Feb 162016
 

 

Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills, O God, that we may serve you today and always – Amen

Poor Jesus.  There he was, full of the Holy Spirit, fresh off of being baptized by John the Baptist, being told he was God’s own beloved Son with whom God was well pleased – presumably, Jesus was pretty happy at this point. And then, as we hear in today’s Gospel, shortly after his baptism, the Spirit leads him, not beside those peaceful streams of still water we know about from the 23rd Psalm, but rather into wilderness, where Satan confronts him.  Talk about your highs and lows.

As we began our Lenten journey with our observance of Ash Wednesday this past week, Martha reminded us that we are invited to enter into a wilderness of sorts, to join Jesus in the desert for the 40 days of this Church season through our own spiritual journey. To have a Holy Lent. This Lenten journey that we are invited to take with Jesus, is often a time full of highs and lows — a time filled with contrition and regret, as well as reconciliation and the joy of being members of Christ’s body and inheritors of God’s Kingdom – a time of reflection, prayer, quietness and preparation in anticipation of a beginning, of new life at Easter.

Lent is a time filled with both … penitential and baptismal themes.

Today’s Gospel certainly is centered around those penitential and baptismal themes as Jesus deals with the temptations put before him, (and there were doubtless more than three but) especially the three temptations we hear about in some detail in Luke and Matthew. I suspect most of us here this morning have heard this Gospel frequently over the years with lots and lots of good commentary. Some of that commentary may have centered on the three temptations as promises to Jesus by Satan of possessions, power, and protection — or perhaps you see them as temptations appealing to his physical nature, intellectual nature and spiritual nature – the body, mind and soul. Whole sermons have been written and preached about any one of those interpretations about Jesus being tempted and his responses – in fact, I wrote one of those sermons for this morning.

However, I put it away because I want to focus on something else from the Gospel. What I want to focus on this morning is – why?  I struggled with the question of why Jesus had to go through this time of wilderness. He is after all Jesus, Son of God, part of the Trinity. Moreover, even though he is probably not fully aware of everything that means yet, he knows by now that he is destined.

I believe The Spirit leads him into wilderness because now he needs to get Ready. Get ready to Start. To start and to begin his public ministry and he needs to sort through a few things. Because even as that ministry would be full of joy and love, it also would be full of pain and many trials – culminating in his crucifixion.

So Jesus is figuring out what his ministry will be about, what will be the meaning and shape of his role, his destiny. He is sorting through the trials, pitfalls and temptations he will face throughout his ministry that will challenge his obedience and how his responses and actions will underscore and strengthen his faithfulness to God. Not only is he learning what his ministry will be about, he is also learning how he will become ready to deal with those temptations that he will face during that ministry as he journeys closer and closer to the cross.  He is learning — practicing —- if you will, how he will resist giving into the temptations that would prevent him from being obedient to God and separating him from God’s love.  He is learning about his relationship to God.

All of us are tempted at some time, by something. I know I am —  but you know, sometimes I don’t even know when I’m being tempted, much less that I’ve succumbed to the temptation. Often we are tempted not through our weaknesses but through our strengths, when we forget that it is through God’s gifts, God’s love and grace that we prosper.  Maybe we forget to see the face of Christ in those we meet because we are so busy, so absorbed in our lives.  Or, we think because we do something good, like making a donation to a good cause, that we can look the other way when faced with the person who is sleeping on the steps of our Cathedral.  And sometimes I think we are tempted to do good things but for the wrong reasons. Like someone who gives into the temptation of working hard helping with a good cause because they really enjoy being seen by others as a good person rather than because they are helping as a response to Jesus’s directives to help the needy.

The circumstances involved in our temptations certainly are not the same as Jesus’s. But our need to stop, to enter a self-imposed wilderness of sorts and to prepare for how we deal with temptations and how our responses are going to shape the meaning and the role in this world of our lives, is the same. And to do that we need to know what draws us away from focusing on God’s will – what makes it hard for us to put our trust in God’s unqualified love.

Wilderness can look different at different times and different for different people. Maybe your wilderness is a time of emptying that will strengthen your relationship to God — a way to prepare for an anticipated event. I know that I am entering into such a time of self-imposed wilderness in retreat, as I prepare for a new beginning. I suspect it will be a time punctuated by the extremes of living in community with other’s who are on retreat, as well as a time to take apart from my friends and family and the normal routines of my life, in order to discern again God’s call to ordained ministry. I know it will involve time spent in solitude, listening — A time of reflection……with both…penitential and baptismal themes.

And we have young people here at St. Paul’s who are in a journey of exploration in what may be new and unknown and maybe even scary areas for them through confirmation classes. Classes that will lead to new beginnings involving an enriched understanding of what it means to have been baptized, to be a Christian and to meet Christ at the altar through the sacrament of Holy Eucharist. A time with both ….. penitential and baptismal themes.

Maybe your wilderness this Lent will mean you give up something or take on a new spiritual or physical action, not only because you want to repent, but as a way of changing your relationship with things that distracted you from your relationship with God. A time with both ….. penitential and baptismal themes.

Maybe the circumstances some of us find our lives in now will be an unasked for wilderness – maybe through the loss of a job, a struggle with addiction, the death of a loved one, or a serious illness that confronts us with our own mortality. A time in wilderness for personal reflection about our relationship to Jesus ……. times full of penitential and baptismal themes.

Now, I certainly am not wishing 40 days of strife and angst on anyone, rather, I am inviting us to live into that Holy Lent this year that Martha talked about year by making it a time for quiet reflection with real intention and without any self-loathing. I hope we can find it as a place for personal reflection about our relationship with the Triune God. I hope we can take the time to truly examine what temps us and how it might prevent us from trusting in God’s love so that we are not trapped in the type of wilderness that Jesus triumphed over:  the temptation to distrust God.

So how are we called to be obedient to God and what is our relationship?  Where will we find our highs and lows this Lenten season? Do we hear God’s message of trust and love on this Valentine’s Day, the love made manifest in the incarnate Jesus? Will we be prepared to start again when we find ourselves at the empty tomb of Easter?  Will we be ready to experience the joy of the resurrection?

Yes, this Lenten journey that we take with Jesus in the wilderness can be a time of highs and lows, as we examine what type of new life we are striving for, and recognize that which tempts us away from fulfilling that life.

May we use this gift of time to examine the questions that we need to.  May we use this season of preparation (slow) to know that if we find ourselves in the wilderness, self-imposed or unexpectedly, we can trust that with the Spirit’s strength and guidance we can be led out and perhaps find whole new paths on the way.

And when Easter arrives may we be prepared to start a new life, rich with joy, giving great thanks for the resurrection, ready to embrace our renewed life in Christ in joy and with love —-  through our Baptismal Covenant.

Amen+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday February 14 2016 The First Sunday in Lent  Posted by on Tue, 16-Feb-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday February 14 2016 The First Sunday in Lent
Feb 102016
 

 

These are palms are from last Palm Sunday.  They have been hanging in the vesting room since then.  Last Palm Sunday, as we entered into the drama of the first Holy Week, these palms were green and beautiful to look at and feel in our hands, as our praises combined with those that have rung out in every age – “Hosanna, blessed is the one that comes in God’s name!” But as that drama continued to unfold and the cross began to loom, these palms of praise fell by the wayside and withered.  And we stood in the crowd imprisoned by our fear and sin as innocence was crucified.

These ashes which we are shortly going to wear on our foreheads are remains of other palms from last Palm Sunday that members brought in this past week to be burned and made into ash for this service.  These ashes will be placed on us with the words, Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. The message is this: We cannot save ourselves.  Even the best we can do – our praises of God- symbolized by the palms that became these ashes – are not imperishable.  They wither, just as these bodies of our wither.  All becomes dust, except that which animates us- the breath of God. God’s power working in the world and in us is the only imperishable commodity.

In our lesson from Joel God tells the prophet to blow the trumpet in Zion.  This is a reference to the priestly tradition of blowing the ram’s horn to call the people to repentance.   That alarm would have been loud and startling.  It would have grabbed people’s attention away from whatever they were doing to turn their heads in the direction of the temple.  Repentance was something initiated by the power of God through his priests. The people’s part was to turn and respond. To seek out God in the temple and to confess all that separated them from God, all the sinful baggage that had accumulated since the last time they had heard that horn sound,  so that they might live more fully in God’s presence.  This was not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of the whole nation, and indeed the whole world.  Because then God would be made manifest through them, wherever they were and whatever they were doing.  And never again would anyone ask, Where is their God, because it would be clear that God was alive and active among them.

Our call to repentance this Ash Wednesday is the same.  It comes from God to us through this well-worn and powerful liturgy, not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of the whole world.  That is why in our Gospel lesson Jesus stresses to us how important it is that we observe it, not just for show, but for real.  The reward of true repentance is not feeling satisfied by our accomplishments or by other’s praise of us. Rather the reward is closer connection with God.  It is heaven here and now, as our lives become more imbued with God’s presence.  That is the reward and the treasure Jesus in talking about in this passage from Matthew’s Gospel.

When we answer the call and enter into a holy Lent in which we take time for self-reflection and some sort of confession, and then work towards amendment of our wrongs, we make room for God to dwell more fully in us, to transform us with his light and to make us into beacons of that light for others.  When we allow ourselves to be swept up by God this way, the outward circumstances of our lives become less important.  As the writer of the Second Letter to the Corinthians says, when we are reconciled to God – cooperating with grace to live more and more into God’s likeness – we can withstand anything: great afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots labors, sleepless nights, hunger.  And we can respond with: purity, knowledge patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God.

          I personally still have a ways to go with this ability to express faith in the face of adversity – how about you?  But that is the beauty of Ash Wednesday and Lent coming each year.  Each year if we can turn and release more of the baggage we carry – and that does get easier with practice- God’s image, which lies at the heart of every human being, will shine out a bit brighter.  And when we do this surrendering, repentence work together, as a body, the light becomes dazzling.  Then no one need ask, Where is their God?,  for God is then visible, active and alive among us. Yes, among us – those who are merely dust, yet animated with God’s glory.

In Christ’s name and for his sake.  Amen+

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 Sermon for February 10, 2016 Ash Wednesday  Posted by on Wed, 10-Feb-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for February 10, 2016 Ash Wednesday
Feb 102016
 

 

Glory is the theme of the day.  And today, as on every last Sunday in Epiphany, our Gospel lesson brings us once again to the mountain top with Jesus and three of his disciples.  Probably the disciples didn’t expect much more than a pleasant view of the country side below as they hiked up the mountain that day. Or maybe they thought they might find a tranquil spot for quiet prayer; a place to unwind from the stresses and strains of discipleship.  Probably they didn’t expect much more than that, but they got much more.

Some icons of this Gospel story show Peter James and John tumbling down the mountain with looks of surprise and awe on their faces. In those depictions they look like they had stumbled upon a fireworks display unawares.  So much for a day of quiet reflection.

I once heard a preacher say “if the good that we dream of for ourselves would be enough to fill a bucket, then the good that God has in store for us would be enough to fill a water tower”.(John Cook)  And isn’t that what we have experienced; that the most Transfiguring moments in this life go far beyond anything that we could have come up with on our own. The moments when we recognize the face of Christ shining with glory. Maybe it comes upon us when we are in worship and suddenly find ourselves awash in the experience of his love and life poured out for us.  Or those moments come when we are alone with God in silent prayer.  Or we find transfiguration in our relationships with others, when barriers come down and we find ourselves encircled by a love that is greater than the sum total of our little loves.  Or  it’s the profound and life altering experience of learning to live with an illness in our body.  For some of us we experience it in art.  For others we find it in music. Still others meet it as we serve a plate of food to someone who suddenly looks up at us with the face of Christ.  For others of us the trigger is the deep beauty and wildness of nature.  At times it can totally sneak up on us through something we think of as totally removed from the realm of the holy, but then suddenly we are swept up and the moment speaks to us about eternity and the One in Three who dwells there. And in those moments we are like the disciples; tumbling awestruck down the mountain.

But our Gospel tells us that Peter didn’t stay in that reposed position for long.  That wasn’t Peter’s style.  He picked himself up, got his wits about him as best he could, and ran to Jesus with a plan to bottle the experience.  He fell prey to the temptation that we often succumb to when we have experienced Transfiguration.  He wanted to hold onto it; to make it last; to house it on the mountain; to contain it.

Contemporary Christian singer and songwriter, Margaret Becker gives voice to this same impulse in the words of her song  “Higher Things”.  She sings to God:

“If wishes did come true and dreams came to life,

I’d get a hold of you and never leave your side.

If it were up to me, I’d chain myself to you and throw away the key”

It seems to me those words capture what Peter was up to, and what we so often mimic in our own lives.  We want to live on the mountain top, high above the ambiguity of life lived in time.  But we find as he did – that’s not how transfigurations work. Transfigurations are something eternal, beyond time and space, so when they happen in time and space, they do not last.  As soon as Peter spoke his words, the experience he longed to preserve vanished.  And the wrinkle in time and space disappeared as seamlessly as it had come.  Margaret Becker gives voice to this experience also as she continues her song:

But in the black and white I must live and breathe.

I’ll never capture you, but you could capture me.

And that is the truth about transfigurations, through them, God captures us.  And we can see that what happened that day did capture the hearts of the 3 disciples.  It changed their hearts, gave them broader vision and sustained them on their way.  Despite their uncertainty about the upcoming journey to Jerusalem, and the eventual death of the Messiah, the disciples remained faithful knowing that somehow, somewhere beyond their control, it all would make sense – just as it had in that brief, shining moment on the mountain.

Transfigurations are out of our control.  They are pure gift from God to us.  Jesus didn’t transfigure himself.  It was his utter trust in God and God’s will that laid him open to that marvelous reality.  And it was the willingness of the disciples to follow their teacher up the mountain that opened them up to witness the marvelous event.  Following in their footsteps, we need not try to predict how God may touch us with the transfiguration glory.  We need only be open to the fact that God is doing so, and that evidence will come to us at the right moments along the journey.

One last comment on transfiguration: though human beings seem bent on looking for evidence of God’s actions in the big and powerful, so often God seems to be working out his purposes not through demonstrations of ultimate strength, but in places of need and brokenness.  Those of us who have traveled to El Salvador, or Haiti, or other parts of God’s world where people are struggling with violence and poverty can testify to that.  I am sure those who accompanied James Twyman to Syria last week as the leadership group for the Synchronized worldwide meditation felt God’s power in that place of conflict and pain.  In our own political season of presidential primaries, we can feel it as we try to make sense of competing visions of our national life and how we can all best act for the common good.  In our life as a parish, this morning in our annual meeting as we celebrate the vital and vibrant ministry God has blessed us with and we ask ourselves what we can do to continue it – God’s power will be with us.  And maybe we feel it also in the broken places of our personal lives also – feel the awesome power of God at work amidst brokenness, pain or despair to bring healing and light.  There, where the challenges are so great, the glory of God is manifest beyond words.

As the amazing glory of the mountain top fades, The voice of God speaks from heaven – “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him”.  Then it was just them, and us, and Jesus – the itinerant rabbi, who had a penchant for life among the powerless and outcast.  We will never capture his glory – but may his glory capture us, reflecting his light for the life of the world!

Amen+

 

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 Sermon for Sunday, February 7 2016 The Last Sunday after the Epiphany  Posted by on Wed, 10-Feb-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, February 7 2016 The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Feb 102016
 

 

 

Once in a far off land, there were 2 clay water pots used for bearing water from a stream to a house about ¾ of a mile away.  One pot was new and strong and sound. The other pot was older, well used and a bit cracked.  The tine new pot always made it to the house full to the brim, while the older cracked pot arrived less than half full, having leaked all along the way.  This went on for quite a while until finally one day the poor cracked pot could stand it no longer. While at rest in the tool shed next to its perfect neighbor, the cracked pot cried out, “I am so ashamed!” This startled the perfect pot, which responded, “Why friend, whatever to you mean?”  “I mean I can only do half the job that you can.  Our master deserves 2 full pots of water for his work, but because of my cracks he only gets 1 ½ .  I am so ashamed!”  The other tools in the shed sniggered and nodded and agreed among themselves about what the cracked pot had said.  But the perfect pot responded, “Today after the master takes us down to the streem and fills us up and starts back to the hous, I want you to look down.” “Look down, whatever for?” asked the cracked pot.  “Please, just do as I say – you will see why!”.

So, on the way between stream and house that day the cracked pot looked down and what it saw was an incredible array of beautiful flowers.  Their bright colors cheered the cracked pot so much that it forgot its shame.  Later in the shed the perfect pot asked, “Did you look down?” “Oh yes! Yes I did.  Thank you for that- for knowing those beautiful flower would take my mind of my cracks.”  “No, no!” said the perfect pot, “You miss my point! Didn’t you notice that the flowers wer only growing along your side of the path?  The grow there because of the water you give them to drink every day as you leak on the way home.  I may be perfect for carrying water but you are perfect for creating beauty!” There was silence in the tool shed as everyone gathered there considered the amazing love and care that had just been displayed among them.  (This is my retelling of a wisdom story that some say originated in India and others say China)

I was reminded of this story this week when reading our second lesson in which St. Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth, about the vision of the church as Christ’s body made up of many members:

 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

 

Many secular leaders of Paul’s day had used body imagery to describe their civic organizations.  But Paul radicalizes it by taking any sort of hierarchical sense out of it.  He tells us that the church is not an organization, it is an organism.  And organism made up of  – and here I am unabashedly mixing metaphors – that is made of a lot of cracked pots.  Having heard the story I began with I hope you understand that I mean that with all due love and respect about all of us!  We are cracked pots, perfect for God’s purposes, for God endows us with power from on high to bring forth God’s reign in this world.

Paul exhorts us to remember that in the organism of the church, which is Christ’s body, our deepest call is to connection.  Our deepest call is to being knit together.  Our deepest call is to becoming something more than the sum or our parts.  That requires something different from us than any other organization we belong to.  Being part of Christ’s mystical body requires that we recognize that e has claimed each of us for his own, and that he has made no mistake in doing so.  Remembering also that Christ has not claimed many, if any, perfect pots.  We all have our cracks, which most of us are painfully aware of, and which we know others can see too. But in Christ, we trust that even our cracks have a purpose and can bring beauty to the world.  As Leonard Cohen says in the lyrics of his song “Anthem”: Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering.  There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.

A major spiritual challenge for any Christian community is to accept God’s wisdom in bringing us all together, especially when there are stresses and strains among us.  For us Anglicans, that is true in terms of the smallest of our congregations, all the way on up to the whole lot of us thrown together by what might seem the chance or historical accident in the World Wide Anglican Communion.  And that world-wide communion has of course been in the news of late as the Primates – that is the head bishops of the various Anglican provinces around the globe – were gathered in Canterbury for a meeting in which they faced again the stresses and strains among them with regard to issues of human sexuality and how Anglicans engages with those issues.  I am personally both sad and angry  that the Primates issued a statement that sanctioned the Episcopal Church in the US for affirming and canonically allowing for same sex marriage within our church.  At the same time that their action saddens and angers me, I feel exceedingly proud to be an Episcopalian.  As one headline suggested, The Episcopal Church has been demoted to second class as Anglicans for treating LGBT people as first class Christians.   If that be the case, I am happy to ride in second class.  And I am happy that the rest of the communion has not fully cut itself off from us, because that gives the rest of the communion the opportunity to behold the beauty and vitality that has sprung up among us.  As people of all kinds are not afraid to be who they truly are in the Episcopal Church, exercising their right to be full members of Christ’s body, to share ministry in his name, and to have their marriages fully acknowledged and blessed – light gets in.  May the light we are receiving in this part of the body enlighten the whole, and may God bless us with the patience and willingness to be bearers of that light to other members of Christ’s body in our communion.

We know that we are rising to these challenges when we can begin to look past that which divides us and see the beautiful flowers that Christ has brought into being through us, and through even those we most vehemently disagree with, or see as most cracked.  I believe Christ can continue to bring beauty into being through our communion, even though I don’t honestly see the way ahead.  But I am willing to stand for what I believe, while maintaining humility and a heart for of compassion for those who see things differently, trusting the outcomes to the hands of our gracious and all wise God who so often finds a way where there appears to be no way at all.

In Christ’s name and for sake of his body.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday January 24, 2016 The Third Sunday after the Epiphany  Posted by on Wed, 10-Feb-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday January 24, 2016 The Third Sunday after the Epiphany