Sunday, December 2, 2018

Advent 1-C: Expect redemption

Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

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

Back when I was a victim advocate teaching groups like law enforcement and the judiciary, I used to teach about the very different perspectives of being powerful and being powerless in the world.

For example, women are still enculturated to look down and to the right when a male or other powerful person approaches them, for instance, on a sidewalk or a hallway. This pattern transcends age and other descriptors like education and economic status. Many times, the woman will also apologize even though they’ve done nothing but take up space on their common path.

The enculturated message is to be submissive in the face of dominance. Avert your gaze. Look down and you won’t get hurt. It’s an ancient survival tool that was carried into social and cultural mores. Don’t look them in the eye. Dominant creatures apparently get really angry and often aggressive when you do.

This kind of disempowering enculturation, which is evident in the cultures of our forebears in the faith as described in our Scripture, leads, of course, to a power imbalance that perpetuates interpersonal violence among people, and fear of insignificance and shame among believers in their relationship with God.

Countering this power imbalance among people is simple but it takes establishing new habits for the powerless and the powerful. I suggested to the powerful (judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers) that they become cognizant of their power and how it affects those they meet in everyday circumstances – for instance, when passing someone in the hallways of the courthouse or police station. I encouraged them to look down after a quick acknowledgement of the person, step aside, and allow the other person to pass through the space first. In other words, adopt the submissive behavior.

To the powerless, I suggested they look up at the face of the powerful one approaching them, smile if they could, and stand tall, demonstrating they know they matter in that instantaneously shared decision about who would have priority to pass through the space.

This is Jesus’ message to us in today’s gospel – that we matter to God and can expect redemption because of God’s love for us. “Stand up… raise your heads” Jesus says.

Jesus’ words remind me of a song by Bob Marley who, moved the poverty he witnessed in Haiti and it’s effect on the lives of the Haitian people, wrote his iconic song: “Get Up, Stand Up.” Who remembers the chorus from that song?

Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right
Get Up, Stand Up, don't give up the fight

Stand up, Jesus says. Raise your heads – look into the face of God with confidence of God’s love for you. You have nothing to fear because the All-mighty God has adopted the submissive behavior in the person of Jesus Christ who came among us to serve, living humbly – not as a king.

So when we find ourselves feeling faint from fear and foreboding, Jesus cautions us: “Be careful that your life energy and resources aren’t squandered by attempts to avert your fear or to dull the pain of life.

Instead, he says, pray your way through whatever leads you to fear or dread and “stand before the Son of Man” knowing you matter. Get up. “Stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is coming near.”

In other words, expect redemption.

We are not alone. We are never alone; and we matter to Jesus who came among us once, submissively… redemptively… and will come again upon the completion of his work of redemption – work, by the way, we are called and empowered to share with him by our Baptism.

You will see terrible things happening, Jesus says: distress, confusion, people fainting from fear and foreboding. It’s happening now and will continue to happen.

In fact, all of heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away… So let’s remember together just a few of Jesus’ words:

• ‘I am the resurrection and the life.
• Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live (Jn 11:25)
• “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’ (Mt 21:22)
• “ I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete… (Jn 15.11)
• “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (Jn 14:18)

As we lit the first Advent candle, we remembered that “Christ is always coming, entering a wounded world, a wounded heart, and [we] dared to express our longing for peace, …healing, and the well-being of all creation.”

That is hope – the faith that in the midst of any darkness the healing light of Christ is coming…it is always coming.

By our hope we long for ‘shalom’ - the way things ought to be according to God’s plan of redemption. This longing leads us to trust in the power of God’s redeeming love and to expect it to be there for us and for the world -every single time it is needed.

The news in our world - and even in our church – has been difficult to bear lately: mass shootings, war, refugees being gassed instead of welcomed, the strong abusing the weak - another famous cultural hero fell to the “MeToo” reality this week.

But harder to bear, I think, is how so many Christians are responding: calling for more guns, including having armed guards at church services where the Prince of Peace is being worshiped; or dismissing the suffering of refugees seeking asylum while taking a self-protective stance that says, ‘My safety matters more than theirs and besides, they scare me.’

It’s disheartening; which is why Jesus cautioned us not to squander our energy and resources trying to protect ourselves or our way of life, and not to dull our experience of the pain of life, but instead, to notice that when we see these things we should remember that in the midst of any darkness the healing light of Christ is coming… it is always coming.

And now it comes through us – who are God’s partners in the work of redemption. Because it is not just our redemption we seek but the redemption of all.

Looking around at the signs in our world today, it appears the time has come for us to get up, stand up and work together for the rights of all until everyone knows they matter to God and to us. and that they too can expect redemption. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Living Divine Truth

Today we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King.
Lectionary: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

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

How many of you have ever seen a 3-D movie? I saw Avatar in 3-D and it was amazing. It was amazing to me that I could even share in the 3-D experience.

You see, growing up, I could only see in two dimensions due to a congenital issue with my eyes. I wasn’t able to see in 3-D until 2004 following some eye surgery. Up until then my world looked pretty flat, like a picture or a photograph.

I remember once chaperoning a school trip to Disney’s Epcot Center where we took the kids to one of the first ever 3-D showings. I watched as the kids would reach out toward something that they said looked like it was right in front of them. They would back up in their seats when it looked like something was coming at them quickly.

To me, everything just looked like two blurry images, one mostly red and one mostly green, sitting almost on top of each other. Looking through the 3-D glasses with 2-D vision made me feel like my eyes were crossing, so I took the glasses off and watched a flat but enjoyable show.

When the surgery gave me three-dimensional vision I had to learn to “see” my world all over again. Stairs were the best thing I re-learned. They had always looked like stripes to me and if there were shadows on them, it really very hard for me to see them at all.

With my new new-found ability to see depth, I finally understood what I was looking at, when it came to stairs, and they became much easier (and safer) for me to maneuver.

Many people had tried to explain depth to me over the years, but it was simply outside of my ability to comprehend until the surgery opened my eyes to it.

This is kind of what it was like for Jesus as he tried to answer Pilate’s questions about kingdoms and kingship. Pilate asks a question from an earthly experience – one bound by place and time, kind of a 2-D question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (which would be the crime of sedition).

“Am I a Jew?” (which would be the crime of treason). Your own people have handed you over to me. Why? What have you done? Pilate needed a reason to put Jesus to death.

Jesus answers with eternal truth… a 3-D answer, you might say, and it’s something Pilate simply can’t comprehend: If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to save me because that’s how things work in the world.

“But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate hears Jesus’ reference to his kingdom and asks, “So you are a king?”

There was just no way for Jesus to answer that question. “King” is too small a word, too small a concept for God, the Ancient One, the Alpha and the Omega who stands incarnate before him.

“King” is your word, Jesus says, not mine. I came to testify to the truth. Those who belong to the truth listen to me and obey me. Pilate did neither, nor did the religious authorities. Do we?

Some people prefer to call this day the Feast of the Reign of Christ. What I like about that name is that it’s more in keeping with Jesus’ life and teachings.

Jesus never sought titles or privilege while he was among us – quite the opposite. He arrived as a helpless baby born to a poor, unmarried girl. His ministry leadership was comprised of some fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor, a zealot, and some women – hardly a powerful or threatening group.

Jesus’ ministry was about bringing in a new age – the reign of God – the reign of love a love focused on serving the other yet never devaluing the self; and Jesus spent his time focused on the poor, the sinful, the excluded, and the powerless even as he went to those quiet places to pray.

The reign of love Jesus ushered in is different from anything on earth. Rather than gathering up the things earthly rulers did to secure their reign, e.g. armies, riches, and lands, Jesus spent his time giving things away, e.g., food, healing, forgiveness.

Yet, something about Jesus and his followers threatened the authorities and caused the religious leadership to tremble. That thing, I think, was truth.

In his presence, everyone knew that Jesus was the embodiment of truth and whenever we are in the presence of real truth we know our bubbles are going to burst – bubbles we’ve carefully and collectively constructed to make ourselves feel safe and in control. When those bubbles burst, we feel nervous and insecure because we realize how small we are in the presence of so great a truth as God.

That’s why so many religious leaders – then and now – break God down into small, comprehensible, controllable bits. But there is nothing small or comprehensible or controllable about God. And there is nothing to fear about that. It’s the truth. We can expect it, trust it, and count on it. We can surrender to the truth that God is God and we are not. And thanks be to God for that!

The reign of Christ isn’t about power, or glory, or privilege for a deity. It is now and always has been about reconciling all who have been separated or lost back into the unity and presence of Love, who is God.

That’s why everything about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry kept catching the earthly authorities by surprise. They knew how a zealot would act, or a would-be warrior king. But they had no way to understand or respond to someone who acted out of selfless love, someone who would die in a moment in time so that all people could live eternally.

“For this I was born”…Jesus says…”for this I came into the world.”

By his life and ministry, Jesus redefined kingship. His leadership had nothing to do with garnering power, or riches, or anything for himself. And he never used force to get his way. The reign of Christ always was and always will be about love. We who hear this story today are witnesses of Jesus’ testimony, and we are invited to listen to his voice.

Listen, as it is being used here, is not just about using our ears to hear. It’s a practice of living in accordance with divine truth. (The New Greek Lexicon, Wesley J. Perschbacher, ed., Hendrickson Publishing, 14.)

In Greek, the word for “listen” and the word for “obey” have the same root and it refers to a way of being, not to something we do. And the way of being to which we are called is found in the testimony of Jesus Christ: his life and ministry.

His is a testimony of humility, faithfulness, and obedience to God’s will, even in the face of injustice and suffering. His is a testimony of walking non-violently toward what may, at times, seem like certain death trusting that is actually the path of life and truth for us and for the whole world.

“For this [Jesus] was born…for this [he] came into the world.” May we who belong to the truth listen to his voice and follow his way of being in the world.

I’d like to close with a prayer from Marjorie Dobson:"Go as far as you dare, for you cannot go beyond the reach of God. Give as extravagantly as you like, for you cannot spend all the riches of God. Care as lavishly as you are able, for you cannot exhaust the love of God. Keep moving on for God will always be with you."


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Community Thanksgiving service: We matter to God

Preaching at the Community Thanksgiving Service at Ascension Lutheran Church in Shelby.

Lectionary: Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

The great and present myth of the modern world has to be multi-tasking. We have convinced ourselves that we can do more than one thing at a time – and do both of those things well.

Many of us eat our meals in front of the TV. Some of us knit while listening to an audio book, or exercize while listening to music.

When we eat in front of the TV we are either paying attention to what’s on the TV – OR we are mindful of the food we are eating – its taste, texture, and how much of it we’re eating. We can’t attend to both things at once.

How many of us have sat down in front of the TV to eat only to notice a few minutes later that our food was all gone and we hardly remember eating it? And you can ask my daughter how many times she’s had to recall me to the cell phone conversation we were having because my attention had drifted to something on my computer screen.

Humans can attend (truly attend) to only one thing at a time. And this is the lesson Jesus is trying to teach us in the gospel of Matthew.

Using words familiar to the listeners of his time, Jesus continues his sermon on the mount saying, “No one can serve two masters; a slave will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other.

Jesus’ listeners understood that to love someone or something is to give attention to it, to be loyal to it – “devoted,” as Jesus says.

They understood that to hate someone or something is to ignore it and to abandon it for something else. These words (love and hate) were also commonly understood to mean ‘to choose’ or “to not choose.”

Jesus is lovingly reminding us that this limitation of our humanity is a fact. He isn’t making a judgment – he's just reminding us of a truth about us. As much as we’d like to believe we can choose both (God and earthly wealth) we can’t. One of them is going to be abandoned for the other.

So, which one do we choose? And which one do we abandon? And maybe more importantly, how often do we make these choices – which way do we choose most?

Jesus tries to assure us, using the beautiful imagery of birds and wildflowers, that the only thing we need is God – who knows what we need and desires to give it to us. Why? It's a simple question. Because God loves us.

“Why do you worry about what you will eat or drink? Why do you worry about your body or what you will wear? …Strive first for the kingdom of God and… righteousness [that is, right relationship], and all these things will be given to you as well.”

In the divine economy,the more we give of what we have, the more we have to give. It’s a blessed cycle of abundance,and what drives it, what underlies it… is Love – God’s love.

God is always faithful. That is the character of God. No matter how unfaithful we are or how disrespectfully we act, God continues to be faithful to us, always seeking a relationship of love and tender closeness with us. Even in the face of our continuing sinfulness, God continues to forgive. God turns the other cheek for us and expects us to do the same for one another.

God’s promise is now what it has always been: God chooses us eternally, God is devoted to us eternally and God never abandons us.

In Isaiah we hear God speak through the prophet this message: “Sing for joy… For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones… I will not forget you [God says], see I [keep] you as a [tattoo] on the palms of my hands.”

God is our true and life-giving Master. It is God, and God alone, whom we serve.

Jesus reminds us not to worry because worry in itself is a distraction. When we worry, we are failing to trust that God’s love for us is real, that God’s love is enough in every circumstance we find ourselves. When we worry, we disrespect ourselves by forgetting how much God loves us. When we worry, we give ourselves and our willspriority over God and God’s perfect plan for us.

Yet no matter how often we stray, God will always call to us to return to Love where we find comfort for what hurts us, peace for what upsets and distracts us.

What God wants in return is very simply our love –our attention, our devotion. I remember the first time the truth of this sank in – that God was actually seeking MY love. Think about it: the Almighty God wants our love. Our love matters to God. WE matter to God. Knowing this makes it so much easier to set worrying aside – forever.

Close with Hymn: Christian brother, Cecil Frances Alexander, said so beautifully:

When the “tumult of our life’s wild restless sea” disrupts our peace, Jesus says, “Christian, follow me.” (v.1)
When the many tempting treats in the “vain world’s golden store” have captured our attention and tempted us to love things and to prioritize ourselves over God, Jesus says, “Christian love me more than these.” (v. 3)

“Jesus calls us! By thy mercies, Savior, make us hear thy call,give our hearts to thine obedience,serve and love thee best of all.” (v. 5) “By thy mercies, Savior, may we hear thy call…”

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pentecost 26-B: Birth pangs as gift

Lectionary: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

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

Unlike last week, the Collect for this week is one of my favorites. In this common prayer we are encouraged to enter into Scripture for the purpose of holding fast to our hope in the face of a world where hope isn’t always plentiful. And our hope is life in Jesus Christ: eternal life, everlasting life.

As Episcopalians, we engage Scripture as a love story, a long, continuing love story between God and God’s people. While it tells us something about the lives of our forebears in faith, we don’t hold Scripture to be a historical narrative, but rather an experiential one.

For example, in the reading from Daniel, God spoke to Daniel in a vision, telling him that there would be times of great anguish, and in those times those with good judgment, who can see and understand what’s happening in the context of God’s overall plan of salvation, along with those who continue to build right relationships, will be lights in those times of darkness.

Jesus is telling his disciples the same thing… The world is impermanent. Everything that seems strong will eventually come undone. What is permanent is God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. So when you see things coming undone, when you experience times of great anguish, fear, destruction, and hunger, remember that this is just the beginning… God is already redeeming all things. Those are just the birth pangs – the signs that new life is being formed.

The letter to the Hebrews informs us that as followers of Jesus, we have a new way to live while we are on this earth – with true hearts and the assurance of our faith. That doesn’t mean no anguish will happen, it means we have a different way to respond when it does: by provoking one another to love and good deeds.

That’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? We are to provoke one another to love. When we do, however, it helps to remember that provocation often leads to anger. We must, therefore, rely on our righteousness that is, our right relationships with God and with one another, to carry us through the provoking. We are being provoked right now to love and good deeds. We know this because we can see the anger and anguish that is present in our community.

Our hearts, therefore, must remain true in full assurance of our faith, that when the stones of our earthly structures begin to crumble, we remember that, for the people of God, the end is always the beginning. Death always leads to new life.

We are a resurrection people. This is our faith, our hope - the one thing to which we cling without wavering, for we believe that Jesus, who promised and delivered this to us once for all and for all time, is faithful even now, leading us always as we pass through our earthly cycles of death to new life.

So when Jesus says to us, ‘not one thing you have built will survive… all will be thrown down’ we receive that as a gift, not an indictment. It isn’t that we built it wrong, or that it wasn’t good or holy or important. We know that anything we humans can build, no matter how faithfully we build it, is incomplete and impermanent in the divine reality. The Good News is that God will always lead us to that completeness – to a fullness of life, of love, of relationship, of purpose. As God does that, it will look like the end of what we built, but it isn’t. It’s just the beginning, the birth pangs, the signal that new life is coming.

Anyone who’s ever had or witnessed birth pangs knows they are uncomfortable. And the closer the birth comes, the worse the birth pangs feel. Right before the birth, the pangs feels like crisis. Hearing the wise, experienced, assuring voices of the community of doctors, midwives, doulas, and family who have been there before, gives the new mother the strength to persevere through the crisis. Imagine if they were to cut off their relationship with her at that moment! That would be awful! Relationship matters.

The wise know the mother is in a moment of crisis and that new life is about to come. So, no matter what she says or how she yells at them, they stay near, being lights in her darkness, speaking words of comfort and assurance through the crisis.

Then suddenly there is new life and it is miraculous to behold. Everything that went before melts into the fullness of joy the presence of this new life brings.

If we’re awake and paying attention to our world and even our church, we’ll find plenty of evidence of birth pangs. As wonderfully made humans, our suffering, our stress is expressed in our bodies as well as in our thoughts. Some of us get headaches or stomach aches or tightness in the chest. Some of us lose our appetites, others are compelled to comfort eating or drinking. Some get angry at the one or ones they see as the cause of their distress, others turn the feelings inward and get depressed.

This is the human experience and it is a gift from God. Speaking in and through our bodies, our embodied spirits, is God’s way of alerting us that the cycle of death to new life is underway and that we need to reconnect to the source of life and embrace our hope to make it through. Thankfully, our Psalmist shows us how to pray ourselves there: ‘Protect me, O God for I take refuge in you; You are… my good above all other… my portion and my cup… I keep you always before me… my heart therefore is glad and my spirit rejoices, my body shall also rest in hope… for you will not abandon me in death… you will show me the path of life and in your presence there is fullness of joy.’

When we pray this together, we are made one by the prayer and the Source to whom we pray it. Our relationships are made right and true, and able to carry us through any moment of anguish, any experience of crisis as God births new life in us. That’s why the author of the letter to the Hebrews advises us to not neglect meeting together during the time of our provocation; but to persist in being together, encouraging one another all the more as the pain increases and the birthing nears.

Let us close by praying together today’s Collect (in your reading insert). Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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

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

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.


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

(Note: if the above player doesn' work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.)

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

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


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.

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

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

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

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.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Creation Season 1: Transformed to rise

The community of St. David's has practiced Creation Season for decades and encourages others to do the same. We also join tihs year with people around the world celebrating and giving thanks for creation. Today's global focus is land.

Lectionary: Genesis 12: 1-2; Psalm 126; A poem by Mary Oliver, The Messenger; Matthew 13:33.

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.

Columbanus, a 6th century Irish monk, once said – ‘If you want to know the Creator, first get to know the creation.’ Celtic spirituality recognizes and affirms the presence of God in all creation. In the Celtic tradition, a stony dirt path is not disrespected as a dirty or unsophisticated means for travel; it is acknowledged as being part of the skin of the earth and, therefore, is treated with respect as it is traversed. Squirrels aren’t just rodents who outsmart every human effort to protect birdfeeders; they are recognized as living messengers of God’s playfulness and resourcefulness, and are honored for their purpose.

Medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich spoke of Jesus’ “homely” love for us; and by homely she didn’t mean unattractive; she meant simple, cozy – like the feeling of being safe and comfy in your own home. This is love that is intimately familiar. This love wears warm ups and fuzzy slippers and offers you hot cocoa or a glass of red wine, and pats the couch next to them, showing you where to come sit and relax.

When Jesus spoke of God’s love for us he often used homely examples, as in today’s gospel from Matthew. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like yeast that a woman mixes with flour until all of it was leavened.” The many bread bakers in this congregation know that kneading the yeast, warm water, and flour together transforms it into a dough that rises; but it takes time and the dough has to be at rest while the transforming process happens within it.

In God’s house, our divine mother kneads her creation with what it needs to be transformed so that it will rise. All of creation rises to life by the intentional action of God.

Creation, like bread, has many flavors, colors, and textures. All, however, are expressive of the divine reality.

It seems silly, doesn’t it, to judge rye bread as superior to all other breads? And what about those who love caraway seeds in their rye bread and those who hate them? It seems even sillier to judge caraway loving people as inferior to caraway hating people; yet we do this sort of thing all the time in many ways. We sub-group and divide ourselves as if we are not all made from the same dough kneaded by the same heavenly woman.

One risky way we practice this sin of hubris is by judging ourselves as superior to the rest of creation. Humans are part of creation, not separate from it, and God has chosen us to be stewards of God’s creation – all of it – not just the parts we deem worthy or convenient.

Today we join with worshippers around the world celebrating and praying for creation; specifically, the land. Many people raised in modern western culture view the land as a natural resource meant to support human life. We cultivate the land and eat from its bounty. We plant beautiful gardens and dress our homes and our altars with its fragrant blooms.

All of this is right and good. Where we fail is when we see the land ONLY as a resource for our benefit. The land is a living part of creation that offers its gifts to all of us: humans, animals, insects, and every living thing that walks, crawls, flies, and swims on the earth.

True to our Celtic tradition, our work as Mary Oliver says, is to love the world, every specific part of the world God calls into our consciousness. That will be different for each of us, and there’s a purpose to that. We can only serve the part we are called to serve; which is all we’re expected to do. But together, we can be stewards of the whole of creation.

We are richly blessed with places throughout our diocese, located in the unique, miraculous ecosystem of Western North Carolina, where you can feel the presence of God in the earth, in the trees that are rooted in the earth, in the mountains, rivers, creeks, and caves. For example, there is a place at Kanuga near a tree by the lake, where if you lay on the ground and listen, you can hear the heartbeat of the earth. There is a path at Lake Logan where you can see and feel the life energy of the trees moving from the leaves into the atmosphere. In that place, as you walk reverently by, the trees seem to welcome you into a safe, loving embrace. There is a grove of trees at Valle Crucis teaming with bird and insect life where you can hear the voice of God singing peace in the symphony of their sounds at sunrise and at sunset.

Once as I sat with a friend near a creek, a beautiful red belly water snake came slithering past my left hand, which was resting on the ground propping me up. The snake continued its path alongside my left leg and went beyond us to a covered rock place at the edge of the creek about 4 feet in front of us. The snake curled up there but turned and faced us. All three of us sat there for a long time, looking at one another, listening in silence, except for the sound of the water which drew us all to it.

I’m not usually afraid of snakes. In fact, I’ve loved them since I was a child. But I was unfamiliar with this particular snake, so I offered it my respect as it slithered past me. As my friend and I sat with the snake at the creek’s edge, we pondered what gifts were being offered to us by the presence of God in the snake. We discerned of change and new life, of new skin – the same us, but new and different somehow.

When we got back to where we had cell phone reception my friend and I looked up the snake we had encountered. We were relieved to learn that it was not venomous, though it does have fangs and can be aggressive if its hungry. In its presence, however, we were not afraid. We were with a member of our creation family who happened to be a reptile.

That’s the point. We enter in relationship with creation when we are in it. “According to a study done by Hofstra University, most Americans are far less connected to nature than our parents and grandparents were… only 30% of their children play outdoors every day. In fact, children today spend 90% of their time indoors and they spend an average of 50 hours every week using electronic devices, according to the Children and Nature Network. Adults are increasingly disconnected from nature too.”

This is where we come in and why celebrating Creation Season is important (yes – you’ve converted me!). While we wear these body-clothes as Mary Oliver calls it, we are stewards of this creation to which we belong. But it’s hard to serve a relation you don’t even know.

So, as we walk through these 8 weeks of Creation Season, how can we as a church community, build relationships between ourselves, our community, and the creation in which we live? It matters to us – to our health and well-being. It matters to the part of creation in which we live; and it matters to the earth, because the well-being of our small part of creation is connected to the well-being of the whole earth.

Something for us to ponder together…

We have a plan that is developing for this Creation Season as people approach me offering to share their expertise and passion. We’ll be posting these opportunities as they finalize. I may be calling on some of you who have been recommended to me to ask you to consider sharing your wisdom and experience. Keep watch in the Coracle, our Facebook pages, and your emails.

In the meantime, let’s close with this prayer I found from Fiona Murdoch, from Eco-Congregation in Ireland

God of the universe,
We thank You for Your many good gifts -
For the beauty of Creation and its rich and varied fruits,
For clean water and fresh air, for food and shelter, animals and plants.
Forgive us for the times we have taken the earth's resources
for granted
And wasted what You have given us.
Transform our hearts and minds
So that we would learn to care and share,
To touch the earth with gentleness and with love,
Respecting all living things.
We pray for all those who suffer as a result of our waste,
greed and indifference,
And we pray that the day would come when everyone has enough
food and clean water.
Help us to respect the rights of all people and all species
And help us to willingly share your gifts
Today and always. Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Pent 15, 2018: It's about cleansing our hearts

Lectionary: Song of Solomon 2:8-13; Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10; James 1:17-27; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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’d like to begin today by sharing with you the wise words of an under-employed theologian: Calvin, from the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Waterson. Calvin says, “You know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing changes, but pretty soon, everything is different.” Calvin is right in that it feels like we are who we’ve always been, but when we look back we realize God has been working in us and actually a lot has changed.

It's always been thus and it’s in community where we see this best. Our Judeo-Christian history shows us that the movement of the Spirit of God within us has led to an ongoing process of change and we can infer from our history that this will continue beyond us into the future.

An example of this is in today’s gospel from Mark. The topic is ritual hand-washing, but that isn’t the point of this story. The point is: how we respond to the difficulty of honoring what is tradition while allowing for the free movement of the Spirit in the world of the moment.

A word about ritual handwashing. It was not about germs but about humility. We must remember that in this moment of history there was no awareness of germs (that wasn’t until 1500 years later). The Torah requires only priests to do the ritual handwashing, but the tradition had developed over time to include everyone (male) to do it. The amount of water used wouldn’t have been enough to clean their hands as it was meant to cleanse their hearts.

It was ritual action, one we have kept and still use as part of our Eucharist. You may notice that the acolyte pours water over my hands before the consecration of our bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. As my hands are washed I offer up a prayer for our assembly taken from Psalm 51: Lord wash away our iniquities and cleanse us from our sins. Create in us clean hearts, O God, and renew a right spirit within us.”

The word “heart” in Hebrew refers to the womb, the interior of a person where new life is conceived and nourished. This is why when the Pharisees ask Jesus why his disciples don’t wash their hands according to the tradition of the elders Jesus calls them hypocrites and using tradition fires back: “This people honors me with their lips but their hearts are far from me.” (Isaiah)

Then turning away from the guardians of the tradition, Jesus addresses the whole crowd assembled and teaches them about the importance of the condition of their hearts. Evil, he says, doesn’t come from outside us but from within us. Evil is that which causes sorrow, pain, or harder labor/work. Remember Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.”

Evil comes from within and it can be thoughts or actions. Then Jesus names a few:

• lasciviousness – a thought: disrespecting another using sex as the means
• fornication – disrespecting another and one’s self using sex as the means

• covetousness – a thought: to want something that doesn’t belong to you
• theft – taking something that doesn’t belong to you
• adultery – taking someone that doesn’t belong to you
• murder – taking a life that doesn’t belong to you (since all life belongs to God)

• slander – making false or damaging statements about someone in order to harm their reputation
• blasphemy – doing the same thing about God and sacred things

• pride – a thought: giving ‘self’ priority over other, even over God. Pride is the opposite of humility, which characterized Jesus, his ministry, and one of the main purposes of our rituals – the cultivation of our humility. Pride leads to…
• folly. When we think unwisely, we tend to act unwisely.

These are the things that defile, Jesus says. We disrespect and violate ourselves, others, and God when we do these things so we must cleanse our hearts when any of these is present.

Jesus demonstrated by his life and ministry that while tradition has value, and the elders have wisdom to share, God is at work doing a new thing, because God is working out God’s plan of redemption for the whole world: all people, in all times and places. Continually examining the condition of our hearts is important if we are to participate with God in this.

Our whole tradition, the Christian tradition, is a new thing God worked through Jesus and the Jews in that time. It’s no wonder the leadership of his time resisted the changes.

Change is difficult, especially for the guardians of tradition. What if important traditions are lost? I’m sure the Pharisees worried about that when Jesus’ disciples dropped the handwashing tradition. Yet, here we are, still ritually washing our hands more than two millennia later.

God is the true keeper of tradition. No leader, no historian, no theologian decides which traditions will live and which must be let go for a time or forever. God decides this because only God knows the full plan of redemption.

As for us, Jesus teaches us to notice the condition of our hearts, the deep interior of our beings, where new life is conceived and nourished by God. When we find the presence of those things that defile within us, we are to repent – to ask God to cleanse our hearts and renew a right spirit within us.

Anglican theologian Evelyn Underhill says this about God’s re-creative work: “The coming of the Kingdom is perpetual. Again and again, freshness, novelty, power from beyond the world break in by unexpected paths bringing unexpected change. Those who cling to tradition and fear all novelty in God's relation to the world deny the creative activity of the Holy Spirit, and forget that what is now tradition was once innovation; that the real Christian is always a revolutionary, belongs to a new race, and has been given a new name and a new song.”

Beloved ones, this isn’t just an interim-time task. It’s an all-the-time task. As followers of Jesus we intentionally open ourselves to the movement of the Holy Spirit within us, trusting that our loving and merciful God is steadily working out a plan of redemption for the whole world – all people, in all times and places. Our only concern is faithfully participating in that plan as it is revealed to us in this moment of our collective history.

The church is supposed to be a place where the condition of our hearts can be examined safely within a community where love is practiced. When we find that we have gone astray, as individuals or as a community, we are supported in our repentance by a community that continually cultivates humility through our ritual practices. In this way, over time, we are able restore the priority of God’s will for us over our own.

Each time we review our history, as we will later this month in our first parish summit, we will see how God has worked in us, day by day, changing us, forming us, preparing us to participate in God’s plan of redemption in this moment of history, in this place in God’s kingdom.

I close with a prayer from another of my favorite Bishop Steven Charleston, the retired bishop of Alaska, retired Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and a member of the Choctaw nation: “Give your heart to love today, not to old thoughts of who you were, but to the new idea that your kindness could change another life. Give your mind to hope today, not to the usual list of impossibilities, but to a single faith that goodness is the purpose of history. Give your spirit to peace today, not to the anger of the moment, but to the welcoming road of grace that leads to the home for which you have longed. Give your hands to the work of justice today, not in resignation but in certainty, knowing that what you do will make an enormous difference.”


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Pentecost 14: Children's sermon on Holy Communion & Blessing of Backpacks and Briefcases

Lectionary: 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20;John 6:56-69

We concude our weeks from the gospel of John on Holy Communion with a conversational Children's sermon on Holy Communion followed by a Blessing of Backpacks and Briefcases.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Pent 13-B, 2018: Eucharistic living

Lectionary: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Note: If the above player doesn't work on . your device, click HERE for an alternative audo format.
En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

We haven’t spent much time on the Old Testament story of King David in our lectionary the last few weeks, but with the Eucharistic focus in the gospel of John, we can only cover so much. I like the story of David, though, so let’s take a minute to review the broad strokes.

David, the Shepherd King, was the golden boy of his time, restoring Israel to a stable period of peace and prosperity – until he fell in love with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, his good friend and military leader. David arranged to have Uriah killed in battle so that he could marry the widowed Bathsheba.

This was a pretty big mistake, and when confronted with it by Nathan (the story we heard two weeks ago), David owned up to it saying: “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Unlike many of today’s people in power, David did not divert, or gaslight. He owned his sin and lived out the consequences his own poor choices had set in motion; including the death of his son, Absalom, who had been conspiring to overthrow his father, David, as we heard last week.

This week, we hear of David’s death and the transfer of kingly power to David’s other son, Solomon. For his first regnant choice, Solomon seeks wisdom from God who grants him that and much more.

The story of King David raises up two important points for us to consider:

1) Even the great King David sinned, that is, he stepped out of the will of God and into a path of his own making; and 2) the difference between David and Solomon, in this point of the larger story anyway, is the direction of their attention. King David’s focus had shifted from using his power to serve God and God’s people to using his power to serve his own desires.

The first point is eternally important because our Christian journey doesn’t ever lead us beyond our human propensity to sin. At some point we will all lose our focus and make mistakes. To his credit, David modeled how faithful believers respond when confronted with our sin: by owning it, trusting in the mercy of God to reconcile us back into harmony with God and others.

The second point has been reflected in our readings from the letter to the Ephesians these last few weeks. Last week we heard, “let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin.” In other words, don’t let anger justify a choice to break communion.

Today we heard, “Be careful then how you live…” This also translates as: be aware, be intentional about how you live, the choices you make.

Which brings us to our gospel from John. Over and over these last three weeks we hear Jesus teaching the same lesson (which indicates that we’d be well served to pay attention to it): I am the bread of life…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven… not like the manna Moses gave. No, it is my own flesh I give and my flesh gives life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Today Jesus adds to this teaching one of the most comforting truths of our faith: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. “By partaking of the bread and wine of communion we live eternally (that is, without beginning and without end) in Jesus who is the Christ. We also live eternally with everyone else who also abides in him.

In the holy food of communion, we become one with the ultimate community: the body of Christ which includes all who ever were, are, or will be members of that body.

Jesus is God, the 2nd person in the community of the Divine Trinity. As we proclaim in our Creed, Jesus is the one through whom all things are made. All things, all people, all time, all activities, all of creation, all resources– everything comes from and belongs to God. And since we have been reconciled to God through Jesus, we are the current locations of the coexistence of the human and the divine. Jesus abides in us and we abide in him.

Recognizing this and living accordingly is how we live an Eucharistic life – a life of thanks and grace; a life that reflects our gratitude for all God has given us and demonstrates our commitment to using those gifts not for our own desires, but to serve God and God’ people.

Using the gifts God has given us for the purpose God has given them is what stewardship is. In church circles we tend to talk about stewardship as a fall fund drive to feed the budget, and it is that, but not only that. Stewardship is being aware of the many gifts God has given us, and managing them responsibly and faithfully, so that they can be employed in our sacred work: reconciling the world to God.

The focus of stewardship is on God and God’s people, not on us. In so many churches, the fear of institutional survival hijacks the ministry of stewardship and narrows the focus to finances; but focusing on survival is a path of our own making and if we’re worried about that then we have shifted our attention in the wrong direction.

As I say so often, I believe that every church is an intentional action of the Holy Spirit. God chooses for us to live and we respond by living a Eucharistic life: a life of thanks and grace, a life that reflects our gratitude for all God has given us and demonstrates our commitment to using those gifts to serve God and all God’s people.

A while back I preached about the five things our Presiding Bishop said Episcopalians need to get busy doing to make the world look more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare. To review quickly, those five things were:

1.forming disciples;
2.evangelism as invitation and welcome to the church
3.witnessing – which he described as getting out into the public sphere and being a voice for those who have no voice;
4.relationship, particularly ecumenical efforts; and finally,
5.creating institutional structures that enable us to serve (Source: The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry on Vimeo)

That is what we’ve been working on together this first half-year of our interim time.

1.forming disciples: a children-youth task force has formed to discern and plan our course for Christian formation of our younger members for the coming year.
2.evangelism: two vestry members have already met a couple of times with people at WCU and with our sisters and brothers in Episcopal campus ministry; and I have met with the Lutheran, and Baptist campus ministers in order to discern how we might be called to jointly serve the students, faculty, and staff at WCU.
3.witnessing: individual members of St. David’s are already doing so much of this, but we are also looking currently at how to organize a stronger church ministry to Vecinos and Hispanics in our area. Just recently a member of St. David’s brought up a desire to discern the possibility of becoming a sanctuary church, something any Episcopal Church can consider now that resolution C009 passed at our recent general convention. Prayer and listening on this has only just begun. Your thoughts are is welcome.
4.relationship: In addition to serving ecumenically in campus ministry, I have recently begun discussions with Cullowhee Baptist about the possibility of joining our children and youth formation efforts - here and there - to benefit all of us.
5.creating institutional structures that enable us to serve: your vestry and treasurer have been hard at work creating or updating policies and procedures, centralizing information in a functional church office, coming into compliance with Safeguarding God’s Children and People trainings (if you wonder about the importance of that, look up what happened with 300 Catholic priests in PA this week), and pondering the personnel needs of this institution in order to support the sacred work God is calling us to in this chapter of our ongoing story.

They have also spent time in retreat focusing on servant leadership and stewardship as a year-long ministry, not just a fall campaign to feed the annual budget.

One fruit of your vestry’s work is the Vestry Stewardship Covenant you’ve been seeing as an insert in your bulletins the last few weeks. Their three statements: “We believe… We commit… We invite…” frame our focus for the coming year.

As part of the ultimate community, the body of Christ, we are called to be aware and intentional about living Eucharistic lives - thankful, grace-filled live; lives reflective of our gratitude for all God has given us, and committed to faithful stewardship of all those gifts in order to accomplish our sacred work.

Like King David, we’ll sin along the way. We’ll make mistakes, break communion, even manipulate to get our way. But our comfort lies in knowing the truth that God is always with us, abiding in us as we abide in God. So, no matter how far astray the path of our own making may lead us, we know we’ll always find our way back into the will of God.

We are an intentional choice by God. And that’s our good news. Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Pentecost 12-B, 2018: Bread that unifies #HolyCommunion

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

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

I remember the first time I realized something powerful was happening at Communion. I was five years old and had just started first grade at my Catholic school, so I had begun to learn the Catechism. One Sunday, during the prayers of consecration of the elements, I saw my Dad lift his gaze up to the altar. A strange look came over his face. You have to understand - my dad was a high-strung, easily angered, type-A Irishman. Yet in this moment, his face practically glowed with what I can only call a mix of peace and joy. It was so unusual, I remember it to this day.

I followed his gaze to see what he was looking at. The priest was elevating the bread, then the wine as he prayed the Eucharistic Prayer. I don’t remember hearing the words as much as noticing the action happening. I kept looking back and forth from the altar to my Dad’s face, and I knew deep within me that this thing that was happening up there was so important, so unusual because it could have this effect on my father.

Communion remains the only time I have ever seen my father truly humble himself. It’s the only time I ever saw him willingly surrendering his strength of personality to anything. Not even at his AA anniversaries (which I attended as his AA baby). Not even at the deaths or births of his family members. Only at Communion.

I invite you to think about and remember the first time you realized that something powerful was happening at Holy Communion and let’s share those stories – at coffee hour, or in a Formation event. These stories are inspiring and can be transforming.

Some people are put off by the language of Communion: eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood, so it’s important for us to remember that the language used by Jesus, bread as flesh and wine as blood, is the language of ritual. Jesus was, after all, a rabbi, who presided over many ritual meals. In his book, Doors to the Sacred, Orthodox theologian Joseph Martos says ritual meals, “affirm and intensify the bond of unity among the participants.” (Doors to the Sacred, Joseph Martos, 213)

Martos affirms that those of us who come to this sacred meal ought to reflect on what we’re doing, why we’re coming to receive this holy food. What is it that we are inviting into ourselves – our bodies and our lives? Because in the sharing of the bread of life and cup of salvation, “we are being united into a body – the body of Christ.” (Martos, 215)

That means things are different for us because, as St. Paul says, “we are members of one another.” (Eph 4:25) We can be angry, but we must not let that anger cause us to sin, that is, to break our communion with one another or with God.

When we speak, we are to say only that which will give grace to those who hear us, remembering that when we tear another member down or speak ill of them, or when we cling to bitterness and anger, we grieve the Holy Spirit. So, it’s important that we think about this meal and our choice to receive it knowing its power over us – the power to unite us to God and to one another in love.

Martos says that in ritual meals, like the Jewish Passover and our Holy Eucharist, those events we remember “become real and present to the people who share it.” (Martos, 213) Episcopal theology affirms that: this isn’t just a memorial for us as it is for many Protestants. It’s a present reality. Christ is truly present, and we don’t just remember this, we live it.

When we hear the words, “do this for the remembrance of me” I hope we hear the voice of our Savior inviting us to come back into unity with him. Remember. Re-member… Be a member again… be one with me again…

It’s a full-body, full sensory experience for us. We walk our bodies up to the communion rail and kneeling or standing by someone we may or may not know, someone we may or may not like, we reach out our hands and take the bread of Holy Communion into our mouths. As we do we remember that we are one in the body of Christ with the one on our left and the one on our right.

We taste the bread of communion as it melts on our tongues and that too becomes a signal to our bodies that something holy is happening and we are choosing for it happen within us. We chew the bread and swallow it and its substance literally becomes part of us.

Then smell of the wine greets us as the cup is raised to our mouths and the sharp flavor of the consecrated wine stimulates our glands. Our saliva mixes with the wine in our mouths, water and wine mixing within us, making manifest the union of our bodies to Christ.

When we eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation, we are giving our bodies to God who enters us, becomes one with us, and makes us one with God and each other. It is a mystical moment, a moment of pure joy as we remember, even for just this moment, that our sins have been forgiven. It is a moment of deep peace as we remember that by this spiritual food we are renewed, strengthened, and made whole again.

Our daily lives can drain us. Our Christian life should drain us. We should be giving out love and prayer and offering words of hope to someone every day, all the time. There are so many who need it. We should give it until it’s gone because we believe, we know there is always more.

This journey is too much for us unless we are continually nourished and renewed by our spiritual food: the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This journey is too much for us to travel alone, and so we must continually affirm our bond of unity to God and one another. This journey is too much for us unless we stop the world, come into the presence of God, and remember that our sins are forgiven and we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that is, we are made holy, unified to Christ in whom we are all made whole as a body, and individually as members of it.

Remembering that gives us strength to go out to the world, again and again, as living locations of the love of Christ in the world. That is the gift of the power of Holy Communion. Thanks be to God.