Sunday, September 30, 2018

And Jesus said..."Follow me."

St. Simons on the Sound
September 23, 2018

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus is at it again…teaching his disciples. Or, at least, trying to teach them.

Passing through Galilee on his return trip from Caesarea Phillipi to Jerusalem, his disciples tagging along behind him, Jesus, begins teaching. And, for the second time, he predicts his passion and resurrection. He says to those around him, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise."And, for the second time, the disciples are bewildered and in denial by what he has to say – "…they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask."

Instead of bravely asking Jesus to explain this confusing and frightening prediction of impending death that he kept referring to, they withdrew their attention from him and retreated into self-preoccupation. They began to argue among themselves. They bickered over who was the greatest. Who was the most likely to be seen as worthy in Jesus' eyes. They were concerned with their own well-being and their own safety. 

The disciples turned to worldly beliefs of how to achieve status and value in an attempt to ensure their personal well-being. They turned away from entering into conversation with Jesus – away from understanding and enriching their relationship with Jesus - with God.

Looking at all of this from a post-modern approach, I guess we could safely say that the disciples were in shock. They had given up everything to follow Jesus. They believed that he was their savior – the long awaited Messiah. Now, he tells them that very soon he will suffer and be condemned to death just like any other common criminal. They had been deceived. The person they had trusted no longer seemed trustworthly.

So, rather than face the terrifying possibility that their teacher was not the savior, the long-awaited Messiah, they turned to thoughts of self - self-protection and self-aggrandizement. They fought over childish concerns of who was greatest. Who was the one with the most status, the one who would be the most likely to succeed – the one who would most likely to be safe because of their place of social elevation in their rough and tumble relationship with the Roman Empire.

In their distress and self-absorption, they denied the Christ in their presence. They turned away from God to the perceived safety net of worldly values of success and self-aggrandizement.

Once Jesus and the disciples reached Galilee where they planned to rest for a while, Jesus asked the disciples what they had been discussing as they walked behind him. The disciples were silent, perhaps ashamed of their lack of faith in and their petty and self-centered behavior. They need not have worried about their delayed response because almost immediately, Jesus answered his own question and offered two teachings that pointed to the uselessness of the disciples' self-centeredness and lack of faith.

Jesus first proclaimed, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."  An upside down way of looking at the world, even in ancient times when one's role in society and their status, was the hallmark of their worth. In Jesus' world being first, or the greatest, was a mark not for you – but against you.

Then he noticed a small child who was standing nearby. He took the child into his arms and said, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

It is important to note that in Jesus' time children were considered non-persons – inconsequential beings. They were viewed as having no value whatsoever to society - their only function was to remain at home and carry out chores, or to act as servants in wealthy households.  In ancient times children were the lowest of the low, they were inconsequential until they reached adolescence, and then they were then treated as adults, capable of filling adult roles in society.

Jesus reverses this ancient custom of diminishing the value of children and instead glorifies the child. The child becomes an invaluable human being whom he welcomes into his arms and then onto his lap. Jesus implies that not only this child, but by extension any child, or anyone, who in their innocence, faith, and welcoming seeks a close relationship with Jesus will then have a direct relationship with God – will be seen as God as one of his own.

"Whoever welcomes one of these little children welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

Disciples seeking glory and status beware…your importance is in your minds only. Jesus recognizes as worthy of being welcomed by God not those who concern themselves with power and status in the world, but rather, despite age or social status, those who desire a relationship with Jesus – those who seek to follow the words and the values of Jesus.

In today's reading from the Letter of James, James without mincing words, underscores Jesus' teaching. James targets Christians who are not practicing what they preach. He calls for a conversion to a "purity of heart" saying, "Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you."

For James, faith in Jesus means relating to God in a manner shaped by the words  and the ways of Jesus, and above all by his declaration that loving the neighbor as oneself is the "royal law." He urges his audience to, "Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom."

For James adhering to this "royal law" is not easy. Indeed, it is a constant battle. One's conversion to seeking a close relationship with God in all matters is never complete. It is not a one-time conversion. Rather, this conversion is an ongoing process – slowly and painfully achieved through the process of many conversions. Through many battles waged within ourselves to rid ourselves of envy and selfish ambition. Through many struggles to live a "…good life filled with deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

James understood the challenges that we all face in our desire to answer Jesus’ command, “Follow me.”

Now, let's fast forward to the present.

At this triennium’s National Convention of the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry gave several incredibly stirring sermons. One could watch each of them several times, and with each re-watching hear and learn something new. However, it was his first sermon, the sermon that he preached as an opening to the convention itself that has a most critical message for all of us Episcopalians who seek to be dynamically engaged in the Jesus Movement – to be dynamically engaged in a relationship with Jesus.

Bishop Curry's sermon has immediate and direct bearing on the direction he hopes and prays the church will move as a united body, and without delay.

In this sermon - the Way of Love - Bishop Curry outlined a way of life that is designed to bring us into a closer relationship with Jesus. A relationship that will guide and strengthen us as we follow him in our lives and in the world around us. This way, or rule of life - the Way of Love - is centered around seven basic principles - Turn; Learn; Pray; Worship; Bless; Go; Rest.

To turn - to pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus.

To learn - to learn from Jesus. To listen to and reflect on his healings and his teachings.

To pray - to commit ourselves to allowing God to be present in our lives each and every day.

To worship - to reflect on Jesus’ healings and teachings - to attend to his words as a way of drawing nearer and nearer to God.

To bless - to participate in the ministry of Jesus by sharing our faith and unselfishly giving and serving.

To go - to cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus.

To rest - to receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration in order to continue to meet and overcome the temptations of worldly concerns.

It strikes me that this rule is very much what Jesus and James were speaking of over 2000 years ago. Jesus asked those whom he chose to, “Follow me.” To turn to a life centered around listening to and following Jesus. James' asked us to develop a purity of heart by submitting ourselves to God and resisting the devil.

If Jesus is our model – the one who points the way to God. Then, without question, James is both our coach and our cheerleader.
As I consider the world around me, both near and far I see, very sadly, divisiveness, poverty, anger, violence, and social isolation. I see tremendous sadness and disillusionment. I hear many stories of confusion and concern for the future of society.

However, I also see love, hope, and enormous acts of charity and love. In the most unsuspecting places and among people that in my mind I imagine have little or nothing to do with any particular church I see the most incredible acts of kindness, the most beautiful acts of love. I see a way of being that directs me to God. I see the Way of Love.

God's light still shines…

In the coming weeks St. Simon's will once again embark on a series of Sharing Faith Dinners that will focus on questions related to Bishop Curry's way of Love sermon. We, who have already experienced the conversion of seeking a closer relationship with God, will engage in the ongoing work of renewing and refreshing that relationship through intentional reflection and prayer.

Together we will strengthen our participation in the ministry of Jesus by  listening deeply, sharing our faith, and being in the world as "the other way of being" – a way of being that gives witness to the love, justice, and truth of God with our lips and in our lives.

We will reinforce our participation in shining the light of God throughout our community and throughout the world.

In his last published work, Convictions, theologian Marcus Borg wrote, "What's it all about? What's the Christian life all about? It's about loving God and loving what God loves. It's about becoming passionate about God and participating in God's passion for a different kind of world, here and now."

Let us not be like the disciples who were unable to understand what Jesus had to say and too afraid to ask. Let us pay attention to Jesus, to James, to Borg, and to so many others who direct us to God. Let us strengthen our faith through sharing conversations that inform us all of how the light of God shines within each of us.

Let us strengthen our ability to be the disciples that James urges us to be, wise and understanding, living a good life in which our works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. Let us heed Jesus' command "Follow me."

Let us show the world a way of being that defies the evil and darkness that lurks in every corner of our lives – just waiting, just waiting.

Let us shine God's light brightly.

Let us love God and love what God loves. AMEN

Friday, September 7, 2018

Devin's Funeral Sermon

Sermon Funeral of Devin Garrity
September 6, 2018
The Reverend J. David Knight

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…

Hold that image in your mind. A multitude too numerous to count, a whole hodgepodge of people of all kinds and colors and temperaments and abilities and ancestry and language. As far as you can see. Doing one thing. Worshipping the Holy One, at the throne of God, before the Lamb. There they are.

Devin picked this scripture passage, as he did all that we are doing today, including the music. I often am very curious about such choices. Why these words from Scripture? Why remind us from the Psalm that “our help comes from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth”? Why did Devin find comfort in Jesus’s proclamation that “I won’t send anyone away who comes to me”? 

Ponder that as you hold the image of the multitude before the throne. 

Clelia told me one of Devin’s high school friends wrote her when he heard Devin had died, and said this about his friend – Devin was a man with a quick wit and a good soul. I agree with Clelia, it would be hard to top that description. The 1st time I met Devin was when I had first arrived as Interim Rector at St. Paul’s Delray Beach, Florida. Clelia was there, serving as Deacon. We had a Saturday night service and one of the early Saturdays of my time there, I saw this guy, gray hair pulled back in a long pony tail, wearing a motorcycle shirt of some sort, sitting with some other obvious bikers. I was new enough not to know who was a visitor and who was a regular, so I approached this guy after the service and introduced myself. He just smirked and said he was a biker just passing through and decided to check out a church service. “How did you like it?”, I asked. He didn’t bat an eye, replying “I’ve seen better!”

Shortly there after Clelia walked up and said, “Oh I see you met my husband”! 

I said he told me he was a biker, and Clelia informed me that was true. Then Devin asked if I wanted to see his hog, so I followed him out to the courtyard where his faithful steed was parked – a little Honda scooter. Well at least it was was black! 

Quick wit. Good soul. 

It’s no secret the last years of Devin’s life were not easy. His health problems were myriad, he dodged Death for quite a long while. Even as dementia and congestive heart failure were taking a deep toll and he was nearing the end, he did request something very special. Devin asked to be baptized. He was a little obsessed, asking Clelia to track down any proof he had been baptized when growing up, and the church his family attended had no record of such. So he asked if he could be baptized now. 

Friends, there is no doubt of how much this meant to him. A few of us gathered at the nursing home and yes we baptized Devin. It is hard to put into words what that moment was like. There was a different kind of light in the room, there was a glow about and within him, he was more clued in to what was going on around him than I had seen in quite a while, and when I anointed him with the chrism, marking him as Christ’s own forever, you should have seen his face. 

As he received communion afterwords, something had shifted, something powerful and holy had obviously taken place, and it really all came from two sources – Devin and Jesus. The Holy Spirit was in and around and upon all of us but especially on Devin. “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil, it is even He that shall keep my soul”, says the Psalmist. “This is the will of the one who sent me, that all who see the Son and believe will have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day”. So says Jesus. So Devin believed, it was all over his face on that day. I won’t ever forget it. I am humbled and honored to have shared such a holy moment with him.

While Devin, at least the Devin I knew, wasn’t a man of a lot of words, he did have that quick wit. He also had the most amazing collection of music I have ever seen, and was very talented dealing with computers, he spent hours and hours on his systems, a real engineer type of brain working long and hard to get things the way he wanted them. He had that kind of mind that could look at a problem and envision how to solve it, and then do it. I kind of hate people like that! 

Although he wasn’t prone to long speeches I do recall one he made. It was right after Devin and Clelia had moved here. Y’all may remember that Clelia arrived with a broken ankle and Devin was not much more ambulatory than she was. It was you who rallied and took care of them. Several of you took turns driving them around, providing food, helping them get settled in their new place, doing all the things that people of God do when other people of God need help. 

After the dust cleared, Clelia invited all those who had helped out to their apartment to celebrate. And Devin made a toast. I think it surprised us all. He spoke so eloquently of what you all had done, what you meant to him and Clelia, how you had opened your hearts and your gifts to them. He said something along the lines of “we’ve never really been around people who welcomed us so unconditionally, people we didn’t even know at all, you were all so kind and so nice. This is the best place we’ve ever lived”! 

It was really phenomenal. I told Clelia this week, in some way he knew, in his spirit, in his soul, that they had come to the place where he could let go, knowing it would be good because this body of Christ, here at St. Simon’s, is good. That they would be ok, and more importantly, that Clelia would be ok. And he let us know that in his good soul, quick witted way.

The Psalm asked “from where does my help come?” John the Revelator says it’s there, waiting on you. And when you join the throng, John tells us, those before the throne of the Lamb will hunger no more and thirst no more and the Lamb will be their shepherd and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”. 

Devin’s tears have been wiped away. And he has drunk from the waters of life, real life, true life, the life I saw on his face at his baptism, the life he spoke of at that party, life as God always intended for him. Now he has it! Where does my help come? Devin knows. He knows. And it is glorious.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

You are an evangelist too...

St. Simons on the Sound
August 19, 2018

John 6:51-58

These days I am an evangelist. My life, whether at church or in the community is devoted to evangelizing – to reconciling those whom I encounter to God.

What does that mean, you might ask. Perhaps you are shocked. Clelia is an evangelist? Clelia is evangelizing? Do we do that in the Episcopal Church? I thought evangelism was something  those "other" churches did. Surely, not us – surely, not us Episcopalians.

But, I am an evangelist – I really am – and whether or not you know it, you are too.

So, let’s take it apart – let's unpack it.

First of all what does it mean to reconcile people to God? Various synonyms for reconcile are: to reunite, to bring together, to restore to harmony. When we are doing the work of reconciling people to God, we are working to unite, or to reunite, them with God. We are working to bring them together with God. We are working to restore harmony in their relationship with God – to bring about their awareness of God's love for them, and the healing power of that love. A love filled with grace and forgiveness.

And then, what does that controversial word evangelize really mean?  
To evangelize means above all to bear witness to a transformation that occurs within ourselves once we allow Christ to abide in us and we in him.

Once Jesus has become the source of our life, we are called to give the gift of the life-giving Jesus to the world. Through us the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ takes on bodily, truthful expression. Through our relationship with Christ, we develop a way of being in the world that helps people come to the awareness that there is another way of being – a way not centered on preoccupation with self, a way that is not divisive, angry, violent and filled with hatred. Another way – a way that heals mind, body and spirit. A way that brings us together in love – the kind of love, the agape love, that Jesus had for us – the kind of love that God has for us.

Jesus proclaimed, Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5)  

The Christians of the first centuries summed this up by saying, “God became man so that man could become God!”

To evangelize does not mean standing on a corner with a bible in your hand and talking about Jesus to someone. Absolutely not. Evangelism is a way of being in the world – a way that brings the "other" to the awareness of the value he or she has in God’s eyes – to the awareness that they are loved by God. Evangelizing means communicating through your very being the words that God proclaimed five centuries before Christ: “You are precious in my sight, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4).

Evangelism and its outcome of inspiring people to realize their worth in God’s eyes – the love that God has for them and the forgiveness, the salvation that comes along with that love - is not something optional. Paul put it quite succinctly when he said, “Woe to me if I do not evangelize!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)

For Paul, evangelization was the direct consequence of his commitment to Christ. As Paul understood it, through his presence among us – his incarnation and then his resurrection - Christ united us inseparably to God. Through our relationship with Jesus we are united with the divine – the flesh and the spirit become one.

No one should ever feel they are excluded from that union – excluded from the knowledge that they are a loved child of God.

Evangelization calls us to start with ourselves. It is first and foremost a way of life, a way of being in the world that occurs as our result of our "oneness" with Jesus Christ. A way of life through which that "oneness" transforms us into witnesses of the reality of God’s love. Once Christ abides in us and we in him, evangelization occurs unconsciously, effortlessly, through our joy in knowing that God has always loved us and will always love us and through the peace that comes from knowing that God is with us always.

Through our being one with God, Christ becomes both visible and credible in the eyes of those who do not know him. We become evangelists.

Today we heard yet another one of John’s Bread Discourses. Jesus says, "I am the bread of life that came down from heaven...Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me."

How, you may be wondering, do we as members of St. Simon's on the Sound link evangelism to Jesus' claim that he is the bread of life, and to our regular participation in the Eucharist. What does our gathering around God's table each Sunday really mean to us and for us. How does the eucharist transform us. Who do we become once the celebrant has proclaimed, "The Gifts of God for the People of God", and as we then receive the sacraments of bread and wine, as we participate in the gift of Jesus with us, among us, in us

Without question our participation in the Eucharist draws us into intimate relationship with Jesus. The flesh and the spirit are joined. Through our participation in the eucharist, we expereince the union of the human and the divine. We abide with Jesus and he abides with us. And, in receiving the life-giving gift of Jesus, we accept his love – we accept God's love for the world.

We become a people transformed. A people ready to go out into the world and to witness another way of being – a way of love, a way of forgiveness, a way that allows hope, a way that promotes healing, a way that gives joy, a way that brings the peace that passes all understanding. We become evangelists.

All of this reminds me of Roy, an African-American man, who died many years ago of AIDS. When I first met Roy I was working for an organization called AIDS-Related Community Services, better known as ARCS. ARCS was located just outside of New York City and was one of the first organzations to offer counseling and other services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The year was 1990. As you may recall, in 1990 people living with HIV/AIDS were seen as modern day lepers. No one wanted anything to do with them. We at ARCS could not identify one doctor or one dentist in all of Westchester County who would allow any of our clients in their offices.

In order to meet the medical needs of a growing number of men and women who were dying without care and alone, the local hospital rented a house and converted it into a hospice for people living with AIDS. It was their goal to give each and every person as much dignity as possible and to keep them active for as long as their disease permitted.

Enter Roy who was assigned to ARCS as a volunteer. Roy looked much older than 32. He had lived a hard life. Roy told us that he had been on the streets since the age of seven. He had become addicted to drugs in his early teens. He had contracted AIDS through sharing dirty needles while injecting Heroin. Clean and sober now, AIDS had taken a huge toll on Roy. His body and feet were covered in lesions that occur as a reult of AIDS-related Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

Clearly Roy was continually in pain, but he was persistent in his efforts to be of use wherever and whenever possible. His favorite task was Xeroxing – he contiunally marveled at the ins and outs of our Xerox machine and its capabilities."

We all came to love Roy. Our office was large and staff numbered about 35. Roy knew each and every one of us, and we him.

On what was to be his last day with us, Roy sat down in my office and said, "You know, I never had a family before. But, now I do. You are my family, and it feels good.."

The next day Roy was admitted to the hospital. He died three days later.

The funeral, held several days later in the equivalent of a Potter’s Field, was attended by over ten of the ARCS staff.

The ARCS‘ staff, while not a religious group, was a group of people filled with love and compassion. We were all, every single one of us, intent on witnessing the love and respect that we had for each of our many clients. Many of us sat with them for hours as they died, slowly and painfully, and alone.

Our journey with Roy, and so many others, represents to me the epitome of evangelism. The epitome of inspiring people to realize their worth in God’s eyes – the love that God has for them and the forgiveness, and the salvation that comes along with that love. I will never forget Roy and the gift that he gave us as he allowed us to love him. We were in Roy and he was in us. The gift of God’s love brought us together in peace, in joy, and a better way to walk beside those individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

In 1 Thessalonians Paul says, "So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us." (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

That is the essence of evangelism – the evangelism that you and I are in the business of carrying out as we leave St. Simon’s each week. We are determined to share not only the gospel of God, but also ourselves, because the world has become very dear to us. Because we want to give witness to the reality that there is another way of being. A way of being that is not based in divisivness, anger, violence, and hatred. A way of being that is based in compassion, in foregiveness, in love.

We are showing the world that there is another way of being, and if we shine the light of that way so very brightly, those living in darkness will want to join us. We will have fed them the Bread of Life.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

No Going Back...

The phrase “no going back” when considering my 20 years of work in Haiti has taken on quite a few meanings for me in the past few weeks. Taken literally, there may be “no going back” at this point in time because of the extremely volatile and dangerous political situation coupled with the possibility that the priest in charge of Martel, where we are now working, may be moved, leaving this community under the guidance of a new priest – one who has yet to form any relationship with our team, or with the community to which he is assigned.

Martel is hours from civilization – we go there only confident in the safety that the current priest in charge, Pere Phanord, provides. Without his presence, work in this tiny, remote community may not be possible for us Americans.

That brings me to another “no going back.” We have established a strong relationship with Martel. We have been in partnership with them for over five years, with multiple visits each year. We have provided much needed prevention education and healthcare to over 2000 unduplicated community members. There is most certainly “no going back” on our commitment to Martel.

Our commitment in this work has always been to develop a locally sustainable preventive health and primary health care program. While doing this work, we have tried to imagine, with them, the end-goal of what will happen when “we are no longer here.”

With this in mind, from the outset we identified and incorporated into our team well-trained and very talented Haitian doctors and nurses. These men and women are now trusted caregivers in Martel, and they are committed to providing ongoing monthly visits to this tiny, remote community. They are quite clear that, for them, there is “no going back” on their commitment to the residents of Martel, just as we are quite clear that there is “no going back” on our commitment to continue to fund the costs of this modest but critically important healthcare program.

So, while there may be “no going back” physically, there is most certainly “no going back” on our commitment to these brothers and sisters who live in Martel and the brothers and sisters who have vowed to care for them. We will continue to send the funds required to maintain an effective level of prevention education and primary health care in Martel, Haiti.

We love so very deeply our companions in Haiti. It is a love that burns in our hearts and humbles us in all ways as we consider our great fortune as citizens of the United States of America. More importantly, our Haitian companions have taught us to see God through very different lenses, and to experience a way of walking with Christ that has been life changing. For us, this a truly another, and perhaps the most important, “no going back.”

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Why engage in global mission?

Why Engage in Global Mission?

The Rev. Deacon Clelia Garrity

"Why engage in global mission when there are so many needs all around us in our local community?"

Most of us have been asked this question and perhaps have struggled to answer it. Our nation grapples on a daily basis with issues of diversity, multiculturalism, immigration, religious apathy and isolationism.

Why are intercultural relationships so essential to our Christian discipleship? Global Episcopal Mission Network has gathered ten quotes from their recent conference held at Virginia Theological Seminary and from other sources that will give you food for thought as you answer this question for yourself and for others.

Ten reasons to engage in global mission:

1. "We go into mission to meet the other, where God is present. Not because there are needy people, or to plant a church, or to teach. But we go to meet Jesus there. Thinking we are missionaries, we become disciples. We go to meet God, who is already present in the other."
2. "No single part of the world contains a complete understanding of God - only together do we have it..."
3. "It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel."
4. "We can never know how fully who God is, we can never understand the mission of God, until and unless we are able to hear it from those in other contexts..."
5."To reduce mission simply to a local or even national context is to isolate ourselves from the voice of God's grace across difference."
6. "We are looking at mission as pilgrimage - seeing Christ in the other."
7. "The 'other' is part of our family that we do not already know."
8. "To know only one's own church, diocese or nation is to limit oneself to an incomplete revelation of the vast and varied witness of the full body of Christ - gifts that we all desperately need to receive from one another."
9. "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ...the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
10. "I have gifts you do not, and you have gifts I do not. We need one another to be fully human. We lose our strength if our diversity is taken away."

A June 2018 Haiti Medical Mission Team member & her new friends