Sunday, December 8, 2019

Advent 2: Peace in believing

Lectionary: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12



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

As a pastor and a spiritual director, I have the privilege of being invited into conversations with people when their faith is being challenged, or they’re experiencing a “dark night” where they feel no sense of the presence of God in their lives. Some are seeking faithfully to discern God’s path for this moment in their lives. Others are trying to stay faithful, having made a decision based on that discernment, but now things have gone array and they’re wondering if they’d made the right choice.

In all of these conversations, what is foundational is the person’s relationship with God. Who is God to each of these? How do they relate to God and how does God relate to them in particular and to all of us as the created?

Whatever religious doctrines or practices or theology we have, when life is challenging, it’s our belief in and relationship with God that carry us through. Some of us who grew up in the church learned how to understand and relate to God in certain “acceptable” ways. Others among us either didn’t grow up in the church or grew up being taught awful, sometimes unfaithful doctrines that continue to affect how we relate to God. Still, others have had personal, mystical experiences leading to an intimate, convincing relationship with God.

What I’ve noticed is that the challenging moments of our lives often affect our belief in God. I think of medieval mystic Julian of Norwich whose physical challenges led her into an experience of God that completely transformed her believing, and therefore how she related to God, leading her to her famous description of Christ the Mother of Mercy and her equally famous proclamation that “God is not wroth” which she clarifies by saying that wrath is found in humans, but not in God who loves us mercifully, tenderly, and completely.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul is encouraging the members of the new church in Rome to relate to one another differently: to live in peace and harmony. Jews and Gentiles, Roman occupiers and those they occupied are now members of a new community of faith. The Scriptures, he reminds them, foretold that God’s plan of salvation would be revealed through the Jews, but that it would reach all nations and peoples – and that habitual enemies would live together in peace and harmony.

This is what we heard described in the reading from Isaiah. The coming of the king will signal the inauguration of a time of profound peace born of right relationship. In this new era, the peace and harmony will be so deep, so complete that even natural enemies will share cooperative, peaceful lives.

Looking around then and now, this seems like a dim possibility, but our belief assures us that with God, nothing is impossible. So Paul exhorts the church in Rome to continue to hope and believe praying this beautiful blessing over them: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Peace in believing…

If we believe that God is just and kind, full of compassion and mercy, that God cares for those who suffer and hears their prayers, that God’s love for us is steadfast and sacrificial, then even when things have gone array, we can have peace in our believing. Even when the world has gone wrong, our belief that God chooses to be in loving, sustaining relationship with us will sustain our hope.

What gets in our way is sin, but that word is so variously defined. How do we understand it?

I suggest that sin is what disrupts the harmony of being. In his book, “The Shaking of the Foundations,” theologian Paul Tillich describes sin as a three-fold separation: from God, from each other, and from ourselves. This separation, which is caused by the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, distorts all of our relationships. It is only by God’s grace and our willingness to repent that we are reconciled and restored to righteousness, that is, to right relationship.

This is the kind of repentance John the Baptist is calling the people to in today’s gospel. John is proclaiming that the kingdom of heaven is coming near and they need to repent so that they can recognize and receive the grace about to come in the one who would come after him, the one who is more powerful than he, the one who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.

And the people were flocking to John to hear his teaching and to be purified by his baptism. They wanted what he was offering – a new way of being in relationship with God and each other.

Even the religious authorities were coming, but when they arrive, John doesn’t mince words with them. Imagine what the response might be if I called visiting Canons or Bishops, who show up for worship, a “brood of vipers.”

Why was he so caustic with them? We can’t be sure if the Pharisees and Sadducees came to observe what John was doing in order to prepare an “official response” or if they were, like the many others, coming to him drawn by the message of this new way of being. My guess is, it was probably a bit of both.

John’s prophetic teachings used apocalyptic language familiar to the listeners of the day. We have taken them to be punitive, but they really are promising and uplifting. Otherwise, why would so many flock to hear him?

The scariest thing John says in this gospel is probably this: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So let’s look at it more deeply.

The Messiah is coming to judge the world. The winnowing fork enables him to separate fruit that is ready to be used, from the chaff which isn’t useful in its present form. Chaff is a natural by-product of the whole process, however, and of itself isn’t bad. It just isn’t useful in its present form so it is burned.

The habitual association with hell-fire and eternal punishment often clouds our thinking on this, but John says the chaff will be burned in “unquenchable fire.”

As we’ve discussed before, fire is biblical language for the presence of God. Think of the burning bush and of John’s proclamation that Jesus would baptize them with fire. God’s steadfast love and mercy cannot be quenched by us or anything we do. In God, whose mercy endures forever, all who aren’t ready in their present form will be made new by the unrelenting presence and love of God.

We sin. That doesn’t make us bad – just human. Advent calls us to own that and repent, trusting that God loves us and desires to restore us to right relationship. When we choose to repent, we may find ourselves “struck by grace,” as Tillich says, the way St. Paul was on the road to Damascus, knowing deeply the truth that God loves us with an incomprehensible love...”

Repentance opens the way for all of our relationships to be changed, empowered by the grace of God’s unquenchable love. Trusting in the steadfast love of God who is always faithful, we can choose to repent in the way John the Baptist taught and change the way we’re in relationship with God and with one another. Then we can live together in peace and harmony in a way that is otherwise impossible and we will have in ourselves peace in our believing. Amen.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent 1, 2019-A: Christ is always coming

Lectionary: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44



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

Those who know me well, know that one of my all-time favorite movies is
“My Cousin Vinny.”

The character in it known as Mona Lisa Vito is a she-ro for me. I love her tell-it-like-it-is, loving yet hard-edged character. She’s devoted to her fiancĂ©, is not easily pushed around, is unimpressed by worldly power, is smart yet humble about it, and knows what she wants – a traditional life of love and family.

There’s one scene in this movie where Mona Lisa is being questioned by the District Attorney who wants to discredit her as an expert witness in the area of “general automotive knowledge” so he asks her a question about the correct ignition timing for a specific make of car in a specific year.

Mona Lisa dismisses his question in her characteristic hard-edged, smart but humble manner – with an expletive. “It’s a BS question” she says. Pressed by the DA who thinks he is about to discredit her for not knowing the answer, Mona Lisa testifies that the question is impossible to answer. “Nobody could answer that question.” Then she proceeds to blow the DA and the courtroom away by offering an answer that corrects the error in the DA’s question AND demonstrates her astounding expertise in general automotive knowledge.

I always think of this scene in that movie when today’s gospel reading comes up. Jesus has been teaching his disciples about the destruction of the temple, referring to both the building in Jerusalem where worship happened and also his body – the temple of the Holy Spirit of God.

The disciples ask a reasonable question: “Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” Using apocalyptic language familiar to his listeners, Jesus harkens back to the message in Isaiah where God is about to do a new thing, to inaugurate a new way of being in the world.

Then pointing to the last covenant God made with the people, the covenant of Noah, Jesus says it will be like that… people will go about living their daily lives, completely unaware that a momentous occasion is about to happen. God is inviting the world into a new way of being and so much of life as they know it is about to be destroyed.

Only Noah and his family, who are awakened to this invitation, will be “left behind” to begin the new era and carry life into this new world. Likewise, only those in Jesus’ time who are awakened to this invitation will be “left behind” to carry life into the new world being inaugurated. And today, we who are awakened to this invitation bring new life into the world today – a world, which includes us, that is replete with darkness in need of the transforming light of Christ.

In response to the disciples’ question, Jesus offers the Mona Lisa Vito answer: It’s impossible to answer this question. No one could answer it. Not even the Son of Man.

Why? Because there is a fatal error in the question. Try as we might, we can’t pin God down to a moment, a day, or even a millennium because Jesus’ second coming is happening now. Jesus promised not to leave us orphaned after his resurrection and ascension. He then breathed his Spirit into humanity eternally uniting himself to us, and sending us forth to share this invitation for a new way of being in the world.

This is the unexpected new thing God did in Jesus: inaugurating a new age where the divine Spirit of Christ dwells in the mortal bodies of each of us, and in all of us as the body of Christ. The transformation of the darkness of the world is happening now by the armor of light that covers, protects, and shines forth from us.

This is the hope Advent calls us to remember and ponder and now is the time for us to awaken to this new thing already happening in us and through us. The spirit of Christ has been given to us as a gift from God, breathed into us as it was into the disciples on that first Pentecost. Are we awake to the astonishing nature of that gift? Are we sharing it as Christ bid us to do?

The light that has been given to us shines on the darkness in our own hearts and souls as well as that of the world. We are mistaken if we believe that being temples of Christ’s spirit rids us of our own inner darkness. It doesn’t. It illuminates it for us so that we can see it and choose to let go whatever anger, resentment, control, pride. or fear is within us that leads us to hinder God’s plan for us, for our parish, or for the corner of God’s garden we inhabit.

The light that has been given to us illumines the dark memories that cast a shadow over our current thinking, setting us free to be whom God made us to be in all our fullness. The light of Christ in us shows us the way to forgiveness, to wholeness, to holiness.

If we choose to now, we can enter this amazing and troubling season with hope… the expectation that when we go to the dark places within us, within our community, and in the world, we will trust the light of Christ to illumine it, and follow the path of new life that is revealed in that light.

This won’t just happen for us because we’re Episcopalians in the season of Advent. The preparation we do, and the transformation it offers, will be a direct result of the intentional effort we give it.

Noah had to build an ark, a vessel to carry him into the transforming work of God. During Advent we, too, build a vessel to carry us there. Our vessel may be built using a daily meditation like “The AdventWord online series, or a prayer discipline like praying regularly with the icons I set up in the upstairs parish hall, or coloring an Advent calendar (I can hook you up to several resources) or perhaps you prefer a book (I have a couple of references I can offer).

Whatever the method, building the ark is our part of the deal. We do the work, even when the world mocks us and goes on about its business oblivious to God’s invitation for transformation.

As we proclaimed at the lighting of the candle for this first Sunday in Advent, “Christ is coming. Christ is always coming… always entering a troubled world, a wounded heart.”

Let us pray.

Give us grace, Eternal God, to prepare ourselves to answer your invitation to new life. Like Noah, we will use this season of Advent to build our arks, certain that you will lead us through whatever darkness exists in ourselves, our community, or our world into new life. By your redeeming love, transform us and make us ready to be sent forth as bearers of your light, temples of your Holy Spirit, and sharers of your holiness. Amen.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ the King, 2019-C: The tender compassion of God

Lectionary: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43



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

Our current book study is on Richard Rohr’s “The Universal Christ” and it continues to be amazingly inspiring. We invite you to join us after coffee hour today. Each week, some have read the text, some have not. What matters is that God raises up from the book a topic which launches us into discussion. Then we follow the path of that discussion where it leads. It’s been a very holy experience.

One of the early topics in these conversations was Rohr’s discussion of the “ubiquitous Christ,” which he describes like this: “Everything visible, without exception, is the outpouring of God… ‘Christ’ is the word for the ‘Primordial Template’ (Logos) through whom ‘all things came into being…” (p. 13)

We affirm this each Sunday as we say the ancient words of the Nicene Creed: “Through him all things were made.” Rohr describes this as a “Christ soaked world” into which Jesus was born “so that humanity and divinity can be seen to be operating as one in him – and therefore in us!” ( p. 15)

This is where we begin as we celebrate The Feast of Christ the King, what some are now calling The Reign of Christ” citing that “King” is too small a term for the “ubiquitous Christ.”

This also is what Paul was talking about in his beautiful prayer in today’s epistle about the “who” of Jesus as the Christ: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible,… -- all things have been created through him and for him.”

Paul goes on to discuss the “when” of Jesus as the Christ, reconciling the eternal and the temporal: “He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Paul continues with the “why” of Jesus as the Christ: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven” and concludes with the “how;” “by making peace through the blood of his cross.” God’s redeeming love, God’s continuing participation in human experience brings peace out of every instance of violence or hate or harm.

Such is the tender compassion of God which the prophet Zechariah speaks of in his prayer sung in response to the gift of his son, John the Baptist. Recounting the promises of God made through the prophets of old, Zechariah, a priest in the line of Aaron, celebrates that his son has been chosen to prepare the way for the fulfillment of these promises in the coming of the Messiah, whom we celebrate today: Jesus, the Christ.

What trips us up, I think, is our human construct of time and our desire for closure. We want things to work like a movie or a TV show where good overcomes evil and justice prevail by the end of the story.

That’s the problem – there is no end to this story. There is no time that the tender compassion of God isn’t at work in the world. It’s a continual process that has no beginning and no end – and that’s the beauty of it, the fulfillment of the promises made. Jesus was before all things and in him (who is eternal) all things are made worthy – all things, all people, all of the created world are embraced, held together, have existence in him.

When Zechariah set out John the Baptist’s divine purpose, he proclaimed ours too. We, my children, are prophets of the Most High. We will give people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sin.

Sin separates us which leads to violence, hatred, and harm. Jesus, the Christ reunites us and makes us one again.

We believe that there is nothing that can separate us from this embrace of the Christ. Nothing. That is such good news to so many who feel lost, alone, and hopeless.

I saw a news story yesterday about a teacher in Oregon, Keanon Lowe, who stopped a student armed with an automatic rifle and thwarted a potential school shooting – with a hug. During the embrace, the student cried out that he felt alone, that no one cared about him. “I care about you,” was Keanon’s immediate reply.

"I felt compassion for him,” Keanon said, “A lot of times, especially when you're young, you don't realize what you're doing until it's over," he said.

The video brought tears to my eyes. This is the tender compassion of God in Christ, who said: Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

By our Baptism, we are all Keanon Lowe – or we could be if we, like him, allow God to use us to carry the light of God’s love to those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. The overall interview showed Keanon to be a man of faith. It was already in him. He was prepared, so when the situation presented itself to him, Keanon said, "In a fraction of a second, I analyzed everything really fast. I saw the look in his face, look in his eyes, looked at the gun, realized it was a real gun and then my instincts just took over."

His instincts – his inclination and inner prompting were the means by which the Christ acted through him. He saw, really saw, the look in that student’s eyes and his response was that this young man, as dangerous as this moment was, needed and was worthy of love. So he gave it – he hugged him – and the crisis was ended. Through him, God brought peace from violence once again.

Every story could end this way. Every story. Wherever sin separates us Jesus, the Christ, who is in us, is ready to act through us to reunite us, to make us one, all of us held together in the embrace of his love. This is the practice and protocol of the reign of Christ.

One last thing about Keanon Lowe: he believed he was placed there in that moment to save that young boy. I believe that too because I believe that about all of us.

We are the means by which the redeeming love of God happens in the world. By our very presence and preparedness, we prepare the way for the Lord. We remind that world, by our words and actions, that we are all one, that we are all embraced, held together, and have our existence in Jesus who is the Christ, the eternal forgiver from the cross, restorer of all things, and reconciler of heaven and earth.

We must be willing, however, to notice sin – to notice when we are not one, where, how, and why we are separated. We must be willing to remember that we are imperfect vessels made perfect by God alone. We are imperfect communities enlightened by the Christ who dwells in us.

Then we can trust God in us and step into any place of darkness, any circumstance of separation, even when that darkness is happening within us, and allow the Christ to do what he always does, what the prophets of old said he would do: set us free from all that separates us and guide our feet into the way of peace.

Amen.

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



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

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



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

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

The 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.