24 August 2011

Aksana Belle Sterk

I am now the grandfather of three wonderful kids. Our daughter Marina gave birth to her firstborn, Aksana Belle Sterk, yesterday morning at 10:12 am. Proud father is her husband Nathan. Aksana was 7 lb 8 oz and 21" long.

In other news, our other two grandkids are coming for a brief visit starting tomorrow. Hooray!

Each time...

...I come to campus for the first time in the Fall, I find a new lilt in my step and a song in my heart. To work at what one loves is one of the chiefest delights given us while we are able to see the sun.

07 August 2011

Sermon on the feeding of the 5,000

Put yourself in the disciples’ place. They had followed the Lord to a desert place for renewal. But then the crowds came, and Christ in his compassion healed them. Now it was getting late.
The disciples took note of the time, and place. They saw the peoples’ need, and were concerned. “We need to let them go,” they thought. “They’ll need time to find food.” So they came to Christ, and asked him to release the crowd.
Now come those shocking words. The Lord responded, “They don’t have to go away. You give them something to eat.” Catch the weight of those words. “YOU give them something to eat!” Here they were, twelve men more or less—poor men, with little or nothing to their name. There was the crowd, thousands and thousands of them. And now, their Lord says to them, in essence, “Feeding that crowd is your responsibility.”
I wonder, sometimes, if we ever see the needs around us as our responsibility. Most of us have learned the survival skill of looking the other way, of not paying attention to the needs around us. The homeless guy at the entrance ramp, the lonely people in the nursing home, the single mother who’s trying to figure out how to feed her kids: there’s just so much need that if we thought about it, we’d be overwhelmed. And so we ask ourselves, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and move on, never thinking that it was Cain, the first murderer, who first posed that question.
Politically, both the left and the right have ways of avoiding these needs. The man on the right, the conservative, may say “Those folks have needs because of bad choices they made. Let them figure it out for themselves.” The people in our text, for example, should have thought about how they’d provide for themselves in a desert area.
And those on the left, the liberals, likewise avoid the needs. “We should tax the wealthy, so that society can take care of these needs.” In other words, there is a problem. But it’s not my problem. It’s the other guy’s problem.
But Christ calls us to see the problems around us, as our problem. Maybe some folks made bad decisions to get them where they are. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore them. And if we wait for the government to fix the problem, we’ll be waiting a long time. The needs around us are here and now, and they’re our responsibility.
Only when we see the greatness of our responsibility, will we learn the greatness of our Lord. The disciples answer Christ, “We have only five loaves and two small fish.” That was barely a snack for a couple of people, let alone thousands. But Christ says, “Bring them to me.”
“Bring them to me.” Here’s stewardship in a nutshell: that we take whatever little we have, and bring it to Christ. You know, for every age there’s always an excuse for not giving. The young person says, “I don’t make enough, and I have lots to buy.” Then when college is done, it’s “I have to pay off my loans.” Then comes a family—“I have to buy a house…I have to take care of my kids.” And then comes retirement—“But I don’t have enough saved, and what will come of me?”
Bring your resources to Christ. When we give that tithe, that 10% of our income, it represents giving all that we have. Indeed, the most important thing we give is our very bodies. St. Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as living sacrifices, wholly acceptable to God.”
The needs before our parish are daunting indeed. We have been given this little building, on this little piece of land. We’d like to do so much more: to build a permanent temple, with a cemetery, a school or old folks’ home. We’d like to help our neighbors in practical, useful ways. How can we do it? Well, we can’t, in our own strength.
We must learn, rather, to bring what we have, to Christ. Let it be our business to be faithful in giving, faithful in serving our neighbors. And let it be his business to give us what we need to serve those in need: whether it be a permanent temple and a school to teach his word, or food pantry to feed the hungry—or whatever else he has in mind.
You know the rest of the story—how that the disciples brought their food to Christ, and he blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them to give to the crowd…how everyone ate his fill and still there were twelve baskets left behind.
Still today the Lord multiplies the loaves. We offer him bread and wine, his gifts mingled with our labor. And he gives it back to us as his own life-giving body and precious blood. He feeds our bodies, he forgives our sins, he fills us with his own indestructible life. Give as much as we can, we can never outgive our merciful and man-befriending God.
So let us rise from this place, filled with his gifts, ready to embrace the needs we see around us—to make them our responsibility. Let us bring to him the little we have, with grateful hearts, and learn in our own lives how good the Lord is. Let us be faithful with the things of this passing life, so that we may receive a rich reward in his kingdom, which has no end. Amen.

06 August 2011

Sermon on the dumb demoniac, the crowd and the Pharisees

Hall-of-famer Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” That saying makes us smile because, while it seems to make sense, it really doesn’t. A fork in the road is an either/or, not a both/and. You go one way, or the other. You can’t go both ways.
Today’s gospel shows us that the same is true in our encounter with Christ. The Lord heals a dumb man, casting out a demon. The crowd responds with praise, saying “This has never been done in Israel.” And that was true! Every kind of miracle the Lord did in his earthly ministry had been done already in the Old Testament: lepers cleansed, sick people healed, dead people raised—even feeding many with a little food. Only one kind of miracle was new. And that was the casting out of demons.
Why does the Lord repeat the same kind of miracles that happen in the Old Testament? It was to show that he was the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the one who, in himself, brought together all those things that had been done piecemeal before him. But why, then, does he cast out demons? In this way he shows his greatness, and the purpose of his coming. As St. John writes, “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil.”
The crowd praises Christ. But the Pharisees harden their hearts and say, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” They could not deny what he had done, and so they serve as unwilling witnesses of Christ’s power. Admitting the work, they still reject Christ—in the only way left to them. They attribute his power itself to the devil. But that’s irrational…it’s madness. Why would Satan fight against himself? They showed that same irrationality later, when the Lord rose from the dead and they told the guards to say that while the guards slept, the disciples stole the body. But such is the fate of all those who reject the love of God in Christ. Such “wisdom” becomes folly.
The crowd praises Christ; the Pharisees reject him. But nobody stays the way they were before. That’s because every time we encounter Christ, it is a fork in the road, a moment of crisis, a time of decision.
Where do we encounter him? We encounter him here in this time, when his word is proclaimed, his promise given, his body and blood offered to the faithful. Our hearts are changed, for good or for ill: for good, when we embrace him in repentance and draw near in love; for ill, when we put off repentance or draw near outwardly while hardening our hearts inwardly.
We encounter him, too, in dealing with others and especially the least of his brothers and sisters, day after day. When we see someone in need and turn away, it hardens us ever so slightly. When we open ourselves to serve them, and to receive them, we open ourselves to him.
Let us learn to see our lives for what they are. Our life doesn’t consist in the “stuff” we accumulate, in the things we have; for in the end, all that will be given to someone else. All those things are but the wax in the candle. But the candle’s life consists in its burning; and our life consists in the decisions we make, moment by moment—to receive the forgiveness and life Christ extends to us, or to turn from him to our own way, seeking pleasure and power.
Let us then beware, lest we think “Tomorrow I will repent, tomorrow I will believe, tomorrow I will follow Christ.” For that “tomorrow” doesn’t exist, and we may wake up to find ourselves far from him. This is the time of crisis, the fulcrum of our life, the fork in our road. So let us say “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. We will seek him, we will serve him, we will praise him right now, in the only time and place and people he gives us.”

03 August 2011

Raskolnikov's dream

I've been listening to Dostoyevsky's novels on my mp3 player. I want to post a few excerpts that have struck me as interesting. Here's one: Raskolnikov's dream from near the end of Crime and Punishment. It strikes me as prescient:

He was in the hospital from the middle of Lent till after Easter.
When he was better, he remembered the dreams he had had while he was
feverish and delirious. He dreamt that the whole world was condemned
to a terrible new strange plague that had come to Europe from the
depths of Asia. All were to be destroyed except a very few chosen.
Some new sorts of microbes were attacking the bodies of men, but these
microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them
became at once mad and furious. But never had men considered
themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the
truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions,
their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible.
Whole villages, whole towns and peoples went mad from the infection.
All were excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that
he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat
himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know
how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what
good; they did not know whom to blame, whom to justify. Men killed
each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in
armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would
begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers
would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring
each other. The alarm bell was ringing all day long in the towns;
men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was
summoning them no one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned,
because every one proposed his own ideas, his own improvements, and
they could not agree. The land too was abandoned. Men met in groups,
agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on
something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused
one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations
and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction. The
plague spread and moved further and further. Only a few men could be
saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined
to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth, but
no one had seen these men, no one had heard their words and their