Saturday, January 25, 2014

3rd Sunday after the Epiphany yr A Jan 26 2014

Audio 1.26.2014

Amber and I spent this last week in Alexandria VA at the Episcopal Christian Educators conference. It was a great conference, and I thank you for allowing us to go. I also was at a meeting of the Council for Life-long Faith Formation, a committee of the Church Center on which I serve. You all know I ordinarily go outside in the morning for a bit of a walk, and I wasn't prepared for the record cold in Virginia, so I ended up using the treadmill in the exercise room. The only thing that makes that bearable for me is watching TV while I walk, so I did. I saw many times an advertisement for a book, "Lean In," by Sheryl Sandberg. The author asked me right there on the TV, what fear gets in the way of you doing something extraordinary? What fear gets in the way of me doing something extraordinary? 

So I'm reading this story about Jesus, who shows up right in the middle of Andrew and Peter, James and John's ordinary lives, and calls them to do extraordinary things. Jesus calls ordinary people, right in the middle of their ordinary lives to do extraordinary things … and Jesus still does.  Jesus calls you right in the middle of your ordinary life to do extraordinary things. It says it right here in our bible, and I just don't think we believe it. We do believe Jesus calls other people, people who are good enough, or holy, or spiritual, or special, or something, but it's so much harder to believe that Jesus calls us ordinary people to do extraordinary things. But friends, the truth is right in front of us. And I believe that the reason we stay in our boat instead of getting up and out and follow Jesus, is that we are afraid, and that keeps us from doing something extraordinary. I do believe that Andrew and Peter, James and John are just like us, I think they were afraid as well, they wouldn't be humans just like us if they were not, but they followed Jesus anyway. What did they see in Jesus? What did they experience in Jesus?

"Follow me, and I will make you fishers of people." Ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. What is the extraordinary thing to which we are called? I believe that extraordinary thing to which we are called begins with the epic adventure of life with Jesus Christ, accompanied by this fellowship who has also said yes to this adventure. 

What other story is worth the life of the one who is God in the flesh, whose love for us is so complete that this creator is willing to join us in the adventure, to walk the journey with us, and to lay down his very life for us. What other story is worth our own lives? I believe there is no other story worth our lives, and indeed, this adventure calls for our very lives. 

There are stories we tell that follow this same arc of love, stories that are epic, stories that teach us about the Love that wins, stories that invite us into the knowing who this God may be. For example, the story many of us have read or watched of Harry Potter, which begins with the Love of parents that was so true and good that they laid down their lives for the hope that Love would win. That story continues in struggle against the dementors, struggle with pride, struggle with justice and prejudice. For Love to win in the Harry Potter story, one must conjure up a memory of goodness or rightness or family, a memory of strength in vulnerability, and that is the power that overcomes the dark forces. But as good as the Harry Potter story may be, as good as any epic story of our past or present, the story of Jesus is the story we give our lives to. 

The extraordinary thing to which we are called is this epic adventure, this epic adventure of love and loss, pain and heartache, death and life. And on this epic adventure we are asked to be courageous. And courage rises up out of adversity. Courage is the willingness to show up and be seen in our lives. That is why this story that we tell about God, creator of all that is seen and unseen, Jesus, the one who pours out his life for us and collects our humanity in his, is our story. Each one of us has had our hearts broken, each one of us has been betrayed, each one of us has lost the ones we love, each one of us has failed. Jesus, God with us, shows us that the story of our lives has meaning. Jesus, God with us, shows us that no matter what we think about the story of our lives, God loves us, and Love wins.  

And adversity opens up hope. And hope is born. The epic adventure requires adversity, courage, and hope. You and I are equipped for this adventure. 

And what fear do we need to release in order to respond to the call to do extraordinary things, to embark on this epic adventure? Fear runs roughshod over our families when we try to be perfect, or when we try to do it all. Fear hardens our hearts when we try to protect ourselves from any more loss. Fear causes us to do nothing because we don't want to fail. We begin to protect what we have when we are afraid, fear creates exclusivity. Do not be afraid, the angels tell us. Let go of the fear.

The epic adventure begins in love, but as in all adventures, there is loss, and heartache. But what makes it possible to continue, despite the adversity, what makes it possible to see the arc all the way to courage and hope, is God and each other. We need to find courage and hope in each other, and in the others who will join with us on the epic adventure. It is courage that makes us fishers of people. 

So what is the extraordinary thing you are called to? What is the extraordinary thing we are called to? Because, friends, I believe we, right in this moment, right at this time, are being called to continue this epic adventure to something extraordinary. I believe that the pain and loss that we are experiencing is to break us open to see the new thing, the extraordinary thing that we are to be. I don't know what it is yet, but I believe that we have the courage to do something great. I believe in Love, and that Love wins.

Find it, do it, talk about it. What is the extraordinary thing that God calls us ordinary people to? The seeds of it are here already. We are a loving community of faith, we welcome all who wish to worship with us. Can we see it, feel it, name it? We are fishers of people, what does that mean for us? We are courageous participants on this epic adventure of love. We have been pulled together to do this extraordinary thing God is calling us to. Now is the time for courage, now is the time for Love. Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Yr A, Jan 19 2014

Audio 1.19.2014

Come and spend the day with me, Jesus says to Andrew and his friend. Come and see where I am staying, come and see who I am. Come and spend the day with me. Jesus is the one they were waiting for, Jesus is the one they believed the stories they told were all about. Jesus, the Lamb of God, Jesus, the Son of God, Jesus, the one to whom John points. Come and spend the day with me.

You know, the meaning of words change over time. For example, hospital was a once a place for the reception and entertainment of travelers and pilgrims, from the Latin, "hospitality." Another, if you invested in someone, you clothed them, from the Latin "to clothe." So investment once meant "putting clothes on" which were vestments. The place I am going with this is the place we seem to be today with the word "evangelism," a word Episcopalians have had a hard time with for a while now. Even hearing the word strikes fear in the heart of any native Episcopalian, and even those of us who have come later in life to the light. We think of soap box yellers, we cringe at the thought of the question, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your lord and savior?" We are polite people, and know that this does not make for good dinner table or cocktail party conversation. Besides, what can stop conversation faster than, "Do you know where you're going when you die?" Or the one I like the very best, "Have you found Jesus?" I am always tempted to answer with, "I didn't know he was lost!" Or, "yes, he's been behind the couch the whole time!" The point is, that the word evangelist literally means "bringer of good news," therefore evangelism is to "bring good news." 

Come and spend the day with me and I will bring you good news. Not such a bad way to evangelize, is it? Today I would like us to take back evangelism, to not be afraid of the word or of the activity. Today I would like us to respond to Jesus' invitation to spend the day, and listen to who Jesus calls us to be, and how Jesus calls us to be evangelists, how Jesus calls us to bring good news.

Another related word that elicits fear in many Episcopalians these days is mission. Mission has been related to the violent act of colonizing a people so that those people look and act and talk like the dominant culture. Our church, and others, have been guilty of this kind of mission in our history. And yet that is not what mission is all about. Mission is about building bridges and forming relationships and partnerships that may result in mutual growth and learning and compassion and healing. 

Come and spend the day with me, and I will teach you about the good news, I will teach you about forgiveness and reconciliation, and you can bring that into the world and show others how to follow me. We claim to be followers of Jesus. Our baptismal identity is grounded in that claim. We reiterated that claim when we were confirmed, and we live out that claim every time we gather together to break bread. In the story we hear today, Andrew, for whom we are named, brings the good news to his brother and his friends, and together they follow Jesus.

Evangelism and mission are nothing more, and nothing less, than the invitation to come and spend the day with Jesus. To notice the amazing creation, to see where God is in your life, and to invite those you encounter into the Love, Freedom, and Truth that Jesus is. As with anything and everything, this takes practice. Your vestry practices evangelism, they may not know they are, but they do. Each time your vestry gathers, we begin with stories about how we see God at work in our congregation and in our community. We call them Good News stories. God is at work, and we practice noticing that and describing that. You could practice that too. So the first part is to notice what God is up to.

The second part is to share what is important to you about your faith or your church. Why do you come here to St. Andrew's every Sunday? Why do you seek Jesus? Is it because here you can be your broken, messy, confident, joyful, self in front of God and the rest of us? Is it because you are not perfect, but you want to find out what it is to be perfectly loved? Is it because you miss the mark, just like the rest of us, and in some way you know the freedom of forgiveness? Is it because you always have come here? Is it because you have a place here, you belong here? Is it because you serve at the mission, or you're involved with church response, and on some level you bring Jesus' incarnation to people who just need to eat?

The third part is the inviting, and we think the hardest part is the inviting. Like Andrew, who goes to get his brother, we too can invite those we work with, those we go to school with, those who we see in pain, to come and see. It may seem hard, but you invite people all the time, you invite them to your home, or to a movie, or to the concert, or to take a walk with you. It's no different. Come and see, what St. Andrew's has for you. Come and see the Love that wins. Come and see how your life matters. Come and see the good news of Jesus in the word and music, in the bread and the wine, in prayer and silence, in who we are and what we do. 

Jesus says, come and spend the day with me. Come, and see who I am. Come and find healing, forgiveness, and love. Come.Audio 1.19.2014

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Feast of the Epiphany, Mikayla Dunfee, preacher

Friends, please pray with me:
Gracious Lord, God of wisdom, bless these words written here with your grace, that they may be heard as your own.

As we ring in another year, we are reminded of all the blessings that have been poured out for us over the past year.  And we are presented with a new beginning.  A page turn.

The Incarnate Christ has come to dwell among us and to make all things new!  We feel this, right?  The tradition of making new year’s resolutions: to lose weight, or to be happier… to recover a relationship or to write a memoir… to quit smoking or keep up on your email.   The new year marks an opportunity to alter our path for the better.  

Have you resolved yourself to start anything anew?

In today’s Gospel reading, Matthew’s gives us his unique account of the Magi’s visit to the Baby Jesus.  The story is familiar to all of us full of significance and intrigue.  Matthew writes primarily to affirm, to Jews and Gentiles alike of the universal significance of Christ’s coming: Christ came not only to save the Jews as their King, but to save all of humanity.   This continues to captivate readers through the images like the star and rare treasures presented in homage, as well as the drama of Herod’s fear and intent to kill the infant that dares to threaten his power.
But I think the most compelling aspect of this story to me right now is the act of questing that the Wise Men undertook in the first place.  

What made them leave?  I mean, these were learned men.   Seeing an astronomical anomaly wasn’t exactly a norm, but the heavens  were their field of study and so some rarities were to be expected.  The scientists of their day, these men held elevated positions in their respective societies and knew that what they saw might full-well be a planet or a passing comet… but there was something different this time… —what made them drop everything and start walking?  Maybe another way of putting it is: what (or who) called them to leave what they knew behind, and quest for something greater?

Now, I know a lot about pilgrimage (which is usually a surefire way to assuring that I do not know very much about pilgrimage at all)—but let’s assume for the sake of this sermon that I have some significant understanding of the importance of pilgrimage for spiritual growth.   I have been on a number of pilgrimages and each has taught me something I didn't expect, but each also taught me how fully reliant I am on God’s grace to get me through the muck. 

Let me give you an example of muck.  One year ago, I had just returned from a relatively short pilgrimage to Rome (Italy, not Georgia).  As we prepared for the Taizé-Pine Ridge gathering last spring, I had been the unofficial group leader/coordinator of a group of 15 youngish adults on our way to Rome to formally invite the youth of Europe at the Taizé community’s annual European Meeting.  I had grown to expect peace, contemplation, and rejuvenation from Taizé pilgrimage, that however was not what God had in store for me this time around.

To say that we lived in absolute chaos is an understatement.  Our original group of 17 pilgrims, dropped down to 14 before departure, but arrived in Roma Fiumicino airport as 15, on 3 different flights.  From there, almost everything that could have gone wrong did.  Logistics were blown apart by the vast size of the city, no knowledge base, complete lack of coordination from the get-go, and no cell phones to boot.  
Going into full detail would take all morning, suffice it to say: There is no reason whatsoever for our arriving in the same place, or returning home intact, except for divine intervention.  
I am not proud of the way many events manifested on that trip; however, it did leave me with a lesson I relearn all too often: the results are out of my control.  It was not within my capacity to insure everybody experienced something life-altering.  That is not my gift to give.  All I could do was prepare and strive to be present with others and their needs.  As a result, I spent 6 (very close) days with Jesus, in a state of relative-panic—and in doing so, caught a glimpse of the divine. 
It was not contemplative or peaceful, but it kept me moving; and on the rare occasion I looked up: the joy abounded! We rang in the New Year with other women and men from around world by dancing in the Italian streets and watching fireworks with the rapt awe of children.
… Humility at its finest.

I was so glad that the trip was over.  Pilgrimage is rarely what you expect it to be.  But in humility, there is an opportunity to touch something greater than yourself… to catch a glimpse eternity, as the wise men did when they beheld the face of the Baby Jesus.
But you must keep walking.

How hard it must have been for the Magi to continue.  Let us not overlook the role of fear underlying this story.  Although Matthew only attributes fear directly to Herod, there must have been an overwhelming amount of doubt felt by the Magi throughout their journey. Fear to leave, for sure, but also fear to change.

In the last year, the shape of our little St. Andrew's community’s landscape has been altered.  We have experienced great triumphs and many losses.  Perhaps presently, the losses are ringing out louder, especially as we laid our sister Ruth to rest only yesterday… she was a good part of our landscape, a testament to our culture, and to walk without her will mean change.

You know, Tradition has its merit.  Memories are a gift.  Our past perpetually informs who we are. But as a dynamic community of worshipers resisting opportunities can dig us into a rut of our own device.  As we venture through our pilgrim’s path, the landscape inevitably changes.  So long as we keep adjusting for the terrain, we can keep walking.  

The amazing thing is that we are growing, even if it feels like we are only surviving.  
Maybe it’s only evident to a person who is present sporadically, like myself, but our community I being transformed.  We are growing into a new phase of our identity—and it is good! We do not have to run away, or fear.  Sure, we are worry and doubt—what human doesn’t?—but there is no need.  We are in good hands.
Good hands.

A pilgrim’s trail is full of uncertainty and doubt, mishaps and wrong-turns; but so too is the spirit in abundance.  When we submit to the (sometimes ominous) idea that God might have a better path for us and follow a star, we humble ourselves.  Isaiah tells us today to "Arise and Shine for our light has come", but earlier he promised us: “the people who have walk in the shadows and the dark, have seen a great light”. (9:2)  Those who choose to carry on, upright, out of faith and not fear, will see the Light which was sent to guide us all.  

Each week we are given the opportunity to restart—right here, at this table--not to backtrack, nor dwell in our inadequacies, but to eat.  To be nourished for the journey that continues and does not end.  
So friends, Eat. Breathe.  Celebrate. Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone for any step of this crazy pilgrimage called life, and be fed.  
Whatever star you follow in this new year, or whatever resolution you have set for yourself, be sure that it is not motivated by fear, but by love. 
Like the Magi, we, upon our brush with the God of all Hope and Light, are prompted to continue our trek in a better way, by a different road... if only we have the courage to take it. 
Amen.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Funeral sermon for Ruth K Schutz 1.4.14

Audio Ruth K Schutz

It doesn't matter if we are fully prepared for the death of our loved one, or if it is a surprise, it's still hard. But, being here, in the church, is a good place to be. You see, here we believe that Love wins. We believe that God loves us abundantly and absolutely. We believe that in the muck and the mess of this life, in the midst of our brokenness, our strength, our fragility and fortitude, God is. We believe that God is in our midst, Jesus. And we believe that everyone matters, because every one of us is created in God's image, no matter what. 

So when we say these words, and read these stories, we believe that all of our grief, and all of our love, and all of our hope, and all of our sadness, is held, and honored, and healed. What that means is that each and every one of us is God's beloved. We know that because we experience the reality of life and all that it brings to us. We experience the joy and the suffering, we experience the happiness and the pain, we experience our own giftedness and shortcomings. We miss the mark, we are not perfect, but we are perfectly loved. When we miss the mark we ask forgiveness. Life is messy, but we know that the we are loved, and when we cannot remember that, and we do often forget, we gather together. We know the story of Jesus life, suffering, death and resurrection is true because it is the reality of our lives. 

We experience our own suffering, and deaths all the time. Loss and grief are prevalent in our lives, but so is resurrection. So is the new life that always arises out of our losses and our sadness. And that is where we put our hope today. 

God came into this world, into our midst, to show us that death does not have dominion, that the material demise of our bodies is not the ultimate story and that there is a place prepared for us 
where there is no more pain and suffering. The ultimate story is the story of resurrection and new life. 

And so today we celebrate Ruth's life. Ruth touched us all in so many ways through the things she did. Ruth's early working life was as a hairdresser. After her diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, she was active at Working Against Violence, and actively looked for peaceful solutions to this violent world we live in. Ruth has been involved at St. Andrew's forever, it seems. She was director of the altar guild for years. What that means is that she made sure that all of the things that show us that this is church were well cared for and in the right place. She and the others she lead made linens for the altar table, they washed and pressed, they cut and sewed. No matter how important all of that was, and it was important, it's still not the most important thing to me. That, is Ruth's spirit. Ruth truly lived out her baptismal promises. Ruth's life was challenging, and her response to that challenge was to be merciful and compassionate. We all know Ruth was fiesty, she stood tall in her chair and demanded respect. She always asked to be called by her name, not honey or sweety, it was about dignity. And she was quick to offer that same respect and dignity to everyone who crossed her path. Ruth listened well, and responded with wit and wisdom
And always took the opportunity to instruct young women to live fully into their womanhood and power.

All of this is to say that this is the celebration of Ruth's life, and it attests to the hope we have in the new life that is given by God through Jesus Christ. What God brings to us is change. Death is the penultimate change, resurrection is the ultimate change, and that is what we celebrate today. As we celebrate this life well lived, we are sad, and in the midst of the sadness, the good news remains. We hear scripture today full of good news. The good news is about the absolutely new life that God gives to us in Jesus. 

Our hope rests in new creation. Our hope rests in the story that the work Jesus does on the cross matters. And what Jesus does on the cross is to collect all of the pain and suffering of this world, and take it and hold it so that the stream of pain or sadness or hurt will flow no farther. 

Jesus doesn’t take away pain and sorrow. You and I both know that reality. To be human is to feel, to feel pain, to feel joy, to feel fear, to feel intimacy. Being human means being born to die, and only a God who is willing to share that can actually help us face our own mortality 
and that of those we love. 

Jesus is the reason we rejoice today. It is this truth of what God in Jesus does in life, and on the cross, and in the resurrection that we celebrate Ruth's life today. It is the truth that God lived and died as one of us, that connects us to each other, and gives us the strength and courage to love one another in our sadness and in our joy. God came to be with us, so that we may be new creations. God came to be with us, so that our pain and suffering, and joys and celebrations are made absolutely new. God came to be with us to show us that Love heals, and that Love wins.

Amen