Sunday, November 20, 2016

Feast of Christ the King, 2016: "Father forgive"

Lectionary: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Canticle 16; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, as supply at St. Francis Episcopal Church, Rutherfordton, NC.

(Note: if the above doesn't work on your devise, please click HERE)

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

Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King, sometimes called the Reign of Christ. This date stands between the long, green season after Pentecost and Advent. On this day we stop to consider what it means when we say that Jesus is our King.

As people who have the freedom of a democratic republic in our DNA, the term “King” can be a bit of a disconnect for us. For the ancient Jews, the King was a Shepherd… think David – and the role of the Shepherd is to love, protect, and guide the flock (the people of God).

But kings are human, and Jeremiah acknowledges some of the kings weren’t very good. There was bad leadership and it had consequences. But Jeremiah promises that the redeeming love of God is greater than all of that and is a certainty; and he says all we have to do is remain faithful and God will restore the king, and us, and everything else to right relationship. That’s what righteousness is.

Then there is that beautiful Canticle, #16, the song of Zechariah, and it’s a song of praise about God who sends a Savior to set the people free , to worship without fear, in holiness and righteousness, all the days of their lives. The letter to the church at Colossae clarifies that this savior, the one promised, is Jesus, the Son of God, the head of the church, the fullness of God (fully human, fully divine), who reconciled all things to himself, in heaven and on earth. So it might make a little more sense now, that our gospel for this day comes from the passion – the crucifixion - because this is where the very notion of kingship is transformed.

Great kings in our salvation history, like David, brought peace and harmony, but none has brought eternal redemption except for Jesus, our King; and he did it in a way that no one saw coming. It wasn’t by being a great ruler, or a great warrior, but by the forgiveness of sin.

I want to pause for a moment to discuss what “sin” is and what sin isn’t. Most of us talk about sin as those things we do that are wrong or harmful. That’s partly right. Theologian Karl Barth talks about sin as a state of separation – separation from God, separation from one another. In that state of separation we do things that are wrong and harmful.

So, it’s kind of like the disease versus the symptoms. We know there is a disease by the presence of its symptoms. We can treat the symptoms, but unless we cure the disease, we aren’t healed.

That’s why Jesus brought us redemption by the forgiveness of sin, by bringing down all barriers that separate us from God and one another. And he demonstrated this over and over in his ministry, and also, on the cross. Remember the story of the healing of the man born blind? Remember the people asked Jesus, ‘Who sinned, they asked, this man or his parents?” Think of how they thought about sin. Or the woman caught in adultery… Everyone was ready to stone her and Jesus says, ‘the one who is without sin can cast the first stone,’ and they all walked away.

Jesus didn’t just treat the symptoms, he cured the disease. This is our King. In his most miserable, painful, humiliating moment as a human, Jesus prayed, and his prayer takes our breath away: “Father, forgive them…”

At our most miserable moments, when we are being unfairly treated, when those with power over us are acting corruptly, is this our prayer?

When I was studying for my doctorate, I went to England and studied over there for a while. I went to a place called the Cathedral at Coventry. Coventry England is a place that was bombed during WWII because it held arsenal. The cathedral was destroyed in an attack. When you go to the cathedral now, you see that they didn’t clear away the rubble, the shell of the original cathedral; they simply built the new cathedral and attached them with a walkway. So it’s one cathedral: the bombed out shell and the new place of worship; and every day at noon they hold a prayer service in the bombed out shell. It’s a very powerful experience.

When you walk into the new cathedral, the very first thing you see, built into the tile on the floor, are these words: “Father forgive.” I can still feel in my body the power of the first moment I saw that.

Anyone who’s been awake or watching the news the last few weeks, might have noticed that our beloved human family is sorely “divided and enslaved by sin.” I don’t just mean our election, I mean the whole world. Look at the news.

In our effort to address this discomfort, we often react like the soldiers and the criminal who call upon Jesus to save himself. Make this pain go away. Take a pill. Kill an enemy. Eat chocolate. Do whatever it takes – just make it stop… And sometimes we can… for a while, but we’ve only addressed the symptom. The disease remains.

More importantly, we’ve reacted to ourselves. Our attention is focused on us – our discomfort, our vision of how things are supposed to be.

Ironically, Jesus’ attention was on us too. As Jesus was dying on that cross, he certainly had the power to make it stop, to make it go away, but his attention wasn’t on himself. It was on us – all of us – humanity… then, now and forever more.

As he hung on that cross, the soldiers mocked him. The religious leaders scoffed at him – his own church family scoffed at him. Even one of the criminals derided him. Yet, Jesus forgave them, freely giving them the same freedom from the sin he gave all of us.

This is what Christ our King does. He forgives, and by doing so, he has “set us on a course that will bring all of us together again under God’s gracious rule.” (Collect of the Day)

Unity in the wholeness of God. That is our cure, and our King has already given it to us. Now it’s up to us to live as if that’s true.

It isn’t easy, given that we live in what we church-folk call the “already but not yet.” Christ has already come, forgiveness is already ours, but the reconciliation of the whole world to God is not yet complete.

Oscar Cullmann said it like this, “Christ's Incarnation was like the Normandy invasion that set in motion forces that would lead to victory more than a year later. In the interim many battles would be fought and many soldiers would die. We, like the soldiers who lived in that interim, are living in the interim between the cross and Jesus' final victory. We should not expect life to be easy (Source).”

Well that’s true, but I also hope we also don’t forget to follow the example of our King. Are we not followers of Christ? Think about Jesus’ whole life. He partied hearty with his friends. Even as he tended to the symptoms of the disease around him , he played, he visited friends, he made wine like crazy! Any he showed us how to live our lives by doing that.

Granted, we have lots of work to do attending to the symptoms around us while we wait faithfully for God to work the whole cure. We must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, and set free those who are imprisoned - by anything: addictions, oppression, self-hate, poverty, powerlessness… whatever imprisons someone.

We must raise up the lowly and invite into the kingdom of God those whom the world exclude. But we must also cherish our family and spend time with our friends. We must learn to remember to play with our dogs and let the gentle purring of our cats sooth our weary souls.

We must listen to the stories of our elders, and receive the wisdom that comes from the innocence of our children. We must stop to notice the super moon and let the artistry of a sunrise awaken our soul.

As we navigate these next weeks, months, and years, we must refuse to let ideology, politics, or any other thing , separate us any further from one another and from our faith in the redeeming love of God.

We are not put on this earth to save ourselves. That’s been done – Jesus did it!

Our Baptism calls us, instead, to continue the reconciling work of Jesus our King until the whole world recognizes its citizenship in the kingdom of God and lives as one body, one spirit in Christ.

It’s the kind of work that will take a village – or as we call it, a church. We need one another, and we need to share the nourishment of Word and Sacrament regularly together because that what strengthens us and unite us. We need to eat together and pray together, and play together. We even need to disagree together. Church is where we learn and practice forgiveness so that we can take it out into the world, beyond these walls, because as you know, our world remains divided and enslaved by sin.

As poet Mary Oliver said, “I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.”


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pentecost 21, 2016: Our divine work

This sermon was preached in Spanish at La Capilla de Santa Maria, Hendersonville, NC. The audio is Spanish. The text is posted below in Spanish and in English.

Lectionary: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c; Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19

(Note: if the link above doesn't work on your device, click this LINK)

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


Hoy nuestras Escrituras ofrecen dos historias diferentes de curación,las dos son de leprosos extranjeros. En esos días, un leproso era exilado de su familia y comunidad para prevenir que la enfermedad se transmitiera. Fue una existencia de soledad y vergüenza.

Un leproso tenía que mantenerse a 50 pasos de otras personas y gritar “leproso” si una persona se acercaba. No podían trabajar y tenían que mendigar por su comida. La mayoría de la gente consideraba la lepra como un castigo de pecado.

El primer leproso que se menciona es Naaman, un gran y poderoso comandante militar. Su lepra estaba en etapa inicial, pero si progresara lo hubiesen exilado y perdería su posición de poder.

Oyendo sobre su condición, una joven esclava que servía a la esposa de Naaman ofreció consejo:¿Porqué Naaman no va a ver al profeta de Dios en Samaria? El podría curarlo.

Así que Naaman fue a buscar a este profeta, llevándole una ofrenda de obsequios costosos demostrando su importancia con esplendor militar. Pero cuando Naaman llegó, Eliseo no salió a verlo. En ves, lo mandó a bañarse siete veces en el Rio Jordán.

El poderoso Naaman se siente ofendido. ¿Eso es? ¿Vine esta distancia a bañarme en el rio? ¡Pude haber hecho eso en mi casa! ¡Nuestros ríos son mejores! Naaman sale pisoteando con rabia; su orgullo esta ofendido y han desaparecido sus sueños de un glorioso regreso a su casa después de una milagrosa curación.

Naaman al fín acepta hacer lo que Eliseo le mando a hacer y fue curado. Sin pompa y sin celebración – solo una cura, y un poco de vergüenza frente a sus soldados.

La curación divina es mucho más que la reparación física. Es siempre un acto de reconciliación. Es la restauración completa de vida y relaciones.

El segundo leproso de quien oímos está en el Evangelio de Lucas. Una comunidad de diez leprosos vio a Jesús acercándose, y como requiere la ley, gritaron su presencia. Conociendo la reputación de Jesús, ellos pidieron misericordia. Ellos habían oído de la compasión de Jesús y las curaciones milagrosas que él había hecho, y ellos esperaban que él hiciera lo mismo con ellos.

Y así, Jesús lo hizo. Jesús les dijo que se presentaran a los sacerdotes que por ley podían declararlos limpios y les permitían regresar a sus familias, comunidades, y sus trabajos. Cuando iban al pueblo a ver los sacerdotes, los leprosos notaron que su piel se había curado.

Nueve de ellos fueron a los sacerdotes. Uno regresó a darle las gracias a Jesús. Este era un extranjero – y esto es importante porque los extranjeros eran odiados.

Ellos no sabían ni seguían la ley Judía. Ellos tenían diferentes costumbres, comidas, vestimentas, y formas de hablar y de rezarle a Dios.

El extranjero no conocía la ley Judía pero sabía la presencia de Dios que él encontró en Jesús. Humillándose ante Jesús, él dio las gracias, dándole gloria a Dios. Siendo justo a los otros nueve, ellos estaban haciendo lo que Jesús les dijo.

Sin embargo, lo que impresionó a Jesús fue que este extranjero que estaba acostumbrado a ser odiado, maltratado y humillado, tuvo el coraje de responder a un impulso interno de regresar a Jesús para regresar a la Presencia Divina que le había restaurado a una vida completa. Y Jesús lo comendó por haber vuelto, diciendo, “Levántate y sigue tu camino, tu fe te ha restaurado por completo.”

Siendo fiel no es conociendo las reglas, siendo parte de un grupo aceptado, ni siendo obediente. La fe es un impulso interno que nos obliga acercarnos a la Presencia Divina que encontramos en Jesús. En esa presencia gloriosa, solo podemos dar gracias humildemente –
sin importar quienes somos.

No es probable que los judíos aceptaron a este extranjero, aún cuando su piel estaba curada. Pero, ¿cree usted que esto le importó al extranjero? El había estado en la presencia de Dios en Jesús, y fue hecho completo – en su cuerpo y su vida. Su vida cambiaría para siempre, en adición de las vidas de todas quienes el conocería y con quienes hablaría.

En su carta a Timoteo, San Pablo nos recuerda presentarnos a Dios con la cabeza alta. Sin importar nuestras circunstancias o la condición de nuestra jornada de fe, no debemos tener vergüenza porque somos amados por Dios.

Cuando el mundo hace esto difícil de recordar, nuestra fe nos obligará regresar a la presencia de Dios en Jesús Cristo, quien nos hará completos. La iglesia es donde logramos esto. Nos reunimos con nuestra familia de fe cada domingo para entrar en la presencia de Dios en Cristo, dar las gracias, alimentarnos con la Palabra y Sacramento, y ayudarnos a recordar la Buena Noticia que somos amados.

Entonces nosotros, como el cuerpo de Cristo y como miembros individuales de él, somos hechos completos. Y estando enteros nos da un propósito – una misión – que nuestro Catecismo dice es: “llevar a cabo el trabajo Cristiano de reconciliación en el mundo” (BCP, 855)

San Francisco de Asis dijo así: “Hemos sido llamados a sanar heridos, restablecer lo que se ha quebrado, y traer a casa los que han perdido su camino”

Para hacer eso, no tenemos que ser poderosos ni ser aceptables al mundo. Solo tenemos que ser fieles.

Así, como nuestro Salvador, Jesús Cristo le dijo al leproso, es hora de levantarnos y seguir nuestro camino; nuestra fe nos ha hecho completos, y tenemos trabajo divino que hacer.



Our Scriptures today offer us two very different healing stories, both involving lepers who are foreigners. In those days, a person with leprosy was exiled from his family and community in order to keep the disease from spreading. It was a lonely, shameful existence.

A leper had to keep at least 50 paces away from other people and call out “Leper!” if someone came near. Unable to work, they were forced to beg for their food. Most people considered leprosy to be punishment for sin.

The first leper we hear about is Naaman, a great and mighty military commander. His leprosy is in its early stages, but if it progresses, he’ll be exiled and lose his position of power.

Hearing about his condition, a young Israelite slave girl serving Naaman’s wife offers some advice: Why doesn’t Naaman go see the prophet of God in Samaria? He could cure him.

So Naaman goes off to find this prophet, bringing an offering of expensive gifts and showing off his importance with military pageantry. But when Naaman arrives, Elisha doesn’t even come out to greet him. Instead, he instructs Naaman to wash in the River Jordan seven times.

The powerful Naaman is highly insulted. ‘That’s it? I came all this way to wash in the river? I could’ve done that at home! Our rivers are better!’ Naaman stomps off in a rage; his pride wounded and his expectation of a glorious homecoming following a miraculous cleansing – gone!

Naaman eventually submits, does as Elisha commanded, and is healed. No pomp, no circumstance – just a cure, and a bit of embarrassment in front of his soldiers.

The thing about divine healing, though, is that it is so much more than physical repair-work. It is always an act of reconciliation. It’s a restoration to wholeness of life and relationship.

The second leper we hear about is in Gospel of Luke. A community of ten lepers sees Jesus approaching and, as required by law, call out their presence. Knowing Jesus’ reputation, they also called out for mercy. They had heard about Jesus’ compassion and the miraculous healings he had already done and they were hoping he would do the same for them.

And he did. Jesus tells them to present themselves to the priests who, by law, can declare them clean and allow them to return to their families, their communities, and their jobs.

As they head toward town to see the priests the lepers notice that their skin is clean. Nine of them go on to the priests. One returns to Jesus, giving thanks.This one was a foreigner – and that’s important – because foreigners were hated.

They didn’t know or keep Jewish law. They had different customs, different food, different clothing, different ways of talking about and praying to God.

The foreigner may not have known Jewish law,but he knew the presence of God, which he found in Jesus. Humbling himself at Jesus’ feet, he cried out his thanks, giving glory to God.

To be fair, the other nine were doing as Jesus told them, but what moved Jesus, was that this foreigner, who was used to being hated, mistreated, and humbled, had the courage to respond to an inner prompting to return to Jesus, to return to the Divine Presence that had restored him to wholeness of life.

And Jesus commended him for it, saying, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you whole.”

Being faithful isn’t about knowing the rules, being part of the acceptable group, or even about being obedient. Faith is an inner prompting that compels us to draw close to the Divine Presence, which we find in Jesus. In that glorious presence, we can only give humble thanks –no matter who we are.

It isn’t likely the Jews accepted this foreigner, even once his skin was clean. But do you think that mattered to him? He had been in the presence of God in Jesus, and was made whole - in his body and his life. His life would be forever changed by that, along with everyone he knew and told about it.

In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul reminds us to present ourselves to God as one approved. Whatever our circumstance or the condition of our faith journey, we have no need to be ashamed because we are beloved of God.

When the world makes that hard to remember, our faith will compel us back into the Presence of God in Jesus Christ, who will make us whole.

The church is where we do that. We gather with our family of faith each Sunday to come into the presence of God in Christ, give our thanks, be fed by Word and Sacrament, and help each other remember the Good News that we are loved.

Then we, as the body of Christ and as individual members of it, are made whole. And our wholeness gives us a purpose - a mission – which our Catechism says is: “to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.”

St. Francis of Assisi said it like this: “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart,
and to bring home those who have lost their way.”

To do that, we don’t have to be powerful or even acceptable to the world.We only have to be faithful.

So, as our Savior, Jesus Christ said to the leper, it’s time for us to get up and go on our way; our faith has made us whole, and we have divine work to do!


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pentecost 17, 2016: Until we love like God loves

Lectionary: Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Click HERE for the audio link.

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

In my prayer the last few weeks, two friends among the communion of saints have figured prominently. One is Justin, a boy whom Steve and I called our “other son,” who killed himself 4 years ago, and the other is medieval mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, who was my prayer partner during my process to ordination. and is a frequent prayer companion with me in my life.

It wasn’t until I read today’s lectionary that I understood why these two had been so present for me lately. Each one has been an important tutor for me about love.

A little bit about Julian… One commentator says, “Julian’s meditations do not pretend to take away the pain of today’s world, but they can inspire believers to rise up in the midst of the struggle and fix their eyes on God. [Julian’s meditations] promote the virtues of self-acceptance and neighborly love and show how these qualities help [us] discover the face of God. This ability to recognize God in all things is crucial for [us] who are so prone to discouragement because [we] keep forgetting [we] are loved.” (Brendan Doyle, Meditations with Julian of Norwich, 8.)

Julian’s book is called Revelations of Love, and it describes her visions of Jesus’ suffering and death. When I first read it I was so surprised. It was exciting, joyful, and very disturbing, comforting, and challenging. She spoke of the “homeliness” of Jesus, that is, the simplicity of Jesus’ commands, his absolute proximity to us, his presence right here with us, and his powerful, intimate love of us.

We often forget that – that God’s love for us is powerful and tender, homely and intimate. This, I believe, is what Jesus is teaching us in today’s gospel from Luke.

Luke begins by telling us that tax collectors and other sinners were coming to hear Jesus speak. The very presence of these “ungodly” people was making the “godly” people around them complain: “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

In response to their grumbling, Jesus tells three parables (note: we hear only two of these parables today.We’ll hear the third one next Sunday).The first parable is so familiar to us – it’s the iconic story of the Good Shepherd. So there’s the flock of 99, one gets lost, and the shepherd leaves the whole flock to go find that one who was lost. As we read this story, we picture that icon of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, wrapping the sheep on his shoulders, taking it safely home. It’s comforting.

The thing is, it was a comforting image for those first listeners. These were the Pharisees and the others who are already scandalized by the presence of these sinners among them. So now Jesus tells a story and makes God into a shepherd. It was shocking and disturbing to them because in that time, shepherds were dishonest people. They were scorned by good folk. They used to graze their sheep on other people’s land (which was basically stealing).They were unclean ritually, they could NOT have come to church. They were also unclean - there were no showers out in the fields, so they stank.

The Scribes and Pharisees would have been scandalized by this portrayal of God because God was NOT a stanky shepherd.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, Jesus goes on and tells the second parable. Only this time he cast God as… A WOMAN doing a menial task unworthy of even the lowest man: sweeping the floor of her home to find a lost coin!

Have you noticed there is no comforting, iconic image of God as a woman? Just sayin’…

The God Jesus reveals in these parables gets dirty and scratched up because He will chase after one single one who has gotten lost. The God Jesus reveals finds no task too menial or undignified in Her search for a single lost treasure.

Treasure: think about what this means… Think about being that valuable – a treasure to God.

How many of us truly feel like that? How many of us remember that the person we choose to hate is also a treasure to God and we must approach them that way.

I confess that some people challenge my Christian virtue on this count, but one of the gifts that these people can offer us is that they give us the ability to humble ourselves and build our ability to love until it looks like the way God loves. Think about what Paul was saying in his letter. We have to build our ability to love until it looks like God’s love – toward others and toward ourselves.

Which brings me back to my “other son, ”Justin. Justin was in my youngest son’s class in high school. He’d had a rough childhood, and though he had loving grandparents and extended family, he had no parents. They were there, but they were absent to him, so he sought to create parent-like relationships, as he understood those, with a few of us.

Steve and I were Justin’s college parents. Our boys were going to college so I helped Justin apply for college, get financial aid, get his books, buy his medicines (he had severe juvenile diabetes). I bought his dorm supplies and later moved him in with my older son into an apartment off campus. Justin accompanied our boys to our house in NC for the holidays and witnessed what it looked like to be a son – something he didn’t know how to do.

He didn’t know that as a son he could make demands on his parents. He saw our boys doing it, and he even came to me and we talked about it. He didn’t feel worthy, though, to ask anything of us and he certainly didn’t trust love enough to risk it.

Steve and I worked very hard to assure Justin that our love for him was our choice. He didn’t have to earn it. It was there for him. We loved him. He was a treasure to us.

But Justin had grown up with a very rigid understanding of sin and of God. He judged himself for the dark feelings that he carried in him from his childhood. He believed that he must have been bad because God let so many bad things happen to him. Sadly, he also believed (as do many lost souls) that his diabetes was a punishment from God because of his badness.

To Steve and me, Justin was a gifted, beautiful, young man who needed to repent of his concept of a vengeful, punitive God and open himself to the God of love of God that Jesus describes in today’s gospel. He needed to repent of his hateful feelings about himself and see what we saw: a treasure.

In the end, Justin couldn’t do that. He couldn’t repent, and he took his own life. The consolation I have is that I believe that Justin is reconciled with God and finally knows how much we love and miss him. I believe Justin now understands the truth in today’s gospel: that each of us is a treasure to God.

As Christians we believe that the fullness of God is revealed to us in Jesus, the Christ. If we have ears to hear Jesus’ revelation of God in today’s gospel, we must repent of whatever concepts of God we have learned or cling to instead to the words of our Savior. Those are the words of life. To do otherwise is to be a foolish people who have no understanding, as the prophet Jeremiah said today.

(Note from the preacher to get the handout with the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila. This prayer helped me get through the loss of Justin, among other things, and helped me transform my own understanding of God.)

"He desired me so I came close.

No one can near God unless He has
prepared a bed for

A thousand souls hear His call every second,
but most every one then looks into their life’s mirror and
says, “I am not worthy to leave this sadness.”

When I first heard His courting song, I too
looked at all I had done in my life and said,

“How can I gaze into His omnipresent eyes?”
I spoke those words with all my heart,

but then He sang again, a song even sweeter,
and when I tried to shame myself once more from His presence
God showed me His compassion and spoke a divine truth,

“I made you, dear, and all I made is perfect.
Please come close, for I

When Jesus says, “…I tell you, there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents" he means it - but he isn’t talking about our behavior. He’s talking about our hearts. Our behavior is simply the manifestation of what’s going on in our hearts. It’s how we know repentance is needed.

If we love God as God loves us, we will live humbly, nurturing every gift God has given us and our neighbors and using them for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people.

If we love others, as Jesus commanded us to do, we will live in peace and forgiveness.

If we love ourselves, we will care for our bodies which God has crafted so marvelously for our use; and we will work to expand our hearts until we love like God loves.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pentecost 8, 2016: Paying mercy forward

Preached while supplying at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Saluda NC.

Lectionary: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Note: If the embedded audio doesn't work on your device, click HERE for the mp3 version.

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

So… this week, y’all! Really! All of our media outlets - TV, radio, the internet, and social media – are flooded with cries from the hearts of people who are mourning men who lay dead in our streets. There are videos of people who are frustrated and angry, and pleas from people who are overwhelmed by despair, and pronouncements from people whose hearts are broken by hate.

In Episcopalian/Anglican circles, there is a hashtag being promulgated for all preachers to use today, given that our lectionary includes the story of the Good Samaritan. The hashtag asks the question: #WhoIsMyNeighbor

Everyone is in a different place in understanding and processing the shootings of two more black men by white police, and the shooting of five white policemen by a black gunman bent on revenge.

This is a tough moment for us all. I’m grieving too and feeling a bit overwhelmed by the insane hatred that seems to have a grip on our culture, hatred that continues to result in the deaths of our own.

This hatred isn’t limited to the shooters, though. I have “friends” on Facebook and in my life, who are saying the most awful things about people they don’t know, but feel justified in judging.

It brings to my mind the scripture story from a couple of weeks ago about the woman with the alabaster jar whom the Pharisee judged to be a sinner and therefore unworthy. You’ll remember, Jesus asked the Pharisee, ‘Do you see this woman?’

But the Pharisee hadn’t really seen her. He’d only seen what he believed about her. And he judged what she was doing (intimately touching Jesus with her hair loosed) inside that belief and it confirmed for him that he was right about her.

But he was wasn’t right… about the woman or her actions. Jesus set him straight, of course, but the story leads us to believe that the Pharisee left that exchange unchanged.

That happens a lot. Even in the face of transforming love, some people choose
to cling to their judgements and hatred.

Christians don’t have that option. As Meister Eckhart, a 13th century Dominican monk, wrote:

“…Every object, every creature, every man, woman and child
has a soul and it is the destiny of all

to see as God sees, to know as God knows
to feel as God feels, to Be
as God

(...the conclusion of his poem, “To See As God Sees”)

Like the Pharisee in the story from a couple of weeks ago, the priest and the Levite in this parable of the Good Samaritan, also didn’t see the person left for dead in the street – not as God sees anyway. If they had, they would have been moved by pity and compassion and helped him.

To be fair, the priest and Levite may have had very good reasons for not helping the man. Jewish priests of the time were forbidden from touching a dead body, and the man may have appeared dead.

Or…maybe they were in a hurry to get to the worship service they were about to do, and they couldn’t get their robes dirty.

Or… maybe they believed it was a ruse, and a thief was waiting to ambush whoever stopped to help him. That happened a lot in those days.

Or… maybe it was too bloody and the man’s injuries just overwhelmed them.

And what if he died and someone sued them? (OK, that’s a modern excuse)

We all have our reasons… don’t we?

In Jesus’ teaching, the one who did see as God sees was the Samaritan, the heretic half-breed. As one commentator said, “Ceremonially unclean, socially outcast, and religiously a heretic, the Samaritan is the very opposite of… the priest and the Levite. The story must have been a shocking one to its first audience, shattering their categories of who are and who are not the people of God.” (Source: quoting Fred B. Craddock)

Which brings us back to the question: #WhoIsMyNeighbor?

Back in my days as an advocate for victims of violence, it was common for the women I served to ask me, “Why are you helping me? Why do you care?”

My response was, “Because you matter.” Isn’t it sad that that was such a surprise to them?

My service to those women, children, and peripherally, to their abusers led me to expand my boundaries, moving me to call for my community to love and serve those whom we, like the priest and Levite, would have preferred to walk past – for a whole lot of reasons.

When we, as a community, entered into relationship with them, tending to whatever wounds they bore (physical, emotional, or spiritual), we and they were transformed, because mercy is like that: the exchange works both ways at once.

Did you know that the root of the word mercy is the same root for the words, merchant and mercenary? The Latin root word ‘merces’ means reward or payment for services rendered and it implies an exchange between the one who pays and the one who is paid.

Think about it. The exchange for us, as people of God, is three-fold: God rewards us (by grace - certainly not because we deserve it or have earned it) and we pay it forward just as graciously to our neighbors.

As followers of Jesus we live the reality that we are a people forgiven, healed, and renewed. As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are bearers of the light of Christ to the world, and we are called to make that reality present in our lives and in our world.

So when racism rears its ugly head, which it did with a vengeance this week, we walk boldly into the hate, unafraid, because we’re confident that the Spirit of Christ which dwells in us is powerful enough to reconcile everyone back into Love.

When revenge steals life from us, we forgive and tend to the wounds it left behind.

When we confront a majority of voices who have very good reasons why we should not show mercy, we show mercy anyway, because we are God’s people, followers of Christ, and that is how we love God, neighbor, and self as we’re commanded to do.


It is as Edwin Markham once said in that now familiar poem:

He drew a circle that shut me out––
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

After the last few weeks, it may feel like we’re spitting into the wind; like there’s more to be done out there than we can do. Listen to how many voices are already speaking that kind of despair.

But our hope is in Jesus Christ whose promises to us are true, so we do not despair. We act. Re-read today’s Psalm. That’s how we act. We shatter the categories the world has given to those who are or are not our neighbors.

There’s a meme floating around which says it’s from the Talmud (which is like commentary on the Torah). I don’t know that for sure, but it’s wisdom worth sharing, so here’s what it says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Thankfully, we do this together – as the body of Christ, the Church – so we are never alone; and we’re nourished regularly by Word and Sacrament, which means our strength is never depleted. Never.

I want to close with a blessing I borrowed from the letter to the Colossians. Let us pray.

May we be “filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to [God], who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” (adapted from Col 1:9-12)


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pentecost 7, 2016: Manifest divine power into the world

I had the privilege of celebrating and preaching today at The Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration in Saluda, NC. My prepared sermon was left behind out of obedience to the Holy Spirit and I preached extemporaneously, therefore, this is available in audio only. The 8:00 service sermon differed enough from the 10:00 service that I've included both here. If the embedded audio doesn't work for your device, I'm including a link that will work.

Lectionary: Lectionary: 2 Kings 5:1-14, Psalm 30, Galatians 6:(1-6)7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

8:00 service: Click this LINK for mp3 version

10:00 service: Click this LINK for mp3 version

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pentecost 5, 2016: Cultivating seeds of divine love

Lectionary: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a; Psalm 42 and 43; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

(Note: I preached from notes today, so the audio text will be expanded from the notes below)

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

Intro: the preacher thanks the intercessor who added the intention of the Orlando shooting to our prayers last Sunday. We had no idea the scope of this tragedy as it would unfold throughout the days to come.

As we drove home from her, I got a call from my mother. She was panicked to know that my daughter (who is a lesbian) was OK. My daughter lives hundreds of miles from Orlando, but it wasn’t a rational fear my mother was experiencing. She was touching the fear every LGBTQAI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Asexual, Intersex) sisters and brothers experience everyday: the fear of being hurt or killed because of their sexual identity.

Share Rev. Wayne Nicholson’s (St. John’s, Mt. Pleasant, MI) letter (See below). This is the time for their voice, not ours. We, who are allies, must listen to them and what they need.

…We had awoken, of course, to the horrific news from Orlando: Forty-nine people shot dead at a gay bar by a murderer with an AK-15 assault rifle, 53 others seriously wounded.

To my GLBTQ community, I am with you with a broken heart, I share your anger, your fear, your love.

To my heterosexual community, I am with you also, but you must understand: This was not just an attack on Americans, this was not just the act of an Islamist lone-wolf terrorists, this was the murder of forty-nine people because he assumed they were gay. This was the murder of men and women, straight and gay, brothers, lovers, friends, uncles, sons, daughters, and at least one mom. Because they were in a gay bar. Not a "youth club" or any other sort of nightclub, a gay bar. (I'll not rant my disappointment at public leaders, including leaders of our own Church, who have avoided saying "gay" club... And I send my thanks to the Lt. Governor of Utah, of all people, and the Bishop of West Tennessee, who have not shied away from the acronym LGBT nor the word "gay.")

You must understand, also, that GLBTQ people, no matter how "out," no matter how confidently visible, live in constant, constant anxiety: "Why is that person looking at me? Am I safe? Can I touch my husband's hand here at Ric's?" We check our surroundings, we look over our shoulders, we avoid any public display of affection that you would take for granted because we never know who might take offense, who might be outraged, who might be dangerous. This is our life. Every. Damn. Day.

And now for some of us that anxiety has returned. Three weeks ago I was in the pulpit. Midway through the sermon a man entered the back of the church, a man I didn't recognize. He was taking the back pew, eyes forward toward the Altar (or me), reaching in his pocket. For some reason I had this moment of fear: "Who is he? Why is he late? Why is he reaching in his pocket? Does he have a gun? Is my time up?" And then, by grace, my fear abated with the thought and prayer, "All shall be well."

Homegrown terrorism is a fact. Accessibility to weapons created to kill large numbers of people is a fact. Right-wing extremism is a fact. Denunciation of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people is a fact. And it is reprehensible and un-Christian. And it contributes to terrorism. I believe that companies which sell AK-15 rifles, people who espouse fanaticism of any sort, and so-called Christian leaders who tell me I am intrinsically disordered, who say the people in the bar got what they deserved, who shun me because of who I love, are complicit in the tragedy of Orlando. They all have blood on their hands.

But I must return to the thought and prayer, "All shall be well." And I must heed the words of St. Paul that "faith without works is dead." Prayer is good. But prayer isn't enough. I must speak out, I must name the crime for what it was.

And I must love, and I must have hope.

In Christ,

Wayne is right: prayer isn’t enough. We must also act in solidarity with our LGBTQAI family – listening to them as they tell us, their allies, what they need from us – and in our gospel today, Jesus demonstrates for us exactly how to do that. It’s a spiritual habit any of us, in fact, all of us, can and should cultivate.

Before we get to that, let’s review a few things in this story.

1. NAMES (last week): “magnify the name of God.” The 8th chapter of Luke begins by naming the women following Jesus, which was the conclusion of our lectionary reading last Sunday. The issue of naming was very important in the culture of Jesus’ time.
• appellation
• (Hebraic) how you are known… details and feelings that one experiences upon hearing the name. E.g.: Francis of Assisi. Watch any victim of violence respond to hearing the name of their perpetrator.

2. DEMONS (Today): Anyone who speaks of demons is considered unsophisticated, superstitious, unscientific.
• E.g.” Legion” would be listed in the DSM 5 as Multiple Personality Disorder (at least on the first axis)
• “Not in their right mind” is a phrase we still use today, but we hear it as someone who would benefit from therapy, medication, or medical intervention (elderly person with an UTI)

All that may be true, but as one commentator put it: would therapy have stopped Hitler? Would medication have changed the murderous way Stalin or Pol Pot or Idi Amin?

There’s more to this concept of demons than science can manage.

Luke describes Mary Magdalene as one from whom 7 demons had gone out.
• In ancient Biblical understanding, the number seven:spiritual perfection, completeness, and the work or action of God.
• Demons – devils: general divine agency/a higher power. Later it was used to refer to destructive power, esp. morally.

I’ve heard many refer to addiction as a demon - destructive power. My experience with the chronic repetition of destructive lifestyle of some abuse victims affirms this too.

The demoniac, however he is understood, is possessed by a destructive force. How Jesus acts in this story is remarkable:

1) Jesus went to the demoniac (everyone else ran away in fear) and began a relationship with him where he was, as he was.
2) Jesus asked him his name.
3) Jesus listened to him and gave him what he asked for.

The symbolism in this story is so rich. Let’s listen to some of them in spiritual – not literal – terms:
• a Gentile (a despised outsider) living among the dead
• naked (unclothed by the spirit of Christ), wild (spiritually undisciplined), and bound with chains (sin)
• Legion: a Roman army of about 6,000 soldiers. It symbolized “the occupying forces whose power was overwhelming and whose presence meant the loss of control over every dimension of their society.” (Source: Keith F. Nickel, Preaching the Gospel in Luke, 120)
• the abyss (bottomless pit of nothingness, powerlessness)
• the pigs (unclean, despised by Jews)
• the drowning
• the rebirth of the man
• the fear of the onlookers

So, what’s the spiritual habit I mentioned we need to cultivate as followers of Christ? It was in our Collect: perpetual love. We need to walk into relationship with the demoniacs we encounter. We can be willing to walk into their darkness confident of the light of Christ we bear. It takes practice and there are parameters to follow:

1. Walk to them.
2. Don’t judge them or try to fix them. Just love them.
3. Listen to them as a prayer (meaning behind the words).
4. Stand still while God works.
5. Recognize that most people are afraid of change.
6. Remember a divine seed is being planted.

Jesus sent the man home with instruction to tell everyone the great things God had done for him. This was a seed of divine love planted by Jesus and harvested later by St. Paul in his ministry to the Gentiles.

The lesson for us as members of the body of Christ is: Detach from outcomes. Sometimes we are asked to simply to plant a seed, not to reap a harvest.

As we did with “seeing” one another last week, I pray you will practice and build this new spiritual habit of perpetual love here, with one another, then take it out there to the world – magnifying the name of God in the world.

Close with prayer/poem by St. John of the Cross as a response to the Orlando shooting.

It’s called: "If you love"

You might quiet the whole world for a second
if you pray.

And if you love, if you
really love,

our guns will wilt. (Source: Daniel Ladinsky, trans., Love Poems from God, Penguin Compass, 2002, p. 317)


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pentecost 4 2016: Reconciling "seeing"

Lectionary1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a; Psalm 5:1-8; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3
Preacher: The Very Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, supply priest at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Family, Mills River, NC

(Note: if the above audio format doesn't work for your device, please try THIS LINK.

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

We begin our worship every Sunday with the Collect for Purity. It’s a Collect because we are asking God to collect us from our various life situations and perspectives into a single state of mind that in our worship we may be one body, one spirit in Christ. Let’s listen to it again: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP, 355)

We talked last week about the “inspiration” of the Holy Spirit – God breathing God’s self into our bodies, into our lives. This Collect reminds us that it is by divine “inspiration” that we are able love God completely and magnify the name of God. To magnify is to reveal the nature of God by what we think, do, and say; and the name of God is God’s identity.

My experience anymore is that God is too often magnified by God’s people as a gun-toting, foreigner-hating, American flag-waving judge who is waiting to smite anyone who makes a mistake or violates a law. Either that, or God is far away in some heavenly realm, removed from the vicissitudes of life on earth, instead deputizing certain members of the people of God to judge, punish, and even kill those who are determined to be sinners in our midst.

Yet our readings show us something very different. They reveal a God who knows us intimately and loves us all - and I mean ALL- deeply; a God who sees beyond our behavior, our reputation, and our titles to the truth about us. They show us the merciful nature of God who, seeing our sins – which is anything that divides us from one another or from God - forgives us and opens space for us to change, that we might do the same for one another.

First, however, we must trust God enough to open our eyes and our hearts to know our own sin, especially our invisible sin – which is the sin we can’t or won’t see. Most of us resist this, I know I do, but it’s very clear in these Scripture stories that God isn’t leading us to an awareness of our sin in order to shame us or punish us but to encourage us to live differently, to live as people who magnify the true name of God.

Jesus demonstrates this by telling the story of the two debtors. One debtor owed much, the other half as much. Their creditor cancels both of their debts, and Jesus asks Simon the Pharisee: who will love the creditor more? Simon answers correctly: The one who had greater debt.

Then Jesus turns to the woman and asks Simon, ‘Do you see this woman?’ Simon was caught up short because he hadn’t really seen her. He’d only seen what he believed about her – that she was a sinner. He’d seen what she was doing – intimately touching Jesus with her hair loosed (a very suggestive detail in the gospel) which confirmed his conclusion that she was a sinner. Feeling justified, Simon had condemned the woman in his thoughts, but he hadn’t actually seen her.

When Jesus looked at the woman he saw, and publicly described, the joy of a life restored, the light of her love and gratitude pouring forth as tears that washed his feet. When he looked at Simon, he saw the sin of spiritual pride, the interior darkness of Simon’s judgement against both the woman and himself. You see, Simon’s lack of hospitality toward Jesus was a proverbial slap in the face to Jesus and Jesus called him on it saying, ‘You gave me no kiss, no water for my dusty feet, no oil to anoint my head…’

The gospel story demonstrates for us all how God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known and no secrets are hid, sees the truth about each of us and reveals it to us so that we can be set free from what divides us and begin to live together in reconciliation. Jesus’ public proclamation of forgiveness set the woman free from the habit of her former life, a life which held her bound in the chains of poverty, shame, and contempt. It also set Simon free from the invisible bonds of his privilege, bonds that strangled the love right out of him and blinded him to the truth about himself, others, and even God.

Seeing and being seen in this way transforms us. When I am attacked by a Simon who has misjudged me, or when I’m drowning in my own insecurities, I can look into my husband’s eyes or my children’s eyes, or even my dog’s eyes, and see myself as they see me, and I am healed.

When I look into the eyes of the beggar as I hand him my dollar, he sees my love and respect for him, and there’s that moment of surprise, a hiccup in time where both of us know we are truly “seeing” each other. It’s a vulnerable place to be. What if the beggar sees my sin? We are, after all, both sinners saved by grace. Perhaps this is the true reason we often look away…

In every church, every community, everywhere you look, there are people who won’t get along; people who judge another based on what they think about them or their behavior – without really “seeing” them. Yet every Sunday when we gather for Holy Eucharist, we have the opportunity to practice during the Exchange of Peace what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel: to “see” our neighbors; to connect with them, forgive them or ask their forgiveness if that’s what’s needed; to notice and let go of whatever divides us. Only when we are reconciled to one another are we to approach the table for Holy Communion.

I have to admit: I love a chaotic exchange of peace. I love the love that descends upon us like a cloud covering us and permeating us. I also love the transformation that can happen when we use this weekly opportunity to really “see” one another; to forgive and be forgiven, and to live together differently afterwards as a result. It is by practicing this in here that we are made ready to worthily magnify the name of God out there.

So today, I have a 3-part challenge for us:

1) I challenge us to choose to really “see” our neighbors today as we offer one another the sign of peace.

2) I challenge each of us to find one person we need to forgive and go forgive them; or one person whose forgiveness we need, and ask for it. This might be forgiveness like the woman in the gospel received for something we did, or the forgiveness like Simon received for something we thought.

3) Finally, having practiced this kind of reconciling “seeing” here in church, I challenge us to make one opportunity to practice it out there in the world and come back next Sunday, our last Sunday together with me as your presider, and share our stories about how it went.

Let’s close with prayer. “Christ our true and only Light: receive our morning prayers, and illumine the secrets of our hearts with your healing goodness, that… we [may be] made new in the light of your heavenly grace. Amen.” (Source: Gelassian Sacramentary)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Pentecost 3, 2016: Living compassionately like Jesus did

Extemporaneous sermon preached at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Family, Mills River, NC. Transcribed.
Lectionary: 1 Kings 17:8-16 (17-24), Galatians 1:11-24, Luke 7:11-17

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

The Old Testament reading and the New Testament reading bring up for us the concept of compassion -as distinct from the concept of pity. Pity is a thought. Compassion is an act. So, I want to talk about that word for just a minute. The Greek work that we translate as “compassion” literally means, “ to feel the bowels yearn.” For the ancient people this was the seat of compassion. This (points to gut) is what we would call heart. This (points to head) was the location of thought, as for us.

So, when Jesus had compassion on the widow whose son had just died, leaving her penniless, homeless, and without protection, basically, she was to become a beggar until she died – he felt a yearning in his bowels. For the ancient peoples, the bowel was the location of love.

So in his body, Jesus felt the stirring of love. We know that God is love. So the stirring in our bowels is the stirring of God, acting in us. He said to the young man - our Scripture interprets it as, “Rise,” but what it actually says, the Greek work says, “Awake,” “Wake up.” which he did, and he gave him to his mother.

Now the story in Elijah and the story in Luke are almost identical. Elijah hears the spirit of God stirring in him and the first thing the Spirit of God says to him is, “Go.” The Scripture starts with, “The word of God came to Elijah…” The word of God, the logos of God, the action of God, came to Elijah and said, Go. Go to Zarapheth and there you’ll find a widow; and she’s going to give you something to eat because I have commanded that that happen.

So the word of God, the command of God is creative, is it not? In Genesis, God created ádam, which means human, and eve, which means first, and breathed life into their nostrils and they were alive. They became human. (Gen 2: 7). Job, in the book of Job says, ‘the spirit of God made me, but the breath of God gives me life.’ (Job 33:4) And in John, you remember that just recently we read about the upper room just after the crucifixion and the disciples are all afraid, and their behind a locked door; and Jesus passes right through the locked door, and what does he do? He breathes on them and he breathes his own spirit into them; his own life into the apostles including the women.

So Jesus says to the young man, Wake up. Compassion. The compassion that we’re given in these stories show us the compassion of God and the compassion we should have for one another. God says to Elijah, go to that widow. And he does, and the miracle happens with the bread and the oil; and he eats, and she continues to eat. Then her son dies – and she blames Elijah: you shouldn’t have even brought us to God’s attention because now my son is dead.

But what happens in Elijah? The spirit of God stirs in his bowels and he’s upset. And he goes to God and says, why are you bringing calamity on this woman? And he takes the child and brings him up and lays down on him. He takes his own body, his own life and lays on the boy and he says to God, please, please, please, bring life back to this boy.

But in the story in Luke, Jesus sees this woman walking in the funeral procession and knows that she’s a widow and that her only son has died, which means she going to die poor, a beggar, and he has compassion. He feels the love stirring in his gut and he walks up…

Now remember, in Jewish times and in Jewish faith, if you touch a dead body, you’re unclean. Even if you touch the bier, the thing holding the body, you’re unclean. But how many times does Jesus dispense with those rules when he has to? He walks up to the bier and he touches the bier, not the body, and he says, ‘young man, get up.’

That’s the difference between to story in Elijah and in Luke’s gospel. This story is the same exact story, right down to certain phrases; except in the Elijah story, Elijah lays on the boy and said, ‘God, please bring life back to this boy.’ But in the Luke story, Jesus brings the life back to the boy because… Jesus is God! Nowhere in the history of faith in this community has anyone brought life from death. Nowhere. Other people had done tremendous healings and lots of what we would call magical stuff, but nobody had ever brought somebody who was dead back to life. Yet Jesus did this a couple of times in his ministry, didn’t he?

So the compassion that we’re shown in these two stories is the compassion God has shown people who are suffering and the compassion we’re to have for each other just like Elijah did when this woman’s son died.

So let’s look at: what is the Incarnation. The incarnation was God taking human form, embodying flesh and walking among us. I want to look now at the Latin meaning of the word compassion because that’s what matters her in regard to the incarnation. So, the Greek meaning is that stirring in your bowels, the source of love. The Latin word from which we get the word compassion is "com," meaning "with," and "passio," meaning "to suffer." To have compassion is to suffer with someone.

The Incarnation is Jesus’ compassion, God’s compassion for humanity by coming among us and suffering with us. And we’re asked to follow in Jesus’ steps, to do exactly what he did, right? So when Elijah sees this woman, he suffers with her. ‘Her son is going to die, don’t bring this calamity to her, Lord. Please bring this boy back to life.’ And he does.

Jesus, sees with compassion. Jesus in human form, embodiment of spirit, sees this woman’s calamity about to strike and stops it. He suffers with her and he stops it.

So how do we do that? How do we do that? Isn’t that the whole point of church – to be Christ in the world today? We are bearers of that Holy Spirit. Christ breathed on us – I mean, we just had Pentecost. The Holy Spirit breathed all over this church. And every Sunday we leave here and we are sent out into the world; to walk out into the darkness, or as our Presiding Bishop now says, to enter the nightmare of the world and make it into the dream of God. Right?

The interesting thing about this gospel story from Luke is that it’s the second of a couplet. You may have noticed, but almost always, Luke presents stories in male and female versions. So this story immediately follows the story of the centurion whose slave was healed by Jesus; and then it follows with the woman whose son is healed. Now look at the centurion: a man of the world, commands great respect, has plenty of money. And then the opposite – the widow – whose son has just died- no power, no prestige, no respect… nothing.

So when the action of God, the compassion of God happens to the world, it happens to the powerful and the rich, and it happens to the powerless. It happens to men, to women, to the respected, to the un-respected… It’s as generous as Jesus said, and that’s how ours should be.

So when we hear the world – and ohhh, my gosh in this political season we hear plenty of this, don’t we? - when we hear the world saying who should not be treated with respect, or who should not be given compassion, or who should not be welcome among us… what we hear is this story. We hear it in the context of its couplet: the powerful and the powerless, the respected and the un-respected. And we remember that we bear the spirit of Christ in the world today.

So when God asks us to have compassion the way God asked Elijah and said, Go – go to Zarapheth, God is saying to us and to this church - this congregation is the body of Christ – God says to YOU, Go into the world. Find this person to whom I want to give grace... find this family who needs our compassion and bring it. Give it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a centurion or a widow. Bring it.

The last thing I want to say about this story (Note: this is such a great story. I told someone before church, these are some of my favorite readings, but I find myself saying that a lot!): whenever Jesus spoke, he always spoke in levels. That’s one of the reasons I loved learning Greek to hear the different levels Jesus was speaking in. So the level here is the literal level. There’s a story about a woman whose son dies. There’s a funeral. Jesus touches the bier. The boy wakes. That’s the literal.

Jesus is always talking spiritually too, isn’t he? Always. So remember I said that he said to the boy, ‘Awake. Wake up.’ If we think about it, this is a story about waking up spiritually. We’re walking around, many in the world are walking around either spiritually dead or spiritually asleep - kind of mindlessly going through our stuff; and this includes people who walk into church every Sunday somewhere and pray. They may be saying words, they may be doing (churchy) things, they may be obeying rules, but are they feeling that yearning in their gut? Are they feeling God’s love stirring, ready to pour into the world to bring compassion to someone who suffers?

This story is also for all of us to hear as a prayer. Listen to the symbolism in it: the widow – the person who has no prestige, no power. The son – the Son – get it? - who is dead and God says, wake up! It ends with, “A great prophet has risen among us… and God has looked favorably upon his people.” Let me tell you what the Greek said: “One on whom the spirit of God rests has risen among us; and God has visited his people. So when we hear that, we often hear this being directed at Jesus. This prophet has risen among us. And God has loved us and been favorable to us because this prophet is here. But let me tilt that just a little bit for you.

What is a prophet? A person who speaks the message of God to the world. We’ve got a whole bunch of prophets in the Bible who speak to the people saying, ‘Remember God. Wake up!’

Who woke up? The dead boy. What’s the first thing the dead boy did when he woke up? He spoke to his mother. He’s the prophet! He’s the one on whom the spirit of God rested. And then, the people shouted, God has visited his people! We have proof – this dead man is now up and speaking. He’s the prophet. Jesus is the Savior - not the prophet. It’s not that they didn’t get it. They did get it! They understood what was happening. We’re the ones who keep missing the point.

When you wake up spiritually, you become a prophet. Ahhh, which is why so many people choose never to wake up! It’s a big responsibility, isn’t it? But that’s OK, because it’s not as hard as you might think. Remember in our Collect, we prayed this: “O God from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them.” (BCP, 229)

By your inspiration… What is inspiration? Is there a doctor or nurse in the house? (Reply comes: “Breathing.”) Breathing!

By the breath of God in us, the life of God in us, we come to think and know the things that are right and do them.

One thing you don’t know about me is that I’m a science nerd. If I could have stayed in school I probably would have gone into quantum physics or neuroscience. I love both. So a new discovery in that field is that there’s a direct link between the heart and the brain. They have found the neural pathways that directly link the heart and the brain. So if, we, by the inspiration of God, feel that stirring in our bowels, the location of our love, it will automatically help us to know what is right.

I’ll give you a personal example. I go to Charlotte twice a month to see my therapist. (Note: Yes, I see a therapist. I think everybody should!) On the way back, there’s a place where I’m getting onto I-85 to come back to Shelby, that there’s always a beggar, and it’s not always the same beggar, but it’s one of those spots. There’s always a beggar. So before I leave the doctor’s office, I always take a dollar out of my wallet; so that when I get there, I can just hand him the dollar.

But I struggled for so many years with: should I give this person a dollar? Not this person, any person begging, and here’s why. I worked in alcohol and drug treatment for many years. If I give them a dollar am I just enabling their habit? Am I going to hurt them, rather than help them? If I give them a dollar, are they going to use it to buy their dog food instead of themselves? And so I really struggled with ‘should I give this person a dollar?’ Every time I saw a beggar do I do this? Any yet my heart kept saying - the stirring in my bowel kept saying - give them a dollar.

So I sat and I prayed about it a long time. And you know? It could be that this person is going to use it to put toward buying a drink. But what I get every time I get to give them a dollar… I roll the window down and this is what I get to do (Note: demonstrates with a parishioner in his seat): I get to look at that person right in the eyes. I get to draw near – my body and their body, together. They can feel what I’m feeling. They can see that I have given them the respect of looking them right in the eyes.

What happens with that dollar? I don’t know. I don’t care. What I seek is the opportunity to make that contact. For just a moment to have contact with a person that most people will just ignore, driving like this (demonstrates looking the other way) so they don’t have to look out and see them.

Compassion. The action of God stirring in us. The love of God helping us to know what is right and do what is right. God will bless that dollar I give them. They might use it for alcohol. Not my job. My job is to love. To give that person a moment of love – which I did… which I do. So I always have a dollar ready for them.

So, I’m going to close with a poem from one of my favorite compassionate saints; one of our bishop’s favorite compassionate saints: St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis writes this: God came to my house and asked for charity. I fell on my knees and cried, Beloved, what may I give? Just love, He said, just love. Amen.

Note: Citation on the St. Francis poem is coming. I left my book at the church. :)
Note: If the audio won't play for you here, go to my Facebook or Twitter pages and try there.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Awakened to live

Life is full of little deaths that, as Christians, we are called to enter fully and, as best we can, fearlessly because we believe that death is the gateway to new life: resurrection life. So whether it’s the death of our habits, our expectations, or the death of our self-identifiers, our career, our relationships, or even the final death of our bodies, we who are followers of Jesus Christ know that new life awaits us on the other side.

In his resurrected state Jesus was hungry, cooked and ate with his friends, spoke with them, and allowed them to touch his wounds. He
was real and really there, yet he was also unrecognizable to those who knew and loved him best until his love unlocked the limits of their thinking. Simply speaking her name was enough to open Mary Magdalene to recognize her beloved Jesus. Letting go what made sense in that moment (she was at Jesus’ tomb to tend to his dead body), Mary surrendered to her love of Jesus and was transformed by it. Her transformation led to the transformation of the disciples which led to the birth of Christianity.

Every death we know in this life is like that, and Jesus is as real for us in these moments as he was for Mary Magdalene at the tomb. Promising to be with us always Jesus dwells in us. Uniting his spirit with ours, Jesus is our gateway into eternal resurrection. This is a huge truth which I have to reflect on often because of the limitedness of my humanity. It changes everything to recognize that my smallness is made vast, my weakness strong, by the presence of God in me for the purpose God has which is beyond me.

So it matters that we believe that Jesus was the Christ who came to reconcile humanity to God and that Jesus’ death and resurrection were real. When we choose to let go of what makes sense in our worldly experience and surrender to the love of Jesus that is present within us nothing is impossible, just as Jesus said. (Mt 17:20) Every mountain actually becomes moveable, every created thing becomes a thing of beauty and great value, and every death becomes a gateway to another resurrection.

Resurrection is not only something that happens after we die. It’s a way of being alive - awakened to the reality that the spirit of God in Christ lives/abides/dwells within us both as individuals and as the universal “us.” It is a state of unified being in which we have eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that are one with God’s own heart. In this state of unified awakening, what our tradition calls resurrection life, our wills are aligned with God’s will, and that affects what we do. We act, not out of fear or obedience to laws or traditions, but in love – divine, creative love - which flows from us making everything it touches through us new, whole… holy. The church, the community of faith with all of its supportive traditions, is where this process is (or could be) discovered, nourished, and manifested.

The key to this unified state of being in awakening is surrender. It helps to remember, however, that surrender is not weakness or loss. There is no white flag to wave, no humiliation to face. The English word surrender is derived from the Old French: sur-“over, on top of” + rendere “give back, return.” (Source, Source) To surrender in faith is to choose to return ourselves to our Source. In doing that, we become so much more than ourselves - we become one with all that is, that was, and that will ever be. When that happens, the individualism of western Christianity, in which most of us were reared, fades into foolishness.

Yet, each time my life leads me to another death, as is happening now, I dread what’s coming and I go into the experience with trepidation. I don’t know why… I’ve been through these deaths enough to know that the new life it will open for me is totally worth the pain of dying for it. Still, it’s hard each and every time. I take solace in knowing Jesus struggled similarly in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest. “I am deeply grieved” he told his disciples. Then he asked God if it might be possible for the cup to pass from him. (Mt 26: 38-39, Mk 14:34-36)

Could it have gone another way? Nothing is impossible for God, but for us, the only way to resurrection life is through death. Dying involves a total detachment from expectation and outcome, and I always forget how empty the accompanying void of joy feels as the dying happens.

To me, it’s like the selective memory many of us mothers have about the intensity of labor in childbirth until, that is, we are in the midst of giving birth again. Then we have that moment where we wonder why we did this again. When the baby emerges we remember why. The new life is totally worth the pain involved in its birth, and the pain is soon forgotten, lost in the joy of the overwhelming love.

We really must die, over and over again, in order to truly live. This is what Jesus was saying to us in the story of the seed that must die in order to bear fruit (Jn 12:24) and when he cautioned us that whoever seeks to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life will save it (Mt 10:39, Mk 8:35, Lk 17:33, Jn 12:25).

Dying, in the spiritual sense I’m describing here, is an absolute, unconditional giving over (surrender) of ourselves and all of our perceived control back to our Source. Our fabulously designed but limited minds fight against that again and again as if our survival were at risk. The truth is our survival, as individuals and as a people, is in the hands of God in Christ who showed us the way and calls us by name to follow him. Unlocking the limits of our thinking, Jesus transforms us and our world by his divine love. For our part, we respond to this truth by entering enter every moment of our lives fully and fearlessly, knowing that even when are called to die, we live eternally in Christ who lives eternally in us.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Easter 2, 2016: Faithful witnessing

Preached at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Burnsville, NC.
Lectionary: Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 118:14-29; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

En el nombre del Padre, y el Hijo, y el Espiritu Santo. Amen. Please be seated.

I’m Valori. I’m a friend of Beth’s. I’ve been in the diocese for 6.5 years… and I’m really glad to be here today with this branch of our family tree. I thank Beth for inviting me to worship at St. Thomas and preach today. I have some friends here at St. Thomas from Executive Council and the CRM trainings, but I don’t think we’ve ever shared Holy Eucharist, have we. Well, that’s about to change. Isn’t it lovely that I get to be here on the day the Gospel talks about St. Thomas, your patron saint?

I’ll begin talking about one of my favorite saints. As you may have noticed, I’m Latina. I’m half Spanish, and one of my favorite saints is Theresa of Avila, 16th century Spanish mystic. And I’ll begin with her prayer that I think is familiar to most of you:

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which to look out Christ's compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless [people] now.”

St. Theresa’s prayer speaks to us about how we witness our faith. This kind of witness requires that we make ourselves sacrificially available to God; and that we be part of a faith community, because the faith community keeps us grounded and fed and sends us out to serve. Every Sunday we are sent out to serve.

In today’s story about doubting Thomas, who unfortunately is known as doubting Thomas, because he was faithful. In fact tradition tells us he was known to be very faithful , and even impetuous in his fervor.

The story of Thomas is important because through this shows Jesus demonstrated three very important lessons for us about our work as witnesses of the Good News:

1) that God accepts us where we are and leads us to where we need to be;
2) that there are many ways to come to faith and many ways to live faithfully;
3) that God is present in the gathered community.

Thomas was a believer but he couldn’t believe that his rabbi, who was dead, was now alive again and talking with folks. Who could believe that? Would you believe that if someone said it to you today. So, it’s not so much that he doubted but that it didn’t make any sense. How could it be?

Notice that Jesus didn’t get mad at Thomas for doubting. Instead, he came back and he invited Thomas to come into his presence and confront his doubt - to go fully into it – not to deny it or avoid it or be ashamed of it. Come close, Jesus said. Touch me. Be with me.

And no one kicked Thomas out of the disciples club for not believing right. They preserved their friendship with him, they invited him back, they kept him part of the community, and let God do the rest. The story of Thomas shows us that there are many ways to come to faith and many ways of being faithful and it’s that diversity that makes us such strong witnesses.

Whether or not we ever “see” Jesus will depend upon how accessible we make ourselves to God throughout our lives, in our whole journey of faith, and how God wishes to work in us. Some will know about Jesus from their earliest childhood – a deep abiding faith. You can witness it in children.

Others will have resurrection experiences, like Theresa of Avila who saw visions of Christ in his bodily form, or John Wesley whose heart was strangely warmed when he encountered the presence of Jesus in prayer – much like those disciples on the road to Damascus. Others will say they never experience the presence of God. They don’t “see” Jesus. To them, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

In writings discovered after her death, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, of my favorite saints, confessed living most of her life in a dark night – a state of feeling totally absent of the presence of God. She struggled to believe, yet never stopped serving because it’s what her faith demanded of her. And how well did she serve?!? Her service changed the world. It changed the way the world looked at the poor. She touched them. She drew close, just like Thomas did to Jesus.

In our Collect today, we asked God to help us “show forth in our lives what we profess in our faith.” So we must ask ourselves: what do we believe?... and do we truly believe what we profess in our faith? …and if we can’t believe it, do we live it?... at work, at school, at home, …in church?

There used to be a TV show hosted by John Quiñones, called: “What would you do?” The show secretly filmed people witnessing such things as abuse, theft, fraud or cheating. The idea was, would this person intervene and make right the wrong being done, or would they sit there and ignore it?

People did both. What would we do? Hopefully, we’d show forth in our lives what we profess in our faith. Now, I think we all like to think we do the right thing. I don’t know… sometimes I think I would; sometimes I think I’d ignore it.

We have opportunities all the time. For example, what do we say when people ask us about the presidential election, or HB-2 (the bathroom law just passed by the General Assembly)? I’m not going to talk politics, but I am going to ask: Do we witness to our Baptismal Covenant in response?

What about – when we’re out in the world and we’re with someone who says they don’t believe in God. What do they learn about God by being with you… by watching you live your life? That’s a witness.

What is our witness when we are at a gathering of friends and one of them, who is a follower of Christ, spouts off insults and condemnations against someone because of how they look, or their race, or their gender, or their sexuality or sexual identity? How do we respond? What do we do?

Do we witness our faith when someone tells a dumb blonde joke, which perpetuates the degradation of women? Finally, what is our witness when we are afraid, or in doubt? How do witness the Good News when we’re worried about the transitions in our parish, The Episcopal Church, or the global Christian family?

I hope whenever we are challenged to show forth in our lives what we profess in our faith, we remember what Peter said to his listeners in Jerusalem: that we are witnesses of the redeeming work of God in Jesus Christ. We are not the ones who do the redeeming work – God is. Our role is to be faithful - to gather in community, to pray, to listen, to be fed by Word and Sacrament, to act when we’re called to do so… and sometimes, to wait – to wait in faith while God is working things out in ways we can’t see or imagine.

As witnesses, we are not called to coerce or threaten or frighten or cajole anyone into believing or into coming to church. That wasn’t Jesus’ way and it isn’t ours.

We are called upon to be the presence of Christ in the world today – a presence that accepts people where they are. Remember, Jesus breathed his Holy Spirit onto these disciples, and it happens again at Pentecost to the larger church. Breath. Life. Jesus breathes his own spirit into us. This presence that we carry as temples of the Holy Spirit, this presence allows us to accept people where they are, and gently we place them in the presence of God – right here in this sanctuary, right here among this gathered community, and we let God guide them into all truth.

That’s why your priests and rectors keep reminding you to ‘Invite your friends to church.” I promise you, it’s not about the Average Sunday Attendance numbers. It’s about the reconciliation of the world to God. That’s in our catechism. That’s our ministry. Invite people to come into the presence of God on Sundays and whenever you gather as a community of faith.

Do you know why your priests and rectors keep telling you to invite your friends – and not just your friends – everybody you have conversation with who needs to be in the presence of God (which is everybody), because this is the calling of the membership, not the rector. You are the gathered community. Bring them into the presence of God so that we can be one family, one spirit.

We know whenever we worship together, or study the Bible together, whenever we eat and party together, that God is present among us. Jesus promised. God is present, not just being there, but transforming us, growing us and forming us into a body – the body of Christ in the world.

We are Christ’s hands in the world today – hands that reach out to catch someone who is falling,
even when that means sacrificing our own comfort for their sake.

We are Christ’s feet in the world today – feet that will go to those places where hope needs to be spoken and compassion needs to be given. Feet that will walk willingly into the darkness of someone’s nightmare, confident that we are bearers of the light of Christ.

We are the body of Christ in the world today, members of the communion of saints, members of one another.

So let us pray today, right now, that as we gather today to worship God and nourishment by Word and Sacrament, we will recognize and accept the grace God is offering us and allow God to make us one body, one spirit, a living sacrifice in Christ, for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Lent: Making space for something new

For many of us, on Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent, we gathered in solemn assembly and marked the sign of our salvation - the cross of Christ - on our foreheads with the dust of ashes. By doing so, we also marked these next 5 weeks of Lent as different – sacred time set aside for a purpose.

The word “Lent” means “spring” and it refers to a time when new life is being formed, and the one forming that new life is the same one who forms all life: God. We’re mistaken when we think we need to choose what to DO or STOP DOING for Lent. We don’t DO Lent. We simply choose to let Lent (new life) be formed in us – and we do that by faith.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, is led by the Spirit in the wilderness.(4:1) The Greek word translated here as ‘wilderness’ and in other versions of the Bible as ‘desert’ can also be understood to mean ‘a place that is uncultivated.’ So, the Spirit takes Jesus from his baptism to a place that is uncultivated and prepares him for his purpose. Luke tells us that throughout this time of cultivation, Jesus is tempted.

Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, really is tempted, and in the fullness of his divinity, Jesus could have responded very differently. I think we let ourselves off the hook about our own responses to temptation by supposing that in his divinity, Jesus could simply out-power the devil and stand firm against temptation – something we, who are not divine, can’t do. But if we do that, we’re forgetting the truth of the Incarnation and we’re missing the gift of this gospel story – how to cultivate faithfulness to God in a world of temptations.

Luke tells us that Jesus went from his baptism into a season of cultivation… a season of 40 days. Forty days was a colloquial term for ‘many’ and meant ‘a period of time that was long enough,’ that is, enough time for God to act. He fasted, allowing himself to physically know the emptiness he was entering, trusting in God alone to sustain his life.

That is what Lent is for us. Time we set aside to go willingly into the emptiness and allow God to cultivate us, to prepare us for our purpose. Lent is not a time for us to wallow in the misery of our wretchedness as hopeless sinners. We don’t fast in order to suffer, or as punishment for sin. We fast to allow ourselves to experience emptiness. In the deep, dark center of ourselves, we willingly choose to make space for something new, something nourishing and life-giving that God will supply.

During Lent, we get honest about God. In Psalm 91, we are reminded that God is our refuge and stronghold, the One in whom we put our trust. But if we choose to make God into a big judge who is waiting to smite us for every failing we know we have, then we feel justified in keeping our distance and we have fallen prey to the second temptation Jesus faced: idolatry; making for ourselves an image of God to worship and serve (or not to worship and serve), rather than being in relationship with the one, true God.

During Lent, we also get honest about ourselves. We are all marvelously and wonderfully made by our Creator, who hates us not. But we often forget to live as if that’s true about us and our neighbors. There are times that every one of us will find ourselves lacking the will to be compassionate toward someone else when it involves some amount of sacrifice from us. There are (or will be) times in our lives when our anger erupts quickly, while forgiveness comes slowly, if at all.

We tend toward being so preoccupied with ourselves and our own, that we become blind to the fact that all around us, others of God’s kin are suffering, lacking food, friendship, or hope. Sometimes, our preoccupation with ourselves takes the form of addiction and we can be addicted to many things: being the center of attention, food, alcohol or drugs, or work. Other times, our preoccupation with ourselves takes the opposite form: subtraction - diminishing ourselves as if we don’t matter at all through things like: anorexia and bulimia, abusive relationships, and constant self-censure.

It is in these forms of self-preoccupation that we confront the third temptation Jesus faced: testing God. It sounds something like this: ‘If I work to destroy myself, will I matter enough that God will save me?’ The truth is, we do matter to God. God has already saved us, giving up everything, including his own life, for our salvation. What else do we need? Testing God is a deception. What we’re actually doing is denying God.

So, Lent offers us the opportunity to get honest about God and ourselves, and the hard work of Lent is emptying ourselves of all that already fills us, including the need to be full and satisfied. But emptiness scares us. The nothingness of it feels kind of like death, so we tend to avoid it. That’s why Lent is different. Knowing that by our baptism we have entered into Jesus’ death and resurrection we have no fear of death, not even the little ones like the death of a habit, or the death of an idea we hold about God, ourselves, or our neighbors.

The traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are tested and reliable ways we can use to respond to God’s call to us to return with our whole hearts. Prayer brings us into the presence of God who created us, gave up his life on the cross for us, and calls us to a season of cultivation to prepare us for our purpose. Fasting reminds us of our mortality and our real limitations as humans, and it provides a way for us to experience solidarity with those who truly hunger. When we remember how real and compelling hunger is, we are moved by compassion to do something to relieve it – even if it means making a bit of a sacrifice. And alsmgiving is the way we can do that: giving of ourselves: our money, time or gifts to serve those children of God who suffer from any lack: food, friendship, hope, or faith.

Our Lenten practices aren’t about success or failure. If you are diabetic, on medication, or for some other reason you can’t fast from food –don’t. We can fast from lots of other things: criticizing, complaining, or estrangement.

We don’t score points for praying, fasting or giving alms, and we don’t get demerits for not doing those things because we don’t DO Lent. We choose it. During Lent we choose to make space in our lives for God to cultivate new life in us.