Saturday, July 19, 2014

Our Sunday Forum

Tomorrow, a small group of St. Paul’s parishioners will assemble in the Parish Hall directly following the 8AM service to learn more about the US border crisis and the dilemma of how to address the humanitarian needs of the unaccompanied minors fleeing from violence and possible death without becoming embroiled in the politics of Immigration Reform.

My hours of research on this current situation all point to the challenging and, for some, unpalatable fact that this tsunami of unaccompanied hispanic children are indeed refugees. They are refugees fleeing in chaos, not immigrants choosing to leave in an organized and joyful fashion - they are fleeing the tentacles of crime imposed by the MS 13 and MS 18 gangs that have invaded their neighborhoods; raped their mothers, sisters, and aunts; in cold blood killed their families, friends and neighbors; and threatened to do the same to them.

These are children who are handing themselves over to another authority, seeking refuge from the terror of organized crime and almost certain death.

My research also indicates that some of these children, indeed perhaps up to 60% of them, may actually have a legal right to be in this country, and that almost 100% of the children have nowhere to return to if they are deported to their home countries.

I believe that we all understand the need for border security and organized immigration that allows entry into this, or any, country based on a fixed and realistic set of policies and regulations.

I believe that we all agree that our borders need to be secured, and quickly.

I believe that we all know deep within our hearts that ultimately many of these children will be returned to their home countries, hopefully to a safer more peaceful life - but, perhaps not.

Finally, I believe that we, as a nation, must step up to this crisis of unaccompanied children who now reside here, within our borders, in the most humane, compassionate and just manner possible. We must accord to these children the same dignity that God has accorded them. We must see these children with the same compassion that Jesus saw the blind, the unclean, and the poor. We must be sure that we do not perpetuate their refugee status.

There is no simple answer here - no quick fix. But, there is the call, and therefore the mandate, for us to work together to afford these children their basic human rights delivered in ways that meet their developmental and cultural realities and needs.

As for those in our little group at St. Paul’s tomorrow morning — some will walk away a bit more informed; some will want to learn more; some will want to do something to assist. We will work on it. We will discern what we, this little group, might possibly do to ensure that compassion and love make their voices heard - heard above the voices of politics and fear.

If we can provide even a cup of water, that might be enough. Rev. Clelia P. Garrity. LCSW


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Best Practices for Haiti Medical Missions Initiative: Update


It has been just one year since my friend and colleague Hilda Alcindor and I agreed that we wanted to coordinate a symposium to discuss best practices standards for US-based medical missions to Haiti. A date and meeting site were determined, emails to over 30 mission team leaders currently active in Haiti were sent out, Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori and Bishop Jean Zache Duracin were invited, as were many other key members of the Haiti Partnership Program. Prayers ascended. We were on our way!

On September 6-7, 2013, the first Best Practices for Haiti Medical Missions symposium was held in Miami, FL. There were 45 Haitian and American missionaries in attendance for this two-day event that produced many wonderful ideas and seeds for the development of a formalized ministry that ultimately would be supported by the Domestic and Foreign Mission Society (DFMS) and the National Church.

On May 1, 2013, after many hours of discussion and planning, I was appointed as the Coordinator of the Best Practices for Haiti Medical Missions initiative. A $25,000 grant was issued by DFMS to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach, FL, my home parish, to support my work as coordinator of this initiative.


The ensuing two months have been quite active. A website greydoveinc.org has been developed, a monthly Constant Contact email newsletter is reaching over 850 individuals each month,  review by Haitian and American medical personnel of a standardized formulary of prescription and over the counter medications best suited for medical missions in Haiti is underway and will be published this fall, a protocol for best practices of ophthalmology in Haiti has been adopted and published on the Grey Dove website, new partners with experience and multiple medical and surgical resources for missionaries have surfaced and joined out initiative, a rapid response to the Chikungunya virus outbreak among the Best Practices network partners has resulted in sending 160,000 500 mg Tylenol tablets to the Haiti Partnership Program for distribution, and a Second Annual Best Practices Symposium is in the planning stages. It will be held in Atlanta, Georgia on October 4, 2014.

Needless to say, there is much work left to be done as the Best Practices initiative moves forward in its goal to encourage US-based medical missionaries working in Haiti to adopt agreed upon and published Best Practices standards and to move quickly toward the development of sustainable programs in their mission communities. Programs that will function without ceasing once the mission team is no longer there.

Keep us in your prayers; join us in our work. Peace always, Rev. Clelia P. Garrity

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Test

Sermon
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
June 29, 2014
Genesis 22:14; Matthew 10:4-42

The Genesis reading this morning is far too compelling to ignore. Indeed the story of the testing of Abraham is one of the most significant chapters in the bible.

The story of Abraham is the story of promise, faith, testing, and providing.

The Promise was, of course, God’s promise to make of Abraham a great nation, and to bless Abraham and make his name great so that he would be a blessing to all peoples on earth.

God commanded Abraham to uproot his entire family – his tribe – and lead through an unknown and desolate wilderness filled with hardship to a land that God had designated as Israel. There Abraham and his wife Sarah, who was elderly and barren, would have a son and would call him Isaac, and “Isaac God promised “will give rise to all nations from whom kings of people shall come.” (Gen 17:15-19)

Preposterous as God’s promise may have seemed, Abraham responded with complete faith. Abraham and Sarah and their entire family left their homeland. And, in disbelief and against all odds, they had a child and named him Isaac.

Things were going according to God’s promise. It seemed as though the promise had been fulfilled.

But then came the test!

God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering…”

Wow – That’s a test of faith. Kill your own son? And, if Isaac is dead, how can the promise be fulfilled?  There will be no heir to give rise to all nations.

But, once again Abraham responded with complete faith. He took Isaac up the mountain and began to prepare the fire upon which his son would be sacrificed.

Isaac, not so trusting said, “Father. The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for burnt offering?”

Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering my son.”

And indeed, God provided.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven. The angel said, “Abraham, Abraham!”

Abraham said, “Here I am.”

The angel said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns…So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; and it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

Abraham had passed the test! Isaac was saved. God had provided!!

Wow! What a nail biter!! What an astoundingly graphic reminder that faith is not faith without being tested.  What an excellent illustration of how holding onto faith, no matter what the test, allows God to provide in ways that cannot be foreseen or understood.

Abraham responds to a call from God that demands the discipline of absolute faith.  Absolute faith that inspires and forms the basis for the theology of King David, Jesus of Nazareth, St. Paul and our own Christian faith.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance.” (Heb 11:8)

“By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. (Heb 11:11)

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son…He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead. (Heb 11:17, 19)

In his book on Genesis, Walter Brueggemann says, “This text provides a singular statement on the meaning of faith. The governing promise concerns the land. The promise of a land is made to a landless people.

The second promise is the promise of an heir (Isaac) made to a barren hopeless couple. The first promise of the land depends on the fulfillment of the second, on the reality of a second generation. The question of this promise is the question of all faithful people: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’

And then, Abraham is tested by the command to offer Isaac. It is this command that places everything in jeopardy. The faithfulness of God is called into question. The responding faithfulness of Abraham is deeply tested.

The three issues together, (1) believing a land will be given; (2) believing an heir will be born; (3) believing that God can provide beyond testing all direct us to the issue of faith.” (Brueggemann, Walter, Interpretation: Genesis)

The faith to which Abraham is called means the acknowledgement of a particular God who can violate religious conventions, shatter normal definitions of reality, and bring about newness.

Isaac  -  long anticipated, finally given, then demanded back, and at the end saved by God’s graciousness  -  Isaac, is the embodiment of the newness God can bring about in our world of perpetual barrenness.

This ancient but seminal story of the testing of Abraham gives hope to the possibility that through faith in the promise of God we may be delivered from the barren world of oppression, injustice, and hopelessness.

This is the newness, the salvation that Jesus referred to when he proclaimed in the Gospel of Mark, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)

This ancient narrative of Abraham and Sarah defines in unambiguous terms a predicament that has been central to our world from time immemorial. The predicament of choosing to live either for God’s promise, and in so doing meet the test by disengaging from the present barren way of things, or to live against the promise, grimly holding onto the comfort and status quo of the present.

This ancient scenario of Abraham and Isaac and the challenges that their­­ faith encountered in the face of testing fast forwards throughout Biblical history and brings us directly to our gospel reading for today. Today’s message from Jesus comes at the end of a long discourse that he delivers to the 12 disciples whom he chooses to send out from Galilee. Their task was to “gather the lost sheep of Israel” and “proclaim the good news.”

Jesus does not mince words as he outlines the difficulties and dangers that the disciples will encounter as they “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons.”

The disciples will not be paid for their work, they will not be allowed to take even a change of clothing, and they can expect to be rejected - cast out by many households that they enter in their journey throughout Galilee. Jesus does not mince words about the hardship that these 12 will face when he says to them, “See I am sending you out like sheep in to the midst of wolves…”

Jesus warns the 12, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword…” (Matthew 10:34) In that same passage Jesus is clear that God’s love is indeed tough love, “…whoever does not take up the cross is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:38)

Jesus has promised the Kingdom of God, but God’s  Kingdom – the promise - does not come without a test: The test of being a disciple of Jesus…the test of being a sheep among wolves…the test of taking up a sword and following the cross.

The Kingdom promise has been made, the test of spreading the Word presented – will the disciples have the faith to echo in their hearts and minds those words spoken by Abraham so long ago, “God himself will provide...”

Today’s gospel reading puts a sharp focus on the grim challenge that the promise of the Kingdom puts before us.

Those who accept the Kingdom promise with faith and welcome Jesus’ disciples by engaging in the challenge of restoring the Kingdom of God – it is those who will be welcomed in God’s eternal Kingdom.

Those who shy away from a commitment to the Kingdom, preferring instead the comfort of the status quo will not fare well in the eyes of God.

This, of course, is our Kingdom challenge as well. As Christ’s disciples in this world our mission is to restore all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ.

How do we achieve this mission? We achieve this mission through prayer and worship and by proclaiming the Gospel and promoting justice, peace, and love.

This mission – our Church’s mission - is carried out through the ministry of all its members – through all of us sitting right here in this Church as participants in the larger community of God’s people who worship with us throughout the world.

We are all ministers of the Church – all Disciples of Christ. Our task is not to retreat from the world but to act within it – to meet the test - with faith that in times of testing God will provide.



In the Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship…The way is unutterably hard and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it…When we know that, we are able to proceed along the narrow way through the straight gate of the cross…the narrowness of the road will increase our certainty…that the way which we must tread as citizens of two worlds, on the razor edge between this world and the kingdom of heaven, could hardly be a broad way. The narrow way is bound to be right.”

Let us remember the Kingdom promise as our way narrows; as the test of discipleship looms before us. Let us remember that we pray each day. “Your Kingdom come; Your Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Let us be faithful instruments of God as we carry out our mission today and every day – right here; right now.



Monday, May 26, 2014

Letting Go - a note concerning Best Practices


Yesterday I made a tough call – I postponed an upcoming June 10 mission trip to Haiti. The reason – Chikunguya Fever, an illness similar to Dengue. Not fatal, but certainly not pleasant.

The decision to postpone was reached only after two weeks of tracking this newest of health challenges for Haiti; a detailed discussion with a Haitian doctor in Port au Prince, who is also a trusted friend; a lengthy conversation with our team’s medical director; and many hours of research and prayer.

This is not the first trip to Haiti that I have postponed – actually, it is the fifth such trip, all planned with detailed and loving care in an effort to support our brothers and sisters in Haiti who have faced incredible challenges throughout their brief but turbulent history.

Two trips were delayed due to hurricanes, one due to the malaria epidemic when it was at its peak, and one due to the extreme political unrest that preceded President Martelly’s election. Each of these trip delays was a painful reminder of just how little control we have when it comes to carrying out the wishes and intentions of our hearts through mission work in the world as Christ’s disciples.

The June 10 team is disappointed and I would imagine a little angry. Several of the team members have never been to Haiti and were experiencing that wonderfully innocent enthusiasm of a first time missioner. Two experienced missioners were set on going despite the possibility of contracting Chikunguya. Others were resigned. I am heartsick.

Yet, once again, I will be unable to connect with those whom I am trying to help. Those who are geographically so close; but, in reality, so very far away.

As I struggled through the night combating thoughts of failure with prayerful requests of guidance from God, I came to this conclusion – one I can live with.

The Best Practices for Medical Missions to Haiti has put me in touch with gifted medical personnel in Haiti. They have been to the proposed June mission site. I will send them to do the work that we had intended to do. As for the other components of our planned trip – they can wait patiently for a few months. Indeed we can continue to perfect the plans for a poultry farming project and work harder at raising funds for the solar project already handed over to a Haitian company for an initial design and implementation plan.


This morning God’s message has burst through the feelings of failure. I am seeing a bit more clearly that if the Best Practices project goal is to create sustainable projects that “will be there after we have gone” then that is what we must do. We must gradually let go of our need to be continually present while the seeds of our work grow at the hands of those who own the fields. Freedom and growth comes from a love that does not cling. We all know that – We all need God, and perhaps Chikunguya too, to remind of that, so that with our love and prayerful support others can grow.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

If We Fail in Love...


Sermon
Sixth Sunday of Easter
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church  -  May 25, 2014

John 14:15-23

Those of you who know me, know that I –like everyone else - have my “idols.” Walter Brueggemann and Thomas Merton are right up there on top, along with Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoffer, and Henri Nouwen. On a more secular level, let’s not forget Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Katherine Hepburn, and Helen Mirren. All fascinating and gifted people. People who have had the talent and courage to in some way “make a difference.”

However, at the very top of my list is someone that we don’t hear about all that much these days. Someone who entered my life very briefly many years ago as the priest who counseled and married my first husband and I. Someone who I really wish I had had the opportunity to know better and to work with. Someone who was incredibly passionate, direct and “right on.” Someone who had the most charismatic, yet love-filled being that I have ever encountered.

Someone whom I will never forget - William Sloane Coffin.

William Sloane Coffin, as some of you may know, served as chaplain of Yale University and Williams College, was senior minister of Riverside Church in New York City, and president of SANE/FREEZE: Campaign for Global Security. He became famous at Yale, where I knew him, in the 1960s for his opposition to the Vietnam War. He was jailed as a civil rights “Freedom Rider,” indicted by the government in the Benjamin Spock conspiracy trial, and was immortalized as Rev. Sloane in the Doonesbury comic strip.

Towards the end of his life Coffin wrote in his book CREDO,Credo – I believe – best translates ‘I have given my heart to.’ However imperfectly, I have given my heart to the teaching and example of Christ, which among many other things, informs my understanding of faiths other than Christianity. Certainly religions are different. Still most seek to fulfill the same function; that is they strive to convert people from self-preoccupation to the wholehearted giving of oneself in love for God and for others.” (Credo, p. xv)

Later, in one of his sermons, Coffin preached “Make love your aim, not biblical inerrancy, nor purity, nor obedience to holiness codes. Make love your aim, for (and here he quotes 1 Corinthians 13): ‘If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.’”(1 Cor. 13:103)

Coffin ended the sermon with these words, “I doubt if in any other scriptures of the world is there a more radical statement of ethics. If we fail in love, we fail in all things else.”

In today’s brief but powerful Gospel reading from John, Jesus emphasizes, once again, his all-consuming theme – love. Today’s gospel passage begins and ends with love.

Jesus opens with, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” He concludes with “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

It is interesting to note that in John’s gospel Jesus gives only a single commandment, and that commandment is: To Love – “Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

We hear this commandment first as Jesus washes his disciples’ feet after the last supper. We hear it again in the chapter directly following today’s gospel passage as Jesus continues his dialogue with the disciples by referring to himself as the true vine, and God as the vine-grower. He says to these reluctant believers once again, “…abide in my love (or, be one with me in my love)…This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:9; 12-13)

The author of John’s gospel would have been quite pleased to hear William Sloane Coffin’s claim to his fellow Christians, “If we fail in love, we fail in all things else.” Most certainly Jesus would be clapping his hands in joy.

The disciples may have been puzzled and reluctant to fully understand the importance of Jesus’ great commandment, but William Sloane Coffin and so many others have not only taken it to heart – not only understood its centrality to the well-being of humanity – they have also put it to work through their work in world.

In the Bible, the word love is mentioned between 500 and 700 times, depending on which version of it you are reading. In John’s gospel Jesus uses love verbs 57 times. Overall, love is the core principle that defines our identity as Christians and drives our life of faith and mission as we live and move and have our being as Christ’s disciples in a fragmented and troubled world.

Love, in the sense that Jesus used the Greek word – agape – is selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional. It is not simply affection or friendship, and it is, of course, not eros, or needful love.

The love – agape - that Jesus refers to is not something be achieved by certain acts, or anticipated as an end product.  It is not a lust for pleasure. It is not a desire to work hard, and to be the best. It is not the camaraderie found at a gathering of friends. It is not a love to be found in the future.

The love that Jesus refers to is an unconditional love. It is a love, agape, to be entered into in the present. The commandment is: To Love. It is the love of God or Christ for humankind. It is the covenant love of God for humans, as well as our reciprocal love for God. It is also a love that mandates agape for our fellow man.

The love that Jesus refers to is a love that is our salvation. It is a love that brings us into one being with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus assures us, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; 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.”

Jesus concludes this part of his message with two verses not included in the lectionary version of this gospel passage. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 13:21-23)

Everything that matters, that is, our relationship with God, our salvation – our eternal peace – exists right now. We don’t have to wait for God. Abundant life is available in the here and now. If we understand and abide in Jesus’ command to love in the broadest sense of agape, a world filled with peace is a possibility.

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have died in service to this country. It is a time to honor the men and women who gave themselves and their lives in the many wars waged in the hopes and dreams of a better, more peaceful, world.

However today, as never before, does it seem less and less possible to achieve peace through war.

Today, as never before, does it seem critically important, indeed - essential, to achieve peace through a series of international, inter community, and interfaith dialogues that are brought about by bridges of communication built with love, with agape.

Love, agape, is our refuge, the rock of our salvation.

John reminds us “Those who keep my commandments are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by the Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Paul reminds us, “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes in all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”  (I Cor 13:4-8)

William Sloane Coffin reminds us, “Fear destroys intimacy. It distances us from each other; or makes us cling to each other, which is the death of freedom.... Only love can create intimacy, and freedom too, for when all hearts are one, nothing else has to be one--neither clothes nor age; neither sex nor sexual preference; race nor mind-set.”

Love is our salvation. “If we fail in love, we fail in all things else.”

 

 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

We are Washed in Love


Sermon

Maundy Thursday – April 17, 2014

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

 

The hour for Jesus to depart has come. In less than 30 minutes we will leave the church in darkness and silence. The altar and the sanctuary will be bare. The candles snuffed; the crosses covered in black; the music silenced.

 

Our minds will be stunned; our hearts numbed. With tears welling in saddened eyes, we will exit into the darkness of night – a night in which the light and life of our Lord Jesus has been extinguished.

 

In less than 30 minutes Jesus will depart.  Yet, in these all too brief, but incredibly important, few moments we, as Disciples of Christ, will have the opportunity to be with him in a most amazing way. A way that is perhaps more compelling, more fraught with emotion, more powerful than the stripping of the altar, the darkening of the church, the setting of the Altar of Repose, and our exit in grief and silence.

 

In just a few moments we will participate in the ritual of foot-washing, an act of humility, compassion, and love instituted by Jesus so many years ago in that crowded upper room in Bethany – the site of his last supper with the disciples. In just a few moments we will step back in time and enter that upper room. And now, as then, as feet are washed the humility and compassion of Jesus will leave us bewildered, yet deeply moved.

 

Without a doubt, the foot-washing is a challenging ritual. After all, who wants to come forward, take off their shoes, and expose perhaps the ugliest part of their body - those funny, sometimes cracked and dirty things called feet? Who wants to expose their ugly feet – who wants to sit on a stool and wash the feet of others?

 

Indeed, many churches eliminate the foot-washing from their Maundy Thursday service entirely. Other churches slip it in quietly and quickly – the altar party as the only participants while the congregation sits in silence listening to beautiful music. And in churches where the foot-washing ritual is practiced in its entirety many members of the congregation hang back, too embarrassed or conflicted to participate fully.

 

What in the world are we thinking by assigning this embarrassing, messy, and strange act such a prominent place in the midst of an otherwise traditional and compassionate liturgy?

 

Don’t feel as if you are an odd man out for having these, or similar, thoughts. These are questions that even the disciples had for Jesus. Simon Peter was incredulous when he said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Peter could not believe that Jesus would stoop to such a low level. Why would Jesus, their teacher, their rabbi, their Lord, perform a task not even required of most household slaves? Normally, guests who had walked long distances were provided with water and a cloth and expected to wash their own dirty and cracked feet.

 

Jesus, undeterred by Peter’s question, continued about his business. He wrapped a towel around his waist and got started with the foot-washing saying, “Unless I wash you, you will have no share with me.”

 

When Peter heard Jesus speak these words he knew that the simple and embarrassing act of foot-washing meant something far greater. Somehow Peter knew that Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet was central to the message of salvation that his Lord was teaching. All of a sudden the act of foot-washing took on an importance for Peter – an importance way beyond the simple act itself.

 

And, Peter wasn’t wrong. The foot-washing was in fact an essential key to these last lessons that Jesus was imparting to his disciples.

 

Jesus was telling his disciples that the foot-washing was so important, that without it one cannot "share" with him. The word “share” used here – the Greek meros – means to share with or be a partner with; it means in this context not only a fellowship with Jesus, but also a sharing in his heritage, his kingdom. Raymond Brown in the “Gospel According to John” observes that Jesus words are not "if you don’t allow yourself to be washed," but rather: "Unless I wash you." These words point to Jesus’ salvific action, as symbolized by the act of foot-washing.

 

Foot-washing, then, is much more than a moral example to be imitated, a guideline for better Christian living. By symbolizing the sacrifice of Jesus, it also acts as an invitation to be "washed" into love and fellowship with Jesus; into a share of his kingdom as we are cleansed of sin.

 

Michael Taylor in “The Different Gospel” writes, “Jesus tells Peter he will be lost if he does not accept this act. The foot-washing as a pre-cursor to the crucifixion-death of Jesus is not an evil to be rejected, a scandal that proves the unworthiness of the one who dies that way. It is God’s fullest act of love, and unless Peter and all believers embrace it and let it embrace them, there will be no sharing in Jesus’ inheritance.”

 

If Peter was to have a share with Jesus in his community and the eternal life then he must be washed by Jesus.  He must allow, without question, without incredulity – he must allow Jesus, graciously and lovingly, to wash his feet.

 

Now Jesus has Peter’s attention. Peter swings from one end of the spectrum to the other. He wants not only his feet washed – he wants his whole body washed by Jesus. Peter wants to be assured of full inclusion in whatever Jesus is offering – he wants it all. Peter eagerly responds, “Then, Lord, . . . not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

 

Jesus responds – “Peter you are missing the point” - “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet.”

 

This is an enigmatic statement that has been food for many scholarly interpretations. Alan Culpepper in “The Gospel and Letters of John” writes that Jesus’ response can be interpreted as affirming that the “one who has been washed by Jesus’ death, which is to be interpreted as the foot-washing has no need of any further washings. R. H. Lightfoot in “St. John’s Gospel” concluded that “the feet-washing is probably best interpreted as having the same significance and efficacy as the Lord’s death.” In other words, Peter misses the point by thinking that the frequency and extent of physical washing would increase his “share” with Jesus. Jesus was undertaking the humiliating act of foot-washing to prophesy that he was to be humiliated in death. Peter’s questioning enables Jesus to explain the salvific necessity of his death in bringing humanity into relationship with himself, and into a share of his kingdom – all this by the cleansing of their sin brought about by the blood shed at Calvary and symbolized by the cleansing waters of foot-washing.

 

After Jesus had washed disciples’ feet, he put on his robe and returned to the supper table. Once again, he spoke to his disciples saying, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, has washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

 

Our marching orders from Jesus – always follow his example – always do unto others as he has done to us.

 

This then is the challenge that we face tonight as we prepare for the foot-washing. Are we able to move beyond the superficial embarrassment of exposing cracked and dirty feet and instead create a place deep within our hearts and minds that allows us to experience the humility and compassion of our Lord as he prepared for the ultimate act of humiliation, crucifixion upon the cross.

 

Are we able to intentionally share in this act of foot-washing with the members of our St. Paul’s community in a way that builds community that cannot be described in words – a community that is founded upon, is fed by, and grows out of humility, compassion and love – the same humility, compassion and love demonstrated by Jesus in that small upper room so many years ago.

 

Are we able to be washed by Jesus and to wash one another, thinking not of our feet, but of our hearts, our minds and our souls as they engage with the passion of Jesus and his death upon the cross?

 

Are we able to love one another as Jesus loved us?

 

There is indeed a great deal to pack into these precious last 30 minutes - Many words and actions to see and hear with the eyes and ears of our heart -Multiple complex teachings to comprehend if we are to truly grasp the glory­ of the resurrection and the significance of our lives as Christ’s disciples - Much to understand that is, in the end, incomprehensible.

 

As we wash each other’s feet, pray and break bread together, say our last words of thanksgiving and praise, the words from John’s gospel will linger as critically important lessons in our minds:

 

  • “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
  • “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”
  • “Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, not are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
  • “Where I am going, you cannot come.”
  • “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Saturday, March 8, 2014

No Cross...No Faith...


FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT
March 9, 2014
One of my favorite people in today’s church world is Walter Brueggeman, a theologian, Old Testament scholar, professor, prolific author, and perhaps one of the religious world’s strongest advocates for the common good – the well-being of all humanity.

Brueggemann, as you probably know, is all about dethroning Pharaoh - the Empire, the powerful elite – those who have their being through greed and the desire for more; and empowering, through compassion and love, those at the bottom of the heap – the impoverished, the disenfranchised, the outcast.

Brueggemann summed up his theology when he said, “If Jesus is alive all sorts of power is loosed in the world that the Empire cannot control.”

 

In other words, Brueggeman is all about following Jesus.

 

With Brueggemann on my mind, and seeking a launching point for my sermon on this first Sunday of Lent, I conducted a Google search - “Brueggemann and salvation.”  Much to my surprise, the first thing I came across was not a website filled with Brueggemann quotations, but a blog written by Jim Gordan, a Baptist pastor and Scottish Baptist College director. Gordon’s blog discusses Brueggemann’s recently published collection of essays entitled

Disruptive Grace: Reflections on God, Scripture and the Church. It is quite powerful.  He writes, 

“The Body of Christ in the world is a subversive community daring to embody a Gospel of reconciliation. We are people gathered beneath the cross, but with our faces turned towards the dawn, and that displaced stone, discarded shroud and defeated grave, - these are the realities for the church - Realities by which we live, and by which we take on both the hell and the high water. And the last people who should be afraid of high water are baptized Christians, who through immersion declare the resurrection; and the last people to fear hell are those who have the nerve to call Jesus Lord, and in doing so hold their nerve in the face of whatever.

I have no idea where the church is now going - how and in what shape it will survive in such a messy, mashed up, and scintillatingly unpredictable world with its polarities and similarities, its paradoxes and possibilities. But wherever it is going - John 3.16 remains a defining statement of its destiny - it is a God-loved world, and the business of the church is to go on arguing that - by the way we live in faithfully following Jesus.” 

Gordon’s words are incredibly bold and powerful. They are words intended to stir up passion and purpose. They are excellent words with which to define the focus of our Lenten journey of prayer, reflection, and penance. A journey intended to bring us into deeper relationship to God as we follow Jesus on his journey to the cross.



A journey that is meant to move us as disciples of Christ beyond the cross and onto a path that emulates Jesus in his amazing journey of servanthood, compassion and love.

A journey that is launched in response to our call from God to bring the Light of Christ – his compassion and love - to a world filled with turmoil, violence, and despair.

Gordon’s words of inspiration and Brueggemann’s passion for the common good speak to the core message of today’s gospel story. Once called by God, we will be tested in our call. The test – will we follow Jesus or not?

Today’s message from Matthew is clear - the purpose of the Spirit leading Jesus into the wilderness was that he must be tested. Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, directly following his baptism; Jesus’ assured confidence in defying the Devil; Jesus’ selfless declaration of commitment to his call as God’s Beloved Son - The entire wilderness experience shows us what it means to be called by God – and Jesus showed us how to follow that call. He showed us the way.

Newly anointed by the Spirit as the Beloved Son of God and led by the Spirit into the stark and, most certainly, terrifying wilderness of the ancient desert, and there the Devil taunted a hungry, thirsty and tired Jesus saying–“ You are special, above all this, let me offer you a quick and glamorous way out of a dreadful and dreary situation.” Jesus was having none of it. He rebuked the Devil saying that his call was to “Worship the Lord God, and only him.”  



The Devil was persistent though wasn’t he? He didn’t give up. The Devil tempted Jesus not once, not twice, but three times. He lured Jesus with visions of comfort, power and glory. He continually encouraged him to take advantage of his status as the Beloved Son of God saying, “If you are the Son of God…”

“You are all powerful Jesus. Go ahead, seize the brass ring. Take the easy way out”

Jesus stood firm. Three times he rebuked the devil saying – “I live by God’s word – not yours.”

The devil offered Jesus the Kingdom without a cross. Jesus pushed the devil away in disgust. The message is clear -  the privilege of being God’s chosen people does not come without testing – without a cross. If we are truly to be a people gathered beneath the cross with our faces turned to the dawn, we must be absolutely clear about our intent to rebuke the devil. We must be absolutely clear about our commitment to listen to and follow Jesus.

Jesus’ mission involved the cross, and whether we like it or not, so does ours. This is what Gordon is referring to when he writes, “We are people gathered beneath the cross but with our faces turned towards the dawn and that displaced stone, discarded shroud and defeated grave, - these are the realities for the church, by which we live, and by which we take on both the hell and the high water. And the last people who should be afraid of high water are baptized Christians, who through immersion declare the resurrection; and the last people to fear hell are those who have the nerve to call Jesus Lord, and in doing so hold their nerve in the face of whatever.”

Gordon’s words underscore the reality that as baptized Christians we, like Jesus, are called by God and then led by the Spirit. And, like Jesus, we too will be led into the wilderness. We too will be tested. Indeed, most of us have undergone many tests and have experienced far more than one wilderness period in our lives.

I would bet that many of us, if not most of us, are being tested right now as we sit here in the pews of St. Paul’s savoring the grace of the community and beauty that surrounds us in the moment, but knowing that once we walk through the church doors and back into our lives, the challenges, the pain, the anxiety, and the suffering of our wilderness will still be there.

None of us are strangers to temptation. None of us are strangers to tragedy. None of us are strangers to suffering. None of us are strangers to the cross.

My friends, I pray that you will take time during the next forty days to be with Jesus on his journey through the wilderness as your struggle with you own wilderness journey.

I pray that you will listen to Jesus’ words as he journeys to Jerusalem and the cross – as he struggles with the Devil not only in the wilderness but in the cities, in the Temple, with his beloved disciples and at the hands of the Roman officials and guards.  

I pray that you will be with Jesus as he brings us closer to God - A God who continually amazes us with His compassion and love – His acceptance of us all – ALL OF US- as His beloved children.

I pray that we all will listen to and follow Jesus as we grow together as a body of Christ in a world filled with trouble, turmoil, and violence; and, “as we turn our faces turned towards the dawn and that displaced stone, discarded shroud and defeated grave.”

I pray that we will remember words spoken by Walter Brueggemann, “If Jesus is alive all sorts of power is loosed in the world that the Empire cannot control.”

I pray that we will listen to Jesus as he says to Peter and his disciples, “Follow me.”