Recent Sermons

 

"Government: The Mask of God"

TEXT: Romans 13:1-10
THEME: Government is God's created agent for protecting His people.
GOAL: Government is a "mask" of God.
MALADY: Undue cynicism.
MEANS: The gospel freedom to be a faithful citizen as a believer.

"A Capital 4th" celebrations, etc.

- Almost as if we're pretending.
- A presidential campaign that seems very divisive.
- A President with a very low approval rating.
- A congress with an even lower approval rating
- So much of the press seems to highlight national troubles and failures over positive elements of what our government, or the military accomplish.
- Corruption scandals and revelations of immorality are all too frequent.

Fed up with government

- "Oh, that God would be our Leader," we might wish, or say.
(The fact is, God is leading by giving us government and a governmental system.)

That's the way it once was.

- Moses, then Aaron and the Judges.
- No direct government, other than the direction or intervention or correction of God as needed, through His chosen leaders or prophets. A theocracy.
- What happened? How did God's own people get from that direct line of divine leadership to a human government, then under kings? Perhaps an answer to that question can be instructive. I think it can.

Here's a clue: Moses was a faithful intermediary between the Word of God's guidance and the people – so was Aaron, and that example generally maintained as God used Judges and prophets after them.

Why or how did this system break down?

Here's the history. As Samuel got older, he appointed his sons judges, but "They did not walk in the way of their father," . . . So . . . the elders . . . said (to Samuel), . . . 'Appoint us a king . . . such as all the other nations have'." (1 Samuel 8:4-5)

We might think, Aha!! That's it! They are rejecting God's rule through an intermediary, such as Samuel, the Judge. Having a king - another form of government, was the bad thing.

But wait – God had anticipated this day, when, through Moses, He told the people, in effect, "When the day comes you decide you want a king, he is to be one I choose, God is NOT opposed to other forms of government.

- But there were divine restrictions. "He must not accumulate great numbers of horses for himself, or take many wives for himself, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amount of silver and gold. He must learn to revere the Lord his God, and he must follow carefully all the words of (My) law and decrees." (Dt 17:1-20) You could have a king, another form of government, but the ruler must not act as though he is supreme. He must still be an intermediary for God's rule. He is to be the "mask" of God.

You can tell from these warnings God knew what would happen when the people would choose to be ruled by a king. The king, the other form of government, would elevate himself, at the cost of the people God wanted to be served and guided.

Samuel also knew. Listen to what he told the elders would happen if they chose a king: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses. He will make them plow his ground and reap his harvest and cause still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage. He will take the best of your cattle and donkeys. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. You will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day. (1 Samuel 8:10-18)

The cynical ones among us will say, "See, what else can you expect . . . and don't look for any relief from God!"

But God is a great and a gracious God, forgiving our sins and showing mercy to thousands. He worked with and through kings, even sinful ones. He could speak of King David after the fact of his reign and call him His faithful servant and a man of integrity, yet David was a well-known adulterer and murderer. He can speak very positively about government and how we are to live under it, even though government is faulty.

Look at what St. Paul says in Romans 13:1, "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."

- The pagan Roman government under which Paul lived was that of the Emperor Nero - although in the earlier years of Nero's reign he was much better than the mad tyrant most of us remember reading about.

There are tyrants in government. There are governments that do not support and defend their people, but rather exploit them for their own purposes.

- Pres Mugabe of Zimbabwe
- The ruling military in Myanmar (Burma)
- China - Tibet, one child rule, curtailing religious freedom
- Kyrgistan, Uzbekistan, Haiti, Ethiopia and other places

Against these and other national comparisons the U.S. looks pretty good, in spite of her many shortcomings. Not perfect and seemingly always at risk for going even farther from its calling – yes, government does have a calling - from God. That's the association with today's sermon title: "The Mask of Government."

What is the mask of government? Government is the mask of God. We see the government at work, but it is God who works through government to defend and protect the people of His creation.

What we have in this selection from Romans 13 as a view of how government ought to look and function. Government is to protect and defend the citizens in its jurisdiction, and it is to operate with justice and fairness toward all. When it does not function as it should: when it makes or upholds laws that are contrary to God's will, such as the recent California Supreme Court 4-3 ruling to recognize same sex unions as marriages, it is appropriate for citizens to do what they can to correct those wrongs.

. . . and, by the way, we are fortunate in this country, a republic, that we choose the government. We have the option - no, the obligation, to hold the government accountable and to change those who represent us, if we see them not serving as faithful masks of God.

Someone I heard recently surmised it really is a sin not to vote, and I believe you could make a case for that position. As Christians and as citizens, a patriotic duty is to be engaged in helping the government be a more faithful mask of God, and one way to do that is by being an informed voter.

Last week the church received a call from an Obama campaign worker, wanting to conduct a voter registration drive at the church. We won't invite them, nor would we invite representatives from the McCain campaign. But we will encourage our members to register, and to vote.

As citizens, not only of an earthly government or kingdom, but also of a heavenly Kingdom through our redemption in Jesus Christ, we want to honor God by helping government be the most faithful "mask" of God it can be.

Have you noticed that the catechism places the foundation for all government authority under the 4th commandment: "You shall honor your father and your mother"? Family life is the foundation for all government, rule and the place for protection and safety for its members. Governments, in that regard, are extensions of families.

Did you also notice how St. Paul connects love and obedience to government in today's lesson? He says, if you owe taxes, pay them. Then he says, the only debt that is to continue and remain outstanding is the "continuing debt to love one another..." . . . and that's not only those who share your faith, but all of your "fellow man."

Loving our fellow man includes wanting the best possible government for us all, a government that reflects and is faithful to, as St. Paul outlined, the "Mask of God."

That's a mark of patriotism that can elevate us all, on Independence Day or at any other time.

"The Path Toward Health"

TEXT: Matthew 9:9-13
THEME: God collects sinners – to show His grace.
GOAL: That we begin to grow by admitting our sin – our need for grace.
MALADY: We don't want to admit our guilt; we try to "make it" on an outward pretense of faithfulness and godly living.
MEANS: God calls sinners that He might show them (us) His grace.

We're in the "Green Season", the Sundays after Pentecost, with their emphasis on growth, at least in the early Sundays of the season.

As you can't grow a fruit-producing crop without preparing the soil, so you can't have a growing, fruitful relationship with God without searching, digging around in your soul in an attitude of repentance.

Sign-board: "Are You A Sinner? – Welcome!"

- Not to say, "Come, own up before those who are better than you," but, "Come, join with the rest of us. It will be quite a collection."

Jesus was early-on in His ministry. He was collecting what would become His twelve closest disciples. We learn about one of the Twelve today, Matthew.

Remember, these were men who were, all but one of them, to become apostles, representatives of the faith and presenters of the faith to all the world.

So, where does Jesus go to "collect" this disciple? – to the tax collector's booth.

We are all aware of the tax collector, whether it's the IRS (now the U.S. Treasury), or the toll booth collector, or the little line at the end of your phone bill or utility bill that notes the tax you are paying – or your Real Estate tax. We have three real estate tax payees: Prince William County, the Town of Dumfries, and we own a small lot in New York state, and, of course, one of the privileges of being a property owner is that we get to pay real estate tax there, too. Well, I don't know if it's this way all over New York state, but in the county where our property is, you make out your real estate tax check directly to the tax collector. Our tax collector is Tess McBeath. I have never met this woman, but I feel as though I know her, because every year I make out a check for a few hundred dollars directly to her, Tess McBeath. I'm sure she is bonded and faithfully passes along all the money that comes to her, but it seems a little odd to work things that way.

Matthew was one of the Tess McBeaths of Capernaum, except that neither he nor his fellow tax collectors were bonded, nor were they closely watched by the Roman government to see that they passed along all they collected. They were required to pass along a certain amount, but, if they cheated the citizens and collected more than that, the government did not seem to be too concerned – but the people knew of the general dishonest character of the tax collector.

So, whom did Jesus choose to be one of THE twelve and a future apostle? Matthew. We don't know if Matthew had ever practiced cheating, but we do know two things about him from this time in his life: When Jesus called, Matthew immediately got up, left his tax collector's booth, and followed His new Lord. He changed his life immediately upon the call of the Lord.

The second thing we know is that Matthew invited Jesus to have dinner at his house, and that many tax collectors and people known to be sinners came and ate with them.

Jesus willingly participated in a meal, a fellowship experience, with people known to be "sinners." The people who were known to be righteous – or at least who were thought to be righteous – the Pharisees, seemed to take exception to Jesus' closeness with sinners and despised people. On hearing this, Jesus responded to the Pharisees, and His answer was profound: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." (I started to put, "Are you sick? -- Welcome" on the sign board, but I thought that word might confuse people about whom we are looking for. We welcome those who are medically sick, but we especially and particularly welcome those who are sinners). . . . for Jesus also said to the group, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." He also could have said, "I came to die, not for the righteous, but for sinners..."

. . . and, in between these things, He said, quoting our Old Testament lesson for today from Hosea, "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'" The Pharisees were great at bringing gifts to the temple and offering sacrifices and looking good, but Jesus made it clear that His first interest was not in gifts and sacrificial offerings, but in showing mercy to sinners: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice. . . . I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Hosea had a very strong word from God about people who tried to hide from and not own up to their sin: "I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt." Maybe, if you have ever tried to hide from owning up to your sin – or if you are doing that even now, you can identify with experiencing the effects of these words from God: "I will go back to my place until they admit their guilt. . . . What can I do with you, Ephraim? What can I do with you, Judah? Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. Therefore I cut you in pieces with my prophets, I killed you withy the words of my mouth; my judgments flashed like lightning upon you. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings."

God want us to stir around in the soil of our soul. The ancient prayer is, "Search me, O God. Try me and see if there be any wicked way in me." It's not easy to do that. Most of us would rather go on in our regular life, even in our regular worship life, coming with our offerings and going home satisfied with that, when God wants to show mercy to sinners who bare their soul before Him. Let's join the cry in Hosea: "Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us." Reflecting on Jesus' yet-to-be-accomplished suffering for sin in our place, Hosea went on, "After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence," and, "As surely as the sun rises, He will appear."

Does God change things in our lives? Does He change the way He looks at us, because of Jesus? Look at the account of Abraham from today's Epistle lesson:

- Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead – since he was about a hundred years old – and that Sarah's womb was also dead.
- was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, that God had the power to do what he had promised.

This is the same Abraham who:

- laughed when God first gave the promise of a son to the two of them (so also so did Sarah laugh).
- Agreed to father a child by Sarah's maid after some time had passed with no pregnancy.
- How could this sinner be called a saint, whose faith was credited to him as righteousness? Because, though he had been a sinner and had participated in not following through in faith, he did ultimately believe, and God did credit the faith of this sinner as righteousness.

So, in case the devil is plaguing you and telling you it's too late to repent of your sin, remember, Abraham was nearly 100 years old, and was still learning the lesson – and was still welcomed and blessed by God – and who also received the righteousness of God through faith.

What would make us not want to admit our guilt and instead to try to "make it" on an outward pretense of faithfulness and godly living?

Is it hard to face our sins? Sometimes it is. It can be like being torn to pieces or being injured, but God gives us the assurance that He will heal us; He will bind up our wounds.

The gift is here in His Word. It is here in receiving God's forgiveness for the sins we confess in our hearts as we come to the Lord's table in Holy Communion.

God collects sinners, as He collected Matthew, the tax collector, so we could grow in following and serving Jesus.

Growth begins by stirring up the soil of your soul in an attitude of repentance. It's the preparation for receiving God's mercy in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins He won for you on the cross.


"What Do We See Beyond Our Nose?"

TEXT: Luke 7:36-50
THEME: The risk of judging others by appearances.
GOAL: That we see how all alike are beneficiaries of God's love and the saving work of Christ.
MALADY: We "look down our nose" at those we think are worse than we.
MEANS: God's forgiveness for Christ's sake makes it possible for us to love and accept other sinners.

Uwe Siemon-Netto is the director of the Institute on Lay Vocation at Concordia Seminary, in St. Louis. I like his writing, because in everything I have read from him he is theologically based AND expressively candid.

He recently had an article published in the Lutheran Witness on "The Sin of the Racially Split Church." The article's focus was on hypocrisy in the church with respect to race, but I saw it touching self-serving hypocrisy at all levels in the church. His theme was based on Galatians 3:28, "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free . . . (and so on), for you are all one in Christ." He chided the church for its "flaccid role" in this sorry state of affairs. He said, "No other Christian tradition is better equipped than Lutherans to inform the nation of the unshakable truth . . . that an ethnically split body of Christ is a theological absurdity."

I think that readily shifts over to other hypocritically established separations -- including rich and poor, and perceived distinctions and levels of acceptance of "good" and "bad" people, or "sinners" as distinguished from "good people," or as distinguished from "us."

"Where do you get this idea, Pastor?" you might ask.

Let's look at the incident in today's Gospel, and maybe we can see this kind of prejudicial hypocrisy has been around a long while -- and we can see that it not only interferes with good people relations, it is also deadly.

The connection comes in the Pharisee, who invited Jesus to be his guest at dinner and the woman, who came, uninvited, off the streets and was known by the locals as a "sinner." The whole event was under the watchful eye of Jesus, who really was in control of the situation and was ready to comfort where He could, and also warn and point out hypocrisy where that existed.

Watch the real or implied interplay as the scene plays out . . .

The host was Simon, likely one of the Pharisees who had only recently rejected John the Baptist's call to repentance and baptism, and had heard Jesus describe John as the special prophet who was predicted to be the Messiah's fore runner and the one among those born of women about whom no one was greater. Simon must have thought there might be something in Jesus, or at least have been curious about Him, even though he, Simon, wasn't so ready to be that open about himself as a sinner and one in need of forgiveness.

To have someone for dinner was a big deal and implied some level of fellowship. Jesus was willing to be there, and Simon was glad to be the host.

Things were going well, when all of a sudden this woman showed up. My understanding of the layout of Middle eastern homes makes this unusual scenario not impossible to imagine . . . She was a woman who had lived a sinful life -- NOT an invited guest! -- and she had lived this sinful life IN THE TOWN. The text tells us, she came, "when she learned Jesus was at the Pharisee's house." (How did she learn this? How does the word get out? How did "sinners" learn about these things?. Think of a Pygmalion-like setting in 19th century England. The lowly, the "riff raff" the common people, always knew when something special was going on with the upper class -- it was big news -- they looked up in awe, and sometimes in disdain, from afar.)

Simon also knew about the woman. He recognized her. (The recognition goes both ways -- the elite and favored class also know about the Eliza Doolittles of society -- but only from a carefully maintained distance.)

The woman never, by the way, is identified by the Bible as Mary Magdalene. She had an alabaster jar of perfume. That would be expensive, and since she "brought" it, rather that "bought" it, it might be assumed she had it at home, perhaps saved for a long time, waiting for some special occasion.

This was it.

She could stand behind Jesus at His feet, because He was "reclining" at the table, in line with the custom of the day. "That she began to wet His feet with her tears," indicates a continuing and ongoing action. She:

- wiped them with her hair
- kissed them
- poured perfume on them
- In one way that's a beautiful moment. This woman let her soul be exposed (how many of us could do that - or would?). She was being cleansed. Nothing else mattered.

Have you ever done something that soul exposing - even just before God? Or maybe you don't need that kind of vulnerability - or never did. Maybe . . . but I think you would be unusual, if that were the case. What did someone say? "An unexamined life is a life not worth living." An unexamined life, or a life whose dark corners are denied, or painted over, is primed to miss the blessing this woman experienced, and to be left somewhere near Simon the Pharisee.

Look at this moment from the viewpoint of the dinner guests, except Jesus, who knew exactly what was going on. Don't you suppose it seemed to them to be one of those awkward and uncomfortable moments when someone does something clearly out of place, and you don't quite know what to do with it? It took a certain boldness, and a kind of insulation from all else for her, while she focused on and was caught up in the act she was drawn to and determined to do.

Simon withdrew comfortably into his self-righteousness and even seemed to have found a reason to be convinced he was one-up on Jesus, getting himself to doubt in his mind that the reputation of his guest matched Jesus' apparent inability to perceive what was going on -- because in his mind he was mulling over the fact that Jesus was actually allowing himself to be touched by a "sinner."

Now it was Jesus' turn. He was about to show incredible grace to the repentant sinner, which is what He will also do for you. But first, he wanted to give Simon the hypocrite a chance to soften. Apparently showing no sign that He was paying attention to the woman, He seemed to introduce an "out of the blue" new element into the gathering: "Simon, I have something t tell you," and Simon confidently responded, "Tell me, teacher."

Then Jesus told the story about the two men equally unable to repay significantly different amounts of money to a money lender, and the money lender canceling the debts of both. Jesus' question seemed to have a very obvious answer: "Which of the two men will love the money lender more?" Simon, apparently somewhat cautious, not wanting to fall into a trap (though he did, a trap of his own making), replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled." "You have judged correctly," Jesus answered.

Then He turned toward the woman and devastatingly made His point to Simon: Do you see this woman? I came into YOUR house (where treatment of an invited guest called for at least basic amenities -- washing and drying feet, perhaps a kiss of greeting and, likely for an honored guest, anointing the head with oil.) You, Simon, did none of these things, but this woman, on whom you look down your nose because of her status as a recognized "sinner." Washed my feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, has not stopped kissing my FEET, and has anointed My feet, not with oil, but with perfume.

Here was Simon's opportunity to allow himself to be crushed for his own hypocritical belief of his "betterness" than the woman, the "sinner," the person from a riff-raff neighborhood Instead, all we hear is the guests wondering who this Jesus was that would even forgive sins.

Here are two individuals: one, socially undesirable, but shamelessly grateful for God's mercy and forgiveness, and the other, equally redeemed by Christ, but missing the blessing because he would not see himself in need and, indeed, saw himself superior to the obvious sinner.

What can we learn from this touching, yet at the same time devastating story?

1) Jesus loves sinners. If you won't admit you're a sinner, you're telling Him you won't honor Him as your guest, and you lose the blessing
2) There is a not-too-subtle warning to anyone who sets himself or herself up as an arbiter of righteousness, judging who are the real "sinners," the real "bad people," and who are not . . . and also . . .
3) If you are inclined to show God love and gratitude for His mercy and forgiveness in anything like the way the forgiven sinful woman did, go for it! What a sweet-smelling sacrifice to the Lord that will be. . . . and, finally,
4) Don't belittle, but welcome the simple yet heart-felt acts of love shown by others, including the "simple" or "different" people out there in the world.

Uwe Siemon-Netto's article on prejudice and his reminder that we, as the people of God, have the best tools to defeat prejudice of all kinds, in the world and in ourselves, is a good way for us to be as we carry out our ministry and live our personal lives.

Amen.


THEME: The power of God is to transform that which is dead into life, for the glory of His name and the fulfilling of His purposes.
GOAL: That we consider how God might be calling us to life.
MALADY: We are not interested in His call, or where it might take us.
MEANS: The power of the resurrected Christ is the power of life, the power that transforms for His own purposes.

This is a picture of our granddaughter, Gilli, and the baby bunny she and her mom found in a nest in the grass outside their home in Blacksburg. The mother had carried most of the other new-born bunnies away. One was dead. This one had no hair, its eyes were closed, and its ears were plastered to its body -- but it was hanging on.

Our daughter, Jen, the vet, took the bunny in, kept it warm, fed it, and, in a few days the bunny showed more and more signs of life.- signs of life from being in caring hands. A lot depends on in whose hands you are. All three of today's lessons take us from death to life. They are all about hopelessly dead situations that were turned around by the power of God working through faith.

They also show us how God moves people from death -- to life -- to deeds of kindness that reflect life. Now, let's see what happens when death meets life. In Elijah's day God had sent word through the prophet that there would be a drought in the land, a consequence of the people's lack of commitment to the true God and trust in Him -- and there was a drought, for three years. It was so severe that vegetation and many other living things died. During part of that time God sustained Elijah by having him cared for in the home of a widow, a woman who also had a young son.

Elijah was seen (by the widow) as one who comes from God, represents God. She is somewhat in awe of him, and maybe a little nervous, as people sometimes are when they see themselves as ordinary sinners visited by the preacher or other supposedly "religious" persons (a totally unnecessary perspective, by the way. The presence of the "preacher" or any other person of God is not what counts. What counts is what God sees, and He sees all things, wherever we are and whatever we are doing.)

Then the widow's son died, and the woman said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" In her mind, and in the mind of many other people, bad things are reminders of sin and are punishments for those sins. So, her son's death, by association, reminded her of her of sin and the punishment she feared it might bring. Some of us may have that perspective, and may be nervous around any "man of God," or reminder of the presence of God.

I have found a similar perspective among the poor in the community, who view the church and religion and people connected with both in this way and sense that the bad things that are happening to them, especially the things they, rightly or wrongly, do not seem able to control -- not having an adequate job, illness on top of illness, family troubles -- are a kind of negative reward, or punishment, for their sin.

Elijah very likely did not know all things about this widow and her life, but he did know the boy was dead, and God had placed him there, at that moment. So he did what he could, praying fervently to God, and God gave the boy back his life, and Elijah gave the woman back her boy. Life had overcome death. The agent was a spokesman for God who was there where the trouble was, who did what he could, operating in faith, and who produced a real act of kindness for the widow.

Move to the New Testament. Jesus, the proclaimer of life, was coming to the town of Nain, and there was large crowd with Him. At the same time the mother of an only child, who was now her dead son, was leading the funeral -- a procession of death, out of the town to a burial site. A large crowd was with her. The two individuals and the two crowds met each other at the gate. Who would influence whom? Which crowd would be influenced by the other? Would death influence life and rule the day, or would life meet death and show itself superior?

Both crowds stopped. Jesus' heart went out to the woman. Life overcame death, He raised her son from the dead and gave him back to her. The two crowds became one, touched by life -- by a deed of kindness rooted in the power of the gift of life. They praised God (together) and said, "God has come to help His people" -- which, by the way, is pretty close to the meaning of one of Jesus' names, Immanuel: God is with us.

The news spread, locally and beyond. Deeds of kindness sparked by the power of life make a mark, leave an impression, open hearts and minds to hear and learn of the Source of that life, life that overcame death in the grave and sin on the cross. We have an opportunity to be instruments of that kindness and messengers of that life.

One more death-to-life connection. St. Paul, earlier in his life, when his name was still Saul, was spiritually dead and eagerly living as an instrument of death, arguing and destroying and even participating in the killing of those whose life threatened his way of death. (I am somewhat reminded of the aggressive style of Jack Kevorkian.)

Then Paul tells how God set him free. He called Saul/Paul by grace -- had set him apart from his birth, that he might preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the "Gentiles," the "foreigners." Paul was faithful, and thousands, even millions, of lives have been changed.

We have been called to serve God in this place where we are. We may not know completely yet what God has set us apart to do for Him and His Kingdom at this time, but we can be ready. We can not resist. We can say, "Here am I, Lord. Use me as You will."

God has given us a land, a property, a place. He has given us a mission of bringing life from death. He has already shown us a ministry and mission to the poor of this area. May we not consider how He might be leading us to combine our ministry and our great resource for an even greater outreach with the message of life -- a message expressed winsomely and genuinely in deeds of kindness and completed in the sharing in the power of life?

You may know that Alfred Nobel, the one for whom the Nobel Peace Prize is named, was the inventor of dynamite. You may not know how this Swedish industrialist came to create and endow this prize.

When Alfred's brother died, the newspaper writer of the obituary mistakenly thought it was Alfred. According to what I have read, the newspaper printed his obituary with the headline, "The Merchant of Death Is Dead." It went on to describe Alfred as a man who made a fortune helping people kill one another. Alfred was cut to the heart when he read this, and he determined to change his legacy. When he actually did die, eight years later, he left his millions to reward people whose work benefited humanity - thus the origin of the Nobel Peace Prize (Arturburn).

St. Paul came to see himself as dead, and, through the work of God the Holy Spirit and Paul's redemption in Christ, became an agent of life.

We may appear to be near death in some ways. God may be stopping our funeral procession, with a heart that goes out not only to us, but also to the crowds around us -- the lost and aimlessly wondering people of our community. This may be our opportunity -- this may be the exercise of our calling from God: How we can continue to be agents for life in this community, bringing the Word of Life, and also exercising deeds of kindness that can open ears and make hearts receptive to the Bread of life? Consider that in your prayers and seek God's will and direction for our life and mission.

Blessings. Amen.