Sunday, June 24, 2012

4th Sunday after Pentecost, RCL Year B, Proper 7

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, RCL Year B, Proper 7,  June 24, 2012 
at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Trussville, Alabama

Beloved sisters and brothers, let us look to the Lord.
May only God’s word be spoken,
May God’s word be heard.
In the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

In preparing for this week, some conversations were brought to mind about the nature of God. How sometimes we lean too exclusively toward the transcendence of God – God as mighty and distant and all powerful, and concerned only with judging us. Then at other times we tend to lean too much on the immanence of God. Believing that God is present in a personal way. You know, God as your buddy, your life coach, the one who hooks you up with that sweet parking space. A god more like the parody religious icon of “Buddy Christ” in the film Dogma.

In the midst of this, it might seem that if God walked into the room, the question may no longer be whether anyone would recognize God. The question instead might be whether anyone would stand up.

Maybe we, sometimes, make God so personal that we no longer touch the mystery of God’s holiness. Perhaps, instead, we create a God that is some kind of eccentric, benevolent, wealthy uncle. But if we think that God is so removed and unknowable and arbitrary and disengaged, we miss the reality of how God reveals God’s self in the absolute ordinary.

Today’s Gospel seems to point to the fact that God is immanent: God is actually in the boat and in the storm. But also points to the fact that God is transcendent. God commands the wind and the waves, and… they… stop.

So here we have a great windstorm arising, waves beating into the boat, boat being swamped.

As an aside, being fearful while in a storm at sea is not exactly an irrational fear, especially when compared to something like pogonophobia. In fact it would probably affect attendance here at Holy Cross if there was an outbreak of pogonophobia, (turning and smiling at our bearded rector) which is a fear of beards. So it’s easy to imagine what might have happened if the disciples had awakened Jesus from his exhausted slumber out of a mortal fear of their own beards, then we would be having quite a different conversation.

That being said, I have to admit, this “Jesus asleep in the boat” story has always seemed a bit unfair because they were on the Sea of Galilee which is known for its violent storms. This happens because of differences in temperatures between the seacoast and the mountains beyond; storms come up quickly and can be life-threatening to anyone on its waters. The fact of a storm is not all that unusual, but apparently the ferocity of this particular storm was.

Doesn’t take much imagination for me — if I were in some rickety first century boat in the middle of a terrifying storm, with water rising about my ankles, most everyone else on the boat panicking, and then there’s Jesus… in the back of the boat taking a nap on a pillow — to think that I’d be a little irritated. Though we know that the disciples can bring plenty of grief on themselves, I don’t think that we can blame them on this one. I don’t think that you can blame them for thinking, “Jesus, why don’t you care that we are, like, you know, dying here?!”

If they were freaking out it was not due to neuroses or an anxiety disorder: their boat was about to sink. As human beings we are wired for certain responses when we feel threatened. Adrenalin is released in our brains, our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate, and we become hyperaware of what’s going on around us.

So, here we are with the disciples who have accompanied Jesus in this boat. Granted, some have fished for a living and will be accustomed to storms at sea, but of course we still can’t transcend our animal brain chemistry. Oh, and don’t want to neglect to mention, that they are also not accustomed to having a passenger who might have the power to protect them from harm.

Also, at this point in Mark, Jesus’ identity is still unclear and the disciple’s faith tenuous on a good day. This event, then, has the opportunity to become a moment of clarity in the midst of the chaos of the storm: clarity as to Jesus’ true identity and power, and clarity as to the desperate need of the disciples – and you and me – for the calming, healing power that only Jesus can provide.

So, in their fear and desperation, the disciples wake Jesus and raise what sounds to me, and I don’t know any way to describe it other than, an accusatory plea, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

This is not an unusual cry to hear, then or now, whether or not it’s from people of faith. The hard truth, as we know it, is that fearsome things are very real: isolation, pain, illness, meaninglessness, rejection, losing one’s job, money problems, failure, illness, and death. They often leave us crying out to God, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” As we grow in faith, as we do work together in community, we come to understand that even though such fearsome things are very real, they do not have the last word. And only when we have articulated those feelings – and the anger beneath them – can we be still and listen for a word from God.

Jesus speaks such a word when he rebukes the wind and the waves saying, “Peace! Be still!” After that, the scripture tells us, “the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm”.

Of course this is not the first or only instance of the power of God’s word, here embodied in Jesus, to do great things.

- God spoke and brought into being all creation out of formless void.

- God spoke again, and God’s word became flesh in Jesus Christ.

- In between, God’s word called a nation into being and inspired prophets who guided that nation.

It can also be easy to forget that God’s all powerful word is still being spoken amid the noise and chaos of our lives and world. And like Jesus’ word of peace spoken over the raging storm, God’s word still destroys the forces that threaten to do us harm and still calms our deepest fears. As Martin Luther wrote, “ ‘one little word’, the word, ‘above all earthy powers’, can ‘fell’ whatever darkness threatens to undo us.”

The word spoken by Jesus in this reading from the Gospel of Mark, is a word of peace and stillness. It is a word that I need to hear, perhaps each of us needs to hear, every day. There are always storms large and small, in our lives, in our work, wherever we find ourselves, that call for a word of peace. Like the disciples, we are challenged in the midst of those storms to rediscover our faith in the promise of God’s powerful word. The question that Jesus poses to the disciples, is the question he continues to pose to us in our moments of despair, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The disciples are rendered speechless in the face of Jesus’ work. They respond with awe and with the glimmer of understanding of the nature and power of Jesus.

Finally, I leave us with Paul, who expresses so eloquently not only the paradox of grace in vulnerability but also the disciple’s vocation:

“We are treated as impostors, and yet are true;
as unknown, and yet are well known;
as dying, and see—we are alive;
as punished, and yet not killed;
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing;
as poor, yet making many rich;
as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

Thanks be to God!

Amen. Alleluia.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Renewal of Ministry with the Welcoming of a New Deacon

Had an incredible and wonderful liturgy of renewal and welcoming on Sunday, June 10, 2012 at Holy Cross in Trussville. Below are excerpts of the liturgy that was adapted in part from Enriching our Worship 4 and the celebration of new ministry for Deacons in the Diocese of Maryland.


O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

The Covenant of Shared Ministry

The Archdeacon says

Holy Scripture records that when God and God's people enter into a covenant with one another, God creates a sign to mark the new relationship.  When a deacon and people enter into a covenant with one another, the exchange of symbolic gifts is an appropriate way to mark the occasion.

Representatives of the congregation, the deacon, other clergy of the congregation, and representatives of the wider church present appropriate symbols to persons or groups chosen to reflect specific aspects of the ministry of the congregation in the world at large and within the life of the church itself.

A person selected presents a stole to the Deacon, saying:

Steve, receive this stole and be among us as deacon and servant.
People         Amen.

Members of the Altar Guild present Vessels to the deacon, saying

Steve, take this paten, chalice and oil stock and be among us as one who assists the bishop and the priests in public worship and in the ministration of God's healing and reconciling Word and Sacraments.
People         Amen.

Others present a Bible and other appropriate books to the deacon, saying

Steve, receive this Bible and Daily Office Book and be among us as one who studies and seeks nourishment from the Holy Scriptures and who proclaims the Gospel.
People         Amen.

The Deacon gives a Book of Common Prayer and a bible to the laity, saying:

Receive these books to use as you lead the congregation in prayers and readings.
People         Amen.

The Wardens present washing symbols to the deacon, saying

Steve, receive the pitcher, basin and towel and be among us as one who serves the needy and helpless of the world.
People         Amen.

The Deacon presents a loaf of bread or fresh foods to members of the congregation, saying

Fellow Christians, we will work together to share our bounty with the people of the world whom Jesus served as he fed the five thousand.
People         Amen.

The Rector presents a candle lit from the Paschal Candle to the deacon, saying

Steve, accept this Candle and be among us as Christ's Light in the World, making him and his redemptive love known to all by your word and example.
People         Amen.

The Archdeacon then says

Steve, and parishioners of Holy Cross, let all these be signs of the ministry we share in this place, in our diocese and in the church throughout the world.
People         Amen.

Archdeacon  The Lord be with you.
People         And also with you.

Deacon        Let us pray.

The Deacon may then kneel in the midst of the people, and say

O Lord my God, you have called me to a special ministry of servanthood in this place.  To you and to your service I devote myself, body, mind and spirit.  Let me find nourishment and a model for my life in the study of the Holy Scriptures.  Let me find joy in faithfully proclaiming the Gospel.  Help me to serve all people, especially the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely.  Grant me the grace to make Christ known to those, among whom
I live, and work, and worship.  Give me the insight and courage to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.  Be my constant guide, and let my life and teaching remind Christ's people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.  All this I ask for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ.
People         Amen.

The People may then kneel, and say

Almighty God, we thank you that by the death and resurrection of your son Jesus Christ you have overcome sin and reconciled us to yourself, and by the sealing of your Holy Spirit you have bound us to your service.  Renew In us the covenant you made with us at our Baptism. Send us forth in the power of the Spirit to perform the service you set before us; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives, and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Deacon        Amen.

Concluding Prayer

Almighty Father, we thank you for feeding us with the holy food of the Body and Blood of your Son, and for uniting us through him in the fellowship of your Holy Spirit. We thank you for raising up among us faithful servants for the ministry of your Word and Sacraments. We pray that Steve and the people of Holy Cross may be an effective example in word and action, in love and patience, and in holiness of life. Grant that we, with him, may serve you now, and always rejoice in your glory through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.