Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vacation announcement

Hi friends and family,

I will be on vacation August 1-14. Supply priests will serve us on the Sundays and Wednesdays during my absence. Sermons will be added to this blog once I return IF I am provided text or audio file from those services.

I look forward to the time away with my family and to my return to my family at Redeemer in two weeks' time. Until then, peace be with you.


August newsletter article: Remembering our Christian Duty

By: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. (Ro 12:9)

It’s amazing how succinctly St. Paul sums up the code of conduct for the body of Christ in this verse from his letter to the Romans (Paul is rarely succinct!). Meditating on this makes it clear that we are called to be the presence of Love (God) in the world, doing the work of Love, in the name of that Love. That is our Christian duty, both as individuals and as a church, part of the body of Christ.

I have been looking at some research lately (a throwback to my first career in marketing) and was startled by the results of a study about the racial and ethnic composition of members of mainline Protestant churches. The image below (which didn't copy in this format) speaks volumes about how successful we’ve really been (or not been) at extending hospitality to strangers:

White (non-Hispanic) 91%
Black (non-Hispanic) 2%
Asian (non-Hispanic) 1%
Other/Mixed (non-Hispanic) 3%
Hispanic 3%

To be clear, mainline Protestant churches, as defined in this study, do not include Evangelical, Roman Catholic, Jewish, non-Christian, or pseudo-Christian churches (e.g. Mormon). Their pictures look pretty much the same though. The exception is the Roman Catholic Church in which Latinos comprise almost 30% of their church in the US.

What does this mean for us at Redeemer, especially given that our congregation’s demographics fit the diagram above pretty well? Who are the “strangers” in our area who are excluded from worship at local churches? How will we answer the call to show them hospitality? How would we go about doing that?

The Catechism in our Prayer Book answers that question simply in its discussion of Christian duty: “The duty of all Christians 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)

All we have to do is remember our Christian duty. Be at church on Sundays (or for some of you, on Wednesdays) to worship and pray together. Do something – mission/ministry – that has as its goal building the kingdom of God. Establish and practice a discipline of personal prayer. Contribute to the church so that it can do the work of being the presence of Love (God) in the world, doing the work of Love, in the name of that Love.
Mother Valori+

P.S. I hold you all in loving prayer during the two weeks I’m away on vacation: Aug 1-14. Deacon Pam is available for pastoral emergencies during my absence. Peace, friends!

Pentecost 7A and Baptism of JBEdwards: "Bring them to me"

Lectionary: Isaiah 55:1-5; Psalm 145: 8-9, 15-22; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

I begin with a quote from the 2009 report to the Episcopal Church from the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops:

“Baptism unites [us] to Christ. One receives thereby Christ’s own Spirit as the power to lead a reformed, Christ-like life. In the Eucharist [we] actually draw upon that life-giving Spirit, which comes to us through the gift of Christ’s own humanity to us in the elements, to grow into and sustain under trial a Christ-like transformation of life…. In baptism [we are] graciously adopted into God’s household and then nourished by God in the Eucharist. Believers receive the Spirit [of God] in baptism leading to sanctification by [that same] Spirit’s work in the Eucharist.”

Our Gospel reading from Matthew is a story of Baptism and Eucharist. The feeding of the 5000 (plus all of those women and children who got a mention this time), is the only miracle story present in all four gospel accounts, which points to its significance.

Matthew tells us that when the crowds followed Jesus to the place where he was trying to be alone,he had compassion on them and healed their sick. But that wasn’t enough. The crowd continued to linger. They wanted to stay near Jesus.

When evening came, the disciples became concerned that the people needed to be sent away so they could find something to eat before it got dark. Recognizing what they were truly hungry for, and knowing how they would need to be fed, not just this night, but forever, Jesus said to his disciples: "Bring them here to me." (2)

YOU bring them, and YOU distribute to them the food I will give you. And from that time on, Jesus’ disciples have been doing that very same thing - in our churches. If you think about it, it’s exactly what we are doing here today, though admittedly, ours is on a much smaller scale.

The parents of Thomas Edwards, who are disciples of Jesus in our time, are doing as Jesus commanded when he said: “Bring them here to me.” Together with Thomas’ parents, we, his church community, are consecrating him, setting him apart, and committing to support and uphold Thomas as he discovers and lives out the sacred purpose God has for his life.

Then all of us will share a Holy Eucharist together, a celebration of our redemption. We will nourish ourselves with the holy food and drink given to us by our Savior, renewing and strengthening ourselves to serve God in “unity, constancy and peace” all our days. (3)

The process of a “Christ-like transformation of life” is ongoing and achieved in community. Today we welcome Thomas Edwards into this community and promise to pray and work with him and his family as we all engage this process together.

I now invite the candidate for Baptism and his parents, god-parents, family and friends to process with me to the font. Children in the church are also welcome to join us at the font. As we do, we will all sing Hymn number 296.

(1) (REFLECTIONS ON HOLY BAPTISM AND THE HOLY EUCHARIST, A Response to Resolution D084 of the 75th General Convention By The Theology Committee of the House of Bishops, June 2009)
(2) Mt 14:18
(3) BCP, 363

Friday, July 29, 2011

Healing Witness: July 2011 article for the Shelby Star

When we open ourselves to come to know God in the power of Jesus, everything we once knew from a human point of view about God, ourselves, and the world is changed; transformed by the love of Christ that fills us and urges us on as witnesses of his resurrection. An important example of this is found in the story of Mary Magdalene (whose feast day is July 20), a story about healing, transformation, and faithful witness.

Unfortunately, aside from the Biblical record that Jesus healed her of seven demons (none of which was named), we don’t know much about her. In the gospels, she is a minor character who is recorded as following Jesus and his disciples around and ministering to them. (1) She is recorded as being present at Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, and all four gospels tell us that she was the first witness of the resurrection sent by Jesus to tell the disciples the good news – which led early church writers to call her the apostle to the apostles.

It was St. Gregory the Great, at the end of the 6th century, who identified Mary Magdalene with the unnamed sinner in Luke who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, and the woman caught in adultery whose stoning Jesus forestalled. “From this conflation, now rejected by scholars as well as the church, there came about the popular representation of Mary Magdalene as a penitent sinner, [a] prostitute.” (2)

For nearly two millennia Mary Magdalene, the faithful follower of Jesus, the apostle to the apostle, has been dismissed as a minor character and slandered as a prostitute. Yet the healing Jesus began when he freed her from the grip of seven demons continues to this day, restoring Mary Magdalene’s reputation and her rightful place of honor in the Christian community.

That’s how healing works. We know from the many stories of Jesus’ healings in Scripture, that whenever Jesus heals, he heals more than a person’s body or mind. Jesus’ healings always restore a person to wholeness of life. The lepers who were cleansed, for example, were able to return to their families and live in the communities from which they had been exiled due to their disease. The blind beggar and the demoniac who were healed became evangelists who told of the mercy they had received from Jesus – and all who heard their stories were amazed.

That’s the other thing about healing – it is for us, but not just for us. When we have been restored in body, mind, or spirit, we come away with a new awareness of God’s powerful love and mercy, and that is what is meant to be shared.

When Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb and finds it empty, she cries. But in the most unexpected way, her tears are turned to joy as she hears her teacher and friend, call her by name. Suddenly there is nothing present but transforming love. We don’t know how long they stayed together in that moment, but we do know that at some point Jesus tells Mary not to cling to him, but to go and tell the others, that they might be transformed too.

Mary doesn’t stop to ask Jesus to explain how he did it – she doesn’t ask to understand at all. She simply responds to the love of Christ that fills her and urges her on, and she goes to tell the others, taking with her an unexpectedly new awareness of God’s reconciling love in Jesus. What she had once known from a human point of view, Jesus her Rabboni, has been transformed, and because of that everything has become new (2Cor 5:17).

When someone has been beaten down by the demons of fear, loneliness, or depression, when they have been oppressed by poverty, marginalization, or anger, when they have been forsaken by friends and family, it is as if they are living in exile – cut off from the reconciliation Jesus died and rose to give us all. And the longer someone lives in exile, the more their hope and sense of self-worth dwindle away. It is to these beloved, thirsting ones that God sends us as witnesses, because, as we hear in the book of Judith, God is the God of the lowly, the helper of the oppressed, protector of the forsaken, and the savior of those without hope.(Jud 9:11)

Witnessing means carrying the life-giving waters of Baptism out to those who are athirst for the living God (Ps 42:2). It means trusting God and God alone to judge them. It means inviting them into relationship just as they are and trusting God to take them and us where we need to go. Witnessing means proclaiming by all we say and do the Good News of God in Christ.

History did not treat Mary Magdalene well as a witness, and may not treat us well either - but that isn’t what matters. What matters is that Mary loved Jesus so deeply that she was open to receive his Holy Spirit and to be sent - healed, forgiven and renewed - to tell the Good News of his resurrection.

Our Savior continually calls us to wholeness of life, allowing him to turn our tears into joy by entering into the presence of his transforming love. Then having been healed by him, we are made ready to go and tell others, that they might be transformed too.

(1) James Keifer,
(2) Robert Ellsberg, All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time (The Crossroad Publishing Co., NY, 2002), 312.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pentecost 6A 2011: The Christian Response

Lectionary:1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

This sermon was extemporaneous, so the audio from the 8:30 and 10:30 services are provided. I've included both because they were a bit different. There is no written text today. Mother V+

Sermon given at the 8:30 service:

Sermon given at the 10:30 service:

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pentecost 4-A: Challenged to Obey

By: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector
Lectionary: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65: (1-8), 9-14; Romans 8:1-11; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

One of my favorite things about Scripture is that you can read from it over and over again, year after year, and still find something new, something you hadn’t seen or noticed before. There is always new revelation waiting the one who reads Scripture, especially when one is intentional about reading it openly – receptively.

But reading Scripture in this way takes some practice. As most of you know, at the beginning of each vestry meeting, Redeemer’s leadership practices Lectio Divina, a spiritual discipline in which we intentionally open ourselves to hear God’s word in Scripture for us, the Word that will guide us as we make decisions regarding our church.

The problem most of us tend to confront when we read Scripture is that we’ve been taught by well-meaning Sunday-school teachers and clergy, to understand and visualize the stories in Scripture in a singular way. God is that grand-fatherly old man with a long white beard, like the image created by Michelangelo in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Jesus is light-skinned (like us, but not so much like the Palestinian he was). He has a beard, and soft, wavy hair that goes to his shoulders. And the Holy Spirit almost always looks like a white dove.

Culturally agreed upon images and traditional ways to understand the Biblical stories tend to develop over time, and they become is what is taught to new hearers. And there’s nothing wrong with that – unless these understandings and images become ties that bind the freedom of the Holy Spirit to influence and guide us. Then they become idols.

When we hear the Parable of the Sower, most of us were taught to hear it picturing God as the sower and ourselves as the soil. We listen asking ourselves, which type of soil am I? Well, of the four types described, only one is fruitful – so (I think) most of us will find a way to identify with that soil!

But when we listen to the parable that way, I have to wonder… where is the surprise? Where is the challenge to conventional perspectives? Where is the shocker… the twist in the plot that points to the counter-cultural nature of God’s reign? That is, after all, what parables are meant to do.

So, let’s expand the window through which we are looking a little bit. Our gospel reading actually starts with the words that same day, which refers to what has just happened in the previous chapter. The Pharisees have accused Jesus of being a law-breaker because he healed a man on the Sabbath and allowed his hungry disciples to pluck grain - also on the Sabbath. They also accuse Jesus of healing a demoniac by the power of Beelzebul.

Jesus responds to these accusation by calling them a brood of vipers and an evil generation. And this is where our story today picks up. Jesus goes and sits beside the sea to teach, but the gathering crowd becomes so large that he has to set out into the water a little so they can all hear him.

Despite the opposition and accusations of the Pharisees and Scribes, huge crowds continue to gather around Jesus. They are hungry for what he has to offer.

This, by itself, is counter-cultural. Jesus is a religious rebel who challenges the traditional understanding of his time. And the people can’t get enough of him. They gather around him in droves, drinking in his teachings.

Listen… Jesus says to them... let anyone with ears listen. Jesus is asking the people gathering there to listen differently… to listen freely and receptively, to open themselves and go beyond their traditional understanding in order to hear the new thing God is revealing to them.

He is asking for their obedience – that they hear the word of God and do what it calls them to do. We asked the same thing as we gathered today, praying in our Collect: “grant that [your people] may know and understand what things they ought to do, and…have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them.”

Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann teaches that the laws given to the people of Israel by Moses “do not exhaust what it means to do the will of God; new laws will certainly be needed for new times and places and older laws may need to be revised.” But the relationship between God and God’s people is, Brueggemann says, one “in which obedience is …an integral component. This makes it clear that…[o]bedience is a way of exhibiting trust in the God who speaks the word in any time or place.”

God is still speaking God’s word in our time and place, and we are still being asked to listen and obey that word. So how do we do that faithfully? Let’s go back to the Parable of the Sower which describes four ways of listening, but let’s talk about this parable in terms that relate to our world today.

First there are the “Sunday-only Christians” who are very devout (and often very demanding) about the Sunday worship, but they’re pretty much disconnected the rest of the week. These Christians tend to miss Sunday worship often – for good reasons, of course. In the end, the busy-ness of their lives snaps up their attention like birds eating seeds off the sidewalk, and they produce no real fruit.

Next are the “Energy-drink Christians.” These hearers are truly on fire - faith-filled and ready to get stuff done! But somehow, it never actually gets done. They don’t make any real changes in their lives to make room for God, and their passions remain only in their thoughts. Soon they begin to lose energy. They show up in church less and less over time. For some Energy-drink Christians, this is a pattern that may be repeated throughout their church membership- lots of highs and lows over the years, but no real fruit.

Then there are the “Cell-phone Christians.” They’re looking at you, but listening to the earphone in their ears. Money, position, sporting events… there are many things that distract them, take priority, and become the focus of their time and attention. Witnessing the good news and building the kingdom become what they can manage to fit in to their spare time - and everyone knows, there is no such thing as spare time - so these Cell-phone Christians also produce no real fruit.

And finally, there are the “Disciples.” These are the ones who continually open themselves to hear and understand what things they ought to do (as our Collect says). These Christians discover that God makes available to them the grace and power faithfully to accomplish those things. They listen freely, openly, and trust the Spirit of God to accomplish God’s will in and through them. These hearers live as if they are in the process of sanctification and partners with Christ in building God’s kingdom on earth.

Oooohhhh. Now I see how this parable surprises and challenges.

So, how do we, the people of Redeemer hear this story, and how does it challenge us to obey – to trust in God who is speaking to us in our time and place and do what we ought to do? The answer can be found in our fruit. Are we seeing a yield that is 100-fold, 60-fold, or even 30-fold?

In some cases YES! Our Shepherd’s Table is bearing fruit that is 150-fold. The Food Pantry is bearing fruit that is 50-fold.

Where are we not seeing this kind of yield in our common life? In our Sunday attendance? … in our pledges and tithes? … in our hospitality to those hated or outcast by our local culture? Those are the places we need to be willing to go to together, ready to receive a new revelation from God, and act as counter-cultural agents of the reign of God in our time.

Who is willing to hear and obey? Let anyone with ears listen!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Pentecost 3A, 2011: Yoked to Christ

Lectionary: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145: 8 - 15; Romans 7:15-25a; Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Anyone who knows me knows: 1) I hate to exercize, and 2) I love Lady Gaga. I exercize because I know it’s good for me. I’m stronger and have more energy and a clearer mind. When I exercize, I’m usually listening to Lady Gaga.

But even though I know it’s good for me, I really don’t like to exercize and the littlest thing becomes a reason not to do it: I’m tired and need to sleep in; I have an early meeting; I’d rather be praying. How’s that for a good excuse? Guilt-free avoidance!

I know what I should do, yet I don’t do what I know is right. I keep doing what I know is wrong.

But this internal war can be serious – even life or death. If you’ve ever kept watch with a person addicted to alcohol and drugs as they try to work through this internal war, you know how hard a struggle it can be. They want to stop – they’re desperate to stop, but the addiction is strong and compelling.

I know what I should do, yet I don’t do what I know is right. I keep doing what I know is wrong.

Or a diabetic who knows what they should and shouldn’t eat, yet when they’re out with friends or at a church gathering, they eat the very thing that will do them harm. One of my son’s best friends has juvenile diabetes. When he came to stay with us over the Christmas break, I had all kinds of sugar-free food and snacks for him. I made duplicate desserts, one with sugar, one without, so that he wouldn’t feel left out. So which ones did he eat? The ones with sugar. Then he’d stick himself in the leg, right through his jeans, with insulin.

I know what I should do, yet I don’t do what I know is right. I keep doing what I know is wrong.

This internal war is the subject of Lady Gaga’s song, “Judas.” I know this song has sparked some controversy, but that’s just the literalists who can’t or won’t listen to the symbolic language in her lyrics. In this song, Judas represents sin which leads to death, and Jesus represents life. Gaga captures the nature of the internal war we humans suffer saying: “Jesus is my virtue, and Judas is the demon I cling to… I’m just a holy fool, oh baby it’s so cruel, but I’m still in love with Judas…”

The alcoholic would say, ‘I’m just a holy fool, oh baby it’s so cruel, but I’m still in love with beer.’ The diabetic would say, ‘I’m just a holy fool, oh baby it’s so cruel, but I’m still in love with cheese cake.’ St. Paul says it like this: “I don’t understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

I know what I should do, yet I don’t do what I know is right. I keep doing what I know is wrong, even though I know it will destroy me.

That being human nature, where is our hope? I love that St. Paul asks this question so honestly: “Wretched [one] that I am – who will rescue me from this…?” Who will rescue all of us from the demons we cling to? The answer is Jesus Christ, the Lord.

But loving Jesus isn’t enough. As Paul says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” Gaga says it like this: “I want to love you, but something’s pulling me away from you…” The point is: our strength and our desire aren’t enough. Humankind is frail.

But God’s grace is sufficient (2Cor 12:9). As the psalmist says, “The Lord upholds those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down.” The love of God in Jesus Christ is all we need. That’s why Jesus tells us in the gospel of Matthew to yoke ourselves to him: “Come to me all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” I will show you the way, for I am kind and gentle… and you will find rest for your weary souls… “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

When Jesus spoke these words he was criticizing the religious authorities who were heaping heavy burdens on the Jewish people who just wanted to be faithful. They wanted to keep the law of Moses and be assured of their place among the people of God. But the burdens placed on them by the religious leadership were causing the people to lose hope.

Into this setting came John the Baptist and the Messiah. Yet these same religious authorities, attempting to maintain their unfair and burdensome status quo (from which they benefitted greatly by the way), criticized John and Jesus. So Jesus’ criticized them right back, making plain their hypocrisy: “… John came neither eating nor drinking, and they [said] ‘He has a demon;’ the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they [said], ‘Look a glutton and drunkard.’”

The people’s heads were spinning. How can we know what’s true? Jesus says simply, “… wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Look at the deeds, the fruits of their labors and their lives. Whose fruits are worthy? Whose fruits do you want to share? The religious authorities’ or the Son’s?

If you want to share the fruits of the Son, then yoke yourself to him. To be yoked is to be joined together. When two oxen are yoked together, the stronger animal leads the team and carries the greater share of the burden.

What an amazing thing! We can be yoked to Christ – we can be joined to him and let him lead the way and carry the heaviest of our burdens.¬ We don’t have to rely on our own strength or our own wills. We don’t have to be in a constant internal war knowing the right thing but not being able to do it - because our loving Savior wants to be with us, and he will show us the way. “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Being yoked to Christ also means being yoked to one another because we, the church, are the body of Christ. Christ is in the midst of us, leading us all and showing us the path of life. No matter what demons we cling to, individually or as a church with a history, Jesus is our virtue – our standard of righteousness. Thanks be to God, “for such is God’s gracious will.”