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.