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)