Sunday, January 28, 2018

Epiphany 4, 2018: We are all prophets

Note: This sermon was preached from notes (not full text) which are included below. This being the annual congregational meeting, the sermon was shorter than usual as well.

Note: if this player won't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio format.

Lectionary: Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28

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

DioWMI: Bp. (retired) Bob Gepert said often, “We are all prophets.”
• We will all have a prophetic word to share – at some point… not necessarily a life-long occupation.

Moses quote: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.”
• We heed because God is life. God’s Word is life-giving.
• And God lives in us… speaks through us… loves through us.

Training in scripture and theology does not make one a prophet. It’s the reverse of that.
• the stirring of God in us
• the love we hold in our hearts for God’s people COMPELS us to study scripture and theology – so that – we don’t get in the way of God’s message.

As we see in the Gospel: every time the divine speaks through a human vessel it is
• astounding
• authoritative – beyond knowledge like the scribes

Have you ever been around someone who spoke a prophetic word?
• story about the vestry retreat yesterday and the woman who spoke a prophetic truth there.

All it takes to receive and speak a prophetic word is: open surrender to God
• opening ourselves: remembering God’s penchant for choosing the unlikeliest human vessels
• surrendering: being willing to move ourselves out of the way and give God’s spirit free movement within us

Later: St. David’s Annual Congregational Meeting
• Every person here is a human vessel of the divine

Let’s pray for God to speak to us for 2018. From our Collect: “Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace.”

We will heed the prophetic word given to us by God, and we will be at peace.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Endlessly treasured

Medieval saint Julian of Norwich once said: “For our soul is so deeply grounded in God and so endlessly treasured that we cannot come to knowledge of it, until we first have knowledge of God, who is the creator to whom it is united. For our soul sits in God in true rest, and our soul stands in God in sure strength, and our soul is naturally rooted in God's endless love.”
(Icon by Anne Davidson (c) Used with permission)

Knowing our own soul and our relationship to God and one another is what St. Paul is talking about when he says “we have the mind of Christ.” Priest and theologian Jim Marion says that this Christ Consciousness “is the goal of the Christian path.”

In Jesus we witness a beloved life lived in the world. No matter how the world reacted to him or treated him Jesus maintained a consciousness of love and mercy even forgiving his executors from the cross on which they hanged him. Jesus showed us that Christ consciousness takes us beyond obedience to the law to fulfillment of the law of love which forgives, restores, and reconciles all the world to God.

Using images of salt and light in the gospel from Matthew, Jesus teaches us that we are a commodity of great value. Salt was not only used to enhance the flavor of food but also to preserve it, which often meant preserving life. Then Jesus concluded his teaching with this powerful statement: You are the light of the world – something he said about himself!

The sad reality is that many people don’t know or experience the truth that each one of us is endlessly treasured by God. The world is far too ready to make us believe otherwise.

Recognizing the truth of our belovedness as individuals is an important first step, but it must lead us to the second step: recognizing everyone else’s belovedness too. When that happens, we are living in Christ consciousness and it is as theologian Henri Nouwen says: “Every time we encounter one another we are offered an occasion to encounter the sacred.”

Forming ourselves to live in Christ consciousness and encounter the sacred in ourselves, one another, and the world Jesus died to save is the goal of Christian formation. It’s so much more than Sunday school classes and creative programming. I hope we’ll all ponder this and open ourselves to how the Spirit of God is leading us to deeper and more expansive Christian formation opportunities. Don’t worry, I have some ideas, but I’m counting on God to show us the way to go as a community. My Parish Tour visits are revealing many, many gifts present in this community. Let's listen together. I'm holding this in prayer.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Epiphany 3B 3018: How to live "woke"

Lectionary: Jonah 3:1-5, 10; Psalm 62:6-14; 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; Mark 1:14-20

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

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

I told this story to the vestry and the search committee during our conversations, but I thought I’d share it today. Our readings are so great today… How I met Michael+ (the recently retired rector). Of course, I’m a priest in the diocese so I had seen Michael at diocesan things, but I got to know Michael+ when we served together on a diocesan
committee. The purpose of that committee was to help priests who were feeling a passion for building a ministry in their church get feet on that; to find a way to make it concrete – from an idea to a way. Michael+ was the first among us to do this and Michael’s+ passion was to bring mindfulness to this congregation. So I was a part of the team that helped Michael+ discern, listen, and bring from idea to concrete plan, a way to do that. And that gift is clearly here in this congregation. So, that’s how I met Michael+.

I had known about mindfulness… kind of. I don’t think I was very clear about the difference between that and meditation (at the time) but Michael+ was very clear, and so now I’m very clear.

The first encounter I had with mindfulness was when I went to Romania on a mission trip and I was serving with an Orthodox Bishop who, when we ate dinner at his “palace” (it really was very simple, it was a monastery) taught us how to eat mindfully, and it was really a wonderful, transformative experience, and so it’s a practice I use now in most all of the retreats that I give.

Mindfulness is a theme that rises up in our readings today. Wasn’t that nice of God and our lectionary writers?

Mindfulness is about paying attention; about being aware and fully present in the present moment. I know I’m teaching you what you already know, but this is going online too, and lots of people don’t know that.

Here’s what it is not: it is not about focusing thinking or quieting your mind or discovering wisdom in the quiet. It’s about opening ourselves fully to the moment, just the present moment, and noticing what happens in our thoughts, our bodies, and our hearts.

It doesn’t end there though for persons who are followers of Christ. After noticing, without judgment, what is happening in the present moment, we are called to respond faithfully. The gospel of Mark shows how that looks.

Jesus’ presence: can you imagine? You’re going about your daily work and some guy walks up and says “Follow me.” But could you imagine what his presence must have felt like entering your space? It had to be powerful and compelling. Look at what happened in this story. His followers “immediately” left everything and followed him. Now, I know that “immediately” is one of Mark’s favorite words, and he uses it a lot, but still it’s true.

As the story goes…Peter and Andrew are brothers, and fishermen and they’re just at work when Jesus walks by and calls both of them at the same time and immediately leave their nets and follow him. This shows us that sometimes the transformation of our hearts is so immediate and so complete, that we are willing to leave all we know, all we love, and all the security of the world we’ve been able to establish in this world and follow God’s call to us.

Interestingly to me, Jesus didn’t approach these four disciples, James and John also, and say ‘Follow me and I’ll make you great, or rich, or highly respected…’ did he? Jesus’ focus was, from the very beginning, on the other: “Follow me and I’ll make you fish for people,”

Mark doesn’t explicate that phrase either, sadly. So I have to wonder… what did they hear when Jesus said, “I’ll make you fish for people”? What images came to their minds? What was so compelling that they would abandon their work, their families and everyday way of living and follow this itinerant rabbi? But more importantly, radically shift their focus from themselves to ‘other’? I don’t know…

But this, I think, is where the mindfulness comes into play. As you know, mindfulness is something we innately possess, but we rarely practice it because we’re distracted by the worldly habit of focusing on overcoming our past or planning for our futures. We’re almost never in the present moment. These distractions of the world include fear carried by memories from the past, anxiety of a future we want to but really can’t control, the perceived need for self-preservation, or maybe it’s something more concrete like hunger, homelessness, or lack of heat in winter.

But in the presence of the divine, who is all truth, all life, everything else fades to insignificance –if we’re paying attention.

Even poor Jonah couldn’t help but respond, though he didn’t want to, when the God of all truth spoke to him and told him to go tell those people of Ninevah to repent, to live differently because the way they were living would lead to their deaths. This story is often perceived as a threat, because we hear the Scripture say that God is preparing to bring a calamity upon them, but I see it as a plea for life.

God is pleading with the people to repent because God wants them to live and they aren’t listening. They don’t see the terrible outcome right around the corner, but God does. I’ve had similar conversations, I’m sure some of you have too, with unrepentant alcoholics and diabetics. Please repent, change the way you’re living because the way you’re living will lead you to death. It’s not that I caused their death…

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians affirms this for us. The present form of the world, what we see, what we know, the way we live, is passing away. The appointed time has come. Repent. Now this is not grovel because you’ve been sinful. Repent simply means to change your direction, change what you’re doing. Repent – open yourselves to new understanding of your present moment. Be mindful, or as we hear online today, “be woke” because a new thing is happening.

Did I tell you these Scriptures could have been written for St. David’s right now? We are entering a season of being “woke” of intentionally listening for the voice of God who calls to us.

When I do spiritual direction and I talk to people about learning to hear how the voice of God speaking to them I usually get side eyes… like I’ve said something crazy. But this is Scriptural. Remember last week we heard about God calling to Samuel he kept saying, ‘Who is that? Eli are you calling me?’ Eli said ‘no.’ It took Samuel a little while to understand it was God speaking to him.

Each of us must learn to hear how God speaking to us – as God speaks to us – because it will be different for each of us. Some hear God speak in dreams, others during meditative or centering prayer, others while out in nature, or maybe through a stranger, or loved one, or a child, or a person speaking clarity through the cloud of their dementia.

How do we know it’s God speaking? We do it like Episcopalians… individually and in community. What we discern in personal prayer is brought to the congregation, or to a spiritual director, or to a beloved group. It goes from one to many for corporate confirmation. It’s how we discern calls to priesthood and diaconate. Right? We know this…

If confirmation from the corporate community of their choice isn’t received, it could be we “heard” wrong, or maybe the time is right for the planting of a seed, not the gathering up of a fruit. In the end, we trust God.

But how, then, do we recognize the new path God is leading us onto? Even if we hear the call to new life, how do we get there? What are the steps? Partly, that’s what I bring you as interim. But more importantly, the answer is quite simple: we follow Jesus – literally. We do what he did.

Immediately after calling his disciples, Jesus began his public ministry of healing, transformation, and freedom from all of the earthly barriers that constrain; barriers like sexism, classism, ethnic and religious discrimination, and self-centeredness.

He demonstrated the new way focused in the divine (remember his command: loving God) and on the other (the second part of his command: loving neighbor as self). And he relieved us of our perceived need for self-preservation saying: “… those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mk 8:35)

By word and example, Jesus showed us how to live “woke” that is, aware and fully present in the present moment. He demonstrated how living in the unity of divine-human love frees us and transforms us and the world.

This is what Jesus meant, I think, when he said he would make us fishers of people; sharers of this radical message of the transforming power of unified and unifying divine-human love. That is the divine purpose of Church… to be a vehicle for this transformation which, through the church who is us, happens one person, one conversation, one relationship at a time.

So I offer St. David’s a challenge from Methodist Bishop, William Willamon, who said, “… I challenge you … to do a little fishing, to attempt to share your faith, perhaps even using words, with one person whom you know. Try to express why you are here [at this church – then] invite someone to come [with you] next Sunday… Do one visible act of Christian charity to someone in need in the name of Jesus. See where it gets you.” (Source)

So let’s do it. Amen.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Susan Metcalf Memorial Service sermon

Today we celebrated our thanks for the life of our beloved, Susan Metcalf. Here is my sermon.

Note: If this player doesn't work on your device, click HERE.

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

When Christians talk about death, we talk about being reconciled to God in heaven. What do we mean by that?

To reconcile is to bring back together that which had been separated.
We are reconciled to God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. For us, then, the divine and the human have been brought back together in unity of spirit. We can’t see our sister Susan now, but we know she is with God in unity of being.

Here’s what we know… We also know that God is eternal… we know that God is love… and therefore, that love never dies, It’s eternal. So while we can’t see Susan or hear her voice or be in her presence in the same way we know that the love between her and us lives, even though we know that the next life is beyond our ability to comprehend; but we aren’t asked to comprehend it. What we can do is believe.

We can believe the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, are true. Wecan believe the promises like: the love of God is steadfast and never ceases; and God comforts those who mourn, giving them a garland instead of ashes which means a cause to rejoice rather than to be in despair.

We grieve right now because we love; and when a love we cherish is no longer present with us, we grieve,and we experience a sense of emptiness like nothing else we’ve ever known. Love is like that. It’s beautiful, complicated, challenging, exhilarating, and comforting – and when we lose someone we love, it’s devastating.

It may sound strange, but that’s something to celebrate. Here’s why: we celebrate because we have known a love so true, that the loss of it devastates us.

So let your tears flow today. These are living waters made of love.

Life will continually hand us opportunities to love and challenges that we must faithfully endure. Thankfully, we have God and we have one another to celebrate each love we know together and to accompany us through the challenges.

Losing a love we cherish makes our Savior’s sacrifice for our salvation that much clearer. Our Good Shepherd willingly laid down his life out of love for us. He suffered betrayal, an unjust trial, and an unfair execution – because he knew that the love of God could and would redeem the world – for all time and for all persons – all. And so he made that sacrifice.

And it did, didn’t it? That did redeem the world. We call it the resurrection. So now we are people of the resurrection and our call is to live love – to love God, and to love one another as Christ loved us.

Today, as we gather to remember the love that walked the earth whom we knew as Susan, we remember these promises. Susan was a gentle, humble woman, whose life demonstrated what sacrificial love looks like.

I didn’t’ have the grace and pleasure to know Susan, but many of you did. And thank you for sharing your stories with me so that I could know her as we hand her faithfully back to God. Here’s what I’ve learned: Susan was a generous giver and the evidence of that is all over St. David’s here. She was the clerk of the vestry (which meant she took all the notes of the meetings. She was the one who finished the bannister on all those steps going up there as this new parish hall was built. She also painted most of this parish hall – the walls. Her gift to this church will seed a new library which will nurture our spiritual growth.

Suze, as she was known here, is reconciled to God in a whole new way. She’s in a place and a state where there is no thing and no one to fear.

Rest in peace, dear Suze, in the paradise of God. Glorify God with your love and service in heaven now, and hold us in your loving prayers until we meet again. Amen.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Epiphany 2B, 2018: Saints of the true light

This is my first sermon as the Interim Rector at St. David's, Cullowhee, NC. So excited!

Lectionary: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

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

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

I heard a story once about a little 6-year old named Isabella, who, along with her mother, was visiting one of those great cathedrals with stained-glass windows all around. The sun was shining through the stained glass casting beautiful colored beams onto the floor of the church. Standing in a sunbeam, Isabella pointed at the figure in the stained-glass window above her and asked, “Mama, who is that?” “That’s St. Peter,” her mother replied. Jumping to the next sunbeam, she pointed up again and asked, “Who is that?” “That’s Moses,” her mother said. Running to the next sunbeam and pointing up very excitedly she asked, “And who is that, Mama?” “That’s St. Mary Magdalene,” said her mother, obviously enjoying her child’s excitement.

Suddenly, Isabella stopped in her tracks, turned to her mother, and exclaimed: “I get it! A saint is somebody the light shines through.”

‘Light’ is a theme of the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany. In our Collect on Christmas Eve we prayed, “O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true light…” At the feast of the Epiphany, the light from the star of Bethlehem guided the magi to the child Jesus, confirming that God’s grace and salvation were for the whole world. And in today’s Collect we prayed for the grace to remember that we are, “illumined by Word and Sacrament” and we “shine with the radiance of Christ¹s glory,” so that [Christ] “may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth…”

In this season after Epiphany, we move from a focus on the revelation of God in Jesus, the Word made flesh, to the meaning and purpose of that revelation for the world. You’ll notice that we’ve changed our liturgical color from white to green. This is the only season that the liturgical color changes, and the reason is because of this shift in our focus. The color of white, which means purity and celebration changes to green which means new life in creation.

That’s because this season after Epiphany is a season of greening, as medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen called it. It’s a time we intentionally set aside our expectations about God, as well as the limitations we place on God, and we let God be God, in us remembering that God’s own spirit dwells in our very bodies as St. Paul tells us.

Greening isn’t an attempt to know more about God. Remember what the psalmist said: knowledge of God is “too wonderful” for us, we “cannot attain to it.” Instead, it’s a time to discover the meaning and purpose of God’s indwelling, that is, the true light of Christ that is in us, individually and as a faith community.

That is part of our journey together during our interim time – what we are begin today: discovering who God is calling St. David’s to be now - where, how, and to whom we are called to shine the true light of Christ.

The world is crying out for Good News. Look how intense was the response to Oprah’s words of hope, dignity, and equality for all at the recent Golden Globe awards. People were so inspired they began to call for her to run for president!

I watched her speech and she reminded me of another African American inspirational leader from our recent history whose birthday we remember and celebrate tomorrow: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a prophet for our time who radiated the true light; and who, like Isaiah and other biblical prophets, was deeply despised for preaching a gospel of peace and freedom for all people. His message of the value and dignity of every human being threatened those in power and upset the status quo, and for that, he was killed, as are most prophets.

It’s been 50 years since Dr. King’s assassination and we still don’t seem ready to comprehend so large a thing as the inclusiveness of God’s plan of salvation. The thing is… we’re not expected to understand it. God knows we cannot attain to it.

What we can do – what we must do - is respond when God calls to us, knowing that we, like Samuel, can actually hear the voice of God once we learn to recognize it; and when we doubt God’s choice of us, or wonder if it’s really God speaking, we can take Philip’s advice to Nathanael: “Come and see.” Come and see.

It is in prayer that we come into the presence of God, both alone and as part of a faith community. In prayer, we allow God, whose spirit dwells in us, to look through our eyes, giving us the divine perspective on people, events, and all of creation. Hildegard says, “We cannot live in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a hope. [We must] take back our own listening… use our own voice… see with our own light…” And our own light is the light of Christ that dwells in us.

Given the content of the news lately, this is how we can find peace and learn how to be saints through whom the true light of Christ can shine in our world and transform it.

Honoring one whose light shone brightly, bravely, and did transform the world, in fact, is still transforming the world, I share part of the conclusion of Dr. King’s famous, “I have a dream…’ speech. His words are as relevant today as they ever were.

“I have a dream today. …I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, ‘My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.’

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true… So let freedom ring…

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black… and white…, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’"

Note: The full text of Dr. King’s speech can be found HERE.

You see? Something good did come out of Nazareth, and out of the South, and it will again… right here in Cullowhee, NC and from places and nations that would probably surprise some of the powerful among us who can’t see the dignity and divine purpose of every one and every thing created of God.

God has a dream for us, all of us. We are already saints who shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. We are already one in spirit with God, one another, and all creation. When we accept that and surrender to it, which means giving God’s way priority over our way, we can begin to live the dream of God and we will become effective saints, people through whom the true light shines, and partners with God in making God’s dream a reality in our world.

I’m so grateful and excited that we are embarking on this journey together. Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening.


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Fruit that lasts

Note: On Sunday, January 14, 2018 I join with the people of St. David's Episcopal Church in Cullowhee, NC as interim rector. Each week St. David's puts out a newsletter called "The Coracle." This is my first offering - not including my introductory article last week which can be found HERE.

I remember the first time I heard my daughter play Bach’s Air on the g string on her flute. She was nine years old, playing at a wedding (her first professional gig), but the sound she made with that flute was like angels singing and I was overwhelmed by joy. I could feel it rushing through my whole body. I realized that day that an important gift had been given into my care and I committed to doing whatever was needed to nurture it and bring it to fruition.

I believed that my daughter’s gift was from God, would glorify God, and would never cease to bring me joy. I was right on all counts. That day was for me, an Epiphany, and I was forever changed by it.

I remember also my first visit to St. David’s as a supply priest just a few months ago. I was told that the children would come forward to have their rice and beans blessed, but I wasn’t sure what that meant. I figured I’d just go with the flow and find out. When the children brought their gifts to be blessed, I asked one of them what this was for. She replied, “For the people who are hungry.” Others affirmed her statement. I realized that this was their ministry and it meant a lot to them to be able to offer these gifts. Their hearts were wide open and generosity shone forth from each face like a light from heaven. My heart melted with gratitude and my eyes filled with tears of joy. In discussions afterwards, I heard the adults in the congregation voice their commitment to nurturing the gifts of their children in ministry.

This is just one instance of the fruit Jesus was talking when he said: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…” (Jn 15:16).

Next week we begin a new chapter together in the story of St. David’s Episcopal Church. Our prayerful discernment has affirmed for us that God is calling us to serve together to discover and nurture the gifts God has graciously given and is waiting to give, that we might bear fruit that lasts.

We will begin our time together with a memorial service for a beloved member. While this is a very sad event, it offers us a gift - as does everything in the realm of God. Gathering to celebrate the life of a beloved friend, we remember the promises Jesus made: that he abides in us and we in him; that death is not the end of life, but a gateway into new life, resurrection life; that we are sanctified by Word and sacrament and, at the last day, we will be with God and all the saints in heaven in the joy of God’s eternal kingdom; and that we are bearers of this Good News to all peoples, nations, and languages who are created by and beloved of God.

What a lovely first fruit to bear together: to proclaim the hope of eternal life in the love of Jesus Christ.