Sunday, September 27, 2009

16 Pentecost Yr B

Joan Conroy stepped in for Mother Kathy this morning. (Kathy is at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest this week.)

Pastor Joan shared some thoughts based on today's lessons:
  • How can you bless the ordinary?
  • What kind of things can we do to be like salt?
  • Look around.... Who around you are "salty people?"
    When you see someone who is, say a quick "Thank you, God!"

She also gave us this verse from Edwin Markham:

He drew a circle that shut me out --
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took him in

Saturday, September 19, 2009

16 Pentecost Yr B


I’ve seen this wonderful card in a few different places, it’s a picture of a 50’s wife opening her oven door, you can almost smell the amazing baked goods that you can see in the oven, it’s an idyllic sight. However, the caption on the picture reads, I don’t know what she’s doing either. Must be some kind of ancient housewife ritual. This is the image the reading from Proverbs stirs up in me today. I actually am not going to take much time talking about Proverbs, but after hearing it read, I want to talk a little about Wisdom in general, rather than this passage in particular.

Remember, we’ve been hearing from wisdom literature for some weeks now, and I did talk about it a few weeks back. I commented then that Wisdom in scripture is not just about being wise as opposed to being foolish. But that God has built wisdom into the fabric of the cosmos. And we learn from wisdom that there are certain ways of living in which people thrive, and other ways of living which lead people to death. Ordering your life to Wisdom is what we read about in these scripture passages, in Proverbs as well as in James. In James, Wisdom is that which connects us to the divine, and that connection presents humanity with a different kind of community, the kind of community that is ordered to Wisdom, but it is Wisdom that cannot be possessed, Wisdom that is not pursued. This is the kind of wisdom our culture does not value, the wisdom born out of the possibility of being wrong. This is the kind of wisdom that requires fear and trembling before God, the kind of wisdom that allows us to fall on our knees and ask forgiveness when we are wrong.

This is Wisdom that is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. According to James, this is the community God imagines, and this community is very different from what the first hearers of James imagined as possible. The Greeks had been worshipping Gods that were pretty full of themselves. Recall your Greek mythology, the pantheon of gods who intervened in human history were fickle and always immortal, or trying to be so. And the social world of the 1st century was clearly based on honor, status, and class. The community imagined in James was based on gentleness, mercy and forgiveness that bears fruit.

And it is now we turn to Mark, and the second time Jesus tells the disciples that he would be killed. It seems to me that the disciples in Mark are as far from wise as anyone can get. Jesus tells them that he will be killed, they don’t quite understand, and yet they too afraid to ask him, and, then, instead of offering any sort sympathy, they argue about which one of them is best.

Jesus then describes what this whole servant thing may look like. Jesus says whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. We often assign sentimentality to this passage, recall the paintings of Jesus and the children, but this passage really isn’t as much sentimental as it is subversive. Remember that children as well as women in 1st century culture and political structure have no status, they are of no account. Jesus is showing us the image of invisible people in society, people who did not have rights, the one’s who are overlooked, the ones used as a commodity, and Jesus is showing us that these are the people that look like him. To be a servant, is to welcome those who look like Jesus, the marginalized, the outsiders, the ones with no power. In the face of Jesus’ death, the disciples are concerned about who is first, and Jesus is concerned about showing the disciples what being a servant looks like.

What does all of this have to do with us? Our society suffers from a debilitating addiction to greatness, not unlike the disciples. Which one is the best is a question that is asked and answered with the unending number of competition reality shows and award shows on television. Seldom is one's popularity based on servanthood. Seldom is honor and status awarded when we order our lives to wisdom, to gentleness. Seldom do we win any awards when we yield to others, when we approach one another with humility.

The Wisdom that is embodied in these stories is that in the midst of all that the world deals us, we are to order our lives to gentleness, to humility, to mercy. We are to welcome those who are like children, the invisible and the overlooked, as if they are the very embodiment of Jesus. We are to be participants in this new community that God imagines.

We debate and we argue while the invisible and the overlooked are starving to death, while the invisible and overlooked are dieing from diseases that could have cures, while the invisible and overlooked are cast away like so much trash. We debate and we argue about who is first and who is last. We debate and we argue about who is right and who is wrong. It doesn’t’ matter. It just doesn’t matter.

The gospel according to one of the great folks in our universe, Garrison Keillor, goes like this. Garrison was recently hospitalized for a stroke, and he writes, two weeks ago, you were waltzing around feeling young and attractive, and now you are the object of Get Well cards and recipient of bouquets of carnations. Rich or poor, young or old, we all face the injustice of life -- it ends too soon, and statistical probability is no comfort. We are all in the same boat, you and me and ex-Gov. Sarah Palin and Congressman Joe Wilson, and wealth and social status do not prevail against disease and injury. And now we must reform our health insurance system so that it reflects our common humanity. It is not decent that people avoid seeking help for want of insurance. It is not decent that people go broke trying to get well. You know it and I know it. Time to fix it.

We all live together on this rock, we are all in the same boat; we are all beloved of God. It’s time to treat people as if they were like Jesus. That’s what Wisdom says.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

15 Pentecost Yr B

This particular passage from Mark is the one that convinces me that Jesus was an Episcopalian. Why else would he tell Peter not to tell anyone about him? It really doesn’t do much for evangelism. Especially since Peter gets it right, he does in fact know who Jesus is. You are the messiah, Peter answers. But despite Jesus’ best efforts to keep it quiet, the community begins to know who Jesus is, and the rest of the story in Mark tells us the ramifications of that. Knowing who Jesus is is risky business, living your life as a follower of Jesus, is risky business.

The question that is asked of Peter however is not asked just of Peter. The translation, as it is the case so often, doesn’t let us really know the original intent. The language used here is the second person plural, maybe better translated, who do y’all say that I am. You see, the question is not directed just at Peter, it is directed at the others that were with Peter, it is directed at the hearers of the gospel of Mark, it is directed at you and me. Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that I am? This question suggests, no demands, an active response. Where and how do you see God active and incarnate, in the flesh, in our lives and in the live of our church? We must ask this question, and then articulate the response. We must not keep the answer to ourselves, but tell the story of God’s activity in our lives, realizing that doing so is risky business. It is risky business because Jesus teaches that following him is about separating ourselves from that which defines us, in fact giving up what is comfortable and known, for this new society that forms around Jesus.

Who do you say that I am? Where and how do you see Jesus active, incarnate, at work in our world? In your relationships? Through friends sustaining you through difficulty, through illness, through job loss. Through the good that you are able to do and to receive. But then comes the risky part, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow, for those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for Jesus sake will save it.

We make a mistake when we reduce these words to suffering in silence, or taking what comes our way, or even taking abuse at the hands of the one who professes to love. The gospel has been used as a weapon to keep people in their place with this kind of interpretation, but this is not what Jesus was talking about. Jesus was talking about the new creation, Jesus was talking about reorienting the culture as they knew it, Jesus is talking about being the change that makes the world just, Jesus is talking about the kingdom that is God’s love for all of each creation, no exceptions, no exclusions.

The reality in which we live is that there is suffering, tragedy and sadness. Each one of us has experienced that. As a community we experience the sadness and tragedy of job loss, of the loss of a home, and of the loss of health with the possible accompanying financial devastation. We just observed for the eighth year the horrible tragedy of the attack on our country and culture. We look for incarnation, Jesus in our midst, as we try to understand these tragedies. I was watching the news on Friday, and I learned that the first responders of September 11, 2001, have been working on a project each year since then that they call New York Says Thank-you. They were in Des Moines Iowa rebuilding the Boy Scout camp that was devastated by a tornado last year. Many work on making September 11th a National day of service. These are good things, really good things, I do believe that these are times and places that we find incarnation.

But there is more. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is about even more than that. It is about breaking bread with outcasts and sinners, healing the sick, and proclaiming good news to the poor. It is about changing the structure of this world to be justified with the rule of God’s kingdom. It is about putting the other first, and ourselves second. It is about speaking truth to power. It is indeed risky business.

Today we will take time to reaffirm our baptismal vows. Our baptismal vows form and shape our answer to the question, who do you say I am? Our baptismal vows form and shape our lives as disciples. Our baptismal vows form and shape your ministry. Our baptismal vows call us to be who we are created to be. When we take our baptismal vows seriously, indeed it is risky business. Most of us were infants when we were baptized, so like Peter and the disciples we come to the realization of who Jesus is and what is asked of us as disciples gradually. When we begin to realize what the life of following Jesus, of discipleship is, many decide to bail, it is indeed risky. You see, we do what we do as followers of Jesus not because of the reward, not because there’s something in it for us, not because somehow we will be relieved of suffering, of pain, or even death. We do what we do because Jesus calls us to be agents of resurrection along with him.

It is risky to step out of this church and be part of the change that reshapes our community. It is risky to be at dinner with your family or friends and to ask, so how have you proclaimed the good news today, or how have you persevered in resisting evil today, or how have you seen Christ today, or how have you respected the dignity of each person you’ve met, today?

Who do you say that I am? We cannot sit by and watch, we must respond. You are Jesus, the one who comes to make the world new, the one who comes to be a voice for the voiceless, the one who comes to turn the tables on the powerful and rich. You are Jesus, the one who comes as God in our midst, mysteriously and unreasonably. You are Jesus, we are your disciples, it is risky business indeed.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

14 Pentecost Yr B Proper 18

Deacon Marty Garwood preaching

Do you ever feel that about the time you get something figured out, things change? That seems to happen to me often and it happened to me again with the homily for this morning. When the Rev. Kathy asked me if I would preach today, I looked over the readings for this morning and immediately got a glimmer of something. Over the next week or so I began to flesh out that idea. The homily was starting to take shape and it was going to be a very good homily. But then I sat down to spend some more time reflecting on the readings and much to my surprise and dismay, the readings appointed for this morning were completely different than I thought they were. I just was getting it all figured out and everything changed.

This particular gospel passage about the Syro-phoenician woman challenging Jesus has a special place in my memory. St. Andrew’s was in the interim time between Father Hibbert’s retirement and calling the Rev. Kathy to be our pastor. One August morning, we were scheduled to have a supply priest and we were also to have a baptism at the 8:00 service. By 7:45 that morning, the supply priest still had not made an appearance. I was newly ordained and not too confident. I made an emergency phone call to Virginia and she probably broke a few speed limits in getting here in a matter of minutes. Her advice to me was that when it came time for the Gospel I should read very slowly and pray very hard that the priest would walk in. If that didn’t work, Virginia said I had three options. I could skip the homily and have silent reflection, we could open it up for discussion, or I could preach off the top of my head with no preparation. Well believe me, I read very slowly and I prayed very hard. No priest! Well I did preach that morning. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I do know that some power other than my own gave me the courage and the words to talk about what the story of this determined mother may mean to us in today’s world. Another case of thinking I was prepared – that I had it figured out. At the last minute everything changed.

One thing that I have learned is that there is a real need for flexibility in our lives. Just as bridges and tall buildings are built intentionally with some sway factor which adds intrinsically to their strength – we too are stronger when we are able to sway with the unexpected. Life will throw us curves and just when we think we have it figured out, something may change. If we do not have that built in strength of flexibility – if we remain rigid and unbending – we run the risk of breaking. Our spiritual, physical or mental health may be adversely affected. And even our relationships with others may suffer.

Now that I’ve told you that we have to be flexible – to be able to give with the changes that life will inevitably bring us – I want to be clear that I don’t mean we are simply to give in and be swayed by every thing that comes along. There is certainly pressure from our culture to do just that. We as Christians are called to stand firm in our belief and faith in a God that loves us and transforms us.

We are called to act out that faith every day of our lives. Many times it happens in ways that are as natural to us as breathing. Or there may be times we feel that our faith has completely left us and we wonder how we will survive. But there are also times that we make a conscious decision to live into the faith that we profess.

A mother whose daughter is ill takes a determined stand. A woman who is a Gentile has such faith in the person of Jesus that she ignores cultural mores that would normally prevent a Jewish man from speaking to a woman in public. This believer was ready with a rebuttal when her request was refused. Her faith – her courage – her love for her child – allowed her to stand firm in the face of uncertainty. We don’t know if she really expected a response to her plea. Perhaps she was so desperate that she felt she just had to try no matter what the outcome. Perhaps she thought there was no hope and yet suddenly everything changed.

A deaf man with an impediment in his speech would most likely have endured a number of obstacles in his daily life. Yet this man had family members or friends who cared enough about him to bring him to where Jesus was. Then they made their way through the crowds to beg Jesus to lay his hand on the man. Their determination allowed for a life-altering encounter with Jesus. Deafness and a speech impediment in that day and age would be a far different matter than it is today. Perhaps the man had learned to live his life within that scope of limitations – he thought he had it all figured out and then everything changed.

We are called to have that same sense of determination and faith as we live our lives in the Kingdom of God. There will be times for each of us to be the mother who begs on behalf of the child. There will be times that we are called to be the ones pushing through the crowds on behalf of someone else. Jesus has sent us out into the world to do the work of God.

Sometimes that means we have to step out of our comfort zone – we have to speak out – we have to stand up. We can not – we should not – stand idly by when we are surrounded by the poor, the disenfranchised, the ones discriminated against, the ones who are ignored, the ones with no voice. We must serve as the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in this world to spread the Good News.

Within the letter attributed to James we are reminded that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our faith in – and our love for – Jesus Christ will bear fruit. It isn’t that we have to do works of faith to believe. It is because we believe in a God that loves us that works of faith become a part of who we are. Within that scope we are to honor the poor. We are called to remembering that the poor shall be blessed by God. However, we must always be aware that poverty is not simply a condition of ones’ financial status. Poverty comes in many disguises. It does not necessarily express itself in outward and visible ways. Each and every one of us has the ability – the gift – of being able to relieve or help ease the burden of poverty from some one. The gift of listening, a simple smile, fresh vegetables left on the table in the hallway, school clothes for an unknown child, a telephone call, as well as a monetary gift are just a few of the many ways we each lift or ease the burden of others. We may never know how deeply we touch someone with a simple gift – a gift that we give because we have already been given the greatest gift of all. Perhaps just when someone thinks they have it all figured out – a simple gift changes everything.

There is yet another aspect to today’s Gospel story that I think we should consider. What if you and I are the ones who need to have our ears opened – opened to hear the Word of God in a new and fresh way? The voice of God comes to us in many ways. The healing grace of Jesus Christ changes our lives – change that comes with faith but that also comes unexpectedly.

We may hear something in an old familiar Scripture passage or favorite hymn – something that suddenly sounds so new that our ears and heart are opened to new understandings. Perhaps we are a participant in the adult discussion group on Sunday mornings, the Bible study or EFM class on Tuesdays, or just visiting at coffee hour and suddenly something we hear gives us pause – and we take the time to consider what we have heard in a new way.

This may come as a surprise to you but just because we all attend St. Andrew’s does not mean that we always agree on everything or even that we always like one another. There are times that it feels comfortable to assume that we all think alike – but that is a dangerous assumption to make. When we start to think in that manner – it means that we are not hearing some of the voices – that we are not listening to the message some one else can share.

We have the opportunity for that very thing here at St. Andrew’s. The Rev. Kathy has asked us to reflect upon the question of how homosexuality has affected us personally. There will be opportunities for sharing with one other our thoughts and responses to that question. The question is not judgmental – it does not ask for an answer of right or wrong. It simply asks how we each have been affected. That is only one of the many issues that affect each of us differently. It is only one of the many facets of life itself that we have the opportunity to hear about.

We can listen to one another with the gift of love. Admittedly, it isn’t always easy or comfortable to listen – to really hear – what others have to say. The temptation often is to immediately refute or agree – and yes to even walk away. When we can resist that temptation and sit in silence as others speak, we will be giving one another an enormous gift. We will be honoring the speaker in ways that do not happen often in this noisy world we live in.

We each have our own story – no two exactly alike. Each story is as valuable as the other. To take the time to listen to another’s story will open not only our ears but also our hearts. We will be living into the commandment to love one another as God loves us. We will love as we each want to be loved. We will be living into our Baptismal vow to treat each person with respect and dignity.

Who knows? Perhaps as we listen we may hear the voice of God speaking to us and everything will change.