Sunday, February 17, 2019

Epiphany 6-C, 2019: It's about choice - the privilege of plenty

Lectionary: Jeremiah 17:5-10; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26

Today's sermon was extemporaneous, so no written text.

Technical note: the app I use to create the audio player is having "issues" so please click the link below which takes you to the sermon on my website. I'll try this app again later today.

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

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Epiphany 5-C, 2019: Continually called by God

Lectionary: Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13]; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

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

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

We talk a lot in the church about being called, and most of the time we share an understanding of what we mean by that. Through our prayer, through one another, through contemplative insight, through dreams, through repeated patterns in our experience – we feel God tapping on our shoulder or nudging us from within to act on God’s behalf, as the ambassadors of Christ we are through our Baptism.

The choice is always ours whether or not to acknowledge that tap on the shoulder or inner nudging, and whether or not to act on it. God never forces us, but God does keep on tapping or nudging us - mostly gently, though sometimes we hear folks talk about being clobbered by a spiritual 2 x 4.

The key for us is to learn the language of God for us. How does God call to us? Then, we practice learning to notice it and soon, we consent to respond to it.

This is much of the work we do in spiritual direction. One of my favorite experiences as a spiritual director is when a directee talks about having finally learned the language of God for them, that is, how God calls to them, then takes the risk of responding. This story generally ends with their surprise and amazement at the outcome.

For example, one of my directees spoke of a difficult discussion he needed to have with his priest. He loved this priest, but also feared an anticipated angry response – something he had experienced before. Prior to the meeting, the directee and I prepared prayerfully, opening a path of grace and trusting God to guide the meeting.

At the meeting, the directee had a plan for what he was going to say, but in the moment, he noticed what had become a familiar “tap on the shoulder” from God (those are his words). Having practiced paying attention to those taps, the directee recognized this as a call from God and words came from his mouth he hadn’t planned or even thought about; words that surprised him even as he spoke them.

These words changed the entire tenor of the meeting and the outcome was one of deeper friendship, grace, and a new openness to the presenting problem by both the directee and the priest. The directee was so amazed by this, he called me after the meeting to tell me about how powerfully God had acted – and that God had acted through him - both of which amazed and excited him.

As Bother Andrew once said, “God does not choose people because of their ability, but because of their availability.”

All three of our stories from Scripture today offer us insight into how God calls us and how we humans respond to being called. In Isaiah and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we learn that the one called often feels unworthy of the call at first and even suggests to God that maybe they aren’t the right choice.

But it’s the gospel story that illumines us so much about being called, and it does so through the naked humanity of our forbear, Simon (who is Peter – a nickname Jesus will give him before long). The setting is the north part of the Sea of Galilee near the region of Genessaret. Jesus is teaching by the lake and the crowd starts pressing in, drawing closer to hear the word of God.

Jesus notices that there are two boats nearby. The fishermen had come in from an overnight fishing expedition that brought them nothing. Exhausted and frustrated, the fishermen were cleaning their nets, ready to let this work shift come to an end.

Then Jesus climbs into to Simon Peter’s boat and asks him to put out from shore. You can almost hear Peter sighing: Aw man! I am so ready to go home and just sleep. But, Peter does as Jesus asks, and once they are a little bit away from the shore, the rabbi sits to continue his teaching.

Now Peter is up close, watching Jesus preach and engage the crowds. He’s listening to Jesus as the word of God issues forth from this man who has already had such a strange effect on him. Something is happening in Peter, but what it is isn’t clear yet. So he watches, and listens, and waits.

When Jesus finishes his teaching, he asks Peter to head out to deep water and let down his nets again… the nets they’d just finished cleaning and stowing. Peter, the experienced fisherman in this conversation, reminds Jesus that they been out there all night; there were no fish out there.

Despite that, Peter obeys (which you’ll remember means to hear and respond). Peter hears the call from Jesus and chooses to respond, acknowledging it and obeying. The outcome was surprising and exciting: their nets captured so many fish that the other boat had to be called out to help them haul it all in.

Peter’s response to all of this was to fall to his knees aware of and confessing his sinfulness. Given our current use of this word, it’s important to point out that the meaning of the Greek word here translated as “sin” is: to miss the mark, to be wrong, to transgress from the divine will.

Peter recognized this about himself and it drove him to his knees in humble surrender. That’s what a call does. It leads us to humble surrender.

Jesus comforts Peter saying those words that always come from heaven right before a call is issued: “Do not be afraid.” Then Jesus overtly issues Peter his divine call: “from now on,” Jesus says, “you will be catching people.”

Notice that a call from God is a proclamation of a divine truth. Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, Peter, want to catch people with me?” He said, this is who you are now – a catcher of people. Then through the course of his relationship with Jesus, Peter was formed and empowered to answer this call, which he did following Jesus’ ascension. And it was amazing.

Scripture teaches us that there is a process that happens when a divine call is issued and it goes like this: God taps us on the shoulder or nudges us from within and we hear the call issued. We respectfully decline, believing we are not worthy or able to answer. God comforts us, empowers us, and sends us anyway. We obey and are amazed.

Discerning a call from God takes practice, like any other spiritual discipline. For a few of us, like Moses or Mary, God speaks plainly, powerfully, unmistakably. For most of us, however, it will be a still, small voice, a nudging, a tap on the shoulder.

The noise of the world tends to drown out that still small voice. We must also acknowledge the earthly judgment about people who hear God’s voice. For some it truly is a diagnosable event requiring psychiatric treatment. But for most of us, it’s a traditional means of conversation between the Creator and the created.

Thankfully, as Episcopalians, we approach discernment from two fronts: individually and in community. When a person discerns a call from God, for example, a call to ordained ministry, that call must be affirmed by the person’s parish and later, their diocesan community. We do this because the church is a body of which we are individual members; and we believe that if the Holy Spirit is calling, we will all hear it if we listen together.

That is our continual calling as church: to listen for God’s proclamation of divine truth for us - who we are and what our divine purpose is in this moment of our history. Like Peter, we are catchers of people. If we choose to acknowledge God’s call to us and obey it, God will form us, empower us, and send us out to answer our call. And it will be amazing.


Sunday, February 3, 2019

Epiphany 4-C, 2019: The unifying love of God

Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

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

Yesterday Steve and I attended the wedding of Paul Ulrich and Cayla DeLuca in Asheville. Y’all know Paul as a one-time baby Jesus in a Christmas pageant long, long ago. I had the privilege of providing Paul and Cayla the premarital counseling required by the Episcopal Church prior to the sacramental rite of marriage. In our discussions, we went deeply into the difference between how the world views and lives out love and marriage and how we, as Christians, do that – and it’s a big difference.

The bottom line for us is that in this sacramental rite, two lives become one, united together by the grace of God for the mutual joy of the couple and to witness God’s love to the world by their relationship. A marriage demonstrates how this union in God works. Two distinct people, who remain distinct in the relationship, choose to live as one for the rest of their lives in the unifying love of God, by the grace of God.

This is the difference between unity and uniformity. The love of God doesn’t obliterate difference, it celebrates it, completes it by joining one to another in a synergistic union where both are greater together than either is alone.

This is why marriage is a commonly used metaphor in Scripture: because it demonstrates how the path of redemption works, a path where two are made one in the love of God: two people, two nations, two ideologies, two anything.

As Jesus’ disciples in the world today, we are witnesses of God’s unifying love. We do this by the way we live our lives and by our witness, that is, the words we use in response to the world, especially when it fails to love.

There are, in general, two hearers, two groups to whom our testimony as witnesses of God’s love must be given: those being excluded and those doing the excluding. In today’s gospel story from Luke, Jesus is speaking to those doing the excluding.

Today’s gospel story picks up just after Jesus has gone to the synagogue, picked up the scroll of Isaiah and read from it. As his hometown people heard him read and teach, they found his words to be full of grace.

But then they began to think about that. You can almost hear them… Wait a minute! That’s Mary and Joseph’s son! How does he teach so wonderfully? How did he do those amazing things we heard about him doing in Capernaum? Do those things here too, Jesus. Amaze us too! But Jesus knew he could do no healings there because of their unbelief.

Instead, Jesus shared the truth that the salvation of God was for the whole world, that the two groups they had traditionally known – Israelites and the Gentiles - would be made one in God’s unifying love. He also knew this truth would make them mad – and in fact, Luke tells us they were enraged by it.

Why? What made them so mad?

Jesus says to his homies in the synagogue: “…the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when … there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

Both the widow (notice she has no name) and Naaman were outsiders, Gentiles, and unclean in some of the most obvious ways. The widow was from Phoenicia, the center of pagan worship at the time. Jesus is referring to the time when Jews and Gentiles alike were dying in droves due to famine. In fact, the widow’s only son had just died leaving her a poor beggar who would probably die soon after her son’s funeral. It was this outsider - this pagan, Gentile, homeless woman, whom God chose to save.

And Naaman was a Syrian, a Gentile, who had leprosy which Jews believed was a curse due to some sin in them or in their family. There were Jewish and Gentile lepers suffering all over Israel, but the one whom God chose to heal and restore to fullness of life, was the Gentile.

Jesus words shocked his listeners. Here they were feeling so proud of their hometown boy-made-good. His reputation was grand, his words so gracious.

But now, instead of dazzling them with amazing works of power, Jesus insults them and calls them to bring down a wall that had separated them from others for generations. St. Luke says they were so “filled them with rage” that they tried to “hurl” Jesus off a cliff!

We live in a time when God’s own people, as so many groups define themselves, are full of rage over the notion that God might unify us to outsiders, and I wonder… where is the love?

When I’m on social media listening to “Christians” respond to events in the world or in the church I’m often not seeing love that is patient and kind or words that aren’t arrogant or rude. The love I’m seeing witnessed by “Christians” is often not willing to bear or endure much of anything at all, especially challenges to what they believe or what they’ve always done. And if I’m not seeing it, then neither is the one who is outside of us looking in: the unbeliever, the unchurched, the ‘none.’

The modern reality of social media makes prophets of all of us who use it, like it or not. So, what is our witness on social media?

Our churches are meant to be communities in which a person can learn and practice love so that they can be sent forth as witnesses of the unifying love of God to the world – by their words but also by the way they live their lives. Our churches are places where we can piece ourselves back together when the world gets mad at us for witnessing this unifying divine love – because it will get mad at us. There will be times people will want to hurl us off a cliff.

We might lose the affection of friends or family when we welcome the outsider or point out a division they prefer not to see. We will definitely feel insecure about ourselves and our ability to speak the truth of God’s unifying love, especially when the world is raging at us about it, trying to enforce the divisions it prefers; divisions that serve them or are comfortable for them.

Our comfort, however, is found in each other and in our Scripture. When God called Jeremiah to speak the truth to the people he begged off saying, I can’t do that. I’m only a boy (in other words, I’m not educated or experienced in this).

But God’s words to Jeremiah are for us also: ‘…you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I give you authority to say. Don’t be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.’

Notice God doesn’t promise that all will go wonderfully but that God will be with us to deliver us just as Jesus was delivered when he faced the rage of his homies at the synagogue, passing through the midst of them and going on his way.

This gives us hope for our time. Wherever there are people divided within the church or in the world, whether by expectations, power, ideology, race, gender or sexual identity, belief, politics (pick a category), we are called to witness the unifying love of God – even knowing they may want to throw us off a cliff in response. Despite that, we continue undaunted for we are journeying with Jesus on the path of redemption as witnesses of the unifying love of God by the grace of God.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Epiphany 2C, 2019: Our next-born identity and destiny

Lectionary: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

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

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

Our reading today from Isaiah has the prophet clarifying in no uncertain terms the identity and destiny of the people of God. Isaiah tells them how much God loves them and that God’s purpose for them will be fulfilled in and through them despite how impossible that seems in the difficult circumstances they are experiencing.

In this passage, love compels God to promise: ‘I will not keep silent or rest until you, my delight, my crown of beauty shine with the fiery glow of freedom. Your oneness with me will be so apparent that everyone will see it and you’ll have a new name, a new identity. You’ll become known as those in whom I delight.’

One of the blessings of interim time is that we discover that we too are being given a new name, a new identity which is grounded in our relationship with God, one another, and the neighbors among who God has placed us. However we may have been known before, our new name will be the result of what people see in us now. Because of our union with God, one another, and our neighbors, we will become known as that church in whom God delights.

Isaiah talks about this relationship between God and God’s people in terms of a marriage – an intimate union where two become one. The gospel story picks up on this metaphor in the story of the wedding at Cana.

Jesus is at an ordinary event: a village wedding, which becomes the setting for an extraordinary event: the first manifest sign of the marriage, that is, the intimate union, of the human and the divine in Jesus and what that means for the world.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, notices that the wine has run out - something that would cause public shame for the host family. Mary was paying attention. She noticed what was happening around her and cared about how the circumstances of the moment would affect her neighbors. In order to protect their dignity (remember here our own Baptismal vow), Mary intervened risking her own moment of public humiliation as a woman.

Jesus’ response, as rude as it sounds to us now, was a typical response for an adult male of that time, firmly supported in the cultural position of gender superiority: “Woman…” he says, Notice Jesus is addressing Mary as his inferior, a woman, not as his mother. “…what business is that of mine? My hour has not yet come.”

That phrase, ‘My hour has not yet come’ can also be translated as: ‘The time of my blossoming, the moment of my reckoning, has not yet come.’ Well, that’s what Jesus thought anyway, but apparently, his mother knew better.

Undaunted and unashamed, Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Remarkably, Jesus obeys Mary, (to obey is to hear and respond) telling the servants to fill the water jars with water, then bring a taste of it to the master of the feast, who was kind of like Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson at the party.

To everyone’s surprise, the water had been turned into wine! But more than that, this wine was of the finest quality and it was in ridiculous abundance – which is how the love of God looks when manifest in the world – even when conveyed through human hands.

To most who were there and most who read this story in Scripture, it looked a simple event. There’s a wedding, the wine runs out, Jesus is there, so he makes more miraculously. But, as the evangelist tells us, only his disciples came to believe in him as a result of this sign. Most everyone at the wedding had no clue what was going on – except for the servants who also obeyed Mary when she told them: “Do whatever he tells you to do.”

This story of the wedding in Cana marks the beginning of the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah of God. Jesus shows himself to be the “firstborn” – the first fruit of this real and intimate marriage of the divine and human.

It’s also the beginning of the revelation of how Jesus does things and how that will transform the world. Stepping down from his lofty position of male privilege, Jesus humbly and publicly obeys his mother which not only bends cultural gender norms but also reveals how we, the next-born, can influence God on behalf of the dignity and welfare of our neighbor.

Mary’s voice in this story is echoed in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose holiday we celebrate tomorrow, who once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

There are people right now in our neighborhoods who “have no wine” - students, migrant workers, the working poor, to name just a few. This is why we too can’t keep silent; why we can’t rest.

We have been chosen by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit for a purpose. We are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in the hand of God, and our hour, our time of blossoming, has come. Indeed, it is always now.

My prayer is that we allow the fullness of God’s love which dwells in us to radiate with the brightness of Christ’s glory as we serve in his holy name. I pray we recognize, nurture, and use our many gifts because so many out there have no wine and we have it in abundance.

I know some may not feel ready. The liminal time between rectors is a time of uncertainty; but as Dr. King reminds us, faith “is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” In fact, we will never see the whole staircase, that’s God’s domain; but our Task Forces are prayerfully clarifying for us our first steps, steps which will glorify God and serve the welfare of God’s people among whom God has placed us.

Like Mary, we will risk our own moments of public shame by taking these steps. Dr. King was also no stranger to that, was he? Did you know that following his “I Have a Dream” speech, the FBI sent the president a 64-page memo which contained the following?

“In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.” Source: “Broken, The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI” by Richard Gid Powers, Free Press, NY, 2004), 251.

The world looks at love with suspicious eyes.

A few years ago during Lent I practiced a spiritual discipline of smiling – something I have always needed to do more of. Not really wanting to engage with strangers, I obeyed my inner sense that God was asking me to do this. So every day that Lent I smiled at someone.

I was surprised at how many people found that suspicious. As the days of Lent went on, I was intentional not just about smiling, but about finding the person whose face was screwed up into a scowl, or who had the saddest or weariest expression and smile at them.

I was still often met with suspicion, but every once in a while, someone smiled back at me and a connection was made. As fleeting as that moment may have been, there was an eternal connection made: human to human, wrapped up together in a moment of divine love.

What happened as a result of those connections is staircase stuff – God’s domain. Being true to the steps God was asking me to take was my domain.

We are followers of Jesus; we are the next-born who shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory so that the whole world may know the steadfast, caring, intimate love of God for all creation. This radiance is a gift in abundance here at St. David’s and our hour has come. Our oneness with God compels us to make these connections: human to human, wrapped up in divine love.

It is our identity… our destiny. God bless us as we obey.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Baptism of our Lord & Annual Meeting: Baptized to manifest divine love

Lectionary: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. A short sermon today cognizant of the time we will spend in Annual Meeting later in the service.

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

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

For Episcopalians, “Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church" In Baptism God establishes an an indissoluble bond with us. (BCP, 298)

In this bond, we are offered an intimate, familial relationship with the One whose power is so great as to be frightening when we think on it, but who approaches us gently, saying: " are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…”

The bond assures us that when (not if) we pass through difficult times God is with us so we won’t be overwhelmed or destroyed. As God says through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear... for I have redeemed you."

Definition of redeem:
1. to regain possession of;
2. to fulfill or carry out a pledge or promise

This is what God demonstrates by Jesus’ baptism. God re-takes possession of humanity in Jesus, the beloved, at his baptism in front of his faith community. Then we witness the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation through Jesus. In his life and ministry Jesus passed through many troubled waters and fiery attacks – and God was with him redeeming every thing, every one, every time.

Jesus’ baptism didn’t free him from trouble in his life – it gave him the means to use it for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people. The same is true for us within our church community and beyond.

In the gospel of Luke God descends in bodily form, that is, in a way that those present could see. Luke tells us that as the boundary between heaven and earth was being ripped opened, the Spirit of God descended softly, gently (like a dove would) on Jesus as God ushered redeeming change into the world through him.

Suddenly, this man, Jesus, whom everyone knew up until then as Mary’s son, the cousin of John the Baptizer, the learned rabbi, was understood to be the beloved Son of God - divine love made manifest in the world.

We, like Jesus, are transformed by our baptism into a body of beloved daughters and sons of God. As such we are called to manifest divine love in the world today, a world still being redeemed by God.

Sometimes, living out God’s covenantal call to us can cause some discomfort. It can definitely cause insecurity, even fear, about what we should do next. Is this what God really wants from us? Jesus asked the same thing in the garden at Gethsemane. It’s part of the deal.

But being faithful to to God and to our baptismal covenant means being willing to pray, together as a body and privately, to listen for the voice from heaven which will guide us as God ushers redeeming change into our world.

Being faithful means resisting the temptation to determine how things ought to go, and instead, making space in our lives - and our life in community - for the Spirit of God to descend upon us softly, gently, like a dove, so that we can be transformed by God’s love and answer our baptismal call to manifest that love into our world for the glory of God and the welfare of all God’s people.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany, 2019: Giving ourselves to the Light

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

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

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

I was re-watching a favorite movie recently: “Under the Tuscan Sun” and was reminded that, in Italian, the phrase ‘to give birth’ translates literally as ‘to give to the light.’ The same is true in Spanish: ‘para dar a luz”… to give to the light. Isn’t that a powerful phrase?

If there’s any time we know we are co-creators with God it’s when we participate in or witness the birth of a child. During the birth there is that moment when the baby passes from the dark, protective environment of the womb, into the light of its delivery room where we receive the gift of this new life – and all of our worlds are changed.

Likewise, when we baptize a child of God, we hear the priest proclaim: “receive the light of Christ” as we light their baptismal candle from the Paschal candle, and we remember the power of the light we are giving them. It isn’t just a candle – it’s the light of Christ. We give them to the Light.

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the end of the season of Christmas. Some Episcopalians follow the celebration of Holy Eucharist with the de-greening of the church and a burning of the greens. It’s beautiful symbolism – and besides, who doesn’t love a good bonfire?!

Think about it - to stand in the presence of the great light of an Epiphany fire, and to feel its warmth is to make truly manifest the message of this day. It connects us to our forebears who followed the light throughout their exile, until they arrived at the promised land; and the shepherds who followed the light to the Christ-child. It also points us toward our future – a future as uncertain for us as it was for our forbears; a future that requires us to keep moving relying totally on the Light to guide us.

Standing in the presence of the great light of an Epiphany fire connects us to the experience of the magi, who, as Matthew tells us, traveled a great distance to visit the newborn Messiah. These visitors were probably Zoroastrians, members of a religious group from that time and place who studied the stars – astrologers, who also interpreted dreams. Matthew calls them magi, the source of the words magic and magician, casting them as sorcerers – not a welcomed group among Jews.

According to Zoroastrian belief, every person is connected to a star. This presence of this unusual and magnificent star signified the birth of an unusual and magnificent person. It was so compelling to them that they packed up their camels and loaded up their treasure chests and headed out to Jerusalem to find the person connected to this amazing star.

Although the hymn tells us there were three wise men or magi, we don’t actually know how many people followed that star. Scripture tells us they brought three gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar first turned up in a 5th century Greek manuscript and later in a story associated with a 6th century mosaic in an Italian church.

When the magi caravan saw that the start had stopped, these visitors, like the shepherds who also saw a great light, were overwhelmed with joy. When Mary and Joseph welcomed them into their house, and the visitors saw the baby Jesus, they knelt before him and paid him homage – a gesture of servitude.

This is a powerful moment in this story as it is the moment the light of the world caused an historical wall to come tumbling down – the wall between the Jews and Gentiles. In that moment, the revelation of God in Christ brought divine unity where there had been centuries of human division.

The magi came ready for an unusual encounter, and their response upon finding Jesus was two-fold: 1) they bowed or knelt before this baby king showing him respect; and 2) they opened their treasure chests to give generously the kinds of gifts typically given to a king: gold (a symbol of earthly wealth and power), frankincense (a symbol of spiritual power – used in the anointing of kings and priests), and myrrh (an expensive plant extract often used by royalty as a perfume and as medicine, and also used to prepare a body for burial). The Gentile magi gave to the Light.

Matthew ends the story telling us that these visiting Gentiles heard in a dream that they should not return to Herod, so they went home a different way. God guided these “non-believers” in the way they should go and remarkably, they listened and obeyed, defying human political authority.

As we celebrate our thanks on this Feast of the Epiphany, we might ask ourselves: what light compels us as much as the magi were compelled? Does being in the presence of God in Christ bring us to our knees? How many of us, in the presence of our Redeemer, open our treasure chests and freely give gifts that reflect what we’ve been given? If we heard the voice of God in a dream, would we listen and obey it – even if it meant defying human political authority?

As Isaiah sings: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you…” Though our path forward may be uncertain at times, and we may have to stop and ask directions, we know we can trust the One who leads, and so we are compelled to go on – together – a community of people who are both followers of and bearers of the light of Christ; co-creators with God of life in our world.

Look around, Isaiah says, they all gather and come to you… When outsiders show up, drawn by the radiance of God’s Light, we welcome them, just as Mary and Joseph welcomed the magi caravan, and we accept the gifts they bring. One guaranteed outcome is the light of divine unity overcoming the darkness of human division.

This feast day calls us to remember that the light of Christ continues to break into the darkness of the world and compels us to follow wherever it leads. It calls us to remember that when the light breaks into the world it brings down human-made walls and divinely unifies those whom humans have divided.

So in confidence and with boldness borne of our faith, we who are the church, co-create our world as servants of the good news of the revelation of God in Christ; giving all we are and all we have to the Light.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas 1-C, 2018: Tabernacles of God

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

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

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, Y Esiritu Santo. Amen.

I begin today with the Prologue of John, that most beautiful and familiar scripture, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." and I want to read to you a translation that I've done directly from the Greek. It's not different from what we read in Scripture, though it will sound a little bit different because in Greek there are layers of meaning; so where the Scripture chooses a single word, I'll offer a couple of words which fill out the intended meaning.

1. In the state of beginning, a living voice (a conception/an idea) happens and this living voice (this conception/idea) is God; and the living voice (the conception/idea) exists for the advantage of God.

2. This existence was in the beginning with regard to God.

3. Everyone individually and all things begin to be, to appear in history through him (on account of him) and without him not even one thing begins to be or comes to pass.

4. Every living soul who begins to be and all that comes to pass through him is the absolute fullness of life and apart from him no one comes into being and not one thing comes to pass.

5. Indeed, this truth shed light on the darkness (which was due to an ignorance of divine things) and the darkness (the ignorance) did not take possession of it.

6. A human being came into existence, sent from God, and his name was John.

7. He came to tell people about future events; and he knows these things because he was taught by divine revelation about the true and sincere light in order that those who hear him, each one individually and everyone might be persuaded and have confidence in him.

8. He is not the true and sincere light, but he exists in order to be a witness, to implore people on account of the true and sincere light.

9. The true and sincere light is present among human beings and is the one who makes saving knowledge clear to each one, to everyone, and to all things. This true and sincere one comes into the harmonious order (the world) for human beings.

10. He is present in the harmonious order (the world), and through him the world happens but the world did not learn to know or understand him.

11. He arrives to what belongs to him, and what belongs to him does not accept him (it does not allow him to join them to himself).

12. But as for those who take hold of his hand, who are persuaded about his true name and everything that that means, to them he gives the gift of the power of choice, the freedom to begin being children of God;

13. children who are born of his blood (his seat of life) not from human action; children who are brought over to his way of life by God.

14. And the living voice (conception/idea) began to be flesh and lived for a while among us; and we look upon him with attention, we contemplate and admire him.

15. John affirms what he knows by divine revelation and cries out in a loud voice saying, “This one exists, and his existence affirms what was said: that the one who comes after me is the one who is first in time and place and rank.”

16. Because he himself is the fulfillment, we (each one individually, and everyone as a whole) take a hold of goodwill and carry loving-kindness because of his grace…

In most Episcopal churches, there's something called an “aumbry” as we have, or a "tabernacle" which is a portable version of an aumbry. A tabernacle is usually large, ornate, and sits on a table under the sanctuary lamp, which is lit whenever there is reserved sacrament in it.

I tell you this because there is a reason we have those. As John’s gospel tells us , the Word of God, the true light, ‘tabernacled’ among us. The word translates from Hebrew as, "he pitched his tent," and it means he chose to live among us. The tabernacle in the church, therefore, is a manifest, symbolic form of the theological concept of the Incarnation of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah says we are clothed in the garments of salvation, and then describes something very beautiful and jeweled - which is the origin of the idea for constructing a box to hold the consecrated elements. It's beautiful - decked out with garlands and jewels – and that’s how we can see ourselves. It’s how God sees us – all of us.

We are the crown of beauty in the hand of God; beautiful, bejeweled tabernacles of God here on the earth. We are adorned and adored by God who created us and sustains us by infusing us with God’s own spirit.

As our gospel reminds us, we carry the divine spirit within us. And if we are willing to use the power God has chosen to give us, then what can stop the transformation of the world by God through us?

My beloved Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.” (Meditations from a Simple Path, Ballantine Books, NY, 1996, 53.)

This is exactly what we prayed in our Collect today. As tabernacles of God, let’s pray it again now together…. Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.