Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Let us offer abundance...

August 02, 2020
Proper 13
Matthew 14:13-21

I don't know about you – but I do know about me, and I am tired. Tired of the anxieties, worries, and concerns that surround the unceasing pandemic of Covid 19.  Anxieties over contracting the virus ourselves. Worries over friends and families who have been infected, many of whom have died. Concerns for the state of our mental health, and that of others, as we head into month six of self-imposed isolation and social contact only through the gift of the Internet.

Yes, I am tired, and perhaps you are too.

But when I began to reflect on today's gospel reading something interesting happened to me. And, to a great extent my tiredness fell away. What happened, well here it is…For some reason, Jesus came vibrantly alive in a new way for me.

When I say came alive in a vibrant and new way, I mean that I saw Jesus as a fellow human being. A young man attempting to convey to those whom he encountered Good News. News that addressed the pain and the suffering that the Jews in Galilee were experiencing at the hands of the Roman Empire. The Good News that the one God of the Jewish faith – the sovereign God who brought the world into being, who blessed Abraham to be a blessing to all nations; the God who brought the Israelites back from exile – that God was present - always. Present continually to bless and heal. Present continually to bring peace to all those who turned to him.

This young man, poor, dusty, and with "no place to lay his head." This young man whose relationship with God sent him into our world to relentlessly and with incredible courage teach, heal, and guide us into a right relationship with God – this young man in the face of all that he had and would encounter, this young man must be really tired.

Just prior to today's gospel reading that relates the story of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus had been discredited and rejected by the people of his hometown, Nazareth, as he taught in the local synagogue. Unable to "do many works because of their unbelief", he quickly left Nazareth, only to hear that his close friend, John the Baptist, the man whom he had asked to baptize him, had been beheaded by Herod.

After these two events this young man needed some alone time. He found himself on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is there that today's gospel story begins.

I imagine Jesus getting into a small wooden boat and silently drifting out into the Sea of Galilee trying to adsorb the events of the past few days, reflecting on to what and to where God was calling him next - wanting just a bit of time to be with God, to pray, to re-group, to gather the strength to carry on. In this little boat he had found a quiet place – a place to spend some alone time.

And then before he knew it, crowds surrounded him. They had followed him on foot from surrounding towns. They were yearning for his healing words, for his message of hope in these times of Roman domination.

And this tired young man responded to the crowd's yearning with compassion. Matthew tells us, "When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick." And, as evening drew near, the disciples urged Jesus to send the crowd away. They knew that people must be hungry and tired. Perhaps they were afraid of unrest among some of the more unruly members of the crowd – remember there were reportedly 5000 people. That is a big crowd with a lot of diversity within it.

The disciples said to Jesus, "This place is deserted, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food."

Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." "You." Jesus lays it on the shoulders of the disciples to find the resources to feed the crowd.

The disciples, perhaps somewhat bewildered, responded, "We only have here five loaves and two fish." The disciples were seeing only what they did not have. They failed to consider what they did have. As one sermon writer suggested, "The disciples have five loaves and two fish – seven items. In the disciples' hands, five loaves and two fish are not much, but there are other hands here – Jesus' hands. They really have eight items."

Jesus ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And "all ate and were filled."

Amazing – an amazing story of compassion, abundance, and a foretaste of the Eucharistic meal. Also a story reminiscent of the manna miracle; the edible substance that God provided for the Israelites during their travels in the desert during the 40-year period following the Exodus and prior to the conquest of Canaan.

Today's gospel passage conveys a story of compassion. Jesus saw the crowd, had compassion on them, and healed those who were sick.

It is an abundance story in which God's providence solves a problem that seems impossibly large.

It is also a Eucharistic story with its overtones of the Lord's Supper.

In all, it is a continuation of the story of this young man, Jesus of Nazareth. A young man who, despite his need for time alone after being rejected by his townspeople and hearing of the brutal death of his friend John the Baptist, rose to his call from God. A tired young man who in compassion was moved to respond to those who sought comfort and healing; to those who were seeking God. A tired young man who insisted that his disciples participate in offering the incredible abundance that becomes possible when asking the blessing of God. A tired young man who knows only one way – the way of compassion and peace. The way of love and the way of forgiveness. The way of God, not the way of the Empire.

It is this young Jesus that came so vividly alive in my mind this past week. And as I reflected on the possibilities that may have given rise to this story, which by the way appears in all four gospels, I thought more and more about the importance of listening for and responding to God's call for us, his disciples, no matter how tired we may be.

I also thought about the disciples' fear that they lacked enough food – enough to provide for the crowd. I thought about Jesus' insistence that they bring the loaves to him for God's blessing. And then, his command that they distribute the bread – the disciples, not Jesus, were to do the work of providing for the crowd.

That brings me back to the concept of "tired."

Am I, are we, too tired by – that could translate into too numbed by – the dual pandemics – Covid 19 and political unrest - to listen for God's voice in the tsunami of media messages that wash over us each day? Are we too tired to make the effort to take our concerns, our anxieties, our fears – our scarcities -to God? Are we too tired to realize that once presented to God these scarcities are frequently turned into abundance for us to distribute to those who have appeared on our horizon seeking healing - seeking God?

Are we too tired to have the hope that by lifting our voices to God – all of us together asking for abundance – too tired to have the hope that we will bring forth the compassion and healing that the young man from Nazareth has to offer? Are we too tired to realize that healing is possible but only if we get out of our boat and go into the field to meet scarcity head-on, knowing that Jesus has blessed us and has commanded us – his disciples – to distribute the bread, the abundance – the healing and the peace.

Are we too tired to allow abundance to prevail?

I now have the vivid image of this young man, Jesus, firmly implanted in my mind. I am still tired, but I know that I can overcome this tiredness, if I just get up and go. Jesus is there to heal my tiredness and to bless my scarcity so that it becomes abundance. With abundance, I, we, can do so much in this broken world.

The fallout from the unceasing presence Covid 19 and political unrest continues to take a great toll on the health – physical, socio-political, and economic of our nation. The on-going bickering that pervades every level of society and is the order of the day on so many different social media platforms has created an atmosphere of disinformation, anxiety, and mistrust of every aspect of society and government.

I believe we have a right to be tired, but we cannot be tired. The young man is out of the boat. He is in the field with a crowd of 5000. He is asking us to distribute abundance. An abundance that will lead to healing and freedom from scarcity.  AMEN

Monday, July 6, 2020

Try and find Jesus on your own...

Sunday Closest to July 5
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I am no different than millions of other people who love music. I subscribe to Pandora, the American music streaming and automated music recommendation internet radio service. I listen to my music favorites, the "Thumbs up" option, most often while I am having breakfast and getting ready for work. This means that listening to Pandora coincides with my time in the shower – where, also, just like millions of other people, I do my best thinking.

Last Friday, just as I stepped out of the shower, the song Spanish Pipedream was playing. Spanish Pipedream, John Prine's classic love song, was written and originally released in 1971 by John Prine on his self-titled debut album. In that same year it was also performed by John Denver on his album Aerie. Both versions are spectacular – I commend them to you.

Spanish Pipedream is a song about a soldier who meets a topless dancer in a bar on his way to Montreal. The soldier recounts his story saying:

She was a level-headed dancer on the road to alcohol
And I was just a soldier on my way to Montreal.
Well she pressed her chest against me
About the time the juke box broke
Yeah, she gave me a peck on the back of the neck
And these are the words she spoke.

By the end of the song it is clear that they took the dancer's advice. Here's how it goes:

Well, I was young and hungry and about to leave that place.
When just as I was leavin', well she looked me in the face.
I said "You must know the answer."
"She said, "No but I'll give it a try."
And to this very day we've been livin' our way
And here is the reason why.

We blew up our TV threw away our paper.
Went to the country, built us a home.
Had a lot of children, fed 'em on peaches.
They all found Jesus on their own.

Well, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why this brief, but powerful, song caught my attention "…blow up your TV and throw away your paper." Sound like something you might want to do?

I am sure that many, if not all, of us quite often fantasize about doing something akin to this as moment by moment, day by day various media platforms spew forth headlines designed to grab one's attention. Keeping up with what is important, and what is not important can be exhausting. Frequently depressing and anxiety producing. Our eyes and ears – our minds - have become targets of a non-stop barrage of informational tidbits and proclamations of how things should be – how we should feel, think, act. Our entire beings are saturated with unceasing stimuli of all sorts.

"…blow up your TV and throw away your paper." Sound advice that points us in a direction to a quieter time – a time when we can figuratively “Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches. Try and find Jesus on our own.”

Paul in today’s rather circuitous but ultimately quite true passage from Romans describes our human dilemma of unceasing inner conflict. Inner conflict that when recognized leads us to seek a place in which we can truly discern who we are and how we are living our lives. Prine’s lyrics of removing ourselves to a place of quiet – a place where we can plant our garden anew; a place of solitude in which to hear God’s voice sounds like good advice.

As Christians we want to do the right thing, but sometimes the massive diversity of innumerable incoming media messages so distracts us that we fail to act as we had intended. Sometimes, through exhaustion and confusion, we find ourselves not even caring if we are doing the right thing or not. Sometimes we fall away from God’s path for us.

As Christians, at our baptism we are anointed by God. We die to sin and are resurrected to a new life in which we have renounced evil. However, our sanctification is not instantaneous. It is instead a process that continues throughout our lives, through continual repentance and returning, only to be fully realized in death - at our resurrection. It is our dilemma as Christians that try as hard as we might we continue to stand with one foot in the kingdom of this world and the other foot in the kingdom of God.

We find ourselves continually caught in the tension of these two worlds, frequently dismayed by our own actions.  Failing to do the things that we want to do and instead doing the things that we have vowed not to do. There is an unceasing war going on within us and sin sometimes prevails.

As Paul puts it, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of my God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

– "…blow up your TV and throw away your paper."

Matthew’s gospel passage offers us hope. The hope offered through our understanding of God’s love for all his beloved. An eternal love made known to us through the gift of his Son, Jesus Christ. Hope that we can step away from the noisy and divisive chatter that engulfs us. Hope that we can let go of the inner struggles that cause us discord. Hope that if we follow the teachings of Christ, teachings that lead us on a path that calls for repentance, compassion, and love – love of God and love of neighbor – hope that we will find peace.

The distressing rhetoric of anger, hate and the destructive and troubling acts of violence that torment our world can be set aside, put in perspective, but only through returning and repenting. Only through hearing Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus is not beset by anger, distrust, envy, or a need to acquire power. No, Jesus is content to serve, to love, and to have compassion for those who are suffering, those who bear the burden of poverty, discrimination, and illness – a much easier route – an easy yoke. And, he is asking us to join him by carrying a similarly easy yoke. A quieter, more peaceful way of life in which it is God, not the TV or the newspaper that drives our thoughts and our actions.

Reconciliation with God, assuming the easier yoke of Christ, does not happen without work. Work that requires an honest look at ourselves. We cannot repent and return unless we know where we have been, what we have done, what we are doing that is taking us down a path that diverges from God’s will for us.

“Repentance has to be based on an acknowledgment of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know.”

We cannot assume the easier yoke of Christ without repentance. We must understand the truth of our actions both corporate and individual. In order to forgive, or to be forgiven, we must know the truth of what went wrong.

In this time of Covid-19, a world pandemic with millions infected and over a quarter of a million souls dead in just a few short months. In this time of unprecedented political instability. In this time of renewed efforts to ensure justice for all. We as Christians must make every effort to hear Paul’s analysis of mankind’s plight. If listened to carefully it calls us to examine ourselves carefully. We must be able to say, for example, “You know, I think I do judge harshly” in order to engage in an examination of when, why, and with whom we do harshly judge.

In order to assume Jesus’ easy yoke, we must repent. Hard work, that was made a bit easier for me by John Prine’s advice. Advice that put a big smile on my face and brought the joy of laughter into my life. Besides. It’s good advice. Can we profit from it?

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper.
Go to the country, build you a home.
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches.
Try and find Jesus on your own

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Our Jubilee Year

Seventh Sunday of Easter
St. Simon's on the Sound Episcopal Church
John 17:1-11

Early this year – pre-Covid-19 – Bishop Russell convened a Jubilee Year Celebration Committee whose purpose was to design festivities that would take place throughout 2020 and culminate in a glorious weekend of events. The weekend would include a panel discussion with Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy and our Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry; and a Revival Service celebrated and preached by Bishop Curry.

The Jubilee Year celebration activities were intended to be an exciting and joyful way to mark our diocese's 50th Anniversary. A way to look at the past, consider the present, and imagine the future of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. A way to Remember, Reorient, and Renew

The committee made great progress. They planned monthly activities designed to focus on specific topics such as history of the diocese and creation care activities undertaken by our various congregations. The monthly themed activities would take us from February to December and our Jubilee Year Revival Service to be held at the Pensacola Bay Center.

Well, immediately after we began our first month's activities Covid-19 descended upon us. And so, we ceased in-person worship, and all activities designed for communal participation disappeared from our horizon. For the time being anyway the committee's hard work and hopeful dreams for a year of remembering, reorienting and renewing were dashed upon the harsh necessity of separation and isolation. The cessation of all corporate worship and communal activities.

However, amidst all the dashed plans one remnant remained; the dormant vestige of a plan that was intended to be carried out in a time quite different from this Covid-19 world in which we now live. A remnant that remains as the closing collect offered in our Prayers of the People. A collect that we have yet to acknowledge for its relevance – its stunning importance – at this beleaguered point in time.

According to the Book of Leviticus, every 50 years would be a Jubilee year. A year in which Hebrew slaves and prisoners would be freed, debts would be forgiven, and the mercies of God would be particularly manifest. In other words, it was a year of celebration; a year of thanking God for the gifts of abundance bestowed on us; a year of resting and renewing – of preparing for the future.

Our diocesan Jubilee collect addresses these activities: …fill us with your grace as we remember your kindness and goodness to us, through providence and through struggle; and let the trumpets proclaim the year of the Jubilee, a year of the Lord's favor, as we dedicate ourselves to reorient our mission efforts to renew your Gospel in our midst. May your Spirit inspire us

If ever there was a time when we needed to be filled with God's grace, it is now. If ever there was a time when we needed to remember God's kindness and goodness towards us, it is now. If ever there was a time when we needed to reorient our mission efforts to renew the Gospel in our midst, it is now. If ever there was a time when we needed the Spirit to inspire us, it is now.

I find this collect – this dormant remnant of a different time and a different reality – to be of critical relevance to this time - this Covid-19 reality.

Our lives lived in relative isolation from each other for the past 10 weeks have been incredibly stressful. Overnight, we have gone from believing that we were in control of our lives to a dead zone in which nothing is clear and much is being lost, or at the very least cast into jeopardy.

Simple decisions such as whether or not to go to the grocery store are fraught with anxiety, and yes, perhaps danger. Jobs and/or retirement funds are no longer secure. Visits to loved ones who may be dying in hospital or nursing homes are prohibited. Plans to visit family and long anticipated vacation adventures have been eliminated. Life as we knew it has disappeared. We are, whether we want to admit it or not, in shock. We have and are experiencing trauma in its Nth degree.
We are very much in the same boat as the bewildered apostles when they asked Jesus, "Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?" How must they have felt when he answered, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority."

As we move through this Covid-19 challenge we are continually asking, "Lord, is this the time when will this be over. When will we be restored to normal?" Jesus offers us the same response that he has always offered, "It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority."

Our feeling of anxiety, fear, anger, and confusion are ever present. God's plans and timeline are as always obscure – unknown. It is not for us to know God's plans.

But we may – indeed we must - take comfort in the knowledge that Christ abides in us, and we in Christ. That we are one and as such we are given strength, courage, power, and are capable of being Christ's witnesses in the world – no matter what the circumstances. The power of the Holy Spirit is with us and in us – always. Christ with us - always. We are beloved children of God – always.

That is why this Jubilee collect is still so very relevant despite the dramatically changed circumstances of its creation. This is most assuredly a time to remember God's kindness and goodness towards us, through providence and through struggle.

This is most assuredly a time to dedicate ourselves to reorient our mission efforts – our efforts to spread the Good News through word and deed.

This is most assuredly a time to pray for the Spirit to inspire us. To give us courage to overcome the challenge of Covid-19 anxieties and fears by experiencing Christ within us and with us in the here and now. By listening for and being guided by the Holy Spirit in the here and now.

The here and now is our reality. It is not our "new" normal. It is life as we know it in the here and now and it will change; and keep changing. It will not go back to the "old" normal and we have no way of imagining what a "new" normal will be. Indeed, a new normal may be, at least for the near future, a state of continual change.

What is clear is that we must not stop living. We must not stop loving our neighbor. We must not stop being God's people in the world. We must not stop reorienting ourselves to this new and challenging world. We must not stop renewing our vows as Christ's anointed. We must not – not ever – stop listening to and being inspired by the Holy Spirit – our advocate – our gift from God.

Perhaps, more than originally conceived, this is the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast's Jubilee Year. Perhaps this Covid-19 challenge with its mandate that we pause from the hectic turmoil of our everyday life is God's way of placing us in a position that forces us to remember, reorient, and renew.

Will we step up to the challenge? Will we with courage, strength, and the inspiration that comes to us through the Holy Spirit let go of the "old" normal and live with the reality of today and the uncertainty of tomorrow? Will we allow our imaginations to take us into new and exciting ways to spread God's good news, his love, into a world that is so filled with pain?

Should we be able to come together in a Jubilee Year Revival Celebration in December, will we be celebrating our good works of the year past? Will we be a people expressing through song and prayer the joy and bounty that we have reaped despite the overwhelming challenges of Covid-19? Will we be celebrating the remembering, reorienting, and renewing of God's Kingdom in the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast?

Lord God of all creation, fill us with your grace as we remember your kindness and goodness to us, through providence and through struggle; and let the trumpets proclaim the year of the Jubilee, a year of the Lord's favor, as we dedicate ourselves to reorient our mission efforts to renew your Gospel in our midst. May your Spirit inspire us we pray in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

MONDAY OF HOLY WEEK - April 6, 2020

There is so much to say about this first day of Holy Week, April 6, 2020. Perhaps, most importantly: It is for us as disciples of Christ the first time, in my lifetime anyway, that we are truly walking with Christ to the cross. It is the first time that we are in the very same situation as Jesus’ disciples were those thousands of years ago, as they listened to their teacher speak of his impending death. As they wondered what was to become of them. As they were asked to stay by Jesus’ side as he suffered, as he died, as they were faced with a future that was completely unknown.

We, just like the disciples have questions to which there are no answers. We hear predictions of deaths that exceed comprehension. We are experiencing varying levels of anxiety, fear, loneliness, and anticipatory grief. Yet, we are compelled to go forward in this walk to the cross, this walk through the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic, our eyes on Jesus, our hearts and souls filled with faith, not just hoping, but believing that Christ as our savior will bring us to a point of resurrection – a time when we can stand before an empty tomb and experience not only Christ’s resurrection, but also the end of a pandemic that has shaken the comfort and predictability of our world, but I pray, not our faith.

In these past two weeks of what we are calling social isolation I have explored countless articles and videos that relate to this Covid reality into which we all have been plunged. I have also spent time recalling times in my life that were in ways similar. Obviously, the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 has the most similarities to the worldwide mounting death toll from the Covid virus. No one is exempt. No one is assured safety. Many will die.

I was not there for that pandemic, but I was on the front lines of the battle to bring social acceptance and medical care to people living with HIV/AIDS. If, like me, you were living in New York City or San Francisco at that time you will remember that people were dying painfully and quickly. By 1980 approximately 300,000 cases worldwide of the, yet, unnamed virus were reported. The number of deaths in the U.S. was staggering.

In both of these pandemics, and in this current pandemic, a major concern was and is that of isolation - loss of social contact with the other. Videoconferencing, Facetiming and other Internet-based forms of communication are critically important, but they do not substitute for handshakes, hugs, pats on the back, kisses, or, just being with the other. They do not substitute for bedside ministry to the sick and the dying. They do not substitute for presence with those who are grieving. They do not substitute for offering love to one another as we gather in church, in community, in all of life’s situations.

So, I ask you this evening to consider the image of Mary rubbing fragrant oil into Jesus’ feet as he prepared to embark on his final entry into Jerusalem. Consider that image carefully in your mind. Consider that human contact. Consider that love. Consider what that love meant to Jesus.

If you can, breath in that image of love offered by Mary to Jesus. Let it fill your heart and your soul. Imagine that love as Christ within you. Breath deeply, slowly, and let that love expressed in the anointing of Jesus’ feet pervade your being and carry you through each hour of every day as we await the resurrection of Christ – as we await relief from Covid-19.

After the danger of infection from the Spanish Flu had passed researchers found that many people found it very difficult to reintegrate into society. Many continued to be suspicious of disease. Some had been emotionally traumatized by the event and by their prolonged social isolation.

It took years for society to accept the modern lepers, as they were known; those living with HIV/AIDS. Indeed, it was a full 10 years until these patients were accepted into the day-to-day healthcare system. Many, if not all suffered emotionally and physically from their rejection by and isolation from society.

Certainly, God does not want that outcome for us. He wants us to walk through this week in love and faith. He wants us to live into every moment of Christ’s journey with new eyes, new ears, a new perspective. He wants us to experience the joy of the resurrection knowing that Christ is risen and that we are loved forever. He wants us to hold tight to that love – not forget it.

And, when we emerge from our current social isolation God wants us to live into that love in a new way. A way that mirrors Mary’s love for Jesus as she anointed his feet with fragrant oil. A new way that rejoices and fulfills God’s love for the world; for us; for all of us – everywhere; every place; worldwide.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Clelia'sConversations: The Valley of Dry Bones

Clelia'sConversations: The Valley of Dry Bones: The Valley of Dry Bones Ezekiel 37:1-14 Tonopah, Nevada, l ocated approximately 400 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is a historic to...

The Valley of Dry Bones

The Valley of Dry Bones
Ezekiel 37:1-14

Tonopah, Nevada, located approximately 400 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is a historic town on the northwestern edge of Nevada. Current population approximately 2,400. Summers in Tonopah are spectacular, but very hot. However, the high desert assures that by nightfall the evening temperature drops significantly, bringing good sleeping weather after the long, hot days. Winters are brutal with high winds, snow and temperatures in the 20s.

In the early 1900s, Tonopah was the site of one of the most spectacular silver mining booms in the West. It began on May 19, 1900, when an itinerant miner named Jim Butler accidentally stumbled upon the second richest silver strike in Nevada history.

News of the discovery traveled quickly, and soon prospectors were coming from all over to search the area. By the summer of 1901, the mines around the town had produced about $750,000 worth of gold and silver, about $23 million in today’s economy.

By 1907, Tonopah was a large city with modern hotels, electric and water companies, five banks, multiple schools, and many other buildings and businesses. From 1900 to 1921, the ore produced by Tonopah’s mines was worth nearly $121 million, or approximately $3.5 billion in today’s currency.

By 1906 the initial boom was past, and by the end of World War II, all the mines were closed. Today, Tonopah is a ghost town. Rotting mining camps and miner’s shacks are visible throughout the entire Tonopah Valley area – empty shells, just like dried bones on the desert floor.

I lived in Nevada for five years in the early 2000s. My company had a satellite office in Tonopah, and I drove there regularly. The drive from my home through the desert was a long four hours during which I passed through smaller mining camps, also abandoned long ago. As I drove along, I often compared the barren and deserted mining camps to the robust Las Vegas Strip with its overflowing hotels and casinos – a different type of mining boom.

I often wondered if the Strip would ever revert to its former self - a desert filled with abandoned, rotting hotels and casinos. Was the Strip just a modern-day iteration of Tonopah’s booming mines?

Enter the coronavirus, COVID-19, and the massive nationwide effort to maintain social distancing and to self-isolate to the greatest degree possible. Fast forward to the now empty Las Vegas hotels and casinos. All the restaurants and businesses on the Strip are closed. All meetings, events, conferences, and shows scheduled to fill the hundreds of thousands of Las Vegas hotel rooms have been cancelled. All the elegant meeting rooms, the  sexy and busy gaming tables, and the city’s financial coffers are empty. Welcome to a new Tonopah.

We have now entered a time in which our “normal” way of life must be abandoned. We are precipitously cast into the unknown. Figuratively speaking, this is a time of exile, in which we will have to adapt to a new reality and way of being, as yet unknown. A time in which we will become companions with so many others throughout the world who have already suffered the loss of life as they knew it.

These days I find myself wondering, is the transformation from riches to scarcity in Tonopah, in Las Vegas, and throughout the world, cyclical? At some point, do even the most spectacular of riches inevitably become dry bones, skeletons of their former selves, lying on the desert floor or in an abandoned neighborhood or in a war-torn country.

In the gospel reading for this coming Sunday the Prophet Ezekiel prophesies about a valley full of bones – dry bones. God said to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones hear the word of the Lord. Thus, says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:4-6)

Ezekiel prophesied as he had been commanded by the Lord, and suddenly the bones came together, developed muscle, were covered with flesh, and filled with breath. As the breath came into them, they lived, and they stood on their feet. A vast multitude of them were resurrected and filled with the Spirit of the Lord.

And then the Lord God commanded Ezekiel to say to those who had believed that their bones were dried up and that all was lost, “...I will open your graves, and bring you up from you graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and you shall live on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act.” (Ezekiel 37:9-14)

The historical context of Ezekiel’s prophesy is important to understand. The sovereignty of the Judean kingdom in the land of Israel came to an abrupt end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its leading citizens to Babylon in 586 B.C.E.  Judah’s elite, its scholars, and almost all skilled laborers were exiled to the Northern Assyrian Empire where they were prohibited from observing their faith and where they were exposed to other religions.

Some retained their observance of Judaic Law in secret. Others, influenced by their new neighbors, allowed themselves to modify observances. In the end, some returned to Israel, and others didn’t, happy in their adoptive home.

The Ezekiel prophesy and today’s Gospel reading from John, the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John11:1-45), are both precursors to the resurrection story. Those who have died but live in Christ will be saved – resurrected. Dry bones will become whole and healthy once more. The trick is to live in Christ; to have faith; to have hope; and to observe the great commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself and love God with all your heart, mind, and soul.

For many this will be a time when faith falls away. For some, faith will be used as a tool to get through each day. For still others faith will hold its breath as we “wait and see” what the next period of time brings. Some will return to their spiritual homeland untouched; others will stray into other ways of being.

One thing we do know: There will be a resurrection. God will be there with us every step of the way as we pull together and pull through. He will take us to the cross and beyond. The big question for us all is, are we listening? Are we watching? Are we seeking to live in Christ? Will we recognize the resurrection when it occurs? Or will we walk away in blindness?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Our Vocaction

Third Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 4:12-23

Today, we enter into Matthew’s version of Jesus’ very early ministry. If you recall, just preceding today’s reading, Jesus had arrived in Nazareth fresh from his baptism in the River Jordan and his 40 days in the wilderness, where he had been approached by a tempter multiple times. Over and over the tempter offered Jesus power and glory, and over and over Jesus rebuffed his tempter and proclaimed God as his Lord - his only Lord.

Finally, the tempter disappeared, and angels came and waited on Jesus. It was time for his journey into the wilderness to come to an end. It was time for him to proclaim the good news of God's Kingdom to the world.

In today's gospel reading, we join Jesus as he emerged from that wilderness experience and journeyed from Nazareth to Capernaum in Galilee, where walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee, proclaiming, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near," he began to recruit disciples. Simon, who would be called Peter, and his brother Andrew were his first choices. As soon as he saw them, Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

Intrigued, they dropped their fishing nets and followed Jesus. Soon Jesus came upon, James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John. He called them as well and immediately they left the boat they were working on with their father and followed Jesus.

Jesus was fishing for people and catching them, and he had begun the process of asking others to do so as well. "Follow me and I will make you fish for people," Jesus says to Andrew and Simon Peter.

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people”

Does this command have a familiar ring for you? It should. It is just another way of expressing the Great Commission, Jesus’ final command to his disciples found in this very same gospel. I know you are familiar the Great Commission - perhaps you even know it by heart.

 “All authority has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Increasingly, as I study Scripture I see that every parable spoken and every healing and sign performed by Jesus - in any of the four gospels - all of Jesus’ words and actions - all of them - are intended to alert us to the fact that as his disciples we are called to be evangelists. Our vocation is to go forth – to proclaim the good news - to fish for people – to make disciples of all nations.

To be sure, this vocation to go forth is a challenging one, but it is vocation that is mandatory if we are to claim that our lives are centered in Christ. It is a vocation that is both thrilling and terrifying. It is a vocation filled with ups and downs; failures that leave us frustrated, angry, anxious about the state of our world and its relationship with God; and, successes that cause our hearts to sing with joy.

But, whatever the circumstances, whatever the perceived challenges, it is a vocation in which we must engage without hesitation. It is a vocation to be engaged in not only on Sunday mornings as we sit in the pews, but also on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, on Friday, on Saturday – on every day – at every hour.

And when we waiver from our path, when we are filled with doubt, with anxiety, with fear, we must remember that Christ is with us – always – always - to the end of the age – and always beckoning to us and saying, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." Without ceasing he is commanding us to, "Make disciples of all nations," and at every moment of our lives he is assuring us that, "I will be with you until the end of the age."

The prophet Isaiah prophesied that the people of Galilee - a people who had walked in darkness would see a great light. Light would shine on them and they would experience increased joy and relief from their burdens.

The psalmist sings out, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”

In the Gospel of John Jesus says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

“Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” – "[you] will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life- the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Our vocation – our call from Christ - to go forth - to fish for people - to convey the light of Christ that illuminates the glory of God and the way of reconciliation, healing, and peace is as real today as it was 2000 years ago. Perhaps more than ever before we are called to pay attention to our vocation – to remain vigilant to distracting political and social situations that lead us down a path decidedly dismissive of our call to proclaim by word and deed the good news, all the while loving our neighbor as ourselves.

It’s a big job - a very big, quite daunting job. Perhaps it was easier back in the year 30, or 60, or 100. But, probably not.

Clearly, Jesus’ evangelism brought him a brutal death.

Certainly, many followers of Peter and Paul, indeed these two beloved disciples themselves, were put to death because they refused to cease proclaiming the gospel to all who would listen.

And, if you remember your history thousands of early Christians were fed to the lions, burned at the stake, or tortured and killed in other ways for refusing to recant their Christianity. Indeed, even today Christians in many parts of the world continue to be murdered, executed because of their refusal to recant their Christianity – their refusal to abandon God.

Time has shown us that fishing for people can be a perilous activity. And yet, many of us, indeed 2.4 billion of us throughout the world, continue to fish for people. Continue to follow the commanding sending messages proclaimed by Jesus over 2000 years ago. Think of it - 2.4 billion Christians fish for people - proclaim the gospel - each and every day.

At the moment, the church, world-wide, and most certainly the Episcopal Church here in America, is intentionally and aggressively focusing on our vocation of fishing for people. Continually we seek new ways to proclaim God's grace and healing love in a fractured post-Christian world. A world that in some instances is trying to obliterate Christianity by excluding God from public venues and critical conversations that relate to justice and peace.

Those whose way of life is based on the commandment given to us by Jesus when he said to his disciples, "I give you a new commandment, that you love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another" (John 13:34) have a tough row to hoe.

How do we fish for people? How do we bring Christ's Light into their lives?

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry believes - I might say with every fiber of his being - that love is the way. He says, Think and imagine a world where love is the way. … Because when love is the way, we treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all. And we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, thats a new Heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.”

Michael Curry believes the we fish for people by loving them. By loving our neighbors as ourselves. And, I am sure - just like me; just like Fr. David; just like clergy and laity throughout America - I am sure that you agree with Bishop Curry. Love is the way – loving your neighbor as yourself – is the way to bring God into the world and to keep Him here.

However, it is critical that we understand the love that Bishop Curry and so many others are speaking of is not a simplistic kind of love - like the kind of love you would have for a friend or loved one, such as a spouse or partner. No, it is love of a very different sort - it is the love that Jesus spoke of. It is agape love - a love that mirrors God’s love for the world. God's love for his beloved children. A love that transcends all differences.

And where does this love come from - How do we identify it - how do we cultivate it?

Thomas Merton, a theologian and mystic, wrote extensively about finding God in both ourselves and the world. In an article written after one of his mystical experiences he wrote,

“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives… This little point of nothingness…is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak His name written in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it, we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the…blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely ... I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

Imagine this little point of the pure glory of God within you. A point within your soul that cannot be touched by any human sin or error. A point within you that is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of God's love – blazing with the glory of God's heaven.

Imagine feeling the power of this God within you as you go into the world fishing for people. Imagine the power of this unsullied light generated by the love of God for each and every one of us. Imagine being among those who live in darkness and shining God's light, God's love – your light; your love into their lives – into their hearts and into their souls.

Do you see what happens - do you see the other’s light begin to twinkle and then with joy shine brightly to greet you and others in the community.

Shining the light of God, that little piece within us all, automatically brings forth the light of God in the other – the light of love and joy.

Light, love, joy - that is the way to fish for people. That is the way to renew the power of God's glory into a world spiraling in darkness.