Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas 1-C, 2018: Tabernacles of God

Lectionary: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147; Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18

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En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, Y Esiritu Santo. Amen.

I begin today 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. It's not different from what we read in Scripture, though it will sound a little bit different because in Greek there are layers of meaning; so where the Scripture chooses a single word, I'll offer a couple of words which fill out the intended meaning.

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…

In most Episcopal churches, there's something called an “aumbry” as we have, or a "tabernacle" which is a portable version of an aumbry. A tabernacle is usually large, ornate, and sits on a table under the sanctuary lamp, which is lit whenever there is reserved sacrament in it.

I tell you this because there is a reason we have those. As John’s gospel tells us , the Word of God, the true light, ‘tabernacled’ among us. The word translates from Hebrew as, "he pitched his tent," and it means he chose to live among us. The tabernacle in the church, therefore, is a manifest, symbolic form of the theological concept of the Incarnation of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah says we are clothed in the garments of salvation, and then describes something very beautiful and jeweled - which is the origin of the idea for constructing a box to hold the consecrated elements. It's beautiful - decked out with garlands and jewels – and that’s how we can see ourselves. It’s how God sees us – all of us.

We are the crown of beauty in the hand of God; beautiful, bejeweled tabernacles of God here on the earth. We are adorned and adored by God who created us and sustains us by infusing us with God’s own spirit.

As our gospel reminds us, we carry the divine spirit within us. And if we are willing to use the power God has chosen to give us, then what can stop the transformation of the world by God through us?

My beloved Mother Teresa 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.” (Meditations from a Simple Path, Ballantine Books, NY, 1996, 53.)

This is exactly what we prayed in our Collect today. As tabernacles of God, let’s pray it again now together…. Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve: Participants in redemption

Lectionary: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

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

Merry Christmas Eve!

We gather together this evening to joyfully receive the gift of our Redeemer, to collectively behold him with sure confidence of his love for us and his purpose for our lives. Having prepared ourselves for this during Advent, we stand together now ready to be reborn with him, as daughters and sons of God.

It is truly a joyful moment - for us and for the whole world. The reason is, we are not passive observers in this Christmas story, or in the continuing plan of redemption. We are active participants.

You see, we aren’t here today simply to recount the stories of our faith, or to re-tell the first chapter of the greatest story ever told. We’re here to live it into present reality - again.

Each of us is alive and breathing and here in this moment because God chooses it. God has a purpose for us as individuals and as community.

Luke’s gospel narrative demonstrates this for us through Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. They show us how doing our part requires us to trust God’s love for us, to trust God’s plan completely, and to go wherever God sends us.

Mary could have said, ‘No’ to the angel Gabriel’s invitation to bear the Christ in her body, knowing that she could have been stoned to death for adultery according to Jewish law; knowing the public shaming her pregnancy would bring her – but she didn’t. She told the angel Gabriel that she would do whatever God asked of her. By giving not only her ‘Yes,’ but her body and her life to God, Mary participated with God in the redemption of the world.

Being a righteous man, Joseph, who was a descendant of the great King David, could have said, I won’t submit myself to the public shame Mary’s condition will bring to me.’ He could have said, ‘No, I won’t go register. I won’t participate in this unfair, unholy, earthly institution which will feed the monster Roman government that occupies our land. He could have said that, but he didn’t. Instead, he walked 90 miles to Bethlehem with his pregnant girlfriend to register at the census. By doing so, Joseph publicly and legally claimed Jesus as his son, legitimating him and Mary according to earthly institutions.

Joseph’s journey also fulfilled what had been prophesied: that the Messiah would be born of the house of David in the city of Bethlehem. By going where God sent him, Joseph participated with God in the redemption of the world.

As the Christmas story unfolded for Mary and Joseph, it brought one degradation after another, culminating with their inability to find a decent place to lodge. We traditionally translate this problem as “no room at the inn” but a better translation, a truer translation is: “no room in the guest quarters.” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Abingdon Press, 1855.)

It may have been that there really was no room. The census would have brought lots of visitors to Bethlehem all at once. But given the shameful circumstance of Mary’s condition it was more likely that Joseph’s family simply wouldn’t admit them into their homes and the only place made available to them was the space where the animals were kept – a serious insult to the holy family.

In the big picture, however, the Word became Incarnate to reconcile the whole world to God. So even his place of birth demonstrates that truth that the poor, the judged, and those excluded from civilized treatment on earth are given a place of honor in God’s plan of redemption.

Which brings us to the shepherds, the first to hear of this world-changing event. The shepherds were as lowly as the manger that held the infant Messiah. The angel told the shepherds that the Messiah of God had been born in Bethlehem. After they had thought about it awhile, the shepherds decided to heed the angel’s directive to go see for themselves.

The shame they bore? It was who they were: shepherds. They were dirty, smelly, not allowed to go into the place of worship, and not likely to be welcomed into the presence of, “civilized” people. That didn’t stop them, though. Despite the potential for rejection, the shepherds went to Bethlehem, found the baby, and made known what they had seen and been told – and everyone was amazed by what they said. Everyone. By speaking their truth despite the risk of rejection, the shepherds participated with God in the redemption of the world.

But these events took place two millennia ago. What does it mean for us today?

In his book, “Jesus Today” Dominican priest, Albert Nolan, says this: “On the whole, we don’t take Jesus very seriously… by and large we don’t love our enemies, we don’t turn the other cheek, we don’t forgive seventy times seven times, we don’t bless those who curse us, we don’t share what we have with the poor...” (Jesus Today, Orbis Books, xvii).

Why don’t’ we? Nolan suggests that many of us believe that these are great ideals, but that actually doing them “isn’t very practical in this day and age.”

Well, I think Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds might have said the same thing in their day, don’t you? Following Jesus has never been practical. Never. It isn’t supposed to be – because following Jesus is revolutionary! And that is why we’re here today.

We are the body of Christ in the world today and our purpose is to do our part, participating with God in the redemption of the world. We are all Mary, giving our “yes,” offering our bodies, our souls, and our lives to God. We are all Joseph, going where God sends us. And we are all the shepherds, proclaiming the truth we know despite the risk of rejection. We do it because the world aches to hear the good news of great joy which we have to share.

Ours is the greatest story ever told and we’ve been chosen by God to live it into present reality. Then it will be as Jesus taught us to pray it: on earth as it is in heaven.

Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to all whom God favors – because God favors all whom God has made.

May it be so and may we all do our part in the redemption of the world. Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Advent 4 C, 2018: The radical faith of Mary

Lectionary: Micah 5: 2-5a; Canticle 15; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1:39-55

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Lectionary: Micah 5: 2-5a; Canticle 15; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1:39-55

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

As many of you know, Mary has been an important part of my spiritual life since I was a little child. Mary has been a constant presence, strength, and inspiration for me as I have grown in age and spirit. She has truly been for me, theotokos, the God-bearer, bringing Christ into my life and experience in very real ways.

These experiences taught me that I, too, am a God-bearer. We all are. The Spirit of Christ dwells in each of us, sanctifies us, and calls us to bear that into the world – each in our own way, in very real ways, according to God’s plan.

The Church’s teachings about Mary – whether or not she herself was conceived without sin and whether or not she conceived Jesus as a virgin or by her husband – have been a source of disagreement and debate throughout our history. For Episcopalians, belief in the doctrines of the immaculate conception, and the virgin birth are certainly accepted but not required.

The non-Scriptural traditions about Mary paint her as meek, mild, and pure (meaning untouched by sin or sexuality). Have they read the Scripture?

There’s an online argument going around right now about the Christmas song, “Mary did you know?” It’s a lovely song, but like so many songs, it’s theology is way off the mark. Of course Mary knew…

And she was anything but meek or mild. Mary was radically strong and faithful. And she spoke out when needed – remember her asking for wine at the wedding at Cana?

She was, however, pure – not in the patriarchal, puritanical sense, but in the faithful sense. To be pure is to be undistracted, to be completely in line with God and God’s will.

In today’s gospel from Luke, Mary leaves her hometown “with haste” and goes out to the country to stay with her kinswoman Elizabeth. This is something unmarried pregnant women have done throughout the ages, isn’t it?

Elizabeth, who is too old to have a child greets Mary who is too young to have a child – and yet, both are pregnant. Elizabeth is six or seven months by now and Mary must flee the shame of her condition so both women benefit from the visit.

What strikes me about this story is that when Elizabeth sees Mary she welcomes her, calling her and the illegitimate baby in her womb “blessed.” Think how radical this was! And that’s just the beginning of a very radical gospel story.

When Elizabeth sees Mary, even the child in her womb rejoices. In this moment, Elizabeth recognizes and proclaims that the baby within Mary is her Lord, her Kyrios. Radical!

The first prophetic proclamation about Jesus – and it was made by an old woman. Radical!

Elizabeth calls Mary blessed for Mary’s belief that God would fulfill God’s promises. Mary responds to Elizabeth’s greeting (which must have been a bit of a relief) with her Magnificat – her prayer of praise. Please take special note of Mary’s prayer as it outlines the theology this Jewish mother will teach her son as he grows up in the faith.

Mary’s Magnificat reflects her tradition, being grounded in the Song of Hannah which is found in 1 Samuel (2:1-10). In her hymn of praise Hannah speaks about God’s promises being fulfilled in the deliverance of enemies, warriors’ bows being broken, the hungry being filled, the barren having children, the dead being brought to life – all by the strength of God.

Mary begins her song of praise with a proclamation of her welcoming of God’s joy into her life as well as her body. Then she paints a fuller picture of God praising first God’s mercy, then God’s strength.

What Mary’s Magnificat makes clear, affirming her tradition, are the reversals of the world order God will work: that those who believe they have power, those in the center of worldly power, whose focus is on themselves and not their neighbors, will be brought down and the lowly, those on the fringe, will be raised up. Those who hunger will be filled by God, which means they will be in the presence of God; while those who are rich, that is, who rely on what they think are their own resources and abundance, will find themselves sent away and empty. The will experience nothingness on all levels.

The conclusion of Mary’s Magnificat is one of the most hope-filled prayers in Scripture: God has remembered God’s promise of mercy. It is an eternal promise made to our forebears and to our children – forever.

So much of the current Christian world is focused on a god who metes out justice with violent, angry power; coercing people into line with threats of pain and destruction. Mary, and Hanna before her, offer us a different picture of God, truer to all of Scripture. Mary proclaims that mercy will precede and follow God’s justice; that God will help God’s people which includes raising up the poor and hungry and scattering the proud in their conceit.

Hannah mentions the deliverance of enemies. God doesn’t bring down the mighty and scatter the proud just because God is bigger and stronger but because God desires the salvation of all; and while the powerful focus on their own strength and resources, they forget God. But God does not forget them and acts to redeem them.

Isaiah spoke of mountains being brought down and valleys being raised up. Mary and Hannah affirm this in their hymns. The end result is a level field where all are equal: equally loved, cared for, respected, and made for a purpose. No one is ‘better than’ or on the fringes. All are one in the love of God… in the presence of God who feeds them beside still waters with a feast that originates in the foundation of the world.

As this season of Advent draws to a close, I pray we, like Mary, welcome the joy of God into our lives and our bodies as God continues to work for the salvation of the whole world. I pray we, like Mary, truly believe in the fulfillment of God’s promises of help, mercy, and justice.

Magnify our souls like Mary’s was, O Lord, and may our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. For God has looked with favor on us, his lowly servants, and from this day all generations will call us blessed. The Almighty has done great things for us and holy is his name. Amen.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Advent 3C, 2018: Trust and adjust

Lectionary: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Canticle 9; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

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

Today is the third Sunday of Advent, known as Rose or Gaudete Sunday. The word 'gaudete' comes from the Latin and we translate it as “rejoice” but it means 'to welcome and to be filled with joy.' On this Sunday then, we make an intentional choice to welcome the joy God is waiting to give us – joy that anticipates the redeeming love of God; joy that trusts that nothing is impossible with God.

Our Collect today is an intriguing one. Let’s take a look at it again for a moment: Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever.

This prayer reminds us that sometimes we all need a hero; someone who has the power to make things different… better; to relieve us of fear or discomfort, or to restore justice where there is none. Sometimes we just need to know there is power out there that can set right whatever has gone wrong.

What intrigues me about this Collect is this phrase: …because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us… If sin is separation where there should be relationship, division where there should be union, disruption where there should unity; then the power of God that restores us is bountiful grace and mercy.

When we talk about God as Almighty, this is what it means. We may use metaphors of earthly power, as Zephaniah did, calling God a “warrior who gives victory” but let’s not overlook how God then describes what that victory. Speaking through the prophet God promises to rejoice over us with gladness, renew us in God’s love, exult over us with singing, redeem disaster, deal with our oppressors, save the lame, gather the outcast, and change our shame to praise. This is what victory looks like, and it is cause to rejoice.

Paul affirms this in his letter to the Philippians saying, Rejoice. Rejoice because “the Lord is near.” Paul reminds us that we need not worry about anything. When we stay in relationship with God, which we do through prayer, we are assured that all will be well, as Dame Julian of Norwich says, and our assurance feels like peace – peace in our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Peace that makes no sense, because it is a peace that trusts completely in God, whose power of abundance grace and mercy leads us to victory, the victory we just heard described in Zephaniah.

So, we rejoice. We welcome God’s joy and let it fill us to overflowing whereupon it spills into the world.

What, then, do we make of the Gospel reading from Luke? How does this story fit the Gaudete imperative to rejoice? How did his followers hear John the Baptist’s words as good news? How do we?

John’s essential message was: change the way you’re thinking, acting, and believing because the Messiah of God is coming – and it won’t be what you think. In fact, it turned out it wasn’t what John the Baptist thought either, as we hear later when he hesitates to baptize Jesus and then even later, when he sends a messenger to ask Jesus, “are you the one we’ve been waiting for or should we wait for another.”

That’s the way it is with faith. We can’t be certain in any moment, but we can trust the big picture and adjust ourselves to it as it is revealed.

John the Baptist know that the long-awaited Messiah was coming. He knew that he was the herald of that Messiah. He knew that God’s people needed to repent, to change the way they lived, thought, and believed because the Messiah was bringing the Spirit’s renewing fire. But even he didn’t know how radically different God’s plan was going to be from his own expectations.

None of us does – something to keep in mind as we journey together through this interim time. Here’s what we do know though, and it is reason to rejoice: We know that God rejoices over us with gladness, renews us in divine love, exults over us with singing, redeems every single disaster we confront, and deals with our oppressors (so we don’t have to). We know that God heals the lame, gathers in all who are outcast, and changes our shame to praise.

Thomas Merton once said: “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”

The way we measure our faithfulness in this endeavor is to honestly observe: Is there separation among us where there should be relationship? Division where there should be union? Disruption where there should unity?

Do we experience the peace that surpasses all understanding? If not, then we might let this Gaudete Sunday be our opportunity to choose to rejoice – to welcome the joy of God and let it fill us to overflowing. Think of the pool of joy this community of faith might be standing in if we all chose to do this together… today.



A holy, transforming Advent

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Mt 24:42)

The familiar Advent theme of keeping awake derives from apocalyptic literature about the end of times – a common fear among humans found in most cultures throughout history. For Christians, however, the feared judgment has already happened -- and it was redemption. God chose to come among us as Jesus, the Christ, who is always coming, always redeeming.

This is the Good News we share: that there is no longer anything to fear about our personal deaths or the end of the world as we know it, so we can turn our attention instead to living this apocalyptic truth from Jesus: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (Jn 10;10)

God knows, our humanity guarantees that there will be times we’re proceeding through life as if in a slumber. A common example is when we eat a meal with friends only to discover that the food on our plates is gone and we hardly remember eating it. Also, sometimes when we drive, we suddenly “wake up” and realize we’re much farther along in our trip than we’d realized.

These are natural occurrences and are a testament to how elegantly designed we are by God. There is a biologic state in between waking and sleeping called the hypnogagic state which scientists are just now beginning to study more closely. “Hynogogia tends to be experienced as if we were passive observers.” (Source) Jesus goes right to this in his call for us to wake up.

The problem is not, then, that we fall into this slumber, but when we get stuck in it. When we can’t or won’t “wake up” out of fear or a sense of powerlessness or worthlessness. When that happens, it points to a rift in our relationship with our Creator and we risk going through the motions of our lives as passive observers rather than as active, beloved participants with the Divine..

Advent calls us to wake up fully, to breathe in deeply, to re-orient ourselves and shake off the slumber so that we can get going again. We have been invited to participate with God in the work of redemption; chosen as partners, just as Mary and Joseph were two millennia ago.

Doing so takes preparation – intentional, prayerful, continuing preparation. That is the purpose and the goal of the season of Advent. Advent gives us the opportunity to quiet the chaos of the season as the culture experiences it and make space in our souls and our lives for God, so that the amazing event we await – the coming of the Christ - has the opportunity to have its transforming effect on us. We do this by making time for quiet reflection and prayer; allowing ourselves to enter the peace, touch the mystery, and be in the Presence of God.

God bless us all as we practice a holy, transforming Advent.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Advent 1-C: Expect redemption

Lectionary: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-9; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

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

Back when I was a victim advocate teaching groups like law enforcement and the judiciary, I used to teach about the very different perspectives of being powerful and being powerless in the world.

For example, women are still enculturated to look down and to the right when a male or other powerful person approaches them, for instance, on a sidewalk or a hallway. This pattern transcends age and other descriptors like education and economic status. Many times, the woman will also apologize even though they’ve done nothing but take up space on their common path.

The enculturated message is to be submissive in the face of dominance. Avert your gaze. Look down and you won’t get hurt. It’s an ancient survival tool that was carried into social and cultural mores. Don’t look them in the eye. Dominant creatures apparently get really angry and often aggressive when you do.

This kind of disempowering enculturation, which is evident in the cultures of our forebears in the faith as described in our Scripture, leads, of course, to a power imbalance that perpetuates interpersonal violence among people, and fear of insignificance and shame among believers in their relationship with God.

Countering this power imbalance among people is simple but it takes establishing new habits for the powerless and the powerful. I suggested to the powerful (judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers) that they become cognizant of their power and how it affects those they meet in everyday circumstances – for instance, when passing someone in the hallways of the courthouse or police station. I encouraged them to look down after a quick acknowledgement of the person, step aside, and allow the other person to pass through the space first. In other words, adopt the submissive behavior.

To the powerless, I suggested they look up at the face of the powerful one approaching them, smile if they could, and stand tall, demonstrating they know they matter in that instantaneously shared decision about who would have priority to pass through the space.

This is Jesus’ message to us in today’s gospel – that we matter to God and can expect redemption because of God’s love for us. “Stand up… raise your heads” Jesus says.

Jesus’ words remind me of a song by Bob Marley who, moved the poverty he witnessed in Haiti and it’s effect on the lives of the Haitian people, wrote his iconic song: “Get Up, Stand Up.” Who remembers the chorus from that song?

Get Up, Stand Up, stand up for your right
Get Up, Stand Up, don't give up the fight

Stand up, Jesus says. Raise your heads – look into the face of God with confidence of God’s love for you. You have nothing to fear because the All-mighty God has adopted the submissive behavior in the person of Jesus Christ who came among us to serve, living humbly – not as a king.

So when we find ourselves feeling faint from fear and foreboding, Jesus cautions us: “Be careful that your life energy and resources aren’t squandered by attempts to avert your fear or to dull the pain of life.

Instead, he says, pray your way through whatever leads you to fear or dread and “stand before the Son of Man” knowing you matter. Get up. “Stand up and raise your heads because your redemption is coming near.”

In other words, expect redemption.

We are not alone. We are never alone; and we matter to Jesus who came among us once, submissively… redemptively… and will come again upon the completion of his work of redemption – work, by the way, we are called and empowered to share with him by our Baptism.

You will see terrible things happening, Jesus says: distress, confusion, people fainting from fear and foreboding. It’s happening now and will continue to happen.

In fact, all of heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away… So let’s remember together just a few of Jesus’ words:

• ‘I am the resurrection and the life.
• Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live (Jn 11:25)
• “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’ (Mt 21:22)
• “ I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete… (Jn 15.11)
• “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” (Jn 14:18)

As we lit the first Advent candle, we remembered that “Christ is always coming, entering a wounded world, a wounded heart, and [we] dared to express our longing for peace, …healing, and the well-being of all creation.”

That is hope – the faith that in the midst of any darkness the healing light of Christ is coming…it is always coming.

By our hope we long for ‘shalom’ - the way things ought to be according to God’s plan of redemption. This longing leads us to trust in the power of God’s redeeming love and to expect it to be there for us and for the world -every single time it is needed.

The news in our world - and even in our church – has been difficult to bear lately: mass shootings, war, refugees being gassed instead of welcomed, the strong abusing the weak - another famous cultural hero fell to the “MeToo” reality this week.

But harder to bear, I think, is how so many Christians are responding: calling for more guns, including having armed guards at church services where the Prince of Peace is being worshiped; or dismissing the suffering of refugees seeking asylum while taking a self-protective stance that says, ‘My safety matters more than theirs and besides, they scare me.’

It’s disheartening; which is why Jesus cautioned us not to squander our energy and resources trying to protect ourselves or our way of life, and not to dull our experience of the pain of life, but instead, to notice that when we see these things we should remember that in the midst of any darkness the healing light of Christ is coming… it is always coming.

And now it comes through us – who are God’s partners in the work of redemption. Because it is not just our redemption we seek but the redemption of all.

Looking around at the signs in our world today, it appears the time has come for us to get up, stand up and work together for the rights of all until everyone knows they matter to God and to us. and that they too can expect redemption. Amen.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Living Divine Truth

Today we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King.
Lectionary: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Psalm 93; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

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

How many of you have ever seen a 3-D movie? I saw Avatar in 3-D and it was amazing. It was amazing to me that I could even share in the 3-D experience.

You see, growing up, I could only see in two dimensions due to a congenital issue with my eyes. I wasn’t able to see in 3-D until 2004 following some eye surgery. Up until then my world looked pretty flat, like a picture or a photograph.

I remember once chaperoning a school trip to Disney’s Epcot Center where we took the kids to one of the first ever 3-D showings. I watched as the kids would reach out toward something that they said looked like it was right in front of them. They would back up in their seats when it looked like something was coming at them quickly.

To me, everything just looked like two blurry images, one mostly red and one mostly green, sitting almost on top of each other. Looking through the 3-D glasses with 2-D vision made me feel like my eyes were crossing, so I took the glasses off and watched a flat but enjoyable show.

When the surgery gave me three-dimensional vision I had to learn to “see” my world all over again. Stairs were the best thing I re-learned. They had always looked like stripes to me and if there were shadows on them, it really very hard for me to see them at all.

With my new new-found ability to see depth, I finally understood what I was looking at, when it came to stairs, and they became much easier (and safer) for me to maneuver.

Many people had tried to explain depth to me over the years, but it was simply outside of my ability to comprehend until the surgery opened my eyes to it.

This is kind of what it was like for Jesus as he tried to answer Pilate’s questions about kingdoms and kingship. Pilate asks a question from an earthly experience – one bound by place and time, kind of a 2-D question: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (which would be the crime of sedition).

“Am I a Jew?” (which would be the crime of treason). Your own people have handed you over to me. Why? What have you done? Pilate needed a reason to put Jesus to death.

Jesus answers with eternal truth… a 3-D answer, you might say, and it’s something Pilate simply can’t comprehend: If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to save me because that’s how things work in the world.

“But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate hears Jesus’ reference to his kingdom and asks, “So you are a king?”

There was just no way for Jesus to answer that question. “King” is too small a word, too small a concept for God, the Ancient One, the Alpha and the Omega who stands incarnate before him.

“King” is your word, Jesus says, not mine. I came to testify to the truth. Those who belong to the truth listen to me and obey me. Pilate did neither, nor did the religious authorities. Do we?

Some people prefer to call this day the Feast of the Reign of Christ. What I like about that name is that it’s more in keeping with Jesus’ life and teachings.

Jesus never sought titles or privilege while he was among us – quite the opposite. He arrived as a helpless baby born to a poor, unmarried girl. His ministry leadership was comprised of some fishermen, a tax collector, a doctor, a zealot, and some women – hardly a powerful or threatening group.

Jesus’ ministry was about bringing in a new age – the reign of God – the reign of love a love focused on serving the other yet never devaluing the self; and Jesus spent his time focused on the poor, the sinful, the excluded, and the powerless even as he went to those quiet places to pray.

The reign of love Jesus ushered in is different from anything on earth. Rather than gathering up the things earthly rulers did to secure their reign, e.g. armies, riches, and lands, Jesus spent his time giving things away, e.g., food, healing, forgiveness.

Yet, something about Jesus and his followers threatened the authorities and caused the religious leadership to tremble. That thing, I think, was truth.

In his presence, everyone knew that Jesus was the embodiment of truth and whenever we are in the presence of real truth we know our bubbles are going to burst – bubbles we’ve carefully and collectively constructed to make ourselves feel safe and in control. When those bubbles burst, we feel nervous and insecure because we realize how small we are in the presence of so great a truth as God.

That’s why so many religious leaders – then and now – break God down into small, comprehensible, controllable bits. But there is nothing small or comprehensible or controllable about God. And there is nothing to fear about that. It’s the truth. We can expect it, trust it, and count on it. We can surrender to the truth that God is God and we are not. And thanks be to God for that!

The reign of Christ isn’t about power, or glory, or privilege for a deity. It is now and always has been about reconciling all who have been separated or lost back into the unity and presence of Love, who is God.

That’s why everything about Jesus’ earthly life and ministry kept catching the earthly authorities by surprise. They knew how a zealot would act, or a would-be warrior king. But they had no way to understand or respond to someone who acted out of selfless love, someone who would die in a moment in time so that all people could live eternally.

“For this I was born”…Jesus says…”for this I came into the world.”

By his life and ministry, Jesus redefined kingship. His leadership had nothing to do with garnering power, or riches, or anything for himself. And he never used force to get his way. The reign of Christ always was and always will be about love. We who hear this story today are witnesses of Jesus’ testimony, and we are invited to listen to his voice.

Listen, as it is being used here, is not just about using our ears to hear. It’s a practice of living in accordance with divine truth. (The New Greek Lexicon, Wesley J. Perschbacher, ed., Hendrickson Publishing, 14.)

In Greek, the word for “listen” and the word for “obey” have the same root and it refers to a way of being, not to something we do. And the way of being to which we are called is found in the testimony of Jesus Christ: his life and ministry.

His is a testimony of humility, faithfulness, and obedience to God’s will, even in the face of injustice and suffering. His is a testimony of walking non-violently toward what may, at times, seem like certain death trusting that is actually the path of life and truth for us and for the whole world.

“For this [Jesus] was born…for this [he] came into the world.” May we who belong to the truth listen to his voice and follow his way of being in the world.

I’d like to close with a prayer from Marjorie Dobson:"Go as far as you dare, for you cannot go beyond the reach of God. Give as extravagantly as you like, for you cannot spend all the riches of God. Care as lavishly as you are able, for you cannot exhaust the love of God. Keep moving on for God will always be with you."


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Community Thanksgiving service: We matter to God

Preaching at the Community Thanksgiving Service at Ascension Lutheran Church in Shelby.

Lectionary: Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

The great and present myth of the modern world has to be multi-tasking. We have convinced ourselves that we can do more than one thing at a time – and do both of those things well.

Many of us eat our meals in front of the TV. Some of us knit while listening to an audio book, or exercize while listening to music.

When we eat in front of the TV we are either paying attention to what’s on the TV – OR we are mindful of the food we are eating – its taste, texture, and how much of it we’re eating. We can’t attend to both things at once.

How many of us have sat down in front of the TV to eat only to notice a few minutes later that our food was all gone and we hardly remember eating it? And you can ask my daughter how many times she’s had to recall me to the cell phone conversation we were having because my attention had drifted to something on my computer screen.

Humans can attend (truly attend) to only one thing at a time. And this is the lesson Jesus is trying to teach us in the gospel of Matthew.

Using words familiar to the listeners of his time, Jesus continues his sermon on the mount saying, “No one can serve two masters; a slave will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other.

Jesus’ listeners understood that to love someone or something is to give attention to it, to be loyal to it – “devoted,” as Jesus says.

They understood that to hate someone or something is to ignore it and to abandon it for something else. These words (love and hate) were also commonly understood to mean ‘to choose’ or “to not choose.”

Jesus is lovingly reminding us that this limitation of our humanity is a fact. He isn’t making a judgment – he's just reminding us of a truth about us. As much as we’d like to believe we can choose both (God and earthly wealth) we can’t. One of them is going to be abandoned for the other.

So, which one do we choose? And which one do we abandon? And maybe more importantly, how often do we make these choices – which way do we choose most?

Jesus tries to assure us, using the beautiful imagery of birds and wildflowers, that the only thing we need is God – who knows what we need and desires to give it to us. Why? It's a simple question. Because God loves us.

“Why do you worry about what you will eat or drink? Why do you worry about your body or what you will wear? …Strive first for the kingdom of God and… righteousness [that is, right relationship], and all these things will be given to you as well.”

In the divine economy,the more we give of what we have, the more we have to give. It’s a blessed cycle of abundance,and what drives it, what underlies it… is Love – God’s love.

God is always faithful. That is the character of God. No matter how unfaithful we are or how disrespectfully we act, God continues to be faithful to us, always seeking a relationship of love and tender closeness with us. Even in the face of our continuing sinfulness, God continues to forgive. God turns the other cheek for us and expects us to do the same for one another.

God’s promise is now what it has always been: God chooses us eternally, God is devoted to us eternally and God never abandons us.

In Isaiah we hear God speak through the prophet this message: “Sing for joy… For the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones… I will not forget you [God says], see I [keep] you as a [tattoo] on the palms of my hands.”

God is our true and life-giving Master. It is God, and God alone, whom we serve.

Jesus reminds us not to worry because worry in itself is a distraction. When we worry, we are failing to trust that God’s love for us is real, that God’s love is enough in every circumstance we find ourselves. When we worry, we disrespect ourselves by forgetting how much God loves us. When we worry, we give ourselves and our willspriority over God and God’s perfect plan for us.

Yet no matter how often we stray, God will always call to us to return to Love where we find comfort for what hurts us, peace for what upsets and distracts us.

What God wants in return is very simply our love –our attention, our devotion. I remember the first time the truth of this sank in – that God was actually seeking MY love. Think about it: the Almighty God wants our love. Our love matters to God. WE matter to God. Knowing this makes it so much easier to set worrying aside – forever.

Close with Hymn: Christian brother, Cecil Frances Alexander, said so beautifully:

When the “tumult of our life’s wild restless sea” disrupts our peace, Jesus says, “Christian, follow me.” (v.1)
When the many tempting treats in the “vain world’s golden store” have captured our attention and tempted us to love things and to prioritize ourselves over God, Jesus says, “Christian love me more than these.” (v. 3)

“Jesus calls us! By thy mercies, Savior, make us hear thy call,give our hearts to thine obedience,serve and love thee best of all.” (v. 5) “By thy mercies, Savior, may we hear thy call…”

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Pentecost 26-B: Birth pangs as gift

Lectionary: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8

(Note: if the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for alternative audio format.)

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

Unlike last week, the Collect for this week is one of my favorites. In this common prayer we are encouraged to enter into Scripture for the purpose of holding fast to our hope in the face of a world where hope isn’t always plentiful. And our hope is life in Jesus Christ: eternal life, everlasting life.

As Episcopalians, we engage Scripture as a love story, a long, continuing love story between God and God’s people. While it tells us something about the lives of our forebears in faith, we don’t hold Scripture to be a historical narrative, but rather an experiential one.

For example, in the reading from Daniel, God spoke to Daniel in a vision, telling him that there would be times of great anguish, and in those times those with good judgment, who can see and understand what’s happening in the context of God’s overall plan of salvation, along with those who continue to build right relationships, will be lights in those times of darkness.

Jesus is telling his disciples the same thing… The world is impermanent. Everything that seems strong will eventually come undone. What is permanent is God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. So when you see things coming undone, when you experience times of great anguish, fear, destruction, and hunger, remember that this is just the beginning… God is already redeeming all things. Those are just the birth pangs – the signs that new life is being formed.

The letter to the Hebrews informs us that as followers of Jesus, we have a new way to live while we are on this earth – with true hearts and the assurance of our faith. That doesn’t mean no anguish will happen, it means we have a different way to respond when it does: by provoking one another to love and good deeds.

That’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? We are to provoke one another to love. When we do, however, it helps to remember that provocation often leads to anger. We must, therefore, rely on our righteousness that is, our right relationships with God and with one another, to carry us through the provoking. We are being provoked right now to love and good deeds. We know this because we can see the anger and anguish that is present in our community.

Our hearts, therefore, must remain true in full assurance of our faith, that when the stones of our earthly structures begin to crumble, we remember that, for the people of God, the end is always the beginning. Death always leads to new life.

We are a resurrection people. This is our faith, our hope - the one thing to which we cling without wavering, for we believe that Jesus, who promised and delivered this to us once for all and for all time, is faithful even now, leading us always as we pass through our earthly cycles of death to new life.

So when Jesus says to us, ‘not one thing you have built will survive… all will be thrown down’ we receive that as a gift, not an indictment. It isn’t that we built it wrong, or that it wasn’t good or holy or important. We know that anything we humans can build, no matter how faithfully we build it, is incomplete and impermanent in the divine reality. The Good News is that God will always lead us to that completeness – to a fullness of life, of love, of relationship, of purpose. As God does that, it will look like the end of what we built, but it isn’t. It’s just the beginning, the birth pangs, the signal that new life is coming.

Anyone who’s ever had or witnessed birth pangs knows they are uncomfortable. And the closer the birth comes, the worse the birth pangs feel. Right before the birth, the pangs feels like crisis. Hearing the wise, experienced, assuring voices of the community of doctors, midwives, doulas, and family who have been there before, gives the new mother the strength to persevere through the crisis. Imagine if they were to cut off their relationship with her at that moment! That would be awful! Relationship matters.

The wise know the mother is in a moment of crisis and that new life is about to come. So, no matter what she says or how she yells at them, they stay near, being lights in her darkness, speaking words of comfort and assurance through the crisis.

Then suddenly there is new life and it is miraculous to behold. Everything that went before melts into the fullness of joy the presence of this new life brings.

If we’re awake and paying attention to our world and even our church, we’ll find plenty of evidence of birth pangs. As wonderfully made humans, our suffering, our stress is expressed in our bodies as well as in our thoughts. Some of us get headaches or stomach aches or tightness in the chest. Some of us lose our appetites, others are compelled to comfort eating or drinking. Some get angry at the one or ones they see as the cause of their distress, others turn the feelings inward and get depressed.

This is the human experience and it is a gift from God. Speaking in and through our bodies, our embodied spirits, is God’s way of alerting us that the cycle of death to new life is underway and that we need to reconnect to the source of life and embrace our hope to make it through. Thankfully, our Psalmist shows us how to pray ourselves there: ‘Protect me, O God for I take refuge in you; You are… my good above all other… my portion and my cup… I keep you always before me… my heart therefore is glad and my spirit rejoices, my body shall also rest in hope… for you will not abandon me in death… you will show me the path of life and in your presence there is fullness of joy.’

When we pray this together, we are made one by the prayer and the Source to whom we pray it. Our relationships are made right and true, and able to carry us through any moment of anguish, any experience of crisis as God births new life in us. That’s why the author of the letter to the Hebrews advises us to not neglect meeting together during the time of our provocation; but to persist in being together, encouraging one another all the more as the pain increases and the birthing nears.

Let us close by praying together today’s Collect (in your reading insert). Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pentecost 25-B: A deeper understanding of stewardship

Lectionary: 1 Kings 17:8-16; Psalm 146; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

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

Story of the Shönie, the tiny beggar in Romania.
The story of worship at the Orthodox cathedral and ushers shooing away the beggars.

Such a stark contrast, and a true-life experience of the lesson Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel.

Jesus said, “Beware of the scribes... (notice; contemplate; see with eyes and discernment) They like being first – they look great, get respect, and the best seats in church and at parties…but they have their eyes on the wrong prize and they don’t even know it. This is the danger to be aware of… to discern and contemplate.

Then Jesus sat down and watched as people put their money
into the treasury box. (Take note, those who believe their clergy shouldn’t know members’ pledge amounts. There’s a pastoral perspective demonstrated here.)

As expected, the rich put in large amounts of money and a poor widow came up and put in two little coins. The gospel tells us that Jesus used this to teach his disciples (us) a new way, a deeper way to understand stewardship. The lesson isn’t about wealth vs poverty. It’s about the divine order where the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

The rich and the scribes gave a lot, even generously, but their position in life enabled them to make an offering to God without giving up their security or position. Their offering didn’t require trust in God, or even an encounter with the grace of God – it was, as Jesus said it, all for show.

The widow, gave of her poverty – which actually translates as “the being last, the means of life, life in all of its manifestations.” So, the widow gave not only what she had to live on, but also, she gave of the entirety of her life (sound familiar?). And in response, God blessed her offering, as only God can do, which is what is described in our OT reading.

That story begins with God sending Elijah out to find a widow (which in Bible-speak means: a vulnerable person) whom God has already made contact with, and even knowing how little meal and oil this person has, God has commanded her to feed the prophet when he arrives.

Elijah obeys God and when he finds the widow, she explains just how vulnerable she and her child are. The prophet responds with that oft-used phrase spoken by or on behalf of God to the vulnerable: “Do not be afraid.”

The prophet, the bearer of God’s word to the world, tells this vulnerable one to go and do as she was planning to do. But first, he says, give me a portion of what little you have. Risk giving the entirety of your life as God asks of you and watch as the resources of heaven pour in for all to see and experience on the earth.

When we feel vulnerable, we tend to cling to the little bit we have, but God asks us to release our grip on our earthly resources, let go our fear, and give the entirety of our lives to God, who blesses us in our vulnerability and generously pours the resources of heaven into our earthly lives.

This is what has motivated your vestry’s stewardship covenant (refer to bulletin back cover).

They are our Elijah in this moment of our common life. They have committed to being intentional about stewardship as giving of our resources in this season of pledge commitment, but also of the entirety of our lives all year long, all the time.

It will help us to admit that we are among the first. Most of us don’t wonder if we will have another meal today – or ever. Most of us enjoy the respect of our local community and get invited to parties where food and drink are in abundance.

But there are times when we feel like the vulnerable person in Zarapheth. As Interim, I’ve heard that vulnerability voiced as wondering whether St. David’s will have the resources to live into its divine purpose this coming year, or whether you will be able to call a full-time or part-time rector next year.

In the moments of our vulnerability, each of us is called to hear the voice of Elijah and let go our fear and trust in God’s promise to provide all we need to live and serve God in our corner of God’s garden.

In the moments of our vulnerability, each of us is called to be Elijah and go out to find the vulnerable ones with whom God wants to connect and cover with abundant grace.

Like the widow at Zarapheth, we are called to commit our earthly resources - and even the entirety of our lives, believing that God will bless our offering as only God can do and our metaphoric jars of meal and oil will never be empty.

Like Shönie, we are called to make relationship our priority. (Story of Shönie sharing the banana.) We are called to be like Shönie, to make relationsip ourlike because for us, as disciples of Jesus, it’s all about connecting ourselves to one another and to God in whose love we all thrive.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

All Saints Day: The purpose of Church

Lectionary: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 24; Revelation 21:1-6a; John 11:32-44

(Note: if the above player doesn' work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.)

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

In his book, The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner said: "…to be a saint is to know joy. Not happiness that comes and goes with the moments that occasion it, but joy that is always there like an underground spring no matter how dark and terrible the night. To be a saint is to be a little out of one's mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time. It is to live a life that is always giving itself away and yet is always full."

As we celebrate this feast of All Saints, it’s important to remember that a saint isn’t someone who overcame their humanity and lived a life of perfection. No, a saint is someone who has access to an invisible well-spring of live-giving water no matter how dark and terrible a night they are experiencing.

The truth is we are all saints. We all have access to that spring. Jesus promised and delivered that to us. We also have a cloud of witnesses, the whole company of heaven, praying for us and walking with us through the vicissitudes and fortunes of our lives.

The communion of saints is real for me -not just a theological doctrine. I hope they’re real for you too. If they aren’t, I highly recommend them to you. To get to know them, personally all you have to do is ask, then wait with an open heart.

For the more Protestant among us, let me say it like this: we pray for one another all of the time. It’s what friends do. We don’t hesitate to ask someone for their prayers when we need their support or want to share our joy.

We don’t ask them for prayer because we need them to intercede for us – we all have direct access to God ourselves. We ask them because we want their companionship as we navigate difficult moments or celebrate happy ones in our lives.

The same is true about our spiritual friends among the communion of saints in heaven. These are friends who went before us and know what it’s like to try to live faithfully here on the earth.

It’s also true about our spiritual friends among the communion of saints on earth. They are the simple and the special, the ordinary and the extraordinary… the young and the old… the brilliant and the simple-minded.

They are whoever is present in our lives, whoever God has given to us to love.

Some of these saints challenge us and try our Christian virtue. Some of them open our closed minds by their innocence or their faith. They soothe our tired souls with their compassion, and nourish us with their prayer and friendship.

It is these saints, the saints on earth, who enable us to obey Christ’s command to go to those, like Lazarus, who are walking around spiritually dead or dying
from their earthly experiences and set them free to live in the fullness of joy found only in Jesus Christ who overcame the life-destroying power of death and transformed it into a doorway to new life.

So let’s bring down the boundaries we’ve built up in our minds and in our faith – the ones that keep us safe and sane and separated from one another. And let’s be a little out of our minds, being led by God in that procession of saints who were, saints who are, and saints who are yet to come.

Let’s claim the spiritual gifts each of us has been given to do our part to make Jesus’ dream of “on earth as it is in heaven” a reality. Then let’s nourish those strengths, here in the company of this faith community, so that we can give them away.

Let’s live like the saints we are, knowing that, in the divine economy, the more we give of ourselves, our treasures, and our lives, the more God will give us to give away, because the more we give away, the more the world experiences the fullness of God’s love, and heaven is made manifest on the earth.

If anyone was wondering what the purpose of Church is – there it is. Amen.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Creation 8: Responding with love

Creation 8: Our last Sunday in this season focused on Creation. Today's sermon was moderately extemporaneous. My sermon notes (and quotes) follow the lectionary: Genesis. 2:1-3; Psalm 136: 1-9; a reading from Fyodor Dostoyevsky (below); Mt 28: 16-20

Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better everyday. And you will come to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. ~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.


The course of true love never did run smooth. ~William Shakespeare

Thank you for the love you shared with me as I mourned the loss of my mother this past week. Your cards, emails and prayers filled me with hope.

As my time in seclusion came to a close, I watched a documentary on Pompeii and the sudden and catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. What struck me was how egalitarian a disaster is. In Pompeii rich and poor, powerful and powerless, old and young – all were frozen in time by ash and pumice.

Strangely, I also happen to be re-reading a book called, “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by American author and war correspondent, Sebastian Junger. In this book Junger talks about studies on social resilience, beginning post-WWII and continuing today, which demonstrate that there are no enemies during a catastrophe. In fact, social bonds are strengthened during and following a catastrophe. The fear of anarchy, the subject of so many post-apocalyptic movies, isn’t the natural outcome of cultural disaster – community is.

As poet Maya Angelou says, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

Love goes beyond humans to all creation. As we heard from Dostoyevsky… love everything… with an all-embracing love.

Our whole reason for being is to love.
Not sentimental; doesn’t mean liking everyone.
Jesus said, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Why? What does that do?

It transforms the prayer and lays a path of grace, an invitation and space for God to act.

Gospel: Jesus says make disciples of all nations
Used to think that meant the whole world
This time I heard it as” some of each nation, people, race”

The world’s conversion is not our business. It’s God’s Jesus said, I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also. (Jn 10:16)
God’s responsibility, not ours.

Our responsibility is to love as Jesus loved us: putting us first, ahead of even his own life.

Yesterday, when I emerged from my seclusion, I was confronted by the murder of 11 people, Jews worshiping at their temple, celebrating and welcome a baby to their community.

I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. So much hate. How can such overt anti-Semitism still live in our world?

The answer is found in a statement by Elie Wiesel, Romanian-born, Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor:

The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.

To love is to be willing to connect, to be in community. We don’t need a Mt. Vesuvius to bring down our barriers and connect us in community. We have another micro- holocaust that happened on Squirrel Hill, PA. We have a man sending pipe bombs to people he disagrees with politically.

The rupture in our local and global communities is apparent. What does a loving response look like? How do we, a small community in WNC, respond?

Saint Augustine of Hippo suggests: “[Love} has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of [all].”

That’s something we can do in so many little ways:
panhandler – smile as give a buck; or invite to lunch
visit and chat with those at eating feeding ministries
call out abuse when you see it
seek the silent victims who withdraw in order to survive –
lgbtq students,
migrant victims of domestic violence or bullying

The list is a long one.

What does God seek from us? How do we respond, given the gifts, resources, and people in our faith community?

That will be the subject of our third and final parish summit next week.

In the meantime, I close with a portion of the message from our bishop, José McLoughlin (DioWNC):

"...Over the past couple of days, I have found myself returning to the Baptismal Covenant, reflecting on each of the promises we make as disciples of Jesus. I am struck by the invitation beneath the plain text of words to model a love that knows no boundary, a love that is indiscriminate of sexuality, nationality, religion, language, gender. What is more, the love of God in Christ is more than emotion; it is action through mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness.

...I wonder, in times like these, what would happen if, as we fervently speak out against hatred and violence, we also all humbly worked together each day to practice one small act of connection, of communion. I wonder what would happen if we truly opened ourselves up to the love of God so that the Holy Spirit could move us beyond fear, indifference, distrust and animosity so that we may reach out to our neighbors, especially those who might be different from us, and take one single step toward building a simple bridge of relationship.

As we affirm our faith in the God of all people, may we consider the many ways to raise our hearts in prayer and be filled with God's love, to foster connections of peace and new life in our neighborhoods and around the world."

Note: Concluded with Renewal of Baptismal Vows, BCO, 304.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Creation 7: No vacillating God

Lectionary for Creation 7: Collect: Nurturing God, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth; through Christ our Redeemer who lives as one in the unity of the Trinity. Amen.
(adapted from A prayer for the Earth, Pope Francis, Laudato Si)

Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 65: 4-14; a reading of Though the great Waters sleep, by Emily Dickinson (below); John 4: 4 – 15

Though the great Waters sleep, by Emily Dickinson

Though the great Waters sleep,
That they are still the Deep,
We cannot doubt --
No vacillating God
Ignited this Abode
To put it out --

Today's sermon was extemporaneous (no notes to post either) so it is in audio only. If this player doesn't work on your device, please click HERE for an alternative audio format.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Creation 6: True power is in serving

Creation Season 6 Lectionary: Genesis 1: 26-31; Psalm 8; "The peace of the wild things" by Wendell Berry; Luke 22:24-27. The global focus for today is Stewardship.

Note: if the above player does't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

Years ago, I was presenting at a conference on domestic violence and sexual assault. Those were often heavy-duty conferences, as you can imagine.

One evening, a bunch of us decided to go onto the roof of our hotel to watch the sunset and restore some peace to our weary souls. We were mostly, but not all, practicing Christians. One among us, an African American woman who, it turns out, was a fabulous gospel singer, told us about her struggle to remain a Christian in light of the hypocrisy among state and federal senators and representatives, judges, law enforcement, church and business leaders who publicly claimed their Christian identity and whose bruised and battered wives and children we had to shelter, and whose abused underlings we had to tend.

Being mostly survivors ourselves, we knew intimately the many prisons in which most of the victims we served were forced to dwell. Telling on their abuser, or leaving them often meant risking their jobs, the custody of their children, an escalation of financial and legal abuse against them, and even their lives – since 75% of women who are killed by their abusers die when they try to leave.

Our discussion that evening was, as you can imagine, intense. Thankfully, so was the sunset. God’s glory was painted across the sky and took our breath away, leaving us in a humble, restorative silence.

Breaking the silence, one woman mentioned that she’d had a similar struggle, and her grandmother suggested that she might try singing Christian hymns replacing the word “Jesus” with the word “freedom” and see what happened. Immediately, the first woman I mentioned stood up and began singing Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus),” doing exactly that. I still get the chills when I think of it. Here’s how some of it sounded:

Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus freedom
Come to Jesus freedom
Come to Jesus freedom and live!

…And like a newborn baby
Don't be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
Sometimes we fall, so
Fall on Jesus freedom
Fall on Jesus freedom
Fall on Jesus freedom and live!

…And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory's side, and
Fly to Jesus freedom
Fly to Jesus freedom
Fly to Jesus freedom and live!

Such a wise grandmother.

Freedom takes many forms, and when we lose it we are truly lost. For example, some of us lose our freedom to alcohol, drugs, food, or gambling. Others among us lose our freedom to money, power, reputation, or celebrity. Still others lose our freedom to people or churches with twisted theology. Our freedom can be surreptitiously lost to mental or physical illness or to fear, hate, or hopelessness. Finally, some of us lose our freedom because it’s stolen from us – by an abuser, a molester, or a political oppressor.

Abuse, in all its forms, is about power… misused power… This power knowingly harms another for the sake of the one or the few.

The Good News is that God is the only true power; and God’s power is love, creative love, which provides for the benefit of all. When we measure the self-centered power of any human against the other-directed power of divine love, it pales to absurdity. As our psalmist says, when we consider the heavens, the moon and stars set in their courses, we remember what real power is.

In the Genesis reading it seems contradictory that God created humans and told them to subdue the earth and gave us dominion over it. But it’s less contradictory if we remember that true power is love, so to have dominion over the earth is to have the responsibility to supervise the care of what God made; and to subdue is to apply our human gifts to act as God did – bringing order to chaos, the way we would weed and prepare a wild patch for planting, not for our own gain, but for everyone’s benefit, including the earth’s.

Then in our Gospel story, Jesus teaches us about this true power we have and how we are to use it. True power has nothing to do with money, or position, or age, or ability. It’s the power to serve –a power which can only be used properly by someone in right relationship with God and neighbor.

How many times have we walked or driven past a panhandler and ignored their plea for help? We may soothe our consciences saying they are addicts and they won’t buy food anyway, or that they choose to be homeless and beg rather than work; and we won’t support their dysfunction.

The truth is, we often judge them rather than enter into relationship with them. The reason is, we know that once we respond to them, we enter into their reality. There are no quick or simple fixes and in order to truly serve them, we can’t ignore the systems that hold them prisoner. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Just look how the recent revelations from Hollywood and politics are calling us to respond to the women who’ve found the freedom to speak their truths and finally tell on their abusers – powerful men, some of whom we truly love and admire. The system itself is under fire and, thanks be to God, because transformation of the whole system may finally happen.

Laws meant to restrain our propensity to do long-term harm to our environment in order to enjoy short-term financial gain for a few are being rolled back. This represents a shirking of our divine responsibility for creation and a misuse of our power; and it is not good.

As disciples of Jesus Christ we do not have the freedom to remain unchanged, unchanging, in the face of the changes in the world around us. We do not have the freedom to remain safely inside our emotional, spiritual, and social fortresses instead of carrying the light of Christ boldly into the world he died to save. We do not have the freedom to deny the real and powerful presence of God that is in us and what that means for us, for our church, and for the world.

Nelson Mandela once said, "…to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." This is hard work and we can’t do it alone. Thanks be to God, we don’t have to – for we live as the body of Christ, and we gather each Sunday to be nourished by Word and Sacrament and strengthen our bonds of friendship, in order to enable us to carry out our ministry in the world.

I wonder what might happen if we were to trust the reality of the powerful love of God that is within us, and give God the freedom to work powerfully through us. I wonder what might happen if we were to serve in the manner Jesus did until all people are freed and brought together under Christ’s most gracious rule… until all creation is cared for according to our divine commissioning?

My guess is: it would be nothing short of heaven on earth. Amen.

Note: The image above is an original painting by Valori Mulvey Sherer: "Interstsellar space" © 2014. Please do not copy or reproduce without permission. Thank you.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Creation 5: Seek God's kingdom & don't worry

We shared a holy conversation today so there is an audio file, but no text to share. The following are sermon notes that guided the conversation.

Collect: Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Reader: A reading from the book of Genesis.
….. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Reader: A reading from Meister Eckhart.

Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God.

Priest: The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.
Hear this about community!
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your (plural in GK) life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

1. What does God ASK us? Holy communion: eat = nourished
drink = salvation (third cup in seder)
wear = protection.
What about our building? our home?

2. What is God PROMISING us?

3. What are the BARRIERS that prevent us from doing what God is asking us
and enjoying what god is promising us?

HOPE = the ability to look into the future and have condfidence you have the resources to live a preferred future. ~ Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle

Lectionary: Genesis 1: 6-13, 20-25; Psalm 148: 7-14; a reading from Meister Eckhart; Luke 12:22-31

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, please click HERE for an alternative audio format.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Collective healing blessing

For all of us triggered by the news of late, especially the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, I offer this opportunity for healing/grounding. Tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. (EST), let us all gather together in prayer, grounding ourselves to our Mother Earth who heals us body and soul as the lap of Divine Love. Share a selfie of your grounding moment and let the earthly roots of Divine Love be the pathways of our collective healing and blessing. If you can’t get outside, hold salt in your hands (salt of the earth). As we re-ground, I offer this blessing we can pray over ourselves and each other.

Touching forehead:
In blessing our foreheads… we claim the power of reason.

In blessing our eyes… we claim the power of vision, to see clearly the forces of life and death in our midst.

In blessing our lips… we claim the power to speak the truth about our experiences; we claim the power to name.

In blessing our hands… we claim our powers as artisans of a new humanity.

In blessing our wombs… we claim the power to give birth, as well as the power to choose not to give birth.

In blessing our feet… we claim the power to walk the paths of our courageous foremothers, and when necessary, to forge new paths.

In blessing each other… we claim the power that rests collectively in our shared struggle as women.

Now placing palms or feet (if bending down isn’t an option) fully on the earth, say:

We bless the earth in all its fruitfulness. In so doing we claim the power of life that rests in the earth. In touching the soil, let us feel the energy of all who struggle this day to rise from their oppression… Let us claim the collective power that is ours!

Adapted from Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Self-Blessing Ritual, “Women Church,” 171.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Creation Season 1: Transformed to rise

The community of St. David's has practiced Creation Season for decades and encourages others to do the same. We also join tihs year with people around the world celebrating and giving thanks for creation. Today's global focus is land.

Lectionary: Genesis 12: 1-2; Psalm 126; A poem by Mary Oliver, The Messenger; Matthew 13:33.

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

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

Columbanus, a 6th century Irish monk, once said – ‘If you want to know the Creator, first get to know the creation.’ Celtic spirituality recognizes and affirms the presence of God in all creation. In the Celtic tradition, a stony dirt path is not disrespected as a dirty or unsophisticated means for travel; it is acknowledged as being part of the skin of the earth and, therefore, is treated with respect as it is traversed. Squirrels aren’t just rodents who outsmart every human effort to protect birdfeeders; they are recognized as living messengers of God’s playfulness and resourcefulness, and are honored for their purpose.

Medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich spoke of Jesus’ “homely” love for us; and by homely she didn’t mean unattractive; she meant simple, cozy – like the feeling of being safe and comfy in your own home. This is love that is intimately familiar. This love wears warm ups and fuzzy slippers and offers you hot cocoa or a glass of red wine, and pats the couch next to them, showing you where to come sit and relax.

When Jesus spoke of God’s love for us he often used homely examples, as in today’s gospel from Matthew. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus says, is like yeast that a woman mixes with flour until all of it was leavened.” The many bread bakers in this congregation know that kneading the yeast, warm water, and flour together transforms it into a dough that rises; but it takes time and the dough has to be at rest while the transforming process happens within it.

In God’s house, our divine mother kneads her creation with what it needs to be transformed so that it will rise. All of creation rises to life by the intentional action of God.

Creation, like bread, has many flavors, colors, and textures. All, however, are expressive of the divine reality.

It seems silly, doesn’t it, to judge rye bread as superior to all other breads? And what about those who love caraway seeds in their rye bread and those who hate them? It seems even sillier to judge caraway loving people as inferior to caraway hating people; yet we do this sort of thing all the time in many ways. We sub-group and divide ourselves as if we are not all made from the same dough kneaded by the same heavenly woman.

One risky way we practice this sin of hubris is by judging ourselves as superior to the rest of creation. Humans are part of creation, not separate from it, and God has chosen us to be stewards of God’s creation – all of it – not just the parts we deem worthy or convenient.

Today we join with worshippers around the world celebrating and praying for creation; specifically, the land. Many people raised in modern western culture view the land as a natural resource meant to support human life. We cultivate the land and eat from its bounty. We plant beautiful gardens and dress our homes and our altars with its fragrant blooms.

All of this is right and good. Where we fail is when we see the land ONLY as a resource for our benefit. The land is a living part of creation that offers its gifts to all of us: humans, animals, insects, and every living thing that walks, crawls, flies, and swims on the earth.

True to our Celtic tradition, our work as Mary Oliver says, is to love the world, every specific part of the world God calls into our consciousness. That will be different for each of us, and there’s a purpose to that. We can only serve the part we are called to serve; which is all we’re expected to do. But together, we can be stewards of the whole of creation.

We are richly blessed with places throughout our diocese, located in the unique, miraculous ecosystem of Western North Carolina, where you can feel the presence of God in the earth, in the trees that are rooted in the earth, in the mountains, rivers, creeks, and caves. For example, there is a place at Kanuga near a tree by the lake, where if you lay on the ground and listen, you can hear the heartbeat of the earth. There is a path at Lake Logan where you can see and feel the life energy of the trees moving from the leaves into the atmosphere. In that place, as you walk reverently by, the trees seem to welcome you into a safe, loving embrace. There is a grove of trees at Valle Crucis teaming with bird and insect life where you can hear the voice of God singing peace in the symphony of their sounds at sunrise and at sunset.

Once as I sat with a friend near a creek, a beautiful red belly water snake came slithering past my left hand, which was resting on the ground propping me up. The snake continued its path alongside my left leg and went beyond us to a covered rock place at the edge of the creek about 4 feet in front of us. The snake curled up there but turned and faced us. All three of us sat there for a long time, looking at one another, listening in silence, except for the sound of the water which drew us all to it.

I’m not usually afraid of snakes. In fact, I’ve loved them since I was a child. But I was unfamiliar with this particular snake, so I offered it my respect as it slithered past me. As my friend and I sat with the snake at the creek’s edge, we pondered what gifts were being offered to us by the presence of God in the snake. We discerned of change and new life, of new skin – the same us, but new and different somehow.

When we got back to where we had cell phone reception my friend and I looked up the snake we had encountered. We were relieved to learn that it was not venomous, though it does have fangs and can be aggressive if its hungry. In its presence, however, we were not afraid. We were with a member of our creation family who happened to be a reptile.

That’s the point. We enter in relationship with creation when we are in it. “According to a study done by Hofstra University, most Americans are far less connected to nature than our parents and grandparents were… only 30% of their children play outdoors every day. In fact, children today spend 90% of their time indoors and they spend an average of 50 hours every week using electronic devices, according to the Children and Nature Network. Adults are increasingly disconnected from nature too.”

This is where we come in and why celebrating Creation Season is important (yes – you’ve converted me!). While we wear these body-clothes as Mary Oliver calls it, we are stewards of this creation to which we belong. But it’s hard to serve a relation you don’t even know.

So, as we walk through these 8 weeks of Creation Season, how can we as a church community, build relationships between ourselves, our community, and the creation in which we live? It matters to us – to our health and well-being. It matters to the part of creation in which we live; and it matters to the earth, because the well-being of our small part of creation is connected to the well-being of the whole earth.

Something for us to ponder together…

We have a plan that is developing for this Creation Season as people approach me offering to share their expertise and passion. We’ll be posting these opportunities as they finalize. I may be calling on some of you who have been recommended to me to ask you to consider sharing your wisdom and experience. Keep watch in the Coracle, our Facebook pages, and your emails.

In the meantime, let’s close with this prayer I found from Fiona Murdoch, from Eco-Congregation in Ireland

God of the universe,
We thank You for Your many good gifts -
For the beauty of Creation and its rich and varied fruits,
For clean water and fresh air, for food and shelter, animals and plants.
Forgive us for the times we have taken the earth's resources
for granted
And wasted what You have given us.
Transform our hearts and minds
So that we would learn to care and share,
To touch the earth with gentleness and with love,
Respecting all living things.
We pray for all those who suffer as a result of our waste,
greed and indifference,
And we pray that the day would come when everyone has enough
food and clean water.
Help us to respect the rights of all people and all species
And help us to willingly share your gifts
Today and always. Amen.