Sunday, November 25, 2012

Christ the King, 2012-B: Living in accordance with divine truth

Lectionary: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93 ; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

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

Hoow many of you have ever seen a 3-D movie? I saw Avatar in 3-D and it was amazing.
It was amazing to me that I could even share in the 3-D experience.

You see, growing up, I could only see in two dimensions due to an issue with my eyes. I wasn’t able to see in 3-D until 8 years ago following some laser eye surgery. Up until then my world looked pretty flat, like a picture or a photograph.
I remember (years ago) chaperoning a school trip to Disney’s Epcot Center where we took the kids to one of the first ever 3-D showings. I watched as the kids would reach out toward something that they said looked like it was right in front of them. They would back up when it looked like something was coming at them quickly.

To me, everything just looked like two blurry images, one mostly red and one mostly green,
sitting almost on top of each other. Looking through the 3-D glasses with 2-D vision made me feel like my eyes were crossing, so I took the glasses off and watched a flat but enjoyable show.

When the surgery gave me three-dimensional vision I had to learn to “see” my world all over again. Stairs were the best thing I re-learned. They had always looked like stripes to me and if there were shadows on them, it really very hard for me to see them at all. With new new-found ability to see depth, I finally understood what I was looking at, when it came to stairs, and they became much easier (and safer) for me to maneuver.

Many people had tried to explain depth to me over the years, but it was simply outside of my ability to see and comprehend until the surgery opened my eyes to it. This is kind of what it was like for Jesus as he tried to answer Pilate’s questions about kingdoms and kingship.

Pilate asks a question from an earthly experience - one bound by place and time, kind of a 2-D question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (which would be the crime of sedition). “Am I a Jew?” (which would be the crime of treason). Your own people have handed you over to me.
Why? What have you done? Pilate needed a reason to put Jesus to death.

Jesus answers with eternal truth… a 3-D answer, you might say, and it’s something Pilate simply can’t comprehend: If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to save me because that’s how things work in the world. “But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate hears Jesus’ reference to his kingdom and asks, “So you are a king?”

There was just no way for Jesus to answer that question. “King” is too small a word, too small a concept for the Incarnate God.

King is your word, Jesus says, not mine. I came to testify to the truth. Those who belong to the truth listen to me and obey me. Pilate did neither, nor did the religious authorities. Do we?

As we celebrate our patronal feast, the Feast of Christ the King, I want you to know that some people prefer to call this the Feast of the Reign of Christ. (And since this isn’t in our Prayer Book yet, we’re free to play with this a bit)

I like that. I like the Feast of the Reign of Christ. It’s more in keeping with Jesus life and teachings. Jesus never sought titles or privilege while he was among us – quite the opposite. He arrived as a helpless baby born to a poor, unmarried girl.

His ministry leadership was comprised of some fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor, a zealot, and some women – hardly a powerful or threatening group. Jesus’ ministry was about bringing in a new age – the reign of God - and he spent his time focused on the poor, the sinful, the excluded, and the powerless.

Rather than gathering up the things earthly rulers did to secure their reign, e.g. armies, riches, and lands, Jesus spent his time giving things away, e.g., food, healing, forgiveness. Yet, something about Jesus and his followers threatened the authorities and caused the religious leadership to tremble. That thing, I think, was truth.

In his presence, everyone knew that Jesus was the embodiment of truth and whenever we are in the presence of real truth we know our bubbles are going to burst – bubbles we’ve carefully and collectively constructed to make ourselves feel safe and in control. When those bubbles burst, we feel nervous and insecure because we realize how small we are in the presence of so great a truth as God.

That’s why so many religious leaders – then and now - break God down into small, comprehensible, controllable bits. But there is nothing small or comprehensible or controllable about God. And there is nothing to fear about that. It’s the truth. We can expect it, trust it, and count on it. We can surrender to the truth that God is God and we are not. And thanks be to God for that!

The reign of Christ isn’t about power, or glory, or privilege for a deity. It is now and always has been about salvation, about reconciling all who have been separated or lost back into the unity and presence of Love, who is God.

That’s why everything about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry kept catching the earthly authorities by surprise. They knew how a zealot would act, or a would-be warrior king. But they had no way to understand or respond to someone who acted out of selfless love, someone who would die in a moment in time so that all people could live eternally.

“For this I was born”…Jesus says…”for this I came into the world.” Christ our King does not rule over us using power or force, but reigns in love. Our King is not a great warrior or a mighty soldier, but a humble child, a sacrificial lamb.

We who hear this story today are witnesses of Jesus’ testimony, and we are invited by our King to listen to his voice. Listen, as it is being used here, is not about using our ears to hear, or even about paying attention to what is being said.

It’s a practice of living in accordance with divine truth. (The New Greek Lexicon, Wesley J. Perschbacher, ed., Hendrickson Publishing, 14.) In Greek, the word for “listen” and the word for “obey” have the same root and it refers to a way of being, not to something we do.

And the way of being to which we are called is found in the testimony of Jesus Christ. His is a testimony of humility, faithfulness, and obedience to God’s will, even in the face of injustice and suffering; of walking non-violently toward what may, at times, seem like certain death trusting that is actually the path of life and truth.

“For this [Christ our King] was born…for this [he] came into the world.” May we who belong to the truth listen to his voice.

May we who belong to the truth listen to his voice. So let’s say together now words that will commit us to that. Please open your Prayer Books to page 832, and let’s pray together prayer number 61: A prayer of self-dedication.

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Community Thanksgiving Service, 2012

Lectionary: Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

Good evening! Let us bow our heads and pray:

“Almighty and gracious God…Make us we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name.” Amen. (BCP, 246)

On October 13, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of a Civil War, made the following statements in a presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving Day:

“The year that is drawing toward its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful yields
and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible
to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God… No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God.”

How humbling it is for us to hear these words, knowing they were spoken in the devastating chaos of one of our country’s most difficult historical moments. There was no “us” and “them” in the Civil War. Everyone who died was one of us.

Whole cities were burned, industries were destroyed, and families were torn apart, ideologically and actually. During that time, many people had real cause to worry about the basics of human existence: food, shelter, clothing, medical care.

And yet, in the midst of the awful reality being confronted, a day was set aside to remember the greatness and graciousness of God. This is our Thanksgiving Day legacy.

In the face of whatever difficulty, chaos, or devastation we confront, it is important for us to set aside time, as we have done tonight, to remember the greatness and graciousness of God, and to remember God’s call to righteousness.

In our Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life but strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” This teaching of Jesus is directed to those who have enough, those who know prosperity.

Growing up around a lot of money I learned that no matter how much money you have, someone else has more. For some people, what they have never feels like it’s enough… even though it is.

“Don’t worry about your life…” Jesus says to them. Don’t become absorbed by your own desires. Desire instead the kingdom of God, go after it, ask for it, demand it… Be about the business of making the kingdom of God manifest on the earth.

To do that, brothers and sisters in Christ, we must live in righteousness, that is, in right relationship with God and with all whom God has Created, because, as we heard in the letter to Timothy, Jesus Christ came and offered himself as a ransom for ALL.

There is no one created by God who is outside the love and redemptive plan of God. It is up to us, however, to be the hands that reach out, the heralds that speak the Good News.

We live in a time when we hear a lot of discussion about who deserves help and who doesn’t. At Redeemer, we get calls every week from people who want to come to the Shepherd’s Table to eat or to get a bag of food and supplies from the Food Pantry. They want to know what documentation they should bring to prove they’re deserving of our help.

Bring nothing, we tell them. Just come and eat with friends.

We live in a society that also likes to fit people into boxes: this one is the right age, has the right disability, is on Medicaid. They go in the “we will serve them” box.

This one is disagreeable and ungrateful… It’s probably their own fault they’re poor and in need. They go in the “we won’t serve them” box. After all, we don’t want to enable such bad behavior.

I had a conversation like that just this week.

‘Oh – we know that person,’ several agencies told me. ‘They’re always angry and accusatory.
They made me feel uncomfortable. One person said “unsafe.”

As I listened, I thought: we fear strangers, not friends. In the end – the outcome was the same:
The disagreeable poor person didn’t “qualify” for any services.

So I asked these agency representatives: How many happy homeless people do you know? How happy would you be if you had to beg someone you knew was judging you to get what you need to live?

How many of these “disagreeable” people had to learn to be disagreeable in order to survive on the streets? …or in response to disrespectful treatment from people they needed to ask for help? Maybe, as in the case of long-term victims of domestic or sexual abuse they grew up hearing mostly abusive discourse and haven’t had much opportunity to practice polite conversation.

Jesus cared for the stranger, the sinner, and the outcast and calls us to do the same. There is always a story to hear, a wound that needs a salve. But people will only share stuff like that with a friend.

And the “don’t judge” thing Jesus was always mentioning? It’s pretty important. And it goes both ways.

When I left my abusive first husband, who was a doctor, he emptied our bank accounts leaving my infant daughter and me with no access to money. I was forced to apply for Food Stamps for a short time.

As I stood in line to receive them in the clothes I bought as a doctor’s wife, I heard comments from the others in line who were judging me for taking help I obviously didn’t need. I guess I didn’t look poor or hungry enough for them.

Everyone has a story, and their wounding or burden may not be obvious.

If we are to heed Christ’s teaching on how to be his follower we must learn to listen as friends not strangers and without judgment. We must learn to care for all those God leads into our lives
as sisters and brothers of the same parent – our heavenly parent. And we must work to become as generous with others as God is with us.

Some years ago I went on a mission trip to Romania. Part of my work there included serving homeless children - street children.

One of “my children” was an 8 year-old beggar named Çoni. Çoni was smart, savvy, and doomed by his poverty. One day, as we walked along the city streets of Cluj, this precocious little guy ran off and begged some money (which, by the way, he could do in 5 languages).

Then he went to a fruit stand and bought a banana. I sat on a nearby park bench and watched as he stood on tiptoe to pay the vendor.

When he returned to where I was sitting, he broke the banana in two and offered me half. I was overcome by the generosity that came so naturally to him.

To Çoni, I was a friend, and worthy of half the banana he just begged. Çoni certainly didn’t have enough to eat and he had no promise of food for the future. Yet he shared his banana with me all the same. The generosity of love shown by that 8 year-old street child transformed me and forever changed how I approach people of all kinds.

There will always be something that will tempt us to worry about ourselves, what we will eat, what we will wear... But the call of Christ on our lives compels us to turn our attention from ourselves to the kingdom of God.

It compels us to answer the command to love God and our neighbor – even the stranger who makes us uncomfortable. It compels us to trust God to guide us to listen in friendship to the stories of wounds and burdens borne by our sisters and brothers who are suffering and to provide for their needs as faithful stewards of the abundant bounty of God.

We do this all for the glory of God and for the welfare of all God’s people because “the Lord has done great things for us and we are glad indeed.” Thanks be to God! Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pentecost 24B, 2012: Agents of transformation

Proper 27 Lectionary: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146 ; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

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

I’m not a big TV fan, but I do enjoy the Brit-coms. One of my favorites is called “Keeping Up Appearances” a BBC show from the 90’s about a middle-aged, middle class English woman named Hyacinth Bucket (spelled: b-u-c-k-e-t).

Hyacinth got into all kinds of predicaments in her efforts to convince others (and even herself) that she was a wealthy, refined, aristocrat – things she valued more than being authentic. Hyacinth was so pre-occupied with living the life she wished for that she missed out on living the life she had.

In our gospel story today, the scribes, who were respected, powerful religious leaders in those days, were condemned by Jesus for their preoccupation with appearances. ‘Look at them’ Jesus says, ‘They wear expensive clothes and sit at the head table at all the right parties. They demand your respect and thrive on the power you give them. They do what’s expected of them in return, praying long prayers, but only for the sake of keeping up appearances. “They will receive the greater condemnation.” Jesus says.

Then Jesus goes to the temple treasury where the people are putting in their offerings for the support of the temple. He watches as “many rich people put in large sums.” Then he watches a poor widow put her measly few coins in the collection plate.

Seeing an important lesson about the kingdom of God presenting itself, Jesus calls his disciples near and teaches them. But this isn’t a discussion about money. It’s a discussion about learning to see the new thing God is doing in the world – a world where the poor widow is honored and the rich religious leaders are condemned. By this teaching, Jesus is helping the disciples let go their preconceived notions about social and church structures so that they can see and participate in the new world God is creating right in front of them.

This is very much in keeping with our Bishop, Porter Taylor’s opening address at our diocesan convention this weekend, and so I share some his words with you today:

“We journey inward [in prayer], we journey outward [in mission and ministry, but]… we journey together… [and] there is something sacred about working together… When we cannot talk about our “issues,” we can always work together. We can always feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless and be agents for God’s reign.

Conversation and commitment are what matter. We cannot wait for a new Church to emerge because this day is the only day we have to be agents of transformation. Let’s be creative; let’s be inventive; but let’s get on with walking in the way and widening the walls and waking up the world. Let’s be about our core essentials: Christian Formation, Justice/Outreach, Evangelism, Communication, and Stewardship and liturgy. Let us find the best ways to move forward in these areas together.

…This togetherness enables us to hang on to one another even when we don’t agree. In Advent I will authorize under my specific guidelines the use of the liturgy of Same Sex Blessings passed by General Convention. These are liturgies for provisional use between General Conventions (emphasis mine). The Episcopal Church has not sanctioned same sex marriage. As a Church we are going to try out this liturgy for three years and in 2015 come together to listen to our experiences and decide what to do. We have had blessings in WNC for some time. All that this will do is to make the liturgy uniform. Remember “All May, Some Should, None Must.” While some will feel as if my guidelines are too restrictive; others will feel as if they are too radical. That diversity is who we are… I am confident that we are so committed to our Lord and his Church, that his strong love will pull us through our differences together.

I am pleased to say that our diocese is already creative and innovative and funner. People were not waiting for this address to do new things for our Lord and His Church…I want to say a word about the work that Beth Turner, Valori Shearer (sic), Beth Lilly, Karla Woggan, Rob Lundquist, Thomas Murphy, John Simpson, Augusta Anderson, Pattie Curtis, Osondu McPeters and others I forgot to mention are doing with Young Adults. It is creative and also traditional. They are gathering people into the faith through the blessed sacraments and scripture and prayer.

I am also committed to us being more creative in proclaiming the Good News... As a Church, we must be about what Jesus was about: unity and diversity. We need to bring in more people of color—especially Latinos—more young adults.

To put it simply, we need to be more flexible in how we do Church. This means I need you to be the ones to initiate creative experiments. We must get over our fear that if we do something new, my parish or our diocese will suffer. Let’s let the Spirit work… because it’s not our Church; it’s Christ’s Church and he is the bishop of our souls.

So, intentional, clearer, more focused yet innovative, creative, funner. This is my charge for 2013.”

In his sermon at our Eucharist Saturday night, +Porter reminded us of the uncontainability of the Christ we follow, our Savior who broke open the tomb and, leaving death behind, inaugurated a New Age, bringing new life to the world – resurrection life. +Porter said: “Let us rejoice that we cannot predict what Jesus will do anymore. He is free. Our calling is recognize him wherever he is. Our calling is to learn to see him in unexpected places. And most of all our calling is to believe in his power to make all things new…”

The life, mission, and ministry we live as a parish, a diocese, a denomination, a part of a world-wide communion of followers of Christ, are gifts from the Almighty Giver, who, as we will hear in our Offertory Hymn (# 665) bestows bounteous gifts on us every day. Everyday our world is new and different because of the gifts of God bestowed daily.

We can refuse the gifts of God if we choose, holding out for the life we wish for or prefer to the one we have. Or we can open our eyes to see the life God is giving us to live and be transformed by it. Then we can open our hearts and carry this abundant life, this resurrection life to all who lack it or just don’t see see it.

Today is the only day we have to be “agents of transformation.” So, let’s answer our Bishop’s charge to be creative and inventive, and let’s walk in the way, widen the walls, and wake up the world…together. Amen.

Note: For the full content of Bishop Taylor's address and sermon, click here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

All Saints Day, 2012: Living like the saints we are

Lectionary: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

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

In his book, The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner said: "…to be a saint is to know joy. Not happiness that comes and goes with the moments that occasion it, but
joy that is always there like an underground spring no matter how dark and terrible the night. To be a saint is to be a little out of one's mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time. It is to live a life that is always giving itself away and yet is always full." Source.

“To be a saint is to be a little out of one’s mind…” he said. Finally, a qualification for sainthood I can meet! I live a little bit out of my mind all of the time. I always have, especially when it comes to my spiritual life. I know many others (even some here) who could say the same, but mostly don’t because, well… people will think they’re out of their minds.

Buechner is right though – a saint is one who has access to an invisible well-spring of live-giving water no matter how dark and terrible a night they are experiencing. The truth is we are all saints. We all have access to that spring. Christ promised it and it is true. We also have a cloud of witnesses, the whole company of heaven, praying for us and walking with us through the vicissitudes and fortunes of our lives.

When I was only 4 years old, I experienced a terrible trauma in the world. While it was happening, a lady came to me (in the spiritual sense) and held me her lap in a tender embrace. She whispered love and comfort to me even while violence was happening to me in my earthly experience. I knew I was safe with her and that I would make it through the nightmare I was experiencing.

This is the first spiritual experience that I can remember and it blessed me with a deep and lively spiritual life that has kept me connected to God and the saints in heaven all these years. I knew from this experience that no matter what was happening here on earth, I was always safe because I had friends in heaven who would come when I needed them. I knew that God was holding me and my life in a love that was true and powerful – truer and more powerful than anything the world could offer.

Growing up Roman Catholic, I first understood this lady to be Mary, the mother of Jesus – which is where my life-long devotion to the Rosary originates. I later came to understand that the lady who came to me, the lap that held me that day – was God. It was God herself who comforted me. It was God himself who protected me. That was when I came to understand the gender fullness of God.

I was too young back then to judge my spiritual experiences as unusual, or crazy. They were just mine.

I knew that Mary was Jesus’ mother, but I experienced Mary as my mother too, my heavenly mother who would come near whenever I needed her. Because of that, I believed - in the innocence of my childhood faith – that all of the saints in heaven were also there for me.

As a Roman Catholic, we may not have spent a lot of time learning the Bible, but we did learn the saints, and I for one, am grateful we did. I was hungry to know the breadth of the spiritual friends available to me and I couldn’t wait to meet them in the books I read and on the saint’s days we celebrated in church.

As I grew in my life of prayer, I learned how to ask for their help when I needed it. For example, most of you know that I am an introvert. Well, as a kid I was also a tomboy. As an introverted tomboy, I used to relish my time alone in the woods, communing with nature and restoring my peace.

I have always loved bugs, snakes, and critters. I felt like they were my friends too and that they participated in my prayer as I sat in the quiet of the woods watching them be. I felt like the trees lifted their branches in prayer with me as we praised God.

I used to pray the Sanctus with them in the woods. I believed I could because I believed then what I would later come to hear in the Episcopal Church in Eucharistic Prayer D (the one we’re using today): “Countless throngs of angels stand before you to serve you night and day; and, beholding the glory of your presence, they offer you unceasing praise. Joining with them, and giving voice to every creature under heaven, we acclaim you, and glorify your Name, as we sing (say)… Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.” (BCP, 373)

Is it any wonder I found my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church?

The communion of saints is real for me. I hope they are for you too. If they aren’t now, I highly recommend them to you. To get to know them, all you have to do is ask, then wait with an open heart.

For the more Protestant among us, let me say it like this. We pray for one another all of the time, don’t we? It’s what friends do. We don’t hesitate to ask someone for their prayers when we need their support or want to share our joy. We don’t ask them for prayer because we need them to intercede for us – we all have direct access to God ourselves. We ask them because we want their companionship in prayer as we navigate difficult moments or celebrate happy ones in our lives.

The same is true about our spiritual friends among the communion of saints in heaven. These are friends who went before us and know what it’s like to try to live faithfully here on the earth.

It’s also true about our spiritual friends among the communion of saints on earth. They are the simple and the special, the ordinary and the extraordinary… the young and the old… the brilliant and the simple-minded. They are whoever is present in our lives, whoever God has given to us to love.

Some of these saints challenge us and try our Christian virtue. Some of them open our closed minds by their innocence or their faith. They soothe our tired souls with their compassion, and nourish us with their prayer and friendship.

It is these saints, the saints on earth, who enable us to obey Christ’s command to go to those, like Lazarus, who are walking around spiritually dead or dying from their earthly experiences and set them free to live in the fullness of joy found only in Jesus Christ who overcame death and the grave once for us all.

So let’s bring down the boundaries we’ve built up in our minds and in our faith - the ones that keep us safe and sane and separated from one another. And let’s be a little out of our minds, being led by God in that procession of saints who were, saints who are, and saints who are yet to come.

Let’s claim the spiritual strengths each of us has been given for the benefit of the kingdom. Then let’s nourish those strengths, here in the company of this faith community, so that we can give them away.

Let’s live like the saints we are, knowing that the more we give of ourselves and our lives, the more we and the world will experience the fullness of God’s love, and the more the kingdom of God will be manifest on the earth. Amen.