Saturday, January 28, 2017

4 Epiphany Yr A Jan 29 2017

Hadrian's Wall, the northern edge of the Roman Empire

4 Epiphany Yr A Jan 29 2017 Audio

I am convinced the prophetic voices we hear in today’s readings can guide our walk with Jesus. We must listen to them. We hear these verses in Matthew’s gospel that we call Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Jesus’ sermon on the mount is the opening proclamation of the ministry to follow, and it shows us what the kingdom of God looks like. In God’s kingdom, you are blessed, and the purpose and focus of Jesus ministry is to bless. Blessing is what it means to follow Jesus. And in our lectionary today, Matthew’s gospel is preceded by the prophet Micah. So today, we’ll begin there with Micah.

The last verses of what we hear from Micah are what we know best. I want to put those verses into some context. What we have is a sort of trial, with an indictment, “plead your case” the Lord says. And then the sarcasm begins. In the voice of the Lord we hear, O my people, what have I done for you? All I've done for you is to bring you up from the land of Egypt, I redeemed you from the house of slavery; I sent before you Moses, and Aaron, and Miriam. As if that's not enough to. And then the voice of the Lord calls us to remember what happened and to remember the saving acts of the Lord. And following that is this question, how shall we come before the Lord? Shall we bring burnt-offerings, rivers of oil, our first born child, again, sarcastic. And then we hear the instruction, what the Lord really needs of us is to do justice, and to love kindness (also translated mercy), and to walk humbly with our God.

Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Wow. This is what God’s kingdom looks like, and this is also what it means to follow Jesus. But, humbly isn’t quite an accurate translation, it should be more like walk intentionally, walk deliberately, with your God. Do justice, love kindness, and walk intentionally with God.

So then we move into how to recognize blessing in Matthew. We’ve heard these beatitudes so many times, haven’t we. You know, for a long time I taught children using Godly Play. Godly Play is a way to tell the sacred bible stories. So, I’d tell this story about Jesus teaching his friends when the children were in first grade, and then they’d hear it again in second grade, and by third grade they’d say, we’ve heard that one before! And I’d respond with, of course you have, what’s different about it this time? Because you see, each time we hear these sacred stories, we are in a different place and a different time, so we hear something different in them. Friends, we are in a different place and a different time, we must hear these beatitudes differently.

Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples with this teaching. You and I are really just eavesdropping on Jesus’ teaching. Jesus is teaching his disciples about how to recognize blessing. Not, who is blessed, or how to bless, but how to recognize what God has already blessed. God has already blessed the poor in spirit, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. God has already blessed those who mourn, and they will be comforted. God has already blessed the meek, and they will inherit the earth. God has already blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and they will be filled. God has already blessed the merciful, and they will receive mercy. God has already blessed the pure in heart, and they will see God. God has already blessed the peacemakers, and they will be called children of God. God has already blessed those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And God has already blessed those who are reviled and persecuted.

You see, our job, as followers of Jesus is to get with the program, God is already doing great things, our job is to see that and join forces. And what’s odd about this, is God has already blessed those who we would not think are blessed. In our world, when we think of someone who is blessed we most often think of someone who is wealthy or powerful or famous or successful or beautiful or enviable. Blessing, at least according to the standards of this world, is most often of the material kind. Blessing, in our world is missing the close call, or getting something someone else doesn’t get. But that’s not what is revealed in Matthew’s story about Jesus teaching the disciples. God blesses those in need.

So now we have these two scripture that are presented to us together on this day, in this church, in this community, in this country, and the question I ask of them is what does it have to do with us? What do these pieces of scripture have to do with following Jesus?

Following Jesus is about is doing justice, loving kindness, and walking intentionally with God. Following Jesus is to recognize blessing when it is staring us in the face. I think recognizing blessedness has something to do with living in a country of hospitality, a county in which people who can no longer literally live in their own countries can come and find justice, and kindness and mercy, and freedom to walk with God. I think recognizing blessedness has something to do with living in a community, a church of hospitality, a place where people of all stripes can come and find justice, and kindness and mercy, and freedom to walk with God.

Friday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. When I was a kid in civics class, we learned about the Holocaust, and I remember being frightened and disgusted. In my own life I can not come to terms with how people can do such things to other people. And I learned that we learn about such atrocities, so as to never let it happen again. I have been to the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, I have been to the Holocaust Memorial in Washington DC, and I believe following Jesus is about offering hospitality and sanctuary to all who come seeking refuge from violence and persecution in their own countries. And I know that seems like it is way outside our control, so the question I bring to these texts today is, right here in our church, right here in our community, how do we follow Jesus by doing justice, loving kindness, and walking intentionally with God. How do we follow Jesus by recognizing blessing when it is staring us in the face?

So that’s what I want for us to consider. What is it you can do, today, tomorrow, and the next day, to offer hospitality to the people you sit next to in these pews, to the people who walk by our church daily, to the people who are in our neighborhood and community, to the people who come to this country seeking refuge from death and starvation. What is in your hands? How can you walk with God and be that light that shines in this darkness? How can you be a partner in building God's kingdom?

Friends, we follow Jesus because we are convinced of God’s love for us, God’s love for all of creation. We follow Jesus because we are convinced that Love wins. We come here, to this place and we offer our own brokenness to be forgiven and healed, we are filled with bread and wine that are Jesus’ body and blood. In the mystery that is God’s love for us, we recognize blessing, we receive mercy, and we enact justice. You are loved, go out into the world to do the work you are called to do, to love and serve as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

3 Epiphany Yr A Jan 22 2017


3 Epiphany Yr A Jan 22 2017 Audio

Do not be afraid, the Angels tell us. Do not be afraid. It seems, these days, fear runs rampant. And yet, over and over, do not be afraid. We must take this admonition seriously. Because it is fear that gets in our way of doing what it is we must do. It is fear that gets in our way of loving the way God would have us love. It is fear that gets in our way of doing something extraordinary. Because we, who are ordinary people, are called to do extraordinary things.

We have lived through a vicious election, fear mongering was used as a tactic. Friday, here at Trinity we hosted prayers on the day of inauguration, we prayed for all our leaders, we prayed for so many, and we sang these words, a poem originally attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, "Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. Those who seek God shall never go wanting. Nothing can trouble, nothing can frighten. God alone fills us." When have you followed Jesus even when you were afraid? When has fear kept you from doing something extraordinary?.

So we have 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 about 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. 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 that vulnerability opens up hope. And hope is born. The epic adventure requires vulnerability, 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.

Yesterday I walked with millions of other people, people all over our planet, in solidarity. We walked with love, and courage, and hope, we walked because I believe the arc of God's love includes all of us, every one of us. And it was extraordinary.

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 breaks 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 14, 2017

2 Epiphany Yr A Jan 15 2017



2 Epiphany Yr A Jan 15 2017 Audio

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 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 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 in prayer and 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 Trinity 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 help with GIFTS, or you deliver meals, or you give food and clothes to those who have none, 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 Trinity 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.

And then go. Follow Jesus out into the world. Bring the Good News into your families and your work, bring the Good News into the marketplace and the community. Bring the Good News of God's healing love. Our voice matters. Our actions matter. We are the people who can make a difference. We are the people who know the true freedom of God's love. We are the people who know that no matter what we've done, how broken we truly are, that God loves us anyway. Preach this Good News with your life and your love. Proclaim this Good News with your heart and your soul. We are all related in God, show with your life the ways God's love in the world. Amen.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Feast of the Epiphany (transferred) Jan 8 2017


Feast of the Epiphany (transferred) Jan 8 2017 Audio

A New Year dawns, and with it hope and promise, light and love. In the midst of this present darkness, more light has already begun to shine, I can see it and I can feel it. "Lift up your eyes and look around...you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you." Again, we were made for times such as these. So much hope, so much promise, so much light, so much love. And yet, all of this is tempered by the reality brought to us in Matthew's story about the new birth, and King Herod, who wants to put an end to all that, King Herod, for whom power, instead of love, wins.

It's really the story of our lives, isn't it? That's how we know the biblical story is a true story. The biblical story is our story. The biblical story is the story of God's creation and blessing and abundance. It is the story about how the creation turns away from God, it is about how we begin to believe that it is about us and not God, it is about how we build idols of wealth, and happiness, and power. We even make God an idol when we believe in a God of magic instead of mystery, a God of resuscitation instead of resurrection. But this same God calls us back, this same God in the flesh shows us in the flesh, the way, the truth, and the life. God shows us, that no matter what we do, no matter how bad the circumstances seem to be, no matter how much life hurts, Love wins. The Light will not be put out.

The story we have before us today, this story of the wise ones from the east who follow the Light to the child born in a barn, helps us to see the cosmic importance of this birth. This birth happened in a particular place at a particular time in the context of a particular tribe, but the arrival of these wise ones from the east shows us that it wasn't just for a particular people at a particular time in a particular tribe. Matthew's intent in telling this story is to show us that this birth changes the world, the wise ones from the east know that, and they know the importance of keeping the birth from Herod, so they go home by another way.

God seems to do whatever it takes to reach out to and embrace all people. God announces the birth of the Messiah to shepherds through angels on Christmas, to Magi via a star on Epiphany, and to the political and religious authorities of God’s own people in through visitors from the East. From a manger, where a child lies wrapped in bands of cloth, God’s reach, God’s embrace in Jesus, gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Jesus eats with outcasts and sinners. Jesus touches people who are sick and people who live with pain and suffering. Jesus even calls the dead back to life. Ultimately, Jesus draws all people to himself as he is lifted up on the cross. In Jesus, no one is beyond God’s embrace.

God’s radical grace is wondrously frightening. The Light that shines in the darkness, the Love that wins is wondrously frightening. That is what this story is about. God comes to us in wondrously surprising ways. Ways we do not expect. Ways which we would never choose for ourselves. And we are changed, we are transformed, the world is turned, and we must go home by another way. Or not, the alternative, of course, is to join Herod in not seeing God’s ever-expanding embrace, or feeling threatened by it, and instead giving way to just plain fear: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him”. Herod jealously reached out himself, just far enough to violently protect his place and preserve his power.

But I would suggest not being like Herod, and instead of living in fear of what is next, what is new, what could happen, we live in God's embrace, we live in God's light, we live in confidence that Love wins. Instead of living in fear of what the future may bring to us, we live in God's abundant and amazing grace. Instead of holding fast to that which someday we will lose, we get on board with God's mission in the world of healing and reconciliation.

Taking the way of the wise ones from the east, going home by another way, going home by Jesus' way, surely provides a life of adventure, of risk, of surprise. It is a radical route. It takes us through green pastures, and more dangerous waters, it is a route that is filled with wolves and sheep. This is a route that calls us through transformation to wholeness; it is a route on which the adventure is not about you, but about whom we are together, and how we are related to God. On this route home we are called to be Light bearers. We are called to be Love bearers. We are called to bring God’s Love to dark corners, to mountaintops, to raging waters.

We are called to bring God’s Love to a fragmented society, to a culture that is pulled apart by greed and fear. We are called to bring God’s Love to a culture that engages more and more in meanness and name calling and judgement. God’s Love, God’s Power, is the most powerful integrating force in creation. God’s Love moves us from brokenness, from fragmentation, to wholeness, to healing.

How do you bring God’s Love and God’s Light into the world, how do you bring God’s wholeness into your work or your school? It is our call, to bring God’s transforming love to those who have not yet seen or felt or known that love. It is our call to bear the Love that wins into the world.

And, it is God's dream that we do this together. After all, it was three kings, not just one, who came to see Jesus. We don't go this life on our own, we journey together, we go home by another way, together.

An Epiphany poem, by Madeleine L'Engle.

Unclench your fists
Hold out you hands.
Take mine.
Let us hold each other.
Thus is his Glory Manifest.

And the lyrics to "Home by Another Way" by James Taylor.

"Home By Another Way"


Those magic men the Magi, some people call them wise or Oriental, even kings.
Well anyway, those guys, they visited with Jesus, they sure enjoyed their stay.
Then warned in a dream of King Herod's scheme, they went home by another way.
Yes, they went home by another way, home by another way.
Maybe me and you can be wise guys too and go home by another way.
We can make it another way, safe home as they used to say.
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high and go home another way.

Steer clear of royal welcomes, avoid a big to-do.
A king who would slaughter the innocents will not cut a deal for you.
He really, really wants those presents, he'll comb your camel's fur
until his boys announce they've found trace amounts of your frankincense, gold and myrth.
Time to go home by another way, home by another way.
You have to figure the Gods, saying play the odds, and go home by another way.
We can make it another way, safe home as they used to say.
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high and go home another way.

Home is where they want you now,
you can more or less assume that you'll be welcome in the end.
Mustn't let King Herod haunt you so or fantasize his features when you're looking at a friend.
Well it pleasures me to be here and to sing this song tonight,
they tell me that life is a miracle and I figured that they're right.
But Herod's always out there, he's got our cards on file.
It's a lead pipe cinch, if we give an inch, old Herod likes to take a mile.
It's best to go home by another way, home by another way.
We got this far to a lucky star, but tomorrow is another day.
We can make it another way, safe home as they used to say.
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high and go home another way.