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.