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?