Rev. Jay Jordan, Deacon

Apr 102018
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for March 30, 2018 – Good Friday

Let us pray: We praise you O Christ and we adore you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.   Amen

The events we hear about each year on Good Friday are difficult to hear. For some of us, the events starting with Jesus’s arrest and ending with his crucifixion and death can become overwhelming, can cause such spiritual pain that we can sink into the abyss, especially after the rich but sometimes difficult season of Lent –– and for others of us, a different reaction can happen: the depth of the pain is blocked, skimmed over, and we move straight to Easter in our mind. And depending which of the Gospels is proclaimed, the events as portrayed in them can affect us in different ways because they are written from different perspectives.  In the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is depicted as a victim, often referred to as the suffering servant. Today/night we see John’s Jesus, the non-wavering Jesus, the Jesus who does not falter, who stays strong.

From the perspective of this Gospel, we see the political and the religious powers of the day come together in a type of unholy alliance, if you will. Chief Priests, soldiers, police, and some of the Pharisees all swirl around each other: Jews and Romans alike, with their own fears and their own baggage and agendas. They pass power and control back and forth among them — all culminating in confusion and chaos, that as we know, will lead to Jesus’s crucifixion. It can seem as if no one is really in control.

But if we look more closely we see in John’s Gospel, that Jesus is in control, right from the beginning when he directs the soldiers in his own arrest. Jesus remains in control when Peter loses control…when he crumbles.  And we know that Peter will — and he will do it spectacularly. And even though we know he is going to fall asleep, and that he is going to cut off the slave’s ear, and then he will deny Jesus the three times, we still, every time we hear the story, want to yell out at him, “No, don’t do it, you’ll be sorry”. And then he does it. And it is so easy to judge, to get angry or frustrated with him.  But you know, we really shouldn’t….because we all do it….we all deny Jesus through our sin.  We all have places where we lack the courage to stand fast. 

Pilate gives Jesus ample opportunity during his interrogation to stop the crucifixion — but Jesus doesn’t, he could easily have prevented his death – but he allows the events to unfold.  In fact, Pilot waffles repeatedly, going inside and outside between the crowd and Jesus……………….and Jesus stays in control of the examination, standing quietly, answering only when he chooses, while Pilot scurries in and out, trying to persuade the crowd to let Jesus go free…until he finally succumbs and hands Jesus over.

Jesus remains in control on the journey to Golgotha, carrying the cross alone, no women along the way wiping his brow, no Simon of Cyrene to remove the burden from his shoulders. He speaks calmly from the cross itself to those standing near the foot of the cross, giving direction for how his mother’s and the disciple he loves futures will occur – and with that direction the first Christian family is born through the love hanging from a cross.

Even at the hour of his death, Jesus remains in charge, not the soldiers who come to hasten his death. No one takes his life from him.  He gives it. He hands it over of his own free will. He stays in charge, determining when to lay his life down – saying, “It is Finished”. We see Jesus at his greatest hour through the Johannine perspective. Jesus dies and Christianity is born.

Jesus’s death in John’s telling is often called his Glorification.  In this Gospel he is the king who reigns from the throne of the cross. And while the image of Jesus as King can cause discomfort for some of us, it is perhaps an apt metaphor to think about at the time of his death. John reminds us that the marginalized, the suffering, the oppressed are not saved by a commitment to the authority of the world’s kings, the world’s rulers, but through the grace of the love of the kingdom of God.

Just as Jesus spent the last three years of his life teaching those around him how to live, through John’s perspective, Jesus teaches us how to die:  simply and with majesty. He continues to teach us, staying true to his mission — right through his death — that all of life is a preparation for our physical death and movement into the next realm of our journey in God’s eternity.

Bishop Barbara Harris often quotes the author Barbara Johnson, when she reminds us that: “We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world.”  As part of our awareness that we live in a Good Friday world with all of its brokenness, we are urged by John’s Gospel to know that we can cling to Jesus’s teachings and to the meaning of Christ’s kingdom. I am reminded of the Lutheran New Testament scholar Guy Nave, who said, “On Good Friday, let us examine our own religious-political allegiances to make sure we are not claiming that we have “no king but the emperor.”.

So today, is a Good Friday, for Christ reigned triumphant on the cross, and through his resurrection he overcomes the finality of death. On that day so long ago, he stretched his arms out in love between heaven and Earth, in order to unite us once and for all, as People of God.

Today…………on this Good Friday, let us as present day beloved disciples of Christ,  gather as part of the Christian family. Today……on this Good Friday let us sit at the foot of the cross, grieve together and give thanks for the One who does not crumble.

 

In the name, and for the sake of, our crucified Lord.  Amen

 

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Feb 202018
 

 

 

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

On this, the first Sunday morning of Lent, the readings all speak to covenant….to a pledge or some sort of promise. From the Hebrew scripture in Genesis we receive the covenant of the rainbow, the oldest of all of covenants in the Bible. And in the 25th Psalm there is resounding joy in the covenant of salvation: “To you my God, I lift up my soul. Oh my God in you I trust. For you are the God of my salvation.” Then in today’s Epistle we again hear  the story of the flood, but now it’s interpreted as the covenant of baptism and that leads us to Mark’s Gospel of Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan river.  Baptism — the ultimate covenant — one of Christianity’s two greatest sacraments.

A few months ago, on a drizzly, lightly raining evening, I was on my way home from dinner at Adelynrood, the retreat center not far from here, when I was arrested by a spectacular sight in the sky.  A triple rainbow… that arced the entire landscape—a full 180 degrees beginning and ending on the firmament of the salt marches that stretched out toward Plum Island.  Maybe some of you remember it? It was really quite spectacular. Cars had pulled over and were lining both sides of the road and their occupants stood outside taking pictures of that remarkable sight.  The next day people were still talking about the beauty they had seen in the sky and Facebook was full of pictures posted by people from all around the region.

Over the centuries, rainbows have become more than just beautiful sights, they are important symbols of the covenant of God’s unconditional love — and they speak to us, on some level of our being, even if we do not believe in the historical, spiritual or archetypical truth of the flood story and even if we profess to not being a Christian. Whether we believe any of that or not, rainbows appearing as the rains ebb and stop, with the water droplets catching the sun’s rays, causing gorgeous color to be spread across the sky, often have a profound effect on people. They can speck to some deep place in us. I frequently notice a shift in peoples’ attitudes, a raising of spirits and an awareness that something awesome has and is happening.

And, indeed, we learn from this morning’s reading that something awesome did happen in Noah’s life. The flood story, and its culmination in the image of the rainbow, symbolizing God’s love for God’s people, is a fitting opening for the beginning of Lent and for today, Episcopal Relief and Development Sunday in a year with so many huge weather related disasters. The flood, sent as a result of God’s dissatisfaction with humankind’s behavior, with humankind’s wickedness and sinful ways – we are told comes close to causing total annihilation of humanity.

But God, out of God’s mercy, concedes and through God’s love, humanity is saved and can start again. And…God…makes…a …covenant, gives the promise, that the Earth will never be destroyed that way again – and in so doing, God becomes the protector — a protector who has a stake in the success of the game, no longer only the observing creator. And the covenant was unilateral, something very important to note and something I had never really paid attention to until I studied this story…God was committed to the covenant but humankind was not; no strings were attached by God to the covenant – no matter what humankind did or didn’t do, God would stand by God’s promise—to love us unconditionally.  And we are witnesses that this covenant is still solid, is still in place, despite our continued destructive behavior, our continued sinfulness

This covenant, symbolized by the bow in the sky, found a flesh and blood expression for us in the person of Jesus Christ. God in God’s mercy became incarnate as a human.  And that human….died a horrid death on the cross for our salvation as a result of that covenant—that love—and defeated death through the resurrection and went on to send us an advocate, the Holy Spirit to be with us always.

Lent, is a very solemn time in our church year, set aside by Christians as a time to prepare for Easter because despite all of our efforts, we fall into sin and consort with the powers of darkness, over and over again. Recognizing and admitting that is an important step in the working out of our salvation in Jesus Christ.  But we try to not stop there. Once we have recognized our sin as individuals and as a human family we must look up and see that God has tossed us a flesh and blood life raft – Christ our Lord.  If we can grab hold of him and let him take our sins from us, we become free to live and move in new ways.

And those are the central themes of Lent: recognition of our sin, and a desire and willingness to let those sins go and – to — be — taken — from — us — by — One who is mightier over them than we are. Taken by the One who was named by God in the waters of his baptism as the “Beloved”.  I believe he was named that not just because God loved him so dearly, and not only because at Jesus’s core he is Love, but because the Trinity operates only out of the inter-relationship of Love among the Three in One.

During Lent as we walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem, we take the time to intentionally think about how we have sinned — sinned individually and as part of a larger group, as a part of humanity. I submit to you that this Lent that reflection must include deep and purposeful reflection on the continued proliferation of guns in our society, and I mean all types of guns, and on the violent use of those guns throughout our life — for as members of a society where thousands of our brothers and sisters are murdered by guns each year we each own a part of that great evil.  May our reflections inspire us to action to follow the Prince of Peace as we respond to this epidemic of gun violence in the U.S.A.  In our own community the interfaith clergy association of NBPT has not lost sight of this need over the past months and has and is working together and with our elected officials to find real and meaningful ways of addressing this blight in our society. Martha and I will keep you aware of the outcomes of our efforts.

During Lent we engage in practices that help us pay better attention to our deeper hungers and desires and to acknowledge them. – We don’t engage in those practices, practices of giving up those things we love, or by taking on new and additional practices and activities, in order to punish ourselves for those sins; but rather, so we can let go of the darkness…..repent….and join together with gratitude for the covenant of the rainbow…. ultimately culminating in joyful celebration on Easter Sunday.

And so, as we move through Lent, toward the joy and beauty of Easter when we renew our baptismal covenant, we can hold the image of a beautiful rainbow in our hearts filling us with the knowledge that God has promised unconditional love and salvation through that love made manifest in Jesus Christ…….

Several weeks ago, Martha reminded us in her sermon that baptism is not a holy zap that magically transforms life, but rather, that it is the starting point for a lifelong partnership with God. AND IT IS THROUGH THAT partnership we join God’s unilateral covenant with our own. And we know that through God’s grace even when we break our covenant (and as sinners we inevitably will) we know that Christ can be trusted completely with any sin we have ever committed and as we pray in our confession, for the evil done on our behalf. And we know that we can be healed from the entrenched patterns of sin that handicap our lives…. and with that healing there is room for increased light and life and love. As the writer of our second lesson, from the First Letter of Peter, points out, all human sin is swallowed up by the embrace of Christ.  

Every time we see the spectacular beauty of the rainbow, may these assurances come rushing back to us and may we say Thanks be to God!

Amen

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Dec 052017
 

 

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

Today is Advent 1. I bet most of you knew that, right? I am willing to bet that many of us here today know that the church season of Advent is about anticipation, preparation, and waiting for the future.  I bet that Advent is a favorite season for some of us: a season of beauty, a season with music that transcends and transports us to places of great joy. And………I am willing to bet that for some of us, the season of Advent can slip away – almost unobserved. I bet that it can pass by with great speed without our even being aware that it is passing — and then its ending is often a surprise — not noticed until it is suddenly right on us…..

And that might happen this year even if it usually doesn’t happen to you.  If you recall, there are 4 Sunday’s in the church season of Advent.  Today, Advent 1, the first of those 4 Sundays, marks the beginning of the church year – and the 4th Sunday this year falls right on Christmas Eve, which doesn’t always happen – we usually have at least a few days between the Sunday of Advent 4 and Christmas Eve. But this year the very next day is Christmas — so… there are no days between Advent 4 and Christmas Day. All this makes for a fast season to go by even faster, so it’s easy to forget that we’re still in Advent that last week.

I used to be a bit flummoxed by the season of Advent because, while I understood that Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which we make ourselves ready for celebrating the coming, the incarnation, of Jesus at Christmas, I didn’t understand why we would hear about the end of days right before that in Advent. It seemed totally out of order to me, and so I was always thrown by the scripture readings for the first two Sundays during Advent — the ones that focus on the second coming of Christ – readings that are not happy or joyous, rather they’re scary and apocalyptic.  It wasn’t until the last two Sundays came along that we would hear about the joyous time of Christ’s birth – his first coming. So, over the course of the four weeks, scripture readings would move from passages about Christ’s future coming return, to scripture about Christ’s initial coming, when Jesus arrived in the Nativity story we know so well. I just didn’t get it.

As I grew older, I heard this concept of the past and future coming referred to as: the history of our Savior’s coming and the mystery of our Savior’s coming – the before and the not yet — and I liked that – it helped me make sense of these four week’s scripture readings……….This juxtaposition of history and mystery is about the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming.  Karl Barth, the great 20th century theologian, rectified and joined those 2 concepts perfectly in the spirit of Advent: He wrote, “The unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promises — and in fact the same promise.”

So, while Advent is certainly a joyful time of anticipation when we look forward to Christmas, it is more than that. It is also a penitential time, some call it a little Lent and it typically involves scripture reading, prayer, fasting, and repentance. It is no mistake that our vestments and altar hangings can be the same colors in Advent as they are in Lent. We look back upon Christ’s coming with celebration – Christmas — while at the same time looking forward in anticipation to the coming of the Kingdom, and we prepare for the time when Christ returns for his people. In Advent we sing the beautiful hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, and each week we say in the Nicene Creed: “We await His coming in Glory”. The history and the mystery.

There are several other well-loved traditions in which many participate during Advent – Such as using an Advent wreath. Here in church at the beginning of the service we light one candle the first week and add another to it each week.  Many of us have Advent wreaths at home that we use each day when we pray or during our time of reflection.  ……Many of us use Advent calendars – and I don’t mean the type that when you open the little window each morning you find a different piece of chocolate or a number telling how many days are left before Santa slides down the chimney. There are many types of Advent calendars available for us but if you don’t have one yet please take one of these.  They are available on the table out in the narthex.  This one is created each year by the Rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Charlestown. Each day has a Bible verse related to the drawing and phrase to use for your prayers or reflections that day.

It can be difficult to keep our minds on worship during Advent in the midst of holiday parties, shopping, and the need to put up lights and decorations. But let’s really try this year to slow all the frenzy and busyness and intentionally pay attention to some of these Advent traditions – aside from being beautiful, these traditions help us slow down and keep us focused on our worship, and on the purpose of the Advent season….they help us reflect on the history and the mystery.   

In the adult forum last week we were discussing Barbara Taylor Brown’s book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark” There was a passage that struck many of us very forcefully and I’d like to read it to you as we think about taking time during Advent.  A husband asks his wife,

‘How long since we have done this?’ He says…..  How long since we have left our house, which we know so well, to climb a hill and sit next to each other in the dark with nothing to do but wait for the moon to rise?  How long since we have sat quietly under such enormous space? ‘Twenty years,’ I say. ‘Why is that?’ he says.  He and I both know why, but the answer makes me so sad that I cannot say it out loud.  We have been busy.  For twenty years.”

So by all means prepare for that Christmas feast, visit relatives and enjoy the giving and getting of gifts, but don’t miss the beauty of Advent.  Don’t get so caught up making sure the tree is trimmed just right or with finding the perfect outfit for the Christmas party that we miss the glory of Advent.

Now there is nothing particularly profound or Earth-shattering in that message this morning.  Slow down.  Pay attention.  Get Ready.  But part of the message is much more subtle…..and that is to be aware of the NOW; to be aware of when Christ is being made known to us in the moment; to remember that just because we are looking back, and anticipating the future, does not mean that we should forget that the Kingdom of God is here, today. And we should revel in the presence of God in our world.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we all know that life is short and we know this season of Advent will go by fast. Don’t be too busy!! – or you may miss it. This year let’s really, really try to honor and live into the spirit of Advent…..however we do that — praying with candles in a darkened room, or through meditation, or by walking the labyrinth out back that is not  yet covered in snow or by using the Advent calendar.

And most importantly, let’s remember that the promise is Jesus Christ. Rejoice in the knowledge that he has come, and that he will come again…and celebrate that he is always with us, right now, right here in this time of the before and the not yet. Let us commit to living the Gospel’s message of “Keep Awake”…..Not just for this Advent season but for all of our lives. Remember last week’s Gospel? Let us see the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the homeless — and let us act on what we see with compassion and love as Christ teaches us. Let us see the face of Christ in each other….

So watch and be alert for where Christ is being made known to you in this crazy world right NOW? Be aware of what God is doing in your world.  Think about how are you preparing to respond to it. Christ is the history and the coming mystery but Christ is here now, abiding in each and every one of us and in the relationships we have with each other. This I believe is the essence of Advent. 

This season of Advent is short and goes by fast. Don’t be too busy! Stay awake – or you may miss it!

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday, December 3, 2017 – The First Sunday of Advent  Posted by on Tue, 5-Dec-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, December 3, 2017 – The First Sunday of Advent
Oct 102017
 

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

So our first reading this morning from the Hebrew scripture, often referred to as God’s Divine Love Song,  can give us whiplash: vacillating, from one voice to another voice with emotions swerving around delight, guilt, fear, confusion, rage and hope – all in 7 short verses………Isaiah was not messing around in the telling of this parable! 

“Let me sing a song for my beloved.”  What an amazing beginning – one that can conjure up profound images and beautiful feelings of great love for the one who is beloved.  But we soon learn as we read on that all is not sweetness and light in this love story. 

Isaiah, the prophet, lets us know that God is the one singing this song.  He tells us, using God’s voice, that God has done all of the work required to create and then protect the environment so that a vineyard would flourish and yield plentiful grapes.  But instead of a harvest heavy with succulent fruit,…..wild grapes, good for nothing but feeding scavenging birds are the result of all of God’s care and love.

Then we hear the plaintive voice of God essentially asking, “Why???? ….Why wild grapes?” And quickly God’s voice changes from that plaintive voice I hear as full of pain, sadness, and sorrow to one full of disappointment and frustration asking, “What else could I have done for there to have been grapes full of sweetness?” 

The song goes on, rapidly shifting to a song filled with expressions of anger, painting a picture of judgment and vengeance and it becomes a song of terrifying, furious punishment…..ending in promises of destruction and abandonment.

And then Isaiah comes back in – in his own voice!!! summing it all up for us (in case we miss the point) by telling us that in this parable the House of Israel — the Northern Kingdom, is the vineyard of our Lord, while the people of Judah — the Southern Kingdom, constitute the planting of the vine by God. And the parable goes on to show us that the covenant between God and the people is being betrayed…….The covenant that was created when God told Moses, way-back in the day as we read in Deuteronomy, that God would bless them with many blessings and Moses said that the people would keep God’s commandments.  Isaiah, tells us that with that covenant God expected righteousness and justice from the people and now, instead, God was receiving the fruits of a broken promise.

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t like stories like this of a vengeful God — a God who metes out punishment in return for bad behavior.  But isn’t that what we read here in Isaiah? 

Some love song!

While I was in school, a number of us would sit about in the evenings talking, trying to understand, with each other’s help, some of those theological or spiritual issues we inevitably had to grapple with, trying to make sense of them.  One of the concepts we often grappled with was this idea of a vengeful God, a God who punished and exacted retribution.  One of the things we discussed was that the Hebrew prophets’ use of parables was very different from how Jesus used parables — the parables we are probably a little more familiar with.  Jesus’ parables were usually about furthering the understanding about God’s Kingdom – of spreading the Good News……but, the Hebrew prophets’ parables served a different purpose.

The prophets were great at using parables that did not evoke good feelings…..Their parables usually caused the people of their time to unwittingly condemn themselves and their own behavior…..so that they would finally see the devastating consequences that would occur if they did not change.  The prophets in the Hebrew scripture were not fortune tellers or soothsayers as we so often think when we hear the word prophet; rather, they were messengers of and from God who explained, clarified or reframed situations.  They used parables to paint pictures that said, “This is what will happen if you keep doing what you are doing – so wake up and change — so it won’t happen that way!” So, just because this lesson reads as if God was causing catastrophic, revengeful events to overcome God’s people, G’sod beloved, it doesn’t mean that those outcomes were inevitable.

And let’s step back a bit and look at what was going on at this time in history……Before we come upon Isaiah in this morning’s reading, we have 4 chapters that tell us all about the sinful, corrupt ways of the people of Israel and now we learn that Judah is headed the same sinful direction. And Isaiah, being a messenger using God’s voice, is saying to the vineyard and grapes, “Stop this or things won’t be good – this is not how you promised me, your God, you would behave”. Isaiah’s prophetic voice is giving the warning that the love of God and love of neighbor are no longer the center of the people’s lives, that the people have forgotten the covenant they made with God during Moses’ time — and that they had better shape up!! 

During one of those evenings sitting around at school trying to figure this all out, a colleague said that she always thought of these types of passages as God’s way of showing us that there was a reset button available to us — that God was metaphorically cleaning the slate, thereby letting people start over when they had messed up. 

Reset…… It became a code word for us used in conjunction with this action – reset (do it) as if we were pushing a button. Whenever we came upon this type of passage, one of us would say, “Reset”…. and after a while we would just make the motion (Do it) knowing what it meant to us. Our instructors were very confused one class when a number of us simultaneously suddenly pushed an imaginary button.  It spread into our daily lives as well…frequently one of us would say to another, “Reset”, or just make the motion, and we’d stop and examine what was happening that might not have been what God expected or desired of us.  To this day, I find myself often telling myself, “Reset.”

At the end of the parable Isaiah tells us that God desired and expected justice and righteousness – God expected the people would love one another and would love God and would carry out God’s work and uphold justice.  But we know from those first 4 chapters that the people of our parable’s day weren’t in right relationship with each other or with God. They weren’t being just or righteous. And In order to do God’s work, they needed to be in right relationship, or at least trying to be.

And what about us in our day?  What about us and our right relationship with God and with each other? Are we in right relationship?  What about our social, political, economic and legal systems?  – the systems we are all a part of creating?

Let’s ask those questions in the light of our most recent national tragedy — Is it righteous that there are 323 million people in the US and there are 283 million guns in the hands of civilians? Is it righteous that 4.5 million more guns are purchased each year? Is it just that approximately 30,000 people die from gun violence, including suicides, in the United States a year? 30,000 people…..that is close to double the population of Newburyport. How righteous is it that we have a legal system where a semi-automatic gun can be purchased —- and then modified into a fully automatic weapon of mass murder using a kit purchased from the internet for just $99? How just is it that ammunition is created and used, not only to kill, but to cause maximum pain and suffering through unbelievable damage to the human body? How do we fare when we ask ourselves those questions? How do we fare when we look at other systems in our world or in our personal lives? Sometimes pretty good…sometimes mediocre and sometimes pretty awful? ………. Have we really examined our own individual and collective fruit lately?  

And if we find it to be pretty awful, what then?  What do we do then? Do we explain away the shortcomings in our personal interactions? Do we turn the radio down or the TV off because we have become resigned or numb to the horrors of our systems? I suspect we sometimes come to church to escape harsh realities of our lives…..and that’s OK…….but sometimes as Christians, we must reflect on the regularity those unjust tragedies like mass murder….of how we as a people fail. Do we listen for a prophetic voice to point out areas we need to change…to guide us to action that changes what is not righteous, not just?  Who are our prophets? Who in our lives do we listen to who will tell us when we need to hit the reset button? An old friend, a spiritual advisor, a family member, the Bishops against gun violence? Do we take the time during our noisy day to listen for God’s voice? In today’s world taking the opportunities around us for things like contemplative prayer, quiet reflection or long walks, can be so necessary for us to allow those voices to enter into our awareness and help us know how to change.

This lesson is a story about God creating, tending and nurturing us.  So yes, this is a story about God’s overwhelming love for all of us as individuals and as a community. And it is a story of that love being spurned by the beloved. But no matter how badly we behave, how often we spurn God’s love, we have Jesus to embrace us. God gave us the ultimate reset button.  Jesus.  As Br. James Koester, one of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist brothers wrote, “No matter how many times we reject God’s love, no matter how many times we as individuals turn our backs on God’s love, no matter how many times we as a community spurn God’s love, no matter how many times we as a church scorn God’s love, God always, in the person of Jesus stretches out his arms of love on the hard wood of the cross longing to embrace us and bring us home.”

Yes, this parable is a love song from God to God’s people, from God who delights in God’s vineyard. A god who doesn’t just write off those who don’t live up to his expectations and desires. What a gift from God Isaiah was delivering…..to be able to see that a change needed to happen and that the reset button could still be hit… It is a love song from God to God’s Beloved, to us, God’s cherished.                                                                                       

And it is a gift that is just as available for us to unwrap today as it was for the people of Isaiah’s day………………… if only we listen for the prophetic voice, accept the gift and hit the reset  button. 

Please God.  Amen

 

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 Sermon for Sunday, October 8, 2017 – the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 10-Oct-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, October 8, 2017 – the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 072017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, August 6, 2017 – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

 

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

When I was a little girl, spending the summers with my grandparents was a time I would anticipate with great joy all year long.  One of the reasons was because, along with all of my cousins, I would go to Bible school. We’d run through the fields to the Parish Hall across the lot from the church. It was where all of the church functions had been held for generations, a long, one room building with a kitchen in the back.  We’d don aprons to cover our play clothes and settle ourselves on the little chairs arranged in a semi-circle to hear what craft we were going to do that day.  Now to be clear, we had to sit quietly and listen to one of the grown-ups (who was usually one of my many Aunts), tell us a Bible story and then we’d talk about it for a little while, sing a Gospel hymn accompanied by Tennessee Ernie Ford on the old record player, followed by singing John Jacob Jinglehammer-Schmidt, and THEN we could do our craft – a craft that somehow related to the Bible story we’d just heard..

I actually remember the morning we heard this story in Bible School — the feeding of the five thousand. I wish I could tell you I remember it because of some deep spiritual lesson I learned that day – but I can’t.  I remember this story because that day’s craft involved stenciling a few words on a piece of slate and then filling in the letters with paint.  We had two choices for what we stenciled onto the slate….words that said, ‘God is Good’ or, ‘God is Love’. My favorite cousin chose ‘God is Good’ and I picked ‘God is Love’.  I chose it instead of the ‘God is Good’ phrase because God is Good is how our grace started before meals and I can remember thinking that we said that all of the time — and I loved my Gramma with all my heart and I always gave her the craft we made….so the ‘God is Love’ phrase seemed right……and it must have been because Gramma hung my completed stenciled slate on her bedroom wall where it stayed for many years.

Last week I ended the sermon by asking all of us to think about how we might finish the sentence, “The Kingdom of God is like….”.  And I thought about that throughout the week, often in the context of preparing this week’s sermon. The images of that idyllic time when I was so little going to Bible School and being surrounded by God’s love manifested through my family’s unconditional love was one of the images that I kept seeing when thinking about how to finish that sentence – Images summed up in words stenciled on slate: God is LOVE.

But I hadn’t picked that phrase to stencil so long ago because I learned that “God is Love” from this Bible story – maybe the older kids did, maybe they got it, but I didn’t.  The connection between God and Love, or at least the realization that the manifestation of God’s love, was an important lesson in Matthew’s version of this Gospel story, came to me many years later.  It took me those years before I understood that Jesus’ feeding of the hungry, tired people streamed out of his deep, profound compassion for them.

While I was in the Holy Land, I visited the two places identified as the spot where Jesus performed this miracle and while they were both beautiful, lush locations on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, they were each a very, very far walk away from any of those villages mentioned in the reading — where anyone, much less 5K plus people — could find food. Jesus didn’t make them leave and troop back to find far off villages that would have taken hours to reach in the dark. And he didn’t let them go without – he didn’t leave them hungry.  He had compassion for them ……. and the word compassion in Latin is often translated as “to love with” and that is what we see Jesus do – to love with. That is why one of the choices I had to stencil from this Bible story so long ago was, “God is Love.” ……….  To love with …….  Jesus, through his actions, not just in words, loved those hungry people who had come to listen to him.

In last week’s sermon I quoted Warren Carter’s reminding us that,

‘If a person is well adjusted in a sick society, corrupting is the only path to wholeness.” And isn’t Jesus’ behavior shown in this Gospel reading a wonderful example of how  Jesus used love as a transformative agent – a corrupting agent if you will — in a society ruled through foreign, oppressive occupation. Jesus’ behavior manifested love. He again shows us how to love, how to transform, which he does in his short ministry over and over and over.  Feed the hungry.  Give rest to the weary.  Care for the widow.  Remember the lonely.

This miracle of Jesus turning a few loaves of bread and some fish into enough food to feed 5k plus men, women, and children is the only miracle story to be found in all 4 of the Gospels. While the notions that “God is love” and that we should emulate Jesus’ manifestations of that love are central points in this Gospel story, they are not the only important points in these few verses.  And, it is important to remember that this is a story about many things but it is not a story of a picnic any more than the Last Supper is a story of a dinner party for friends.  Jesus heralded our communion rite when he took the fish and bread that day.  And while some of the facts are presented a bit differently in the various Gospels, they all 4 make a point of foreshadowing our sacrament of communion. [Jay use your fingers] Bread was taken, blessed, broken and given. Each Sunday when we prepare to receive communion, as a community, not just as a personal action, but rather as a group of Christians, those same four very important elements are taking place.  Listen and watch for the 4 elements beginning with my setting of the altar and not ending until the last people have received communion. [Jay use fingers] Bread will be taken, blessed, broken and given –— all part of our Holy Communion today.

But there is another point in this Gospel, one that I admit I missed for a long time; in fact, it wasn’t until I was in formation for the Diaconate and was studying what it truly meant to try to be a servant that I noted this, up to then, missed point.  We are so accustomed to hearing “Jesus feed the 5 K”, that we can miss that in all 4 versions of this Gospel story, Jesus isn’t actually who feeds the hungry, although that is a little vague in John’s Gospel…..In the other 3, the synoptic Gospels, it is clear that he tells the disciples to feed the throngs of people. In other words, he calls the disciples to service. The disciples perform the act of feeding after Jesus gives them the blessed bread and fish.

And in our own time, after all have received the body and blood of Christ and the altar has been restored, we too are called to serve, just as the disciples were called. Just as Jesus called his disciples to service when he told them to get and give the bread and fish, we hear that call echoed in our post communion prayer, part of which is: “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do — to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”

Earlier this week, I mentioned to Deb Hay, our parish administrator, that I was having a difficult time finding a way to end this sermon.  Without knowing what I was preaching, she said, “Tell them to remember God, to be nice to each other, to take care of themselves and to have a really nice day.”  We laughed…..but then I thought about what she said and realized she was right.  She had summed up the message of God’s love and our directive to go forth to love and serve the Lord as faithful witness. That was the ending.  Because that is what this Gospel is about.  It is about God’s love, Jesus’ manifestation of that love and about us, caring for one another as Jesus commands us.

We each of us have our own gifts that we can access to be a witness of Christ and gifts that support us in loving and serving the Lord. Or to put it in the words of that sage Deb Hay, “Remember God, be nice to each other, take care of yourself and have a really nice day!.”

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday, August 6, 2017 – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Mon, 7-Aug-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, August 6, 2017 – The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Aug 012017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, July 30, 2017 – the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

 

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

The Kingdom of Heaven is like……………………..?   Is like what? How would you complete that sentence?  What images came to your mind right off the bat? What images might come to you after you’ve thought about it for a bit, I wonder? 

Well in today’s Gospel, we come upon Jesus as he is helping his disciples discover and understand what the Kingdom of Heaven is like…….and he does this through the use of, no surprise here: parables. In fact, these are called the Kingdom parables. And he says through them that the Kingdom of Heaven is like the mustard seed, like yeast, like buried treasure, like a searching merchant and like a far flung fishing net.  These comparisons must have surprised and confused the disciples! 

See, all of those things had bad or negative connotations in Jesus’s time, so saying they were what the Kingdom of Heaven could be compared to would have been pretty odd for the disciples to hear.  And, these parables would have been disconcerting to the disciples because each of the objects Jesus referred to in them contained something that was sort of hidden at first sight – something that was a little bit sinister in their substance or through their use.

Look at the mustard seed: a seed so very, very tiny that it usually could not be seen when mixed in with other seeds, hidden in plain sight. It would produce a weed that would grow strong and fast – chocking out and killing the plants it was near.  It was pulled out and discarded as soon as it was spotted in a field. (BTW, I have a mustard seed in a pin on my clerical shirt, if you have never seen one so you can take a look at it during coffee hour if you want.) Then there is yeast: In Jesus’ time yeast was very different from what we are familiar with and if not prepared correctly, it would cause not only the bread to spoil but it could kill those who ate what was made from it. It was considered so unclean that the word yeast was often used to convey a meaning of corruption or impurity. Then there is the hidden treasure that someone found and hides in someone else’s field that he then comes back when the time is advantageous and retrieves it through nefarious means  – which is a nice way of saying that someone acts like a thief, hiding and then taking loot that is not really his.  And the merchant and the pearl? Back in Jesus’ day merchants were definitely not respected; they were considered suspect and non-trustworthy, people who would hide the true value of their wares. And then there were the fishing nets; they themselves were not considered evil or bad, but unwanted fish would be collected in them and hide among the wanted catch, necessitating more work and sorting by the fishermen.  All odd, disconcerting comparisons for Jesus to use when describing the Kingdom of Heaven. 

But with each case, Jesus goes on to transform the negative, the evil, the non-respected object or action into something else –—- a transformation to something good and positive.  The mustard seed is transformed into a place of shelter, a place for birds to rest.  Yeast, carefully used, can be transformed from a poison to an agent that will make a feast for many. The actions of the merchant and the thief become a willingness to sacrifice all they have, a willingness to give up everything for that which they considered of great value……..a metaphor of passing through things temporal so as not to lose things eternal…….as we prayed in this morning’s collect. 

You know, I often wish Jesus had just come out and said clearly what he meant instead of using parables, or metaphors, since in today’s world at least, they can obfisticate his message. But…..in his time, the people he was talking with would have understood his meaning immediately – they would have known he needed to use parables and stories because he talking in code, as a means of preserving his, and their safety from retribution from the authority of Rome, which was the occupying power.  They would have known that he was comparing what being a disciple of Jesus – or a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, looked and behaved like – as opposed to what being a follower of Caesar — or a citizen of the Empire of Rome —- looked and behaved like. He was equating that which was thought of as sinister, to the authority of Rome. And then he was showing how God’s goodness and mercy can transform even that to something good. He was telling them that God’s realm and the realm of Rome were not at all the same and that the real authority, the one to pay attention to was God’s love, not Caesar’s occupation.  And at the end of the Gospel he asks them. “Do you understand?”…do you realize you must choose and you must be prepared to help others choose … to whom will you give authority in your life…..God or Rome?  

So what of today’s world? I know many of you have heard me say that Deacons are to try to bring the problems, concerns and issues of the world into the church….but I may not say often enough that we are to send the Word, the message of the Gospel, into the world.  The reason I place the Gospel book flat on the high altar rather than standing-up, after I, or Martha in my absence, proclaim the Gospel, is to symbolize that The Word of the Lord, has been sent out into the world….., that that message, is then to be carried out by all of us, not just in word but in our actions and through our behaviors.

So what of this Gospel? What will you and I be taking back out into the world from our look today at what Jesus was saying to his disciples….what about this message will walk through the door with you?  I know I’m going to be thinking a lot about what the authorities and powers at all levels of our nation are saying and doing.  I know I will be wrestling with what authorities in other nations are telling their populations. And I’m going to think hard about the authority in the messages I hear from the institutions I deal with each day and about the messages I send and receive in my family.  Is it Caesar’s realm or God’s realm I will find? And then I’m going to continue to explore how my implicit biases (the ones I’m often not even aware of, much less those I know I have even though I fight against them), how they contribute to the structural evil I see, locally and globally – that evil imbedded in our society….the ones I know are not of God’s realm. 

And I invite each of you to do the same in your own way – to join me in identifying and intentionally watching – there is something very important about the intentionality of it all. I just returned from about three weeks of being in the home town I grew up in and I was amazed at how easily I found myself slipping back into thoughts and mores I have worked hard over the years to change. I had to pull up and intentionally examine what I was seeing and hearing.

And then after we intentionally examine all of this, what if we don’t like what we hear and see?  Can we challenge what we find by asking what it means to prepare to be a disciple first for the realm of God’s heavens? Warren Carter, a New Testament theologian, writes in commenting on this parable, “if a person is well adjusted in a sick society, corrupting is the only path to wholeness”. Let me quote that again, “If a person is well adjusted in a sick society, corrupting is the only path to wholeness.”  Kind of a scary sentence, but as the Methodist theologian, Gary Feluso-Verdend reminds us, “Helping persons to adjust, or be balanced, to fit into a sick society, is not the work of the Gospel”.  

With God’s help may we become even more strongly agents of the transformative power of that which causes that which is bad or evil to become that which is spirit-filled and overflowing with God’s love. 

And if we are asked next week to finish the sentence, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like………………” how would we each finish it? Would it be any different from how we may have finished it today?                   

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday, July 30, 2017 – The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost  Posted by on Tue, 1-Aug-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, July 30, 2017 – The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
May 232017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, May 21, 2017 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter

 

Speak to our hearts and strengthen our will O God so we may love and serve you today and always.  Amen  

I have always thought Paul’s missionary journeys, recorded in Acts, read like one of the old Mission Impossible TV shows.  On the second of his three missionary journeys, the one we hear about today, he has been detoured by the Holy Spirit from going any further into the places he had planned to visit in Asia.  Instead he returns to the Middle East, and places located primarily in the region along the Northern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea….getting into all kinds of difficulty along the way.  He finally gets to Philippi, today’s Greece, where he converts Lydia and her household but he also angered others, so much that he is pursued by a mob of angry townspeople who beat him and put him in prison.  After a series of mishaps, he eventually manages to get out of prison (with a little bit of help from an earthquake) and leaves town. He dashes through the cities like Amphipolis and Apollonia, preaching as he goes and arrives in Thessalonica, where once again he is attacked by angry mobs, so he fleas to the next place, Berea, where he should be safe, but the Thessalonians pursue him there — so he fleas to Athens – where we hear about him in today’s Epistle. Paul anticipated only staying in Athens for a short time…just until Silas and Timothy, who he had left back in Berea with the angry mob, could join him. Then he planned that they could all get back on the road and resume their missionary journey together. 

Going to Athens is one of the few times Paul goes somewhere not because one of the nasant churches is in some type of trouble and not because he is planning to evangelize in a new city or region.  He can relax and take in the sites of the city, the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the graceful pillars of the beautiful buildings.  As is his way, however, he can’t help but preach the word of God’s love and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ’s redeeming salvation.  However, as is often not the case, in Athens he finds an audience that is eager to listen to him! They actually ask him to tell them about this new, to them, God, he speaks of.  They are, after all, philosophers in the beautiful city of Athens, the home of Plato, Aristotle, Euripides and so many more. The Athenians love to spend their time in the pursuit of new knowledge — and Paul’s teaching about Christ’s resurrection is new information they are keen to hear about.  They want to know what these things Paul is saying – mean.

Paul has seen the many altars in Athens that have been erected to various gods and has seen the idols of even more gods that the people there worship.  He knows that the Athenians are polytheistic, that they believe in many different gods, in fact, I read an estimate that there were up to 30,000 gods being worshiped in Athens at the time Paul was there – the commentator said, somewhat sarcastically, that it was easier to find a god than it was to find a man in Athens. But Paul is pretty astute and deduced that the many gods and idols present throughout the city, and significantly the presence of one altar to the unknown god, signals that they are hedging their bets, if you will. Paul realizes that they are still searching for profound meaning in their faith, that they know something is missing.  And that awareness, coupled with the Athenian’s desire to comprehend what Paul is talking about, indicates to him that the Athenians are ready to hear about the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  So he teaches, explains and explores with them – and as it says later in Acts “some of them joined him and became believers”.

It can be somewhat easy to scoff at the Athenians and their worship of many gods and of their seemingly endless searching. But I think that there are many people today who feel as if something is missing in their lives, at least some of the time, if not all of the time. Many are searching to finds ways of finding meaning in this time of uncertainty in our nation, ways to deal with the resulting emotions of fear or anxiety, the lack of trust, the sadness, how to find meaning in the chaos.  So we search, and often end up creating idols, in a misguided effort to fill what is missing – trying to find that meaning. Some folks try to find meaning in things like their possessions or jobs. We can be pretty good at creating and worshiping our own false gods …. and still some of us seem never to be satisfied. What is it we are searching for, what are we pursuing, where is the meaning?

 

When we dissect this morning’s Gospel a bit, we can find the meaning the Athenians were searching for; we can find the meaning that so many today long for. I want to tell you that it took me a while to understand how this Gospel shows us that.  In this, part of Jesus’s Farewell Discourse during the Last Supper, he tells the disciples that he, the physical presence in this world of God’s love, is leaving. He says, “In a little while you will no longer see me.” Jesus tells his disciples that he will ask God to send The Advocate, who will guide, counsel, comfort and love the world’s people.

But at first reading, the beginning of this Gospel can sound as if Jesus is telling us that we will only receive the Advocate by keeping his commandments — that we must earn the Advocate.  It reads: Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate.  And then at the end of the Gospel it can seem that Jesus is saying if you don’t keep his commandments you don’t love him and that if you don’t love him, God will not love you.

But note, there is a period between those two first sentences at the beginning of the reading, not a comma.  There is no — Do this and Then I will do that. If the reading is heard as if there were a comma rather than a period, it could seem that there is a quid pro quo……..but even then it would require that we take this reading be taken out of the larger Gospel context, the whole of the Gospels, because we have been told by Jesus over and over again that God has already given us God’s love to us through God’s grace.

What Jesus is telling us in this Gospel is that we should keep his commandments because we love him, that if we love him we will want to keep his commandments – the keeping of the commandments is the outcome of God’s love for us, not the cause of it.  It is through God’s grace that we have already been given that great gift of unconditional love that we don’t deserve and can’t earn.  

Further, it is through our relationship based on the love of the Trinity, that we love each other.  It is through that relationship that Jesus continued to reveal himself after he was gone because the Advocate is with us as part of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth — another gift from God.  That Spirit of Truth that we can cling to in this uncertain, scary time. Jesus promised his disciples, and therefore us, that The Advocate will show and guide the way. In just a few minutes we will call upon that Advocate, The Spirit, to be present at the Eucharist – in our relationship with God the Creator, God the Redeemer and God the Advocate, as bread and wine.  

What is it we are searching for, what are we pursuing, where is the meaning?  How does this Gospel answer those questions the Athenians asked and that so many still ask at times? It is the love from God, made manifest in Jesus Christ and continued through the gift of the Advocate. It is love that is the grounding, the purpose, the end result, the meaning that can be found through the searching. It is love made manifest in Christ, and then continued through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. It is that from which we can derive the meaning that satisfies us, that fills what was missing. The recognition of that relationship, the joy and sustenance derived from that relationship, is what the Athenians were searching for, what some of them found when they were striving to understand what the message of Paul’s words meant. 

And as Marcus Borg, the contemporary writer and theologian, reminds us in today’s world, “God loves us already and has from our very beginning. The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can be saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true: that God loves us already and then our beginning to live in that relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God.”, and I would add also with each other through the help and with the love of The Spirit of Truth. 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

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 Sermon for Sunday, May 21, 2017 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Tue, 23-May-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, May 21, 2017 – The Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 092017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, May 7 the Fourth Sunday of Easter

 

 

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

One of my fondest memories is that of my Grandmother and her sisters teaching me and my cousins when we were very young children the 23rd psalm. I think many of us learned the 23rd psalm as small children and have gone on to teach it to those in the next generation. It is among the most well-known pieces of scripture we have. I have heard it said that one reason for the appeal of the image of the Good Shepherd lasting across the centuries is that it is an image of a wonderful relationship: a vulnerable little lamb embraced in the arms of a loving shepherd. In the psalm, we read of green grasses, calm peaceful waters….but it is the image of the loving Shepherd that makes those valleys safe and life-giving.  Even people who would not identify themselves as religious or even spiritual, turn to it, almost automatically, when in crisis….. It is an image of that protective, loving relationship with Jesus Christ that we often recognize and experience at times of need in our lives.

Frequently in Morning Prayer there is no sermon.  And the three readings this Sunday could certainly stand alone, especially the 23rd psalm and today’s reading from John: the Good Shepherd Discourse. So this morning I would like to do something that is a little bit different and briefly focus on two women, Monnica, and Julian of Norwich. Two women whose lives embrace and demonstrate the meaning of these readings. Both these women have feast days in our faith and I think it is no accident that their feast days are appointed by the Episcopal Church to be celebrated the week before this Sunday, back on May 4th for Monnica, and Julian’s the week after this Sunday, tomorrow, on May 8th.  As sheep of the flock, the relationship with God and with those in their lives that these women lived, have done much over the centuries to spread God’s word and share Jesus’s mission. You can find more out about these two women (and the other Saints of our faith) in the Episcopal publications called Lesser Feast and Fasts or in the newer, updated version, renamed Clouds of Witnesses. I would encourage you to take a look at them.

Monnica was born around 331 in North Africa. She was the mother of St. Augustine and is credited with his, and her husband’s, conversion to Christianity, which she had struggled to accomplish over many, many years.  According to St. Augustine, while they were travelling in foreign counties, she fell desperately ill and after experiencing visions of her death, he thought she might fear being buried in a foreign land. She replied: “Nothing is far from God, and I need have no fear that he will not know where to find me, when he comes to raise me to life at the end of the world.”

The collect appointed for her feast day reads: O Lord, through spiritual discipline you strengthened your servant Monnica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we pray, and use us in accordance with your will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. I love that line:  even our own kindred…It always give me pause.

Dame Julian was born about 1342 and is known as one of the church’s great mystics. At age 30 she became extremely ill and was given last rites. On the seventh day of her illness she had fifteen visions of the Passion.  After recovering her health, she became a recluse, called an anchoress because she was walled into a small dwelling attached to the Church of St. Julian in Norwich, England. The outside wall has a small window in it where she frequently was visited for counsel and spiritual advice by clergy and lay, including the famous mystic Margery Kempe. If any of you have been to the charming little city of Norwich you probably have seen it. I remember being amazed at how small the room was when I saw it. Perhaps you are familiar with her work, The Revelations of Divine Love?  One of her best known quotes from which many have taken comfort and support is: “but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’  It is a quote that she said she received directly from Christ during one of her visions.  

The collect appointed for Dame Julian’s feast day reads: Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

As Augustine’s mother, Monnica and as Julian of Norwich demonstrated by the way they lived their lives, and as the Good Shepard Discourse in this morning’s Gospel reading teaches us, The Good Shepherd invites us to extend the loving embrace of Jesus Christ to everyone — believers and non-believers. Monnica and Julian knew that when they heard The Shepherd call them by name. They knew that their lives were not just about focusing on their personal, exclusive relationship with Jesus Christ.  They knew it was also about evangelism: sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We know that that ought to be a natural part of our own life of faith, that it is also our mission to share the Good News and to grow the Kingdom of God through our words and through our actions as followers of The Shepherd in the world today.

May we remember Monnica and Julian as two whose lives were beacons of God’s eternal and all-embracing love. Two women who turned to the Shepherd’s all-embracing love when they found themselves in the valley of the shadow of death, two women who found The Shepherd’s comfort and protection and two women who dwelt in the house of the Lord their life long. 

Thanks be to God, Amen

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 Sermon for Sunday, May 7, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Tue, 9-May-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, May 7, 2017 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 022017
 

AUDIO SERMON

Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2017-The Third Sunday of Easter

Speak to our hearts and strengthen our will O God so we may love and serve you today and always.   Amen

The seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus isn’t all that great a distance. It certainly was not an unusual distance for people to travel during Jesus’ time.  But, oh what a lot happened on that short walk to our two travelers from this morning’s Gospel. 

Imagine how Cleopas and his unnamed companion must have felt as they walked home, back to Emmaus, from Jerusalem. Likely they were puzzled, depressed, and despondent, maybe even feeling betrayed and angry. They must have been at least a little afraid…  after all Jesus, the person they thought was the Messiah, the one they expected to save them, the one they had been waiting for — was dead — he was going to redeem Israel, they had thought. But no, he was crucified for being a threat to those in power and now those who followed him also could be seen as a threat to the established authority.  Imagine the turmoil they must have been in … and in addition to all of those emotions what must they have thought and felt after hearing that Jesus’s tomb was empty and that the women who had found the tomb empty had been told by angles that Jesus was actually alive!  Yes, they must have been an emotional mess.

I imagine we’ve all been there at some point in our lives.  Found ourselves confused, angry or disappointed and sad – maybe even a total emotional mess. We all have our own journey and I suspect have found ourselves on our own road to Emmaus at some point.   Seven miles may not be a huge distance but it can be a huge expanse when we think we are alone and we can’t find our way out of the mess. That road can stretch on for what seems like forever to an horizon we don’t think we will ever reach.

Scholars have determined that there are, or I should say were, several villages named Emmaus in the first century, but the same road led to them all ….. and that road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is still there today, albeit now a modern highway.  It is a pretty desolate road, desert on either side with the occasional new illegal Israeli settlement interspersed, but mostly it is just a ribbon of road running through the desert. I remember thinking that it was sort of boring when I traveled down it in our tour bus….. It is a road worthy of matching the feelings of hopelessness and aloneness our two walkers must have been experiencing when they were walking in bewilderment and mourning Jesus’ death when they are joined suddenly by another….  And then they were not alone.               They would never be alone again. 

They did not recognize Jesus when he joins them on the road. We don’t know whybut for whatever reason, they didn’t.  However, by the end of their meal they had recognized Jesus. I find the end of this Gospel, the part where we are told the two turn around after dinner and return to Jerusalem to tell others of their encounter with the risen Jesus, wonderfully reassuring.  Right away they return to the community they had just left …. they have to share the good news…to affirm their stories with their friends in their community.  Can’t you hear them saying, “He has not left us alone.  He has risen indeed.”

You know there is a reason we all come together on Sundays — as a community—to hold and support each other with God’s love, in good and sad times — as part of the body of Christ — as Christ’s own.  We journey together in this realm, on this pilgrimage of faith to reach our destination in Christ. This Gospel story moves from two despondent travelers walking alone, to their return with fire in their hearts, to be a part of creating the beginning of the Christian community. 

And isn’t that just what we do when we read scripture together or when we hold each other in prayer and in love, and, when as a body, we take communion together?  And isn’t that what we are doing today, when we welcome new members into the faith through the sacrament of baptism, as they begin their Christian journey?  Today we will celebrate, I hope with fire in our hearts, 7 new Christians in their new birth in the Kingdom of God, as part of the body of Christ, which is the Church….

In just a few minutes we will all, as a community, promise to support these children in their life in Christ.  I hope these kids never feel disoriented, afraid, or think they are alone … that they are never so overwhelmed that they can’t recognized that they are not alone……. But I hope if that day does happen, we will remember that we make promises today to help them. I hope we remember that even though they are beloved children of God, they undoubtedly will have moments when they find themselves on their own road to Emmaus and they will need others to hold them and remind them that they are not alone.  We are there. As the body of Christ, the church is here. But most of all we need to help them know and believe that, as our two travelers discovered in today’s Gospel and as we read at the close of Matthew, and throughout our Gospels, Jesus is there and has promised that he will be with us always – to the end of time. No matter what. 

Even when we think we will never see the light again, through our baptisms we are children of the light. And our journeys, even when those journeys include time spent traveling on our own Emmaus road, just as those early disciples in Emmaus and Jerusalem experienced the presence of the Risen Christ, so we recognize that through his Holy Spirit, he stands among us today. For we are Easter people and the love of Christ will lead us to each other and to God. 

Thanks be to God.

 

 

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 Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2017 – The Third Sunday of Easter  Posted by on Tue, 2-May-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday, April 30, 2017 – The Third Sunday of Easter
Apr 142017
 

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

So, here we are — at Maundy Thursday.   It’s the day before the pain of Good Friday followed, by the emptiness of Holy Saturday.  It’s the day that begins what constitutes the days of the Triduum – the most solemn time in our church year – days leading to Easter Sunday.  

You may recall that during our worship these three days of the Triduum we have no dismissals.  That’s because from the beginning of this service, through the Great Vigil on Saturday evening, our worship is one continuous service – three days of prayer. 

But what is this day, what does it mean…..this day called Maundy Thursday?  Last year I also preached the sermon for Maundy Thursday and I talked about the various definitions of the name for this service.  I noted that the word Maundy in Old English meant ‘to give a commandment’ and that it came from the Latin word mandatum, to mandate.  That is why this service, sandwiched between Wednesday of Holy Week and Good Friday, is called Maundy…… 

It was the evening when Jesus instituted what became our celebration of Holy Eucharist, the evening he gave the commandment, for this sacrament to be done for his remembrance.  But in tonight’s Gospel, we didn’t hear about that mandatum, did we?   Tonight, it is the other commandment  Jesus gave that night that we hear about in John.  It is the night he gave us the weighty mandatum, one that can be so easy not to follow: the mandatum, the commandment, to serve. …… And then he showed us how to serve — through love for each other when he washed his disciples’ feet.

Feet got dirty in Jesus’ day. Whether through the desert or through towns and cities, walking was the main mode of transportation.  Although foot-washing was a rite of purity and a sign of hospitality shown to guests when they arrived, you may recall that only a slave, or servant, possibly a woman, would wash feet – in other words someone with little or no status or power. But before the beginning of the meal we call the Last Supper, Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist and did the washing of feet, not a servant. 

That particular   foot-washing was far more than cleansing another’s feet, of course.     ……       It was about Love in Action.  Jesus, a man of action, a man who healed – feed — raised the dead — transformed lives and performed great acts of miracles, also performed this lowly act of washing feet that night. And that night, those 2000 plus years ago, when he washed his disciples’ feet in love – an act with deep meaning,  we see that none of us is too “great” to love and serve another.

But that makes it sound as if Jesus humbled himself intentionally but that isn’t the case — no Jesus didn’t put humility on and take it off as he did his robe when he got up from the table to wash his disciples’ feet. No, Jesus embodies humility. 

Too often we serve others in an effort to appear good to those who see us.  We often want to be seen as doing good, or we do good to enjoy the praise we can garner. We care what people think of us.    

C.S. Lewis, the author and theologian, said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.”  And William Temple, one of our former Archbishops of Canterbury said something similar.  He said: “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts.  It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.” And then there is what Frederick Buehner, the theologian wrote:  “Humility is often confused with saying you’re not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship.  And if you really aren’t much of a bridge player, you’re apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a form of low comedy. True humility”, (Buehner goes on to say) “doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do.”    …….. Frederick Buehner challenges us to question the way we think about what’s in our hearts.

Jesus’ entire ministry was steeped in humility.  He performed miracles out of the love that was in his heart, not out of a desire to show himself as powerful or to draw attention to himself  through low comedy.  From the beginning, the story of Jesus was one of “downward mobility” – the newborn king in a manger, right through to his entrance into Jerusalem, as the Son of God riding not in majesty on a high horse as Pontius Pilot did on his entrance to Jerusalem, but on a borrowed donkey, as an itinerant preacher without a home of his own.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate definition of humility. He breathed real life into service when he washed the disciples’ feet…… he did it with genuine love.   

When I was in the Holy Land I saw a beautiful carving of a man obviously meant to be Jesus and he was washing the feet of a man dressed in many robes. I remembered that I had said last year when I preached on Maundy Thursday, we should maybe have a statue of a bowl and pitcher or of a basin and towel somewhere in our churches to remind us of this commandment….this mandatum to love and serve –so I thought I’d buy the carving for the church.  It was gorgeous, hand carved from local olive wood, about this big.  And it turned out to be about this expensive.  It was outrageously expensive –– I didn’t buy it.   But the day before I left, while I was in a little shop near our Pilgrim’s Hotel, I saw this little, inexpensive, machine carved statue. You probably can’t see it from where you are so let me tell you that it is not gorgeous, it is rather crude, the man’s feet Jesus is attempting to wash don’t even come close to reaching the basin, in fact, in this carving the man only has one leg – but  you can tell that the statue is meant to have two. I fell in love with this visual reminder of Jesus’ humility – of Jesus washing the feet of this strange little man – this guy who, to me, represents the marginalized, the outcast, the other.  I’m going to put it in the narthex and leave it there for a bit.  I hope you’ll take a look at it…. and maybe you’ll like it a little bit too.   And maybe it will remind us all that there is more to this ritual than just washing each other’s feet. 

We don’t, of course, have to have our feet washed or to wash the feet of another tonight. Washing someone’s feet you know can make some feel a tad uncomfortable — although I submit to you that it is a ritual that helps us appreciate and experience humbleness — and that’s not such a bad thing to intentionally experience once in a while.

More importantly, this ritual reminds us to open our eyes to the suffering of others who are maybe sick or poor or lonely or hungry or homeless or running from their own personal sadness or crisis.   It is more than a ritual to remind us to serve others by being nice to them – even if the niceness is genuine. It urges us, in that tactile awareness that comes through while touching another, to open our ears and hear the voices of hungry children, open our mouths and speak out against injustice and hate – and to move our feet to right those wrongs. This too is what Jesus asked us to do in remembrance of him that evening he had his last supper. 

So, here we are ….  at Maundy Thursday.  The beginning of the Tridium — three powerful days when we Christians stare into the abyss.

But we are Easter people and we come out of and through the abyss with the help of prayer arriving at the joy of Easter Sunday.  And in thanksgiving and with gratitude we remember the mandatum that we were given to love and serve.  So…., in the name of Jesus Christ, let us each take off our robe, tie our towel around our waist and in humble service let us love one another.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Sermon for Maundy Thursday – April 13, 2017  Posted by on Fri, 14-Apr-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Maundy Thursday – April 13, 2017