November 2017 Sermons
Audio of November 19, 2017 Sermon:
Audio of November 5, 2017 All Saints Day Sermon:
November 26, 2017 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
If you’ve ever been in a train station in Europe you might have seen a little sign that says Mind the Gap. Mind the Gap between the platform and the train. Be careful you don’t trip or get your foot caught in that space; the space between here and there.
Dr. Robert Putnam is a Harvard professor of Public Policy who has studied and written extensively on the Opportunity Gap. What he calls the Opportunity Gap is the widening space between kids who are doing well in our country and kids who are struggling and falling behind. Our own Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation has received a grant to work on the gap, to work to help to close it and many of us have been a part of this community effort. Churches, schools, community service organizations, after-school programs, the YMCA, Community Action Duluth, mentoring programs, all seeking to reduce the number of kids falling through the cracks, falling into the gap.
In Dr. Putman’s book, Our Kinds: The American Dream in Crisis, he writes: “Our sense of ‘we’ has shriveled. Now when people talk about ‘our kids,’ they talk about their own biological kids, they don’t talk about all kids. This leads to a situation that’s bad for the economy, and bad for democracy.” (And I will add, bad for the kids.) He goes on, “But it’s just not right. We have an obligation to care for other people’s kids, too.”
That’s the point of today’s Gospel. Every kid is our kid, every troubled, struggling child is our responsibility, every injustice that leads to suffering is ours to do something about because every child is a child of God; every child is Christ. The goats of the Gospel, the people who didn’t taste the kingdom of God took care of themselves. People in need were “those people” who should either pull themselves up by their bootstraps or find someone else to help them. The sheep of the Gospel, the kingdom dwellers, saw people in need as their own sister and brother, as their kids, as Christ Himself.
In this striking and sobering scene, Jesus is reminding us that discipleship, following Him, requires seeing the world and seeing others as God sees them; as good, as created in God’s own image; then reaching out to close the gap between us, working to alleviate injustice, building relationships, tearing down stereotypes and prejudices and all the walls and gaps between us.
This is a wonderful day to baptize little Everett Thomas because baptism reminds us that we are all beloved children of God. We have a responsibility to take care of each other, that every child in this church is “our” kid. I will ask, “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support Everett in his life in Christ?” Baptized into the church, the Body of Christ today, beloved member. There are no gaps in the Body of Christ, we are all connected to each other, different and unique, important and invaluable; beloved children of God.
In our baptismal covenant we promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself.” This promise affirms the presence of God, the presence of Christ, in each and every person we meet. When we do this, Christ the King, says to us, “Truly, I tell you when you cared for and loved one of the least of these who are members of my family, you cared for and loved me.
I pray that Everett always has enough food to eat, but even if he does, there are times he will be hungry. He will hunger for acceptance, he’ll hunger to know he matters, he’ll hunger for love. I pray he is always fed by his family, mom and dad, brother, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and fed by us, his church family because he’s our kid, our responsibility, as are all the kids here and all the kids out there.
Let us work to narrow and even eliminate the gaps between us so that all may know the life, the joy of the kingdom of God. Amen.
November 19, 2017 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
You are going to receive a piece of candy this morning because when I was a little boy one of my favorite things was Trick or Treating on Halloween. I’d get home from school, dress up in my costume, join moms and friends and go door-to-door yelling “Trick or Treat!” so people would put candy in my plastic pumpkin.
Door after door we went until our pumpkins were full, then we went back home to empty it, and set out again for more – more candy. At the end of the evening I remember a great pile of candy in the middle of the living room. It was pure gift, freely given for something as simple as saying “Trick or Treat”; given without question or hesitation, given in abundance.
The little boy is faced with a pile of candy and the question, what do I do now? I’ll keep it, it’s mine, I earned it, I’ll eat it all, but mom chimed in. She reminds me that eating lots of candy is bad for me and not allowed, so I tell her I’ll save it. I’ll just eat a little at a time for a long time, and she points out that it will get stale and hard. She suggests I share it, give it away. It was given to you as a gift, why not give half of it away?
You mean I should give my candy to some kids who just sat at home? She says, yes. There are kids who didn’t’ get any candy at all, sick kids, kids who live in neighborhoods where it’s too dangerous to be banging on people’s doors, kids whose parents were working second jobs and couldn’t take them trick or treating, and kids who had to stay home to take care of siblings. Imagine how happy they would be to receive some of your candy. Imagine how good they could feel to know that someone cares about them, someone is thinking about them, someone is willing to share with them. It might inspire them to share with others and suddenly the sweetness, the goodness, and the kindness is spreading even farther; it grows and grows.
Today’s Gospel, the Parable of the Talents, tells of three servants who are entrusted with some of their master’s property, called talents. Two of the three use what they have been given to produce more. They use the gift entrusted to them for good, but one simply hangs on to the gift he was given. He buries it in the ground because, we are told, he was afraid.
It’s fear that keeps us from sharing, from using what has been entrusted to us for good. There are parents who would say that encouraging their child to give some of their Halloween candy away teaches them the wrong lesson. They teach their children to be afraid, afraid of not having as much as someone else, afraid of being taken advantage of, afraid of running out or their abundance. I got mine, it’s up to you to get yours; everyone for herself. It is fear that keeps us isolated one from another, fear divides and separates us.
It is using our gives, our talents, that brings us together and inspires each of us to realize that we are uniquely gifted, and each of us has much to contribute toward building up the kingdom.
This is Stewardship Sunday when we make our pledge, our gift, to St. Paul’s for the coming year. It is a good day to remember that the Master has entrusted us with gifts, talents, freely given like the pile of candy in the middle of the living room floor. Entrusted to us that we will share with others, so the talents might produce even more; might inspire others.
I invite you to consider the ways you are blessed. If you have an able body and a good mind; if you have a safe place to live and enough food to eat; if you had people who loved you when you were younger, and people who love you now; if you have friends who care about you; if you call this faith community, this church, home, and come here to be inspired, comforted, challenged, shaped, and formed’; if you grew up in faith communities that helped to shaped and form you, places where you receive the compassion and love of Christ, then your pile of candy is high and waiting to be shared.
May we not live in fear but out of abundance that God so freely showers upon us. Amen.
November 12, 2017 The Rev. Dr. Barbara Elliott
When was the last time you “missed the boat” as we often say—perhaps you missed a deadline, didn’t get your homework in on time, were left out of a meeting, or didn’t make the team…Or even missed a precious opportunity with a loved one. These experiences, yours and mine, are lived experiences that parallel today’s Gospel reading. In the Gospel story, the door to the wedding closed for half of the people who thought they were going to be included. Didn’t happen. We can feel their frustration.
Bishop Tutu, former archbishop of South Africa and Nobel Peace laureate for his work with Apartheid there, tells a story in the Book of Joy about his own life when a door closed for him.
Bishop Tutu describes his father as someone who was a wonderful man when he was sober, but a violent person—especially towards his mother—when he had been drinking. Tutu always wished that he had been able to protect his mother from his father. Then this happened: Tutu and his wife Leah had taken their children to boarding school, and on the return home they needed to over-night near the villages where they were raised. They stopped to greet and wish his parents well, and traveled on to stay with her parents. When they stopped, Tutu’s father said he wanted to talk with him, that there was something he wanted to tell him. Tutu was exhausted, said he was too tired and asked if they might talk the next day. They parted with that intention—and during the night a phone message relayed that his father had died. Tutu observes that he can never know what his father wanted to tell him, and says he does hope it was that his father had wanted to say how sorry he was for the way he had treated his mother. Tutu says: “I have to accept that I missed an opportunity…which will not ever come back.” The door closed. Forever.
This story is truly a 2017 example of today’s Gospel reading, and it causes me to pause and consider what I need to be prepared to do, when and if opportunities arise. The strongest images in today’s Gospel—besides the closed door—are the emphasis on the delay and needed patience, on being prepared, and on staying aware of what is unfolding. The bridesmaids in the story were challenged by each of these steps in their parable. They are just as important for you and me as we hope to avoid missing the next boat...
What boat is it that you don’t want to miss? Perhaps there is something in your life that you are looking toward—a strong desire, or a goal, like learning a new skill, or changing a bad habit. Or maybe it is even bigger than a strong desire, perhaps you have identified your deepest desire and really want to rebuild a broken relationship, spend time with a certain person, or figure out how you will change your career to fulfill your gifts. What would you identify now as your deepest desire? (Or if that isn’t clear just now—what is your strongest desire today?) You might write these down now. If you don’t have an immediate answer, think about these questions this week and consider how you are preparing to accomplish them… Naming our deepest desire is important, as it recognizes and names the work our spirit is doing as we live our lives.
Accomplishing our deep desires follows a path of fits and starts. There can be lots of waiting, set-backs, and also needed preparation to be ready when opportunities present themselves. Think of Bishop Tutu’s story. He truly wanted to reconcile with his father. When this father did invite a conversation, Tutu did not recognize it was the opportunity had had been anticipating. Nor did he know it was the last opportunity he would have to accomplish his deepest desire. As prepared as Tutu was, he was tired and thought—as you and I do—that he had unlimited opportunities to work on his relationship with his father. Then the door closed, as it did in the Gospel story.
We are now approaching the busiest weeks of the year, Thanksgiving through New Years. There will be so many demands on our time, and only so much oil in our lamps, using the Gospel’s metaphor. What is your deepest desire? What will you use your oil for? As the Blessing for Ordinary Times says:
Life is short,
And we do not have much time
to gladden the hearts of those who
make the journey with us.
So… be swift to love,
and make haste to be kind.
And the blessing of God,
who made us,
who loves us,
and who travels with us
guide you now and forever. AMEN
May it be so. AMEN.
November 5, 2017 The Rev. Bill Van Oss
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.
This is All Saints’ Sunday when we remember and celebrate all the saints “who from their labors rest.” We celebrate saints of long ago, most of whom we never knew or have even heard of. The calendar of saints can be found in your Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 19. Saints of long ago, and some more recent, can be found there, assigned a day when they are remembered and celebrated. Some of those saints you might know like St. Paul, St. Luke, or St. Francis, others whose names you’ve never heard - Benedict of Nursia, Edmund, King of East Anglia, or Nicholas Ferrar.
Whether known or unknown, we believe that they received the designation of sainthood because they lived out their baptismal promises, their lives pointed toward the God who made them and they lived lives of faithful service. Not perfect lives, read any book on the Saints and you’ll find that out. Not perfect, but faithful servants of God.
Something I love to do in preparing for this All Saints Sunday is to spend some time in prayer and reflection on the people whose names will be read right after this sermon; the names of our loved ones who have died and who will be remembered in the litany today.
One woman lived more than ten decades, a long, blessed life. Near the end as she watched more and more of her friends pass away, she would ask, “Why am I still here?” I would try to reassure her, “You’re still bringing joy to people’s lives, you inspire us.”
Another woman was one of the best prayers I have ever met. She prayed from the heart with a sincerity and genuineness that showed her deep love of the Lord and the people around her. Another strived to understand. She was filled with wondering and questions about the Bible, the next life, and God’s purpose for her.
At least three of the saints on our list had the gift of music. One played the organ in more than 15 churches throughout his life, including ours, without losing his marvelous sense of humor. Another played drums in church and in bars; we remember his spirit and his smile. The third played strings. Each of them touching people, moving them, inspiring and lifting them through the wonder, beauty and mystery of music.
One of our saints loved angels and surrounded herself with them. Another loved fishing for Atlantic salmon, stalking them in the streams of Iceland. Another saint spent many years in a wheelchair without losing her cheerfulness. Most lived long lives but one was cut short by ALS, her body slowly losing function, but her mind and spirit remaining strong inspiring the people around her, finding God’s blessing in the midst of earthly sorrow and suffering.
These are the saints whose lives we celebrated here at St. Paul’s. Other names have been added to the list, your loved ones, people whose lives touched and inspired yours. These are the saints close and dear to us, people whose lives pointed to the God who made them, who responded to God’s love, who made God known in ways big and small. People like those Jesus proclaimed Blessed in the Beatitudes we heard in our Gospel today – the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful and pure in heart, the peacemakers and those persecuted for righteousness sake. These are characteristics of saints then and now. Paul Tillich once said, “The saint is saint not because he or she is ‘good’ but because he or she is transparent for something that is more than him or herself.” Transparent for something more that oneself and this is what we remember about them, the ways they were transparent for something, someone, bigger, greater, than themselves. Most of us would name that someone God and that something Love; lives that pointed to love.
Bishop Steven Charleston reminds us: “What you do is critical. You may not think so because you see yourself as being without that much authority or influence, but the things you do count for much more that you may imagine. Every person you reach will touch a thousand more. The direction you share with a single person can turn the wheel of history over time. You are an important part of a great story. You are at the heart of the collective experience of your generation. What you say and do matters, so speak up, take a risk, and dare to be remembered.”
Bishop Steve reminds us of the power of love to transform lives and the world; the power of loving one another. The saints remind us of that today, love lives forever.
May the saints of old and the saints we have known inspire us to be transparent, to let the love of God shine through our lives as it shone through theirs. May they remind us that we are all part of God’s great story and that what we say and do touches others and lasts beyond our lives here on earth.
As we remember and celebrate the saints this day may we give thanks for the ways they touched our lives and be inspired to live out our calling to be saints of God. Amen.