Rev. Jay Jordan, Deacon

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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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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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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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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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

 

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 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!

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Joy and Peace—go make trouble.  Amen

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jun 142016
 

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Sermon for Sunday June 12 2016 The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rev. Dr. Jay Jordan, Deacon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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