Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon for the ordination of Linnea Stifler to the priesthood

St. Martin of Tours Episcopal Church, Kalamazoo, MI. (Note: This is offered in written form only)

I begin with a “Celtic Prayer” by David Adam:

The terminus
is not where we stay,
it is the beginning
of a new journey
It is where we
reach out beyond,
where we experience
new adventures.
It is where we get off
to enter new territory,
to explore new horizons,
to extend our whole being.
It is a place
touching the future.
It opens up new vistas.
It is the gateway
to eternity.

In the realm of God there is always hope. Our hope is in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom we have eternal life – life in the eternal presence of God.

We are a resurrection people. We believe – we know – that new life always follows death, and so, we don’t fear death. In fact, we don’t fear anything because we know that God Almighty, who created us and redeemed us, also sustains us. If we are breathing, we see the evidence of God sustaining us. What then can we possibly fear?

As followers of Christ we move through the cycles of our lives with the confidence borne of our faith that each step is taking us where God’s purpose for us will be fulfilled. Each hardship we face not only builds our spiritual character and endurance but also give us opportunity to watch the redeeming love of God in action. It’s a source of our stories to share about how good the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ really is.

Since our reality is that we live in the eternal life given to us by our Savior, Jesus Christ, there is no end for us – no death - only places of new beginnings. The Latin word for this is “terminus.”

Here we are – in a moment of terminus because today we gather to make a new priest. We are marking the end of what was for Linnea and for the Church, and opening ourselves to the new thing God is doing in us. And in the way only God can manage, this new thing is an act of loving fulfillment not only for Linnea, or for the St. Martin’s where she will serve, but also for the whole people of God.

I don’t say that lightly, and it isn’t an overstatement. We are a people united in the love of God. We are one. What happens to one happens to all of us. This moment of terminus is not just for Linnea, but for us all.

In her book, “The Great Emergence” Phyllis Tickle, a leading voice in the emergence church movement, describes 500 year cycles of life, death, and resurrection in the life of the church. These cycles are punctuated by moments of terminus – moments wherein the established systems and institutional structures of the church move toward their death so that a new thing can begin. Phyllis suggests that we are currently in one of those moments of terminus, and this one is leading us to a spiritual reformation.

Entering into the dying part of our cycles is always hard. But within each moment of terminus, God makes available to us people who keep us deeply and intimately connected to God so that we don’t lose hope, for example, St. Brendan, the great Celtic mystic from the first 500 year cycle; St. Hildegard of Bingen, from the second 500 year cycle; St. Terésa of Avila from the third 500 year cycle.

Now we wait… and watch… and welcome those voices, sent to us by God, who will help us connect with God and remember our hope, so that we can faithfully and confidently extend our whole beings and explore the new territory God is placing before us.

Linnea is one of those voices. Will she be another Hildegard or Terésa? Only God knows that, and I know Linnea well enough to know that is NOT her goal. I also know her well enough to make that bold a statement: Linnea is one of those voices.

Linnea lives a life of deep and intimate connection with God. It is from this deep connection that she will proclaim the Good News and be a shepherd for God’s people. Isn’t that what the Church needs from its priests?

Anyone who knows Linnea knows she has the gift of tears. When Linnea first began her discernment for ordination, this gift was truly (and literally) overflowing, and she was concerned that it might be a hindrance in her ministry. Linnea once asked me, “How can I distribute communion to people if I’m sobbing all over the communion bread?” I assured Linnea that her gift would not be a hindrance, but I’m not sure she was convinced of that back then.

I’ve been gone for 4 years, so I wasn’t sure where Linnea had gone with this gift. But when she greeted me last night at our hotel, there were the tears and my heart leaped for joy. In Linnea’s eyes, which are the window of her soul, I saw holy joy, and in that moment our souls were connected and we were lifted up into God. I am thankful that this gift, which is one of Linnea’s many gifts, is as powerful now as it ever was.

As Washington Irving once said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love.” (Source: And I would add to that: they are manifest evidence of an intimate connection with the heart of God and a vehicle by which others are brought there…because this isn’t just about Linnea.

When we gather to make a presbyter for the Church, it is a moment of terminus for the whole community. In the Episcopal Church, discernment is always done individually and in community. The office of priesthood is but one of four orders in our church and none operates alone or above another.

It’s a bit like a choir. All of our voices singing together make a sound that none can make alone. And, remember, it isn’t just us singing. We believe that our voices join with the heavenly chorus and together we sing our “Hosanna! – Holy, holy, holy!” making a sound only God can orchestrate.

And that’s why we can run without fear into the new territory God is placing before us. We can explore the new horizons before us with confidence borne of our faith that our God who created us and recreates us everyday, our God who Redeemed us in Jesus the Christ and made us a resurrection people, our God whose Spirit dwells in us and sustains us every moment of our lives – now leads us into the harvest with Good News to share for the healing of souls.

If we will go… Today we confirm that we will go - all of us – each fulfilling the purpose for which God made us.

I close with a favorite prayer of mine, the Prayer of St. Brendan (as the St. Mary’s folk know). I’ve asked St. Brendan for dispensation to change it from first person to third for our purpose here today and he was OK with that… so let us pray:

Lord, we will trust You.
Help us to journey beyond the familiar
And into the unknown.
Give us the faith to leave old ways
And break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, we trust You
To be stronger than each storm within us.
We will trust in the darkness and know
That our times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune our spirits to the music of heaven,
And somehow, make our obedience count for You.



Sunday, June 16, 2013

Pentecost 4C, 2013: Freedom in forgiveness

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15, Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

We begin our worship together every Sunday with the Collect for Purity. We hear it so often, I wonder if many of us stop hearing it at all. Today is a good day to hear this powerful prayer anew. Turn with me please in your BCP to page 355 and let’s say together the Collect for Purity:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The readings from 2 Samuel and the gospel from Luke, show us the nature of God who created us, who knows us intimately, and sees beyond our behavior, our reputation, and our titles to the truth that is in our hearts. These stories show us the merciful nature of God who, even seeing our sins, forgives us and calls us to new life – life lived in reconciling forgiveness.

In order to live in forgiveness, however, we must first open our eyes and our hearts to know our sin, especially our invisible sin – which is the sin we can’t or won’t see. Most of us resist this. The knowledge of our sin is too painful and frightens us.

But it’s very clear in both stories that God isn’t leading us to an awareness of our sin in order to shame us or punish us. No, these stories show how God uses the knowledge of our sin to lead us to see differently, to understand differently, and therefore, to live differently – which is to say – to repent.

When Jesus proclaimed to the woman everyone knew to be a sinner that her sins were forgiven, he did so publicly. But this wasn’t an act of absolution. Jesus was simply stating what was already apparently true. Her sins had been forgiven.

Jesus knew that with the knowledge of God. The rest of us could know it by her life and her behavior – if we had eyes willing to see it and hearts open to know it. The woman’s demonstration of love toward Jesus is the evidence of her forgiven-ness. Jesus said, “…her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.”

By saying it out loud and in front of witnesses from her own community, Jesus was confirming for her, that she could live unbound from the past she knew and no one could force her back there if she chose not to go. ‘Your faith has saved you…” Jesus said. Now you may go and live in peace.

One of the hardest parts of the forgiveness experience, is receiving it – taking it in and letting it change our understanding of ourselves, our lives, other people, even God. The habits of self-contempt, self-destructiveness, and self-judgment can be very hard to let go of once they have become familiar companions in our lives.

Living as a people who are forgiven, healed, and renewed, we know that around here. We know that we don’t deserve the dignity and grace lavished upon us by God – and yet it’s ours for the taking.

We know it’s sometimes easier to go back to the way it was. The familiarity of what was, even though it was destructive to us, can seem so attractive to a tired soul. Plus, people all around us compel us to go back… don’t rock the boat… don’t throw the system we know out of balance.

You see, we do know how to live with a condemned sinner –even today. We exile them from our love and our community, we look down on them and judge them as bad (which makes us feel so much better about ourselves).

But if that sinner is forgiven and we can’t condemn them anymore, then how do we live in relationship with them? You may remember a similar question came up last week when the widow’s dead son was raised to life again.

It’s an honest predicament. Trying to be faithful to God, the Jews had certain laws (we call them canons today) to help guide them. Ritual purity was one of those laws and it was a very big deal for faithful Jews. So Jesus uses this moment to teach a different kind of purity – purity of heart.

Knowing the Pharisee’s honest desire for purity, Jesus tells him the story of the two debtors. One debtor owed much, the other half as much. Their creditor cancels both of their debts, and Jesus asks Simon: who will love the creditor more? The one who had greater debt, Simon replies. Right, Jesus says.

Then he turns to the woman and asks Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’ thereby immediately connecting her and Simon to the story. When I entered your home, you received me, but she has loved me lavishly, dangerously, selflessly. That’s why I say her sins are forgiven, Jesus said, because she has shown great love.

Simon was caught up short. He had only seen what he already believed about that woman – that she was a sinner. And so he had judged what she was doing - anointing Jesus’ feet – as the kind of unseemly behavior a sinner would do. Standing on accepted religious teaching, Simon felt totally justified in condemning her. She was, after all, unclean according to the law.

What Simon hadn’t seen, and what he couldn’t see, was what was in the woman’s heart. But Jesus could. Jesus could also see what was in Simon’s heart and now he was convicted by it just as David was convicted by Nathan’s story. That’s because for God, all hearts are open, all desires are known and no secrets are hid. God sees the truth about each of us and reveals it to us so that we can be set free from our sin.

Jesus’ proclamation of forgiveness set the woman free from the habit of her former life, a life which held her bound in the chains of poverty, and shame, and contempt. He set Simon free from the invisible bonds of his privileged status, bonds that strangled the love right out of him and blinded him to the truth about himself, others, and even God.

But there’s more. God’s forgiveness not only sets us free, it also sets everyone in community with us free – our household, as it were. And that’s important, because as Evelyn Underhill says, “A Christian does not stand alone.”

Evelyn Underhill was a 19th century mystic who called upon all Christians to be mystics, to practice contemplative prayer, something at that time only practiced by monks and nuns in the monasteries. Underhill believed that all Christians would benefit from entering into the transforming presence of God using no words and having no goals, just being there… being loved… and being transformed by that love.

As Underhill said, it isn’t just about us. “As well as the solitude of my soul before God, there is the responsibility of my soul to my fellow-men, as a member of the Mystical Body of Christ… I must in some way show [the]… characteristics of Christ in my life… according to my special call. I am part of the organism through which Christ continues to live in the world.” (The Light of Christ, Morehouse-Barlow Co., p 15)

St. Paul taught us how we might live as a community of sinners set free by forgiveness, reminding us that: “We have been crucified with Christ and now it is no longer we who live, but it is Christ who lives in us.

That’s why we pray, “Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ… Amen.”

Image source: Edward T Babinski,

Friday, June 14, 2013

Anglo-fact: Intinction

By: The Very Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

INTINCTION (aka: dipping the communion bread in the chalice).

When I arrived at Redeemer nearly four years ago I used to offer an “Anglo-fact” each Sunday during the announcements. An Anglo-fact is a short teaching on aspects of our communal life as Anglican Christians. Anglo-facts can be about our theology, liturgy, polity, or practices.
As our community’s life became busier, I stopped doing the Anglo-facts to save time during the liturgy. With so many new people among us, most of whom come from non-Anglican experiences of church, I’ve had some requests to do the Anglo-facts again. Mindful of the time in our liturgy, I’ve decided that the newsletter might be a better format.

Intinction is the practice of dipping the communion bread into the chalice rather than drinking the wine from the chalice. Many people choose this method of receiving communion to avoid passing (thank you) or receiving germs. With so many communicable diseases about, this is a valid concern.
Thankfully, it is our practice to use a silver chalice which actually makes the common cup very safe. Silver doesn’t conduct most germs, which means they can’t live on the cup and pass from one person to the next. In addition, the chalice bearer is trained on how to wipe the cup and turn it one-quarter turn between each communicant. This ensures that any germs that survive being wiped wait through three people before there is opportunity to make contact with a person again. This amount of time further limits the likelihood that germs could be passed. Finally, the cup contains real wine and alcohol kills most germs. So between the silver chalice, the wiping with the cloth (called a purificator), the quarter-turn between each communicant, and the wine in the cup, the possibility for passing germs is practically non-existent… unless people are reaching their hands into the cup.

The chalice bearers are required to use hand sanitizer prior to serving the cup at communion. The fewer people reaching into the cup, the less likely germs can be introduced.

That’s why it is your rector’s policy that if a communicant chooses intinction, the chalice bearer will take the communion wafer, dip it into the cup, and give it to the communicant. I ask that everyone please refrain from trying to dip the wafer yourself for the sake of everyone’s health.
If you have any questions or information to add to this discussion, please feel free to share it with me. Also, if there is a topic or issue you’d like me to address in these Anglo-facts please let me know.



Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pentecost 3, 2013: Ushers of grace

Lectionary: 1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 30, Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

How do we live in community? How do we respond to one another in moments of joy… in moments of pain or need? Do we respond the way the world tells us we should, or the way the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ leads us to do?

Last week an 84 year-old woman won a huge lottery jackpot. It was reported that a young mother had allowed the old woman to go ahead of her in line enabling the elder woman to buy the winning ticket.

I saw the young mother interviewed the next day. The reporter seemed surprised that the younger woman wasn’t “bitter” about the way things had turned out. From the world’s perspective, it seems hard to imagine sharing someone’s joy without a bit of resentment.

How do we live in community?

There’s a lot of discussion in the world right now about how to be in relationship with the poor and needy among us. The debate, it seems to me, boils down to the difference between pity and compassion– and there is a difference.

Pity is an emotion. It is the experience of real sorrow in the face of someone’s suffering. But pity is detached - an observer of the other’s suffering. It may lead one to act to relieve the suffering of another or it may not. When it does not, pity opens the door contempt.

The issue becomes one of us and them. We worked hard for what we have. It’s their own fault they are suffering. They need to change – who they are, what they are or aren’t doing, how they’re living... We musn’t “enable” them or let them become “dependent” on us. What this is really saying is: I can be compassionate, but only for so long. Then I want relief from their suffering. The truth is, so do they.

Compassion, on the other hand, is the linking of ourselves to another’s experience of suffering. It isn’t an emotion. It’s an act of will – the will to participate with someone in their pain, offering ourselves, our gifts and the love of God that is in us, as balm to their wounds.

When we are moved by compassion, it is the Holy Spirit in us leading us to shine her Divine Light into the darkness of someone’s life. Compassion has no time-limit and no discomfort limit. We commit for as long as it takes and whatever the cost, remembering that our Lord’s commitment to compassion for us led him to the cross. And no matter how long it takes, we trust that God will guide them and us on the proper path to wholeness and restoration of life.

I want to be clear: pity is not a bad thing. Both testaments of our Scripture tell us of the many times and situations in which God was moved by pity into a compassionate, merciful response.

Pity is God tapping us on our proverbial shoulders to awaken us to notice and feel the sorrow that will link us to the heart of God and to the one who suffers. And that’s the point. God hears the cries of those who suffer and responds, often through us, with mercy, healing, and restoration of life.

At no point does God trade mercy for faithfulness, good behavior, or worthiness. Jesus makes the unworthy to be worthy, and does it in the presence of witnesses so that they have to acknowledge the generosity of God in offering grace to those they (the world) deemed unimportant. As St. Peter said, God shows no partiality, (Acts 10:34) therefore, neither can we.

Our readings from 1 Kings and the gospel of Luke illustrate God’s compassion toward iconic symbols of poverty and contempt: widows. And the letter to the Galatians demonstrates how God uses us as partners in this work in the world.

In both of the resurrection stories, the favor of God’s healing was not sought. Neither widow asked for healing or resurrection for her son. In fact, in the story from 1 Kings, the widow yells at Elijah for bringing her to God’s attention at all, believing that this was what led to her son’s death. She would have preferred Elijah and God just leave her alone.

To understand why, we need to look at how that culture lived in community. First is the notion that sin brings punishment. Elijah brought her sin to God’s notice and therefore her son is dead – that’s how she was thinking. Also in “Jewish tradition…female relatives [were required] to walk in front of the corpse in the funeral procession. [This] custom was said to have been established as a reminder of Eve’s defection in bringing death into the world.” (The IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, Kroeger and Evans, eds., InterVarsity Press, IL, 2002, 569)

So, imagine the grief of these women. Their husbands were already dead and now their only sons are dead. They are alone, destitute, and forced to march at the front of the funeral procession – ritually bearing the blame not only for the death of their sons, but for all death. Each of them is literally walking into a life of extreme poverty, certain death, contempt and exile from her community.

In both of these stories, Compassion intervenes. God’s grace is lavished on these women and restores them to life and health. In the gospel story from Luke, Jesus happens upon the funeral procession and, moved by compassion, approaches the woman, comforts her, and touches the bier.

I imagine when he did that everyone froze, holding their breath. Jewish men of that time did not approach or talk to women in public, especially women who were not family. And according to Mosaic law even touching the bier would have made Jesus ritually unclean for a week. And Jesus, who was a rabbi, knew that.

Then in the midst of this already shocking moment, Jesus raises the dead man to life. Luke says the witnesses of this were “seized by fear” and glorified God.

Now isn’t that an interesting response? Even though what happened shocked and scared them, the people knew they had witnessed the power of God made manifest right before their eyes in Jesus, the Christ.

And they would have to change their relationship with this woman as a result. With her son no longer dead, she is no longer destitute, held in contempt, or exiled from her community.

Do you think anyone in her community resented that? Do you think anyone complained that God was enabling her or making her dependent on divine grace?

We don’t know what happened in this woman’s life after Jesus walked away. But we do know this: because of God’s intervention, the community had to live together differently than they anticipated that they would, differently than the world and their religious laws said they should.

Now they had to live together as a community touched by grace and she who should have been no-one was now the favored one. And that, people of Redeemer, is how the kingdom of God works.

As partners with God in this work in the world, we are called to be ushers of the flow of the grace of God, not barriers to it. When we think we have the right or responsibility to identify someone as undeserving of our mercy, compassion, or assistance, I hope we remember these women and how God responded to them.

That is, after all, why we exist as church – to form, equip, and send out bearers of the lavish, impartial love of God into the world. We gather together to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to be strengthened for service in the holy name of God.

Let us pray: “O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen.