Saturday, July 25, 2015

9th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B, Proper 12, July 26, 2014



9th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B July 26 2014 Audio

We eat really well, don't we? We had great people providing great food all this week at Vacation Bible School. One of the most important ways we take care of the family of a loved one who has died, is with the hospitality of a meal. We provide an important meal at the Cornerstone Mission, we provide a meal for the students at the School of Mines through United Campus Ministry, we've been providing snacks for the Life Inc summer program, and we eat together all the time. Like tonight's picnic. We have church potlucks and family potlucks, sometimes those are one and the same. I believe gathering around a table and sharing a meal is one way, and a really important way we respect the dignity of every human being. We don't have to agree on anything when we eat together. We honor God's image in one another as we share a meal. Everyone has something to eat, and that  is enough. 

Today's story is about that. Everyone has something to eat, and that is enough. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down with his disciples. They all sat there in the city park, about five thousand in all. Jesus took the five loaves of bread, the two fish, gave thanks for all he had, and distributed them to everyone. They ate as much as they wanted, and when they were satisfied, the disciples gathered up the fragments, and they filled twelve baskets.

It seems to me that this feeding story in the gospel of John is a precursor to the feeding stories of our family and church potlucks and meals. They are stories of abundance. When was the last time anyone went away hungry from your family potluck? When was the last time anyone went away hungry from a St. Andrew’s potluck? When was the last time anyone went away hungry from a meal St. Andrew’s served at the Cornerstone mission? Even when it seems like there may not be enough, somewhere, somehow, there is enough, and usually more than enough. These stories show us divine plenty and generosity. Even when it seems like and looks like abundance cannot be found, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” God’s abundance shows up.

I even think the story about David in Samuel is about abundance unappreciated. David has so much, he is king, he has wives and property, he has more than any one person could use. And yet he wants more, he wants Bathsheeba, Uriah's wife. God says to David through Nathan as we'll hear in the later verses, "I gave you so much, and you wanted more. There will be trouble for you."

But it's not even about how much we have. How much we have is beside the point. The point is that nothing belongs to us anyway. Everything is a gift, we are stewards of that gift. We are called to give thanks, we are called to do likewise, we are called to pay it forward.

But sometimes it feels like we are losing so very much, our retirements seem to have gotten smaller, people around us out of work for months after losing their jobs, and goods and services cost more than ever, how can we even think about paying it forward, how can we even think about sharing our abundance? We do so because it is our call, it is our mission, and we do it because of God’s abundance, we do it because of this story from the gospel of John, even when it looks like there cannot be enough, God’s divine plenty and generosity and love is ever present, God’s abundance shows up, all we have to do is get out of the way and get involved in the work God has already blessed.

Instead of living in fear of not having enough, we serve a meal at Cornerstone mission, instead of living in fear of not having enough, we collect money to provide new clothes for children to begin school in the fall, instead of living in fear of not having enough, we continue to pay our expenses and payroll here at St. Andrew’s in creative ways.

When we respond to God’s divine plenty and generosity even in a time of fear and perceived loss, with confidence and abundant generosity ourselves, amazing things happen. We are able to show people the truth of resurrection. Resurrection shows us that when life as we know it dies, new life will arise. We are in the midst of loss and death, I am confident in resurrection, I am confident in the new thing that God is doing. And in the midst of God’s divine plenty and generosity, people continue to love one another, people continue to care for one another, people continue to be generous themselves.

And it cannot be accidental that the feeding of the five thousand is followed immediately by the story of Jesus walking on the sea. Jesus said to them, and says to us, “it is I; do not be afraid.” When it feels like we are losing more than we are gaining, when it seems like there is not enough, remember, in the breaking and the sharing of the bread, there is always enough, “it is I; do not be afraid.”

This story from John is not only a description of the way God’s abundance was present then and is now; it also points us to the feast that is to come. This massive picnic in the wilderness is manna from heaven, the bread of angels. Our participation in the feeding of many today, our participation in God’s divine plenty and generosity today, does affect the Kingdom that will come. The story continues to show us that Jesus is the bread of life. Feeding people, their minds, their bodies and their spirits is what you are about here at St. Andrew's. No one goes hungry, everyone is invited to the feast.

Because on the cross Jesus defeated fear, and love wins.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

8th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 11 July 19 2015





8th Sunday after Pentecost July 19 2015 Audio

When they got out of the boat many recognized Jesus and his disciples. They began to bring the sick to wherever they heard Jesus was. They begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. Jesus brought healing wherever he went. Jesus brings healing wherever he goes. Jesus brings healing whenever you and I invite him into our present reality. This healing that Jesus offers is physical healing, as well as reconciliation of relationships, wholeness of mind, body, and spirit. Jesus makes whole what is fragmented, In a broken and fragmented world, Jesus is the most powerful integrating force.

Jesus brings wholeness out of fragmentation, Jesus brings reconciliation to relationships, what happens is transformation, and transformation means change. If you are to be healed, you are to be transformed. Healing and transformation are part of an ongoing relationship with Jesus. Jesus' power to heal, Jesus' power to make whole, is like a refiner's fire. It's like what a blacksmith does. They take a blob of metal, heat it so hot that it becomes pliable, maybe even liquid, and pound it into something new, something you could not imagine that lump of metal could ever have been. Sometimes that is what Jesus' healing is like. It's a powerful creative force that makes us into something we could never have imagined before, or even done on our own. Sometimes it is more like the peeling back of of an onion skin, one slow and painful layer at a time. It's really different for each of us. But being healed, being made whole, being reconciled is risky business. The risk is in letting go of what is a sure thing, to be made into something new.

The sure thing, the thing we know so well, the thing we are so comfortable with, needs to be refined into something else, something new. Often the sure thing is unhealthy habits we've acquired that lead to a death spiral, not eating well, smoking, drinking, using drugs. Sometimes the sure thing is work habits that lead to financial and social prosperity, but not right relationship with God, self, and others. Often we hang onto that sure thing at our own peril, but who wants to have their sure thing made into something that may be better, but is guaranteed to be much more painful during the refining. Sometimes we enter the healing process, the spiritual journey, willingly, like those in our gospel today, often we go kicking and screaming.

But the reality is that healing always requires a kind of death before the healing resurrection can happen. There's no getting around that. That's what Jesus' life and death and work on the cross make real for us. That's why Jesus' work on the cross matters to us, to those who came before us, and to those who will come after us. Our lives give testimony to that reality, our stories of healing and new life always include the journey with Jesus through the difficult and painful times.

It's no different for us as a church. You all know that Rick and I were in Salt Lake City for our General Convention. We came together with about 3000 of our close Episcopal friends we enjoyed an amazing evening at the Mormon Tabernacle. We were treated to the choir, it was really the junior varsity choir, but it was still amazing. We heard fabulous gospel music, saw Hispanic dancing and Native America dancing.  Our church is a democratic church. So what we do and decisions that are made are discussed, debated, and then voted on. Any prayer book changes or additions take two general conventions, the change is read at the first convention, we live with it and see how it feels, and then we vote on it at the second convention. We don't take change lightly, but general convention is where change happens. In these last couple of general conventions, we have talked about the foundation of Baptism to all our ministry and the priority of Life-long christian formation. We talked particularly about Confirmation as a mature witness to the transformation that Jesus calls us to. We talked about Holy Communion and it's place in our faith journey's. What became clear is something I've known for a long time, that a faith journey is not linear. We don't achieve baptism and then communion and then confirmation and then marriage or ordination and then children... It's much more like a deepening, it's much more like a spiral. The events of our lives, those that are painful and joyful, may cause us to ask questions that cause us to reconsider and recommit and deepen our relationship with God and with others, that may cause us to spend a season of our lives in service or in silence. Anyway, that's a lot of stuff to consider.

Considering these things as an entire church elicit both excitement and fear in people, some get excited about doing things in a whole new way, some get fearful about doing away with time-honored tradition. It's very scary to give up the sure thing for something that is only just being imagined. THis time we voted on the enabling resolution to begin prayer book revision. Being able to have these conversations is very important.

We continually ask the question, what is God calling us to do? Who is God calling us to be? Nobody really knows the answer, we are Episcopalians, but we are willing to go into the very frightening unknown, we are willing to take the risk of being refined, made into something we couldn't even imagine before, so that we can respond to God's call in this world of technology and immediacy, and in this world that is so desperately in need of healing. The reality of Jesus in our lives and in our world bring us to a place where we are willing to be transformed, it is scary and risky business.

We are Episcopalian, and we don't all agree. But I believe as a church we are in a very graceful place, a place where we can be transformed by God's love, we do believe that Love wins, and Jesus' healing puts us back together and makes us new.

And we have this new and amazingly wonderful Presiding Bishop elect, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, who reminds us that we are part of the Jesus movement, and that healing and wholeness and compassion are part of God's dream for us and for the world. He also reminds us to follow Jesus into the neighborhood bringing God's love and healing, and to travel light.
Amen. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

7th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B Proper 10 July 12 2015



Game of Thrones has nothing on Mark's gospel. Devious plots, fire breathing dragons, patricide, overthrowing kingdoms, unhealthy parent child relationships. I know you all have thought lo these many years that your priest has an odd taste in literature, fantasy and science fiction being her favorite. But today I am vindicated, I get it all from reading scripture.

My goodness, just imagine this scene before us that is recorded in Mark. This information is from my friend Lindsay Hardin Freeman, who wrote a book called Bible Women: All their words and why they matter. Herodias is married to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. Herodias has been cradled in malevolence since her early days, as it was her grandfather, Herod Agrippa the 1st, who ordered the slaughter of the Holy Innocents after Jesus was born.

Herodias' daughter is Salome, thus Herod Antipas is Salome's stepfather. Her biological father is Herod Philip, Herodias' uncle and first husband. Enter John the Baptist, criticizing Herod loudly and publicly for his adulterous and incestuous ways. So incensed is Herodias by John's shaming of Herod, and of her, that she wants John dead, as soon as possible. When a birthday party is thrown by Herod to celebrate his birthday, the perfect opportunity arises.

There was probably much wine available. And a love a dance, it seems. Salome so mesmerizes Herod as she dances for his guests that he promises to give the girl anything she desires. Salome runs to Mama, asking her opinion. Get the head of John the Baptist, hisses Herodias. So Salome runs back to her stepfather, demanding the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And off came John's head.

What I value so much about really good storytelling is that the story is compelling, that the characters are developed and move the story through the plot. A good story has to have rich texture, conflict that is rudimental to the characters themselves, a quest to overcome and integrate that conflict, and for me, the story has to have redemption. 

So how do we understand this part of Mark's story? Violence for violence sake? They didn't have TV when Mark's story was first told, so probably not. Remember, Mark's story gets down to business from the get go. Mark wastes no time in telling us that an event has taken place that radically changes the way we look at and experience the world. The good news in Mark is that God is here right now, and on our side, actively seeking to help us in the way we most need help. Mark is in a hurry to tell us that the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus reveals the truth of God to us, so we can live in reality and not illusion. Mark doesn't want us to waste a minute of these precious lives of ours ignorant of this most practical of all matters, that God is passionate to save us.

In that light, what is Mark trying to do with this nasty story? It's not just gratuitous violence. This story is in the midst of a series of portrayals of Jesus, Mark is about the business of telling us who Jesus is. Jesus is God's son people, and this is what it looks like. God's kingdom is dawning and this is what it looks like. It looks like a leper who is healed. It looks like a man who couldn't walk, getting up and going home. It looks like hungry people getting fed. It looks like a Jesus movement in which Jesus' followers are sent out into the world to reflect the light that is so lovely that people want with all their hearts to know the source of it. 

And this particular piece of the story shows us what God's kingdom does not look like. Herod’s Kingdom – the kingdom of the world and, for that matter, Game of Thrones and all the other dramas we watch because they mirror and amplify the values of our world – is dominated by the will to power, the will to gain influence over others. This is the world where competition, fear and envy are the coins of the realm, the world of not just late night dramas and reality television but also the evening news, where we have paraded before us the triumphs and tragedies of the day as if they are simply givens, as if there is no other way of being in the world and relating to each other. 


This is not God's kingdom. God's kingdom is all the other story that Mark tells. Jesus sends his disciples out in utter vulnerability, dependent on the hospitality and grace of others, to bring healing and mercy with no expectation of reward or return. God's kingdom is a banquet of mercy, so markedly in contrast to the birthday bash Herod throws himself that it's almost stunning. Rather than the rich and shameless, it’s the poor and outcast that flock to Jesus’ feeding of the thousands. Rather than political intrigue and power plays dominating the day, it’s blessing and surprising abundance that characterize this meal.

Two kingdoms. The kingdom of illusion, fantasy, power, and the kingdom of reality, in which the last will be first and the first will be last. Easy choice isn't it? The only thing that is clear, is that this is a muddy, messy life. When we are faced with the nuanced choices that our lives demand, what to do is rarely clear. You may laugh at that, we laugh when we hear, "off with his head", and yet, we have seen that very atrocity displayed in our living rooms. Nothing is easy or clear when it comes to the sacredness of human life, nothing is easy or clear when it come to treating each creation of God as a blessing, nothing is easy or clear when it comes to equal access to health care, or education. Nothing is easy or clear when systemic racism is laughed off with "get over it".

But, we are followers of Jesus, we are the Jesus movement today. Every decision we make, every crossroad we come to, needs to approached with mercy, compassion, and love. Every person we encounter is God's beloved, you are God's beloved. What looks like loss in the kingdom of illusion is just that, an illusion. Jesus revealed power as illusion on the cross and embraced us with the reality that you, and me, and even Herod, are worth God's love and grace. 

Reality is messy. Love wins.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

6th Sunday after Pentecost yr B proper 9 July 5 2015



6th Sunday after Pentecost Yr B July 5 2015

What a couple weeks we've had. It has been my great privilege and honor to serve you and the diocese of South Dakota as your deputy to General Convention. You'll have to ask Rick about his opinion, it is quite a full 10 days.That we are deputies is very intentional. It means that you have entrusted us, those whom you have chosen, to be the decision makers at convention and on the great work that is before the General Convention. General Convention meets every three years, it is the decision making body of the Episcopal church. We are the only church body that runs as a democracy. 109 dioceses are in attendance at General Convention, including dioceses in central America, the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, and recently we have added Liberia. 

The House of Deputies, which predates the House of Bishops, is a huge body of people, 422 clergy deputies and 422 lay deputies. The representation is vast and good. I like being your deputy to General Convention because it is important to me to be part of the councils of the church. I believe that is part of what my ordination vows call me to do, to take my place in the councils of the church, 
and although I take that seriously, I also understand that not all of what we do as the church can be legislated. So some of what General Convention is for me is connecting and networking. We see our diocesan convention as a great family reunion in which we get to see our brother and sister Episcopalians in South Dakota. I consider our General Convention in such a way as well. It's an opportunity to see people, to reacquaint, and to get to know people from all over. I have an opportunity to see my seminary classmates, my faith formation colleagues, and so many different people to create new relationships and reacquaint older relationships. I do enjoy the General Convention experience.
The discussions we have are really important discussions, about the role of marriage in our communal lives, and how our church can, needs to and will, restructure ourselves so that we may be able to be more nimble, how to figure out how to better do our work in the local context, how to best appropriate money that we all contribute to the greater good. It is inspiring work, hard work, and sometimes even grueling work, but it is good work. 

We were part of the historic gathering that assented to the election of The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry as our next presiding bishop. With Presiding Bishop Katherine we had an historic election, the first female, and with Presiding Bishop elect Michael Curry we now have the first African American presiding bishop. With Bishop Katherine we broke new ground in very exiting and interesting ways.  Bishop Katherine has been so good at keeping people at the table, building bridges and breaking boundaries. I believe that Bishop Michael Curry has different charisms, those that we need today,  he is inspirational, enthusiastic, and an evangelist. He will help us all be able to speak the words of the Good News that help us tell others of the Jesus movement, and about the reality that God loves everyone and that Jesus is alive and well in the world and the church and in particular our denomination. 

You and I are familiar with the church in our area that advertises "we love our church", and yet I have heard over and over and over from Episcopalians far and wide "we love our church." My friends I do love our church and I have heard you say so too.

We hear in our gospel passage today, go out, two by two, and bring God's healing into the world. On Friday we heard from Bishop Michael, he told us to go, follow Jesus into the neighborhood, and travel light. Bring God's good news of love and healing into the world. Proclaim God's dream of love, and healing, and reconciliation at all times and in all places. 

You followers of Jesus, go, show God's love for all, and lives will be changed, hearts will be transformed. We can make a difference in this world. Even while churches are being burned, even when people are being shot down while attending church, we can make a difference.

Go, follow Jesus into the neighborhood, love those you encounter, build bridges, bring hope, bear God's dream, travel light.

Amen.