Archive for the ‘Sermons’ Category

Seeing the Face of Jesus

11 Feb

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Albany, Georgia on February 11, 2018.

Seeing the Face of Jesus
2 Corinthians 4:3-6

How might we see Jesus?

We get the answer tucked into our reading from the second Letter to the Corinthians. Follow me as I work through this and I will show you not only what the Bible teaches about seeing Jesus, but where I have seen Jesus lately. I hope that if you take this journey with me, you will see Jesus in this coming week too.

First, let’s hear what our reading says about why we should want to see Jesus. In our epistle reading we heard that one can see the light of God in the face of Jesus, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

So the same God who called light into being in creation, shows us the glory of God in the face of Jesus. In a world that seems all too full of darkness and fear, finding the face of Jesus is all the more important. If that were not enough, just a few verses before today’s epistle, we read, that those of us who see the glory of the Lord, “are being transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18). So not only can we learn to see Jesus, but in seeing him, we become, little, by little, more Christ like along the way.

In a parable of the last judgment, Jesus told that people will be separated as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats saying, “to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me’ (Matthew 25:34-36).

And when the righteous wonder when they cared for Jesus, he will say, “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” (Matthew 25:40).

So when we serve others, we are serving Jesus. We find the face of Jesus in the faces of others, especially those in need. Now this is something St. Paul’s is well suited to understand. From Barney’s Run to Feed My Sheep, this is a church that serves. You are also a church that has both benefitted from the ministry of deacons, like Deacon Jim Purks, but raised up fine deacons like Ri Lamb and Joy Davis. And finding the face of Christ in others is certainly part of the role of a deacon. In the words of the ordination liturgy for deacons, “At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.”

A week ago, as I was praying through the scriptures for this Sunday, this reading from Second Corinthians stood out to me. I have referenced it before in preaching at the ordination of deacons. I also knew St. Paul’s had the excellent examples of deacons. What I did not know as I first wrote out this sermon was that I would spend some time with Deacon Jim Purks before I arrived in this pulpit.

On Saturday morning, Father Lee and I went to the hospital to pray with Jim in SICU around lunch time and Deacon Purks gripped our hands firmly. Lee told Jim, about the bevy of ladies in the waiting room there for him and I added we are going to need a bigger waiting room. Jim laughed and it set off alarms on the machines in his room. I thought we were going to get kicked out.

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The One Who Serves

13 Jan

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia, on January 13, 2018

The One Who Serves
An Ordination Sermon for Dewayne Cope, Arthur Jones, and Bunny Williams
Luke 22:24-27

Arthur, Bunny, and DeWayne, I owe it to the three of you to be clear at the outset: The church does not trust you to be priests. I don’t just mean St. Matthew’s Church or the congregation gathered this morning, the Diocese of Georgia or even the Episcopal Church. The Church with a capital C does not trust the three of you to be priests, at least, not yet.

Yes, you felt the Holy Spirit speaking to your hearts. Not only, did you feel called to the priesthood, but the Diocese of Georgia affirmed that call. We sent you off to get a seminary education and you have all done very well. But we don’t trust you to be priests. Not yet.

You are certainly three impressive individuals:

Dewayne, your home church here at St. Matthew’s has every right to be proud of you. They know your skill at preaching and your gifts for working with children and youth as do Episcopalians around this city from your work with the Savannah convocation youth group. Your experience working with the Teen-Age Parenthood Program and the Adult Education Program certainly help you bring important experience to this call.

Bunny, you too have a supportive church family at Good Shepherd, Augusta, who is pleased you have come to this day. They know you not just as fellow parishioner and friend, but as a leader through adult education and the parish life committee. Your work in nursing from the operating room to earning your doctorate and teaching a new generation of nurses provides a wealth of experience to draw from in ministry.

Arthur, you are an impressive man here with the support of both Christ the King Valdosta where you tested this possible call and Good Shepherd Thomasville where you strengthened that sense of call. And as someone ordained previously in the Baptist Church, the Pastor who knew you well at New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church supports your call to ministry as an Episcopal priest as do many others.

So it is not any particular concern about each of you, the Church just doesn’t trust anyone to be a priest who has not spent time living into serving others, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. That is why centuries of practice among the many millions of Christians in not just our Anglican Communion, but also the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran and other churches ordain a prospective priest as a deacon first.

We don’t intend this to diminish the Sacred Order of Deacons, but to show how vitally important servant ministry is to any Christian community. The Christian church found the need for the servant ministry of deacons very early. The Acts of the Apostles recounts the story of the first seven persons selected to serve as deacons. In time, the tradition developed to have those called to the priesthood to serve first as a deacon. This is now usually a time of six months to a year.

The work of real deacons is the work of a lifetime. You are, however, called to be what we sometimes refer to as “transitional deacons,” meaning that you will serve as a deacon during this time of further preparation for the priesthood.

This certainly is not just in line with church tradition, but also with the example of our Lord. Our Gospel reading for this day recounts a dispute arising among Jesus’ disciples as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Jesus reminded them that they are not to look to the example of the world. He said, “Rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” Then he brought this home in saying, “I am among you as one who serves.”

Jesus turned the world upside with his ministry, showing how the least were the greatest and the last would be first. Jesus who valued the windows and orphans, the lost and the left out. Jesus touched untouchables, healed those not even welcome in the Temple courts because of their infirmity, and invited tax collectors and other notorious sinners to share a meal with him.

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Good News for Those on the Outside Looking In

15 Oct

Painting by Terry Moeller

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rincon, Georgia as they celebrated the Feast of St. Luke on October 15, 2017. The painting above was created by Terry Moeller for St. Luke’s and was visible in the church during the sermon.

Good News for Those on the Outside Looking In
Luke 4:14-21

I don’t have my own house in order. I need to confess that truth before I even begin this sermon. I want to preach today about how we find God in unlikely places, caring for people others might find unloveable, if they think about them at all.

But my own house is in turmoil. All day and night our cat, Olive, frets over a cat that has taken up in our yard. She looks out the window on constant guard, upset that the orange tabby cat continues to breathe. Never mind that Olive eats well and enjoys lots of lap time with her new Mama. Never mind that she lives in climate controlled, bug free ease. Olive is angry.

I will get to Luke the evangelist in just a moment, but I do believe the situation in my home speaks to the Good News of Jesus as the physician Luke tells the story in the two books of the Bible he wrote, now known as the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. So, hang with me for a minute more about the cats.

Olive came to live with us a little over a year ago. She was the beloved cat of my wife Victoria’s sister Kate. Kate enjoyed living with Olive for five years, but Kate’s fiancé was so allergic to Olive, that the two could not have shared a home. So Olive came to live with us. And she has become our girl. That was a year ago this past June. Then sometime around the first of the year a skinny orange tabby started appearing occasionally in our yard. By summer, he was a more frequent site and you could count his ribs from my wife’s desk that looks out on our small mid-town Savannah back yard.

Nature took its course as Victoria started feeding the cat we now call Aloysius. Even the name is a sign that the outdoor cat is not an animal of whom Olive should be jealous. For a quarter of a century, every time my daughter wanted to name a toy, a stuffed animal, or a pet, I suggested the name Aloysius. Every time I was rejected. Every time until this feral cat who gets food from our back steps. My wife and daughter relented. This cat gets to be Aloysius. The cat who get the scraps of our attention, is the constant preoccupation of the cat who enjoys a life of leisure, and more belly rubs than most cats can handle.

I will come back to that image as today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of this church. Today, we will dedicate Terry Moeller’s three paintings, which now hang so that everyone entering the church will encounter the central themes of Luke’s Gospel. Terry, as you may know, is a professor of Foundation Studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). A Master of Fine Arts, her work is in numerous private and more than 60 corporate, government, and museum collections. And for this church, she has in a single Triptych capture the essence of how Luke tells of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. In her paintings, we see how God is working at the margins, in ways we might not expect.

In the painting on the left, the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary and proclaims, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” Mary of Nazareth was not a woman others would like have noticed. While we look to outward signs of success, God looks to the content of the heart. And it is so appropriate for this image to be a part of the triptych as Luke is the only Gospel to include Mary’s side of the birth of Jesus. As Mary wonders about the greeting, the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” After the young girl asks for specifics, Gabriel tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Mary’s response is, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary’s yes to God is how the story of the Messiah really begins. Luke’s Gospel tells more stories of strong women throughout the Gospel in stories we only read in from Luke.

The central panel of Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan. This shows what Luke’s Gospel holds in common with the other three Gospels. All agree that Jesus’ ministry began with this act of faithfulness on the part of Jesus. Just as we read in today’s Gospel, that Jesus was faithful in week-by-week worship in his local synagogue, here we see Jesus faithful to the Holy Spirit prodding Jesus out to the desert. This is all the more appropriate as our own baptisms are central to our own identities. But Jesus’ baptism takes place on the edge of the wilderness as the wild and wooly prophet on the margins calls Israel to repentance.

Then on the far right, we see the faithful father welcoming home the prodigal son. This story, together with seventeen other parables, is found only in Luke’s Gospel. More than anything, Luke recorded Jesus’ stories, especially those concerning the outcast and the poor. In this story he captured our cat Olive who envies Aloysius.

You will recall the son wanted to receive his inheritance, which he squandered. Having wandered far in a land that is waste, he recalls how even the servants in his father’s house lived better and he goes home. Then Luke gives us the wonderful details of Jesus’ story writing, “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.”

Then we see that the parable was less about the son than it is about God the father, who is always looking for us to return home, ready to offer forgiveness and love. But, wait, there’s more. The elder son is furious that his father would welcome home his no good younger brother. The elder son, like Olive, doesn’t see how he has lived a life always in his father’s favor. He has not experienced the life of the lost or the left out. He has only known love and now he directs his rage at the faithful father sharing his love with the brother who doesn’t deserve it.

The three paintings then capture the essence of Luke’s Gospel, from Mary saying yes to God, through Jesus’ faithfulness to the Spirit in his baptism, to the father welcoming home the prodigal son. Luke’s Gospel captures how the love of God is alive and active and working beyond us and through us.

But the love of God knowing no bounds is not always received as Good News. For the theme of the love of God knowing no bounds upsetting those who already have known and experienced that love weaves through Luke and Acts. We need look no further than today’s Gospel reading.

Jesus is home in Nazareth at the synagogue where he grew up as a boy. Following his baptism by John, Jesus began his ministry filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Going to the synagogue as was his custom, Jesus read the scroll in the liturgy with the reading for the day coming from a passage in Isaiah which succinctly described Jesus’ ministry. Jesus reads of “Good news to the poor; Release to the captives; Recovery of sight to the blind; To let the oppressed go free; To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

He put away the scroll and Luke tells us, “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’”

We read that all thought well of him, but seven verses after our reading for today, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

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The King Who Became a Servant

01 Oct

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon to the Community of St. Joseph on October 1, 2017 for the second anniversary of the ministry with and for homeless persons in Savannah, Georgia .

The King Who Became a Servant
Philippians 2:1-13

I want to start with a once upon a time kind of a story, in order to open a window on the life and ministry of Jesus: This is the story of two boys born on the same day. Though they lived quite near one another, their lives could not have been more different. Tom was born to a poor family who did not want him. Edward was born to a rich family and the whole nation celebrated his birth.

Tom grew up with his large family packed into a room on the third floor of a decaying building. As soon as he was old enough, Tom’s father sent him out into the streets dressed in rags to beg for money, a small child fairing much better at getting hand outs than his dad. Often his father beats him when he returns home for not bringing home enough money. His lot was a common one in his poor neighborhood as “Drunkenness, riot and brawling were the order, there, every night and nearly all night long. Broken heads were as common as hunger in that place.”[1] Life was tough.

Meanwhile Edward grows up with more than enough food, wearing the finest of clothes and receiving the best possible education. You see Edward was the much anticipated son of King Henry VIII. Edward is the crown prince, the future King of England.

One day poor Tom passes the Palace at Westminster and sees a boy of his own age walking the grounds inside of the imposing gates. Excited by a glimpse of the future king, Tom unthinkingly rushes up to the golden gates of the palace and presses his face against the bars. As the guards attempt to get the ruffian to leave, Prince Edward spies the commotion. He walks closer and sees a boy much like himself, but living in rags. Prince Edward invites Tom into the palace.

Once inside, the prince peppers the pauper with questions, learning such surprising facts as not only does Tom and everyone he knows only have one set of clothes, Tom doesn’t understand why he would need two sets of clothes as he only has one body. The two exchange outfits and in the process discover that with a change of clothes, they look so much alike that each could be the other. Edward sees that Tom is bruised and he runs to chew out the guards for their rough treatment of the boy. But the guards see not the young prince, but a boy in rags. They assume he is the poor boy they admitted not many minutes before. The guards laugh when Edward proclaims himself the prince. They toss him out of the palace.

Tom becomes the prince, as no one believes his protests that he is not. And Edward is now a poor boy in the streets, as no one can believe when he says that he is the future king of England.

This is the story The Prince and the Pauper written under the pen name Mark Twain by a newspaperman, Samuel Clemons. The story of the Prince who changes places with a poor boy was Clemens was of getting at the truth by telling it slant. You see, Clemens had noticed how the poor were treated worse by the court system, and how once in that system it was hard to get out. He travelled to England and France and found the situation in those more ancient civilizations just as bad, if not worse. Everywhere he looked, the poor were more likely to end up in prison or even put to death for crimes they did not commit. So Samuel Clemons wrote the story of The Prince and the Pauper to tell readers of the problem in a way he hoped they might hear it.

In the book, the Prince ends up in prison for a short stint and faces a beating. Every where he goes Edward discovers how the world is tilted to make life easier on the rich and even harder than it has to be on the poor, especially once they find themselves in jail. Meanwhile, the poor boy Tom proves himself an able judge as when he stands judgment, his street smarts make him better able to ask questions that get at the truth. He is not as likely to trust someone just because they have money or to distrust someone just because he is poor.

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Angels Ascending and Descending

29 Sep

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at
the Collegiate Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Savannah, Georgia on September 29, 2017

Angels Ascending and Descending
A sermon marking 30 years of the Very Rev. Dr. William Willoughby III
serving as Rector of St. Paul’s Savannah
Genesis 28:10-17 and John 1:47-51

Angels are ascending and descending as we celebrate this feast of St. Michael and All Angels. In our reading from Genesis, Jacob is traveling to his mother’s family to find a wife from among his kin. He stops for the night at a random spot along the way as the sun sets. In a dream, Jacob sees ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven with angels ascending and descending. When he wakes up he declares, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it! How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Then in the Gospel of John we heard Jesus promises Nathanael, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

But first came the first impression. It can be difficult to shake off a first impression. When Jesus saw Nathanael he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” That is all it takes for Nathanael to be all in, because Nathanael goes from questioning Jesus’ judgment to saying, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

First impressions don’t always go so well. In fact, the first impressions St. Paul’s made on the Willoughbys were perhaps not a lie, but not strictly the whole truth. That’s how it works when a church courts a priest. In hindsight, Father Willoughby sees that he hadn’t known the full situation before he arrived.

That’s more than fair, because I know for a fact that the picture the parish had of Mary Willoughby was a literal photograph of Mary with a very young Katie, both wearing matching Laura Ashley dresses. If a photo can lie, that picture’s pants were on fire. I worked closely with Mary Willoughby for years and love her dearly, but I consider that their sending a photo of her and baby Katie in romantic English dresses to be pushing the courtship part of finding a church too far.

To get a clear-eyed view of first impressions, I called Kay Saussy, who works in the office here at St. Paul’s, to ask her about young Father Willoughby. I wanted her impressions from thirty years ago today. Kay said, “If I tell you, you will scream with laughter.” Then she added in a hushed voice, “Let me go to the phone in the sacristy.” Click. A couple of minutes passed. I waited in anticipation.

“I am going to tell you exactly how it was,” Kay told me. Then she launched into her tale, “Obviously we knew he was coming and so the Altar Guild wanted to spiff everything up. We spent from 9-3 that day fixing and doing. We were ready to go home dead tired. This young man comes up in bib overalls and ugly shoes.” Kay paused. “You better leave out the part about the shoes” she told me and then continued, “I said to a woman on the Altar Guild, just what we need, a homeless person.

“He didn’t introduce himself for a few minutes and we still thought he was a homeless man who wandered in. He realized that he was getting strange looks and introduced himself as our new priest, and he was, but when I met him he was a street person.”

This is perfect for this feast of St. Michael and All Angels as the Letter to the Hebrews warns, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The St. Paul’s version of this verse would read, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to homeless persons, for by doing that some have entertained Rectors without knowing it.”

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The Charism of Christ Church Savannah

27 Aug

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon
at Christ Church Savannah on August 27, 2017

The Charism of Christ Church
Romans 12:1-8

We can stumble through our lives learning little more about ourselves than a complete stranger could tell us within 15 minutes. Sure, I know myself in a way you never can, Thanks be to God. But some of you may see me more clearly than I can see myself, and in this is the potential for us both to grow spiritually.

I want to draw our attention this morning to how Paul’s Letter to the Romans speaks to the varied gifts God has given each of us. To show you what I mean, let me tell you a story of how some parishioners of a church helped me find my voice and then turn to share how I see that Christ Church is helping Savannah find its voice as well.

As I entered seminary, I needed to find a congregation where I could complete my field education. I told the Director of Field Ed that I wanted to serve at the smallest possible church that was vital to its community. He introduced me to St. Philip’s in Baden, Maryland. The historically black church had an Average Sunday Attendance of 44 when I arrived. I learned that the rural church had the clothes closet and food pantry for the community. They also had received a grant that supported a transportation ministry to pick people up at their homes and take them to the doctor or to the grocery store and other essential trips. Beyond this they had created an 8-bed assisted living facility so the elderly could stay close to home when they could no longer care for themselves. The church might have been small in number, but if the doors of the church closed, the community would have a sizeable hole to fill. St. Philip’s would be missed.

In that context, I began to lead Morning Prayer one Sunday a month and to preach on another Sunday. I had been there for some months when my seminarian committee challenged me. Mittie Gross said, “There is something we all agree on, but it is awkward to bring up.”

“What is it Mittie,” I replied with a little trepidation.
“We want you to preach more black,” he said.
“More black?” I asked.
“You know what I mean,” Mittie said.

I paused, trying to get my bearings. I told them that I didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t me or that some might see as offensive. Then Mittie said, “The thing is Frank. We are not asking you because we want you to be someone else. We are asking, because we see something in you. We want you to stop holding back.”

He explained that they thought a looser style, less tied to the text, and working more with the congregation in a give and take fit who I was made to be as a preacher. And he said, “The best way they knew to put it was to preach more black.”

That was Monday. I was to preach the following Sunday. I decided not to write out my sermon, but to know what I wanted to say and to note the movements of the sermon and then just preach it. On Wednesday morning, I did something I had not done before. After chapel at the seminary, I asked Victoria if she would like me to bring some breakfast from McDonald’s to her and Griffin. She said they would like that and as I left the seminary and headed to pick up fast food, I started preaching the Sunday sermon in the car. And I mean I preached it. I didn’t hold back. Who knows what people in other cars saw, I was preaching.

I pulled up to the microphone at the drive-through, placed the order and then waited my turn to pay. I saw that I could do what my seminarian committee asked of me, but I was wondering if I should. When I came to the first window and a man leaned out to take my money, I looked up and saw his name tag and I knew that come Sunday, I would have to really let go and trust God to get me through. I was going to have to do this thing. I needed to preach.

You see he was wearing a regulation McDonald’s nametag. But there was no name on the tag. Where the name would go, his nametag had one word. It read “Preach.” I paid Preach for my breakfast, drove to the next window to pick up the food and started preaching again as I drove home. That Sunday, I did loosen up and preach. I recall how the first response back from the congregation, that would be followed by a number of amens and the like was Mittie’s Mom said, “Take it slow now” and I knew that the Holy Spirit was in what was happening as that congregation lovingly called something out of me.

I told the story of the nametag to parishioners after church. I shared it with seminarians. Time passed. I began to doubt my own story. I went to the McDonald’s as lunch was ending. I saw the man from the drive through at one of the cash registers inside. His nametag said “James.” I asked him if we could sit and talk for just a minute. He seemed quite unsure, but agreed. They were not that busy and he asked me to give him a minute. When he sat down, I told him my story. He listened quite attentively and smiled. And when I got to the part where he leaned out the window, he jumped in, “It said ‘preach’ didn’t it?’ I said it sure seemed to and nodded toward his badge that said, “James.”

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Seeing the Face of Jesus

27 May

The Rev Canon Frank Logue preached the following sermon at
St. Paul the Apostle Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia on May 27, 2017

Seeing the Face of Jesus
An Ordination Sermon for Thomas Barron and Leslie Dellenbarger
II Corinthians 4:1-6

Brown should be the color of a deacon’s robes. Deacons are in the name of Jesus Christ, “to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.” The Bishop will also pray for God to make them, “Modest and humble.” Serving the lost and the left out while remaining modest and humble. Brown should be the color of a deacon’s robes.

Our reading from II Corinthians reminds us, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Letting the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shine through our hearts, reflecting the light of the face of Jesus to others is the work of all Christians. The order of deacons is a separate and distinct order of ministry alongside bishops, priests, and lay persons. The deacon is “to make Christ and his redemptive love known, by your word and example” especially in serving those most in need. In this work of bringing the needs of the world to the church and taking the church out into the world. In the words of the ordination rite, “At all times, your life and teaching are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.”

Serving others as if serving Christ. The Rule of St. Benedict is the great pattern for monks and nuns in the west. And in this rule, Benedict set out the centrality of hospitality declaring (In Rule 53), “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35).”

I don’t know about you. I find it easier to find Christ in other people than I do to find Christ in myself. But Jesus did not say merely, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets, everything he came to teach through his life and ministry were, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” We also have to find a way to see ourselves as loved by God. Not that we deserve, or earn God’s love. That is beyond our abilities. No, we are to see our faults and to know that God loves us as we are and wants something more and better for us. God wants to redeem the tragedies of our lives through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

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Send Me – An Ordination Sermon

13 May

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
in Augusta, Georgia on May 13, 2017

Send Me
An Ordination Sermon for Terri Degenhardt and Larry Jesion
Isaiah 6:1-8

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the Temple,” the Prophet Isaiah describes his call to serve as a prophet. Six winged angels, called Seraphs sing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with his glory.”

Smoke fills the Temple, which shakes to its foundation. Isaiah too is shaken to find himself in the very presence of God and he knows he is not worthy. The prophet cries out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

This dramatic recounting of Isaiah’s call comes not at the beginning of the Book of Isaiah, but at the start of the sixth chapter. Isaiah has for five chapters pronounced the Word of the Lord to the people of Jerusalem and all Judea during the reign of King Uzziah. Now the king is dead. Our Old Testament reading then describes a second call coming to Isaiah. The prophet was already serving God and then God says, “But wait, there’s more.”

How appropriate to encounter this passage of a second call as we gather to ordain Deacons Terri Degenhardt and Larry Jesion to the Sacred Order of Priests. Each of them experienced a renewed call. While not so dramatic as Isaiah in the Temple that year that King Uzziah died, they still experienced a powerful call to serve God as a priest.

Years ago, each of our ordinands experienced that typical call of a deacon in being tapped on the shoulder by a priest who asked them to consider serving as a deacon. I say this is typical, as deacons are servant ministers. The work of a deacon is to take the church out to the people and to bring the needs of the people in to the church. What we the church seek are people who are already doing that work. Often the person is already being a deacon and others recognize this before they do.

Terri was already taking the love of Christ into the classroom at Augusta Technical College. Even if she didn’t see it yet, Terri had been ministering for years as she taught students, especially women, who lacked confidence and self esteem to see the potential within themselves. She saw her students as God sees them and reflected back that grace and love. This is good, holy work she was immersed in long before her Rector, Steve Rice, spoke to her about a possible call to serve as a deacon.

Larry too was already drawn to caring for those outside the church. In fact, for Larry that care began before he was back in the church. After his wife, Pam, began working for Hope Hospice, Larry started volunteering. He even spent the first weekend of their married life together as a chaperone at a grief camp for children. So it was only natural after his relationship with Jesus sparked in a new and powerful way that his faith would enliven the work he had already been doing. It was only natural that his pastor, Cindy Taylor, would see this and point out what others could see, that Larry was being the icon of servant ministry. He was already living out the ministry we expect to find in deacons.

Now the church has affirmed a call to the ministry of the priesthood as we have seen priestly gifts operating within them. This is not something different we are asking them to do as if we are adding tasks or changing their job description. Even as they served as vocational or “real deacons,” we began to see that a priest is who they are called to be. We had already seen them being priests and pastors. This is rare. Most deacons will serve many years in ministry continuing to connect the church to the lost and hurting people around us. This is sacred work which the church values and serving as a deacon usually occupies the rest of one’s life.

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Do As I Have Done For You

13 Apr

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church
in Savannah, Georgia on April 13, 2017

Do As I Have Done For You
John 13:1-17, 31b-35

Peter got it wrong.

We shouldn’t be surprised in the least. The gospels have taught us to expect Peter to be the eager disciple who energetically jumps to the wrong answer and is ready to act when listening and learning is called for.

Peter sees Jesus get up from the table, take off his outer robe, and tie a towel around himself. Then he watches as Jesus pours water into a basin and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. You can almost hear the wheels turning in Peter’s mind as Jesus wipes the wet feet with the towel that was tied around him. Peter is waiting until it is his turn. He lets the other disciples take part, but he will never let the master be his servant.

Then as it is his turn, Peter asks, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Impetuous Peter doesn’t want to wait. He understands perfectly well that Jesus is serving his disciples in the humblest of ways and he isn’t going to play along. Disciples wash their teacher’s feet, not the other way around. Peter says flatly, “You will never wash my feet.”

Then in language that has long reminded the church of baptism, Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” This changes everything for Peter. If foot washing is a sign of being part of Jesus, then he wants to be drenched – soaked from head to foot.

Picking up on the baptismal line of teaching, Jesus seems to push it further in saying, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.” In this same way, one who has been baptized needs only repent of his or her sins to be made clean again. One doesn’t have to be baptized a second time.

But the connection to baptism was not Jesus’ main purpose that evening. It was the night before he was to die. The disciples did not know this yet. But Jesus is using his last evening to get across his most important lessons one more time. In case they missed the significance of his washing their feet, Jesus points out that he has done this to give them an example to follow, saying, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

This is where we expect Peter to strip off his outer robe and start working his way around the gathering washing up the other disciples. But this time, he seems to understand that something more is going on here than a lesson about washing feet. It is an example Jesus is giving. An example of service rather than a command to spend one’s days cleaning road grime off feet.

It might not have been easy to get across, but Jesus clearly connected with this message about servant leadership. Peter and the other disciples might have left the table still wondering about when and where they were to wash each other’s feet. But everything would change in a few hours. The next night they would be gathered in mourning at the death of their rabbi. Much later, sometime after the shock of Good Friday and the joy of Easter, this foot washing lesson sank in. We know the point got through because with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the disciples really came to understand their call to ministry and were empowered to act on it.

Later, when remembering that night before he died, Peter and the others would have seen foot washing from the far side of the cross and the empty tomb. Having seen how complete was their teacher’s love and commitment, those words of Jesus, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” must have sounded so different. Then even Peter knew that the life of service to which his Rabbi called him would involve much more than washing the feet of those he might have considered beneath him. After washing their feet, Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Jesus’ example was much more life changing than the humble act of washing feet. Jesus had been obedient unto death, even death on a cross. He had loved as God loves, and in the process, so upset the status quo that various groups who couldn’t agree about anything agreed that Jesus must die. Jesus was restoring outcasts to community. Jesus was breaking down the dividing walls between those who were “in” and those who were “out.”

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Live as children of light

19 Mar

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at St. John’s Episcopal Church
in Savannah, Georgia on March 19, 2017

Live as children of light
Ephesians 5:1-14 and Luke 11:14-28

In our journey through Lent, our readings move from last week considering Jesus’ power to cast out demons to land this week considering what comes next. And what must follow is that we amend our lives. For in repenting, turning toward God, and amending our lives, we close the door behind the exiting demon. Jesus said, “the last state of that man is worse than the first” when speaking of someone who once he has been delivered from a demon, finds the demon returned later with seven more and in greater strength.

While we can try to be too enlightened to talk of demons, the observable fact is plain that everywhere you go, people all around you are fighting battles you know nothing about. We are surrounded every day by people anesthetizing themselves. The anesthetic has many names—binge drinking, overeating, excessive exercise, illegal drug use, prescription drug abuse, hoarding, unhealthy relationships, workaholism, compulsive spending, gambling, the list goes on, but the dynamic is the same. It doesn’t matter if the crutch is good scotch or bad coffee, self-medication can only mask the pain. Behind the façade, the deep hurt remains.

Most people sometime between the age of 5 and 25 pick up emotional wounds that will remain festering and seeping poison into their psyches unless they can find healing. Whether the source was absent parents, physical abuse, rape, bullying, or just never matching the image in the magazines, never earning the favor of those who mattered most to you, betrayal by friends, a learning disability that caused you to always fear you couldn’t measure up. The sources are legion and layered. Without bringing true healing to the deep hurts, much pain will follow and will spread out to those we love.

Perhaps the greatest human fear is that we will get what we deserve. Everyone else is okay, but I know that I do the right things for the wrong reasons. I know the secret sins, the hidden shame, the parts no one can ever see the reason for the false front that masks the need for self-medication. The Gospel does not teach that I’m okay and you’re okay. The Good News is that even though I am far from okay and so are you, that God loves us anyway and offers us a way to turn our lives around.

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Seeing Rightly

20 Nov

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at The Church of the Transfiguration
in Dallas, Texas on November 20, 2016

Seeing Rightly
Luke 23:33-43

Our Gospel reading brings us to the foot of the cross to see Jesus’ with his arms of love nailed to the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. Even as Jesus proclaimed forgiveness to those who are in the act of killing him, he is challenged to prove that he is Messiah and King by saving himself. We who follow Jesus two millennia later get the dramatic irony that it is only in not saving himself that Jesus will save us.

Those present at Jesus’ crucifixion who knew the scripture best failed to see what God is doing through Jesus. Rather than standing over creation in judgment, God came in the Second Person of the Trinity entering the creation in weakness. He who the universe could not contain was born to a poor girl in Galilee. Soon after he was born, his family were on the road as refugees. God took on human form in the person of Jesus. As the great champion of the faith Athanasius would put it, “He became like we are that we might become like he is.”

Jesus loved us so much that even when the cost of that love was suffering and death, he would not give up on that love. Through his death on the cross, Jesus broke the power of sin and death that we might have forgiveness and life eternal. And yet, the only one who sees rightly that salvation that can come through Jesus is the thief dying on the cross next to him. He knows that Jesus is sinless and yet is condemned to death.

Dying on a cross alongside Jesus, the thief has just heard words not of judgment or condemnation, but of forgiveness. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” The man who remains nameless to us was known to God. The thief wanted the forgiveness and reconciliation with God that could come through Jesus and he says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Such unlikely words of faith. The thief knows that though Jesus is dying, the Reign of Christ is about to begin. How is this perception possible when everyone else is missing it? How does the thief on the cross see the truth that the sinless one alongside him proclaiming forgiveness is even then able to welcome him into paradise? This takes seeing with the heart.

As I prayed through this passage preparing for this Sunday, I recalled a favorite book, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, The Little Prince. I already knew by heart my favorite line from this gem of a book, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I decided to look the quote up and see the larger context for those words. I was amazed by what I found. I want to share that journey with you as we consider the story of The Little Prince alongside our Gospel reading. For “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

The sermon is continued here: Seeing Rightly (full sermon)

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Water in a Barren Land

26 Sep

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon for the Diocese of Georgia’s Fall 2016 Clergy Conference
meeting at Honey Creek Retreat Center on September 26, 2016

Water in a Barren Land
Psalm 63

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water.
-Psalm 63:1

The Psalmist cries out to God, seeking the presence of the living God. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh faints for you. Water is a precious everywhere on the planet, but living in the land of Israel makes that reality all the more clear. That’s why water and salvation are so intimately connected throughout scripture. In the first Psalm, a person who meditates on Torah day and night is like a tree planted by streams of water. In Jeremiah, the Lord is a fountain of living water. Jesus uses this metaphoric use of water when he talks to the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

These verses concerning springs of salvation and living water carry forward into our own day, filled with meaning for those of us who work in what should be a spiritual oasis. We are saturated by the goodness of the Lord. In fact, we can get so soggy from sloshing around in the springs of salvation that we can forget that we actually live in a desert country.

Yet even here on the buckle of the Bible Belt we are surrounded by people living in a spiritual wasteland. The people we stand in line with at the grocery store, the clerk at the local WalMart, the bank President, the cook at the Waffle House, and on and on and on. They are thirsty for the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ and fill that void in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

But to get real, those of us in ordained ministry are not immune to spiritual thirst. And the more we serve others, the more we can grow parched. We all know of and have known people called by God, given gifts for ministry, serving in the church in a ministry bearing good fruit who end up in alcohol addiction, prescription drug addiction, porn addiction or who have ended up in adulterous relationships, taking money, or abusing their power and ending up out of ministry.

Spiritual thirst is not something to which we are immune. When we try to quench our longings in other ways, we can falter and fall like anyone else.

While we may not be immune to the problems, we can make an effort to build up our defenses. Denise Vaughn, the Rector of the Church of the Annunciation in Vidalia invited me to lead a mini retreat for the Toombs Area Ministerial Alliance which is her local ministers’ group. When we met last month, pastors from nine denominations came together and I was astounded by how the group trusted one another as I broke open this topic. I challenged the pastors to break into smaller groups to discuss the spiritual practices, which nurture their faith. The Roman Catholic priest detailed his Rule of Life while a Church of God pastor told how he finds it helpful to spend time talking with recent converts to hear the freshness of their discovering their faith in Jesus Christ. Daily prayer and scripture reading were common.

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Send a tornado into their hearts – An Ordination Sermon

14 May

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Paul the Apostle Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia on May 14, 2016 for the ordination of Donald Holland, Ian Lasch, Tommy Townsend, and Ray Whiting to the Sacred Order of Deacons.

Send a tornado into their hearts – An Ordination Sermon
Acts 2:1-21

“What does this mean?” Bewildered, amazed, astonished, and perplexed is how our reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the crowd gathering that Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Devout Jews from every nation under heaven are living in Jerusalem. Each person hears someone talking in their mother tongue, the language of home. The Good News of Jesus flows fluently from somewhere. As they gather, those seeking the source of the commotion discover a gaggle of Galileans full of the Holy Ghost.

The crowd levels at the disciples a version of the same complaint made against Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”. How can these hicks just in from the sticks be speaking clearly in the language of Parthians, Medes, Egyptians, and so on. In the midst of their bewildered amazement, one solution presents itself: These men must be drunk. The part left unsaid is, “Hello. Galileans.”

God is doing a new thing and the crowd gathering on that day when the Holy Spirit first came in power has only their old categories. Based on the existing prejudices about a group of Galileans, the way to make sense of this Pentecost event is to dismiss the clear proclamation of the Gospel as mere nonsense, because the messengers are fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and so on—far from the spiritual elite. The devout Jews from all over the world want to know can we possibly hear God speak through such clearly imperfect vessels as these men?

The question is probably more relevant than you would like me to admit. We are here this morning to take part in the ordination of Donald, Ian, Ray, and Tommy to the Sacred Order of Deacons. So I will repeat the question, “How can we possibly hear God speak through such clearly imperfect vessels as these men?”

Don’t hear me wrong. I think the world of all four ordinands, but to prepare for this sermon I read back through the spiritual autobiographies of all four men and read their extensive psychological reports and more in the five inch stack of paperwork collected by the Diocese of Georgia in the past four or more years. Certainly, those psychological reports did not reveal these men to be any crazier than the rest of us, but spending time with their life stories does show that the path to this day has not been a straight line for any of them. While no individual among the four shares all of these characteristics, as a group they have experienced severe health issues, alcoholism, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, periods of doubt and unforgiveness or of notable pride and arrogance, broken marriages, and other twists and turns to their lives so that each of them has friends who will hear of today and think, “Really. What is the church thinking?”

This is where the deacons, priest, and bishop can say, “Welcome to the club.” We too gave some people who heard of our ordinations pause to wonder if the church might be scraping the bottom of the barrel. This has been the reaction to those God calls to serve him since before Mary spoke to an angel and learned, among other things, her next conversation with Joseph would be a doozy or even before Miriam learned that God called her stuttering brother Moses when he was on the run for murder.

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That They May Become Completely One

08 May

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
in Charleston, South Carolina on May 8, 2016

That They May Become Completely One
John 17:20-26

Let me tell you about my friend Jesus.

Jesus was and is God.
In seeing Jesus, we come to know our Triune God more fully.
In Jesus life and ministry, we see God.
So let me tell you about my friend Jesus.

Jesus was born to a poor mama and poor step daddy. Jesus was a great kid, who grew up to be the man everyone wanted to hear speak. But Jesus was also born into the Roman Empire, so Jesus, the King of all creation, knew disrespect. Jesus grew up in a world that disrespected him at any good opportunity.

A good kid from a good family. A man who would change the world. But if Jesus ducked into a store catering to Romans to buy something for his Mama, he might have to wait a while. Standing there waiting for the others to be served first. Truth be told, the shopkeeper might act like he didn’t even see him until all the right people had been served first. They would not have seen the content of his character. One look at Jesus and they knew his kind could wait. That’s the world my friend Jesus knew.

And if anyone wanted to change the way the world worked, the Empire lined the roads with crosses. Get too far out of line, you would get hung on a cross as an example to the rest.

So what did my friend Jesus do?
He turned that world upside down every chance he got.

Oh the world fought back. The creation that had already turned its back on God always fights back against the way the world should be. But that kid from Nazareth conquered the Roman Empire and he has been conquering principalities and powers ever since. My friend Jesus sees the crosses, the beatings, the lynching trees, the electric chairs, the prisons full of lives of promise cut short. Jesus sees all the ways we put people down and it breaks his heart. Jesus sees the heart of every man and woman. He knows us, the good and the very bad, and he loves us anyway, completely, unreservedly.

As our friend Jesus tells us in our reading this morning from John’s Gospel, he and God the Father are one. He tells us that he is in the Father and the Father is in him and he wants us to be in them too. Our friend Jesus talks like that sometimes. Especially the way his Beloved Disciple John tells about Jesus.

Jesus wants us to know that before the very foundation of the world, God was in relationship. No I can’t describe it fully. The Trinity is a divine mystery. But Jesus wants us to understand something about the nature of God. Jesus tells us that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit were in relationship before the creation.

Somehow in God’s own being there was and is love. And when this Triune God did create, God created out of that love for love. Yes, it’s a mystery. No, we can’t fully comprehend it, but there is something to this Trinity of persons that is written in to the very fabric of creation. Everything is interconnected. All creation is meant to be in one harmonious relationship.
God did not create one kind of person just so another kind of person could put them down. God did not create some kid just to stand aside in a store unseen until all the right people bought what they came to buy. Sin created that mess.

God created a world out of love for love. God imprints on each human the very image and likeness of God. God sees us and calls us good. It’s sin that leads to world with roads lined with crosses and lynching trees.

In our reading from John’s Gospel, it is the night before Jesus is to die. He knows the Empire has a cross with his name on it. Jesus did not have to go looking for his cross. Jesus loved like there is no “us” and “them.” Jesus showed compassion to the lost and the left out. Jesus loved as God loved breaking down divisions among people. The cross found Jesus.

The full sermon continues here:

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Remember Me – Palm Sunday Sermon

21 Mar

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon
at Christ Church Frederica on Palm Sunday 2016

Remember Me
Luke 22:14-23:56

On the night before he died, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” So begins the long reading of the Passion from Luke’s Gospel.

We begin with Passover. Later, Peter will forget Jesus prediction and will deny three times that he even knows Jesus.

Then much later as Jesus after he has been crucified and looked out on those killing him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” A criminal dying alongside the innocent Jesus wants this mercy too. The thief says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Our reading begins with an act of remembering, then out of fear Peter feigns amnesia trying to forget his connection to Jesus, and finally a criminal next to Jesus asks that the Lord remember him. I want to pick up this thread of remembering, forgetting, and remembering as a lens through which to look not just at Jesus’ passion, but also at our lives.

Remembering is essential to any understanding of Judaism and so the roots of our own faith. The most basic statement of the Judaism, to be remembered by all, is the Shema, a simple prayer taken directly from the Torah which Jews are to pray twice daily and are, if possible, to be reciting as they die. The words are:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

These are the words written inside the phylacteries, the two small square leather boxes traditionally worn on the forehead and the left arm during morning prayer by Torah observant Jewish. These words also go into a Mezuzah, the decorative case that goes alongside the doorways of observant Jews. The central proclamation is to be recited to your children and talked about when you are at home and when you are away when you lie down and when you rise.

One story points to how powerful this act of remembering can be. Immediately on peace coming at the end of the Second World War, Rabbi Eliezer Silver went to Europe to find Jewish children hidden among non-Jewish families to escape the Holocaust. To find the children, he would later recount how he went to gatherings of children and call out:

: אֶחָד יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָה יִשְׂרָאֵל שְׁמַע
אֱלֹהֶיךָ יְהוָה אֵת וְאָהַבְתָּ
מְאֹדֶךָ –וּבְכָל ,נַפְשְׁךָ- וּבְכָל ,לְבָבְךָ- בְּכָל

Shema Yisrael, Ado-nai Elo-heinu, Ado-nai Echad.
Vuh-ahav-ta ate Ado-noi Elo-hecha
Bi-chol li-vav-cha oo-vi-chol naf-shecha oo-vi-chol mi-odecha

Rabbi Eliezer would then scan the crowd and could see the children remember who they were as those words spoken by their Jewish parents spoke deeply to kids scarred by war. Just as they were trained to do from bedtime onward, the words Hear O Israel spoken in Hebrew broke the spell, cured the amnesia, and let the children remember who they were, and restored them to community.

The Torah instructs the faithful to tell of God’s great deeds to their children and their children’s children. This daily act of praying the Shema is coupled with the central act of remembrance, the Passover. At each Passover Seder, Jews recall that if God had not brought the children of Israel out of Egypt with a mighty arm, they would still be slaves.

An important part of every Passover Seder comes when a child asks the central question of Passover, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The traditional response is, “On this night we remember we were slaves in Egypt…”

That key question traditionally comes after the second toast of wine. And Luke records in his Gospel the two toasts as well as Jesus’ words. After the second toast, Jesus, as the head of the Passover celebration, would be expected to tell the Exodus story.

Jesus should have said, “On this night we remember we were slaves in Egypt…” But that’s not what he said. What Jesus did say was, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” And Jesus also said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Our word “remember” as we use it today is a weak compared to what is meant here. The Greek word is Anamnesis, which does mean remember, but it means this in a very real sense. If my arm or my leg is cut off, I am dismembered. Anamnesis is the opposite of dismembering. We re-member when our members are once more attached. We are made whole. We are fully ourselves once more.

Jesus said that when you do this, I will be re-membered. The Body of Christ will once more be whole. It is not that we will recall who Jesus was, but we will know fully who we are as he is present to us and we are part of his mystical body.

The full sermon continues here:

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Nothing Less than the Power and Presence of God

08 Jun

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at
Christ Church Savannah on The Feast of Pentecost—June 8, 2014

Nothing Less than the Power and Presence of God
Acts 2:1-21 

Nothing less than the presence and power of God breaks into the room where the disciples are waiting and praying on that 50th day after Jesus resurrection. Here the Evangelist Luke lets us know language breaks down as he resorts to simile saying it was a sound like a violent wind and then something happened he could only describe as if it were divided tongues of fire. The experience was beyond words and Luke reaches into metaphor and analogy to convey the ineffable.

When the Gospel moves to the tangible—what they did see and hear that morning—a miracle is occurring. The Holy Spirit came to Jesus’ first followers on Pentecost, empowering the frightened pack of disciples to become a brazen bunch of evangelists. The curse of the Tower of Babel was reversed in one amazing outburst. At Babel, people were divided. Now, the former fishermen and other followers of Jesus became interpreters par excellence. In this Babel scene played backward, the devout Jews from Elam, Mesopotamia, Cappadocia, Pontus, Pamphylia and other far flung parts of the Roman Empire hear the Good News of what God has done through Jesus each in their own native language.

The gospel is spoken not in confusing babble but with a crystal clarity that leaves the hearers cut to the quick. Before this amazing day is over, 3,000 devout Jews will be baptized as followers of Jesus, the Christ. Yet not everyone understood what was happening in their midst. The account of that day in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells us that some onlookers took the excitement for a drunken mob. The first Christian sermon begins as Peter explaining to the crowd that the disciples are not drunk, “for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.” Clearly Peter never showed up early for the Georgia-Florida game, which is the world’s largest cocktail party. There the saying, “It’s five o’clock somewhere” could become “It’s 9 a.m. somewhere.”

But what Peter is assuring the crowd is that the miracle they are witnessing cannot be dismissed so easily. For these unschooled Galileans are speaking clearly in languages they have never before understood, if they had even heard them spoken. Certainly, it feels safe to reduce the disciples’ behavior as coming from heavy drinking. It might also be comforting to relegate Pentecost to an outbreak of religious hysteria. But the Pentecost experience was not due to alcohol and is not so easily reduce to nothing more than hysteria.

This is an ongoing tendency about lots of phenomenon for which we have no ready understanding. We seek safe, tidy answers. The physicist turned Anglican priest, John Polkinghorne, said in his book Quarks, Chaos and Christianity, some people are “nothing butters” when it comes to the world we live in. Reductionists see a thing is “nothing but” its physical explanation. They need only look at the most elemental form of a phenomenon to explain everything.

For someone with a “nothing butter” way of making sense of the world, the compositions of Bach are nothing but vibrations that ineract with our eardrums to create the effect we call music. The Mona Lisa is nothing but flecks of paint that we experience as differing colors. Baptism is nothing but water poured over someone’s head as a part of a ritual observance. The Eucharist is nothing but bread and wine and the Pentecost experience was nothing but religious hysteria.

Yes, Bach’s music does reach our ears as nothing but vibrations against our eardrums, for that is how the beauty of the composers’ work is transmitted. But you can’t reduce their music to mere vibrations hitting your eardrum as what one hears is nothing short of miraculous.

Of course, the Mona Lisa is just flecks of matter we call “paint” put on matter we call “canvas” in ways that we experience as an interplay of colors. But her enigmatic smile cannot be reduced to the physical matter that forms the art. In these works of art, the notes of music and the paint on the canvas convey so much more. Reducing them to the essential physical phenomena misses the point.

The Pentecost event defied any “it was nothing but” explanation. We can’t reduce Pentecost to “It was nothing but emotionalism,” or “It was nothing but mass hysteria,” or even “It was nothing but a long-ago event we can no longer explain.” The closest we can get is “Pentecost was nothing less than the presence and power of God.”

That day, the Jesus Movement was transformed not by human will, but by an act of the Holy Spirit. For while the apostles first gathered out of fear, this same rag tag band of disciples will bust out of the room, go into the streets and tell the world about Jesus. Within generations the Good News of their resurrected Lord will be known throughout the Roman Empire and in time it will go out to the ends of the earth all through the work of the Holy Spirit. On receiving the Holy Spirit, the disciples preach the Good News of Jesus and miracles follow.

That same Holy Spirit is right here, right now in you as I preach. Every preacher depends on this every time she or he preaches, knowing that even if the preacher, despite all effort, gets the sermon not quite right, the Holy Spirit can still work with those imperfect words to speak to the hearer’s heart.

There is a story which illustrates what I mean about the work of the Holy Spirit. Its told of the ancient Celtic saint, Comgan, that takes place as he arrived in a village soon after the death of the priest.[1] A man of some substance, the priest had 17 horses, but he left no will. The people were arguing among themselves as to who should get the horses when Saint Comgan comes riding onto the scene.

Comgan told them he could both solve the horse dilemma and find the village a new priest. He said that the horses should be divided so that the sexton should have half the horses for digging the graves and caring for all the property; the beadle should get a third of the horses for his care of the church’s things, especially those items used in worship; and the choirmaster should receive a ninth of the horses for leading the church music. And the person who could resolve how to divide the horses should be the new priest.

The village was mystified, but agreed to the plan. The sexton, beadle and choirmaster set out to find someone who could solve the new mathematical problem of how to divide 17 into half, a third and a ninth without sawing up any horses or dividing days of the week. They ran into lots of people interested in the dilemma, but none who could solve it.

Then a young man offered his own horse to the priest’s herd. Now enlarged to 18, the herd was divided in half, with the sexton receiving his nine horses. The beadle got his third by taking home six horses, and the choirmaster got a ninth of the herd with two horses. The original 17 thus divided, the young man took his own horse back.

The villagers promptly asked the man to be their priest, citing Saint Comgan’s advice. The man agreed and he was sent to the bishop for first training and then ordination before returning to the village for three decades of faithful service to the congregation who miraculously found him.

One has to assume the role of The Holy Spirit in this story. The story doesn’t work without the Holy Spirit touching the hearts of those involved, speaking with that still small voice. The Holy Spirit is the one who inspires Comgan to set up the task and also inspires the young man to ride into the village and offer a solution. The same Holy Spirit then gets the Bishop to back the whole plan leads the young man to return to be a faithful priest after going away to study.

The Holy Spirit is that 18th horse. Just as the inheritance issue could not have been solved without first adding the 18th horse, so there are things in your life that you will not be able to get through or able to bear without the Holy Spirit. For God’s presence working in and through you can get you through problems which seem insurmountable.

Rather than reducing how God is working in your life to safe or tidy explanations, look for the unexpected ways in which you are being opened up to something more. For the God that broke into the midst of the disciples that Pentecost morning is here now within you if you are open to God’s presence.

Brother Roger, the monk who founded the Christian community at Taizé put it well in writing,

“Let yourself be plumbed to the depths, and you will realize that everyone was created for a presence. There, in your heart of hearts, in that place where no two people are alike, Christ is waiting for you. And there the unexpected happens.”

Pentecost is a time to remember that God’s spirit is still present in a mighty way. That’s why our worship can’t be reduced to “nothing but” music, readings and a sermon. The Eucharist can never be described as “nothing but” bread and wine, any more than baptism is “nothing but” water and words. That is far too limiting. We don’t want nothing but a religious experience. We long for nothing less than the power and presence of God, a presence for which you were created and for which your soul longs.

There will be times when you really need the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. Not sure when that might be? Well, there are two times in life: 1) the times when you pretty much have everything under control and you are facing no challenges, and 2) the times when everything seems to be spinning out of control and you are left reeling.

The truth is that having everything under control is an illusion. The reality is that you can’t control everything, even the things that matter to you most. The good news is that you don’t have to. Instead, each of us can count on the presence and power of God not just in our worship each week, but in our daily lives. That is what we need anyway. If I were to depend on my own abilities, I would fall short of the mark. When I solve things they work out like this (interlock hands with only one finger crossing over). But when I work to discern God’s will and really listen and wait for the working of the Holy Spirit, I find that God is very economical and several problems are solved at once, for God’s solutions work more like this (interlock all the fingers of both hands).

To do this, follow the path of the disciples who remained in prayer and came together all in one place. So keep a pattern of daily prayer and weekly gathering for worship. Pray for God to show you God’s will. One way to pray for this when making a decision, such as whether to move or take another job, or whatever big decision you face, ask God to close the wrong doors and open the right ones. Then prayerfully walk forward and watch the sure thing fall apart while the long shot falls into place.

Also, make time to share what you face with other folks who are prayed up, asking someone to listen with you to how God might be speaking. For God does not always call us to an easy path, just the right one. In these ways, you can open yourself up to something more than the echo chamber of your own desires. For as Brother Roger said, when you really hear God, the unexpected happens. But it starts with refusing to settle for nothing but your own will and remain open to how God might be trying to get your attention. For the Holy Spirit remains so wild and unruly that sometimes only metaphor can describe what is taking place. And God can still break into fearful and broken heart like mine and so I know the Holy Spirit can do this for you as well. I don’t know what you face this day or will face this week, but I do know that if you will faithfully seek God’s will and listen, that God is faithful and you will be led by nothing less than the presence and power of God.


[1]     This is my own retelling of the story, which I found in Robert Van DeWeyer’s book Celtic Parables: a book of Celtic courage, hospitality, humor, and holiness.

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