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.