and moon and stars.  There are plenty of Christians out there who have made it their life mission to predict the end times based on Jesus’ warnings in scripture. 
But I am not sure there are enough Christians out there who are taking seriously the last part of this passage, the part that says, be on guard, don’t let the anxieties of this life distract you from your true calling, be on guard, don’t let fear and foreboding rule your heart.   
So to help make this passage less cosmic and more personal I want to ask, “What would happen to your world if the Son of Man came to rule in your heart?”  What kind of chaos would ensue in your life if you let Christ direct all your doings?  What kind of things would fly out of your grip if you operated using only the love of Christ?  What kind of panic would ensue in your own world at the prospect of Christ ruling in your heart?
If this sermon was presented as an infomercial for a prescription drug, this would be the point when the fine print and the fast talking would take place.  Warning!  Following Jesus may not be for everyone especially those with serious heart problems. 
If you want to know more about following Jesus, talk to your spiritual director.  Tell your spiritual director about all the false idols you worship including sports, earthly leaders or values, drugs, alcohol, and even family members.    
Serious side effects may include but are not limited to being more interested in the needs of others than the needs of yourself, putting yourself in grave danger, being labeled as crazy by friends and family, and not getting everything you ever wanted in life.  Report any adverse side effects to God on a regular basis. 
Friends, letting the love of Christ rule your heart forces you to name seriously all the false promises and ideas that your heart has grown to follow over the years.  These false promises and ideas can be hard to detect because most of them are socially and culturally acceptable. 
But the good news is God in Christ has come to shatter the illusions we are often too blind to see.  The good news is God in Christ has come to show us a different way to live—a way that doesn’t depend on following false promises, a way that is everlasting, a way that can endure the destruction of life as we know it.   
At first, the shattering of these illusions might be a little startling.  Think about spring cleaning for a minute.  You look around the house and take inventory.  Everything looks decent enough but it could look a little better. 
You start by cleaning the couch.  You pick up on of the cushions and you see some peculiar items.  You pick one up and yell, “Hey, honey what’s this?”  You both take a hard look.  She says, “looks like a yellow crayon.”  You investigate further and discover it is a McDonald's French fry that has been preserved for over a year.      
You notice a dust bunny under your chest of drawers.  So you move it away from the wall.  Your daughter comes running in the room and points at the floor and says, “Mommy, Daddy, what’s thaaat?!”  You both sort of stare at the floor in disgust.  And your daughter blurts out, “It’s a gray blanket!  Let me put it on the bed!” 
The season of Advent is a little like spring cleaning in your spiritual life.  While the season of Advent is advertised as a quiet and peaceful season in the Church year, it starts out with a bang.  So as we begin this season, I want you to think about something St. Augustine said.  He said, our hearts are restless until they find rest in God. 
The season of Advent is first about discovering the restless nature of our heart.  Advent is about noticing the difference between our heart and the heart of Christ.  During the season of Advent, God is opening our eyes to see just how counter-cultural the message of the gospel is.  Advent is a time when we get to do a little spring cleaning. 

And the good news is that Advent prepares our hearts to receive the only gift that can make us truly satisfied in this life and the life to come.  I invite you, therefore, during the season of Advent to make known the counter-cultural message of the gospel so when Christ comes again the world may receive her King.  Amen.    

Monday, November 23, 2015

The King Who Inspires By Hope, Not Fear

The King Who Inspires By Hope, Not Fear

Christ the King, Last Pentecost, Year B, 2015


            Today is the last Sunday of the Christian calendar and is appropriately marked by what is known as the Feast of Christ the King when we proclaim that God in Christ is the King of kings. 

(Christ the King Window at St. Paul's)

The celebration of this feast is a relatively new concept on the Christian calendar and was instituted by Pope Pious XI in 1925 during a period in world history when nationalism and secularism were on the rise.  In other words, Pope Pious XI noted that many people were pledging a higher allegiance to their country than to Christ who begs our ultimate allegiance.
            During the 1920s, the world saw the rise in power of Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany.  And worship of the almighty dollar eventually led to a Great Depression not only in the United States but around the world.  Ultimately, the worship of earthly rulers and the worship of false promises led to a time of terrible unrest in the world and eventually led to World War II.  So the Pope called Christians of all nations to remember who their true leader is in Christ the King.
            Our epistle lesson for today points to a time of civil and political unrest in Asia Minor as the Roman Empire continued its expansion in the 1st century.  John of Patmos, the writer of Revelation, wrote this piece of scripture in a prison cell.  John was imprisoned for his worship of God in Christ and the letter he wrote was a message of hope that he received from God in a vision to the persecuted Church. 
            The first readers of this letter would have received the Book of Revelation as a breath of fresh air.  I know that is hard to believe given the terrifying images.  After all, the text says that the “tribes of this world will wail” at the sight of Christ the King.  But one biblical scholar points out, while the Book of Revelation is a terrible warning to the leaders of the world, it is good news to those who are being persecuted at the hands of the power hungry leaders of the world.
            Above all else, the Book of Revelation is a reminder to the persecuted Church to hold fast in their faith.  The book gives the Church the conviction to be bold in their worship of Christ even in the face of certain death by the rulers of the earth.  The book reminds the Church of who her true allegiance belongs to and that no other allegiance should trump her allegiance to Christ the King.
            In today’s gospel lesson, we see Jesus stand before a Roman governor because of charges brought against him by his own people.  The leaders of Jerusalem have been mounting a case against Jesus because of claims that say he is the Messiah or the King of the Jews.  Ultimately, the Temple leaders feel threatened by Jesus’ power as he has managed to attract quite a following. 
As we remember on Palm Sunday, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is marked by people cheering and waving palm branches as he arrives on a donkey.  Jesus is a threat to the corrupt Temple system and so the leaders in Jerusalem want to get rid of him and so they hand him over to the Roman authorities for execution.      
Today we see Pontius Pilate ask Jesus about the charges brought against him.  Through our earthly lens it would seem that Jesus is on trial here, but if we look again, it appears that Jesus is not only putting Pilate on the stand but also the entire world.  Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.” 
            This statement from Jesus is a sobering reminder that those responsible for his death weren’t just the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities but also his closest friends.  Jesus’ statement is a sobering reminder that all of humanity, even his closest followers are prone to worship the leaders and false promises of this world instead of the God of all truth.  Even Judas and Peter, two of the twelve, cannot escape this judgment of pledging allegiance to earthly leaders and ideals instead of worshiping Christ their true King. 
            I am deeply aware that our lessons for today feel especially heavy in light of recent events around the world, in our country, and in our state.  The world and our country are experiencing a time of great unrest.  At times, it seems as if we are on the brink of World War III.  I don’t mean to catastrophize things but there is no doubt that fear seems to have taken hold of our collective conscious. 
While fear is a natural human response to danger and fear can help us to be more prudent and sensible, fear also has the power to breed more violence and discrimination.  Worst of all, fear has the power to harden our hearts to the point where our only response can be one of more hatred and violence.
            Friends, if we are not careful, our hearts will be hardened by all the images and statements of violence and hate that are almost impossible to escape these days.  I hope you are paying special attention to your heart—take a break from the news, from social media or TV or the newspaper for a few days if you need to.  Even the best of us can fall victim to hardness of heart.    
But the news isn’t all bad.  There have been moments of grace over the last week.  One of the most powerful witnesses to grace came from the husband whose wife was killed in one of the attacks in Paris.  In the video, the man says to one of the terrorists, “You took the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred.”
            He goes on to say, “If for God whom you kill so blindly made us in his image, each bullet in my wife’s body would have been a wound in His heart.  Therefore, I will not give you the gift of hatred.  You have sought my hatred but responding to it with anger would give in to the same ignorance that made you what you are.”  The man goes on to talk about how he will not live a life controlled by fear. 


            Friends, the biggest battle isn’t being waged with guns and bombs, the biggest battle isn’t being waged between politicians and political parties, the biggest battle isn’t even between the good and evil regimes of this world.  The biggest battle is going on in our hearts, in your heart.  Above all, our heart and soul are at the greatest risk of being eternally damaged by this hate and violence.    
            As your rector, I am not called to tell you what to think.  I am not called to get you to think like I think.  I don’t even think I am called to give you advice or at least not unsolicited advice.  Instead, my highest calling is to help you take care of your heart and soul. 
So.  How does all of this violence and hate weigh on your heart?  How is it affecting your daily life?  What kind of response have you noticed in yourself?  Where is that place in your life where you can go to rest in the peace of God?  How can God help you soften your heart so you can be a beacon of light in a dark world?
            As your rector, it is also my responsibility to tell you that worship can be this place where your heart and soul are renewed and refreshed by the hope given in God’s Word.  I invite you, therefore, to take seriously the highest calling of the Church and that calling is worship.  As the Church, the community of God’s faithful, worship is the most important thing we do.  Worship is where God heals and transforms our heart and soul. 
Worship is where our hearts are softened.  Worship is where anger and fear are transformed into compassion and hope.  Worship is where false values and allegiances come to die and where the ultimate truth of God’s goodness is made new in our lives. 
In our worship, we remember that Christ our King won’t be intimidated by any earthly ruler or power even in the face of certain death.  Christ our King shows the ultimate display of strength when he stares down even death. 
In worship, we remember that Christ our King takes on the full force of hatred and violence on the cross and on the third day we see this hatred and violence take on something new.  As Christians, we are given the faith to believe that God in Christ is making all things new—even the terrible reality of the worst kind of sin.    
In worship, we don’t simply come to sing and pray and listen to sermons.  We don’t simply come to participate in Holy Communion.  Yes, these things are vital to our worship, but above all we come to pledge our allegiance to God Almighty through praise and thanksgiving, we gather to remember who we belong to, we remember that we belong to Christ our King, we remember that we serve at his pleasure in all that we do and all that we say.
As Christians, our worship reminds us that it is Christ alone who shapes our response to sin and evil and not the media or politicians or rulers or even preachers.  Our worship of Christ, our true King and leader, is what shapes how we live and respond to a world that is too often controlled by brokenness and fear. 
Our worship of Christ the King who is risen from the dead sets us free from fear and allows us to live in a faith that believes love is stronger than hate, that love is even stronger than death, in a faith that believes that only goodness and love can transform this world, in a faith that believes Christ’s Kingdom is the only kingdom that will stand on the last day. 

Friends, Christ has set us free to love for Christ the King, in his death and his resurrection, shows us that love is the only power in this world that can drive out evil, love is the only power that can cast out the cosmic forces of evil, love is the only weapon than can defeat the evil powers of death, and love is the only thing that can set you free from hardness of heart.  Amen.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

To Paris, Syria, World: "Do Not Be Alarmed"

To Paris, Syria, World "Do Not Be Alarmed"



In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, I sat down last night to write a new sermon.  In case you were wondering, the first sermon I wrote for today touched on the Starbucks Coffee Cup controversy.  In a nutshell, people on the internet went crazy over a video of a California pastor who claimed that Starbucks has waged war on Christmas because this year’s cup didn’t include holiday themes such as Santa Claus and snowflakes like it has in years past. 
As you might imagine, the first sermon basically talked about how Christians have much bigger fish to fry when it comes to our Christian witness.  I talked about how there a many occasions for Christians to be bold in their witness to the love of God in Christ but fighting over a coffee cup wasn’t one of the those occasions.
This past weekend the terrorist group ISIS coordinated and executed attacks all over Paris that killed at least 127 people and left more than 100 critically injured.  The extremist Islamic group has been responsible for a number of other terror attacks in recent years including the on-going persecution of Christians in Syria.  So to say that Christians in America are worried over things like coffee cups is a slap in the face to Christians, non-Christians, and even Muslims who are being murdered because they don’t adhere to a very narrow and distorted definition of Islam. 
I was reflecting on this weekend’s attack with a parishioner on Saturday.  The comment was made that most major conflicts and wars in human history have happened in the name of religion.  Obviously, the current battle is being waged by jihadists who operate off of a narrow view Islam.  The ultimate goal of ISIS that is based on a perverted view of the Koran is to preserve God’s holy Word by going on the offensive to kill anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe. 
The world saw something similar to ISIS in the Nazi regime when Hitler murdered millions of Jews because they didn’t share his very narrow view of Christianity.  Even more, the middle ages saw the Church officially sanction war on non-Christians, mostly Muslims, in order to regain power and prosperity in the land.  We know this time in our history as the Crusades. 
I, of course, could go on, but I think you get the picture.  And one of the ultimate questions that must be asked is “What is religion good for anyway?”  One answer is to say that religion is absolutely good for nothing if it is used to kill innocent people in order to satisfy a narrow minded agenda.  But I am not going to stand here criticize religion because religion isn’t the problem. 
The selfish ambition of human hearts is the problem.  And this is the same problem that Jesus confronted in his own followers.  In today’s lesson, the disciples get their first glimpse of the holy city of Jerusalem, the site of some of the world’s most terrible religious battles that are fought even to this day.  As you know, Jerusalem is considered the home to three of the world’s major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The disciples are struck by awe and wonder as they gaze at this magnificent city.  You might say they are licking their chops as they anticipate their leader, Jesus, take his proper place as the King of this city—even though Jesus has told them multiple times he is not the type of King they imagine.
 What the text doesn’t tell us is that the Jewish zealots are gearing up to wage war against the Roman Army.  You might consider these zealots an extremist group in the eyes of most Israelites.  The zealots believed that God wanted them to take down the Roman Empire by force and so they were mounting a crusade.  And like ISIS does to non-conforming Muslims, these zealots would murder any Jew who wasn’t on board with their plan.
In other words, the disciples were in a real predicament.  If they follow this Jesus guy into Jerusalem, they are very likely to be killed by the Jewish zealots.  On the other hand, if they split and go to war with the zealots, they will probably be killed by the Roman Army.  And as history tells us, the Roman Army did eventually defeat the zealots and the Jewish Temple was destroyed. 
In today’s lesson, Jesus seems to predict the destruction of this Temple.  He even goes as far to say that not stone will be left untouched.  This bold prediction obviously catches the disciples’ attention and so they ask their leader when they will know when this destruction will take place.  Jesus responds to their question in very uncertain terms as Jesus is prone to do.
Jesus says, there will be false prophets that try to lead you astray.  He says, there will be war and rumors of war.  He says, nation will rise against nation, there will be earthquakes and famine.  And then to top it off, he says, “do not be alarmed, the end is still to come, this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”  Well, if the disciples were just a little alarmed before, they are certainly on high alert now!
In case you missed it, Jesus says, “Do not be alarmed!”  How can Jesus say, “Do not be alarmed” when the entire world is falling apart?  What if Jesus were to stand in the streets of Paris and say, “Do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.”?
What if Jesus were to stand in halls of Columbine High School in the aftermath of that terrible school shooting?  What if Jesus were to stand on the beach where Syrian Christians faced execution?  What if Jesus were to stand on the beach in Normandy?  What if Jesus were to stand in Ward 9 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and say likewise?  “Do not be alarmed’ this must take place, but the end is still to come.”
Friends, as a preacher of God’s Word, I am convicted to say that Jesus does stand in all of places to offer a word of hope.  Jesus stands in the many hells of this world and says to his beloved, “Do not be alarmed.”  I want to be clear and say that Jesus is not offering these words as some nice platitude to make us feel better.  Jesus says this with authority because Jesus has literally been to hell and back.
Jesus was put to death not only by the enemy army but also by his own people.  Jesus not only experienced excruciating pain on the cross but also the worst pain anyone can ever know and that is complete isolation from the world.  Jesus knows intimately well the evil and destruction of this world.  Jesus knows very well the terror that the selfish-ambition of the human heart can wage on this world.  Jesus, the one true Temple that this world has ever seen, was put to death on the cross because of selfish-ambition disguised as “religion.” 
But Jesus also seems to know something that we as humans have a hard time trusting.  Jesus also knows that no amount of evil or suffering or death can separate us from the unending love of God.  And Jesus literally shows us the truth about God’s abiding love when he rises from the grave.  Jesus’ shows us the ultimate power of God’s love when he emerges from the tomb on the third day. 
As I have said before, Christianity is not some religion that makes all of our problems go away.  If Christianity was somehow the magic bulletin to solve global war and cancer and violence and disease and famine then we should have abandoned this faith long ago. 
Instead, the gift of Christianity is the gift of perseverance, the gift of endurance, the gift to know that even when hell does its worst, we can find the hope to believe Jesus when he says, “Do not be alarmed.”  Even the middle of the worst of humanity, Jesus stands to remind us that the suffering of the present time doesn’t compare to the beauty of God’s love.
                So what does all this mean for Christians today here in Alabama in light of a world that seems to be falling apart, and in light of this weekend’s terrorist attacks?  I believe it means we are called love even more and not just our neighbors but also our enemies.  As St. Vincent De Paul once said, “The uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them love.”  After all, this is exactly what Jesus did for his beloved when he gave up his life on the cross for the life of the world.
                I hope you don’t hear me calling you to some abstract love.  I am talking about acting out the faith that God has already given you in Christ.  I am talking about loving others not so you might get something in return but loving because you know that showing love is the only thing that can change the human heart.  First and foremost, sharing the love of God is what will change your heart.
                I am talking volunteering at the food pantry not just because Jesus tells us to feed the hungry but so you can encounter the living Christ in those whom our world considers the least of these.  I am talking about volunteering at one of the Keep it Clean, Selma days not just so our streets will look a little cleaner but so that your heart and the heart of our city is transformed by goodness and mercy.
                I am talking about responding to insult and injury with an ear of understanding and compassion.  I am talking about loving others in your daily lives to the point where people start to notice and wonder if you are crazy.  After all, even Jesus’ followers thought he was crazy precisely because he loved the unlovable.
                And when people finally ask, “Why are you going to all this trouble to show love to someone who obviously isn’t deserving?”, you can say, “because this is the love that I have been shown through God in Christ who endlessly pursues me with his goodness and mercy.” 
                Friends, Jesus stands in our midst today and says, “Do not be alarmed.”  May you have the grace to go out into the world boldly and remind people everywhere that God’s love is stronger than even the worsts kinds of hell our world can come up with.  Amen.     

Monday, November 9, 2015

Selfie

Selfie


            I am not going to lie.  The gospel lesson that we are presented with today strikes me as one of the most challenging that I have faced in quite some time.  I wanted to figure out how to make today’s lesson translate into a feel good sermon.  After all, the love of God is supposed to make you feel good, right? 
As a parent, I know that the way I express my love for Mary Katherine doesn’t always make her feel good.  Sometimes it makes her angry, sometimes it brings her to tears, and sometimes it brings her to throw things.  I hope you don't end up throwing something at me this morning!  At the end of the day I know that sometimes love is painful especially when love comes in the form of an admonishment or even a punishment. 
In today’s lesson, Jesus and his disciples watch as the people of the synagogue come forward to make their donation to the Temple.  Before they make it to the treasury, Jesus warns the disciples about the scribes who walk around flaunting the fact that they are important with their long robes and overt piety.  Jesus basically tells the disciples that looks can be deceiving.    
Jesus tells the disciples to beware because the scribes’ appearance have the power to distract them from the sad truth that the same system that the scribes benefit from is a system that ultimately takes advantage of the poor widow.  The system takes advantage of the most vulnerable.  In other words, the disciples should not be impressed by the scribes’ donation of large sums of money because that money only goes to keep the status quo of the community, a community where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. 
One might think that because the poor widow is taken advantage of through this system then she would have nothing to do with it.  However, a poor widow comes forward and makes her offering.  Jesus says, “the widow has put in more than all those contributing to the treasury.”  Jesus goes on to say, “all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 
One might conclude that the poor widow is ignorant to the fact that she is giving to the same system that oppresses her.  However, the widow seems to have a faith in something more than earthly systems. But even then, one must wonder why she still gives?
At this point in the sermon, it would be easy to track how throughout history in all places and times the Church and the government have been responsible for creating systems where the poor are taken advantage of.  I could also talk about how some churches and governments have done a better job than others when it comes to providing equal opportunity for all—even the widow.  But we all know there isn’t a perfect earthly system out there. 
But I am not going to preach that sermon.  Not only do I think that kind of sermon would offer little fruit, but I also believe that is not the sermon Jesus wants me to preach.  I say this because that is not the sermon that Jesus preached either.
Instead, the sermon that Jesus’ is preaching today is a sermon that focuses on individual piety, on how your spiritual practices affect your relationship with God.  The most obvious contrast here is the fact that the scribes practice their piety openly while the poor widow’s piety goes unnoticed until Jesus points her out to the disciples.  In other words, Jesus is calling the disciples to look past outward appearances.  Jesus is telling us that what is on the inside is what matters.
Cultural experts are saying that we live in a “selfie” world.  For those of you who don’t know what a “selfie” is, it is when someone takes a picture of themselves usually with a Smart Phone.  And not only is the picture taken of themselves, the picture is then posted on social media for all their friends and even strangers to see.  Something called “selfie sticks” have even been invented and these sticks allow you to extend your arm to include more people in the “selfie.”  
    
(A "selfie" with Mary Katherine)

Now, I am not necessarily condemning the practice of taking “selfies.”  Rather, I want to highlight this practice as a symptom of a culture that is growing more engrossed with itself.  I want to highlight a culture that is growing more obsessed with one’s image.  I also want to note that this isn’t some new reality.  Humanity has always been obsessed with image but technology has given us the opportunity to take this perversion of self to a higher level. 
More to the point, we live in a world where outward appearances are paramount.  We live in a world where we are pressured to make sure we look our best on the outside no matter how screwed up we are on the inside.  Generally speaking, we live in the same world as the one where the scribes walked around with long flowing robes.
I don’t know about you, but I know what it is like to live in this world.  I know what it is like to make myself look like I have it put together on the outside when in reality I am screwed up on the inside.  I wonder if you know what that is like.  If you do, then I imagine you know how exhausting it is. 
The good news is that God has put people in my life who are more like the poor widow.  And some who are like the poor widow worship with us today.  I want to say thank you for your presence.  I want to say thank you for your faithfulness.  Above all, you remind me that Jesus is in our midst. 
The best news of all is that Jesus himself is saving us from this “selfie” world.  The one who became poor, the one who became vulnerable to the point of death came to make us rich.  He did not come to make us rich in this world.  Instead, he came to make us rich toward God.
Jesus is shattering the fallacy that existed in first century Palestine and the fallacy that still exists today that says that you have found favor with God if you are rich and powerful and if you are poor and lowly then that must mean God’s judgment is upon you.  But Jesus is saying something else.
Jesus says, “blessed are the poor.”  Jesus says this because the poor don’t have a “selfie” worth taking in our world.  In our world, the poor widow doesn’t make the top 100 list of most beautiful people.  In our world, the poor widow doesn’t even know what a “selfie stick” is.  And quite frankly, for the poor widow, a “selfie” doesn’t matter. 
While we can only speculate as to how the poor widow became a poor widow, the point is that the poor widow has found trust in something greater than herself.  The poor widow has been pushed to the point of desperation.  She has no other choice but to trust in God.
I wonder if you have ever been pushed to this point.  I know that you don’t have to be a poor widow to be pushed to the point of desperation.  I know in my life I have stared down the reality that all the stuff that I have to create my image could be taken away with the snap of a finger and what then?
I know that imagining this reality and living this reality is two very different things.  I don’t know what it is like to be a poor widow.  Whether or not you are the poor widow, God is calling all of us to live in a world where our image doesn’t depend on external appearances. 
Sooner or later we won’t have a choice.  In the gospel passage for next week, we will hear about how Jesus predicts the destruction of this corrupt Temple—not one stone will be left unturned.  The life of God in Christ will destroy the kingdoms of this world that take advantage of the poor and vulnerable.  The life of God in Christ will destroy the illusion that our identity depends on external appearances that our identity depends on a “selfie.”
As a people who believe in death and resurrection, the destruction of this Temple is good news.  The destruction of these kingdoms will pave the way for a world where the poor widow is the model of our faith.  The destruction of these kingdoms will push us to the point where the only image worth living for is the image of God in Christ.  Ultimately, this new kingdom will call us away from a world that hoists up selfie sticks into a world where the only thing that matters is living a life devoted to the one true King who came not to be served by to serve.
And the good news is that we don’t have to wait to live in this world.  The reign of Christ the King is now.  The kingdom of God is inaugurated in Christ.  And that same kingdom was made known to us in our baptism when we were set free from the old life of sin by God’s new life of grace, a grace found through the one who became poor so that we all might become rich toward God.
May you find the same grace that the poor widow found, the grace to trust that the giving of your money, your time, your talent, your entire being to the life of God in Christ is what will set you free from your obsession with yourself and your appearance.  May you have the grace to find your true identity in the image of Christ, in the image of the one who in his poverty gave all his riches for the life of the world.  Amen.