Sunday, August 4, 2019

Pentecost 8, 2019-C: A divine hunger

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray.

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

Amen.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Pentecost 7, 2019-C: One foot in each realm


Lectionary: Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13



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

I love our Collect for today, particularly the part where we pray that “we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.” As we journey on this earthly pilgrimage, we do it with, as they say, one foot in each realm… earth and heaven. It’s a gift of our baptism, our oneness with Christ who joined his divinity to our humanity, being the first-born of this reality and making us the next-born of it. We are, in our earthly bodies, temples of the heavenly Spirit of God. As St. Paul said in his letter to the Colossians: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him…”

What we do with that reality remains our choice. Our Old Testament story from Hosea illustrates for us what happens when we turn our attention away from the presence of God in us and in all creation: we cut ourselves off from life. This is the story of the time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom of Israel (where Samaria is) and the southern kingdom of Judah (where Jerusalem is). The kingdoms split right after Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, took over as king.

This story is hard to read but it isn’t any harder than living in conflict. When one community has two opposing factions, the whole community is harmed. Think of our own Civil War. The only casualties were us. We died on both sides, and the fallout from that conflict lives in our own divided northern and southern “kingdoms” to this day. We still haven’t healed. We’re still arguing over flags, memorials, and “heritage.”

This isn’t a story about way back when. It’s about now. It’s about us.

This is why it’ so important to remember that while we live in the temporal realm of earth for a moment, we exist in the heavenly realm eternally. Both at the same time. It’s only when we shift our focus away from the eternal presence of God and toward the temporal circumstances of the world that we can see our sisters and brother as “other” or worse yet, as our enemy.

We remember this eternal reality when we pray and enter the presence of God. This is why the gospel lesson on prayer is vital to our temporal life on earth.

Since we will soon begin a book study on The Lord’s Prayer, I’ll wait for that setting to go more deeply into this prayer. For today, I hope we’ll notice these two things:

1. That it begins with praise and acquiescence to God’s kingdom: your kingdom come.
2. That God’s supply to us, whether in the form of earthly or spiritual nourishment, is what we need for today only: give us each day our daily bread.

This bread reference points back to the Exodus when God sent manna to feed the Israelites each day. They couldn’t store up this manna as it would spoil at the end of the day. As they wandered in their wilderness, being remade by God, they had to let go of all pretense of future destinations and lifestyle as well as any sort of long-term security they could muster up for themselves. In order to be reborn, they had to trust God entirely, for as long as it took – and it took way longer than they had wished.

This kind of wilderness, where new life is formed in a people, takes time. It’s especially hard on our modern sensibilities to be patient while new life be formed is being in us. We want to make a plan and get it done. But that’s focusing on the temporal. Anything we can devise for ourselves is temporal.

When God is working new life in us, each step may take us where we need to go, but it may not be a direct path to the goal. Like a labyrinth, God may lead us near to the center, then back out to the edge where we can’t see the way back to the center. But there’s only the one path and it leads only to the center where God is, where we are illuminated by the spirit of Christ and reinvigorated for the journey back into the world.

When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, he followed the prayer with a parable to teach persistence in prayer. Interestingly, Jesus’ parable includes three main characters: God, the host, and the neighbor, which harkens back to Jesus’ recent teaching on the summary of the law: love God with all your heart, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus’ parable shows how that looks in the temporal realm.

A little background first: Middle Eastern culture takes hospitality very seriously. To fail to be hospitable, even when it’s the middle of the night, is to bring shame upon yourself and your whole community.

So we must be persistent in prayer not just for ourselves but for our whole community. In prayer, we enter the heavenly realm where we experience again that all are truly one in the unity and love of God. There is no other, no stranger, no enemy. It’s all us. We’re all one.

When we persist in experiencing that in the heavenly realm, then we are in a state where God can manifest that through us in the temporal realm. The persistence isn’t to nag God until God does what we want, but to stay close to God so we can recognize how God is already providing for us each day.

As Jesus said, if we ask God for a fish would God give us a snake? Of course not! If we ask for an egg, would it turn out to be a scorpion? No! That isn’t how love works. But when our attention is focused solely in the earthly realm we can forget that. It may look like God isn’t present, doesn’t know or care about what we need, and isn’t responding. But God is, so we must persist in our prayer.

When we ask, God provides – not necessarily what we ask for, but always what we need; and not just what we need, but what our whole community – the family of God – needs. That may be why it seems to take God too long – because God is patiently working with another soul or souls, trusting we will remain faithful while a larger plan is being worked out.

Sometimes what we need is the comfort of God’s assurance that there is a goal for us. In that assurance we can let go our own temporal goals and our earthly plans for long-term security, remembering all we have is today, and all we need for today is given to us.

Sometimes what we need is insight or revelation that expands our vision and our hearts so that our temporal plans link with God’s heavenly plan and we are in unity and in step with God’s plan which is for us but also for the whole world. In prayer, we remember that God’s plan, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. (Eph 3:20)

I close with a portion of the “Psalm to Enliven Habit Prayers,” from the book "Psalms for Zero Gravity, Prayers for Life's Emigrants" by Edward Hays.

May I invest each word of my spoken prayers
with a whole and sincere heart…
May I feel the Spirit’s spur in my side
speedily rousing me to become my prayer.
May I feel the Spirit’s wind filling my soul
with a holy windmill power.
May I pray not only for what I know I can do
but also for what I long to do in you.
May my habit of heartfelt prayer
being me ever closer to your blessed side.

Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Pentecost 6, 2019-C: The one thing we need

Lectionary: Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42



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

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

What a week it’s been! A heatwave is scorching our country killing six people so far. Bird attacks on people are on the rise around the world as their habitat disappears. Thousands of people are protesting for freedom in Hong Kong and Puerto Rico while maritime tensions are building with Iran. To top it off, a 17-year old girl named Bianca was murdered in NY and graphic pictures of it were posted online by her murderer with this question: “Here comes Hell. It’s redemption, right?” (www.bbc.com/news/world)

I’m so glad to be here with you to hear the Word of God and receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Then I read Amos and the psalm for today.

Our story from Amos begins with a teaser about a basket of fruit, but quickly takes a darker turn with God saying: The end has come upon my people Israel.” If I hadn’t had to write a sermon, I might have just stopped reading and walked away. But I did have to write a sermon and my role is to discern and share the Good News in our Scripture because it’s always there.

The “basket of fruit” reference is a wordplay in Hebrew. The word that translates as 'basket of fruit' sounds like the word that translates as 'the end.' God asks Amos, ‘What do you see, Amos?’ Amos says, “the end.”

Remembering from last week that God is the plumb-line in the midst of the community, this story from Amos shows us that God sees what’s happening on the ground. God repeats, “I will never pass you by” which is interpreted to mean, I am in the midst of you and I will not forget what I’m seeing, and what I’m seeing is not just, not compassionate, and not right.

Hear this, God says: [I see] you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land. [I see you who] practice deceit with false balances, exchanging the poor for your own wealth and the needy for a pair of Gucci’s, selling junk food and passing it off as nutritious – all for your own gain.

I see you and though I embody the true vertical among you, you don’t see me. So I will watch and wait while you bring yourselves to the only end available to you: mourning and lamentation. When you get where you’re going you’ll realize how wrong you’ve been and you’ll look for me to save you, but you won’t see me.

The psalm picks up the theme calling out the tyrant for his cruelty. “You love lying more than speaking truth. You love all words that hurt.” O that God would hear our prayer and demolish you utterly…”

I admit this Psalm has been my prayer for a while now. I am not God but I see these very issues playing out in our world today, and if social media is any indicator, I’m not alone in this. I will concede, these issues play out in every era, but I think this time it's personal. This time it’s us, the historical good guys, acting unjustly, without compassion, and doing what is not right toward the weak, the foreigner, and the powerless among us.

So like the psalmist, I pray in order to go into the presence of God where my heart can be moved from “demolish them utterly” to “I trust in the mercy of God for ever.”

There are days and weeks the news is so disruptive of my peace and corrosive to my hope that my only recourse is to shut it off for a moment and return to the presence of Jesus, which is what Mary was demonstrating in today’s gospel.

This familiar story is often discussed in ways that pit Martha against Mary in a competition for holiness. I often hear people say, “I’m a Martha” or “I’m a Mary.” The truth is, we’re all both. We all have our gifts to offer in our ministries, and there are times we must all stop and sit at the feet of Jesus for the renewal of our souls.

The other biblical stories of Martha and Mary illustrate that these sisters possess a great gift of hospitality – one that goes beyond the cultural expectation for “women’s work.” They are a team – and their home is a center for hospitality and friendship. Martha’s frustration in this story is that her teammate, Mary, isn’t doing her part, leaving the burden of the whole ministry to Martha who tries to hold it up alone, but finds herself bitter and resentful about it.

Jesus responds with a soothing: Martha, Martha… you are worried and distracted by many things, but there is only one thing that really matters. Look, Mary has chosen the good part.

Why our translators changed the word here from ‘good’ to ‘better’ escapes me and is part of the reason, I think, we hear this as a competition for holiness. Mary didn’t choose a better part than Martha. Jesus called Mary’s choice good, that is, admirable, deserving of respect and approval, and he gave it all of that.

Jesus was clear that Mary’s choice would not be taken from her. Choice is a sign of our freedom. Mary had the right to choose for herself. We all do. Besides, any ministry Mary offers can wait while she is renewed in spirit.

When I picture this scene as if I were going to paint it, I see Mary sitting with the other disciples having a conversation with Jesus. They all seem happy and relaxed. Martha is not in the room with them. She’s visible through a doorway to another room where she is preparing a platter of food. Her back is to Jesus as she prepares the food. That means Martha can’t see Jesus, and as the story from Amos teaches us, when we can’t see God, we can’t move in justice, compassion, and right relationship.

To all of us who are worried and distracted by many things, Jesus assures the Martha within us and it sounds something like this: Y’all know me well enough to know that I don’t need a fancy dinner, just time with you and our friends in your home. Be still sometimes, all you Marthas. Just be with me. You have no praise to earn, no expectations to meet. You are already beloved. Come and be with me. I will fill your emptiness, restore your hope, and prepare you for your work in ministry.

Do you see how this connects to our practice of Sunday Eucharist? We come to our center of hospitality and share simple food of bread and wine with our friends and ministry teammates. Refreshed and renewed we re-enter the world where injustice and unrighteousness leave so many suffering and hopeless and we declare the goodness and mercy of God to them by our words and our lives.

As followers of Jesus Christ today we are called to be intentional about seeking the one thing we need: time spent with God and one another, listening for the voice of God within us and among us. We come together to be strengthened for service so that we can live as agents of Christ’s transforming love in the world.

That is the servanthood to which our baptism calls us, and it's why we started our Eucharist today with the opening from Holy Baptism. Now let's turn to page 304 in the Book of Common Prayer and renew our baptismal vows together. Afterward, we continue with the Prayers of the People.

After the renewal of Baptismal vows, we conclude with this collect:

Let us pray. Holy God, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon [us] your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised [us] to the new life of grace. Sustain [us], O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give [us] an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen. (BCP, Baptism, 314)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Pentecost 5, 2019-C: Let God be God among us

Lectionary: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37



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

Our lectionary today includes a lot of emphasis on what we should do as God’s people. In fact, we started our worship with a prayer asking God to help us know what things we ought to do, then give us grace and power to do them.

What are the things we ought to do… ?

This is often a problematic discussion in the context of worship and church life because it can degrade very quickly into a set of rules delineating specific things we must do while adding in the things we must not do. Lists such as those often reduce living lives of faith to a freedom-less obedience to a changing landscape of laws architected by the powerful.

As history demonstrates – the rules change as those in power change. They also change as people grow in wisdom, grace, and faith, as evidenced by the ordination of women and LGBTQ people and the federal law allowing same-sex marriage.

There have always been those among us who must know and clarify every instance in which any specific rule does or doesn’t apply, and we end up with 10 commandments morphing into nearly 700 rules to live by. There are also those who utilize the rules to thin the herd so to speak: if you disobey the rules, you’ll be cast out of our community, or worse yet, cast into eternal damnation.

Don’t’ get me wrong: I’m not purporting we ditch all rules or that living in faith or freedom means living with no rules. On the contrary, I believe that rules, customs, and traditions help communities live together in peace with fairness and provide a foundation upon which communities can evolve and grow from generation to generation - especially in the context of the church.

What I don’t believe is that obedience to rules or traditions can lead us to eternal life. That path can only be found in the heart, which is what (I think) Jesus was demonstrating in today’s gospel.

The lawyer in this story asks Jesus: ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds by asking what the law says. The lawyer, familiar with the law, answers correctly quoting from Deuteronomy (6:5): You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Jesus affirms the lawyer saying, “Right… do this and you will live.”

I want to pause here and notice that Jesus did not say you will live eternally, which was what the lawyer had asked. We’ll get back to this later.

Luke says that the next question the lawyer asked was to justify himself, that is, to affirm for himself that he is doing it right - according to the law. Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan.

You all know this story, so we don’t need to go deeply into the details of it. Because in the end, the lawyer sums up Jesus’ point: the one who showed mercy was the one who was a neighbor.

The power of this story is in these three details:

1) The man who did it right was a Samaritan. As we discussed two weeks ago, Samaritans were considered racially and spiritually impure by the Jews, and they couldn’t interact with or touch Jewish people, as that would make the Jewish person unclean too.

2) The other characters in this story, who did it wrong, all responded to the dying man in keeping with the law which prohibited them from touching a dying man, lest they become unclean themselves;

3) The impure Samaritan had to violate the law in order to show mercy since he too should not have touched a dying man AND he should not have touched a Jewish man. Jesus didn’t identify the dying man as Jewish, but what if he had been? By the time someone could know this, it might be too late and the poor man would be unclean and dead!

You can see the conundrum. So Jesus clears it up in typical rabbinical fashion – by asking a question: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor…?”

The obvious answer is the one who showed mercy. This answer points to two important things. First, when we show mercy we are prioritizing the other over ourselves. Their need becomes more important than our obedience to the law. Second, action is required. The Samaritan didn’t think mercifully, he acted mercifully. He didn’t offer thoughts and prayers, he offered aid.

This brings to my mind the man arrested for bringing water to thirsty refugees at the border or the many cities in which people are being arrested for feeding the homeless, and looks ahead to the ICE raids scheduled to begin today.

So the question is: how do we know what we ought to do?

The answer can be found in the story from Amos and the epistle to the Colossians. In Amos, God provides the prophet with a vision of a plumb line, which is, of course, a vertical reference line: heaven to earth. From now on, God says, this is us. “I am setting this plumb line in the midst of my people… I will never pass them by again” because I will be among them. The thing about a plumb line is, it can only offer a true vertical reference when it is free from restriction or obstruction.

In other words, God must be free to be God among us in order for us to be in right relationship. This ties in to the great commandment: we are to love God with all we are – heart , mind, soul, and strength. This kind of love isn’t about having strong feelings about God (there’s a different Greek word for that) but about giving God preference over ourselves. The word ‘love’ used here refers to our will. To love God in this way is to choose to acquiesce to God, to accept God’s will without protest, and to cherish God with reverence.

The other important point in the story in Amos is that the plumb line is in the midst of a community. This isn’t about our individual relationship with God but our relationship as a community of God’s people to God. Does the community choose to put God’s will ahead of its own? In order to do that we must let go of our individual and corporate ability to influence an outcome we might honestly think is best for the community, trusting that God has a plan that is more than we can ask or imagine. (Eph 3:20) In community then, if we hinder the free movement of the plumb line, we are a stumbling block.

The letter to the Colossians reminds us that there will be moments the community needs to endure together, with patience, and the author prays for their strengthening, wisdom, and understanding. It makes you wonder if they were a church in transition, doesn’t it? ;)

So, the question we’ve been pondering is: how do we know what we ought to do?

I noticed that there is a thread that runs through the whole lectionary: the presumption of a prayerful relationship with God. When we pray to God we remember to get out of the way of the plumb line. Praying is the means by which we live in right relationship with God, one another, and ourselves.

Praying also puts us in the presence of God – which is eternal life - this life and the afterlife in the eternal presence of God. We don’t inherit eternal life, as the lawyer questioning Jesus assumed. We accept it. It is a gift from God. Being in the prayerful presence of God is the only way we can know what we ought to do when we face a circumstance that takes us beyond the limits of the law, custom, or tradition.

As we transition culturally from a generation that goes to weekly church services out of duty or obedience to the rules to a generation that dismisses (some even abhor) the institutional church and its rules, it’s important to remember that the body of Christ is now as it has always been – a community of people in whom God in Christ dwells.

As the body of Christ, then, it is important for us to let God be God among us; to pay attention - together, listen - together, and respond - together - to God’s call to us as a community because every church in every generation is faced with situations that cause us to have to look beyond our rules, traditions, and customs in order to respond with love; in order to grow in wisdom, grace, and faith.

Do this, as Jesus said, and we will live. Amen.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Pentecost 4, 2019-C: Show up and let God work

Lectionary: 2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20



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

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

In today’s gospel, Luke offers a perfect description of the relationship between a rector and the church community they serve, as well as the members of a church to their church and community. Jesus, having already sent the twelve disciples out, now sends 70 others in pairs “into the harvest.” Numbers have spiritual significance in the bible. In this case, 70 represents God’s authority being carried out in power.

The harvest is plentiful, he tells them, but laborers are few. Pray that you will be a laborer for God’s harvest. That will be different from what you’ve learned, so listen up: Go where God sends you. God has a plan.

See, he says, I am sending you out like lambs (symbols of peace) among wolves (which symbolize enemies). Go to those who are your traditional enemies and offer God’s peace to them because God’s peace brings the end of enmity and replaces it with tranquility and security.

This is why you must enter the relationship with vulnerability: so that those to whom go recognize this isn’t about power, but about love. They are empowered because they must tend to your needs even as you tend to theirs. It’s hard to imagine how the colonialist approach to sharing the good news gained momentum in light of this instruction, but it did – and it still does. Yet Jesus’ instruction is clear: there can be no coercion. Each in the relationship is dependent on the other; each is the servant of the other.

If you enter a town and there is anyone there who accepts your peace abide with them for a while. Get to know them. Build relationship with them. Tend my sheep there.

The phrase translated as “cure the sick” means more broadly: notice those who are weak, who need strength in body or spirit. The instruction is to identify the powerless and bring them the power of God which you embody, saying to them, “the authority of God, the realm of God has come near to you.”

This is where the OT story of Naaman ties in. Naaman is a mighty military commander who has leprosy, though it’s in the early stages. When it progresses, he’ll lose his position of power because in those days, a person with leprosy was exiled in order to keep the disease from spreading. Leprosy was thought to be punishment for sin, so not only were they exiled, they were also shamed and blamed.

Hearing about Naaman’s condition, a young Israelite slave girl (notice the vulnerability in each of those descriptors: young, Jewish, slave, female) who served Naaman’s wife offers some advice: Why doesn’t Naaman go see the prophet of God in Samaria? He could cure him.

So Naaman goes off to find this prophet, bringing expensive gifts and showing off his importance with military pageantry. But when Naaman arrives, Elisha doesn’t even come out to greet him. Instead, he instructs Naaman to go and wash in the River Jordan seven times.

The powerful Naaman is highly insulted and angry. ‘That’s it? I thought for me the prophet and his God would put on a great show of healing magic. I came all this way for this?’

Naaman is eventually convinced to do as Elisha commanded, and is healed. No pomp, no circumstance; and power is redefined for all who read this story and have ears to hear it.

The slave girl in this story exemplifies what Jesus is teaching his followers about being laborers for God’s harvest. She notices Naaman’s weakness and tends to him. His physical weakness is the skin condition, but his real weakness is spiritual – his attachment to having and wielding earthly, coercive power.

She didn’t need to tend to Naaman. She could have let his disease progress and take him down. It’s likely that his downfall would have led to her freedom. But she was a laborer in God’s harvest, one in which every fruit, every person is worth serving.

Back to the gospel. Jesus instructs the 70 to abide where God has led them. Don’t go seeking a better house, better food, better accommodations. For us the instruction might sound like this: abide and serve in the church community to which God has led you. Don’t go seeking a better budget, better leadership, better programs.

Jesus continues: wherever you are welcomed, eat whatever they set before you. When God sends a laborer to serve, they must not be inhibited by religious laws. God’s love will be spread to its fullness by faith, and being faithful isn’t about knowing or keeping religious rules. It isn’t about belonging to or joining an acceptable group.

Being faithful is about living in the risky uncertainty of the presence of God and responding to an inner prompting that compels us to love as God loves. Faith causes us to walk into a relationship we’d rather avoid; to care for someone we’d rather see fall.

St. Francis of Assisi once said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” If I could be so bold as to re-state what Francis said, I’d say: We have been called to be vehicles for God to heal wounds, for God to unite what has fallen apart, and for God to bring home those who have lost their way.

If we look within any faith community, we can find those who could be reunited and brought home if we chose to notice and reach out to them. We could find those among us with wounds and offer ourselves as vehicles of God’s healing.

We must also remember that the choice to reconcile, to receive God’s healing love, is theirs. If they choose not to accept it or to ignore it, walk away, shake the dust from your feet, and leave the rest to God.

We must also look out to our local community where it isn’t hard at all to find the weak, the wounded, and the powerless… because we are the 70 Jesus is sending today. We are God’s laborers being sent into the harvest to bring the realm of God near to those who need it. And like the 70 in this gospel story, we also will be thrilled when we return to tell about how God’s power working in us defeats any adversary out there.

The gospel story closes with a promise and a caution. Jesus says, I have given you authority over every adversary, but be careful about rejoicing over what looks like your success.

I have been a vehicle for God’s healing power many times affording me the privilege of witnessing God do miraculous physical and spiritual healing in people and even in churches. When these healings happen, it isn’t because I did anything other than show up and let God work… and that’s the point: God is alive and at work as much today as when Jesus walked the earth, and every time we participate with God our lives and the lives of those we serve are transformed by the shared experience of the kingdom of God drawing near.

If we rejoice about anything then, it’s that God has chosen, prepared, and sent us to bring God’s peace, healing, and reconciling love to all who need it within our church and in our local community.
Let’s close by praying together today’s Collect (found in your lectionary insert): “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (BCP, 230-231)

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Pentecost 3, 2019: Follow and serve for the sake of love

Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62



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Lectionary: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62

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

Our stories today from 2 Kings and the gospel of Luke share a theme: what it means to follow God. In the OT story, Elisha is tested three times by Elijah, a process played out in John’s gospel when Jesus asks Peter ‘Do you love me?’ three times, after his trifold denial of Jesus.

Elisha passes his test. His faithfulness is rewarded and he is divinely appointed as Elijah’s spiritual heir.

In the gospel story, an unidentified person traveling with the Jesus says, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ I’m sure they meant it – but more in the way a groupie would. Jesus knows what’s about to unfold and doesn’t need groupies. He needs servant leaders willing to bring love into the hateful circumstances about to come.

This is why Jesus rebukes two of his closest disciples. The background of the story is this: in order to get from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples must pass through Samaria. As you know, the Jews judge the Samaritans as being racially and spiritually impure – having intermarried with the Assyrians who conquered them centuries earlier. Since the Samaritans were unwelcome at the temple in Jerusalem due to their impurity, they built their own temple and actively sought to stop the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

It is in this context that Jesus sends messengers ahead to Samaria to tell them he was passing through - on his way to Jerusalem. It’s no wonder the Samaritans offered no welcome.

The judgment in this short story isn’t on the Samaritans, with whom Jesus had had relationship earlier in this gospel – even curing the Samaritan leper. The judgment is on his disciples who respond out of their tradition rather than from the new way Jesus has taught them.

When James and John ask Jesus if he wants them to bring down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans for their insult, they are referring to the story at the beginning of 2 Kings when Elijah called down fire from heaven to kill the ruler of - you guessed it, Samaria: Ahaziah (son of Ahab and Jezebel) along with 50 of his men for their unfaithfulness to God.

Elijah did it – why can’t we? It’s funny how the disciples remember that part of the story, but not what happened next. Fire was not sent from heaven. Instead, an angel of God told Elijah to go to Ahaziah, which he did. Ahaziah died, but from injuries resulting from a fall he took, not from a destructive, punitive exertion of divine power.

When Luke says Jesus rebuked James and John, he was indicating the Jesus expected better from his disciples. After their years of ministry together, didn’t they get that the reign of God wasn’t about the exertion of power, but about love being brought to unify people who had been divided?

The discussion about following, however, truly does have an edge to it – a cutting edge – and Jesus says it like a Yankee would: directly. Anyone with conditions or hesitation about following him isn’t “fit for the kingdom.”

I’ll bet someone in that group said, “I don’t have a problem with what he said, just how he said it.” Jesus was heading to his trial and death. There was no more time to teach in the usual rabbinical ways. They had to hear it plain.

So when the person in their troupe promises commitment, Jesus’s response is equally direct: you say you will follow me? Do you realize that where we are going is nowhere? We are not going to a place where we will settle in and establish a new kingdom like David did. We are going to keep moving, adapting, and proclaiming until the whole world is transformed by the only real power there is: love.

Then as now, there is no earthly blueprint for this – no laws, no system. God will show the way each moment and we must be willing to follow, keeping our faces set toward the marker at the end of the row we are called to plough.

To the two who spoke of family obligations – a very big deal in ancient Jewish culture, and a pretty big deal in our culture now – Jesus was just as plain: if you need to look back, don’t come at all. You aren’t ready.

Jesus’ responses in this gospel story seem to me to obviate any inclination toward religious conservatism, and most certainly fundamentalism. The “we’ve always done it this way” approach isn’t fit for the kingdom.

That isn’t to say tradition has no place. It certainly does! We stand on the foundation of those who went before us, as our Collect reminds us. Each Sunday when we gather to worship we experience again how our tradition connects us in real, visible, divine ways to all who came before us; and through our church conventions we strive to pass our living, ever-adapting tradition faithfully along to those who will come after us.

Our adherence to tradition cannot, however, lock us down and restrict the Spirit’s free movement among us, which it only does when we look with earthly eyes alone. As the author of Galatians warns: be careful about getting caught up in earthly experiences and definitely don’t count on your ancestral heritage to shield you from the consequences of your sin.

In Jesus’ time, it was a traditional belief that, as the chosen race, the Jewish people would all be fine, even if they sinned against God and one another. They could do purifying rituals and be square again.

It’s kind of like what I learned as a kid in Catholic school about confession. When you sin, just go to confession and that dark blot on your soul will be wiped away. This approach is why so many early Christians, including the Emperor Constantine, waited to be baptized until right before their death – so their souls would be clean and they’d go straight to heaven. Baptism became as an ecclesiastical “get out of jail free” card.

I’m sorry to inform you that there is no “get out of jail free” card in the kingdom of God. In fact, following Jesus means going into the jail and proclaiming the good news there too!

The wisdom not to be missed in this letter to the church in Galatia is two-fold and is plain to see in our world today. First the writer warns, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” If our out-of-control gun violence doesn’t show this to be true, I don’t know what would – except maybe the real and escalating nuclear threat in the world today. We are biting one another, and we risk destroying ourselves.

Second, the writer says: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Are we seeing those fruits in our churches? In our country? In the world?

Followers of God in Christ have willingly sacrificed our earthly passions and desires in order to be guided by the Spirit so that we can do our part in the divine plan of the reconciliation of the whole world to God. In practical terms, that means, maybe we let go of our favorite way of being church in order to invite a new generation of worshippers; or we shift our familiar system to welcome new ministries.

Maybe we sacrifice our reputations to speak out against the victimization of immigrant children or we risk friendships calling for a sane approach to personal weapons. Maybe we ask our political leaders to build relationships with our enemies rather than threaten to call down fire from heaven on them.

Jesus expects better from us. We are the disciples who bring God’s love by bringing ourselves, temples of God’s Holy Spirit, into the hateful, hurtful circumstances of the world because that’s where Jesus is found: in the face of the unsupervised child in a cage on the border; in the broken heart of the parent whose child was shot at school; in the people of the nations of the world who long to live free from threats of war and conquest.

This is our test. Pass or fail, God will stay with us until we are ready and able to proclaim to our world as the author of Galatians did to his: “For freedom Christ has set us free…” So let’s not use our freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but for the sake of love let us serve one another.”

In that way, the whole world is transformed, person by person, church by church, nation by nation, in the love of God.

Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Trinity Sunday, 2019-C: There's always more

Lectionary: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Canticle 13; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15



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

Last week on Pentecost Sunday we celebrated the establishment of the community of Christ on earth. Today, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the Community of God. One reason the liturgical calendar puts these principle feasts side by side is that we learn how to be the community of Christ on the earth by living like the community of God: a community in unity with itself.

Trinity Sunday is when we pause to contemplate what we it means to us that God is Trinity in unity; one God in three persons. There is no expectation that we’ll figure out anything new. It took the church 325 difficult years to agree on how to understand and talk about who Jesus was. That was the great achievement of the ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325 from which we received our Nicene Creed. And it is because we can stand firmly on that foundation that we are able to soar freely into the knowledge and experience of the mystery of God as God chooses to reveal to us today.

Easier said than done… Years ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who was a Presbyterian minister and is now an Episcopal priest. I asked him what heaven would be for him; how he understood it. He said that for him, heaven would be to know everything there is to know about God.

My initial, interior response, was sadness. First of all, he’s a very smart man. How could he think our finite brains could ever hope to truly comprehend the infinite? More importantly, however, was my friend’s use of the word “about.” To seek to know about God isn’t the same as to seek to know God. Knowing about God objectifies God. God is other, outside, observed.

I felt lonely for him because Jesus didn’t come to be observed or studied by us but to reconcile us to God. The Holy Spirit descended upon the community of Christ at Pentecost because God chose to dwell in us, to be one with us forevermore.

I don’t think I’ve shared with you yet about one of my longstanding hobbies: quantum physics. One of my favorite quantum physicists is Fred Allan Wolf who wrote “Taking the Quantum Leap” in 1982. I’ve been reading his papers (and others’ works) ever since.

Quantum physics is concerned with the micro-universe, sub-atomic particles like quarks, and the macro-universe, galaxies – going as far as we can go in both directions. What I have learned from this discipline is that everything we learn points us to something we don’t know. Beyond anything we can know there is always more.

Fred Allan Wolf says the farther physics goes into the micro and out to macro-universe the closer we get to mystery. “The trick” he says, “the real trick in life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery.” (A scientist said that!)

When we think about it, there is much we already know about God. We know that God is the source of all that is. We know that Jesus said he and God are one. We know that Jesus promised the Holy Spirit of God would come, clothe his followers with power from on high and lead them into all truth. We know that this would happen over time as Jesus said in today’s gospel.

We know that God is relationship: a Trinity who lives in Unity. We know that we have been brought into that relationship through Jesus who reconciled us to God, making us one with God as he is one with God.

We know that God continues to be revealed to us in creation, in prayer, in community, in our own bodies, and in the gift of our intellect. When Jesus said, I have many things to say to you and you will know them over time, he was talking about the kind of knowing that happens by entering the mystery – a knowing that happens in the wholeness of ourselves; in the wholeness of our community, and in the wholeness of creation – from the tininess of a quark to the vastness of a galaxy.

God is revealed to us in many ways. Have you ever had the experience of a breath-taking sunrise? …or stood in the timelessness that exists as you peer over the edge of a cliff on the Blue Ridge mountains? Have you ever heard the healing power of the crashing waves of the ocean? …or been lost in the universe of a star filled sky? If you have, then you have been in the mystery of God.

When I hold my new grandson and he loves me with his whole little self, I know God. Am I alone when I say that when my dog snuggles into me and looks at me with adoring eyes, I know God? Does anyone else experience that?

When I remember my mother’s smile or see her in a dream, our love feels as real as when she was alive and I know… that’s God, because I know, we know, that God is love, and love never dies.

Every time we gather for Holy Eucharist where we, as the community of Christ on earth, are nourished, strengthened, and enlightened by Word and sacrament, we know God.

God is revealed through the prayers we’ve prayed and hymns we’ve sung together a thousand times. Sometimes, God chooses to be revealed in the midst of a hymn or a prayer we’re going through by rote, not really paying attention until some divine truth hits us, switching on a light of understanding, transforming our understanding entirely.

Trinity Sunday is a good Sunday to be an Episcopalian. We don’t try to solve the mystery. We simply enter it. When we do, when we’re quiet and make space for God to speak in us, amazing things can happen. Love we didn’t know we could have is given to us, insights light up our understanding, and truths are revealed that connect us to everything and show us how to go forward on our path of our faith.

Theologian Christopher Morse says, “Faith is in the first instance, God’s doing. It is God’s relating to human beings in such a way as to relate human beings to each other in ministering to the common good. How and when and where God’s spirit achieves this is not subject to human control. The Spirit’s working for freedom is revealed only by the free working of the Spirit.”

Standing firmly on the foundation of our faith, in unity of community with one another, we can let the Spirit of God work freely in and through us, and we can soar freely with Her going wherever God leads us, certain that there is always more God, more love, to be revealed.

Amen.