Sunday, December 29, 2013

Xmas 1, 2013: God within and without

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-25;4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Happy Christmastide! Still working on the dead computer issue, so the sermon is available in audio only again this week. Enjoy!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Eve, 2013: Midnight Mass sermon: A Christmas challenge

We enjoyed a glorious celebration of the Feast of the Incarnation. Mother Valori's sermon is available in audio only (due to a dead computer).

Lectionary: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 4A, 2013: Freedom as big as God

Lectionary: Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Last week Deacon Pam talked about the Advent task we all have: recognizing and letting go our expectations of God so that we can be in relationship with the God who is, not the God we create. This is no small task, but it is a very important one. Remember the second Commandment given to Moses: “You shall not make for yourself any idol.”

When we create a concept of God for ourselves, we create an idol. Our Scripture stories tell us of idols that are carved statues or statues cast in gold. Our idols today aren’t like that. Instead, we create idols of our
expectations about God, which are as false as those statues, even though we know that God acts in ways we can’t ask or imagine.

In last week’s lectionary, we heard Mary say “for nothing will be impossible with God,” yet we continue to limit the work of God in ourselves and in the world according to our small expectations of God. We aren’t alone though. This has been the way of human relationship with God all along. Our forebears were expecting another King David who would deliver them from Roman occupation. They wanted freedom, but the freedom they wanted was so small – it was political freedom from a particular enemy, in a particular time in history.

What they got, what we all got, was God’s freedom and it was much bigger than anyone expected. We got Jesus. Jesus is our Savior. It’s a basic truth for us. In fact, it’s THE basic truth. We confess that in Jesus we have been reconciled to God, made one again with the Creator of all that was and is and is to come. That was Jesus’ purpose and he fulfilled it, once for all. There is nothing more we need to or can do to accomplish what has already been accomplished by him.

Over and over again Jesus told us that he was delivering us from the power of sin and death. He told us that that in him we have eternal life in God (because remember he is God). And as St. Paul said a little later in his letter to the Romans, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.

Nothing. Not sin. Not death. Not even our idols or our small expectations.

Neither can we be tricked or distracted away from the salvation Jesus gave us. That is the freedom Jesus brought – sin has no power anymore. We are free and this freedom is big as only God can do.

Look at what Matthew tells us in his gospel account of Jesus’ birth – the only gospel, by the way, that tells the story from Joseph’s point of view. Notice that the story of the coming of the Messiah is so big
it took multiple writers offering multiple perspectives to provide the story even some of the dimensionality it contains.

So, Matthew’s gospel begins with Jesus’ genealogy showing Joseph to be a descendant of David. By claiming Jesus as his son and naming him, Joseph establishes Jesus as a descendant of David.

This was important because Matthew wrote his gospel to a Jewish audience who knew the words of the prophets and the law of Moses. They knew the many stories of God’s deliverance as told in Scripture. They knew that the promised Messiah of God would come from the line of David and would deliver God’s people from their sins.

But they couldn’t have known how very big this deliverance would be. No one could have.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Mary is pregnant, and Joseph knew it couldn’t be his child. The Jewish audience hearing this story knew that Mary’s betrothal to Joseph was legally binding. Betrothals could only be ended by divorce, that’s why they called Joseph her husband.

Under the circumstances, Joseph would have certainly been justified in seeking a divorce, but he also could have publicly accused Mary of adultery which would have guaranteed her being stoned to death
according to their law.

We can imagine how hurt and disappointed Joseph must have been. Many of us know how it feels to be cheated on by our partner in love. Matthew describes Joseph as a righteous man a man in right relationship with God, and Joseph moves pretty quickly from hurt and disappointment to mercy, deciding to divorce Mary without public accusation so that she will not be stoned to death. She will, however, be destined to a life of shame because the reason for Joseph’s divorce would be evident before long.

I wonder how many people today, given the power Joseph had over the one who hurt him, would make a similar choice? People today seem to go straight from “you hurt me” to “I’ll hurt you worse” or even “I’ll kill you.”

Matthew tells us that just as Joseph had decided to divorce Mary, God spoke to him in a dream, through an angel. Let’s stop here for a moment and ponder this. God spoke to Joseph in a dream. Really? Do we believe that?

Does the God you worship speak to you in your dreams? Are you sure? The reason I ask is, it’s one of the most common ways God has related to God’s people – according to our Scripture. Oh yeah, we believe that.

Unfortunately, the allowable concept of God we have created for our time doesn’t speak to us in dreams much anymore – really at all. We have shrunk God down according to our concepts about God and limited what we will allow God to do in our time, and that’s a sin: the sin of idolatry.

So God spoke to Joseph in his dream and what God said was pretty impossible: ‘Oh yeah, she has a baby, but don’t worry – it’s mine.’

And yet, Joseph knew it was God, and did as God asked him to do, even though, it meant living in dishonor. Gossip was the same then as it is now. Mary was pregnant, they weren’t married yet, and the baby wasn’t Joseph’s. Joseph had been humiliated. Even taking Mary and her baby in wouldn’t quell the gossip, which probably lingered around them their whole lives.

But Joseph knew his purpose. He had heard it from the voice of God in his dream, and he fulfilled it. Joseph obeyed the word of God. He even named his son as God directed. The name, Jesus, "is the Greek form of the Hebrew Yehosua, which means 'YHWH is salvation' " (Bergant, 27). As the gospel writer says, this is his name because "…it is he who shall save his people from their sins." (21b). (Source:

The expectation, however, was that the Messiah would save them from their oppressors. As one commentator says, “Jesus would [have been] far more popular if [he’d focused] on relieving the people of Roman oppression instead of delivering them from their sins.” (Source:

I think the same is true today. Our view of God and God’s deliverance remains very small. Thankfully, God is not limited by our consistently small expectations. God is God. Thanks be to God.

Like Joseph, we’re called to hear the voice of God which still speaks our purpose to us: individually and as a community. Like Joseph, we’re called to obey and follow where God leads the way no matter how impossible it seems. Doing so is likely to lead us to bear dishonor, as it did Joseph, but it’s a small sacrifice to make, considering how big is the work we’re called to share: reconciling the whole world to God.

I close with an adaptation of our wreath-lighting prayer. Let us pray:

Loving God, set us free from the constriction of our small imaginations and light our lives with your imagination. Show us the creative power our hope in you unleashes on the world. Teach us trust that you are God and you will lead us only by love and in love, and magnify your love within us. Fill us with your joy which is so big it cannot be contained, but must be shared. Prepare our hearts, on this last Sunday in Advent, to be transformed by you at Christmas that we may always walk shining the light of Christ in our world. Amen.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent 1A, 2013: Advent "nesting"

Lectionary: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Happy New Year! Happy new liturgical year! Advent 1 marks the beginning of our liturgical year and we begin it by lighting the candle of hope. As we move into a new year, we are called to prepare ourselves for the new thing about to happen in us individually, in our community, and through us in the world.

The Scripture for today speaks about hope and renewal of life, not the end of life as many would have us think. When Jesus used apocalyptic language, as he does in today’s gospel teaching, he’s talks about a new beginning, one he himself is inaugurating.

The topic of “the rapture” has come up in conversations I’ve been having on several occasions lately, so I thought it might be time again to share again a teaching I did a few years ago on this. How many of you have heard of “the rapture”? How many of you have read the “Left Behind” book series?

Let me be clear: the rapture is a modern doctrine that is NOT supported by the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion. “The rapture” was a teaching developed by John Nelson Darby, a 19th century Irish lawyer who became an Anglican preacher, then later left the Anglican Church and started the Plymouth Brethren. Darby is considered the founder of dispensationalism, a theological approach described as “an oddity of Church history.”

This approach breaks Scripture down into compartments or "dispensations” which mark the end of the world. The dispensations begin, according to Darby, with the rapture, the moment when all faithful believers are taken up to heaven all at once. This will happen so suddenly, they say, that in a flash, all that will be left of those ‘raptured up into heaven’ will be a pile of their empty clothes and the shocked looks on the faces of those who watched it happen.

The unfaithful and believers who lived in sin will be left behind to suffer unspeakable horrors during the next dispensation called the Great Tribulation, a period of seven years of chaos and persecution. Next will be the dispensation called the battle of Armageddon. After that will be a thousand years (a millennium) of justice and righteousness on the earth.

Following that will be the final dispensation: the Last Judgment, when Christ will send anyone who has ever lived either to eternal bliss or eternal damnation. This, they believe, will bring to a close the story of human history begun in the Garden of Eden.

Another famous dispensationalist was Cyrus I. Scofied, who authored the Scofied Bible, often called the handbook of fundamentalism. Published in 1909, Scofield’s Bible is still much used in the church today. It was published just before the start of WWI, and became popular as people tried to cope with what looked to them like the end of the world happening all around them.

Although dispsensational millenialists tend to focus primarily on the Book of Revelation, today’s Gospel from Matthew is a favorite because they believe that in it Jesus prophesies the rapture.

So let’s look at our Gospel reading and see. It begins with a statement by Jesus that no one, not even Jesus himself, knows when the Day of the Lord will be. So the Scofield Bible and all of those supermarket tabloids that predict a date for the end of the world, find no support in Scripture.

Next Jesus references the story of Noah found in the book of Genesis saying, “For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. People were doing what they usually did, eating, drinking, and marrying, until the day Noah entered the ark, …they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too [Jesus said]will be the coming of the Son of Man.” According to Jesus, those left behind after the flood were Noah and his family who were chosen by God to stay on the earth in order to restore it.

So Scripture shows us that the doctrine of the rapture has it backwards. Those left behind in the story of Noah, did not suffer tribulation. They lived in a covenanted relationship with God – a covenant promising mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

Let’s continue…

Jesus continues, “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Please note that the word ‘behind’ in is not in the Scriptural text – not in the Greek and not in the English.

The text also does not indicate which one might be a bad outcome and which one might be the good. But Jesus does by connecting his teaching to the story of Noah. Remember that in that story, the ones taken off the face of the earth were not the faithful ones. The faithful ones were “left behind” (as it were).

The understanding that is faithful to our Scripture, then, is that being left on the earth is not a punishment, but a call from God to be partners in the work of the reconciliation and the restoration of the world.

Let’s continue… Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” It isn’t clear whether Jesus is referring to our personal end (our death) or our collective end (the end of the world as we know it).

And that’s the point - it doesn’t matter. Our focus as Christians isn’t on the end of the world but on its renewal. Like the family of Noah, we have been chosen BY God to be partners WITH God in the reconciliation of the world TO God.

There are people suffering right in front of us, here in Shelby, and around the world. People who are hungry for food, for friendship, and for hope. During his earthly ministry, Jesus healed the sick, connected with the excluded, and loved even those who executed him. In our ministries, we are to do likewise, and this is something which takes preparation – intentional, prayerful, continuing preparation – which is what we are called to do during the season of Advent.

All around us the cultural Christmas is already in high gear. Holiday decorations are up, Christmas carols are playing everywhere we turn, and the much-needed shot in our economic arm is being carefully measured by those people who measure those things.

For Christians, however, it isn’t Christmas. It’s Advent.

In the same way that we can’t skip the third trimester of a pregnancy and jump straight to the baby, we can’t skip over Advent and run right to Christmas. But why would we? What fun is that?

During the last trimester of a pregnancy, the mother begins to “nest,” that is, to make ready the home that will welcome the new life within her. The parents decorate the nursery and gather up all the necessary accoutrements: the layette, diapers, car seats, strollers, itty bitty socks.

Then… they wait. And anyone who has waited for a baby that came past its due date, knows how very hard it is to wait, especially for the mother.

During Advent, we are all pregnant with new life. So we wait. And we nest, preparing ourselves for the new life we know is growing within us, the new life that is coming. The new life who is, for us, the light of the world because we have been chosen BY God to be partners WITH God in the reconciliation of the world TO God.