Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday, 2013: The mystery of Love

Lectionary: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Canticle 13; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Today's sermon is extemporaneous and therefore, not available in written form. The sermons differed at 8:30 and 10:30 and when I asked which one I should post, I was asked to post both, so here they are... VMS+

Sermon at the 8:30 service:

Sermon at the 10:30 service:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Shelby Star article: Righteous Anger

Re-titled by the Star: "Examine your motivation for righteous anger" and published Sunday, May 19, 2013.

There’s a lot of talk lately about righteous anger: anger at the Boston bombers, politicians, radicals and enemies of various descriptions. The gospel story about Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers in the temple is often used to illustrate what motivates righteous anger.

In those days, Jews were obligated to journey to the big city of Jerusalem at the Passover to pay the annual temple tax and offer sacrifice according to the Law. Hundreds of thousands of faithful Jews made this pilgrimage each year and were greeted by thousands of priests, attendants, and soldiers who managed the event.

The Temple had become a huge institutional machine. The law required that only unblemished animals could be offered in sacrifice, and since the rigors of travel would have spoiled their own animals, most pilgrims bought their sacrificial animal at the temple. Money changers were needed to convert Roman and other foreign money into money that could be used to pay the temple tax, money that had no idol or image imprinted on it. All of this took place in the outer precincts of the temple known as the Court of the Gentiles. There was so much “business” going on that any semblance of reverence or solemnity would have been lost to the chatter of people, the cries of animals being sacrificed, and the smell of their blood.

It’s true that the money changers and animal sellers were providing a service in accordance with the customs developed under the authority of the religious leadership. As often happens though, faithful pilgrims were getting ripped off as huge profits from the vendor “fees” benefited the religious leadership and the representatives of the Roman government.

The very reason the people were coming to the temple, to pray and worship God, was lost to the “business” of the institution under the guise of keeping the Law. It’s no wonder Jesus wasn’t happy. Throwing over the tables Jesus demands repentance, demonstrating what motivates righteous anger: interfering with those whom God draws into worship and relationship.

Jesus’ actions also delineate an important change. The old way of approaching God in the temple is over and Jesus ushers in something new, something unprecedented: himself. Jesus is the temple of God, and people may go directly to him; no money changers, no animal sellers. The only requirement for admission to this temple is faith.

This was such a new thing that even the disciples didn’t fully understand it until well after the resurrection. That’s because developing a mature faith takes time, diligence in prayer, and participation in a worshiping community.

When we face trials, our faith and our community carry us through. The disciples couldn’t have imagined that God would redeem the crucifixion by the resurrection, even though Jesus kept telling them that it would happen. But they stayed together, prayed together, and let God lead them in surprising ways that spread the kingdom to those outside of it. Remember Peter’s dream in Acts: “kill and eat” (10:9-15) which led him to testify that “God shows no partiality.”(10:34)

As we live out our faith, it is important to examine what is motivating our righteous anger whenever it arises and let go whatever ideas, habits, and rules we have that interfere with those whom God is drawing into worship and relationship in our time. Who they are might surprise and discomfort us as they did Peter, but our faith assures us that God has it all in hand: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” (Isa 55:8).

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost 2013 sermon by Deacon Pam: Saying Yes

Lectionary: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17, (25-27)
Preacher: The Rev. Deacon Pam Bright

As most of you may know, my day job is serving as Social Work Program Manager for Child Protective Services at the Department of Social Services here in Cleveland County. I have also supervised foster care at different points in my career, so I have had the joy of helping adoptions happen.

What you may not know is I have personal knowledge of the power of adoption; my father was adopted when he was 7 years old.

My dad was the second oldest in a family of five. When he was 6, his mother died from pneumonia shortly after giving birth to her youngest, the only girl, whom she named Lucille. My grandfather, known for being an alcoholic and a batterer, was serving an extended jail sentence at the time.

This happened during the Depression, and none of the relatives could afford to take all five in, so they split the children up among themselves, some going to members of the Bright clan, others to the Peaces, my grandmother’s side of the family.

Being good folks I suppose, they all took the children to see their father in jail on a Sunday afternoon after church. My grandfather told the family that he would see the children “dead and in hell” before he would let them raise them, and subsequently signed them over to a state orphanage.

The oldest, my uncle James, ran away, and the youngest three, Pierce, Ernest and Lucille, who were 3, 2 and a newborn, were quickly adopted, leaving my father there alone without his siblings.

Daddy said he played everyday on the split rail fence along the road in front of the orphanage, and many days, a peach farmer named Andrew MacAbee would stop and talk to him on the way to take produce and other wares to market. One day, Mr. MacAbee told my father he had been talking to his wife about him and he asked my father if he wanted to go home with him and be their little boy. Daddy agreed to his offer, with one stipulation - he asked that they not change his name, in case his brothers ever tried to find him. The MacAbees agreed, and my father soon had a new home with them.

Pentecost and adoption? Yes-the very heart of the Pentecost story is our adoption as children of God.

On Pentecost, we focus on the Holy Spirit, and we are used to talking about the Holy Spirit in spectacular and extraordinary ways, such as we hear about today in our reading from Acts: the sound of a mighty, rushing wind; tongues, like fire descending, or as we hear about in Gospel accounts of Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descending like a dove, accompanied by a voice from heaven.

Those are powerful stories, critically important stories that help us understand some of the ways God works in the world. But it seems equally important to talk about how, through the Spirit of God, we are included in God’s family.

Consider, for a minute, our epistle reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“All who are led by the Spirit are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry “Abba, Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-if, in fact we suffer with him, so that we may also be glorified with him.”

So today, on Pentecost, as we remember and celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to those first believers, we are also celebrating our adoption as children of God through the gift of the Spirit dwelling within us. The Spirit makes us children of God and so connects us with God that we can approach God as a parent, crying out to God as a child would to their father or mother.

And notice in our reading from Acts what Luke doesn’t say about the wind-or the tongues of fire-or the indwelling of the Spirit-or the proclamation of the Good News in different languages. He never mentions any kind of exclusion. God called them all, all of them, as God still calls us all-into God’s kingdom, into God’s family. The differences in culture and language and ethnicity and gender and theology and education and economic status that separated one person from another crumbled, broken apart by the power of the wind and the Gospel and the Spirit.

In his article Adoption as God’s Children Andrew Marr says “...God is the most prodigal of adoptive parents there is. God just doesn’t just adopt a child here and another child there. God adopts everybody. We are, all of us, adopted children of God. God chooses us. The emphasis is on intentionality. God’s love for us is not some vague instinct that happens automatically... Rather, God invites each and every one of us individually to become God’s chosen child because God has already chosen us.”

My father had a stipulation on being adopted, but he said yes to the MacAbees. He was no longer an orphan. With his yes came the joys and as well as the responsibilities of being part of a family-meeting his new siblings, learning their rules and customs, helping to do the things that needed done to keep the family together. My father was influenced and shaped and loved by my Grandma and Grandpa MacAbee.

As children of God, the Spirit of God dwells within us, is alive within us. We are led, we are influenced, we are shaped, we are changed and loved by that Spirit if we allow it, if we say yes, if we allow the Spirit to fill us and work in and through us.

Remember what that same Spirit did on that first Christian Pentecost.

That was the day when the timid and afraid - think Peter here - became bold and courageous...

The day when looking inward became far less important than looking outward...

The day when concern for one’s self was replaced with an overwhelming passion and desire to tell others how they might find healing and salvation, health and wholeness in and through Jesus Christ...

That same amazing powerful Spirit that dwells in each of us; the question becomes what are we doing about it? Are we being true to the Spirit we have been given as children of God? Are we saying yes, are we allowing ourselves to be lead by the Spirit?

Some contemporary theologians were asked to blog about how the Holy Spirit moves today, how is the Holy Spirit at work in the world today, in 100 words or less. Monica A. Coleman, professor of Constructive Theology and African American Religions at Claremont School of Theology responded with the following:

“when we put the gospel
to hip hop
and host U2charists,
when we share the church building
with the Korean congregation,
when we preach against homophobia
when we break bread
with jews and muslims
when the teenagers lead worship
on a regular Sunday (not just youth day)
when we invoke the ancestors
and learn from their lives,
when we live at the borders
offering water to those in the desert
harbor to those in danger
and community when we don’t fit in...
it is then that we speak in tongues.”

May we indeed speak in tongues...may we say yes to God, and may the fire and the wind that changed the first followers and made them and all who come after the children of God transform us so that our lives reflect just whose children we are.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Feast of the Ascension (transferred), 2013: Look Ma! No training wheels!

Lectionary:Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Open BCP to page 15 – The Calendar of the Church Year. Today is the Feast of the Ascension (transferred). It is the 40th day after Easter, and so it falls on a Thursday this year. It’s a principal feast because it represents the manifest moment that humanity and divinity were eternally reconciled by and in Jesus.

Reflecting on how to live in this state of reconciliation, St. Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe…”

Let’s take those things one at a time…

1. What is the hope to which Jesus has called us?

That there is no one and no thing (no event, no circumstance) that can not be redeemed by God. The plan of God has been fulfilled in Jesus the Christ, in whom we have been reconciled by the forgiveness of our sins. Every one of us will, at some point in our lives, be counted among those who are lost or gone astray. Because of our reconciliation to God in Jesus, no matter how lost we get, no matter how far we stray, we can never go beyond the reach of God’s redeeming love.

Our Catechism describes Christian hope in this way: “The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God's purpose for the world.” (p. 861)

We, the created, are the love that issued forth from God and God has a plan for us. It’s almost astounding (isn’t it?) that we have been included by God in this plan as partners in the continuing work of reconciliation. That alone should lead us to hope in ourselves.

Related to our hope is our assurance that “nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (BCP, 862)

I don’t know about you, but it’s a comfort for me to remember that even when I sin I will not be cast out of God’s love for it. Nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ. And no one here on earth can do to me what God chooses not to do. When we come into the presence of someone who has clearly forgotten that, it’s up to us, as witnesses of Christ, to help them remember.

2. What are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints?

The “saints” refers to all who believe. Think about how many people that is and how many riches they represent.

We have abundant riches right here at Redeemer: In one there is abounding generosity, in another – innocence and purity of heart, in another – a contagious joy.

One brings poverty, another wealth. One is gay, another is straight. One is the teller of truths (even the hard ones), another is a source of gentleness and comfort.

One brings wisdom, another – a sharp wit, and another - simplicity. One brings chaos, stirring us out of our complacency, while another bring quietness, helping us to still our hearts and re-center them on God.

The gifts present among the body of Christ are brought together into a synergistic whole by the power of God for the benefit of God’s people.

3. Finally, what is the immeasurable greatness of his power – and why just for us who believe?

The funny thing about God is that God gives lavishly (as St. Paul says), without regard to what we deserve. The greatness of God’s power is in us, all of us, but will go unrecognized, unobserved until seen with the eyes of an enlightened heart.

That’s because the ability to see and understand in this way comes from God. As we heard in the gospel from Luke, Jesus opened the minds of the apostles to understand the scriptures so that they could go out and proclaim the gospel, the Good News to all nations, to all peoples.

The same is true for us. The eyes of our hearts are enlightened by Jesus. Only then can we recognize the greatness of God’s power in and around us and its purpose.

The spirit of wisdom and revelation in us is the Holy Spirit of God which we receive in our Baptism, and which clothes us in power from on high. This Spirit, the Spirit of God which dwells in us, is the source of our testimony, our gifts, our compassion, and our greatness.

That’s why, when Jesus ascended, and the apostles were standing there gazing up at the sky, the messengers from heaven asked them, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking toward heaven?’ What you seek isn’t up there – it’s right here – in you.

To be fair, for the disciples, it was about to be in them. Jesus told them to wait until they had been clothed with the power from on high – which happened for them at that first Pentecost, which we’ll celebrate next Sunday.

We, on the other hand, have already been clothed with this power. It happened for us at our Baptism. Some of us recommitted to it at our Confirmation. And all of us remember it each time we gather for Holy Eucharist.

We come to this Eucharistic feast to take into our bodies the word of God and the sacrament of his body and blood. It is spiritual food for our journey because journey we must, witnessing the truth we know, shining the light of Love into the darkness of the world, or the darkness of a life, confident of the immeasurable greatness of God who transforms all darkness into light, all death into life.

(Note: Lila enters the nave riding her Princess bike)

I recently visited our young member, Lila, at her home. As I was leaving, Lila came outside with me to show me her new Princess bike. She wanted to show me how she could ride it and how the training wheels would keep her from falling. Lila was quick to point out to me that she didn’t always need the training wheels – only sometimes. And one day, she wouldn’t need them at all.

I walked alongside Lila as she rode her Princess bike, leading me on a tour of the grounds of their home. She pointed out all the things I should notice as we went along, including her favorite purple flowers just coming into bloom.

As we journeyed together, the experience felt to me like an illustration of the path of Christian maturity. Lila knew she needed training wheels, not all the time, but sometimes. Lila also knew that one day she would learn to ride this Princess bike with no training wheels.

I remembered when I learned how to ride a bike; how my Dad ran alongside me holding my seat so the bike would stay upright. I was thrilled and terrified all at once. I remember that moment when I realized that he had let go and I was riding on my own. I was filled with excitement and fear… and confidence.

I trusted my Dad who seemed to think I was ready, and so I trusted myself, pumped my legs, and rode off. I could have ridden forever. I had it nailed.

Walking alongside Lila and her Princess bike, I understood that if Jesus had not let us witness his ascension, we’d all still be riding around on our training wheels.

Jesus knew the disciples were ready. The disciples may not have realized it until they found themselves doing it – like when Peter shared his testimony with the household of Cornelius the Roman Centurion, or when he raised Dorcas from the dead in Joppa. (He raised a woman from the dead!)

Filled with excitement, fear, and confidence, the disciples went out and shared their Good News. Now it’s our turn.

Let us pray: Give us grace, O God of love, to trust you. Give us confidence to pump our legs and ride out into your world, carrying your light in our eyes, your love in our hearts, and your gentleness in our actions. May our lives reflect the joy of being in relationship with you, and may our witness be one of justice, mercy, and peace toward all you created, in your Holy Name. Amen.