Sunday, November 20, 2011


Sermon from November 20, 2011
(Last Pentecost – Year A)
Matthew 25: 31-46
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

I don’t want to be an old goat.
I would rather be a sheep.

Yet it can be hard to tell a goat from a sheep.
Goats and sheep have a lot of the same genetic makeup.
Goats and sheep are both grazing animals.
Goats and sheep are both accustomed to being herded by shepherds or goat herders across mountainous terrain.

I have distant cousins who live in Brackettville, in west Texas.
These country cousins are ranchers, ranchers who raise both sheep and goats.

When I was a boy, my family of city slickers from Houston traveled out to Brackettville.
At the time of our visit to the country, it was sheep shearing time on the ranch.
And after their extreme haircut, it became difficult for this city boy to tell the difference between a sheep and a goat.
For without their thick coat of wool, a sheep can look an awful lot like a goat.

Yet Jesus sits between the sheep and the goats.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
And he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats to his left.”

Jesus goes on to teach us that the sheep are those who practice a life of service to others.
The sheep are those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit prisoners.
Sheep are those who serve others.
Yet, aside from a few characteristics, it could be hard to tell a goat from a sheep in the flock.
For the biggest difference between a sheep and a goat is a thick coat of warm, white wool.

As an old goat myself, I would love to grow a thick coat of warm, white, wool.
I first began showing signs of hair loss when I was in college.
My college roommates thought it was hilarious to make jokes about my receding hairline, that began when I was about 19.

In my mailbox at my dorm, I began to receive advertisements and promotions for hair enhancement products.
I began to receive sales calls from the Hair Club for Men, asking if I wanted information about hair replacement.

One afternoon, I received a phone call from a store that specialized in toupees for men.
The salesperson asked:
“Is this Jeff Fisher?”
I replied:
“Yes, it is.”
The salesperson continued:
“Mr. Fisher, I am returning your phone call from yesterday.
You had left a message that you are disturbed by your hair loss.”

I then realized that my roommates had been playing pranks on me, signing me up for mailings about hair growth and calling the Hair Club for Men, using my name as their alias!

Yet, I really would like to grow some hair.
I really don’t want to end up as a bald old goat.
For I would much rather be a sheep, with a thick and luxurious head of warm wool.

The Church, the Body of Christ, is a place where we can grow hair and develop a thick coat of wool.
The Church offers products and opportunities that transform us from hairless goats into wooly sheep, sporting thick coats of service to others.

Jesus can change us from goats into sheep.
Jesus can move us from his left hand to his right hand.
In this church, in Jesus’ church, we can grow thick coats of wool.

Last month, St. Alban’s entered into a partnership with Wesley United Methodist Church in east Waco.
We have communicated this partnership in worship leaflets and in the monthly church newsletter, yet I am not sure that all of you know about this amazing new opportunity for all of us to grow wool.

In this new partnership, St. Alban’s is now hosting Wesley’s Friday evening children’s education program in our building.
This children’s program is called Furaha Friday.
‘Furaha’ is a Swahili word that means ‘joyful’.

As of right now, every Friday evening, children and adult leaders from Wesley Church travel across the Brazos River and into St. Alban’s parish hall.
Every Friday evening, wooly sheep, like you, prepare and serve a simple meal to our new friends from Wesley.

The pastor from Wesley, Valda Combs, then leads all of the children, including the St. Alban’s kids who are here, in singing and laughing and joyfully learning about the Faith.

The first Furaha Friday at St. Alban’s occurred this weekend.
Last Friday evening, warm, wooly sheep from St. Alban’s served up hot dogs, apples and homemade macaroni and cheese in our parish hall kitchen.
The wooly sheep from St. Alban’s sat on the floor with the sheep from Wesley, as they had a joyful time together, learning about the faith of Jesus as one flock.
On our first Furaha Friday, you would be hard pressed to find many goats in the flock.
Because Jesus was growing a fluffy coat of wool on each of them, as they fed and served, with our new friends from Wesley.

Furaha Friday will take a one-week break for the Friday after Thanksgiving.
But after that, every Friday evening at St. Alban’s, you have an opportunity to help serve dinner and clean up the kitchen, just for an hour or so.
All you have to do is serve about once a month.
For through Faraha Fridays, Jesus will grow us a wooly coat of love, changing us from goats into sheep, as we serve others.

I don’t want to be an old goat.
I want to be a sheep.
For Jesus proclaims to us that, in his glory, he will separate the goats from the sheep.
The goats will go on his left.
The sheep will be on his right.
And Jesus will be in the middle.

Just as the bridges across the Brazos River are bringing new friends to us on Furaha Fridays,
Jesus is the bridge between the goats and the sheep.
Jesus is the bridge that leads us from living as selfish, self-serving, hairless goats.
And into a new life, living as serving, giving, wooly sheep.
Jesus changes us into people who serve the least of these in the world.
Jesus changes us into sheep.

In the Episcopal Church, when someone dies, we offer words from The Book of Common Prayer, from the liturgy of the Burial of the Dead.
Near the end of that beautiful funeral service, the priest stands at these chancel steps beside the body, if present, and says these words of commendation:

“O merciful Savior…
Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.”

Jesus redeems me from my sins - by making me a sheep of his own fold, a lamb of his own flock.
Jesus rescues me from myself - by teaching me to serve the hungry, the jobless, the lonely and the least.
Jesus saves me from disturbing hair loss - by growing a wooly coat of love and service.

For I don’t want to be an old goat.
I want to be a sheep.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

The McRib & the Saints of God

Sermon from November 6, 2011
(All Saints’ Sunday – Year A)
Matthew 5: 1-12
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

During this past week, several news stories have caused me to question a very important part of American life.
During this past week, I have been led to explore the identity and makeup of a mystery.
During this past week, I have been compelled to ask:
What is in a McRib?

The McRib is the pork sandwich at McDonald’s that first debuted in 1982.
The McRib has a devout following of disciples.
From TV commercials, it looks as if the McRib is a slab of pork ribs, smothered in BBQ sauce, garnished with pickles and onions and served on a hoagie roll.
The meat on the McRib is shaped so that you can actually see the indentation of ribs.

In 2005, however, McDonald’s discontinued the McRib from its regular menu.
Now the McRib comes out only for a season, only for a limited time of a few weeks.

However, the McRib is not at all what it seems.
The McRib does not actually have any ribs in it at all.
In fact, what looks like a slab of pork encasing several ribs, is actually pressed together animal parts such as pig organs and lips and other unmentionables.
There is not a single bone in a McRib.
Instead the “meat” is pressed together to give it a shape that just looks like ribs are present.

On October 24th of this year, the McRib returned again for its elusive appearance on McDonald’s menu.
And during this past week, I have been compelled to ask:
What is in a McRib?
And I have discovered that the McRib is not at all what it seems.

And in this season of All Saints, I have been compelled to ask:
What is in a saint?
And I have discovered that a saint is not at all what it seems.

When we ask:
What is in a saint?
We immediately think of the perfection of the saints, a perception of perfection that is fed by TV and movies and popular culture.

When exploring what is in a saint, we might come to the conclusion that saints are perfect people, people who are nice and sweet and destined to be angels in heaven.
Saints, we think, are the goody two shoes who never backtalk in the classroom and who are models of good manners.
Saints, we think, are smothered in a sweet and savory BBQ sauce, a delight to everyone.

In this last week, I have asked the question:
What is in a McRib?
And I have also asked the question:
What is in a saint?
And I have discovered that the McRib – and the saints of God - are not what they might seem.

If we want to know who the saints of God are, we can listen to Jesus’ careful description in his Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus climbs up a mountain, sits down and teaches us:

Blessed are you who are poor in spirit, who know you need God - for you are a saint.
Blessed are you who mourn, who are acquainted with grief - for you are a saint.
Blessed are you who are gentle in spirit, who do not answer your problems with violence - for you are a saint.
Blessed are you who hunger and thirst, who are starving for the intangibles of life - for you are a saint.
Blessed are you peacemakers, who keep the peace by forgiveness - for you are a saint.
Blessed are all of you when you live counter-culturally, when you protest against injustice and get made fun of because you are different and get bullied for standing up for the weird kid in your class - for you are saints.
Rejoice and be glad, for you are not perfect.
Rejoice and be glad, because you are already a saint of God, today.

What is in a saint?
Inside a saint are some messy ingredients that we might not expect.
A saint is not someone who is perfect, who flies around with the angels up in heaven.
A saint is a human being who is poor in spirit, sad, hungry, thirsty, persecuted and forgiving.
A saint is someone who can be a pain in the neck to the unjust establishment.
A saint is someone whose feet are firmly planted on this earth, bringing the kingdom of God among us.
A saint is someone whose head is not up in the clouds, but whose heart is bent toward the people who now live on this earth.

Maybe it is just about where I am right now spiritually.
But I have grown weary of a Christianity that is so preoccupied about what heaven will be like or about what will happen to us when we die or about when “the second coming” will be (which, by the way, the phrase ‘second coming’ is not even in the Bible).

Instead, just as I want to know the messy details of what is inside a McRib,
I yearn to truly know the messy, gross and earthy details of what is inside the saints of God who are on this earth.

For Christianity is not about the pristine and the perfect.
Christianity is about the messy and unpredictable people who live on this earth.
Christianity is not about us flying away to escape our humanity.
Christianity is about a God who comes among us, on this earth.
Christianity is about a God who makes us saints, saints who bring God’s kingdom to this earth.

And so we fervently pray to our Father:
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done.
On earth, as it is in heaven.

Last Thursday, the Waco Tribune-Herald wrote an unexpected article about a football player at McGregor High School.
When we picture a high school football player, we expect a guy who is big and tall and strong.
Yet, Isaac Villafana, who is a wide receiver, is only 3 feet 9 inches tall.
For several years, Isaac had been the team manager,
But for his senior year this year, he wanted to suit up.
So the coach allowed Isaac to be an active part of the team.

On the outside, it would seem that Isaac could never play football.
Yet even with his disabilities, Isaac completes all the drills and two-a-days with his teammates, not asking for any special treatment.
Isaac does not ask to be taken away from this cruel earth, with all its disabilities and messiness.
Instead, Isaac has brought the kingdom of God to this earth, as his presence among his teammates has transformed the hearts of the players on the McGregor football team.

Isaac Villafana is Jesus among us.
Isaac is a short, disabled wide receiver who brings God’s kingdom of love and forgiveness and acceptance and transformation down to this earth.
Isaac is an unexpected saint.

What is in a McRib?
What is in a saint?
It is certainly not what it seems.

For the saints of God are not perfect.
The saints of God are imperfect and disabled and messy people like you and me and the hundreds of people whose names are on the walls of St. Alban’s today.
The saints of God are the poor in spirit, the hungry, the sad, the persecuted, the troublemakers who bring God’s kingdom to this earth.

So rejoice and be glad that you are not perfect.
Rejoice and be glad that today - on this earth - you are a saint.