Sunday, January 26, 2014

Epiphany 3 and Annual Mtg 2014 8:30 service

Today was a grand day at Redeemer. The Rt. Rev. G. Porter Taylor came to our principal service at 10:30 and Confirmed, Received, Reaffirmed 13 new Episcopalians! As our bishop was prevented from arriving in time for our 8:30 service, our rector preached extemporaneously. The audio of her sermon is provided here. Bishop Taylor's sermon from our 10:30 service is also posted.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Epiphany 2, 2014: God's garden

Lectionary: Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40:1-12; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Today’s reading from Isaiah is the second of the four Servant Songs, and this one defines the Servant’s mission: “The LORD called me before I was born, while I was in my mother's womb he named me… And he said to me, "You are my servant… in whom I will be glorified."
It’s a bit odd for most of us to consider that God had a plan for us from before we were born – and that God continually forms us for that purpose - but it’s true. Who we are, when we live, where we live, even the gifts and weaknesses we possess reflect an intentional action by God.

Everything about us, how we look, how we perceive the world, what motivates or demotivates us… all of it is intentional. And everything about us fits together with everything about everyone else for the accomplishing of God’s will on the earth.

God leads us into the presence of people who will affirm us or challenge us to grow. The situations of our lives, even those times when we sin or when someone sins against us, cause us to grow and mature spiritually and otherwise. They cause us to remember the continuing presence and power of the redeeming love of God as they call us to use our gifts, which you’ll remember, God gave us for a purpose God from before we were born.

Last summer our congregation enjoyed a workshop on the Enneagram offered by Gus Boone, a retired priest in our diocese and an Enneagram expert. The Enneagram workshop was great fun and we learned so much about ourselves and one another, and how to notice and value the gifts of the other while remembering things that would challenge them (and us) as we interact so that we can maintain harmony and peaceful unity within our diversity. Over and over again we would hear someone in the room say, “Ohhhhh! Now I understand….”

For those of you unfamiliar with the Enneagram, it’s a kind of personality assessment tool that identifies what motivates a person. The Enneagram has it roots in antiquity. It is said to have been developed by Pythagorus and employed by Plato.

Here’s how Gus Boone describes it: “The Enneagram is a helpful tool of universal insight into human nature which offers us a means for deepening our awareness as having been made in God’s image! It helps us better understand ourselves as spiritual presences in the world. Often our personalities mask the essential qualities God gives us for living and serving in the world. [The Enneagram] enables us to identify the things standing in our way, to truly know our spiritual gifts and to develop patterns of awareness for growth and transformation from self-deception to real self-knowledge. It provides us with an important framework for lifelong learning of what it means to be blessed and for living more compassionately with those who differ from us … like a spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings, co-workers, others at church, even our best friends!”

There are nine motivational descriptors in the Enneagram system. I’m an 8 (also known as The Challenger). Deacon Pam is a 9 (also known as The Peacemaker). My husband is a 1 (also known as The Perfectionist). Together, our differences provide a wholeness in our lives we couldn’t know alone.

At the workshop we learned that while each of us is motivated differently, together we can form ourselves into an amazing faith community because our differing strengths and weaknesses will complete and balance one another.

Some of you have heard me mention an African bishop from Uganda I worked with years ago. He is dear to my heart and in the short time we spent together, he affected how I perceive the world. The bishop and I come from vastly different cultural experiences and perspectives, but we worship the same God, pray from the same Prayer Book, and serve God’s people with the same commitment and passion.

One day as we ate breakfast together the bishop’s wife remarked - with no small amount of shock – how the food on her plate alone would have fed a family of seven at home, and she marveled at the variety of food on our breakfast table: eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, toast, fresh fruit… She informed me that in their part of Africa they ate only what was in season and available, so one would have the same food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for months at a time.

Breakfast never looked the same to me after that – and I give thanks to God for it. The bishop and his wife learned from their time in the US about the abundance that is real, even though it is out of reach for them. He told me it gave him hope, anticipating the day when the world’s resources would be shared equally among all people.

When he preached at our service of Holy Eucharist at my church (part of a fund raiser we were doing for African missions) the bishop spoke of humanity in terms of God’s garden. I heard this sermon seven years ago but the image remains powerfully present with me.

Here’s how this seed the bishop planted has grown in me: there are roses and violets, dandelions and tulips – all flowers, all beautiful in their own way, but very different; each flower having its own purpose for being and gift to offer. When the world judges one flower to be more beautiful or valuable than another, it just isn’t true.

The dandelion, for example, is considered by many to be a weed, a nuisance – but God made the dandelion, which makes it beautiful and valuable, and it has an honorable purpose. The dandelion has a long history as a medicinal herb used for stomach, kidney, liver, and gall bladder issues and many people enjoy dandelion tea, dandelion wine, and even dandelion beer!

Imagine a garden that had only one kind of flower. What a boring garden that would be!

What if daisies were judged to be the only worthy flower and all other flowers were destroyed? Imagine how that would affect bees, birds, and insects. The whole balance of nature would be affected.

And what about the colors? We would lose the passionate redness of the rose and the gentle paleness of the lilac.

The same is true of the people in God’s garden. Each of us is made by God with gifts and weaknesses, passion and gentleness, and a purpose that is honorable and important in the plan of God. Those the world judges as worthless or a nuisance are not judged so by God and should not be judged so by us.

That’s why being a part of the body of Christ is so important. It takes all of our gifts, strengths, and weaknesses combined to make us whole – to make us holy – and able to do our part in God’s plan of salvation for the whole world.

And our part is this, as described by the prophet Isaiah: "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." …because… the LORD, who is faithful… has chosen you."

God has chosen each of us, formed us in our mother’s wombs, continues to form us every moment, every day; gifted us differently, and birthed us in the time and place God has chosen for us to accomplish our purpose in the divine plan. It is my prayer that together, as a family of faith, we trust God and God’s plan and honor the diversity and dignity of every flower in God’s garden.

I close with a portion of a prayer from medieval mystic, Mechthild of Magdeburg. The prayer is called: God Speaks to the Soul:

“And God said to the soul:
I desired you before the world began.
I desire you now
As you desire me.
And when the desires of two come together
There love is perfected.”


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Epiphany 1, 2014: Formed as servants

Lectionary: Isaiah 42:1-9; Psalm 29; Acts 10:34-43; Matthew 3:13-17
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Our reading this morning from Isaiah is the first of four Servant Songs: poems depicting how God chooses a servant and gives them a purpose. The song tells us that the servant is then abused by the world for doing the will of God, but ultimately, is rewarded by God. Most Jewish scholars
interpret the servant in these poems as the Jewish people. Some Jewish and many Christian scholars also interpret them as referring to the Messiah to come.

In this first Servant Song, the people of Israel have been scattered along the coastlands of the Mediterranean, so God is sending someone to help them:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.

This time, however, God is doing a new thing through this servant who will answer God’s call to re-establish righteousness but will go about it very differently:

"He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice."

Answering this call from God will not be easy for the servant. God makes plain that the chosen servant will confront enough difficulty to lead to discouragement, but God promises to uphold the servant as he does God’s will:

He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

The prophet then reminds the listener who it is calling the servant: it is Almighty God

"who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it"

Knowing that this call and the way God seeks it to be answered is new and a bit disorienting, God speaks these words of assurance:

"I have called you in righteousness
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;"

“Kept” in this case translates as: FORMED and is the same word used in Genesis where God “formed” √°dam/humankind/Adam from the dust.

God, the Creator, promises to be with the servant, guiding him and gifting him, as he answers God’s call to serve. Clarifying was the servant is called to be and do, God says:

"I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness."

Listen carefully to what a servant is called to be and to do. God says, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, and take out – set free from the prisons all who sit in darkness.

I say listen carefully because this is the calling Jesus claimed for himself when he opened and read the scroll of Isaiah in the temple. It is also the calling he gave to us.

We who are servants of God, we who have been anointed and chosen… we are the covenant God gives to the people. We are the bearers of the light of the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ to the world; and all who hear this truth are set free from the prisons of darkness that hold them bound.

This is what Jesus demonstrated at his own baptism, where the Spirit of God descended upon him and a voice from heaven affirmed this union of heaven and earth in the flesh and bone body of the Savior, saying, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

Did you know that it is from this Scripture story, found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, that our understanding of God as Trinity is derived? The Trinity is not mentioned in the Bible. It’s derived from this story.

The Incarnate Word invites the Holy Spirit into his flesh and the Creator affirms that it is right and good. The three persons of God. In this moment, in Jesus, God and humankind are united in a whole new way and the truth prophesied in Isaiah became the truth realized on earth – from that time forth forevermore.

We have been blessed here at Redeemer to have baptized new children of God these last couple of weeks and months: Anna, Georgia and Sarah. Our experience of these unions of Spirit and flesh is fresh in our minds.

In the Episcopal Church, when we baptize a new family member into the body of Christ, we all renew our Baptismal Covenant. We will do this again today, remembering Jesus’s baptism, only today we do this as a new body, with a new calling. We will recommit to keeping our eyes fixed on God, who is within us and among us, who takes us by the hand, forms us, and shows us the way to go.

We know that for Peter, that meant going to the Gentiles - which was against the law for him. For John, it meant Baptizing the one who needed no repentance - which didn’t make sense to him. For us, it means trusting that God is still leading us in the way we should go. It also means living as the children of God we are. As one commentator said, “Jesus is unique as God’s chosen messenger and savior; but God’s baptismal pronouncement on Jesus as God’s beloved child applies to everyone. Christ’s salvific word has as one of its aims the awakening of everyone to God’s call in their lives.” (Source: Dr. Bruce Epperly.

That’s where we come in. God has anointed and chosen us to facilitate that awakening, to be restorers of righteousness, bearers of the light of Christ to all who are in darkness, that they might be set free from the many prisons that hold them bound.

Answering this call from God will demand much from us as it did Peter, John the Baptist, Mother Mary, and all the other children of God in our Scripture stories. Knowing the challenges they would face after he was gone from them, Jesus fulfilled the promise of God found in Isaiah and formed them, and to the best of their ability, Jesus’ followers received their formation.

I have much I’d like to say about our responsibility to ours and our children’s continuing spiritual formation, but suffice it to say that we need it, every one of us and all of us together, because without it, we might as well be trying to run a marathon while being malnourished and physically unconditioned. Our muscles would cramp, our energy would wane, and our bones might even crack and break. We probably wouldn’t be able to finish the race, and we certainly couldn’t invite anyone to go with us.

In this season of Epiphany we seek to learn the new thing God is doing in us as individuals and as a community. As we do, we must commit to building our spiritual muscles and share consistently in the spiritual nourishment of Word and Sacrament offered at our Sunday worship.

We must also offer the same to our children.

Only then can we, the servants of God, hear and answer the call of God and keep the covenant of our Baptism. Amen.