Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sermon for Proper 25 Year C
at Holy Cross Trussville 27-Oct-2013


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.

So, who are you, a Pharisee or a tax collector? I think that it is hard to hear this parable proclaimed without wanting to put ourselves in one role or the other, or maybe we want to put ourselves a little bit in both.

Which of us hasn’t at one time or another felt a little satisfied with ourselves on a Sunday morning? “Oh Lord, I give thanks that I’m not like other people: my neighbor who is enjoying a round of golf instead of being in church; my friend in the other political party who doesn’t understand your will for the nation; or even that scruffy looking guy sitting two pews over. I am here, every Sunday morning; I pledge faithfully; I do what needs to be done whenever I’m asked.”

For some of us, it is only when we mess up big time, hitting rock bottom, that we can find the humility of the tax collector. It’s those big mistakes that can help us see our need for God’s grace and forgiveness. Only in those moments do the words of the tax collector become ours “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” How seductive it can be to trust in ourselves that we are righteous, we are in control, and to regard others with contempt.

Reminds me of the story about two pastors who are at church and fall to their knees around the altar, crying out to God, saying, “I have sinned. I am unworthy, I am unworthy.” Just then the janitor walks in, and, observing their display of piety, is inspired to join their cry: “I have sinned. I am not worthy, I am not worthy.” The first pastor turns to the second and snarks, “Now look who thinks he’s unworthy!”

This parable seems to be a simple story that encourages our humility and warns us about spiritual pride. Of course, the challenge is how do we practice humility without risking succumbing to spiritual pride? Pretty tricky little spiritual paradox, this work of cultivating humility.  

Practicing humility, knowing the basic truth that God is present with us at all times and knows all that we think, feel, desire, speak, and do, is an important step in the habit of remembering God in every part of our life. The reason, is so that we can remember who we are, and to whom we belong; to live always in the presence of God, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. This includes a responsible stewardship of all the gifts that God has given us. And yes, that includes what we do with our, what I do with my, money.

So, this may be as good a time as any to admit that, I am a tither. Considering the ‘season,’ I thought that I’d share a bit of my journey with you, and humbly so as to not succumb to spiritual pride … :)

A lot can get projected onto that word ‘tithe’ so, for me, tithing means to give away at least 10 percent of my income. As a stewardship story, mine is one that I grew into. One of my mentors has been Bill Yon, a retired priest of the diocese, who over 20 years ago invited me to consider proportional giving, moving towards tithing, as part of my faith journey. I guess I must like doing it, or I probably would have stopped during the inevitable bumps along the way, including the challenges of the last five years in this economy.

I think that it would be an understatement to suggest that our culture has become very much a “consumer economy.” It is has become a civic virtue to spend money; to spend more money, in fact, than we actually have since “for everything else, there is MasterCard.” We are regularly enticed to need more, to need more, as the Bank of America commercials tempt us to “think what we can do for you”, even as American Express assures us that using their card can “make life more rewarding.”

Tithing keeps me a little less connected to the consumer economy and more connected to a world that is bigger than myself. For me, tithing is giving away 10 percent of my income to do what God wants done in the world outside my own life. So for me, it includes giving to Holy Cross, and to Old Firehouse Shelter, and to Greater Birmingham Ministries, and to a few other groups that attempt to help those who have a lot less than I do.

The Book of Deuteronomy spells out the law of the tithe, calling for 1 part out of 10 of each harvest to be set aside to offer at the temple. The tithe offering was to be used three ways: to maintain the community of faith, to support those who ministered to the community of faith, and to provide for the needs of those who have little — the widows, and the orphans, and the sojourners. That’s pretty much my idea of how a tithe is still to be used.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that in talking about tithing, I have mentioned it as a humble response to God in our lives, but what I’ve not said is that “your church needs more money.”

I don’t know that I have ever run into a church that didn’t need more money. But my stewardship decisions are not about that. My stewardship decisions are about what I have, not about what the church needs. I say, “Here is my 10 percent, or a large chunk of it. Do what you can with it.”

So, this is when I cheerfully invite you to consider joining me, with a humble and happy heart. If you are interested in pursuing the idea a bit further, the first step, is figuring out what percentage of your income you are currently giving away. If you figure out that you are giving away 2 percent, the prospect of jumping to 10 percent all at once will probably seem, as it did to me all those years ago, as being a bit “financially, fiscally, unrealistic.”

But if you decide that giving away 2 percent is not enough to make you happy, you may want to consider increasing that percentage year by year in the direction of the tithe. I know a lot of people, including myself, who have become tithers in just this way.

God always starts with us where we are, so we begin by figuring out where we are now. Can’t think about where you want to go unless you know where y’at.

In sharing with you about part of my stewardship journey, you might have noticed that I have not once used the words “should, ought, or must.” You may expect to hear “should, ought, and must” from persons in authority, but you won’t hear that from me. No, I won’t do that…

But what you will hear from me are the words of St. Paul (2 Corinthians9:7): “Let each person give as he has decided for himself, without reluctance or compulsion. For God loves a cheerful giver.” Each of us decides for him or herself. That’s a fact. Or is it? Are some of us just giving from habit? (“Put me down for the same as last year.”) Or have you given it new thought? Where are you going with your giving? What goals have you set for your giving? Have you made a real decision after prayerful and careful consideration? Paul’s words invite us to be more intentional as each of us decides for himself or herself.

“Let each person give as he has decided for himself, without reluctance...”

Just go on and do it.

Don’t hold back.

“Let each person give as he has decided for himself, without compulsion...”

You don’t have to.

Nobody is making you do this.

That’s one of the fastest one-two punches in the scripture:
     just go ahead and do it... you don’t have to.

How are we remembering God in our lives, and in our work of cultivating grateful and humble hearts? What does it mean for us to follow the Way to the point that we are able to be a cheerful giver?

So, just so we’re clear, if you’re frowning when you write down that number on your pledge card, maybe you are writing down the wrong number.

Maybe you are experiencing some reluctance to turn loose of what you have. 

Maybe something is trying to interfere with your ability to choose.

When our giving stems from the increasingly
     humble and generous heart
          that God is growing within us,

that’s when our giving gets cheerful.

Thanks be to God!
Amen! Alleluia!


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sermon for Proper 21, Year C, Sunday, September 29, 2013

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16, 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31

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.

As I was reflecting on this week’s gospel, a particular song showed up and took up residence in my head. And while I don’t know about you when you’re working on something, for me there’s almost always music in the background and sometimes a particular song can just kind of show up with its bags packed ready to go along on the ride.

For me this week, it’s a wonderful traditional African American spiritual that is based on Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus. In the song the rich man is called “Dives” (dee’-vays) which comes from an even older tradition, and is the result of a misreading of the Latin in verse 19. The name Dives is actually nothing more than the transliteration of the adjective “rich”, which in the Latin is dives. Anyway, from a portion of the spiritual (sung) ...
Rich man Dives he lived so well,
Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame
And when he died he went straight to hell,
Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame
The rich man lived so well, yet from across the chasm, now he is the one begging, looking up and wanting a handout, desperate for a drop of water to ease his miserable torment in hell. Hearing that melody in my head seems to only enhance the sense of divine reckoning that is so abundantly portrayed in this parable.
Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame
There’s nothing about this parable that’s difficult to understand, but maybe it’s difficult to hear simply because its meaning is so clear: not only that riches can’t save us, but also that it ends in deafening silence.

We’re also faced this week with a Jeremiah who does not seem to be acting very wisely; he’s investing in an enemy occupied field at the very moment that their armies are besieging Jerusalem. At that moment, it would probably seem unlikely that Israel will ever own that land again. Not very wise, Jeremiah. This kinda looks like blind hope flying the face of reason.

But in making this purchase, Jeremiah is obeying his God. A God who commands an optimistic kind of action at a pessimistic kind of time to show God’s people that God has a stake in Israel and that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.” Jeremiah is investing in a future that can only come from God.

With nearly 870 million hungry and chronically undernourished people in our world, with 1 in 5 children hungry every day right here in our own backyard, this can seem like a pretty pessimistic time. It can be easy to wonder just what can we do in the face of such overwhelming need? But, it is God’s own command that even in the face of daunting odds, we are to invest ourselves in their future. We may not always know the best way to do this, but we do this because God calls us to help our neighbor in need.

Not very wise, some might say. Better to invest in ourselves and our own future. But we as Christians, by God’s own command, are to be so bold as to stake our resources on the hope of a better day for those who are the least among us.

And then the text from 1st Timothy warns us about how we invest ourselves. Paul reminds us that when we reach the end of our life, any temporary privileges that we enjoy because of wealth, are removed.

Paul tells us that a better path is to be content with tending to more modest personal needs, and then investing ourselves in a life of faith.

Instead of storing up as much wealth or retirement security as we can, which can lead to the exploitation of vulnerable people, we are called to invest ourselves in righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness that positively impacts on the lives of those in need.

And then we are back to the rich man in Luke’s story who invests in purple and fine linen and feasts sumptuously each day. He is unconcerned for the poor man with sores (lacking health care?) who lay at his gate (homeless?) wishing to eat the crumbs beneath the rich man’s table (hungry!). The rich man isn’t thinking about the inequality between their conditions.

Robert Frost’s poem “Mending Wall” wrestles with the irony of neighbors who long to have clear boundaries on their neighborliness. At one point, Frost wonders aloud why we divide ourselves, “On a day we meet to walk the line and set the wall between us once again.” There seems to be something about us as human beings that likes those clearly defined boundaries of what’s my place and what’s yours. Growing up in South Texas, the point that Frost also makes, was taken for granted that good fences make (pause and invite response) good neighbors.

Clearly, all of the investments that the rich man is making in his life are related to immediate, pragmatic, and egocentric needs. I don’t think that this parable is interested in speculating about the rich man’s moral character, but I think that it does offer a critique of the rich man’s investment of his attention, resources, and affection in himself.

And the result for the rich man is fatal, finding himself on the wrong side of a great chasm where he is being tormented in the low place, left only to gaze hungrily.
Dip your finger in the water,
come and cool my tongue,
cause I’m tormented in the flame
But, at least in this moment, it’s too late. The rich man has had his day. And then, Abraham responds compassionately towards this selfish man, that Abraham calls his child. We can tell that it is with sadness that Abraham indicates this gulf, this chasm, between them. For now, it’s too late for this man, and Abraham takes no delight in that knowing, since the rich man's heart is still hardened.

Then the rich man, finally, shows a bit of compassion but of course it’s tinged with manipulation as he orders Abraham to order Lazarus to serve him. “If you cannot help me, help my family. Send Lazarus!” Then, Abraham responds that they have been given what guidance they need, and if they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, why would they listen to a voice from the dead.

“Break through!” shouts the rich man. The reality, of course, is that God has already broken through with his word through the prophets, and his Word in his Christ. We have been given what we need to live faithful lives. We will listen, or we will not. We will respond, or we will not. That’s the original blessing, the ability to decide to choose for ourselves.

Perhaps the boundaries and walls we have drawn are not so much between us and others, as between us and our God… and, on this Feast Day of St. Michael and All Angels, I’m reminded of the mixture of invitation and warning that the angel in the Book of Revelation says to the church in Laodicea (lay·ohd’·i·see’·uh), “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Rev 3:20)
Robert Frost winds down his poem with these thoughts, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, what I was walling in or walling out.”

So, let’s think a bit about who’s on the other side of that door, that wall. Who is this Christ? In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us he is Lazarus: He is that one lying at our door hungry and thirsty. He is that one imprisoned and cut off from “decent” society. He is the marginalized one that you or I can just as easily walk by. That is God’s Christ who stands at our door, at our wall, knocking. When we answer, we may not find someone who looks like us, but if we are paying attention, we may very well find someone who looks like our God, who looks like Jesus.
Thanks be to God!
Amen! Alleluia!

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Sermon for Proper 13, Year C, Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hosea 11:1-11, Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
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.

While many of us are enjoying our midsummer by perhaps taking a family vacation or doing some backyard grilling or maybe even going to the lake or beach or just lazing around a bit, in our nation’s capital this past week Congress was winding down to their summer vacation. This can be a miserable time to be in the district, with the oppressive heat and humidity that comes from living in a tidal basin, and add to that the throngs of tourists trying to make their way through the city.
Some of that seems to have been taking its toll in the Senate last week. This past Thursday, Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin was presiding over the Senate, and Senators Murray and Collins were attempting to make some final statements in the “well” of the Senate.  Attempting because apparently their colleagues were in a chatty mood and speaking loud enough that it made it difficult to hear the two senators at their podiums.
As presiding Senator Baldwin was gaveling the senate to order, and just as she was about to say “The Senate will be in order,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got up from his seat and told the chatty senators to “sit down and shut up.” The Washington Post then reported that most senators took their seats and listened, some left the chamber to keep talking, while others sat in seats and continued whispering to each other.
I guess I couldn’t help but hear echoes of this as I was thinking of the strong language that Jesus uses in this parable from Luke… “You Fool!” … this kind of language is usually saved for the hurling of an insult against someone with whom all hope of a reasonable conversation has broken down, kinda like, “sit down and shut up.” And in this context, these words from Jesus sound even more dismissive. He’s saying that there’s no alternative to the best practices that this rich man has put in place as part of his business plan, instead he’s bankrupted his soul and he’s as good as dead.
Unlike other stories from Luke about a Good Samaritan, a Lost Sheep, and a Prodigal Son; this parable doesn’t have a last-minute rescue resulting in a “happy ever after.” There’s no maneuvering room here to perform any course corrections as a result of wrong turns along the way…
Anyone here familiar with Clarence Jordan, or Koinonia Farms, down in southwest Georgia near Americus? … Clarence is one of my personal heroes and one of the people who has inspired and nurtured me over the years. His commitment to the gospel led him to establish an interracial farm and community in rural Georgia, in 1942, long before the civil rights movement even began. Though Clarence died in 1969, Koinonia Farms continues with folks living in intentional Christian community and active in both farming and many vital ministries.
Clarence was not only quite a farmer but also a powerful biblical scholar and teacher. He translated the New Testament from the Koine Greek into what he called his Cotton Patch version which has, let’s say, a U.S. Southern context. Clarence was fond of saying that the parables of Jesus lead us into the kingdom of God, so would like to share with you his retelling of this gospel, a translation with a bit of midrash, some details added to help interpret and flesh out the story a bit more.
(... story time! ... :) ... reading from pages 60-62, “Cotton Patch Parables of Liberation” by Clarence Jordan and edited by Bill Lane Doulos, ©1976 by Koinonia Partners, Wipf and Stock Publishers)
So, this parable of the Rich Fool makes the point that this farmer’s riches are crying out for his soul. The traditional interpretation is that the man is going to die. Fate or God or some unnamed force is demanding his soul, saying that his time is up. But the Greek text does not say, “This night your soul is being demanded of you.” What it says is, “This night they require your soul of you.” “They” refers to the “many good things” that the farmer thought he owned.
These things are telling the farmer what to do so that he can’t do what is desired by God, to whom his “soul” rightfully belongs. This parable warns about becoming a slave of money – for who do we serve God or money? – which is perhaps something that our credit card culture needs to hear. What we supposedly possess, often on credit, pretty much dictates what we must do to secure and maintain it.
Of course, this parable sounds a different note in a different context. This would include the more than 1 in 6 Alabamians, including 1 in 4 of our children, who are living in this state where the gap between Alabama’s richest and poorest is the second largest in the nation. If someone is living in utter poverty like these neighbors of ours, perhaps without access to even the basic necessities of life, the promise of wealth is not cast aside lightly. However, this parable calls on each of us, rich and poor alike, to carefully reflect about what it is that we want and why we want it.
So, when all is said and done, we are invited to place our trust in something more durable than the volatile fluctuations of our local, national, and global economies. Instead of banking on more and larger storage barns, God invites us all into the eternal economy of Christ’s grace and mercy. What would our lives look like if we really believed that "it is for freedom that Christ has set us free"?
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. We are free now to live as God's people are called to live – in the wideness and the wildness of God's mercy.
Thanks be to God!
Amen! Alleluia!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon for Proper 7, Year C, Sunday, June 23, 2013

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a, Psalm 42, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39
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.

Funny thing, this business of translating the Bible …

In our reading from Luke, in verse 36, we have a word that is translated in a way that doesn’t quite get us to the meaning intended by the language of the New Testament that was the Greek dialect of the time, and that is known as Koiné, or common, Greek. Koiné was a mixture of the four main Ancient Greek dialects and was spoken and written in much of the Mediterranean region and the Middle East during Jesus’ time. Most biblical scholars are of the opinion that the Greek text of the New Testament is the original version in which our New Testament was written.

So, what we hear proclaimed in the translation of the Gospel reading for today is

“Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.”

… the literal translation from the Greek is

“and those also having seen [it], told them how the demoniac was saved.”

In Luke 8:36 the word in Greek is σώθη (e–sō′-thē) which means "was saved" or "to save."

"Healed" is true, of course, but it seems to me that it doesn't tell the story nearly as well.

“and those also having seen [it], told them how the demoniac was saved.”

"Saved." When Jesus found him, the man had been "for a long time" not in the city in a house with family or among friends. Rather, he had been among the tombs, with the dead, shut out from among the living.

He was vulnerable to all kinds of dangers -- to the elements, from which he lacked clothes or a house to protect him, and vulnerable to all the predators shut out by the city gates at night… and apparently someone, maybe family, tried to help him, but they were unable and just gave up. For a long time, he'd been dead to the world; and living among the dead.

It's natural to want to shut out someone like this man. I think that he’s probably as frightening as he is frightened, and not just because of the yelling, the antisocial behavior, or his unnatural strength. It's his vulnerability. He is vulnerable to the elements of sun and cold, wind and rain, which we understand. But even more frightening is his vulnerability to countless other forces beyond our ability to understand or control.

The Legion that speaks from him reminds us of the other legions out there; the forces that can tear someone from family, from safety, from community, from everything that seems to provide any comfort or make any sense.

Of course, we know – deep down – that shutting out the person who reminds us of what we fear, doesn't work. If anything it intensifies fear, by exaggerating those things that divide us. The Legion that attacked this man, among the tombs, doesn't pay much attention to city walls or gates, and neither do the legions that plague many others.

Jesus paid attention, though. Throughout the Gospels we hear of how Jesus pays particular attention to those shut out, literally and figuratively – those who had nothing and so sat outside the gates to beg, those considered 'unclean' because of leprosy or excessive bleeding, women who the culture turned its back on after they were rejected by their husbands and their fathers.

When Jesus did heal a person, he wasn't merely restoring someone with a physical disease to physical health. He was healing a community, restoring to that community someone who had been shut out from them. Giving them hope for their own restoration and salvation. Over and over again, Jesus confronts every power that tears us from wholeness, from one another, from knowing the love of God in loving community.

These powers are destructive and they are legion. In the ancient Mediterranean world, people believed that knowing and using a spirit's name could give you power over it. The Legion oppressing the Gerasene demoniac tries, in effect, to gain power over Jesus by naming him, shouting out…

"Jesus, Son of the Most High God."

Jesus then turns the tables by demanding to know the spirit's name. Belief in demons has fallen out of favor in many circles these days, but naming remains a powerful tool in confronting the powers that oppress and divide us.

In today’s epistle from Galatians, St. Paul names the deep divisions of his society – between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female – and then names the truth, that in Christ these divisions are overcome. Today many divisions remain including… Poverty. Racism. Sexism. Hunger. Religious Bigotry.

There are many such divisive powers in this world, a thousand varieties of hardness of heart that shut out some people, and can shut us in just as surely. But in Christ we are all children of God through faith – each person on this fragile earth, our island home, is none less worthy of good food and clean water; shelter, medicine, or education; of love and hope.

In Christ, we are empowered to name that truth. We are called to name and confront the powers that obscure it. As we follow Jesus, as we participate in his ministry of healing and reconciliation in the world; we find that the outcast people who are restored, are not the only ones who are saved.

All of us are made to be in unity with one another, and with God. That was and is Christ's mission. The healing of a conflict with a sister or brother is restoration for the whole Body…

Have you ever experienced that? Have you ever caught a glimpse of what it might be like for each one of us when all of us live as God's children? Declare how much God has done for you. Declare what Jesus is doing for the poor and outcast. If you find yourself feared as they were – as Jesus was in the city after he healed the Gerasene demoniac – name that too, as we continue to pray and work for reconciliation.

We are the Body of Christ, sharing in Christ's power to heal and save; sharing in Christ's mission and Christ's wholeness. Faith has come; and with it the hope and love that sees every one of God’s children, each one of us, as a child of promise.

Thanks be to God!
Amen! Alleluia!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Sermon

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.

Many of us have sat at the bedside of a dying friend or relative. Many of us here, are men and women “of sorrow, acquainted with grief.”

The Gospel reading for today, for Good Friday, brings all of us together in a deathwatch as we stand at the foot of the cross, suffer with our friend Jesus, and watch him draw his last breath. It is an opportunity for us to share in the experience and to draw strength from one another.
I’ve been a hospice chaplain for a while and I’ve been blessed to be share in the end of life with a number of amazing people and their families.
I remember a story told by a friend of one of his experiences while visiting the home of a client whose husband had just died. “I was in the kitchen,” she said. “I heard a noise from the living room, and when I went in, there he was slumped over in his chair.” Then she said again, “I was in the kitchen…”
I’ve discovered that this is a pretty common phenomenon; people tend to replay the details of a death, in part to make sure they get the story straight, but also to make sure there was nothing they should have done that they failed to do. Every year on Good Friday we replay the details of Jesus’ death for some of the same reasons; to not only make sure we get the story straight but also to find ourselves in the story and consider our own responsibility.
In the nonviolence trainings that I facilitate, one of the exercises that we do is called the Circle of Truths. It’s a pretty straightforward role play where a small group of people circles up and then takes turns standing in the shoes of various people involved in a conflict, and then reflects on, and then speaks from that point of view.
What would that look like for us here on Good Friday? What are the questions that we might ask ourselves to center ourselves into understanding different people’s point of view?
None of us would have done what Judas did, would we? Betrayed Jesus? He thought that to accomplish the revolution that it just needed a good strong push. Have we ever pushed someone because of our impatience? Is there anything of Judas in us?
None of us would have done what Peter did, would we? Promised to follow Jesus to the grave and then denied him because a silly servant girl asked a question? Who knows what we would do in a similar circumstance? Our survival instincts can be pretty strong.
None of us would have done what Caiaphas did, would we? Made the claim that “it is better for one person to die for the people?” Have we ever weighed our choices in a difficult circumstance and then chosen the lesser of two evils? Is it any less an evil, just because it’s the lesser of?
None of us would have done what Pilate did, would we? Shuttling back and forth between various parties and looking for the easy answers? How many times have we listened long past the moment when we knew what to do, just because the right thing was neither the easy thing nor the popular thing? (shrug) What can you do when the people have spoken?
And what about the points of view of the chief priests shouting “crucify him!”? or the soldiers flogging Jesus and putting a crown of thorns on his head, nailing him to a cross, gambling for his clothes, piercing his side? Of course they were just being good soldiers and Jesus might have been just another innocent, just some collateral damage.
Or Mary, standing at the foot of the cross and watching her son’s life drain away. Or the disciple which he loved standing there, and risking his life, with her? Maybe we wouldn’t be there, but then again, maybe we would. Some of us have watched someone we love draw their last breath, as painful as it is. Staying at the bedside in that last hour, risking sleep and sanity. It is not hard to imagine the one who is dying saying to a son or a sister, “Take good care of Mama.”
I’ve been at bedsides like that. I’ve sat waiting sipping bitter, black coffee from a disposable cup. I’ve been part of the deathwatch. With clients and parishioners, and with my own loved ones. We sit at the bedside. We speak in whispers. We pat each other and hug. We wipe away tears. We tell stories. Eventually we say our goodbyes.
Maybe this is where we enter into Good Friday, and maybe this is where we need to make our stand.
not betraying Jesus, not denying him, not judging him, not condemning him, not rejecting him, not mocking him, not cursing him, not flogging him, not killing him
and instead standing there at the foot of the cross, with others who love him, and putting our arms around each other for comfort and strength, so that when they ask us later what happened we can say, “I was standing at the foot of the cross...”
Thanks be to God!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C

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.

One of my favorite geeky things to do is listen to Ira Flatow and Science Friday on WBHM, our local NPR station. This last Friday one of the topics they talked about was turning GirlScout cookies into Graphene, which is essentially a two-dimensional sheet of carbon fiber that is only one atom thick; at the molecular level it kinda looks like chicken wire. Instead of using really pure, really expensive materials which has been the conventional way to produce very tiny amounts of this material; scientists at Rice University in Houston showed that Graphene can instead be made from anything that has carbon, which is the basis for all organic life on this planet.

This is astonishing research that opens the door a little bit more towards a future that promises extremely light, extremely thin, and extremely strong structures in the development of nanotechnologies. Producing Graphene is still really expensive but with this new understanding that it can be made from virtually anything, we have the promise that it will someday be part of assemblies and systems that will transform our day to day life in ways that we cannot begin to imagine.

Another amazing bit of creation and science is this human body of ours which has 206 bones, 639 muscles, and about 6 pounds of skin; along with ligaments, cartilage, veins, arteries, blood, fat, and all those other nasty bits. Every time we hear a sound, every time we take a step; every time we take a breath, hundreds of different parts work together so that what we experience is a single movement, our minds and bodies working as one unit. The greatest scientists and engineers continue to struggle to achieve anything remotely approaching it in mechanical form. The human body represents one of the most complex systems in existence.

I think that this is probably why, the body is one of the most powerful images for the church that is offered in Scripture. The metaphor conveys both complexity, and organic unity. Archbishop Tutu might say that this is also an expression of Ubuntu, that “I am, because We are.”

Often we can find that it is difficult to name our place in the church, to figure out what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. Though, and probably not surprisingly, when we’re asked to envision ourselves as a part of the body; children and adults have very little difficulty in identifying themselves as hands, feet, brains, or of course funny bones!

So, part of Paul’s metaphor emphasizes that there are a number of aspects essential to what it means to be God's church; that we are linked with one another in a relationship that we can't dissolve any more than we could have created it ourselves.

Something else that Paul uses this metaphor for – something that's become a popular word in Anglican circles, is interdependence.

Paul is saying that we need one another. He is not saying merely that the poor need the rich, the sick need the healthy, and the weak need the strong to protect or rescue them; he's saying that we all need one another.

Ubuntu, I am, because We are.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we have each been given individually, are also needed by all of us corporately for the benefit of our community.

These are gifts that are needed for our health as a body and as members of it, to be sure, but they are also needed for more than that. They are needed because, in Paul's terms, we're not just parts of a body; we're members of the Body of Christ.

That’s part of what we heard in our readings last week that expressed the theology of Third Isaiah: that who we are as God's people is intimately tied up with our call to engage in God's mission.

God has made us one Body of Christ, a sign – a living sacrament - for the work of what God in God's grace is doing in the world.

St.Teresa of Avila puts it something like this:

Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out upon the world. Ours are the feet with which he goes about doing good. Ours are the hands with which he blesses his people now.

We experience what it means to be Christ's Body as we engage in Christ's mission in the world, both within and beyond these walls.

If we want to know more about what that means, we have a really good starting point in our gospel reading for this Sunday. In it, Luke describes Jesus at the start of his public ministry, claiming a combination of passages as his mission; and in claiming this as his mission, Jesus offers himself and his life as a prophetic sign that "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

These are inspiring words; they were chosen by our Presiding Bishop Katharine as a theme for her ministry, it highlights the continuing work of the MillenniumDevelopment Goals to eliminate extreme poverty worldwide, and it is the basis for the network of over 600 Jubilee Ministry Centers throughout The Episcopal Church including the 11 that I provide support for in this diocese.

But they're not just words! What would it mean if we really believed that in Jesus, the words are being fulfilled today? How would we respond?

Also, I think that today’s reading from First Corinthians fits perfectly with the gospel. Our gospel reading shows Luke's version of Jesus, the Christ, saying clearly what his program, what his mission is.

If, we who seek to follow the Way of Jesus are the Body of Christ, this is the mission that we're called to be engaged in.

Perhaps, as a member of the Body of Christ, I should put that invitation up on my bathroom mirror, to see at the beginning of my day, to be reminded of as I make decisions throughout my day:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

One of the things that I think we should draw from this passage is the simple fact that: I'm not Jesus, you and I are not Jesus, and none of us can save the world.

But we are the Body of Christ – here and now. We are not required to win some kind of pageant or even be able to get our ‘act’ together; it is by God's action, with Jesus having done all of the groundwork that is necessary.

We are called to live into that identity, and to engage in the mission that comes with it – not later, when we think that we have our act together, or when it's more convenient, or once the kids are in college, or after some kind of cosmic sign. We have our cosmic sign.

We have the life, the teaching and healing, the confronting and defeating of worldly powers, the death on a cross and the resurrection by God's action of Jesus, the Christ.

“The Spirit of God was upon him, because God anointed him to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and the year of the Lord's favor.”

And here and now, we are the Body of the Christ, the Anointed. It's true. It's powerful. It’s Ubuntu, it’s “I am, because We are”. It’s this scripture being fulfilled in our hearing – and in our doing.

Thanks be to God!
Amen! Alleluia!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Celebrating King, Creating Peace

Celebrating King, creating peace

interview with yours truly as part of this article published by the Episcopal News Service in honor of MLK Day 2013