Sunday, January 20, 2019

Epiphany 2C, 2019: Our next-born identity and destiny

Lectionary: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11

(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.

Our reading today from Isaiah has the prophet clarifying in no uncertain terms the identity and destiny of the people of God. Isaiah tells them how much God loves them and that God’s purpose for them will be fulfilled in and through them despite how impossible that seems in the difficult circumstances they are experiencing.

In this passage, love compels God to promise: ‘I will not keep silent or rest until you, my delight, my crown of beauty shine with the fiery glow of freedom. Your oneness with me will be so apparent that everyone will see it and you’ll have a new name, a new identity. You’ll become known as those in whom I delight.’

One of the blessings of interim time is that we discover that we too are being given a new name, a new identity which is grounded in our relationship with God, one another, and the neighbors among who God has placed us. However we may have been known before, our new name will be the result of what people see in us now. Because of our union with God, one another, and our neighbors, we will become known as that church in whom God delights.

Isaiah talks about this relationship between God and God’s people in terms of a marriage – an intimate union where two become one. The gospel story picks up on this metaphor in the story of the wedding at Cana.

Jesus is at an ordinary event: a village wedding, which becomes the setting for an extraordinary event: the first manifest sign of the marriage, that is, the intimate union, of the human and the divine in Jesus and what that means for the world.

Mary, Jesus’ mother, notices that the wine has run out - something that would cause public shame for the host family. Mary was paying attention. She noticed what was happening around her and cared about how the circumstances of the moment would affect her neighbors. In order to protect their dignity (remember here our own Baptismal vow), Mary intervened risking her own moment of public humiliation as a woman.

Jesus’ response, as rude as it sounds to us now, was a typical response for an adult male of that time, firmly supported in the cultural position of gender superiority: “Woman…” he says, Notice Jesus is addressing Mary as his inferior, a woman, not as his mother. “…what business is that of mine? My hour has not yet come.”

That phrase, ‘My hour has not yet come’ can also be translated as: ‘The time of my blossoming, the moment of my reckoning, has not yet come.’ Well, that’s what Jesus thought anyway, but apparently, his mother knew better.

Undaunted and unashamed, Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Remarkably, Jesus obeys Mary, (to obey is to hear and respond) telling the servants to fill the water jars with water, then bring a taste of it to the master of the feast, who was kind of like Downton Abbey’s Mr. Carson at the party.

To everyone’s surprise, the water had been turned into wine! But more than that, this wine was of the finest quality and it was in ridiculous abundance – which is how the love of God looks when manifest in the world – even when conveyed through human hands.

To most who were there and most who read this story in Scripture, it looked a simple event. There’s a wedding, the wine runs out, Jesus is there, so he makes more miraculously. But, as the evangelist tells us, only his disciples came to believe in him as a result of this sign. Most everyone at the wedding had no clue what was going on – except for the servants who also obeyed Mary when she told them: “Do whatever he tells you to do.”

This story of the wedding in Cana marks the beginning of the revelation of Jesus as the Messiah of God. Jesus shows himself to be the “firstborn” – the first fruit of this real and intimate marriage of the divine and human.

It’s also the beginning of the revelation of how Jesus does things and how that will transform the world. Stepping down from his lofty position of male privilege, Jesus humbly and publicly obeys his mother which not only bends cultural gender norms but also reveals how we, the next-born, can influence God on behalf of the dignity and welfare of our neighbor.

Mary’s voice in this story is echoed in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose holiday we celebrate tomorrow, who once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

There are people right now in our neighborhoods who “have no wine” - students, migrant workers, the working poor, to name just a few. This is why we too can’t keep silent; why we can’t rest.

We have been chosen by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit for a purpose. We are a crown of beauty, a royal diadem in the hand of God, and our hour, our time of blossoming, has come. Indeed, it is always now.

My prayer is that we allow the fullness of God’s love which dwells in us to radiate with the brightness of Christ’s glory as we serve in his holy name. I pray we recognize, nurture, and use our many gifts because so many out there have no wine and we have it in abundance.

I know some may not feel ready. The liminal time between rectors is a time of uncertainty; but as Dr. King reminds us, faith “is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” In fact, we will never see the whole staircase, that’s God’s domain; but our Task Forces are prayerfully clarifying for us our first steps, steps which will glorify God and serve the welfare of God’s people among whom God has placed us.

Like Mary, we will risk our own moments of public shame by taking these steps. Dr. King was also no stranger to that, was he? Did you know that following his “I Have a Dream” speech, the FBI sent the president a 64-page memo which contained the following?

“In the light of King’s powerful demagogic speech yesterday he stands heads and shoulders over all other Negro leaders put together when it comes to influencing great masses of Negros. We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security.” Source: “Broken, The Troubled Past and Uncertain Future of the FBI” by Richard Gid Powers, Free Press, NY, 2004), 251.

The world looks at love with suspicious eyes.

A few years ago during Lent I practiced a spiritual discipline of smiling – something I have always needed to do more of. Not really wanting to engage with strangers, I obeyed my inner sense that God was asking me to do this. So every day that Lent I smiled at someone.

I was surprised at how many people found that suspicious. As the days of Lent went on, I was intentional not just about smiling, but about finding the person whose face was screwed up into a scowl, or who had the saddest or weariest expression and smile at them.

I was still often met with suspicion, but every once in a while, someone smiled back at me and a connection was made. As fleeting as that moment may have been, there was an eternal connection made: human to human, wrapped up together in a moment of divine love.

What happened as a result of those connections is staircase stuff – God’s domain. Being true to the steps God was asking me to take was my domain.

We are followers of Jesus; we are the next-born who shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory so that the whole world may know the steadfast, caring, intimate love of God for all creation. This radiance is a gift in abundance here at St. David’s and our hour has come. Our oneness with God compels us to make these connections: human to human, wrapped up in divine love.

It is our identity… our destiny. God bless us as we obey.


Sunday, January 13, 2019

Baptism of our Lord & Annual Meeting: Baptized to manifest divine love

Lectionary: Isaiah 43:1-7; Psalm 29; Acts 8:14-17; Luke 3:15-17, 21-22. A short sermon today cognizant of the time we will spend in Annual Meeting later in the service.

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.

For Episcopalians, “Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church" In Baptism God establishes an an indissoluble bond with us. (BCP, 298)

In this bond, we are offered an intimate, familial relationship with the One whose power is so great as to be frightening when we think on it, but who approaches us gently, saying: " are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…”

The bond assures us that when (not if) we pass through difficult times God is with us so we won’t be overwhelmed or destroyed. As God says through the prophet Isaiah: “Do not fear... for I have redeemed you."

Definition of redeem:
1. to regain possession of;
2. to fulfill or carry out a pledge or promise

This is what God demonstrates by Jesus’ baptism. God re-takes possession of humanity in Jesus, the beloved, at his baptism in front of his faith community. Then we witness the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation through Jesus. In his life and ministry Jesus passed through many troubled waters and fiery attacks – and God was with him redeeming every thing, every one, every time.

Jesus’ baptism didn’t free him from trouble in his life – it gave him the means to use it for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people. The same is true for us within our church community and beyond.

In the gospel of Luke God descends in bodily form, that is, in a way that those present could see. Luke tells us that as the boundary between heaven and earth was being ripped opened, the Spirit of God descended softly, gently (like a dove would) on Jesus as God ushered redeeming change into the world through him.

Suddenly, this man, Jesus, whom everyone knew up until then as Mary’s son, the cousin of John the Baptizer, the learned rabbi, was understood to be the beloved Son of God - divine love made manifest in the world.

We, like Jesus, are transformed by our baptism into a body of beloved daughters and sons of God. As such we are called to manifest divine love in the world today, a world still being redeemed by God.

Sometimes, living out God’s covenantal call to us can cause some discomfort. It can definitely cause insecurity, even fear, about what we should do next. Is this what God really wants from us? Jesus asked the same thing in the garden at Gethsemane. It’s part of the deal.

But being faithful to to God and to our baptismal covenant means being willing to pray, together as a body and privately, to listen for the voice from heaven which will guide us as God ushers redeeming change into our world.

Being faithful means resisting the temptation to determine how things ought to go, and instead, making space in our lives - and our life in community - for the Spirit of God to descend upon us softly, gently, like a dove, so that we can be transformed by God’s love and answer our baptismal call to manifest that love into our world for the glory of God and the welfare of all God’s people.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany, 2019: Giving ourselves to the Light

Lectionary: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7,10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

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.

I was re-watching a favorite movie recently: “Under the Tuscan Sun” and was reminded that, in Italian, the phrase ‘to give birth’ translates literally as ‘to give to the light.’ The same is true in Spanish: ‘para dar a luz”… to give to the light. Isn’t that a powerful phrase?

If there’s any time we know we are co-creators with God it’s when we participate in or witness the birth of a child. During the birth there is that moment when the baby passes from the dark, protective environment of the womb, into the light of its delivery room where we receive the gift of this new life – and all of our worlds are changed.

Likewise, when we baptize a child of God, we hear the priest proclaim: “receive the light of Christ” as we light their baptismal candle from the Paschal candle, and we remember the power of the light we are giving them. It isn’t just a candle – it’s the light of Christ. We give them to the Light.

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, which marks the end of the season of Christmas. Some Episcopalians follow the celebration of Holy Eucharist with the de-greening of the church and a burning of the greens. It’s beautiful symbolism – and besides, who doesn’t love a good bonfire?!

Think about it - to stand in the presence of the great light of an Epiphany fire, and to feel its warmth is to make truly manifest the message of this day. It connects us to our forebears who followed the light throughout their exile, until they arrived at the promised land; and the shepherds who followed the light to the Christ-child. It also points us toward our future – a future as uncertain for us as it was for our forbears; a future that requires us to keep moving relying totally on the Light to guide us.

Standing in the presence of the great light of an Epiphany fire connects us to the experience of the magi, who, as Matthew tells us, traveled a great distance to visit the newborn Messiah. These visitors were probably Zoroastrians, members of a religious group from that time and place who studied the stars – astrologers, who also interpreted dreams. Matthew calls them magi, the source of the words magic and magician, casting them as sorcerers – not a welcomed group among Jews.

According to Zoroastrian belief, every person is connected to a star. This presence of this unusual and magnificent star signified the birth of an unusual and magnificent person. It was so compelling to them that they packed up their camels and loaded up their treasure chests and headed out to Jerusalem to find the person connected to this amazing star.

Although the hymn tells us there were three wise men or magi, we don’t actually know how many people followed that star. Scripture tells us they brought three gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh, and the names Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar first turned up in a 5th century Greek manuscript and later in a story associated with a 6th century mosaic in an Italian church.

When the magi caravan saw that the start had stopped, these visitors, like the shepherds who also saw a great light, were overwhelmed with joy. When Mary and Joseph welcomed them into their house, and the visitors saw the baby Jesus, they knelt before him and paid him homage – a gesture of servitude.

This is a powerful moment in this story as it is the moment the light of the world caused an historical wall to come tumbling down – the wall between the Jews and Gentiles. In that moment, the revelation of God in Christ brought divine unity where there had been centuries of human division.

The magi came ready for an unusual encounter, and their response upon finding Jesus was two-fold: 1) they bowed or knelt before this baby king showing him respect; and 2) they opened their treasure chests to give generously the kinds of gifts typically given to a king: gold (a symbol of earthly wealth and power), frankincense (a symbol of spiritual power – used in the anointing of kings and priests), and myrrh (an expensive plant extract often used by royalty as a perfume and as medicine, and also used to prepare a body for burial). The Gentile magi gave to the Light.

Matthew ends the story telling us that these visiting Gentiles heard in a dream that they should not return to Herod, so they went home a different way. God guided these “non-believers” in the way they should go and remarkably, they listened and obeyed, defying human political authority.

As we celebrate our thanks on this Feast of the Epiphany, we might ask ourselves: what light compels us as much as the magi were compelled? Does being in the presence of God in Christ bring us to our knees? How many of us, in the presence of our Redeemer, open our treasure chests and freely give gifts that reflect what we’ve been given? If we heard the voice of God in a dream, would we listen and obey it – even if it meant defying human political authority?

As Isaiah sings: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you…” Though our path forward may be uncertain at times, and we may have to stop and ask directions, we know we can trust the One who leads, and so we are compelled to go on – together – a community of people who are both followers of and bearers of the light of Christ; co-creators with God of life in our world.

Look around, Isaiah says, they all gather and come to you… When outsiders show up, drawn by the radiance of God’s Light, we welcome them, just as Mary and Joseph welcomed the magi caravan, and we accept the gifts they bring. One guaranteed outcome is the light of divine unity overcoming the darkness of human division.

This feast day calls us to remember that the light of Christ continues to break into the darkness of the world and compels us to follow wherever it leads. It calls us to remember that when the light breaks into the world it brings down human-made walls and divinely unifies those whom humans have divided.

So in confidence and with boldness borne of our faith, we who are the church, co-create our world as servants of the good news of the revelation of God in Christ; giving all we are and all we have to the Light.