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Luke 4:1-13

Lent I, 2019

Rembrandt_Temptation_of_Christ_700

Throughout the centuries, many people have attempted to show today’s gospel in art. The artist “Rembrandt drew several depictions of the devil tempting Jesus. In one of them the two look like friends. They appear to be ambling down a country road, deep in conversation. The devil is a half step behind Jesus. His head is skeletal, but there is an urgent, deeply human look on his face. He is reasoning with Jesus, not menacing him. One of his wings is thrown over Jesus’ shoulder in an almost familial manner. He leans in, mouth open slightly, eyes on Christ, speaking quietly, a heavy stone in his hands. He holds the stone out as if it were a gift. ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’”[1]

In this sketch, Satan does not loom over Jesus like some monster. He looks like someone making a reasonable proposition to his companion on the way. This is, of course, the point. Most of the time, the temptations that face human beings look rational and reasonable. Sometimes, those temptations are not between extreme good and extreme evil, cast in stark contrast. Instead, they are often fuzzy. Shades of gray. Boundaries fluid.

We begin the season of Lent with choices. On the first Sunday of Lent, we begin with choices made in Luke’s gospel by the one in whose name we are baptized, the one we profess to follow: Jesus of Nazareth. John the baptizer has baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. The Holy Spirit has descended on Jesus like a dove. A voice has come from heaven: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”  All of his life, Jesus of Nazareth has been growing in his understanding of just who he is. On the day of his baptism, his identity is confirmed.

Luke tells us that after Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit at baptism, he is led into the wilderness, where he spends a long time. Scripture says forty days, a phrase used by ancient peoples to mean “a very long time.” Throughout that time, Luke says Jesus is tempted—and “the Greek verb translated ‘to tempt’ in verse two implies hostile intent.”[2]

flatbread            At the end of the time, Jesus is, of course, exhausted and famished. Suddenly the devil appears, offering a big stone. Here, Jesus, if you are who you think you are, you can turn this big old stone into a nice, warm, fresh loaf of bread. Jesus knows his history. He knows that when his people wandered in the desert for forty years—a very long time—God provided manna. Every day. And while manna was certainly not as delicious as homemade flatbread cooked over a hot fire, it provided basic sustenance. When you are starving, you take what’s offered you.

Except. Except that in today’s gospel, Jesus—who must have really considered changing a rock into bread—said no. Instead, he quotes from Deuteronomy—the book that contains three speeches of Moses to the people of Israel just before they enter the Promised Land. Jesus knows his history. Jesus has learned holy scripture since he was a little boy. No, Satan. I know who I am. I am God’s beloved. I will make better choices than doing magic tricks with a rock.

Of course the devil does not give up. The devil never gives up. The devil keeps circling, watching. . .waiting for just the right moment. . .or sauntering down the road with us, his wing thrown casually over our left shoulder as if he’s our best friend. He speaks quietly. Reasonably. You know, you could have power. And if you had the kind of power I offer, you could do some really good things in the world. Don’t you want to make a difference in the world? But if you don’t have any power, hey, you can’t do much.

Many of us have read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is clear that the writer, J.R.R. Tolkien, deeply understood how seductive power—for good or for evil—can have on otherwise reasonable beings. One ring to rule them all. . .

Cate-Blanchett-as-Galadriel            In The Fellowship of the Ring, it takes time, and several significant encounters and events  before Frodo Baggins fully understands the power of the ring he wears around his neck. This ring possesses “a gravitational drag on the character, good or bad, of the sentient beings of Middle-earth.”[3]

Until he really understands the ring’s horrifying power, Frodo either implicitly or explicitly offers the ring to another—to Gandalf, who responds, “Do not tempt me!” (twice) or to Lady Galadriel, the Elf Queen, who responds with bemusement, “You offer it to me freely. I do not deny that my heart has greatly desired this.”

Then we watch as the good and the evil fight within Galadriel until finally, somehow, she summons the inner strength she needs to refuse this awful power. She passes the cosmic test. “I will diminish, and go into the West,” she says.

one ring            The power of this One Ring remains with the Ring Bearer—who is beginning to understand what a lonely road he faces, what a vast, dark wilderness he travels. “I cannot do this alone,” Frodo protests quietly to Galadriel. Galadriel understands power and its heavy burden. She responds, “You are a Ring-bearer, Frodo. To bear a Ring of Power is to be alone. . .This task was appointed to you. And if you do not find a way, no one will.”

Christians might say that Jesus was our ultimate Ring-Bearer.

J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout Anglican Christian. Tolkien was well acquainted with biblical stories, as well as Celtic myths from Ireland, and the larger concepts of Truth. In fact, it is acknowledged that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis who were friends, both used their literary work—well disguised—to teach great Christian truths to millions of unsuspecting readers. (So J.K. Rowling was not the first to disguise Christian truths in fiction!)

Tolkien wrote of temptation in a number of ways, expressed in situations with many characters. The gospel writers did the same—whether it was with Jesus, with Simon Peter, with Judas Iscariot. Jesus passes the ultimate test. Peter fails, when he betrays Jesus, yet he does redeem himself in the end. Judas fails Jesus. He is the first to break that Fellowship. Luke gave us a hint that this will happen: “When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.” A better time. Not chronos time, but kairos time.[4] Forty pieces of silver (a lot of silver. . .) seems to have woven its particular evil spell on Judas.

Whether it is the temptation to use power for selfish reasons (hunger), for power, or for idolatry, Satan smoothly uses distortion and lies to convince Jesus to mis-use who he is. “The devil presents wants as needs, falsehoods as truths, mistrust as faith.”[5] Yet Jesus knows who he is. Jesus refuses to allow power, prestige, or personal gratification to thwart him from living fully into who he is, and what God calls him to do.

It is true that powerful people live in every age—from long before Jesus until today. In our time, we can all name powerful people. Some are movie stars. Some have inherited great wealth. Some hold political power. As one writer has noted, “All around the world, people with no power follow despots in order to get some power, people with some power crave more power, and people with more than their share of power and wealth [cheat], [lie], [conspire], [war], and [bully] to preserve what they have.”[6]

Yet this was not Jesus’ way. His was the way of the cross.   This simple carpenter and rabbi from Nazareth has shown us how to live best. Through his choices, his actions, his life, Jesus has taught us that God’s kind of strength does not equal our human ideas of strength or weakness. Jesus knew who he was. He acted out of that grounded place.

Yet I wonder whether we Christians today are grounded deeply enough, or know enough about our Christian faith to make wise decisions. Do we really know who we are in God? Do we understand that we, too, are God’s beloved children, just as Jesus was?

As we enter into the season of Lent, I invite you to find out more about your faith,   or to deepen your faith. I invite you to join me in working on our spiritual muscles. Many of you work out regularly at gyms, or hike in parks, or do exercise at home. You do this to get stronger, to stay fit, to help yourself stay alert mentally. This takes intention and discipline.

In the same way, I encourage you to work on your spiritual life every day. Every day. Robert and I offer you several ways to do this.

  1. You can come to the Wednesday evening potluck supper and conversations about faith where no question is stupid, and all viewpoints are respected.
  2. You can attend Robert’s 9:00 Sunday morning Adult Forums, to discuss the scriptures of that Sunday.
  3. You can follow the church on our Instagram page or Facebook page or check the parish website every day—where we are following “The Way of Love” with a picture and a reflection.
  4. You can pick up a “Way of Love” calendar today, choosing your own way to live out a particular day. Then share that on your Facebook page, or on your Twitter feed, or on your Instagram page. Who are you in God, anyway? Share your thoughts about that.

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/way_of_love_in_lent_2019_calendar.pdf

Two thousand years ago, Jesus showed us that the choices we make matter. Our choices reveal who we really are. So do not be fooled by temptations, however subtle. If you stop for a moment and go deep inside yourself, if you draw on who you became the moment you were baptized, if you remember that you have been “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever,” then that will help you make the right choice.

It won’t be easy. It never is. Yet to make the Christ-like choice will give your soul deep peace. Furthermore, I promise that you will find companions on that narrow road to support you, to challenge you, to love you.

Join this Christian Fellowship. And when you get hungry on the journey, you can share the Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven. It is daily. It is eternal. It really is all the nourishment you need. Amen.

© The Rev. Dr. Sheila N. McJilton

[1] Matt Fitzgerald, “Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels, Luke, Vol. I, Chapters 1-11, Cynthia A. Jarvis & E. Elizabeth Johnson, Editors, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 93.

[2] Alan P. Sherouse, in “Exegetical Perspective” on Luke 4:1-13 in Feasting on the Gospels: Luke, Vol. 1, Chapters 1-11, Cynthia A. Jarvis & E. Elizabeth Johnson, Editors, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 93.

[3] http://alasnotme.blogspot.com/2016/08/the-last-temptation-of-galadriel.html

[4] Kairos (Ancient Greek: καιρός) is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment. The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos (χρόνος) and kairos. The former refers to chronological or sequential time, while the latter signifies a proper or opportune time for action. from www.wikipedia.com.

[5] Kimberly M. Van Driel, in “Homiletical Perspective” on Luke 4:1-13, in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 2, David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, (Knoxville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 47.

[6] Tom Ehrich, in his “On A Journey” blog, accessed on March 6, 2019. © Morning Walk Media.

Luke 6:27-38

Trivial Pursuit CardsFrom our “Non-Trial Pursuits” Game, these questions: “Who are the members of my community?” and “What responsibility do I have to my community?”

I don’t know about you, but today’s gospel is a collection of directives that draw me up short. Wait, Jesus. What did you say? Love your enemies? Do good to those who hate you? Pray for those who abuse you? It feels like everywhere I turn, I stub my spiritual toe on Jesus’ idealistic, costly demands.

I mean, really, did you get out of bed and come to church this morning, thinking, “I hope I get a real challenge today from the preacher. Like maybe I’ll be asked to love my enemy. Oh, I can’t wait for that.”

Better that you get some teaser like “Five Easy Steps to Love,” or “How to Build a Community that Sparks Joy.” Something like that. Yet that is not what the gospel offers us today. Instead, the gospel challenges us—and big time.

Jesus’ words in Luke follow closely on the heels of his blessings and woes in the Sermon on the Mount—or in Luke’s case, the Sermon on the Plain. Blessed are you. . .woe are you. . . In Matthew, we get the Sermon on the Mount, because Matthew is making connections between Jesus and Moses on Mt. Sinai. In Luke, we get the Sermon on the Plain, because Luke wants to emphasize how often Jesus mixed and mingled with ordinary people. Same location (Mount Tabor), just a different perspective.

Tabor02 Continue Reading »

star of bethlehemFeast of the Epiphany    Isaiah 60:1-6          Matthew 2:1-12

What it is like in the world

It is a time of turmoil and darkness in the world. A puppet holds political power. He was not born to rule, yet somehow he has ended up in charge. Everyone fears his temper, his capricious nature, his cruelty. Hope has been born in a baby on the borders of society, yet the one who rules sits alone: in the dark, without hope. He knows. He knows he does not really belong on a throne. His crown sits uneasily on his head. It would not take much to topple his power.

Continue Reading »

Mission Impossible?

December 7, 2018

mission impossibleYears ago, one of my favorite TV shows was “Mission Impossible.” This show always began with a recording (a tiny reel to reel tape machine!) that outlined a possible mission. Somewhere in that message, the unknown voice said, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is. . . .” and named that mission. At the end, that same voice always told Peter Graves that if he or his team got caught, the officials would disavow knowing anything about the mission. Then the voice said, “This tape will self-destruct in five seconds.” So I got to watch this tiny reel to reel machine go up in smoke every week.

As Christians, we have no record of God telling Jesus about his particular mission. There is no disembodied voice. There is no tape recorder going up in smoke. At times, I have wondered just how-and exactly when-Jesus knew who he was and what he was destined to do. We have four gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry, yet each one has its own perspective, none are what we would term “biographies” and the gospels certainly are not live news accounts like we would see on television. Instead, these accounts were about Love-the kind of unconditional, amazing Love that poured out of, and through, this humble carpenter from Nazareth. He had come to show human beings a better way to live. A way that did not put the emperor first. A way that did not put money first. A way that did not put education first. A way that did not put anything first, except God who created us and sustains us, from our first breath to our final one. Jesus came to show us that our main “mission” is to love God first, and then out of that great love, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

bush funeralOn Tuesday, as I watched President George H.W. Bush’s funeral at our own Washington National Cathedral, I was struck by an image shared by the Rev. Dr. Russell Levinson (the Bush’s priest and pastor at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.) For the last hour of the President’s life, Levinson noted that Bush’s dear friend, James Baker, had stood at the foot of the bed and rubbed President Bush’s feet-a gesture that was symbolic of a servant’s gesture, and that of a good friend. When your friend is dying, you want to make him or her as comfortable as you can. You do acts of love, and you don’t do them because someone is likely to mention them at the funeral. You do them because you love. Simple as that.

footwashing1This kind of love, best shown to us by Jesus of Nazareth, is amazing love, isn’t it? Such love is lived out in many ways, yet I think that every time we gather together as a faith community to worship, we get a glimpse of God’s realm. We re-member the Body of Christ, just by coming together to worship. We remember what Jesus did the night before he died, as he broke bread and poured wine and told his disciples “whenever you do this, remember me.” And so we do. We still do.

This is good news. It is, in fact, great news, and it is news worth sharing. This brings me to challenge you, to see if you might have a particular mission.

In the next few weeks, we will gather at St. Philip’s for special Advent or Christmas services. On December 23, we’ll enjoy an old tradition: the service of Advent Lessons & Carols, which is based on a liturgy first done at Kings College, Cambridge, England. Then, as our tradition has become, you have the chance to come with a group of people downstairs to the Wyatt Hall basement, where we will tie long “ropes” of greens together in garlands. Later, those beautiful garlands will be hung in our worship space to make it more beautiful for Christmas.

Chalres Allen Christmas 2015On Christmas Eve, we’ll offer two wonderful experiences of worship. The earlier service is very child and family friendly, and we celebrate the fact that any child-whether long-time parishioner or total stranger-can show up at 4:00 and get a costume to be in the Christmas pageant. Then one of the clergy will narrate the Christmas story while the shepherds and sheep and animals and angels and Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus appear in their proper order. Thus will we tell “the greatest story ever told.” There will be chaos and noise and maybe crying and unexpected things. One never knows. But at the end of that service, we will get to spend a few reflective moments with candles and the singing of “Silent Night.”

The later service will begin with a series of special anthems and seasonal carols at 7:30, and the service will begin at 8:00 p.m. Our adult choir and bell choir will both offer beautiful music, and again, at the end, we’ll get to sing “Silent Night” with candles before we burst out with “Joy to the World.”

CandlelightRobert and I would like to challenge you. To what? We challenge (and invite you) to invite someone to Christmas service worship services. This is the perfect time of year to do that. Yes, we have a lot of introverts in this congregation. Yes, we are Episcopalians. We don’t do that “invite” thing so well in the Episcopal Church. Yet in the past year, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and others have elevated the profile of our wonderful Anglican tradition-first by his preaching at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, then by the Episcopal funeral service for former First Lady Barbara Bush, and this week, by the State Funeral of President George H.W. Bush at our own Washington National Cathedral.

All you have to do is say “You should come to St. Philip’s with me for ______. We’ll sing special music, and your kids can be in the pageant. What? Yes, it was our own Michael Curry who preached the wedding sermon. Yes, it was at the Episcopal Cathedral where President Bush was celebrated recently. St. Philip’s is a great place. Why don’t you come with me and see for yourself?” Then offer to pick those folks up or to meet them here in the worship space. Tell them you’ll save them a seat, or offer to meet them at the front door, or in the parking lot.

Cards ChristmasIf you need a physical “prop,” we’ll have a stack of cards ready for you this coming Sunday. On this card are pictures from last Christmas Eve services, plus the schedule for this year’s special services. You can hand it to someone and invite them to come with you.

We have an amazing place of worship. Our space is historic. Our family of faith is not so large that people will feel like a number. They will have a name, and we will welcome them. Yet if you don’t invite them, they may never find these things out.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to invite someone to come to church with you in the next three weeks. And this tape will not self-destruct in five seconds.

Tell someone about God’s good news in this place. It is worth telling. It is worth sharing. It is worth celebrating. Blessings, Sheila+

Christmas Worship Services

Jim Rogers and greens

Sunday, December 23

9:00 a.m. (One Service Only):  Advent Lessons & Carols

Service of Advent Lessons & Carols, based on ancient service in Church of England

10:30 a.m. Greening of the Church & Soup luncheon

Bring some homemade soup in a crockpot or sandwiches to share after we are done!

Monday, December 24  Christmas Eve

Lily and Anna Christmas 2015.jpg4:00 p.m.  Children show up in Wyatt Hall to get Christmas pageant costumes

4:30 p.m. Family Friendly Christmas Eve service with Christmas Pageant

7:30 p.m. Seasonal hymns and special choir anthems with Adult & Bell Choirs

8:00 p.m. Choral Festival Candlelight Christmas Eve Service

Front Door Wreaths.jpg

Sunday, December 30

8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist Rite I

10:15 a.m. Holy Eucharist Rite II

Note: No Sunday School on Dec. 30

Important Note:

Have you ever invited someone to come to church with you? If not, why not do that for some or all of these special Christmas services? No one is ever offended to be asked, and special Christmas services is a perfect time to invite a friend, an office-mate, a work colleague, a neighbor, to join you and your family here at St. Philip’s. Think about what you love most about this faith community, and then extend the chance for someone else to experience, then love it, too.

The Gratitude Challenge

November 30, 2018Gratitude Challenge 2018Recently, many people on my Facebook feed have been doing 30 Days of Gratitude.  From expressing gratitude for grandchildren to music to animals to nature, I have enjoyed seeing what my friends are grateful for.

It is easy to get out of the habit of being grateful. There is much that is lacking in our various worlds. It might be as “small” as driving on the Beltway and being passed by a very swift-moving motorcycle rider who startled you as he swerved around you and passed–then you look down and realize he had to be going 80 mph or so, as quickly as he disappeared in front of you. Okay, so maybe that seemed small, but had he wrecked? Not so small a thing.

Or there’s that car driving along the Beltway (sorry, I’ve had to go into DC three times in as many nights this week!) at dusk WITH NO HEADLIGHTS ON.  This results in my grumbling and growling, not gratitude. (P.S. Don’t be like this driver. Keep your headlights on all the time, then you never have to worry!)

ducks.jpgThen there are the typical days that we all have–those days when it seems that we’re getting nibbled to death by ducks and interruptions.

Yet I hope that as we all speed along in this holiday season, we will remember to slow down. To think, with some intention, about the things and people for whom we are grateful.

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Holy Encounter in a Diner

November 15, 2018

Tastee Diner 2Unexpected Holy Encounters

This is a time of year when it is easy to feel overwhelmed. In Church work, as in every other kind of vocation, there seems to be no lack of something left undone, many things to do. Yet even calendars to be filled with important tasks can, in themselves, become reminders of God’s grace and providence.

The other morning, Robert and I joined two clergy colleagues at breakfast at a diner. At some point, I excused myself, and as I passed two people at a table, the man stopped me. “Excuse me. But is that a Franklin Planner you have there?” (It lay on the table next to my breakfast.) Surprised, I said “Yes.” He said, “I didn’t think they made those anymore.” I replied, “Oh yes, they still sell them. It’s just that you can only get them online now. Franklin Covey closed all of their stores.”

Practical Conversation changes to a God One

Somehow, this conversation turned into a God conversation. I told them I am a pastor, and before long, we three were exchanging our concerns, our hopes, our ideas, for how we might tell and show the Gospel to people who have never come to church, or people who have been wounded by the Church, or young adults whose parents “checked out” of Church years ago, so they have had no faith formation at all. As it turns out, the woman at that table is from New York City. She said she attends First Corinthian Baptist Church there.

Cup of CoffeeSo in the midst of a breakfast with colleagues, I got to talk with two colleagues in Christ whom I have never met before, and who I may never see again–all over a very secular symbol of a Day Planner that helps me to organize my days, weeks, and months.

Of course I had to come home and google the First Corinthian Baptist Church.  This is a church in Harlem. Their leaders are dedicated “to making disciples that transform the world.” I like that. It’s very clear what that community of faith is about. It is about making new disciples for Jesus Christ. It is about transforming the world. Big goals. Goals that begin locally and then ripple outward.

Would anyone miss St. Philip’s if it were gone?

Study in Snow Continue Reading »

whats-your-story-chalkboard-620316_1280
We all have stories to share and to live. In the past several years, I have become interested in my own family stories. Because my mother died young (at 56) and was notably quiet about sharing some of her own stories, and because my dad had Altzheimers the last seven years of his life, there are many family stories that I simply never heard. I am left to re-construct as best as I can.
Of course now we have the “magic” of websites like Ancestry or Family Search–and in truth, these sites have connected me to second cousins I have never actually met in person, plus I have accessed some pictures of some ancestors. Going down the “rabbit hole” of Ancestry, I have learned that I am 52% English, Welsh, and Northwestern European, and 39% Irish and Scottish. That tiny trace of Native American is vastly overwhelmed! Yet I know where that tiny trace is, and it was somewhat comforting to know that all those years Daddy told me we had Cherokee Indian blood in us, he was not telling a tall tale (he had a wicked sense of humor, so he could do that), but telling us the truth.
On some level, when we research our DNA and go backwards in our family lines, we go more “granular.” Yet the other way is part of our stories as well. In other words, as we look outward, we can see ways in which we are connected to each other–sometimes in ways we never expected.
In the past five weeks, a group of folks have gathered in Wyatt Hall (at St. Philip’s) on Wednesday evenings to discuss various aspects of “The Way of Love.” So far, we have had conversations about Turn, Learn, Pray, Bless, and Worship. What have people learned? I’m sure folks have learned a lot of things. However, I think that from what I have overheard, people are sharing pieces of their own stories with each other: for example, how they ended up in the Episcopal Church, or at St. Philip’s . . .what their previous practices of faith included (and how those were unsatisfactory in some way or another.(. . .how we are blessed, and how we think we might bless another human being.  . .how we begin, even tentatively, to pray together or read scripture together as a couple.. . .what, in our worship liturgy, speaks most deeply to us (i.e. for at least two people at one table, that is the Confession, where they actually think of some concrete things they have done that they should not have done, or of some things they have not done that they should have done). . .what forms us as God’s people in our prayers and corporate worship.
what is your story
Those kinds of stories have been powerful, and frankly, I am in awe of the amazing stories, as well as the willingness for folks to be vulnerable enough with their brothers and sisters at the table, to share.
My story matters to you, and your story matters to you. Perhaps when we tell each other our stories of faith, we get stronger, and we learn more what Jesus means about “my burden is light” because we helped to shoulder each other’s heavy burdens.
Think about your own story. How does it fit in the larger context of God’s story? Maybe you can’t see that at first, but it truly does–which means that your story is so important, especially where it connects with mine.
Sheila