Nov 302016
 

Sermon for Sunday, November 27, 2016 The First Sunday of Advent

 

          This past week my sister and her family were with us for several days and we all had joyful coming together with our parents to celebrate around the Thanksgiving table.  It took some doing to get my Dad from Country Center to my Mom’s assisted living center, where we shared the meal, but the effort worth it as we saw how happy it made them both to have us gathered around them. I hope that your celebrations brought you close to those you love also, in some way or another, and that those moments were blessed for you. 

          Well, as is often the case, these visits seem too brief, and before we knew it my sister and her family were packing up to head back home. Early morning flights meant they had to leave our house in their rental car in the wee hours of Saturday morning.  We hugged goodbye on Friday evening, but I thought sure I would wake up when they began moving around and get up to see them off. I woke when it was still dark out, but my clock told me it was an hour past the time they were to leave, so I got fearing they had overslept, but in fact they were already gone. I could not believe I had slept so soundly as to miss three people gathering their belongings and leaving my house in the middle of the night!

          This experience made me think of the way our second lesson this morning from Romans starts out – Paul writes, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Clearly yesterday morning when I woke I was confused about what time it was.  And maybe that is a good way to begin Advent, because in its themes and its timing Advent is about the experience of being disoriented and then reoriented by the mystical and unexpected movements of God.

          Advent begins the New Year before the world expects it.  A whole month before we are ready to flip the calendar to reveal a fresh New Year, Advent places us on day one of the new church year.  Just as commercial world is ratcheting up for the Christmas shopping season, with full-on glitz and everyone’s favorite holiday songs playing on an endless loop, the season of Advent is beckoning us to slow down, and slip away to a quiet, shadowy place to do some deep listening as the light builds gradually on our advent wreaths.  This spiritual focus of Advent is a real disconnect from the activities that are cranking up around me, and I consider that a good thing.  It is not that the larger cultural festivities – the gift giving, the parties, the tree lightings, etc. – are bad things.  It’s just that they are not the whole thing – not the full picture of what is going on, so they don’t really satisfy me in the end – I just keep feeling that there has to be more.

          In a strange way this year, perhaps more than any other I can remember, I am in a place where I feel ready for this season of disorientation to begin. I think that is because I am already feeling that way. sa Some incidents which have taken place in the wake of the presidential election have felt disorienting to me.  The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League – to name just two prominent organizations that keep tabs on how our society is doing in protecting the human rights of all our citizens – both report large upticks in incidents of hate crimes and hate related speech in the weeks since the election.  And the very sad part is that a good percentage of these incidents are happening in America’s schools. This was a real wake-up call for me! I literally was asleep to the fact that such ideology was still so prevalent in our country. I feel disoriented by this reality, but at least I am awake it now, and that is a good place to begin when figuring out how to respond to this new reality.

          This week I was in attendance at an open meeting of the City of Newburyport’s Commission on Tolerance and Diversity.  The meeting was called to be a place for Commission Members and members of the general public to come together to talk about responses to instances of hate speech in our community.  This was brought on by several incidents of hate speech that have taken place in the Newburyport Public Schools.  There have been swastika graffiti found, and at the High school there was an incident in which hate speech was used against a Muslim student by a fellow student.  The attendance at this open meeting was good and I felt the meeting was a positive first step in helping our community figure out how to hold citizens accountable for unacceptable behavior, and the same time look for healing rather than further fracturing of our community. 

          At the close of the meeting, a Muslim friend of mine who had been in attendance told me that he felt the positive part of this situation is that these ideas and thoughts are now being shown, and not hidden.  He made the point that if these ideas and thoughts are present but not expressed, they could not be publically called into question and addressed.  He said he thinks it is much more dangerous when hateful ideas are not whispered in secret where they cannot be engaged.  As painful as it is to hear such things being spoken he said, it nonetheless gives the community the chance to protect those who are vulnerable and to hold purveyors of hate accountable and to help them to grow in a new direction if they are willing.

          In the Gospel lesson for today Jesus says,   

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

 

Advent is the season that paradoxically makes us ready for what will be the unexpected hour of the Son of Man.  That hour is coming each and every day in our interlocking communities of church, city, schools, family, state, diocese, nation, as we are enlisted to help unexpected good come out of situations that at first we think can only result in evil.  And these daily occurrences are only foretastes of the eventual final coming of the Son of Man at the end of time, when as our first lesson from Isaiah envisions, all peoples will gather around God’s holy habitation and will know a time of peace and harmony.  May we live expectantly and love courageously in this season, trusting that our God of love is bringing it all to pass, through all of us who look even the least bit interested!

Happy New Year, people of God!  Amen+

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Nov 212016
 

Sermon

The Rev. Roger W. Cramer

Love is strong as death                                      

When I read this week’s Gospel I was reminded of a line from the Song of Songs, “Love is strong as death,” And something in me said, Yes, this is what this week’s Gospel is trying to tell us about our own lives, that even in the face of loss, disappointment, failure, even death, love is stronger, stronger than our fears.  What I see in Jesus on the cross this morning is a man who like us feels the despair that this outcome is not what he would have chosen.  He was in the midst of a fruitful life and yet it comes to this!  I believe He felt like we do when the rug is pulled out from under us, and we face the crush of our own loss.  But for whatever failure and fear he knew, he also had something else that was stronger, deeper, to steady him.

  What is described this morning is a turbulent moment.   People are crying out scoffing and mocking him.  His and ours is a broken world.  People are broken, angry, longing for more, or for revenge.  But then through this clambering darkness, a loving voice breaks through, “Father forgive them.” (2)  And with these words from the cross the darkness begins to shift.  Forgiveness pushes back fear and anger.   Then another voice, this time from another cross, cries out against the injustice of the bystanders, “This man has done nothing wrong!”  And then from that same man his dam of longing seems to break, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  In our own darkest hours, aren’t these words of longing that we’ve all uttered.  Here at last the criminal wants to be re-membered to God. Re-Joined again to God and his own wholeness.   

What still amazes me is that in spite of experiencing his own pain, Jesus also had something else that gave him confidence, trust, that this outcome was not the end of the story.(*)  Thomas Kelly says, Jesus had Eternity at his Heart, the Luminous Light of Love Within, an intimate relationship with God that steadied him, and fueled his loving heart so that he was able to act with compassion even toward those who abused him.    On this cross we see love stronger than death, love overcoming fear, compassion welcoming the criminal, forgiveness offered in healing to the angry crowd.  What Jesus did there, we can also do here.

 I think this story is an invitation to us to find, or deepen, that Light Within, ourselves.  I want it.  That deep, steadying connection to God, fueling healing love and justing love in us.  Its daily silent prayer I’ve found that can lead us to this Trusting Center.  Not talking prayer (where we do the talking and God hopefully does the listening).  But prayer where we surrender our dizzy living, our voices, and listening into the silence of God’s Presence within us.  And there over time you and we will also find the Luminous Light of Love Within ourselves, our love fuel, Eternity at our Hearts.  As the Psalmist today says, “Be still and know that I am God.  Amen.

 

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 Sermon for Sunday November 20, 2016 – the Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King  Posted by on Mon, 21-Nov-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday November 20, 2016 – the Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King
Nov 162016
 

          When I was growing up, in the northern part of the Diocese of New York, my little home parish of St. Andrew’s, Poughkeepsie was about an hour and a half from NYC, so it was only very special events that took us into our Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan.  It is an amazing building! The sanctuary measures 601 feet long and soars up 124 feet from floor to ceiling. 

My first memories of it are from an acolyte festival evening prayer service when I was about 10 years old.  I remember being one in a sea of children dressed in our robes as the late afternoon sunlight streamed through stain glass, the organ sounded out and great plumes of incense ascended into the rafters above.  Then there was the overnight retreat known as Night Watch that I attended when I was in 9th grade and the John Denver concert I went to when I was in 10th grade – both held in that magnificent space.

When I was going through the discernment process toward ordination in that diocese, I often had to go in to the Diocesan Offices that are housed in the same complex as the Cathedral.  Before meetings and interviews, I would slip into one of the side chapels to pray for guidance.  Then when I was in seminary Marco and I attended a quiet day in the cathedral, led by one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle.  Finally, a day I will never forget, my ordination to the deaconate took place there in June of 1993.  To say the least, The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine has been a touch stone place for me – a patch of holy ground- for almost as long as I can remember. 

          So as I read this morning’s gospel, in which Jesus spoke to those gathered with him in the shadow of their wondrous house of worship-their temple and holy ground in Jerusalem -these memories stirred in me I pictured myself with Jesus in the close of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and imagined how I would feel if he told me that a day is coming when not one stone of that beautiful building would be left upon another.  That really put this Gospel in perspective for me.  Maybe you have a holy of holies.  Maybe it is this very building we are now in, maybe it is another.  What feelings are evoked for you if  you imagine a day when it stands no more?

          Maybe those feelings are not that different from the feelings many of us have been experiencing recently.  It seems to me that whether we were attracted to the campaign of Hillary Clinton or the campaign of Donald Trump, or one of the other candidates that presented themselves over the past 2 years for candidacy for the presidency, there is a way in which this election cycle has left all of us shaken to our foundations.  Marya DeCarlen, who was with us last Sunday as our preacher sent me a Rainer Maria Rilke poem that a friend shared with her this week that seems to capture these emotions.  It reads:

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far off,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”
And tonight the heavy earth is falling

away from all the other stars in the loneliness.
We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one.  It’s in them all.
And yet there is Someone, whose hands,
 infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.


I personally need the reassuring ending of this poem and I know many of you do too.  But more than that I need it’s description of the sense of being shaken, of feeling like the floor has fallen out from under us and that the shelter we took for granted has crumbled around us.  And I am not just talking about those of us who campaigned and voted for Hillary Clinton.  I am also talking about those of us who campaigned and voted for Donald Trump. 

          Our Bishop Alan Gates spoke to this reality so eloquently this week when he wrote these words to our diocesan community:

Our national election is behind us, leaving in its wake a legacy of bitterness and hostility.  For some, alienation is the apparent reason for the election’s outcome; for others alienation is its result.  In either case, we face grievous division and manifest anxiety.

At our recent Diocesan Convention I cited the hazard of viewing the world in terms of winners and losers–a framework which propels us inexorably towards adversarial relationships, and puts self-concern over communal well-being.

Now is not a time to live out habitual behaviors of winners or losers.  Now is a time to rededicate ourselves to the Christian ideal of breaking down the dividing walls of hostility which divide us (Ephesians 2:14).  Now is a time to rededicate ourselves to the American ideal of liberty and justice for all. 

Forbearance is a virtue tested not when we are in harmony, but when we are divided.  Sacrifice is a discipline called for not in the face of prosperity but in the face of adversity.  Hope is a manifestation of faith rendered meaningful not by certainty but by anxiety.  Christ calls us, in this moment, individually and communally, to forbearance, sacrifice and hope.

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

          What Bishop Alan’s words remind me of is the truth that our security does not come from buildings we construct – even when they are beautiful church buildings – nor from platforms we create from our dearest held values. These buildings and platforms are certainly important and can give us shelter and direction.  But our ultimate security rests with the one who holds all of us.  As Rilke put it in that poem, “Someone, whose hands, infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.” The ultimate ground of our being is God and that ground is not shaken. And God gives us to one another in the church, to be a blessing and a comfort to one another – even across lines of difference.

Thinking about all of this made me remember a priest I met several years ago at a clergy conference.  Just 6 months before we met at that conference he had become the rector of a small church in Texas.  He told me that the day before his parish’s Celebration of New Ministry, their church building took a direct hit from a tornado.  All that was left afterward was a pile of rubble.  He told me that once the shock and initial grief had passed, his people began to speak words to each other that, before the tragedy they had spoken, but which now for the first time they really believed and understood.  They said to each other – whenever they could – that the church was not the building but rather the people gathered inside.  He told me, “We’ve really discovered that the church is us – we are the living stones, and though we still grieve the loss of our building, we have discovered that we treasure each other and the faith we share more than we ever treasured the building.”  I pray the same will be true for us in the wake of this election – that we will cherish and treasure each other to such an extent that we will dare to look honestly at what has led to such unhappy political division among us.  May we in the church lean into the enduring virtues of forbearance, sacrifice and hope that our Bishop calls us, as we envision a future like the one described in our first lesson from Isaiah, full of justice and liberty for all people. 

          In the beautiful poetry that prophecy describes a future world in which the partial and the scarce no longer exist. What is to come will be about balance and harmony.  All that we recognize as God’s blessings in this world are a foretaste of what is to come. Our canticle of the day, also taken from Isaiah, is a song of praise from one who has caught the vision and is possessed by the hope it inspires.  May we place our minds and our hearts there – even if just for a few moments here together this morning- and may we cherish this community in Christ and recommit ourselves to be his passionate witnesses in this time in which we live.

          I want to close with some words from our catechism, found toward the back of our prayer book.  Under the heading of The Christian Hope at the bottom of the page there is this question and answer:

  1. What is the Christian hope?
  2. The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.

In these days, may we be living stones possessed by that hope. Amen+

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 Sermon for Sunday November 13, 2016 The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Wed, 16-Nov-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday November 13, 2016 The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost