Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Day of Pentecost: Letter to those about to be baptized

The Day of Pentecost Year B May 27, 2012 A letter to Debbie and Austin upon the occasion of your baptisms. Dear Debbie and Austin, Today is a wonderful day to be baptized! It is the Day of Pentecost, the day that we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to all believers and through that gift, the birth of the church. In baptism, it is said that you are remembering who you already are. And on this day of Pentecost, the church shifts our awareness to remember who we already are, remembering what we proclaim and the source of that proclamation. In baptism, you are remembering that God has already created you good. God has claimed you as God’s beloved and marked you belonging to God through Jesus Christ forever. In baptism, you are saying “yes” to the truth that God has already claimed you. You are accepting this grace which cannot be earned but only given by God; grace which must be accepted by you in order to fully be received. In baptism, you are promising to follow the way of Jesus Christ, follow the way of hope, reconciliation, forgiveness, healing; and the way of death to self and resurrection to new life in Jesus Christ. In baptism, you are becoming a part of the body of Christ that is the church—both this particular church and the universal Christian church. You are accepting your own unique ministry among us, and you promise to join with us in proclaiming the good news of Jesus in your words, in your actions, in your very life. On this day in the life of the church, together we remember our story. We remember how God creates all things and all people good, but how we turn away from God to follow our own faithless hearts and desires. We remember how God calls us again and again to return to God, to put our trust in God, to have relationship with God and to once again be God’s people. And when that doesn’t work, God sends Jesus to walk beside us, with us, as one of us; to lead us along the way of being fully human and in perfect relationship with God. But we still don’t like that. We don’t like giving up our own way, and so we put him to death on the cross thinking that would be the end of him. We desert him, we who were his closest friends and followers, and we despair at what we have done. But God shows us! Because on the third day, Jesus rises from the grave and shows us that God’s love is stronger than our own wills; God’s love is stronger than our own faithless hearts; God’s love is stronger than sickness and pain and adversity; God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. And Jesus walks among us for a little longer, until he is taken up to heaven; but before he leavese, he promises that he will not leave us comfortless. He will send us the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Advocate to continue to teach us and to keep us connected to God and to Jesus in a new way. And that is what we remember and celebrate today: Jesus’s gift and the fulfillment of his promise: that he does not leave us comfortless; we are not left alone again to our own devices. And so we, the church, remember today who we already are, what we proclaim, and the source of that proclamation. We proclaim the hope of the resurrection through our words and deeds and very presence. We proclaim God’s promise of comfort to the broken hearted, even when we, ourselves, are suffering with sighs to deep for words. We proclaim the continued presence of the risen Christ among his people and in our hearts and minds and bodies. We proclaim a home for all in Christ Jesus, a place where all are welcome and where all are already claimed as God’s beloved and marked as Christ own forever. We proclaim a ministry of proclaiming the gospel for all—even the littlest of children--every person a disciple—called to tell and to live the story of hope in a way that is authentic and unique to your own unique gifts and lives. We proclaim and remember this day that the Holy Spirit is even now already at work within us, helping us in our weakness, inspiring us to pray, allowing us to be known intimately by God. And finally we proclaim and remember this day the truth of that first Pentecost: that the church is those who are “called out.” We are not content to sit within our beautiful four walls, focusing on our own inner lives and our own individual relationships with God. We do come here to find rest and peace, to get reconnected with the source of our hope, and we are fed and loved and nurtured and comforted and reminded that we are God’s beloved. And then we are filled to the brim with the Holy Spirit and sent out into the world to share the good news of God’s presence-- of comfort and hope, grace and home, belovedness and belonging-- to a needy and hungry world. Austin and Debbie, we welcome you to the family; we promise to walk this way with you; and we give thanks for your presence among us. Your sister in Christ, Melanie+

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Easter 6B sermon--making our homes in Christ

Easter 6B May 13, 2012 Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Our reading for today picks up immediately where our gospel reading from last week left off. Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, and he says to them, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” I’ve been thinking all week about these two passages and wondering, “What does it really mean to abide in Jesus? For me, encountering a slightly different translation of these verses helped me gain some insight into this question; rather than hearing Jesus saying abide in me as I abide in you, what if we hear Jesus saying to us today, “ Make your home in me as I make my home in you.”? What a lovely image for us on this Mother’s Day! So what does it mean for Jesus to make his home in us and for us to make our home in him? We can begin to think about this understanding of abiding in Jesus, of making our homes in him by looking at what are some characteristics of home-making? What do you think? Feeding, hospitality, making things beautiful, honoring, nurturing, celebrating, a certain amount of sacrifice…these are all aspects of home-making to me…. So the question for us today is how are we called to be home-makers? To make our home in Christ as he makes his home in us, and to invite others to dwell there with us? I’ve seen so many images of those who are making their home in Christ this past week, in this church and in this community. In the women who worked to host and honor our seniors in the tea last Sunday, with such care given to beauty and detail. In the ECW who hosted the Coast clergy for lunch this past week, bringing plants from their own homes to make this place beautiful and inviting and like home. In the news story last weekend of the man who was in a boating accident with his daughter and in his last moments, he tossed the one life-jacket to her, so that she would live when he did not. All lovely and loving examples of self-giving, home-making in Jesus Christ! And in each example, the person has offering something of their own homes, of their own selves to help create home somewhere else. So we notice that there are two essential parts to Jesus’s command to his disciples: that they make their home in him as God has already made God’s home within each of them. One is a call to presence, to awareness. The other is a call to action, to sharing. Each one of us has within us a lovely home where God chooses to dwell. An important part of the call to make our home in Jesus is acknowledging and spending time in God’s home within us and offering parts of that home to those around us—bringing out those pieces of beauty and nurture that we encounter there—a rootedness in love, joy, and peace—and sharing those bits of God’s home with others. We must be at home with God before we can make a home for Jesus and offer a piece of that home to others. Each of us goes about this differently. For me, I encounter glimpses of the home where God dwells within me through silence, in prayer, and in writing. It is only in a rootedness there that I can offer pieces of that home to Jesus and to others through my actions and words. I invite you to ask yourselves this week what parts of God’s home within you are you being invited to share to make home for those around you and to make your home in Christ this week and beyond? In conclusion, I leave you with one final parable about making our homes in Christ as he makes his home in us. “There was a rabbi who wanted to see both Heaven and Hell. And God who has hidden from us the opposites and their unity, gave way to his pleading. The rabbi found himself before a door, which bore no name; he trembled as he saw it open before him. It gave into a room, and all was prepared for a feast. There was a table, and at its center a great dish of steaming food. The smell and the aroma inflamed the appetite. The diners sat around the table with great spoons in their hands, yet they were shrieking with hunger, and fainting with thirst in that terrible place. They tried to feed themselves, and gave up, cursing God the author and origin of their torment. For the spoons God had provided were so long that they could not reach their faces and get the food to their tongues. They stretched out their arms, but their mouths remained empty. So they starved because of these spoons while the dish of plenty lay amongst them. And the rabbi knew their shrieking were the cries of Hell. And as knowledge came, the door closed before him. He shut his eyes in prayer, and begged God to take him away from that terrible place. When he opened them again, he despaired, for the same door stood before him the door that bore no name. Again, it opened, and it gave unto the same room. And nothing had changed, yet everything. For with the same long spoons they reached to each other’s faces, and fed each other’s mouths. And they gave thanks to God the author and origin of their joy. And as the rabbi heard the blessings, the door closed. He bent down, and he too blessed God who had shown him the nature of Heaven and Hell, and the chasm-a hairsbreath wide—that divides them." iii Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. Make your home in me, as I make my home in you.” iii Lionel Blue and June Rose, A Taste of Heaven. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1977.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

5th Sunday of Easter--Youth Sunday, Camp Bratton Green Sunday

5th Sunday after Easter Year B Youth Sunday and Gray Center Sunday When we lived in the rectory in McComb, I had a terrible nemesis: kudzu. Now, I don’t know how many of you Coast natives know about the evils of kudzu, but it is a plant that is not native to Mississippi. (I think they brought it in from Japan for erosion control). And kudzu is a vine that just comes in and takes over. I fought it for years as it tried to devour my camellia bushes. And one of the interesting things about kudzu that I found is that the vines would grow incredibly long. As I was pulling one part of the vine off my bushes, I would discover that that single vine was stretched all the way to the other end of the flower bed, entwined with many other plants along the way. Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And I can’t help but think of kudzu when he says this—how we as the body of Christ are all inextricably connected with other parts that may be way down at the other end of the flower bed. I had an encounter with this truth a few years ago through Camp Bratton Green, our diocesan camp for young people in Central Mississippi. I had been to Bratton Green for one session as a child (5th grade), and it had been a pretty good camp experience, but I had not felt particularly plugged in to the life there. I had definitely felt like there were insiders and outsiders, and I was one of the outsiders. So I never went back, until I had just graduated from high school and decided I wanted to be a counselor. I was accepted to be on the staff of a priest I had never met, a man named Duncan M. Gray, III. And I made up my mind that as a counselor, I would actively work to make sure that every single one of the girls in my cabin felt a profound sense of belonging. I had a great week at camp that week, and it opened up a new sense of belonging for me in the life of that place. Fast forward ten years, and I had just come back to the diocese from seminary, and I was fulfilling my required two years of service on staff at Camp Bratton Green. On my first day there, one of the permanent staff (the college age kids who run the camp for the entire summer) came up to me, and she reintroduced herself and told me that I had been her camp counselor for her first session ever at Camp Bratton Green. She told me of how that beginning and that sense of belonging had opened the door for her for many happy summers spent out at Bratton Green and how she had come to be on permanent staff to help foster that sense of belonging in the children coming after her. Jesus says, “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” We have no way of knowing how our gifts and our offerings may affect and enrich the life of a member of the vine in another part of the flower bed. And in working with young people, especially, we never know how God will take and use the gifts that we freely offer and how God will multiply those small humble gifts into a radical abundance. But today, we are given the opportunity to do just that. This year, we are sending 10 children, students from the Arts Academy who are the cream of the crop at Pass Road Elementary school, to Camp Bratton Green for one week each of summer camp. We have no way of knowing how God will take and use that offering which we make in the life of those children, in the life of Camp Bratton Green, in the life of that school, and in the life of this community; but I believe that our small offering will be transformed by God into a radical abundance that will be beyond our wildest imaginings. We need your help to do this. If you are able to give money to the St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Camp Bratton Green scholarship fund, please do so. It costs $400 to send one child to camp. We will receive some assistance from the CBG scholarship fund and possibly some scholarships from the Okalona trust, but we still need to raise a significant amount of money to send these kids to camp. It is an ambitious endeavor on the part of this church, and any money given to this will be helpful and so appreciated. We have no way of knowing how our offering of love and support and the once in a lifetime opportunity for these children to go to camp will impact for good the lives of these children nor how it will make this world a better place. But we offer this gift to God in faith, and we trust that God will take it and multiply it in abundance. Kind of like kudzu.