Sunday, June 30, 2013
6th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 8C June 30, 2013 If I gave my sermon titles, this one would be titled: “What difference does all this Bishop stuff make to me, anyway?” Who knows what the word “Episcopal” means? Right, it means Bishop. So, what is a bishop? Many of the times in the Episcopal church when we have questions, we can find the answers in the Book of Common Prayer. Turn to page 855. Q. Who are the ministers of the Church? A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons. The four groups are what we call orders of the church, and each group has its own unique ministry. Q. What is the ministry of a bishop? A. The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ's name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ's ministry. The word Episcopal or bishop comes from two Greek words—“epi” meaning “over” and “skopos” meaning “sees”. So Episcopal literally means “overseer” or superintendent or even an inspector. There is evidence of bishops in the New Testament in 7 key references: 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:7-9; 1 Peter 2:25; Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:28; Acts 1:20 and 1 Peter 5:24. Many of these talk about the bishop’s ministry of oversight. (You’ll have time in a moment to read through these.) i We also have evidence of these separate ministries in the writings of the early church fathers. The first clear evidence of a three-fold church order of bishops, presbyters or priests, and deacons is found in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch (circa 107). Ignatius emphasized the importance of unity in the role of the Bishop—thus the bishop is not just an overseer but also a unifier. Some of the other early church fathers wrote about the bishop as being the chief presider of the Eucharist (Ignatius and Hippolytus); the bishop as a teacher of the faith (Irenaeus); and the bishop as the leader in the councils of the church (Cyprian).ii So, in the early church, the apostles were the leaders, and they had the authority of Jesus’s teaching. They were the ones who had been taught by Jesus; they had walked with him, touched him. The apostles passed their authority to local leaders by laying their hands on the new leaders. So, as the apostles died, new leaders were chosen and the authority of the apostles’ teaching was continued. This is what we call the apostolic succession. I want you to close your eyes and imagine a chain of hands bestowing authority, starting with our own bishop (and the new bishop whom we will elect), and this chain of hands stretches back through the ages in an unbroken line until it ends (or begins) with the hands of those who have touched the hands of Jesus. That is apostolic succession. And that’s great, Melanie, but what does it have to do with us? Do any of you remember at some point, promising to “continue in the apostles teaching and fellowship…” Turn to page 304. It’s part of the Baptismal covenant. The selection of a bishop through the working of God’s Holy Spirit is a key part in maintaining that connection with the apostles in our own time and for future Christians who will follow after us. It is both for our own benefit and for the benefit of our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the faith. It is also a very important reminder for us Episcopalians in this time of Christendom when so many Christians are convinced that all that matters is their own personal relationship with Jesus. The Episcopate and apostolic succession remind us that its not just about us and Jesus; our faith is about all of us together across the ages. What we do in the life of our faith affects everyone else! So today, we are doing important work. We are helping to select the next bishop of the Diocese of Mississippi by filling out a survey for the nominating committee. This survey will be used by the nominating committee to create a profile of our diocese as we seek to discern who is called to lead us more deeply into unity in the apostolic faith in the coming years. It is so important, that we’re going to hand them out now, and if you haven’t already filled it out (on paper or online), I strongly encourage you to do so now. In the meantime, Scott and I are available for you all to ask questions about the process. But first, let us pray again the words of the collect for the day that are so appropriate as we do this work together: Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 The saying is sure: whoever aspires to the office of bishop desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil. Titus 1:7-9 For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. 1 Peter 2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. Philippians 1:1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: ___________________ ______________________ Acts 20:28 Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. Acts 1:20 ‘For it is written in the book of Psalms, “Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it”; and “Let another take his position of overseer.” 1 Peter 5:2-4 to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. i.“Origins of the Episcopate and Episcopal Ministry in the Early Church.” By the Rev. Canon Professor J. Robert Wright. ii.ibid Here's the link to take the survey for the next Bishop of Mississippi: http://bishopsearch.dioms.org
Sunday, June 16, 2013
4th Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 6C June 16, 2013 This week, Jack and I were driving down the road and talking about opposites. I would say, “What is the opposite of light,” and he’d say, “Dark.” “What is the opposite of happy?” He said, “Sad or Mad.” “What is the opposite of summer?” “Winter.” We were doing well and having fun until he started asking for things that did not have apparent opposites. The game ended rather abruptly when he completely stumped me by asking, “What is the opposite of 1?” (I’m an English major…I don’t do numbers!) Today’s gospel reading also seems to be a lesson in opposites. Jesus is invited to dinner at the home of a Pharisee. When he takes his place at the table, a woman comes in, uninvited, and she begins to make quite a spectacle. She is crying, and washing his feet with her tears, and anointing his feet with precious oil from an alabaster jar. The story tells us that Simon, the Pharisee, was having his own inner monologue critiquing Jesus and the woman, and Jesus tells Simon a parable about two debtors and their response to having their debt forgiven. We see a contrast of opposites here. Sinner versus righteous. Forgiveness versus judgment. Hospitality versus unfriendliness. Graciousness versus rudeness. Gratitude versus entitlement. Another commentator writes that this story is really about forgiveness. “Forgiveness gives you back yourself. It is at the heart of the restoration of relationship. It is releasing any claim on someone else for any past injury or offense.” Gratitude is the woman’s response to Jesus’s forgiveness. “So this story is about forgiveness. And it’s about the gratitude that forgiveness creates. And its about the extravagant acts of love and devotion that gratitude prompts. But it’s also about something else; it’s about hardness of heart as opposed to love, about judgment instead of forgiveness and a sense of entitlement instead of gratitude.” “Those who have been forgiven little love very little. It may be not that they’ve been forgiven little but rather they just don’t notice it, don’t think they need it. Simon is a man who has no sense of needing to be forgiven and so judges Jesus and the woman out of hardness of heart. Because of this, he’s missing out from living a life out of love and gratitude” (from David Lose’s blog: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=2601). Do you relate to one of these seemingly opposing characters more than the other? Are you like the woman, singularly aware of your sins and your need for forgiveness? Is it hard for you to accept that, no matter what you have done, you are forgiven? Or are you like Simon, seemingly unaware of any need to be forgiven? Or are you a strange mix of both, depending on the day? Theologian Paul Tillich wrote “There is no condition for forgiveness.” And some theologians argue that God offers us forgiveness before we even ask for it. But the awareness of it, our need for it, and our reception of God’s forgiveness are all important parts of our relationship with God and with others. Let’s look again at the connection between forgiveness and gratitude. Br. David Vryhof writes of gratitude in the April 21st meditation from the SSJE series “Brother, Give us a Word”. He writes, “Opening our heats brings gratitude into our lives. A closed heart sees no reason to be grateful; it is aware of its own unmet desires, its own sufferings and disappointments. But an open heart is full of gratitude for all that is. It sees goodness and beauty in ourselves, the world, and others; it senses hope and possibility.” Forgiveness is the key that unlocks and opens our hearts to experience gratitude. Where do you need to accept God’s forgiveness in your life that your heart might be opened? Where do you need to offer forgiveness? And what happens if we can’t accept God’s forgiveness or if we can’t even admit that we need it? I got rather hung up on the character of Simon the Pharisee this week. It’s so easy not to like him and his self-righteous attitude. But he is us. We are him. What happens to us when we can’t admit that we need God’s forgiveness or if we think our sins can’t be forgiven? Jesus confronts Simon not with judgment but with grace. And he asks Simon to open his heart to give and receive the grace of God that is being freely offered to him and to others. Here’s another meditation by Br. David Vryhof. This one is called Grace: “We are recipients of undeserved grace, of a love that overlooks the arrogance, pride, and self-centeredness of our hearts, of a kindness that forgives our haughtiness” (SSJE.org/ Jun 14, 2013). May God open our hearts this morning to the gift of God’s grace, that in accepting God’s forgiveness of ourselves and others, we may live lives of gratitude in which we see goodness and beauty in ourselves, the world, and others; and that we may be open to hope and possibility for ourselves and for all of God’s creation.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
3rd Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 5C June 9, 2013; 8:00am “[Elijah] called to [the widow] and said, ‘Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.’ But she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug. I am not gathering a couple of sticks so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.” A severe draught hangs over the land. The widow and her son are at the end of their resources—only a handful of meal at the bottom of the jar and the remaining dregs of oil in the bottle. They are literally at the bottom of the barrel. And this wild and wooly prophet wanders up from out of the wilderness and demands that they feed him. He (and God) seem to be asking the unreasonable, the unthinkable from them. They barely have anything left, and he asks them to share the last of it with a stranger. But they do it, and God promises them that the jar of meal and the jug of oil will not run out, and it doesn’t. And when the widow’s son takes ill and dies, Elijah embodies God’s compassion and works with God to raise the child from the dead. They were all at the bottom of the barrel…One of the lessons from Vacation Bible School this week that we taught the kids was “Trusting God helps us stand strong.” That’s a great lesson, easy to preach and to say in our brightly decorated Sunday school classroom, where it’s hard to imagine anything bad ever happening. But it’s not as easy to practice when it seems too much is asked of us, when it seems we have too little left, that we are all at the bottom of the barrel. I read a story this week about how a man named Rufus Watson loved this story of Elijah and the widow and her son. Rufus lived to be 99 years old, was the son of former slaves. He served his country in the military, pitched in the Negro professional leagues, made some money investing in real estate. He witnessed lynchings and spent a lifetime wondering how people could commit such atrocities and still go to church and call themselves Christian. He found comfort in the story of Elijah and the widow. He said if his life wasn’t proof enough, this story showed that God meets people at the bottom of the barrel. He said, “That’s where God meets us…at the bottom of the barrel. God meets us when we’ve gone so low that all we can do is look up.”i. i. From the Homiletical Perspective by H. James Hopkins. Feasting on the Word Volume 3 Year C. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor . Westminster John Knox: 2010, p103.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
2nd Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 4C June 2, 2013 It is a dark and terrifying time in Israel. Yahweh has made clear that he is angry with the people, especially with the rule of King Ahab, who is described as more evil than all his predecessors, and Queen Jezebel, who has introduced the worship of Baal, the Canaanite agricultural god into Israel. Yahweh is so angry, that Yahweh has imposed a horrible drought upon all the land. So the King has enlisted the help of 450 prophets of Baal, who is known to be the giver of the rain in Canaanite culture. And Elijah, the prophet of Yahweh, stands alone before them to face off in an epic showdown. But before the show starts, Elijah indicates what is really at stake here. It’s not about the rain or the drought. He faces all the gathered people and says to them, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” What follows is a great deal of drama, with the prophets of Baal trying desperately to invoke a fiery response from their god and a great deal of taunting from Elijah. Finally, Elijah prays to Yahweh, again, articulating exactly what is at stake here: “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” I was struck by one sentence written by a commentator about this story and the insight it provides into the story. She writes, “Beneath the surface of this narrative throbs the terrible fear of being abandoned by God.”i When the going has gotten tough in Israel, the people fear that they have been abandoned by God, and so they hedge their bets, divide their loyalty, just in case. And that is the problem. Elijah reminds them that they must choose this day whose people they will be, Yahweh’s or Baal’s, and he and Yahweh together make a compelling case to prove that Yahweh has not abandoned them. It is a dark and terrifying time in the life of us modern day believers as well. Underneath the surface of our stories is the deep and terrible fear that we have been abandoned by God. Bad things continue to happen. Disappointments from all through the years pile up until they threaten to overwhelm us. We cry out to God for help, for healing, for some refreshment in the dry, drought-filled, and parched places of our lives. We pray to God whose “never failing providence sets in order things both in heaven and earth” but we might not really believe this anymore. And so we hedge our bets; we seek out other ‘gods’ that make us feel safe and secure and better,--we worship other idols of money, status, security, power, tradition; we make up more and more rules for our religion so we can be the ones who are “in”, assured of God’s love and presence, as opposed to those who are “out.” We choose to divide our hearts between God and other things because, deep down, we live with the terrible fear that God has abandoned us. And just like the people of Israel, it is our very hearts that are at stake here. Part of the reason why we fear that God has abandoned us is because we cannot believe that we are truly worthy of God’s love. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, sociologist Brene’ Brown writes, “Love and belonging are essential to the human experience. As I conducted my interviews, I realized that only one thing separated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seem to be struggling for it. That one thing is the belief in their worthiness. It’s as simple and complicated as this: If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness-the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging. When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving…. Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites. So many of us have knowingly created/unknowingly allowed/been handed down a long list of worthiness prerequisites: I’ll be worthy when I lose 20 pounds. I’ll be worthy if I can get pregnant. I’ll be worthy if I get/stay sober. I’ll be worthy if everyone thinks I’m a good parent. I’ll be worthy when I can make a living selling my art work. I’ll be worthy if I can hold my marriage together. I’ll be worthy when I make partner. I’ll be worthy when my parents finally approve. I’ll be worthy if he calls back and asks me out. I’ll be worthy when I can do it all and look like I’m not even trying. Here’s what is truly at the heart of wholeheartedness: Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”ii In the reading from Galatians today, Paul reminds his readers and us, that the gospel of Jesus Christ proves to us, once and for all, that God has not and will not abandon us. It proves that we (and our divided hearts) are the only impediment between us and God’s love. Another commentator writes that for Paul, “the gospel is the unbearably good news that divine love anticipates us, surrounds us, precedes us; anything that serves as an obstacle to our awareness of this love is ‘accursed.’ The nature of the Divine is to be love, and the great conversion of faith is to let this love live in us. For Paul, the gospel makes every religious, civil, and social authority secondary to confidence in the intimate love of God manifest in Christ.”iii One of the popular reposts among my clergy friends this week on Facebook is a blog entry titled 15 Things Jesus Didn’t Say. They are all pretty clever and insightful parodies on popular Bible passages and the ways that we have distorted Jesus’s teachings in our religion and in our lives. One that is particularly pertinent to today is this one that Jesus didn’t say: “For God so loved the world… you know like theoretically… as in, God loves the big ‘W’-world. But when it come to you specifically, there are quite a few things that would need to change for God to actually and specifically love… or even like… YOU.”iv You are loved by God, no matter what, and God is with you always in and through the intimate love of God as manifest in Christ. The absence and the loneliness that we experience is from our own divided hearts. In our prayers and our breaking of bread together this day, let us pray: Answer us, O Lord, answer us, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned our hearts back. i. Sharp, Carolyn L. Feasting on the Word Year C Vol 3. Theological Perspective. Westminster John Knox:2010, p78 ii.Brown, Brene’. The Gift of Imperfection. As quoted in BibleWorkbench Issue 20.4. The Education Center. p22. iii.Farley, Wendy. Feasting on the Word Year C Vol. 3. Theological Perspective. Westminster John Knox: 2013, p.88. iv.Jim Palmer. http://jimpalmerblog.com/2012/12/14/15-things-jesus-didnt-say/