Sunday, December 27, 2015

Xmas 1: Power to choose to be children of God

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147:13-21; Galations 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

I want to begin, I do this often on this first Sunday after Christmas because I think it's really important, so I want to begin with the Prologue of John, that most beautiful and familiar scripture, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." And I want to read to you a translation that I've done directly from the Greek, taking out some of the cultural influence of what Scripture has given us. It's very true to the word, it's not different from what we read in Scripture. It will sound a little bit different and go a little bit deeper because I will add in (as you know, in Greek there are some layers of meaning) and so where the Scripture chooses a single word, I'll give a couple of words that are implied by the Greek word. So let's begin with that and then we'll talk about what this text is offering us.
1. In the state of beginning, a living voice (a conception/an idea) happens and this living voice (this conception/idea) is God; and the living voice (the conception/idea) exists for the advantage of God.

2. This existence was in the beginning with regard to God.

3. Everyone individually and all things begin to be, to appear in history through him (on account of him) and without him not even one thing begins to be or comes to pass.

4. Every living soul who begins to be and all that comes to pass through him is the absolute fullness of life and apart from him no one comes into being and not one thing comes to pass.

5. Indeed, this truth shed light on the darkness (which was due to an ignorance of divine things) and the darkness (the ignorance) did not take possession of it.

6. A human being came into existence, sent from God, and his name was John.

7. He came to tell people about future events; and he knows these things because he was taught by divine revelation about the true and sincere light in order that those who hear him, each one individually and everyone might be persuaded and have confidence in him.

8. He is not the true and sincere light, but he exists in order to be a witness, to implore people on account of the true and sincere light.

9. The true and sincere light is present among human beings and is the one who makes saving knowledge clear to each one, to everyone, and to all things. This true and sincere one comes into the harmonious order (the world) for human beings.

10. He is present in the harmonious order (the world), and through him the world happens but the world did not learn to know or understand him.

11. He arrives to what belongs to him, and what belongs to him does not accept him (it does not allow him to join them to himself).

12. But as for those who take hold of his hand, who are persuaded about his true name and everything that that means, to them he gives the gift of the power of choice, the freedom to begin being children of God;

13. children who are born of his blood (his seat of life) not from human action; children who are brought over to his way of life by God.

14. And the living voice (conception/idea) began to be flesh and lived for a while among us; and we look upon him with attention, we contemplate and admire him.

15. John affirms what he knows by divine revelation and cries out in a loud voice saying, “This one exists, and his existence affirms what was said: that the one who comes after me is the one who is first in time and place and rank.”

16. Because he himself is the fulfillment, we (each one individually, and everyone as a whole) take a hold of goodwill and carry loving-kindness because of his grace…

We didn't read the part about Moses, so I'll skip that.

Do you hear how deep and beautiful and broad this word is, the word, the Prologue from John? Our tradition gives us the strength to be firmly rooted in the truth this gives us, because when we are firmly rooted in this truth, we can fly with freedom wherever God asks us to go.

But when we don't, when we choose to live in ignorance of divine things, we create for ourselves a prison. We create for God a prison. We build walls. And sometimes we call those walls ‘law’ or ‘custom’ or ‘tradition’… “we've always done it that way," and it becomes a dark prison which shuts out the true light.

But we have been given, according to this Word, we have been given power, and the power that we have is to choose to begin being children of God, not people who earn our goodness by our actions, but who are by our very being, good children of God. The movement from slave, someone who does something out of fear, or because you have to in order to eat or to survive, into being people who do it because that's who we are, children of the loving God.

As most of you know, I grew up Roman Catholic, and in most Roman Catholic churches, and even some Anglican churches, though not this one, there's something called a "tabernacle." Have you ever seen one? They're usually very ornate, big boxes, gold or brass or carved wood, beautiful boxes, and it's where the reserved sacrament is stored in a church. The consecrated bread and wine are put into a tabernacle. And there's a reason that we have those in some of our churches, because this very Gospel tells us that the Word of God, the true light, ‘tabernacled’ among us. In the ancient Hebrew, it meant "he pitched his tent." He lived among us. The tabernacle in the church is the manifest form of that theological concept. There is a place where Jesus lived, the consecrated body and blood of Christ is kept in this tabernacle. That's step one. I think the problem is the Church forgot to take step two.

The tabernacle doesn't live in the church anymore than God lived in the ark of the covenant in ancient times. God chose to dwell among us, to tabernacle among us. We, in our very embodied, human, imperfect state, we are the tabernacle of Christ. Isaiah talks about this in his reading saying we are clothed in the garments of salvation, and then describes something very beautiful and jeweled, which is where the idea for making a box for the consecrated elements came from in the Church. It's beautiful. It's decked with garlands and jewels. We are the crown of beauty in the hand of God (the hand in Biblical terms means "the action.") We are the crowned beauty of the action of God, and the Christ, God himself, chose to live, to tabernacle in us. We have become the beautiful garland, bejeweled tabernacle of God here on the earth.

And there's a reason that we have done that. The light of Christ, which was brought to us by Christ himself when he came and lived for a while among us, brought us, God gave us that spirit and brought us the very thing Christ came to bring: life. The light was the life of all people. The blood of Christ is the life that fills us, life given to us from God.

My stomach is still in knots over a conversation I had with Deacon Pam right before we came out. Deacon Pam is my interpreter of all things Baptist and Protestant. And I had never heard of the concept of the blood, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, the way Pam presented it to me today. And it hurts my stomach to think about that. So let me tell you she said, see how many of you have heard this: you're washed in the Blood of the Lamb, the Christ is crucified, and his blood as his body dies drips out from him and covers you, and then God can't see anything but the blood of Christ because you are so bad that you can't be seen, but the blood of Christ will cover you and therefore you're going to be okay, isn't that right? Oh my God!

Because the truth is the light came into the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it! And the light was the life of all people! We're not bad. We don't need to be ashamed. We need to be who God made us to be, and that includes making mistakes, having sins, things that separate us from God and each other, because in every single one of those circumstances, redemption can happen. And redemption is what Christ came to bring, isn't it?

So, when we come into conflict with someone, or when we screw something up royally ourselves, we're being given the opportunity to be the tabernacle of Christ, the place where the life blood of all people exists and redeems the moment, redeems the event. We don't do it; we carry that in us and God does it through us. We don't need to be washed in anything but the waters of baptism. See, as a Catholic that's how I heard that. We were washed in the blood of Christ meant we were washed in the waters of baptism. Christ's blood is the life of the world. So, I don't know, maybe my stomach will stop hurting later. But here's the reason. Who tells people "you're horrible" when God said in Genesis, "everything is good, no indeed, it is very good."

So the Church made those beautiful boxes, took the first step of showing in a real way how Christ dwells among us, but forgot to take the second step: there's no church that exists outside of us, we are the church. There's no box to go to get God. We carry that in us. And if we are willing to use the power we've been given to choose to be children of God and stop thinking of ourselves as slaves, to choose to stop being ignorant of divine things, then what can stop the transformation of the world through us?

The Light of Christ, the life that is the light of the world is in us. We have no darkness to fear because the light was not overcome by the darkness. Nothing can go wrong. "It's all good" as they say.

It is a great power we have - to choose. We can choose to be slaves, or we can choose to be children. And I know that not all earthly parents are perfect, in fact no earthly parents are perfect, but I know I have witnessed, I have experienced, and some of us, even if we didn't see it ourselves, have seen it in others, how powerful the love of a parent for their child is. Most non-messed up parents would lay down their lives for their child, no matter what that child has done. We would give up everything, including our very breath, to see our child live and thrive. And if we can do that as imperfectly as we can do that, imagine what it means to say "I am a child of God."

Then there's that last step we have to take, that third step. If I am a child of God, so are you. So is everyone else out there, no matter what they've done. Christ laid down his life for us and calls us to do the same for one another. And we have nothing to fear, because the Light of Christ, the light that is the life of all people, is in us.

We are the tabernacles of Christ in the world today, and God has plans for us. And that plan is to participate in the redemption of the whole world to God in Christ. How amazing is that! So, I pray we choose not ignorance of divine things anymore, not fear, but life, the life of Christ. Amen.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Day, 2015: Be not afraid

(Text only - the aduio was poor.)

Christmas Day 2015

Merry Christmas. I'm not really sure why we say "Merry Christmas" in church, except that we say it in culture. And so it may be important that we understand how those two things intersect where we live, when we live and why we live.

So we know this story from Luke. It is probably, of the Gospels, the most familiar story of the birth of the Savior. But I want to remind us that Luke was a Gentile; he was not a Jew. And he wrote this story from a perspective beyond that which existed where Jesus and his followers were living and breathing and having their ministry.

So Luke describes a moment in time in the world where Heaven and Earth intersect, and it's frightening. Those who were experiencing this shift were afraid, terrified it said. So the angel said "Don't be afraid because this is good news." And in that moment when Jesus was born, the divine and the human became one.

It was the beginning of the very thing we continue right now. We continue the work of God who made humanity and divinity one in Jesus Christ, left that spirit with us and said "Continue to move in this direction so that all that is human may becomes divine." In the Orthodox Church, they called it "theosis", us becoming divine, more and more like Christ. Not that we have to be God; we won't be God, we'll be human. But we can be filled with the Spirit of God and be more like Christ than like the world.

Don't be afraid the Angel said to the shepherds. That means we know that when we're afraid, there's something between us and the divine. We've placed something between us and the Divine. The Angel said, "Put it down, don't be afraid. Step forward and see what's going on." Which they did.

They found the baby, and Luke was very careful to make sure that we knew when this was happening, that there was a moment in history, he identified the emperor, he identified the locations, he identified the line of David, so that we were certain this wasn't an idea happening, this was a real event happening.

When we're afraid in our present time, we need to notice that heaven is trying to reach down and tell us it's okay. There's good news; the Savior is here. The Savior is right here, is in us right now.

The shepherds go see the child, and then they run to tell everyone they know about this thing they've just experienced. Do they know all there is to know about who Jesus is and what it means for the world? That's a real question. Do they know everything there is to know?

No. Could they have written the Athanasian Creed and gone through the whole explication of the fully human, fully divine Messiah? No. Does it matter? No. So if we're sitting in our church waiting till we have figured out everything we need to know before we take the news out, we're wasting our time. We will not know everything there is to know; we're not called to know everything there is to know.

You know what we're called to do? Open. Experience that moment where the Divine and the earthly become one. The mystics call that a unitive moment. Unitive: everything is one. There is no separation between God and creation, there's no separation between us and one another, or between us and God. We have this moment where everything fits. All time makes sense. We don't even have to think it, thoughts are too fast for our minds to grasp, but we know in our body what that feels like, and the Angel says it: it's peace.

That doesn't mean that we don't have any concerns. The concerns of the world are there for us to notice. They're supposed to shake us up on the inside and draw from us a compassionate response, a response like Christ had, the kind he showed us.

The peace we're talking about isn't an absence of stress, or an absence of problems, or an absence of worry. In fact, it's those things present, and underneath them, a peace that knows that in this problem and in this person and in this moment which is dark and difficult, there is light that shines, and guess who's holding that light? We are. And Christ asks us to go into those places of darkness that exist in the world and shine that light unafraid, unafraid.

I watched a movie recently called "Home." Have y'all seen it? it's an animated movie (I love animated movies). Rhianna plays the little girl's voice, and Jim Parsons plays the little alien. Have you seen it? The story is about this little alien who is part of a race who runs every time they're afraid, and they're afraid because someone is chasing them, and they don't why.

But anytime they encounter something that causes fear, the entire race of aliens runs. They get off the whole planet, they go and find another planet. Until something finds them again, and they realize they're afraid and they go to another planet until they find Earth. Earth becomes the planet they live in.

The little girl, played by Rhianna's voice, does exactly the opposite. Any time she's afraid, she goes to the thing that makes her afraid and uses it. The aliens don't understand, the aliens thought they were so much more sophisticated because they could discern when something was a problem and get away - and those humans need to learn how to do it. But instead the little girl keeps telling the alien, you don't leave your family and you don't run away. You go into the problem and you work it out.

And everyone is transformed.

Christians, like the little girl, don't run from the darkness. We walk head-on into it. We are not afraid of whatever darkness is there because we carry a light that is so much bigger, so much more powerful than any darkness the world can offer. We carry the light of Christ, the light of Love.

It's advisable not to go alone. Christ created a community of followers, not individuals, and said ‘Now go as a body so that we can all carry this light into the darkness together, and when that is complete, we will all be one.’ The second coming will be accomplished, because the second coming is Christ, who is all around - Christ in all of us, Christ in all the world - and there's no need to be looking out there for someone else.

We read a story to the children at the Family Service (on Christmas Eve) about an organ grinder and a monkey who were homeless. The little girl didn't know what homeless meant, but she did ask where they slept. She got up late one night (to see for herself) and realized they were sleeping on the street. She looked into the organ grinder's eyes, and she saw a deep sadness. She asked her mother could he come to dinner, and the mother said, “No. He's a stranger.” But the little girl didn't give up, and in the end, from that compassion drawn from the Divine in her, the little girl saw the darkness in this man's life and said, ‘We need to bring love there.’ And she did; and the man found community and dinner and a place to sleep.

What is it in our world today that makes us afraid, makes us want to run away like the alien? Or like the mother say "No." Where do we find our comfort? Do we find it by being middle class, upper middle class Americans who have a place to sleep and food that's guaranteed to be on the table next meal? Do we find it by coming to our church and protecting ourselves from all the trouble out there?

Or do we find it by walking into the problem? By taking what we get here - the unity of our bodies and our souls with God - and bringing it out there?

If you've never been, come (to Redeemer) on any Wednesday when we're doing our feeding ministry - the Shepherd's Table in the afternoon and the Food Pantry at night - and you'll see what happens when love responds to the needs of our community. It's a beautiful thing. It's transforming. And that's what Christmas is about, transforming ourselves; letting the Christ be born in us again. For real.

Now, we're not in the time of the Emperor Quirinius, but we're in the time of President Obama and whoever else is coming next. We're in the 21st century, it's real time, real place, and Christ is born in us in a real way. It's not an idea, it's not a belief. It's real, it's embodied, and it's our bodies.

So when you say "Merry Christmas" to someone you're talking to, let your light shine through your eyes and make a real connection. I've noticed that when you look at someone and you say "Merry Christmas", if you don't look away right away and hold that gaze for just a moment, do you know what happens? You enter into each other. The God in me recognizes the God in you. There's a moment where we're joined.

So instead of just saying "Merry Christmas" and ringing bells and stuff, have that moment. Invite that moment with someone, especially… especially if you come across someone who has that sadness, whose darkness is apparent when you look at them. Give them that extra second or two for the light to join you two together. And watch what happens.

I promise you, both will be transformed. That's the whole idea. Merry Christmas. Amen.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015: This baby changes everything

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147 or 147:13-21; Galations 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

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

(Intro story) A few years ago I saw a television commercial that asked the question: “…who’d have thought the biggest thing to ever happen to you would be the smallest?” The visual was of a parent holding a baby, and the tag line was: “Having a baby changes everything.”

For Christians, the biggest thing to ever happen in the history of human experience came to us in the form of the least - a baby. Yet this baby, conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit of God, changed everything.

Sometimes, though, we pass through this holy season, caught up in shopping, parties, baking, and decorating, and we forget to allow the transformative truth of Christmas to penetrate our hearts and change us, the truth that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”

In his Christmas video message, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said “...this Jesus of Nazareth really does make a difference. God coming into the world in the person of Jesus matters profoundly for all of us regardless of our religious tradition.” ++Michael said that we who follow Jesus believe that Jesus came “to show us the way to live, the way to love, [Jesus came to show us] the way to transform this world from the nightmare it often is into the dream God intends for us all.”

The dream of God is an inclusive dream: inclusive of all creation… inclusive of all people. As the angel said in our gospel from Luke, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…”

This reminds me of one of my all-time favorite quotes – one I've shared before from Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said, “Jesus did not say, ‘…I will draw some [to myself]… he said, ‘…I will draw all. All, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful, gay, lesbian, straight. It’s one of the most radical things… [he said.] All belong… All are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All.”

This is the radical truth we celebrate at Christmas and it is for all people: that Jesus is the full and tangible revelation of the extravagant love of God – a love that beckons all to draw near, to rest in the love that recreates and restores, no matter who we are, what we’ve done, or how anyone label us.

Luke affirms this in his telling of the Christmas story. The first to hear of the birth of the Messiah were shepherds in the fields. We know that shepherds were despised by “decent people” of that time. They were considered shiftless and dishonest, so people felt justified in scorning and excluding them.

Since they spent most of their time in the fields, they didn’t bathe much. Not only were they physically unclean, they were also ritually unclean, which means they wouldn’t have been welcomed in church.

Yet, it was to these that the angels of God first proclaimed the good news that salvation had come into the world. In the extravagance of God’s love, it was dirty, shiftless, sinful shepherds who first saw the heavenly light which “shone all around them” and were transformed by it.

Leaving the ordinariness of their lives behind, the shepherds went with haste to see this new thing, this child who changed everything, and once they’d seen Jesus, once they’d come close to him, they went out and became agents of change in their world, telling everyone what they knew about Jesus. And as Luke said, all who heard them were amazed.

That anyone even listened to a bunch of shepherds is amazing enough, but suddenly it didn’t matter who they were. What mattered was what they knew and were willing to share.

The same is true for us today.

The good news of Christmas isn’t just a great story about an event in ancient history that we read from Scripture together. The good news of Christmas is our present reality. God coming into the word in the person of Jesus matters and everyone will be amazed when we are willing to share what we know - but first, we need to come close to Jesus and be transformed ourselves.

How do we do that? Like the shepherds, we go about the ordinariness of our lives and welcome the light whenever it shines around us – and we let it transform us.

This happens when we come to church each week to worship together and share in the holy food of communion. It happens when we watch a sunrise at the beach, or hear a powerful voice sing the Ave Maria. It happens when someone we love smiles at us and lifts our hearts; or when we notice the sadness in a stranger’s eyes and we’re moved to respond with a compassion that comes straight from the heart of God.

In this holy season of Christmas, I pray the words of our Presiding Bishop continue to echo in our hearts, so that no matter who we are, no matter what problems we face, no matter what doubts we hold, no matter what dread has hold of us – we who follow Jesus continue in the way Jesus showed us: the way to live, the way to love, the way to transform the world from the nightmare it is into the dream God has for us.

I pray that we do this boldly, inclusively, and actually, responding with love to the God who loved us first, the God who loved us enough to become one of us, sharing our vulnerabilities and making them strong, and welcoming in all whom the world would keep out.

There are so many in the world today desperate to hear the good news we have to share – news of the extravagant love of God for all people and all creation.

“Let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad” for a child is being born in us again - and this baby changes everything. Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A loving response

Obedience to God is a loving response, not a coerced one, and few in the Bible exemplify that better than Joseph, the man who raised the child Jesus. An angel of God spoke to Joseph in a dream saying, ‘don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife… she has not been unfaithful to you. ‘God is acting in this moment. The son she will bear is from the Holy Spirit. When he is born, you must name him Jesus (which means ‘God saves’)…’ (Mt 1:20-21)

Through the angel, God was asking Joseph to give up the plans he had for his own life and accept God’s plan instead. Revealing only one step at a time, God began by asking Joseph to receive into his home and his care one whom society insisted “good people” should reject.

Joseph could have protected his reputation and let the law take its course. Mary would have been stoned to death for being adulterous. Being righteous, however, Joseph was willing instead to quietly dissolve their marriage contract. This would have spared Mary’s life, and Joseph’s reputation, but it would have destined Mary to a lifetime of ostracism by her own people.

Joseph could have said to himself, ‘God doesn’t speak to someone like me.” He could have reasoned that the God of Israel wouldn’t ask him to violate Jewish laws and norms - but he doesn’t. When he awakens, Joseph obeys God - as strange and uncomfortable as that was - and committed himself, walking forward with astounding faith, letting go his own dreams and plans for his life and future.

Joseph didn’t know how God would redeem the many difficult situations his obedience to God led him into; he simply trusted that God would, and we are all indebted to him. Joseph’s obedience to God enabled God to become known in the world in a way that had never happened before. His ‘yes’ to God was just as important in bearing the light of Christ to the world as Mary’s ‘yes’ to God was.

God continues to act in ways that lead all of us out of our comfortable lives, beyond our plans, outside the bounds of our notions of right belief and right action, and into new ways of living in holiness and righteousness. God continues to ask us to walk forward in faith, letting go our plans for the future, letting go our reputations, and committing ourselves to endure even the judgments of our own community, while God acts through us to redeem in ways we never could have imagined.

During Advent, we have been preparing for the Christ to be born in us again. Like Joseph, we must also respond in obedience to God. St. Paul tells us that we have been prepared to do this, having received grace and apostleship - an apostle being one who is sent – sent on a mission. (Ro 1:5)

The Greek word we get our word “church” from is ecclesia and it means a gathering of apostles. We are, by definition, a community of people who are sent by God on a mission, and our mission - should we decide to accept it - is to use everything we’ve been given and risk everything we have, in order to be bearers of the light of Christ into the world today – like Mary was… like Joseph was.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent 2, 2015: Co-creators of a new possibility

Lectionary: Baruch 5:1-9 or Malachi 3:1-4; Canticle 16; Phillipians 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

The theme for the first week of Advent was hope. Hope is creative because we imagine a reality other than what is evident to our eyes. As Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

When we let God imagine in us a new reality, we begin to discover how to make it so. When change happens, however, people often get resistant. Even if the way things are is dysfunctional, people often cling to them because they are familiar. We know how to think, and act. We like things the way they are. The familiar phrase that comes to mind (I know it’s in yours too) is: “We’ve always done it this way.”

It should be no surprise then that the theme for this second week of Advent is peace.

Peace is one of those words that has so many meanings: harmony, or at least the absence of discord; serenity; calmness; the end or absence of war and violence. For us, as descendants of Jewish forebears, peace also means ‘shalom” – which has a larger meaning of the establishment of harmony and justice … the way things are meant to be according to the will of God.

As we lit our second Advent candle today, we acknowledged that God is never absent from us and that God is preparing something new in the world and in our hearts, gently leading us to new possibilities.

We prayed that God would teach us the peace that comes from justice – divine justice – which happens on earth when our hearts are transformed – changed – by God. Prepare us for this change we prayed. While God does that, we will practice humility and compassion.

The change that is coming, the change that is always coming until Christ comes again, is justice – divine justice, which is described prophetically in the Book of Baruch: “For God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground…”

This description of divine justice is repeated in the Gospel from Luke by John the Baptist who quoted the prophet Isaiah saying: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God…”

The prophets aren’t talking about the earth’s geography. They are speaking about the geography of our hearts.

When our hearts are transformed – changed – by the love of God, we begin to love as God loves, and a new kind of fairness and respect and administration of the law begins to happen. Those up on the mountains, the ones with power and wealth and plenty make new choices, moving their own needs and desires from first place to last. Those in the valley who lack power and wealth and plenty, are raised up, moved from last place to first where their needs and desires become important and part of the decision-making process of the community.

When all humanity practices humility, that is putting ‘other’ first and ‘self’ last, a new thing is created – a world where divine justice reigns. And when divine justice reigns, there peace is found.

Today, we are the co-creators with God of this new possibility. God is leading us gently toward this as a church community. The changes we are experiencing right now cause some of us to react with resistance. But we find our peace in the knowledge that God is always present with us, gently leading us to a new possibility.

In order to get there, we practice humility and compassion, surrendering to God and trusting God’s plan for us and for the world. We let God lead us - we let God lead us - setting aside our temptation to push our own agendas, and we treat each other with tender compassion, whether we live on the mountain or in the valley, because in divine justice, all flesh – all flesh – will see/understand/know the salvation of God by the forgiveness of sins.

That is shalom. It’s the new possibility we hope for and work for as co-creators with God.

Last week we heard the call to stand up and lift our heads. This week we hear the call to stand up and throw “off the garment of sorrow and affliction… and put on the robe of righteousness that comes from God.”

In right relationship (which is what righteousness is) with one another, there is peace. In right relationship with God, there is shalom.

So then, let us continue our Advent preparation for change. Let us repent, that is, change our course, knowing that we are being gently led by God toward a new possibility – a possibility God is imagining in us right now. And as we go, let us commit to practicing humility and compassion with one another and with the world, for God loves all God has created.

I join with St. Paul who offered the following prayer for the followers of Christ in Philippi, and I offer it now for you, the followers of Christ at Redeemer.

Let us pray. “I am confident of this: that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ… And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best…” Amen. Peace. Shalom.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Focus on our mission

Written 12/02/15

As individuals and as a Christian community, we are called to freedom which means letting go of all the safety and certainty found in the systems of the world designed to make us feel safe, and depending only on our Savior who promised to be with us always – even to the end of the age. That’s all the security there really is. The rest is illusion.

Humans are a messy race. Our diversity makes us uncomfortable, so we seek people like ourselves, who look like we do, approach life and belief in God the way we do, etc. There’s nothing wrong with building communities among people who share values and sensibilities. The problem comes in when walls go up around those communities in order to keep others out and the rules of the community supercede Christ's great commandment to love. When that happens, the community is suffering from what is called the ‘Galatian error’ which St. Paul addresses in his epistle to that church: “Stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom…” (Gal 5:1)

Living in the freedom of our faith requires that we remember how we all came to have salvation. We are saved because God acted to save us, not because of anything we can or should do. And God acted to save us because God loves us – all of us. There are no outsiders in Jesus’ family and the only rule is to love: God, neighbor, and self.
Our salvation is a gift freely given by our loving Lord. The only thing we can actually do is respond to that gift in faith and humble gratitude, living the life of freedom we were given and opening the way for all people to do the same.

While it is tempting to chase after spiritual law-breakers, that isn’t our purpose – it’s sin. It divides us one from another and from God. It is this sin which keeps making the news and breaking our hearts, as in the shooting just yesterday in San Bernardino, CA.

The people of God, particularly the children of Abraham (Jews, Christians, Muslims) aren’t called to judge. Nor are we ever called to execute a child of God in the name of God. Ever.

We’re called to manifest the love of God in the world. As Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, “When you know how much God is in love with you then you can only live your life radiating that love.”

Proclaiming and radiating love - that it is what we are called to do – and it isn’t easy. Jesus said, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… do good to those who hate you… expecting nothing in return… seventy times seven times. (Mt 3:44, Lk 6:27, 40, MT 18:22) Trusting God to mete out justice in God’s time and in God’s way, we are free to “carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world” until all are free. (BCP 855)

Today, I call upon our community of faith to focus on our mission as Christians: pray blessings on those whose pain erupts into violence and comfort for those whose lives are ruptured by that violence. Proclaim the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ, and work tirelessly promoting justice, peace, and love. (BCP 855)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent 1, 2015: Embodying hope

Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

How many of you have heard of Corrie ten Boom – the author of “The Hiding Place”? Corrie ten Boom was born in 1892, and as I mentioned was the author of “The Hiding Place” a book I read when I was probably 11 or 12 years old that had a profound effect on me and still does. She was a strict Calvinist from Holland, so she was part of the Dutch Reformed Church. The youngest of three children, she was also the first woman licensed to be a watchmaker in Holland. Her father was a watchmaker.
During her young adulthood, she established a youth club for teenaged girls which provided instruction in things like: performing arts, sewing, handicrafts.

Then in 1940 came the Blitzkrieg. Corrie ten Boom’s house, known as Beje House, became a place of refuge for Jews, students, and intellectuals being hunted by the Nazis. The house was on top of the family’s watchmaking shop. A tiny room was built behind a false wall in Corrie’s room. There, following their Christian beliefs of serving the needy, offering them food and shelter and refuge, along with a deep respect for Jews as “God’s ancient people” the ten Boom family saved hundreds, probably over 900 people. The room could only hold up to 6 at a time, but still they saved that many people, setting up a network of safe houses, eventually known as the Beje movement, part of the Dutch Nazi resistance.

Ratted out by a Dutch informant, the entire ten Boom family was sent to concentration camps. Everyone died there except Corrie, whose released happened mysteriously. Some think it was a clerical error and she was set free just a week before all the women prisoners at her camp were killed.

After the war, Corrie set up rehabilitation centers for concentration camp survivors. One biographer says, “In the Christian spirit to which she was so devoted, she also took in those who had cooperated with the Germans during the occupation.” (Source)
I pondered our Advent readings today and Corrie ten Boom this book and the transformation it created in me came to mind. To me, those moments are a gift. This is a person who embodied human hope, which is the theme of the first Sunday of Advent.

As we lit the first Advent candle, we remembered that “Christ is always coming, entering a wounded world, a wounded heart, and [we] dared to express our longing for peace, …healing, and the well-being of all creation.”

That is hope – the faith that in the midst of the darkness the healing light of Christ is coming, it is always coming.

To hope is to long for ‘shalom’ - the way things ought to be according to the plan of salvation. This longing leads us to let go and trust in the power of God’s love to lead us and our world into shalom. As Corrie says, “It’s not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.”

The news in our world (and even in our church) these last months has been difficult to bear: shootings, war, refugees. But harder to bear, I think, is the so-called Christian response to these things. Calls for more guns, the refusal to admit or help refugees, the self-protective stance that ‘I might die if I help those others.’

It’s disheartening. Did not our Lord tell us that there would be “distress among the nations… [that] people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world…”?

“Be on guard,” Jesus said, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness” and worries that entrap you. “Be alert” he says, because “when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

And that’s the key – the kingdom of God is near. We await the second coming of Christ, and here he describes it. In this statement, Jesus fulfills the world’s understanding of the apocalypse. The story of creation, which Genesis says happened by the Word of God who declared all that had been created is good, no- is very good - doesn’t end with violence and destruction, but with the transformation from the light of the Christ who will come again in glory and great power transforming the darkness of the world into the light of Christ; transforming all that is into shalom – the kingdom of God, the way things are supposed to be.

I think we’re overly informed by our technology. Many people, because of the constant deluge of information, are retreating into fear, where they live from an “everyone for themselves” philosophy, protecting “me and mine.” We are witnessing in our world a collective hoarding of guns, food, money, and security of ever kind. We are witnessing a call to refuse the admittance of refugees, despite our recent experience with the very people Corrie ten Boom devoted her life to: God’s ancient people, the Jews.

In 1939, over 900 refugees, most of them Jewish, came to the US seeking refuge from the Nazis. Still recovering from our Great Depression, these refugees were seen as competitors for scarce jobs and a drain on our country’s resources. “This fueled antisemitism, xenophobia, nativism, and isolationism... and [created a] general hostility toward the refugees.” (Sound familiar?) In the end, the ship and it’s 900 refugees were turned away. Great Britain, Belgium, and France took in some of the refugees. There were all sent back to Europe, though which Germany invaded shortly thereafter, and about half of the refugees sent back to Europe died when Germany invaded Western Europe. (Source)

Here we go again. People are worrying because we are seeing the signs Jesus told us we would see. The fear this generates seems to cause us some kind of amnesia ad we forget the promise of redemption our Savior also speaks to us: “Now when these things begin to take placed, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Raise your heads, Jesus says, knowing we tend to bury our heads in the sand at moments like these. Stand up, and raise your heads – for redemption is drawing near!

Whatever darkness is upon us, our faith assures us that the light is coming – the light is always coming! The kingdom of God on earth as in heaven is the end of our story, not violence and destruction.

We have no ability in ourselves to transform darkness into light or to figure out how that will happen. As Corrie ten Boom says, “Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”

How privileged we are to be chosen by God to work as partners with Christ our brother to usher in God’s kingdom; to be bearers of the light of Christ into the darkness in our world; to embody hope in a troubled world or to a wounded heart.

Our Redeemer lives – and he lives in the hearts and lives of all who proclaim him as Lord and Savior.

As we enter this holy season of Advent, it is our duty to show up willing to be transformed by the love of God in Christ, and then empowered to carry the light of that love into the world so that it, too, can be transformed. In her wisdom, the Church has set aside four weeks – just four weeks – where we all to do this together, where we all focus on this together.

We aren’t just holding the Christmas season at bay (though we are doing that too). We’re opening ourselves to transformation – to change - so that when the true light comes at Christmas, we will have been changed, renewed, strengthened, and prepared to carry that light into our world, remembering these last words of Corrie ten Boom’s wisdom: “when we are powerless to do a thing, it is a great joy that we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus.”

That is our Advent work – to raise our heads, stand up, and “put on the armor of light” which is the only way the works of darkness can be cast out. The ability isn’t ours – it’s Jesus’ who has chosen us to be means by which his light is coming now. Amen.

(Note: All CtB quotes taken from this source)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Reason to give thanks

Thanksgiving is upon us. I’m glad we set aside a day to give thanks for our many blessings. As for me, I’m thankful for all of you – my Redeemer family - and I pray for a very happy, safe, fun and family/friend-filled Thanksgiving Day for each of you.

I admit, however, that it saddens me that our culture has chosen the very next day to promote the opposite message. Black Friday has become THE day to accumulate more stuff, and the advertisements promote a sense of urgency: if you want happiness, beauty, prestige, even respect, you need to buy this car, this clothing, this kitchen item, this… whatever. The message is a familiar one: more is better. More stuff/clout/control = more blessing.

It’s an addiction in its truest form and it brings to mind the gospel story of the rich young man who asks Jesus how he can be sure to inherit eternal life. (Mt 19:11-21) This young man was obviously blessed. He had lots of stuff, respect, and he was obedient to the rules of his faith. Yet, he wanted assurance from Jesus, who looked deeply into his heart, and saw the sin there.

Our Prayer Book says, “Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God…” (Catechism, BCP, 848); and Paul Tillich says, sin is the state of being that separates us from God. Like the rich young man, we can obey all of the rules and still sin. We can have all the good stuff and still be lost.

Jesus looks deeply, lovingly at the rich, young man and offers him freedom from his sin: “There is one thing you lack,” Jesus says. “Give everything you have to the poor,” in other words, empty yourself and your life of all that distracts you from the path of righteousness (hear: right relationship with God, neighbor, and self). “Then come, follow me.”

Modern culture’s response to this would be: are you crazy? From an earthly perspective, following Jesus’ advice means giving up too much: our independence, our freedom to choose our own destiny, to chart our own course. Besides, giving all our stuff to the poor is untenable. We need our stuff.

Thankfully, we are, as our Presiding Bishop Michael, says, “crazy Christians.” For us, it’s all upside-down and inside-out because of Jesus who showed us that it is in self-emptying that we find fulfillment, it is in dying to ourselves that we find eternal life.

Salvation doesn’t make our lives easy or sinless and it doesn’t make us better than anyone else. The way of the cross is painful and our human frailty makes sin an ever-present reality for us. Like the rich young man in the gospel story, we all have sin in our hearts. Thankfully, we also have redemption by the forgiveness of our sins through our Savior, Jesus Christ.

St. Paul tells us he heard the voice of Jesus say to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” As upside-down and inside-out as that sounds, it’s true. Therefore, we are able to join with St. Paul, and say: “I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” (2Cor 12:9-10)

Sin and death have no power over us crazy Christians and the temptations of the world have nothing to offer us - because we have all we need in Jesus… and that’s reason to give thanks.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Steadfast Faith

Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession your Name... (BCP, 235)

As he prepared for his final trip to Jerusalem where he would be tried and executed, Jesus worked to prepare his followers for the crisis they would experience at his crucifixion. Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to connect the horror of the crucifixion to God’s plan of salvation for the whole world, Jesus instructed his followers to set their minds on the things of heaven, not on the things of earth; to remember that God is always God, author of the universe and counter of the hairs on their heads.

Keeping alive works of mercy is what God does and God chooses to do it through the Church – which is us. Steadfastness is in God’s nature. We are adaptive creatures who can, by the grace of God, be steadfast at times.

For most of us, when we hit a wall, we’ll quit bashing our heads against it after a while and find another way to go. Wasn’t it Albert Einstein who said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”?

The alternative path we devise may be right and good or simply the assertion of our will into the landscape of God’s plan. The challenge is knowing which is which. Was the alternative path born from individual and corporate discernment? Was it devised by one, a few, or the body? Does it open the way to freedom and peace? Does it build up the body of Christ in harmony and unity? Are eyes being opened and hearts set on fire with the love of God in Christ? Is that love reaching out and touching the hungry, needy, imprisoned, and outcast?

The world misunderstands, Jesus said, “but it is not so among you.” (Mk 10:43) When Christians act, we do so remembering our Savior and the way of living he demonstrated. We remember his self-sacrificing love, humility, and meekness. We remember his saber-sharp truth-telling to corrupt religious and worldly authorities. We remember his gentleness and welcoming stance to the exiled, outcast, and unimportant. We remember his determination to feed the hungry and heal the afflicted. We remember that he prayed, and taught us how to pray. (Lk 11: 2)

Like the disciples, we don’t have the understanding necessary to connect each present moment with the overall plan of salvation. We can’t know this. Not even someone as smart as Einstein could know it; but God knows, and God asks us to persevere in faith, loving one another as we journey on, upholding one another in the faith that God will bring about redemption from every crucifixion we face – which, for Christians, is a daily experience.

Every day we are called to die to ourselves, to put what we think and what we want behind us and follow God’s leading. It isn’t easy, and Jesus knows that because he did it first. That’s why he promised to be with us always, (Mt 28:20), locating himself within us, making us temples of his Holy Spirit. (1Cor 3:16)

As we journey on together, ‘May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from Jesus’ glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.’ (Col 1:11-14, adapted to 3rd person)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

New eyes, new world, new life

One of my favorite prayers is found in the Daily Office where it is called Canticle 10, the Second Song of Isaiah. (BCP, 86) This canticle (which means: sung biblical text) is taken from Isaiah 55:6-11. It’s a favorite of mine because it is a daily reminder to me of the magnificence of God and our proper place in relationship to God:

“Seek the Lord while he wills to be found; call upon him when he draws near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the evil ones their thoughts; And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion, and to our God, for he will richly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. or as rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing and bread for eating, So is my word that goes forth from my mouth; it will not return to me empty; but it will accomplish that which I have purposed, and prosper in that for which I sent it.”

The following poem, entitled “Allow,” by Danna Faulds reflects this message from Isaiah well:

There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes.

New eyes, new world, new life. For some of us, the changes we have and are experiencing in our common life have been uncomfortable. For others these experiences have been renewing to their faith and their commitment to our parish family. Most of us probably experience a bit of both. That’s typical. It’s life – and we are blessed to have an abundance of it.

When we think about ourselves as a community of faith, remembering our past and imagining our future, any limits we encounter are probably those we impose on ourselves. Aware of our limitations as a community, and individually as members of it, we are assured in the message from Isaiah that we are God’s people, therefore, we don’t rely on ourselves. We rely on God and allow God, whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours, to guide us forward. Trusting in God’s steadfast love, compassion, and mercy for us and for the whole creation, we can be certain that we will not return to God empty, but will accomplish the purpose God has for us.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints, 2015: The incomprehensible goodness of Jesus

Lectionary: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Lectionary: Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

Today, I am honoring St. Faustina, a modern day saint from Poland. Sr. Marie Faustina Kowalska, a.k.a. Faustina, was born in 1905 and entered the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy at the age of 17, just before the advent of World War II.

Her visions of Jesus were primarily about persevering in the face of great suffering – trusting the promises of God in the absence of external, earthly evidence. For Faustina, it was interior suffering she practiced first, experiencing rhythms of mystical connection then dark nights where it felt to her like God was totally absent.

Here, in her own words, is the Good News Faustina was called to share: “Therefore, let every soul trust in the Passion of the Lord, and place its hope in His mercy. God will not deny His mercy to anyone. Heaven and earth may change, but God’s mercy will never be exhausted. Oh what immense joy burns in my heart when I contemplate Your incomprehensible goodness, O Jesus! ” (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, p 37)

Faustina’s message was especially important for Poland as WWII was about to change their world and previously unimaginable suffering was about to descend upon them. Her message is timeless too – a ray of hope and a call to persevere for all people, in any time, who are suffering.

The early church considered a saint to be anyone who believed that Jesus Christ is the Savior. We still do. That’s why the Saints we remembered today in our Litany today include Catholics and Protestants, civil right advocates, medieval mystics, military generals, and peace activists. They are lay and ordained, women and men: they are – us.

As Episcopalians, we don’t understand sainthood and heaven as things we achieve after our death. For us, these are eternal and present realities. The communion of saints, something we profess to believe in each time we say our Creeds together, includes all those who were, who are, and who are to come who believe that God’s promise of salvation has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who proclaim this good news to the world, and who continue Christ’s work of reconciliation until the he comes again.

According to the Catechism in our Prayer Book, “the communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.” (BCP, 862) Our unity in Christ brings down every boundary that separates us, even the boundary between life and death, which is what Jesus was demonstrating in today’s gospel when he raised Lazarus from the dead.

Mary and Martha couldn’t imagine what Jesus was about to do. Their brother was dead and buried. Yet everything they knew and understood – about death, about Jesus, and about themselves would be suddenly transformed when their friend and Savior removed the boundary between death and life and made their family whole again. Likewise, everything we think we know and understand about being church is transformed when we trust in the incomprehensible goodness of Jesus who defeated death and established it as a gateway into new life in him.

We are held bound by many things in our earthly experience: our thoughts, our habits, our fears, our sins... We often don’t realize how much we limit ourselves by forgetting our reality of eternal unity with God in Christ. We limit what we do. We limit what we’ll try. We limit what we allow ourselves to imagine. We even limit God and what God can or will do through us.

But Jesus teaches us to live differently. Jesus teaches us to live out the promise of salvation, the promise he died and rose to give us… the promise that makes living in the presence of God our earthly reality.

In Baptism we are made a new creation in the power of the resurrection of our Savior - a power that we believe has removed the boundary between life and death and unified the family of God, making us whole, reconciling us to God and to one another.

Today we welcome a new saint into the body of Christ through Baptism: Michael McKinney. Michael’s presence among us strengthens us, makes us more interesting, and certainly more fun! Michael’s initiation into the Church is a gift to all of us who renew our baptismal vows as he takes his for the first time. His baptism reminds us that we are, in this moment and place in history, the new Jerusalem, the holy city. We remember that everything is being made new by God Christ continually - including us. As St. Faustina reminds us: “heaven and earth may change, but God’s mercy will never be exhausted.”

So as the saints of God on earth, let us be renewed in our willingness to connect our lives in a real and personal way with our sisters and brother in this family and outside the church until all that separates and divides us is transformed by the love of Christ; and let us be intimately connected with our Savior by whose grace and power we do this.

By the “incomprehensible goodness” of God, we are given the gift of making this so right now as we welcome a new Christian whom we all promise to uphold as he grows in the knowledge and love of God and in his responsibility as a member of this church.

Will the presenters now bring forth the candidate for Holy Baptism?

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Our continuing love story

As the month of October draws to a close, we prepare our hearts for the double celebration of All Saints Day (Nov 1) followed the next day by All Souls Day (Nov 2). On All Saints day, which is this Sunday, we honor the whole communion of saints: those who went before us and we who are saints in the world today. We also pray for those who are yet to come. On All Souls Day we remember the faithful departed who have gone before and now rest in the “land of our ancestors.” (Gen 15:15) The juxtaposition of these two feast days helps us remember that ours is a continuing story of the love of God for us, and that death, which Jesus defeated, does not interfere or interrupt that story.

Part of the abundance of gifts available to us can be found in the communion of saints who have gone before. For example, when a
parent seeks prayer support for their wayward child, they can call upon St. Monnica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, who was a rogue in his youth. Monnica knew that God had a plan for her son and despite evidence to the contrary, she prayed for him continually for 19 years. Augustine eventually became one of the greatest theologians in Christian history. Monnica’s perseverant prayers are available to support us now. When we pray for racial and cultural peace in our world today we can call upon the prayerful support of Chief Seattle and Black Elk, 19th century Native American converts whose faith led them to seek and establish peace with the white settlers descending upon them. When we need the strength to speak the truth as we stand against oppression in our world, we can call upon our friends in heaven who did so before us: Sojourner Truth or Harriet Tubman.

On All Saints Sunday we “dress up” as a favorite saint (or carry a placard available in the narthex) and walk in solemn procession calling out the names of those who have gone before. Knowing we embody the same gifts and graces that moved them in their time, we call upon them, our friends in the heavenly realm, to pray and walk with us now as we serve God and God’s people in our time.
One of our responsibilities as part of this continuing love story is preparing those who will come after us to carry the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to the generations that will follow. It’s why life-long Christian formation is so important to The Episcopal Church. We are always learning, always growing, always maturing in our faith. As St. Paul said in his epistle to the Philippians: “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (3:12)

As Episcopalians we are devoted to the traditions we have inherited from our forebears in faith. We are also constantly opening ourselves to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit to the new thing God is doing as the plan of salvation continues to unfold in our time. It’s a balance about which we are intentional.

We believe in a living God who is at work in the world about us. We believe that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, bearers of the love of Jesus into the world today. We believe that God will equip us to serve because the work is hard. Thankfully, we don’t do it alone. We do it held in the love and prayers of the whole communion of saints.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Pentecost 22: An invitation to draw near

Lectionary: Job 42; 1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22; Hebrews 7:23-29; Mark 10:46-52
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

This is one of those Sundays when the wisdom of our 3-year common lectionary truly shines in this group of readings.

The Old Testament story from Job is about HUMILITY. Even the most faithful, such as Job, fall into the sin of Adam & Eve – deciding we think we know how anything ought to be or go. Such arrogance (hubris) puts us outside a right relationship with God. When we return to humility, as Job did, we return to righteousness.

The Psalm is about FAITH. Praising God, even in the midst of terror Hardship is part of life. Righteousness, that is, a right relationship with God, calls us to pray and praise God even in times of trouble, especially in times of trouble, knowing that God loves us, will keep us safe, and set us free from whatever enslaves us.

The letter to the Hebrews is about HOPE. Our deliverance, our salvation is in the person of Jesus the Christ who “is able for all time to save those who approach God through him.” Jesus saves. When we, who are baptized into the death and resurrection life of Jesus, approach God, our hope is in Jesus who said, “whatever you ask in my name, I will give you.” But it’s what we ask that is important, as we see in our Gospel story.

The story of Bartimaeus (son of honor) -Bartimaeus may or may not have been a real person. This gospel is a story Jesus is telling about CHARITY.

To be blind is to be unable to see. Even we who can (physically) see know the terror of blindness - spiritual blindness. Everyone knows this at some point. Every church, every part of the body of Christ, confronts this at some point. Blindness is the frailty of our humanity. Trouble arises and we feel lost and alone. How do we move safely ahead? The road is unfamiliar and frightening. What is God’s will for us? How do we know our decisions/actions are in keeping with the will of God?

The answer is: we look at our questions. What are we asking God for in the moment of our trouble?

Bartimaeus asked for mercy. He had enough FAITH to know that Jesus COULD provide him freedom from his affliction. He had enough HOPE to believe that Jesus WOULD save him in his time of trouble.

Bartimaeus asked for mercy – which got Jesus’ attention, so he stood still and told his followers to call Bartimaeus to him. The followers went to Bartimaeus and said, “…get up, he is calling you.”

Bartimaeus immediately got up, throwing off his cloak, and came to Jesus. Why this detail? Why does the gospel writer say he threw off his cloak?

Like all the other “calling” stories when Jesus calling the fishermen, Peter and Andrew, or the tax collector Matthew, etc., Bartimaeus left his livelihood to follow Jesus. The cloak was what caught the coins that people threw. So he threw that off – he threw off his job and all the money he had gathered for the day and he followed Jesus. He walked away from everything on earth that gave him security and safety and ran to Jesus for salvation.

Then, when Bartimaeus and Jesus were face to face, and Jesus asked him what he wanted and Bartimaeus said, “…let me see again.” He didn’t asked to be delivered from his poverty or his exile or his shame. Bartimaeus asked to “see again,” to perceive and know the will of God. Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I despise (I unhook from my loyalty to myself) and repent in dust and ashes.” Bartimaeus asked to see.

As we listen to this story, we tend to identify with Bartimaeus. But we aren’t Bartimaeus – we are the followers sent to bring him to Jesus. We have already chosen to follow Jesus. We are already baptized into this body of Christ. Now we are the ones called to bring those others in.

To do that we must examine our questions to God. What are we asking God for? Deliverance from our poverty? Our shame? Or are we asking, as we prayed in our Collect, for an …increase in… the gifts of FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY?

Because if we are asking for those things, we are asking not for ourselves but for those to whom God is sending us. We’re asking so that we might be faithful followers of Jesus who hear the cries of those whom others judge as unworthy, and choose to go TO them and bring them to Jesus. And we do this while the establishment continues to try to silence them and push them to the side.

How do we bring people to Jesus? I can practically feel Deacon Pam cringe from the experiences of her denominational background when I say that. But it’s important – how do we bring people to Jesus? The “establishment” of much of modern Christianity in our time has it wrong. We don’t do this by bashing folks with a Bible, holding up signs in protest, or by judging them as ‘sinners,’ or by ‘fixing’ their behavior.

We don’t bring people to Christ, we invite them. We do this as followers of Jesus the Christ, the kind of follwers described in our Gospel story.

We hear those who cries and instead of shushing them, we go TO them with FAITH that Jesus can free them from their affliction (whether it’s poverty, addiction, fear, self or other hatred, whatever wounded-ness they bear). We go TO them with HOPE that they will choose to answer the invitation to come near to Jesus who will make them whole.

Many people learn over time that they aren’t worthy of anything good, and they come to believe that. But the Good News that we bring is that none of us is worthy, yet as the Psalmist says, “The Lord ransoms (i.e. sets free) the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in him.”

They may or may not choose to come. That isn’t our concern or our goal. Our role is to GO and invite them to come near to Jesus.

It’s that third grace we prayed for, however, that trips us up as a church: CHARITY. We have prayed to God to increase in us the grace of charity. Charity is the voluntary giving of help. It’s often money, but not always, and we give it to those in need. The key word, of course, is voluntary.

Charity involves kindness and tolerance in judging others. In the Gospel story, Jesus’ followers failed to be charitable at first – sternly ordering Bartimaeus to be quiet. It’s a pattern repeated often – the disciples try to protect Jesus from those they deem unworthy – the children, the beggars, the women, the foreigners… yet Jesus keeps calling them close to him, and showing his followers that it is his desire to draw all people to himself.

It is the role of the followers of Jesus to help with that desire, not interfere with it. Every day we who are followers of Jesus hear the cries of those who need to be made whole. Every day Jesus sends us to them and asks us to invited them to come near to him.

As a church, we do this in our ministry to the poor and hungry in the Shepherd’s Table. We also do it in our worship.

Many of you know that we did a funeral this week. I got a call on Tuesday at 11 am, telling me that it had bee published in the newspaper that I was doing a funeral the next day at 3 pm at the funeral home. This isn’t the first time that’s happened…

That blew open my week because, since it was at the funeral home (which is not what Episcopalians do – we bury out of the church), I had a choice. I could carry 50-75 Prayer Books to the funeral home or I could make a service booklet. So I made a booklet – which took some time. I also had to meet with the family. I had never met this person. They hadn’t been here in a decade, but still counted themselves as Episcopalian, so they assumed that I would come do the funeral. Thank God, I could clear my schedule to do it.

I was miffed, frustrated, by the presumption that they would say you’re going to be here tomorrow to do this funeral for somebody you don’t know. But I surrendered because they needed it. It seemed to matter to them. I would have felt awful saying no to them. I could have but I chose not to.

I met with them an hour later – and I fell in love with them. I connected deeply to their pain and their hope. I counseled them in their grief, and I watched them light back up. They were so distressed because of the details of his life. They were so alone because they felt like God had deserted them and him.

So I shared the Good News that I know and they came away feeling hope, and we came away with a very deep, beautiful, meaningful relationship.

Will they come to Redeemer? Who knows? God only knows. That isn’t my goal or my business. My goal - our goal as followers of Jesus isn’t to fill our pews but to invite anyone to whom God sends us, even those who frustrate us and miff us in the process, but to invite them into the presence of Jesus, which we carry in ourselves. It’s what we do when we do when we come here each Sunday: restore and renew the presence of Christ who lives in us. The rest is up to God.

In the Gospel story, Bartimeus did follow Jesus on the way, he could see, which means he could know the Christ, and so he followed Jesus. But Jesus didn’t have a church he was filling, did he? Really, neither do we. What we have to share is THE WAY, THE TRUTH, & THE LIFE, who is Jesus.

We have Jesus and if we meant it when we prayed it, we will allow God to increase in us FAITH, HOPE, and CHARITY that we might be willing to go out and bring the Good News, and invite others to come near to Jesus where they (and we) will be made whole.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

A terminus moment

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, that is, life in the eternal presence of God.

By our Baptism, we are also a resurrection people. We believe 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, providing all we need (though maybe not all we want) to continue faithfully forward.

As followers of Christ we move through the cycles of our lives with the confidence borne of this faith, knowing 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. These experiences, together with our celebrations, give us 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, there is no end for us – no death - only places of new beginnings. The Latin word for this is “terminus” which David Adam describes beautifully in this poem:

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.

Redeemer is in a moment of terminus. We are marking the end of what was and opening ourselves to the new thing God is doing in us. In the way that only God can manage this new thing is an act of loving fulfillment.

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. It’s a bit like a choir: all of our voices singing together make a sound that none can make alone. But it isn’t just us singing. We believe that our voices join with the heavenly chorus and together we make a sound only God can orchestrate.

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 separated 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. Tickle says Christianity in the midst of one of these cycles now. Christianity itself is in a terminus moment.

Our faith in Jesus Christ assures us that we can run without fear into the new territory God is placing before us. We can explore the new horizons before us with confidence that God who created us recreates us every day; that we have been redeemed by Jesus the Christ and made a resurrection people.; and that God’s own Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and sustains us every moment of our lives, now leads us into our new life with Good News to share for the healing of souls.

If we will go… and I pray we will go, all of us, as one body, one spirit in Christ.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pentecost 21: Purified and unafraid to live

Lectionary: Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37b; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

The following are simply sermon notes. As such they are not the full text. Please listen to the audio file. Peace! V+

Clergy conference – Rev Dr Elaine Heath, author and founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation. (Hold up her book: “Missional. Monastic. Mainline: A Guide to Starting Missional Micro-Communities in Historically Mainline Traditions.” Also mention her book: “The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach.”)

Life cycle of the church: decline leads to anxiety – and soon desperation. The system becomes focused on attracting – more people, more money, more programs to bring more people, more money… so the church doesn’t die.

Elaine talked about the need for movement from an “attractional” church to a “missional church” with the building and local church community being an anchor, a place of foundation, feeding, empowering – for mission OUT THERE in the world.

She used the metaphor of a tornado (sucks everything into itself) vs hurricane (spins out from the center).

This brings to mind our Post-communion prayer, BCP, 365, 366. Also Nicene Creed.

Elaine: “If we’re going to be apostolic – a people sent out – we can’t be trapped in a building – in an old paradigm.” The movement from an attractional to a missional church takes a pioneer, whom Elaine describes as someone who sees hope in the dying system.

Be aware, however, that the system will resist the pioneer and, as it moves from anxiety to desperation, will attempt to “crush” the pioneer and destroy them.

Thankfully, our hope is in Jesus, the icon of the unseen God, who created us, loves us, sustains us, and redeems us – always. Amen.

Elaine asked two questions of us:

1) What if all of us were free to fail our way forward?
2) What would we do if we weren’t so weighted down with institutional anxiety?

I would add this question: what if we trusted the love of Jesus enough to die?

Hebrews: Jesus learned obedience (hear the will of God and act) through what he suffered. He showed us the way to understand suffering: EVERYTHING IS GIFT – even suffering, if we trust in the redeeming love of God in Christ.

1996: Read recurring dream/vision (from 1996 prayer journal): purification through death for new life

Gospel: Context ahead of this story…

Chap 9: Jesus caught the apostles arguing over greatness, which embarrassed them. They didn’t know he had overheard them. Jesus’ response: be like this child.

Chap 10: Just before this story: Jesus has foretold of his passion for the 3rd time.

Immediately after that, James and John ask Jesus to give them whatever they want. Jesus asks them what that is, and they ask to sit at his right and left hand –the two places traditionally associated with power and glory.

Jesus replies: “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized?

James and John answer: We are able. Most commentaries talk about the blindness of these two disciples, assuming they’re speaking/acting from the old paradigm.

But I wonder if they did get it. Having just heard Jesus talk about his suffering and death, maybe J and J understood exactly what they were asking and asked it anyway. Maybe these two loved Jesus enough to trust and obey him, desiring to become servant of all, and following Jesus to the death he had just described.

Maybe these two were the pioneers who saw beyond the old paradigm to the hope embodied in Jesus, their savior.

The other disciples got angry at them. Maybe they’re the ones hearing this conversation from the old paradigm. Then their anger makes sense… there go the sons of Zebedee seeking their own glory again.

But that dismisses the possibility that transformation may have happened in them, and could happen in us.

What if we understood our suffering and death as we understand Jesus’ – as the way to the truth, and to life.

God has chosen us to bear the light of Christ into the darkness of our world. What if we trusted in God’s love for us, in God’s choice of us?

What if we let go the old life we have cherished and open ourselves - with gratitude and expectation - to the new life awaiting us?

We don’t need a strategic plan. We need only believe.

In his reflection last week, +Porter, our bishop, said this: “Therefore, our faith is not in ourselves to figure out a new management chart but to be faithful to God who is always leading us out of mess and hardship and pain to the land of promise. The key to that faithfulness is our reliance on God and not ourselves; this allows us to relax because we are not in charge. ‘Play, love and fail your way forward.’” (quoting Elaine Heath)

I commend his entire reflection to you. It’s on the diocesan website.

We are being purified and it feels chaotic, painful at times, and scary all the time. But we are God’s chosen ones and God is always faithful.

If we keep our eyes prayerfully focused on Jesus whose arms eternally reach out for us, we will be overwhelmed by his love and we will become unafraid to die knowing that this death we enter willingly is the gateway to the new life, the resurrection life, awaiting us.


Thursday, October 8, 2015


I’ve been contemplating the concept of detachment this week. It’s something I contemplate often. I have to because I find myself having to let go of my attachments again and again in many aspects of my life.

Detachment is hard. It’s also spiritually important which may be why so many of the great spiritual traditions recommend practicing
it. Christian medieval mystic Meister Eckhart is probably most well-known for his teachings on detachment. Eckhart said, “He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing, detachment” and “To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.” These ‘things’ to which Eckhart refers include thoughts, beliefs, ideas, possessions, goals, and descriptors of all kinds (male, female, rich, poor, beautiful, ignorant, capable, straight, gay, etc.), control, and outcomes.

The Greek word for this is kenosis and it means self-emptying. Jesus modeled and taught this saying, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Mt 16:25

It seems apparent, then, why detachment isn’t a comfortable concept in 21st century America. Our globally connected modern culture continually motivates (tempts) us to attach: to information via 24-hour news cycles, online shopping sites, and interest boards; to a variety of products, and the need for those products like smart phones and watches, the newest and best shoes, cars, jeans, tools; to ideas about beauty, success, importance, etc.

I’ve found, though, that as much as I enjoy my attachments (aware that I’m typing this on my touch-screen lap-top), I know that the only way I can serve God well is to continually practice detachment. It’s how I make space in my thoughts, goals, and life for God’s will.

Detachment means letting go of the self and self-interest. It is the “self” that attaches, e.g., this is my title, my job, my car, my church…. The self that attaches is, according to theologian Richard Rohr, the false self. The true self is found only when the false self is denied. As Jesus said, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Lk 9:23)

One of the hardest practices of detachment is letting go of outcomes. Walking faithfully in the will of God inevitably leads us to difficult moments. Using our God-given gifts of intellect and experience, we can see where things are heading. Judging the forthcoming outcome as bad or undesirable, we’re often tempted to influence a change of course.

Sometimes, however, the outcome we foresee isn’t the final outcome in God’s plan for us. God sees beyond what our limited minds can conceive and sometimes we’re called to wait and trust until redemption is accomplished by God. Think of the crucifixion. It looked to everyone like Jesus’ death was the end, but it wasn’t. No one could have foreseen the resurrection as the true outcome. Only God.

Finally, detachment is life-giving because letting go of self and self-interest frees us to enter into right relationship (righteousness) with God, neighbor, and creation. In what ways might we, as the body of Christ, and individually as members of it, practice detachment as we journey toward the Jordan River together? What beliefs, ideas, possessions, and outcomes tempt us to attach? In what tangible ways can we detach from those and move into righteousness together?