Sunday, March 22, 2020

Lent 4: Wake up and see the blessings

Lectionary:1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an mp3 audio file.

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

My dear friends, we can’t gather in person today but, giving thanks for the technology of our age, we can gather virtually: one blessing among many being revealed to us in this time. As our bishops said in their most recent pastoral letter, “Keep awake.” Yes, we must keep awake so that we notice the graciousness of God who continually blesses us, and when we notice these blessings we can share them as good news, light in the time of darkness for so many.

This is basically the same message Samuel is hearing in today’s Old Testament reading. Wake up, Samuel. Stop looking back at what was. I know you grieve the loss of it, but look! I am sending you a blessing, a leader who will bring you forward into the life I choose for you, a life of peace and abundance.

A life so tenderly described for us in the 23rd Psalm where God calls our attention from the stresses of the world and invites us to come, to lie down and rest on the soft grass beside the still waters God has created for us. Once God has our attention, the calm begins to happen in us. Our breathing slows, our faces relax, the knots in our stomachs and chests release. We breathe deeply in - filling ourselves with the grace of God. Then we breathe out, releasing all our stress.

Now wrapped up in divine peace, we notice a beautiful table has been set for us, but not just for us. Also present are those who trouble us, but the divine peace within us keeps us from judging or questioning or excluding.

We sit together at tables covered in fresh, white linens. The flames of the candles on the tables dance in the soft breeze but never go out, and the tables are decorated with vases of fragrant flowers and herbs.

Sumptuous food is in the center of each table; and there are goblets of water and wine, already full, at every seat. It’s a family meal where no one is lonely, no one is left out of the conversation, and everyone has plenty to eat. Our cups are running over, and joy abounds.

Then, to prove just how much we matter God anoints our heads with oil - something usually reserved for kings and queens but is being offered by God to all. At that moment, when the oil touches our foreheads, we feel the power of God’s love enter us and course through our bodies like light breaking into darkness. The anointing reveals to us that all of us have been chosen by God to lead the world to this gracious place where everyone can be filled with the peace of God, where all are made one in the family of God.

This is what Jesus is demonstrating in today’s gospel from John. The man born blind would have been judged as cursed, punished by God for a sin someone else committed. But Jesus reframes the situation, revealing the blessing the others weren’t seeing, as if he were saying, wake up, and see the blessing.

This man was born blind. You have judged him, questioned his circumstance, and excluded him from your grace; but through him the graciousness of God will be revealed.

The ritual is simple, as were all of Jesus' rituals. He combines mud, the unglamorous substance of the earth with the life-giving water of Christ’s own self. Earth and heaven are made one in this outcast.

Go and wash, Jesus tells the man, and when he does, his sight is restored. By restoring his sight, Jesus also offers the man a whole new future. He has the potential for a job, a family, to be part of a community. His days as a vilified sinner are over - or are they?

The gospel story takes us to his community’s response to his restoration. They judge him, question Jesus’s revelation of God through him, and they exclude him again. The blessing God was giving them is rejected because the people wouldn’t let go of what was in order to receive the new life God was offering them.

We do this too. We’re subject to doing it now in this pandemic moment, which is why I’ve been asking everyone to watch for the blessings. Keep awake! God is always giving us reason to rejoice.

My vestments today are an outward sign of our commitment to that belief. Today is the 4th Sunday in Lent, also known as Laetare or Rose Sunday (hence the pink vestments). “Laetare” is Latin for “rejoice” and we pause our Lenten season to collectively lift up our faces to the light of Christ, rejoicing that he lives in us and we in him.

Throughout our long history, the church has gathered to ritually practice this reality through the sharing of Holy Communion, making present in our time what Jesus did in his: gathering his friends together for a simple meal of bread and wine. But in Jesus’ hands and by his prayers, that simple food became holy food, the food of life.

“Evermore give us this bread that Christ may live in us and we in him.”

Since the way we’ve always done it before has become suddenly unavailable we - the church and all of us who are members of it - have the opportunity to wake up and see the blessings God is offering us in this.

Last week, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well: “…the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth… God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

This hour is our version of the hour Jesus spoke about - and it is here. It is now. As we prepare to share our Holy Communion virtually, we do it awake, noticing the blessing that even during a time of quarantine God invites us to eat and drink of the holy food of Communion which makes us one body, one Spirit in Christ.

As we prepare for our virtual Holy Communion I offer this prayer, adapted from the prayer of St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696–1787):

Beloved Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the sacrament of the altar. I long for you in my soul, to know that I am in you and that you are in me. Though physically isolated from your altar and the sacrament of your Body and Blood, I receive you spiritually into my heart and the depths of my being. United with you, help me know that my life is hid with you, O Christ, in the heart of God. Amen. (Edited by The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Lent 3A,2020: Our Lord, our love, and our life

Lectionary: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11;John 4:5-42

(Note: if the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an mp3 audio format).

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I’m not sure I could have chosen a better Collect to begin our worship today. As we and the whole church seek to respond to coronavirus pandemic, the Spirit has offered us this prayer to remind us that faith is a partner with science for us; both of them being gifts to us from God who is, in the end, the only one who can protect us and make us whole.

When we are rattled by something over which we have little to no control, we believers have the gift of faith to help us wait for redemption. In the meantime, we are called to notice, give thanks for, and respond to the blessings surfacing for us like flowers shooting out from cracks in the sidewalk. For example, I’ve listened to rectors and interims talk for years about the resistance to letting go the practice of intinction, despite credible and consistent information from medical experts about how unhealthy and risky a practice it is. Yet, in this coronavirus moment, the information we’ve had and preached for years about intinction is finally being heard and accepted, and intinction is, hopefully, gone for good.

As a pastor, I’ve noticed that the challenging moments of our lives, whether physical or spiritual, can strengthen our faith even when it weakens it first. I think of our beloved mystic Julian of Norwich who suffered terrible physical ailments, but didn’t judge or fear or disconnect from them. Instead, she faithfully awaited the revelation of the blessing in them, and as a result, experienced Christ in ways that completely transformed her, leading her to her famous description of Christ the Mother of Mercy: “And even though some earthly mother might allow a child of hers to perish, our heavenly mother, Jesus, may never suffer us to be lost, for we are his children. And he is almighty, all wisdom, all love… For now, he wants us to behave just like a child; for when a child is upset or afraid, it runs straight to its mother with all its might.”

What a lovely description of our relationship to God. When we are hurt or afraid, our Creator wants us to run, as a toddler runs, with all its might, into the divine embrace.

In her description of her vision of the hazelnut, Julian speaks to what we prayed in the Collect in which we ask God to keep us in body and soul. She says, “I saw three properties about this tiny object. First, God had made it; second, God loves it; and third, that God keeps it…he is the Maker, the Keeper, the Lover… I understood this revelation to teach our soul to cling fast to the goodness of God…what delights him most, is when we pray simply trusting his goodness, holding on to him, relying upon his grace.”

In his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus demonstrates the way earth and heaven relate for those who believe. Choosing to stop at the well of Jacob to rest the Word Incarnate, engages a Samaritan woman in a redemptive conversation.

Both Jesus and the Samaritan woman would know of the legend that when the water first rose up in Jacob’s well, it bubbled over the top, spilling out as a bold demonstration of the abundance of God. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that he offers water that will gush up to eternal life!.

Then he demonstrates his divine-human nature by asking the woman to go home and return with her husband. She replies that she has no husband, and Jesus affirms that saying, you’ve had five, and the one you’re with now is not your husband. Even by today’s standards, that would turn religious heads, but what’s remarkable here is that Jesus knows this about her - and doesn’t judge her!

I think it’s important to look at a few other things Jesus doesn’t do in this story. Jesus doesn’t exclude the woman according to her categories: Samaritan, woman, married 5 times, living “in sin”… He doesn’t ask her to repent or change the situation of her life; and he doesn’t forbid her from proclaiming the huge news he hasn’t even told his disciples yet – that he is the Messiah of God.

This woman, who has no name, no fame, and no legacy except this story, is the first person to whom the Christ reveals himself. She rushes home, leaving her water jar behind in her haste, and proclaims this good news to her people, and, as our gospel writer tells us, “many Samaritans came to believe in him because of her testimony.” (39)

The Samaritan woman was transformed by her encounter with the grace of God in Christ and through her, her community was too. What she did is what all of us, all churches and members of them, are called to do: to share our story of how our lives have been transformed by our encounter with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. When we share our good news with others, the redemptive love of God gushes forth from us reaching farther and farther beyond us in the overflow.

Despite what we may see and hear to the contrary in the world today, it is not our job to save the world or even to save ourselves. Only God can save and Jesus has already done that. We have been asked to partner with Christ in the continuing work of redemption by telling our good news, by living as if we truly believe our good news, by clinging fast to the goodness of God, and by trusting God to “keep us outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls.”

We’re all aware that few things give Episcopalians the hee-bee gee-bees more than evangelism. Part of that is our sensitivity to how it’s been done wrong, but evangelism is vital to the continuing life of any church. Churches don’t grow because they possess the right doctrine or because they have well-done liturgies or even because of their budgets or programs. Churches grow because one person connects with another person and another person and the divine in each of them unites them into one body, one spirit.

It is in this divine union that we work together as partners with God in redemption.

The world needs the good news we have to share in a big way right now. When we and our churches we cling fast to the goodness of God, when we trust the source of the eternal spring of water that gives us life, it gushes up in us, bonding us in divine union in the eternal, redeeming presence of God, and spills out from us to the thirsty world we are called to serve.

Let us pray:

“Create in each one of us [ O God] a pool of peace, a deep well of healing that can transform [fear to faith,] bitterness to love,… irritation to tolerance, rejection to acceptance, and inadequacy to confidence…” Then empower us to share this good news of ours that your redeeming love may reach to the ends of the earth quenching all those who thirst and nourishing all creation from the spring of eternal life that is you, Jesus Christ our Lord, our love, and our life. Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Lent 2-A, 2020: Seeds of new life

Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-4a, Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for mp3 audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I share with you a story about a dog we once had named Ollie. Ollie was a Dachshund - Jack Russell mix. We loved our Ollie, but he must have gotten the DNA bearing the most difficult qualities of each of those breeds, and it made him… challenging.

Ollie was just doxie enough to make training him difficult, and he found himself in trouble a lot. Ollie knew when he’d done a bad thing, so he obeyed when we told him to go to time out, which meant he had to go into his crate for a time

Over time, Ollie would put himself in time out and we’d look around to see what he’d done. Eventually, he’d just walk in and right back out of his crate. He wasn’t really repentant and knew we’d forgive him anyway, so he didn’t bother spending any real time in time out. He just got the procedure over with.

I tell you this story because I’ve found that many people treat Lent the way Ollie treated time out. But Lent isn’t about punishment and it isn’t just going through the motions without really repenting, that is, being willing to be changed.

So what is Lent about? The word “Lent” means spring (are you surprised?) and it’s a time when new life is being formed in us, in the depths of our souls; and the one forming that new life is the same one who forms all life: God, whose glory it is always to have mercy, as our Collect says.

Medieval mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, talks about the “greening” of our souls which is, I think, a good image for Lent. I picture Hildegard’s concept like this: We go about our lives basically unaware that the demands and influences of the world have slowly but steadily dried up the soil of our souls leaving them hardened and with cracks like a dried-up river bed.

During Lent, we enter into a period of self-examination that brings to our awareness just how dry we’ve become – a revelation which brings with it the realization that we are unable to irrigate ourselves. There is almost a desperateness in this moment of revelation, a deep knowledge that without this irrigation, our souls will completely dry up and turn to dust.

But our faith assures us that it is from the dust we were created in the first place. So, we trust… and we wait… 40 days, and 40 nights.

At some point, the hands of our Creator reach into the soil of our souls, breaking through the dry surface. Then wetting our souls with living water from the well-spring of life, Jesus, the Christ, the Almighty ensures that the nutrient-rich, life-giving water reaches all the dry parts.

Into this divinely massaged soul-soil the Creator places the seeds of new life for us, sweeps the surface of the soil smooth, sprinkles on a bit more life-giving water, and asks us to wait while the seeds within us take root and grow.

So, you see, we don’t DO Lent. We let Lent happen in us – and we do that by faith.

This is exactly what our Gospel reading today is describing for us in the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. What does one have to do to get born from above? Nicodemus is understandably confused, so Jesus assures him that what is born of the Spirit is spirit. In other words, you can’t do it. The Spirit of God does it in you. Just trust and let it happen by faith.

Then Jesus tells Nicodemus, don’t be astonished by that. Be astonished instead by this: God’s love for the world is such that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. That’s pretty astonishing when you think about it.

But wait, there’s more (as Mona Lisa Vito would say)! And it speaks to the character of God whose glory is always to have mercy: God didn’t send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

In the present day, this is such an important reminder. As partners with Christ in the work of reconciliation, we are not here to condemn the world or anyone in it but to “embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of Jesus Christ” and invite everyone we encounter into relationship with him through us.

As St. Paul reminds us, it isn’t our works but our faith in God’s works that enables us to be in right relationship with God, one another, and ourselves, and it depends on faith so that the promise rests on God’s grace and is guaranteed to all. We do not get to cast anyone outside the net of God’s love.

The time we set aside during Lent is our invitation to God to cultivate us and prepare us to live our divine purpose. Lent is not a time to wallow in the misery of our wretchedness as hopeless sinners as some would have us believe. We are not hopeless. We are redeemed!

And we don’t fast in order to suffer, or as punishment for sin. We fast to allow ourselves to experience emptiness. In the deep, dark center of ourselves, we willingly choose to make space for something new, something nourishing and life-giving that God will supply.

The hard work of Lent is emptying ourselves of all that already fills us. But emptiness scares us – the nothingness of it feels kind of like death, so we tend to avoid it. Knowing, however, that by our baptism we have entered into Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have no fear of death, not even the little ones - like the death of a habit, or the death of an idea we hold about God, ourselves, or our neighbors, or in the case of Calvary, the end of an era under the leadership of a beloved rector and the preparation for new life with a new rector.

Is the timing of this not perfect? God is good, all the time!

One final word about this: our Lenten practices aren’t about success or failure. We don’t score points for praying, fasting or giving alms, and we don’t get demerits for not doing those things. Remember, we don’t do Lent. We let it happen in us, choosing to make space for God to cultivate new life in us.

Let us pray.

Creator God, in your mercy and wisdom, you have brought us together in this time and place to love and serve according to your plan of love. Knead the soil of our souls with your life-giving spirit. We promise to welcome the seeds of new life you are planting in us now, even knowing this means change is upon us. Guide us that we may nourish those seeds and bear fruit that gives you glory and serves the welfare of all your people in our corner of your kingdom garden. In the name of our Savior, Jesus, the Christ, we pray this. Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Epiphany 5, 20-A: Freely, bravely, and continually shine. Final Sermon

Lectionary: Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]; Psalm 112:1-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16]; Matthew 5:13-20

If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an /mp3 audio format.

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I have such mixed feelings as I stand here today offering you a sermon on the Word of God for the last time. I’m grateful, however, that the lectionary for last week and this speak to my core message as a preacher. Last week we reflected on being set apart as holy, consecrated to God. This we reflect on being salt and light.

Salt has form and substance. Light exists beyond finite form. We are both - and that is the gift Jesus, the Incarnate Word, gave us. Today, Jesus encourages us to be what we are: salt and light.

So, what does it mean to be salt in this way? It helps to remember that salt was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. Not only does salt have the unique ability to enhance the flavor of food,it was also used to preserve food, which often meant preserving life.

Jesus said to his followers: You are the salt of the earth. You are a commodity of great value. You are an enhancer and preserver of life.

He also said, "You are the light of the world." Light is a familiar biblical term used throughout the extent of our Scripture. It is the light of God that shines from us to illumine the world - if we choose to be in that kind of relationship with God - and by this light the world comes to know the truth about God. When Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works…” his Jewish listeners understood that he was talking about works of mercy and reconciliation, service to others, which glorifies God.

It’s interesting to notice Jesus says we are salt and light - not that we will be or we could be, but that we already are. Then he encourages us to own that and live it saying, “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good words and give glory to God.”

The prophet Isaiah describes exactly how that looks, reminding us that God isn’t as interested in the form and substance of our worship as in the way our worship forms our relationship with God and motivates us to live and serve in the name of God. Isaiah says, when we “loose the bonds of injustice… let the oppressed go free, and… break every yoke… [when we] share [our] bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into [our] house… “ when we cover the naked and make ourselves present to our sisters and brothers who suffer… “ Then [our] light [will] break forth like the dawn; then God will continually guide us, providing us with all we need including the strength to persist as repairers of the breach, restorers of life.

This is such an important reminder for churches today. We have all we need and what we lack God has ready to give us to live and serve in God’s name.

Churches and individuals are bombarded by the temptation to believe that our value is tied to our financial success, or our physical beauty, or the number of people we claim relationship with, such as, the number who attend on Sundays and the number who follow us as on social media.

There is a distressing cultural outcome of this: so many people who feel powerless or insignificant seek to assert that their lives matter by claiming a moment of fame in the mass destruction of other lives. It’s the only impact on the world they can devise. They have rejected - or never knew- that they are beloved of God and meant to be enhancers and preservers of life, not destroyers of it.

Priest and theologian, Henri Nouwen spoke prophetically to this long ago saying, Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

This is why the church, the beloved community, matters. At some point in our lives, each of us is going to find ourselves tempted to forget our belovedness and descend into self-rejection. In those moments, the church is where we can go in our brokenness, our weakness, our doubt, and someone in the community will be radiating the light of Christ. Just standing near them is enough for their light to dispel our darkness and open our eyes and hearts to the truth of “core truth of our existence” again. The regular offering of worship enables us to be upheld in the prayers of the community when we can’t utter the words ourselves, when we aren’t even sure we believe a single bit of it.

When Jesus spoke this teaching, he was speaking to a community. The “you” was plural: “Y’all are the salt of the earth… Y’all are the light of the world…”

It is in community that we remember and own the truth of ours and everyone else’s belovedness and this sets us free from the bondage of earthly judgment and belief in scarcity. Then, as Nowen says, “Every time we encounter one another we [recognize that we are encountering] the sacred.”

Our church’s mission is to shine the light of the core truth of our existence until everyone believes it… and lives it… and glorifies God for it. Since it is light of God in Christ that shines from us, we don’t need a lot of members or money or programs to live and serve in God’s name. We already have all we need and what we lack is in readiness for us in the abundance of God. Knowing that - believing it - sets us completely free to live bravely and serve continually in God’s name, in whatever path God is guiding us in the present moment.

You are set apart as holy, consecrated to God. You are salt and light. I have seen your light and I can testify to it. I bless you and pray you freely, bravely, and continually let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Presentation of Jesus in the temple, 2020: Consecrated for this

Lectionary: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10;Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

(Note: if the above audio won't play on your device, click HERE for an mp3 file)

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

When I was a new mother, I ritually consecrated my firstborn. (Her father, by the way, was Jewish.) Not being Jewish, I didn’t care that the Biblical requirement (Ex 13:2) specified the consecration of a firstborn son to God.

I ritually consecrated my daughter to God because it was the only way I felt I could give thanks enough for her birth and the life we would share. In fact, that’s why I ritually consecrated all three of my children - alone, not in church, not with family. I didn’t know what our life would be like, but I knew from my own life experience that it would be wonderful and difficult, joyful at times and dreadfully sorrow-filled at other times. My overwhelming gratitude was that we would share all of that together.

To consecrate something is to set it apart as holy. To consecrate a person to God is to offer them and all their gifts, their actions, and their purpose to God’s service.

We practice this ritually through Baptism and at the ordination of our clergy. In fact, we call the ordination of a bishop their “consecration” and if you’ve ever been to the ordination of a deacon or priest or to the consecration of a bishop, you know how powerful these rituals are.

Each time we renew our baptismal vows, we reaffirm the consecration of ourselves to God, but in my conversations with parishioners over the years, I’ve found that many people view Baptism solely as an initiation rite, which it is - it’s just not all it is. Very few have ever acknowledged that they saw this sacrament and our regular renewal of it as the consecration of their own lives to God - that they have been set apart as holy and that their gifts, actions, and purpose have been and are being offered to God’s service.

Why does this matter? I think of the many people I’ve counseled in Confession or pastoral meetings who don’t feel and wouldn’t describe themselves as holy or useful to God - the world, or their experience in the world, has so tarnished their self-conception. I think of the many churches I’ve worked with as a pastor or through my Partnership for ReNEWal, who feel like they are too small or too old, or too poor to be useful to God.

To all of those I say, pish posh! That’s right, pish posh! And I say that backed up by the Gospel reading.

Mary and Joseph were a poor, disgraced couple who, in keeping with their faith tradition, came to their church for the purification ritual and to consecrate their newborn son according to the law. Consider how strange it must have been to take a baby that everyone knew wasn’t Joseph’s and present him to God, and have him declared holy. You can almost hear the whispers of the “good people” in town condemning their brazen impertinence.

But Mary and Joseph remained obedient to God and Mosaic law. Maybe by now they were getting used to the whispers and glares. I don’t know. It’s only been 40 days since the birth.

Anyway, at the temple, Simeon, a just and devout man of Jerusalem, shows up unexpectedly. I love that the gospel tells us that Simeon was led by the Spirit to the temple. In other words, he had not been invited.

So after crashing their ceremony, Simeon erupts with praise and thanks to God, then proclaims that God’s salvation would come through this child and that it would include the Gentiles. It’s no wonder the parents were amazed.

Simeon then approaches the stunned parents and offers a somber prophecy directly to Mary: "This child is destined for the death and resurrection of many; he is the standard, the exemplar who will be opposed because he will be a reckoning to many revealing the inner truth about them, and you will suffer too as if a sword has pierced your own soul." I think watching the crucifixion of her adult son thirty years later when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, Mary’s own soul truly was pierced and Simeon’s prophecy was fulfilled.

Then we’re told of a second prophetic witness: Anna, an 84 year-old widow who lived at the temple. Upon seeing Jesus, Anna praised God and immediately turned to tell all who “were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” that the time had come. The Messiah was here. It was this child, Jesus.

About all the parents could do after that dramatic a purification ceremony was go home and raise their child, which they did - and we know how that story ends.

There are so many sermons to preach on this gospel, but the one God has raised up for today is this: You have been set apart as holy. You and your gifts, actions, and purpose have been and are being offered to God’s service. And the “you” in that is singular AND plural.

Therefore, we must acknowledge that because of God we are enough as we are - as individuals and as a parish community. Each one here has been created by God, uniquely gifted, and brought together by God for God’s service. Each one of us is beloved of God and all of us together make up God’s beloved community.

On the Episcopal Church website, there is a page dedicated to becoming beloved community. It says, “As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we dream and work to foster Beloved Communities where all people may experience dignity and abundant life and see themselves and others as beloved children of God. The … resources [on this page] help us to understand and take up the long-term commitments necessary to form loving, liberating and life-giving relationships with each other. Together, we are growing as reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers in the name of Christ.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first spoke the notion of “beloved community” into our imaginations. Here’s how the King Center describes it: "Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood."

We don’t need a Simeon or an Anna to tell us the time has come. It couldn’t be any clearer that we aren’t yet a global beloved community. And we are not too poor, too small, too old or too anything else to be holy and useful to God. We are exactly what God needs and wants here and now to be “reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers in the name of Christ.”

The world needs it and we have been consecrated for just this. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Epiphany 2, 2020-A: Glorifying God

Lectionary: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

One of the basic tenets of our faith is that we have been reconciled to God in Jesus, who is the Christ, the Anointed One. In Jesus, we have been reunited, returned to God from whatever has separated us. The harmony of our relationship has been restored.

The good news of this seems to have lost some of its luster in modern time. Thankfully, our lectionary offers us the opportunity to choose to restore this luster to its gleaming brightness to reflect the radiance of Christ’s glory.

Please allow me to paraphrase this declaration of Isaiah for our modern ears: Listen! Pay attention! Each one of us has been created by God for one purpose: to glorify God. Before we were born, God made intentional choices about us: what we would look like, how tall we were, whether or not we’d like cilantro. Not a single thing about us is an accident. God made us exactly as we are so that we could glorify God.

What does that mean? How do we, as individuals and as a community of faith, glorify God? Our readings show us the way.

God said to Isaiah, “You are my servant…in whom I will be glorified.” You will bring back those who have been separated from me and restore us to our wholeness. The world may despise and abhor you, but I love you. I choose you and in you I will be made known.

But it is too small a thing that you should be my servant for just a small group. I created every person on earth and I love every one of them. I want you to be a light that radiates my love until it reaches everyone, until the ends of the earth are illumined by it.

The vulnerability of God’s stated desire for us kind of blows me away; and not just me. I’ve previously shared with you Teresa of Avila’s prayer “I desire you” so I won’t repeat that today (but if you want it again, just let me know). Instead, I’ll share a prayer from another mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg called, God Speaks to the Soul:

“And God said to the soul:
…I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me.
And when the desires of two come together
There love is perfected.”

It is God’s choice that love (who is God) is perfected in the wholeness of the unity of God and us. When any one of us is separated from the wholeness of God, which means from God and from one another, then love (who is God) chooses to be incomplete until that wholneness is restored. This is what Jesus was talking about when he taught that the shepherd would leave the 99 to find the lost one.

I’ve heard some people wonder why God wants glory. Does God need our affirmation, our adoration? No glorifying God isn’t about appeasing an egotistical divine being; it’s about revealing the truth about God: who God is, how God is, why God is… and when we do that we are lights of hope to the whole world.

Our psalm today is a perfect example of how a person glorifies God. The writer of this hymn feels like they are in a desolate pit. Has anyone here ever felt like that? I have.

Describing what it feels like when there seems no escape from a darkness that spreads inside and all around us, snuffing out hope like a flame, the psalmist glorifies God by revealing how God is in response to our need: God lifts us out of our desolate pit, sets us up on high ground and steadies us there, the way we steady a toddler whose ability to balance is still uncertain.

Then the psalmist shows us why God is: God puts a new song in our mouths. Whatever our narrative was, before we found ourselves in the pit, we have a new one now. Our story has been changed.

Then the psalmist describes how all of this affects us saying, I stand in awe of God who saved me. I want to do something to mark the wonder of it all. I want to tell everyone that if life outside the pit is possible for me, it’s possible for them too. Happy are we who trust in the Lord!

When we glorify God we are doing as the psalmist did: we are making known to the world
the truth that God is love, God is loving, and God loves us; and that it why we glorify God -
not to appease God but to reveal God to share the good news we know about God.

So then, how do we glorify God? We tell our stories of redemption. We do not restrain our lips.

That’s exactly what John the Baptist did. First, he told his story to Jesus as Jesus approached him on the road: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is the one I was created to reveal as the Son of God. Before I was knit together in my mother’s womb, this is who I was made to be.

A couple of days later, John tells his story again to two of his disciples as Jesus came near them. By that proclamation of John’s story, Jesus was connected with his first two disciples: Andrew and his brother, Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter.

John glorified God by telling his story, revealing the truth about God in Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.

Do you know who else glorified God by telling his story? The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and it cost him - just as it cost John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and so many others who have gone before us to show us the way. We have the blessing of being able to see their stories in a larger context than they could see themselves, and so we can see how God was made known through them.

We glorify God by telling our stories. Each of us has a story, and together we share a communal story. At St. David’s, we happen to have a book describing much of that story, but only the part of the story that has already happened; the part that led us to where we are today.

How will our lives and the life of our church reflect the truth about God (who is love) from here on out?

Everything we do as individuals and as a church community can glorify God, making God known in the world. The easiest, most obvious, and available to us is when we live with one another in unity and harmony. Those aren’t just pious words - they’re a hard reality, especially when stress happens.

Every time we open our lips and tell our story about God’s love in our experience, we glorify God.

Every time we respond to a hateful, disrespectful online post with the truth about God ‘s overtly stated love for every human being, we glorify God. Every time we respond to our call to be lights of Christ’s love to all nations and languages, all tribes and peoples, until God’s love reaches the ends of the earth, we glorify God.

At the end of our service today we will tell our story of the many ways we have been faithful servants in whom God has been glorified in 2019. That story, captured in our Annual Report will be posted on our website so that everyone can see and hear our good news. We have much to celebrate and even more to look forward to in 2020 as the new life God is forming in us comes into its fullness.

God and us. Love perfected.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Epiphany, 2020-A: Wild, untamable love

Lectionary: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7,10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

Note: if the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for .mp3 format.

En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

The story of the Epiphany is a fascinating and challenging one for us. A group of Persians, probably Zoroastrian priests who study and observe stars and celestial bodies, and who believe each person has a star associated with them, see a star which they believe belongs to a newborn king of the Jews. Amazingly, they quote Jewish scripture as their source of that knowledge. Later church tradition made these Persians “kings” and the Western church gave them names, but there is another tradition that suggests there were 12 Persians, not 3 (which is the number of gifts mentioned in the Scripture, not the number of persons who came).

By making them kings, the church tradition emphasized their wealth and power which contrasted with the baby’s poverty and powerlessness. Making them kings also addressed the church’s discomfort with “magic.” Only in the gospel of Matthew are they called “magi.”

I call this the taming of the wildness of God from supernatural to sensible, and we do it all the time, shrinking God and God’s work in the world to manageable, reasonable bits we can deal with and accept.

But this story is wild and cannot be tamed. God, the creator of the universe, the I AM WHO AM, came to live as one of us, taking on our mortal, vulnerable nature. God, the Almighty, Omnipotent one, became a helpless baby, born to a poor unwed, teenage mother.

If that isn’t wild enough, this story makes clear to us how God does this - a pattern that repeats over and over in the experience of the world to those who will notice and respond as the magi did. When God acts in the world, God lets us know. It isn’t a secret, it’s a manifest invitation to be partners with God in the work of redemption.

Using what humans can recognize, the star, a noticeable celestial event to those who notice such things, was an invitation to include the unlikely, the unexpected, the typically unwelcomed in God’s activity. The Persian magi were, obviously, Gentiles who believed differently, dressed differently and lived differently. Yet they, like the lowly and despised shepherds in the fields, were invited by God into this transforming moment.

Notice who wasn’t invited: Herod, who is the archetype of earthly power. Herod, like earthly kings before and since, would do anything to maintain his wealth and p0wer, including killing all male babies in order to ensure no prophesied king could one day take his power. We remember this reality on Dec 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, an event noted in the annals of history as well as on our liturgical calendar.

Not only was Herod not invited, he was actively UN-invited by God who spoke to the magi in a dream, apparently a group dream (and not the first of those in the Bible) telling them not to return to Herod.

We often listen to this story as if it were a great tale, like “Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.” But this isn’t fiction. It may have been sanitized and subdued over time, but the wildness of it remains for those who notice such things.

The birth of Jesus to Mary is the revelation of the pattern of God’s redemption. God comes to us and dwells among us transforming chaos into peace, division into unity, enemies into friends.

This is reflected in the words of Isaiah who prophesies that though darkness covers the earth, “… the Lord will arise upon you, and [God’s] glory will appear over you.” Isaiah says that nations of all kinds will come to this light bringing their gifts and praising God. The letter from Paul, an advocate for the Gentiles, affirms the same pattern: the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promises of Christ Jesus.

While an earthly perspective would count the Gentiles as enemies of the people of God in Israel, our Scripture, and this story of the magi in particular, clarifies who is and isn’t an enemy. Gentiles are not the enemy. People who believe, dress, and live differently are not the enemy. The poor, suffering, and pitiable are not the enemy.

Even the Herods of the world are not our enemy, though they may seem like they are. I’m reading the book, “A Wind in the Door” by Madeleine L’Engle. I love how she illustrates this point. L’Engle uses the term “echthroi” a Greek word for enemy, to describe anyone or any force that destroys life. People who seem like enemies, people who are hard to love, are held up as people we MUST love in order to thwart the true enemy - those forces that destroy life and sometimes enlist the help of people who are vulnerable to their influence.

Aren’t we all vulnerable? Isn’t that the point of the Incarnation? We are, by our nature, as vulnerable as Herod to become destroyers of life. But through Jesus, who now dwells in us, we are, as our Baptism says, delivered from the way of sin and death into the way of grace and truth.

We remain vulnerable, but we are also on a life-long journey of learning to notice the redeeming way of God in us and in the world around us. One of my favorite examples of this is something that has made its way back into our cultural consciousness by way of a meme. It’s a statement of wisdom from Mr. Rogers who said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

When we find the people who are helping we remember to trust that our reality is bigger than the current moment and includes a loving God who came to us as a vulnerable baby and inaugurated a whole new reality into being: a reality where love overcomes hate, light overcomes darkness, and the echthroi are transformed into friends.

This doesn’t mean we pretend that echthroi don’t exist. They do, and so does the destruction they wreak. Ignoring or turning away from that is not only irresponsible, it violates our Baptismal vows to serve Christ in all persons, to guard their dignity as created of God, and to strive for justice and peace among all people. (BCP, 304-5)

There are Herods among us even now, as is plain to anyone paying attention. The thing is, their power is illusory and we can interrupt it by focusing on the light that has risen upon us: the light revealed in Jesus, who is the Christ. Our faith in him leads us into the presence of God who is the only true power; and that power is love which is wild, untamable, and life-giving.

I share with you some wisdom from the poem: “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

That is how it feels when we are led into the presence of God. So what will we do with our one wild and precious life?

I pray we rejoice together knowing that God is still leading us in ways we can recognize when we pay attention. I pray we act together, being the helpers that give hope to anyone overwhelmed by the darkness of chaos. I pray we stay together, building our ranks with the unlikely, the unexpected and the unwelcomed in friendship born of divine love…

because every single thing from the concerns of our church to the current issues of global war, poverty and suffering, is already being redeemed by the wild, untamable love of God who dwells among us still and forever.