Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pentecost 23, 2019-C: A path to new life

Lectionary: Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19



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I’m not much of a TV watcher, but when I watch, I’m often more interested in the commercials than the shows, and not just at the Superbowl. To me, commercials offer fascinating commentary on culture. They expose our priorities, unmask (sometimes create) our fears, and propagate the illusion of our personal power.

The shows we choose to watch tell us a lot about what matters to our culture too. The most popular show on TV right now is The Walking Dead, a post-apocalyptic series in which regular people must survive attacks by walking dead bodies whose goal is to transform everyone else into walking dead bodies. How metaphoric is that?!?

The question this begs is: are we more than just our bodies? The deep fear in our culture seems to be that the worst possible outcome is that we could be reduced to bodies animated by death instead of life. I agree and I hear Jesus’ voice echoing: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

The cultural fallacy revealed by our “entertainment” habits is that we can mitigate our fears by preparing for the end of the world or life as we know it. We can make ourselves stronger, better armed, or even super-powered. We can hoard supplies and just wait out the apocalyptic moment hidden in a bunker somewhere. That’s what “Preppers” do. A New York Times article quotes a prepper store exec who said, “By prepping, “you’re actually alleviating fear.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon, though. Has there ever been a time in history when there were no plagues or famines, natural disasters, or wars? No. Neither, it seems, has there been a time in history when people weren’t trying to figure out how to survive an apocalypse.

Archeological evidence shows that there were some people in the ancient city of Pompeii, which was destroyed in 79 A.D., who tried to hoard food and survival supplies in an attempt to survive the impending volcanic eruption, but their preparations were no match for the power of Mount Vesuvius.

The only way to calm this fear is to stay close to God, the Giver of the breath of life.

The Jews in the first century saw their temple destroyed and church as they knew it was ended – but the Jewish faith continued (h/t to Rev. Rob Field for this comment). The disciples saw their long-awaited Redeemer executed, and what seemed like the end was, in fact, only the beginning. It was the divine plan in action, the redeeming love of God at work in the world.

In today’s readings, both Jesus and Paul address this. Jesus says, when you see these dreadful events, “Do not be terrified... the end will not follow immediately.” And Paul urges the church in Thessalonica, who had been waiting for the second coming that never happened, not to be idle – not to sit back and just wait for the end to come. There is work to do in the now. People are suffering. “Do not weary in doing what is right,” Paul says.

When “the end” is, you see, isn’t our concern. Our role, as Christians, is not to escape the dreadful events in the world, but to enter them, carrying in the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us, bringing relief to the suffering, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, and comfort to the frightened, lonely, orphaned, or those in times of trial.

As he addresses his disciples’ fear, I think Jesus knows what lies ahead for them, not because of any divine knowledge but because he can see where the road ahead of them is leading. What the powers of the church and world are about to do to him, they also will do to his followers.

So he exhorts them to trust God and surrender to the Spirit when that happens. Don’t prepare your defense, he says. Let me speak it through you, for “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

Let’s not let that amazing statement pass by unexamined. Jesus is promising that HE will give them the words they should use AFTER he has been killed. Did they wonder how he would do that? Do we?

That statement confirms God’s redeeming work fulfilled in Jesus who gave his Spirit to us. Jesus’ Spirit now lives in us, speaks for us, and acts through us. When we surrender our need to judge, to escape suffering, and to survive, and choose instead to trust in the redeeming love of God, we find life, hope, and true super-hero style strength. I think of saints like Peter, Paul, Catherine of Sienna, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr, Thomas Cranmer, and Corrie Ten Boom – to name just a few.

The end of anything is not something we dread or avoid or prepare to survive. It is for us, the revelation of a path to new life. Our reading from Isaiah shows us that God has been bringing new life from death for a long time.

At the end of this gospel reading, Jesus makes yet another amazing statement: “By your endurance you will gain your souls." This is often taken to mean that when we suffer we “earn” our salvation, but that isn’t what Jesus is saying. Jesus never said stuff like that.

Jesus is saying that when we are suffering, if we wait in the discomfort we will awaken to the fact of the presence of God within us. When that happens we become fully ourselves, human bodies housing the divine spirit. Then there is no circumstance, not even death, that has power over our ability to live; for we live and breathe in communion with God, according to the will and plan of God.

What we are witnessing in the larger Church, and what we are living in this particular church, is the redeeming love of God at work. It may feel like an end of something is coming, but it isn’t.

As Corrie ten Boom once said, “…I know that …memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do.”

Our own history at St. David’s affirms that. We are a resurrection church. We have died and been reborn once already. God clearly has a plan for us and breathes life into us, and so we have nothing to fear.

We can, therefore, let go of our desired outcomes, be undistracted by fear, and choose instead to be awake, aware, and alive in the present moment which is a gift from God, taking each step as it comes, trusting that God is guiding us on a path that leads only to life.

Amen.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pentecost 22, 2019-C: A broader perspective

Lectionary: Haggai 1:15b-29; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38



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

Have you ever been in a situation where your whole life blew up on you? Maybe a spouse or parent or spiritual mentor died. Or maybe your child died – in utero or in the world. Maybe you were betrayed by someone you loved and trusted. Maybe you were arrested for drunk driving or possession of something illegal. Maybe someone you know was killed or war happened in your homeland. There are so many ways we experience life blowing up on us.

Our reading from Haggai speaks to this directly, offering a broader perspective. In this story, the first exiles are returning from Babylon to Judah and see that everything they knew about their life there had been destroyed. They were heartbroken, lost, and afraid.

That’s how it feels when our life blows up on us.

The prophet proclaims to the people God’s response to how they feel. God says, “take courage” three times, then makes that very familiar promise: “My spirit abides among you; do not fear.”

Then God says something that should catch our attention: “the silver is mine, and the gold is mine.” When I read this my brain is jolted out of my usual perspective of this world and the other and I remember the truth of their co-existence in God.

Then and now, we work for silver and gold and treat it as if it’s ours. My income, my pension, my house… This is what Jesus is addressing in today’s gospel from Luke: the co-existence of earth and heaven in God.

In this story, some Sadducees ask Jesus about a confusing detail: what happens in the next life to a woman who marries her husband’s brother according to the law? It’s a fair question. According to the law in Torah (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), the levirate marriage (the marriage of a widow to her husband’s living brother) was an important pastoral move on the part of the Jewish people. It ensured that the widow, who was her husband’s property, would not end up alone and impoverished and that the man’s heirs, unborn as yet, would not lose their inheritance. In addition, the dead man’s posterity, his name would, as a result of the marriage, not be lost.

It’s important to note that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection since it was not in the Torah. The Pharisees did, so there was an element of deceit in the question in that they were hoping to force Jesus to pick a side. If Jesus aligned with either side, the other could move against him and stop him.

Jesus, however, lived, embodied, and taught about the co-existence of this earth and heaven in the unity and oneness of God. In this world, he said, you marry and have children. In the other, you are all children of God. There is no need to protect widows and heirs. There is no need to be concerned about property or posterity.

But as a quick nod to those Sadducees who hold to their Scripture as the only authority on truth, Jesus points out that this is, in fact, in the Torah, if they had eyes to see and hearts to understand. Reminding them of the story of Moses where God spoke of being in relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were long dead on earth, but clearly alive and with God in heaven, Jesus offers a broader perspective without picking a side. He just changed the playing field, reconciling life in this world and in the other in God once again, saying that to God, “all of them are alive.”

This is where St. Paul picks up the discussion in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. Everyone was waiting for the Day of the Lord when Christ would come again, end this world once and for all, and bring all the good and faithful people to heaven while casting the rest into eternal punishment.

But Paul offers them a broader perspective. The day of the Lord is already here, he says. It’s an astounding short phrase that Christians throughout history seem to overlook. That day has come. Christ has come again by coming into us, dwelling is in us. We are the first fruits of salvation. Hear that again: we are the first fruits of salvation, and we have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and called to proclaim our Good News.

The rebellion and lawlessness revealed on earth would be necessary first so that we, the first fruits of salvation, could know where the one destined for destruction was so that we could carry our light, the light of Christ in us there, and open the way for reconciliation. For God desires the reconciliation of all, not just some.

Jesus told us over and over that he came to reconcile the whole world to God; to reconnect all who have been exiled, to re-member all who have been cut off, reclaim all to have been lost. The second coming of Christ is in process; it’s happening now, through us who have his spirit in us. We are called to continue his work of reconciliation and bear more fruit of salvation in his name.

As our bishop said in his convention sermon: there is spiritual hunger in this world. The world is hungry for what we have. Then he asked, “Where do we find opportunities to bear fruit and be people of healing, reconciliation, and justice-making? Well, when we ask that question, we're a bit like that little fish that would swim up to other fish and ask, "where's the ocean? Where's the ocean?" Finally, one of the other fish said, "what do you mean, 'where's the ocean?'" And the little fish said, "I'm looking for the ocean -- but all I see around me is water..."

So how do we do this? How do we proclaim the Good News we know?

Well… we discussed this too at our diocesan convention this weekend! Stephanie Spellers, who serves as the Canon for Evangelism and Reconciliation, offered us information and, more importantly, processes we can use to practice this together. So, I’m going to do as she suggested, and add of her exercises to my preaching today.

Exercise of the great meal memory. Find a partner. Determine who is Partner A and B. B goes first. Stop and think of a wonderful meal you’ve had ever or recently. Then tell your partner (30 seconds). Partner B goes first. (pause) Now Partner A - do it again.

How did that go? Were you able to recognize the presence of God in the story you heard? In the story you told?

(Invite sharing)

That’s evangelism the Episcopal way, and you’ve practiced it twice already.

That’s how we do this. That’s how we proclaim the Good News we know. No Bible-thumping required. No Bible verse wars. No intrusion into someone’s wound or yanking the foundation on which they stand.

The Good News we have to share is that the spirit of God dwells among us, in each of us, in all of us. The more we practice having eyes to see and hearts to understand that, the more we broaden our perspectives, the better we can recognize and share those moments. God, to whom all are alive, all are worthy, all are beloved, does the rest. Amen.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

All Saints Day, 2019: A plan of love

Lectionary: Daniel 7: 1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1: 11-23; Luke 6: 20-31



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

The early church considered a saint to be anyone who believed that Jesus is the Christ. We still do. That’s why the Saints we remembered today in our Litany today include Catholics and Protestants, civil rights advocates, medieval mystics, military generals, and peace activists. They are lay and ordained, women and men: they are all of us.

As Episcopalians, we don’t hold sainthood and heaven to be things we achieve after our death. For us, these are both eternal and present realities.

The communion of saints, something we profess to believe in each time we say our Creeds together, includes all those who were, who are, and who are to come who believe that God’s promise of salvation has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The work of the saints is to proclaim by word and example this good news to the world and to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation until he comes again.

The Catechism in our Prayer Book, says that “the communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” (BCP, 862) Our unity in Christ brings down every boundary that separates us, even the boundary between life and death.

It boggles the mind, but as we saw in the gospel reading today, those beautiful and challenging Beatitudes, when Jesus taught he tended to boggle the mind, turning everything inside out and upside down. Jesus embodied his teachings too, showing us how – in real life – one can do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, withhold nothing from anyone, and turn the other cheek. These aren’t metaphors for Jesus – or for us. They are a way of being in the world.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram saw that Steve and I went to see Les Miserables last week. It’s one of our favorite modern operas. The story is powerful and the music brings the message deep into your soul. In that play, the law and order policeman, Javer, is a dedicated protector of the law and carries out his work as a duty to God. But Javer is completely undone when a man he has judged to be a worthless criminal, Jean Val-Jean, turns out to be the embodiment of Jesus’ teaching. Val-Jean was the faithful one, the saint.

In the letter to the Ephesians, the author is praying for the believers at the nascent community of faith in Ephesus whom he calls the saints. He congratulates and blesses them in the work they are doing and prays that God will give them, over time, a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Then as they learn to look with the eyes of their hearts, that is, with a perspective informed by the divine presence in them, they will choose to and be empowered to act in the ways Jesus lived and taught.

Jesus exemplified his Beatitudes teaching in his life and in his death. At the end of his short ministry, Jesus could see – with the eyes of his heart - that both worldly and church powers were seeking to destroy him and his message, yet he stayed in relationship with them both. He gave to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and didn’t quit the church even when it behaved very badly and acted in ways he totally disagreed with; even when it conspired to destroy him. He responded to being stripped, beaten and tortured with meekness and patience. Then he prayed for the criminals who were crucified with him and with his last breath, he prayed for those who crucified him.

Since Jesus was looking at the circumstance of his life with the eyes of his heart, he was certain that the love of God would redeem – and it did. It always does.

That is the bottom line of our good news: God can and will redeem all things. All things. There is no power on earth, no power in the church that can interfere with God’s plan of love for the world.

That’s why we can trust God even when the news continually reports about the chaos, injustice, and suffering in the world. Looking with the eyes of our hearts we are empowered by the divine spirit within us to discern the ways we can act to bear the love of God in Christ into our chaotic, unjust, and suffering world.

It’s why we can trust God even when all the “experts” tell us that the church is dying. Death is, for us, simply the gateway to new life. Yes, the process will be painful and scary at times, but in God’s plan of love and endless mercy, all of that is transformed into redemption and reconciliation.

That’s why we can trust God even when our own community is transitioning into a new chapter of its life story. Bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise, we can be certain that God is using each painful, scary, joyful, and healing moment we share for our redemption and reconciliation.

God has a plan and it’s a plan of love. So, as the psalmist says, “Let the faithful rejoice” because ours is the kingdom – right here, right now. Ours is the promise that we will be filled beyond satisfaction and our joy will be complete.

Our work, as saints on earth, is to be in an ever-growing, ever-deepening relationship with God and with one another, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise in this mystical body we call St. David’s in the Valley. Our hope is that we will be corporately transformed by the love of God until we are able to see with the eyes of our hearts, to bring down every boundary that separates us, and to live in this world the way Jesus taught us to do.

I offer a closing prayer taken from our Sacrament of Baptism. Let us pray…

Holy God, we thank you that you have bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sin and raised us to new life of grace. Sustain us in your spirit. Give us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage and will to persevere, an endless hunger and thirst to know you and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen. (Adapted from Holy Baptism, BCP, 308).

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Creation 8 - Stewardship: Look around and see God

Lectionary: Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14



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I begin today with a quote from Orison Marden, a late 19th-century entrepreneur and founder of Success magazine. It will be familiar to those of you who attended our third parish summit last November because we opened our time in summit with this quote:

“Deep within humans dwell these slumbering powers, powers that would astonish them,
that they never dreamed of possessing;
forces that would revolutionize their lives if aroused and put into action.”

We went on in our summit to review the top five values, our slumbering powers, our community discerned together at our first summit - kindness, acceptance, connection, openness, and honesty – and how our institutional structures encourage or inhibit our putting these slumbering powers into action.

It seems clear to me that we live not only in a world hungry for those discerned gifts but also in a county, a city, a college campus where there are many people hungry for them as well.

If we have a goal to grow our church, then it’s important to remember that church growth happens when we are intentional about noticing and connecting with those people whose lives would be lifted up by the gifts God has given so abundantly to our community. For some of those people, it may come as a surprise that there is a church that values what we value, given that so many people have had an experience of church and even Christianity that is unkind, judgmental, divisive, and hypocritical.

Remembering and pondering our slumbering powers is a fine way to celebrate the final Sunday in the season of Creation, a season during which we have taken the time to prayerfully notice and give thanks for the many ways God’s love is real and present in our world and ourselves. Our readings today offer the same theme.

The prophet Joel calls upon the people of God to look around and see the love of God manifested in real ways: abundant rain, threshing floors overflowing with grain, vats overflowing with wine. Joel gives voice to God’s promise of presence and power within us saying, “You shall know that I amin midst of Israel… and I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,” sons and daughters, old and young, even the least of the least in society. God will pour out God’s spirit on ALL people.

The psalmist then repeats the theme delineating the “awesome things” God will show us things when can only see when we are in right relationship with God, one another, and creation. We will recognize the beauty of God’s house – the world, and God’s temple – our very bodies. When we see this beauty in the world and in ourselves, we can only respond by loving it, caring for it, and celebrating its diversity – a real-world sign of the abundance of God’s love.

Being in right relationship with God, one another, and creation often puts us at odds with the world, however, as Paul’s letter to Timothy shows us. Being a voice for right relationship can be lonely, even punishing. Living in right relationship with God and God’s creation may place us in contentious relationship with those who, by their worldly power and self-centered perspective, have a different plan.

I recently saw an article from 2012 that spoke about the origin of the term “tree hugger” – currently a derogatory term in American political culture. Do you know the origin of this?

As you might guess, tree-hugging began as an act of nonviolent resistance. What surprised me was that it didn’t originate with environmentalist hippies in the 1960’s in the US but with a “group of 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730, died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace. They literally clung to the trees, while being slaughtered by the foresters. But their action led to a royal decree prohibiting the cutting of trees in any Bishnoi village. And now those villages are virtual wooded oases amidst an otherwise desert landscape.” Over time, this tactic spread across India “forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.”

It can be lonely even punishing being the persistent voice calling out for right relationship, but it’s worth doing. What feels like powerlessness in the moment is often revealed to be quite powerful in the big picture, because God is in the midst of it all and God is patient to redeem.

This tree hugger is grateful to those brave souls in India who gave their lives for the truth they knew.

St. David’s knows what it’s like to perceive a truth that the world resists and live into it anyway in faithfulness to its five slumbering powers. Your history of being the first parish in the diocese to perform same-sex marriages before the institutional machine caught up is one example. Your commitment to inclusive and expansive language for God in worship is another.

The task at hand is to intentionally and fully awaken and unleash those slumbering again: kindness, acceptance, connection, openness, and honesty – for all. Is there anyone in this community to whom kindness is not extended, or from whom true connection is withheld? Is there anyone among us who experiences rigidity rather than openness or hypocrisy rather than honesty?

We are not challenged by these, but grateful for the opportunity to grow into the fullness of the community of faith God wishes us to be. The church is, after all, where we learn and practice God’s way of love. We are not expected to be flawless, just faithful.

Imagine if people knew there was a place they could connect with God, other people, and creation; a place that would respond to mistakes or difference with kindness, a place that isn’t afraid of someone’s suffering but enters it with them allowing it to strengthen them both, a place that is willing to redefine itself through prayer and discernment – a place like St. David’s.

It would be astounding and would revolutionize lives.

This coming week, as we bring the pledge portion of the Stewardship of the Entirety of Our Lives to a close, please remember that you are supporting and empowering a bunch of revolutionary tree huggers (just kidding! - - sort of…).

Seriously, your pledge is the means by which St. David’s will be enabled to fully awaken and unleash its slumbering powers of kindness, acceptance, connection, openness, and honesty, which will revolutionize the lives of this faith community, our neighbors, and our corner of God’s garden when put into action. Be alert and watch with me for the awesome things God will show us; real-world signs of the abundance of God’s love happening in and through St. David’s in 2020.

Amen.



Sunday, October 6, 2019

Creation 5-Biodiversity: Everything is gift

Lectionary: Lectionary: Job 28: 1-11; Ps 148; 1 Tim 4:1-5; Mt 6: 25-33



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“For everything created by God is good,” Everything… that’s a pretty bold statement, don’t you think? It seems there are some creatures we might not judge as good. Some people hate spiders, or snakes, or certain politicians. But, and, as our epistle reminds us if we receive the gifts we are given with thanksgiving we can reject nothing.

In other words, everything is gift. Some gifts are apparent at the start, like rain that ends a drought. Other gifts are revealed as gift over time and through experience, which is another way of saying right relationship.

Job uses the metaphor of miners. Miners develop a right relationship with the earth that enables them to recognize iron ore, sapphires, or gold. When mined from the earth these are little more than dull rocks, unless one has eyes to see the gifts they will soon reveal.

Everything is gift. Everything; and those who dig deep in order to find the gifts hidden in the depths find them and bring those hidden things to life, putting an end to darkness. What a powerful promise this is: those who seek the gifts hidden in the depths of our souls, our relationships, our world, find them and enlighten us all.

Miners, as Job calls them, those who dig deep to find the hidden gifts in God’s abundance, reveal the righteousness of God, that is, the way to be in relationship with all that is. It is always a symbiotic relationship: interactive, mutually beneficial. When that symbiotic balance is lost, we have stepped out of God’s righteousness and someone or something is going to get hurt.

Despite our many advances, we just can’t see the big picture. One obvious example: kudzu. Kudzu came to the US in the 1880s as a garden novelty.

“But in 1935, as dust storms damaged the prairies, Congress declared war on soil erosion and enlisted kudzu as a primary weapon. More than 70 million kudzu seedlings were grown in nurseries by the newly created Soil Conservation Service. To overcome the lingering suspicions of farmers, the service offered as much as $8 per acre to anyone willing to plant the vine…. Railroad and highway developers, desperate for something to cover the steep and unstable gashes they were carving into the land, planted the seedlings far and wide… By 1945,…more than a million acres had been planted…Farmers still couldn’t find a way to make money from the crop [however, so by] the early 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service was quietly back-pedaling on its big kudzu push. (Source)

Driving around here now, it’s frightening how much of our beautiful WNC forests are already covered over by this vine, now classified as an invasive species. We just didn’t see this consequence coming.

Our faith reminds us, however, that everything is gift, though some gifts must be mined, refined, and shined before we see the gift they offer. Did you know that Phytochemicals found in Kudzu have disease prevention properties, including reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease? Ingesting kudzu may also inhibit binge drinking, decrease the frequency of cluster headaches, and ease stomach upset, including the discomfort from irritable bowel syndrome and acute diverticulitis. (Source)

Everything is gift.

The beauty of our faith is that God continually reminds us that we are part of all that is. All of creation is an outward expression of the love of God and is being continually cared for by God. Jesus promised us that sin and death no longer have power over us because God redeems and reconciles all things, all time, all of creation.

So when things get obviously out of balance, our response isn’t to wring our hand and rend our clothing but to wake up and be alert for the redemption about to happen and to serve as co-facilitators with God in that redemption.

Some imbalances are easier to spot than others. When the waters are visibly polluted and the air is heavy with smog, things are out of balance. When pelicans wash up dead with their stomachs full of plastic items, things are out of balance. When species become extinct due to lack of habitat, overhunting, poaching, or pollution, things are out of balance. The list of recent and impending extinctions will break your heart.

We are not helpless. We can and we must facilitate change. It is our duty. It is the living out of our faith. When we speak of re-establishing the symbiotic balance of all creation, frightened and angry voices cry out that the survival of our economic and social systems must be the priority. They rationalize that the changes in climate and species diversity aren’t the result of human interference. To some degree, they are right, but not completely.

Human impact on the environment- for good or ill - is a given. We are here and our presence has an effect. What that effect is… is up to us. It’s our choice.

I was in junior high school when President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and I remember the rapid healing of our environment that followed. I remember boating on the Hudson River in NY before and after the pollution controls were put in place. No one was allowed to swim in the river before but we could after.

I remember the smog over Los Angeles before and after the EPA established emissions requirements for cars. I remember business leaders around the country crying out that EPA restrictions would kill free enterprise. They didn’t. In fact, they opened more avenues for business. The current burgeoning solar power industry is a present-day example.

In our gospel lesson Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

We don’t need to believe this. Those of us who lived in the 1970s can simply remember it.

As I said, though, some imbalances not as easy to spot: relationship imbalances, for example. When relationships move from cooperative to self-centered, the balance is lost and both eventually get hurt – usually one more than the other. This is the root of domestic or interpersonal violence and it is not the righteousness of God. I bring this up as we move through another Domestic Violence Awareness month.

When church ministries move from offering shared gifts to those in need to being in-house mini-kingdoms that control which gifts are shared, how, and with whom, a balance has been lost. Not to pick on a particular ministry, and I want to be clear that this is NOT true of ours at St. David’s, but how sad is it that there is such a thing in the church as Altar Guild Nazis. I've met some of them and it wasn't pleasant.

When a church shifts from an outward mission-focus to an inward survival focus, a balance has been lost. When we worry about the “what will we eat and what will we wear” things like how to pay the electric bill, repair the roof, or cover the salary of a rector, we have forgotten what Jesus said: that our heavenly Father knows what we need. We don’t need to beg God or worry about ourselves at all. Instead, we can focus our attention on the world out there - the world God placed us and our gifts here to serve - and we can choose to be partners in the redeeming, reconciling work of God. We can choose to live out our belief that when we” strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, …all these things will be given to [us] as well.”

But this too, we don’t just need to believe. Those who were here following St. David’s last resurrection can simply remember it. Those who weren’t here can read about it in June’s book on the history of St. David’s. (Source: “do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about, A History of St David’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church, Cullowhee, NC 1883-2017, St. Hilda’s Press, 2019) p 53.

Redemption is a given. It is promised and delivered over and over again in our Christian narrative and in our own lives.

Everything is gift. Every circumstance, every person, every event, everything reveals more of the redeeming love of God. Let us be the eyes that see, the miners who bring these hidden gifts to light.

Amen.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Creation 3, Climate Change: God redeems. Everything. Always.

Lectionary: Gen 6: 11-14; 7: 11-8: 4; 9: 8-15; Ps 24: 1-6; Ro 8: 18-72; Mk 16: 1-8



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

The story of Noah is a story about faith in the voice of God who sometimes speaks a different message than what is evident to our eyes. Noah’s faith was such that he built a huge ark when there was, as yet, no rain. The rain eventually came and Noah watched as his whole world was destroyed. Cradled in the ark God told him to make, Noah waited – a long time (which is what 4o days means), long enough for God to redeem - to restore the world and to prepare Noah and his community to live in it.

I try to imagine what life was like for Noah, the other people and all those animals on the ark. It’s like a Blessing of the Animals day on steroids! At every Blessing of the Animals I’ve participated in, the variety of gathered critters included predators and prey, yet not once did one animal attack another. These events offered plenty of opportunities for “accidents” yet not once was there anything to clean up afterwards – even when we held the blessings in the church.

God is like that. A divine peace can overcome us when we let it. Animals are good at letting it. Children are too.

In 1994, I took my three children to a farm in Conyers, GA where Our Lady was said to be appearing to a woman. There were 80,000 people gathered that day at the farm. I knew, having been once before without my children, that we would pray a Rosary together, so I brought provisions for my children. My boys were 2 and 3 at the time. Jessica was 12. I brought snacks, coloring books, the usual, and Jess had promised to help with her brother, our middle child, who couldn’t be still for 5 minutes - ever. As we started praying the Rosary, he laid down and put his head in my lap. We prayed all three Mysteries of the Rosary, which took about an hour to accomplish. The entire time we prayed, my son laid with his head in my lap, eyes open. I felt a powerful peace emanating from his body. It was clear to me that was a divine action happening in him.

God isn’t ever far from us. Indeed, God is within us – as close as our own breath. Our breath IS God’s breath breathing life into us and through us into the world.

So when St. Paul says the sufferings of the present time are nothing compared with the glory about to be revealed, he’s reminding us that whatever the world presents us, God can and will redeem it. “For in hope we were saved. [he says] Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Just as Noah did.

We know that our hope wanes at times. As I watch laws protecting our environment being rolled back to support corporate profits, my frustration rises and my hope wanes. I know my weakness is to believe I know what should happen and when.

Then I remember, usually by going to prayer, that my hope is not grounded in the present moment but in the great plan of God who redeems all things and draws the whole world into divine-earthly unity. Together with the community into which God has placed me, just as God placed Noah and his community on the ark, we will find our path forward, the path God sets before us, because, as St. Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to [God’s] purpose.”

Did you know that most churches are constructed to resemble an ark? Look up at the ceiling and see the inverted ship in which we journey together as a community. Like Noah, our call is to bring new life to a world continually being destroyed by human choices.

We are not spitting into the wind any more than Noah was a fool for building an ark in dry weather. Everything we do - our prayers, our Eucharists, our journey as a community in transition – is preparation for us to respond with God’s love to a world destroyed by human choices. We can suffer through any painful moment knowing that.

“Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” destroy our hope? No. There is no earthly destruction that can overwhelm or overpower the redeeming love of God. As St. Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The gospel story makes room for us to experience terror and amazement at the destruction humans can wreak and the power of God’s redeeming love in response, It is terrifying at times.

Yet God redeems. Everything. Always.

So as we consider the effect of human choices on our climate and how we can respond, we remember Noah who prayerfully heard the voice of God and did as God commanded him, despite how foolish God’s request seemed in the moment. We remember that for a period of time Noah and his community were cradled in divine protection where they were overshadowed by divine peace, unable to see how God was working to redeem the total destruction of the world, brought about by human choices. We remember that we, like Noah, are sent into that new world to proclaim that God’s love, revealed to us fully in Jesus the Christ, can not be thwarted by human selfishness, lust for power, or poverty of spirit.

This is after all our baptismal vow: to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. (BCP, 305) We also vow to resist evil, that is, what causes division, sadness, destruction of creation, and unnecessary labor as some of the current national decisions on climate change are surely doing. St. David’s is already living into this vow by using (as much as possible) pottery cups rather than plastic, stainless ware rather than plastic forks and spoons. We also have advocates among us using their words in addition to their actions to proclaim this Good News.

Can we do more? Probably – but we must be listening as a community for the voice of God to guide us – on climate change, and on life.

Let’s close by praying together our Collect for today, giving thanks for our Cherokee sisters and brothers whose wisdom formed this prayer:

Collect: "Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice we hear in the wind, Whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear us; we need your strength and wisdom. Let us walk in beauty, and make our eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make our hands respect the things you have made and our ears sharp to hear your voice. Make us wise so that we may understand the things you have taught us. Help us to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards us. Let us learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. This we ask in your Holy Name. Amen. (Adapted from the Cherokee Great Spirit prayer.)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Creation 2, 2019: Water - the elixir of life

Lectionary: Eze 47:1-12; Ps 65; Rev 22: 1-5; Jn 4: 4-15



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

Today’s theme in the Creation season is water, the elixir of life for both our bodies and our spirits. When I feel depleted spiritually, physically, or emotionally sitting in the woods by a stream or river has always been restorative for me. I spent much of my childhood alone in the woods by streams, rivers, or lakes. I found my peace near water. Being among trees felt like being with family. I felt held in their embrace somehow. I knew in those moments that I was part of something bigger than myself. I was part of creation, and there were no enemies there, only family. This early experience of connectedness to creation is probably why I’ve always loved spiders, snakes, and other critters. They are my family.

The water is life-giving to me, whether it’s an excited mountain stream, the pounding waves of the ocean, or the stillness of a lake. It is at once powerful and dangerous, gentle and healing. When I stand near a mountain waterfall, it’s as if I can feel the cells of my body healing and I’m compelled to breathe in the misty air that is stirred up into a breeze near the gushing water.

Here where mountain rivers and creeks flow in abundance, crystalline and cool, many of us have stories about how nourishing water is to body, mind, and soul, how just being near the water lifts our spirits somehow. Well, it probably won’t surprise you to know that science backs this up.

Certain environments like mountains, waterfalls, and beaches are abundant with negative ions, “…odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale… Once they reach our bloodstream, [they] produce biochemical reactions that increase… the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our… energy.” (Source)

Being near water can literally make us feel better. Isn’t that true of some people too? Just being in their presence makes us feel better.

Jesus was one of those persons. In the presence of Jesus, all who came near found themselves strangely restored and refreshed, some miraculously so, because in him they found “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Let’s place this gospel story in its context: Jesus hears that the Pharisees are annoyed that he is baptizing more disciples than even John did (although, in truth, it was Jesus’ disciples doing most of that baptizing). In order to avoid the current wrath of the religious leadership, Jesus decides to go back to Galilee, which is why he had to go through Samaria where he came upon the woman at the well. Violating one Jewish law after another (she was a Samaritan and woman – both taboo), Jesus engages this woman in a redemptive conversation.

Following today’s portion of the reading their conversation continues and Jesus asks her to call 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.

I think it’s important to look at a few things Jesus doesn’t do in this story. Jesus doesn’t exclude the woman according to her categories: Samaritan, woman, married 5 times, living with a man who isn’t her husband… He doesn’t ask her to repent or change the situation of her life (does this mean Jesus knew something about her life that caused him not to judge her as living in sin?) Finally, Jesus doesn’t forbid the woman at the well 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 in this story, is the first person to whom the Christ revealed himself. Amazingly, she goes home and proclaims this good news to her people, “and many Samaritans came to believe in him because of her testimony.” (39)

This woman was transformed by her encounter with the grace of God in Christ and through her, her neighbors in her village were too. What the woman 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 this good news of ours with others, the redemptive love of God issues forth like ripples on a pond, reaching farther and farther beyond us.

Despite what we may see and hear to the contrary in the world today, it is not our job to save the world. 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.

How and when do we do that? Few things give Episcopalians the heebee geebees more than evangelism. Part of that is our sensitivity to how it’s been done wrong. But we carry an insecurity about how it can be done right. The trick is to operate from gratitude with humility.

Evangelism is vital to the continuing life of any church. Churches don’t grow because they have possession of true doctrine or because they have well-executed liturgies or because they do the right outreach. 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. From there it reaches out into the world like ripples in a lake.

It is in divine union that we work together to as partners with God in redemption. Every ministry of the church from altar guild to outreach is embodied evidence of that.

I think of the stories of Jo, who reached out to individuals and shared her encounter with the grace of God at St. David’s. Many people still here today were connected to this place through Jo, at least that’s what they tell me.

I think of the groups of hikers at St. David’s who venture out into creation where they encounter the grace of God together. Through those hikes, these groups build a divine bond of unity with one another and with creation.

When we and our churches trust the source of the eternal spring of water, it gushes up in us to eternal life just as Jesus promised, bonding us in divine union in the eternal, redeeming presence of God, and spilling out from us to the thirsty world we share.
Let us pray:

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