Here is my sermon that I preached today. I was struck immediately by the reference to God’s Compassion when I began meditating on the Scripture readings for today’s Eucharist. The reference to Sarah’s behavior being like an angry bear protecting her cub came from mention of bears in Quebec in several of Louise Penny’s Mystery Novels about a fictional village in Quebec. The rest of the sermon just developed from there.
Gen. 21:5, 8-20
Today’s first reading is a story of Sarah, the wife of Abraham, acting something like an angry mother bear protecting her cub. We also see God, acting in contrast to that with great compassion.
The story began by telling us that Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born. This alone was something outside of ordinary norms. Sarah herself was not much younger. Having a son born at such an age is a miracle.
1 Cor. 1:18-25
Today is the Feast of Justin, martyred in Rome, 167 A.D.
Justin was born early in the 2nd Century, near Shechem in Samaria. He was brought up as a pagan. In his youth he began to study philosophy. He searched for a philosophy that would be true to his view of life. After some searching he adopted Platonism. But not long after he had chosen that he met an old man at the sea shore who convinced him of the truth of Christian teaching. It was a chance meeting, but one having great significance. Justin said of this encounter, “Straightway a flame was kindled in my soul!” Soon after that he was baptized. As a Christian Philosopher, wearing the robe of a philosopher he taught Christianity.
At about the middle of that century he gathered some students and formed a school of Christian philosophy in the city of Rome. During this period he began writing in defense of Christian doctrine and beliefs. Three of these writings have survived.
Today is the Feast of the Ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ. What does the Bible tell us about this Feast?
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we can read that “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. … Then Jesus came and to them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, that I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”
(Cf. Mt. 28:16-20)
The Gospel Reading for today is a discourse of Jesus making it clear that he did not come into the world on his own as an individual. We heard; “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.” (Jn 12: 44-45)
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus said that he had not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them. In other words, Jesus said that he had come to teach the true spirit of the Law and the Prophets. He went on to say, “not one letter, not one stroke of a letter would pass from the law until all is accomplished.”
Until all is accomplished. How are we to understand that? I think in saying that Jesus was referring to a time when the full spirit of the Law would be established.
When we look, for example, at the situation that presently exists in this country and in other parts of the world, I am afraid that the full spirit of the law still needs to be established in most parts of this world.
What do you usually think about as we begin the season of Lent? Discipline? Penitence? Fasting?
Lent is usually thought of as a season of discipline. The other three words, Austerity, Penitence, Fasting, are important for the full development of Discipline. It is more than any one of those. Lent is a season for Spiritual Formation. Lent is a time for us to let the Holy Spirit form in each of us the image both of a child of God and of a good servant of God.
The 1st lesson read today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah gives some contrasts between wrong ideas about fasting and positive ways in which we can use fasting as a way of doing something good for those who are in need.
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Jn 15:1, 6-16
Today we remember Saint Matthias, who was chosen to take the place that Judas Iscariot had held among the Twelve Apostles. Peter pointed out to the other Apostles that the hole left in The Twelve by the betrayal of Jesus by Judas needed to be filled in. By the rules of the time the choice had to be by the casting of lots. (Cf. Acts 1:15-18)
Luke wrote in the Book of Acts that the lot had fallen to Matthias. (v.26)
We don’t know much about Matthias. The stipulation was that it be one of the wider group of disciples who had been with Jesus from the time of his baptism by John, and that it be one who had witnessed the Resurrection.(Cf. Acts 1:21-22)
(Also cf. Mt. 15:21-28)s
Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus and a woman whose little daughter was afflicted with an unclean spirit. The woman was a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin. This story occurs in only two of the Gospels, the Gospel According to Mark, which we heard this morning, and that of Matthew.
I have been praying with these two versions of that story for several weeks, since I was asked to preach on this lesson.
Saint Aelred, whose feast we keep today, was born in 1109 in Northumbria, England, and became a Cistercian Monk in 1133.
In August of 1991 members of the North American Congregation of the SSJE made a three week visit to the U.K. to places significant in the life of our Society. After a week of retreat on Iona we made a short visit to the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey before going on to Durham Cathedral. Traveling east through the outskirts of Edinburgh we proceeded westward across England following the course of Hadrian’s Wall. At a point where we could just see York Minster at a distance, shrouded with scaffolding, we turned north onto a smaller road through wooded hills heading for Rievaulx. When we descended into the valley we came to the ruins of the abbey, high walls and no roof. It was hard to imagine what the Abbey Church must have looked like with windows and a roof. Nevertheless, it was thrilling to see the beautiful valley where Aelred had lived and prayed. After our visit to Durham we went on to other significant places before returning to Oxford and then the USA.
1 John 2:18-21
On this last day of the current year we can look back over the year now coming to an end. We can repent of our failures, and we give thanks for our blessings.
As we look forward to the New Year about to begin we can expect challenges. We should look with courage and hope, and we give thanks for rewards.