Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pentecost 25-B: A deeper understanding of stewardship

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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

All Saints Day: The purpose of Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Creation 8: Responding with love

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

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



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SERMON NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why? What does that do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list is a long one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Creation 7: No vacillating God

Lectionary for Creation 7: Collect: Nurturing God, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth; through Christ our Redeemer who lives as one in the unity of the Trinity. Amen.
(adapted from A prayer for the Earth, Pope Francis, Laudato Si)

Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 65: 4-14; a reading of Though the great Waters sleep, by Emily Dickinson (below); John 4: 4 – 15



Though the great Waters sleep, by Emily Dickinson

Though the great Waters sleep,
That they are still the Deep,
We cannot doubt --
No vacillating God
Ignited this Abode
To put it out --

Today's sermon was extemporaneous (no notes to post either) so it is in audio only. If this player doesn't work on your device, please click HERE for an alternative audio format.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Creation 6: True power is in serving

Creation Season 6 Lectionary: Genesis 1: 26-31; Psalm 8; "The peace of the wild things" by Wendell Berry; Luke 22:24-27. The global focus for today is Stewardship.



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Years ago, I was presenting at a conference on domestic violence and sexual assault. Those were often heavy-duty conferences, as you can imagine.

One evening, a bunch of us decided to go onto the roof of our hotel to watch the sunset and restore some peace to our weary souls. We were mostly, but not all, practicing Christians. One among us, an African American woman who, it turns out, was a fabulous gospel singer, told us about her struggle to remain a Christian in light of the hypocrisy among state and federal senators and representatives, judges, law enforcement, church and business leaders who publicly claimed their Christian identity and whose bruised and battered wives and children we had to shelter, and whose abused underlings we had to tend.

Being mostly survivors ourselves, we knew intimately the many prisons in which most of the victims we served were forced to dwell. Telling on their abuser, or leaving them often meant risking their jobs, the custody of their children, an escalation of financial and legal abuse against them, and even their lives – since 75% of women who are killed by their abusers die when they try to leave.

Our discussion that evening was, as you can imagine, intense. Thankfully, so was the sunset. God’s glory was painted across the sky and took our breath away, leaving us in a humble, restorative silence.

Breaking the silence, one woman mentioned that she’d had a similar struggle, and her grandmother suggested that she might try singing Christian hymns replacing the word “Jesus” with the word “freedom” and see what happened. Immediately, the first woman I mentioned stood up and began singing Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus),” doing exactly that. I still get the chills when I think of it. Here’s how some of it sounded:

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus freedom
Come to Jesus freedom
Come to Jesus freedom and live!

…And like a newborn baby
Don't be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
Sometimes we fall, so
Fall on Jesus freedom
Fall on Jesus freedom
Fall on Jesus freedom and live!

…And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory's side, and
Fly to Jesus freedom
Fly to Jesus freedom
Fly to Jesus freedom and live!

Such a wise grandmother.

Freedom takes many forms, and when we lose it we are truly lost. For example, some of us lose our freedom to alcohol, drugs, food, or gambling. Others among us lose our freedom to money, power, reputation, or celebrity. Still others lose our freedom to people or churches with twisted theology. Our freedom can be surreptitiously lost to mental or physical illness or to fear, hate, or hopelessness. Finally, some of us lose our freedom because it’s stolen from us – by an abuser, a molester, or a political oppressor.

Abuse, in all its forms, is about power… misused power… This power knowingly harms another for the sake of the one or the few.

The Good News is that God is the only true power; and God’s power is love, creative love, which provides for the benefit of all. When we measure the self-centered power of any human against the other-directed power of divine love, it pales to absurdity. As our psalmist says, when we consider the heavens, the moon and stars set in their courses, we remember what real power is.

In the Genesis reading it seems contradictory that God created humans and told them to subdue the earth and gave us dominion over it. But it’s less contradictory if we remember that true power is love, so to have dominion over the earth is to have the responsibility to supervise the care of what God made; and to subdue is to apply our human gifts to act as God did – bringing order to chaos, the way we would weed and prepare a wild patch for planting, not for our own gain, but for everyone’s benefit, including the earth’s.

Then in our Gospel story, Jesus teaches us about this true power we have and how we are to use it. True power has nothing to do with money, or position, or age, or ability. It’s the power to serve –a power which can only be used properly by someone in right relationship with God and neighbor.

How many times have we walked or driven past a panhandler and ignored their plea for help? We may soothe our consciences saying they are addicts and they won’t buy food anyway, or that they choose to be homeless and beg rather than work; and we won’t support their dysfunction.

The truth is, we often judge them rather than enter into relationship with them. The reason is, we know that once we respond to them, we enter into their reality. There are no quick or simple fixes and in order to truly serve them, we can’t ignore the systems that hold them prisoner. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Just look how the recent revelations from Hollywood and politics are calling us to respond to the women who’ve found the freedom to speak their truths and finally tell on their abusers – powerful men, some of whom we truly love and admire. The system itself is under fire and, thanks be to God, because transformation of the whole system may finally happen.

Laws meant to restrain our propensity to do long-term harm to our environment in order to enjoy short-term financial gain for a few are being rolled back. This represents a shirking of our divine responsibility for creation and a misuse of our power; and it is not good.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we do not have the freedom to remain unchanged, unchanging, in the face of the changes in the world around us. We do not have the freedom to remain safely inside our emotional, spiritual, and social fortresses instead of carrying the light of Christ boldly into the world he died to save. We do not have the freedom to deny the real and powerful presence of God that is in us and what that means for us, for our church, and for the world.

Nelson Mandela once said, "…to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." This is hard work and we can’t do it alone. Thanks be to God, we don’t have to – for we live as the body of Christ, and we gather each Sunday to be nourished by Word and Sacrament and strengthen our bonds of friendship, in order to enable us to carry out our ministry in the world.

I wonder what might happen if we were to trust the reality of the powerful love of God that is within us, and give God the freedom to work powerfully through us. I wonder what might happen if we were to serve in the manner Jesus did until all people are freed and brought together under Christ’s most gracious rule… until all creation is cared for according to our divine commissioning?

My guess is: it would be nothing short of heaven on earth. Amen.

Note: The image above is an original painting by Valori Mulvey Sherer: "Interstsellar space" © 2014. Please do not copy or reproduce without permission. Thank you.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Creation 5: Seek God's kingdom & don't worry

We shared a holy conversation today so there is an audio file, but no text to share. The following are sermon notes that guided the conversation.

Collect: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Reader: A reading from the book of Genesis.
….. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Reader: A reading from Meister Eckhart.

Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God.


Priest: The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.
Hear this about community!
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your (plural in GK) life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 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.

1. What does God ASK us? Holy communion: eat = nourished
drink = salvation (third cup in seder)
wear = protection.
What about our building? our home?

2. What is God PROMISING us?

3. What are the BARRIERS that prevent us from doing what God is asking us
and enjoying what god is promising us?

HOPE = the ability to look into the future and have condfidence you have the resources to live a preferred future. ~ Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle


Lectionary: Genesis 1: 6-13, 20-25; Psalm 148: 7-14; a reading from Meister Eckhart; Luke 12:22-31



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Saturday, September 29, 2018

Collective healing blessing

For all of us triggered by the news of late, especially the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, I offer this opportunity for healing/grounding. Tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. (EST), let us all gather together in prayer, grounding ourselves to our Mother Earth who heals us body and soul as the lap of Divine Love. Share a selfie of your grounding moment and let the earthly roots of Divine Love be the pathways of our collective healing and blessing. If you can’t get outside, hold salt in your hands (salt of the earth). As we re-ground, I offer this blessing we can pray over ourselves and each other.

Touching forehead:
In blessing our foreheads… we claim the power of reason.

In blessing our eyes… we claim the power of vision, to see clearly the forces of life and death in our midst.

In blessing our lips… we claim the power to speak the truth about our experiences; we claim the power to name.

In blessing our hands… we claim our powers as artisans of a new humanity.

In blessing our wombs… we claim the power to give birth, as well as the power to choose not to give birth.

In blessing our feet… we claim the power to walk the paths of our courageous foremothers, and when necessary, to forge new paths.

In blessing each other… we claim the power that rests collectively in our shared struggle as women.

Now placing palms or feet (if bending down isn’t an option) fully on the earth, say:

We bless the earth in all its fruitfulness. In so doing we claim the power of life that rests in the earth. In touching the soil, let us feel the energy of all who struggle this day to rise from their oppression… Let us claim the collective power that is ours!

Adapted from Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Self-Blessing Ritual, “Women Church,” 171.