Sunday, April 29, 2012

Easter 4B 2012 sermon: Love anyway

Lectionary:Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

(Note: Below are sermon notes. Today's sermon was mostly exptemporaneous - notes filled in afterwards :)

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

Indy singer/song-writer, Dar Williams: “Go ahead, push your luck. Find out how much love the world can hold.” (From After All, on her Green World album).

Today’s Gospel: The Good Shepherd

Christmas – I preached about shepherds. They were a despised occupation. Dirty. Smelly. Unclean – wouldn’t have been allowed in church. Yet Jesus chose to identify himself in relation to us like this.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd who voluntarily lays down his life for the sheep. FOR THE SHEEP. That’s what love does – it acts for the other.

The hired hand does the work for himself – for the money, in order to survive. Many of us today do our work for ourselves, for the money, in order to survive. Or b/c of the reputation it gives us, or the satisfaction, or the power.

When trouble came, however, when the shepherd was threatened, the Good Shepherd gave all he had, his very life, for the sake of the other. Jesus saw the wolves circling. He saw them drooling, waiting for the kill.

But he didn’t run. He didn’t hide. And he didn’t leave the sheep. He gave his life so that they could live.

‘I have power to give my life, Jesus said, and I have power to take it up again.’

God Incarnate - Jesus came to be one of us. He lived among us. Taught us. Healed us. Fed us. Forgave us. And commanded us to love one another as he had loved us.

But loving us was inconvenient, painful, and costly for Jesus. Yet Jesus loved us anyway and said love one another as I have loved you.

We are and have always been a stubborn, unreasonable, & self-centered people. Yet God has always loved us anyway, leading us to still waters, refreshing our souls, setting a table for us even in the presence of those who trouble us so …

So that… we can keep on loving, giving ourselves until we have given it all. Then, when we have given our lives, we too will have the power to take it up again – b/c the Spirit of the living Christ abides in us.

As we heard in our epistle: “All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them.”

And we do this individually AND as a community. Each of us is asked to carry the light of God’s love into the very spot of darkness in the world God has chosen for us.

Yesterday: I was invited to lead the Luminaria service for the Humane Society fund raiser at the fairgrounds. There I met people dedicated to loving the precious animals who serve God and us so faithfully, yet endure abuse and neglect by unfaithful humans (who are supposed to care for them). These people love the least, the powerless, the voiceless. Light in the darkness.

Earlier in the day, I participated in the March to the Ballot with a group opposing NC Amendment One.

I call to your attention the letter from the bishops of NC opposing the Amendment, linked here.

(Note: Portions of the letter are read.)

Yesterday, I marched with gave freely of their time, risking their reputations and abusive rebuttals so that the banquet table set by God might include the excluded among us.

Which brings to mind my favorite quote on the subject… the one by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

“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.” (From the Article, Archbishop Tutu Calls for Anglican Unity and Inclusion, Ruach, A Publication of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Christmas 2005, Vol. 26:1, 11.)

The radical truth the Archbishop is pointing out is the nature of the extravagant love of God.

“Go ahead, push your luck. Find out how much love the world can hold.”

I’ll close with The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith. (I’ve given these to you as a handout in your bulletin.)

You may recognize these – Mother Theresa had an adapted version of these up on the wall in her home for children in Calcutta.

The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
6. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway. © 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

“Go ahead, push your luck. Find out how much love the world can hold.”

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Easter 3B: Seeing with eyes of faith

Lectionary: Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36b-48

Sermon given at the 8:30 service:

Sermon given at the 10:30 service:

Note: Below are sermon notes. As this was an extemporaneous sermon, it differed at the 8:30 and 10:30 services. When I asked which one I should post, the answer was consistently: both. So I have. I have no expectation that you'll listen to both, but I offer both anyway, confident that the Spirit will guide you in your choice.

Quote from “Children’s Letters to God”

Seeing with our eyes vs. recognizing God with the eyes of our faith.

Experience – (refer to the handouts with optical illusions)

Jesus resurrected. The same, but different.

It has been said that we are bodies with souls – Greek dualism – soul is eternal. Only the body dies.

Jesus demonstrated in this gospel story that the body is resurrected, the same body. And in its resurrected state, it’s the same, but different.

Those that meet the resurrected Jesus don’t recognize him at first. Then they do. He’s the same, but different.

Recognition happens when Jesus chooses it – in the breaking of bread – which we do every Sunday. That’s why we come together every Sunday… to be in the presence of God, to grow in our ability to see.

Now we too are children of God. And as we heard in our epistle, “we will be like him”
That’s a bit of a scary thought – especially given what happened to Jesus in the world.

That’s why we do this together.

If we are like him, then the same love that was in him is in us, and it overflows in us and in our lives like it did in his – a river of life-giving water that nourishes everything it touches, and washes everything clean

Jesus opens the eyes of our faith. We invite that to happen by:
• coming together and helping one another - reading scripture & sharing communion - breaking bread
• praying together
• playing together

When we come into the presence of God together, things change. Remind about our Lenten series on prayer - how that changed people and opened their eyes to God’s presence right here in and among us.

Things changed A LOT for the disciples when Jesus opened the eyes of their faith. What might change for us? Will anything have to change?

Yes! We are commanded not only to change but to proclaim change! As we heard in the Gospel, Jesus said: "…that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations..."

To repent is to change. We must change, because God isn’t finished with us yet. And the more we grow, the more the eyes of our faith open, the better we can help our friends and family – and THAT is why Jesus calls us witnesses.

It isn’t just that we learn to see with eyes of faith, but that we tell others about it so they can see that way too.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Day 2012: The truth of the resurrection for us

Lectionary: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18

Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!

Last night we heard the resurrection story from the Gospel of Mark. Today, we hear the account found in John. In both of these gospels, in fact, in all four of the gospels, the first witness and proclaimer of the resurrection is Mary of Magdala.

In John’s account of the resurrection, Mary Magdalene goes alone (at first) to the tomb. Seeing that the stone had been rolled away, Mary feared that someone had stolen Jesus’ body so she ran back to fetch Peter and John.

John outran Peter, but waited until Peter arrived before he went into the tomb because Peter was at the top of their hierarchical ladder. The two men entered the tomb and stood there in its emptiness, and then they believed, even though they didn’t understand.

The author tells us that Peter and John simply left the tomb and went home. Mary Magdalene, however, stayed outside the tomb weeping.

Still unable to overcome the cultural hierarchy that kept her excluded and marginalized, Mary did not enter the tomb. Instead, she bent over to look inside it. When she did, she saw two angels in white who asked her why she was weeping.

In her deep grief and desperate to find her Lord, Mary ignores the cultural rule that forbade women from speaking to men who were not family and tells them of her fear. Immediately, Mary turns around and sees another man standing with her. That’s a lot of people at a grave where Mary thought she’d be alone tending to the body of her friend.

Still unable to understand the truth of the resurrection, and still desperate to find the body of her beloved Jesus, Mary ignores the cultural rule again and speaks to this man too: Sir, if you have taken my Lord, please tell me where he is and I’ll get him.

His reply changes everything. Jesus calls her by name and suddenly, Mary’s sees and understands everything she had been unable to before. In the presence of the risen Christ, Mary is set free from all that would hold her bound. Connected once again to the love that is the life of the world, the truth of the resurrection is made known to her.

Recognizing that her beloved rabbi is now truly her risen Lord, Mary exhales her revelation in Hebrew – the language they used for prayer: Rabbouni!

That God chose Mary to be the first to see the risen Lord and the first to tell others about it is significant because in this new covenant inaugurated by Jesus our Savior, those who were excluded and marginalized in the world are now included, respected, even honored in the household of God. All of the privileged hierarchies of the world have been brought low and leveled out by this new thing, this new covenant.

No one is excluded in the kingdom of God and nothing on earth can hold us bound anymore …except us. We can refuse to go where God sends us. We can take the new thing God is presenting to us and re-form it into that old thing we know and want to see.

That’s why Jesus immediately cautions Mary not to hold on to him. It isn’t about my returning to you, Mary (he says) it’s about my returning you to God.

So go and tell the others that “I am ascending to the Father, to my God and your God.” By sending Mary with this message, Jesus commissions her as Apostle to the apostles, the first one to bear the news of the resurrection and the one who brings it to the Jesus’ inner circle of friends.

In doing so, Jesus finishes in his resurrection, what he started in his ministry: he removes the earthly barriers that oppress and hinder his chosen ones in their work as witnesses of the Good News.

We too have been commissioned as apostles of the resurrection. It happened for us at our Baptism.

In a moment, we will stand and renew our Baptismal vows re-claiming with one voice and one heart the truth of what the resurrection means for us:

• the truth that we have been set free from all that would hold us bound;
• the truth that we are connected to the Love that is the life of the world;
• the truth that we are all equal members in the household of God;
• the truth that we are co-creators with God and one another of the kingdom of God on earth.

Thanks be to God and Happy Day of Resurrection!

The Great Vigil of Easter, 2012 B: Proclaimers of a new creation

Lectionary:Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Mark 16:1-8

Our gospel story from Mark tell us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb to finish the burial ceremony they had been unable to complete due to the Sabbath, a ceremony that, in the end, wouldn’t be necessary. It seems they forgot that Jesus had mentioned at their last supper that he had already been anointed for his burial by the woman with the alabaster jar.

As they approached the tomb, the women wondered how they would move the heavy rock blocking the entrance – only to find it had already been moved.

When I was about six years old, my mother, my sisters and I went out after dinner to get some ice cream. That was a real treat for us – something we rarely did on a weekday! When we returned, all of the doors to our house were standing open and all the lights inside were on.

My Dad was away on business, as he usually was on weekdays. I enjoyed our feminine weekday household. I also enjoyed the weekends when Dad was there with us – he always made us parfaits after dinner and cooked up the best Sunday brunch ever!

But that night, when our house was so strangely opened after we had left it locked, was the first time I ever remember feeling unsafe and wishing my Dad wasn’t away. It was such a queasy feeling seeing the house like that. I remember the agitation I felt, the surge of heightened awareness and confusion.

I imagine that Mary, Mary, and Salome were in a similar state of mind when they saw the opened tomb. Expecting to see the body of Jesus, they instead encounter a young man in a white robe who tells them ‘Jesus is risen - come and see for yourself.’ So they went in, cautiously trying to make sense of the strangeness of it all.

Then the messenger says, ‘Go and tell the other disciples and Peter that Jesus will meet them in Galilee, just like he said he would.’ The messenger is sending these women out with a message of fulfillment and reconciliation.

Remember, the women are being sent to the men who fled the garden in fear at Jesus’ arrest and went into hiding when Jesus was killed. They’re being sent to Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus would build the church, who denied even knowing Jesus, fearful for his own life.

Imagine the state of mind of these men, who in their hiding places would have remembered Jesus’ prediction that they would “all become deserters.” (14:13) Imagine how¬ Peter’s heart would have been aching knowing he betrayed his friend and Messiah three times (14:30), just as Jesus said he would.

I wonder if they talked to one another, reviewing the recent events, trying to make sense of them. Would they even remember that Jesus told them that after he was “raised up” he “would go before them to Galilee”…?

The gospel writer never really addressed this point, because Peter got all insulted when Jesus said he would deny him, and they argued about that instead. So this powerful prediction of a post-resurrection encounter with Jesus got totally overlooked.

But now they are in hiding, going over these events in their thoughts. I can just picture them thinking, “Why does he say stuff like that? I never understand what he means when he does that. I can’t look stupid though, so I’ll just shut up and hope someone else explains it.”

And someone else did – Mary, and Mary, and Salome. These women, sent by the messenger of God in the empty tomb, came to tell the disciples that their relationship with Jesus is still a loving one, and that they are needed once more by their Master. It isn’t over yet.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… So the women leave the tomb in a state of great agitation – a mixture of amazement and fear – and Mark says they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.

This is believed to be the original ending of the Gospel of Mark. An additional ending was added sometime later, and there isn’t a lot of agreement as to why this longer ending was added.

Perhaps, the open-endedness of this shorter ending left the hearers uncomfortable. Perhaps people didn’t like that the Good News according to Mark ended with the word “afraid.”

Theologian Marie Sabin says that the word we translate there as “afraid” is a word associated, in Jewish Scripture, with a form of prophecy that happens when one is powerfully overshadowed by God's spirit. According to Sabin, this word is used twice in Genesis: once when God put 'adam into a “deep sleep” in order to make a helper and partner so 'adam wouldn’t be alone (Gen 2:18), and the other refers to the "deep sleep" of Abraham at the making of the covenant (Gen. 15:12).(10)

Sabin says that Mark is “deliberately choosing a word which [shows] God in the process of a new creation.”

Mary, Mary, and Salome weren’t silenced by fear. And that isn’t the end of the Good News according to Mark. These women were being made prophets, proclaimers of a new creation, of life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It’s significant that the good news of the resurrection was recorded in all four gospels as being first witnessed and proclaimed by Mary Magdalene and the other women, because in this new creation, in this new covenant begun in Jesus Christ, those who were excluded or marginalized in the world, are now included, respected, even honored in the household of God.

The other thing about these women is that they were what we would call lay people. The privileged hierarchy of the established church was brought low and leveled out by the proclamation of these first prophets of the resurrection. Anyone, even someone the world might not find suitable, can be chosen by God to proclaim the good news.

It’s up to us to stay awake and keep watch for the prophets in our time. It’s up to us to welcome in all who would come and be co-creators with God and with them in the building of the kingdom of God on earth.

And tonight God is giving us the opportunity to do just that. Tonight we mark the beginning of a new life for one of our own, Michael Laymance, and through him, new life for the Church of the Redeemer, and the body of Christ in the world.

In a moment, we will process to the font and baptize Michael, welcoming him into the household of God. We will renew our own baptismal vows, reclaiming our promise to enter fully – together – into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior.

We will promise – together – to uphold Michael in his new life in Christ, praying that he will have an inquiring and discerning heart and be open to the joy and wonder in all God’s works.

Notice, we aren’t called upon to tell Michael what he should know about God or how he should live that out. We are called upon to show Michael, by our words and our actions, what we believe, and partner with him in living that out together.

We are also called upon to maintain ourselves as a household of prayer so that Michael, and anyone whom God chooses to send here, may have a place to encounter the living God, to be nourished by Word and Sacrament, and strengthened for service in the world in Jesus’ name.

Now I invite Michael and his sponsor to process with me to the font. I also invite others here to join us there – so you can see. As we process we will sing together hymn # 296 (in your service booklet).

(Source: Marie Sabin,

Monday, April 2, 2012

Loving with God's love

Theologian, Roberta Bondi once said,“being a Christian means learning to love with God’s love… and no amount of pious behavior or Christian discipline can replace love.” This is a lesson beautifully illustrated in the movie, Chocol├ít, in which the mayor of a quaint French village mistakenly values piety, discipline, and strict obedience to the law over love as Jesus has commanded. Judging people by their imperfections, as he defines them, he enforces his oppressive authority using fear, shame, and threat of dishonor.

Into this setting comes Vianne, a young, beautiful, chocolatier, who is a single mother (and therefore obviously sinful herself). She opens a candy store near the church during Lent, a time of strict fasting, and fills the front window with rich, luscious treats and decorations of a decidedly pagan persuasion.

The Mayor and his oppressed followers in the church are scandalized… most of them anyway. The problem is not just that Vianne makes chocolate and other treats – forbidden fruit during Lent – or even that she is an unmarried woman with a child. The real problem is that she befriends the insane, the infirm, and the outcast gypsies whose free-wheeling, party-filled lifestyle is clearly sinful.

When the upright and fastidious mayor finally breaks under the pressure of his own oppression, gorging himself on the treats in the candy store window, it is Vianne who extends mercy and compassion to him. She loves him as God loves.

As we approach Easter, we remember that in the resurrection, a new thing has happened in Jesus Christ, and it changes everything for all time: “I give you a new commandment, (Jesus said) that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:31-35)

Shortly after Jesus issues this command, Peter is forced to explain to church elders why he ate forbidden food in table fellowship with unclean Gentiles. Rather than defend his actions, Peter testified to this resurrection reality: “…a new thing has happened, Peter says… the Spirit told me… not to make a distinction between them and us... [and] who was I that I could hinder God? (Acts 11:12-17)

Throughout our history as the body of Christ, being at the Eucharistic table with the unclean, the un-pious, the un-wealthy, the un-white, the un-straight, the un-like us… has been and remains ongoing issue. Yet, who are to hinder God?

When we fight over what doesn’t matter in the big picture of salvation we hinder God who asks us to love as God loves. This isn’t a warm fuzzy, sentimental, emotional kind of love. It’s an orientation of the heart and will, and it comes about only by faith in God’s grace. It is, as Roberta Bondi says, a “real love that sees [others] as human beings, beloved of God, and yet flawed, just as [we ourselves are flawed]… We are to love (Bondi says), not just at a distance, but up close…in concrete ways, …as the Gospel requires.”

At Redeemer, we are richly blessed with a loving community of very diverse people who worship and serve God together. We are very aware that we are flawed persons loving other flawed persons. That is one of our strengths and it is very exciting to me as your rector, because by our life together, in all of our diversity, we witness obedience to God’s command “not to make a distinction between them and us.”

This month we celebrate the new thing begun by our Savior. We also notice and celebrate the new thing Christ is doing in us now at Redeemer, and we run into our future together the only way we can - in faith, loving one another as God loves us.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Palm Sunday 2012 B: Trust the path

Lectionary: The Liturgy of the Palms - John 12:12-16,Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. The Liturgy of the Word - Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen. (Note: Sorry, I forgot to turn on the recording till after I'd said this. Lo ciento, hermanas y hermanos.)

Our final Lenten teaching last Thursday was on the Labyrinth (there is a handout on this in your bulletin). The labyrinth is an ancient form of prayer that allows us to be pilgrims on an interior journey.

There are many things I love about walking a labyrinth. First, it is holy ground, so we remove our shoes something we don’t do often in our society).

Second, we walk alone, yet not alone. The journey is an interior one, but it reflects our life as members of the body of Christ – the church.

We walk the labyrinth looking only at the path in front of us. Every once in a while, we come across another pilgrim who may be going in the same direction, though on a different part of the path. Or they may be coming towards us, going in the opposite direction, yet on the same part of the path. Or, they may be going ahead of us, and going slower than we are, so without disturbing their walk, we go around them. Or we may be the one going slower, and we let the other pilgrim pass us, maintaining our focus on the path before us and the interior journey going on deep within us.

Each of us is on our own path. Each of our paths is the right one, and yet each one is different; and each path is just one part of the larger journey – the labyrinth. Only God can do that.

As we walk a labyrinth, our journey IN is a time of purgation. We allow the distractions of the day, or our stress and worries, or our plans and desires to come into our minds as we walk, and as they do, we release them – we purge ourselves of them. We drop all of that as if it were baggage we don’t need, and we walk on emptying ourselves. Our goal, as we walk in, is to get to the center.

The form of the labyrinth we used last Thursday is the form pictured in your handout. It’s found on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.

There are many styles of labyrinth design, but this one is an ancient form of the labyrinth and my favorite one. The reason is, this form presents us with a long, circuitous journey. Just when the pilgrim thinks they are near the center, the path winds them far away again – and this happens several times during the journey.

I instruct new pilgrims not to judge the path, or try to figure out where it will go before they get there. The idea with a labyrinth is to trust the path and the path-maker.

There is only one path in and one path out. If you just trust, the path will take you to the center – where illumination, clarity, and insight happen. Then it will take us back out again – where we find unity with God and the will of God for us in the world.

In the center of the labyrinth, we pause to listen. We have emptied ourselves and now allow ourselves to be filled by the Spirit of God. That’s why it is a time of illumination, clarity, and insight.

Sometimes the center is crowded with other pilgrims. Other times, it is empty. Pilgrims come and go, each at their own pace, so the center is a place of constant transition, constant change.

Once filled with the Spirit of God, we begin our journey OUT, only this time, we don’t walk alone. We walk with God. As we walk out, God whispers in our souls how we should live in the mind of Christ – a mind in union with God – and serve the world we will re-enter at the conclusion of our pilgrimage.

I chose this form of prayer to conclude our Lenten series because it helps us understand the journey of our Savior as read today in the passion Gospel of Mark. Jesus’ journey from Jerusalem to Calvary was a long and circuitous one.

It didn’t lead where it seemed like it should, yet somehow, it went exactly where it was meant to go – to illumination and unity with God – and it pointed Jesus toward the culmination of his earthly ministry: his resurrection and ascension into heaven.

Jesus didn’t judge the path as it wound around the goal – he just went, trusting the path and the path-maker. He also didn’t judge those he met along the way or where they were on their paths. He just kept walking – even when the ‘Hosannas’ turned to ‘Crucify him!’

Why did they? Why did the ‘Hosannas’ turn to ‘Crucify him!’?

When Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem the crowds went wild. Jesus’ entry was one of probably many parades during that time of celebration in the big city of Jerusalem. But Jesus refused to be the Messiah they had imagined.

Although he entered the city like a military V.I.P., he rode in on a baby donkey, the humblest of possible rides for the Messiah, the King of kings. He defended the poor who couldn’t pay their temple taxes. He talked to women – even letting one anoint him with fine oil.

He refused to use violence even when he was betrayed and arrested. And worst yet, he refused to claim his authority when Pilate asked if he were the King of the Jews. He was silent… weak… an embarrassment.

Crucify him! They shouted. This isn’t the Messiah we wanted. This isn’t the path we thought we on – we were supposed to be walking to victory.

Jesus, however, didn’t judge the path he was on or abandon it. He went to his death, trusting the path and the path-maker, and there he found victory.

As Jesus was lifted up on that cross, the sins of the world were lifted up with him. In his death, we were all saved.

“Truly this man was God’s son.”