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.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Creation 1, 2019: Are we there yet?

Lectionary: Gen 12:1-10; Ps 126; Acts 4: 32-37; Mk 4: 26-34



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

Are we there yet?

Have you ever been on a family trip where that question came up? Did you notice how the tone of the question changed over time from “Are we there yet?” to “Are we there yet?” to “Are we there yet?”

The story in today’s reading from Genesis is that kind of journey. It’s a story of new beginnings… lots of them, all part of a larger divine plan that the people involved couldn’t have known at the time. Every time they landed somewhere, they were sent off again, so the answer to “Are we there yet?” was “We’re on our way!” …over and over again.

Abram went wherever God sent him, whenever God sent him. It was an act of faith, trusting God enough to obey God’s call to him to “Go…. to the land I will show you… and, God promised to make a great nation of Abram, to bless him, to make his name great (meaning lots of descendants), and to make Abram himself a blessing.

So, Abram and his entourage of family, servants, and livestock left his hometown of Ur and made the arduous journey to Haran (about 600 miles- a journey that would take months to complete) where Abram purchased slaves which he added to their number. Then, following God’s leading, the clan went to Canaan (another 600 miles). But Canaan wasn’t ready for them. They couldn’t live there because there was a famine, in spiritual language, there was extreme scarcity. They weren’t ready, so they were sent down to a foreign place where they knew they were not yet at home. When all was ready, years later, God sent them back to Canaan.

Being semi-nomadic, the frequency of the changes may not have been entirely unexpected, but given their number, each move of Abram’s clan was an enormous undertaking. As they traveled, Abram built altars to God, physically and spiritually identifying the land as God’s land. Where the name of God had been absent in the land, Abram made it present.

I wonder what Abram and his clan thought when he finally got to Canaan, where God promised him, “To your offspring I will give this land” only to discover the great famine. Did they blame Abram for poor leadership? Did they wonder if God was punishing them for something? Did they get frustrated or mad at God? Did their trust in God’s promises wane?

We know from this side of history, that the promises God made to Abram, later called Abraham, have been fulfilled. God did make of Abraham a great nation with many offspring, and Abraham continues to be a blessing to us thousands of years later.

As Christians we are part of the nation of descendants promised to Abram. Our Muslim kin are too. We celebrate this truth every time we come together at our Abraham’s Table gatherings: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children of the one God, sharing a meal, teachings, and friendship together here in Cullowhee, NC. It’s a beautiful thing.

When God says to Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” this isn’t so much about a particular location as it is about the nature of “land” in God’s kingdom. As Jesus’ parables in the gospel show us, in the kingdom of God, land is an earthly womb where divine seeds are planted. In the first parable, we learn that no matter how much we watch and study, the phases of transformation, which Jesus described as moving from seed to plant to fruit, remain a mystery to us.

In the second parable, Jesus demonstrates that God holds all creation as sacred – which means set apart, dedicated for a purpose. Jesus uses the example of the mustard seed, a tiny little seed which somehow becomes so large a shrub that it serves many of God’s feathered creatures, providing a safe place for them to birth and house the fruit of their wombs. This tiny seed serves a very big divine purpose.

As Julian of Norwich wrote in her “Revelations of Divine Love,” “And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

This is a comfort to us as we journey as a people into our divine purpose, which in the kingdom of God, happens in phases. As Abram wandered from Ur to Haran to Canaan to Egypt and back to Canaan, he and his clan were going through their own phases of development, much like the tiny mustard seed went through it phases of development.

Some of these phases can be really scary or painful. Imagine how the seed might respond if it could know it must shed its protective outer covering and die in order to live as a plant. Imagine if the plant knew that its life will only last long enough for it to produce its fruit, then it will die. Imagine if the fruit could know that within it were the seeds of new life but it would have to die in order for those seeds to be collected and planted in the divine womb.

The truth is, we don’t have to imagine. We’re living it. We are the seed; we are the plant; we are the fruit. In the divine economy, the presence of the harvest is in the seed.

At St. David’s, we are on a journey, and the new life being formed in us right now, our sacred purpose, is happening within the womb of God. There are phases of this journey that will be painful and scary. We may get where we think God is sending us, our Canaan, only to find that all is not yet ready and we must travel on while God prepares the “land” to sustain life.

Like Abram and his clan, our part in this is to trust God enough to live fully into each phase of this journey; trusting also in God’s plan, the fullness of which cannot be known to us; and traveling in unity as a clan: a close-knit community of interrelated families.

As we prayed in our Collect, “through the changing of the seasons Your Spirit renews the cycles of life.” We know this because we can observe it in creation all around us. And we believe it because we can feel it deep in our souls.

The Spirit of God renews the cycles of all our lives including our church life. God made us, God loves us, and God sustains us.

Do we trust that? Or maybe I should ask, Are we there yet?

Well, we’re on our way, aren’t we? Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Pent 12, 2019-C: Our bond of love


Lectionary: Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14



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

Prophets often used the analogy of a legal trial to make their point. In our reading from Jeremiah God is putting Israel – the N kingdom which has strayed - on trial.

Israel had made a covenant, a formal agreement like a contract – with God. It was witnessed and (literally) cast into stone tablets. Now God is asking why they broke their part of the contract.

“What wrong did your ancestors find in me [God asks that they went far from me,” God says, I kept my promise in our agreement. “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things.”

And the leaders – where were the leaders in all this? God asks. Instead of serving, the leaders made their own choices and “went after things that do not profit.” And the people followed them…exchanging “their glory “– their gifts, their beauty “for something that does not profit.”

God’s response: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, for my people… have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, [but the cisterns they make have cracks and] can hold no water.” And as we all know – without water, whether physical or spiritual, we will die.

Even though God promises us, over and over again in our Scripture that we will receive the nourishment and the resources we need, and that all we have to do is trust God and open our mouths wide, as the psalmist says, we often don’t.

Though God is always faithful to us, God laments that we are not always faithful in return:“… my people did not hear my voice, and Israel would not obey me. So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, to follow their own devices.”

God will not force us to trust or obey. When we stubbornly pursue our own wills, our own ways, God will step back (as any parent would) and let the inevitable happen then pick up the pieces.

But God suffers knowing that we will suffer until we repent and turn back to Love. “Oh, that my people would listen to me! that Israel would walk in my ways!”

The sin of the people of Israel is that they chose to follow their own choices informed by ways of the world instead of listening for and complying with God’s direction to them.

The ways of the world can not and will not lead to eternal life.

That’s why Jesus tells the group gathered for dinner at the Pharisee’s home the parable that turns their expectations upside down. A little background here: Jesus has just healed the man with dropsy (edema) on the Sabbath, and that was the second time he’d done a healing on the Sabbath – violating Jewish law.

So in today’s story, Jesus is invited to the home of a rules-keeper for dinner and “they were watching him closely” to see if he’d behave this time. Which he did.

Since there was so much attention on him, Jesus took the opportunity to teach. He “noticed how the guests “at this dinner chose for themselves “places of honor” as they were all being seated. The word translated here as “guest” translates more accurately as “apparently chosen” or in modern parlance, the “in-crowd.”

So Jesus says to the in-crowd:" When you are invited… to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor. Instead, go and sit down at the lowest place… For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

It was about their choice. Choices bring consequences.

When we make choices, they should be motivated by humility, putting the other first. If our choices raise us up above others or even above the will of God for us then we will be humbled.

Then Jesus turns to his host and says, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends… your family…. or rich neighbors.” Instead… invite those who don’t have friends or family. Invite those who can’t increase your Sunday attendance or your budget. Invite those who aren’t strong, don’t have clear ministries, and need something, rather than offer something.

If you do that, Jesus says, “you will be blessed “by God in the eternal reality.

Our epistle today is the conclusion of the letter to the Hebrews so it nicely wraps up the teaching points – which fit exactly with what Jesus was teaching in the Gospel. Consider for a minute, this community: they are Hebrews, Jews, transitioning into a Christian community.

Many of their traditions no longer fit. Many of their beliefs and practices have to be set aside. They are being called to move into a new identity and way of being.

Sound familiar?

So, the author instructs this community in transition: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; this, of course, being anyone in jail or actual prison, but also those imprisoned by their fears, need to control, anger, or addiction.

This also applies to remembering those who are being tortured - literally, as well as those tortured by grief, or emptiness, or darkness. Be faithful to one another. Let your lives be exemplary, and be models of what you believe.

Demonstrate your freedom from attachments such as “the love of money’” by living your lives so that people can see you are “content with what you have.”

The author continues, for as [God] has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." We, therefore, “can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’"

This quote is what God said to Joshua at the end of the exile. Moses, their leader during the transitional time, had died and the people were now entering into their new life and they had no idea what to expect or how they would live – or even IF they would live.

As the author of the epistle reminds his community in transition, I remind this community in transition: The Lord is our helper. We will not be afraid.

“Remember your leaders, “the author continues. In our case, this refers to our clergy and lay leadership. Remember them and imitate their example. They are learning and practicing new ways of being, ways that build the kingdom of God. Don’t fight them. Follow them. Go with them.

Finally, the author says, remember that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer [our] sacrifice of praise to God.”

Take every opportunity to “do good,” and remember that the gifts you’ve been given are meant to be shared.

So love even when you’re afraid, or angry. Love even when you disagree, dislike what’s happening, or feel uncomfortable.

Love.

And let love be mutual, for our mutual love is a bond that reflects the bond of love God has with us. When it doesn’t look like that, we’ve strayed. Thankfully, mistakes are not fatal in the kingdom of God, where forgiveness is ours even before we ask.

So let us pray now as we prayed earlier in our Collect:

Graft in our hearts, O God, your love so that your love is what motivates us. Increase in us true religion, remembering that religion is a bond of mutual love that comes with an obligation. Strengthen that bond in us, Lord, so that we can live in such a way that our gratitude for your love is always apparent…and nourish us with divine goodness so that we may be motivated by kindness and generosity for others, using every gift you’ve given us to further your kingdom here on earth in this time; in this place.

This is our prayer. This is our calling. Amen.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Pent 11, 2019-C: The unshakeable kingdom

Glad to be back after two weekds vacation!

Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17



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In today’s reading from Jeremiah, we witness the prophet’s call from God in those beautiful, loving words from the Creator: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

As usually happens when God calls a prophet, the prophet resists the call at first. You’ll remember, there was Abraham who said he couldn’t lead because he stuttered, and Jonah who didn’t want God to save the people at Nineveh, and Mother Mary who, when the Angel Gabriel informed her she would bear the Messiah into the world asked, “How can this be?”

God calls and the prophet hesitates - but I haven’t known a man… but they’re terrible people…. but I’m only a boy. These aren’t excuses, these are reality – earthly realities that only the divine can overcome. This is the moment the prophet must own the limitations of their humanity and finally, fully acquiesce and trust God.

Through our Scriptures, we are continually reassured that God chooses us and calls us to serve even knowing our limitations and our resistance to inner and outer change. God knows we struggle to allow change to happen within us and that we reasonably wish to avoid the consequences of calling for change in our community – because there are always consequences.

Even Jesus sought to avoid those consequences as the story of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane affirms. But as Jesus said, Your will, not mine, be done. As his mother said, Let it be done to me according to your will.

Once the prophet has given their consent to this invitation from God, then God empowers them to fulfill their call.

God says to Jeremiah:
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

In every case, there will be the destruction and overthrowing of what is and the building and planting of what God intends there to be. As Fr. Nick preached so wonderfully last week: Jesus “came as a fire starter, a division bringer.” He also came to reconcile the whole world to God. He did both – in that order.

During the painful, fearful time of destroying and overthrowing, we cry out as the psalmist did for God to be our strong rock, to deliver us. And as God always does, God reminds us that God has been tending to us since before we were formed in our mother’s wombs and sustains us still.

The letter to the Hebrew’s reminds us that God’s call to us now may not look like God’s call to those who came before. There may be no burning bush, no sounding trumpet for us but when God calls, the author warns, don’t refuse to answer – because God is shaking things up and is building an unshakeable kingdom. So even in the tumult of the transition between what is and what God intends there to be, we give thanks and worship with awe and reverence.

Then in our gospel, Jesus demonstrates what this unshakable kingdom will be like. It will be a kingdom in which God sees and heals all wounds – a grace offered even before we ask because God knows that some of us harbor deep inner wounds that prevent us from fulfilling God’s purpose for us and for the world. By healing this woman in the presence of her faith family and its leadership, Jesus demonstrates that in this unshakable kingdom, God will seek, call, heal, and empower whom God chooses, when God chooses; and no earthly authority, doctrine, or institution can interfere.

The world saw a woman who had an infirmity which they would have seen as a divine punishment for her unworthiness, but God in Christ saw a beloved one who was wounded within and without. God chose her, touched her, and healed her. By calling her a daughter of Abraham, Jesus elevated her to full membership in Jewish society and called the religious leadership out for being more willing to show compassion to an animal than to a child of God; for holding fast to doctrine rather than prioritizing compassionate reconciliation – which is the hallmark of the unshakable kingdom.

Dividing, destroying, and overthrowing what is are necessary as God builds and plants what God intends for there to be.

There are predictable cycles involved in being prophetic leaders of change. For example, the gospel tells us that “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things… [Jesus] was doing.” As Jesus is inaugurating the destroying phase, the people of God are rejoicing because they are getting a glimpse of the unshakable kingdom and they love the freedom and inclusion they see. It is vastly different from their experiences as occupied citizens under Roman authority. As the overthrowing phase gets real, however, these same people will demand Jesus’ crucifixion. Later, as the rebuilding-planting phase kicks in, they join the nascent Christian movement in droves.

Knowing this cycle, we, like Jesus, we keep walking the path God is setting before us, destroying and overthrowing what is, and partnering with God as rebuilders and planters of what God intends there to be. We will notice people rejoicing, then doing their best to make us stop, but on we’ll go, as Jesus did… to the cross, then the grave, certain by the assurance of our faith, that the grave is our doorway to new life, resurrection life, in the unshakable kingdom of God; and if there’s a church that knows and can trust in resurrection life, it’s this one.

Today’s Collect is a prayer we can cling to and repeat as a mantra on this leg of the journey. Let’s do a very quick Lectio Divina of the Collect together:

Reading 1: What words or phrases stand out for you as you heard this prayer?
Reading 2: As a church in transition, what gift does this prayer offer?

Let us pray…

Eternal Wisdom, Love Almighty... Amen.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Pentecost 8, 2019-C: A divine hunger

Lectionary: Hosea 11:1-11; Psalm 107:1-9, 43; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21



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En el nombre del Dios: Creador, Redentor, y Santificador. Amen.

I have a confession to make: I’m a sweet-eater. As a sweet-eater, I have found that when I crave something sweet, if I don’t eat it, I will eat, and eat, and eat all kinds of other things seeking satisfaction which will elude me until I finally eat that sweet treat. As C.S. Lewis once said: “What does not satisfy when we find it was not the thing we were desiring.”

Sometimes our desire is a divine hunger, but in our unawareness, we seek to fill that desire with earthly things; things that are immediate, tangible, and may provide us a sense of security or a feeling of aliveness when we feel otherwise numb or dead.

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” When we lose sight of what God desires for us, and for the world through us, it’s because we have looked away, and our behaviors will show us that – hence the list in Paul’s epistle.

So the question is, what does God desire for us? (The preacher asks for answers) Do we hear anywhere in our Scripture that God desires great fortunes, lots of land, or power for us?

Our fulfillment, our purpose can’t be found in or measured by earthly things. So when St. Paul speaks of obedience, he’s talking about hearing and responding to God. Our modern experience with the word is being compliant with rules, but Paul is saying that when something earthly has diverted our attention and become the object of our desire, and we are devoting our time, energy, and gifts to that instead of to God, then that thing is an idol.

We have many idols – and they can be tricky. We may not recognize that something has become an idol for us until someone else points it out, or until we realize things have gotten out of control. Addictions to food, substances, self-harm, shopping, or gambling come to mind.

The same can be said of religion and belief. If we create an ideal about God or how to worship God or what language to use about God, then what we have is a relationship with our ideal, not with God, and we have created an idol.

If we project our own beliefs and prejudices onto the divine, we have created an idol, and this is a very dangerous kind of idol. This kind of idol enables us to divide ourselves according to race, class, religion, or country of origin – despite St. Paul’s clarification that since Christ is all in all “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free.”

This kind of idol motivates and justifies the destruction of people who are judged by the idolater to be different or unworthy. Their freedoms can be taken away. Their children can be taken away. Their lives can be taken away.

I read this morning that the US has suffered 251 mass shootings in 216 days. (Source) In the last 7 days, 2 people were killed at a Walmart store in Southaven, MS; 3 people were killed and 15 injured in Gilroy, CA; 20 were killed and 26 injured in El Paso, TX; and only this morning 9 were killed and 16 injured in Dayton, OH. It seems that our relationship with guns just might be idolatrous. It’s certainly destructive.

In her book Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith, author and theologian, Kathleen Norris, says: “Idolatry makes love impossible.” (88) That’s because we can’t love an idol – it isn’t real. It’s our own creation. Norris says we create these idols because it’s “…safer to love an idol rather than a real person [or God] who is capable of surprising you, loving you and demanding love in return…” (89-90)

Idols mislead us into believing that we can trust in ourselves, our judgment, our beliefs. And that is just what the rich man in Jesus’ parable has done.

The Parable of the rich man describes a landowner who has many possessions and is being given even more – a windfall crop. In the theology of that time, such a gift would be seen as coming from God, a blessing for the man’s righteousness. But Jesus shows the fallacy of that idea revealing it to be nothing more than vanity.

In the parable, Jesus shows that the rich man first sinned when he asked himself, ‘What should I do?’ You’ll notice that the first part of the parable is not a conversation or a prayer. The man wasn’t asking God, “What should I do?” he was asking himself. In fact, the number of times the rich man considers anyone besides himself in this parable is exactly: zero.

The rich man had devoted his time, energy, and attention to himself and his riches were nothing more than vanity. He was truly poor in the only thing worth having – a right relationship with God. This is important because when we seek and enter a right relationship with God, we have the added benefit of discovering a right relationship with ourselves and with others.

In his book, God Hunger, John Kirvan reminds us that being made in the image of God means that it isn’t just God who is mystery. Kirvan says, “We, too, have at the heart of our beings a core of reality that will forever escape definition or confinement… Our spiritual quest [then] is an exploration of our likeness to God – a case of mystery courting mystery. We are in search of the only reality worthy of our efforts, the only truth large enough to satisfy our deepest needs.” (129)

It can be hard to let God be God. We have a tendency to want to solve the mystery. Thankfully, as Episcopalians, we opt instead to live into it. God, who is more than we can ever imagine, will always surprise us. We, who are temples of God’s Holy Spirit, will surprise ourselves; and others, who are also bearers of the image of God, will surprise us too – because God is mystery and God in Christ is all in all.

We all have idols to shed. As a parish community, we have idols to shed. As a Christian community, we have idols to shed. As a country, we have idols to shed.

The first concrete step we can take today is to open ourselves to the opportunities our Holy Eucharist provides us: to pray and worship as a community that is part of the larger body of Christ; to share the spiritual food of Holy Communion which is a tangible reminder that we are one body, one spirit in Christ; to use the quiet moments in our worship to look within and encounter the divine mystery already present there.

I offer this prayer from John Kirvan as a way to begin to let God be God in us, and through us into the world:

Let us pray.

“It is because
you have made me, Lord,
in your image and likeness
that my soul seeks you
and will not rest until it rests in you.
Even as you are not
the sum of your words and images
neither am I.
Help me, Lord, not to settle
for anything less
than the divine mystery
you have made of me. (Kirvan, 129)

Amen.