May 28, 2023 -- Pentecost
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

Pentecost (Year A)
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
St. John’s, West Seneca
May 28, 2023

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

On this amazing and astonishing day, the disciples are given the ability to speak other languages so that all the world could hear about Jesus in their own language. That is what Pentecost is all about. Today is the birthday of the church, and some 2000 years later, here we are, hearing about Jesus in our own language, one, I may add, that didn’t even exist at that time.

In today’s second reading, Paul speaks about the gifts that come from the Holy Spirits, gifts that we are given. Paul uses the illustration that the church is a body, and just as our bodies have many parts, so does the church and the parts are the gifts. And like the human body, the church is one.

Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, which is a cosmopolitan city that is messed up, dysfunctional we would say today. The Christians there are fussing with each other, arguing, no doubt, about who has the “better” gift and why it is better. They have become dismissive of each other, and all in all, not being respectful of their fellow church members. Paul has to write some strong words to this church.

Let’s get back to the church as a body and think about this for a minute. If the church is like the body, are there some parts that are misunderstood, or maybe even questioned as to why they exist? From one of my FACEBOOK posts, I found a couple examples.

“Doctors don't really know much about sinuses, only that we have a lot of them. Possibilities for their function range from insulating our eyes to changing the pitch and tone of our voice.

"And then there are wisdom teeth.  “Technically, these choppers are third molars that appear between the ages of 17 and 25. Because they appear so late, when we are much wiser than children, they are called wisdom teeth. But only about 5 percent of us have room for them, which means that most of us have to undergo oral surgery. Perhaps they once had value as backup molars, but today they are just a pain.

"Pinky toes. You know: Your fifth toe, little toe, baby toe. Apes use all of their toes as they grab branches and swing from them. But humans? We don't do much swinging. Instead, we stand upright using our big toe and the next three. The pinky toe is just for show.

"… the appendix. The little worm-like tube at the end of your large intestine might seem completely superfluous, since so many of us have it removed. But recent studies suggest that it could be a storage place for beneficial bacteria.”

These are parts of the body. We might not understand their usefulness, but there they are. Although I dare say that most of us have no wisdom teeth, and many have no appendix either.

Paul is exactly right that there are many gifts and all come from the same Spirit. He gives a good list: wisdom, faith, knowledge, healing. And Paul begins with “Now there are varieties of gifts but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services but the same Lord, and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.”

Now, despite this, it seems that in the Corinthian church, there was some comparison going on and that is what Paul is addressing. Each of us have gifts, unique to us, and part of one body. In other words, stop thinking you are more “gifted” because of this or that gift. Stop comparing yourself to others; use the gifts you are given.

So, whether you are an eye or an ear, a leg, a toe, your role is given to you by the same Holy Spirit that appeared in the First Reading today, the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit powers a variety of gifts, ministries, activities and languages in a variety of body parts. And not one part is useless, because all come from the same Spirit.

Just as the Corinthians have their vanity, we too face issues. What we face today is that we try to fill in the parts we think are necessary, especially when it comes to welcoming others. We may want lots of families, or those with time on their hands, so that a particular need can be met. Too often, that looks like a transaction, a quid pro quo. But Paul is on point here. We are from the One Spirit. We are the One body. And what Paul states is that the church is about relationships and not transactions.

You may ask what the difference is. Transactional ministry looks at a person and asks: What can they do for me? Maybe they can sing in the choir, or teach a Sunday school class, support the church. But when we do this, members are welcome only because of what they can do for us, in the things – transactions – that we see as beneficial.

“Relational ministry, on the other hand, looks at a person and sees a child of God. Newcomers are useful because of who they are, not because of what they do. We trust that they bring the gifts of the Holy Spirit with them, even though these gifts may be unusual to us, with new kinds of wisdom, knowledge, faith…”

So when we welcome visitors and strangers as children of God, we are practicing what Jesus did, relational ministry. Newcomers are accepted and affirmed because they are children of God, part of the one body of Christ, not because they will give us an edge or a competitive advantage. Those who welcome others know that this creates new connections that bring new life, new friendships, new ideas.  And that is where vibrant ministries begin.

Our challenge today is to consider where the Holy Spirit is leading us. The Christians in Corinth had a hard time getting beyond divisions in their church over wealth and spiritual gifts, thinking one was better than the other as though they could control the Holy Spirit. We like control as well, and we may be overlooking those with gifts that we haven’t considered.

And it begins with you. That is why this text is so perfect for the day when our youth “confirm” or “affirm” their baptism promises. My advice to Autumn and Brianna is to find your gift and then use it. And never stop looking for new gifts that will develop as you go forward. We may think that that baby toe has no use, but it does.

Paul says: "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit."  No one can pray, sing, study or serve without being touched by the power of the Spirit. If we can look for signs of the Holy Spirit in all who come to church, we will begin to see the true unity of the body of Christ.

And we need to remember that finding your gifts may take some time. Not everyone will hit their stride in their 20s or 30s. How many of us went to college with a single purpose of what we would major in, or do? Did it change? How many change careers because something does not fit anymore?. I thought at one time I would go on to law school, but it turns out that the Spirit thought that was incorrect, much to my chagrin. Finding your gifts can take time. And history is replete with some great ones. Ulysses S. Grant was a failure at almost everything except love and war. The notes on Fred Astaire were that he “could dance a little.” And here is another one.

“Back in 1832, a young frontiersman in the U.S. Army went to war against the Fox and Sauk Indians in what was known as the Black Hawk war .… At the beginning of the war, this young man was a captain. Now war is a terrible thing. But there is one thing about it that soldiers love — promotions. If you go to war and survive, you were pretty well assured a rapid rise through the ranks.

"Sure enough, by the end of the war, he was no longer a captain, he was a private. Now, how a soldier can go from captain to private without committing treason is beyond me, but he did… As a military officer, he was an abject failure. And by what we know now, he must have been pretty miserable as an enlisted man, too, for his fall through the ranks didn’t end until he was on the very bottom.

"Can you imagine the humiliation he must have suffered? Well, at war’s end, this skinny, awkward, funny-looking young man looked for other things to do.

"Eventually, he found his niche, and even achieved a measure of success. His name was Abraham Lincoln.

"The moral of this story is that just because you’re a failure at one thing, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a failure at everything. Different people have different gifts.”

 And that is the point for us as well. We need not get caught up – as the church in Corinth did – with who has what gift and then ranking them by what we consider superior. The Holy Spirit is always present among us, showering us with varieties of gifts and ideas for ministries, day after day, year after year. Thanks be to God that in this one body of Christ, there are many members -- and no useless parts. Amen.

                                                                               Soli Deo Gloria

May 14 -- Easter 6
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

6 Easter (Year A)
John 14: 15-21
May 14, 2023
St. John’s, West Seneca

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ame.

As we continue in this season of Easter, I give you another of my favorites. I began with a doctor reunited with her father after 60 years, then continued with identity, that no matter the titles, we are “children of God.”  Remember “His Majesty Franz Josef Emmanuel Hans, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Head of the Hapsburgs?”

I moved on with a new take on David and Goliath, and last week spoke of how we are given 86,400 seconds – our own separate time bank – to use each day.

At Bible Study Thursday night, I recalled that one of my first classes in the art of preaching entailed this. The professor would peruse the lectionary for that quarter and find what he or she thought was the most difficult or trying gospel reading.  We met once a week and dissected but one text for the entire quarter.  The quarter before me had the famous divorce text.  Mine was today’s gospel from John.  I remember that some of my friends, taxed with that text on divorce, were upset. They thought I was fortunate.

I find that John’s gospel is thick with words, and contains layer upon layer of meaning.  This 14th chapter contains Jesus’s farewell discourse, and in this particular text, he promises to not leave us orphaned, and to send an Advocate to “be with you forever.”

As we worked through this text that quarter we had a number of assignments.  We had to come up with an illustration; we had to write and perform a rap song.  And if you think rap music is scary, wait till you see a bunch of thirty-something white people doing it. One of my classmates couldn’t, instead, he took an artistic liberty and wrote a sonnet. However, during all these exercises,  one of my classmates came up with an illustration that still keeps me thinking.  She noted that – in English - God is dog spelled backward, and she spoke of the faithfulness of dogs, how they abide with us, and how unconditional their love is, and how when we are not around, they long to see us.  And so, as I was researching this past week, all about dogs, I thought about some of my patients.

Many years ago, I had a patient who had a successful surgery, but later contracted a severe and stubborn infection, one that had to be treated in the hospital with an IV for at least 30 days.  Such is modern medicine.  His wife stopped me in the hall one day to ask if I could drop by, as she noticed that her husband was becoming depressed.  I said that I would, and it turned out that I would drop by each day I was there – I was part-time then – sometimes for a few minutes, but as this continued, often longer.  Although my patient did not have a religious tradition, I could see that he was a seeker, very spiritual, and always appreciative of my visits. Our talks rambled here and there, but one day he mentioned how much he missed his dog, a lapdog that he and his wife had driven to Missouri to pick up.  Now, from what I know about man’s – and woman’s – best friend, is that the dog was wondering where he was as well; and the patient’s wife confirmed that with me.  She said that this beloved pet did miss the patient, and would wander through the house, looking for him.

So, I mentioned to the patient that he should talk to the nurse, ask if something could be done, if he could see his pet.  Well, he did, and they arranged – with every precaution - to take him down to the lobby, the far corner, where he could see his pet. All this was done quietly, if you get my drift.

The effect was noticeable immediately.  He was in a better mood the next day, cheerful, more talkative than usual. And yes, we do have therapy dogs at Mercy.

What is it about dogs that evokes such a positive response? How are they able to provide such comfort and reassurance? A group called Therapy Dogs International screens dogs for providing certification for thousands of “pet partners” who provide service for patients in the United States. Whatever it is, we know that dogs demonstrate loyalty and obedience, and offer comfort and a sense of well-being.

Maybe we could learn a thing or two, and maybe we should try a little harder to be godly and dogly in our daily lives. The marks of a godly/dogly disciple are right there in John’s gospel :"If you love me, you will keep my commandments". We are also reminded that an Advocate is coming – the Holy Spirit – to comfort us reassure us, strengthen us.  "

Keep the commandments. Love God and love your neighbor. If we have that kind of ministry in our churches, homes, schools and communities that pet partners have in hospitals, what would that look like? What would it look like to do just that, loving God, putting God first, and showing a willingness to aid and comfort?

“To answer these questions, let us explore the fundamental nature of dogness, or doghood.  Here are  10 dog-truths and examples that will lead us to be better Christians:

"1. Greet loved ones with wagging tail. Nothing is more important than feeling loved, and there's no creature on the planet that does it better than a dog. The wagging tail affirms that this is where we belong: This is our home, where we live, where we're safe and where we're loved.

"2. Eat with gusto and enthusiasm. You know how dogs eat: slobber flying everywhere, and licking the dish clean until every last scent of gravy is gone. Dogs know that eating is a celebration of life. Breaking bread together is holy. To nourish the body is not a chore, but a sacrament. Animosities are dissipated at meals, barriers broken down, friendships renewed and strengthened. So, eat with gusto. Enjoy all the flavors and spices of creation.

"3. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree. Relax, slow down and enjoy. Give yourself a time out. Opt out, unplug, and get lazy.

"4. Run, romp and play daily. Physical exercise is as important for the soul as it is for the body. No disciple of Christ can be as faithful and effective when the body is run down and health is unnecessarily poor. When we learn how to play and stretch and get in some exercise we'll feel better from the inside out.

"5. Be loyal. Loyalty is a good thing, and if your dog is nothing else, he is loyal to a fault. Loyalty is a critical element of discipleship, for it speaks to our relationship with others: our spouse, our vocation, our community and our friends.

"6. When you're happy, dance around and wag your tail. Thankfulness and celebration are powerful dynamics for successful and healthy living. Gratitude is a gift we give ourselves that enables us to affirm the essential goodness of life. Even when adversity strikes, gratitude helps us maintain our perspective and carries us through the low moments.

"7. If someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by and nuzzle gently. We all have bad days. That's why we need encouragement and affirmation. When we are depressed, we know that it takes only a quiet word, a gentle touch to bring us around. A dog has this instinct that tells it when to be dancing and jumping around and when to just be there beside you. Words are not always needed, or even helpful, to convey empathy.

"8. No matter how harshly you're scolded, don't pout - run back and make friends. Carrying grudges makes life a drudgery. Make friends and keep them. Overlook faults and assume the best. Don't keep a scorecard of rights and wrongs. Don't take offense.

" 9. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. We do not need to injure others by what we say or do. We can be strong with love; firm with kindness.

"10. Bark with your buddies. Barking is an act of commonality. Barking says we belong in this together. We are one.”

In the three years the disciples traveled with Jesus, they had incredible experiences together. They had learned something about love, about faith, about affirmation, about friendship, about ministry, about eating together, about acceptance, about patience and humility. Now, as Jesus prepares to leave them, he reminds them of what is truly important. He places value on obedience, and he reminds them of the role the Holy Spirit will play in their lives after he is physically gone from their presence.

When I think back on it, I recall my classmate’s illustration was met with smiles and nods of approval.  It's not that we should think of ourselves as dogs to God as a Master. We are creatures fashioned by the creator, and so are dogs.  God put dogs on earth to remind us of some important truths, for on one level dogs seem to do better at displaying human traits than humans. And much more like Jesus.  Think about it. Consistently more humble, more loving, more grateful, more joyful, more kindhearted, and so on.

Mark Twain famously said: “The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog.” Let’s all make it a point we will never let our beloved pet be a better Christian than we are. Amen.
(Taken from HOMILETICS for May 5, 2002)

                                                                            Soli Gloria Dei

May 7, 2023 -- Easter 5
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

5 Easter (Year A)
Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16
St. John’s, West Seneca
May 7, 2023

A Psalm of David.
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
   do not let me ever be put to shame;
   in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
   rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me,
   a strong fortress to save me.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
   for your name’s sake lead me and guide me;
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
   for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
   you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.
15 My times are in your hand;
   deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
   save me in your steadfast love.

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I warned you a few weeks back that during this season, I was going to preach on what I wanted, to share a few stories and illustrations that I love. Fortunately, the lessons for each week make this easy. So I am sharing – once again – this illustration.

“Imagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening it deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do?

"Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the ‘tomorrow.’ You must live in the present on today's deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today.”

The question before us is “whose time is it anyway?”

We are a time-consumed society. Time is precious. And as human beings, we are fascinated with the passage of time.  We record the events of our lives with rituals and festivities. From birth to death, the years pass and the holidays and celebrations – the times of our lives - come and go. We mark time in days, weeks, months, years, decades, and calculate our hours, minutes, seconds. We are aware of time, how fast it goes, how well it is spent. We never seem to have enough of it.  We wonder why some days pass so slowly, and despair that another year has gone by so quickly.

But, rarely do we ask anymore: “What time is it?” That is because the time is ever present, right there in the corner of our laptops, on our tablets, or on the face of our smartwatches or Fitbits. And it’s accurate to the second. If we’re in the car, it’s there. In our home, there it is on the microwave.

Most of us are well aware of time, and our need to know what time it is. We need to get to work on time. We need to catch a flight and be on time, however you define how many hours ahead. Time does not wait for us. The office won’t wait for us; the plane won’t wait for us. Time waits for no one.

And to that end, we have a variety of technologies to remind us of the time so that we arrive on time. There are pop-up reminders on our laptops, tablets and smartphones. Many of us have online calendars to manage our busy lives. And there are many books out there advising us on how to use our time more efficiently. It’s as if time is ours to manage, which it is. It's also ours to mismanage.

But rather than “What time is it?” maybe we need to replace the “What” with “Whose.” "Whose time is it, anyway?” In the Psalm, we are given an answer in verse 16: “My times are in your hands.” Time does not belong to us; it belongs to God. This should not come as a surprise. ”If God is the Creator of everything, God is therefore the Creator of time. God, after all, existed before time. That there is such a thing as time is because God made it so.”

Sounds all theological, so perhaps instead of saying, “Time does not belong to us” the better phrasing is: “Our time does not belong to us.” This makes it personal. Each day is in the hands of God. That changes the perspective a great deal. So, all this time we are trying to manage is not ours, but God’s.

The idea that our lives are in the hands of an eternal god and not in one’s own hands was rather a rather novel idea in David’s time 3,000 years ago, and for some, it still is today. David believed his life was in the hands of the One True God, who listened to him, rescued him, delivered him and redeemed him. And even more interesting, this God was in a relationship with him.

Now the Greeks, “on the other hand, believed in the Fates, and these gods dictated how long a person lived, their destiny while alive, and how much suffering and misery they would undergo. Homer and Hesiod wrote about Fate, and it wasn’t long before the Fates were thought of as three crones of advanced years who ‘spun the threads of human destiny.’ Clotho spun the thread of human fate, Lachesis belayed it out and Atropos cut the rope, thus determining the precise point of one’s death.”

So, again, what are you doing with the time that God gives you?

Writing in The New York Times, Tim Kreider observed that many people speak of how busy they are, some even saying they are “crazy busy.” He notes, “Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications.”

The truth is, as this author points out, that our busyness is not something that has been imposed on us, but rather something we are choosing. We are busy because of our ambition, our need to succeed, even our anxiety. Sometimes I think we are addicted to busyness, so that we do not have to deal with silence or the stillness that slowing down causes. It’s far easier to keep busy. And I hear that especially when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness or dies suddenly, and a family member says: “I have to keep busy so I won’t think about it.”

But think about it we should. When the Psalmist says: “I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for the Lord,” he is speaking a truth. We need to be intentional with our time. And, as it says in Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”

But, of course, there’s a problem with this. “Making room” in our lives for God can imply that we’ve reduced our attention to God to a half hour or so,  and it becomes a regimen. What about the rest of the day? We miss the point if we pray or read the Bible or have devotions and then walk away with the idea that we’ve done our duty to God and can now get on with the rest of the day, the “busyness” of our lives. After all, the last words spoken here indicate that we need to make time as we “serve the Lord.”

“In the 14th century, philosopher, theologian and mystic, Meister Eckhart. who lived and worked in the Dominican Order was elected to be the administrator of his order in Saxony. This meant he had to manage 50 houses of friars and nine convents of nuns. Eckhart did the job, but he wasn’t content to leave his spiritual life behind in the chapel before heading off to the office each day. Referring to this in a sermon, he said that those who did that ‘are behaving no differently than if they took God, wrapped a coat around his head and shoved him under a bench.’”

God-time each day is important, but it is about more than that. It is about having a mindset that listens for God and to God throughout each day.

Theologian William Willimon adds this: “We do not, perhaps we cannot, take time for God. God in Christ takes time for us and interrupts us throughout the day, if we have the eyes of faith to see it. God takes time from us. God does not wait for us to fine-tune the spiritual disciplines. God grants us the freedom to be about our vocations in the world, doing what we have to do in this life. Then God suddenly shows up, unexpectedly becomes an event in our time and disrupts our lives.”

In other words, we need a place for God daily and certainly here, right now. It is important for us to find a place for God in our schedules, but don’t assume that that’s it. And besides, God has the habit of bursting into our lives at any hour, reminding us, pushing us to live as one of His people, following Jesus’ example.

Each day, you are given 86,400 seconds. Give some to God and have the mindset that God is going to break into the “busyness” of your life.

Remember the words of the Psalmist: “My times are in Your hand.”  Amen.

                                                                                  Soli Deo Gloria

April 30, 2023 -- Easter 4
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

4 Easter (Year A)
John 10
St. John’s, West Seneca
April 30, 2023

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It is the Fourth Sunday of the Easter season, one known as Good Shepherd Sunday. We hear the beloved and familiar Psalm 23. We hear Jesus speak of being the good shepherd, the one the sheep follow because they know his voice.

As most of you know, Psalm 23 is attributed to David, so let’s start there. We all know him, of course, from the David vs. Goliath story in I Samuel. It is one of the most famous Biblical accounts, and most of us know how it goes. The great giant Goliath is defeated by a young shepherd armed with only a sling shot.

Malcolm Gladwell is one of those authors I enjoy reading, and over the years, I think I’ve read nearly all of his books. One of those is DAVID AND GOLIATH, subtitled "Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants." The subtitle says it all. So let’s take a look at this well-known story. And apologies to my Bible Study, because you already know this, as you saw theTED talk given by Mr. Gladwell.

This is how the Bible describes the scene:
“Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. Saul and the Israelites gathered and encamped in the valley of Elah and formed ranks against the Philistines. The Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was four[a] cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron, and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose[b] a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me.” Terrifying.

This is how he describes David and Goliath.
“David in that story is supposed to be the underdog, right? In fact, that term, David and Goliath, has entered our language as a metaphor for improbable victories by some weak party over someone far stronger. Now why do we call David an underdog?” “… Goliath is outfitted with all of this modern weaponry, this glittering coat of armor and a sword and a javelin and a spear. And all David has is this sling. Well, let's start there with the phrase, 'All David has is this sling,' because that's the first mistake that we make.

"In ancient warfare, there are three kinds of warriors. There's cavalry, there's heavy infantry and there's artillery. And artillery are archers, but more importantly, slingers. And a slinger is someone who has a leather pouch with two long cords attached to it.

"And they put a projectile, either a rock or a lead ball, inside the pouch. And they whirl it around…and they let one of the cords go. And the effect is to send the projectile forward at - towards its target. That's what David has, and it's important to understand that that sling is not a slingshot, right? It's not a child's toy.

"When David rolls it around like this, he's turning this sling around probably at six or seven revolutions per second. And that means that when the rock is released, it's going forward really fast, probably 35 meters per second. More than that, the stones in the Valley of Elah were not normal rocks. They were barium sulfate, which are rocks twice the density of normal stones. If you do the calculations on the ballistic - on the stopping power of the rock fired from David's sling, it's roughly equal to the stopping power of a 45 millimeter handgun, right? This is an incredibly devastating weapon. From medieval tapestries, we know that slingers were capable of hitting birds in flight.

"…When David lines up - and he's not 200 yards away from Goliath - he's quite close to Goliath. When he lines up and fires that thing at Goliath, he has every intention and every expectation of being able to hit Goliath at his most volatile spot, between his eyes.

"It's not just that we misunderstand David and his choice of weaponry. It's also that we profoundly misunderstand Goliath. Goliath is not what he seems to be…there's that strange comment he makes to David, 'Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?' Right? Sticks? David only has one stick.

"Well, it turns out that there's been a great deal of speculation within the medical community over the years about whether there's something wrong with - fundamentally wrong with Goliath, an attempt to make sense of all of those apparent anomalies. So Goliath is head and shoulders above all of his peers in that era. And usually when someone is that far out of the norm, there's an explanation for it. So the most common form of giantism is a condition called acromegaly, and acromegaly is caused by a benign tumor on your pituitary gland.

"Do you remember the wrestler Andre the Giant? Famous - he had acromegaly. There's even speculation that Abraham Lincoln had acromegaly. And acromegaly has a very distinct set of side effects associated with it, principally having to do with vision. The pituitary tumor, as it grows, often starts to compress the visual nerves in your brain with the result that people with acromegaly have either double vision or they are profoundly nearsighted. 'Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?' He sees two sticks when David has only one. So the Israelites up on the mountain ridge looking down on him thought he was this extraordinarily powerful foe. What they didn't understand was that the very thing that was the source of his apparent strength was also the source of his greatest weakness. Goliath is a sitting duck. He doesn't have a chance, right? So why do we keep calling David an underdog, and why do we keep referring to his victory as improbable? And there is, I think, in that a very important lesson for all of us. Giants are not as strong and powerful as they seem, and sometimes the shepherd boy has a sling in his pocket.” (TED talk)

Appearances are deceiving. Yes, Goliath is big, and David is small, but David is a shepherd. The text has him telling King Saul “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father, and whenever a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth, and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them…” David is a shepherd, entrusted with his father’s flock, his father’s livelihood, and he is accomplished…and confident.

As a side note, what Gladwell does is the same thing the University of Maryland School of Medicine, along with the Baltimore VA Medical Center and Medical Alumni Association do each year when they host the Historical Clinicopathological Conference each May, “The Historical CPC” and they have been doing this since 1995. These CPCs -without the historical- are done weekly, when an odd or unusual case is studied. But, once a year, they stray from the modern and discuss an historical figure. Those looked at have included King Herod, Mozart, Lenin, Columbus and others. Perhaps Goliath might be a choice.

For those of us who study Scripture, this is gold. Taking a text, reading, adding historical context, looking into word usage, and asking all along: what does God want us to know? Just a good story? Or something more? How do I apply this from ancient Israel to now? What questions should I be asking? Over the years, I’ve had all types of questions come to mind.
·   Did Adam and Eve have navels?
·   What does it mean when Elijah asks the priests of Baal, “has your God wandered off?
·   From my Bible study, Barb asked: Why is only Cleopas named? Did Luke forget the other one’s name?
-   In John’s Easter text, why does he make a point of describing Jesus’s left-behind burial clothes?

We study Scripture to learn about God’s dance with us. It’s more than a story; this is life. The traditional understanding is that David was the underdog. The same is true of Jesus. Now when He arrived on the scene, he certainly was considered an underdog. Remember Nathaniel’s words: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It was not a place great men came from.

And Rome was certainly Goliath, especially with its military might.  But our God moves in mysterious ways and favors the underdog. From that small group of followers who set out after Pentecost, more came, more were converted, including one Saul of Tarsus. More came to know God in Jesus, and they demonstrated this radical love and way of life throughout the empire. In time, even the emperor heard and understood, and Rome converted, and Christianity became a religion of the state. From there it continued…and here we stand today.

Should we be surprised that the day was won not by tyranny, but by a simple command to love one another as we have been loved? Should we be surprised that a shepherd, who guarded his father’s flocks, was able to take down a giant who had a disability? One of Gladwell’s quotes is this:

"You see the giant and the shepherd in the Valley of Elah and your eye is drawn to the man with sword and shield and the glittering armor. But so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine."

Yes, the Good Shepherd has strength and a purpose for each one of us. And so the issues that face the church today are not as bad as they seem. We just have work to do.  It may seem like we are battling a giant, but what is beautiful in this world comes from Jesus, the good shepherd.

Giants are not what we think they are. The shepherd has a sling in his pocket. Amen.

                                                                               Soli Deo Gloria



April 23, 2023 -- Easter 3
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

3 Easter (Year A)
Luke 24
St. John’s, West Seneca
April 23, 2023

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen..

One of the greatest short stories is before us today, and so I turn to Luke’s “road to Emmaus.” Luke knew how to take the details and weave them into a story that all of us can relate to.  There included are the daily activities of walking and talking, sharing sorrow, and of course, as is so common in Luke, a meal. On that note, one scholar goes as far to say that if you took out all the images and details regarding food and feasting, Luke’s gospel would be a slim book.

On the road that first Easter evening, two of Jesus’s rather dejected followers - walking on the road to Emmaus - are amazed that the stranger who has just joined them has not heard anything about the astounding news of the resurrection. Luke tells us that this stranger is Jesus, but the travelers can’t recognize him. That is the irony of the story, that these two followers do not recognize Jesus even as they speak of him. They tell Jesus what they have heard and what they know from their perspective.  In a simple sentence – we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel – they reveal just how much Jesus means to them.

And they talk about the angel’s appearance, and the women at the tomb, as if it were just a minor detail. Jesus scolds them and then begins an educational class of sorts, beginning with Moses. After a day of walking, and still not knowing whose company they were in, Jesus reveals himself in the breaking of the bread. Ah, now they see and understand. "Were our hearts not burning as he spoke with us?"

These two came to know that it was Jesus, first by walking and listening. It is not a total understanding, but afterwards, like so many of us, they remember the words and something begins to register and they put it all together. And of course, it is in the breaking of the bread that they see completely.

How do we come to know Jesus? How did Cleopas and his fellow traveler know? Well, it is in words that we Lutherans should know well. It is the Word and Sacrament. Both are present for Cleopas and his friend to know Jesus, first on the road talking, and then at the table. The church calls these the “marks of the church.” When you have the Word rightly proclaimed and the Sacraments rightly administered, there is the church. We pastors are ordained into the Ministry of Word and Sacrament. That is how we know the story.

This story is not so much about knowing who Jesus is, but that we are known by Jesus. It is not about the people who know us, our popularity, but rather that we are recognized and known by the risen Christ. Jesus joins them on the road because He knows them. Paul elaborates on that in 1 Corinthians 13, “then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” That is what gives us our identity, our confidence, our status, if you will.  We are known.

And so the good news is that we are not alone, especially as we walk our own “Road to Emmaus,” often bewildered, sad, lonely. Jesus will join us, sometimes with his presence, and many times by those who are sent to  accompany us, to walk with us. 

In speaking of what it is to be known and loved in our relationships, one author wrote: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

Fully known. Jesus tells us that even the hairs on our heads are counted, that we are of more worth than the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.

And as we are fully known and loved, there is no need for all the titles we attach to ourselves. We do get caught up in such things, but it doesn’t impress God. God loves us for who we are and knows our struggles and weaknesses and simply asks that we love one another. That was the mark of the early church that others saw. See how these Christians love one another. At Marie Basher’s funeral on Friday, I quoted a Quaker author named Philip Gulley, who wrote a book on the Ecclesiastes text: For everything there is a season. In “A Time to Die,” he said this:

“…Death jogs our minds about what is most important.  It separates the wheat from the chaff. Life isn’t about money and big houses or fancy cars and titles. It’s about family and friends and our relationship with God and whether we love…”

As for being known, one of my favorite stories is this one: “The Emperor Franz Josef, who died in 1916, was the last of the great Hapsburg rulers. He lay in state in his magnificent palace in Vienna, surrounded by exquisite floral arrangements, sumptuous fabrics, jewels and gold. On the day of the funeral, his body was taken to the church in an exquisite hearse drawn by magnificent matched horses. The pallbearers removed the casket from the hearse, and brought it to the locked doors of the church.

"One of the emperor’s attendants knocked loudly on the door, and a voice came from within: ‘Who goes there?’

"‘His Majesty Franz Josef Emmanuel Hans, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Head of the Hapsburgs.’ Came the reply from within: ‘We do not know him.’

"A second time the emperor’s attendant knocked loudly on the door, and a voice came from within: ‘Who goes there?’

"‘His Majesty Franz Josef Emmanuel Hans, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, Head of the Hapsburgs.’ Came the reply from within: ‘We do not know him.’

"A third time the emperor’s attendant knocked loudly on the door, and a voice came from within: ‘Who goes there?’

"The answer this time was much softer and simpler: ‘It is Franz, a child of God.’

"Soon, there was a loud noise as the massive bolts were drawn back, the doors were opened wide, and the interior of the magnificent church was made visible.

"The doorkeeper then said, ‘The Lord welcomes Franz, a child of God. Him we know.’”

There is a similar story told of Queen Victoria. “Shortly after her marriage to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria had a quarrel with her new husband. Albert walked out of the room and locked himself in his private apartment. Victoria hammered furiously on the door. ‘Who’s there?’ called Albert.

"‘The Queen of England, and she demands to be admitted.’

"There was no response, and the door remained locked. Victoria hammered again.

"‘Who’s there?’ The reply was the same, and still the door remained shut." More fruitless and furious knocking was followed by a pause. Then there was a gentle tap. ‘Who’s there?’ Albert asked.

"‘Your wife…’ the queen replied. The prince opened the door at once.”

Same idea. All that matters is that we are known. We can have all the titles in the world, but they mean nothing. God shows no partiality. The risen Jesus joins those two travelers on the road and simply walks and talks with them. He knows them; he knows their sadness, and he is going to turn that sadness into joy.

So, my friends, as I said last week, I will say it again. We are known by God and even when we feel that we are lost; we are not lost from God. God does not forget His children. He who neither slumbers nor sleeps keeps watch and is always creating ways to make this world whole and complete.

So, if you find yourself in a place where you believe that you are lost from something or someone, know that God is at work. God does not stop loving; God does not stop creating opportunities.

There is a hymn called “On the Road to Emmaus,” that was sung at one of the places I served. It goes like this.

“On the road to Emmaus, Jesus walked for a while and he asked us why we looked so very sad. Don’t you know where you are? Did it all just pass you by? Do you believe that Jesus is the true Messiah?

" On the road to Emmaus, Jesus gave us his peace and he open our eyes to see the truth. Don’t you know where you are? Did it all just pass you by? Do you believe that Jesus is the true Messiah?”

My hope is that in this Easter season, we are not sad, because we have been given his peace, and we are known and loved by him. And when we knock at the door, our answer to “who goes there,” is “a child of God.” And the Lord will welcome us because He knows us. Amen.

                                                                             Soli Deo Gloria 

April 16, 2023 -- Easter 2
Rev. Valerie de Cathelineau

2 Easter (Year A)
John 20: 19-31
St. John’s, West Seneca
April 16, 2023

Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As we celebrate the second Sunday of Easter, it is Thomas who takes center stage. Known as “the doubter,” Thomas is one of those people who needs proof of this radical new life.

This is the given text for every year, no matter if it is Year A, B, or C. I have preached on Thomas year after year.

Over the years, I have collected illustrations and ideas for preaching, placing them in a file. Every once in a while I go through them, and this past week it dawned on me how many of them have to do with new life, or coincidences that seem impossible to believe. Each time, they give me pause as I think about God’s never failing love for all the creation.

This story begins in Poland during World War II.

“When a train filled with a large transport of Jewish prisoners arrived at one of the Nazi killing centers, many Polish gentiles came out to watch the latest group as they were taken away. As the disoriented Jews were gathering their possessions to take with them into the camp, a Nazi officer in charge called out to the villagers standing nearby, ‘Anything these Jews leave behind you may take for yourselves, because for sure they will not be coming back to collect them!’

"Two Polish women who were standing nearby saw a woman towards the back of the group, wearing a large, heavy, expensive coat. Not waiting for someone else to take the coat before them, they ran to the Jewish woman and knocked her to the ground, grabbed her coat and scurried away.

"Moving out of sight of the others, they quickly laid the coat down on the ground to divide the spoils of what was hiding inside. Rummaging through the pockets, they giddily discovered gold jewelry, silver candlesticks and other heirlooms. They were thrilled with their find, but as they lifted the coat again, it still seemed heavier than it should. Upon further inspection, they found a secret pocket, and hidden inside the coat was .... a tiny baby girl!

"Shocked at their discovery, one woman took pity and insisted to the other, ‘I don't have any children, and I'm too old to give birth now. You take the gold and silver and let me have the baby.’ The Polish woman took her new ‘daughter’ home to her delighted husband. They raised the Jewish girl as their own, treating her very well, but never telling her anything about her history. The girl excelled in her studies and even became a doctor, working as a pediatrician in a hospital in Poland.

"When her ‘mother’ passed away many years later, a visitor came to pay her respects. An old woman invited herself in and said to the daughter, ‘I want you to know that the woman that passed away last week was not your real mother ...’ and she proceeded to tell her the whole story. She did not believe her at first, but the old woman insisted.

"‘When we found you, you were wearing a beautiful gold pendant with strange writing on it, which must be Hebrew. I am sure that your mother kept the necklace. Go and see for yourself.'

"Indeed, the woman went into her deceased mother's jewelry box and found the necklace just as the elderly lady had described. She was shocked. It was hard to fathom that she had been of Jewish descent, but the proof was right there in her hand. As this was her only link to a previous life, she cherished the necklace. She had it enlarged to fit her neck and wore it every day, although she thought nothing more of her Jewish roots.

"Some time later, she went on holiday abroad and came across two Jewish boys standing on a main street, trying to interest Jewish passersby to wrap Tefillin on their arms (for males) or accept Shabbos candles to light on Friday afternoon (for females). Seizing the opportunity, she told them her entire story and showed them the necklace. The boys confirmed that a Jewish name was inscribed on the necklace but did not know about her status. They recommended that she write a letter to their mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, explaining everything. If anyone would know what to do, it would be him.

"She took their advice and sent off a letter that very same day. She received a speedy reply saying that it is clear from the facts that she is a Jewish girl and perhaps she would consider using her medical skills in Israel where talented pediatricians were needed. Her curiosity was piqued and she traveled to Israel where she consulted a Rabbinical Court (Beit Din) who declared her Jewish. Soon she was accepted into a hospital to work, and eventually met her husband and raised a family.

"In August 2001, a terrorist blew up the Sbarro cafe in the center of Jerusalem. The injured were rushed to the hospital where this woman worked. One patient was brought in, an elderly man in a state of shock. He was searching everywhere for his granddaughter who had become separated from him.

"Asking how she could recognize her, the frantic grandfather gave a description of a gold necklace that she was wearing. Eventually, they finally found her among the injured patients.

"At the sight of this necklace, the pediatrician froze. She turned to the old man and said, ‘Where did you buy this necklace?’

"‘You can't buy such a necklace,’ he responded, ‘I am a goldsmith and I made this necklace. Actually I made two identical pieces for each of my daughters. This is my granddaughter from one of them, and my other daughter did not survive the war.’

"And this is the story of how a Jewish girl, brutally torn away from her mother on a Nazi camp platform almost sixty years ago, was reunited with her father ....”    Adapted from the book Heroes of Faith

So, my friends, we are never lost from God. God does not forget His children. He who neither slumbers nor sleeps keeps watch and is always creating ways to make this world whole and complete.

So, if you find yourself in a place where you believe that you are lost from something or someone, know that God is at work. God does not stop loving; God does not stop creating. Now, we get in the way, and sin is always present, but God continues the work of creation, and the Holy Spirit is moving among us, calling, gathering, enlightening.

Frederick Buechner writes on “Coincidence,” and of all his essays, this may be my favorite.

“I think of a person I haven't seen or thought of for years, and ten minutes later I see her crossing the street. I turn on the radio to hear a voice reading the biblical story of Jael, which is the story that I have spent the morning writing about. A car passes me on the road, and its license plate consists of my wife's and my initials side by side. When you tell people stories like that, their usual reaction is to laugh. One wonders why.

"I believe that people laugh at coincidence as a way of relegating it to the realm of the absurd and of therefore not having to take seriously the possibility that there is a lot more going on in our lives than we either know or care to know. Who can say what it is that's going on? But I suspect that part of it, anyway, is that every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: ‘You've turned up in the right place at the right time. You're doing fine. Don't ever think that you've been forgotten.’”

And that is the good news for this day and this Easter season. Amen.

                                                                                 Soli Deo Gloria