Rev. Jay Jordan, Deacon

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

 

Share
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

 

 

 

 

 

Share
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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share
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.

 

Share
 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

Share
 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.

 

 

Share
 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share
 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
Jan 252017
 

Audio Sermon

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

 

Share
 Sermon for Sunday January 22, 2017 The Third Sunday after the Epiphany  Posted by on Wed, 25-Jan-17 News, Sermons Comments Off on Sermon for Sunday January 22, 2017 The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
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!

Share
 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
 

Audio Sermon

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share
 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