Monday, October 29, 2012

Bartimaeus Sees the Kingdom!

Do you ever wonder if God hears you when you talk and pray? I wonder if God wonders if we listen to him when HE talks! Fr. Keith tells the story of Bartimaeus, who not only listened to Jesus, but when asked what he wanted, asked Jesus to restore his sight, and when his ability to see was restored, did not go away, but followed Jesus instead.

This video was recorded at St. Paul's, Virginia City.
Many thanks to my good friend (and parishioner) Bill Bennett, who stepped in to serve
as cameraman. He is a parable of the kingdom in action!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Founded on Service

Fr. Keith examines the story of two disciples (James and John) who want the best spots in the world to come. Jesus assures them they will experience everything the kingdom of heaven has to offer, but what is most important is not seating arrangements, but being of service.

Sermon Preached from Mark 10:35-45 (Proper 24) at Trinity (Jeffers).

Video may be found at:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

It has been a while

It has been a while since I last updated my blog, so I thought I would post my sermon from last week. It was delivered by Pam Boone at Trinity and Bill Bennett at St. Paul's. I was at the Diocesan Convention in Helena last weekend, so I couldn't deliver it in person. ;-)

A Gift From the Heart
The Rev. Keith F. Axberg, Rector
Proper 23 ~ October 14, 2012

This is a Sermon based on
Mark 10:17 – 27 (28 – 31)

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Over the years, I have received many gifts.
You have seen me wear a Canterbury Cross;
It was a gift to me
From the Downriver Clericus
When we left the Diocese of Michigan
To move out to California.

I have a traveling Communion Kit
That I use for home and hospital visits,
That was a gift from Church of the Redeemer in Republic (WA)
            When I left there to serve the church in Michigan some 20 years ago.

I have a college class ring was a Christmas gift from Barb a few years back, which she gave me to replace one that had been lost or stolen some years earlier. Each gift is, obviously, replaceable.

If you do some searching, you can find Canterbury Crosses in gold, silver, stainless steel, and other metals; you can find Communion kits in church supply catalogues; you can find class rings at jewelry stores and college campus sites around the country (and on the internet itself, of course).

And yet each of these gifts I’ve talked about is irreplaceable, because they didn’t come from catalogues or stores, but from the heart of the giver of the gift.
The best gifts are the ones that come from the heart.

Over time, we receive a lot of gifts that really aren’t. When we first moved to Fresno, we received a lot of gifts from people wanting to sell us water softeners.

Hi.  We’re so and so from such and such. We want to welcome you to the neighborhood! We have a gift for you, and would like to spend just a few minutes getting acquainted.”

One guy came by and didn’t even have the gift!

He gave us a certificate, instead, and told us we could come down to the office to pick up the gift, (Some sort of stove top cooker) …
“But call first and make sure they’ve got them,” he said.

Another water softener company called, offering to test our water and bring us a “Welcome to the neighborhood gift”.

I told her we had just installed a water softener, but I would be happy to have the water tested.

“Well, that would be a waste of our time, now, wouldn’t it?” she said.
I said, “Does that mean we don’t get the gift?” And she hung up!

Some gifts really aren’t gifts; they come with strings attached.

“Here’s a gift; I’d like you to do me a favor…”

That’s not a gift; it’s a bribe; it’s an incentive; it’s an inducement.

There’s nothing wrong with buying and selling. There’s nothing wrong with engaging in business. I just don’t want you to call something a gift, if it is really a wedge designed to part you from your money – or me from mine – or to part us from our time, or our energy. Just be honest about it.
In the Gospel today, we’ve got a man who’s wrestling with the truth:
            The truth about God, and the truth about himself.
Like Willy Nelson, Jesus is back on the road again, and a man runs up to him, kneels, and asks him:

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

The first thing I want you to notice is that he’s running.

In that culture, Rich people don’t run; Rulers don’t run.
They send servants to do their running.
They send servants to do their bidding.
For this young man to run to Jesus tells us something.
He’s ignoring protocol.
He’s ignoring custom.
He is shameless.

There is no way you can run in a long robe without hitching it up and exposing your legs (Which is something, in the culture of the ancient near east, a man would simply not be seen doing).

When Jairus came to Jesus, when his daughter was dying,
Mark tells us “he came to Jesus.”

Even though his daughter was dying, he didn’t run.
He came personally … the issue was THAT was important.
He didn’t send a servant,
            But neither did he run despite the gravity of the situation.

Culture affects us … all of us. We are creatures of our world.
We’re not immune from doing what the world tells us to do, or behaving in a manner the world tells us we ought to behave.

But this young man has heard something or has seen something in Jesus that has him all excited.

Jesus is moving on, and in the story we’ve just heard, it’s as if this young lad has just come to his senses and realized that the time to strike is now!

It’s like when you’re sitting at home and watching TV,
And all of a sudden you see one of those
Once in a lifetime opportunities to buy something,”
And if you call right now, they’ll throw in that wonderful set of Ginsu knives

You scramble through the house trying to find a pencil and paper so you can write down the 800 number and be one of the first thousand callers to call in the next 10 minutes … “While Supplies last!”

Well, maybe it’s not quite like that,
But you get the idea.
You’ve got the opportunity of a lifetime to do something, to go somewhere, or to buy something, and you just can’t wait.

When the i-Phone 5 was coming out,
People lined up for days,
Camping outside the Apple stores to be FIRST
To part with 200, 300, 500 bucks (or whatever it was);
They just couldn’t wait.

And that’s what it was like for this rich young ruler:
            Jesus, better than Ginsu … Got to have it!

But there’s the problem.
He’s got to HAVEit.”

He’s rich.
He’s young.
He’s impetuous.
And he’s got to have it.
And he’s got to have it … NOW!

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks.
You know, someone’s got to die for you to inherit something.

Jesus often talks about the kingdom of God as something that is “breaking in …” not as something we inherit.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,
Which starts off ever so small,
And yet it grows into a wonderful, fragrant bush,
            Where birds can build their nests, and people can find some shelter from the heat of the sun. The kingdom of God is like that.

Or: The kingdom of God is like a field,
Ripe for harvest and ready for workers.

Or like a pearl so valuable it is worth selling all you have in order that you may have it for yourself!

He does not talk here about the kingdom of God as something to be grasped, earned, or purchased; but as the Spirit of God reaching out and housing us instead, or putting us to work instead, or grabbing us instead!

It is the Spirit of God working in us – that’s the kingdom of God! Says Jesus.

But Jesus loves the impetuosity of youth.
As a teacher might say,
            Here is a teachable moment.”

First of all, Why do you call me good? Only God is good,” He says.

In other words, Jesus is gently, politely saying,
“You don’t need to flatter me or patronize me.
It doesn’t work, and it isn’t necessary.”

I like that.

God wants us to be honest with him.

We don’t NEED to get on our knees and say, “O God, I’m not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under thy table.”
God knows we’re not; God knows the state of our hearts and minds. It’s good to be humble, but we don’t need to be obsequious about it.

So Jesus says, First, let’s be honest with one another.

“Second, you know what you’re supposed to do, don’t you?
You know right from wrong, don’t you? 
“You know the commandments?
            Do not murder,
            Do not commit adultery,
            Do not steal,
Do not give false testimony,
Do not defraud,
Honor your father and mother.”
Notice that Jesus changed one commandment.
He doesn’t say, “Do not covet.”
He says, “Do not defraud.”

The point is that coveting probably isn’t this lad’s problem, but fraud is.

It is as if Jesus is saying,
When you get so rich that you don’t see the pain,
            you don’t see the hunger,
            and you don’t see the loneliness of those around you,
It is very easy to begin to think that you are possibly better than you probably are,
            and that you deserve most (if not all) of what you have,
            and to use your power,
                        Not for the good of everyone,
                        But as leverage to gain even more.

This is NOT to say that money is bad, or that being rich is a terrible thing.

In fact, most people do not and would not consider themselves rich. Do you notice how so many politicians play up their humble beginnings? They’ll tell you they were all born in log cabins, if you ask them.
By third world standards, we are rich, but we don’t think of ourselves as being rich, and as much as a million dollars may sound like, it doesn’t take many lottery winners very long to blow through a million bucks.

Part of our nature – part of our human nature – is to think of life in terms of scarcity, and that’s where the rich young man was.

“I’ve got enough for this life. How do I inherit the next life? How do I make SURE I’VE GOT MY PLACE at the head table when Messiah comes? I have done EVERYTHING I was supposed to do. Did I miss anything?”

And then we get that wonderful line:
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.”

It would be very easy to look at this kid and to write him off, but Jesus loved him, and when you love someone, you tell them the truth.

“One thing you lack,” he said.

This man who has everything, lacks one thing (AS DO WE ALL)!

Each of us has something – or a lot of things – that stand between us and eternal life, and the fact is, there’s nothing we can do to buy it,            earn it, or to deserve it.

What did the rich man lack? Was it honesty? Was it charity?

Jesus identified one deficit:
            The young man had no need for God.

The only thing we inherit in life are genes and property (and maybe some behaviors).

Maybe Jesus saw or heard something that told him the rich young man simply wanted to add God to his collection of knick knacks.

“Until you need God,” said Jesus, “You’ll never really be able to go where I am going.”

Salvation is not our doing, but discovering our dependence on God, and divesting our lives of the stuff that owns us …

that is what will free us to follow God, and serve him freely and faithfully
the rest of our lives.

The young man went away heavy hearted, for he was a rich man, and had a lot of stuff, and he couldn’t bring himself to let it go.

Doesn’t that affect us, as well? Don’t we want to inherit eternal life? Don’t we crave a place at God’s table?

If you are here, I hope it is because you want what Jesus had.

Jesus left home so that he could share the vision of the kingdom that God had given him. He did not think about it as losing his home, or business, or family; Instead, he thought of it as gaining the whole world. Letting go of things, he was able to bring the whole world into his loving embrace. He was able to pick up where Adam and Eve had left off – taking care of the Garden that God had given him.

If you want what Jesus had, ask him the same question the young man asked. Ask Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Then listen to what Jesus says to you. Let Jesus look into your heart and tell you what needs to change, and then ask yourself: Am I willing to give that up? If you are willing, you will have received a marvelous gift: you will have received an opportunity to take a major step, falling in with Jesus and his band of merry men, women, and children – and finding refreshment in this crazy oasis we call Church. It is God’s gift, so costly, yet so freely given. Enjoy it, and share it, in Jesus’ Name – for it is a gift from the heart. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

God's Place

Deacon Duane Leach preaches on the Gospel lesson from Mark 10 regarding marriage and other human relationship.

You may listen to his sermon, preached at Trinity (Jeffers) on October 7, 2012 at: