Rev. Jay Jordan, Deacon

Jan 252017
 

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Sermon for Sunday, January 22, 2017 The Third Sunday after the Epiphany

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

I come from a long line of what are called watersmen on my father’s side of my family who have worked the Chesapeake Bay and made their living as commercial fishermen there for many generations. In fact, I’m among the first generation in my family to not make my living from the Bay, to leave working the water — but I still well remember one key lesson I learned early on when helping my Uncles prepare one of the boats and equipment for the next day…… that you don’t stop, you can’t stop, till the work is done. You don’t just put down your nets easily – for anything, especially for someone you hardly know walking along the water’s edge.

I tell you this story because as most of you know, I just returned from the Holy Land Friday evening and it was just last week that I stood on the shore of the Sea of Galilee where, according to scholars, Jesus had stood when he called his first disciples as we heard in today’s Gospel.  As I stood there on the banks of the Sea of Galilee, I thought about how Jesus had stood there, looking at the same vista, largely unchanged,  that I was looking at, when he began his ministry by calling his first disciples, telling them to put down their nets — and I remembered that lesson we had lived by when I worked with my watersmen family – that you don’t put down your nets until the work is done — and I wondered with amazement at the fact that the first disciples did.  They put down their nets.

Now, in today’s reading, we’re off with the events surrounding the call of those first disciples.  A lot has happened in Jesus’ life since his baptism by his cousin John that we’ve been hearing about in the last few week’s Gospels.  Among many other events, John the Baptist, his cousin has been arrested and will soon be killed. 

While the story of Jesus’s call to the first disciples is told in different ways in the different Gospels, in today’s we hear that Jesus goes to the Sea of Galilee, sees Simon and Simon’s brother Andrew, both commercial fishermen – doing what commercial fishermen of their day did – throwing their fishing nets into the water.  And Jesus says to them, “Come on — put down those nets, I’ll show you how to really fish…..And they do!! They put them down! And then a little bit farther along the beach he sees two more brothers, James and John, and he calls to them – “Come on” – and they do!! They stop repairing the nets that they were working on, and they get up and leave their father, who they were working with, and go off with Jesus.   Isn’t that amazing?!!  

Now many people interpret this Gospel very literally, as meaning that Jesus is telling us we should be ready to give up everything we own and go spread the Good News.  I don’t know about you, but that is one of those Gospel lesson’s interpretation that can make me feel a bit inadequate, cause me to be embarrassed.  I mean, what would you do, how would you respond, if someone, stranger or friend, came up to you and said, “Hey, the Kingdom of God is here, repent, stop all of that stuff you are doing to make a living for you and your family and come with me to spread the news.” I checked with a number of people who said they too felt uncomfortable when contemplating this Gospel.  It can evoke feelings of guilt when we acknowledge how hard it would be to just up and leave – to leave everything behind.   …….    It can be pretty hard to put down our actual or metaphorical, nets – especially with little or no warning, no preparation.

There are some very reputable historians who think maybe Jesus knew some, or all, of these fishermen very well before we meet them in Matthew. Jesus had lived in the small town of Nazareth –only 200 people. Capernaum a much bigger, exciting city, was only a day and a half’s walk South along a beautiful road that till exits — not an unusual distance to walk in those days. He could have easily gotten to know other men there around his own age over the years.  In fact, from the last few week’s Gospels we know that Jesus had at least met some of them.  So maybe Simon and Andrew and John and James didn’t just put their nets down quite so suddenly, as it seems in Matthew’s Gospel.  Maybe it didn’t happen quite that abruptly — maybe the group of men had talked earlier about there coming a time when they joined Jesus of Nazareth to go off and build God’s Kingdom.  After all, many were looking for a Messiah to come and free them from the bondage of Roman rule….they were expecting a Messiah.  Maybe John the Baptist, who had a huge following of his own, maybe his arrest by those in power just brought it all to a head.

Still, even if they had known one another– pretty hard to put down all you have, leave all your family and loved ones and follow someone, stranger or friend.  Risky business that – getting up and following Jesus – with or without everything your nets represented.  

And following him where, to do what? What does it mean to be a fisher of men?  Again, this part of the Gospel can make us feel a bit uncomfortable, right? Many folks think it means we should go off and become evangelists.  I think I’ve mentioned to some of you that I was in a conversation once with a colleague who tried to convince me that on Sunday mornings I should stand out on the sidewalk in front of the church to stop people walking by — not to greet them and not as a Steward of the Word as I do in the summer, but to strongly encourage them to come in for services.  To be honest the thought of doing that made me very uncomfortable.

But I was somewhat relieved after hearing something Bishop Bud, one of our retired Bishops said.  He said that to be a fisher of men did not mean being a catcher of men.  To me that meant it was OK to not stop people on the sidewalk and pull them into church. Evangelism could look different from that. The word evangelist derives from a Greek work that means good tidings or good news – and I think that is what Jesus was saying.  I think it’s also important to remember the rest of what Jesus said to the four he called that day.  He said “believe the Good News”.  Evangelists are people who proclaim the Good News and who through their lives invite not trap or browbeat, others to join them — and that way of looking at it makes more sense to me.

I believe that Jesus has continued to call fishers of people ever since he called out to Andrew and Simon.  So how do we grow into that life, to proclaim the Good News through our words and our actions as Jesus calls us to do when we read the story of putting down our nets?  What is it to hear that call from Jesus — to put down our nets in today’s world — to become real Disciples of Christ in the 21st century???   How do we put down our nets — however we define what constitutes our nets — and let go all of those things that get in our way or block us from following Jesus?  We do it through love.  

When asked which was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied with these words that are now familiar to us: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

How do we put down our nets?  The concrete and the metaphysical?  We do it through love. We are gentle with each other, we care for one another, we work for peace and justice. We look for ways to help heal this broken world by seeing the face of Christ in each other and seeking the divine spark of God in each other, respecting the dignity of every human being.

That is hard to accomplish. I can’t always do it – not with those with whom I have a personal conflict or those with whom I vigorously and profoundly disagree politically.  However, we are called to continue to try.

But make no mistake, our efforts to avoid disputes and unpleasantness with our neighbors, and our Christian desire for reconciliation is not always how we show our love, not always how we are called to put down our nets. To show love does not free us from resisting evil – in fact, I believe resisting evil in all its forms of unjustness, including the structural and systematic forms, shows God’s love. During this, the weekend of the inauguration, we see whole groups of people who are in strife and in conflict. To quote from one of the prayers we used during our election prayer vigil, “Faithful people will, of course, honestly disagree with each other regarding the proper scope and methods for the political process.  Loving God and our neighbors does not mean giving our unthinking assent to platforms, simply to avoid conflict. Loving God and our neighbors does, however, entail working diligently and unceasingly to show God’s love to a broken world.”  And I would add that the church’s relevance in showing that love is needed now more than it has been for a long time.

They will know us by our love and they will want to follow us, follow Christ, when we live as beloved children of God, when we manifest that love in the relationships we have with others — that, my friends, is how we put down our nets today. That is how we can become fishers of men today.

God calls ordinary people to be fishers of men.  The four brothers called by Jesus in today’s Gospel were ordinary men of their day. May he send us – ordinary people — guidance through the Holy Spirit and with her help may we become God’s fisher-folk of today. May we hear God’s call and may we put down our nets and follow Jesus Christ our Lord, preaching his Gospel and being a reflection of his light – even, maybe especially, when it is hard. 

So let me end by going back to the first sentence in this morning collect…Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation!   

Amen

 

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Dec 192016
 

 

 

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

So this begins the 4th week in Advent. This is the Sunday we begin to hear the story that is very familiar to most of us — it heralds that the birth of our savior is near.  For many of us we started hearing it when we are little-bitty kids.  Our church schools tell it, we sing about it in our hymns, Christmas pageants portray it, even Linus from the Charlie Brown comic series recites it on the TV special.  It is very familiar to us.

But, since we really only hear it proclaimed once a year, sometimes we don’t stop and realize that we are hearing slightly different versions of the story depending on which year’s Gospel is being proclaimed.  And, when we do realize that there is more than one version of the story, we may get a bit confused. In Luke’s telling of the story, we primarily hear about Mary and that seems to be the Gospel story people are most familiar with – the one that comes to mind most frequently and the fastest. In Matthew, the Gospel in which this this year’s reading is found, it is Joseph we primarily hear about.  But as many folks do, we can gloss over that it is Joseph and not Mary we hear about and not recognize that they are slightly different stories, or many of us combine them in our minds making it one story. 

Even though we heard in the Gospel that I just proclaimed, that Joseph was a righteous man, he seems to many to be a bit passive, almost weak.  And certainly a bit superfluous…..but, it is necessary to establish the important link of his genealogical tie to King David, in order for the prophesies from the Hebrew scripture to ring true about Jesus as Messiah, important for the people of the time when this Gospel is written. And, it also provides the important legal lineage for Jesus. But all in all, we can easily pay little attention to Joseph’s role in this, the nativity story.  

That is until we take a closer look at it. Because on closer look, Joseph’s place in all of this can teach us some pretty great lessons. If we put ourselves in his place in this Gospel, if we really try to imagine what he must have been going through, I think we get a very different picture of Joseph from the superfluous man he might seem to some at times.  Let’s look at a couple of points.

Cast your mind back for a moment to Martha’s sermon of a few weeks ago on Advent 1. She reminded us then that one of the themes in Advent is the experience of being disoriented …. and then reoriented by the mystical and unexpected movements of God. Now in this Gospel, we are told that the angel appears to Joseph in a dream, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife — pretty disorienting. And when he wakes up he does as the angel in his dream tells him. …..   Now I don’t know about you, but I have had some pretty vivid and realistic dreams in my day  —  and even when I can make them make sense to me in some interruptive way, even then,  I’d say Joseph’s acceptance of, and reaction to his dream is remarkable.  I think it would take the mystical and reorienting movement of God for the dream’s message to be accepted. Otherwise just think how easy it would have been for him to dismiss it as — just a dream about something that was on his mind when he fell asleep – as certainly Mary’s pregnancy would have been.

But, he didn’t just dismiss it as just a dream.  He had faith in the message delivered by the angel, showing us a very real example of acceptance of the difficult and unexpected call from God.  And we shouldn’t forget just how bad the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy was in Joseph’s day – so bad that the violation of the social and cultural mores of their society could have resulted in Joseph divorcing Mary or even having had her stoned to death.  Despite the shame that comes along with Mary’s pregnancy he does none of that.  He willingly risks that the rest of his life could be that of an outcast because his wife had been pregnant, when they married.  His acceptance of God’s call, heard in a dream, could presumably open him and his family to many, many hardships. But Joseph does what some refer to as “stepping out in faith”. And Joseph does this even while knowing that the consequences of that trust might make life hard, that the outcome may not be what Joseph wanted it to be, that trusting in the angle’s message might even be dangerous.

Think of the trust it took for Joseph to act on what God told him through the angel. As Philip Brooks — the man whose large imposing statue stands outside of Trinity Church in Copley Square, prayed,  —  “God who loved us first, grant us the strength, the wisdom and the courage to seek always and everywhere after truth, come when it may, and cost what it will.” Joseph gives us an awesome example of that, of trusting in God. 

We see, through Joseph, that this act of courage, believing in the truth of the angel’s message from God, can result in amazing happenings, often unexpected and often not seen until much later in the future.  Joseph’s life and it’s impact on Jesus (and all of us) shows us that having faith and trusting in God can have far, far reaching consequences.

And he does all of this quietly, as far as we know.  We hear no stories of Joseph running around expecting praise for his part in the birth of our Lord.  We don’t hear in later Gospels that he demands recognition. I understand that our choir this week said that we hear very little about Joseph and his life and of the undoubted impact his life has on a young Jesus.  In fact, he seems to stay on the sidelines, the rest of his life’s story largely untold.  He gives us a wonderful example of humbleness.

Yes, this is the last Sunday before Christmas. By now we are told that we should be almost ready, for this holiday, right? Our shopping finished, gifts wrapped, food bought and cards sent. Time is getting short, it is running out!  In fact, last week as I was walking down an isle at the CVS, a stuffed animal’s motion actifated voice asked me, “have you finished your shopping?  Let me help you with it.”

But this is Advent 4 — and that means so much more than the fact that this is the last Sunday before Christmas and time is running out to have everything ready for that picture perfect celebration….. We have spent the better part of these 4 weeks in Advent together in preparation for, and with anticipation of, the birth of our redeemer and savior and today we lite all four candles as we prepare to welcome the Light of the World.  In the light of these four candles, I hope we can all take time this week to consider how God is calling us to bear witness to the light? Let us stop and be aware of the witness Joseph is to all us of the accepting God’s call — no matter how unrealistic that call may seem. During this last week of preparation for the birth of Christ our Lord, let us be aware of the witness Joseph is to us of the faith and trust we can have in God’s presence and love.  And let us not forget how Joseph shows us how to walk humbly with our Lord.

I think we need to stop and intentionally consider these things because, I believe, that the Holy Spirit sometimes seeps into our souls quietly without fanfare, delivering messages to us that we only become aware of through the sighting of shimmering glimmers of joy and through the whispers of love. So whether the message of joy and love in this season, that I believe Joseph found, gently seeps into our souls gradually or whether it appears to us all of a moment in a dream — let us have hearts and minds open to hear it, to recognize and know it, and to have the will to act on it.

 

And time never runs out for that!

 

Happy and joyous Advent!

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 Sermon for Sunday December 18, 2016 The Fourth Sunday of Advent  Posted by on Mon, 19-Dec-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday December 18, 2016 The Fourth Sunday of Advent
Oct 122016
 

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Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2016 The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

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

This Gospel is, in large part, about gratitude and about faith — two themes we frequently hear about in Luke.  We are reminded about the importance of gratitude to each other — and gratitude to God for everything.  And, yes, it certainly is about faith; the importance of having faith, trusting in it, and living with it. And that is something really important to think about.

Kimberly Bracken Long, a professor of liturgics at Columbia Theological Seminary, says that Jesus is teaching us about the nature of faith in this Gospel. She describes faith like this: In short, to “have faith” is to live it, and to live it is to give thanks. She says living a life of gratitude is what constitutes living a life of faith……..And then this past week in, Brother Give us a Word, a daily series of short meditations from the Society of St. John the Evangelist, that I know many of us here read, Brother David writes, “Faith isn’t believing that certain claims or statements about God are true. Genuine faith presumes a relationship with God. It implies a radical trust in God and a way of seeing the world as life-giving and nourishing rather than as hostile and threatening.”    …..  And we are taught as Christians, that that relationship with God can and should be mirrored in our relationships with one another.  That is what Jesus, over and over exhorts us to do…to love one another — to relate to one another in love, to show kindness and mercy, as God shows to us

Imagine how hostile and threating the outside world was for the 10 lepers from today’s Gospel…how it must have been the opposite of a world that is life-giving and nourishing. Their life must have been the ultimate in being marginalized – truly outside of society, not even on the margins, considered unclean spiritually and physically – forced to wear bells to announce their approach so others could scatter, in order to avoid even being near them, lest they become contaminated.

I’d like to ask you to picture the scene we heard in the Gospel in your mind’s eye.  So let’s just pause here for a moment and imagine we are there watching.  Maybe close your eyes for a moment and envision this group of 10 lepers as they approached Jesus.  What do you see? What does this group look like to you? Picture one of the 10 — how does he appear to you?

I’ve asked a lot of people similar questions over the past few weeks and it is amazing how even the word leprosy can still trigger such strong images in people’s minds. How the word conjures up thoughts of a highly contagious, horrible disease. I think it is ground into us, at least in part, from Biblical stories of the unclean leper and by movies that portray the lepers in Jesus’ day being wrapped in dirty rags, some leaning on makeshift canes or propped up on outcrops of rock for support as they begged.  Even today, when we know how easily treated this disease is, people still told me of seeing images that include things like missing body parts and discolored skin, with seeping wounds when they picture someone with leprosy.

As a young women in my first year of clinical nursing — back in the day, I experienced just how embedded those images were in me.  I worked for a period of time on a dermatology unit at Mass General.  Now to be hospitalized for a skin condition meant that you had to be pretty sick and usually sick with a disease that was very serious, often life threatening, that first presented with an anomaly of the skin.  We didn’t learn a lot about those types of diseases in college, and as a new graduate at a prestigious hospital, trying to cope with a steep learning curve, I often found myself in situations in which I felt I was not fully prepared.  I recall a particular afternoon, getting report before starting the evening shift as the charge nurse.  The charge nurse going off-duty reached the point in her report to me where she told about the new admissions.  “Our new admission, Mr. X, in room 815 comes to us with a diagnoses of Hansen’s Disease”, she said matter of factly.  As she continued to report on the particulars of the plan for his care, my mind was frantically casting about to make sense of the diagnosis.  Hansen’s Disease, Hansen’s disease, I thought. And then I got it! “You mean leprosy”, I blurted out – in fear.  Even then in the 1970’s, the biblical images from the first century are what had come to my mind. Over the weeks we treated that patient, I got to know him a bit. I recall talking with him about what it was like to live with leprosy. I told him about a true novel that my girlfriends and I read in high school that captivated us. Miracle at Carvell.  Carvell being the name of the last leper colony in the U.S. that closed its doors in the mid-50’s.  As I recounted some of the painful stories we read in that novel, he said to me, “Ahh, but at least they had each other to love”.  He went on to talk about what it was like to always find himself alone and ostracized, when others knew of his illness. And since most of the time his appearance was what we would consider to be normal, he explained that he just didn’t talk about it, didn’t let folks know he had Hansen’s Disease.  But, he told me, he was never able to just be himself — so he was still really alone.

Over the past few weeks, as I have thought back remembering my patient with leprosy, I realized that yes, this Gospel is about gratitude and faith, but it really made me think about community.   When I pictured the 10 lepers in this morning’s Gospel in my mind’s eye, I eventually realized that I saw a community, albeit one in an imposed exile – refugees of a sort, bound together through shared experiences and values.  Even though this small band of men were considered unclean and were shunned, they nevertheless had each other.  But more than that, I saw them in a community that presumably created a life that was nourishing and life giving with many elements of faith in God’s grace, or else why would they have approached Jesus asking for mercy?  And Jesus speaks of the faith that the one possess who returns to him.  In my mind’s eye I saw them living a life of faith together, in some sort of relationship with God…..and that that relationship was mirrored to one another — seeing the face of Christ in each other and being Christ to each other. I saw them living in a community of illness that was also a life lived in the nature of faithfulness, and therefore, a life they all lived with gratitude – in thanksgiving.

Through the story of these lepers, this Gospel gives us an example of being in relationship with God and mirroring that relationship to one another — allowing us to see a world that is life-giving and nourishing through God’s grace and love, despite being surrounded by a hostile and threating world.  An image many of us may need today when we are so often confronted by images of violence, injustice and calls for self-righteous revenge.

I wonder what happened to their community – their community of illness when they were no longer ill? As is so often the case with the stories in the Gospels, we don’t know for sure.  But in my mind’s eye, I see them going off — forming new and diverse communities where they continue to live a life of faithfulness. And, as Kimberly Bracken Long said, to live in faith is to give thanks.

So I invite us to look for the communities in our lives over the next week —where we mirror our relationship with God to one another, where we live in faith and give our gratitude to God. I know I see communities where that happens right here at St. Paul’s that many of you and the members of your family of all varying ages are a part of.  And let’s not forget about those parts of our lives that we live outside the walls of this building.  How do we mirror our relationship with God, and strengthen God’s Kingdom when we are outside of these walls?

I invite us to really think about this because one of the things Jesus is continually doing through the Gospels is drawing us into a deeper level of community.   A deeper level of community, where we live in a manner of faithfulness, where we love one another and where that love is reflected as the face of Christ in each other.  As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry said this past week, “we are called to rededicate the work of our communities to spread the Good News of all of creation to help make followers of Jesus Christ so this world    looks less like our nightmare and more like God’s dream.”

So let us go forth and continue to build a community where, with praise and in thanksgiving through and in our bodies and souls, we whole-heartedly say and mean,  Thanks be to God!

Amen.

 

Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Jordan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2016 The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Wed, 12-Oct-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2016 The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 282016
 

 

Have you noticed how often Jesus uses meals and the feeding of people to teach about his mission?  In today’s Gospel Jesus suggests that his host, the Pharisee, should change his guest list and instead of inviting his family and friends, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  Probably these suggested guests would be strangers, or perhaps they would be known to the Pharisee as the social pariahs of the community – likely, they would not be people with whom the Pharisee would normally be friendly.

Now why would the Pharisee take Jesus’ suggestion? After all, Jesus is asking him to do something that the Pharisee would see as not being in his best interest. To invite the needy, the poor, the sick to dine??? It simply was not done.  It was one thing to give alms to those in need; it would be quite another to invite the lowly into one’s home for a meal. It would be the equivalent of committing social suicide and depending on who was invited, it would also be violating the religious laws of the day — laws the Pharisees, who were not bad people – tried very hard to honor.

In recent Gospels, Jesus has been calling for a new order as his time on Earth has been coming closer to its end. He wants a new way of relating to each other through compassion and service to all people, including the outcasts of society, to be embraced by those in power.

Two weeks ago, I preached about another occasion at which Jesus told people that their accepted way of life, their social norms, the status quo, needed to change. In that sermon, I referenced a text that reminded us that Jesus’ missional agenda of compassion, mercy and justice actually can change the status quo, that the status quo can be shattered when we live into the Gospel. And now, in this week’s Gospel, Jesus is once again exhorting and prodding those in power and authority, the least likely to change their way of life, to participate in shattering the status quo. He calls for a way of life that totally would alter how their society functioned and would result in turning the world upside down. We see Jesus again being a troublemaker – or, another way of saying that is: Jesus was being Diaconal.

Why is that diaconal?  As you know, Deacons are called to be servants, and we are also expected to be troublemakers, and pests. Martha and I thought that given the examples of Jesus as troublemaker found in recent Gospels that I would take the opportunity to try to answer some of the questions I’ve been asked about the Order of the Diaconate. What a Deacon is, and isn’t in the Episcopal Church.

I’m not surprised that there are questions about what a Deacon is….since St. Paul’s has never had a Deacon as a member of the clergy before.  Actually not many churches in the diocese have had Deacons…. there are 180 worshiping parishes, plus all of the other types of places clergy serve in this diocese, with about 600 active and retired Priests and there are only 33 Deacons.  So there are a lot of people in the Diocese who have not worshiped with Deacons.

First a little deacon history, since one question I’ve been asked is when and where deacons came from. The first commissioning of Deacons, 7 of them, was done by the Apostles shortly after the crucifixion and resurrection and is told in Acts 6.  Then as the early Christian church grew, each church had a bishop as its shepherd……but then there weren’t a lot of churches, so each could have its own. Deacons assisted the Bishops, including taking the consecrated bread and wine from the church to homes where small groups of Christians gathered. Later when the number of Christians increased, the number of churches grew and the order of Priests emerged so each church could continue to have a shepherd — a Priest– and the Deacon continued to serve as the Bishop’s emissary to the increased number of parishes. Around the 14th century the number of Deacons declined in the western church, as the order of the Priesthood grew. And it wasn’t until, in the 19th century the order of Deacons actually was restored, beginning in Germany and among Roman Catholics in the late 20th century, eventually evolving to the current day Episcopalian Deacon’s.

As Deacons today in our faith tradition, one of our primary functions is still to assist

Bishops – I will periodically be called away to go to another Church and serve as the Chaplain to one of our Bishops, as I was last Palm Sunday. At times we are called away from the parish to serve in other diocesan functions when the Bishop determines.  For example, the Bishop asked me to serve as the Diocesan Coordinator for disaster preparedness and response through Episcopal Relief and Development at the National Church, and a few weeks ago, I was called to serve on a Sunday at the Convent of St. Anne’s.

I often have been asked when I am going to take “the next step” to be a Priest — but there is no next step – this is it – the permanent diaconate is a full, and equal order, with the priesthood. It can get a little confusing for laity because Priests are Transitional Deacons for 6 months before they are ordained Priest. The calls are similar but not the same.

A related question I’m often asked is what is the difference between the Priest and the Deacon?  One way to think about the similarities and differences of the 2 orders is to use a visual cue of both the Priest and the Deacon at the altar and door. Then, see the priest being primarily at the altar as a sacramental shepherd to the parish and spiritual overseer of the parish.  Then see the Deacon being primarily at the door as a bridge to the community and a messenger who stands between the world and the church, with one foot in each, interpreting the church to the world and the world to the church. In the messenger role the Deacon sends the Gospel out into the world and then by being a nudge, brings the problems of the world back into the local and wider church.  Many Deacons are bi-vocational, that is, we serve in the church as Deacons and have a job in the secular world. In part that is because in order to bring the problems and issues of the world into the church, we need to be in the world, even if not of the world. It also is important for many of us to be bi-vocational, since as Deacons, we do not receive any pay or have access to benefits from the parish, or from the Diocese. That is, in part, why unfortunately, you will see very few young Deacons.

While Deacons are called in the name of Jesus Christ to serve all people, we are called particularly to serve and care for the poor, the ill and the powerless and the lonely. That is a traditional role for deacons, and we do that in parishes and in community settings. For me, the community I serve outside of the St. Paul’s community is through Dinah’s House  and through Episcopal Relief and Development.

A word here about the Rector and other clergy in a parish. Make no mistake, even though the two orders are equal orders, the Rector is in charge of the parish. It wouldn’t matter if instead of having a deacon as a second clergy person, this parish had a second priest as clergy, it would still be the Rector who would be the clergy person in charge of the parish. Deacons and other clergy serve at the direction of the Rector, primarily as a support and to assist in the raising up of the ministry of the Laity. However, it is the Bishop, on the recommendation of the Archdeacon, who decides which parish we are assigned to, whereas Priests are called by the parish. And while the Rector serves the Vestry, I serve directly under my Bishop, not the Rector or the Vestry. It can be sorta tricky for some, kind of like multiple matrix relationship, but I think Martha and I have figured it out pretty well.

The visible role of Deacons inside the church is most often seen in the liturgy and I will be writing in some detail about each of these liturgical pieces of the Deacon’s ministry in Constant Contact and The Labyrinth, but for now let me just mention them briefly. We preach and we administer the elements at communion. We proclaim the Gospel, prepare the altar for the Eucharist and we restore the altar after communion. We give the dismissal at the end of the service. In addition, most Deacons lead the Creed, begin the Prayers of the People and bid the Confession. We do not give absolution, give sacramental blessings, or consecrate the Eucharist because we are not sacramentalists and that is not our call, though we do have specific roles in each of those sacraments. By canon, or church law, we can do full services with Eucharist from reserve sacrament, and in various circumstances, we can lead all of the worship services through the liturgy of the word, and can perform most of the elements in weddings, funerals, baptisms.  However, Bishop Alan has told us at this point he does not want us to do all of that – remember that there are over 600 active and retired Priests in the diocese and only 33 Deacons? – so he, understandably wants us to continue to focus on the truly diaconal elements of our calling, at least for now.

As we vow at our ordination, we willingly and joyfully take on the responsibility and privilege of serving the world and the church. And it’s not just that we serve poor, sick, powerless and lonely individuals, we also have to bring about changes to the broken parts of social systems that cause and allow so many people to be powerless and pushed to the edges of our society. Addressing structural evil in our society is a huge piece of what Deacons are to do as servant and as messenger. Whether the systems that need to be changed involve ridding our society of the evils of any of the isms, are about wage equality, speak to food availability, highlight access to healthcare, or address gun control — and unfortunately the list goes on —- the Deacon’s ministry, is called upon to sing out about structural evils in our world and to work toward making changes to the status quo, when needed.  That can make things uncomfortable for parishioners and vestries — and truth be told, for the Deacon also — at times, as it did for the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. We are to try and be the conscious of the church, to stir up the hearts and the minds of the faithful, to make trouble, to constantly be nudging – as Bishop Alan says we are supposed to be pests.  (My mother says I’m good at being a pest.)

While that may be what Deacons have been set aside to do through our ordination, Jesus makes it clear that we are all to speak to those issues. And he tells us all how to be the troublemaker through today’s parable and shows us how throughout his ministry.  So let’s everybody go out and be trouble makers — but as we are told so often in Luke, let’s do it with love, and care and compassion.

In Joy and Peace—go make trouble.  Amen

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday August 28, 2016 The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Sun, 28-Aug-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday August 28, 2016 The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 152016
 

 

When Martha told me the dates she would be on vacation, I said I’d preach the first Sunday after her return — so that she wouldn’t have to jump right into writing a sermon at the same time she was getting into the swing of being back.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Martha graciously thanked me for volunteering and we went on to other issues. And then some weeks, later when I started preparing for this sermon, I read the Gospel appointed for today! My offer to preach no longer seemed like such a good idea.

This Gospel is known as being one of those Gospels that many preachers try to avoid – it can be difficult and risky to preach about.  Now you all know that I am fairly new at preaching — and to be honest — this was not a Gospel we had addressed for preaching in any way, shape or form at school, much less studied it.  The Jesus in this Gospel does not seem to be the loving, peaceful, forgiving Jesus that we find comforting and full of hope, even if at times he is unconventional and can seem extremely complex and what he says difficult to understand.  In this Gospel, we read, among other disconcerting points, about Jesus’s message of bringing division among people rather than bringing peace, and it strikes many folks, as the opposite of what he taught  —  and certainly not in line with the examples from his life of love being made manifest through his actions.

This Gospel does not paint a picture of the Prince of Peace.

t this point in Jesus’ ministry, he is on his way to Jerusalem, where he knows he will soon be killed. He knows that the choices he has made, the risks he has taken, the teachings he has taught will end in his death. He knows, that unlike the water with which John the Baptist used at his baptism, he will soon be baptized by the fire of his crucifixion…. He is very focused on his Earthly mission and is feeling the pressure of helping humankind understand how important that mission is. He knows that his time is short, he is feeling the pressure of his time on Earth running out, AND he is losing patience with those who don’t recognize the importance of his mission and who don’t feel the time rapidly slipping away.

He says he is stressed, stretched to the point of breaking. He sounds a tad angry to me, or at least frustrated, with the apparent inability of folks to understand that it is time to decide what they think about him and about his teachings and it is time to take action: to resolve to follow him, or not.  He uses the family as his example about division because the family is considered the microcosm of his time’s social reality — everything is understood in relationship to the family, to that core, that center of their social reality. And so he says in this Gospel, in what would be very clear to the people he is talking to – even if not to us – choose!  Choose what you are going to do! He is saying, even if it means division among your family, even if your parents don’t agreeChoose!  He is saying, take a stand and live your life according to my teachings – even if your spouse doesn’t make the same choice!  If your children don’t agree and go a different way, even then, — it is time to decide if you are going to follow me, so make a choice – because my time is short.

Making the choice to follow Jesus would not have been easy. The Kingdom of God he proclaimed represented a new order, a new way of relating to each other through forgiveness and reconciliation. As we have been hearing all through Luke, he calls for compassion and service to all people, including the outcasts of society. It involved extending God’s Kingdom on Earth through love and peace…and letting go of the need to rule through might and wealth. Yet those who were invested in what was then the present order, those who were in control, who ruled — would resist this new coming Kingdom, for it spelled an end to what they knew and what they had grown accustomed to.  So it makes sense that Jesus — though coming to establish a loving and peaceful kingdom, instead could bring ruptures and divisions. When values clash and differ, divisions all too often are the result.

Now I don’t for one minute think that Jesus’s purpose was to cause families to break or split apart. However, I do think he is saying to his listeners in the first century and to us in the twenty first century, that it can be hard, even scary to be a Christian, and that following Christ can have consequences that aren’t always soft, comforting and pretty.  One contemporary commentator I read asked a question that struck my heart  —  He asked, “Is the relative ease of the Christian life in this land the result of cultural acceptance or, is it because we fail to live into the Gospel Jesus announced?”  Let me repeat that, “Is the relative ease of the Christian life in this land the result of cultural acceptance or, is it because we fail to live into the Gospel Jesus announced?”  Shane Claiborne, one of the persons interviewed by Krista Tippett for her latest book that a group of us have been reading and discussing every other week here at St, Paul’s, said something similar.  He said that mainstream churches are not keeping the younger generation in attendance from  their time in the church as a child into adulthood because we don’t dare them with the truth. It isn’t because we’ve made the Gospel too hard, but because we have made it too easy.

But if Jesus’ call to a new way of relating to each other stirred up divisions during his time on Earth and that of the early church, (and we know it did because we read about it happening later in the Gospels) what does choosing to follow Jesus  do in today’s world? In the short time I’ve been serving here, I’ve seen the members of this congregation relate to one another with care and love. St. Paul’s Church already does a great deal for the needy and the disenfranchised. Great work and important work ranging  from providing meals for those in need, helping the cold pay for utilities to be turned on, sending clothes to needy children in Haverhill and to refugees in New Hampshire, to having a robust outreach ministry to the people of El Salvador — St. Paul’s is there.

But what would our congregational life look like if we embraced Jesus words even more and stretched our already stretched congregational budget to care more fully for the poor?  What might our personal lives look like if the choices we make about how we interact with others, how we live in community, how we vote, what we do with our hard earned money and how much we give to St Paul’s to use for God’s work  changed?  — changed  a lot or even just a little — by being based even more firmly and strongly on Jesus’s teachings.  Would it cause conflict in our families?  And beyond our individual families, we certainly are seeing divisions occur in our communities as the nation as a whole discerns how we are to deal with the less fortunate in our society.  If we expand our vision to include looking at the Kingdom of God as a family, we clearly can see divisions in today’ world exemplified by the wars and strife and terror around the globe being fought in the name of religion.

Jesus’s teachings can cause the society to become topsy-turvy in our world, in our day, just as it did in his time on Earth.  As another text I studied in preparation for this sermon said, “Jesus’s missional agenda of compassion, mercy and justice shatters the status quo”.  The status quo can and will change when we live into the Gospel.

Jesus was, and is, a troublemaker. The more I thought about this Gospel, and contemplated Jesus from the point of view of his being a troublemaker, the more I realized that in this Gospel we see a very real example of Jesus in the Deacon’s role.

How is this message Diaconal, you may ask?  Because those of us in the Order of Deacons in the Episcopal Church are called, as I think most of you know, to be servants, but also we are called to be real troublemakers. Usually people describe us as nudges, since that is a tad “nicer” than being described as a troublemaker.

A number of you have asked me what being a Deacon is about — what it is and what it isn’t, and I’ve been asked to do a bit of explaining about that.  Well, the week after next I will be proclaiming a Gospel from Luke in which Jesus will again be teaching about his missional agenda and prodding those around him to change, to act, to grow his Kingdom.  He will again become a troublemaker.  Martha and I thought it might be an opportunity to address some of those specific questions about Deacons that have come up. So, in that context I will try to answer the questions I’ve been asked and invite you to send me any questions you have but haven’t told me about yet – so I can try to address them too.

Meanwhile, over the next two weeks, I ask that we all watch for those situations that present themselves as opportunities for each of us to examine the choices we make.  And let’s look at the decisions we make in the context of Jesus’s missional agenda and ask ourselves if the decision we make is in concert with that mission?  If not, why did we choice that decision?  Would it have caused a rift, were we trying to avoid conflict?  Was it just too hard at this time?  Whatever the situations, whatever the decisions we make, let’s all try to be aware of our choices and be intentional about our action.  Let us all prepare our hearts to receive and open our ears to hear the Holy Spirit as we grapple with making our choices.  And let us all pray for guidance and strength as we respond ——–  and maybe we can consider being at least a little bit of a troublemaker as we decide and respond.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday August 14, 2016 The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 15-Aug-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday August 14, 2016 The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Jun 142016
 

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Sermon for Sunday June 12 2016 The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Once a year, as students in formation for the diaconate or the priesthood, we were expected to spend three days on retreat together at our diocesan camp in New Hampshire, the Barbara Harris Camp. The remaining four of us from this diocese who started the diaconal formation process at the same time, took the opportunity each year to ride up and back together. Those hours in the car were lots of fun and full of laughter.  The trip this past March, while lots of fun, was a bit different.  We all knew it would be the last Camp retreat before ordination. It hit us that for the first time, we would each be preaching on the same readings on the three Sundays following ordination – at our sponsoring and internship churches, and at our newly assigned churches.  So as good students, all of whom truth be told were pretty tired of studying, we decided to join forces and come up with joint sermons. So one of us pulled the readings up on an i-PHONE and we talked about them.  Despite our combined efforts, I am afraid we never did come up with a single sermon for either of the weeks, but we did see a repeating theme in the readings about this time in Jesus’ travels.  As one of us said, and I am afraid it wasn’t me, “Well, Jesus sees people who need help – and so he stops what he is doing  —  and he helps”.

You see, during this period of Jesus’s ministry, he is performing many miracles. The series of miracles we heard about in the past two weeks’ Gospels and now in this week’s Gospel, take place shortly after Jesus proclaims the Beatitudes, when he moves on with his disciples to Capernaum and then on to Nain. The first of these Gospels, you may recall, was about the Centurion who sends messengers to Jesus beseeching Jesus to heal his slave – which Jesus does without ever seeing the slave. In that Gospel, we saw Jesus dealing with the outsider — the Roman — and with the person on the very edge of society — the slave.  And in last week’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples came upon the funeral procession for the only son of a widow who will undoubtedly be destitute and cast out to the fringes of society, as a result of her son’s death.  Without being asked to, Jesus restores the young man to life. In today’s Gospel, Jesus interacts with another person who is at the margin of acceptable society: the uninvited dinner guest, the woman described as immoral, and whose sins Jesus forgives. In each of these Gospels, Jesus displays great compassion for the people he recognizes as society’s outsiders and cast offs — people he knows are the very, very needy people living at the margins of their worlds.

Jesus is well known by now and moves across the landscape with large groups following him.  It would be known that he was dining with the Pharisee, Simon, a religious leader and a large crowed would probably be there. As was the custom in that day, they would dine in a section of the home where the architecture allowed for onlookers to stand and watch the host dine with his guests. It was through the gathered onlookers that our uninvited guest, this woman described as a sinner, would have had to push in order to quietly position herself behind Jesus at his feet. Imagine how brave she must have been to move her way through the crowd and then to station herself behind Jesus on the floor.

Have you ever found yourself in a social setting where you really felt out of place? Sometimes just experiencing the discomfort of attending a gathering where you don’t know many people can be daunting, much less experiencing the discomfort of inserting yourself into a social gathering where you are not invited or wanted. Will you be invited in or will you be asked to leave? Have you ever been the host where an unexpected guest arrives?  If so, you know how uncomfortable a situation that can be, what do you do and say to the surprise visitor – do you make a scene or just try to ignore it all?

I remember one such time in my family. For many years, we lived on Martha’s Vineyard. For a portion of those years, my stepchildren lived in our home with their families and we would join them on most weekends. We were a family of folks living together with ages that spanned fifty years. Even though we all knew many of each other’s friends, we had very different jobs and professions, and knew folks with many backgrounds, so it wasn’t unusual for there to be some people there who were unfamiliar to some of us. It made for fun and eclectic evenings with wonderful conversations. I remember well one weekend during which we had a multi-generational, pot-luck dinner party. We had all invited most people we knew to “stop in”.  Now this was a time when MVI was pretty isolated, most houses didn’t have street numbers and you often found places by using landmarks.  You know, “Make a left at the first road past the high school and at the third mail box on the right turn right and go down the dirt road until you see the dead tree – then you’ll know you’re there”. Our home was sort of tucked in the corner of some woods down one of those seldom traveled roads and we liked it that way….so we were none too happy when another house was built a bit behind ours and even though we had a goodly amount of space between us, on a quite night you could occasionally hear music from their home or see the odd light shining through the trees.  The evening of the pot-luck, our house was full, and people were coming in and out of various doors. I came upon a young woman who had apparently came in the back door with a covered dish of some sort as she was putting it on the kitchen counter.  We smiled and said “Hi” to each other.  She joined in the conversation with everyone, ate and seemed to be enjoying herself, when all of a sudden we all realized at the same time that she didn’t know any of us and none of us knew her.  She was at the wrong place: she was supposed to be at the new house behind us through the trees. We invited her to stay — but the poor, extremely embarrassed woman, grabbed her by now, nearly empty casserole bowl, and fled out of the back door and took off through the dense trees toward the house behind us. We have often talked about that evening, and laughed at how easily we and the uninvited dinner guest had gotten along.

Such was not the case for the uninvited guest in today’s Gospel.  In fact, it doesn’t seem as if the invited guest, Jesus, was very welcomed at the dinner at all, despite having been invited to attend by Simon. There is much about this encounter that we are not told.  We don’t know why Simon invited Jesus to eat with him — but we do know that there was no warm welcome for Jesus — with any of the usual acts of hospitality normal in Jesus’ day.  Simon did not have one of his servants wash Jesus’ undoubtedly dusty feet or provide water for him to wash his own feet.  He received no welcoming kiss and no oil was given to cool the skin on his face and head with upon arrival.

So we have a big dinner, a not very hospitable host, onlookers and an unwelcomed, uninvited female guest at a time when women did not eat with men — and — she was well known, she had a reputation and not a good one. We are told that the woman was a sinner; we are not told what her sin was, however, it is clear that she had violated some element of the acceptable social code of behavior.

And she came to see Jesus, for reasons we don’t know. Perhaps she came because she needed help and she had heard of the miracles Jesus had performed or maybe she was grateful for something she had learned from him on one of his trips. Whatever the reason, she came prepared to love, honor and to serve him by giving him the hospitality that Simon failed to give…..and she went further — washing his feet with tears, wiping them with her hair, and eventually anointing his feet with a costly ointment contained in an alabaster jar. How brave she must have been.

Jesus recognized the women’s sinfulness, he recognizes her pain and has great compassion for her. This is the Jesus who wept at his friend Lazarus’s tomb. This is the Jesus who understands the plight of this woman, who knows that she is considered immoral by society. And then, through his love and compassion, he shows her great benevolence and forgives her sins in front of all those present, giving this social phyriah public and visible value. Jesus forgave her her sins out of his love through God’s pure gift of grace that no human act can justify. This Jesus is the Son of Man who knows each of us fully – who perceives our needs, knows and understands our pain and as the Almighty Son of God, forgives us our sins.

In today’s and the last two week’s Gospels, Jesus displays great compassion for those in need. ——— Now, feeling compassion for others is a good thing and it is certainly preferable to ignoring people’s pain, or blaming victims for their situation —  but it isn’t enough. And while at times it can be hard to feel compassion, it certainly can be easier to feel compassion than it sometimes is to do something about the situation, at least for me that can be true. It is so much easier to feel compassion for those in need, especially if they are far away from us, than it is to participate directly in doing something about the situation as some of you did and are doing through your work with the needy in El Salvador.

In Luke we see the link between compassion and action, we see in fact, that compassion requires action.  Luke shows us that for Jesus, compassion – that intense inner emotion and sympathy – motivates the desire to alleviate the suffering and is accompanied by mercy.  We are brought back to Jesus’ words in a previous chapter of Luke, when he teaches his disciples by telling them, “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful”.  He reminds them, and us, that compassion is the heart of God’s very being. Whether becoming ritually impure by touching a coffin, or crossing cultural boundaries by healing a gentile slave, or by rising above the social norms of his time by eating with Pharisees and forgiving sinners, Jesus demonstrated again and again God’s regard for those on the fringes of society. He consistently chooses compassion followed by action rather than the Law of his religion, despite the very real personal risk his choices posed.

As our retired Bishop Barbara Harris has said, “Love always trumps the religious Law.” And isn’t that our task? As simple and as difficult as it is at the same time – to try to be a companion of compassion with everyone we meet, to serve those who need help?  Jesus is merciful, he acts — he heals, he restores life he forgives sins, he has mercy.

Since today is my first Sunday at the first church where I have been assigned as newly ordained clergy, I hope you will allow me a moment of personal reflection. I remember I mentioned in the sermon on  Maundy Thursday that the Deacon’s stole represents the towel that Jesus picked up and used when he washed his disciples’ feet and gave them the commandment to serve others as he had served them. And here I am wearing the green Deacon’s stole for the season of Pentecost. I am full of gratitude that I have been assigned here and will be able to try and serve you and with you to serve those in the larger community of Newburyport for the next three years.  After studying this Gospel, I purchased a small alabaster bowl that I will keep on my desk upstairs as another visual reminder of the vows I took last week to look for Christ in all others, being ready to help and serve those in need.

Those who follow Jesus, who profess to be Christians, must try to be vehicles of his compassionate presence, in today’s world. Through his actions during his short life of ministry, Jesus teaches us about God’s desire for mercy to be given and of the need for social justice for everyone, and he shows us repeatedly, giving us examples of how to fulfill God’s wishes for the compassionate care of all people.  Right up through the last night of his life when he washes his disciples’ feet, Jesus teaches about relationship – about love and caring shown through service, reminding his disciples, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

And as my compatriot said that day in the car when we read the Gospel readings together, Jesus came upon those who needed help, and so he helped – isn’t that what God calls us to do.

In thanksgiving for his love…..and to the glory of his name.  Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Jay Jordan, Deacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday June 12 2016 The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 14-Jun-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday June 12 2016 The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Apr 062016
 

Sermon for Sunday April 3 2016 The Second Sunday of Easter

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

At the end of this month seven of our young parishioners will have the opportunity to be confirmed by Bishop Gayle Harris at Trinity Church, Copley, in Boston.  I expect it will be a glorious service full of joy and beauty and I hope many of us can attend and be a part of this special time with them and with their families and friends.

The Episcopal Church believes that confirmation is the liturgical rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, in fact, it is part of our Catechism.  A young person once said to me, “it’s a really big deal”, and she was right — it is really a big deal. It’s the confirmand’s public affirmation of the baptismal vows that were made on her or his behalf by parents and Godparents when the confirmand was too young to make them – just as the Godparents and parents of little Waylon, who many of us met Easter morning, will be doing on his behalf in just a few minutes.  Baptism was the first step on the spiritual journey for our confirmands – it was when they were sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever. Isn’t that wonderful – to be Christ’s own forever?

And these 7 young people are going to be acknowledging, through their confirmation, that they have arrived at another point in their spiritual journey. A point where they can, for themselves, commit to a life in Christ — a point on the journey where they attest that they have received the necessary instruction in the Christian Faith that they need, and that they have reached a point where they are ready, to affirm their belief of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord – publically and of their own will.

And, I suspect that the spiritual journey they have been making since their baptism to get to this point wasn’t always easy – I bet some of the roads on the journey had frost heaves, and bumps, some twists and turns and that maybe there were even a few flat tires on the way.  Because some of what they, and we, are asked to believe, asked to put our faith in, is pretty astounding — some of it can seem pretty far-fetched and at times hard to believe. And often, the message each of us hears from the Bible can be very different or even the opposite, depending on the perspective of the speaker, or the experiences of the listener. It can be very hard, very confusing, frustrating and not easy at times. Sometimes the questions we have can be so numerous, or the clarity around their answers so murky, that it can make us question our beliefs, shake the faith that we once thought was rock-solid.

One of the things Episcopalians say is that we like to think about what we do and why we do it — which is not to imply that other religions denominations don’t like to think about and understand things, but we Episcopalians seem to enjoy questioning almost everything. We take ideas apart and put them back together so that we can feel really secure about why we do what we do and why we believe in what we believe — what our faith is about and what that faith means to us — individually and collectively as a church. And, we have methods to do that, processes in place, that as a church body we use to pull our ideas apart and put them back together.

In fact, one of our most renowned theologians, Thomas Hooker, gave us a framework to use in order to do just that.  Hooker was a Church of England priest who lived in the mid-1500s. He is credited with the development of an approach Anglicans use to test, or determine, the soundness of what we believe. This approach has helped establish the foundations of our faith.  It is the Anglican concept called the three legged stool. Each leg of the stool represents a different type of knowledge to employ when determining the strength and truth of a belief. One leg encourages us to look for the truth through Scripture – God’s word found in the Bible. The second leg says to consult tradition – that is all of the understandings of the past 2000 years of historically tested and trusted norms of the church.  The third leg is that of reason…and by that Hooker means using the evidence of the current scientific understanding, current philosophical argument and contemporary thought. This third leg also includes the use of our individual and the church’s current experience, which is another way of describing the work of the Holy Spirit — to hear what the Spirit is saying to us in today’s world. And then we are invited to combine what we find, using all of the information from each leg of the stool, so that the stool is firmly planted on the ground and not topsy-turvey. And our faith is strengthened.

 

As members of God’s Kingdom we do this examination of her faith, this questioning and re-questioning. as a body at our general and diocesan conventions, and we discern our beliefs more locally through our deaneries and through our vestries. We use our canons, a type of ecclesiastical law; to guide us. We probe the church’s ethical reasons, question how the institutional church make statements of faith and of governing.  We encourage people to stop and think and to question their own faith and personal spirituality and spiritual practices – to keep growing and being strengthened as a family, congregation and the community.

Martha reminded us last week that sometimes in our darkest moments of desolation we can only go on because others hold us in their faith – that sometimes we live on what she called, borrowed faith, trusting that our faith would come in the future.  I was reminded by that of what a very, very wise women once told me about a time in her life when she was no longer sure of her faith. She said she went to church because she needed to know that people throughout the Anglican Communion were saying the words of our liturgy, words she couldn’t say with conviction at that particular time because her faith had been shaken – but knowing that others could say the words from our Book of Common Prayer was important for her and she needed to hear them.

I read somewhere that doubt rarely undermines faith the way that certainty does. It really had an impact on me – let me say that again….Doubt rarely undermines faith the way that certainty does. These are not simplistic issues we are dealing with and it can be critically important to wrestle with them in the contemporary world. We want people to question and we want people to know that it is OK to do that.  Some might say that to encourage the examination of one’s faith and to take an  approach like Hookers — using knowledge learned from scripture, tradition and reason, to examine our truths and determine – our faith, is being pragmatic, taking a realistic and practical approach. In a sermon that our retired Bishop Suffragan, Bud Cederhom gave once, he said that the disciple Thomas, from our Gospel reading this morning, was the first Christian pragmatist.

Now poor Thomas, forever referred to as Doubting Thomas, had a bit of trouble with this belief thing. Perhaps many of us knew the story of Thomas before hearing it in this morning’s Gospel reading.  In fact, we often use his name whenever we want to get the idea of someone’s disbelief, suspicion or doubt about something across. “Ohhhhh, she’s such a doubting Thomas!!” and we often mean to be a tad derogatory.

We shouldn’t be too surprised to know that Thomas doubted.  Thomas was after all, the disciple who shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in Bethany and told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for his followers, said to Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so just how do you expect us to find our way there?” Even then he was the one doubting, questioning.

But when we stop and think about this morning’s Gospel, the story is really much bigger than being just about Thomas’s doubt.  It is also about his faith — about his finding his faith, as part of his spiritual journey. After all, we don’t know how all of the disciples reacted to hearing the news from Mary Magdalen that she had seen and talked with Jesus.  The scripture is silent on that point, but as Martha reminded us last week, Peter went home still uncertain of the resurrection, even after seeing the empty tomb. By the time the disciples see Thomas, they have had the benefit of seeing and talking with the risen Christ. Thomas didn’t have the experience of Mary Magdalene or the experience of the other disciples – so he questioned and tested. And we tend to vilify him for that. Who knows what the other disciples would have said and thought if the positions had been reversed….if they had been the ones to hear about Jesus’s resurrection from Thomas — without having seen the risen Christ for themselves?

Is it any wonder it was difficult for Thomas to come to grips immediately when hearing about this resurrection news…is it any wonder that he had doubts? When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Lazarus was still flesh and blood, but according to the disciples, Jesus wasn’t totally flesh and blood, he just appeared inside the locked room — and he wasn’t a spirit or ghost, floating through the air – he had substance and could be touched. Nothing in Thomas’s experience prepared him to hear his friends say that they have seen and spoken with the person whom he knows has been crucified — he doesn’t believe at first.  He wants proof before he puts his faith in the validity of this new thing, this news of resurrection from the dead!

But Thomas does find his faith….he does.  And Thomas goes on to spread the Good News of the resurrection. He takes the message of that faith and he goes on to profess his belief and to spread the word  across much of his world — from today’s Iraq all the way across the sub-continent to the distant shores of faraway  India – where it is believed he is killed for his belief and faith.

Thomas had the benefit of seeing Jesus, the benefit of being invited by Jesus to touch his hands and his side.  So how do we know, which leg of the stool do we use, have we used to find our faith and hold onto our beliefs? The truth is that for many pf is faith is something that must be lived before it can be believed and even so it is often only through God’s grace that we can be liberated from our doubts. Some of us will always be Thomases by nature; what matters is how we respond to the answers that we’re given when we question.

And just as Thomas went forth in peace and with faith to spread the Good News and to do God’s work, so we pray during the post communion prayer:  Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord.”  Soon 7 more of us will join in praying that prayer with intention and in thanksgiving having publicly accepted and proclaimed their faith ….

And that my brothers and sisters in Christ, is as my young friend told me, A Really, Really Big Deal.              Thanks be to God.        Amen

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday April 3, 2016 The Second Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Wed, 6-Apr-16 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday April 3, 2016 The Second Sunday of Easter
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
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