Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King: Loved, protected, cradled, connected

Lectionary: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

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

Note: Story of my first interview here at Redeemer by the vestry – in the Main Parish Hall. Tour of our amazing kitchen… Q: “Who are you feeding?” A: No one.

It was clear, a little over two years ago, that the talent given to Redeemer (as we heard last week in the parable of the talents) had been buried. During its time of wounding, Redeemer had to look inward – to protect and preserve all that was good and holy about this part of the body of Christ - and it did a beautiful job of that. Even in the midst of the wounding, there was a closeness, a sense of family here at Redeemer.

As often happens, though, this closeness became clique-ish over time. Once there was no longer any threat of harm, the means used here to cope and survive a difficult moment in our history had become dysfunctional - stealing the life it was originally employed to preserve.

But then God offered renewal and rebirth. Now Redeemer is putting our gifts to use and producing many talents for the King. Now we are answering Christ’s call to feed the hungry, satisfy those who thirst, clothe the naked, visit those imprisoned by sin or suffering, and welcome the stranger.

We do this through our various missions and ministries: The Shepherd’s Table and Food Pantry, our relationship with the Boys and Girls Club, Operation Christmas Child (serving poor children in our area) Operation Santa Claus (serving those in our community with mental illness), our Red Cross Blood drives, AA and Al-Anon (serving those imprisoned by the disease of addiction) our Prayer Shawl and Rosary ministries, Christian formation, our liturgies and liturgical ministries, and more…

We are a church. We are a reflection of the fullness of Christ who is all in all - which is what KING means for us. Christ the King is the ultimate authority, the one who loves, rescues, feeds, comforts, and commands us to do the same.

We gather today to worship our King and share Holy Communion. And we have been given the great gift of blessing the civil marriage of Brian and Larena Cherry, and consecrating it as a holy union, a covenant.

The covenant of marriage is for us a witness of the kind of bond Christ has with us – the church: an intimate, loving, self-sacrificing bond in which the other matters most. These two reflect in their marriage union our identity as a church family our identity as people of God. We too are called to be intimate, loving, self-sacrificing and to make the least of those among us matter most.

Dar Williams (one of my favorite indy artists is as I’ve mentioned before) describes this living, flowing bond of love, like this: “If you're lucky you'll find something that reflects you, helps you feel your life, protects you, cradles you, and connects you to everything.” (Dar Williams, “Hudson” Album: My Better Self)

Now THAT is church… and that is what Redeemer is strong on becoming. We don’t shy away anymore from the fullness of life – we feel it! The good and the bad! We can do that because we know we are protected in the love we have for one another - love that is grounded in our Redeemer. This love, manifest in the body, the church, cradles us, strengthens us, and connects us to everything else in creation; to everything that went before, is now, and will come to pass.

We are a church. Holy, consecrated, and ready to risk it all to find and serve the least among us using every gift we’ve been given in order to do that.

After our service we’re going to meet downstairs for our Ministry Fair and lunch. We’ll also be packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child and our Youth will be making Christmas cards which they will sell next week at our Advent Festival in order to raise money for their mission work. We will also have our Stewardship in-gathering, collecting the pledges of our tithes that will support our work as church in the coming year.

It is my prayer, as we prepare for our new year together (which begins next week – Advent 1), that we break ourselves open and widen our walls, so that we might be the kind of church that truly and actively welcomes all…

so that God might rescue the scattered sheep of our fold and restore them to us (as promised in Ezekiel)…

so that God might continue to build us up with new family who are looking for a place where they can be loved, protected, cradled, and connected…

so that we might have that many more hands, that many more hearts, that many more gifts to use to answer Christ’s command to serve the least, inside and outside our gates, who are members of our family.

Then when we come to our time of our judgment, we can run joyfully into the arms of Christ our King who will say to us with a warm smile, and open arms: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…” Amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pentecost 28A, 2011: Serving the One we love most

Lectionary: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

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

As most of you know, we have just arrived home from our annual diocesan convention at Kanuga. There were many meaningful moments at convention this year, as there usually are.

Bishop Taylor’s opening address was inspiring (I’ll say more about this later), our worship together was a lovely blend of the traditional and the new and the language in all of our liturgies was gender-inclusive which I appreciated very much. Our featured speaker, The Rev. Dr. David Gortner, spoke to us skillfully about the “e” word (evangelism) identifying it as a Spiritual Practice, much like prayer or lectio divina. It’s an approach I liked very much.

I had the privilege of being trained to lead one of the break-out session groups where participants learned and practiced how to enter into deeper discussions about God with people we don’t know (which is what evangelism is). Business on the convention floor was conducted with civility, and our work sessions were productive and stayed on schedule.

Committee reports reminded us of how much good work is going on and how many good people we share this work with around the diocese. All in all, it was another wonderful experience centered around our new diocesan vision statement:

Walk in the way
Widen the walls
Wake up the world

In his opening address, the Bishop spoke of the need for change in the church on every level. If we are to Walk in the Way, + Porter said, we have to remember that we walk together and that we share what we have. A “take care of your own first” mentality may be safe, and sensible, he said, but it isn’t who we are. It isn’t our calling.

If we are to Widen the Walls, + Porter said, we will have to be church in a new way. We will have to let go the things we love, in order to serve the one we love most.

The Bishop asked us to be intentional about making the Episcopal Church in WNC look more like the people in WNC. Look around, he said. We’re mostly older and white. And he asked us to begin to find ways to invite younger people and Spanish-Speakers into the fold.

And if we’re going to Wake up the World, +Porter said, we have to be the agents of hope in hard times – and these are hard times. We have to know our Scripture - which means taking seriously our commitment to lifelong Christian formation.

We need to be willing to rock the boat like Jesus did, +Porter said. We need to be a community - and we need to have a heart for justice. Being justice-driven, +Porter said, affects our everyday lives: where we shop, what we eat, what we throw away, what we say about one another and how we treat each other. And it means having a theology of generosity in our stewardship.

I am inspired by the elegant simplicity and evangelical power of our new vision statement:

Walk in the way
Widen the walls
Wake up the world

There were many meaningful moments at this year’s convention and I’d like to share just one of them with you because it was for me an incarnation of this new vision for our common life. In the break-out session I led, there were nine people. The purpose of the break-out session, as I mentioned earlier, was to practice evangelism, using a tool that would help us enter into deeper conversations about God with people we don’t know.

As the leader, I had to share my story first, and use my story to teach the people how to use this tool. Next the group split up into three groups of three, each playing their part in the process, and told their own stories to one another. At the end we gathered back into our larger group and discussed the process.

As we walked back to the convention hall, one of the women in my group caught up with me and we began to chat. I had mentioned in my story that I am Latina. In her Spanish accent, she asked me where my family was from.

I told her that my mother’s family came here from Puerto Rico and Spain. No way! She said – me too! It’s a rare thing to find another Latina of that specific combination so we enjoyed uniqueness of our shared heritage.

As we walked along that gravelly path, my new friend (her name is Evelyn) began to speak prophetically to me. I listened to her carefully, and look directly at her as she spoke. When she finished, I asked her if she had ever spoken prophetically before. She said she hadn’t.

"Well, you are now," I said, "and it’s a powerful gift you have." I thanked her and we went our separate ways.

The next day, during the break in our business session, Evelyn found me at our table. When I turned to look at her, I felt the power of her prophetic gift again. She didn’t speak at first – she just handed me a rock.

When I took it, she explained its significance - referring to a sermon from Morning Prayer where the preacher reminded us (as I reminded this congregation recently) that we are all Peter (remember Petros) the rock upon whom God builds the church, . She told me that when I fulfilled the call she saw on me she would be there for me and with me. Then she gave me her contact information.

This experience was, as I said, an incarnation of our diocesan vision for me. A woman I didn’t know, connected with me in a powerful way through a gift of the Spirit she’d never had before because we were Walking in the Way.

Her prophetic gift compelled her to not only tell me, but to promise to be with me as we Widen the Walls to people of our common heritage: Spanish-speakers.

And the prophecy she shared with me was this: that I am being called to be the instrument God will use to bring our Hispanic sisters and brothers in Christ in this part of the diocese into the presence of God and into the care of our Episcopal community through Spanish language liturgy. In other words, to Wake up the World of the Spanish-speakers who need a community of faith
and the English-speakers who need to do church in a whole new way.

One thing I didn’t hear the Bishop mention in his address was that, in order to be able to Walk in the way, and Widen the walls, and Wake up the world, we must have the kind of faith that runs without necessarily knowing where to; the kind of faith that knows and truly believes the promises we profess; the kind of faith that expects the best from God, from one another, and from ourselves; the kind of faith that truly knows God.

This is what the parable of the talents is really about. While it uses money to tell the story, and the designers of the lectionary saw fit to put this in during budget development time, the parable of the talents really isn’t about money. It’s about faith.

It challenges what we know and experience with God. Who is God to us and how do we relate to God?

When the king in the parable (God) unleashes his wrath on the slave with one talent who buried his money out of fear (which was a common practice back then – you know, since they didn’t have banks), we cringe at the unfairness and meanness of his response. “So you knew, did you, that I that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter?”

You don’t know me at all! (Remember, this is a parable - and this is the part where Jesus is blasting the Jewish leadership again.) You projected onto me (God) the qualities and character of your own leadership. YOU have been harsh and fearsome.

You don’t know me at all, Jesus says. You only know the God you created in your own image.

How can you fear your God who has loved you since “before the mountains were brought forth or the land and the earth were born”? How can you be afraid of your God who has consecrated you, set you apart for holiness?

How can anyone of us today doubt the love of God who came to live among us and died for us so that we would never have to be afraid again?

If we truly knew God, we would expect the best – from God, one another, and ourselves. And we would Walk in the Way, and Widen the Walls, and Wake up the World in order to serve the one we love most. Amen.