Sunday, January 16, 2022

2nd Epiphany: Next steps for the next-born

Lectionary: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11 

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

Our reading today from Isaiah has the prophet clarifying in no uncertain terms the identity and destiny of the people of God. Isaiah tells them how much God loves them and that God’s purpose for them will be fulfilled in and through them despite how impossible that seems in the difficult circumstances they are experiencing.

In this passage, love compels God to promise: ‘I will not keep silent or rest until you, my delight, my crown of beauty shine with the fiery glow of freedom. Your oneness with me will be so apparent that everyone will see it and you’ll have a new name, a new identity. You’ll become known as those in whom I delight.’

One of the blessings of our life together right now at the start of 2022, is that we too are being given a new identity which is grounded in our relationship with God, one another, and the neighbors among whom God has placed us. However we may have been known before, our new identity will be the result of what people see in us now. God’s promise as we proceed in this rebirth, is that we will become known as that church in whom God delights.

Isaiah talks about this relationship between God and God’s people in terms of a marriage – an intimate union where separate lives become one in identity and purpose. As it says in our marriage rite, this union is intended by God for the mutual joy of those bonded together. We know bonding with God brings us joy, but how lovely is it to consider that bonding with us brings God joy?

The gospel story picks up on this metaphor in the story of the wedding at Cana. Jesus is at an ordinary event: a village wedding, which becomes the setting for an extraordinary event: the first manifest sign of the intimate union of the human and the divine in Jesus and what that means for the world.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, notices that the wine has run out - something that would cause public shame for the host family. Mary was paying attention. She noticed what was happening around her and cared about how it would affect her neighbors. In order to protect their dignity (remembering here our own Baptismal vow to respect the dignity of every human being), Mary intervened risking her own moment of public humiliation as a woman.

Jesus’ response, as rude as it may sound to us now, was a typical response for an adult male of that time, firmly ensconced in his culture’s understanding of male-gender superiority: “Woman…” he says, addressing Mary as his inferior, not as his mother, “…what business is that of mine? My hour has not yet come.” Well, that’s what Jesus thought anyway, but apparently, his mother knew better.

Undaunted and unashamed, Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Obeying his mother, Jesus tells the servants to fill the water jars with water, then bring a taste of it to the master of the feast, who was kind of like Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson at the party. To everyone’s surprise, the water had been turned into wine. But more than that, this wine was of the finest quality and it was in ridiculous abundance which is how the generous love of God works. Importantly, this new relationship of divine-human union demonstrates how the love of God is manifested in the world through human hands, first in Jesus, and now in us.

The story of the wedding at Cana seems at first like a simple event. There’s a wedding, the wine runs out, Jesus is there, so he makes more miraculously - but it is so much more than that. This story marks the beginning of the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah of God. Jesus shows himself to be the “firstborn” – the first fruit of this real and intimate union of the divine and human.

It’s also the beginning of the revelation of how God in Christ does things and how that will transform the world. Stepping down from his lofty position of male privilege, Jesus humbly and publicly obeys his mother which not only bends cultural norms, but also reveals how we, the next-born of this real and intimate union of the divine and human, can transform the world.

Mary’s voice is echoed in something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

There are people right now in our neighborhoods who “have no wine” - students, the working poor, the unhoused, to name just a few. This is why we too can’t keep silent; why we can’t rest.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, it’s important for us to say out loud, in here, that racism is real, it violates our Baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to respect the dignity of every human being, and it is a cancer in our culture. Therefore, I want to thank our intrepid members who do not keep silent or rest but hold a vigil every Friday night proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter.”

It’s also important to celebrate the Food Ministry at Emmanuel that gives generously, and with all the abundance we have, to anyone who is in need. It may be called a food ministry but it is so much more than that, because our ministers give out food, friendship, emergency assistance, and most of all – dignity, as they faithfully serve our neighbors who “have no wine.”

We have been chosen by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit for a purpose. We are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in the hand of God, and our hour has come.

My prayer is that we allow the fullness of God’s love which dwells in us to radiate with the brightness of Christ’s glory as we serve in his holy name. I pray we recognize, nurture, and use our many gifts because so many of our sisters and brothers out there have no wine.

I know some may not feel ready. We live in a time of uncertainty both interiorly as we find our rhythms with new clergy leadership, and exteriorly as the COVID variants surge among us. But as Dr. King reminds us, faith “is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” In fact, we will never see the whole staircase - that’s God’s domain.

Our first steps will become clearer following our vestry retreat in which your elected servant-leaders, followed by the parish as a whole, will discern our spiritual gifts. Then we will prayerfully discern God’s purpose for gathering these particular people bearing these particular gifts at this particular time into the Emmanuel community – knowing it is, as St. Paul says, for the common good.

We know that by taking these steps for the welfare of those who “have no wine,” we will like Mary did, put ourselves at risk of public shame. Dr. King was no stranger to that either. Did you know that following his “I Have a Dream” speech, the FBI sent the president a 64-page memo which contained the following? 

 “In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.”  Source: “Broken, The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI” by Richard Gid Powers, (Free Press, NY, 2004), 251. 

The powers of the world look at the voices of love with suspicious, fearful eyes, knowing those voices can influence people to transform the world.

A few years ago during Lent I practiced a spiritual discipline of smiling – something I always need to do more of. I was surprised at how many people found that suspicious.

As the days of Lent went on, I was intentional not just about smiling, but about finding the person whose face was screwed up into a scowl, or who had the saddest or weariest expression, and smile at them.

I still was often met with suspicion, but every once in a while, someone smiled back at me and a connection was made. As fleeting as that moment may have been, there was an eternal connection made: human to human, wrapped up together in a moment of divine love.

What happened as a result of those connections is staircase stuff – God’s domain. Being true to the steps God was asking me to take was my domain.

We who are followers of Jesus are the next-born of the divine-human union begun in him, and we shine with the radiance of his glory so that the whole world may know the steadfast, caring, intimate love of God for all creation. I can testify that this radiance is a gift in abundance here at Emmanuel and our hour has come.

Our union with God compels us to make connections: human to human, wrapped up in divine love. It is our identity… our destiny. God bless us as we obey and take our next steps together. Amen.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Epiphany (transf) and Baptism, 2022: Followers and bearers of the Light

 Lectionary: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7,10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12 

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

Today is the transferred feast of the Epiphany, which marks the end of the season of Christmas. Some Episcopalians follow the celebration of Holy Eucharist on this day with a de-greening of the church and a burning of those greens. It’s beautiful symbolism – and besides, who doesn’t love a good bonfire?!

Picture it - standing in the presence of the great light of an Epiphany fire and feeling its warmth and power. It is a true manifestation of the message of this day, and it connects us to our forebears. First, there were the Israelites, who followed the pillar of light during their 40-year exile in the desert. Then the shepherds who followed the light of the star to Bethlehem to where the baby Jesus had just been born.

It also connects us to the experience of the magi, who, as Matthew tells us, traveled a great distance following the light of an unusual star in the heavens. These visitors were probably Zoroastrians, members of a religious group who studied the stars. They also interpreted dreams.

According to Zoroastrian belief, every person is connected to a star. The appearance of this unusual and magnificent star signified the birth of an unusual and magnificent person. It was so compelling to them that they packed up their camels, loaded up their treasure chests, and headed out to find the person connected to this amazing star. How far they traveled and how long it took is unclear, but it was anywhere
from 500 miles, which would take a few months, to thousands of miles taking a couple of years.

Matthew, who is Jewish, calls these visitors “magi.” This is significant. Magi is the source of our words “magic” and “magician.” They were thought of as sorcerers in their time and they would have been looked at with suspicion, even contempt, by faithful Jews. The Magi were foreigners, Gentiles, and sorcerers – outsiders in every way, yet they too were drawn to see the Messiah.

The hymn tells us there were three magi, but we don’t actually know how many people were in the magi’s caravan. Scripture tells us there were three gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The traditional names of the three wise men: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, first turned up in a 5th-century Greek manuscript and later in a 6th century mosaic in an Italian church. If you used the chalking of the door liturgy I sent out,you might have noticed that the “code” includes the letters C, M, and B – which some say refer to Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, but actually refer to the Latin phrase, “Christus Mansionem Benedicat” which means “Christ Bless this House.”

When the magi caravan saw that the star had stopped, they, like the shepherds, were overwhelmed with joy. When Mary and Joseph welcomed the magi into their house, a breach of protocol on their part yet again, the visitors saw the baby Jesus and fell to their knees, paying homage to him and offering him gifts.

This is a powerful moment in the story as it is the moment the light of Christ caused a historical wall to come tumbling down – the wall between the Jews and Gentiles, insiders and outsiders. In this moment, God established a divine unity where there had been centuries of human division.

The gifts the magi offered baby Jesus were those typically given to a king: gold – which is a symbol of earthly wealth and power; frankincense - a symbol of spiritual power, used in the anointing of kings and priests; and myrrh - an expensive plant extract used by royalty as a perfume or medicine. It is also used to prepare a body for burial.

Matthew ends the story by telling us that the magi went home a different way, having heard in a dream that they should not return to Herod. As I mentioned before, the magi were interpreters of dreams, but I often wonder, did they all have the same dream? We don’t know, Scripture doesn’t tell us; but we do know that nothing is impossible for God, who guided these “non-believers” and remarkably, they listened and obeyed, openly defying human political authority and putting themselves at risk of attack.

The world has always been difficult to navigate. For us, the COVID pandemic marches on with variants challenging our COVID fatigue to the limits. Fear continues to challenge our faith, as Rev. Sujanna said last week in her sermon. Though our path forward is uncertain at times, we know we can trust the Light who leads us, and so we are compelled to go on – together – as a community, a family of faith who are both followers of and bearers of the light of Christ.

Today, we have the joy and privilege of adding another member to the Christian community in the family of faith here at Emmanuel: Owen Francis Smith who will be baptized in a moment. Each time we baptize a child of God, the priest proclaims: “receive the light of Christ” as their baptismal candle is lit from the Paschal candle.

The godparents symbolically hold that light until Owen can hold it for himself. In the meantime, we all promise to help Owen learn how to be a follower and bearer of the light of Christ, and we pledge to help him understand the power and the warmth of the light he is being given.

The light of Christ is no small thing - for Owen or for us. The power of it continues to break into the darkness of the world enlightening it as its warmth divinely gathers and unifies those whom the world has divided until all are one body, one spirit, one family in God.

It’s also no small thing that we have been chosen by God to be followers and bearers of this light. As we baptize Owen, may we all recommit ourselves to the life of grace that is the gift of Baptism… a life that sees and shares joy and wonder in all God’s works. Amen.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas Day & Baptism, 2021-C: Extravagant love

Lectionary: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2: 1-20 

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en Unidad. Amen. 

As a former marketer, I love a good TV commercial. One of my all-time favorite commercial series was called “Frogs (Boys night in).” It came out about a decade ago but the tagline echoes in my thoughts today, especially today as we prepare to Baptize Amelia.

In this commercial, you see a picture of some men playing cards as a voice is saying, “There was a time when poker night was what you looked forward to all week.” Then the picture changes to one of those men holding his baby on his couch., and the voice says, “So who’d have ever thought boys’ night out wouldn’t hold a candle to boys’ night in? Having a baby changes everything.”

The biggest thing to ever happen in the history of human experience came to us as a baby. Born to a poor, young peasant woman, in a barn in a remote village in the Middle East - this baby changed everything, forevermore.

Sometimes, the Christmas story is so familiar, so sanitized that we forget the harsh reality of it. Mary and Joseph traveled 90 miles to register as a family in Bethlehem according to the law. She was 9 months pregnant… On a donkey… for 90 miles….

When they finally get to Bethlehem Joseph’s people turned them away claiming there was no room in their guest quarters. Since Mary was pregnant before she and Joseph had married, it’s likely they were sent in their shame to the barn, and Mary’s baby had to be born among the animals. Nothing was sterilized. No one came to help them or feed them.

It must have been so scary for them. But then… there he was. The baby conceived by the overshadowing of God was born. They swaddled him so he felt safe, talked to him so he didn’t feel alone, and Mary fed him so he could be content and sleep.

Mary, who was probably only 14 years old, had to figure out how to nurse her newborn. As most mothers know, newborn babies don’t always latch at first and we often need help getting that going. Joseph had to make sure the afterbirth was delivered completely so Mary didn’t bleed to death, and how many of us would know how to intervene with an afterbirth hemorrhage?

It must have been so lonely for them. I hope there was a quiet moment, after the baby Jesus was born, cleaned, nursed, and resting that Mary and Joseph could revel in what just happened. They knew that this baby was about to change everything.

But I wonder, don’t all babies change everything – in that ‘flutter of a butterfly wing affecting global weather systems’ kind of way? It may be inaccurate science, but it’s good theology. Every one of us is born with a divine purpose. We are unique and uniquely gifted by God and sent into the world to discover and fulfill that purpose.

It’s why our faith community matters so much. When we baptize someone, we are welcoming them into a community that will love them, notice their gifts and passions, nourish them, train them up, then trust them to use those gifts in service to God and God’s people.

The primary role of a faith community is to promote, embody, and increase the establishment of love: God’s love for us, our love for one another, and our love for ourselves, in all our diversity, knowing God created us exactly as we are and has a purpose for us.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, “If you know how much God is in love with you, you can’t help but live your life radiating that love.” It’s our goal as Christians to live our lives like that.

Luke says an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds in the fields and told them of the birth of the Savior. For most of us, this brings to our minds a sweet, pastoral image of men sitting on the grass watching over their sheep who graze peacefully unaware. The reality, however, was a little different. Shepherds were generally scorned as shiftless and were sometimes hated because they would graze their flocks on other people’s land without permission. They didn’t bathe much so they didn’t smell good and people typically just avoided them. In addition, these particular shepherds were the lowest of the low… working the graveyard shift.

But God, who sees differently than the world does, chose these lowly shepherds to be the first humans to hear the good news that the Messiah of the world had been born in Bethlehem. The shepherds rushed off to find this child, then ran home to tell everyone they knew about it “…and all who heard it were amazed.”

They must have radiated their good news because everyone who saw them was astounded by what they heard. What if we radiated our Good News the way they did?

Angels don’t need to come and tell us about Jesus anymore because he lives in us. The good news of Christmas is not just an ancient story we remember together, it’s a truth we live today. Christ is born in us, dwells in us, heals and loves through us - now - and baptizing a baby on this day is the perfect manifestation of that truth.

New life, actual new life, is being baptized today in the extravagant love of God in Christ by her loving family in the presence of her loving faith community – and that is the radical truth of Christmas: extravagant love.

On that first Christmas, God took the form of the smallest and the least - a baby who changed everything. Today, we have the joy and privilege of welcoming Amelia, into the Christian family, in the sacrament of Baptism, whereby she will be marked as Christ’s own forever. May her life, her love change everything.

(The Celebrant invites the candidate for Baptism to the font). 

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Eve, 2021-C: What we are celebrating

 Lectionary: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2: 1-20

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en Unidad. Amen. 

There’s a meme floating around social media of the Flintstones wearing Santa hats and celebrating in front of a decorated Christmas tree. The meme asks: “Seriously - what are they celebrating?” 

It’s a fair question… even for us today. What are we celebrating?

At Christmas we celebrate that God took on human form in the person of Jesus, eliminating all that had separated us, and reconciling all humanity to God. This new relationship, a divine-human union, happened on that first Christmas and happens still today because as we said in Advent: Christ is coming. “Christ is always coming… always entering a troubled world, a wounded heart.” It’s an amazing thing, a miraculous event, and definitely something to celebrate.

Even with the pandemic happening all around us still (and God knows how tired we are of that!), we want to celebrate together. We want to worship, share holy Communion, and sing Christmas hymns. We want to eat good food, drink good wine, share stories, hugs, and build memories. We want to celebrate together as the beloved community of God!

So today, we gather in-person and online, to celebrate the birth of the Savior of the world. It’s a great story – the greatest one ever told, they say.

According to the Gospel writer, Joseph, who is descended from the house of David, must travel to Bethlehem to register in accordance with a decree from Caesar Augustus. Mary, who is engaged to Joseph, is pregnant and near delivery.

Ordinarily, travelers like Mary and Joseph would have stayed with family or friends who live in the area, but they arrive to find “there was no room for them at the inn.” We need to remember that in first-century Palestine, an inn was not a hotel. It was the guest room in a typical peasant house.

Some houses had upper rooms, like the one the disciples hid in after Jesus’ crucifixion. Most houses had lower rooms, rooms below the main living quarters where the animals were kept. Mary and Joseph were basically sent down to the basement where the animals were. Imagine having to give birth there.

It’s very likely that Mary and Joseph were being shunned by their family and friends who didn’t approve of Joseph showing up with his pregnant girlfriend. To them, Joseph was violating the law by staying with Mary, rather than putting her out and letting the community stone her to death for adultery.

People looking at Joseph and Mary saw sinners, but God saw partners in redemption. The sad part is, how many people continue to miss the miracle of Christ coming into a troubled world and wounded hearts because they’re too busy moralizing…?

The judgment of God, who is the only real moral authority – is (are you listening?) salvation for the whole world. And this salvation is in Jesus the Christ whose birth we celebrate today.

By taking on flesh Jesus linked heaven and earth, eternity and time, from ages past to this present moment,
reconciling us to himself and ensuring that everyone is included in God’s plan of salvation… the clean and the unclean, the Jew and Gentile, the saint and the sinner.

There are some people who would limit God’s grace only to those who deserve it (as they define that, of course). Well, the truth is, none of us deserves it, yet all of us receive it, because that is the nature of the extravagant love of God.

Luke affirms this in his telling of the Christmas story. The first to hear of the birth of the Messiah were some shepherds. It’s a peaceful, pastoral scene in our imagination: shepherds sitting under a star-filled sky keeping watch over their sheep.

We’re all fans of the shepherds, aren’t we? They were simple, hard-working, regular folk. We’re simple, hard-working, regular folk. We feel like we can identify with them… but we need to remember that in that time, “shepherding was a despised occupation…they were scorned as dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other [people’s] lands.” Shepherds also didn’t bathe much so they didn’t smell good; and this particular group of shepherds was the lowest of the low – the ones working the graveyard shift.

But God, who sees differently than the world does, chose these lowly shepherds to see the glory of the presence of God, which, Scripture tells us, shone all around them. God chose them to be the first to hear the angel’s proclamation of good news of great joy for all the people.

Today, we celebrate that we are the ones God is choosing to see the glory of the presence of God all around us. We are the ones God is choosing to be God’s partners in the plan of redemption.

We celebrate that the light of God’s love fills us to overflowing and, like those shepherds, we can’t help but share this good news of great joy. As Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, “If you know how much God is in love with you, you can’t help but live your life radiating that love.”

Seriously, this is what we are celebrating. 
The good news of Christmas is our present reality. It isn’t just an event in ancient history or a great story. Christ is being born in us again right now.

So, let’s celebrate that, singing out our praise: Glory to God in the highest heaven! For unto us is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, Christ the Lord. 


Sunday, December 12, 2021

3 Advent, 2021-C: Welcoming joy

 Lectionary: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18 

En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

The Third Sunday of Advent is known as Rose or Gaudete Sunday, hence the pink vestments. It’s one of my great joys that while the church pushed women out for centuries, it kept pink as a liturgical color. So, now we get to see the girl color, recognize the value of the feminine and associate it with joy! Pink means something different for us than it did for them - but I’ll bet the church fathers didn’t see that coming!

The word 'gaudete' comes from the Latin and while we translate it as “rejoice,” it literally means 'to welcome and to be filled with joy.' On this Sunday, we make an intentional choice to welcome the joy God is waiting to give us – joy that anticipates the redeeming love of God; joy that trusts that nothing is impossible with God.

We rejoice that we have been redeemed by the forgiveness of our sins, so anticipating our promised reconciliation, we commit during Advent, to honestly discover where we have gone astray in our lives, our faith community, and our world. We can’t repent, that is, change our minds or our direction, if we don’t know where we’ve sinned.

A great tool for this is the Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent, what some call “Confession” as an Advent practice. I’m happy to talk about this with anyone who wants to know more about it or make an appointment.

So, let’s talk about sin for a minute. When people come to me to “confess” their sins, they often tell me what they’ve done that is wrong. That isn’t the sin, I tell them. That’s the evidence of sin.

Sin is separation where there should be relationship, disruption where there should be union, and opposition where there should be harmony and it happens deep within us, in our hearts. Sin disrupts our relationships with God, one another, and ourselves. The evidence of our sin is the behavior that results from that disruption, behavior that is self-centered, harmful, or disrespectful.

In our Rite of Reconciliation, we look deeply within and see where this disruption has happened, and where the reconciliation Jesus promised us needs to happen again, remembering that it is by the power of God’s bountiful grace and mercy that we are restored. The words of absolution, spoken out loud, initiate that restoration, and it’s a powerful experience.

Sin is part of our lives, and sometimes, when we allow ourselves, we realize just how messed up things are. For instance, how do we faithfully and justly deal with the racism, sexism, homophobia, and other sins built into our systems? I was chatting with a deacon friend recently who does this work and she tells me that finding an unhoused person shelter for the night right now can be a frustrating endeavor – and she knows the system! Imagine how impossible it must be for someone without a knowledgeable advocate!

Our Collect today reminds us that sometimes we need a hero; someone who has the power to make things different… better; to restore justice where there is none. Sometimes we just need to know there is power out there that can set right what has gone wrong.

Zephaniah talks about God as a “warrior who gives victory” but let’s not overlook how that victory is described. Speaking through the prophet God promises to rejoice over us with gladness, to renew us in God’s love, and to exult over us with singing. God promises to redeem disaster, deal with our oppressors, save the lame, gather the outcast, and change our shame to praise. This is what victory looks like, and it is truly cause to rejoice.

Paul affirms this in his letter to the Philippians saying, rejoice because “the Lord is near.” We don’t need to worry about anything. Pray and give thanks, he says, because we are assured that all will be well, and our assurance feels like peace – peace in our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Peace that makes no sense, because it is a peace that trusts completely in God, whose power of abundant grace and mercy leads us to the victory Zephaniah described.

So, today, we welcome God’s joy and let it fill us to overflowing whereupon it will spill into the world.

What, then, do we make of this Gospel reading? The first thing John the Baptist says is, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come?” It feels kind of like Scriptural whiplash, doesn’t it? But it does make sense and it is good news.

John’s essential message was: change the way you’re thinking, believing, and acting because the Messiah is coming – and it won’t be like what you think. In fact, as it turned out, Jesus’ Messiahship wasn’t what John the Baptist thought either. Jesus didn’t bring salvation just to his own people, but to all people for all time, and he brought it by the forgiveness of sins, that is, Jesus restores relationships that have been separated, unity where there is division, and harmony where there is discord. 

John the Baptist knew that he was chosen by God to herald the coming of the long-awaited Messiah. He knew that God’s people needed to repent because the Messiah was bringing the Spirit’s renewing fire, but even he didn’t know how radically different God’s plan was going to be from his own expectations. None of us does – something to keep in mind as we journey together through this Advent into the next chapter of our life as a faith community. 

Thomas Merton once said: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope…” and I would add – with joy!

On this Gaudete Sunday, we welcome all that God is waiting to give, knowing that God’s plan for us and for the whole world is a plan of love, full of bountiful grace and mercy - and that we have been chosen by God to proclaim that Good News to the world.

How can we be anything else but filled with joy? Gaudete! Rejoice! 


(Image of John the Baptist, by El Greco)

Sunday, November 28, 2021

1 Advent, 2021-C: Welcome the redemption

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

En el nombre del Dios, que es trinidad en unidad. Amen.
The familiar Advent theme of keeping awake or being on guard, as Jesus says it in today’s gospel, derives from apocalyptic literature about the end of times, a common fear among humans found in most cultures throughout history. For Christians, however, the feared and dreaded judgment has already happened -- and it was redemption. God chose to come among us as Jesus, the Christ, who is always coming, always redeeming.

This is our Good News to share - that there is nothing to fear about our personal deaths or the end of the world as we know it, which, as I said recently, has already happened over and over again in our history, with new life emerging from the present death. Each time it happens, however, the distress among nations and cosmic signs of doom and destruction impact the people in that time and they “faint from fear and foreboding.”

When that happens, Jesus says, stand and look up, and remember the promise of redemption. Then he told the parable of the fig tree. You know how to read the signs, he says. When you see the leaves of the fig tree sprouting, you know that the warm, fruitful season of summer is coming. Likewise, when you see the tribulations on earth and the cosmic signs of destruction, YOU will know that it means the kingdom of God is drawing near.

These things are the signs that the promise of redemption, new life out of death, is about to be fulfilled again. It always will until all of creation is reconciled to God. So, stand up, look up, and welcome the redemption, be part of it! Don’t miss the opportunity by numbing yourself into a slumber of denial. There is nothing God can’t or won’t redeem.

Everyone who lives on the earth will face these moments of choice so be alert and pray that when it’s your turn, when you see the cosmic signs of destruction, you don’t lose hope. When you see the distress among nations, you don’t bury your head. Look up! Stand up – for you stand in the presence of the Son of Man.

Our humanity guarantees that there will be times we’ll be going through life as if in a slumber. Many of you have heard me talk about our COVID reawakening as we cautiously reopen our churches and ministries. It’s as if we’ve all been in a slumber on many levels. The shutdown put a stop to all of our busyness at church, at school, at work. As ministries began to open back up we had to figure out how to pick up these ministries and do them in the world as it is now – which is different than it was before, and thanks be to God for that!

Our COVID slumber gave us the gift - or burden - of time to look deeply and critically at ourselves and our world, and some of the revelations have been unsettling and led to tough questions like: how do we establish fair and living wages for all? How do we teach a history that is honest and doesn’t revise or eliminate inconvenient truths? How do we adapt our practices to honor and respect the limited and sometimes dying resources in creation?

It isn’t news to anyone anymore that people of color, particularly African Americans, are arrested, convicted, and imprisoned at much higher rates than whites. It’s also not news anymore that there is a real thing called the school to prison pipeline which the National Education Association says has “resulted in the suspensions, expulsions, and arrests of tens of millions of public school students, especially students of color and those with disabilities or who identify as LGBT.” (Source) How do we change this? 

 How do we make amends to today’s descendants of slavery or to the indigenous peoples forcibly driven from their homelands? We haven’t even figured out how to talk about this yet without shame, blame, recrimination, and defensiveness. These revelations of our reality seem too big, too complicated, too impossible to solve – and they are for us, but not for God.

I submit that the problem we face is not that we have fallen into a numbing slumber of denial or dissipation, but that we choose to remain stuck in it. We can’t or won’t “wake up” out of self-interest, or fear, or a sense of powerlessness, or guilt, or dread. We choose to numb ourselves with dissipation and drunkenness to escape dealing with the tribulation in our world, our responsibility for it or our continuing complicity in it.

In the season of Advent, we are called to wake up, stand up, and look up because the coming of Christ isn’t a thing to dread or avoid. It’s a joy, a relief, a gift!

Jesus said, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (Jn 3:17). He also said that he would not leave us orphaned (Jn 14:18). He will stand with us always until God’s plan of redemption is fully and completely accomplished.

This also isn’t something that happens once on some mysterious unknown day. The Spirit of Christ is alive, eternally alive, and dwells in us, so of course, Christ is always coming, always redeeming.

The trap Jesus warns us about is hopelessness. When we forget the compassion and love of God for us, when we think we are left alone to deal with the tribulation around us, we will, of course, descend into hopelessness.

So our mission during Advent (should we choose to accept it) is to remember and reconnect with Jesus who is our hope. We do this by choosing to stop, pray, and awaken to the eternal truth that Jesus is coming, that Christ is always coming, entering a troubled world and our wounded hearts, bringing peace, mercy, love, and healing.

God bless us all as we practice a holy, transforming Advent. Amen.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

25th Pentecost, 2021-B: A new relationship with God in Christ

 Lectionary: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8 

Our Collect today is one of my favorites because it speaks of a fully embodied reception of the grace offered to us in Scripture. We pray that we will listen with the ears of an open spirit, to read with the full

power of our intellect, to mark the preeminence of our Holy Writ, and – here’s my favorite part – to inwardly digest them. 

It’s such a Eucharistic turn of phrase. We pray to God to support us as we take in the Scriptures and make them part of our bodies and souls just as we take in the nourishment of the holy food of Communion.

The fruit of doing this is that we are enabled to embrace the hope of everlasting life and hold fast to it, no matter what we see and experience in the world. This reminds me of a short poem about embracing hope: 
“Hope is a state of mind not
dictated by what appears
to be: a promise
built on faith.

We look beyond
fear. And begin to trust
what we do not yet see. 

We listen
for though we prepare
and plan
and strive to organize, Love
will take us in
a new direction, a re-birth
beyond our comprehension.

In prayerful surrender
we can be true
to who we are
and trust and continue
and become
truly ourselves.”     © Valori M. Sherer, 2009. All rights reserved
Hannah had a gift for prayerful surrender, and by it, she became truly herself: a daughter of God, a mother, and a model for us all on perseverant prayer. The continuing BLM Vigil of Solidarity on Friday nights is a perfect example of this in our community.

Hannah was barren and though her husband adored her, she was tortured and nettled by his other wife who was able to bear him children. This went on year after year, yet Hannah kept praying.

What’s interesting about this story is that Hannah was praying silently - something that just wasn’t done. Back then all prayer was said aloud. In fact, Hannah’s prayerful behavior was so strange that Eli thought she was drunk! The clarity of Hannah’s reply to him, however, convinced Eli that Hannah wasn’t drunk and he joined his prayer to hers.

This is where the power and importance of corporate prayer were revealed for us to hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. When Hannah and Eli joined their prayers together, the mountain was moved, so to speak. The impossible became possible. The hope became a reality.

Corporate prayer always dispels the loneliness of suffering. This is something we learned all over again during the worst of the COVID shutdown last year. When the opportunity to pray together was taken from us, we realized just how much we missed it – how much we needed it.

Hannah prayerfully surrendered, joined her silent prayer to another’s, and clung to the hope of a reality she couldn’t yet see. It wasn’t long before Hannah found her life heading in a new direction as the mother of the prophet, Samuel.

Her proclamation of faith and joy in the response to our Old Testament reading is so powerful it gives me chills. It also may seem familiar – it is the source from which Jesus’ mother, Mary, borrowed her prayer – the one we call the Magnificat found in the gospel of Luke (1:46-55).

“My heart exults in the Lord…” Hannah exclaims, by whom the weapons of the mighty are broken… the full are left wanting and the hungry are beyond satisfied… by whom empty wombs are filled and the poor are made rich… by whom the needy are celebrated, honored and respected. It’s the foundational social justice prayer in our Scripture.

That last bit of Hannah’s prayer, the part about the wicked adversaries, was probably added on later by an editor – a bit of Biblical mansplaining. Their goal was upright anyway, declaring the power of God to judge and to empower the anointed, in other words, the king of Israel, whom Samuel would one day anoint.

All of this points to a new way of being in relationship with God, which is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the gospel. As Jesus and his disciples are leaving the temple in Jerusalem, the disciples marvel at the spectacular temple complex with its huge foundational stones. One commentator reports that “Archeologists… uncovered individual stones as large as 42 x 11 x 14 feet… weighing as much as 500 tons… The white marble is adorned with gold outside and shines blindingly in the sunshine. The inside is adorned with gold, silver, crimson, purple, and finely polished cedar. Great columns support a high ceiling. It is truly one of the wonders of the world. Even more significantly for the Jewish people,” this commentator says, is that this temple “is the place where God makes his earthly home.” (Source: Dick Donovan,

In response, Jesus clarifies for them the new way of being in relationship with God he is inaugurating by his life and impending death and resurrection. See those great stones, he asks? They’re all about to be destroyed.

Some believe that this statement cost Jesus his popular support. His prediction of the destruction of the temple may be why Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem turned into an angry mob calling for his crucifixion.

But Jesus wasn’t kidding. The temple would be destroyed. God, however, isn’t in the temple so the people needn’t lose hope. God is in me, Jesus says, and because God is in me, God is now also in you.

Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, reconciled all humanity to God, removing the barriers between God and us. The barrier we must remove is our unbelief.

This was prophesied long before Jesus showed up, yet somehow, folks had trouble connecting the dots, so the author of the letter to the Hebrews does it for them quoting the prophet Jeremiah (31:33): “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

In the New Covenant, given to us by our Savior Jesus Christ, God dwells within us, in our very bodies and souls. At every Holy Eucharist, we remember this by eating and drinking the holy food of Communion and literally digesting it. The spirit of Christ is literally and spiritually in us. We are the dwelling place of God.

Does that mean temples and churches are no longer needed? Not at all! Hannah’s story makes abundantly clear the necessity of gathering for corporate prayer and our experience tells us that we need continual nourishment of Word and Sacrament.

What’s different now is that whatever suffering we witness or experience: war, famine, earthquakes, racism, a pandemic - we know it isn’t the end. The “end of days” so habitually understood to be the end of the world as we know it, doesn’t exist. The world as it was known has ended and been reborn over and over again – and thanks be to God for that! That’s what resurrection is: new life from death - in Christ Jesus - and therein is the hope we hold fast to.

Jesus said, do not be alarmed, … all of this is just the beginning of the birth pangs of a new life, a new world because the redeeming love of God is never absent from our circumstances. How can it be when God dwells in us?

So, with prayerful surrender, we trust, and continue in God’s love in every situation, every personal and global suffering, clinging to the blessed hope of everlasting life, given to us in our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.