Sunday, January 27, 2013

Epiphany 3C sermon

Annual Parish meeting homily/Rector’s report January 27, 2013 This year, I want to try something a little different in terms of my homily at the Eucharist for the annual parish meeting and my rector’s report. The purpose of the homily is to preach the good news, the gospel, in connection with the readings assigned by our lectionary. It is to help people connect the good news of the scriptures and stories with the good news of their lives. And as I sat down to do this for this Sunday, I could not think of any better way to do this than to combine my rector’s report for our annual parish meeting with the homily, because it is all, truly, good news incarnate in the individuals and various members in the life of this church, what we call the body of Christ. The apostle Paul has an interesting image of the church in the portion of Corinthians that we read this morning. He talks about how we are like a body, each member having different functions and gifts, but how we are all interrelated and necessary for the body to work. Through baptism, we recognize our belonging in the body of Christ, and that is such good news, because we all so deeply long to belong. But an important part of that belonging isn’t just sitting in the pew during worship. Belonging, as we see in our baptismal covenant, means working actively as a part of the body to fulfill Jesus’s own mission. As another writer put it, “As far as 1st Corinthians is concerned, there is no such thing as belonging without participating. That [annuls] the nature of the body. A body does not work when one part checks out for a few years; not only will its function be unfulfilled, but the rest of the body will be thrown out of balance. Belonging is not a one-sided affair. We are given the gift of belonging at baptism, but we are also signing up for the responsibility of functioning as part of the body of Christ.”i Another way of putting it is that in our belonging, we are not called to believe a certain set of beliefs. In our belonging, we are called primarily to live like Christ. In our passage from Luke’s gospel this morning, we see Jesus, newly baptized and tempted in the wilderness, return to his home town of Nazareth, where he reads the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and he publicly announces his mission or purpose: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” If we, as the church, are truly the body of Christ, then that must be our mission to. I recently read an article about the struggles of the church in this post-modern, post-Christian world. Because let’s face it, both the church universal, and our unique, individual church here have our problems, our struggles. But the writers of this article wrote about how we are called, in this challenging time which they called “the dark night of the church” to evaluate the gifts that we have been given and how we as the church might truly make a difference in this needy world. They write, “To put it somewhat differently, the purpose or end of the church is not something we choose or achieve. God gives us our purpose; it’s something we receive. It’s what we have been created for. In the dark night, we may discover or rediscover the end for which God has created the church. That means that our primary mission is to be the church: a community that worships the God of Jesus Christ in a culture that worships other gods.”ii This is good news! Because it is a call that we are living into and continue to grow into more deeply. This parish, this body of Christ, is very much being the church in this community. We are thriving and growing in all areas. Our average Sunday attendance has continued to increase. Listen to these numbers: in 2008, our average Sunday attendance was 125; 2009-139; 2010-131; 2011-148; 2012-150. After analyzing these numbers, I think that the jump is actually bigger between 2011 and this year than it looks (as opposed to the jump between 2010 and 2011) because of how Christmas eve fell and was counted as a Sunday service in 2011. Our programs are growing, and as you will see in Candace’s outreach report, we are making a tremendous difference in the lives of the needy people in our community. In addition to that, we collected an unprecedented amount of money and redistributed it through the parish discretionary account. In 2012, we collected and gave away $17,940.00 to people in need. A good portion of that money went to people in our own parish. This shows that there is great need in our parish and in our community, and that there is great eagerness in the members of this body of Christ to help people and to spread the good news and to be the church. Also, as you will hear from our treasurer, this is the first year since Katrina that we have ended the year with money in the bank, not having to borrow out of any of our savings. That has been thanks to your generosity, your belief in the work that we are doing together, and the hard work of our new fundraising committee. I don’t have the final numbers yet, but I believe that we will have an incredibly large class of people who will be baptized, confirmed, received, and reaffirmed when the Bishop comes later next month. We have so many visitors every Sunday, many of whom come back again and again and begin participating in the life of the church. I’ve often asked them how they came to St. Peter’s and why they stayed. Did you know that 3 out of 4 people who visit a church come because they are invited by someone they know? And that has been the case here as well. You are inviting people to church because you are excited about what we are doing here, and they stay because they are excited too. I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about this, and thinking about what we are doing as a church. First, I have realized that it is not really us; it is the Holy Spirit at work in this place. And that God is using our willingness to be a place where all are truly welcome for whom God has created them to be to bring new life in this church and in all of our lives. It hasn’t been easy; giving ourselves over to death and resurrection never is. But it is that which matters most in this life and how we find true meaning as people of faith and followers of Jesus Christ. I have said it before, but it is worth saying again in this particular moment. I believe that God continues to call us to be a resurrection community, a beacon of light and hope in our community. We are called by Jesus to live into his death and resurrection, to live as a church and as a people the truth that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead makes a difference in our lives and in our world because it proves the great lengths to which God is willing to go for us to truly belong to God. It proves that there is meaning to be found in giving our lives away. It proves, once and for all, that God’s love is stronger than anything, even death. So it’s all good news. But we still have plenty of work left to do, plenty of work in being the church God calls us to be. My one goal for the parish this year: to support the systems and structures through which you can be connected to the body of Christ that is the church, encouraging you to use your gifts for the spreading of the good news through the work of this church and in your own life and callings. I believe that this is a critical moment in the life of the church. It is essential for our leadership to grow our structure to accommodate our growing numbers, so that each of you is invited and encouraged to use your gifts as a full member of the body of Christ and fully participate in the life of this place. Thank you for being committed enough to the life of this parish to be here this morning. Thank you for your support, your energy, your prayers. Every day, I wake up grateful for the opportunity to walk this way with you. You all continue to teach me about what it means to be a resurrection people, and my life and my faith are so much richer and fuller because of you. i.Feasting on the Word. Ed Bartlett and Brown Taylor. Homiletical Perspective by Raewynne J. Whiteley p. 281 ii.Christian Century Dec. 26, 2012. Dark night of the church. By L. Roger Owens and Anthony B. Robinson. P 29

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Epiphany 1C

Epiphany 1C January 13, 2013 A letter to Andrew Rivera upon the occasion of his baptism. Dear Andrew, Today is the first Sunday after the Epiphany, the day upon which we celebrate and remember Jesus’s baptism by John. In Jesus’s baptism, he receives the Holy Spirit, and as he is praying, God speaks to him telling him, “You are my son the beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Today is also the day of your baptism, a day which you have been counting down to with sweet expectation. It is the day upon which we recognize the fact that, since your creation, God has named you as God’s beloved son, and today you and your family and your godparents are accepting that. Today is the day that we the church make the promise to you that we will help you as you grow; we promise that we will walk with you on this way that we all follow, this way of following Jesus. We promise that we will help you learn about your own belovedness of God, and we promise that we will help you remember it during the times when you may forget. Because, Andrew, you may not know this yet, but life does have its hard places. We all go through times when we feel lost; we all go through times when we feel sad and lonely; we all go through times when we feel completely overwhelmed by the circumstances of our life; we all go through times when we feel utterly broken-hearted. And yet even in those times, you have the gift that God has given you, the gift that God has claimed you as God’s beloved son, who is precious in God’s sight. And you have the promise of God’s continued presence, no matter what. This promise is found in the words of the baptismal service, where you and God make promises to each other that you will be in this together. You promise to live your life giving it over to the way of life, death, and resurrection that Jesus lived. God promises that God will be with you, no matter what. This promise is also found in the words of the Old Testament lesson for today. Listen to it again. “Thus says the Lord…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. ….Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…” A wise monk recently wrote it this way: “Jesus does not spare this world from suffering. With suffering there is the promise and the paradox that God Emmanuel is with us in it all, even to the end: unexplainable and yet undeniable.”i The heart of Jesus’s truth that he lived and died and was resurrected for and taught is that we are the beloved of God, individuals and a people who are deeply and intimately loved by God. And we are called out of that love to offer love to others. This love is not a feeling. It is an action. That means that sometimes when we cannot feel love, we can still do love. And in that, God’s love becomes made real in our own lives and in the world. Another wise man wrote it this way: “I think we know the love of God when we ourselves can ‘do love’ much more than when people tell us we are loveable (that just feels good!). We can always disbelieve the second, but the first is an unexplainable power from Beyond ourselves.”ii May you always remember and live these truths of your baptism. You are God’s beloved. You are precious in God’s sight, and God will never leave you, so you have absolutely nothing to fear. We most actively know God’s love when we are doing love unto others. May you always hear God’s words whispered in your heart: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. I have called you by name. You are mine.” i. SSJE Brother Give Us a Word. 1/10/13 Br. Curtis Almiquist;br_/> ii. Rohr, Richard. Adapted from Letting Go: A Spirituality of Subtraction. Email meditation for 1/9/13.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Epiphany sermon

Feast of the Epiphany—Year C January 6, 2013 It is a rare occasion today that we get to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, one of seven major feasts in the life of the church—on an actual Sunday. Because it is a fixed day on the calendar, always falling on January 6th or 12 days after Christmas, Epiphany moves around the week. Epiphany, which literally means “manifestation,” is the day upon which we celebrate the visit of the Gentile wise men to pay homage to Jesus upon his birth, and it represents the inclusion of non-Jewish people into God’s kingdom. In some parts of the world, Epiphany is celebrated as a bigger holiday than Christmas, with gift giving being tied directly to the gift giving wise men from the East who are making their way to Bethlehem. Children leave shoes filled with hay outside their homes. The wise men take the hay for their camels and leave gifts behind in the shoes as thanks, as they continue on their way to Bethlehem. Another interesting item of note is to look closely at the gospel story which talks about the wise men. Note the wise men are found in Matthew’s gospel, while the traditional Christmas eve story of the shepherds and angels is found in Luke. In Matthew’s story, there is no mention of how many wise men there are; the number three has been assigned to them by tradition over the years due to the number of gifts listed in the story. Also, later writers gave the wise men names and attributed characteristics to them: Melchior is described as an old man with white hair and a long beard. Gaspar is young and beardless and ruddy complexioned, and Balthasar is black-skinned and heavily bearded. In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate the light of Christ as represented by the star that guides the wise men on their way. In Epiphany, we celebrate the guiding stars in our lives, and we remember and celebrate the lights by which we see God. It is not clear from the story if the shining of the star is steadfast on the wise men’s journey. In fact, it seems that they observed the star at its rising, and then travel to Jerusalem to learn more about the possible whereabouts of Jesus. While in Jerusalem, the Jewish council tell the wise men that Bethlehem is where they should look, according to the prophesies. And it seems that they rediscover the star once they are headed in the right direction to Bethlehem. Our journey to pay homage to Christ the King is always easier when we have companions on the way. There are times when the light of Christ shines brilliantly before us, clearly marking our path. There are other times when we must stop and seek assistance, ask for directions. But in the midst of this, on this day of light, we are invited to ask the Holy Spirit to help us reflect upon the question “by what light we have seen God most recently?”i You are invited to reflect upon the ordinary and the extraordinary ways that the light of Christ has been revealed to you on your way. We received a gift in the mail this week that was for me one of those pure gifts, one of those revelations of the light of Christ through companions on the way. I was sitting at my desk going through all the mail that accrued over my time away, and I opened a rather fat package that had a note and some fabric inside it. This is what I discovered. The note in the package reads, “Dear St. Peter’s by-the-Sea Episcopal church, At the Northeastern Minnesota Synod Middle school gathering in November, participants prayed for your congregation and members as you continue to recover from Hurricanes Katrina and Isaac. Enclosed is a prayer banner to remind you that your brothers and sisters in Christ continue to hold you in prayer, thankful for your presence and witness of Christ’s love to those who are recovering. May God’s strength and compassion fill you as you continue to serve your community. In Christ, The Northeastern Minnesota Synod Lutheran Youth Organization Board.” And here is the banner, with lovely words of encouragement written on it by some of the same youth who worshiped with us this past summer. They are all simple messages: “God is with you.” “We are praying for you.” “Stay strong.” “Keep faith.” “We won’t forget.” And over and over again, “God loves you.” For me this was a brilliant beacon of the light of Christ, shining upon me this week, and a brilliant reminder of the many companions we have on this way as we seek to pay homage to Jesus the King. This week, I invite you to reflect upon the light by which you see God, and I invite you to give thanks for both the ordinary and the extraordinary ways that the light of Christ has been revealed to you on your way. i.This question was posed by Barbara Brown Taylor in her essay A Homiletic Perspective on Feasting on the Word for Epiphany Year C.