Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost Year A

Pentecost-Year A—VBS closing
June 12, 2011
In VBS this week, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the marvelous and wondrous works of the Lord.
We focused on 4 bible stories throughout the week, that had to do with our space themed VBS: God’s Galaxy Quest.
1. We talked about Creation—about how God created all that is—“the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth our island home.”
2. We talked about Moses and the children of Israel, how they followed God into the promised land out of slavery in Egypt and how God went before them in a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud.
3. We talked about how the wise men, the 3 kings followed a star to meet and worship the baby Jesus.
4. And we talked about the story of Pentecost—the reading from Acts that we just heard.

In each of these stories, God is actively present—present at creation as the one creating and as the Spirit-wind blowing over the face of the waters. God is present in fire—the pillar of fire for Moses and the children of Israel: present and actively leading them from slavery and fear into joy and freedom. God is present and active in the fiery star that the wise men followed, and God is present and active in the wind and fire at Pentecost.

In our sacred stories, fire signals the presence and the action of God.
But we often don’t know what to do with this fire, what to make of it. When we were talking about the story of Moses on night at VBS, JT was telling the children about how God spoke to Moses out of a bush that was on fire. He said to them, “Now, what do you think you would do if God spoke to you out of a bush that was on fire?” And a tiny little girl raised her hand high and then answered, “I would call 911!” Out of the mouths of babes!

Today, this day of Pentecost is a day when we celebrate the presence and work of God in wind and fire, and it is also a day when we try to remember what our baptism in fire at Pentecost means and, even more importantly, what to do with it.

In the fire of Pentecost, God’s spirit is loose and at work in the world, and through the baptism in fire at Pentecost God’s spirit continues to create.
Through baptism, God makes of each of us a new creation, people who no longer live for ourselves alone but who live to love and serve God and to love and serve others.
In baptism, we are saying yes to God, this God who has created all that is has created us and named each of us as God’s own beloved. In baptism, we accept that we are God’s beloved; we accept that we, as individuals, are also examples of God’s marvelous works.

Each one of you is a little universe created by God and you are just as breathtaking, just as lovely, just as marvelous a part of God’s creation as the sun or all the stars in the night sky.

We affirm and accept this truth in our baptism (or our parents affirm and accept this for us), and then we reaffirm it again and again throughout our lives because sometimes it’s hard to remember—when we hear voices around us or inside us telling us over and over again—you’re not good enough, you’re not attractive enough, you’re not smart enough, or rich enough…Then we have to remember our baptism and what God is saying to us at that moment and then over and over again if we will but listen: (God is saying) “You are amazing! You are a part of my marvelous works, and I love you, just as you are, just as I have created you; I love you more than you can ever imagine!”

In baptism, God isn’t just reminding us that each of us is a part of God’s marvelous works. God is making a marvelous work of all of us together. In our baptism in the Spirit, God is making of us the Church, the body of Christ; together we are the hands and feet, the eyes and ears, even the mouth of Jesus.

As a part of our baptism, we are called to give voice to the marvelous works of God; we are called to tell about God’s deeds of power; and we are called to remember that each person whom we encounter in this marvelous world that God has created is a little universe, a marvelous and unique and wondrous work of God; and we are called to treat each other accordingly. We are called to treat one another with grace, gentleness, and even reverence, and when we do that, God’s Spirit refreshes us and creates in us new hope, new faith, new life.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Sunday after the Ascension--Year A

Easter 7A—Sunday after Ascension
June 5, 2011

You would think that after the resurrection, nothing would surprise them, these disciples who had walked with him, who had seen him heal so many and work so many wonders. But that day, outside on the mount called Olivet, they were most surprised to see their friend and master lifted up in a cloud toward heaven until he was taken out of their sight. They were so surprised that all they could do was stand there, with their mouths open, watching and wondering, until two men in white approach them and seem to break their spell.

We know something about that, don’t we? Sometimes life surprises us, catches us off guard, throws us a curve ball, and we are so surprised that we cannot know or remember how to proceed. Sometimes this surprise comes through a blessing, but sometimes it comes through a loss. Sometimes it is even God who surprises us.
So, when the disciples finally come to their senses, what do they do? They remember what Jesus has told them, to wait in Jerusalem, and so they do just that. They go back to Jerusalem, and they wait; they’re not even really sure what they’re waiting for. But still they wait.

For us, waiting is a lost art. In our high-speed, technologically advanced culture, we chafe at any waiting we are forced to do. We fidget and fuss, we fret and we grow anxious. We as a people have lost the art of waiting gracefully. So when we must do it, we often do it badly.

This part of the Easter season in which we find ourselves today has much to teach us about waiting gracefully. It is an in-between time, after Jesus has ascended to heaven and before the gift of the Holy Spirit, the comforter given at Pentecost. We long for the gift of the Spirit, for some solid definition of who and where we are and what we are supposed to be doing. But for today, at least, we are called to follow the example of the disciples. Today we are called to wait.

We see in the story from Acts, that waiting gracefully, waiting faithfully is also a part of Christian discipleship. It is as much a part of Christian action as service, stewardship, charity…For the disciples didn’t go back to that room and twiddle their thumbs. They went back and they waited in an intentional way. Two notable actions characterize the disciples’ waiting. They stay together; and they pray.

As they wait together, they physically manifest the reality that, even though Jesus is gone, they are all still in this together. And even before they are given the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and are made the Church, they are already acting like how the church is supposed to act. For that is what the church really is: a body of people who are in this thing together, people who no longer have to “go it alone,” who do not have to wait and agonize and battle anxiety alone but who have a whole host of others to wait with.
And as they wait, they pray. They turn their focus away from the work of waiting and they turn it toward God, the source of all good gifts. They pray because in their waiting they are reminded that they are truly powerless, but that in God, all things are held in God’s care and in God’s power and in God’s time.
So much of our lives are made up of the in-between times. Already we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism, but God’s kingdom is not yet fulfilled.

In our baptism, we are called to be people who wait well and also who wait with one another. Take a moment and remember when the last time was that you waited well? When was the last time you waited with another? What characterized that time? Was it the support, the community? Was it prayer?

In this in-between time between Ascension and Pentecost, and in all the in-between times in our lives, may we hold together, wait with and bear with one another, and may we turn our eyes to God, the giver of all good things and the creator of hope; may God grant us the spirit cast all of our anxiety upon God, to remain steadfast in our faith that Christ himself will “restore, support, strengthen and establish us;” may God give us the grace to hold together and to wait gracefully, through prayer and in hope.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Easter 6A sermon

Easter 6A
May 29, 2011
Sometimes in a week, a homily creeps up on me. It started this week with a seemingly random song going round in my head:
“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/ sometimes I feel like a motherless child/. Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child/a long ways from home/ a long, long ways from home.”
In our gospel reading today, we see Jesus and his disciples right in the middle of the Last Supper. I can just imagine the looks on the faces of the disciples as Jesus tells them that he will not be with them much longer. They are the expressions of people who have known in the past what it is to feel like be a motherless child. And so he says to them, “I will not leave you orphaned.” You may feel like motherless children now, but this will not always be so. I will send you a comforter, and advocate, and you will belong to me and to each other through what has always bound us: love.
Some of us also know what it means to feel like a motherless child, to be left alone, abandoned, to feel we have become orphaned with no kin or care to be found. We can be surrounded by people at all times and in all places and still feel alone, orphaned, like motherless children. So where is the good news in today’s gospel for us? Where is this fulfillment of Jesus’s promise to not leave us as orphans?
The 12th century Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux writes about the four degrees of love. “There is the infantile stage of ‘love of self for the sake of self.’ ‘Give me that bottle!’ We may progress to the next stage of ‘love of the other for the sake of self.’ ‘Oh, you gave me that bottle.’ And so on to the more or less selfless stage of ‘love of the other for the sake of the other.’ This is the place of genuine human love, a reflection of the love of God, the place of altruism. But, says Bernard, there is a final stage which is heaven’s healing. This is the ‘love of self only for the sake of the Other.’ Knowing this love is to arrive at a true image of myself, a measure of the view God has of me, to see myself to some degree in the way the One who loves me into being sees me.”
The gift of today’s gospel is a reminder of Jesus’s commandment to us. As followers of Jesus’s way, we are called to give love freely, called to love God and to love others. But we are also called to receive love. We are called to receive the love of God that is freely offered to us, and we are called to receive love from other people.
This past week, I read an article by the Episcopal priest Sam Portaro called “Practicing a Life of Prayer.” In this article, Portaro writes about two spiritual practices that we can do in our everyday lives, to help us grow more deeply in our knowledge and love of God and each other. The first, he says, is to “pay attention.” This is not as easy as it sounds. We all know how much is competing for our attention, and Portaro challenges us to be more intentional about where we give our attention; being intentional about being a steward of the gift of attention that God has given me.” He writes that we have to ask ourselves the difficult questions about where and how we give our attention: “Am I paying attention to the people and concerns that have the greatest value for me that represent love for God, neighbor, and self? Am I giving the 1st fruits of my attention, the best of my attention to God? Or am I squandering it, throwing my precious attention away…” “When I pay attention, I don’t have to remind myself of God’s presence in my life; God is nearly always present and manifest, recognizable in the other, the one in whom and to whom I have paid my attention.”
The poet Marge Piercy wrote “Attention is love.” And I think she is right.
The second spiritual discipline that Portaro articulates is to “take care.” This phrase, which is often used as a casual farewell, is of profound weight in our spiritual practice. We are called to “receive, reach out, and seize hold of care” that is offered to us. This is hard for us. We don’t want to seem weak or needy or dependent. We do not want to have to rely on the care of another, and so often we resist care and concern and love when it is offered to us. But Portaro insists that this care is a gift from God through others, and that we are called by God to accept it. “Take the care that God holds out, offers in the hands of those who reach out to help. Take the care proffered in those friends God gives us who manifest God’s love in the flesh, the companions whoare there for us and with us in the inevitable dark night, those who believe in us, love us even when we find it hard to believe in or love ourselves. Take the care that comes running to the door and leaps into your arms, happy that you’re home, whether it’s the love of your child, or the love of your dog. Take the care that comes your way and receive it as the gift of God that it is…”
This morning, may you hear and believe the words of our Risen Lord: I do not leave you orphaned, as motherless children. God is with you, loving you more than you can ask or imagine. And God has given you brothers and sisters to love you and walk with you along the way, to give you encouragement and hope; to give and receive love, and to help you remember that you are not alone.

“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Chile” hymn 169 from Lift Every Voice II .
From the Rt. Rev Jeffrey Lee’s article “On the Theology of Wellness” in Credo’s All Shall Be Well compilation.
From The Very Rev. Sam Portaro’s article “Pracitcing a Life of Prayer” in Credo’s All Shall Be Well compilation.