Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pentecost 18, 2015: The path of love

Lectionary: Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22; Pslam 124: James 5:13-20; Mark 9:38-50
Preacher: The Rev Dr. Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

Today's sermon was preached from the following notes:

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

Today’s Scripture speaks to us maturity of faith -

In the gospel from Mark, John, one of the sons of Zebedee lodges a complaint against someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name: “He doesn’t follow US.”
Jesus’ reply surprises John – and probably the others as well – but he is teaching then (and us) to move from a club-membership or clan mentality to kingdom mentality. The new age Jesus is ushering in is inclusive: there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, for all… are one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).

We all follow JESUS and it’s about FAITH, not doctrine, clan membership, or status.

The exorcist is not the enemy – immaturity of faith is. Include him, don’t exclude him. Teach him, help him grow in faith. Show him the path of love.

Immaturity of faith has symptoms which include:
superiority (we know the truth, the right way to act, talk, believe, worship)
judgement (they are wrong, we are right; they are bad, we are good)
exclusion (they aren’t in our club)

Jesus teaches us that it isn’t our club – it’s his church, his body in the world, and being a stumbling block has consequences.

Millstone passage. Here’s how important this is to Jesus who says: If your hand, foot, eye causes you to stumble, cut it off.

HAND – our actions... Last Supper, Jesus said: the one who betrays me is with me, and his hand is on the table (Lk 22:21) – his betrayal of Jesus); Laying on of hands, re: healing prayer – the action of God; Jesus continual assertion that the kingdom of God is at hand - happening now

FOOT – our direction/path, where and how we go... "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who proclaim salvation." (Isa 52:7)

EYE – how we receive information, how we perceive and understand. E.g.: animal cruelty, child abuse/spouse abuse, self-abuse – all come from how we “see” the other in relation to ourselves.
Depersonalization –allows us to make an enemy of another person. They become a classification: illegal alien, rather than a brother or sister in the family of God
Superiority/hubris – enables us to harm creation: animals, resources over which God has given us dominion. Remember, RULE: God’s way is our sacrificial service to them; our way is their sacrificial service to us

Jesus’ is telling the disciples – if any of these things cause you to create a stumbling block, cut them off.

Commentator: We don’t take Jesus words literally but we do take them seriously. “Discipleship requires amputations. We need to amputate bad habits – resentments – ambitions that cause us to act unethically. The recovering alcoholic or drug addict needs to amputate old relationships that threaten to pull him/her back to a life of addiction. The rich young ruler needed to amputate his wallet. We need to amputate things that stand between us and God.” (Source: Dick Donovan,

As we will pray together in our Eucharistic Prayer: “Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us…” (BCP, 372)

It is God’s work. How privileged we are to be instruments God uses. How sad – and risky – when we get in the way.

For everyone is salted with fire, Jesus says. Salt was used to preserve food. The purer the salt, the better the preservation of the food. And fire is the symbol for God. .. the burning bush, the pillar of fire…

Followers of Christ are salted with fire… we are preserved by God, with God and in God. What is preserved in us is the truth of the good news: salvation in Jesus Christ

If we allow the priorities of the world to corrupt our saltiness; if we act on behalf of a club we have built rather than working for the kingdom God is still building through us, then our eyes (our perceptions/understanding) will lead our collective feet on a path of action that is out of step with the will of God. We will have walked off the path of love, and we’ll know we are off the path of love by the lack of peace and goodwill among us.

As the commentator says: “peace is often threatened by Christians who insist on imposing their own agenda rather than working peaceably with others… Jesus is calling us to be at peace with others” and ourselves. (Source: Dick Donovan,

This is maturity of faith. Trusting God. Allowing God to move us in directions that surprise us, maybe even scare us a little, as the kingdom is spread among us and through us.

As theologian Jim Marion says: “When the kingdom is established upon Earth everyone will be spiritually developed to the point of living effortlessly… In that Kingdom there will be no disease, no war, no suffering, no poverty, and no death. All humans will live in conscious union with God and with each other, each one manifesting Spirit in their own uniquely creative way (Mt 13:52). This creativity will continually deepen and find ever new and wondrous ways of expressing itself, for there is no end to the depths and riches of God, nor is there any end to the gifts God is prepared to shower on those who follow the path of love (1Cor 2:9).” (Source: “Putting on the Mind of Christ, The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality,” Hampton Roads Pub Co, 2011, pp 291-292)

This is the fullness of God’s grace to which we run, as we prayed in our Collect. There we find the heavenly treasure strewn abundantly, lavishly everywhere – on the path of love.

May we have salt in ourselves and be at peace with one another as we share our Holy Communion, where God acts to make us “one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.” (BCP, 372)


Monday, September 7, 2015

Hardwired to survive

Note: Written 08/27/15 (forgot to post!)

I recently attended a training on the Community Resiliency Model – a means of aiding individuals and communities to live in what’s called “the resiliency zone” rather than in states of stress and/or shut-down by learning how to let our bodies do what they have been designed to do, namely, to gear up to survive a stressful event then to gear back down and restore a sense of peace and wellbeing.

We were marvelously designed to survive, knit that way in our mother’s wombs by our Creator (Ps 139). If we put our hand on a hot stove burner, for example, we reflexively take it off. We don’t need to think about what to do - our body senses the risk of harm and signals us to react, causing us to snatch our hand away from the hot burner.

If however, the stressor is something chronic like poverty, racism, oppression, or system dysfunction, our body will continue to sense the stress and signal us to respond (this is called the “fight or flight” response) but the stress isn’t resolved. It can’t be. What happens then is our bodies get stuck in fight mode or in flight mode. Sometimes, we end up in a freeze mode, a kind of coping paralysis, since our attempts at fight or flight have proven ineffective.

On any given day, circumstances lead us up and down through our resiliency zone: an emergency situation or a phone call bringing us bad news will activate us to cope (fight or flight). Prayer, time, and experience will restore our peace and well-being, enabling us to return to our resiliency zone and get on with our day. After a long day, being greeted by the smile of someone we love calms our nerves, and restores us to peace. Sitting with our beloved pets has been shown to reduce our heart rate and increase our sense of well-being. This is our resiliency zone.

We know that living in a constant state of stress affects our health: high blood pressure, heart problems, digestive issues, headaches, fatigue, sleeplessness, etc. The Community Resilience Model teaches us how to return to our “resiliency zone” a physical state which enables us to restore peace and wellbeing even when the stressors “out there” don’t change.

There’s one more component to this model that is really exciting – the brain science that supports it (you know I love this stuff!). When the body is in a fight or flight response, the thinking part of the brain is inhibited. As in the example of the hot stove burner, it isn’t helpful to consider the situation and how to respond when your hand is touching a hot stove. The brain naturally inhibits the thinking region to allow the reflexive response to happen.

When we sense a threat to our survival, we think less and react more. We’re hard-wired to do so.

If we can learn, then, to restore our bodies to our resiliency zone, our thinking brains can re-engage and we can reflect on what the problem is and how to address it from a place of peace and well-being, rather than from a state of agitation and reactiveness. This has amazing implications for individuals and communities – including our own.

The Community Resiliency Model was developed by the Trauma Research Institute.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pentecost 15 - also End Racism Sunday: We're able, are we willing?

Lectionary: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-10, (11-13) 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
Preacher: Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

I was led to offer an extemporaneous sermon today, so there is audio only again this week.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Meeting the Marks

On the website for TEC (The Episcopal Church), there is a page dedicated to The Five Marks of Mission, which says:
“We recognize with gratitude that the Five Marks of Mission, developed by the Anglican Consultative Council between 1984 and 1990 …have given parishes and dioceses around the world a practical and memorable "checklist" for mission activities.” Our Presiding Bishop, together with the Executive Council of TEC used these tenets as a guide for our financial stewardship as a church body, revising the format of the TEC budget and guiding our spending priorities within it. The Five Marks of Mission also informed the passage of many of the resolutions at our most recent General Convention.

Here are The Five Marks of Mission:

~ To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
~ To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
~ To respond to human need by loving service
~ To seek to transform unjust structures of society
~ To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Focusing the lens from TEC to our parish, I commend the Five Marks of Mission to you as a “checklist” for our mission activities. The good news is: whatever struggles we may have, we are already hitting each of these marks well, and that says a lot.

We proclaim the Good News in our worship on Sundays and Wednesdays with meaningful liturgies supported by the altar guild, choir, liturgical ministries, clergy, and worship committee. Our Rosary ministry reaches well beyond our walls, sharing the Good News in Scriptural prayer with many in our community. We host the annual Community Thanksgiving service, supporting local service agencies as we promote Christian unity.

We nurture new believers holding Inquirers Classes two to three times each year as the need arises, averaging six participants and three instructors per class. Our Moveable Feasts offer spiritual nurture to young adults who are new believers. Christian formation, offered each Sunday, provides discussions that are lively and spiritually informative. Our children and youth formation remains a place we can grow together, and my hopes remain high as we make plans for the coming year.

We respond powerfully to the need around us through our premiere ministry: The Shepherd’s Table & Food Pantry. As you know, we serve food to nourish their bodies and friendship to feed their souls. Our community and herb gardens supply fresh food and flavor to our hot meal as well as opportunity for discussion on how to fix food that is healthy and delicious. Guests are now asking to take herbs for their use at home! The chaplain and other volunteers connect deeply with our guests, praying with them, laughing with them, suffering with them, and sometimes advocating for them. Our pastoral care team brings our holy food of Communion, prayer, and Scripture to members and friends who are shut-in, keeping them connected to God and the church.

We have been out front with TEC and the bishops in NC on the issues of anti-racism (holding a Dismantling Racism workshop here at our church), the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in church and in the world (our Pride Picnic and PFLAG), and calling for the stemming of gun violence. We’ve taken some criticism for it, but we’ve stood firm in our baptismal covenant and have witnessed amazing changes in marriage laws, new energy toward racial unity, and recently, the vestry passed a policy forbidding firearms in/on our church property.

We do our best to be good stewards of creation: our buildings have been reviewed and commended for our carbon-footprint awareness. We also hold an annual public blessing of the animals reminding our local community of the belovedness of all creation and supporting our local no-kill animal shelter.

As Christians who are members of the body of Christ, we are called to love and serve in the name of our Savior. As we discern our path forward, I hold up the faithfulness of our current path. Well done, good and faithful servants.