I'm cruising on the river of life, happy to trust the flow, enjoying the ride as I live into a new season of life and ministry as the Priest in Charge at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Webster Groves, MO. I am also co-founder of the Partnership for Renewal, a church vitality nonprofit. You are most welcome to visit my blog anytime and enjoy the ride with me. Peace.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Pentecost 14 sermon: Be quick to listen
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector
Extemporaneous sermon today, so audio only this week. I preached from the narthex instead of up in the pulpit - my usual practice. Please excuse the moment or two of mic feedback. I fixed the audio issue afterwards. The pic is from our Pride Picnic yesterday. :)
Sunday, August 23, 2015
Pentecost 13, 2015: Heaven on earth
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector
En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.
So… we’ve had four straight weeks of Jesus teaching about bread. I am the bread of life.I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life.
Parts of the readings overlap week to week – which is unusual. Why does our lectionary do this? In their wisdom, our lectionary choosers are mimicking what Jesus is doing in the gospel of John, namely, repeating a teaching over and over to stress the importance of the lesson.
The online discussions among preachers and worship leaders have been pretty funny. Some preachers were giving up, saying, ‘I’m finished with John – I’m preaching from one of the other texts.’
Well, I’m not finished with John. (I’ll never be finished with John!) This gospel is so rich and contains what is probably THE best teachings on what the Incarnation is and what that means for the world.
There are 21 chapters in John’s gospel, and our four weeks of “bread” readings are found in the 6th chapter. Since Jesus’ ministry is discussed beginning in the first chapter of this gospel, we are well into Jesus’ miracles and teachings by chapter six. Conflict around Jesus and his ministry is present and growing, and the tide is turning – some of his followers are beginning leave him.
In today’s reading, Jesus asks his own inner core group if they want to leave too. Why are people leaving Jesus? Let’s take a look.
The setting is Jesus teaching at the synagogue in Capernaum, where Jesus settled after leaving Nazareth, his birthplace. Capernaum is on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee, so it’s no surprise that it’s where Jesus called those fishermen, Peter and his brother, Andrew, to be his first disciples.
By the time we get to today’s reading, Jesus has already worked some pretty astounding miracles in Capernaum: healing Peter’s mother-in-law, healing the daughter of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, saying that famous phrase, “Talitha cum.” The people in Capernaum know Jesus, and his ministry. They know his family, heard him teach in the temple, witnessed his miracles, and follow him around in great numbers.
Jesus is teaching those gathered in Capernaum by repeatedly using the familiar concept of manna – bread – emphasizing the importance of this lesson. His listeners hear the teaching in the context of the story from Exodus, where God sends food that keeps them alive, food that comes from no effort on their part but as a gift from God.
In today’s reading, Jesus is teaching about the co-existence of the Spirit of God and humanity – which is what Incarnation is. Jesus, who is the firstborn of this, as our Creed says, is fully human and fully divine. If we believe that, and if we eat and drink of his nature, then he abides in us and we in him. Think about the reality of that: God abides in us - divinity and humanity co-existing in us – just like in Jesus.
We are the next-born, and we aren’t born this way, as Lady Gaga would say. We are re-born into it through our Baptism and we mature in it by continually partaking of this spiritual food.
We have at our disposal every Sunday and every Wednesday, the spiritual nourishment that gives life to us and to the world. We have the opportunity to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Holy One of God, making ourselves and our community one body, one spirit in Christ.
What an amazing gift that is! It’s a mystery to me that anyone would choose not to come – not to eat and drink – not to be transformed and empowered by this miracle. Have we, as Episcopalians, become so complacent about the availability of this gift that we’ve lost sight of its power and its purpose?
Our Catechism teaches us that we, the church, are the community of the New Covenant. (BCP, 854) It is our duty to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God. (BCP, 856) We accomplish this simply by making a choice to do so.
Our mission, as stated in our Catechism, is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Jesus Christ. (BCP, 855)
This can only be accomplished by choosing to be made one with God who accomplishes it though us.
Remember, we can’t produce manna. We are not the living bread - we are where it dwells (abides). But each time we eat the flesh and drink the blood of our Savior in this holy meal we abide in the eternal presence of God strengthening our union with Christ and with one another. This is what prepares us as a church, and individually as members of it, to go into the world with strength and courage carrying God’s love to all with gladness and singleness of heart. (BCP, 365)
Jesus followers complain that this teaching is a hard one – and it is – because it means letting go of all that separates us from God and from one another. There’s a part of us that clings to what we know, what we want, and even to our weakness and imperfectness.
We cling because it allows us to remain unchanged, unchanging, despite the changes in the world around us. We cling because it enables us to remain safely inside our emotional, spiritual, and social fortresses instead of carrying the light of Christ boldly into the world he died to save. We cling, because we’re afraid of acknowledging the real and powerful presence of God that is in us
and what that means for us, for our church, and for the world.
As Marianne Williamson says in her poem, “Our Greatest Fear,”
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of
God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.
Today, as we come forward to receive the spiritual food of Holy Communion, I invite us all to open our hands and our hearts, and receive faithfully the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. As the wafer melts in our mouths, let’s allow the melding of our spirit with Christ’s. As we swallow the wine and feel it make its warm path down our throats, through our chests, and into our stomachs, let’s acknowledge that it is also the warmth of God’s steadfast love entering us, warming us, becoming part of us –
part of our bodies and our souls.
Then, when we walk back to our pew to pray after communion, let’s open ourselves to recognize how, in this very moment, God is changing us physically and spiritually and ponder why God has gathered us together as a congregation, a church, in this time and place in history. For what divine purpose are we being nourished and strengthened?
How are we being called to let our light shine and “manifest the glory of God that is within us”? And what might happen if we were to choose to be as “brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous” as God has made us? What might happen if we were to choose to show forth the power of God’s love to all people?
My guess is: it would be nothing short of heaven on earth.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
Becoming faithful witnesses
When we open ourselves to come to know God in the power of Jesus, everything we once knew from a human point of view about God, ourselves, and the world is changed; transformed by the love of Christ that fills us and urges us on as witnesses of his resurrection. An important example of this is found in the story of Mary Magdalene, a story about healing, transformation, and faithful witness.
It was St. Gregory the Great, at the end of the 6th century, who identified Mary Magdalene with the woman caught in adultery whose stoning Jesus forestalled. “From this conflation, now rejected by scholars as well as the church, there came about the popular representation of Mary Magdalene as a… prostitute.” (Robert Ellsberg, All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time, p. 312)
For two millennia Mary Magdalene, the faithful follower of Jesus, the apostle to the apostles, has been regarded (slandered) as a prostitute. Yet the healing Jesus began when he freed her from the grip of seven demons continues to this day, restoring Mary Magdalene’s reputation and her rightful place of honor in the Christian community.
That’s how healing works. We know from the many stories in Scripture that Jesus’ healings always restored the person to wholeness of life. The lepers who were cleansed, for example, were able to return to their families and live in the communities from which they had been exiled due to their disease. The blind beggar and the demoniac who were healed became evangelists who told of the mercy they had received from Jesus – and all who heard their stories were amazed.
That’s the other thing about healing – it is for us, but not just for us. When we have been restored in body, mind, or spirit, we come away with a new awareness of God’s powerful love and mercy, and that is what is meant to be shared.
The people we encounter living in exile today are those who have been beaten down by the demons of fear, loneliness, or depression, or those oppressed by poverty, violence, or addiction, or those forsaken by friends, family, or “the system. It is to these beloved, thirsting ones that God sends us as witnesses, because God is the God of the lowly, the helper of the oppressed, protector of the forsaken, and the savior of those without hope.(Jud 9:11)
As witnesses we carry the life-giving waters of Baptism out to those who are athirst for the living God (Ps 42:2). At Redeemer, this takes the form of food, friendship, and welcome in our worship and ministries.
Faithful witnesses trust God - and God alone - to judge. We don’t serve those we determine are deserving. We serve those who show up.
Faithful witnesses go out and seek the “exiled” inviting them into relationship just as they are, trusting God to take them and us where we need to go. An important sign of our faithfulness as witnesses is the change that happens in us.
Our Savior continually calls us to wholeness of life by entering into the presence of his transforming love. Then having been healed ourselves, we are sent to serve others, carrying the love of Christ to them, that they might be transformed too.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Fullness of life
Through these moments, the beauty of the fullness of human experience, the hope given to us by our Savior, and the importance of community are revealed. I can’t imagine having great news to share and no one to tell! I also can’t imagine how anyone gets through really hard times without having someone to lean on and walk with them through it.
Community – friendship – is a how we reflect the love of God to one another. God is always with us, as Jesus promised, sharing our joys and sorrows, breakthroughs and breakdowns, only now God is also present through us, the church. We are the dwelling place of God on earth. We bear the Spirit of Christ into the world. It is as St. Teresa of Avila once said,
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body…
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
So when we listen to a suffering friend or hold their hand as we pray with them, we are embodying Christ for them. When we celebrate the freedom a friend experiences from discovering and living into their truth, we are mirroring the love of God to them.
The mystery is this: when we embody and reflect the love of God to another person, we benefit too. God is like that and it is marvelous in our eyes. Sharing the kindness, compassion, presence, and mercy of God with another living soul somehow fills our own soul to overflowing as well. Everybody wins - and only God can do that.
St. Paul teaches us that we are the body of Christ, the church, and individually members of it. (1Cor12:17) We are the vehicle by which God in Christ is present, touches, and blesses the world today. This is no small thing and at times it’s exhausting, but it’s an amazing grace that permeates our life in Christ, and I, for one, am grateful.
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Pentecost 11, 2015: Accepted, fed, and sent
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector
En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.
One of the blessings of being Episcopalian is that we recognize and honor when Scripture is poetic. An example is the letter to the Ephesians which is more of a poem, than an encyclical, filled with words and phrases that probably came from hymns used in worship at that time.
It is what’s called a “circular letter” meaning it wasn’t written to a particular church but was meant to be circulated around the newly forming churches. There was great diversity in these new communities, with Gentiles and Jews living and worshiping together. They have to figure out how to navigate and blend their differing practices, beliefs, habits, and perspectives.
This letter was written to remind them that they are called to unity: “one body, one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (4:4-6) These words are also found in our Rite of Baptism (BCP, 299) so they apply to us too.
The epistle begins by recounting the many blessings afforded those who live as members of this new Way – the New Covenant of Christ – then it moves to their responsibilities as a diverse people living and worshiping together. Imagine what was like for Jews and Gentiles to learn to live together after generations of excluding one another. Conflicts were bound to happen. They had totally different approaches to life and worship. How would they decide which traditions would be present in their worship, ministry, even their daily lives, and which ones would be set aside?
The epistle advises them to go about this forgiving, loving, and imitating God in Christ. Simple, right?
Actually, they can’t do this – no one can - not on our own. As our Collect reminds us, our very existence is a gift of God and it is only by the grace of God that we are enabled to live according to God’s will.
It’s important to remember that this discussion isn’t about us as individuals. It’s about us as members of the body of Christ, the church. The church is built, strengthened, and maintained by worshiping God. We talk about this in our Inquirer’s Class. In TEC what binds us together is our worship – the BCP being the symbol of our unity. We don’t sign covenants - we pray together.
When we gather to share this sacred meal of Holy Communion we are at once strengthened and transformed as individuals and as a body. It’s why we don’t have private Communion anymore – it makes no sense because we live as a body of uniquely gifted individuals, intentionally brought together by God who has a purpose for the particular configuration of people and gifts present here.
When conflict arises, and it will, because the diversity that is our gift will inevitably lead to disagreement – we can look to this letter to the Ephesians for guidance. It tell us to speak the truth to one another knowing that what is so apparently true for some at any moment may not be as apparently true for others. Jesus, who is the Truth, will guide us who believe into the truth – together. He leads the way, not any one of us.
We will get angry, so when we do, we must be careful not to let our anger disrupt our relationship. When anger divides (which is what sin is) we are advised to address it immediately. The longer it waits, the harder that it is to reconcile.
The letter also suggests that people give people room to grow and be made new. The epistle talks about a thief giving up stealing and finding honest work, but if that thief is never treated as anything but a thief, the community has failed them. We will all be made new at moments along our common journey, and we have to have the freedom to live into that newness of life. The body of Christ (the church) must be willing to welcome change and transformation among our members and in the community itself.
Apply the Thumper Rule, that is: speak only what gives life. Creating dissention and division in a community is sin - it’s making room for the devil – the tempter who distracts the community from its holy purpose.
Put away bitterness, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice. These are poison for a community and, even when they are directed at an individual or individuals within the community, they do harm to the whole community. What happens to one affects the whole.
Instead, the epistle writer tells us, be kind, gentle, tenderhearted – and most of all – be forgiving, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
This letter is asking us to practice a way of living that is out of step with what the world does. Tenderheartedness, forgiveness, and circumspection in speech are not qualities we see much out there in the world - I give you the current political scene as an example – but they define our Savior, Jesus Christ, and therefore they must define us as followers of Christ.
No amount of strength or strength of will can enable us to live like this. We can’t do what’s right and live according to the will of God without the help of God, who we find right here, in a real and manifest way in our Holy Eucharist. That’s why The Holy Eucharist is, as our Prayer Book says, the “Principle act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.” (BCP, 13)
Each Sunday we gather together from varied and diverse lives and experiences. Some of us have children at home, some of us are single. Some are unemployed, some are overworked. Some are conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Independent, non-political, gun owners, or tree-huggers….
We are a diverse group intentionally made one by the Holy Spirit of God.
When we gather to worship on Sunday we begin by blessing God, then we pray the opening Collect – bringing all of our diversity into one place, focusing ourselves on one thought…. “Grant to us, Lord, we pray….”
Then we give glory to God and settle in to receive the nourishment offered by Scripture. After reflecting on how the Word speaks in our lives, we stand and proclaim together what we, the church, believe.
Then looking beyond ourselves, we lift up prayers for the world, certain that our prayers make a difference because we believe that God hears and answers them. We say a corporate confession to remind ourselves that, as individuals and as a body, we will fall short and need to repent.
In celebration of our redemption guaranteed after our confession, and our continual restoration, we share the peace of Christ with one another, engaging our bodies in a ritual of unity, restoring our friendships, setting aside whatever differences or disagreements we have, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us.
Then recognizing that we are one body, one spirit in Christ, we make the holy food of Communion. Joining in a song of praise with the whole company of heaven, we give thanks to God, as we bless, break, and share the flesh and blood of the living Christ.
In this moment, we who are believers, are sharing in the eternal life of God in a very real way. And we don’t lose ourselves in this experience, we expand ourselves. We are one with all that is, all that ever was, and all that will be.
In this moment, all we hunger for is satisfied. Our dry and withered souls spring back to life, moistened by the blood of the Lamb.
Renewed and strengthened by Word and Sacrament, we offer our thanks together in prayer, reminding ourselves that, by the grace of God we are accepted, fed, and sent into the world to love boldly and courageously in the name of Christ.
This is why we gather each Sunday. Not to check off our “I’m a good Christian who went to church” box, but to be continually transformed by God as individuals and as a community, and strengthened to answer the holy calling of God to love and serve in the name of Jesus Christ.
Thursday, August 6, 2015
Actions speak louder than words
During my visit, Margie uttered the same phrase three times as we spoke, in moments that didn’t make sense in our conversation. She said, “Actions speak louder than words.” I agreed and we went on with our conversation. The second time she said it, I asked Margie why this was so much on her mind and she replied: “People can say anything, but you know the truth about them by what they do.” The third time, Margie was almost asleep – her head dropped back onto her pillow, her eyes closed, and the words came forth. This time I knew it was the voice of God speaking prophetically through Margie, a faithful servant, so I pondered them prayerfully.
The next day at our Wednesday Holy Eucharist, we read two parables in Matthew about rich men who sold all they had in order to acquire 1) a field with treasure hidden in it, and 2) a pearl of great value, both metaphors for the kingdom of God. That’s when the power of Margie’s prophetic utterance hit me: actions DO speak louder than words. What these two men DID spoke the truth about them - they valued the kingdom of God so much that they sold all of their earthly possessions in order to possess (also translates as ‘be included in’) it. These parables aren’t about the field or the pearl, but the response of the characters, which spoke very loudly.
This brought to mind a similar story in Mark’s gospel: a rich young man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus tells him to keep the commandments: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t defraud or bear false witness against anyone, honor your parents. I’ve done that all my life, the young man says. Then Jesus looks at him -- loves him -- and tells him to sell all he owns, give the money to the poor, and follow him. The young man, shocked by this requirement, walked away grieving - an action which also spoke loudly.
As Christians, we believe that the salvation of the world by Jesus Christ is a reality, and our Baptism makes us partners with Christ in the continuing work of reconciliation until he comes again. We must, therefore, choose, as the three men above chose, what our response will be.
When we, the church, see a person who is hungry or homeless, are we moved by compassion for their suffering? Do we hunger with them for a world in which no one suffers from lack? If so, what are we are doing to make that happen? When we, the church, see someone who is marginalized, how are we opening doors that are closed to them? When we, the church, see someone who is bullied, abused, or trapped in the prisons of addiction, poverty, or privilege, in what ways are we sacrificing our comfort for the sake of their healing and reconciliation?
St. Paul advises the body of Christ, the church, with these words: “get rid of… anger, wrath, malice, abusive language… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other… And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…” (Col 3: 8, 12-13, 17).
As members of the part of the body of Christ at The Church of the Redeemer, what do our actions say about us? We feed the hungry each week, host the annual gay pride picnic, offer our building to support groups for people with addictions and mental illness, worship God together, and we’ve committed ourselves to prayer and unity as we discern our common path forward. That’s quite a statement.