Sunday, May 29, 2011

Easter 6A: Holy drips

Lectionary: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21

The sermon was extemporaneous, so there is no text today. Here is the audio recording.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer, 2011 at Redeemer

“Finally, brothers and sisters… Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Cor 13:11)

As Church, we know that rest from the rigors of work is Biblical. In the story of creation found in Genesis, God rested on the seventh day and called that rest “holy.” The thing about Sabbath-rest is that it is multi-faceted. It includes rest (time doing nothing at all – a holy enterprise), time spent with loved ones, time on fun-filled or creative adventures, and time restoring order to our lives and homes (catching up on bill-paying, cleaning, painting/decorating our homes, etc.).

Taking time for Sabbath rest honors God and ourselves, so this summer at Redeemer, we will be intentional about how we do this together. Vacation means there will be times the office has no one to answer the phones. Thanks in advance to our volunteers who will help out.

We will also be creative this Summer-Sabbath, trying out a couple of new things. If we like them, we may continue them into the following program year:

Taizé Services: RoseAnn Evan has agreed use her gift for liturgy and offer these lay-led, meditative services monthly. If you love them and want more, just let RoseAnn or me know.
Movie Night: We will gather monthly to watch movies that inspire discussion of our Christian values and call to mission. There are so many movie options: The Power of One, The Apostle, Chocolat, Spanglish, The Tolkein trilogy, the Harry Potter series. Popcorn and cokes provided.
Liturgical Music Committee: Led by our Music Director, this committee will choose the hymns and plan the adult and children’s choir presentations for the coming season (three months ahead), and – here’s the new and creative part - plan special musical events, inviting our own musicians to offer their gifts (cello, violin, flute, etc.), inviting guest artists or choirs to come and perform here - maybe to raise funds for the Shepherd's Table or mission work.

VBS, July 10 -14, provides us opportunity to spend quality time with our loved ones, both here at Redeemer and with our new friends in Christ at Ross Grove Baptist Church. Come help or just come! Contact Jennifer Niblack and let her know how you can help.

Our Deanery is providing our youth (grades 6-12) and adults an opportunity for adventure in the mission fields of tornado-stricken Alabama July 24-30. After working to restore order to the lives of our sisters and brothers in Alabama, providing manual labor and Vacation Bible School for the children there, the missioners will enjoy a day of fun-filled play at an amusement park on their way home. To be a part of this adventure, please contact the church office.

Finally, this summer, we will set aside time to put our communal life in order. I‘m asking the leadership of our various ministries to gather your people together and plan for the coming year: Christian Formation for all ages, Children/Youth, Altar Guild, Choir, Episcopal Church Men, Episcopal Church Women, Finance, Liturgical Ministries, Outreach, Pastoral Care, Parish Life, Parish Net, Prayer Shawl, Rosary, Stewardship, Ushers, Welcome, Worship, etc.

May our Summer Sabbath honor God and ourselves and be the time of restoration and creative enterprise that builds us and our future together as Church.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Easter 5A: Our destination - the broken places

Lectionary: Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14

So, it’s good to see y’all! Those of us not carried away yesterday in a rapturous exultation are called, like Noah and his family, to do God’s work in the world until the reconciling work begun by our Savior is completed. And for the record, no one (no one!) can know or figure out when that will be. (See MT 24:36)

So, on we go, doing the work Jesus prepared us to do. The world is still broken. The work is still hard. And we are still struggling to know what the next steps should be and how we’ll get through them. That makes us an awful lot like the disciples in today’s Gospel story.

Our reading today is the beginning of the Farewell Discourse in John. John is the only Gospel writer who devotes so much space (two long chapters) to this teaching in which Jesus is trying to prepare the disciples for the fulfillment of God’s plan through him, realizing that everyone will be shocked and frightened by what is about to happen.

Jesus has been telling the disciples that he will die and be raised from the dead, but the reality of this just isn’t sinking in. Now, as they gather together at their Last Supper, Jesus spends time teaching them comforting them, and preparing them for the difficult time to come.

Peter, in his beautiful way, has just promised Jesus that he would lay down his life for him! ‘I appreciate the thought, Peter, but – no you won’t. You’ll deny me three times. You’ll be afraid and ashamed.’

The nervousness of the disciples escalates - understandably. Jesus senses their discomfort and tries to calm them. ‘Don’t be disturbed,’ he says. The word-picture for this would be a pool of water being stirred up. ‘Don’t be stirred up,’ Jesus says. Trust God, and trust me.

But Philip is worried. ‘If Peter isn’t strong enough, how will the rest of us get through this?’ So he asks Jesus to reveal God to them right now, so that they can be made strong (a better translation than ‘satisfied’).

You can almost hear Jesus sigh as he responds to Philip: ‘After all this time, you still don’t get it. You have seen God. You are seeing God. I have told you before and I am telling you now – God dwells in me and I in God… Trust God. And trust me. I know this is hard right now, so if you can’t trust me, than look at what has already been accomplished, and trust that, remembering that all of that was accomplished by God who dwells in me and works through me.’

Then Jesus speaks comfort and challenge to them: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” When we hear this, most of us picture little rooms or houses in the great mansion of God in heaven that we will go to when we die. I think our imagination has long been influenced by the beautiful writings of one of my favorite mystics, St. Theresa of Avila, and her description of the journey to Christian maturity found in her book, Interior Castles – a book, by the way, that I highly recommend.

But the big-picture of Jesus’ teachings, the one we hear over and over again in John’s Gospel, is that God dwells in Jesus and Jesus dwells in God. And Jesus dwells in us, and through him, God dwells in us and we in God.

So Jesus is saying… if you see me go (knowing they will see him die), know that I am going to prepare a place for you. I will come again (knowing they will see him in the resurrection) and will receive you into myself, so that where I am, you all (that word is plural) will also be. Y’all will dwell in me and I will dwell in y’all.’

Jesus isn’t talking about rooms or houses in heaven – he’s talking about us – “the chosen race, the royal priesthood,” the Church “who were not a people, but now are a people” because Jesus dwells in us and we in him.

Having established that, Jesus says, ‘you know the place I’m going and you know the way.’ But Thomas declares, ‘No we don’t. We don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?’

And Jesus answers him with that most comforting of phrases: ‘I am the way (your access to God), and the truth (the revealed reality of God), and the life (the breath of God).’ In this moment, Jesus is making unmistakably clear his identity as God Incarnate, the one who was with God and was God… in the beginning. (See John 1:1) In him, in the Incarnate God, the whole world is reconciled to God – brought into perfect, harmonious unity with God.

Having said that, Jesus reminds the disciples (and us) that all the strength we need is in him: those who trust me “will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” The word ‘works,’ as it is used here, is often understood to mean the things we do, the individual acts we accomplish.

But Jesus is talking about his life’s work, and promises that if we trust him, our life’s work will be like his, and will be added to his work, so that there will be more (not necessarily better) work accomplished that will glorify God.

And all of this can happen because Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, is about to pass from this place to the next, ushering in the new age, uniting what was divided, making the new reality one that is perfect, harmonious, …a holy union.

The brokenness of the world isn’t something we need to fear or avoid. If we trust that Jesus dwells in us and we in him, then we won’t get stirred up when the brokenness of the world is revealed to us in natural disasters or wars or poverty or disease.

If we trust that we are the dwelling places of God, then we might come to see these broken places as our destination – places we must go carrying light of Christ’s reconciling love.

Then our life’s work, the life’s work of our community, will be truly great.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Easter 4A: Being sheep and shepherds

Lectionary: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

When my daughter was little I was the Brownie troop leader. As an expert in the field of abuse prevention, I was called upon each year to help teach the children how to stay safe. I used to begin by telling those little ones that there are some grown-ups who want to trick them and do them harm, and because they are grown-ups they can trick them.

Then I would do this demonstration. (If you get it – don’t say anything until I explain the trick) Tosses a coin. Call it! Heads I win, tails you lose. (Continues until the little ones begin to understand the trick)

The good news though is that these Brownies have a community of family and friends who can help them stay safe. The good grown-ups in their community know the tricks these bad grown-ups use. The good grown-ups can and want to protect their children.

In the Gospel story from John, Jesus claims himself as the Good Shepherd. He does this using a familiar figure of speech not meant to be complete and all encompassing, just meant to make a point: I am the Good Shepherd – these others who have been leading you (the Jewish religious authorities) are thieves and bandits, stealing your trust and robbing you of the abundant life offered by God.

Listen to MY voice, Jesus says. I know my own, and my own know me – they know my voice and they trust it because my voice leads them to safe, green pastures and refreshing, still waters.

The Good Shepherd is a favorite and enduring image of our Redeemer’s relationship with us, even though most of us today don’t have much real experience with sheep or shepherds. But it was a familiar experience in ancient times. Back then, sheep roamed freely during the day, but at night the shepherd found a place to enclose the sheep to protect them from predators.

Most shepherds put planks across the gate to keep the sheep from walking back out during the night. But the truly devoted shepherd would lay himself down across the gate and sleep there. That way no sheep could leave and no predator enter without his knowing.

Of course, lying across that gate leaves the gatekeeper vulnerable to whatever predators might show up. Jesus was claiming to be THAT sort of shepherd –the one who is willing to lay his life down for his sheep.

But not only is Jesus claiming to be the good shepherd, he is claiming to be the gate as well. This makes sense if we remember who Jesus is. As our Gospel writer tells us in the first chapter, Jesus is the Word of God, who was with God in the beginning, and who was God.

Well, of course Jesus is the gate then. How could it be otherwise? Jesus is the one who links heaven and earth. Though him all things were made. Through him all things are reconciled to God. And because he is the Word made flesh, Jesus is both sheep and shepherd and he shows us how to be the same.

Incredibly, many Christians have taken this beautiful passage which is filled with comfort and loving assurance and turned it into something coercive and exclusive: If you don’t believe in Jesus that way I believe in Jesus, you won’t be saved. One problem with that is, this story isn’t about the flock, it’s about the shepherd - the Good Shepherd, who is the true voice of God.

Also, in Jesus’ story there is freedom – those who follow his voice are free to come in and go out. That’s quite different from the way other shepherds then and now have presented it. Some earthly shepherds aren’t fond of freedom – it’s much easier to build a church and control people who don’t know they have the freedom to come in and go out, isn’t it?

But Jesus makes clear in this same speech (later on in verse 16): “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” You are in my flock. They are outside of it, but they are mine too. I will call to them and they will come because “they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

The voice of the Good Shepherd continues to call sheep into the fold today. And while we are the sheep, we are also the shepherds now. Being a shepherd who is also part of the flock is hard work. How freely do we open our doors to those whom God calls to us? How exactly do we go out and find the sheep who are lost or suffering, who are crying for safety, for nourishment or comfort.

As one of our favorite theologians, Winnie the Pooh says, “You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

As shepherds, we have to guard the gate – not to keep the flock in… the flock has the freedom to come in and go out as it follows the voice of the Good Shepherd. We don’t guard the gate in order to keep unworthy sheep out. Only the Lamb of God himself, was worthy.

We guard the gate to make sure it opens every time a sheep is ready to enter the fold, having heard and followed the voice of God. We guard it to protect the sheep from those who intend to harm them or lead them astray.

The key in this story, for the sheep and the shepherds of the sheep, is listening – knowing how to hear the voice of God, our Good Shepherd. But how do we learn this?

Peter tells us in the story from Acts, that the early church “spent much time together in the temple.” The psalmist, in response to the graciousness of God, promises to dwell (that is to worship) in the house of the Lord (church) for the rest of his life.

We are called to do the same. The reason is, we discern the voice of God individually and in community. Listening for the voice of God is something we must choose to learn and practice, and we do that by maintaining our commitment to ongoing Christian formation and to corporate prayer in Church.

So, I have a question for you – do you hear the voice of God? Do you hear the Redeemer calling you by name? If not, why not? The voice of God speaks to us in many ways: in our bodies, in our dreams, as a sudden insight in our prayers, in the reading of Scripture, in the voice of a friend, in the smile of a child, in the beauty of a sunset.

God speaks to us all the time in many ways – all we need to do is learn how to hear it. And we don’t need to worry about recognizing God’s voice – Jesus promises that we will know it.

It’s true, we are all vulnerable to being tricked, but having been marked as Christ’s own forever in our Baptism, we know that we can never (never, never!) be tricked out of God’s loving protection. Even if we walk away from God or the Church, mad about something, or disapproving of another thing, we are still one family, one flock, being constantly gathered back into the fold by our Good Shepherd.

As we continue to journey on together, our task is to learn and grow in our ability to listen and heed the voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ so that we can be good shepherds too. We know that along the way, we will share difficult moments, confusing moments, exciting moments, and moments where we see the beauty God longs to show us.

And we know this for sure: that every moment will be one we share with the “guardian of our souls,” our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Easter 2A: Witnessing our faith

Lectionary: Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31

I share with you today a prayer attributed to one of my favorite saints. Some of you will remember that I wore her costume last All Saints Day: St. Theresa of Avila, 16th century Spanish mystic.

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless [people] now.”

St. Theresa’s prayer speaks to us about how we witness our faith. This kind of witness requires that we make ourselves accessible to God and be part of a faith community that keeps us grounded and fed and sends us out to serve.

In today’s story about doubting Thomas, Jesus demonstrated three very important lessons for our work as witnesses:

1) that God accepts us where we are and leads us to where we need to be;
2) that there are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful;
3) that God is present in the gathered community of faith.

Thomas was a believer – a follower of Jesus. He thought he needed to touch the crucifixion wounds in order to believe in the redeeming act of God in the resurrection. But as it turns out, all he needed was to be in the presence of Christ.

Notice that Jesus didn’t get mad at Thomas for doubting. Instead, he invited Thomas to come into his presence and confront his doubt – because Jesus knew what Thomas really needed: his presence.

And no one kicked Thomas out of the disciples club for not believing right. They preserved their friendship with him, kept him close to them, and let God do the rest.

Thomas shows us that there are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful.

Some people know about Jesus from their earliest childhood. Whether or not they ever “see” Jesus will depend upon how accessible they make themselves to God throughout their lives and how God wishes to work in them.

Some people will have resurrection experiences, like Theresa of Avila who saw visions of Christ in his bodily form, or John Wesley whose heart was strangely warmed when he encountered the presence of Jesus in prayer – much like those disciples on the road to Damascus.

Others will say they never experience the presence of God. They don’t “see” Jesus. To them, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

In writings discovered after her death, Mother Theresa of Calcutta confessed living most of her life in a dark night – a state of feeling totally absent of the presence of God. She struggled to believe, but never stopped serving as she knew her faith called her to do.

There are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful.

In our Collect today, we asked God to help us “show forth in our lives what we profess in our faith.” So we must ask ourselves: what do we believe?... and is what we believe apparent in what we do – at work, at school, at home, at the ball field, …in church?

There is a TV show hosted by John Quiñones, called: “What would you do?” The show presents scenarios in which persons are secretly filmed witnessing such things as abuse, theft, fraud or cheating. Its purpose is to record whether or not that person will intervene to right the wrong being done, hence the title, ‘What would you do?’ Will you do something or just sit there and ignore it?

What we do witnesses our faith. So does what we say.

How many of us have been called upon to witness the basic truth of our faith to anyone – to articulate what we believe? What is our witness, that is, what do we say and what do we do when we are with someone who doesn’t believe? What is our witness when we are with someone who believes but condemns those who believe differently? What is our witness (what do we say and what do we do) when we are in the presence of someone who has been hurt or condemned by a “believer”?

On Good Friday we prayed for these very things. In the Solemn Collects (BCP, 279) our Deacon bade the congregation to pray:

For those who have never heard the word of salvation
For those who have lost their faith
For those hardened by sin or indifference
For the contemptuous and the scornful
For those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and
persecutors of his disciples
For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others

That God will open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience.

…because to have faith is to believe in God, and to obey is to hear God’s will and do it. As Peter said to his listeners in Jerusalem, we are witnesses to the redeeming work of God in Jesus Christ. We are not the ones who do the redeeming work – God is.

As witnesses, we aren’t called to coerce or threaten or frighten or cajole anyone into believing. That wasn’t Jesus’ way and it isn’t ours. We are called upon to be the presence of Christ in the world today – a presence that accepts people where they are and gently puts them in the presence of God who will guide them into all truth.

That’s why I keep saying ‘Invite your friends to church.” Bring them into the presence of God we know here when we worship together, or study the Bible together on Wednesday nights, or do Centering Prayer together on Thursday nights, or partying together all the time!

We are the hands of Christ in the world today – hands that reach out to catch someone who is falling, even when that means sacrificing our own comfort for their sake.

We are Christ’s feet in the world today – feet that will go to those places where hope needs to be spoken and compassion needs to be given.

We are the body of Christ in the world today.

I ask you, therefore, to pray with me now, that as we gather today to worship God and be fed by Word and Sacrament, we will recognize and accept the grace God is offering us and allow God to make us into one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his holy name.