Dec 162015
 

 

 

Hear again these words from our collect for the day:

“Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us.”

What a paradox.  Here we call for the Lord to come in power and great might, and God is born among us as a helpless child.  What does it mean? Could it be that power is something different than we thought of wished it to be?  It means I think that though we might like God to come and rescue us from the frenzies and messes or our lives, instead God chooses to come and live in the frenzies and messes with us.  It means that God does not wield power, but rather shares power in a ways that takes in and redeems all of who we are – all that characterizes our lives.  And God’s power, living and breathing among in a helpless child makes us necessary and active participants in our redemption.

When I was a child my grandmother had a plaque hanging in her kitchen that read, “God helps those who help themselves”. St. Augustine put the same truth a little differently when he said, “Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.” The bottom line – It’s not God’s nature to work around us.  It is God’s deepest desire to bring about reconciliation of all creation through us.  The reason for the incarnation?  God took on flesh and blood in the person of Jesus to claim us as partners in the work of redemption.

So God will not show us to clean house, or make all things right in our lives.  Rather, God in Christ is ever present to lead us in his way.  And St. Paul’s words to us this morning are part of that way.  In our second lesson from his letter to the Christians in Philippi we read:

“Let you gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”

Being gentle does not mean being weak – gentleness has a strength to it.  It does not mean letting other people run all over you with unacceptable behavior.  On a personal level, at this time of year it may mean lowering unrealistic expectations for others and ourselves.  If we can let go of the dream of having the so called “perfect holiday”, our gentleness may well flourish.  Most of us will never be that “perfect” family around that “perfect “tree, in that “perfect” home, all happy and smiling.  Sure we have our very good and perhaps even shining moments, but the expectation of the “perfect” holiday is an illusion marketed by industries that want to convince us that we can achieve that if we just buy whatever product they are selling.  If we can be freed from that illusion, then we may well find gentleness brimming over for others and ourselves.

This holiday season, gentleness might mean keeping things beautifully simple – like what about sacrificing some chores we feel compelled to do in order to take a much needed nap. Or how about going outside to play with the kids instead of slaving in the kitchen over yet another batch of cookies?  Or perhaps it means boldly using a ribbon that clashes with the wrapping paper instead of making a frenzied run to the store to find jus the perfect color.  It is little acts like these is favor of gentle simplicity that add up to real openings God can take in the work of redemption.

This season, our gentleness might overflow our families and go with us into the world as well.  In the hustle and bustle of life, many lonely people get bumped and jostled and overlooked.  If we are practicing the gentleness of God in Christ, we will notice them.  Haven’t we ourselves found it true that a kind word or a simple, thoughtful gesture can go a long way to dispelling a sense of loneliness?

God’s gentleness dwelling is us may also impact the way we look at the world at large.  Justice does not reign in our world – that is plain to see. How can the awesome, yet gentle power of God in Christ work through us to change things for the better? Advent can be a time to ask ourselves- whether we are mothers or fathers, students, retirees, business men or women, homemakers – How can I be an agent of God’s peace and justice, not just for us and for our nation, but for the whole global village?  And the action does not have to be grand – God’s power can partner with even our small efforts.

For instance perhaps this year you have contributed in some way to our parish partnership with Cristosal in El Salvador.  Perhaps you put craft supplies in the suitcase that we took this summer for children in the safe house there.  Or maybe you were one of the travelers on the trip, or perhaps you bought some of the beautiful crafts we brought back.  Or maybe you encouraged those of us who wrote the resolution for diocesan convention.  Or maybe yours is the work of praying regularly for all these efforts.  In whatever way you contribute it joins with the efforts of many others here at St. Paul’s and makes a real difference in El Salvador.  Jus this week we received a letter of thanks from Noah Bullock, Cristosal’s Executive Director.  He writes:

I wanted to take the opportunity to personally thank you both for the extraordinary support from St. Paul’s this year. From the Global School course to your gifts, financial and physical, and last but not least your work on the Diocesan resolution, I am deeply grateful for your exemplary leadership and generosity in supporting Cristosal and our work in El Salvador.

These past two years have been difficult ones in El Salvador, and I am very proud of how Cristosal has been able to provide leadership and innovative responses to attend to victims of violence and strengthen a culture of democracy and peace. St. Paul’s Newburyport has been with us from the beginning, and I feel it is especially important to acknowledge what a major role you all have played, and continue to play, in this work.

So, over the next couple of weeks, whenever you feel frenzied, or about to explode at someone you love, or overwhelmed by the harshness of certain situations you encounter locally, or across our globe, ask yourself, “What would gentleness look like in this case?” When you have an answer, pray for the power of God to equip you to be that gentleness and do your imperfect best to live into it.  When we are gentle with ourselves and each other, the tensions melt and our Blessed One is born to and through us once again.

“Let your gentleness be known to everyone.  The Lord is near.”

Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday December 13 The Third Sunday of Advent  Posted by on Wed, 16-Dec-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday December 13 The Third Sunday of Advent
Dec 072015
 

If one can get through the first sentence of the Gospel without tripping and stumbling over all the names of people and places that do not roll easily of our North American English trained tongues, one comes to some words that may prove even more difficult for us to pronounce – repentance and sins.

In her book, Speaking of Sin, the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor writes that when we hear words like these in scripture they sound:

like language from an earlier age, when human relationship with God was laced with blame and treat.  As old as the words are, they are still redolent with guilt.  We may not know exactly what they mean, but we know they judge us.  The most obvious solution to the discomfort they provoke is to stop saying them altogether, which is what many of us have done.”  (Speaking of Sin, p. 4)

One of the things I love about helping prepare young people for the confirmation of their faith is that they are often still willing to speak these words and to ask for definitions and explanations that will make sense to them in their lives.  Not too long ago, one or our confirmand emailed me a list of questions he has.  One of them was, “Does God always forgive sins?” What a great question! So since in the Gospel lesson John the Baptist calls us to receive our baptism as one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, I want to reflect on this question.  And because she is so eloquent on the topic I want to lean heavily on what Barbara Brown Taylor shares in her book Speaking of Sin.

After noting that many of us have stopped using words like sin, iniquity, transgression and repentance, Taylor tells a bit of her own family’s story to illustrate the struggles many faithful people go through with these concepts.  She writes:

Although I do not remember it, my first experience with sin happened when I was five weeks old.  The year was 1951.  The occasion was my baptism in the Roman Catholic Church, which was still on the far side of Vatican II.  Since my mother was not Catholic, t sacrament took place in ta side chapel.  I was her firstborn, and she was wildly in love with me.  The way she tells the story, the priest took me from her arms and began saying all kinds of terrible things about me.  He said that I was sinful through and through, that I had the devil in me, but – not to worry – the water of baptism would soon wash me clean as snow. 

‘You were the best thing I had ever done,’ she says, still chilled by the memory. ‘The moment I got you back in my arms, I looked at your father and said, we’re getting out of here and we’re not ever coming back.’  True to her word, she did not present either of my two younger sisters for baptism when they were born and we stayed away from church for seven years.  When we finally went back we chose a Methodist church, where I do not remember ever hearing a word about sin.

While we did not use the word at home I learned that there were things I could do to bring me closer to my parents (tell the truth, help around the house, keep an eye on my sisters) as well as things I could do to push them away (trash my room, break things, smoke cigarettes).  I also learned that while a sincere apology might get their attention, it was changed behavior my parents wanted from me.  To that end, they set up consequences for my action, so that I could experience the results of my choices.  When I was old enough they invited me to start setting limits for myself, thus trusting me more than I trusted myself.  They went to all of this trouble, they said, because they wanted me to grow up a human being not a lout.  When I began to read the Bible years later, I recognized the same pattern in God’s relationship with Israel.  Even without knowing the words, I had already learned a great deal about sin, judgement confession, repentance, penance, grace and salvation.

Other children I knew were not so lucky.  They lived with people who believed you could beat the sin out of a child, and they spent most of their time in hell.  If those spiritually battered souls had any appetite for God left when they grew up, then they had an enormous amount of work to do before they could conceive of anything close to a loving judge. (Ibid, pp.11-13)

What Taylor so eloquently points out here is that there are vast varieties of ways in which people understand sin and its consequences for humans in their life with each other and God.

Later in the book she encourages us each to think about what sin means to us in our own lives, while pointing out that all sins are connected at their root.  Taylor writes:

“When I say ‘sin’ there is no telling what you see: the stolen candy bar, the rumpled sheets of a bed you shared with someone else’s lover, a large pipe spilling orange sludge into a once-blue river, a clutch of homeless people sitting around a fire built from trash in a vacant lot between two corporate sky-scrapers. The picture will be different for every one of you, but the experience to hunt for is that one that makes part of you die.

Deep down in human existence, there is an experience of being cut off from life.  There is some memory of having been treated cruelly, and – a little deeper, perhaps – the memory of having treated someone else cruelly as well.  Deep down in human existence there is an experience of seeing the light and turning away from it, either because it is too beautiful to behold or because it spoils the dank but familiar darkness.  Deep down in human existence there is an experience of reaching for forbidden fruit, of pushing away loving arms, of breaking something on purpose just to prove that you can.  Deep down in human existence there is and experience of doing whatever is necessary to feed and comfort self, because there is no one else to trust, no other purpose to serve, no other god to follow.

For ages and ages this experience has been called sin – deadly alienation from the source of all life.  By some definitions, it implies willful turning away from God.  By others, it is an unavoidable feature of being human.  Either way it is a name for the experience of being cut off from air, light, sustenance, community, hope, meaning and LIFE.  It is less concerned with specific behaviors than with the aftermath of those behaviors.  There are a thousand ways to turn away from the light, after all, with variations according to culture, century, class, and gender.  The point is to know the difference between light and darkness, and to recognize the pull of the darkness when it comes.” (Ibid. pp. 62-63)

I find Taylor’s expansive definition of sin very helpful because it presses us to explore our lives and look for sin where we may not have seen it before.  Sin is not just notoriously wrong actions, but those ingrained habits and behaviors that keep us from the light – that keep us from trusting – that keep us from revealing the unique light that God can shine only through us.  Each of us is so dear to and such a precious creation of God – we can’t even fathom how much we are loved.  Sin is what keeps us cut off from experiencing that love of God for ourselves and for others.

This week I went for a massage because I had been experiencing back pain that I was sure was related to the wonky way I was walking when I was recovering from my broken toe.  As I lay there and the massage therapist worked the knots out of my back muscles, I began to see that it was not just the way I had been physically walking that had caused those knots – it was also the way I had been emotionally and spiritually walking that had caused the knots to form.  As the muscle knots released thoughts and feelings about things I had said or done, or not said or done passed through my mind and I felt the physical relief.  As I reflected on the experience latter I visualized each of those knot producing thoughts and behaviors of mine and then I gently laid each into the hands of God who is able to do for me what I am not able to do for myself – who is able to turn me again toward light when I have been sitting in some dank darkness.

In the lesson from Malachi this morning we heard that God is like a fuller’s soap or a refiner’s fire – working with us to release the impurities so that our gold may shine.  I want to add that God is like the massage therapist’s hands, making straight that which is crooked, and making the rough places smooth.

In the face of our sin, God extends grace and salvation.  Notice that salvation is from the same root as the world salve – that which is applied to bring about wholeness rather than destruction.  God extends healing of body mind and spirit to us if we but reach out for it.  Once in a while it is a miraculous, in- the- moment healing that can take our breath away.  But more often it is a gradual mending that comes over time as we build deeper and deeper intimacy with the great lover of all souls.

So, does God always forgive all sins?  My answer is “Yes, and!”  Yes God always forgives sins, and the work for us is to open ourselves to that forgiveness and the changes in us that receiving such forgiveness will lead us too. Knowing ourselves to be forgiven or our sin, we certainly must then extend that love and forgiveness to others – particularly those who threaten us most – those we name as enemies. It is that divine forgiveness that reaches out to us from the manger in the person of our savior – the one who brings healing in his wings at Christmas – the same who spends part of his dying breath on the words, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  Making a home for him –this incarnate loving forgiveness- is life-long work my friends – I am glad we are on this road together. In Christ’s name.  Amen

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 Sermon for Sunday December 6 The Second Sunday of Advent  Posted by on Mon, 7-Dec-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday December 6 The Second Sunday of Advent
Nov 292015
 

Spiritual Direction: A Wakeup Call

Preacher: Bob Keller

I pray with you this morning Win the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

That’s some Gospel reading we had this morning!  I’ve taken my text not from Luke, but from the same story as it appears in Matthew’s Gospel 24:29.  Listen to this…

In those days…the sun shall be darkened,

and the moon shall not give her light, (this doesn’t sound like your typical eclipse)

and the stars of heaven shall fall, (meteor showers maybe, but a bit more than that I think)

and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. (hard to imagine)

And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. (definitely not  your ordinary meteorological event)

Then shall he send his angels, and gather together…His…elect…from the four winds,

from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

Isn’t it interesting that on this first Sunday of Advent, the Season in which we begin to prepare our minds, bodies and souls to receive the Christ child into our world…isn’t it interesting that we are called also to prepare for the Second Coming for that’s what this Gospel reading is all about.

This may seem a bit scary in that that those of us who are not among His Elect will be left behind to be destroyed with the heavens and earth.

But it’s not so bad because Jesus then tells us what to do to become one of the Elect, and this is really important: watch, keep awake.  And we know it’s important because, whether it’s in the Gospel or in fairy tales, if it’s said or it happens three times then you’d better pay attention.

… keep alert; he says for you do not know when the time will come….  Therefore, keep awake-he continues– for you do not know when the master of the house will come…. And as a final command he says: what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

OK, great advice, Jesus, I hear you, but what exactly does that mean?

And I’m going to put off answering that question for now.  After all, if I answered that now, my sermon would be only 2 minutes long, and you wouldn’t have time for good nap.  Hopefully it will all come together in the end.

My Spiritual Direction Training.

Over the last two years I have been part of a training at Adelynrood just down the road in Byfield, in which 20 or so of us were learning the art of spiritual direction.  This was an intense experience with lectures, discussions, meetings for spiritual direction and much more.  I was exhausted by the time we finished last August.

And with all that preparation, our teacher has the temerity to say, “This training does not make you a spiritual director, only God does that.”  So whether or not God has done that for me seems likely to have an evolving answer.

What is Spiritual Direction?

So, what is Spiritual Direction?  Let me start by saying what it’s not.  It’s not psychotherapy, it’s not counselling, it’s not financial planning.  It’s not anything else where the goal is to fix something in your life.

Simply put, spiritual direction is a way to help you explore your own personal daily life relationship with God.

What’s It Like?

A meeting for spiritual direction takes many forms, but it may be about an hour, one on one between  you as Directee, the one who is to be directed,  and a Director whose job is to be a guide.  Usually you come with questions and stories about your experience of God in your life, and a sense of seeking to know Him better.

The Director, me for example, is primarily a listener whose job is to sense the story behind your stories and questions, and to ask questions and make suggestions to help you to see and to work with that back story.

I say that we’re not trying to fix anything in your life, and that’s true, but you may well bring up personal situations of conflict or other stress.  Some of the more dramatic things I’ve heard include: “I think God has abandoned me,” or “I’m losing my job that’s the meaning of my life,” or  “my husband has left me, my daughter is dying, where is God?”

My response to those situations is not to provide easy answers, but rather to help you put God into the equation.  This is not to try to make everything OK, but to put the things that are happening to you in a larger context.  I want you to explore and try to understand what God desperately wants to be for you just at that time.

It’s all about your becoming more aware of God in your life.  It’s about responding to His guidance, and about understanding yourself as a willing participant in God’s plan for you.

Incidentally, Spiritual Direction can happen in groups, and it does, here at St. Paul’s.  Our weekly Adult Forum is often an excellent example of group Spiritual Direction.

And a couple of miscellany:  Unlike therapy, meetings for Spiritual Direction are not frequent.  While you might go once a week for therapy, there are likely to be six weeks or a couple of months between meetings for Spiritual Direction.  It often takes a long time to integrate insights you may have had during a meeting.

And second, regarding cost:  I and most spiritual directors view your payment as a free will offering although the training suggested that $50 per meeting is a good guideline.  But this is completely up to you.  Neither I nor any other spiritual director is going to get rich doing Spiritual Direction.  Between infrequent meetings and the fact that I am not likely to have more than two or three Directees at any one time makes it not very attractive financially.

History of Spiritual Direction.

Spiritual Direction has been around since the early days not only of Christianity, but of Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism as well as every other religion on earth.  Until the 1950s in the Christian church, however, Spiritual Direction was available mainly to Priests and other clergy, to monks and nuns, and to others who were insiders in the religious establishment.  But then there was a burgeoning interest in couselling, psychotherapy, and the like.  And in the Church, pastoral counselling became more central and focused.

For various reasons, Church people began to see spiritual issues as fertile ground for guidance, and the need for a new kind of consultant—one who was not a therapist nor a keeper of orthodoxy.  And so in the 1980’s there blossomed interest in the art of spiritual direction as a way to meet this need.  Today there are several training programs around the country, but a deficiency in most people’s awareness of both the existence and benefits of Spiritual Direction.  A deficit I hope to correct.

So, back to the beginning.

Perhaps you’ve heard a version of the story about the Buddha, in which he is asked, “are you a god?”  He says “No, I am not a god.” “Well, then the student asks, are you an angel?”  “No, I am not an angel.”  “Are you a guru or holy man?”  “No, I’m not even that.”  “Well, then, what are you?” and the Buddha replies “I am awake.”  And of course, the Sanskrit word Buddha means awakened.

What does it mean to be awake?

In St. Paul’s words, it means to continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.  This is a thought  echoed by 13th century philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart who said: “If the only prayer you ever say is Thank You, it’s enough.”

From other scripture, being awake means not to let your heart be weighed down by worldly cares, by dissipation and drunkenness, by malice, deceit and hypocrisy.  It means to keep faith in all situations.

It means that you can’t just talk about the Gospel (talk the talk as they say), but you need also to do the work God lays before you (walk the walk).

And most importantly, it means being constantly aware of God’s living presence in you, of tuning your awareness so you can hear God speaking to you, however faintly.

And how does Spiritual Direction fit in?

Is Spiritual Direction the key to salvation?  Of course not, but it may be your yellow brick road that leads to unexpected spiritual wakefulness.  It can help you watch, help you wake up, and stay awake.  Helping you awaken to your evolving relationship with God in daily life is the main point of spiritual direction.  And even more importantly, it’s what God is asking of each of us in order to be among His Elect.

Here it is, three times:  First, God asks you to awaken to His living, minute by minute presence in your daily life, being aware of His glorious majesty working through you.

Second, God waits for you to awaken to what He wants to be for you.  He waits for you to get to know Him intimately, to love Him, to be awake.

And third, God needs you to wake up to being an essential part of His work of creation.  Think of God is an infinite white light shining through a prism where it appears as a rainbow spectrum.  And think of each of us as an individual color in that rainbow.  Wake up to your being an incarnation of God on earth.

St. Paul says (in Aramaic) maraná thá, the Lord is coming (1 Corinthians 16:22).

And so finally, in order to be among the elect at the second coming, what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!

WIn God’s Name, Amen.

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 Sermon for Sunday, November 29, 2015 the First Sunday of Advent  Posted by on Sun, 29-Nov-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, November 29, 2015 the First Sunday of Advent
Nov 292015
 

 

 

A friend of mine described for me an episode of the political news program Crossfire that she had seen this way:

“It was a Thanksgiving feast for political junkies.  On this episode, people with diametrically opposed views were presented with an issue, and they argued, often with heated words.  It mirrored our political and cultural landscape.  One political party shoots its rounds of ammunition, then ducks for cover while the other fires back.  The messaged about power is clear: the one with the most bullets wins.  The one with the hardest hitting PR machine is victor.  Those in the crossfire of the shooting match? Get out toe the way or be taken down!”

In today’s gospel Jesus stands in the crossfire.  On one side are the religious authorities that hand Jesus over to Pilate.  They despise the Roman stated and hope for a messiah who had enough bullets to knock out the oppressors.  On the other side is Pilate, representing the most powerful military and political force in the ancient world.  Pilate would be happy to toy with this rabbi from Nazareth to show the Jews that the emperor is boss.

Then something incredible happens.  In the marble halls of Roman authority, Jesus turns Pilate’s notions of power inside out by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Instead of firing back in this deadly crossfire, instead of engaging in Pilate’s kingly tactics, Jesus announces a stunning new way.  The Begotten One, truth made flesh, will be lifted up on a beam of wood drawing all people to himself.  Jesus embodies a different power than the world’s – a power of self-emptying love, a power marked by humility, a power where one’s might and right are given up for the sake of setting people free.

On this day when we Christians name Jesus as our king, this Gospel passaged points toward the paradoxical throne of the cross. And there on the cross we see one who rules not with the power of coercion or violence, but with the power of a strong, yet vulnerable love that unites a splintered cosmos.  Jesus’ power we receive in the word, at the font, and at his table: life abundant and health for all, signs of the glorious and gentle rule of God who lovingly gave birth to all that is.

How do we invite this incredible ruler – this powerful lover of souls into our lives to reign as king?  The best way I know how is through prayer.  Over and over we need to surrender our self-seeking will, and then seek his guidance – every day – sometimes every hour.  It is in developing that sort of intimacy with him that we can become his subjects- those entrusted to his care so that we might live his kingdom more fully into existence in this world.

In his book When God Happens, The Rev. Gray Temple writes about how he can tell when he is hearing Christ’s voice answering him in prayer – how he can separate it out from the many other voices which vie for his attention. He says he knows it is Christ when the response is characterized by unconditional positive regard for all people – not for all actions, but for all people.

It is an amazing thing to experience this love of Christ for each of us directed to us in our time of prayer.  I have had an amazing experience of this each day since I began reading a lovely little book of daily meditations about a month and a half ago.  It is titled Jesus Calling and was written by Sarah Young.  I came upon it in a gift shop in the Atlanta Airport in October when I was passing through there on my way back from my CREDO conference in Mississippi.  As I browsed the book rack, I came across it and felt instantly drawn to it and had the very strong sense of God nudging me to buy it.  So I did.  It is full of beautiful meditations based on Scripture written in the voice of Jesus.  On the surface it seemed a bit contrived to me, but I must say that I have found each page deeply nourishing to my soul.  I read the reflection written in the voice of Jesus and then I read the several scripture verses the meditation is based on.  It never fails that I feel like I have drunk deeply of cool refreshing water by the time I am done.  If this sounds interesting to you, this Advent I invite you to join me in this spiritual practice.  I would love to hear what some of the rest of you experience as you read this little book.  Details of it can be found in the announcement sheet this morning.

These readings emphasize his constant and unfailing love for us.  And that is the overarching theme of his kingdom.  He comes not to judge but to redeem.  He cannot redeem those he does not love, but that is not a problem because he loves every person and longs for all people to be released from the power of brokenness, sin and death and be reconciled to God.  That is the only way Christ could have taken the throne he did.  Mirroring that love as his subjects is one of our greatest challenges and one of our greatest rewards.

Let us pray often, listen intently for his voice, and follow his guidance that we may be instruments of his kingdom.  In his name.  Amen

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 Sermon for Sunday November 22, 2015 The Last Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Sun, 29-Nov-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday November 22, 2015 The Last Sunday after Pentecost
Nov 292015
 

 

 

Last Saturday afternoon, several of us from St. Paul’s attended forum at our Cathedral in Boston regarding the violent situation that grips the Northern Triangle of Central America – the countries of Guatamala, Hondorus and El Salvador.  We here at St. Paul’s have become intimately acquainted with this topic as we have been partners with Foundation Cristosal in El Salvador for over 6 years.  During that time we have raised and contributed monies to their programs, and some of us have even traveled there to meet our brothers and sisters in Christ there.

At the forum last Saturday Noah Bullock, Executive Director of Cristosal, spoke along with Patricia Montes, Executive Director of Centro Presente, an organization that serves the needs of immigrants from Central America in the Boston area.  Noah’s and Patricia’s descriptions of the situation in the Northern Triangle, and the impact on people fleeing from there were compelling.  But I have to say the part of the forum that touched me most was the testimony of 3 women who are recent immigrants from El Salvador.  All three spoke about how they and members of their families had to flee their homes because their lives were being threatened by the gangs.  One woman had her two children with her a daughter age 7 and her son age 11 – the same age as our Nicolas.  When I heard this mother say that they had to flee because the children’s father had been killed by the gangs, I wanted to cry.  Statistics can be compelling, but human testimony can break your heart!

The faces of this woman and her children kept coming back to me through this week as I thought about this sermon.  In the Gospel Jesus talks with his disciples about the end times when the world as we know it will be changed forever.  I wondered if that is how it felt for those children fleeing with their mother and grandmother from El Salvador.  Who knows what harrowing circumstances they encountered on their way here.  Most migrants from Central America do not have an easy or safe journey. Seeing that boy who was the same age as my own son made me wonder how I would cope if I were in their situation…

But thankfully, I am not in their situation.  I find myself in a very different situation.  I am safe and my family is not threatened.  So, my work is very different than the work of this brave family who were fleeing for their lives.  My work is to reach out from my place of blessed safety to do what I can for this family and the thousands other like them.  This work I feel called to now because though I do not suffer personal physical risk, I now know too much about what they suffer to ever to be quiet about this crisis again.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says “It is a fearful thing to fall  into the hands of a living God” (Hebrews 10:31) – fearful because the experience can be quite jarring and will change us forever.  I know what that writer means.  I believe that what I have learned in my association with Cristosal, has been given me from the hands of our living God.  I believe God has led our congregation on this journey of partnership with people in El Salvador - and our lives will never be the same again.  But we should not fear!  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews goes on to assures us that when we fall in to the hands of the living God this way, we have already been provided everything we need to survive the experience.   The writer to the Hebrews assures us,

“…we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus…”

 

Confidence is the word to underline here!  Confidence is the one thing necessary to weather the storms of the present time and those yet to come.  This writer feels that confidence down to the tips of his or her toes.

If we read on in this tenth chapter of Hebrews the writer tells us this confidence does not come from warehouses full of supplies, or safely locked doors in gated communities.  Rather, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, tells us, this confidence is hewn out of the experience of  following Christ Jesus into places of need and chaos; from voluntarily being acquainted with the suffering and pain going on in so many different corners of our world – even in our own lives, or the lives of those we love.

Your relationship with Christ enables you to endure hard struggles and sufferings, even sometimes public abuse and persecution, and to be partners with those who are so treated.  Your faith gives you over to compassion for those in prison, and to cheerful surrender of material possessions, knowing your true riches can never be taken from you.  You are clad with confidence born out of finding God’s grace alive and well, and very active in the midst of chaos that already grips our world.

This confidence, founded on faith in Christ Jesus, leads you to resist the urge to care only for your own safety and security and instead to reach out to those who get trampled in the rush.   We Christians, along with many other people of faith, are clad in our confidence that God is strong to save, and are called upon to resist the panic brought on by the fear of scarcity, and do what we can for those who are suffering and in need – now, and when the final tumult comes.

In the face of panic, grounded in Christ, we stand firm as beacons for others  – lanterns of God’s grace in the midst of chaos. And we should never underestimate the contagious effect of this confidence.  When we shine with the confidence founded on our relationship with our Lord, we affect the hold that fear has over others.  Our light can help loosen the bonds of fear and bring calm to panicked hearts- hearts that can then join the work of reconciling all of creation to God.

You may hear me and protest; “I feel no such confidence”.  But my friends in Christ, it is ours even before we possess it.  It is the free gift of our baptism.  All we need do is claim it and let it take root within us.  It will lead us to live into the strength of Christ that paradoxically comes from joining hands with weakness and need.

Yesterday several of us put forward to diocesan convention a resolution about taking action on behalf of those in Central America who are fleeing for their lives.  I am happy to say that it passed.  I have put a copy of the resolution on the bulletin board in the hallway if you would like to see the detail of it.  It is another step toward continuing to reach out in confidence to those whose lives have been so dramatically altered by violence.  We did so in Christ’s name and we are confident that he will show us our next steps. Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday, November 15 2015 The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Sun, 29-Nov-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, November 15 2015 The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Nov 132015
 

 

          Sometimes the Gospel can rattle us!  Over the last several Sundays this has been true for me.  Jesus has said some challenging things about the kingdom of God in our recent Gospel lessons.  For instance; “If anyone wants to be first they must be last of all and servant of all.” ; and “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it”; and “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

These words have brought me up short.  They have reminded me that the ways this human world has taught me to survive are not the whole picture.  Jesus sayings bang up against human precepts and offer a different vision.  Like a new and stronger pair of glasses, my spiritual eyes don’t easily adjust to this new vision.

This morning’s Gospel lesson lets me know I am not alone.  The crowd who is with Jesus has also heard his teachings on servanthood, childlike trust and the worldly attachments of wealth, but apparently they did not easily see how to apply those teachings to their lives – they can’t see clearly with this new vision either.  This becomes clear as they approach Jericho and many in the crowd of followers sternly try to silence the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, as he called out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” What an embarrassment, that one such as this beggar should trouble this great man for his time.

Can we put ourselves in their place?  Can you think of times when you have been part of the crowd that does not understand what God is calling you to in Jesus?  I know I have stood in that crowd more often than I care to think about, and sometimes my lack of clarity has led me, if not to shush another who is crying out to God, at least to look askance because it seems so undignified.  At those times the sin of superiority might overtake us.  We might wonder, what nerve that other person has thinking God is going to take notice of them, and then we proceed to pick out some detail about the person to make our case. And maybe we just do it in our own hearts – we find a fault in the other person that we just can’t get past, and we think that means God will feel the same. So we stand in the crowd and in our blinding sin of superiority, we say – even if it is with our actions rather than our words – because most of us are too sophisticated or polite to speak it out right – we find a way to convey to that person this message– “be quiet – you are of no account to God!”

Or perhaps the sin that lands us in the crowd that is seeking to silence a brother or sister who is crying out for God’s mercy is the sin of believing in scarcity rather than abundance.  At those times our childlike capacity to trust is overridden and we come to the conclusion that if our brother or sister has God’s ear, then we ourselves won’t be heard.  And so we seek to silence that brother or sister.

Then there may be the times when the prayerful pleas of another remind us of how often we do the opposite.  We may try to keep our lives to ourselves rather than seek God’s presence in the midst of our pain and brokenness.  Perhaps because we fear being “out of control” or maybe because we are not quite sure God will show up for us if we did pray.  So we stand in the crowd and shush the one who is pouring out their pleas so unabashedly.

And then there are times, when hearing another cry out to God brings us face to face with a powerfully destructive illusion that plagues many of us in this culture;  the illusion that tries to convince us that because we are not perfect we are not worthy of God’s loving presence.  And so we look at the one who cries out to God and we say, “If I am not perfect neither are you, and so you best be quiet, my friend!”

          Thank goodness for the Gospel, because though it can rattle us, it also provides a light to our path and a lamp to our feet if we will stick with it.  In this morning’s passage the crowd does not have the last word.  Jesus tells the crowd that they should bring the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, to him.  Jesus recognized that the crowd, who had heard his words all along the road were still struggling to see him, while this man, Bartimaeus, who had no physical vision was the only one present with clear vision to recognize Jesus as the Son of King David; the long awaited messiah.  Not a political figure who was going to lead a political revolt, but the focused presence of an abundantly loving and compassionate God, who had time for the likes of a blind beggar on the roadside.  Bartimaeus saw Jesus, really saw him, cried out to him “Son of David, have mercy on me” and Jesus did.

The paradox of this Gospel story is that though the healing of Bartimaeus’s physical blindness was a great miracle in and of itself, it was equally important as a tool for the more far reaching healing that Jesus had been working on all along that road – the healing of spiritual blindness among those who were traveling with him– among his followers – among you and me.  There on the Jericho road Jesus embodied his teachings about the kingdom of God.  There Jesus rejected being first and instead became a servant.  He put aside adult dignity and with childlike compassion listened to the pleas of a man who by purely human standards had nothing, but by the standards of faith was rich indeed.  And the result was healing – abundant healing!

Our Lord has the same power to bring about immense healing in our lives no matter the nature of the problems that plague us.  Our part is to acknowledge our need, to trust in the abundance of his grace and to simply cry out to him.  Bartimaeus has given us the words; Son of David, have mercy on me!”

In his name and for his sake.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday October 25 2015 The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Fri, 13-Nov-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday October 25 2015 The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 202015
 

 

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I have mentioned before in sermons that on my desk at home I have what I call my “God Box”.  It is a simple cardboard box that I use as a tangible way to turn people, places, things, events, worries, etc. over to God.  As I was scribbling some words on a piece of paper about a situation I was fretting over and then put that paper in my God Box I was suddenly struck with a new insight about what I was doing.  In that moment I realized that the situation I was fretting over was already in God’s hands, and my fretting was a symptom that I thought I was supposed to be the one in control – I was supposed to be the one to figure the situation out.  I was in some way supposed to be the authority on the matter with the full vision. But the reality that hit me in that moment was that what I needed to surrender to God what not the situation itself but this prideful illusion of my own place in the situation.  In short I needed a good dose of humility not unlike Job, in our first scripture lesson for and James and John, sons of Zebedee, in our Gospel lesson.

Humility is a virtue that has often been misunderstood and confused with humiliation.  Humiliation is not virtuous – it is an attack against our, or someone else’s self-esteem.  Humiliation is about belittling, discrediting and devaluing a person.  Humility is something quite different.

The great Anglican writer, C.S. Lewis, once said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”  Another definition of humility I find useful is this – Humility is being teachable.

Both definitions of humility are in action in our lessons this morning.  Job has spent several chapters just before the passage that is our first lesson this morning railing against God about the situation of his life – he a righteous man has lost everything that he loves and he can make no sense of it.  And he pours out his desperation and despair to God – the ultimate God Box offering!  And then God speaks, not to humiliate Job, but rather to draw him past his limited perspective to the larger perspective – to the fullness of God’s vision.   God speaks to bring Job to a teachable place, where he will see that he fits into a greater picture, a larger context – one in which God is fully present.  Job is suffering, but he need not suffer alone, nor feel responsible for the situation.  God is there as the foundation of life and will act with power and in ways that are well beyond Job’s – and our understanding. Indeed the psalmist sings about this perspective too with eloquent words that illustrate God’s presence in and through all of reality.

Then there are the sons of Zebedee.  They have given up home and family to follow an itinerate rabbi who set their hearts on fire with his preaching about God’s love and God’s realm, and now he is predicting his own death and their suffering as his followers, and it is just too much for them.  They need to get control somehow – so they ask to be put in authority in the kingdom he keeps mentioning.  Like me at my “God Box” this week they are brought up short.  He reaffirms that they will suffer as he himself will, but he alludes to the saving grace in it all – that God is at work with a larger vision.  What looks like death will in fact break the power of death.  What looks like the end will be something startlingly new and amazing.  They can’t take it in now, but he urges them to trust him.  It is all being worked out in God’s way and time.  And then Jesus redirects them and us.  Here is how is words are translated in the translation of the Bible known as The Message.  Jesus told them:

“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads.  It’s not going to be that way with you.  Whoever wants to be great must become a servant.  Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served- and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”

Humanity is so easily held hostage by our limited perspective that tells us we are the masters of our own destinies and rulers of creation.  God longs to teach us otherwise.  Not to humiliate us, but to help us think of ourselves less and of God more. When we can surrender our illusion that we are in charge, or have to figure life out – when we can put that illusion in God’s hands – we find so much more that is good is poured down upon us.  When we affirm that all of life as we know it is gift from God, entrusted to us, then we can begin to trust more of life to God.  A simple discipline is to simply stop several times a day and pray – “God show me my next steps – what would you have me do?”  Then our hearts and minds are to God’s inspirations.  My experience is that when I stop and ask for Godly direction, if I am on the right track, I often feel a sense of peace and harmony.  If I am off track I often get a sense of how to move back toward God’s purposes.  Sometimes I don’t get a read on what to do or how to proceed – those moment have taught me patience, and I find that if I wait – God will speak in some way or another.  In all cases when I pray this way, I feel a deepened sense of God’s presence which makes my joys and triumphs sweeter, and my failures and losses more bearable. For what more could I ask?  There is not treasure of greater value. In the name of Christ.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday October 18 2015 The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 20-Oct-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday October 18 2015 The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 142015
 

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 Sermon for Sunday October 11 2015 The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Wed, 14-Oct-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday October 11 2015 The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Oct 022015
 

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 Sermon for Sunday September 27 2015 The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Fri, 2-Oct-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday September 27 2015 The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sep 142015
 

 

When I was in 10th grade, I went on a one week trip to Haiti with our priest and our parish youth group. That trip was my first experience of really stepping out of my own culture into one that was radically different.  One significant difference between Haitian and American culture became apparent the first day we were there and went to the market in Port au Prince to do some shopping and I paid asking price for a pair of sunglasses.  I wondered why the merchant looked rather disappointed, he took my money.  I later learned that you are never expected to pay the asking price in Haiti.  Asking price is set unreasonably high with the expectation that you will haggle back and forth with the merchant to a reasonable price.  But being an American teen ager, I did not realize that. So I paid more than I had to and he missed out on the fun of haggling – for that is part of it for Haitians – it is a fun social interchange as well as an economic exchange.

A few days later we were up in the mountains to see a school our church was helping to expand.  Our church and others in our area were also raising money to pay the staff of the school.  When our bus arrived in the village, a group of the village children met us.  When we got off they swarmed us, and each was selling something.  The little boy who latched on to me had stones. They were shiny quarts of some kind.  He began by saying “Pour vous Mademoiselle… $1.”  I said, “No merci”.  So he went down to $.75.  And I said “No merci,” again. But he was not deterred.  He walked right alongside me for quite a way on the road, offering a better price to each of my “No mercies” It broke my heart to put him off, but we had been advised not to buy from the children, or they would never leave us alone.  I knew this little boy’s life was already much better because of the school project my church was funding, but saying no to his bright face as he sought to haggle with me was still hard.  He finally gave up when I said “No merci” to his price of $.05, and turned back toward his home.

Later that day when we returned to the bus, he was there, waiting for me.  But this time he simply smiled and handed me one of his shiny stones and said, “Pour vous, Mademoiselle”.  I said, “No, No.” and tried to give it back but he would not take it and said, “un petite cadeau pour vous – a gift for you.”  I was left speechless.  As our bus drove away he stood there smiling and waving, and I clutched his rock, with tears in my eyes. I had not expected to receive a gift, but then when you step out of your own comfort zone into a place of newness lots of things happen that you might not expect.

Our Gospel lesson this morning is case in point.  The gospel writer tells us “Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. I wonder what Jesus was expecting went there.  Tyre is a coastal region outside the boundaries of Israel, in Gentile territory. Jesus had to cross boarders – both physical, social and cultural to get there.  Perhaps Jesus was looking for a place to get away for a bit of a respite from the crowds, as we are told “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.”  But his fame had spread, even past the boundaries of his own country, into this land and among its Gentile residents. He was known to be a healer and exorcist, and so people took notice wherever he went.

A woman of Syrophoenician origin approaches Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter.  He does not rise willingly to this task. During our study of this passage at our Vestry meeting on Monday we noted that the region Jesus chose to travel too, Tyre, might well have matched his mood and state of being after all the healing and teaching he had been doing – Jesus was tired so he went to Tyre! OK I admit that pun is a bit tired itself!  But whether he was tired of something else was going on with him, when this woman approached him he is uncharacteristically reluctant, and more than a bit rude to her. He tells her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.  In other words he is saying that he is a Jewish healer and rabbi so he needs to preserve his power for that community, not wasting it in Gentile territory.

But the woman is not willing to take no for an answer.  She counters his words with her own – turning his metaphor on its head, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs. Her words seem to bring him up short, for suddenly Jesus changes his mind.  Suddenly his vision is enlarged – he has come away for some rest from engaging the pain of the world.  But he finds that in being forced to face that pain – even reluctantly- in the life of this woman and her daughter, he receives the gift of witnessing profound faith outside the Jewish nation.  Connection is made here.  Grace flows, even where Jesus did not expect it.

I love this story because it shows me that even while Jesus pushed others to change and grow, he sometimes had to be pushed to change and grow himself.   That is good news for us – Jesus gets what it is like for us when we think we are certain about how life is but then our travels or our encounters with others from another place push us to expand our vision.

This Gospel passage shows me that when we allow ourselves to be drawn outside our comfort zone and move beyond the places that are familiar to us, God may surprise us.  God may expand our vision of what faith is and of how grace works. God may open us to other ways of seeing and doing things, and may fill our hearts with love and faith expressed even across boarders and lines of difference.

It seems to me that this story is uncannily timed in our lectionary – for here we meet a Syrophoenician- that is a woman of Phonecia who was born in Syria.  We meet this woman in the gospel the same week in which we have been deluged with news stories and images of the thousands or people fleeing their homes in Syria, and neighboring countries to seek refuge in Europe.   These people trying to reach refuge in Europe – who are among the estimated 60 million displaced by hunger and violence around the globe – are not unlike those fleeing from El Salvador and other Central American countries – seeking save haven for their children as their entire sense of normalcy has been turned on its head.

Our first reaction in times like these maybe to think – just as Jesus did – that we must carefully guard and protect our finite resources to care for ourselves and our own people.  But if we can let the plight of these 60 million touch us, we will come to see that the human family is put in jeopardy when we cling exclusively to protectionist thinking.

At first Jesus did not want to look into the face of the Syrophoenician woman- who had dared to pursue him even when he had referred to her and her daughter as dogs.  But because of her persistent faith he was pushed to turn, to see her and to hear her.  And this Gospel story is passed to us so that we will do the same here in our own day.   We are called with Jesus to look into the face of the suffering in this world and to hear their pleas.

Last week, in the Daughters of Abraham Book Group – which brings Muslim, Jewish and Christian women together – one of my sisters said, “We have to come to understand that we are all refugees in this world, depending on the love and grace of God to provide for us each day often through the hands of others.”  I think that bears repeating (read again)

In an e-mail to me this week a member of our parish asked:

Has our national church come out with a statement of any kind about the Syrian refugee crisis?  I’ve been reading about some of the European countries’ responses, but not much about the US.  This may be a crazy idea, but could our church or Diocese sponsor some families here in MA?

In part my response was that we need to keep asking even the seemingly crazy questions to ourselves and each other so that faithful action can arise among us.  I would love it if our Global Outreach Committee would join with me to plan a forum to engage more of us in conversation on this!

Jesus, pushed to enlarge his vision then reached out the loving hand of God, to heal a daughter whose life was broken.  We are given chances each day to do the same.   Dare we believe that when we move out of our comfort zone and ask what we can do to relieve the suffering of others, God blesses us too?  God blesses us through the riches that those we welcome in God’s name bring with them. Sometimes it’s unexpected – un petit cadeau- like a small shiny stone.  Other times, it’s courageous and living faith shared even in the face of deep adversity.  We don’t want to miss out on sharing in these gifts.  Do we?

In thanksgiving for the Syrophoenician woman.  Amen+

 

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 Sermon for Sunday September 6 2015 The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 14-Sep-15 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday September 6 2015 The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost