Sunday, December 8, 2019

Advent 2: Peace in believing

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent 1, 2019-A: Christ is always coming

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray.

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

Sunday, November 24, 2019

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Pentecost 23, 2019-C: A path to new life

Lectionary: Isaiah 65:17-25; Canticle 9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19



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I’m not much of a TV watcher, but when I watch, I’m often more interested in the commercials than the shows, and not just at the Superbowl. To me, commercials offer fascinating commentary on culture. They expose our priorities, unmask (sometimes create) our fears, and propagate the illusion of our personal power.

The shows we choose to watch tell us a lot about what matters to our culture too. The most popular show on TV right now is The Walking Dead, a post-apocalyptic series in which regular people must survive attacks by walking dead bodies whose goal is to transform everyone else into walking dead bodies. How metaphoric is that?!?

The question this begs is: are we more than just our bodies? The deep fear in our culture seems to be that the worst possible outcome is that we could be reduced to bodies animated by death instead of life. I agree and I hear Jesus’ voice echoing: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

The cultural fallacy revealed by our “entertainment” habits is that we can mitigate our fears by preparing for the end of the world or life as we know it. We can make ourselves stronger, better armed, or even super-powered. We can hoard supplies and just wait out the apocalyptic moment hidden in a bunker somewhere. That’s what “Preppers” do. A New York Times article quotes a prepper store exec who said, “By prepping, “you’re actually alleviating fear.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon, though. Has there ever been a time in history when there were no plagues or famines, natural disasters, or wars? No. Neither, it seems, has there been a time in history when people weren’t trying to figure out how to survive an apocalypse.

Archeological evidence shows that there were some people in the ancient city of Pompeii, which was destroyed in 79 A.D., who tried to hoard food and survival supplies in an attempt to survive the impending volcanic eruption, but their preparations were no match for the power of Mount Vesuvius.

The only way to calm this fear is to stay close to God, the Giver of the breath of life.

The Jews in the first century saw their temple destroyed and church as they knew it was ended – but the Jewish faith continued (h/t to Rev. Rob Field for this comment). The disciples saw their long-awaited Redeemer executed, and what seemed like the end was, in fact, only the beginning. It was the divine plan in action, the redeeming love of God at work in the world.

In today’s readings, both Jesus and Paul address this. Jesus says, when you see these dreadful events, “Do not be terrified... the end will not follow immediately.” And Paul urges the church in Thessalonica, who had been waiting for the second coming that never happened, not to be idle – not to sit back and just wait for the end to come. There is work to do in the now. People are suffering. “Do not weary in doing what is right,” Paul says.

When “the end” is, you see, isn’t our concern. Our role, as Christians, is not to escape the dreadful events in the world, but to enter them, carrying in the Spirit of Christ who dwells in us, bringing relief to the suffering, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, and comfort to the frightened, lonely, orphaned, or those in times of trial.

As he addresses his disciples’ fear, I think Jesus knows what lies ahead for them, not because of any divine knowledge but because he can see where the road ahead of them is leading. What the powers of the church and world are about to do to him, they also will do to his followers.

So he exhorts them to trust God and surrender to the Spirit when that happens. Don’t prepare your defense, he says. Let me speak it through you, for “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

Let’s not let that amazing statement pass by unexamined. Jesus is promising that HE will give them the words they should use AFTER he has been killed. Did they wonder how he would do that? Do we?

That statement confirms God’s redeeming work fulfilled in Jesus who gave his Spirit to us. Jesus’ Spirit now lives in us, speaks for us, and acts through us. When we surrender our need to judge, to escape suffering, and to survive, and choose instead to trust in the redeeming love of God, we find life, hope, and true super-hero style strength. I think of saints like Peter, Paul, Catherine of Sienna, Gandhi, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr, Thomas Cranmer, and Corrie Ten Boom – to name just a few.

The end of anything is not something we dread or avoid or prepare to survive. It is for us, the revelation of a path to new life. Our reading from Isaiah shows us that God has been bringing new life from death for a long time.

At the end of this gospel reading, Jesus makes yet another amazing statement: “By your endurance you will gain your souls." This is often taken to mean that when we suffer we “earn” our salvation, but that isn’t what Jesus is saying. Jesus never said stuff like that.

Jesus is saying that when we are suffering, if we wait in the discomfort we will awaken to the fact of the presence of God within us. When that happens we become fully ourselves, human bodies housing the divine spirit. Then there is no circumstance, not even death, that has power over our ability to live; for we live and breathe in communion with God, according to the will and plan of God.

What we are witnessing in the larger Church, and what we are living in this particular church, is the redeeming love of God at work. It may feel like an end of something is coming, but it isn’t.

As Corrie ten Boom once said, “…I know that …memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do.”

Our own history at St. David’s affirms that. We are a resurrection church. We have died and been reborn once already. God clearly has a plan for us and breathes life into us, and so we have nothing to fear.

We can, therefore, let go of our desired outcomes, be undistracted by fear, and choose instead to be awake, aware, and alive in the present moment which is a gift from God, taking each step as it comes, trusting that God is guiding us on a path that leads only to life.

Amen.


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Pentecost 22, 2019-C: A broader perspective

Lectionary: Haggai 1:15b-29; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38



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

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

Have you ever been in a situation where your whole life blew up on you? Maybe a spouse or parent or spiritual mentor died. Or maybe your child died – in utero or in the world. Maybe you were betrayed by someone you loved and trusted. Maybe you were arrested for drunk driving or possession of something illegal. Maybe someone you know was killed or war happened in your homeland. There are so many ways we experience life blowing up on us.

Our reading from Haggai speaks to this directly, offering a broader perspective. In this story, the first exiles are returning from Babylon to Judah and see that everything they knew about their life there had been destroyed. They were heartbroken, lost, and afraid.

That’s how it feels when our life blows up on us.

The prophet proclaims to the people God’s response to how they feel. God says, “take courage” three times, then makes that very familiar promise: “My spirit abides among you; do not fear.”

Then God says something that should catch our attention: “the silver is mine, and the gold is mine.” When I read this my brain is jolted out of my usual perspective of this world and the other and I remember the truth of their co-existence in God.

Then and now, we work for silver and gold and treat it as if it’s ours. My income, my pension, my house… This is what Jesus is addressing in today’s gospel from Luke: the co-existence of earth and heaven in God.

In this story, some Sadducees ask Jesus about a confusing detail: what happens in the next life to a woman who marries her husband’s brother according to the law? It’s a fair question. According to the law in Torah (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), the levirate marriage (the marriage of a widow to her husband’s living brother) was an important pastoral move on the part of the Jewish people. It ensured that the widow, who was her husband’s property, would not end up alone and impoverished and that the man’s heirs, unborn as yet, would not lose their inheritance. In addition, the dead man’s posterity, his name would, as a result of the marriage, not be lost.

It’s important to note that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection since it was not in the Torah. The Pharisees did, so there was an element of deceit in the question in that they were hoping to force Jesus to pick a side. If Jesus aligned with either side, the other could move against him and stop him.

Jesus, however, lived, embodied, and taught about the co-existence of this earth and heaven in the unity and oneness of God. In this world, he said, you marry and have children. In the other, you are all children of God. There is no need to protect widows and heirs. There is no need to be concerned about property or posterity.

But as a quick nod to those Sadducees who hold to their Scripture as the only authority on truth, Jesus points out that this is, in fact, in the Torah, if they had eyes to see and hearts to understand. Reminding them of the story of Moses where God spoke of being in relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who were long dead on earth, but clearly alive and with God in heaven, Jesus offers a broader perspective without picking a side. He just changed the playing field, reconciling life in this world and in the other in God once again, saying that to God, “all of them are alive.”

This is where St. Paul picks up the discussion in his letter to the church in Thessalonica. Everyone was waiting for the Day of the Lord when Christ would come again, end this world once and for all, and bring all the good and faithful people to heaven while casting the rest into eternal punishment.

But Paul offers them a broader perspective. The day of the Lord is already here, he says. It’s an astounding short phrase that Christians throughout history seem to overlook. That day has come. Christ has come again by coming into us, dwelling is in us. We are the first fruits of salvation. Hear that again: we are the first fruits of salvation, and we have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and called to proclaim our Good News.

The rebellion and lawlessness revealed on earth would be necessary first so that we, the first fruits of salvation, could know where the one destined for destruction was so that we could carry our light, the light of Christ in us there, and open the way for reconciliation. For God desires the reconciliation of all, not just some.

Jesus told us over and over that he came to reconcile the whole world to God; to reconnect all who have been exiled, to re-member all who have been cut off, reclaim all to have been lost. The second coming of Christ is in process; it’s happening now, through us who have his spirit in us. We are called to continue his work of reconciliation and bear more fruit of salvation in his name.

As our bishop said in his convention sermon: there is spiritual hunger in this world. The world is hungry for what we have. Then he asked, “Where do we find opportunities to bear fruit and be people of healing, reconciliation, and justice-making? Well, when we ask that question, we're a bit like that little fish that would swim up to other fish and ask, "where's the ocean? Where's the ocean?" Finally, one of the other fish said, "what do you mean, 'where's the ocean?'" And the little fish said, "I'm looking for the ocean -- but all I see around me is water..."

So how do we do this? How do we proclaim the Good News we know?

Well… we discussed this too at our diocesan convention this weekend! Stephanie Spellers, who serves as the Canon for Evangelism and Reconciliation, offered us information and, more importantly, processes we can use to practice this together. So, I’m going to do as she suggested, and add of her exercises to my preaching today.

Exercise of the great meal memory. Find a partner. Determine who is Partner A and B. B goes first. Stop and think of a wonderful meal you’ve had ever or recently. Then tell your partner (30 seconds). Partner B goes first. (pause) Now Partner A - do it again.

How did that go? Were you able to recognize the presence of God in the story you heard? In the story you told?

(Invite sharing)

That’s evangelism the Episcopal way, and you’ve practiced it twice already.

That’s how we do this. That’s how we proclaim the Good News we know. No Bible-thumping required. No Bible verse wars. No intrusion into someone’s wound or yanking the foundation on which they stand.

The Good News we have to share is that the spirit of God dwells among us, in each of us, in all of us. The more we practice having eyes to see and hearts to understand that, the more we broaden our perspectives, the better we can recognize and share those moments. God, to whom all are alive, all are worthy, all are beloved, does the rest. Amen.


Sunday, November 3, 2019

All Saints Day, 2019: A plan of love

Lectionary: Daniel 7: 1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1: 11-23; Luke 6: 20-31



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

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

The early church considered a saint to be anyone who believed that Jesus is the Christ. We still do. That’s why the Saints we remembered today in our Litany today include Catholics and Protestants, civil rights advocates, medieval mystics, military generals, and peace activists. They are lay and ordained, women and men: they are all of us.

As Episcopalians, we don’t hold sainthood and heaven to be things we achieve after our death. For us, these are both eternal and present realities.

The communion of saints, something we profess to believe in each time we say our Creeds together, includes all those who were, who are, and who are to come who believe that God’s promise of salvation has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The work of the saints is to proclaim by word and example this good news to the world and to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation until he comes again.

The Catechism in our Prayer Book, says that “the communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” (BCP, 862) Our unity in Christ brings down every boundary that separates us, even the boundary between life and death.

It boggles the mind, but as we saw in the gospel reading today, those beautiful and challenging Beatitudes, when Jesus taught he tended to boggle the mind, turning everything inside out and upside down. Jesus embodied his teachings too, showing us how – in real life – one can do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, withhold nothing from anyone, and turn the other cheek. These aren’t metaphors for Jesus – or for us. They are a way of being in the world.

Those of you who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram saw that Steve and I went to see Les Miserables last week. It’s one of our favorite modern operas. The story is powerful and the music brings the message deep into your soul. In that play, the law and order policeman, Javer, is a dedicated protector of the law and carries out his work as a duty to God. But Javer is completely undone when a man he has judged to be a worthless criminal, Jean Val-Jean, turns out to be the embodiment of Jesus’ teaching. Val-Jean was the faithful one, the saint.

In the letter to the Ephesians, the author is praying for the believers at the nascent community of faith in Ephesus whom he calls the saints. He congratulates and blesses them in the work they are doing and prays that God will give them, over time, a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Then as they learn to look with the eyes of their hearts, that is, with a perspective informed by the divine presence in them, they will choose to and be empowered to act in the ways Jesus lived and taught.

Jesus exemplified his Beatitudes teaching in his life and in his death. At the end of his short ministry, Jesus could see – with the eyes of his heart - that both worldly and church powers were seeking to destroy him and his message, yet he stayed in relationship with them both. He gave to Caesar what belonged to Caesar and didn’t quit the church even when it behaved very badly and acted in ways he totally disagreed with; even when it conspired to destroy him. He responded to being stripped, beaten and tortured with meekness and patience. Then he prayed for the criminals who were crucified with him and with his last breath, he prayed for those who crucified him.

Since Jesus was looking at the circumstance of his life with the eyes of his heart, he was certain that the love of God would redeem – and it did. It always does.

That is the bottom line of our good news: God can and will redeem all things. All things. There is no power on earth, no power in the church that can interfere with God’s plan of love for the world.

That’s why we can trust God even when the news continually reports about the chaos, injustice, and suffering in the world. Looking with the eyes of our hearts we are empowered by the divine spirit within us to discern the ways we can act to bear the love of God in Christ into our chaotic, unjust, and suffering world.

It’s why we can trust God even when all the “experts” tell us that the church is dying. Death is, for us, simply the gateway to new life. Yes, the process will be painful and scary at times, but in God’s plan of love and endless mercy, all of that is transformed into redemption and reconciliation.

That’s why we can trust God even when our own community is transitioning into a new chapter of its life story. Bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise, we can be certain that God is using each painful, scary, joyful, and healing moment we share for our redemption and reconciliation.

God has a plan and it’s a plan of love. So, as the psalmist says, “Let the faithful rejoice” because ours is the kingdom – right here, right now. Ours is the promise that we will be filled beyond satisfaction and our joy will be complete.

Our work, as saints on earth, is to be in an ever-growing, ever-deepening relationship with God and with one another, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise in this mystical body we call St. David’s in the Valley. Our hope is that we will be corporately transformed by the love of God until we are able to see with the eyes of our hearts, to bring down every boundary that separates us, and to live in this world the way Jesus taught us to do.

I offer a closing prayer taken from our Sacrament of Baptism. Let us pray…

Holy God, we thank you that you have bestowed upon us the forgiveness of sin and raised us to new life of grace. Sustain us in your spirit. Give us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage and will to persevere, an endless hunger and thirst to know you and love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen. (Adapted from Holy Baptism, BCP, 308).

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Creation 8 - Stewardship: Look around and see God

Lectionary: Joel 2:23-32; Psalm 65; 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18; Luke 18:9-14



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

I begin today with a quote from Orison Marden, a late 19th-century entrepreneur and founder of Success magazine. It will be familiar to those of you who attended our third parish summit last November because we opened our time in summit with this quote:

“Deep within humans dwell these slumbering powers, powers that would astonish them,
that they never dreamed of possessing;
forces that would revolutionize their lives if aroused and put into action.”

We went on in our summit to review the top five values, our slumbering powers, our community discerned together at our first summit - kindness, acceptance, connection, openness, and honesty – and how our institutional structures encourage or inhibit our putting these slumbering powers into action.

It seems clear to me that we live not only in a world hungry for those discerned gifts but also in a county, a city, a college campus where there are many people hungry for them as well.

If we have a goal to grow our church, then it’s important to remember that church growth happens when we are intentional about noticing and connecting with those people whose lives would be lifted up by the gifts God has given so abundantly to our community. For some of those people, it may come as a surprise that there is a church that values what we value, given that so many people have had an experience of church and even Christianity that is unkind, judgmental, divisive, and hypocritical.

Remembering and pondering our slumbering powers is a fine way to celebrate the final Sunday in the season of Creation, a season during which we have taken the time to prayerfully notice and give thanks for the many ways God’s love is real and present in our world and ourselves. Our readings today offer the same theme.

The prophet Joel calls upon the people of God to look around and see the love of God manifested in real ways: abundant rain, threshing floors overflowing with grain, vats overflowing with wine. Joel gives voice to God’s promise of presence and power within us saying, “You shall know that I amin midst of Israel… and I will pour out my spirit on all flesh,” sons and daughters, old and young, even the least of the least in society. God will pour out God’s spirit on ALL people.

The psalmist then repeats the theme delineating the “awesome things” God will show us things when can only see when we are in right relationship with God, one another, and creation. We will recognize the beauty of God’s house – the world, and God’s temple – our very bodies. When we see this beauty in the world and in ourselves, we can only respond by loving it, caring for it, and celebrating its diversity – a real-world sign of the abundance of God’s love.

Being in right relationship with God, one another, and creation often puts us at odds with the world, however, as Paul’s letter to Timothy shows us. Being a voice for right relationship can be lonely, even punishing. Living in right relationship with God and God’s creation may place us in contentious relationship with those who, by their worldly power and self-centered perspective, have a different plan.

I recently saw an article from 2012 that spoke about the origin of the term “tree hugger” – currently a derogatory term in American political culture. Do you know the origin of this?

As you might guess, tree-hugging began as an act of nonviolent resistance. What surprised me was that it didn’t originate with environmentalist hippies in the 1960’s in the US but with a “group of 294 men and 69 women belonging to the Bishnois branch of Hinduism, who, in 1730, died while trying to protect the trees in their village from being turned into the raw material for building a palace. They literally clung to the trees, while being slaughtered by the foresters. But their action led to a royal decree prohibiting the cutting of trees in any Bishnoi village. And now those villages are virtual wooded oases amidst an otherwise desert landscape.” Over time, this tactic spread across India “forcing reforms in forestry and a moratorium on tree felling in Himalayan regions.”

It can be lonely even punishing being the persistent voice calling out for right relationship, but it’s worth doing. What feels like powerlessness in the moment is often revealed to be quite powerful in the big picture, because God is in the midst of it all and God is patient to redeem.

This tree hugger is grateful to those brave souls in India who gave their lives for the truth they knew.

St. David’s knows what it’s like to perceive a truth that the world resists and live into it anyway in faithfulness to its five slumbering powers. Your history of being the first parish in the diocese to perform same-sex marriages before the institutional machine caught up is one example. Your commitment to inclusive and expansive language for God in worship is another.

The task at hand is to intentionally and fully awaken and unleash those slumbering again: kindness, acceptance, connection, openness, and honesty – for all. Is there anyone in this community to whom kindness is not extended, or from whom true connection is withheld? Is there anyone among us who experiences rigidity rather than openness or hypocrisy rather than honesty?

We are not challenged by these, but grateful for the opportunity to grow into the fullness of the community of faith God wishes us to be. The church is, after all, where we learn and practice God’s way of love. We are not expected to be flawless, just faithful.

Imagine if people knew there was a place they could connect with God, other people, and creation; a place that would respond to mistakes or difference with kindness, a place that isn’t afraid of someone’s suffering but enters it with them allowing it to strengthen them both, a place that is willing to redefine itself through prayer and discernment – a place like St. David’s.

It would be astounding and would revolutionize lives.

This coming week, as we bring the pledge portion of the Stewardship of the Entirety of Our Lives to a close, please remember that you are supporting and empowering a bunch of revolutionary tree huggers (just kidding! - - sort of…).

Seriously, your pledge is the means by which St. David’s will be enabled to fully awaken and unleash its slumbering powers of kindness, acceptance, connection, openness, and honesty, which will revolutionize the lives of this faith community, our neighbors, and our corner of God’s garden when put into action. Be alert and watch with me for the awesome things God will show us; real-world signs of the abundance of God’s love happening in and through St. David’s in 2020.

Amen.



Sunday, October 6, 2019

Creation 5-Biodiversity: Everything is gift

Lectionary: Lectionary: Job 28: 1-11; Ps 148; 1 Tim 4:1-5; Mt 6: 25-33



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“For everything created by God is good,” Everything… that’s a pretty bold statement, don’t you think? It seems there are some creatures we might not judge as good. Some people hate spiders, or snakes, or certain politicians. But, and, as our epistle reminds us if we receive the gifts we are given with thanksgiving we can reject nothing.

In other words, everything is gift. Some gifts are apparent at the start, like rain that ends a drought. Other gifts are revealed as gift over time and through experience, which is another way of saying right relationship.

Job uses the metaphor of miners. Miners develop a right relationship with the earth that enables them to recognize iron ore, sapphires, or gold. When mined from the earth these are little more than dull rocks, unless one has eyes to see the gifts they will soon reveal.

Everything is gift. Everything; and those who dig deep in order to find the gifts hidden in the depths find them and bring those hidden things to life, putting an end to darkness. What a powerful promise this is: those who seek the gifts hidden in the depths of our souls, our relationships, our world, find them and enlighten us all.

Miners, as Job calls them, those who dig deep to find the hidden gifts in God’s abundance, reveal the righteousness of God, that is, the way to be in relationship with all that is. It is always a symbiotic relationship: interactive, mutually beneficial. When that symbiotic balance is lost, we have stepped out of God’s righteousness and someone or something is going to get hurt.

Despite our many advances, we just can’t see the big picture. One obvious example: kudzu. Kudzu came to the US in the 1880s as a garden novelty.

“But in 1935, as dust storms damaged the prairies, Congress declared war on soil erosion and enlisted kudzu as a primary weapon. More than 70 million kudzu seedlings were grown in nurseries by the newly created Soil Conservation Service. To overcome the lingering suspicions of farmers, the service offered as much as $8 per acre to anyone willing to plant the vine…. Railroad and highway developers, desperate for something to cover the steep and unstable gashes they were carving into the land, planted the seedlings far and wide… By 1945,…more than a million acres had been planted…Farmers still couldn’t find a way to make money from the crop [however, so by] the early 1950s, the Soil Conservation Service was quietly back-pedaling on its big kudzu push. (Source)

Driving around here now, it’s frightening how much of our beautiful WNC forests are already covered over by this vine, now classified as an invasive species. We just didn’t see this consequence coming.

Our faith reminds us, however, that everything is gift, though some gifts must be mined, refined, and shined before we see the gift they offer. Did you know that Phytochemicals found in Kudzu have disease prevention properties, including reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease? Ingesting kudzu may also inhibit binge drinking, decrease the frequency of cluster headaches, and ease stomach upset, including the discomfort from irritable bowel syndrome and acute diverticulitis. (Source)

Everything is gift.

The beauty of our faith is that God continually reminds us that we are part of all that is. All of creation is an outward expression of the love of God and is being continually cared for by God. Jesus promised us that sin and death no longer have power over us because God redeems and reconciles all things, all time, all of creation.

So when things get obviously out of balance, our response isn’t to wring our hand and rend our clothing but to wake up and be alert for the redemption about to happen and to serve as co-facilitators with God in that redemption.

Some imbalances are easier to spot than others. When the waters are visibly polluted and the air is heavy with smog, things are out of balance. When pelicans wash up dead with their stomachs full of plastic items, things are out of balance. When species become extinct due to lack of habitat, overhunting, poaching, or pollution, things are out of balance. The list of recent and impending extinctions will break your heart.

We are not helpless. We can and we must facilitate change. It is our duty. It is the living out of our faith. When we speak of re-establishing the symbiotic balance of all creation, frightened and angry voices cry out that the survival of our economic and social systems must be the priority. They rationalize that the changes in climate and species diversity aren’t the result of human interference. To some degree, they are right, but not completely.

Human impact on the environment- for good or ill - is a given. We are here and our presence has an effect. What that effect is… is up to us. It’s our choice.

I was in junior high school when President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and I remember the rapid healing of our environment that followed. I remember boating on the Hudson River in NY before and after the pollution controls were put in place. No one was allowed to swim in the river before but we could after.

I remember the smog over Los Angeles before and after the EPA established emissions requirements for cars. I remember business leaders around the country crying out that EPA restrictions would kill free enterprise. They didn’t. In fact, they opened more avenues for business. The current burgeoning solar power industry is a present-day example.

In our gospel lesson Jesus says, “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.”

We don’t need to believe this. Those of us who lived in the 1970s can simply remember it.

As I said, though, some imbalances not as easy to spot: relationship imbalances, for example. When relationships move from cooperative to self-centered, the balance is lost and both eventually get hurt – usually one more than the other. This is the root of domestic or interpersonal violence and it is not the righteousness of God. I bring this up as we move through another Domestic Violence Awareness month.

When church ministries move from offering shared gifts to those in need to being in-house mini-kingdoms that control which gifts are shared, how, and with whom, a balance has been lost. Not to pick on a particular ministry, and I want to be clear that this is NOT true of ours at St. David’s, but how sad is it that there is such a thing in the church as Altar Guild Nazis. I've met some of them and it wasn't pleasant.

When a church shifts from an outward mission-focus to an inward survival focus, a balance has been lost. When we worry about the “what will we eat and what will we wear” things like how to pay the electric bill, repair the roof, or cover the salary of a rector, we have forgotten what Jesus said: that our heavenly Father knows what we need. We don’t need to beg God or worry about ourselves at all. Instead, we can focus our attention on the world out there - the world God placed us and our gifts here to serve - and we can choose to be partners in the redeeming, reconciling work of God. We can choose to live out our belief that when we” strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, …all these things will be given to [us] as well.”

But this too, we don’t just need to believe. Those who were here following St. David’s last resurrection can simply remember it. Those who weren’t here can read about it in June’s book on the history of St. David’s. (Source: “do the little things that you have seen me do and heard about, A History of St David’s-in-the-Valley Episcopal Church, Cullowhee, NC 1883-2017, St. Hilda’s Press, 2019) p 53.

Redemption is a given. It is promised and delivered over and over again in our Christian narrative and in our own lives.

Everything is gift. Every circumstance, every person, every event, everything reveals more of the redeeming love of God. Let us be the eyes that see, the miners who bring these hidden gifts to light.

Amen.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Creation 3, Climate Change: God redeems. Everything. Always.

Lectionary: Gen 6: 11-14; 7: 11-8: 4; 9: 8-15; Ps 24: 1-6; Ro 8: 18-72; Mk 16: 1-8



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

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

The story of Noah is a story about faith in the voice of God who sometimes speaks a different message than what is evident to our eyes. Noah’s faith was such that he built a huge ark when there was, as yet, no rain. The rain eventually came and Noah watched as his whole world was destroyed. Cradled in the ark God told him to make, Noah waited – a long time (which is what 4o days means), long enough for God to redeem - to restore the world and to prepare Noah and his community to live in it.

I try to imagine what life was like for Noah, the other people and all those animals on the ark. It’s like a Blessing of the Animals day on steroids! At every Blessing of the Animals I’ve participated in, the variety of gathered critters included predators and prey, yet not once did one animal attack another. These events offered plenty of opportunities for “accidents” yet not once was there anything to clean up afterwards – even when we held the blessings in the church.

God is like that. A divine peace can overcome us when we let it. Animals are good at letting it. Children are too.

In 1994, I took my three children to a farm in Conyers, GA where Our Lady was said to be appearing to a woman. There were 80,000 people gathered that day at the farm. I knew, having been once before without my children, that we would pray a Rosary together, so I brought provisions for my children. My boys were 2 and 3 at the time. Jessica was 12. I brought snacks, coloring books, the usual, and Jess had promised to help with her brother, our middle child, who couldn’t be still for 5 minutes - ever. As we started praying the Rosary, he laid down and put his head in my lap. We prayed all three Mysteries of the Rosary, which took about an hour to accomplish. The entire time we prayed, my son laid with his head in my lap, eyes open. I felt a powerful peace emanating from his body. It was clear to me that was a divine action happening in him.

God isn’t ever far from us. Indeed, God is within us – as close as our own breath. Our breath IS God’s breath breathing life into us and through us into the world.

So when St. Paul says the sufferings of the present time are nothing compared with the glory about to be revealed, he’s reminding us that whatever the world presents us, God can and will redeem it. “For in hope we were saved. [he says] Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Just as Noah did.

We know that our hope wanes at times. As I watch laws protecting our environment being rolled back to support corporate profits, my frustration rises and my hope wanes. I know my weakness is to believe I know what should happen and when.

Then I remember, usually by going to prayer, that my hope is not grounded in the present moment but in the great plan of God who redeems all things and draws the whole world into divine-earthly unity. Together with the community into which God has placed me, just as God placed Noah and his community on the ark, we will find our path forward, the path God sets before us, because, as St. Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to [God’s] purpose.”

Did you know that most churches are constructed to resemble an ark? Look up at the ceiling and see the inverted ship in which we journey together as a community. Like Noah, our call is to bring new life to a world continually being destroyed by human choices.

We are not spitting into the wind any more than Noah was a fool for building an ark in dry weather. Everything we do - our prayers, our Eucharists, our journey as a community in transition – is preparation for us to respond with God’s love to a world destroyed by human choices. We can suffer through any painful moment knowing that.

“Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” destroy our hope? No. There is no earthly destruction that can overwhelm or overpower the redeeming love of God. As St. Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The gospel story makes room for us to experience terror and amazement at the destruction humans can wreak and the power of God’s redeeming love in response, It is terrifying at times.

Yet God redeems. Everything. Always.

So as we consider the effect of human choices on our climate and how we can respond, we remember Noah who prayerfully heard the voice of God and did as God commanded him, despite how foolish God’s request seemed in the moment. We remember that for a period of time Noah and his community were cradled in divine protection where they were overshadowed by divine peace, unable to see how God was working to redeem the total destruction of the world, brought about by human choices. We remember that we, like Noah, are sent into that new world to proclaim that God’s love, revealed to us fully in Jesus the Christ, can not be thwarted by human selfishness, lust for power, or poverty of spirit.

This is after all our baptismal vow: to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. (BCP, 305) We also vow to resist evil, that is, what causes division, sadness, destruction of creation, and unnecessary labor as some of the current national decisions on climate change are surely doing. St. David’s is already living into this vow by using (as much as possible) pottery cups rather than plastic, stainless ware rather than plastic forks and spoons. We also have advocates among us using their words in addition to their actions to proclaim this Good News.

Can we do more? Probably – but we must be listening as a community for the voice of God to guide us – on climate change, and on life.

Let’s close by praying together our Collect for today, giving thanks for our Cherokee sisters and brothers whose wisdom formed this prayer:

Collect: "Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice we hear in the wind, Whose breath gives life to all the world. Hear us; we need your strength and wisdom. Let us walk in beauty, and make our eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make our hands respect the things you have made and our ears sharp to hear your voice. Make us wise so that we may understand the things you have taught us. Help us to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards us. Let us learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. This we ask in your Holy Name. Amen. (Adapted from the Cherokee Great Spirit prayer.)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Creation 2, 2019: Water - the elixir of life

Lectionary: Eze 47:1-12; Ps 65; Rev 22: 1-5; Jn 4: 4-15



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

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

Today’s theme in the Creation season is water, the elixir of life for both our bodies and our spirits. When I feel depleted spiritually, physically, or emotionally sitting in the woods by a stream or river has always been restorative for me. I spent much of my childhood alone in the woods by streams, rivers, or lakes. I found my peace near water. Being among trees felt like being with family. I felt held in their embrace somehow. I knew in those moments that I was part of something bigger than myself. I was part of creation, and there were no enemies there, only family. This early experience of connectedness to creation is probably why I’ve always loved spiders, snakes, and other critters. They are my family.

The water is life-giving to me, whether it’s an excited mountain stream, the pounding waves of the ocean, or the stillness of a lake. It is at once powerful and dangerous, gentle and healing. When I stand near a mountain waterfall, it’s as if I can feel the cells of my body healing and I’m compelled to breathe in the misty air that is stirred up into a breeze near the gushing water.

Here where mountain rivers and creeks flow in abundance, crystalline and cool, many of us have stories about how nourishing water is to body, mind, and soul, how just being near the water lifts our spirits somehow. Well, it probably won’t surprise you to know that science backs this up.

Certain environments like mountains, waterfalls, and beaches are abundant with negative ions, “…odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that we inhale… Once they reach our bloodstream, [they] produce biochemical reactions that increase… the mood chemical serotonin, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and boost our… energy.” (Source)

Being near water can literally make us feel better. Isn’t that true of some people too? Just being in their presence makes us feel better.

Jesus was one of those persons. In the presence of Jesus, all who came near found themselves strangely restored and refreshed, some miraculously so, because in him they found “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

Let’s place this gospel story in its context: Jesus hears that the Pharisees are annoyed that he is baptizing more disciples than even John did (although, in truth, it was Jesus’ disciples doing most of that baptizing). In order to avoid the current wrath of the religious leadership, Jesus decides to go back to Galilee, which is why he had to go through Samaria where he came upon the woman at the well. Violating one Jewish law after another (she was a Samaritan and woman – both taboo), Jesus engages this woman in a redemptive conversation.

Following today’s portion of the reading their conversation continues and Jesus asks her to call her husband. She replies that she has no husband, and Jesus affirms that saying, you’ve had five, and the one you’re with now is not your husband.

I think it’s important to look at a few things Jesus doesn’t do in this story. Jesus doesn’t exclude the woman according to her categories: Samaritan, woman, married 5 times, living with a man who isn’t her husband… He doesn’t ask her to repent or change the situation of her life (does this mean Jesus knew something about her life that caused him not to judge her as living in sin?) Finally, Jesus doesn’t forbid the woman at the well from proclaiming the huge news he hasn’t even told his disciples yet – that he is the Messiah of God

This woman, who has no name, no fame, and no legacy except in this story, is the first person to whom the Christ revealed himself. Amazingly, she goes home and proclaims this good news to her people, “and many Samaritans came to believe in him because of her testimony.” (39)

This woman was transformed by her encounter with the grace of God in Christ and through her, her neighbors in her village were too. What the woman did is what all of us, all churches and members of them, are called to do: to share our story of how our lives have been transformed by our encounter with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. When we share this good news of ours with others, the redemptive love of God issues forth like ripples on a pond, reaching farther and farther beyond us.

Despite what we may see and hear to the contrary in the world today, it is not our job to save the world. Only God can save and Jesus has already done that. We have been asked to partner with Christ in the continuing work of redemption by telling our good news, by living as if we truly believe our good news.

How and when do we do that? Few things give Episcopalians the heebee geebees more than evangelism. Part of that is our sensitivity to how it’s been done wrong. But we carry an insecurity about how it can be done right. The trick is to operate from gratitude with humility.

Evangelism is vital to the continuing life of any church. Churches don’t grow because they have possession of true doctrine or because they have well-executed liturgies or because they do the right outreach. Churches grow because one person connects with another person and another person and the divine in each of them unites them into one body, one spirit. From there it reaches out into the world like ripples in a lake.

It is in divine union that we work together to as partners with God in redemption. Every ministry of the church from altar guild to outreach is embodied evidence of that.

I think of the stories of Jo, who reached out to individuals and shared her encounter with the grace of God at St. David’s. Many people still here today were connected to this place through Jo, at least that’s what they tell me.

I think of the groups of hikers at St. David’s who venture out into creation where they encounter the grace of God together. Through those hikes, these groups build a divine bond of unity with one another and with creation.

When we and our churches trust the source of the eternal spring of water, it gushes up in us to eternal life just as Jesus promised, bonding us in divine union in the eternal, redeeming presence of God, and spilling out from us to the thirsty world we share.
Let us pray:

“Create in each one of us [ O God] a pool of peace, a deep well of healing that can transform bitterness to love, impatience to patience, irritation to tolerance, rejection to acceptance and inadequacy to confidence in our own ability…” then empower us to share this good news of ours that your redeeming love may reach to the ends of the earth like ripples in a pond quenching all those who thirst and nourishing all creation from the spring of eternal life in you. Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Creation 1, 2019: Are we there yet?

Lectionary: Gen 12:1-10; Ps 126; Acts 4: 32-37; Mk 4: 26-34



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

Are we there yet?

Have you ever been on a family trip where that question came up? Did you notice how the tone of the question changed over time from “Are we there yet?” to “Are we there yet?” to “Are we there yet?”

The story in today’s reading from Genesis is that kind of journey. It’s a story of new beginnings… lots of them, all part of a larger divine plan that the people involved couldn’t have known at the time. Every time they landed somewhere, they were sent off again, so the answer to “Are we there yet?” was “We’re on our way!” …over and over again.

Abram went wherever God sent him, whenever God sent him. It was an act of faith, trusting God enough to obey God’s call to him to “Go…. to the land I will show you… and, God promised to make a great nation of Abram, to bless him, to make his name great (meaning lots of descendants), and to make Abram himself a blessing.

So, Abram and his entourage of family, servants, and livestock left his hometown of Ur and made the arduous journey to Haran (about 600 miles- a journey that would take months to complete) where Abram purchased slaves which he added to their number. Then, following God’s leading, the clan went to Canaan (another 600 miles). But Canaan wasn’t ready for them. They couldn’t live there because there was a famine, in spiritual language, there was extreme scarcity. They weren’t ready, so they were sent down to a foreign place where they knew they were not yet at home. When all was ready, years later, God sent them back to Canaan.

Being semi-nomadic, the frequency of the changes may not have been entirely unexpected, but given their number, each move of Abram’s clan was an enormous undertaking. As they traveled, Abram built altars to God, physically and spiritually identifying the land as God’s land. Where the name of God had been absent in the land, Abram made it present.

I wonder what Abram and his clan thought when he finally got to Canaan, where God promised him, “To your offspring I will give this land” only to discover the great famine. Did they blame Abram for poor leadership? Did they wonder if God was punishing them for something? Did they get frustrated or mad at God? Did their trust in God’s promises wane?

We know from this side of history, that the promises God made to Abram, later called Abraham, have been fulfilled. God did make of Abraham a great nation with many offspring, and Abraham continues to be a blessing to us thousands of years later.

As Christians we are part of the nation of descendants promised to Abram. Our Muslim kin are too. We celebrate this truth every time we come together at our Abraham’s Table gatherings: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children of the one God, sharing a meal, teachings, and friendship together here in Cullowhee, NC. It’s a beautiful thing.

When God says to Abram, “To your offspring I will give this land” this isn’t so much about a particular location as it is about the nature of “land” in God’s kingdom. As Jesus’ parables in the gospel show us, in the kingdom of God, land is an earthly womb where divine seeds are planted. In the first parable, we learn that no matter how much we watch and study, the phases of transformation, which Jesus described as moving from seed to plant to fruit, remain a mystery to us.

In the second parable, Jesus demonstrates that God holds all creation as sacred – which means set apart, dedicated for a purpose. Jesus uses the example of the mustard seed, a tiny little seed which somehow becomes so large a shrub that it serves many of God’s feathered creatures, providing a safe place for them to birth and house the fruit of their wombs. This tiny seed serves a very big divine purpose.

As Julian of Norwich wrote in her “Revelations of Divine Love,” “And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

This is a comfort to us as we journey as a people into our divine purpose, which in the kingdom of God, happens in phases. As Abram wandered from Ur to Haran to Canaan to Egypt and back to Canaan, he and his clan were going through their own phases of development, much like the tiny mustard seed went through it phases of development.

Some of these phases can be really scary or painful. Imagine how the seed might respond if it could know it must shed its protective outer covering and die in order to live as a plant. Imagine if the plant knew that its life will only last long enough for it to produce its fruit, then it will die. Imagine if the fruit could know that within it were the seeds of new life but it would have to die in order for those seeds to be collected and planted in the divine womb.

The truth is, we don’t have to imagine. We’re living it. We are the seed; we are the plant; we are the fruit. In the divine economy, the presence of the harvest is in the seed.

At St. David’s, we are on a journey, and the new life being formed in us right now, our sacred purpose, is happening within the womb of God. There are phases of this journey that will be painful and scary. We may get where we think God is sending us, our Canaan, only to find that all is not yet ready and we must travel on while God prepares the “land” to sustain life.

Like Abram and his clan, our part in this is to trust God enough to live fully into each phase of this journey; trusting also in God’s plan, the fullness of which cannot be known to us; and traveling in unity as a clan: a close-knit community of interrelated families.

As we prayed in our Collect, “through the changing of the seasons Your Spirit renews the cycles of life.” We know this because we can observe it in creation all around us. And we believe it because we can feel it deep in our souls.

The Spirit of God renews the cycles of all our lives including our church life. God made us, God loves us, and God sustains us.

Do we trust that? Or maybe I should ask, Are we there yet?

Well, we’re on our way, aren’t we? Amen.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Pent 12, 2019-C: Our bond of love


Lectionary: Jeremiah 2:4-13; Psalm 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1, 7-14



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

Prophets often used the analogy of a legal trial to make their point. In our reading from Jeremiah God is putting Israel – the N kingdom which has strayed - on trial.

Israel had made a covenant, a formal agreement like a contract – with God. It was witnessed and (literally) cast into stone tablets. Now God is asking why they broke their part of the contract.

“What wrong did your ancestors find in me [God asks that they went far from me,” God says, I kept my promise in our agreement. “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things.”

And the leaders – where were the leaders in all this? God asks. Instead of serving, the leaders made their own choices and “went after things that do not profit.” And the people followed them…exchanging “their glory “– their gifts, their beauty “for something that does not profit.”

God’s response: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, for my people… have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, [but the cisterns they make have cracks and] can hold no water.” And as we all know – without water, whether physical or spiritual, we will die.

Even though God promises us, over and over again in our Scripture that we will receive the nourishment and the resources we need, and that all we have to do is trust God and open our mouths wide, as the psalmist says, we often don’t.

Though God is always faithful to us, God laments that we are not always faithful in return:“… my people did not hear my voice, and Israel would not obey me. So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts, to follow their own devices.”

God will not force us to trust or obey. When we stubbornly pursue our own wills, our own ways, God will step back (as any parent would) and let the inevitable happen then pick up the pieces.

But God suffers knowing that we will suffer until we repent and turn back to Love. “Oh, that my people would listen to me! that Israel would walk in my ways!”

The sin of the people of Israel is that they chose to follow their own choices informed by ways of the world instead of listening for and complying with God’s direction to them.

The ways of the world can not and will not lead to eternal life.

That’s why Jesus tells the group gathered for dinner at the Pharisee’s home the parable that turns their expectations upside down. A little background here: Jesus has just healed the man with dropsy (edema) on the Sabbath, and that was the second time he’d done a healing on the Sabbath – violating Jewish law.

So in today’s story, Jesus is invited to the home of a rules-keeper for dinner and “they were watching him closely” to see if he’d behave this time. Which he did.

Since there was so much attention on him, Jesus took the opportunity to teach. He “noticed how the guests “at this dinner chose for themselves “places of honor” as they were all being seated. The word translated here as “guest” translates more accurately as “apparently chosen” or in modern parlance, the “in-crowd.”

So Jesus says to the in-crowd:" When you are invited… to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor. Instead, go and sit down at the lowest place… For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

It was about their choice. Choices bring consequences.

When we make choices, they should be motivated by humility, putting the other first. If our choices raise us up above others or even above the will of God for us then we will be humbled.

Then Jesus turns to his host and says, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends… your family…. or rich neighbors.” Instead… invite those who don’t have friends or family. Invite those who can’t increase your Sunday attendance or your budget. Invite those who aren’t strong, don’t have clear ministries, and need something, rather than offer something.

If you do that, Jesus says, “you will be blessed “by God in the eternal reality.

Our epistle today is the conclusion of the letter to the Hebrews so it nicely wraps up the teaching points – which fit exactly with what Jesus was teaching in the Gospel. Consider for a minute, this community: they are Hebrews, Jews, transitioning into a Christian community.

Many of their traditions no longer fit. Many of their beliefs and practices have to be set aside. They are being called to move into a new identity and way of being.

Sound familiar?

So, the author instructs this community in transition: “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; this, of course, being anyone in jail or actual prison, but also those imprisoned by their fears, need to control, anger, or addiction.

This also applies to remembering those who are being tortured - literally, as well as those tortured by grief, or emptiness, or darkness. Be faithful to one another. Let your lives be exemplary, and be models of what you believe.

Demonstrate your freedom from attachments such as “the love of money’” by living your lives so that people can see you are “content with what you have.”

The author continues, for as [God] has said, "I will never leave you or forsake you." We, therefore, “can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’"

This quote is what God said to Joshua at the end of the exile. Moses, their leader during the transitional time, had died and the people were now entering into their new life and they had no idea what to expect or how they would live – or even IF they would live.

As the author of the epistle reminds his community in transition, I remind this community in transition: The Lord is our helper. We will not be afraid.

“Remember your leaders, “the author continues. In our case, this refers to our clergy and lay leadership. Remember them and imitate their example. They are learning and practicing new ways of being, ways that build the kingdom of God. Don’t fight them. Follow them. Go with them.

Finally, the author says, remember that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer [our] sacrifice of praise to God.”

Take every opportunity to “do good,” and remember that the gifts you’ve been given are meant to be shared.

So love even when you’re afraid, or angry. Love even when you disagree, dislike what’s happening, or feel uncomfortable.

Love.

And let love be mutual, for our mutual love is a bond that reflects the bond of love God has with us. When it doesn’t look like that, we’ve strayed. Thankfully, mistakes are not fatal in the kingdom of God, where forgiveness is ours even before we ask.

So let us pray now as we prayed earlier in our Collect:

Graft in our hearts, O God, your love so that your love is what motivates us. Increase in us true religion, remembering that religion is a bond of mutual love that comes with an obligation. Strengthen that bond in us, Lord, so that we can live in such a way that our gratitude for your love is always apparent…and nourish us with divine goodness so that we may be motivated by kindness and generosity for others, using every gift you’ve given us to further your kingdom here on earth in this time; in this place.

This is our prayer. This is our calling. Amen.


Sunday, August 25, 2019

Pent 11, 2019-C: The unshakeable kingdom

Glad to be back after two weekds vacation!

Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17



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In today’s reading from Jeremiah, we witness the prophet’s call from God in those beautiful, loving words from the Creator: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

As usually happens when God calls a prophet, the prophet resists the call at first. You’ll remember, there was Abraham who said he couldn’t lead because he stuttered, and Jonah who didn’t want God to save the people at Nineveh, and Mother Mary who, when the Angel Gabriel informed her she would bear the Messiah into the world asked, “How can this be?”

God calls and the prophet hesitates - but I haven’t known a man… but they’re terrible people…. but I’m only a boy. These aren’t excuses, these are reality – earthly realities that only the divine can overcome. This is the moment the prophet must own the limitations of their humanity and finally, fully acquiesce and trust God.

Through our Scriptures, we are continually reassured that God chooses us and calls us to serve even knowing our limitations and our resistance to inner and outer change. God knows we struggle to allow change to happen within us and that we reasonably wish to avoid the consequences of calling for change in our community – because there are always consequences.

Even Jesus sought to avoid those consequences as the story of his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane affirms. But as Jesus said, Your will, not mine, be done. As his mother said, Let it be done to me according to your will.

Once the prophet has given their consent to this invitation from God, then God empowers them to fulfill their call.

God says to Jeremiah:
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

In every case, there will be the destruction and overthrowing of what is and the building and planting of what God intends there to be. As Fr. Nick preached so wonderfully last week: Jesus “came as a fire starter, a division bringer.” He also came to reconcile the whole world to God. He did both – in that order.

During the painful, fearful time of destroying and overthrowing, we cry out as the psalmist did for God to be our strong rock, to deliver us. And as God always does, God reminds us that God has been tending to us since before we were formed in our mother’s wombs and sustains us still.

The letter to the Hebrew’s reminds us that God’s call to us now may not look like God’s call to those who came before. There may be no burning bush, no sounding trumpet for us but when God calls, the author warns, don’t refuse to answer – because God is shaking things up and is building an unshakeable kingdom. So even in the tumult of the transition between what is and what God intends there to be, we give thanks and worship with awe and reverence.

Then in our gospel, Jesus demonstrates what this unshakable kingdom will be like. It will be a kingdom in which God sees and heals all wounds – a grace offered even before we ask because God knows that some of us harbor deep inner wounds that prevent us from fulfilling God’s purpose for us and for the world. By healing this woman in the presence of her faith family and its leadership, Jesus demonstrates that in this unshakable kingdom, God will seek, call, heal, and empower whom God chooses, when God chooses; and no earthly authority, doctrine, or institution can interfere.

The world saw a woman who had an infirmity which they would have seen as a divine punishment for her unworthiness, but God in Christ saw a beloved one who was wounded within and without. God chose her, touched her, and healed her. By calling her a daughter of Abraham, Jesus elevated her to full membership in Jewish society and called the religious leadership out for being more willing to show compassion to an animal than to a child of God; for holding fast to doctrine rather than prioritizing compassionate reconciliation – which is the hallmark of the unshakable kingdom.

Dividing, destroying, and overthrowing what is are necessary as God builds and plants what God intends for there to be.

There are predictable cycles involved in being prophetic leaders of change. For example, the gospel tells us that “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things… [Jesus] was doing.” As Jesus is inaugurating the destroying phase, the people of God are rejoicing because they are getting a glimpse of the unshakable kingdom and they love the freedom and inclusion they see. It is vastly different from their experiences as occupied citizens under Roman authority. As the overthrowing phase gets real, however, these same people will demand Jesus’ crucifixion. Later, as the rebuilding-planting phase kicks in, they join the nascent Christian movement in droves.

Knowing this cycle, we, like Jesus, we keep walking the path God is setting before us, destroying and overthrowing what is, and partnering with God as rebuilders and planters of what God intends there to be. We will notice people rejoicing, then doing their best to make us stop, but on we’ll go, as Jesus did… to the cross, then the grave, certain by the assurance of our faith, that the grave is our doorway to new life, resurrection life, in the unshakable kingdom of God; and if there’s a church that knows and can trust in resurrection life, it’s this one.

Today’s Collect is a prayer we can cling to and repeat as a mantra on this leg of the journey. Let’s do a very quick Lectio Divina of the Collect together:

Reading 1: What words or phrases stand out for you as you heard this prayer?
Reading 2: As a church in transition, what gift does this prayer offer?

Let us pray…

Eternal Wisdom, Love Almighty... Amen.