- February 18, 2024 Sermon
The Rev. Joseph Farnes
February 18, 2024
All Saints, Boise
Last Thursday, we had the first meeting of our RenewalWorks leadership team (speaking of which, did you fill out your spiritual life inventory?? Today is the last day. If you haven’t filled it out, you can get a paper copy from me and I will manually enter it in. But you have to do it today!)
The first meeting the group discussed their own spiritual journeys and what contributed to their spiritual growth. We talked about “catalysts” for spiritual growth – stuff that helps us to grow in our relationship with God. Things like being part of worship, praying at home, works of service, reading the Bible, all of that can help us grow in our relationship with God.
Something that popped up in the conversation, though, was the tension between individual spirituality and communal spirituality. Is the primary focus of spirituality what we do individually, or is the primary focus what we do as a community, as the church?
How do we think about spirituality? And what is the church’s role in all of it?
In our very individualistic culture, it can feel like the church is more like a store for spirituality. You go to the right church to get the right spiritual product for yourself. It can feel awfully transactional. I go, put my money in the plate, get fed a sermon, maybe go to a class, maybe help out with a ministry for the good feelings it gives me. We learn something, we take it home and practice it.
From this perspective, the church is competing with the spirituality aisle at the bookstore, competing with the gym, competing with endless options for spirituality. The church has to have the right product to sell, and it has to sell that product well. If the product doesn’t sell, then either we need to advertise it better or we need to change the product.
Makes it awfully hard to sell the season of Lent, you know. “Go off into the desert with Jesus! Have a fight with Satan! Walk the way of the Cross!” Those are very, very hard sells. No wonder a lot of your megachurches will sell you a happier message – and literally sell it to you. In that case, we’re not so much congregants as consumers of spirituality.
Spirituality is hard work, and it cannot be bought.
What makes the spirituality of the church different is that it’s not the church selling a product to a consumer. The church is not the hierarchy, the official organization on paper. The Church is the community gathered in the name of Christ.
We are the Church. We are the Body of Christ.
We as individuals gathered in one body. Many grains of wheat mixed into bread. Many grapes fermented together into wine. And yet, we do not lose our individuality in the process. Each person brings their personhood to the work of the community in this place.
Our spirituality is profoundly individual – my spiritual life with God is different from yours because I have a different personality, a different way of life, a different history than you. Differences show that Christ shows up in different ways throughout the world.
And our spirituality is profoundly communal – we gather as a community to pray together, and we gather to share a pattern of worship with other Christians in the world today and with other Christians throughout history, and we learn from one another, too. We grow together.
Our spirituality is baptismal, and our spirituality is Eucharistic.
When a person is baptized, they are the center of the action. This person, as they are, this person as they will grow to be, this person with their personality – this person is baptized. The Church gathers and rejoices and prays over this person. The Church celebrates that baptism has united this person with the Body of Christ. This person incorporated into Christ’s body.
They are individual, brought into the whole. Wherever that one person goes, so goes the Body of Christ. We always, always represent Christ and the Church. And so we each should work hard to do a really good job of that. All for one, and one for all.
When we gather for the Eucharist, we are bringing ourselves together in union with Christ to give thanks to God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We make a great offering of ourselves, our work, our bread and wine to God. And then this consecrated offering of bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, is given back to us. A morsel of bread, a sip of wine – but each of us are invited to eat and to be transformed inwardly.
Our spirituality is individual, and it is communal. It is baptismal, and it is Eucharistic.
What you do individually to grow in love with God – it matters. It matters not just to you, but to the whole Church, too. Your gifts and graces strengthen and nourish the Church.
And what we do together to grow in love with God – it matters. It matters not just to the Church, but to you, too. We learn that we are loved, that we belong, and we learn how to love others more deeply, and we discover how much prayer matters.
When you are missing from worship or from our work together, it is deeply felt. It feels different. No one can take your place. You matter. And our community matters. It is a blessed, wonderful thing to be with such wonderful people: resilient, welcoming, compassionate, curious, occasionally silly in the best way. It is the work of God in you and me, and it is the work of God in us together.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
- February 11, 2024 Sermon
The Rev. Joseph Farnes
February 11, 2024
Elijah and Elisha make this long journey together. They both know that soon Elijah will be taken away, but Elisha won’t let him go away alone. Elijah gently tries to give his apprentice prophet permission to go, but Elisha won’t let Elijah go. Elijah keeps telling Elisha, “God’s sent me just a little further on.” And Elisha says he will stay by Elijah’s side.
The companies of prophets come out and tell Elisha that Elijah will be taken away by God soon. And Elisha tells them that he knows, and that they should stay quiet.
In reading this passage, I’ve always felt that pang of grief in Elisha’s heart. He deeply cares for Elijah. He knows that he’s going to be with God – but that means Elijah is going to a place where Elisha will not be. Elisha will not see Elijah face-to-face anymore on this side of eternity.
Most times I have read this story, I’ve focused on Elisha’s dedication to Elijah. But what if we turn it around? Elijah knows what is ahead for him. He knows that God will be taking him away, and he’s ready.
But his apprentice, Elisha, is grieving this loss that is about to come. He knows Elisha is having a hard time letting go. It’s inevitable, and at best it’s being postponed. Each time Elisha promises he’ll accompany Elijah, Elijah adds the next step. “God’s sending me to Bethel. God’s sending me to Jericho. God’s sending me beyond the Jordan. God’s sending me far, far away, Elisha … you don’t have to follow.” But Elisha promises to follow Elijah all the way.
I imagine Elijah looking at Elisha with a soft smile. Elijah is ready, but Elisha is not. Elisha’s heart is breaking, and Elijah’s heart breaks for this apprentice prophet.
And when Elisha asks for a double-share of Elijah’s spirit, perhaps it’s asking for a double share of his inheritance, as was fitting for a first-born son. Elisha loves Elijah as if Elijah were his father – and he wants to know that Elijah loves him as a son. Elisha wants to be Elijah’s beloved son, the prophetic son of a great prophet.
But Elijah tells Elisha that this is not his call to make. If Elisha sees Elijah being taken up, then he has inherited that double-share of the prophetic spirit. Elijah loves Elisha with fatherly affection, but it is God that makes a prophet. A king’s son may eventually one day become a king, and back in that day a priest’s son may grow up to become a priest, but a prophet is solely by God’s call. Elijah is not beginning a dynasty of prophecy, and it is not his call to anoint a successor – if there is even to be a successor. A prophet is called by God, and God alone. A prophet like Elijah, or a prophet like Moses, is called by God.
We forget that Moses was also a prophet. In the usual interpretation of the Transfiguration story, Moses stands in for the Law and Elijah stands in for the Prophets, but both are described as prophets in the Bible. Moses saw God face-to-face, and Elijah was present with God in the silence on the mountain and was swept up by God in a chariot of flame. Prophets who not only spoke the words God has given them, but these two were prophets who had this intimate closeness with God. They are prophets and mystics.
And Moses and Elijah have deep tenderness. Mysticism does not deny the wonders and holiness of creation. Elijah has deep tenderness for Elisha, he knows Elisha’s grief. And Moses wishes that everyone were prophets, not just a select few, and his frustration and exhaustion for Israel’s repeated failures emerge from a heart that cares so much.
Jesus is Transfigured in glory, but it’s not about the glory. He is the beloved Son, he is God incarnate, he is the one that prophets have longed to see face-to-face. And like the prophets and mystics Moses and Elijah, his heart is tender toward us. Jesus will be journeying along now the way of Lent with us – and he knows where he has been sent. He has decided to walk the way of our pain and suffering, taking it into himself that we may not be alone. Jesus is going to Jerusalem, and to the cross on Golgotha, and to the tomb, and beyond.
So to return to Elijah and Elisha – maybe it wasn’t Elisha that was accompanying Elijah. Maybe it was Elijah who was accompanying Elisha, walking with his apprentice in his grief.
And maybe it’s not us accompanying Jesus in the way of the cross and the resurrection – it’s Jesus accompanying us as we walk this way.
Jesus and Elijah looking on us tenderly. They are aware that we know what’s ahead. They know our stumbling. They know how, in our best moments, we will follow them the long distance, even though we so often get distracted. In our daily lives we go to Jerusalem; we go through our daily lives with endless distraction and chaos. And we go to Golgotha; times of trial and pain that rip apart the world we know, and we feel so alone. And we go to the Tomb; as we will hear on Ash Wednesday, we all will one day die. And, we go beyond that – to a life that overcomes death.
And Jesus is accompanying us every step.
Maybe we should be asking Jesus for a double-share of his Spirit, to inherit the mantle upon his shoulders when he ascends, to be chosen to carry on Jesus’ ministry and prophecy and mystical prayer.
So yes, Lent is coming soon. We shall go like Elisha onward, to Jerusalem, and Golgotha, and the tomb and beyond. We shall see our Lord ascend into heaven, and then on Pentecost we inherit a wondrous share of the Spirit. On this mountain we have seen a marvelous miracle – and the journey ahead this marvelous miracle shall accompany us with deep tenderness.
- February 4, 2024 Sermon
The Rev. Joseph Farnes
All Saints, Boise
February 4, 2024
“Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
I feel like many parents of children, especially moms, know this feeling. You may be sick, but you still must take care of everyone else. The second you start showing improvement, you better be ready to pick up all the slack that everyone else left for you during your illness.
And it’s exhausting, isn’t it? Like the whole house would fall apart if we weren’t there to do the cooking, or the cleaning, or the maintenance, or whatever task it is that falls to us to do. When we want to rest, when we want to heal, we’re being reminded, “Well, what’s going to happen if you don’t do it?”
Then we feel guilty. That maybe it is our responsibility after all.
Or we feel shame. That if we were better people, we wouldn’t be sick, or exhausted, or discouraged.
And then we get hit with that line from Paul’s letter: to be all things to all people. That if we were really good Christians, we’d be so flexible that we could take care of everything and everyone everyday with no mistakes. We could meet every person’s need exactly as they need it and want it.
Those expectations hit us hard. We’re told to be self-sacrificing, endlessly giving. We get exhausted and burned out.
So what do we do? How do we take care of others in the face of these obligations?
Well, first, let’s peel apart the layers on these Bible passages because they don’t mean what we’ve been told to think of them.
With Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever, she is healed instantly – not as in “the fever broke, and now you can rest and get better sleep” but as in “the fever broke and your body is whole.” It’s complete healing. It’s not taking away the symptom, it’s the healing of the whole body.
Jesus is treating the root of the problem, not the symptom. She’s so healed, she can get up and cook. That’s the level of healing we’re talking about.
If you’ve had a bad fever, you know what I’m talking about. With a serious fever, your body is exhausted even when the fever begins to break. Your body is still healing.
So the story isn’t about Jesus fixing her so she can get back to work. The story is Jesus healing her completely.
I wonder what kind of healing we need from Jesus. If we’re exhausted, do we want to be healed of exhaustion just to go back to what we were doing before? Or do we want to invite Jesus to heal us more deeply – what needs healing deep down inside us.
Do we need to be healed of our expectations of ourselves – the layers of shame and guilt that drive us to exhaustion and overwork and rob us of the joy of service? Do we need to be healed of beliefs that everything needs to be perfect if we are to be loved? Do we need to be healed to have our courage restored to say, “Hey, I need help, and if I don’t get help, it’s not getting done”?
Where do we need more complete healing in our lives? Lent is coming soon – Lent isn’t just about sacrifice and suffering. Lent is a time when we can turn to Jesus for life, renewed life, divine life. As it says in the First Letter of Peter, “Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” Jesus is bringing you healing, not demanding that you suffer. Suffering is not a virtue; courage and patience and hope and justice are virtues.
And that line from St Paul, to be all things to all people. I’ve heard sermons that try to say that leaders in the church especially need to be all things to all people. And that’s simply not true. That’s selfishness masquerading as ministry.
Because Jesus wasn’t “all things to all people.” Everyone was looking for him, and he went off to pray. And then when they find him, he says it’s time for him to move on. Some people expected him as the Messiah to swoop in with armies and overthrow Rome. He didn’t. Some people expected him to preach an otherworldly, world-denying message, but instead he ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and drunkards.
So then how do we read Paul’s message? Not that he “became all things” like some kind of chameleon – that honestly sounds manipulative and insincere – but that he became more human, he shared their humanity, he saw fellowship and connection where there might be none before.
Just as the Gospel reading wasn’t about restoring us just so we could get back to work and make others happy, so is this Epistle reading not about losing our sense of self in order to make others happy or convert them. Jesus restores us with deep healing. And Paul is counseling us to return to our humanity that we share. A humanity that transcends boundaries, a humanity that helps us to connect and listen and share communion with others.
We are healed, to be ourselves. And when we are ourselves, we can truly be with and for others. We are healed, and from that we might find ourselves eager to serve. We are healed, and from that we might find ourselves wanting to go to a quiet place to sit with God in loving attention. We are healed, and from that we might find ourselves understanding our own limits of what we can and cannot do. We are healed, and from that we might see that we’re simply human, human like everyone else.
Christ heals us, not that we may work, but Christ heals us that we may be more truly human as we were made to be. Amen.
 1 Peter 2:24
- January 14, 2024 Sermon
The Rev. Joseph Farnes
All Saints, Boise
Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
January 14, 2024
This past week was the monthly clericus meeting, a gathering of clergy leaders from the Episcopal congregations in our region. Each month we do a little Bible study and reflect on the work and challenges for each of our congregations. Often our Bible passage is related to the upcoming Sunday lectionary – it’s a nice time to hear each other’s perspectives. It’s great to share experiences in a supportive environment.
We had a little conversation this week about Samuel hearing God. We started talking about the psych evaluation that clergy go through. People who are in the discernment process to be ordained are required to have a mental and physical exam before they can go forward. In this diocese, the psychologist who performed the psych eval used a big variety of assessments. Basic intelligence measures, the Thematic Apperceptions Test, the House-Tree-Person Test, and the one that almost always comes up: the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI for short. The MMPI is a long test of multiple true/false questions. It will ask the same question multiple ways to see if you are consistent, and when you complete one section you turn it in so you can’t go back and see what you answered before.
One of the test items that comes up that always flummoxes clergy-to-be is this statement that you must answer true or false to, with no explanation: “God talks to me.”
There’s a lot riding on that, isn’t there? Wouldn’t some nuance to explain your response?
But you can’t give nuance. You must answer it, and the psychologist will write a report that gets sent to the bishop.
If I say “True,” then will it be a flag for an auditory hallucination, a religious delusion, a symptom of a deeper mental illness? If I say “false,” then what exactly am I doing? If I don’t think God talks to me, then why would anyone pray?
So how would you respond? True, or false?
Now, luckily you probably aren’t going to take the MMPI anytime soon. Whew! But there is a clarity that it creates when we can’t overexplain ourselves.
So to be honest, yes, I do think God talks to me. I don’t hear a voice in my ears like Samuel did in our first reading, and frankly, rarely does it even take the form of words. But yes, God talks to me.
Sometimes it’s a nudge – I read something, I overhear something, I notice something, and it’s like there’s a little nudge with an elbow to get me to pay deeper attention. God has to get my attention a lot. But I’m grateful – there’s always something to really notice. Or maybe my mind has wandered in prayer, and the nudge brings me back to pray with my mind, heart, and not just my voice.
Sometimes it’s a presence beyond description. An overwhelming presence – of peace, of love, of my own humble humanness in the loving embrace of God the creator of heaven and earth.
Sometimes it’s a little more direct inspiration. I can’t tell you the times I’ve stumbled into a metaphor, a parable, or even a turn of phrase that makes sense of something that’s just beyond words. It shows up in my mind, and I toss it out there, and suddenly the metaphor becomes like a map. No wonder parables and metaphors turn up all over the books of the Bible!
And very rarely, there’s something even more direct. Some of you may know this story, but a decade-and-a-half ago, I was going through a particular rough patch. I was out for a walk in the pasture, pouring out my heart to God in words (side note: This type of prayer where we just talk to God like in a conversation is called colloquy). I’m praying, telling God how hard it’s been for me, and how lonely I’ve felt, and then I said “It’s like you weren’t even there.”
And then snap! Suddenly there were these words: “Now, wait a minute.” And images flashed in my mind of different occasions in the prior months when I had, in fact, felt the closeness of God. I stopped in my tracks, said “you’re right,” and then went home in silence.
Now, when I’ve told that story before, some people have projected anger on God’s part, that this was not a funny story. Let me reassure you: I didn’t feel ashamed, and God wasn’t angry. This was like when that close friend, that trusted relative, a beloved spouse hears you vent, and they support you and love you, and then they push back lovingly. “Are you sure about that?” they say with a firmly gentle truthfulness. If they can’t push back, then we might spin out of control.
Have you ever done that? Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I get on a roll with complaining. It starts with a little thing that annoys me. Then it’s about how all this stuff is stupid. Then it moves on to how everyone is wrong but me. Then it ends with “everything is 100% terrible and rotten!” I exaggerate, but that’s how it spins out of control for me. A little complaint, a little feeling of frustration suddenly gets magnified bigger and bigger and suddenly I can’t see anything else.
So that’s what God was helping me with. Yes, I was having a rough patch. Yes, some stuff was happening that wasn’t fair. And yes, I felt alone in trying to handle it all. But the truth was that God had been present with me, and I knew those moments.
In listening in that moment, I got a fresh reminder of how present God truly is. It’s the caring words of a spouse saying, “Don’t forget how much I love you.”
And so turning back again to the reading from Samuel – I’m left to wonder how many times God was talking to Eli and to Eli’s sons, and how much they refused to listen. Eli indulging and defending his sons who were taking advantage of people in God’s name, and Eli’s sons who stole from the offerings of the people. How many times had God nudged them? Eli clearly knew that God was speaking to Samuel – how many times had he refused to listen to the voice, the presence of God?
But be mindful – the story isn’t primarily about guilting or shaming you for not listening. Unless, of course, you are in a position of power and abusing it. Then yes, you should very much listen to the words here that way. Abusing power is one of the reasons things are so messed up as they are!
But for the rest of us, this is the takeaway: listen to how God talks to you. Is there a nudge? Is there a presence? Or words of loving wisdom in your heart or from the mouth of a friend, or even a vision drawing you closer to God and others? Listen. God does talk to you. It’s not a religious delusion to know that the God who created all things and knows all of creation perfectly and loves it completely also wants to be intimately present in your life. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore. Amen.
- January 7, 2024 Sermon
The Rev. Joseph Farnes
All Saints, Boise
Baptism of Christ, Year B
January 7, 2024
The first Sunday after the Epiphany (which is January 6 – a date that now has some other connotations in the United States), the first Sunday after the Epiphany is always a commemoration of the Baptism of Christ. Every year we get Gospel readings that tell us about Jesus’ baptism.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist. Now, why would he need to do that? In all three of those Gospels, John the Baptist says that someone greater than he is coming after him. Scholars ask the question: why would Jesus need to be baptized by John, when the logic here is that John really should be baptized by Jesus?
Theologically, we answer that question with: Sure, but Jesus is setting himself up as one of us. He doesn’t come in and shove everything aside. He shares in our baptism, he shares in our work of repenting and turning. Jesus walks our walk, so that we can follow in his footsteps.
And so when we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ himself. We get baptized into this new way of life, this life animated by the Holy Spirit. We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. We are baptized our way into Jesus. In this way, baptism isn’t just about us – it’s not a ritual done to us, but a sacrament we do together with Christ. It’s a sacrament that we do together as a community, and it’s a sacrament that we do together with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father.
But there’s more. Keep with the story: Jesus goes down to the water, he is baptized, and a voice proclaims: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Who hears it? Is it only Jesus who hears it? Does the crowd hear it, too? And at the same time, why does Jesus need to hear this? You’d think he already knows.
First, this is our first glimpse at Trinitarian theology in the New Testament. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, all working together. A few years back I brought up one way how St Augustine of Hippo explained the Trinity: God who loves, God who is beloved, God who is love. God Who Loves proclaims to Jesus that he is the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit who is Love rests upon the Beloved.
And just as Jesus is baptized and we are baptized, so is Jesus the Beloved and we become God’s beloved. The action is not ours – we are baptized into Jesus, and we are baptized into a divine belovedness.
Baptism inaugurates our mission in life: to live into that belovedness. So we use our baptismal covenant as a guide: we proclaim a faith in the Trinity, proclaim our understanding of our creation, redemption, and sanctification, and we proclaim how we will try to live out that belovedness in our everyday lives: prayer, fellowship, getting up and trying again when we fail, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, respecting the dignity of every human being.
And it’s not easy.
Our baptismal covenant calls us to live with, put up with, connect with real flesh-and-blood human beings, to love them, to practice those virtues of patience and wisdom and self-reflection.
Our baptismal covenant calls us to a much messier, harder spiritual journey.
Notice that I’m talking about the spiritual journey? It’s not even Lent yet.
But the baptismal life is challenging. Human relationships and communities are hard. And so, so worth it. We grow, we deepen our lives in Christ. And it’s worth it because we can do such good work together.
Later this month, we get to begin our work with RenewalWorks, a program for congregational spiritual renewal. We each take a survey about our spiritual life – it’s a great way to be honest about where we are spiritually. A great way to get ready for Lent!
And then a small group of laypeople from the parish get together to help us discern what the results mean. The group doesn’t have to add up the surveys – RenewalWorks does it for us. The group gets together to ask, where we’ve been, where we are, where we’re called to go, and how we’ll get there.
The surveys start with us as individuals, but the work we do together. Where are we spiritually as a community, and where are we called to go? What is Christ calling us to do to live out our baptismal covenant as a community here in Boise?
I’ve heard and seen some of those things Christ calls us to do:
To feed the hungry, no questions asked. And with good food.
To care for the sick, to welcome the refugee.
To be a spiritual refuge in painful, confusing times (Don’t forget, the legislature reconvenes soon).
To proclaim God’s wondrous love to all people here in the Treasure Valley.
To pray and sing as best we can, to bring the riches of our Episcopal tradition to Idaho that draws people deeper into Christ.
To study and reflect on the Bible and theology in ways that bring the Good News to life, using our God-given minds and hearts to understand God’s truth.
Those are just some things – I’m sure there are more! So I want you to reflect on where you are in your belovedness, in your baptismal life. Where are you called individually, and where are we called to go together? Chew on the words of the Baptismal Covenant that we will proclaim together shortly. Where are you now in your baptismal life, and where are we called to go together in our baptism? Amen.