Sermons


 

 

CHRISTMAS I

December 27, 2015

Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20

 

We just read from the Gospel of St. John. It is the longest Gospel account, and the last of the 4 accounts to be written. It may be the most popular of the Gospels and has been called the “pearl of great price”. (A phrase from Matthew’s Gospel.) If this is so, the heart of the pearl is what we just read.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

The vision expressed in these opening words is more expansive than that of the earlier Gospels.

Mark’s Gospel, the first written, begins at the baptism of Jesus. Matthew and Luke, written about 15 years later, begin with the birth of Jesus. Those stories we celebrate in this Christmas season.

John however, pushes his vision back to “the beginning”. These words seem to soar like an eagle over the vast expanse of time and space. For this reason medieval scholars saw the soaring eagle as the symbol of John’s Gospel. As a result, many pulpits throughout the world are adorned by the eagle – signifying God’s word soaring over all creation.

In the early Church it was believed these words were too beautiful to have been written by a mere human being. They were thought to have magical powers, so people wrote them down and carried them to ward off sickness and danger.

It was a custom to have these words recited over the sick, and read over the newly baptized. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

As John’s Gospel continues we find the focus on three themes - Light, Life and Love. These words occur 11 times in today’s readings. We read: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

These words were important for those who first heard John’s Gospel. Many believe John was written at the end of the first century. Christians were suffering persecution, this time instigated by the Emperor Domitian. People risked their lives because they believed they had been given the power to become children of God’

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. This is true today, but this does not happen by magic.

The Quakers believe these verses of John’s Gospel have shown a way. God is present in every human being, and each person is unique and of equal value, for each human being possesses an inner light – a share in God’s Spirit. This establishes a unity with God and between every person. A common greeting among Quakers is “Mind the Light!” Remember the Light is within-within you and within all others.

The light is both comfort and challenge. Lucretia Mott, the abolitionist, feminist and theologian points this out. She said: “The Light of God’s presence is as available today as it was yesterday, as it will be for all eternity.”

She reminds us that in these dark days, the Light is present, the Light Shines. But she adds: The Light is within each of you. What are you doing with it?

It is in and through us that light casts out darkness, that light shines in our world. Our actions of justice and mercy, love and compassion cast out the darkness that burdens so much, so many.

"The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." We have a role to play, a responsibility as a child of God. As we prayed in our Collect:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new Light of your incarnate word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.

Happy New Year Mind the Light.

 

ADVENT 3

December 13, 2015

 

This past week I watched a story of a refuge family trying to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece in a very flimsy boat. They were told they did not need life jackets. The mother and seven children drowned; only the father survived. As he spoke to a reporter, his grief reminded me of words in the Biblical Book, the Lamentations of Jeremiah: “All you who pass by, pause, and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.”

Later that same day, I was reminded that tomorrow marks the third year since the Sandy Hook school murders. Another scene that asks: is their any sorrow like this sorrow? These incidents along with other events taking place in our world give meaning to Jeremiah’s words. So much sorrow, so much fear.

And yet, today’s scripture readings tell us six times to rejoice, and four times to not be afraid. The prophet Zephaniah calls out: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart..”. Zephaniah lived at the same time as Jeremiah. The Assyrian Army was moving toward the city of Jerusalem, destroying towns along the way. We might join Jeremiah and ask Zephaniah, Where is the joy?

Before he can answer us, Paul jumps in and calls us to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Paul says this even though he’s sitting in a Roman jail; even though he may soon be sentenced to death. We might ask Paul, where is the joy?

Obviously, Zephaniah and Paul are not saying, “don’t worry, be happy”; “cheer up”, “have a nice day”. The joy they are calling for must be something different than happiness. In fact, upon reflection we learn that joy and sorrow spring from the same source. Joy and sorrow are the result of our power to love and care for one another. If we did not have the power to love, we would not feel sorrow, or loss, or grief. But neither would we experience joy. Our relationships of love and care make us vulnerable to sorrow, and also open us to joy.

So joy is not so much determined by what happens to us from without, but rises up from within. Joy is a gift planted at the center of our being.

A Benedictine monk, Columba Marmion described joy as “the echo of God’s life in us”. The source of joy, then, is the presence of God within us, planted at the heart of our existence. Such joy does not have the power to always make us happy, but is the presence of God that empowers us to trust life, to trust ourselves, trust one another, and to trust God.

Joy does not deny what is happening around us – the suffering, the loss, the frightening things, but rather affirms what is also true – that we are not alone, not abandoned. God is with us, within us. Joy is the echo of this presence, a presence that endures in those fearful times and moments of sorrow.

Karl Rahner, one of the great theologians of the last century said that the task of evangelism is not to get God into people. The Creator-God is present in all beings. The challenge is to be open to this presence, transformed by its power, experience its echo.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist answers questions from groups of people who believe they must prepare for the coming Messiah. In his response he tells people the Messiah will not be what they expect. Messiah will not change history, change the situations of their lives so much as change them – transform them, give them a new awareness of who they are and how they are related to God and one another.

Messiah will teach them they are not just children of Abraham, members of one tribe of chosen people, but children of God, interconnected with all members of the human family, with all creatures of creation. Messiah will invite them into a trusting relationship with God and with all others.

The Gospel reading says the “people were in expectation” for one who would redeem and heal, free them from fear. The great challenge for us is to believe this expectation has been fulfilled; to be open and trusting in the God who is with us, here and now, in the midst of fear and sorrow.

Joy is the echo of this presence, the fruit of this belief, the power to endure in hope, amid the troubling times in which we live.

Patrick O’Brian was the author of many sea adventures placed during the Napoleonic wars. One of his main characters had the habit of greeting another with the words “I give you joy”. Perhaps in 19th century England, the meaning was not what it seems to us. However, in John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciples that he has spoken that “my joy may be in you and your joy complete.” In other words: “I give you joy”.

In the midst of our lives – in the suffering and fear – God abides in us. Because of that presence we can rejoice, always.

Let us hear Jesus say to us today, “I give you joy”. Not only today but every day. Amen

 

PENTECOST 12 August 16, 2015 Richard Leaky, the son of the Kenyan anthropologists Louis and Mary Leaky, is famous in his own right for discoveries of remains of our human ancestors. He developed a theory for determining whether ancient remains were human beings or animals. By ancient, I mean remains that are hundreds of thousands years old. According to Leaky, if the remains were found amid signs of food being shared with others, they were human. Parents nurturing their young is common to all animals, said Leaky, but only human beings share food throughout life. But I wonder, if the sharing of food is only found among human beings, can the sharing of food be essential to the process of making us human beings. Can it be that in sharing of food, human life is nurtured: roles are learned, bonds are strengthened, stories are told, relationships defined? Now I don’t want to make this too romantic. We live at a time when the family meal has become less common, often replaced by a stop at a fast food emporium. Also, the family meal is not always experienced as a nurturing, bonding event. Often family arguments and struggles are the main course. Cleaning up one’s plate, eating one’s vegetables sometimes becomes the focus. But maybe even these struggles and arguments are important to becoming human. I think there is something very human and humanizing about coming together each day to share food. Sharing food is the background for our Gospel readings these several weeks. We have heard Jesus speak about the “bread of heaven”, the “bread of life”, “living bread” that nurtures us with eternal life. Jesus uses bread as a symbol in two ways. First for God’s word that feeds us, that nurtures faith within us. Which is the first part of our Worship service, where we are now. The second, as the bread of Eucharist that nurtures the very life of God in us. In the first sense, the bread of faith that is nurtured within us cannot be summarized by one word. It is a whole relationship that grows and changes. However the word that comes closest in describing this relationship – this faith - is Love. In fact, in the letters attributed to the writer of this Gospel, we hear “God is Love”. So the food with which we are nourished is God’s love, a love, we learn, that is without limit and without end. Most of us have learned very well Paul’s teaching, that God sent Jesus to redeem us, and his death has freed us from the power of sin and death. Too often, this has pictured a God who sent Jesus to undergo a gruesome death and by doing so healed God’s anger at human sin. That is a picture of a strange God, indeed. It is a picture so foreign to what John proclaims. The bread of our Gospel proclaims God is love and whoever abides in love, abides in God.Today’s reading brings us to the second meaning of bread –the Eucharistic food that nurtures the very life of God in us. Te language Jesus speaks is very graphic: “The bread is my flesh”, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you”, “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink”. The Hebrew audience of Jesus would understand “flesh and blood” to mean the whole person, the very life of Jesus. The bread of Eucharist is the food that feeds and nurtures the very life of God within us. Eucharist is the life of God shared with us. This food, this life empowers us to share the very love of God with others. How are we doing? Ironically, some scholars think the Gospel of John received its final editing in what is present day Syria. For us, Syria is a clear example that too often evil is shared among us more than love. But we don’t have to go to Syria to find evil in the actions of human beings. In our own nation, in our own lives evil is present. I won’t make a list, and we may disagree about what are the greatest of evils that confront us. But we do agree on how God demands we confront evil. The word that echoes through John’s Gospel is Love – the love that God shares with us, the love that must empower our actions; a love that is expressed in care for others, respect for each other and a sense of responsibility for one another. How we are to act out this love is well expressed in our Baptismal promises: by seeking and serving Christ in all people; by loving our neighbor as ourselves, by respecting the dignity of every human being. That is the great challenge. That is the work the Christian community is called to do. On one level, this is impossible. But we are gathered to receive the living bread come down from heaven. We are here to be nourished again by the very life of God. We are here to be empowered to share the very love of God; we are here because we believe that one who eats this bread can become fully human, and will receive the power to share this bread and nurture life in others. Amen!EASTER 6
May 10, 2015
“Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide:
When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me.”
Words inspired by our Gospel readings these past two weeks. However, the hymn alters
the focus of the Gospel. Jesus begins by telling the disciples to “abide in his love” – echoing what Jesus said last week: “Abide in me… as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
Of course, we can abide in Jesus” because he already “abides in us”. We learned this at the beginning; the Creation Story in Genesis says: “ in the very image and likeness of God, human beings are created.” God, the Spirit abides in all living beings.
Spiritual writers refer to this as the Divine Indwelling. God abides at the very core of our being. Amid my strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, hopes and fears, God is present, abiding in us. In life, in death, the Lord abides in me.
This abiding is not to control or dominate, but to love. It is a profoundly caring, respectful abiding. It is a life nurturing, healing abiding. But also, this abiding is not a possession of ours, but gift, a gift that empowers us to love others– all others – all in whom God abides.
Peter learned this by experience. In our first reading, we find Peter in the midst of a baptismal sermon, preparing an entire household for baptism. His plan was to inform the people about the life and teaching of Jesus, and then baptize them into the life of the Risen Christ. 
The Spirit, it seems became impatient with the length of Peter’s lecture and suddenly, the audience began to ‘exhibit the gifts of the Spirit”. In other words they already possessed the Spirit Peter thought he was about to bestow on them. Peter is quick, though, immediately he gets them into the water, affirming what already was  – God abiding in them.
Karl Rahner, one of the great theologians of the last century said, in somewhat concrete language,  the challenge of the church is not to get God into people, but rather to get God out of people; to get people to act with the gifts and power – the love and healing that God’s presence plants within each of us. 
For Rahner evangelism is not approaching people as though they lack something that I have to give. Rather I approach another seeking the shared dignity we share as human beings, a dignity that flows from being created in the image and likeness of God.
 
In life and death, O Lord, abide in me. A prayer already answered. But not always obvious, not always acknowledged, not always felt. Perhaps that is one thing we can do for one another as members of this community. Provide support, care, nurturing for one another that we can hope and believe that God abides in you, in me.
In my ministry, when couples who had little or no previous relationship with the Church community, came seeking marriage, I saw this as an opportunity to invite them to see the Church as a home where they could worship with others. At first it might be Christmas and Easter. But if a child was born, it became a place for baptism, later, perhaps church school.
And by that time, some saw the church as a “home”.
I trusted that the community would be hospitable, welcoming, affirming. Providing a place where a person could come to sense the Divine Indwelling God, abiding in them.
The poet, Robert Frost wrote: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I wanted the Church to be a Home that would take people in, when they had to come there.
For you, that is what All Saints is – a home where you have to be taken in when you come. And whether you know it or not, you help make it a home for people who come here. We can do this because God abides in us.
Let us be aware, and grateful to this abiding God.
Let us be grateful for all who come here.
Let us help one another believe that “in life and death, the Lord abides in each of us.”

EASTER 3

April 30, 2017

Acts 2:14a, 36-41, Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35

The Messiah, Handel’s famous Oratorio is an Easter event for some people. It is a musical review of Salvation History, culminating in the resurrection joy of the Alleluia Chorus. In the third part of this work is an aria that begins with St. Paul’s words in Corinthians: “and the trumpet will sound and we will be changed”. WE WILL BE CHANGED. Paul is focused on what Resurrection brings at the end of time. But during the weeks of Lent as we read John’s Gospel, Jesus expanded that vision so that the Resurrection of Christ is THE moment in which WE ARE CHANGED.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus assures us that eternal life is given to us here and now, in the midst of life. God’s Divine Life dwells in us, NOW. WE ARE CHANGED!

What this means, how we live this Easter mystery is presented to us in a special way as we gather in these weeks after Easter. At the same time, we have watched a rather horrible spectacle unfold in the State of Arkansas. As we are challenged by reflecting on the stories of the earliest Christians being confronted by the mystery of the victory of life over death, Arkansas, whose population is 80% Christian - is focused on how quickly death can be brought to 8 men on death row. The crimes they committed were horrible, to be sure, but the rush to death these Easter weeks is because the expiration date on the drugs used to kill prisoners is about to expire. Killing these men is legal, but using drugs beyond their expiration date is not. So, the state is working to assure as many deaths as possible.

Easter/Life overshadowed by Execution/death. ARE WE CHANGED?

Consider the picture drawn in our first reading. Peter is inviting people of Jerusalem to change. Those he has accused of participating in the death of Jesus are called to new life through Jesus. But they must change. REPENT, he says.

This is the same word John the Baptist used when we began our Advent journey many months ago. Repent means real change, going in a new direction, seeing with a new vision, finding new meaning in life.

The change Peter calls for is possible by renewed trust in God that gives the power to have genuine mutual love, the power to love one another deeply from the heart. And to express this love in the actions of one’s life. Live out the Baptismal Covenant.

The Gospel story also paints a picture of CHANGE. We meet two people leaving Jerusalem, engaged in animated conversation about their shattered hope and their shattered lives. Cleopas is the name we are given. The early church thought the unnamed person was Mary, referred to in the Gospel as the “wife of Cleopas”. One of the brave woman that stood beneath the cross.

This couple is joined by another traveler, who asks what they are discussing on the way. They repeat the recent events – the arrest, passion and death of Jesus, ending with the words: “we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”, and then a description of the strange events the disciples were saying about angels and an empty tomb.

Jesus responds by retelling the story from a different point of view. Not as a plan gone wrong, but a plan fulfilled; a plan they would understand only when they are changed. And so they were, in the simple action of taking bread, blessing, breaking and sharing. In the midst of their darkness, light shines and they see life, not death, they find hope, not despair.

It is easy to understand how the church has seen in this, the image of Eucharist. We gather to share a meal, break bread and share wine with one another. We remember Christ, proclaim his presence among us. We are fed with the very healing life of Christ; we experience the dignity of one another, acknowledge we are sisters and brothers; offered reconciliation and empowered to live a compassionate love with others. What a change.

All this through sharing bread in Jesus’ memory? Anthropologists say that sharing a meal is a uniquely human action. When studying ancient remains, they conclude them to be human if there are signs of sharing food. Outside of nurturing young, animals do not share food. Only human beings share a meal, and sharing a meal in memory of the life and ministry of Jesus teaches us to be human beings, to see each other in a new way.

We are changed. We need to be changed, renewed again and again. Repair our vision and understanding of one another; shift the focus from what divides us: race, color, religion, economics, power, and focus on what unites us as members of one human family.

Help us break and share the bread of justice. Eat hardy the food that nourishes an active concern for the well being of others; drink the wine of responsibility and respect for the dignity of all.

It begins here, this morning, again, as we share bread that is broken, wine that is blessed and remember Jesus, as present among us on our journey as he was on the road to Emmaus.

Lord, may we be changed in the breaking of bread so that we can see each other as you see us. Members of one human family.

Feed us with justice so we never tolerate oppression. Feed us with your healing so we will share the pain of others. Feed us with compassion so we never stop caring for the powerless, the outcasts. Feed us with hope so we never stop working for peace. Feed us so we nurture one another. Amen


LENT 2

March 12th, 2017

Genesis 12:1-4a, Romans 4:1-5, 13-17, John 3:1-17

“Sometimes there is a torch in my head, and I see things clearly,

But then the light goes out and I am left with images, analogies.”

Words of Irish playwright, William Butler Yeats, which describe a human condition most people experience. Sometimes things fit into place; life seems to have meaning, things make sense. Then, things change and nothing seems to fit or make sense. Yeats’ words are fitting for those for whom faith is important.

Faith is the topic of our Gospel readings this Lent. In the coming weeks, stories from the Gospel of John present four individuals – Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the man born blind and Lazarus the brother of Martha and Mary. Each represent a type of faith and in the early church, these Gospels provided a Lenten course on faith for those who would be baptized at Easter. For us, they can serve as a reminder of what we are to do after we say: “I believe”.

Most of us were taught that faith is belief in certain things, important truths: we believe in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit. You know, what we pray in our creed each Sunday. But that is not what the scriptures, what the Gospels understand by faith.

A good image for faith in scripture is a journey, and today we meet the most famous faith-journey-man, Abram, whose name will soon be changed to Abraham. We meet him as he is being called by God to pack up kit and kin, come away from home and family and gods; leave the known, the fixed, and follow a new path God will reveal; a road Abram doesn’t know, to a place he has never been. Come, trust me, says God, I will be with you every step of the way.

Interesting for us, Abraham heard this call while he lived in Ur, a city on the border between present day Iraq and Kuwait. And the path God will show him runs from Bagdad to Jerusalem, befor there was a Bagdad or a Jerusalem; a dangerous road to take then and now.

But Abraham goes! And as you know he will have to renew his trust in his God time after time after time. There will be moments of light, but often the light will dim and Abraham will have to trust. But he does. He continues the journey.

Abram means "exalted father", and so he is the “father of faith” for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. His name will be changed to Abraham, which means "father of many", and so he is since Jews, Christians and Muslims are his religious descendents. And yet, these three religions are in conflict with one another, a conflict of faith, some would say. But not the faith that Abraham would live. Nor the faith Jesus demands.

What is faith? We meet Nicodemus who will help us understand. Nicodemus is a devout Jew who comes to speak with another devout Jew – Jesus of Nazareth. He comes at night and John’s Gospel is not favorably disposed to those who come in darkness.

Perhaps he is afraid to be seen with Jesus. But he is also “in the dark” about what Jesus is saying about the necessity of being “born from above”, “born again”, born of water and the Spirit”. He doesn’t get it and he leaves, returning into darkness without learning and believing who Jesus is. His faith is not the faith Jesus demands. But is ours?

Jesus has baptism in mind when speaking of being born of water and the Spirit and given new and abundant life. In John’s Gospel, eternal life comes to us not at death, but at baptism. Here and now, you and I share in the abundant, unending life of God. Jesus will speak of the “divine indwelling” - God dwelling within each of you. When all seems clear, and when there seems to be no light at all, still God is as near as the breath we take.

That is the faith we are given; a faith that forms a relationship of trust with God through the presence and power of Jesus; a faith that empowers us to live the “life from above” a life of justice and compassion, a life of forgiveness and hope and love: to live this trust when there is light and when we find ourselves in the midst of darkness.

The faith Jesus offers and demands is a relationship of trust and fidelity that is revealed in what we say and do and teach. It is living out what we promise at our baptism, when we were born again, given life from above.

When I was a student a teacher asked us to think of three people whose faith we could see in their lives and whose faith was a support for our faith. Whose life supported our saying: “I believe!”

Try it this week. And then ask yourself why not live your trust and fidelity in God – your faith- so that you, too, will be a light for another as we journey together in faith. Amen.

 

LENT 1

March 5, 2017

 Genesis 2:15-17, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11

The Bible is all about sex! You don’t think so. In your experience, what has been the focus of so much attention and teaching in organized religion? Where in political discussion and public policy and support for laws have you most often heard the voice of the church: abortion, birth control, sex education, homosexuality, same-sex marriage. The church’s moral focus has become very narrow, and big moral issues: nuclear weapons, death penalty, end of life care, poverty, hunger, have received less attention.

This is not a recent preoccupation. In 1973, a psychiatrist, Karl Menninger wrote a book titled: “What ever became of sin?” He laments that the concept of sin and evil had pretty much disappeared from professional discourse, replaced by psychological and emotional terms and sources for human behavior.

Menninger pointed out that religious institutions’ fixation on sex as sin and the absence of the voice on other issues had aided this development.

Today, our scripture readings are focused on sin but there is no mention of sex. Sin, evil is a reality in our lives, in our world. The church needs to restore its vision if it hopes to regain its moral voice.

Today’s first reading from scripture reveals ancient reflections on the question: where does evil come from?

Ancient peoples arrived at different answers to this mystery. Some believed evil existed because there were two gods, one good, the other evil, who competed for our allegiance.

Israel’s response was determined by its conviction that there was only one God and, this God was good and all creation was good. Therefore, evil, sin, were not the result of god’s action or a defect in creation, but the result of human choice, human actions.

The writers of Genesis did not believe in talking snakes or forbidden fruit. They did believe that human beings are given freedom to choose love but this same freedom could be used to hate, to do evil.

Again the result of this choice to sin is presented in poetic but understandable stories. Sin weakened the relationship between people seen in the blame of the other –Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake. Evil continues to threaten human relationships as Cain murders his brother Abel, and further leads to the destruction of the flood.

Sin, then is real and destructive; sin is the result of human actions, human attitudes. What we think and say and do, what we teach our children and write into our laws, this can nurture life and human relationships or, can be a great destructive power in human lives and human relations.

God’s transforming love empowers us to choose love and thereby become the people God created us to be, but this same freedom gives us the power to sin, to choose evil.

In today’s Gospel story we find Jesus, himself confronted with the reality of sin. He is in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. Not the demon as pictured in the Middle Ages and contemporary entertainment, but the tempter, the one who represents all that tries to lead us away from becoming the creatures God created us to be.

To each temptation, Jesus responds by quoting from the Book of Deuteronomy, the last Book of the Pentateuch.

This book is presented as a long sermon by Moses given as Israel is about to enter the land of promise, after 40 years wandering in another wilderness – “a dreadful place, a land of fiery serpents and scorpions,” as this book describes.

In his sermon, Moses reminds the people of how God has cared for them, protected them with love and mercy. He demands they never forget this love and care and their response must be demonstrated in grateful acts of love and care for one another. To refuse to do so is sin. To neglect justice, deny compassion to one another destroys the relationship we have with God. (You can’t love the God you don’t see, if you refuse to love the neighbor you see every day)

Each temptation in the Gospel is calling Jesus to be different than the savior/messiah he hears God calling him to be. Do Magic, says the devil; perform spectacular demonstrations of power, use power to control, to dominate others.

In response, Jesus uses a quote from this Book of Deuteronomy to refute each of the temptations of the devil. Jesus has understood the theme of this Book as expressed in one chapter. It is the great prayer said by Jews several time a day: Shema- Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is One, love the Lord with your heart and soul and mind and strength”.

It begins with listening. Hear, Listen to the word of God and do it. This same message is echoed in the Gospel: those who would be disciples of Christ are to Hear the word of God and do it.

Listening is the first act of prayer. Listening to God’s presence within. What do we hear?

Echoes of what we hear each time we read the Gospel: Be compassionate; love your neighbor, forgive, whatever you do to the least, you do to me, feed the hungry, do not neglect the poor, respect the dignity of everyone, trust in God.

But we can also hear our struggles, our hunger, our poverty, our need for healing. For God not only calls us to be compassionate and loving and forgiving, but offers us abundant compassion , love and forgiveness.

Let us begin Lent with a commitment to listen, Listen to ourselves, Listen to each other, Listen to God.


Epiphany 7

Febryary 19, 2017

David W. Brown

What would Jesus do? "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God."

The shocker of a Gospel-portion advances this principle boldly, pressing it with great force.

For us of the Judeo-Christian community then, care for the poor and the alien: the foreigner, the outsider, the stranger, indeed the immigrant, is a serious moral responsibility. This morning I shall address only the moral issue, not the political although that is a consequence of the moral.

We used to speak of refugees. The number of the world's refugees has become so great that the terms now in use are migrant, migration, immigration. And the Migration Policy Institute, an international foundation based in Washington, supported by the UN, speaks now of a world-wide irruption, 65,000,000 immigrants mostly in severe crisis: safety, food, shelter. (The entire population of France is just under 67,000,000.) Nations willing to take wholehearted part in rescue operations are about exhausted, pressed beyond their capacities despite their willingness. The scene is often one of desperation all round: victims and rescuers both. In Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel's magnificent open-borders policy which has aided hundreds of thousands is seriously threatened. Canada's splendid open-borders policy, given her enormous space, fares better but not always easily. The willing appear to be in danger of being overwhelmed, yet most of the potential for world-relief remains untapped.

What would Jesus do? We see him in crisis situations. He asks for information. He finds a place apart where he may pray and gain perspective and strength. Then he acts boldly and effectively. He shows compassion for the victim in practical ways. He quickly dismisses hardness of heart. Think of the Syrophoenician woman, the robbed and injured Samaritan, the 16 lepers, the woman at the well. Should the victim be an alien or outsider, he welcomes and provides for that person's needs despite hindrance from the establishment. When the issue of risk is present, he tells the little story of the shepherd who leaves the flock in the wilderness and seeks the one that is lost. To some this seems impractical, but Jesus' action often seems impractical. No matter, the needs of the other person always come before self-interest. When necessary he speaks sharply. He sets difficult goals. Today's Gospel-portion shows that. Speaking generally, he affirms the Law of Love over against the Law of the Jungle.

What would Jesus do? Indeed, what will we do, we who would imitate Christ? What, by the grace of God, will we do?

We will work together to become better informed about possibilities for implementing the Gospel imperative. We will continue to pray out what we learn. We will act incisively and boldly as guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. We will show compassion for victims, the vulnerable, the suffering, and we will resist, even speak out against hardness of heart. Should the victim be an alien or outsider we will find ways to welcome him or her and provide for that person's needs. We will not be deterred by risk or cost. We will speak sharply and prophetically and we will not be afraid to set difficult goals--even ideal ones. The beacon gjuiding our life in Christ Jesus will be the Law of Love. Otherwise why are we here? By the grace of God this is what we will do.

We seem so few. Jesus had but twelve. But we are not alone! We are part of a splendid rally of thousands nationwide, worldwide. Cities, universities, churches, nations. We will boldly stand up against the hard of heart and self-interested and find ways to come to the aid of sufferers.

The old evangelical hymn is powerful: "Jesus calls us o'er the tumult of our life's wild restless sea. Day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying, 'Christian, follow me' ". Martin Luther King Jr. heard that summons and at great personal risk led non-violent marches for justice, the marches that entered the Jim Crow state of Alabama and moved on to the enormous non-violent gathering at the nation's capital where he delivered his famous "I have a dream" sermon. Indeed we have a dream! Bishop Desmond Tutu, prominent in the leadership in the against-all-odds freeing of South Africa from the sin of Apartheid preaches God's love all over the world and often closes a sermon with the popular song, "We are marching in the love of God". indeed, we are "marching in the love of God"!


EPIPHANY 4

January 29, 2017

Annual Meeting

For the past month, since the Feast of Epiphany, our scripture readings have presented stories of "little epiphanies" - scenes in which the identity of Jesus is made known to a growing number of people. We read the story of magi, following a star seeking the one born “king of the Jews. We read of Jesus' baptism, where a voice was heard proclaiming: "You are my beloved son". We heard John the Baptist tell his disciples: "There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". We saw Jesus invite fishermen to leave their nets and "Come, follow him". We heard Jesus announce the arrival of the reign of God, a kingdom with new values, new ways of acting and new relationships.

Today's reading from Matthew's Gospel continues to reveal what life in the kingdom is to be. Jesus has now drawn a crowd, and "Seeing the crowd, Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down.. and began to speak". Remember, this was a Jewish crowd, and they would not have missed the deeper meaning of this setting. Just as Moses went up the mountain to receive the Covenant, the Law, the 10 Commandments, so Jesus goes up a mountain and begins to teach a new law, a new covenant.

What the crowd was about to hear, then, was as important for the disciples of Jesus as the 10 commandments were for Israel. It is interesting to note that we have seen movements in our day to have the 10 Commandments placed in schools, law courts and public parks. Not so the Beatitudes. We will soon learn why.

But before we reflect on the Beatitudes we realize our liturgy has introduced us to the prophet Micah. Not as important a figure as Moses, but important to our understanding of Jesus.

Micah was a country prophet who lived 750 years before the birth of Jesus in a small village 25 miles southwest of Jerusalem. What he saw in his village was the abuse of poor farmers by powerful landlords: hard work, low pay, excessive foreclosures. The rich were getting richer, the poor, poorer. Micah saw an absence of justice and mercy, and this, he says was a violation, even a rupture of the Covenant between God and Israel.

The Covenant not only joined Israel to God in a loving caring relationship, but also joined the people to one another in a caring relationship. One could not be faithful to God, if one was not just toward another. The Covenant demanded one have an active concern for the well being of others.

Some of the rich offered elaborate, expensive sacrifices to God paid for with the wealth they made by neglecting, even abusing the poor. In Micah’s view this was a sacrilege and a mockery of the God who would not be mocked.

What needed to be done was not that difficult to know, but difficult to do:

"The Lord has shown you, what is good; and what the Lord requires of you is to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

These words would have been familiar to many of those gathered on the mountain side to hear Jesus of Nazareth. His words were intended to teach them what was required of them, but also remind them that they are people of value in the eyes of God.

The Beatitudes challenged the certitudes of Jesus’ day. They challenge the certitudes of our own day.

You who are physically and emotionally poor are beloved and valued members of the kingdom of God. You do not have the arrogance of wealth and power to diminish the value of others. You can and must respect the dignity of all human beings. Know that you are blessed and loved, here and now – in the midst of your lives.

 You who know the profound sense of loss and isolation of mourning, know that you, too, are embraced by the healing companionship of our God who is willing to mourn with us.

 You who are meek, who do not oppress or denigrate others, who have chosen non-violence, you are not weak - you have the power of God’s presence within; this is the greatest gift on earth.

You who are merciful, who care for others, who find the power to forgive -you shall have abundance of mercy and care and forgiveness. Is there anything more precious?

You "pure of heart" – you who respect others in thought and action shall also experience God's embrace. You peacemakers, who never stop seeking reconciliation between people, are special children in the eyes of God. You have a future.

Blessed are those who have courage to "do justice and love kindness." You will suffer but God will walk with you every step of the way.

The Beatitude are a gift we receive again on this day of our Annual Meeting. It is a time to reflect on who we are as a community, and where we are going. We hear Jesus offer us the power to see the dignity of one another, the challenge to love and care for each other, to be the children of God we are created to be.

Thomas Merton sums up the Beatitudes as the call to be human beings in the midst of an inhuman age, nurturing what is human, for human beings are made in the image of God.

Let’s face it, the values Jesus places at the heart of his teaching are not the values esteemed today. Wealth and power are presented as the important goals. The power to act with mercy, make peace,  shun violence, and be willing to suffer persecution for justice are not what make leaders popular. What Paul says about the cross is true of the Beatitudes – they seem to be foolishness to many.

ioEven the Church has difficulty with them. We want to change the words of Micah: Not do justice and love mercy, but love justice and do mercy. The church feeds the hungry but is too silent about why there are so many hungry. Bishop Helder Camara of Brazil put it best: “When I fed the hungry they called me a saint. When I asked why are there so many hungry, they called me a communist.”

When the church stands up and demands justice we are accused of being too political. On that mountain Jesus proclaimed a new political reality – the kingdom of God, in our midst.

Today, we are again invited into the life of the Beatitudes - into the fullness of God's love and care, into the shadow of the cross. This invitation is a great blessing - and a great challenge. The Beatitudes are a call to action, a call to live in community, aware that we are interconnected with one another -joined to all others. Let us together, here and now, say yes to the challenge of what it means to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. Amen


EPIPHANY 3

January 22, 2017

Isaiah 9: 1-4 Psalm 27 1 Corinthians 1: 10 -18 Matthew 4; 12-23

One afternoon, in 1958, Thomas Merton, a monk from a Trappist monastery outside Louisville, KY, was doing the community shopping in the center of that city when he experienced an epiphany which his biographer described as “the awareness of the glorious destiny that comes from simply being a human being, united with the rest of the human race”: an awareness that we are all members of one human family, all in this together; that we have each other to rely on.

From that moment, Merton changed and gradually became a voice speaking out on issues far beyond the walls of his monastery, issues of social justice and world peace; issues that concerned every human being; issues that human beings working together could solve.

Twenty years later, the very street on which Merton had his epiphany received a new name: Muhammad Ali Boulevard. Named after Louisville’s most famous son; a man who had grown from Olympic gold medal winner, to World Champion boxer, to activist and world ambassador for peace. The man who, at one time, was the most recognized human being on earth.

Today, on a corner of Muhammad Ali Boulevard one can find Thomas Merton Square.

All the information I have given you comes from an article written by the wife of the late Muhammad Ali which was published in Wednesday’s NYT. She examines what these two men had in common, even though they never met.

Merton’s epiphany sent him on a mission to find in other great religions, the unifying presence of the one God. Ali’s epiphany developed, over time, his ability to see the unity of human beings that enabled him to risk his reputation and career for this belief by refusing to go to war in Viet Nam.

Ali shared Merton’s belief that God could be found in diverse religious traditions. He requested that at his funeral words be shared by an Imam, Baptist minister, rabbi, Roman Catholic priest, Native American Chief and Buddhist monk.

Merton and Ali shared belief in a presence, a power that binds us together regardless of all differences.

What Pope Francis said of Merton; that he challenged the certitudes of his day, could also be said of Ali. And both Ali and Merton believed that we do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone; we find it in and with one another. Even the identity of God is found within the whole human community.

Certainly Jesus challenged the certitudes of his day. In slightly different versions, the Gospels tell us his first work was calling people into a community in which he will share his words and show his deeds; a community which he will send to proclaim that the “reign” of God has come; that the future belongs to the just and compassionate, to the peacemakers and humble; that love is our greatest gift and most human power.

But such a vision is challenged by what many believe to be the certitudes of our day.

On Friday we heard an address that called us to a future that had no relationship to the “reign of God” Jesus proclaimed. The picture painted in that address looked nothing like the one drawn by the words and deeds of Jesus.

Ironically, this address came in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Christian community recognized many years ago Jesus’ prayer that “all might be one as God is one” was very absent from the life and not presented as a goal within the countless divisions of Christianity.

It is important to be reminded that it was so from the beginning. Obstacles to unity have accompanied the church every step of the way. Last week we began reading Paul’s letter to the community at Corinth. As we continue reading, we are learn that divisions over who shall lead, what to believe and how to worship shattered the unity of this community, As we read more, we will see Paul’s frustration grow, his patience tested. And yet, Paul will tell us that he presses on toward the upward goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Our upward call in today’s opening prayer was “Give us grace O Lord!” Grace the gift of God’s transforming love – a love without limit and without end; a love that allows us to never lose hope, but also empowers us to act.

Act we must. We too are disciples called to proclaim the “reign of God is present among us”, called to demand justice, live kindness and compassion, work for reconciliation. Give us grace O Lord.

We were reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. last week:

Let us not despair. Let us not lose faith in humanity and certainly not in God. A person by the grace of God can change.

Let us also reflect on the words of Thomas Merton:

Every breath we draw is a gift of God’s love, every moment of existence is a grace for it brings with it immense graces. Gratitude, therefore, takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakened to new wonder and to praise the goodness of God. The grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay, but by experience.

Let us experience the goodness of God. Let us be grateful, hopeful, courageous and with God’s abundant grace, let us act in love so that God’s presence is found in this world. Amen.

 

EPIPHANY 2

January 15, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-7, 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, John 1:29-42

“I don’t know who put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer YES to someone, and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life had a goal.”

These words were found in the journal of Dag Hammarskjold, Swedish diplomat who was the Secretary General of the United Nations from 1953 until his death in a plane crash in 1961. He expresses what has happened to all of us; at sometime we hear a call. We may not know where or when, but our presence here indicates that at some moment WE said yes. Our hope is that in the living out of our lives, we learn that our existence is meaningful, that our lives have a goal.

But saying YES does not mean things will be easy. Last week our worship pulled us away from the comfort of the stable, all the wonder and beauty of Christmas, and took us to the bank of the Jordan River for the Baptism of Jesus.

We were reminded that Jesus became one of us. Today, as it was for John’s disciples, we are invited to “come and see”. Invited into a new community, very different from all other communities; a community in which we are empowered to do justice and love mercy; to be a healing support to one another, to respect the dignity of every human being.

“Come and see”. We did say YES. And like those first disciples we have learned that those gentle words are really an invitation to take up our cross and follow; for some even to the hill of Calvary.

Only God’s grace, God’s transforming love can empower us, amid the surprises and challenges and burdens of our YES, to see that our existence has meaning, our lives have a goal.

In today’s readings we meet two individuals struggling with this challenge. In Isaiah, we meet the “Servant” called by God to announce the coming of God’s justice and mercy into the world, into the lives of all people. The people of Israel, just freed from 70 years of bondage in Babylon, are told they are to be a light to the nations, a beacon of God’s justice and mercy to all the world.

But the people are involved in their own little squabbles and divisions; their own needs to rebuild homes and city. Who cares about the world? The servant grows discouraged, and soon learns that suffering will accompany him as he answers his call. His hope, his courage is built on the conviction that God is with him; that his existence is meaningful; his life has a goal.

Today, we begin reading from Paul’s Letter to the Church at Corinth, a community that absorbed much of Paul’s time and energy. He may have written as many as 12 letters to this community, located in one of the great cosmopolitan cities in the world at that time. Rich, diverse, filled with immigrants, the Christian community shared the same diversity. After Paul had left, he heard of great discord within the community: conflict between rich and poor, differences on how the church should be organized, what moral principles should be stressed, even how beliefs were to be expressed.

Paul was anxious. In the opening 9 verses we read today, Paul uses Christ’s Name 8 times. He forcefully reminds the Corinthians that Christ is the foundation of their unity. The same Christ who called him on Damascus Road; the same Christ who will support him through his discouragement with all the divisions at Corinth: the one who gives his life meaning, his life a goal.

Tomorrow, we honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. Inspired by the prophets of Israel and the letters of Paul, he said YES, and like them he soon found the need to take up his cross. He often repeated the call from Amos: let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. Like the prophets and Paul he became discouraged with the powers of religious hypocrisy and economic disparity that damned up the rivers of justice and dried up the streams of righteousness.

However, on the night before he was murdered, he told a crowd that he was not afraid. In his words: I have been to the mountain top and looked over to the promised land. I may not get there, but mine eyes have seen the glory of the Lord.

Dr. King said YES, and despite defeat, believed his existence had meaning, his life a goal.

So, here we are today, standing in that long line of people who said YES. We can share their disappointment, even their discouragement. Can we also share their courage?

We have said YES to the same God. Can we hope in the presence of this God in our daily life and struggles? Why not? We have each other. And we have the words of those who have gone before us.

I leave you with words of Martin Luther King, Jr:

“...all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly... We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize the basic fact...”

Let us not despair. Let us not loose faith in humanity, and certainly not in God. We must believe that a prejudiced mind can be changed and that a person, by the Grace of God, can be lifted from the valley of hate to the high mountain of love. God is present among us, empowering us to see that all human beings are interconnected, that we are all related in one human family.

If that is God’s plan, then it is the future. We have a future if we live out our YES to the call; and our existence will certainly have meaning, our lives have a goal.

 

PENTECOST 26

November 13, 2016

   Luke 21: 5-19

Sometimes, the scripture we read at worship can seem remote, written for another time, another culture, hard to see ourselves in the picture painted by the words. Today, however, I find companionship with the audience Jesus addresses in Luke’s Gospel. The actual scene took place in Jerusalem, shortly before Jesus’ arrest, passion and death. He came upon a group admiring the beauty and splendor of the Temple. Jesus uses the occasion to warn about frightening events that were to come, events that will terrify the faithful.

But Luke doesn’t write this in this Gospel until 50 years later. He recalls it for a different group of disciples than the one Jesus addressed. Luke’s audience never knew Jesus in the flesh. Some scholars think Luke wrote for a Christian community in present day Syria. By the time Luke wrote these words, much of what Jesus said had come true; the Temple had been destroyed by the Romans; Jerusalem was in ruins; many had been killed; many more fled Jerusalem.

But, many miles away and many years later, the Christian community that heard Luke’s recounting of the story were experiencing their own frightening events, struggling amid confusion, overcome with fear. Once again, the drumbeat of violence was heard, another persecution was threatening the very existence of the community. Family relationships were ruptured, society seemed to be falling apart. Fear was gnawing away at people’s hearts. In the turmoil, preachers rose up to proclaim they were the savior who would take care of them.

Don’t be fooled, Jesus says to these disciples, just as he had said to the group gathered around the Temple 50 years earlier. Stay calm and carry on! By your patience endurance you will possess your soul.

We have just completed perhaps the most divisive electoral campaign in the short history of our democracy. Families and communities are divided, relationships strained. The conclusion was a surprise to all and a profound shock to many. We are a divided nation that seems to be in the process of reviewing the values upon which we were founded and have struggled to live. What will we keep, and what will be discarded. Time will tell. Many are afraid!

This is one of those moments in life when the question about what we really believe is more pronounced. Last week we renewed our baptismal promises – to seek and serve Christ in all people, love others as we love ourselves, to respect the dignity of every human being. Those are commitments at the heart of what it means to be a disciple in 2016. The question is how can we live them today when so many of us are afraid, angry, and confused. What does the Spirit say to us today?

Can we hear Jesus say to us today: "don’t be fooled; don’t be afraid, stay calm. By your patient endurance you will gain your souls"?

That is not a call to run and hide. Patient endurance is not something passive. It is a call to action; “to do justice and love compassion:, as the Prophet Micah reminds us. Sometimes the Church changes the demand, preferring to do compassion and love justice. What I mean is we open shelters and provide soup kitchens which is good and important, but we are often quiet in demanding justice, less we be criticized as becoming political. I am reminded of the words of the late Helder Camara, esteemed former Bishop in Brazil: “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why are there so many poor, they called me a communist.”

We must feed, but also ask: Why are there so many hungry and homeless? Why so many in prison, so many lacking health care? Why are people of color and those who look and speak and pray and love differently told they are not one of us?

One of the frightening aspects of this election is that it has underlined how great and growing is the divide between white and black and brown America. It has revealed how afraid so many of us feel about the changes going on around us. And fear is the door that violence and oppression are quick to enter.

Do not be afraid! Is the message that echoes throughout the Gospel. The Gospel says fear is the absence of faith. And so we hear again today the words of Jesus. “Do not be terrified...By your patient endurance you will gain your souls.

I find encouragement in a prayer attributed to Thomas Merton. I only

change the pronouns:

Lord, our God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think we are following you does not mean that we actually are doing so. But we believe that the desire to please you, does in fact please you. And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing. We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road though we may know nothing about it. Therefore, we will trust you always, though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. We will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave us to face our perils alone.

So let us not be terrified. By our patient endurance in doing justice and loving compassion we will gain our souls, we will have hope as we walk humbly with our God. Amen!

Brendan

 

PENTECOST 15

August 28, 2016

     Sirach 10: 12­-18 Ps. 112 Hebrews 13:1-­8, 15­16 Luke 14: 1, 7­-14

The story we read today does not seem to apply to this banquet (gathering). I did not notice any jostling for places of honor. Maybe you already possess that humility Jesus demands. I see (suspect) that you are seated pretty much where you always try to sit when you come to this place of worship. When we find a comfortable place, we seek it out.

But the point of Jesus’ teaching is not about where we are sitting but about who we think we are and who we think other people are. Jesus says, be humble. Humility is not so esteemed, today. The dictionary doesn’t help. Humility: a modest or low view of one’s value or importance. Nothing could be further from scripture’s idea of who we are or what humility is. Humility does not mean we have a low opinion of our value. Humility means we see ourselves as God sees us. And in scripture we are called children of God; temples of the Spirit; hearts in which the very presence of God dwells. We are God’s special love.

The word humility comes from “humus” which means clay, earth. One who is humble knows that we are all creatures, made of the same stuff, the same humus. Pride is the opposite of humility. Pride in the sense that we see ourselves as separate from others, made of better stuff, superior, of more value. It is destructive, as Sirach relates in our first reading.

Actually, we are not made of clay. That is the poetry of the Book of Genesis. Science tells us we are 99% oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous. The other 1% is potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine and magnesium.

But I think the author of Genesis chose a better image, painting the picture of God, bending down, to scoop up some mud and like a potter, fashioning a clay form into which God breathed the breath of life, and the clay form became a living human being.”

I mean, isn’t that a better image than God putting on a white coat and goggles, scooping up a test tube and mixing oxygen, nitrogen, calcium, and so forth.

The point of the story is to teach that we are all sisters and brothers, all sharing a common humanity, made of the same stuff, equal in dignity and value as human beings.

This teaching, this vision is challenged today. We live in a world that is shrinking. More and more we meet people who look different, speak different, worship different than we do. We can be uncomfortable in such situations; we can see differences easier than sameness, and there are people who tell us to be afraid of those who appear different.

But that is the point. The differences are mostly appearances. Science confirms what the Gospel proclaims. We share 99.9% of the same DNA with every other human being on earth. No matter the color, size, shape, language, we really are one human family. We can overcome the divisions that we see. But it is a challenge to live as a family.

It is a challenge that has existed down the ages. It’s a challenge proclaimed 53 years ago this day, when MLK stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and preached what has come to be called his “I have a dream” speech.

More important than the dream, is the vision Dr. King echoed throughout his life. Reminding us of our Nation’s Declaration that all are created equal, endowed with the same rights. Dr. King proclaimed that we are all interconnected, interwoven in one fabric of humanity; all made of the same humus – the same earth; all gifted with the same dignity and value as persons.

It is the vision of our God, our Savior, it is the vision of our faith, religion.

Religion; isn’t that what brings us here today.

In our Opening Prayer we asked God to increase in us “true religion”. I was taught that true religion begins with the awareness that something is asked of us.

What is asked of us today is to be humble; which will give us the power to see the unity God has created; to see one another, all others, as members of one human family. To see this, believe this and act accordingly.

Today, we are called again to do justice by respecting the dignity of every human being; to love compassion shown in holy acts of kindness and support and caring, and then we can walk together, humbly, with our God.

 

PENTECOST 6

June 26, 2016

     I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62

At the beginning of today’s Gospel reading we learned: “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” With these words, a new section to our Gospel has begun.

I hope you’ve noticed that the Gospel according to Luke has made up most of our Sunday readings this year. But Luke’s Gospel is really the first volume of a two volume work; the second volume being the Acts of the Apostles. In our Bibles this one work is now separated by the Gospel of John.

Together, Luke/Acts flow as a journey; beginning with Jesus preaching and healing and gathering of disciples in Galilee, then traveling down to Jerusalem to a destiny he accepts from God; to be taken up, as we read - to die and rise and ascend.

His “being taken up” links Gospel and Acts – as the Spirit is poured out at Pentecost, which empowers the disciples to continue the journey, beginning in Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news and then going to the ends of the earth, symbolized by Paul’s arrival in Rome, to which and from which all roads lead and depart.

So, Jesus “sets his face to go to Jerusalem”. He is determined to make his way to the city of his destiny. But there is opposition. We see this in two episodes today. Two disciples misunderstand Jesus’ mission and three “would be disciples” do not realize the cost of discipleship.

James and John want fire from heaven to consume those who refused to receive Jesus. Let’s destroy those who believe differently than we do. It’s a temptation present in our world today. But Jesus reprimands them. Discipleship does not consist in zealous punishment of those who reject Jesus. Where were James and John when Jesus said, “be compassionate as God is compassionate”; forgive one another; love your enemies? Like us, perhaps, they take these words as suggestions and not as demands of those who would be disciples. When Jesus says “love one another” it is a command, as John’s Gospel says.

In the second opposition we learn that discipleship is not a qualified decision. I’ll be a disciple when convenient, when I feel like it, when the cost is not too high. We are told by Jesus that being a disciple calls for resolute determination. The urgency of the gospel supersedes other duties, even sacred ones; the call of the reign of God is the most urgent call the disciples can hear.

This was not a theory to the members of Luke’s community. Many had suffered much for their faith. Perhaps the desire of James and John made sense to them. Faithfulness to Jesus cost them relationships, security, in some cases the price was life.

For us, the challenge is not so difficult. In fact, many preach that the reason to follow Christ is that Jesus wants us rich or healthy, saved and popular.

The German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed by the Nazis, calls this “cheap grace”. He described “cheap grace” as the grace we bestow upon ourselves, a grace without the cross, without suffering, without work, without Christ, without discipleship.

He also says that discipleship is not an offer we make to Christ, but a life Christ calls us to live.

Perhaps that life is more than what Paul says to the Galatians: “the whole law is summed up in a single commandment: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’”.

But later he goes further when he lists the gifts of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”.

Now there’s a way of life worthy of any person, a plan for every disciple.

 

TRINITY SUNDAY

May 22, 2016

There is a story about creation that did not make it into the Book of Genesis. It has a familiar beginning: God took clay from the earth, molded it into human form and then breathed into this earthen vessel the breath of life. The human being opened its eyes blinked and said: Who are you? And what is the meaning of all this?

This is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday that acknowledges human beings have been asking those questions ever since; a Sunday that proclaims: “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ the only Son; We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.”

Words that attempt to answer that primal question: Who are You? What is the meaning of all this? These are necessary questions for us, but they are also dangerous questions. Dangerous, because we often think we have found the answer to who God is and what life is all about. This danger is demonstrated in another story, a story about St. Augustine, one of the great theologians who wrestled with the question: Who are you?

According to the story, as Augustine walked along the beach one day, wondering p { margin-bottom: 0.1in; line-height: 120%; } how to express in human words, this mystery we call God, he observed a young lad digging a hole in the sand, then running and scooping water from the sea in a small pail and pouring it into the hole

After watching the boy run to and fro for a while, Augustine asked what he thought he was doing. “I am emptying the ocean into this hole,” the lad replied. Augustine laughed, “you will never empty the ocean into such a little hole”; to which the boy responded: “Far easier to put the entire ocean into this hole than for you to put the mystery of God into human words.”

Although warned, Augustine went on trying to do this, and so have many others. We have many words that try to capture aspects of this God: Creator, Source, future, Father, mother, almighty, maker, rock, compassion, peace, justice, ancient of days; words, names we attribute to the one we call God the Father.

We have other words, too: Lord, savior, healer, son, word made flesh, sovereign, messiah, teacher, redeemer, king, lamb of God. Words we attribute to the one we call Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Finally, we have words like Spirit, comforter, Paraclete, love, giver of life, companion, wisdom, counselor, helper, encourager. Words attributed to the one we call the Holy Spirit.

So many words, but very small buckets of understanding this Incomprehensible Mystery we call God. The great danger is to think the One who is “Incomprehensible Mystery” can be understood or explained by words made up by us, creatures made from the clay of earth and breath of the Spirit.

And yet, we feel we must try. It seems to be our calling but maybe it’s not our fault. Maybe it’s God’s fault. The faith in Incomprehensible Mystery” handed down to us in our holy history has discovered that this Mystery SEEKS to be known by us, SEEKS to disclose to us who this God is. For hundreds of thousand of years, human beings from across this globe have responded by seeking the One who is seeking us. Seeking to understand what God is like, what God is doing in our world, in our lives.

That is a mystery our Psalmist acknowledged 3000 years ago:“When I look at the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars you have set in their courses, who are we that you are mindful of us, human beings that you seek us out.”

And that strange reading from Proverbs today, relates Wisdom, an image of the Holy Spirit, calling out to us that the Creator rejoices and delights in creation and in us, the human beings who dwell on this earth.

And the Gospel readings these many weeks remind us again and again that we seek a God who seeks us. Even more, the God we seek is not far away but dwelling within, present at the very core of our being; as close as the next breath we breath.

We hear Jesus tell the disciples today that he has much to teach them that they cannot bear at that moment. However, the Spirit of truth will speak and declare things later. Here we are-later. Maybe what Jesus is saying is that Who God is and what this is all about is not a question that we need to answer, but rather an invitation to a way of life. A life given to us in love, a life in which God seeks to comfort us, encourage us, empower us to respect the dignity of all others, to care for others and be responsible for one another –to love each other. In and through such actions we can learn who God is and what this is all about.

In his rule for monk, St. Benedict tells that abbot that when someone wants to enter the monastery he must determine if the person truly seeks God. He does not say, found God, but seeks God.

Trinity Sunday reminds us that we are always seeking a God we never can completely find. But that’s not a problem because God has found us. What we need to do is stay on the search – keep seeking God.

As I reflected on this, I thought of some of the words that keep me in the search: God is love; rejoice in the Lord, Do justice and love compassion, do not be afraid, whatever you do to the least, you do to me, I will give you a comforter, ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, pray always, know that I will be with you until the end.

No doubt you can add your own. Do so. Make a list of the words that keep you seeking. When words such as these are lived out in our daily actions we will know that the Incomprehensible God is present in our world, in our lives, in our being. And that should be enough. Amen.


EASTER 4

April 17, 2016

  Acts 9:36-43, Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30

The Holy Quran, the sacred book of Islam was originally written for a people who lived around the year 600 AD in the great desert regions of the Arabian Peninsula; present day Saudi Arabia. Many of these people were shepherds and herders, whose life was a journey from waterhole to waterhole, as they searched for grazing ground for their flocks and herds. A journey in this arid land was filled with danger for both animals and people.

It is no wonder that the Muslim image for sin is being lost in this vast arid wilderness, wandering aimlessly, not knowing what direction to take, what path to follow.

At the beginning of the Holy Quran is a prayer that holds the place in Islam that the Lord’s Prayer holds in Christianity. The prayer ends with the plea:

     Guide us to the straight path…the path you show to those you have blessed.

“Guide me along the right path” is a prayer found in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrews are also a people who remember a journey through the wilderness. There was that historic journey, the Exodus, that traversed that same Arabian desert that became the home to followers of the Quran 2000 years later. This journey became an image for the life of the community – the journey in which they often lost their way. And so they prayed:

     The Lord is my shepherd… I shall not want…he leads me

     beside the still waters… he restores my soul. Though I walk

     in the valley of the shadow of death I have no fear because

     you are with me…

For these people, Jews and Muslims, it would be natural for them to see themselves as sheep needing a loving shepherd to lead them along the path to refreshing water, a shepherd freeing them from fear. For these people, a shepherd of goodness and kindness would be an enduring hope handed down from generation to generation.

Sometimes, in that tradition the king or prophet or priest was seen as that shepherd, having the responsibility of leading the people to streams of flowing justice, to verdant pastures of mercy and peace.

But too often these shepherds betrayed this trust and led the people on the path that led to the valley of despair. God is patient, but God will not be mocked. In frustration God proclaimed through the prophet Ezekiel: “I myself, will look after my sheep, tend the flock, and lead them.” Since human shepherds had proved to be hirelings, neglecting and abusing the sheep, God would be the shepherd leading them along the straight path.

It is the fulfillment of this hope that Jesus addresses today. Jesus presents himself as the Good Shepherd who will protect the sheep, lead them along the straight path.

We will get distracted here if we read this passage and focus on us being sheep. The focus must be on the shepherd - the good shepherd.

The Good News is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, present to each one of us; present to protect, to lead, to nurture, to heal. So present, in fact, that no human shepherd required. JESUS is the shepherd. You don’t need another pastor. You don’t need me.

And this Good Shepherd claims intimacy with God: “The Father and I are one”. A risky claim; blasphemy to the religious leaders. But there will soon be another claim, just as risky. Jesus claims intimacy with every believer: “I know my sheep and they know me”. I call them by name and they follow me”. But this intimacy extends to God. Through Jesus, God’s presence dwells within each of us, each of you. That is at the heart of John’s Gospel teaching.

The Lord is my shepherd, a loving, caring, protecting, feeding, healing presence within you, each day, each moment of your life.

Many years ago, I visited a man ill and suffering from severe dementia. His wife and two children gathered in their living room. The man sat in his chair, not even acknowledging our presence. After a while I asked them if we could pray together. I began: “The Lord is my shepherd, nothing shall I want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”. For some reason I paused just a moment. Suddenly, the husband/father said: “he leadeth me beside the still waters”. For the first time in many weeks they heard the voice of the one they loved.

From that day on the family of this man prayed Psalm 23 each time they sat with him. Sometimes, not always, they heard the one response: “He leadeth me besides the still waters.” He died about a month later.

I am not sure what comfort the words brought him, but I did see a family through the power of these words, prayed in the shadow of death, find comfort and mercy and goodness and the power to fear no evil.

The Lord is our shepherd, present within, present always. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us, all the days of our lives. Amen


EASTER 3

April 10, 2016

  Acts 9:1-20, Revelations 5:11-14, John 21:1-19

Certain words seem to go together. If I say left you say right; black/white; tall/short, true/false; Peter/Paul. Peter and Paul, perhaps the two most important people in the history of the faith handed down to us.

We think of them together; the Church always celebrates them together. The feast of Peter and Paul is June 29th; in January we celebrate the feast of the Confession of Peter at the beginning of the week of prayer for Christian Unity and the Feast of the Conversion of Paul ends the week.

It is in that conversion story that we first meet Paul. He is convinced that the followers of Christ were dangerous to his faith and needed to be destroyed. Today, we find him on the road to Damascus, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Suddenly, a bright light from heaven flashes, he is knocked to the ground and a voice, using his Jewish name calls out: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you?”, asks Saul. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

That extraordinary encounter, that moment determined the rest of Paul’s life; it is the rock upon which he built his conviction and the basis of his teaching. Paul experienced the free grace of God. God’s love embraced him when he certainly didn’t deserve it. Also, in persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ, himself. From the beginning Paul learned that God’s grace was freely given and that we really are all members of the body of Christ.

Today we meet Peter in much calmer circumstances. He’s fishing. Maybe this is therapeutic. Things have been happening quickly. Arrest, trial, death of Jesus; empty tomb, experiences of the presence of Christ, risen. Peter still seems to be processing all of this.

After fishing, Peter sits with this same Risen Lord around a charcoal fire. Maybe the smell of the smoke reminded him of that other charcoal fire where he tried to warm himself in the home of the high priest, while Jesus was being interrogated. Peter was about to deny that he knew who Jesus was. Three times: “I do not know this man.”

In this awkward conversation with Jesus, Peter, too, is called by name: “Simon, do you love me?” Three times he his asked, once for each denial, and three times he proclaims: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Unlike Paul, it always seems to take Peter a while. He has been up and down in living the love he proclaims. Finally, he seems to have gotten it. Now he is ready to be the rock Jesus called him to be.

But that doesn’t make things easy; especially, when Peter meets Paul. The early church struggled even though the Spirit guided them. Serious questions arose. The most important was if Gentiles seeking to follow Christ must observe the Jewish Law. It doesn’t seem important to us 2000 years later, but it may well have been the greatest challenge the church has faced.

Paul will fight Peter tooth and nail on this issue, claiming that all gentiles need do is be baptized in Christ, receive the Holy Spirit, and strive to live the Gospel. No need for circumcision, no need to observe Jewish Law.

In his letters, Paul is proud of his confrontation with Peter; standing toe to toe, jaw to jaw. Paul, the man of quick decisions met Peter, the one who took time to process ideas, never quite worked out the details.

Ironically, according to tradition, both Peter and Paul were killed in Rome, around the same time for the faith they shared and about which they argued so fiercely.

Is there a lesson here for us, members of the Church, the body of Christ which stills argues fiercely about the faith we share? Is the disunity we experience today the result of the fracturing of the body that once lived in unity, or has history and growth expanded divisions that were present from the very beginning?

When the community of human beings became the “body of Christ” the work of the Spirit became more difficult. But we have learned that God does not give up easily.

We can still learn from Peter and Paul. They both learned that God’s grace is everywhere: on the road to Damascus for one bent on destroying other human beings; on the beach, for one who denied he even knew Jesus.

Paul learned that Jesus identifies with the very people Paul is convinced deserve destruction: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.” Peter learned that what Christ wants is for him to love and act with love: “Simon, do you love me?” “Feed my sheep.”

Grace is everywhere! We are all members of one Body! The greatest gift is love. If we can believe and live this faith, the faith Peter and Paul gave their lives to hand down to us, then we too can renew our commitment to respond again to Jesus’ invitation: “Follow me.”

 

EASTER 2

April 3, 2016

   Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 1:4-8, John 20:19-31

A few years ago, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, caused a stir when he responded to a question by saying there were times when he wondered if God was really there. He admitted to experiencing doubt. For example, when his seven month daughter was killed in a car accident; or when he found himself caring for an alcoholic father when he was only in his teens.

A number of religious leaders were shocked. And yet, I think the Archbishop expressed a very common human experience, an experience shared by many, if not most of us: moments when we wondered if God was really there.

Doubt is not disbelief. If one has no faith, what is there to doubt. Doubt, wondering if God is there is part of a life of faith. By faith I do not mean holding on to a set of teachings or dogmas or truths. Faith, primarily, is founded on a relationship; faith flows from our relationship with God. And we all know that in relationships things change; challenges arise, questions deepen, new resolutions are required if the relationship is to grow.

Another way to speak about this is faith is a verb. That is certainly the case in John’s Gospel. In a way, he invents a new word — "faithing". Faith is something dynamic, changing, growing as one experiences new and challenging events. Faith, believing is a process, and wondering, doubting is an essential part of that process.

It is also true that people come to believe in different ways. Today's Gospel story presents different types of faith. The scene we read occurs in the evening of that first Easter Sunday. It has been a long day; several people have reported experiencing the presence of the Risen Christ. Each experience reflects a slightly different reaction of faith.

Early in the day, women go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. They found the tomb empty and run to tell the apostles. Peter and the person John calls simply the "Beloved Disciple" run to the tomb. The "Beloved Disciple" arrives and looking into the tomb sees the burial cloth folded up. We are told that this disciple, on just this evidence, came to believe that Jesus had risen. Peter is not sure.

Later in the day, Mary Magdalene, one of the woman who had found the empty tomb, encounters Christ in the garden near the tomb. She thinks that he is the gardener. Only when Jesus calls her by name, does Mary come to believe.

Now, in the evening of that Easter Day, the Risen Christ comes to where the disciples are hiding out of fear. When they see him, we are told, they are startled and confused. Slowly, they come to believe it is their Lord.

Thomas was absent, and when he is told the Good News, he is not persuaded, he has serious doubts. He asks for more; wants to see and touch the wounds. It seems he wants proof, certitude.

A week later, Jesus returns and Thomas gets his chance. He is invited to come see and touch the wounds and have the proof he wants. However, he doesn't actually do so. His doubt is healed by the presence of the Risen Christ. He believes without the tangible proof he had demanded. Thomas is not the “doubter” as history has named him. He is like many of us who move from doubt to faith. In fact, he makes the most profound statement of faith recorded in the Gospel: “My Lord and my God”.

We then have an unusual scene. One of the great scripture scholars, Raymond Brown, describes it this way. Jesus suddenly shifts his attention from the disciples in that upper room to us, who are here sitting in pews, remembering the story, celebrating the presence, dealing with doubt, experiencing challenges of faith.

Jesus speaks to us, making clear that his ultimate concern is for us – those who in each generation come to believe, even though we have not seen and touched the wounds. Christ addresses us, who, like Thomas often feel doubt, who like Mary at the tomb, are sometimes afraid and confused, who like Peter, may even deny that we know Christ. Jesus addresses us and says “you are indeed blessed”. In spite of all the challenges, in spite of all your limitations, you believe in me.

In John's Gospel, all these experiences of Christ's presence take place on a Sunday. The Evangelist is drawing a connection between the experiences of the Risen Christ by the first disciples and the experience offered to us, as we gather each Sunday. Like those disciples we are sometimes afraid, in need of assurance, often wondering. But the presence of the Risen Christ is with us; as real today as it was that first Easter day; with us to heal, to forgive, to reconcile, to empower us to do justice and love mercy. With us when we feel strong in faith, with us when we wonder.


LENT 3

February 28, 2016

    Exodus 3:1-15, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

Last week we encountered Abraham on our Lenten journey. Abraham is the “father of faith” in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We saw that Abraham was called by God to be a source of blessing to all the peoples of the earth. We are embarrassed to admit that we, his Jewish, Muslim and Christian descendants have not been a blessing. Too often we have been curse to one another and many others as well. In our Lenten repentance we heard ourselves called again to be blessings to one another, to all who share this earth with us.

Today, we meet another journeyman, Moses. Moses was born about 500 years after Abraham. The Hebrew people had moved from what is now Palestine to Egypt, at the time of Jacob, to escape a famine. Initially, these immigrants were well received but by the time of Moses, they found themselves reduced to the status of slaves. Today, we read the story of Moses’ encounter with God who calls him to lead Israel out of bondage to freedom, out of Egypt to the land of promise.

Moses is involved in something mundane at the time of this encounter- pasturing a flock of sheep. In the midst of this dull chore, Moses saw a strange sight, a bush burning, but not consumed. Intrigued, he approached, and was greeted by a voice that told him to take off his shoes, for he was standing on holy ground.

We are not accustomed to take off our shoes even in a sacred place. But bare feet allow one to feel the earth, to touch the dust from which we have been created, the clay that unites us with every other human being, with all other creatures. The word "human" comes from the Latin "humus" - earth, clay, dust. Bare feet touch the ground that is holy; the ground that reminds us we are made by the breath of God - breathed into the clay of earth.

This is well expressed by the poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning who said:

      Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with

      God; But only one who sees, takes off one's shoes.

So often we fail to see the holy ground of our lives. The holy ground at the bedside of a dying loved one; the ground shared with someone who is sick and afraid, of one hearing a diagnosis, facing serious treatment; the holy ground shared with someone who has lost a job, failed in an important endeavor, experienced the death of a relationship, faced an addiction, suffering from depression. We stand on holy ground every day of our life. So often, like Moses, we fail to see.

What make this ground holy is the fact that the Creator-God stands with us. The God Moses encounters is not aloof or disinterested or absent, but God present and deeply concerned about our daily lives.

God tells Moses:

I have seen the affliction of my people.

I have heard their cries.

I have come to deliver them.

I will take their hand.

I will lead them out and up. I will bring them to safety.

Moses meets a God who sees our pain, but does not draw back; a God who seeks us out, takes our hand, brings support and healing; leads us to safety. But, as always, our God brings comfort that includes a challenge. God tells Moses that HE will be the instrument through which all this will happen; Moses’ ears and hands and feet are needed to hear the suffering, embrace the fearful, stand with the oppressed. Through bodies of clay the Spirit of God brings hope and healing, love and care to others.

God tells Moses, and us, to not be afraid, to not worry. God will make up for our limitations, stand with us on that holy ground of human need and provide the power to support and forgive, the courage to touch and heal, the love to embrace those who are in pain and suffering.

But that is easier said than done. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Christians at Corinth, that Moses was not able to convince many of those he was sent to lead that they walked on holy ground. Even though they saw the signs that God was with them as they passed through the sea, ate the same food, still many did not change. They chose to live as people of clay, not as people empowered by the very Spirit of God.

We face the same challenge. And so the call to repent is repeated in today’s Gospel reading. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has proclaimed that the reign of God is already among us – even within us. God has heard our cry, seen our affliction, come to deliver us, to forgive us, embrace us with compassion, heal us with abundant love.

But having poured out such grace, God expects a response and the time for that response is now. Those who were murdered by Pilate and those who were crushed by a falling tower in Jerusalem were not guilty any more than anyone else. Suffering comes on a day and hour we do not expect. Life is precious and fragile. Jesus calls for repentance, calls us to change the way we live, now. Forgive the offence, now; do what is just, now, be compassionate, now.

John Wesley, Anglican priest and theologian, founder of the movement that led to the Methodist tradition is quoted as saying: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you can.

Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only one who sees, takes off one's shoes.

Let us see! Let us take off our shoes!

Holy ground all around.

Let us look at one another, see the pain and suffering in each other's lives.

Let us take off our shoes so that we remember that we are all brothers and sisters, made of the same clay, saved by the same love.

Let us believe that God is with us, calling us to care for one another.

Let us see the affliction in the life of another.

Let us hear the cries of those who suffer.

Let us take their hand.

Let us bring one another to the safety of God's healing embrace.


LENT 2

February 21, 2016

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 Philippians 3:17-4:1 Luke 13:31-35

A few weeks ago, I suggested we approach the season of Lent as a journey. Not a journey from point A to B, but a journey inward. Making a plan to set aside time for reflection and prayer, giving oneself the gift of quiet and rest, allowing oneself time to sense the presence of God’s Spirit in our daily lives, in our very selves.

Today, we meet another traveler on a journey, Abram, who lived in the city of Ur, which was on the border of present day Kuwait and Iraq; the area that saw the first Iraqi war.

About 4000 years ago, Abram heard a call from God to leave this region, leave his family and their gods, to journey with God. It was a journey from present day Iraq to present day Jerusalem; a journey very difficult in his day, almost impossible in ours.

But the real journey for Abram, whose name God will soon change to Abraham, will be the journey of faith. His trust in God will be a profound challenge.

The actual call came a few chapters before today’s reading. God said: “Go from your land and your kindred and from your father’s house to the land I will show you; thus I will make you a great people and bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing to others.”

Abraham means “exalted father”. The problem is, this exalted father has no children. The promise that he will be the father of many will be repeated time after time on his journey. But he continues to wonder since he and his wife Sarah are getting older and older.

It is Abraham’s clinging to the promise, believing even as it seems less and less possible, that makes him a model of faith.

Ah, but a child is born. However, it is not to his wife, Sarah, but to her servant Hagar, a member of Abraham’s harem. The son is named Ishmael and he will be honored as the ancestor of the Arab people; Mohamed will be a descendent. Ishmael means “God will hear”, but it isn’t Sarah who has been heard. Abraham’s faith is tested again.

But finally, the faith of Abraham bears fruit and Sarah has a son, Isaac – through whom Abraham becomes the “father” of the Jewish people.

So, Abraham is considered the “father of faith” by both Jews and Moslems. But there’s more. In his Letters, Paul presents Abraham as the “father of faith” for Christians. Abraham is blessed by God not because he observed the Law, but because of his faith. In this, he is the model for Christians.

In the Hebrew tradition, Abraham is the first to believe Yahweh as the one true God. This God promised Abraham and his descendants a land which has been a foundation of Jewish hope but also the source of continual conflict with their Arab cousins, who claim descent from the same “Father Abraham”.

In the Qu’ran, the Holy Book of Islam, Abraham is the great prophet who blesses Ishmael, his firstborn, and builds a holy altar at the sight of the great Mosque in Mecca. This is the destination of the great pilgrimage, the Hajj, each Muslim is encouraged to make at least once in a lifetime. But this journey does not draw these descendants of Abraham closer.

Christianity, may see Abraham as a model of Christian faith, but a nation that claims Christian roots also has deep roots of anti-Semitism, and has considered forbidding Muslim children of Abraham from entering the country.

Judaism, Islam and Christianity all speak of Abraham as a “father in faith”. And yet, God’s promise to Abraham has not been fulfilled. He has not been a blessing.

But can’t we say the same of Jesus? In today’s Gospel story we find Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem. Some Pharisees warn Jesus that Herod is out to kill him, just as he has done to John the Baptist.

Jesus is not impressed. He trusts in God, and his mission is to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. But this mission and its fulfillment is a great challenge to faith in God for Jesus and for those of us who are following him.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem”, Jesus weeps; “city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together (Jews, Muslims, Christians) just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”

Jerusalem, the heart of the land promised by God to Abraham. Jerusalem, the place Abraham submitted to God which is the action at the hear of Islam, which means “submission”. Jerusalem, where Jesus died and rose and ascended. “How often have I desired to gather you together, but you were not willing?”

Our reading today ends with Jesus saying we will not see him again until we say “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord”. These were the words shouted by residences of Jerusalem to greet pilgrims coming to celebrate the feast of Passover.

Abraham cannot be a blessing to many until we become a blessing to one another. We cannot truly proclaim, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” without an abundance of grace, and an abundance of transforming love that can make all the children of Abraham a blessing to others.

 

LENT I

February 14, 2016

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Romans 10:8b-13 Luke 4:1-13

One of my father’s admonitions to us, his children, whenever we were leaving home for an extended length of time was, “Remember who you are.” It meant remember our roots, our family, our humble beginnings. “Putting on airs” was never tolerated. Among my father’s greatest gifts was a sense of gratitude for whatever he had in life. He did not want his children to forget to be grateful; we were not to feel entitled to anything.

I hear that admonition: “Remember who you are”: echoing through today’s scripture on this first Sunday of Lent. The people of Israel are to remember they are sprung from a wandering Aramean. This is a reference to Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, himself a wanderer. Jacob took his family to Egypt to escape famine. As immigrants, they were well received at first, but later were enslaved. Finally, 500 years later, Moses led the descendants of Jacob through the desert in search of a land where they could live and be free.

The desert journey was filled with blessing and burden. Over a period of 40 years they encountered God, became a people, but also were hungry and angry. At times they felt cared for and protected by God; at other times tested and even abandoned by this same God. They were, at times, obedient and faithful, while at other times disgusted and wondering if being children of this God was really worth it.

In the end, however, they found a land to settle in and build and plant and grow. In today’s reading, these descendants are encouraged to remember the good – remember the wandering of their ancestors when they were protected and fed by God. They were told to celebrate this memory so that each succeeding generation could place themselves on that journey, acknowledging the hardships, but also the protective love and care of God

This remembering was not a focus on the past. Remembering God’s actions of care and protection in the desert, empowered them to live with courage and hope and gratitude in the present day, amid all the temptations they faced.

Remembering enabled Israel to understand who they are - a people loved and cared for, protected and fed by a loving God. Remembering gave them a sense of gratitude, which demanded they extend this care to others.

In the Gospel, we find Jesus entering the desert where he will be challenged to remember who he is. Unlike Israel who vacillated between being faithful and being sinful – between acting as children of God and enemies of God, Jesus will be the beloved Son, as proclaimed a few moments ago at his baptism.

The tempter, the one who shows us the path away from God, confronts Jesus with three temptations. In different ways they all invite him to deny that he is the Son, the beloved. To act as the beloved Son required Jesus to make difficult choices in situations that were unclear, painful, and risky.

Do magic! Says the Tempter. God has given you this power. Use a little for yourself. Cheat a little, you deserve some benefit for yourself. NO!

Well then, you can acknowledge God some time, but then, in the real world, you can serve other things. God doesn’t fulfill all our needs. We’re all weak, it's human to fail. God will understand. NO!

Look, people want a leader who is strong - the best, the smartest, the most feared. Do the spectacular! The people will love it. NO!

Each NO of Jesus’ is clarified by a quote from the very Book of Scripture we read today. But the Tempter too can quote scripture. Scripture is no more an authority than any other word if it is wrongly interpreted.

Jesus remembers who he is. Being the beloved Son will be lived out in actions that proclaim a God who is compassionate; by seeking to reconcile and heal; by caring for the poor and powerless; by confronting the rich and powerful; by doing justice and loving mercy, Jesus will walk humbly with the God who proclaimed him beloved Son.

One way to describe the mission of Jesus is that he lived a trusting relationship with God and worked to restore us to a trusting relationship with God. In his life as beloved Son, through what he did and said, he revealed a God whose power was manifested in love and compassion, in faithfulness and kindness. Jesus proclaimed that we too, are beloved children, sons and daughters of the same God, who empowers us to live as beloved children.

Each time we gather together, we remember. We remember the life, death and glorification of Christ. We do not remember a past event but a present reality – the presence of the love and compassion that Jesus lived. We believe this is present in our daily lives, amid all the temptations to forget who we are.

Lent is a time to remember who we are, a time to reflect on what causes us to act not as children of God but as people in it only for ourselves, seeking power over others, lacking care and concern for the well being of others.

As we prayed in our opening prayer: let us each find God mighty to save, so that we become the people God created us to be. Amen.

 


Second Sunday After Epiphany

January 17, 2016

Bishop Laura Ahrens visited and presented a sermon on what it means to renew our baptismal vows.

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


First Sunday After Epiphany

The Baptism of the Lord

January 10th, 2016

Isaiah 4: 1-7 Psalm 29 Acts 8: 14-17 Luke 3: 15-17, 21-22

We have just heard Luke’s account of the baptism of Jesus. It is a moment of revelation, an epiphany: the heavens are torn open, a dove descends and a voice proclaims, “You are my son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.

Now you and I were also baptized, most of us as children in different churches, even different denominations. At that moment no one saw the heavens torn open, no dove descended, and the voice heard, said: “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And, yet, at that moment, as real as in the scene at the Jordan, you were declared a beloved child, one in whom the Creator-God is well pleased.

I think that is why you are here today. We said as much in our Collect: praying that we keep the covenant made at baptism and boldly confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The thing about a covenant is that the meaning of the words we say only become clear as we live out our lives. Think of marriage. The words we say at the wedding take on new and different and often challenging meaning as we change and as we live together amid the changing realities of life.

So it is with Baptism. Even if we were adults at the time, the full meaning of the words unfolds as we live and grow. The meaning continues today. So it is a good time to reflect on how we are keeping the covenant? How we are confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior?

In recent years, members of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut have been invited by our Bishops to do just that - to see ourselves as individuals and congregations “participating in God’s Mission.”

This mission can be expressed in different ways: “Boldly confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior”, as our Collect said, “restoring all people to unity with God and each other” is how the BCP describes the mission of the Church.

More important than how we express the mission is our understanding of its source. What we do in our life together shapes who we are and reveals what we are called to do. What we do here shapes us as disciples and empowers us to be apostles.

Disciple and apostle are not titles or roles we are accustomed to use in describing ourselves or our work. And yet, that is the role and that is the work offered and received at baptism. We learn here and express it in our lives. What might this mean?

In entering All Saints’ one of the first things one experiences is the ministry of hospitality. Someone is at the door to welcome all who enter. This is what baptism does, and in a way, this is repeated each Sunday. I see this as a response to our baptismal promise: to respect the dignity of every human being. It begins quite simply: a greeting of welcome, a place to worship, a cup of coffee and conversation.

But one can get almost as much at Starbucks. We have a very specific purpose for being here. We gather in this house of the church “to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers.”

The participation in our worship, sharing in our common prayer, listening to the stories of God’s love that is without limit and without end, sharing the bread and wine – the life giving presence of Christ teaches us Who God is; who we are; who we are called to be. We are then empowered to go and do it.

It is in and through our worship together that we learn what it means to be a disciple and how we are to act as apostles. In and through our worship we are reminded once again that we are beloved children empowered to “go into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Again, we promised to do so at baptism: “to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ”. Of course, we do not go out and preach to our friends, our neighbors and co-workers. We tend to follow advice attributed to Francis of Assisi: “Always remember to preach the Gospel and, when necessary, use words”.

Our attitudes and actions are our preaching. Our demands for justice, our acts of compassion, our feeding the hungry, our support of those in need, near and far, these proclaim what God we serve, and what type of community we are.

There are specific works we do as individual and works we do together as a faith community. Today, we are invited to reflect on them and why we do them. We are invited to see them as participation in God’s mission.

God’s mission is expressed in many ways:

• Do justice, love mercy. And walk humbly with our God

• Be compassionate, as our Heavenly Father is compassionate

• When I was hungry you gave me food, thirsty, you gave me drink, sick and you visited.

• Do not be afraid!

• Be a blessing to others.

• Love your enemies, do good to those who wrong you.

• Forgive and you will be forgiven

• God is love and whoever abides in love, abides in God.

When Bishop Ahrens visits us next week she will, no doubt, reflect with us on how All Saints’ “participates in God’s mission”.

What are we called to be, to do?

How are we, as a parish and as individuals responding?

What may our next step be?

The process of living these questions began at baptism and the words at baptism remind us what we believe, what we are called to be, to do. Let us then, here and now, renew our Baptismal Covenant.


CHRISTMAS II

January 3, 2016

Christianity, as well as Judaism and Islam are religious traditions that began in Asia. We use the term Middle East, but this part of Asia is west of India and China and a vast number of earth’s population. The important thing is, however, the realization that many Christian practices, feasts and styles of worship are Asian in origin, and more ancient and often different from things familiar to us.

This week, January 6th, the Church celebrates the feast of Epiphany, a feast that began in Asian Christianity. Epiphany is a more ancient feast than Christmas. Like Christmas, the day chosen for Epiphany was not based on history, we don’t know what time of year Jesus was born. The dates are based on the rhythms of the earth – the solstice, the “re-birth” of light, as the rotation of the earth results in the gradual increase of sunlight in our day. In Egypt and other Asian lands it was the feast of the Sun god- a fitting time for Christians to celebrate the “making visible” the presence of God’s Son in our world.

Epiphany means “making visible” or “the manifestation” of something hidden or not apparent. But the focus of Epiphany was not on the birth of Jesus, but on the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan when a voice from heaven “manifested” who Jesus was, declaring “You are my Son”.  To this “manifestation of God’s presence”, Epiphany grew over time, adding other manifestations of God’s presence. For example, the manifestation to the Gentile world, represented by those foreign magi from the east who followed a star, seeking the source of the Light. Later, other “manifestations” were added, such as Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle - changing water into wine.

Epiphany takes us beyond the Christmas focus on the babe of Bethlehem to manifestations of God’s presence in the life and actions of Jesus. It is important that we allow Epiphany to move us from the celebration of the birth to living the mystery that continues to unfold - God’s presence in human history, in our world, in our lives.

Where are these manifestations today?

A number of years ago an event took place in a town nearby the Church I served. On the trunk of a tree in a backyard someone claimed to see an image of Jesus. Word spread and people began to flock to the neighborhood to get a glimpse of it. Police had to direct traffic. The newspaper covered the story and said this was one of many incidents of people claiming to see manifestations of Jesus: water stains on the underpass of a bridge; jam spread on a lid from a jar of marmalade; an image made by falling snow, even one discovered amid the discarded bones of a fish. No matter how bizarre the claim, significant numbers of people responded, seeking to see the manifestation of Jesus.

At this same time I visited a homebound member of my parish, a woman in her 90’s. As we shared Holy Communion, I noticed her smile when I gave her the bread with the words, “The Body of Christ”. When I later referred to this, she replied: “ I love that moment. I am being reminded I am the Body of Christ. I sometimes feel I’ve lived too long and can’t do much and wonder why I am still here. It helps to remember I am the Body of Christ.”

I wonder why it is easier for some to see the image of Christ on a tree trunk, or in rust marks under a bridge than in a human being.

And yet, at the center of our faith is the belief that we are the Body of Christ. In fact, we are the only body Christ has now, on this earth. As Teresa of Avilla said 500 years ago:

          Christ has no body on earth but yours

                           No hands but yours,

                           No feet but yours

          Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion

                           Is to look out to the world.

          Yours are the feet by which Christ is to go about doing good;

          And yours are the hands by which he is to bless us now.

The story of the Magi reveals that one’s membership in the body of Christ is not determined by human beings but by God’s compassion. People from a foreign land, followers of a strange religion find their way to the Savior. So have we, descendants of pagan ancestors who gazed at the moon and stars, and yet here we are - the “Body of Christ”, gathered to be nurtured by the very life of God. Fed and sent into the world to manifest the presence and power of Christ in this often sinful and broken world.

Epiphany reminds us, we have work to do. Work beautifully expressed in the words of Howard Thurman:

          When the song of the angels is stilled,

            When the star in the sky is gone,

              When the kings and princes are gone,

                When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

                  The work of Christmas begins:

                       To find the lost,

                       To heal the broken,

                       To feed the hungry,

                       To release prisoners,

                       To rebuild nations,

                       To bring peace to others,

                       To make music in the heart.

Happy Epiphany!

Be an epiphany! Amen!

 

CHRISTMAS I

December 27, 2015

We just read from the Gospel of St. John. It is the longest Gospel account, and the last of the 4 accounts to be written. It may be the most popular of the Gospels and has been called the “pearl of great price”. (A phrase from Matthew’s Gospel.) If this is so, the heart of the pearl is what we just read.

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

The vision expressed in these opening words is more expansive than that of the earlier Gospels.

Mark’s Gospel, the first written, begins at the baptism of Jesus. Matthew and Luke, written about 15 years later, begin with the birth of Jesus. Those stories we celebrate in this Christmas season.

John however, pushes his vision back to “the beginning”. These words seem to soar like an eagle over the vast expanse of time and space. For this reason medieval scholars saw the soaring eagle as the symbol of John’s Gospel. As a result, many pulpits throughout the world are adorned by the eagle – signifying God’s word soaring over all creation.

In the early Church it was believed these words were too beautiful to have been written by a mere human being. They were thought to have magical powers, so people wrote them down and carried them to ward off sickness and danger.

It was a custom to have these words recited over the sick, and read over the newly baptized. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

As John’s Gospel continues we find the focus on three themes - Light, Life and Love. These words occur 11 times in today’s readings. We read: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

These words were important for those who first heard John’s Gospel. Many believe John was written at the end of the first century. Christians were suffering persecution, this time instigated by the Emperor Domitian. People risked their lives because they believed they had been given the power to become children of God’

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. This is true today, but this does not happen by magic.

The Quakers believe these verses of John’s Gospel have shown a way. God is present in every human being, and each person is unique and of equal value, for each human being possesses an inner light – a share in God’s Spirit. This establishes a unity with God and between every person. A common greeting among Quakers is “Mind the Light!” Remember the Light is within-within you and within all others.

The light is both comfort and challenge. Lucretia Mott, the abolitionist, feminist and theologian points this out. She said: “The Light of God’s presence is as available today as it was yesterday, as it will be for all eternity.”

She reminds us that in these dark days, the Light is present, the Light Shines. But she adds: The Light is within each of you. What are you doing with it?

It is in and through us that light casts out darkness, that light shines in our world. Our actions of justice and mercy, love and compassion cast out the darkness that burdens so much, so many.

"The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it." We have a role to play, a responsibility as a child of God. As we prayed in our Collect:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new Light of your incarnate word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives.

Happy New Year Mind the Light.

 

CHRISTMAS 2015

In those days a decree went out from Emperor August that the world should be registered. In another place we are told this took place “ in the fullness of time”. As we read the story we become aware that it was really a very inconvenient time. A young couple forced by the whim of a foreign power to travel 80 miles, which could have taken a week. Just to have their names recorded so tax revenues could be increased to support corrupt political leaders. They were expecting a baby, which in itself had been quite inconvenient.  Fit lodgings could not be found; a stable had to do, the animals’ feeding box serving as a crib. Of course over the years all this has been made nice and romantic in beautiful carols, lovely paintings and colored ceramics.

Only for a God was this the fullness of time. God often seems not big on details. This is a God who sees the big picture. Big enough to include us in the very same drama. Because now, 2000 years later, in the darkest days of the year, it is the fullness of time. The same God is seeking room, not in some stable in Bethlehem, and certainly not in some crèche made of wood or plastic. In this fullness of time God seeks to dwell in flesh and blood – in our flesh and blood. 

But, once again, it seems so inconvenient. It is dark in so many ways. There is war and conflict, terror and economic uncertainty. And there is much fear: fear of others, fear of violence, fear of loosing one’s job, fear of fear.

It would be nice to have shepherds and angels and wise ones to assure us that in spite of all, this is the fullness of time. But we have so little time. In a few days the decorations will come down, the figures put back in their boxes and with a bit of regret and a sigh of relief we will get on with our busy lives. 

But the story has such beauty and power that something lingers. In the midst of it all we see an image, a sign, a gift we might take with us: a young woman treasuring these events and words, pondering in her heart; listening, reflecting, trusting, trying to understand the mystery of God’s love, the power of God’s presence. 

We know how hard it is to ponder in our busy lives; to listen amid all the noise, to reflect with all the distractions, to trust even ourselves; to believe in love without limit and without end.

But only if we ponder will we be able to believe that Light has come into our world. Only if we reflect can we sense God’s presence; only if we trust can we be transformed by God’s love.

Let us join Mary and ponder in our hearts. Let the beauty of this story and the power of this message be the gift we take with us on our way.

Let this truly be for us, the fullness of time.

 

ADVENT IV

DECEMBER 20TH, 2015

Following Pageant.

The story just presented to us is repeated every year. We know it well. And yet, the story proclaims a mystery we can never fully understand.

Our pageant, today, was presented in flesh and blood – the flesh and blood of people known to us our children, family and friends. They really aren’t shepherds, wise ones or angels. We are well aware that they are human beings with strengths and weaknesses, wonderful qualities as well as human failings. That is important. We must not see this story as something that happened long ago and far away. No, this is a story about what is taking place here and now, in the midst of our daily lives.

There is a word for this in theology: “ Incarnation”. Incarnation is the word for the mystery remembered at Christmas. “Caro” is this flesh and blood, skin and bone that we all have, that makes up a human body. Christmas celebrates God’s coming “in caro”, in human flesh, coming among us as a human person, sharing the joys and sorrows, the blessings and burdens, the strengths and weaknesses that all human beings experience.

John’s Gospel says it beautifully: “The word became flesh and lived among us, lived as one of us”. Sharing the same flesh as our children, families and friends who dressed up this morning as shepherds, wise ones and angels.

The story is so beautiful that we can miss the point – God has become flesh and lived in our world and even more, lives in our world today, just as much, just as real as in the time told in this story.

If this is true, then where is this God? The answer is you are God’s dwelling place. Now, today, God dwells on earth in you, in the flesh and blood of the one sitting next to you, behind you, and all you will meet when you leave here.

Present in them as much as those who followed a star to Bethlehem.

Present in the poor and hungry and homeless as much as to those shepherds watching their flocks by night.

Present in the refugee families traveling dangerous roads seeking safety today, as much as with Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem.

God dwells in the flesh and blood of those we are tempted to tell “go away, we have no room for you”.

In today’s opening prayer we asked God to “purify our conscience, by your daily visitation”. The word became flesh and dwells among us. “Incarnation!” We are God’s dwelling place, and we are visited by the God who dwells in all others - in the flesh of all those we meet. That is the story we must remember. We must not miss God’s daily visitations.

Merry Christmas.

 

ADVENT 3

December 13, 2015

This past week I watched a story of a refugee family trying to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece in a very flimsy boat. They were told they did not need life jackets. The mother and seven children drowned; only the father survived. As he spoke to a reporter, his grief reminded me of words in the Biblical Book, the Lamentations of Jeremiah: “All you who pass by, pause, and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.”

Later that same day, I was reminded that tomorrow marks the third year since the Sandy Hook school murders. Another scene that asks: is their any sorrow like this sorrow? These incidents along with other events taking place in our world give meaning to Jeremiah’s words. So much sorrow, so much fear.

And yet, today’s scripture readings tell us six times to rejoice, and four times to not be afraid. The prophet Zephaniah calls out: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart..”. Zephaniah lived at the same time as Jeremiah. The Assyrian Army was moving toward the city of Jerusalem, destroying towns along the way. We might join Jeremiah and ask Zephaniah, Where is the joy?

Before he can answer us, Paul jumps in and calls us to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Paul says this even though he’s sitting in a Roman jail; even though he may soon be sentenced to death. We might ask Paul, where is the joy?

Obviously, Zephaniah and Paul are not saying, “don’t worry, be happy”; “cheer up”, “have a nice day”. The joy they are calling for must be something different than happiness. In fact, upon reflection we learn that joy and sorrow spring from the same source. Joy and sorrow are the result of our power to love and care for one another. If we did not have the power to love, we would not feel sorrow, or loss, or grief. But neither would we experience joy. Our relationships of love and care make us vulnerable to sorrow, and also open us to joy.

So joy is not so much determined by what happens to us from without, but rises up from within. Joy is a gift planted at the center of our being.

A Benedictine monk, Columba Marmion described joy as “the echo of God’s life in us”. The source of joy, then, is the presence of God within us, planted at the heart of our existence. Such joy does not have the power to always make us happy, but is the presence of God that empowers us to trust life, to trust ourselves, trust one another, and to trust God.

Joy does not deny what is happening around us – the suffering, the loss, the frightening things, but rather affirms what is also true – that we are not alone, not abandoned. God is with us, within us. Joy is the echo of this presence, a presence that endures in those fearful times and moments of sorrow.

Karl Rahner, one of the great theologians of the last century said that the task of evangelism is not to get God into people. The Creator-God is present in all beings. The challenge is to be open to this presence, transformed by its power, experience its echo.

In today’s Gospel, John the Baptist answers questions from groups of people who believe they must prepare for the coming messiah. In his response he tells people the messiah will not be what they expect. Messiah will not change history, change the situations of their lives so much as change them – transform them, give them a new awareness of who they are and how they are related to God and one another.

Messiah will teach them they are not just children of Abraham, members of one tribe of chosen people, but children of God, interconnected with all members of the human family, with all creatures of creation. Messiah will invite them into a trusting relationship with God and with all others.

The Gospel reading says the “people were in expectation” for one who would redeem and heal, free them from fear. The great challenge for us is to believe this expectation has been fulfilled; to be open and trusting in the God who is with us, here and now, in the midst of fear and sorrow.

Joy is the echo of this presence, the fruit of this belief, the power to endure in hope, amid the troubling times in which we live.

Patrick O’Brian was the author of many sea adventures placed during the Napoleonic wars. One of his main characters had the habit of greeting another with the words “I give you joy”. Perhaps in 19th century England, the meaning was not what it seems to us. However, in John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say to his disciples that he has spoken that “my joy may be in you and your joy complete.” In other words: “I give you joy”.

In the midst of our lives – in the suffering and fear – God abides in us. Because of that presence we can rejoice, always.

Let us hear Jesus say to us today, “I give you joy”. Not only today but every day. Amen

 

ADVENT I

November 29, 2015

Advent is a season well known to us, but its origins are unclear. Many think the idea of Advent began in France in the early Middle Ages, when monks began observing a fast from the beginning of December to prepare for the celebration of Christmas.

People became monks for various reasons, but whoever came to the monastery was asked: “Are you truly seeking God?” The question was not, “have you found God?”, but are you seeking God; do you desire a lifelong search for who God is? Advent would be a special season in that search.

From its beginning, then, Advent was not intended to be a preparation for a return to Bethlehem of old; it was not a time to begin the re-enactment of the birth of Jesus. I know, many think it sweet for children to gather around the crèche and sing happy birthday to Jesus.

Kids can do things adults shouldn’t. Christ has come into our world and revealed a God present in our lives. Advent, then, is a time to pause, to reflect, here and now, on where we are in relationship with this God; a time to prepare oneself again to seek the God who has come into our world and who has promised to be with us.

We might think the monks who began Advent had it easy. We imagine the past as being less complicated; the world smaller, less scary, slower to change.

But the world has always been complicated and confusing and scary. Jeremiah thought so. He lived 700 years before the birth of Jesus during one of Israel’s darkest hours.

In today’s reading, we find him standing amid the ruins of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. The year was 587 BC. All had been destroyed by the Babylonian army. Many Jews had been killed, many more led off to bondage in Babylon. And yet, Jeremiah was seeking the presence of God in the midst of all this mess. He could say:

       "The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill

        the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of

        Judah….I will cause a righteous branch to spring up…execute

        justice and righteousness ..Judah will be saved…Jerusalem

       live in safety."

Those days had not come more than 700 years later when our Gospel story was written. For the Christian community of Luke’s Gospel, the world was still complicated and scary. It was now almost 50 years after the Death and resurrection of Jesus. Again, another Temple and city lay in ruins; this time destroyed by the Roman Army.

Many of those who had followed Jesus found it impossible to seek God when God seemed no longer present in their lives.

Not unlike the words we read from Mark’s Gospel last week, Luke reminds the community of the words of Jesus to be alert, to watch, to seek the God who is near, even when God seems so absent.

And so, we read these words this morning, at the start of Advent, because Jesus is calling us to do the same. In our busy lives, in these confusing, dangerous times we are challenged again to seek the God who may seem absent but is really among us.

Paul reminds us that the challenge today, as it has been in times past, is to sense the presence and action of God in our world, in our lives.

Let us ask ourselves as we begin Advent: are we truly seeking God?” Do we believe that God’s presence, God’s grace, God’s transforming love is present in this world that often seems so confusing and frightening?

Maybe in this Advent season we can renew a commitment to find a time of prayer and reflection, each day. Give ourselves a gift of 10 – 20 minutes each day to be open to God’s presence within.

We might take a moment, each day to be aware of the blessings in our lives - even make a list these gifts – the people, events, things that God has given us.

We might concentrate on listening to the people with whom we live. We affirm the dignity of family and friends by being present to them when we are with them.

We might pray for the power of forgiveness and give this gift to others; to those against whom we hold a grudge.

We might be a source of kindness towards others. Kindness in words and deeds. Becoming a blessing to those with whom we live.

Pray, be grateful, listen, forgive, be kind, and a blessing to others: Wonderful gifts to claim in this shopping season. Gifts to share as we seek the God who always seeks us.


PENTECOST 25 (B)

November 15, 2015

When I was a young priest, it was not difficult to preach. After all, I knew a lot. I had been to good schools with good teachers and had worked hard. When you think you know a lot, you also think you have answers to the important questions. In looking back, this was probably because thinking one knew a lot, meant one had fewer questions.

As I have gotten older, I find I have more questions than answers. I must have forgotten a lot that I once knew. But somehow, that seems better. Life is full of mysteries, and certain events do not have satisfying answers. But that does not mean there is not a response, not a message, not a direction to go, even in the midst of things we do not understand.

Another thing happened when I was young. Someone in the congregation told me that he worked hard during the week, dealt with difficult people in difficult situations. He came to church to escape the real world. He did not like my tendency to bring current events into worship.

Later, I read words from Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the last century. He said that one should prepare one’s sermon with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. After all, the Gospels themselves were written for a community in crisis from events in their world, in their daily lives. The Gospels were written in times of tribulation and turmoil. Their purpose was to summarize the Good News of Christ’s life, death and resurrection; to proclaim the power of God’s love and presence in and through Christ - here and now, amidst the challenges we are facing in the real world.

That is because the God we worship does not come and scoop us up and take us out of this world, but chooses to join us here and now, in the world in which we live, in the midst of the challenges, even turmoils of life. We worship a God who has chosen to struggle with us, support us, heal us in this real world.

Some have found such a God too much of an underachiever and have subjected God to a make-over. From about 200 years before the birth of Jesus until 200 years after, there were a series of writings called “apocalyptic”. The word means an “uncovering” or “making known” of something that is hidden from view. These writings arose at times of “trial and tribulation” for Israel, times of severe persecution and destruction.

What was “uncovered”, “made known” to these writers was that the world was coming to an end. The trials and tribulations people experienced were not only happening on earth, but were part of a cosmic battle between good and evil. God was in the fight. The legions of heaven were battling the legions of Satan – the forces of good were fighting the forces of evil. And since God was involved, the outcome was assured; the just on earth, while they experienced suffering now, would prevail; they needed to join the fight, partake in the great revolt, assured of victory.

That is a central message from the Book of Daniel. Apocalyptic writing used extraordinary visions of beasts and battles to proclaim the end was coming; the battle was beyond our imagination and would result in the destruction of the world as we know it and it would be replaced by a new world governed by God, and the just would live in peace.

The apocalyptic message was wrong. The revolt encouraged by the Book of Daniel was crushed. Israel remained in chains. But apocalyptic writing continued and was present at the time of Jesus. Jesus warns his disciples to beware of those who come and speak in his name, saying the end is near. He tells them that there will be wars and famines and trials and tribulation, but these disasters do not announce the end.

And when the Gospel of Mark was written, perhaps 35 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, apocalyptic visionaries were still busy. The city of Jerusalem had just been destroyed, the Temple burned. Even more, if the Christian community in Rome was the audience, as many think, they were in the midst of severe persecution. Peter and Paul had been killed, along with others. Many wondered if this could be the end.

The Gospel addresses this by recalling the warning of Jesus to beware of those who say the end is here; beware and do not follow them. It is that message we read this morning. For we too hear of war and violence. Most recently the destruction of life in Paris. There are voices that tell us to be afraid. ISIS, a group taking credit for the killing is inspired by apocalyptic vision; it is founded on the belief that the end is near. Acts of destruction and violence hasten its arrival.

Be afraid, be very afraid is an oft repeated message. Much of the political narrative is about how bad things are. Some public figures proclaim they have the answer, the vision, the power to solve all our problems.

We need to listen again to the words of Jesus. The Good News is not about optimism, but it is about hope. In Mark, the opposite of faith is fear. Jesus asks the apostles: "Why are you afraid, do you not believe?" It is what we are asked today.

The great challenge of faith is to believe in a God who is with us, especially in the midst of wars and rumors of wars, in the presence of violence and famine. To believe in a God who says: "Know that I am with you always, until the end." There are many who have gone before us, who in times of disaster and tribulation have lived in this hope, and have handed down this hope to us.

Let us do the same. Let us pray again the words of our Collect: 

   Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: grant us so 

   to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and 

   ever hold fast – blessed hope.

In the midst of the disturbing events of today, Jesus calls to us: Keep hope alive! Amen.


PENTECOST 24

November 8, 2015

     I Kings 17:8-16, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44

 Today, our scripture readings present us with two widows. Widows are often mentioned in the Bible. One reason, no doubt, is that widows make up a sizable minority of the population. Even so, widows had no political power and little financial security. The Bible is full of admonitions to care for widows, as we read in today’s Psalm:

    The Lord loves the righteous; the Lord cares for th

    stranger; he sustains the orphan and widow, but

    frustrates the way of the wicked.

Care and concern for widows was important for devout Jews and that tradition is evident from the earliest days of Christianity. In the Acts of the Apostles, the order of deacon was established to care for the large number of widows in their midst.

As I’ve said, widows have always been numerous. For many reasons men die earlier than women. In our nation, there are more than 11 million widows over the age of 65. In fact, widows make up half the population of people over 65 in our country.

In spite of Biblical admonitions and personal piety, evidence shows that political and even religious institutions did not provide protection for widows. Nevertheless it would be wrong to think of widows as just a frail group of woman, meek and mild, who, lacking the direction and support of men, were unable to take care of themselves. As I look out from this pulpit, I see a fair number of widows, and they do not fit this description.

In fact throughout the centuries the church has relied on the gifts, the leadership, and the work of widows. Many of the religious orders in the catholic tradition began with a group of widows joining together to do good works – caring for old or young, sick or poor. But not only the Church has benefited. Widows make up a group that has provided crucial support for many institutions that benefit society.

Becoming a widow or widower is not an easy process. Psychologists speak of “stress factors” that impact our lives. As the words suggest, these are events that add stress to our being, cause emotional pain, disorientation, profound sadness. According to psychologists, the number one stress factor is the death of a spouse. It is the most devastating event one will experience. Having survived such an event demands a person find resources to cope, to go on, even reinvest in life.

What I am trying to say is that the Biblical demand that we care or widows does not mean they are a frail, dependent group that drains the resources of society. Rather, widows are more often a source of strength and resilience and survival in the community. It is through this lens that we look at the widows in today’s readings.

Elijah encounters a widow at Zarephath. He’s on the run from leaders who want to kill him. He needs a place to hide out. He seems to be preoccupied with his need, to the extent that he tries to dismiss the dire situation of the widow he encounters. She pushes back and agrees to give him the sustenance he needs only after she succeeds in getting a guarantee of a supply of food that will last until the drought is ended.

Later, in the story her son dies. Again she challenges Elijah: just what kind of prophet does he think he is if he can’t prevent such a disaster for someone who has cared for him. Elijah revives the son.

In the Gospel, we are presented with a group of men and a single widow. The men are the religious leaders, and Jesus’ description of them is scathing: they walk around in long robes, like to be greeted with respect in public, have the best seats – at the same time devouring the little money of others; widows for example.

This is not only a picture of religious leaders of Jesus’ day. History has never lacked men who have used religion to inflate their importance while abusing those they have been chosen to serve.

In recent times we have been reminded again of the hypocrisy of religious leaders. The church, as an institution, too often acts to preserve its reputation and power at the expense of the powerless. Too often money and power become more important than compassion and justice.

Then there is the widow in our Gospel story. Just what is Jesus saying? Is she someone who has been fooled by the slick words of the hypocritical religious leaders? Fooled into giving all she has to support the Temple? Or is Jesus praising her generosity, making her a good example, on this Stewardship Sunday of how generous we all should be?

I think she is more complex. As we have learned from reading the Gospel, the very people who should have recognized who Jesus was and what God was asking of us – the religious leaders- missed the point entirely. But, the most unlikely ones – the poor, the outcasts -the invisible powerless widows seem to get the message.

We have heard Jesus call disciples to leave all and follow him; to take up one’s cross , to trust in God’s enduring love and care. The religious leaders have hedged their bets, and the disciples, too, didn't get it. It is the widow who risked everything, put in everything she had. The widow had the strength, the courage to be a disciple.

I do not have her courage, her strength, her faith. But I am grateful for her challenge. She is in a long line of those who have heard the call of Jesus to “follow” and have said “yes”.

People like me, who too often answer, “well, maybe’ need models who challenge us to continue along the way.

Today is Stewardship Sunday, a time to thank you for your financial support for the life and ministry of All Saints’. I also thank you who give so much time and energy – many of you widows – to maintain this “house of the Church”.

 

Together, we pray in words from our Collect: O God who’s blessed Son came into the world to make us children of God, grant us hope… Grant us the courage of this widow, the courage to not be afraid, the strength to be grateful; grant us abundant trust of your love and compassion. Help us to follow you today and every day. Amen.

 

ALL SAINTS’ SUNDAY

November 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

I think a day we get an extra hour of sleep is a good time to begin the year. Not everyone agrees. Most follow the calendar established by Julius Caesar who added two months to the calendar – January and February and designated January 1st as New Years Day. An emperor can do that.

But there are a variety of calendars in use. The Chinese new year begins in February and while contemporary Jews begin the year in the Fall, ancient Israel celebrated the new year in Spring, with the appearance of new life, as green shoots poked through the earth.

The inscrutable Celts, on the other hand, began the year today. These days in which the light is growing shorter, the days colder, when trees are giving up their leaves, when things seemed to be coming to an end, the Celts saw a beginning. Things seemed to be dying but the winter cold was actually forcing seeds to germinate. Life was resting, waiting to burst forth anew.

The Celts also believed that in these days the doors to the underworld were opened allowing the spirit of our ancestors to return and speak with us, retelling ancient stories, reminding us of the wisdom of our past and the importance of ancient customs.

This belief in visits from ancestors and the return of the spirits of the dead provided a foundation for our feasts of All Saints and All Souls, as well as for some of the customs of Halloween, the eve of All Saints. Jack-o-lanterns and visits of children seeking sweets.

Christian missionaries to the Celts decided rather than try to stamp out the practice, they would give it a Christian interpretation. And so, we remember the saints, those heroes of the faith who from their labors rest.

While we grieve for loved ones, we do not generally think of them as “saints”. But today, and tomorrow, we celebrate their lives believing their souls are in the hands of God, where no torment will ever touch them.

These loved one’s certainly touched our lives, and many still do. So we remember them these days of November. I invite you to write the names of those you remember. I have leaves available for this. We will gather them together and place them on the altar during our worship.

In doing so, we acknowledge that death does not erase their life. We also proclaim our hope is in a God who dwells among us and connects the living with the dead; we also believe that here and now we share union with them through the body of Jesus Christ; that God is “making all things new, and life conquers death, hope overcomes despair.

But as we celebrate this hope today, the Gospel reminds us we are still living on this earth; still confronted by the mystery we call death. It is a mystery that forces even Jesus to weep. It is a mystery that so often fosters guilt. Martha says: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." Many of us have burdened ourselves and perhaps others about events surrounding death. “If only I had said this, or done that, perhaps some disaster could have been avoided.” Death is filled with plenty of raw emotions that can be spread around; placed on me, blamed on you.

But the story of Lazarus is really about the living, not the dead. Lazarus is alive, coming out of the grave at Jesus’ command. John’s Gospel places the story of Lazarus before Jesus begins his passion and death. We are reminded that the one who is about to die is the same one who has power to give life.

However, the last words of today’s Gospel reading are a special gift for this feast of All Saints. As Lazarus shuffles out of the tomb, wrapped from head to foot, as was the custom, he can barely move. Jesus tells those present, “Unbind him and let him go”.

While Lazarus has life, he is bound by fears and attitudes, wrapped in resentments that limit the ability to live life to the fullest extent possible, to live each day in the abundance of hope and care and love.

Today, Jesus says to you: Unbind those you have wrapped in anger or prejudice; those who we have tied up with indifference or taken for granted. Unbind them and let them go. But Jesus also says to us: “Be unbound!” Be free from the fears and guilt and attitudes with which we have bound ourselves, limited ourselves.

Perhaps the best way to do this is to renew our baptismal promises. Celebrate anew the outpouring of grace. God’s abundant, transforming love which empowers us to strive again to live in such a way that we become the people, the saints, God has created us to be.

 

PENTECOST 22

October 25, 2015

      Jeremiah 31: 7-9 Psalm 126 Hebrews 7: 23-28 Mark 10: 46-52

We might wonder why Jesus asked Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do?” Wasn’t it obvious? Bartimaeus’ situation would have been desperate. He did not have many options. No financial, physical or vocational support. Physical limitations were often looked upon as divine punishment. A blind person really was at the mercy of those who passed by. His cry was genuine: “Have mercy on me.”

Perhaps Jesus was not taking anything for granted. After all, we just read that Jesus told his disciples that he would have to suffer and be killed before he entered into glory, and immediately James and John came to him asking for places at his side, positions of power and prestige when he entered into this glory. The disciples don’t get it. But evidently Bartimaeus does.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” “Son of David” could sound revolutionary. It was a title that inferred the arrival of the hoped for messiah who would throw off the Roman yoke and establish God’s reign. But Bartimaeus was not asking for power; he asked for mercy. Perhaps both Jesus and Bartimaeus understood each other. Jesus saw Bartimaeus as someone who understood what kind of messiah he would be and Bartimaeus sensed that Jesus was a source of mercy.

Mercy, however, is a weak word to translate Bartimaeus’ cry. Compassion, loving kindness better express the richness of the word. The word is used to express how God acts toward us, and how God expects us to act toward one another.

In fact, Meister Eckhart, a spiritual writer of the Middle Ages said : “You may call God love, you may call God goodness, but the best name for God is compassion.

“Have compassion on me, let your loving kindness heal me” is the cry that comes to the ear of the one who is compassion. Jesus sends disciples who tell Bartimaeus, “Take heart! Arise! He is calling you!”. Aren’t those words that anyone who is suffering longs to hear? Compassion, loving kindness is calling us to come.

When you think about it, we really do proclaim a strange God. Jeremiah reminds us it is those like Bartimaeus that God seeks out . The blind, the lame, the vulnerable, those with child, those about to give birth. Those we too often try to avoid, whom we call weak, even losers. Those who need mercy, who wait for compassion and loving kindness.

Our Gospel story ends with Bartimaeus following Jesus on the way. The first Chrisitans were called “people of the way”; people following Jesus on the way that led through suffering, through death to resurrection and new life. People on the way, each day of their lives in the daily process, dying to what limits us, transformed to a new way of living. A way of becoming compassionate and filled with loving kindness. It is clearly stated in Luke’s Gospel: “Be compassionate as God is compassionate.”

I watch the BBC each evening and for the past month, the lead story has been the plight of refugees fleeing war and poverty, testing the resources and hospitality of European nations. It is incredible and heart wrenching to watch people of all ages struggling on the way to safety, to new life. Occasionally, one who speaks English will cry to the camera, “help us”; have mercy.

As with all the important issues of our day, this is a profound challenge, with no easy solution. And yet it is a challenge we cannot disregard. A small way we can respond now is a donation. Some already have contributed, and today there is an opportunity for the rest of us to contribute something in response to their cry for mercy. The Vestry has committed $100. A parishioner has contributed $100 as a challenge for us to match. We have, but I invite you to do what you can today. It is a beginning.

How absent “compassion” is from our national debate. How central “compassion” is to the Gospel.

“Lord, have mercy!” Be compassionate to us! Embrace each of us with your loving kindness, so that we are transformed and act with compassion and loving kindness as we continue on the way that leads to your eternal embrace. Amen.


PENTECOST 19

October 4, 2015

          Genesis 2:18-24 Psalm 8 Hebrews 1: 1-4; 2: 5-12 Mark 10; 2-16

More than 500 years ago, Martin Luther, who led the Reformation in Germany, met with Ulrich Zwingli, the leader of the Reformation in Switzerland. The meeting was an attempt to unite the two movements and reform Western Christianity. However, things did not go well and the meeting broke down when the two men could not agree on the interpretation of four words in a Biblical text. What did Jesus mean when he said: “This is my body”? This is not the only example of how the interpretation of the Bible has divided Christianity into multiple denominations.

Perhaps the basic disagreement exists between those who interpret the words of the Bible literally, and those who interpret the words of Scripture contextually. Instead of trying to literally apply the words of Scripture to today’s culture and language, a contextual reading takes into consideration the history and customs of the time when the words were written, the language and culture.

For example, the story of creation we read today is an ancient story, similar, in many ways, to ancient creations stories of other ancient religions. Many read this story as a poem that uses words and images to present the belief of an ancient people. Literalists, on the other hand, interpret this as a scientific description of events just as they happened.

In the story God is pictured as a potter, sitting at a potter’s wheel, scooping down a picking up some clay which is then fashioned into human form. God then breaths the Divine breath into the clay and it becomes a living being.

That is a wonderful picture of God’s loving relationship to human beings and a picture of the sacredness of human life. I don’t believe the writer is teaching that men have one rib less, but rather women and men are made of the same matter – bone of the same bone and flesh of the same flesh. In other words, men and women are equally sacred. I don’t believe the writer was intending to describe God performing the first human transplant.

This story is in the second chapter of Genesis. It follows another creation story found in the first chapter. You remember the seven days of creation joined by the refrain: and God saw that it was good. When God gets to creating human beings, we read God created them in God’s own image, male and female God created them”. It teaches the same basic truth: men and women are made in the image and likeness of God; men and women have the same sacred dignity.

The writer of Genesis combined two, very different, poems of creation. Both believe in a God who has a unique relation to human beings, and a belief that human beings have a unique relationship to one another.

History tells us that men were not able to live the teaching proclaimed in Genesis. Women were not treated as equals in Hebrew society. Polygamy was permitted and wives were listed among a man’s possession along with servants, sheep, cows, etc. Women were not allowed to own property or testify in court, and a daughter could be sold into slavery. Women were not allowed to leave the house without a man’s permission, and she had to be veiled in public.

It is against this background that we listen to today’s Gospel. It is not strictly a question of divorce, as we understand divorce. In Jesus’ day, only a man could divorce a wife and did so rather easily – by writing a note, stating she was divorced. The woman had no right of appeal, no alimony or child support. In most cases she was condemned to misery, poverty and suffering. Jesus is correct to say that such an injustice could only be created by the hardness of men’s hearts.

That is not how Jesus treated women. In the Gospel we see Jesus treating women with justice and equality. Women were not to be educated and yet we find Jesus teaching Mary, the sister of Martha. Jesus calls a woman he has healed “daughter of Abraham”. While men were “sons of Abraham, women were not addressed as Abraham’s daughters. Jesus refers to women, and men, as “children of God”, equally embraced by God’s love. Women were among his disciples and women were the first to proclaim the resurrection.

I think it fair to conclude that Jesus’ response to the issue of divorce was, primarily a response to the injustice of the act, a response to the fact that divorce was a tool that oppressed women. Today, divorce can be the opposite. Divorce can remove a woman from an abusive relationship, protect a woman from injustice and oppression, from poverty and powerlessness. The change in the context cautions us against a literal application of the word to our present day.

Changes to divorce were done in the early Church. In the Letter to the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians (7:10-15), Paul writes that divorce is permitted if a spouse’s belief in Christ prevents them from being allowed to live in peace by the other spouse. Paul does not see himself changing the teachings of Jesus, the context has changed. Paul is writing to a Greek community in which women had more rights, more power than the community in which Jesus lived.

Our Church, as do most Christian traditions recognizes that relationships can die. Also, that an individual has the right to live free of abuse and misery. At times, divorce is the way to maintain the dignity of people. Divorce does not put one outside communion with our Church and the support of the community. And having been divorced, one may still enter into another relationship,

But let us not forget that there is a more basic challenge in what we have been listening to this morning. The belief that all human beings are created in the very image of God, the belief that the very breath of God gives life to us is not easy to live in the midst of so many acts of violence in our world, our nation, our lives. Fear and anger and a sense of powerlessness can easily engulf us. Vengeance is a temptation. We are bombarded with words of division, distrust, fear, even hatred.

We hear a vision of humanity proclaimed that is the opposite of what Jesus calls us to see. Today, the little ones, the powerless, the poor, the vulnerable are presented as the enemy from whom we need to protect ourselves. We are not called to accept them, but to reject them.

Our psalm offers us a prayer today that gives us a way forward:

O Lord, our Lord, how glorious is your Name over all the earth.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the

Moon and stars you have set in place. Who are we that you

should be mindful of us, mere human beings that you should

care for us?

Yet, you have adorned us with glory.

At times when this glory seems so dim, strengthen us with your presence. And since you are not ashamed to call us sister and brother, give us the power to believe that is who we are and to live as sister and brother of one another. Amen.

 

PENTECOST 18

September 27, 2015

             Numbers 11-6, 10-16, 24-29 James 5:13-20 Mark 9: 38-50

As you know, our Sunday Scripture readings follow a three year cycle. We won’t read today’s story from Mark’s Gospel again, until 2018. Our collects, however, are repeated each year. So, each year we pray as we did today: “O God you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity”.

This prayer proclaims that God’s power is not primarily demonstrated in ways we expect – force, destruction, wealth, privilege, victory. We pray, God’s power is primarily demonstrated in mercy and pity.

However, mercy and pity do not do justice to the scriptural concepts these words try to interpret and express. “Loving kindness and “deep compassion” would be better. God’s power is most clearly revealed in God’s enduring, abundant, active care and concern for the human family, as well as for the wonderful created world in which we live.

After we prayed these words, we heard Moses in our first reading complain about the role he has been given by God: Did I conceive this people? Did I give birth to them that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling child.” Moses infers that this is God’s role, not his.

The image of God painted here: a woman tenderly protecting a baby in her bosom is not an image often presented in religious art. And yet, this is not the only place in scripture where God is pictured as a mother caring for a human life in such a loving, tender way.

We don’t see power in such an image. When our leaders speak of a powerful nation, the focus is on military might and economic strength, not on a nation’s ability to care for people, nurture their life and hope, reveal their interconnectedness and build an enduring sense of mutual respect and trust.

Our images of power lead to a world of us and them; a world in which a primary goal is to protect ourselves from the other, the different, the poor, the foreigner. For us, power is often expressed as building walls between peoples.

But the power of God is shown primarily in loving kindness and deep compassion. This is the power reflected in the life and actions of Jesus. We have been reading Mark’s Gospel these many weeks, and have recently heard Jesus tell his disciples that he will be betrayed, handed over to the powerful, beaten and killed by them. And yet, as he journeys along the road that leads to this future, he is not focused on himself, but on others- the “little ones”, those without power.

Today we hear Jesus demand that his disciples find common ground with those they don’t think belong to the community, nor, in their minds, are embraced by God. He demands they care for the “little ones”; the no accounts, the powerless. He uses strong language to show how serious a sin it is if we become an obstacle, a stumbling block to the well being of people we may think to be of little importance. I think it fair to understand poverty, prejudice, racism, disregard, as stumbling blocks Jesus condemns.

It is fascinating to watch the reception Pope Francis has received in this country. His message has been quite consistent. He has reminded us of the ideals proclaimed at the founding of our nation: ideals of freedom, tolerance, justice, listening to one another, respecting the dignity of each other, of those whose ideas differ from our own. He has spoken of welcoming the stranger, supporting one another, nurturing hope in each other – caring for this fragile earth, our island home.

All Francis is doing is summarizing the Gospel message we read week after week. But he does not present this message as wishful thinking or romantic ideals, but as gifts of God that empower us to confront the difficult challenges we face here and now. Challenges we cannot solve on our own, but challenges we can confront with the grace God seeks to give us.

This evening, Pope Francis flies back to Rome. Let us hope that our tendency to move on to other things , to return to reality, turn the page does not prevent us from pausing and allowing ourselves to be embraced by God’s grace which is loving kindness and deep compassion. And having been embraced, let us renew our commitment to act, in that grace, with abundant loving care and deep compassion for each other and for all others-for this fragile earth, our common home.

 

PENTECOST 17

September 20, 2015

           Jeremiah 11: 18-20 James 3: 13-4’ 3, 7-8a Mark 9: 30-37

In our opening prayer, the Collect, we asked God to “grant us not to be anxious about earthly things”. I must confess, many “earthly things” make me anxious. I’m not alone. Estimates are that 30% of Americans experience anxiety, many serious enough to require medication. Of course, if we watch what is presented to us as news each day, it’s not hard to figure out why so many of us are anxious.

We are presented with pictures of people in crisis. Images of refugees fleeing war and violence trying to break through fences. Bombings and confrontations are a steady diet for us. In many ways we are told to be anxious. But we don’t need to be told. Suffering and anxiety find us in the midst of our lives. Some of us live in wounded relationships, ourselves and loved ones receive threatening diagnoses, we experience failure, we know depression. Sometimes we feel alone, resented, confused, anxious.

In some ways, this prepares us to stand with the community that first heard the words of Mark’s Gospel. Most of our Sunday readings, this year, have come from Mark. This, we believed was the first of the four Gospel accounts, written down around the year 70 AD, perhaps to the Christian community in Rome.

That community had much to be anxious about. The Emperor had begun a persecution of the small group of Christians in the city. Peter and Paul were among the martyred. Others had lost their lives, all were threatened. On the global scene, the Roman army had destroyed the city of Jerusalem and burned the Temple. There was much to be anxious about.

This anxiety led to a crisis of faith. People asked: How could Jesus be the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God, and yet not be able to protect us. Where was the power of the Risen Christ, in whom we have been baptized? Where is God’s love and concern for us? Does Jesus, does God even care?

It is a question others have asked. Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Noble Laureate, wrote several novels that took place in a concentration camp built by the NAZIs. In one, he describes a scene in which a family, who had tried to escape, was captured and returned to the camp for execution. A mother, father and two young sons were hanged, and all the people in the camp were required to watch. The littlest boy was small and his death was excruciating to watch. As the child was dying, a voice in the crowd demanded, where is God? From another voice came in response: God is there on that scaffold. God is present in the midst of suffering.

In a way, that is the response in Mark’s Gospel to the anxious Christian community. In this Gospel we learn that in human life, suffering is not something we can escape, but suffering does not mean that God has abandoned us. In the midst of suffering, God is with us.

This is a mystery played out in the life of Jesus. As he says today, he will be betrayed and killed. He will feel abandoned, even by God. He tells the disciples that they too will suffer. But we are not to be afraid, not to be anxious. God will never abandon us. If we can borrow from Matthew's Gospel, the last words of Jesus are: “know that I am with you always, even to the end."

On all of life’s scaffolds, in the midst of all suffering, God is with us, God suffers with us.

Suffering, anxiety are mysteries that embrace the entire human family, mysteries that challenges our faith, make us wonder, Where is God? That is why we are so important to one another. Not so much to say words but to be present with one another, to stand with one another in the midst of human suffering, in the midst of anxiety.

Teresa of Avila reminds us how much God depends upon us. She writes: “Christ has no body now, on earth, but yours. No hands, no feet, on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses the world…Christ has no body on earth but yours.”

God’s gift of the grace to endure in the midst of suffering flows through you and me. We have the power to support one another in the midst of life’s challenges, in the midst of anxious moments.

So we pray: Grant us, O Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things. But when we are, give us the grace of one another’s presence; give us the courage to be your hands and feet and heart, to give to one another the gift to not be afraid, to not be anxious; the gift to endure because we believe, we hope you are with us always, even till the end. Amen.

 

PENTECOST 16

September 13, 2015

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Take up your cross!

There’s a dare and a challenge if ever there was one.

“Take it up and follow me,” Jesus says, “those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”

I think of this today in light of the refugee crisis worldwide. We see Europe dealing with hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees fleeing war in Syria and in the Horn of Africa, literally spilling over the borders and demanding to be let in.

Most of us will have seen the picture of the Syrian child’s lifeless body on the Turkish beach, that of three year old Aylan Kurdi, who was brought back to Syria for burial along with the bodies of his sister and his mother, all drowned when the boat capsized that was carrying them to a Greek island on their way to freedom and safety.

The father accompanied the bodies back to Syria for burial, his heart broken, his dreams shattered.

I personally feel a connection to those people because, as you know, I visited Syria several times in the past twelve years, making friends that I am still in touch with: a young father in Damascus named Ammar Saleh has rung me several times asking for my help to get a visa to come to the United States with his wife and two children.

I told him that I would do all that I could, which has been very little regarding the issuing of visas: of the roughly four million refugees who have fled Syria for safety, the United States has let in only one thousand and four hundred souls, although the President is now talking in terms of ten thousand Syrian refugees to be admitted as soon as possible.

I did assure Ammar that should he come here I would help sponsor him and work to find him housing .

He is still in Damascus, trying to get that visa, and he told me recently that a mortar had landed the night before in a residential neighborhood of the city and destroyed a school, killing a friend of his who teaches there.

“I feel trapped,” he said, “I need to get out.”

But in light of the refugee emergency on the borders of Syria and in Europe at the present time, Ammar’s situation is still relatively secure, and he is unlikely to obtain a visa anytime soon.

I grieve for this ancient land that is in fact part of the Holy Land: it was in Damascus that Ananias instructed Saul of Tarsus in the Christian faith and where Saul received his sight and took the name Paul and set out to change the world as a follower of Jesus.

Syria was where Paul took up his cross.

I feel particular concern for the Christians of Syria, roughly ten percent of the population, who are specifically targeted by the ISIS militias and have fled in large numbers from their ancestral homes.

I ask for our thoughts and prayers this morning for the recently deceased Kayla Mueller, and for her family in Prescott, Arizona.

In 2012 at the age of twenty-two she volunteered to go to the Turkish/Syrian border where she worked with Support to Life and other humanitarian organizations to relieve the suffering, particularly that of the children.

She wrote to her father on his birthday, “I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. I find God in suffering. I’ve known for some time what my life’s work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering.”

She said to a reporter, “As long as I live, I will not let this suffering be normal. I will not let this be something we just accept. It’s important to stop and realize what we have, why we have it and how privileged we are.”

Two months after that article was published Kayla was kidnapped after leaving a hospital in Aleppo, and held hostage by the ISIS leaders who tortured and brutalized her until her death earlier this year.

In a last letter smuggled out of prison to her family in Arizona she wrote: “I remember Mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have now come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our Creator because literally there was no one else; by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall. I have been shown in darkness, light, and have learned that even in prison one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.”

“I pray each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness and surrender to God as well and have formed a bond of love and support amongst one another…I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation.”

Martyrs of the early Christian Church who were tortured and killed for their faith wrote similar letters in that part of the world, and Kayla reminds us that saints and martyrs are being made today as well if we have eyes to see.

Rather than assigning blame for the larger humanitarian calamity, the more important issue just now is responding to the crisis.

And the Christians of Germany and Austria and Italy and France and Great Britain and the rest of Europe will be hearing along with us Jesus’ words this morning: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

And in today’s context that means opening their doors to the refugees, as Pope Francis has reminded us all.

What is on the one hand a great crisis and a daunting problem is from the Christian point of view a great opportunity and a great blessing.

Is that a paradox? No more than Jesus’ words “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”

The sight of people in the German city of Munich holding signs of welcome to the exhausted multitudes arriving with nothing more than the clothes on their backs is a beautiful sight; people bringing food and water and blankets and government workers organizing clean shelters and sometimes even inviting strangers to stay in their own homes.

We know that’s how the Good Lord means it to be.

We also know that taking up the cross implies risks and perils.

Jesus knew the words of the prophet Isaiah who warned that the man of God would be humiliated and tortured, but that he would be vindicated and raised up and God’s purpose would surely be accomplished in him.

And I would add, also in us, and in Kayla.

For the dance goes on, the invitation – the call to new life – is for each of us as well, now, yes now.

Take up your cross. It is a life-giving cross, and to shrink from it is to miss the great summons to life.

In our own country we need to open the door much wider for Syrian refugees and for those fleeing from war in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and the lands of Iraq under ISIS control.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that Britain is not doing enough in promising to take in 200,000.

By comparison, the ten thousand that our President has called for is embarrassingly small, and I suspect that he will meet resistance in Congress for even that number.

I say to you good people this morning: Why not think about sponsoring and housing a Syrian refugee family right here in Ivoryton?

It might be a project undertaken with the Ivoryton UCC or St. John’s or with additional parishes of the Deanery.

Why not? More work? Of course. More money. That’s for sure. New life? You bet!

An impossible dream?

That’s the way God acts, through impossible dreams and people willing to say yes.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it.”

Bruce M. Shipman+

All Saints’ Church

 

PENTECOST 15

September 6, 2015

In ages past, the Anglican Tradition celebrated today as "Ephphatha Sunday".

"Ephphatha", "be open" Jesus says as he healed a man whose ears were closed, who could not hear and could not speak. On "Ephphatha Sunday", Anglican Churches had a special collection to benefit those who were deaf.

We can only imagine how difficult it is for someone unable to hear or speak. In Jesus' day it would have been much more difficult. Such a person lived in isolation, unaware of the meaning of many events going on around them; unable to express the ideas and concerns and feelings. Even more, such a burden was often said to be punishment from God; the person afflicted was considered outside of God’s loving embrace.

We get a wonderful insight into what such a healing would mean to such a person in a dramatic scene in the film, "The Miracle Worker". The film presented the story of Helen Keller. As an infant, Helen had become blind, deaf and unable to speak. When Helen was in her early teens, her family hired a teacher, Ann Sullivan, to care for her and help with whatever learning was possible.

For months, Anne Sullivan tried different methods to teach Helen the concept of communication, the relationship between ideas and words. The movie culminates in a marvelous scene in which Helen is finally "opened". She tells us: 

As a cool stream of water gushed over one hand, Miss Sullivan spelled with her fingers the word for water into the   other, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed on the motion of her fingers. Suddenly, I felt a misty consciousness of something forgotten - a thrill of a returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r" meant that wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand That living water awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy - set it free."

That “living water” (baptism) awakened Helen to powers that enabled her to connect words with objects - the power to express and understand beliefs and hopes, feelings and fears. It was a miracle.

This story can help us to understand the message of today's Gospel. Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man and loosed his tongue and "he spoke plainly". However, the purpose of Jesus' action was not only to open this man's ears, but more importantly, to open the disciples' eyes to the awareness of who Jesus was and what he was doing in their lives.

We get the hint of this from the first reading today. Isaiah points to a time when "the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped; when the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of those who cannot speak become alive and able to sing for joy."

These events, Isaiah says, are signs that the Messiah had entered human history; has come to free us from all that binds us; has come to free us from all that limits us. These are signs which would open us to the grandeur of life and the blessing of existence. Jesus' action proclaims "this time has arrived". God is now powerfully present in our world, in our lives - present in human flesh. God is now calling us to be open, open to one another, open to the poor, the outcast.

As it always is with our God, grace, healing, blessing also present a challenge. This takes us back to the first part of our Gospel reading, the woman who comes to ask to heal her daughter. We must remember, this is a woman, a group with less power, less standing and considered of less value in the culture of the day. She is a foreigner, a non-believer in the tradition to which Jesus belonged.

The feelings toward such a woman are expressed in Jesus’ response to her request: “It’s not right to give the food of the children to the dogs.”

Strong words! Scholars have struggled to explain them. Some seeing these as a test; others seeing Jesus influenced by the prejudices of his day. Perhaps. But we can say that Jesus says what his disciples believed, what people in general would believe. But they are wrong. When the woman answers, even the dogs get the crumbs, Jesus praises her for her faith and grants the healing. In doing so Jesus declares her to be a member of God’s people, embraced by the same loving care as all others; believers and disciples. That would have been hard to take, impossible, for some, to believe.

Jesus is involved in tearing down the walls built in the name of religion and nationality. As James teaches today, the other is “sister and brother”.

This is a hard teaching. We too build walls to separate ourselves from others. We live in segregated communities, segregated schools, segregated houses of worship. We hear people clamoring for real walls to separate us from others. We watch, in horror as immigrants are walled off by fences, police lines, ethnic fears.

I don’t want to minimize the challenge, or disregard the fear. But make no mistake, the Gospel challenges these very fears and warns us about letting fear be the foundation of our actions.

Our challenge, and the challenge to all religions is to be sincere about one’s faith, and at the same time see the other, all others, as embraced by the same God with the same love. That is very, very difficult.

But this is Ephphatha Sunday, and once again we are called to "be open" – open to the flow of living water. Living water flowed over each of us at our baptism and enabled us to trust in a God who is Creator, Savior and Faithful Companion. This living water empowered us to live in community that is nourished by the very life and power of God. The Living water empowered us to love others, to respect the dignity of all - to be people of peace and justice and hope.

Let us hear Jesus say to each of us: "ephphatha". Let us be opened to life, to one another, to our God. Let us be open to the gift of the courage to be free.

 

PENTECOST 14

August 30, 2015

When we listen to Gospel stories, especially ones where there is conflict between Jesus and others, the temptation is to place ourselves with Jesus (maybe standing safely behind him) but we see ourselves among the good guys.

We do not see ourselves standing among the Pharisees, scribes, the angry crowd, or even the disciples when they don’t understand or agree with what Jesus is saying or doing. After all, we have been baptized. We believe in Jesus. But where do we stand in regard to the Gospel teachings?

The Gospel offers comfort and healing and forgiveness to those suffering from grief, oppression and injustice, and reconciliation to the penitent. However, the Gospel teaching should also make us uncomfortable when we are self-satisfied, too comfortable, too content with the poverty and suffering and oppression of others. If we do what James tells us in his Letter: “be quick to listen”, then we will hear words that are profoundly challenging even to good people, moral people, religious people – even to us.

In today’s Collect we prayed: Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness and bring forth in us the fruit of good works.

Now, even though we invoke God’s power and might to achieve this goodness and good works, we know that none of this will occur without our attention, our hard work and sacrifice. It is a challenge “to be doers of the word, not just hearers.”

The Gospel calls us to be doers. We have work to do. We admit this when we prayed our Collect. Among the things we asked for is “true religion”. What is true religion? I think a good answer was given by Abraham Heschel, the Jewish Theologian: “True religion”, he says, “ begins with the awareness that something is asked of us.” At the heart of true religion – true faith- something is asked of us. But what is asked of us?

We might be tempted to think like the scribe in today’s Gospel. They thought of themselves as good people. They were taught that much of religion is keeping rules and regulations; following laws, keeping customs, observing policies and practices. And, they worked hard and sacrificed doing this.

We know that much of the conflict in various churches has been over customs and practices, rules and regulations. People have left churches because the custom forbidding women to be ordained was changed. But people also left because churches published new prayer books or new hymnals.

Jesus did not see the rules and regulations to be at the heart of true religion. His focus was on what lived in our hearts, and what was seen in our actions. We are told to do the same.

A few words cannot summarize what we are called to do, but the prophet Micah comes close when he writes: what is asked of us but to do justice, to love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

We promised to do as much at our baptism. We may have used different words in different traditions, but we share a common ground in promising to seek and serve Christ in all people, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

That is not easy to do. It can take a lifetime. There will be failures. But we worship a God who refuses to give up on us.

And so today we listen again to God’s offer of enduring love; we are blessed again with God’s power and might; we are reminded again that something is asked of us.

So, let us begin again; begin by listening to the person next to you; by acting with kindness and concern, respect that seeks reconciliation. Let us say yes to God’s grace offered to us, and work to bring forth in us the fruit of good works


PENTACOST 12

August 16, 2015

Richard Leaky, the son of the Kenyan anthropologists Louis and Mary Leaky, is famous in his own right for discoveries of remains of our human ancestors. He developed a theory for determining whether ancient remains were human beings or animals. By ancient, I mean remains that are hundreds of thousands years old. According to Leaky, if the remains were found amid signs of food being shared with others, they were human. Parents nurturing their young is common to all animals, said Leaky, but only human beings share food throughout life.

But I wonder, if the sharing of food is only found among human beings, can the sharing of food be essential to the process of making us human beings. Can it be that in sharing of food, human life is nurtured: roles are learned, bonds are strengthened, stories are told, relationships defined?

Now I don’t want to make this too romantic. We live at a time when the family meal has become less common, often replaced by a stop at a fast food emporium. Also, the family meal is not always experienced as a nurturing, bonding event. Often family arguments and struggles are the main course.

Cleaning up one’s plate, eating one’s vegetables sometimes becomes the focus. But maybe even these struggles and arguments are important to becoming human. I think there is something very human and humanizing about coming together each day to share food.

Sharing food is the background for our Gospel readings these several weeks. We have heard Jesus speak about the “bread of heaven”, the “bread of life”, “living bread” that nurtures us with eternal life.

Jesus uses bread as a symbol in two ways. First for God’s word that feeds us, that nurtures faith within us. Which is the first part of our Worship service, where we are now. The second, as the bread of Eucharist that nurtures the very life of God in us.

In the first sense, the bread of faith that is nurtured within us cannot be summarized by one word. It is a whole relationship that grows and changes. However the word that comes closest in describing this relationship – this faith - is Love.

In fact, in the letters attributed to the writer of this Gospel, we hear “God is Love”. So the food with which we are nourished is God’s love, a love, we learn, that is without limit and without end.

Most of us have learned very well Paul’s teaching, that God sent Jesus to redeem us, and his death has freed us from the power of sin and death. Too often, this has pictured a God who sent Jesus to undergo a gruesome death and by doing so healed God’s anger at human sin. That is a picture of a strange God, indeed. It is a picture so foreign to what John proclaims. The bread of our Gospel proclaims God is love and whoever abides in love, abides in God.

Today’s reading brings us to the second meaning of bread –the Eucharistic food that nurtures the very life of God in us. Te language Jesus speaks is very graphic: “The bread is my flesh”, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you”, “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink”.

The Hebrew audience of Jesus would understand “flesh and blood” to mean the whole person, the very life of Jesus. LThe bread of Eucharist is the food that feeds and nurtures the very life of God within us. Eucharist is the life of God shared with us.

This food, this life empowers us to share the very love of God with others. How are we doing? Ironically, some scholars think the Gospel of John received its final editing in what is present day Syria. For us, Syria is a clear example that too often evil is shared among us more than love.

But we don’t have to go to Syria to find evil in the actions of human beings. In our own nation, in our own lives evil is present. I won’t make a list, and we may disagree about what are the greatest of evils that confront us. But we do agree on how God demands we confront evil. The word that echoes through John’s Gospel is Love – the love that God shares with us, the love that must empower our actions; a love that is expressed in care for others, respect for each other and a sense of responsibility for one another.

How we are to act out this love is well expressed in our Baptismal promises: by seeking and serving Christ in all people; by loving our neighbor as ourselves, by respecting the dignity of every human being.

That is the great challenge. That is the work the Christian community is called to do.

On one level, this is impossible. But we are gathered to receive the living bread come down from heaven. We are here to be nourished again by the very life of God. We are here to be empowered to share the very love of God; we are here because we believe that one who eats this bread can become fully human, and will receive the power to share this bread and nurture life in others. Amen!

 

PENTECOST 10

August 2, 2015

Last Sunday we began reading from the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel. We will continue to read from this chapter the next four Sundays. The key word to remember is “bread”. It should be easy, since the word is used or referred to 26 times in this chapter, which is fittingly called the “Bread of Life Discourse”.

Bread has been a staple of life for much of the world for 30,000 years. For the Jewish people to whom Jesus was speaking, it had an even more special meaning. As we read this morning from the Book of exodus, manna was the bread-like substance that nurtured their ancestors on their desert journey. It was seen as a gift from God to feed the people whom God had invited into special relationship. Rabbinic literature at the time of Jesus expected the messiah to repeat the miracle of manna as a sign of his arrival. So, with the multiplication of the loaves, people wondered, had messiah come.

But the people failed to understand this sign. Jesus was introducing a very different kind of bread. Not bread to nourish the body, but living bread come down from Heaven, bread that gives life to the world, bread “that one may eat and never die.”

What is this bread? In the first part of chapter 6, this bread is the teaching of Jesus. Receiving the divine teaching of Jesus, and acting out this teaching in our lives, opens us to eternal life.

It is not a question of just believing, but having a faith that acts in the lives of believers.

John’s Gospel tells us we need to listen to Jesus’ teaching and live the way he teaches. That is a message echoed in other places, echoed in the story of the Transfiguration, a feast the Church celebrates this coming Thursday, August 6th. You know the story. Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain where they saw him transfigured: His face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white.

A voice proclaims “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him”; listen to his teachings and put them into action.

Human history, and our own lives teach us that this is not easy to do. We all fall short. This is made clear by the fact that Thursday, the Feast of Transfiguration is also the 70th year since the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

80,000 people were killed immediately, 80,000 more would die in the following year.

This horror had been prepared by other events: Pearl Harbor, the bombing of London, the fire bombing of Dresden and Tokyo. It included the murder of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are part of an unholy litany that must make us shudder.

We have learned how war can drown out the words of Christ, render stale and impotent the bread come down from heaven, make invisible the love of God come into our world. I don’t say this to condemn those who made decisions in the midst of war. But I do think that 70 years later we ought to feel sadness and shame at what human beings are capable of doing to one another. Especially when many of these people profess to be followers of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

I think we must ask ourselves why it is so easy, even today, to choose violence and hatred, to choose war over peace.

Why is it that calls for war are considered signs of strength and indicate a firm grasp of reality, while calls for peace are often described as signs of weakness and naïveté?

Do we believe what we read in the Letter to the Ephesians: that there is one God of all, who is above all and through all, and in all.

More than ever, we need to listen to the bread come down from heaven; we need to be nourished by the word of God which is the foundation of this first part of our worship. We need to be fed, to be empowered with the bread come down from heaven, which we celebrate in our Eucharistic banquet, the second part of our weekly worship.

 

But every day we need to pray:

O God,

     Lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth;

     Lead us from despair to hope, from fear to trust;

     Lead us from hate to love, from war to peace;

     Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe

May the bead of Christ’s words challenge and encourage us The bread of the Eucharist empower and lead us from hate to love, from war to peace, from despair to hope, from fear to trust.

Amen!

 

PENTECOST 9

July 26, 2015

Bread, pane, artos, brot, pain, brood. pan. Words for bread exist in many languages. It’s to be expected, since bread has been a staple for much of the world for more than 30,000 years. Bread’s importance has spilled over into our speech: the bread-winner who works in the bread basket of a country can earn enough bread to put bread on the table.

Bread! You’ll be hearing a lot about bread these coming weeks. Beginning today, and continuing for the next 5 Sundays, our Gospel readings will come from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. This chapter is referred to as “The Bread of Life Discourse”. The word “bread” is used or referred to 26 times in this chapter.

It also means we have jumped from Mark’s Gospel to John’s Gospel. We began reading from Mark’s Gospel at the start of Advent and it will serve as our Gospel of the year until next Advent. However, Mark is the shortest of the Gospels and from time to time we need to borrow from John to fill out Sundays of the year.

When I was a scripture student I was taught that the themes of John’s Gospel could be expressed in three words: “Light, Life and Love”. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the Light of God’s presence come into our world to cast out the darkness of sin. Through Jesus, Life, eternal life, is present, here and now, present to one who is drawn by the Light to believe in Jesus; love practically describes who God is and what God gives to us, and what God demands in our actions. “Light, Life and Love.”

Another characteristic of John’s Gospel, is we don’t hear the word “miracle”. The magnificent acts of Jesus are called “signs”. The purpose of the signs is to point to who Jesus is. Unfortunately, signs are often misunderstood. For example, John relates the story of the woman at the well. When Jesus speaks of giving her “Living water”, she thinks of fresh water that she can have without returning to the well each day. Jesus is speaking of the water of baptism, the water of faith that opens us to enduring life.

When Jesus heals the blind in John’s Gospel it is not primarily to give physical sight, but to empower one to see with the eyes of faith; to see who Jesus is, the One sent by a loving God into the world.

Today’s sign is the multiplication of the bread and fish – 5 barley loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000. This is the only miracle related in all four Gospel accounts. In John, the people see the “sign, but think only of food. Their reaction is to see Jesus as a prophet and seek to make him king. Remembering the gift of manna received daily by their ancestors in the desert journey, wouldn’t it be great to have a leader who would assure that they always have more than enough food.

They miss the point. This event is a sign that points to something more important than food. In what might seem like a strange scene that follows this sign – the walking on the water- the disciples are able to see where the sign is pointing. In this scene the disciples are terrified at the vision coming toward them over the water. Jesus calls to them, “It is I, do not be afraid.”

Many scholars understand Jesus’ words “It is I’ as words that translate the Hebrew term for God- Yahweh. Jesus claims not to be a prophet, or a political messiah who might be king, but the word made flesh, the divine son come into the world- Emanuel, God-with-us- the bread come down from heaven.

In John’s Gospel and in our lives, that is the great challenge: to believe that in Jesus, God has entered into human flesh, into our human world, human history, into our lives. If we believe God is with us, we will not be afraid.

If we believe that in sharing bread and wine today we are fed with the very power and presence of God, then the prayer we read in the Letter to the Ephesians is fulfilled: That you have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breath and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

May the bread and wine we share today open our eyes to see the light of God’s presence in all the dark places of our lives.

May it open us to enduring life and empower us to respect the life of everyone.

May we be embraced by God’s love that enables us to love one another.

May we believe Jesus who calls to us: It is I. Don’t be afraid. AMEN.

It is I. God is present. Don’t be afraid. Amen!

 

PENTECOST 7

July 12, 2015

48 years ago this week, I was a young Benedictine monk visiting a monastery outside of Barcelona, Spain. The monastery, Montserrat drew its name from a mountain located just behind the monastery buildings. On top of the mountain lived a hermit. I decided to climb the mountain and visit him. After two hours I reached the summit – a grassy patch of land with a small cottage and garden. There was a bench outside the door of the cottage and upon it sat 4 people, waiting their turn to speak with the hermit. Who would have thought one would have to take a number to visit a hermit on top of a mountain?

What bound me to the monks of Montserrat and with this hermit is that we all followed the Rule of St. Benedict. Yesterday, the Church celebrated his feast day. St. Benedict is considered the founder of monasticism in the western Christian church. Around the year 500 A.D., he wrote a Rule, which is still followed by Benedictine women and men around the world.

Benedict wrote this rule at Monte Casino, a large monastery located half way between Rome and Naples. (You might remember the name. This monastery was destroyed by American bombers in WWII because it was suspected to be a German lookout point that was preventing American troops from advancing up the Italian peninsula.)

When Monte Casino was first built, Benedict dedicated the chapel to John the Baptist. Benedict admired this strange desert dweller, a hermit we might say, who served as that plumb line mentioned in the reading from the Prophet Amos.

John called the people of Jesus’ day to a life of greater fidelity to what God asked of them. We read about him in today’s Gospel. He is in jail because he irritated Herod, not the Herod who sought to kill the infant Jesus, but his son. The apple has not fallen far from the tree. After an adulterous affair with his brother’s wife, young Herod divorced his wife and married her. All of this played out as a very public soap opera and John saw it as a symptom of the infidelity that permeated Jewish life.

He publically condemned Herod and Herodias, which led to his arrest and as events we read today unfolded, to his death.

Our Christian scriptures present John in different ways. In Luke he is a cousin of Jesus while in John’s Gospel, the Baptist is the forerunner who declared Jesus was the “lamb of God”.

Jesus, himself praises this man, saying “There is no one greater than John the Baptist".

No wonder Benedict was impressed by the Baptist. And in the Middle Ages, people saw a connection between the two, as a number of paintings placed them together. Benedict lived 500 years after John, but many saw them as kindred spirits.

In his rule Benedict describes various kinds of monks and John the Baptist represents the solitary, the hermit who lives in desert places, or on a mountain top.

But Benedict was cautious when presenting one like John as a model for his monks.

The solitary, like John, is heroic, in Benedict’s estimation, but it is not a way of life for most people. Most people need a community in which to grow, in which to learn to love, to be compassionate to be faithful. Few are cut out for the solitary life

So, Benedict wrote his rule for monks living in community – sharing in a life of prayer and work, sharing goods and daily bread. He called these monks “cenobites”. Literally, those who lived a “common life”. Even more, those who shared a meal.

We are not hermits. We are not monks. But we have chosen to be members of community – All Saints.

Here, we share bread and wine; here we are fed with the very presence of God. Here we experience again the love and compassion of God; we learn again to pray, as we did in our opening prayer:

          O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your

          people, who call upon you, and grant that they

          may know and understand what things they ought

          to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully

          to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord,

          who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

          one God, now and forever. Amen.

 

 

PENTECOST 3

June 14, 2015

(Reverend) Bruce M. Shipman

 • There is a theme running through our readings today that is close to my heart, the theme of planting and sowing, the theme of new life!

• Of course that’s what ministry is about, as well, planting and sowing and trimming and yes – when necessary – pruning, cutting back, even pulling out weeds! Yes.

• Planting and sowing, and sometimes taking cuttings and transplanting.

• That’s something that we in Connecticut are reminded of every time we look at our state flag or the seal of the state.

• You know what I’m referring to: the grapevines – three of them ( which I would guess refer to those three original English settlements in the Connecticut river valley, Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor, although others say that the grapevines stand for religion, liberty and knowledge ) and the motto in Latin: qui transtulit sustinet, He who transplants, sustains.

• And I trust we all know whe HE is!

• The flag and motto are close to my heart in a number of ways, not least being that the flag was designed by Abby Slocomb in my building on Monument Street in Groton.

• Mrs. Slocomb, who led the Daughters of the American Revolution in Groton Heights believed that Connecticut needed a single state flag approved by the General Assembly in place of all the regimental flags that were used throughout our land of steady habits at that time.

• And that time was the 1890s, when she sent Governor Coffin some models of what she had in mind.

• In 1897 it was adopted as the official Connecticut state flag by the General Assembly.

• The three bunches of grapes were a theme that she took from the earlier colonial Connecticut state seal.

• “He who transplants sustains.”

• A Biblical affirmation that we hear in today’s readings: Ezekiel’s sprig of cedar transplanted in order that it might thrive and be fruitful and even put to shame the older tree that had neglected its roots.

• I daresay the first English settlers here felt exactly that way: put old England to shame!

• Of course Ezekiel in this image is saying that his people are like a dry and withered tree, but that it is still possible to bring new life and hope – a future! – to that tree if people but return to the knowledge and the love of God and each other.

• Remembering who they are and the laws – the Ten Commandments - that Moses gave to live by when they became a new and great nation.

• We know that the prophets’ message fell on deaf ears, and that in the fullness of time the Good Lord sent his dearly beloved Son to both show us how to live and to give himself to enable us to live as children of God.

• This is what Paul is getting at then he writes of new life in his second letter to the Corinthians: “if anyone be in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; everything has become new.”

• Even in the midst of a world grown old there is new life and a future of promise.

• To believe in God means that we affirm and believe in this future which is in God’s hands, not ours: God’s Son, Jesus, overcame death in order that we might look to the future in confidence and in hope, without fear, without looking back, without clinging to idols that offer false security; without clinging to false gods that offer empty promises.

• Trusting in God’s providence: I’ll have to remember that in preparation for next weekend at St. Columba’s in Rhode Island!

• We are reminded again and again not to hold on to that which is passing away and has no future!

• Let it go!

• The future is in God’s hands: believe it!

• “Lay not up for yourselves treasure on earth…..” lest you worship the gift and forget the Giver.

• The seeds of life, the seed’s of God’s realm are planted in us at Baptism and grow as we share in God’s life giving activity in the community and in the world.

• It is like a tiny mustard seed that grows strong and hardy if tended by prayer and acts of faith and love; it grows like a hardy bush, askeleton that holds us up in good times and bad; it is a living part of us that time cannot destroy.

• Believe it!

• What does the Good Lord have in mind for you?

• Think about it. Pray about it.

• What are the Good Lord’s dreams for you?

• Think about it. Pray about it, but never doubt that you still have seeds of life to plant if you will: the resources of the spirit are infinite.

• Thank God for life and for the promise: if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!”

• Eyes forward.

• Carry on!

• Thanks be to God!

 

PENTECOST SUNDAY

May 25, 2015

About 10 years ago, the United Church of Christ, known to us as the Congregational Church, began a campaign with the message "God is still speaking." It expressed the belief that the God who had spoken in Scripture, the God who spoke through Jesus Christ did not stop speaking when the last words of Scripture were written. Following the last word of scripture is a comma, not a period. God is still speaking in our world, through out history, even in the time we are living.

This is one way to describe the meaning of Pentecost. The word means 50 days ago we celebrated Easter, as our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated Passover. Pentecost was originally a Jewish feast, a thanksgiving for the spring harvest. A bountiful crop provided needed food after the winter.

Pentecost was also a pilgrimage feast; a time when Jews from all over the world visited Jerusalem to pray and make offerings in the Temple. This explains why so many different nationalities are mentioned in our first reading, pilgrims from near and far had come to Jerusalem for the feast.

It was also a thanksgiving for the gift of Torah - the Law. Just as the food harvest nurtured physical life, so the Torah nourished the faith of the people, bound them together as a community, and assured them of God's faithful presence.

On this feast, the disciples were gathered together wondering if God had finished speaking; if God had left them comfortless.  They remembered all that had happened; the teachings of Jesus, his acts of power and compassion; his arrest and death; his resurrection and presence they had experienced; his promise of an advocate, a counselor who would lead them, teach them, comfort them, empower them. But now, things were different. They no longer experienced this presence. Could God have finished speaking?

The experience recorded by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles contains biblical images used to express the presence of God. "A sound from heaven like the rush of a violent wind filled the house where they were sitting." There appeared to them divided tongues of fire that rested on each of them.

Wind recalls the mighty wind that blew over the formless matter, described in Genesis, from which God would create the universe. The wind of God's breath gives life to a clump of clay, creating a human being. Fire and smoke engulfed Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law. Isaiah saw fire as a sign of God's presence over the city and the Temple.

But then, an even stranger sign. The disciples began to speak of the wonderful works of God, and as a crowd gathered, the diverse group each heard them speaking in their own language.

The story was based on another understanding of the feast of Pentecost. According to one story popular at the time of Jesus, when God offered the Law on Mount Sinai, it was offered to all the peoples of earth. They heard the offer each in their own language.

But only one nation said yes, Israel. Now, at this new Pentecost the gift of the Spirit was again offered to all the peoples of the earth, and people from every nation are responding YES - Parthians, Medes and Elamites...

The new Pentecost proclaims no one is outside of the embrace of God's love. God is still speaking. God is still acting. God is still calling people into relationship.

This is what Jesus is telling the disciples in the Gospel reading. The Advocate - the Spirit will guide human beings, declare the true meaning of Jesus' words down through the ages. No one generation will know all things. The period to God's words will not be written in any time. Through the Spirit, God will continue to speak in future days - to the end of time.

We need to hear the words of the Spirit, the Advocate in our time. We know how true Paul's words are, that the whole creation is groaning, groaning in pain - from migrants left adrift on the sea, to people experiencing violence in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, in our own cities and so many other places; groaning from victims of racial injustice, groaning from the hungry, the abused, the oppressed. The hope Paul longs for in his day is the same hope we need today. The response of the change only the Spirit can bring - Pentecost 2015.   

 Our hope is based on our belief that God is still speaking. Our hope is based on the fact that today we can again say YES to the Spirit in our midst, YES to the gifts of the Spirit offered here and now to this community. (There are examples of the gifts available here. Take one, accept the gift, act it out )

The power comes from the Holy Spirit - but the Spirit acts through human beings. Today we will renew our Baptismal promises. We promise to do the work we can. We will listen again to the God who is still speaking. Let our response be, Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. AMEN.


EASTER 7
May 17, 2015


One of the things about growing older is that memory is sometimes not as accurate or quick as it once was. At least as I remember. While this is often disconcerting, there are some benefits. For example, something my wife and I enjoy is the Inspector Morse detective series. I think there are 30 episodes and we have seen them all. However, we can now watch one and it will be more than half way through before we remember we saw it. Even then, we might not remember the ending. Fewer shows go a long way now.

I hope some of you experience the same gift because I am  repeating a story I have told before. As you might remember, within the Jewish Tradition there is the belief that Messiah will come and bring the fullness of justice and peace. All suffering and misery will end, wars and violence will cease. So, when a Rabbi announced to his congregation one Sabbath that Messiah had come, the community was shocked and many began to question the rabbi’s sanity.

Some protested: “Rabbi, hunger, injustice and all manner of suffering are all around, warfare and violence fill our world.” “Yes, Yes responded the Rabbi, we still need to work out some of the details.”

As Christians we proclaim that Messiah has come. And yet we are very much aware that swords have not been turned into plowshares; justice and peace have not kissed. Indeed, there is much work needed to work out the details.

That is what we see in the first Christian community trying to do in our first reading. As the apostles work to continue the mission and ministry of Jesus, they pause to replace Judas, one of the Twelve who betrayed Jesus and then killed himself. They look for someone who had been a faithful companion who knew Jesus in the flesh, experienced his life and ministry, and witnessed the presence of the Risen Christ.

Mathias, the one elected, must have been important to the other apostles, but we know only his name. However, this is true for most of the apostles. In the early Church, the fact that there be 12 apostles was more important than the individuals themselves. For just as Israel saw itself as the people of God founded on the 12 patriarchs, so the Church, the new people of God would be founded on the 12 apostles – those first witnesses who struggled to work out the details of Jesus’ mission and ministry.

We pause to reflect on our role in this mission on the Sunday comes between two significant events in the Church. Last Thursday was the feast of the Ascension, which celebrates the fact that the Christian community experienced an end to the special presence of the Risen Christ. Next Sunday is Pentecost, which celebrates the community’s experience of the Spirit, the Advocate, the Counselor, which made present God’s power of grace and courage giving them guidance to continue working out the details.

This mission has never been easy. From the very beginning, the Church has experienced conflict within and oppression from without. The Church has always fallen short of the command to love as we are loved, to forgive as we are forgiven, to do justice and love mercy.

We realize that we work out the details in a world that is challenging and confusing. Sometimes the Gospel adds to our confusion. In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus say that he will not pray for the world.

But earlier in this same Gospel we are told “God so loved the world that God sent the Son so that all might have life through him.”

In the Letters of John, the world is presented as those not knowing God or Christ. And yet Paul often presents the created world as being renewed  - becoming a new creation through Christ. And frequently, Scripture proclaims that all creation is sacred.

No wonder the Church has always been in tension about its relationship with the world. On the one hand, the church must avoid becoming another civic organization within society. The Church must be prepared to stand against society in proclaiming justice and peace. It must defend the powerless and champion the poor, often against the rich and powerful.
On the other hand, the church exists in the world and must touch people where they live, as a healing, hope giving power in the midst of the real world that confront us here and now.

Let's be clear,  we are the church and we live in this place, at this time. We proclaim a God who has not taken us out of this world to a distant heaven, but chosen to join us in the midst of this broken and sinful world, empowering us to work out the details.

The Good News is, we don’t do this alone. A Christmas present I received a few years ago was a book titled “Companions Along the Way”. The author wrote we all need people to inspire us, support us, keep us focused on what is important, enable us to seek something beyond ourselves.

He writes about famous people in whom he sees gifts that do this: Thomas Merton, Dag Hammarskjold, Flannery O’Connor, Albert Schweitzer, Jane Addams. An impressive group to inspire and encourage us.

It is good to read about such people. But let’s not forget that we also have each other as companions. “Companion” literally means “one with whom we share bread”. That is at the heart of what we do when we gather. We share the bread of life each time we come together. In this sharing we acknowledge that we have the responsibility and the gifts to support one another, to inspire each other, to heal one another.

In our opening prayer we asked God, “Do not leave us comfortless, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us…”.
Let us believe that our prayer is being answered – that God give us the Spirit, Who lives in and works through us. We can be a comfort to one another as well as a source of courage – courage to do justice and love mercy as we walk, together, humbly,with our God, as we strive to work out the details.

EASTER 6
May 10, 2015

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide:
When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, O abide with me.”

Words inspired by our Gospel readings these past two weeks. However, the hymn alters
the focus of the Gospel. Jesus begins by telling the disciples to “abide in his love” – echoing what Jesus said last week: “Abide in me… as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

Of course, we can abide in Jesus” because he already “abides in us”. We learned this at the beginning; the Creation Story in Genesis says: “ in the very image and likeness of God, human beings are created.” God, the Spirit abides in all living beings.

Spiritual writers refer to this as the Divine Indwelling. God abides at the very core of our being. Amid my strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, hopes and fears, God is present, abiding in us. In life, in death, the Lord abides in me.

This abiding is not to control or dominate, but to love. It is a profoundly caring, respectful abiding. It is a life nurturing, healing abiding. But also, this abiding is not a possession of ours, but gift, a gift that empowers us to love others– all others – all in whom God abides.
Peter learned this by experience. In our first reading, we find Peter in the midst of a baptismal sermon, preparing an entire household for baptism. His plan was to inform the people about the life and teaching of Jesus, and then baptize them into the life of the Risen Christ. 

The Spirit, it seems became impatient with the length of Peter’s lecture and suddenly, the audience began to ‘exhibit the gifts of the Spirit”. In other words they already possessed the Spirit Peter thought he was about to bestow on them. Peter is quick, though, immediately he gets them into the water, affirming what already was  – God abiding in them.

Karl Rahner, one of the great theologians of the last century said, in somewhat concrete language,  the challenge of the church is not to get God into people, but rather to get God out of people; to get people to act with the gifts and power – the love and healing that God’s presence plants within each of us. 

For Rahner evangelism is not approaching people as though they lack something that I have to give. Rather I approach another seeking the shared dignity we share as human beings, a dignity that flows from being created in the image and likeness of God.
 
In life and death, O Lord, abide in me. A prayer already answered. But not always obvious, not always acknowledged, not always felt. Perhaps that is one thing we can do for one another as members of this community. Provide support, care, nurturing for one another that we can hope and believe that God abides in you, in me.

In my ministry, when couples who had little or no previous relationship with the Church community, came seeking marriage, I saw this as an opportunity to invite them to see the Church as a home where they could worship with others. At first it might be Christmas and Easter. But if a child was born, it became a place for baptism, later, perhaps church school.
And by that time, some saw the church as a “home”.

I trusted that the community would be hospitable, welcoming, affirming. Providing a place where a person could come to sense the Divine Indwelling God, abiding in them.

The poet, Robert Frost wrote: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” I wanted the Church to be a Home that would take people in, when they had to come there.

For you, that is what All Saints is – a home where you have to be taken in when you come. And whether you know it or not, you help make it a home for people who come here. We can do this because God abides in us.

Let us be aware, and grateful to this abiding God.
Let us be grateful for all who come here.
Let us help one another believe that “in life and death, the Lord abides in each of us.”

EASTER 5

May 3, 2015


Since Easter, the Gospel readings for each Sunday have come from words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper in John’s Gospel. While Matthew, Mark and Luke’s accounts record very little conversation at that last meal shared with friends, John’s Gospel contains a lengthy narrative of Jesus which goes on for a couple of chapters. Biblical scholars refer to these chapters as Jesus’ Farwell Discourse.


In this discourse, we hear words of love and concern, we hear abundant assurance given to this group of disciples who would soon experience the confusion and turmoil and fear brought about by the arrest, trial, and death of their Lord.


We now believe that the Gospel, in the form we have before us, was written down many years after the words and events they recount. In fact, John’s Gospel evolved over a period of almost 60 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. As is the case with all the Gospels, John was written for a specific reason to a specific community. It was written to summarize the faith in the Risen Christ, to teach and support a community undergoing conflict, persecution and turmoil. A community that needed to hear again words of encouragement and love, healing and power from their Risen Lord.


On these same Sunday’s, we also have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles. This Book pictures a community experiencing the power of the Spirit which was the gift given by the departing Christ. We watch this small band of disciples becoming free from fear, moving out into the world, boldly proclaiming the Good News of the Risen Christ. a way, reading from these two sources each Sunday allows us to listen in on a dialogue between two communities; one challenged to find the strength to endure threats from a hostile world;  the other challenged to find the power to go out and serve the world in the name of Jesus.


So, let us listen in on this dialogue.


In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we meet a disciple called Phillip who had been proclaiming the Good News to Samaritans; a people considered undesirable to many, outside of God’s love and care. So Philip is already doing something unusual. Now he is sent to road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Not a road one could easily take today. There he meets a high government official from Ethiopia, traveling home to Africa, after a visit to Jerusalem. He is a eunuch – a sexual misfit some would say; a member of another group many would consider not worth of one’s time. This foreigner is reading from the Prophet Isaiah and is confused, about whom Isaiah is speaking. It’s a confusion shared by many Scripture scholars even today.


Philip, however uses the words of Isaiah to outline the life of Jesus. The official is so moved by Philip’s teaching that he asks to be baptized. Philip spies some water, halts the carriage and baptizes the official, then and there. I want you to know that many bishops and priest in our church require much more preparation for baptism than Philip does.


Here, we find an example of a basic message in the Acts of the Apostles: The Spirit is leading the Church to proclaim the Good News to all who will listen, even to those considered unworthy, foreigners, outsiders, sinners. The disciples, and the Church, must be guided by the Spirit, not by human prejudice or limitations.


The community for whom the Gospel of John was written was being pressed down by the world in which it lived; persecuted for their faith in Jesus. The members were afraid, their very existence was threatened.


In the midst of this, they hear again the words of their Lord: they will not be abandoned or left desolate. They are like branches on the vine which is Christ. The protective strength and power of God’s love abides with them, present in the community through their faithful love and support for one another.


We might say the Acts of the Apostles calls the Church to go forth and proclaim God’s love to all, even those who appear different, even seem to be unlikely candidates. John’s Gospel calls the community to an active love and care for one another in the community; a love that has the power to cast out fear and enable them to bear much fruit.


Like John’s community, we, too, can feel pressed down by the world in which we live.

The people of Nepal have learned that even the earth may not support us at times.

In Baltimore we see an example of a community divided by a lack of trust and respect for one another.

In Europe, we see thousands of immigrants risking their lives, trying to move from violence and poverty. We see people trying to keep them out.



But we also see people digging with bare hands, in an attempt to save a single life trapped in a collapsed building. We see people cleaning up after others have destroyed and burned parts of their city; others risking harm standing between demonstrators and police, attempting to preserve the lives of both. We see many struggling to save lives on the open sea, and bring people to safety.

We are presented with powerful signs of despair, as well as powerful signs of hope. We have a choice which to support. It is not easy to believe what John says in the Letter we read today that : love is this, not that we  love God but that God has loved us first; that since God loves us, we ought to love one another; that God is love, and if we abide in love, we abide in God and God abides in us.


We will be accepting financial gifts in the coming weeks to sent to support relief efforts to help the people of Nepal. Bring a check and we will send it to Episcopal Relief and Development as a parish community.


Also, we have made available a letter Bishop Sutton, Episcopal Bishop of Baltimore regarding the events of the past two weeks. It deserves your reflection.


In the meantime, we hear again the call to love one another, here in this small community, so that we may nurture hope in one another, and receive the power to do what we can to serve this broken world in the love, the power , the name of Jesus the Christ, who tells us again that God is love, and if we abide in love for one another – all others, we abide in God, and God in us. Amen.



CHRISTMAS 2013

 

If you have been here on a previous Christmas Eve celebration, you may know that among the beautiful carols we sing tonight, the one that strikes me is:

“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

 For me, these words provide a lens through which the power of the Christmas story can be seen as background of  the reality of our daily lives rather than a “once upon a time” fantasy tale, unrelated to our daily struggles.

This carol was written a few years after the Civil War, the bloodiest of our nation’s conflicts, the most divisive with repercussions that are with us still.

 It was written by an Episcopal priest, Phillips Brooks, Rector of a church in Philadelphia. Brooks had visited the Holy Land a few years earlier and traveled to Bethlehem one peaceful, starry night.

Those memories were more calm and peaceful than what Reverend Brooks could see outside his window as he wrote the words.  There were many “dark streets” in this Nation, where thousands and thousands of wounded war veterans were visible, where post war economic hardship saw the hungry and homeless scurrying about, where freed slaves were still denied dignity, where families still grieved and suffered hardship from the loss of father, son, brother.

The hopes and fears of countless people met in the dark streets of cities and towns of our nation. The need for light to shine in the darkness of the lives of many was abundant.

 But we also know that the little town of Bethlehem, presented as peaceful beneath the silent stars, was not the place sought out by Joseph and Mary for the birth of their child. They would have preferred to stay home in Nazareth, 90 miles to the north.

They were in Bethlehem because powerful men ordered them to leave their home and travel many miles so that they could be counted, so that taxes could be raised, not to build up infrastructure or support programs for the poor, but to make the rich and powerful, richer and more powerful.

It’s a good thing Times have changed. Or, have they?  If Mary and Joseph had journeyed north, instead of south , traveled almost the same distance, they would have come to Damascus, capital of Syria, a city in our day experiencing war and destruction, hunger and fear.

 A few weeks ago, I saw a news story describing the journey of two young women who fled Damascus seeking refuge in nearby Lebanon. Like Mary, these young women were forced to move because powerful men had made decisions that threatened their lives. Like Mary they had just given birth to their first born child.

These women did not find a stable. They took shelter in a house made from cardboard, which was slowly disintegrating in the snow and rain. They lived with sounds of bombs and guns in the distance, they drank water made by melting snow, they huddled around a fire kept going by burning plastic. This kept the infants from freezing, but it gave off toxic fumes that made them listless.

Unfortunately, these women are not unique. As bleak as their lives are, they represent millions of women and children in our world today. And these women have more in common with Mary and Joseph than the pious pilgrims and worshippers who gather in Bethlehem, the Vatican, even here at All Saints’.

 Joseph and Mary did not enjoy peaceful stillness beneath the passing stars. They lived in the dark streets of Bethlehem. Powerful men would soon be seeking to kill their child. The couple would be forced to leave, become aliens, undocumented immigrants in a foreign land. Innocent blood would be shed and the stillness shattered by the weeping of many. Their hopes and fears are shared by too many in our world today.

But this does not only happen far away. As we prepare to sing Joy to the World, millions of woman and children are about to loose food stamps, Over a million unemployed families loose their benefits because powerful men have made decisions.

And so, tonight we listen again and hear “the Light has shined; the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. “

Even more..“ a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

 But nothing is easy in our world. Darkness is powerful.

and always seems prepared to overcome the light. 

We are here tonight to acknowledge that we have a role to play in God’s work.

 We are here to proclaim: The Light of Christ has come into the World!  (As we sing this, we pass the light from Xmas Candle

As our commitment to be that Light in our world)

 This Light of Christ dwells with you and me – here and now, we are sent to be bearers of  the Light to shines in the dark streets of our world, the dark places of peoples lives.

Let us be the light of justice that casts out the darkness of hunger, in our nation and around the world.

Let us be the Light of compassion that casts out the fear of those without jobs.

Let us be the Light that demands tolerance and respect for all – regardless of color, or religion, or sexual preference.

Let us be the Light that stands with friends and family experiencing the darkness of grief or depression, or addiction

On this Holy Night, let us pledge again to do our part to shine with the Light that God has placed in us.

So, this Christmas, this Holy Night - SHINE!

 

LENT I

February 17, 2013

Several years ago two teen age boys were shot and killed in a high school classroom in NYC. It was one of those unexplainable acts of violence that have occurred week after week, month after month and year after year in this country.

Unfortunately, the act is not unusual, but what was said at the funeral of one of the boys has stayed with me. The minister quoted the philosopher, Hanna Arent, who speculated that acts of violence such as these are not so much the result of evil forces outside us, but the result of the absence of reflection within us; the result of a blankness, an emptiness within, which, in turn, is the result of  a lack of reflection, a lack of  pausing to think things out. 

These acts seem unreasonable, according to Arent, because they are. They are done with the absence of reason; without reflection that leads to an awareness of what we are doing and what its results will be. What is missing, according to Arent, is “mindfulness”.

We, I think,  have not had such violence visited upon us, personally, but most of us have lived long enough to experience life’s changing events – the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, loss of a job, a diagnosis of a life-threatening disease. It is sometimes impossible to make sense of what is happening; at times we realize that life is going to be different from what we expected. We have experienced events that seem to have no meaning.

At such times, the gift of mindfulness - reflection, gathering in quiet to listen and experience what is occurring within our hearts and bodies and minds, is the most powerful human gift we can give ourselves.

In our Gospel story today, we find Jesus in the desert, the wilderness, giving himself this gift. This scene follows the baptism at which Jesus hears the proclamation “You are my beloved son”, and is embraced by the Spirit. The Spirit then leads Jesus into the wilderness. This is both the place where the relationship of God and Israel was forged, and the place where the wild things are.

When Israel looked back to its 40 years in the desert, they often overlooked the trials and tribulations, the complaints and temptations to find a different God. Instead, they remembered the care God took to feed and protect them and make them a people. The wilderness signified the place where Israel became God’s people.

But the desert was also a place of danger. It was a place without order or rules. It was the home of the tempter, the Satan, the being whose task it was to lead people away from trust in God.

The temptations in today’s story are, in different ways. invitations to not trust the God who called out, “you are my beloved son”. This was an invitation to celebrate a way of life which can be describe as living out in daily actions a love that is without limit and without end.
 
As we watch the ministry of Jesus unfold in the coming weeks and month, we will see a continual temptation for Jesus to alter his mission. For me, these temptations are real. It is written in the Letter to the Hebrews:
“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who was tempted in every way as we are, yet did not sin” – tempted as we are to not trust God, but confronting temptation, remaining unwavering is trust of God.

I believe that the mission of Jesus can be summed up as putting  us in a trusting relationship with God. Satan’s temptation was aimed at the heart of Jesus’ mission. And the temptations were real.

If Jesus was truly human – a beleif at the heart of our faith – then he was truly tempted to adapt what it means to be “beloved son” many times as he bumped into the harsh realities of life. This was possible because this human Jesus, as Luke will remind us time and again, “went off by himself to pray”. Luke presents Jesus as someone who sought a quiet place for reflection and prayer before the major decisions and actions of his life. These moments and these 40 days in the desert were time for reflection, for the practice of mindfulness.

The human Jesus, needed mindfulness to overcome the temptations of Satan. He needed times of reflection and prayer to experience the power of the Spirit, and recommit to the mission of trust in God.

In this Lenten Season, let us take time, let us find a place, a wilderness, free of distraction and let us sense what is happening within; Listening to the most important person In  our lives – ourselves.

Let us be open to the power of the Spirit who seeks to Keep us in a trusting relationship with the God who knows our weakness but who seeks to work with us so that we are never put to shame.



Last Sunday After Epiphany
February 10, 2013

A philosopher famous in the middle ages once said: "Bidden or not Bidden, God is present!"

On this last Sunday of Epiphany, three days before we begin Lent, we are invited to reflect on God’s presence among us. We heard the Gospel story of a spectacular vision witnessed by Peter, James and John, the Transfiguration as we call it.

St. Ignatius said: "if we do not find God in the events of our daily lives, then our faith is just a theory; true faith rests on an awareness of God's presence in one's life."

Jesus had taken the three up a mountain. Jesus, we are told, used the solitude as an opportunity for prayer, and while praying "the appearance of his countenance was altered and his raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure." And if this were not enough, a voice called out, "this is my Son, the chosen one; listen to him".


Our first reading recounts another mountain top experience. 1300 years before our Gospel scene, Moses, came down from another mountain after his encounter with the "glory of God's presence". We read how Moses had to cover his face because such encounters made Moses' face aglow with God's glory, reflecting a brightness that blinded those who looked upon him.

Certainly, such visions would convince anyone of God's abiding and powerful presence in their lives. And yet, we learn that even such visions were not enough. Moses journey in the desert did not get easier.
 Frequent complaints from the people fueled his complaints with God. Later in the story  we read that Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Promise because at one point he was not faithful to the God Whose glory he experienced in such a profound way.

And Peter, the man so moved by the scene and voice on the mountain will soon deny that he even knows the man, Jesus. However, Peter is smarter than we think. He wanted to stay on that mountain: "Lord, it is well that we are here...let us make three booths...Let us stay here, is his request, or at least let us have a place we can return to, a place where we know God is present. Peter may have sensed that his magnificent experience would not make things easier.

Anyone who has had a spiritual experience, a moment of profound awe, or a sense of the presence of God, knows the temptation to think it was the place or the group or the program that brought them into God's presence. So when we feel God's absence, when we feel emptiness, confusion, fear - at these times we might be tempted to return to the spot or the group or the program to once again find God's presence.

But what faith tells us is that God has journeyed with us. That spot, that group, that program are not important. God does not dwell in decorated shrines; it is not limited to a space, even a space as beautiful as this church. Rather, as St. Ignatius said: “God can be found in the next moment of our lives, in the next person we meet.

Like Moses and Peter, we all must learn that God lives among the events of our lives. But that is not easy to learn. For there is much in our lives to distract us, disappoint us, confuse us and makes us afraid. We need to acquire the discipline of mindfulness - being attentive to the moment if we are – and in this moment find the presence of God.
Mindfulness/Awareness is the power to notice the obvious, the ability to be open to what is right in front of us, around us, beside us. Awareness empowers us to sense the presence of God in the events of our lives.

In his rule for monks, written more that 1600 years ago,  Benedict instructed his monks to treat the hoe and shovel in the same way they treated the chalice and patten of the altar. The earth is as sacred as the altar, taught Benedict; in it we can recognize the presence of God's goodness and generosity as much as in the ritual of our worship.
But Benedict means more. In the daily work, in the person with whom we live or work or study, just as much in the midst of this service, God is present.

But to know the presence is not easy. One spiritual writer has said: "It takes a lifetime to really understand that God is present in the person who is in front of me.

We can spend so much of life looking for the sacred place, the holy one, the right words or action to see the God who dwells in the dazzling brightness of the clouds. But it is in the person in front of me, or beside me, that the "glory of God is present". In the midst of confusion and muck and beauty of creation that we touch each day we can find the "glory of God's presence". In the flesh of those I rub shoulder with, disagree with, conflict with that I bump into  - here is the presence of God. "Bidden or not, God is present".

At the start of this year, our Gospel invited us on a journey. It began at the baptism of Jesus, in those cold early days of January where we heard a voice proclaim; "this is my Son, the beloved, listen to him. It refocuses us today, in the abundant snowof February as we hear the same voice telling us: "this is my Son, the chosen, listen to him."

And we are now led into the season of Lent. If this is a journey, then we should expect that at the end of Lent we will find ourselves somewhere different from where we are today. There is much that we cannot control, but there is something we can do. The prayers and scripture readings of our worship, the traditions of adding moments for prayer and reflection in these coming days, a conscious plan to look at those around us, those with whom we live and argue and struggle - these are all opportunities to practice the wonderful gift of mindfulness..

Mindfulness is a gift that can lead us to refocus on some of those important aspects of love about which Paul sings today: patience and kindness, humility and an active concern for others, a turning away from spiteful resentments, rude and destructive remarks and actions and a willingness to endure with one another in a spirit of hope.

Our Lenten journey ends in Easter - renewal, rebirth, abundance of life. But now we must plant the seeds, even in snow. In this holy day, let us become aware that God is profoundly present in the daily events of life, amid the next challenge, within the next conflict - in the person I love, and in the person I hate. Bidden or not, God is present every step of the journey.




CHRISTMAS 2012

It is hard to imagine a more beautiful story than the story of Christmas. It is told in the regal words of scripture, sung in carols, made visible in crèche and tree. Ablaze in a myriad of lights.

It is a story that has been told for 2000 years,
                     in times of war and peace,
                     in time of plenty and famine;
                     amid disaster and  joy –

Even more, the Christmas story has been wrapped in our own story, enshrined with our personal memories of Christmas, repeated in  rituals year after year, uniting us with family and friends, living and dead.

The Christmas story is so powerful that we must take care that we do not let its meaning  get lost in the multiplicity of meanings or romantic nostalgia.

For the real power of Christmas comes from the fact that it celebrates what is at the heart of our faith, the fact that in Jesus the fullness of God was made flesh.

Christmas proclaims God is with us, dwelling in human flesh. GOD DID NOT SEND CHRIST TO US.
GOD CAME TO US IN CHRIST!

And so all life is holy, all living beings are blest with dignity;   all life has meaning.

And yet, as we gather here tonight to retell the story, we know things are not as they ought to be. Isaiah proclaims “ the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

And yet, in our world, in our lives, darkness abounds. The darkness of grief, of depression, and fear and confusion. The darkness of violence fills our world, our state, our hearts; darkness of poverty and hunger, of illness and abuse and neglect are well known to us. Where is the great light?

In our hearts we know that the Christmas story is not complete. WE have an essential role to play. WE are the light to shine in the darkness. The message of Christmas is that God came to us in Christ, but also that God, in Christ, now dwells in us. WE are God’s dwelling place in the world, WE are sent to be the great light that shines in the deep darkness of our world.

Can we believe this?
Believe that God is as present here and now, as real here and now as in Bethlehem, long ago.
Believe that the power of that presence is in you, and me.
That is the light to shine in our darkness:

     of our fears
     of our broken relationships, our grudges and hurts
     In the darkness of our failures, our prejudices
     In the darkness of Newtown, Columbine, Wisconsin,      
     Chicago, Syria Afghanistan
     In the darkness of our tolerance of violence around the 
     world, and in the multiplication
     of weapons

 


For,  Unto us a child is born, unto us, a son is given:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father.
Prince of Peace.

As the poet Elizabeth Browning has said:

All, all are blessed
Since God has pitched his tent among us.

Now on our earth are to be found
The footprints of the Word made Flesh
Who walked with us in wind and rain,
And under sun and stars,
In joy and sorrow,

Born of Mary, watched over by Joseph,
Eating and drinking, living and loving.

Dying, yet living, the Word is made flesh
And all the earth
And each of us,
Is Holy Ground.

Tonight, let us listen to the Angels who tell us ‘Do not be afraid”; TODAY THERE IS GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY.
The joyful news of Christmas is you are holy ground.
You are God’s dwelling place on earth.
The Light is within you.
 Work, each day, with God’s life and love to cast out the darkness.   AMEN