The Good News!

Welcome! I am the Rev. Ken Saunders the rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, MD (since May 2011). These sermons here were delivered in the context of worship.

[NOTE: Sermons (or Homilies) are commentaries that follow the scripture lessons, and are specifically designed to be heard. They are "written for the ear" and may contain sentence fragments and be difficult to read. They are NOT intended to be academic papers.]

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Year A - Epiphany 2 - January 15, 2017

The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church
Towson, MD

RCL Year A - Epiphany 2 - January 15, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

More than any other time in the Church year, Epiphany is a season of light. It starts out with the Magi (or Wise Men) following that bright star that illuminated the night sky. It is a time designed by the church for us to reflect on coming out of the dark… Out of the dark and desolate places of our lives and coming to live out in the open… into the light of Christ. It is an invitation to be baptized as a believer in Christ and to participate and share in his ministry.

Last week was the First Sunday after the Epiphany – The Baptism of Our Lord, and in place of the Nicene creed in the service we stood up and renewed our baptismal vows… As it is fitting and proper to do on that day, as it is during the great vigil of Easter, on the day of Pentecost, and on All saints day. These are the major feasts that are especially appropriate for baptism  but even though we didn’t baptize anyone, we took a moment to remember our own baptism… to remember WHO we are and WHOSE we are, by virtue of our own baptism – our baptism by water and the holy spirit into the life, death, and resurrection, of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ own baptism illuminates our understanding of who Jesus really is… The savior that takes away our sins and offers the whole world restoration and redemption… He is the Holy and anointed One, He is the Christ! And today, we follow that awesome reminder with the lessons that we just heard. 

Last week we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel according to Matthew. But today, we hear a portion of the story a little differently from the Gospel according to John. In John’s story, the baptizer John (not the Gospel writer) proclaims several times who Jesus is.  John the Baptist said, “look… there he is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world… He is the one that I have been talking about… He is the Christ, He is the one that came into the world. Believe me, when I baptized him, I saw the Holy Spirit descend on him, and I heard the voice of God say that he was the one, God’s only son, with whom He is well pleased!”

Baptism is the first step… Our first step of our living into the light of Christ and embarking on the journey that we are all on together!

The theme that unites all the readings today is “Call.”
Who are we called to be and what are we called to do as baptized persons??

It is the famous writer Parker Palmer who says that our “call” by God, referred to by Palmer as our true vocation, is something we can’t not do!” I realize that his phrase is a double negative (and it’s driving the English teachers in the congregation crazy), but I think Parker uses this language it to make a point.

Our true vocation is this deep yearning, a yearning and seeking that is deep inside us. It is something that is knit into the very fabric of our lives. – It’s in our DNA. This is expressed by Isaiah who says, "the Lord called me before I was born" – before I was knit in my mother’s womb, you knew me!”  

The Psalmist adds, that after waiting patiently for the Lord, "he lifted me out of the pit... and he set my feet on a high cliff...";

The epistle from "Paul, called to be an apostle," to Church in Corinth "called to be saints" and equipped with all the necessary spiritual gifts; even though they weren’t very good at it in practice.

John story, after he explains who Jesus is, is the call of the first disciples. I find that the most engaging part of this passage is Jesus' first conversation with the two disciples. He sees them following him and asks them a question, "What is it that you are looking for?" They answer the question with a question: "Teacher, where are you staying?" Jesus answers, simply, "Come and see."  

The question he asks them first, "What are you looking for?" is strangely enough the question that begins the service of admission to the catechumenate. Since the ancient church, the catechumanate (from where we get the words catechuman and catechism – the learners and the teaching) has been the period of preparation for baptism.  

It has most recently been resurrected in the church as a preparation for confirmation and spiritual enrichment: and I’m thinking very seriously about offering it during the Christian Education hour during Lent.

The question is "What do you seek?" in the Catechumanate service, the answer is "Life in Christ!"  This is essentially what the Christian faith believes that all of us are seeking. Andrew and the other disciple don't know that – or at least the text doesn’t say it – But they do ask a question "Where are you staying?” Where are you coming from? Where are you going? And Jesus' answer to them was simple, open, and inviting: "Come and see." 

We need to realize that the Gospel is not something that we read in a book or learn from a statement. It is a life, that must be lived and experienced to be understood. Jesus is inviting these two disciples, these two seekers, to “come and see” and share in His life. He doesn't set conditions, or insist on a permanent commitment, or make them “sign on” or “punch in.” 

He simply invites them to experience what it means to live "in Christ," to live into the "kingdom life." That is at the very heart of that word that we are often afraid of as Episcopalians: “evangelism.” Evangelism - The way we tell the story of salvation and invite seekers to come and share in the life we have in Jesus the Christ. I invite seekers to “come and see.”

In Epiphany season, we are exploring and spreading the light of Christ through the world – beginning with us. On some level, each of us is continually being invited by Christ to share more deeply in his life. We are all called by our baptism to extend the invitation to the seekers that we meet to "come and see."

The completion of the story, of course, is the irony that Andrew goes back and invites his brother, Simon – who Jesus calls by a nickname, Cephas (in Aramaic) which translated to Greek is “Petros” or “Rock” (Petros in greek means rock). Peter, as we well know will be that steadfast rock of the continuing church -  the keeper of the keys to the kingdom.

We need to stop and think for a minute: What if Andrew had not been invited by Jesus? And what if Andrew had not followed? What if Andrew had not invited Peter? How would Peter have ever found the way?

We never know what plan God has that may be set in motion by what we do as followers, as we invite people into the light of Christ, into the gospel life, and into the community of the church!  And people who we invite come and see how we acknowledge and accept who Jesus is to us by the way we live. 

To follow Jesus as Lord and Savior means that we are called to live into that gospel life that illuminates the lives of others. As Christians, It is our calling… our true vocation… It’s something that we can’t not do! 

For a baptized Christian, Jesus is our source of light and life. He is our reason for being!

We all have many questions that we don’t have all the answers to, you have even heard me refer to life many times as one big mystery that we are all living into. But, we need to tune our ear this morning and hear what our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us to do. 

Today – Jesus is calling us out of the darkness into the light. He is calling us to participation in the life of His Holy church… He is calling us to live out the gospel in our lives… And the question is: What is it that YOU seek? Follow Jesus…  and come and see! You may actually find what you’re looking for…

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Year A - Christmas Eve

The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Episcopal Church 
Towson, MD
December 24, 2016

Year A - Christmas

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Psalm 96

We have just heard an amazing story… An amazing story of a miraculous birth… A wonderful story of a child that was born who was called Jesus (God Saves)… Emmanuel (God With Us). A child who, before he grew up, was referred to as Lord and King.
The lesson that was just read from the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of Luke is probably one of the most well know chapters in all of holy scripture. Folks who consider themselves Christian, who have heard the story before, but probably couldn’t tell you what chapter or book it’s from, could probably recite a few verses of Luke 2 from memory. That’s how well known it is... A story this deep and this meaningful goes deep into your soul and gets into your DNA… It becomes part of you.

Can you remember the first time you remember hearing the story? It could have been when you were very young, or it could have been just last year, or last week, or even 3 minutes ago. Remember? Remember how it made you feel deep down inside? Remember the simplicity, the mystery, the magnificence, and the harshness… all rolled into one tight-knit, complex story.

Most of you know that I have been working on my Christmas sermon for a little over a month now, amid all the other complexities of my life. Kelly is not home this Christmas, she continues to improve, but will not be discharged from the hospital until Tuesday. So, it is through this lens that I am thinking about the story… the story that is deeply part of who we are. I decided to have you think back a bit because that is what I have been doing these past few weeks…

I can remember when my sister and I were little… I’m talking little-little…  too little to go to “late church” on Christmas Eve. My parents would go to midnight mass and we would stay with my Grandparents who had come to spend the Holidays with us.

But before my sister and I went off to bed, we would always be allowed to open one Christmas gift from under the tree. I was ALWAYS a new pair of pajamas. See, my dad was a photographer, so the Christmas morning outfit had to be just right for pictures!

After we opened the gift, my sister and I would crawl up in my father’s lap on the couch in the living room, and he would open up the Bible to Luke, chapter 2. He would open it up and start reading, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed…

And with the poetry and rhythm of the Victorian English in the King James version, the story was shared. Shared… shared outside of the church, shared in the comfort of a living room in a father’s lap… shared while surrounded by family. Shared within a family by a family.

My family wasn’t uber-religious. They were just simple believers with a deep and profound faith. A deep faith that was developed, sustained and nurtured by practice. We went to church and practiced our faith. Practiced, because proper preparation takes practice. So, we showed up and participated… I would like to think it played a part in my continuing faith formation. I think that it has helped me become the person of faith that I am today…

There is another tradition in our home around Christmas time. It is watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas Special.” Some of you may have seen it. It has run every year since December 1965. 51 years of Charlie Brown and Linus and the Peanuts gang, the poor raggedy excuse of a tree, and of course, snoopy and his overly decorated dog house…

The part of that animated special that always sticks out for me was the part during the preparations for the Christmas play at their school, directed by Charlie Brown, of course, Good Ole Charlie Brown asks the question, “does anyone know what Christmas is all about?”

And then you could have heard a pin drop when Linus perks up and takes center stage and the spotlight goes on him and he starts reciting a portion of Luke 2 that we just heard read…

“And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

And then simply turns back to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

I must have seen that show 40 or 50 times. I know that I’m only 49 years old, but some years I watched it twice! It wasn’t till this year when I read something that was written about the creation of the famous Christmas animation. Then I watched it again, and understood that Charles Shultz, with the wonderful characters and animation, gave us a message within the Christmas story. Gave us a message that we would only notice if we were paying careful attention to what was going on in the action of the scene.

The character of Linus, who was Lucy’s brother, was an intelligent, yet insecure and somewhat immature young man who carried a security blanket and sucked his thumb right up into elementary school. This character, Linus, who needed to hold onto his blanket to feel safe to feel secure in this cruel and broken world…

When he gets to the part where he says that the angel said, “FEAR NOT,” he drops his blanket and continues to tell the story.

At the words, “Fear not,” he releases everything in this world that he holds onto to feel safe and trades it for the peace of this newborn hope...
Fear not, when we would be otherwise be terrified and riddled with fear cowering in a corner In a puddle of our own tears…

Fear not, of the evils of this world of the destruction and danger and death around the block, down the street, and over the seas…

Fear not, of the powers and regimes, of kingdoms and presidents and governments and economies and other principalities and prisons, both physical and psychological.

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Brothers and sisters, this is the day where we start anew. Start anew with a fresh hope that God is indeed with us… Immanuel

A fresh hope that comes to use amid the terror, death and destruction that we bring upon our selves…

A fresh hope, born in a stable in Bethlehem of Judea those many years ago.

I asked you to stop for a minute to remember. Remember the ancient story and how it was revealed to you. How you came to know the story. It could have been through a parent a father or mother, or another relative. Or it could have been a friend, or a pastor, or teacher. Or possibly you could have heard it the first time when watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. Or you could have possibly heard it for the first time tonight.

Regardless of how or where, you’re here tonight because this story means something to you.

It hopefully means that you haven’t given up in your quest for understanding…

It means that regardless of how bad things are or how bad they may get, you know that your real security… your real faith is based on things that can’t always be explained…

It means that we trust in a truth revealed to us by fulfilled prophecy…

It means that we believe in a story that brings hope, love, and peace in the midst of despair…

A holy story about a holy child who is God with us…
A holy child, Jesus, who is God saving us…

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Hearing the story again, what does it mean to you? Is it a part of you, part of your DNA that you will share with others? How will you let it change your life? How will you let it change the world?

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace!                

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Year C - 3 Lent - February 28, 2016

The Rev. Kenneth H. Saunders III
Trinity Church - Towson, MD

Year C - 3 Lent - February 28, 2016

I was immediately caught by the phrase in today’s collect… “we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” As much as we think that we have it all figured out and that we have it all together, we don’t! Not without the help of something else… Not without the help of someone else.

I can remember as a young child, full of ambition and pride, knowing and feeling like I could actually accomplish something on my own. You can probably remember a time like that too… Pick the task… Maybe tying your shoes, dressing yourself, or riding a bike. We can sometimes remember when we first did things by ourselves.

I can remember the time when my mom and dad thought I was old enough to order my own meal at the local Carroll’s drive in. (was Carroll’s a thing in Baltimore?) I’m now showing my age… Anyway, I can remember taking the change and walking up to the counter at Carroll’s (Because they were both eat in and dive in) and ordering my first meal… I was so proud of myself…

But our collective prayer that was written in the year 590 says, “we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” The church has been praying this for over 1425 years, and yet we still think we can do it all by ourselves…

Moses didn’t think he could do the tremendous task of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt by himself… That’s not the example that we get from Exodus. When given the great task by the mighty voice coming to him out of a bush he says, “who am I that I should go to Pharaoh” as if to say… I’m not able, I can’t do this by myself… And the voice then assures Moses… “I will be with you!”

Let’s think back again on those tasks that we remember… That we think we did all by ourselves, like Tying your shoes, dressing yourself, or riding a bike. I can assure you that when it came time for you to learn to tie your shoes someone taught you! For me, it was my grandfather… and he didn’t only teach me how to tie my shoes, he taught my kids how to tie their shoes… So, tying my shoes is not something I did by myself. And neither was dressing myself, or riding a bike…

If you can ride a 2-wheel bike, you can probably remember someone helping you, coaching you… maybe holding the back of the seat and giving you a gentle push. We all had help in one way or another.

In our baptismal vows, we ascribe to the covenant and promises … with God’s help…  I will, with God’s help. We say it allowed “I WILL, WITH GOD’s HELP!” We are not expected nor or we encouraged to do it any other way…  And we are definitely not encouraged to live the Christian life alone.

Part of our formation…  part of our learning is our dependence on being taught… it’s our willingness to engage… Our willingness to reach out for help and encouragement. In my opinion, It’s part of why we have many of the issues that we have today with narcissism and self centeredness…  

It all part of the stresses of life that have been wrapped around us by a society that expects everyone to have it all figured out… all figured out – all the time – all by ourselves. So we drive ourselves crazy as we puff out our chest and go in to tackle it… and not ask for help or input, because society thinks that asking for help is somehow considered a weakness.

The 1400 year old collective prayer says, “Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.”

The fig tree is not producing fruit… It’s not producing bad fruit, it’s not producing good fruit… It’s not producing ANY fruit… And somehow, the owner of the vineyard thinks it’s the tree’s fault. Obviously he’s forgotten that it’s just a tree… and like any part of God’s creation, it needs to be cared for… None the less, the owner wants the gardener to cut it down. He says, “Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?”

The gardener pleads with the owner to give him another year… to nurture and fertilize the tree… to give the tree a chance...

We are all given a chance, a chance to learn… a chance to ask for help…  Help from God - the only One who can help us. A chance to relinquish some of our worldly control and stubbornness, and let go of our need to do it all by ourselves.

A chance to realize that we are not just a waste of soil, but we are held fast by the right hand of God like the Psalmist says. A chance to be nourished and given the opportunity to bare the good fruit.

But to also remember, when we do bare the good fruit, and if we follow and trust in God to do so… When we do, it was only done by the grace of God… And we didn’t do it ourselves…