Monday, November 14, 2016

Are We "All in?"

November 13, 2016
St. Simon’s on the Sound

Luke 21:5-19

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to be included in a two-week pilgrimage to Greece and Turkey. The theme of the pilgrimage was the Apostle Paul and his journey through these two countries. A journey that was, at least in my mind, the epitome of evangelism. A journey on which Paul, in the face of every hardship imaginable, over the course of 15 years and four major journeys brought the good news of Jesus Christ to communities throughout Arabia, Damascus, Syria, Lebanon, Malta, Greece, Italy and modern-day Turkey.

Amazingly, in those 15 years Paul traveled a total of approximately 9,150 miles by foot, by ship, and on the backs of donkeys to bring the good news to all nations. During this time, he was beaten, stoned, imprisoned and suffered from several long-term and disabling illnesses. Seemingly, nothing stopped him. He just kept on going.

Our little pilgrim band of 25 Episcopalians from various churches throughout the US began our journey in Athens, Greece. From there we traveled through Corinth and up into the very northern parts of Greece, ending up in Thessaloniki in Central Macedonia. After an astounding experience in Thyatira where Paul met and converted Lydia, we crossed by ferry into Turkey. Our first stop was Troy – Wow that horse was big… Then on through Turkey until we reached Ephesus.

It was in Ephesus, as I stood at the top of the long marble-paved boulevard that stretches almost as far as the eye could see, and ends at the incredibly beautiful Celsus Library, that I finally realized the enormity of Paul’s missionary work.

Little Paul, with his various and frequently disabling afflictions – passionate Paul who has been described as "A man of small stature, with a bald head and crooked legs,” – walked into this bustling community of perhaps 56,000 Roman citizens determined to spread the gospel of Jesus. Imperial Roman Centurions were policing the streets at every turn; Jews eager to run Paul out of town stoned and then imprisoned him. Yet, Paul stood firm in the face of all these challenges.

Paul’s courage, determination and faith prevailed. He remained in Ephesus for three years. It was here that he preached frequently at the open marketplace, established a church, wrote his First Letter to the Corinthians, and was imprisoned for several months.

I cannot tell you how physically present Paul was for me that afternoon in Ephesus. I was both electrified and deeply humbled by my new understanding of the incredible courage and determination that drove Paul’s good news journey. It was there on that marble-paved boulevard surrounded by the amazing history and architecture of Ephesus, that being a missionary for Jesus – being an evangelist committed to spreading the good news and the light and love of Jesus Christ became very real for me.

Earlier this summer Luke’s gospel informed us that “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” In this passage, we learned that Jesus sent messengers ahead of him and encouraged others to join him on his journey to God’s temple where he would confront those who were using the temple for the benefit of the Roman Empire – where he would attempt to reclaim the Temple as God’s House, a sacred place – a place of worship to the God of the Jews.

As Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, he encouraged the villagers to become members of his entourage. Some expressed interest, but most indicated that they could not leave quite yet – Jesus would have to wait - they had family and other business to take care of. They had things to do before taking up their cross and following Jesus. Jesus replied to these would-be disciples, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Tough rules to play by – but, that’s what Jesus was asking of those who claimed that they wanted to join his followers. They are the rules that Jesus set if one wanted to be part of the Jesus Movement. You’re either in, or you’re not.

In today’s gospel reading, many weeks have passed since that determined journey to Jerusalem began. Many encounters along the road traveled provided Jesus and his disciples with the opportunity to proclaim the gospel. With each teaching that same mandate was conveyed – God expects us to commit to him totally and with complete faith. The difficult challenges that will most certainly face us as we travel our life’s journey must be met with courage and steadfastness. We’re either in, or we’re not.

Now, Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem He has been teaching in one of the temple courtyards for several days. Each day crowds surge into his small space, the din of their voices making it difficult to hear this much talked about teacher who has finally arrived.

Intense and, at times, overpowering smells from the ongoing slaughter and burning sacrifice of animals fill the air. On the sidelines and in corners, bitter and sour-faced Pharisees and Sadducees who want to see Jesus “gone” loiter, grumble, and plot. Menacing Roman Centurions patrol the temple parapets, eager to bring punishment to any who cause a disruption.

It is in this context that we hear today’s gospel reading.

We hear Jesus’s “what comes next” message and it is not so pretty. In fact, it is downright grim and scary. Jesus warns of wars and revolutions; earthquakes, famines and plagues; dreadful portents and great signs from heaven; persecution and being handed over to synagogues and prisons where trials before highly placed judges will end in grim sentences; and, finally Jesus forewarns of the destruction of the Temple itself – the destruction of God’s house.

After naming these daunting events, Jesus once again tells his followers that he expects them to meet all challenges “head on” and to be “all in.” He says, “They will arrest you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons. This will give you an opportunity to testify…. You will be betrayed even by your parents and brothers, by relatives and friends…. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

I don’t know about you, but at that point I might have decided to go home to the comfort of the known, the safe “same old, same old.” I might have completely failed the “either you’re in, or you’re not” test. I might have turned right around and rushed home to Galilee, or Jericho, or wherever home had been before I met up with Jesus.

But, Paul didn’t. And, so many others who have come after Paul have not. They have not turned and run back to the comfort of home. They have faced challenges head on, taking every opportunity to testify – to evangelize – to spread the gospel of Jesus – to be “all in.”

What does this message of courage and endurance, of total commitment to Jesus mean for us today – here at St. Simon’s, throughout our diocese and in the world in general? What is Jesus calling us to do – how are we being called to “follow Jesus;” to be part of the Jesus Movement in today’s troubled, confusing, complex and at times frightening world?

Indeed, do we even have the eyes of our hearts open to hearing Jesus. Are we like that eager temple crowd that strained to hear Jesus as he proclaimed the good news, or have the noise and distractions of the world left us dazed, numb, closed off? Are we ready to be “All in?” Or, are we “All out?”

When I feel that my mind and my heart are getting to that numb, closed off place, I think of Jesus facing Pilate, unwavering in the face of certain death. Jesus, certain in his relationship with God. And then, I think of Paul, and his seemingly endless journeys in the face of every hardship imaginable. Paul, certain in his relationship with Jesus; with God.

And then, I remember how electrified I felt as I stood on the marble-paved boulevard in Ephesus, my heart filled with the joy of knowing, in my mind, my body and my soul, the power of evangelism – the power of proclaiming the good news of Jesus. The power of bringing God’s love to the world. The power of going into the world loving and through that love liberating and giving life to those who are in darkness.

The power of being certain in my relationship with Jesus; with God.

How do we stay in that place of certainty – certain of our relationship with Jesus; with God? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter written while he was imprisoned in Nazi Germany during the 2nd World War wrote. “This is what I mean by worldliness – taking one’s life in stride, with all its duties and problems…It is such a life that we throw ourselves utterly into the arms of God and participate in his sufferings in the world.”

What a powerful image... “…We throw ourselves into the arms of God and participate – participate – in his sufferings in the world.” Perhaps this is what Jesus meant in today’s gospel reading when he said, “This will give you an opportunity to testify…. You will be betrayed…. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Can we as members of St. Simon’s “throw ourselves into the arms of God?” Can we be the voice, the hands and the feet of Jesus?  Can we seize the opportunity to testify? Can we participate in God’s sufferings in the world? Can we be the Light of Christ in our community and wherever else we may go – the light that sheds love and liberation?  I know that we can. I know that we can be “all in.” AMEN

Sunday, July 31, 2016

We are the blessed...blessing all...

Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
July 31, 2016
Luke 12:13-21

I have never been much of a TV watcher. In fact, over the course of the past ten years I can truthfully say that I have watched almost no TV at all. But recently, wanting to keep abreast of the presidential candidates and their various antics, I began to watch the evening news hour.

At first, I stuck with CNN, with an occasional foray over to Fox News to keep Devin happy. After several days I bravely ventured over to our local channels and out of the country networks such as BBC. I guess, at least in the old days, one would call this channel surfing – perhaps it still is called channel surfing.

At any rate, in these wanderings from channel to channel I was making a valiant effort to find a network that would provide more than three minutes of news to every five minutes of advertising. Three minutes of news, or commentaries, delivered at such an aggressively fast rate of speech that I sometimes found it hard to follow what people were saying.

My efforts to locate more informational content and less aggressive marketing met with no success. Station after station greeted me with frequent and prolonged advertisements of every size and shape. Advertisements designed to intrigue and convince; to seduce and to capture. Advertisements designed to create a culture in which the products being brokered, including medications for every ailment imaginable, were publicized as “must haves” if life was to be experienced in the fullest, most comfortable and emotionally exciting way possible.

Perhaps those of you who have watched TV on a regular basis over the course of the past few years are not so affected by this intrusion of these up-close and in-your-face sales pitches. But, for someone who has been out of the TV loop for many years, the experience of this intrusion of marketing that far surpasses program content has been a rude awakening.

So, you may not be surprised when I say to you that when I first re-read Luke’s parable of the Rich Fool in preparation for today’s sermon, I immediately thought about the plethora of TV salespeople who daily play on our greed.  

Salespeople whose entire focus is to convince us that our incredibly rich lives should be even richer than they already are. Salespeople who continually encourage us to store up more and more treasures for ourselves. Salespeople who put forth an incessant “white noise” that threatens to thwart the ability of the eyes and ears of our hearts to experience the multiple blessings that God’s presence in our lives provides.

Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Rich Fool directly addresses the potential impact of television’s massive ad campaigns. Quite simply, Jesus is saying, “Take care! Be on your guard against your greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

Jesus first says this to the man who asked Him to arbitrate between him and his brother.

In ancient times, the firstborn was guaranteed a double portion of the family inheritance. More than likely, the man who was addressing Jesus was not the firstborn and was asking for an equal share of the inheritance. Jesus refuses to arbitrate the brothers’ dispute and gets to the heart of the matter saying, life is so much more than the “abundance of possessions.”

Jesus then proceeds to tell the man the Parable of the Rich Fool.

This Rich Fool was materially blessed by God; his land “produced plentifully”. As God continued to bless the man, instead of using his increased wealth to further the will of God, he was interested only in accumulating and storing his abundant crops, for his own personal use, his growing wealth. So the man builds larger barns in place of the existing ones and starts planning an early retirement. Unbeknownst to him, this was his last night on planet earth.

Jesus closes the story by saying, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So, it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God.”

The point of the Parable of the Rich Fool is twofold. First, we are not to devote our lives to the gathering and accumulation of wealth. If money and possessions are our master, that means that God is not. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 24, “No one can serve two masters…. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The second point of the Parable of the Rich Fool is the fact that we have been blessed by God not with the expectation of hoarding our blessings, our wealth, for ourselves. We have been blessed by God to be a blessing in the lives of others. We are blessed by God in order to build the kingdom of God.

In 2 Corinthians Paul writes, “And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8)

We are blessed by God, so that we can in turn be a blessing in the lives of others.

So, if God has blessed you with material wealth “set not your heart on it” but “be rich toward God.” That is the message of the Parable of the Rich Fool.

Incessant TV commercials are but one of the multiple distractions in our lives that encourage us to accumulate our many blessings - for ourselves. The messages sent out via various media are almost exclusively focused on “me” what is good for me? I have come across very few messages, whether on TV, FB, or other media, that focus on “the other” – how can I bless “the other”? And yet, it is “the other” that God calls us to bless – with our blessings.

What does this message that calls us to be a blessing to others mean for us here at Christ Church in a multi-layered time of transition – the upcoming presidential election; the arrival and investiture of a new bishop in the Diocese of Easton; and the initiation of a search for a new rector here at Christ Church?

It means nothing more, or nothing less, than it has always meant from the very beginning of Scripture when God made his initial covenant with Abraham saying, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing…And Abraham went, as the Lord had told him.” (Gen 12:1-4)

God tells Abraham that his blessings are meant to be shared, not hoarded. In blessing Abraham, God was intentionally seeking to bless the world – to bring the world to a place of abundance and peace for all.

Of course, our ultimate blessing from God was the gift of his son Jesus, who came not only to bring salvation, but also, and most importantly, to show us the way – the way to offer compassion, care and love – the way to share our treasures – our blessings. It is only through that sharing that we are able to share in the abundance and peace of God’s eternal kingdom.

Bestowing our blessings on others – often referred to as charity – goes deeper than merely taking out our checkbooks and donating money to a good cause. It also means more than just showing up on a Sunday to worship with friends in familiar and beautiful surroundings.

Bestowing our blessings involves investing – not only our money, but more importantly ourselves in the community of Christ – the church – our church. Investing time, talent and treasure to build the community into a land of “milk and honey;” a garden that flourishes and produces enough to feed any and all in the community far and wide.

Bestowing our blessings consists of the very same selfless, unconditional and voluntary loving kindness that we see in Jesus – it’s the way Jesus loves us and the way that Jesus commands us to love, to be a blessing, to others – all others.

So in this time of transition, we cannot lose sight of the fragile nature of God’s church in this place and at this moment in time - this fragile time when old ties are broken and new ties have yet to be established and strengthened. If we do not listen carefully to the parable of the Rich Fool, we may well hear God’s words ringing in our ears, “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things that you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

In this fragile time of transition, we cannot allow the white noise of TV commercials and the pervasive messages throughout society that focus on “me,” to block out – to overshadow – our call from Jesus to put our treasures where our heart is – to invest, in every way possible, in this blessed community of Christ – this blessing that God has bestowed on us – Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish, and the Christ Church community of St. Michaels.

In Paul’s 1st Letter to Timothy he writes, “As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.” (1 Tim 6:17-19)

Let us give thanks to God for the many blessings that he has bestowed upon us, and let us be a blessing to our church and to our community. AMEN

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Kingdom of Heaven Seeds

Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
July 3, 2016

On June 15, 2016 – just a couple of weeks ago – my grandson Nathaniel Goodyear, age 13, graduated from the Brooklyn Community Montessori School. This, as all you parents and grandparents well know, was a big event.

Invitations were sent out several months in advance by my daughter Sarah. She was tireless in ensuring that everyone who should be there would, in fact, be there. On the big day my ex-husband Dick Goodyear; Carmen, his third wife; Dick’s youngest son by his second marriage, Sam and his wife Adair; Dick’s brother Sam; my daughter Sarah and her partner Laura; Nathaniel; and little old me, were front and center in the school’s auditorium for the late afternoon ceremony.

You got it a great many Goodyears and one lone Garrity.

Before going further with my story, I should let you know that the Goodyears, although Episcopalian by baptism, are not church goers. As Dick Goodyear has said many times, “I am not in favor of organized religion.” Much to my chagrin, both Sarah and Nathaniel have come to feel the same way. What their falling away from the church is all about is good food for another sermon. But for today, the important point is that I, as a firm believer and participant in what our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry calls the Jesus Movement, was alone amidst a family who are most definitely not “believers.” Otherwise known as the Nones.

After the graduation ceremony came to a close, we all trekked a fair distance to a very little restaurant for what turned out to be a very big and very long dinner. I was seated across from Dick and his son Sam who were literally the only people I could hear amidst the chatter of the other dinner guests, some very loud Brazilian music and the bustle of the wait staff.

Young Sam (whom I had never met), Dick (whom I have not seen for at least 15 years) and I started off by talking about, what else, but the upcoming presidential election. That conversation led us to the Wall Street take on Donald Trump - Sam works on Wall Street, and so has the “inside scoop” on things. I was soon being regaled with the various financial escapades of some very prominent Wall Street traders and their impact on world events. As the conversation progressed I felt that we had wandered well out of my usual conversation milieu. To put it in the context of this morning’s gospel reading from Luke I felt a little like a lamb in the midst of wolves.

But then, out of nowhere Sam, with a truly worried look on his face, leaned across the table and said, quite passionately, to me, “It’s very hard being in the Wall Street business – so much corruption and dishonestly. It’s very hard – really very hard not to get caught up in the dishonesty.” I was totally surprised by this appeal for support. I put my hand on his and said, a bit timidly, “I will pray for you.” Not sure how this interjection of spirituality would go over, I smiled at him and leaned back in my chair.

No bombs exploded. In fact, not even the slightest acknowledgement of my offer of prayer was made. The discussion revolving around Hillary and Donald and the Wall Street trading business continued, as before – and, no I will not go into who is voting for whom.

After what seemed like a very long and incredibly noisy two hours, dinner was finally over. We exited the restaurant and gathered outside the front door for goodbye hugs and kisses. As people drifted off in various directions, I found myself standing alone, still very close to the restaurant entrance. Sam, who had already started to walk off, turned and came over to me. He took both my hands in his, leaned over and said, quite passionately, “Please pray for me, I really need it.” Wow.

At that moment I thought of today’s gospel reading in which Jesus sends the seventy ahead of him as he travels the road to Jerusalem. He tells the seventy that the ‘harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.’ In other words, Jesus says to his followers, I want you to be my point people. Go - scout out the territory. There are only a few of you, but there are many people out there in need of salvation. Gather around you those who will listen – teach them what I have taught you - prepare the way for my presence in their hearts and minds, make ready the way for healing and salvation.

These initial seventy were Jesus’ first missionaries in the world. They were his emissaries and the embodiment of his love. They were heralds declaring God’s love for the world through their words and actions. They were the first brave souls to engage in the work of the mission of the Church – the mission of Christ.

Over the past two thousand years that mission has not changed. The seventy sent out in pairs by Jesus and the hundreds of thousands who have followed in the footsteps of the seventy have all been commissioned with the same mandate:

·        To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
·        To teach, nurture and baptize new believers
·        To respond to human need by loving service
·        To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
·        To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

These five marks of mission perfectly describe Jesus’ charge for all missionaries. That was the work of the seventy then and that is our work now, to go out into the world as Jesus’ point people, preparing the way for his presence in the lives of those whom we encounter, all the while seeking to safeguard the integrity of God’s profoundly stunning creation.

But here’s the catch, this missionary work is not always easy, comfortable or without personal harm of some sort. Jesus warned the seventy, “See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves;” and, on top of that he added “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” Jesus didn’t mince words as he told the seventy that they were going to meet people who would be hostile to their message. Dangers in the form of rejection and ridicule would abound; in some cases, persecution and perhaps death would be a reality.  

Jesus then added a third crucial point of all mission work. He told the seventy, “greet no one on the road.” In other words, we must caution against getting distracted by the conversations and demands of life and work that take us away from the work that we have been given to do. We must not lose our missional focus.

And then, a fourth mandate - be humble, eat and drink whatever your hosts provide - don’t get caught up in looking for the best food, the most comfortable lodging, the people most like you. Stay focused on the work at hand – forget about greener pastures. Be present where God has put you. Creature comforts should be at the bottom of any packing list of items needed to heal a broken world.

Then, our gospel reading fast forwards to the seventy returning from their mission with joy, and declaring, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us.”

Although we are never given a laundry list of what the seventy actually accomplished on their various journeys, it would seem pretty clear from their comments, and their joy, that they had experienced some measure of success. For certain, they planted seeds – perhaps the smallest of seeds – but seeds, nevertheless.

The seventy planted “kingdom of heaven seeds.” Matthew in his gospel tells us, “Kingdom of heaven seeds are usually the smallest of seeds, but when they grow, they become the largest of garden plants and become a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

The seeds are small, easy to carry along with us but challenging to cast – to plant. The casting, or planting as the case may be, requires courage, passion, and a commitment to be at one with the original seventy. As Jesus said in last week’s gospel reading, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

How does all this relate to us?

At Nathaniel’s graduation party a seed was planted in young Sam’s heart. Who knows if it was cast on rock, if it will blow away in the wind, or if it was planted in fertile ground? Most probably I will never know. In fact, most of us will never know the outcome of our seed casting and seed planting. Most of us will never be lucky enough to shout out with joy to Jesus, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us.” But, that is not important. As one of Jesus’ missionaries in the world our call is simply to do the work that that has been given to us to do, and to love and to serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. To remember that:

Christ has no body on earth but ours; no hands but ours; no feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out into the world.
Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.

Ours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.  (Mother Teresa)  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

God in the World...

Christ Church, St. Michaels
May 29, 2016
Many years ago when I was working in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, a very desolate and impoverished area, I was befriended by a Catholic deacon named Albert. Deacon Albert, as we all called him, was a staff member of the HIV/AIDS social service organization that I was managing.

Back then there was no treatment for HIV/AIDS. AZT therapy was on the horizon but not yet available to the mass market.  With literally no medical options, our clients and their families were desperately in need of support, both emotional and concrete, in all aspects of their lives.

Most of the people in the valley who were living with HIV/AIDS were Mexican, and those infected were not only men, but also women, infants and children. Almost all of these individuals were impoverished and living in colonias – slums really. Their housing was frequently no more that a single wide trailer, with multiple people sharing beds and other aspects of living. Lack of funds to buy food and other household products was a real issue. There was no medical support for those who were sick and dying.

Several days after my arrival in the Valley Deacon Albert barged, and I do mean barged, into my office and said, “Mrs. Garrity you can’t lead this organization if you sit behind that big, fancy desk. You need to come with me.” I was a little stunned, but I dutifully followed Albert out of my comfortable office and into an ancient and very uncomfortable – no air conditioning, springs coming up through my seat – Toyota pick-up truck which was loaded, and I do mean loaded, with bags of food and toiletry items. Albert said to me, “Now you will get to meet the people and hear their stories – that is what is important. When you know their stories, then you can really begin to know how to help them.”

Off we went on what was to become a regular ministry for me over the next four years. It was a ministry of presence and healing, and it changed my life forever. I visited many homes in the colonias, and I came to know many people and their many stories. God was everywhere we went – so visible, so compelling – the Spirit guiding us in ways that I had never imagined. We went from delivering food and household products to reconciling mothers and their gay sons, baptizing babies, and conducting funerals.

And, as Albert had predicted, the knowledge that I gained from my frequent visits to the colonias did indeed give me critically important information – information that would be the foundation for the programs that we developed and the grants that we applied for in order to fund our programs.

However, the point I want to make here is that these people and their stories would have remained invisible – invisible -to me and to our organization had not Albert barged into my office that day and insisted that I could not lead the organization without seeing the people who needed our assistance, first hand.
Albert was a true advocate for the poor, the needy and the lonely. He had the courage to barge into my office and speak out loudly for them. He had the faith to believe that God would answer his appeal in some way, or ways, that he could not at that moment in time see or understand. Deacon Albert was the channel through which I learned about the people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and the needs of the people living with HIV/AIDS.

In today’s gospel reading from Luke 7, Jesus is approached indirectly by a centurion seeking help for a deeply cherished slave who was ill and close to death. This centurion saw something in Jesus that inspired faith. He believed that somehow, someway Jesus would be able to heal his sick slave – to prevent the slave’s death. The centurion decided to seek Jesus’ help in spite of the fact that he was a Gentile and a Roman soldier.  Figuratively speaking, the centurion decided to barge into Jesus’ room, speaking up for someone in need.

But, believing himself unworthy of speaking to Jesus personally, the centurion approached several Jewish elders and requested that they be the ones to ask Jesus to come and heal the slave. The local Jewish leaders went to Jesus and said, " [The centurion] is worthy of having you do this for him" (7:4). Hearing this, Jesus “went with them” with little or, perhaps, no hesitation. Jesus was intent on going to see - going to heal.

Keep in mind that in ancient Rome "centurion" meant “captain of 100" - or captain of over 100 foot soldiers in Rome’s powerful army. Centurions were leaders of the cruel and brutal military force that had conquered the people of Israel, and who would soon participate in the execution of Jesus.

But, although he was a man who commanded over 100 soldiers, the centurion became a servant to his own servant by calling Jesus to heal him. The centurion was serving the Lord Jesus by reaching out to those in need, in this case a slave who was lowly and looked down upon by others. The centurion was the channel through which Christ’s power flowed and healed this dying boy.

Clearly, Jesus had a number of reasons to resist helping this centurion even though he was highly praised by the local leaders. From Jesus' perspective the centurion represented everything that was dangerous and sinful about the world.
We never learn why Jesus is so eager to help this Roman soldier; we learn only that Jesus did not hesitate in the slightest to head toward his house. Jesus had been called to see and to heal. And, Jesus responded – he was called and he went – even into unknown and potentially dangerous territory.

I think Deacon Albert was a little, if not very, like the centurion. In faith, Albert barged into the office of a new boss to whom he had not yet been introduced and said, “Leave the comfort of your office and come with me. You are needed in the colonias; they are waiting for relief, healing, reconciliation.  You need to come with me.”

Albert’s courage was bold; he was willing to go out on a limb by reaching out to me on behalf of those in need. He was the channel through which I was able to understand the complexity of the problems facing the men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS in the colonias. He was also the spark of faith that opened the eyes of my heart to the presence of God in those around me and in those whom I was serving.

I think that it is important to note that Deacon Albert’s faith and commitment to and advocacy for the poor were not only a spark, but the flame that ignited my call to enter the process of ordination to the diaconate. Soon after leaving the Valley, I embarked on the discernment process at my new church in Palm Beach, Florida – and, the rest is history.

The lesson learned back then, for me – a lesson that I have never lost sight of – is that Jesus is asking us to go out into the world, to really see, hear, and know our brothers and sisters in Christ and to identify those in need.

Jesus showed us that our reaction to the complex challenges of the world needs to be brave, passionate, and filled with faith; faith that God will be with us – all the way. Albert modeled that for me. And, in my own small way, over the ensuing years, I have tried to model this way of being in my own life.

I believe with all my heart that there is no way to know God, or to understand fully his gift of Jesus – the Son of God incarnate – if we fail to go out into the world – fail to go out into the world and seek God– our Creator – in so many different people and in so many different places. For me, this is truly a thrilling but yet most humbling experience.

Knowing God – holding Jesus up as our model – allowing the Holy Spirit to guide and support us in our everyday lives – we are called to be centurions and Alberts – to have the faith, courage and passion needed if we are to be successful advocates for those in need.

Am I, are you, joyfully and fearlessly able to advocate for those in need, forever seeking new venues in which to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ? Do I, do you,  dare to cross the invisible barriers in our communities and venture into places where we are not expected – indeed, where we are not even welcomed – to be seed throwers, fire starters, hope peddlers, risk takers and dreamers on behalf of the Good News of Jesus Christ?

If we do not know God by continually seeking him in others, in our own community and elsewhere throughout the world – if God is not an integral part of us and our everyday life how can we ever be a centurion or an Albert – how can we follow Jesus, beyond the cross and into the world as a blessing and a light to all those who live in darkness?

Let us pray. God, we turn to you in faith and in doubt, in joy and in anxiety, in hope and in fear, with boldness and with trepidation. No matter how we turn to you, we trust that your grace and love will hold us in your care, O God. Draw us together. Inspire us to preach your good news that faith and healing can be found where we least expect it. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Follow Me...your heart filled with love...

The Third Sunday of Easter
April 10, 2016
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish

Today’s gospel reading from John is incredibly rich in detail, and absolutely central to our lives as Christians.

It is so rich and so relevant that I have decided not to follow the usual formula of beginning with a personal story, or lead-in anecdote – the so-called “hook.” Instead, I am just going to drive right into the gospel narrative.

In today’s passage Jesus makes his third resurrection appearance, this time by the Sea of Tiberias, or as it is more commonly known to us, the Sea of Galilee. He appears quite suddenly and ever so silently – it is just after daybreak. His arrival is so unobtrusive that, initially, as he stands quietly on the beach looking out at their small boat, the disciples do not recognize him.

As Jesus stands silently on the shore and watches his beloved disciples in their small fishing boat he sees that their nets are empty. The disciples have been on the water all night – they have caught nothing - they are tired and discouraged.

Jesus calls out to them saying, “Children, you have caught no fish, have you?” When they respond by affirming his observation, he calls to them saying, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

Following his advice the disciples re- cast their net, this time on the right side of the boat; and, miraculously, fish appear. Very quickly their net is filled to overflowing and the disciples begin to haul the catch towards the shoreline.

As they slowly sail towards the shore, Jesus is building a charcoal fire and grilling fish. Miraculously, bread also appears.  A breakfast feast, prepared by their Lord, is ready and waiting for the disciples as they tie up their boat and hurry towards the warm fire and the waiting feast.

Jesus invites the disciples to, “Come and have breakfast.” And, as they sit down around the fire, “Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”

In this wonderful mélange of sights and sounds - sunrise over a shimmering sea; Jesus standing silently at the shoreline;  a fishing boat hauling a fish-filled net; the sandy seashore with its charcoal fire; the rich aroma of roasting fish; and the rush of hungry men, exhausted after a long night of fishing finding a place to sit around the fire and eagerly receiving the roast fish and the bread handed to them by their Lord – in this incredibly complex and rich array of sights and sounds the risen Lord, the Christ, is portrayed as the true shepherd, tending to, caring for and feeding his flock. Christ offering his incredible love and compassion to those whom he has left behind to carry forward his Word. Christ caring for – loving – his beloved.

And then, John’s gospel jumps quite suddenly to yet another powerful passage. - A passage that focuses on Peter, placing him very much on the hot seat.  John writes, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’”

Peter, who seems to have forgotten that just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, he denied knowing Jesus three consecutive times, appears hurt as he replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

But, Jesus persists in his questioning, asking Peter three times “Do you love me.” After each affirmation by Peter Jesus countered with a command. First, “Feed my lambs.” Then, “Tend my sheep.” And finally, “Feed my sheep.”

And then, after giving Peter these commands, Jesus goes on to inform Peter that by doing these things he also will be sentenced to death. Jesus says to Peter, “…you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

And finally, after disclosing this grim reality, and in spite of it, Jesus commands Peter to, “Follow me.”

What a powerful set of resurrection stories – Jesus standing on the shore tending and feeding his flock; Jesus drawing Peter aside and charging him to
watch over and feed his flock; Jesus looking Peter square in the eye and commanding him to, “Follow me.” Follow me and in doing so know that you will be crucified.

A whole lot going on in a very brief period of time. What are we to make of it?

I believe that this powerfully moving commissioning of Peter is very much related to the earlier narrative in which Jesus watched over his disciples as they struggled, miserable after a long and unsuccessful night of fishing, and then fed them a warm and filling meal. 

In this first segment of the gospel reading Jesus saw that his disciples after an entire night at sea had failed to catch any fish. He was troubled. His beloved – his children – his lambs - were struggling. Calling out, he directed them to a place where fish flowed plentifully into their net.  And then, still concerned for their well-being Jesus prepared a fire and began to roast fish that would feed, would nourish the disciples once they had reached shore.

The crucified Jesus, now resurrected, appeared in love – agape love; the love of God for man - to watch over, to tend to, and to feed his flock.

And then, Jesus who knows that he will soon ascend, turns from his disciples to Peter and commands him to feed the lambs, the smallest and the most
vulnerable of all the flock; then, he commands Peter to tend to, to watch over, the sheep, his entire flock, keeping them safely in the fold; and finally, he commands Peter to feed his flock, ensuring that they flourish physically and spiritually as they continue their journey into the world as Disciples of Jesus.

Jesus is commanding Peter to be the “Rock,” the foundation upon which the church can grow; can flourish; can endure. Jesus is commanding Peter to follow him, with the full knowledge that in doing so Peter will experience death by crucifixion – “someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” Jesus is commanding Peter to carry forward the light of God’s love, not only among the small group of disciples, but throughout all Israel and throughout all nations.

In this passage John provides both the model for loving our neighbor – Christ at the seashore - and the command to do so – the commissioning of Peter.

This powerful resurrection story presents in these two very brief scenarios Jesus’ entire message. If we knew nothing else about him, we would understand without a doubt the centrality of love in Jesus’ message to us. We watch him tend to and feed his flock; we hear him commission his disciple Peter to do the same; we watch and hear him as he appears one last time, in love, to ensure the legacy of his incarnation.

As we celebrate this, the third Sunday of Easter have you experienced your own resurrection story? Has the Risen Christ appeared silently on your shoreline?

Have you felt his watchful encouragement, his agape love, as you struggle with your individual challenges?

Have you heard his command to love an agape love that sets your course as a Disciple of Christ and shepherd of your flock for this next segment of your life? Are you prepared to be a “rock,” a foundation for those who follow you?

Have you taken the time to sit in prayer and to listen to the resurrected Jesus as he commands, “Follow me.” If so, are you following blindly, or are you taking the time to discern which of the many paths that are available to you is the path that Jesus has called you to follow? To follow in courage, your heart filled with agape love.

Friday, March 25, 2016

His Love is Our Strength

Good Friday - March 25, 2016
Christ Church, St. Michael's Parish

As baptized Christians we are accountable to an intentional way of thinking; an intentional way of behaving; an intentional way of living that is directed by Christ within us and Christ with us. Our baptismal anointing calls us to seek Christ, in ourselves and in others, continually, as we travel into the world to abolish darkness and despair.

Just a few short weeks ago, in my Christmas Day sermon, I marveled at God’s amazing gift, saying:

“This Christmas Day, I pray that you will be thrilled by the presence of the angel of the Lord. I pray that the command to “go and see” will ring loud in your ears and that you will, with the eyes of your heart, visit Bethlehem and experience the joy and hope of gazing at the infant child – the baby Jesus. I pray that you will be re-invigorated – re-energized – in your call as a member of the Christ Church community to go into the world and to spread the Good News.”

That was a sermon filled with excitement, joy, and hope. It was a sermon that called people to be thrilled by the presence of the angel of God. It was a sermon that emphasized God’s “amazing gift.” It was a sermon that called us to experience, in every sense of the word, the very real presence of the incarnate Jesus in our lives. It was a sermon that called us to action – the action of “going and seeing” with the goal of being thrilled, amazed, joyous, re-invigorated, re-energized, and renewed in our life as disciples of Jesus.
In the ensuing weeks, as post-modern disciples, we watched and listened as Jesus was baptized, and as he began his journey from the river Jordon to Jerusalem and
the cross. We watched and listened to Jesus teach and heal. We came to know him as: 
·        The bread of life – The one who spiritually sustains us.
·        The light of the world – The one through whom we gain spiritual understanding and wisdom for living.
·        The gate – The one who has given us free and unlimited access to the Kingdom of God.
·        The good shepherd – The one who gives his life for those who follow him.
·        The resurrection and the life – The one who has guaranteed our eternal life with God.
·        The way, the truth, and the life – The one who shows us the way of life.
·        The vine – The one without whom we cannot sustain ourselves in his way of life.

Luke summarizes Jesus’ impact on the world with staggering simplicity, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk. Lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up. The poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22)

And now, we stand at the foot of the cross, stunned by the violence of the crucifixion and sensing, no not sensing but knowing, that without Jesus with us we are lost in a dark wilderness and filled with anxiety, fear, and despair. We stand at the foot of the cross grieving – deeply grieving.

What does this intense grieving moment of Good Friday teach us about our relationship with Jesus? Why does it matter?

This brief and deeply grief-filled moment at the foot of the cross is, I believe, pivotal to our lives as Christians. It is the moment in which we watch Jesus, in his incredible love for us, give his life - turn his life over - to the Father.  It is the moment in which Jesus’ love for us brings death to him while at the same time bringing freedom to us – freedom to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our minds.  And, freedom to love our neighbors as ourselves.”  Freedom to love others as Jesus loved us, and continues to love us - Freedom to go out into the world in love as a light in the darkness.

To allow ourselves to experience this grief moment fully, quietly and prayerfully - to burn with the pain of its intensity- is critical. Without mourning the loss of Jesus - without this painful grieving moment - we will not have the passion, the energy, or the will to move forward into a way of life that reflects our identity as true Disciples of Christ. We must confront the deep pain of the present reality – Jesus not with us - mourn his

loss, understand the true love that led to his crucifixion if we are to find our way forward not in grief, but in love, into the world and with action that knows no fear – words and deeds that bring light into the darkness.

What is the importance of our relationship with Jesus? Just that – it is a relationship. It is a relationship founded by and grounded in the most profound form of love – agape - a love that endures sacrifice, hardship, and death on the cross – a love that is passionate in the face of injustice – a love that seeks to reconcile the world to God.
Through our baptism God has anointed us for the work of Christian ministry. In our baptismal anointing we are united with Christ and enabled, entrusted, and empowered to accomplish God's will as we discern it to be.
Jesus is our vine – our lifeblood; we are his branches – his offspring; his heirs left behind at the foot of the cross. He will be with us – always. We are to abide in him – to gain our strength through him - always.
Pope Leo I in the late Fifth Century in his Good Friday Sermon preached on this relationship, saying:

“…So my dear people, as we celebrate this profound mystery of our redemption, let us acknowledge the teaching of God’s Spirit, the glory we are called to share, and the hope into which we have entered. We must not allow the activities of our life to fill us with anxiety or pride, so that we are unable to strive with our
whole being to be conformed to the pattern of our Redeemer, and to walk in his way. He has achieved and suffered everything necessary for our salvation, so that the power which was in the Head might also be found in us, his body.”

This grieving moment at the foot of the cross will soon be over and we will be distracted by the excitement and joy of the resurrection. In this distraction, let us not forget the love that has been entrusted to us by the one who loved us beyond comprehension, and the one who loves us always.  AMEN