Thursday, June 30, 2011

Our Christian Duty

July newsletter article by: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

“The LORD is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness. The LORD is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works.” (Exaltabo te, Deu, Ps 145:8-9)

Over and over again, in the Old and New Testaments, we hear of the graciousness of God, the lavishness of God’s love, the fullness of God’s compassion, and the inclusiveness of God’s mercy. As Christians in the Episcopal tradition, we believe the nature of God is love, and that the redemption won for us by our Savior is for the whole world. (BCP, 849).

So my question is: so what? Actually, I have to give credit to my Theology professor, Dr. Bob Hughes, for this question. Whenever we engaged in discussion about God, our relationship to God and one another, or the doctrines of the Church, my professor would ask “the So What” question. His purpose was to help us to see that knowing what we believe is important work, but it’s only part of our purpose as followers of Christ. At some point we have to get beyond our need to establish a community of agreement and get about the risky business of being a community that acts on our beliefs. In other words, it is as important to know the love of God in Jesus Christ as it is to obey his commands which call us to put that love into action.

Our church is a community of followers of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world. Our mission is to “restore all people to unity with God and one another in Christ.” (BCP, 855). We are a community called to love as God loves – to be gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and loving to everyone – even those we don’t like, don’t approve of, or don’t agree with.

We are a community that is called to model the Christian friendship shown to us first by our founders, Saints Peter and Paul – icons of Christian unity in diversity. Peter, the poor fisherman, chief apostle - the rock upon whom the church was built, and Paul, the wealthy Pharisee, Roman citizen, and apostle to the Gentiles, disagreed vehemently with one another about whom the Church should welcome and how, yet maintained their friendship until God showed them how to go forward together through what had seemed to them an impasse.

Waiting on God’s will to be revealed is always difficult, but Peter and Paul showed us that 1) it can be done; and 2) the fruits of that kind of faithfulness are beyond our ability to imagine or comprehend. I wonder if Peter thought Paul’s desire to open the Church to the Gentiles would prove to be the ruination of the church. I wonder how many faithful followers initially “left the church” once the Gentiles were allowed in? I wonder how many withheld their tithes in disapproval?

The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Shelby, NC is God’s church, called to do the reconciling work of God in Christ. The people called by God to be part of that work, whether as ministers/members or recipients of the ministries, are all beloved of God. The diversity among us is meant to be there. As God builds and rebuilds our church, our faithfulness to God and God’s command to us to love will yield fruit we can neither imagine nor comprehend now.

Our duty is not to determine our own path, but to discern and follow the one given to us by God. Our duty is “to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.” (BCP, 856)

As we enter the time of year our culture sets aside for vacations and restoration and begin the second half of 2011 together, I offer this prayer for our parish family: “Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent. Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 817).

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity 2011A: We are the crossroads


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

As we begin our contemplation of the Trinity, I offer you this prayer:

“God of delight,
your Wisdom sings your Word
at the crossroads where humanity and divinity meet.
Invite us into your joyful being
where you know and are known
in each beginning,
in all sustenance,
in every redemption,
that we may manifest your unity
in the diverse ministries you entrust to us,
truly reflecting your triune majesty
in the faith that acts,
in the hope that does not disappoint,
and in the love that endures. Amen.”


The mystery of the Trinity is fun to think about but its power to transform us happens only when we enter it, dwell in it, and let it dwell in us. Entering the mystery of the triune God means being powerless and vulnerable, which isn’t very appealing. But in the hands of our God who is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, we are safe to be both. In fact, we are called to be both – to trust and submit to the loving care of the Almighty.

When we immerse ourselves in the mystery of the Trinity, we discover that the truth of the Trinity is easy to find. It’s so nearby it’s hard to imagine we didn’t see it sooner. That’s because the truth of the mystery of the Trinity can be found right here in our incarnate bodies and right here in our faith community.

In Genesis we hear that we are made in the image of God. Over the last few weeks, we’ve heard in our Gospel readings that we (the church) are also the dwelling places of God. Think about that - God chooses to be present in us. The first person of the Trinity, the progenitor and birther of all that is, chooses to dwell in us – in our bodies and in our community.

Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, made the love and presence of God manifest in real and tangible ways on the earth, and showed us how we can do the same. Inviting people who were exiled from the communities of earth into a heavenly community, Jesus commanded us to keep doing this work – baptizing ALL people in the name of the Triune God, making them family, and teaching them to love as Jesus loved.

And the Holy Spirit of God, the advocate the world can’t perceive, but we can because we believe, is the very presence of God that dwells in us. Jesus meant it when he said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Spirit of the Triune God is in us and makes us holy, that is, set apart for a purpose. The Spirit of God is in us and compels us uncover and set free the holiness of God in everyone we meet. When someone looks at us, do they see the love of God looking back? They can – if we choose to let the Spirit of God that dwells in us greet the Spirit of God that dwells in them.

This is not magic or a spiritual trick – it’s an act of faith. Have you ever walked around just smiling at everyone you meet? How do people react? They don’t trust it. They look at you like your crazy… or dangerous.

But we’re not crazy or dangerous. We are the crossroads where humanity and divinity meet because the Spirit of God dwells in us. When we look at someone, we invite them into our personal space and, therefore, into the presence of God. For a moment, we may feel vulnerable, but trusting God who dwells in us and in them, we welcome them and greet them like family does – with a holy kiss. This isn’t necessarily an actual kiss (though it can be). A holy kiss is a gentle invitation to come into contact with the divine who dwells in us. No Bible thumping, no coercion – just a holy kiss.

Since its Trinity Sunday, I’ll incorporate today’s Anglo-fact into my sermon. In the Episcopal Church, membership and full incorporation happen at Baptism. There are no covenants to sign, and only two dogmas, that is, two things you HAVE to believe: 1) that God is Trinity in Unity, and 2) that our salvation is in Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, who is fully human and fully divine.

These two dogmas are found in our Prayer Book in the text of the Quicunque Vult (also known as the Athanasian Creed) in the Historical Documents section on page 864. The Trinitarian dogma is found beginning at the fourth line down: And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. What follows then is a comprehensive explanation of what that means concluding with the dogmatic statement: He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

The second dogmatic statement follows the short break in the text and begins with: Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the rest of the prayer explains what that means.

We have lots of other doctrines (that is, teachings), but only these two dogmas are held as necessary for salvation. As my seminary professor of Theology used to say: “You can be dogmatic about dogma, but not about anything else.” That leaves us free to listen faithfully to the living God who continues to reveal God’s self to the church.

Theologian John Baxter sums it up like this:
In essentials, unity;
in non-essentials, liberty
in all things, charity.

Our readings today, in the context of a Holy Eucharist, offer us the opportunity to open ourselves to this revelation. The Genesis reading recounts the story of God who creates. The Gospel clarifies the authority of the Incarnate One who first created the crossroads of humanity and divinity. And the Epistle outlines for the Christian community its holy purpose: Live in peace… Live in the grace of Jesus Christ…, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. That is our holy purpose. Let everyone know that we are family, who in our diversity, can live in unity. Let God who dwells in us greet God who dwells in everyone we meet.

I close with a prayer to the Trinity:

God, whose fingers sculpt sun and moon
and curl the baby's ear;
Spirit, brooding over chaos
before the naming of day;
Savior, sending us to earth's ends
with water and words:
startle us with the grace, love, and communion
of your unity in diversity,
that we may live to the praise of your majestic name. Amen.


1. Rev. Robert D. Hughes, III., Class notes, Introduction to Christian Doctrine, January 27, 2004.
2. Robert Backhouse, A Feast of Anglican Spirituality (The Canterbury Press, Norwich, 1998), 98.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost & Holy Baptism, 2011-A: Receiving new family of God

Lectionary: Numbers 11:24-30; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39.

Note: The sermon text follows the video.

As many of you know, years ago I was a chaplain on the oncology unit of a regional hospital in GA. One day I sat at the bedside of an elderly man who was dying of cancer. He had no teeth and spoke with a very thick southern accent that I found nearly impossible to understand.

I heard enough to know he was telling me his life story – he had a 3rd grade education, something about his sisters and his grandmother… and the death of his parents when he was very young. So there I was, knowing how important it was for me to hear what this man was saying, wishing I could enjoy the stories he was already well into sharing, yet feeling helpless and frustrated because I just couldn’t understand him.

“Lord, give me Pentecost ears” I cried silently in prayer. “Open my ears to hear and understand him. Give me Pentecost ears, Lord – and hurry!” (This is a true story, y’all.) Just as I finished praying, my ears were opened. I literally heard what sounded like a rush of wind. My ears felt like they popped, the way they do when you’re in an airplane and they adjust to the change in pressure.

And suddenly, the man’s voice was as clear as a bell. He was talking about meeting the woman who became his wife just before he shipped off to Europe in WWII. As I listened to the rest of his story, mental pictures were forming in my mind, like a movie that was created as he spoke. He told me about his wife, his children, how his heart broke when his son went to prison, the joy his grand-children and great-grandchildren were in his life.

Here and there I would marvel that I actually could understand him – knowing that I was experiencing a miraculous moment, a moment full of the power of the Holy Spirit. God heard my prayer and answered it – for real! I had been given the gift of Pentecost ears!

The story of the man’s life was long and beautiful. When he was finished, I felt like he was family. This toothless old man, whose great-grandparents were slaves, now felt in my heart like family. And though he died only 6 hours after I’d met him, I will always cherish his memory, our experience of kinship, and the power of the Pentecost experience I shared with him.

When we read the story of Pentecost, we hear about the power of God’s Holy Spirit, the power of love, uniting people who live in a divided world and making them feel like family. Wind and fire, symbols of the presence of God, come among the disciples who know they are in the midst of a miraculous moment, a moment full of the Holy Spirit of God. God has made it clear as a bell for them.

Then filled to overflowing with the powerful love of God’s Holy Spirit, the disciples’ fear vanishes and the Good News starts erupting from their mouths. The sound of this Good News is like a trumpet call and it causes people to draw near.

But the people are confused at first, because everyone knows that Jews don’t speak to Gentiles, so they begin to wonder… how is it possible that they’re including us – and how is it possible that we can understand them as if they are speaking our language? In response to their confusion, Peter begins to teach and prophesy, so that everyone might come to know the powerful love of God more deeply, more completely.

That first Pentecost was a powerful moment of heavenly inclusion, a building of relationships where earthly divisions had been. All nations, all people, all languages were being made one body, one family.

Hear me, people of God, when I say that the Holy Spirit of God continues to work just as powerfully in and through us today. If we seek and claim the power of Pentecost, then we too will erupt with the Good News. It will issue forth from our mouths and our lives like rushing water, satisfying those who hunger and thirst for a Love that can include them too.

Do you dream dreams? Do you have visions? …prophesy? Why not? (Really – why not?) All we need to do is claim the power of Pentecost.

In all we do and say as church, we are called to intentionally claim and communally nurture the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit and use them for the common good – building the family of God here on earth. And today we share an abundance of these gifts in the new members we are about to Baptize into our family – the body of Christ.

Each of these young ones brings gifts to be discovered and nurtured by us. The parents and Godparents pledge to help them grow in their Christian faith and life by their prayers and witness. And we, their new community, their new family, also pray that God will teach them to love in the power of the Spirit and send them into the world in witness to that love, and we pledge to do all in our power to support them in their life in Christ.

These are no small promises! So please don’t make them unless you plan to keep them.

By the Baptisms we are about to share we will expanded our boundaries of love here at Redeemer. And we’ll remember that a faith community once prayed for us too, that we might live a new life of grace and have inquiring and discerning hearts... hearts that seek out and serve those who hunger and thirst for a place to love and be loved in the name of Christ. By the renewal of our own Baptism vows, we also remember that we are all marked as Christ’s own forever and called to love as he loved us.

I now invite the candidates, their Godparents and families, to come to the font for the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.