Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lent 4, 2014: God of surprise

Lectionary: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Today's sermon was preached extemporaneously. There is, therefore, no written text - only audio. At the request of some parishioners, I am posting both services as the Spirit moved a similar but different sermon at each service.

8:30 service:

10:30 service:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lent 2, 2014: Eternal life: our reality

Lectionary: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says over and over that Abraham was made righteous (in right relationship with God) by his belief. It was not his obedience to the rules, or the rules that cae out of the law, although he was obedient to the rules of the law. But it was not this that made him righteous. It was his belief.

By saying this, Paul is shooting an arrow at the heart of the “rabbinical teaching––that [we] are made right with God by keeping the law" (MacArthur, Source:” It’s an arrow in the heart of much Christian teaching today as well.

I was having some discussions recently with some Christians, some very faithful Christians, Among them were very faithful, devoted Christian leaders. We were talking about the difference between a good life and a godly life; being a good parent or a godly parent; a good person or a godly person.

And as I listened, what I heard over and over again, was that for most of them, to be godly meant to follow the rules – but the rules are what they have determined exist today – they are not necessarily the historic rules. So they would judge a person godly if that person kept the rules – as they understand them.

But that’s a false notion. For example, one of the rules of our culture is to be polite. In fact, it’s one of the things I love best about southern culture: people here still say, “Yes, sir” or “No ma’am.” It’s polite, and it’s a part of the cultural rule where we live. And so a person who does that might appear to be a good person, and the fact that they’re following the rules gives us a sense of comfort about them. But that same person may be saying “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am” while they steal the identity of the elderly person they’re with and empty their bank account.

This is the point Jesus is trying to make to Nicodemus: it isn’t about doing life right so you win the prize of eternal life later, it’s about living in eternal life right now. Then God’s will is being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Eternal life isn’t our reward, it’s our reality.

As one commentator says, “Nicodemus would think of the kingdom of God as a heavenly reward for a life well lived, but the [Gospels] make it clear that the kingdom ‘is at hand’ (Mark 1:15). In John's Gospel, eternal life has that same kind of immediacy. The person who believes in Jesus ‘has eternal life’ (5:24; 6:47, Source:… right now.

Yet, in his discussion Nicodemus’ expresses confusion. It seems he’s confused because, as an obedient Jew, a good rule follower, why should he need to be reborn in his spiritual life? Surely Jesus must be talking about some other kind of rebirth. So he asks, how can you be born again from your mother’s womb?

But Jesus isn’t talking about another kind of rebirth. Jesus is asking Nicodemus to let go what he thinks he knows about God, life, and religion, and let God lead him into eternal life.

For us, this means letting go what we know about God, life, and religion and being “reborn” into an adult, mature, Christian faith. It’s a scary thing. We have security in what we learned. It’s been a reliable place from which to operate, and it seems foolhardy to let it go. The same could be said of God’s command to Abram: “Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.”
Last week, we saw the first humans in the Garden of Eden begin their journey into relationship with God. This week, we see Abram, a father in our faith, demonstrating the obedience God actually seeks – not to the law, but to the word of God.

Don’t worry, I am not advocating lawlessness. If one lives in the word of God, one will be in step with the laws God gave to guide us.

Abram’s journey was about obedience to God’s word, even when the outcome (reward) is not in sight; when the direction we are going is unclear; when the length of time for the journey is unknown; and when the provisions for the journey are beyond our control. In fact, participation in this journey means giving up our control entirely. It means giving up our comfort, and certainty. No GPS. Destination is unknown – because the end isn’t relevant (yet). It’s the going that matters right now.

Abram’s journey takes time – 40 years our Scripture tells us - which like 40 days (means enough time) only there’s an expectation that it’s a longer time – years instead of days. If we God where God leads like Abram did, if we follow the word of God, God bless us with new life. Life in the eternal presence of God. Flesh and sprit living as one. Earth and heaven present as one. Just like Abram experienced.

And all it takes is that we believe. Jesus said, “…everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.” The Greek word ‘have’ here is the present tense, not the future tense, the present tense: Everyone who believes will have eternal life - now. A little later in the gospel of John, Jesus will define eternal life like this: "This is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ" (17:3).

Theologian Leon Morris says it like this: "The word rendered 'eternal'... basically means 'pertaining to an age.' The Jews divided time into the present age and the age to come… 'Eternal life' thus means 'the life proper to the age to come.' It is an eschatological concept.... (you know, the end times) But as the age to come is thought of as never coming to an end the adjective came to mean 'everlasting,' [We can see that even in our Prayer Book – they’re used almost interchangeably]. The notion of time is there. Eternal life will never cease. But there is something else there, too, and something more significant. The important thing about eternal life is not its quantity but its quality.... Eternal life is life in Christ, that life which removed a person from the merely earthly." (Morris, 201 Source:

In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus says "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” Water… of the earth, spirit… of heaven.

And he follows that with, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Jesus is saying, it is he, Jesus, he himself, the one who came to reconcile what had been torn asunder – earth and heaven, flesh and spirit, back into God.

A friend of mine from the diocese of WMI (Rev Chris Yaw) wrote a book called,” Jesus Was an Episcopalian, (And You Can Be One Too).” This is one of those times Jesus demonstrates he was an Episcopalian. (…you know this is a joke, right?)

Here’s why I say that: Jesus is focused on the AND. Flesh AND spirit. Water AND spirit. Catholic AND Protestant. Paul talks God being the father of us ALL - Jew AND Gentile (which means non-Jew). See what I mean? Everybody is an Episcopalian.

The Baptismal references in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus remind us that we use an earthly gift, water, in our Baptismal rite to demonstrate the reunion of ourselves, our bodies and our spirits, with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ.

We are no longer “merely earthly,” because we are now in possession of the living water, who is Jesus Christ. We are not just bodies living through our time on this earth so that we can leave here and go to another place called heaven.

Earth and heaven, water and spirit, flesh and spirit – right here, right now. This is eternal life.

In our Lenten journeying, we have an opportunity to let ourselves wander as Abram did, away from all that we know about God, about life, even about religion, and follow only the word of God, until God leaves us in a new place, with a new life – eternal life.

It’s a challenge, and yes, it’s scary, but we journey together and we journey in the company of the saints who have gone before us and walk with us now on our way, and we go held in the eternal, overwhelming, indescribable love of God.

Let us pray:

“Oh God of new beginnings who bring light out of night’s darkness and fresh green out of the hard winter earth, there is barren land between us as people and as nations this day, there are empty stretches of soul within us; give us eyes to see new dawnings of promise, give us hears to hear fresh soundings of birth” (Adapted from - Source: Celtic Tradition, full reference posted later) …and give us courage to love you as you are loving us, so that we may enter into you, fully, completely, that your kingdom may come through us – right here, right now. Amen.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lent 1, 2014: Sustained in Love

Lectionary: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Franciscan priest and theologian, Richard Rohr, says “The Hebrew Scriptures, in their development, reflect the development of human consciousness. (Source: The Genesis story of Adam (ádam which means ‘human’ in Hebrew) and Eve (eve which means ‘first’) illustrates the beginning of development of God-consciousness among humans.

As Episcopalians, we own that this story is a myth, which, as the Oxford dictionary says, is a traditional story about the history of a people, in this case the Jewish people, that explains natural and social phenomena (Oxford dictionary). Myths contain deep truths, and the story of Adam and Eve in the garden contains one of the deepest truths we hold – the truth of our identity – that we are created by and beloved of God whose love sustains us every moment of our lives in every circumstance we face.

Like most children who are learning to differentiate from their parents, the humans in Genesis believe that their mistakes are the cause of all the problems in the world. They aren’t. In fact, their mistakes provide important opportunities for them to learn what they need to grow and thrive.

For example, it is impossible to live among humans and not learn right from wrong. It’s also impossible to live in relationship with God and not learn trust and humility. These are the things ádam and eve are learning in this story from Genesis.

We hear that at one point, Adam and Eve’s “eyes were opened” and they “knew they were naked.” Remembering that the biblical meaning of naked is ‘vulnerable,’ the truth being conveyed here is that in our vulnerability, God, who is always near and always watchful, will show us how to go.

I think there are two things humans fear most: being totally alone and being totally unlovable. The story of Adam and Eve affirms for us that we are never alone because God is always faithful, always present, and always ready to redeem; and that God loves us so much that God will seek us out to maintain relationship with us.

In the Gospel from Matthew the temptations Jesus confronts are also about his identity. Jesus’ tempter says to him: “IF you are the Son of God…” Then (basically) prove it. Like the serpent in Genesis, the tempter in Matthew speaks a fear to Jesus.

In biblical terms, to speak something is to create it. Jesus, in his humanity, is confronting a very real fear here and it’s the same one we all still face: are we who we think we are? Are we really beloved children of God?

‘If you are a son or daughter of God,’ the tempter says, ‘then prove it.’ Prove God loves you. Prove God is with you. Prove God cares for you.

It’s a refrain all too familiar in our world today. We see picket signs in the hands of some children of God proclaiming that God hates other children of God because of their sexual orientation. Around the world male children of God continue to oppress female children of God and exclude them from education, independence, and even leadership in the church. Rich children of God vilify poor children of God. Younger children of God disrespect and exploit elderly children of God. The list goes on and on…

I have Good News to share about this though. Are you ready? God hates nothing God has made.

This isn’t just my opinion. It’s in our Prayer Book. Did it sound familiar? It’s in the first prayer we prayed together at our Ash Wednesday service.

How do we know God hates nothing God has made? Because we believe that God who is our Creator, and Redeemer, is also our Sustainer. The breath God breathed into us when we were formed from the dust of the earth, God continues to breathe in us until we return to the dust in death. Every moment in between is a free gift to us from God.

In biblical language to ‘love’ means to be loyal to, to be faithful to; and to hate means to turn away from, to desert. God hates nothing God has made.

The temptation we face is to listen to those voices that lie about our identity, planting seeds in us that maybe we aren’t children of God. Those are the voices of Satan (satan which means tempter) and they can come from within, in the form of insecurity and self-hate and from without, from cultures and individuals in the world who have a bit farther to go in the development of their God-consciousness.

Jesus showed us how to deal with these voices: “Away with you, Satan!” he said, and we can say it too: “Away with you, satan!”

And we are given the gift of Lent as a time to practice saying this; and to practice living into the truth we know – that we are all created by and beloved of God whose love sustains us every moment of our lives in every circumstance we face. Amen.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday, 2014: An invitation to "greening"

Lectionary: Joel 2:1-2,12-17; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10; Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Welcome to our church and to the season of Lent - my very favorite liturgical season. I’m going to begin by telling you a story about my dear departed dog, Ollie.
Ollie was a mixed breed dog, and it wasn’t a good mix.

I loved loving Ollie, but he had quirks which sometimes made loving him a bit… challenging. Ollie wasn’t a very smart dog, for one thing, and he got in trouble a lot, because he also was not a very good dog. When Ollie got in trouble he was put in time out, which meant he had to go to his crate for a period of time (that was his punishment), then he could come out.

Over time, when Ollie did a bad thing he just went ahead and put himself in time out he knew the drill. So we’d come home from someplace and Ollie would put himself in time out and we’d look around to see what he’d done. As time went on, Ollie would put himself in time out and walk right out again. He knew we’d forgive him, so he didn’t bother spending any real time in time out he just got it over with.

I tell you this story, because that’s how so many of us treat Lent. But that isn’t what Lent is about. We aren’t putting ourselves in a perfunctory time-out only to emerge knowing we’re forgiven, then go on as usual.

So what is Lent about? Well, let me start by saying what I always say: we don’t do Lent, God does.

When we practice Lent we are responding to God’s invitation to us with an invitation of our own. We are inviting God to bring about that most feared, oft-avoided reality: change. There I said it, we practice Lent so that we can be changed by God.

The word “Lent” means spring and the season of Lent is a short, finite bit of time we set aside to allow new life to be formed in us. Our Lenten practices of prayer, abstinence, and almsgiving represent our invitation to God to not only plant the seeds of new life in us, but also to change the very nature of the soil, that is ourselves – our souls and bodies, which will receive the seeds of this new life.

Medieval mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, talks about the “greening” of our souls which is, I think, a good image for our discussion of what Lent is and isn’t. I picture Hildegard’s concept like this: we go about our lives basically unaware that the demands and influences of the world cause the soil of our souls to slowly but steadily dry up. The soil of our soul hardens and cracks like a dried up river bed in a drought.

When we practice Lent we enter into a period of self-examination that brings to our awareness just how dry we’ve become – a revelation which brings with it the realization that we are unable to moisten ourselves. There is almost a desperateness in this moment of revelation, a deep knowledge that without moistening, our souls will completely dry up and turn to dust.

But our faith assures us that it is from the dust we were created in the first place. So we trust… and we wait… 40 days, and 40 nights.

At some point, the hands of the Creator reach into the soil of our souls, breaking through the dry surface, to the moister soil beneath. The Almighty kneads and kneads the soil of our souls, removing any hardened bits in there (like anger, judgment, hatred of self or other) and other miscellaneous trash (such as addictions, a hunger for power, elitism) that have entered into us.

Then when the Creator is satisfied that the soil of our soul is ready, those great hands of Love moisten our soil from the well-spring of life, Jesus the Christ. Then God kneads the soil some more, and kneads and kneads it, ensuring the life-giving water reaches and moistens all the dry parts. This nourishing divine massage is transforming and we are changed from dry dirt to nutrient rich soil. Into this soil the Creator places the seeds of new life for us, sweeps the surface of the soil smooth, sprinkles on a bit more life-producing water, and asks us to wait while the seeds within us take root and grow.

This is Lent.

When we are ready to offer our invitation to God, the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving offer deeply meaningful as well as tried and true ways for us to practice a holy Lent. When we make time to pray during Lent, we are responding to the Holy Spirit who is already calling to us, the voice of our Creator who gently awakens us from our world-induced sleep. By our prayer, we consent to open our eyes and see the face of Love looking back at us, inviting us to live a new day. It is an invitation to let go of the old day, the old ways… it is an invitation to change.

When we fast during Lent, we are actually and symbolically emptying ourselves of all that already fills us, including the need to be full and satisfied. When our stomach is empty, it cries out to us to fill it. Most of us here have the privilege of knowing that we can eat, and so we can choose not to eat for just long enough (which is what 40 days means) so that we experience emptiness in our bodies and in our souls.

Only when we have emptied ourselves can we be filled by God.

Fasting also provides a way for us to experience solidarity with those who truly hunger. When we remember how real and compelling hunger is, we are moved by compassion to do something to relieve it – even if it means making a bit of a sacrifice.

That’s why, when we give alms during Lent, we are consenting to intentionally enter into a new relationship with the poor. Within each of us is the capacity to judge, blame, and avoid those who are needy or suffering. This protects our comfort and relieves us from acting to answer their cry for help. Sacrificing our comfort during Lent we make time and find real ways to draw near and welcome their story into our awareness and them into our lives.

In a few moments we will remember both the limits of our mortality and the limitlessness of God’s love by marking the sign of our salvation - the cross of Christ - on our foreheads with the dust of ashes – traditional symbols of repentance and humility before God. This action is our acknowledgment that God Almighty is as the Scripture says: full of compassion, slow to anger, and forgives our sins. God cares for us deeply, intimately, with a sacrificial love that knows no bounds.

So please, let’s don’t just go through the motion of a Lenten time-out. Let’s go deeply, faithfully, fully into the dust and invite God to work the miracle of greening our souls. Amen.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Epiphany Last - Transfiguration Sunday sermon by The Rev Dcn Pam Bright: The 'Possible' of God'

Lectionary: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Preacher: The Rev Dcn Pam Bright

As I sat in my living room yesterday, listening to beautiful piano music and looking out the bay window, pondering what God would have me to say to you today, I was filled with a deep and profound sense of gratitude that I had a sermon to prepare.

It wasn't that I felt I was being given something amazing and profound to say. It wasn't the excitement I feel, and sometimes share with you, when I get to preach on a lectionary that is new to me. No, it was happiness that came with the realization that it was one of the rare times I've been able to be still and quiet and just be, for more than a few exhausted mindless minutes at the end of a long day.

See, last week was a week, one of those weeks, in a month that has been made up of those weeks...I know most people assume my work in Child Protective Services is never particularly easy but recently it has been especially difficult. Too many complex cases with seemingly no good solutions, negative media attention, a plethora of complaints from clients and their families, touchy personnel's all a bit of a blur in my memory as my staff and I have run, sometimes quite literally, from one thing to another in an attempt to keep up, while striving to be responsive to a multitude of demands and to make the best possible decisions with limited time and sometimes little information.

Clearly, I need some time away! I need some time off! I need a mountain top!

Mountain top experiences, moving, amazing, transformative experiences of the Divine such as we hear described in today's Gospel, are something we all desire and seek, especially when we are tired and drained. This lesson, the Transfiguration, is always the Gospel reading for the last Sunday of Epiphany, and some think its placement in the lectionary is intentional-to give us one last high, one last glimpse of glory, one more mountain top moment, before we enter Lent.

But the story of the Transfiguration is about more than one last mountain top before we begin our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross. Epiphany is about the revelation of who Jesus is, and of what his coming among us means. The lesson for the first Sunday after Epiphany is always the baptism of Jesus and as I said earlier, the Transfiguration is always the last. These two, combined with all the lessons we hear in between challenge us to answer for ourselves; just who is Jesus and what does his coming mean?

What have we heard in the last few weeks? What has Jesus said that gives us insight into who he is?

We've been told if we follow, we will be taught how to fish for people, how to reach others and help them remember they too are children of God.

We've been told we're God's light and God's salt, offered to a world in great need of the illumination and flavor of God's love.

We've been told that it isn't enough to just change our actions but we must allow God to change our hearts and our minds as well.

We've been told as God's children, we are to love like God loves, with agape love, loving those who do not love us and even loving our enemies.

And today, Jesus stands on a high mountain, with Moses and Elijah, his appearance changed so much that his face shines like the sun and his clothes are dazzling white. A voice from a bright cloud says 'This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.'

This is my Beloved; listen to him.

The voice terrifies the disciples, they are overcome with fear, but Jesus comes to them, touches them, and tells them to get up, and to not be afraid.

Perhaps fear is some of what we feel. Maybe hearing-and actually listening - to what God in Jesus tells us we are to be and how we are to live as children of God - is a daunting, frightening thought for us, of an impossible task, a way of being we fear we can never achieve.

Maybe it is the listening itself that we find hard and scary. Like Peter, busy in his desire to build booths, like me with my crazy, non-stop life -to stop and be still and listen, to be still and know - means we might discover our true selves and our true calling in God.

Regardless, Jesus tells us to not be afraid. Wherever we are in our understanding of who Jesus is, of what his coming means to us, and how that changes us, he touches us and tells us to not be afraid.

Don't be afraid of the life I planted in you and of what I am calling you to do. Don't be afraid of the journey, and of what is to come.

Don't be afraid. I am transfiguring you, changing you, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit is working in and through you. As you experience my presence in the high points and in the low, in your ordinary moments, and in your dark nights, you are being formed more and more into the person I created you to be. Don't be afraid.

Transfiguration, transformation, becomes our way of life as we learn to see and experience God with and within us, as well as with and within others, present at all times, at work in and through every situation and circumstance. We are God's beloved and don't need to be afraid.

But our transfiguration, our transformation, our changing, doesn't ensure a life without difficulty or trouble or struggle. When Jesus and the three disciples came off the mountain, they are met by a man whose son needs healing. And we know that after the Transfiguration Jesus goes to Jerusalem where he is betrayed, tried, beaten and executed. Even the Beloved is not immune from the pain and hardships of life.

What it does mean is that every moment contains the potential for change, for redemption, for grace, for love, if we allow it, because God is present in every moment of our lives, creating the possibility for outcomes we cannot even imagine. Who could have imagined Easter morning standing at the foot of the cross? God. God did.

So while my exhaustion won't magically go away, while I am still in need of a mountain top and some time away, God is present with me during this time and is calling me to allow the Spirit to use it all, all of it, to bring about change within me and in my world.

I'd like to share a prayer by Angela Ashwin in closing that has helped me these last few weeks. Let us pray.

"Lord, you put twenty-four hours in a day and gave me a body which gets tired and can only do so much. Show me which tasks you want me to do and help me to live prayerfully as I do them. Sharpen my senses, that I may truly see what I am looking at, taste what I am eating, listen to what I am hearing, face what I am suffering, celebrate the ways I am loved, and offer to you whatever I am doing so that the water of the present moment may be turned into wine." AMEN.