Sunday, December 2, 2018

Advent 1-C: Expect redemption

Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Back when I was a victim advocate teaching groups like law enforcement and the judiciary, I used to teach about the very different perspectives of being powerful and being powerless in the world.

For example, women are still enculturated to look down and to the right when a male or other powerful person approaches them, for instance, on a sidewalk or a hallway. This pattern transcends age and other descriptors like education and economic status. Many times, the woman will also apologize even though they’ve done nothing but take up space on their common path.

The enculturated message is to be submissive in the face of dominance. Avert your gaze. Look down and you won’t get hurt. It’s an ancient survival tool that was carried into social and cultural mores. Don’t look them in the eye. Dominant creatures apparently get really angry and often aggressive when you do.

This kind of disempowering enculturation, which is evident in the cultures of our forebears in the faith as described in our Scripture, leads, of course, to a power imbalance that perpetuates interpersonal violence among people, and fear of insignificance and shame among believers in their relationship with God.

Countering this power imbalance among people is simple but it takes establishing new habits for the powerless and the powerful. I suggested to the powerful (judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers) that they become cognizant of their power and how it affects those they meet in everyday circumstances – for instance, when passing someone in the hallways of the courthouse or police station. I encouraged them to look down after a quick acknowledgement of the person, step aside, and allow the other person to pass through the space first. In other words, adopt the submissive behavior.

To the powerless, I suggested they look up at the face of the powerful one approaching them, smile if they could, and stand tall, demonstrating they know they matter in that instantaneously shared decision about who would have priority to pass through the space.

This is Jesus’ message to us in today’s gospel – that we matter to God and can expect redemption because of God’s love for us. “Stand up… raise your heads” Jesus says.

Jesus’ words remind me of a song by Bob Marley who, moved the poverty he witnessed in Haiti and it’s effect on the lives of the Haitian people, wrote his iconic song: “Get Up, Stand Up.” Who remembers the chorus from that song?

Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right
Get Up, Stand Up, don't give up the fight

Stand up, Jesus says. Raise your heads – look into the face of God with confidence of God’s love for you. You have nothing to fear because the All-mighty God has adopted the submissive behavior in the person of Jesus Christ who came among us to serve, living humbly – not as a king.

So when we find ourselves feeling faint from fear and foreboding, Jesus cautions us: “Be careful that your life energy and resources aren’t squandered by attempts to avert your fear or to dull the pain of life.

Instead, he says, pray your way through whatever leads you to fear or dread and “stand before the Son of Man” knowing you matter. Get up. “Stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is coming near.”

In other words, expect redemption.

We are not alone. We are never alone; and we matter to Jesus who came among us once, submissively… redemptively… and will come again upon the completion of his work of redemption – work, by the way, we are called and empowered to share with him by our Baptism.

You will see terrible things happening, Jesus says: distress, confusion, people fainting from fear and foreboding. It’s happening now and will continue to happen.

In fact, all of heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away… So let’s remember together just a few of Jesus’ words:

• ‘I am the resurrection and the life.
• Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live (Jn 11:25)
• “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’ (Mt 21:22)
• “ I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete… (Jn 15.11)
• “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (Jn 14:18)

As we lit the first Advent candle, we remembered that “Christ is always coming, entering a wounded world, a wounded heart, and [we] dared to express our longing for peace, …healing, and the well-being of all creation.”

That is hope – the faith that in the midst of any darkness the healing light of Christ is coming…it is always coming.

By our hope we long for ‘shalom’ - the way things ought to be according to God’s plan of redemption. This longing leads us to trust in the power of God’s redeeming love and to expect it to be there for us and for the world -every single time it is needed.

The news in our world - and even in our church – has been difficult to bear lately: mass shootings, war, refugees being gassed instead of welcomed, the strong abusing the weak - another famous cultural hero fell to the “MeToo” reality this week.

But harder to bear, I think, is how so many Christians are responding: calling for more guns, including having armed guards at church services where the Prince of Peace is being worshiped; or dismissing the suffering of refugees seeking asylum while taking a self-protective stance that says, ‘My safety matters more than theirs and besides, they scare me.’

It’s disheartening; which is why Jesus cautioned us not to squander our energy and resources trying to protect ourselves or our way of life, and not to dull our experience of the pain of life, but instead, to notice that when we see these things we should remember that in the midst of any darkness the healing light of Christ is coming… it is always coming.

And now it comes through us – who are God’s partners in the work of redemption. Because it is not just our redemption we seek but the redemption of all.

Looking around at the signs in our world today, it appears the time has come for us to get up, stand up and work together for the rights of all until everyone knows they matter to God and to us. and that they too can expect redemption. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Living Divine Truth

Today we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King.
Lectionary: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

How many of you have ever seen a 3-D movie? I saw Avatar in 3-D and it was amazing. It was amazing to me that I could even share in the 3-D experience.

You see, growing up, I could only see in two dimensions due to a congenital issue with my eyes. I wasn’t able to see in 3-D until 2004 following some eye surgery. Up until then my world looked pretty flat, like a picture or a photograph.

I remember once chaperoning a school trip to Disney’s Epcot Center where we took the kids to one of the first ever 3-D showings. I watched as the kids would reach out toward something that they said looked like it was right in front of them. They would back up in their seats when it looked like something was coming at them quickly.

To me, everything just looked like two blurry images, one mostly red and one mostly green, sitting almost on top of each other. Looking through the 3-D glasses with 2-D vision made me feel like my eyes were crossing, so I took the glasses off and watched a flat but enjoyable show.

When the surgery gave me three-dimensional vision I had to learn to “see” my world all over again. Stairs were the best thing I re-learned. They had always looked like stripes to me and if there were shadows on them, it really very hard for me to see them at all.

With my new new-found ability to see depth, I finally understood what I was looking at, when it came to stairs, and they became much easier (and safer) for me to maneuver.

Many people had tried to explain depth to me over the years, but it was simply outside of my ability to comprehend until the surgery opened my eyes to it.

This is kind of what it was like for Jesus as he tried to answer Pilate’s questions about kingdoms and kingship. Pilate asks a question from an earthly experience – one bound by place and time, kind of a 2-D question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (which would be the crime of sedition).

“Am I a Jew?” (which would be the crime of treason). Your own people have handed you over to me. Why? What have you done? Pilate needed a reason to put Jesus to death.

Jesus answers with eternal truth… a 3-D answer, you might say, and it’s something Pilate simply can’t comprehend: If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to save me because that’s how things work in the world.

“But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate hears Jesus’ reference to his kingdom and asks, “So you are a king?”

There was just no way for Jesus to answer that question. “King” is too small a word, too small a concept for God, the Ancient One, the Alpha and the Omega who stands incarnate before him.

“King” is your word, Jesus says, not mine. I came to testify to the truth. Those who belong to the truth listen to me and obey me. Pilate did neither, nor did the religious authorities. Do we?

Some people prefer to call this day the Feast of the Reign of Christ. What I like about that name is that it’s more in keeping with Jesus’ life and teachings.

Jesus never sought titles or privilege while he was among us – quite the opposite. He arrived as a helpless baby born to a poor, unmarried girl. His ministry leadership was comprised of some fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor, a zealot, and some women – hardly a powerful or threatening group.

Jesus’ ministry was about bringing in a new age – the reign of God – the reign of love a love focused on serving the other yet never devaluing the self; and Jesus spent his time focused on the poor, the sinful, the excluded, and the powerless even as he went to those quiet places to pray.

The reign of love Jesus ushered in is different from anything on earth. Rather than gathering up the things earthly rulers did to secure their reign, e.g. armies, riches, and lands, Jesus spent his time giving things away, e.g., food, healing, forgiveness.

Yet, something about Jesus and his followers threatened the authorities and caused the religious leadership to tremble. That thing, I think, was truth.

In his presence, everyone knew that Jesus was the embodiment of truth and whenever we are in the presence of real truth we know our bubbles are going to burst – bubbles we’ve carefully and collectively constructed to make ourselves feel safe and in control. When those bubbles burst, we feel nervous and insecure because we realize how small we are in the presence of so great a truth as God.

That’s why so many religious leaders – then and now – break God down into small, comprehensible, controllable bits. But there is nothing small or comprehensible or controllable about God. And there is nothing to fear about that. It’s the truth. We can expect it, trust it, and count on it. We can surrender to the truth that God is God and we are not. And thanks be to God for that!

The reign of Christ isn’t about power, or glory, or privilege for a deity. It is now and always has been about reconciling all who have been separated or lost back into the unity and presence of Love, who is God.

That’s why everything about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry kept catching the earthly authorities by surprise. They knew how a zealot would act, or a would-be warrior king. But they had no way to understand or respond to someone who acted out of selfless love, someone who would die in a moment in time so that all people could live eternally.

“For this I was born”…Jesus says…”for this I came into the world.”

By his life and ministry, Jesus redefined kingship. His leadership had nothing to do with garnering power, or riches, or anything for himself. And he never used force to get his way. The reign of Christ always was and always will be about love. We who hear this story today are witnesses of Jesus’ testimony, and we are invited to listen to his voice.

Listen, as it is being used here, is not just about using our ears to hear. It’s a practice of living in accordance with divine truth. (The New Greek Lexicon, Wesley J. Perschbacher, ed., Hendrickson Publishing, 14.)

In Greek, the word for “listen” and the word for “obey” have the same root and it refers to a way of being, not to something we do. And the way of being to which we are called is found in the testimony of Jesus Christ: his life and ministry.

His is a testimony of humility, faithfulness, and obedience to God’s will, even in the face of injustice and suffering. His is a testimony of walking non-violently toward what may, at times, seem like certain death trusting that is actually the path of life and truth for us and for the whole world.

“For this [Jesus] was born…for this [he] came into the world.” May we who belong to the truth listen to his voice and follow his way of being in the world.

I’d like to close with a prayer from Marjorie Dobson:"Go as far as you dare, for you cannot go beyond the reach of God. Give as extravagantly as you like, for you cannot spend all the riches of God. Care as lavishly as you are able, for you cannot exhaust the love of God. Keep moving on for God will always be with you."


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Community Thanksgiving service: We matter to God

Preaching at the Community Thanksgiving Service at Ascension Lutheran Church in Shelby.

Lectionary: Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

The great and present myth of the modern world has to be multi-tasking. We have convinced ourselves that we can do more than one thing at a time – and do both of those things well.

Many of us eat our meals in front of the TV. Some of us knit while listening to an audio book, or exercize while listening to music.

When we eat in front of the TV we are either paying attention to what’s on the TV – OR we are mindful of the food we are eating – its taste, texture, and how much of it we’re eating. We can’t attend to both things at once.

How many of us have sat down in front of the TV to eat only to notice a few minutes later that our food was all gone and we hardly remember eating it? And you can ask my daughter how many times she’s had to recall me to the cell phone conversation we were having because my attention had drifted to something on my computer screen.

Humans can attend (truly attend) to only one thing at a time. And this is the lesson Jesus is trying to teach us in the gospel of Matthew.

Using words familiar to the listeners of his time, Jesus continues his sermon on the mount saying, “No one can serve two masters; a slave will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other.

Jesus’ listeners understood that to love someone or something is to give attention to it, to be loyal to it – “devoted,” as Jesus says.

They understood that to hate someone or something is to ignore it and to abandon it for something else. These words (love and hate) were also commonly understood to mean ‘to choose’ or “to not choose.”

Jesus is lovingly reminding us that this limitation of our humanity is a fact. He isn’t making a judgment – he's just reminding us of a truth about us. As much as we’d like to believe we can choose both (God and earthly wealth) we can’t. One of them is going to be abandoned for the other.

So, which one do we choose? And which one do we abandon? And maybe more importantly, how often do we make these choices – which way do we choose most?

Jesus tries to assure us, using the beautiful imagery of birds and wildflowers, that the only thing we need is God – who knows what we need and desires to give it to us. Why? It's a simple question. Because God loves us.

“Why do you worry about what you will eat or drink? Why do you worry about your body or what you will wear? …Strive first for the kingdom of God and… righteousness [that is, right relationship], and all these things will be given to you as well.”

In the divine economy,the more we give of what we have, the more we have to give. It’s a blessed cycle of abundance,and what drives it, what underlies it… is Love – God’s love.

God is always faithful. That is the character of God. No matter how unfaithful we are or how disrespectfully we act, God continues to be faithful to us, always seeking a relationship of love and tender closeness with us. Even in the face of our continuing sinfulness, God continues to forgive. God turns the other cheek for us and expects us to do the same for one another.

God’s promise is now what it has always been: God chooses us eternally, God is devoted to us eternally and God never abandons us.

In Isaiah we hear God speak through the prophet this message: “Sing for joy… For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones… I will not forget you [God says], see I [keep] you as a [tattoo] on the palms of my hands.”

God is our true and life-giving Master. It is God, and God alone, whom we serve.

Jesus reminds us not to worry because worry in itself is a distraction. When we worry, we are failing to trust that God’s love for us is real, that God’s love is enough in every circumstance we find ourselves. When we worry, we disrespect ourselves by forgetting how much God loves us. When we worry, we give ourselves and our willspriority over God and God’s perfect plan for us.

Yet no matter how often we stray, God will always call to us to return to Love where we find comfort for what hurts us, peace for what upsets and distracts us.

What God wants in return is very simply our love –our attention, our devotion. I remember the first time the truth of this sank in – that God was actually seeking MY love. Think about it: the Almighty God wants our love. Our love matters to God. WE matter to God. Knowing this makes it so much easier to set worrying aside – forever.

Close with Hymn: Christian brother, Cecil Frances Alexander, said so beautifully:

When the “tumult of our life’s wild restless sea” disrupts our peace, Jesus says, “Christian, follow me.” (v.1)
When the many tempting treats in the “vain world’s golden store” have captured our attention and tempted us to love things and to prioritize ourselves over God, Jesus says, “Christian love me more than these.” (v. 3)

“Jesus calls us! By thy mercies, Savior, make us hear thy call,give our hearts to thine obedience,serve and love thee best of all.” (v. 5) “By thy mercies, Savior, may we hear thy call…”

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pentecost 26-B: Birth pangs as gift

Lectionary: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Unlike last week, the Collect for this week is one of my favorites. In this common prayer we are encouraged to enter into Scripture for the purpose of holding fast to our hope in the face of a world where hope isn’t always plentiful. And our hope is life in Jesus Christ: eternal life, everlasting life.

As Episcopalians, we engage Scripture as a love story, a long, continuing love story between God and God’s people. While it tells us something about the lives of our forebears in faith, we don’t hold Scripture to be a historical narrative, but rather an experiential one.

For example, in the reading from Daniel, God spoke to Daniel in a vision, telling him that there would be times of great anguish, and in those times those with good judgment, who can see and understand what’s happening in the context of God’s overall plan of salvation, along with those who continue to build right relationships, will be lights in those times of darkness.

Jesus is telling his disciples the same thing… The world is impermanent. Everything that seems strong will eventually come undone. What is permanent is God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. So when you see things coming undone, when you experience times of great anguish, fear, destruction, and hunger, remember that this is just the beginning… God is already redeeming all things. Those are just the birth pangs – the signs that new life is being formed.

The letter to the Hebrews informs us that as followers of Jesus, we have a new way to live while we are on this earth – with true hearts and the assurance of our faith. That doesn’t mean no anguish will happen, it means we have a different way to respond when it does: by provoking one another to love and good deeds.

That’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? We are to provoke one another to love. When we do, however, it helps to remember that provocation often leads to anger. We must, therefore, rely on our righteousness that is, our right relationships with God and with one another, to carry us through the provoking. We are being provoked right now to love and good deeds. We know this because we can see the anger and anguish that is present in our community.

Our hearts, therefore, must remain true in full assurance of our faith, that when the stones of our earthly structures begin to crumble, we remember that, for the people of God, the end is always the beginning. Death always leads to new life.

We are a resurrection people. This is our faith, our hope - the one thing to which we cling without wavering, for we believe that Jesus, who promised and delivered this to us once for all and for all time, is faithful even now, leading us always as we pass through our earthly cycles of death to new life.

So when Jesus says to us, ‘not one thing you have built will survive… all will be thrown down’ we receive that as a gift, not an indictment. It isn’t that we built it wrong, or that it wasn’t good or holy or important. We know that anything we humans can build, no matter how faithfully we build it, is incomplete and impermanent in the divine reality. The Good News is that God will always lead us to that completeness – to a fullness of life, of love, of relationship, of purpose. As God does that, it will look like the end of what we built, but it isn’t. It’s just the beginning, the birth pangs, the signal that new life is coming.

Anyone who’s ever had or witnessed birth pangs knows they are uncomfortable. And the closer the birth comes, the worse the birth pangs feel. Right before the birth, the pangs feels like crisis. Hearing the wise, experienced, assuring voices of the community of doctors, midwives, doulas, and family who have been there before, gives the new mother the strength to persevere through the crisis. Imagine if they were to cut off their relationship with her at that moment! That would be awful! Relationship matters.

The wise know the mother is in a moment of crisis and that new life is about to come. So, no matter what she says or how she yells at them, they stay near, being lights in her darkness, speaking words of comfort and assurance through the crisis.

Then suddenly there is new life and it is miraculous to behold. Everything that went before melts into the fullness of joy the presence of this new life brings.

If we’re awake and paying attention to our world and even our church, we’ll find plenty of evidence of birth pangs. As wonderfully made humans, our suffering, our stress is expressed in our bodies as well as in our thoughts. Some of us get headaches or stomach aches or tightness in the chest. Some of us lose our appetites, others are compelled to comfort eating or drinking. Some get angry at the one or ones they see as the cause of their distress, others turn the feelings inward and get depressed.

This is the human experience and it is a gift from God. Speaking in and through our bodies, our embodied spirits, is God’s way of alerting us that the cycle of death to new life is underway and that we need to reconnect to the source of life and embrace our hope to make it through. Thankfully, our Psalmist shows us how to pray ourselves there: ‘Protect me, O God for I take refuge in you; You are… my good above all other… my portion and my cup… I keep you always before me… my heart therefore is glad and my spirit rejoices, my body shall also rest in hope… for you will not abandon me in death… you will show me the path of life and in your presence there is fullness of joy.’

When we pray this together, we are made one by the prayer and the Source to whom we pray it. Our relationships are made right and true, and able to carry us through any moment of anguish, any experience of crisis as God births new life in us. That’s why the author of the letter to the Hebrews advises us to not neglect meeting together during the time of our provocation; but to persist in being together, encouraging one another all the more as the pain increases and the birthing nears.

Let us close by praying together today’s Collect (in your reading insert). Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pentecost 25-B: A deeper understanding of stewardship

Lectionary: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

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

Enel nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

Story of the Shönie, the tiny beggar in Romania.
The story of worship at the Orthodox cathedral and ushers shooing away the beggars.

Such a stark contrast, and a true-life experience of the lesson Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel.

Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes... (notice; contemplate; see with eyes and discernment) They like being first – they look great, get respect, and the best seats in church and at parties…but they have their eyes on the wrong prize and they don’t even know it. This is the danger to be aware of… to discern and contemplate.

Then Jesus sat down and watched as people put their money
into the treasury box. (Take note, those who believe their clergy shouldn’t know members’ pledge amounts. There’s a pastoral perspective demonstrated here.)

As expected, the rich put in large amounts of money and a poor widow came up and put in two little coins. The gospel tells us that Jesus used this to teach his disciples (us) a new way, a deeper way to understand stewardship. The lesson isn’t about wealth vs poverty. It’s about the divine order where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

The rich and the scribes gave a lot, even generously, but their position in life enabled them to make an offering to God without giving up their security or position. Their offering didn’t require trust in God, or even an encounter with the grace of God – it was, as Jesus said it, all for show.

The widow, gave of her poverty – which actually translates as “the being last, the means of life, life in all of its manifestations.” So, the widow gave not only what she had to live on, but also, she gave of the entirety of her life (sound familiar?). And in response, God blessed her offering, as only God can do, which is what is described in our OT reading.

That story begins with God sending Elijah out to find a widow (which in Bible-speak means: a vulnerable person) whom God has already made contact with, and even knowing how little meal and oil this person has, God has commanded her to feed the prophet when he arrives.

Elijah obeys God and when he finds the widow, she explains just how vulnerable she and her child are. The prophet responds with that oft-used phrase spoken by or on behalf of God to the vulnerable: “Do not be afraid.”

The prophet, the bearer of God’s word to the world, tells this vulnerable one to go and do as she was planning to do. But first, he says, give me a portion of what little you have. Risk giving the entirety of your life as God asks of you and watch as the resources of heaven pour in for all to see and experience on the earth.

When we feel vulnerable, we tend to cling to the little bit we have, but God asks us to release our grip on our earthly resources, let go our fear, and give the entirety of our lives to God, who blesses us in our vulnerability and generously pours the resources of heaven into our earthly lives.

This is what has motivated your vestry’s stewardship covenant (refer to bulletin back cover).

They are our Elijah in this moment of our common life. They have committed to being intentional about stewardship as giving of our resources in this season of pledge commitment, but also of the entirety of our lives all year long, all the time.

It will help us to admit that we are among the first. Most of us don’t wonder if we will have another meal today – or ever. Most of us enjoy the respect of our local community and get invited to parties where food and drink are in abundance.

But there are times when we feel like the vulnerable person in Zarapheth. As Interim, I’ve heard that vulnerability voiced as wondering whether St. David’s will have the resources to live into its divine purpose this coming year, or whether you will be able to call a full-time or part-time rector next year.

In the moments of our vulnerability, each of us is called to hear the voice of Elijah and let go our fear and trust in God’s promise to provide all we need to live and serve God in our corner of God’s garden.

In the moments of our vulnerability, each of us is called to be Elijah and go out to find the vulnerable ones with whom God wants to connect and cover with abundant grace.

Like the widow at Zarapheth, we are called to commit our earthly resources - and even the entirety of our lives, believing that God will bless our offering as only God can do and our metaphoric jars of meal and oil will never be empty.

Like Shönie, we are called to make relationship our priority. (Story of Shönie sharing the banana.) We are called to be like Shönie, to make relationsip ourlike because for us, as disciples of Jesus, it’s all about connecting ourselves to one another and to God in whose love we all thrive.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

All Saints Day: The purpose of Church

Lectionary: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

(Note: if the above player doesn' work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.)

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y el Espiritu Santo. Amen.

In his book, The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner said: "…to be a saint is to know joy. Not happiness that comes and goes with the moments that occasion it, but joy that is always there like an underground spring no matter how dark and terrible the night. To be a saint is to be a little out of one's mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time. It is to live a life that is always giving itself away and yet is always full."

As we celebrate this feast of All Saints, it’s important to remember that a saint isn’t someone who overcame their humanity and lived a life of perfection. No, a saint is someone who has access to an invisible well-spring of live-giving water no matter how dark and terrible a night they are experiencing.

The truth is we are all saints. We all have access to that spring. Jesus promised and delivered that to us. We also have a cloud of witnesses, the whole company of heaven, praying for us and walking with us through the vicissitudes and fortunes of our lives.

The communion of saints is real for me -not just a theological doctrine. I hope they’re real for you too. If they aren’t, I highly recommend them to you. To get to know them, personally all you have to do is ask, then wait with an open heart.

For the more Protestant among us, let me say it like this: we pray for one another all of the time. It’s what friends do. We don’t hesitate to ask someone for their prayers when we need their support or want to share our joy.

We don’t ask them for prayer because we need them to intercede for us – we all have direct access to God ourselves. We ask them because we want their companionship as we navigate difficult moments or celebrate happy ones in our lives.

The same is true about our spiritual friends among the communion of saints in heaven. These are friends who went before us and know what it’s like to try to live faithfully here on the earth.

It’s also true about our spiritual friends among the communion of saints on earth. They are the simple and the special, the ordinary and the extraordinary… the young and the old… the brilliant and the simple-minded.

They are whoever is present in our lives, whoever God has given to us to love.

Some of these saints challenge us and try our Christian virtue. Some of them open our closed minds by their innocence or their faith. They soothe our tired souls with their compassion, and nourish us with their prayer and friendship.

It is these saints, the saints on earth, who enable us to obey Christ’s command to go to those, like Lazarus, who are walking around spiritually dead or dying
from their earthly experiences and set them free to live in the fullness of joy found only in Jesus Christ who overcame the life-destroying power of death and transformed it into a doorway to new life.

So let’s bring down the boundaries we’ve built up in our minds and in our faith – the ones that keep us safe and sane and separated from one another. And let’s be a little out of our minds, being led by God in that procession of saints who were, saints who are, and saints who are yet to come.

Let’s claim the spiritual gifts each of us has been given to do our part to make Jesus’ dream of “on earth as it is in heaven” a reality. Then let’s nourish those strengths, here in the company of this faith community, so that we can give them away.

Let’s live like the saints we are, knowing that, in the divine economy, the more we give of ourselves, our treasures, and our lives, the more God will give us to give away, because the more we give away, the more the world experiences the fullness of God’s love, and heaven is made manifest on the earth.

If anyone was wondering what the purpose of Church is – there it is. Amen.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Creation 8: Responding with love

Creation 8: Our last Sunday in this season focused on Creation. Today's sermon was moderately extemporaneous. My sermon notes (and quotes) follow the lectionary: Genesis. 2:1-3; Psalm 136: 1-9; a reading from Fyodor Dostoyevsky (below); Mt 28: 16-20

Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better everyday. And you will come to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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


The course of true love never did run smooth. ~William Shakespeare

Thank you for the love you shared with me as I mourned the loss of my mother this past week. Your cards, emails and prayers filled me with hope.

As my time in seclusion came to a close, I watched a documentary on Pompeii and the sudden and catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. What struck me was how egalitarian a disaster is. In Pompeii rich and poor, powerful and powerless, old and young – all were frozen in time by ash and pumice.

Strangely, I also happen to be re-reading a book called, “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by American author and war correspondent, Sebastian Junger. In this book Junger talks about studies on social resilience, beginning post-WWII and continuing today, which demonstrate that there are no enemies during a catastrophe. In fact, social bonds are strengthened during and following a catastrophe. The fear of anarchy, the subject of so many post-apocalyptic movies, isn’t the natural outcome of cultural disaster – community is.

As poet Maya Angelou says, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

Love goes beyond humans to all creation. As we heard from Dostoyevsky… love everything… with an all-embracing love.

Our whole reason for being is to love.
Not sentimental; doesn’t mean liking everyone.
Jesus said, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Why? What does that do?

It transforms the prayer and lays a path of grace, an invitation and space for God to act.

Gospel: Jesus says make disciples of all nations
Used to think that meant the whole world
This time I heard it as” some of each nation, people, race”

The world’s conversion is not our business. It’s God’s Jesus said, I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also. (Jn 10:16)
God’s responsibility, not ours.

Our responsibility is to love as Jesus loved us: putting us first, ahead of even his own life.

Yesterday, when I emerged from my seclusion, I was confronted by the murder of 11 people, Jews worshiping at their temple, celebrating and welcome a baby to their community.

I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. So much hate. How can such overt anti-Semitism still live in our world?

The answer is found in a statement by Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born, Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor:

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

To love is to be willing to connect, to be in community. We don’t need a Mt. Vesuvius to bring down our barriers and connect us in community. We have another micro- holocaust that happened on Squirrel Hill, PA. We have a man sending pipe bombs to people he disagrees with politically.

The rupture in our local and global communities is apparent. What does a loving response look like? How do we, a small community in WNC, respond?

Saint Augustine of Hippo suggests: “[Love} has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of [all].”

That’s something we can do in so many little ways:
panhandler – smile as give a buck; or invite to lunch
visit and chat with those at eating feeding ministries
call out abuse when you see it
seek the silent victims who withdraw in order to survive –
lgbtq students,
migrant victims of domestic violence or bullying

The list is a long one.

What does God seek from us? How do we respond, given the gifts, resources, and people in our faith community?

That will be the subject of our third and final parish summit next week.

In the meantime, I close with a portion of the message from our bishop, José McLoughlin (DioWNC):

"...Over the past couple of days, I have found myself returning to the Baptismal Covenant, reflecting on each of the promises we make as disciples of Jesus. I am struck by the invitation beneath the plain text of words to model a love that knows no boundary, a love that is indiscriminate of sexuality, nationality, religion, language, gender. What is more, the love of God in Christ is more than emotion; it is action through mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness.

...I wonder, in times like these, what would happen if, as we fervently speak out against hatred and violence, we also all humbly worked together each day to practice one small act of connection, of communion. I wonder what would happen if we truly opened ourselves up to the love of God so that the Holy Spirit could move us beyond fear, indifference, distrust and animosity so that we may reach out to our neighbors, especially those who might be different from us, and take one single step toward building a simple bridge of relationship.

As we affirm our faith in the God of all people, may we consider the many ways to raise our hearts in prayer and be filled with God's love, to foster connections of peace and new life in our neighborhoods and around the world."

Note: Concluded with Renewal of Baptismal Vows, BCO, 304.