Monday, December 24, 2012

The Eve of the Nativity 2012

The Eve of the Nativity 2012 “Suppose someone in hiding stirs, showing their whereabouts there. God does the same. No one could have found God-God gave Himself away.” This is a quote from Meister Ekhart who was a medieval mystic, and I can think of no better way of talking about why we are gathered here together on this holy night. Tonight, we give thanks for the many ways that “God gives himself away” and for the many ways that God reveals God’s self to us. In the beginning, God gives himself away in creation, putting part of God in all that there is and then breathing God’s breath into man and woman, creating us in the image of God. But we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. And so God reveals God’s self to Abraham, and God promises that God would be our God, and we would be God’s people. But we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. We become enslaved, and God brings about our liberation. But we quickly forget our liberation, and we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. So God reveals God’s self to righteous people, to matriarchs, patriarchs, judges, heroes, kings, and prophets, but we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. And we become enslaved again, people who walk in darkness, until God liberates us again with God’s great light, but again we turn away from God and seek our own will and way. Again and again, God gives us glimpses of God’s self as God calls us back to God. Again and again, God invites us to follow God’s way and not our own. Until, in the fullness of time, God gives himself fully to us and becomes Emmanuel—God with us. God reveals God’s self fully to us in the person of Jesus, who is always on the side of the weak and the powerless, who shows us that the way to God is found in truly giving up ourselves, our way and our will. He shows us that we find God when we live lives of mercy and kindness. He shows us that we find God when we live lives of forgiveness and reconciliation. He shows us that we find God when we give and we find God when we love. And by giving himself up to death, Jesus shows us in the resurrection that God’s love, God’s self, God’s desire to be reconciled with us is stronger than everything. Stronger than our own will and the ways that we turn away from God. God’s love is stronger than the mistakes that we make. It is stronger than sickness; it is stronger than evil that we can never hope to understand. God’s love is stronger, even than death. It is what we call “the mystery of the Incarnation”—that the fullness of God is made present in our lives and in our world. But the story doesn’t end here. God continues to call us. God continues to choose us. When we realize that God is calling us and choosing us, not for a task or a role but to be the revelation of God’s self in this world each in your own unique situation, then we are living the truth of God with us, and we become a part of God’s revelation of God’s self. We become a part of the way that God gives God’s self away in this needy and dark world. We become the people who have walked in darkness who have seen a great light, and through the grace of God, we reflect that light through the way that we live our lives. “Suppose someone in hiding stirs, showing their whereabouts there. God does the same. No one could have found God-God gave Himself away.” Thanks be to God.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

3rd Sunday of Advent Year C

3rd Sunday of Advent Year C December 16, 2012 It’s the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Rejoice Sunday, when we lighten our penitence somewhat with our lovely rose and these themes of rejoicing echo throughout our readings. And then we have John the Baptist, who would most certainly have failed a modern day homiletics class with his opening line, “You brood of vipers!!!!” As another writer put it, “Nobody wants to get fussed at by John the Baptist two weeks before Christmas!” And of course, we have the shadow of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School hanging over our whole nation. So what are we supposed to make of John and his message of repentance this week and these horrible deeds when all around us seems to be geared toward rejoicing? Last week, my husband David preached at the 8:00 service, and I was struck by something he said in that sermon. He said that salvation is when all the barriers between us and God are wiped away. I’ve been pondering that all week, as I ask myself what are the barriers that I place between myself and God, and what would the removal of those look like? And when we look back at John the Baptist’s preaching in today’s lesson, that’s exactly what he is talking about. He starts off by lambasting his listeners for their hypocrisy, but when they approach him for instruction, he answers honestly and even gently in his own wild and wooly way. “Ok, you call us to repent”, the people say. “What then should we do?” And John says to them, if you have two coats, then share one of them with someone who doesn’t have a coat.” And then the tax collectors ask him, “What should we do?” And he says, “Don’t cheat people.” And then the soldiers ask him, “What should we do?” and he answers, “Be just.” It’s really not that radical, once you get past the name calling. So what is the good news for us in this call to repentance in the midst of the call to rejoicing this morning? Instead of hearing him call us all a brood of vipers who are in need of repentance, what if we thought about him saying to us, “you are already good enough to be loved by God.” The kingdom of God is already come near, and yet you choose to put up barriers between yourself and God. So the repentance, the action required on our part has to do with the intentional work toward removing some of those barriers that we erect between God and ourselves (and between ourselves and others). What if we heard him saying, “You who are a part of a country and a society who spend $450 billion a year on Christmas, what if you gave a little extra to someone who doesn’t have it”? In looking around at the media and at peoples’ commentaries on Facebook over the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, I see outrage; I see deep grief; I see an eagerness to analyze and to understand and to label. I see people clamoring for better gun control. I hear people try to start a witch hunt against folks with mental illness. I watch as people say that this is the result of not having God in our schools. Our question to God is much like what his hearers asked John the Baptist. We feel helpless, and we ask, “What then should we do?” Maybe part of the barrier between us and God is found in our attempt to know and to understand. Sometimes there are deep mysteries that cannot be know, cannot be understood; we rush to act because that is how we feel we are doing something. But sometimes, we are called to stand in the face of this dark mystery and not lose hope, not lose hope in God, who is always with us, and not lose hope in our fellow children of God. Sometimes we are called to stand in the darkness of mystery and continue to be faithful. That is what John the Baptist is talking about when he tells his hearers to “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” In no other time of the year are we as eager and as willing to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” than during this season. And one of the challenges of the faithful is to discern when we are called to stand still in the face of mystery and when we are called to act. This week, I read a meditation by Richard Rohr adapted from his little book Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr. He writes, “The Scriptures very clearly teach what we call today a ‘bias toward action.’ It is not just belief systems or dogmas and doctrines, as we have often made it. The Word of God is telling us very clearly that if you do not do it, you, in fact, do not believe it and have not heard it. The only way that we become convinced of our own sense of power, dignity, and the power of God is by actually doing it—by crossing a line, a line that has a certain degree of nonsensicalness and unprovability to it—and that’s why we call it faith. In the crossing of that line, and acting in a new way, then and only then, can we really believe what we say we believe in the first place. We do not think ourselves into a new way of living as much as we live ourselves into new ways of thinking. Lifestyle issues ask much more of us than mere belief systems” (48-49). What then should we do? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Pay attention to the needs of others and treat them with mercy and kindness. Over the course of this week, I came upon several startling and hopeful facts. First, you will receive a letter from the treasurer this week letting you know that we expect to be about $15,000 in the hole when we finish this year. Now, that’s actually less than we’ve been in the hole for the last five years or so (that’s been around $22,000), so that’s actually good news. And the better news is that the year is not yet over. We still can make a dent in that number by giving to the church as we look for ways to bear “fruits worthy of repentance.” The second fact I came upon is that through all of our generosity, we made Christmas possible for 34 children this year. And we’ve collected a record number of new clothes for the Harrison County Children’s Shelter. I wish you all could have seen the toys and the clothes all lined up in the hallway outside Susan’s’ and my offices. It was truly a sight to see! And the third fact is that since January, we have collected and distributed over $17,000 through discretionary giving to help people in need, and most of that has gone to people in this parish to help meet basic necessities. That’s 17,000 dollars worth of people sharing out of their abundance to help others have enough. That is bearing fruit worthy of repentance! Here’s another way of thinking about this “bearing fruit worthy of repentance”. Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Rejoice! For the Kingdom of God has come near. Examine the barriers that you have placed between you and God and you and your neighbor, and bear fruit worthy of repentance. How are we all being called to “live ourselves into a new way of thinking?” In that lies God’s salvation. In that lies God’s hope.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday of Advent--Year C

1st Sunday of Advent—Year C December 2, 2012 Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and it is also the beginning of the church year. Today we enter a season of preparation and expectancy, not just for the coming of the baby Jesus at Christmas but also we remember the importance of preparation and expectancy for Jesus’s promised second coming. But this expectation comes with its own difficulties. First, most talk of Jesus’s second coming in our day and age has been hijacked by people who read the bible much more literally than we Episcopalians, and they try to speculate upon a timeline and to identify specific current events as being the signs and portents of the end times. (In fact, there has apparently been more talk of late of the Mayan calendar and the prediction of the end of the world this moth…) But again and again, these doomsday predictors prove to be wrong, and as a result of this, some folks have ceased to believe and to hope in Jesus’s return altogether. I had a New Testament professor my first year in seminary who stunned our entire class by saying, in a rather off-hand way, “Of course, no right thinking Christian believes in the eschaton (or the end of the world.) So in the light of all that, what are we supposed to make of today’s gospel reading, and how might we make our peace with this second part of Advent, this waiting expectantly for Jesus’s return? The passage from Luke’s gospel this morning, along with its counterparts in Matthew and Mark, is referred to as the “little apocalypse.” Jesus is teaching his disciples about the end times, warning them not to be afraid when the whole world seems to be falling apart around them, but rather to keep alert, to not get worn down by life and daily concerns. And we can certainly relate to this, can’t we? I’ve met and visited with so many of you, of late, who have this sense that the world is falling apart around you, whether it is because of politics and the state of the economy or whether it is because of things going on in your personal life. But even in the midst of all these goings on, there is good news here that is at the heart of this season of Advent. As one writer put it, an important part of Advent is waiting, anticipating, longing for and trusting in “a promised future that seems very removed from our current circumstances.” So how do we do that? How might we cultivate that expectancy? The word apocalypse means “revelation.” And the artist and writer Jan Richardson reminds us that “God is in every time and season, about the work of revealing God’s presence.” She goes on to say that we cultivate this expectancy of Advent in our lives by “practicing apocalypse.” She writes, “In the rhythm of our daily lives here on earth, Christ bids us to practice the apocalypse. He calls us in each day and each moment to do the things that will stir up our courage and keep us grounded in God, not only that we might perceive Christ when he comes but that we may recognize him even now. There is a sense, after all, in which we as Christians live the apocalypse on a daily basis. Amid the destruction and devastation that are taking place in the world, Christ beckons us to perceive and to participate in the ways that he is already seeking to bring redemption and healing for the whole creation.”i We cultivate this expectancy of Advent in our lives when we actively expect Jesus to show up in our lives, in our days, in our moments. We cultivate this expectancy when we actively look for the ways that God continues to reveal God’s self in our lives, in our church, and in our world. In an excerpt from her memoir Prague Winter, Madeleine Albright puts it this way, “This is because the goal we seek, and the good we hope for, comes not as some final reward but as the hidden companion to our quest.”ii Here’s another way of looking at it. I had a conversation with someone earlier this week, and we were talking about the readings this coming Sunday and about the end of the world. And she asked me, “If you knew that the world was ending in 12 days, would you live any differently?” It’s a question I’ve been thinking about all week. During this Advent season, this season of expectation, how is Jesus calling you to “practice the apocalypse?” What things does God call you to that “stir up your courage and keep you grounded in God?” How is God already showing up in your life and in your journey, as the “hidden companion to your quest?” How would you live differently if you knew the world were about to end? i. ii. As quoted in BibleWorkbench Issue 20.1 December 2, 2012 p 11.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

25th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 28B

25th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 28B November 18, 2012 As Christians, we live in an in between time and space, that difficult no-man’s land of both “already” and “not yet.” Already Jesus has come—God is with us, offering himself, once and for all, as the single offering which has restored all creation which is groaning with longing. Already, Jesus has forgiven us, “placing his perfect life on the altar of heaven, offering ‘for all time a single sacrifice for sins’ thereby breaking the back of evil, sin, and suffering. In the resurrection, God proves that evil and death and suffering cannot withstand the force of God’s love and God’s longing to be reconciled with all creation. And yet—we look at the world around us and see the “not yet” of it all. All around us evil and sin and suffering and sadness seem to rock along unchanged, and the people of God groan along with all of creation, “How long, O Lord, must we bear it all?” God’s Kingdom has not yet come into its fullest fulfillment. We see this tension at work in the gospel of Mark today, as we remember that the writer of Mark was writing these words around the time when the Romans destroyed the temple in Jerusalem as a result of the Jewish uprising. Already Jesus has come and restored and redeemed, the writer of Mark reminds his broken-hearted community, but all is not yet as it should be. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs. We see it at work in the sermon that is known as the Letter of the Hebrews. The preacher is addressing a congregation that is suffering from decline; he is addressing a flock who is “tired and discouraged about the way evil seems to persist in the world. As a result the congregation has begun to question the value of being followers of Christ. Attendance at worship has begun to falter, zeal for mission has waned, and the kind of congregational life that is rich with love and compassion has begun to dissipate.” He is addressing a people who are weary and longing for the not yet to be realized and fulfilled. “How long, O Lord, must we bear it all,” they cry. We see it all around us—this tension between the already and the not yet. We come to church week after week, and we say the words together: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” Week after week, we offer thanks to God and “we celebrate the memorial of our redemption” through Jesus’s death and resurrection. We ask God to “send us out into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve [God] with gladness and singleness of heart…” We celebrate and try to live into the already, and yet…. We learn of another person whom we love who is diagnosed with cancer. We watch as those we love age and are not able to do those things they once were able to do. We suffer financial hardship and distress, people losing their homes and scarcely able to survive. We participate in, witness, and sometimes fall victim to the ruthlessness that is rampant in our society that becomes the vehicle for our culture’s most prized asset—accomplishment—and the enforcing of our own agendas. We live lives that are forever changed in the wake of natural disasters that throw life into chaos and turmoil. We ourselves may even grow tired and discouraged about the way evil seems to persist in the world, and we cry out to God, “How long, O Lord, must we bear it?” Yes, it is true that all is not yet fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. And yet, the writer of Hebrews reminds his flock and us that “we are not just spectators; we are active participants in the saving work of God.” But how do we do that? “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” Yes, it may seem that nothing is changed, that evil is still running rampant in the world, but God has been with us in the person of Jesus, and God continues with us even still. God calls us to be active participants in the saving work of God by “provoking one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together but encouraging one another…”i First, it is important to show up for worship. I realize I’m “preaching to the choir” here, but it is in and through worship, in and through the prayers of our tradition that the hope of Christ is nurtured and strengthened in this community and within each of our hearts. And one of the beautiful things about the Episcopal liturgy, where we pray what we believe and we believe what we pray, is that during those times when we may not be able to give our hearts fully to God in belief, then the belief and the prayers of the community carry us through. Second, we need to actively work to provoke one another to love and good deeds and to encourage one another. What does that look like? The late Peter Gomes wrote an essay on this portion of the letter to Hebrews, and he wrote, “Perhaps in our public prayers we ought to make room for yet another category: ‘prayers of encouragement.’ We would think of ways in which we can encourage our fellow believers to love and good works. We would think of ways in which we can be of assistance to the people we know and with whom we share the faith and the pew. This means making an assessment of people’s strengths and opportunities rather than of their weaknesses and needs. We would also be praying that they may be encouraged to do something for themselves, something which God enables them to perform to the mutual benefit of the faith and the community. The second benefit of a word of encouragement [he writes] is that it strengthens both the believer and the fellowship by supplying that positive, affirming force that is so often missing in the routine of life. To live for rewards is always to live for success, and when success eludes us, as it often does, so too does the reward. We may live "for" reward, but we live "by" encouragement, which is what we need when things go well, and especially when things don’t go well. The trick is that we cannot encourage ourselves: even in this self-help culture of ours, we cannot yet do that. We must be encouraged by someone else, and it is our spiritual obligation to encourage one another. This definition of an effective New Testament church [he concludes] is short on doctrine and rules and long on fellowship and encouragement. It may be just what we need to hear as we see ‘the Day drawing near’."ii “Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” i.All the quotes up to this point, I know that I quoted from someone, but I didn’t note it at the time, and now I can’t find it…I think it was from one (or multiple) of the essays on Feasting on the Word for the Hebrews reading. ii.Peter J. Gomes [was] a professor at Harvard Divinity School and minister in Harvard’s Memorial Church. This article appeared in the Christian Century, Nov. 5, 1997, p. 1001, copyright by the Christian Century Foundation and used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at

Sunday, November 11, 2012

24th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 27B

November 11, 2012 At first glance, this reading from the gospel appears to be a slam-dunk for a preacher who is called to preach on the morning of the fall stewardship in-gathering. Mark gives us the story of Jesus teaching in the temple, where he takes some time to “people watch.” He observes a poor widow who drops into the temple offering two small copper coins which are worth a penny. Then he calls his disciples over to teach them saying, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Sounds like a pretty good text for a stewardship sermon, right? But there’s a problem here. It’s not clear if Jesus is holding up the poor widow as a positive example, or if he is using her as a critique for an unjust and broken system. He may very well be using her to teach his disciples about how the religious system of the day was so corrupt that it was taking food out of the mouths of those whom God called it to protect and care for. And my brothers and sisters, if that is the case, then we at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea are certainly not immune from Jesus’ critique. We give our money to support our programs, pay our staff, and maintain our beautiful building, and we have people sitting in our very own pews who are struggling as the poor widow was struggling, not to mention all those outside our doors. We can always do better to take care of those most vulnerable whom God calls us all to protect and care for. It is a hard line to walk, and so you can see my dilemma this morning. I have two stories I want to share with you this morning, that have to do with this gospel and giving. The first happened right here at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea a few weeks ago. I preached a couple of weeks ago about the homeless man who joined us for worship and gave us two blankets to give away to people who needed it more than him. That same Sunday, I watched that man dig in his pocket as the collection bowl came by him at the offertory. I was momentarily curious but soon forgot about it as we moved into Eucharist. After church, one of the ushers came up to me, and he had in his palm this small, perfect pink shell that had been placed in the collection by our homeless man. He had already given to God probably most of what he had in the form of those two extra blankets, and still he dropped this one perfect, precious thing of beauty into the collection. His generosity still takes my breath away! The second story is one I read about in an article. The person writing the article went to Mass at a struggling Roman Catholic parish in the heart of Mexico City. She was struck by what took place during the offering in the middle of the Mass. She writes, “People got in line, many carrying what appeared to be small, plastic bags filled with a whitish substance. As the guitar band played, each person stepped forward and poured the contents of their bag into coffee cans placed on the altar. It was rice. Each person was pouring a small quantity of raw rice into cans that were soon filled to the brim. We prayed an offertory prayer and continued on with the mass. Afterward the priest explained that every day, every family takes at least one spoonful of rice and puts it aside. This does not add to anyone’s hunger, he noted, but it makes a difference to those who receive one of the cans, usually someone in a home where a person has become ill or died. The practice of setting aside spoonfuls of rice wove giving into everyone’s daily routine. Your neighbors’ daily bread was part of your own, something you remembered each time you cooked or even picked up a spoon. It made a difference because it was a pattern embraced by the whole community, connecting their communion around the altar to the tables in their neighbors’ homes.”i So here is what I think is at the heart of the gospel this morning. “Some of the greatest acts of faith occur simply, selflessly, and unobtrusively. Jesus helps his followers distinguish the reality of faithfulness from all counterfeits.”ii And he teaches us about these quiet acts of giving and authentic acts of faithfulness, not so that we can judge others in their giving or in their faithfulness, but so that we can judge ourselves. God asks for our whole hearts, our whole lives, to be freely offered to God in service of God’s priorities. Does our giving live into that or are we only offering to God a tiny portion of our time, our energy, our money, our attention? Are we offering God our leftovers? Or are we offering God our all? Throughout these last few weeks, I have invited you to consider three questions: What are the gifts God has given you? What is God’s hope for their use? How are you blessed to be a blessing to others? You have heard other members of this church courageously share with you how they have been blessed by being a part of this parish, and how they have grown in their relationship with God and in their connection to this church and her people by stepping out a little more in faith in their annual pledge to God in support of the ministry of this place and her people. They shared with us how they have grown in their relationships with God when they deliberately choose to offer God more of their lives, more of themselves, more of their money. In just a few moments, as you come forward for the Eucharist, you will be invited to make your pledge, and I invite you to remember the stories of Derrick, Tabitha, Neely, and Marvin, and how each made a deliberate choice to depend more on God, to offer God more of themselves. I invite you to remember the perfect, pink seashell given by our homeless visitor, an offering of a thing of beauty from a life where there are probably very few beautiful things. I invite you to remember the individual bags of rice in Mexico City that started as only one spoonful a day but, when added together, became overflowing coffee cans of rice to feed hungry people. We are given those opportunities to make that kind of difference in our own life with God and in this world this day and beyond. May God grant us the courage and the will to do so! i.From Living by the Word by Heidi Neumark. The Christian Century. P 21. 10/31/12. ii.Exegetical Perspective by Robert A. Bryant. Feasting on the Word. ed.Bartlett and Brown Taylor. WJK: Lousiville, 2009. p285

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sunday after All Saints' Year B

Sunday after All Saints’ Year B November 4, 2012 A letter to Lindsey Victoria Ann Strickland upon the occasion of her baptism. Dear Lindsey, This is an interesting time in the life of the church year. It is the half-way point between Easter of one year and Easter of the next, and it is one of those Christian holidays that has become something entirely different in the culture around us. We see it most prominently in the contrast between Halloween and All Saints’. We trick-or-treated together this past Wednesday, and I was astonished (and somewhat dismayed) at the bacchanalia that took place around us, as people worked themselves up into a frenzy over costumes and candy. At the root of this, I recognized what Christian theologians wiser than I have named as being our culture’s fear and denial of death. But today, here in this church, we are going to do the exact opposite. Today, Lindsey, we celebrate your death, and we will take with you this first step into a long journey of not only not being afraid of death, but seeing it as a peaceful companion throughout your life. Today we all will relearn and remember with you, that even though the world around us will scramble to deny death, we, as Christians, recognize that death is an important part of faithful living. “…We as Christians know at a deeper level that our society has it all backwards. It is not that life ends and death goes on forever. Death is but a single event that is not itself the last word. At the heart of the Christian faith is the Easter story of the Resurrection revealing that God does not abandon us at death, but raises us to new life.”i So, Lindsey, when we baptize you today, we are baptizing you into Jesus’s death, and we are baptizing you into Jesus’s resurrection. From this day forward, you are claiming your place as the beloved of God, who created you good, and you are becoming a part of God’s resurrection people-the body of Christ. As Christians, we also recognize that the awareness of death and mortality is a gift to us, because it then spurs faithful living, and not for the reasons you might think. Awareness of our death does not spur faithful living because we are afraid God is going to send us to hell if we’re not good enough, if we don’t “do right” or if we don’t earn our salvation. The truth is, none of us could ever be good enough to earn our salvation. That is a gift that has been already freely given to us by the God who loves us. Rather, we long to live faithfully because we are grateful to God; we recognize this mortal life as a beautiful, finite gift, and we long to cherish it and live it to the fullest. We are all here today because in some deep part of our souls, we have realized that our struggle is not to remain alive forever at any cost, but to live and to die faithfully; and we are here today because we have discovered that this living and dying faithfully is work that is more easily and better done when we have companions along the way. We are here today because we have discovered that following the way of Jesus, the way that is articulated in our baptismal covenant, the way of peace, forgiveness, healing, sacrifice, and reconciliation, following the way of Jesus gives our lives meaning; it makes life and our relationships infinitely richer than it would be otherwise, and we are all so much better for having companions to walk with us on this way. That is what we will promise to do for you this day and forward, Lindsey, and you will promise to do it for us as well. And that is where the Saints come into the picture, why we remember them today on this Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and why it makes today especially appropriate for baptism. The New Testament talks about “saints” 20 times, and it’s not talking about stained-glass people living perfect lives of faithfulness that we could only dream about. Saints, in the New Testament, refer to “God-lovers.” One of our old, beloved hymns puts it, “they loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong.” Brother James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist writes about Saints: “The promise of triumph which we celebrate today in the Feast of All Saints’ is for all of us, not some collection of stained glass perfect people but rather those who have lived lives of hope, or even just attempted to do so. It is for all of us who have lived lives of faith, or even just attempted to.” ii It is the attempting to live lives of faith and attempting to live lives of hope that we do together that makes us, and all those God-lovers who have gone before us-into Resurrection people through the weaving and working, inspiring and initiating of God’s Holy Spirit. We give thanks to God for your presence among us, and we look forward to walking this way with you. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+ i.From the book Faithful Living Faithful Dying. ii. From the daily email meditation for November 1, 2012 from

Sunday, October 28, 2012

22nd Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 25B

October 28, 2012 I want to tell you two stories today that both have to do with a blanket or a cloak. Each story, in its own way, embodies faith, courage, and a generosity of spirit that can instruct us as we try to live more fully into our own discipleship of Jesus Christ. The first story is about a homeless man who showed up at St. Peter’s one Sunday not too long ago. I only spoke with this man briefly, but his presence and his actions had a profound impact on me. (In fact, I’ll share another story about him with you in a couple of weeks.) Our deacon Scott was speaking with this man, and the man said to Scott, “I have these two blankets here. Would you please keep them and give them to someone else who may need them more than me?” As someone who worked with homeless people for a season, I was struck by the power of that statement. Blankets are a hot commodity among those who are homeless and impoverished. They can mean the difference between survival and not. Now, I don’t know how many blankets this man had, but it is striking to me that he must have felt that he had an abundance of blankets, and so he chose to give away two to try to help someone else in need. What a wonderful example of someone who was living out the answers to those questions that Scott and I continue to pose to you during this season of gratitude in which we consider our own stewardship. What are the gifts that God have given you? What is God’s hope for their use? How are you blessed to be a blessing to others? The second story that is also about a blanket or a cloak is the gospel story for today. In it, we see a blind beggar named Bartimaeus who is at work in Jericho. When Jesus and his followers come by, Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” First, this is unusual, because this is the first time the writer of Mark introduces Jesus’s connection with David into this gospel, although if we continued on with the story, we would see it again shortly in Jesus’s triumphant entry in Jerusalem. Second, it is important to note that translators tell us that there is no good translation for the Greek words into English for what is translated as “have mercy on me.” It is a much more active demand in the Greek, and would be more like us saying, “Do something!” Bartimaeus encounters resistance from the crowd, but he just calls out louder. And then Jesus tells the crowd to tell Bartimaeus to come here, which they do. “Take heart,” they say. “Courage!” “Get up, he is calling you.” And this is the part that really strikes me in this story. Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, and he jumps up, and he goes to Jesus. Think about that for a minute. The man is a beggar. His cloak is most likely his most valuable possession (much like our homeless visitor’s blankets). Bartimaeus would have used his cloak as a shelter from the elements; he would have laid it on the ground as a place to gather and collect any alms he received as people passed by. And the man is blind, so when he throws off his cloak and leaves it behind, he most likely will not be able to find it after his encounter with Jesus. What tremendous faith and courage to cast off the one most valuable thing that helped him eke by an existence as a beggar to go to Jesus and seek out a whole new and better life, a new way of being and a new way of seeing! And that is what he did. Bartimaeus is unique in all of Mark’s healing stories (of which this is the last) because Jesus tells him to go, his faith has made him well, but Bartimaeus doesn’t go. He follows Jesus on the way, which means for Mark that Bartimaeus follows Jesus into Jerusalem, where he will witness others throwing their cloaks down and proclaiming Jesus to be the “Son of David”. I have recently signed up to receive a daily meditation from the brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. These monks have started a new twist on an ancient practice. In the early days of monasticism, pilgrims would come to the monasteries, and they would say to the monks, “Brother, give us a word.” And then they would meditate upon that word. These modern day monastics have started a daily email meditation called, “Brother, give us a word” that they email out to people who sign up for it. Earlier this week, the word was “Savior” and here is the meditation: “I would be willing to bet that nearly everyone here this morning has some inconvenient truth in his or her life that may well seem beyond the pale of redemption—a failed relationship, a debilitating illness, a financial or professional setback, some loathsome habit or compulsion or addition. Take heart. You are not alone. King Jesus saves us and is with us and is for us, always, no matter what. That’s the good news—and the truth.”i Each of us has an inconvenient truth--something for which we cry out to Jesus, “Have mercy! Do something!” And I’d be willing to bet that each of us also has some sort of cloak, a way of coping, a way of getting by that seems essential to life as we know it, but may be encumbering our progress in following Jesus. What is your inconvenient truth? What is your cloak? Do you have the faith and the courage to throw it off, to leave it behind so that you may be given the gift of new life, new sight, and a new way of being? What are the gifts that God have given you? What is God’s hope for their use? How are you blessed to be a blessing to others? What extra blanket are you being called to share? What old cloak are you being called to leave behind to receive the new, abundant life that Jesus is offering you? i. From “Brother, Give Us A Word” on 10/24/12 by Br. Kevin Hackett

Sunday, October 14, 2012

20th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23B sermon

20th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 23B October 14, 2012 I want to invite you into this gospel story this morning, for the young man who encounters Jesus could easily be any one of us. (If closing your eyes helps you, then you are welcome to do so; hopefully, your neighbor will give you a gentle nudge if they start to hear snoring…) Imagine that you have just heard that Jesus is in your town. You have been following news of his works, his teachings, and his travels, and you are eager to meet him. You are a good, faithful person who follows the teachings of the law. You run up to Jesus and you kneel before him and you ask, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus says to you, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.” You say to Jesus, “Of course, Jesus; I have done all this since I was a child. I go to church (almost every Sunday); I do what is right; I try to be a good person.” And then Jesus looks at you and you see his love for you shining out of his eyes. You know before he even speaks that he cherishes you, and he sees you as you really and truly are. And then he says to you, “You lack one thing. You are too attached. And he names that which, in your deepest heart of hearts you are so attached that it keeps you from really and truly belonging to God; and he tells you to give up that one attachment that keeps you from following him. (silence) Maybe it is money; maybe it is your possessions; maybe it’s your status; maybe it is your family; maybe it is your vision for how your life should be; maybe it is your dreams for a better future. Jesus loves you, and he wants your whole heart. And so he is asking you to give up that which keeps you from giving your whole heart to him. And you walk away in sorrow, not because you think you can’t give it up, whatever it is, but because you know you must, and you mourn the loss of this that you have cherished for so long. Notice that from the very beginning of this encounter, the young man thinks that eternal life, God’s love, life in the heart of God, is something that he can earn. He asks, “Teacher, what must I DO to inherit eternal life.” And we get that, don’t we? We think that we can be good enough to earn God’s love and our place in God’s kingdom. But all his good works and faithfulness are irrelevant to Jesus’s love for him. Jesus knows that the young man’s possessions and his status that comes with his wealth and possessions have become a central part of his identity. And so he invites the young man to give up those things, to give up that identity, and to rediscover his primary identity as a beloved child of God and one who is cherished by Jesus, not for anything he has ever done, but just because… Jesus perceives that the young man is so attached to the riches, the status, the privileges, and as long as he is clinging to those, he isn’t free to respond to God. The young man believes that all of this is his core identity, and it blocks his gratitude to God, who loves him and calls him. I had a realization this week in a conversation with one of my colleagues about this gospel. It is that the opposite of gratefulness isn’t un-gratefulness; the opposite of gratefulness is entitlement. We are not really grateful for that which we think we can earn or that which we think we deserve.i True gratefulness is the response to the awareness that we have been given a gift. A gift is not something that we have earned through our own merits, but it is a good thing freely given. All that we have is a gift from God. Our lives, our talents, our initiative, our ability to make money, our ability to create, our families, our friends, our vocations—all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God. Gratitude often steals up on us as a surprise, but it can also be cultivated as an awareness of our many gifts, and this cultivation of gratitude for God’s love for us and for all of God’s good gifts to us is one of the ways that we can have and experience eternal life, here and now. Gratitude recognizes that a gift has been given, and gratitude recognizes the giver behind the gift.ii The late Terry Parsons, longtime stewardship officer for the Episcopal Church, had just written a sermon on this gospel lesson before her death recently. In this sermon, she reminds us that wealth, possessions, and the other things to which we have attachment, in themselves, are not bad. In fact, they are gifts from God. She writes, “Too often, we fail to recognize that every Godly gift carries with it God’s hope for how it might be used. Joy for us is when we align our use of the gifts God gives with what we discern to be God’s hope.”iii Parsons also tells a story about how our attachments get in the way of following Jesus. She writes, “Consider this lesson on how to trap a monkey. The story goes that African hunters wanting to capture monkeys unharmed would use as a trap a bottle with a long narrow neck, just large enough so a monkey could put its hand in it. In the evening the bottle would be tied to a tree, and in the bottom of the bottle they would place several good-smelling nuts. In the morning they would find a monkey with its hand clutching the nuts, held securely in the bottle. At any time, the monkey could have released itself simply by opening its hand and letting go of the nuts.”iii In this stewardship season, consider four questions. (write these down, because I want you to consider them throughout this week). What are the gifts God has given you? What is God’s hope for their use? How are you blessed to be a blessing to others? Are you willing to let go of whatever it is that keeps you from following Jesus? (repeat questions) i. These ideas came from a conversation with my friend, the Rev. Chris Colby. ii.These thoughts were cultivated by a presentations from Brother David Vryhof, SSJE, and Brother Kevin Hackett, SSJE, at the Diocese of Mississippi’s clergy conference. iii.From the series Sermons that Work. Sermon by the Rev. Terry Parsons.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

19th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 22B

19th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 22B October 7, 2012 Divorce is a present and painful reality for most people in our world today. I would be willing to bet that there is not a single person in this church today who has not, in some way, been impacted by divorce. Whether it is your own parents who divorced, good friends, or even yourself, none of us is a stranger to the broken relationships that result with any divorce. Therefore, today’s reading may be especially difficult for us to hear, especially difficult for us to find the good news in it. But do not fear; there is good news here! Note that it is the Pharisees who raise this issue of divorce with Jesus: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” This is a common debate in rabbinic circles of the time. Jesus, like a good rabbi, answers their question with a question, “What does the law say?” They answer that it is, in fact, legal, and here is where Jesus turns the table on them. He says, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote the commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation ‘God made them male and female.’”… Yes, divorce is legal, Jesus is telling them, but it is not what God intended. There are some things that are more important than the law. Jesus goes even further back than Moses, back to creation, to emphasize what is most important in God’s kingdom. He quotes Genesis 1: 27: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” We have been created in the image and likeness of God. United Methodist Bishop William Willimon writes about this gospel passage, “What is God like? God brings people together. God desires that people who, having once been brought together, ought to stay together. God is the one who refuses to send these little ones away. Instead God is the one who receives and embraces the little ones. We read this passage as applying to us: that is, we ought not to divorce; we ought to welcome little children. [Willimon concludes] But maybe we are seeing here the great difference between God and ourselves. Maybe this scripture is about God.” And as an extension of that, Maybe it explains more about God’s kingdom and what it means for us to be created in God’s image? God never gives up on us. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” He is the fullest incarnation of what it means to live into being created in the image and likeness of God, and at this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is on his way to his death—showing that the love of God knows no limits. We are made to be like God, made to be in relationship with God, with each other, and with all of creation. But because of our hardness of heart, we do not live up to our fullest potential. And that’s the crux of the issue, isn’t it? Jesus teaches us and shows us, again and again and again, that fullness of life, eternal life in the here and now, the Kingdom of God is to be found when we open our hearts, when we are willing to love and be loved by others, when we receive others as who they really are and not who we want them to be. The image and likeness of God the creator is a heart that is easily offered and given freely. It is who we are called and created to be, and it is what we are received into when we fall short of that calling. Today, we are kicking off our fall commitment campaign at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea, and you are invited into this season to consider how you live into your own stewardship, which is an aspect of being created in God’s image. One definition of stewardship is “all that I do with all that I have after I say, ‘I believe.’” And this gets to the essence of this gospel passage this morning. You have been made in the image and likeness of God, whose heart is always open, inviting, giving. When we know this, experience this, live this, then our hearts become grateful, and we want to be more like God—with open, inviting, and giving hearts ourselves. In a letter in 1950, Albert Einstein wrote, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.” (from a letter by Albert Einstein, 1950). How has your heart been lately? Has it been hardened and self-centered, focusing on personal desire for affection and a few persons nearest to you? Has it been open and eager to give itself away, connecting with God, with others, and with all of creation? For most of us, it is a mix of both; and the good news is that we are made in the image of God, whose steadfast love never ceases, and whose mercy endures forever. Jesus shows us the way, if we are courageous enough to follow, courageous enough to give our hearts away with abundance and abandon. Let us pray. Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

18th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 21B sermon

18th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 21B Baptism of Bradley Black and 50th anniversary of James Meredith’s enrollment in Ole Miss A letter to Bradley Michael Black upon the occasion of his baptism. Dear Bradley, Today is an important and auspicious day in your young life. Today is the day upon which you are baptized into Christ’s body. Today is the day when you will be sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Today, your parents and godparents and family are accepting, on your behalf, that you already belong to God. They are offering God thanks for your belonging, and we are all making promises that we will walk with you, teach you and learn from you about what it means to live as those who belong to God, no matter what. In our gospel reading for today, this day of your baptism, we see Jesus in an extended conversation with his disciples. These disciples have been fighting about who is the greatest among them, and Jesus has taught them a new definition of greatness—that greatness isn’t found where the world places it but rather greatness is found in service and care for others. In our reading for today, John reports to Jesus about an outsider, one who is not a part of their group, who has been casting out demons in Jesus’ name. John reports that he and the other disciples tried to stop him, but Jesus tells them not to. He tells the disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Think about that for a minute, and the difference in what Jesus is saying: “Whoever is not against us is for us,” as opposed to how we normally hear it: “Whoever is not for us is against us.” The first, makes people into allies and opens up the way of belonging. The later makes people enemies, outsiders. And that’s really what today is all about, young Bradley. It is about remembering that God calls all of us to belong; God calls all of us to be insiders in the kingdom of God. Today, your family and friends are saying “yes” to God on your behalf. We are saying, “Yes he does belong to you God, and we are so very grateful!” But Jesus warns us of the flip side of that, even as he warns his disciples. The temptation is, once we have accepted our own belonging, to say to others, “Sorry, but you don’t belong like we do. We are in, but you are out!” Jesus says that is putting a stumbling block in front of “these little ones,” and he offers the disciples a stark, shocking warning against doing that. Another person put it this way: “every time you draw a line between who's in and who's out, you'll find Jesus on the other side."i In addition to your baptism today, little Bradley, we have something else going on in the life of our diocese. Our bishop has asked us to commemorate this 50th anniversary of James Meredith’s enrollment in Ole Miss and to also remember solemnly the resulting riots that took place. All across the diocese (and in the Methodist and Roman Catholic churches in Mississippi as well), we will be offering prayers for “racial healing, understanding and renewed commitment to reconciliation.” We will be remembering a time in the life of our state when some people were so focused on their own belonging that they put a stumbling block before others who were equal inhabitants in the kingdom of God. We will renew our own baptismal covenant, where we promise God that we will “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves” and that we will “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. Today we will also “repent and return to the Lord”, confessing to God the times when we have not paid attention to our own and others’ belonging to God; we will confess the times when we have, in fact, put a stumbling block before one of God’s little ones. And so today we remember; we renew our own baptismal covenant; we pray that our own belonging may never be a stumbling block to another who also belongs to God; and we give thanks to God for you, sweet Bradley, who belongs to God and who helps us to remember Jesus’s call to care for all the little ones in God’s kingdom. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+ i. Duane Priebe, Professor Emeritus at Wartburg Seminary quoted on the blog

Sunday, September 23, 2012

17th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 20B sermon

17th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 20B September 23, 2012 I can certainly relate to the disciples this week, as I’ve been wrestling with my own thirst for greatness. This week I got to perform on stage at the Hard Rock with some of our fabulous people dancing along side me, and for 4 glorious minutes, I got to be a rock star. People were screaming and cheering us on. (Of course, it was mostly all the St. Peter’s people in the audience…) But still, it was AWESOME! And really, we can all see where they’re coming from. They’ve seen a lot of things happen in their relatively brief time following Jesus. Peter and James and John have just come down the mountain with Jesus after witnessing his transfiguration where they encounter the rest of the disciples arguing because they have not been able to cast out a demon in Jesus’s absence. They have, once again, failed miserably, while Peter and James and John got to go off on a special errand with Jesus. Then Jesus drops the bombshell on them about how he’s going to be killed and then three days later rise again. But the disciples don’t understand and they keep silent because they are afraid to ask him. Then they all go into a house, and Jesus asks them what they had been arguing about on the way, and again, they are silent because they do not want to tell him that they have been arguing about who is the greatest. And notice that Jesus does not rebuke them for wanting to be great. Instead, he teaches them a new definition for greatness. It’s not the rock stars, those who can cast out demons, those who speak eloquently, those who have money or political clout, those….fill in the blank with your own definition of greatness here…That’s not what it means to be great, he tells them. The greatest are the ones who give themselves away in service to others. Then he brings forward a little child, an example of the complete opposite of greatness in that time, one who is completely powerless, and he tells them that whoever welcomes the powerless are also welcoming him. So much for my dreams of pursuing my career as a rock star… Our lesson from the Epistle of James is an interesting companion to this week’s gospel lesson. The writer of James is writing to remind his listeners of who they are, what are the central characteristics for the individuals and for the whole community as followers of Jesus Christ and, even more importantly for James, as people who are in right relationship with God. And what characteristics does he say should be at the heart of their community? He encourages them to be peaceable, and he praises the characteristic of gentleness. The writer of James also writes that when there is conflict, when something is going on inter-personally or even in a church community, it is because of the cravings that are at war within us. There’s an old Native American proverb that speaks to this. You may have heard it before. “An old Cherokee told his grandson: ‘My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness and truth. The boy thought about it and asked, ‘Grandfather, which one wins?” The old man replied quietly, ‘The one you feed.’” Which wolf have you been feeding lately? Has it been the one that is consumed with your own desire for power, greatness, building up your own ego? Or is it the one that is focused on peaceability, gentleness, and service to God and others? All of us have a good mix of both in our hearts and in our lives. And yet, we are called, as we gather here week after week after week together, to ask for forgiveness from God for how we have fallen short, and to get out there in that world and try again this next week, to be more of the people God is calling us to be. One way of doing this is to intentionally cultivate gentleness in our lives. So how do we do that? First of all, we pay attention to the models of gentleness that we have in God, who again and again proves to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love”, and we look to the model of Jesus, who gives himself over to God and to others again and again and again. Second, we pay attention to those around us who remind us of the value of gentleness. Maybe it is little children? Maybe it is your pet? Maybe it the still, quiet sound on a mild, sunny day? This week, I was reminded of this call to gentleness in a most mundane little way by my child and our dog. We have an old Golden Retriever named Izzy, and Izzy has trouble getting around on our wood floors. She often gets stuck wherever she lies down, and then she barks at me to come pick up her rear end, so she can then come lie down wherever I happen to be in the house. The other day, I was moving around a lot, and Izzy kept getting stuck and barking at me to come get her, and I just stopped doing it, because I was tired of having to stop what I was doing and go pick her up. Finally, after Izzy has been barking for a while, Jack, while still playing with his toys, said to me, “Aren’t we supposed to be nice to Izzy?” And I looked at my 4 year old child, and I remembered who I am supposed to be, and I went and picked the dog up again. Find what feeds your gentleness and pay attention to it! The calls to gentleness will not be great signs, flashing lights in the sky. That’s not how gentleness works. So we have to really pay attention to our lives. And when you forget and resume your focus on your own ambition or ego or desires, let it gently remind you of how you are called to be in this world, how we are all called to be together as the body of Christ. May we each remember this day and this week that the way of gentleness and peaceability is the way of belonging to God and in the kingdom of God and the beginnings of eternal life and something so much greater than ourselves.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

15th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 18B sermon

15th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 18B September 9, 2012 I ran across a quote this week that I found to be especially pertinent. It is a quote attributed to Richard Hooker, who was one of the most influential theologians in the development of the Church of England, our parent church. This quote says, “I pray that none will be offended if I seek to make the Christian religion an inn where all are received joyously, rather than a cottage where some few friends of the family are to be received.”i. (read it again). This quote is quite striking in the contrast between what Hooker is saying, and what is happening in today’s gospel reading between Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman. Our gospel story is a somewhat confusing and even somewhat embarrassing snapshot of Jesus. It is a story in which we see his fully human side, and we see that, even in his divinity, he is capable of change, especially when it comes to how he understands his own ministry on earth. Let’s look at the story. Jesus is trying to catch a break. He’s gone inside a house out in the middle of nowhere to try to recover from the demands of his ministry, and even there, he is pursued. He’s tired, perhaps a little irritable, and then he has to deal with this impertinent woman who is demanding healing for her daughter and yet who does not even belong to his people, the people to whom he is sent to proclaim the gospel. And so he calls her a dog and refuses to heal her daughter. But then something fascinating happens. The woman doesn’t retaliate with other name-calling or fancy rhetoric or statistics. She absorbs the insult, and then she reflects the good news of Jesus’s own ministry right back to him. With a deeply rooted humility, she claims her place of belonging in the heart of God and in the good news of God’s kingdom. There is such deep good news in today’s gospel, despite the uncomfortable parts! Each of us, I believe, longs for belonging. We were all created to be lonely for God, longing for God, longing to make our home in God. Often times we run around and try to fill that longing with other things—money, achievements, things, good works. But ultimately, only God can fulfill our longing for God. When we spend time with God (in prayer, in worship, in silence), we discover our true belonging in God. (I believe that this is what Jesus was searching for in the beginning of our gospel story.) When we spend time with God, then God whispers back in our hearts, “You are enough; you belong because I have created you; nothing you can do or not do, be or not be, buy or not buy can change that you belong; but you must put your trust in me and not in yourself—in what you can do or not do, be or not be, buy or not buy. You are enough and you belong.” When we regularly spend time with God and we dwell within that awareness of (and gratitude for) our belonging, then we are free to invite others into that belonging as well. It becomes our great delight to share that belonging with others. We recognize that belonging in God is not limited to whom we think should belong; we all dwell within the Good news of God’s kingdom where all may find belonging and home. But when we are out of touch with God, we are also out of touch with our own belonging, and then we are more inclined to try to keep others (especially OTHERS—those who are different than us) from belonging as well. If you look around this church this morning and think in your secret heart that there is someone who does not belong here, belong to God, then that is a first sign that God is calling you back, to spend more time with God and to get reconnected with your own belonging within God. My favorite poet, Mary Oliver, has written a poem that articulates all this beautifully. It is called Wild Geese You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. [Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.] Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.ii God loves you just as you are. You are enough. You belong to God, and we all belong here together. May we all give our hearts fully to that this morning, and be grateful. “I pray that none will be offended if I seek to make the Christian religion an inn where all are received joyously, rather than a cottage where some few friends of the family are to be received.” Thanks be to God! i. I found this quote in a picture posted on the Facebook page for Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis, TN. ii.from Dream Work by Mary Oliver published by Atlantic Monthly Press © Mary Oliver.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

14th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 17B

14th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 17B September 2, 2012 Wow! What a week! We’ve had much anxiety and a pretty decent sized mess, and we have much to be thankful for. I like the way that the reading from James says it today: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change…” It reminds me of something we sing every Sunday, in which we remember that all good things are from God “from whom ALL blessings flow.” As we give thanks in this moment for who we are and where we are, let’s sing together now: Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below. Praise him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.” We give thanks today that God cares for each and every one of us and for the whole world, more than we could ever ask or imagine. And it is in the context of God’s abundance, God’s generosity, that we hear the words of letter of James, urging us to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like…” It is in the context of God’s abundance, God’s generosity (and our gratitude) that we hear the words of Jesus this morning as he talks about the difference of what is inside and what is outside, how it is not what is outside which is impure but what is inside. Jesus is once again talking about the difference between choosing religion over choosing God. But in this passage, he makes it intensely personal. The last two Sundays I have preached, I have felt called to preach about some difficult subjects: gossip in the church and the times when we choose religion or rules over God or loving God and loving other people. Both times I have preached these two sermons, I’ve had people come up to me and talk about their neighbor, and so today I want to be perfectly clear. This week, Jesus is talking about each and every one of us. This week, Jesus is talking about you. He is talking to you. And he is inviting you to grow in your faith and in your relationship with him by examining the sins that are to be found, not in your neighbor’s actions. He is inviting you to examine the sins that are to be found in your own heart. Take a moment and remember us all singing together about God—from whom all blessings flow. Take a moment and think about the abundance and generosity of God. And now take a moment and think about some scarcity that has come out of your own heart, maybe this very morning, about someone else. That is what James is talking about when he urges us to be doers of the word and not just hearers. It is what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel. Only Jesus knows exactly what is in a person’s heart, and he is inviting you to walk with him in a thorough examination of what is impure in your very own heart. I read a series of questions this week that gets to the very heart of this issue, and I will share them with you now, and then we will spend some time with them in silence. “‘For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.’…As you judge the world around you where do you find blame for all the darkness that seems to engulf us? How might the anger and disappointment you feel about the darkness and disappointment around what is happening be an evasion of looking at what is within your own heart? What would you have to give up in order to search out the evil intentions in your own heart? What might be the first question you pose to yourself?”i What parts of your heart need to have the Light of God, the giver of every perfect gift and the Father of lights, shined upon them? Where do you fall short of loving God with your whole heart and mind and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself? God loves and redeems even that, if you are brave enough to uncover and examine it, if you are brave enough to offer it. i. By Bill Dols written in Bible Workbench Issue 19.5 September 2, 2012 p 55.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

13th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 16B

13th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 16B August 26, 2012 Someone once wrote, “[most of the time,] we prefer religion to God.” In the Old Testament reading for today, we see a defining moment in the Jewish religion: Solomon has constructed the temple in Jerusalem, and the ark of the covenant, which contains the 10 tablets upon which are written the 10 Commandments, is being brought into the new temple and placed in its position of high honor. In this part of the story, we are witnessing the transformation of Judaism and the people of Israel from being a tent people into being a temple people. Tent people are people who are wandering, people who are searching, people who, because of their very uncertain circumstances, are forced to rely upon the promises of God. They are homeless and rootless and longing for that place of belonging; they are uncertain of their future; and their relationship with God is tangible in a covenant that is represented by 2 tablets with 10 commandments written upon them that literally lead them through the wilderness. Not to mention the fact that tents are not comfortable places in which to dwell for long periods of time. Temple people are people who have finally arrived. They are established. They are no longer homeless, rootless, and longing and may be eager to shed that former identity. They are established; they have a beautiful building with all the fancy trappings to show for it, and they are much more secure. The heart of their relationship with God is still the covenant that is represented by 2 tablets with 10 commandments, but now they have a fancy place to keep it, which can, at times, overshadow the straight-forwardness of the covenant: that they will be God’s and God will be theirs. Over the course of time, Israel began to add more and more trappings to its temple, to its worship, to its common life. And there are times in their history, in our history, when it is true that they preferred religion over God. This is precisely what Jesus is critiquing in his life and ministry, and we see this at work in the gospel reading for today. Jesus is inviting all his followers to make their home in him and for them to let him make his home in them: abide in me and I will abide in you. But some are offended by his graphic images of belonging; eating and drinking the flesh of others were what pagans did. This was radical and unfit talk for faithful Jews at that time. And so some of his followers leave him. I imagine that they go back to the temple, and pick up where they left off there. In that moment, they choose religion over God. In a moment of sheer poignancy, Jesus asks the remaining 12, “are you also going to leave me?” and Peter answers, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” In that moment, the 12 are bound together by their willingness to follow Jesus. They are bound together in their return to being tent people, those who wander because they have already found their home and they choose to move with, to follow him. I imagine that the 12 may not have had much in common before that. Perhaps they found it difficult to find things to make small talk about, but in that one defining choice, the choice not to leave but to continue to follow Jesus when others have left, they are bound together in their common homing in ways that go beyond any superficial commonalities. We in this parish know what it is like to be both temple people and tent people. And we have strains of both in our DNA, in our history, and in our practice. I know many of you who gathered together the Sunday after August 29 in the shell of this building or in Jones Park have truly lived what it means to be tent people. And it’s ok to not ever want to go back to that feeling of loss and homelessness, as long as we can remember the gifts that type of relationship with God has to offer us which is a keen awareness that we are in God and God is in us, and that God is the only thing between us and the abyss of lostness and chaos. Always we must ask ourselves in our lives, in our faith, in our church, if we are choosing religion over God, because that is one of the temptations of being a temple people. The writer of this statement goes on to talk about what that looks like in the life of the church. She writes, “[Most of the time,] we prefer religion to God. We, like the disciples, are offended by Jesus’ offer of spirit and life. We feel good about serving in the soup kitchen, but we refuse to forgive our pew mate for his addiction. We feel righteous when we teach Sunday school, but we are annoyed by the coos of the baby in worship. We make religion about the rules because we can control the rules. We can amend books of order, we can use Scripture to oppress, we can punish the rule breakers—much easier than compassion and forgiveness.”i It is true that it is much easier to choose religion over God. And yet, we are mindful, this day, of Jesus’s question to us as we stand at a crossroads between choosing what is easier, what is more self-serving, and what is of God, what is of the demands of loving God and loving others; we are mindful of Jesus’s question to his 12: Are you also going to leave me? And we can speak with Peter’s voice: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” May God give us the courage this day and everyday, to choose God over religion, that we may make our home in God by loving, forgiving, and offering compassion to others. Such is the way of eternal life. Such is our home. i.Feasting on the Word. Ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Year B. Vol 3. Westminster: 2009. Proper 16. John 6:56-69. Pastoral Perspective by Amy C. Howe. p. 384

Kit Glenn's Funeral Homily

Kit Glenn funeral homily August 25, 2012 We are here today to celebrate the life of Kit Glenn. And boy, what a life! What a character! I usually like to start a funeral homily off with a funny little story about the one who we are remembering….In Kit’s case, there was such an overabundance of funny stories, that I found it almost impossible to choose. I’m sure every person in here has at least one Kit story, and you will be given the opportunity to share those in the reception in the parish hall following the service if you so desire. There is one little story that I just have to share. You may or may not know that Kit shot off part of his index finger in a restaurant when he was younger. But what’s even more telling about Kit’s personality is that when his nieces and nephews were little, Kit used to tell them not to suck on their fingers or they would be left like him… One other little brief thing I can say about Kit….I’m often asked by people, “What do I call you? Not Father? Reverend? Mother??? Well, Kit never asked me that question. He just always called me “Mel.” He had that way, that easy familiarity about him, the ability to draw people together, and the unwillingness to take life or people too seriously. It was truly one of his many gifts. Funny and clever, insightful and kind, joyous and faithful and generous, Kit gave himself fully to everything he did, and he was faithful in both small and big things, which is the call of the Christian life. In the Episcopal Church, we are not a dogmatic church. Who we are and what we believe is incarnate in how and what we pray in our common prayers. The words of this liturgy today are a beautiful example of that: of who we are as a people and individuals, how we pray, and, most importantly, what we believe about death. In just a few moments, in the Eucharist prayer, we will pray, “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.” Kit lived faithfully, and he lived his faith in Jesus Christ and the resurrection everyday of his life; and when I talked with him for the last time last week, he told me that he was “ready for the next adventure!” (He also told me that he would try to send us a message, you know, let us know what it’s like…) Another part of our prayers today that I think is especially important in celebrating Kit’s life is when we will gather beside his ashes, and we will say “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” The way that Kit lived, his whole life was spent making his song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Kit Glenn’s whole life was an Alleluia; a giving of himself fully to the way of Jesus Christ which affirms, once and for all, through the resurrection, that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. I think it is the Alleluia song that Kit lived that had such an impact on our lives , why we are all here today to celebrate him and give thanks for his presence in each of our lives. Even at the grave, Kit’s life continues to resonate with joy and gratitude, and he continues to sing: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. And so shall we.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 14

11th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 14 August 12, 2012 [“Grant to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as are right, that we, who cannot exist without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will”] “Grant to us, O Lord, we pray the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according o your will…” We prayed these words this morning in our collect for the day, and as is often the case in the prayers of the church, we see that it isn’t just enough to ask God for guidance in our thinking (knowing what is right), but we are also bravely asking God for the grace to act upon how God guides us into doing what is right. I had a troubling conversation with someone this week, and what was the most troubling to me, in retrospect was my own part in the conversation. Someone was sharing with me that there is a person in the church who is upset with the church because of gossip. The person relaying this to me, was the subject of the gossip, but was more concerned about the friend who is upset and has left. And the person talking to me said, “They’re upset because they think that there shouldn’t be any gossip in the church, but you and I both know that just isn’t realistic…” And I nodded sadly and I agreed, and we moved on to another topic. Later that day, I re-read the readings for this coming Sunday, and I read the Ephesians reading, and I was completely convicted: “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.…Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I was disappointed in myself, and I was disappointed in all of us. I believe in my deepest heart that every single one of us is deeply hungry for the kind of Christian community that the writer of Ephesians writes about—speaking the truth in love, building up one another, acting in kindness, tenderheartedness, and above all forgiving one another as we have been forgiven. And it is true that sometimes we fail in this miserably. But that should not keep us from trying, from believing that we can truly be imitators of God, and it should inspire us to try even harder for our words and our actions to be more in accord with what we know to be right in the eyes of God! Sometimes we live into this gloriously, as was also evidenced this week in a lovely letter that we received from The Rev. Tom Slawson. Tom writes in his letter, “At a time of deep vocational discernment and uncertainty, Melanie and the good people of St. Peter’s allowed me to reconnect to, and reaffirm, my vocational identity. I was graciously invited into that community as a priest and pastor…” And that made me proud of us, joyful that in those many different moments, we have been able to live more fully into who God calls us to be as the body of Christ-- those who embody the love of God in a very real way for each other and for a needy and hungry world—which is the heart of this passage from Ephesians today. Scholars believe that the letter to the Ephesians most likely was not written by Paul, and it probably was not written to a specific Christian community but was actually a circular letter, written to be distributed to many different congregations throughout Asia Minor. It is a poetic testament to what it means to be true Christian community, members of the body of Jesus Christ, who is the head. I feel certain that we are no different than any of the original hearers of this letter: some days we are more faithful to the call of being the body of Christ than others. Interestingly enough, our modern science now has the understanding to scientifically support some of the teachings in this letter. Medical sociologists now understand that both good and bad traits are contagious in communities. So the bad news with that is that when we are false, when we are angry and un-reconciled, when we are thieves, when we speak evil, when we are bitter, wrathful, slandering, and malicious, those characteristics are contagious to others in our community, in our family, in our church. But the good news is that when we are lovingly truthful, when we are reconciled, when we share with the needy, when we build each other up, when we are kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, when we are imitators of God, when we are loving, then that also is contagious to all those around us, in our homes, in our church, in our lives.i And that is something good, and worthy, and holy to hope and to strive for. There is a picture that a friend had posted on Facebook this week that says, “Before you speak Think!” And then it has the letters THINK going down the side. It reads “T—is it true? H—is it helpful? I—is it inspiring? N—is it necessary? K—is it kind? May God give us the wisdom to know what is right and the grace and the hope to act on it, as imitators of God through the example of Jesus Christ. i. Thanks to The Rev. Dr. Jackie Cameron for writing about this notion of good contagion and bad contagion this week in her CREDO blog:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

7th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 10B

7th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 10B July 15, 2012 Several years ago when my daughter Mary Margaret was about 3 or 4, I asked her if she wanted to take dance lessons for the coming fall. Her immediate reply was, “What for? I already know how to dance!” And then she proceeded to show me her moves. Not long after that, she learned some of her friends were going to take dance lessons, so she decided she’d give it a try. She made it through almost the whole year, and at one of the last classes, I arrived to pick her up and found her sitting in the corner by herself, sulking. When I asked her what had happened, she told me that she had gotten tired of practicing the dance recital routine over and over and over again and had wanted to do her own type of dancing, but the teacher wouldn’t let her, so MM chose to go sit in the corner by herself for the rest of the class. In the dance of life, have you ever thought you already knew all the moves, or have you chosen to go sit in the corner because you couldn’t dance the way you wanted? I know I have. Dancing permeates our scripture readings for today, playing a large role in the unfolding of the drama of both the Old Testament reading and the gospel reading. In 2 Samuel, David and the people of Israel are dancing before the Lord as they lead the arc of the covenant into David’s city. They dance with joy and abandon, “with all their might” with all manner of instruments, and their dance is a dance of celebration and joy, a dance of gratitude for their special relationship with God. In the gospel reading, Herod’s daughter dances before his guests at his birthday celebration, and as a result, Herod swears an oath to her that, through some political manipulations, leads to the beheading of John the Baptist. This dance, the betrayal that goes with it, and Herod’s unwillingness to choose what is right over what is easy, all lead to the end of John’s life and sorrow and sadness for those who followed and cared for him (including Herod, himself). We, like David, like Herod, (like Mary Margaret,) are faced with the choice of how we will dance. And how we will dance in turn affects others and how they dance. I read an interesting analogy of dance and the life of the church. Imagine you are responsible for 50 teenagers, and you host a dance in the church parish hall. You step out to go get a cup of coffee, and when you return, you find this typical scene: that there are 4 or 5 girls dancing their hearts out in the middle of the parish hall and everyone else, including all the boys, are hugging the walls of the parish hall. The writer suggested that this is an analogy for the life of the church. That there are always a handful of folk out in the center dancing their hearts out, dancing the dance of the life, death, and resurrection, with joy and abandon, with celebration and community. And the rest cling to the walls of the institution, afraid or scornful or unwilling to join in the dance, staying on the threshold where it is safe and there is little to be risked or gained. Mechtild of Magdeburg, a German mystic who lived in the 13th century, had this to say about the dance that is our life and our faith and our relationship with God. “I cannot dance, O Lord,/Unless You lead me./If you wish me to leap joyfully,/Let me see You dance and sing--/Then I will leap into Love--/And from Love into Knowledge,/ And from Knowledge into the Harvest,/ That sweetest fruit beyond human sense./ There I will stay with You, whirling.” How do you choose to dance? Do you dance with joy and abandon? Do you dance in celebration of the gifts and relationship God has offered to you? Do you dance for exercise or for fun? Do you dance to manipulate or to give joy? Do you dance for community? Or do you choose not to dance at all? Is God inviting you into a new way of dancing, a new way of being, a new way of living and loving?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

6th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 9B

6th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 9B July 8, 2012 A letter upon the occasion of the baptism of Clark Seemann and Tucker Wicks. Dear Clark and Tucker, Today we are baptizing you into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we are claiming God’s place for you within the sacred story that is the love story between God and God’s people. As you live and grow among us, we promise to teach you about this story, and to help you know and discern who you are called to be within it, and we hope and expect that you will do the same for us. In our story for today, we see that the Apostle Paul is still hard at work on the people in the church in Corinth. All throughout this 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Paul has been fighting against what my New Testament professor called the “super-apostles”. These are teachers who have come to Corinth and are trying to sway the church toward following an easier path to Jesus than the one that Paul has been teaching. These super-apostles use boasts about their power and their visions to sway the people of Corinth, and in an attempt to counteract their propaganda, Paul writes to the Corinthians about some of his own spiritual journey. Paul writes of how he was given a vision of being taken up to heaven where he “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” But to keep him from being too elated, he writes that a thorn of the flesh was given to him…What this thorn of the flesh is, we do not know…But Paul was worried that this thorn of the flesh that had been given him would keep him from doing his work of spreading the gospel of Christ, and so he prayed three times for this impediment to be removed from him. And the reply that Paul gets from Jesus is the central core of Paul’s own understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus tells Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness. What on earth does that mean? It makes no sense and even sounds a little bit crazy. Are not power and weakness mutually exclusive? It’s almost as crazy as taking you two perfect, beautiful baby boys and drowning you in the waters of baptism. It’s almost as crazy as your parents standing up before God and everyone and essentially relinquishing their claim over you and stating that from this day forth, you will belong to our Lord Jesus Christ, attempting to follow his way of life, and be marked as Christ’s own forever. And then we make our promises to you that we will show you and teach you the truth of this story, about how we find God’s grace to be sufficient and how God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. We will show you and tell you and you will teach us about this great mystery in which we try to live but never fully understand as followers of Jesus: that when we are at our most humble and our lowliest, then the power of Christ often reaches its fullness within us. We are most fully ourselves when we are least full of ourselves. We will try to help you to remember this and ask you to help us remember as well. And we will gather with you week after week and we will all celebrate together the feast of thanksgiving for all that God has given us. We will celebrate and together we will be a resurrection people, a people who know and experience suffering but who also know and experience and proclaim the power of Jesus’s resurrection: that no matter what happens, God’s love and God’s power are stronger than absolutely everything—even death. On this special day, we thank you for being an example and a reminder for us of the beauty and innocence and goodness of human weakness in your tiny baby hands and feet and selves, and we celebrate God’s power which is made perfect in your own weakness now, and even into the future, when you grow big and strong. We rejoice in your presence among us, and welcome you as our new brothers in Jesus Christ our Lord. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Sunday, July 1, 2012

5th Sunday after Pentecost--Proper 8B

Proper 8B July 1, 2012
     Church conflict. Competition and a little bit of one-upmanship between neighboring churches. Power dynamics, and an appeal for taking up a collection for believers in need. All that is part of the context for our reading from 2 Corinthians today.
     Paul is writing, in what is characterized as his 2nd Letter to the church in Corinth, and he is asking them to renew their efforts in an important endeavor that they had begun a year before. He wants them to take up a collection, to go into a greater collection which he is gathering from other churches over which he has influence, to be given to the church in Jerusalem, which Paul has seen to be very poor and in great need. He reminds them that they had been on fire for this project a year ago, and they had pledged to help. But then we think Paul and the Corinthians had some sort of falling out; he wrote them a “harsh letter”; things got patched up; and now he is encouraging them to take up the task again. Add into that how Paul has some ongoing conflicts with Peter and James, who are the leaders of the Jerusalem church for whom Paul is collecting money, and how Paul uses comparison with some of his other less wealthy churches in the neighboring province of Macedonia (Phillipi and Thessolonika) to invoke a little bit of sibling rivalry and inspire the generosity of the apparently well-off Corinthians. It is quite an interesting story!
     It is also an excellent passage to use for a stewardship sermon, and the temptation to do such has been almost overpowering for me; I long to craft phrases that echo Paul’s encouragement to finish what they started by fulfilling their pledge when I learned earlier this week that our pledges for May were at 85%... But that’s not what I’m going to preach about today. I’m going to tell you about the amazing work that people in this church have done, primarily behind the scenes, these last two weeks, to meet several quite significant needs of people in this very parish. I made a few phone calls, and then a few others made some phone calls, and as a result, we have collected over $6,000 in two weeks to help people in need. My friends, if that is not the work of the church, then I don’t know what is, and I celebrate that, and I am so fiercely proud of you!   
     But we are not finished, and I’m not talking about the need to raise more money (although there is still much need, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt if you’d like to pitch in and help out—giving out of your own abundance to help relieve someone else’s need). We, like the people in Corinth, are being challenged to remember: to remember who we are and to remember “the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ”; we are a people who are called to become more and more shaped and formed into his image. Paul reminds us that our identity is to be the people who belong to the one who was rich but became poor for our sakes. We belong to the one who emptied himself of power and prestige to become humble and lowly, and we are called to try to live more fully into that by our own self-emptying, letting go of our own priorities and self-importance, and allowing God to fill us with the priorities of Jesus which is a relationship with God and care and concern for other people. A product of this understanding of our identity is an awareness of our own abundance and a deep desire to live generously. And according to Paul, it’s not enough to give; the really important part is the desiring to give. He wants them not to just give money to help the poor in the church; he wants them to want to give money to help the poor in the church in Jerusalem, because they are all connected to one another as the body of Christ. He wants them to grow deeper in that connectedness and in their identity as those who belong to Christ. It’s not so much about money; it’s about our relationship with God (although how we give or don’t give, spend or don’t spend money is actually an important part of our relationship with God). It’s about our relationship with God, and it’s about our understanding of our connectedness to all other people of faith and followers or Jesus. It’s about whether or not we are too full up of ourselves to have any part of God or others in our hearts. It is about emptying ourselves like Jesus did, so that we might encounter the peace, the fullness, the abundance of God. It’s about paying attention to those times when you can feel God and the priorities of Jesus gently tugging at your heart, and you make the choice to respond. That is generosity.
      The other day, I was really late leaving home and coming to the office. I had a meeting I needed to get ready for, and I was somewhat preoccupied. I headed off down Courthouse Road on my usual route, and I passed a truck broken down on the side of the road. As I drove past it, I saw a man in the driver’s seat, and the head of a little girl popped up into the back window. I kept driving, but as I drove, I wondered if they needed help. I was running late; I needed to get to the office; but I sure wouldn’t want to be stranded somewhere with one of my kids. So I turned around and drove back, and I stopped and asked them if they needed help. He told me that they had someone coming from right around the corner, and he thanked me for stopping, and I headed on my way.
     There have been many, many, many moments when I have not responded to the tug of God’s love and priorities in my own soul (usually because I am just too busy, too filled up with myself). But in that one moment, I listened, and I responded. And even though they didn’t even need my help, I discovered that I had a sense of abundance about the whole rest of my day—a sense of having not just enough, but more than enough. I suspect this abundance was also shared by those members of the church in Corinth who gave to the collection to help those in need in Jerusalem, and it is what those of you have felt when you give to alleviate need here in our own parish.
     “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” Paul’s words to the Corinthians echo to us across the miles and the centuries. Live generously in response to all that you have most generously been given by our Lord Jesus Christ! May God give us the grace to empty ourselves, to listen, to respond, to be mindful of our connectedness with each other, both near and far, and to live generously and abundantly.