Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Day of Pentecost-Year C

Pentecost Year C May 19, 2013 I’ve had two different conversations with two different priests this very week, and both began by posing almost the identical question to me: “Do you think that the Episcopal Church is still relevant?” Our numbers in the national church are steadily declining. We are closing more congregations that we are opening. We used to be a voice that people listened to, and now, not so much. Do you think the Episcopal Church is still relevant? What an interesting question to ponder on this major feast day in the life of the church, the Feast Day of Pentecost which is originally a Jewish festival or holiday when the Jews who lived outside of Jerusalem would come home. For us, Pentecost is the conclusion of our Easter season, the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the movement that became the church. It is also a day when it is especially appropriate to baptize people, and when we don’t have a baptism (like today) then we renew our baptismal covenant in order to remember The vestry and I are reading a book together called I will bless you and you will be a blessing, and in the introduction, the authors are writing about covenant. They write, “Baptism binds us to God by binding us to one another. Salvation is inherently social and communal. This bond, furthermore, does not depend on our agreement with one another but instead relies on what God has done and is doing among us. In fact, our unity in God gives us room to disagree safely, ideally without threat of breaking our unity, which is God’s own gift. This principle is the very foundation of all covenants, beginning with the covenant between God and God’s people, exemplified in baptism, reflected in ordained ministry, lived in vowed religious life and marriage, and encompassing the life of the Church. Our common call as God’s people is not to find unanimity in all matters of faith and morals, but to go out into all nations as witnesses to the good news of God in Christ.” (Location 307 of 2902 Kindle version) So maybe the question isn’t so much, “Is the church still relevant?” But rather how are we, as the Church, called to relevant? How are we called to live more fully into the covenant that God has already made with us? How are we called to “go out into all nations as witnesses to the good news of God in Christ?” How is the Holy Spirit already working in our lives to inspire us to witness to the good news of God in Christ? I want to invite you to take a moment to think about that question in the light of your own particular situation. Is the church relevant in your life outside these walls? Does your following of Jesus Christ make any difference in how you live your life when you are not here? How are you as the Church called to help make the good news of God in Christ relevant to the people whom you encounter in your life? Here are two other seeds that have been planted in my soul this week, that I want to share with you. The first is the short meditation from SSJE-- Brother, Give Us a Word--titled Identity. Brother David Vryhof writes, “Whether you are a success in the world’s eyes or a failure, you belong to God. Whether you achieve all you hope for in life or few of your dreams come true, you belong to God. Whether you were born into a happy home or a troubled one, whether you’ve had a comfortable life or you’re struggled all the way, whether you’ve been much loved or largely ignored, you belong to GOD.” This is the truth of the body of Christ into which we are all baptized, and it is through our proclamation of this truth to those in the world which can make the Church relevant. Second, I’ve been haunted by a simple African hymn in preparation for this feast day of Pentecost that goes—“If you believe and I believe and we together pray/ the Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free/And set God’s people free/And set God’s people free/The Holy Spirit must come down and set God’s people free.” Last week, I asked you what is holding you captive in your life? Today, it is appropriate to ask you, in light of the gift of the Holy Spirit, what are the places in your life where you are being set free? (For that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work there.) And how might you be called to share that good news with others? How is the Holy Spirit already at work to set us free as a people and as individuals? How are we being set free to be the Church who is relevant to the world through the spreading of the good news of God in Christ? Then let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

7th Sunday of Easter Year C

7th Sunday of Easter—Year C May 12, 2013 Today is a strange Sunday in the life of the church. And, no, I’m not talking about Mother’s Day…! I’m talking about the 7th Sunday of Easter, when all our alleluias have grown maybe a little shabby or a little tired, and even more importantly, the Sunday just after the major feast day of the Ascension, the day we celebrate Jesus’s leave-taking of us, and his instructions to his disciples to stay together and to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comfortor, who we will see coming next Sunday at Pentecost. So it’s kind of strange….Jesus has left, but not really. The Holy Spirit isn’t here yet, but actually she is. And our readings for this day in Year C, don’t give any acknowledgement that the Ascension has already happened for us. Strange, right? It’s almost as if, in the midst of absence, and loss, in the midst of waiting and not really knowing what to do, our tradition reminds us first that we still are called to celebrate the resurrection and it reminds us second that life goes on. So it’s no surprise that on this Sunday after the Ascension and the Sunday before Pentecost, our readings today show us business as usual, life going on. Jesus continues, in what is known as John’s farewell discourse, to say goodbye to his disciples. And in today’s reading, he offers prayers to God on their and our behalf. So even though Jesus is not with us, he’s praying for us. The words from the reading from Revelation call to us from across the ages, as words of hope, promise, and invitation: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift….” And then there’s that strange story from the Acts of the Apostles, where Paul and Silas are in Macedonia, having been summoned there by a man in a vision. And they are going around, minding their own business, when a slave girl, with a spirit of divination, starts following them and crying out “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” The story tells us that after days of this, Paul gets irritated and casts out the spirit, which gets him into trouble with her owners, who had made quite a profit off this woman. So Paul and Silas are accused of disturbing the peace and advocating customs that are not lawful for Romans to adopt, and they get flogged and thrown into prison. While they are in prison, they pray and sing hymns of praise to God, and suddenly there is an earthquake which shakes the foundations of the jail, and all the prisoners are freed. The jailer comes running and prepares to take his own life because he believes all of his captives has escaped, but Paul stops him. And the jailer asks Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. And so the jailer takes them in, and cares for them; he and his household are baptized, and they all celebrate together. In this strange story, during this strange in-between time, there are multiple images of slavery or captivity and freedom. The slave girl is captive, but then she is suddenly free of her spirit of divination when Paul acts in a moment of irritation. Paul and Silas are said to be slaves of the Most High God, and they are physically captive in prison. The other prisoners who are in jail with Paul and Silas are captive, and they are also suddenly free after the earthquake. The jailer is captive by his fear of his own failure and what will happen to him, but then he is freed when Paul intervenes and invites him to become a follower of Jesus. There are many different ways to be captive and to be free in this story. There are also many ways for us to be captive and to be freed in our lives. And so I ask you today, what is holding you captive? I want to share with you a vignette about the things that hold us captive by the writer Federich Buechner’s (pronounced Beekner) (from Whistling in the Dark ). HELP: As they're used psychologically, words ike repression, denial, sublimation, defense, all refer to one form or another of the way human beings erect walls to hide behind both from each other and from themselves. You repress the memory that is too painful to deal with, say. You deny your weight problem. You sublimate some of your sexual energy by channeling it into other forms of activity more socially acceptable. You conceal your sense of inadequacy behind a defensive bravado. And so on and so forth. The inner state you end up with is a castle-like affair of keep, inner wall, outer wall, moat, which you erect originally to be a fortress to keep the enemy out but which turns into a prison where you become the jailer and thus your own enemy. It is a wretched and lonely place. You can't be what you want to be there or do what you want to do. People can't see through all that masonry to who you truly are, and half the time you're not sure you can see who you truly are yourself, you've been walled up so long. Fortunately there are two words that offer a way out, and they're simply these: Help me. It's not always easy to say them--you have your pride after all, and you're not sure there's anybody you trust enough to say them to--but they're always worth saying. To another human being--a friend, a stranger? To God? Maybe it comes to the same thing. Help me. They open a door through the walls, that's all. At least hope is possible again. At least you're no longer alone. What is holding you captive? Is it a situation in your life? Is it someone else’s unhappiness or bad decisions? Is it your work or lack thereof? Is it an addiction? Is it your own infirmity or illness? Are you being held captive by your busy-ness? Is it money? Is it your pride? Is it your pessimism, that things just can’t be any better? Is it laziness? Is it regret or the past? Is it frustrated hope or expectations? Is it failed relationships? What is holding you captive? And what would it take for you to ask for help? What would it take for you to say to God or someone else—Help Me!—or to say along with the jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” And to hear the invitation from across the ages, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift….”

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Easter 6C

Easter 6C May 5, 2013 My mother came to stay with us this week. She was fleeing her home where workmen were doing some sanding and other interior work, and so she spent several nights with us. And it was wonderful! She cooked breakfast and supper for us almost every day; she ran errands, went grocery shopping, helped with dishes and laundry, took care of the children (even waking up with them before 6:00). Of course, there is always at least a small amount of upheaval when someone comes and stays in your home. We make the necessary preparations for their arrival—changing sheets, cleaning bathrooms, etc. Sometimes our plans need to change or at least become more flexible to accommodate another. Our relationship with God is like this. In the gospel reading for today, Jesus tells his disciples, in what is known as John’s farewell discourse, “‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid…” Many years ago, when I met with Bishop Gray and David Johnson to hear the news that they were going to send me to seminary to begin training to be a priest, I was so excited, that I almost didn’t hear the last part of what David Johnson had to tell me, but I have remembered his words frequently over the years and reflected on the wisdom of them. He offered me a word of caution, those many years ago, about the challenges of discipleship and about what a life of priestly ministry might entail, and he quoted to me one of his favorite hymns, hymn 661 in our hymnal whose words were written by a Mississippian. The words are, They cast their nets in Galilee just off the hills of brown;/ such happy, simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down. Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew/ the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful, and broke them too. Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died/ Peter, who hauled the teeming net, head-down was crucified. The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod/ Yet let us pray for but one thing -- the marvelous peace of God.i The peace of God that Jesus is offering isn’t an end to conflict or hardship. Rather the peace of God that Jesus is offering is the abiding presence of God in our lives. It is the gift of understanding that our lives are not our own but that we can offer them to God for the greater purpose of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. We see this Peace of God at work in the story from Acts for today. Luke tells us that Paul has a vision during the night of a man from Macedonia pleading with Paul to come to Macedodnia to help them. So Paul changes his plans, travels to Macedonia and takes up residence in Phillipi. On the Sabbath, he and his companions look around for a place of prayer, and they head outside the gate by the river, where they find a group of women gathered. And Paul sits down (in the usual method of rabbinic teaching) and begins to talk to the women (about Jesus). From the beginning of this story, Paul opens himself up to accommodate God’s call to unexpected places and to unexpected people. As a result, God speaks through Paul to Lydia, one of the women who are gathered at the river. Lydia is already a worshipper of God, and she is unusual because she is said to be a dealer in purple cloth, which means she has access to the aristocracy who were the only ones who could afford to wear purple cloth; and she is also unusual because she is the head of her own household, which was most unusual for a woman of that time. Luke tells us that God “opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” And she and her whole household were baptized, and she urged Paul and his companions to come stay at her home, and so her home became the headquarters of the missionary movement in Phillippi and Macedonia. In this story we see similar actions mirrored in Paul and Lydia’s lives. Each one is open to God and God’s call in their lives. This means that their own vision for how their life is to be used by God is easily set aside when God shows them a different way, a different path. Also, as they open their hearts to God, then their hearts become opened to others, and to the new possibilities that come with opening their hearts to others. It is much like what we do when we invite people into our homes. We open ourselves to change of rhythm, routine, plans, and vision, and we gain the reward of new possibilities, new encounters, and the grace that they bring with their presence. We have seen this at work of late within our own parish as well. In opening ourselves to God, we can reach out to others in gratitude and hospitality primarily in thanksgiving for all the good things that God has offered us. And in opening ourselves to God and to others we are changed in ways that we would never have dreamed. How are you being called to open your heart to the indwelling of God? How is the life that you are living a response to God and a gift of gratitude for God’s generosity? If it’s not, then what is holding you back? What controls or fears might you need to relinquish in order to live more fully in the peace of God? And Jesus answered, “‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let you hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid…” The peace of God, it is no peace, but strife closed in the sod/ Yet let us pray for but one thing -- the marvelous peace of God.i i.Words: William Alexander Percy (1885-1942), alt. Music: Georgetown, David McKinley Williams (1887-1978) Words: Copyright by Edward B. Marks Music Corporation. Used by permission by The Hymnal 1982. Used without permission here.