Sunday, August 26, 2018

Pentecost 14: Children's sermon on Holy Communion & Blessing of Backpacks and Briefcases

Lectionary: 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43; Psalm 84; Ephesians 6:10-20;John 6:56-69

We concude our weeks from the gospel of John on Holy Communion with a conversational Children's sermon on Holy Communion followed by a Blessing of Backpacks and Briefcases.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Pent 13-B, 2018: Eucharistic living

Lectionary: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

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

We haven’t spent much time on the Old Testament story of King David in our lectionary the last few weeks, but with the Eucharistic focus in the gospel of John, we can only cover so much. I like the story of David, though, so let’s take a minute to review the broad strokes.

David, the Shepherd King, was the golden boy of his time, restoring Israel to a stable period of peace and prosperity – until he fell in love with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, his good friend and military leader. David arranged to have Uriah killed in battle so that he could marry the widowed Bathsheba.

This was a pretty big mistake, and when confronted with it by Nathan (the story we heard two weeks ago), David owned up to it saying: “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Unlike many of today’s people in power, David did not divert, or gaslight. He owned his sin and lived out the consequences his own poor choices had set in motion; including the death of his son, Absalom, who had been conspiring to overthrow his father, David, as we heard last week.

This week, we hear of David’s death and the transfer of kingly power to David’s other son, Solomon. For his first regnant choice, Solomon seeks wisdom from God who grants him that and much more.

The story of King David raises up two important points for us to consider:

1) Even the great King David sinned, that is, he stepped out of the will of God and into a path of his own making; and 2) the difference between David and Solomon, in this point of the larger story anyway, is the direction of their attention. King David’s focus had shifted from using his power to serve God and God’s people to using his power to serve his own desires.

The first point is eternally important because our Christian journey doesn’t ever lead us beyond our human propensity to sin. At some point we will all lose our focus and make mistakes. To his credit, David modeled how faithful believers respond when confronted with our sin: by owning it, trusting in the mercy of God to reconcile us back into harmony with God and others.

The second point has been reflected in our readings from the letter to the Ephesians these last few weeks. Last week we heard, “let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin.” In other words, don’t let anger justify a choice to break communion.

Today we heard, “Be careful then how you live…” This also translates as: be aware, be intentional about how you live, the choices you make.

Which brings us to our gospel from John. Over and over these last three weeks we hear Jesus teaching the same lesson (which indicates that we’d be well served to pay attention to it): I am the bread of life…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven… not like the manna Moses gave. No, it is my own flesh I give and my flesh gives life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Today Jesus adds to this teaching one of the most comforting truths of our faith: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. “By partaking of the bread and wine of communion we live eternally (that is, without beginning and without end) in Jesus who is the Christ. We also live eternally with everyone else who also abides in him.

In the holy food of communion, we become one with the ultimate community: the body of Christ which includes all who ever were, are, or will be members of that body.

Jesus is God, the 2nd person in the community of the Divine Trinity. As we proclaim in our Creed, Jesus is the one through whom all things are made. All things, all people, all time, all activities, all of creation, all resources– everything comes from and belongs to God. And since we have been reconciled to God through Jesus, we are the current locations of the coexistence of the human and the divine. Jesus abides in us and we abide in him.

Recognizing this and living accordingly is how we live an Eucharistic life – a life of thanks and grace; a life that reflects our gratitude for all God has given us and demonstrates our commitment to using those gifts not for our own desires, but to serve God and God’ people.

Using the gifts God has given us for the purpose God has given them is what stewardship is. In church circles we tend to talk about stewardship as a fall fund drive to feed the budget, and it is that, but not only that. Stewardship is being aware of the many gifts God has given us, and managing them responsibly and faithfully, so that they can be employed in our sacred work: reconciling the world to God.

The focus of stewardship is on God and God’s people, not on us. In so many churches, the fear of institutional survival hijacks the ministry of stewardship and narrows the focus to finances; but focusing on survival is a path of our own making and if we’re worried about that then we have shifted our attention in the wrong direction.

As I say so often, I believe that every church is an intentional action of the Holy Spirit. God chooses for us to live and we respond by living a Eucharistic life: a life of thanks and grace, a life that reflects our gratitude for all God has given us and demonstrates our commitment to using those gifts to serve God and all God’s people.

A while back I preached about the five things our Presiding Bishop said Episcopalians need to get busy doing to make the world look more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare. To review quickly, those five things were:

1.forming disciples;
2.evangelism as invitation and welcome to the church
3.witnessing – which he described as getting out into the public sphere and being a voice for those who have no voice;
4.relationship, particularly ecumenical efforts; and finally,
5.creating institutional structures that enable us to serve (Source: The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry on Vimeo)

That is what we’ve been working on together this first half-year of our interim time.

1.forming disciples: a children-youth task force has formed to discern and plan our course for Christian formation of our younger members for the coming year.
2.evangelism: two vestry members have already met a couple of times with people at WCU and with our sisters and brothers in Episcopal campus ministry; and I have met with the Lutheran, and Baptist campus ministers in order to discern how we might be called to jointly serve the students, faculty, and staff at WCU.
3.witnessing: individual members of St. David’s are already doing so much of this, but we are also looking currently at how to organize a stronger church ministry to Vecinos and Hispanics in our area. Just recently a member of St. David’s brought up a desire to discern the possibility of becoming a sanctuary church, something any Episcopal Church can consider now that resolution C009 passed at our recent general convention. Prayer and listening on this has only just begun. Your thoughts are is welcome.
4.relationship: In addition to serving ecumenically in campus ministry, I have recently begun discussions with Cullowhee Baptist about the possibility of joining our children and youth formation efforts - here and there - to benefit all of us.
5.creating institutional structures that enable us to serve: your vestry and treasurer have been hard at work creating or updating policies and procedures, centralizing information in a functional church office, coming into compliance with Safeguarding God’s Children and People trainings (if you wonder about the importance of that, look up what happened with 300 Catholic priests in PA this week), and pondering the personnel needs of this institution in order to support the sacred work God is calling us to in this chapter of our ongoing story.

They have also spent time in retreat focusing on servant leadership and stewardship as a year-long ministry, not just a fall campaign to feed the annual budget.

One fruit of your vestry’s work is the Vestry Stewardship Covenant you’ve been seeing as an insert in your bulletins the last few weeks. Their three statements: “We believe… We commit… We invite…” frame our focus for the coming year.

As part of the ultimate community, the body of Christ, we are called to be aware and intentional about living Eucharistic lives - thankful, grace-filled live; lives reflective of our gratitude for all God has given us, and committed to faithful stewardship of all those gifts in order to accomplish our sacred work.

Like King David, we’ll sin along the way. We’ll make mistakes, break communion, even manipulate to get our way. But our comfort lies in knowing the truth that God is always with us, abiding in us as we abide in God. So, no matter how far astray the path of our own making may lead us, we know we’ll always find our way back into the will of God.

We are an intentional choice by God. And that’s our good news. Amen.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Pentecost 12-B, 2018: Bread that unifies #HolyCommunion

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

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I remember the first time I realized something powerful was happening at Communion. I was five years old and had just started first grade at my Catholic school, so I had begun to learn the Catechism. One Sunday, during the prayers of consecration of the elements, I saw my Dad lift his gaze up to the altar. A strange look came over his face. You have to understand - my dad was a high-strung, easily angered, type-A Irishman. Yet in this moment, his face practically glowed with what I can only call a mix of peace and joy. It was so unusual, I remember it to this day.

I followed his gaze to see what he was looking at. The priest was elevating the bread, then the wine as he prayed the Eucharistic Prayer. I don’t remember hearing the words as much as noticing the action happening. I kept looking back and forth from the altar to my Dad’s face, and I knew deep within me that this thing that was happening up there was so important, so unusual because it could have this effect on my father.

Communion remains the only time I have ever seen my father truly humble himself. It’s the only time I ever saw him willingly surrendering his strength of personality to anything. Not even at his AA anniversaries (which I attended as his AA baby). Not even at the deaths or births of his family members. Only at Communion.

I invite you to think about and remember the first time you realized that something powerful was happening at Holy Communion and let’s share those stories – at coffee hour, or in a Formation event. These stories are inspiring and can be transforming.

Some people are put off by the language of Communion: eating Jesus’ body and drinking his blood, so it’s important for us to remember that the language used by Jesus, bread as flesh and wine as blood, is the language of ritual. Jesus was, after all, a rabbi, who presided over many ritual meals. In his book, Doors to the Sacred, Orthodox theologian Joseph Martos says ritual meals, “affirm and intensify the bond of unity among the participants.” (Doors to the Sacred, Joseph Martos, 213)

Martos affirms that those of us who come to this sacred meal ought to reflect on what we’re doing, why we’re coming to receive this holy food. What is it that we are inviting into ourselves – our bodies and our lives? Because in the sharing of the bread of life and cup of salvation, “we are being united into a body – the body of Christ.” (Martos, 215)

That means things are different for us because, as St. Paul says, “we are members of one another.” (Eph 4:25) We can be angry, but we must not let that anger cause us to sin, that is, to break our communion with one another or with God.

When we speak, we are to say only that which will give grace to those who hear us, remembering that when we tear another member down or speak ill of them, or when we cling to bitterness and anger, we grieve the Holy Spirit. So, it’s important that we think about this meal and our choice to receive it knowing its power over us – the power to unite us to God and to one another in love.

Martos says that in ritual meals, like the Jewish Passover and our Holy Eucharist, those events we remember “become real and present to the people who share it.” (Martos, 213) Episcopal theology affirms that: this isn’t just a memorial for us as it is for many Protestants. It’s a present reality. Christ is truly present, and we don’t just remember this, we live it.

When we hear the words, “do this for the remembrance of me” I hope we hear the voice of our Savior inviting us to come back into unity with him. Remember. Re-member… Be a member again… be one with me again…

It’s a full-body, full sensory experience for us. We walk our bodies up to the communion rail and kneeling or standing by someone we may or may not know, someone we may or may not like, we reach out our hands and take the bread of Holy Communion into our mouths. As we do we remember that we are one in the body of Christ with the one on our left and the one on our right.

We taste the bread of communion as it melts on our tongues and that too becomes a signal to our bodies that something holy is happening and we are choosing for it happen within us. We chew the bread and swallow it and its substance literally becomes part of us.

Then smell of the wine greets us as the cup is raised to our mouths and the sharp flavor of the consecrated wine stimulates our glands. Our saliva mixes with the wine in our mouths, water and wine mixing within us, making manifest the union of our bodies to Christ.

When we eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation, we are giving our bodies to God who enters us, becomes one with us, and makes us one with God and each other. It is a mystical moment, a moment of pure joy as we remember, even for just this moment, that our sins have been forgiven. It is a moment of deep peace as we remember that by this spiritual food we are renewed, strengthened, and made whole again.

Our daily lives can drain us. Our Christian life should drain us. We should be giving out love and prayer and offering words of hope to someone every day, all the time. There are so many who need it. We should give it until it’s gone because we believe, we know there is always more.

This journey is too much for us unless we are continually nourished and renewed by our spiritual food: the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This journey is too much for us to travel alone, and so we must continually affirm our bond of unity to God and one another. This journey is too much for us unless we stop the world, come into the presence of God, and remember that our sins are forgiven and we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that is, we are made holy, unified to Christ in whom we are all made whole as a body, and individually as members of it.

Remembering that gives us strength to go out to the world, again and again, as living locations of the love of Christ in the world. That is the gift of the power of Holy Communion. Thanks be to God.


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Pentecost 11-B & Baptism of Emerson P Chase

Lectionary: 2 Samuel 11:26-12, 13a; Psalm 51: 1-13; Ephesians 4: 1-16; John 6:24-35

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

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

What a grand day we get to share together! Today we welcome a new member of the body of Christ by the sacrament of Baptism: my grandson, Emerson Patrick Chase.

I am especially thankful that this branch of the family tree of God has been chosen to welcome him. I’m grateful that Emerson will begin his Christian journey drenched in your love and I will always tell him about you as he grows, connecting him to your gifts of kindness, deep spirituality, and commitment to relationship (to name just a few) as he comes into contact with a world that may not always radiate with the light of Christian virtues.

But Emerson will because today he will be baptized and the glory of God will live in him all the days of his life. He may forget that here and there, but we will always remember; and we’ll remind him, because that’s what the family of God does.

We celebrate the radiance of the glory of God that dwells within each of us, within all of us, and it dwells there for a purpose: to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Jesus Christ as it says in our Catechism. (BCP, 855) That is the calling to which we’ve been called, as St Paul says in his epistle to the church in Ephesus, and it can only be accomplished by choosing to be made one with God who accomplishes it though us.

By making that choice, as we do in Baptism, then affirm in Confirmation, we commit to living with “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Living in that way can be challenging because it makes us noticeably different from the world in which we live – and that’s why we do it in community. As Bp. Tom Wright says, there are no individual Christians. By definition, a Christian is a member of a body – the body of Christ. St. Paul says it like this: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

Within this body, the body of Christ, we are very diverse, each of us uniquely gifted to live the life to which we’ve been called. All of our gifts are necessary and as messy as it sometimes gets having such variety of perspectives in one body, the truth is we are, as a whole, greater than the sum of our parts because the wholeness in which we dwell is Christ himself.

What our individual gifts are will be revealed within our faith community where they will be nourished and formed to maturity so that God can use them to accomplish God’s purpose which is: reconciling the whole world to God’s self through Jesus Christ. As St. Paul says, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.”

One of the most important and effective ways we build ourselves up in love is by gathering in community to be nourished by Word and Sacrament – joining our humanity to Christ’s divinity through the holy food of Communion.

This is what Jesus is talking about in the gospel lesson from John. Having just fed the 5000, the people find Jesus again and they hunger for what he has to offer. Knowing their stomachs are full, Jesus targets their true hunger – their spiritual alienation.

Jesus references a story they all know – the story of their salvation in the wilderness from Exodus where God sends manna from heaven - food that keeps them alive, food that comes from no effort on their part but as a gift from God.

Then Jesus claims himself to be that manna in his stunning concluding statement: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus is openly proclaiming himself as the Incarnate Word. Jesus, who is the firstborn of this is, as our Creed says, fully human and fully divine. If we believe that, and if we eat and drink of his nature, then he abides in us and we in him.

We then, are the next-born of this. We aren’t born this way, as Lady Gaga would say. We are re-born into it through our Baptism.

That is why today is such an important day in the life of Emerson Patrick, all of us who know and love him, and all will come to know him as he lives his life. We are not the living bread - we are where it dwells. Each time we eat and drink in the nature of our Savior in this holy meal we strengthen our union with him and with one another. This is what prepares us as a church, and individually as members of it, to go into the world with strength and courage carrying God’s love to all with gladness and singleness of heart. (BCP, 365)As poet Marianne Williamson says, “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” (from the poem: Our Greatest Fear)

That is something that Emerson does right now just by being. The glory of God is evident in looking at the miracle he is, the potential his life promises. It gets harder to keep doing that as life happens, as fears and hurts tarnish our experience of ourselves and the glory of God that dwells within us.

Thankfully, Jesus gave us a way to continually restore that glory to its original brilliance: Holy Communion. Each time we take that spiritual nourishment, Christ’s divinity is manifestly joined to our humanity and he literally dwells within us.

When we baptize Emerson, we anticipate that the light of God’s glory within him will shine in the world all the days of his life, and we promise to be with him as a community to support him as he accomplishes the purpose God has for him. We promise to do that for one another as well.

So, are you ready? Let’s do this. Let’s baptize this glorious child of God and welcome him into the body of Christ.