Mar 292016
 

Sermon for Maundy Thursday March 24, 2016

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

When I was a young girl, my friends and I didn’t really like going to the Thursday service in Holy Week because our parents always made us join in for the foot washing  ritual —  so we knew we were going to have to wash someone’s feet, probably an adults, and worse yet, someone would wash ours – and for 11 year old girls that was not something we looked forward to. The Maundy Thursday Service itself seemed a bit off-putting and a tad frightening, the service was quite and the lighting subdued and dark. In the church I grew up in, we didn’t have an agape dinner to enjoy and eat together as a church community. The service was about the Last Supper:  it just felt sad to an 11 year old….. And, I never knew what Maundy meant, and I was too embarrassed to ask — so there was just some sort of disquiet and uncomfortableness about the service. It took years before I really understood and appreciated just how amazing the evening truly was.

From the beginning of this service until the Sunday’s Easter service, we are involved in one ongoing worship service, which is why we will have no dismissal at the end of our time together tonight or after our service tomorrow.  It is the most solemn service of the entire Christian year – called the Triduum.  Some of you will have been reading about the Triduum in the communications you’ve been getting from the church over the last few weeks.  But just in case there is somebody out there who doesn’t know what Maundy means and are too embarrassed to ask, you can find a number of definitions, but the one that comes from the Latin or mandatum, and became Maundy in Middle English, means to give a command – or a commandment.

This is the evening when we hear about Jesus’ last supper with his disciples on the night before he is crucified. It is the evening he instituted what became our celebration of Holy Eucharist, the evening he gave the commandment, a mandatum, for this sacrament to be done for his remembrance.

But Jesus did something else very profound that night – he gave us another mandatum — to serve.  He taught about hospitality and through that, about service and love. In Jesus’s day, a very important act of hospitality given to guests by a host was for the host’s servants to wash the guests’ feet when they arrived because feet could get very dirty since walking was the main mode of transportation. But before the beginning of the meal we call the Last Supper, Jesus, not a servant, got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist and did the washing of feet.

He is very clear that this particular act of foot washing is not about cleanliness but rather about relationship – about love shown through service. He wants his disciples to understand that they are to extend and grow God’s kingdom when he is gone and that they are to do this by serving God, each other and the people they encounter.  Having startled his disciples by washing their feet as the example of service, he tells them that if he, their Lord, can wash their feet, then they can wash other’s.  He goes on to tell them that he has set the example, so they should do as he has done – he has given a mandatum…..a very clear example, no ifs and or buts!

Jesus turned the world upside down when he took on the role of servant and washed the disciples’ feet. I have often wondered why we don’t have more visual reminders of this act, this profound teaching from Jesus, in our churches.  Maybe we should have a statue of a bowl and pitcher or of a basin and towel somewhere in church to remind us of this commandment to serve that Jesus gave us that evening. We began this Lenten season by marking our foreheads with ashes on Ash Wednesday — and some people received those ashes in unusual places, such as on street corners or on train station platforms.  Maybe we should be outside today in similar types of places — offering to wash the feet of people when they pass by — as a reminder to pay attention to Jesus’ commandment to answer the call to serve.

Deacons wear a stole that goes over the left shoulder, crosses over the chest and falls down the right side toward the feet.  The Deacon’s stole represents the towel that Jesus picked up and used when he washed his disciple’s feet. A few weeks ago, I chose the first of the stoles I will wear after ordination and I was filled with awe — and the fact that I chose this visual reminder to serve during the church season of Lent, the season that leads to the Triduum, only reinforced the awesomeness of the meaning of the Deacon’s servant ministry to me.

But just how far does acting on this kind of love through service stretch you and me? Jesus’s teaching on the subject makes it pretty clear that the kind of love, and resulting service about which he is speaking, ignores all the boundaries we human beings create.  Ethnicity, gender, age, educational level, social status, and even — maybe especially in this time of the presidential campaign and the terror and violence in the world, political or religious affiliation, – all the false lines and divisions we create, are erased by Christ’s divine love  — that we are to make concrete by following Jesus’ example of service.

Once a year, during the Triduum, Episcopalians leave our places of worship in dark, ponderous silence. Once a year we begin to peer into the abyss. No wonder my friends and I had the reaction we did when we were younger.  What we hadn’t heard was Jesus’ message of love and his call to share that love.  I hadn’t heard him tell me to give glory to God through the joy in loving and serving my neighbor, especially those in need.

When we arise tomorrow morning, let us remember that through the symbolic act we perform tonight of washing each other’s feet, we acknowledge our relationship to Christ and to one another – no exceptions.  And each morning after, may we remember the words we heard tonight in the Gospel — “do what I have done to you”. Jesus has set the example.  He not only told us — he showed us how — with no exceptions.  He gave us a new commandment, “that you love one another, just as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,….. if you have love for one another”.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Savior, let us all pick up our towel and be Christ to one another!

 

 

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 Sermon for Maundy Thursday March 24 2016  Posted by on Tue, 29-Mar-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Maundy Thursday March 24 2016
Mar 232016
 

Sermon for Sunday March 20 2016 Palm Sunday

This is a day of contradictions.  This liturgy flows from tones of jubilant welcome to the discord of fierce violence – from cries of “Hosanna” to shouts of “Crucify’. This liturgy today holds within it the two elements of crisis – great opportunity and great danger.  And in this vortex of contradictory elements and forces stands the man, Jesus, the most focused expression of God ever to wear human flesh.  It is this contradiction laden, human narrative that plays out in the Passion Gospel from Luke that we are about to bring to life among us once again.

But our second reading from the letter to the Philippians takes us back past the beginning of this human narrative – to the moment of the incarnation – a bit like the prologue to John’s Gospel which we hear at Christmas.  This passage from Philippians is thought to be an early Christian hymn about Christ that Paul incorporates into his letter.  Writing about this passage for the Christian Century Magazine,  Benjamin M. Stewart observes:

“The contradictions of this day are matched by the contradictions of God becoming human… Christ, Paul writes, is in both the form of God and the form of a slave.  It is in reverence for this apparent contradiction that everything ‘in heaven and on earth and under the earth’ may find common purpose, culminating in what Paul envisions as a sort of cosmic liturgy in which everything everywhere bows before that mystery.” (“Living by the Word” in Christian Century Magazine, March 20, 2013)

Part of that mystery is that it is only through darkness that the light shines out.  In her recently composed hymn, Holy God, Holy and Glorious, The Rev. Susan Briehl borrows imagery from our first lesson for the day – the suffering servant passage from Isaiah – and weaves those images together with the Christ hymn of Philippians.  In her modern rendering she has the congregation sing this lyric:

“You are despised, rejected;

Scorned, you hold us fast,

And we behold your beauty.

 

You bend to us in weakness;

Emptied, you draw near,

And we behold your power.”

 

The mystery of seeming contradiction.  The mystery of jubilant welcome melting into calls for a violent death, which then gives rise to abundant new life. The mystery of God in Christ, emptying himself to become human to give us power to ride our own waves of death to the paradoxical dawn of our own Easters.  With that pattern at the center of our faith, we begin to glimpse the underlying truth that all things- almost impossibly- work toward a common purpose.  And so seeing, we come to believe that in the end all will bow to that Divine Mystery.

This week, here at St. Paul’s we will have opportunities to step into this contradiction laden story again through our liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday. These ancient liturgies, passed down to us through generations of the faithful, will carry us along together toward the paradoxical mystery of Easter Light which we will first see in the flames of the new fire at the Easter Vigil – which we will share in at St. James’ Amesbury this year.  We will then see that same light fully ablaze here among us on Easter Morning.  The more we enter in, the more power the story has to touch and transform us.  And the greater the Easter joy.

So, come often this week my friends and join in the common purpose of being changed more deeply into his most glorious likeness.  In the power of Christ’s story and in his name.  Amen+

 

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 Sermon for Sunday March 20 2016 – Palm Sunday  Posted by on Wed, 23-Mar-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday March 20 2016 – Palm Sunday
Mar 142016
 

 

There is a very strong theme current running through our readings this morning. The theme of the day seems to be letting go.  In Isaiah we hear God say, “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing.” And in the letter to his beloved friends in Philippi, Paul writes, “forgetting what lies behind and striving forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” The psalmist is more poetic, describing the contrasting emotions experienced before and after letting go: Those who sowed with tears will reap with shouts of joy.  Those who go out weeping, carrying seed, will come again with joy shouldering their sheaves.”  And all of this is echoed in the Gospel passage from John.  In this passage we hear of Jesus, who has already raised Lazarus from the dead and now himself being symbolically anointed for burial by Mary, in conversation with his followers alluding to the fact that soon they will be forced to let go of him in his current form so that God can act in an amazing new way.

These readings with the theme of letting Go woven through them say something profound about our approach to the resurrection joy of Easter.  They bring us face to face once again with the incredible and paradoxical truth that in order to receive new life we must let go of what has gone before.

It may seem easy on paper, but letting go is soul rending work.  One of my favorite sayings about letting go comes from a woman who seemed to be speaking for me when she said, “Everything I ever let go of had claw marks on it.” Oh how tightly we cling to what has been, even if it is painful, because what has been is familiar and known and the unknown can terrify us.

It this is our reality, we should not despair.  We are in good company.  We only need to look as far as this morning’s second reading to meet someone renowned in faith who at one point had the hardest of times letting go.  It is Paul of course, formally named Saul, who did everything in his power to keep a new thing from happening in the faith that he was so devoted to.  He fell prey to a very basic human dynamic that occurs within all religious groups at one time or another.  He let his zeal for his way of understanding his faith solidify into a rigid litmus test that the followers of Jesus did not pass.  Then he got downright mean and nasty, breathing deadly threats and using his power to throw them into jail.

But by God’s grace, on the Damascus road, Saul did let go to f the hatred and violence that had seized his heart.  Though it was never easy going for him after that, he became the man who wort those words we heard earlier, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on…” Saul let go and became Paul the apostle who found something so precious in Christ Jesus, that he became able to run toward the future with open hands outstretched to receive what God had in store for him next.

I believe that God wishes for each one of us as Christians to make that same run toward the cross and empty tomb which stands open behind it.  But in order to do so, in order to move forward and embrace the possibilities of resurrection power in our own lives, here and now, we must first have our hands free to receive what God has to offer us.  No accomplished runner ever ran a race with her hands full.

These last days of Lent are a good opportunity to empty our hands so that they will be free to receive that newness of life that comes at Easter.  To that end I want to lead you in a short guided meditation.  I invite you to get comfortable in your seat.  Close your eyes and take several deep breaths.  Just feel your body relax as you breathe deeply.  Now in your mind, go to the place you love to go to be by yourself – a special room in your home, a corner of your yard or garden, a mountaintop or seashore – wherever it is, put yourself there now.

Now picture yourself sitting with your hands out in front of you.  In your hands you see the things that have been occupying your mind and heart most these days – perhaps it is problems with family, friends or co-workers, a personal issue that hounds you, a major life challenge, concerns for loved ones, a question that remains unanswered.  Or conversely it might be something that brings you great joy, or a sense of accomplishment.  There may well be several such things that have been occupying your mind and heart lately.  If so, picture them or some symbol of them in your outstretched hands in front of you.

Now in your mind’s eye picture yourself surrounded by God.  How does that feel to you?  Is it being rooted and grounded in the solid foundation of God our Creator?  Is the experience of the gusting wind and flame of the Holy Spirit surrounding you?  Is Jesus, our brother there with you, with his arm around your shoulder?  However you experience this presence of our God, relax into that presence.

Now look at the things in your hands and tell God that you want to give them over – that you want to let them go.  And then do so.  Perhaps you throw what fills your hands up into the air.  Perhaps you simple spread your finger and let them slip slowly through like sand.  Whatever you do to let them go, trust that the presence of God all around you, closer to you than the air you breath, is catching them, holding them, surrounding them so that you no longer need to.

Now become keenly aware that your hands are free to receive whatever it is God wants to give to you.  Simply ask now that as Easter approaches God will give the newness of resurrection life to you in whatever form you most need at this point in time. Then trust that God will deliver, maybe not in the ways you expect, but God will deliver.  Trust that what you have turned over will be returned to you imbued with God’s grace.

Now take several more deep breaths and when you are ready open your eyes.

When we are able to let go, even for just a few moments, we create space in which God can act for us, and for others through us.  Though we let go of what has been it never leaves us, but by letting go to God, we expand our context to take in the future, where we see that God is already at work for us.  What a hopeful context to live in!

In the remainder of this Lent, may we sprint toward the new thing that God is doing in our lives through the life, death and resurrection of our Lord, Christ Jesus.  Amen+

 

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 Sermon for Sunday March 13 2016 The Fifth Sunday of Lent  Posted by on Mon, 14-Mar-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday March 13 2016 The Fifth Sunday of Lent
Mar 112016
 

 

Jesus knew how to tell a good story. His parables were designed to draw his listeners in – to get them involved and then impart to them an often surprising truth about God and God’s reign.  The parable of the prodigal son is probably one of the best examples of this.  Jesus announces the topic of the parable up front: There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.”  From that moment on Jesus had his audience’s full attention – all ears were open to hear what would happen next!

Now, to us the son’s words may seem rude, insensitive and unadvisable, but to people living in the time, place and culture of Jesus, they would have been totally unthinkable.  Such and exchange between son and father would have been absolutely forbidden by the code of honor that gave shape to their highly structured society.  In that society the father was the ultimate authority of the family.  In that societal and familial setting, it would be highly audacious for a son to ask this of his father, and if we listen closely we hear that the son does not even ask, he makes a demand – he says “give me”.  Making such a demand would have been like saying to his father, “you are as good as dead to me”.  Not only was this highly insulting to the father, to those listening to Jesus this would have been the ultimate violation of the 4th of the 10 commandments, which admonishes “Honor your father and your mother.”  The cod of honor would have required a harsh and lasting consequence for this audacious young man.  Jesus had the crowd on the edge of their seats – they could not wait to hear what was coming next.

Jesus continues, “So the father divided his property between them.” What’s this? It can’t be!  This father is out of his mind!  No father of that day would ever take an order form his wife or his children.  This father is the epitome of a fool.  He goes totally against the common wisdom of his day.  By Acquiescing to his son’s demand he has made himself destitute and dependent of the good will of his sons.  No patriarch worth his salt would have done that.  This father has permanently stained his honor.

As if that wasn’t enough, within a few days this upstart son sells it all and heads to lands unknown. Now in that society one’s family was most certainly the source of one’s identity.  For instance, in that society I would not be known as Martha.  I would be known as Martha daughter of Bill and Norma, sister of Linda, wife of Marco, mother of Marcella and Nicolas…  So to hear that after selling his ill got inheritance he leaves town would have been incredible to those first hearers of this parable.  In so doing the son is cutting himself off from his identity.

But it gets worse – much worse!  This son goes off and wastes all that his father has given him.  The result of his father’s years of labor, wasted in the worst kind of living.  In a short time he bankrupts himself and has to beg for someone to have mercy on him.  So someone gives him a menial job- feeding pigs. This is just the limit!  For Jews of Jesus day this was the absolute bottom, because pigs ere the most ritually unclean of all animals.  And not only that but since he isn’t able to earn enough to feed himself he begins to long for the swill he is feeding the pigs.  The audience would have recoiled at that!  That was just too much.  If asked they would have probably agreed – this son is now absolutely unredeemable.

And the son himself affirms this estimation of himself.  Jesus goes on to say that “he came to himself”.  That is, he came to understand what he had done, and he recognized that his father would not be required to accept him as a son again.  So he comes up with an economic alternative.  His hungry belly reminds him that his father’s hired hand – who are the lowest in status in Jewish society – eat very well, and so he conjures up a plan to go home, and ask to be treated as a hired hand.  This detail of the hired hands having “bread enough and to spare” would not have been lost on the original audience – they would have wondered why the father was so generous with his workers.  Society did not require him to pay them more than mere subsistence wages. This father is again revealed as a fool and the audience might have begun to wonder if he was getting just what he deserved.

And the next scene in the parable would have confirmed this suspicion for them.  This father catches wind that the prodigal is returning home.  But instead of waiting at home where he could presided over him in judgement, this father, filled with compassion, runs down the road to meet his son.  It was considered undignified for people of stature to run, and it was certainly not acceptable for men to display compassion as the father did- compassion lay in the realm of women, not men.

And if all that was not enough, Jesus goes on to say that upon reaching his son on the road, this father embraces and kisses his son.  By doing so – by kissing his son who has been in contact with pigs – the father renders himself ritually unclean and so unable to participate in the rituals of his religion – which would have been appalling to any devout Jew.

The crowd must have really wondered where Jesus was going with this story.  Surely after the father got over the initial relief of finding that his son was alive, he would begin to lay down the law with him.  But no.  Jesus tells of how the fathers puts his finest clothes on this rascal son, and puts a ring on his finger – which was a symbol of authority.  And the father makes him the honored guest at a big party.  Not only is this embarrassingly outrageous, but the audience would have known that it meant that all those who came to the party would be required to kiss the prodigal’s ring to show him deference.  And, the audience knew, any who did would become ritually unclean and would be bound up in the father’s total disregard for the rules of honor and purity.

Enter the eldest son, who is not in a partying mood.  His behavior will also be heard as dishonorable as he refuses his father’s invitation to go into the party and requires his father to come outside to speak to him.  But the audience might have cut him a break as he was the only one in the story to give voice to those how seek to live by the rules.  He is angry at his father’s mercy toward the one he refers to as – “that son of yours”. Clearly he chooses this language to indicate that he has disowned his brother.  He rails against his father, wanting to know why not party had ever been thrown in his honor, when it was he that had stood by his father in honor, working hard to support him.

Jesus goes on to tell his listeners that true to form, this father looks past his elder son’s lack of respect – as he had with his younger son- and in the incredible generosity that has characterized him throughout the story, he tells him, “Son you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life, he was lost and has been found”

          Stunned silence from the crowd.  They wait to see if Jesus will go on, but he does not. The parable is over.  The crowd has been made up of common laborers, fishermen, Pharisees, mothers and fathers with their children, prostitutes and tax collectors – some who lived totally within the rules and other who lived totally outside the rules, and everyone in between.  I imagine as they left that day they left with many questions:  What did this parable mean? Where was I in that story? Who was that father who seemed also like a mother?  The parable does not provide the answers, just the questions.

But if we look at the one who told this parable. If we look at Jesus we will find the meaning of the parable. Jesus is the one who came to show us that God takes so seriously the restoration of relationship and the giving of life to the dead, that all other norms and rules are fulfilled and superseded by the rule of Love.  We are not meant to know what happened to that father and his two sons – their story is left wide open ended.  But we are meant to live that meaning – that fiercely generous, forgiving, audacious and outlandish love of the God – into this world in whatever ways we can, each day.

In the name of the parable teller.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday March 6 2016 The Fourth Sunday in Lent  Posted by on Fri, 11-Mar-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday March 6 2016 The Fourth Sunday in Lent
Mar 112016
 

A week and a half ago our Church season of Lent began with our observance of Ash Wednesday.  The last pre-Lent day was Tuesday which is traditionally known as Shrove Tuesday.  I bring it up today because the word shrove has something significant to do with this season of Lent.  The word shrove comes from the word shriving, which refers to the confession and absolution that, before modern times, many Christians undertook on that Tuesday to prepare for the beginning of Lent.

But the tradition of shriving didn’t just apply to the interior lives of the faithful, it also extended to their environment.  On Shrove Tuesday the community of the faithful put away from themselves all manner of things that served as inordinate distractions to them.  Apparently fatty foods did not just become an issue in modern times, because in earlier days it shortly became the tradition that all fat and foods cooked with fat were to be used up on Shrove Tuesday, leaving none around to temp during the focused, fasting days of Lent.  That is how the tradition of pancake suppers came to be. Christians had to empty the larder of fat, so what better to do than fry up a last batch of pancakes with sausage.  This is also how the day came to be known as Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras.

Though few of us shrive ourselves completely of fat these days, many of us do find ways to cultivate a deeper spiritual focus in Lent- a focus that allows more space for self-examination, penitence, prayer, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines.  This Lent the Adult Forum is engaged in a wonderful curriculum provided by the brothers at the monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge.  It is a curriculum that allows us time to reflect on how we work our spiritual practices into our daily lives – to take stock, explore new ideas, imagine and dream what we would like our spiritual lives to be like, and then to make a rule of life that will lead us forward.  I invite any who would like to join I to come do so.  If Sunday morning at 9:15 is not ideal for you, but you are still interested, sign up on the sheet on the hallway bulletin board and we will see if we can get a group going on Thursday evenings.

Well, all of this self- examination, linked with shriving ourselves of our comfortable distractions can sound intriguing and appealing.  Yet some of us have found that once we are free from those distractions and are seeking to look more deeply within, we may come face to face with some things that do not find appealing in the least.  We may come face to face with our interior regrets, anxieties and fears.  If this is our experience, our natural first reaction is likely to recoil.  It is an automatic life response – you poke just about any animate being and they recoil.  The difficult  things that we may meet on our interior Lenten journey – our regrets, our anxieties and our fears – can be like a stick poking us in a sensitive spot.  When we are pocked we would most like to turn away, pull back, maybe even run the other direction.  Most of us would rather not look these things in the eye.

Now my regrets, anxieties and fears may differ from yours – at least in content- but most likely the inner badgers that most of us carry have to do with discomfort with situations from the past, or uncertainty about what is yet to come.  They are dynamics within ourselves that often keep us stuck anywhere other than the present.  The trouble is that many of this things we use to distract us from them – the crutches I spoke of earlier – for some of us it is food, for others, alcohol, for others overwork, or over shopping, or overdoing just about anything- those crutches and props of our lives can numb us to the present moment too.  That is part of the genius of the shriving of Lent – it brings us into the present and allows us time to encounter those things within us that need God’s healing touch.

This is a wonderful opportunity even if not a comfortable one.  This is the opportunity not to run from, or anesthetize ourselves to our regrets, anxieties and fears, but rather to befriend them.  Rather than turning and running, we are given the chance to invite these aspects of our lives to walk beside us on our Lenten journey with Jesus.  Once our regrets, anxieties and fears move from in front of our face, to our side, our vision expands and we can get the bigger picture.  And though these aspects of our life may still be speaking in our ear, they no longer crowd the horizon.

As we heard last week that is what Jesus did in the wilderness for 40 days.  He met the devil there and he did not run.  And he did not let the devil take up the whole horizon.  Instead he listened to the devil’s fear based tempations with is eyes focused steadily on God’s loving promises. And as Jay so beautifully put it – that is what prepared him for the journey ahead.

And this morning – this second Sunday of Lent, we receive more words of hope from three different books of scripture on the topic of God’s loving and faithful promises to us.  This Lent if our regrets, anxieties and fear whisper in our ear, let’s take our leads from these lessons.  Let’s hav the confidence to invite those inner dynamics to join us outside under the clear night sky, to witness the infinite starry host- to remember that we are part of a great see of descendants of Abraham whom God loves with deep and abiding faithfulness.  And if these aspects of ourselves are not quieted by the starry host, let’s take our lead from the Pilippians passage.  Let’s explain that there is a lot more to reality than meets the regretful, anxious or fearful eye – that the eternal plain of existence, to which we belong through Christ lies just below the surface of so called reality, and is ther for us to discover and tap into always and everywhere.  And let us reassure ourselves that no matter what happens it is that citizenship that belonging, that we will call on when determining how we act and how we hope.

And if all of that is not enough, let us take our traveling companions by the hand and deliver them to Jesus, who will speak to them the assurance of this morning’s Gospel lesson – that he, our Christ, longs to take all of us into his feathery embrace.  He says there, “how often I have desired to gather you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing.”  With some of our regrets, anxieties and fears this embrace of our savior with be all it takes to melt them.  With others it might just soften them a bit.  The important thing is that they won’t appear such formidable opponents, and might even look a whole lot more like friends, who when seen in the larger eternal context of God’s love can stir our confidence to claim God’s promises as our own.

I am convinced that Lent has been around for centuries because shriving leads us to pay attention to our inner badgers, such as regret, anxiety and fear.  They after all are part of us, and so therefore belong to Christ who claims and redeems the entirety of who we are.  In our shriving this Lent, may we meet them and bless them in his name.  Amen+

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday February 21 2016 The Second Sunday in Lent  Posted by on Fri, 11-Mar-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday February 21 2016 The Second Sunday in Lent
Mar 022016
 

A terrible tragedy had happened and the people were trying to make sense of it. How could Pilate have done such a thing – striking downs and mixing the blood of some Galilean worshipers with the blood of their sacrifices in the temple? Some of them turned to Jesus and wanted to know what he had to say about this unthinkable event.  Luke tells us that with his usual focus he turned the table and asked them a question – “He asked them, ‘Do you thing that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?’” I imagine a dramatic pause as he let the question sink in.  Then he answered the question himself, “’No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’” And then Jesus goes on bring up a disaster story of his own.  He asks them what they think of the 18 people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them.  He asks, “Do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

This is Jesus pushing back against the popular theory of that day that all suffering was the consequence of sin.  But Jesus does not offer another theory, rather he uses the moment to encourage his listeners to refocus on themselves and their own need for repentance before it is too late – because none of us has any idea how many days we have, or when we too might be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So repent, Jesus says.

Martin Luther, in the first of his famous 95 Theses, said that all of Christian life is repentance, and it seems the author of Luke’s Gospel would have agreed.  In Luke’s rendering of the Gospel, we find one half of all the New Testament occurrences of the Greek word for repentance –  metanoia. Metanoia gives the sense of turning and changing direction.  The Jesus that Luke’s Gospel reveals to us teaches that repentance is a gift from God.  It begins when God’s reign, embodied in the person of Jesus, reaches out and touches someone’s heart.  Such a person then experience their life being turned around.  But repentance is not a one shot kind of thing.  As out Baptismal Covenant puts it, whenever we fall into sin, we are to repent and return to the Lord.  It does not say, if we fall into sin, it says whenever we fall into sin.  So, it is an ongoing reorientation of life as a response to the salvific reality that shows us our own soul is in need of saving.

Lent is time set aside in the church year to reflect on our sin and to open out hearts to God’s invitation to metanoia – having those aspects of our lives that are tinged by sin turned around.  But I sense that many of us find it hard to know where to start with these traditional tasks of Lent because in our day and age, talk of sin has largely gone out of style.  It may be considered self-defeating to speak of our sins, and our world offers us so many opportunities to find someone else to blame for our sins.  Now, I would not go back to a time when the church over focused on sin and spoke of the complete depravity of human nature.  But there has to be a happy medium for us.  We must be able to speak of the seriousness of the sin that is part of all human life, without devaluing ourselves or others with our words.  To that end, this morning I want to share with you some words about sin that are not mine, but which come from several of my favorite modern day theologians.

Tony Compolo, an American Baptist theologian and writer has said this about sin:

“I think sin is when you allow yourself to be dehumanized or you participate in the dehumanization of others.  Human being are made in the image of God, and so sin is anything that diminishes the image of God in ourselves or others.”

Ann Ulanov has written:

“Sin is turning away, not taking what is offered, denying that presence that is there and wants to catch you up into itself… Another way it works is by leading us to harbor something. You take something in that is poisonous and you won’t let go of it. It’s everything from the grudge and the bad mood, to the refusal to receive connection again, which is forgiveness.”

 William Sloan Coffin, well known for his Christian witness in the political arena has said:

“If nothing counts against you, nothing counts period.  If we don’t say it is a sin to allow the homeless to roam around our cities and to think that shelters are the answer instead of homes, then we are robbing the world of meaning.  We are living in sin.”

Madeleine L’Engle, well known Episcopalian writer late in her life said:

“I’ve just come to a whole new idea bout sin.  What put me off sin for a long time was that I had been told that Jesus is just like we are but without sin.  No!  If he is sinless, he is not exactly like us.  So, I’ve redefined sin to mean separation from God – and Jesus was never separate from the source.  Now if we were not separate from the source we could never do things like child abuse, sexual abuse, drug abuse – it just would never occur to us.  But we are so often separate from the sours that these things happen.  For me, sin is separation from the source.

 Finally from Leontine Kelly, A Methodist Bishop.  In an interview, she once told this story:

“I recently met a woman who drives a school bus.  One day a little boy didn’t get off her bus at his usual stop.  But she did not realize it until all the other children were gone and she heard him alone at the back of the bus.  She pulled over, and went back to him.  There she found him, in the last seat with a can of blue paint that he had spilled all over himself.  She looked at him and then the paint, which was everywhere and said, ‘Jonathan!’ and he said, ‘I didn’t do it!’ The next day Jonathan brought her a stick figure drawing of himself spilling paint on the bus, and across the top he had written, ‘I am SORE’, which was his way of spelling sorry.  It was his way of taking responsibility for his actions.  I look at that theologically and believe that SORE is the correct spelling for the theological understanding of what sin is, because when we sin then we hurt, and we are wounded, and we are in need of healing.  And when we come in confession and receive the grace of God and forgiveness of God, we are ready to go on and be energized to do God’s work again.”

So if we have felt God’s invitation to repentance – to metanoia – to the  turning ourselves more fully toward God – it can be useful to ask ourselves: How are we separate from the source? What blue paint have we splashed all over our lives lately? What social ills have we become immune to? How do we deny the divine reality that longs to claim and reclaim us? What poison have we taken in and are holding onto? What social ills have wee become immune to? Answering these questions honestly is the first step to embracing repentance and the abundance of forgiveness and newness of life that comes with it.  At the same time we need to be careful not to become morose in this process.  To balance out the sense of what we need to repent of, we can ask ourselves one of the questions that the Brothers at SSJE have asked us in their Lenten video series – we can ask ourselves, What do I love about myself?  Reminding ourselves of the giftedness and goodness that God has woven into our being is a counterbalance that makes looking at our sins bearable and growth producing.

And that is I think what Jesus was getting at with the parable he gives us in the second part of the Gospel reading where he speaks of the vineyardist and a gardner talking about the fate of a certain fig tree that has not been bearing fruit.  The vineyardist wants to cut it down, but the gardner pleads for it.  Sometimes I think we can be like the vineyardist with ourselves and with others, we expect more and are harsher than God would ever be.  Then Christ, the gardener of our souls steps in.  He calls us to repentance, not so that our fruitless aspects can be exposed and the ax taken to our roots.  Rather he calls us to repentance so that he can help us grow, change, heal.  He patiently tends and fertilizes, giving us a generous season, until the image of God, which is the root of every person, shines out with even more resplendent light, as we become like a burning bush – on fire with God’s glory and yet not consumed.  If we take the risk of repentance, Christ will not fail us.  In his name.  Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday February 28 2016 The Third Sunday in Lent  Posted by on Wed, 2-Mar-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday February 28 2016 The Third Sunday in Lent