Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lent 2, 2013: The light that dwells within

Lectionary: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

For the first time in a very long time, I had trouble discerning what God was calling me to do or stop doing for Lent. Most years, my Lenten practices would get started before Lent – I guess God knew I needed the extra time. But this year, no direction came to me in my discernment prior to Ash Wednesday.

This left me feeling a little bit off-balance. The little girl in me who was raised Roman Catholic began to fret that I needed to have my course set; and that each day that passed by was another failure on my part.

So I spent some time in prayer over it. I figured I might as well, since I wasn’t sure what else I should be doing. I kept asking God, what will you have me do?

I knew I would do it. I love Lent and the ways Lent grows me. All I needed to know was what I should do.

Two phrases kept repeating in my prayer. The first was a line from the Nicene Creed: “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” As you know, this is how Jesus, who is the second person in the Triune God, is described. “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” (BCP, 358)

It’s a phrase I’ve heard all of my life, but not one I had spent much prayer time on – I never felt I needed to – I had always accepted it, believed it, consented to it. But this line from the creed was not a concept to understand. This time it was a voice speaking within me, a summons to the light who is Christ within me.

The second phrase that kept repeating in my prayer was a quote from Thomas Merton. I didn’t even know I knew this quote and it’s entirely possible that I didn’t. But in my prayer, Merton’s words were given to me, so I Googled them and found them. Merton said, “We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.”

It took me a week, but I finally realized what God was seeking from me this Lent – nothing. For the first time in a very long time, I’m not called to add anything in or give anything up, but to walk on in my everyday rhythms and let the light of Christ that is already within me illumine all I see, hear, touch, taste, and know – and transform my whole experience of them.

As the psalmist says, “The Lord is my light…” This light, who is God, reveals truth in every moment – truth that connects us to God, to one another, and to all the saints in heaven; truth that connects the present and the past and the future; truth that reveals redemption as a joyful reality right now, not just a hope of better days to come.

Within each of us is the light of Christ. So often, however, the truth this light would reveal if we attended to it, isn’t revealed because we don’t attend to it. We don’t behold it. If we don’t behold it, we can’t be guided by it, and instead of walking on the path of light and life offered continually by God to us, we walk on in darkness, heading blindly toward death.

This is what we’re hearing about in today’s gospel story. The Pharisees come to Jesus and warn him to leave because Herod wants to kill him.

Jesus’ response is a bit snarky, but also compassionate. We don’t know on whose behalf the Pharisees were acting. Were they really worried about Jesus? Was Herod really threatening to kill him? Or were they just saying that to get Jesus and his followers to go away?

While we may not know their intent – it’s pretty certain Jesus did. So instead of naming the deceiver, Jesus simply says: tell that fox (that clever liar) that I will continue to do my work because it is the will of God; and nothing and no one can stop it.

On the third day (a phrase whose reference I think we all understand), Jesus says, “I finish my work.” This is the same word Jesus says from the cross when he says, ‘It is finished…’ which also means, ‘It is fulfilled.’

I wonder if there was a pause in the conversation here. I wonder if Jesus watched to see if the Pharisees would get it when he quoted the Scripture from Chronicles, Jeremiah, Amos that say that Israel kills the prophets sent by God to restore them to the path of light.

But they didn’t get it. And we hear Jesus go from snarky to sad in that beautiful cry of grief from the one who is God from God, light from light, true God from true God: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” You would not behold the light.

Behold this then, Jesus says: “…your house is left to you” or, in other words, ‘Have it your way. Walk on in the darkness. It only leads to death.’ Jesus is making reference here to the destruction of Israel at the hands of the Babylonians – something the learned Pharisees would have known.

Jesus concludes with this promise: ‘you won’t see me again until you are willing to behold the light.’ Only then will you proclaim the truth: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus’ Scriptural reference here is also a prediction of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the beginning of the passion story that will reveal the total fulfillment of the will of God, which is… redemption of the whole world in Jesus the Christ.

Today we heard the psalmist proclaim, “The Lord is my light and salvation” but then ask, “What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!” What if we were not willing to believe that God would grant us the grace to behold this Light in our everyday lives, our everyday rhythms?

Then we surely would walk in darkness.

Thankfully, it is the glory of God always to have mercy. God knows that we forget we already have deep within us all we need. God knows that we don’t stop and behold the Light, we don’t let it illumine and transform all we see, hear, touch, taste, and know. Thankfully, God is also gracious to all who have gone astray.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, may we go even deeper “with penitent hearts and steadfast faith.” And in that deep darkness, may we be willing to open our eyes of faith and behold Light of Christ that dwells in us and we in him. Amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent 1, 2013: A song even sweeter

Sermon by The Very Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector
Lectionary: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

If I could reduce the purpose and practice of Lent into a single idea, I would use this quote from a poem by St. Theresa of Avila:“[God] desired me, so I came close.”

It’s very sad to me that the most pervasive notion about Lent (my favorite season) is that it is a dark and difficult season, to be approached with avoidance, guilt, and self-loathing; that we have to “tame” our desires by giving something up, then use all the self-control we can muster to keep our Lenten promises. Doesn’t it occur to those people that exerting our self-will is exactly what we are called NOT to do during Lent?

Lent isn’t a time of practicing self control. It’s a time of relinquishing it. During Lent we practice discipline and penitence. It’s a mistake to confuse discipline with self-control and penitence with wallowing. In fact, it’s sin: the sin of hubris – the very thing that got Adam and Eve in trouble in the garden.

Our discipline and repentance are the means by which we re-enter the womb of God where we can rest, be restored, renewed, and prepared. In his book, “Praying Shapes Believing,” theologian Lee Mitchell reminds us that: “Joy, love, and renewal are as much Lenten themes as are penitence, fasting, and self-denial; and we need to remember that it is within the context of preparation for our participation in the Feast of feasts that [our] Lenten penitence is expressed.” (29).

Or - as St. Theresa said, “[God] desired me so I came close.”

Temptation is that which leads us into sin – and sin is that which causes us to forget who we are, whose we are, and why we’re here. Luke tells us that Jesus, the Incarnate One, the manifest reality of the unity of humanity and divinity, was tempted to separate himself into a dichotomy of body and spirit; to focus on his humanity (he was famished) and forget about his divinity.

Next, though he knew his purpose on earth (the reason he came), Jesus was tempted to walk away from God’s plan for his life and live out a different plan – one in which he, rather than God, would get the glory.

Finally, Jesus was tempted to throw his life away, daring God to prove that he mattered.

Each of these temptations teaches us something about our relationship with God. The first temptation, separation from the spark of the divine that is within us, goes to our very identity. We are body and spirit. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, humanity and divinity were reconciled. Each of us is, therefore, a living testimony to that harmonious co-existence. To separate ourselves, even in our thoughts, is to undo the gift Christ died to give us.

The second temptation, putting ourselves and our wills ahead of our obedience to the will of God, goes to how, or even whether, we will live into our purpose. If Jesus’ life is any example,living into our purpose won’t be all blessing and honor, but it will be redemptive – for us and for those whom God puts in our lives. When we’re honest, it seems ridiculous that we think we can devise a plan for happiness and fulfillment by chasing after that perfect life partner, or that perfect job, or that perfect body.

But that’s about all we see on TV and in magazines. Our hubris is, at times, astonishing.

The third temptation, trying to prove we matter by throwing away the very gift God gave us in the first place, goes to our core understanding of ourselves as beloved. It’s true that many people don’t feel very beloved, their earthly experiences have taught them to believe otherwise. But faith assures us that we are beloved of God.

The temptations Jesus faced in our gospel story aren’t the only temptations out there. Discovering what our temptations are and repenting of them is our goal during Lent.

Some of us eat to comfort ourselves. For these, repentance means honest self reflection along with substituting prayer or prayerful activity for cookies or chips.

Others among us work too much in order to win approval or to feel like we matter. For these, repentance means committing to a schedule that balances time devoted to work, to family, leisure to time with God.

Some of us habitually deny ourselves anything good out of self-loathing. For these repentance means fasting from self-criticism or keeping a prayer journal which acknowledges the daily gifts and blessings God is constantly giving.

For all of us, Lent is a good time to commit to regular attendance at Sunday worship or Morning Prayer, remembering that we live out our purpose in community as the body of Christ in the world. For all of us, Lent is a good time to fast from complaining, self-criticism, foods or eating habits that will harm us, combativeness at work, in school, or in church – whatever leads us away from the love of God, self, and other.

The disciplines we practice are meant to help us enter humbly into the presence of God, where we surrender ourselves to God’s unfathomable love and unfailing care for us. The emptiness in us that continually seeks satisfaction comes from our sense of separation from that love. We know this deep down but often don’t pay it real attention.

It’s helpful during Lent to remember that God desires communion with us. It quiets those voices of temptation that play like a tape-recording in our heads, saying: you’re not worthy, you’re not beautiful, you’re not gifted, you’re not loved.

We are. We’re also unfinished… continually growing, maturing in body and in spirit.

Our brokenness is not something to be ashamed of or to avoid. It is as much a gift as any talent we possess because it is the place in us where God dwells most assuredly, most compassionately.

Our brokenness is the cross we bear; the place where salvation is victorious in us; the place where we witness the reconciling power of God still at work in the world. When others see this growth and maturation in us they are empowered to stop being ashamed of their brokenness,to pick up their cross and walk into redemption.

Draw close to God this Lent. God desires it. We hunger for it. There’s nothing to fear.

The poem that I quoted from St. Theresa of Avila (which is a handout in your bulletin)concludes like this:

but most every one then looks into their life’s mirror and
says, “I am not worthy to leave this

When I first heard his courting song, I too
looked at all I had done in my life
and said,

“How can I gaze into his omnipresent eyes?”
I spoke those words with all my heart,

but then He sang again, a song even sweeter,
and when I tried to shame myself once more from His presence
God showed me His compassion and spoke a divine truth,

“I made you, dear, and all I made is perfect.
Please come close, for I


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Surrender and live

A message from the rector, from the Jan-Mar Crosswords newsletter.

Lent comes early this year - Ash Wednesday is Feb 13! The season of Lent affords us the opportunity to do what we really need to do all of the time, but rarely take time to do at all: practice surrender so that God can work a new thing in us .

Lent is the time we choose to let go and trust God. It’s always a good thing when we let God grow and mature us, but for some reason, we tend to resist. During Lent, we choose to relent, to release, to surrender.

As we enter the season of Lent it’s important to remember that the word “Lent” means “spring,” and it refers to a ‘season’ when new life is being formed in us by our Creator. By practicing Lent, we prepare ourselves to live the truth of our Christian narrative.

The Christian celebration of Holy Eucharist was born at the Passover supper Jesus shared with his disciples. So was our way of doing ministry. We remember and relive that on Maundy Thursday by sharing an Agape supper followed by a Eucharist with foot washing.

Jesus was arrested the night of this first Eucharist and led away to trial where he was stripped and beaten. We strip our altar at the end of our Maundy Thursday service and commit to wait through the Triduum in faith.

We walk the Via Dolorosa on Good Friday, retracing Jesus’ steps to Calvary through the Stations of the Cross.

On Holy Saturday, we wait as our Savior lay dead in the tomb. The emptiness seems nearly overwhelming, but hours later, at the Great Vigil, we light a new fire and welcome the truth that in Jesus, death is the gateway to new life, eternal life!

Easter Sunday begins our celebration of new life, resurrection life, abundant life. Let the journey begin!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Epiphany 4C, 2013: Prophets of Love

Lectionary: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30

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

Our catechism teaches us that our goal (our mission) as Christians is to work for the reconciliation of the whole world to God and each other in Christ. (BCP, 855) We hold ourselves to be witnesses of the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ.

If we are witnesses, then we don’t get to just live in this truth. We must be willing to testify to it. That makes us all prophets, mediators of the truth we know to the world.

As prophets, what are we to speak? Maybe more importantly, to whom do we speak it?

There are two hearers of God’s words of Love, two groups to whom our testimony must be given: those being excluded and those doing the excluding. In today’s gospel story from Luke, Jesus is speaking to those doing the excluding.

We hear about Jesus going to the synagogue, picking up the scroll of Isaiah and reading from it. As his hometown people heard him read and teach, they found his words to be full of grace.

As the story continues in today’s reading, the people in the synagogue began to think about that. You can almost hear them… Wait a minute! That’s Mary and Joseph’s son! How does he teach so wonderfully? How did he do those amazing things we heard about him doing in Capernaum? Do those things here too, Jesus. Amaze us too!

But Jesus knew he could do no healings there because of their unbelief. He also knew that the truth he came to bring, that the salvation of God was for the whole world, would make them mad – and in fact, Luke tells us they were enraged.

Why? Let’s hear again Jesus’ response to them: “But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

The widow at Zarephath and Naaman were outsiders, Gentiles, and unclean in some of the most obvious ways. The widow was from Phoenicia, the center of pagan worship at the time. This story takes place during a great famine and people were dying in droves. In fact, the widow’s only son had just died. Following his funeral, she would become a homeless beggar, likely to die before long. It was this outsider - this pagan, Gentile, homeless woman, whom God chose to save.

And Naaman was a Syrian, which means he was a Gentile, and he was unclean due to his leprosy. Lepers could be found all over Israel, but the one whom God chose to heal and restore to fullness of life, was an outsider.

Jesus words shocked his listeners. Here they were feeling so proud of their hometown boy-made-good. His reputation was grand, his words gracious.

But now, instead of dazzling them with amazing works of power, Jesus insults them! The very idea that outsiders would be chosen by God over God’s own people “filled them with rage” and they tried to “hurl” Jesus off a cliff!

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

We live in a time when God’s own people, as so many groups define themselves, are full of rage over the notion that God might love, heal, and save outsiders. I think of the radical fringes of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism who kill and hate and stalk funerals. I think of factions within the Episcopal Church fighting over property, diocesan seals, and historical names.

And I wonder… where is the love? Where are the words that are patient and kind, words that aren’t arrogant or rude? And what are these fights really about? They’re about insiders getting to define who the outsiders are then casting them out.

Muslims call them infidels. Jews call them Gentiles. Christians call them gays. But God calls them beloved. And this is the truth we are called to proclaim. St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Only love honors God... [and] surely everything [God] made must be perfect.”

Be warned, however: this truth is going to make people mad. They’ll want to hurl us off a cliff. We might lose the affection of friends or family. We will feel insecure about ourselves and our ability to speak this truth.

Our comfort, however, is in each other and in our Scripture. When God called Jeremiah to speak the truth to the people, Jeremiah begged off. I can’t do that. I’m only a boy.

But God’s words to Jeremiah are for us also: No excuses – “…you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."

Ok then. Off we go, together, to be the prophets God is calling us to be. And when the people become enraged, we’ll remember St. Paul’s reminder to us to love – to hold our arrogance and rudeness, to be patient and kind, and to endure.

When Jesus faced this rage, he simply passed through the midst of it and went on his way. That gives us hope for our time. Despite the rage, despite the attempts to hurl the truth off the cliff, God simply continues undaunted on the path to redemption.

As followers of Christ, so must we.

As our catechism, derived from the wisdom of our tradition, teaches us “Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (BCP, 862) Amen.