Friday, May 25, 2018

How we manifest #LoveIsTheWay

Last Sunday we joyfully celebrated the Feast of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first descended upon the members of the body of Christ on earth, filling them – and now and us - with power and authority to proclaim to the whole world the Good News that in Jesus #LoveIsTheWay. To make manifest this divine commission, we remember and consider our Baptismal Covenant (BCP, 304)

In our Baptismal Covenant we affirm our righteousness, that is, who God is and who we are in relationship to God. We state our belief in God who is Trinity in Unity and commit to living deeply into that relationship by the means of fellowship, gathering for Holy Communion, and corporate prayer. We pledge to work to see, without defense or self-protection, the reality of sadness and harm that exists in the world, to own our contributions toward that worldly state, and to change our direction (or thoughts, or habits) in order to restore righteousness, that is, right relationship with God and one another.

Then come our “action” promises. We promise to proclaim by our words and our lives the Good News of God in Christ. To actively seek out persons to serve in Christ’s name, that is, in the way Christ did, being Christ to them. We promise to love and respect the dignity of all people, committing to follow the path that will inevitably lead us onto a path of sacrificial, justice-seeking, life-transforming love.

Our response to each of these vows affirms for us our righteousness (right relationship) once again: “I will, with God’s help.” God and us working as one until the whole world manifests the fullest expression of #LoveIsTheWay.

This was the ministry Jesus claimed and his ministry was characterized by humility and hospitality, mercy and forgiveness, and reconciliation of the least, the lost, the exiled, the reviled. Boldly proclaiming a new revelation that #LoveIsTheWay, Jesus (who is God, who is Love) set people free from the bondage of their sins and from the bondage of those who sinned against them and set the whole world free to love and respect each other in the unity and presence of God.

This is the ministry we are called to claim today, fully aware that living out this covenantal call will, at times, cause us discomfort, insecurity, even fear, about what we should do next. What ministry, what program, what way of worshipping does God seek from us now?

Remembering our faithfulness to our covenant with God, we resist the temptation to determine how things ought to go, and instead, make space in our own lives and in our life in community for the Spirit of God to descend upon us so that we can be transformed by God’s love and radiate that love into our world according to God’s will. We know that we discover God’s will for us by gathering together to pray and share the strengthening, holy food of Communion, then patiently and humbly listening as one body, one spirit for inspiration (the breath) from God which sends us into the world, to make manifest just a little bit more, in our time and place on God’s earth, the reality that #LoveIsTheWay.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Pentecost, 2018: Languages of love

Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104:25-35, 37; Romans 8:22-27; John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

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

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

Note: Below are sermon notes, not full text as the Spirit wanted some freedom from this praeacher today. ;)

From our reading from Acts: “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

As we read that, we consider the languages present that day such as those spoken by the people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pamphylia, Egypt. We may also now consider the languages we heard as some among us read the Gospel in Spanish, German, French, Latin, etc.

But there’s another language to consider: the language that happens when the Holy Spirit of God acts upon us and within us.

God, who is Love, awakens love in us, as William Countryman says, and it takes the form of many languages. This love goes beyond words and becomes for us a state of being; a way of living; a disposition to be less preoccupied by ourselves, and alert and open instead to the needs, state of being, and comfort of the other, and this leads to miraculous outcomes.

STORY: Pentecost ears

Some of the many languages of love are familiar to us. There is the language of touch which was evident this week in the videos of the people at Santa Fe High School coping with (God help us) yet another deadly school shooting.

These people communicated love to one another in their grief and few words were used. Mostly they hugged and cried together in the comfort of one another’s arms.

There is the language of expression – an example being the over-examined expressions on the faces of Harry and Megan as they exchanged their wedding vows yesterday.

Expressions tell us what words may or may not. I remember being a child and knowing that if my dad’s upper lip disappeared, I should clear out because he was angry. I remember the joy that lit up my dying father-in-law’s face every time Steve walked into his room.

One of my favorites is the language of divine whispering an interior experience of God’s wisdom given to us as we actively listen to another as happens most often for me in spiritual direction or pastoral meetings. In this language, ideas and words come that may make no sense to the listener but make surprisingly perfect sense to the speaker sometimes welcomed, sometimes not.

And finally, for today anyway, there’s the language of action, what we do. We can say, preach, proclaim whatever we want, but people will know us by what we do. As Jesus said, “’By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’” (Jn 13:35)

This, I think, is what ++Michael Curry was referring to when he talked about the power that is love, and I could hear in Bp. Curry’s words, echoes of the speech MLK, Jr gave to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967 where he said, “Power at its best is love… implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.” (186)

This is the power that came upon those gathered at that first Pentecost and it is the same power that comes upon us today. Filled with the liberating power of love, Peter preached to the people from “every nation under heaven” gathered there in Jerusalem that they were witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise given through the prophet Joel where God declares, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” Not just male flesh, or Jewish flesh, but all flesh.

Look around you, Peter is telling them. The Holy Spirit is alighting upon all of us: Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free – and it’s happening now. On this Pentecost I declare to you that God is still pouring God’s Spirit into all flesh. Not just white flesh, or straight flesh, but all flesh: black, brown, gay, lesbian... all flesh.

As with verbal language, we become more adept with practice. And that is the point of this community, the parish we call St. David’s: to learn and practice the many languages of love.

When we gather to sing and pray together and to share the holy food of Communion, we are inviting the Spirit of God to awaken love in us, to liberate us from a preoccupation with ourselves that we might see and respond to the needs of the people around us.

This is part of our Anglican identity. BCP, 8576Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral – still our current position on ecumenism, that is, promoting Christian unity among the nations of the world. (read)

To paraphrase our Presiding Bishop: imagine what might happen if we all remembered this about ourselves. This kind of humble, sacrificial, transforming love would truly change the world, not to mention the experience of every single church in transition

So how do we do it? How do we speak this king of love speak into the world today? In the gospel reading from John, Jesus gave us three hints about this.

1) We believe in him. Sin is separation. In Jesus are we reconciled to one another and to God.

2) We remember that Jesus reconciled us to God by returning to God, lifting humanity up into his divinity and establishing for evermore what our righteousness is: We truly are, all of us, one body, one spirit in Christ.

3) We remember that God’s judgment for the world was redemption through Jesus the Christ. No other judgment, no matter the source, has power. The only power for us to be concerned about is the power of love and how to use that power for the benefit of all.

Discovering that is discovering our divine purpose.And that is our purpose together during this transitional time. God’s spirit is in us, within us, liberating us and motivating us to use the power of love to change the world.

Let us go forth in the spirit of love and humility and change the world! Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Feast of the Ascension B, 2018: The extraordinary, transforming love of God in us

Lectionary: Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47;; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

Note: If the above player doesn't work on your device click HERE for an alternative audio file.
En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

All of our Scripture readings today speak to us of power - the power of God given to those who believe. In the story from Acts we hear Luke’s account of Jesus’ last words on earth:"… But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you." In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of “the immeasurable greatness of God’s power for us who believe.”

In the Gospel from Luke, as Jesus was ascending into glory, he blessed his followers, and they “returned to Jerusalem with great joy…” (it might help to know that the Greek word “chara,” translated as ‘joy,’ also means great gift, extraordinary power).

So, this power they are speaking about is a great gift, an extraordinary power and it manifests as joy. Is this something we followers of Christ have today? The answer is simple: Yes, if we choose it.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, he handed over the continuing work of reconciliation to us – the church, the body of Christ in the world. Knowing full well the cost of love, Jesus gave us the power of his love; a love which demands we pray for those who persecute us, forgive those who harm us, and love those who hate us…a love that never gives up on the other, but stands loyally with them, bearing the light of Christ into their darkness.

This love is more powerful than anything else in creation. It is the source of all life, the answer to all sin/separation, and the hope of the world. This love that we have been given can transform lives, heal bodies, move mountains, and renew the face of the earth.

Upon our baptism, the greatness of God’s love becomes like clothing for us, as the gospel of Luke describes it. This divine love is what people see when they see us.

God is not only dwelling within us but also all over us, visible for all to see, including us… and I think that may be what scares us. If we recognize the presence of God in ourselves, we might have to change some things we think about ourselves and others, and how we act or react in the world.

It is as author Marianne Williamson famously said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

So where is the evidence of this extraordinary, powerful love in us today? Where are the miracles? Remember, after Christ ascended, it was the disciples who went about preaching, and teaching, healing the sick and restoring the lost.

We, who are believers now… we who are witnesses of this powerful love in the world today, are called not just to receive the gift of this love, but to use it. We have a responsibility to manifest this love as Christ did while he was on the earth, as the disciples did after Jesus’ ascension.

So I ask you, people of St, David’s, in what ways is this powerful love, being manifest in and through us today? Are we models of forgiveness in a sin-filled world? Are we icons of hope to the hopeless? Light to those trapped in darkness? Comfort to the suffering? Welcomers of the exiled, the reviled, the hated?

It’s so easy for the church to get distracted from our mission, but the mission is simple: Be the extraordinary, powerful, transforming love of God in the world. Make known this amazing Love to those who don’t know it, or have forgotten it, or had it stolen from them by “good Christian folk” who had it all wrong.

Be love in the face of hate and ridicule. Stand humbly in the presence of earthly power and watch as the Source of true power acts through the weak, the least, the last – us. Detach from anger, from being right, and from the rewards of this world and seek only the love that makes no sense, the love that forgives all, welcomes all, and judges none.

When the generations to come look back on our part of this ongoing narrative, what will be the story they tell about us? Will they marvel at how the power of God’s love manifested in the people of St. David’s transformed Cullowhee, WNC – even the world?

The greatest, most powerful thing in the whole world is the same now as it was when creation was being spoken into being: love. And this love has been given to us as a gift from the Creator of the universe. More amazingly, it dwells in us, all around us, and emanates from us.

We have heard throughout this season of Easter that Christ abides in us, and we in him -individually and as a community of faith. Jesus also told us that, as amazing as his ministry was, we would do greater things in ours.

On this Feast of the Ascension, we are being challenged to own the extraordinary, powerful, love already in us and use it to heal the world around us, to reconcile that world back to God. In this moment in St. David’s history, as we live into this transitional time, new life is waiting to begin in us. Like a newborn baby, we are, at this moment, new and unlimited in our potential. Each person here has within them the extraordinary power of God’s love and the community being gathered within these walls has been chosen by God in this time and place to do the work God has for us to do.

So, let’s do it. Let’s be the extraordinary, powerful, transforming love of Godin Christ. And let’s enjoy the heck out of the time we’ve been given to be together as witnesses to the world of that Love. Amen.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Easter 6B, 2018: Upside down, inside out love

Lectionary: Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

(Note: if the above player doesn't work on your device, click HERE for an alternative audio file)
En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

The theme of abiding in God who abides in us through Christ continues in today’s readings from Scripture. What this particular lectionary offers us is the conditional to that: “IF you keep my commandments, THEN you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

Jesus is saying, if you watch carefully you will observe that you are being given opportunity after opportunity to love as I have loved. When you respond to those opportunities and love as I have shown you how to do, then you will abide in my love.

And the disciples knew full well that the way Jesus was loving others was making his church angry, his government angry, and eventually cost him his life. They knew the fullness of this command from Jesus to love as he loved. So must we.

Jesus expands this teaching knowing how hard it will be at times to keep it, by assuring them that it is by loving as he loves that they will produce fruit that lasts. And the way you’ll know you’re there, Jesus says, the sign that you’re abiding in my love is - is joy – complete joy – which has nothing to do with what’s happening in the world, and everything to do with what’s happening within you and those around you. Abide in my love.

Remember this, Jesus tells his disciples, because the whenever those opportunities come up for you - and they will, as they will for us - you are to love each other as I have loved you despite what the world says your response should be.

Our reading from Acts today is the conclusion to one of the first attempts by Jesus’ disciples to keep this commandment to love. It’s a story takes pace in Caesarea. Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, a mercenary for the Roman occupiers, has a dream and hears a voice tell him send to Joppa, a nearby city, for a man named Peter, and to bring him to his home.

Meanwhile in Joppa, this man named Peter, who is Jesus’ disciple, has a vision. The Scripture actually says he “fell into a trance” which means to stand outside of one’s usual mind, to be awake but fixed on divine things. In this state, Peter hears a voice tell him to kill and eat food that is forbidden according to Jewish law, turning upside-down and inside-out everything Peter understood about how the world and God work. “What God has made clean, [the voice admonishes him] you must not call profane.”

So Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built the church, and Cornelius, the Roman mercenary soldier, are led into one another’s presence. Sounds just like church, doesn’t it? People who are worlds apart in their understanding of how the world works and how God works, are brought together into the same time and place – and God has a purpose for it.

Back to the story: Cornelius, sensing the presence of God who abides in Peter, falls at Peter’s feet when they meet. Peter, probably unaware of how powerfully the presence of God within him is felt by others, lifts Cornelius up and in that moment, understands God’s message to him. “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” Not just food, but ALL God has made is sacred – even this man who represents everything Peter would be justified in hating.

Cornelius discerns the reason God called them together and invites Peter to speak to his household. Peter’s sermon to this gathering was our reading from Acts last Sunday– the one where Peter begins with what I think is one of the wisest and bravest statements in the Bible: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Remember, Peter is saying this to Cornelius’ Roman household, probably 200 people or more, plus the Jews who had accompanied Peter… Note: I need to remind you that Peter and Paul, at this point, had been fighting over whether or not someone could become a Christian until they had become a Jew… remember they had to be circumcised. So this is Peter saying, “I understand God shows no partiality” and everyone who believes in him is acceptable to him.

Then Peter goes on proclaiming that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they just executed, is Lord of all, and Peter testifies to them that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” This is where our reading from Acts today picks up. While Peter was still saying this, testifying in this way, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word…” A mini-Pentecost. In that moment all those present, and us who read this today, understand that what had been divided on earth had been made one by heaven on earth.

Reconciliation was made manifest. God in Christ worked through wonderfully imperfect Peter and Cornelius who saw the opportunity to love as Jesus has loved and did so! Even as we re-read this story, our joy like the joy of those in the story from Acts, is made complete. We know that God, who is love, can and does reconcile those who hate each other, or are different from one another, or who understand the world and God differently from each other.

This story from Acts verifies for us what John is saying in his epistle: that what conquers the world, that is, what successfully overcomes problems or weakness, what gains respect and admiration, is our faith, our trust in God whose plan of redemption is activated in us who believe.

It is God who acts. God uses us, in all our imperfection, to reconcile those who are divided by anything into one family, one spirit in Christ. That is the God’s purpose; and it is the fruit that lasts.

So when we find our Christian virtue challenged (as I say it) by someone we’d prefer not to love, or by someone we’re totally justified not loving, Jesus teaches us to choose to love anyway, especially then, so that we can be participants with God in the fulfillment of God’s purpose – reconciliation.

You will often hear me say that I believe each church, each parish, in every denomination is an intentional action of the Holy Spirit - whatever it’s condition, or status, or even its state of health and vitality. Every church is an intentional action of the Holy Spirit. The church is the physical location for the work of God which was described in the story from Acts.

God is doing for us today what God did for Peter and for Cornelius: bringing us and our diverse neighbors into the presence of one another, turning everything we know about God and the world inside out and upside down, in order to make room for the reconciling love of God to transform earthly divisions into divine unity.

Remember, Peter was as astonished as anyone else that day by what God was doing. But he was watchful for the opportunity and responded faithfully when it presented itself. He probably would not have wanted to hang out with Cornelius before that dream, or baptize him. When I read that Peter offered baptism to all those upon whom the Spirit had fallen, I rejoice and also hear the voice of the liturgy police, planted into my brain in seminary, gasp with disapproval that this sacrament would be given without the proper preparation. Yet, there it is…

Baptism isn’t a membership ritual we hold until we think someone’s ready. It is not membership into our club. It is a sacrament of inclusion, making manifest for all to see, the sacredness and chosen-ness of all whom God has made.

In the end, it is Love who chooses us, activates us, reconciles us, and finally, transforms the world through us. How sweet it is when our faith makes space for God to act. This is our victory. This is the fruit that lasts.