Sunday, May 22, 2022

6 Easter, 2022-C: Loving God in and above all things

Lectionary: Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 

I want to begin by mentioning that today is Rogation Sunday – a day we ask God’s blessing on agriculture and industry, those who work in those areas, and those of us who benefit from them. Is this familiar to you? 

While I do mention it, we won’t pray the Great Litany, as is the Episcopal custom on this day, but I do commend it to you to read on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week – which are the rogation days. These are always the three days before the Ascension, which falls on Thursday. As a principal feast in the church, however, we will transfer the feast of the Ascension and celebrate it on the following Sunday.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Well, aside from the fact that we are Episcopalian, and this is part of our tradition, it is also germane to today’s Collect in which we ask God to pour such love into us that we love God in all things and above all things…

Seeking to love God in all things connects us directly to the Episcopal focus on the stewardship of creation. All that God has created, all whom God has created, are to be tended to reverently, and God’s gifts are to be shared by us who have access to them as generously as God has shared them with us.

Seeking to love God above all things keeps our focus on God’s plan for us and for the world, reminding us to subjugate our desires, knowing they are too small; that the good things God has prepared for us exceed our ability even to ask or imagine. It also means that we don’t have to take what we need first and hope the other guy gets theirs too. Our selfishness, our mistrust of God’s abundance, leads to so much division, sadness, and unfair distribution of labor and product.

In God’s economy, there is always enough, more than enough. It is our sin, our self-centeredness, that disrupts the flow of divine abundance. For example, when I take my share first, without regard for how much there is to be shared among us, I raise myself and my needs above those of others.

Then, in order to ensure I keep getting my share, which bloats over time to anything I want, not just what I need, I have to separate myself from those others and demonize them, and the projections begin: “They want what belongs to me. I worked for it. I earned it. They haven’t. They’re lazy. They’re selfish. They deserve their lot in life. If they want better, they should work for it like I did.”

This is the fallacy of the principle of meritocracy and it is in direct contradiction to the way of Jesus. According to Yale Law professor, Daniel Markovits, “We typically think of meritocracy as a system that rewards the best and brightest. [But he says,] “it is merely ‘a pretense, constructed to rationalize an unjust distribution of advantage… The problem, of course, is that elites cheat… they game the system and… engage in all kinds of self-dealing in order to get ahead.” (Source)

In other words, they raise themselves and their desires above those of others. The recent college admissions scandal, where rich people paid elite colleges to admit their children, is an example of gaming the system for their own benefit.

Markovits calls meritocracy a “moral insult… because it frames what is in fact structural inequality and structural exclusion as an individual failure to measure up, and then tells you…[that] the reason you can’t get the… high-paying job is because you’re not good enough and the reason that your kids can’t get into Harvard is that they’re not good enough.” (Source)

Pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, a hallmark of meritocracy, implies we have boots, which people of color, who are disproportionately poor in our country and in the world, don’t – metaphorically. And if they somehow get boots, the elites, who are gaming the system impede their rise - except for the rare few, who are used to point to the validity of the system. See, we had a black president, we had a woman Presiding Bishop, we have a Latina Supreme Court justice. If they can do it, anyone can. The problem is… anyone can’t. The system is rigged against them and meant to not only keep them down but also to blame for it. Meritocracy and racism are a malignant combo.

That is why I say this contradicts the way of Jesus. Jesus showed us how to love and asked us to love others as he has loved us. He asked us to love God and neighbor with a love that puts them above and before ourselves – as he did for us.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Judas, the son of James, his brother: “those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” This is a very dense, and important statement, so let’s unpack it a little.

The word “love” being used here is agape love, the self-sacrificing love Jesus modeled for us. Jesus, who is the word, the logos of God, is the divine reality spoken into human form. When we love Jesus we are holding fast to the reality of him, prioritizing him over ourselves. We say in our creed that Jesus is the one through whom all things are made. To love him, then, is to love God in all things, as we prayed in our Collect.

The outcome of choosing to love in this way is that God makes God’s home in us. We become the temple of the Holy Spirit, the incarnate, living, dwelling place of God.

This is the lesson Jesus is giving his disciples as he prepares to leave the worldly realm. I’m telling you this now while I’m with you, he says, but soon, the Holy Spirit, the one who helps, will come to you and remind you of all I’ve been saying.

What Jesus didn’t say was that things were about to get really rough for the disciples. So, ahead of that, he gave him his peace, saying: I give you my peace, a peace the world can’t give. My peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of eternal wholeness, well-being, harmony, and completeness. Jesus’ peace ensures our safety and our welfare as individuals and as a community.

When sin and conflict happen, Jesus says, and they will continue to happen, remember that I am with you, my peace is with you. So, fear not, and don’t let your hearts be troubled. I am eternally present with you. Love as I love, go where I send you, listen when I speak in your dreams or give you visions, open your eyes to see the truth around you, then work with me to transform the systems of the world that harm my beloved ones and my creation.

Let us pray… Loving God, on this Rogation Sunday, we ask your blessing on those who work in agriculture, knowing that most of them are Latinx or other people of color who can’t afford to eat what they are growing, picking, and sending to us.

Creator God, we ask your blessing on the earth, the womb of our sustenance from which we get our food, water, and air, remembering that her gifts are often exploited to profit a few rather than stewarded for the welfare of all.

Generous God, we ask you to bless the industries that drive the world’s economies, praying that all who work are fairly treated, fairly paid, and free to rise to whatever heights their gifts and abilities lead them. We pray for those who don’t or can’t work, asking you to remove all barriers in their way, including the shame and blame they may carry from unjust systems they can neither control nor avoid.

Gracious God, we give you thanks for your love that continually creates goodness in us and in the world, and we pledge, as followers of your son, Jesus, to be faithful stewards of your abundance through our various gifts and occupations until the whole world obtains your promises and the fullness of the peace of Christ. Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

3 Easter & Baptism, 2022-C: New life in the body of Christ


Lectionary: Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19 

En el nombre del Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen.

Blessed Eastertide to you all. As we continue to bask in the light of the new life given to us by Jesus at Easter, our joy is intensified by welcoming two new Christians, Patrick and Charles Carey, into the body of Christ.

The sacrament of Baptism is the foundation upon which we all stand as members of the body of Christ. In it we experience our release from the bondage of death and sin by sharing in the resurrection of Jesus. In our most helpless, powerless moments on earth, we the Baptized, find our hope and strength in Jesus our Savior.

In our Baptism, we are raised up into a new life of grace… a new life of grace. The blessings, mercy, and love of the Creator of the whole universe are now ours for the taking, and they come with the gifts of joy and wonder.

We now live a life where the lavish love of God will constantly amaze and thrill us – if we have eyes to see it. That’s why we prayed together in our Collect: “Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work” in the world around us.

The world has always been a place where Saul lives. The Sauls of the world believe they know what’s best for everyone and use their earthly power, even violence, to enforce their understanding of how the world, and everyone in it, should be. They may mean well, though some in our world’s history, even some in our world today, surely don’t.

In the end, our Scriptures promise that the Sauls of the world are rendered powerless in the face of the love of God, and those whom they hurt or destroyed didn’t go unnoticed by God. They too, have been redeemed and reconciled into the love of God. As the psalmist says, “You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.”

We will die many deaths in our Christian journey – the death of our understanding of ourselves, the death of our understanding of God or Jesus or the Spirit; the death of our expectation about church, the death of our personal goals or plans in favor of God’s plan for us. Each death we face is difficult and leaves us feeling lost and afraid, but we go into each death willingly because Jesus led the way for us and promised us new life on the other side of it… a life of freedom, joy, and wonder in all God’s works.

Knowing we are forgiven, we are able to learn and grow from our mistakes, not be undone by them. Can you imagine how Peter felt when he heard that cock crow, and realized that he’d denied his beloved Jesus three times? In our gospel story, Jesus offers Peter three opportunities to profess his love and commitment again, not holding his sin against him, but letting Peter learn from it. And what did Peter learn? 

Peter learned that all of us are likely to fail to be faithful at some point, but that doesn’t mean we have become worthless or cast out of relationship. God in Christ still loves us, has a plan for us, and can use the humility we’ve learned to enable us to serve better.

Peter learned that God is always ready to reach out to us to reconcile us back into love. Jesus invited Peter to profess his love and commitment as many times as he had sinned. The invitation is ours too. It’s why we promise to repent and return to the Lord whenever (not if ever) we sin.

Peter learned that the new life promised to us is real and beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Peter, like Mary Magdalene, didn’t recognize the resurrected Jesus at first. Whatever we think about God, God is more than that. Closing our eyes to or resisting the new thing God is placing before us and waiting for what we want or expect is not only useless, it’s unfaithful.

And finally, Peter learned that faithfully living in Christ doesn’t mean we will avoid the pain and violence of the world, but since Jesus went there first, we are assured of the grace of resurrection. All of us will experience being led where we don’t want to go at some point. It’s the ‘take up your cross and follow me’ aspect of our life of faith. But for us, the cross is now simply the gateway to new life. So we go - with confidence in the love of God that goes with us.

Living this life – the resurrection life of Jesus – takes a community. We can’t do this alone and we aren’t meant to. We’re meant to do this– all of it - the painful and the joyful, the disastrous and the miraculous, as the body of Christ in the world.

Today we are baptizing two persons into this body of Christ, committing to be there with them every step of the way on their journeys of faith, including the deaths they will face and the joys they will know. We pledge today to share it all with them.

More than that, we pledge to be their teachers, their prayer partners, and their encouragers. We promise to help them know what being a Baptized Christian in the Episcopal faith means (and what it doesn’t). We promise to help them discover their unique gifts and God’s purpose for them in the world. Then we promise to support them as they live into that purpose. 

We also renew our promise to continue to do the same for one another. It's a sacred bond we make and we do it as a family of faith. Amen.

 (Invitation to the font)