Sunday, January 11, 2015

Epiphany, 2015: Entering the womb of God

Lectionary: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7,10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12 - The Feast of the Epiphany, transferred.
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

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

“Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” This beautiful Canticle from Isaiah is written about the people of Israel whose exile in Babylonia has finally come to an end. Their exile has been a period of great trial and difficulty. As one commentator said, “God, who made their return [from Babylonia to Jerusalem] possible, has not seen fit to make it easy and these new obstacles created for them a crisis of faith…” (Dick Donovan)

Crises of faith are often described as times of darkness. St. John of the Cross called this a “dark night of the soul.” Darkness, for most of us, is where monsters hide under our beds; where danger lurks in dark shadows; where evil lies in wait like Freddy Kruegger with a chain saw.

That’s a shame, because Scripture tells us, it is from within the darkness that God creates. In the first chapter of Genesis, the creation story says, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…Then God spoke and there was light. And God separated the light from the darkness… And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Gen 1: 2-5)

Notice that evening (darkness) always preceded morning (light) in the creation story. That’s because darkness is the womb of God, the place where new life is created. This is the action of God repeated over and over in our Scripture: God enters the darkness and births something new.

Remember the tomb of our Lord, where God broke in and new life, resurrection life, was created. Remember the star that broke the darkness and guided the Gentiles to God.

Darkness isn’t bad. It isn’t to be feared or avoided or judged. It is simply one part of the whole. Light and dark are a symbiotic unity. As we read later in Isaiah, God says, “I form light and create darkness;
I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things.” (45:7)

But we have been conditioned to love light and fear darkness. Think about it… if we were to totally do away with darkness, the light would destroy us. Its heat would scorch the earth. Its brightness would eventually blind us. We’d lose our natural rhythms of sleep and wakefulness, which, studies have shown, eventually leads to insanity, and death.

We need the darkness. We need to sleep, to rest and restore our bodies, and to allow our minds to process the events of our lives in our dreams – where we also hear the voice of God. And we know that spiritually, it is in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength. (Prayer for Quiet Confidence, BCP, 832)

Not only do we need the darkness, we need to remember again how to love it and receive its treasure. In her new book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” Barbara Brown Taylor says that we rarely experience darkness anymore. We have nightlights, street lights, and city lights that light up our nights. We have LED clocks on our bed stands (LED stand for “light emitting diodes”), and we plug these clocks along with our phone chargers into multi-taps with little red lights that indicate the power is active.

Nightlights softly illumine our hallways, bathrooms, and nurseries. All of these lights make it easy for us to get to the bathroom without stubbing our toes, but, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, it steals from us the “treasure of the night.” That treasure, she says, is God.

God knows our weaknesses and also how to help us trust and grow. As God said in Genesis, the light is good. It’s attractive, it’s warm, and draws us to it. Like moths, we are drawn to the light, but once we come close to it, we realize that the source of the light is God. It is God who draws us close. It is God who keeps us safe. It is God alone who is the source of our life. The closer we come to the light, the more realize that the light isn’t coming from God. It is God.

And when we know that, when we truly believe it, then God leads us into the darkness, just as Jesus was led into the wilderness, so that God can prepare us for the life we were created to live; so that we can accomplish the purpose God had for us from before we were formed in our mother’s wombs.

As beloved children of God, we enter the darkness willingly, knowing we are entering the womb of God, where new life, not death, awaits us! In the same way that a seed goes into the darkness of the ground and dies in order to sprout and grow new life, grow into its fullness, so we go into the darkness and die to ourselves, as Jesus told us we must do – dying to everything we think we know about God, ourselves, our church, and the world. Only then can the new life God is waiting to give, be born in us.

Today is my last Sunday at Redeemer until Palm Sunday. We are, priest and parish together, entering into a sabbatical time – a time of rest and spiritual refreshment.

The timing couldn’t be better. Like the people Isaiah was writing about, we too have been through a period of great trial and difficulty. And like the people of Israel, we have been delivered, but our deliverance has placed new obstacles before us and we are experiencing a crisis of faith. It’s OK, God’s done this before.

That’s why, during our sabbatical time, we will do the work of reconciliation set before us; work that will help us free ourselves from whatever has enslaved us and led us away from God rather than closer to God.

Then, in the quietness of our sabbatical rest, we will listen together for the voice of God who calls us to go deeper still into the darkness, into the womb of God, where we will be re-created, reborn, and grow into our fullness. As Christians we believe, we know that resurrection always follows death. Therefore, we don’t fear death.

In the same way, we know that the light, who is God, always breaks into darkness. Therefore, we don’t fear any darkness. Instead, we enter into it willingly, as Jesus entered his dark moment, trusting that in the redeeming love of God there is only one outcome for us – new life, resurrection life, promised and given to us in our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose revelation to the world we celebrate on this Feast of the Epiphany.

Let us pray… Lead us all, Lord God, to your presence, that your light may fill us and radiate from us so that all who see us see the light of your love and are drawn closer to you. Let our church become your womb; a place of rest and spiritual refreshment for all souls; a place where new life is created in us over and over; a place where your light eternally breaks into the darkness of the lives of those we love and serve in your name. Bless our sabbatical time. Renew us and make us whole; that we may arise, shine and live in the glory of the light of your love. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas 2, 2014: Humble faith bent low

Lectionary: Jeremiah 31:7-14; Psalm 84 or 84:1-8; Ephesians 1:3-6,15-19a; Matthew 2:13-15,19-23
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Today's sermon was preached from notes, which are posted below.

Someone once asked a Rabbi: why can’t people see the face of God? The rabbi answered: When we can’t see the face of God, it’s because there are so few anymore who are willing to stoop that low. We must learn to bend low, to bow, to kneel. Only then will we see God face to face.

Grant, O God, that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity…

Humility: story of my experience of a 1974 magazine interview of Mother Theresa.

Grant, O God, that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity…

Theologian Brother Wayne Teasdale says, “The spiritual life is impossible without the virtue of humility… Humility… keeps us honest, cutting away self-deception, falsehood, and inauthenticity. It rescues us from superficiality and compels us to… be true to ourselves and to others. Humility… forces us to stand in the light of truth… [it] is an egoless understanding of one’s own limitations.” (Wayne Teasdale, “The Mystic Heart,” New World Library, 1999, 126-127)

True vs False HUMILITY:

• Righteousness (right relationship) vs. Inflated sense of self (importance, power) or deflated sense of self
• Unity (God, others creation) vs. Every man for himself/his tribe

This is what Christians mean when we say Jesus “humbled himself to share our humanity.” (Collect for Xmas 2) God took on human limitations for a time and joined us to the limitlessness of God.
• “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a* mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’* (Mt 17:20)

Nothing will be impossible for us. Not because of our greatness, but because of the greatness of our humility, as St. John of the Cross said.

Gospel = Story of Joseph – icon of humility.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David (Luke 2:4, 11), an auspicious birthplace. However, he grew up in Nazareth, and was known as Jesus of Nazareth rather than Jesus of Bethlehem. Therefore "'He shall be called a Nazorean,' ...may mean at least this: 'he shall be considered a nobody.’” (1 Cor 1: cf. Judg 6-7 and Gideon)" (Bruner, 61). (

It is so tempting to spend our time and energy accomplishing the goals society sets for us: wealth, power, influence, security… these are earthly goals. It’s helpful to remember that Jesus accomplished none of these goals during his earthly life.

Thomas Keating once said, “The greatest accomplishment in life is to be who you are, and that means to be who God wanted you to be when [God] created you.” (Teasdale, 127) I think this is true of us as individuals and as the body of Christ, the church.

This represents a more difficult and humble accomplishment, but Jesus promised that nothing would be impossible for us, so we have every reason to hope that we can accomplish this goal.

Humility, like any other spiritual discipline, takes practice. So, here are a few tips for practicing humility:

1. Pray. Let time in the presence of God take priority over the other things on our very important To-Do lists.
2. Make space for God in your prayer. Be quiet. Stop talking. Listen. Feel. God speaks to us, touches us, heals us, and changes us when we pray. All we have to do is invite God in and enjoy the transformation.
3. Make space for others in your priorities. Move from the place of first to last. (Mt 20:16) Rather than telling God what we want or need, we ask God, ‘How can I serve you, Lord, by serving those in need? What would you have me give as my tithe?’
4. Detach from outcomes. Success and failure are illusions of an unenlightened heart They are earthly values. The path we walk leads inevitably to crucifixion, and ultimately, to resurrection; and it’s a path we can only walk in faith.
5. Build community from a place of equality. The least matter. Every life matters. This is embodied in the church, the body of Christ, where the least and the first share the same adoption “through Christ according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph 1:5).
6. Remember our place in the cosmos, the communion of saints, and the Christian narrative. “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” (Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, Random House, 1994, 6)
Bible: We are part of a great story of redemption, but we are only here for a moment. While we are here, our job is to be faithful partners with God in Christ in this work of redemption, remembering those who went before and passing the torch of our faithfulness to those who will follow us.
7. And finally, believe. To believe is to put the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, ahead of our doubts, our logic, our experience – in essense, our small vision of truth. To believe is to trust God – and that requires no small amount of humility. If we believe that the redemption of God has already been accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus, then we know it has already happened. It is accomplished. All we have to do is live our lives like we believe that and open the path, removing all obstacles, so others can get there too.

Today is the 11th of our celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas.

Move into the season of Epiphany – reflecting on what the revelation of the Christ in us means for us as individuals and church community).

As we do that…

Grant, O God, that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity…