Sunday, December 29, 2013

Xmas 1, 2013: God within and without

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Happy Christmastide! Still working on the dead computer issue, so the sermon is available in audio only again this week. Enjoy!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Eve, 2013: Midnight Mass sermon: A Christmas challenge

We enjoyed a glorious celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. Mother Valori's sermon is available in audio only (due to a dead computer).

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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 4A, 2013: Freedom as big as God

Lectionary: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Last week Deacon Pam talked about the Advent task we all have: recognizing and letting go our expectations of God so that we can be in relationship with the God who is, not the God we create. This is no small task, but it is a very important one. Remember the second Commandment given to Moses: “You shall not make for yourself any idol.”

When we create a concept of God for ourselves, we create an idol. Our Scripture stories tell us of idols that are carved statues or statues cast in gold. Our idols today aren’t like that. Instead, we create idols of our
expectations about God, which are as false as those statues, even though we know that God acts in ways we can’t ask or imagine.

In last week’s lectionary, we heard Mary say “for nothing will be impossible with God,” yet we continue to limit the work of God in ourselves and in the world according to our small expectations of God. We aren’t alone though. This has been the way of human relationship with God all along. Our forebears were expecting another King David who would deliver them from Roman occupation. They wanted freedom, but the freedom they wanted was so small – it was political freedom from a particular enemy, in a particular time in history.

What they got, what we all got, was God’s freedom and it was much bigger than anyone expected. We got Jesus. Jesus is our Savior. It’s a basic truth for us. In fact, it’s THE basic truth. We confess that in Jesus we have been reconciled to God, made one again with the Creator of all that was and is and is to come. That was Jesus’ purpose and he fulfilled it, once for all. There is nothing more we need to or can do to accomplish what has already been accomplished by him.

Over and over again Jesus told us that he was delivering us from the power of sin and death. He told us that that in him we have eternal life in God (because remember he is God). And as St. Paul said a little later in his letter to the Romans, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

Nothing. Not sin. Not death. Not even our idols or our small expectations.

Neither can we be tricked or distracted away from the salvation Jesus gave us. That is the freedom Jesus brought – sin has no power anymore. We are free and this freedom is big as only God can do.

Look at what Matthew tells us in his gospel account of Jesus’ birth – the only gospel, by the way, that tells the story from Joseph’s point of view. Notice that the story of the coming of the Messiah is so big
it took multiple writers offering multiple perspectives to provide the story even some of the dimensionality it contains.

So, Matthew’s gospel begins with Jesus’ genealogy showing Joseph to be a descendant of David. By claiming Jesus as his son and naming him, Joseph establishes Jesus as a descendant of David.

This was important because Matthew wrote his gospel to a Jewish audience who knew the words of the prophets and the law of Moses. They knew the many stories of God’s deliverance as told in Scripture. They knew that the promised Messiah of God would come from the line of David and would deliver God’s people from their sins.

But they couldn’t have known how very big this deliverance would be. No one could have.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Mary is pregnant, and Joseph knew it couldn’t be his child. The Jewish audience hearing this story knew that Mary’s betrothal to Joseph was legally binding. Betrothals could only be ended by divorce, that’s why they called Joseph her husband.

Under the circumstances, Joseph would have certainly been justified in seeking a divorce, but he also could have publicly accused Mary of adultery which would have guaranteed her being stoned to death
according to their law.

We can imagine how hurt and disappointed Joseph must have been. Many of us know how it feels to be cheated on by our partner in love. Matthew describes Joseph as a righteous man a man in right relationship with God, and Joseph moves pretty quickly from hurt and disappointment to mercy, deciding to divorce Mary without public accusation so that she will not be stoned to death. She will, however, be destined to a life of shame because the reason for Joseph’s divorce would be evident before long.

I wonder how many people today, given the power Joseph had over the one who hurt him, would make a similar choice? People today seem to go straight from “you hurt me” to “I’ll hurt you worse” or even “I’ll kill you.”

Matthew tells us that just as Joseph had decided to divorce Mary, God spoke to him in a dream, through an angel. Let’s stop here for a moment and ponder this. God spoke to Joseph in a dream. Really? Do we believe that?

Does the God you worship speak to you in your dreams? Are you sure? The reason I ask is, it’s one of the most common ways God has related to God’s people – according to our Scripture. Oh yeah, we believe that.

Unfortunately, the allowable concept of God we have created for our time doesn’t speak to us in dreams much anymore – really at all. We have shrunk God down according to our concepts about God and limited what we will allow God to do in our time, and that’s a sin: the sin of idolatry.

So God spoke to Joseph in his dream and what God said was pretty impossible: ‘Oh yeah, she has a baby, but don’t worry – it’s mine.’

And yet, Joseph knew it was God, and did as God asked him to do, even though, it meant living in dishonor. Gossip was the same then as it is now. Mary was pregnant, they weren’t married yet, and the baby wasn’t Joseph’s. Joseph had been humiliated. Even taking Mary and her baby in wouldn’t quell the gossip, which probably lingered around them their whole lives.

But Joseph knew his purpose. He had heard it from the voice of God in his dream, and he fulfilled it. Joseph obeyed the word of God. He even named his son as God directed. The name, Jesus, "is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehosua, which means 'YHWH is salvation' " (Bergant, 27). As the gospel writer says, this is his name because "…it is he who shall save his people from their sins." (21b). (Source:

The expectation, however, was that the Messiah would save them from their oppressors. As one commentator says, “Jesus would [have been] far more popular if [he’d focused] on relieving the people of Roman oppression instead of delivering them from their sins.” (Source:

I think the same is true today. Our view of God and God’s deliverance remains very small. Thankfully, God is not limited by our consistently small expectations. God is God. Thanks be to God.

Like Joseph, we’re called to hear the voice of God which still speaks our purpose to us: individually and as a community. Like Joseph, we’re called to obey and follow where God leads the way no matter how impossible it seems. Doing so is likely to lead us to bear dishonor, as it did Joseph, but it’s a small sacrifice to make, considering how big is the work we’re called to share: reconciling the whole world to God.

I close with an adaptation of our wreath-lighting prayer. Let us pray:

Loving God, set us free from the constriction of our small imaginations and light our lives with your imagination. Show us the creative power our hope in you unleashes on the world. Teach us trust that you are God and you will lead us only by love and in love, and magnify your love within us. Fill us with your joy which is so big it cannot be contained, but must be shared. Prepare our hearts, on this last Sunday in Advent, to be transformed by you at Christmas that we may always walk shining the light of Christ in our world. Amen.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent 1A, 2013: Advent "nesting"

Lectionary: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Happy New Year! Happy new liturgical year! Advent 1 marks the beginning of our liturgical year and we begin it by lighting the candle of hope. As we move into a new year, we are called to prepare ourselves for the new thing about to happen in us individually, in our community, and through us in the world.

The Scripture for today speaks about hope and renewal of life, not the end of life as many would have us think. When Jesus used apocalyptic language, as he does in today’s gospel teaching, he’s talks about a new beginning, one he himself is inaugurating.

The topic of “the rapture” has come up in conversations I’ve been having on several occasions lately, so I thought it might be time again to share again a teaching I did a few years ago on this. How many of you have heard of “the rapture”? How many of you have read the “Left Behind” book series?

Let me be clear: the rapture is a modern doctrine that is NOT supported by the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. “The rapture” was a teaching developed by John Nelson Darby, a 19th century Irish lawyer who became an Anglican preacher, then later left the Anglican Church and started the Plymouth Brethren. Darby is considered the founder of dispensationalism, a theological approach described as “an oddity of Church history.”

This approach breaks Scripture down into compartments or "dispensations” which mark the end of the world. The dispensations begin, according to Darby, with the rapture, the moment when all faithful believers are taken up to heaven all at once. This will happen so suddenly, they say, that in a flash, all that will be left of those ‘raptured up into heaven’ will be a pile of their empty clothes and the shocked looks on the faces of those who watched it happen.

The unfaithful and believers who lived in sin will be left behind to suffer unspeakable horrors during the next dispensation called the Great Tribulation, a period of seven years of chaos and persecution. Next will be the dispensation called the battle of Armageddon. After that will be a thousand years (a millennium) of justice and righteousness on the earth.

Following that will be the final dispensation: the Last Judgment, when Christ will send anyone who has ever lived either to eternal bliss or eternal damnation. This, they believe, will bring to a close the story of human history begun in the Garden of Eden.

Another famous dispensationalist was Cyrus I. Scofied, who authored the Scofied Bible, often called the handbook of fundamentalism. Published in 1909, Scofield’s Bible is still much used in the church today. It was published just before the start of WWI, and became popular as people tried to cope with what looked to them like the end of the world happening all around them.

Although dispsensational millenialists tend to focus primarily on the Book of Revelation, today’s Gospel from Matthew is a favorite because they believe that in it Jesus prophesies the rapture.

So let’s look at our Gospel reading and see. It begins with a statement by Jesus that no one, not even Jesus himself, knows when the Day of the Lord will be. So the Scofield Bible and all of those supermarket tabloids that predict a date for the end of the world, find no support in Scripture.

Next Jesus references the story of Noah found in the book of Genesis saying, “For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. People were doing what they usually did, eating, drinking, and marrying, until the day Noah entered the ark, …they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too [Jesus said]will be the coming of the Son of Man.” According to Jesus, those left behind after the flood were Noah and his family who were chosen by God to stay on the earth in order to restore it.

So Scripture shows us that the doctrine of the rapture has it backwards. Those left behind in the story of Noah, did not suffer tribulation. They lived in a covenanted relationship with God – a covenant promising mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

Let’s continue…

Jesus continues, “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Please note that the word ‘behind’ in is not in the Scriptural text – not in the Greek and not in the English.

The text also does not indicate which one might be a bad outcome and which one might be the good. But Jesus does by connecting his teaching to the story of Noah. Remember that in that story, the ones taken off the face of the earth were not the faithful ones. The faithful ones were “left behind” (as it were).

The understanding that is faithful to our Scripture, then, is that being left on the earth is not a punishment, but a call from God to be partners in the work of the reconciliation and the restoration of the world.

Let’s continue… Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” It isn’t clear whether Jesus is referring to our personal end (our death) or our collective end (the end of the world as we know it).

And that’s the point - it doesn’t matter. Our focus as Christians isn’t on the end of the world but on its renewal. Like the family of Noah, we have been chosen BY God to be partners WITH God in the reconciliation of the world TO God.

There are people suffering right in front of us, here in Shelby, and around the world. People who are hungry for food, for friendship, and for hope. During his earthly ministry, Jesus healed the sick, connected with the excluded, and loved even those who executed him. In our ministries, we are to do likewise, and this is something which takes preparation – intentional, prayerful, continuing preparation – which is what we are called to do during the season of Advent.

All around us the cultural Christmas is already in high gear. Holiday decorations are up, Christmas carols are playing everywhere we turn, and the much-needed shot in our economic arm is being carefully measured by those people who measure those things.

For Christians, however, it isn’t Christmas. It’s Advent.

In the same way that we can’t skip the third trimester of a pregnancy and jump straight to the baby, we can’t skip over Advent and run right to Christmas. But why would we? What fun is that?

During the last trimester of a pregnancy, the mother begins to “nest,” that is, to make ready the home that will welcome the new life within her. The parents decorate the nursery and gather up all the necessary accoutrements: the layette, diapers, car seats, strollers, itty bitty socks.

Then… they wait. And anyone who has waited for a baby that came past its due date, knows how very hard it is to wait, especially for the mother.

During Advent, we are all pregnant with new life. So we wait. And we nest, preparing ourselves for the new life we know is growing within us, the new life that is coming. The new life who is, for us, the light of the world because we have been chosen BY God to be partners WITH God in the reconciliation of the world TO God.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ the King, 2013: Re-member

Lectionary: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

On this our patronal feast day, the day we remember in whose name we live and move and have our being, we have the blessing of these words from our Psalm: “Be still then, and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:11)

As many of you know, Deacon Pam and I went on a silent retreat at Valle Crucis last week. We stayed in the
wonderful hermitages they have there. Pam stayed in the Julian of Norwich hermitage, and I stayed in the G. Porter Taylor hermitage. We didn’t choose them – they chose us.

In each hermitage are books and information about the one for whom the hermitage is named. During my time in that hermitage I held +Porter in particular prayer. I read his books (I hadn’t even known he’d written two books) and found myself blessed by his grace and wisdom in a whole new way.

That’s the thing about prayer: it connects us to one another in an intimate and powerful way. Most of us count on the truth of that, especially when someone we love is sick or uncertain or going off in a risky direction.

When we pray, we remember. We remember the name or situation of a prayer request we were given. We remember that the redeeming love of God is always ready to touch and heal whatever prayer request we offer up.

When we pray we are also remembered. We, who are dismembered from the wholeness of God by our sin, are re-membered by our prayer.

This is what we see in today’s gospel reading. Knowing he is with the Redeemer, the criminal asks not for rescue as does the other criminal, nor for forgiveness, acknowledging that he is guilty of his offense. Instead, he asks to be remembered: made one again with that from which he had been separated. He seeks wholeness, holiness.

In prayer, we come to know God intimately, honestly, overwhelmingly. The Psalmist’s prayer confirms that, reflecting the voice of God which speaks gently to us saying: “Be still…” Listen and you will learn how to hear me.

Being still is a prayer discipline that takes practice. Our attention wanders, our legs get itchy to move.

In the quiet we first hear the voice of our own conscience which has been speaking to us all along but has been drowned out by our busy-ness. Then we learn to hear the voice of God.

There is no distraction in the quietness which is what makes it uncomfortable, and we end up sounding much like the first criminal who asked Jesus for rescue. But that’s OK. Jesus didn’t rebuke that criminal, did he? Jesus also didn’t rebuke the soldiers who crucified him, the religious leaders who mocked him, or the people who stood by watching…. just watching…

In his most miserable moment as a human, Jesus prayed, and his prayer takes our breath away: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

I’ll bet if anyone had asked, the soldiers they would have said they knew exactly what they were doing. I’ll bet the religious leadership were sure they knew what they were doing by getting Jesus crucified. The people… I don’t know. Maybe some thought they knew.

We often read this text forgetting that it is the distance of time that enables us to know they were killing the Messiah of God. Our sense of spiritual superiority wanes, however, when we remember that we, as a modern culture, are doing the same thing whenever we do it to the least in the kingdom of God.

If we were to open our eyes and truly see, we would be flooded with images of this: people around the globe and right here in Shelby, living in poverty and disease, with few options and even less respect. They cry out for rescue and are often rebuked, or mocked, or ignored by people who seem to know what they’re doing. But Jesus’ prayer: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing…” is eternally re-membering us and setting us free from the tyranny of our own hubris.

We don’t know what we are doing. We can’t – because our vision is so small, so finite. Thankfully, we aren’t asked to know. We’re asked to follow.

If we follow our Redeemer, we will remember. We will remember that although “the human family remains divided and enslaved by sin,” the redeeming love of God in Christ has set us on a course that will bring all of us together again under God’s gracious rule. (Collect of the Day)

Following means gathering together for Holy Eucharist and remembering. Following means going wherever God leads us and trusting, whatever the circumstance, that God’s grace is all we need.

Redeemer knows the truth of this first-hand. We have been to the cross and the tomb together. And today, we live the truth of the resurrection together, and it is glorious.

On this, our patronal feast day, and in the name of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, I bless this family of God who serve and follow so faithfully. With eyes wide open, you have seen the suffering of our sisters and brothers around us and in response, you opened your hearts, your hands, and your buildings to serve them while others rebuke, mock, and ignore them. I am honored to serve with you as your rector.

I close with an adaptation of the blessing St. Paul offered the Colossians: “May you [continue to] be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to God, our Redeemer, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pentecost 26, 2013: "God is in charge"

Lectionary: Malachi 4:1-2a; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I have noticed a couple of things I find to be interesting commentary on current culture. The rise of reality TV – shows about people with no discernible gifts or talents simply living their lives on camera; and a current fascination with a zombie apocalypse.

One genre which combines these two and enjoys great popularity is the doomsday prepper show. Preppers are people who devise elaborate plans for surviving a variety of apocalyptic events: total economic collapse, natural disaster, war, or politically motivated doomsdays of various descriptions. These TV shows follow preppers who build bunkers in caves or castles in the woods, who create hidden storehouses of food, water, and weapons for their own use after the disaster.

One online prepper published this cautionary advice: “Don’t talk about your preparedness supplies unless it is with trusted people with whom you will be working if a worst case scenario comes to pass. Otherwise, if the world around you collapses and your neighbors and acquaintances know you have supplies, guess who they will turn to for help.” (Source:

God forbid! This isn’t a new phenomenon, though.

Archeological evidence shows that there were some people in the ancient city of Pompeii, which was destroyed in 79 A.D., who tried to hoard food and survival supplies in an attempt to survive the impending volcanic eruption, but their preparations were no match for the power of Mount Vesuvius.

Pandemics, disasters, and apocalyptic events of varying kinds have been present in every era of human history. And I think I read somewhere important that someone important once said, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Oh yeah – that was Jesus in the gospel of Luke (9:24).

Our goal as Christians is not to escape the world, but to stay in it and bring relief to the suffering, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless, and comfort to the frightened, lonely, orphaned, or those left behind during times of trial.

Has there ever been a time in history when there were no plagues or famines, natural disasters or wars? No. Neither, it seems, has there been a time in history when people weren’t trying to figure out how to survive an apocalypse.

In today’s readings, both Jesus and Paul address this. Jesus says, when you see these dreadful events, “Do not be terrified... the end will not follow immediately.” And Paul urges the church in Thessalonica, who had been waiting for the second coming that never happened, not to be idle – not to sit back and just wait for the end to come. Do your work, Paul says, “do not weary in doing what is right.”

The end, you see, isn’t our concern. The only thing we have is now.

Is there peace on earth? Has starvation ended? Has poverty ended? Does everyone recognize the face of God in themselves and in others and treat everyone as such?

No. Then our work as partners in the reconciliation of the world to God isn’t finished yet.

In his address to our convention, Bishop Porter Taylor said his wife Jo suggested this to be the entirety of his sermon: “I love being your bishop. You’re doing a great job. God is in charge.” He didn’t heed her advice - it wasn’t the entirety of his sermon, but it was the backbone of it, and it was my take-away wisdom from him which I share with you.

At convention, we spent a good deal of time discussing the time of transition the church is currently experiencing. Our speaker, Bp. Sean Rowe of NW PA, also discussed this, and gratefully, focused us on our interdependence, a reminder that we, as Christians, take a radically different approach from the doomsday preppers.

The Episcopal Church as a whole is currently working to discern if our institutional structure is serving our purpose as church in the world today and if not, how we might change it so that it will. The Mission & Structure committee of our diocese, on which Deacon Pam and I serve, is doing the same thing for us locally.

This is also a hot topic among authors and bloggers. Some are calling the present time "The End" of the church as we know it. That could be true… but it wouldn’t be the first time. It would only be this time.

The Jews in the first century saw their temple destroyed and church as they knew it ended – but the Jewish faith continued (h/t to Rev. Rob Field for this comment). The disciples saw their long-awaited Redeemer executed, and what seemed to them like the end was in fact, only the beginning. It was the divine plan in action, the redeeming love of God at work in the world.

God is in charge and our faith continues.

When Jesus handed the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter, he said, “... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (Mt, 16:18) Not long after that Peter was executed, the church was being persecuted, and yet, and our faith continues.

So what are we worried about?

What if what we are witnessing, what we are living as the church today, is the redeeming love of God at work in the world about us? It may feel like an end, but isn’t it possible, given our history and our tradition, that it’s actually a beginning?

Faith is a risky business. To have faith is to surrender to our loving God - who is in charge.

To be faithful is to let go of our desired outcomes, to be undistracted by our feared outcomes, and instead choose to be awake and aware and alive in The Now; to walk on in faith in every circumstance, especially the dreadful ones because we walk by faith and not by sight.

As you often hear me say, everything is gift. Everything, no matter how dreadful it seems in the moment, is in the embrace of the divine plan which is, our faith assures us, a plan of salvation.

God’s love can and will redeem.

If we believe that, if we truly believe that, then we can’t abandon the world Jesus died to save, and we can’t worry only about ourselves and our survival. We must be fully engaged in the world as it is right now, faithfully caring for it, loving it and all who are in it – just as Jesus did.

The end of the world is not a thing to dread. It is for us, the culmination of the divine plan of salvation –
the reconciliation of the whole world to God in Christ.

God is in charge. We can walk on in faith. Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

All Saints & Baptism, 2013: Eternally reconciled

Lectionary: Daniel 7:1-3,15-18; Psalm 149; Ephesians 1:11-23; Luke 6:20-31
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer

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

I love the feast of All Saints because it reminds us that our experience of reality in this world is only part of a larger picture. The larger picture, for Episcopalians, includes heaven and earth and all that is in them: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island
home… along with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven (BCP, 370-371) who sing their praises with us each time we gather for Holy Eucharist.

Included also are those in the communion of saints, like the ones we remembered in our solemn procession. In that larger picture, the will of God is the only reality, and that will is most simply and most accurately described as love – and all things, all people live united in and by that love.

In our earthly lives, however, we witness and experience a reality that teaches us that the world can’t be trusted to be safe for us, that few if any people can be trusted not to hurt us, and that God can’t really be trusted to care for us (so we have to take care of ourselves). The Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ ends up too often reduced to a set of beliefs or practices that function more like ecclesiastical fire insurance (you know, staying out of hell) rather than as an invitation to live our lives transformed by the truth of our reconciliation to God in Christ and sharing that truth until it becomes that the reality of the world around us.

When we are baptized, we are baptized first into the death of Christ, and everything we think we know about God, the world, even ourselves dies there. We are also baptized into new life in Jesus Christ and we emerge from the baptismal waters (or our renewal of our Baptismal vows) already living a new reality – one that is in unity with God, with one another, and with all creation.

I read a book recently called, “Proof of Heaven.” It was written by neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, M.D., who contracted E.coli and had a near death experience (NDE). Dr. Alexander had been a C&E Episcopalian, and admits he wasn’t particularly spiritual prior to his NDE. He also wasn’t really sure he believed in God. But after his NDE, everything he understood about everything was changed. He was transformed by the Love he encountered in a place he calls heaven while his earthly body lay in a coma in a hospital bed.

Dr. Alexander describes his experience of heaven like this: “Seeing and hearing were not separate in this place… I could hear the visual beauty of the silvery bodies of those scintillating beings above, and I could see the surging, joyful perfection of what they sang. It seemed that you could not look at or listen to anything in this world without becoming part of it – without joining with it in some mysterious way (45) … Everything was distinct, yet everything was also a part of everything else… “ (46)

Dr. Alexander goes on to describe other worlds, higher worlds that “aren’t totally apart from us, because all worlds are part of the same overarching divine Reality. This overarching Divine reality, as Dr. Alexander called it, is what the world witnessed for the first time at Jesus' baptism when the heavens opened and the voice of God declared Jesus the beloved Son. It's also what we continue to witness today at this and every Baptism, in fact, at every Eucharist we celebrate.

Our earthly experience that we are separated from God is replaced by the reality of our eternal reconciliation to God in Christ, and that transforms how we live in the world. In his sermon from the gospel of Luke, Jesus says: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”

To love in this way means putting the world’s priorities and warnings aside and making room for the love of God to redeem, in fact, being agents of that redeeming love. In the face of an earthly reality that teaches us that the world can’t be trusted to be safe for us, that few if any people can be trusted not to hurt us, and that God can’t be trusted to care for us, living this way will inevitably cause some people to hate, exclude, revile, and defame us – as they did Jesus. When that happens, Jesus says, “Rejoice,…and leap for joy, for …your reward is great in heaven.”

Episcopalians don’t see this reward as something we collect when our earthly lives are over. We understand it to be an eternal reward, one that is part of our lives now forevermore, one that enables us to look beyond the circumstance of the moment and see the working out of the will of God on earth as it is in heaven.

Our Catechism reminds us that when we profess our belief in God, the Creator, it means we believe, despite the apparent earthly reality, that “the universe is good… the work of a… loving God who creates, sustains, and directs it. It means [we believe] that the world belongs to its creator; and that we are called to enjoy it and to care for it in accordance with God's purposes. It means [we believe] that all people are worthy of respect and honor, because all are created in the image of God…” (BCP, 846)

Living this larger, this heavenly reality, in the face of a very different earthly reality isn't something we can do on our own – it's something we must do as members of the church – the mystical body of Christ on earth in communion with the saints in heaven. Today, we have the great joy of baptizing Anna Marion Howell into this body.

If Anna and her sponsor will join me at the Baptismal font, it’s time to invite the heavens to open up as we all declare Anna a beloved daughter in the body of Christ.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pentecost 23, 2013: The blessing of diversity

Lectionary: Sirach 35:12-17; Psalm 84:1-6; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

As most of you know, my husband Steve and I are very different kinds of people. He’s an extrovert. I’m an introvert. He’s a Southerner. I’m a Yankee.

Some of you have even wondered aloud how we’re married. It’s OK. We’re used to that.

The truth is we are very different people, though we do share some important things in common: absolute devotion to our children, being moved by opera and restored by time spent in creation. We even share agreement in our ethics about money.

Not surprisingly, though, Steve and I had very different approaches to parenting our children. We still do.

Steve’s approach has been about protecting the children from all pain and potentially bad consequences. My approach has been more about allowing them to learn how their choices lead to consequences - good and bad.

When the kids wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house, for example, they knew Steve would say no
because they knew their Dad believed that the other parents wouldn’t supervise our kids well enough, or feed them good enough food, or enforce lights-out at a reasonable time at an appropriate time so they’d get enough sleep. So they didn’t ask Steve if they could spend the night out. They asked me.

They also knew that if they had waited until the last minute to do a homework project, they had violated my policy of: “Your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency.” So they didn’t ask me to run out for poster board at 9:00 at night. They asked Steve.

But the differences in our approaches to parenting created a wholeness for us because we could trust in our love for each other and in our mutual love of our children. The difference in our approaches also kept us balanced. There were times the kids needed to be protected from their own inexperience with life and other times they needed to learn from those experiences.

Not only did the children benefit, but so did Steve and I because we were constantly learning from one another and sharing in the gifts each of us offered.

The two men in the parable in our gospel story represent two very different approaches. Both are responsive to the call of God. We know this because both are in the temple praying. Both are also sinners – each in his own way.

The Pharisee lives an exemplary life, but his prayer is arrogant and prideful. ‘I’ve done all the right things and then some. Thank you, God, for making me so wonderful, unlike that tax collector over there.”

The tax collector, on the other hand, can’t claim a virtuous life. Most tax collectors back then couldn’t. They were basically Mafioso-type thieves. But his prayer is simple and humble: “…be merciful to me, a sinner.” The surprise in this parable is that this was the prayer acceptable to God. It was the tax collector whose prayer justified him, that is, restored him to right relationship with God.

This is a frustrating parable for many modern Christians who focus their attention on what they can see in a person’s life rather than what God is doing in a person’s heart. These Christians would want Jesus to finish the story. They would want Jesus to tell about how the tax collector’s repentance led him to amendment of life. How he left behind his immoral ways and got back onto the path of righteousness.

But that isn’t the point of this parable. This parable is about what’s going on in the heart of the person praying and how that points to the truth about their relationship with God.

The Pharisee, whom Jesus says is praying by himself, is truly grateful that he is living a righteous life and properly gives thanks to God for the comfort that offers his soul. But notice that the Pharisee asks nothing of God. He seems to believe his salvation is firmly in his own hands. His behavior is impeccable and although he looks good from the outside, all is not well because heart is closed to the transforming love of God.

Jesus says the tax collector is also praying alone, standing apart from everyone else in his shame, which also renders him unable to raise his eyes to heaven as he prays. Aware that his life choices have been anything but honorable, the tax collector seeks mercy. He knows he doesn’t deserve it, but he asks anyway. His behavior is shameful and although he looks bad from the outside, he has set his hope on the grace of God – and that’s why Jesus says he is justified.

Things aren’t always what they seem and this parable teaches us that it isn’t necessarily about what we do. It’s about what God is doing in us… yet another reason to heed Jesus’ command not to judge.

But I think there’s another important message in this parable: a message about community.

Jesus says both men were praying in the temple, but each one prayed alone. We infer from the rest of the parable that one prayed alone in his arrogance while the other prayed alone in his shame.

I wonder what might have happened if these two men had prayed corporately – as a community? What if the Pharisee, noticing the anguish of the tax collector who prayed beating his breast, had gone over to him, touched his shoulder and joined him in prayer?

Removing the barriers to their relationship might have given each a greater awareness of their own sin as well as the benefit of the other’s gifts. The tax collector might have learned from the Pharisee the practice of discipline which could have helped him to make better life choices, choices more in line with the Law of Moses, which has always been meant to help us align our lives on earth closer to the will of God.

The Pharisee might have learned from the tax collector the practice of humility which could have led him to a deeper spiritual life, one in which he could experience the overwhelming grace and love of the Almighty God, then manifest that love in the world.

In community the Pharisee and the tax collector might have been able to help one another increase their gifts of faith, hope, and charity, and support one another as they strove to love and keep the commands of God.

That is the blessing of diversity. It’s also the gift of community.

Let us pray: Lead us Almighty God, to respond to your call to us to come to your house, the church, where our hearts and flesh will rejoice in you; where we will be unified to one another and renewed by your life-giving nourishment of Word and Sacrament, so that we may continue together in our pilgrims’ way, having received such an increase of your gifts of faith, hope, and charity that they overflow from us into the world glorifying you and blessing your people. This we ask in the name of the Holy Trinity who is Community in Unity. Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pentecost 22-C, 2013: Let us pray...

Lectionary: Genesis 32:22-31;Psalm 121; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

The Lord be with you! “And also with you…” Congratulations! We have just prayed a reflexive prayer. When Episcopalians hear this invitation, we respond. We don’t think about it – we just do it. We allow the phrase to be for us a signal, to call our attention to our community and enter together into the presence of God. It’s reflexive, and it’s prayer.

There are lots of types of prayer. Our Book of Common Prayers lists many of them on page 857 (if you ever want to study them). There is adoration, which is prayer that has no goal except to enter into the presence of God and just let the love flow from God to us and from us to God.

In prayers of praise, we enter into the song of heaven that constantly glorifies God. In our prayers of thanksgiving, we acknowledge, to ourselves, to others, and to God, our awareness of God’s many blessings: for the fullness of life, for our redemption, and for the Love that sustains our every breath. In penitential prayer we confess our sins, promise to amend our lives, and listen for how to make restitution (where possible and appropriate) for our sins.

In our prayers of oblation we offer ourselves: our time, talents, and gifts, for the working out of God’s purpose in the world. In intercessory prayer we bring before God the needs of others, entering into the eternal reality promised us and lending our love to their needs. Our prayers of petition do the same thing, bringing our own needs to God.

In corporate prayer, we gather together and offer ourselves to God as a community of faith. We feed our minds with Holy Scripture, our bodies with Holy Communion, and our souls by living the reality of our interconnectedness. We do this regularly to heal ourselves from the divisions the world teaches us are “real” and “true.” They aren’t real or true.

What is real is the Love of God that binds us to one another, to all creation, and to God. What’s true is that God desires reconciliation of the whole world, and we are part of that grand plan. Jesus made this our eternal reality, and as a result, our very lives are prayer.

Prayer changes things. I truly believe it affects the world, and I truly believe it affects us.

This is what we see happening in the story of Jacob in today’s Old Testament reading. The bottom line of this story is: Jacob is praying and the end result of his prayer is a new identity, which he resists.

How many of us can identify with prayer in which we are struggling, fighting against the new thing God wants us to do, the new place God wants us to go, or the new person God wants us to be?

Sadly, what we often offer to God is what I call the I’ve got this prayer. You know, the one where we try to bend God’s will to ours, having figured out on our own the way things should be. In this kind of prayer we’re the only ones talking, and we’re rattling off our list of things we’d like for God to do or to change.

Then there’s what I call the bail-out prayer: ‘Lord, if you do this one thing for me, I promise I’ll go to church every Sunday, pay my tithe, and be a good person.’ If (when) that ‘one thing’ doesn’t happen, then what? The bargain is off. We don’t go to church, we don’t pay our tithe, and it’s all God’s fault… God is dead to us - until the next time we need a bail-out.

All the while, God waits… watching over our going out and our coming in, being the shade at our right hand and keeping us safe (as the Psalmist says), until we finally choose to enter into the Presence of God in humility and total trust. There God transforms us, and through us, the world.

Prayer is a discipline – a strength we build by practice. Setting aside time to pray alone every day and praying in community every week are important habits for the living out of our God-given purposes. But these habits are especially helpful when we find ourselves in crisis, whether it’s a crisis in our lives, or a crisis of faith.

That’s when our discipline of prayer carries us through, even when we don’t know what we believe anymore. And when we are experiencing the hardest of times, the emptiest of dark nights, the prayers of our community join with the prayers of the company of heaven to uphold us until we emerge victorious again into the light of Christ.

This is affirmed by St. Luke who begins this gospel story saying: “Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.”This parable is called the parable of the unjust judge.

It’s a strange story in that it seems like Jesus is comparing God to the unjust judge who refuses to give the poor widow the hearing she deserves, and is guaranteed by law, until she wears him out with her complaining.

Is that how God wants to be in relationship with us? No. In fact, the opposite is true: Jesus is contrasting God and the unjust judge.

When the judge finally grants the widow’s request, it’s only to serve his own need to make her go away. God, however, will act quickly to grant justice because God cares deeply about us – even the “widows” among us whom the world judges as unimportant, annoying, good-for-nothing. God wants to be our God and wants us to be God’s people.

The way of God and the way of the world hardly ever agree. That’s why we are wise to heed St. Paul’s advice to be steadfast in believing and guided by Scripture. It’s why we need to remember Jesus’ words that we should pray always and not lose heart.

How do we pray always? It seems like an impossible task. But I think we are better at this than you might think. All we have to do is remember that we pray when we rest quietly in the presence of God. Centering prayer is a wonderful tool for this.

We pray by reading Holy Scripture. I recommend a daily practice of lectio divina and/or the Daily Office.

We pray using Rosary beads, walking a labyrinth, or contemplating an icon. Watching a sunrise paint the sky we’re filled with an awareness of God’s majesty, creativity, and tender love of creation. That is prayer.

When we sing hymns to God or listen to music that inspires us, we enter more deeply into the presence of God, and that is prayer. When we joyfully tend to mundane tasks grateful for the gift of life and the ability to work: that is prayer.

When we cry out in pain or hear the cry of another and our hearts ache, we are sharing the suffering of God – and that is prayer. When we wait faithfully in darkness, feeling no real connection to God or anything else, even that is prayer, because it is into the darkness that the transforming light of Christ breaks most dazzlingly.

Prayer is the way we go from knowing about God to knowing God. When we enter into a deeply prayerful relationship with God, we find that God’s desires soon become our desires. We begin to notice that our will submits more easily and more quickly to God’s will. And we are grateful for this because we realize how steadfast and faithful God’s love really is – so we can trust and follow God.

It is in prayer that we experience our absolute oneness with God, one another, and all of creation, and we recognize that this is what is real; this is what is true. The things of the world that divide us (power, money, privilege, position) begin to look ridiculous in the context of the Love that is in us, the Love that connects us and makes us one.

The Lord be with you. (And also with you.) Let us pray… (the Prayer for the Human Family; BCP, 815)

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

What we can do about Domestic Violence

Published in the Shelby Star on Oct 11, 2013

Early in my career as the director of a shelter for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, my life and my approach to my work were transformed by a toddler, a little 4-year old girl I'll call Lizzie (not her real name). Lizzie suffered from fits of rage, something commonly seen in children who witness or suffer extreme violence at a very young age. Her rages usually lasted 10 to 20 minutes at a time and were triggered by sounds, smells or events that were connected to her memories of abuse. During these rages, Lizzie was unresponsive to reason. In fact, she would try to hurt anyone who tried to comfort her or stop her from hurting herself.

The doctors and therapists brought in to diagnose and treat Lizzie, told her mother and me that Lizzie needed to learn very clear boundaries around her behavior, and that we all had to be diligent and consistent, immediately interrupting Lizzie’s violent behavior and rewarding her good behavior. Lizzie will respond, they said, when the limitations on her behavior are clear to her.
Well, we tried. For weeks, every time Lizzie went into one of her rages, her mother, supported by our staff, worked hard to gently, but firmly interrupt the violence, using time outs, rewarding good behavior, putting Lizzie in what they called a “restraining position” so she couldn’t hurt herself or the one holding her. We did everything the therapists had suggested, but Lizzie wasn’t responding. In fact, her violence towards herself and others during her rages was increasing.

One late afternoon, I was talking with Lizzie’s mom in the living room when another woman who was staying in the shelter returned home, carrying a large package. She asked one of the kids playing outside to help her close the door behind her. As sometimes happens, when the little boy closed the door, he slammed it shut. Lizzie, who had been playing quietly on the floor in front of us, jumped up, ran behind the little toy kitchen in the corner of the room, and curled up on the floor in a fetal position. A rage began to overtake her, and her mother responded immediately, per the instructions given by the therapists.

But Lizzie would not be comforted. She hit and kicked at her mother, biting at her and screaming ugly things. When her mother tried to pick her up to put her into the restraining position, Lizzie wriggled out of her arms and began running at full speed into the furniture. Her mother, totally overwhelmed, sat down on the floor, put her hands over her face, and began to cry.
I caught Lizzie in my arms as she ran across the room, sat down on the floor, and began to rock her in my lap. As Lizzie screamed and struggled to get free, I spoke softly to her, saying only that she was loved and that everything would be OK. I held her firmly, but not in the restraining position. She punched and swung at me, even bit me once on the arm, but I continued to softly speak words of love to her.

Eventually, Lizzie stopped struggling and rested in my arms, her breaths short and sharp from her recent tantrum. A minute later, Lizzie looked up at me, her eyes still puffy from crying and asked, “Am I a good girl?” “Yes, darling, Lizzie. You’re a good girl.” I assured her. A moment later, Lizzie was asleep.

That was the last fit Lizzie ever threw. By the grace of God, I realized in that frantic moment that what Lizzie needed wasn’t boundaries or limits or discipline. What she needed was tenderness and the assurance that she was loved.

Being only four years old, Lizzie lacked the words she needed to describe how the violence she had witnessed and suffered made her feel. She was too scared to tell anyone that she thought she must be bad and somehow to blame for the nightmare she lived. She was too little and too vulnerable to speak her greatest fear – that she wasn’t loved. So instead, she acted out. It was the only way she knew how to “tell” her story.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. During this month we, as a community, call upon ourselves to hear the stories of those in our midst who suffer and commit to working for safety, healing, and justice for them, with them, until it is achieved. To do this we must make ourselves ready by informing ourselves, willingly taking in the dreadful truth of this terrible problem, setting aside our judgments and opening ourselves to a new understanding by listening to the stories of the brave victims who are willing to speak.

Looking at domestic violence from the outside, many people ask, “Why does she stay?” The truth is, victims of domestic violence are at an increased risk of harm when they make the choice to leave their batterer. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, in 70-80% of intimate partner homicides, no matter which partner was killed, the man physically abused the woman before the murder. Many women witness their pets being killed as proof that their abuser means business, coupled with an explicit threat that they are next. In addition, many don’t have access to money or a car in order to leave. Batterers isolate their victims over time, convincing family and friends that they are “crazy” or “liars.” They may also have moved their victims away from anyone who might be of help to them.

Then there is the fact that many victims love the person who has become their batterer. From the outside that may seem confusing, but abandoning a loved one isn’t something one does easily. Even if she can find safe haven and support her family on her own, leaving the father of her children or the person with whom she has shared marriage vows, is a very hard thing to do, especially with little or no outside support for doing it.

Domestic violence is also cyclic. The violent behaviors and expectations are passed from one generation to the next. Growing up in homes where domestic violence is present normalizes it in the experience of the children. Children who grow up in violent homes learn that love will be violent at times. They learn to minimize the danger of it and tend to be attracted to people who fulfill their expectation for it. In violent relationships, jealousy and control is misinterpreted as love, and violent threats and behaviors are misinterpreted as passion and strength.

Even though most cases of domestic violence are never reported, last year, the Abuse Prevention Council here in Shelby, provided shelter to over 150 women and children. They advocated and filed for 846 orders of protection keep victims and their families safe from their abusers. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that:

• an estimated 1.3 million women are assaulted by their intimate partners each year.
• boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
• 30% to 60% of those who abuse their intimate partners also abuse children in the household.
• the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion each year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services … and yet…
• less than one-fifth of victims reporting an injury from intimate partner violence sought medical treatment following the injury.
(Taken from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Facts Sheet at

Statistics like these can cause us to lose heart. How can we approach a problem of this magnitude? The answer is: together. Together we can wake ourselves up to the truth about domestic violence, then, armed with the truth, act as a community to end it. Here are some concrete steps we can take to get started:

• we educate ourselves on the facts about domestic violence. Our local Abuse Prevention Council (APC) can help, or go online to;
• we financially support the APC and their efforts to rebuild the broken lives of the women and children they serve so that the generational cycle of abuse is interrupted;
• we volunteer our time, talents, and expertise to strengthen the services the APC provides;
• we join our voices to the voices of the victims crying out for justice.

Ensuring that safe, professional, healing comfort is available to each of these brave persons who risk leaving their abuse for a better life is all of our responsibility. Ensuring that there is effective treatment for the batterers is also our responsibility. Without that we are only addressing half of the problem. Working to end domestic violence is the right thing to do. That it makes economic sense as well is simply a bonus.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pentecost 19-C, 2013: Awareness. Benedicte.

Lectionary: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; Psalm 146; 1 Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

In her book, Illuminated Life, Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister writes: “What is right in front of us we see least… As a result we run the risk of coming out of every situation with no more than when we went into it.” (22)
Our spiritual paths should include growth in awareness, the opening of our eyes to whatever blindness we have, because as Chittister says, awareness, “mines every relationship, unmasks every event, every moment for the meaning that is under the meaning of it.” (23) Awareness causes us to ask, “What do I see here of God that I could not see otherwise? What is God demanding of my heart as a result of [this] event, [this] situation, [this] person in my life?” (23)

This, I believe, is what Jesus is teaching in today’s parable. I had always considered this to be a parable about privilege. But privilege is step two, as it were. Step one is awareness.

Let’s start with step two. To be privileged is to have certain rights and immunities. The rich man is the icon of privilege, which includes not only all of his wealth and comfort but also his immunity from noticing or doing anything for the poor man, Lazarus, who starves to death right outside his door.

Most of us here have the privilege of knowing that we have a safe, dry, warm (but not hot) place to sleep tonight. We know we can bathe, use the toilet, or go to the sink and get a glass of water whenever we need it. We know we will eat lunch later today, dinner tonight, and breakfast in the morning.

Knowing that makes us privileged, and we are often unaware of the many privileges we have. Here’s how I learned this.

When Steve and I quit our jobs and went to seminary, we thought we’d be OK financially. We had money in our savings account. Our daughter was on a full-ride scholarship at a music conservatory in FL. We owned our home, which we planned to lease while we were at seminary, and we had two good cars.

Then it all changed. Four months before we moved to Sewanee, we learned that a man had begun stalking our daughter and we had to get her out of FL – quickly. She transferred to Boston University and suddenly we were faced with $38,000 of tuition for each of the two years she had left.

We also soon discovered that there was no meaningful employment to be found on the mountain where our seminary was beyond bar-tending and waiting tables, which is what Steve did. In addition, we had unexpected tuition costs for our boys who ended up attending the Episcopal school next to the seminary. Did they have to? No, but not doing so would have isolated them from the other seminary children.

So, before I attended my first seminary class, Steve and I had used all of our savings, began cashing in our stocks and were dipping into our retirement.

While we were already intentionally simplifying our lives, we had two growing boys with appetites to match. In order to ensure they had enough food to eat, Steve and I ate about every other day until our financial chaos settled a bit. By Middler year, we were still poor, but we were all eating everyday (mostly).

It was during this time that I learned what food insecurity was and how it affects those who have it. All of my life, I knew I could eat when I was hungry, so I rarely over-ate. When I first experienced food insecurity, I ate whenever food was available – whether or not I was hungry – and I ate lots of it, knowing I might not eat again for a couple of days.

My usual preference for eating healthy food fell by the wayside. Any food I could get was good food. Besides, healthy food was now too expensive. I had to buy food I could stretch to feed our family. I knew the food was filling us and not nourishing us, but I had no choice, so I prayed we would avoid the consequences of poor diet until we could eat well again.

Hoping we would eat well again revealed to me that eating well was a privilege I’d had but hadn’t noticed I had before. Even after years of serving the poor and homeless as a shelter director, I had not fully understood the true and far-reaching consequences of food insecurity until I experienced it myself.

Being hungry made me grumpy and resentful. It made it hard for me to concentrate on my studies. Since we had no money we couldn’t go out to eat or play with our friends. Poverty isolated us.

It was during this time that our boys grew out of boy’s clothes and shoes and into men’s – which cost way more. They were growing so fast, and my heart would break giving away clothes and shoes they barely wore but had already outgrown.

One day, I was struggling with the frustration and injustice of our situation (in other words, I was having a pity party). Steve and I had walked away from financial security and a life we loved to answer God’s call to me to serve, and now we couldn’t adequately feed and clothe our children.

There we were, at a college where most of the kids drove around in BMW’s and Mercedes. All around me, I could see the “plenty” but I couldn’t touch it. My heart broke. So did my spirit.

I cried out, asking God, ‘Why have you called me? Why have you called us - and then deserted us.’ I had expected (at least an interior) reward for the sacrifice we were making. Instead, we were suffering. It just didn’t seem fair.

But God hadn’t deserted us. God had led Steve and me to seminary and guided us through every difficult and wonderful moment of it. By staying prayerful and committed to one another, God was able to show us the redemption – the gifts our poverty was offering us. Gifts like: detachment from our possessions; an awareness of our many small excesses; a realization of our attachment to our reputation as people of plenty (which implied that we were good people); and freedom from our privileged notion that good people who are willing to work hard can obtain a sustainable living.

We had been like those who were at ease in Zion. We had always given generously to our church and to civic agencies that serve the poor and needy, but we had not done the one thing that God requires of all of us to do: to love our neighbor as we loved ourselves.

We had been loving ourselves first. When we gave our tithes, we gave from what was left over after we had taken all we needed and wanted. We had been practicing the ‘me-first’ ethic without even known it… until God awakened us.

I want to be clear – God did not make us poor. It happened. But God did redeem us as we experienced this poverty, and showed us what true treasure is: living in the Trinity of the love of God, neighbor, and self.

There was a news story last week about a ranch manager in south Texas near the Mexican border where immigrants were entering illegally are dying of dehydration. Risking his reputation and retaliation, the ranch manager put a “55-gallon blue plastic drum holding one-gallon water jugs… [on his land] [and topped it] with a 30-foot pole and a large blue flag… so it could be seen.

The rancher said he didn’t want to see people continue to die on his ranch... ‘If dead human beings don’t catch your attention, what the hell else is going to? We’re just trying to be human about it.’” (Source:

This guy gets it. This is what Jesus’ parable is about. What matters to followers of Christ is noticing that people are in agony, not judging why, and offering them comfort. We have to “be human about it.”

We have to love them as we love ourselves, and that means entering into a caring relationship with them. It means listening for the meaning under the meaning in their stories, then working to bring about the will of God for them.

And what is the will of God for them? Our psalmist offers the answer: God wills justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for those imprisoned by anything. God wills that the bowed down be lifted up, that strangers be cared for, and that we build a community to sustain the lonely and helpless.

The church is that community.

We were asked to pray this week about our stewardship – the offering of our gifts and generosity to enable this community of faith to make manifest the love of God by our worship and service to the world. I call on us to begin today by saying “Benedicte” (Latin: “Thanks be to God”).

Benedicte – for opening our eyes to the many privileges we enjoy. Benedicte – for trusting us to work for your glory and the welfare of your people. Benedicte. Amen.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pentecost 18, 2013: Acting faithfully with dishonest wealth

Lectionary: Amos 8:4-7; Psalm 113:1; Timothy 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13.
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Our God is a God who “…takes up the weak out of the dust and lifts up the poor from the ashes.” (Ps 113:6) Thanks be to God. And God asks us to do the same. To be careful not to “trample on the needy” or “bring ruin to the poor.”

As he traveled on this final journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus spent a great deal of time teaching his followers how to be disciples – how to continue the work of reconciliation on their own after his impending departure from them. In his teaching, Jesus, like many Jewish rabbis, often used parables.

The word “parable” comes from the Greek word “parabole” which translates as “comparison.” When telling a parable, the teacher creates a setting in which an action occurs. The action leads to consequences which lead to the conclusion of the story and the fundamental truth being communicated.

Jesus’ parables always contained an element of surprise. They shocked the listener somehow. It seems to me that Jesus used this moment of surprise to shake loose the minds of his listeners and open them to a new way of thinking or understanding.

Today’s parable, known as the parable of the dishonest manager, is considered a particularly tough one, and it is, but not because the parable is hard to understand. I think what’s hard about this parable is the fundamental truth it communicates.

The setting is this: a rich man calls one of his managers into a meeting. Most people understand the rich man to represent God and the manager to represent us, Jesus’ disciples.

The rich man (God) informs the manager (us) that an accusation has been made against him that he was squandering the rich man’s property. To squander something is to waste it, to be reckless or foolish about caring for it… to let it be lost.

A little background: In those days, collectors earned their salary by adding on fees to the debt they were collecting – a practice called usury, which was strictly prohibited by Jewish law (Deut 23:19-20). This manager would have been hated because his wealth resulted from how successfully he could squeeze these fees out of the debtors from whom he was collecting.

“Give me an accounting of your management” the rich man commands “because you cannot be my manager anymore.” The manager begins to panic. ‘What will I do now? I’m not strong enough to do this work and I’m too proud to beg.’

Then he cooks up a plan to save himself. He decides that he needs to have a good relationship with the debtors so that when his termination date arrives, he’ll have people he can go to to help him.” So he goes out to see each of the debtors and does a surprising thing – he forgives their debt – at least some of it. For one he reduces the debt by half. For another, he cuts it by 20%.

Scholars say the actions of the manager can be interpreted in a few ways. First, the manager is cheating the rich man in order to ingratiate himself to the debtors. He is, after all, dishonest.

Second, the manager is simply cutting out his own commission. This will have a short-term financial impact on him (but a long-term benefit) and it probably won’t affect the rich man at all. He may not even know about it.

Third, the manager is repenting: re-aligning his life to the law of Moses by getting rid of the usury (interest) on the debt. (

What do you think? I think most of us tend to see the manager as totally self-serving, so probably not repenting (right?) Many would believe it more likely that we was cheating the rich man, or that if he was giving up his commission it was a self-serving action, not a benevolence toward his master.

Let’s go on… because then Jesus says a couple of very surprising things: the “… master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.”

What? Hang on - it gets worse. Jesus says: “… I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

Again, what?

I imagine the disciples brains are nearly exploding by now but Jesus isn’t finished: “If then you have not been faithful with dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you true riches?” And then comes the big finale - the truth being communicated: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Can you imagine being among the first hearers of this parable?

Let’s take look at the actions in the parable through the lens of our identity as disciples of Jesus. God calls us into a “come to Jesus” meeting and fires us for being careless and wasteful, and losing what belongs to God.

And what belongs to God? Everything! All of the resources in creation and all of the creatures of the earth, including people, belong to God. We are accused of acting foolishly with the gifts we’ve been given and letting them get lost.

Who makes this charge against us? Maybe it’s the thousands of seabirds, turtles, and seals who die from the 20 tons of plastic we throw into the ocean each year. (Center for Biological Diversity) It could have been one of the 22,000 children who dies each day due to poverty (UNICEF), or one of the 10.4 million refugees of war living in camps desperate for relief (UNCHF); or maybe it was one of the nearly 48 million Americans whose food assistance benefits have just been cut.

God hears their cries and fires us for squandering the abundance for which we are stewards, abundance we are supposed to use to take the weak up out of the dust and lift the poor from the ashes.

What will we do now… now that we’ve been fired?

Remember that line in that famous prayer that says: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors? Well, that’s just what Jesus has the manager doing in this parable. And the ones who owe more are forgiven more. Sound familiar? Not only is their burden relieved, but relationships are built and the kingdom of God on earth is grown.

The parable teaches us that the wealth offered by the world is dishonest. It lies to us. It makes us believe that we have control of our lives and the right to decide how things should work in the world. It fools us into thinking that we deserve what we have, or that being born into it justifies our having it. It also makes us think it will last forever… but it won’t.

Wealth comes and goes. And as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you.

As disciples, however, we know that whatever gifts we’ve been given were meant to be shared with others as generously as God has shared them with us. And the gifts and resources of creation were given into our care, not for us to exploit for our own benefit but so that we can use them to take up the weak out of the dust and lift the poor from the ashes.

Jesus says we cannot serve God and wealth. He says we will either be disloyal (which is how the word "hate" translates from the Greek) to God and loyal to money; or we will devote ourselves to God and find a devotion to money incompatible with that.

This, I think, is why this parable is considered so tough. That’s our choice. And this is a rare “either-or” for a people who prefer “both-and.”

If we choose the second (which seems the obvious choice for Christians) then we alienate ourselves from the world and its priorities. We step out of a world where “greed is good” (as Gordon Gekko said in the movie Wall Street). We turn our backs on the ‘me-first’ ethics of this world and co-create a new world where mercy and community and interconnectedness reign.

This is how we act faithfully with the dishonest wealth of the world and in doing so we build relationships here on earth that are eternal and lead us all into the eternal presence of God.

It isn’t us and them. It’s just us.

As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse says: “We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.” [As for] “…me, I am driven by two main philosophies: know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

Maybe we wouldn’t be surprised. We are, after all, Anglican Christians, and that is our tradition. Those of you who are or have been in our Inquirer’s Class will recognize this, my favorite quote from Episcopal theologian Terry Holmes:

“We see ourselves as interconnected… this is fundamentally Anglican. …To love God is to relieve the burden of all who suffer. The rest is a question of tactics.” (Holmes, What is Anglicanism?, 95)


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Pentecost 17-C, 2013: All of heaven rejoices

Lectionary: Exodus 32:7-14; Psalm 51:1-11; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

One of my favorite friends in the communion of saints is Julian of Norwich. In her book, “Revelations of Love,” Julian describes a series of visions she has of Jesus. Her visions are exciting, surprising, joyful, dreadful, comforting, and challenging. Julian rejoices in the attention she, a humble sinner, was being paid by the Lord, saying, “For I wanted to thank our Lord, who is so reverent, so holy and apart, for being so homely (familiar) with a sinful creature.” (Revelation of Love, Julian of Norwich, 8.)

One commentator on Julian’s visions says, “Julian’s meditations do not pretend to take away the pain of today’s world, but they can inspire believers to rise up in the midst of the struggle and fix their eyes on God. They promote the virtues of self-acceptance and neighborly love and show how these qualities help [us] discover the face of God. This ability to recognize God in all things is crucial for [us] who are so prone to discouragement because [we] keep forgetting [we] are loved.” (Brendan Doyle, Meditations with Julian of Norwich, 8.)

It’s true. We often forget how powerfully and intimately God loves us and what that means for us and for the world. This, I believe, is what Jesus is teaching us in today’s gospel from Luke.

Luke begins by telling us that tax collectors and other sinners were coming to hear Jesus speak. That by itself is a bit shocking. Why would known sinners risk going to hear this itinerant rabbi?

The very presence of these ungodly people caused the godly people around them to complain: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” In response to their grumbling, Jesus tells three parables (Note: we hear only two of these parables today. We’ll hear the third one next Sunday).

The first parable is the iconic story of the shepherd who leaves the whole flock to seek and recover a single lost sheep. The image of that found sheep wrapped around the Good Shepherd’s shoulders being carried safely home is a tender, comforting image for us.

But it wasn’t for those first listeners. They were shocked because in Jesus’ time, shepherds were despised. They “were scorned as dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other [people’s] lands.” (New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (NIB), CD-Rom, Vol. IX, 65) They were unclean – ritually and actually – there were no showers out in those fields you know, so they stank.

The Scribes and Pharisees were scandalized and angered by this parable. God is NOT a shepherd.

Then Jesus goes on and tells the second parable. Can you see where this is going? In case they weren’t angry enough about Jesus casting God as a shepherd, now he’s casting God as (gasp) a woman! (O.M.G!)

Julian of Norwich was, no doubt, inspired by these parables. Jesus’ use of these “homely” images of God brought God “down to earth” as the saying goes. In fact, Jesus’ own life had the same purpose, didn’t it – to make God reachable, touchable, intimately present, so that we, who are sinners, could draw near and be reconciled?

But the Pharisees of Jesus’ time - and ours – wouldn’t want everyone reconciled. It’s unthinkable to them that certain kinds of sinners might be welcomed into heaven.

Now I’m not claiming to solve centuries of theological argument over universalism in this sermon. All I’m doing is pointing to the parables of Jesus in today’s gospel.

In these parables Jesus reveals that it is God who desires reconciliation with the lost. It is God who goes out in search of the lost; God who goes to great, sacrificial lengths to reclaim the lost – and God, by the way, who defines the lost.

The God Jesus reveals in these parables gets dirty and scratched up because He will chase after a single lost sheep. The God Jesus reveals finds no task too menial or undignified in Her search for a single lost treasure – which is another truth this parable reveals: we are God’s treasure.

Think about what for a minute… we are a treasure to God. God treasures each and every one of us.

How many of us truly feel like that? How many of us remember that the same is true for that person or group we choose to hate? They too are a treasure to God and we must approach them as such. To do otherwise is to sin – to separate ourselves from the love of God.

Some people challenge our Christian virtue, no doubt! Paul, when he was still Saul, comes to mind. But they are a gift to us because they enable us to make a choice to humble ourselves and build our love until it looks more like the love of God.

Many of you know that I had another son once. I didn’t give birth to him, but he was my son in my heart all the same. His name was Justin and he is with God now.

Justin had a rough life. His father committed suicide when he was a little boy and his mother suffered from her own demons.

I met Justin when he was in high school. He and his family went to the church I served in Cadillac, and he was in my younger son’s class. Justin had loving grandparents and extended family, but what he didn’t have was parents, so he sought to create parent-like relationships, as he understood those, with a few of us.

Steve and I were Justin’s college parents. I helped Justin apply for college, get financial aid, buy his books. I bought his dorm supplies and moved him in at the same time I was moving my own boys into their dorm rooms. Justin would come home with our boys for the holidays – they all even came here our first Christmas in Shelby.

But there was a problem: Justin didn’t know how to be a son. He didn’t know that as a son he could make demands on us as parents. He saw our boys doing it – we even talked about it. But he just couldn’t do it. He didn’t feel worthy and he certainly didn’t trust love enough to risk it.

No amount of assurance could convince Justin that our love for him had nothing to do with what he did. We loved him. End of story.

Justin knew he was a sinner, but his definition of that differed greatly from mine, so we talked about it - a lot. Justin looked at his behaviors and judged himself for the dark feelings that lingered in his heart from his childhood. He believed he must have been bad since so many bad things had happened to him, and he concluded that his severe juvenile diabetes was a punishment from God.

When I looked at Justin, I saw a gifted, beautiful, young man who needed to repent of his concept of a vengeful, punitive God and open himself to the God of love Jesus is describing in today’s gospel. I saw a young soul who needed to repent of his hateful feelings about himself and see how lovely he truly was.

In the end, Justin couldn’t believe that he was a treasure to us or to God – and he took his own life. The consolation I have is that I believe now he knows. I believe that Justin is reconciled with God and finally knows how much we love him, miss him, and long for our joyful reconciliation one day. I believe Justin now understands the truth that we are all sinners and we are all treasures, beloved of God, in whom all love begins and ends.

As Christians we believe that the fullness of God is revealed to us in Jesus, the Christ. If we have ears to hear Jesus’ revelation of God in today’s gospel, we must repent of whatever concept of God we learned and cling instead to the words of our Savior. To do otherwise is to be a stiff-necked people who worship an idol: a God of our own creation.

When Jesus says, “…I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" he means it - but he isn’t talking about our behavior. He’s talking about our hearts. Our behavior is simply the manifestation of what’s going on in our hearts.

If we love God, we will live humbly, nurturing and using every gift God has given us for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people. If we love others, as we have been commanded to do, we will live in peace and forgiveness. If we love ourselves, as we are also commanded to do, we will care for the bodies God crafted so marvelously for us to use.

We repent when we let go all that hinders God’s love from growing in and through us beyond what we can think or imagination. We repent when let ourselves receive the Love that chases after us, lifts us up, and carries us safely home.

And when we repent all of heaven rejoices!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pentecost 12-C, 2013: Because we believe

Lectionary:Genesis 15:1-6; Psalm 33:12-22; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

As people of God there is one thing of which we can be certain: we can trust in the promises of God. And God has promised to redeem the whole world and all people.

In the story from the book of Genesis, Abraham, chosen by God to be a father in the faith, has no heir. In his time, an heir was extremely important. A
man’s legacy, the value of the footprint of his life, was in his heir. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were in their 80’s and still had no son, no heir. Yet, God had promised Abram descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. And Abraham believed.

Even when God does deliver on the promise to him, Abraham was given only one son with Sarah. How could he have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky when he was given only one son? Still, Abraham believed.

From where we stand today, we can see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. The descendants of Abraham continue to grow as Christians, Jews, and Muslims (all the children of Abraham) now number about 3.5 billion in the world. (Source:

That’s a lot of stars in the sky.

And Abraham’s faith is a perfect example of what the author of the letter to the Hebrews is talking about when he describes faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

God always keeps God’s promises.

When we look at the arc of the big picture of the story of God’s relationship to us, a perspective we have this many years into the narrative, we can see that. God promised the people of Israel a Redeemer. Many of them didn’t live to see the coming of Jesus, the Christ. As the author of Hebrews says, they “died in faith without having received the promises” but they believed, and God delivered. And in the truth of life eternal, all who died with faith in the promise were able to see and welcome it.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who knew the stories of the faith of their ancestors. They could see the arc of the big picture, the connection of themselves, as people of the resurrection, to the promises in the stories of their forebears in the faith.

On the other hand, the Gospel of Luke was written about 60-70 years after the resurrection to a group of mostly Gentile Christians who were new to these stories and promises. This group of converts to the faith was being persecuted and the second coming that was promised seemed not to be coming at all.

Fear and doubt were creeping in and without a strong historical tether to the stories of the faith, the people were becoming frightened. We can imagine then, how very comforting Jesus’ words were: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

As modern day listeners, this is a good place for us to pause and consider what this says. The word “kingdom’ is one of those ‘religion words’ that we hear so often, but we rarely stop to consider exactly what it means.

The Greek word is, βασιλεία, and it translates as God’s dominion, sovereignty, and control. βασιλεία also means the time when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. So Jesus is saying, ‘Do not be afraid beloved disciples, for it is God’s pleasure to deliver to you the promised reality of God’s sovereign control, the time when God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.’

As we look around at our world today we see rampant war, hunger, poverty, violence, oppression. It doesn’t look much like God’s βασιλεία yet. But we can remember, that neither did Abraham’s one son look like descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky – yet. It is in the arc of the big picture revealed to us over time, that the fulfillment of this promise will evident.

You’ve heard me mention before that we live in a time of what’s called the “already, but not yet.” Jesus has already redeemed all creation, but until the second coming, the process of redemption will not be complete. It has already happened, but is not yet complete.

Until it is completed in the second coming of the Christ, we are partners with God in this process and we have work to do. Each of us has been created by God and gifted for our part in that work – in that purpose. In order to fulfill our purpose, we must be perfected, that is, we must open our eyes to see our gifts, then nurture and develop them so that God can use them to bring about βασιλεία.

And Jesus offers us four (4) bits of advice on how we should go about doing that…

1. Sell what you own. Jesus advises us to be unattached to anything that gives us security or identity on the earth. Instead, be rich in God as we heard last week.

2. Give to the poor. Money = power. Jesus calls us to give up our power, just as he gave up his own power and chose to live among us on earth, so that all may become one in him; so that no one is over anyone else, so that no one is better than anyone else. Be forewarned, though, taking Jesus’ advice won’t win you any friends because the world doesn’t respect those who give up power. It panders to those who accumulate it.

3. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” This, Jesus tells us, is the test. It’s how we will know where we really are in our relationship with God, other, and self. What kind of wealth do we spend our time, attention, and gifts storing up? Again, storing up heavenly wealth won’t win us any respect from the world, because the world values material wealth and those who have lots of it.

4. Jesus’ last bit of advice is a familiar Biblical theme: Be awake. Be ready. God is coming to you and it won’t be anything like you’re thinking it will. To illustrate the point, Jesus tells the story of the master and the slaves, turning everyone’s expectations upside-down. It isn’t the servant in this story who serves the master. It is the master who serves the slave! Be ready, Jesus says, because God will come to you, sit you down to eat, and serve you.

I can’t think of a better description of our Holy Communion. Can you?

God chooses each one of us and calls us into community where God sets the table and serves us holy food – God’s own self – to nourish us, strengthen us, and embolden us to be co-builders of the βασιλεία of God.

It’s a beautiful and comforting thing to know that Almighty God serves us so that we can serve God by serving God’s people. It’s like breathing. We breathe God into ourselves, then breathe God out into the world.

It’s a dangerous and costly business, though, being church in this way. Breathing the transforming love of God into the world means going where it isn’t. It means going where the vulnerable need protecting, where the oppressed need liberating, and where the poor need justice. It means calling down the powerful from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.

As Deitrich Bonhoeffer says, “Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies… So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work.” (~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community)
The church must be real, visible, and engaged in the world. As theologians Kelly and Burton said, commenting on Bonhoeffer’s spirituality, “…the church is not called to be a safe haven from worldly turmoil. [Rather,] like Jesus himself, it has to be a visible presence in the midst of the world… even though this way of understanding its mission could propel the church into controversial areas of conflict with government.” (G. Kelly, F. Burton, The Cost of Moral Leadership, The Spirituality of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2003, 147).

That’s why we go to rallies like Moral Monday. Because we believe.

It’s why we stand with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers as they seek equality in church and under the law. Because we believe.

It’s why we willingly sacrifice our own comfort and reputation to offer food and friendship to our Shepherd’s Table guests each week. Because we believe.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to deliver to you the βασιλεία of God.


For your love for us, compassionate and patient,
which has carried us through our pain,
wept beside us in our sin,
and waited with us in our confusion.
We give you thanks.

For your love for us, strong and challenging,
which has called us to risk for you,
asked for the best in us,
and shown us how to serve.
We give you thanks.

O God we come to celebrate
that your Holy Spirit is present deep within us,
and at the heart of all life.
Forgive us when we forget your gift of love
made known to us in our brother, Jesus,
and draw us into your presence.