Sunday, January 27, 2013

Epiphany 3C, 2013: Confirmed to be inclusive

Lectionary: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10; Psalm 19; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a; Luke 4:14-21

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

Yesterday your vestry and clergy met in retreat. We gathered ourselves together to pray, to learn, to pray some more, to eat, to pray some more, and to share with one another.

We intentionally opened ourselves to God, letting go of our plans and ideas, emptying ourselves, then we let God fill us anew, so that we, the part of the body of Christ chosen by God and by you to lead Redeemer in the year ahead, could live as one body and walk together in the will of God.

Your vestry is a beautiful blend of long-term members and new members, of young and …less young. There are five men and four women on the vestry, plus two clergy who are women.

We are introverts and extroverts, we touch most of the economic descriptors, we are surprisingly well educated, and all but one came to the Episcopal Church from other traditions. The gifts the vestry members bring to this ministry are as varied as we are - and we count that as a strength.

We talked about what the purpose of our church is and how we might empower every member to find, grow, and use their God-given gifts for the building of the kingdom. We reflected on how God is already at work doing that among us, and we gave thanks for that. We also gave thanks that we are so richly blessed with people and opportunities that excite and challenge us, that fill and stretch us, and that lead us to maturity of faith and fruitful ministries.

We talked a lot yesterday about inclusivity – a gift that Redeemer has in its very marrow. Redeemer’s commitment to being inclusive springs from the core of our identity, which was passed on to us from those who went before and is one fruit of our continuing obedience to the will of God.

How do we know it is God’s will that we be inclusive? We discern that like we discern most other things, the way Episcopalians do: individually and in community, using Scripture, tradition, and reason.

Our call to inclusivity can be found in the reading from the prophet Nehemiah, who tells us of Ezra, the priest, who went against the religious tradition and authority of his time, and read from the Torah to a crowd of people assembled at the Water Gate, a location outside of the temple precincts. The people to whom Ezra read were women, children, and others who would had been excluded from temple worship; people who had never been allowed to hear the story of God’s love for them.

But Ezra didn’t just read the Word of God to them. He went to extraordinary measures to include them, building a platform so that everyone could see him and hear him, and sending priests (the Levites) among the people to help them make sense of what he was reading.

Next we look at the letter from Paul to the Corinthians, which shows us that the Christian tradition of inclusivity is found in the earliest church. Paul uses the ‘one body, many members’ metaphor to show us that our unity is tied to our interdependence: “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

All who are baptized in Christ are called to live together in unity while honoring and maintaining the great diversity present in the individual members. “The eye cannot say to the hand, nor the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” On the contrary, Paul says, “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another.”

But we know and we see that unity in diversity is a very difficult thing to manage and Christians have been dealing with disagreement over who is worthy to be counted among the family of God since the earliest days. Paul wanted to include Gentiles in his ministry, but Peter refused to allow it, until God spoke to him in a dream and opened Peter’s heart and the church’s mission to inclusivity.

We are the heirs of that first great Gentile mission, beneficiaries of their faithfulness to God’s call to be truly inclusive. Now it’s our turn to be faithful, seeking out those who are excluded and going to extraordinary measures to include them… living together in unity even as we honor our diversity.

It’s a messy business, but it’s our business, because being inclusive is faithful to the will of God. That’s why we prayed in our Collect: “Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation…” …all people… all people.

We are called by our Baptism and commissioned by our Confirmation to do this. When we are Confirmed we are anointed for our mission as individual Christians who are members of the body of Christ. To be anointed is to have a divine or holy purpose conferred upon us, to be chosen for a special work and filled with the Spirit of God to accomplish that work.

Jesus claims his anointing in the gospel story from Luke and he proclaims that his mission is: to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. This is also the church’s mission, and as individual members of the church, as the body of Christ, this is our mission too.

Each of us has our part to play, our work to do according to our gifts, so we must be faithful in preparing ourselves. Knowing this work is hard, messy, and unlikely to win us much praise from the world, how do we prepare ourselves? Intentionally.

When Martin Luther King, whose holiday we observed last week, called people to join him in leading the country to racial equality, he required that everyone in the movement be prepared, schooled in non-violent resistance. According to Dr. King, “non-violent resistance didn’t make sense to most of the people in the beginning. We had to use our mass meetings to explain nonviolence to a community of people who had never heard of [it] and in many instances were not sympathetic with it. We had meetings twice a week on Mondays and on Thursdays, and we had an institute on nonviolence and social change. We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice… It is not a method of stagnant passivity and deadening complacency. The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against as the violent resister but he resists without violence. This method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.” (Source:

Anyone who wanted to participate in the Civil Rights rallies and protests organized by Dr. King had to learn and practice non-violent resistance. Can we, as Christians, be any less prepared for our work?

The church is the place where we are prepared. The teachings of Christ don’t make sense to most people in the beginning. We have to gather together regularly to worship and be formed as Christians, to pray, to talk, to eat together, then pray some more, talk, eat, pray some more, share with one another… We have to intentionally and continually open ourselves to God, let go of our plans and ideas, empty ourselves, and let God fill us anew, so that we, might live as one body and walk together in the will of God.

I close with a prayer from our vestry retreat. Let us pray. Come Holy Spirit of Love. Come to us and bring us your peace. Rest in us that we may be tranquil. Speak to us as each heart needs to hear. Reveal to us things hidden and things longed for. Rejoice in us that we may praise and be glad. Pray in us that we may be at One with you and with each other. Refresh and renew us from your living springs of water. Dwell in us now and always. Amen.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Epiphany 1 & Annual Mtg: Precious, honored, and beloved

Lectionary: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

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

Today as we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord, we also celebrate our life together as a church, gathering for our Annual Meeting at lunch. It’s a beautiful thing to me that these two events happened for us on the same day this year because the two fit so well together.

You see, at Jesus’ baptism, the world witnessed the bonding of the Holy Spirit with the flesh of humanity. Although the event was hard to describe all four of the gospel writers included in their story of Jesus’ baptism that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, gently, the way a dove alights.”

For Episcopalians, “Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. The bond which God establishes in Baptism is indissoluble.” (BCP, 298)

Please notice that it is God who establishes this bond of flesh and Spirit, and it is God’s church we represent and serve, not our own. And God has made clear to us how this bond of flesh and Spirit works.
It has been recorded over and over again in our Scriptures and we heard it today in our reading from the prophet, Isaiah: “Thus says the Lord… who created you, O Jacob… who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

We are offered an intimate relationship with the One whose power is so great as to be frightening when we think on it, but who approaches us gently, saying: “Do not fear... for I have redeemed you.” Then God goes on to explain again how this bond of flesh and Spirit works.

Notice that God doesn’t say that once we are bonded together, all of our trials and tribulations will end. On the contrary, God affirms that those will continue. The bond, however, assures us that as we pass through those difficult times, those chaos waters, God is with us so we won’t be overwhelmed. As we face the trials and temptations of our lives, God, who loves us, is with us, so we won’t be destroyed: “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

God is with us. Emmanuel. It’s a familiar theme by now (I hope).

Throughout our history as God’s people, however, we see evidence that we have succumbed to the temptation to make God so distant and so terrible as to be little more than frightening to us. We continue to see that happening in some religious expressions in current culture.

That Westboro Church comes to my mind. I believe the members of that church are trying to be faithful, even as they promote a terrible, hateful, and vengeful God. The bond shared with that kind of God can only be a bond slavery – always fearing that we might anger our master, never sure about how to be perfectly obedient, and feeling justified in wreaking God’s vengeance on others in order to lick the boots of this abusive master.

But God has always had a different kind of bond in mind. Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God says: “…you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…”

The “you’ in this statement is everyone whom God has created. Everyone is precious in the sight of God, honored and beloved.

And this is the message we are called to go tell on the mountain, to proclaim as heralds in our day. This is the light of God that shines in the darkness of the world and in our souls: “…you are precious in my sight, honored, and I love you…”

It is God who establishes this bond, but it is we who are asked to welcome, in the name of God, those whom God is drawing into the body. God says (through Isaiah): “Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; I will say to the north, "Give them up," and to the south, "Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth - - everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made."


“Do not fear, for I am with you…” God says. I will bring them. You receive them.

God establishes the bond. We, the church give that bond a place to live and grow. We, the church, offer spiritual nourishment and resources so that everyone has a safe place they can go inward to heal, then reach out to serve. We, the church, invite all who have been formed and created by God into this bond, into this body, and we must speak out any time someone tries to withhold that bond from anyone else.

Each year, during my tenure at Redeemer, I have prayed and discerned a theme upon which we’ve focused, with a goal to bring us beyond any limits that might hinder our forward movement.

2010 was the Year of our Rebirth and rebirth we did. Our labor was difficult, our transitional labor was painful, but our birth was beautiful and new life was begun. This new life was manifest for us in many ways, but particularly through the birth of The Shepherd’s Table and Food Pantry ministries. Devoting ourselves to serving God’s people, using gifts we already had (our building, our kitchen, ourselves), enabled us to heal from our wounds and glorify God.

2011 was the Year of our Youth. Devotion to our children has always been an obvious gift at Redeemer, and while we continue to struggle to find a formation program that will excite and involve us, we did devote ourselves and our resources in 2011 to refurbishing our Youth room. Matthew Kiggen offered our youth his leadership gifts and his youthful energy, supported then by Deacon Pam and now Michele Wiltfong; and our youth developed their own way of serving God’s people. As a result, we have a beloved new “tradition” at Redeemer: the Christmas cards!

2012 was the Year of Hospitality. Our feeding ministries expanded to include the Community Garden, allowing us to welcome Shepherd’s Table guests, and even area churches too small to do it on their own, to grow fresh food on our land. Our hospitality did extend a bit further than we anticipated, until we put up fencing to ensure that at least some of our harvest went to people, not just God’s beloved critters in creation!

Focusing on inviting in those on the outside, we also prepared for and started our Moveable Feasts, building community among the 20-to-30-somethings who are often outside of church life. We joined with the LGBTQ community locally and across our state, witnessing the truth we know about God’s bond with everyone whom God has created.

We also extended hospitality to ourselves (in a balanced way), tending to our desire for bonding with one another. Parish Life provided us ample opportunities to eat together as we prayed and celebrated feasts and milestones such as weddings, funerals, baptisms and confirmations.

2013 will be for us the Year of Abundance. This was discerned during a discussion with our revitalized Stewardship Committee as they worked and planned last fall. It comes from our continuing experience at Redeemer. We’ve noticed that when we give away all we have, we end up getting back that much and more. It’s been an ongoing rhythm, a flow of living water. All we had to do was receive the gifts God poured upon us, then give them away again. It’s been a joyful, transforming experience, and it’s come from our willingness to die to ourselves and live to serve God and God’s people.

We’ve learned from our experience together that when we trust God, and God’s love for us and for all whom God draws to us, the heavens will open and God’s grace will pour upon us and we will hear God’s affirmation: “You are my beloved… with you I am well pleased.”

We are precious in the sight of God, honored, and beloved. It’s exciting, and a little bit frightening, to consider where God will lead us in this next year. But it requires our invitation. Like Jesus, we must go to the river. Like Jesus, we must submit to our Baptism – a baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. Like Jesus, we must pray and wait to hear God’s word for us.

Then we can live the bond of Spirit and flesh we are. Thanks be to God! Amen.