Sunday, August 23, 2015

Is the Teaching Too Difficult?

Sermon
13 Pentecost – August 23, 2015
John 6:56-69

Last Saturday in the courtyard of the Griffin Park apartments, the first St. Michaels Unity Day Picnic kicked off promptly at 11AM as scheduled. The mouthwatering aroma of barbecuing hamburgers and hot dogs and squeals of childish delight were evident for at least a two-block radius. I arrived at five past 11. The bounce house was already filled to capacity, and Rev. William Wallace, pastor of Union United Methodist Church, was getting the drip hose positioned for maximum water flow in the water slide. Children of all ages waited impatiently in line. It was hot and they wanted to get into that cool water as quickly as possible.

Under the picnic tent and scattered around the central lawn area were people from throughout the St. Michaels community – getting to know you conversations abounded. The Town Manager and two County Commissioners mingled with guests, and the Director of the Housing Authority was on hand to discuss the challenges of affordable housing in Talbot County.  DJ Randy had set up his audio system under a small tent and Christian Rock blasted through the air proclaiming the greatness of Jesus. At the very fringes of all of this activity a few residents sat in chairs just outside their doorways observing the festivities with wide grins on their faces. When I asked one lady what she thought of all that was going on, she said, “it is fine…most fine.”


At the center of the day’s activities was St. Michaels Police Chief Anthony Smith. Unity Day was Chief Smith’s idea, and it was Chief Smith who was the glue that held the day together…Truly, we could not have done it without Chief Smith.

The “Chief” is one of the forerunners in national law enforcement efforts to build and reinforce trust between communities and their police departments. Chief Smith’s key goal is the building of trust and mutual respect between all of the various community groups in St Michaels.

Community policing is a philosophy that promotes organized strategies to support the systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques. Techniques that proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder, and disention among community groups. Community policing has three key components: Community partnerships; organizational transformation; and problem solving. The intelligent and resourceful use of all of these assets culminates in a process of proactively identifying and prioritizing problems; researching what is known about the problem; developing solutions to bring about lasting reductions in the number and extent of the problems; and evaluating the success of the responses.

In essence community policing strives to integrate the police department into the community in a partnership that, at all levels, is dedicated to furthering the “good of the neighborhood” – or, the common good.

I sat in Griffin Park last Saturday and observed Chief Smith as he orchestrated all of the activities of the day, and I was truly humbled. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. He respected everyone and everyone respected him. He had time for everyone and everyone wanted time with him.

The Chief was hot, mopping his brow continually without ever pausing in his unceasing activity of orchestrating the days’ events. He was probably tired, and most certainly he must have had lots of other situations on his mind. Maybe he even had some aches and pains like most of us. Whatever was going on in the private world of Chief Smith, he never let it show. There was no doubt that without the Chief Unity Day would not have been just that – a glorious day when members of so many different community groups came together to have fun, to eat hotdogs and hamburgers, and to learn a little about each other. A day in which there was unity in the community.

Soon after Reverend Wallace started up the water slide and children were plunging through screaming with joy and excitement, Chief Smith called the crowd to silence and asked us all to have a seat. In a brief introductory ceremony the Chief asked all of the local clergy and the Director of the Community Center to stand beside him and to affirm their commitment to an interdependent partnership. A partnership in which we are all bound together as key community resources for safety, compassion, healing, and love. He asked us all to be his partners in community building, and we all said, “yes.” We all made the commitment to follow his lead in the task of furthering the good of the neighborhood – the common good.

“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it? (John 6:60)

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus’ disciples continue to scratch their heads, still confused about the significance of the bread of life and mystified by what eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus means. Over the past five weeks, Jesus’ focus on bread has moved from the feeding of the 5,000 with five loaves of barley bread and two fishes to a long discourse in which Jesus defines himself as the Bread of Life without which one cannot attain eternal life.

The disciples are puzzled by this. After all, Jesus is a carpenter’s son, a common man, and yet he performs miracles and implies that he is God’s spokesperson – the one through whom they must pass if they are to enter God’s Kingdom. How can this be – who is this man?

The disciples want answers that they can understand. They want answers that will tell them who Jesus really is. They want straightforward answers and easy solutions to entering God’s Eternal Kingdom – they want the whole story and in plain language.

But Jesus tells them that there are no easy answers. In fact, he challenges them even further when he says, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe…For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the father.”

Jesus challenges the disciples and confronts them with the hard truth, “this teaching is difficult.” There are no easy answers – there is no quick fix. It takes faith – faith in what cannot be seen – faith in what cannot be explained in everyday terms – faith in the act of giving oneself up to be one with Jesus – to follow him both literally and figuratively. Giving oneself over to being with and in Jesus, in every way, is the only way – the only way to freedom; the only way to peace; the only way to eternal life.

In this passage from John, the gauntlet has been thrown down – the message is a hard one to hear -  and because of this, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” Simon Peter and a few others elected to stay, but even they encountered severe misgivings and challenges as they followed their lord on the remainder of his journey to the cross.

The gauntlet has been thrown down…who will meet the challenge? I believe that this is how Chief Smith experiences his work in establishing a community policing program. I believe that the Chief has picked up that gauntlet, and I believe that he is going forward, just like Simon Peter and the others, in faith, knowing that if he follows in the footsteps of Jesus – if he keeps going forward despite challenges and hardships – despite the setbacks – if he follows in the footsteps of Jesus, he, in concert with those who choose to partner with him, will make a difference. The neighborhood will be more peaceful, more loving. The common good will be served and we will all be closer to living in a world that pleases God and is therefore pleasing to us.

A gauntlet has also been thrown down for us here at Christ Church.

Just about this time last year, under the leadership of the Renewal Works Committee, Christ Church committed to focusing on spiritual growth and spiritual vitality. Christ Church committed to rediscovering who Jesus is, and what it means to follow him. Christ Church intentionally picked up the gauntlet and embarked on a journey of spiritual growth and identifying ways that God is calling us to grow.

The journey is in progress. Classes, conversations, forums, and sermons have helped in focusing our hearts and minds on spiritual issues – our relationship with Jesus. Talk is bubbling up around potential social justice conversations and mission activities. Involvement with community service organizations has increased. We are sitting - just as the disciples sat listening carefully to their Lord - we are sitting – listening to words in the classes, conversations, forums, and sermons – the words - that bring us as close as possible to the Jesus of 2000 years ago. Sitting and listening, scratching our heads about what does it mean for us to follow Jesus.

As we listen – if we listen with open hearts and with open minds – or, as Paul would say, with the eyes of our hearts – as we listen to Jesus, as we grow spiritually, and draw ever so close to him – what do we hear him say to us? What is the gauntlet that he has thrown down for us, both personally and as members of Christ Church?


Will the teaching be too difficult to accept? Or, like Simon Peter, will we say, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Will we, like Chief Smith, pick up our gauntlet and meet the challenge?

As we follow Jesus, weathering the hardships and the challenges – the setbacks, will the neighborhood of our personal, parish and community lives grow to be a more peaceful, more loving place? Will the common good be served? Will we be closer to living in a world that pleases God and is therefore pleasing to us?

Will we “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power?” Will we “put on the whole armor of God” and follow Jesus – all the way, down that long road that the challenge takes us and into God’s Eternal Kingdom. AMEN



Monday, August 10, 2015

The Bread of Life...

Sermon
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
10 Pentecost
John 6:35, 41-51

It seems difficult to believe, but I have now been with you here at Christ church for nine months….and what a nine months!

Arriving the day before Thanksgiving in 32 degree freezing rain fresh from our poolside condo in 90 degree Delray Beach….

Jumping into a new church family during the busiest seasons of the year…Advent and then Christmas…

Launching one of my favorite projects, the Bible Challenge….

Journeying to Cleveland with my husband for what turned out to be an incredibly complex surgical procedure requiring four months of recuperation and one additional surgical procedure….

And, three mission trips to Haiti – one in late January; one in May; and one just a few weeks ago in mid-July….

As of this moment, I think my head has stopped spinning, but I am not quite sure that my life will slow down all that much. There is a great deal going on here at Christ Church and in Bondeau, Haiti. New  fall and winter Christian education and formation classes; an incredibly rich Adult Forum program; Outreach Sundays, a new 2nd Sunday of the month program to be launched just after Labor Day; new partnerships in the Bay 100 community intended to bring Christ Church into closer communion and collaboration with multiple organizations in our neighborhood, and an ever proliferating set of partners and projects in our newly adopted mission site Bondeau, Haiti.

Clearly, the coming year is an incredibly important time in the life of Christ Church as well as in the majority of churches in the United States. Nationwide congregations are shrinking, pledges diminishing accordingly, Sunday schools are being disbanded for alternative mid-week programs that bring families together into conversation about basic Christian beliefs and behaviors, and those committed to bringing the Gospel into the world are scratching their heads – struggling with the challenges of bringing church to the un-churched, or the “nones” as they are so often called.

The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church is a committee that spent two years in discussions with thousands of Episcopalians about their hopes, dreams, ideas and concerns for the church and about the Church’s collective mission to serve Christ. They also studied how other churches and non-religious organizations have developed innovative approaches to pursuing their missions in a changing world.

At this year’s General Convention the Task Force presented their recommendations for changes in the Church’s structures, governance and administration to advance our Five Marks of Mission:


·        To Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
·        To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
·        To respond to human needs by loving service
·        To transform unjust structures, 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

This excellent and extensive report – far too lengthy to discuss in detail –concludes, “Jesus sends us together into the places where ordinary life unfolds. We are sent to testify to God’s reign as we form and restore community by sharing in God’s peacemaking and healing. This begins with deep listening to neighbors, relying upon their hospitality rather than expecting them to find us on their terms. In today’s increasingly diverse world, we must learn how to “bear witness” to, and receive from those of different cultures, faiths and beliefs, “eating what is set before us.” For many churches now disconnected from neighbors, this will mean attempting small experiments in sharing God’s peace as we learn how to form Christian community and witness with those neighbors.” (TREC Report)

The Task Force endorses the overall goal of “renewing ways not only of speaking to the world, but also of being together, driven by the commitment to collaborate across structures that may have no connectivity today,” and with three specific objectives designed to meet that goal: 1) Restructuring the spiritual encounter; 2) Reimagining dioceses, Bishops, and General Convention; and 3) Restructuring assets in service of God’s mission in the future.

Challenging goals… very challenging.

So, yes, I believe with all my heart – that this is an incredibly important year – an incredibly important year for Christ Church and for the Church as a whole - a year in which we must continually renew our commitment to our Baptismal vows -  A year in which we must, with renewed courage, creativity, discipline and faith, engage in our role as Disciples of Christ – A year in which we must, in partnership with our community, reach out, go beyond our doors if we are to achieve our dream of bringing the compassion and love made manifest to us in Christ, to our neighbors here in the Bay Hundred area and any other places in the nation and the world to which we may be called.

If we are to be a vibrant and lively church we must work at it – work hard with energy and with discipline and in community - in partnership - with good will and with hearts that are filled with courage, compassion, forgiveness and love.

As the Apostle Paul said in his Letter to the Ephesians,  “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph. 6:10, 14-17)

Yes, it is a lot of hard and courageous work that we are called to do– especially with Paul’s exhortations ringing in our ears and egging us on.

Some people ask me, “How do you do it – how do you do so much and always seem so calm?”

My response is always the same, “I don’t even think about what is happening. Jesus is always in me and with me. I know that I will be fine.”

And this, of course, brings me to today’s Good News.  “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ ” (John 6:35)

A powerful statement made by Jesus to his followers so many years ago. A statement that transcends time and is as relevant today as it was then. A statement that provides us with the food - the peace, the love, the compassion, the strength and the faith - that we need to support us in our  work of re-imagining the Church, both here in St. Michaels and throughout the world. A fortifying statement as we put on the armor of God and go about the task of “renewing ways not only of speaking to the world, but also of being together, driven by the commitment to collaborate across structures that may have no connectivity today.”

Jesus is indeed the bread of life. He is our definitive disclosure of God in the world. He is the definitive model for our behavior. He is the definitive guidepost for our emotions. The sustenance, the nourishment, needed to keep us alive, spiritually and emotionally, as we traverse these challenging times of keeping our church alive and well – these challenging times of forming and restoring community by sharing in God’s peacemaking and healing.

Although I speak for myself only, in faith, I know that if we allow ourselves to feed on the bread that comes down from heaven, the true bread of life, we will be fed eternally – now and forever. We will be filled with faith and courage and love and we will be peaceful, effective and passionate disciples of Christ, who bring the Good News, the Gospel, to our community and to the world. 

We will become the bread of life for others - for the world. AMEN



Saturday, July 18, 2015

Jesus - always with us

 SERMON
July 19, 2015
Christ Church, St. Michaels, MD


In the fall of 2012 I visited Bondeau, a small and remote community in rural Haiti. I was accompanied by three nurses, a teacher and his college-age daughter and a good friend who wanted to learn more about Haiti. We had a definite goal for ourselves. We would meet as many men, women and children as possible and we would visit for an extended period of time with community leaders and learn from them what they saw as their most immediate needs.

Let me take a moment to paint a picture of the Bondeau community. Bondeau is situated on the eastern shore of Haiti about 100 miles south of Port au Prince. It is about 8 miles from the nearest town, the port city of Miragoane. Bondeau consists of a school building, a rather large guesthouse, another large house that is home to children whose parents cannot afford to keep them at home, and multiple one-room concrete dwellings where the school teachers and their families live.

The residents of Bondeau live in huts that are strategically placed in the shade and scattered around the surrounding countryside. These dwellings have no sanitation, no running water, no windows and no floors. Residents of the Bondeau community live on approximately $1.00 a day, or less. This area of Haiti is unusually arid. Agriculture is not a viable way of life. There are no stores or other businesses within a 6 mile area. Several people own small motorcycles, but aside from that community residents must walk everywhere. Some children walk up to two hours to get to school each day.

During that fall visit to Bondeau; our little group was welcomed with open arms. The hospitality of the community residents, a key value in Haiti, was so very touching. Those who had literally nothing went to extremes to ensure that we had sufficient food and comfort in a setting where food and chairs and other such amenities are far and few between.

The morning before we were scheduled to leave, the priest in charge of the church and school arranged for us to meet with about 18 community leaders. He also served as our translator, although I am happy to say that as garbled as my French is, most people understood what I was trying to say.

We talked about a lot of things and we touched on many community needs - big needs like clean water, better education for the children, reading classes for adults, ways to start small businesses but, again and again, both men and women came back to their perceived biggest need. Healthcare. We need a clinic here, they all said. We have many people who are sick, many children who die. We have no way to get to the town. We need a clinic here, they said.

Moved, but also cautious, we all replied, We understand. We will try to make this happen for you.

Six months later, in March of 2013, I returned to Bondeau with a medical team of ten doctors and nurses - that was the first of now six fully staffed medical missions, with a seventh planned for this October. To date, we have treated over 1500 unduplicated patients for a wide range of diseases and we have established a school nurse program that provides basic nursing care and medications to the men, women and children of Bondeau five days a week, year round. The people of Bondeau have a clinic.

It is on the first medical mission trip - way back in March of 2013 - that I want to focus. Naturally, we were all very nervous and totally unprepared for almost everything that happened. We were thinking America where people have had healthcare everyday of their lives; but, we were in Haiti where people had had no healthcare whatsoever.

Our biggest fear was that no one would show up. Let me just say that as we arrived at the clinic site early the first morning, there were over 100 people waiting for us, with more people arriving, on foot, from every direction.

After managing our initial shock, we attempted to strategize. Our biggest question, how would we manage patient flow? Our second biggest question, how could our pharmacy team of two possibly fill prescriptions fast enough to get everyone home by the end of the day?

Those were important questions for us to consider, but we were still totally unprepared for the desperation of the crowd. The minute we opened our doors to see patients, the crowding and the pleas for help were completely overwhelming, and at two points during the day the crowd became completely unmanageable. I found myself in the middle of at least 100 people attempting to calm them and to assure them that we would not leave until every person had seen a doctor.

I know for certain, the Holy Spirit was with me as I entered that crowd absolutely scared to death and yet able to remain calm, and to calm them.

Of course, there is a point to this story - and, that is, that the moment a frantic, pushing, pleading community member entered the doctors room and sat down, that person calmed down completely. The compassion and caring of each doctor and nurse was uniform, the care with which they examined each patient was so very gentle. A few compassionate words, a gentle touch and the anxious and frightened were healed.

When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:54-56)

When I read todays Gospel passage, I thought immediately of that first medical clinic in Bondeau. I can just imagine the anxiety and the passion of the crowd as they see Jesus approaching them. In my minds eye I can see them rushing, crowding, pushing and pulling each other every which way. I am sure it would have been a noisy crowd with lots of shouting and angry outbursts. The children would have been frightened and started crying; the dogs and sheep, barking and bleating.

Total chaos and confusion.

Jesus, tired, ready for some respite with his disciples - some time to pray and reflect after an aggressive journey of always moving, moving forward to preach, to heal, to amaze and to bring hope Jesus is desperately needed. The people need him; to be healed; to be saved from oppression and slavery. Saved from the brutality of the Roman Empire. Saved from the greed of the high priests and the wealthy Jews. The people clamored for Jesus demanded to hear his words; yearned for his healing touch.  

And then, Jesus was among them. He was with them in every way - his compassionate gaze and the authority with which he proclaimed the Kingdom of God, together with simply touching the fringe of his cloak was enough to heal them. To be one with Jesus was to be healed. To be one with Jesus is to be healed.

The other piece of Good News is, of course, that Jesus does not work to the beat of a time clock. He is not a 9-5 person who takes vacations. No, Jesus, and by extension God, is always with us - never too tired; never too busy for us.

Jesus made his presence in us and with us absolutely clear when he said in Matthew, And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

However, it is up to us to reach out for the fringe of his cloak - it is up to us to cry out we need to be healed. Jesus will always respond always be in us; always be with us; always be among us, compassionately healing our worries and

our anxieties but, we need to reach out. We need to be with Jesus just as he is with us.

I am with you always to the end of the age…”

A couple of weeks ago I assisted at a memorial service here at Christ Church. The second reading was from the Book of Revelations, and as I read it I marveled once again at the powerful images of God with us set forth by the author of this
controversial last book of Scripture:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
See, the home* of God is among mortals.
He will dwell* with them;
they will be his peoples,*
and God himself will be with them;*
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, See, I am making all things new. Also he said, Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true. Then he said to me, It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the

end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. (Rev. 21:1-7)

Powerful words from an all-loving God.  A God who gave his Son to be with us always, to the end of the age.


Just as the crowds pushed and pulled to touch Jesus, to be healed by him - Just as the residents of the Bondeau community pushed and pulled to get to the head of the long line of patients waiting to see one of our doctors - So, you and I who weep and worry in our own stress-filled lives need push and pull - to actively reach out - to touch the fringe on Jesus cloak - if we are to be healed - if we are to be one with him and to allow him to be one with us.  If we are to be truly children of God.   AMEN

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Your Faith Has Made You Well



“Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.” (Psalm 130, v1)


In exile, far from their home in Judah where their temple and sacred way of life had been destroyed by pagans, the Israelites cried out to the Lord - “Lord we are waiting for you to once again rescue us from slavery and oppression. We are waiting for you to save us. We know that you are merciful; we know that if we turn back to you, you will redeem us for our sins. We are waiting for you Lord - waiting more than a watchman for the morning”

How familiar are these thoughts and words written over 2500 years ago in the ancient cities of Babylonia where the Israelites, defeated by Nebuchadnezzar, waited in exile for over 50 years until the Persian King Darius invited them to return to their homeland and rebuild not only their temple but also their way of life of worshipping one god only and adhering to the commandments brought down to them by Moses, years before.

How familiar are these thoughts and words to us and to all Christians today as we struggle with horrific world events, both national and international, that target Christian men, women and children as they go about their day to day life, committed to following the way of Jesus and a life dedicated to love, forgiveness and peace.

Today’s refugees - exiled - just like the ancient Israelites. Today’s people in exile praying daily to God,  “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice; let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.”

I have to believe that no matter how terrified, how despondent, how lost in darkness those who live in exile must certainly be - no matter what their circumstance or frame of mind - I have to believe that all of these people have faith - faith that God - the Lord - will hear their cries and will redeem their souls. 

Perhaps, I believe this only to heal my own pain as I consider the mass pain of the Christian world, but I do believe it. I believe that as we face exile - no matter what sort of exile, literal or figurative - God sees us and knows us. God is with us as we face anxiety, depression, fear, discomfort, tremendous personal loss, and in many cases, death. I believe that not only is God with us, but that if only we reach out to him, the terror of our personal exile will become bearable, and a new way to walk forward in life with courage and hope - with faith - will become evident.

In today’s Gospel story we hear about two such examples of faith. The women who has suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and Jairus whose daughter was ill and on the brink of death. Both are suffering. One from a prolonged and physically, as well as financially, draining illness. The other from the very real prospect of the unimaginable - loosing a child. Both are in a state of exhaustion, anxiety, and darkness. Both intuitively know that if they reach out to Jesus, he will somehow salvage the situation in which they find themselves. Both take risks in forging the crowds of people in which they find themselves and in imagining that Jesus will actually have time for them.

The chronically ill woman, trailing after Jesus as he walked through the crowd, finally was able to grasp a piece of his robe - immediately her hemorrhaging stopped. Sensing someone had touched his clothing Jesus turned to look at the women. In fear and trembling she fell before him, confessing that it had been she who reached out to him. He said to her, “Daughter your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Your faith has made you well….

Because of the woman, Jesus was delayed in reaching Jairus’ daughter. Seemingly, in these few brief moments of delay, the child died. Jesus was advised by the crowd that it would not be worth his while to visit Jairus’ daughter who had already died, but Jesus looked around at the crowd and said, “why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” Jesus continued on with Jairus and his wife, they entered the home, Jesus spoke to the child, and she was healed.

The child’s parents followed Jesus in patience and with faith in his ability to heal.

Being in exile is not always a physical upheaval from one’s home. There are so many different ways in which we as creatures in this unstable and turbulent world experience exile. Exile is all about being separated - separated from what ever we hold near and dear - separated from God. Exile is all about living in fear and darkness.

Coming out of exile is not always a return to the home or state of being from which we were separated. Coming out of exile can mean that we enter a whole new way of life - one that we might not necessarily have chosen for ourselves.

Surviving exile is staying close to God. Reaching out to touch his presence in ourselves and in those around us. 

Surviving exile is having patience and following Jesus as he guides us through the steps of loving, forgiving and finding a new way to see how we might survive.

Surviving exile is allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire us in ways we cannot imagine, and allowing the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to do the unimaginable for ourselves and for others.

Surviving exile is ensuring that we are all members of one body - the body of Christ - and that as that one body, we are working, as Walter Brueggemann would say, “for the good of the neighborhood.”

Surviving exile is all about having faith.

Peace be with you.



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Stormy Seas

My father was a typical Italian man. He was an opera singer; he loved fast cars; and, he loved flashy speedboats. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of attending the annual car show in New York City where we would spend hours getting in and out of the flashiest cars on the floor, and of pounding across Long Island Sound regardless of weather predictions in our newest Chris Craft motorboat. It was all great fun, very exciting, and not infrequently a bit terrifying as we tore up and down the Hutchinson River and Merritt Parkways or raced black clouds that forewarned thunder storms and the unexpectedly strong currents and rolling waves so typical of Long Island Sound.

But for my father, the speedboat memories were not all good. In early 1942 it was his flashy speedboat outfitted with a ship to shore radio that landed him in the prison camp at Ellis Island for three months.

On that grim day in early 1942, the FBI appeared at our Westchester County home and presented my father with an arrest warrant that named him as a agent for Mussolini, and perhaps Hitler. The agents claimed that he had been using his ship to shore radio to send messages to the enemy. Within a few brief moments he was in an FBI manned vehicle and transported to Ellis Island where he was held in a communal cell, with no ability to communicate with the outside world for over three months.

His career at an ignominious halt, estranged from family and friends, and packed into an overcrowded cell with only two open toilets, my father was trapped in that terrifying no mans land of not knowing what his future held.

Still an Italian citizen, he did not know if he would be allowed to stay in America. He did not know whether if he would ever see his family again. He did not know whether or not he could survive the loneliness and the isolation. He was a stranger in a no mans land. He was in darkness, and could not find the light.

I tell this story today, World Refugee Sunday, to underscore the devastating darkness and terror that fills the world of refugees who live in exile with no assurance that they will ever return home, and the reality that refugees are not only over there, somewhere else in a far and distant country. Refugees are not only people who speak different languages or have skin color other than white. Refugees are not always unknown to us.

Refugees are everywhere. They are even members of our own families.

Yesterday, refugees and their supporters across the globe observed the 15th annual World Refugee Day. The United Nations General Assembly established June 20 as World Refugee Day to recognize and applaud the
contribution of refugees throughout the world and to raise awareness about the growing refugee crisis. The numbers are staggering:

          There are currently more than 51.2 million refugees  the largest number since World War II.
         
          In just the past four years, nearly 4 million Syrians have fled the violence in their country, finding shelter in neighboring countries including Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Egypt.

          Last year at the height of the border crisis in the Lower Rio Grande Valley the number of unaccompanied minors taken into custody by the Border Patrol at the U.S.-Mexico border reached a peak of 10,622 in June. Apprehensions of family units followed a similar trajectory, cresting at more than 16,329.

          As of August 31, for the fiscal year that began October 1, 2013, Border Patrol agents had apprehended 66,127 unaccompanied minors and 66,142 family units, the vast majority from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Compared to the same 11-month period last year, family unit arrivals have surged by 412 percent, unaccompanied minors arrivals by 88 percent.

          These children, and by now many more, all refugees who fled from the terrorism and violence of the South American drug cartels, have been resettled throughout America - some to distant relatives; some to group homes.

Refugees are everywhere. They are even members of our own communities.

For the past 75 years, the Episcopal Church, working in collaboration with Episcopal Migration Ministries and its network of affiliate offices, has helped refugees find safety, security, and hope in the United States. This weekend, Episcopal churches throughout the United States will hold events to honor and welcome refugees and to commemorate the thousands of refugees who were unsuccessful in their attempts to flee the racism, terrorism and violence of oppressive regimes and the brutal outcome of ethnic cleansing that continues to be a part of our world order.

All of these events have as an end goal awareness. Awareness of the darkness that surrounds the life of each and every refugee. Awareness of the need to bring light into that darkness. Awareness of the reality that in our various roles as disciples of Christ, and as members of our mother
organization, the Episcopal Church in the United States, we are called to bring the light of Christ to those in darkness - in this instance to refugees.

The good news of course is that Christ is always there for us - all of us - even refugees. Even when we are in the deepest of all darkness - Christ is there - in us and with us.

In todays gospel reading, Jesus  encourages his disciples to join him in a small boat in order to cross the Sea of Galilee. As frequently happens in that area, a sudden storm brings heavy winds and high seas. In the midst of the raging storm the fragile boat begins to take on water. The disciples are terrified but Jesus remains, improbably, peacefully asleep, his head on a cushion.

The disciples  cannot believe that Jesus is not awakened by the rocking boat and heavy winds. They cannot believe that in the midst of such imminent peril and chaos Jesus is not awake and caring for them. With trembling voices the disciples loudly ask, Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?

I am sure that we all have asked similar questions of God when the seas of our own lives have become incredibly perilous and chaotic. When the going gets rough, we all want to know if God really cares - if he is going to be there for us - or, is he asleep, unaware of our terrifying situation. How many
times have we silently cried out, God, please help me - I am so frightened - so overwhelmed.

In preaching on this text, Augustine of Hippo challenged his audience by saying that when we are buffeted by the storms of life, one has to wake the
Christ within us in order to find peace. Augustine wrote, A situation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging sea. This is the moment to awaken the Christ within you and let him remind you of these words: Peace! Be still! Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

Refugees, violently displaced by oppression, terrorism and extreme violence are caught up in their own very real storm. The darkness of their storm can be overwhelming; the light of returning home a dim shadow in the far distance. To quote my fathers deepest despair while interred at Ellis Island, I no longer felt human; I was lost and did not know who I was anymore.

The question for us is how can we be the voices that calm the storm. How can we awaken the Christ within those who are strangers in a foreign land; men, women and children without a home; lost in darkness and terrified.
How can we, as individuals, and as a church, bring the Light of Christ to those who have lost all hope and live in despair. How can we restore hope and faith to those who have lost all hope - to those who no longer have any faith.

When my father was finally released from Ellis Island he believed that his career was over and that his family would probably abandon him. For several months he continued in depression and despair. It was the love and encouragement of his friends and colleagues in the music world who restored his hope and his faith. It was these same friends and colleagues who ensured that his schedule for the upcoming year was filled with concert dates and opera performances. Eagerly they reached out to him in friendship, love and acceptance, and slowly the darkness faded away, leaving plenty of room for light, and as he often said, Time to give thanks to God.

A place to belong, filled with love and acceptance, compassion and support - a chance to be human again - that is what we as disciples of Christ have to offer to not only refugees but also to all who are in the wildly rocking boat and believe that Jesus is asleep. It is through the love of Christ offered through us and by us that will awaken the Light of Christ in others. It is through the love of Christ offered through us and by us that faith and hope may be restored to those who live in utter despair.

This World Refugee Day, let us remember in prayer all who flee persecution and suffering in search of security and peace, let us remember our baptismal promise to strive for justice and peace, and let us reaffirm our commitment to welcoming the stranger as Christ himself.

Gracious and Loving God, may we recognize that you bind us together in common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice, truth, and healing to confront the evils of racism, oppression and violence that pervade the United States and the world. AMEN