Keep the Faith -The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost Sermon by Diane Holland
Bread of Life -The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
Growing Up- The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost Sermon by Diane Holland
Freedom - The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Sermon by Diane Holland
The Stormy Sea and a Bouquet of Blessings - The Third Sunday after Pentecost Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
The Trinity - Trinity Sunday Sermon by Diane Holland
The Seventh Sunday of Easter Homily by Rev. Beth Ann Maier
Abide in Jesus and Share Your Umbrella - The Fifth Sunday of Easter Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
Doubt -The Second Sunday of Easter Sermon by Deb Jerard
The Second Sunday of Lent Homily by Rev. Beth Ann Maier, Deacon
When I first saw which Gospel text I would be preaching on today, my first, and my second, and my third reaction was: “That is a horrible text to be raising up, a year into a global pandemic. Is this what we need to hear today? Take up your cross and follow me?” But the more I grappled with the text, the more I began to have some realization that the reality we have been experiencing during the last year, might just be giving us the opening we need to deeply engage this text. We have been largely disconnected from our weekly rhythms and routines. Many of us have been discouraged, ill or injured while in isolation without the companionship that helps to make life bearable. Many have lost very dear people, unable to be present for final good-byes, and then unable to gather with others in shared grief and celebration of that love. We have seen the effects of glaring inequity, both racial and economic, despite decades of work to change those outcomes. It has been impossible to maintain a veneer of sunny optimism and good cheer. I doubt there is anyone here who has skimmed across the surface of this year feeling entirely whole, unbroken, untouched. That is where this text speaks to us, in our brokenness. Let’s try to hear what it is saying.
It is helpful, as it usually is, to have some context. Jesus is travelling the countryside with his disciples. He has been healing the blind, the lame and the sick. He has been feeding the thousands. He has been stilling the wind and walking on water. He has been challenging the culture, the laws, and the authority of the Jewish hierarchy. He has just asked his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answers: “You are the Messiah” and he sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him.” And this is where today’s passage begins, immediately following Peter’s confession. Picture the vision they have in their minds of the Messiah. Through their heritage, their sacred texts, they have the expectation that the Messiah will come in earthly glory as a conqueror and free them from the oppressive rule of the Roman empire. The Messiah is to come from a position of power and strength. Yet Jesus immediately begins to tell them for the first time, that he must undergo great suffering and rejection, and be killed. Peter, who so recently was the first to recognize him as the Messiah, is not able to align his lifelong vision of Messiah with Jesus’ horrific prediction of the future. Jesus admonishes him, telling him he is setting his mind on human things, not on divine things.
What are the divine things he is talking about? What do we know of God’s desires for the world? Our Holy Scriptures give us an idea of what concerns God the most. The word love appears 538 times in scripture– one out of every 1500 words in the Bible is the word love. Sojournors Magazine states that there are over 2000 verses in the Bible on the topic of poverty and justice – that is one out of every 15 verses. I think that gives us an idea about what is important to God. We also have the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ to illuminate God’s desire for the world. Jesus demonstrated the divine mission of welcome and reconciliation as he ate with the tax collectors, spoke with the Samaritan woman, healed the leper; he lived the divine mission to alleviate human suffering overriding systemic laws, such as healing on the Sabbath, healing outcasts and Gentiles, welcoming strangers; he radically lived the Jewish understanding of God’s compassion for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. Jesus’ life modeled God’s mission, focused on care for the lowly ones, the outcast ones, the broken ones. He was the embodiment, the incarnation, of God’s Kingdom, God’s will being done on earth as in heaven. Living the divine mission, Jesus was a threat to those whose power depended on the maintenance of the status quo. He knew that they would not let him continue, that they would ultimately kill him, and he knew that he could not hold back from his mission. That is why he says that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed”. He said this must happen, not because it was ordained as the God-formulated path to salvation for all, but because it was the only path through which he could fully embody God’s loving, reconciling mission on behalf of God’s beloved – the poor, the sick, the outcast, the broken, all of us. He knew that mission would place him on a collision course with the authorities. Just as Jesus could not hold back from the divine mission that he knew must result in his death, he had unshakable faith in God’s life-giving power, that limitless unknowable mystery streaming through all creation. That life-giving power that could shatter earthly biology and physics with the Easter resurrection.
Jesus goes on in this passage to describe what true discipleship will mean: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Jesus is not saying that we must suffer in order to attain salvation. Jesus is saying that the only path to a life centered in God, is a life centered in God’s divine mission. The kingdom of God, present in the here and now, will always be unacceptable to the status quo. It will always be a struggle, but in that struggle, we will experience the grace of God’s presence with us, the replenishing, re-energizing spirit that renews us, truly makes us new, transforms us, when we are engaged in God-centered mission. That is the life we yearn to know. That is the life we lose when we skim across our days centered on our own needs and concerns.
So here is our dilemma. God’s mission would have us be present with people in their pain, their frustration, their poverty, as Jesus was. Picking up our cross means recognizing and honestly admitting that we too are broken, hurting, impoverished. Unless we can accept that we are all in the same ditch, all in need of the same love and care, we will not be able to hear and take the pain of the other into our hearts and hold it with God. We will not be able to share what we know of the Good News, the Gospel. “Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Jesus is not talking about some reward that will come to us after death. He is talking about right here, right now, an experience of God’s life-giving power in the moment that we truly embrace the other in our shared brokenness, infusing the moment with love, with light, with life wherein both of us become more whole. These are not just words. This happens. I am certain that many of you have had this experience. I remember one time I had promised to take communion to someone I didn’t know who was dying. I was exhausted. I didn’t want to go. It felt like a charade. I felt empty. I didn’t see how going through the motions could help anyone, but I went because I had said I would. The woman was fully present, but she literally didn’t have much life left. Through unexpected grace, in my fatigue and emptiness, I was fully present, knowing and experiencing God with us. The woman had a glow of serenity and peace that remained literally to her death the next day, and I was filled with the life I had been lacking.
I began by saying that this pandemic time has left us uniquely able to hear this text. We are all sharing a somewhat equalizing experience of isolation, frustration, and loss. It may be more possible for us to hear and embrace the pain of others because we are not in our preferred state of comfort and strength. We are more in touch with our shared brokenness. So how might we engage in God’s mission during this time? We can reach out and phone someone. We don’t need to know them that well. We might begin by saying that we want to know them better, and to hear how things are going for them. Then sit back and truly listen. Don’t try to cheer them up but laugh with them if they laugh. Don’t try to deflect their anger, or reassure them in their anxiety, or assuage their guilt. Rage with them, fear with them, remorse with them. Don’t try to reinterpret their reality. Just listen and believe what they are telling you. Let them know they are heard, loved, and valued. If there is a service that can be performed, a meal or a ride needed, a companion needed to help navigate the bureaucracy, then you offer such an action, but that is not your primary mission. Listening through God’s heart is our primary mission.
On Thursday there was a powerful event. A forum was held on Zoom, broadcast from the Hilltop Motel up across from the hospital in Berlin. The motel has some 80 rooms and is currently filled with people who are experiencing homelessness. The forum offered those who were willing the opportunity to share their story. The stories were literally heartbreaking – they broke open my heart, and the hearts of most others who were listening. They all repeated over and again their gratitude at having food and shelter. Then they went on to express their pain and frustration in trying to make progress toward permanent housing and stability, all while feeling unsafe and dehumanized by encounters with medical, public safety, and social service personnel. There were stories of people being transported and dropped off at the motel barefoot, without a coat, or without a needed walker, or being unable to walk when the only room available was on the second floor. There were stories of people completing 30-page applications with questions that would stump a professional, making call after call after call to housing agencies, and still being unable to ascertain the status of their application. Mostly there were stories about feeling very small in a system that feels large and impenetrable. The forum, maybe in some small way, allowed us to be with them, to listen and believe and share their humanity. My hope is that some mechanism will come out of this sharing that will offer a way for us to be in real relationship, to interact and walk with them. I will end with a Prayer of Self-Dedication from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Light One Candle - The Sixth Sunday After Epiphany Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
Christ Episcopal Church
Sermon, Year B, Last Sunday in Epiphany, 14 February 2021
Rev. Stephen A. Reynes, Deacon©
Light One Candle
In the Name and praise of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.
The path to understanding is sometimes hidden as if an impenetrable cloud. When we are children, we ask a question of our parents that may cause them to inwardly wince, but they say, in a tone of deep gravitas and wisdom, “Someday you will understand when you are older.” Well, I’ve definitely gotten older and I have a better understanding of some things, but there are still many things that perplex me, or I can only see the truth in part. Today’s readings would be in that last category, with multiple references to Light, judgment, and mysterious occurrences.
On this last Sunday in Epiphany, as I consider the readings and pray for God’s light, I have again come to see that humility is a path to greater understanding and peace. Let’s see with the grace of God’s Light what we can do together and then as we may later reflect.
In today’s reading from the 2nd Book of Kings, we hear of the great prophet Elijah and Elisha walking together and came to the River Jordan, where Elijah rolls up his mantle -- wait, what is a mantle? Dr. Google tells me it’s like a loose cloak worn over other clothing. Elijah rolls up his mantle and uses it to strike the water, whereupon the water was parted to both sides until they arrived on dry ground on the other side. Then Elijah says to Elisha, “tell me what I may do for you before I am taken from you.” Elisha asks to “inherit a double share of your spirit.”
The lawyer in me feels compelled to tell you that Elijah and Elisha are not related, so there is no automatic inheritance. Elijah the prophet responds, “if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted, if not, it will not.” Elisha does see Elijah taken up into heaven on a chariot and horses of fire. So, according to the prophecy, Elisha should be receiving a double dose of Elijah’s spirit, but the reading ended with Elisha grasping his own clothes and tearing them in half. It looked like the prophecy didn’t work out.
But in the verses immediately following what we heard, Elisha picks up the mantle that had fallen from Elijah, went back to the bank of the River Jordan, struck the water with the mantle and the water parted as it had for Elijah. When he reached the “company of prophets,” they declared “the spirit of Elijah now rests on Elisha.” Shortly after that, also as reported in this 2nd book of Kings, he performed a miracle in the City of Jericho where the spring of water was contaminated; there he threw a bowl of salt in the water and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it,” and the water remained wholesome.
In Psalm 50, we have the words that the Lord God calls the heavens and earth from above to witness the judgment of God’s people and that God is Judge. How will that work? I long ago concluded that God’s Love cannot include condemnation of individuals because they were born and raised in different cultures, different religions, or no religion. But I believe there will be a time of accountability in the wisdom, love, and justice of God.
Let us turn to the gospel now, which also reports a story that is mysterious and miraculous, and then consider what these two readings may have for us to consider as we start the second year of a worldwide pandemic and amid great unrest in our country.
The Gospel reading begins with these words:
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.
There is an introductory phrase to the first sentence of this gospel which was edited out for this reading. I think it’s helpful for context to consider the complete first sentence, which is, “Six days later Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.” Well, then, “six days” after what? What immediately precedes the verses in today’s Gospel is Jesus telling his disciples that he will undergo great suffering, be killed, and three days later rise again. Of the four Gospel writers, Mark is the one who is most spare in his words. Mark would not have bothered to link the passages we have today to what immediately preceded in his Gospel unless they were meant to be understood together.
If you’ve been listening with your mind so far, you might now try listening more with your imagination and spirit set free, to a place of greater light. If it all were a question of reason, there would be no place for faith.
So, there they are on the mountain top, Jesus, Peter, James, and John. Suddenly, Jesus was “transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” This Jesus who said he was about to suffer, die and rise again was in supernatural light, was talking with two great prophets: Moses and Elijah – the same Elijah who we heard about in the reading from Kings, who was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire and horses. Then, adding to the power and mystery, “a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice” saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” Then, just as suddenly, they saw no one else, just Jesus. Try to put yourself in that scene.
It’s not surprising that the awestruck yet impetuous Peter said this is good for us to be here; “let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But the next sentence undercuts that plan: “He [Peter] did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”
Jesus was showing these disciples that the end of his mortal life would not be the end of the story. He was connected to God. And it wasn’t the end for Moses or Elijah either.
The voice from the cloud emphatically saying, “Listen to him!” wasn’t just talking to those three disciples, but to us.
We had one other reading today, from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, with these words: “For it is God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
So, we have Light presented amidst foreboding darkness, and the Light was not extinguished. From the reading in Kings maybe it looked the end of the line for Elijah, at least in human form, and yet these three disciples see Elijah talking with Jesus centuries later. For those who claim to be faithful followers of Jesus, and who profess every word in the New Testament as the Gospel truth, yet hate Jews, they ought to consider this Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah with the voice from the cloud saying, “this is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” This miraculous vision given to the apostles Peter, James, and John shows that hatred and disrespect of Jewish people is not the way of Jesus or our God.
Elisha had thought that the prophesy by Elijah didn’t work out and so he tore his clothes in half. Yet he almost immediately found that Elijah’s spirit, God’s spirit and power, was with him.
Here is Jesus, who knows he is about to suffer and die, giving hope and light to these three disciples, that the story of that Light and grace may continue to live and sustain.
We have begun the second year of Covid as a worldwide pandemic, that, as you’ve heard, has killed more Americans than in most of our wars. We live in seclusion and separation, many of us having a hard time with it. At the same time, we live in a period of political turmoil in the United States that is not only beyond anything I’ve known, and darker and more widespread than anything I could have imagined. I won’t go through the litany. I do have a recommendation.
Some of us remember the folk-singing trio Peter, Paul, and Mary, I saw them a few times in concert. They stood and sang in the ranks of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez for social justice. Whether you know of them or not, I commend to you their video recording of Light One Candle in concert.
But you don’t have to wait for that, just Google Peter Paul and Mary singing Light One Candle and you’ll see several possibilities. The one I find most moving is in a packed concert hall, which includes a children’s choir singing along with lighted candles. If you Google for the lyrics of their song, you’ll see that millions of other people have done the same. Those words are powerful and inspirational, giving light, hope, and purpose.
In closing, I remind us all of these words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, immediately following the Beatitudes:
You are the light of the world….
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand,
and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way,
let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works
and give glory to your Father in heaven.
People who volunteer in the Christ Church food ministry are lighting candles. Our music lights candles. Our zoom church services. The stranger in need who you help lights two candles. And it goes on from there.
The Third Sunday After Epiphany Sermon by Elizabeth Wilcox
I will begin with
Gospel reading from Mark 1:14-20.
After John was arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.
(The Greek word for time here is kai/ ros. A qualitative moment in time. A precise moment without delay. God’s time. The time when God acts.)
Repent and believe the good news!
(Repent. the Greek word is metanoia., means after-thought or beyond-thought, with meta meaning "after" or "beyond" (as in the modern word "metaphysics") and nous meaning "mind" It’s beyond the mind.…a transformative change of heart and way of being.)
5 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
Follow me and I will make you fish for people.
In other bible translations, fishers of men.
The imagery, fish for people/ fishers of men have old testament significance in a few books of Old Testament prophets…the one I will reference is from Habakkuk.
In it, the prophet laments to God the fact that while the wicked go free, God’s people suffer. (Habakkuk 1:2,14-15, 2:2-3)
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net.
Then God answers Habakkuk’s complaint.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it[c] will certainly come
and will not delay.
(continue on in Gospel reading)
And immediately they left their nets and followed him… This was the beginning their discipleship as individuals but more importantly as community that became 12. Discipleship is a journey of becoming. Who Christ calls, He enables and empowers…becoming/being the body of Christ. The Church.
Which lead to Psalm 62:6-14 some verses from what we sang..
My soul on God salvation waits…..
Make not increasing gold your trust.
Not set your hearts on glittering dust
Why would you grasp the fleeting smoke? And believe not what God has spoke?
Similar imagery is in the Paul’s Epistle to the Corinthians. (I Corinthians 7:29-31)
At the end of today’s lectionary epistle passages, Apostle Paul wrote, “For the present form of this world is passing away….” The whole of the reading may seem a bit confusing.
I will read IT from the Message translation: I think this gives a little more clarity of understanding than other translations, but most all theological commentaries agree that it’s accurate.
29-31” I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so do not complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is fading away.”
Once more the Greek word that Paul uses for time is Kairos. GOD’S TIME/ Appointed moment in time
Apostle Paul is not advocating some form of stoic apathy. … but our circumstances in life do not define who we are as children of God. The world is changing as we know it. Do not get attached to it. The shape of human society, family, politics, education, art, sciences and all the accumulated stuff of human endeavors are always changing(paraphrased from a commentary reading)…just read history…. And yet we were also born for such a time as this, to live out the call of God in our lives as individuals but also as the body of Christ. the Church…as Rev King Jr, called “the Beloved Community.”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr wrote a book “Strength to Love”, a compilation of his numerous sermons…one in particular is called “Paul’s letter to the American Church”. The Rev. wrote it as he understood Apostle Paul would…. a couple of small excerpts.
“AMERICANS, I must remind you, as I have told so many others, that the church is the body of Christ. When the church is true to its nature, it knows neither division nor disunity….
“Another thing that disturbs me about the American Church is that you have a white church and a negro church!
How can segregation exist in the true body of Christ?
Oh, my friends, this is blasphemy and against everything that the Christian religion stands for.
I must repeat what I have said to many Christians before.
That in Christ
There is neither Jew nor Greek.
There is neither bond nor free.
There is neither male nor female.
For ye are all one in Christ!”
Which finally leads me to the book of Jonah 3:1-5,10
A prophet of God who ran away from God’s call to preach repentance to a vicious enemy of Israel. Assyria, the Capitol City was Nineveh.
In his seeking an escape, Jonah gets eaten by a fish and spit out before he finally does what the Lord called him to do. Jesus uses the story as a warning to the pharisees and teachers who demanded a miraculous sign for Him that he was the Messiah.
And Jonah knew God would show mercy for he gave the worst sermon ever(I heard a Minister exclaim). “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
And the people of Nineveh believed God.
Later in the book there is a great dialogue between Jonah and God which Jonah expresses resentment for God’s mercy for the people.
and expresses the genuine condition of the unrepentant human heart when we refuse the call of God because we
want to decide who should receive mercy and forgiveness and who should not. … or whether we choose to show indifference/ heartlessness to those in our midst.
Again, I think of Rev Martin Luther King Jr. A modern-day prophet who unlike Jonah heeded the call to speak to the enemy called segregation.
A man who represented/ represents the oppressed people of God… yet walked in love and nonviolence.
In a real sense this is a great time to be alive
I AM NOT YET DISCOURAGED ABOUT THE FUTURE
Granted that easy
going optimism of yesterday
Granted we face a world crisis that leaves us standing so often
Amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea
But every crisis has both its dangers.
And it is opportunities.
It can either spell Salvation or doom.
In a dark confused world
The kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.
Now for the eloquence and optimism of a 22-year-old poet, Amanda Gorman. A young woman who spoke with such conviction. Here’s the ending BENEDICTION of her poem at the inauguration:
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it
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, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of His marvelous works; in Jesus name we pray. Amen
You Matter - The First Sunday After Christmas Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
Christ Episcopal Church
Sermon, Year B, 27 December 2020
Rev. Stephen A. Reynes, Deacon©
In the name and praise of God, Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
There was a recent story on National Public Radio/VPR about a military veteran of the war in Iraq who suffered from PTSD. He was on the verge of killing himself, feeling that his family would be better off without him. His wife and partner in making music begged him, “Give me five more minutes.” What I gathered from the story and a song that they later recorded together called “Five More Minutes,” was that her saying to him, “You matter, you matter to me” made the critical difference.
When you are feeling dark, remember that Jesus became one of us, through God, as announced to Mary by the Angel Gabriel, out of love. Jesus was born in the stable, lived, suffered, forgave, died and rose out of love. You matter to Jesus; you matter to God.
By way of further illumination, we have these words from today’s reading of Paul’s letter to the Galatians:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…. So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
Again, would Jesus have lived and died as one of us, and shed love and light along the way, if we did not matter to Jesus, if we did not matter to God?
Beyond that, Jesus’ way is that we also matter to each other. What we know as the Prayer of St. Francis begins with these words: “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”
Yesterday morning I was listening to an interesting program on NPR/VPR called A Way with Words. People call in their questions about the origin and evolving use of different words and expressions, which can vary by region. Or someone can call in and ask if there is a word that describes a certain situation.
A girl called in, I’ll call her Amy, and asked if there is a word for fear of middle school? The co-hosts, Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, gave a few obscure long words that ended with “phobia,” but none that was specific to fear of middle school.
The hosts could have just left it there – A Way with Words isn’t pitched as a personal helpline. But they inquired as to her age – 12 – and what was her fear? Amy said she had been to a small grade school, she would be going to a large middle school, and she was anxious that she wouldn’t know anybody. Between Martha and Grant, they said that middle school is a time when students begin to have more independence, to make more decisions on their own, the beginning of greater freedom. They said that not every twelve-year old would call into a national radio program, and that she is very poised in doing that. It was clear to me that the conversation resulted in the sun coming out for Amy, bringing light where there had been fearful darkness.
What these three people had done, talking together for a few minutes, brought tears to my eyes – what a difference it made that Martha and Grant took the time to care. Amy mattered to them. Hearts are not just for breathing and pumping our blood. They are also for compassion and connecting.
After nine months of Covid and other turmoil, many people are weary of the struggles and the isolation. I think most people are doing the best they can to get through one day to the next. I find that just about everything takes longer. Speaking for myself, some days the emotional batteries run down, and the protective shield goes up – I ought to do this or that, or both today, but today they are a bridge too far. I expect that is true for many of us. Sometimes when I get feeling upset that someone else didn’t do something I wanted or expected, I remind myself, “Hey, take it easy, they are in the same boat.” Most of us feel more vulnerable, take care to not wound a fellow traveler.
About a month ago I read an article in The Washington Post in which Meghan Markel, the Duchess who is married to Britain’s Prince Harry, revealed that she had a miscarriage in July, losing their baby and the grief that came with that. She also said that in the couple’s 2019 tour of Africa that she was surprised when a British journalist asked her if she was doing OK? Megan was surprised because not many people had asked whether she was doing OK, despite relentless focus on her in the tabloids and social media, questioning so many personal things and making totally false statements. Megan wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times on November 25, 2020, urging people to “Commit to asking others, Are you OK?”
I think all of this speaks to the heart and our faith, to go gently with ourselves and with others. And if someone seems distant, different, apart from their usual connection, ask, “Are you doing OK?”
We are in a time of great anxiety, as a country and in our individual lives. Just when we need to be together, we cannot.
Still, we can connect. That conversation from A Way with Words was by phone and radio. We had a wonderful joint service with St. Andrew’s in Colchester and Christ Church on Christmas Day via zoom. To be able to take the pre-consecrated bread and wine and see others do so at the same time was powerful and hopeful.
Taking a walk together outdoors, with some distance, is a good way to get exercise that we need. After the joint service on Christmas Day, I did not join family in a different household in a confined space, but I joined them for a walk at a safe distance. It was raining, but hey, umbrellas were invented for a reason. We had a good time, it felt good and it did good.
Then I was part of a get-together on zoom with family members in three different States that we all felt good about, with lots of laughter. Later that day two of my sisters and I had a happy get-together via zoom with our Mom, who lives in a residential care facility in Rutland, operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vermont with a great professional and caring staff
On Christmas night Stewart Ledbetter hosted his weekly program called Vermont This Week on PBS. Instead of a panel of Vermont journalists, the panel was comprised of representatives of three separate faith traditions: Rabbi Amy Small of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington, Imam Islam Hassan of the Islamic Society of Vermont, and Pastor Ken White of the College Street Congregational Church in Burlington. While each represents a different faith tradition, it was apparent that the three get along well and have much in common. It was a refreshing antidote to the divisive politics we have seen so much of, where there is only one’s own camp or color and the rest are enemies. If you are interested in seeing that program, it will be re-broadcast at 11:30 this morning on Vermont PBS or you can stream it from their website.
Yesterday I had calls from two relatives I had not heard from in years. I am grateful that they reached out, when I had not, with words and tone that felt good.
I thought Christmas would be a lonely day. Instead, although it was unusual, it was a rich and holy Christmas Day: the inspiring two-church zoom service; the umbrella-walk in the rain with some family members; the zoom get-togethers with other family members; and the Vermont PBS program with leaders of three different faith traditions. That was followed the next morning with the connecting and caring story I related from A Way with Words. All these gifts occurred even though I kept with safe practices for my personal health and the well-being of others who mean a lot to me.
Each of us matters. Our connections matter. You and I matter to Jesus, our God, and each other. Amen.
"Rejoice" Third Sunday of Advent Sermon by Diane Holland
The Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost Sermon by Rev. David Simpson
November 15, 2020
The Twenty-fourth Sunday After Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Gracious and Holy God, you know that all the words I am about to speak pass through unclean lips. By Your Grace let only those washed by the blessing of Your Truth take root in the hearts of those who hear. Amen
The house I grew up in was set back a bit from the road up on a rise. Once the snow was on the ground my sister and I used to go sliding on the hill next to the house, which emptied out into the driveway. We’d spend hours and hours out there. It was the perfect hill, long enough of a ride to keep you interested, short enough not to exhaust yourself climbing back up, and a couple of bumps along the way to give you a thrill.
Every once in a while though, when the conditions were right, the hill would be extra fast. The run would start normally, then about halfway down I’d feel my heart rate go up as I realized hey, I’m going quite a bit faster than usual. When I’d get to the bottom, instead of gently gliding to a halt, the sled would shoot off into the icy driveway and start picking up speed, carrying me down towards the road. At this point all the alarm bells are going off in my head as I realize things aren’t going to plan, something benign has morphed quickly into something dangerous, and I’d better figure out a way to stop myself before I end up in traffic!
This Gospel passage today gives me a lot of those same feelings.
It all starts off quite nicely. The man entrusts the servants with generous sums of money, as well as the autonomy to do with it as they see fit. The man returns to settle accounts, and proceeds with rewarding the labors of the servants.
Until about halfway through when we get to the last servant, and things quickly start to get sideways. My heart rate goes up as the servant comes hard out of the gate, baselessly accusing the man, saying he was “a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed.” And all my alarm bells start going off as the man replies, calling the servant “wicked and lazy,” calling out the servant’s foolish and cowardly stewardship of his property, stripping his talent from him, and having him thrown “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Something benign has morphed into something dangerous.
My first reaction quite frankly is sympathy for the third servant. It’s not clear that he asked for or wanted this money or the responsibility that apparently came with it, nor is it immediately clear why his choice to preserve the money (versus growing it) constitutes behavior deserving of being thrown into the outer darkness.
Most likely it’s hitting too close to home for me, as it feels like a total introvert move. It’s something I would do.
I needed some context!
I’m in no way a Biblical scholar, so I always have to start from the scripture I’m reading and work my way backwards to find the backstory, to find out what led up to this. What I found in this case were quite a few stories that follow a similar unsettling arc. The Faithful or the Unfaithful Servant in Chapter 24, pretty much all of Chapter 23 (terrifying), the Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Chapter 22, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Chapter 21 - it’s all very intense, very high stakes, very life-and-death.
But that’s because for Jesus, it is.
When I got back to the beginning of Chapter 21, I realized that this is all happening in the very last day’s of Jesus’ life. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem (which we commemorate on Palm Sunday) that’s already in the rearview mirror, and the next thing for Jesus is the Cross. With that context in mind, the
vivid imagery and explicit consequences in these stories make sense, as Jesus seems to be frantically brain dumping everything he can about the End Times and the Second Coming, and trying to do it in a way the Disciples will understand, and that will hopefully stick with them.
As such, the story contains some relatively clear allegorical elements to enable them (and us) to insert ourselves right into the who’s who of the story.
• The man who is going on a journey represents Jesus • The journey represents Jesus’ ascension, and the return represents the Second Coming
• The servants represent us, we Christians who are awaiting the Second Coming.
• The man’s assessment of the faithfulness of the servants is the Judgement Day.
• The talents are…what?
Things get a little murky when we get to the talent. A talent in Jesus’ time, in Matthew’s time, is nothing more or less than the weighted measure of a rather large sum of money. In our time, we only think of a talent as a gift or skill or ability. Singing. Listening. Cooking. Discerning. Car repair. Management. Woodworking.
Our instinct is to make this modern definition of talent be the allegorical parallel of talent in the Parable, but I find that when I equate the word talent to a gift or skill, the Parable becomes very difficult to read and reconcile. For example, when I look at the punishment of the last servant, what could be meant by a gift or skill or ability being taken from him and given to the first servant?
So instead of equating talent (the money) to talent (the skill) I equate it instead to my understanding of the mission and ministry of God. This works for me because the servants in the Parable knew that they were being entrusted with something precious almost beyond measure, something worth perpetuating by their own means, their own work, their own ingenuity, their own sacrifice. It is the same with God’s mission and ministry which we have been entrusted with. Precious almost beyond measure,
something worth perpetuating by our own means, our own work, our own ingenuity, our own sacrifice.
The servants in the Parable also knew that they would be judged upon the man’s return, not by the fruits of their endeavor (for the servant who made 2 talents is rewarded just as handsomely as the servant who made 5 talents) but instead judged against the faithfulness of their endeavor. If I’m honest, I’m not 100% sure where I come down on the concept of Judgement Day, but if and when that day comes, what else should I be judged by if not how faithfully I endeavored bring God’s mission and ministry into the world?
One key element of this Parable is that the man, before he left on his journey, most certainly could have left very detailed instructions for all of his servants to follow to keep them doing what they should, but he didn’t. He trusted them with everything of value that he had, and expected them to find their own way to continue the work when he was gone. This is, I believe, where the third servant lost his way. He was so afraid of doing something wrong he did nothing.
This is a place where we also can lose our way. God did not leave detailed instructions for us to follow to resolve issues of employment, food and housing insecurity, addiction, institutional racism, gun violence, discrimination. He has trusted us with the care of the marginalized and the outcast and the oppressed and expects us to find our own way to continue Jesus’ work while he is gone. He has left for us, however, the Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and this Holy Community of flawed and broken humans to connect with and to journey with. But if I am honest, I am often all to willing to practice what Bishop Shannon referred to last week as “willful spiritual immaturity,” preferring to stay just engaged enough to look the part, but staying far enough away to never have to risk something big for something good.
Paul said to the Thessalonians
…put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus christ, who
died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.
We have a central role to play in the working out of God’s mission and ministry. Whatever it is you’ve been given, whatever it is that you receive from your relationship with God, it is not provided just for self improvement; for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. It is lovingly provided for you AND for the world. God’s righteous expectation is that we will faithfully endeavor to share it.
So we have to choose.
If we choose to keep this gift, this treasure, this Gospel locked inside ourselves, if we never take the time or take the risk to manifest it in the world, if we follow our fear instead of our calling, then at the end of our days it will end up buried with us, our talent hidden in a hole dug in the ground, and we will have returned to God nothing except that which was his already, the dust from which we came and to which we shall return.
But if we choose to embrace, empower, and embody that which we have been entrusted with, that piece of God’s vision for this world that has been given to each of us according to our ability, if we as a community continue to care for each other, encourage each other, and equip each other to do this work, to take risks, to step outside these walls with God’s vision of love and joy and peace and power and reconciliation and equality burning in our hearts, God will be for us, and who then can stand against us?
All Saints Day and Blessed Are Those Who…. - November 1 Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
Rules to Live By - The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost Sermon by Rev. Diane Holland
Lord, I don’t want my way anymore. Take my heart and reshape it into a reflection of your Son, willing to live dangerously, trustingly, truthfully. Forgive me for all those things that have kept me from you, open my ears to hear your Word, and teach me a new path. Amen.
I had to smile a little when I realized what the first lesson would be today. One doesn’t get to preach on the 10 commandments every day! The challenge with such a sermon is always to try to get beyond the internal wall we all have that has a bright, neon sign on it that says, “I know this so well; I don’t really need to listen to a sermon on it.” Let’s see if we can get past that wall. Fair warning, though; we might find a few unexpected things.
You will have no other gods before me. Now, there’s a loaded statement. On the surface, obviously, God was warning Israel to avoid being seduced by the religions that surrounded them. If we remember the rest of the Old Testament, Israel had a bit of trouble with this one. When we look deeper though, we’re forced to confront what putting other gods before the Lord means. What might keep you from acknowledging and listening to the still, small voice? Could it be money or acclaim or acceptance or family or yourself? The only way we can keep this commandment in the 21st century is to figure out who or what are those idols in our lives and, by identifying them, guard against them.
Make no idols. Have you ever noticed how easy it is to become obsessed with things? When anything in our lives becomes more important than God, we have made that an idol. Don’t do it. Besides, did you notice of what we’re not to make idols? Anything in heaven or on earth or in the seas. What do all those things have in common? They are all the creation of God. They have no life or power except that which God have given them. Why worship the creation; it’s the Creator that counts!
Do not use God’s name wrongly. How many of us find ourselves being seduced by the world around us and throwing God’s name, or the Lord’s name, around casually. Do we even notice all the “God damn”s or “Jesus Christ”s or other ways in which our secular society cheapens God’s name without acknowledging God’s sovereignty and power? It’s like letting a 4- year-old play with a loaded gun. The very name of God is power and we have no right to use it casually.
Keep the Sabbath holy. This is the commandment that pivots us from a focus on God to our neighbor. It seems to sit a little apart from all the others. Interestingly, I think this is more about us than God or our neighbor. Setting aside a day a week to stop your work is just good mental and physical health. Besides which, if we work every day, what are we making of work? An idol.
Honor your father and mother. Remembering where you come from, and maintaining a little humility about who you are, will keep you grounded and away from those things that might shorten your life.
The rest of the commandments seem to me to be about respecting others and being grateful.
Do not murder. All the things that would drive someone to commit murder seem to be a result of being blinded to anything but our own needs. Lack of empathy puts us in danger of not seeing the humanity of others or our commonality with others. And I don’t think God is just talking about physical murder. I think we’ve all met people who have been so damaged by life, by the cruelty of others, that all the life has drained from them. Especially in these super-charged times, our words and actions matter. When we are acting out, based on our fears, we can inflict pain beyond anything we can see or appreciate.
Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not lie. Again, why would we do any of these things? When we don’t recognize that all we have is a gift from God, we make idols of the things we don’t have. When we make idols of the things we don’t have, we will sacrifice anything to attain them. When we are not grateful for the love we have been given, we make satisfying our own desires an idol. When we concentrate not on the fact that almost all of us have everything we need to live a full, rich life but on the things we don’t have, we’re willing to sacrifice our integrity to get what we want. When we are unwilling to love and live bravely, when we choose to live under fear, we deceive ourselves and others. We’re not only talking about things here. When we’re not grateful, when we live in fear, we think that what others have and that we don’t will fulfill us or protect us. Sometimes, that’s things, but often it’s intangibles - attention or ideas or attainments or anything that has become an idol to us.
These commandments are not meant to punish us or confine us, but to challenge us. These commandments and all the other rules in the Old Testament are there to show God’s love to the people by protecting them from unforeseen consequences. A life lived according to them will be healthy, whole and productive. Even a life lived struggling to attain them will be better than wallowing in the mire of our own desires.
Paul takes this one step further. Paul had done everything right. He was everything a good Jew should be. But, when the focus is on Jesus, everything else begins to disappear in comparison. By concentrating on gratitude to God for the immeasurable gift we have in salvation through Christ, everything else falls into perspective. Giving ourselves over to the Lord starts us on a path that requires everything of us. Even when we fail, and we know we’ll fail, we can depend on the love of God to carry us forward to that high calling.
God’s love is also understanding of our limitations. Our Gospel reading this morning tells us that God has shown the Israelites time and time and time again that God is willing to meet them where they are. Time and time and time again, the Israelites chose their own needs and their own fears. In the end, God’s love will not be constrained and, if God’s chosen ones will not hear God’s voice, God will bless those who will. That’s us! Thanks be to God!
In the end, we are left with a choice – God always give us a choice – live according to God’s law or according to our own heart. This choice has consequences. If we choose to live according to God’s law, it will present us with choices at every turn and it will be often be the hard choice that is God’s path. If we choose to live according to our heart, our path will make the Jews’ wandering path in the wilderness look like a perfectly straight line. As it says elsewhere in Scripture, “…the heart is desperately wicked; who can know it?”
When we follow our own hearts, we are turned around and around, running in desperate circles, until we have no idea where we’re going or even that a path exists, . In the end, that path will lead to terror and death. Why do you
think the Israelites asked Moses to never let God speak directly to them, but only through him?
However, when we follow God’s path, all the other blessings accrue to us, not only at the end of the path, but all along with the way. Despite the difficulty of the path, and sometimes even the fogginess of the path, the end is assured – life – and the path itself will bring joy, hope and peace.
I’ve always loved the collect for today. Here it is once again.
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear that we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve; pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.
The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost Homily by Rev. Beth Ann Maier
We have plenty of food for thought in today’s readings. Let’s start with manna from heaven. For many weeks in our readings from the Hebrew scripture, we have been following the story of Moses, from his birth to the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Week after week, we have heard the many ways that God provided for their safety. Moses’ mother set him adrift in a basket in the reeds because his life was under threat by the Egyptian Pharaoh. Moses was safely returned to his mother’s care, and then he was raised with all the advantages of life in the Pharaoh’s court. Years later, Moses was minding sheep on the mountainside and God called out to him from the burning bush to rescue the Israelites from the oppression of the Egyptians. And later, God passed through the land of Egypt, striking down every firstborn, both human beings and animals, but passed over and spared the Israelites. As Moses is led them out of slavery and oppression to freedom in the promised land, God parted the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to safely flee the pursuing Egyptians. And today we heard God respond to the complaining of the Israelites, answering them with all the meat they can eat in the evening and all the bread they need in the morning. In every story for the last five weeks, we have heard God’s response to the suffering of God’s beloved people. What more do these people need to convince them that their best path is to live a life connected in God’s care and love? Apparently it takes forty years of wandering in a wilderness that could have been crossed in a matter of days, if they hadn’t repeatedly turned away from God.
That’s the whole story of the human condition right there. Most of us spend most of our lives wandering around in a spiritual wilderness of our own making, occasionally getting a glimpse of what it really feels like to be connected to God, but then, just as quickly, off on another path, centered on ourselves and our self-driven pursuits. We can be so wrapped in anxiety for the future, so focused on providing sustenance and security for ourselves and our loved ones, that we are mostly deaf to the voice calling out to us from the bush that is in flames, mostly blind to the ways we are miraculously saved from danger every day, and mostly oblivious to the manna that is right there for us. Our wellbeing depends on staying connected to God. “Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually” echoes through the psalm we read today.
Paul’s message to the Philippians reiterates the theme that God is perpetually connected with us, living in us through Christ. He states: “to me, living is Christ…” He goes on trying to decide whether he prefers living in Christ, or dying in Christ, and, thank God, he comes out on the side of living. He says: “I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith… sharing abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus.” Isn’t that what draws us here? Isn’t that why we continue to be “church”, despite the difficulties of seeing each other across computer screens, or across the physical distance that separates us on this chilly autumn day? We come here, whether “here” is the physical ground of our church property, or the pixelated ground of our Google Meet, we come here to be Church, to be connected to the Christ in ourselves and in each other.
From time to time, I have said to myself: “I’ve had it with church! I’m outta here! I can connect with God just fine on my own.” I don’t think I am the only one here that has ever had these thoughts. But I stay. I need you all. I need you to help me find the Christ among us. I need you all to power my connection with God, and I hope that you need me for those same reasons. This is our “religion”.
You know that I can’t make it through a homily without breaking open the etymology of at least one word. Today’s word is “religion”. The Oxford English Dictionary gives two contrasting etymologies. One, promoted by Cicero, is “relegere” meaning to read over and over again, as in a painstaking observing of ritual. The other, especially advanced by early Christian writers, is “religare”, which means to be re-tied as in ligatures, or reconnected. So, are we fed here, do we deepen our union with Christ, by reading and saying the words over and over again, or are we fed and united with Christ by strengthening our ties, our connection with each other? As Paul asks in our reading today: can we live our lives “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel”? Do we think we can do that on our own? People have told me they connect with God in contemplative practice alone at home, and that is enough for them. Others describe connecting with God when they are out communing with the awesomeness of nature. As excellent as these practices are for the health and wellness of body and mind, I don’t think they rise to Paul’s sense of “living in Christ”. Paul’s vision of living in Christ is powerfully stated in Ephesians 4:16 when he describes: “the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love”. That is Paul’s vision of “living in Christ” In the passage we heard today, he says: “For to me, living is Christ… that means fruitful labor for me”, and his labor was spreading the joy of the good news, building up the community of the followers of Christ, establishing the church.
So let’s talk about Church. Why do we come here? What do we value about church? And how much do we value it? What does a strong, healthy church look like? What is its mission? And what are we willing to do to make that happen? Can we let go of some of the things we have expected of our church in the past? Can we let go of some of the performance standards we have set in the past? What are we willing to sacrifice and what are we not willing to let go of? These are the questions we must answer. The reality is that we have slimmed down to about 60 worshipping Episcopalians in Montpelier, with a priest that is contracted to work at 50% of a full time equivalent, and Bishop Shannon is going to hold our interim priest and the vestry to that 50%. There will be no more paying part time, but expecting and receiving 120%. We pay our music director and our youth and family director very part-time stipends, and that is the extent of our payroll. We pay our diocesan assessment to support the work of the diocese. The rest of our budget is almost entirely to support the needs of our building. It is the same story all over the Diocese of Vermont. If we want more from our church, if we need more to stand firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind, living our lives as the body, the hands, the mind and the heart of Christ on fire, here in Montpelier, VT, then it will be us that makes that happen. Us and God. Which brings us to a good place to reflect on the gospel reading today.
I heard this gospel from a new perspective this week. Or at least it was new for me. I have always heard it through a lens of justice around labor and fair wage issues. This week, I heard it through the lens of the “kingdom of heaven”. "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” In the kingdom of heaven, labor is being with Christ, living in Christ. Living our days brim full of God’s presence, and performing God-directed labor. The daily wage offered for this labor is everything needed to be fully fed, fully secure, fully sheltered, free from anxiety about where you fall on the spectrum of scarcity to abundance. Whether you labor a full day or only find your way to the vineyard a few minutes before nightfall, the wage is the same.
So I ask you, what is God’s dream for our church? What is the labor God wants to join and support? I don’t think that our church building is high on God’s list of concerns. I don’t think that how we come together is high on God’s list of concerns, as long as we come together and connect. I think God is inviting us to throw ourselves into the labor of building the kingdom – the labor we were baptized into when we were baptized into Christ’s body. Remember all of those “Will you…” questions in our Baptismal Covenant? Especially “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” God is inviting the church to live fully into those promises. I don’t think God cares that much whether we say the words over and over year after year. I think God cares more about our acting in concert with each other to fulfill our promises. God, through Christ, will hold us together, bind and connect us with each other in our labor. That is why we say: “I will, with God’s help”. We are God’s help for each other. If we keep our hearts and minds, our passion and our will, focused on what God desires for the church, if we can let go of those things not necessary for our salvation, and hold on to those things that lead us ever deeper in the knowledge and the love of God, then we shall have all we need. The manna will fall, the waters will part, and the promised land… will be just over the next rise.
Thanks be to God.
The Path of Light- The Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost Sermon by Diane Holland
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
Thank you all so much for the beautiful sermon you all preached to one another last Sunday. As always, I was moved and inspired by your honesty, faith and love.
As our Old Testament reading this morning reminds us, an important aspect of our faith is memory. Moses tells the people of Israel that this day, this ritual, this act of God’s love and mercy is something to be celebrated “as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.” In our own lives, we should make sure that we remember what God has done for us and celebrate those instances.
Why? How many of you have felt overwhelmed by all that has gone on this year? How many of you have come to a place where you were tempted to despair that there would be any light, any hope for things to resolve themselves? How many of you have felt that you were being helplessly tossed by the tidal waves and cross currents of important matters that seemed entirely beyond your control? Did you take time at that moment to remember the history of God’ mercy and love in your life?
Notice the specificity of God’s command. Every possible aspect of the commemoration is mapped out by God. Why? I put it to you that God does this so that the people would remember. God instituted Passover in a way that will make the people remember it and, 3,000 years later, the Jews still commemorate this event in their history, and we have been adopted into the covenant the God made on this day with his people. Therefore, we, too, can claim this heritage as part of our history, as part of our story of salvation, as part of our memory of God’s love and action in our lives. This is a key weapon in our battle to face the chaos and darkness of these times.
Look at our reading from Romans. Paul tells the Romans, as Jesus had done with the Jews, that there is one commandment that contains all the others – Love your neighbor as yourself. I like the way Paul phrases this – “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Of course, we all recognize that we owe a debt of gratitude to many people in our lives. To our parents, to our siblings, to our teachers, to our spouses, to our children, to our wider family
of friends, colleagues, co-workers and compatriots. None of us has survived a day of our life without the help and support of others. However, it is also important not to put ourselves in a place where we become indebted to or controlled by others. Our first allegiance is always to God and his deepest call to us is to love.
Look again at the reading from Romans. What is the second part of Paul’s message? “…the night is far gone, the day is near.” Contextually, Paul is talking about the return of Jesus to claim His own. However, we can take great hope in the idea that our redemption is near. We have been through much, and there IS light at the end of the tunnel. Salvation IS nearer than when we began. On the other hand, though this provides us with hope, it also reminds us that we have a limited time left to step out in this hope and faith and love, and bring that light and reconciliation to the world.
How do we do that? The rest of this passage gives us a clear and detailed road map. Let’s review.
Lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Wow! This is a loaded sentence. What are the works of darkness that we are to lay aside? These will be different for each of us. For me, the darkness takes the form of condescension, judgmentalism, anger and hate. Paul is asking me to stop looking down on others who appear to react in emotion rather than reason, to stop judging others before truly understanding their heart, to stop allowing the nightly news to wrap me in a cloud of anger which immediately and incontrovertibly closes off my ability to love, to allow myself to be sucked into a miasma of hate toward those who seemingly without remorse or understanding do wrong to me or my neighbor.
Whatever the works of darkness are for you, they all have the same effect on our ability to love. When we hold onto the darkness, it has the same affect on our love as Jesus describes in the parable of the sower – some works of darkness blind us completely to love, some make it impossible to allow love to take root in our hearts, some suppress and restrain the ability for love to grow in our hearts. It’s only when we lay aside those works of darkness that plague each of us individually that love can flourish and grow and expand to others.
Live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Notice the
character of the things we are to avoid – reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling, jealousy. Where is the focus of someone giving in to these things? Each one is a desperate attempt to meet a need on our own instead of meeting the needs of another. Each one is antithetical to loving my neighbor and doing no harm. Paul is telling us that we should live lives that inspire rather than ones that frustrate and disappoint. Not only does laying aside those character flaws show love to our neighbors; it also frees us. Imagine the sense of freedom and release if we simply let go of these grasping attempts to meet our own needs. If our focus is on others, then someone is going to fulfill our needs. In the words of that favorite contemporary maxim – “what goes around comes around”. This is what it means to live in community. This is what it means to live as a family. When we address the needs of others in love, our needs are met, too.
Our Gospel reading is a study in this living in community. First of all, notice who it is that is called to reach out; not the sinner, but the one against whom he or she has sinned. This harks back to what I said before about the works of darkness. Anger and hate make it impossible to reach out to others; our focus is in the wrong place to practice the love to which we are called. The sinner is often simply unable to reach out in reconciliation. If we love each another, we cannot allow such a division to continue. It harms a neighbor as well as us.
And how does Jesus council us to achieve this reconciliation? We start by speaking directly to the person who has wronged us. We don’t write a tweet about it, we don’t draw others into the rift, we don’t send an email, we don’t stew silently in resentment, we don’t rail or shame in public. We approach the person who has wronged us in a private setting and hope that the love we show will free the other and achieve reconciliation. If that doesn’t work, try again with one or two others who can bear witness that you have made the effort and help persuade the other to return to love.
I think the next step in Jesus’ instructions are a little tough for a 21st century Christian to understand. I think this, too, is a work of darkness in a way. If the member refuses to listen to the one or two witnesses, tell it to the church. I think the average person sees this as an act of revenge, but what if we take Paul’s words to heart? If we love another and, therefore, do no harm to each other, how would the church-wide attempt at reconciliation
look? I imagine it would involve a lot of prayer and meeting the need of the sinner that caused the rift in the first place.
If whatever that looks like doesn’t work, we are told to regard that one as a Gentile and a tax collector. I think most of us would have thought that this passage ends in shunning and separation, but how does Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? Think of the Syro-Phoenician woman or any one of hundreds of other examples in the parables and stories from Jesus’ life. Far from shunning and separation, Jesus treats Gentiles and tax collectors as lost children who need to be found and loved and restored, just like the prodigal son.
The final parts of both our reading from Romans and the Gospel lay out our responsibilities as followers of Christ. Paul charges us to put on Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires. Paul is telling us that it our job to be constantly vigilant against the works of darkness that would cut us off from the love of God. We are not called to do this on our own. Paul calls us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ”; in this season of Pentecost, what does that mean? We are to live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the very power of God that lives within us and encourages us and empowers us to do what God calls us to do, even those things which appear impossible.
Last week, Rev. Bob called us to love, even when it seems impossible. For some of us, extending that love to certain people is beyond our strength, but, through putting on Jesus Christ, we can do all things through him. Jesus never promised that any of this would be easy, but it’s not impossible!
Paul goes on to charge us to make no provision for the flesh. What does that mean? Paul consistently refers to the flesh when he speaks about our human frailties – the reveling, drunkenness, debauchery, licentious, quarreling and jealousy to which Paul refers at the beginning of the reading, as well as all the other sins that we commit against God and each other. Making no provision is the sneaky part of this verse; this is where our responsibility comes in We need to review our life and find all the places where we are allowing the works of darkness to have a toe hold in our lives. For some, that may mean turning off the news. For others, it may mean spending less time with people who tempt us to visit the darkness. For yet others, it may mean finding a hobby or ministry or any kind of
activity that seeks to show love to others, maybe starting with people who we find to be sympathetic to us and working our way up to the ones who are harder to love.
Some of you may have heard me talking last week about the parish of St Michael and All Angels in Lake Charles, Louisiana, which lost the roof of its sanctuary during Hurricane Laura. I suggested to the Vestry that we adopt this parish as a sister parish and do what we can to help them. Immediately, Ginny Catone stepped forward in her role as Discretionary Fund manager and decided that today’s offering that would normally go into the Discretionary Fund will be sent to St Michael’s. That’s one way to show love. Each of you may find other ways – donating food, donating clothing, writing cards of encouragement, praying intentional for those who are hurting – let the Holy Spirit within lead you.
Finally, the most awesome and terrifying verse (in my view) in all the New Testament. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” How can we fragile, fallible human beings be allowed to wield such power?! It’s only in love and by the power and guidance of the Spirit that we can hope to exercise it responsibly.
In the end, we return to that community I touched on earlier. How can we act in any way other than love when we know that Jesus Christ, our guide and friend, our advocate and intercessor, our judge and teacher, our Lord
and our God, is with us right here, right now, over the wifi signal or co-axial cable or cell signal or Cat-5 cable or telephone line that is connecting you to us at this moment. Let us live in the power of that presence as we choose to live a life of peace, honor and love. Thanks be to God! Amen!
Vision - The Seventh Sunday After Pentecost Sermon by Diane Holland
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
How’s your vision?
Today’s readings are all about vision.
In Genesis, imagine the jolt to the system Jacob must have suffered with this vision of the ladder. There’s no doubt that he grew up on the stories of God’s grace and provision in the life of his grandfather, Abraham. He must have heard the story of how the family had sent all the way to “the old country” to find a bride for his father, Isaac. How all that must have seemed like ancient history to young Jacob. And now, here he was, being tied into the same eternal story.
Perhaps, this is also a story of redemption for Jacob. It seems he and his mother had laid some pretty twisted plans to gain and maintain power within the family. Our story last week of outwitting his brother, Esau, of his birthright, seems to be a prime example of the sometimes calculating and manipulating ways in which he and Rebecca moved the chess pieces on the board. Those plots and stratagems don’t seem to take God much into account, but God seemed to always be there in the background, bending the arc of the story to the divine will.
In today’s story, it doesn’t appear that God is above a little razzle dazzle to get his point across. God reaches even into Jacob’s dreams to re-focus his vision on the bigger picture. I have no doubt that Jacob may have been afraid for his life and for his future because of his brother, Esau, and for good reason. Jacob had taken both Esau’s birthright and Esau’s father’s death-bed blessing that conferred “head of household” status on Jacob, making him master of the entire family. As the first born, this should have, by long tradition, gone to Esau. However, Esau was not a man to trifle with, and it was a very happy coincidence for Jacob that part of the blessing he received from his father was a mission to go to the family back in Haran (on the Syria/Turkey border) to find a wife. It would be understandable if Jacob was more concerned with his safety and future than in some grand plan of God’s.
However, God did have a plan and, despite the manner in which he came by it, Jacob was the one who was blessed, and Jacob was the one through
whom God would work out the broader plan of showing God’s love to the world. It took a grand vision to open Jacob’s eyes to the fact that, in some important ways, his life was no longer his own. He was now inextricably intertwined with God’s story. Perhaps this was God doing what God does – taking us where we are and offering us a chance to be a co-creator of the world with God. Perhaps this turn in Jacob’s life was both a heavy punishment for his deceitful ways and a wonderful promise of redemption. Have you ever had such a moment where the whole world opened up and you could see beyond the small world in which you live your daily life to the galaxy of God’s plan for you and for the world?
And what did Jacob do in the morning? To his credit, he realized that he was sleeping on holy ground, that this place was special because God was present to him there. The name Bethel itself literally means house of God from the Hebrew Beit meaning “house” and El being one of the names of God. The word Beth that we so often see as part of the name of a synagogue is a slight corruption of this same word beit. For example, if we see a Jewish place of worship named Temple Beth Shalom, its congregation is claiming to be the house of peace. And this analogy continues because, besides giving the place a name, what else does Jacob do? He builds a pillar, topped with the rock on which he had lain his head, to mark the spot, and then consecrates it by pouring oil over it. This altar or temple is a forever reminder that God is in the world, involved in the lives of those God loves.
Jacob now had a vision into which he could spend the rest of his life growing, buoyed by the promise God makes that not only would God continue to make his family fruitful, but that God would also be with Jacob no matter where he went or what he did. Our psalm this morning beautifully captures this sense of wonder and awe at the presence of God – Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether....Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?....Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike. Search me out, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my restless thoughts. Look well whether there be any wickedness in me and lead me in the way that is everlasting.
In the epistle to the Romans, we see that there is more to this story than God’s part in it. We have a part to play as well. We are to be faithful, to wait with patience and endure whatever sufferings we must endure to bring
about the coming Realm of Christ. Neither do we need to do this from afar or alone. Not only do we have our brothers and sisters in the faith, but we have the Spirit of God living within us, supporting us and giving voice to even our deepest longings and fears. Even when we have no words, the Spirit groans within us, offering our hopes and fears to God.
Remember, we are in the season of Pentecost and the church calls us to work out our salvation during this long season of the year. This time is a time for taking the lessons we learned about ourselves in Lent and applying them to our life, and striving to put into action this faith we profess, that Jesus, despite being part of the very Godhead, lived on this planet, that he was cruelly treated and killed for our sake, that he rose again to empower us to live the life God calls us to live, and that we are never alone because the very Spirit of God lives within us, knitting our hearts and lives to the God we love.
As the writer reminds us, what are the things we suffer here and now compared to that promise upon which we stand. In return for such unfathomable riches we can be a little patient while God conceives and delivers in each of us the new creation that we are becoming by God’s grace. Not only are we to be redeemed, but, through us, God means to redeem all of creation, from the tiniest atom to the farthest flung galaxy. Have you ever glimpsed this vision of the hand of God at work in history and the lives of God’s people? Yet God has promised that this plan, this working out of our salvation, is as real as the chair in which we sit or the sun streaming through our windows.
In our Gospel, the lesson is completed. Jesus tells us a parable in which he promises not only that the righteous will shine like the sun in the realm of God, but that the way will not be simple. Remember how complicated and tortuous Jacob’s path was? He finally saw God’s plan, but the path there wasn’t entirely straight or clean. There’s so much that distracts and seduces us to stray from the path of God that trying to remove it might irreparably harm us. Perhaps this is why God doesn’t wave some kind of magic wand to remove all the obstacles in our lives. Perhaps doing so would have hidden consequences that would be harmful to us. Perhaps we are indeed called upon to simply be patient and to count our present troubles as trash in comparison with the glorious promises of God. Hold firm, then, to that faith and those promises and work out your faith in fear
and trembling, for it is God working in you. Thanks be to God in the name of Christ! Amen!
(What Did You Do To) Let Justice Roll Down Like Waters And Righteousness Like An Ever Flowing Stream - June 14 Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
What Changed? - Pentecost (May 31) Sermon by Diane Holland
Lord God, as you showered the disciples with your Spirit on this glorious day so long ago, such that all those within earshot could understand the Good News, fill me with that Spirit so that Your love may be heard and understood in my words. As the psalmist has written, “May these words of mine please [God]; I will rejoice in the Lord. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Hallelujah!”
Happy birthday! Did you know that Pentecost is traditionally considered the birthday of the church? I’ve sometimes thought that odd; why not Christmas Day or Easter? Why is this day so important? After all, Christmas is the day that Christ’s earthly mission began, and Easter is the day that the power of our loving God broke the power of sin and death. What could be more transformational than that?
People of faith have shared the stories of their interactions with the divine for millenia. The life and teachings of the Buddha were so epic that hundreds of millions of people still try to live up to the ideals he exposed. Likewise, the life and teachings of Mohammed brought together, and continues to bring together, billions of people across the globe. Over a billion Hindus practice their faith and recount the epic deeds of their gods and goddesses. All these faithful people are trying, despite a checkered history of success, to live lives of meaning and value, and we can acknowledge that much good has come to the world because of these belief systems (think the Dalai Lama).
Let’s consider our own faith story. To do so, we must go back before the life of Jesus. Our brothers and sisters in God, the Jews, are living in the year 5780 according to the calendar based on their faith journey. The God we know and love, the one God, first reaches out to humanity through the Jews. If we study the Old Testament it becomes clear that Abram wasn’t looking for a new god, nor was he codifying a belief system based on a virtue or the life of a person. God reached out and spoke to Abram, calling him to a different kind of faith, a faith whose precepts and canons were not capricious or arbitrary, but meant to protect and nurture the Hebrew people and lead them to an understanding of the love God has for them. The Jewish faith journey is filled with stories that we have come to love and cherish because they so clearly demonstrate the relationship God wishes to have with creation. This is a whole new thing in the history of humanity!
Unfortunately, though, like all the other religions I described above, this appears not to have been enough. The system of sacrifices, tithes and offerings meant to renew the spirit and reconcile the penitent to God wasn’t working the way God intended. Though there were certainly many exceptions to the rule, the Old Testament clearly shows that the heart of the people was not changed. Their question seemed always to be, “What have you done for me lately?” The system of laws and regulations that God gave to his people to keep them safe and bring them to their full potential became for them an onerous burden, wearing their spirits down and driving them further from the God who loved them with an all-consuming love.
Obviously, the early church was filled with Jews, struggling to come to grips with how Jesus’ life and teachings fit into their faith. Did it fit? Why did Jesus have to die? The apostles and many of the disciples had seen Jesus after his death, but could he really have been raised from the dead? He died a criminal; what price could a disciple have to pay if he or she continued to follow Him? For mutual support and comfort, they stayed together as a group, hiding and praying and wondering what Jesus meant when he told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the Promised One. They even replaced Judas with Matthias. They were trying, but you can sense their uncertainty as you read the first chapter of Acts.
As our Gospel this morning relates, the disciples were able to touch Jesus’ hands and side, and Jesus even breathed the Holy Spirit on them, but did they understand what he was doing and, if so, what did it all mean?
In the intervening two millenia, Christianity has also expanded and reached to the ends of the earth, just like the other religions I profiled before. It is now the single largest religion on the planet, claiming 2.5 billion adherents. How did we get from a handful of scared Jews holed up in a room in Jerusalem to a world-wide religious movement. What changed?
As God did with Abram, he now does with the followers of Jesus. The Jewish law wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, so how could God show the people the love God wants them to know? Imposing an external paradigm on the Hebrews wasn’t creating the change that God wanted. Under the old covenant, God promised to write God’s principals and precepts on the hearts of the chosen people, but still the people rejected God. No amount of outward punishment seemed to have the desired effect. Something had to change!
God provided a way, a bridge, directly from God’s heart to the heart of each and every believer. Easter broke the chains that bound humanity to slavish adherence to rules and precepts and dictates and edicts. Easter is all about love. Easter is the final and most powerful argument God had to show love to the people. Easter changed the dynamic from sin and death to life and love.
So, if all that is true, what makes Pentecost the birthday of the church? Power! Before the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, people of faith were doomed to dog-paddle limply in the rushing tides of life, facing the waves of greed, hate and despair with nothing more than their own strength and determination. After the Holy Spirit descended, we as believers have a power living within us that was the same power that created all the universe, that dwells in unity with the Creator and the Word. After the Holy Spirit descended, we no longer had to rely solely on our own capacities; the very power of the full Godhead resides within our spirits. All the power that Jesus possessed while on this earth, all the power of creation (including the leviathan, which God made for the sheer joy of it!), all the power that kept Jesus’ feet dry as he walked on the Sea of Galilee, all the power that raised Lazarus from the dead, all the power that tore the temple curtain in two from top to bottom (a curtain that was estimated to be 30 feet wide, 60 feet tall and weigh approximately 5 tons), all the power the destroyed the very gates of hell, all the power that allowed Jesus to walk again the dusty roads of Palestine after his death, all the power without which all creation turns to ash and dust, all that power now resides within us and will transform our lives. The joy and love and peace of God is now available to us not through following rules or by intending to be good or by hoping for redemption, but by the very indwelling of the Godhead. That’s what changed. That’s the difference between all other religions and Christianity. God not only reached into our lives, but, through Christ, God lives within us. Everything has changed. Everything has been made new. Truly, this is the birthday of the Church. Happy birthday!
By the power of the Spirit, the disciples were able to share this good news with the whole known world. Look at that list of places – Parthia (northeastern Iran and Turkmenistan), Medea (northwestern Iran), Elam (southern Iraq), Mesopotamia (northern Iraq and Syria), Judea (central Israel), Cappadocia (southeastern Turkey), Pontus (northeastern Turkey), Asia, Phrygia (west-central Turkey), Pamphylia (southwestern Turkey), Egypt, Cyrenean Libya (a Greek and later Roman city-state in northern Libya), Rome, Crete, the Arab lands (the Arabian Peninsula). As these pilgrims travelled home, they told people along the way and people visiting their lands travelled to their own homelands, spreading the good news even farther. Perhaps it’s a small comfort that not only pandemics can spread widely and quickly. Can you imagine what the world could be if we played one tiny part in spreading the unvarnished, untarnished good news of Christ Jesus to the world the way our first and second century brothers and sisters did?
Further, these pilgrims and traders were not only the wealthy and connected; these were merchants and soldiers, servants and slaves, noble-born and politically powerful – a thick cross- section of the life of the great empires of the first century would have been within earshot of this symphony of voices praising God and calling all – men and women, slave and free, Jew and Gentile – to faith and redemption. God, by the very circumstances of the descent of the Holy Spirit, makes clear that redemption and hope are for all people, no matter their origins or their station in life or their past. God, indeed (as Peter preached to the crowd that day), “poured out the Spirit on all flesh.”
In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, we begin to understand how this new covenant, the new relationship with our God, will work. Every person who can confess that Jesus is Lord has, by definition, done so by the power of the Holy Spirit. That confession is a very proof that we have, indeed, been born again into a new life of the Spirit. Now, the Spirit’s indwelling takes many forms, and no one form is better or more “spiritual” than any other, and all forms are meant for the building up of the Church. Let’s look at this list. Do you see your fellow parishioners in any of these gifts? Do you see yourself anywhere in this list? Remember, God has given these gifts as axiomatic of salvation. If we are saved, if we can confess Jesus as Lord, one or more of these gifts is – not could, not might some day – is right now within us. These gifts are not for our aggrandizement nor to be lorded over another or to be a cause of pride; these are all gifts, pure, unearned, unmerited gifts that are to be used to encourage each other and to challenge and inspire each other. These are the gifts of the Spirit – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, empathy, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.
Notice that the flashy gifts don’t come anywhere near the beginning of this list. Many, many moons ago, when I was a teenager, I would go to church on Wednesday nights with my cousins, who went to an Assembly of God congregation. Later on, I joined a small group of evangelical, pentecostal folks who met in my church on Saturday nights to sing and pray and share. These were my first experiences with the baptism in the Holy Spirit and its manifestations. For many of those good folks, despite what Paul teaches, the only sure sign that you were born again was speaking in tongues. I can’t tell you how I longed for that gift! In the end, I believe I do have that gift, but it only came long after I ceased to want it so very badly. Now, it’s a source of deep comfort when I don’t know how to pray, not a status symbol that I’ve made it spiritually.
Each gift has its own place, its own power, its own spice to add to the life of the people. It’s important for each of us to remember that our particular gifts are not meant to be kept to ourselves. They are not within us by any merit or skill of ours, but they are there so that God can work through us to heal and restore the world. We can no more be proud of them than we can be proud of having hazel eyes or standing 6 feet tall or speaking our mother tongue fluently. These are all things beyond our control and a result of our genes or our circumstances of birth. What we can do is choose to allow the Spirit to use these gifts as they were intended, and to not stand in the way of the will of God in our lives. As I said before, these gifts are the manifestation in us of the great and awesome power of God, not a toy to be played with then tossed aside. There will be a reckoning, so let us choose to be a joyful and willing tool in God’s hands.
I like that Paul draws a distinction between wisdom and knowledge. I’ve met quite a few smart people who didn’t seem to have much wisdom, but have you ever noticed that one person, quiet and reserved, who can knock out an entire room by a simple sentence of wisdom. I’ve seen this
most among a group of people working very hard, myself among them, to impress each other with their knowledge, using their many words as at the tower of Babel, with the same cacophonous, confused result. Then a brilliant ray of sunshine in the form of wisdom cuts through everything to the very heart of the matter, often from a most unexpected source. This is a gift of the Spirit. On the other hand, those who keep whole libraries of knowledge in their heads are invaluable, too. Where would we be right now without the scientists who are combatting the forces of fear and ignorance with knowledge? This, too, is a gift of the Spirit.
I love the gift of faith. I think we can all think of at least two or three people in this very congregation who we love to be near because their faith comforts us. They may not say very much, they may draw very little attention to themselves, but anyone with eyes to see can see the faith that inspires them to act.
The remaining gifts are those flashy gifts I mentioned above, but, in their proper place, are every bit as crucial as the others. The gift of healing is probably the easiest to understand of these gifts, and we have any number of health professionals with us this morning. In addition to them, there are others who seem to have just the right word or to do just the right thing to heal the spiritual hurts we all have. The gift of miracles is probably the most enigmatic of the gifts, but I think we must look for miracles to see them most of the time. Perhaps you’ve experienced a miracle yourself or, thanks be to God, you were a miracle to someone else.
The gift of prophecy is quite misunderstood; a prophet is not the same thing as a fortune teller. A prophet speaks God’s truth. If we look at the Old Testament prophets, we see that sometimes the truth they tell has not yet happened, but a lot of the time their prophecy is speaking truth to power and reminding the powerful of the consequences of their actions. In my view, we have a prophet in this very congregation, as I have told him on many occasions, whose words cut directly to our current situation and provide the different perspective we all need to see things in a different light and to hear that still, small voice of God.
In the charismatic, pentecostal sense of the words, I imagine that, outside of the televangelists, the gift of speaking in tongues is one that few of us have experienced, but I’d venture to say that even fewer have experienced the interpretation of tongues. Though, as I mentioned before, I believe I have the gift of tongues, I have never uttered them loud enough for others to hear in a worship setting. I have heard others speak in tongues in a service, but I believe I only heard an interpretation of a word once. Now, of course, on the more prosaic side, I’ve certainly known people who have an uncanny knack for languages that certainly can be used by the Spirit, and those who have dedicated their lives to the interpretation of languages, in particular translating the Bible into new languages. The important point of these gifts is that those who might not be able to hear God in any other way are given the message that God loves them.
Paul in this reading again reminds us that the gifts of the Spirit are meant to make of Christ’s followers one body in Him. They bear witness to Jesus as Lord and their correct use can only bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All the gifts are from God, as is the Spirit that empowers them and leads us into a deeper, clearer walk with God.
Take a moment during this long season of Pentecost to read and re-read this list from 1 Corinthians. Pray over it, let it become part of you so that you can discover that gift (or gifts) that lie within you. Then let it become part of the daily living out of your faith. Paul evens tells us what the results should be in the fruit of the Spirit that he describes in his letter to the Galatians – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Notice he call these the fruit, not fruits; the Spirit gives them all to us as we grow in faith.
Happy Birthday! Keep looking for those gifts, honor them, use them, cherish them and let God work in your life and in your world to bring the fruit of the Spirit to a cold and lonely world that desperately needs the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Alleluia!
May 17 Homily by Rev. Beth Ann Maier
When I am preparing a homily, the question at the top of my mind is why has each of us come to this space at this moment to be together? What drew us here? What are our hopes for this moment together? What do each of us desire to take away? Like so many things in this extraordinary time, these questions seem to have more weight, they feel more pressing, as if the future hangs on what we decide to do in this one moment. That should be true of every moment of our lives, if we are truly present to our life, but there is something about the particularity of this moment. Everything is disrupted, and everyone is experiencing it together. Repeatedly, we hear that we are all in this together. Right now, the appetite for volunteerism is very strong and there is more of a sense that we cannot fully enjoy health and prosperity unless all are enjoying health and prosperity. We are buying groceries and delivering them to our neighbors. We are at home sewing masks by the thousands to keep our neighbors safe. We are reaching out, even when it feels uncomfortable, to cold call a parishioner to let them know they are not alone and forgotten. Previously, we could choose to abide in a status quo that may or may not have been personally comfortable, but was acceptable to the majority. Or we had the option to very slowly tweak the status quo into something new and transformative, but we have never, in my lifetime, been living in a moment when every decision, every pathway will define our new reality, because doing nothing is not one of the options. There is no status quo to which we can retreat. The gift of this extraordinary time is that we must choose what will be the new status quo.
This is true for all the nations of the world which must re-enter the international stage by either erecting walls or erecting bridges. This is true for our country, which is witnessing the stark outcomes of unjust and inequitable racial and economic policies, all magnified by the pandemic, policies which previously fed our status quo and have left us without a stable base to move forward as a strong democracy. This is true for our community, which has found that we truly can house those without homes and feed those without enough food, if we are committed to finding it unacceptable for our friends and neighbors to be hungry and homeless. This is true for our church, dwindling in membership and support, which is struggling to discern how to connect with those who sorely need and hunger for what we have found here, when the reality is that we may not be able to resume congregate in-person worship together for a year or more. This is true for every one of us individually, vulnerable, fearful, uncertain, groping for an anchor, or a rock on which to set our feet. All of us, across the spectrum from single individuals to nations of the world, have been offered the gift of reimagining and recreating a new status quo.
So why are we here in this space in this moment with each other? I think we are here to know God more deeply, because this is a God-moment like no other in our lifetimes. Somewhere within us, either deep in our consciousness, or right on the surface staring us in the face, we know that we can’t do this alone, and so we turn to each other, and through each other, we deepen our knowledge of God. I think that all of our readings today carry this theme. In the first lesson, Paul argues for the wideness, the universality of religion. He is preaching to the leading Athenian philosophers, the Stoics and the Epicureans, arguing that all of their multiple Gods can be encompassed in the One God that made the earth and everything in it, the heavens and all mortals. We heard Paul proclaim a God that created fixed boundaries of time and place: “so that they (the mortals) would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’”. I used to think that was the most brilliant thing Paul wrote: “In him we live and move and have our being”, because it resonated so closely with my own experience of God. In fact, they weren’t Paul’s words at all. He was quoting the words of Aratus, a Stoic poet, in an opening invocation to Zeus. In quoting those words, Paul demonstrated his own point, in that the manner in which we connect with God is universal and durable, even two thousand years later. The Psalmist speaks of knowing God through God’s acts. We heard these words today about our God: “who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip”. In the reading from the Epistle of Peter, we hear how to help others in knowing God: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” And lastly, the Gospel reading, in which we hear Jesus say: “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Today’s reading from John is a continuation of the passage we heard last week when he heard that: “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” In today’s passage, Jesus expands on the love and the hope that are the essence of the divine relationship. We don’t hear Jesus say: “If you keep my commandments, I will love you.” That is not unconditional love. Jesus says: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”, because he is talking about the kind of love that lives inside, that connects with God, that is “the Spirit of truth.” Jesus is saying goodbye. He knows how they will feel, because he has been loving them for the three years of his ministry. We can only imagine what it was like spending three years with this amazing teacher who embodied unconditional love. Jesus knows they will feel abandoned. He says: “I will not leave you orphaned.” What it is like to be an orphan, to be left without an anchor of love, feeling isolated, of no worth to anybody? Jesus knows how they are going to feel, and he gives them and us who follow, a recipe for how to fully claim their lives in the face of the anxiety, the isolation, and the loss that comes simply from living, from existing in this world. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever…because I live, you also will live. On that day, you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, is what we see when we see the risen Christ moving in our lives today. The Spirit is what we see when we see Christ in each other. The Spirit is the one who accompanies us, who listens, who reaches out in support, who carries us when the bottom falls out of our world, who loves us no matter what. The Holy Spirit has always been my “go-to” branch of the Trinity, and the Good News we hear today has been foundational in my formation. I may verge off into heresy here, but I have had my difficulties with the “Father” branch. I get lost in the gender identification of all those he’s and hims. That we have assigned a gender to God makes God feel so much smaller than God is, and my mind is having to continually rework how I hear scripture that refers to the “Father”. I also have difficulty with the concept of Jesus, the Son of God, being inserted at one moment in human history two thousand years ago, as if all the people that went before never got to experience the Jesus movement. It doesn’t feel like Jesus and God’s time works like that. But the Holy Spirit is different. The Holy Spirit completely resonates with me, and goes right to the deepest part of me without my needing to rework anything. For me, the Holy Spirit is how I experience God in my life. How we know and connect with God is unique to each of us, and I am always eager to hear your experience. That is why I have come to this space in this time. Please share!
Right now, we have a tsunami of job loss, financial instability, physical and emotional isolation, uncertainty, and grief. Those who are suffering in the greatest numbers are those who have been systematically slighted by racial and economic injustice. As our lives with each other slowly begin to open, and we begin to realize that many of the ways we have organized society will be changed, we have an unparalleled opportunity to rebuild our social structures with our hearts fully open to God’s heart of compassion. We can listen and watch for the movement of the Spirit. We can love God and love our neighbor as God loves us. We can abide in God, as God abides in us. The capacity to love as God loves, abides within us. We can house all those without homes. We can be there to accompany them in circles of support as they struggle to maintain a permanent home. We have to do this. It is intolerable, to a heart filled with love, for there to be people without homes. We can feed the hungry, developing gardens at home and at church, gleaning and re-directing excess food, sharing what we have. We have to do this, because it is intolerable to a heart of love to see even one of these little ones to go without food. We can right the wrongs of racial injustice by first acknowledging the injustice, repairing the systems that perpetuate the injustice, and healing our relationships. We have to do this. It is intolerable to a heart of love to see injustice and not act to restore wholeness and dignity. We can be God’s hands and God’s heart of love in the world, because we have not been abandoned, we are accompanied, and we are held in the heart of God through the Holy Spirit, as Jesus said we would be. Thanks be to God!
The Road to Emmaus, Recognizing God’s Creation and Hope - April 26 Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
Easter Message for Christ Church from Rev. Auburn Watersong
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
The Journey to Joy: Lifting our Gaze and Leaving the Tomb
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Easter has arrived and now we sing, as we do every year, our loud “Alleluias” as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life. This is our time to rejoice and celebrate new life. This is the time we renew our hope.
But we have not always come easily to this day. And this Easter, this year, may be one of those times when coming into our “Alleluias” feels particularly challenging. The worldwide pandemic we are living through has led many of us into collective shock, grief and despair.
It is true that the journey to joy is not always smooth. But the gospel story today may help us find our way to those Easter Alleluias.
Mary Magdalene had come to the tomb of Jesus to find it empty. Heart-broken and traumatized by his brutal death, convinced his body had been taken, Mary stops and stands outside his empty tomb weeping. We can imagine that for Mary, this was grief upon grief, as though she was losing Jesus for a second time.
And it was in this cloud of shock, trauma and loss that Mary sees a gardener, not recognizing that the gardener is Jesus. Through the haze of emotion and the exhaustion of grief, Mary cannot recognize her Lord, even as he stands in front of her. In her frenzied and troubled mind she simply begs for her Lord’s body – “tell me where you have laid him”. Trauma and grief have a way of doing this, affecting our bodies, minds, and spirits. It can be difficult to make sense of what is right before our eyes. It may be that Mary was somehow stuck in time, feeling only the anguish of her present circumstance.
It is not until Jesus calls her by name that she lifts her gaze and recognizes her Lord.
“Mary!”, Jesus says.
The fog clears.
All that burdened her and has weighed on her heart suddenly shifts at the sound of his voice calling her name. And she recognizes him. You can almost hear her surprise and her relief when she calls out “Rabbounai!”.
They have recognized each other, have called one another by name. And Just as Mary was called by name, so too Jesus recognizes us and we are called by name. We are known, even in our grief and despair, even when we feel we are stuck in a “Good Friday” kind of place.
Together with Mary, we are called to lift our gaze – to listen for the unexpected – to be surprised by the presence of the Divine in our midst. When we lift our heads to recognize this presence, we may find ourselves moving closer to the promise of Easter. We may find something stirring our hearts - beyond what our physical senses perceive. We may move beyond our tear-clouded eyes and open all of our senses to the movement of the spiritual world in this physical plane.
You may have had such experiences: those that stir your heart into a deep recognition of Divine presence. God’s presence can surprise us in many moments big and small: in a beautiful spring blossom, or a much needed gentle breeze, or a full and shining moon, in the breathtaking view from a mountain top trail, or in the sound of your grandchild’s laughter. In these moments where we sense Divine presence, we step further into our Easter story – reminded that there is more than only our physical, material understanding and perceptions at work in our lives and in our hearts.
That reminder becomes clearer in our Gospel story, when Jesus then says to Mary: “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Jesus reminds Mary not to hold on to him, for God is still acting. Jesus reminds her that though he has died and risen, he will yet ascend. Mary is assured of God’s continual benevolent action even amidst the grief and change. It is an echo of the same promise of God’s never-ending, always-acting love that we read about in our Hebrew scriptures today. The prophet Jeremiah said as much to the exiled Israelites in 600 BCE reminding them of God’s promise: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (Jeremiah 31:3). And so we, like Mary, are reminded of more good news: not only will we find the presence of the divine when we lift our gaze, but we may also rest assured that God is always acting for us, in faithful and steadfast love.
This is good news indeed, but what Mary experienced that day, most of all, was the sure presence of her resurrected Lord. What she experienced, and what we have embraced, is the assurance that death will never more have the final the word.
While we have marched the road of Holy week, and recalled the despair and grief of Jesus’ crucifixion, we Easter people know that this is only part of the whole story. Likewise, we know that our current despair and grief is only one part of the whole story. Easter reminds us that there are eternal spiritual forces always at work in, through, and beyond our lives. Our conviction that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, expresses our belief that something greater is a work in our lives than the mere temporal world we experience.
We have come to understand that the depths of despair and the darkness of the tomb no longer hold full power over us. And our continued relationship with Jesus reminds us that in numerous ways, throughout our lives, we are constantly being lifted out of the tomb. No matter who we are, what we have done, or how bereft we feel, we know the resurrecting power of God’s unfailing love. We have come to know that death is not the end, and that in Jesus we have found new and neverending life in the love of a gracious and faithful God.
As we go forth into the trials of the days and weeks ahead, we can find strength in our identity as Easter people. We can rest in the assurance that we are called by name, accompanied by an ever-present Jesus, actively loved by a faithful and gracious God. We can live in our confidence in the newness and fullness of life, knowing that death will not have the final word, and we will never be separated from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Out of Darkness, Light - Palm Sunday (April 7) Sermon by Diane Holland
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
What a difference a week can make!
I think we’re all beginning to feel that anxiety that comes when our world feels like it’s been turned on its head and we have no control over anything. How many times in the last few weeks have you thought about making a quick run to the store, or inviting a friend over for a meal or buying tickets to a great concert or giving a grieving friend a hug, only to have the specter of this coronavirus bring you up sharp? Everything we would have done without a single thought a month ago now requires planning and effort and intention.
I once preached a sermon for Good Friday in which I dove headlong into the pain and suffering of Christ. I wouldn’t change anything about the choice to focus there; it’s so easy in our modern world to forget the searing, all-encompassing pain that Jesus endured for us. Today, however, I think at least a few of you have come to know pain and suffering sufficiently well that perhaps a different perspective is what’s needed.
Let us take a little closer look at the breadth of emotions that Jesus and his disciples endured in this Holy Week.
On Palm Sunday, it seems as if all the world, down to the very rocks themselves, cannot help but sing God’s praises. How overwhelmed and giddy the disciples must have been, perhaps thinking that the mortal danger they were all in was passing away! I’ll have more to say about Palm Sunday in a bit, but let’s see what the rest of the week had in store.
Monday brought the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus. I wonder what the disciples’ reaction to that was. Did some think that the political Messiah that many in that time were anticipating (a leader to free them from the indignity and pollution of Roman rule) was finally here? Were some concerned about the Temple hierarchy, thinking that such an overt display was bound to not end well? One thing was certainly true – the disciples really had no idea what Jesus would do next, much less why he would do it. At least the disciples were used to that.
Tuesday was more teaching. Many of the most beloved parables in Scripture are spoken by Jesus in these passages. Somehow, though, there seemed to be an added urgency to Jesus’ delivery that likely worried and confused the disciples. Do they realize that it was the chief priests and scribes that were questioning all of Jesus’ words and forcing him to defend himself? Did they sense Jesus’ victory over his interrogators when the questioning finally stopped? Did Jesus begin to realize the fullness of the pain, rejection and sorrow that he would taste over the next few days? Is that why so many of his lessons were about the end times and that his followers should be careful about everything because soon they wouldn’t have him to lead and protect them?
Wednesday was a day of resting in Bethany, just to the east of the Holy City and likely in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. What a beautiful place it must have been, transformed by the fleeting appearance of spring flowers carpeting the fields and running up the hills! How it must have lightened the load, even if only for a few moments, when the woman anointed him with oil and he defended her sacrifice. The disciples were indignant that she should have “wasted” the expensive, perfumed oil, but there weren’t seeing the forest for the trees. What the woman was doing was a kindness and a tender mercy; though the oil was indeed valuable, the spiritual benefit of the woman’s kindness and devotion outweighed such considerations. The disciple who didn’t get it the most, Judas, decided, under the cloak of night, to approach Jesus’ enemies and offer to betray him to them.
Thursday, Maundy Thursday, brings about the beginning of Passover and the day is filled with preparation. Ah! At last! Something the disciples understood perfectly! Each of them had experienced this most central of Jewish observances 20 to 30 times in their life. They knew the story, they had participated in the rituals, including each in their turn asking the ceremonial question – why do we do these things? – eating the traditional food to remind them of the suffering of their ancestors at the hands of the Egyptians and drinking from each of the ceremonial cups. But even this most traditional of days was turned upside down by Jesus, instituting the last supper and claiming to be the very bread and wine of which they all partook, giving each a new and fuller meaning. He commanded them to love one another and to be as servants to one another, which he exemplified before them by washing their feet (maundy is a word that comes, through Middle English and Old French, from the Latin word meaning “command”).
Now, as promised, I want to return briefly to Palm Sunday. This celebration, at least in the Episcopal tradition, is an amazingly schizophrenic day that perfectly reflects this strange week that the disciples were to experienc! Think of what happens in the short hour and a half of our service on Palm Sunday. We begin with a joyous parade, led by a piper, and then perhaps singing something exuberant like Ride On! Ride On In Majesty! Oh, how we long to join that first procession, making its way down the Mount of Olives and through the eastern or Golden Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem! As some of you may know, I lived in Jerusalem for two years, and I can still see the crowd stretching back for miles, moving joyfully forward to enter the Old City, singing hymns and shouting hosanna! Our hearts fill with joy as we wave our palm fronds and sing and shout!
Then we come to the reading of the Passion together as a congregation, with some of us taking individual parts in that old, old story. Every time we get to the scene in the house of Pilate I think, “How can the crowd who just a few, short days before were proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah, call for Pilate to crucify him?!” Now, I’ve been around long enough to know it wasn’t that simple, but it still cuts me to the quick every time I hear it.
All the joy and pomp and pageantry has faded in the teeth of calamity, like a hot wind off the desert just a few short miles below the great city, and all the fresh green of spring seems to wither in the arid breath of that wind. All hope is lost and all joy is turned to grey. Whatever are we to do? The service ends with us in the very psychological predicament, with nowhere to turn except the path that Jesus has chosen to follow.
Each of our readings for today provide a slightly different perspective on the events of Holy Week. You can find all the readings upon which this sermon is based here. Make sure to scroll down to the section entitled, ”The Liturgy of the Word”
I think the first two of our readings for today illustrate this sense of loss so well, while reminding us of Jesus’ example in these times. The psalm echos that feeling of abandonment and loss so well, but what else do we see there? While not downplaying the severity of his plight one whit, he calls out to the Lord for help in confidence that he will be heard.
When that confidence wavers, let us remember our passage from Isaiah. Can we not see the steely resolve in Jesus’ face in the midst of his humiliation and pain? If this is the path with which we are left, who better to follow than this teacher, who inspires us with both His words and His example?
We are so familiar with the Passion story, but read it again with an eye toward the hope in it. I’ve touched on a few of the points at which Jesus confounded his disciples already. As Jesus readies himself to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, though he tells his disciples that they will all desert him, he assures them that he will not desert them. Everything will be fine; just go home to Galilee and wait for him there.
While we cringe at the transcript of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, it’s important to remember that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were there as members of that body and they were still willing to come forward to minister to Jesus’ body after his death. There was undoubtedly a political cost for them to do so, but the Jesus they came to know in their short encounters with him changed them.
Imagine the women, watching the crucifixion. What a tender moment as Jesus, bleeding, broken and discouraged, comforts them as they weep. If he could reach out in that way at that moment, what right have we to lose heart?
We are left in the midst of the darkness of the night of Passover, unable to do anything for Jesus because of the Sabbath laws, fretting and mourning and all but bereft of hope while we wait for the first day of week so that we can minister to the body of our Lord. Remember Jesus’ words! He promised that he would rise again. He would overcome death and we could live in hope because the path leads past the death and pain of the crucifixion to the resurrection!
The Epistle for today calls us to remember the whole story. Here we see the end of that path. After all the pain, all the suffering, all the self-doubt and anxiety, Jesus is obedient to the end. But, of course, it’s not really the end, is it? It’s only the portal to the real goal – the redemption of all humanity through Jesus’ sacrifice for the glory of God. Even here, Jesus is not the primary focus; all the praise, worship, adoration and obedience is not for Jesus’ sake, but the glory of God.
Now, these days of uncertainty and fear and frustration can seem endless, and even the spring can seem to have lost some of its shine, but we follow in the footsteps of a person who has walked the path before us, undaunted by the challenges that faced him and resolute in his obedience, while showing compassion and understanding of all around him, even to those who sought to kill him. Can we not hold on a little longer? After the wild, rollercoaster ride that seems to whirl around us daily has left us breathless and dizzy, is there a solid core to which we cling and that will see us through to our own Easter morning? Thanks be to God there is!
Hearts, Minds, and Souls in the Time of COVID-19 - March 22 Sermon by Rev. Steve Reynes
Spiritual Gangrene - February 15 Reflection by Rev. Steve Reynes
Salt and Light: Carving Tunnels of Hope - February 9 Reflection by Rev. Auburn Watersong
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
So – Let’s begin with a brief recap of recent weeks: if you have been following along in our gospel readings – you will note that we had sort of a BLIP in our progress – in our schedule of readings last week. Two weeks ago – we had celebrated the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John, an act that preceded the start of Jesus’ ministry. At that time Jesus was an adult of course. But suddenly last week, we took a moment to look at a story from a different Gospel (Luke) and recall a moment when two prophets, Simeon and Anna recognized and proclaimed that the infant Jesus was the Messiah. Last week we celebrated that moment - known as the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple.
But – now today we are back in the gospel of Matthew again – picking up the story after the baptism of the adult Jesus. What follows in Matthew is the story of his temptation in the wilderness by the devil. After which, Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee. He preaches, heals the sick, and calls his disciples. His fame spreads throughout Syria and great crowds begin to follow him. And here we are today in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus – seeing the crowds, decides to walk up a mountain where then in the tradition of a good Rabbi – he sits and teaches. On this mountain in Galilee, Jesus describes the qualities and rewards of the “blessed” (vv. 3-11) in what we now call the Sermon on the Mount.
As he is teaching, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
I find it interesting that Jesus is not saying to his followers, you are ‘like’ salt in this way or that – or that they are similar to light in this way or that. He says you ARE salt, and you ARE light. It is interesting that science actually confirms this fact about our biological makeup - the truth we now know that our bodies contain the same elements found in stardust and salt. But Jesus is not reminding his followers of their composition, he is reminding them of who they are. He is telling his followers to live as if they are salt and light.
Since ancient times, across a variety of cultures, salt has been a necessity of life - a mineral used as a seasoning to add flavor, but also as an effective preservative, a powerful and sometimes painful disinfectant, and a symbol of purification in ceremony and offerings. In all uses, salt is an agent of change – it is active – it adds taste, it adds protectants, it purifies – it changes what is.
Likewise, light changes darkness. It has the ability to shift what is perceived. Maybe some of you noticed the sunshine yesterday – and how it can warm your skin – even in the cold, how it glistens and bounces off of the snow-covered tree limbs, how it cast shadows on new fallen snow – and as the light moves the shadows do also.
We are called to be salt and light. We are called to be change makers. It can be easy to claim Jesus and simply remain comfortable in our piety. I know I am too often more comfortable claiming to BE a Christian than I am actually ACTING like one. But that is what we are called to in today’s gospel.
And this was echoed in our reading today from the prophet Isaiah – when the Lord spells out the means by which one should practice righteousness: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house;
...Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,... “
As people of the bible, the Hebrew scripture and the New Testament – we are called to action to further God’s kingdom. While preparing for today, I have been reflecting on what actions I ought to be taking to further God’s kingdom - and I have spent time thinking about those who have committed their lives to doing just that; people who have taken great risks to change our world for the better. These reflections on those people, have provided me some light in what has felt like a very dark time in our nation of late. I thank God for the people of courage who step boldly into the call to be agents of change – to be salt and light.
Some of you may know that February is Black History Month and it has occurred to me that so many change makers – so much salt and light - has come from the ministry and work of people of color in our nation’s history that it seemed an opportune moment to share with you something I reread this week.
In reflecting on how to be salt and light amidst the current rancor and division in our country, I found myself reading again “The Letter from Birmingham Jail”, an open letter written by Martin Luther King Jr in the Spring of 1963, having been jailed for public protest during the civil rights movement. It is a letter in which he defends the strategy of nonviolent resistance to racism. And wouldn’t you know – in this letter from 1963, more than 50 years ago – there is a valuable reflection on the Church and our call as followers of Jesus to be spiritual salt – our call to action: (and I quote)
“Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch supporter of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are...” He goes on to write...
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ecclesia and the hope of the world. But again, I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.”
And today – we need to continue to carve those tunnels of hope – to be spiritual salt and the light in the darkness.
These past few weeks have been dark and disappointing for all of us – regardless of what side we stand on. We are losing faith in one another. And we risk succumbing to the powerful seduction that the goal is destroying the other side rather than acting on faith in the strength of salt and light. It is more important – and more poignant than ever that we heed the call to be salt and light – to act, to change, to continue to love, despite feelings of defeat and disappointment.
In a sermon, more than 60 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr preached these words: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that" (This line was spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. in a sermon called "Loving Your Enemies," delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama (December 25, 1957)).
And this is my prayer: that after we leave today - we take time to reflect on the ways we ourselves can act with the resolve that we are salt and light. And I pray that we are able to answer that call with continued strength and courage, knowing that with God’s help we can drive out darkness and carve tunnels of hope. AMEN.
Presentation of Christ - February 2 Sermon by Rev. Diane Holland
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord. Amen.
I apologize for sitting down, but I’ve been on a clear fluid only diet for over a week and I might fall down if I have to stand for an entire sermon. I’m fine. I’ve been having trouble with my pancreas, but all my blood tests are good at this point and I’m waiting for confirmation of an MRI test. Hopefully, that test will show exactly what brough this on out of the blue and I can get back to a more or less normal diet. I thank all of you for your thoughts and prayers, and the cards I’ve received this week. You all are awesome!
I guess sometimes it takes a pretty dramatic life event to shake us up. I can guarantee you that fat will play a much smaller role in the food I eat; I never want to go a hospital again! In some ways, I am grateful for what’s been happening to me. It’s given me the incentive I need to lose the weight and start a better lifestyle so that I can enjoy a lively retirement with my wife for many years!
Let’s look at Malachi. It seems that God is giving the Israelites a similar wake up call. Malachi tells the Israelites that the thing they most look forward to, the coming of the Messiah, is not going to be all wine and roses, rainbows and unicorns. The prophet warns the people that the Messiah will come like a refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap.
Now, think about these images. Imagine how hot a fire a refiner would need to separate various metals. Similarly, a fuller was a person who cleaned and process cloth. In ancient times, the Romans used human urine to do the cleaning because of its ammonia content that cleaned and whitened the cloth. In medieval times, they turned to soap. Here’s where the image from our reading this morning comes in. You need to not imagine a lovely bar of Ivory Soap, all mild and fresh-smelling. No, the soap was barely removed from lye. You would have no fingerprints left if you didn’t wear some kind of gloves.
In the same way, the Lord will come to purify the people so that they could return to present to the Lord offerings in righteousness that will please the Lord.
So, what does this have to do with us here and now? Remember, we are in the season of Epiphany, in which God reveals God’s glory to the world. How can we, as the body of Christ, reveal God to the world when there doesn’t seem to be any difference between the body of Christ and the non-believer? During Epiphany, as I mentioned in my sermon a month ago, we must keep our eyes open to see the hand of God in our lives. Malachi seems to remind us that we should be careful what we ask for. If we’re looking for God to move in our lives, it is unlikely that it will be an easy and straightforward process. As human beings, we are complex and filled with dark and light. The process by which we become the body of Christ, able to bring glory to God, is not easy. It will reveal things we might not have foreseen and may not like. However, it will be worth it and we will attain that goal toward which we say we aspire – to be a light in the darkness, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles.
As our Epistle reading reminds us, we are not alone in this process. Jesus came to Earth to give us an example of what our life can be. His sufferings allow him to empathize with all our troubles and advocate for us with God Almighty. He will be with us in all the tests we face.
I love our Gospel reading this week! First of all, as many of you may know, I did Evensong up there in the chapel every week day for several years. Right in the middle of the service is the
Nunc Dimittus, the Latin translation of Simeon’s exclamation upon laying eyes on Jesus. It has been a favorite of mine for years now. Let’s look at the words. O Lord, now let your servant depart in peace According to your word For my eyes have seen your salvation Which you have prepared before the face of all people A light to enlighten the Gentiles And the glory of your people Israel.
Can you imagine the joy in Simeon’s heart as he, who has waited for so many, many years to see the promised Messiah, to see the child that the Holy Spirit has revealed to him is the promise fulfilled? Can you imagine the awe and wonder and trepidation of Mary as she hears the rest of the word of prophecy that Simeon has for her? Again, it’s all about bringing the hidden to light. This little child will cause the high to be brought low and the low to be raised up. His message will bring to light the truth of each person who hears it, revealing their inmost soul.
Jesus is and will be so much more than even Mary could imagine and his reach will be light years beyond what the finite human mind could conceive. And that revelation will not be without pain for her, too. Just like in Malachi’s word, what God calls Mary to do will take all that she has and more than she even knows.
And let’s not forget Anna. She is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Look at this life – at the ripe age of 84, she had a long and eventful life. She had married and was widowed just seven years later. She spent the rest of her life in devotion to God, fasting and praying night and day, waiting for the promised Messiah. She had to trust the God would keep the promise God made and to constantly be looking for God’s hand in her life. As a result of seeing Jesus, she started a new career as an evangelist, telling anyone who would listen about the child who would redeem Israel.
So, the call that God makes to us is not a light one, but Jesus, God’s Son, the eternal Messiah will be with us through everything that comes our way. Thanks be to God!
January 26 Reflection by David Simpson
1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Psalm 27:1, 5-13
Gracious and Holy God, you know that all the words I am about to speak pass through unclean lips. By Your Grace let only those washed by the blessing of Your Truth take root in the hearts of those who hear. Amen
Most if not all of us here today probably remember when audiobooks first came out, they were called “books on tape”, because they were actually on cassette tapes? Well one of Angela and my favorite pastimes is picking a book, which she then reads aloud. I call this “books on Ang”. Maybe I need to call them Ang-iobooks? Sometimes when we’re in the car I’ll unthinkingly reach for the volume knob on the radio to turn her up if I’m having trouble hearing.
One of the “books on Ang” we read several years ago is by the author Gretchen Rubin called “Better Than Before”. In this book she introduces four categories which describe how people tend to respond to expectations, either outer expectations (a deadline, a [quote unquote] “request” from a friend or spouse), inner expectations (lose weight, keep a New Year’s resolution). From her website, the four categories are, in a nutshell, as follows:
Upholders - Upholders respond readily to both outer and inner expectations.
Questioners - Questioners question all expectations; they'll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense.
Rebels - Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.
Obligers - Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.
The book contains exercises you can do to find out which category or combination of categories you fall under. Myself, I’m a Questioner with Rebel Tendencies; I question all expectations, and if I’m feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed, I will go full Rebel and resist them all.
That brings me to today’s readings.
In our opening collect, we prayed that God would give us grace to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works.
In the Epistle Paul says he has not been sent to baptize, but to proclaim the gospel.
In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus began to preach, proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”, and calls his first disciples, fishermen, saying “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people”.
At first with these particular readings, I felt an expectation of active evangelism. I simultaneously felt this an outer expectation (a [quote unquote] “request” from God, if you will) and inner one (a longing inside me to be a servant to the God’s mission). If you continue reading Matthew’s Gospel you will eventually arrive at the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
If I’m honest, this seeming expectation of evangelism, kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies. Just thinking about it, my Rebel side feels uncomfortable and overwhelmed so is already saying “aw heck no!”, but my Questioning side is saying, is that really what we’re all called to do? Is the only way to be a “true” follower of Christ is to be willing show up at my friend’s dinner party or at a gathering of coworkers or at book group or band practice and preach Christ crucified? Can you hear the note of panic in my voice?
No. While 1 Peter 3:15 says “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;”, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians chapter 12:7-11 says “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
And looking back on the readings through this lens, I can more clearly see that Paul is the one who names himself evangelist, and Christ himself is the one preaching repentance, so while evangelism is clearly a gift for them, and it may very well be your gift, I don’t believe it to be the universal call to all Christ followers in this day an age, especially when you consider who we are called to serve, the least and the lost.
The reality is that discussing and considering issues of spirituality is a pursuit reserved for those with a certain level of privilege. A mother with no food to feed her 5 children and no safe housing is not going to care about her eternal salvation until she enjoys the same level of security that most if not all of us in this room enjoy. And the only way that she and others will achieve this is if we who have access to the levers of power and sufficient privilege to consider God’s call on our lives RESPOND to that call and start to redirect the focus of our resources as individuals, as a community, as a society away from self-indulgence (often masquerading as self-fulfillment) and towards justice and equality.
Rereading the Gospel, a couple of things stood out to me. First thing, the nets. I know, hang on, bear with me. But these people, these first disciples, they were fishermen. And what are fishermen without a net? Fishermen, however passionate, however well-intentioned, will always need some way, some mechanism, some device, to reach out into the water and get the fish out. Without that, it's just, you know, a couple guys in a boat.
When Jesus calls them to follow him and “fish for people” they abandon their fishing nets, because their companion Jesus, God incarnate, is the way, the mechanism, the device that they need. Jesus, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people, that essentially becomes their net.
What is our net? We, however passionate, however well-intentioned, will always need some way, some mechanism, some device to reach out into the community and envelop those in need in God’s message of love and reconciliation, to let them know, as we do, that wherever you have been and whatever you have done and whatever has been done to you, whatever your gifts are, you are enough, you are beloved of God, you are deserving of dignity and safety and community.
Without that net, we’re just, you know, a bunch of people sitting in a pretty building.
The second thing that struck me was that Peter, Andrew, James, John, their immediate response to Jesus’ call was to completely upend their lives to follow him. They left their vocation, they left their town, they left their families. Gretchen Rubin describes our habits as the “invisible architecture of daily life”. They in one instant voluntarily created a completely new architecture of their daily lives, bent around God’s living breathing incarnation of mission and ministry.
Today and every day, as we move forward as a community of complicated messy people let us allow ourselves to be inspired by their boldness, and be as Paul said, “united in the same mind and the same purpose” help each other find our nets and redesign the invisible architecture of our lives to enable us to tangibly move in ministry and service to the world.
Come and See - January 19 Reflection by Rev. Steve Reynes
Named and Claimed - January 12 Reflection by Rev. Auburn Watersong
“This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”
Today we celebrate together the Baptism of our Lord. A striking story of Jesus and John by the Jordan river – A story which reminds us of the importance of being named and claimed. It is at once the story of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – and a story of being known and loved.
This baptismal story we read today in chapter 3 of Matthew, is the first moment we meet Jesus as an adult in this gospel, and this first encounter is prior to his public ministry which does not begin in Matthew until chapter 4. Before this baptismal story, the first two chapters of Matthew focus primarily on solidifying Jesus’ identity as God’s agent. In the lead up to today’s reading, we have come to know Jesus as divinely commissioned from conception, born of the virgin Mary, feared by Herod, and praised by the Magi, neglected by Jerusalem’s leaders, protected by Joseph, attested by scripture, guided by God, and witnessed to by John. In all of these instances, we learn more about who Jesus is. And now at the moment of his Baptism, just before his public ministry, Jesus - in this act, affirms who he is, and he demonstrates his commitment to God’s will. In this moment – we see and hear Gods voice naming Jesus, identifying him, and we witness Jesus affirming that identity through the waters of baptism. In the gospel of Matthew – this is a key precursor to the story that immediately follows in which Jesus is tempted by the devil in the wilderness but remains steadfast in his commitment to God.
Every time I read this story, I find myself fascinated by the power of this moment when God’s voice is heard naming Jesus and claiming him as his beloved son. And likewise, we see Jesus through water fully committing to God’s will. It’s extraordinary – coming up from water, seeing the heavens open and a dove alight and all at once being named and claimed! You are known for who you are, you belong, you are loved.
I am reminded by this baptismal story that in many cultures, being named is a sacred rite of passage. In many Native American traditions, for example, the naming of a child is part of a sacred ceremony – and in some, that actual name acquired is considered sacred itself. After all, it is not only a name but an identity - and it is only used or shared with others in moments of ritual or special occasions. Such a name is considered a connection with Creator God – and the identity in that name often alludes to one’s higher purpose in life, while at the same time it connects one to one’s culture creating a sense of belonging.
Narragansett Native American author and educator, Gabriel Horn, put this well – when he shared the story of why and how his native name was chosen. He said, "By the time I graduated from college, I had already done my battles for the people. I had protested against stereotypes of Native Americans, I had fought for a Native American literature course on campus, and I had asked for participation in the United Nations. My immediate family believed that I had earned a name. The name came to my uncle, a traditional Cherokee man, who had a vision of a white deer coming to him and singing my name. He knew it was to be White Deer.
"My godmother, my uncle, and some close friends attended the Native American names ceremony. A pipe was filled with tobacco, and offered to each direction, as they called out my name. They called it out to the east, the south, the west, and the north. They called it out to the sky and to the earth. They called it out to the plants. They called it out to the animals. In other words, I was introduced to the universe as White Deer. That was my rebirth. In a sense, I was a born again Indian at that point." Receiving a new name was a healing experience. I was now completely comfortable with my Indian identity, whereas before I felt fragmented, not totally in touch with who I was."
He says he was reborn – that is striking. We use the very same language to speak of the water of baptism – in which we are born into life with Christ. It is not lost on me how powerful a sense of identity can be. And especially for children, but for all of us really, the sense of connection and confidence that flows from belonging – by name or by identity – enables us to feel whole – even healed. There is power in the sense of belonging - whether it be to a family, a tribe, a faith, a culture, or a community.
Likewise, in our Christian tradition, baptism reminds us not only of who we are – but whose we are. It names us as God’s own, a member of the family of God – through the waters of baptism we are reminded that we are known, and we belong. And in today’s world, a sense of belonging can too often seem to be a distant dream – and that assurance of belonging is now even more critical. Belonging is needed by those who feel sidelined, or in danger, or alone amidst tragedy. Baptism reminds us that God’s love knows no boundaries – we all belong to the family of God.
We see this very emphasis in our gospel reading when even John, perhaps the greatest preacher of his time, questions his own worthiness to baptize Jesus - saying to Jesus: What? Wait a minute... I need to be baptized by YOU and do you come to ME?” – It is as though he wonders whether he belongs there in that role at that moment. Nonetheless, Jesus instructs John to baptize him – in order to fulfill God’ s purpose, yes, but in so doing Jesus is also affirming for John that he too is God’s own, worthy, known and loved.
And the lectionary readings for today pick up on this important theme. In Isaiah 42, the prophet writes to God’s people toward the end of the Babylonian exile. The people have strayed from God and been taken into exile, and now the prophet speaks a word of hope into this darkness of exile. “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Even in the midst of suffering, forcibly taken from their land, God declares God’s people named, known, and loved. In this passage, we can hear the echoes of a message we desperately need today – even as refugees flee for safety across the globe. They, and we, are known and beloved by God.
And in the Psalm, we read: “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is upon the mighty waters.” The Psalmist reminds us that God is present in the storm. In the flooding and the wildfires and the earthquakes. In Australia and Puerto Rico, God is with us. God is in the storm and sits “enthroned above the flood,” sings the Psalmist, “The Lord shall give strength to his people; the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.” Even amidst all of these terrifying events, the Psalmist reminds us that we are God’s beloved and God is present with us in the storms.
And in the reading from Acts, Peter is preaching to the household of the Centurion, Cornelius, about the breadth of God’s love. God had sent a vision to Peter which revealed to him that all are welcomed into God’s family. So, in today’s reading, Peter preaches that Jesus died and rose again for ALL to be gathered unto God – not only the Jews but also those of every nation.
ON this day in which we celebrate the baptism of our Lord – we hear these words from the prophet, the psalmist and the Apostle echoing the reminder that we are all God’s beloved, known, named and claimed; just as Jesus was in his baptism. In our baptism, we too find our identity and our family.
We have been named and claimed. We are loved and we belong.
Thanks be to God.