Where do you stay?
Schools were integrated, but the town was not. Classmates from the other side of the tracks would ask, “Where do you stay?”
May have been on to something, because where we “stay” matters a great deal.
Word play going on here in this unusual conversation between Jesus and John’s disciples: John has just told them, “Yesterday, God showed me who Jesus is – the Lamb of God.”
So, his disciples follow Jesus. Jesus turns to them and asks a strange question, “What are you looking for?”
These are the first words Jesus speaks in the Gospel of John: “What are you looking for?”
Not “What do you want?” or “Why are you following me?”
But “What are you looking for?”
Then the disciples answer Jesus’ question with a strange question, “Where are you staying?”
What they are looking for, what they seek, is not so much the information of the teacher, but a chance to get to know him. The word we translate as “staying” refers to the source of one’s life and meaning.
So when these disciples ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?” they are asking, “What is it that sustains you? What power do you have? Where do you remain? Where do you live? How do you live? Who are you really? Where do you stay?”
It’s the same word used in John later, over in chapter 15, when we are told we are to abide in Christ. Abide, stay, remain, reside, dwell….
These disciples want a teacher, but more than that, they want a relationship. Then comes Jesus’ answer, Jesus’ invitation: “Come and See.” Jesus invites them to journey with him and hang out a while.
John says, “They remained with him that day.”
A careful listener would notice the repeated use of “remain” and “stay” in this passage:
The Spirit “remained” with Jesus;
God said, “The one on whom the spirit remains….”;
where are you “staying”;
they came and saw where he was “staying”;
they “remained” with him;
The Greek word is meno, “m-e-n-o”. It is sometimes translated “abide” and is used over 40 times in the Gospel of John. Meno is about relationship, being together with God, being sure of a future with God, experiencing a real connection to God.
Where we stay – where we are connected to God – informs how we live our lives. Where we “stay” is critically important.
This is Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. We know where he ‘stayed’: he stayed in the place of equal rights for all; he stayed in the place of ‘love overcoming hate and light driving out darkness.’
I opened the Standing Committee meeting this week with this quote from MLK:
“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that.
“We must meet hate with creative love. Love is the most durable power in the world. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
Jesus stood for LOVE and for justice.
And what was Jesus’ answer to the question, “Where are you staying?”
“Come and see.”
They “went and saw” and then left there telling others, “We have found the Messiah!”
I wonder what would happen if we slowed down long enough to ask ourselves, “What are we looking for?” and then accepted Jesus’ invitation to “Come and See.”
This is the season of The Epiphany, the time in the church year when we hear and see more and more about who Jesus is as revealed in scripture…. Jesus - God manifest, Incarnate, in our presence.
In this season, “Where do we stay?”
“What are we looking for?”
If we don’t know what we are looking for, how will we recognize it when we find it???
We must know where we “stay” for that will be our anchor in this tumultuous, divisive times. Know where you stay and out of that relationship with God, let that foundation of love and justice inform your words and your decisions in 2020.
S- Epiphany 2020
It is the obligatory “If the Wise Men Had Been Women” joke:
What would have happened if it had been three Wise Women instead of three Wise Men?
They would have asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts – diapers, wipes, and a variety of Johnson and Johnson products!
Today is the Eve of the Epiphany – The day we recall the Wise Guys following a star to discover the Incarnation of God. An epiphany is an eye-opening experience; something that gets our attention in a new way.
In an article published in the Huffington Post, the writer says:
Taking that step to live out your epiphany is when real transformation happens.
These are eight epiphanies everyone should have.
1. You aren't what people say you are.
What matters most is what you say and feel about yourself. You get to choose, you can let others define you and tell you who you are or you can show them who you are. Be you. The world needs you as you are.
2. Plan B is often better than Plan A.
The most freeing moment in your life is when you let go of what you think is best for you and allow the universe to show you what you really need. Stop holding on to what is no longer working: that job, that relationship, that dream. If it feels like hard work and is causing you more pain than gain, it is time to release it. Instead, follow your heart.
3. You are not the number on the scale.
At the end of your life the weight struggles, the food wars, or the obsession with new diets and trying to look a certain way will have no relevance. The only thing that matters is what is in your heart. How you make people feel and how you make YOU feel is more important than how you look.
4. The journey is more important than the goal.
Yes, reaching goals are important, but the actual process of becoming, growing, learning, and morphing into who we need to become is the real sweet stuff that makes a wonderful life. Enjoy the journey as much as the reward.
5. Being alone doesn't mean you will be lonely.
The fear of being alone strikes the heart and makes many people settle. But when you learn to love your own company, you will see that you are never really lonely.
6. It will never be all done.
The to-do lists, the chores, the things we race around to get done, will never be done. It is called life. Situations, chores, to do lists will always unfold. Instead of focusing on the end result, be in the process and celebrate what you have accomplished.
7. Emotional pain shows up to show us what we need to change.
Sadness, depression, and heartache are gentle reminders to probe deeper into our life. Look at what is not working and be open to living your life in new ways. You will see that one day it will all make sense.
8. You don't have to find your purpose, it will find you.
The transition period between where you were and where you are going can be painful on your journey of finding purpose. Recognize that there is purpose in the pain. Each step you take is helping you carve out more of who you really are. Instead of regretting or resisting, try turning inwards and embrace the journey into joy.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol that many enjoy watching during the Advent and Christmas season, the main character, Scrooge, experiences an epiphany. Scrooge begins the novel as a pessimistic, harsh man who has no sympathy for other people. On Christmas Eve, he is led through the past, present, and future by three ghosts who show him the effects his attitude has on people he loves. As a result of this journey, Scrooge has an epiphany that he no longer wants to live life in this manner and changes his outlook.
In this example, the sudden realization the character had was simply to treat others with kindness and gratitude.
An epiphany is the sudden awareness or realization that a character gains through an experience. Many times, the character’s epiphany leads to a positive growth in the character’s life.
Epiphanies do not have to be some earthshattering experiences, but small insights or changes of heart.
We are people of HOPE – the Magi followed the star, filled with hope of finding God’s incarnation – a Savior born for all people!
The first gift the magi gave was the gift of their attention; their reverence; their worship. The first gift they gave was their hearts.
On this Epiphany, let us re-dedicate our hearts to Jesus.
Let us worship and adore him.
Let us set our sights on loving God by our worship and our service.
In doing so, we will live in the Epiphany the whole year long – because as one of my mentor’s said: “What you focus on will grow.”
A cartoon posted by David Carpenter on Facebook showed two creatures. One asks the other, "Why so optimistic about 2020? What do you think it will bring? Everything is so messed up." And the other one says, "I think it will bring flowers." And the first asks, "Yes? How come?" And the second one aswers, "Because I am planting flowers."
What you focus on will grow!
I believe 2020 will be a challenging year, but I also believe it will be a year marked by courage, hope and love.
Let us all embody courage, hope, and love.
Be the Incarnation of God’s love everywhere your journey takes you.
December 8, 2019
Good Morning, “You brood of vipers!” (Laughter, I hope…)
There are probably preachers preaching that message this morning, but thanks be to God, you are a lovely flock, not a brood of vipers!
“John the Baptist may have been like Alexander Whyte, a noted preacher in the early 1900’s at Free St. George’s Church in Edinburgh. It was said that Whyte could be so direct and penetrating that to hear him preach was to take your life in your hands.” (Mark E. Yurs)
But fear not, I do not plan to preach life threatening words today, …. spirit challenging words … hopefully.
What might we learn from John the Baptist’s message this 2nd Sunday of Advent? What John has to say is important and necessary for our souls’ sake.
One might begin by asking, “Why do we have the adult John the Baptist bringing on the scene the adult Jesus Christ as our readings on Advent 2? Why aren’t we reading about the babies to be born to Elizabeth and Mary instead? Afterall, isn’t that what Christmas is about?”
Yes, Christmas is the day we celebrate the Incarnation, God taking on human form by becoming human by becoming Jesus, born of Mary. Advent is the season we prepare for that day. If you have ever prepared for the birth of a baby, you know there is a lot that goes into it – taking care of your health for starters, but also readying the nursery, buying diapers, onesies, blankets… “Nesting” as some call it. My nesting (some 24 years ago) included changing the office in our little home to a nursery. I will never forget Phil (my ex-husband and good friend) saying, “It’s a baby! How much space can it possibly need?”
If you haven’t prepared for the birth of a child, you have certainly had other events in your life that required preparation and intention: planning for a vacation – deciding where to go, how to get there and where to stay… reading about what to do when you get there,
shopping and packing what you need to pack for weather…. And then praying the forecast doesn’t change.
You know the routine --physically preparing, but also preparing one’s heart and mind for the adventure.
Or perhaps moving into a new home… what to pack, what to donate or throw away. How to arrange the furniture…. Do you know what I am talking about? You can think of times in your life where preparations were needed for whatever event was upcoming, right?
So that is what Advent is… a season of preparation… a season of readying our physical space (as you can see has begun here), but also readying out spiritual space…
And this is where John’s message is important – Repent! Confess!
John the Baptist asks us to “examine ourselves, rather than only basking in holiday wonder. We should bear good fruit, rather than only worrying about material things to get or give….” According to John Burgess, “What John – and Advent – remind us is that repentance is not primarily about our standards of moral worthiness, but rather about God’s desire to realign us to accord with Christ’s life. Repentance is not so much about our guilt feelings as about God’s power to transform us into Christ’s image.” (Which, by the way, is why we are using St. Augustine’s words at the invitation to Communion:
“Behold what you are…. May we become what we receive…”.
We come to be spiritually fed, but also to be spiritually transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ.)
The goal of repentance is always about God’s grace, not about making us feel bad. John’s call to repentance is a call to all of us to reform, to live our lives faithfully. It is a call to God-centered living rather than self-centered living.
In The Universal Christ Richard Rohr writes about the Incarnation that “Jesus came to show us how to be human much more than how to be spiritual.”
Jesus’ entire life was the Incarnation, not just the moment he was born. The Incarnation doesn’t begin and end on Christmas. Thus, having the adult Jesus appear on the scene, in the wilderness, with John the Baptist is part of the story of God’s Incarnation. With John the Baptist, the message is how to find a way in the wilderness…. The wilderness is a setting for both judgment and redemption.’ (Wm Herzog II)
Themes of judgment make us good Episcopalians squirm a bit. We try to live loving, affirming, accepting lives. We try not to judge others and are quite happy if others don’t judge us. But judgment exists in our nature. Often our self-judgment is far harsher than God’s judgment… and grace with ourselves much less abundant than God’s grace to us.
In a movie preview a couple of weeks ago, I heard, “You are more than the worst thing you have ever done…”
You are more than the worst thing that has ever happened to you...
John the Baptist’s Advent invitation to repentance is an invitation to accept that you are accepted. To speak your guilt, fear, burdens – your wilderness experiences -- to God and receive in exchange the gift of grace, the gift of acceptance, the gift of release.
Our Advent preparations require us to take a moral inventory and examine those hard, shameful, challenging moments in our lives -- those things we judge and fear God judges as well – and hand them over to God – in other words, REPENT – acknowledge those things, give them to God, release them to God’s care and keeping, and live more freely in God’s grace.
This is the foundation of our faith. This is our hope. That in the wilderness places of our lives, God’s grace does not run short. When you find yourself holding on to the failures and disappointments of life, remember that the Incarnation is for you, …. And you…. and you….
If you were the only person on the planet, God would still have become human in order to show you how to be human. “Faith is accepting that you are accepted. We can’t accept ourselves without accepting God’s radical acceptance of every part of us.” (R. Rohr)
In the moment of silence prior to our Confession today, speak in your heart and mind any wilderness burdens that have taken root in your life. Repent, meaning invite God’s grace to transform your pain into hope. What could be better this Christmas than spiritual awakening, abundant grace and abounding hope?
Epiphany 3C / Annual Parish Report
January 27, 2019
In today’s gospel reading we hear one of the three Holy Spirit stories told by Luke. In the first story, the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus like a dove when he is baptism. In the second story, the Holy Spirit fills and leads Jesus into the wilderness for a time of testing as Jesus refuses the pathways that are wrong for his servant ministry. And in today’s reading, the Holy Spirit fills Jesus with power for ministry as he reads a text that will be his mission statement as Messiah. And then preaches perhaps the shortest sermon ever, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Now don’t get your hopes up – my sermon is going to be longer than usual today, because I am combining the annual parish report and sermon so you only have to really listen to me one time!)
Robert Brearly’s essay on this passage from Luke is insightful: Jesus is called to be “an agent of mercy to the downtrodden: to be good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and new beginnings for all who have failed.” In other words, Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is sent for everyone, for don’t we all fit into one of these categories at some point in our lives or another?
Then experiencing the love of Christ by the power of the Spirit, we are called to do and be something in return. We need to know our mission and understand what God has given us to do. That is as important for us as it was for Jesus. Luke wants us to know Jesus’ ministry began when the Holy Spirit claimed him in baptism, tested him in the wilderness and filled him with power for “an urgent ministry of grace…” The Holy Spirit came and taught Jesus what was real: to say yes to God’s good purposes for all people; to help the poor and captured of all kinds; to say yes to working for God with urgency and compassion.
And the Holy Spirit gives us something to do for God as well. In this era of declining church attendance, the question I often hear is “How we are doing as a church?” but a better question might be “As a church, what are we doing for God?”
On this Sunday of our Annual Parish Meeting – I’d like for you to imagine church as theater -- a stage play; worship as a drama – not acting, but a Spirit-led movement in which we all fulfill a role, in which we all participate. (Now this analogy may not work if picked apart too deeply, but just humor me and play along….)
Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,”
The church is God’s spirit-filled stage, inspiring worshippers upon it. And all kinds of worshippers are needed to fulfill God’s mission in and through this sacred place.
Let’s say the Altar Guild are the stage hands, making sure the set is just right. Their work makes our worship space beautiful, from the polished silver vessels to the polished brass on the doors. They make sure we are in the correct colors for each liturgical season and that all the linens and vestments are properly cared for and presented. Much of their work is behind the scenes, but with careful attention to details, they make our space a worthy offering to God. An interesting statistic for the Altar Guild is that they count each wafer to be consecrated during the Eucharist which totaled 3,538 wafers in 2018. (Altar Guild – please stand.)
Supplementing the beautification process for our stage – our worship space – is the Flower Guild. Your honorariums and tributes fund the flowers and a small team of volunteers make them happen every Sunday (except Lent and Advent), every funeral and reception. (Flower Guild – please stand). Thank you for sharing your talent and time in this fashion!
No theater is complete without Ushers. The Ushers are not only responsible for handing out our programs – our Worship Leaflets, but also for checking lights and sound equipment, securing oblation bearers each week to bring forward the bread and wine, and collecting our gifts of tithe and offering. For funerals, which totaled 10 this year, ushers make sure pews are reserved for families and assist with seating and welcoming guests. They have many jobs, which I am still discovering even after 4+ years of being here. The ushers keep a head count for every service as well, which totaled 4,131 noggins in 2018. (Ushers, please stand.)
Another important aspect of worship life is music. Do we not have an amazing choir and organist??? (Applause!) Often after their anthems, I find I wish I could clap to show my appreciation, but it doesn’t seem to work as Tony so quickly takes us to the doxology. This music department works very hard, practicing every Wednesday night 10 months out of the year to present us with 56 anthems during worship for 2018. And Tony is a master at choosing anthems and other music that work well in our setting and for our choir. He also takes great pride in playing our Kilgen & Son organ that is 110 years old this year. The choir is here for every service during Holy Week, Advent and Christmas, including TWO services on Christmas Eve! Choir, Tony – Thank you!!!
The other “players” upon this stage, if you will, are the Lectors and Readers who share in worship by orating the scriptures of the day. Some read with great expression, others with a sense of reverence, but all offering themselves to God in worship. We have heard many voices reading in our services the past year. Please stand if you have given of yourself in this way.
And finally, the acolytes who physically lead our worship and make my role look easy. They lead the procession into worship with reverence and grace. They accompany the Gospel proclamation, receive the gifts, set the altar, assist with the distribution of communion, light candles, extinguish candles, and help all around with the worship experience. We have new people on our teams and are always eager to train new leaders. I would be remiss not to give a special thank you to Eleanor for schedule, organizing, re-scheduling, training and leading the acolyte teams – Thank you, Eleanor! And all acolytes, please stand… Thank you for sharing your time and talent to help our worship of God.
In order for Sunday morning worship to happen, there is a lot that takes place during the week. We are 5 years into volunteer office help from 9-1 Monday-Thursday. That is 832 hours a year of volunteer time put in primarily by 4 folks – Pam, Suzi, Gary and Patti. You four save the church thousands of dollars a year with your devoted time! Please stand… thank you!
The generosity of this parish continues to amaze me! You support every outreach opportunity thrown your way – from school supplies to stocking stuffers, from Thanksgiving bags to food pantry extras, from angel tree gifts to Eastside Ministry requests. And that is not counting the nearly $2,000 given to help 12 local families with rent or utilities, to help 1 family with funeral expenses, bought 7 coats for children who had none, and helped one gentleman get an ID card which in turn helped him get a job. The brain and passion behind managing this Ministry Fund is Carolyn Brannen. She is careful and thoughtful with the funds you generously share to give away from ourselves. Thank you all for your generosity to the Ministry Fund and thank you Carolyn for your compassionate and discerning service.
Not only are you generous with your time and gifts, you are generous with your space. St. Luke’s in the Meadow is in use 7 days a week which is a great sign of life and spotlight of hope to our neighborhood. Most everyone here has played a part in this great parish and I appreciate you all. And there are two people who have been driving forces behind St. Luke’s doors remaining open through all kinds of ups and downs.
First, Sr. Warden Patti Callahan. Patti has believed in this church and its mission on the Eastside of Fort Worth. She has put in countless hours as Sr. Warden for the past 5 years. Patti has done everything from building renovation and restoration to grant writing to food pantrying. She has been a great Sr. Warden to get a new Priest-in-Charge trained and eventually to become the Rector. Patti’s has been a great stage manager, up to whatever drama, comedy or worship opportunity God has put before her. Patti, thank you!!!! Enjoy a break from Vestry…. And run again before too long!
Now, before the music starts and you kick me off the stage, there is one more person I want to recognize. Let’s just say the Holy Spirit has been doing all kinds of amazing things around here the past year. And I think it is God’s tremendous affirmation to one man who has given so much to make sure St. Luke’s stayed financially afloat. We still have work to do to get to a balanced budget, but we are making progress. There were a record number of pledges made for 2019! Thank you for that! Thank you for taking that leap of faith! Our operating budget is about $220,000 and our receipts are projected to be about $215,000, a short-fall of $5,000, which I trust will appear somehow. I recall a year ago at our parish meeting, in response to our financial needs, Katie Sherrod said, “We do not know what God has planned.” And boy was she right! Katie ran a GoFundMe Campaign in Gayland’s Memory that brought in almost $12,000 for our church! Most of it helped balance 2018’s budget and the remainder is in our memorial fund. Thank you, Katie… and thank you Gayland Pool – your memory lives on!
And then, not knowing God’s plan, another surprise came along – a surprise that I think was in part God’s way of affirming the great gift of money management given by Jay Andrews for many, many years. Jay has pinched pennies, stretched dollars and miraculously made ends meet. The Holy Spirit gave Jay a “miracle” to retire on from his Treasurer role. The Connie Wood Endowment of $723,000 will give life to this parish for many, many years to come. It will take a couple of years for the interest to accrue enough to supplement our Operating Budget, but it will give us a little breathing room and take some of the financial pressure off. I truly believe this endowment is God (and Connie’s) wink to you, Jay, saying, “well-done, good and faithful servant!!!” Please stand and come to the front….
Jay, we promise to continue your conservative approach to spending. and we have a gift to honor you and to remind us of the importance of giving and conserving. And as a reminder to us that “We do not know what God has planned for this place,” but we can be sure the curtain is not closing any time soon!
The Holy Spirit filled Jesus with power for “an urgent ministry of grace…” The Holy Spirit has filled this parish with faith, hope and love. The Spirit has given us courage to say yes to God’s good purposes for all people; to help the poor and captured of all kinds; to say yes to working for God with urgency and compassion.
I’d say that as a church we are doing well! As for what we are doing for God…. I’d say we are doing whatever God puts before us to do! I am blessed beyond anything I deserve to serve as your Rector! May the Holy Spirit fill us, the love of Christ flow through us, and the power of God direct us on the stage of sacred purpose and mission. Amen.
Epiphany 2C 2019
The Rev. Karen Calafat
Wedding at Cana
I fell in love this week.
I fell in love with Mary Oliver and geese and grasshoppers.
I fell in love with Maira Kalman and trees and whimsy.
I fell in love again with The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and dreams and justice and equality for all God’s children.
And I fell in love again with Jesus and surprise, abundance and grace.
My heart has been full this week of love, admiration and hope. That is not to say that my heart has not also be broken and hurting and burdened for the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by the government shutdown – from people who live paycheck to paycheck and find themselves now in financial straits, to people who planned vacations to National Parks and now are being turned away, to the anxiety and stress that we all feel in these times of contention and “he said”/“she said”. Not to mention the heartbreak for the families of those killed in Syria, including four Americans. I hope you have lifted all these situations in prayer, for we definitely need God’s mercy and guidance.
But if you are like me, I must have a break from the seemingly constant bad news and look for positives… look for places of hope. And that is where I fell in love this week.
Mary Oliver was a poet who died this week at the age of 83. Her instruction for living was:
Tell About it.
Mary didn’t ascribe to Christianity because she “had trouble with the Resurrection,” but she was incredibly spiritual, prayerful and hopeful. She lived a horrific childhood that scarred her for life. Her solace was in nature and poetry. She believed poetry should not be “fancy,” but clear, accessible and understandable. She was a cancer survivor for years and wrote a sequence of poems titled “The 4th Sign of the Zodiac” about her illness that are worth reading. Her poem "The Summer Day" is one of her most famous:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Many of Oliver's poems are a joyful celebration of life and nature. She wrote a poem about Geese that I was listening to while walking on the Trinity Trail Friday afternoon. I am sure I looked akin to the Cheshire Cat as the poem ended and I simultaneously happened upon a small gaggle of geese – a surprise… a miracle… a gift. Thank you, God! Thank you.
My next love of the week is Maira Kalman, an illustrator and story teller who has had her share of suffering in life as well. She has written and illustrated many children’s books and is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker Magazine. You might recognize her whimsical artwork on the covers. Maira starts her days reading the obituaries – the daily reminder of her own mortality serving as the ultimate wake-up call. She says, “Reading the obituaries every morning makes you really conscious of the fact that you have a very limited amount of time.” (Echoing Mary Oliver: What will you do with your one wild and precious life?)
Having heard Maira speak about her love of trees and enjoyment of them on her daily walks in Central Park, I was especially attentive to trees this week. I often go through the forest of daily life and completely miss the trees. It was a wake-up call to pay more attention to my surroundings – not just the trees, but the clouds, the centipedes on the sidewalk and beetles on the pebbles; the people, and all God’s creation.
Attentiveness to all of God’s children is part of what inspired the late, great Martin Luther King, Jr. His “I Have a Dream” speech is as powerful today as it was the day he spoke it in 1963… and as much needed:
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream that one day down in Alabama —little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low. The rough places will be plain and the crooked places will be made straight, “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
This is our hope. This is the faith…. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brother-hood.”
Martin Luther King’s Dream is a reality for some, but a long way off for others. How do we continue to make progress toward that symphony of all humanity?
I think “the mother of Jesus” (as John refers to Mary in his gospel) has the right instruction for us. “The mother of Jesus” simply says, “Do whatever he tells you.” ‘Do whatever Jesus tells you to do.’
Did you notice the servants at the wedding did just what Jesus said? (Amy Richter:) And they got to participate in Jesus’ first sign, his first miracle. They just did what Jesus told them to do:
“Fill the jars with water” and they do.
No arguing, “We need wine, not water.”
“Now draw some out” and they do.
No complaining, “What’s that going to achieve?”
“And take it . . . So they took it.”
No, “Hey, Jesus, I have a better idea . . .”
They just do the simple, straightforward things Jesus tells them to
do and they get to participate in a miracle.
Do whatever Jesus tells you. Water becomes the finest wine. The mundane becomes miraculous.
Jesus tells us all some very simple, straightforward things to do. Jesus tells us to: love, share, give, serve, listen, learn, worship, pray.”
Love him. Love her. Love them. And those you don’t really like, love them, too! Share your money, your time, your particular gift, your ability with that child, with that elder, with that family. Worship with your parish family. Pray wherever you are.
Listen for what Jesus tells you to do.
You may participate in a miracle.
You may be part of making King’s dream come true for all God’s children. If you follow Mary’s advice and do “whatever Jesus tells you to do,” I dare say you will find renewed faith and hope in your own “wild and precious life.”
July 22, 2018 - Proper 11B
Now that is one conversation I would like to have listened in on… Did you catch the opening line of the Gospel reading? “The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.”
To understand this clearly, it is necessary to look back a couple of weeks. Earlier in the 6th chapter of Mark, we heard that Jesus sent the twelve disciples, you know: Peter, James, John, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, (the other) James, Thaddeus, Simon and Judas – were sent out 2x2 and given “authority over unclean spirits.” In chapter 3 we were told these guys went out and “proclaimed that all should repent... and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
Now, if I were a betting person, I would bet that some of their teachings were rejected, especially teachings about repentance – about turning around and heading another direction….
We don’t know about the pairings of the disciples or exactly what they were teaching, but we can be sure their stories were everything from great successes to great disappointments. Can’t you just imagine ol’ Bart and Andy sitting at Jesus’ feet, filled with excitement and sharing a story about what they had been up to? How they encountered someone in the grocery line that needed a word of blessing or encouragement and they were paying attention enough not to miss the opportunity.
Or Tom and Jim sitting at Jesus’ feet feeling a little disappointed because they tried, but were not very successful in their attempt to heal and teach? How they stood on the corner offering free prayer and hugs but had no takers.
Or Thad and Johnny trying to explain to Jesus some great idea they thought they would try and were met with resistance “because it had never been done that way before.”
An interesting and important point to note is that Jesus didn’t call them to succeed, but to be faithful. To go out and do as they had been commissioned to do. The results were less important than their faithfulness.
There is room for everyone in this story. Can you imagine having the opportunity to sit with Jesus and give an accounting of what you’ve been up to. I don’t know about you, but I love it when I have the wherewithal to be aware of being of use to God or inspired by God. I have begun a simple experiment for a few weeks at the QT convenience store just down the street. I stand at the door that additional 4-5 seconds and hold the door open for the next person. Some people are surprised at the gesture and express their gratitude. Some don’t seem to notice and just barrel on in or out without a thank you or acknowledgement. It is just a very small act of kindness, but I read somewhere recently, “Of all the things you could be in this world, be kind.” One gentleman approached the door and said, “Oh, you embarrass me.” Indicating he should be holding the door for me. I just smiled and said, “No embarrassment at all. You have a great day.” Something happens when I take those few seconds, look a stranger in the eyes and extend a simple act of kindness. There is a connection. I become a better person and I hope they experience a moment of care that makes a difference in their day…. Or at least a difference in that moment of their day.
I have been hearing stories of experiences at our own 4Saints Food Pantry – Just imagine sitting at Jesus’ feet and saying: “I donate 25 gallons of milk each week (because when I was a little boy, we never had enough milk at home;” “I walk people’s groceries to their cars and am honored to listen as people share a sliver of their life story with me.” Or as a 10 year old boy reporting, “Jesus, I handed out cold water to people who were sitting in the heat while waiting to receive their groceries.”
I have seen a few new faces volunteering at 4Saints, so I imagine there will be new stories to tell while sitting at the feet of Jesus. Maybe it will simply be, “Jesus, I care for your sheep….”
Maybe some of you would sit at Jesus’ feet today and say, “It has been a long time, Lord….. I am tired…. I have little to offer…. I don’t know what to do….
Maybe you’d say, “I have done nothing, Jesus, but I sense you calling my name…. I am ready now…. How will you use me to love your sheep?”
Jesus’ response to all who come is the same, “Come on, let’s go away and rest a while….”
Your grief and disappointment are heavy, “Let’s go away and rest a while.”
Your accomplishments are worthy of celebration, “Let’s go away and rest a while.”
You give much of yourself caring for my sheep, “Let’s go away and rest a while.”
You work hard to provide for your family while being my light in the world, “Let’s go away and rest a while.”
Jesus models the importance of re-fueling -- of taking time away in solitude for spiritual replenishment. It is not easy to do! Our need to be busy and productive is hard to curb. The demands of life don’t stop. We even see here that Jesus was literally chased down by people needing something from him. I am sure that sounds familiar to some of you who have many responsibilities – someone is always clamoring after you for something and it is very hard to ‘go away and rest awhile.’
We read, “Then hoards of people chase him down….. he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; …people at once recognized him and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.”
These people had needs and they knew they did. We sometimes hide our needs or try to ignore them… We are rehearsed in saying we are “fine” when indeed we are not fine. It reminds me of several months ago when I was going through an especially difficult time and struggled to contain tears at the simplest question, “How are you?” My therapist suggested I practice answers to “How are you?” by saying things like: I am better… I am ok right now… I am getting better day by day… I am on the right path…. Then one day Marsha dared to ask me, “Are you ok?” -- Well, I hadn’t practiced an answer to that question!
We all have needs and the people in today’s story were well aware of their needs. They had hope in the One they had seen and heard about. They rushed to him just to touch the hem of his garment.
If you were to sit down with Jesus today,
Jesus extends his welcome to you. Tell him what you’ve been up to, how you are, and what you need. Accept his invitation to “come away and rest a while.”
Come away and rest a while… Come to the altar today, to Jesus’ table… better yet, “rush” to the altar, crowd in on Jesus, touching even the fringe of his cloak; open your brokenness before him and be filled with his healing love.
Happy Father’s Day to all you wonderful dads…. And even to you just “good enough” dads! I hope you have heard from your children… or that you will before the day is over. And if you don’t, I hope you do whatever you need to do to remember the things you love about being a dad. And If you need to make amends with one of your kids I hope you will. Or if you need to make amends with you dad, why not now? Why not today… tomorrow may never come. This is my first Father’s Day without my dad and it is a bit of a strange sensation. There are things I wish I could say to him, things I wish I could hear from him…. First anniversaries seem weighty. But more, I ache for the dad’s separated from their children at our southern borders. I know the whole thing about “Illegal Immigration” is complicated and effects people in different ways. But I also know that inhumane treatment of desperate people and children is not acceptable -- ever. What have we come to that politicians are quoting scripture to justify appalling actions? I do not have the solutions, but I know terrorizing moms and dads and their children is not the answer. I spent some time Friday calling elected officials to express my concerns…. I didn’t know what else to do, but I had to do something. I hope you will do something, too. For now, I wonder if we might pause for a few moments of silence to offer our own concerns and thanksgivings on this Father’s Day and to lift up concerns for the children and families, who are being terrified and traumatized at our borders. Can we do that? Can we silently together seek God’s direction and plea for God’s mercy for those in greatest need and despair?
Amen. Thank you.
This has been a full week: returning from an amazing, inspirational pilgrimage (which you will hear more about in the weeks ahead); attempting to establish a new rhythm of prayer, meditation and discernment; preparing for Vestry Retreat (which just happened yesterday and Friday); listening to the news and being appalled by the words and actions of our elected officials; and oh, yeah, trying to understand the Kingdom of God enough to create a sermon for this moment.
In verse 30 of Mark 4, it is almost as if Jesus is thinking on his feet – kind of like, ‘How can I explain this to you?.... Let me think… “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?
“The Kingdom of God” (He basileia tou theou) – is used 14 x in the Gospel of Mark. It is an important concept that is difficult to explain or simplify. And Parables… well parables seem to leave us a little in the gray, mystery of life. The definition of parable, (para ballo), – is “stories thrown alongside our lives; short, provocative stories that require the use of imagination”. Nibs Stroupe writes: In using parables Jesus is seeking a shift in our imaginations, a shift in the way we see ourselves, see God, and see others. Such a shift may seem small and insignificant, but here he compares it to a mustard seed, a tiny particle that can have miraculous powers. In using parables, Jesus seeks to stimulate his audience’s imagination so that they might perceive the power and presence of God in a new and immediate way.
I wonder if I might take some liberties with today’s parable and offer a new parable. Would that be okay? Are you willing to tag along with me on a new parable imagination?
The mustard seed is just what it is… small, inconsequential; totally surrendered to the soil and to the process of becoming a bush.
It doesn’t wish to be a strawberry or okra. It just is what it is and trusts in the soil to make it be what it is.
Can we imagine that God is the soil and we are planted in God – we, the tomato, squash, lemon tree, mighty oak, petunia, or what have you, are rooted in the very creator of the universe to become all we are created to be?
Nadia Bolz-Webber – “I want to be her when I grow up” Echoed by several other people – Made me think how sad that must make God –
Don’t want to be someone else – want to be the most genuine, authentic me that God created. It doesn’t do any good to wish to be a snapdragon if God created you to be a mustard bush. Nor to try and be a mustard bush if you are created to be a mulberry bush.
It is for us to be so deeply rooted in the soil – so deeply rooted in God – that we mysteriously become what God created us to be, by God’s grace, even. Your one very small speck of a life on this planet is of utmost importance to the Creator of the Universe. Indeed, without you, the universe would not be the same. The universe needs mustard bushes, mighty oaks, tomatoes, eggplants, soy beans, roses, etc… You get the idea…. Diversity is a gift from God!
We need people of every color and flavor to be a representation of God’s creation. Can you imagine a world if mustard bushes were the only foliage? How boring… How sad. One of the beauties of Italy is the variety of vegetation that gives incredible hues to the landscape. I cannot fathom looking over the hills in Tuscany or Umbria and seeing only mustard bushes. The vistas would definitely be lacking without the variety of foliage and colors.
I have to believe in the Garden of God’s creating – that soil where we are the seeds, surrendered to the grace and mercy of God – beautiful growth beyond our imagining is possible. Growth that includes all sorts of people – Growth that covers a world of differences unified under one sun and one sky.
I imagine God’s garden being unified in its diversity. A world of people of every shape, size, age, color and orientation growing together, resting in God’s grace together as the seed rests in the soil, surrendering to the process of growing roots and becoming what it is created to be.
Is that not a beautiful image? Does that not make you want to embrace a mustard bush if you are a mulberry? Or stand beside a cedar if you are a pine? Or enjoy the fragrance of a rose if you are a tomato?
It is in standing strong with our brothers and sisters who are different from us that we are the living, breathing Kingdom of God here and how. We must stand for justice for those less powerful than we are. We must love those who are deemed unlovable by society. We must embrace those who are outcasts for any variety of reasons.
“God does not look on the exterior and neither should we.” God “looks on the heart” and so should we. The love of Christ is our inspiration, indeed it is our mandate to love ourselves – to become the best mustard bush we can possible be. To trust ourselves completely to the work of God in our lives – in the deep, dark, dirty areas of our lives where God’s grace covers all and we soar to being all God created us to be, being empowered to break down barriers, being beautifully unified even in our diversity, being freed to love as Christ loves…. And do you know how much Christ loves? Do you? Christ loves THIS much (open arms wide as if on cross). Christ loves enough to open up completely for you, for me and for every one of God’s children. Jesus loves this much! Jesus shows us how to love God, love our neighbors – even those from other borders – and how to love ourselves. This is how we are to love, because this is how Christ loves us.
Easter Sunday 2018
Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
No wonder we all want to come to church on Easter Sunday. There is something powerful and uplifting in that word: Alleluia! Say it with me again 3x: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
We use that word on Easter because it is the most triumphant, joyous, empowering Sunday of all Sundays. It is the day of great rejoicing that God, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit conquered death and sin for us all. Life wins! Love wins! Jesus is risen!
Easter could be likened to a New Year’s observation for our spirit, for our soul. The Church’s New Year begins in late November or early December with the season of Advent where we wait in anticipation to celebrate the birth of Christ. The global New Year, of course, begins on January 1st. It seems appropriate that we observe a spiritual New Year – a spiritual rebirth, awakening, or at least a spiritual remembering. And what better day to celebrate that than on Easter Sunday!
It is interesting that our New Year’s Eve celebrations are in the dark of night and Resurrection also happened in the dark of night. The first sentence of our reading tells us so: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” While it was still dark….
While it was still dark.
While it was still night.
While she could not see.
While she thought death held sway.
While she grieved.
While she wept.
While it was still dark, resurrection began. (©Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com)
Mary Magdalene is the one who sees Jesus first because she chooses to remain in the darkness. Peter and John leave when they see the empty tomb, but Mary stays, bewildered and bereft. (Nadia Bolz Weber:) Mary “remains present to what is real, what is actually happening.” She does so even when what is real feels unbearable.
In his Easter Message, our bishop, Scott Mayer, reminds us: “The Cross was not the end. The power of God’s love reached into the Tomb and vanquished death, changing the world forever. …The love that reached into that Tomb in Jerusalem can reach into your life, into my life, and raise us up out of all the small ways we are dead. Where we feel dead to joy, to love, to new relationships with our neighbors, that love can bring resurrection. In all the dark personal tombs in our hearts, that love can bring light.”
It is that Light that draws us together on Easter Sunday, and quite frankly on all other Sundays. Perhaps you’ll come back in a couple of weeks… when we will look at the conversation Thomas, the one who had difficulty believing the resurrection, had with Jesus and see how the Peace that he promises us might take up more space in our hearts and minds… However, today, we consider the love and power of the Risen Christ that make us Resurrection people. Not Christians above the fray and challenges of life in this world, but Resurrection people who know hard places -- barren, broken places -- but cling to a compassionate Christ who knows exactly what it means to face difficulty.
At times, we are alone in our grief, loss, trials and disappointments. That is why it is important to be part of a faith family. I watch you, indeed I have experienced you, loving each other through hardship, reminding each other of the love of God, offering hugs, meals and conversations that shine even a pinhole of light into the darknesses of life that we sometimes must endure.
While it was still dark… while it was dark, Jesus was raised to life. Resurrection happened in the darkness. We do not know how. It is a mystery known only by God. God is not afraid of the dark places. God is with you in the darkness whether you realize it or not. Jesus comes in the darkness. It may take a while to recognize him, just as it took Mary a while. As a matter of fact, Mary didn’t recognize Jesus until he called her by name. And that same Resurrected Jesus calls each of us by name. It is for us to be still and listen. Be still and know. Be still until you hear Jesus call your name. It may come in the form of the person sitting at your side offering a word or act of kindness that is life-giving and affirming. It may come through a stranger who says just the thing you needed to hear. It may come while it is still dark in a means you cannot imagine, but Jesus knows you and calls you by name. You can handle anything life hurls your way because you are a Resurrection person. The “tombs” we encounter in life are just the thresholds to new life and greater beginnings. We need each other because as life cycles, when one is in a place a deep darkness, surely another will be in a place of light and life. We can help, support, love and encourage each other. We are a Resurrection Family and together, we can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.
This Easter, this Spiritual New Year, may Christ who rose in the darkness lead us into new life, new light, and new hope. May we know him in the half-lit places, the shadowy places, the hard places and the very dark places. May we dare to linger at the tomb until he calls our names. And may we always share with hope the good news of God's greatest mystery. (adapted from Debie Thomas)
Alleluia. Christ is Risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
March 11, 2018
I suffer from this horrible thing called ophidiophobia – the fear of snakes. I hate snakes! I mean I really hate snakes! They are my number one fear. In fact, I hate them so much that even reading today’s scripture made me uncomfortable. I am so afraid of snakes that even reading about them or having to think about them creates a bit of anxiety in me. Apparently, I am not alone as in a recent Harris poll, 36% of adults in the United States report a fear of snakes. About 8,000 people in the US are bitten by snakes each year and 7,995 of those survive… only 5 die. (You have no idea how challenging it was for me to do the research on this topic! At 3:30 Friday morning and I couldn’t go back to sleep because every time I closed my eyes, all I could see was rattlesnakes!)
On my hike from Rim to Rim in the Grand Canyon last fall, my prayer was to see no “S’s” – no Snakes, no Scorpions. My prayers were answered. I saw neither, but one of my hiking buddies did and of course she had to tell me. There were 6 of us on the trip, but we all hiked at our own pace and met at whatever destination was on the docket for the day. When Barb caught up with me, she said, I have to tell you, I came across a rattlesnake that was about 3 feet off the trail. I heard the warning sound and froze in my tracks until it slithered away. I was then terrified to make the hike back through that area to our hiker’s dorm at Phantom Ranch in the bottom of the canyon. Barb offered to lead the way and I followed at a safe distance and in the snakiest area, she watched to the left of the trail and I watched to the right. I hate it that my fear almost immobilizes me. I must do a lot of self-talk and a lot of praying to hit the trails and pursue my passion for hiking. I was grateful to have my friend “snake sit” me for a few miles that day.
Moses was the “snake sitter” for the Israelite people who were encountering asps and dying right and left, presumably for grumbling against God. How quickly their gratitude for being delivered from slavery in Egypt gave way to griping and complaining in the wilderness. Their complaints sound almost comical if closely followed: “There is no food and water here and we detest this miserable food.” It sounds like something that could be attributed to Yogi Berra: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food”. In other words, we don’t have any food, and it tastes terrible, too! (The wording of the complaint is reminiscent of the wonderful line from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when Huck tries to speak well of a farmer-preacher by proclaiming that he “never charged nothing for his preaching, and it was worth it, too.”)
Moses’ serpent-on-a-pole shows up again in the Old Testament, at 2 Kings 18:4: “[Hezekiah] removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole. He broke to pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it; it was called Nehushtan.” Cameron Howard writes in Feasting on the Word: The Israelites had forgotten the living, free, dangerous God who commanded the construction of the serpent of the wilderness, and they focused instead on a bronzed, domesticated, manufactured idol that they could see and understand. Perhaps (we need) to break up our bronzed serpents and to turn our attention instead to the God of the wilderness: dangerous, maybe, and unpredictable for sure, but always present, always faithful.
(Doug Bratt:) “That bronze snake, however, has no power to grant any generation eternal life. Those whom the snakes bite but whom God heals eventually still die. So Someone Else had to dangle from another kind of pole in order for people to live forever.
When Jesus discusses his earthly mission with Nicodemus in John 3, he refers to this story of the bronze snake. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up.”
Jesus follows that simile with the memorable description of God’s redeeming love. “For God so loved the world,” he tells Nicodemus in John 3:16, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
The cross in John’s gospel, like the Numbers’ bronze serpent on the pole, doesn’t just symbolize God’s righteous fury with God’s children’s sins; it also points to the Lord’s gracious life-giving power.
Yet there’s a difference between the life-giving bronze serpent and Jesus Christ. Numbers 21 doesn’t say that that the Israelites had to believe God would heal them when they looked at the bronze serpent. God simply tells Moses that anyone whom the snakes bite can merely look at the bronze serpent and live. There were probably skeptics who doubted that God could heal those who merely looked at the bronze snake. Once they were bitten, as theologian Scott Hoezee notes, you can imagine they stared pretty hard at it. (I definitely could have hiked that grand canyon with more confidence if I had had a sure remedy for a snake bite in front of me.)
Jesus, by contrast, doesn’t claim that just looking at his cross or him will save anyone. Instead he insists that those who believe in the power of the crucified Christ to save us from our sins will be saved. Jesus refers to Moses’ lifting up the bronze serpent to give life to the people as a metaphor for Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross and then raised from the dead.
Snakes in the ancient world were a symbol of both death and danger and fertility, life, and healing. A snake represented Asclepius, the Greek god of healing. The modern symbol of the medical profession is also a snake wrapped around a branch. The medical professionals at Mayo Clinic offer this advice if you are bitten by a rattlesnake:
Remain calm and move beyond the snake's striking distance. (Well, it seems a little to late for that! And remain calm??? Even as I write this about snakes, my heart rate has increased…)
Remove jewelry and tight clothing before you start to swell. (Not in case you start to swell, but before you start to swell.)
Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
Clean the wound, but don't flush it with water. Cover it with a clean, dry dressing. (Doing all this while remaining calm!)
During Lent, we give something up or take something on as a discipline to call our attention to our need for God. Snakes have been associated with temptation since the Garden of Eden. I wonder if we might apply some of these Mayo Clinic steps to our temptations in life?
When faced with temptation, remain calm and move out of striking distance. Do not be impulsive but remove yourself from whatever wants to have a chokehold on your life and interfere with your walk with God.
Be aware of where your heart is. Remembering the love of God, who sent his son Jesus that we might have life – life abundant, life eternal.
When life gets snaky, and it sometimes will, remember God is with you and promises to never leave or forsake you. That is God’s covenant to us, a covenant of love, a covenant of life, a covenant of life eternal. Amen.