Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day 2011 sermon by Mother Valori+

Lectionary: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

Note: This sermon was extemporaneous and therefore, is in audio only.

The Vigil of the Nativity Midnight Mass and Baptism sermon by Mother Valori+

Sermon by Mother Valori+
Lectionary: Lectionary:Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

Hallelujah! Hallelu – jah: Who knows what this means? It translates from Hebrew, Greek, and Latin as praise, joy, thanks – to God.

Hallelu = Praise, joy, and thanks
Jah = the first half of Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God

As we celebrate Christmas tonight, we sing out our Hallelujahs because when the Word became flesh,
and chose to be born just like we are born, Love came into the world in a whole new way – and transformed it – opening boundaries, welcoming into loving relationship all whom the world feels justified in keeping out.

Today, Love comes again, this time into our hearts, our bodies, our thoughts, and our lives
in a whole new way - and transforms us if we give our consent as Mary did; if we seek the Savior as the Shepherds did.

There are discussions in religious circles about the change that love brings. When a person is baptized, or confirmed, or ordained is there a real change in that person, or is it a symbolic change?

I don’t know the definitive answer. What I do know is what my experience has been about my own Christian journey and the journeys I’ve shared as priest, pastor, and friend. Whenever I talk with people about this change – the change that Love brings - I hear that there is something real, something actually felt by the person. They know it in their bodies, not just as an idea.

So tonight as we journey with one of our own beloved friends to the waters of Baptism, let’s see for ourselves. If we open ourselves to the movement of the Spirit – will we feel the change that Love brings to Larena? Will we feel it ourselves as we say again our Baptismal vows?

The power of these prayers is endless, eternal. Each time we renew our Baptismal vows, the power of those words washes over us just as the waters of Baptism did for us once before. When we remember
that we have promised to proclaim the Good News, to seek and serve Christ in ALL persons, to strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of every human being, we have the opportunity to remember our passion – the passion Love brings into our hearts the Love who is Emmanuel, God Incarnate who is born in us again tonight.

This passion continually guides us as individuals and as members of this church community. It shows us how to be a level-er of highways. It reminds us to get up and go to the valleys in order to raise up all who are there offering tender care for their wounds, welcome to the excluded, food and clothing to those who need, and friendship to the lonely and friendless.

The passion that Love brings sends us out to the mountains where the rich and powerful reside, to bring them down to the leveled highway, to set them free from the tyranny of attachment (to money, power, reputation), and to give them courage to trust, relieving them of their fear that tries to tame the HS
to restrict Her movement in the world– because hers is a movement of freedom and salvation for ALL.

Love has come into the world again- which means God isn’t through with us yet. God continues to be steadfast in love, generous in grace, and lavish in blessing because we are God’s beloved ones – all of us – the young and the old, the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor… (BCP, 531) “…all, all, all, all, all, all, all” as Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu is known to have said.

We are all imperfect, and we all make mistakes. But we are also all forgiven. We are saved by the One who comes to us tonight as a baby and sanctifies us by his Holy Spirit.

Hallelu – jah! Praise, joy, and thanks be to God who has done this for us, who is doing it again now, and who will do it eternally – until there is no more of it to do.

Now let us stand together and sing Hymn #297 as we process to the Baptismal font, and drench ourselves once again in the passionate love of God in Christ who calls Larena now into the household of God.

The Vigil of Christmas Family Service, 2011 sermon by Mother Valori+

Sermon by Mother Valori+

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

Note: The sermon at this service was extemporaneous and therefore in audio only.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Radical Truth of Christmas

VMS+ article submitted to The Shelby Star for Dec, 2011:

A few years ago I saw a television commercial that asked the question: “…who’d have thought the biggest thing to ever happen to you would be the smallest?” The visual was a parent holding a baby, and the tag line was: “Having a baby changes everything.”

For Christians, the biggest thing to ever happen in the history of human experience came to us in the form of the least - a baby. Yet this baby, conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit of God, changed everything. Sometimes, however, we pass through this holy season, caught up in shopping, parties, and decorating, and we forget to allow the transformative truth of Christmas to penetrate our hearts and minds, the truth St. Paul said so well to Titus: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”

In a speech calling for Christian unity and inclusion, Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Jesus did not say, ‘I if I be lifted up I will draw some… Jesus said, ‘I if I be lifted up will draw all, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful, gay, lesbian, straight. It’s one of the most radical things… All belong… All are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All.” The radical truth the Archbishop is pointing out is the nature of the extravagant love of God, recounted for us over and over again in Scripture, and finally, most definitively, revealed to us in the birth of the Messiah.

Luke affirms this in his telling the Christmas story. The first to hear of the birth were the shepherds in the fields. We need to remember that back then, shepherding was a despised occupation. They were scorned as shiftless, dishonest people. Shepherds didn’t bathe much so they didn’t smell good and worse yet, they were ritually unclean, which means they wouldn’t have been allowed in church. And this particular group of shepherds to whom the angels appeared, was the lowest of the low. These were the shepherds working the grave-yard shift.

But God, who sees differently than the world does, chose these shepherds to be the first to see the light, the glory and presence of God, which “shone all around them” when the angel spoke. And the angel proclaimed “good news of great joy” to this lowly audience: the birth of the Savior.

And this is good news for all people! Including them! Including us!

The good news of Christmas is a present reality, not just an event in ancient history that we remember together. Christ is being born in us today, now - when we, like Mary, give our consent, when we, like the shepherds, seek the Savior. In this holy season, we are called to remember that God came to save each of us and all of us. Remembering that, we can respond with love to the God who loved us first, to the God who loved us enough to become one of us, sharing our vulnerabilities and making them strong, and welcoming in all whom the world would keep out.

God took the form of the smallest and the least and changed everything. That’s why we sing out our praise: “Glory to God in the highest heaven! For unto us is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent 3B, 2011: Rejoicing in the God of surprise

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Canticle 15; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

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

Today is Gaudete Sunday, otherwise known as Rose Sunday. It is a day of comfort and reprieve, a day to rejoice in the joy of the Lord, even as we practice our Advent preparations. This is a day dedicated to Mary, the theotokos, the God-bearer, co-creator with God.

On this day we hear an important transition in our gospel reading. The last prophet of the Old Covenant prophesies the introduction of the one who will usher in the New Covenant. That one is the child of Mary and the Son of God – the embodiment of a reality we share, but often forget.

Though the male leadership of the early church struggled mightily against calling a woman the “mother of God” we have little trouble with that concept today. We know and enjoy that Mary was pregnant with God. What we sometimes overlook is that the presence of God for Mary led her to real physical and spiritual transformation.

When a woman becomes pregnant, she has to change her everyday habits and begin to care for her body knowing that it is no longer hers alone. It is shared. Suddenly, she has to be aware of what she eats, what she drinks, and how she moves.

For Mary, the time of her pregnancy would also need to be a time to redefine herself. No longer would she be just Mary, daughter of Anna and Joachim, cousin of Elizabeth, and betrothed of Joseph. Now Mary would be the mother of a son, and not just any son. All generations will remember Mary as the bearer of the Messiah of God into the world.

Imagine how this must have impacted her spiritually! No wonder she left her hometown to stay with her cousin Elizabeth for several months during her early pregnancy.

I wonder if, in her private prayers, Mary ever asked, why me? In giving her “yes” to God, Mary had to sacrifice her good reputation. She would be forever remembered as the young woman who got pregnant before she got married, which in her day, could have led to severe punishment – even death. I wonder, as she prayed in those first months of her pregnancy, if Mary ever said to God what I’ve heard many others who face long-term difficulty say: I wish God didn’t have so much faith in me. I’d rather not have to be this strong.

I wonder what it was like to feel the presence of God “kicking around in her” as the Rev. Katherine Bush once said. Any woman, feeling her baby move within her womb is amazed and excited. But imagine what it must have been like to know that that movement within your body is God!

Only our God, who is truly a God of surprise, could have begun the final chapter of the plan of salvation in this way. I’m sorry – but I have to wonder why Mary and Elizabeth, their spouses, families, and friends, didn’t walk away from these unfolding events figuring they weren’t hearing or understanding God correctly.

It brings to mind the song Judas sang to Jesus in the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, as Jesus was being led to his crucifixion: “Every time I look at you I don’t understand. Why you let the things you did get so out of hand? You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned. Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land?”

As God’s plan of salvation continued to unfold, it led to a very surprising outcome, certainly not the outcome that was expected or desired. God could see how redemption would come from the cross, but Jesus’ mother and the other followers were shocked and dismayed. In JC Superstar, Mary Magdalene sings what that felt like then - and still feels like for many of us today as the plan of God unfolds in our own lives: “I’ve been living to see you. Dying to see you but it shouldn’t be like this. This was unexpected. What do I do now? Could we start again please?”

God’s plan often leads us onto, what to us, are surprising pathways, pathways that seem wrong or disastrous in our eyes. That’s why the author of the epistle to the Thessalonians reminds us to: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; [and for heaven’s sake] …Do not quench the Spirit.”

Remembering that the Holy Spirit is often represented by flames and fire, this plea is vivid! Do not quench the flames of the Spirit. Do not put Her fire out! Trust and pray.

In all circumstances, be comforted by the promises of our merciful God who brings good news to the oppressed, comfort to those who mourn… to God who soothes the brokenhearted, brings freedom to all who are held captive, and clothes us in salvation and righteousness.

Do not quench the Spirit who speaks as much through prophets today as ever before. Remember Evelyn, the woman who prophesied to me at convention? Who are the prophets of God speaking to us today? Are we listening?

Test everything, the epistle writer says. Test it in the community. God will affirm the truth there.

And listen to the prophetic voices present in the community – it might surprise you to learn who they are: the children among us whose haven’t learned how to doubt God yet; the simple-minded who are pure in heart; the elderly who have gained wisdom; the one who opens their heart in prayer (which could be any of us). Do not quench the Spirit!

Live together in a community of love, that is, in the righteousness of God. Be co-creators with God of a world in which the justice of God, described in Isaiah, becomes a reality. And God will sanctify the community entirely, keeping us sound in body, soul, and spirit, because, as the epistle writer says, “the one who calls you is faithful, and will do this.”

As I said in my December newsletter article, our community of faith is sharing a common pregnancy during this Advent season. That means we have to change our everyday habits in response to the new life being formed in us, and begin to care for ourselves in ways we haven’t done before. Like Mary, we have to redefine ourselves in light of this new life. We can’t even envision what that means, but we don’t have to – we just need to go forward in faith, rejoicing in God our Savior.

On this Gaudete Sunday, we (meaning us individually and as a community) stop for a moment, and together magnify the Lord. That means we give God and God’s plan of salvation a bigger portion of our attention in our everyday lives. We choose to redefine ourselves in light of the new life God is forming in us, marveling as that life kicks around in us, and praying continually to keep ourselves open to the many surprising ways God will bring about the plan of salvation in and through us.

Let’s close by saying again the prayer from our candle-lighting service in the blue booklet:

Loving God, we open ourselves to you, trusting that this is how you made us: you created us for joy-filled hearts and lives. Show us the creative power of hope. Teach us the peace that comes from justice. Fill us with the kind of joy that cannot be contained, but must be shared. Prepare our hearts to be transformed by you, that we may walk in the light of Christ. Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent 2B, 2011: Drenched in the Spirit of God

Lectionary: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8

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

Back in the day, I was a smoker. Both of my parents and two of my sisters smoked. Most of my extended family smoked. One of my uncles even worked for a cigarette manufacturer. Smoking was a big part of our experience of family, of life. To this day, the smell of a stuck match conjures up pleasant childhood memories for me.

When I was pregnant, I couldn’t smoke. It made me ill. But as soon as my daughter was born, I was back at it.

Years later, my daughter asked me to quit smoking. She was old enough (she was five) and smart enough to know that she didn’t want me to get sick or die from it.

I tried quitting… often. In fact, seven times before I finally succeeded. The reason I couldn’t quit all of those times was because I really didn’t want to quit. I liked smoking.

I tried to quit for my daughter’s sake, but that didn’t work. I tried to quit because of the potential damage to my health, but that didn’t work. I tried to quit because I was about to marry Steve and he didn’t smoke – but that didn’t work either.

One day as I prayed, it occurred to me that I had to prepare the way for my quitting. Instead of cutting back or quitting cold turkey, instead of anti-depressants or nicotine gum, what I needed was to prepare a path of grace ahead of my quitting, a path built by prayer.

So that’s what I did. In September of 1987, I began asking all of my praying friends (and some who didn’t pray, but I thought might do this for me) to pray with me beginning Oct 1 – not that I would quit smoking, but that God would grant me the desire to quit.

My goal was to start the new year, 1988, as a non-smoker. Steve and I were getting married in April of that year, and as much as I wanted my new life with him to be smoke-free, it had become clear to me that, on my own, I couldn’t forsake this habit. I knew that in order to quit, something deep within me had to change and in order for that to happen, I had to prepare a path of grace and let God act in me before I tried to do anything.

On December 31, 1987 I smoked my last cigarette. When I awoke on January 1, 1988, I was nervous and a little doubtful that the path I had prayerfully prepared would be enough. But it was, and I haven’t smoked since.

The lesson I learned from that experience is one many of you may recognize still lives in me and in how I minister and serve. You will often hear me recommend the prayerful preparation of a path of grace before doing anything.

In some of the reconciliation conversations I am currently having here and in the diocese, this is my approach: to pray first and for as long as it takes, waiting patiently while God works to bring all involved back into righteousness (right relationship).

When I say I recommend a prayerful preparation, I mean that we agree to set a time to pray together – to set an alarm on our phones, and to heed that alarm. To stop what we’re doing and pray together, knowing that our prayers are ascending to God as one voice – connecting us one to one another and to God, drawing us into righteousness and into the graciousness of God.

As the psalmist reminds us, in the graciousness of God: "Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." (v10) To kiss is to behave like family. Back then, only family greeted one another with a kiss. This is where we get our liturgical practice of passing the peace. It used to be called the “Kiss of Peace.” The practice of it establishes us as family, which is a deeper, more connected relationship than friendship.

The psalmist continues: "Righteousness shall go before him,and peace shall be a pathway for his feet." (v13)The path of grace is a path of peace. When we get back into right relationship with God, ourselves, and one another, we will know peace.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist calls the people of Israel to prepare paths of grace, and make them straight, he says. There’s no circumventing the truth with John the Baptist.

John prophesied to a people in exile – not the forced kind of exile that the people Isaiah prophesied to suffered. John’s listeners were in a voluntary exile – much like we are today. They had so cultivated their lives and their culture that they had come to believe they were in control – or at least could be if they wanted to be.

They had become self-centered and self-reliant and didn’t even realize they had exiled themselves from God. They felt righteous, at least according to their own measures. It was to these that John prophesied. John’s voice was heard crying out in the wilderness because the wilderness is a place that is uncultivated, uninhabited by human beings.

Cities are created by human beings. We build them. We order them. We have control over them - or at least we think we do.

Around the country in places like Atlanta, Miami and even in the mountains of NC you can see walled and gated communities, and perfectly manicured yards and streets. It’s all very neat looking and private. If you don’t live in a certain sub-division, if you don’t have the password to get through the gate, you can’t get in. Sometimes, you can’t even see in because of the walls. It’s safe – or so it seems. Actually, many experts say that these communities are not safer, that it’s a false sense of security they offer, and that, in fact, many of these walled and guarded communities experience higher than average rates of crime.*

The wilderness, on the other hand, is uncultivated, untamed by humans. It isn’t neat or safe - and it doesn’t claim to be. The wilderness is empty and pathless. It’s the part of the garden (hear the symbolism of that word) devoted to wild growth. There are no walls, no gates, no manicured streets in the wilderness. The wilderness is eternally as it was created by God, and we humans have no control there.

That’s why it’s in the wilderness that the voice of the prophet cries out: Repent! Change your habits! Change the way you’re thinking! Change the way you’re living! That’s why it’s in the wilderness that the prophets - then and now - urge us to prepare for rebirth. That’s why it’s in the wilderness that we devote ourselves to wild growth - un-manicured, untamed, and uncontrolled by human expectations or convention. But growth like this requires faith in the God of our salvation.

John used the powerful symbol of water to make his point - ritually bringing people into and out of the birth waters again, outwardly drenching them, cleansing them of the habits or ways of living that they couldn’t forsake on their own, and forming them into a new community – a community of hope.

‘I have baptized you with water,’ John said, but the one who is coming after me, the one who is truly powerful, the one whose sandals I’m not even fit to untie – that one will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Which brings us to us: in our Baptism, we have been brought into and out of the waters of rebirth and drenched in the Spirit of God. By our Baptism, we have been formed into a community of hope, a community that works together to forsake whatever disrupts right relationships – with God, with one another, and with ourselves - and strive to live in righteousness and in peace.

As a community of hope, we are the voices that can speak tenderly to the exiled among us. I’m thinking of those exiled by the disease of addiction, of those who have exiled themselves from our community and languish in anger or un-forgiveness. I’m thinking of those living in the exile of poverty, unemployment, or discrimination.

As a community of hope, we faithfully devote ourselves to wild growth, resisting the temptation to tame it, manicure it, or control it - leaving it in the hands of the loving God who Created us, who Redeemed us, who Sanctifies us, and who sends us forth as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.

As we enter this second week of Advent, I pray we truly commit ourselves to preparing pathways of grace, (set your phone alarms if you have to!) pathways that will lead us to be transformed by God, so that we may walk in the light of Christ and finally, be found by him to be at peace.


* Sources:, › City-Data Forum › US Forums › Washington,,,,

Friday, December 2, 2011

Rector's Dec newsletter article: A Seed is Planted

I love this time of year, and no – I’m not a shopper. Ask anyone who knows me. Shopping is not my thing. What I love is this period of time between the knowledge of a new thing about to come and its coming.

I remember, when I became pregnant with my first child, that I couldn’t wait until I could wear maternity clothes so everyone would know what I knew – that a new life was being formed in me. By my third child, I couldn’t wait to get rid of those maternity clothes, but that’s another article :)

Advent is the time between the prophetic proclamation of John the Baptist and the Nativity - the knowledge that new life was coming into the world and the coming of that new life. A transforming moment in this story happens at the Annunciation to Mary – the moment Mary gave her consent to God to serve as the God-bearer and bring the Word into the world.

I have often wondered what Mary felt as she carried this new life in her body - new life that was different from anything anyone had ever known; new life that would change all life forevermore, but especially hers. She knew that her life was going to change and take a direction she had not imagined, and for which she couldn’t fully prepare. She knew that the hope of her people – in fact, the hope of all people – was being formed in her womb. Bearing that hope to the world would require much from Mary: humility, courage, faith, perseverance, and a life prayerfully devoted to the will of God.

The same is required from us today. Each year as we cycle through the liturgical calendar, we come to this place at the end of the year, when the cultural frenzy (focused mostly on shopping) hits us. Our lives get extremely busy with parties, gatherings, and yes… shopping. At the same time, the church season calls us to slow down, to wait, to listen with expectation for the new thing God is doing in our lives.

A seed is planted in us each Advent. Our practice of Advent is meant to nurture this seed so that it bears fruit in us, and through us into the world. We may not be giving birth to the Incarnate Word, but we are just as much bearers of God today, and the demand on us is the same: humility, courage, faith, perseverance, and a life prayerfully devoted to the will of God.

We know, here at Redeemer, how scary and uncomfortable change can be. Over these last couple of years, we have experienced being called to change more than we want to at times, and less than we want to at other times. We have been experiencing a rebirth here and it continues to carry us forward into new life.

As much as we’ve accomplished – which is a LOT – our liturgical calendar tell us it’s Advent again, so we know that God isn’t finished with us yet. God is once again planting a seed of hope in this community of faith that needs nourishing so that it can bear fruit in us, and through us, into the world. As we wait together in this common pregnancy, I offer you this prayer-poem written by my vestry at St. Mary’s in Cadillac, MI. It was shared at our last meeting together and it inspires me still. I offer it to you as an Advent meditation:

"Hope is a state of mind not dictated by what appears to be:
a promise
built on faith.
We look beyond the fear,
and begin to trust what we do not yet know.

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

With prayerful work
we can
be true to who we are
as we trust and continue in God’s love
and become truly ourselves."

May God bless us and lavish grace upon us as we practice our Advent together, nurturing the seed that has been planted in us, that we might joyfully consent to bear its fruit into the world in the year to come.