Sunday, February 9, 2020

Epiphany 5, 20-A: Freely, bravely, and continually shine. Final Sermon

Lectionary: Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]; Psalm 112:1-9; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16]; Matthew 5:13-20

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En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

I have such mixed feelings as I stand here today offering you a sermon on the Word of God for the last time. I’m grateful, however, that the lectionary for last week and this speak to my core message as a preacher. Last week we reflected on being set apart as holy, consecrated to God. This we reflect on being salt and light.

Salt has form and substance. Light exists beyond finite form. We are both - and that is the gift Jesus, the Incarnate Word, gave us. Today, Jesus encourages us to be what we are: salt and light.

So, what does it mean to be salt in this way? It helps to remember that salt was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. Not only does salt have the unique ability to enhance the flavor of food,it was also used to preserve food, which often meant preserving life.

Jesus said to his followers: You are the salt of the earth. You are a commodity of great value. You are an enhancer and preserver of life.

He also said, "You are the light of the world." Light is a familiar biblical term used throughout the extent of our Scripture. It is the light of God that shines from us to illumine the world - if we choose to be in that kind of relationship with God - and by this light the world comes to know the truth about God. When Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works…” his Jewish listeners understood that he was talking about works of mercy and reconciliation, service to others, which glorifies God.

It’s interesting to notice Jesus says we are salt and light - not that we will be or we could be, but that we already are. Then he encourages us to own that and live it saying, “let your light shine before others so that they may see your good words and give glory to God.”

The prophet Isaiah describes exactly how that looks, reminding us that God isn’t as interested in the form and substance of our worship as in the way our worship forms our relationship with God and motivates us to live and serve in the name of God. Isaiah says, when we “loose the bonds of injustice… let the oppressed go free, and… break every yoke… [when we] share [our] bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into [our] house… “ when we cover the naked and make ourselves present to our sisters and brothers who suffer… “ Then [our] light [will] break forth like the dawn; then God will continually guide us, providing us with all we need including the strength to persist as repairers of the breach, restorers of life.

This is such an important reminder for churches today. We have all we need and what we lack God has ready to give us to live and serve in God’s name.

Churches and individuals are bombarded by the temptation to believe that our value is tied to our financial success, or our physical beauty, or the number of people we claim relationship with, such as, the number who attend on Sundays and the number who follow us as on social media.

There is a distressing cultural outcome of this: so many people who feel powerless or insignificant seek to assert that their lives matter by claiming a moment of fame in the mass destruction of other lives. It’s the only impact on the world they can devise. They have rejected - or never knew- that they are beloved of God and meant to be enhancers and preservers of life, not destroyers of it.

Priest and theologian, Henri Nouwen spoke prophetically to this long ago saying, Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

This is why the church, the beloved community, matters. At some point in our lives, each of us is going to find ourselves tempted to forget our belovedness and descend into self-rejection. In those moments, the church is where we can go in our brokenness, our weakness, our doubt, and someone in the community will be radiating the light of Christ. Just standing near them is enough for their light to dispel our darkness and open our eyes and hearts to the truth of “core truth of our existence” again. The regular offering of worship enables us to be upheld in the prayers of the community when we can’t utter the words ourselves, when we aren’t even sure we believe a single bit of it.

When Jesus spoke this teaching, he was speaking to a community. The “you” was plural: “Y’all are the salt of the earth… Y’all are the light of the world…”

It is in community that we remember and own the truth of ours and everyone else’s belovedness and this sets us free from the bondage of earthly judgment and belief in scarcity. Then, as Nowen says, “Every time we encounter one another we [recognize that we are encountering] the sacred.”

Our church’s mission is to shine the light of the core truth of our existence until everyone believes it… and lives it… and glorifies God for it. Since it is light of God in Christ that shines from us, we don’t need a lot of members or money or programs to live and serve in God’s name. We already have all we need and what we lack is in readiness for us in the abundance of God. Knowing that - believing it - sets us completely free to live bravely and serve continually in God’s name, in whatever path God is guiding us in the present moment.

You are set apart as holy, consecrated to God. You are salt and light. I have seen your light and I can testify to it. I bless you and pray you freely, bravely, and continually let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to God.


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Presentation of Jesus in the temple, 2020: Consecrated for this

Lectionary: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 24:7-10;Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

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En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

When I was a new mother, I ritually consecrated my firstborn. (Her father, by the way, was Jewish.) Not being Jewish, I didn’t care that the Biblical requirement (Ex 13:2) specified the consecration of a firstborn son to God.

I ritually consecrated my daughter to God because it was the only way I felt I could give thanks enough for her birth and the life we would share. In fact, that’s why I ritually consecrated all three of my children - alone, not in church, not with family. I didn’t know what our life would be like, but I knew from my own life experience that it would be wonderful and difficult, joyful at times and dreadfully sorrow-filled at other times. My overwhelming gratitude was that we would share all of that together.

To consecrate something is to set it apart as holy. To consecrate a person to God is to offer them and all their gifts, their actions, and their purpose to God’s service.

We practice this ritually through Baptism and at the ordination of our clergy. In fact, we call the ordination of a bishop their “consecration” and if you’ve ever been to the ordination of a deacon or priest or to the consecration of a bishop, you know how powerful these rituals are.

Each time we renew our baptismal vows, we reaffirm the consecration of ourselves to God, but in my conversations with parishioners over the years, I’ve found that many people view Baptism solely as an initiation rite, which it is - it’s just not all it is. Very few have ever acknowledged that they saw this sacrament and our regular renewal of it as the consecration of their own lives to God - that they have been set apart as holy and that their gifts, actions, and purpose have been and are being offered to God’s service.

Why does this matter? I think of the many people I’ve counseled in Confession or pastoral meetings who don’t feel and wouldn’t describe themselves as holy or useful to God - the world, or their experience in the world, has so tarnished their self-conception. I think of the many churches I’ve worked with as a pastor or through my Partnership for ReNEWal, who feel like they are too small or too old, or too poor to be useful to God.

To all of those I say, pish posh! That’s right, pish posh! And I say that backed up by the Gospel reading.

Mary and Joseph were a poor, disgraced couple who, in keeping with their faith tradition, came to their church for the purification ritual and to consecrate their newborn son according to the law. Consider how strange it must have been to take a baby that everyone knew wasn’t Joseph’s and present him to God, and have him declared holy. You can almost hear the whispers of the “good people” in town condemning their brazen impertinence.

But Mary and Joseph remained obedient to God and Mosaic law. Maybe by now they were getting used to the whispers and glares. I don’t know. It’s only been 40 days since the birth.

Anyway, at the temple, Simeon, a just and devout man of Jerusalem, shows up unexpectedly. I love that the gospel tells us that Simeon was led by the Spirit to the temple. In other words, he had not been invited.

So after crashing their ceremony, Simeon erupts with praise and thanks to God, then proclaims that God’s salvation would come through this child and that it would include the Gentiles. It’s no wonder the parents were amazed.

Simeon then approaches the stunned parents and offers a somber prophecy directly to Mary: "This child is destined for the death and resurrection of many; he is the standard, the exemplar who will be opposed because he will be a reckoning to many revealing the inner truth about them, and you will suffer too as if a sword has pierced your own soul." I think watching the crucifixion of her adult son thirty years later when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, Mary’s own soul truly was pierced and Simeon’s prophecy was fulfilled.

Then we’re told of a second prophetic witness: Anna, an 84 year-old widow who lived at the temple. Upon seeing Jesus, Anna praised God and immediately turned to tell all who “were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” that the time had come. The Messiah was here. It was this child, Jesus.

About all the parents could do after that dramatic a purification ceremony was go home and raise their child, which they did - and we know how that story ends.

There are so many sermons to preach on this gospel, but the one God has raised up for today is this: You have been set apart as holy. You and your gifts, actions, and purpose have been and are being offered to God’s service. And the “you” in that is singular AND plural.

Therefore, we must acknowledge that because of God we are enough as we are - as individuals and as a parish community. Each one here has been created by God, uniquely gifted, and brought together by God for God’s service. Each one of us is beloved of God and all of us together make up God’s beloved community.

On the Episcopal Church website, there is a page dedicated to becoming beloved community. It says, “As the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, we dream and work to foster Beloved Communities where all people may experience dignity and abundant life and see themselves and others as beloved children of God. The … resources [on this page] help us to understand and take up the long-term commitments necessary to form loving, liberating and life-giving relationships with each other. Together, we are growing as reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers in the name of Christ.”

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first spoke the notion of “beloved community” into our imaginations. Here’s how the King Center describes it: "Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood."

We don’t need a Simeon or an Anna to tell us the time has come. It couldn’t be any clearer that we aren’t yet a global beloved community. And we are not too poor, too small, too old or too anything else to be holy and useful to God. We are exactly what God needs and wants here and now to be “reconcilers, justice-makers, and healers in the name of Christ.”

The world needs it and we have been consecrated for just this. Amen.